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Posts Tagged ‘London Road’

This is a cross between London Road, the NT’s ground-breaking verbatim ‘musical’ about the Ipswich prostitute murders, and those terrific ‘tribunal’ plays at the Tricycle, but without the depth of either. Though there is much to admire and enjoy, it seemed ever so slight to me. Though the writers are experienced as director, actor and MD, I wondered if their lack of experience as writers showed.

The full title is The Public Administration & Constitutional Affairs Committee takes oral evidence on Whitehall’s relationship with Kids Company. In Robert Jones uber-realistic design, we are in the public gallery of one of the committee rooms in Portcullis House. The charity’s founder, Camila Batmanghelidjh, and its Chairman, the BBC Creative Director Alan Yentob, are being questioned by MP’s, interspersed with the evidence of others who’d been employed by or involved with the charity which spent nearly £50m of tax-payers money in questionable ways without much management control, it seems.

It doesn’t really come to any conclusions, but it implies that though her heart was in the right place, she was unqualified for her role and many, including Yentob and government ministers, were under her spell. All of the questions and evidence are taken from the transcripts, and some dialogue is sung, including a number of short songs, to piano and string accompaniment. Tom Deering’s music is good, but I’m not sure the musical form adds anything, like it did in London Road.

The trouble is it’s an insubstantial 75 minutes, so it’s unable to do the subject justice. Almost as soon as it got going it was over, which is a shame as the creative and performing contributions are good. The vocal honours belong to Omar Ebrahim as Yentob and Sandra Marvin as Batmanghelidgh and there’s fine acting from another seven performers as the five MP’s, including Bernard Jenkin and Kate Hoey, the committee clerk and assistant.

All I could think of at the end was why on earth there hasn’t been a more thorough public inquiry about this; it was tax-payers money, after all. A missed opportunity, I’d say, and not very good value at 50p per minute!

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Contemporary Music

I wasn’t sure I wanted to see Rufus Wainwright again after being disappointed by his last outing promoting the over-produced Out of the Game, but solo and at The Royal Hospital Chelsea? Oh, go on then. There wasn’t much atmosphere in the hall-full space (when will promoters learn that there is a limit to the prices people will pay, however much of a fan they are) and the lovely weather turned 30 mins before he came on stage, but the rain stopped after 10 mins. Rufus’ concerts are inconsistent and uneven because he has a tendency to attempt under-rehearsed and / or overly-ambitious things, resulting in stops & starts and forgotten chords & words, covered up with clumsy humour, but when he’s good he’s stunning, and there were enough stunning moments to make this one very worthwhile. There were bonuses too – a duet with Neil Tennant on Poses, and support from The Villagers, who sounded lovely in the open air, in the sun.

John Hiatt‘s welcome return to Under the Bridge saw a fairly predictable, populist 2-hour set, but it was sung and played very well, and there were two new numbers. The usual final encore of Riding With the King was movingly dedicated to the recently departed B B King. You have to admire the bravery (or foolishness?!) of support act Josh Savage who walked into the club crowd to play an acoustic number with audience participation, but he just about got away with it.

Opera

A Henze double-bill was a also brave choice for the June GSMD opera production & it got a small but largely appreciative audience – an odd choice too, as it only enabled them to showcase nine singers. Ein Landarzt was a short absurdist Kafka monologue set to music, a very early work. Phaedra was his last work and got a really striking production. I had to pinch myself when Chinese counter-tenor Meili Li switched to baritone!

Musically, ENO‘s Queen of Spades was one of the best things they’ve ever done. The orchestra under Edward Gardner were on fire and all of the soloists, especially Peter Hoare as Hermann, were outstanding….. but the staging made little sense. Such is the arrogance of opera directors.

I enjoyed the double bill of Harrison Birtwistle operas in Covent Garden’s Linbury Studio TheatreThe Corridor and The Cure are both based on Greek myth, both two-handers, written five years apart but fitting together perfectly. Mark Padmore and Elizabeth Atherton were extraordinary and the London Sinfonietta (costumed in the first) sounded great.

Classical Music

The world premiere of Nico Muhly’s song cycle Sentences, inspired by Alan Turing, at the Barbican was superb. It was beautifully sung by countertenor Iestyn Davies (who also sampled and sung with himself!) with the Britten Sinfonia and Muhly conducting from the piano. The rest of the programme was well chosen, with a Dowland song and a Britten piece for viola (Lawrence Power) inspired by it and Vivaldi’s Sabat Mater for solo voice (Davies on top form again) and ensemble. A lovely evening.

Film

The second spy spoof of the year, cleverly called Spy, is even better than the first, Kingsman: the Secret Service, and Melissa McCarthy is wonderful, with the bonus of Miranda also cast as a CIA operative. I laughed a lot.

The film of London Road is as ground-breaking as the stage show, but not as good. I’m not sure they did NT Live when it was first on stage, but I think that would be a better experience (and judging by the tiny audience in the cinema, more commercial sense too).

Art

The latest at the Saatchi Gallery – art from Africa and Latin America – is their best for ages, with some great paintings and only a few of those installations that can often be pretentious and dull.

The Ravilious exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery was a real treat. His wistful, very British paintings range from landscapes to port scenes to war art but they all have a very distinctive style which I love. The best exhibition I’ve seen in a long while.

The Alexander McQueen exhibition at the V&A, Savage Beauty, also blew me away. I’m no fan of fashion, but I do love creativity and ingenuity and McQueen clearly had an imagination the size of a planet. In a brilliantly theatrical presentation, you learn a lot about the man and his influences – a lot more than the 100 minute play I saw the Saturday before, in fact – whilst looking at his beautifully crafted clothes.

I was less fond of David Hockney’s Painting & Photography exhibition at Annely Juda than I was his earlier landscape collection, though I liked the way it played with both art forms, and played with your head by having paintings in photographs and the same people turning up all over the place in both forms.

It was good to go back to the Estorick Collection of modern Italian art, though the Modigliani Drawings exhibition which took me there was much of a muchness – too small, really. Re-viewing the one-room permanent collection and three rooms of a current selection made it worthwhile though.

The latest double-dip at Tate Modern yielded an unexpected treat and something dull from two 20th century female artists. Sonia Delaunay‘s colourful work spanned portraits, abstracts, textile patterns and clothes   – diverse but uniformly cheerful. Agnes Martin was Rothkoesqe pretension – all dots, lines and hardly discernible colour.

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The life of code-breaker Alan Turing is an unlikely subject for a musical, but then again so were the Ipswich prostitute murders! Like London Road, this is more a play with music than a musical (though not sung verbatim interviews in this case). What they also share is how successful they tell their story, and in this case it also makes you reappraise a man’s life.

Starting as Turing goes to Sherborne School, we zip through school and university days and on to Bletchley Park and his huge contribution to the second world war. Moving on into his post-war research & teaching career in Manchester, you realise this is no simple code-breaker, but a scientific colossus whose theories were extraordinary prophetic. Sadly, we see him brought down by the naive confession of a private act that would today be a complete non-event. A genius cut down in his prime.

You do learn an extraordinary amount in 90 minutes, partly because the music propels and illuminates the narrative. They aren’t songs you could play out of context, but they are tuneful and very listenable with live keyboard and recorded accompaniment and some added live strings from cast members. The staging is simple but superbly effective, with projections and two on-stage racks of props enabling scenes to be created swiftly, and a giant document patchwork used to great effect.

Richard Delaney is excellent as Turing, completely plausible as schoolboy & undergraduate through twenty and thirty something. They are lucky to have someone as talented as Judith Paris to play Alan’s mother, which she does with great sensitivity. All other roles are played brilliantly by just five actors and it often seems there are many more than seven on stage.

Though I liked Hugh Whitmore’s play about Turing, with Derek Jacobi leading (27 years ago now and surely overdue for revival), I think I learnt more about his life from this show, which seemed to me to really get under the skin and capture the essence of the man, the monumental achievements, the sadness of his personal life and the waste that his premature death was.

I really do hope we haven’t seen the last of this little gem of a show. Huge congratulations to The New Diorama and it director David Byrne (responsible for the book, lyrics & direction) composer / lyricist Dominic Brennan and young theatre company PIT. There was a real bonus on the evening I went, with a man from Bletchley Park demonstrating an actual Enigma machine in the foyer!

Let’s hope it comes back so more people can see it.

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Verbatim theatre specialist Alecky Blythe has a huge hit on her hands with her first verbatim musical, London Road, now extended at the National. Meanwhile, a project about the displaced peoples of northern Georgia, following the 2008 war with Russia, finds it’s way to the Riverside Studios. With a visit to the Caucases planned for the coming months, I felt a strong need to go.

The small Georgian cast speak the words of Blythe’s interviewees as they hear them though the earphones they wear throughout, as was her original way with verbatim theatre, to ensure the subject’s words and speech patters are faithfully produced without an actor’s individual spin.

Most of the dialogue is in Georgian and I was so spellbound by the actors that I found myself missing much of the words on the surtitles. I did however get enough to paint a vivid picture of these people’s lives and the impact of the invasion and consequential removal to a refugee camp, where I believe they still are.

It’s surprising how much of an impression you get from fifty minutes watching / listening to these five Georgian actors relaying these tales; I really did feel I was hearing their testimony first hand.

Much more than worthy.

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