Monthly Archives: May 2013

Review: Raven Girl and Symphony in C, Royal Ballet

“36 minutes of pure joy,” said the woman beside me at the end of Symphony in C and I couldn’t put it better: Balanchine’s choreography is pure elegance. The first movement was slightly ragged but could be excused as both principal dancers were late substitutes – all the other three were perfect.

The new work I was looking forward to was Raven Girl. The story by Audrey Niffenegger is darkly, magical and the score by Gabriel Yared matched it well. Wayne McGregor’s choreography seemed good – from what I could see of it. A screen used for projection across the front of the stage, a grim, grey set and gloomy lighting combined to give the effect of standing in front of someone’s house, looking through their window and net curtains to see the ballet on a black and white television in the front room. The only time I could really see the dancers properly was at the curtain call. Maybe it was OK in the stalls.


Review: Public Enemy, Young Vic

Another stupendous revival at the Young Vic. It is almost impossible to believe that Ibsen’s play (usually translated as Enemy of the People) was written in 1882. The issues are very much of today – a troubleshooter discovering an environmental issue that threatens to disrupt the local economy, an attempted cover-up, the manipulation of share prices, the role of the media. Other issues, such as the tension between family ties and professional duty, are eternal. David Harrower’s new version of the play carries it forward at a cracking pace – 95 minutes straight through with no interval.

Rather than bring it completely up to date, the production is wisely set in 1970s Norway – recent enough to keep it relevant to today but long enough ago that the local newspaper and public meetings are still dominant forms of communication. Rather than the Young Vic’s usual layout, the seats face the stage which spreads across the width of the theatre. This means much neck-twisting if you are sitting at the end of row B like me but it was well worth the discomfort.

Sorry it’s a short, sketchy review – I’m off the ROH this afternoon and rished to let you know about the Time Out half price ticket offer to this. Extremely good value – I can’t imagine why it hasn’t already sold out – I’d say grab them while you can!

Review: Seven Year Twitch, Orange Tree Theatre

To many of us, there is something intrinsically funny about the idea of twitching, or obsessive bird-watching. This play plays on this and certainly has some funny moments and one extremely funny scene, but there are also darker undercurrent. David Lewis both wrote and directed the play but, as the amusing dialogue between the writer and director in the programme makes clear, he has successfully kept the two roles distinct from each other.

The play looks at two therapists, each counselling one partner of a failing marriage while one of the therapists also goes through a marital crisis. I will not explain further as I don’t want to spoil it. Therapy is perhaps over-used by writers to allow characters to open up their inner feelings – I have never met someone in real life who attends this type of therapy –  but when written and acted this well it works. After laughing during the play, I left the theatre thinking far more about the dark, underlying theme about the impact on the parents of losing a child which slowly emerges. Funny and thought-provokng: what more can you ask from a play?

Review: Turangalila Symphony, Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra

Another concert in the stupendous The Rest is Noise at the South Bank, as part of which I saw Child of our Time a few weeks ago. As with that work, I have loved Messiaen’s amazing “symphony” since the 60s but have never seen it live. As with all concerts in the series, there was an introduction and an interview with the conductor, Thierry Fischer, who explained the scale of the work: two soloists (Stefan Stroissnig on piano and Cynthia Millar on the astonishing ondes martenot), 12 percussionists, including celeste, glockenspiel and vibraphone emulating a gamelan orchestra, plus full symphony orchestra with what is effectively a brass band’s worth additional instrumentation.

It is no wonder that this (like the Paris premiere) was performed by a student orchestra and they performed it excellently. Although the work seems very complex on record, in a live performance it becomes clearer that virtuoso performances are only demanded from the two soloists, each section of the orchestra performing simpler, highly tuneful music – the complexity comes from hearing all of them at once. It is still a very distinctive, joyful and highly melodic work which made for an extremely enjoyable evening. Tippett started composing Child of our Time on the day war was declared; Messiaen started composing Turangalila in 1946, just after it ended. The first was a warning about the war to come, the other a celebration of its ending, both huge, both intensely beautiful.

Review: Alice in Wonderland, Ballet Theatre UK

It might appear very brave of Christopher Moore, Ballet Theatre UK’s director, to take on the Royal Ballet in choreographing Lewis Carroll’s story, but the two productions could hardly be more different. The Royal Ballet are superb as one would expect but this is is a far more intimate and friendly production: I have never known so many young children be so quiet, enthralled from start to finish. The furthest seat in the Beck Theatre is closer to the stage than any in the ROH amphitheatre and it was only at the end that I realised that there were just 12 dancers in the company: they all work so hard and dance so many roles.

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The amazing dancing table and a more conventional scene.

Apart from the central role of Alice (sorry I don’t have the name of the dancer), my favourite was the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Unlike other productions which might feature the Mad Hatter, the March Hare or the Dormouse, the highlight of this was the dancing table itself, showing just how original this production is. Now touring, this is a terrific introduction to ballet for young children and very enjoyable for old folks like me too!

Review: La Bayadère, Royal Ballet

This was the worst audience I have ever had to cope with, chattering over the ballet and drowning out the orchestra when they were playing during the scene changes: I almost left at the end of the first act but I am so glad I didn’t. I wasn’t sure whether the first act was poor, which was why people were talking, or whether people were talking because it was poor. On the whole, I think the noise spoilt a performance that I could have enjoyed. However, the second act (often performed in it own right) was stupendous and people stopped chattering. The biggest cheer was for the corps de ballet who were mesmerisingly good. The third, short, act was fine but the three acts almost seemed to come from three separate ballets. The music by Minkus was pretty feeble but the second act was well worth the price of admission on its own (the second day running I’ve had a great £12 ticket).

Review: Children of the Sun, National Theatre

This makes a fascinating contrast to Summerfolk which I saw a few weeks ago. Maxim Gorky wrote the two plays at the same time and in both cases, the first half sets up the characters, the home owner with his poetry writing sister, the constant servant, various people in love with other people; the second half plays then out the drama resulting from these relationships and reminds us that behind this privileged group people are starving.

ChildrenoftheSun_2 L to R: Geoffrey Streatfield as Protasov, Emma Lowndes as Liza and Justine Mitchell as Yelena. Photo by Richard Hubert Smith, courtesy National Theatre

I do not want to spoil it by giving away any more but a crucial incident in Summerfolk which plays out as farce becomes a tragedy in Children of the Sun. The acting, direction and set were, of course, superior to those at LAMDA but it is surprising how well the latter did in their relatively impoverished circumstances. Gorky has been shamefully overlooked for so long, perhaps because he was Stalin’s favourite playwright. Thoroughly recommended.

Review: The Play that Goes Wrong, Trafalgar Studios 2

This is a hilarious play in which the title says it all. It portrays an amateur production by the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society in which everything that can go wrong does, starting with an apology to those seated in the wrong Trafalgar Studio who thought they’d booked to see James MacAvoy’s Mabeth in the theatre upstairs.

This simple concept is transformed by performances which had me laughing more than I’ve laughed at anything since Ayckbourn’s Taking Steps at the Orange Tree. The play cleverly builds up, moving to ever more absurd situations with tremendous comic effect, terrific slapstick and perfect timing. I last saw Henry Lewis in the awesome Mercury Fur at the same theatre and it is difficult to imagine two more different parts but he pulled this off sublimely – definitely an actor to watch.

Review: Child of Our Time, London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir

I have loved this work by Tippett since I discovered it in the 1960s, around the same time as Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow. Ryan Wigglesworth conducted with great skill and passion and the choir were in fine voice. The bass, Matthew Rose, was astonishing with every word coming across clearly; the other three soloists were good but slightly less clear. Tippett started writing this oratorio in 1939 on the day Britain declared war and continued through his own internment as a conscientious objector. It deals with the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis but was completed in 1941, before the true horror of the Holocaust was revealed. In looking for a voice to represent an oppressed people, he turned to spirituals rather than more conventional religious passages. I was not sure these would still work but within seconds of “Steal away” starting, the prickles ran not just up my spine but all my body. My only slight reservation was seeing black music sung when there was not a single black person among the 200 or so in the orchestra and choir. This work is crying out for someone to bring it to life with a gospel choir, and Willard White would have been even better as the bass. A great start for my first concert in The Rest is Noise, the massively ambitious run through the 20th century music at the South Bank.