Mark Ravenhill, co-artistic director at King’s Head Theatre (KTH), will direct a contemporary queer reinvention of Puccini’s classic masterpiece La bohème (The Bohemians, 1896 ) at the Islington-based pub theatre, it has been announced.
The opera opens on 26 April, continuing to 28 May, with performances taking place Tuesday to Sunday. The run time is approximately 90 minutes. Tickets are on sale now and cost £10-£34.50.
Puccini’s classic tale of love and loss among a community of struggling artists in 19th-century Paris has been reinterpreted many times since its 1896 premiere. One of the most famous versions is the 1996 Broadway musical Rent, which tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive and create a life in New York’s East Village under the shadow of HIV/AIDS.
Ravenhill’s new production moves the action to modern-day London. “Our version of La bohème is the story of a group of friends who started partying in the 1990s,” he commented. “As they reach middle age, they are faced with the possibility that now may be the time to sell out and settle down. But romantic passion, sexual desire and the hedonistic pleasures of partying remain as strong as ever.
“It’s exciting to honour the overwhelming romantic beauty of Puccini’s score with his eye for telling social detail in this new version.”
In Ravenhill’s reinvention Robin is a penniless writer struggling to monetise his online writing. A Grindr hookup with a Liberty perfume salesman – known to his friends as Mimi – leads to unexpected blossoming of romantic passion.
Meanwhile Robin’s flatmate Marco pursues an on/off relationship with sometime model Marissa, who is torn between the idealism of loving an artist and the financial security offered by a banker.
As a year passes from one Christmas to the next, the four friends struggle to reconcile love with artistic aspiration and the need to pay the bills.
Musical direction is from conductor, composer and lyricist David Eaton. Puccini’s stunning score has been complemented with a new English libretto originally conceived by Eaton and theatre director Adam Spreadbury-Maher, with additional material by actor and singer Philip Lee.
La bohème will be produced by Darren Murphy, founder of Making Productions, a company that champions the creation of female-led, BAME and LGBTQ+ works. Casting is still to be announced.
Musical director Eaton added: “It is really exciting to be returning to the King’s Head to work on this new production of La bohème with Mark Ravenhill.
“I’m always looking for ways to bring opera to new audiences and to reframe the outdated tropes and narratives that can make opera feel elitist and alienating. The King’s Head is the perfect space to come and experience something new – up close, personal and modern, far from the old-fashioned conventions of the opera house.
“There are some great singers on board and an inspiring director – I can’t wait to get started!”
Established in 1970, KTH is known for presenting challenging work and supporting early career artists. “The King’s Head is committed to fighting prejudice through the work we stage, and the artists and staff we work with,” the company said in a statement.
Mark Ravenhill, co-artistic director at King’s Head Theatre, will direct a contemporary queer reinvention of Puccini’s classic masterpiece La bohème at the north London-based pub theatre this spring.