Intense and Intimate: ‘Iphigenie en Tauride’ in a pub

Saturday 9th April, Drayton Arms Theatre, London SW5

Opera in small spaces is not new, though I must admit I only discovered the Drayton Arms Theatre in South Kensington last winter when I attended Euphonia Opera Company’s splendid production of ‘Don Pasquale’. The space really is tiny – a handful of rows of banked benches, upholstered with old pairs of jeans, and an area not much bigger than an average-sized living room for the stage. Covent Garden it ain’t – and much the better for it, for Euphonia is a company of young professional singers who seem to actively relish the challenge of performing in spaces like Drayton Arms Theatre. Their pared-down productions, with the minimum of setting and costumes, and only a digital piano to provide the music, bring the opera right up close and personal.

Euphonia’s 2016 Spring season has included ‘La Traviata’ and a new production of ‘Iphigénie en Tauride’, Gluck’s powerful setting of Euripides’ play. I went with two opera-loving friends,  regulars at ROH and ENO and far more seasoned opera-goers than I. The narrative teeters on the brink of tragedy until almost the very end, when Iphigenia realises that the man held captive and about to be sacrificed is in fact her estranged brother Orestes. All’s well that ends well.

In the tiny space of Drayton Arms Theatre the action was intense and intimate. The singers are only a few feet away and when they sing, you can really feel the air crackle with the power and emotion of their voices. Without the support of elaborate sets and costumes, the action is far more immediate, pulling you into the heart of drama from the outset. When we went downstairs to the noisy pub for the interval, it felt as if we had been yanked out of an alternative reality, and as one of my friends remarked, you realise how removed you are from the action when sitting in the dress circle at the Coliseum. The entire cast sang with passion and commitment. Stand out performances, for me, were by Turiya Haudenhuyse in the title role, and tenor Joseph Doody, who played Pylades.

For those who are less familiar with opera, or who are reluctant to venture into ROH or the Coliseum, Euphonia’s pared down productions are a great introduction to the form. Productions are sung in their original language, with English surtitles, and you can nip down to the pub in the interval for a pint, and take your drink into the theatre.

This season’s productions have also included pre-performance interviews with legendary opera director John Copley CBE (Patron of The Drayton Arms Opera Series) and Euphonia President, the distinguished scientist, broadcaster and author, Professor Robert Winston.

Euphonia Opera Company