Friday, July 23, 2010

Opera: Salome

Full frontal nudity, blood and violence never sounded and looked so good as it did in the Royal Opera's production of Salome which I caught last week. Richard Strauss based his one-act opera on Oscar Wilde's play, and gave his leading lady the enormous task of singing Wagnerian-like over a large orchestra, belting all the way. Angela Denoke in the title role could meet that task, although I was a little bewildered why she went from a delightful dinner party down to the cellar to speak to Jokanaan in the first place. Later, as Salome was dancing the dance of the seven veils, running from the dining room to the wash room, it felt more like dance of the seven rooms...

Actually there were so many eccentricities in this production ranging from a cellar / basement that looked like a hospital, it was best not to think about these things too much... I did assume the executioner was naked due to the practicalities of having to wash all that blood off one's clothes. A nice little Friday evening distraction. The opera was okay too...

Theatre: Lingua Franca lost in translation

It always seems to be awfully warm when I head to the Finborough Theatre to see a show. Last year it was the excellent State Fair which is having another run at Trafalgar Studios. It was worth persevering with perspiration for that. This time around it was Peter Nichols's play Lingua Franca which alas, was not. This was a pity as the cast were great and there potentially was something interesting that could have emerged from the constant stream of monologues in search of a story.

When you have a good cast with some great actors featuring I always assumed you could put up with them reading a phonebook. In this case, maybe the White Pages would have been better. The story is set in a language school in Florence in the 1950s, which is the backdrop for a series of mildly interesting stock characters. There are no real surprises in the story, except when two of the characters embraced in some frottage-like behaviour in the first act. By the time the play reaches its climax involving a stabbing in the eye, it is too perplexing to work out what exactly was the point of that... Maybe I missed when I was too busy focussing on perspiring.

The Finborough was as hot as ever this week, and while there is an air conditioning appeal, during interval I took matters into my own hands and bought some Calippos to consume during the second act. Not only were they cold, but the sugar content was enough to keep me awake for the rest of the show. Welcome relief also came in the first act when one of the characters turned on a fan. We were horrified when Rula Lenska's character turned it off, five minutes before the play finished.

There were loads of theatre appreciation studios at the performance as well. They were equally bored with the show, but then again as they were watching three shows a week, they have probably seen a lot worse... At intermission Johnnyfox and I had a lot to say on the Audioboo. I think it was just because we were taking in all that fresh air... The show runs through to August. Wear light clothing and carry a big Calippo.



Hot news this week in London

Ping pong tables are popping up around London this week and are free to play... Providing you return the bats and balls...

It's one of the initiatives to get people playing more sport (possibly by blocking the walkway so you have no alternative)... Here's hoping we see surprise fencing tournaments start up next... Outdoor darts might be a step too far... It isn't an Olympic sport...

Ping pong on Leather Lane in Farringdon
Originally uploaded by 
Ping! London

Friday, July 16, 2010

Theatre: Aspects of Love

After a week away from London, I was back in town this week to see a preview with the West End Whingers and others of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Aspects of Love, being revived at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Some might say it is an odd sort of story with a few catchy tunes, others might say it is Lloyd Webber's best work... As I had not seen it before (and hadn't been out for a while since being away) I was keen to see this chamber musical. Well I was just to be out really but that's another matter. All told, I enjoyed the cast and the production.

What works about this show is the cast and the production. It is a show centred around a few characters so it benefits from the small space. It could probably be a little smaller as there were the odd distractions of sets moving in and out like it was removal day... Given how close you are to the stage I did enjoy the the occasional sleight of hand such as when the daughter grows up in a song and gets replaced by an older actor in a less than well-fitting wig. The wig was so prominent that I looked for it in the cast list.

Anyway, the performances of the main leads are what makes this production and there is some nice casting here. Katherine Kingsley as Rose and Michael Arden as Alex made for a cute couple in the first act. As the show spans 17 years (although not that you would believe this by the lack of even subtle ageing or maturity displayed in their characterisations), perhaps the point of the show is to look at the people in your life who keep coming back in it... The second act plods along so much that you will feel ever year of those 17 however. Filling out the trio is  Dave Willetts in the role of the Uncle and he manages to give a spark to the show. Not just from his voice and performance but there is also a scene where he is showing off a little of his physique... This could be a new trend in theatre of shirtless older men. If it is, I think I have spotted it first.

The music suits the show in this small scale production. Some in our troupe were less enthused about the ongoing reuse of the same themes, but in the context of this show this seemed appropriate (aspects of emotions of love no doubt). Besides, every composer recycles and musicals are infamous for this trick. The the lack of new material is usually explained away by the need to reinforce emotional themes or some other slightly plausible reason. What really lets this show down is the book and the lyrics. Often the lyrics seem to serve no point in moving the story along other than to restate the obvious in rather trite rhymes...

The book simply takes some potentially interesting characters and trashes them in the second act rather than develops some ideas about their motivations. There were occasional flashes of brilliance with lines uttered by Max to Rose such as, "When I see the mountains, I will think of you." Nobody else in the theatre seemed up for jokes about tits that much but our little troupe made up for it with our tittering. Given the second act moves so slowly the next best thing to do is to have a good drink at interval and then nod off a bit in the second act. If you wake up in the last 20 minutes you will pick up the story without much trouble.

It is hard to work out what the central message of this show is. Maybe it is don't sleep with your uncle's girlfriend. It all gets a bit incestuous and where I come from, the plot could be best described as, "A bit Tasmanian". In fact by the time you get through the second act and have seen our central character, lust after his much younger cousin, and then run off with his uncle's paramour, it seems a shame the show wasn't titled Merrily We Roll Together.

All told the show is very watchable, but you do leave feeling like you've been prying on someone's dirty little secret rather than gaining any understanding about the human condition... It runs until 26th September. Go see it, but not with your uncle or your cousin... That would be a little... icky...

Audioboos from the jaded were as follows...