Monday, April 14, 2014


Royal Ballet at Covent Garden

The many thousands who enjoyed Joby Talbot's Alice in Wonderland score will instantly recognise the musical idiom here. Accessible, heavy on tuned percussion, but, understandably,  less jolly and more obviously minimalist than in the earlier piece. The huge forces are conducted by David Briskin.

This ambitious narrative ballet reunites that Alice team to excellent effect.
Bob Crowley's design includes monumental columns, and the shadows they cast, landscape paintings as backdrops, and, in Act Two, a wonderful tree, dripping with golden ornaments, where we discover Florizel languishing faun-like in its roots. There is projection, too, with ships and storms, and a bear on a billowing silken sheet. A gangplank, a tall narrow staircase, which Mamilius [nimbly danced by Joe Parker] and his teddybear descend as he watches his mother's beautifully crafted solo. There are lifelike statues, too, preparing us for the climax, in which, movingly, Leontes, overjoyed by Hermione's awakening, reaches out to the figure of the boy Mamilius, forlornly hoping for a further miracle ...
Christopher Wheeldon's choreography is eloquent and often poignant – Sarah Lamb's Perdita is given some lovely flowing movements. And the [?over-] extended rustic dances in Bohemia are most enjoyable, pastoral but not pastel – the autumn colours have a Balkan feel. And the narrative arc is clearly and simply delineated.

It's not a simple task to deliver the poetry of Shakespeare's original in dance form. Edward Watson's Leontes, tortured by jealous doubts, is an impressively expressive performance, and Lauren Cuthbertson's Hermione is touching and physically convincing. Steven McRae is typically athletic and outgoing as young Florizel, but with some touching moments with Perdita. And Zenaida Yenowsky is a marvellous Paulina, a strong pivotal figure in the story's unfolding.

A new, full-length narrative ballet, bringing 21st century energy and freshness to Shakespeare's classic tale.

Thursday, April 10, 2014



Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court


debbie tucker green [no caps for her] is a Jamaican-British playwright. Her “dirty butterfly” is an exploration of domestic violence, overheard by neighbours.
It's a strong concept, tautly written.
Jacob Burtenshaw, in his directorial début for CTW, assisted by Amanda Craddock, has ditched the South London language patterns of the original, inserted an interval and two silent prologues, adding a good half hour to the running time. He has also given it a realistic set [more suited to Ayckbourn], and reunited the two neighbour witnesses to the abuse in one bedroom.
His three actors – we never see, or hear, the unnamed abuser – give honest, emotional performances. Caroline Wright [Jo, the victim] cowers miserably, and is a strong presence in the second scene, where she drags herself to the café where Amelia [Swapna Uddin] is a cleaner. Amelia has little sympathy for Jo, identifying more than once with her abuser, caring more about the blood on the floor than about the dying girl. At least until they exchange names over the table for two … but it is too late, the play is over. James Howes is Jason, the voyeur whose glass is pressed against the party wall, enjoying his disgust. An almost confessional scene of tenderness closes the first part.
The form is often narrative inner monologue. The style of this production, with its depressive intonation and deliberate pace, made it hard to identify with any of these people – their soliloquies kept firmly to themselves. Much of the impetus and the impact is lost with the idiom.
But, not for the first time, CTW has unearthed an interesting piece of new writing from the fringe, undoubtedly a thought-provoking and uncompromising look at voyeurism, power and guilt.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014



Chelmsford Young Generation at the Civic Theatre


A retro feel to the styling and the staging: the austere brickwork of the school hall at Rydell High forms the backdrop to the whole story – the sleek Greased Lighting glides in through the double doors.
Costume and hair are also pleasingly redolent of those distant 50s.
Jeremy Tustin's production has some lovely touches: the grease monkey chorus, the baby-doll beauticians. The Prom Night duet is tellingly staged, and Doody [Charlie Toland] is given a backing trio and a gold jacket for his big number. And the huge cast – including some Junior High School kids – fills the wide stage in splendid Todd-AO. Lively dancing, with plenty of those tasteless and vulgar movements, and perhaps not enough of the inventiveness that brings a witty hint of Busby Berkeley to Beauty School Dropout.
Natasha Newton makes a convincingly “wholesome and pure” Sandy, with Henri de Lausun as her devoted Danny. A whole string of excellent performances in support, including audience favourite Jack Toland as goofball Eugene, Alice Catchpole as the omnivorous Jan, Monique Crisell as Frenchy and especially Tamara Anderson as the mature and cynical Rizzo. Her handling of Worse Things I Could Do is exemplary – insightful and crystal clear. Because in this show the words are always important, carrying the satire and the social comment behind the nostalgia and the dancing.

production photograph: Barrie White-Miller

Tuesday, April 08, 2014



I Fagiolini at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Following the acclaimed L'Ormindo, a hugely entertaining two hours from I Fagiolini.
All based round the madrigal comedy of 1623 by Banchieri: a sequence of short scenes following the passengers as they escape Venice for a break in Padua. Wonderfully characterized by the five singers, and considerably enhanced by the English introductions by Timothy Knapman – who knew there were so many rhymes for Venezia … - delivered in a cod Italian accent from the Fagiolini's director Robert Hollingworth.

Somewhat straighter, excerpts from Monteverdi's Sixth Book of Madrigals, four hundred years old this year, and a limpid solo reading of the same composer's Si Dolce è il tormento, by countertenor William Purefoy, no stranger to New Globe Walk.

Theorbo solos, too from Paula Chateauneuf, who joined Hollingworth's harpsichord for the continuos.

An amuse-bouche from Gesualdo, and to end, a novelty number from the Scherzi Musicali of Giulio-Cesare Monteverdi, Claudio's lesser known younger brother, entitled Mentre Lavo I Vetri. Unbelievable.


Shakespeare's Globe Young Players at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

How talented were they, those “Children of the Chapel Royal” who gave the first performance of Marston's play, and whose indoor performances rivalled the Globe in popularity ?
We shall never know for sure, of course, though my guess would be that they were confident, charming performers, with the strong singing voices that went with the day job.
So this experiment, in the wonderfully varied SWP opening season, is particularly valuable. And often impressively entertaining, too.

We meet the 21st century troupe – all aged between 12 and 16, but not all boys – dressed in simple black and white, lounging around the acting area. Then a beautifully sung prologue before the fast-moving plot gets underway.
The lines are, for the most part, clearly spoken. The two protagonists, Altofronte, disguised with an eye patch as Malevole, and the ambitious Mendoza, have an authentic mastery of the lines. We know that some of the original “little eyasses” specialised in women, or old men, and here we have an ancient duke, and a superb character creation in Maquerelle [“an old panderess”] - picture of a woman, and substance of a beast”.
And Passarello, the Fool, is engagingly played by one of the older girls.
Not all of the youngsters have the charisma to fill this space – working in the near-darkness of this candle-lit stage does not help, nor do the often-imperfect sight-lines. But the stronger performances, the silly plot, the jokes and the frequent singing hold us for the full two hours. And it is a privilege to hear, as the Jacobean cognoscenti did, all the wit, wisdom and wickedness from such innocent lips.
There is a Masque at the end, and an energetic jig, followed by that stadium roar that greets the curtain call at all the best Globe productions.