Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rubbish Music: Carousel The Songs of Jacques Brel

An oddly shambolic concert took place at the Barbican tonight in what was supposed to be a show to highlight the music of Jaques Brel and his ongoing influence on musicians. Instead we had a band that drowned out the singers, half the singers sounding as if they had spent a bit too long at the bar, and a concert that looked and sounded like it needed to have a tech run and a rehearsal.

Some people loved this show and obviously had an affinity to the performers. I suspect however they would have been happy for them to read from the phone book. It wasn't all bad either, but when half the performances were so inept, many of those who were more interested in the music of Brel voted with their feet and left at intermission. Some of us stayed to see if it got better, but only after a stiff drink at the bar...

Part of what is amazing about Brel's music is its nuances and particularly its lyrics. But when you pump up the volume or get a performances that are just loud, noisy and atonal it all gets a bit lost. Perhaps if it was an evening of performance art that might have been a different matter and we all could have come ready to wail for the recently deceased and put up with all that self-indulgence.

The Barbican website playing clips of Brel only helps to underscore how it should have been performed so much better. Brel's influence wasn't so much on display as the a general contempt for the audience. Maybe Friday's performance at Warwick Arts Theatre will be better. I couldn't imagine it could be any worse...

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Opera: L'Heure Espagnole and Gianni Schicchi

In a week packed full of culture and goings on, Tuesday night's trip to the opera to see Ravel's L'Heure Espagnole and Puccini's Gianni Schicchi was a real treat. Well when giant cleavage greets you when you enter the theatre (it was on the curtain, not in the audience), you know it is going to be a bit of a fun evening.

Both performances and productions were excellent. Director Richard Jones (who also is responsible for Annie Get Your Gun at the Young Vic) and revival director Elaine Kidd manage to keep it bright and brisk. The opera singers even managed to show not only could they act but they had great comic timing too. Ravel's piece is not so much an opera, so it was nice to have it paired with Puccini's often hilarious and over the top melodrama. The aria O mio babbino caro is from this piece and sung delicately by Maria Bengtsson. Holding it all together was a great performance by Thomas Allen in the title role.

Worth catching and surprisingly not sold out... It has two more performances to go.

Open season on Brel at Barbican

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Theatre: Mother Courage and her Children



After seeing a few low-spectacle shows (or no spectacle shows given the complete lack of imagination in the current Annie Get Your Gun), it was nice to see such a messy, grand epic production of Mother Courage and Her Children at the National Theatre last Wednesday. While I am not normally up for watching a three-hour play, there was so much to take in with this show that it was a hell of a journey worth taking. Fiona Shaw played Mother Courage in this production, who is a woman determined to make a living during the thirty years war (that was the war between 1618 and 1648) despite the consequences. Written by Bertolt Brecht in a new translation by Tony Kushner, the flavour of the story is influenced by recent events in the middle east.

Things blow up, people die, songs are sung and all amongst it there is money to be made and a living to be made. There is nothing too subtle about this show but with some great songs by Duke Special, a great set by Tom Pye and an overall impressive cast (especially Gerard Monaco who managed to act his scenes with his shirt off for what had to be dubious reasons except to show off his impressive physique... Ok so maybe that isn't so dubious) I was paying attention. And for those who like the ladies, there is a delightful scene where a whore gets ready for some soldiers by wiping her car park and show grounds with an old towel...

While some may find the length a little tough (particularly after a long day at work), there were way to many explosions and exceptional parts for falling asleep. Definitely it was one of the more entertaining and interesting evenings out at the theatre I have had in some time. And if you are tired enough to start drifting off to sleep, one of the shootings will bring you back. It is loud enough to be a cause of industrial deafness...

Naturally a show of this length and complexity has many technical effects. It received some criticism at the beginning of its run due to various technical difficulties. Now further into its run this show has got a real rhythm to it (albeit now Gore Vidal is present as a voice over rather than in person as he was for press night). It runs until early December and as part of the Travelex £10 Theatre deal it is a bargain that is well worth catching...

Interval musings at the national

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Sunday, October 04, 2009

Theatre: Annie Get Your Gun



Previews have begun for a great new revival at the Young Vic of Annie Get Your Gun. The cast headed by Jane Horrocks and Julian Ovenden are sensational and there is some very fine singing and dancing happening on stage. I suspect with such a great cast and a lively interpretation of this old show it is going to be a big hit for them. Ovenden and Horrocks together show a great chemistry and give this show a lot of class...

My only quibbles with it would be four piano's don't always do this music justice (or did they sound particularly great all the time on Saturday night)... And no matter how you put it... The set is just hideously awful. It almost detracts from the show as you feel like you're watching the show through a letterbox. Despite what the Young Vic's website says, if you are sitting on the left hand side (and particularly upstair) you are not going to have a good view (unless they fix it over the next few days). And during the opening Act 2 film montage do we really want Annie Oakley to look that excited about meeting Stalin? What's all that about?

It runs until January 2. Grab a ticket and get there early to get a good unreserved seat...

Theatre: The Author


The opportunity arose on Friday evening to see the new play The Author at the Royal Court Theatre. Not knowing anything about it, except my suspicion that more than just a few bloggers would be there, I was up for a night of mystery theatre and suggested to Gio that we should go. Even better was that it was short so we wouldn't have to suffer the inedible food at their bar / cafe and could go eat somewhere else. There is a trend in sophisticated theatres in London to serve pretentious overly fussy small servings of food made from ingredients that would be better off going into cans of dog food. The Royal Court is leading this trend...

But anyway, we arrived to see that there were two facing tiers of seating... No stage. Opting for the one facing where we walked in, we sat down and waited for something to happen. Sure enough, the actors were already in the theatre. They were sitting among us. Actor number one, Adrian Howells starts speaking to people and saying how gorgeous we all are. He says hello to everyone in our row but us and then somebody in the seats opposite asks a question and he ignores her. She then proceeds to pull out a notebook and write what could have been a shopping list. I thought it was part of the act, but in fact she wasn't one of the other actors. There begins what is roughly 70 minutes of prodding the audience, but not always interacting with them. In fact when the lights go dark and Esther Smith asks if we want to hear her sing and somebody shouts out "No!" (another grumpy blogger I suspect) she sings anyway...

The purpose of all this no doubt, was through a series of monologues to shock the audience about a number of different things including violence, pedophilia and potty words. Part of the novelty of the seating was that you could see the audience's reaction to all of this (including where some walked out). There were some hilariously awkward moments where author and actor Tim Crouch describes his sexual experiences to a young lady next to him. She looks as comfortable as being in a dentist's waiting room. When he asks (as all the actors do periodically), "Shall I go on?" she still says, yes!

While it wasn't everyone's cup of tea it was very well done, even if it could have been a little bit shorter. After all, once you have shocked the audience by shouting "Cunt!" at them four times, doing sexual things with a baby is really more of the same. Well... The four ladies sitting opposite me pulled the same face of distaste at them both. But this sort of play is one where you walk out straight away or go along for the ride... Since I rarely carry a notebook on me, I couldn't write my shopping list so I went for the latter. It was worth it...

It runs through to the end of October at the Royal Court for audience members who are up for it...

How do penguins approve?

Do they make noises? Do they flap their wings? Do they issue special stamps? The latest water on offer in various theatres carries this penguiny message... Pity that given the amount of energy theatres use, this would hardly offset their carbon footrint...

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Movies: Suddenly Last Winter




It has been awhile since updates on the blog, but there was a recent trip to Rome, general business, and a lack in interest in seeing anything cultural in London that partly explains that. Well anyway the cultural endeavours returned big time this week with a trip to the Barbican on Wednesday night to see the documentary Suddenly Last Winter, which traces the ill-fated journey of legislation to give equal rights to same-sex partnerships in Italy.

I never went to any gay bars while in Rome, and arriving at the Barbican full of gay Italian men I wondered if they were like this... Albeit with more flattering lighting and better coffee. Actually it was probably better not to visit them given they seem to attract firecrackers and molotov cocktails at the moment... Anyway the documentary was a personal account of a gay couple who traced the journey through the Italian Parliament of legislation that could have given Italy civil partnerships. Watching the documentary with a London audience, it was tempting to laugh and feel smug and superior at how people interviewed on the street equated homosexuality with abnormality or the end of civilisation... Or a mixed
doubles match in tennis... But what I found more fascinating was the complete failure of those in support of the legislation to have been prepared to respond to the onslaught of attacks from conservatives and from the church. The movement seemed unable to respond when conservatives equated civil partnerships as an attack on the family, and nobody wanted that... During the Q&A with the filmmakers
afterward, they highlighted not only how inept the political movement on the left is, but also how fragmented the gay and lesbian movement is. Still the filmmakers made this story so engaging and at times a little frightening. It was not necessarily the picture postcard of Rome that people would expect...

Then again as an Australian from a country where there is no sign of civil partnerships ever coming up on the agenda soon it all did not seem that surprising or shocking. One of the most socially liberal of states Victoria recently caved in to allow broad exemptions to anti-discrimination laws for religious groups. If rights cannot even be established for individuals, it seems probably a stretch to see them extended to partners anytime soon. I guess for now I can always stay smug and superior in London while thinking of Australia as the place where you put the clocks forward nine hours and put the calendar back twenty years...

There was a glimmer of hope in this documentary. One politician commented that five years earlier any debate on civil partnerships... Time will tell if there is a moment in the next ten years whether it will be possible to move further...