Posted in Musical theatre

June 3: Into the Woods

I am very partial to a Sondheim musical, and Into the Woods is a particular favourite. I hadn’t been to the Cockpit before, and was pleasantly surprised by its reasonably comfy seats (certainly no less comfy than the New Vic) and the particular care taken over settling anyone with mobility problems into their seats first, so they didn’t have to stand in the first-come-first-served queue.

The production was staged in the round, with clever use of builders’ pallets and ladders to represent the woods. The entire central space was strewn several inches thick with wood chippings, which looked (and smelled) effective, but raised quite a lot of dust ( that had to be sprayed with water to damp it down during the interval.

The cast was large, with no doubling up on roles. The Witch was very strong, as was Cinderella. The Princes were princely, charming and funny. Little Red Riding Hood was outstanding. The only disappointment in terms of singing was Jack’s Mother, who was singing at the very bottom (and sometimes off the bottom end of) her range, and so wasn’t able to achieve the volume needed to match the other voices. She made up for it with her acting skills, giving us a picture of a woman flattened by poverty, briefly lifted by a windfall. A very moving performance.

Props were minimal, and clever, with no attempt to make them realistic, but I think the various babies should have been slightly larger.

This might not have been the most “polished” of performances, but it was a cheerful way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

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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 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 Theatre

April 27: The War Of The Worlds

I didn’t know what to expect from this production, but what I got was a fantastic performance from a tiny cast of just four, with no set, minimal costumes and props almost entirely made up of kitchenware. There was live music, some clever lighting and sound effects and a lot of jokes. At times I was breathless trying to keep up with the run of sci fi jokes, which culminated in a brilliant representation of the cycling scene from ET the Extraterrestrial, played out whilst dealing with audience participatory heckling. All the jokes and audience participation didn’t move the show away from the original story to any great degree, but instead provided a fantastic night of comedy, music and drama. The highlight for me was the Martian fighting machine which looked to be made out of an umbrella and several pairs of stuffed tights. Brilliant.

Posted in Musical theatre

January 12: The Grinning Man

Yesterday, I saw what was possibly the best musical I have ever seen. It had everything: excellent live music (at one point I had a cellist disconcertingly close to my right ear); fabulous set and costumes; excellent singing and acting from a wonderfully diverse cast, and the best multi-layered puppetry I have seen. I loved this show. It brought me to tears in places, and provoked laughter in others. It was gory, and gothy, and quite wonderful.

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

Week 50

Theatre

Shoreditch Town Hall

Carl Grose: The Tin Drum

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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

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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 

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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.

Posted in books, Musical theatre, Theatre

Week 44

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This week contained Guy Fawkes Night (aka Fireworks night, or for the more traditionally minded, Bonfire Night), when we in the UK celebrate the fact that the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 failed.  There are some huge public displays of fireworks in London, and one of the biggest is quite local to me. But I didn’t go to watch fireworks, as I was busy doing other things.

Theatre

National Theatre

Rory Mullarkey: Saint George and the Dragon

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This was a straightforward allegory (if there can be such a thing) of Brexit, ending with the cast and audience uncertain of what should happen next. There were some fun moments – the flaming dragon heads crashing down in fabulous pyrotechnic display; the clever origin of the St George’s cross on a flag. The set was very original, and made good use of the Olivier’s revolving stage. I think the time-jumping aspect of the story could have been managed better, but overall, I enjoyed this play.

Garrick Theatre

Mel Brooks: Young Frankenstein

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This was, as expected, full of “knobs and knockers” jokes, but having said that, it was very funny, even if I did find myself thinking “oh dear, I shouldn’t be laughing at this” more than once. The performances were strong, and there were some very clever scenic elements. The cart-horses were particularly inspired, and whoever thought that idea up should get a medal.

Reading challenge

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A trip into science fiction territory this week. I enjoy Adam Roberts’s quirky takes on the future, and this married my old love of SF with my new love of the crime thriller, by providing me with a locked door mystery that I didn’t solve, but could have, if I had though laterally. Clever stuff, but I would have liked more character  back story. My total of books read this year now stands at 80. Can I make it to 100? Watch this space…

Posted in audio, books, Musical theatre, puppetry

Week 41

Last week, I saw The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, wherein the female lead begins as a singer at Wilton’s music hall. By strange coincidence, I was at Wilton’s myself this week, and a wonderful place it is, too.

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Wilton’s Music Hall

Les Enfants Terribles: The Terrible Infants

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IMG_1018The play in question was a sort-of musical, a little like the offspring of  Shockheaded Peter and Oyster Boy might be, if you can imagine that.

The actor-musicians were very good. The story was pretty much what I expected – cautionary tales aimed for a mixed audience. A lot of the action was through ingenious puppetry, which was excellent. The theatre space was fabulous. Seating was more comfortable than I expected, and I had a jolly good time. The only downside was the awful walk from Shadwell along Cable Street. A warning to fellow pedestrians – go via Aldgate East and Leman Street. It won’t be much quicker, but it will be more pleasant.

Reading Challenge

I haven’t managed to actually read anything this week, but I did win a competition to win what I thought was one audio book, but which turned out to be three audio books.

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Posted in books, Musical theatre, video

Week 32

This should have been an interesting week. I was going to see Titus Andronicus,  a Shakespeare play I have only ever seen excerpts of. In addition, it was the last week of the Opera in the City festival, and I had tickets for a couple of new pieces.

Sadly, life intervened, in the form of illness in the family, and I didn’t get to any    of the things I had booked. Once again, it was a couch culture week.

Musical Theatre/TV

BBC Proms

Rodgers and Hammerstein: Oklahoma!

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This was a lively, semi-staged version of an old favourite. A bright spot in a dark week.

SUMMER reading challenge

IMG_0502E is for Eco. This was a bit of a variable feast. In some parts, it was a fast and lively murder mystery; in others a tedious wade through pages of description or chapters of historical detail. I found it hard going, although the central story had me hooked. I might revisit this one day, as I am not sure I really did it the justice of  giving it my full attention.

Posted in Ballet, books, Musical theatre, Opera, video

Week 28

The cough persists, but is slowly receding, and fortunately leaving me enough time between bouts to be able to enjoy stuff without annoying my neighbours too much.

Theatre

Union Theatre

Tim Rice/Stephen Oliver: Blondel

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It seems that I am gradually coming round to an enjoyment of musicals. (Not all of them, though!)

Blondel is a very early Tim Rice offering, and was good fun, if a bit panto-ish. There were some outstanding moments, great voices, and some excellent characterisations, including the best Prince John since Alan Rickman.

The Union is a theatre best experienced in winter, I think. The summer heat inside this little railway arch was oppressive, and the seats are packed in with very little legroom. I was seated near a portable air-conditioner, which was noisy and didn’t do much to cool the air. On the plus side, the cafe is good, with lots of outside space.

Opera

ROH/ Big Screen

Puccini:Turandot

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These “big screenings” are an event with their own style. Picnic suppers, live-tweeting and singing lessons in the intervals.

I wasn’t able to get to the local Big Screen this time, and so missed my traditional Wimpy takeaway picnic,  but because it was a live stream, I was able to join in via my iPad, with a home-delivery KFC picnic on the sofa. (Sadly, Wimpy have not joined the home delivery market yet.)

Turandot is spectacularly problematic. One of the best arias ever in NessunDorma, but as bad in its treatment of women as you could find pretty much anywhere.

i live in hope that one day I will see a performance of this opera that does not use yellow-face. It must surely be possible to find Asian singers; or if not, to change the setting so it is not so obviously Chinese.

Ballet

ROH/BBC4

Wayne McGregor: Woolf Works

IMG_0515I confess to not being a ballet lover. I like some dance, but generally speaking, big ballets leave me fairly cold.  Having said that, occasionally one will catch me out. This week the BBC broadcast a live-ish production of WoolfWorks from the Royal Opera House, and I was captivated. The music was modern, costumes were beautiful, design was excellent and the dancers were wonderful. i particularly liked the middle Orlando section,  and this has spurred me to download a copy of the book to add to my to-read list.

Theatre/Cinema

Donmar/Picturehouse

Shakespeare: Julius Caesar

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Okay, so not live, but this film of JuliusCaesar from the Donmar was one of the highlights of my cultural year so far. Outstanding performances by Harriet Walter as Brutus and Martina Laird as Cassius; some inspired design/props elements (particularly the red rubber gloves); and a bit of hard rock music, too. The use of a prison setting, and its incorporation into the play was clever, and the all-female, multi-ethnic casting was well-justified. I loved this, and recommend it to anyone, Shakespeare lover or not.

Books

SUMMER readingchallenge

I decided to just read these one a week in the order they come, so, first up for this week was StAubyn.

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There is a lot of hype about this author, and the book is certainly readable. It is also mercifully short, because the subject matter is shocking. I couldn’t understand why so much praise had been heaped on it, until I did a bit of research and discovered that it was autobiographical. That put a very different complexion on the story, and pushed me into buying the other four books in the series. Winner of the 1992 Betty Trask Award.

The rest of the Patrick Melrose series kept me occupied while I suffered with the lingering cough that stopped me sleeping this week.  I found this whole series bleak and populated with really unlikeable people. Thankfully, there is redemption at the very end of the last book.

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