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?
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.
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.
The (only) good thing about the football thingy going on at the moment is that it leads to cheap theatre tickets. This is a fascinating work but I’m glad I didn’t pay full price. The acting and direction are superb – the trouble is the play. Three acts are naturalistic, with all the clichés of Irish drama, such as alcohol, religion, domestic abuse, etc. There is even one scene that could have come straight out of a Graham Lineham comedy as two men panic over a ringing telephone, unsure how to cope with it. The problem is act 2 which is half sung, half spoken verse, attempting to show the horror of the first world war, plus the usual caricature of the senior officer as an upper class prat, rather like Blackadder Goes Forth, but I felt it was neither as funny nor as moving. Still, it’s an important play and I’m glad I’ve seen it. I was also quite glad to have seen a captioned performance as some of the Irish accents were very strong.
This is a wonderful collection to see in one building. Start on the first floor with Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress, then David Hockney’s Rake’s Progress, a fabulous set of prints marking his own progress as a rake in 60s, culminating with Grayson Perry’s The Vanity of Small Differences which follows the progress of Tim Rakewell in modern Britain. I saw the fascinating TV programme in which Grayson Perry described the development of these tapestries but they are so much greater in reality, both in size and in impact. Also in the exhibition are Yinka Shonibare’s fascinating Diary of a Victorian Dandy which was new to me, offering another take on Hogarth’s work through a series of photographed tableaux of the artist as the dandy. There are also a newly commissioned set of works by Jessie Brennan which didn’t work for me, moving too far from the original. I stopped reviewing exhibitions a while ago but I had to mention this which is an absolute must, examining class, race and culture through the eyes of some great artists across 100 years.
It was a brilliant move by the director, Nadia Fall, to bring this comedy forward from the 1880s to the 1960s. Philip Larkin famously wrote, “Sexual intercourse began. In nineteen sixty-three. (which was rather late for me). Between the end of the Chatterley ban. And the Beatles’ first LP,” and “Swinging London” wasn’t celebrated by Time magazine until 1966. Even by then, it was only really London that swung and this play is set in Salford, so it made sense to see a daughter still fighting for independence against her domineering father, just like Bill Naughton’s Spring and Port Wine which was first staged in 1965.
The excellent direction also ensured there was not a weak performance in the production. Mark Benton played the father, balancing comedy and bathos superbly, but the standout performance for me was Jodie McNee, the oldest daughter who decides to take control of her life. Karl Davies was also superb as weak Willie Mossop, the man she decides to marry, as she uses her strength, not to domineer him as it might appear at first, but to build him up into the successful shoe salesman her father has now ceased to be. The music is not over-used cleverly starting with Sinatra and the Madison, ending with Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Twist, reminding us yet again of how pivotal that time was.
Finally, there’s a great plus in the new seating, much better than it was.
It is impossible not to describe The Dream as magical. Frederick Ashton ditched the Athenian court, ditched Pyramus and Thisbe and centred the ballet around Oberon and Titania, parts created for Anthony Dowell and Antoinette Sibley, both of whom helped as lead coaches for this production. Steven McRae and Roberta Marquez danced beautiful and Bennet Garside managed to dance wonderfully and also be very funny as Bottom, with Paul Kay as a very mischievous Puck. Alastair Marriott’s Connectome could hardly have been more different, highlighting the brilliant dancing of Natalia Osipova accompanied by six male dancers. The other great star of the production was the lighting designer, Bruno Poet, who worked with Es Devlin’s clever set to astonishing effect, so good I could have happily watched it even without the dancers. Sadly, I decided to skip the final ballet of the evening to get home before midnight – shame there wasn’t a matinee.
Despite rave reviews in the press, I didn’t want to see this play at first. I changed my mind when I realised why I was put off. It was those posters with Imelda Staunton on them triggering memories of Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter! In both the books and the films. I thought her banal, bureaucratic evil was much more frightening than Voldemort’s, if only for being more realistic. She is, of course, a great actress, able to play both Umbridge and Maggie in this, a woman struggling at the bottom of society in South Boston, trying to be a decent person and trusting those around her to be “good people” too. As with a couple of other plays I’ve seen this year, act one helps us to get to know the characters, leading to policical/ class conflict in the second act. Despite this, Invincible, Some Desert Cities and Good People could hardly be more different. The acting and direction are perfect and the set design is brilliant. I got a really good deal through Time Out. It may be still available; if so, grab it.
The Mousetrap is having its first ever national tour to celebrate its diamond anniversary. That’s almost as old as me and it’s creaking just as much. It may be old tosh but it is very enjoyable old tosh, so if you haven’t seen it already then there’s no excuse. Michael Gove would approve as the writer was British so it must be better than that dreadful foreign stuff by Arthur Miller, Aristophanes, etc.
The Royal Ballet’s performance of Balanchine’s Serenade was a nice start to the afternoon but I couldn’t help thinking of Houston Ballet’s performances of Balanchine works last year. They managed to give them a touch of Hollywood – a very American touch of swing and swagger that would have improved this to. However, on to the big event: Liam Scarlett’s Sweet Violets, inspired by the painter Walter Sickert’s obsession with Jack the Ripper. I missed its premiere a couple of years ago so was glad to grab this chance to see it. Unfortunately, not just the subject matter was dark, the stage was too. Although it was excellent, I almost fell asleep and heard a couple of people complaining that they had nodded off. It is possible to convey the necessary dark mood without lowering actual light levels this much. That left DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse which really woke everyone up. The music was commissioned from Michael Nyman to celebrate the French TGV trains. I’d never heard a full orchestra performing Nyman’s work live before, only his own band, and the textures were far more complex and fascinating. The choreography fitted the music perfectly, starting with a 6 Million Dollar Man/ Bionic Woman style of depicting speed through slow motion, then moving on with the music to more athletic action. It’s good to be back in London!