On its first outing, Fiona Shaw’s production of The Marriage of Figaro was both fussy and unfunny, but in revival it’s greatly improved. There are still too many pointless sight-gags, the cuckoldry symbolism is still overdone, and the revolve still revolves far more than it needs to, but the set-piece comic scenes – Figaro’s Ortonish rediscovery of his parents, and the climactic shenanigans in the darkened garden – are now deftly handled.
And although the characterisation of the Count is still awkward – Benedict Nelson doesn’t find the necessary gravitas to make the role work – other characters emerge with unusual vividness. Jonathan Best brings a stateliness to Doctor Bartolo which Lucy Schaufer as Marcellina plays off sparkily, while Colin Judson’s blind and crotchety Don Basilio lights up the stage. Meanwhile David Stout invests Figaro with a convivial warmth, and Samantha Price’s intensely-sung Cherubino is all the more effective for being played absolutely straight. Jaime Martin’s conducting is properly Mozartian.
But the palms go to Sarah-Jane Brandon’s ravishingly-sung Countess, and to Mary Bevan’s bewitching Susanna. It was entirely appropriate that the first night should conclude with Bevan receiving this year’s Exceptional Young Talent award from the Critics’ Circle, because the perfection of her singing is allied to a natural dramatic gift.
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