While London is experiencing one of its biggest heat waves in recent history, it would seem that there is no better time to sample some of the city’s amazing outdoor entertainments. The success of Timothy Sheader’s seventh season as Artistic Director of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is crowned by the current production of Porgy and Bess. The sense of occasion starts from the moment you enter the circular vicinity of the actual theatre; there’s a palpable feeling of suspenseful anticipation in the air as the audience bustle around the different bars and buffets before the bell rings and we are ushered in to the beautiful space that is the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. The amphitheatre provides a dramatic setting that is picked up by the minimalistic stage design. The main feature of the set, designed by Katrina Lindsay, is a crumpled copper backdrop slightly reminiscent of a craggy Richard Serra work. This backdrop with sprigs of foliage that merge with the surrounding trees of the park and two rickety metal folding chairs make up the bare set which evokes the humble situation of the inhabitants of Catfish Row.
The production begins with Bess, played by Nicola Hughes who received an Olivier Award nomination in the same role for Trevor Nunn’s 2006 production, strutting around in a ‘happy dust’ daze. Her jutting and inelegant gestures introduce this sophisticated and fresh interpretation of the Broadway classic. It would be difficult to find a member of the 1,000 strong audience who hadn’t heard the opening number of Porgy and Bess prior to the performance but Jade Ewen (Clara) reminds us and impresses with a beautiful and emotive rendition of ‘Summertime’ as she cradles her newborn baby. The rest of the equally strong cast joins Ewen and together build up a wall of sound that one imagines is resounding throughout the rest of Regent’s Park as it fades into twilight.
As the natural light surrounding the theatre becomes more dramatic, so does the production with the introduction of the other main character, Porgy, played by Broadway veteran, Rufus Bonds Jr, as well as the show’s villains, Crown, brought to life by Phillip Boykin and Sporting Life who shone thanks to Cedric Neal’s impressive and wickedly enjoyable rendition of the slippery dandy. Neal’s beguiling charisma and superb voice make his performance of ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’, one to remember.
Porgy and Bess, often considered to be an opera-musical hybrid due to its demanding music and virtuosic solos, demonstrates Gershwin’s characteristic and wonderful discordance. However, the company’s clever use of props to convey rhythm in this production also highlighted Gershwin’s wonderful use of syncopation and rhythmic incongruity. Chairs and other props were used percussively and this created an interesting and attractive cohesion between the choreography and the music. This production is a striking, refreshing and entertaining rendering of the Gershwin classic and is brought to life by a stellar cast and live orchestra under the direction of Simon Lee. Try very hard to get tickets for this memorable production before the end of the show’s run on 23rd August and also before the end of this beautiful weather when the magical world of outdoor activities closes its door once more on us Londoners for another year.
Continues until 23 August, more information and book here.
Written by a Thoroughly Modern Missy, Angelica Bomford.
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