Thursday, 24 May 2012

A Tale of Two Evenings at the Opera House, Saigon

The Opera House is a striking building in District 1, Saigon.  I have walked past it many times and admired the French colonial architecture, but I hadn't been inside this 800-seater theatre until a couple of weeks ago.  Now, I have been to see two events there!

The first visit was to see a production of Oliver Twist by TNT Theatre Britain.  It was a stark and quite dark adaptation that had some of the children in the audience crying from curtain up!  Perhaps, their parents expected something similar to Lionel Bart's musical Oliver!  If that's the case, they were probably disappointed, but I, for one, was captivated from start to finish. 

One of the things I miss most about living in the UK, even after ten years away, is access to live theatre in English, so I am likely to be appreciative of any production, regardless of the quality!!  However, I genuinely thought that this was a good adaptation.  It was an ensemble piece with all the parts being performed by a cast of just five - three women and two men.  Having been brought up with the tradition of pantomime, it didn't strike me as strange that a bearded man was playing the role of Mrs Corney, the workhouse manager!  I only had to consider the appropriacy when I saw the reaction of the young Vietnamese girl sitting next to me!

The story was enhanced by the use of original music sung a capella and focussed on the darker side of the original Dickens' text.  The violence perpetrated by Sykes against Nancy was quite graphic, as was the hanging of Fagin at the end.  I felt that the harsh reality of life in Victorian London was evoked perfectly in this excellent dramatisation.

In complete contrast to Oliver Twist, last weekend we returned to the Opera House to see Black Voices, a British a capella singing group who are in Vietnam as part of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations.  The five ladies who make up the group entertained us in fine style for almost two hours.  By the end, they had all been adversely affected by the air conditioning in the building, so I'm not sure how their voices would have held up for their subsequent performances in Hanoi!  For us, though, they were on top form!! 

The first half focussed on African music, paying homage to the ethnic roots of the group members.  Each piece was introduced with a story to set the scene as to its origins.  It was really interesting and what the ladies did with their voices was amazing!!

After the interval, the programme was more eclectic with a Motown medley, some reggae, an old English folk song ('The Water is Wide', which sounded very different to how it sounded when we used to sing it at school!) and even an arrangement of the disco classic, 'Uptown Top Ranking' which brought back memories for those of us of a certain age!!

All in all, a thoroughly entertaining evening!  I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for upcoming events at the Opera House.

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