It's not over till the fat lady swings
You've seen it on TV, now watch the opera. Jerry Springer's cast are getting ready to rumble
Monday 28 April 2003
Jerry Springer – the TV show has long been a staple of daytime television. While Trisha and Robert Kilroy-Silk tackle such weighty issues as the state of the NHS, or coming to terms with adoption, Springer referees an unending army of guests from some weird American hinterland, in programmes titled "Pregnant by a Transsexual" or "I Refuse to Wear Clothes".
Now, this highly addictive televisual experience has been turned into a potentially addictive operatic one. After all, as Richard Thomas (co-creator and composer) points out: "It's got tragedy. It's got violence. There are people screaming at each other and you can't understand what they're saying. It's perfect for opera."
And what an opera. Jerry Springer has been chosen by Nicholas Hytner to be the first production of his opening season at the National Theatre's Lyttelton, and theatregoers will be treated to the sight of Jerry Springer's (Michael Brandon) trailer-trash "guests" singing operatic confessionals, before battering each other over their lurid revelations.
One of the main challenges faced by those involved in the production – directed by comedian Stewart Lee and designed by Shockheaded Peter's Peter Crouch – has been getting opera singers comfortable with fighting each other in the sort of mega-confrontations that have come to be the norm on the show. This was why fight co-ordinator Terry King, whose previous projects include working with Kenneth Branagh and Ralph Fiennes in RSC productions, was drafted in at the last minute. "Seven weeks ago, it was decided that there needed to be more of an element of physical confrontation," he says. "I was then given a brief by the director, who outlined the situations, and then it was easy to literally concoct whatever kind of violence needed to happen."
As on the original show, the same "shocking" themes – from betrayal to rage – reoccur time and again, and the outcome is always the same: a fundamental difference of opinion. "It is at that moment that the whole thing suddenly erupts – only for a few seconds – into a physical confrontation," says King. "But that moment of crisis – people are grabbing each other around the throat, kneeing each other in the balls, pulling hair, scratching faces, and throwing chairs – is all part and parcel of the mayhem that occurs. It's been my job to make the actors and opera singers safe and to choreograph violence."
King has laughed like a drain throughout the whole of the rehearsal period. "I find the whole show hugely amusing," he says. "It's very fast-moving. It rattles on. It shocks. It has dubious taste, but throughout it is beautifully sung; the music is stirring; if you don't listen to the words, you almost have a different experience. There are many different levels going on at the same time. It's not just in bad taste."
'Jerry Springer: the Opera', National Theatre: Lyttelton, London SE1 (020-7452 3000; www.nationaltheatre.org.uk) tomorrow to 5 Jul
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