Showing posts from February, 2011

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Kafka-ish: Kafka @Finborough

In offering proof that Kafka is everything to everyone - writer-performer Jack Klaff plays various roles, including the man himself in what is a part tour, part immersion and part legend of Franz Kafka. He is a writer who achieved fame after his life was cut short due to succumbing to tuberculosis at the age of forty. He is probably better known for his reputation and the Kafkaesque style attributed to his writing than his life. But after this piece, you’re left curious to learn more about the man and his works. And that has to be the best theatrical tribute you could give a writer, even for a writer who stipulated that his works be destroyed upon his death. It’s currently playing at the Finborough Theatre . Franz Kafka was born in Prague in 1883. In 1901, he was admitted to a university and began studying law. While studying, he met Max Brod, who would become his best friend and eventual literary executor. Brod would posthumously publish many of his works and writings. Kafka’s life co

Performance: The Storeroom

In an attempt to see something different from the usual theatrical fare on Saturday evening, I was at the Drill Hall to catch The Storeroom , which has been described as a potent cocktail of glamour murder and intrigue. This one-woman show starring Sian Williams is very intriguing and inventive. And certainly something different. Williams does hold your attention while she is on stage, thanks to her intense performance and mildly sexy outfits... While its origins from the Edinburgh Fringe appear obvious at times (economical sets, lighting and props), it was an enjoyable piece from The Kosh . And the red raincoat and the ventriloquist scenes were particularly entertaining. There's one Sunday matinee performance to go today...

Last Look: An Ideal Husband

Normally I catch a show just as it has opened (or started previews), but for a change this week I caught An Ideal Husband , which ends its run at the Vaudeville Theatre on Saturday. It is a great production, and I gained a new appreciation for Wilde and his work watching the performers in this production. It highlighted to me (at least) that everything hinges on the performances in making this show amusing or ordinary. The laughs are totally dependent on the actors' delivery, timing and emphasis. For the most part they got it right. Watching this production is like eating a tub of good vanilla ice cream. Awfully satisfying and enjoyable. It also helps having a drink at the circle bar in the Vaudeville Theatre amongst all the newly restored Victorian splendour. You will feel somewhat civilised and reminded that this is what going to see a play in the West End should be all about. A jolly good sense of occasion. Next up at the Vaudeville is Neil LaBute's new play, In a F

Opera: Anna Nicole

It would be fair enough to say (to borrow from the Opera and from the late Ms Anna Nicole) that the Royal Opera's Anna Nicole blew us... away on Thursday night. The performances, production and the opera was inspired. What starts as a dig against a C-list American celebrity ends up becoming a strangely poignant opera where you feel some sympathy for the slapper. You may even begin thinking she is the Traviata of the day. That is the trouble with the arts, they can make people seem so much nicer than reality. Still if you can stomach sympathy for Anna Nicole, this cautionary tale against fame turns out to be quite a ride. Then again the real Anna Nicole was quite a ride too... The music by Mark-Anthony Turnage is a jazz-operatic fusion that keeps things moving along nicely and seems perfectly matched to the story and subject. The libretto by Richard Thomas is often good too, although it seemed (at least in the first half) there was too much emphasis on profanities rather th

Opera: Parsifal

Wednesday night was an opportunity to catch the ENO's Parsifal . This 1999 co-production with San Francisco Opera and Lyric Opera, Chicago and is purportedly the last time it will be staged. There are seven more performances to go. Directed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff , What makes the opera a standout is the brilliant staging and imaginative English translation. This translation transforms this production and keeps things moving at such a pace you won't realise you have been there for over four hours. On top of this there is such spectacle at times it is almost hypnotic. A stunning cast includes John Tomlinson as Gurnemanz, Australian tenor Stuart Skelton as Parsifal and Jane Dutton as Kundry. Mark Wigglesworth conducts. Wagner is still an acquired taste, but this probably goes some way to make this work accesible (and palatable). Leave work early and go. There are greater powers at stake. Initial 'boo raves and reactions as follows: Listen!

Theatre: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

I was part of a large gathering of bloggers who went to see Tuesday night's preview of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the Donmar organised by the West End Whingers . It was a huge gathering and it felt as if half the circle audience had their own blog and a minor following... Anyway, this is a show about a spelling bee , and the lives of its awfully competitive American contestants. This show looks so polished now that it is hard to believe it is an early preview. Only the sounds from the grumbling of the creative team (if you're sitting in the circle) would give away that this is still a work in progress. I was familiar with this show and had seen it on Broadway in 2006 . As I also was a speller back then, I was familiar with the audience participation format, which requires a careful selection of participants who won't ham it up or be too smug... That ruled out most of we bloggers I suspected... This show is quirky and very funny with the book by R

Scenes from the Ballet: Swan Lake

With all the talk about The Black Swan , including recent fan art , it was nice to see the Royal Ballet's classic production  Monday. Zenaida Yanowsky and Nehemiah Kish were Odette and Prince Siegfried (pictured above). It is a pleasure to watch Ms Yanowksy. Sitting close, you could appreciate the commanding performance she gives. And she is a very tall swan too... A very satisfying production of a perfect ballet, worth repeat viewings. It is a great date ballet too and given it was Valentines Day there were a few couples around and dare one suggest romance was in the air (hopefully not the cursed kind)... It runs  various dates until April 5 . Photo credit: Royal Opera House / Bill Cooper

Theatre: The Last Five Years

It is February, so it is long overdue for another production of Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years . This time at the Tabard Theatre in Chiswick. It seems like there isn't a month in London when you can't catch this show. And then during Edinburgh Fringe , there are usual competing productions of it, along side multiple productions of "Sweeney Todd" and musicals about infectious sexually transmitted diseases. It is understandable that this show is popular as it covers a range of emotions (sad, happy etc), gives two actors a chance to shine, and is potentially cheap to stage. The popularity of staging this show should not be confused however with the show being any good. The problem with The Last Five Years is it contains two unsympathetic characters who never connect with each other (let alone the audience). And the series of songs are of varying quality. Sure some of the songs are funny, but others come across as smug, insincere or unpleasant. Inspired

Advertising: Anna Nicole

The Royal Opera posters for Anna Nicole are all over the tube network at the moment and they look great. There is also the following trailer for the opera. There is a growing buzz about this show (the Royal Opera is even getting news stories in  Marie Claire ) and so it will be fascinating to see what  Eva-Maria Westbroek , who I last saw in  Tannhäuser , does with the role when I catch it later this week...

Opera: Troy Boy

Thursday night I caught the Merry Opera's new production of Troy Boy at Upstairs at the Gatehouse . The Merry Opera company takes opera productions and develops new English translations with a twist. It is a great concept, although in this case more abridging of the source material might have helped. I doubt there is much that would be missed from Offenbach's La Belle Hélène (the story of Helen of Troy) if an extra half hour was cut from it. Nevertheless there is some fine singing and performances in this occasionally sexy production. The energy and enthusiasm of the cast is without a doubt. I liked the concept of Helen stuck in suburbia and beginning to let her mind wander in a Greek restaurant. It  gives this otherwise odd premise some solid grounding. There were (at least on Thursday night) a few creaky moments with furniture bumped and props knocked over, but no doubt these will be ironed out as the run progresses. And this is such great value for a night out, with tic

Theatre: Company at the Southwark Playhouse

One thing that hit me seeing Company at the Southwark Playhouse Tuesday night, was how the opening few notes can really be an ear worm. I doubt anyone leaving the theatre after this production doesn't want to go up to someone and yell, "BOBBY! BOBBY! BOBBY-BABY!" Or perhaps punch somebody who comes up to them and says something like that. Company has no plot to speak of, but through a series of vignettes, gives some idea about Robert, a single straight(ish) man turning 35 and his smug married friends. Its about the lives of middle class New Yorkers, with their eccentricities and foibles, so you may find yourself struggling to see its relevance to modern day London. But of course this is Sondheim, it's a slick production with a great looking, and great sounding cast, so you can overlook that bit... Bobby, played by Rupert Young, is not an immediately likable character. But as the show progresses, Young's performance makes you feel as if you know him. Or at le

Theatre: The Children's Hour

The Children's Hour , which has just started previews at the Comedy Theatre is one of those blockbuster dramas with a fantastic cast that you just have to go see. Lillian Hellman's  dated 1934 play gets some serious star power here. With Keira Knightley and Elisabeth Moss in the lead roles, along with Ellen Burstyn, Carol Kane and Tobias Menzies you feel as though you should applaud everyone's entrance just because it is the thing to do. Despite running at the Comedy Theatre, the play is a drama set in an all-girls boarding school run by Karen and Martha (Knightley and Moss). When an angry student runs away from the school, she tells her grandmother that the two headmistresses are having a... (whispered so you can't hear...)  lesbian affair to avoid being sent back to school. Therein lies the drama and questions about why two women are setting up a boarding school in a country town, what is truth and why does Karen keep prolonging her engagement abound. Of course t

Theatre: Season's Greetings

Friday night I finally managed to catch Season's Greetings at the National Theatre . This revival of Alan Ayckbourn's black comedy has been showing since late last year and has received some great reviews . Set during the Christmas holiday period in the early 1980s, it focuses on an average English family Christmas where relationships have gone stale, children abound (although not on stage), and people have had a little too much to drink. I'm assuming that it is an average English family given the number of comments overheard during interval such as "that's a bit close to the bone" or "it reminds me of my family." These were also rather curious comments given that the first act's final scene must rank as one of the funniest on stage for some time. It involves a sexual tryst gone wrong and a rather annoying toy that blows a whistle and beats a drum. I guess there are some English proclivities I might not fully understand. Of course in some