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Posts Tagged ‘David Farley’

Mischief Theatre continue their campaign for world domination of the genre of farce with this new comedy. I’m pleased they’ve decided to move on from the ‘goes wrong’ plays and I’m even more pleased at how successful this is. 

It’s set in Minneapolis in the late 50’s (I smell a Broadway transfer!). From a prison break-out through the planning of the robbery to its execution, it’s uproariously funny full-on farce. The eight founders / regulars have been supplemented by just one newbie and the experience and chemistry they have developed over the years shows. It’s even more physical and has even more stunts than previous shows. The addition of music contemporary to the setting, sung a cappella during scene changes (and occasionally within a scene) is a lovely bonus, and they sing well too. A joke on the elevation of an issue to higher levels is used twice to brilliant effect, as are those ‘circular’ jokes based on multiple mishearing’s and misunderstandings. 

They’ve raised their game in production values again. David Farley’s set makes great use of the relatively small Criterion stage with action above and around – and on the back wall! – and there are good period costumes by Roberto Surace. If George Martin was the fifth Beatle, then director Mark Bell must be the ninth member of Mischief, because his high energy, fast paced staging is crucial to the slickness of the show.

Though it’s still in preview it’s already in great shape and I predict another huge hit. What Mischief do so well is entertain everyone and offend no-one. You only had to look at the audience to realise they are from eight to eighty, Londoners and visitors from all over the place. The Mischief fairy-tale of success continues……

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This play by James Phillips sets out to tell the story of fashion designer Alexander (Lee) McQueen, but in 110 minutes it doesn’t really tell us anywhere near enough. By introducing a lot of movement and music to give us a feel of the catwalk, it distracts from the story. It’s more pose than substance.

A girl called Dahlia has appeared in Lee’s workroom whilst he’s looking for inspiration for his next show, demanding a dress. She may be a burglar, a stalker, his alter ego or just a figment of his imagination. Together they visit the tailor where he was apprenticed where they meet his first tutor, on to meet his muse Isabella Blow, to his mother’s house and finally to a rooftop in Stratford, where he was brought up. A bunch of models / dancer occasionally appear to dance or pose. The story of his fascinating life is mere snatches. It doesn’t really go anywhere, feels very perfunctory and we don’t really learn much – except that he’s a genius and a tortured soul and he loves his mum. There’s a lot of stuff on the small stage but not much of it looks attractive, with the exception of a frock and a coat, which isn’t exactly what you might expect in homage to its subject.

The chief reason for seeing this is the performance of Stephen Wight as Lee, who does his best with the flimsy material. There’s a nice cameo from Tracy-Ann Oberman as Blow, making a terrific entrance laying on a chaise longue, but David Shaw-Parker and Laura Rees were wasted. I’m afraid I was unimpressed by Diana Agron as Dahlia, whose performance seemed very one-dimensional, though in fairness she didn’t have a lot to work with. Even the ensemble of eight seemed wasted, and very cramped on a stage made smaller by the design. Given the talent and pedigree of director John Caird and designer David Farley, the weakness of the production is a bit of a puzzle.

A missed opportunity to pay tribute to a design icon.

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I think the name of this show is deceptive (and unwise). It conjures up images of a kids show or something twee. Well, it is somewhat sentimental, but it’s a delightful musical two-hander based on an early 20th century novel by Jean Webster which is in essence a love story.

Rich-but-benevolent New Yorker Jervis, a trustee of an orphanage, funds their brightest young girl through university anonymously, with one of his few requests being a monthly letter by way of a report on her progress. The story is largely told through these letters, over a period of four years until just after her graduation. Orphan Jerush meets Jervis as he is the uncle of one of her college friends, but she doesn’t know he’s ‘Mr. Smith’ her benefactor. If course, they fall in love and it all ends happily.

Paul Gordon’s score is simply beautiful, superbly played by a six-pice orchestra under Caroline Humphris. It is almost, but not completely, sung through with so many gorgeous melodies and lyrics which propel the story forward, though sometimes unevenly (some time periods getting longer than others). David Farley’s wood panelled period design and John Caird’s simple staging enable to show to flow seamlessly through a lot of scenes and a years.

Though I liked both Robert Adelman Hancock as Jervis / Smith and Megan McGinnis as Jerush, it was the latter’s vocal performances which blew me away; one of the best musical theatre voices I’ve ever heard.

The cheese level is a little high, but well worth living with for what I thought was a delightful chamber musical. This was my first visit to the new St. James Theatre (such a good name) and it’s a nice intimate space – very much like Trafalgar Studio 1 (steep!) but a little smaller size.

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Contemporary Music

The Decemberists’ concert at Hammersmith Apollo built on their last at the Coronet and buried the memory of their first RFH disaster; this was mostly due to excellent song selection and ordering. They now have a fine body of material and they’ve learnt how to deliver it live and still have fun without compromising quality. I will forgive them the self-indulgent whale song encore because of the 90 minutes before and the gorgeous final encore.

Within minutes of arriving at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, I was regretting it. The traffic was awful and I’d missed most of the intriguing support act, the chatter from people at the back was cacophonous and the sound painfully heavy on base. Then, during his second number, they all shut up, the sound improved and John Grant’s weaved the same magic he did when I first heard his album The Queen of Denmark. He writes very personal songs, sings them with a rich baritone voice and plays piano competently. There’s a second keyboard most of the time and a string quartet some of the time, but no guitars or drums. It’s a rather refreshing sound and live his personality makes for a refreshingly intimate experience. I’d have preferred a venue like the Barbican or Royal Festival Hall, but it was a delight all the same.

Opera

A bumper month!

The latest Guildhall School opera offering is Poulenc’s lovely Dialogues des Carmelites, possibly the most tuneful opera written in the late 20th century! I’ve long been fond of this opera about the martyrdom of nuns during the French revolution and musically the GSMD did it proud. There were some excellent young voices – including a gorgeous Blanche from Anna Patalong, fine turns as the Marquis and his son from Koji Terada and Charlie Mellor and a beautiful Mere Marie from Sylvie Bedouelle. It was great to have a GSMD opera that showed off the fine chorus too. I’m afraid I didn’t like David Farley’s design, where everything was framed by a hole through broken glass, a reference to the opening image of a carriage being attacked by revolutionaries. It was particularly irritating when it framed an opening or closing scene image that about a third of the audience could see.

Back in Cardiff for the WNO late winter pairing of Il Travatore and Die Fledermaus. The former has so much wonderful music that you have to forgive its convoluted and somewhat preposterous plot, and in this production some static staging from Peter Watson and a dark and rather depressing (if clever) series of settings from Tim Hatley. There are so many long scene changes and when the curtain goes up after each of them, you just groan because its just a different configuration of the same giant walls! Welsh boys David Kempster and Gwyn Hughes Jones were both excellent as the Duke and Manrico respectively. Veronica Simeoni sang Azucena brilliantly but couldn’t act for toffee. Katie Pellegrino was technically good as Leonora but it wasn’t always an entirely pleasing sound. The chorus was of course terrific. A bit dull to look at, but a treat to listen to.

Despite the fact I’m not really an operetta man, and certainly not a fan of the somewhat twee Johann Strauss, I rather enjoyed Die Fledermaus, which says much about both the production and the performances. Again, superbly well cast, with some fine singing and acing from Mark Stone, Paul Charles Clarke, Joanne Boag and Nuccia Focile and a delightful cameos as prisoner governor from Alan Opie and actor Desmond Barritt in the non-singing role of the prison warden. It probably benefitted from the affection the ‘old school’ production team have for it – director John Copley, designer Tim Reed and Deirdre Clancy made it fizz with considerable charm and much humour (even though you had heard all the jokes before!).

Rodelinda is this year’s staged offering from the London Handel Festival. It’s one of Handel’s best and musically it shines, with lovely singing from Kitty Whately, Christopher Lowrey, Anthony Gregory and Edward Grint. Susanna Hurrell in the title role was occasionally too loud and harsh and Jake Arditti’s voice was a bit small for Unulfo, but an excellent young ensemble just the same. The orchestral playing, under Laurence Cummings, was outstanding. The modern military setting occasionally jarred, with a particularly tacky ending where royal prince Flavio holds up a flag and gun.

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies & David Pountney’s new opera Kommilitonen! is both a coup and a triumph for the Royal Academy of Music. Max had given up on opera because he was fed up of writing operas based in places like lighthouses to find them staged in a toilet (the best put down of director-led opera ever!). Fortunately, he relented and wrote this highly original opera linking student protests in the US deep south, Mao’s China and Nazi Germany appropriately staged by students in a college. It’s dramatically and musically thrilling and the student talent on show is extraordinary.

Peter Brook’s edited minimalist A Magic Flute was a bit of a damp squib. Even though it ran for around half the normal time, it seemed a very long 95 minutes. There were some nice humourous touches, some clever staging and some nice voices, but overall it underwhelmed. In short, no magic!

Film

Submarine is a charming film, and a hugely impressive debut from actor-come-director Richard Ayoade. There were some gorgeous performances and the picture of school life in Wales oozed authenticity. I loved it.

Route Irish is a lot to stomach; it’s a very well made Ken Loach film but it’s very depressing. I don’t know how true this tale of private security firms in war zones is, but if it’s only a fraction true, it’s shameful. I admired it, but I can’t say I enjoyed it – and it made me angry; but I suppose it was meant to, so ‘job done’.

Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a peek into French caves first discovered just 15 years ago. The 32,000 year-old cave paintings are extraordinary, shown off perfectly in 3D, but there’s a lot of padding and much of the narration is pompous. Now it’s tourism in 3D at your local cinema; whatever next!

The best was left to last this month, with the wonderfully uplifting and deeply moving Benda Bilili!, a film about a bunch of disabled homeless musicians in Congo. The film allowed the musicians own words and their music to speak for themselves – no narration – which is one of its great strengths. Though completely different, it had the same impact as Buena Vista Social Club. Now, to find the CD….

Art

A bumper Art month too; which tells you how much work I did in March!

Cory Arcangel’s installation at the Barbican projects 14 bowling video games created over 24 years. It’s a fascinating examination of how technology evolves, but it isn’t art!

Eve Arnold’s photos at Chris Beetles’ lovely new gallery were terrific. There are a large number taken during filming of The Misfits and I’d have loved to have bought one of Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, but £12,500-£17.500 they were way beyond my price range!

I went to the wrong branch of Hauser & Wirth where there was a video installation of Chernobyl by Diana Thater, which did little for me – worthy though it was. When I got to the right branch, Martin Creed’s paintings also did little for me – until I came across his giant revolving neon ‘Mothers’, which I loved.

The NPG has a terrific exhibition by an early 20th century photographer called Emil Otto Hoppe. His B&W prints of famous political and artistic figures of the time have so much depth; you seem to be peering into their souls. They are shown with some wonderful London street scenes from the same period, with a documentary style that seems to me to be way ahead of their time.

I was a bit sceptical about Watercolour at Tate Britain; I thought it might be one of those ‘excuses for an exhibition’ in order to make money in this new museum / gallery free entry world. It turns out to be an excellent review of c.500 years of the art form with an exploration of the techniques and a diverse range of pictures, including some simply stunning ones. In truth, it does fizzle out in the last quarter (modern stuff, including the usual suspects like the talentless Tracey Emin), but that doesn’t deter from the astonishing highs. In the same gallery, Susan Hiller’s exhibition is fascinating & intriguing, showing off her inventiveness & technical skills – but as art it left me completely cold; admiration but not pleasure.

I keep going to contemporary art exhibitions and come out disappointed and British Art Show 7 at the Hayward is no exception. There were some nice pictures from Alasdair Gray and a clever 24-hour film collage of time references synchronised with the actual time from Christian Marclay (I only sat in for the 5.30pm section!), but it was Roger Hiorns again who was the most creative. When I walked into a film booth (I really do have a problem with film in galleries and tend to stay in each for only a short while) it was just a metal park / station bench. When I came out there was a real naked man sitting on the back of the bench looking at a real fire burning on the seat next to him. Terrific.

Back at the NPG, they’re showing another fascinating photographer I’ve never heard of! This time it’s the 50’s / 60’s B&W portraits of artists, writers and musicians by Ida Kar. They are both fascinating subjects and fascinating pictures.

At the Museum of London, they have a lovely exhibition of London Street Photos spanning 150 years to the present day. They perfectly capture the personality of my adopted city over the years and contain many by even more photographers new to me! By contrast, the Barbican Centre Gallery nearby is showcasing the work of the 70’s New York avant-garde and in particular polymaths Trisha Brown, Laurie Anderson and Gordon Matta-Clark, the latter the only one new to me. Though much of the background work like preparatory drawings left me cold, I was quite taken with Anderson’s interactive pieces (a pillow that plays to you as you rest your head and a desk from which the sound travels through your arms to your ears as you place your elbows on it and cover your ears!) and the two Brown performances I caught – five dancers walking the walls and two weaving in and out of clothes on top of a rope and steel climbing frame. The Barbican is challenging the Hayward in off-the-wall things like this; they sometimes (often?) fail, but you have to admire their nerve in putting on such niche stuff.

I knew nothing about Gabriel Orozco before I went to his exhibition at Tate Modern. It was a very diverse selection of pictures, ‘sculptures’, installations and project descriptions, some of which were interesting and some of which were just dull. The biggest room was almost entirely filled with photographs that he took of a yellow motorcycle he bought and rode in search of identical ones, taking a photo of each pairing as he did. Why? Hardly worthy of a major retrospective, in my view.

I’m not overly fond of Dulwich Picture Gallery’s permanent collection, but they are indispensible when it comes to special exhibitions, particularly by illustrators. Norman Rockwell may be sentimental, twee and sweet Americana, but he’s technically accomplished as this exhibition of c.30 original paintings, c.10 studies, 4 posters and c.300 Saturday Picture Post front covers shows; he’s particularly good at faces and children. It was particularly fascinating to see how the SPP covers evolved over almost 50 years.

Back at Chris Beetles’ new photo gallery they’d swapped the Eve Arnold I started the month with for a terrific set of B&W pictures of actors, models and musicians by Terry O’Neill. I would have so liked to buy a copy of Macca playing piano at Ringo’s 1981 wedding, a picture that comes alive as you look at it, but didn’t have £2000 on me!

I’d avoided the Royal Academy’s Modern British Sculpture exhibition because the reviews were so bad but as I was passing with time to kill and as it’s free for Friends, I gave it a quick look and it was nowhere near as bad as I was led to expect. It was worth a visit for an amazing Adam by Jacob Epstein alone, but there were others to admire, though they did make up less that half of the exhibition. How you can mount a survey of modern British sculpture without three recent titans – Anthony Gormley, Richard Wilson & Anish Kapoor – is however beyond me. We got a less important example from Damien Hirst but were fortunate to be spared a Tracey Emin. Upstairs, it was hard to get excited about Watteau’s drawings, accomplished though they are. There are an awful lot of studies of heads and hands and few finished works.

Phew, did I really do all that on top of 20 plays, musicals and ballets?!

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Well, I never thought I’d see two duds in the same year at the Menier, let alone two within 5 weeks! This revival of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s chamber musical follows hot on the heels of the dreadful Paradise Found.

This is going to sound bizarre, but the most extraordinary thing about this show is that it’s dreadfully slow but seems rushed. It tries to cover too much ground in far too many scenes and in doing so it lacks depth of both characterisation and narrative. As you leave one scene, you can almost hear them say ‘right, quick, let’s do the circus scene then get the props off and move on to sunset at the Pyrenees house’. It didn’t involve me, engage me or move me at all.

There are some nice tunes, but two or three of them return so often it becomes relentless and you start thinking  ‘oh no, here’s that Love Changes Everything’ tune back again; the small orchestra play the score beautifully though. Michael Arden as Alex and Dave Willetts as George were believable and do their best with the material, but I’m afraid I thought Katherine Kingsley was badly miscast as Rose and her singing occasionally made me wince. The best performance by far was Rosalie Craig (who was also the best thing about Jermyn Street’s ‘Anyone Can Whistle’ recently) as Guilietta. The rest of the cast has little to do, so perhaps they should have worked more on their French pronunciation (there’s a fair bit of spoken / sung French) which was truly dreadful.

The usually talented David Farley has over-designed it and it comes out tacky. Given the number of scenes, locations and periods, it would have been much better to follow a more minimalist approach.

All in all, I’m afraid it left me completely cold – and it was a very long 2 hrs 45 mins; thank god for the new seats and a bit of portable aircon! Give it a miss and wait for the real thing when it transfers from Chichester to the West End – Howard Goodall’s Love Story.

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