Theatre Review: La Bohème, Empire Theatre, Liverpool

Image Source: North West End

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Opera
Genre: Drama
Date: March 24 2017
Location: Liverpool Empire Theatre

La Bohème is one of the more well-known opera shows to have toured the UK theatre circuit. Its latest version has just hit the Liverpool Empire with considerable acclaim and hype, and the production as a whole lived up to expectations.

Directed by Ellen Kent, and based in Paris, France circa 1830, La Bohème tells the story of Rodolfo (Giorgio Meladze), who along with a number of friends has fallen behind on rent payments, but through fine wine and charming of the landlord, they amusingly throw him out of their room. In the meantime, Rodolfo – a writer – is visited by a young lady from another room in the building named Mimi (Alyona Kistenyova), who wishes for assistance as her candlelight has blown out. Through this, Rodolfo helping Mimi after she suddenly faints and their instant attraction and subsequent chitchat, the two almost immediately fall in love and their relationship blossoms, as do other growing romances within Rodolfo’s inner circle of friends. However, Mimi begins to fall ill, to what we later learn is tuberculosis, but Rodolfo, unable to assist her due to poverty, hopes that she falls in love with somebody else who can help her. They agree to separate, but then decide to stay together a little longer because their romance is too strong to break so easily. Unfortunately, Mimi’s illness worsens, and the story then centres around whether Mimi can survive, and how this can – or will – affect Rodolfo. (This, by the way, was the inspiration for Rent, which took an alternative and modern approach to the tale; you can read my review of Rent by clicking here.)

Of course, the story is told through opera, meaning that almost the entire show is performed in song. Amongst the songs you will hear when watching La Boheme are Sì, mi chiamano Mimì; Donde lieta usci; and Vecchia zimarra. Fortunately, the production team have a mini-screen above the stage providing English subtitles throughout the entire show, so as not to confuse anybody who may be unaware as to what is happening due to the foreign language. The story is broken up into four acts, which is unusual from a theatre standpoint, as we have a brief pause after Act 1, a “proper” break after Act 2, and another interval after Act 3.

The performances are, by and large, excellent. The singing is topnotch, and the acting – in particular, the dramatic scenes in Act 4 – drew tears from some in attendance. I also appreciated the excellent settings; they were pretty simple, but they looked extremely effective – one such setting displayed the Eiffel Tower in impressive fashion – and they add a layer to the developments on-stage, making the story come to life that much more. I also thought the costumes were very good, and it’s clear via the small touches, like the aforementioned subtitle screen, that the team behind this latest incarnation have done their homework, so to speak, and have spared no expense in trying to put together the perfect La Bohème experience for attendees to enjoy.

Of course, as it’s opera, the show will appeal to a certain target audience, meaning that even the greatest opera of all-time won’t appeal to everybody. Even if you’re not a fan of opera, though, you’ll definitely appreciate the hard work and strong performances from this show, and the four quartered structure of the story means that we’re essentially given several 30-35 minute chapters, which helps to break things up (and to allow the crew to put together the next setting) and keep things moving. The best compliment I could give the show is that if you do not like opera, but you are potentially interested in seeing one such show which may convert you into becoming a fan of the genre, this is an extremely good show to see.

Nevertheless, it’s aimed at fans of opera first and foremost, and those supporters of the opera style should love this version of La Bohème. One for the opera aficionados to not only go and see, but to truly enjoy, perhaps be moved by, and to recommend to friends and family that they go and see it too.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10 – Excellent