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Posts Tagged ‘Dan Jones’

Contemporary Music

Eliza Carthy & Jim Moray’s double celebration at Union Chapel could have been so good. My favourite venue, a great 13-piece band & good song selection from Carthy. Sadly, when the whole band played, the sound just wasn’t up to it. Her voice and fiddle were often buried, I couldn’t make out most of the lyrics and it was hard to pick out individual instrumentation; in short, a shit mix. They seemed surprised and upset when they had to abandon two or three songs at the end because of the Union’s curfew; something that must have been known to the promoter (Barbican Centre) & could have been easily overcome by shortening the 30 min interval. A lost opportunity.

Classical Music

I’m not sure ‘staging’ Britten’s Canticles added that much, but it was very compelling and atmospheric. Two used dance, one acted out a scene, one had a giant film on the theatre’s brick back wall and one just used light. The music was however gorgeous, with Ian Bostridge singing all five, a stunning duet with Iestyn Davies in one and a trio, adding Benedict Nelson, in another.

Opera

Ballo, Opera Up Close’s latest offering, moves Verdi’s A Masked Ball from an 18th century Swedish court to a 21st century Swedish retail outlet on the North Circular. It’s heavily edited and the whole score is played on one piano, but most of the singing is good and it works, though it tries a bit too hard to be cheeky and irreverent and gets close to sending up the opera. Fun, though.

Dance

I much admired the Royal Ballet‘s Hansel & Gretel. Set in 50’s US – think Hitchcock’s Psycho – with a superb design by Jon Bausor, atmospheric music /soundscape by Dan Jones, original choreography by Liam Scarlett, great characterisations and excellent performances by all six dancers. You wouldn’t want to take a kid to this, though, as it’s as dark as they come with themes of abduction and hints at pedophilia. My one reservation was that there wasn’t a lot of story for 100 minutes of dance-drama.

I’m very fond of David Nixon’s unique dance dramas for Northern Ballet and The Great Gatsby is one of the best. There’s a lot of story to get over without words and the programme synopsis was essential. It looks gorgeous in Jerome Kaplan’s simple but elegant design. I loved the Richard Rodney Bennett compilation which included jazz, songs and period pieces like The Charleston. It was beautifully choreographed, including party dances, romantic moments, mysterious figures and fights. Great stuff.

Film

How disappointing Pedro Almodovar’s I’m So Excited is; such a slight piece. Carry on Flying in Spanish! It had some funny moments, enough for an episode of a Sit Com, but nowhere near enough to sustain a 90 minute feature. After The Skin I Live In, this is the second disappointment in a row from him.

In contrast, the new Star Trek film turns out to be the best yet. Benedict Cumberbatch is a great baddie, Simon Pegg an excellent comic Scottie, the 3D is exceptional and the addition of humorous touches works well. The best BIG action film I’ve seen in some time.

Exactly one week after being impressed by the ballet of The Great Gatsby, I was disappointed by the film. It should have been the perfect choice for not-very-prolific Baz Luhrmann (5 films in 21 years!), but apart from the performances it was a big let-down. Achingly slow, design that looked like CGI and dreadful 3D.

Art

Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan at the Wellcome Collection was a fascinating peep into the minds of those within social facilities in Japan; untrained artists using art as therapy. From paintings to drawings to sculpture to textile work, sometimes obsessive, often original and always skilled, it’s a rich collection that should be seen – and very different from a similar exhibition I saw in Milwaukee last year.

Another good and varied selection for this year’s Deutshe Borse Photography Prize on show at the Photographer’s Gallery – B&W pictures of deprivation, images of war set to Brecht’s words, voyeuristic views of prostitutes plying their trade on roadsides and a surreal review of the aborted Zambian space mission!

It’s always a good idea to add an hour to a Chichester theatre trip as it gives you the excuse to visit the Palant House Gallery which has a fine collection of 20th century British art. The bonus last time was Frida Kahlo & Diego Riviera; this time it was a comprehensive retrospective of Ralph Kitaj, the hospital drawings of Barbara Hepworth (which reminded me of Henry Moore’s war drawings) and a room of Paul Nash drawings & memorabilia. Lovely combination in a lovely space.

Treasures of the Royal Courts at the V&A was another of those manufactured-to-get-an-admission-fee shows museums have become fond of since they went free (by government endowment!). Much of it was from their own permanent collection, which you can see free at any time,  and the Russian connection was a weak one. Boo!

I’m very fond of the documentary B&W photos of Brazilian Sebastiao Salgado and his marathon tour of the remotest parts of the world to record nature is impressive. Genesis at the Natural History Museum though was one project where he really should have used colour, as it becomes monotonous and fails to record the magic of the places he visited. That said, I’m glad I went.

Killing time at the NT, I discovered a lovely exhibition of Norman Parkinson‘s iconic photographs of fashion and famous people. Highly posed and therefore unnatural, but somehow fresh and lovely. In the same building, there was another fascinating exhibition of textile artworks by Lalla Ward called Vanishing Act; in effect, animals and insects camouflaged and hiding in the artworks!

Brighton is a long way to go for a one-hour performance, so off I went in the afternoon before for a personally selected self-guided art tour of seven installations / exhibitions. The best was Finnish artist Kaarina Kaikkonen‘s clothing sculpture at Fabrica (c.400 shirts in a deconsecrated church!) and her ‘dressing’ of the clock tower. I also liked Emma Critchley‘s video of herself swimming, shown inside a container on the seafront!  Mariele Neudeker‘s work spanned three spaces, but only some impressed (an iceberg in a Regency house!), ten c.4 min video’s of men moving was too much to do anything other than ‘sample’ and the shadow of a drone painted on Madeira Drive was just making a point.

A double treat at the British Museum. The Pompeii & Herculaneum exhibition is stuffed full of wonderfully preserved, extraordinary things; more domestic than stately. It’s beautifully curated, laid out like the homes the items were found in. The events which led to their burial and preservation were well covered and the human stories moved you. You have to suffer lots of kids obsessed with finding anything erotic, but it’s worth it! It was pensioner-rage at Ice Age Art, fighting to get a glimpse at the tiny 20,000-40,000 year-old items. When you did, you were richly rewarded but this time the curation made it harder, not easier.

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Oh I do love a Greek tragedy – and I don’t mean an economic one – and it ceases to amaze me how fresh a 2500 year old play can be. This modern staging of the third part of Sophocles trilogy is no exception.

We’re in a present day tyranny like Syria, where the new leader Creon decrees that one of Antigone’s recently deceased brothers, Polynices, won’t be given the honour of a burial, which destines him to go to hell. She’s had a pretty shit life, what with her dad Oedipus blinding himself and sent into exile after discovering he’d killed his father and married his mother by mistake, and her mother committing suicide when she found out. What would Jeremy Kyle have made of it?

Of course, she defies Creon, which leads to her death and that of her intended, Creon’s son Haemon, the news of which leads to Creon’s wife taking her own life, all before Creon has had a chance to make things right after the seer Teiresias warns him that the gods are more than a bit pissed off. Sadly, all the death’s take place offstage.

Polly Findlay’s production has great pace and some welcome restraint (Greek tragedy is often OTT) and Soutra Gilmour’s set creates a government office complex with walls that match the NT’s own concrete. There’s superb lighting from Mark Henderson and a great soundscape from Sound & Fury’s Dan Jones.

Christopher Eccleston and Jodie Whittaker are excellent as Creon and Antigone and there’s very good work from Luke Norris as the soldier who brings the news of defiance and later responsibility for it and from Jamie Ballard as the blind Teiresias.

It might be 2500 years old, but it’s a completely believable story of tyrannical rule much like we still see in the world today on an all too regular basis. It fits the Olivier like a glove and makes for a crackingly dramatic 90 minutes. Loved it.

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This takes place in the round (well, square actually) in a small dark space – sometimes very dark, sometimes completely dark. There’s one actor and three small spaces in which he performs. The night sky is sometimes projected onto the low ceiling. The only other character is a child whose voice is part of Dan Jones’ extraordinary soundscape, the impact of which is heightened during the periods of complete darkness.

The play tells the story of a single dad who is going blind. He also happens to be an astronomer, so his story is interwoven with that of the universe. You do learn about the universe, but more importantly it’s a moving tale of the effect of oncoming blindness on this little family. Even though you only hear his voice, six-year-old Leo seems as real as his dad, who we do see (I would name check him, but I wasn’t prepared to pay £4 for the playscript and he’s not named on the website!).

This is on a much smaller scale than Sound & Fury’s extraordinary Kursk, but technically well accomplished and in its way its a little gem. Traipsing out of the front of the theatre and round the back to enter seemed pointless (unlike Hamlet, where it had a purpose), but I was enthralled by this short 80 minute piece which I would recommend as something different – if you’re not scared of the dark, of course!

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This was Lorca’s last play, written in 1936 at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. It remained unperformed for over ten years and wasn’t seen on stage in Spain for almost 30 years. Some believe it was a prophetic metaphor for the tyranny Franco was about to unleash.

Recently widowed Bernarda Alba is presiding over a more personal tyranny, with her mother and five daughters relentlessly bullied and virtually imprisoned. An offstage character is the subject of the attentions of two of the daughters, betrothed to the one with the inheritance (though I’m not sure I understand why she alone is an heiress) and subject of the obsessive attentions of another.

Adapter Emily Mann and director Bijan Sheibani have relocated the play from Spain to Iran and this does help a modern audience identify with the situation, both the personal tyranny and the tyranny outside the walls of the house. The scene where c.30 women in black (20 ‘extras’!) are facing Mecca and praying rams this home. The problem with Lorca’s play is that the first 80% is spent establishing the backgound and creating the oppressive atmosphere which leads to the tragic conclusion; this lack of balance and pace is its weakness. 

Bunny Christie has created an evocative, claustrophobic setting ‘behind the walls’, aided by a superb soundscape from Dan Jones. You really do get a clear understanding of what it must be like living in these circumstances.

The acting throughout is impressive. Shohreh Aghdashloo has great presence as Bernarda. Jane Birtish and Mia Soteriou are excellent as housekeeper and maid, and the actresses playing all five daughters create five very different characters, each of which is completely believable.

It’s not a great play, fascinating but badly paced and somewhat depressing (though it does have moments of humour), but this is a very good production which drew me into the world of Bernarda’s family and the tyranny more than any other.

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