The dimly-lit interior of the King’s Head on Upper Street may seem like any other Islington boozer, but walking into the pub’s backroom, drinkers are miraculously transported to a California poolside.
For the last three weeks, the pub has hosted an intimate production of Donizetti’s opera, L’Elisir D’Amore, in its theatre; its bright reimagining of the classic as a love story set in 1950s Hollywood has drawn in London crowds looking to escape the tail end of the winter chill.
Against a backdrop of pastel colours, Hawaiian shirts and gin fizzes, L’Elisir D’Amore, or the Elixir of Love, follows the attempts of poolboy Nemorino to win the heart of a glamorous young starlet, Adina.
Frustrated by the success of his rival in love, Nemorino resorts to the elixirs of stylist and trickster Dr Dulcamara, in a desperate last bid to woo Adina.
Lively and amusing throughout, L’Elisir D’Amore is played enthusiastically by its cast, but its main draw is how close it lets the audience get to the action, which allows for plenty of interaction between the cast and punters.
Ali Sutherland, who plays Dulcamara, says this made the opera particularly enjoyable to sing in: “It’s a fun role, there’s a lot of participation. My character in particular picks on the audience quite a lot.”
One hilarious, and distinctly uncomfortable, scene sees Dulcamara suggest remedies to members of the audience to improve their looks. Sutherland said he scouts out suitable candidates while on stage early in the opera in a non-speaking role.
“Because I come on as a different character, there may be a little bit of audience scanning to scope out what kind of trajectory to take,” he said.
Intended to be less formal and more fun than a large-scale production, L’Elisir D’Amore has also managed to attract audiences who are new to opera, Una Reynolds, who plays Adina, said.
“A lot of the people who come to these shows either haven’t seen an opera before, or they’re younger and don’t have much experience with opera, so they’re more fun and flexible with the way that things play out,“ she said.
L’Elisir D’Amor is showing at the King’s Head Theatre Pub on Upper Street until 16 March. Tickets are priced £16-£25, and can be purchased from the King’s Head website.