Every now and then, and not very often, a piece of theatre comes along which blows you away. My own favourites include The Tiger Lillies’ Shockheaded Peter, Robert Lepage’s Elsinore (his take on Hamlet), and David Greig’s adaption of Lanark: A Life In Three Acts. To those I can now happily add Scottish Opera’s production of Pagliacci.
Staged in a circus tent in a sports field in Paisley, it was the sort of magical evening which will live forever in the memory, and by the smiles on the faces of those around me I would say that feeling was shared.
Pagliacci is arguably the classic tragicomedy, one which is often referenced in popular culture – the Seinfeld episode ‘The Opera’, The Simpsons, Alan Moore’s The Watchmen, Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, and the Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ song ‘Tears Of A Clown’ being just a few examples – so even if you don’t know the story you are likely aware of the iconography. Scottish Opera set the tone for the evening by having dressing-up boxes, fun-fair games, a Punch & Judy show, and even a donkey, for people to interact with before the performance began. With the orchestra dressed in their civvies, and people in fancy dress and face-paint, this was the most relaxed atmosphere imaginable.
Audience interaction continued as the opera began. The staging took place in different parts of the tent, and the audience had to move around so as to follow the action. It soon became clear that we were not alone as singers piped up in different places. It was quite disconcerting to be beside a stranger who would suddenly sing instructions and commentary. This was the chorus, made up from a mix of professionals and community performers, and it is a credit to those involved in teaching and conducting them that they were indistinguishable from each other. They worked as our guides as well as describing and commenting on what unfolds. It worked a treat enhancing the feeling that the audience was intrinsically involved.
The main cast were superb across the board, although special mention must be made of Ronald Samm as Canio/Pagliaccio and Anna Patalong as Nedda/Columbina who did a lot of the dramatic heavy lifting as the estranged husband and wife. When the communal celebration of the circus arriving in town gave way to the tumultuous lives of the central players the mood changed. It’s difficult to convey tragedy in such an upbeat setting, but everyone was gripped by their tale – one which touched up most of the deadly sins.
As you’ll see from the images below, the costumes, staging, and makeup were all fantastic – in fact, just take it from me, this was a faultless production which had that indefinable something which raised it to the extraordinary. Now, having sung Pagliacci’s praises, I have to inform you that the rest of the run has already sold out! However, it is well worth checking for any returns. Hopefully it will be reprised at some point as this was too good not to be seen more widely. Certainly this communal approach, the importance of involving local people and performers and taking the show on the road, is one which should not be overlooked. The comedy may be finished, but no one will forget this Pagliacci any time soon.
Here are some images, with thanks to Scottish Opera: