It is difficult to believe this was not a professional production. The excellent play by David Edgar is a gripping analysis of attempts to bring peace to a post-Soviet country loosely based on Yugoslavia. It is mostly talk, but punctuated by one very dramatic scene. I have previously seen LAMDA in commercial theatres such as the Lyric and Riverside Studios but this was in the small studio (previously Royal Ballet rehearsal studio) at LAMDA itself, taking the audience right into the action. I am reluctant to single out any one performance as they were all so good!
Essentially, this was Midsomer Murders without the murders. It is just a touch classier, though, with a script by Ronald Harwood’s from his own play and a superb cast. Tom Courtney, Maggie Smith, Pauline Collins and Billy Connolly are the quartet of ageing opera singers in the old people’s home run by Sheridan Smith, with Michael Gambon occasionally stepping in to steal the limelight. It says Dustin Hoffman directed it but it didn’t really need much direction with a script and a cast like that. It grabbed this afternoon’s audience who sat through the credits for the cast then applauded.
Of these two one act plays, the Good Samaritan is a well acted, very dark comedy. It was everything I’d hoped for after seeing his excellent play, the Lodger, last year. The other short play, Death of a Hawker, felt more like a work in progress. That said, the Good Samaritan more than makes up for it – thoroughly recommended.
I am glad I managed to see this on what was, sadly, its last day. I was put off by reviews which said it was about the American justice system when it is actually a very well acted psychological interplay between the two central characters. The prison setting is a great way to do this as it pushes together people who might well wish to be elsewhere, e.g. Bully Boy at the St James Theatre last year, or classic comedies such as Porridge and Steptoe & Son.
I am only bothering to write this review as I hope this play gets another run and it is such a shame this one is over.
Katie McGuinness was again superb as the title character after similar successes in Nan and Mary Broom (both also at the Orange Tree), whilst Christopher Ravenscroft plays a much nastier and more complex character than the nice DI Burden he played in Inspector Wexford. As it was the first preview, a couple of slight glitches in the first part are easily excused, especially as the director, Sam Walters, was in the audience ready to pick them up and make sure they are sorted by tonight. There was not a single fault in the second part which was sheer joy, the plot and performances picking up and driving forward to a perfect (but not predictable) ending.
I used to live closer to the Orange Tree Theatre, going regularly, and still try to go when as often as I can. Sam Walters specialises in finding relatively unknown, well-constructed plays from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is a crime that this play, written in 1924 by Githa Sowerby, has never been performed in the UK. As with many of his other finds, what surprises is not how dated these plays are but how they resonate with our current time. It may seem odd that the only purpose-built true theatre in-the-round that I know of in London should offer such a good home for 100 year old plays.
Phil Willmott who adapted and directed Fair Em admits the author is very unlikely to have been Shakespeare, despite an earlier accreditation to him, but it this still great fun. The simple production works really well, performed against a simple backdrop in classic Shakespearean “men in tights” costume with simple musical accompaniment (Phil Willmott seems to be a Steeleye Span fan). The standard of the acting was good for such a large and young cast, particularly from Caroline Haines as Fair Em and James Horne as her father. As for others, there was more hamming in the Magistrate at the NT and this production was funnier too.
(image linked from Fair Em website)
It may not be up there with Shakespeare’s best comedies but it is a thoroughly entertaining evening with plenty of laughs. It’s always fascinating to see something off the beaten track like this and the programme, including the full script, was exceptional value at £3.50. Definitely recommended and a great excuse to have a pre-theatre meal at the excellent Anchor and Hope just down the road.
The innocents about to be sacrificed
(all images copyright Royal Opera House used with permission)
The composer, Harrison Birtwistle, came on stage at the end of this last performance in this run of his opera to huge, well-justifed applause. The music was wonderful and the huge orchestra (filling the orchestra pit and spreading into the auditorium) was excellently conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth; the singing was superb, especially John Tomlinson as the poor, suffering Minotaur.
Johan Reuter as Theseus and John Tomlinson as the Minotaur
If I were to give the slightest criticism, I would have preferred a shorter first act or more dramatic action to keep the act going – it is very intense stuff for a solid 90 minutes. That said, this was a tremendous production and drew in a much younger audience than I usually see at the ROH. One young man near me was even wearing a safety pin through his ear – maybe punk is coming back!
It’s too late to see it again in this run but I’m sure it will be back.
There was plenty of booing at the end, not because it wasn’t good but because James Streeter was so excellently evil as the bad fairy Carabosse! There was a lot of fuss about Tamara Rojo dancing Princess Aurora (the beauty of the title) in the first performance of the season but I saw Ksenia Ovsyanick in the matinee on January 15th and felt she could not have been bettered. I hadn’t realised it was a special family-friendly performance so there were lots of children in the audience. Luckily, they only added to my delight, creating a real pantomime atmosphere. “Here come the fairies” said a child’s voice followed by an excited “More fairies!”
Sam Mendes was obviously very conscious that this was Bond’s 50th anniversary and there are lots of references to the old Sean Connery Bond films. Most of my description still applies apart from some deliberate and fun twists. I won’t spoil the plot but, for example, when the new Q gives Bond his equipment. Bond looks at it, “So that’s it, a gun and a radio?” “Sorry, no exploding pen -we’re not into that sort of thing any more.” Exotic locations, beautiful women, lots of drinking, but none of the good guys smoke any more. Javier Bardem is a perfect Bond villain. Beneath the fun there were a couple of decent subtexts (we never had them in the old days) about growing old and about loyalty.
I have always loved Stravinsky’s ballet music above any other composed for the ballet and the Firebird is one of the greatest. Unlike Nijinska’s magical choreography for les Noces last year, I felt Fokine’s 1910 choreography for the Firebird is showing its age and could have been gently improved. The dancing, particularly Mara Galeazzi as the Firebird, was excellent although the footfalls were sometimes louder than they could have been. This was followed by In the Night danced to Chopin’s piano music. I have never got the appeal of Chopin and the ballet did not add a lot except when Carlos Acosta was dancing. I was yawning so much by the end that I skipped the third ballet. I was still whistling the astonishing music from the magnificent Firebird that opened the evening (well worth my £6 seat on its own).