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Posts Tagged ‘Gate Theatre’

Opera

At the Royal College of Music, five mini-operas on the theme of Frankenstein – The Modern Prometheus saw five composition students produce very diverse responses, including misuse of digital data, genetic modification of babies and time travel. They were all staged professionally and beautifully performed and played by the students. It made me realise opera is a live art form and in these hands very much alive.

George Benjamin’s opera Lessons in Love and Violence at the ROH, about Edward II, lived up to the hype, and more. A brilliant piece of storytelling with great psychological depth, thrillingly dramatic music and some wonderful singing by a faultless cast. One of the best modern operas I’ve ever seen, proving how much you can achieve in 90 minutes without padding.

Classical Music

The BBC Singers continue to shine, this time at Milton Court accompanied by St James Baroque in an all Handel programme. I’d have preferred an all Handel choral programme; as much as I admired the organ concerto, it didn’t really belong. The choral pieces were lovely.

A lunchtime at LSO St. Luke’s saw the Academy of Ancient Music perform two of Handel’s Chandos Anthems in a sandwich with a Trio Sonata, and a lovely diversion it was too. All the works were new to this Handel fan, which was a bonus.

The UK premiere of Howard Goodall’s new oratorio, Invictus: A Passion, at St John’s Smith Square was a real treat. His classical works, like his musicals, are full of gorgeous melodies and this was no exception, beautifully sung by The Choir of Christ Church Oxford, with two soloists from The Sixteen and a small instrumental ensemble. It’s rare that Handel proves to be an anti-climax, but the Foundling Hospital Anthem which followed was; though it was another Handel piece that was new to me.

Contemporary Music

I tend not to go to cabaret, particularly ones made up of musical theatre numbers, as I’ve convinced myself I don’t much like them out of context, but every time I do go I enjoy it and say I should go more often! The first May bank holiday weekend gave me a double-dip, starting with one of my favourite performers, Clive Rowe, at the Orange Tree Theatre. His selection was mostly American standards and his piano and double bass accompaniment was first class, but it was the extraordinary warmth of the welcome and the absolute joy of the performance that made it for me. It was hard for the Stephen Sondheim Society’s monthly cabaret at Phoenix Artist Club to live up to it, but it was a jolly good night, thanks to MD Aaron Clingham and fine vocals and comic input from Sarah-Louise Young, Sooz Kempner and Tim McArthur. The bonus was vising a lovely new venue and feeling I’d brought the average age down, a rare occurrence these days.

I very much enjoyed the first collaboration between Welsh harpist Catrin Finch & Senegalese Cora player Seckou Keita five years ago, but the chemistry between them is now much developed as they proved back at Union Chapel with a new album to play, inspired by the migration of ospreys between their two countries. The big bonus was support from Gwyneth Glyn, a lovely Welsh singer with a great backing group, who was new to me.

I went to see folk ‘supergroup’ Imar at King’s Place on the strength of one number performed at the BBC Folk Awards on TV and a good decision it was too. Though lots of dance tunes can sometimes seem relentless, and leave you breathless, there were some slower numbers to bring some light and shade and I was anyway mesmerised by the musicianship. The camaraderie and banter added a warmth to the evening.

Effigies of Wickedness, a collaboration between ENO and the Gate Theatre, gets its title from a pre-war Nazi exhibition of ‘degenerate’ music, including pieces by Weill, Eisler & Brecht and Schoenberg. Sub-titled ‘Songs Banned by the Nazis’, it’s a cabaret made up of some of this music, but much more, with staging and design that is wild, colourful, loud and in-your-face and hugely committed performances and consummate musicianship from opera, theatre and cabaret professionals. It was often hilarious, but often chilling. Extraordinary.

Dance

Hofesh Shechter’s Show at the Lyric Hammersmith had his trademark earthiness and pounding, but it was also macabre and had some humour and a lightness that set it apart from the other works of his I’ve seen. It was rather mesmerising, with more false endings / curtain calls that you may ever have seen before.

Film

I haven’t looked away from the screen as much as I did in South African film The Wound, about a tribal manhood ritual, which was so authentic it felt like a documentary. Gripping stuff.

Tully was a film that lulled you into thinking one thing before it surprised you by being something else and I really enjoyed it. Charlize Theron was terrific in her frank look at motherhood.

I didn’t go and see The Greatest Showman when it came out because I’d just seen a revival of the musical Barnum, about the same man, covering the same ground, and the reviews were a bit ify. Word of mouth made me change my mind and I thought it was terrific, despite the schmaltz, and definitely worth seeing on a big screen. When the lights went up, I discovered I’d seen it alone!

Art

The Wildlife Photography Exhibition at the Natural History Museum seems to start as soon as the previous one ends; sometimes I think I’ve seen the current one but I haven’t, one day I’ll unintentionally go twice. It was great again, and blissfully quiet. I’ll never make a wildlife photographer – I don’t have enough patience, or a good enough kit.

Known Unknown at the Saatchi Gallery was the usual curate’s egg – good pieces hanging alongside dross. Still, the space is great, and it’s free!

London Nights at the Museum of London exhibits photographs taken over more than a hundred years of the city at night. It went off at a few tangents, such as fashion, but there was much to enjoy, including a stunning snap taken by Tim Peake from the ISS. Along the High Walk in the Barbican Music Library, there was a small display of photos and equipment Inside Abbey Road Studios but not enough from its iconic period in the 60’s for me. Jill Furmanovsky’s photos were great, but they were the wrong subjects for my timeline!

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I missed last year and curtailed the year before, so this is my first full week in Edinburgh for three years, which may be why I enjoyed it so much. It seemed like a vintage year, with an extraordinarily high 70% hit rate of great shows and only two bummers out of 26.

The seemingly insatiable supply of monologues continued, with seven of the 13 plays falling into this category. Despite my ambivalence, even dislike, of them, there were some real crackers, led by Sherman Cymru’s Iphigenia in Splott, an extraordinary take on Greek Tragedy with a stunning performance by Sophie Melville. Canadian genius Robert Lepage was back with another of his imaginative, innovative solo shows, this time 887 blended memories of his youth with material about memory itself. Comedian Mark Steel‘s show was, like Mark Thomas’ wonderful Bravo Figaro a few years back, a biographical story – in this case how he found out about his real parents. It was moving, poignant and very very funny. The fourth 5-star show was another flight of imagination, this time The Anomotion Show with percussionist Evelyn Glennie playing in the 17th century courtyard of George Heriot School whilst the live painting of Maria Rud was projected onto its walls. Brilliant. The final day produced not one but two gems, starting with Duncan McMillan’s extraordinarily engaging and captivating one-man play about depression, Every Brilliant Thing, brilliantly performed by Jonny Donahue, which I’ve been trying to catch for some time. Our one and only opera ended the trip with the most inventive and original Die Zauberflote from Komische Oper Berlin in collaboration with our own theatre genius’ 1927. Animation, performance and music in complete harmony.

The Traverse continued its trailblazing, hosting the National Theatre of Scotland’s Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, a rude and hugely funny play with music that followed convent school girls on a school outing (bender) to a singing competition in Edinburgh, with six very talented young actresses and a female band, directed and designed by women! and Vanishing Point’s outstanding, creative take on dementia, Tomorrow. They also hosted young Belgian company Ontroerend Goed’s latest unsettling piece, A Game of You, where I was observed, interviewed and imitated before observing myself, and leaving with a DVD of my experience! Their other two shows fared less well, with Christians, a debate about hell, hard for a non-believer to engage with (though superbly staged and performed, with a 24-piece choir) and another monologue, Crash, which was clever but didn’t captivate like some of the others.

Musical high’s included Lennon: Through A Glass Onion, which showcased his songs – sung and played by a duo – interspersed with quotes from the man himself, Antonio Forcione (again!) with his brilliant Brazilian percussionist Adriano Adewale, hugely enthusiastic five-piece accapella group Simply Soweto and Hackney Colliery Band, who weren’t at all what I was expecting (a brass band!) but whose rhythmic jazz funk was infectious late-night fun. Musical Theatre featured, with enterprising amateur productions of The Addams Family and Sunshine on Leith, neither of which have yet had London outings though both deserve them.

More solo turns, with Jim Cartwright’s Raz, about preparing for, and going out on, a night out, performed brilliantly by the playwright’s son James, contrasting with stand-up comedian Mark Watson‘s highly strung but hysterical Work In Progress. Then there was 10x10x10 where ten comedians did ten monologues written by ten other comedians – except  there were only six, as they split it into two shows, and I can’t tell you who wrote or performed them, except Jo Caulfield who did one. Not bad, though. The big disappointment was Tony’s Last Tape, where an interesting life was made deadly dull.

Other Welsh contributions included Ghost Dance, a highly creative piece of physical theatre but with a confusing narrative comparing a native American plight with a Welsh one. There was innovative use of a smart phone app for English dialogue and subtitles and more polystyrene than you’ve ever seen in one place. Not a lot to say about a rather amateur take on (part of) the folk tale The Mabinogion, except to say I blame Judith!

The Missing Hancock’s featured two lost scripts staged as if they were being recorded for radio, with occasional ad libs, by an exceptional cast. I’d enjoyed them on the radio and I enjoyed them live too. Favourite playwright Jack Thorne’s sexually explicit, harrowing but brilliant play The Solid Life of Sugar Water was another theatrical highlight with two fine performances and, unusually on the fringe outside the Traverse, a great design. Finally, a novel immersive staging of a rare Tennessee Williams play, Confessional, where you are in a seaside bar with the dysfunctional characters partaking of a beer or two with them. Not a great play, but inventively staged.

The usual diversity with higher quality this year. No doubt some will appear elsewhere, so now you know what to catch.

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Sometimes, however many rave reviews & however many recommendations, you just can’t motivate yourself to go and see something. My particular bete noire is monologues and this monologue had rave reviews and I was inundated with recommendations, but it was only on its third outing that I relented. Of course, it was wonderful!

The Pilot is in action with the US Air Force when, during home leave, she meets someone and becomes pregnant. When she returns to duty some time later, she is horrified that she is posted to the Nevada desert to operate drones in Iraq. She eventually finds she gets as much of a buzz from long-distance virtual hits as live action.

Lucy Ellison is extraordinary and mesmerising from the first time she makes eye contact with you as you enter the auditorium. Standing in designer Oliver Townsend’s gauze cube lit by 29 small white spotlights from above and coloured underfloor lighting, she tells you her story as she uses the space restriction to advantage, making every move count, conveying her feelings at each point. Partner Eric and co-worker ’19’ really do come alive in the telling.

It might be a monologue, but in Christopher Haydon’s staging of George Brant’s play is tense, dramatic and gripping; if only all monologues were. Terrific.

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NEW PLAYS

Chimerica – Lucy Kirkwood’s play takes an historical starting point for a very contemporary debate on an epic scale at the Almeida

Jumpers for Goalposts – Tom Wells’ warm-hearted play had me laughing and crying simultaneously for the first time ever – Paines Plough at Watford Palace and the Bush Theatre

Handbagged – with HMQ and just one PM, Moira Buffini’s 2010 playlet expanded to bring more depth and more laughs than The Audience (Tricycle Theatre)

Gutted – Rikki Beale-Blair’s ambitious, brave, sprawling, epic, passionate family saga at the people’s theatre, Stratford East

Di & Viv & Rose – Amelia Bullimore’s delightful exploration of human friendship at Hampstead Theatre

Honourable mentions to the Young Vic’s Season in the Congo and NTS’ Let the Right One In at the Royal Court

SHAKESPEARE

2013 will go down as the year when some of our finest young actors took to the boards and made Shakespeare exciting, seriously cool and the hottest ticket in town. Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus at the Donmar and James McAvoy’s Macbeth for Jamie Lloyd Productions were both raw, visceral, physical & thrilling interpretations. The dream team of Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear provided psychological depth in a very contemporary Othello at the NT. Jude Law and David Tennant as King’s Henry V for Michael Grandage Company and the RSC’s Richard II led more elegant, traditional but lucid interpretations. They all enhanced the theatrical year and I feel privileged to have seen them.

OTHER REVIVALS

Mies Julie – Strindberg in South Africa, tense and riveting, brilliantly acted (Riverside)

Edward II – a superb contemporary staging which illuminated this 400-year-old Marlowe play at the NT

Rutherford & Son – Northern Broadsides in an underated 100-year-old northern play visiting Kingston

Amen Corner – The NT director designate’s very musical staging of this 1950’s Black American play

The Pride – speedy revival but justified and timely, and one of many highlights of the Jamie Lloyd season

London Wall & Laburnam Grove – not one, but two early 20th century plays that came alive at the tiny Finborough Theatre

Honorable mentions for To Kill A Mockingbird at the Open Air, Beautiful Thing at the Arts, Fences in the West End, Purple Heart – early Bruce (Clybourne Park) Norris – at the Gate and The EL Train at Hoxton Hall, where the Eugene O’Neill experience included the venue.

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Whenever I walk into a theatre to be greeted by a retro set, I have to stop myself saying ‘we had one of those’ and try to concentrate on the play. Simon Kenny’s terrific early 70’s design is amongst the most nostalgic I’ve come across, even though it’s mid-West USA not west country UK. All brown and orange, triple ceiling lights and a stereogram – and lime green wallpaper! Fortunately, there was enough time to clock each item before the play started.

Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park was my Best New Play of 2010, a step change on his earlier The Pain & the Itch, also good and also at the Royal Court. Purple Heart was written eight years earlier and this is its UK premiere at the Gate Theatre, configured in the currently fashionable traverse setting ( is that to facilitate spectating the other half of the audience if the play lags?).

War widow Carla (Vietnam war) and her 12-year old son Thor live with well-meaning but smothering, irritating mother-in-law Grace. Carla has a drink problem and may still be grieving. Thor is precocious (in truth, he seems much more mature than a 12-year old has any right to be), loves practical jokes and shocking grandma.

An army corporal comes to visit, the latest in a long line of sympathisers (most, but not him, bearing a casserole as is customary in small town America) though he doesn’t appear to be a former colleague of deceased Lars. We learn that he met (and became obsessed with) Carla in a hospital where she was being treated for depression.

This is an extraordinarily realistic depiction of the trauma of grief and the personal impact of war on the relationships and lives of those affected. At the same time, it’s a bit of a mystery and played out (particularly in the second half) with great suspense. The silences are themselves extremely tense (and much more effective than Pinter) and there is an unpredictability and danger about it all.

The performances are all superb. Oliver Coopersmith, playing way lower than his true age, is naive and funny but hurtful in the way only children can be. Linda Broughton makes Grace seem like someone you know well, someone who irritates and charms you in equal measure; you can’t help loving her, but you wouldn’t want to live with her. Amelia Lowdell’s Carla is angry & sad, imprisoned by her loss and her mother-in-law. Trevor White is the somewhat mysterious visitor, part benevolent, part creepy; he’d win a Riding the Silence Award in any year.

Christopher Haydon’s staging is impeccable and the effect at close proximity in this small space is intense and voyeuristic. Great to see more Norris, and in such a finely staged and performed production too. More early Bruce Norris please!

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This is like time travelling back 43 years. The first ever alternative rock musical has become  a £65-a-go ride in the new hippie theme park! At least Daniel Kramer’s revival at the tiny Gate Theatre a few years back retained some sense of ‘alternative’ (though it has to be said this lot are easier on the eye – that’s the fringe for you!).  The anti-war message could and should mean something in these war-torn times, but is about as sincere as businesses going green because its cheaper.

This virtually plotless show has four songs which have now become standards (boy, doesn’t Good Morning Starshine sound twee?!) and another 2 hours of unmemorable undistinguished blandness. It only came alive briefly in the second act during the extended anti-war sequence, but the only purpose this show serves in 2010 is its part in the history of musical theatre.

Having said that, the staging is good (though I could have done with less ventures into the audience, which I’m sure went down a storm on Broadway but work less well with a more inhibited West End audience) and the musical standards are outstanding. I can’t comment on Will Swenson’s Berger because I got his rather weak understudy, but the rest of the leads were very good, particularly Gavin Creel’s Claude.

Go if you’re ‘collecting’ musicals or fancy an evening in one room of the museum of musical theatre, but please don’t expect anything ground-breaking, challenging, relevant or for that matter particularly entertaining. Like all museum exhibits, you look at them and learn but that’s about it.

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