REVIEW: La Boheme English National Opera London Coliseum

PUBLISHED: 11:25 27 February 2009 | UPDATED: 15:59 07 September 2010

It may seem as though Jonathan Miller is in permanent residence at ENO. But the truth is that the shows you see with his name attached tend to be revivals – old productions which come around and around again without any great involvement on his part. He

It may seem as though Jonathan Miller is in permanent residence at ENO. But the truth is that the shows you see with his name attached tend to be revivals - old productions which come around and around again without any great involvement on his part.

He hasn't done a new staging there for 12 years. So his new Boheme is an event.

And it looks guaranteed to join that list of endlessly reviving shows, with all the makings of a classic - beautifully prepared, meticulously realised, with an eye that misses nothing and knows how to make the details count.

Based on 1930s photographs of Parisian street life - Brassai, Cartier-Bresson and their like - it comes in muted, almost monochrome colours, and the emotional tone follows suit - thoughtful rather than boisterous.

But it's good, I think, to turn the volume down on the bohemian high-jinks in the garret. Forced fun can be tiresome.

In the process, bits of comic business that are prone to mess, like Benoit coming for the rent or Musetta's sugar-daddy in the cafe, emerge with the sudden clarity of background details in a old, dark painting newly cleaned. For once they work and are amusing rather than annoying.

Isabella Bywater's designs, done in the qualified reality of traditional theatre, build a wonderful, shifting streetscape from modules that open like doll's houses to show a garret which is genuinely up high, reached by a staircase you hear about but don't usually see.

Within these spaces, Miller coaxes his cast into some truly meaningful performances - no ham, no auto-pilot gestures, every statement felt and lived.

Roland Wood's Marcello dominates the stage, with handsomely projected singing.

Melody Moore's Mimi is grand for a seamstress. She has a gauchness that recalls Joyce Grenfell, but with a voice like warm rain, soft and elegant.

And although Alfie Boe's Rodolfo is disappointingly small, it's attractively packaged.

Conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya, this is one of the most engaging Bohemes I've seen in years - its only compromise on credibility being that the world of 1930s Paris should be thick with cigarette-smoke.

These days, even in the interests of art, we don't do nicotene.

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