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Posts Tagged ‘Cambridge Arts Theatre’

This is the second production from Wise Children, Emma Rice’s new company, following the show also called Wise Children. It wasn’t scheduled to come to London, so I went to Cambridge, which probably guarantees it will now come to London!

It’s based on the first of Enid Blyton’s books of the same name, set in a girls boarding school in Cornwall soon after the Second World War. Six schoolgirls arrive for their first term, joined by another held back a year. Each represents an archetype – the bully, the bossy one, the class clown, the timid one and so on. The clash between these very different personalities is the source of much of the story, though there’s an unplanned adventure and a school play to put on. It became a bit darker, with an injection of feminism, in the second half, which I liked. We don’t meet any of the staff, though the Headmistress is represented in animation, voiced by Sheila Hancock.

There are songs, including a handful of new ones by Ian Ross & Emma Rice and standards like Mr Sandman, with live piano accompaniment from Stephanie Hockley, occasionally joined by members of the cast on other instruments. There are clever projections and animations onto the second, classroom, level of Lez Brotherston’s set, with the front stage the dormitory. The seven performers are excellent, perfectly capturing the archetypes and the period. Yet there’s something missing – it has less of the inventiveness we’ve become used to with Rice’s work, it’s a bit slow to take off and it lacks some sparkle. That said, there’s a lot to enjoy and it was a somewhat nostalgic, chirpy show, if not not vintage Rice.

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Contemporary Music

The Sessions at Abbey Road in the Royal Albert Hall was either going to be a very good or very bad idea. It’s really only a tribute show, but probably the ultimate in tribute shows, recreating 60 songs recorded in the iconic studio in a replica of that studio with a cast of 45 and the most stunning projections, sometimes onto a scrim and sometimes onto gauze screens on all sides. A truly amazing experience.

Show of Hands aren’t a band, well a folk duo, I know well, but I fancied seeing them in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and it was an absolute gem. Unamplified and by candlelight, with really funny (but brief) banter between songs. A delight from start to finish.

Opera

Pia De’ Tolomei is a rare Donizetti given it’s UK premiere (?) by English Touring Opera. I caught it at the Cambridge Arts Theatre while I was working up there. Though I wasn’t mad keen on the production or design, it was musically very good and I did wonder why it isn’t in the repertoire of opera companies.

Dance

It’s hard to imagine two more contrasting dance pieces than the pairing by Pontus Lidberg and Javier de Frutos that make up Ballet Boyz Life at Sadler’s Wells. Both were terrific and the dancing of the ten athletic young men was thrilling. Long may they continue to produce innovative exciting contemporary dance like this.

Film

Eddie the Eagle was another film that was way better than the critics would have you believe, but perhaps that’s because British feel-good movies are my favourite genre. So glad I followed a friend’s recommendation than reviews again.

Other

 I’m not sure how to categorise either Jonny & the Baptists ‘The End is Nigh’ at the Orange Tree Theatre or Little Bulb’s ‘Wail’ at Battersea Arts Centre. The former is part stand-up, part concert and part theatre about climate change – energetic, infectious fun. The latter is part lecture, part concert, part theatre about whales – quirky, eccentric and charming fun!

 

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It’s over twenty years since I saw the original production of this play. It had a very original structure – a biographical monologue interrupted by ‘illustrations’ by characters described in the monologue (some time later, Improbable Theatre did the same with real people in Lifegame) – and a performance from Peter O’Toole which added a frisson because you couldn’t decide if he was playing drunk or actually was drunk!

Jeffrey Bernard was a journalist, gambler, raconteur and professional drunk. He was notorious to those that came across him, but after the play was staged became what we would call today a ‘celebrity’. In the play he tells his own story whilst locked into Soho’s Coach & Horses overnight by mistake. He drinks as he does and some of those he mentions and some of the stories he tells are illustrated by a host of characters, played by four actors, who come on stage briefly to introduce the character or play out the story.

It was fascinating to return to it after 20 years with a different actor, Robert Powell,  playing Bernard. It’s slightly less shocking, but still very funny and the structure remains clever, fresh and perfect for the story it tells. Powell is clearly enjoying playing this role and does so very well, with almost continual eye contact with the audience and a knowing smile that make it feel like you’re in the pub with him. That’s helped, of course, by a realistic pub set from Jonathan Fensom and in our case by front stalls seats, again within wig spotting distance! Director David Grindley’s staging serves Keith Waterhouse’s play well and is pretty faithful to Ned Sherrin’s original production – no point in messing with something that worked.

I don’t know if this Bath originated touring production is intended for the West End but I think the timing is good and it could well succeed again; my two companions were new to it and enjoyed it as much as I did.

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