It is 1906 New York and the great Italian tenor Enrico Caruso is on trial for monkey business in a monkey house: while watching his favourite monkey, Noko, he has apparently copped a feel of some poor woman’s backside and police claim they have been observing such behaviour for some time.
Ignacio Jarquin’s Caruso has all the insecurities of a divo, is only slightly discomforted by his womanising – there are good reasons, after all, while he might carry on with two sisters at the same time – is passionate in his generosity and disturbed at the very idea that he might have behaved in such an unsavoury manner. With such a woman!
Through humour, some grand characterisations – including Noko and police with ape-like tendencies – and rich use of historical accounts, the beautifully garbed Jarquin seduces his audience with his narrative techniques, fine voice and detailed creations with the help of a table, a cloth and a stool. This is a gentle tale, its grand swoops those of character rather than dramatic story arcs, and it is for the audience to decide if the singer was guilty or not. Oh, there is the historical decision, but the audience can let Caruso know whether or not they believe his account.
Jarquin’s accent has something of a Spanish flavour, in speech and singing, and occasionally a line is delivered in such a way that humour is slightly lost, but his ease with opera, specific physicality in creating all the characters and ability to play with his audience through expression and pauses impress and deliver a piece of high quality theatre. The vanity, loneliness and quirks of this famous tenor as played by Jarquin make him someone we can care about, no matter what he may or may not have done at the monkey house and elsewhere in his life.
Caruso and the Monkey House Trial, presented by Prodigal Theatre, is a strong, well-performed solo piece built around a strong, intriguing character and its examination of a public figure humiliated through a sex scandal, hounded by reporters, betrayed by confidants and possibly ruined by doubtful police reports cannot help but ring bells in modern times as well.
By Danielle Farrow
5 – 29 August (not 10, 17, 24), 15:45 (16:45) @ Hill Street Theatre