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Posts Tagged ‘Simon McBurney’

This appears to be a marmite show. I don’t like marmite, but I liked this play about the rise and fall of Hollywood film mogul Robert Evans, which feels more like the filming of his life than the staging of it.

Robert Evans left the ladies clothing business he ran with his brother to become an actor after a chance meeting with Norma Shearer, as a result of which he played her late husband in Man of a Thousand Faces. Within six years he’d switched from actor to producer and in another five years his meteoric rise took him all the way to Head of Paramount Pictures. His extraordinary catalogue of successes there included Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Chinatown and Love Story, but he became disgruntled making money for the studio but not for himself, so he decided to fly solo. This was much less successful, not helped by drug scandals. His personal life was just as colourful, with seven marriages all lasting less than five years, the most notable to Ali MacGraw, with whom he had his only child.

Simon McBurney has adapted his autobiography (with James Yeatman) for the stage, but he’s done it in such a way that you feel you are watching Evans’ life being filmed. There’s live video from a camera on rails (as in film) and a screen which is used for projection, scenery and shadow play. Eight actors play multiple roles, often straight into a microphone, and it’s very fast paced and technically complex. It’s the first time I’ve seen an autocue in the theatre, which was at first disconcerting but by the end understandable. The fact that many of the characters are well known to us – Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Francis Ford Coppola – adds a certain frisson. Initially, I thought the continuous use of one style would make it a bit monotonous, but in reality, with such a fast pace, you remain in its grip throughout.

I found it fascinating biographical theatre and captivating staging.

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I’m famous for not liking monologues, amongst other things. This is a monologue, but it’s soundscape makes it much more than that. Simon McBurney ingeniously uses sound technology to illustrate and expand his story into something completely original and rather extraordinary.

He playfully addresses the audience at the beginning and interweaves dialogue with his daughter during preparation for the show throughout it. The main event though is the story of American photographer Loren MCIntyre and his adventures meeting the Mayoruna people of the Amazon, as told by writer Petru Popescu in his book The Encounter: Amazon Beaming. Wearing headphones, the audience hear a combination of live and recorded dialogue and sound effects. It really does open up the story to something enthralling; so much more than a monologue and so much more than simple storytelling. It has a hypnotic effect on you.

The relatively bare stage is littered with microphones and items used to create sound effects – often simple and lo-tech, like water in plastic bottles, but when they make their way into your head through a highly sophisticated sound system, it blows your mind (as we used to say in the late 60’s). McBurney is narrator, McIntyre and others as he prances around the stage creating effects whilst speaking to you. It’s a virtuoso performance.

The show works on many levels and provokes your thinking on multiple issues. Its great to see packed houses lapping up this inventive, intelligent and captivating experience. I loved it.

 

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Well, Complicite have staged the unstageable! I still don’t understand it, but it’s a theatrical feast nonetheless, though at 3 hours 15 mins maybe a bit too much food!

Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel isn’t about a school teacher with a penchant for Mexican cocktails, though if that were also woven into the two stories of Satan visiting Moscow and Pontius Pilate’s remorse and regret, it probably would fit perfectly well. It is impossible and indeed pointless to offer much of a description, so I will just say it’s a fantasy and a satire and anyone who tells you they understand it is probably lying, or showing off, or both……

The reason for seeing it is that Complicite have chosen it as their most ambitious work yet and, lack of understanding aside, it is an extraordinary piece of staging. Much of this is due to the giant video projections of Third Company Limited, more used to projects like Elton John’s Las Vegas show, the Batman Arena event and  U2’s 360 tour. These amazing visuals sit comfortably with the more minimalist imaginative staging and performance style we have become used to from Complicite and Simon McBurney.

It’s great to see Paul Rhys again and there are some excellent performances from Richard Katz, Angus Wright, Tim McMullan, Ajay Naidu and Cesar Sarachu (who on Monday got into a pickle trying to get his loincloth on!) but I did find Sinead Matthews a little OTT as she was in A Dolls House at the Young Vic. There’s a puppet cat which looks like it walked out of a cartoon and the closing image of a projection of the cast on stage with chairs forming a giant horse is simply breathtaking.

Go for the stagecraft and inventiveness rather than for a good old yarn and you’ll probably spend a lot of the evening with your mouth open in wonder.

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Contemporary Music

Some of the best things I’ve been to were on impulse. The impulse to see Mari Wilson with jazz vocalist / pianist Ian Shaw came a few days before. In truth, I’d never heard of Shaw, but Mari has been a favourite for almost 30 years and I’ve recently re-connected with her through new albums and concerts with her own band. After a couple of solo songs from Shaw, Mari marched on looking as glamorous as ever carrying a decorated Christmas tree, put it on a small table and announced ‘£12.74 from Neasden IKEA’ and from this moment on we were treated to a light-hearted but virtuoso display of well known songs in interesting arrangements – a ‘mash-up’ of The Ronettes ‘Be My Baby’ and The Righteous Brothers ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ was a particular highlight. Shaw brought on X Factor audition reject John Wilding whose interpretation of Radiohead’s Creep brought tears to my eyes (it had been massacred on that very programme the previous week by tone-deaf Wagner!). Even though The X Factor is one of my guilty pleasures, sitting listening to these brilliant musicians whilst most of the country was watching it on TV did put things in perspective somewhat; when I got home and watched the recording, I didn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much as I usually do!

I’m not sure how to categorise Richard Thompson’s latest project, but I’m putting it here in Contemporary Music! Nutmeg & Ginger is a lovely title for his collaboration with Philip Pickett & the Musicians of the Globe singing spicy ballads from Shakespeare’s time. He’s had a renaissance guitar made and is accompanied by bass viol, violin, lute, bandore and recorder in 10 songs plus eight dance tunes. Cadogan Hall was the perfect venue and after a nervous start where he seemed to be finding it difficult to get all the words sung at the pace of the music, he soon started smiling and it settled into a delightful evening. Few rock / folk musicians would have the necessary musicianship – or sheer balls! – to attempt a project like this, but like his 1000 Years of Music project, it’s both fascinating and rewarding. Keep your eyes open for the album he hinted at (but wouldn’t commit to).

I was thrilled when I heard The Unthanks had chosen the songs of Robert Wyatt and Anthony & The Johnsons as a project as I like all three. At their concert in the Union Chapel, they did a 40 minute set of Anthony songs followed by a 60 minute set of Wyatt. I enjoyed them both greatly, but the second set worked better – the songs were more challenging and complex and they rose brilliantly to the challenge. The final song about the neglect of gypsy holocaust victims in the Czech republic was deeply moving and it was impossible to follow with an encore.

There’s a direct line from The Kinks through Squeeze to Madness and Lily Allen which represents a soundtrack of London. It’s a very long time since I last saw Squeeze but an attack of nostalgiaitis prompted me to book for one of their run of London gigs; sad to report that it didn’t really live up to expectations. Support Lightening Seeds set them up well, and when they were good they were good, but there was lot of padding in their 90 minute set, a little too many self-indulgent solos and sound which was often turned up at the expense of clarity to distortion levels.

Opera

The music of A Dog’s Heart by Raskatov is difficult to penetrate on first hearing, but Complicite’s Simon McBurney’s production is an extraordinary theatrical feast of terrific performances, clever puppetry from Blind Summit and brilliant projections & inventive design from Michael Levine. It’s a satire based on Bulgokov’s banned satirical novel about a dog that is turned into a man and back again. The dog has two voices brilliantly sung by Andrew Watts and Elena Vassilieva (who also double up as the Vyasemskaya and The Cook), there is a wonderful turn as The Maid from Nancy Allen Mundy, Peter Hoare is fantastic as the man (dog) and Steven Page is terrific as the professor at the heart of the story with Leigh Melrose also great as his assistant. I think you would have to hear it a fair few times to get into the music, but the production was a treat.

Classical Music

Handel and Cecilia Bartoli is a partnership made in heaven. Backed by the brilliant Basle Chamber Orchestra with fine second half support from young (though he doesn’t look it!) Argentinean counter-tenor Franco Fagioli, this was a highlight in a lifetime of concert-going. There were the vocal fireworks and beaming smiles you always get at her concerts but, on this occasion, the match with the composer (OK, so he’s a fave of mine) meant she reached new heights and delivered pure joy. Given the ovation, it wasn’t just me!

Art

The Hayward Gallery has cornered the market in quirky exhibitions you can’t really call art and Move – Choreographing You is another one of them. It didn’t do a lot for me, I’m afraid, but maybe I didn’t ‘play’ enough. Fortunately, the South Bank offered two photographic gems to make the journey worthwhile. At The RFH, the annual World Press Photo exhibition lived up to its exceptionally high standard; though this year there was a series of photos of a man being stoned in Somalia which was hard to look at. At the RNT, things were less harrowing at the Landscape Photography exhibition; there were so many beautiful images, it made me feel like a completely inadequate photographer.

I really enjoyed the GSK Contemporary exhibition at the Royal Academy annexe this year, a sort of art meets fashion meets politics. There was one video of men posing in shirts with chest holes or flaps you could open which became chilling when it was followed by its inspiration; men opening their shirts in Palestine to prove they were not suicide bombers.

The Photographic Prize Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery was as good as ever – another photography exhibition to make me feel an inadequate photographer.

Another impulsive treat was popping in to the Courtauld Gallery when passing by with time to kill to see the Cezanne Card Players exhibition where they’ve put together 14 preparatory paintings and drawings with three of the Card Players paintings themselves. They’ve gone to a lot of trouble to get them from 6 countries but it’s absolutely worthwhile. I’ve avoided these in-depth exhibitions before but won’t do again.

Finally, and somewhat appropriately for year end and courtesy of Whinger Andrew I went to the recording of the News Quiz of the Year (three weeks before its broadcast) with Sandi Toksvig and (in my view) the best of the panellists – Andy Hamilton, Francis Wheen, Sue Perkins and Jeremy Hardy. The 90 minutes recorded will be edited down and you knew exactly where are there were some very rude bits! It was a bit of a palaver to get in but it was worth it.

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