Ma vie en rose, Young Vic, London<br/>La Didone, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh<br/>Henry IV Parts 1 &amp; 2, Courtyard, Stratford-upon-avon

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Not to be confused with Edith Piaf's celebrated chanson, Ma vie en rose is based on Alain Berliner's film about a little boy who loves cross-dressing. Lodovic innocently dances around in his mother's frocks. The homophobic neighbours ostracise his family, but everyone happily embraces his transgender issues in the end.

Director Pete Harris's wordless physical-theatre production has been specially devised as this summer's Young Vic community drama. It mixes professional actors with a large ensemble of locals and a live band. Nevertheless, after last year's hugely acclaimed community opera Tobias and the Angel, this is underwhelming. Harris encourages lots of cloying smiley mime. Sometimes it feels like a dated educational show for toddlers.

That said, not having any dialogue is quite a positive solution, making amateurs and pros merge more seamlessly. Some inspired moments arise too. In one dreamy sequence, Lodovic (newcomer Adrian DeCosta) slides open a cupboard door and his mother's cocktail dresses come sashaying to enfold him, like a surreal kind of walk-out wardrobe turning into a ballroom waltz.

Also on for a short run was the Edinburgh International Festival's latest radical remix of music and theatre, La Didone. Here Manhattan's famed avant-gardists, The Wooster Group, were splicing Francesco Cavalli's 17th-century opera (which tells of Dido and Aeneas) with the 1960s B-movie, Planet of the Vampires.

The stage is peppered with plasma screens beaming out snippets of the sci-fi film overlaid with footage of Elizabeth LeCompte's cast, who simultaneously perform scenes from it on stage. Kitted out in sheeny intergalactic gear, they mimic the stiff acting with deadpan irony, pretending to be sucked down by the pull of an alien planet. Ari Fliakos's Captain Kirkish Mark and his crew, including Hai-Ting Chinn's Tiona, then rush around trying to exterminate their ex-buddies, who have turned into killer-zombies.

The amusingly bad dialogue is relayed like tinny radio contact and surtitles transcribe the words, teasingly inaccurately, stage right. At the same time, arias from the opera are performed, as if in another dimension, with the translated libretto running, as surtitles, stage left. The structure is oddly like Alan Ayckbourn's space-sharing farce How the Other Half Loves, reviewed here last week.

With everyone doubling, Hai-Ting Chinn keeps morphing into Dido who, struck by Cupid's dart, falls for the voyager Aeneas, only to be ditched when he sets sail again. Having attempted suicide, she looks dead behind the eyes as she goes through the motions of Cavalli's happy ending, pairing up with another admirer.

This production is slow to get going. At other points, having so much going on is distracting and disengaging. The tongue-in-cheek satire risks turning the opera into a travesty and LeCompte's baroque/rock band (with theorbo lute alongside electric guitar) could explore their meld of sounds further.

Still, Chinn has a voice like silvery, fluid mercury. The arias become eerie and unearthly. The two odysseys, by ship and spaceship, increasingly interconnect as characters are subject to forces beyond their control, and their riven feelings are reflected by the split-screen aesthetic.

In Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, Prince Hal eventually reforms his ways, zigzagging between Falstaff's boozy Eastcheap and battlefield heroics. Once crowned, he cold-shoulders his old friend. Sadly, these richly human plays are given a dull revival by the RSC's Michael Boyd, on a rusty metal set. Geoffrey Streatfeild's Hal glowers monotonously, while Lex Shrapnel's Hotspur barely grasps that the rebel's tantrums are comically infantile.

Looking like Don Quixote crossed with Father Christmas, with windswept white hair and wadded crimson breeches, David Warner's Falstaff has wonderful glimmers of tenderness with Hal. He is also imbued with a quiet melancholy which suggests he knows what is coming. However, at this stage in the run, no one has much bounce.

'Henry IV Parts 1 and 2' (0844 800 110) in rep to 8 March

Further viewing: 'Chimes at Midnight', Orson Welles's version of the Falstaff story, is on DVD