Scottish Opera and Northern Ireland Opera's new version of Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld has been touring Scotalnd and Northern Ireland: it's now arrived in London for a short run at the Young Vic in London, in its 150-seater Maria hall alongside the main theatre. A company consisting of just ten singers, one pianist and an off-stage player of Orpheus's violin make this the latest addition to London's burgeoning chamber opera scene.

Máire Flavin as Public Opinion © Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
Máire Flavin as Public Opinion
© Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

This production is all about celebrity. The sets are a backdrop of newspaper headlines (The Deity Telegraph, News of the Underworld, etc); the translation is by a celebrity (Rory Bremner); there were a boatload of celebrities in the audience (as well as Bremner himself, the row in front of me included Brian May, Nancy Dell'Olio, and probably others I didn't recognise). In a Sunday Times interview, Bremner said that he didn't expect his audience to know much about either Greek mythology or Second Empire French politics, so he rewrote the opera rather than translating it: the result is billed as being updated "to our media-savvy, celebrity-obsessed society". The figure of Public Opinion becomes the personification of the tabloid press, Eurydice is a hen-night slag, Aristaeus converts from shepherd to personal trainer, John Styx from the former king of Boeotia to a disgraced banker.

The action starts with a great performance by Máire Flavin as Public Opinion, engaging and amusing. After that, the opera rapidly settles into a single pace and style - fast and coarse - which it maintains for the rest of the evening. There's plenty of on-stage sex, Gavan Ring's Pluto gives us more pelvic thrusts than an Elvis concert, Eurydice spends a lot of time telling men that she's up for it and pointing encouragingly at her crotch and any prolonged high notes are accompanied by visual orgasm gags. You can fill in a long tick sheet of current affairs themes from the dialogue: Berlusconi's bunga-bunga parties, the Greek financial crisis, tabloid hacking, Strictly Come Dancing and I'm a Celebrity, Get me out of here, to name just a few.

My problem was that after a quarter of an hour or so, I started to find it all very predictable. I don't get shocked by coarse sex references on stage, but I got bored after the tenth, twentieth, thirtieth one. Bremner's political comedy usually has me in stitches, but this didn't: I could see too many of the jokes coming from a mile away, and it seemed like a list of topical gags rather than anything genuinely witty. Musically, this production didn't do anything for me either. I can see that it is difficult to fill a 150-seat theatre with an upright piano and maintain any variety of colour. But I'm not convinced anyone was trying to get variety: the piano style was clipped and upbeat throughout and even John Styx's lyrical ballad when I was King of the Boeotians was performed as a cheerful ditty.

The overall result is an odd mixture of standard operatic technique for the singing, music-hall style piano playing, high energy larking about from the cast and lowest-common-denominator humour. There are going to be plenty of people who enjoy it: anyone who normally finds opera stuffed-up, affected and unremittingly slow will be thoroughly refreshed. But I'm not one of them: I know and love the original Offenbach and its background adequately well and I'm definitely in what Bremner's Eurydice derides as the "Radio 3/BBC4 audience". So I found it all rather tedious.