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Posts Tagged ‘Leicester Square Theatre’

Classical Music

My excitement at the arrival of Simon Rattle as chief conductor of the LSO in 2017 was further fuelled by their semi-staged Pelleas & Melisandre at the Barbican. I’m not sure Peter Sellers staging added that much, but I liked the fact that it took part within the orchestra (apparently as Debussy wanted) and the unique score sounded glorious, with a fine set of soloists as well as the LSO on top form.

The first of the Shakespeare 400 concerts at LSO St. Luke’s featured counter-tenor Iestyn Davies and lutenist Elizabeth Kenny with a superb selection of songs from a large selection of plays. It was delightful, but was eclipsed by the second concert featuring The BBC Singers under Dave Hill with a programme of unaccompanied settings from the 20th and 21st centuries, including lovely songs by a Finnish composer I’d never heard of (Jaakko Mantyjarvi) and a superb world premiere by Cecilia McDowall. Anyone who thinks modern classical music is tuneless should listen to Radio 3 at 1pm on 28th April when it’s broadcast

The Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela really are a phenomenon and the pairing of Stravinsky’s Petrushka and The Rite of Spring really showed off their talents in their first Royal Festival Hall concert. I was disappointed that they dropped The Firebird at the last minute, so the encore of its final movement – one of the most uplifting pieces of music ever written – was a welcome surprise. The second concert featured Messiaen’s epic Turangalia-symphonie, which I thought I liked, but after hearing it again I’m not sure! I was fascinated by it and admire the skills required to play it, but enjoy? The Ondes Martenot (a quirky primitive electronic instrument that could have been invented by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop) was too loud (well, at least from where I was sitting) but the piano was played brilliantly by a young Chinese lady in a silver glitter mini-dress and matching shoes with unfeasibly high heels!

It was good to hear Berlioz‘ epic Romeo & Juliet symphony again and good to see conductor Andrew Davies back with the BBC SO. The chorus sounded great and amongst the soloists David Soar, well, soared! If this had been the LSO the Barbican Hall would have been packed, but for the BBC SO it wasn’t – a bit of a puzzle, that.

Contemporary Music

I have to confess to knowing next to nothing about Broadway legend Audra Macdonald, but her reputation drew me to her very rare London concert at Leicester Square Theatre and I was impressed. Sometimes the classical training gets in the way of the interpretation of show songs and the sound could have been better (when she sang Summertime unaccompanied it was glorious) but impressed nonetheless. I must have been the only new fan in the house, such was the adulation.

Dance

Akram Kahn’s Until the Lions was a spellbinding 60 minute dance interpretation of a part of the epic Mahabharata. I couldn’t make head nor tail of the narrative, but that didn’t stop me being mesmerised by the venue (Roundhouse), design, lighting, music and movement in perfect unison. Thrilling.

Art

I regretted going to the National Gallery’s Goya: The Portraits almost as soon as I walked into the first room. The gallery’s Sainsbury Wing Galleries and amongst the worst in London and when you pack them to the rafters, as they did for this, it’s difficult to enjoy, even see, the pictures (which makes an exhibition rather pointless!).

No regrets about Giacometti: Pure Presence at the NPG whose portraits (rather than the sculptures we’re used to seeing) were a revelation and you could see everything!

The Amazing World of M C Esher at Dulwich Picture Gallery was a real treat. Some of those images from student flat walls were there, but so much more – including, somewhat unexpectedly, portraits and landscapes. A brilliant meeting of technical skill and an extraordinary imagination.

Peter Blake’s portraits at the Waddington Custot Gallery was a revelation. Best known for collages like the Sgt. Pepper cover, I’d realised he had portraiture skills when I saw his exhibition of Under Milk Wood characters in Cardiff. From real people like Helen Mirren to generic wrestlers and tattoo subjects, it was very impressive.

Gods Own Junkyard at Lights of Soho was an exhibition of neon art in a bar where you had to peer over drinkers to see the work – which made it rather surreal. A ‘pop in’ show.

The NPG’s annual Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Award exhibition goes from strength to strength with an eclectic collection of known subjects and strangers. It seemed smaller this year, but was still well worth visiting.

The Alexander Calder Performing Sculptures exhibition at Tate Modern went downhill from the first two rooms of wire works of people and animals, though it did pick up in Room 9 with his first mobiles. The abstract stuff doesn’t do much for me I’m afraid, and one of the problems was that the moving ones weren’t, for obvious conservation reasons, and only a few had video footage of how they would if they did.

Film

A busy month, with most of the Oscar and BAFTA nominated films being released.

The Danish Girl is a beautiful, sensitive film with outstanding performances. Eddie Redmayne follows his extraordinary characterisation of Stephen Hawking with an equally stunning one as the first man ever to change sex. Another Oscar?

I was glad I caught up with Suffragette. It was a touch earnest and perhaps a bit unfair in an ‘all men are bad’ way, but an important slice of modern history and great performances.

I was less taken with Grandma, a somewhat slight film about teenage abortion I should have waited to see on TV. Lily Tomalin was good, though.

The Big Short is informative but funny, and it makes you very angry. It’s an inventive explanation of the 2008 financial collapse and it’s must see cinema, amongst the best films I’ve seen in recent years.

Connections with Bolivia led me to Our Brand Is Crisis, a film about American political strategists employed by Bolivian presidential candidates. It turned out to be good rather than great, but worth a visit. Immediately following The Big Short may have dampened its impact.

I liked Room much more than I thought I was going to. I was expecting to be depressed, but it was a sensitive, intelligent and ultimately hopeful film, and the actor playing the 5-year old boy born in captivity was extraordinary.

The Oscar / Bafta nominated picture binge continued with Spotlight, a terrific film about the catholic church paedophile cover up, in a very conventional production that reminded me of All the President’s Men. Like The Big Short, it made me very angry. Great to see Hollywood telling true stories like these.

The Revenant is a brilliantly made film, but more than a touch implausible, way too gory (for me) and overlong at over 2.5 hours. The star is the American landscape and the baddie is a Brit, obviously.

 

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Best New Play(s) – The James Plays

First up its plays, new ones, and when I counted I was surprised to find I’d seen 75 of them, including a pleasing half-dozen at the NT. My long list only brought that down to 31 so I had to be real hard to get to the Top Ten short-list of Versailles at the Donmar, Good People & Wonderland at Hampstead, Wet House at Soho, The Visitors at the Arcola (now at the Bush), 1927’s Golem at the Young Vic and 3 Winters & The James Plays from the National Theatre of Scotland at the NT – a three-play feast which pipped the others at the post.

Best Revival (Play) – shared by Accolade and My Night With Reg

I saw fewer revivals – a mere 44! – but 18 were there at the final cut. The Young Vic had a stonking year with Happy Days, A Streetcar Named Desire & A View From a Bridge, the latter two getting into my top ten with the Old Vic’s The Crucible, the Open Air’s All My Sons (that’s no less than 3 Millers) the NT’s Medea, Fathers & Sons at the Donmar, True West at the Tricycle and the Trafalgar Transformed Richard III. In the end I copped out, unable to choose between My Night with Reg at the Donmar and Accolade at the St James.

Best New Musical – Made in Dagenham

I was a bit taken aback at the total of 25 new musicals, 10 of which got through the first round, including the ill-fated I Can’t Sing, Superman in Walthamstow (coming soon to Leicester Square Theatre) , In the Heights at Southwark and London Theatre Workshop’s Apartment 40C. I struggled to get to one from the six remaining, which included the NT’s Here Lies Love and five I saw twice – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Dogfight at Southwark, Hampstead’s Kinkfest Sunny Afternoon and Dessa Rose at Trafalgar Studio Two – but eventually I settled on a great new British musical Made in Dagenham.

Best Revival (Musical) – Sweeney Todd in Harrington’s Pie Shop, Tooting

An extraordinary year for musical revivals with 38 to choose from and 22 serious contenders including 7 outside London (two of which I short-listed – Hairspray in Leicester and Gypsy in Chichester) and not one but two Sweeney Tood’s! Difficult not to choose Damn Yankees at the Landor, a lovely Love Story at the Union, more Goodall with the NYMT’s The Hired Man at St James Theatre, Blues in the Night at Hackney, Sweeney Todd at the ill-fated Twickenham Theatre and Assassins at the Menier, plus the Arcola’s Carousel which was so good I went twice in its short run. In the end though, expecting and accepting accusations of bias, I have to go for the other Sweeney Todd in Harrington”s Pie Shop here in Tooting – funnier & scarier, beautifully sung & played and in the perfect location, bringing Sondheim to Tooting – in person too!

Best Out of Town – National Theatre Wales’ Mametz

I have to recognise my out-of-town theatregoing, where great theatre happens too, and some things start out (or end up!). The best this year included a superb revival of a recent Broadway / West End show, Hairspray at Leicester Curve, and one on the way in from Chichester, Gypsy, which I will have to see again when it arrives……. but my winner was National Theatre of Wales’ extraordinary Mametz, taking us back to a World War I battle, in the woods near Usk, in this centenary year.

Best Site Specific Theatre – Symphony of a Missing Room (LIFT 2014)

Finally, a site specific theatre award – just because I love them and because it’s my list, so I can invent any categories I like! Two of the foregoing winners – Sweeney Todd and Mametz – fall into this category but are  now ineligible. The two other finalists were I Do, a wedding in the Hilton Docklands, and Symphony of a Missing Room, a blindfolded walk through the Royal Academy buildings as part of LIFT, which piped the other at the post.

With some multiple visits, 2014 saw around 200 visits to the theatre, which no other city in the world could offer. As my theatrical man of the year Stephen Sondheim put it in the musical revival of the year – There’s No Place Like London.

 

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Will we ever tire of biographical material about The Beatles? Well, certainly not while the generation that were brought up with them are still here, I suspect. This contribution provides a different perspective, as the group are an off-stage supporting cast to their manager Brian Epstein. I always saw him as a middle-aged man infatuated with and promoting four youths, so the biggest wake-up call for me was realising he died at 32 – Epstein the manager was also in his 20’s during most of the band’s life.

Andrew Sherlock’s play is set shortly before his death, in Beatles chronology between Sgt. Pepper and The White Album, whilst the band were coming under the spell of the Maharishi. Brian picks up This Boy at a club, but he’s not what he seems. He’s a wannabe journalist looking for the story of Epstein rather than the story of the Beatles. He eventually gains Epstein’s trust and we eventually break through to the personal story, though Epstein has to be continually re-directed from his natural inclination to talk about his boys.

The show is framed by This Boy talking direct to the audience, which didn’t completely work for me, particularly as it was peppered with cheesy references to song titles and lyrics. Epstein’s flip-flopping between trust and suspicion are occasionally over-played, though the sexual frisson gives a plausibility to the set-up and we do learn (particularly in the second half) a reasonable amount about the man and get some insight into his psychological make-up. It took a while to get into it, but it won me over in the better second half which packs the band’s recording years into 45 minutes.

Both Andrew Lancel, who has a striking resemblance to Epstein, and Will Finlason inhabit their characters and bring the fictitious situation to life; two very good performances. A simple 60’s living room in a London apartment is occasionally animated by video projections on the walls. There’s music to illustrate the story but not so much as to detract from the narrative. Jen Heyes direction also animates what could easily be a static two-hander.

For someone for whom this period and this story is part of the soundtrack of their life, like me, this is a welcome fix and a fresh perspective. It opened Liverpool’s refurbished and renamed Epstein Theatre in 2012 and it’s good to see it transfer from the city where the story starts to the city where it ended sadly and prematurely for a man who made an indelible mark on the 20th century.

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This is a stage adaptation of Spike Milligan’s comic novel set in Ulster in 1922. The Boundary Commission has created a new border with Eire that dissects the village of Puckoon between the church and its graveyard and through the pub. It’s typical Milligan – eccentric, quirky, silly, irreverent, surreal and absurd.

The adaptation is faithful to the book and the Stones In Her Pockets / 39 Steps style of the production seems wholly in keeping with the material. The writer is an onstage character, engaging in dialogue with his characters (‘why did you write me such bad legs?’), and the main character is called Milligan. The other 27 characters are played by four actors. They all double-up as musicians for the few added songs. The production values are deliberately amateur in keeping with both the book and the staging.

We smiled a lot, but there weren’t many laughs and I have to say it didn’t really work for me – and I love both Milligan and the book. In fairness, the theatre is far too big, the audience at the performance we attended far too sparse and the cast seemed to be trying too hard to compensate. It’s a shame, because there’s a lot of talent on show and it’s Ulster’s Big Telly Theatre Company’s first London showcase.

A worthy failure, I’m afraid.

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Well, it’s March and I’m still catching up with Edinburgh ones-that-got-away…..

When you first hear that this is a bunch of people reading from autobiographies, it doesn’t seem like an enticing prospect. The reviews were mixed but word-of-mouth and bloggers more favourable. It’s not long into the show when the show’s sub-title ‘you couldn’t make this stuff up’ rings very true indeed.

Last night, there were six excellent readers – Fiona Allen, Doon Mackichan & Sally Phillips from C4’s sketch show Smack the Pony, Harry Enfield, James Lance and Sam Roukin – reading from, amongst others, David’s Hasselhoff and Cassidy, boy band ‘N Sync, Ivana Trump and Britney Spears. After initial solo turns, the readers return in different configurations, the best of which were Katie Price & Peter Andre spliced together and, lest you think this is a modern phenomena, a ‘mash up’ of Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher autobiographies from the time the latter moved on from Reynolds to Taylor.

It’s a clever idea, the extracts are well-chosen and the readings were well delivered, but at £24 for 70 mins I did feel a bit cheated and wished I had caught it on the Edinburgh fringe, where it would have been better value and more at home. It’s back at Leicester Square Theatre on 11th April if you want to catch it.

 

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