Caruso and the Monkey House Trial

Press Reviews

by George Fleeton

21 October 2012

The arts in Down have no apparent immunity against the broader crises in the arts in general, and particularly with reference to the reception afforded to the performing arts.

Case-in-point: at the matinée performance of Caruso and the Monkey House Trial (Down Arts Centre, October 21) – the most dynamic one-man show seen in these parts in ages – there were just ten paying customers.

Exception-which-proves-the-rule: witness full houses in the Great Hall for five performances, later that same week, of the Lloyd Webber/Rice pasticcio Joseph.

Mexican actor-tenor Ignacio Jarquin held that earlier Sunday afternoon audience spellbound as he recounted an embarrassing incident, from Enrico Caruso’s life in New York in 1906, by which he was accused of pinching a lady’s bottom at Central Park zoo, and the subsequent trial put both his impeccable reputation, and his career as the world’s greatest operatic tenor, in to a dark place.

Jarquin’s interpretation of that incident, his pitch perfect singing of snatches of Caruso’s repertoire at the Metropolitan Opera from that period, his evocation of multiple characters, including the monkey, were dramatically severe, demanding of total attention from the audience, on a stage with only a draped table, a stool and a banana, but this was acting, and singing, that took responsibility for the integrity of performance and, in the eight years of writing these reviews, I struggle to remember covering anything to surpass it – in this theatrical sub-genre, that is (although Philippa Urquhart’s reading of The Turn of the Screw, in April 2006, or David Calvitto’s self-reflective The Event, in April 2010, come close).

Barack Obama doppelgänger Ignacio Jarquin acted and sang his way through this historical footnote humorously and vividly, exquisitely dressed, mannered and coiffed and, towards the end, he still managed to take the unadorned top C in Rodolfo’s Che gelida manina from Puccini’s La bohème, Act 1.

The crises in the arts are undeniable, jobs in the sector are being dispensed with, any disposable income normally set aside for tickets, often at rock bottom prices, is being unprecedentedly squeezed, and, while private sector funding for performance arts has become more elusive, such subsidies are even more essential today than yesterday, in order to ensure that the fate of the dinosaurs does not befall the sometimes amazing, low budget, local arts’ provisions which we have been traditionally proud to support in this particular District.

The trains may no longer serve Downpatrick but the light at the end of the tunnel has not been turned off – yet.

☆☆☆☆ Fringe Review

By Paul Levy

7th August 2011

Ignacio Jarquin performs impressively in a well penned study of both the Great Caruso brought low, and a period of history that has resonances with today.

In November 1906, Enrico Caruso was charged with carrying out an  indecent act allegedly committed in the monkey house of New York’s Central Park Zoo. A policeman accused him of inappropriately touching of a married woman which Caruso denied. He was later found guilty and fined 10 dollars. Outrage ensued, suspicions aroused that he may have been entrapped by a conspiracy, and his adoring followers soon forgot the incident and Caruso still wowed the crowds with his voice. And it is in fine voice that Ignacio Jarquin begins this touching and engaging play by Andrew G. Marshall.

Enrico Caruso is a figure that my parents generation are most familiar with. Yet this is a play that speaks to all generations, especially with recent events in a hotel room in New York!

Ignacio Jarquin looks and sings the part. The play opens on Caruso singing and quickly switches to an oath to tell the truth, defending himself against false charges. He inhabits the part fully, creating a full bodied believability. As a singer he is not the singer of record and radio recordings, nor does he try to be. Jarquin portrays a more human Caruso, locked in a cell, accused of indecent behaviour in public. Can he even trust his secretary? The singing is both performance and also a window into Caruso’s distress and emotional landscape.

There’s some sharp verbal and visual humour within the serious material. Caruso defends  himself through storytelling and physical theatre set just at the right pitch – movement is simple and the set is minimal – a table and a cloth allowing our attention to rest wholly on the performer. Visually there’s a terrific moment as Caruso sings on a stool on a table and we are suddenly on this stage, on his level with him and suddenly there’s a sense of audience-performer fellowship. Caruso can be pompous, superior, yet also vulnerable and simply human. The god brought low, or perhaps the man, always just a man at core.

Andrew G Marshall’s story style engages from the start and the only quibble I have is with the placement of some of the songs that interrupt the narrative on occasions. Also the narrative flow dropped a little in the middle of the piece – pace seemed to slow unnecessarily, but soon picked up again.

But this isn’t just a story, it’s a study of justice and injustice, celebrity and conspiracy. With recent events surrounding Wikileaks and the Baltter case in the U.S,  there’s a voice here reaching through history to the present day. We can suddenly be brought low, on the word of someone else, and those in the public eye’s tower of cards can quickly come tumbling down at the drop of an accusatory hat.

This is both a well penned and imagined study of a historical moment as well as an excellent character study brought vividly to the stage by the charismatic Ignacio Jarquin and Prodigal Theatre. The ability to evoke a period of history and invoke a character so completely is a testament to the passion for detail at the heart of Prodigal’s work, Marshall’s writing, and Jarquin’s performance. FringeReview strongly recommends you spend an hour at Hill Street Theatre in the company of the Great Caruso. Was he guilty of this crime? We’ll leave that up to you to decide for we, the audience, are the ladies and gentlemen of the jury.

☆☆☆☆ The Edinburgh Reporter

15 August 2011

Reviewer: Martin Belk is editor of ONE Magazine, contributor to The Scotsman, and The Scottish Review of Books

Take an actual story from history about a famous singer named Enrico Caruso, which happens to be set in fantastic New York City, add a talented singer/actor Ignacio Jarquin, open it on The Fringe and what have you got?

Great theatre.

Jarquin delivers a multi-faceted, nuanced singing and storytelling drama about the infamous arrest and rail road trial of Caruso. The show uses a minimal set, and superb acting skill to portray characters ranging from an actual monkey, to police and magistrates and Caruso himself. The a capella interludes are delicately performed and appropriate for the scale of the production. This show is thankfully not a loud, gimmick-ridden show. It is an opportunity to see a professional actor use the tools of the traditional theatre to deliver a satisfying, compelling narrative.

The Stage

Review by Alistair Smith

Monday 15 August 2011

Caruso and the Monkey House Trial marks the second one-man show that Andrew G Marshall has written about the early 20th-century Italian opera singer Enrico Caruso.

The first, Caruso and the Quake, dealt with the ‘little Italian with the voice of molten gold’ being caught up in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. This sequel deals with another incident during the same year when Caruso was arrested for allegedly pinching a woman’s bottom while outside the monkey house and Central Park Zoo in New York.
The play follows Caruso’s incarceration and trial and casts the audience as members of the jury.
Ignacio Jarquin reprises his role as the opera singer and also plays all the other parts – from the Irish American arresting officer to Knocko, the monkey in the zoo.
Staged with few props and minimal set, this is an interesting historical snippet and Jarquin gives a fine performance with a melodious voice for the sung operatic sections, but the show never flies.
We aren’t really asked to doubt Caruso and the play doesn’t dig deep enough into the major issues that the opera singer’s arrest raised at the time – corruption in the police and the sexual harassment of women.
But it’s almost worth seeing for Jarquin’s impressive monkey impersonation alone.

☆☆☆☆ Edinburgh Spotlight

Reviewed by Danielle Farrow

It is 1906 New York and the great Italian tenor Enrico Caruso is on trial for monkey business in a monkey house: while watching his favourite monkey, Noko, he has apparently copped a feel of some poor woman’s backside and police claim they have been observing such behaviour for some time.

Ignacio Jarquin’s Caruso has all the insecurities of a divo, is only slightly discomforted by his womanising – there are good reasons, after all, while he might carry on with two sisters at the same time – is passionate in his generosity and disturbed at the very idea that he might have behaved in such an unsavoury manner. With such a woman!

Through humour, some grand characterisations – including Noko and police with ape-like tendencies – and rich use of historical accounts, the beautifully garbed Jarquin seduces his audience with his narrative techniques, fine voice and detailed creations with the help of a table, a cloth and a stool. This is a gentle tale, its grand swoops those of character rather than dramatic story arcs, and it is for the audience to decide if the singer was guilty or not. Oh, there is the historical decision, but the audience can let Caruso know whether or not they believe his account.

Jarquin’s accent has something of a Spanish flavour, in speech and singing, and occasionally a line is delivered in such a way that humour is slightly lost, but his ease with opera, specific physicality in creating all the characters and ability to play with his audience through expression and pauses impress and deliver a piece of high quality theatre. The vanity, loneliness and quirks of this famous tenor as played by Jarquin make him someone we can care about, no matter what he may or may not have done at the monkey house and elsewhere in his life.

Caruso and the Monkey House Trial, presented by Prodigal Theatre, is a strong, well-performed solo piece built around a strong, intriguing character and its examination of a public figure humiliated through a sex scandal, hounded by reporters, betrayed by confidants and possibly ruined by doubtful police reports cannot help but ring bells in modern times as well.



Reviewed by Catherine Sylvain

Writer Andrew G Marshall has enthusiastically stressed the parallels that his musical monologue, Caruso and the Monkey House Trial, has with Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s current bother. Yet the topicality of the sexual misconduct accusations tossed at tenor Enrico Caruso in 1906 rather makes this play’s trajectory feel like overly-trodden ground. The century’s first tabloid celebrity sex scandal, Caruso’s case is also fairly typical, involving questionable evidence, underlying racism and no one emerging clean-handed.

Contemporary accounts of the incident – in which Caruso was accused of groping a woman in the monkey house of New York’s Central Park Zoo – paint the tenor as very much the victim. But Ignacio Jarquin’s one-man performance suggests a more ambiguous character, slipperily debonair and too earnestly desperate to be truly sympathetic. It’s clear why this is Jarquin’s second on-stage incarnation of Caruso; he has fantastically expressive features and a devastating voice. Only when he uses the latter do you understand why a troop of managers and detectives rush to defend the virtuoso. Jarquin’s Caruso animates these supporting characters with hammy contempt as he tiresomely denies and denies the increasing accusations.

Instead of confiding in his distant wife, Caruso identifies with Noki the monkey in what is the play’s most compelling analogy. During the prologue Jarquin eats a banana – and for its conclusion he squats atop a table like a primate. Caruso and the Monkey House Trial may say little original about celebrity sex scandals, but Marshall makes an intriguing satirical point about the status of performers.

☆☆☆ The Scotsman


Reviewed by Sally Stott

Writer Andrew G Marshall and singer-performer Ignacio Jarquin follow up their 2008 show Caruso and the Quake with another one-man performance about the notorious Italian tenor. This one charts the trial Enrico Caruso faced in 1906 for pinching a woman’s bottom at a monkey house in the middle of New York’s Central Park Zoo. Caruso claimed a monkey did it, but was convicted in a case that caused widespread scandal.

Jarquin is a great singer and natural storyteller who adeptly portrays multiple characters, each of whom has their own physical traits and idiosyncrasies. He paints Caruso as simultaneously sleazy and likeable; a celebrity of his day, not unlike many of the footballers or politicians who have recently been in the news for sexual misdemeanours. We question when “having a way with women” becomes something less palatable and draw parallels with today, when it seems unlikely that pinching a woman’s bottom would result in a trial at all.

Since the story is told mostly from Caruso’s perspective, it’s inevitable we end up feeling sympathy for him. A vote which we all take part in at the end feels skewed as a result, but it’s an engaging piece, even if it’s not as insightful as it could be

Three Weeks Edinburgh

Friday 19th August 2011

By Thea Warren

This ambitious one-man show tells the scandalous true story of a 1906 court case, putting the audience in the role of jury. The show is clearly a labour of love but fails to delight due to a cumbersome script and the inflexibility of the sole performer. Whilst Ignacio Jarquin is charming as Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, his attempts to create dialogue by flitting between characters proves unconvincing and distracting. Equally, the operatic element is disappointing: Jarquin’s voice is not strong, often moving set whilst singing rather than committing to the music. Though Jarquin proves affable enough to win this jury’s support, this forgettable show sadly does not reap the potential of its novel conceit and captivating protagonist.

☆☆☆ FringeGuru

Monday, 22 August 2011

Reviewed by Richard Stamp

A fascinating concept for a one-man play, Caruso And The Monkey House Trial revisits the real-life, sensational trial of one of the world’s most famous operatic tenors. In 1906, Enrico Caruso was arrested for molesting an unknown woman in – of all places – the monkey house of a New York zoo; it was a scandal to match any of our modern-day tabloid tales. Was he guilty, or was he framed? This play wisely avoids coming down definitively on either side, but there’s plenty to enjoy as it delves into the fading world which surrounded the trial

Ignacio Jarquin, who plays all the roles, is a believable character actor, and employs a range of accents – Italian, German, American – to evoke the tale of Caruso’s troubled days. The predominantly foreign tone works nicely, reinforcing the feel of a man who’s welcomed, but not quite accepted, by the country he now calls his home. At times, though, I found the narrative a little hard to follow, and it took me a while before I was completely across the Who’s Who of Jarquin’s characters. The details are certainly thought through – when he plays one man, for example, he always stands to the left – but giving the figures some bolder motifs would help us find our way in the earlier scenes.

As Caruso himself, Jarquin is haughty, yet broken. With continual reminders of this wealth and importance, it’s a convincing and affecting portrayal of a man who’s suddenly thrown from his pedestal into the middle of a mob. Perhaps it was a little too convincing: the emotion’s very much on one level, with Caruso, as he later comments, always wearing a (metaphorical) mask. Despite a certain lack of engagement, though, it’s hard not to root for this “little Italian”; his attitudes to women are unreformed, but is that really just a judgement on the standards of his time?

Still, we are invited to judge Caruso himself, in a much more interesting way.  By casting us – the members of the audience – as Caruso’s jury, the script makes a valuable and telling point about how justice has evolved in the hundred years since his trial.  By any modern standard, only one verdict is really possible, and the audience on the day I attended reached it all but unanimously.  But history records a different result; and by forcing us to make up our own minds, the play drives home a reminder of the days when guilt by accusation extended out of the tabloid media and into the court itself.

There’s one aspect of Jarquin’s performance which, sadly and unavoidably, I didn’t get to see at its best. We were warned as we headed up the stairs that he was fighting off a cold, so the fragments of operatic arias which punctuated the piece were surely not up to the standard he would usually attain. For what it’s worth, I wasn’t convinced they added much, but who knows; on a better day, perhaps they’d have been captivating.

It’s to Jarquin’s credit that the show went on – and I learned a lot about a near-forgotten but hugely interesting footnote in the history of opera. Watch out, too, for the neatly-done epilogue, which brings another character’s story (a rather unusual character’s story) to a touching close.

Spank The Monkey


The age-old question: how do you pick what to see at the Fringe? Here’s a story. We’re in the Traverse Bar after seeing Last Orders on Thursday, and a chap comes up to our table and politely describes a show he’s been hired to plug. He isn’t hectoring, or aggressive, and he’s very sorry for taking up our valuable time but he thinks it’s something we would enjoy. Most importantly, his show has a monkey in it. Sold!

The facts are these. In 1906, the legendary tenor Enrico Caruso went on trial in New York, accused of touching the bottom of a woman in the monkey house at Central Park Zoo. Caruso himself, however, claims to be innocent. In Andrew G Marshall’s play Caruso And The Monkey House Trial, the audience is placed in the role of the jury at the trial, while Ignacio Jarquin plays the singer, explaining to us how this apparent miscarriage of justice came about, interwoven with the odd aria or two.

It’s a neat framework for a cheap one-man show – it uses a minimum of props, the music is performed a capella, and Jarquin pulls off the complex task of impersonating a dozen or so characters as if they were being impersonated by Caruso (and yes, that includes the monkey). He’s a compelling narrator (the accent helps), and can pull off the opera sequences with notable skill. The ‘trial’ aspect of the story may not quite hold up, as we only ever get to hear Caruso’s version of the story. But there’s no denying that it’s a thrilling theatrical moment when the lights go up and we all get to vote on whether we believe him or not. (And, if the vote turns out like today’s does, you can feel the palpable contempt from the audience directed at the two people who voted the opposite way from everyone else in the room. No, it wasn’t us.)


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