Tag Archives: review

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: 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: 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.

Review: Don Quixote, Mikhailovsky Ballet

A fascinating ballet in which the central character does not even dance. The excellent choreography is based on the original by the Marius Petipa but the neither the story nor the music by Minkus can compete with his great Tchaikovsky trilogy. I saw the matinee so did not get to see the new ‘superstars’ Ivan Vasiliev and Natalia Osipova. I cannot imagine they could have been much better than Denis Matvienko and Oksana Bondareva who expended an astonishing amount of energy, deserving the barrage of applause and carpets of flowers they received.


I was sitting in the last row but one of the stalls and took the picture above with my iPhone – it isn’t cropped and shows how big the Coliseum stage is but the Mikhailovsky is such a huge company they amazingly managed to make to make it look small and cramped! My only regret is that I did not see their Giselle this time as there was no matinee. I should be able to go out in the evenings again soon.

Review, Apollo, etc., Royal Ballet

I loved Balanchine’s Apollo with Rupert Pennefather in the title role: far better than the disappointing production by ENB last year. It still had the silly air guitar (or was it air lute?) for Apollo but the others abandoned their props quite quickly, although the choreography was unaltered so that Itziar Mendizabal as Polyhymnia held her hand rigidly under her face as if still holding her mask.

My ticket said the other works were “new Wheeldon” and “new Ratmansky.” Sadly the “new Ratmansky” turned out to be “24 Preludes” with music by Chopin. 24 separate pieces of music in 44 minutes! Only three (by my count around the 17th 18th and 24th) were long enough to give the music and dance the chance to develop anywhere, so that’s 21 saccharine pills and a bit of sugar. The Chopin had its usual effect on me, leaving me yawning and having to force my eyes open. I knew I’d never stay awake through the subsequent 30 minute interval so had to go home to bed and missed the Wheeldon; a great shame as it was set to music by Britten. Still well worth the ticket for Apollo alone.

Review: Sleeping Beauty, Vienna Festival Ballet

This was remarkably good for such a small company and very enjoyable. I have seen Vienna Festival Ballet many times over the years and have never been disappointed. Their standard of dancing is high, probably because they keep to a small repertoire of classic ballets. I don’t know how many times they have already performed Sleeping Beauty but their schedule shows 49 more performances in this tour alone!

Photograph courtesy Gill Mallek, Vienna Festival Ballet

As can be seen above, the sets consist of little more than painted backdrops which work well to show off the dancers. It is difficult to single out particular performances as they all work so hard, but Michaela Griffin as Princess Aurora, Miguel Piquer as Prince Desire and Emily-Joy Smith as the Lilac Fairy were excellent (not necessarily the dancers featured in these publicity shots).

lilac fairy IMG_4522
Photographs courtesy Gill Malleck, Vienna Festival Ballet

As the photographs above show, the simple sets are made up for by superb costumes which change frequently, as most dancers take on multiple parts. As with all aspects, they are strictly traditional “tights, tutus and tiaras” but the size of the theatres they perform in ensures the opportunity to enjoy them in detail. Marius Pepita’s original 1890 choreography is enhanced with small touches by Emily Hutton (I don’t remember Carabosse pulling off Catalabutte’s wig before but it added a nice touch). The only, minor problem was that the playing of the recorded score was occasionally a little clumsy – DJing is an art too!

Overall, this was much less ambitious that the Moscow City Ballet last week but I must admit I enjoyed it far more.