Monthly Archives: July 2013

Review: A Tribute to Rudolf Nureyev, English National Ballet

Thank goodness it was nothing like those gloomy posters. After a short film about Nureyev, the opening ballet was Petrushka, with Fokine’s original choreography and Benois’s designs for the Ballets Russes. The score by Stravinsky is one of his most enjoyable, based on Russian folk tunes like Rite of Spring and the Firebird. The ballet is full of colour and was well danced at the matinee, although Anton Lukovkin did have the unenviable job of following film of Nureyev himself but acquitted himself well. The second ballet, Song of a Wayfarer, is a duet between the wayfarer and his destiny, a calm reflection between the two more exuberant pieces. The Mahler songs were excellently sung in German by Nicholas Lester but there were no surtitles and no libretto in the programme, just a simple description of the ballet.

The triumphant climax of the triple bill was Raymonda Act III, a glorious wedding celebration in gold and white. Going to the matinee, I did not expect the top casting but I cannot believe anyone could have surpassed the performances of Elena Glurdjidze and Dimitri Gruzdyev as the couple getting married. James Streeter and Stina Quagebeur led the company in swirling, exuberant style for the Hungarian dance. This was followed by a series of set pieces, culminating in an astonishing solo by Elena Glurdjidze which drew every ounce of sensuality from Glazunov’s music and well deserved the huge applause it received.

I’m not sure it makes sense to have a tribute to someone who is dead – a Celebration of Rudolf Nureyev might have made more sense and would certainly have fitted the ballets better. A more celebratory, less gloomy poster campaign might also have helped ensure a full house, thought it was not bad for a matinee. If I did not have other commitments, I’d certainly go again.


Bastille Day, Brasserie Zédel

I didn’t blog this before as I don’t usually review restaurants but this was an event. “Join us this Sunday, 14th July, to celebrate Bastille Day… we are offering a three course lunch or dinner for FREE to each and everyone who turns up dressed in a Blue and White Hooped Breton Shirt and a Beret. Moustaches are optional!” As the owner of a genuine Breton shirt (bought in France), how could I resist? For the price of a beret bought at our local market, I enjoyed the menu formule in the company of scores of similarly attired people. That was at 1:30, not the busiest time of day, so I’d guess that there were hundreds of us during the day. One table contained a whole family, all dressed to match, even their daughters’ dolls! Whether it’s Bastille Day or not, Brasserie Zédel is an extraordinary example of beautifully renovated Art Deco and remarkably good value. This wasn’t my first visit and won’t be my last.

The American Plan, St James Theatre

There are echoes of Tennessee Williams Richard Greenberg’s play: the opening scene of a good-looking young man in a swimsuit, the neurotic young woman and the domineering mother but this is set in a Jewish American lakeside resort in the 1950s. The three central characters are brilliantly acted: Diana Quick as the German refugee mother, Emily Taaffe as her daughter Lili and Luke Allen-Gale as the mysterious Nick who appears in his swimsuit at the start of the play, a dead-ringer for a young Hugh Grant. In the two smaller parts, Dona Croll as the maid/companion and Mark Edel- Hunt as the second handsome who appears later are also first class.

Directed by David Grindley, the play simmers with the sexual passion of a hot summer where no-one is quite as they seem. Even after leaving, I was not sure which passions were genuine, whether the mother was controlling her daughter to keep her or to protect her, whether Nick genuinely loved Lili or was just after her money. Above all, I was left thinking and savouring some astonishingly good acting.

Anatomy of a Murder, For Short. Theatre Company

This shows how good site-specific theatre can be. For around a third of the price of Punchdrunk’s mess, here is a tight courtroom drama set within an old courtroom (actually a tribunal hearing room, I believe). My heart sank as it started in much the way as The Drowned Man with someone leading groups of people up to the bar, then up to the courtroom. Once there, it could not have been more different. I heard one brief episode in a neighbouring room and missed some incidental chat but the main action took place in the courtroom itself and I missed nothing of the story. I was privileged to be the foreman of the jury but you can sit further back if you want – it is quite intimate so you won’t miss anything.

You can get a feel of how appropriate the set was from the photographs here and there is also a short trailer on YouTube. Based, like the film of the same name, on a 1958 book by Robert Traver (the pseudonym of a Michigan lawyer who based it on one of his own cases), the play by Elihi Winer was not completed until 1963 and I have a feeling that this brought its themes crucially closer to the issues of our own time. The cast are relatively young and inexperienced and I can only believe that they put in weeks of hard work to get this good – even the accents were convincing: I have sat on three juries and can vouch for the authenticity of this. I’d love to give high praise to the director but For Short. do not appear to work like that: under patrons Simon Russell Beale and Mark Rylance, they build the production through workshops, often with more experienced actors and directors. I do hope that the Punchdrunk team visit this and realise how well it can be done.

I’ve just fund there are tickets still available here. Don’t miss this one!

The Drowned Man, Punchdrunk and National Theatre

I had high expectations of this which were sadly not met. Subtitled a Hollywood Fable, Punchdrunk have created an amazing installation, a huge ex-sorting office turned into Temple Studios, in which a story is being acted. As some parts of the story happen in small spaces and the total audience is around 600, it means most people do not see most of the action. Other blogs have recommended following a specific character around but they moved too quickly for me to follow so all I got was glimpses. Some were very intense, e.g. a naked man being drowned/baptised/washed by a woman in a blood-red bath; others were banal. In all, I probably saw less than half an hour’s action in nearly three hours.

Punchdrunk had told us the performance ended at 8 p.m. so when a member of staff ushered us towards the ground floor at 7:45, we assumed we were being herded out and left. Asking why there were still so many bags at the compulsory bag check-in, the woman told us that the finale was taking place at that moment! I considered going back in but could probably not have seen it with that many people in front of, just as I hadn’t been able to see the last couple of things I had tried to follow. If you are young and energetic, willing to push us older people out of the way and follow the action then it may well be great; if not, save your money.

Private Lives, Gielgud Theatre

It’s great that the curse of Kenneth Tynan has been lifted. Along with Design for Living and Hay Fever over the last couple of years, this shows what a great playwright Noël Coward was. Like Terence Rattigan who is also back in fashion, his plays may seem like light comedies about people whose lives are irrelevant to us today but this is just the surface. This has plenty of the famous quotes: “Extraordinary how potent cheap music is… very flat, Norfolk,” etc., but underneath this there are complex human relationships. Toby Stephens and Anna Chancellor play the divorced couple who meet again on honeymoon with their new partners; Anna-Louise Plowman and Anthony Calf play their respective new spouses. All four are excellent. We got tickets through a Time Out £10 deal but the £10 tickets are still available on the day.

Review: Deathtrap, Beck Theatre and touring

This is why I love theatre. There was nothing great about the performance but Stephen Beckett is very good as the central character and the plot is skilfully crafted with twists and turns. This is the sort of thing I used to watch at my local rep. In those days, a company of actors would take on a number of plays in a season and perform them at this level. They often featured creaking plots and creaking scenery but they engrossed me in a way that cinema can rarely achieve. Do catch it if it comes near you for a simple, enjoyable night out.

Review: Othello, National Theatre (Olivier)

I feel pretty certain I’ve just seen the winner(s) of the next Olivier for Best Actor. I am not sure whether it will be Adrian Lester’s Othello or Rory Kinnear’s Iago. Olivia Vinall’s Desdemona might even pick up an award – a very assured performance for a relative newcomer. In all, this was about as good as theatre can get, dominated by two extraordinary performances. Nicholas Hytner’s direction must have been excellent to produce the performances but my one tiny  quibble was with the setting. The earlier part placed it at any time in the last 50 or 60 years but the unnecessary introduction of a small laptop narrowed this to within the last five (possibly ten) years. There have been at least three conflicts in Cyprus in my lifetime: more vagueness over timing could have left it with echoes of any or all of these, making it less modern but more relevant to modern times. But it is an extremely small quibble over an otherwise perfect production.

Review: Boston Ballet Programme 1

With Darcy Bussell and Carlos Acosta in the audience, the company had to be good – and they were. Serenade, an early Balanchine work, was very American and reminded me Jerome Robbins’s work for West Side Story over 20 years later. It must have been quite ground breaking in its time but it was not a patch on the brilliant Symphony in Three Movements, also choreographed by Balanchine to music by Stravinsky – it was well worth attending for this alone. Between these was a new work, Plan to B, by Jorma Elo to music by von Biber. The other works were excellently accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra but this was performed to a recording, presumably due to the early instruments required. It was a virtuoso pieced with six amazing young dancers. This was followed by yet another performance of Nijinsky’s Apres Midi d’un Faun. I first saw this about 50 years ago and it still bewilders me. At its best, it has a strange power; sadly the faun in this performance lacked the sexual power the role demands. On the plus side, they used the complete Bakst backdrop and this and the beautiful music made it well worthwhile. I’d love to see programme 2 but unfortunately will not be free.


Review: Our Town, King’s Head Theatre

Edward Albee called this play by Thornton Wilder “the finest play ever written by an American,” and I can see why. Apparently performed somewhere in the USA every day since it was written in 1938, it portrays the family life of a straightforward god-fearing small New England town. What lifts it from being as boring as that sounds is its groundbreaking construction. To paraphrase Steve Coogan’s description of Tristram Shandy, this is post-modern theatre before there was much modern to be post. The central character is the stage manager, extremely well played by Simon Dobson, who starts by telling us that we are watching a play in three acts and describes the scene: there is no scenery. At one point he holds up a copy of the play and explains that he is putting it in a time capsule to show how ordinary Americans lived in the years from 1901 to 1913.

The first act includes a birth, the second is based around a wedding and the final act shows a burial, as seen by the other inhabitants of the graveyard. It makes a very interesting contrast with Strange Interludelast week. Both were experimental plays describing generations of American life:- the Eugene O’Neill featured nine actors on a stage larger than the King’s Head theatre; this had 14 actors. The American accents of the National Theatre actors were perfect; this had actors from five continents directed by an American, Tim Sullivan, who wisely made no attempt to change their accents. With the limited resources of such a small theatre, one or two of the less important parts were poorly acted but this did not detract from the excellent overall effect. Anyone interested in theatre must see this production.