Tales of Hoffmann (Emotionworks) – theatre review

With its preposterous storyline, Tales of Hoffmann Ooh La La is an energetic mix of opera contemporised with modern references mashed with popular tunes … and it’s a beauty. Full of colour, drama and skulduggery, above all this Parisian jazz burlesque interpretation of Jacques Offenbach’s opera, which premiered in France in 1881, is fun.

Photo by Phil Thomson Photography

When hasn’t a man fallen for a beautiful woman, or at least in one instance here, a stunner who turns out to be a robot? For poet Hoffmann not once, not twice, but thrice, only to hit a major hurdle each time. And when I say major, I do mean exactly that. The roadblock is no lesser light than the guy with horns and a pitchfork, namely the devil himself, in various guises. Instead, Hoffmann is forced to settle for his bff – an angel no less. There is sorcery at work – magic, mesmerising, glowing fingers for one – and hijinks.

The standout for me – with all leads possessing strong and melodic voices – is Katy Turbitt. She is the subject of Hoffmann’s unrequited love, time and again. At first, she is but a figure of adoration, for we don’t hear her until a significant way into the first act. Mind you when we do, her ability to hit high notes flawlessly means we can see immediately where Hoffman is coming from.

Michael Lampard is suitably odious and wicked as the devil incarnate – rotten to the core. I thoroughly enjoyed his characterisations. And Hew Wagner does besotted and befuddled with aplomb. As for Kerry Frankland as the angel, who wouldn’t be taken by her abiding good nature and best of intentions. The cast’s ability to switch seamlessly from opera to pop, rock, punk and ballads is admirable … and must be seen to be appreciated.

I loved the costuming – ostensibly a black and red palate, with the angel the one exception … you guessed it, dressed in all white. Emotionworks has also made sure it has a few tricks up its sleeve to give our funny bones a working over. Think green mad professor wig, dour grey face mask with no hole for the mouth and decidedly gaudy, low rent sunnies going for a song via the single pass of a smart watch.

Earlier I mentioned the music included much-loved fancies. I am talking the likes of La Vie En Rose, She, The Old Fashioned Way, Chanson D’Amour and Ca Plane Pour Moi, to name but a few. Add to that list The Windmills of Your Mind, Those Were the Days, Voulez-Vous, Michelle, Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)? and many others. There are 25 in all.

Tales of Hoffman Ooh La La is a hoot and hard-working director Julie Edwardson, together with a cast of 11, including a five-piece band – a couple of members of whom double as players – ensure a good time is had by all. It is playing at Lux Nightclub in Prahran until 1st December, 2019.

Alex First