Posted in Opera

July 12: Don Giovanni

Every year, the Royal Opera House live-streams three of its summer season performances to a number of “Big Screens” dotted around the country. There just happens to be such a screen not too far from my home, and I often brave the noise and traffic fumes for an evening of culture which always includes a Wimpy takeaway in the interval.

This year, the offerings were a little bland – Swan Lake, La Bohème and Don Giovanni. I’m not really a ballet lover, and I have already seen this particular version of Bohème on this particular big screen, so the only one for me this year was Don Giovanni. As it happened, the performance started well before sunset, and the day was too hot for me to sit in an open, unshaded space, so I plugged the laptop into the TV and live-streamed the opera into my living room via YouTube. Wimpy has joined the ranks of fast food outlets that do home deliveries, so I didn’t even have to miss my interval picnic.

I find it odd that while ballet live-screenings are introduced by Darcey Bussell (who has the validity of actually having been a ballerina), opera live screenings are nowadays introduced by Gok Wan, who seems an odd choice.

The set for this production was interesting- a blank cube of doors and staircases, revolving slowly. There was little colour, apart from the occasional washes of red used to represent blood, and at the very end, hellfire. It is difficult to describe the way that lighting and projection were used to bring the set alive – the images below give a flavour of the way that text and “grey veiling” was used. The ghosts of past conquests were effectively creepy, and there were some moments, such as the role-swapping of Leporello and Don Giovanni where video was used comically and cleverly, but overall, I found the set very distracting, and the closeup camera work made it difficult to see the complexity of the character action.

The story is an old one – a life of debauchery gets its fitting end, but I felt that there was a little too much of the debauchery and not enough of the end. The voices were all excellent, the characters were all stereotypes, and the only one I warned to at all was Leporello, played by Ildebrando D’Arcangelo.

Advertisements
Posted in Cinema, music

July 8: Yellow Submarine

It is half a century since the Beatles sailed off in their yellow submarine to save Pepperland from the Blue Meanies. Today there was a one-off screening of the remastered film in Picturehouse cinemas, and I went along to my local (happily air-conditioned) sold out screening.

I wouldn’t normally go to the cinema on a Sunday, still less on a Sunday morning, but this was a special occasion.

The music wasn’t the best of the Beatles songbook, but there were one or two goodies – Nowhere Man and Hey Bulldog are particular favourites of mine, and of course, the wonderful Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was in there too.

The film showed its age, and the age of most of its audience, but there were a fair number of young couples with children at the screening I went to, and they seemed to enjoy it.

It is rare for an audience to applaud a film, but that happened today. I’m very glad I was there to join in.

Posted in Musical theatre

May 23: The Book Of Mormon

I wasn’t sure that I would like this. Taking the mickey out of a religion, albeit a strange religion, isn’t something that sits well with me. The thing that swung my decision to go was the writers. As the writers of South Park, they are irreverent, but they take on the hard things.

They do that in this musical, too. They address racism, sexism, religious bigotry. The show has a subplot about AIDS and it’s various nasty so-called remedies. There is another subplot about FGM. There is a subplot about “tribal” warlords. Another about homosexuality, another about the loss of religious belief. All meaty stuff, and all delivered through the main plot of missionary Mormons bringing God to “ignorant African villagers”.

I found the depiction of the villagers unpleasant. I didn’t like the main male character’s habit of getting the main female character’s name wrong. (African names are clearly too hard to remember). Having said that. I laughed as hard as anyone else when he called her “Nigel Farage”. And that was what made the whole show problematic. It was very funny, although I found myself hoping no one I knew could see me laughing. The music was good. The dancing was excellent. The voices were good, even if the songs were intentionally terrible.

In the end, I was glad to get out into the open air. My skin felt a bit crawly.

Posted in Gigs, music

May 19: Tiger Lillies – The Devil’s Fairground

Yes, there was a wedding going on, and yes, I watched it on TV, like most other people. But in the evening, instead of going to a party, I went to Wilton’s Music Hall to see the Tiger Lillies performing songs from their new album.

Wilton’s is a perfect venue for the Tiger Lillies. It is crumbling and decayed, a bit like the characters Martyn Jacques sings about. And the band were brilliant as always. But I felt as if there should have been more…spectacle. I wanted more lighting effects, maybe some scenery or projections. A bit more smoke and mirrors. This was a gig rather than a show. There was no real theme, despite the opening number and the words on the poster.

I did enjoy the evening, but I wanted to enjoy it more.

Posted in Musical theatre

May 2: Chess

I’ve never been a fan of “big” musicals (with one or two exceptions- I loved Wicked and Starlight Express). I’m more of a fan of the small and quirky – Grinning Man; Frogs; the Tiger Lillies’ Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

So it was with a lot of doubt that I trotted along to the London Coliseum for Chess. The Colly isn’t the most comfortable of venues, unless you splash out for the posh seats, but I had a good view and some legroom in the circle, even if I was jammed into my seat by strange men on both sides (strange as in strangers, not as in weirdos). I compensated by claiming both armrests.

The set was modern. The show wasn’t. There were some very problematic moments (the Bangkok ladyboys being just one), but also some excellent theatrical moments. The Cirque du Soleil interlude was lovely, the two Russian dance routines were excellent (I really loved the one in Red Army uniforms- don’t judge me).

The orchestra and chorus were fantastic, and what a brilliant idea of having the orchestra above the stage.

The soloists’ voices all stood up well, and Alexandra Burke made Svetlana into a strong character. Finally, Michael Ball. Normally a singer I can take or leave, he really showed that musical theatre is his natural habitat.

I came out feeling energised. Four stars.

Posted in Gigs

March 30: Evanescence

This was a slightly odd cross between a concert and a rock gig. The Royal Festival Hall is not designed for dancing in the aisles, and while the acoustic is very good, it doesn’t have the “rock” atmosphere you would expect for a band like this. Having said that, the show was very enjoyable. Amy Lee has the kind of voice that can carry over any backing, and the addition of a chamber orchestra made some old familiar songs interesting. I must admit to having my attention on the drummer for the most part of the show. A good night out, and I got to wear my business tutu.

Posted in Cinema, Opera

March 21: Carmen

I love the fact that there are live screenings of opera. I love even more that there are encore matinee screenings. This time, my local cinema was offering the Royal Oper’s controversial version of Carmen. I have to say, the cast’s expertise on that flight of stairs blew me away. I loved the costumes. I loved the campness of the Toreador Song. I just absolutely loved the whole thing, and would happily go to see this again.

Posted in classical music, puppetry, Theatre

March 20: The Four Seasons

This was my first visit to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, and I found it absolutely entrancing. I loved the candle lighting and the intimacy of the small space. The reimagination of Vivaldi’s music worked for me, and I particularly liked the fusion of harpsichord and synthesised effects. Gyre and Gimbal are skilful puppeteers and brilliant story tellers (I have seen their work before, in the Grinning Man), and the simplicity of the wooden puppets was perfect for this production.

Posted in books, Gigs, Musical theatre, Theatre

Week 51

It’s Christmas!

AFB4478B-8586-48ED-A936-CB5597849D31

In the week up to Christmas Eve, there was enough seasonal entertainment to exhaust the most hardened pleasure seeker…

Theatre

Wilton’s Music Hall

Piers Torday: The Box Of Delights

0208C2C1-9BE0-4F53-A37D-561E6D975BE7

This was a vastly chopped-about version of the story, and was rather difficult for younger children to understand. Some elements were slapstick, some were very frightening indeed, and all were over-acted. The set was clever, and there was some imaginative use of puppets and projection, but overall, the whole thing was grey and misty, and not just from the over-use of haze. I had hoped to be entranced, but it didn’t quite happen.

Gigs that don’t quite fit into categories

Conway Hall

Robin Ince: Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People

95C6D45F-7781-4E51-9850-2B98A433F9E1

This was a fast-moving but strangely over-running variety show, full of science, comedy , music and a man cooking eggs with a wallpaper steamer. Oddly, this show was the most Christmassy thing I saw this week.  I laughed a lot.

O2 Arena

Disney on Ice:Passport to Adventure

07EA50F1-0BD3-4D29-A8EA-5C0C52BA038A

What it says on the tin. Disney characters on skates. Some of it was good, some a bit long-winded. The Peter Pan section could have been chopped in half without losing anything, and there was room for a bit more Frozen.  It was fun. Children in the audience loved it. I had a problem with the expensive and ridiculous merchandising, but I suppose that’s what it was really all about.

Books

Reading Challenge 

Two more this week, bringing my total up to 96

DF88930B-AB6C-45CC-99FD-C414243F6DAD

I am reading a lot of children’s books lately. (Deciding what to buy young relatives for Christmas is difficult!) I had heard good things about the Velveteen Rabbit, but I was a little disappointed in it. I wanted to learn more about the Skin Horse. I wanted the rabbit to have more trials to overcome. I suppose I wanted a book for the 10 year old me…

Mr Penumbra irritated me intensely. It is ostensibly about a bookshop, but is actually about a Dungeons and Dragons style quest without the dragons, and with added computer nerdery. Not a classic.

#thedarkisreading

CA1B2E40-FAC0-40F0-B7B7-0E3A0F4FB749

I have never read the Dark is Rising, so this year I joined a Twitter reading group to do it properly. The book begins on Midwinter’s eve, which happened to fall this week. This book won’t be part of my 100-books Challenge, because I don’t plan to finish it before New Year. So far, I am enjoying being part of a pretty large community of readers. Other people’s perspectives are really interesting.

Posted in audio, books, Musical theatre, puppetry, Theatre

Week 50

Theatre

Shoreditch Town Hall

Carl Grose: The Tin Drum

2759427E-FE73-4437-84FF-8A7C6C1EADBF

This was a wonderful production, full of music and humour. The puppetry was excellent, with the transition between puppet miniatures and live-action in the Koljaiczek arson-and-police-chase being particularly inspired. I thoroughly enjoyed this show.

The Tramshed, Woolwich

indefinitearticles: The Magic Lamp

78DAF6E2-36BA-4BAC-BD4C-9EDC506122CA

This was as low-tech as it is possible to be. Two actor-storytellers, no costumes, no scenery, almost no props. The magic came from two old overhead-projectors, some oil, some paper, and a sheet suspended from the ceiling of an empty studio space. The very simple shadow puppetry worked well, and the largely young audience were  engaged for the hour or so that the story took to unfold. This was not sophisticated, but it was enjoyable.

Reading Challenge 

A6EC336D-3B0F-42C7-A616-4488FDB8104F

This now stands at 94. It looks as if I might make it!

This week’s offerings are varied, but do all count among the less-enjoyed volumes this year.

I chose Günter Grass’s Tin Drum because I wanted to find out the rest of Oskar’s story, beyond what was portrayed in the play. I have to say I didn’t really enjoy it. The book was a bleak sideways look at wartime politics, mental ill health, physical disability, religious fervour, nasty sex, sleazy underworlds and black markets, and it was quite a relief when I reached the end.

The Maigret was an irritating mistaken-identity story. Very run of the mill, and not at all gripping.

Thd final book this week was the latest in the Hogarth Shakespeare rewrites, this time King Lear. I don’t like Edward St Aubyn’s work much, but hoped for something better than his usual nastiness. Sadly, the two “evil sisters” showed their evilness through perverted sexuality from page one, and the book wasnt a good version of the play. Only two or three of the characters were recognisable. The Cordelia character’s end seemed completely gratuitous, and Dunbar’s madness seemed to switch off and on too easily. Not recommended.