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Posts Tagged ‘Grant Olding’

Cervantes was a contemporary of Shakespeare, starting as a playwright (without much success), making his name as a novelist with this, perhaps the first novel as such, certainly the first blockbuster. It’s been adapted many times as play, musical, opera, ballet and film and this is the 2016 stage adaptation for the RSC by James Fenton which has finally transferred to London with the same two leads.

It starts with Rufus Hound’s warm-up act talking directly to the audience, something he does very well, helped on the night I went by jokes at the expense of a sexual health worker in the front row and a woman who had recently been to Antwerp and The Hague! It takes a while before we meet the pompous, idealistic fantasist of the title, but it’s an enjoyably playful start which sets the tone of the evening.

From here it’s a succession of stops on the journey of Don Quixote as he seeks to return to the days of chivalry, of the Knights Errand, with his companion Sancho Panza, each a little story in itself. The novel is episodic, so its no surprise that its stage adaptation is just the same, which makes it more of an entertainment than a play, though quality entertainment as this the RSC after all. There’s much music, with nice songs by Fenton and Grant Olding, and the stage is designed to look just like The Swan.

I was as impressed by Rufus Hound in the musicals Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Wind in the Willows as I am here. He’s an expert at the comedy and is very likeable and engaging. David Threlfall makes an earnest Quixote and looks terrific. There’s an other-worldly quality to his interpretation and when the character is humiliated by some he meets, notably a Duke & Duchess, there’s a pathos which genuinely moves the audience. They make a superb double-act and are supported by a fine ensemble of sixteen.

I recently called the RSC’s Merry Wives TOWIE does panto, and this is a bit panto too, but Cervantes’ stories lend themselves more to the form than Shakespeare’s play does. Go expecting fun seasonal entertainment rather than a classic on stage and you’ll probably go home satisfied.

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Well, what a good play this is. Tim Morton-Smith has written a really meaty piece about the team that invented the bomb, and in particular it’s leader Robert Oppenheimer. It covers so much factual and ethical ground with great objectivity in an epic sweep and holds you in its grip for three hours. It makes most new plays seem flimsy and superficial.

It starts in academia where the scientists who are soon to assemble in Los Alamos, New Mexico, are surprisingly left wing, some members of the communist party. They are fundraising for Spain’s fight against fascism just before they commence a project with the objective of ending fascism in dramatic fashion. We follow the project and its key players and their relationships, so its as much a personal story as it is an historical one. During the project, the secret service is everywhere, concerned about leaks to allies as well as enemies. The pressure they are under is intense. As they reach their goal, an ethical debate is introduced – will this bomb end all wars, as it is meant to do, or will it be yet another, infinitely more lethal armament of war. It continues after its first use, exploring the consequences of this, and the affect on the scientists and the public’s attitude to them.

Angus Jackson’s staging zips along, making full use of the Swan space and a 20-strong cast; strong being the appropriate word. There’s a real period feel, with terrific costumes by Robert Innes Hopkins and brilliant music from Grant Olding, some danced to Scott Ambler’s dreamy 40’s style choreography. The cast doesn’t have a fault in it and it’s led by a towering performance by John Heffernan who’s shoulders seem to sink as the responsibility weighs upon him. I’ve seen him do great things, but nothing greater. This, together with his recent performance as Edward II at the NT, place him at the forefront of actors of his generation.

Well worth the trip to Stratford, but surely it will visit London, badly in need of great new plays like this?

 

 

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Opera

I didn’t get off to a good start with the ENO’s Peter Grimes after a twitter spat over their withdrawal of standby concessions, despite a large number of empty seats. No production will probably ever match Grimes on the Beach, but musically this is top notch, mostly due to the fact that conductor Edward Gardiner, the orchestra and the chorus were as good as it gets.

Though I’ve seen Tippet’s King Priam before, I’d forgotten how challenging it is musically. This ETO production at Covent Garden’s Linbury Studio was quality fare, but I found it hard to engage with the story and even harder to penetrate the music.

Death & the Powers is a SciFi opera by the Royal Academy of Music’s visiting professor of composition Tod Machover, so we (staff, students and Friends) were privileged to participate in its global simulcast from Dallas Opera. It’s more of a technological marvel than a musical one, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, including interaction through the specially created app on my iPhone!

I enjoyed the second ETO offering, Britten’s Paul Bunyan, a lot. I’ve only seen it once before, 15 years ago, but preferred this smaller scale more homespun folk opera treatment. It’s not really an opera, more a musical drama with a mythic quality and some lovely tunes. It was a bit cramped on the Linbury Studio stage, but better seen in such an intimate space.

I ventured to Godalming for the first time to see a friend in one of the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas I’ve never seen, Princess Ida. Somehow, it seemed completely at home performed by an amateur company (of 43!) in the Borough Hall, even though they were almost falling over each other on the tiny stage! The second act is a bit long, but it’s the usual G & S fun, here with terrific costumes and a proper orchestra of 26.

The trio of operas in my latest visit to WNO in Cardiff were programmed as ‘Fallen Women‘. It started with Puccini’s early and rarely performed Manon Lescaut which had a striking modern production and was beautifully sung and played. Henze’s Boulevard Solitude takes the same source and story and gives in a mid-20th century spin with a surprisingly accessible score and a similar modern staging, again with sky high musical standards. I’d seen this La Traviata before, which is why I wanted to see it again and it didn’t disappoint. It’s elegant and moving, though two intervals and a twenty minute overrun did mar the dramatic flow this time. Three operas, two talks, a programme and a drink all for less than £70; opera at its most accessible.

Classical Music

The English Concert’s Theodora is quite possible the most perfect performance of a Handel oratorio I have ever heard. All five soloists were outstanding and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street sounded gorgeous. It’s not a particularly engaging story, but the music is consistently good and the 3h 45m flew by.

Contemporary Music

Kings Place was the perfect venue for Laura Cantrell, with just another guitarist rather than her band. It was a perfect 75 minute set culled from all of her records, plus some covers, but mostly her lovely new album. Her personality comes over so well on stage, too. Sturgill Simpson, supporting, sounded good when his singing wasn’t too nasal and I liked his songs (though too many covers for a man with an interesting new album) but I couldn’t understand a word of any of them, such was his heavily accented diction!

Dance

I wasn’t sure whether to categorise this dansical, Drunk, as a musical or dance, but the lack of a story as such made me plump for dance! Eight performers, solo, as an ensemble and in different combinations dance scenes about being the worse for wear. There’s terrific music from Grant Olding and the talent on show is extraordinary. It has bags of energy and its slick, sassy and sexy, but it’s also a bit relentless and a bit samey, without much shade to break up the light. Choreographer Drew McOnie’s ambitious and welcoming new company, though, is one to watch.

Film

My confidence in film critics took another dent when August: Osage County turned out to be way better than they led me to believe. It worked as well on film as it did on stage and there were a handful of superb performances, notably Meryl Streep as an absolute monster.

I loved Nebraska, a really heart-warming film – in black & white – with wonderful performances by a cast mostly made up of actors of a certain age. It fired me up for a road trip to that part of the US; watch this space!

Private Lives was the first play filmed live that I’ve ever seen (though not shown live in this case). The ability to see things in close-up added something (I saw the same production on stage) though you do sometimes miss the reactions of other characters and the lighting was occasionally poor. I like the fact that more people can see great productions at accessible prices, but I think I’ll stick to the live experience.

Dallas Buyers Club was a slow burn, but it eventually repaid its investment with a compelling David & Goliath story with a heart-warming ending. Unquestionably a career high for Matthew McConaughey, who must be in pole position for an Oscar.

Saving Mr Banks was a big surprise; it had much more depth than I was expecting, largely because of the switch between PL Travers childhood and her Disney experience. It was one of those occasions where staying for the titles paid off as you heard the original recordings she insisted on during the script meetings, which proved it was more than a work of fiction.

I enjoyed Her a lot more than I thought I was going to. It’s a bit overlong (and occasionally soporific!) but it feels very plausible, which makes it scary indeed. I’m going to switch off Siri before it’s too late!

Common People is an independent feature film shot entirely on Tooting Common, on my doorstep. It’s a bit slow to get going, but it builds into a charming, warm-hearted slice of life. It’s been showcased in US festivals and now gets a handful of local screenings which will hopefully lead to more because it very much deserves it.

I’m amazed that The Invisible Woman hasn’t had more BAFTA or Oscar nominations. It’s such a well-made film, full of fine performances. I don’t know how true the story of Charles Dickens personal life is, but I was captivated.

Art

The annual Landscape Photography competition exhibition at the NT continues to demoralize me as a photographer but captivate me as a viewer. Some are almost too good to be true, but hopefully the organizers have ways of ensuring there’s no funny business editing-wise!

Martin Creed‘s exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, What’s the Point of it?, is huge fun. The man has an imagination the size of the planet and amongst the items on show was a giant revolving neon sign just inches above your head, a room full to the brim of white talcum-filled balloons you walk through and, on the outdoor terraces, a car which comes alive when all its doors open and wipers and radio start up and a video of a penis changing from erect to flaccid & back!

The NT‘s 50th celebrations included an exhibition of its history in cartoons, National Theatre Lampoon, but I only just discovered it before it closes; it’s both informative and funny and they should keep it longer.

I’m going to have to return to David Bailey’s Stardust exhibition at the NPG. It takes over the whole ground floor with over 250 photos and was a bit crowded on my first visit. What I did see was great, with many now iconic pictures from my lifetime.

A trip to Greenwich for a couple of exhibitions was a mixed affair. There were a lot of paintings not by Turner (23, only 5 less) for an exhibition called Turner & the Sea. I didn’t care for the early work in this exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, but it was probably worth the trip for the watercolours, sketch books and late works. Up the hill at the Royal Observatory there was a small but breathtaking exhibition of astronomical photographs. You couldn’t tell the difference in composition or quality between the main prize entries and the young person’s entries, such was the quality of the work.

Spoken Word

I got in touch with my inner Welshman with a celebration of Dylan Thomas’ centenary at Kings Place. Readings by Guy Masterson were interspersed with a potted biography by Andrew Lycett and observations by other Welsh poets Gwyneth Jones and Owen Sheers. I’d have liked more voices for the readings, but that’s a little gripe. As Owen Sheers said, what other poet could pack out a venue 60 years after he died, requiring an overspill room with a video link!

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Well, all the hype and rave reviews are true, then – there hasn’t been so much laughter at the National since Jeremy Sams revival of Noises Off ten yours ago.

I can’t help making comparisons with restoration comedy The School for Scandal currently at the Barbican and French farce A Flea In Her Ear recently at the Old Vic, both of which were seriously unfunny. Perhaps director Nicholas Hytner is lucky that the original is in Italian so that he could commission an adaptation, whereas Deborah Warner and Richard Eyre respectively had to work with the original words on the page. The success owes as much to the adaptation as it does to the first class production and terrific ensemble. The very prolific Richard Bean (three crackers now in the last year alone) has been faithful to the spirit of Commedia dell’Arte whilst moving the action to 1960’s Brighton and produced something with snap, crackle and fizz whilst Sheridan’s restoration comedy has been de-laughed by the production and Feydeau’s farce was so faithfully re-produced and you felt like you were in a museum.

When you enter, there’s superbly played 60’s style pop from a four-piece band in full flow (music – Grant Olding) in front of a gaudy proscenium. The band return to keep us entertained between each scene change and before the second half and during the second half feature a series of brilliant cameo performances from cast members. The design is deliberately period production values with flats that wobble and fabric walls that shimmer. These are brilliant ideas that contribute much to the success of the evening.

Goldini’s plot revolves around a ‘minder’ who ends up with, well, two guvnors which gives us all we need for a cocktail of panto, carry on, slapstick & farce with a nostalgic feel but a contemporary freshness. Bean’s dialogue sparkles with wit and cheekiness with a lot of running jokes, the return of which seem like old friends as the evening progresses. The comic timing of the cast is simply stunning; they squeeze every ounce of laughter from these lines plus lots more that aren’t in the lines at all.

James Corden is excellent in the central role, but it’s far from just his show. There is so much other wonderful comic acting, it’s difficult to single anyone out – but I will! Oliver Chris’ creation of the toff is simply delicious, Daniel Rigby’s actorly actor is a hoot, Claire Lams turns playing dumb into an art form and Tom Edden’s 87-year old waiter is a masterclass in physical comedy. Playing (relatively) straight against these must be tough but I loved Fred Ridgeway’s deadpan Charlie, Trevor Laird’s lovable Lloyd Boateng(!) and Suzie Toase as prophetic feminist Dolly.

There are asides to the audience and even audience participation, but these don’t come over as gimmicks as much of Deborah Warner’s touches did for A School for Scandal; they seem absolutely right for the play and the adaptation. You do miss some of the lines and some of the funny business because of the amount of laughter and the amount going on, which seems like a very good reason to go and see it again! A triumph.

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