It’s tremendously encouraging to see opera initiatives springing up away from the formality of the city theatres. Paisley, egged on by its valiant bid for UK City of Culture, has been pressing the flesh on this. Last summer’s circus tent Pagliacci by Scottish Opera featured within it the embryo of the community-driven Paisley Opera company.
Opera review: Paisley Opera: La bohème, University of the West of Scotland, Paisley ***
Right now, Paisley Opera is going it alone with an ingenious production – by director Fiona Williams – of Puccini’s La bohème. However, the frivolous lifestyle portrayed here is far removed from the Latin Quarter of 19th-century Paris, transported instead to the scarred reality of a Ferguslie Park flat, complete with reheated curries and reckless students – the four male protagonists – whose carefree antics occupy a middle ground between The Young Ones and Men Behaving Badly.
So lines such as “Oh, sod it, what’s happened to the WiFi” and the odd floss dance are in no way out of place, especially as the venue itself – the university – becomes a living organism in a production that asks the audience to get off their seats and follow the action. We become part of the central street scene in the main foyer, a bustling Christmas bazaar with more traders than the town’s High Street, pertinently visible through the windows.
The athletic cast buys fully into the concept, the hired-in professionals – among them Rachel Brimley glowing as good-time girl Musetta, William Branston strong as the forcibly maturing Rodolfo, Monica Toll enjoying emotive heights as the consumptive Mimi – bolstered by the company’s adult and children’s choruses.
There are lustrous moments from the cut-down orchestra under Alistair Digges’ precise motivation, though a few bumpy ones as well. They simply don’t have the weight in numbers to deliver the heaving tragedy of the final bars. - Ken Walton