Saturday, November 26, 2011
Friday, November 25, 2011
It was a bloody night at the Courtyard Theatre Hoxton where I finally managed to catch Theatre of the Damned's Revenge of the Grand Guignol. Well it is not all blood and gore, but these four stories all have enough thrills, laughs and shocks to have you and the ice within your favourite beverage all aquiver... So much so that when the lady in front of @johnnyfoxlondon and I blew her nose, we both jumped.
Last year's show in Camden was great, but this year was even better with stories that are even more compelling and some great performances. There is a melodramatic story about a mad doctor, a pensioner with a buried secret, a long distance relationship gone wrong and a beautiful woman trapped in a munitions factory. All of the stories have in common the ability to turn something ordinary into the unusual. And through some rather clever lighting and sound effects, even when things seem fine, you were on the edge of your seat.
The show is part of the London Horror Festival (which has been running over the past month). It is great to see there is a dedicated festival for giving audiences intended shocks. Here is hoping there is more next year. It runs through to Sunday...
An audioboo with @johnnyfoxlondon follows
Friday, November 11, 2011
Thursday evening I found myself at the launch event for The Show Must Go On, which is a rather nifty little game that brings together opera, cheap laughs and the iOS platform. Given all three are favourites of mine I downloaded it.
It is very cute and quite amusing little game, recreating Covent Garden and backstage at the Royal Opera when everything goes wrong. The game puts you in the shoes of a stage manager and includes a series of mini games. Within these you have to undertake a variety of back stage tasks in order for the show to go on. I particularly liked running over the rooftops of Covent Garden chasing sheet music and dodging pigeons. Depending on how well you do, depends on how good the show is. So far I have only created rubbish shows... The game might be trying to tell me something but I will ignore that for now and keep practicing...
An interesting collaboration between the Royal Opera, including its sound technicians singers from the Jette Parker Young Artist programme and musicians of the Orchestra, EMI and Hide and Seek. Very funky cool stuff... Go play...
Monday, November 07, 2011
Three Days In May, is about the period shortly after Churchill becomes Prime Minister in 1940 and when Britain contemplated whether throwing in the towel and negotiating peace with a stronger, more powerful Germany was an option. It is currently playing to healthy audiences at the Trafalgar Studios. An early surrender seems today to be an unthinkable prospect. But at the time France was powerless to stop the German invasion and worried that without surrendering they would be annhilated. The British were outnumbered and feared suffering a humiliating defeat at Dunkirk. The play therefore unfolds with this context and debate.
There is nothing like a bit of Churchill to get people standing to attention nowadays and reflect upon glories past. Or at least perceived glories past. As the play notes, Churchill commented that he expected history to be kind to him as he intended to write it. So it is a shame that the play doesn't attempt to throw more grey on a dark period in the country's history. Instead we have what is essentially a radio play and half a history lesson gleamed from wikipedia without too much characterisation.
The production relies on the audience having lived through the war to know its context. And judging by the average age of the audience on Saturday night they might have got it right. But it might have been more helpful to inject a bit more context via newsreels and footage of the day rather than bland projections and a map as a backdrop. It might have given the story a greater sense of urgency and drama. Also, while Churchill's secretary may have provided for the source material, he does not make a compelling character. And as a narrator he kills the drama.
Still, what makes the play a stand out is the performances. The actors manage to polish the material and give it a subtlety and at times sophistication that makes it worthy of a night out. Warren Clarke as Winston Churchill delivers an engaging performance. While he may not be channeling the man with his cane, bowler hat and cigar, you get a sense of a man with an understanding of history weighed down by his own experiences and age. Robert Demeger manages to give a more sympathetic portrait of Neville Chamberlain than most history books will record. At this point in history Chamberlain was still largely respected and not been written off as an appeaser and Churchill was not respected amongst his peers. It is how Churchill plays upon Chamberlain's regret for negotiating with Hitler in Munich in 1938 that gives the play its most dramatic fire.
The play is proving too tempting for journalists to draw parallels to the current loss of British military power. Perhaps a more relevant parallel (and less rabid) is one that highlights how intertwined the island is to the continent... Whether it likes it or not... Catch it and contemplate... Good seats available (for now) at the usual discount venues.
Fine Artis Tree's production of Inzain under the railway arches at Queens Circus Battersea is an example of a great concept in bringing new theatre to the unlikeliest of places. The company specialises in pop up theatres and in this case is next door to a tile shop. It was a pity we didn't arrive earlier as the tile shop had closed and we could have done with some inspiration for our next mosaic, but we were somewhat distracted by the plethora of gastropubs in the Battersea area serving good quality food and had lingered longer than we should have over bangers and mash and burgers.
The play is a two-hander by Leah Chillery, it tells the story of Zain who had a vision that he would become a player at Crystal Palace Football club and his battles with the club manager. The stage is set for battles over faith, entitlement and youth culture. And football. It is an interesting premise but the punches are often pulled. Also the vast space of a railway arch means that the audience are watching the action on the sidelines... Literally.
But all told the trip to Battersea proved to be an unexpected experimental diversion for an evening. It runs through to 19 November and good discounts are available if you look for them...
Friday, November 04, 2011
Opening night of La Sonnambula at the Royal Opera was an opportunity for Eglise Gutiérrez to show off some incredibly light yet lingering high notes in this piece about jealousy, mistaken identity... And sleepwalking. It is a mildly silly opera but the piece by Bellini with its music and creative forces at work make you overlook these things and the let the action unfold in what looks like a large railway station foyer.
The cast are great and rising star tenor Celso Albelo makes his Royal Opera debut as the jealous composer Elvino. But the real passion and drama was perhaps watching Gutiérrez and conductor Daniel Oren create music together. It was exhausting yet exhilarating and what any good night at the opera surely is about. Nothing too serious but lovely music set to a mildly amusing farce, complete with a domineering mother. It runs through to November 18.
Tuesday, November 01, 2011
Monday, October 31, 2011
Shalom Baby is a love story initially set in 1930s Berlin. Events unfold as the daughter of a wealthy Jewish family falls in love with their black "Shabbles Goy", which is a term used to describe people who assist Jews on their Sabbath with tasks they are unable to do within Jewish Law. The play then moves forward to the present day where a mixed-race couple in modern and unprejudiced Brooklyn have to cope with a dysfunctional family unit.
Writer-director Rikki Beadle Blair originally became interested in exploring information about information about black survivors of the holocaust. But the scene is set for a much larger exploration of prejudice, sexuality, family and friendship using a variety of theatrical devices including some thought-provoking poetry. It all makes for a constantly intriguing and entertaining night at the theatre.
Helping to keep things in focus is an incredibly talented cast that make two wildly different families so believable. The story bounces back and forth between each family. And with the seating of the theatre rearranged to be either side of the proscenium, characters run in from the back, climb over the seating and fly (sometimes literally) onto the stage which also helps keep things at a brisk pace.
Depending on which side of the proscenium you sit also gives you a slightly different perspective of the theatre. Although I'm not sure being able to see the sign over the stage door reading "Work sets you free" would be everyone's cup of tea. But there is something creepy about being on the wrong side of the safety curtain. Interval boo reactions with @johnnyfoxlondon follow.
Shalom Baby runs until 19 November at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Catch it if you can.