Posts Tagged ‘3 star’

Khovanshchina, Cardiff WMC 07 October

October 8, 2017

***

171008khovanshchina

Photograph from WNO site

The choral singing here was wonderful, and on a different plane from what I had heard in some 350 previous evenings at the opera. On the other hand, the attempt to universalise the action by setting it in the early Soviet period while adding in Samurai warriors and a gas chamber did little to clarify the action, centring as it did on the attempts of various groups to appose the accession of Tsar Peter I (or Peter the Great).

Musorgsky suffered from various difficulties with the scenario, such as being dead drunk much of the time, not being able to finish it, and not being able to portray any members of the Romanov dynasty on stage. Still, one should attempt to make things more rather than less clear. The scenario does at least give a coherent and probably accurate picture of Old (Pre-Petrine!) Russia as violent, lascivious and God-haunted, which doesn’t really fit with the early Bolshevik period.

Apart from the choruses, it was Shaklovitsky’s patriotic peroration that made an impact, but we were left with no clear idea whether he was meant to be Edmund or the Duke of Kent. So why did Khovansky take a bath in his (albeit bloodied) trousers while the Persian Slave ended up naked? (Probably because she constituted an allusion to Hella from The Master and Margarita.)

Probably Dosifei came off rather too sympathetically in the absence of any real competition, while it was far from clear what his Old Believer followers were up to in the end, in terms of burning themselves to death or indeed anything else…

Perhaps the main interest was in comparing the Welsh surtitles with the English ones and with what was being sung in something (occasionally) like Russian. I was gratified to find that А ты in Russian was ‘A ti’ in Welsh, and interested by all of the Latin words in Welsh–a legacy of the lost Romano-British culture or (more probably) of deliberate language planning in more recent times.

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I, Daniel Blake, Greenwich Picturehouse 29 October

October 29, 2016

***

graystreet.png

Grey Street in the rain

This film is about a 59-year-old carpenter who suffers a heart attack and so is no longer able to work.  He is judged not sufficiently incapacitated to receive Disability Allowance, so has to go through the demeaning pretence of looking f0r non-existent jobs.  He makes friends with a young single mother who has been sent a long way from London because it is cheaper than housing her family there and who has her benefits sanctioned because she got on the wrong bus in a strange town and arrived late for an interview.

I have to admit that I did cry during the film, though not as much as the two women sitting next to me, and it wasn’t all because of the I want to go home feeling.  They got the Newcastle accent right, and also the way people speak to each other, which is a different thing.  When the dialogue and actions were allowed to proceed from the characters and their actions it was actually very moving.  There were some shots of Newcastle in the rain, YESS!!

The essay that Loach was determined to write was probably quite correct at a factual level, but it didn’t really mesh with these characters.  In particular, what Daniel needed was clearly some advocacy from the CAB, a Welfare Rights group, or even Age UK.  Now he might not have known that, but after spending two years in a homeless hostel in London Katie certainly would have.  I approve of making ordinary people the central figures of films and plays, but depriving them of agency isn’t the way to do it.  And I was irritated that St Daniel had to be burdened with demonstrating appropriate attitudes to black people, gays and people with mental illness.  Then I start asking myself what kind of a joiner he had been.  If he was employed, he should have been eligible for sick pay.  If he was self-employed, it’s hard to see how he could have managed to remain totally incapable in the face of modern technology.

Did he call the gay black training-shoe entrepreneur the ‘tycoon of Byker’ or similar?  That didn’t look like Byker to me…But the Evening Chronicle has helpfully published a map of the locations.

It is to the credit of director Ken Loach and scriptwriter Paul Laverty that havingstupidly decided to include a scene of archetypal Dostoevskian degradation they clearly had no idea what they were talking about–there are some things you just have to be a bad man to get right.

Tsvetochniy krest/The cross of flowers

September 7, 2016

***

elena_kolyadina__tsvetochnyj_krest

This book by Elena Kolyadina hardly received great support when this blog did a survey of contemporary Russian novels for translation, and it was also being remaindered during my recent trip to Ukraine.

It appears to start in December 1674, when our heroine Feodosia is 15 and ready to be married off and to end in October 1673, when she is 17 and her son born half-way through the book is able to run around and beg for money.

There are many things it might be, but none of them for very long. The shadow of Thomas Mann’s Holy Sinner grows now lighter, now darker, and at times Kolyadina seems to engaged in a yacht race with Vodolzakins’s Laurus.  A yacht race because the leader ixs supposed to imitate the follower’s manoeuvrings.

At times it seems to be one of those books where a modern miss is plonked down with her insatiable curiosity in ancient times and at others it’s one of those books with detailed retro-porn description of life in Old Russia.  Indeed, we get a detailed description of the old-time salt industry, just like in Perm.  The contrast between carefree pagan sexuality and the strictures of the church might have been going somewhere and then wasn’t. Similarly the un-modern way Feodosia related to her family members just disappeared, leaving behind the usual YA heroine.  And then in a reference to Jan Potocki or perhaps Tolkien we have an entire community living under the ground brought into being.

A plot summary with SPOILER ALERT makes it sound as though the traditional saint’s life is being referenced.  It is 1673 in Tot’ma.  Feodosia is the intelligent beautiful etc etc daughter of wealthy salt-manufacturer Izvara due to be married off to another salt-manufacturer Yuda.  The priest Father Loggin feels himself tormented by her youth beauty intelligence needlework etc.

A company of travelling players comes to town under the leadership of one Istoma, who is not much like a salt manufacturer. The climax of their show is a puppetry version of the Crucifixion, except that Feodosia rescues Jesus from the cross, and Father Loggin takes exception.

Istoma and Feodosia enjoy a night of secret love in Feodosia’s bedroom, then Istoma’s troupe gets into a fight with the followers of her brother Putila as he returns from dealings in Moscow.  Revealed to be a confederate of Stenka Razin, Istoma is burned alive.  Feodosia marries the salt-manufacturer and devotes herself to her son by Istoma.

Influenced by Father Loggin, she practises more and more severe self-denial, including clitoridectomy and saying that like Abraham she would give up her son for God.  The son disappears and Feodosia takes up the lifestyle of a yurodivaya, eventually quitting town for the other side of the river.  There she discovers a community of underground pagans who can speak Russian when necessary and tries to convert them to Orthodoxy, planting a cross of flowers for this purpose.  She also entertains Death in a scene that owes much to Monty Python.

Father Loggin crosses the river to inspect this miraculous and has her burned as a witch so as to further his ambitions for preferment.

But Death does not have Feodosia on her list.

Well, well…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alkestis, Greenwood Theatre 1900 10 February

February 11, 2016

***

We have been asked whether we would recommend a visit to the 2016 Greek Play, on the basis of the Wednesday evening performance–after all, Edith Hall did tweet 2016 King’s College London Greek play better than ever.

I think it would be worth seeing as a reasonably typical example of the KCL Greek Play, illustrating the difficulties one faces in staging such a thing and the way one might go about solving them.  One of these issues is that one does not have actors experienced in voice projection and dominating the stage.  So having them follow what I think was ancient performance practice by miming what the were talking about was a good idea, while having Alkestis deliver many of her lines at the stage rather than the audience was not.

It’s worthwhile noting that, in contrast to the Alkestis-derived Cocktail Party I recently saw in Notting Hill, none of the actors fluffed their lines–advanced electronic prompting may have been employed to this end.  But there was systematic underplaying, especially from Heracles, who may perhaps have been reading his lines from the label on his bottle of wine.

The dance passages were the most effective and some of the choreography was very good.  I’m not sure that the director ever came to a clear idea about what she was trying to do–the programme made great play of a contemporary setting, which in the event appeared only in the form of cocktail glasses and a wind-up gramophone–and she hadn’t established control over time, so that some important passages (such as Herakles asking who had died or indeed Admetos finding out who Heracles had brought to him) passed by quickly and some more routine passages didn’t.

It looked like the choral odes had been solved at the last moment by getting one person to read them via a recording over a musical backing, which may have been somewhat of a last-minute expedient.

We had certain technical problems on the night.  The scene changes lasted a long time, which may have been deliberate but if so that still wasn’t a good idea. There were also problems with the lighting cues, and especially with the surtitles, which were often a line or more early or late and ceased entirely towards the end, leaving the audience rather puzzled as to what if anything had happened to conclude the piece.

There was indeed a facility to buy tickets at the door, to answer another question…

Three Irish Classics, Pentameters Theatre 23 August

August 26, 2015

*****/**/***

'Riders to the Sea' from irish-theatre.com

‘Riders to the Sea’ from irish-theatre.com

I was somewhat daunted by my first visit to Hampstead this millennium, with the climb up the hill once I had scrambled off the bus and the shops with their signs in Hampstead-French.  But the young couples on the pavements seemed to be talking German to each other.

But once I had found the pub and climbed up some stairs, I was reassured by the welcome from producer Léonie Scott-Matthews and her charming assistants, not to mention the pleasingly mismatched seating.

Of the three pieces that made up 65 minutes’ running time, Riders to the Sea (J. M. Synge) was the first and best, and Maura’s despair struck home with me:

Michael has a clean burial in the far north, by the grace of the Almighty God.  Bartley will have a fine coffin out of the the white boards surely…What more can we want than that?

The Pot of Broth, by W. B. Yeats, was a peasant farce where the tramp hero had undergone gender reassignment and the plot recycled the good old nail stoop story.  Perhaps the tramp’s imaginings could have been given more space to breathe and the host and hostess changed their minds less easily.

Finally, The Travelling Man by Lady Gregory (in fact, both of these two were more like collaborations between her and Yeats) got a little stuck between being a much shorter Playboy of the Western World and a Biblical parallel. Again, the mother passed a little too matter-of-factly from ejecting the Traveller to despair on realising she had lost the King of the World.

Definitely an experience worth ascending the Golden Mountain of Hampstead for.

Leonce and Lena, Brockley Jack 18 August

August 19, 2015

***

leonce

Very nice people at the Brockley Jack, as I’ve said before.  The scampi smelled lovely and in the theatre they had new seating–the bench in front of the tech box is no more.

The idea of Leonce and Lena is that the betrothed but unacquainted prince and princess of neighbouring microkingdoms separately run away to escape their marriage but meet anyway and get married in the guise of automata.  As such, it seems to be about the expectations of the great world confining poor bare unaccommodated man who would writhe like a grub if he were Wozzeck, and subjecting the former to merciless satire.

I think it requires hordes of absurdly identical courtiers, subjects and so on to make its point, while here we had gender-blind doubling of roles and an adaptation that seeks to give more agency to Lena where the original failed to fully realize her character, which is making a rather different point.

Among the actors, the standout was Sam Adamson as a supercharged courtier Valerio, while our Leonce acted well but wasn’t always too sure of his lines.  As for the production–what you would expect from a fairytale satire or satirical fairytale is surely ludicrous exaggeration, and we didn’t get that here.  The keynote was more like restrained and decorous, which I would say is hardly the thing.

The show is certainly worth seeing if you’ve heard of the play and wonder what it’s about, or if you know someone in the cast of course…I’m not sure about wider appeal.

That bench was actually quite useful–you could put your stuff next to you and not have to search for it on the floor at the end.

Price of Money, The Albany 18 September

September 18, 2014

***

This devised show about…err…money contained the following elements:

i) scenes from ‘Plutus’ by Aristophanes;

ii)  Belarusian folk songs;

iii)  stories improvised by cast members;

iv)  musical numbers not being Belarusian folk songs:

v)  human rights abuse in Belarus;

vi)  testimony from Stéphane Hessel.

Of these, Aristophanes certainly came off best (you can’t beat a pro!), followed by the folk songs.  Certainly whoever was playing the Old Woman (as above) gave an excellent performance, though I’m not sure why Poverty was well-dressed, well-made-up, well-coiffed and generally rather attractive.  At the beginning, a lot of lines (in subtitled Russian) were shouted staccato so that I couldn’t make them out, while later on there was a chorus (in English) that seemed to be about ‘the gap’, but I couldn’t make that out either.  If you want to hear what’s going on it’s best to sit at the sides, while taking sensible precautions to avoid audience participation.

Apart from the devised show format and the weakness of much of the material, I had problems with the underlying premise.  It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but that was then and this is now.  Take Belarus, for instance.  Minsk is prominent at present as the site of negotiations between Russia and what is left of Ukraine.  Now, annexing parts of Ukraine is not going to make Russia rich–in the best case it will impoverish the country not too badly, and in the worst case it will turn it into a colony of China.  Money is not the issue.

I didn’t see any sign of the promised contribution from Ben Jonson’s The Staple Of News.

But it was all right if you like that kind of thing…

 

Flight, Brockley Jack 15 January

January 19, 2014

***

I  think that this production would give you an idea of what the play by Bulgakov was about without being the thing itself.  The action follows a group of assorted characters during the Russian Civil War as they flee from the Red Army through the Crimea and on to Constantinople and even Paris–the title is flight as in ‘run away’, not ‘flap wings’.  The play was never actually staged in Bulgakov’s lifetime, though it did appear in the Soviet Union from the 1970s.  It’s meant to be the typical Bulgakov grotesque comedy, where the characters are both…er…grotesque and pitiable, but here it was all far too matter-of-fact.

For instance, great play is made of the row of victims the Whites have hanged at the railway station where the early scenes occur, and when I last saw the play in 1992 or thereabouts we did indeed have a line of draped figures with nooses around their necks.  Here we had suitcases.  Suitcases.  Well, OK, suitcases.  Or maybe trunks.

And the playing was generally at the phlegmatic one-thing-after another level:  the one exception was Michael Edwards, a late replacement in the part of Khludov, the White Chief of Staff tormented by his past atrocities.  Even though he wasn’t necessarily word-perfect all the time, he did at least manage to play at the right emotional level.  I sometimes thought he was playing George Gordon, Lord Byron at the right emotional level, but he got a great deal nearer to what was required than anybody else.

Without asking for a naturalistic portrayal of Russian mores, you need to ask yourself:  What kind of people would say and do these things?  Consequently, In what manner would that kind of people say and do these things?  The plodding regularity of the action also meant that nothing was emphasised and nothing was a surprise…

I’m not going to complain about the White Minister of Trade and Industry speaking French badly, or about the soldiers and officers failing to move and bear themselves like soldiers and officers.

At least the actors were not made to speak with comedy Russian accents this time.  Turkish and Hungarian-Irish, maybe…

See here for what I know about other Russian plays on in London.

Bussy D’Ambois, St Giles Church 30 November

December 1, 2013

***

During the afterpiece

During the afterpiece

Our readers will readily understand the French court as a place replete with corruption, treachery, traffic with unclean spirits, adultery, deceit and malice.  But this version of Bussy D’Ambois rather downplayed the context and left Bussy as an over-reacher floating free of Christopher Marlowe.

The story is as ever set out in Wikipedia.  I enjoyed the elements of original practice and the way the play had been made to work in the nave, aisle, gallery, choir and pulpit of the church.  The fight scenes were especially impressive, and the black-clad spirits did very well in representing sex on stage without it becoming ridiculous and in representing black-clad spirits as well.  However, the reverberant church acoustic made it difficult to catch all the words and some plot points like the friar dying and then continuing as a ghost rather passed one by; as did the distinction between Monsieur (the king’s brother who recruits the destitute Bussy to do his evil bidding) and Montsurry (the husband of Bussy’s love).

There are times when the production resembled a parody of Jacobean tragedy, where everyone is killed and tortured but continues to speechify at length, and the text would have made a wonderful libretto for a Verdi opera, but has its problems as a play, at least to modern sensibilities.

But I would certainly recommend people to take advantage of the remaining dates–there is a great deal to admire and learn from in this production, and at £5 it’s very good value for money in anyone’s terms!

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, Brockley Jack 02 October

October 2, 2013

***

This is a man-in-the-moon marigold.  It was produced in an attempt to breed a white marigold, so it's not brash & marigoldy in colour.

This is a man-in-the-moon marigold. It was produced in an attempt to breed a white marigold, so it’s not brash & marigoldy in colour.

In this play, dating from 1964, we follow the fortunes of Tillie Hunsdorfer as she tries to escape from the chaotic influence of her mother Beatrice and first of all go to school and then win the school’s science fair.  She also has an epileptic sister (Ruth) and a ‘$50 a week corpse’ of a lodger to contend with.

The good things about the text are the striking and beautiful images drawn from stellar nucleosynthesis and radioactivity; and the idea that is good for girls to go to school and study science.  It’s also rather funny.  The bad thing is the feeling that you’ve seen all the rest somewhere before, if not in something by Tennessee Williams then in an improving Young Adult book.  Yes we can work out that Tillie is the mutant or hopeful monster produced by the loathing radiation from her mother that will destroy her sister.

As presented by OutFox at the Brockley Jack, I thought we really needed a more over-the-top performance from Betty ‘the Loon’ Hunsdorfer to keep the audience interested, but then maybe she would have been the central character rather than Tillie.  I thought that both Evelyn Campbell as Tillie and Katherine Rodden as Ruth did very well, while the production was lucid and unpretentious.  In fact, if it had been me I would have been tempted to use the extraneous light projections from their Spring Awakening to illustrate the scientific processes and the other world separate   from beauty salons, real estate businesses and hopeless teashops.

Now, with slight modifications, beauty salons, estate agents and coffee shops does sound rather like Brockley in fact…