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Posts Tagged ‘John Macfarlane’

Contemporary Music

It was obvious from the second number that Elvis Costello had a problem with his vocal chords, but he didn’t acknowledge it until two-thirds of the way through the main set. It’s a pity because the set for this London Palladium concert was new stuff and less obvious things from the back catalogue (only four or five crowd pleasers) which for me at least was very welcome. He was upstaged I’m afraid by two sisters from Atlanta going by the name of Larkin Poe who’s 30 min set as support was terrific. The evening partially redeemed itself by another 30 min set of Costello with the girls and a couple of crowd-pleasing solo encores, but in truth he should have postponed. There’s nothing sadder than seeing a hero die on stage.

Opera

How can you resist an opera set in a gay club with the toilet attendant played by Lesley Garrett?! As it turned out, Mark Simpson’s 70min 4-hander Pleasure at the Lyric Hammersmith proved rather good, and a hugely impressive operatic debut for this prodigious 28-year-old. The music suited a very dramatic story and the tension built well.

Many years ago I went to a shed in East London to see a bunch of mad Catalans perform a show in which they raced around wheeling supermarket trollies full of dead babies, throwing real liver around. That same company, La Fura Del Baus, are now at Covent Garden staging the UK premiere of Romanian composer Enescu’s only opera Oedipe, one of three 20th century operas based on the Oedipus myth and the most epic, telling the whole story from birth to death. Such is the world of opera in the 21st century. As it turns out, it’s a stunning production of a superb opera which was played and sung brilliantly. Why on earth has it taken 80 years to get here?!

Dance

I loved everything about the Royal Ballet’s Frankenstein. Liam Scarlett’s staging and choreography is excellent, there’s a great dramatic score from Lowell Lieberman and John Macfarlane’s designs and costumes are terrific. Pity the critics were so down on it. Why?

Film

Midnight Special is one of the best SciFi films of recent years. I was gripped throughout. The young actor playing the eight-year-old boy was extraordinary.

Eye in the Sky was another cinematic treat which I almost missed by reading the crits. Its edge of the seat stuff, but very objective in its examination of the ethics around drone attacks. One of Alan Rickman’s last roles, and he was great.

I have fond memories of Peter Quilter’s play Glorious, where Maureen Lipman played Florence Foster Jenkins, now played brilliantly by Meryl Streep in a film that is more poignant though also at times hilarious. A lovely film where even Corrie’s Mavis gets a bit part as a New York socialite!

The Hank Williams biopic I Saw the Light was a good rather than great film, but it was well worth catching. Tom Hiddleston is excellent and I understand he does the singing himself, which makes it an even bigger achievement, as the segments when he’s onstage at the Grand Ole Oprey are particularly good.

Our Kind of Traitor is another good rather than great film, different from the normal spy movie, let down by an ending that was a bit too low key.

I went to see Everybody Wants Some!! on the strength of the director’s last film Boyhood and rave reviews for this. I’m afraid I was underwhelmed. It wasn’t exactly Porky’s 8, but it wasn’t far enough away from it.

Though its ending is somewhat implausible, Sing Street is a delightful Irish coming of age story, real feel-good stuff, with terrific performances from its young cast.

Art

Sicily: Culture & Conquests at the British Museum is a lovely presentation of the history of an island almost everyone visited, but most particularly the Greeks and Normans. It made me want to go back to Syracuse post haste.

I didn’t know much about the work of American photographer Paul Strand until the Strange & Familiar exhibition at the Barbican. In his retrospective at the V&A I loved his B&W portraits and films but the abstracts and B&W flora & fauna did nothing for me. Lots to like, though. Across the road at the Science Museum they look at the birth of photography with an exhibition featuring William Fox Talbot, who just about invented it. The thing that grabs you most is how much the art / science moved forward in its first decade; the difference between the 1834 pictures and the 1845 ones is extraordinary.

Other Worlds at the Natural History Museum was a spectacular exhibition of photographs of the planets taken from satellites and spacecraft then touched up in a real meeting of science and art. Across the road at the V&A again there was a hugely clever exhibition called Botticelli Reimagined which showed the influence of this 15th century artist on 20th & 21st century design, then on late 19th / early 20th century artists like the Pre-Raphaelites before leading you into the biggest collection of Botticelli ever seen in the UK. In this last section, I overdosed on Madonna’s and other religious subjects, but it was a highly original exhibition nonetheless.

Other

Trespass is the latest in the series of passionate, funny, campaigning shows from one-man opposition Mark Thomas. This one, visiting the Tricycle Theatre, looks at the erosion of our rights to roam this green and pleasant land. He was his own support, with different material. Great stuff. If only the real opposition could pack such a punch, as entertaining as they are!

 

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Film

January is a bit of a theatrical black hole and with film releases timed to secure awards, it’s always a bumper film month!

Once you get through the dull first third, the rest of The Hobbit is great. No-one can create fantasy worlds and magical creatures like Peter Jackson and these seemed even better than in The Lord of the Rings. It’s really only a tale of a journey, but the images and filming are so good I can forgive that; though whether I’ll still be saying that after Episodes II and III I’m not sure – he does appear to be spinning out a slight tale somewhat!

The Life of Pi is a beautifully made film, and the best use of 3D I’ve seen, but it didn’t really engage me as much as I’d thought it would, largely because I couldn’t buy into the story. I’ve never read the book, so I’m not sure if that’s part of it. Beautiful, but a bit dull?

Soon after Les Miserables started, I was unhappy with the poor quality of much of the solo vocals; this is a musical, after all. To its credit, it won me over and by the end I completely got the point that the focus on acting the roles rather than singing them served the drama better, at least in a cinematic version. The only other major reservation remained though – Russell Crow was badly miscast as Javert, because he can’t act or sing, and this almost ruined the film. It’s an odd thing too, as the casting was otherwise faultless. Hugh Jackman and Eddie Redmayne were both simply terrific, Ann Hathaway a revelation, Helena Bonham-Carter & Sacha Baron Cohen surprisingly effective as the Thenadiers’ (the former could have been in civies, such is her normal style!) and the kids who played the young Cosette and Gavroche stunning (the latter could show Crow a thing or two about both acting and singing!).

I eventually caught up with Silver Linings Playbook and loved it. Such a brave, clever yet entertaining depiction of mental health, brilliantly acted and completely compelling. It deserves all the BAFTA & Oscar nominations.

Another catch-up proved to be just as rewarding – I loved Argo too. I knew nothing about this true story of an aspect of the Iranian hostage siege and found its telling thrilling, without being in any way earnest or heavy. In fact, there was much humour, particularly the brilliant double act between Alan Arkin and John Goodman.

Around a third of the way through What Richard Did, I was thinking ‘why has Time Out advised me to see this?’ – it seemed to be nothing more than a bunch of middle-class Irish kids partying. Then a tragedy takes it in a completely different direction as we watch Richard’s moral dilemma unfold. In the end I think I admired it, and it really made me think, but I can’t really say I enjoyed it.

Contemporary Music

I’ve loved watching Mari Wilson evolve from pop through musicals & jazz to cabaret and the Hippodrome’s Matcham Room was a great venue for her to showcase her terrific covers album, with a great trio of backing musicians. Being able to have a quick wander in the casino was a bonus!

Classical Music

The LSO’s pairing of Elgar’s Cello Concerto with Mozart’s Requiem conducted by Sir Colin Davies was enticing, but ultimately underwhelming. This may have something to do with Sir Colin’s withdrawal through ill-health, possibly even more to do with the sound from my poor seat (though not cheap at £25). The chorus and orchestra were on fine form and three of the four soloists were good (particularly soprano Elizabeth Watts), but neither piece came alive like both should and have in the past.

Opera

My second visit to MetLive (NYC’s Metropolitan Opera in the cinema) was even better than the first. I’m not mad keen on bel canto operas, but David McVicar’s production of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, with great design & costumes from John Macfarlane, was superb.The five principals were all wonderful, with favourite Joyce DiDonato soaring above them all. I’m not sure the IMAX screen added anything, so I think I’ll revert to the good old Clapham Picture House for the next one.

Dance

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is his best work since the iconic Swan Lake (though I’ve enjoyed everything in between). It’s a masterpiece of re-invention taking us from Aurora’s birth in 1890 to her coming of age (and falling asleep) in 1911, waking up 100 years later in 2011. Les Brotherston’s design and costumes are brilliant, there’s a superb puppet baby and the dancing is always inventive. I loved every minute and can’t wait to see it again.

Cabaret

It was the involvement of Richard Thomas, co-writer of one of the best musicals (Jerry Springer – The Opera, which isn’t) and one of the best operas (Anna Nicole, which is) of the last decade, which led me to the antidote to Christmas shows, Merrie Hell. The two-hander, with David Hoyle in drag, is largely made up of songs which range from cheeky & naughty to rude & shocking, with semi-improvised dialogue in-between involving selected members of the audience. Tough it took a short while to settle, I found it refreshing fun and something very different, particularly at this time of year.

Art

I caught the Cecil Beaton War Photographs exhibition at the Imperial War Museum on its last day and was very glad I did. For a man largely known for highly staged fashion, royalty and celebrity photography, it was a revelation. Putting some of this better known work (plus theatre, ballet and opera designs) alongside the extraordinary wartime photos taken around the world showed both his range and his talent and, for me at least, that he was no posh toff one-trick-pony.

Anthony Gormley’s exhibition at White Cube Bermondsey is a departure from his obsession with bodies – a lot of rectangles and squares – which I found dull until the final room where, after signing a disclaimer(!), you enter a giant steel structure somewhat like a maze. Overall though, I’d rather he returned to his obsession as the work is a whole lot more engaging.

This year’s Bloomberg New Contemporaries at the ICA were dreadful. There is nothing more to be said! Richard Hamilton’s late works round the corner and straight after at the National Gallery were better, though even a one-room exhibition can be monotonous when all the pictures seem to be nudes posing in unlikely places doing unlikely things like hoovering!

Other

A couple of ‘visits’ this month, the first Hidden Barbican – a backstage tour that took in the stage, fly tower, orchestra pit, dressing and rehearsal rooms. For a theatre obsessive like me, a real treat.

Back in The City for another livery company which I’d previously only visited for a concert in their hall; Stationer’s Hall. The tour was full of lovely tales (stationers are so-called because their City positions were, well, stationary!) through lovely rooms with particularly good stained glass including a 19th century window commemorating Shakespeare.

 

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