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Posts Tagged ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

Opera

Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the Britten Theatre at the Royal College of Music was an absolute gem with wonderful singing and playing, a superb design, and stunning staging by Liam Steel. Any opera house in the world would be proud to have a production this good in its repertoire.

The Royal Academy of Music inaugurated their lovely new theatre with a brilliant revival of Jonathan Dove’s opera Flight. I’d forgotten how good it was, and here it was superbly played and sung and, like the RCM last week, in a fine production that any opera house would be proud of.

The English Concert have become the go-to company for Handel operas in concert and their take on Rinaldo in the Barbican Hall, his first Italian opera specifically for London, was superb, faultlessly cast and beautifully played (though I could have done without the attempts at semi-staging which seems a bit naff). Handel wrote himself a harpsichord solo for this opera and here the harpsichordist almost stole the show with his thrilling rendition.

Classical Music

The Royal Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra under Sir Mark Elder gave a blistering Shostakovich 8th Symphony at another of their Friday lunchtime recitals, with Elder again giving an insightful introduction to the piece. The talent on stage is awe-inspiring and the nurturing by a world class conductor heart-warming.

Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons Reimagined combined baroque music with a contemporary twist and puppetry to provide a spellbinding 80 minutes by candlelight in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Another lovely evening in a space that seems to suit absolutely everything!

Britten Sinfonia Voices gave an inspired Easter programme at GSMD’s Milton Court Concert Hall, with choral music spanning more than 400 years, with a few brass pieces as a bonus. The idea of fitting two Stravinsky pieces between movements in a Mozart Mass was particularly inspired.

Dance

Ballet Black’s contrasting double-bill at the Barbican Theatre was a real treat. The Suit was mesmerising, moving and ultimately tragic and A Dream within a Midsummer Night’s Dream was cheeky and playful. I need to ensure this company are on my radar permanently.

Film

You Were Never Really Here is a dark and disturbing but original and brilliant film with a stunning performance from Joaquin Phoenix, and refreshingly short at 90 minutes!

The Square was 2.5 hours of my life I’ll never get back. Lured by 5* reviews, it was overlong, slow and a bit of a mess, the satire largely lost or overcooked.

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Howard Goodall & Charles Hart made a great job, back in 2001, of adapting Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a musical for National Youth Music Theatre. It was one of the first things I saw in the (then new) Linbury Studio Theatre at the ROH. This is the second outing of the second (2012) revival, now at The Rose Theatre in Kingston – a space which suits it very well indeed.

It’s set in 1914 in Somerset, on midsummer’s night (obviously!), which was just over a month before the outbreak of the First World War. The royals are the local nobility, the fairies are the woodlanders, the mechanicals are the village mummer’s group led by the vicar and Puck is the blacksmith’s boy. The lover’s story is the same and the mummer’s perform The Ballad of St. George.

It’s a nice score, though without the emotional sweep and soaring melodies of other Goodall works; perhaps a simpler score for young people? Charles Hart’s modern dialogue book and lyrics tell the story well and the luxury of 26 woodlanders pays off. This production seems to concentrate on the acting, movement and comedy at the expense of the music, which I felt was much weaker than when I first saw it.

It was the first night of this short 3-performance run so it wasn’t perhaps as slick as it will be by the third. Playing to a primarily young audience also brought with it the now expected challenges of chatter, rustling and texting which may well have contributed to some disappointment on my part.

It would be interesting to see a professional company produce this, though the cast of 41 and band of 12 would no doubt have to be scaled down. Go on, someone, have a go!

 

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Well, I managed a full house this week – six plays (though I have to confess I didn’t make it through to the end with two of them – but only one for reasons of an enjoyment nature). The weather was a bit better, but only a bit; less rain, but still oh so cold.

We got off to a cracking start with the Korean A Midsummer Night’s Dream. With wonderful make-up and costumes, this very athletic show dumped the rude mechanicals and focused entirely on the main story. Puck was twins and Bottom turned into a pig rather than a donkey. It may not have pleased the purists, but it was completely in the spirit of Will’s play and a joy from start to finish. The actors of Yohangza company came into the foyers for photos and meet &  greet so we were able to thank them for coming.

I had high hopes of Julius Caesar ‘coming home’ to an Italian company. Sadly, in the hands of a seemingly avant-garde director, we got a static, slow, dull and irritating interpretation. There was a lot of stuff with mobile doors and other directorial conceits and even if you told me they were offering free Chianti in the second half, I still couldn’t have been persuaded to return.

The world’s newest country, South Sudan, with the help of the British Council, were very brave to tackle Cymbeline. It wasn’t as refined as much of what had gone before or will no doubt will follow, but it was quite possibly the true spirit of this festival and thoroughly enjoyable. The actors had real presence, projected brilliantly, with superb audience contact and their excitement at being part of it all was infectious. The play ends in peace and one can only hope these people find peace, despite this week’s news stories. Lovely.

When Titus Andronicus started, we were confronted with the actors from Hong Kong company Tang Shu-Wing sitting on chairs in an arc, dressed in white, grey or black depending on their ‘allegiance’. The first two acts were presented as a summary, lasting less than 30  minutes, as they spoke and struck poses with no interaction. Just as I was thinking  ‘it’ll be over in an hour’, they revert to more normal staging for the ‘meat’ of the play (sorry!). The acting was absolutely brilliant and I was captivated for the rest of this most bloodthirsty of plays. Despite the body count, there was no blood (or onstage baking!) but the tale of revenge was brilliantly told.

Richard II was presented by Palestine company Ashtar Theatre. It was a tense, angry and passionate production, with Richard as a charismatic manic rather than an introvert. The English names interspersed with the Arabic dialogue (blah blah blah Mowbray blah blah Ireland blah blah blah) brought a smile to my face. The uprising of five, entering through the audience waving flags, faces covered with scarves, was surprisingly effective and the staging of the negotiations was light-hearted but very clever. I was enjoying it very much, but sadly by now too exhausted to see it through to the end.

The week ended with Othello: The Remix, a Hip Hop story (rather than Shakespeare’s play as such) from Chicago’s Q Brothers. The theatre was packed and the average age had reduced by decades. The four actors rapped virtually the whole thing in 75 minutes, with the help of a DJ of course, dumping all but the eight main characters. It was largely played for laughs, yet the story was intact, and you couldn’t hear a pin drop when Desdemona was dying. Othello was the king of Hip Hop and Desdemona was a singer (represented here just by her recorded voice) and it all happens when they’re on tour. I would have liked to have got more of the clever verse – the amplification, background sounds and street style vocal buried a lot of it – but it was a quartet of four virtuoso performances and a real buzz in the house. Somehow, I think Will (and Sam) would have been thrilled.

Now it’s time for the Europeans, so far eclipsed by the Asian Antipodean African & American visitors, to raise their game. Come on Poland; give us a Macbeth to be proud of !

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Opera / Dance

The summer pairing at WNO was amongst the best since they moved to the WMC. Christopher Alden’s production of Turandot is 17 years old, but you’d never know it. It was inventive and fresh with three excellent leads in Gwyn Hughes Jones, Rebecca Evans and Anna Shafajinskaia. Musical Director Luther Koenigs had apparently never conducted it before, but the sound he got from the orchestra and chorus was rich, lush and positively gorgeous – a shivers-up-your-spine job. Cosi Fan Tutte isn’t my favourite Mozart – overlong for the silly story  – but this new British seaside staging complete with prom, mini fairground, Punch & Judy show and Café was delightful and the singing of all six leads – Neal Davies, Robin Tritschler, Gary Griffiths, Camilla Roberts, Helen Lepalaan & Claire Ormshaw – was excellent. Yet again, Britain’s most accessible opera company provided quality and value.

The ENO’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is musically beautiful, but the production is so contemptuous and disrespectful of its dead composer, Benjamin Britten, who can’t answer back. This isn’t Britten’s opera, its director Christopher Alden’s.  If he wanted to steer so far from the composer’s intentions, he should have written his own opera. This is the worst example of director arrogance I have ever seen – and from someone whose work I have so far admired (including the revival of his WNO Turandot above). This is the second occasion this year where the ENO have allowed a director’s vision to overwhelm and overpower a composer’s work. If they were alive they couldn’t / wouldn’t do it, which makes it completely unacceptable. It’s particularly galling that they’ve ditched a lovely production for this travesty. Oh, I wish I’d kept my eyes closed.

Cocteau Voices is an inspired double-bill at the ROH’s Linbury Studio. It pairs Poulenc’s one woman opera based on a Cocteau playlet with another two-character Cocteau playlet, written for Edith Piaf and her lover, adapted as a wordless dance drama with an electronic score from Scott Walker. In the latter, three dancers play each character and it was a mesmerizing athletic visual feast. Italian singer Nuccia Focile isn’t as good an actress as Joan Rogers in the only other production of this piece I have seen (by Opera North) and I found it difficult to believe in her as a dumped lover. After a while, I tuned out the libretto (in English) and just allowed the music to wash over me. One of the better ROH2 experiments.

L’amico Fritz is a rare opera from the man who provided half of Cav & Pag (if he knew, I wonder what Mascagni would think of the fact only one of his 15 operas is now regularly performed – and that as part of a double-bill; I’d certainly be interested in hearing some of the others). Young soprano Anna Leese is the reason for seeing this; she is simply delightful. David Stephenson is also good as, well, David, but I’m afraid Eric Margiore was no match for either of them – and he completely fell apart on the third act. I thought the modern-ish settings took away the opera’s charm, clever though they were, but the orchestra sounded particularly lush. It’s a minor opera, but one I’m glad I caught up with. As much as I have loved OHP over the years, I’m afraid it’s starting to become country house opera in the city, with the associated prices, dress and non opera-loving audience; I fear the worst…..

Contemporary Music

I’ve never been that keen on Ron Sexsmith, who I’ve always found depressing, but my nephew gave me his new album and a compilation to convert me and it worked. It’s the production of the new stuff that lifts it for me, though I have to say the older material worked well in concert. He was supported by Anna Calvi, who was original but a bit intense for me. As it was part of Ray Davies’ Meltdown, he both introduced her and sang a song with Sexsmith. A nice evening.

I wasn’t as enthused by the programming of Ray Davies’ Meltdown as I was Richard Thompson’s last year, even though he is as much of a hero. However, his final concert with his band, the LPO and the Crouch End Festival Chorus was another highlight in a lifetime of concert going. The first half saw the whole of the highly under-rated 1968 album Village Green Preservation Society (it was released on the same day as The Beatles white album!) played for the first time and the second half a set of 13 Kinks & solo classics, the pinnacle of which was Days, with the addition of two thousand audience members singing too. When the orchestra and chorus left the stage, he came back saying ‘we can’t finish yet, it’s not even 10 o’clock’ and the band delivered a three song mini-set which had us all dancing. Terrific!

I couldn’t resist going to Glee Live as the TV show has become such a guilty pleasure. There was much to enjoy, and it was extremely well staged at the O2, but the fan worship and tendency to both over-sing and over-amplify marred what could have been a real fun evening – albeit a short and expensive 80 minute one that came in at over £1 a minute!

Art

I was hugely disappointed by the Joan Miro retrospective at Tate Modern, particularly as the first room was stunning. After these gorgeous early paintings, he moved to Paris and got in with bad company (Picasso and Masson) and it’s poor surrealism, abstraction and downhill from there! I actually preferred Taryn Simon’s exhibition, showing her somewhat obsessive and indescribable collection of genealogical photographic groups. Each group represents people associated with an event or location and there are (explained) gaps where the sets are incomplete. As I said, indescribable!

Chris Beetles indispensable gallery / shop had probably the most comprehensive exhibition of Heath Robinson ever mounted. It was stunning, though it was closely packed and too much to take in. In addition to his quirky stuff, there were less well-known fairy tales and cricket drawings, amongst others. Against this, the fascinating Hoffnung exhibition also there couldn’t compare.

The weather marred our annual visit to the Taste of London restaurant showcase in Regent’s Park, though there also appeared to be a lot less restaurants, less interesting food and a broader less foodie remit. I think it may be time to drop this particular modern tradition.

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Wednesday started with another highlight – My Romantic History at the Traverse. This play about a present relationship and the past relationships of its protagonists is told in two halves (though without the interval in the customary Edinburgh tradition) from the prospective of each protagonist respectively. The writing is outstanding with dialogue that sparkles with realism and humour and the three actors are exceptional. A hugely uplifting experience and if you live in London and don’t catch this when it transfers in October, you’re completely bonkers*****

Another World is another one of those excuses for an exhibition that adds some borrowed items to the Dean Gallery’s extensive permanent collection of surrealists to justify an entry fee for something that is in reality not particularly illuminating.  There are some good Magritte’s, a magnificent Dali and some interesting British surrealists but I left unconvinced*** The lunch and the walk back along the Water of Leith, Edinburgh’s inner city country river, were both lovely though.

One of the few main festival’s new plays, Caledonia, was an enticing prospect – satirist Alistair Beaton’s take on a little known 17th century attempt at colonising part of Central America by a then independent Scotland through a trading company not unlike the England’s East India Company. The modern parallels with Scottish independence this century and the role of banks were striking. Apparently, the writer fell out with the director (playwright Anthony Neilson) and given that the production was a sort of Carry On Panto, I think I can see why. A lost opportunity, not unlike last years The Last Witch and I’m beginning to think that the festival pressure doesn’t allow new work to mature enough before its high profile exposure to the press and public**

My final exhibition was the annual open submission International Photography one at the Edinburgh Photographic Society and this year was a cracker with more portraiture and less (often Austrian and Ukrainian) 70’s-style tacky collages! The talent of these amateurs is extraordinary and makes me feel completely inadequate****

The Scat pack’s Lights! Camera! Improvise! develops their three-year-old formula into an award-winning improv. show where a film is created from audience suggestion which on the day we saw it was very funny indeed and somewhat appropriately based on the rape of Wales forests!****

The final show of the day was Teenage Riot by the young Belgian company with whom I stared last year’s festival sort of speed dating at Internal! This one took place in a large cube with most of the action of the eight teenagers inside projected live onto the outside. It had its flaws but you had to admire the ingenuity and much like the ‘speed dating’ it has more impact on your thinking after that it did at the time***.5

Our last day began with our biggest disappointment but had a perfect ending. When You Lie is a play about cosmetic surgery, comparing the excellent job it does restoring people after tragedies with it’s pandering to vanity and lifestyles. The trouble is it’s not particularly well written or directed (another writer directing – is there a pattern emerging?!) and comes over as a heavy-handed preposterous and rather distasteful cocktail**

Laura Solon is more comic story-teller than stand-up and her show was gentle charming and witty, if not exactly ground-breaking, and made a pleasantly diverting hour***

We ended at Rosslyn Chapel for a production of Benjamin Britten’s opera of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  It was a long way out by taxi and cold in the venue, but somehow it proved to be the perfect event to end this year. With 25 performers on a tiny stage, it was a bit cramped and I could have done with less choreographed fairy business (and maybe half as many fairies!). The playing was occasionally ragged but the singing was terrific and for a University company – Cambridge’s Shadwell Opera – hugely impressive.

Well, that’s it for another year – En Route and My Romantic History the top two shows so look out for them, but Roadkill, Speechless, Beautiful Burnout, Simon Keenlyside, Latin American Vespers, Five Guys Named Moe and A Midsummer Night’s Dream all treats and Flesh & Blood & Fish & Foul, Grandpa Fredo (sorry, Malcolm!), Lights! Camera! Improvise! and Teenage Riot getting special mentions for inventiveness. I’m now in the Outer Hebrides, but more of that in a few days…..

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Less than half the c.50 plays I’ve seen in London this year have been new (I can’t wait for Edinburgh to restore the balance). Of the revivals many were definitely worth reviving – from Shakespeare (the Almeida’s Measure for Measure and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Rose in Kingston) through Miller (The Open Air’s Crucible and All My Sons in the West End) to The Beauty Queen of Leenane just last Saturday at the Young Vic…..but I would question whether both the Buckner at the NT on Friday and this last night at the Donmar deserve it.

This early 19th century German play centres on a dreamy young prince who becomes a war hero but because he doesn’t strictly follow his orders finds himself in deep trouble. By the interval, though it had held my attention, I was thinking ‘so?’. The second half was much better as the debate about his reasons and the rights and wrongs unfolds. It’ OK, but just OK, and not in my view good enough to see it replace better revivals or new work from the London stage.

Simply but elegantly staged and well acted, it’s hard to fault the production but hard to justify all the effort.

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