Posts Tagged ‘4 star’

From The House Of The Dead, WMC Cardiff 08 October

October 9, 2017

****

wnohod

This was certainly very impressive as music, but didn’t really make a personal impact on me, which I think was the point. This was really a matter of the production I think, though more of a lyrical-romantic inflection in the playing (which I think is possible) would have been welcome.

Perhaps the prisoners should have been more individualised and less spread out, while the pantomime of Don Giovanni and Kedril just seemed pointless here–with neither a point of its own nor in reactions from the prisoners. At the end we did not have an eagle flying to freedom but rather a projection of a shadow, which didn’t really cut it.

And surely Shishkov’s narration as the final one of the prisoners’ stories ought to both be affecting and to sum up or exemplify what has gone before–the senseless random murderous cruelty and the spark of God within each one also. Unless that was just meant to stay with Dostoevsky…

Advertisements

Aida, ENO 3 October

October 5, 2017

****

DK2O9K8W4AAkDRN

Photo acquired from Twitter at about the right angle

While the reviews from the first night were rather lukewarm, and there were also half-hearted bag checks to negotiate on entering the building, this proved to be a worthwhile investment of £30 at the Leicester Square ticket booth.

Latonia Moore’s Aida reminded me that it seemed to be a long time since I last heard a heavyweight operatic role dealt with so masterfully and the conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson really got on with things.  From where I was sitting, Ms Moore and Ms Wilson often seemed to be roaring each other on, determined to triumph in spite of every obstacle, and generally they did.  Gwyn Hughes Jones had a real tenor ring as Radames and Eleanor Dennis was simply outstanding as the High Priestess.

The production was…strange.  There were some striking stage pictures that really might evoke an alien civilisation.  There were also many occasions that recalled illustrations of opera in years gone  by, with hero and heroine centre stage facing the conductor, embarrassed in strange costumes, her bending his eyes toward him as the only acting allowed.  Michelle DeYoung’s Amneris ended up looking like a toilet roll holder, quite possibly a pregnant toilet roll holder, and also sounding a lot like Aida’s Mum and not at all like her bitter rival.  The quite long period where she was downstage facing the audience and addressing Radames who was in a cage behind her was not a very good piece of direction.

As with many operas, Aida has scenes of climactic emotional conflict (which is what opera is really there for), scenes of grand public display, and scenes that advance the plot.  In this production, the first two worked pretty well and the third didn’t.  The translation also offered up some embarrassing feminine rhymes plain for all to see in the surtitles.

I would certainly recommend a visit–there’s plenty to think about even where it doesn’t exactly work.

Voices from Chernobyl, Brockley Jack 2 May

May 3, 2017

****

chernobyl

Picture from Tenere Arte Facebook page

This adaptation of the book by Svetlana Alexievich lasted 60 minutes straight through without an interval and contained a great deal of material in that time. It was presented in the devised theatre style (think Belarus Free Theatre) in both English and Russian–the Russian was normally translated by an other actor or back-projected, but the normal Russian chaos was just repeated.

It benefited from a very strong cast of both English- and Russian-speaking actors, and a previous outing at the Cockpit meant that everyone knew their lines (well, I can think of one minor exception).  The final scene delivered by Kim Christie as the newlywed wife of a firefighter dying from the effects of radiation was extremely affecting and marked by a wonderful sense of restraint…

..but…

the thing about the lies she had to think up to see her husband (two children already, certainly not pregnant) really went by very quickly if you didn’t know the source text and it’s important because it reflects the relation of the individual and the State which found its final expression in Chernobyl.  I think the devised theatre kind of thing tends to to become a documentary rather than a drama, and we could have done with seeing more of fewer characters.  I think that the points that Alexievich was trying to make about the uniqueness of the Soviet experiment, Chernobyl as a rent in the fabric of reality and even as an attack on Belarus rather went missing.

What could you do with them in 60 minutes?  Well start off with what you want to say and shape your narratives to achieve that, which I think is what Alexievich did.

Certainly well worth seeing and thinking about!

Crime and Punishment, Brockley Jack 8 February

February 8, 2017

****

At the end of this second preview, which played to a full house, the actor playing Raskolnikov (Christopher Tester) asked audience members to say something nice about the show on social media, or indeed in real life.

We are happy to oblige.  As a text, this was an excellent adaptation, which embodied the bright idea of getting to the basics of the characters and their story and the author’s intentions and reconstructing that from the ground up as a play.

I thought that both Christopher Tester and Stephen MacNeice (who played Pofiry Petrovich, Marmeladov, and a couple of other characters) were excellent.  We had a harried, ratty, unEnglish Raskolnikov and a Porfiry Petrovich who for once did not bore me to death.  His Marmeladov was impressive in letting you find the degradation, not drowning you with it.  I also thought that Christina Bastion was just too posh as Sonya-we are given to understand that she can read only with some difficulty and she looks up to Raskolnikov as an educated man–and as the pawnbroker Alyona, who also turned out to be Scottish.

But the production moved forward vigorously with clearly-delineated characterisations and a few well-chosen props.  And the well-worn scene where Sonya and Raskilnikov read the Bible together really got to me…

There is a video trailer here, but I’d say the show is better than it suggests.

 

 

 

 

 

Antigone/Lysistrata, Cambridge Arts Theatre 13 October

October 14, 2016

**/****

antigone

Set for Antigone (picture acquired from Twitter)

So this year’s Cambridge Greek Play (in Ancient Greek, with surtitles) was a double-bill of Antigone and LysistrataAntigone is these days as close to being unsinkable as a Greek play can be, while productions very often make a mess of Lysistrata by taking it literally–seriously, even.

Things turned out rather differently this time round.  Antigone displayed a fine collection  of the clichés that even the London stage has finally managed to just about rid itself of:  fences, barbed wire, battledress, battery-powered torches, submachine guns, men in suits…I closed my eyes and endured.  To be fair, it got better as the thing went on and they performers relied more on their native wits.  And there was a standout performance from counter-tenor Jack Hawkins as Teiresias with very beautiful counter-tenorial music too.  But why (for instance) did Antigone dart anxiously upstage and downstage when she was supposed to be processing towards her bridal tomb?

I would have given up and gone home at half-time but I didn’t want to disturb the couple of old dears who had me wedged in.  The young woman of East Asian heritage sitting on the other side of me asked whether this was it–I replied that there was another play to come, a comedy indeed.

Then we had Lysistrata done as a musical comedy, and very funny it was too.  This time, we had the standout performer (Natasha Cutler-a real musical comedy princess) in the title role, and that helped a lot of course.

badge

ἀφεκτέα τοίνυν ἐστὶν ἡμῖν τοῦ πέους. (=it is necessary then for us to give up cock).

The audience also got to sing along with οὐδεὶς οὔτε μοιχὸς οὔτ᾽ ἀνήρ (line 212=no-one, neither lover nor husband), while the surtitles promised a Cambridge Scholarship in Classics for an explanation of the lion-on-a-cheesegrater position. (Line  231 οὐ στήσομαι λέαιν᾽ ἐπὶ τυροκνήστιδος = I won’t crouch down like the lioness on a cheesegrater. You’d better ask Simon Goldhill about that gender reassignment.)

lion

No.  Not like that.  Not at all like that.  (Picture from Twitter.)

The pedant could of course cavil–once Boris Johnson and Donald Trump had appeared on stage they should have been properly savaged, especially in respect of diminutive and deformed genitalia, while a headless pig looking for David Cameron would have been a good Aristophanic joke. The famously…well, tedious…ball-of-wool metaphor was interpreted via interpretive dance, when one thing it certainly recommends is favourable treatment of useful foreigners–surely an opportunity for further kicking of the Brexit-Trump gang. You can also ask whether a production largely attended by pupils of fee-paying schools could ever permit itself proper Aristophanic obscenity…

Brooklyn, Peckham Multiplex 15 November

November 16, 2015

****

brooklynfilm

At the end of this showing, a rather full cinema broke into genuine and sustained applause, which is a rare thing indeed.  I think that was because it was a film for grown-ups dealing with grown-up themes, in spite of the extreme youth of the heroine and of the actress playing her.

The action followed the plot of Colm Toibin’s novel quite faithfully, with some understandable simplifications.  It seemed that Father Flood had been turned into a figure of straightforward benevolence, and indeed Colm Toibin’s representative in the film, since I had more than once heard Toibin praising Saoirse Ronan with paternal pride.  Different ways of relating to the symbolic sea seemed to have been abandoned, in favour of Saoirse doing with her face what takes me thirty pages, while there were some advert-y moments like Eilis exiting the immigration shed into a screenful of light.

But it was good to see a film about nice, decent people, and indeed nice, decent, lower-middle-class people…

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.

The Playboy of the Western World, Southwark Playhouse 1530 15 August

August 15, 2015

****

A picture I found on Twitter (they're watching Christy Mahon win the races)

A picture I found on Twitter (they’re watching Christy Mahon win the races)

Some providential urging led me to read the text before going to see this matinee show, and so I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Otherwise it would have been very difficult to follow what was going on, as various cast members struggled with their Irish accents.  In fact, at the beginning our Pegeen Mike was totally incomprehensible as she delivered her lines facing away from the audience. On other occasions, she would start off speaking quite clearly and then unfortunately remember the Irish accent, which was all the more unfortunate as she played the part very well (but could have given the desperation more space to breathe in the famous last lines:  Oh my grief I’ve lost him entirely.  I’ve lost the only playboy of the western world).

You know what happens in PBWW–Christy Mahon is first of all a hero when he has killed his father, then he loses favour (especially with Pegeen Mike) when it seems he hasn’t, and then at the end maybe he’s a hero again.  So in theory it’s a satire on the mores of rural Ireland, but here the effect was more Shakespearean, with heartstoppingly beautiful poetry accompanied  by unconvincing funny business.

The production was in general lucid enough, though some things worried me. The infamous loy which Christy brains his father was played by a wooden mock-up of a peat-cutting spade.

Peat-cutting tool

Peat-cutting tool

Loy

Loy

Christy Mahon apparently arrived in his stockinged feet, but then his boots mysteriously appeared overnight for the village girls to wonder at. These may be ways of reflecting deliberate absurdities in Synge’s text, and that may also be why our Widow Quin was played with great urbanity and in imperial purple, but combining effortful Irish accents with the English (incorrect) pronunciation of ‘Bridget’ is very strange…Christy Mahon’s interlude of playing the ‘loy’ like an electric guitar made me wonder whether director Polina Kalinina had been thinking of making him into a Khlestyakov and then abandoned the idea…More seriously, perhaps, at the end I still had no idea of the relationship between Christy and Old Mahon.

So what should you do about the accents?  The Irish audience that Synge wrote for will hardly have heard the speech of a different nation, while it would make no sense to deliver the various Irish constructions, Whishts, and phonetically-written-out divil, kidnabbed and so on in RP.  The sensible thing would be to adopt the speech of Irish people who have lived in England for some time–so that you realise that they’re Irish and then forget about it–which is perhaps the way the Irish cast members would naturally speak anyway.

But very much worth seeing all the same!  (Keep clear of the lighting desk for fear of extraneous commentary.)

Berenice, The Space, 1500 24 January

January 24, 2015

****

A publicity photo suggesting the black-and-white romantic difficulties of attractive young people

A publicity photo suggesting the black-and-white romantic difficulties of attractive young people

This adaptation of the tragedy by Racine was really very good.  The basis of the story is that having become Emperor on the death of his father Vespasian Titus feels he has to send away his beloved, the Queen Berenice, for fear of rousing the anger of the populace by marrying a monarch and a foreigner.  Meanwhile, Antiochus, friend and ally of Titus, has for five long years been hiding his own love for Berenice.  In this adaptation, the action is set in an alternate future 2050, as explained in a trailer here.

But for me what really worked was the whole In der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister thing, with the subsidiary characters conflated into Phenice as a spin doctor and the characters all dressed in black, apart from Berenice who had a red dress.  The one artistic decision I would quarrel with would be emphasising Berenice’s Jewishness, visually at least–she has a Greek name after all.  The direction was wonderfully effective in suggesting the characters struggling and failing to break free of their allotted roles.

I also enjoyed the translation by director Fay Lomas, while also trying to work out whether it was isosyllabic, in sprung rhythm, or what.  In fact, she produced some very effective lines by making something more concrete (and so English) out of the Racinian:

Que le jour recommence, et que le jour finisse,
Sans que jamais Titus puisse voir Bérénice,
Sans que de tout le jour je puisse voir Titus?

and

Je sais que tant d’amour n’en peut être effacée;
Que ma douleur présente et ma bonté passée,
Mon sang, qu’en ce palais je veux même verser,
Sont autant d’ennemis que je vais vous laisser;
Et, sans me repentir de ma persévérance,
J e me remets sur eux de toute ma vengeance.

Among the actors, I especially appreciated Ally Manson as Antiochus, bent this way and that by a cruel fate, while I felt that our Berenice could usefully have shown more reaction on first hearing of her dismissal, stood up straighter and generally given the impression of someone (a queen or an actress) used to living with the eyes of the public on her–but she was also very touching in many of the later scenes.

A pity that this didn’t have a longer run!

 

The Woman in the Moon, Rose Bankside 21 September

September 21, 2014

****

Nature (picture from event's FB page)

Nature (picture from event’s FB page)

Before this play, my knowledge of author John Lyly as derived from some forgotten Eng Lit handbook was confined to him writing something called Euphues and it being very boring.  But I was curious anyway.

Sol/Apollo prologues to the effect that what we are about to see is the poet’s dream, about a woman in the moon.  Then we are in mythical times (on earth, not the moon–it took me some time to work that out).  Nature has created lots of nice things, including four shepherds.  They feel the need for a woman so that they can perpetuate their species.  So Nature kindly creates Pandora, who is lovely in every respect.

But then the planets, annoyed at having been overlooked, turn up and decide to exert their influence on her in turn.  So for instance Mars makes her martial and she fights very convincingly with the four swains when she is under his influence.  And the thing goes along in this way–Pandora is (as it were, in this prelapsarian time) betrothed to Stesias but his compeers Melos, Learchus and Iphicles would also like to get to know the only woman in the universe.  This intrigue tangles itself up anew each time Pandora’s character is influenced a different way.

That sounds as though it could be Lyly pedantically demonstrating his classical learning and proving some theorem along the lines of ‘Every Man In His Humour’, and there were indeed times at the beginning when I looked at my watch not infrequently.  It also sounds as though it might be an extended audition piece for Bella Heesom, the actress playing Pandora, but she was very very very very good, so we didn’t care.  All of the performances were more securely-delineated than is often this case, pointing to the fact that this show had been aired before in various guises (at Glastonbury and as a reading at the Globe).

There were quite a few entirely genuine laughs from the audience as well as some real poetry in Pandora’s little mad scene.  The production was both economical and attractive, and made good use of the space behind the Rose’s playing area.

At the end, the swains have grown tired of Pandora, and she can decide which of the planets’ spheres she wants to be transported to.  She chooses Cynthia/Luna/the Moon as being fickle, foolish, fanciful, slothful and generally female.  (Of course, we sense some contradiction here since the main characters are Fortune and Pandora, both female, and Pandora gets a very high proportion of the lines–and the female characters would have been played by boys…)

Apart from the programmes having run out so that I don’t know who was who, my only reservation would be that I don’t really think this is a piece of ‘legitimate’ theatre as presented here–it could usefully have had more and better music, dancing and singing, and I think it’s really something in the nature of a masque or a musical comedy.

But enough!–This blog urges you to go and see the show–it’s lovely!