Monthly Archives: August 2017

APOLOGIA Trafalgar Studios SW1

GUEST CRITIC TOM HOLLOWAY WISHES FOR AN UPDATE..

 

 

 

Originally debuting eight years ago at the Bush Theatre, Alexi Kaye Campbell’s Apologia is a story of intergenerational conflict. Matriarch Kristin (Stockard Channing) squares off against her sons’ partners over the course of an evening. After Brexit and a contentious general election, Jamie Lloyd’s revival lands at a time of intense relevancy, as millennials and baby boomers engage in their own game of political civil war.

 

 

But despite being slickly designed, Campbell’s script can’t hold the scope of this promising parallel. Set in the great theatrical tradition of the disastrous dinner party, It is a stimulating, but limp, insight into the choices three women have made in the face of social and economic adversity. His cast of characters is cleverly composed, forcing a proverbial battlefield where they can’t help but question each other’s political and personal ideologies.

 

 

Campbell chooses simultaneously to admonish and sympathise with their perspectives. bringing weight to his exploration of the complex web of political movements that inform identity. So it serves quite nicely as a companion piece to his breakout hit The Pride, which contrasted the closeted gay lives of the Fifties with the liberated but melancholic present.

 

 

However, much of the play seems a bit of a wasted opportunity. He never harnesses a strong enough perspective, making it feel somewhat inconsequential, and radically affecting the pace. It explodes in an electrifying, but unearned, denouement at the end of the first act, whilst the second act ponders slowly into an overlong conclusion. The characters never seem to learn anything, robbing the piece of much needed tension.

 

 

The actors give their all. The definitive highlight is Channing, one of the masters of her craft. She has a superb understanding of the caustic matriarch Kristin: the gaze of her powerful large eyes as acerbic as Campbell’s words, and also elicits great sympathy for the character’s questionable motivations. She is greatly supported by her two foils: soap star Claire (Freema Agyeman) and religious physiotherapist Trudi (Laura Carmichael). Agyeman has a magnetic presence, and is thoroughly convincing in communicating Claire’s artistic sacrifices for financial survival. Carmichael demonstrates fine comic timing, while seamlessly slipping more vulnerable moments. Desmond Barrit delivers a delectable performance, though his character is made somewhat redundant by being only there to administer campy one liners. Joseph Millson in his dual role as the two brothers distinguishes between lost soul Simon and banker Peter so effectively that my companion thought they were two different people.

 

 

Soutra Gilmour’s production design is spectacular, an oversized picture frame, vivid use of colour giving every scene a Hockney quality; Jon Clark’s lighting is similarly effective.

 

BOX OFFICE  0844 871 7632   to 18 nov

rating  three  .   LP seeing this week, might add reflections from Channing’s generation!3 Meece Rating

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PORGY AND BESS Arcola, E8

GUEST REVIEWER CHARLOTTE VALORI GETS NUTTIN’ MUCH FROM GRIMEBORN’S REDUCTION OF GERSHWIN

My suspicions should have been aroused by the fact that there was no programme for Porgy and Bess. The website had listed just two singers: Talia Cohen and Masimba Ushe. ‘Surely,’ I thought to myself, ‘there’ll be more? Won’t they credit them?’ Porgy and Bess, after all, is a large cast opera: a big story, with big themes, and a big heart. Then, walking into the larger of the Arcola’s two spaces, I found the stage entirely occupied by what looked like a full orchestra, for the first time ever: it was, indeed, the Basement Orchestra, present, correct and resplendent in denim and hipster hair, entirely filling the stage floor. The third warning was the vision of just two singers sitting on the tiny balcony above the stage – with microphones in front of them. My heart sank.

Grimeborn prides itself on producing “Bold new versions of classic operas”, and that is what I’m always looking for here. I’ve seen some stunning edits of key works over the years: a haunting Pelléas et Mélisande, a shattering Werther, a bewitching Daphne, a terrifying Il Tabarro, and many more intense, insightful productions which successfully refresh operas we think we know. But while Debussy, Massenet, Strauss, Puccini and pals all got the rockstar reduction treatment (glorious young singers, cleverly minimalist staging, sensitively stripped-down instrumentation, sometimes even to shimmering piano accompaniment only), Gershwin seems to have been palmed off with a dog-ate-my-homework, ‘let’s just do the ones everyone knows because nobody really cares’ debacle. We launch straight into “Summertime”, sung with breathily pleasant jazz delivery, but without any dramatic presence, by Talia Cohen; there’s a nice sense of jazzy flourish from a slightly screamy brass section, but this orchestra is much too large for this space, and the noise (and heat) soon feels like being strapped to a storage heater.

The first song over, orchestra members rise in turn to read scraps of the synopsis, some with less charm and conviction than others; and, the story bounding ahead like a drug-addled rabbit, we are off into the next number, before we’ve barely had a chance to understand who is who (not helped by the fact that Cohen and Ushe sing random arias indiscriminately, not just those of Porgy and Bess). As Masimba Ushe sets off on “I got plenty of nuttin’”, his lovely rounded bass promises us the earth, but he’s soon beset by microphone delivery problems which affect the rest of his singing continuously, and his performance becomes a mixture of cheerily resonant success and near-silence, depending on the mic’s mood. Neither Cohen nor Ushe make any noticeable attempt to act, Cohen sipping water between numbers and smirking at the instrumentalists. Only their voices imply animation; characterisation, and narrative connection, are simply absent.

This half-hearted, patronising attempt at storytelling, quite apart from clearly putting some orchestra members well beyond their comfort zone, can’t possibly communicate a plot as rich, dark and psychologically complex as Porgy and Bess. The orchestra remains uncomfortably loud; it feels like a long, dull, awkward hour before we’re finally set free. Poor Gershwin: Grimeborn got this one totally the wrong way round. A sadly missed opportunity.

~ CHARLOTTE VALORI

Part of the Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola Theatre

Box office: 020 7503 1646 until 6 August

Rating: one 1 Meece Rating

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DIARY OF ONE WHO DISAPPEARED Arcola, E8

GUEST REVIEWER CHARLOTTE VALORI WISHES SOMETHING ELSE WOULD DISAPPEAR AT GRIMEBORN

The poems which inspired the mysterious song cycle Diary of One Who Disappeared first appeared anonymously published in a newspaper in May 1916. They immediately caught the eye of composer Leos Janáček, who completed this song cycle by 1920. The poems, eventually attributed to Ozef Kalda, tell the story of a young man who falls in love with a gipsy girl, and decides to abandon his family and village in order to follow her, and their child. Or, less romantically, it actually tells the story of a man who is consumed by a sexual passion for a gipsy girl, which she encourages him to gratify; when pregnancy inevitably results, he is horrified, and actively considers putting her aside before finally realising he has created a responsibility which he now needs to fulfil, and leaves the shelter of his family on the basis that he feels so socially blighted by his association with her that to marry her, and bring her into his community, would be unthinkable, so departure – or disappearance – is the only option.

The way he repeatedly castigates his supposed “love”, thanks to her race, makes it hard to believe there’s any true love in this sordid story: though the poetry (here sung in a very fine English translation by Seamus Heaney) is coated with sensuality, obsessing constantly about the girl’s physical beauty, and the extent of his desire for her, there’s no sense of any deeper or more profound personal connection. Janáček’s score is disorientatingly beautiful, and Shadwell Opera produce a gorgeous musical account, with a passionate piano accompaniment from Matthew Fletcher, and fine singing from our two principals (tenor Sam Furness and mezzo Angharad Lyddon) and chorus.

Director Jack Furness’ asylum-centre setting plays with our preconceptions from the start: although those girls seeking asylum from their former countries (all listed, with photos, on a large whiteboard) may be said to have already “disappeared” from their families and friends at home, it is Sam Furness’ character, an employee in the asylum centre, who is due to disappear. The gipsy Zefka (played with poise and charm by honey-voiced mezzo Angharad Lyddon) is one of his clients, creating a modern taboo against their subsequent love, but inadvertently throwing his patent hatred of gipsies into ever more confusing relief: we wonder how he ever got this job. Sam Furness, his strong tenor often feeling too large for this small space, sings with dewy-eyed intensity into a camera over his laptop screen, which projects his “video diary entries” onto the whiteboard behind; we wonder who else is watching, as his confessions steadily amount to professional suicide.

In fact, Jack Furness’s directoral concept, though visually arresting (diary projections are occasionally interspersed with shots of wild woods, or the gipsy girl’s eyes), creates more barriers than narrative aids for the audience: a sexist, racist story of objectification doesn’t survive well in a modern context (and for a modern audience) which, in real terms, wouldn’t tolerate any of those positions. The impressionistic majesty of the score makes this song cycle, indubitably, a piece worth hearing; but its unappetising core would be better hidden than highlighted, not least because it no longer makes human sense to us.

~ CHARLOTTE VALORI

Part of the Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola Theatre

Box office: 020 7503 1646 until 5 August

Rating: three 3 Meece Rating

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THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK Vaudeville, WC1

PRETTY MUCH A BOOJUM

 

I must admit I yearned towards this production – for 4 years old upwards, though there were some younger infants having a hell of a good time, even without booster seats (Vaudeville, please note that need). It is a favourite Lewis Carroll poem, and I did rather hope for a few of the boldly scanned rumbustious quartets and images, especially the bowsprit getting “mixed with the rudder sometimes” and the Bellman landing his crew with care, with a finger entwined in their hair.. But despite one final softly-and-silently-vanished-away, Alice House Theatre merely take the notion as an inspiration for a song-studded adventure of their own.

 

 

 

One day I want the poem itself, possibly rendered by McKellen, Russell Beale and Olivia Coleman. But hey, no complaints about this interpretation. Annabel Wigoder’s take is framing it with a schoolboy stowing away on the adventure funded by his negligent, money-obsessed Mr-Banks type father (Simon Turner) , and led by a splendid Bellman explorer in full 1920s RGS outfit of breeches, leather jerkin and mad gadgets. Gareth Cooper’s songs are fun, sometimes nicely startling (especially the father’s one about how money is all anyone can ever need).

 

 

There are Carroll snark-hunters in it: the Beaver is an enchanting puppet, knitting furiously, the dim-witted Baker is Will Bryant, who is also (there are other Carroll characters introduced) a quite magnificently camp Bandersnatch in Madame Jojo ruffles and shiny lurex tights, and the villainous butcher is Polly Smith (I do like a scary woman). I am not sure which of them plays the Jub-Jub bird, stealing the Banker’s trousers so the Beaver has to knit him a skirt, but I have to say its moment was the highlight for me on Snark Island, being pleasingly reminiscent of the time Rod Hull and Emu assaulted Michael Parkinson.

 

 
Around me very small children gasped and oohed from the moment the theatre darkened, especially in the very noisy shipwreck; deep concentration met the silliness, and real sympathy the marooning of the boy and beaver, unsure (as per The Tempest) whether anyone else was alive. It felt like a proper introduction to theatre, which is the important thing. Though the small boy in front who demanded to see it through again – a true child of the video age – will have to go home, get some ruffles and feathers and soft toys, and re-enact it for himself. Hope he does.

 

 

box office 0330 333 4814 to 2 Sept
rating four

4 Meece Rating

 

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