Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

An enjoyable night amid the canals

Bubbly and ball gowns: The chorus in their Sunday best for a masked ball and carnival

A Night in Venice

Tinkers Farm Opera

Crescent Theatre, Birmingham


READERS of Private Eye would be right at home with this irreverent opera based, loosely, on Johann Strauss II's three act operetta Eine Nacht in Venedig.

The satirical magazine had a regular column with a spoof plot of an Italian grand opera starring the wonderfully entertaining Silvio Berlusconi – with Bunga Bunga a regular feature.

You would have had to have been living on Mars not to have spotted that the opera's Prime Minister, Aurelio Bellacroni, played with a powerful baritone and in a truly awful wig (it was meant to be obvious) by John Clay, was in fact a thinly disguised Silvio - this is almost Berlusconi - The Musical.

The action takes place around Bellacroni's party in Venice on carnival night when his main interest is playing bunga bunga with Barbara , played by Rose Rowley, the English wife of Senator Alessandro Dell'Acqua, played by Geoff Evans, who, knowing his PM, sends his wife off to Murano out of harm's way – Plan A.

Now keep up for this bit. Barbara meanwhile changes places with her friend, oyster seller Annina so she can spend time with her admirer Enrico, a naval officer – Plan B. Meanwhile the PM's barber Caramello looking to move up in the Government pecking order, with the help of his friend the macaroni cook Pappacoda, played with a great sense of fun by Julian Bissell, hears of plan A and waylays the booked gondolier with gallons of vino, to take his place witha view to delivering Barbara to the PM instead of the island of Murano not knowing it is really his heart's desire Annina.

Meanwhile - still with us at the back? - Senator Dell'Acqua who is trying to wangle the €200,000 year post as the PM's administrator, has persuaded Barbara's maid Ciboletta, sung by Diane Geater, to pretend she was really his wife Barbara, presumably on the basis that the honour of maids is more expendable than that of his wife. But, rather than pleading for a job for her boss Ciboletta makes a case for the PM employing her lover, who is, just to keep it simple, Pappacoda.


When the real Barbara also turn up to make it the third Senator's wife of the evening and with Caramello, Pappacoda and the Senator all trying to protect their women, and push their own case for jobs, it all becomes a little confusing for Aurelio, not that he is bothered when as far as he is concerned it is just a sort of bunga bunga three for one offer.

It needs a third act to sort all that out but remember, this is operetta not opera, so no one is going to throw themselves from the battlements or die of consumption in Paris and it is all going to end well with everyone living happily, honour intact, ever after.

Opera is perhaps the hardest theatre for amateur groups. Musicals have a little more leeway in terms of singing – even some professionals have talked their way through songs – but in opera there is no hiding place and in the three female leads Tinkers Farm have three gems.

All three Barbars not only have clear and pleasing voices they also have power and hit the high notes with apparent ease.

The men are more variable in power and performance but none let the side down and sang with some gusto although I am not sure about Richard Lloyd Owen appearing as an opera singer to give us Nessun Dorna. It has been the party piece of just about every tenor since Calaf first belted it out in Turandot in 1926.

It brooks comparison with the likes of everyone from Pavarotti to Mario Lanza, Gigli to Domingo, Paul Potts to even Michael Bolton and although it is a crowd pleaser and there are no complaints about Richard's performance, if liberties are being taken with Strauss's music, I wonder if perhaps a Neapolitan song, with the audience encouraged to clap along might fit in better with a Venetian carnival theme and would not have people assessing it against other versions.

The main players produced some nice duets and quartets and there was a notable sextet with the three Barbaras, the PM, Carmello and Pappacoda in the supper scene.


Pappacoda also produced some good laughs with his Italian accent and sayings and worked a nice double act with Caramello while the chorus did a sterling job with some neat choreography from director Janet Phillips to make them look like a crowd rather than a rabble.

Having trod the amateur boards I know how difficult it is to create something pleasing for an audience to look at from a mix of actors, like myself, with dyslexic feet to people who can actually dance. It was simple enough for the chorus to follow but with enough movement to make it interesting. Other choreography was by Claire Reay, Lesley Stocker and Christine Clay.

While we are on dancing the nine dancers from Woodlands School of Dance were a delight and we even got an excellent Can-Can, presumably from the time when Strauss was moonlighting  as Offenbach, which really is a difficult, high energy routine - fun but exhausting for the dancers.

Perhaps at just over three hours the show might benefit from a little pruning – some patrons left before the end purely to catch trains - and when Caramello is plying the gondolier with wine it might help if our water boatman was to at least to make some effort at drinking, His glass was topped up with copious amounts four or five times without it coming within an arm's length of his lips as he sang Come, Heart's Delight.

But these are minor quibbles in what was a good production helped by an attractive set designed by Janet Phillips again, which changed seamlessly from bridge and canal to square to palace without a break in the action.

And an opera needs music and the Tinkers Farm Orchestra, under musical director Peter Bushby, took half a dozen bars to warm up on opening night but then kept things moving and with some lively playing.

This new version is fun, topical and with a good cast with bags of enthusiasm who all seem to be enjoying themselves it makes for a most enjoyable evening. To 03-11-12.

Roger Clarke 

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