When I first sat down outside a coffee shop in Highbury and Islington for a quiet latté with Adam Spreadbury-Maher, Artistic Director of the King's Head Theatre, I could not have dreamt that in just under two years time I would be attending the nominees' reception for the UK's most prestigious theatre awards, The Oliviers, as the co-writer and star of a show that had just been nominated for Best New Opera Production.
Our re-imagining of La Bohème is a passionate and provocative retelling that speaks to modern life, and which celebrates the timelessness of not only Puccini's music, but his characters. The entitled young white men, Rodolpho and Marcello, 'struggling' in the arts but with cash to fall back on; and the penniless women, Mimi and Musetta, whom they love, and who genuinely have to fight for existence - dependent on others.
Mimi's poignant death in Puccini's original is a social disgrace. TB was a disease that killed the poor who could not eat, or heat their homes, and who lived in squalor. While it might seem controversial to reinterpret her as a heroin user, killed by her addiction, this is a perfect mirror. Addiction is a social disease that we try to turn our backs on. It is often caused by desperation and a feeling of hopelessness, felt by those whom society rejects, or who fall through the cracks in the system. It results in homelessness and isolation, and turns its victims into social pariahs in much the same way TB did over a hundred years ago.
To be nominated for an Olivier for telling this story through Puccini's wonderful score is an honour, and it also shows what small companies can achieve through opera when they choose to be bold and tell stories that really affect audiences and pull on the heart strings.
I would like to thank everyone who was involved with this production, from the dedicated stage manager to the excellent casts; the creative team to the box office and behind the scenes admin gods and goddesses. Good luck to us on April 8th!