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Watermill - Carmen

5th July to 26th August 2000 (and 14th to 19th June 2001)

Alas, the Telegraph review is now lost.

The Kick FM review.

I've been to see the Watermill's exciting new production of Carmen, and it's a real gem. Now, I think a lot of people could be put off by the title – Carmen's opera, and opera's boring, right? Wrong! This production was nothing like I expected. For a start, it's moved forward a century and it's set in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Carmen doesn't work in a cigarette factory, she works in a munitions factory. And instead of the grand, rip-roaring overture, it starts with a simple tune played on a guitar, while a matador walks slowly around the stage – full of suspense and menace.

What we've got here is a musical, not an opera, and because it's got all Bizet's great tunes in, it knocks spots off a lot of musicals you can see in the West End. John Doyle's production uses a cast of just eight, who play all the parts and all the music, using all manner of instruments – trumpet, violin, cello, clarinet, flute, double bass, and more.

Carmen is played by Karen Mann, and here's the next surprise: she's not a beautiful young girl, but a middle aged woman who's been about a bit. Just how she manages to cast her spell on handsome young Don José, played by Jeremy Harrison, isn't altogether clear; perhaps it's her singing, which is wonderful.

In act two, the metaphors of the Roman Catholic mass and its sacrifice blend into the tragic ending, but we got several encores at the end, to send us away humming the tunes.

Carmen's been modernised before, in the film Carmen Jones, which set it in America in the second world war; this Carmen was firmly in Spain where it belongs. The cast showed enormous energy, and the fight between Don José and the bullfighter, using great heavy ammunition boxes, was spectacular.

Go and see it - you'll have an evening to remember.