Powder Her Nose

Opera Review by Polly Hope

Linbury Studio Theatre. The Royal Opera House. London

What a stylish piece of work POWDER HER FACE is. Well, this time round. I first saw it at the Almeida Theatre some years back and hated it. Now it is all elegance and pastiche and the music makes more sense.

This production glitters as the story demands. The set is the fashionable flight of distorted perspective steps steeply rising almost to the flies. I saw this concept used all over Europe during the last two seasonsŠ Still it looks smart. I start with the set because that is what you are confronted with as you descend into the depths of the Lindbury¹s submarine like interior. You go down and down and the set goes up and upŠ

This is a truly nasty piece of work about exceedingly nasty people. Four performers, all except Joan Rodgers¹ Duchess of Argyll, play many parts. They are all brilliant actors, so good these days that singers have to act. Mind you it would help a lot if one were able to hear what they say.

I am sure Philip Hensher¹s text is witty, poignant and clever but hardly a word is audible. But then Thomas Ades does go in for squealing and shrieking women.

The music is pretty fine and full of nostalgic quotes; I especially liked the use of an accordion in the score. For Ades the work is tuneful and exceedingly witty, why in parts it is almost a sing-along. The period is perfectly evoked from the repair of a Teasmade to the Duchess living in a powder compact. The performers even manage correct upper crust accents in the few instances they speak rather than yell.

The eroticism and sex madness of the Duchess has no holds barred and is most explicit. Even a totally full frontal naked man rises from the powder compact as the Duchess tries to seduce a waiter. Actually nothing is at all erotic in this production, it is just very, very rude in a rather adolescent way. The Duke takes his knickers off to bugger the maid and the Duchess reaches for every male crotch that comes near her. It isn¹t shocking, it is
all just dirty.

It is odd to write this but the morality of the work worried me. The way that today¹s heroes have to be cut up for the mob. Yes, the Duchess of Argyll was what used to be called a bit of a nymphomaniac, but isn¹t that what goes on everywhere today with drunken girlies screwing in gutters outside bars? Of course the Duchess did not behave well, but she wasn¹t the totally crazy nutcase as depicted here. She liked sex, as did Princess Diana, she had fun, not all desperate agony. The Duchess isn¹t a historical figure; she still has family alive and well. Goodness this sounds ridiculous in the 21st century, but I was sickened. Can¹t say any production has had that affect on me before.

All in all a polished production, Timothy Redmond conducting made great sense of the music, and it was exceedingly smartly directed by Carlos Wagner, but ultimately POWDER HER NOSE is a light weigh work. Nothing wrong with that, no doubt it will run and run somewhere in the world. Bit too long, the second half dragged and I fancy it should have been played without an interval. One huge plus is the excellent programme, just one intelligent essay and the production information. Makes a change from those opera house
tomes with heavy pieces about the whys and wherefores of each opera.

Polly Hope London