Your honour, I accept that you will have difficulty in believing my account of what happened last night. But I can assure you that I am a respectable critic and a man of some position, so please hear me out. I arrived at the Royal Opera House in the usual way, settled into my seat, and – could you believe it – the opera was gone! Apparently it was seen later driving down the Mall pretending to be the Prince of Wales, but that’s another story...

Martin Winkler (Platon Kuzmich Kovalyov) © ROH | Bill Cooper
Martin Winkler (Platon Kuzmich Kovalyov)
© ROH | Bill Cooper

Well, it must have come as a bit of a shock to Mr Beard and those nice people at the Royal Opera, but they seem to have been very quick to draft in a replacement, in the shape of a vaudeville troupe led by this Australian man, Mr Costly. Very accomplished, they were, with all manner of clowning and dancing and Keystone Cops whizzing around the stage. It was all a silly story about a man who lost his nose, and they went as far as to have eleven giant noses in a chorus line doing a tap dance routine. The chief nose turned out to be a young lad called Ilan, who was really rather a good hoofer, if you’ll forgive the word.

A chorus line of tap-dancing noses © ROH | Bill Cooper
A chorus line of tap-dancing noses
© ROH | Bill Cooper

Most of this happened on a small round table in the middle of the stage, generally with a bed on it. Well, it wasn’t just a small table: when you weren’t looking, it turned into a giant table, and then turned into lots of tables being ridden around on bicycles. I’ve never seen anything like it, your honour! And there were simply dozens of characters – 77, somebody said – how that Mr Costly managed to keep track of them all, I’ll never understand.

<i>The Nose</i> © ROH | Bill Cooper
The Nose
© ROH | Bill Cooper

He lives in Germany, apparently, so he must have brought over his own music man, a Mr Meatmaker. And here’s the part that’s going to sound strangest of all: you wouldn’t believe all the things Mr Meatmaker had those musicians doing. I’ve never heard so many different mixes of bassoons and clarinets and slide trombones and trumpets and different things you hit, doing belches and farts and circus drum-rolls and sneezes (well, obviously, this was all supposed to be about a nose, after all). Apparently, Mr Meatmaker didn’t make up any of this: it’s all the fault of some 20 year old Russian kid called Dmitri. This Dmitri must have been a real handful as a teenager, because you always think he’s being really sarcastic. He obviously knows how to write real music, though, because there was a beautiful choral bit in the cathedral as well as some nice dances: for a moment, I thought the real opera might have come back when we weren’t looking, but no, the mad stuff started again.

John Tomlinson (Ivan Iakovlevitch) and Martin Winkler (Platon Kuzmich Kovalyov) © ROH | Bill Cooper
John Tomlinson (Ivan Iakovlevitch) and Martin Winkler (Platon Kuzmich Kovalyov)
© ROH | Bill Cooper
The main man, the one who lost his nose, was a Mr Winkler, and this Winkler winkled all sorts of things out of his voice – he was sneezing and farting almost as much as the trombone! But he’s got a lovely, rich voice, and he made us all feel really sorry for him when he’d stopped getting angry that his nose was gone and just got very sad. Even when the clockwork nose started running round his bed while he was sleeping. And they must have kidnapped one of the singers from the real opera, Mr Tomlinson, because I’d recognise his voice anywhere – he was just hilarious at the beginning, being a drunken barber arguing with a Miss Aldridge, who was being a truly horrible wife. My wife would never speak to me like that, your honour, even if I did make her angry when she was making bread, with flour going everywhere.

But your honour, I’m going to have to confess this to you, because I don’t honestly dare admit it to Mr Beard and Mr Holten. I wouldn’t mind it if they hold off on paying the ransom note for just a little bit longer and keep Mr Costly for a while – that’s the most fun I’ve had there in years!