David Pountney is a genius. The British-Polish director has transformed one of the repertoire’s most difficult and eccentric operas into a madcap, merry work of art, bursting with colour, humour and silliness. I was both intrigued by and slightly dreading The Excursions of Mr Brouček at Grange Park Opera. I ended up with quite a crush on this kooky satire, helped by the brilliant toontown sets by Leslie Travers and bold costumes by Marie-Jean Lecca.
The Excursions of Mr Brouček is Gulliver’s Travels meets Monty Python, Alice in Wonderland, Willie Wonka, Baz Luhrmann and the whole kitchen sink in between. It’s all very topsy turvy, and you’ll need to bring your sense of humour with you to enjoy this one. And don’t go reading the synopsis expecting it to make any sense whatsoever. It’s totally bonkers. But let’s give it a shot, shall we?
Brouček (Peter Hoare) is a sausage-eating, beer-swilling landlord who is disillusioned with a life of over-zealous women, lockdown parties, corrupt politicians and social media. He time travels from modern-day Prague to the moon with the help of an oversized winged lager can, only to discover that it is filled with woke, cowslip-eating, art-loving intellectuals. He yearns for his beer and sausages and escapes back to Prague. But it’s 1420 now, and there’s a war raging against the Hussites. Brouček is expected to help in the defence of Prague but flees instead. The penalty for desertion is death by beer – in a barrel. Our hero survives this liquid ordeal and wakes up back in the present, declaring he has single-handedly saved Prague. You still with me?
It took ten long years for Leos Janáček to churn out the final copy of his opera, and no less than seven writers worked on the libretto. In this brilliant English (phew) translation, Pountney pokes fun at the modern-day absurd – from Boris and those parties, to vegans, arty Oscar Wilde-like organic-loving intellectuals, corporate sponsorship and gender politics.
It’s an energetic and effervescent score, brilliantly led by conductor George Jackson with the help of BBC Concert Orchestra. Hail to choreographer Lynne Hockney who gave us some unique dances with retro-style vacuum cleaners and toilet brushes (trust me) and to the brilliant English tenor Mark Le Brocq who takes on four roles (and who is a dead ringer for Michael Heseltine in one of them).
If it weren’t for all those sausages and co, I would even say take the kids. It would make a first great opera, thanks to its imaginative fun factor – which it delivers in bubbly, barrel-sized droves.
The Excursions of Mr Brouček | On until 7 July | Grange Park Opera | West Horsley Place, Epsom Rd, West Horsley, Leatherhead KT24 6AN | Book tickets
I was a guest of Grange Park Opera. As always, opinions are my own. Feature image: Marc Brenner.