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Posts Tagged ‘Howard Goodall’

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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This is a musical theatre debut by Gus Gowland, who is responsible for the book, music and lyrics. I can’t think of a more auspicious British musical premiere since Howard Goodall’s The Hired Man over thirty years ago.

It’s a very cleverly structured piece which takes you a short while to unravel, juxtaposing a contemporary gay relationship with a wartime one, where one party is the grandson of another. Newly married Edward is conscripted and at the war front fellow serviceman Tom offers to teach him to dance so that he can sweep his wife Anna off her feet on his return home. A seemingly hopeless relationship soon develops.

Many years later, at Edward’s funeral, we meet his only daughter Jane, who disapproves of her son (Edward’s grandson) Ed’s homosexuality and boyfriend Harry. Ed’s younger sister thinks it’s normal, even cool – a change in just one generation. A stranger, Rose, arrives with a box of memories, we learn she is Tom’s sister and the story is pieced together and we understand the significance of the title.

The score is lovely, with delicate solos and duets and more rousing ensemble pieces like Standing in the Shadows, which sees all four men across time in unison and melodies return and interweave. Perhaps because he wrote both, the book and lyrics are seamless, jointly propelling the story. There’s an organic flow between scenes in a very fluid staging by Ryan McBryde, with a cleverly effective design from newcomer Fin Redshaw. Paul Herbert’s ensemble of piano, cello and reeds makes a beautiful, delicate accompaniment.

It’s strongly cast, with Craig Mather & Joel Harper-Jackson as wartime lovers Edward and Tom and Andy Coxon & Gary Wood as contemporary Ed & Harry. Carol Starks brilliantly conveys the cold, emotionless Jane literally in the middle of it all, with Ella Dunlop excellent as Ed’s feisty sister Gemma. I very much liked Lauren Hall, who has to switch from doting newlywed to heartbroken wife, and there’s a lovely cameo from Marilynn Cutts as the older Rose.

I can’t believe for one minute that this premiere production in Colchester will be its last. Gold stars to the Mercury, Perfect Pitch and TBO Productions for developing it.

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National Youth Music Theatre UK have been extraordinarily ambitious in recent years – two new shows, The Battle of Boat and Brass, Howard Goodall’s The Dreaming & The Hired Man, Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd and now this second Sondheim, which may well be the biggest mountain they’ve chosen to climb; it’s difficulty may be why it has only been revived twice (Leicester Haymarket and Menier to West End to Broadway) since it’s NT UK premiere 27 years ago. To say they have risen to the challenge would be an understatement. There were times when I could hardly believe what I was seeing and hearing from an amateur company and the song Sunday has been on permanent loop in my head since I left the theatre.

The only musical based on a painting is in two very different parts. In the first, Georges Seurat is painting on the Island of La Grande Jatte in the River Seine in Paris, where we are introduced to his muse Dot, his mother and her nurse and the other characters in the famous painting now in the Art Institute of Chicago – including shop girls, soldiers, an American couple, another artist, a baker and a boatman. In the second half we zip forward to contemporary times, to the gallery where the painting resides, where Seurat’s grandson George is unveiling his new work with his grandmother, the daughter of Seurat’s muse, in attendance. I consider it Sondheim’s most challenging piece.

The very effective design consists of a picture frame backdrop and nine easels, with excellent period costumes. In the first half, the easels contain canvas sketches of parts of the picture and in the second half they become the illuminated modern work. It’s a small space which sometimes feels a touch cramped but the staging is very good. Sunday, which ends the first half, was staged and performed with such delicacy, restraint and beauty it quite took my breath away. The contemporary gallery scene somehow felt more effective than I remember it being staged before. The segue from Move On into the reprise of Sunday at the end was an uplifting emotional wave.

After a tentative start, the band played beautifully. The ensemble was outstanding, and the two leads – Thomas Josling as Georges / George and Laura Barnard as Dot / Marie – were simply sensational. Two stars are born, I’d say.

Great to see it again after a ten year famine, and great to report that the future of musical theatre in Britain is safe in these hands. The audience, quite rightly, erupted.

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This show is in my top ten musicals, probably the best British musical, certainly the best British musical score, so I take every opportunity to see it and this was my ninth. It didn’t let me down and indeed moved me more than most productions.

Melvyn Bragg’s story is a great sweep of late 19th / early 20th century Cumbrian life as we follow two generations of the Tallentire family from the land to the pits to the First World War and back to the land, through marriage, births, deaths and infidelity. What makes Brendan Matthew’s production stand out is that its more animated than I’ve ever seen it before, with terrific choreography / movement, from dance to hand gestures, by Charlotte Tooth.

Howard Goodall’s score is very much in the British choral tradition and it’s packed full of gorgeous melodies, and it’s the quality of the choruses that makes or breaks the show, and this is another aspect this production nails – very rousing, as they should be. The solo work is more variable as they fight both the band and the aircon, which is so inefficient they’d just as well turn it off, though in all fairness the vocals shone through more as the show progressed. The ending was like an emotional wave I’ve rarely experienced with this show.

I liked Justin Williams & Jonny Rust’s wooden backdrop, which brought intimacy to the home scenes but also facilitated the effective creation of pubs, mines, trenches and of course the hiring ring. In a hugely talented young ensemble I much admired Sam Peggs’ very athletic Isaac and Jack McNeill’s believably young Harry. Ifan Gwilym-Jones and Rebecca Gilliland, both outstanding in Matthew’s recent premiere of My Lands Shore in Walthamstow, rose to the challenge of the meaty roles of John and Emily Tallentire.

I love this show so much, and I loved this production. If you haven’t seen Howard Goodall’s masterpiece, go, and if you have, go again!

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Over 150 shows were candidates for my four award-less awards, with Best New Play the difficult category this year, so lets start with that.

BEST NEW PLAY – LOVE – National Theatre

Over a third of the sixty-five candidates were worthy of consideration, which makes 2016 both prolific and high quality in terms of new plays. Hampstead had a particularly good year with Rabbit Hole, Lawrence After Arabia, Labyrinth and the epic iHo all in contention. The Almeida gave us three, with Boy leading the trio that included They Drink It In The Congo and Oil because of its importance and impact. The Globe’s two Kneehigh shows – 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips on the main stage & The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – both delighted. Two more Florian Zeller plays, The Mother and The Truth, followed The Father and proved he’s a real talent to watch. The visit of Isango again, this time with play with songs A Man of Good Hope was a treat.

The Arcola gave us Kenny Morgan, which showed us the inspiration for Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea, the Donmar a fascinating One Night in Miami, the Orange Tree hosted the superbly written The Rolling Stone and Dante or Die’s site-specific Handle With Care had an epic sweep in its self storage unit setting. Two comedies shone above all others – James Graham’s Monster Raving Loony and Mischief Theatre’s The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, the only West End non-subsidised contender! The Royal Court provided the visceral Yen and The Children, my runner-up, another fine play by Lucy Kirkwood whose Chimerica was my 2013 winner. Of the National’s three, The Flick and Sunset at the Villa Thalia came earlier in the year, but it was LOVE at the end which made me sad and angry but blew me away with more emotional power than any other. Important theatre which I desperately hope many more people will see.

BEST REVIVAL / ADAPTATION of a play – The Young Vic’s YERMA & the National’s LES BLANCS

I’ve added ‘adaptation’ as a few steered a long way from their source, and Les Blancs could be considered a new play, but it’s just new to us.

Though I saw forty-four in this category, less than a quarter made the short-list. The best Shakespeare revival was undoubtedly A Winter’s Tale at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. As well as Les Blancs, the National staged excellent revivals of The Deep Blue Sea and Amadeus, the Donmar chipped in with the thoroughly entertaining comedy Welcome Home, Captain Fox and in Kingston The Rose revived Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, probably the best use ever of this difficult space. Beyond that I was struggling, except to choose between the two winners, which I found I couldn’t and shouldn’t do.

BEST NEW MUSICAL – GROUNDHOG DAY – Old Vic Theatre

Has a shortlist ever been so short? Only twenty contenders but only three in contention. The Toxic Avenger at Southwark Playhouse was great fun and the NYMT’s Brass visiting Hackney Empire hugely impressive, but it was achieving the seemingly impossible by turning Groundhog Day into a hugely successful musical than won the day, though it was sad to see it head stateside, presumably in pursuit of greater commercial gain, after such a short run. I know it will be back, but that doesn’t make me feel any better about a British theatrical institution and a whole load of British talent being used as a Broadway try-out. 

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL – HALF A SIXPENCE – Chichester Festival Theatre / Novello Theatre

Fifty percent more revivals (twenty-nine) than new musicals is a lower proportion than usual, but a winner has never been clearer. 

The Menier gave us a transatlantic transfer of a great Into the Woods and what may prove to be the definitive She Loves Me, but both the Union and Walthamstow’s Rose & Crown provided twice as many quality revivals, with the latter successfully climbing higher peaks with more challenging shows for a small space – Bernstein’s Wonderful Town, Out of This World, Babes in Arms and Howard Goodall’s The Kissing Dance. The Union’s contributions included The Fix and Children of Eden and a trio of cheeky, fun nights with Bad Girls, Moby Dick and Soho Cinders. The Southerland-Tarento partnership provided a brilliant revival of Ragtime and the welcome European premiere, and superb production of, Rogers & Hammerstein’s Allegro (which was also too old for me to categorise as ‘New’). A little gem came and went ever so quickly when the Finborough revived Alan Price’s lovely Andy Capp in it’s Sun-Tue slot on the set of another play. BRING IT BACK! Despite all this fringe and off west end quality, it was the Chichester transfer of an old warhorse with a new book, new songs, thrilling staging, stunning choreography, gorgeous design and terrific ensemble which propelled itself to the top of this category.

That’s it for another year, then. Homelessness, childlessness, timelessness, colonialism and love amongst the working class. There’s a theme there somewhere…..

 

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Howard Goodall wrote this musical adaptation of Oliver Goldsmith’s restoration comedy for the National Youth Music Theatre 18 years ago (Sheridan Smith’s music theatre debut!). It’s the midpoint of his musical theatre catalogue, to date. It didn’t get a professional production until five years ago and now Ye Olde Rose & Crown Theatre in Walthamstow have matched and in some respects bettered that. It’s been great to see All Star Productions grow through the three Goodall shows they’ve done in the last 2.5 years (not counting the compilation show Love & War) to reach the quality they achieve here.

Charles Marlow is off to meet Kate Hardcastle, their fathers intent on a match. He’s accompanied by George Hastings who is going to have to elope if he is to wed his love, Kate’s cousin Constance, as she’s promised to Kate’s step-brother Tony Lumpkin. The mischievous Tony meets them en route and persuades them the Hardcastle home is an Inn, which results in much confusion as the story propels towards it’s inevitable happy ending.

Charles Hart made an excellent job of the book and lyrics, making it even funnier, though just as broad, and director Brendan Matthew’s time shift from the late eighteenth to early twentieth century makes a lot of sense. There’s a lot of music and it’s an even better score than I remembered (like a lot of Goodall shows, there’s no recording) with particularly fine ensemble pieces. As usual at this venue, the musical standards under Aaron Clingham are outstanding, though the balance of unamplified band and voices meant that some lyrics were lost. It takes a while to take off, the Act One finale is a touch laboured and it could do with losing ten or fifteen minutes, but it’s a great show nonetheless.

It’s another terrific ensemble here, many new to the venue, with all seven leads well cast. The comedy honours belong to Andrew Truluck and Laurel Dougall as Mr & Mrs Hardcastle. Kira Morsley is excellent as Kate, with particularly fine vocals. I very much liked both David Zachary and Robert Metson as Marlow and Hastings respectively, as I did Emily Peach as Constance and Jacob Jackson’s cheeky chappie Lumpkin.

Another good reason to go to the very end of the Victoria Line. I think it’s time to place my order for the London premiere of Goodall’s Two Cities.

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Based on the 2002 film of the same name, this stage musical is completely faithful to the original, retains the period and adds original music by Howard Goodall to produce something even more feel-good than the film. I loved it, and have already booked to go again!

Jess is a bright British Indian 18-year-old who’s obsessed with football, and with her hero David Beckham. She’s spotted playing in the park with local Indian boys by fellow footballer and local women’s team member Jules, who invites her to try out for her team, which she subsequently joins. Her parents, who are knee-deep in preparations for their elder daughter’s engagement and subsequent wedding, don’t really approve and she continues her footballing in secret, but when the secret is out she is forced to stop.

What it is, of course, is the journey of many British born young people of Indian descent, trying to balance family and heritage culture with life in Britain. It uses the British Indian ability and willingness to find humour within, and use it to celebrate, its culture to great effect. Paul Mayeda Berges & Gurinder Chadha’s book and Charles Hart’s lyrics are very funny, but it’s also very moving and respects the underlying themes. The addition of music adds another dimension and it betters the film as a result. By interweaving Indian musical styles and incorporating heritage singers, Goodall has produced a score which retains his trademark melodic style but sounds different, rather unique and very much in keeping with the story.

Miriam Buether’s clever set has a semi-circle of seven panels which rotate to move us from home to playing field to changing rooms to park, and so on. Katrina Lindsay’s costumes are terrific, a riot of colour. Aletta Collins’ excellent choreography moves us from night club to Indian wedding, anchoring the piece wherever it is at that moment. This is director Gurinder Chadha’s first stage show but you’d never believe it. It’s clear how close she is to it; as she also co-wrote and directed the film, it’s probably running through her bloodstream.

Both Lauren Samuels and Natalie Dew are excellent, but it’s Dew who has to carry the emotional heart of the story and she does so with great warmth and charm. You find yourself sympathising with her and rooting for her to the point of having to resist the temptation to intervene on her behalf! Tony Jaywardena and Natasha Jayetileke are wonderful as Jess’ parents, themselves torn between keeping control and letting go. Preeya Kalidas was indisposed on Saturday, but having seen how good her understudy Sejal Keshwala was as Jess’ sister Pinky, I just can’t see anyone else being better. One of the few changes is that Jules mum Paula is here divorced, so the always excellent Sophie-Louise Dann has to carry all of the parental pressure and support on her shoulders and she’s great. There are too many other fine performances in this excellent ensemble to single out more.

The audience seemed to reflect the cultural mix on stage and they responded enthusiastically. Like those other British musicals Billy Elliott, Betty Blue Eyes and Made in Dagenham, it takes a heart-warming film and betters it. It’s a departure for Goodall, who has produced many other great shows but few commercial hits. Given the undeserved early baths that Betty and Dagenham got, lets hope this follows Billy as a British musical hit. For me, it already is.

 

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