Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Put it in a box: La Donna Del Lago

Joyce DiDonato as Elena in La donna del lago © ROH / Bill Cooper 2013 It's great that the Royal Opera warns you with its subtitle to La Donna Del Lago, that it is a melodrama in two acts. There is so much going on with love, unrequited love, arranged marriages that the opera strains under the weight of its exposition... At first. But as things eventually get moving, particularly in the livelier second act, it turns out to be a memorable night of music making.

And of course there are some incredible performances. Joyce Didonato as Elena, the Lady of the Lake captures the drama and beauty of the role and stops the show with her aria "Tanti Affetti". Equally captivating was Daniela Barcellona as Malcom, Elena's lover. She makes her Covent Garden debut and handled difficult singing (and some difficult tartans) with ease. And of course there was Juan Diego Florez, who makes runs and top notes seem as if they are easy. With such fine performances the audience was on their feet cheering at the end.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Hot gossip and character assassinations: School for Scandal

Cheap laughs and scandal never seemed so sexy and witty than in Turn of the Wheel's School for Scandal, which has been playing at the Waterloo East Theatre, transforming the theatre under the arches at Waterloo East station into a hotbed of gossip.

Eighteenth century London socialites don't seem too different from modern day slebs with their acid tongues and bitchy banter, although is mostly undertaken in drawing rooms rather than on social media (or blogs for that matter).  The essential premise is that when wealthy Sir Oliver (played by Gately Freeman) returns from the East Indies he decides to select one of his nephews as his heir, but unsuspectingly gets dragged into various plots and sub-plots over lovers, scandals, unrequited love.

The subject matter of gossip, scandal and intrigue are given a boost by the young cast. It is delivered with such energy and enthusiasm that the barbs fly fast and it is easy to miss some of the lines if you're too busy laughing. Pip Gladwin as the lecherous Snake, Alicia Bennett as the very perky Mrs Candour and James Taylor Thomas as Sir Benjamin Backbite are among the talented supporting cast. Tabitha Becker-Kahn as Lady Teazle, also gives an intensely funny performance as a woman who marries above her station, yet is linked by gossip and other means to the two nephews.

The set and costumes also give the production a high quality feel for a fringe show (even if the stage was a little noisy at times from all the romping about by the actors).

This is the second production from Turn of the Wheel Productions, a new company that launched in January 2013. Their debut show Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan, directed by Adam Morley.  The company aims to deliver theatre that provokes and entertains across a variety of forms and genres. I look forward to seeing their future productions.

The run concludes this weekend, and if you are keen to see the play rather than some modern day equivalent currently on the television, there will be another opportunity when the Park Theatre production is staged later this summer.


Friday, May 17, 2013

Under the influence: Liza on an E

Australian performer Trevor Ashley makes his West End debut this week in his show Liza (on an E) at the Vaudeville Theatre. What could be just another pub drag tribute act is given a lift by an energetic performance, some great singing and classy big band under the music direction of George Dyer.

Ashley created the role of Miss Understanding in the original Australian production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and he has performed a variety of cabaret shows. But here the focus is on Liza Minnelli, which even though he doesn't quite look like Liza (more like a character from Little Britain perhaps), he manages to successfully channel her mannerisms and quirks. Even if you don't know her history as a performer (such as yes she really did do a duet with Donna Summer in the eighties) he covers her career with a variety of songs that makes for an evening that is is a lot of fun.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Love gone wrong and other flatshares: Love Bites

The latest from the Love Bites series, Apartment, which ended its brief run at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden last weekend was again an opportunity for some witty reflections on the theme of love, this time with the theme of apartments being the common thread between them. The Love Bites series showcases some excellent new writing and performances from emerging playwrights, actors, directors and illustrators. It was a short evening of four plays this time around and each were funny and insightful in their own way. It is a real treat to see such a high quality writing and performances in a fringe venue and it is well worth seeking out when they stage their next instalment.

The first, Zoned Out by Craig Donaghy and performed by Thea Beyleveld was a monologue about moving in with a boyfriend who lived near Amersham and giving up her flatshare in West Hamstead, only to find out that he wanted to break up with her. It was frank and honest and knowing in a way that any Londoner could sympathise with. Actually judging by the nods and knowing laughs from the audience, it seemed like it could have been a shared experience between the character and many members of the audience.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sexual violence and perversity in SE1: Gutted

It is a hard hitting foul-mouthed in your face night at the theatre watching Gutted, Ricky Beadle-Blair's new play at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Set in Bermondsey, South East London, it tells the story of the Prospect family and the dark secrets that drive them. It is a place where grey tracksuits and white trainers are the clothing of choice. And football, violence, petty crimes and the frequent utterances of the word "cunt" abound. At times it is exhausting to watch (and listen to). The end result is shocking at times and probably not the sort of play you would take your mother to (unless she is from South London). But it still makes for a great night of theatre.

The story focuses on four south London brothers, their relationships with each other, their girlfriends and their hard-as-nails Irish mother. When their father was alive, he subjected the eldest son, Matthew, to abuse. Their mother knew what was going on but ignored it. Matthew is good enough at football to get signed for Millwall, but he rarely makes it out of the reserve team. After a breakdown he returns home and decides he is going to confront his past. The second brother is a family man but there are other threats to his family that he misses. The third brother hast a short fuse and prefers the company of a specific type of lady while the youngest still is bitter about the time he served in an young offenders institution so that his brothers escaped penalty.

Projection and pop-ups in tight spaces: Don Pasquale

A pub upstairs in Covent Garden is an unlikely setting for an opera, but it is part of Pop-up Opera's plan to stage opera in unlikely places. Arriving just before the proceedings there was nowhere to sit except for a front row of bar stools. Nobody was wanting to sit in the front row possibly anticipating the opera singers standing almost in front and well within deafening earshot, (and having read the publicity that also threatened to engage the audience).

On the plus side I figured these by taking a bar stool those lessons I had been taking on posture and would be put to good practice. And unlike the last time I was at the opera to see Don Carlos, there was no lady next to me insisting I keep my mobile phone and iPad well away from her as she had some psychosomatic reaction to electromagnetic fields (Royal Opera audiences can be funny like that).

Anyway the stools were pretty good to take advantage of all the action that was unfolding right in front of me. But I was not expecting an opera almost in my lap as the singers entered and moved about with barely any space between us. Any closer and you would have been down the throats of the performers.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Time Warp, muscle and fishnets: Rocky Horror Show 40th anniversary tour

Richmond Theatre never looked so different (or young) on Thursday evening as a packed audience -  many dressed as transsexuals or something in between - filled the theatre for the tour of the Rocky Horror Show, which is in town until the weekend. When you arrive at the theatre don't be surprised so see men in fishnets and cheap wigs and ladies looking like goths. This is a show where at least half of the audience will dress for the occasion. Or at least dress to look like their favourite character from the show. The other half of the audience that didn't make an effort (myself included) felt a little under dressed...

The Rocky Horror Show is celebrating forty years since it was first produced and is still as fun as ever. But now the years of audience participation (which goes from the sublime to the obscure) has given the show a feel of an adults only panto. The audience shouts out dirty, naughty or just plain bizarre things throughout the show which gives an element of expect the unexpected. Philip Franks as the narrator has the somewhat difficult task of responding to the various interjections while telling the story, which he manages with hilarious results.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Travel can be exhausting: Travels With My Aunt

Travels With My Aunt, a revival of Giles Havergal's adaptation of Graham Greene's novel, is currently playing at the Menier Chocolate Factory and it is an enjoyable evening and a great looking production... And the four middle aged men playing all the roles are pretty good too, although it does feel like you are watching a wonderful radio play at times...

The story is about a retired and somewhat boring bank manager named Henry Pulling. At his mother's funeral he meets up again with his Aunt Augusta and finds himself pulled into her unconventional and globetrotting life and her various male companions.

Directed by Christopher Luscombe, it is such a sophisticated production executed with great comic timing that you soon forget that all the roles are played by four actors and get swept up in the story. It is full of humorous touches that make the most of the globetrotting story. The stage is broken up into a waiting room, a train platform and a lost property office holding the various props needed for the piece. A rather unconventional departure board assists with keeping track of the location of the story.

High melodrama and aural pleasures: Don Carlo

Jonas Kaufmann and Mariusz Kweicien in Don Carlo © ROH/Catherine Ashmore, 2013The Royal Opera's revival of its 2008 production of Don Carlo is a thrilling and breathtaking evening. This opera has it all. Grand spectacle, high melodrama, romance gone wrong, and enough plots and subplots for several operas. But the fine vocal and dramatic performances from the cast and thrilling sounds from the orchestra under the baton of Antonio Pappano take this revival to another level. The evening was going to be long anyway with this four hour opera, but the extra pauses due to the audience bursting into applause and cheering throughout meant helped savour every moment. And there were many of them.

Jonas Kaufman as the doomed hero Don Carlo deftly handled the role with with both vocal clarity and drama. The same can be said for Anja Harteros as Elizabeth the French princess who was to marry Carlos but has to marry his father in order to consolidate the peace between France and Spain.  As one woman quipped over ice creams at interval to another, "Well that's what we had to do back then..." Mariusz Kweicien as the idealist Rodrigo and Béatrice Uria-Monzon as Princess Eboli who also loved Carlos and the mistress of the king round out the cast of fine performances.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Sssmouldering Sunday night cabaret: Miss Hope Springs

Miss Hope Springs has a regular Sunday night Cabaret show at The Crazy Coqs in Piccadilly. She now has a new show "Latin a la Springs" which injects a bit of bossa nova and sophistication into the Sunday night proceedings (well a double bass and a syncopated beat always sounds a bit of sophisticated if you ask me).

Miss Hope Springs is a surprise as you don't just get a cabaret show of some great songs at fabulous venue, but you get a character and a back story of a recovering showgirl who has been there and done Hollywood, done Vegas, done worse and is now here for your pleasure. Nothing is taken too seriously and everything from a her hilarious career highlights to the conventions of performing a cabaret set of jazz, pop and bossa nova standards are lovingly sent up.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Rotten tomatoes and other leakage: Desperately Seeking the Exit

A few years ago, Peter Michael Marino managed to do what many people dream of doing. Without much trouble he managed to write a musical, get a producer interested in it and get it produced on the West End. It was 2007 and Desperately Seeking Susan had its debut on the West End with songs from Blondie.

Unfortunately the end result was that the show was a flop and the creative process left him exhausted. But he has managed to put the experience of the time into a one-man show, Desperately Seeking the Exist, which uses one of the less kind reviews of the work by Telegraph theatre critic Charles Spencer.

The show is a fascinating and mostly amusing recollection of the events in 2007 that led to the disaster. It works best when it is focusing on the anecdotes of the time, his struggles with dealing with the creative process and being a small part of a major production, and the toll it takes on his health (he develops internal hemorrhoids).

Friday, May 03, 2013

Re-emerging acts: Eve Ferret in Cabaret

Eve Ferret, former 80's performer and occasional movie star has been doing the rounds in recent years with a series of different cabaret events at various venues across London. On Monday night this week she was at the Cabaret spot The Crazy Coqs in Piccadilly doing her thing.

Her thing has been described as part inspired by Miss Kitty Russell from Gunsmoke, but it could equally be part ingenue and part fishwife. You never know what you are going to get from one moment to the next watching her perform. It could be a soft soothing song or it could be something shouted at your general direction. It all adds a bit more thrills to a standard cabaret night out for sure.