The Barber of Seville, Savoy Theatre

Comic barber shows new venture can cut it
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The Independent Culture

The last time anybody ran fully commercial opera in the Savoy Theatre it specialised in Gilbert & Sullivan. With the D'Oyly Carte Company gone, the name of Savoy Opera is up for grabs. So are the risks.

The combined fortunes of Stephen Waley-Cohen and Raymond Gubbay may have to prepare for a battering. To judge by the cramped foyers on the first night, they will need a profit smartish so that if they are feeling generous they can buy their audiences breathing space. But once you've adjusted, the delicious auditorium felt like a natural home for lyric theatre.

The risks continue on stage. Gioacchino Rossini's Barber of Seville is dragged out of pre-1789 Europe and dropped into what looks and feels like just after Franco's Spain, with decadent aristocrats, locked up daughters and corrupt police.

It works well, but free enough for the subversive hand of a Figaro, the barber, to have scope for upset.

That's about as serious as it gets. Aletta Collins's direction takes a strictly comic line, devising simple but effective touches of ingenuity to amplify character and situation, while giving a laugh.

Gideon Davey's set undergoes a smart reversals from street scenes to indoors - a kitchen in which masters and servants can bump into one another with some plausibility. It also provides a plentiful supply of props for extracting jokes.

Pick of these is the sleeping cat that is obviously stuffed: it gives the entire house a fit of giggles first time around, although the temptation to overuse it isn't resisted.

Collins shows herself a deft hand at drawing the humour out. Geoffrey Dolton's Bartolo delivers loopy affronted dignity worthy of Basil Fawlty, and Phyllis Cannan makes a wonderfully rounded cameo out of the maid Berta. All in all the production needed no apology for its commercial origins. So far, Savoy Opera has done the trick.