How The Office became an opera | Carrie Dunn

One music student has transformed The Office into an opera - to the delight of Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais

With stinging irony, everyone who fancies himself as a comedian has his David Brent impression off pat now. Not everyone, though, can pull off a perfect impersonation of Ricky Gervais's most famous creation while singing operatic arias. That's what Matt Wright does in The Office: The Opera, playing Proud Galleries Camden in their Comedy Crunch slot on 19 August.

"The Office revolves around David Brent," he says, "so it's a big responsibility for me to get the character as close as I can to the original. I've been watching the DVDs solidly. I've picked up a plethora of mannerisms, and my job is to make sure I highlight all the important ones that people identify with."

The entire project is the brainchild of composer-director Anne Chmelewsky, who initially wrote it as a joke on her composition tutors at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

"I did a classical composition course, and I didn't really like it. In my final year we had to write something contemporary and classical, and was looking around for inspiration. So I thought, The Office: The Opera!"

She wrote 10 minutes for the module assignment, and "I was running to a rehearsal at the Bridewell Theatre, and I bumped into Stephen Merchant, so I told him about the show. He could have written me off as a psycho, but he was really nice, and gave me his email address."

Anne sent Merchant and Gervais a video of what had been performed already, and got their stamp of approval. Months later, she decided to stage it to raise funds for Comic Relief, but she was told by the charity organisers that she had to get explicit permission from The Office creators. When Merchant replied to say that they were happy for her to use their characters, he asked if the cast and crew were equally happy to be part of their Comic Relief sketch this year.

"That's how it happened. I got a phone call from their producer saying they were definitely going to use us, and then I panicked - I said I was going to do it, but we didn't have singers or a venue, and it was manic to organise!"

When Merchant and Gervais first came to rehearsal to see the homage taking shape, the cast and creatives were understandably nervous. "Thankfully, Ricky fell off his chair laughing – he really enjoyed it," says Wright.

"Office purists might not love it because we've changed some of the words," he concludes, "but it's funny and basing it on such popular material helps us bring opera to a younger audience. I think that's the most important thing."


Carrie Dunn

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Ricky Gervais on The Ricky Gervais Show: 'You don't want to hear two people trying to be Stephen Fry'

Tim Lusher: HBO's animated versions of Gervais's podcasts with Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington are coming to Channel 4

Tim Lusher

21, Apr, 2010 @11:21 AM

Article image
Why can't Ricky Gervais leave David Brent alone?
At the heart of Slough’s finest comedy creation is the notion of not outstaying your welcome. So why is Gervais reviving The Office for the big screen?

Alex Hess

09, Dec, 2015 @4:25 PM

Article image
Ricky Gervais's BBC2 comedy Life's Too Short faces an uncertain future
BBC2 mockumentary about a dwarf, starring Warwick Davis, ended run with 1.2 million viewers and divided television critics. By Ben Dowell

Ben Dowell

15, Mar, 2012 @11:44 AM

Video: Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant introduce BBC2's Office retrospective

Ricky Gervais introduces BBC2's upcoming Office retrospective in typically modest style. The channel is airing all six episodes of the first series, along with interviews with the cast and famous fans of the sitcom, from 9pm on 30 August 2009

17, Aug, 2009 @7:00 AM

Article image
50 years of BBC2: from David Brent to the Blackstuff

As the channel celebrates its half-centenary, key figures behind some of its landmark programmes pay tribute. Interviews by Kathy Sweeney and Tom Lamont

Interviews by Tom Lamont and Kathy Sweeney

30, Mar, 2014 @12:05 AM

Article image
Ricky Gervais to make David Brent movie
BBC-backed film Life on the Road will follow what happened to the aspiring musician after the events depicted in The Office. By John Plunkett

John Plunkett

05, Aug, 2014 @1:52 PM

Article image
Sky1 series takes Karl Pilkington on global journey of discovery
New travel show sees Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant look on while Pilkington uncovers his seven wonders of the world. By John Plunkett

John Plunkett

08, Dec, 2009 @12:19 PM

Article image
German version of The Office wins film adaptation thanks to crowd-funding
Producers of Stromberg, now in its fifth season, raise €1m in a single week to ensure hit sitcom will reach the cinema

Ben Child

23, Dec, 2011 @11:23 AM

Article image
Rewind TV: The Jury; Rev; Life's Too Short – review
Courtroom drama took second place to characterisation in The Jury, while the little guy had the last laugh in Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's Life's Too Short, writes Euan Ferguson

Euan Ferguson

13, Nov, 2011 @12:06 AM

Article image
Is Ricky Gervais right about UK comedy? | James Kettle

James Kettle: Ricky Gervais has described America's TV comedy as vastly superior to Britain's. But is there really that big a gulf?

James Kettle

01, Jul, 2009 @3:01 PM