Review: Natural Affection @JSTheatre Jermyn Street Theatre

What a discovery! This is an astonishing, powerful play getting its well deserved UK premiere over 50 years after it was written. Lysette Anthony is superb as Sue, a successful, single woman living in Chicago with a younger partner Bernie, excellently played by Timothy Knightley. He’s struggling to hold down a decent job, won’t marry her and resents the fact that she pays for everything. Into this comes Louis Cardona, totally convincing as her delinquent son, home from a prison farm on the condition that he lives with his mother. The playwright, William Inge, was discovered by Tennessee Williams and there are echoes of the latter in the play’s incredible emotional intensity, although the characters are very different from Williams’s. I do hope it doesn’t take another 50 years before another revival of Inge’s work.

The set has been built on a tight budget and some of the lesser characters are not so well played but it really doesn’t matter when the central actors play as perfectly as this. One warning, though. The programme doesn’t say when the play was written so I made the mistake of looking it up on Wikipedia during the interval. I was amazed to find that it dates back to 1963 but unfortunately the article also gives away the powerful ending of the play, apparently based on a true story.

Review: Diaghilev Festival of Ballet Programme 2, Natalia Sats Children’s Theatre

Other commitments prevented me getting to see Le Coq d’Or but at least I managed the second of the triple bills which included the final scene. First came Scheherazade in the version first performed as part of Les Saisons Russes du XXI siècle a couple of years ago. This was a much more polished performance, with terrific dancing from Julia Makhalina and Artem Yachmennikov as the leads. The excerpt from Le Coq d’Or was great fun but I didn’t really miss seeing the whole thing. Then came a gorgeous treat, a performance of Fokine’s Swan from Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals, originally created for Anna Pavlova. Infuriatingly, it wasn’t listed in the programme and I didn’t catch the name of the brilliant dancer.

The afternoon finished with Polovtsian Dances. This was much more enjoyable than when I saw it as part of Prince Igor earlier this year. In that case, the stage was full of scenery and singers, leaving little space for an unimaginatively choreographed version. On Sunday, the chorus stood in the boxes at the side of the auditorium, with almost no scenery, allowing the dancers wearing copies of Nicholas Roerich‘s original costumes to fill the stage with Fokine’s fabulous choreography. I’m not sure how authentic it was but the back flips by star dancer Maxim Pavlov, only added to the fun. This is the third programme I’ve seen put together by Andris Liepa to honour Diaghilev and it was easily the best, thanks largely to the incredible energy of the young company. At this rate, his next programme is going to be unmissable.

Review: New English Ballet Theatre, Peacock Theatre @NEBT_tweets #TrystDevotionBetrayal

What a fabulous treat! The Kreutzer Sonata was one of those simple, brilliant ideas that makes you wonder why nobody did it before. The violin sonata is one of Beethoven’s most beautiful pieces which then formed the climax of Tolstoy’s story of the same name in which the jealous husband realises his wife is in love with her violin teacher when he sees them playing together. Janáček then based his passionate String Quartet No. 1 on Tolstoy’s story. Andrew McNicol’s ballet brings all three together, telling Tolstoy’s story, using both pieces of music. I hope other companies pick up on this brilliant ballet. If the Royal Ballet performed it then I am certain it would immediately join their standard repertoire. NEBT is a young company and this may not have had quite the same polish, and certainly did not have as expensive sets, but they easily made up for this is sheer energy and passion from the three leading dancers, Hayley Blackburn as the wife, Silas Stubbs as her husband and Joshua Barwick as the violinist. The live music from the Sacconi Quartet and Andrew Harvey on violin, accompanied by Anne Lovett, would have made a delightful concert in its own right but the fusion with the dance was magical.

The Kreutzer Sonata filled the second half of a mixed bill entitled Tryst: Devotion and Betrayal, the first half consisting of four much shorter ballets. The first, Tangents, was choreographed by Daniela Cardim Fonteyne to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Both music and dance were terrific but I was distracted by knowing the former too well and expecting the dance to reflect the titles of the movements which it didn’t. I enjoyed Valentino Zucchetti’s Orbital Motion more, even though it was performed to a recording of Philip Glass’s Violin Concerto No. 1. The dance matched the music perfectly, with the dancers orbiting each other like suns, planets and galaxies. The short Toca from Érico Montes didn’t work for me, maybe because I couldn’t get into the recorded music by Villa-Lobos. The last work in the second half, Mad Women, choregraphed by Kristen McNally lived up to its title, “mad” in the funny sense and performed to a montage of music from many genres, with American adverts and sounds.

I could say much more but this is already much longer than my usual reviews. If you are at all interested in ballet, then this is an absolute must. My only, teeny grumble is that, in the year in which same sex marriage was introduced, I did feel a little disappointed to see an all-white (or near-white) company in which every portrayal of a relationship was between a man and a woman. The company’s work is firmly grounded in classical European ballet, which I do not criticise, but still.

Review: Daytona, Theatre Royal Haymarket @TRH_London

Yet another play with an American setting in the West End but, unlike Other Desert Cities, Good People or Bakersfield Mist, class is not at the centre of this one, although the contrast between two lifestyles is still there. I don’t want to give too much away, but Daytona is about loyalty and betrayal of those around us and of our heritage, as two people take on new identities for very different reasons. This is one of those plays that seems better now than when I watched it but I cannot explain why without giving the story away. I’ve ended up writing and re-writing this review so many times but I still can’t do so effectively. Sorry – but I can say it is definitely worth seeing.

Revew: The Pearl Fishers, English National Opera #ENOfishers @E_N_O

This reminded me of the underwater ballets that I loved in pantomimes when I was young – absolutely enchanting. The direction by Penny Woolcock is mesmerising, combining brilliantly with Dick Bird’s set design and clever use of video. Add in Bizet’s music, some of the most beautiful in any opera, superbly sung by George von Bergen, John Tessier, Sophie Bevan and Barnaby Rea (in order of appearance as all were faultless) and what more could anyone ask for? Answer – more comfortable seating in the balcony! Still, what do you expect for a bargain £12?

Review: Kate Dimbleby, The Crazy Coqs @katedimbleby @CrazyCoqs

Kate Dimbleby, skillfully supported by Naadia Sheriff on piano and backing vocals, presented her collection of Dory Previn songs Beware of Young Girls at the Crazy Coqs,  a magnificent Art Deco cabaret club associated with one of my favourite restaurants, Brasserie Zédel, both worth visiting for the decor alone. I have long loved Dory Previn’s songs but they are so deeply personal that other singers have understandably rarely covered them. Kate Dimbleby gets round this by linking the songs with a description of the life of Dory Previn, so that we understand, for example, the background to the astonishing song My Daddy says I’m not his Child. It is not a Dory Previn impersonation, though. Kate links the songs to Dory’s life but interprets them brilliantly in her own way as a commentary on Dory rather than an impersonation. This was far more than a concert, more of a one person play with songs, carrying the small audience at this intimate club on a huge emotional journey. I loved being reminded what a superb songwriter Dory Previn was, and learning that after all that emotional upheaval, she married again, more happily, and lived to the age of 86.

Review: Carrie’s War @ApolloTheatreCo @BeckTheatre

This was a delightful adaptation of the Nina Bawden story by the Apollo Theatre Company. It beautifully captured the feel of the time in a generally very well acted production. At least one woman old enough to remember the war was at tears at the end and the many school children at the matinee I saw were completely enthralled. There was no amplification and most of the actors were clearly audible, particularly Amy Hamlen who was superb in the title role.Generally, the production, direction and set were faultless and I hope to see this company again. Like almost all book adaptations, it did suffer from an eagerness to cover every significant part of the book but fans of the book would have been disappointed if any had been left out. I hadn’t read the book but never felt I was missing anything – an unexpected treat.