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Posts Tagged ‘Stefan Bednarczyk’

Dance

I haven’t seen ZooNation Dance Company since their first show, Into the Hoods, on the Edinburgh Fringe years back but it’s great to see them invited to Covent Garden’s Linbury Studio to stage a Christmas show, The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Wonderland is an asylum with a new psychiatrist Ernest so the Tea Party becomes the Therapy Party, well until the other characters take over for the second half and welcome us to Wonderland. This seemed a bit inaccessible for youngsters and I suspect a tad unacceptable to the mental health community. There was less hip hop than I was expecting, and some of it was a bit like X-Factor routines, but there was enough fun to be had to make it an innovative and refreshing spin on a classic.

Cabaret

The programming at St James’ Studio continues to be both eclectic and imaginative and their Christmas show, Noel Coward’s Christmas Spirits, was another enjoyably civilised, old fashioned (in a positive sense!) evening. The conceit is that we’re in Noel’s apartment in London during the blitz whilst he is writing Blithe Spirit. Two of its characters come to life and between them and Coward they entertain us with songs, poems and readings from Ben Johnson at the turn of the 16th / 17th century to World War II. It’s an eclectic collection that includes Coward’s own work, Dylan Thomas, Irving Berlin, Ivor Novello, Ogden Nash and Charles Dickens! Some succeeded better than others and the first half was over-long (not helped by a very late start while the ushers pandered to the last arrivals), but when it was good it was great. Stefan Bednarczyk captured the essence of Coward and played and sang very well; highlights including London Pride and Don’t Lets Be Beastly to the Germans (which I’d never heard before). Charlotte Wakefield sang I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas beautifully and, with Issy Van Randwyck, gave us a terrific Christmas Tree Angel (another I’d never heard). Original and entertaining in equal measure.

Art

A positive feast in an afternoon at the NPG starting with Grayson Perry: Who Are You? based on his terrific 3-part C4 series where he spent time with people then made a piece of art that represented who they are. It’s like a treasure hunt through the first floor galleries, with fourteen pieces brilliantly and appropriately located. Unmissable. Anarchy & Beauty: William Morris and His Legacy, 1860 – 1960 is a lovely reminder that Morris was the centre of an extraordinary circle of talented people. The exhibition is full of drawings, paintings and objects that connected these people. The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition was as diverse and as fine as always and in the room next door there was a bonus – a small display of Snowdon portraits, many hitherto unseen. The NPG is probably my favourite ‘pop in’ place, but this afternoon was a huge treat.

Film

What we do in the shadows is a spoof vampire film from those Kiwi boys Flight of the Conchords and it’s extremely well executed, in the best Spinal Tap tradition, and a real hoot.

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Contemporary Music

West End Recast was an impulsive last-minute punt which proved a treat. The idea is that musical theatre performers sing songs they would never normally get to sing, because they’re the wrong sex, colour, age etc. It was slow to take off, until Nathan Amzi gave us Cassie’s Music & the Mirror from A Chorus Line! This was followed by a stunning Being Alive from Company by Cynthia Erivo (quite possible the best it’s ever been sung), then a brilliant Rose’s Turn (Gypsy) from Nick Holder to end the first half. The second didn’t reach these heights, but there was much to enjoy.

I’ve always thought Damon Albarn was the best (pop) thing to come out of the 90’s and has become someone, like Elvis Costello and David Byrne, who continually reinvents himself and is always open to collaboration and experimentation. Though his Royal Albert Hall show was built around his excellent new solo album, it dipped into other incarnations and included guest appearances from Blur’s Graham Coxon, musicians from Mali, US hip-hop outfit De La Soul, rapper Kano and virtual recluse Brian Eno! Albarn is clearly in a very happy place and this was a very happy concert.

As her brother heads for the middle of the road, Martha Wainwright continues to do concerts that combine eccentricity, fun and beauty, showcasing her extraordinary voice and ability to inhabit her (and others) songs. This Queen Elizabeth Hall concert was good as the Union Chapel outing last August, though this time her son on stage outstayed his welcome. As one of my companions said, it’s hard to concentrate on a song about a man dying of cancer when you’re petrified a 5-year old might be about to electrocute himself!

I was hugely disappointed by John Grant at the Roundhouse earlier in the year, but had hoped that with an orchestra in the Royal Festival Hall he would be a lot better. Well the sound engineer was having none of that. With bass levels at painful vomit-inducing levels and the orchestra often buried in the mush of the mix, this was another disappointment. There were snatches of greatness (when the man at the back with the machines wasn’t producing his electro shit) but on the whole it was great musicianship ruined by a seemingly deaf arsehole.

Opera

My first (of two) concerts in the short Mariinsky Opera residency at the Barbican Hall was the original version of Boris Gudunov. It was good but lacked the sparkle of Gergiev’s work with the LSO. They seemed to be wheeling out a Mariinsky staple for the Nth time and going through the motions.

The contrast provided by the following night’s OAE / Opera Rara concert version of Donizetti’s Les Martyrs at the Royal Festival Hall couldn’t have been bigger. An orchestra, chorus and six soloists under Sir Mark Elder, all at the the top of their game, polishing a rarely heard opera and producing a musical jewel that shone brighter than Donizetti’s more popular operas. A spontaneous standing ovation is rare at such events, but not for this. Wonderful.

You can always rely on GSMD to give us a rare opera, but you don’t think of Dvorak as rare – productions of his operas are, though. We only ever see one of the eleven he wrote (Rusalka) so it was good to catch his comedy, The Cunning Peasant, in an English translation relocating it to Hardy’s Wessex. It’s a bit derivative of Mozart’s comedies and the first half didn’t grab me, but the second half was great. As always at GSMD, the production values and the performances were excellent.

The ever inventive Les Arts Florissants’ latest project is two short rarely performed Rameau opera-ballets, Daphnis et Egle & La naissance d’Osiris. The seven dancers, six singers and chorus of ten, all costumed, shared the bare Barbican Hall stage in front of the period ensemble, staging them as they would have been staged when they were first performed for the French Court in the eighteenth century. The stories are slight but it sounded gorgeous and this type of performance fascinating.

Glare at Covent Garden’s Linbury Studio Theatre was a SciFi opera which I saw less than an hour after the SciFi film Interstellar (below) and it was less than half its length. I admired it more than I enjoyed it, but as modern opera goes, it’s better than most. All four singers trained at GSMD and one, Sky Ingram, blew me away here as she had there.

Dance

It’s been a privilege following the final chapter of Sylvie Guillem‘s career, as she transitioned from classical ballet to contemporary dance and this fourth show (for me) with Akram Khan, Sacred Monsters, at Sadler’s Wells had a biographical twist. The dialogue was a surprise and the shows playfulness was both surprising and delightful. The music was great and the dancing of both mesmerising. In almost exactly six months it’s the farewell show as she retires, wisely, at 50. Real class.

Classical Music

A second outing to the Mariinsky Opera Chorus, but this time on their own, unaccompanied, at GSMD’s new Milton Court Concert Hall for a programme of secular music and folk songs. The acoustic was a bit harsh when they were at full throttle, but the singing was gorgeous and the standard of solos exceptional. If only they smiled more.

The following day, at a lunchtime concert at St. John’s Smith Square, a small group of 10 singers, also unaccompanied, all young enough to be the children of the Mariinsky Chorus (!) made an equally gorgeous sound with music from both ends of a 500-year range. The Erebus Ensemble are an exciting new early music group who also tackle 20th century equivalents like Tavener and Part. Lovely.

Looking at a couple of hundred late teens / early twenties performing Britten’s War Requiem at the Royal Festival Hall on Remembrance Sunday was deeply moving. 100 years ago, many of them would have been heading to the trenches and likely death. This added a poignancy to a beautifully sung and played requiem. The standards of the RAM orchestras and the National Youth Choir were astonishing and the three young soloists – a British tenor, a German Baritone & a Moldovan (former USSR) soprano, as Britten intended – were terrific. Not forgetting the excellent children’s choir assembled especially for the occasion. Conductor Marin Alsop’s command of it all was extraordinary.

The Chapel in the Royal Hospital Chelsea is a lovely venue for a choral concert and Rutter’s Mass of the Children and Britten’s St. Nicholas was a great pairing. Interval drinks in Wren’s beautiful refectory and Chelsea Pensioners in their bright red uniforms greeting all adds to the occasion.

A visit to Handel House with the LSO Friends included a short recital in the room where Handel himself held them, with his composition room just next door. The soprano and harpsichordist sounded lovely and it was great to hear music in this historic room.

The fourth and last of the Composers in Love series at St. John’s Concert Hall was Nocturne, a portrait of Chopin. Given the lack of letters left by him and his family, it was biographically sketchier than the others, but musically it was extraordinary and Lucy Parham converted me to Chopin, who hasn’t really been on my musical radar up until now. The readers this time were Alex Jennings and Harriet Walter (subbing for Juliet Stevenson). What a lovely series this has been.

Cabaret

I didn’t quite know what to expect from national treasure Anne Reid in cabaret (with Stefan Bednarczyk) at St. James Studio and I was delighted when it turned out to be the music of unsung musical theatre heroes Comden & Green, interspersed with the story of, and anecdotes from, their lives. Delightful & charming.

Film

Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner has the most incredible cast, a who’s who of British acting minus the ‘stars’ which would be guaranteed to win BAFTA’s Best Ensemble award (if there was one). Turner’s story is a fascinating one and Leigh’s attention to detail is extraordinary. A towering achievement.

I liked Set Fire to the Stars, about Dylan Thomas’ first US tour, when its American organiser had his work cut out to keep him under control. The US in the 50’s looked great in B&W and the performances, particularly Celyn Jones as Dylan, were very good, but I thought the focus was too much on the US organiser and not enough on Thomas, no doubt because of the star casting of Ethan Hawke.

The Imitation Game is an even better film than I thought it would be. It moves between Alan Turing’s childhood, wartime work and tragic final days and really does illuminate his story. In a terrific cast, Benedict Cumberbatch is extraordinary.

Even though I go to plays more than three hours long, films of similar length rarely hold my attention and I don’t really know why. Interstellar comes in just under three hours but I was captivated throughout. So so much better than last year’s Galaxy, maybe a touch too sentimental but an absolute must see.

Art

I’ve seen Anselm Keifer works in galleries all over the world, but seeing them all together in the Royal Academy’s retrospective exhibition was a bit overwhelming as they are virtually all dark and depressing with his brown-to-black palette. Many (but not all) are great as individual works, but together it’s a different experience. His books were a revelation, but displayed in cases open at one page seemed like a lost curatorial opportunity to me.

Waled Besthty’s installation at the Barbican’s Curve Gallery is more impressive for its execution than its visual appeal. It’s a whole year’s worth of images created using the cyanotype printing process covering the whole curved wall. You have to take in the overall impact rather than the detail (unless you’ve got a day or two to spare). It’s not the best the Curve has offered, but this space is still indispensable for innovative big scale works.

I’m afraid Mirror City at the Hayward Gallery went right over my head. Apparently, the artists are seeking ‘to address the challenges, conditions and consequences of living in one of the world’s busiest cities in the digital age’. Yeh…..back in the real world next door in the RFH, the annual World Press Photo Exhibition shows us what it’s really like living in cities, countries, the world; a reminder of last year’s events, mostly sad ones this year.

The Late Turner exhibition at Tate Britain is a riot of gorgeous colour and a great companion for Mike Leigh’s film (above). It’s a brilliant example of how a man in his 60’s and 70’s can be bursting with creativity and originality. Upstairs in the Turner Prize exhibition there isn’t a painting in sight – it’s all film, slides & photos – I wonder what Turner would think. I hated it. In the Turner Galleries themselves, one room has been given over to Olafur Eliasson’s colour experiments where he tries to create the late Turner palette. The room contains giant circles each with their own colour range. Interesting.

Catching Dreams was the title of this year’s Koestler Trust exhibition of art by offenders, secure patients and detainees at the Royal Festival Hall and it was as intriguing and inspirational as ever. This must be excellent therapy and great that their work is seen and sold in this way.

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A musical comedy set in 30’s London & Paris in the style of the period (Noel Coward, Ivor Novello) but where no-one bats an eyelid at same-sex relationships and marriage! Clever.

American journalist and playboy Casey O’Brien misses the story of Edward & Mrs Simpson, so instead chases the story of the forthcoming marriage of American millionaire Clarence Cutler to British Aristocrat Guy Rose, but in doing so he falls for Guy himself. If this was covert rather than overt, you really could be watching an undiscovered Ivor Novello show.

In addition to scenes in iconic 30’s London locations – the Savoy, The Dorchester – we also go to Paris where Guy’s aunt Josephine, black sheep of the family, is a racy entertainer at Les Folies, where Guy briefly entertains too. Casey gets his man and we end at the wedding.

It’s a great score and a good book and Gene David Kirk’s staging in the tiny Jermyn Street Theatre is nothing short of miraculous, as is Lee Proud’s brilliant choreography (including a tap-dancing bell-boy who brings the house down). Alice Walkling’s superb design enables them to create a hotel bedroom, church, restaurant, bar, club, station, dressing room and theatre and occupy them with 13 actors dancing in a space not much bigger than my living room!

Stephen Ashfield is excellent – and in great voice – as Casey, with a realistic American accent that no doubt benefits from his period in Jersey Boys. Ben Kavanagh has superb comic timing and gets more laughs from Clarence’s lines than are probably there on paper. Craig Fletcher makes a great transformation from geek to hunk by just removing his specs and rearranging his hair.

It was written in 1975 by Americans Bill Solly and Donald Ward and ran off-Broadway but not even Wikipedia can shed more light, so a huge thank you to MD Stefan Bednarczyk for buying the record and persisting for 27 years to bring this delightful show to us.

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