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Jerry Springer: The Opera [opening night] - De Montfort Hall, Leicester

There was a time when I would dip into the freak-show that was the Jerry Springer show, well I don’t see it on TV anymore and all we’re left with is half cocked home grown alternatives or pale imitations. This show that championed the absurd, made a living off the back of those eager to capture their 15-minutes, no matter what the repercussions and brought with it some violent debate for and against its format has now been turned into a opera! Alright this is old news, but opera? Well tonight was my opportunity to experience this spectacle and find out why I had been given the leaflet pronouncing - “Why we want NO Jerry Springer the opera in Leicester” the week before as I went to see ‘The Jungle Book’ and more to the point why there were factions for and against the show lining up outside the venue tonight. In the run up to the show, the local press had printed articles from the public for and against the show’s coming to the city and altogether made far more of something that was after all just entertainment.

We’d sat in the pressroom before we were called for tonight’s performance, a room humming with anticipation and with greater numbers than I’d seen of late. As we proceeded into the auditorium it was clear that this buzz had spilled over and as we walked past the orchestra’s pit and up the isle to our seats, if I were to describe a feeling that was electric, I don’t think I’d be far wrong. The set was a clean sheet of white and gave quite a fantastic impression, kind of like an art gallery before the paintings had made their appearance. Then the show began, depictions of ordinary people, who were leading extraordinary lives and like the exhibitionist, wanted us to see all, warts-and-all. However this time their stories, and there were many, were swathed in an orchestral backing. Then we met the ‘warm-up’ man, his purpose to prepare the audience, and tonight that was not just on-stage, for the spectacle we were about to witness.

Jerry-Jerry-Jerry! We cried and then true to the format, the man himself (or the actor in charge of playing ‘the man’ – Rolf Saxon), trotted through the actual audience, flanked by his security-man and onto the stage. This was really quite bizarre, a show that actually encouraged heckling – you couldn’t help it. Stories of adultery were broken by spoof commercial breaks; as absurd images were shown on the white canvas and then into another infantile story. This time of a man who wanted his wife-to-be to come to terms with his ‘problem’, or as he saw it quite normal behaviour, all this to an orchestral score under the direction of Dan Jackson. You have to understand just how fast paced this moved at and like its format, even though this was a spoof, was constantly aware of the audience and at the root of it, its fee-paying advertisers. At times the constant bombardment of obscenities coming from the stage, became thick and quite difficult to stomach, it wasn’t so much shocking, as boring, but then we’d change tack and into another ridiculous ‘real-life’ depiction. As act-one closed and we went for our break, the general feeling was “is that it”! What was all the fuss about?

Act-two continued the roller coaster, only this time lived up to all the fuss shown by protesters outside, as the bible was brought into focus and a quite raw pastiche of its contents was embarked on. Satin was calling for an apology and Jesus was in the dock, only this time another mind bending act was portrayed in the setting of another Springer show. We met the virgin Mary, Adam and Eve, all played by members of act-one’s cast in suitably apt role, with Satin himself, the previously sacked warm-up man, a chip on his shoulder that was almost visible. We were to meet tap-dancing nurses, the Ku Klux Klan, complete with burning crosses (a nightmare for health and safety and an affront to the god fearing element outside). It was suggested that Jerry meet an unfortunate act with barbed wire and a “talk to the hand” became “talk to the stigmata”. All this had obviously written with a great amount of insight and I felt with tongue firmly in cheek. I saw elements of ‘Life Of Brian’, ‘The Producers’, even ‘South Park: The Movie’ and upon leaving reminded myself of the gag that was told about those who had seen ‘Life Of Brian’ when waiting at the gates to heaven. I was a little disappointed that the auditorium had not been as full as surely such a contentious work should be and having slept on the evenings proceedings had decided that although totally absurd, really wasn’t quite all that I had expected. In the 21st Century, it was obvious that comedy reach these levels, no thought for boundaries and just the same, those who speak out against such a production should have the right to do so. I’m glad I came. I’m glad I saw, after all at least I can speak with the benefit of my own experience and not someone else’s.


Nick James


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