Sunday, 25 February 2018

'Lady Windermere's Fan' at the Vaudeville Theatre

Continuing the Oscar Wilde season at the Vaudeville Theatre is 'Lady Windermere's Fan' and they've really pushed out the fan motif with this one, with fans around the proscenium arch, on the curtain, the window and the back of the stage and even the floorboards. Well done to the designer! Of course, you don't go to the theatre to check out the designers work (well, I don't) but it was a very nice, clean design that we saw when the curtain rose.

'Lady Windermere's Fan' is another one of Oscar's mistaken identity plays, a play of misunderstandings and untold truths and, as you'd expect, a satire on 'society'. We're in high society here and everyone in the play has a title of some sort, Lord this or Duchess that, other than the common (but quite nice) Australian with his kangaroos and odd accent but great wealth. And, of course, the servants (but they don't really count, do they?).

The play opens with Lady Windermere arranging some roses on the morning of her birthday party and mentioning that her husband has got her a new fan (I think I'd be upset if that's all I got). Then the Duchess of Berwick arrives to commiserate with the Lady that her husband is obviously having an affair with Mrs Erlynne who is the talk of society. Lord Windermere arrives home and insists that Mrs Erlynne is invited to his wife's birthday party that evening but can't explain why. O dear, why do people do this?

The party is full of gossip, particularly about Mrs Erlynne who flirts with everyone. Lady Windermere, however, can't take the humiliation and decides to run away with Lord Darlington who has expressed his love for her. She writes a note to her husband and leaves but when she gets to Lord Darlington's rooms he isn't there and Mrs Erlynne appears to plead with her to return to her husband. And then the men arrive from their club, not quite drunk enough yet to go home. The ladies hide but, during the banter, Lady Windermere's fan is discovered and accusations fly. That is when Mrs Erlynne reveals herself to the assembled menfolk and when Lady Windermere can slip away unseen... I won't take the story forward since that will spoil it for anyone with tickets to see the play.

This production is great fun. I really liked the stripped back stage with it's bare floorboards in the shape of a fan, the few bits of furniture as props and the clean, light view we're offered. It works so much better than the traditional over-furnished Victorian drawing room. It gave the actors space to move, especially the ladies in their large frocks.

We are definitely in comedy territory here with lots of witty word play and laugh out loud moments. It's also very contemporary with the #MeToo moment except here it's th women letting their men off the hook to give them a break. It's directed excellently by Kathy Burke with a light touch and letting the writing tell the story.

As with the other play I've seen in this season we are given a musical interlude by the characters in the play between the acts and tis time we have the Duchess of Berwick singing with the collective servants of the household giving us a rude song. The Duchess came out between acts three and four to give is her ribald song about being touched on the bum - or 'fan' - with lots of sly looks at the ladies maid beside her as she got too enthusiastic with her instruments. I very much approve of these interludes.

This production is great fun and I'd happily see it again. Wilde is still obviously using his characters to express his views on 'society' and the 'lost child/lost parent' storyline is a bit obvious but that doesn't distract from the production in the slightest. Jennifer Saunders is great as the Duchess of Berwick (and our interlude singer) while Samantha Spiro is both coquettish and caring as Mrs Erlynne. Joseph Marcell is also worth mentioning as Lord Lorton with his bunch of red roses. I also liked Kevin Bishop as Lord Darlington who was gifted with the words that 'We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars'. It's quite nice that those words are repeated a few hundred yards down the Strand on a monument to Oscar Wilde opposite Charing Cross Station.

 If you get the chance then go and see this play - it's great fun and well worth seeing!

Friday, 23 February 2018

'Punk and the Pistols' at Regent Street Cinema

Regent Street Cinema put on a screening of an Arena documentary from 1995, 'Punk and the Pistols', and I was there. I didn't see the documentary back in 1995 so it was a bit odd to watch something that was already over 20 years old that was looking back at something that happened 20 years before the film was made - over 40 years ago in total.

Views on punk change over time, including the people who were directly involved, and they express their views differently. What we saw were views stuck in time in the early '90s as some of the main protagonists looked back to the '70s. Interviews with Vivien Westwood, Malcolm McLaren and Jordan, from Siouxsie Sioux and Captain Sensible and, of course, from Glen Matlock, Paul Cook and John Lydon (but not from Steve Jones). Interestingly, the documentary was made before the Pistols' first reunion gigs. There were some great clips of Poly Styrene and the Damned and even a brief look at the Clash and The Jam. There were other names interviewed including Richard Hell who claimed to have invented punk and said the New York Dolls invented throwing up in airports (personally, I suspect it was the beer and spirits that caused throwing up in airports). It was great fun and it was nice to look back at my youth.

The Q&A afterwards was a different matter entirely. We had Paul Tickell, the director of the documentary, and Jon Savage, punk chronicler. It was interesting to hear Paul talk about the background to some of the film, the logistical problems, delays in broadcasting until they'd secured an interview with John Lydon and his own memories of the time. Jon Savage tried to be a bit more intellectual and wide ranging and a little bit smug, saying that he thought punk was over by 1977 when it actually just broke out of London to the wider country.  

The Q&A was a car crash as these things usually are and the chair did nothing to try to manage or direct the session. It ended up with the usual thing of people making statements of their own views rather than questions and discussion, asking questions about topics that have already been covered and, because it's about punk, arguing with each other. O the fun we had.

The positive thing about the Q&A session (awful as it was) was that people still cared. That is a good thing. At one point Jon Savage commented that all the original punks were now in their 60s and a lot of the audience were as well (quite clearly in many cases). Time moves on but I wonder whether people are living in the past or whether they're living their own truths? I hope it's the latter.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

'Satyagraha' at the Coliseum

Philip Glass's 'Satyagraha' is on at the Coliseum with the English National Opera. I saw his 'Akhenaten' there a couple of years ago  and thought it would be interesting to see another of his works. I wasn't quite sure what I was watching a couple of years ago and that experience was repeated last week at this performance.

The production tells a version of the tale of Mahatma Ghandi's early years in South Africa, some of which I'm vaguely familiar with but not to the extent of knowing about the specific incidents we saw on that stage. I'm also, you'll be surprised to hear, I'm sure,  not familiar with Sanskrit so couldn't follow the tale by listening to the words since there were no surtitles. It all came down to the visuals, and some of those were astonishing.

Phelim McDermott's visuals left the stage bare at times and at others incredibly rich with spectacle built upon spectacle. Giant animals made out of baskets appear out of nowhere, gods on stilts battle for supremacy and random pages from a newspaper create a swirling maelstrom that Ghandi both disappears into and is created from. What on earth is this? What am I watching? The answer is that I didn't know while I watched and still don't know. I don't really want to know since I'd much rather revel in the random artistry of the piece.

The singers and chorus are dressed variously as Victorian ladies and gentlemen and this gradually changes to dhotis and saris for many of the characters as the story progresses and Ghandi rejects British modes and adopts his traditional Indian dress and traditions. It struck me as rather strange at the time, something quite challenging in it's own way since we rarely see a stage full of people dressed in what we think of as traditional Indian garb.

The music is slow and stately, swirling and repetitious with the same phrases seemingly repeated endlessly. Far from making me nod off it actually kept my attention riveted to the music, possibly simply waiting to spot the moment when it changed, perhaps? That will remain a mystery. I have to say that I don't think I could listen to it without the visuals. This is definitely one of those pieces that relies on the whole, rather than it's parts, in order to work.

Toby Spence sang Ghandi with sopranos Charlotte Beamont and Anna-Clare Monk. Karen Kamensek was the conductor (who also conducted 'Akhnaten' a couple of years ago).

While I quite like simply revealing in the experience and not wanting to try too hard to understand it, something that simply increased my frustration as the production moved forward was the continuous slow pace of every movement. How on earth can someone physically move so slowly across a stage for just under three hours? Even the memory of it makes me feel frustrated and need to move with increasing speed.  I can only give the performers kudos for sustaining it but, c'mon people, have some regard for it might make the audience feel!

I wonder what the next Glass production might bring?

Sunday, 18 February 2018

'The Winter's Tale' - Royal Ballet Rehearsal at the Royal Opera House

I went to see a rehearsal of 'The Winter's Tale' by the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House, my first rehearsal so I wasn't too sure what to expect. What we got was a full run through of the ballet in full costume and with a full orchestra. The only difference from a 'real' performance was that the orchestra were in civvies (including the conductor), the bar was shut and there were no ice cream sellers (that I saw). Other than that, wow!

I saw 'The Winter's Tale' a couple of years ago and was delighted with Itziar Mendizabal dancing Paulina so I was very excited to be seeing her dance that role again in the rehearsal. She is the epitome of grace and strength and is a wonder to watch.

It was great to see that moment when jealousy emerges when Hermione places Leontes' hand onto her pregnant belly as well as Polixenes' hand, his great friend and the action stops except for Leontes dancing around his wife and friend as the jealousy takes hold. That moment is so powerful in dance. Thiago Soares danced Leontes and Marianela Nunez danced an impressive Hermione. But it's Itziar who won the day with her graceful lines and movement and it's Itziar who closed the performance being the last left on stage as the curtains closed.

I'm looking forward to more rehearsals now!

'Tosca' at the Royal Opera House

Last week I was lucky enough to see the Royal Opera perform 'Tosca' at the Royal Opera House, coincidentally, on the same evening it was broadcast live to cinemas. I saw 'Tosca' a couple of years ago performed by the English National Opera so it was nice to have the opportunity to see the Royal Opera put their spin on the tale. The story behind the opera is quite simple but riven with emotion and the music is just gorgeous (thank you Mr Puccini).

Mario Caravadossi is an artist painting in a church in Rome in 1800 and, although he uses a strange women who visits the church as his model for Mary Magdalene, his love belongs to Tosca. Floria Tosca is a famous singer with jealous, dark eyes, who comes to visit her lover to arrange a tryst later that night. But a senator has escaped from Castel Sant'Angelo and is hiding in the church and Caravadossi pledges to help him escape and the downfall of our lovers is set in motion. Baron Scarpia pursues the senator to the church and misses him but encounters Tosca who he's lusted after. He doesn't want to seduce her, he wants to conquer her, to own her and move on. The Baron arrests and tortures Caravadossi and will only release him if Tosca submits... and she does, to save her lover, before stabbing the Baron in the heart after he's given her a note of safe passage out of Rome with her lover. The man who is feared by all Romans and he's killed by Tosca for her love of Caravadossi.

The Baron plays true to form and he's lied to Tosca. She visits Caravadossi before his execution which should be fake but isn't and he's shot., When the troops come to catch Tosca for killing the Baron she refuses to submit and throws herself from the battlements of Castel Sant'Angelo. A great heroine who died for love.

'Tosca' is an astonishing piece of work by Puccini, edited from a longer play he saw to make a powerful three act opera. All the ingredients are there - love, jealousy, death, heroism, patriotism, lust, death and immortality - all melded into a rather simple story that wraps itself around you and pulls you into it before you've even noticed. Floria Tosca is a great heroine - her dark eyes might be jealous eyes but they're your eyes if she loves you.

Our beloved Tosca was sang by Adrianne Pieczonka and Caravadossi by Joseph Colleja with the Baron (boo! hiss!) sung by Gerald Finley. They were all in excellent form as was the Chorus of the Royal Opera.The lighting and set were great but I thought the final set for the roof of Castel Sant'Angelo could've done with a bit more work. I visited that roof last year in honour of Tosca so I know what it looks like.

Thank you Royal Opera, you didn't let me down.