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Posts Tagged ‘St. Paul’s Cathedral’

You might not expect 100 minutes real time set entirely in a church office to be enthralling theatre, but it is. Steve Waters intelligent play about the dilemma facing the Dean of St. Paul’s when the Occupy protesters are driven to his church steps captivates from beginning to end and Simon Russell Beale gives us yet another master-class in acting.

The 100 minutes are those immediately before the church is re-opened for services after a two-week closure. The protesters had been driven there away from the target of their ire. The Corporation of London wants the Dean’s support in driving them away altogether by an injunction. The church hierarchy, through the Bishop of London, has no direct authority over St. Paul’s but still seeks to influence it. Some of the Dean’s senior staff feel strongly, at least one to the point of resignation. His PA has gone sick with stress and her cover is seemingly incompetent. The Dean is in an impossible situation and struggles to find a solution and to show leadership.

So much is covered in this short period of time. We learn of the special status of St. Paul’s and the history that puts it there. We see the differing views within the church, varying from logic to pragmatism to principled to passive. The debate that is played out covers the moral and ethical and the practical and expedient. Surrounded by those giving advice, The Dean is in a very lonely place. The Bishop makes it clear what the Archbishop wants, the City Lawyer uses her legalistic jargon to spell out where the Corporation sits. His staff think they know what Jesus would do and the PA proves to be wiser than it seemed at first.

Though its a fiction it feels very real and I kept wondering how much research Waters had done. Howard Davies direction is impeccable, allowing the writing and performances to shine, and Tim Hatley’s realistic design and the Donmar’s intimacy make you voyeurs peering into the room. Simon Russell Beale is perfect casting as the Dean, a very sympathetically written character, and he gives a beautiful, nuanced portrait of a man under pressure, on an emotional roller-coaster, struggling as his conscience and his brain battle within him.

I loved Malcolm Sinclair’s rather pompous Bishop of London who’d taken advice ‘from his communications people’ and was very much in tune with ‘the modern world’ and I thought Rebecca Humphries was superb as the PA Lizzie, moving from dippy temp to show wisdom and passion as she too tries to influence The Dean. There’s also a terrific cameo from Shereen Martin, who perfectly captures the legal eagle blinded by logic but so lacking in emotional intelligence that she would know a moral dilemma if she fell over one.

I was entranced by this gentle, often funny, thought-provoking play and have been reflecting on it ever since. A candidate for Best New Play I’d say. Off you go…..

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Contemporary Music

I must have seen almost all of John Hiatt’s London concerts in the last 30 years or so – solo and with a lot of different bands, including the solo-duo show with Lyle Lovett and the short-lived ‘supergroup’ Little Village with Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner. His sound blends country, rock and blues in different combinations depending on the configuration of the band (if there is a band) and the style of the latest album. This incarnation is more rocky, but boy is it a great band. Three-quarters of the set was made up of material prior to the recent album, often re-worked to give a fresh spin. The intimate Under the Bridge (actually under Chelsea’s ground Stamford Bridge, but fortunately without any players or WAGS in sight!) proved an excellent venue (much like The Borderline some years ago and The Half Moon Putney way back when) and it was a cracking night. By the last encore, Riding With the King, they were on fire.

Opera

Our summer visit to WNO in Cardiff only involved one opera, La Boheme, but it was a brilliant production which we enjoyed so much we’ve booked to see again in September. Annabel Arden’s simple new staging, with an excellent design from Stephen Brimston Lewis featuring brilliant projections by Nina Dunn at Knifedge, was pitch perfect and Anita Hartig and Alex Vicens as Mimi and Rodolfo sang beautifully. The supporting cast were excellent and, as ever, Carlo Rizzi made the orchestra and chorus soar. Gorgeous.

Caligula at ENO won’t go down as a great new opera (the music isn’t good enough for that) but it was a brilliantly dramatic and inventive staging which got to the heart of its subject’s madness. This was mostly owing to a stunning performance in the title role from Peter Coleman-Wright and two great supporting performances from Yvonne Howard as his wife and Christopher Ainslie as his servant. Modern opera is often challenging; this one was no exception, but it was worth the ride.

Classical

St. Paul’s Cathedral has an acoustic which makes performing anything there a huge risk; I particularly recall a disastrous Britten’s War Requiem some years ago. The LSO made a better choice of Berlioz Requiem because it was big enough for the space and indeed the space added something to the music. When there were four trumpet sections in four spaces all around you, it sent shivers up your spine. Berlioz specialist Sir Colin Davies was in charge and the combination of orchestra and two choirs and crystal clear tenor Barry Banks – 385 singers and players – was as powerful as it gets.

The Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela has got a lot older whilst they’ve been evading me; they’re now all between 18 and 28. I’d seen (and been underwhelmed) by their conductor Gustavo Dudamel with the LA Phil, but had not seen him with his main band. It didn’t take long before I realised it wasn’t all hype. Sitting in the front row of the Royal Festival Hall, from the first notes of Argentinean Esteban Benzecry’s Rituales Amerindios the sound was exciting; by the time they had finished Strauss’ Alpine Symphony they were thrilling. As if we hadn’t had enough of a treat, they gave us an encore (not so common these days). An odd man came on wearing an animal skin, horn helmet and eye patch, carrying a spear. I thought he might have been one of Benzecry’s Latin American Indians and we were about to get one of that triptych again, but then the helmet came off and it was Bryn Terfel. Somewhat unbelievably, they chose the final part of Wagner’s Das Rheingold (this orchestra’s first stab at Wagner!) – it soared and I cried. The icing on a delicious cake.

Art

I popped into a mercifully quiet Tate Modern after an early dinner on the last Saturday of the month to check out Damien Hirst and Edward Munch and what a pair of horrors they turned out to be. I’d seen (and not liked) most of the Hirst works before but having them all in one place – spot paintings, preserved animals, flies and butterflies (dead and alive) – was a depressing experience. I still think he’s an innovative and clever man who’s made a lot of money, but not really an artist of much merit. The Munch proves he was a bit of a one trick pony, and that trick – The Scream – isn’t part of this exhibition! His early work showed great skill as a portrait painter, and some that followed was interesting (and colourful), but his compulsions and obsessions, coupled with the loss of ability to paint a face, meant the body of work is uninspiring.

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