Friday, May 27, 2011
In the past I've written and researched a little about Carrington - my alter life as a scholar of Surrealism, especially English Surrealism demanded it - but her works across all media were so vibrant and compelling, I loved finding out more about her.
Obituaries from the Guardian, and especially the New York Times are worth looking at and reading.
I was rather amused that the Lancashire Telegraph got the local angle in on this "Chorley-born artist", especially given that it was Mexico's national council for culture and the arts that announced her death earlier this week (she had lived in Mexico since the 1940s).
Thursday, May 26, 2011
The Pit Bull Toreador: Bizet's Carmen, Opera North on tour @ Nottingham Theatre Royal Tuesday 24 May 2011
Kostas Smoriginas as Escamillo
Right: first off, we enjoyed this. That may not seem radical but the accepted and touted view on this production seems to be a hearty thumbs down. Those who have bothered to review it have struggled to give it two stars and comments on the Nottingham version even complained about who was in the cast.
So how come we seem more charitable?
Well, Cloud hadn't been to an opera since he and I got freebie (review) tickets for the Welsh National Opera's production of Richard Strauss' Electkra at Birmingham Hippodrome back in 1992(ish). [I was working on the student paper and was pretty chuffed to get two VERY expensive tickets for the opera just to write a couple of hundred word review for the student paper]. I've been to various performances since, but Neil's been less exposed to opera. Then we were listening to 'Live from the Met' on Radio3 one Saturday - we often listen to the live opera if we're in and there's no Doctor Who on. Neil realised he rather liked Carmen, knew quite a few of the tunes, and so I booked for us to go to the Opera North production this spring.
It certainly isn't a production to win over the sort of audience who conventionally would attend the Opera North tours at Nottingham: it's modern, set in the USA and cuts some of the elements of the story (the smugglers).
But actually, barring a few jarring aspects - none of them crucial to the central action - this was a really rather good performance and a staging that was far more coherent than critics seem to have been prepared to allow. Criticisms have also been made of the conducting and musicianship: we thought they were great. It is worth remembering that the pit space in a provincial theatre is pretty limited so this is never going to sound like 'Live From the Met' or 'Live from Covent Garden'. Criticisms have even been made of the lead singers: our Carmen and Jose in Nottingham were Sandra Piques Eddy and Peter Wedd respectively and I thought they were vocally - and in terms of the acting - rather good. Certainly the quality of vocal performances were good clear and consistent [I recall seeing La Boheme at Nottingham a few years ago, and although it was as moving as ever, I thought that vocally the performer of Rodolofo was a tad weedy in strength.] Kostas Smoriginas as Escamillo - by far one of the most interesting characters in the narrative - was especially good I thought.
This was a signed and surtitled performance so there were a number of blind and deaf people in the audience: I'd be interested to know how the blind audience members found the production, especially with additionally audio-commentary through headphones.
Because, as indicated above, what I can acknowledge DIDN'T work about the production were some of the background elements, some of directoral decisions which mostly seemed gratuitous or just plain baffling.
* what was with the quivering old lady in the first act, wrapped in her blanket? She didn't DO anything, scarcely participated in the chorus singing and frankly was rather embarrassing. Portraying 'dementia'? Here? Really?
* mooning: oh please - it's not funny and I mostly felt sorry for the two blokes who had to do it.
* The Madonna-esque, actually rather Jeff Koons-esque couple: WTF?! (see image)
Not even slightly sure why...
* black and red make-up on the chorus as they watch the final 'fight' --- in a certain light just makes it look like blackface
* on which note, though Keel Watson made an imposing Zuniga, what was with the whiteface make-up he ended up wearing and his eventual lynching sequence?
I really don't want to come across as harsh as some reviewers - most reviewers. There was despite all these rough notes and sections some inspired moments: the adoration of the crowds for Escamillo, the ketchup blood and the swooning over being covered in this was a neat reading. In an opera whose gender relations are problematic to put it mildly, the portrayal of Carmen and Jose's complex relationship got away from the rather simple 'femme fatale' depictions usually given. And sometimes its good to NOT give audiences what they (think) they want: it's too easy with the traditional established operas to go with a setting that is comfortable for the audience. That won't always mean the original setting, modern ones can be as accepted, but things that take the audience out of their confort zone have to be at least tried.
In this instance, it probably hasn't quite worked which is a shame. But it was no where near as grim as some reviewers have growled and we nevertheless had a fine time attending.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Seems I'm pretty good when I need to make things happen for other people, but less good for myself.
Have spent goodly energy wasted on kicking self. Meh.
Sole downer on a beyond brilliant day. The sun shone and all was well with the world.
First off, Neil guided me and my friends Chrissie and Caroline into the bar: the old ticket booking office of old where I have many happy memories of both buying tickets, making phone calls and meeting people. Its old dark wooden surroundings still retained (though not with the set up Neil imagined for the refurbishment of drinks being served through the old ticket hatches to the waiting drinkers!)
We had lunch in here and it was worth the expense for the wonderful surroundings. Truly sumptuous. We then exited through the old taxi rank - now the hotel lobby - and out to the front of this always magnificent looking building.
But then thanks to Caroline's determination us girls next made our way into the hallowed vestibules of the hotel, its rounded corridors, its dramatic wooden staircases, its gothic windows and bells.
We then head back there at the end of the day for drinks and to make sure Neil saw what it was like in the bar area.
And to get him to take my photo there - dressed in my theatre finery (blue silk dress...)
Still, I'll definitely be going back if only to venture further up the stairs and look up at the awe-inspiring stairwell decoration (see the hotel website for more visuals).
"Loved of all ladies" - Much Ado About Nothing @ Wyndhams Theatre London Saturday 2.30 matinee 21 May 2011
Whoever they are.
A wider review of the day will come later: certainly it was a day with much brilliance and beauty surrounding the central event.
There is much to enjoy about Much Ado anyway: despite the horrible central moment where Hero is humiliated unjustly, virtually all of the play is about the laughter, the bickering, the biting wit and the verbal comedy.
The staging is relatively sparse, with columns and a rotating stage that allow us inside/outside views of the characters and their positioning in rooms in relation to each other. This production also lends the play a suitable amount of slapstick (or slap paint) and the height of the stage space is wonderfully utilised for comedic effect. Everyone gives their all, and it was really nice to see so many familiar faces amongst the actors performing. There are many delicious lines delivered with great incision and verve. But....
It's all about Benedick and Beatrice
Oh we'd all be lying if we said this wasn't what we'd come for. Whilst an RSC production inevitably HAS to be all about the ensemble and the play - with particular performers the icing on the cake for the production, albeit incredibly desirable icing - with a West End production it can be harder to ignore the power of the specific performers in key roles.
Tennant and Tate acknowledged this in the rounds of interviews they've done for the show: they're savvy enough to realise that their names create a buzz and draw attention. They put bums on seats and potentially bring in audiences to a Shakespeare who may otherwise not have been interested. Mind, with the Globe also doing Much Ado this season, this production may turn out to have stiff competition on the Shakespeare front - one can also imagine the Globe sniffily groaning at its commercial rival for even thinking it could steal the Globe's 'Authentic Shakespeare' thunder.
But as I say, in this instance, our Beatrice and Benedick are our central focus and not just because of who is playing them. These two verbally dextrous figures must be a delight to play: bitterly witty, playful, human, and a little reflective. With the right staging and use of their characters on stage, even little gestures can become points of high entertainment.
From Tennant's first entrance, positively making great show of his emergence to an attentive audience, to the finale of joyous dancing, one can't help but feel the director and Tennant were thinking 'how best can we wind up the fangirls/fanboys?' for there are so many directoral decisions that are beyond the play text. Poses - a languid stretch at one point emphasises his slender physique; dances - every movement of body, clothes and hands screaming 'flirt!'; glance - his oh-so-expressive eyes contacting with the audience with mischief.
Tate also continues to prove her worth on stage and provides further evidence of her dramatic as well as comedic talents - to combine such gifts for physical comedy with such elegance and excellence of delivering verbal humour is a rare combination. And she clearly gets a huge buzz of performing with her 'mate' Tennant.
And that's another thing: if ever a pairing required chemistry of some sort, Benedick and Beatrice are that pair. I'd make an argument that the best performances of B&B are where there is some kind of pre-exisiting connection between the actors in these roles. Whether that is as friends, colleagues who have worked together over some lengthy period of time, and/or indeed are in a romantic relationship --- one of the core things underpinning the B&B relationship in the play is the longevity of their knowing each other, the history that is behind their barbed wit and seemed animosity. So it just makes sense that some of the best performances of this play involve pairings where there is a history of some sort. Two unknown actors coming together for the first time have to work extra hard to begin to convey the easy intimacy and connection that Benedick and Beatrice need to convey to the audience. I'm not saying it can't be done, but it is possible to tell when there isn't some kind of history between the actors I think.
I'm avoiding spoiling too much of the stage direction and quirks of the production - others will provide that elsewhere should you desire to read in advance. The main thing is go and enjoy. There may even be a few tickets left for certain performances if you're lucky. Give it a whirl anyway if you're not already going because it's certainly a helluva ride.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
It was a shame that the audience for this wasn't larger: given the canny use the production makes of extras scattered in the auditorium who join in and are enthused by the politicking on stage, there was a danger that the number of bodies onstage would outnumber the audience. They're missing a treat though, and as the play runs until 1 June, I certainly urge a visit (and someone to pick this up for a run eleswhere).
It's also a very timely play, as for all the specificity of Norwegian politics, its resonances are very notable. Not only politician's general 'swayed by the circumstances, protecting their own' but also a fine attack on 'liberals' and sexual/gender power.
Elegantly staged and undoubtedly funny: go and enjoy!
Left Lion Review
Monday, May 16, 2011
Alisa Weilerstein - cello
J.S. Bach: Suite No. 1 BWV1007
Kodaly: Cello Sonata Op. 8
Just brilliant and certainly worth catching if you can.
The Doctor's Wife: or 'thank you Neil Gaiman for being just brilliant' - Doctor Who episode review Season 6.4
....apart from me (who sat rapt during the whole thing, even though I now acknowledge the Black Spot was as slight a feather boa).
ANYWAY: this week was the week many were dreading as much as desiring. Neil Gaiman was writing Doctor Who.
To say that this was significant is to understate things a bit: a long-term Gaiman fan (I'm due my annual re-read of all 10 volumes of The Sandman pretty soon) this was super exciting. He's a brilliant writer with a clear sense of character and setting to suit almost any type of writing.
The issue in the run-up to this would be could I avoid the spoilers?
Well it turned out to be surprisingly easy: despite buying Doctor Who Magazine each month I just quickly flicked over the pages that referred to this episode, I stuck my fingers in my ears when the 'Next Time' trailer came up at the end of the pirates episode, and I just didn't go on any DW websites I knew would be spoilery.
(I treated myself to reading the 'preview' and interview with Gaiman from DWM this morning and fair rolled at how they tied themselves in knots to avoid spoilering anything).
So ---- be warned: spoilers if you haven't seen it yet, and if not, find it. Watch it. Again, and again, and again. And the full-length Confidential if you can which is a masterclass in 'kisses to the past'.
Neil Gaiman, Suranne Jones and Matt Smith
The Doctor's Wife
In truth, we've all known who the Doctor's true love is for many years (clue: contrary to many fans' belief, it is NOT Rose Tyler). Who does he care most for? What living thing, what truly vibrating thing, has the most heart and soul, whose injury hurts him most?
Of course it's his TARDIS.
So the genius of this episode is that it takes that simple and oh-so-true idea and gives it flesh. Awh. Brings a tear to my eye just thinking about it.
I've sometimes been a little wary of Suranne Jones: she can be a bit 'mumbly' in her diction but here, given screds of gabbling, of (slightly techno-)babble, she manages really well. Her interaction with the Doctor is as one may expect a being to be once given a different physical form: and the ability to speak.
The moment when she wheezes that TARDIS sound and convinces the Doctor of her identity is pure delight.
In other aspects of the story, the 18th-century-esque Uncle and Auntie are straight from the visualisations of Gaiman narratives. And the House is suitably creepy as vocalised by Michael Sheen [that's Michael Sheen, this year's big star Hamlet].
Makes me shudder thinking about its brilliance.
As mentioned, the Confidential was a wonderful collection of 'kisses to the past' - just as I had been thinking how little the Confidentials had recently been using the series history to contextualise their stories. All those little clips! (and yes, it WAS nice to see David Tennant in full TARDIS-love mode).
What I also loved was the readings Gaiman did from his screenplay. Really highlighting the quality and depth of writing.
Oh I'm getting random now but...
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Casino settings for this most money-driven narrative are not new - indeed only earlier this year did Derby's production of Merchant adopt a similar approach (it used a Manhattan 1920s format). But utilising a long-reported concept from John Logan of taking Merchant to a Las Vegas casino, Rupert Goold gives this version of Merchant the full-blown Elvis treatment.
The Logan idea reportedly arose from a conversation in 2007 between the Star Trek writer and Patrick Stewart where Logan called Merchant "a loathsome play" and Stewart sought to defend the play (see this Argus report when Stewart was about to embark on the Chichester premiere of his previous collaboration with Goold, the much-acclaimed Macbeth).
Merchant is undoubtedly a very uncomfortable play for modern audiences. It is classed as a comedy, and indeed this production is extraordinarily funny (though there were some braying laughers in the audience who didn't always seem to get when this was less appropriate). It is unavoidably racist: something again 'played up' by this production in some quite horrifying ways: for example, when the Prince of Morocco enters with the line "Mislike me not for my complexion" the act that accompanies this takes you back to the taunting faced by black footballers in the 1970s and 1980s. And the final act is probably one of the most disjointed in tone when set against its predecessor: the comedic business of husbands, wives and rings set against the resolution of the court sequence when Shylock has been demanding his bond forfeit of "a pound of flesh".
This production takes all of these points head on and more: the updated monetary values (from 3000 ducats to 3 million dollars) creates resonance with contemporary worlds of gambling and finance; all talk of destiny in relation to Portia's beholden commitment to a game of choice for her future is given a 'whoop and holler' glitz that nevertheless highlights the restrictions of Portia's options as an orphaned daughter; and there are the visually innovative uses and creations of space that we can now expect from Goold's creative use of space (lifts and cars are hilariously conveyed to the audience with the sort of panache one might expect more from the recent production of The Thirty-Nine Steps).
As one may expect, Stewart is on fine form, investing his Shylock with suitable frustration and contempt for Antonio from the start. It is a contempt that cracks over into venomous persistence for the forfeit once Shylock losses his beloved if ill-treated daughter Jessica, something that robs Shylock of his one prize valued beyond monetary worth. Again, Scott Handy proves an emotional catalyst to a production without being overwrought. As much as he is the eponymous Merchant, our first sight of Antonio is at the overnight nigh-empty tables of the casino in the thrust stage's pre-text preamble. He looks less like a high-risk financier than a gambler preoccupied with other thoughts --- thoughts of his friend Bassanio (a never especially over-stated 'love'). It is hardly surprising he gambles and loses so badly in the course of the play. Additionally, though their first appearance caused outraged gasps and giggles from the audience, Portia and Nerissa (Susannah Fielding and Emily Plumtree respectively) are vivid characters who make the adoption of a particular type of regional accent seem like the most natural directorial decision imaginable. Fielding especially manages to convincingly portray desperate uncertainty in the power of faithful love at end of the play's erratic Act 5 and lends a Blanche de Bois-style unravelling of self to her performance of Portia.
The RSC music ensemble are here given a rip-roaring opportunity to jazz things up; alongside Jamie Beamish's Launcelot Gobbo there's an alternately acerbic and bleakly hysterical edge to the production in its use of jazz and pop. Beamish - who was similarly well-used as the bleak comedian Seyton in Macbeth - certainly deserves some plaudits for taking on a cartoonish figure and succeeding in making him apt to the whole play. Even if I did get various flashbacks to the quirky world of Blackpool (the programme rather than the place).
This was only the second audience performance of the play, and they've clearly got some ironing out to do. Though I graciously interpreted the final scene as performed as intended, there may well be aspects of it that were somewhat unintended (e.g. Portia and her shoes). More dramatically the running time is clearly not as planned: it started at 7.15 and the programme estimates the play will run 2 hours 45. Even allowing for the preamble (which makes knowing WHEN the play has started a little difficult to exactly pinpoint) and a slightly over-run interval, this still didn't let us out until after 10.30pm which makes it at least 30 mins over-running. Some trims and practice with certain scenes are likely to tighten this, but I still reckon audiences should bank on it averaging 3hours instead. Having said that, it doesn't drag and even though I estimated it should have finished by around 10pm (as it should have) it is only the play's internal quirk of that bizarre final act that renders the finale less dramatic than it could be.
There are three more performances before the Press Night and I'll be interested in seeing how critics react to this come Friday/weekend. I have a horrible nervous feeling they'll hate it, a kind of backlash against Goold's style of directing that has often edged close to excess and here is given extreme full-reign. I really hope they like it. There may need to be a little less Elvis (though not too much less, since Beamish is so endearing as the songster narrator Launcelot Gobbo), but I hope it keeps it's Vegas spirit and defies the critics. It's one helluva ride.
Overheard in the theatre
At the interval: "So, do you think Shakespeare would be turning in his grave?"
At the end: "So apparently it was written by Elvis..." (to which Neil tartly muttered "Lieber and Stoller actually" --- though that's probably only true of selected aspects of the production).
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Friday, May 13, 2011
I am such a sucker for crescendo...
Thursday, May 12, 2011
We had joy, we had fun
we had carrots up our bums
but the carrots were raw
and they made our bottoms sore
No, I don't know what we were on about either...
Alternatively, an Abba song would probably sum up my childhood quite well: myself and my next door neighbour friend would dress up and perform for our parents... what can I say: we were young ...
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
But OH such fun....
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Neatly, we saw the song's writer (Leon Rosselson) at the Leveller's Day festival a few years ago and I had tears streaming down my face by the end.
Monday, May 09, 2011
Sunday, May 08, 2011
For example, and this is one I vividly remember from its broadcast 13 April 2007: as Benn acerbically noted
"...I find myself in an uncomfortable situation this week. You see, [Manchester] United are playing Watford in the FA Cup semi-final on Saturday and I really want them to win - and win decisively. Not because I've had a change of heart, but rather because the game is game is LIVE on BBC One [cue me already laughing as I was listening] and if it overruns [cue savvy audience members getting on board with what this means] there will be dire consequences schedule-wise [cue MUCH hilarity in the audience]
And even more brilliantly, that same episode of The Now Show included this brilliant analysis of Johnny Cash's house committing suicide...
Postscript: My friend George once texted me JUST as a Doctor Who episode was about to start saying 'shall I call you now?' (though he was VERY much joking, I resisted the urge to scream!). So I can definitely empathise with a songwriter who feels like this:
Saturday, May 07, 2011
Fear, excitement, giggles and anguish. I think he should have photographed me.
Next week... Neil Gaiman's episode. I stuck my fingers in my ears and covered my eyes during the 'Next Time' trailer.
SPOILERS TO AVOID!!!
Though I quite fancy the soaring glory of the theme for Claudia Cardinale's character (Jill's Theme) in Once Upon a Time in the West.
Friday, May 06, 2011
The band is forever a scary man mumbling nonsense over a savage clatter: next to that, the precise nature of said clatter is irrelevant.
Or, as John Peel put it: "always different but always the same".
Increasingly, the Tories must feel it's almost a good thing they didn't win an outright majority, for the all the grumblings some felt at allowing the LDs to sit at the high table of pointlessness (aka the Cabinet). Tories have been able to get pretty much ALL their 'slash, burn and privatise' agenda through, AND have found a convenient 'beard' to draw the ire of voters disgruntled at that agenda. It's all in the name of 'balancing the deficit' but by their own admission the Tories have said they would always have wanted a smaller state regardless of the economic situation....
In effectively abandoning several of the most high profile Liberal Democrat policies - and assenting to some that didn't seem to be on anyone's manifesto - the LDs have successfully pissed off their core voters, alienated the waverers who had been attracted by the promises (how empty do they seem now?), and proven their irrelevance to the Tory majority.
Only if the LDs actually find some metal and start voting down Tory legislation will anyone think they are in the coalition as anything more than a beard.
He was a nice man, and with a wonderful teasing humour befitting someone who knew so many people in the theatre industry.
Thursday, May 05, 2011
Pachelbel Canon in D never fails to bring on the tears. Though I know I heard it before then, I do still associate it with the film Ordinary People.
But of course that is a somewhat bastardised version, and the 'proper' classical version is the one closest to my heart.
Wednesday, May 04, 2011
Pure - The Lightening Seeds
Tuesday, May 03, 2011
Never Stop by Echo and the Bunnymen was always a good one for me to blast down the neighbours and scream at the top of my voice... (Live and record versions both given here)
Monday, May 02, 2011
In much the same way as a favourite artist is hard to choose, so is a favourite album. Logically, a favourite album would be Different Class by Pulp, but I've already had Common People and I-Spy as tracks on here. F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E. is pretty awesome though.
How about a well-played album?
Picaresque by The Decemberists has had a lot of playing, but again I've already had This Sporting Life from that great album, and previously praised the bonkers narrative of The Mariner's Revenge Song!
What about Laura Marling's wonderful debut Alas, I Cannot Swim? That's had a lot of airplay, especially Night Terror.
What about a long-term favourite: Buena Vista Social Club - much played over the years, with Chan Chan remaining a favourite for making me feel pretty chilled.
Gah -- it's too hard. Ask me another day!
Sunday, May 01, 2011
Theatre Review: Royal Gala Performance of Macbeth, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford Saturday 30 April 2011
Perfect then as a follow-up to THAT event on Friday 29 April 2011, especially with HRH Prince of Wales in the audience as the President of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Michael Boyd's efforts to josh at the end of the play didn't feel THAT convincing...
The play itself is a rather curious production, but fascinating to see: Jonathan Slinger is great as the titular king, tortured by doubts at various points, trying but not entirely believing in the prophecies that grant him power. The transformation of the witches is weird on many levels, but I rather liked this envisaging of them as it made an unnerving contrast to regular interpretations of the Weird Sisters (hey: I read the Sandman novels and they make play with variations of these characters). Certainly, the creepy-factor is upped and then some to change the witches in this way, though I'm still a bit too freshly believing in the magisterial version of Macbeth with Patrick Stewart to be totally convinced. (Indeed, in that respect what WAS really nice was to see the reappearance of the excellent Scott Handy as Ross: brilliant performance.) There are many good performances in this production, not least from Steve Toussaint who had been so good in the Nottingham Twelfth Night production we saw last year. (Which I shamefully do not seem to have reviewed).
The music, as ever in RSC productions, was wonderful: all hail our three cello players with Craig Armstrong's music. Haunting and brittle in turn. The sets also are wonderfully conceived - not least the additional entrance available at the back of the stage at balcony level. And the use of the broken/complete stained glass windows was magical.
Definitely worth seeing, though perhaps unlikely to win plaudits as a best ever Macbeth.
Plenty of nobs in the audience, and we probably could have blagged our way up to the do afterwards had we been so inclined. (or not - security felt v discrete). We never actually saw HRH - we were in the circle, facing the stage, but he was clearly seated underneath us due to the turning of heads in that direction at various moments. There was even some efforts being made at surreptitious photo taking by excited attendees. Rather amusing to watch from above.
Prince meets children
Reviews will spoiler particular casting decisions but it depends if you're attending.
In the end I'm selecting something from the majesterial Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Because they don't get played on radio enough.
Don't know who she is? Well, I think she's my heroine of the week for her presence in lots of the pictures of a certain event this week.
Yes: in the marriage of a boy from a broken home, funded by the state to the heiress of a multi-million pound fortune, the star of the show was Grace van Cutsem, one very irritated small girl, bored and distressed by the noise of a crowd of yelling strangers.
I felt somewhat the same way: it's all very well getting to dress up but it's all the other stuff that can spoil a day out.