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- All Edinburgh Theatre

Edinburgh Studio Opera return to Alexander McCall Smith and Tom Cunningham’s studio opera with a leaner, fitter production than the one which premiered two years ago at the Queens Hall.

The Okavango Macbeth is McCall Smith’s attempt to draw a parallel between the matrilineal baboons of the Okavango Delta in Botswana and Lady Macbeth’s murderously ambitious traits as depicted by Shakespeare.

The original production has had half an hour shaved off, although the structure and overall feel of the show is still very much the same. Indeed, South African director Nicholas Ellenbogen returns to direct and brings his excellent use of small props and well-observed physical gait to the opening scene where the animals of the Delta are seen living in harmony.

The chorus members lollop, strut and lumber around the stage, augmenting their plain outfits of black tee-shirts and khaki shorts with horns, ears or tails according to the animal they are portraying.

Of course Eden is soon lost – the animals blame the baboons – and a trio of primatologists come to observe the baboons.

With the primatologists providing a chorus, this allows the baboons to play out a tragedy of succession – even while the scientists are ever keen to point out that there are no tragedies in nature, only events.

Ben Ellis is in suitably large and lustrous voice as Duncan, the alpha male of the baboon troupe. Even more pleasing is Gemma Summerfield who sings Lady Macbeth. Her voice has a fullness of tone and warm, effortless timbre. There is little interaction between the two, indeed given Ellis’ voice he feels underused when Duncan is killed, as he must be.

Further tragedy is clearly on the cards

The problem for Lady Macbeth is that, according to baboon law, she can not have children with her husband but must mate with Duncan. Her solution is to get Macbeth to murder Duncan and replace him. Her husband will not just be king, but she will be his mate.

Ben Tambling makes his voice suitable underpowered as Macbeth – although he lets it fly later on when regret is called for. Listening to his voice alone, he is clearly no natural successor to Duncan. With a leopard prowling round and the baboon troupe clearly unhappy with Macbeth, further tragedy is clearly on the cards.

The loss of half an hour from the original production is largely for purposes of staging it in the Fringe, with a shorter time slot. It has also been simplified somewhat, partly due to the logistics of using a venue with a 15 minute turnaround time.

Strangely, it doesn’t feel as if anything is missing. The rather ponderous back-story is thankfully slimmed down and, if there is less change to create character, there is no feeling that anything is misunderstood or misrepresented in what remains.

The music accompaniment returns to composer Tom Cunningham’s original piano score – the orchestrations of two years ago were Robert McFall’s work for his Mr McFall’s Chamber. Musical director Stuart Hope’s contribution from keyboards really allows the voices to shine.

And it is in the singing and acting performances that this earns its stripes. There is never any doubt that these are animals of the Okavango Delta. But best of all, is hearing it in such an intimate setting, where no one has a to operate at the extremes of their ability.

- Public Reviews

New Opera doesn’t get any better than Cunningham and McCall Smith’s The Okavango Macbeth, instantly accessible, incredibly melodic and performed by the Edinburgh Studio Opera with relish and commitment.

Having originally premiered and written for a production in Botswana, this is the fourth outing for this production, although relatively unknown outside of Edinburgh, this new one act opera, should be required listening for all lovers of the genre.

Set in a Baboon colony, 3 primatologists study a colony of Baboon’s throughout their time, the Baboon’s behaviour starts to mirror the story of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and whilst the Primatologists are studying the primates, they in return are also being watched by the Primates.

Cunningham has created a musical landscape that wouldn’t be too unfamiliar with musical theatre aficionados, with its hummable melodies, a shame that at the production presented here, his music wasn’t played by a small chamber orchestera, instead we are left to the bare essentials of an electric piano, which is played with incredible skill by Stuart Hope. Renowned Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith has provided the Libretto, its fresh, it bounces off the page and balances humour, passion, and darkness with incredible skill.

South African Nicholas Ellenbogen makes the young members of the Edinburgh Studio Opera push themselves both vocally and physically during the show, the production certainly benefits from it, the opening sequence not to un-similar to The Lion King, is beautifully realised and the production values continue throughout.

Gemma Summerfield as Lady Macbeth gives a knockout performance, a strong vocal with incredible stage presence, a performer who is surely destined for greater things in the future. Jerome Knox as the male Primatologist has a wonderfully velvety baritone voice, clear and crisp, one would have liked to have heard more from him within the piece but its tight 70 minute running time doesn’t unfortunately allow this. Great comic support is also given from Laura Reading and Rachel Timney as the female Primatologist, constantly engaged in the action of the piece, they never let the humour or their voices down. Fill these incredible performances with strong harmonies from the chorus and this is a production that is memorable for all the right reasons.

If you enjoy opera this is a must see, if you have never been to an opera then this is the perfect introductory piece to the art form, and the best thing about it, its suitable for all the family.





Edinburgh Studio Opera

The Okavango Macbeth


Mon 12th - Sat 17th August
9.30pm (1hr 30mins)

From Scotland

Following sell-out Fringe shows and five-star reviews for its latest production, Edinburgh Studio Opera returns with a revival of Tom Cunningham and Alexander McCall Smith’s The Okavango Macbeth.

Set in the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana, this chamber opera deals with the efforts of an ambitious female baboon, Lady Macbeth, to encourage her husband, Macbeth, to murder the dominant baboon, Duncan.

The opera premiered in the 2009 Botswana production mounted by the celebrated Cape Town director and producer, Nicholas Ellenbogen.

About this extraordinary, operatic gem.

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Tickets:
£9.50 (£8.50)

Group discount: 10% off for groups of 10+

Friends of Fringe: 2 for 1 anytime – only available from Fringe Box Office



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