It’s usually disastrous when you shrink a favourite piece in the rinse cycle. The quality diminished, there’s nothing you can do but write the material off.
Unexpected Opera’s attempt at reducing Wagner’s 16-hour, four day, four-opera epic, The Ring Cycle, to just two hours is overly ambitious with Roger Mortimer’s script not ironic enough to be a spoof nor comedic enough to make you laugh out loud, and the production not performed well enough to paper over the cracks.
The Rinse Cycle, a cabaret opera now playing at London’s Charing Cross Theatre, is likely to only appeal to audiences who want the gist of the Wagnerian behemoth without losing too many nights stuck in a theatre seat.
The story itself is steeped in legend with plot-lines involving incest, adultery, mythical creatures flawed with human traits, battles, murder and more. And there’s a magical ring, protected by mermaids, which imbues its owner with incredible powers (but which has nothing to do with Lord of the Rings, sneers Harriet Williams’ icy Edith).
But Unexpected Opera’s attempts to turn it into a soap, set partially in Patisserie Valkyrie (geddit?) and a laundromat – with three giant washers driers made by Bish, Bash and Bosh (yes, it’s that level of puerile humour) – falls flat.
The cast of five is led by bass-baritone Ronnie (Simon Thorpe) whose accent, as narrator, varies from estuary English to posh and includes an extended impression of Sean Connery – don’t ask me why.
The constant bickering with jealous “wife” Edith, a Surrey housewife and mezzo soprano, suggests that buried in the plot may be (or not) a possible storyline about an amateur group trying to crack the ultimate operatic challenge by staging a crowd-pleasing version of The Ring Cycle.
It’s a pleasure to listen to Mari Wyn Williams’ lovely lilting Wesh accent (with dialogue wonderfully stretched and enunciated) as she shares narration and plays Ronnie’s lover, and fellow performer, Hilda.
And you have to empathise with Anna Gregory, as fellow co-star Robin, who is mortified with embarrassment when forced into wearing a swimsuit for one scene while her co-star Hilda remains covered up.
Edward Hughes plays dim posh boy Tim who takes a variety of support roles as the story plays out (at one point he plays incestuous lover Siegmund and later his son, Siegfried).
The cast (with an alternate cast at other performances) take on a variety of roles to tell their condensed adaptation while linking sung sections with a thin storyline.
Ronnie makes occasional quips which are put down by his virago of a wife (Harriet Williams thoroughly enjoying the empowerment). He begins to sing: Fiddler’s “If I Were A Rich Man”.. “Wrong show dear!” she snaps. Later his turn as Wotan, king of the gods, comes under attack. “Calm down dear! You’re not Ray Winstone!” she chides.
The performance ends with a Last Night At The Proms style sing-a-long, which isn’t easy when Ride of the Valkyries features a lot of dum-de-dum-dums and not much more.
Kelvin Lim, at piano, provides all of the music, and he’s impressive, but ultimately some epics are too richly woven to be put in the machine, even on a delicates wash.
The Rinse Cycle runs at Charing Cross Theatre until March 12.
Unexpected Opera’s occasionally-comic cabaret opera, The Rinse Cycle, fails to impress despite condensing a Wagnerian epic into just two hours.