It was a particularly good year for non-narrative ballet and ENB’s triple bill had to be my favourite dance programme of the year. I watched the matinee on 12 March and did rather expect the B team, so I was particularly thrilled to see dancers such as Tamara Rojo and Erina Takahashi in three superb examples of modern ballet. The Royal Ballet also thrilled with Connectome and Monotones, although both were repeats of recent productions.
Of the narrative ballets, Vienna Festival Ballet was as enjoyable as ever with Coppelia and Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Carmina Burana was wonderfully spectacular. Apart from Onegin at the start of the year, it was not so good for the Royal Ballet, culminating with a Carmen that had me laughing for the wrong reasons.
When I retired I thought it would be the chance to go to all the concerts, theatres, exhibitions and restaurants I never had time for when I was working. This year I’ve enjoyed 70 concerts and performances, plus those for which I’ve been a volunteer usher. I’ve also been to 37 exhibitions or other days out and eaten 71 restaurant meals (plus those on holiday). That’s not been anywhere near enough – the number of important art exhibitions and concerts I’ve missed is horrifying. Despite that, I’ve decided to resurrect my blog with a few of my favourites of the year as there’s not enough room for on Twitter. I’ll just wait for the year to finish first.
I loved it at ENO and OperaUpClose, so why not Royal Opera? I used to think I didn’t like Verdi, then a friend talked me into Simon Boccanegra at the ENO which I enjoyed. Interested, I tried OperaUpClose’s Traviata and loved it. It was a tender story, delicately told and carried a huge emotional charge. The same charge was there for the ENO’s Traviata. It was grander and more dramatic but there were also great choruses and terrific orchestration. I’ve loved plenty of Royal Opera productions, most notably their astonishing Wozzeck last year, so I tried their Traviata.
The singing was superb, the orchestra magnificent, so why did I leave at the second interval? Party I didn’t get the sense of being drawn into a terrific drama and hardly cared what happened to Violetta. The superb soloists sang their arias to the audience who applauded them, then went off in the excessively long intervals to drink their G & Ts and their champagne or pack the restaurants. I drank my free plastic cup of water and just felt so alienated. I don’t think these were people who would have appreciated Wozzeck or Satyagraha – they just loved the experience of Grand Opera and the singers showed off to them. Now I understand why I didn’t like Verdi or Puccini – this is the Verdi I don’t like. I am looking forward to the ENO’s Carmen tomorrow. I know the audience will be full of real people enjoying wonderful music and an absorbing story but I’ll give the more famous operas at the ROH a miss in future.
I have not been updating the blog for a while. Since Man and Superman I have not seen anything early enough in its run to be worth reviewing, but also I now tend to use Twitter instead, so if you are interested in my immediate comments on productions, please follow me there.
I’ve held off saying anything about this but it was press night last night so I see no problem. It’s 3 hours 20 minutes, plus one interval and Ralph Fiennes is on stage for almost the whole of it, talking for a good half of that, and he is perfect. It’s unfair to concentrate on him though, as there’s not a dud performance in it. OK, there were a couple of minor glitches but it was a preview. They may well add more performances – keep an eye out and grab it if you can.
A brilliantly written, astonishingly well staged examination of morality in the virtual world. A grey interrogation room opens up to show a very beautiful virtual reality in which people can experience anything they want to. Is it acceptable to rape and murder a child when you know the ‘child’ is really a willing adult who wants to partake and the the ‘child’ will be resurrected instantly? This play will not give you an answer but I guarantee it will leave trying to work out your own answers: I haven’t finished yet. This is easily the most important play I’ve seen this year and really should be seen by anyone interested in the Internet.
A great little comedy about a couple in their 40s inviting a younger couple round for a nookie. It’s not for children but don’t expect anything to be explicit other than the language. It’s actually more of a comedy about class, manners and relationships than the sex comedy you might expect. The cast are mostly billed according to their fame on TV: Charlie Brooks and Tanya Franks from Eastenders, Jason Durr from Heartbeat, with the exception of Off West End Award nominee Ralph Aiken, but don’t let that worry you. Unlike some famous actors from television, these four are all good stage actors. Very enjoyable all round.
I haven’t reviewed theatre lately as everything I’ve seen has been on for ages, but here’s a quick summary of my thoughts for anyone who might be interested.
King Charles III (Wyndham’s). I was initially put off on hearing it was in verse but I was wrong. Don’t let it put you off as it’s a great satire. Tim Pigott-Smith is perfect as the pig-headed King who can’t leave the government to govern. Harry is trying to learn to live like Common People with a girl who studies art at St Martin’s College, leaving it up to Kate to help William try to move the monarchy into the 21st century. I won’t tell you the outcome as if you haven’t seen it yet then you must.
3 Winters (Lyttelton). Croatia’s history from 1945 to (almost) the present day, as illustrated in its effect on a specific family. It’s a good story, well acted but the first half is too slow. It really picks up after the interval and it doesn’t need to be as long as it is.
Go See (King’s Head). I saw this on the last day of its run so didn’t review it, but it may come back. A tender examination of attitudes to sex in the 1980’s thanks to Norris Church Mailer. It’s a shame all the fuss was about it being the only play by Norman Mailer’s wife, rather than the two excellent performances by Peter Tate (great in American Justice too) and Lauren Fox.
39 Steps and The Play That Goes Wrong – both very silly and very funny, perfect to cheer you up in the depths of winter.
Finally, I saw Beatriz Stix-Brunell as Alice in the Royal Ballet’s Alice in Wonderland. The fact that she came over as such a different character to the original by Lauren Cuthbertson just goes to show how Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography, Joby Talbot’s music and Bob Crowley’s designs have combined to make this ballet the first masterpiece of the century. I hope to see many re-interpretations over the years.
Violence, bad language, blasphemy and a bit of nudity. If that offends you, it’s even more reason why you must see this play. Philip Ridley is probably the most exciting playwright in Britain today and even if this is not his greatest play, it’s a very good example of his work. It starts with the tense domesticity of The Fastest Clock in the Universe and ends in a surreal vision more akin to Mercury Fur. One of the more extreme characters even suggests that we are seeing the end of the old world and the beginning of their new one. Despite its in your face, violent presentation, there is so much subtlety and ambiguity that any description is impossible: just go and see it and ask yourself why doesn’t the National Theatre have the courage to commission him?
If Michael Billington’s four star review in the Guardian can’t pack them in, my little blog will hardly matter. Shape of the Table was brilliantly performed by this American company, and to say Pentecost was not quite as good is hardly a criticism, but I suspect the gem will be The Prisoner’s Dilemma which I saw a very good version of a year or two back. Written following the fall of the Berlin Wall almost exactly 25 years ago, it is fascinating to see how David Edgar’s analysis has played out – it’s certainly a more accurate forecast than any of the politicians gave us. Two parts of the trilogy in one day, a Philip Ridley next Thursday and a brand new opera to come on Saturday. What a week!