China Doll - A Neuropera In Four Seasons

Sun 16th – Mon 31st August 2015


Caspar Jacobs

at 11:20 on 22nd Aug 2015



With the title China Doll: a Neuropera In 4 Seasons, you would expect this opera to be 'real' - heavy opera, with loads of dramatic singing and exaggerated costumes. But China Doll is surprisingly light, almost more of an operetta, almost more like a musical without dialogue. The story, on the other hand, is a dark fairy-tale that makes you feel a bit weird after leaving the venue - a 'what have I just seen?' feeling.

China Doll starts with lead role Nina, all alone, lamenting her inability to conceive children that can “make her winter warm”. To get around this, she takes a china doll and pretends that that is her son. Of course, not everyone is fooled by this, not even herself, really, but her inexperienced boyfriend falls for it. Tragically, he tries to get the baby to sleep, but of course a doll can't close its eyes.

To this central plot is added a lot of the typical opera stuff. Prostitution, affairs, gossip, that sort of thing. There wasn't quite enough time in an hour to really develop all of these side-plots, and not all of them were particularly interesting. The most amusing bits were when the women of the town who were really pregnant went around mocking Nina's flat chest.

The quality of the songs varied wildly. Generally, those that were more up-tempo succeeded in being catchy and engaging, whereas the emotional solo's didn't always work that well. One song around the middle of the opera was based on a piano piece by Satie but adding lyrics took away the piece’s beauty. As for the acting, it wasn't outstanding, but I don't think it has to be in an opera. Most of the emotion is conveyed through the songs anyway.

Although I was a bit worried at the beginning that the message of the play was that pregnancy is all there is for a woman, China Doll turned out to be a surprisingly tragic fairy-tale in the style of Andersen's The Little Match Girl, though a little bit more creepy. Because dolls are creepy. Also, I still don't know what a neuropera is. Nonetheless I enjoyed this opera in 4 seasons.


Flo Layer

at 14:59 on 22nd Aug 2015



As their Fringe debut, Bad Habit Theatre Company present China Doll: A Neuropera in Four Seasons. Despite the lengthy and slightly pretentious name this is a brilliantly silly show that captures the farcical and downright bizarre nature of many operas with crude humour, petty relationships, and bad timing galore.

Yet the tale is essentially a tragic one: the female protagonist Nina realises that she cannot conceive a child and so in order to satisfy her young lover, she pretends to give birth to a china-doll – chaos, confusion and broken relationships ensue.

Jakob Robertson’s composition featured some brilliant moments, especially the technique of squeezing a few too many syllables into a single phrase for comic effect. Yet a lot of the time it seemed as if the singing had to be rushed to fit to the music, and as a result the music and vocals often felt out of time. It is certainly admirable to perform a show that plays around with the ridiculous aspects of opera yet it is nonetheless crucial that it is still performed with skill and timing. Sadly I occasionally found myself tapping my foot to try to get the performers back in time and cringing as some of the singers slipped way off tune.

While many of the faster and upbeat numbers were thwarted by the troubles with timing, the slower harmonic numbers, including the two duets between Nina (Alice Morgan-Richards) and Ana (Phoebe Rose) were much more successful. Rose and Morgan-Richards sang beautifully together and their delicate voices complimented the other perfectly. Marie Hamilton and Emma McElhinney performed brilliantly as the delightfully devilish duo of pregnant women Margot and Gretchen. Their synchronised birth scene was a particularly funny highlight.

In opera of course, you don’t typically expect top-notch acting and certainly in this show, the silly and ridiculous nature of its tale often meant that the cast could get away with slightly patchy acting. Yet some of the more earnest side-plots, such as Alexi’s (Carlton James) affair with Vincent (Andrew Lee) were left underdeveloped and lacked a much-needed sincerity.

This production is great fun if you go in with pretty low expectations. You certainly can’t expect to be blown away by the music or acting but its infectious enthusiasm and silliness shapes it into enjoyable hour nonetheless.


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