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Antigone

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The National Theatre’s Antigone brings this ancient tragedy forth into a modern day setting. It is quite astounding how the ancient moral dilemmas are still very much applicable to today’s tumultuous society.

The tale is based upon social values, power, and mortality.  Antigone, the eponymous heroine, longs to follow her heart as well as her religious beliefs by giving the last burial rites to her dead brother Polynices, Yet her uncle, the newly crowned King Creon has decreed that the rebel must be denied these rites and be left unburied. The King is blinded by his sole focus on the power of the state and loses sight of all reason. The chorus arises from Creon’s support staff of office workers, guards, and mail room staff. 

This is the young director Polly Findlay’s first show in the cavernous Olivier Theatre. She and designer Soutra Gilmore have placed inside a pentagon-like office with armed security, glass walls, and desks made for paper shuffling. The rotating set is brilliant and once again provides another design triumph for the National. 

Christopher Eccleston’s performance as Creon is enchanting. You know the car crash is coming, but he so completely embodies the role, that the audience cant help but watch in awe and agony. His character is driven by both a personal certainty and a need for power that together create a poisonous mix. His continuous missteps – first with his niece Antigone (Jodie Whittaker) then with his son Heaemon, and finally with the soothsayer Tiresias (Jamie Ballard) – his pride continues to lead Creon right to the catastrophic fall.  Yet he is obstinately blind to the consequences. Ballard’s tortured performance as the scarred prophet who summons the furies is superb.Whittaker physicalises her torment and the accelerated descent from rebellion to insanity. 

This is a simple, straightforward, and faithful staging of Sophocles’s work. Findlay has successfully set this ancient story in modern times. It is a powerful piece that resonates. It is full of energy and the messages, thanks to the outstanding performances and high-paced staging, ring true. I left breathless. 

 Antigone runs at The National Theatre through the 21st of July 2012.

The Sunshine Boys

When the curtain rose at The Savoy, we were instantly met with the diminutive and unmistakable Danny Devito quietly sitting on his chair. I do realise that the words quiet and Danny Devito are not quite synonymous but do not fear, the brash and incandescent actor does eventually shine through.

From the opening few minutes, hushed whispers were heard around the auditorium from people remarking at how small he was and my instant (and internal) reaction was; please stifle your utterly dull truism. The remarkable thing however which is connected to his rather small appearance is that he has a truly towering presence which is felt even during his quiet moments although unsurprisingly, there isn’t too many of them.

This production of Neil Simon’s 1972 play, The Sunshine Boys, is nothing short of comic gold. The in-demand Thea Sharrock directs an excellent cast, led by Devito and Richard Griffiths, two wildly contrasting characters, both physically and psychologically. Together they play a venerable and embittered Vaudeville double act that split up after Griffiths’’ character, Al Lewis, decided it was time to retire from show business. They were once great friends but they became quarrelsome during the end and for the final year of their partnership, did not utter a single word to one another.

The play picks up 10 years since they last uttered a single word to each other and DeVito’s character, Willy Clark, is encouraged to reignite the old partnership for a television special by his agent and nephew.  Al Lewis is keen but the obstinate and immensely proud Clark needs some convincing as he has become quite churlish as time has passed and holds a significant grudge against Lewis.

The true magic from this production occurs when DeVito and Griffiths occupy the stage. DeVito is loud, brash; unafraid to speak his mind while Griffiths, in stark contrast, is insouciant, sophisticated and charming. Their stark dichotomy causes moments of hilarity as they inevitably struggle to avoid bringing up the past.

The play is beautifully written, full of long-running gags and it rarely relents in its humour, although it does have a few reflective moments that illustrate that even in the bitterest feuds amongst long-term companions and friends, there is always that comfort of simply enjoying being in one another’s company.

 

The Sunshine Boys runs at the Savoy Theatre until 28th July


Einstein on the Beach

ImageEinsein on the Beach is a seminal piece of work in the body of late 20th century theatre. Having studied this piece thoroughly during a theatre studies in my undergraduate degree, I must admit that the opportunity to experience this five hour gargantuan work on the opening night of its UK premiere was approached with both excitement and an ounce of trepidation – could this still speak as clearly over 30 years after it first graced the stage in New York.

This Robert Wilson and Philip Glass collaboration first premiered in 1976. The performance artist and contemporary composer chose to elongate the production to such a length in order to overcome the necessity of narrative and instead to fuse the artistic genres into one piece. There has been a nearly 20 year gap since the last performance and while in certain areas such as stage design and language the time lapse shows, overall this piece somehow feels contemporary. Although the pace of this production is at times purposefully uncomfortable, it slowly enraptures the audience (well those who have the tolerance and stamina to remain) as they begin to adjust to the pace that the production sets. 

Einstein on the Beach is comprised of a series of scenes whose meaning is widely meant to be individually interpreted.  Glass describes the work as ‘a non-narrative, artificial theatre in which the function of narrative has shifted completely from telling a story to experiencing a story’. These multitude of scenes are linked by two ‘characters’ who chant random numbers or recite the autistic Christopher Knowles’  text. The scenes began as a series of drawings byWilson – a train scene, a courtroom, archetypal images of Einstein – to which Glass added his score. . The part of Einstein is played by a violinist, while some of the performers are both singers and dancers, with choreography by Lucinda Childs.

Upon this first night, there were a number of technical glitches: Wilson came on to apologise for the fact that we wouldn’t get the full effect.

The dane was brilliantly executed with great zest and determination. The chorus seemed to effortlessly handle Glass’s repetitive, closely-harmonised challenge. The Einstein fiddler’s endless riffs were hypnotic.  The staging of this piece during the opening week of the “Bauhaus: Art as life” exhibition is brilliant. Both the Bauhaus and Wilson succeed in fusing a concept of total space, total theatre, and the possibility that art can be lived. While the Bauhaus elevated design to an artistic status that can be become an everyday reality, Wilson fuses a multitude of art forms – poetry, dance, music, theatre, design – into one breath-taking experience.

Until 13 May at the Barbican Centre – Barbican website.


Making Noise Quietly

ImageRobert Holman’s triptych of stories are conjoined under the umbrella of those in the shadow of war. Rather than affirming human connections or any sense of progress, however, his writing fails to lead one any further down a path of any intellectual understanding or emotive progression that the theme of war tends to easily evoke.  This measured voice ecomes too measuredm so much so that it loses any depth and instead appears one dimensional.   

The first piece, Being Friends, pairs an overtly homosexual artist and a quaker conscientious objector. The setting is a farm in Kent during the second world war. These two characters begin to bare tehmselves both emotionally and physically in an at first intriguing and then far too obvious way, especially in Matthew Tennyson’s florid character of the artist.  This highly sexualised encounter seems unable to surpass the rather limited boundaries that the writing has created.

The second piece, Lost, sees a naval officer visit a mother to inform her of the death of her estranged son during the Falklands war. The staccato effect is an inditement on the writing as well as the acting. It feels forced and there is no arch within the story.

The final piece, which gives the triptych its name, portrays an elderly German woman at her holiday home in Black Forest. She both challenges and attempts to help a violent, junior British soldier and his  young charge. Sara Kestelman is astounding as the elder concentration camp survivor. Her mannerisms so accurately reflect German women of today. Yet somehow, again I feel it is down to Holman’s writing rather than the production, the end is too tidy, there is a lack of rawness in the emotions of the characters, even in the extreme scene of Helene’s uncovering her tattoo from Auschwitz.

Despite such emotive subject matter, Making Noise Quietly felt flat. Holman is fatally over explicit in trying to tease out the connections that war can create between strangers. This triptych was, disappointingly, rather forgettable.

 

The Duchess of Malfi

In the poem ‘Whispers of Immortality’, TS Elliot says of the playwright John Webster, ’Webster was much possessed by death and saw the skull beneath the skin’. This rather pertinent couplet offers a microcosmic view of what to expect from the work of Webster. He was a man obsessed by the darker faculties of the human condition.  Perhaps his most famous play, The Duchess of Malfi, has been revived at the Old Vic by director Jamie Lloyd, whose most recent output was the brilliant Faith Machine at the Royal Court.

This Jacobean tragedy takes place in the court of Amalfi and is set upon a beautifully ornate backdrop of a labyrinth of intricately patterned walkways- a perfect place for a pernicious intelligencer to go unnoticed. The story centres on the eponymous Duchess, a recent widow, who has two brothers, Ferdinand and the Cardinal, who want a significant part of her inheritance and are loath to allow her to marry again.

In order to prevent this from happening, Ferdinand hires Bosola, an intelligencer and former servant to the Cardinal, to spy on the Duchess and report back in the event of anything suspicious occurring. The fate of the Duchess takes an ominous turn when she falls in love with Antonio, a lowly steward, and embarks on a secret relationship with him, trying her utmost to keep her secret away from her psychopathic brothers.

The emotionally demanding role of the Duchess is delicately portrayed by actress Eve Best, most noted for her roles in The Kings Speech and American TV drama, Nurse Jackie. She is but the innocent party in a bevy of wolves that are made manifest by her brothers.

Ferdinand’s descent in to madness is also brilliantly realised by actor Jamie Lloyd with his rodent like features and slick black hair, he gives off the air of a deeply disturbed, conflicted and mercurial man, wildly confused in his feelings for his sister- from the very moment he enters stage and before he opens his mouth, you know already that you are watching one of the main villains of the piece.

This production is truly horrific at times as we see the extent people will go in order to get what they want. The contrasting villains of the calculated Cardinal with the hot blooded and belligerent Ferdinand are brilliantly realised as is the conflicted Bosola- even in his darkest moments, there is always a flicker of humanity and remorse for his actions and this makes him a truly fascinating character.

This production comes recommended although I do warn you, it isn’t for the faint hearted! Webster liked to explore the darkness of humanity and The Duchess of Malfi has it in spades.


Miss Fortune

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Fate, destiny, fortune.  How much can we blame the fates or rather how much responsibility should we accept for our own destinies. 

Miss Fortune is Birtish composer Judith Weir’s first operatic composisition in the last 17 years. She had taken a hiatus to focus her energies on a host of other endeavours including orchestral composition and leading the BBC’s annual composer weekend at the Barbican in 2008. Now she returns to the stage at the Royal Opera House. 

Miss Tina Fortune, Emma Bell, was first shown at the Bregenz Festival in Austria last summer. The storyline is Weir’s re-working of a Sicilian folktale.  Lord and Lady Fortune lose their money in the stock-market crash – sound familiar?  Miss Fortune refuses to continue a sheltered existence and so when her parents flee via helicopter, she chooses to stay behind and make her way in the world. We see her in a sewing sweatshop, at a fast food van, then ironing in a dry cleaners. Each endeavor ends in catastrophe due to the fact that Fate countertenor Andrew Watts, and his hip-hop crew are following close on her heels.  Finally Tina visits this rapscallion Fate and begs him to leave her alone – she then goes on to win the lottery, find her parents, and fall in love with a handsome rich young man who loves his shirts to be well ironed. 

The story line is unbearably weak. Does it say that a woman’s only two ways out of poverty and destitution lie in either winning the lottery or marrying a rich young man? Did a woman composer really think this scenario worthy for the operatic stage?   There is no depth to this surface deep tale – Tina Fortune wanders aimlessly. There is no real suffering from what I can see, only a lack of any real character and a preference to let fate rule her life while she sits and moans about it. She ruins peoples lives, yet wanders along merrily in her own.

The grand stage settings designed by Tom Pye provide spectacle, but little else. Weir’s libretto is tedious in its simplicity and lack of engagement with the full capacity of the English language. The music was charming, but unmemorable. Paul Daniel and the orchestra carried on honorably and gave the torpid notes gusto.

Fate, played by Andrew Watts, I must say, is the downfall of the show. His dancing attempts are actually comical. The lightning colored pajamas that look like a sleeping costume purchased from Primark were ineffectual.  His hip-hop break dancing crew was poorly thought through. It could have been a great addition, but leaving them in street clothes and failing to integrate them into the operatic world in any real way kept them in the periphery as a sideshow.  

www.roh.org.uk


The Summer House @ The Gate Theatre

The Summer House is an engaging and amusing conflation of Nordic mythology and a disastrous stag-do.

The main focus is on the experiences of three men attempting to execute the traditional, or perhaps clichéd, wild stag party weekend away. Scenes of Nordic Gods and honourable Vikings are interwoven between the chaotic moments of the stag party to reflect and consequently punctuate whatever manly issue is being addressed by the trio. It is this acknowledgement of the conundrums surrounding social
status and perceived masculinity that rescues The Summer House from descending into an overtly masculine farce reminiscent of a Nordic ‘Hangover’. These glimmers of substance and amusing juxtapositions of the quandaries of the stags, with portrayals of the equally flawed and insecure Norse Gods make The Summer House astute, as well as chuckle inducing.

Neil Haigh’s performance as troubled Neil, whose summer house the men are staying in, is understated and convincing. Similarly, Matthew Steer’s depiction of the meticulously organised, anxious Best Man Matthew is also thoroughly entertaining and believable, and at points quite subtle. The stag, Will, played by Will Adamsdale, was perhaps the least palatable as his character was almost excessively slapstick. Also, at points Adamsdale’s performance felt like a semi-professional actor (with a contrived booming semi-professional actor voice)playing Will, rather than Will Adamsdale being Will.

The set and use of props were clever – though quite typical of many contemporary plays – with a sparse set design (the stage was on two levels and contained a sofa and three chairs) and a creative use of everyday objects. One of the cleverest uses of the banal was cling film as it is used to depict; cloaks, mountains, water and a hot tub cover…! However, the most inspired element of the stage and prop design was a miniature version of the summerhouse that the men are staying in: literally, a tiny wooden summer house.  The diminutive representation is positioned at the front of the stage and whatever is occurring on the actual stage is echoed, only smaller. It is brilliant. It provides comedic value but also enhances some scenes of the play that are more challenging to convey on a limited set. The use of sound supports the visual aspect of the production almost to the extent of being pedantic, with each splosh of the hot tub, but nevertheless adds authenticity and comedy which are the main merits of the performance.

The script, a collaboration by Adamsdale, Haigh and Steer is realistic and amusing. This is aside of course from the scenes based in Scandinavian history to which alas, my expertise in masculine lexical choices does not extend.

In short, this production is worth watching as a comedy with a self-conscious centre as it rigorously and humorously examines man.

Holly Darling Freeman


Love Song

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Love Song – such a whimsical title. It is clear from the second scene of this Frantic Assembly that this is indeed the aim of the author Abi Morgan – to compose a theatrical love song of sorts to unfold upon the stage. 

We start at the end and simultaneously the beginning. Two couples enact this tale of the story of Maggie and Billy, both in its youth and old age; an interesting concept. The stage is covered in autumnal fallen leaves –suggesting that the real emphasis lies in the winter of this relationship, rather than the hoped for spring.  

The young couple (Edward Bennett and Leanne Rowe) move to America to further his dental career. She, after losing the hope of bearing children, finds her self with little to occupy her time and so becomes a librarian. It is a typical tale of 1950’s middle class couples.  There are arguments, money troubles, fidelity issues, conception obstacles, and the inevitable challenges that arise with old age (Sam Cox and Sian Phillips). So here we are, presented with two ends of the spectrum and rather than an array of colours in between, all that I could see was grey.

This tale of the childless couple getting by with just each other has been told before. In order to make this at times extremely touching story fly, the author needed to incorporate depth, personality, passion. Yet none of that comes through in this production. Frantic Assembly focus on movement in their productions and you can see that here, movement plays an important roll in the telling of this story. It is excellently staged and the stories intertwine seamlessly, yet much like the attempted choreographed dance interludes, the telling of this worn out tale is lifeless. Even Maggie’s chosen last moments lacked any conviction. I remained unmoved. 

Many of the choreographed staging moments should have been cut by directors Scott Graham and Steve Hoggett who really should know better. The multi-media back panelling added little to the stagnant set.

By the end of  “Love Song” I had lost interest. There was a distinct lack of substance to these characters.  I longed for texture and depth, the stuff that any good love song is comprised of.  However, this lacklustre love song  was markedly missing the all important verses, in the end being incapable of moving beyond the redundant the chorus.

Lovesong is on until 4 February at the Lyric Hammersmith.  Click here to book tickets or call 0871 221 172


13

Mike Bartlett is a promising new playwright. This is his second work to be produced at the National Theatre. The first being Earthquakes in London, and he is only 31 years of age. Impressive. The world premiere of any production is always exciting – there is no precedence other than reputations. It feels like a raw canvas upon which a myriad of projections may or may not appear.

At the beginning we do indeed see a myriad of images, of emotions, of situations blur across the stage.  This play comes out strong and sleek.  An entire city awakes after a night of a shared nightmare – the insinuations fly like shards of glass.  A bad dream, a society gripped by immorality and fear is portrayed through an expertly staged opening.  Scene changes are rendered seamless by advanced stage designs that turn in time with the story. These dozens of individual storylines are blended by the large, imposing set.  Talented designer Tom Scutt has designed a machine-like cube which rotates opens splits and can appear both solid and opaque due to the perforated material.  This really is the star of the show.

The story line begins by unifying a large, diverse cast of characters via a shared mutual dream. A cast full of recognisable thespians is promising.  The prime minister, the protestors, a seedy lawyer, and a mixed race family are all disrupted by this terrifying dream – perhaps a reflection of the current state of society, perhaps a shared subconscious or maybe even underlying fear. And here the story begins to falter – trying to compress too many views and subjects simultaneously.

Where the first half of the piece leaves us in jumbled anticipation as to how all of these intricately diverse characters and storylines will conglomerate into a breathing whole, the second half of the play cuts and discards so much of what it has been painstakingly created. Recurrent dream sequences disappear completely to be replaced with an almost comedic dance routine. Characters
suddenly become side-lined, and arguments, which should peak in, merely plateau or worse become hollow. This jumbled plot creates a sense of bombardment – similar to that which our media obsessed world creates on a daily basis. Twitter, facebook, news updates, cultural highlights, reading both right and left leaning papers, that overflow of information and then – suddenly instead of finding enlightenment, one simply feels overwhelmed and undereducated.  That is the sense this work conclusively portrays. The noticeable lack of focus and overarching plot leave the audience feeling empty rather than intellectually fulfilled.

In tackling politics, society, religion, and philosophy, 13 raises a number of thought provoking questions. However it fails to do this in any unique or conclusive manner. In the diverse cast of characters, there are a few weak performances, notably Kirsty Bushell and Genevieve O’Reilly who, despite having seen her in three diverse productions, always seems to play the same character. However this was the first public performance so I hope this improves.

In attempting to tackle so much, you clearly feel the playwright is overwhelmed after nearly two hours and suddenly thinks – oh no, I have to wrap all of this up in the last hour and does so in a hurry to the detriment of the work itself. In the final tableau, the audience even laughed at an Alzheimer’s patient suggesting she will take her own life shows how the play fails to hit the mark. If perhaps the science fiction like noise could be removed, the plot cleaned, and the arguments tightened, there is an excellent play hidden within. Unfortunately this draft, despite the imposing rotating cube, fails to reveal it.

13 runs at the National Theatre until the 8th of January 2012.


The Playboy of the Western World review

Upon it’s premier at the Abbey theatre in Dublin in 1907, John Millington Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World was opened to riots owing to its perceived derisive and libelous perception of Irish people and was described as a ‘vile and inhuman story told in the vilest language ever listened to in a public forum’ with some authors calling for Synge to be killed. Nowadays, a reaction like that would undoubtedly fill the theatre to capacity with every attendee wanting to see what would cause such a vociferous response.
This play certainly does not pack the socially divisive punch of its 1907 premier but within the beautifully crafted and mellifluous words, therein lies a dark heart.

The production, currently at the Old Vic and directed by John Crowley, centres on the character of Christy Mohan, played by the impish Robert Sheehan who you may well be familiar with if you’ve had the opportunity to see channel 4’s angst-ridden-teen-superhero-drama-cum-comedy Misfits.

Sheehan’s Christy wanders meekly into a local tavern, and tells a tall-tale of murdering his father. This disingenuous story of patricide immediately transforms the cowardly Mohan in to a local celebrity and the object of affection from some of the local women. He takes a particular shine to Pegeen, played with sternness and vigour by Ruth Negga and charms his way, on the basis of his new-found tough reputation, to obtaining a job at the very tavern Pegeen earns her keep as a bar maid.

Christy, to the amusement of the audience, indulges in his new found fame by desperately trying to embody the gallant and murderous playboy by retelling ad nauseum, how the scene of his father’s murder played out, and subsequently impressing a bevy of  young women much to the irritation of Pegeen.

Sheehan’s performance  as the eponymous playboy is accomplished and at times very funny. He has a great, lank physicality that he uses to comedy effect as he portrays an idealised version of himself. His charm in deceit was worked to hilarious affect as he tries to cling to his fabrication and the characters around him become totally bewitched until a significant plot development seeks to scupper his plans.

This was however, far from being a perfect production. There were occasions, perhaps owing to my ominously early onset of depleted hearing, where I missed tracts of speech which was mainly owing to my ears taking a while to adapt to the rhythm and thickness of the Irish accent. I was also a little disappointed that the play’s dark theme of a young man lying about the murder of his own father and consequently becoming a local pariah and hero was not explored through Christy’s character. Christy undergoes a significant transformation and the climax is really meant to bring home the dramatic transition and embittered maturity of his character. The tone however remained the same; jovial and light, entertaining but, and I am reluctant to say this, largely forgettable.

Now don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the performance; the stagecraft was excellent and the language was of a beauty that was at times worthy of comparison with Shakespeare. But this is not a performance that will linger around in the memory for very long, which is saddening given the strength of the material.

The Playboy of the Western World runs until 26th November


Julian Sands in a Celebration of Harold Pinter

I was not quite sure what to expect when travelling to the Rose Theatre in Kingston to see Julian Sands in a Celebration of Harold Pinter. This past year I have attended three Pinter productions in London and been extremely moved by the playwright’s accurate portrayal the emotive layers of the human psyche, by his simplistic and direct conveyance of the chaotic through the medium of theatre. Pinter, when done well hums, vibrates through the air and hits a pitch that few others in his field can match. When done poorly, well lets just say you would rather stay at home for the evening.

So on to the stage walked Julian Sands, the British actor who first caught my attention in his portrayal of Liszt in the film “Chopin”. His figure was striking against the black stage as he entered. His cool crisp English accent cut through the still air as he breathed life into the written words of Pinter.

This one man show, which originated earlier this year at the Edinburgh fringe festival, is directed by John Maklovich. It is a piece I wish I could have experienced in rehearsal to witness the interaction between Malkovich and Sands. As it was, I tried to imagine the interplay between the two during parts of the piece. During deliberate pauses or ironic tilts of the head, I could sense Malkovich’s guidance.

It is argued that Pinter may be the greatest UK playwright of the 20th century. Yet in this production it is the poetry and the man that Sands focuses upon. Sands personal admiration and compassion for this stage legend come through in every breath of the performance. He admires both the weaknesses and the strengths of Pinter’s character. Through personal anecdotes, private stories, and reading of the written word, the audience feels as if they are presented with a rare glimpse behind the scenes of Pinter the public figure. His character comes alive through this three dimensional representation which this piece presents.

Pinter’s poem “I know the place. It is true. Everything we do corrects the space between me and you” stands as a corner piece of Pinter’s deceptively simplistic style. Sands recollects how the writer, upon a misreading, suggests that he should read it and that one day he may understand it’s meaning. And it is in this that we find the true essence of Pinter, his words, language, literature will represent different meanings at different stages in each of our lives. His work does not stagnate, but evolves with the reader’s development and understanding.

This production is a moving portrayal of the lesser-known works of Pinter by a talented and well-informed performer. It was a pure joy and intellectual challenge to experience this performance, just as all Pinter, I believe, is meant to be. I left the theatre and went straight to buy the book “Various Voices”. I challenge you not to do the same.


The Kitchen at The National

The frenetic, chaotic and, at times, balletic goings-on in a busy London- based kitchen is well realised in a revival of Arnold Wesker’s The Kitchen, currently being staged at the Olivier theatre.
Wesker’s play, originally performed in 1959 at the Royal Court, is directed by Bijan Sheibani and the Olivier’s vast stage is maximised with meticulous detail to the typical bustling late 50’s kitchen aesthetic. The actors utilise the naturalistic milieu with grace and verve as I observed with delight the brilliant stagecraft as even the gas hobs on the ovens were fully functional.

The play is set within one day and has a plethora of characters that are touched upon in small but rich detail. The central focus is on the mercurial Peter, played with Teutonic swagger, by the excellent Tom Brooke, who was last seen in the acclaimed recent production of I Am the Wind at the Young Vic.

Peter is having an illicit affair with Monique, a waitress; and has aspirations to settle down with her, but owing to his belligerent nature, finds himself arguing with her and his colleagues on more than one occasion.

The play is rich in themes and ideas that, although performed more than 50 years ago, still remain salient to this day, which is perhaps the purpose of its well-timed revival. The themes, which include racial tensions, the pursuit of love and how a mechanized and habitual way of being is destructive to your imagination and dreams, are conveyed calculatedly within this busy setting.

The kitchen itself is made up of a whole range of different nationalities which boils over when one character tells Peter and his German compatriot, Hans, to ‘Speak bloody English!’

Peter is ultimately the fulcrum of the production, becoming increasingly more capricious as the play progresses and you learn the source of his discontent. There’s a wonderful scene after the chaotic lunch service, when Peter implores his peers to speak of their dreams and they all seem to struggle to respond, numbed by the cruel machinations of their current occupational predicament and unwillingness to play.

The beautifully choreographed scenes during the first half when lunch is served explore with humour and wonderful theatricality, the rhythmic and maddening chaos that occurs within the kitchen. The boss, Marango, enters during this time and acts as the conductor of his bevy of culinary craftsmen, waitresses and washers as they waltz their way around the kitchen.

The pace of the production does seem to slow in the second half as you join the characters in a moment of peace and reflection after the chaos of lunch.

This production is wonderfully served and at £12 for a ticket, is highly recommended.

The Kitchen at the National Theatre until the 9th November


African Gothic @ The Arcola

African Gothic is certainly not a theatrical work aimed at the faint hearted and those that favour mawkish escapism on the boards in London’s West End. This is a play designed to provoke you, disgust you, leave you with some quite evocative images burnt into your retinas and to violently stimulate your amygdala. If disturbing and challenging theatre is your shtick, then this is the play for you.

This multi award winning play was originally penned in 1985 by South African playwright Reza de Wet and this particular production was brought to the stage by a fascinating new theatre company entitled the Barebones Project, which comprises of a group of experiences actors, artists and musicians. Their objective brings forth echoes of Jerzy Grotowski’s Poor Theatre in that they want to create a stripped down and provocative theatrical experience that explores ‘the barriers that interfere with an actor’s ability to be present in his/ her fullness of being; our anxieties, artifice and emotional duplicity.’

This is the company’s first production and the subject matter is at times incredibly harrowing and, as an audience member, you are truly provoked and thoughts of the play linger around for days after- they did for me anyway!

African Gothic is set during the apartheid in South Africa and tells the story of the childlike and feral Frikkie and Sussie, a brother and sister who live in a barren wasteland, ostracised from any kind of human contact. The two central characters have an incestuous relationship, content in their own bubble of squalor and degradation.  The other inhabitant of their shack is the servant, a taciturn and yet imperious presence, played by Naomi Wirthner.

The play centres on a visitor who delivers Frikkie and Sussie a message from a, recently deceased, family member. He is appalled by the conditions he is met with and the eccentricities of the brother and sister.

The Arcola was a perfect setting for this play as the audience are sat close enough to smell the stale sweat that lingers in the air and feel the ominous sense of foreboding that permeates the performance. The histrionic and disturbed Sussie is played terrifyingly well by Jane Gwilliams as she explicitly communicates the acts of a woman who is at times animalistic and sexually unrestrained and yet, to humorous affect, attempts at times to be vaguely civilised to impress her guest by speaking in a posh English accent.  Gary Wright’s Frikkie is the strongest performance though as his emotional complexities are given space to be explored.  There is a sense of decency within him although he is unfortunately bound by the misfortune of the circumstances of his life’s disturbing machinations.

The play is pertinent in lieu of the recent riots that have spread across England in its exploration of the mishandling of youth. In Frikkie and Sussie, you have two characters brought up unabashed, untamed and raw. They have defined their own brand of morality and have created their own world for which anyone who threatens it, will be punished in the most abominable way imaginable.

A  terrific play but certainly not to everyone’s tastes.


Tosca, Teatro Real review

Tosca returns to Madrid’s Teatro Real to conclude the theatre’s season in the form of director Nuria Espert’s 2004 production.

Tosca is one of Puccini’s three grand masterpieces along Madame Butterfly and La Boheme. Puccini’s crowd-pleasing operas have been labeled as too conventional by some, however I find the tonal orchestration and soaring melodies to be emotive and expressively beautiful.

The story of Tosca revolves around the performer’s desperate love for a revolutionary artist.  The opera begins within the setting of the church Santa Maria della Valle where her lover, Cavaradossi, is painting a portrait. Tosca is jealous of the woman painted in her lover’s portrait. Unlike this year’s ROH production in London, this set is open and soaring. There is a large cast wandering in and out of the cathedral throughout the first act. Candles are slowly lit; nuns pass through on their way to prayer, laymen on their way to confession. It is a very effective scene before us, which is set. The beautiful chorus in Act I is vibrant and makes the air buzz with devotional harmony.

Act II presents Baritone Lado Ataneli’s Scarpia as a bishop rather than a police chief. He performs well using all the delicate cunning and deceitful power that this villain requires. Tosca’s conclusion of the murder by splashing wine an image of Christ on the crucifix was potent and appropriate. Soprano Violeta Urmana convincingly conveys her dismay and disenchantment with the religion that before that harrowing moment had been her lifelong companion and guide. She plays a strong woman who one could easily believe would attack before being attacked. The entire scene is extremely well staged and makes good use of the vast space that is Scarpia’s private room.

Cavaradossi’s “mock” execution by firing squad is brilliantly set against a stone wall, almost as if his blood were to become the paint of a work of art. Marco Berti brings life to this somewhat one-dimensional character and it takes a great personality to stand up on stage next to such a bold Soprano as Urmana. As the prisoners march in at the opening, children attempt to give the men water. A touching moment before the heart rendering execution and suicide.

I was surprised to hear booing among the audience during the final applause. But this is evidence of a much more open and conversive critique of the opera that occurs in Italy and Spain. Just imagine an American audience, rather than jumping to their feet tat the first sign of a falling curtain, instead remaining seated and vocally criticizing. Never!

Having attended both Messiaen’s St Francis of Assisi and Puccini’s Tosca in one week provided a well-rounded viewpoint of Mortier’s vast capabilities with this opera company. He has amply demonstrated that Teatro Real can both astound with a fresh contemporary piece as well as hit the mark with the crowd-pleasing classics.

Until July 28

www.teatro-real.com


The Animals and the Children Took to the Streets @ The Holt Festival, Norfolk

I met this production with a degree of innocence and a sense of stepping into the unknown. I conducted a modicum of research on 1927 and was met with a plethora of positive reviews concerning their first, award winning production, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.

This is only their second production since the company’s inception in ’05 and their brand of theatre has been met with comparisons to the early work of Tim Burton; entwining cabaret, silent movie, animation and music hall in to a maelstrom of mordant, sardonic performance. This production far exceeded my expectations, and more than lived up to its comparisons to Burton’s work.

The play is a beautifully crafted tale set within a dark dystopia and focuses on its melancholic, malcontent inhabitants in an environment characterised by misery, disease and crime. The actors embody a series of characters, aided by animation that brings this dark desolate world to the stage. The performers flawlessly interact with the animation to hilarious effect and this dark fairytale left me desiring more.

The tale focuses on the rebellious Zelda, the daughter of a junk shop owner who is surprised by her daughter’s attitude because when she was her age, she was only concerned with ‘contracting herpes’. Zelda wants what the seemingly more privileged have and instigates a rebellion, leading an army of children to take over the more affluent parts of town. This leads to a reaction from the mayor of the town to take direct action against the so-called riff-raff by insidiously luring them with sweets that ultimately pacify their ebullient behaviour, thus depriving them of their innocence and condoning them to a life of misery, characterised by their surroundings.

It is the central character of the Caretaker, who I feel stole the performance. Visually, he reminded me of Edward Scissorhands (minus the scissors); pale faced, forlorn and desperate to escape the ominous surroundings but destined to remain in place which ultimately defined him. His delivery was note perfect and he brought laughter every time he was on stage.

If you have the opportunity to see this wonderful performance then make every effort to obtain a ticket. My sole quibble was the performance was not long enough!


Saint François d’Assise review

Despite the sweltering summer heat in Madrid, a prestigious crowd gathered to see the opening performance of Massiaen’s Saint François d’Assise. It has been touted as one of the most significant cultural events of 2011. Queen Sofia of Spain, the Minister of Culture, the city’s archbishop, the mayor, along with a crowd of others on the list of Madrid’s “who’s who”.  This eminent audience who flocked to the edge of the city at the theatre’s summer residence at the Madrid Arena gave the evening an immediate sense of gravitas.

This sporting arena does not suit opera. The silver bleachers, despite being covered in black padding, are still bleachers. It felt strange to have ¾ of the audience (what would normally be in the round) empty. And table cloths were placed over the areas where normally beer and other spectator sport food is served.

Massiaen’s only opera premiered in Paris 1983, so is relatively contemporary in operatic terms. The gargantuan work, running nearly 6 hours in total, is a well-known favourite of Teatro Real’s Belgian Artistic Director, Gerard Mortier.  The celebrated and renowned director has included the piece in every programme for which he has been in charge.

This production was originally meant to be presented at New York City’s Armory during which time Mr. Mortier was meant to be the director of the new York Opera, however after a lack of fundraising and therefore funds, he chose to settle his artistic perch in Madrid instead. As a director, Mortier takes risks and pushes the boundaries. He is a gift to the operatic stages of our time.

This oratorio based opera consists of 8 scenes  from the saint’s life.  The piece is enormous: 6 hours in length, an orchestra of over 120 musicians, an enormous percussion section by operatic standards, and a chorus of 150 voices. It is truly an opera of operatic proportions.  While appreciating the skill and musicianship of the composition, the work is repetitive and at times obvious. In particular, the repeated thee of the same melody playing before a character sings becomes rather dull. Messiaen also lacks the dramatic undertone which so often spurs opera along their arching plot.

One cannot help but ponder how a crafty and well-thought cut could enhance this lengthy and at times tiresome experience. Unless of course the aim as an operatic “Einstein on the Beach”?

The stage was mostly encumbered by Emilia and Ilya Kabakov’s 22 tonne dome decorated with stained glass and tilted onto its side. It is a gargantuan, imposing piece. Although it fills this arena space, it feels static and at times irrelevant.  The shifting colours felt arbitrary. The performers were confined to a narrow metal walkway that surrounded  the musicians.

The orchestra was led by the Messiaen-specialist Sylvain Cambreling. This is an extremely complicated score and, as many contemporary pieces are, difficult to follow. Cambreling led with clear direction and the necessary confidence to convincingly perform such a challenging piece. The SWR Baden-Baden – Freiburg Symphony Orchestra did well to fill the huge arena and to accommodate such an imposing percussion section.

Marco-Buhrmester gave a magnificent performance as Saint Francois, however the length of the piece would be trying for any performer. It lacked focus. Camilla Tilling, the only female in this cast, was an angel with an ethereal voice who emerged from the cast iron bleachers. Her voice pierced the space and kept the audience mesmerized.

However the plot felt thin. To keep an audience’s rapt attention for such an extended time. Messiaen failed to provide enough texture and richness to this piece in order to warrant the required devotion.  And it showed. Yet despite the audience noticeably diminishing in size after each intermission, the crowd that remained upon the final curtain call was sizeable and enthusiastic.


Madama Butterfly review

Alas, I did not manage to get a ticket to Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s production of Madama Butterfly at the Royal Opera House however I did take advantage of attending the free live screening in Trafalgar Square.

The setting was beautiful as the weather remained uncharacteristically dry and the sun trickled down, igniting Nelson’s column. The turnout was unprecedented as there was a reported 8000 people in attendance with a further 2000 sitting on the periphery, trying to catch a glimpse of this wonderful production of Puccinni’s classic. People were even turned away which has provoked a reaction that perhaps a new venue should be sought flor next year’s event. Picnics and bottles of wine were ubiquitous as the entire audience remained meditative and transfixed as we all witnessed the tragedy that befell the titular protagonist; and I am pleased to say, I did not hear one mobile phone ring.

Once the performance commenced, I was initially struck at the simplicity of the set with the creative team deciding to maximise the space; the only significant detail being the shoji screens placed at the back of the stage, which allowed for silhouettes to be cast upon them- the detail of which is cleverly utilised, particularly when Pinkerton returns from his 3 year hiatus.

The story revolves around BF Pinkerton, an American soldier stationed in Nagasaki, who decides he wants to marry a geisha. He is brash, arrogant, emotionally shallow and ultimately ignorant to Japanese culture, much to the dismay of his friend, Sharpless, who warns him of the differing attitudes prominent within Japanese culture. Pinkerton rejects this caveat and marries Cio-cio-san (Butterfly) but doesn’t take the vow seriously, confused between infatuation and love. He also feels that his future lies with an American woman. Butterfly however does take the marriage seriously, renouncing her religion and converting to Christianity which precipitates the abandonment of her family as a consequence. Pinkerton returns to America, leaving Butterfly to raise their son. After 3 years, Pinkerton returns with his American wife and this is met with great tragedy.

Madam Butterfly was played by Latvian soprano, Kristine Opolais, remarkably a last minute stand-in. It was truly an astonishing performance by Opolais, communicating her obstinate love and later the heart-breaking anguish after her greatest fear becomes a reality. The supporting cast were excellent but it was Opolais who truly stole the show, dominating the stage with a delicacy and unbridled passion.

The opportunity to see this remarkable piece of art for free, and to share it with 8000 people, is an experience that will remain with me forever and makes me appreciative of those endeavouring to spread our incandescent cultural milieu further afield.

Madam Butterfly runs for two more performances: 8-15 July

Cinderella will be shown in Trafalgar Square on 13 July


Galà di Danza review

Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino’s summer season is well under way.  Every summer the Florence based classical music organisation presents performances in the square outside of Palazzo Vechio, Piazza della Signoria.

This “Gala of Dance” comprised of a variety of musical pieces performed by the company’s ballet dancers. From Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Nights Dream to contemporary works composed by Yo Yo Ma, there was a great variety of pieces performed. Unfortunately the choreography was substandard and repetitive. Why have dancers laying on the floor when 95% of the audience would be unable to see them. The contemporary dance choreography to Yo Yo Ma’s music was frankly boring. It entailed a dancer who seemed like she had never touched a sword before in her life trying to convince the audience that she was in fact so capable with the weapon that she could easily dance with it in hand. The addition of an east Asian inspired robe did nothing to aid the referencing.  A group rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake bordered on the edge of a school recital-like performance with all of the dancers in white lycra body suits dancing over and under one another’s linked arms.

It would also have been preferable to have the accompanying music performed live, perhaps by Florence’s youth orchestra, rather than recorded music. It would have added to the outdoor atmosphere and increased the vibrancy of the performance.

Despite the criticisms, it is wonderful to offer art to the the general populace for free. A great endeavour in fact. The audience swelled as the time passed, locals and tourists alike. A better setting than than in front of Florence’s ancient buildings and iconic statues I would struggle to imagine. The most enchanting part of the evening was seeing the dancers’ silhouettes outlined over the form of David and on the wall of the symbolic Comune di Firenze building.

www.maggiofiorentino.com


Romeo et Juliette, Gounod Review

Attending an event at Teatro ala Scala in Milan is always a grand event. Tourists and Milanese alike are dressed in their finery. It is as much of a social event as it is an artistic one.  The last performance of Romeo et Juliette (1867)  was just such a night.

This is not a commonly produced piece by French composer Gounod, in fact it has been absent from La Scala since its last staging in 1934. The production, directed by the Tony Award-winning Bartlett Sher, had been a success the Salzburg Summer Festival in 2008 with Netrebko and Villayon in the leads.  This staging brings together two glamorous stars Nino Machaidze and Vittorio Grigolo.  The La Scala opera was under the baton of young maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who was recently named the eighth Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, one of the American “big five” orchestras, to start the 2012-2013 season.

Upon entering the theatre, the curtain is already raised, already the line between the dramatics of attending La Scala has already begun to blur with that that is soon to occur on stage.  The actors process out and then, very strangely an in an act that I still have yet to place significance, there is a group rape of the serving made on stage. No research suggests this to be in the work, nor was there ever any returning to the theme again later in the opera. It was most disturbing and extremely unnecessary.

Romeo (Italian Grigolo) is a powerhouse of a tenor at only 28 years of age. The strength and tenacity of his voice are astounding and he excelled within his musical phrasing. He brought Romeo through the impetuousness of youth through to a matured, heartfelt husband. Juliette (Georgian Machaidze), despite her horrific costumes which were both aesthetically and historically ill-chosen, was enchanting. The audience could not take their eyes off of this blossoming girl. She went through the character, moving from the young love-struck child into an anguished woman who gives her life to be with her husband. The death scene was truly moving.

There was a strong supporting cast that provided many comedic moments, particularly Paris. Tybalt (Juan Francisco Gatell) had a demanding stage presence. Mercutio (Braun) was a rapscallion through and through and successfully pulled off his “Ballade de la Reine Mab.  Juliette’s maid Gertrude ( Susane Resmark) was indeed a force to be reckoned with.  Yet the staging in the fight scenes was off. It seemed as if Mercutio died of little more than a paper cut and Tybalt was merely glanced. At this level, such basics need to be spot on.

As always, the La Scala chorus, dressed in exquisite 17th century costumes of Catherine Zuber, the likes of which are rarely seen today, was impeccable. Though the costuming did little to differentiate between the Capulets and Montagues.

Michael Yeargan’s set was uninspiring and remained the same throughout the three hours.  There were moments of beautiful dawn lighting through the windows, but then a green was soon to emanate. I have never seen green light shine from the sun.

Someone would do well to remind the audience that applause is not necessary after each and every song. One would think that an audience of such stature would know better.

The performances were breathtaking, but the set and attention to detail was at times simply not intriguing enough. Gounod’s music, while beautiful, has a tendency to remind you of something else you have heard. It lacks a certain inspiration and originality much like this production.
www.teatroallascala.org


Emperor and Galilean review

The English premiere of what Ibsen considered to be his greatest triumph is not an easy piece to digest. This, his longest play which, like Peer Gynt, was written to be read rather than staged, indeed requires from its audience a theatrical endurance of epic proportions. Emperor and Galilean, like a marathon, feels worthy upon completion. Originally intended to be nine hours, Ben Power judiciously trimmed this gargantuan piece of two parts of five acts down to four acts which together come in just under four hours with a cast of 50.

It is astounding that this ambitious work of Ibsen’s, despite being penned in 1873, has never been performed in the United Kingdom considering his relative success on the capital’s west-end boards, with A Doll’s House, Peer Gynt, and Ghosts being particular favorites. The last Ibsen production I saw in London was Ralph Fiennes starring in Brand at the Royal Haymarket in 2003.

The tale the fourth-century AD Roman emperor Julian the Apostate (Andrew Scott), the last of the pagan emperor’s epic rise and tumultuous downfall, is the principle focus of the play. Laid before us is one man’s tortuous search for a philosophical truth and religious identity. Julian, through his tutor Maximus (Ian McDiarmid), questions free will and destiny, politics and religion, the body and spirit. The juxtaposition of human conceits and folly to that of our great endeavors and aspirations in this one work is scintillating. In true Ibsen form, the text provides a wealth of literature, biblical, and historical references that stay with the viewer long after the curtain goes down.

Andrew Scott is truly beginning to make a name for himself. He was recently seen briefly in the BBC’s Sherlock and at the Old Vic in Noel Coward’s Design for Living. Each time I see him onstage, I am ever more convinced of his talent  and impeccable timing. He somehow succinctly conveys the warring need for power and intellectual stimulation in this rather weak minded man. His performance was inspiring. O’Reilly’s character, similar to her performance earlier this year at The Comedy Theatre’s Birdsong, lacked substance. McDiarmid played the manipulative advisor Maximus frighteningly well.

It is due to the great capacities and capabilities that the National’s Olivier provides that this piece truly comes to dazzling light in this theatrical cathedral. Jonathan Kent’s staging effectively segments this monolith of a revolving stage. The death scene Helena (Genevieve O’Reilly), the multiple three levels created on the stage, and the ethereal lighting was breathtaking. In fact, it was the subsequent lack of levels and staging that somewhat disappointed in the second act. The military march through Babylon lacked resonance and Julian’s final death, after such great feats of staging, felt somewhat flat in this dessert between East and West.

There are a number of faults to be pointed out (Evian water bottle, confusing props, some fumbling with lines), but as the night I saw was a very early preview, I assume most of these will be smoothed. The contemporary screen projections with airplanes, the use of fluorescent colours on some of the costumes, and the camouflage on the soldiers all seemed at war with the epic tale being told. Somehow the details did not quite align in harmony. But so great was the tale, so impressive Scott’s performance that all minor criticisms seem of little import in the face of such a monumental production.

http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk


Betrayal review

Harold Pinter’s Betrayal was premiered way back in 1978 at the Lyttleton and the play is just as strong today as it was back then and will not lose any of its punch if it is played out for audiences in 30 years’ time. This is because the central theme of infidelity is something that will always be a pertinent subject and it is becoming all the more ubiquitous in our highly sexualised age.

Harold Pinter understands this very well because this play was inspired by an affair he had during the 60’s with BBC Television presenter Joan Bakewell

Ian Rickson’s production at the Comedy theatre centres around a love affair between Jerry (Douglas Henshall) and his best friend’s wife, Emma (Kristen Scott-Thomas). It opens on a meeting between the two philandering characters in a pub. You learn that their affair has since come to its climax and we are witnessing something of a reunion. The play then gradually moves back in time, allowing for insight into the secrets, deceptions and exertions of passionate love that ultimately lead to the events of the first scene.

Through Pinter’s ingenious reverse chronology of the narrative, dramatic irony is used to powerful effect which, coupled with Pinter’s economical use of dialogue and the subtleties that resonate through each multi-layered interaction, makes for a beautifully pitched piece of theatre, although this production is certainly not perfect.

The cast play the disingenuous and reticent characters very well, convincing in their utter disregard for one another’s feelings. I felt tenderness between Jerry and Emma, the breaks in the dialogue communicating a much greater and purer intent, contradicted of course by their rather insensitive behaviour towards their respective friend and partner. These were two characters that had lives to lose, bound into a commitment through what they believed to be love, forced into secret meetings because their everyday lives were not satisfying enough; their love though not strong enough to break the confines of their prospective marriages.

The mise- en scene was also nicely communicated with a bed being present almost throughout the entire production- a constant reminder of the scene of the betrayal.

I did however struggle with Douglas Henshall’s arrogant and at times dis likeable Jerry. This is clearly a man in the throes of love and passion but that was not truly communicated. I felt there could have been an incandescence to his character that was sadly lacking. Both Scott-Thomas and Ben Miles were strong as the couple emotionally wrenched apart by their selfish actions.

Ultimately this robust production left me satisfied although I feel with a text so rich, so nuanced and so beautifully complex, I wanted more from the performances that felt, at times, a little sterile.


Tosca review

Tosca is one of Puccini’s great masterpieces and the Royal Opera House’s revival of Jonathan Kent’s 2006 production brings the drama to glorious life.

The setting is the eve of the Battle of Marengo as Napoleon’s army caused disarray throughout the city states of Italy. It is a moving tale of love, personal freedom, ideals, betrayal, and redemption. Tosca (Martina Serafin), Rome’s most beautiful opera singer is in love with a painter, Cavaradossi (Marcello Giordani).  Act I, placed in a cramped, split-level chapel with the altar above and the crypt below feels too small for this much drama. However, despite the limited space, the soprano and tenor movingly portray the tensions and placations of two young lovers. But yet, the waters are not calm as political betrayal is underfoot in the form of a dissident escaping from prison and begging Cavaradossi to aid hm in his escape.

Enter the villain. What a vile, putrid individual is the Baron Scarpia (Finnish baritone Juha Uusitalo making his Covent Garden debut). He even purports to prefer to have his women on the run from him rather than swooning in romance for him. It is the fear and hatred that wets his lustful appetite. Charming. Uusitalo was so effectively repugnant in his portrayal of this loathing man that he makes the viewer’s skin crawl.  While chasing down the escaped political prisoner, he arrests Cavaradossi in the two-fold aim of finding the prisoner and sating his lust for Tosca. To save her lover, Tosca must make the ultimate sacrifice to the hated Baron Scarpia.  Serafin’s portrayal of this woman’s inner turmoil was elegant and emotive, her warm voice growing as the anguish in heart at the thought of being betrayed by her beloved god crescendos.

Despite the current cast being a warm up for the power cast to come, their performances were moving. The vocal performances where unusually matched in theatrical capability by this production’s stars. Serafin’s shining star of Tosca evoked great passion, sympathy, and admiration. She gave an accomplished performance. The only critique was that at times she felt encumbered by her overly elaborate costumes. Giordani’s Cavaradossi was a well-rounded, traditionally Italian tenor. Uusitalo’s Scarpia while menacing and imposing in stature, did eventually feel a bit repetitive and caged in by his staging.

Antonio Pappano’s conducting draws Puccini’s precision and passion from this talented orchestra. The elaborate, gothic set designs of Paul Brown are as powerful and dramatic as the plot. The monumental statue, moody settings, and in particular leaving Scarpia’s study nearly bookless were all well-chosen for dramatic effect. I left the production pondering what we are expected to give sacrifice love and how hope, in the face of great adversity, can make believers of us all.


One Man, Two Guvnors review


Richard Bean has successfully transferred Carlo Goldoni’s commedia dell’arte comedy to the National Theatre Olivier’s stage.  The play is moved seamlessly from Venice in the 1740s to Brighton in the 1960’s.

The evermore chaotic plot circles around Goldoni’s Truffaldino, Bean’s newly christened Francis Henshall (James Corden) the joker in the tale, who finds himself to be working for two “guvnors”. The first is Rachel Crabbe (Jemima Rooper), disguised as her dead twin who was in fact killed by her boyfriend. The other govner is indeed, and most unfortunately for Henshall, Rachel’s boyfriend, snooty public school boy Stanley Stubbers (Oliver Chris). Neither is aware of the other’s presence in Brighton and a great deal of the comedy arises from Henshall’s elaborate attempts to keep each guvnor in the dark and himself fed.

What makes this rather traditional, predictable comedy shine is the seamless combination of verbal and physical humour. The text is full of one-liners and running gags. Of particular note is the dinner scene. Triffaldino / Henshall runs back and forth in an ever greater frenzy between his two employers all the while trying to eat as much of the food as possible himself. In between totters the octogenarian waiter (Tom Edden) whose performance of instability is brilliant.

Corden is back at the National with director Hytner for the first time since 2004 when he shone in The History Boys. Despite harbouring some doubts regarding Corden, he gave an impressive performance that even included audience involvement. On the preview night, when asking (probably rhetorically) where he should take Dolly (Suzi Toase) on a first date, someone in the second row shouted “Somewhere with tablecloths” to which Corden sharply replied, “Hang around after the show and we’ll use your shirt”.

While Corden is the undoubtedly the paper chewing, hunger motivated, attention seeking focus of the plot, he is surrounded by strong performances. Chris plays the twit Stanley’s public school arrogance to clichéd perfection. Daniel Rigby’s would-be actor is spot on. Suzi Toase plays the redheaded secretary right on the edge between a hard headed woman and a lady in love. Her comedic timing is impeccable.

What really brings this joyful performance to life is the musical interludes led by composer Grant Olding. Walking into a theatre filled by swinging sets the scene for fun. The following solos by the principal members of cast gives a feeling that everyone is here to have a good time and helps the nearly three hour show fly by.

Mark Thompson’s set design feels like the scene of a Brighton post card come to life. The numerous scene changes keep the story fresh and alive.

This is not something new. Many of these gags were already done in Noises Off. It is not an outstanding, exemplary production, however it is great fun and you will leave with a smile on your face and feel you have indeed enjoyed an entertaining evening at the theatre.

Following its run at the National, One Man, Two Guvnors will go on tour, visiting Theatre Royal, Plymouth (October 4 – 8); The Lowry, Salford (October 11 – 15); New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham (October 18 – 22); and King’s Theatre, Edinburgh (October 25 – 29).


Moonlight review at the Donmar Warehouse

I feel rather fortuitous, given that I stumbled upon an advert for Harold Pinter’s Moonlight at the Donmar a full two months before the performance was to commence. With that knowledge in mind, I swiftly snapped up a pair of tickets with the only drawback being that I had to suspend my anticipation for what seemed like aeons before I had the opportunity to see it on stage- woe is me!

The performance did not let me down as I was compelled, emotionally roused and drawn to constantly search for my own interpretation within Pinter’s typically tacit and nuanced play. The intimate Donmar was the ideal venue for this tragic tale of the embittered Andy, lying on his death bed with his long-suffering wife, Bel, meditating on his past, speaking lucidly and with caustic reverie of his past indiscretions. The two other main characters are their sons, Jake and Fred, who live in a dingy bedsit, both bedraggled and offer no sympathy and very little mention of their dying father, choosing rather to indulge in intellectual wordplay- a clear indication that Andy was perhaps not exactly a model father. Andy and Bel’s deceased daughter also makes a couple of fleeting appearances, to bridge the gap between life and death.

The performances across the entire cast were excellent, with particular reference to David Bradley’s Andy. Bradley has the face of a man who has suffered, worn away by the pitfalls of life and rendered in to a scathing, scabrous malcontent. This play was a meditation of the final moments of death, when you have nowt to do but to think of the most significant memories that have defined you over the years, when all you can do is reminisce and try and celebrate what you have achieved. There is no celebration of life through Andy however as he questions why his sons have not visited him which is never explicitly answered, though through certain allusions to the past you can safely deduct that his rather bitter behaviour has contributed to his loneliness in death. Bel, played by Deborah Findlay, acting as the voice of calm and reason, is a brilliant counterpoint for Max; dry in her delivery but with an undercurrent of warmth that becomes clearer as the play reaches its climax.

It is not difficult to admire the genius of Pinter, his superior command of the language, lines of dialogue which are eloquent and forever poetic and this play showcased his talents in spades. The set was perfectly structured, with the two settings placed next to one another that allowed for swift interchanges between the two scenes; and, owing to the intimacy of the venue and the standard of performances across the cast, it at times felt as if this was not a work of fiction but a tragic slice of real life.