Posts Tagged ‘Tim Mascall’

The Union Theatre continues its role as London’s principal home of British musicals, this time with the world premiere of a show about the military’s treatment of its own in the First World War, together with attitudes to pacifism, homosexuality and class at that time. The show, the production and the performances combine to provide a very beautiful evening indeed.

Harry enlists, even though he’s three years below the minimum age, and finds himself in the trenches with fellow villager Peter and initially reluctant local squire Adam (he’s the recipient of the white feather of the title), immediately promoted to Captain because of his class. Harry’s sister Georgina looks after Adam’s estate in his absence and has to fire Edward, his secret lover who has feigned a disability to avoid the front. Harry is executed for dereliction of duty, considered to be equal to desertion, which sets Georgina on a course to clear his name. When the war is over, Georgina marries Adam but with the ghost of Harry and his sexuality hanging over him it doesn’t prove to be a long or happy affair. Though set primarily in East Anglia immediately before, during and after the war, we do jump forward to later periods right up to 2006, and to other locations. Given the time-hopping and the location changes it’s a remarkably lucid book.

The score contains many lovely songs, some very short, but all driving the narrative forward. I loved the arrangements for keyboards, cello and violin, played so well by MD Dustin Conrad’s trio that the audience stayed put throughout the play-out, and the unamplified vocals were a joy to hear. Tim McQuillan-Wright has created a simple but evocative set and Natasha Payne’s costumes anchor the piece in its period. Hot on the heels of her star turn in Bye Bye Birdie in Walthamstow, Abigail Matthews gives a very different performance of great dignity as Georgina. Adam Davey conveys Adam’s torment between public and private and duty and feelings very movingly. Harry Pettigrew captures the innocent patriotism of Harry and Zac Hamilton the sadness of Edward, who’s love for Adam can never be fully realised. Katie Brennan appears to have moved into the Union, following an outstanding performance in The Spitfire Grill with another terrific one here as Georgina’s friend Edith.

I was captivated by this lovely show. Andrew Keates had developed and directed it and co-wrote the book and he’s done a great job. Unmissable.

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Human Rights is the theme of this year’s Brighton Festival, with Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi as it’s honorary Guest Director, and there could be no more powerful way of helping you glimpse life in a police state than the site specific piece The New World Order by Hydrocracker at Brighton Town Hall.

As you arrive, there are intimidating guards with dogs. As you enter, you’re searched and issued with a pass and some instructions. As you assemble on the giant stairway, you are ‘greeted’ by someone from the Ministry of Cultural Integrity and taken to the council chamber for a press conference by the minister. From here, you move through the building – to the minister’s office, down the stairs into the hall and on to basement archives, corridors and cells (the old police station is here!).

During this time, you learn of the story of a man, his wife, son and mother. They are intimidated, humiliated, violated and tortured. The authority characters sometimes interact with you by asking you questions and requesting your ID. The mood is occasionally lightened when you meet a janitor on his rounds (until he too is arrested) and a bossy but chirpy lady whose role is unclear (other than to be bossy and chirpy!) but much of what you witness makes you wince. You get a real sense of what it must be like to live in perpetual fear of these animals.

This is a ‘mash-up’ of five of Harold Pinter’s late plays, two of which I’ve seen before when they were nowhere near as powerful than they are here. You’d never know they weren’t meant to be played together or weren’t specifically written for this type of site specific promenade performance. Unlike much similar work, you don’t feel at all herded and it never seems contrived. Director Ellie Jones and her design team of Ellen Cairns (overall design), Thor McIntyre-Burnie (sound) and Tim Mascall (lighting) have done an extraordinary job in bringing this work and this building to such chilling life. Look out for a London production later in the year.

Earlier in the day, an installation by Australian Lynette Wallworth called Evolution of Fearlessness had a similarly powerful effect. In a darkened room, as you touched a blue light on a large screen, women emerge on the screen and walk forward, hold up their left palm and after a while walk back into the dark. They said nothing, but you appeared to be peering into the souls of these 10 refugees from around the world for a mere glimpse of their pain. On a number of occasions, those who had touched the light to trigger the next image, then touched the palm of the woman who appeared; this spontaneous, seemingly unintentional, action was somehow deeply moving.

The rest of my day at the festival didn’t seem to have much to do with the theme. El Gallo, by Mexican company Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes was as pointless an 80 minutes as The New World Order’s 80 was profound. An ‘opera’ in gibberish about rehearsing an opera with six singers and eight string players and a conductor. The story of how relationships disintegrate during rehearsals was funny for the first twenty minutes, but then became a tiresome overlong joke. The rest of the audience seemed to love it; I couldn’t wait for it to end.

Two other installations with the unfortunate title Mesopotamian Dramaturgies – Mayhem & Su – were projections by Turkish film director Kutlug Ataman, placed together in a disused market hall. One comprised two pairs of double-sided screens, placed far apart, on which we saw the Bosphorus in different ‘moods’ and between them seven projections of South America’s Iguasu Falls. Apparently, they do fit the festival theme, but I didn’t really see how – but they were absolutely gorgeous.

The final installation was The Forty Part Motet by favourite Janet Cardiff, who this time recorded a 40-piece choir with each voice in a separate channel coming out of a separate speaker placed in an oval shape in a deconsecrated church. They sing a beautiful 16th century Thomas Tallis piece as you stand or walk around. It was so lovely, I went twice.

It was a series of unconscious decisions taken at different times that linked together Friday’s Mark Thomas show about the wall between Israel and Palestine, Brighton Festival’s Human Rights theme and Sunday’s verbatim piece about Georgian refugees. Spooky!

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