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Posts Tagged ‘Alison Chitty’

Contemporary Music

The return of Graham Parker has been one of the great pleasures of the last twelve months and this third concert saw him and Brinsley Schwarz as a duo in the lovely Union Chapel. A largely different selection of songs again, great intimacy and much good humour. Support act Tristan McKay was hugely impressive and added much to make this a very special evening indeed.

I felt obliged to see Paul McCartney one more time in case it’s the last! It was my 6th in 22 years. His voice clearly isn’t as strong now (well, he is 72) and it cracks occasionally, but in the grand scheme of things – a 3-hour set, 41 songs including 25 Beatles, great band, terrific lights video & pyrotechnics and a loving audience of 23,000 with an age span you rarely see at concerts, whose combined warmth lights up the O2 – it hardly matters. If only for an evening, the years fall away and you replay an earlier part of your life. Wonderful!

Opera

You might wonder if the world needs another Pirates of Penzance, but ENO‘s new production has much to commend it, not least beautiful orchestral paying and some lovely voices. Mike Leigh, who directed the terrific G&S bio-pic Topsy Turvy, treats the material with respect and I rather liked Alison Chitty’s simple bright colourful sets and period costumes. The singers were occasionally too quiet, which begs the question as to whether operetta (with dialogue) should be amplified in the cavernous Coliseum, and not every word was audible, with surtitles which didn’t seem to cover everything. I don’t know whether its me getting old or G&S ceasing to seem old-fashioned, but their renaissance continues, though this one isn’t as good as the Union Theatre’s all-male version currently on its second UK tour.

The spring visit to WNO in Cardiff paired Debussy’s underrated Pelleas & Melisande with a new opera of Peter Pan. I’m told the Pelleas production resembled Game of Thrones, but I’ve never seen that. It was certainly less classic ‘fairytale’ than I’m used to, but it worked, it was beautifully sung and the orchestra sounded like they were making love to the gorgeous score. I was too tired to get the best out of Peter Pan, but it was faithful to the story, musically accessible and the design was delightful. It was great to see so many kids enjoying themselves at an opera that was written for them rather than me, and WNO had as usual organised lots of excellent foyer events to accompany and enhance it for them.

Classical Music

I found I Fagolini’s Betrayal really original, beautifully sung and highly atmospheric, though it was dramatically obtuse and very tiring. The Village Underground space was turned into a large crime scene with chalked bodies and evidence everywhere. The six singers and six dancers performed in pairs in separate parts of the space. They were singing unaccompanied 16th century polyphonic madrigals and enacting crimes of passion. Standing around them was tiring, moving less so, but it did distract from the enjoyment.

Dance

Seeing Sylvie Guillem‘s farewell tour at Sadler’s Wells was a bittersweet experience. Wonderful to see her again, still at the top of her game, but sad that it will be the last. This was no ‘Best of’, with a new solo work and a new duet, her first with another woman, but it did end with the brilliant and appropriate Bye, which I had seen and loved before. Having seen her triumph a few times in the classics, it has been great to follow this reinvention in contemporary dance in the final stage of her 39 year career.

Film

I loved Far From the Madding Crowd. Despite being a period piece, it seemed so fresh, Dorset looked gorgeous and the performances were great.

A Royal Night Out was somewhat implausible and very sentimental, but I still liked it. Heart-warming, with great performances.

I don’t know why we’ve lost Spooks from TV but gained Spooks: The Greater Good, but I thought the transition to the big screen worked well and was much better than the reviews suggested; it gripped me throughout.

Rosewater tells the story of the imprisonment of British Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari. It’s directed by American satirist Jon Stewart, who would have made a better film if he’d made it even more satirical. As it is, the long dry interrogation segment at its core drags it down and lessens its impact.

Art

I didn’t think I was going to get into Inventing Impressionism at the National Gallery as I left it until the last few days, with rumours rife of a sell-out. Despite the fact it’s in their dreadful Sainsbury Wing galleries and despite the crowds, it’s unquestionably one of the greatest collections of impressionists in one place, containing no less than 23 Monet’s and 14 Renoir’s (some of the best I’ve ever seen). The story of art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, who does appear to be responsible for their discovery, was captivating too. Unmissable – and I didn’t!

 

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Seeing Saved two days before prepared me for a depressing experience. …….but Mike Leigh’s Grief isn’t depressing, it’s just sad.

We’re in 1957/58 and Dorothy still hasn’t come to terms with being a war widow. She struggles to maintain a functional relationship with her teenage daughter Victoria. Her brother Edwin lives with them but contributes nothing. Victoria does teenage rebellion. Edwin pours the sherry and occasionally breaks into song, with Dorothy joining in. Dorothy makes the tea. Their lives are dull, predictable and ever so sad. The performances of Lesley Manville, Sam Kelly and Ruby Bentall are however extraordinary.

Light relief is provided by occasional visits from Edwin’s friend Hugh (a lovely cameo from David Horovitch) and Dorothy’s friends Gertrude and Muriel, a terrific double-act from Marion Bailey and Wendy Nottingham. These three boast about their children’s achievements, their foreign holidays and their charitable acts. They also provide some well needed laughs to break up the sadness.

Alison Chitty’s design is pitch perfect late 50’s and I found myself spending much of the time soaking up the details of the brilliant set and costumes. This attention to detail is matched by the performances where every expression, glance and shrug seems to have meaning.

There are far too many short scenes, which creates an unsatisfying staccato feel and disrupts the flow of the piece. It’s a moving portrait of grief and sadness but it doesn’t really go anywhere and outstays it’s welcome by at least 30 minutes. Go for the performances and period picture, but don’t expect  much of a drama.

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Mike Leigh’s work is never cosy and comfortable and this is no exception. He has the knack of lulling you into a false sense of security, laughing at his ever so real characters, before shocking, horrifying and shaming you into sympathy with (most of) them. It’s not a fun night out, but one you can’t help admiring.

Ecstasy takes place in Jean’s bedsit in Kilburn around the time the 70’s become the 80’s. Her friend Dawn is encouraging her to go out and have fun. Unbeknown to her, she’s a lonely alcoholic being abused (again?) by a casual sexual partner. After a short first act, the second is a continuous 100 minutes of post-pub revelry with Dawn and her husband Mick and mutual acquaintance Len. Of course, it all ends in tears.

The main reason for seeing this play is a set of outstanding performances. Stepping into the shoes of original cast members like Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent and Stephen Rea must be tough, but they all make the roles their own. Sian Brooke has the most difficult role and her journey from fear and repressed emotion to moving confession is extraordinary. I thought Sinead Matthews over-acted in The Glass Menagerie at the Young Vic last year, but here she gets the loud grotesque Dawn spot on, with some superb physical acting. If one of those slips of paper that fall out of programmes hadn’t, you would never have known Jack Bennett was the understudy for Len – a terrific performance. It is to Daniel Coonan’s credit that you positively detest Roy, Jean’s abuser. Allen Leech is good as Mick, as is Clare Louise-Cordwell in the small part of Val, Roy’s wife.

Alison Chitty’s cramped bedsit looks lost, even on the Duchess’ small stage, but provides a suitably claustrophobic performance space with excellent period detail. Leigh’s direction is of course masterly.

It is a bit overlong, but in a way that’s why it has such impact when it slaps you in the face – life is full of dull moments before the high’s and low’s turn up. We’re also more used to this kind of gritty realism today, so it’s less shocking and ground-breaking than it no doubt was in 1979 (or when I first saw it in the early 90’s in a revival at the New End in Hampstead).

It’s good to see serious stuff like this make it to the West End and do well. As I said, not an easy ride, but one I’m very glad I took.

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