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Posts Tagged ‘London Palladium’

I don’t know how to categorise Otis & Eunice at the Royal College of Music. It’s a story with music and dance told in two venues in two cities with a video link enabling it to move from one to the other or both simultaneously. A collaboration between six institutions – RCM, RAM, LAMDA, RADA, BOV Theatre School and Central School of Ballet – it proved to be a very welcome innovation indeed.

Classical Music

Where has Puccini’s Messa di Gloria been all my life? Written as a graduation piece, it’s a very original setting of the mass and the LSO & LSC under Antonio Pappano at the Barbican gave it their all. A piece by his teacher Ponchielli and a rarely heard Verdi string quartet expanded for orchestra (which he knocked up while waiting for his Aida sopranos to get better!) completed a thoroughly satisfying concert.

Contemporary Music

On an impulse, at two hours’ notice, I dumped a theatre ticket to go and see Roy Harper at the London Palladium in what will probably prove to be one of his final shows. It was at times rambling and ragged, and he now struggles with his trademark high notes, but it was littered with gems which more than made up for it, three new songs that proved he hasn’t lost his song writing ability and waves of warmth and love from an audience for whom, like me, he is clearly part of the soundtrack of their lives.

Dance

The six BalletBoyz dancers were mesmerising in their double-bill Them/Us at Sadler’s Wells and I loved the music from both Keaton Henson for Us and Charlotte Harding for Them. It was particularly good to see that they choreographed Them themselves. Every BalletBoyz show brings something new and inventive and this was no exception.

For his latest work at Sadler’s Wells, the ever so eclectic Russell Maliphant takes his inspiration for The Thread from traditional Greek dance, with a score by Vangelis no less. Some have called it Greek Riverdance and though there is a grain of truth in that, it was at times thrilling and at other times beautiful, though perhaps not sustaining its 80 minute length; perhaps a shorter version paired with a contrasting work might have been more satisfying. Michael Hulls’ lighting was as gorgeous as ever, though so dark it brought its challenges! Mary Katrantzou’s costumes were lovely.

Sometimes the most anticipated shows disappoint, and so it was with Pepperland at Sadler’s Wells. Only five songs from the album it purports to celebrate (+ Penny Lane) in poor arrangements, plus uninspired choreography. It was far from the 50th anniversary celebration I’d expected and fell flat on its face. I’m a big fan, but after two duds in a row, even I’m beginning to wonder if Mark Morris has gone off the boil.

At Sadler’s Wells again, Northern Ballet Theatre’s Victoria maintains their outstanding reputation for dance drama in a great piece of storytelling, with inventive chorography, beautiful design and a glorious score played live by their orchestra. The biggest treat of the four evenings there this month.

Film

The Basis of Sex was a lot better than the reviews suggested, but then I’m a sucker for sentimental underdog stories, though this one was about someone who did more for equal opportunity than probably anyone else, in the US at lease.

Almost every film I’ve seen this year has been based on a true story, but Fighting With My Family, about a Norwich wrestling family, is probably the most unlikely. It’s also very funny and heart-warming. A proper British feel-good film.

The Kid Who Would Be King may be a kids film, but I thought it was engaging, charming and an antidote to the seemingly endless march of Marvel tosh, and the special effects were brilliant!

Art

A lean month indeed! Just the annual Wildlife Photography Award Exhibition at the Natural History Museum, its usual feast of brilliant photography, with some new and different themes to keep it fresh.

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Of all the big theatrical openings this year, this much garlanded Broadway revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s 1951 show wasn’t the one I was expecting to disappoint. Despite the sumptuousness of the designs and the vocal perfection of Kelli O’Hara, it left me unengaged and rather cold. We’ve become used to revivals breathing new life into classic musicals, but this one seems afraid to touch, and consequently comes out as overly conservative; the evening felt a bit like a visit to the Museum of Musical Theatre.

Like many of their other shows, it was tackling serious themes. Siam, now Thailand, was an island of independence in colonial Asia (the French take Cambodia during the show!). We see the unacceptable face of colonialism and arrogant superiority of the west to other cultures, but also the unacceptable face of local despots, with their own superiority, over women in particular (cue references to #metoo resonance). Add to the cocktail a feisty British woman and you have a classic R&H recipe. With its exotic setting and glorious score, how can it go wrong?

Well, they seem to have mined deeper into the themes of power, culture clash and feminism, but at the same time broadened the humour; an odd contrast which jarred with me. The pace was often very slow, particularly in the second act play-within-a-play, and it seemed a very long three hours. The lack of chemistry between the King and Anna was the final nail in the coffin. Great sets by Michael Yeargan, gorgeous costumes by Catherine Zuber, cute kids, sweet songs, but no heart.

Kelli O’Hara sang beautifully; Hello, Young Lovers in particular has never sounded better. I liked Jon Chew’s characterisation of the earnest, geeky Crown Prince. Na-Young Jeon and Dean John-Wilson made a fine pair of lovers in Tuptim and Lun Tha. Naoko Mori was excellent as chief wife Lady Thang. I’m afraid I thought Ken Watanabe’s King was a complete caricature, which proved fatal for me. It was good to see a stage full of East Asian actors, though.

I don’t regret going, but for me Bartlett Sher’s production is way too reverential and, as a result, lacked sparkle.

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Well, it looks like I’m going against the critical flow again on this one; I rather liked it, particularly the design, the songs and the infectious enthusiasm of the cast. Treating it as a family show might be the key.

It doesn’t have the storytelling quality of Alan Bennet’s iconic non-musical NT adaptation. It’s more character-driven, though there’s more of a story, well, caper, in the second half. Once we’ve established who’s who on the riverbank, the mysteries of the wild wood and Toad’s status, it’s basically about his imprisonment and escape and the takeover and reclaiming of Toad Hall. Julian Fellowes book isn’t up to much, but George Stiles catchy tunes and Anthony Drewe’s witty lyrics do enough plot driving to make up for it.

Peter McKintosh’s design is cute for the riverbank and grand and imposing for Toad Hall, with some excellent train, car and boat journeys in-between. The costumes help define the characters and I thought they were lovely. Aletta Collins choreography also adds much to the characterisations. Rachel Kavanaugh’s production has, above all, a lot of charm, helped by delightful performances like Simon Lipkin as Ratty, Craig Mather as Mole and Gary Wilmot as Badger. I liked Rufus Hound’s very brash, loud, athletic (and green) Toad and Denise Welch’s Geordie mother Otter. Neil McDermott is a good baddie, a suitably oily weasel.

The 6 and 10-year-old seemed to enjoy it as much as the older members of my party and the producers get a gold star for the accessibility that the children-go-free policy provides. Much better than those cynical paid critics would have you believe.

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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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Any new musical is a big risk, which is why we don’t get many. Go straight to the West End, into the UK’s highest profile theatre, with a writer, director and choreographer with no musicals credits and a composer with one, and you significantly increase the risk. It’s midway through previews, still being rewritten, with cancellations, lengthened intervals and a half-time abandonment behind it and it’s clearly not ready yet BUT I thought it was great fun and I think they’re going to pull it off.

There’s a great opening scene as we see the ambition of a young Simon (brilliantly played by one of four young actors, I know not which). Then we meet X-Factor hopeful Chenice, her Grandpa and dog Barlow, in the family caravan under a London flyover. She has the back story to end all back stories. Another hopeful, Northern plumber Max, is just passing by. Later, we are introduced to other contestants – Welsh supermarket checkout girl Brenda, Irish duo The Alter Boys, Hunchback and Vladimir. In the first half, its the live auditions and a whistle-stop trip through to the live final which is the focus of the second half, on and off stage.

I liked Steve Brown’s songs (as I liked his score for Spend Spend Spend), lyrically funny with particularly good ‘big numbers’. There’s a somewhat haphazard, anarchic quality to the staging, perhaps because of a lack of readiness, but somehow adding to the fun. There’s a lot of cheeky references, clever parodies and some topicality in Harry Hill’s book and the targets are well and truly sent up, but in a friendly rather than a malicious way. It does lag at times and needs tightening up, but that’s doable. Like The Book of Mormon and The Commitments, it’s a different sort of musical aiming at a different audience and I think it succeeds.

Nigel Harman seemed a bit hesitant as Simon, perhaps because the real Simon was in the audience or perhaps due to his prosthetic teeth and high trousers! Cynthia Erivo certainly can sing, with bells on, and is terrific as Chenice. Alan Morrissey is also in fine voice as loveable Max and Simon Lipkin almost steals the show as Barlow the dog with a crush on Simon. The parts of judges Louis and Jordy (guess!) seemed underwritten to me, but Ashley Knight & Victoria Elliott do their best with what they’re given. Charlie Baker is unrecognisable, and also in fine voice, as Hunchback and I liked both Billy Carter’s camp producer and Simon Bailey’s host Liam, who has a song sung entirely whilst hugging Max!

Designer Es Devlin pulls a lot out of the bag, all of which worked the night I went, but I can see why it takes some breaking in. It’s not as slick as Mormon, but it’s also less cynical and more warm-hearted. If you know what they are parodying and just go for a fun night out, you are unlikely to be disappointed. A full house, the previous night’s aborted performance and the real Simon in the audience probably added a certain frisson, but fun was had regardless.

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I wasn’t planning on going to this. The revival of The Last Night of the Poms had been a huge disappointment and Dame Edna was seriously off form in the Wimbledon panto. Then the reviews of this were published…..

In the first half we got Les Patterson, cruder than ever, and for the first time his brother – somewhat topically, a kiddie fiddling gay priest! Finally, the return of the ghost of Sandy Stone, less poignant than before but a nice contrast.

Her Dameness took the whole of the second half and even though it was the same old stuff (though even more politically incorrect in 2013), with a handful of audience members involved and a telephone call to a participant’s mother (with the added twist of announcing her son’s onstage marriage – but she was in Brisbane and not at home and we had to leave a message!), it was good fun and great to see one last time. In a lovely, surprisingly moving, touch Barry Humphries took a curtain call himself and made a short speech.

He’s right to bow out now. There were a few forgetful moments, perfectly forgivable, but people might be less forgiving should he continue and they multiply. He’s going out on a high and I will remember his creations with great fondness and a wry smile – in a spooky sort of way, possums. Go say goodbye yourself to Dame Edna Everage, one of the great comic creations of all time.

 

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