Edinburgh Fringe 2012
AKHE reconstruct the Carmen story, putting forward Jose’s conflicted self as a duel played out between himself and his alter ego
Bizet’s opera, Carmen, immortalised Merimee’s opera of the same name and put Carmen firmly at the heart of popular tales of doomed love. But with all love affairs, there are two people, and here, Carmen’s counterpart, Jose, has been written out of history. So much so that in AKHE’s show, Jose has been subsumed to become Mr Carmen rather than Jose.
And here the duality of love is expressed not by two lovers, but by the internal duel of the main character split into two parts battling his alter ego. Maksim Isave and Pavle Semchenko are wonderful in their double handed Jose. Jose writes out the names, Jose and Carmen, time and time again like some love struck teenager – in paint, in foam, in cigarette smoke, in whatever comes to hand. This is a character asserting his right to exist and to have an identity.
AKHE have created a space within the space of the stage enclosed by a thin wire like a boxing ring. Crossing it brings death to the hero and in yearning for death, the character proves his right to live. This is a protagonist who strikes out the word "Carmen" from Merime’s text and inserts "Jose" instead.
AKHE’s finely constructed production brings all the senses into play; it is a sensory delight. It is full of fantastic images and ingeniously engineered props cleverly utilised. As well as being intensely visual, there is music and sound, and more than any stage show I have seen before there are smells: incense, paint, tobacco waft on the air. The lighting is unobtrusive but cleverly creates a space that at the same time is dark but adequately lit. Smoke swirls through the air creating patterns of unreality.
The smells and bells, the Jewish costume of one character and the Catholic references of the other bring with it a a sense of mystery and religious intensity. It is a world of phantasmagorical shapes and uncertainty. Motifs occur and recur, created from a wonderful variety of cleverly engineered artefacts; red roses, cigarettes, knives, hearts, and red wine are all incorporated into this clever show, but all in a way which transcends cliché and reinvents the symbol. Absolutely stunning to watch.
Rube Goldberg deserves a special mention for his set design and contraption which were so integral to the show. Many of the mechanical props had a charming Heath Robinson type home made quality. However, the night I was there, there were a number of technical hitches which needed tightening up – the wire which rotates round the stage stopped several times among other things. Hopefully, this was a problem early in the run that will be corrected. Without the technical hitches, this would have been a four star show. As it was, it was a memorable experience whose images will be etched on my memory for some time to come.