Theatre review: Cranhill Carmen

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WITH the Bard In The Botanics company ripping up Shakespeare’s old gender stereotypes just across the road, it’s perhaps not surprising that Benny Young’s Play, Pie And Pint version of Carmen – written by one of Scotland’s most respected senior actors – should take a radical approach to Bizet’s opera about the doomed tobacco-factory femme fatale.

Oran Mor, Glasgow ****

I doubt, though, whether anyone concerned could have fully predicted the sheer explosive force – and sudden musical eloquence – of this story, apparently set around the 1950s, of a wild good-time girl from Cranhill, played with blistering brilliance by Charlene Boyd, and her clashing relationships with the uptight Hebridean-born policeman Donald John MacNeil – who almost arrests her for urinating in a public street – and a swaggering Glasgow wide-boy called Millio, kitted out in a matador costume just to impress her.

Boyd’s potty-mouthed Carmen alternately seduces a sweet and helpless Donald John, and succumbs to the earthier advances of Millio (a witty Ryan Fletcher), while all three lead us through the principal numbers of Bizet’s great score, with Ewan Petrie as Donald John delivering a version of the flower aria so breathtakingly beautiful it almost stops the show.

The twist in the tale, of course, is that this Carmen is not about to end up stabbed on a slab for her free-spirited faithlessness; she makes it clear that she will wield the knife herself, if the men don’t take their fantasies of redemption or domination elsewhere. It’s not an elegant conclusion, but it’s right for the times; and Charlene Boyd burns like a rough, beautiful torch of female liberty as she sets out to determine her own fate, at last.

JOYCE MCMILLAN

Final performance today