Monthly Archives: April 2013

Review: Jah Wobble and Bill Sharpe, Islington Assembly Hall

Draw a line from the Modern Jazz Quartet through Weather Report and this is where it might end up itoday. The influences are clear, even a touch of Keith Emerson on one keyboard solo, but the sound is an integrated, original whole, held together by Jah Wobble’s powerful bass. Sean Corby on brass and Marc Layton-Bennett on drums complete an extremely accomplished quartet who played the new album, Kingdom of Fitzrovia, in full. You could see the sheer joy of each of them in playing with the other three, working off each other brilliantly. My only disappointment were the banal lyrics, “You make me happy,” of the only song which didn’t give the vocalist, PJ Higgins, much of a chance. I’ve followed Jah Wobble from PiL, through Invaders of the Heart and collaborations with Eno and others through to this. Undoubtedly the best bass player in the country, I can’t wait to see where he goes next but for now, I’d love to hear more from this quartet.


Review: Summerfolk, LAMDA at the Pleasance Theatre

Gorky wrote this in the same year as Chekhov wrote the Cherry Orchard and it has a very similar feel. It is the world of the new, educated middle class. All grew up in the working class but now they are doctors, engineers, etc. At the centre are the ‘summerfolk’ staying at their dachas in the country, lazing about, drinking too much, having affairs. In the background are the real workers, the maid on constant call, the watchmen patrolling through the night to protect them from the poor. Gorky has a harder political edge than Chekhov which can get a little heavy handed but this is well worth watching, especially as it is free! LAMDA may be students but they are some our best, many already working professionally. They were very good in this but did not seem quite as home with the period as they were with the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Having just seen my first Gorky play, I’m looking forward to Children of the Sun at the National Theatre next week.

Review: Cantus Arcticus by Bruce Munro, Waddesdon Manor

Of all the National Trust properties I have been to, Waddesdon Manor does the most to promote contemporary art.


This year they have a wonderful installation by Bruce Munro inspired by the Northern Lights. Unlike many NT properties, you are allowed to take photographs pretty much anywhere as long as you don’t use flash. I took these with an iPhone but I am sure I will visit this again and try to remember to take a proper camera but these do give some idea of the immersive feeling of this terrific work.


There is another new acquisition in the gardens which is great fun, Le Carrosse by Xavier Veilhan but I am sure there will be much more over the summer –

Review: Ecstasy & Death, English National Ballet

Thank you, Tamara Rojo, for revitalising the English National Ballet. The ENB’s range was beautifully highlighted by the three works gathered as Ecstasy & Death. The first, Petite Mort, a modern ballet choreographed by Jiří Kylián was possibly the most advanced, challenging work I have seen the ENB tackle and they performed it perfectly. The title is a French term for orgasm, literally “little death,” encapsulating both sides of the triple bill’s title, as did the next ballet, Roland Petit’s Le Jeune Homme et la Mort. With a story by Jean Cocteau, set in an artist’s garrett and on Paris rooftops, this was a glorious melodrama, beautifully danced by Fabian Reimair as the tortured young artist and Jia Zhang as both the girl who he makes love to and the figure of Death who carries him away at the end.

There was nothing profound about Harald Lander’s Etudes which closed the programme. Its setting is a dance studio with ballet dancers practising their moves, giving the whole company a chance to show off which they did to glorious effect. Tamara Rojo herself took the starring role, as a twirling, swirling tour-de-force, as if to ram home what her leadership has brought to the company. There was a special cheer at the end for Alban Lendorf who came in to partner her at very short notice (he was not even on the day’s cast list) to replace the injured Vadim Muntagirov.

I feel sorry for Tamara Rojo’s predecessor, Wayne Eagling, – his Nutcracker is the best I have ever seen – but I think it was time for a change. Coming from the Royal Ballet, she appears to have brought two things with her. The first is a much better pricing policy: I had a good seat in the Upper Circle for £10. Unfortunately the second is overlong intervals: two intervals of 30 minutes each. If an audience can manage 100 minutes of Sunken Garden with no interval, then I’m sure we can  manage 90 minutes of dance with just one. Even the ENB previous practice of one 25 and one 20 minute interval was preferable.

Review: Sunken Garden, English National Opera at the Barbican

Roderick Williams stood out as Pollux in ENO’s Castor & Pollux and is brilliant in this. There are no surtitles and none would be necessary if the other singers sang as clearly as he does.

English National Opera 2013The Sunken Garden
Roderick Williams with Kate Miller-Heidke (c) Mike Hoban

The music is excellent and the 3D video visually stunning:

English National Opera 2013 The Sunken GardenEnglish National Opera 2013The Sunken Garden
Claron McFadden, Roderick Williams, Katherine Manley (c) Mike Hoban

The last thing I saw, “Table” at the Shed, used a bare stage with a table and a few chairs, a handful of excellent actors and a simple family saga but ended up much greater than the sum of its parts. This had a great score by Michel van der Aa, very well conducted by André de Ridder (not easy when you need to integrate singing on video with live singing, beautiful singing), an intriguing story by David Mitchell (the one who wrote Cloud Atlas), fantastic visual effects and yet it somehow ended up as less than the sum of its parts. Each of those elements is great and it is well worth watching for that alone – I’d rather see an experiment that does not quite work than a company just playing it safe.


Review: Table, The Shed (National Theatre)

The Shed is the amazing new theatre at the National Theatre, temporarily replacing the Cottesloe which is being refurbished.

8758_NT_The Shed_image by Philip Vile 8504_NT_The Shed_image by Philip VilePhotographs by Philip Vile, courtesy National Theatre

The Shed has been constructed as a “temporary venue celebrating new theatre that is adventurous, ambitious and unexpected.” Not too ambitious or unexpected in this case, though: director Rufus Norris and movement director Javier De Frutos previously worked together on the excellent London Road at the Cottesloe which was so successful that it transfered to the much larger Olivier stage where I saw it. Rufus Norris also directed the Don Giovanni and Dr Dee for the ENO.

“Table” is a celebration of six generations of a family through the table constructed, used and abused by each generation, from David Best, the carpenter who built it (and whose corpse was laid out on it) through to Su-Lin, the surrogate child of Anthony Best with his partner Ben, dancing on it below.

Jpeg7_Rosalie Craig (Elizabeth), Michael Shaeffer (David)_imageRichardHubertSmith
From left to right, Rosalie Craig (Elizabeth), Michael Shaeffer (David),
image by Richard Hubert Smith, courtesy National Theatre

Jpeg13_Sophie Wu (Su Lin), Paul Hilton (Gideon)_imageRichardHubertSmith
Sophie Wu (Su Lin), Paul Hilton (her grandfather, Gideon)
image by Richard Hubert Smith, courtesy National Theatre

The play is nominally written by Tanya Ronder, Rufus Norris’s partner, but she explains in the programme (which you must buy if only to keep track of the generations) that it evolved through research and collaboration between the two of them and the nine excellent actors. That’s also how it comes across, as an excellent whole, much better than the sum of its parts. As you would expect over six generations, there are episodes of humour and episodes of sadness. Underneath all this is a common thread of selfishness versus commitment. This is not always as one might expect. Who is actually the selfish one: the nun running off to become a missionary in Africa or the atheist twin brother who stays at home, nursing his father after his stroke?

Review: Midnight Express, Peter Schaufuss Ballet

After reading some of the reviews I wasn’t sure whether this would be worth going to. However, it was clear that most of the critics hated the disco-dancing guards at the back of the stage who I thought were great, contrasting with and thereby highlighting the brutality of the violence at the front of the stage. There has also been much criticism of the soundtrack which combines disco with Mozart. Oddly, the first track that came up on my iPhone on the way there was DM Ashura vs W.A.Mozart – Dies Irae, so I had no problem with the combination! However, it was clunkily put together and would have been better mixed by a skilled DJ such as Fatboy Slim. Faults aside, I enjoyed the performance and felt it had potential to be a great work. The dancing, particularly by Johan Christensen as Billy Hayes, was excellent and the set was fantastic. There was also a lovely duet between Christensen and Wayne Eagling playing his father. Wayne Sleep made a short appearance in Schaufuss’s Romeo and Juliet a couple of years ago – does he have a thing about Waynes?

Review: The Thrill of Love, St James Theatre

Faye Castelow who was so great in After the Dance at the National plays Ruth Ellis in this play about the last woman to be hanged in Britain. It is a superb performance, into which she throws her all, looking totally drained at the curtain call. Apart from the detective investigating the killing who acts as narrator, the cast is all female which makes a pleasant change after seeing so many all-male or male dominated plays. It is also written by a woman and sees Ruth Ellis’s tragedy very much from a woman’s viewpoint. The direction (by a man) is a little clumsy in places, unnecessarily trying to add drama through flashing lights and sound effects, but this is very well worth seeing. Time Out Offers are offering 41% off at the moment – don’t miss it. P.S. it is an extremely comfortable, modern theatre.

Review: Without Words, Nunc Dimittis and Prelude, Mikhailovsky Ballet

These astonishingly beautiful works showed why Nacho Duato is such a highly regarded choreographer, matched with peerless dancing from the whole company. Compared to the recent Royal Ballet triple bill, this was a class above. Duato’s choreography seamlessly mixes classical ballet with elements of modern dance in a way I have never seen before. It also shone musically with the use of a Schubert cello sonata for Without Words contrasting with the shallowness of the Chopin that the RB seems to love so much. Nunc Dimittis was danced to a pre-recorded score (I accept getting an organ, church bells and a choir would have been tricky) but the dancing by Ekaterina Borchenko for whom it was created was spellbinding. For Prelude, the full orchestra played an excellent blend of Handel, Beethoven and Britten, featuring soprano Svetlana Moskalenko, whilst the dancers shone again. I only wish I had the technical expertise and linguistic fluency to praise this more precisely.

Review: Alice in Wonderland, Royal Ballet

This was absolutely magical. The music, scenery, choreography and special effects all blended to create my most enjoyable visit to the ballet this year. There were five cast changes, including the key roles of Alice and the Knave of Hearts. It says a lot about the overall quality of the Royal Ballet at the moment that I could’t have cared less; Yuhui Choe and Nehemiah Kish were both excellent! The choreography by Christopher Wheeldon is particularly fascinating, blending classical ballet with a Busby Berkeley style routine for the Waltz of the Flowers and even a tap-dancing Mad Hatter (danced superbly by Donald Thom). A real classic and ten times better than the RB’s recent Swan Lake.