Porgy and Bess, Festival Theatre

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The Independent Culture

Everything is crammed into this multimedia slice of life on Catfish Row. It's too gimmicky to be dramatically riveting but Opera de Lyon's production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess in the International Festival programme has plenty of visuals to grab the audience's attention. Co-directors and choreographers José Montalvo and Dominique Hervieu use dance, video and live film footage not just to illustrate the opera plot but to give a brief (and superfluous) history of the civil rights movement.

A selection of imagery is projected on to the screen dominating the top half of the stage, from jumping fish to a crying baby (in "Summertime", tenderly sung by Magali Leger), from tsunami-like storms (during the hurricane scene in which the company is huddled on a makeshift barge) and sun-drenched seascapes to scenes of racial tension. This, and the ceaseless (albeit accomplished) break-dancing, makes the production too busy. Instead of psychological penetration what we get is a superficial gloss, to the detriment of the emotional core of both narrative and music.

The black cast gives its all, and in terms of characterisation there are strong performances from LaVerne Williams's Maria and Ronald Samm's Sporting Life in particular. But the singing is underwhelming (surtitles would be useful), with Derrick Lawrence an unimposing Porgy and Janice Chandler-Eteme a pallid Bess. William Eddins, though, shows great flair in drawing stirring orchestral playing that matches the colourful spectacle on stage.