Category Archives: Three Mice

ARMIDE Arcola, E8

GUEST REVIEWER CHARLOTTE VALORI GETS THE ROYAL TREATMENT AT GRIMEBORN

If you fancy being entertained like a French king, head to Grimeborn for Lully’s Armide. Lully’s artistic monopoly over French opera lasted well beyond his death (thanks to some dastardly patenting, as the excellent programme notes explain): he took full advantage of his pre-eminent position musically, as well as financially, creating opera for Louis XIV of rapturous, languorous beauty, and this is one of his finest works, though poignantly one the king refused to see after a scandal drove Lully from Versailles. An anguished, passionate story, it depicts the doomed love of the proud Muslim warrior princess Armide (a beautifully acted Rosemary Carlton-Willis) for the Christian knight Renaud (sweet-toned tenor and capable actor Guy Withers), who alone among men is impervious to her charms, his virtue and valour equally unassailable. Armide, who is also a sorceress, conjures demons from Hell to enslave Renaud to her will with false desire, but finds she cannot master her own infatuation, and worse, finds she has no genuine will to do so. When her enchantments are eventually broken, and Renaud escapes with his heart intact, Armide’s despair and fury cause her to destroy her own palace, in the vain hope that her unrequited passion will also be buried with it.

Directing both stage and music is talented Brazilian baritone Marcio da Silva, who also plays an erotically charged La Haine (the demon of hate, resplendent in a blood-red suit), gives luscious strength to choruses with his sumptuously smooth, tenderly expressive voice, and represents a scattering of other characters, some silent. This is a production whose cast all work hard, often doubling roles, which can become disorientating; even our conductor (Matthew Morgan) breaks into song in the final act, standing on the platform above the main Arcola stage with his small band of skilled musicians (harpsichord and baroque guitar adding credible period dimensions to the warm, highly wrought score, sung in French with English surtitles projected on three sides of the theatre).

The set is simple, with a red silken dais in the centre of the stage used alternately as the pedestal of a throne, a bed, or a meadow where knights wander to meet temptation. Long candelabra at the end of this dais hold the candles which come to represent Armide’s spells, ignited and snuffed out at key points in the action, and two chairs compose the rest of our scenery. Costumes are contemporary but timeless, with Armide and her handmaidens dressed in long, metallic evening gowns recalling classical drapery and an idea of burnished armour, while Hell is a cocktail party, judging from the female demons’ glittery dresses. Knights and prisoners appear variously in black, or white, shirts and trousers; I couldn’t quite trace the narrative logic of the colour changes here, nor understand the reasoning behind the widespread huge, dark and smudgy eye makeup, and this production doesn’t altogether live up to the high expectations it creates. Da Silva’s vision is ambitious, and ought to work brilliantly; his lean, minimalist concept is ideal for this space, and despite lifting the instrumentalists up high and facing the conductor away from the singers, timing only rarely gets hazy. The music is often beautiful, with magical unaccompanied choruses, a generally capable, passionate central performance from Carlton-Willis as Armide, and charismatic contributions from da Silva throughout; but poorer, less confident acting and singing in the smaller roles tend to puncture our conviction just when we need it most.

~ CHARLOTTE VALORI

Part of the Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola Theatre

Box office: 020 7503 1646 until 12 August

Rating: three 3 Meece Rating

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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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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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DESSERT Southwark Playhouse SE1

FINE DINING AND FINANCIAL FURY

 

Piquant idea, to open Oliver Cotton’s play about financial inequality in BBC Salary Embarrassment Week.  While the inequity between multi-million popinjays and mere 149k losers in the weird world of showbiz is perhaps not especially  worth angsting about, there were nice resonances.

 

For it’s a good subject: Cotton is having a spirited pop at the Philip Green fatcat amassers of money, and especially the asset-strippers who leave investors broke like the antihero Hugh – who is Michael Simkins, always a treat. Trevor Nunn’s production (so soon after his latest Rattigan) wins another lovely drawing-room-play design – all Farrow& Ballish with old masters which are part of the plot tastefully framed in elegant white mouldings against fashionably duckshit-green walls. At a selfconsciously posh dinner table we meet two couples – Hugh and lady Gill (Alexandra Gilbreath) entertaining American friends, who are played by Stuart Milligan and Teresa Banham with a nice annoying edge. They are contacts in the murky world of enormous investments . Milligan has less to do, but as the trophy-wife Meredith, Ms Banham navigates hilariously from being a defiant ignorama droning on about some ridiculous Blairish spiritual healing in South America, through a brief hysteria to display in the crisis an unexpected rather likeable solidity. Which is more than can be said for Graham Turner, who does a splendid turn as a burnt-out City maths genius turned herb-cookery nut and butler. He has become Hugh’s loyal factotum and has, as it turns out, a remarkable gift for making disasters even worse.

 

 

 

For a disaster is what the evening rapidly becomes. One hesitates to offer spoilers, but you should at least know that “Dessert” is a joke: they never get to the pudding because a young man in camo gear breaks in with a gun to lecture them on the evils of undeserved wealth (desert, geddit?) .  He has come make threats and demands which fatcat Hugh (Simkins rather splendidly drawing a tiny bit of sympathy from some of us) won’t meet.

 

 

 

It certainly keeps you watching, Nunn’s direction is sharp, and gunshots and other surprises come just when you aren’t quite expecting them. But Cotton’s play has one serious flaw: it puts an unreasonable weight on the tough young intruder Eddie, played as well as he could be by Stephen Hagan. It is an unusual, if not incredible, portrait of a self-educated, art-fancying, justice-seeking young soldier; but it is plain unfair to bestow such immense, Guardian-leader sprawls of angry egalitarian and ethical argument on one character. There is – certainly at first – far too little interruption and dialogue with the others to sharpen it. Eddie, frankly, goes on and on in a way few characters have been allowed since the days of George Bernard Shaw. It slows the play and detaches you.

 

 

 

With some cuts, it could be sharp indeed. And is certainly topical. And Eddie is morally quite right. But it’s not good being right if you’re boring, and even a Rylance would be hard put to make some of the character’s scenes anything else. Cotton has done this ranting before, in DAYTONA: looking back, I notice I wrote about “long, emotionally charged narrative monologues demanding from the other [cast members] the equally difficult art of listening and reacting.” But I did enjoy the dénouement. I hope for more Cotton, because he’s a great plot-maker. All it needs is a bit less of the GBS speechifying .

 

 

box office 0207 407 0234 southwarkplayhouse.co.uk
rating three   3 Meece Rating

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YANK! Charing Cross Theatre, SW1

NEW GUEST CRITIC THOMAS HOLLOWAY FINDS A NEW MUSICAL

 

 

Arriving at the Charing Cross Theatre this weekend, in the wake of London’s Pride weekend, is this transfer from the enterprising new Hope Mill Theatre.Inspired by the musical traditions of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Yank! was written by Joseph and David Zellnik: in this Pride week it tells a tale those veterans could not have dared to: the story of Stu and Mitch, two soldiers who fall in love whilst in the US Army. Dressed in the drag of the old MGM musicals Yank! becomes both a homage to 1940’s Hollywood glamour and a testament to the bravery of the gay American men and women who fought on the front lines during World War II.

 

 

It’s a fascinating concept: it feels as though this is a lost musical from the era’s canon, recovered and reinserted into history. This seems to be exactly the Zellnik Brothers aim: they have reclaimed a pivotal moment of gay history which has been lost to the record, by using the very iconography with which the gay identity found itself.

 

 

However, the execution seems slightly unfocused. Incorporating an overabundance of themes, David Zellnik’s book never concentrates on the beats it truly wants to explore, playing erratically with plots and motifs, not awarding the themes the complexity they deserve. There is too much extraneous fluff built into it, which combined with some of the show’s anachronistic humour muddies what it has to say about sexuality and gender.

 

 

This extends to his characters, which are mostly stereotypical tropes, many of whom who do little to serve the narrative. The two lovers are very much of the masculine protector/feminine protected type seen in a lot of queer media, and despite the World War II setting that feels a little tired. This is particularly a shame, as the play makes it clear that this is a crucial moment of history where the concepts of gender and sexuality are being discovered, so it seems somewhat of a missed opportunity.

 

 

This is to not slight the performances, which are all exceptional. Scott Hunter is incredibly affecting as Stu, masterfully guiding his character’s subtle transition from nervous youngster to brave freedom fighter. He is supported wonderfully by Andy Coxon’s Mitch (whose honeyed voice is nothing short of excellent), who excellently conveys his character’s internal struggle with the expectations of masculinity, and Chris Kiely’s Artie, who gives the show a much needed comic flourish.

 

 

However, best in show is Sarah-Louise Young, whose smoky vocals and bold character turns makes her a wonderful ode to both the struggle of women throughout the war and the glamorous old Hollywood starlets who occupy queer iconography to this day. All of the company’s tight vocals and choreography are up to any West End performer’s: it’s just that some of the characters get lost in the mix.

 

 

But this is definitely worth seeing, and a great insight into American queer culture during the Second World War. The Zellnik brothers produce a score of fantastic tunes, conveying both the vibrant hope and suffocating loss of the era. Victoria Hinton’s set uses the space well, and has a wonderful sliding door element revealing a wide array of characters, musicians or obstacles, meaning you never know what awaits our protagonists next. Particularly fantastic is Aaron J. Dootson’s lighting design, a wonderful spectrum of scenes and moods, all the way from the horror of war to the glamour of the silver screen.

 

 
So Yank! is definitely a much-needed, and charming, ode to the courage of these lost heroes – it just gets a little distracted along the way.

 

 

box office 08444 930 650 http://www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk to 19 August
rating three   3 Meece Rating

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GLORIA Hampstead, NW3

WHEN SHOCK BECOMES A SALES PITCH

 

 

There are three acts: the first long, expressing an enervatingly pointless world and ending in a sharp shock. The second is competitively cynical and rises to another kind of shock, the sort with disgust in it. The last is shorter still, offering a nicely vicious resolution. Some characters in the first act return as new but related people; others as their psychologically damaged selves, which adds to the unsettling atmosphere . This play won Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins a Pulitzer last year: it is clever and angry, though its rage is overlaid with a detachment reminiscent of Neil Simon: a sense of the author standing back with “Lord, what fools these mortals be” rather than suffering alongside them.

 

 

It is also, in its theme, horribly topical when Britain has just suffered four murderous shocks and must accept that we may see parallels to the devil’s-dance of aftermath that this play demonstrates. For Jacobs-Jenkins’ theme is “the commodification of the witness or victim: the marketability of the survivor-story. We do not initially know this: the first scenes, set in the junior assistants’ cubicles of a glossy magazine office , are intermittently funny, dense with embittered office banter by a group of millennials. They seem to be focusing on quite other things. Perhaps generational rivalry – Kae Alexander is appositely recognizable as the fashion-blogging, brittle Kendra ranting against bed-blocking babyboomers; so is Colin Morgan as Dean, who yearns to get the hell out and pen a memoir of his so far uneventful life. Bayo Gbadamosi as the still younger intern looks on, and is darkly suspected of wanting to get their jobs. Fury rises further in the young at the news that an invisible older writer is getting the gig of doing a profile of a dead pop star of their era. Meanwhile a comparative veteran fact-checker has a sort of existential breakdown, and the unpopular office geek dashes through, glaring.
The point, nicely made, is that in this ‘glamorous’ job, all the interesting power stuff is always happening in another room. We all remember the feeling.

 
Then comes the disaster. Never mind what. The succeeding acts move us by stages from New York to LA, from real fear and facts to the stage where it matters more who gets their account in print most lucratively, and whether there’s a mini-series in it. And, indeed, how much the publishing industry cares who was actually in the room, once “great angles” , “personal catharsis” and “beautifully written” accounts are weighed up.

 

 

 

This distortion happens. There is no point hoping that right now, out in our own city, there are not publishers and film-makers sniffing with careful, hopeful tact and chequebooks around the survivors of Grenfell Tower and the London and Manchester attacks.

 

 

Michael Longhurst’s production is not quite perfect, or not yet. Kendra’s brittle lines in the first act sometimes defy full comprehensibity to the untuned ear, though Kae Alexander gets the hair-flicking horror of her character absolutely pat. Some scenes could be trimmed down. But it is fascinating and timely, and sometimes horribly funny (the IT guy in the final scene is pure joy). And of the performances, Bo Poraj’s and and Morgan’s in particular stand out as fully-inhabited and memorably troubling. Not every survivor has a story he wants to tell in public, or should be encouraged to.

 

 

box office 020 7722 9301 to 22 July
rating three  3 Meece Rating

 

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THE ADDAMS FAMILY Touring

LOOK INTO THE DARK AND SMILE ALL TOUR LONG    Touring Mouse wide
This cheerfully macabre celebration of Charles Addams’ famous 1930’s cartoon is off on tour: link below. I saw one of the last shows in its opening Wimbledon week, and judging by the larky atmosphere of both audience and cast the cast are having enough fun to storm very happily round the country. The moment you see Les Dennis as Uncle Fester in a bald wig and banjo, dancing in a graveyard to rouse his random ancestors – a chorus who turn out to be Tudor, Japanese, and everything between – you are swept along in its rather magnificently silly, cobwebby train.
To be honest, the story is weak (it’s basically meet-the-parents, young Wednesday wants to marry a preppy muggle) and the music is – well, it just feels like a musical. Any musical. Only one song stands out, a beautiful “Death is just around the corner” by Morticia. But the general jollity of the evening is unarguable.

 
Matthew White directs this UK version: the book is by Rick Elice and Marshall Brickman, the lyrics and music by Andrew Lippa. Some lines are lovely in-jokes “Trapped! Like a corpse in the ground. Trapped! Like theatre in the round..” and there are some neat jokes about New York – they live in Central Park – and of course about Trump. And, of course, the dark Addamsy jokes. When the parents of the fiancé arrive (Charlotte Page daintily funny as the wife) the question “Do you have a little girls’ room?” is answered “We used to, but we let them all go”.The zombie butler Lurch is Dickon Gough, whose every move sparks gurgles of laughter;

 

 

Another focus is on the flirtatious and argumentative marriage of Gomez and Morticia – she a sinuous Samantha Womack, he a sharply comic Cameron Blakely (“Darkness and grief and unspeakable sorrow” – “Ooh I love it when you talk dirty!”. She dreams of Paris, where she wants to see the sewers. Uncle Fester has a sentimental love song to the moon, who is his ideal partner since a quarter of a million miles away is a good distance for romance: Les Dennis is the one you most warm to, and the most rounded romantic character. Which, for a chap playing ““a fat bald man of indeterminate sexuality” up against the gorgeous Womack and Carrie Hope Fletcher’s beguilding Wednesday, is not a bad result. The mainly young audience adored it. The final corpsy chorus “look into the dark and smile” does bring on that smile.

 
box office http://www.theaddamsfamily.co.uk/tour/
Touring nationwide till 4 November
rating three  3 Meece Rating

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