Wednesday, July 29, 2015


CTW at the Old Court Theatre

An end-of-season treat at the Old Court, a raw, rough-and-ready rom-com that follows two thirty-somethings through a “legendary lost weekend” in Edinburgh.
David Greig's engaging two-hander had something of a hit at the Traverse a few years ago; this production, directed by Lynne Foster, with Caroline Blom Brown, is a welcome chance for southerners to see it.
Medium Bob [Barry Taylor], piss-artist and very-small-time crook who once dreamed of rock-star fame, chances upon Helena, a divorce lawyer [Caroline Dunsmuir]. The fast and furious drama follows them from their first drunken night together [with running commentary] to a crazy orgy of spending, a picaresque romp through the capital's streets, Cathedral steps to IKEA car-park, encountering Goth kids, Japanese bondage, dancing lobsters and the man from Oddbins. There's a Q&A, bizarre “philosophical underpinnings”, a walk-on for Elmo from Sesame Street and a name-check for Kim Wilde, landscape gardener.
This is a play with music, so the story is glossed by some quirky original songs by Gordon McIntyre, with Taylor on guitar. The lyrics are in the programme, as well as a handy map of the city centre...
Both performances are very impressive, with excellent accents - maybe the social gulf between them could have been wider, though. Dunsmuir, who spends much of the time in a bridesmaid's dress, also gets to play a bone-headed underworld boss and her own young nephew, amongst other roles. A simple black-walled setting, with the vertical bed neatly echoed by the bondage cat's cradle opposite. Breathless pursuits through the not very chase-friendly auditorium add to the fun.
A worthwhile new play, in a fine production. Let's hope Midsummer is a good omen for CTW's new season, which opens on September 15 with Arnold Ridley's Ghost Train.

Monday, July 27, 2015


Passion in Practice at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

We have little idea of what Shakespeare looked like – visually, his portrait and his plays remain a matter for conjecture. But what of the sound of the man and his words ?
Work on Original Pronunciation, much of it centred on Shakespeare's Globe and its Education arm, has been going on for some years, with the creative approach of David and Ben Crystal, father and son, philologist and actor, at the heart of it.
This wonderful pocket-sized Henry V – “a little room confining mighty men” - is their latest exploration. It begins with a nervous Prologue from Sean Garratt's Boy: actually the epilogue from Henry IV part 2, leading seamlessly into the new play. A simple staging, with silken hangings and subtle shadows, no costumes. Judiciously cut, but still almost two hours and a half, without interval, which is a bit of a trial in this venue. The intimacy of the action is stunning – almost like a film version, where the king's thoughts are shared like secrets with the audience, and even the denunciation of the traitors is powerfully low-key. The “band of brothers” speech is superbly delivered by Ben Crystal's intense King.
There's music, and much humour too, Adam Webb's Mackmorrice down in the mines, Crystal senior's Fluellen, Will Sutton's Bardolph. Much simple fun at the expense of the French, with their silly Allo Allo accents.
And the sound of the words is key to the experiment, after all. The Crystals work hard to recreate the sounds of Shakespeare's men - “our” “oar” and “o'er” are all the same, “charge” rhymes, of course, with “George”, in the mouths of the French, “horse” is indistinguishable from “arse”. It seems to me that if vowels are going to shift, then they all should, and some actors were more adept than others at leaving RP behind.
The actors read their words – Bardolph from a neat little scroll, the Boy from a notebook, but mostly from dog-eared scripts with highlighter markings.

But even without the attraction of the authentic voice of the Tudor playhouse, this would be a pleasingly compelling production, shedding new [candle-] light on a familiar text. Following this sell-out première, the show moves down the Thames to Tanner Street for more performances on August 3, 4 and 5.

Saturday, July 25, 2015



Crick Crack Club on Bankside


This Festival of Fairytales for Grown-ups and Myths for Kids opened on the rainiest day in July, in a massive “contemporary yurt” just by the Oxo Tower.

The first event features that doyen of story-tellers, Ben Haggarty, with The Blacksmith at the Bridge of Bones. It's a quintessential story of master and disciple, good and evil, supernatural skills and magical powers.
Haggarty takes us with him to a world of shape-shifting serpents, a wolf in a wheel, golden legs and silver wings, towers and eagles, and a cold, coffined bride woken with a kiss. And all brought back at the end to the river Wye, just down the road from Haggarty's Herefordshire home.
The ancient art of story-telling is in the surest, safest hands here. He uses mime – conjuring the wolf, the spider's web out of thin air - humour, repetition and surprise to hold his audience entranced for almost an hour, weaving familiar elements - seven years, the power of three [three white metals, three trials, three days] – into a compelling narrative, craftily structured for the most satisfying effect. Like children, we enjoy the familiar, love a clever twist and a happy ending.
Direct speech too – this man in black becomes the youthful hero [named Jack, naturally], his widowed mother, the eponymous smith – a mighty man indeed – and the sensual serpent queen with forked tongue.
As the rain patters on the contemporary canvas roof, Haggerty introduces his story, and warms up his audience, with a traditional Haiti welcome. His listeners are divided into teachers and sleepers, students and nuisances. All high-tech life support is banned, the phones, the pods and the pads, the tweets and the twattering. The spoken word rules, the imagination roams free, in a ritual exchange as old as mankind itself.

This pop-up extravanga continues, rain or shine, until August 2, with a fine roster of fabulatori and different tales every day.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015



The Cardinall's Musick at the Cadogan Hall


The Cadogan Hall packed for an hour of Tudor Polyphony, with the bonus of a world première, inspired by Thomas Tallis and commissioned by the Cardinall's Musick.
This was Cheryl Frances-Hoad's From the Beginning of the World, an inspired setting of an unlikely text - Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe’s On the Great Comet of 1577. It turned out to be an excellent match – Tallis would have known about the comet, and the dramatic setting included quotations, both textual and musical, from the Tudor composer. The whole piece – a challenge technically, I imagine – was performed with expressive intensity by the choir of eight under the baton of Andrew Carwood. There's a twenty-first century resonance too, - global warming, “pseudo prophets”, war, natural disasters. After the lively Peccavi sequence, we heard the voice of reason at the end before the sudden conclusion, a raw Amen.
The Tallis motets, some of them never before heard at the Proms, ranged in scale from four to forty singers. Why Fum'th in Fight, given a wider audience in RVW's Fantasia, had eight voices, and the popular Spem in Alium, of course, forty. Ranged here in two front-facing rows, a much less dramatic configuration than some. But, together with the dry acoustic of the hall, it did give a chance to discern the individual lines in a performance of scrupulous attention to detail.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


Writtle Singers at All Saints' Church

Celebrating 100 years of the Women's Institute, this concert combined music by women composers [and others] with readings charting the history of the movement and celebrating some notable local ladies.
Bessie Blount, Beryl Platt and Margaret Anstee were joined by Writtle-born soprano April Cantelo and antipodean Dame Nellie Melba, who made radio history on “Two Emma Toc Writtle”.
Fanny Mendelssohn, sister of the more feted Felix, began the programme with two songs; Lili Boulanger's Soir sur la Plaine was followed by two charming piano duets by Cécile Chaminade, played by the Singers' director Christine Gwynn and their accompanist Caroline Finlay.
Four living composers were represented – Judith Weir's Love Bade Me Welcome, a lovely Upon Your Heart from Canadian Eleanor Daley, two pieces by choral conductor Janette Ruocco: a beautifully delicate Psalm 23 and a Shakespeare setting, with solos [for Puck and Oberon ?]. Ruocco joined us in the audience, as did Cecilia McDowell whose moving motet of Remembrance, Ave Maris Stella, originally commissioned by Portsmouth Grammar School, closed the first half.
A stirring Jerusalem, a cheeky Jericho and a political anthem set to Men of Harlech. To finish, two songs about women – enjoyable arrangements of Miss Otis and The Girl from Ipanema.
Lovely settings, lovingly performed, with Writtle's usual attention to detail both in interpretation and in programming: a worthy tribute to the WI, five of whose members were on hand to read the extracts.