Walking into the lobby of Vienna’s StaatsOper is a dramatic experience in itself. The grand marble staircase and exorbitant artistic decoration are pleasantly opulent. Details adorn every surface from ceiling frescoes to a bust of Mahler in the lobby.
So on to Elektra. This one-act opera was first performed in 1909. The overall production seemed to lack a coherent arc of intensity. The performance was somewhat fragmented and this seems to be down to the performers. As Elektra’s (Baird) performance at times felt forced and rather egocentric. One wished for greater interaction with the other protagonists and a performance less strained. The lacklustre staging, set designs, and costumes did mean that there was nothing to take away from the singing. There was a certain spark missing from this production, one felt the audience losing interest and indeed a significant number began to trickle out of the auditorium long before the curtain fell.
The State Opera orchestra was superb, exhibiting great precision and intimacy with this complicated score. Strauss’s phrases, which call for a larger than usual orchestra, were well-shaped and each note carefully place.
Easter themed pieces across the UK on show this holy weekend to help you discover your religion or at least ponder it.
The Bible: An eagerly awaited recital of the King James Bible in its entirety. In celebration of the renowned publication’s 400th anniversary, the Globe Theatre is presenting a reading across 12 sessions in celebration of the oral tradition. A group of actors is to present the text, which was originally commissioned my King James I, in full; taking in total nearly 70 hours of recitation. One is not expected to sit throughout each session as late and readmission is allowed. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate this Easter than experiencing this epic text come to life. A review will soon follow.
Barbican Centre, London
Italian theatre practitioner Romeo Castellucci will be presenting this religious themed, if controversial, piece over the Easter weekend. Before the backdrop of a renaissance image of Christ, Castelluci is to explore the concept of Jesus as icon. Castelluci is well-known for his perfectionism, in fact just a few weeks ago he cancelled the planned show at the Barbican, an adaptation of Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veil, because he did not think it was yet ready for an audience. A follower of the Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, it will be interesting to see how this emerges in Castellucci’s discussion of Jesus Christ. Should you be more interested in the theological, self-flagellation side of this holiday, than this is the piece for you.
Part of the London Word Festival and Co-curated by the Henningham Family Press, are throwing their own celebration for the 400th birthday of the King James Bible. The book is to be explored through various artistic mediums including literature, art, film, and music in an evening of performance. From the Garden of Eden to Noah’s Ark, expect a lively theological debate to take place.
Port Talbon, Wales,
What better place than a non-stop three-day theatrical event to have a religious experience! Michael Sheen in association with National Theatre Wales is to produce this play across his home town, involving hundreds of volunteers as well as a dozen or so professional actors. Sheen recalls: “I first saw the Passion Play at Port Talbot when I was about 12. It was a story I knew coming to life in front of me. A ritual taking place before me. A town remembering itself through a story.”
The new theatre season is among us and what an exciting time it could prove to be.
The RSC has announced a season of plays that hark back to its illustrious history as it is celebrating its 40th birthday this year. An interesting article in the Financial Times enlightened me to some of the RSC’s triumphs over the years which are clearly myriad if I am to be honest. I was pleasantly surprised and excited in equal measure in the new-found knowledge that, in the past, they have premiered 5 of Harold Pinter’s plays that include one of my favourite in the deeply unsettling, The Homecoming which is the subject of a revival in the summer. The season also sees the RSC reviving two other successes over the annals of theatrical time; Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade and Dunsinane by David Greig.
The seemingly imperialist RSC are also premiering a play at the Hampstead theatre about a spacecraft designer and very much the man behind-the-scenes of Yuri Gagarin’s first orbit around the earth, Sergei Korolyov. The play is entitled Little Eagles and runs from the 16th April to the 7th May.
With the theme of revivals firmly in mind, The Royal Court are bringing back a play that they last staged more than 50 years ago. Arnold Wesker’s Chicken Soup with Barley deals with the effect the rapidly changing world is having on a Jewish family and is set over a period of 20 years. The play will be directed by Dominic Cooke who is currently enjoying success with Clybourne Park. Cooke remarked at his excitement of directing this play, “Bringing Arnold Wesker’s play back to the Royal Court after 50 years is an exciting prospect. Chicken Soup with Barley is an epic play that spans twenty years in the life of an East End Jewish family. It vividly captures a loss of political idealism, a feeling which chimes with our own confused times.”
And finally, two Chekhov plays are set for a revival within the coming weeks. Arcola Theatre are playing host in what promises to be a new imagining of Chekhov’s classic, Uncle Vanya. This interpretation has already received critical acclaim from both The Times and The Guardian and runs from the 27th April to the 4th June.
I have to admit, owing to a little snobbery on my part, I am more excited at the prospect of seeing another of Chekhov’s plays, The Cherry Orchard, which is showing at the National this Spring. Fresh from her acclaimed performance in the brilliant All My Sons last year, Zoe Wanamaker will be playing Madame Ranevskaya and Howard Davies will be directing. It is part of the National Theatre’s excellent Travelex season so some tickets will cost only a mere £12. The Cherry Orchard runs from 10th May- 28th July
Hamlet has attracted some of the biggest names in film and theatre to play the conflicted, surreptitious and eccentric titular protagonist, but as a self-confessed philistine, I reluctantly admit this was the first time I had the pleasure to see Shakespeare’s classic tragedy on stage. I was treated to a Hamlet with such intensity, life, and humour, I could quite contentedly take my seat at the Olivier to see it again and I am sure I will be just as encapsulated.
The play has become ubiquitous on the UK stage in recent years with Jude Law, David Tennant and, most recently, John Simm taking on the role largely to critical acclaim.
Hamlet here is played by Rory Kinnear, who had a small role as a peripheral character in the much lauded political comedy the Thick of It.
A character of Hamlet’s sheer magnitude, presence and complexity was inhabited by an actor who at first seemed quite unassuming and innocuous but grew in to the role with verve. Kinnear’s physicality conflicted with my preconceptions of the character. He has a receding hairline, is rather small and baby faced but my preconceptions were soon cast aside as Kinnear grew exponentially in a note perfect foray into faux madness and clandestine plotting.
There was a child- like quality to his interpretation of the character, his energy and vivacity running concurrently with his petulance and the humorous ways he would conduct himself in order to maintain the façade of madness. This was clearly a man using the pain of his father’s death in order to feed his convincing portrayal of madness like some masochistic method actor. There are occasions that he conveys the essence of an angst ridden teenager behaving in such a way as to incur attention.
Nicholas Hytner’s production brought the play in to a 21st Century context and there is a definite stamp of the modern era within this production. Every word that is uttered within the palace walls is closely monitored by a security presence- their appearance akin to a sinister group of government agents; clad in dark glasses, black suits and ear pieces into which they are always seen speaking suspiciously hushed tones in to. A pertinent and clear device to show the claustrophobic and increasingly paranoid milieu that pervades Hamlet’s world whilst also looking at the same behaviours microcosmically which have a larger significance in an era where the CCTV camera reigns supreme.
The surrounding cast are excellent with Ruth Negga flowing with naivety and vulnerability in her Ophelia and to give the play a further thrust of 20th Century culture, she turns to the modern band X and Y for solace in the throes of a mental breakdown- a ready reminder that this is a Hamlet for the 20th Century. Clare Higgins is also excellent as Gertrude who is at once both strong and clearly absorbed by guilt and fear.
The play was cleverly staged and crafted with simplicity, allowing for it to flow and the audience to be immersed in the tragic events. The entire cast made this a performance I am glad to call the first of and I am sure what will prove to be many, productions of Hamlet- and I am confident that this will remain quite possibly, the best.
Hamlet runs at the Lyttleton theatre from 15th – 23rd April
As I entered the packed theatre to see the triple Tony award winning Sesame Street parody, Avenue Q, there was a vibrant energy of opulent anticipation.
With the beginning of the show fast approaching, I had an unfounded preconception that I was about to witness a bawdy, vulgar and lubricious puppet show and in dialogue with my neighbour, it became clear he shared my sentiment. I felt this was going to be quite an edgy encounter that did for puppetry what Fritz the Cat did for cartoon.
My preconceptions were however soon dispelled because although the show did have its share of vulgarity, there was also an emotive dimension to the performance that I wasn’t anticipating but worked because it made the production more cohesive and gave it a degree of levity, which in turn gave the performance heart.
Avenue Q is set on a run down apartment building and chronicles the adventures of its inhabitants through love, coming to terms with your sexuality, and finding a ‘purpose’ in life.
There are some great characters such as the porn obsessed pervert, Trekkie Monster who is based on Sesame Street’s the Cookie Monster and the highly strung closet homosexual Ron and his housemate Nick who are Avenue Q’s very own Bert and Ernie. The Sesame Street comparisons were not just made abundantly clear through the actual performance but relations between the two also stretched to behind-the-scenes with four of the original cast members having been a part of the Sesame Street team- perhaps owing to their desire to flex their creative muscle in something a little more divisive and to move away from edu-tainment.
My particularly favourite characters were the under-used Bad Idea Bears who brought a darker flavour to what was generally quite a gentle affair. They were the Luciferian voice of puppetry seduction that tanked up the protagonist, Princeton, with Absinthe dacaries and tried to talk him into buying a crate of beer because, ‘it works out chea-per.’
The most prominent aspect of the performance was the wonderfully penned songs such as ‘What do you do with a BA in English’ and ‘the internet is great… for porn!’
Pertinent some might think.
The show originally opened in 2003 off-broadway and within 4 months, was showing on Broadway to packed audiences and has enjoyed parallel success here where it ran for 5 years in the West End and is currently undergoing a national tour.
All in all, Avenue Q was a wonderful night of entertainment full of sharp humour, hilarious songs and puppets engaged in quite explicit coitus. My neighbour and I didn’t get the vulgarity we were expecting but we were both smiling on to the streets singing about the wonders of the internet.
The production is currently on a UK tour. Check the website for details.
I knew I was going to the theatre last night but I had no idea which theatre, nor did I know what I was going to watch. This is absolutely true. Only when my friend (who had unfortunately purchased the tickets) went under Waterloo Bridge and rounded a corner did I know Waterloo East Theatre even existed. On top of that I had never heard of the Accidental Death of an Anarchist before. The reason I’m giving all of this seemingly extraneous background information is so you, as the reader, will know I went into this play with absolutely no preconceptions. My palate was clean, and I definitely wasn’t expecting what can only be described as some form of terrible assault on the senses that followed the moment the lights went down.
As I say, I had no knowledge of the script beforehand but watching the play I could see that it is a phenomenal, relevant piece of work and with the right direction the outrageous, witty, satirical complexities of this play would shine. Tragically for me and the rest of the audience, this interpretation of the play was about as intelligent and witty as an elephant on ice skates. This was made abundantly clear by the performances. The supporting roles of the police Captain and the Inspector were so wooden I wondered if I was actually watching a puppet show. These were only tempered by Nicholas Kempsey who played the main character of the madman and con artist. He managed to take the role so unnecessarily far I found myself watching something akin to am-dram pantomime, wondering at what point Widow Twanky would make an appearance. Ten minutes later I was praying she would just to break up the strange monotony of Kempsey’s over the top tics and this odd sort of bark he’d perform like some terrible catch phrase.
I tried to think of something redeeming about Accidental Death of an Anarchist but the problem for the play is that it is a dialogue lead piece, reliant on solid performances and mature direction. Since these two elements had clearly decided to take an extended holiday, the play for me was a total let down, however the complimentary glass of Sauvignon Blanc in the interval was very refreshing, although I probably would have preferred an entire bottle!
The most exciting production for me would have to be Terry Gilliam’s first foray in to opera with his imagining of The Damnation of Faust, originally composed by Hector Berlioz. Those that are familiar with Gilliam, made famous for animating Monty Python and directing such visually opulent films as, Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus, will know he has been one of the most imaginative and visually stimulating directors working in film for the past 20 years. The ENO will be hosting what can only be described as a must-see event, and something I strongly recommend, even for those not normally attracted by opera. It runs from 6 May to 7 June.
The Operatic pantheon, The Royal Opera House has something that caught my eye and involves yet another of the Pythons. This time, whetting his Opera appetite, is Terry Jones; and he has written a libretto as part of the up-coming Operashots season in a piece entitled The Doctor’s Tale. 8 April- 16 April
Aside from the ENO and the Royal Opera House, there has not been a huge representative force for Opera on the fringe for reasons that I can only imagine to be related to the scale and budget usually attributed to this form. I can now bring you the great news that has now changed, and the famous Kings Head Theatre who have now coined themselves, London’s Little Opera House, have put together an exciting season that ranges from a brand new production and adaptations of classics which include Madame Butterfly(or Bangkok Butterfly) and The Barber of Seville(or Salisbury).
And finally, if you are thinking about a cultural weekend away from the big smoke, or perhaps a romantic evening where you can enjoy a brand new opera within a beautiful, serene Essex- based country house (and no, that is not an oxymoron), then please check out the short season occurring at Stanley Hall which promises to be a truly unique experience.