“Don’t worry, there’s no audience participation!” Harry Percival assured me. “You’ll be safe in the front row.” One act, and much impromptu tambourine-management later on my part, he admits it was “a bare-faced lie”. Indeed, in Pop Up Opera’s dynamic and boundary-breaking production of Bizet’s early operetta, no one is safe. You may be tucked safely away in the middle of the third row from the back, yet still find yourself judging the (imaginary) omelette, brandishing some percussion, or singing Toreador (thankfully, not solo). And why not?

Robert Lomax (Silvio/ Pasquin) and Aurelia Jonvaux (Laurette) © Jenny Dale
Robert Lomax (Silvio/ Pasquin) and Aurelia Jonvaux (Laurette)
© Jenny Dale

Bizet’s Le docteur Miracle is no serious opera: it is, by contrast, frivolous in the extreme. The plot is deliberately ridiculous, and Pop Up Opera’s delightfully anarchic production makes the most of its every silly turn. The music, happily, is lovely: not always wildly original (Bizet was only 18 when he wrote it), but with just the occasional unusual harmony or strange turn to imply a greater talent to come. In fact, the sheer eccentricity of the story (based on Sheridan’s St Patrick’s Day) is probably what is most original here. Uniquely among operettas, it contains a (beautifully-written) quartet in praise of an omelette – which turns out to be inedible, though musically mouthwatering. A sense of paranoid surrealism abounds. There’s something innately French about proceedings, yet it plays directly to British sensibilities and a British sense of humour.

This tour will take Pop Up Opera to all sorts of venues, but if they can use them all as well as they used Drink, Shop & Do on the Caledonian Road, it will be an interesting tour to follow. We were packed into the upstairs bar, and use was made of the whole space, so that I often found myself turning in my seat to watch another crazy detail.

I’m not usually a fan of riot and rumpus, but what this production lacks in restraint, it makes up for in gusto, and the production’s enthusiasm is infectious. The singing was also very pleasing. For me, Aurélia Jonvaux stole the show as Laurette, with the most wonderful timbre to her voice and prettily-observed characterisation. Sarah Champion came a close second as her stepmother, Véronique, also singing beautifully and holding the audience’s attention with playful mastery. Benjamin Seifert has a deep, rich tone as Le Podestat, the Mayor, drawn with sincerity and humour. Later, Seifert’s rendition of Toreador was truly a treat (and then it was our turn!). As Silvio, the romantic hero, Robert Lomax’s voice took a little time to settle. These are early days for Lomax as a performer, but he shows potential and copes well, as all the company do, with some demanding choreography from director, Darren Royston.

Pop-up Opera's <i>Le docteur Miracle</i> © Jenny Dale
Pop-up Opera's Le docteur Miracle
© Jenny Dale

Apart from the singing, the real delight of this production – and the fulcrum of all jokes – is Harry Percival’s opera captions. I won’t spoil them for you, but don’t miss them. They start slowly, but soon become a veritable hotbed of contemporary references and sly witticisms: and they add significantly, and cleverly, to the overall comic energy of the piece.

If anything, for me, there is so much going on before, after and during this piece that you are left feeling a little distanced from the operetta itself. This is the only downside of not translating the libretto in full, although the captions are such fun that you would not want to miss them. Still: as well as Le docteur Miracle, we also had some excerpts from Les pêcheurs de perles and Carmen, thoughtfully introduced to bulk the evening out; these act as a great showcase for the singers, but don’t necessarily extend Bizet’s ideas that smoothly. Nevertheless, it adds to the overall sense of gay abandon and anarchy.

Irreverent and energetic, packed with modern witticisms, you may not come away entirely certain that you know Le docteur Miracle – but you will have met him briefly, and had a lot of fun to boot. Definitely recommended.