The Handmaid’s Tale ★★★ London Coliseum | February 1 - 15, 2024


There is clearly an audience for Margaret Atwood's dystopian vision of America in 2195 as a misogynistic, authoritarian society. Based on a novel that is known worldwide and that has become a popular Netflix series, the operatic version of this unremittingly bleak view of the future was first performed in Copenhagen in 2000 and was premiered by the English National Opera in 2003. The current revival of the work is beautifully produced and sung, but it is not an evening for everyone. In fact, we noticed that some audience members did not return after the interval. For those who did come back, they enjoyed the continuing opportunity to appreciate Kate Lindsey's amazing mezzo-soprano voice which made it all worthwhile. Her performance as Offred, the abused handmaiden who is engaged to produce a child for the tyrannical Commander, shines through Atwood's heavy handed allegory. As Serena Joy, the Commander's wife, Avery Amereau also lit up the stage whenever she appeared. She captured the complexity of her character who is both an oppressor and one of the oppressed, bringing a strong contralto voice to her role. The use of flashbacks to tell Offred's story worked well on certain occasions, but at other points it distracted from the dramatic flow of the piece. Paul Bentley's libretto seemed overly prosaic, and at points unintentionally humorous. However, the latter might be seen as some relief to Atwood's intensely didactic tale that in many cases probably inures the audience to its message. We also appreciated Poul Ruders use of the "Amazing Grace" theme in his score to introduce a somewhat subtler note of irony into the proceedings. The issues dealt with in Atwood's work are terrifyingly present in contemporary society, but are probably more interestingly addressed elsewhere. However, The Handmaid's Tale is definitely worth taking in for its wonderfully talented cast and the quality of their singing.

Rated: ★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Zoe Martin

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