Sunday, 29 November 2015

Two Tates and Four Exhibitions - The First Two

I went to Tate Britain to see the Frank Auerback exhibition but accidentally went into the strangely fascinating 'Artists & Empire' exhibition first. 'Empire' is a bit of a charged term these days but it's ripe to plunder for its artistic heritage, as this exhibition amply demonstrates. Yes there are maps showing one quarter of the world coloured red to show the expanse of Empire and yes, there are paintings of governors and others in their version of exotic 'native' costumes and yes, there are paintings illustrating the military might of Empire. But there is a lot more to the exhibition than that.

It's a mix of paintings, sculpture and some textiles and head-dresses and many of the paintings are by non-British artists, artists from around the world that painted scenes from the last big empire. And the paintings aren't just of the great and wealthy, there's a painting of the first former slave Black Barbadian freed woman and property owner who went on to own slaves herself, paintings of crowded cock-fights, of Indian princesses in their finery, of the army taking custody of the sons of enemy nobles as a guarantee of good behaviour, of sad scenes of lovers parting as the man boards a ship to do his duty in some far off place and of women hiding during the Indian mutiny.

Some of the painting stirred strange emotions, such as the scenes of fallen soldiers in some far off and little know war, the last dozen of a regiment surrounded by fallen comrades as the Afghan warriors charge and, reading the sign beside the painting which tells of a captain wrapping himself in the regiment's colours to die only to be left to live and subsequently released by the Afghans. These were real stories that barely trouble the history books but were known at the time. What must it have been like for these young lads to go off to fight in far-flung places when the world was much bigger than it is today, when distances were impossibly huge and they ended up fighting strange peoples at the word of their masters and, let's face it, it was all about money and power for the few at the top of the pile that never faced these dangers. Was it all about adventure or did they have little choice but to go and take the King's shilling?

There are also paintings of the subjects of Empire as well, such as an intense double portrait of two Sikh gentlemen in their turbans and uniform before they went to fight for the British in the trenches of  First World War France. They were captains who survived the war but what must it have been like for them? A sign elsewhere noted that one in six of the soldiers in the First World War were from the Empire but where is this history told and what happened to them, dying half a world away from where they grew up for an Empire that barely valued them other than as fodder. 

The exhibition ends with some more contemporary works to show how the former colonies have been able to reconcile their more recent histories and draw new artistic freedoms from it. It's odd to think that the Empire isn't that long gone and it was the First World War that was the beginning of the end and the  Indian partition finally ended it. Do I feel guilty about the Empire? It brought massive wealth to this country but my people were just as much servants of Empire as anyone else under its rule around the globe, working in the fields and down the mines. I suspect that if I'd been born 200 years ago and sought to escape poverty by adventuring abroad I would've 'gone native' under the Raj and lived as an eccentric. I still might do that.

The Frank Auerbach exhibition was a very different creature, showing his works from the 1950s onwards as his style and vision developed. I know nothing about Mr Auerback but I now know that he's had a studio at Mornington Crescent (just up from Camden in North London) for decades because he painted the area so frequently. And what vibrant paintings they are too - or at least some of them.

His paintings are thick with paint, laid on by a palette knife and chunky brushes, lots of layers and textures on the canvas. A few of them made me want to climb into that froth of paint and explore his colourful North London streets  No doubt it'll be far from the grey concrete and red brick reality of those streets.

I'm not entirely sure what he was trying to say - and is still trying to say - but I'd love to have a chat about it over a glass of wine some day and how I can find my way into his vision of Mornington Crescent ...

Monday, 23 November 2015

Vicky Pattison to WIN!

I made a tactical error last night when I turned on the telly and saw Ant and Dec introducing 'I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here' and thought I'd see what me Geordie lads were up to these days.  And then I noticed that the format was the same as it always was but something kept me from turning over and it was a woman who looked vaguely familiar. Then I was all 'it's HER, I know HER' and realised it was Vicky from 'Geordie Shore'. I've only seen repeats of that awful programme but too late, I was caught.

Vicky was doing a daft challenge with another reality TV "star" and she came across as a very likeable lass (no mentions of 'bangin' or booze anywhere) and had a lovely manner. I decided that I *like* her. I liked her even more when she took the piss out of herself for trying to look sexy while having a shower but she kept getting soap in her eyes. Down to earth is nice.

Vicky to WIN!

'Xanadu' - The Last Performance at Southwark Playhouse

Saturday night was the final performance of 'Xanadu' at Southwark Playhouse and it was sold out with a long queue to get into the theatre to grab good seats. Productions at Southwark never seem to run for very long but it's put on a couple of good 'uns this year, with 'Grand Hotel' over the summer and now 'Xanadu'. In both cases the cast were really getting into their stride when the run ended and last night's performance of 'Xanadu' was an excellent farewell from the cast.

The cast have grown into their roles, they know where the best laughs are and where there's scope to go over the top and the skating is with so much more confidence than the first time I saw them. Now is when the show should really be taking off but instead it's closed. I still have hopes that it might transfer into the West End but, even if it did, it probably wouldn't be the same. I still want to see it again, though.

The cast were all great fun and I want to record their names for posterity:

Carly Anderson as Kira/Clio, our heroine and leader of the Muses with the most fabulous Ozstralian accent ever.

Samuel Edwards as Sonny, our rather dim hero in short cut-offs and red headband.

Alison Jiear as Melpomene, the Evil Woman herself, she would smite Clio if she was a god.

Lizzy Connolly as Calliope, the other Evil Woman, cackling around the stage.

Emily McGoughan as Euterpe, who doubles as Maggie Smith in 'Clash of Titans'.

Nicholas Duncan as Thalia in his little blue skirt and Cylops mask.

Micha Richardson as Erato with her flowing locks and handy telephone box.

Joel Burman as Terpsicore with his big 'fro and alter-ego as a centaur.

Nigel Barber as Danny/Zeus who fell in love with Clio 40 years ago and built Xanadu for her.

It was all great fun and, if you missed it, you only have yourself to blame. I advised everyone to see it after my first visit and if you ignored that advice then you've got nobody to blame except for yourself.

It brought a smile to my face and a laugh to my throat before singing along to the finale of 'Xanadu'. I am honoured to use the sacred sigil of crossed forearms in front of the chest creating an X sign. This show will have a cosy little warm place in my heart and I will watch out for the magical cast in future - I hope they all go on to become great big international stars - including in Oz! And then I'll be able to say that I saw them when they daft and lovely in a little known musical off the Elephant & Castle.

Thank you cast and crew and thank you to Southwark Playhouse for bringing joy and light, even if only for a few weeks. Here's hoping for a transfer...

'French Without Tears' at the Orange Tree Theatre

We went on another visit to the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond to see the penultimate performance of 'French Without Tears' by Terence Rattigan. How fitting that this tale of upper-middle class young men should be in upper-middle class Richmond. I've seen a few Rattigan plays over the years and they're all of their time, generally including lots of posh people, but the only one I actually liked was his tale of airmen in the Second World War in 'Flare Path' (with Sheridan Smith and Sienna Miller).

'French Without Tears' is one of his earlier plays and is set in a house on the French coast at which various posh young men are staying to learn French. As well as the middle aged teacher and his daughter (who also teaches), a young lady is staying with her brother because she has nowhere else to go since her talks are in India. The appropriately named Diana is a femme fatale and her prey in men. Two of the young men are learning French to help them pass the entrance exams for 'the Diplomatic', another is a rich young man with nothing better to do while another wants to learn French for 'commercial reasons'. They are soon joined by a new student in the form of a stiff upper lip naval commander. And the scene is set.

The constant bickering between the men in the first half makes most of them rather unpleasant characters and Alan who wants to join 'the Diplomatic' since his father is a diplomat is distinctly misogynistic with a definite downer on women and Diana in particular. Diana is a man-hunter, always needing a man to fall in love with her and as soon as she's achieved that then searches for a new man to make fall in love. It's her nature, as she says at one point. When the commander arrives she sets her sights on him and effortlessly wins him, much to the chagrin of Kit, who also loves her. The men start to fight and, during verbal sparring realise that Diana has said the same thing to each of them and realise that game's afoot. This aces them all bond as brothers to fight off the spells of Diana. It was only in the latter stages of this half that I started to see anything likeable in any of the male characters.

In the second half, Kit and the Commander win free so Diana sets her sights on Alan and effortlessly makes him fall for her. O dear, men are such fragile creatures. He also wins free and decides to chuck in becoming a diplomat and wants to go back to England to become a writer. In the meantime, Kit has decided that he really loves Jacqueline, the French teacher who has loved him for two months and the Commander, of course, has his love of the sea. And Diana? Well, there are always other men.

The characters are almost universally awful except for Jacqueline (played by Sarah Winter with a very good accent) who is sympathetic throughout and Brian (played for laughs by Tom Hanson), the bluff Englishman with the atrocious franglais accent and who likes the company of the local ladies of the night for 50 francs a pop. Tom had some of the best lines in the play and plays Brian as a jolly good sport, liked by all, not terribly bright but a good egg. The best line for me was when talking about Diana and how she turns the green light on men she likes then said she was 'pretty stingey with the orange and red ones' - that tickled my funny bone no end. Genevieve Gaunt was also fun (in a two dimensional way given her character) as Diana, never without a cigarette on the go and exposing flesh whenever possible.

The staging was nice but the costumes were awful, with hems frayed and seams not straight and all seemed a little too big for the people wearing them. O well, you can't have it all in small theatres. But, at least, once again, the Orange Tree has put on something a bit different that no-one else seems to want to play so it's worth it for that alone. I'll keep an eye out for Sarah Winter and Tom Hanson - it'll be interesting to see where they turn up next.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

'Monotones I & II / Two Pigeons' at the Royal Opera House

Last week we went to see more ballet at the Royal Opera House, this time a couple of abstract, non-narrative works set to the wonderful music of Erik Satie - Monotones I & II - and 'Two Pigeons', a tale of love and loss and finding your love again. And there really are pigeons. Both were performed by the Royal Ballet. Sitting in the Amphitheatre gives you a spectacular, panoramic view totally unobstructed to drink in the sights in front of you, both in the orchestra and on the stage. My eyes stay on the stage.

It's always a delight to go into the wonderful Royal Opera House, with it's plush reds and golds, high ceilings and ultra-polite staff. Walking through the champagne bar and up the escalator to the Amphitheatre bar with it's dramatic views over the champagne bar on one side and out into the open-air balcony over-looking Covent Garden on the other. A Covent Garden now lit up with Christmas lights and a rampant reindeer at the entrance to the market. I'm quietly looking forward to seeing the Royal Opera House decked out in its Christmas finery in December, I bet it will look most fab.

'Monotones' are two short ballets danced back to back, the first featuring two men and one woman, and the second with two women and one man. Three dancers in each, the first three wearing light green costumes and the second wearing white. Dramatic movement and lighting means you never know what they'll do next, pulling dramatic shapes and then holding the pose. The gentle piano music of Erik Satie was a marvellous accompaniment to the two ballets. 'Monotone I' is danced to 'Trois Gnossiennes' and 'Monotone II' is danced to 'Trois Gymnopedies', both pieces very calming and restful as the dancers move and gyrate. I suspect most people reading this will have heard at least the main theme of 'Gymnopedies' but 'Gnossiennes' was new to me and I liked it.

The dancers in 'Monotone I' could probably have done with another few days of rehearsal, not always properly synchronised and a bit wobbly when on one leg, but it was lovely to watch. I preferred the perfection of 'Monotone II', opening with the ballerina standing on pointe on one leg with the other at 180 degrees straight up, being slowly turned by the two men dancers before lifting and moving her around the stage. It was a great to watch the elegance and poise of the dancers taking up the whole stage to the strains of Satie's lovely music.  Lots of clapping for the six dancers at the end.

After the interval it was time for the opening act of 'Two Pigeons', opening in the artist's garret in Paris while he tries to paint a fidgeting girl in a white tutu. He gives up and sulks while she tries to catch his attention and then some neighbours come a-calling to further prevent him working. And two pigeons fly across the window. Then appears a troupe of gypsies in colour clothes along with a gypsy girl who attracts his attention. He is captivated by her vitality and energetic dancing, so much more alive than the girl he was trying to paint, wild and brash, unafraid of life. The gypsies all leave and the artist grabs his cloak to follow, leaving the girl alone in the garret studio.

The second half moves the action to the gypsy camp and a wild party with energetic dancing from everyone as the artist and the girl's lover have a dance-off for her attentions. The artist loses both the dance-off and the girl. The final scene sees the artist walking down the steps to his garret where his former girl is still waiting for him. He has a pigeon on his shoulder and offers it to her before placing it on the back of a chair.  I thought it was a false pigeon since it was so still, and then it moved - a trained pigeon indeed. And then the second one flew across the stage to land beside the first on the back of the chair - what a lovely, magical surprise! And our two lovers are united again. Clap clap clap!

It was a lovely production, moving between wild and joyous to quiet and contemplative as the dancers tell their story. I liked Iana Salenko as the girl and Steven McRae as the artist and saw both of them dancing as Romeo and Juliet a few weeks ago, making a nice pairing again. I also liked Fumi Kaneko who danced up a storm as the gypsy girl. I also liked the pigeons that provided a wonderful surprise - how do you train a pigeon? The final scene was lovely to see, the artist and his love together with the two pigeons of the title. More clap clap clapping.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

'Waste' at the National Theatre

Last week we went to see 'Waste' at the National Theatre, an Edwardian play by Harley Granville Barker. I've only seen one of his other plays ('The Voysey Inheritance', also at the National) so I was quite keen to see this.

It's a tale of politics and intrigue that was banned at the time. It's about the old boys network and covering things up for one another until that's no longer possible. Political needs and public decency and how far you can stretch "the truth", particularly under a Conservative government and a well connected Prime Minister with a bill he needs to be taken through Parliament by an up and coming younger politician.

Unfortunately, that younger politician has an affair with the former wife of an Irish rebel and she become pregnant. In a tough scene she goes to him to tell him her news and her intention to have an abortion which sadly kills her. If word gets out that he was the father then his career - and the bill - will be destroyed. We see the scheming to keep it secret but word gets out and he commits suicide. And that is the 'waste' of the title - drummed in, just in case you don't get it, by a waste bin lying on its side for the bows by the cast at the end.

But, you know what? I didn't really like it. Sorry Harley, but there were just too many words, too many long, long speeches and an absence of any warmth or compassion. The set didn't help either, with a very bare stage for most of the time, with only a chair or a bench and acres of cold space trying to be stylish with sliding panels making for an interesting sight but visually cold. That's not to say that there weren't any good performances, there were. But the text and the staging put me right off quite early on in the play and I could never quite get into it. I quite liked the scene with the scheming politicians all looking after their own factions of the party and thought that was quite realistic but ultimately 'so what?'. Why should I care about these rich and privileged schemers? There's nothing in the play to make me want to care.

I think, ultimately, that was the problem I had with the play - there was nothing to make me care about the characters or the unfolding story. Where was the scene to make me admire the young politician, to make me care about him and his cause as set out in his bill? There wasn't one or if there was it was too subtle for me. The only warmth in the play was from his sister when she tried to give him hope in the middle of the night when she knew he was contemplating suicide to avoid the scandal. That was a nice performance by Sylvestra Le Touzel but too little and too late.

I should also name-check Charles Edwards as our 'wasted' politician without a future, if only for memorising all those words. And there were so many of them. He gave a nice performance but ultimately left me cold and with little thought for the character. Who cares about him? Certainly not me.

Of course, there's more waste in this play than just the politician. His one-time lover and her unborn baby, his sister's life that is shattered and tattered, frayed by the publicity - other people suffer too. At the end the politician's secretary came on to tell the sister that he'll continue her brothers' brave fight and will never give up, some emotion (at last) resulting from the effect the politician can have on other people. But again, too late.

Sorry Harley and sorry National Theatre, but this one's not for me.

Monday, 16 November 2015

'Anita and Me' at the Theatre Royal Stratford East

Last week we went to see the new play, 'Anita and Me' based on Meera Syal's book of the same name at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. In the programme it's actually credited as 'By Meera Syal, adapted by Tanika Gupta'. I read the book years ago shortly after it first came out and long before it was added to the national schools syllabus and it yearningly evoked the early 70s and growing up in a small village. It was made into a film a few years ago (which I didn't see) but when I saw it was going to open at Stratford then I had to get tickets.

The play tells the tale of 13 year old Meena over the summer of 1973, opening with being released from school for the long summer holiday and ending with her going to the grammar school and the family moving from the village to the big city of Wolverhampton. In between we see friendships develop and fall apart, a new baby brother born and granny visiting from the Punjab and through all of it we see an energetic and rebellious Meena and her sometimes best friend, Anita.

There are some changes from the book (inevitably) and, since it's billed as a 'play with music' then Meena's next door neighbour happens to play in a band and has his keyboard on stage to play along to some of the songs. It's not a musical and there aren't that many songs but songs are in the mix. And some foot-tapping bangra as well.  They're still the only Asian family in the village so we see some interaction with the white folks as well as visits from aunty and uncle encouraging them to move to Wolverhampton to be with other Indian families. And we see Meena grow up that summer and be brave enough to challenge former friends who become racist skinheads. It's all in there somewhere.

As we walked in the music that was playing helped to set the scene - all from the early 70s obviously. The stage was set as the yard in front of rows of 2-up 2-down terraced houses and it was quickly populated by school children escaping for their summer holidays, followed by the women of the village parading on. It was very busy and great fun and then they started speaking - or rather Meena started speaking - and the thick midlands accent made it difficult to follow. I suspect the reason her accent was so thick was to show she's from the midlands, born and bred, whereas her parents were from the Punjab but it made hard work of following some of the dialog. Anita didn't speak like that.  I also thought that Meena was a bit, well, grown up to pretend to be 13. I could also have done without the fawn cardigan over her head pretending to be blond hair for most of the first half. O well….

I liked Jalleh Alizadeh as Anita, the bad girl next door. She played her spot on as the popular girl with the awful home life. I also liked Mandeep Dhillon as Meena - especially her rendition of 'Cum On Feel The Noize' by SLADE - despite being a bit to old ( or well developed) for the role. Ayesha Dharker was good as Meena's mother and I'm sure I've seen her in something else I liked. But I think my favourite was Yasmin Wilde as Nanima, the granny from the Punjab who can fart with the best of 'em!

I enjoyed it despite a few flaws. I suspect there'll be a re-write before it's put on again but it should definitely be produced again - there's some good material here that shouldn't be lost. It's on for another week or so at Stratford so pop along if you want to see it, the first run of a new play that's bound to appear again but slightly differently.

The next time I have the opportunity to speak to Meera Syal (and I've met her a few times) I'll have to ask if Meena became a punk in the late 70s. I suspect she did. I bet there's another story in there somewhere...

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Allen Toussaint and ISIS

I saw the sad news today that Allen Toussaint has died while on tour in Spain. I won't claim to be a big fan or anything but I associate him with the all-woman band ISIS in the mid-70s and he produced their album 'Ain't No Backin' Up Now', their second album that I bought in 1975 or 1976. It was my introduction to disco-funk and lesbian politics, heavy on horns and bass lines and some great voices and songs. I played it lots back then when I needed to hear something a bit different, before punk and in need of some non-standard music.

I bought the record unheard because of the cover. I bought it on import in Windows record shop in the Central Arcade in Newcastle (where I also bought Buffy Sainte-Marie albums) and looked at it over several weeks before buying it. I'm pleased that I did since I'd never heard anything like it at that point. This was something very different, something to pay attention to and muse over. I still have the 12" vinyl album and have digitised it since it wasn't available online (but the album is now available on iTunes if you'd like to give it a listen).

Thank you Mr Toussaint for introducing me to ISIS and a new form of music. Rest assured that I'm still listening.

I wonder what the ISIS lasses did after the band. Did they stay in the music biz and thrive or sink without trace? I don't know but they can rest assured that they brought pleasure to me - I'm listening to the album even as I type this blog and can't control my dancing and foot-tapping instincts. That's what funk is for, after all. 

Saturday, 7 November 2015

'Romeo & Juliet' at the Royal Opera House

I've been to the ballet a few times and enjoyed it but I've never seen a full length, tradional ballet so last night was the chance put that right when we went to see 'Romeo & Juliet' at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. It's always exciting to go into the plush Royal Opera House and this is the Royal Ballet's 50th anniversary production of the Kenneth Macmillan interpretation of the Shakespeare play. It was wonderful to see - why didn't I see this 30 years ago? It's danced to Prokofiev's marvellous score with some wonderful themes swirling round the theatre, drifting off only to reappear again later. A colourful production full of dashing movement set to that music and with a classic story, what more could you want?

It opens in the busy market-place of Verona with our hero, Romeo, being a Jack-the-lad with the local girls and, when his friends arrive, start taunting the enemy house of Capulet. This results in a full-on battle with sword-fencers darting here and there across the stage including a great synchronised sword-fencing section where they were all in time with each other. It was all terribly energetic and skilfully done, I was most impressed! The Montague's in white tights and Capulet's in red tights so it was easy to see who was who. You could easily hear those swords clashing and scraping - this was realistic stuff.

It's a while before we meet Juliet but the dancing makes it plain that she is a young girl with her bouncing around the stage and into her nurse's lap - she's 13 after all. Her parents have lined her up to marry and introduce her to 'society' at a ball in her honour at which the Montague lads sneak in and Romeo is smitten. Hard. They dance. And fall in love. When they sneak off to a church to marry I couldn't help but think, 'That's it, you've sealed your fates now…'. They were lovely together, dancing the dawning of their love, expressing their feelings and their need to be one. It was delightful.

Of course, we all know it goes wrong with Juliet faking suicide to avoid another marriage, Romeo believing she's dead and taking his own life just as Juliet wakes up. Such a cruel ending that ramps up the tension. So sad.

This was a great production and I'm so pleased I saw it. It struck me in the first half that I should have seen this 30 years ago and then I would've seen so many great productions over those 30 years rather than seeing it for the first time now.  If only. Telling the story through dance worked so well and it was easy to follow and get wound up in the tale of love and sadness. Some of the dances were particularly touching like when Romeo and Juliet dance after waking up on the morning after their first (and only) night together. Their love is so strong but Romeo must leave, a very tender scene.

It was nice to meet a range of characters who aren't in the play but who add some fun and another angle to the ballet, such as the Happy Strumpets as I named them ('Three Harlots' in the cast list but I prefer strumpets, thank you). They were great fun and fearless and everyone should know a strumpet. I'm pleased that Romeo knew the Happy Strumpets.

Our Juliet was Iana Salenko and Romeo was Steven McRae, a joyous coupling. Alexander Campbell was Mercutio and Thomas Whitehead was Tybalt, the warring enemies that set Romeo on the track to killing Tybalt. It's all so sad and so unnecessary. They were all great, energetic dancing and acting, the cockiness of the lads, making it all come alive in front of us. The set, the costumes, the lighting all came together to provide a very special experience - I loved it.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Jenna Russell keeps turning up...

Isn't it strange how some actors keep turning up in things you go to see? Jenna Russell is one of those actors for me. I was trying to think how many times I've seen her on stage so went a-googling and it seems I've seen her more times than I thought.

It turns out that the first time I saw her was in 'Guys & Dolls' opposite Ewan McGregor in 2006 - I'd forgotten that one. My real memories of Jenna begin in Studio 54 in New York when she played Dot in 'Sunday In The Park With George' with Daniel Evans as M Seurat.  I have the Playbill for that somewhere and still remember the enormous glasses of JD and coke.

I saw her in another Sondheim musical, 'Into The Woods' at Regents Park Open Air Theatre surrounded by trees swaying in the evening breeze. She played the Baker's Wife and jolly good she was too. It'l have to be an outstanding version of 'Into The Woods' to beat that production, set, as it was, in the woods. It also featured Michael Xavier as the Wolf and the Prince.

I saw her in yet another Sondheim musical at the Choccy Factory, 'Merrily We Roll Along'. It wasn't one of my favourite productions but she does good drunk with added vitriol. I also saw her in 'Songs for a New World' a fe months ago and really enjoyed that show (along with fellow 'Merrily' singer Damian Humbly). She moved effortlessly from singing comic songs to lip-trembly and tender romantic pieces.

The only non-singing role I've seen her in was in 'Di & Viv & Rose' in February this year at The Vaudeville. I loved that play and wish I'd seen it again before it closed (disappointingly early). Jenna played Rose, the one that pulls the other two together and who dies leaving them alone with their shared memories. She was funny and touching in that play.

I saw Jenna a couple of weeks ago in the audience for 'Xanadu' at Southwark Playhouse - it's nice to see an actor who likes to seeing other actors live. She clapped along and seemed to love it. I tweeted her afterwards about it and she replied - I was delighted! I'll be seeing her again at Southwark Playhouse in January when she's in 'Grey Gardens'. I'm not stalking you Jenna, honest!

'The Barber of Seville' at The Coliseum

On Friday we went to see the English National Opera's production of 'The Barber Of Seville' by Rossini at the Coliseum. This was my first 'proper' full length opera - I saw the new 'Peter Pan' opera by the Welsh National Opera which I found terribly disappointing and trite so I was hoping for better things from a 'proper' opera, something that's stood the test of 200 years. I didn't really know what to expect and know the story of the opera but, luckily, it was sung in English so that helped.

'The Barber' is a comic opera and it did have some laugh out loud moments. It's the tale of Count Almaviva and his love for young Rosina, the ward of Dr Bartolo who is minded to marry her himself. It begins with the Count in disguise in ordinary clothing rather than his more courtly flamboyance outside the window of Bartolo's house with a group of musicians to serenade his love when she opens the curtains in the morning. It all goes wrong when Bartolo spoils the fun but the Count meets Figaro, the famous barber, in the street and tells him his tale of woes. Figaro instantly comes up with some ideas that will get the Count inside to meet Rosina - for a fee, of course.

And that's where the story takes off and the comic scenes get more and more daft, with Almaviva first acting like a drunk soldier to get into the house, pretending to be billeted there and later as a music tutor. The schemes all go wrong of course but at least the lovers meet. In the final scene we see Almaviva as the Count in all his finery and all goes well for the lovers, but not for grumpy old Bartolo. And the barber is handsomely rewarded - he is the best barber in Seville after all, as he keeps reminding us.

I didn't really know what to expect but I enjoyed it - and it helped that it was in English (but I still read the surtitles above the stage - those operatic voices y'know). This was a revival of Jonathan Miller's production from the '90s and was fast-oaced and kept the action going with no pauses. The set was lovely - Bartolo's drawing room - but surprisingly small on that big stage, with the set taking up slightly more than half of the available space. There were some great voices and my only criticism is that the players aren't quite, ahem, as young as they're meant to be playing. But there I go with the ageism…

I'm pleased that Almaviva and Rosina got together and probably had a lovely life together but you just know that that Figaro, the barber, gets into more scrapes along the way - he's that sort.

So there we have it, a comic opera under my belt. Now I need something more serious and have already booked tickets to 'La Traviata' at the Royal Opera House next year. Watch this space!