February 22nd, 2008


Impempe Yomlingo (The Magic Flute)

On Wednesday I went with a friend to see the South African adaptation of Mozart's The Magic Flute at the Duke of York, a small, bijou theatre so no need to sit near the front, although we were in the fifth row of the stalls. This is the same company (Isango Portobello) that did The Christmas Carol that we saw in December, and it was another wonderful production.

The first point of interest was they had the same sloping stage that was used in the Young Vic, so now I wonder if it's a feature of all their performances. The cast milled about the stage as the audience entered, and then withdrew to the side while the conductor took centre stage. The overture was then played on African instruments like xylophones with great liveliness and movement. A bit of research shows this is a marimba, and there's an interesting article about the preparation they had to do for this. The singing, when it started, was glorious, combining the operatic original with African choruses.. My friend and I think that the cast weren't using microphones at all, but there was no problem hearing anything. They occasionally used African languages, but most of the words were English and the translation was very funny.

They followed the story without much deviation as far as I can remember, but using the idea of Tamino's journey as a coming-of-age initiation rite. There were some witty touches with costume and characters. The three spirits that protect Tamino were anounced with a neon sign and wore sixties style outfits, so looked like one of the girl groups of that era. Papageno was in grey camouflage and his "birds" were women in pink boiler suits, Papagena was in pink when she arrived. The Magic Flute was actually voiced by a trumpet, and Papageno's bells produce a disco ball effect when played. The Queen of the Night's costume was a black chaotic explosion of different materials, while the Priest of the Day wore simple white robes.

Very luckily they have a website, and if you go to the The Show there is a small flash trailer for the show, so you don't have to rely on my muted descriptions.