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Posts Tagged ‘Young Vic’

Opera

Even a lover of modern opera like me found American Lulu at The Young Vic challenging. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the score was the worst I’ve ever heard; positively excruciating. There’s nothing wrong with adapting Berg and moving it to 50’s-70’s USA and Lulu as a black dancer / whore makes sense. There were some excellent visuals, most created by projections onto an oval bead curtain, but nothing could block out that awful sound. You have to feel sorry for the singers and musicians who have to perform this for 100 minutes on each of 10 nights (and that’s just in London)!

Noye’s Fludde is a short opera by Benjamin Britten written for children and amateurs and the RFH turned over their ballroom for a promenade performance by the LPO, professional singers and children’s groups. It was a rare chance to catch it in this centenary year and it proved a minor treat, despite some of the children behaving as if they were in a different show or a show of their own!

Contemporary Music

I’ve enjoyed Caro Emerald’s brand of retro jazz / pop on record but wasn’t expecting the live experience to be so much fun. She’s got a terrific band, the visuals were lovely and her personality and the quality of the songs shone through. It seems to me she occupies a unique space in contemporary music which is maybe why she has attracted a big following in a short period of time.

Music Hall!

Seeing music hall in Wilton’s Music Hall, one of only two left in London, was an enticing prospect, but it turned out to be so much better. Somehow I think the venue raised the game of the performers. A pair of dancing and singing sisters, a ukulele player, a comedian and a trio of songbirds were all good, but were topped by both John Styles sets as a comic Chelsea Pensioner and a magician and Peter John’s brilliant creation of barmaid Bertha. The audience needed no encouragement to shout out and sing along and it turned into a huge treat. Encore!

 

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If you bill your show as ‘the theatrical event of the year’ you are rather setting yourself up, aren’t you…..but Wildworks have form, notably the Port Talbot Passion, so off we go to a hidden (and rather lovely) Victorian park in Islington with an enormous clock tower on a damp Thursday to be amazed at the long queue to get in but a lot less amazed after we had.

Your tree-lined route to the centre of the park has people at every turn doing things like playing piano or ironing (in a tree!) with the occasional sound bite about building a new city. In the centre of the park, now resembling a muddy Glastonbury, there are small stages and tents with music, dancing & storytelling with some people building houses from bamboo in front of the tower, some knitting a city and some join-in plasticine modelling. Around 30 minutes after you’ve entered (45 minutes after the starting time on the ticket) things begin to happen.

The security guards (they are everywhere) are instructed by a man with a megaphone on scaffolding in front of the tower to clear the people and their houses. The people protest. The tower becomes illuminated, first with an eye on the clock, then with faces of the people. The people beat the state and walk through the park triumphantly holding illuminated houses on sticks.

I like the idea and I applaud the community involvement, but it’s just not substantial enough to warrant schlepping up to north London, let alone the title ‘theatrical event of the year. ‘Gossamer light’ as my companion said…..

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The combination of in-the-round staging and heavy accents means you take a while to atune to this play. Even when you do, it’s hard to maintain concentration because it’s very slow, partricularly in the first act, in developing characters and story; I often found my mind wandering.

Based on the audience’s enthusiastic reaction, I’m prepared to accept that my lack of engagement with it might be more about me than the play or the production. I didn’t find it particularly illuminating about the black American experience in 1911. What it says about the recovery from slavery, identity and spirituality seemed to me to have insufficient substance or depth and was frankly confusing. I’ve got a lot more out of the other August Wilson plays I’ve seen.

What isn’t in question though is a fine set of performances, particularly from Danny Sapani, Delroy Lindo, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Nathanial Martello-White. I felt the female roles were too underwritten to alow the actresses to shine in the same way as the men did.

Notwithstanding the audibility issues, David Lan’s staging was very effective, though I’m not really sure why we all had to have our feet firmly implanted in the sand / soil that pervades the seating areas as well as the performance area of Patrick Burnier’s design.

For me it was another case of good production – disappointing play, but it’s fair to say my companion and I were in a distinct minority on the night.

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The Young Vic has pulled off another coup by getting Swiss director Luc Bondy again; he’s a world-class figure whose productions people in most European countries would be queuing up for; not London, of course!

This is an excellent adaptation of an Arthur Schnitzler play by David Harrower, whose Blackbird was a huge success in both London and Edinburgh a few years back. Two soldiers party with two girls when they are interrupted by a man who challenges one of the soldiers to a duel as he’s discovered his wife has been having an affair with him. In the second half we move to the life of the offending soldiers’ girlfriend, her father, friend and neighbour before and after the duel.

It isn’t the play itself that engages you as much as it’s unpredictability, brooding atmosphere and sexual tension. There’s a terrific physicality which draws you in like a voyeur and keeps you intrigued by the characters. The performances are uniformly fine, with a brilliant cameo from Hayley Carmichael as the busybody neighbour. 

I wasn’t sure I understood the point of all of the design / staging choices (which might mean they were seemless and effective!). High black back panels have been added to the Young Vic seats. There is a revolve, but it’s so slow it doesn’t complete one revolution in each half. There is a pit which is a kitchen in the first half and an orchestra pit in the second. In one short scene, the house lights are turned on. 

In the end, though, I was gripped by the intrigue, the sexual chemistry and the relationships. I almost gave it a miss – it was a visit I only planned at short notice – but I was very glad I didn’t.

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