Tag Archives: Grimeborn

GREEK Arcola, E8

GUEST REVIEWER CHARLOTTE VALORI MARVELS AT GREEK PERFECTION AT GRIMEBORN

Like the roar of an older, bolder London, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s GREEK bounces snarling onto the Grimeborn stage, celebrating its thirtieth anniversary in the first ever revival of its world premiere production for Munich and ENO, directed both then and now by Jonathan Moore. The significant privilege of reviving such an iconic production of this groundbreaking work with the original creative team (Turnage himself has been attending rehearsals) has given Grimeborn its jewel for this year’s festival, and the Arcola easily one of the hottest opera tickets in London this summer. But this is no historical re-enactment: GREEK is as raw, angry and daring as ever, and the production feels boxfresh. While references to the social tensions of the Eighties (overflowing bins, unemployment, strikes and riots) still express the ‘state of plague’ in “this seething heap of world,” Moore works in touches of today: the London Riots, mobile phones, and wifi, while a huge graffiti wall beside the stage (a giant painted lightbox, used to screen projections of police brutality and civil unrest) proclaims HIPSTERS OUT! Dalston – you heard.

On a black lacquered stage tantalisingly bare of props, framed by a square of piped, colour-changing light running from floor to ceiling, the action unfolds with visceral immediacy. Designer Baśka Wesołowska produces a clear playing space where Moore creates violent aggression with superbly controlled choreography: fights are brilliantly dislocated across the stage, Eddy and his combatants landing (and realistically receiving) coordinated punches from a distance. Immaculate attention to detail is everywhere: as the orchestra tune up, Eddy attempts to enter the theatre, but is thrown out summarily by security. Moments later, he explodes into the auditorium to tell us his hideous story.

Lithe with physical menace as a young hoodlum, gracefully tense as an older, successful man who nevertheless feels he has more to prove, Edmund Danon’s Eddy is spot on: his London accent perfect, his baritone already richly tender, but capable of scorn and challenge, he seems born for this part, sliding from speech to song with confident command, and exploring the arrogance, fastidiousness and impetuousness of his accursed character with skill. Laura Woods is magnetic as his Wife (and Sis), her mezzo of liquid fullness, her hungry longing for her lost child heartbreaking, their erotic connection thoroughly disturbing. Philippa Boyle’s Mum is a tour de force of versatile character acting, her soprano lyrically expressive, while Richard Morrison’s Dad seethes with fragile machismo: the libretto, adapted from Berkoff’s play by Turnage and Moore, interleaves London slang with historical phrases, producing a Clockwork Orange mosaic which builds its own mythological atmosphere, and Boyle and Morrison in particular use a dazzlingly wide range of vocal styles to deepen this effect. A bowl of blood produces a deliciously grisly eye-gouging scene, but the shocks don’t end there, the opera remaining irrepressibly punk to the last. Turnage’s score, vividly delivered by the Kantanti Ensemble with crisp conducting from Tim Anderson, is astonishing: brimming with visual images, perfectly catching the cadence and textures of the London soundscape, setting words with unfailing clarity, combining mastery and humour like a gangster who grips you by the throat while slapping you conspiratorially on the back.

GREEK’s thrusting, vicious defiance feels like a blast from a braver, riper creative moment. It’s dark, edgy, bloody, and disturbing. It isn’t for the faint-hearted: snowflakes may sob with woke anxiety into their ironic gender-neutral moustaches. For the rest of us, it’s a clarion call of what art can, should and must provoke.

Presented by the Arcola Theatre as part of Grimeborn 2018, with generous support from the Grimeborn Funders’ Circle

Until 18 August. Box office: 020 7503 1646 or online here

Rating: Five 5 Meece Rating

Advertisements

Comments Off on GREEK Arcola, E8

Filed under Five Mice, Opera

LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR Arcola, E8

GUEST REVIEWER CHARLOTTE VALORI FINDS THE BOYS GET ALL THE DRAMA AT GRIMEBORN

Lucia di Lammermoor is an opera of shocking brutality, with savage emotional aggression rivalling physical violence throughout its fast-paced plot. Fulham Opera’s reduction for Grimeborn brings Donizetti’s dark, doomed characters to vivid life with some glorious principal singers, supported by a dramatic piano accompaniment from Ben Woodward. Foremost is Alberto Sousa’s passionate, difficult Edgardo, a man torn between his sworn vengeance on the scheming Ashtons and his love for their daughter Lucia: the intimate setting of Arcola’s Studio 2 (rather too small for this production) only magnifies the supreme emotional and musical detail of Sousa’s harrowing, exhilarating performance. Snapping at Sousa’s heels is a magnificently cruel Enrico from Ashley Mercer, able to throw grit or gossamer over his penetrating bass-baritone in a brilliantly dramatic performance which proves bel canto also works with serious attitude. Nicola Said’s Lucia copes with Donizetti’s challenging soprano writing, producing a ravishing “Egli è luce ai giorni miei”, the very image of a headstrong teenager in love, and a musically lyrical Mad Scene; Said’s Lucia is a lost little girl in a vortex of male vendetta, a not unjustified interpretation, though her acting can flicker when silent. Rebekah Jones’ handwringing Alisa, Simon Grange’s anxious Raimondo and John Wood’s wonderfully clear Arturo complete the picture.

The emotional and musical success of this production, however, is countered by practical glitches. The surtitles misbehaved throughout on opening night, and Jim Manganello’s screened translation is ungenerously brusque with Cammarano’s libretto. Daniel Farr’s lighting is surprisingly clunky, and Anna Yates’ design isn’t helpful: Lammermuir Castle seems to be a messy building site, with pointless minor scene-fiddling delaying the action, while costumes are contemporary, but similarly incoherent. Lucia has a fit of teenage sulks in pyjama bottoms and slippers, but mysteriously later remembers to put on shoes (!) and a man’s (bloodstained) shirt for her mad scene: are we supposed to imagine she allowed Arturo to rape her, then dressed herself in his shirt and only then stabbed him? This is an opera where sides are a matter of life and death, and Donizetti moves the plot so fast that we need to conceptualise and believe Lucia’s predicament quickly, usually conveyed through design, but the main difference between Enrico and Edgardo here is suit versus Barbour: hardly murder territory. The chorus start in anoraks, more Neighbourhood Watch than gangland acolytes; their presence is never fully legitimised on stage by designer or director, and becomes particularly confusing as they pretend to be Edgardo’s ancestors, then rise up and tell him about Lucia’s fate, a zombie interpretation at odds with the libretto. Director Sarah Hutchinson’s management (or lack of it) of the chorus is a perennial issue, as is her disorganised placing of characters on stage: this close-quarters production offers us a rare, intimate perspective on the finely-honed structure of Lucia di Lammermoor, with its many private parallels and fascinating internal reflections, but we can’t detect that in the stagecraft, which leaves the Fulham Opera Chorus weak and exposed, and puts too much on the shoulders of its admittedly fine principals.

Presented by Fulham Opera

At the Arcola Theatre, Dalston as part of Grimeborn 2018 until 11 August

Box office: 020 7503 1646 or online here (returns only)

Rating: Three 3 Meece Rating

Comments Off on LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR Arcola, E8

Filed under Opera, Three Mice

THE BOATSWAIN’S MATE Arcola, E8

GUEST REVIEWER CHARLOTTE VALORI VOTES FOR ETHEL SMYTH AT GRIMEBORN

The celebrations of the centenary of Women’s Suffrage in Britain have reached Dalston’s cultural heartland as Spectra Ensemble present a little-known opera by Suffragette composer Ethel Smyth, The Boatswain’s Mate, at Grimeborn. Smyth had to fight hard to become a composer, and even harder to get her work on stage, but she won through on both counts, being the first woman to have an opera performed at the New York Met. You might be forgiven for thinking that any opera we are going to get from Smyth could be tough medicine: something stridently defiant, even deliberately difficult. What we actually encounter in The Boatswain’s Mate is a warmly comic operatic farce: undeniably empowering, but also incisive, touchingly romantic and, most importantly, hilarious.

An isolated country pub, The Beehive, is run singlehandedly by its queen bee, the determined and charismatic widow Mrs Waters (Hilary Cronin). Elderly retired sailor Harry Benn (John Upperton) is keen to take possession of both lovely Mrs Waters and her thriving business, repeatedly proposing to her but finding himself repeatedly and firmly refused: Mrs Waters proclaims herself “once bitten, twice shy” when it comes to marriage. Unable to accept this, Benn persuades a wandering former soldier, Ned Travers (Shaun Aquilina) to carry out a fake ‘burglary’ so that Benn can finally win her heart with a dashing midnight rescue, staged to his own design. However, his plan backfires spectacularly when Mrs Waters proves herself more than capable of defending her pub from intruders, but in a brilliant twist, she may not in fact be able to defend her heart from the inconveniently dashing, open-hearted Ned. In a mounting storm of physical attraction and social convention, Smyth screws the farce tighter and tighter while creating a very real drama of courtship shot through with humour, wit and respect.

Director Cecilia Stinton slightly overeggs Mrs Waters’ prim respectability at the outset, and the drama feels a little static and lumpen to start, but just stay with it: once this opera takes off, it goes like a rocket. Christianna Mason’s sparse, effective design takes us to Margate in the Coronation year of 1953, with a pub simply suggested by a couple of tables and stools, and a revolving window alternating parlour and bedroom. Hilary Cronin’s Mrs Waters carries the piece with increasing presence, moving from schoolmistress control to magnetic emotional command with her pleasing soprano, finding increasing interest in her character’s secret inner vulnerabilities. John Upperton’s bald, tattooed Benn, a little unfocused to start in Studio 2’s very intimate setting, soon gets the laughs rolling in. Shaun Aquilina’s mellifluous Ned similarly grows in dramatic conviction, conjuring superb chemistry with Cronin. John Warner, leading the accompaniment from the piano, delivers Smyth’s score (in a piano trio) with exceptional care and skill: we have rollicking shanties, spikes of high and ribald drama and sinuous themes of thoughtful yearning, not to mention The March of the Women embedded in the overture. Disarming, surprising and brilliant.

~ Charlotte Valori

Presented by Spectra Ensemble

At the Arcola Theatre, Dalston as part of Grimeborn 2018 until 31 July. 

Box office: 020 7503 1646 or tickets here

Rating: Three 3 Meece Rating

Comments Off on THE BOATSWAIN’S MATE Arcola, E8

Filed under Theatre, Three Mice