Review: Carmen

"I don't want to see plays about rape, sodomy and drug addiction..." mused Peter Cook in one of my favourite quotes of all time, "...I can get all that at home."

Still moving, but with awkward direction

It's a similar sensation by the close of director Daniel Kramer's radical reinterpretation of Bizet's classic. The story is irreverently shifted from 19th century Spain to what appears to '70s America.

So Opera North's new Carmen receives the Redneck treatment throughout: women gang-groped by policemen, breasts exposed, buttocks bared and a certain amount of violence – only some of which is really necessary.

In fact, there are numerous elements of this vision which have a sense of the salacious and frequently feel awkwardly random.

Just in case you hadn't gleaned yet: there are no Flamenco dancers, castanets or bull fighters (they've been replaced here by dog fighters) though the untethered, steamy elements of the original tale are exploited well.

A sweat-soaked Heather Shipp is fantastically wily and as the fickle gypsy girl whose ability to break hearts is only equalled by her own self-destructive nature. But in terms of vocal performance Peter Auty's smooth, controlled delivery steals the show as jose, the central casualty of Carmen's capricious passions.

Kostas Smoriginas is a genius piece of casting as the greasy lothario Escamillo and Anne Sophie Duprels as Micaela was perfect.

Although nothing could detract from the rich choruses and orchestration, this leftfield version of carmen isn't exactly a triumph. there is as much to bemuse as there is to amuse. While some scenes are jaw-dropping, others leave you rolling your eyes.

by the close of the second act a woman wearing a Madonna-esque conical bra is placed on a trolley and wheeled on stage by a bronze Adonis wearing nothing but a white jockstrap. As the curtain comes down he simulates chewing her breasts, leaving the audience wondering what they are meant to represent and why any director would do such a thing.

I guess I was supposed to feel challenged, but I just felt sorry for people who'd paid up to 58 to see Bizet's masterpiece, but frequently ended up with an avalanche of Kramer's sensational imaginings.

But, rest assured, just under this surface you'll still find one of the best operas of all time.

Saturday and Jan 29, Feb 1, 5, 7 and 9, Leeds Grand Theatre, New Briggate, Leeds, 7pm, 10 to 58, Tel. 0844 8482705

PRODUCTION: Birdsong will visit West Yorkshire Playhouse on February 13.

Birdsong: Critically-acclaimed play visits Leeds