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Posts Tagged ‘Time Out’

I’ve been banging on about the extraordinary ambition of the All Star Productions team in Walthamstow for a while now, but I really thought they’d lost the plot when I heard they were mounting this infamous West End flop. Wrong again; they’ve turned into a cult fringe hit.

In 1989 it went straight into the cavernous Piccadilly Theatre. I liked it. It was an unusual pairing of American composer Joe Brooks (music) and British playwright Dusty Hughes (book & lyrics). Before becoming a playwright, Hughes had been Time Out’s theatre editor and the Bush Theatre’s joint AD. His plays had been put on at the NT, RSC & Royal Court, but he had no musicals pedigree. Brooks had written America’s biggest selling song in the 70’s, an Academy & Grammy award winner, but hadn’t written a musical. They chose to adapt Fritz Lang’s iconic 1927 film.

It occupies that sparsely populated SciFi musical sub-genre. Set in a dystopian future, the overground world of the Elitists of Metropolis is powered by the Workers underground, in a city founded by John Freemen. The workers have a new-found charismatic leader in Maria, who has fallen in love with Freeman’s son Steven. Freeman has her abducted. He’s also hired an inventor to find a robotic alternative to the troublesome and increasingly scarce workers. These two actions come together.

The big surprise for me was how good the score is, with some great tunes and rousing choruses, freshly orchestrated and arranged by MD Aaron Clingham. The vocal quality is sky high, with particularly strong vocals from Rob Herron as Steven. My namesake Gareth James makes a fine baddie (Brian Blessed in the West End!) and there’s a hugely impressive professional debut by Miiya Alexandra as Maria. The excellent ensemble deliver the choruses with passion, expertly choreographed by Ian Pyle. The design team of Justin Williams, Jonny Rust & Joana Dias work wonders with limited resources, creating an inventive set and costumes. The show seems to be a favourite of director Tim McArthur, and it shows.

So by now you know you have three weeks to head to the northern end of the Victoria Line, where the centre of gravity of fringe musicals now clearly resides.

 

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I wonder when they’re staging the second half? If you didn’t know the length of this play or if they hadn’t closed the auditorium doors when you thought it was the interval, that’s exactly what you’d be asking. The ending feels just like the end of a first half.

Anders Lustgarten’s play is what we used to call ‘agit prop’ in the 70’s – Time Out even had an ‘Agit Prop’ section summarising the week’s radical political activities! Here, many of society’s evils are put on the Royal Court stage – attitudes in the financial sector, hospital queues, racism…..He uses the creation of Unity Bonds, where investors’ return is linked to reduction in anti-social behaviour targets, as a way of illustrating and linking these (though the link with racism, staged with a realism and ferocity I found hard to stomach, is a bit dubious).

A series of well written short scenes start as a retired nurse has a debt meter fitted (she has to feed it until her debt is cleared) and move from here to business meetings to a casualty department to prison and finally to a type of ‘Occupy’ encampment. They are often biting and sometimes darkly comic. They are well staged by Simon Godwin and well performed by a fine cast including Lucian Msmati, Meera Syal and Being Human’s Damien Molony. I don’t even have a problem with it being ‘without decor’. It just isn’t finished.

I’m puzzled as to why such work-in-progress is occupying precious Royal Court main stage space. I wonder when they’re staging the second half?

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MORE OPERA

Simon Boccanegra isn’t an obvious choice for an opera in concert (not enough arias), but as it’s running at Covent Garden with Domingo in his first baritone role, how could The Proms resist. When he walked on stage I thought we had a substitute – this was not a 69-year old man! When he opened his mouth this extraordinary sound emanated – a unique baritone-tenor hybrid. He was wonderful, but wasn’t the only reason for being there. The ROH orchestra and chorus made a glorious sound and the other soloists were great (I particularly liked Joseph Calleja’s Gabrielle and Ferruccio Furlanetto’s Fiesco – what a wonderful name), but it was the Proms unique atmosphere (which had previously hit a peak at Domingo’s debut in Die Valkure) which made it so special; it was electrifying and the performers enthusiasm and excitement was palpable. At the end, the now dead Boccanegra (Domingo) failed to stand up and there were some expressions of panic on and off stage until he did – judging by the subsequent reaction, methinks he was playing a joke with his colleagues; delicious!

The Lion’s Face at Covent Garden’s Linbury Studio was a depressing treat – a chamber opera about dementia! Elena Langer’s lovely music was beautifully played by the 12-piece ensemble (you could hear every detail of the clever orchestration) and all four soloists were very good. I loved the way the patient was a spoken role whilst all around him sung, illustrating very well what it must feel like living with dementia.

CLASSICAL MUSIC

Bernstein’s Mass is an extraordinary and original music theatre piece which I’ve wanted to see again since I first saw it at GSMD more than 25 years ago. It was the culmination of the 9-month long Bernstein Project at the Southbank Centre and there were more than 500, mostly amateur, performers. The Agnus Dei was particularly exhilarating and I was hugely impressed by the ‘street people’ many of whom were from the Guildford School of Acting. A very uplifting experience.

ART

Anthony Gormley’s exhibition at White Cube is half-and-half. The poor half is a bunch of geometric metal sculptures that appear to be rusting (and to me appeared to be pointless), then you go downstairs and in pitch darkness you walk around an extraordinary construction of interlocking metal frames painted fluorescent which seemed rather other-worldly.

The Sally Mann exhibition at The Photographers Gallery starts well with fascinating close ups of her children’s faces – then it gets rather uncomfortable with nude and semi-nude photos of her pre-teen children, then positively disturbing with pictures of decaying corpses. I’ll think twice before I follow a Time Out exhibition recommendation again!

The RA Summer Exhibition is the usual mixture of quality and tosh. The architecture room (bigger this year) was again my favourite – I just love those building maquettes – though I also liked David Mach’s 10 ft gorilla made from coat hangers, Bill Viola’s video of a naked woman being drenched in water and David Hockney’s landscape photos. Tracey Emin was top of the tosh…..again.

At the V&A they’ve asked a bunch of architects to design small buildings on the theme of retreat (1:1 Architects Build Small Spaces) and placed seven of them at various points around the museum. It seemed to me like a lot of money to spend for not a lot of return; it did absolutely nothing for me.

Lots of treats at the National Portrait Gallery with an exhibition of extraordinary photographs from the middle of the 19th century by London-based Frenchman Camille Silvy whose portrait business turned around a million copies a year, the annual BP Portrait Award exhibition (probably the best ever) and a small but greatpop art’ selection from Adam Katz

The annual Press Photographer exhibition is this year at the NT. Much of it is of course harrowing, but you have to admire the talent of these extraordinary people. I loved the photo of Prince William on his own in a large room looking sideways (longingly) at his grand-mother’s empty throne.

I’m not a big Henry Moore fan, but went to his Tate Britain exhibition with a visiting megafan. His early small scale work (from 1922 to 1930) is extraordinary, there’s another great period from 1937 to 1939 experimenting with thread and stone, and then there are some amazing war shelter and coal mining drawings from 1940-42…..but all that abstract stuff – two-thirds of the exhibition – leaves me cold I’m afraid. At the same venue Rude Britannia is a review of comic art from Hogarth to the present. It’s of course hit-and-miss, but there’s much to enjoy, most notably Hogarth, Gilray and more recently Spitting Image & Gerald Scarfe.

A visit with the Royal Academy Friends to the Garrick Club proved a real treat and one of their very best outings ever. Perhaps it was particularly ‘up-my-street’ because of the theatrical context, but it proved to be a treasure trove of 19th Century theatrical portraits brought alive by wonderful stories and anecdotes from the Club’s Francis (who should publish them – they were that good!). It’s a very ‘old school’ gentlemen’s club which has been beautifully restored on the proceeds of the sale of their 25% of the film rights to Winnie the Poo to Disney (which A. A. Milne bequeathed to them).

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I’m going have to eat my ‘where are the new plays?’ and ‘the National can’t find good new plays’ words as this is a very good and very clever new play at the National!

Playwright Moira Buffini has taken the Greek legends of Thebes and Athens and moved them to a present day African country coming out of violent civil war. The newly elected president Eurydice and her mostly female cabinet are trying to keep the warlords and their boy soldiers, led by Prince Tydeus, at bay. The ‘first citizen’ of wealthy neighbour Athens, which is providing peace-keepers, attends the presidential inauguration and reconstruction conference and the battle for his favours and the newly democratic country’s survival unfolds.

It’s surprising how well this all works and how well Buffini manages to walk the line between serious stuff about war and politics and entertaining drama. There’s some cracking dialogue – at one point someone refers to Antigone’s father Oedipus as ‘your mother-f**king father’ and, more chillingly, a boy soldier is told ‘ you’re old enough to kill but not old enough to vote’ – and the story is well paced.

When he ran the NT, director Richard Eyre always knew how to use the Olivier stage well, and here he is again 12 years on doing it again. Tim Hatley has designed a very believable post-war setting and there’s great use of music, played live by a 5-piece band.

When a large black cast was last assembled on this stage for Death and The King’s Horseman, I remember the Time Out reviewer saying ‘if you’re a black actor and you aren’t in this, get a new agent’! This large and largely black ensemble is also excellent, led by Nikki Amuka-Bird (so good on TV recently in Small Island) who’s President is a combination of passion, dignity and naivety and the wonderful David Harewood following his TV Mandela and theatrical Martin Luther King playing Theseus, first citizen of Athens, as a seasoned manipulative politician.

A good new play at the National – and in the Olivier too!

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