We’re big fans of the King’s Head – Islington’s queer pub theatre – and their LGBTQ+ programming; we’ve covered many of their shows over the years. Currently playing there is a modern adaptation of Puccini’s opera La Boheme: re-imagined in contemporary London, it is very much an opera-lite production (which is to be expected, given the intimacy of the space). The running time has been trimmed to 85 minutes without an interval – although there is a 5-minute pause – and the cast has been reduced to just four singers, with the accompaniment provided simply by a keyboardist. Thankfully it all works very well.
Puccini’s Rodolfo has become Rob, who is a struggling writer; Mimi has become Lucas, hiding behind an online persona as Mimi on Grindr; Marcello is now Marcus; and Musetta is now Marissa. The brief running time, modernised story and – crucially – affordable ticket prices mean this rendition of La Boheme is just about as accessible as opera is ever likely to get in London. Additionally, musical theatre fans will of course be aware that this show is the inspiration behind Rent, and will recognise many of the key themes and characters.
There are some impressive performances on display here. All the singers are strong but we were particularly taken with the range and tone of Daniel Koek’s voice; while Grace Nyandoro absolutely steals the first half of the show with a hilarious turn as Marissa. Attempting to make the best of a bad situation as she realises she’s ended up in the same bar as her ex on New Year’s Eve, she flirts with pretty much everyone available – including many members of the audience – with some highly entertaining consequences.
This modern adaptation of La Boheme is an impressive update. Whether considering contemporary issues including mental health and substance abuse within the gay community, or replacing a heteronormative narrative with a queer love story – including a discussion around HIV status and what it means to be undetectable – we thought the changes to the original would resonate well with today’s LGBTQ+ theatregoers. Throw in some impressive singing performances and a healthy dose of humour and what we have here is a thoroughly enjoyable evening at one of our favourite pub theatres in London.
GAY TIMES gives La Boheme – 4/5
More information can be found here.