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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Brimston Lewis’

Much has been made of the use of cutting edge technology in this production – ‘The ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY in collaboration with INTEL, in association with THE IMAGINARIUM STUDIOS’ – that I was concerned it would swamp Shakespeare’s play, but nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, the contrast between spectacle and quiet reflection brought something very fresh and unique.

It’s set inside the wreck of a giant ship’s hull, designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis. Prospero, Miranda and the shipwrecked royals and their staff are normal humans. Caliban is a Shrek-like monster, brilliantly realised by Joe Dixon. Ariel is both an onstage character and multiple digital projections using performance capture (think Gollum in Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes), also brilliantly realised by Mark Quartley, as are the seven spirits that he sometimes conjures up. The characterisation of Stephano and Trinculo by James Hayes and especially Simon Trinder are also superb, and their scenes with Caliban are amongst the best I’ve ever seen.

With giant projections on the back wall and the ship’s hull, it does create truly spectacular scenes, but only when they’re needed. Much of the time we spend with Prospero feels even more introspective, thoughtful and restrained than usual, and the verse shines through. At first I thought Simon Russell Beale’s characterisation was too gentle, but then you realise you’re hanging on to every word in a theatre where you couldn’t hear a pin drop (despite the presence of many school parties!).  In addition to the technological partners, the projections of Finn Ross, Simon Spencer’s superb lighting and Paul Englishby’s evocative music add much to the magical cocktail.

Who’d have thought a 400-year-old play and state-of-the-art technology could feel as if they belong together.

 

 

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In 2011, Rattigan’s centenary year, Jermyn Street Theatre gave us the world premiere of Less Than Kind, the first incarnation of this play. It had never produced in this version because Rattigan de-politicised it, at the request of its star actors. This final version hasn’t been staged in London since 1945, despite the revival of interest in the playwright, though it turns out Trevor Nunn is actually giving us a hybrid of the two versions, putting some of the political edge back. 

It’s set towards the end of the Second World War. Widow Olivia Brown is co-habiting with millionaire industrialist Sir John Fletcher, separated from his much younger wife Diana, on secondment to the government to help with the war effort. Olivia’s son Michael returns from evacuation in Canada. He’s almost eighteen, he’s developed left-wing views and he takes against her mother’s new man and their relationship. Think Hamlet, to which Sir John occasionally refers. Michael tries everything, including involving Sir John’s wife, for whom he falls, to break them up. In the end Olivia is forced to choose, and she chooses her son. They return to humble Baron’s Court, from opulent Westminster, where Olivia transforms from extrovert socialite to drab and unhappy, devoting her life to looking after her son. He’s kept his job in Sir John’s ministry and still holds a torch for Diana. It all comes good, but I won’t spoil it by saying how.

Nunn starts each scene with war newsreels projected onto the curtain in front of Stephen Brimston Lewis’ excellent set, as he did in Flare Path, but even more effective here because the curtain is 90 degrees and translucent.. The transformation from the first to second scene in Act II is entertaining in itself, as the actors busy themselves changing the set from a Westminster drawing room to a Baron’s Court bedsit, diverting our attention from the newsreel. It’s a very well structured play with radical themes (for the time) of co-habitation and the politics are fascinating as  they prophesy post-war challenges, but the big surprise is how funny it is. Eve Best has long been a favourite dramatic actress, but the revelation of her performance as Olivia is how good she is at the comedy. I haven’t seen that much of Anthony Head on stage, but here he’s very impressive indeed as Sir John. I only know Edward Bluemel from the same period’s The Halcyon on TV, in which he was very good, as he is here as pouty Michael, prone to tantrums. Helen George is a vision in pink and mink, and a delight as goodtime girl Diana.

A treat for Rattigan fans (and others) which gets a well deserved transfer ‘up West’ so you have no excuse not to catch it. 

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The opening image and sound are simply beautiful. A cathedral created by projections onto shimmering ‘screens’, three sopranos chanting heavenly music, the distraught Duchess of Gloucester crouched over her late husbands coffin. One of the best things about this production is its visual beauty and simplicity, in period costumes with very little else. Well, apart from that hair.

Despite the fact he really wasn’t interested in being king, Richard lasted longer than the ones before or after – 22 years in fact – but Shakespeare decided to concentrate on a short period at the end of his reign, so we get the events unleashed by Gloucester’s murder as his cousin Bolingbroke seeks to go beyond restoring his lands to challenge the monarch, who by now seems somewhat disengaged. It’s a more complex story than the other history plays, focusing more on the psychology of the characters than politics and battles and this production succeeds in that sense.

My problem with it was the pacing of the first three acts. I’ve never known so many pauses or so much silence in a Shakespeare play. During the Duchess of Gloucester’s scene with her brother-in-law, John of Gaunt, they were so long I thought Jane Lapotaire had forgotten her lines. When Richard and the Duke of Amerle were having a tender moment, it lasted beyond the point of being comfortable and I was convinced some stage machinery had failed and we were waiting for the stage manager to come on and say ‘because of a technical fault….’ This all slows it down, the 105 minutes of the first half dragged and my mind started wandering.

Though David Tennant is very good, this is no star vehicle. It’s one of the best RSC ensembles I’ve ever seen, with luxury casting of seasoned Shakespearians like Michael Pennington, Oliver Ford Davies and Jane Lapotaire in relatively small roles. The one who impressed me most, though, was the least experienced Shakespearian, Nigel Lindsay, who brought great complexity to Bolingbroke. I was also impressed by Sean Chapman’s passionate Northumberland and Oliver Rix’s performance as Aumerle, a role I think is very difficult to pull off.

There has been a tendency of late to camp up Richard. Tennant’s isn’t as camp as Kevin Spacey’s, but I really don’t think that voice and hair would have been evident at the time and it brings a touch of implausibility to this reading. Like all Greg Doran’s work, it’s elegant and lucid, but safe. It’s a good production, but it doesn’t match or better the Donmar’s with Eddie Redmayne and Andrew Buchan.

My second ex-Doctor Who in four days, both proving you can command a stage again after a lengthy bit of telly, with the benefit of full houses regardless  – but in these cases, deserved too.

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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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