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Posts Tagged ‘Arcola Theatre’

This is an adaptation, by playwright Rotimi Babatunde, of Lola Shoneyin’s 2010 novel about a rich, larger-than-life Nigerian polygamist, Baba Segi. At first you seem to be celebrating this misogynist bullying monster as a lovable rogue, but it takes a delicious twist. It’s a rude, boisterous and hugely funny piece and the superb music is the icing on the cake.

We see Baba begin his collection of wives, adding two, who all give him children, before he meets the fourth, graduate Bolanie, who is unpopular with the other wives and appears to be barren. In the first half, we see Baba ruling like a despot, taking turns to have sex with the wives, celebrating his fertility in producing children. In the second half, it takes an unexpected, brilliant turn as Baba is brought down to earth, after which the wives can chose freedom or continued enslavement. Their decisions constitute another extraordinary turn of events.

It’s a exuberant production by Femi Elufowoju Jr. with thrilling African choral singing, accompanied by percussion and dancing. The cast are all superb, performing with the audience on all sides, with superb audience engagement (with some commenting on the action!). Somehow the cocktail of sexism, misogyny and bullying becomes a riotous and uplifting evening, and it was great to be in a white minority in the theatre for once.

With The Barbershop Chronicles, Nine Night (transferring to the West End), the revival of Leave Taking and this all within the last year, we may be entering a golden age for black theatre. Unmissable.

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I wish working class playwright D H Lawrence would come into fashion like middle class playwright Terence Rattigan has, so that we could see more of his work. The polymath novelist / poet / playwright wrote eight plays, only two of which were performed in his lifetime. The last we saw in London was a ‘mash up’ of his three early mining village plays, of which this is one, as Husbands & Sons at the National a couple of years ago, but revivals of his plays are few and far between.

It’s written in strong local dialect, so you have to put in a bit of work, but you do get into the rhythm of the language, which is an essential component of the piece, fairly quickly. It takes place in family homes represented evocatively in Louie Whitemore’s design by just four pieces of furniture on a platform, with the audience in two rows on four sides, and this intimacy results in extraordinary engagement, five actors shining in their respective roles. The backdrop is the 1912 miners strike and we’re in the village of Eastwood on the Nottinghamshire / Derbyshire border. This is the world of D H Lawrence’s youth. A matriarchal society, but a man’s world.

Luther, in his early thirties, has recently married Minnie, who left life in service to do so. They are late to marriage because of his hesitancy in proposing long before, and perhaps because his mother has been holding him back. His younger brother Joe is still at home. Neighbour Mrs Purdy visits mother and younger son to inform them Luther has fathered a child with her daughter and suggests money could buy their silence. Mother, somewhat bitter at the loss of her elder son, not keen on her daughter-in-law and the inheritance she brought with her, refuses, so Mrs Purdy visits Luther.

It’s a brilliant play with excellent characterisations, superbly structured. It’s not just a personal story, but also social history and sociology, examining the roles and relationships between the sexes at that time, and archetypal mother and son relationships. Harry Hepple is simply terrific as Luther, torn between wife and mother, struggling to assert himself, clumsily when he does. Ellie Nunn is superb as a feisty Minnie, defiant and determined, but ultimately loving. Veronica Roberts is wonderful as the boys’ mum, worshiping them and pampering them. Matthew Biddulph is great as the more immature Joe, winding others up without considering the consequences and cheekily flirting with Minnie. Tessa Bell-Briggs gives a fine performance as Mrs Purdy. A brilliant cast.

Jack Gamble’s finely detailed staging is impeccable. This is an unmissable revival which I can only hope leads to many more.

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This is an adaptation of a twelve-year-old radio play by Mike Bartlett, six years before he hit the big time with Charles III and Albion, adaptations like Chariots of Fire and award-winning TV series Dr Foster.

He’s done six other things for radio, so this seems to be another strand sitting alongside the epic, like Albion, and the miniatures, like Bull. Another radio play, Love Contract, a year after this, ended up on the Royal Court stage as Contractions the following year (brilliantly revived last year by Deafinitely Theatre as a site specific piece on a trading floor). Now the enterprising Defibrillator have mined the archives to stage this one at the Arcola.

There are two seemingly separate stories more than half a century apart. James and Lucy meet before the second world war, but their relationship is marred by their failure to have children and infidelity. Mark and Amanda are army colleagues at the time of the Iraq war. The two strands eventually connect and its very satisfying joining it up for yourself. There was too little character interaction and dialogue and too much monologue for me, but given much is looking back storytelling, its easy to see why.

It’s simply staged by James Hillier with just a platform, a piano and some chairs, with some particularly effective lighting by Zoe Spurr making a significant contribution. The four performances are all excellent – David Horovitch and Kika Markham as the old couple and Lawrence Walker and Gemma Lawrence as the young soldiers.

I always enjoy seeing the early work of my favourite playwrights, but this is more than a collectors item, its a fine piece of storytelling. Just seventy minutes, but compelling theatre that’s well worth catching.

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Opera

My second visit to Grimeborn 2017 at the Arcola Theatre was for Lully’s 17th Century opera Armide. It was the first night, so it was a touch ragged at the edges, the production was a bit static (lots of posing) and it was hard to follow the story, but there was much to enjoy in the singing and playing.

Classical Music

Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt, in its full three part version, got a terrific first performance at the Proms by the Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment under William Christie. I love the way it builds, I love the fact that 27 of the 39 parts are choruses and I loved the fact that the soloists came out of the choir.

An English music Prom featuring the National Orchestra & Chorus of Wales proved to be an eclectic delight. Two pieces I’d never heard by favourite composers – Britten & Purcell – with the most delicate and uplifting rendition of Elgar’s Enigma Variations and the world premiere of Brian Elias’ Cello Concerto, with the composer in attendance. Brilliant.

A new innovation at the Proms this year was ‘Beyond the Score‘, where the first half was a profile of the composer and background to the work, with actors, visuals and musical extracts, followed by the complete symphony, in this case Dvorak’s 9th, From the New World. Though I thought the first half was a bit long, it was insightful and I very much enjoyed the experience and felt I heard more in the piece as a result. Mark Elder and the Halle were on fine form.

The 120-year-old Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra made their belated Proms debut with a programme of Bernstein, Copeland and Tchaikovsky. I thought they were more at home with the American repertoire that the Russian, which they proved conclusively with a stunning encore of Bernstein’s Candide Overture, better than I’ve ever heard it played before. The Proms audience made them very welcome indeed.

Contemporary Music

The late night  Stax Prom, celebrating 50 years of the label, exceeded expectations big-time. I wasn’t a huge fan in the day, but came to Stax later and visited the studios in Memphis in 2004. Two of the original house band and three of the original singers were supplemented by some of the best British soul voices, led by Sir Tom Jones. Jools Holland’s R&B Orchestra were great (though the sound could have been a bit better) and it was full of highlights, with a terrific atmosphere in the Royal Albert Hall.

Film

I was introduced to the folk art of Maud Lewis when I went to the Art Gallery in Halifax Nova Scotia last September, so the bio-pic Maudie perhaps meant more to me as a result. True to her life story and beautifully filmed, I adored it, and Sally Hawkins was sensational as Maud.

Atomic Blonde was thrilling but too violent for me, with much of it improbably prolonged violence. Gold stars to the stunt men and women, though.

I was bored very early on in the over-hyped A Ghost Story, and presenting the ghosts as people covered in sheets with slits for eyes just seemed preposterous.

Thankfully, The Big Sick exceeded its hype and caught me by surprise as to how moving it was. Unlike the typical laddish Judd Apatow film; very grown up.

I’m very fond of independent British films, and God’s Own Country is one of the best in recent years, beautifully filmed and it really shows off Yorkshire!

Art

I’m not a fashion man, but you have to admire the classic design and extraordinary craftsmanship of Balenciaga at the V&A. Up the road at the Serpentine GalleryGrayson Perry’s exhibition was just the right size to give the pieces room to breathe and to avoid overwhelming the viewer, and the gallery managed the flow of punters brilliantly. The art, of course, was as fascinating as he always is.

A wonderful day of art started at St. James’s Piccadilly with the sculptures of Emily Young in the gardens. All heads, but different types and different stone, they were lovely. At the Royal Academy, I managed to get us into the Friends preview of Matisse in the Studio which was a little gem, showcasing pictures with the items from his studio in them. They have been loaned from so many different places it really is a once-in-a-lifetime show. Downstairs in the RA the one-room wonder that was Second Nature: The Art of Charles Tunnicliffe, some of the most gorgeous illustrations I’ve ever seen. After lunch a return to Picasso: Minotaurs & Matadors at the Gagosian which was well worth a second viewing, then off to Tate Modern for Giacometti, which was way more diverse and way more fascinating than I was expecting. Now that’s what I call an art feast!

+ / – Human was this year’s Roundhouse summer installation, seven round white drones which moved above your head, coming teasingly close but rarely close enough to touch, with at atmospheric soundtrack. Fascinating and fun.

The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains at the V&A was interesting and well put together (apart from the fact it was a bit crowded and you sometimes lost the automated audio guide as you moved) but I gave up on them too soon, as they became somewhat overblown and pompous, so I’m not enough of a fan to rave about it.

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Opera

La Voix Humaine is a rarely staged 50-minute one-woman opera by Poulenc, one of only three he wrote, and Opera Up Close are to be congratulated on an accessible, high quality production at Kings Place starring Sarah Minns with the score played on piano by Richard Black. Captivating.

A French double-bill at the Royal College of Music proved to be a delight. Chabrier’s Une Education Manquee, about a couple who didn’t know what to do on their wedding night, and Poulenc’s rather surreal cross-dressing boob-expanding Les Mamelles de Tiresias worked brilliantly together and the singing and playing was divine.

I saw the rarely performed Leoncavallo opera Zaza in concert a couple of years ago, so I was looking forward to seeing it staged. Sadly, the staging and design were so incompetent and inconsiderate (sightlines and audibility) that I wished I was hearing it in concert again! The final straw was a downpour soon after the second half started, where the noise of the rain on the canvas roof virtually drowned out the singers – but that wasn’t Opera Holland Park’s fault.

The Arcola‘s enterprising Grimeborn (geddit?) opera festival staged a musical-opera hybrid called The Marriage of Kim K which was a great idea, very ambitious and had its moments, but didn’t entirely work. It alternated between the story of Kim Kardashian’s short marriage to Kris Humphries, Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro and a British couple (him composer, her lawyer) on a couch fighting over the remote and switching between the two. It was this middle section which let it down by being rather dull and underperformed (and often out of tune). Gold star for trying, though, and hopefully we’ll see it again re-worked and improved.

Classical Music

I don’t think I’ve ever reacted so differently to two halves of the same concert as I did at Simon Keenlyside’s recital at Wigmore Hall. I adored the first half of Vaughn Williams, Finzi and Sibelius, but didn’t care for the more frivolous selections of Poulenc and Mahler in the second half, despite the obvious skills of the performers. A matter of taste, I guess.

The BBC Singers / Eric Whitacre concert at GSMD’s Milton Court was an absolute gem. An eclectic programme of ten pieces by living composers from five countries, including four world premieres and one UK premiere, with all composers present, with Whitacre’s first and latest compositions included. To cap it all, an encore of favourite Laura Mvula’s own arrangement of her song Sing to the Moon. Wonderful stuff.

Andrew Norman’s children’s opera A Trip to the Moon, based on the 1902 French silent movie of the same title, was paired with Sibelius 2nd Symphony in a terrific LSO Discovery concert in the Barbican Hall that saw the former involve local communities and both involve GSMD students, under Simon Rattle. Watching the white-shirted post-grad students sitting alongside the black-shirted LSO players provided a great sense of current musicians nurturing the next generation, which really moved me – and they sounded bloody great together too.

Soprano Sophie Bevan & tenor Allan Clayton gave a lovely recital of 28 Shakespeare songs by 20 different composers at Wigmore Hall, a very diverse and sometimes unpredictable selection. The acoustic was unkind to the soprano as it was to Simon Keenlyside’s baritone last week, which is a bit odd.

Contemporary Music

My first Prom this year was a late night celebration of Scott Walker‘s late 60’s solo albums, songs that have never been played live by anyone let alone Jarvis Cocker, John Grant, Suzanne Sundfor & Richard Hawley, with small choir and big orchestra! I didn’t think Cocker’s voice suited Walker’s songs, but the other three were terrific. I’m not a huge fan, but it was well worth the punt.

Film

Seeing Baby Driver broke a two-month film famine. It wasn’t the sort of film I usually go to – glorifying violence in a Tarantinoesque way – but it was exciting and brilliantly made, though let down by the implausibility of the ending.

Dunkirk is an extraordinary film about an extraordinary event. It was tense for the whole 100 minutes, but deeply moving too. Unmissable.

Dance

The Barbican gave over their Art Gallery for four weeks of performance art, well dance really, created by Trajal Harrall. There were lots of short works in different places, so I planned my visit to see as many as possible. Sadly, they weren’t as organised as me so I ended up having to go with the flow a bit, but that proved to be fun. I managed to sample about twelve pieces over a couple of hours and left feeling rather pleased with myself.

Art

A lot to catch up on…..

The Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition was great this year, though I missed all those architectural models I’m so fond of. Still, the biggest selling exhibition of them all had a lot I would have bought if I bought art!

If I wasn’t a Friend, I probably wouldn’t have gone to the Sargent watercolours exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery, which would have left a gaping hole in my life because I loved it! Portraits, city scenes and landscapes, they were all wonderful.

A visit to Whitechapel Gallery en route to a concert proved disappointing as Benedict Drew’s The Trickle-Down Syndrome was slight, A Handful of Dust was a bit pointless and the ISelf Collection underwhelming!

White Cube Bermondsey is such a big gallery that trying to fill it with women surrealists was bound to lead to variable quality, but fortunately there was enough good stuff to make Dreamers Awake worthwhile.

You don’t expect to see Picasso in a private gallery, let alone 111 paintings, drawings, sculptures, tapestries & ceramics of Minotaurs and Matadors, all bar one from private collections! It wasn’t a selling exhibition and entrance was free, so I’m not sure how the Gagosian funds it, but I’m glad they do.

Gregory Crewdson‘s heavily staged and artificially lit photos are like stills from an indie movie or paintings by Edward Hopper, which appear to tell a story but tantalisingly don’t, quite. His Cathedral of the Pines exhibition at the Photographers Gallery puts nudes in white clapperboard houses in snowy landscapes. Weird but a little bit wonderful.

A lovely double-dip at the NPG en route to the theatre, starting with the excellent class of 2017 at the BP Portrait Award, followed by The Encounter, featuring drawings from the 15th to 17th centuries, mostly culled from private collections including fifteen, a third of them, from the Queen! Another treat.

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power at Tate Modern took me by surprise. Covering just 20 years of Black American art from the outset of the 1960’s civil rights movement, it contained some powerful, bold political statements alongside some terrific abstract pictures.

Though low lighting and overcrowding made Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave at the British Museum a bit of a challenge, it was great to see his complete range of gorgeous, finely detailed work. I shall now pour through the catalogue to see them properly!

The month ended on a real art high with Alma-Tadema at Leighton House, an artist I’d never heard of whose very comprehensive retrospective was absolutely fabulous.

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One of the most moving moments in a lifetime of travel was seeing the mothers of the disappeared in their monthly ritual in Buenos Aires main square just nine years ago. BA was a very different place to my first visit 27 years before that. This show sets out to tell their story through one mother and her disappeared daughter, using ‘political musical cabaret’ as its form.

Our MC is the General. There are two other military men, one in drag most of the time. The story only starts after the cabaret form is established, which takes some 30 minutes – unnecessarily long and dangerously close to losing the audience in too much forced bonhomie. When Ana and her mother Gloria’s story begins, it gets grittier and deeper and in the second half very dark and deeply moving. I very much liked Darren Clark’s eclectic score and lyrics, which tell the story well and add an emotional layer.

The Arcola has been effectively turned into the Coup Coup Club, with an apron stage and cabaret tables in front of the usual seating in an excellent design by Georgia Lowe and Alex Berry. Neil Kelso, who also plays one of the trio of military men, provides very good illusions. Alexander Luttley provides the burlesque edginess with his racy routines. There’s a theatrical coup at the end which movingly reminds you that this is based on true events. Most of the cast of nine double-up as musicians, with very high musical standards. Amy Draper, who had the concept and is its co-storyteller, directs it with passion.

It wasn’t helped by a 35-minute delay in staring, but it is overlong and if they only ditched a lot of the first quarter and edited the rest, they’d have a much better show. That said, I don’t regret my schlep to Dalston on a sweltering evening.

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Over 150 shows were candidates for my four award-less awards, with Best New Play the difficult category this year, so lets start with that.

BEST NEW PLAY – LOVE – National Theatre

Over a third of the sixty-five candidates were worthy of consideration, which makes 2016 both prolific and high quality in terms of new plays. Hampstead had a particularly good year with Rabbit Hole, Lawrence After Arabia, Labyrinth and the epic iHo all in contention. The Almeida gave us three, with Boy leading the trio that included They Drink It In The Congo and Oil because of its importance and impact. The Globe’s two Kneehigh shows – 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips on the main stage & The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – both delighted. Two more Florian Zeller plays, The Mother and The Truth, followed The Father and proved he’s a real talent to watch. The visit of Isango again, this time with play with songs A Man of Good Hope was a treat.

The Arcola gave us Kenny Morgan, which showed us the inspiration for Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea, the Donmar a fascinating One Night in Miami, the Orange Tree hosted the superbly written The Rolling Stone and Dante or Die’s site-specific Handle With Care had an epic sweep in its self storage unit setting. Two comedies shone above all others – James Graham’s Monster Raving Loony and Mischief Theatre’s The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, the only West End non-subsidised contender! The Royal Court provided the visceral Yen and The Children, my runner-up, another fine play by Lucy Kirkwood whose Chimerica was my 2013 winner. Of the National’s three, The Flick and Sunset at the Villa Thalia came earlier in the year, but it was LOVE at the end which made me sad and angry but blew me away with more emotional power than any other. Important theatre which I desperately hope many more people will see.

BEST REVIVAL / ADAPTATION of a play – The Young Vic’s YERMA & the National’s LES BLANCS

I’ve added ‘adaptation’ as a few steered a long way from their source, and Les Blancs could be considered a new play, but it’s just new to us.

Though I saw forty-four in this category, less than a quarter made the short-list. The best Shakespeare revival was undoubtedly A Winter’s Tale at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. As well as Les Blancs, the National staged excellent revivals of The Deep Blue Sea and Amadeus, the Donmar chipped in with the thoroughly entertaining comedy Welcome Home, Captain Fox and in Kingston The Rose revived Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, probably the best use ever of this difficult space. Beyond that I was struggling, except to choose between the two winners, which I found I couldn’t and shouldn’t do.

BEST NEW MUSICAL – GROUNDHOG DAY – Old Vic Theatre

Has a shortlist ever been so short? Only twenty contenders but only three in contention. The Toxic Avenger at Southwark Playhouse was great fun and the NYMT’s Brass visiting Hackney Empire hugely impressive, but it was achieving the seemingly impossible by turning Groundhog Day into a hugely successful musical than won the day, though it was sad to see it head stateside, presumably in pursuit of greater commercial gain, after such a short run. I know it will be back, but that doesn’t make me feel any better about a British theatrical institution and a whole load of British talent being used as a Broadway try-out. 

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL – HALF A SIXPENCE – Chichester Festival Theatre / Novello Theatre

Fifty percent more revivals (twenty-nine) than new musicals is a lower proportion than usual, but a winner has never been clearer. 

The Menier gave us a transatlantic transfer of a great Into the Woods and what may prove to be the definitive She Loves Me, but both the Union and Walthamstow’s Rose & Crown provided twice as many quality revivals, with the latter successfully climbing higher peaks with more challenging shows for a small space – Bernstein’s Wonderful Town, Out of This World, Babes in Arms and Howard Goodall’s The Kissing Dance. The Union’s contributions included The Fix and Children of Eden and a trio of cheeky, fun nights with Bad Girls, Moby Dick and Soho Cinders. The Southerland-Tarento partnership provided a brilliant revival of Ragtime and the welcome European premiere, and superb production of, Rogers & Hammerstein’s Allegro (which was also too old for me to categorise as ‘New’). A little gem came and went ever so quickly when the Finborough revived Alan Price’s lovely Andy Capp in it’s Sun-Tue slot on the set of another play. BRING IT BACK! Despite all this fringe and off west end quality, it was the Chichester transfer of an old warhorse with a new book, new songs, thrilling staging, stunning choreography, gorgeous design and terrific ensemble which propelled itself to the top of this category.

That’s it for another year, then. Homelessness, childlessness, timelessness, colonialism and love amongst the working class. There’s a theme there somewhere…..

 

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