Theatre Review: Only An Octave Apart at Wilton’s Music Hall in London
PICTURE: ELLIE KURTZ
|What happens when one of the world’s leading counter tenors (Anthony Roth Costanzo) teams up with the legendary LGBT cabaret star Justin Vivian Bond (one half of Kiki and Herb) asks CARY GEE.|
The answer: Pure magic. The fact this alchemy takes place inside the Narnia-like surroundings of Wilton’s Music Hall in London only adds to the somewhat surreal feeling that we are definitely not in Kansas anymore.
Costanzo, who has perfumed ‘falsetto’ roles (originally written for castrati) with leading opera houses around the world, describes Bond as ‘the best performer I have ever seen’.
In turn Bond claims that Costanzo ‘penetrated my dressing room and asked if he could be my special guest’.
Given that the younger performer is more used to plying his trade at the Metropolitan Opera House the deference he displays to Bond is both touching and somewhat surprising. But then, as Costanzo admits, ‘Appearing alongside (Bond) is the first time I have ever felt truly like myself, and indeed there is a special freedom with which he sings this evening. This despite the fact he ‘could have gone to Covent Garden or any toilet in Soho! ‘
As they appear dressed as ‘Amphibian’ craft (wittily designed by Jonathan Anderson) to sing the titular number (originally performed by Carole Burnett and Beverly Sills) it’s clear that they are separated by more than just an octave. Bond is two decades older, considerably taller and sings with a backroom baritone laden with pathos.
Nonetheless, they achieve an almost perfect synergy. Theirs is a collaboration of more than two very distinct voices. They are like two phosphorescent fish who have grown tired of circling each other in the same tank and decided to see what might happen if they actually swam together. The result is breathtaking. Even if you have heard Costanzo sing before, when he opens his mouth and that voice comes out you can’t hide your astonishment, nor prevent the hairs on the back of your neck from standing to attention.
They work their way through a set list that allows each to demonstrate their individual strengths, Autumn Leaves is beautifully arranged, so too is Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush’s Don’t Give up, but it is on the ‘mash-ups’ that they really shine. One Charming Night from Purcell’s Fairy Queen (Costanzo) segues perfectly into ‘There are Fairies at the Bottom of Our Garden’ (Bond), and Dido’s Lament from Dido and Aeneas likewise turns into White Flag by…well Dido of course.
And where else would you get to hear Stars by Sylvester alongside Deh Placatevi Con Me from Orfeo and Eurydice? Despite the ease with which the performers communicate with each other and their audience – there is no shortage of banter, irreverent digs at the British psyche and our fascination with all things royal, and plenty of laugh-out-loud gags – it is clear that a huge amount of work has gone into this show, brilliantly backed by the live band led from the piano by (the improbably youthful looking) Daniel Schlosberg.
‘Amen’ pronounces Bond at one point, then makes a correction. ‘A-them’ before praising their collaborator as ‘a high-singing homo….just like our trancestors’.
‘We’re not here to give you what you want, but to find out what you don’t want and give you that instead,’ they add. Well it turns out that this is what we wanted all along, even if we never could have predicted it!
If I had to pick just one highlight from a an evening stuffed full of them it would have to be Costanzo’s duet, not with Bond, but with himself, as, quite miraculously, and with great panache, he manages to sing both the male and female roles in Mozart’s famous duet, Crudel! Perche Finora from La Nozze di Figaro.
Costanzo and Bond finish with Queen and Bowie’s Under Pressure, and finally their spell is broken.
Only an Octave Apart is not just a musical entertainment like no other, but flesh-on-bones proof that what unites us really is greater than what divides us.
Only an Octave Apart is at Wilton’s Music Hall until 22 October
Go to: wiltons.org.uk