Monday, November 30, 2009


Maddermarket Theatre Norwich


Perhaps it had something to do with the cut of his trousers. Andy Adams' “Herr Issyvoo” was never remotely convincing as the beachcomber of the big city [30s Berlin]. Hard to understand what Sally Bowles saw in this annoying, podgy little prat.
Jo Sessions played the nervy nightclub singer – an affecting portrait of a little girl lost, quaffing champagne as the Jews were routed, but touching as she talked of the child she lost.
The Berliners were all very convincing: James Sadler as Fritz, Etta Geras as the landlady Fraulein Schneider, and Natascha Purwin outstanding as the Jewess Natalia.
Rob Morris's production made the most of this wordy play, but I was surprised that even on the last night a couple of sound cues appeared to be late, Sally's picture was almost forgotten, and her negligee turned out to be a nightie. I liked some of the authentic music, too, very atmospheric, but the unfortunate inclusion of Liza Minelli only served to remind us how much better the musical [Cabaret] is than this play on which it was based. No Kit Kat Klub, not even a glimpse of the Lady Windermere. Just the dingy rented room which is first Isherwood's, then Sally's, then Isherwood's once more.


Prizewinners' Concert at the County High School


Two choirs book-ended this year's Prizewinners' Concert.

First, the New Hall School Chamber Choir, directed by Andrew Fardell, with Benjamin Britten and Eric Clapton, and at the end of the evening, Funky Voices, under the inspirational Sandra Colston, with a lively Goodbye to Love, followed by Lily Allen's hit Mr Blue Sky.

In between, the usual amazing variety show: a challenging piano study by Kenneth Leighton, superbly played by Lara Griffin, a poem by Roald Dahl, confidently spoken by nine-year-old Abbie Ward, two impressive jazz musicians, James Ling-Lock on piano with Oscar Peterson, and Gus Brown on sax with a number made famous by Coleman Hawkins, Louis Bellson's The Hawk Talks. Two very young violinists: Louis Loze-Carey with the catchy Fiddle Tune, and Caroline Penn with a Handel Hornpipe. Two promising singers: Jessica Hope with Roger Quilter's fast and furious setting of Shelley's Love's Philosophy, and Tara Gulrajani, who gave us a stunning Chorus Line number.

And in an affectionate nod to the Palace of Varieties, mother and son duo Tim and Nancy Leake charmed their way through Irving Berlin's Couple of Swells, suitably attired in tatty top hat and tails.

Friday, November 27, 2009


National Theatre at the Olivier


Pratchett's novel, here adapted by Mark Ravenhill, is a heady brew of fantasy, anthropology and folk philosophy. It ranges wide, and even the Olivier struggles to encompass it.

The Royal Society, a parallel world, a tsunami, cannibalism, creation myth and coming of age make for an eventful evening, and a huge cast brings enviable energy to a colourful and moving story.

Emily Taafe is the 13-year-old Daphne, an innocent abroad, wide-eyed at the brave new world of the Nation in the Pelargic Ocean. Unrough Gary Carr is a likeable Mau, the noble savage who joins her to face an uncertain future on the island. He adopts the trousers, she the grass skirt. When her father finally arrives to rescue her, the absurdity of Victorian society – King Arnold and all – is in stark contrast to the ancient and learned culture of the Nation.

But the acting palms go to Paul Chahidi's bitter and twisted butler who seeks revenge, and to Jason Thorpe's tourette's parrot, who ingeniously finds a sardonic comment on the action from phrases he overhears. “There's nothing a cup of tea can't put right, don't you find ?”, at the interval. This is Ravenhill, not Pratchett, apparently.

The special effects in Melly Still's spectacular production are stunning – more underwater action as in Coram Boy –, the necrophagic grandfather birds and the sozzled sow are superb puppets, but the musical numbers are Godspell/Lion King kitsch, in the main.

The young audience, many of them experiencing the power and potential of live theatre for the first time, were vocal in their appreciation. A muted cheer cum sigh of relief when Milton survives, a gasp when Cox pulls a second gun.

And as someone pointed out, this would be a good production for the more ambitious school drama departments. Compare and contrast with The Tempest.

The National's family shows have a well-deserved reputation. This does not disappoint, but neither does it bear comparison with the stunning originality of War Horse or Coram Boy. Pace Pratchett fans, but this is partly down to the book ...

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Theatre Royal Drury Lane


David Ellis was in the front stalls ...

A very slick, good looking and energetic production - very enjoyable. Tremendous energy - everything was larger and louder than life.
It was not a subtle production, and I felt that some of the characters were
a bit OTT and cartoony, particularly in the early scenes - the workhouse and funeral parlour - but less so as the show went on (or perhaps I just got used to it!). Maybe this was partly because I was sitting near the front, and the performances were designed to carry to the back of the theatre.
Also, it is probably just not a very subtle musical! But it moves along at such a pace that you get carried along.

A boo for the amplification. Although I was sitting close to the orchestra, as they struck up it was obvious that the sound was coming at me more loudly from the speakers than from the pit. Although I can understand (just) why the actors need to be miked, I'm not convinced the orchestra should be. But I suppose this is commonplace these days. The sound balance seemed wrong for
"Oom Pah Pah", one of Nancy's big numbers, in which her vocals seemed almost subordinate to the orchestra and the general hubbub of the tavern scene.

Amazing scenery, constantly in motion from above and from the wings to create London street scenes, the workhouse, tavern, and an amazing thieves' den, here portrayed as subterranean, rather than up in the rooftops as in the film version. They made full use of the height and depth of the Drury Lane stage. The actors also frequently walked or ran around a gangway between the orchestra pit and the audience, which added a bit more immediacy.

Jodie Prenger, star of the TV show, was a good but not great Nancy - don't think one would have found her memorable but for the TV connection - though she put lots of energy into it and was obviously enjoying herself. I think she was not helped by the direction. Two of her big solos - It's a Fine Life and As Long As He Needs Me - seemed a bit rushed. I felt they could have slowed the pace down a bit here, and allowed a bit more pathos to come through. The boy playing "Oliver" was good but not memorable, but the Artful
Dodger was excellent and showed a bit more personality (don't know their names, as one of three alternating casts for the childrens' parts). But the surprise hit was Omid Djalili who was an excellent Fagin. He added a lot of comedy to the part, and played up to the max the irony of a muslim actor playing a stereotypical Jewish role.

The show worked best in the big ensemble numbers - Consider Yourself and Who Will Buy - when the large cast, musicians and scenery all came together to create a really impressive effect.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

An Inspector Calls
Little Baddow Drama
19th November 2009

Jim Hutchon was at the Memorial Hall ...

Director Ken Rolf staged this as an unashamedly, dead-pan melodrama, complete with dramatic lighting and sombre, film-like music. Set in an over-stuffed Edwardian dining room peopled by over-stuffed Edwardians, the play concerns a police inspector who shatters the smug complacency of a family celebration by revealing the complicity of the family members in the downfall and suicide of a young mill-girl.
Michael Gray played the bluff, northern patriarch with characteristic pompous energy and barely suppressed outrage, conscious of the danger of a public scandal to his knighthood aspirations. Vicky Tropman was very convincing as his snooty wife, too thick to understand her complicity in the matter. From a slowish start, the two youngsters in the family, Sarah Trippett-Jones and Iain Miller went on to steal the show. She completed a beautifully judged conversion from air-head to a prescient young lady, while he, as the rake about town who finally did for the mill-girl, actually managed to look sick at the realisation.
John Peregrine’s enigmatic inspector was full of insights and accusations in a bravura performance that held the audience’s attention throughout, and Kenton Church played the daughter’s fiancé with great panache as he forensically revealed the possibility of a hoax in the inspector’s visit.
Though Priestley’s language and mannerisms are 100 years old, and the play is crammed with clichés, the director imparted an interesting freshness to the production which made for a thoroughly absorbing evening’s theatre.


Quartet at Chelmsford Cathedral


Wind quartet Exchanging Blows are popular on the lunchtime circuit, but it's been four years since they brought their wide-ranging repertoire to Chelmsford Cathedral.

They began with a breezy Mozart Overture, and ended with an equally sprightly McCartney number: When I'm Sixty-Four.

And the delicious sandwich filling included Bach [a clever arrangement of a movement from the Art of Fugue], an all-too-brief sequence of Byrd's English Dances, and Bechet – Petite Fleur inventively improvised by Pam Campanelli's soprano sax with Jane Sitch at the piano. The other duet was a “macaroni and rich cream” confection: the opening of Mendelssohn's Konzertstuck no 2, with Annie Forrester-Muir and Gail Copsey on clarinets.

The only original piece for saxophone quartet was by the prolific Gordon Jacob; much more interesting, though, was Pam's arrangement of Gavin Whitlock's colourful Celtic Suite, featuring a bewildering variety of instruments.

Moonglow was beautiful, but my favourite this time out was Gershwin's chirpy Nice Work If You Can Get It – nice lunch break too !

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Young Gen in the Civic Theatre


The messiest show in town …
The kids in the audience loved the custard pies, and their high-tech successor the splurge gun, not to mention the soda syphon.
The kids on stage had a good time, too, with some very under-age tipplers in the Book Emporium. Fat Sam himself was played with considerable presence by Callum Crisell, and the title role by Sam Toland, slightly understated, maybe, but with loads of charm. Blousey Brown, the diamond amongst all the paste, was beautifully done by Sophie Walker – her Ordinary Fool number was the vocal highlight of the show for me.
Bart Lambert brought his special brand of sophistication to Dandy Dan, with Alice Masters as the vamp Tallulah. Like the acts auditioning for Oscar de Velt [Luke Higgins], some of the minor roles came and went so quickly that I'd no time to annotate the programme: some of the gang members were excellent in both versions of The Bad Guys Song. A name check for the cops – Henri de Lausun and Oliver Fox – for Martin Williams' Leroy, and for Elliot Elder's touching Fizzy, the dancer whose Tomorrow never comes.
After an evocative overture from Bryan Cass's band, the production began with six silk-clad chanteuses, neatly contrasted with the black frocks for the Speakeasy hoofers. More silk and feathers in Act II, leading up to the super-messy finale. No bullets, no hooch, no blood, of course, in this innocent underworld, just a Sarsaparilla racket and splurge after splurge.
It's twenty years since CYGAMS last gave us this children's Chicago. Fascinating to read in the programme just who was in that earlier show – including Jeremy Tustin, director this time around.

picture by Barrie White-Miller, Spearman Photography

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Hutton Players at the Brentwood Theatre


Disabled daughter of a general, Helen Croft [Margaret Goldstone] has fallen on hard times. Reduced to taking in paying guests, she graciously holds out a helping hand to those in need.
But her scrapbook of deserving cases serves a darker purpose – blackmail.

Janet Allen's wordy potboiler [“intensely realistic drama”, say the publishers] premièred in 1958. It is rarely revived.

The Hutton Players' production, directed and designed by Ray Howes, used the space effectively to suggest the large garden, with ingenious sliding gauzes for the changes of scene. There were some fine performances, telling mood shifts, and dramatic confrontations. But not enough to make this old-fashioned piece, redolent of tea-tray matinées and weekly rep, into a worthwhile revival.

William Wells successfully inhabited the complexities of his character, the drug addict who “ finds release from a sadistic, possessive woman in the hardest, most honourable way “ - I quote the blurb again. And I liked Margaret Corry's Rose – a proud and touchingly maternal housekeeper. A little more contrast between Helen and her sister [Chrissie O'Connor] would have helped the drama, but both had their moments – Helen's hospital monologue for example. The below-stairs lovers were pertly played by Claire Hilder and Marc Barnes.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Greville Players at the Barn Theatre


Celebrating their half-century, the Greville Players continue a much older tradition in the old tithe barn, which once saw Wells, Shaw and Terry on its boards.

This pacy production brought out all the humour and pathos of the strange chemistry between the jaded lecturer, surviving on Scotch, and the gobby hairdresser with a hungry mind, determined to change her life through English Literature.

From the moment she scurried through the auditorium in search of the door to Frank's office and a new beginning, it was clear that this would be a definitive performance from Carol Parradine as the OU student caught between two cultures. Voice, accent, demeanour were all absolutely right for the part – a joy to watch. And she neatly mapped the transformation over the play's many scenes, till she is behind the desk, calling the shots, a success to eclipse Frank's failure.

Adam Thompson's Frank was a lost soul, enthusiastic but unfocused, a reluctant Pygmalion to Rita's latter-day Eliza. I liked the way he became increasingly desperate as his facile teaching techniques were revealed as inadequate faced with a student as individual as Susan, though I imagine him as a little more lined and lived-in … His clothes were unfeasibly natty, I felt.

I liked the trim-phone on the desk; I was less convinced by Frank's certificates and his skivertex books.

This is a didactic play, revisiting themes dear to Willy Russell's heart. As Rita says when she explains her hairdresser's philosophy, change must come from within, and in this play education is the key to that change.
It is thirty years old now, and I'm not sure it updates all that well – I've said before that I'm not convinced that education is seen now as an agent for social change. And the Open University has changed almost beyond recognition over the years.

But a polished revival of an important and entertaining play. Educating Rita was produced for the Greville Players by Jan Ford, and directed by John Richardson.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009



Lyttleton Theatre


spoiler alert - this preview review contains quotations and plot detail !

Well, it couldn't have been written by anyone else.

The perennial themes – the insecure outsider, literature, young boys. The trademark recycling - “I saw a bishop with a moustache the other day”: Forty Years On, forty years on – the caller misunderstood: Habeas Corpus – and even “Theatre, magic of ...” recalls Her Big Chance.

The heart of the play, directed by Nicholas Hytner, is the imagined conversation in 1972 between Wystan and Benjie, Auden and Britten. “I want to hear about the shortcomings of great men ...” Britten has called for re-assurance about his new opera, Death in Venice. Peter [Pears] disapproves. Auden is not only encouraging, but alarmingly keen to help, to write the libretto, and takes an editorial pencil to Myfanwy Piper's work. “Aschenbach is me, of course,” he muses, as the rent-boy reclines on the piano stool. Mind-boggling to imagine what that collaborative piece might have been. Auden has similar thoughts - “think what [Richard] Strauss could have done with it ...”. He recalls that Mann was his father-in-law, and the age of the boy Tadzio is discussed - “Mann writes him as 11, your opera has him as 14, you're casting him as 17 – at this rate he'll soon be drawing a pension !” But the passage where the two men relate the plot of the novella, which they both knew well, sounds false, and was one of the few longueurs.

Above Auden's “shit-heap” of a room, Britten's puritanical piano with a wooden chair by it. A rent-boy arrives from the agency. An auditioning treble sings from The Turn of the Screw. Both men, on their different levels, are seeing boys. The spires of Oxford thrust urgently into the sky behind. And surrounding the stage are giant manuscripts, notes.

But this is Caliban's Day, the play we never see. We are in a rehearsal room at the National, and the acting area is surrounded by desks, chairs and bicycles. The treble spends much time tinkering with one of the bikes, presumably not his own, at the back.

The director is absent. So it is up to Kay the Stage Manager – a superbly droll and ultimately tragic Frances de la Tour – and Neil the unwelcome Writer – Elliot Levey, looking not unlike Sher's History Man – to comment on the play and keep things moving.

This device – like the device in Neil's play of having Humphrey Carpenter as narrator – allows Bennett to try things out, consider alternatives, and make jokes at his own expense. Six o'clock strikes in the play, and all desire fades. And at six in the rehearsal room, Fitz [Griffiths/Auden] must go off to voice-over a coffee ad for Tesco. As Auden wrote : Without a watch he would never know when to feel hungry or horny.
An alternative ending is tacked on. Not Auden's In Memory of WB Yeats with The Sea Interlude in the background, but the boy, the outsider, excluded from the literary elite, and departing to the strains of Show Me The Way To Go Home. And then the Stage Manager, also excluded in her way, turning out the lights as she leaves.
The insecure Donald, who plays Carpenter, was beautifully done by Adrian Scarborough – he even got to appear as Carpenter's cross-dressed party piece, Dame Constance Fetlock, singing Douglas Byng's Doris, a Goddess of Wind.

Much fun is had with the pitfalls of working with the author, with the difficulty of learning lines, and with the rehearsal process, complete with prompts and reading in – two actors are off doing Chekhov, so we see Stage Management, and Jennings, filling in as the college servants, the furniture, the famous facial fissures and the children of the artists: their compositions. Some of this writing is dire, presumably satirically so. Elsewhere, though, the fictional playwright has written some superb passages, and here the device seems to fade to let Bennett speak.

It would be interesting to know how the shape of the play developed. At what stage did the rehearsal device appear, or Carpenter. Was the mask for Auden ever a serious possibility ? What difference did the replacement of Gambon make ? And did these two giants, contemplating death at the end of their career, have special resonance for Alan Bennett, who has now outlived them both by ten years or so ?*

"For a long time, years even," Bennett recently wrote, "it seemed to me I had nothing to put into what I wrote; and nor had I. I did not yet appreciate you do not put yourself into what you write, you find yourself there."

*Alan Bennett answers some of these questions in the London Review of Books

recorded in 2010, screened again in cinemas for the NT's 50th birthday: here are a trailer, plus a brief clip ...

Monday, November 09, 2009


Cut to the Chase at the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch


this review first appeared on The Public Reviews

“We're in for a most exciting evening !”. “All the pre-requisites of a first class murder mystery !”. No shortage of hostages to fortune in this classic script, then.

Revived after eighty years, Emlyn Williams' creaky old ghost story is given a new lease of life in Bob Carlton's stylish production at the Queen's.

Cut to the Chase is run very much on the lines of traditional rep, and this young company took to the 30s style with enthusiasm and cut-glass accents.
Of course it's unlikely that the playwright intended his dramatic clichés to be sent up, but audiences of today are not likely to take lines like “Nobody leaves this theatre!”, or “I must have time to think ...” entirely seriously. The second act, with some real frissons from the spectres, “locked up with darkness and death”, was a little harder to play as spoof, but the end was mercifully quick, if not quite as satisfying as we'd imagined.

The tortuous plot concerns an inheritance, poisoned brandy, and a fateful performance of Romeo and Juliet. It all takes place on the stage of a London theatre; Norman Coates's design brilliantly evoked the dusty, doom-laden darkness. The proscenium arch with the Royal coat of arms, the chandelier in a bag, the shrouded angel, and of course Capel's monument, were all beautifully realised. The costumes, too, were wonderful, especially the old-fashioned frocks for Tybalt, Juliet, Nurse and the rest. Atmospheric lighting, and the echo effect for the empty auditorium, helped the mood of mystery.

Simon Jessop was not obvious casting for the wordy eccentric Sir Charles, but he made a good death, at the hands of Marcus Webb's gentleman criminal Maurice Mullins, who came down to the old-fashioned footlights to expound his philosophy of crime. His talented young wife was played with poise and grace by Karen Fisher-Pollard, her dragon of a mother by Helen Watson, and her old flame by Elliot Harper, very much at ease in his pivotal role as red herring and rider to the rescue.

The woman in red, first glimpsed in the faint glimmer of a cigarette lighter [everyone smoked on stage in the thirties], came into her own in the second act – a riveting performance from Sarah Scowen, as, with a swift Shakespeare switch, she alone sees the spectre at the feast.

The weirdest characters were the most satisfying, I felt. Mrs Wragg, the faithful old dresser who sees something nasty in the backstage passage, was given a copybook performance by Jane Milligan, and the double agent Mrs Groze was played with perfect period styling by Lucy Thackeray; her confrontation with Beatrice, Lady Jasper, was the high point of an enjoyable evening. A worthwhile revival of an early piece of Williams.


Rumpus Theatre Company,

Civic Theatre

7th November 2009

Jim Hutchon was in the stalls ...

This beautifully polished little gem of a play needed only hissing gas footlights to make the Victorian theme complete. Based on a Dickens short story, written at a time when audiences were still a little nervous of trains, John Goodrum’s play has all the elements of good theatre, including authentic Victorian dialogue, delivered with conviction and style by a pair of ex TV soap stars. Keith Drinkel (Corrie’s Liz McDonald’s boyfriend) is the eponymous signalman charged with seeing trains through his section from his trackside hut in the days before remote signalling, and Mark Homer (Eastender’s Tony Hill) is the young man quizzing him and his lifestyle.

A ghost story which predates Hollywood shock/horror, but where the live stage spooky effects still tug at the emotions and send shivers up the spine, the tale is a simple one of a ghostly warning of disaster, which is then fulfilled. The set was very basic but functional, with authentic signal hut equipment. And a special mention for the light, sound and smoke train effects across the Civic’s small stage which were stunning, and created the very real feeling that a train really had thundered across the auditorium and out into Fairfield Road. This was one of the best productions to come to the Civic this year, and was enjoyed by a near-capacity audience.

Sunday, November 08, 2009


Writtle Singers at All Saints' Church


Allegri is a one-hit wonder these days, his Miserere eclipsing the rest of his Sistine output. His Mass – Che Fa Oggi Il Mio Sole – is based on a madrigal, and since this is the Writtle Singers, they researched and sang that earlier work first.
This Mass, with its glorious Sanctus, was the climax of an Italian evening, a fascinating blend of words and music, sacred and secular, including early love songs, Verdi's setting of Dante's Pater Noster, and an enthusiastic Baroque hunting song by Caldara, which we all sang as a round.
The Verdi might have benefited from larger forces, though the closing bars were very effective. The chorus, elegant in black and gold, coped impressively with the adventurous repertoire, encouraged and inspired by their director Christine Gwynne. I particularly liked the charming simplicity of Dormono le Rose, and the evocative Sera sui Monti, one of the few modern works in the programme, with its distant bells across the valley.
Martyn Richards' readings included Miss Garnet entering San Marco, and H V Morton exploring the Pope's garden and Michelangelo's wardrobe. The extracts were absorbing and made a relevant sorbet between the musical dishes on offer. But I might have wished for a variety of voices to match the range of the readings.
The evening also saw the launch of the Writtle Singers' third CD – Wroving – music from their travels on tour, not only in Italy, but also in France and Antwerp.

Dibedibedon [Adriaenssen] from Wroving, the new CD

Saturday, November 07, 2009


Bossy at the Brentwood Theatre


Les Mis in miniature ? Victor Hugo's vast epic cries out for a big stage, but Bossy made the most of the limited space of the Brentwood Theatre, taking more than half the floor area for their ingenious in-depth set: black box, Montreuil and then finally the famous barricades.
Being so close to the performers brought its advantages [as long as the action stayed off the floor]: the words were clearly audible, and the more intimate scenes had real impact – the death of Fantine, Javert's drop and Valjean's final moments.
The score makes no allowance for immature voices; the boys especially relied on technique and characterization in their big numbers. Alexandra Phillips' Eponine had many of the evening's more memorable musical moments; Katie Lawrence, as Fantine, sang with conviction and a pleasing vocal style. The older Cosette was Laura Wood, with her younger self shared by Rosie Bloom and Georgia Chantry.
I liked Reiss Meister's Javert, with his sinister presence and cynical smile. In the demanding role of Jean Valjean, James Wilson had a very promising voice, both singing and acting, and gave us a moving Bring Him Home. And I was impressed by Sam Chapman as Marius. He has a lot to do, and sustained his character well. Empty Chairs at Empty Tables , with its “phantom shadows” was superbly done. David Gillett gave a confident double of the Bishop and Bamatabois. Master and Mistress of the House were Ollie Cross and Livvie Milne. Ollie needed to project his personality more, though his vocal performance was spot on; Livvie was wonderful in a grotesque perruque.
Among the little people, Gavroche was energetically and engagingly played by Daniel Wild, a role he shared with Tom Carswell.

David Pickthall's band was banked up stage right. The individual players could shine here too: lovely to see, and hear, the cello part so prominent.


Swati Natekar in the Cramphorn Theatre


Forster's Novel has a British girl in search of the “real” India. Swati Natekar's journey takes us from her classical roots in the sleepy central Indian town of Jabalpur through Bollywood to the London-based fusion scene in which she is so prominent now.
We began firmly in the Indian classical tradition, with the evocative, plaintive sound of the sarangi, the lute of a thousand colours, played here by Sandeep Mishtra, uncannily echoing the timbre of the human voice. Then the more romantic light classical repertoire, and a toe-tapping old movie from Bollywood.
After the interval she was joined by western musicians, including Mike Leigh's acoustic guitar, for some inspired cultural cross-fertilization. Taalis, on an impressive drum kit, had some dynamic dialogues with Alpesh Moharir's tabla.
I was impressed by Mystery, from her latest album, also called Destiny Chakra, which reveals diverse musical influences, not only Indian classical music but spiritual, Rhythm and Blues and jazz.
Two guest stars made a huge impact: Kartik Raghunathan, whose The Way We Feel was infectiously energetic, though firmly in the western tradition, despite the tabla, and Soul diva Sanchita Farruque, whose cheerful enthusiasm put even Swati's stylish singing in the shade.

Monday, November 02, 2009


ENO at the Coliseum


This acclaimed McVicar production of 2007, revived for just six performances, boasts three of the original singers, and a new conductor, the legendary Charles Mackerras, who worked with Britten on the original production, sharing the conducting with the composer in 1954 when the opera arrived in London after the Venice première.

The capacity audience was an eclectic mix of ages and backgrounds – many coming to the piece for the first time, perhaps encouraged by the London Evening Standard's incredible tenors for tenners offer.
They saw a wonderfully designed production, all sliding screens, mirrors and autumn leaves. And set firmly in the nineteenth century – no Glyndebourne postwar austerity here.
This is a chamber opera, and all the players are crucial. Ann Murray as Mrs Grose the housekeeper was the doyenne of the company, with Michael Colvin as a creepy, ghoulish Quint and Charlie Manton as his knowing, tough little Miles. Very strong too were Rebecca Evans as a sensitive governess, Cheryl Barker as Miss Jessel, and Nazan Fikret as a rather mature Flora. Both she and Charlie sang their parts with impressive poise and musicality.

The six servants, smoothly setting the scene, sometimes confused the eye, but reminded us that these children, these ghosts, are not alone in the great house of Bly.

This piece also appears on the ES site.
Richard Morrison's piece in The Times.


Independent Ballet Wales at the Civic Theatre


Morris Dancing to Mendelssohn ?
The Rude Mechanicals, with their silly walks, shod in clogs, scripts in pockets, were one of the chief delights of this imaginative interpretation of Shakespeare's comedy. Quince's prologue, with bows and bouquets, and the “rough musick” for their Loony Tunes Pyramus and Thisbe, were laugh-aloud funny – and the Bard's lines were instantly recognizable in their beard-coming, lion-roaring rehearsal.
It would be hard to appreciate Sleeping Beauty without some notion of the fairy tale, and you did need to know the plot here too, I think.
The style was a mix of modern and classical, the music a mix of the familiar Mendelssohn and the unfamiliar Telemann, which I thought worked rather better.
The entertainment factor was high, thanks to the fresh ideas in the staging – the umbrella bower, Bully Bottom's dreamcoat – and the youthful exuberance of the dancers: Daisuke Muira's Puck, Lauren Poulton's Helena, Mandev Sokhi's Bottom, and Iselin Eie Bowen's Titania, in a superb pas-de-deux with Richard Read's Oberon against the “cold fruitless moon”.
A Midsummer Night's Dream was choreographed by Artistic Director Darius James, with costume designs by Yvonne Greenleaf.