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Posts Tagged ‘Aletta Collins’

Well, it looks like I’m going against the critical flow again on this one; I rather liked it, particularly the design, the songs and the infectious enthusiasm of the cast. Treating it as a family show might be the key.

It doesn’t have the storytelling quality of Alan Bennet’s iconic non-musical NT adaptation. It’s more character-driven, though there’s more of a story, well, caper, in the second half. Once we’ve established who’s who on the riverbank, the mysteries of the wild wood and Toad’s status, it’s basically about his imprisonment and escape and the takeover and reclaiming of Toad Hall. Julian Fellowes book isn’t up to much, but George Stiles catchy tunes and Anthony Drewe’s witty lyrics do enough plot driving to make up for it.

Peter McKintosh’s design is cute for the riverbank and grand and imposing for Toad Hall, with some excellent train, car and boat journeys in-between. The costumes help define the characters and I thought they were lovely. Aletta Collins choreography also adds much to the characterisations. Rachel Kavanaugh’s production has, above all, a lot of charm, helped by delightful performances like Simon Lipkin as Ratty, Craig Mather as Mole and Gary Wilmot as Badger. I liked Rufus Hound’s very brash, loud, athletic (and green) Toad and Denise Welch’s Geordie mother Otter. Neil McDermott is a good baddie, a suitably oily weasel.

The 6 and 10-year-old seemed to enjoy it as much as the older members of my party and the producers get a gold star for the accessibility that the children-go-free policy provides. Much better than those cynical paid critics would have you believe.

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This seemed like a good idea. Jane Horrocks singing the songs of her youth, with four dancers choreographed by Aletta Collins. I’m afraid it turns out to be a rather charmless, self-indulgent evening – well, hour.

I didn’t know any of the music, but it all seemed rather unremarkable, though played well live by the onstage band. The choreography was a bit quirky, seeming to take its lead from the lyrics but making no sense to me. There’s a very striking monochrome design by Bunny Christie.

Either the songs didn’t suit her or she no longer has much of a voice. Her look was very Debbie Harry, though less charismatic. She hardly broke into a smile until the curtain call. The few words of intro and conclusion tried to put the songs into context, but seemed a bit pointless to me.

A bit of a vanity project, and a bit of a dud – and at more than 50p per minute, more expensive than a West End musical.

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I can’t begin to imagine what the audience thought of this early expressionistic Eugene O’Neill play when it was first staged on Broadway 93 years ago. It probably wouldn’t make it to Broadway or the West End today (unless it had a Hollywood star, obviously). It’s only been done here in English once in my 35 years of London theatregoing, in 2012 at Southwark Playhouse – a terrific production. So here we are just three years later in the much bigger Old Vic.

It starts in the testosterone fuelled engine house of a transatlantic liner with Yank, the central character, ruling the roost as they drink heavily. A rich girl who we first see on deck turns up in the engine house as if visiting a zoo. This has a profound impact on Yank and when he’s back in New York he’s railing against the upper class and gets arrested. Prison confirms his beliefs and he joins a union upon release, but is thrown out on suspicion of being a spy, ending up in a zoo where he talks to and releases an ape, who kills him.

It’s not a great play, but it is fascinating (as is O’Neill’s previous expressionistic piece, Emperor Jones) and way ahead of its time. A review at the time apparently said ‘before The Hairy Ape we had plays, now we have drama’. Left-wing drama on Broadway almost 100 years ago! I can’t think of a better director than Richard Jones and his use here of stylised movement (choreographer Aletta Collins!) is particularly effective. Stewart Laing’s striking design creates a claustrophobic atmosphere in the below deck scenes, with stunning and occasionally blinding lighting by Mimi Jordan Sherin.

Bertie Carvel seems taller and bigger and larger than life, with huge presence as Yank. He’s surrounded by a fine cast of twelve actors and two actresses, but its really Yank’s play and Carvel gives a towering performance.

It doesn’t have the intensity and intimacy of the Southwark Playhouse production, but its good to see it on a major stage, if a little too soon after the last outing. 

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Based on the 2002 film of the same name, this stage musical is completely faithful to the original, retains the period and adds original music by Howard Goodall to produce something even more feel-good than the film. I loved it, and have already booked to go again!

Jess is a bright British Indian 18-year-old who’s obsessed with football, and with her hero David Beckham. She’s spotted playing in the park with local Indian boys by fellow footballer and local women’s team member Jules, who invites her to try out for her team, which she subsequently joins. Her parents, who are knee-deep in preparations for their elder daughter’s engagement and subsequent wedding, don’t really approve and she continues her footballing in secret, but when the secret is out she is forced to stop.

What it is, of course, is the journey of many British born young people of Indian descent, trying to balance family and heritage culture with life in Britain. It uses the British Indian ability and willingness to find humour within, and use it to celebrate, its culture to great effect. Paul Mayeda Berges & Gurinder Chadha’s book and Charles Hart’s lyrics are very funny, but it’s also very moving and respects the underlying themes. The addition of music adds another dimension and it betters the film as a result. By interweaving Indian musical styles and incorporating heritage singers, Goodall has produced a score which retains his trademark melodic style but sounds different, rather unique and very much in keeping with the story.

Miriam Buether’s clever set has a semi-circle of seven panels which rotate to move us from home to playing field to changing rooms to park, and so on. Katrina Lindsay’s costumes are terrific, a riot of colour. Aletta Collins’ excellent choreography moves us from night club to Indian wedding, anchoring the piece wherever it is at that moment. This is director Gurinder Chadha’s first stage show but you’d never believe it. It’s clear how close she is to it; as she also co-wrote and directed the film, it’s probably running through her bloodstream.

Both Lauren Samuels and Natalie Dew are excellent, but it’s Dew who has to carry the emotional heart of the story and she does so with great warmth and charm. You find yourself sympathising with her and rooting for her to the point of having to resist the temptation to intervene on her behalf! Tony Jaywardena and Natasha Jayetileke are wonderful as Jess’ parents, themselves torn between keeping control and letting go. Preeya Kalidas was indisposed on Saturday, but having seen how good her understudy Sejal Keshwala was as Jess’ sister Pinky, I just can’t see anyone else being better. One of the few changes is that Jules mum Paula is here divorced, so the always excellent Sophie-Louise Dann has to carry all of the parental pressure and support on her shoulders and she’s great. There are too many other fine performances in this excellent ensemble to single out more.

The audience seemed to reflect the cultural mix on stage and they responded enthusiastically. Like those other British musicals Billy Elliott, Betty Blue Eyes and Made in Dagenham, it takes a heart-warming film and betters it. It’s a departure for Goodall, who has produced many other great shows but few commercial hits. Given the undeserved early baths that Betty and Dagenham got, lets hope this follows Billy as a British musical hit. For me, it already is.

 

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Contemporary Music

It’s hard to write about the Paul McCartney concert at the O2 without downloading a complete thesaurus of superlatives. It was the sixth time I’d seen him in the 21 years he’s been performing live with Wings or solo, and the third in as many years. It was at least as good as all the others – amazing visuals, brilliant sound, 2.75 unbroken hours containing 41 songs (including 27 Beatles songs, two getting their UK live premiere 46 years after their recording!). I sang, swayed, danced and cried. Absolute magic.

Opera, Dance & Classical Music

The ENO’s Castor & Pollux sounded as good as it looked dreadful. Rameau’s music is different to his contemporaries – just as crisp and clean, but with less frilly stuff! Sadly, the white box-modern dress-piles of earth-running around-inexplicable nudity production meant it was a lot better with your eyes closed. The singing of Allan Clayton, Roderick Williams, Sophie Bevan and Laura Tatulescu was lovely though – and the orchestra under Christian Curnyn sounded gorgeous.

Undance at Sadler’s Wells was an intriguing prospect – a double-bill of opera and dance as a collaboration between composer Mark-Anthony Turnage, artist Mark Wallinger and choreographer Wayne McGregor. The opera, Twice Through the Heart, was in fact a monodrama / song cycle about an abused woman who murders her husband. Favourite Sarah Connolly sang beautifully ‘inside’ 3D projections (we were given glasses on the way in!). It was a bit inaccessible on first hearing, but interesting and well executed nonetheless. Undance itself was based on the 19th century ‘motion photography’ of Eadweard Muybridge with projections behind the dancers, one mirroring the other. It was clever and intriguing, but felt like it should be a third of a triple bill rather than a pairing with a mini-opera. I didn’t dislike the evening, but somehow it felt like a couple of snacks rather than a full meal.

The Bizet Double-Bill at The Royal College of Music was a fascinating affair. Djamileh, an ‘opera comique’ had few laughs and inexplicably lost its happy ending to a murder, but the sound was unquestionably Bizet. Chinese tenor Lei Xu and British soprano Katherine Crompton sounded beautiful, as did the orchestra under Michael Rosewell. Le Docteur Miracle was certainly played for laughs, but also ended with a death Bizet didn’t (I think) write. In a veritable United Nations of casting, the singing of the girls – South African Filipa van Eck and Anastasia Prokofieva (guess where she’s from!)  – was great and the acting of Israeli  Pnini Grubner and homegrown Oliver Clarke equally good. A delightful evening.

Offenbach operettas are hardly subtle, but Scottish Opera’s touring production at the Young Vic removed any subtlety Orpheus in the Underworld did have. Everyone was trying so hard, particularly Rory Bremner’s libretto, squeezing in as many contemporary satirical references as he could think of, and the performers exaggerating every move and expression until it seems Am Dram. There was some good singing and the solitary pianist played the score well, but I felt like they were relentlessly beating me on the head with a newspaper (as one character did actually do to another at one point). Having said that, I admire them for touring small-scale opera to 33 venues in Scotland and Northern Ireland including artistic black holes like Stornoway and Lerwick, but why come to London with this? It made me yearn for a revival of ENO’s production with Gerald Scarfe’s extraordinary designs.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra’s concert at the Barbican was terrific. They combined Walton’s cantata Belshazzar’s Feast with Sibelius’ suite from the music of a play on the same subject and added in some Sibelius songs and Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem. Edward Gardner is now in the conducting premiere league and his interpretations here were thrilling. The chorus sounded great in the Walton and soloist Gerald Finlay great in both the Walton and the Sibelius sons. For once, the audience didn’t hold back the cheers; a cracker.

The LSO is an orchestra at the height of its powers. The Monteverdi Choir is one of the world’s best. Sir John Elliott Gardiner is in the premiere league of conducting. Even so, their concert of Beethoven’s 1st and 9th Symphonies was even more of a treat than I was expecting. The soloists don’t get to do much in the 9th, but they did it well. The chorus soared and the orchestra thrilled. Possibly the best in a lifetime of 9th’s

Back at Wigmore Hall there was a lovely concert pairing the 16th century songs of John Dowland with those of the 20th century composers he influenced – Peter Warlock and Ivor Gurney – with singers Ian Bostridge, Sophie Daneman and Mark Stone accompanied by lute, piano, flute, cor anglais & string quartet in various combinations. I could have done without the cheesy German Christmas encore with children’s pageant that followed a rather lovely evening of English song.

Magical Night at the Linbury Studio was the British premiere of a Kurt Weil ‘kinderpantomime’ choreographed by Aletta Collins, who has created a simple story of toys that come alive in the kid’s bedroom at night (heard that before?!). It was the Weill that was the attraction for me and it was interesting but hardly thrilling. The dance was OK, but the whole show was a bit of a disappointment overall.

Art

I was drawn to Painting Canada at Dulwich Gallery by its poster, as I often am by poster images. Sometimes the poster doesn’t properly represent the content of the exhibition (take note, Tate!) but on this occasion it does. It’s a beautiful exhibition of 122 paintings and oil sketches by the ‘Group of Seven’ Canadian artists from the early 20th Century. I’m not sure I’ve ever been to such a cohesive and consistently good exhibition of paintings. They’re virtually all landscapes, the colours are vivid and they show off (probably flatter) Canada brilliantly. Gorgeous.

Glass-maker Dale Chihuly is best known in the UK for the enormous ‘chandelier’ which dominates the V&A entrance. We were lucky to have a major exhibition of his work at Kew Gardens some years ago, but that’s about my only exposure to his work. Halcyon Gallery now has a brilliant selling exhibition which is surprisingly large and has a long 3-month run. The 57 works are well exhibited and beautifully lit. The only downside was the prices – from £11.5k to £700k; just a little beyond my art budget!

The annual Landscape Photography exhibition in the NT Lyttleton circle foyer is as good as ever; though guarantee to make mere mortal photographers like me feel totally inadequate! There are so many lovely photos here, I had to go round twice to take them all in.

I was initially disappointed by the V&A Friends visit to William Morris’ former home – Kelmscott House in Hammersmith – when I discovered we were only going to see the small basement museum (the rest is now a family home again). However, the curator brought out a lot of fascinating items, like original artwork for wallpaper and fabrics, and added some interesting historical facts to make it worthwhile in the end.

Down in Surrey, a feast of the work of another Arts & Crafts couple – George & Mary Watts – was to be had at the Watts Gallery and nearby chapel. He’s an underrated player in this movement’s game and it was great to see so many of his paintings in one place. The beautifully decorated round chapel (inside and out) by his wife on a nearby hill was an unexpected bonus despite the fading light.

It has taken me 21 months to get round to seeing WildWorks ‘Enchanted Palace’, which is occupying 15 rooms of Kensington Palace during their renovations. There were only 4 days to go, so off I went and boy was I glad I did. They tell the story of seven of the princesses who lived there by installations, light, sound, story books and cards and actors. it’s sometimes mysterious, sometimes playful, often beautiful and always captivating. I now can’t wait for their Babel in Battersea Park in 2012. 

Film

I adored My Week With Marilyn. It was funny and moving, littered with a who’s who of great British actors. Kenneth Branagh does a terrific turn as Laurence Olivier and Michelle Williams is uncanny as Marilyn, but for me it was Eddie Redmayne’s movie – he’s as mesmerizing on film as he is on stage, proven yet again by his Richard II less than 2 weeks later.

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