Production images: David Hooley                                                                                                                                 This image:Natalie Gamsu,and Stefanie Jones 
Featured image: Andrew Kroenert and NatalieGamsu

Non sequiturs abound, in so many ways, for CARMEN LIVE OR DEAD playing at the Hayes Theatre for a limited season.  It’s not just “they have great coffee” in an odd moment, it is Carmen themselves who is out of joint.  Person of appetite and excess, creation of wisdom and power this Carmen entertains, educates and elucidates the personal.  Carmen’s rare account, rawly told, will stir the emotions and spur the intellect through song and story. It’s a fascinating work and a compelling telling.

We meet Carmen Frida Leon Davidovich, fictitious issue of Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky.  Carmen is intersex and called to share with us.  Carmen is also doomed and we will spend only an hour there to hear of a life, sad and joyous.

Natalie Gamsu is extraordinary in her rendering of an extra-ordinary conception by she and co-creator Craig Harwood.   Songs and dialogue that ebb and flow with emotion are directly addressed to the audience who are witness to Carmen’s life, from abandonment to acceptance of love.  Gamsu seriously rocks a posing pouch and opens wide the wounds that stream from the tragedy of Carmen’s growth to the spectacle we see before us.  She brings strength, vulnerability and a unique interpretation to songs that are character based and comic or tragic by turns.  And the finale … heart-breaking.

The Book is by Craig Harwood, the composer and lyricist is iOTA and the work is directed with precision and flow and a strong bathos imperative by Shaun Rennie.  Gamsu is accompanied by violinist/ performer Stefanie Jones and by Musical Director Andrew Kroenert as both character and guitarist/ pianist.  Their musicianship is wonderful, not just the instruments either, there is  percussion of much pleasure. And their performances complement Carmen’s excesses in a cohesive coming together of disperates.

It plays on a stage, touring ease but solid, that has a raised wooden floor which echoes with Latin stamping rhythms and yet is designed with strong puppet booth or castelet overtones.  Wings made from tormenters.  Teasers shape the frames within the frames to begin in a Roman grand drape used as screen and a backdrop which enrich the relating in period, in circumstance, in anecdote and in Carmen’s lover parents.  (Set Design: Dann Barber) And flowers, always flowers which are reflected red and rich in the lighting, too. (Lighting Design: Benjamin Brockman)

And the finale is a wonder of stillness and aching that reaches across the two miniature birdie footlights.  Many times has Carmen and the others entered the audience space, much have they said while looking one close in the eye from the steep stairs.  Yet Carmen will fade under our glare and the fading confronts as the loss is replete.

This unique experience, CARMEN LIVE OR DEAD, [Facebook] will play at The Hayes Theatre [Facebook] until 13th May … you may not see its like again.

Please be advised this production contains coarse language and adult themes. Not recommended for persons under 15 years.