The Moderate Soprano

Previewed 5 April 2018, Opened 12 April 2018, Closed 30 June 2018 at the Duke of York's Theatre in London

David Hare's play The Moderate Soprano in London starring Roger Allam and Nancy Carroll

1934. The Etonian science teacher John Christie's admiration for the works of Wagner leads him to embark on an ambitious project: the construction of an Opera House on his estate in Sussex, Glyndebourne.

Such was the scale of the enterprise that passion alone was not enough. But then Christie hears word of a group of refugees for whom life in Germany is becoming impossible. Can they help can deliver Christie's vision of an opera house on the South Downs? And will they be willing to cast his wife - the young soprano Audrey Mildmay - in the lead?

The story of the birth of John Christie and Audrey Mildmay's world famous Glyndebourne Opera House, with help from the conductor Fritz Busch, director Carl Ebert and manager Rudolf Bing.

The cast features Roger Allam as 'John Christie' and Nancy Carroll as 'Audrey Mildmay' with Paul Jesson as 'Dr Fritz Busch', Anthony Calf as 'Professor Carl Ebert', Jacob Fortune-Lloyd as 'Rudolf Bing' and Jade Williams as 'Jane Smith'. Directed by Jeremy Herrin with designs by Bob Crowley, video by Luke Halls, lighting by Paule Constable, music by Paul Englishby and sound by Simon Baker.

Original staged at the Hampstead Theatre in 2015, Jeremy Herrin's re-designed production comes into London's West End with both Roger Allam and Nancy Carroll reprising their roles.

When this production opened here at London's Duke of York's Theatre in April 2018, Patrick Marmion in the Daily Mail highlighted that "the pleasures of Jeremy Herrin’s cosy production lie more in the sheep-grazing vistas of Bob Crowley’s nostalgic design. Otherwise, the show is as staid as a National Trust tea room — and could benefit from a bit more of a bun fight." Fiona Mountford in the London Evening Standard said that "Jeremy Herrin’s production unfortunately has an inert first half, of long static scenes in which the actors seem nailed to the spot... Roger Allam is, as ever, a master of the dry one-liner and there’s lovely work from Nancy Carroll as a skilled peacemaker for her occasionally irascible spouse... A moderate success." Ann Treneman in the Times described it as being "a static, well-focused, wordy evening. John Christie is played by Roger Allam with pitch perfect eccentricity... a bit samey, wordy, not showy, but, yes, a moderate success." Ian Shuttleworth in the Financial Times explained that "it consists almost entirely of discussions among the Germans, John Christie and his wife Audrey Mildmay... Only Jeremy Herrin’s sensitive direction and a top-notch cast led by Allam as Christie and Nancy Carroll as his wife, with Paul Jesson and Anthony Calf as the senior Germans, prevents all the talking from seeming both uncertain and pointless."

When this play was seen at the Hampstead Theatre in October 2015, Michael Billington in the Guardian wrote that "David Hare's play unravels the multiple paradoxes behind the creation of this Sussex Xanadu," adding that "Roger Allam delivers this with spine-tingling magnificence and throughout captures Christie's extraordinary mix of obduracy, uxoriousness and visionary zeal... beautifully directed by Jeremy Herrin." Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph thought that it was an "efficient, entertaining digest of a notable chapter in our national cultural life... At his best Dvid Hare fuses the personal and the political with a passionate intelligence that is impressive whatever your persuasions... Sensitively directed by Jeremy Herrin... this is a deluxe theatrical footnote. But in terms of drama it's too much strudel, not enough schnitzel." Paul Taylor in the i newspaper praised how "Roger Allam delivers a stunning performance - killingly funny and achingly sad - as Glyndebourne's founder John Christie... Immaculately directed by Jeremy Herrin... Nancy Carroll is pitch-perfect as the finally wheelchair-bound Audrey Mildmay, who ruled with a rod of graciousness." Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail said that "Sir David seldom spares us historical exposition, and some of the early scenes are so laden by background that they start to sound like a visitor brochure. Things improve markedly when he sticks to characterisation... Sir David uses the story to make a strong argument about the seriousness of art, which, as he is good enough to admit, is the most inegalitarian of human elements." Fiona Mountford in the London Evening Standard highlighted that "John Christie's appealingly over-the-top manner of benign dictatorship, delightfully captured by Roger Allam, means that he hogs both the action and all the best lines and ensures that the other characters remain rather sketchy in comparison. Jeremy Herrin's production gets bogged down in some long, static and exposition-heavy scenes." Ann Treneman in the Times commented that "there is a word for this new play by the prolific David Hare and it's in the title. And, no, it's not soprano. Indeed there is not even one trill to be heard here... It's a static, well-focused, wordy evening. John Christie is played by Roger Allam with pitch perfect eccentricity. His wife Audrey (Nancy Caroll) has a very English brittleness." Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times described how, "for all the talk of music and passion, what we mostly get is people standing, teacup in hand, talking. However, this doesn't make for great drama. We end up with something at once restless and static, interesting but rarely emotionally stirring... David Hare gives us a loving portrayal of the mix of vision, stubbornness, grit, love and luck that can produce great art, yet the play proves a curiously dry affair."

The original cast at the Hampstead Theatre (previewed from 23 October 2015, opened on 29 October 2015 and closed on 28 November 2015) featured Roger Allam as 'John Christie' and Nancy Carroll as 'Audrey Mildmay' with Paul Jesson as 'Dr Fritz Busch', Nick Sampson as 'Professor Carl Ebert' and George Taylor as 'Rudolf Bing'. Directed by Jeremy Herrin with designs by Rae Smith, lighting by James Farncombe, music by Paul Englishby and sound by Tom Gibbons.

Roger Allam's London theatre credits include the roles of 'Georges' in Terry Johnson's revival of Jerry Herman's musical La Cage aux Folles at the Playhouse Theatre in 2009; 'Bernard' in Matthew Warchus' revival of Marc Camoletti's comedy Boeing-Boeing at the Harold Pinter Theatre in 2008; 'Ray' in Peter Stein's production of David Harrower's play Blackbird at the Noel Coward Theatre in 2006; 'Abbanazar' in Sean Mathias' production of Billie Brown's pantomime Aladdin opoosite Ian McKellen as the Dame, 'Widow Twanky', at the Old Vic Theatre in 2004 and 2005; 'Willy Brandt' in Michael Blakemore's production of Michael Frayn's play Democracy at the Wyndham's Theatre in 2004; 'Adam' in John Caird's production of Michael Weller's play What The Night Is For, opposite Gillian Anderson as 'Melinda', at the Harold Pinter Theatre in 2002; and 'John Worthing' in Terry Hands' 100th Anniversary Production of Oscar Wilde's comedy The Importance Of Being Earnest at the Old Vic Theatre in 1995.

Nancy Carroll's West End theatre credits include the roles of 'Maggie' in Joe Murphy's production of Jack Thorne's new version of Georg Büchner's Woyzeck at the Old Vic Theatre in 2017; 'Felicity Houston' in Terry Johnson's production of the Dan Patterson and Colin Swash comedy The Duck House at the Vaudeville Theatre in 2013; 'Viola' in Gregory Doran's revival of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night for the RSC at the Duke of York's Theatre in 2009; 'Lady Croom' in David Leveaux's revival of Tom Stoppard's play Arcadia at the Duke of York's Theatre in 2009; 'Penelope Troop' in Douglas Hodge's revival of Philip King's comedy See How They Run at the Duchess Theatre in 2006; and 'Gloria Clandon' in Peter Hall's revival of George Bernard Shaw's comedy You Never Can Tell at the Garrick Theatre in 2005.

"Of the many paradoxes revealed by The Moderate Soprano, David Hare's new play about the founding of Glyndebourne, the greatest is that Hare, erstwhile scourge of the Establishment, should pen such a paean to cultural elitism...It depicts the struggles of landowner John Christie to realise his dream of building an opera house on the Sussex Downs; his unlikely employment of three refugees from Hitler's Germany to run it; and the mental and physical decline of his wife Audrey, the moderate soprano of the title. Hare tells us far too much about the problems of planning a repertoire and too little about the personalities involved. Jeremy Herrin's production is disappointingly static, but the acting is superb." The Sunday Express

"David Hare's focus is... on the creation of the work the audience watches - the often fraught, occasionally joyous combination of singular vision and teamwork - as the wealthy eccentric John Christie and his young wife, Audrey Mildmay, set about building an opera house... Almost unrecognisable in a bald wig, Roger Allam is in terrific comic form as he reveals Christie's passion, drive and bull-headed obstinacy, as well as the tenderness with which he looks after Nancy Carroll's Audrey when her health deteriorates after the war. But the drama of that relationship is undermined by too much exposition elsewhere, and the play only sporadically flickers into artistic life." The Sunday Times

"The play is a portrait of a quintessentially English eccentric and his two great passions, music and his wife, Audrey. Roger Allam plays roly-poly John Christie to delightfully dogged perfection, a man who brought bumbling resolve and enthusiasm to the opera house in his garden on the Sussex Downs. Audrey (a captivating Nancy Carroll) is the soprano of the title, for whom Christie fell late in life. On her deathbed she recalls her happiest times, playing Susanna in The Marriage Of Figaro. David Hare seems at pains to detail Christie's determination that art should require an effort, somewhat undermined by the fact that only those with free time and fat wallets can afford the effort Glyndebourne entails. There's a play in there somewhere." The Mail on Sunday

The Moderate Soprano in London at the Duke of York's Theatre previewed from 5 April 2018, opened on 12 April 2018 and closed on 30 June 2018