The Pleasance Theatre is above a huge pub in an industrial courtyard off a one-way system that’s virtually impossible to get to if you’re driving. It’s near Kentish Town and the Cally Road, and although it has plenty of flags outside proclaiming its presence, nobody I know has ever heard of it. This is no scruffy little fringe room above a boozer. It’s the showcase in London for the Edinburgh Fringe. Who knew?
Well, I did, having accidentally discovered it a few weeks back with their excellent production of ‘Assassins’. On Sunday afternoon I walked over to see ‘Too Hot To Handel’ (from the creator of ‘Montiverdi’s Flying Circus’). The idea is to take key duets and arias from Handel’s operas and transpose them to the present day with a storyline in order to introduce people to a fairly difficult composer.
So we get a love story, a flying dog, singing charladies and the Hallelujah Chorus belted out by members of the audience. Much of this owed its freeform nature to the existence of flashmob theatre, where spontaneous performers are mixed into the passing crowds. A very funny row in the crowded interval bar resulted in a drink being chucked in the lead’s face, and we realised we no longer knew who amongst us was part of the play.
I’m still not keen on Handel; two much trilling, and that ominous harpsichord glissando which warns us of yet another song about unrequited love approaching, but this is the way to kickstart start potential fans. The leads were Royal Opera House, their backing quintet was perfectly period, Handel’s themes were untouched – only the language and setting has changed, so that it came as a shock when the lead’s girlfriend called him a plonker.
The theatre is currently running a huge Edinburgh preview, and there are usually seats available at short notice. If you’re visiting London, leave the West End to those poor tourists who’ve forked out fortunes to see some knackered old Lloyd Webber musical trudging wearily through its paces like a worn-out carthorse, and catch something fresh for a quarter of the price.