A London Grip scroll-down archive of reviews of music, drama and dance events …

Gigs by the band Plum Busby – Patricia MorrisBetty Blue Eyes – Patricia MorrisPeter Brook’s A Magic Flute – Julia PascalLPO at the RFH – Julia PascalThe Mikado at the ENO – Julia Pascal

Don Giovanni at the ENO – Julia Pascal

La Boheme at the ENO – Julia Pascal

The Random Acts of Strangers – Patricia Morris

Radamisto at the ENO – Julia Pascal

Mervyn Peake’s The Cave – Barbara Lewis

Humperdinck’s Hansel & Gretel – Barbara Lewis

Faust at the ENO – Julia Pascal

Hamlet – House of Horror – Dido Gwynne

Idomeneo at the ENO – Julia Pascal

The Love for Three Oranges – Barbara Lewis

Iram at the Barbican – Jula Pascal

Ofira Henig at the Barbican – Julia Pascal

Tosca at the ENO – Julia PascalDelusion – Laurie Anderson at the Barbican – Julia PascalOscar Wilde’s Birthday of the Infanta – Barbara LewisThe Tinker’s Curse by Michael Harding – Barbara LewisSticks and Stones – Barbara Lewis

Yael Flexer’s The Living Room – Julia Pascal

The Elixir of Love & Lucia di Lammermoor at the ENO – Julia Pascal

Nic Green’s Trilogy at the Barbican – Julia Pascal

I am Yusuf and This is my Brother – Julia Pascal

Highlights of 2009 – Julia Pascal

Stoppard’s Artist Descending a Staircase – Barbara Lewis

Kafka’s Monkey – Patricia Morris

Mark Ravenhill’s Over There – Patricia Morris

A Miracle by Molly Davies – Patricia Morris

The New Electric Ballroom by Enda Walsh – Patricia Morris

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Tracy Coleman

Plum Busby

Review by Patricia Morris

Gigs ongoing: most recently “Plum Busby’s Jam” at The Horse, Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1.  Next gig 29th February 2012, also at The Horse.

www.plumbusby.com

If you want something completely different, musically speaking, you probably need an evening with the unique Plum Busby. Theirs is an original mixture of humour and sauce in the direction of Weimar cabaret or gutsy Weil: Blitz music-hall, Harlem jazz, lonesome Bluegrass, Las Vegas glitz, and then something else on top. Ah yes, the invigorating presence of the incomparable force that is lead performer Tracy Coleman.

Funny, friendly and luscious, Tracy Coleman is the singer, dancer and incidental comedienne who provides the honeyed va-va-voom that sticks the show together. Her backing singer, adept harmoniser and perfect foil is the gamine Mandy Carlton. Versatile and creative Stuart Hall can’t get a word in, so he just makes more music on an impressive range of instruments. Founding father of the group and self-appointed master of ceremonies is the multi-talented guitar and vocals man Huw Thomas, a dab hand at playing two recorders simultaneously, though his preliminaries try to persuade us there is a third one, fundamentally hidden. Winston Clifford, the new drummer, almost steals the show, not least when he steps away from his kit to take the mike and dumbfound the audience with his incredible jazz vocals.

Mandy Carlton

The success of the mix has something to do with the group’s own convivial chemistry, a shared rough humour where most of the jokes are against themselves, and of course there is Tracy Coleman’s wit, powerful voice and buzzing personality.

If one must look for a negative, then it is a mild one, in the inexplicable inclusion of redundant sprog, as if to make this a family affair. The effect is not so much perverse as lame, intermittently deflating the racy atmosphere. But this is a small hiccup compared to the shot in the arm that is an evening with the group. If you’re after a good time, a bit of a hoot as well as a lot of great music, do not miss Plum Busby’s next gig.

[This review: May 2011]

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The line-up on Plum Busby’s latest album,”Pudding”, includes traditional songs as well as others by Irving Berlin, K. & A. McGarrigle, Miriam Makeba, Cole Porter, and several hilarious originals by band members Huw Thomas and Stuart Hall.

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Musical

Review by Patricia Morris

Betty Blue Eyes

Novello Theatre, London

from 19 March 2011 –

Strangely, you take your seat thinking this will be a brain-free musical evening with an eye-lash batting, grunting animatron, and you come out thinking about Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

This is another triumph for Cameron Mackintosh, the producer of Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. It is apparently his first new production in some 15 years. Everything about it, still a little rough in patches, being only a few days so far in the public eye, is superb: music, lyrics, dance, sets, the whole caboodle. Its impressiveness has partly to do with a certain modesty at its heart, and a brave, non-commercially-minded decision to forego playing to the American gallery.  It’s hard to imagine this going down well on Broadway unless radical changes are made and it’s not obvious where they would come.

While ostensibly being a load of post-Blitz fun, the work is a warts-and-all loving tribute to Britishness, even perhaps just Englishness. How will other English-speaking theatre-going cultures care enough about its ostensible issues, or even make sense of them? The opening number is about rations. Rations? So – when was this war?

That said, most of the women are not lean. They are cast against current notions of beauty – lusciously plump with real thighs and bottoms in big silk knickers and suspenders much on display in the dance scenes. The script is packed with good one-liners but the deep humour, the undertow, requires a general audience with a homegrown sense of how dangerously the snappy lyrics skim across the sacred sea of working-class British culture and history. The words are always knowing, witty, ironic, lightly deconstructing the in-group’s icons as only the in-group is permitted to do, knows how to do. There’s even an anti-semitic gag. Who cares? It’s on the button. ‘Fess up. There is something refreshingly grown-up about all this farcical song and dance.

Were it not for the fact of Bennet’s script’s previous incarnation as a non-musical film, one would like to suppose that the male lead character has been called Gilbert as an homage to the tradition in which Mackintosh has secured a place for himself in British theatrical history, not least with this achievement. Nor does one want it to be accidental that there is a literary nod to a neighbouring giant in the naming of Gilbert’s wife Joyce. There are a hundred other instances of the assumption of the audience’s Britishness in order that they get the range of the jokes. The brilliantly played female protoganist has many lines here and there, when she is being the pushy wife, which are actually Lady Macbeth’s lines.  The audience recognised many of these and they laughed loudly. British education.

And speaking of warts, the script is full of disgusting things, a reminder of the production’s determination not to be pretty.  The costumes are a dun rhapsody in the colour brown, the sets are bleak, the male lead is a chiropodist and we have to hear a lot about unmentionable things like corns and verrucae. The prime subject matter being meat, there is much trilling about pork and butchers and the post-war black-market meat ‘gestapo’: one wonders how vegetarians will get through the evening. There is a song about varieties of piss and national piss-pot-ness, set partly in a urinal.  Betty, patriotically named after Elizabeth II, herself is an excuse for a recurring stinking pig-shit motif. And in the midst of a flashback to a – thrillingly choreographed – war-time jive dance-hall scene, a bomb brings down the ceiling and one of the dancers is killed.

And that’s all before one has to deal with the moral fetor which the work sets out to address. Mackintosh and Co. have decided not to pull their punches this time either. The gist of the musical, not that one needs to acknowledge it to enjoy the show, is a grimly dark reflection upon class, power, protest, and the self-deceit of sentiment and snobbery. The themes bind together in the ‘eat spam or starve’ versus ‘murder pretty pig’ argument which purports to be the conflict at the centre of the performance.  There is the difficulty of deciding who is ‘us’ and who is ‘them’ – and then standing up for ‘us’.

The resolution of the dilemma, the musical’s happy ending, has its dark side.  No, the pretty pig has not been killed for the banquet after all: we’ve decided that the pig is ‘us’ and not ‘them’. But why is it deemed any better that the banqueters, the variously deceiving and deceived, are instead found to be eating disguised spam and not Betty the pig?  One is forced to wonder, what do they or the audience think that spam is? The question is not asked on the stage but come the jolly ending, it hangs in the air. The answer is surely that spam is a lot of other pretty pigs which  people don’t mind killing and eating because they don’t know them as they know Betty.

So the moral dilemma with which we leave the theatre has narrowed into one concerning decisions to kill, to go to war, us against them.

The performances are slick, the songs are a delight, can stand  alone and will live on beyond the life-span of the musical. The animatron pig couldn’t stand alone, unfortunately.  Although its few movements were impressively lifelike the pig had to be wheeled about in a barrow even after the plot’s excuse for its immobility had been tweezered out by the chiropodist. He shouldn’t have bothered. Happily on one occasion Betty managed one hilarious whizz-by on all four legs, perhaps in the body of an alter-ego trompe-l’oeil alternative prop. (One has heard that there are actually three pigs.) Still, the audience loved Betty, and at the curtain, unfairly, given the astonishing cast, she got the loudest ovation.

Cast

Sarah Lancashire as Joyce Chivers

Reece Shearsmith as Gilbert Chivers

David Bamber as Swaby

Jack Edwards as Allardyce

Ann Emery as Mother Dear

Mark Meadows as Lockwood

Adrian Scarborough as Wormold

Creative

Directed by Richard Eyre

Based on Alan Bennet’s A Private Function

Book by Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman

Music by George Stiles

Lyrics by Anthony Drewe

Choreographer, Stephen Mear

Designs by Tim Hatley

Lighting by Neil Austin

Sound design by Mick Potter

Musical director, Richard Beadle

Musical supervisor, Stephen Brooker

Orchestrations by William David Brohn

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Opera

Review by Julia Pascal

A Magic Flute

By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Directed by Peter Brook

C.I.C.T. / Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord

23 – 27 March 2011

Barbican Theatre

Peter Brook’s A Magic Flute is a skeletal version of Mozart’s fantastic opera. Fantastic with its Masonic-inspired plot, its crazy bird-catcher and its demonic Queen of the Night. The appeal of this work is its fairy-tale absurdity.

None of this appears in Brook’s stripped-down concert performance. There is no orchestra, only one piano. The set consists of bamboo poles. The lighting is sparse. The members of the cast are simply robed and barefoot.

Brook’s decision to have the opera sung in German and the recitative in French is a pleasing interplay of the two languages but it’s not enough to carry this underwhelming production, even for ninety minutes.

In an interview in the Guardian, Brook said that his aim in this production is not to ‘slam you in the eyes’. He doesn’t slam you in the ears either. One piano does not an opera make. Mozart’s grand musical design is so reduced that the only result is disappointment.

Brook says his work comes out of an ‘inexplicable hunch’. In this case it is demonstrably clear that his late ?creative energy is driven by an impulse to experiment with the reduction of opera to a minimalist experience. However this production has a monotonous quality, visually, aurally and aesthetically. This is opera-lite. Very lite. Even great directors can sometimes fail.

Photo credits: (including London Grip home page)

Pascal Victor/ ArtComArt: William Nadylam;

Jeanne Zaepffel & Luc Bertin-Hugault; Jeanne Zaepffel.

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A Magic Flute

Freely adapted by Peter Brook, Franck Krawczyk and Marie-Hélène Estienne

Directed by Peter Brook

Lighting Design by Philippe Vialatte

Singers (alternately with): Dima Bawab, Malia Bendi-Merad, Leila Benhamza, Luc Bertin-Hugault, Patrick Bolleire, Jean-Christophe Born, Raphaël Brémard, Thomas Dolié, Antonio Figueroa, Virgile Frannais, Betsabée Haas, Matthew Morris, Agnieszka Slawinska, Adrian Strooper, Jeanne Zaeppfel

Actors William Nadylam, Abdou Ouologuem

Co-produced by C.I.C.T / Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord; Barbican, London; Festival d’Automne à Paris; Attiki Cultural Society, Athens; Musikfest, Bremen; Théâtre de Caen; MC2, Grenoble; Grand Théâtre de Luxembourg; Piccolo Teatro di Milano – Teatro d’Europa; Lincoln Center Festival, New York.

Executive Producer: C.I.C.T. / Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord

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Music

Review by Julia Pascal

London Philharmonic Orchestra

Royal Festival Hall

19 March 2011

Julian Anderson The Crazed Moon

Beethoven Violin Concerto

Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4

Vladimir Jurowski conductor

Christian Tetzlaff violin

The evening opened with Julian Anderson’s 1997 short piece, The Crazed Moon, a galactic, cinematic score, scary and thrilling in its musical range. I have only one quibble with it which is directorial and concerns the curious decision to have the three trumpet-players leave the stage in the middle of the piece, clumsily breaking its seamlessness.

There were three stars in the evening’s programme. The virtuoso violinist Christian Tetzlaff , his conductor Vladimir Jurowski and the amazing LPO.

In Beethoven’s only surviving violin concerto (Violin Concerto in D Major OP 61), Tetzlaff displayed an emotional engagement and generosity of style with this demanding piece that had members of the audience virtually holding their breath. He has a huge presence which he turns flat on to the audience. Looking like a young Baryshnikov, he uses his whole body, almost dancing with his violin. The audience gasped out loud when he finished. He had seduced them all.

Russian-born Jurowski’s command of the LPO was clear in his reading of Tchaikvosky’s Symphony No. 4 in F Minor OP 36 with its balletic elements and resonances of Swan Lake. The work starts with so much anxiety in the first movement that Tchaikovsky’s near-suicidal state seemed to fill the hall. Jurowski, brought the disturbing elements to the forefront and unified his orchestra completely. The two Russian artists and the LPO were in complete harmony.

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Opera

Review by Julia Pascal

The Mikado

Gilbert and Sullivan

English National Opera

To 11 March 2011

The reputation of amateur operetta associated with the antiquated D’Oyle Carte productions had always put me off Gilbert and Sullivan so I welcomed the opportunity to see a version that breaks the mould of a Mikado set in a fantasy oriental palace.

Jonathan Miller’s smart production, which celebrates its 25th anniversary, is not set in Japan at all but in 1920s and 30s England where the women all speak like ‘gels’, like the young Lizzie Windsor. The production has its tongue firmly in its cheek and Stefanos Lazaridis’ gorgeous white designs are dazzling. But there’s no getting away from the naff of G+S British comedy. Only occasionally is it challenged with moments of surrealism, the most witty and political being Lazaridis’ dancing headless men. Otherwise – the old jokes abound.

As for the voices, there are some which really fill the hall and reach out beyond the silliness of Gilbert’s text. Sophie Bevan’s Yum Yum has unusual depth as well as good comic timing. She’s well matched by Claudia Huckle and Fiona Canfield. I also liked Anne-Marie Owens’ Katisha as the abandoned mistress. Richard Suart as Ko-Ko, the negligent executioner, gets better as the production progresses although the attempts to mimic Groucho Marx are not always successful.

This is a quaint divertissement. Some updating of the Gilbertian vocabulary and a few more arresting scenes could have made this even more pleasurable.

A co-production with Houston Grand Opera and Los Angeles Opera?Production supported by Dunard Fund

Conductor Peter Robinson; Director Jonathan Miller; Revival Director Elaine Tyler-Hall; Set Designer Stefanos Lazaridis; Costume Designer Sue Blane; Choreographer Anthony van Laast; Lighting Designer Davy Cunningham

Cast includes: Alfie Boe (Nanki-Poo); Sophie Bevan (Yum-Yum); Richard Suart (Ko-Ko); Richard Angas (The Mikado); Donald Maxwell (Pooh-Bah); William Robert Allenby (Pish-Tush); Claudia Huckle (Pitti-Sing); Anne Marie Owens (Katisha)

IMAGE CREDIT: The Mikado. (Chorus Parts). By Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan (1842-1900) and W.S. Gilbert. SATB. Opera. 48 pages. G. Schirmer #ED1684. Published by G. Schirmer (HL.50337580).

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Opera

Review by JULIA PASCAL

La Boheme

by Puccini

at English National Opera

to 27 January 2011

Jonathan Miller’s revival of Puccini’s fin de siècle opera has been transposed to the 1930s. This is the world of Cartier-Bresson and Brassai, and of Montmartre with its artists, prostitutes and petits gens. The stage is given poignant inter-war Parisian décor designed by Isabella Bywater.

Today the opera may seem dated with its view of women which contrasts the promiscuous Musetta with the virtuous, Catholic, Mimi. But for its time, the opera was radical. No longer was opera the territory of classical heroes or even Wagnerian super-heros. Puccini, inspired by the writer Henri Murger’s semi-autobiographical Scènes de la vie bohème, placed at the centre of a major work of art characters who live in urban poverty.

Miller’s interpretation captures the lives of the Montmartre artists without any sentimentality. He casts as Mimi a black soprano, the sensational Elizabeth Llewellyn, reminding us that 1930s Paris arts scene was as vibrant and cosmopolitan as Berlin’s. Mairead Buicke’s Musetta, Gwyn Hughes’ Rodolfo and Roland Wood’s Marcello are huge performances. The staging is exciting and Miller’s crowd scenes seamless, almost cinematic.

My only quibble is with the translation. Certainly it must be tough to translate an Italian opera set in Paris into an English text that transmits a sense of France. But the very English nature of such expressions as “as the actress said to the bishop”, jerks us awkwardly out of Miller’s and Bywater’s Cartier-Bresson France straight into camp English theatre.

Cast includes Gwyn Hughes Jones, Alfie Boe (Jan 22, 25, 27), Elizabeth Llewellyn, Roland Wood, Mairead Buicke, George von Bergen, Pauls Putninš, Simon Butteriss and Richard Angas.

Conductor Stephen Lord; Director Jonathan Miller; Designer Isabella Bywater; Lighting Designer Jean Kalman; Translator Amanda Holden

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Opera

Review by Julia Pascal

Don Giovanni

by Mozart

English National Opera

to 3 December 2010

Photo: Alastair Muir: Iain Paterson (Don Giovanni), Sarah Tynan (Zerlina) in Don Giovanni by English National Opera

This is a strong production with a sublime combination of design, lighting and direction. We are propelled well out of 18th century Seville into modern Britain, which in some respects may be a bit of a shock to tradition-loving Mozart-lovers. Director Rufus Norris’ wild vision starts with a gang rape and then alternates with equanimity between romance and brutality.

The fast-moving panelling makes for a swirling stage movement, cutting and framing the singers to emphasise the pictorial. Don Giovanni’s minions are devils in Jesus T-shirts, a wicked comment on the interconnection of Heaven and Hell. The Commendatore is a blood-stained ghost in a white lounge suit rather than the familiar representation of a living statue. All is fresh in this interpretation, with designer Ian MacNeil’s visual quotations from the past. Zerlina’s modern cocktail dress flares out at the hips like an 18th century panier skirt.

The issues around male privilege and power have never disappeared. The conceit reaches its apotheosis when Don Giovanni exchanges identity with his servant Leporello. With Jeremy Sams’ witty colloquial translation, Macneil’s framing device and Mimi Jordan Sherin’s sharp lighting design, a scene of hilarious clowning ensues.

All the performances were strong especially Sarah Tynan’s abused bride Zerlina and John Molloy’s Masetto as her cuckolded husband. If Iain Paterson did not quite convince as the sex-god Don Giovanni, the force of the production more than made up for it.

Cast includes Iain Paterson, Katherine Broderick, Rebecca Evans, Brindley Sherratt, Robert Murray, Sarah Tynan and Matthew Best.

Conductor Kirill Karabits; Director Rufus Norris; Set Designer Ian MacNeil; Costume Designer Nicky Gillibrand; Lighting Designer Mimi Jordan Sherin; Projections Designer Finn Ross; Movement Director Jonathan Lunn; Translator Jeremy Sams

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Theatre

Review by Patricia Morris

The Random Acts of Strangers

by Anthony Bull

Director: Gary Wright

Cast: Pauline Walters, Dez Drummond, Asif Channa, Kim Sanger White, Elaine Smithers, Victoria Barker, Nick Ash, Dominic Goulding, Zoë Ann Stevens, Janet Amsden.

Bedlamb Theatre Company, ourtyard Theatre, Hoxton, London, to 20 November 2010

This performance in an unforgiving fringe proscenium – with an excellent bar in the next room – is not a conventional full-length play. It is a collection of ten vivid monologues in which playwright Anthony Bull tackles the serious issues that haunt our inner lives, especially those relating to our sexual experiences. The ten characters, often without realizing quite how much they reveal, expose the pain of being betrayed, or the hidden longing for a child, or the guilt about ones bad deeds, or the simmering anger of the racially abused, or the fear of dying, and so on.

The monologue form is hugely challenging: every flaw shows up like a smut on a white page. But despite its hazards, throughout all ten monologues, the writer demonstrates a moving psychological dexterity, a serious character-based depth of writing always threaded through with wit and dark humour.

Director Gary Wright, who has done a brilliant job against the technical odds presented by the theatre and the unconventional script, pulls the pieces together with the final monologue. In it, it transpires, a WW2 survivor of bombed Berlin, played superbly by Janet Amsden, is supposed to have had in mind the other nine characters, or people like them. Whether this conceit works depends on whether one feels that an evening at the theatre needs a beginning, a middle and an end.

I could have done with tighter editing to make ten stark tales. I also wondered if the intention underpinning the title, the demure “The Random Acts of Strangers”, did not somewhat weigh down the director’s obvious talent for wild, imaginative flight. A signature less mellifluous and more eschatological or even just scatological might have permitted the whole to work towards more of a poking thrust, so to say.

The combined pieces raise, amongst other things, the question of whether the whole work should have outed itself as gay theatre. But where would the cut-off point be in decisions about which pieces to leave in or leave out? Then again, the old chestnut, whether there really is such a thing as gay theatre . . . If the evening were billed as gay, would one remove the piece about the straight, dedicated businesswoman who reluctantly reveals to herself that she longs for a child? And what about the monologues suggesting that apparently ordinary people may be extraordinary outsiders? The secretly abusive security guard, the male model not wanting to believe that his wife is the artist’s lover, the black woman reluctant to acknowledge that her white lover is racist? Would one leave out the monologue performed by Zoë Ann Stevens – perhaps the best-written of the ten – in which it is subtly revealed that the character has had an incestuous relationship with her son sparked by his physical resemblance to his dead father whom she had loved?

The sensitive themes of the outsider, of secrecy, of denial, and also of free-floating gratitude for simply surviving a disaster, might all be said to pertain to “gay preoccupations” – but then surely they pertain to everyone, anyway? One has to ask, why ghetto-ize the product or the market? This debate about whether there is such a thing as gay writing of course is an old one, continues widely, and a conclusion is never reached.

Meanwhile, playwright Anthony Bull has his own voice, strong and unflinching, making use of a sexualised language that, combined with its awareness of the centrality of homosexuality in society, gives the whole work a distinct sensibility: a writer to keep an eye on.

Photo Credit: Norette Moore

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Opera

Review by Julia Pascal

Radamisto

by Handel

at English National Opera

to 4 November 2010

It shouldn’t work. The plot is melodramatic with a cardboard villain. Musically it is constructed as if were a concert: aria follows aria broken only by one duet and a quartet in the final moments. But David Alden’s production is brilliant and the production is another coup for ENO in its co-production with Santa Fe Opera.

Handel wrote this in 1710 and it was first performed in London in 1720. The action takes place in Thrace, Asia Minor, and Gideon Davey’s brilliant design, a swirl of moving curved walls, gives us the ancient world as well as making provocative references to pre- and post-Islamic Persia.

Although this is an epic adventure of lust, war, greed and love, its primary theme is domestic. There are only six leading roles and the conflicts focus on marital fidelity. While the crises are individual, the piece coheres as an ensemble.

The stage is moodily broken up by Rick Fisher’s lighting and the creative team has found a way of producing a visual aesthetic that is both classical and modern. Alden sets the opera somewhere in antiquity but there are delightful anachronisms such as Irish soprano Ailish Tynan (in the castrato role) wearing a suit and tie and striking a match on her heel.

The cast’s performances are faultless: Ailish Tynan (Tigrane), Christine Rice (Zenobia), Ryan McKinny (Tiridate), Sophie Bevan (Polissena), Henry Waddington (Farasmane), Laurence Zazzo (Radamisto). Counter-tenor Zazzo’s heartbreaking solo, No Star From Heaven To L – Patricia MorrisThe New Electric BallroomOrchestrations by William David Brohn/p /pead Me To Shore, brings tears to the eyes. Laurence Cummings leads his fine orchestra with a dancing energy.

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Theatre

Review by Barbara Lewis

The Cave by Mervyn Peake

World Première

The Blue Elephant Theatre

to 6 November 2010

Director: Aaron Paterson

Cast: Sebastian Aguirre, Diane Axford, Nicholas Hoad, Matthew Wade, Emily Wallis, Guy Warren-Thomas

Producers: Jasmine Cullingford & Blue Elephant Theatre www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk

Photo credits: DOUGIE FIRTH

Mervyn Peake’s The Cave? “. . . has streaks of the angry postwar nihilism of Anouilh and Sartre: the hopeful theme of rejecting fear and social coercion leads only to amoral fragmentation in the last act. But it is extraordinary: a howl, an imperfect and painful philosophical struggle, part of a remarkable artist’s testament.

Honour to the little theatre.”

Libby Purves, The Times

Emily Wallis as Mary

Mervyn Peake achieved international cult status with his Gormenghast trilogy of novels, informed in part by his traumatic experiences during a journalistic assignment to Belsen concentration camp. But he was also a poet, illustrator and playwright. A selection of his plays is to be published by Methuen next year to mark the centennial of Peake’s birth.

Peake fans, impatient to explore the entire oeuvre and understand the complex ?man behind it, may welcome Camberwell’s Blue Elephant Theatre world première of Peake’s stark manifesto, The Cave. The script had lain all but forgotten after the failure to excite critics of The Wit to Woo, the only play of Peake’s to be staged in his lifetime.

Sebastian Aguirre as Harry

Today’s audiences may well agree that the novels are greater but they will appreciate anew the very visual nature of Peake’s imaginative talent which perfectly suits the stage. The play wins us over from the start with designer Talulah Mason’s atmospheric set which uses swathes of pale material to evoke the rugged roof of a cave. Beneath it, six characters enact Peake’s disturbing take on human nature in the tense relationship of the artist, perforce paradoxically destructive, with his immediate community.

The character of the artist-writer is the entranced Harry (Sebastian Aguirre). Ostensibly the gentler of two warring brothers, he is inspired and knocked off course by the steadfast, clear-spoken Mary (Emily Wallis). By turns witch, saint and muse, she rejects conventional beliefs and helps to blow apart a family for whom “the cave” is ultimately no shelter at all.

Photos by Dougie Firth.

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Opera

Review by Barbara Lewis

Hansel & Gretel

by Engelbert Humperdinck

at Goodenough College, London 21-23 October, 2010

Producer: Bloomsbury Opera

Cast includes: Eleanor Greenwood, Louise Alder/Monica McGhee, Kylie Pointer, Ben McAteer, Katrina Waters, Anna Lucy Whitehead, Alberto Sousa

Conductor: Jessica Cottis/Martin Georgiev

Director: Ian MacKenzie-Thurley

Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel & Gretel is a novelty in the world of opera in that its central characters are children – not normally associated with big, operatic voices. Bloomsbury Opera, as part of the annual Bloomsbury Festival, does not finesse the incongruity, but adds a healthy dose of humour to earn our forgiveness – and all in the name of good causes.

Proceeds from the first night were towards Afghan Action,  a charity that teaches carpet weaving, literacy and numeracy in Kabul, and tickets were £30 – twice the going rate for the other performances, but still budget in opera terms. Other beneficiaries were the fresh-out-of-college members of the cast, here given a chance to star, often denied up-and-coming opera performers, in much the same way as acting talent is nurtured on countless small-scale London theatres.

The low-budget theme is particularly pertinent to our austere times. The child poverty of this Hansel & Gretel, delivered in English and directed by Ian MacKenzie-Thurley, has very topical force. Rather than a contemporary setting, MacKenzie-Thurley opts for the 1970s, drawing the comparison between the strikes and unemployment of then and now.

The effect is also to force its protagonists Eleanor Greenwood as Hansel and Louise Alder as Gretel into unbecoming knitwear. Their negligent parents, performed by Kylie Pointer and Ben McAteer, are even more emphatically the antithesis of style, making the quality of the singing all the richer by contrast.

The visual stand-outs of the show are Alberto Sousa, as a full-voiced witch verging on the pantomime dame, and designer Asa Norling’s beautiful ice-cream van. It takes the place of the traditional gingerbread house and easily converts from fridge to red-hot oven – perfect for roasting small children. It’s fortunately put to better use, but even so, all the good-natured humour of this enjoyable romp and its sharp topicality cannot entirely overcome a contemporary sense of discomfort with Humperdinck’s not-quite innocent, not-quite grown-up combination of the adult and childlike.

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Opera

Review by Julia Pascal

Faust

English National Opera

to 16th October 2010

English theatre audiences familiar with Marlowe’s Faust will find Gounod’s rarely-performed 1859 opera quite a shock. The book is after Michel Carré’s Faust et Marguerite combined with Goethe’s Faust Part 1. Certainly Christopher Cowell’s fresh translation in rhyming couplets is modern and amusing but this version’s Faust seeks romantic love with an ordinary village woman rather than a grandiose liaison with Helen of Troy. Whereas Marlowe ‘s Dr Faustus is epic, Goethe’s is almost domestic.

The star of the evening is the director Des McAnuff, famous for his production of The Jersey Boys. Here he makes a strong operatic debut in this co-production with New York’s Metropolitan Opera. His Faust is a critique of our times – the dangers of science, the twentieth century as a cycle of wars. The programme notes allude to the hell of Hiroshima.

McAnuff puts Mephistopheles in charge of a human laboratory where technicians in white coats survey all, the stage sets representing varying levels for mass observation. Robert Brill’s clean design is a monochrome set of stairs and walkways on which we are made continually aware of those watching and those being watched. Peter Mumford’s expressionist lighting gives us moments of George Grosz, for instance when soldiers returning from Flanders’ battlefields are revealed as emasculated and terrified. There is a telling directorial moment when a soldier becomes hysterical with shell-shock after a photographer’s camera bulb flashes.

Musically this is a triumph. Toby Spence (Faust), Iain Patterson (Mephistopheles) and Melody Moore (Marguerite) have each stage authority and vocal relaxation rendering seamless their acting and singing. There is also a bravura performance from Anna Grevelius as Marguerite’s would be lover Siebel and a charming merry widow from Pamela Helen Stephen.

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Theatre

Review by Dido Gwynne

Hamlet – House OF Horror

Westminster Theatre Company

Director: Chris Barton

At The Old Red Lion Theatre, London

until 4 September 2010

The guy sitting beside me was drinking a Grolsch, and I was desperate enough to ask for a sip. The heat in the small Red Lion space was infernal – rather appropriate for the piece I was about to experience.

The first song gave it to us straight: ‘We can only disappoint’. That’s usually the case with Hamlet after one’s umpteenth exposure (and a regular London theatre goer is likely to have had umpteen exposures). It takes verve and original vision to make you see it anew. Or a spell-binding skill with the text (but that’s not something many performers trouble with these days). Here, AXE (the musicians participating in the production) and the actors seemed to be daring us to be under-whelmed. But thanks to the sheer exuberance and commitment of the performers, and the witty lyrics of AXE’s songs, I wasn’t under-whelmed.

Hamlet – House OF Horror wants to make your hair stand on end, and in terms of atmosphere it often succeeds. That first song continued ‘pray for the break of day’, and as the spectral-faced cast assembled, they exuded a sense of malignant intent towards the audience that truly chilled me. The ghost of Hamlet’s Father, rising from a seething mass of souls in hell and pin-lit by a torch, had a similar effect.

Some of the actors appeared with their hair standing on end as if in fright at finding themselves catapulted through this most ghost-ridden of plays. Louis Lunt’s Hamlet seemed an un-nerving cross between Shock-Headed Peter and Edward Scissorhands, his hair streaked with red to perhaps suggest the burning rage within. Queen Gertrude (played by Addison Axe) sported a busby of flame. All of the performers had whitened faces. This served to take away subtlety of expression, but what the hell. This was a Shakespeare charade, a sulphurous masquerade, acted out by a troupe of inmates in an insane asylum.

Though entertained and intrigued, one question kept occurring to me: why? What exactly was the point of this interpretation? What did it add to my understanding of the original? Not finding an answer, the evening risked being like nothing more than a spine-tingling romp through a very complex and demanding play.

No such question troubled the chap with the Grolsch, however.

‘That was awesome,’ he said as the lights faded on the House of Horror and the audience exploded. He downed his beer and made off into the night, one satisfied punter among many. So listen to him and them, not me, and take your chance with this irreverent and lively production.

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See www.hamlethouseofhorror.com

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Opera – English National Orchestra

Review by Julia Pascal

Mozart’s Idomeneo

at the Coliseum, London

until 9 July 2010

What a weird production muttered several members of the crowd as they left the Coliseum at the end of Katie Mitchell’s staging of the ‘Greek’ opera which Mozart wrote when he was 24. It bore many of director Mitchell’s trademarks: the flat-on tableau effect, the use of video and film, the hyperactive stage business as if she can’t bear to let the actors stand still and sing.

Instead of setting this drama in antiquity, she and her designers, Vicki Mortimer and Alex Eales, place it in a corporate world which – except for the blue sea-scape barely contained behind a wall of window – could be modern London. It’s certainly refreshing to see an eighteenth century opera concerning ancient Greece transported to today’s City but sometimes the conceit flips into the bizarre, even the ridiculous and the risible. However Mitchell can probably justify it. Idomeneo’s plot is based on the murderous whim of the god Poseidon, and a narrative based on superstition permits such a completely free interpretation.

Mitchell directs the singers as if they are actors. Often they sing almost facing upstage, flouting the conventional demands of the proscenium arch. The principals’ arias are interrupted by an endless parade of servants carrying trays of drinks, or secretaries carrying files and notepads across the stage, the intended effect perhaps being to simulate a constantly-moving hierarchical society. The device has its strengths but I can imagine that it maddens the singers. As far as the audience is concerned, it certainly distracts from the opera’s key moments. What it does offer is a sense of ensemble which pays off in the less busy choral scenes.

Paul Nilon is compelling and forceful as Idomeneo; Robert Murray as his son Idamante is an especially fine actor. But the evening is dominated by the warmth of Emma Bell’s voice and her funny, sexy Electra.

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Opera – Hampshire

Review by Barbara Lewis

Prokofiev – The Love for Three Oranges

Grange Park Opera, Hampshire

English Chamber Orchestra. Conductor: Leo Hussain

until 4 July 2010

Opera plots tend to the implausible – but Sergei Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges takes that premise to extremes. First performed in 1921 in Chicago, when jazz and surrealism were springing to the fore, Prokofiev drew on fairy tales for a train of events that mocks operatic taste for emotional extravagance and tragedy on a grand scale. His quirky melodies and mad humour are not necessarily to the liking of those looking for emotional sweep, but an exhilarating march and youthful exuberance are in keeping with the glorious unreality of country house opera.

Director/designer David Fielding’s production in the former orangerie at Grange Park in Hampshire before an audience of picnickers in evening dress, piles up the absurdities, underlining the incongruity of a passion for three oranges. The hero travels the globe in their pursuit in a Dr Who-style police box. The oranges turn out to be three for the price of two giant “Innocent” cartons. Out of them springs the future queen Princess Ninette (Rosie Bell), a combination of sweetness and vocal strength. Her love-struck prince (Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts) has a voice whose appeal defies his comic lack of physical cool, while his father the King of Clubs (Clive Bayley) establishes his authority with a powerful bass. Of the charismatic supporting cast, Francisco Javier Borda, as the cook who protects the oranges, raises one of the best laughs of the production as the depth of his singing contrasts with his cross-dressing and platinum blond wig.

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Theatre – London

Review by Julia Pascal

Iram

devised by Ofira Henig and the Herzliya Ensemble

Barbican Theatre 19-29 May 2010

Photo: Gerar Alon. L-R: Naomi Fromovich-Pinkas, Yoav Hait, Sylvia Drori, Nimrod Bergman

This innovative production is based on the short stories of Sholem Aleichem (1859-1916). They were originally written in Yiddish, a language spurned for decades by the modern state of Israel. After the Holocaust, Yiddish was judged to the be sound of the ghetto and the victim. Modern Hebrew was made the official language for the New Jew. Yiddish was a foul memory of annihilation.

So the presenting of these Yiddish stories in the language of the Zionist state is an act of defiance and reclamation. It has deep political and social relevance. And, although the West knows Aleichem mainly through the Broadway hit of Fiddler on the Roof, the violinist that starts Iram, is no schmaltzy Yid but the storyteller in a tough shtetl.

It’s clear from the first image of the fiddler playing an imaginary violin that this will be no sentimental nostalgia trip for Jewish life in nineteenth century Eastern Europe.

Ofira Henig, who adapts and directs, takes a scalpel to the traditional Chagallian imagery. She places the narrative in the imaginary city of Kasrilevke. Here there are no sweet images of boys learning Talmud. The students are beaten by the rabbi whose own personal tragedy is his deformed daughter. Yes there are some jokes, and a good one about Rothschild, is at the centre, but the aesthetic focuses on the sharp horrors of Jewish life in the Pale rather than its joys.

The aesthetic is both modern and of its time. Henig has created a strong ensemble. She dresses the headscarved women in modern coats and men’s trousers under their frocks, a look which today would be taken for London Muslim-chic. And of course, for Barbican audiences, the visual links between 19th century Jewish pious women and 21st century orthodox Muslims, is not lost.

Henig’s theatre is influenced by Brecht and Grotowski. She uses the movement chorus to suggest the endless journeys from persecution and ultimately to the death camps. The actors deploy the body to transmit a vanished Yiddish world of rigidity, dietary rules, poverty, ambition and dreams, a lost world of rage-filled poetry. Henig’s seering images of love, pain and loss are astonishing.

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Julia Pascal

on

Ofira Henig

This is Ofira Henig’s second successful London production at the Barbican and there is a third being discussed. Henig studied directing in Tel Aviv but before that she wanted to be a lawyer. ‘I was a socialist and I wanted to make the world better’. Before enrolling in law school she got addicted to culture and, after her first classes in directing, ‘I felt I had found my home’, she says.

Invited to the Habimah Theatre, she worked as a resident director at Israel’s National Theatre for five years. Israeli theatre is still a new art form. As Jewish theatre is rooted in nineteenth and twentieth century Yiddish culture, theatre for the Hebrew-speaking audience has tended to be naturalistic, political or a straight representation of the classics.

The style tends to be declamatory. But Henig’s work is not in this vein. She has a more European, surreal sensibility. She studied opera at the New York Met for a year and it’s s clear from her directing style that she has an interest that goes beyond just serving the text. She worked with Peter Brook, and was influenced by seeing Tadeusz Kantor’s The Dead Class, and her choice of subject matter reveals a political dimension clearly related to that early aim of wanting to change the world. For her, theatre is what happens when the text stops and the action goes on. She exploits the plasticity of the actor’s body and she extends the tension of a text beyond the words.

She has worked with Palestinian actors, most notably Khalif Natour, in Spitting Distance which was a hit at the Barbican when it toured in 2008. Her next work will also look at the connections between Arabs and Jews when she explores stories that originate in nineteenth century Arabic tales.

Henig comes across as a dynamic figure who is closely allied to her actors. Many in her ensemble have worked with her for up to twenty years and she is not a director who goes to the first night and then abandons her troupe.

Her current tour, Iram, has upset some Israelis. She has even been called antisemitic. But this is a reaction from those who see any critique of Jewish characters as disturbing. In fact there are scenes where Henig deals with Jewish stereotypes as a way of satirising this position. Unfortunately some of her audience may not understand that she is lampooning the images of Julius Streicher and the early caricatures of Jewish moneylenders so common to English antisemitism.

Henig is a gifted researcher of new forms. Her work is profoundly influenced by the frictions of living in a country with so much daily conflict. At the end of Iram there is an image of a mother grieving for the death of her deformed daughter. It is the object she hates and loves. I couldn’t help wondering if this was also Henig’s vision of the Jewish past.

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Opera – London

review by Julia Pascal

Tosca

directed by Catherine Malfitano

at the English National Orchestra

18 May 2010

Why is Tosca such an obsessive opera? It’s the sex, the politics and the gut-wrenching music, certainly. And what a complex female role. Of course it comes from Sardou’s nineteenth century stage text and is rooted in the revolutionary politics of the Napoleonic invasion of Italy. But Puccini’s masterpiece has a modernity which grips and still shocks.

Catherine Malfitano has sung the role and now directs in a magnificent production which marks her ENO debut. Her version points up the repressive power of the Catholic Church. She uses a raked stage in Act One giving us the full force of the Church’s dominance with a heavyweight crowd of anti-revolutionary Catholics advancing menacingly downstage.

This is a strong production team with innovative visuals. Costume designer Gideon Davey’s enormous top hats worn by the dictator Scarpia’s lackeys are breath-taking..This image, with its slight distortion and ability to hide individual features cleverly evokes an anonymous army of martinets serving the dictator Scarpia. There are key moments where the marriage of lighting, décor and costume fuse to serve the director’s take on the struggle between individual freedom and the hegemony of the terrorising state. David Martin Jacques’ lighting isolates the individual in crisis while at the same time keeping focus on society as a whole. He is a master of back and side lighting and offers several disturbing psychological insights.

The last act deploys an upturned half moon, an inventive setting by Frank Philipp Schloessmann. This allows a plasticity of movement and bursts of fun with the cast running up and down the curved walls: quite unexpected just before the final ironic tragedy. Malfitano makes us laugh just before she tightens her hold on us with the tragic end.

As for the performances, Anthony Michaels-Moore is an exciting Scarpia. Julian Gavin’s Cavaradossi has us believing that he actually is a painter. He is a strong actor and a compelling singer. Gavin outshines Amanda Echalaz’s Tosca, bringing a huge presence and back story to the performance which Echalaz does not quite equal.

But this is quibbling in an evening which is stimulating, poignant and moving. This production has such a synthesis of conception and execution that, as soon as the curtain came down, I wanted to see it all over again.

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Theatre – London

review by Julia Pascal

Delusion

Written and performed by

Laurie Anderson

Barbican Theatre

Photo: from album cover Strange Angels (1989)

Laurie Anderson starts with, “I’m going to tell you a story,” but her monologue is no linear narrative. Previously her performances have ostensibly developed from thoughts about Melville’s Moby Dick and, in a later work, about the first Moon landing. (She was NASA’s first artist in residence.)

Delusion is a mixture of memory, philosophy and the occasional joke, with screened imagery and musical interludes. As ever, her deceptively simple performance is complex, multi-layered, sophisticated.

She invents an alternate, synthesised, ‘male’ voice and engages in a dialogue with it, with the masculine world that judges women’s behaviour. The result is wickedly amusing. She plays with language and engages us in her game. “Why do we say, ‘my back hurts and not my front? Why do we tell a story back to front? Why do we not say, ‘I’ve got to get off my front?’” “No wonder women are always crying. It’s because they’ve lost half their names.”

Delusion ends in a meditation upon death. She describes her relationship with her mother and their last encounter when her mother lay dying. What was she to say given that she knew that she was never loved? With the help of the priest, an Egyptian Jew who converted to Catholicism, she struggles to offer her mother some final words of solace. But it is too late.

Her thoughts on the subject of motherhood include a riff on her giving birth to her dog which she has sewn into her own stomach. Of course this is a dream. The symbolism suggests the plot of The Call of The Wild in which a sled-dog’s primordial instincts return: Anderson recognises her impulse towards liberty.

Her oneiric world is replete with American cultural references. Her America is a land of the individual forging a new life in a deserted landscape. From a hundred John Wayne movies we all carry the familiar images of the lonesome cowboy riding into the sunset. Anderson upstages this by presenting a vision of the lone American woman framed against haunting, empty American skies.

The performance is like a dream which stays in the mind long after it is over.

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Theatre – Dublin

Review by Barbara Lewis

The Birthday of the Infanta

by Oscar Wilde

Bewley’s Café Theatre, to April 8 – May 8

Oscar Wilde’s bitter-sweet short stories are particularly well-suited to the Bewley’s Café Theatre’s short but sweet lunch-time format. Following on from previous adaptations of The Happy Prince and The Remarkable Rocket, the upstairs room of Dublin’s famous art deco café is staging a 50-minute version of The Birthday of the Infanta.

All the better to draw in full-house audiences, it coincides with the city council’s One City, One Book festival that celebrates Wilde throughout April.

True to the spirit of Wilde, Bairbre Ni Chaoimh’s adaptation, which she also directs, is brittle and amusing from the start.

Jill Murphy is perfectly-cast as a doll-like, spoilt, childish infanta, who thinks it entirely unreasonable that a princess should only have one birthday a year – just like poor people.

Natalie Radmall-Quirke, as her maid/guardian towers above her, content with only limited attempts to make her less insufferable.

As the grief-stricken king, Oscar Hernandez Rodriguez contributes a genuine Spanish accent and, in an apposite piece of doubling, is also the hunchback whose heart the infanta inevitably breaks.

Suddenly, all the innocent, birthday excitement of the outset gives way to an overwhelming sense of the pain of life to come.

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Theatre – Dublin

Review by Barbara Lewis

The Tinker’s Curse

written and performed by Michael Harding

Bewley’s Café Theatre, to April 2010

Photo: courtesy Bewley’s Café Theatre

At one point in his latest work, Irish actor and writer Michael Harding claims to be “only part-traveller” – and his audience might find itself wondering whether that could be true.

In fact, he is all artist, but his close work with the Irish travelling community makes him an honorary member and ambassador, convincing as the part-settled narrator of his one-man show The Tinker’s Curse.

Based on some 30 hours of recordings of members of Ireland’s travelling community that Harding initially made into a book, his play captures the joys, sorrows and idiom of a people estimated to be more than 20,000 strong, or the equivalent of 0.6 percent of the population.

“I’m very loyal to the rhythms and music of the language. The rhythms are innately theatrical. It’s full of irony and subtlety and playfulness,” said Harding, with good justification.

The story he tells is mostly invented, but the essence of it is true down to the heart-broken words of a bereaved mother. “Every line, every phrase is verbatim from the mother of the baby,” said Harding.

His 60-minute show has played to full houses at Bewley’s Café Theatre in central Dublin, where it continues until April 3.

Harding then hopes to take it on to the road.

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Theatre – Dublin

Review by Barbara Lewis

Sticks and Stones

by Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan

Director: Les Martin; Cast: Owen Mulhall and Laurence Lowry

Bewley’s Café Theatre

Photo: courtesy Bewley’s Café Theatre

The prospect of losing Bewley’s, one of Dublin’s favourite institutions, which closed briefly in 2004, caused an outcry so great it made it into parliamentary debates.

Several years on, the 1920s art nouveau café in Grafton Street, a stone’s throw from Trinity College, is still serving its famous coffee, tea and cakes on its lower floors and theatre and music in a pleasantly shabby upstairs room. I’ve yet to regret a visit.

Evening musical performances range from folk to jazz. Theatre is performed at lunchtime and the roughly hour-long shows come complete with soup and soda bread.

The latest offering, Sticks and Stones by Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan, has all the right ingredients and needs only a pinch more seasoning.

As the sounds of the shoppers in Grafton Street below fade away, we’re transported to downtown Los Angeles and the office of a cool, calculating, razor-sharp lawyer (played by Owen Mulhall) who has just been presented with the defence challenge of a life-time.pReview by Barbara Lewisp /p The defendant, played by Laurence Lowry, is a homicide detective accused of a racist crime.

The one flaw is that it’s easier to believe Mulhall is a liberal lawyer than that Lowry is a menacing L.A. cop boiling with hatred for what he sees as African-American low-life. He doesn’t quite take us with him to the moment when he pulled the trigger, but very nearly.

Directed by Les Martin, the play’s argument is carefully constructed and made resonant by a wider debate on political correctness.

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Dance

The Place, London (and touring)

Review by Julia Pascal

Yael Flexer’s

The Living Room

Photo: ©Chris Nash: Aya Kobayashi in The Living Room

There is much humour in Flexer’s new work made with digital artist Nic Sandiland and cellist Karni Postel. As a warm-up, a small girl who could be about five years old, leads the company in an improvised movement session: we witness the change in forms made by the body between childhood and maturity. It is a charming introduction to Flexer’s group.

In the main work, The Living Room, Flexer plays with our sense of reality. The dancers become the furniture – the sofa, the chair, the table, the television, the light. Flexer herself in the role of MC introduces her choreography within the canon of modern dance. There will be ‘no chairs, thrown, jumped over or used in this performance’. The wry swipe at Pina Bausch’s Café Müller both acknowledges and protests against the huge influence of Bausch’s legacy.

When performance shifts to dance theatre and the dancers use text and speak with voices not trained for the theatre, there is a problem. The ensemble suffers from the disparity between their highly-skilled bodies and their flat vocal production. One has to question why so much attention has been given to their bodies and so little to the movement of the vocal cords.

Apart from this lapse, Flexer’s experiment has great potential. Her text flirts with the philosophical but she is never pretentious. She speaks directly to the audience and her dancers do too. The mix of the personal and the formal works well.

The star of the evening is Aya Kobayashi whose magnetism wrests ones attention away from the others in the team. While the dance sequences, often gorgeously eccentric, are without narrative, the eye can’t help but return to Kobayashi whose alluring inner narrative transcends the movement of the other dancers in the group.

Flexer certainly offers a teasing work spectacle without chairs, tables or TVs in her imaginary Living Room. I just wished that all the dancers possessed the same heightened qualities revealed in Kobayashi’s performance.

http://www.yaelflexer.com/

http://www.nicsandiland.com/

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English National Opera

Reviews by Julia Pascal

Donizetti:

The Elixir of Love

Sarah Tynan in Elixir Of Love, ENO - Photo: ©Tristram Kenton

Exported to London from the New York City Opera, Jonathan Miller’s witty interpretation of Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love is set in 1950s middle America in a roadway diner. Conductor Pablo Heras-Casdo, making his UK opera debut, is a dynamic chef d’orchestre whose musicians and singers work together seamlessly. The book adheres to all the 19th century conventions of romantic comedy, starting with the lovesick hero buying a love potion from a quack to capture the heart of a flighty young woman. John Tessier excels as the gullible mechanic Nemorino, and Sarah Tynan is remarkably moving as his object of desire, Adina. The translation from the Italian is in self-mocking American and the spirit is innocent and heady. This is a highly-entertaining production sung with gusto and ease which rockets Miller once again into the public eye.

Lucia di Lammermoor

Opening with the revival of Lucia di Lammermoor in David Alden’s provocative production, Anna Christy plays the tragic Lucia who is forced to abandon her lover to become the bitter bride of a forced marriage. Designer Charles Edwards’ faded Victorian manor establishes the disturbing atmosphere for crumbling fortunes and incestuous desires. The lighting is almost monochrome, expressionist. Lucia is presented as Alice in Wonderland, a woman trapped in perpetual childhood experiences, reminding us of the origins of our adult neuroses. Her brother, Enrico, sells her to save his wealth but resents her being with any man. In a shocking but psychologically acute moment, he thrusts his hand up his sister’s skirt to break her hymen. The poignant and cruel action anticipates the final moment when he kills his love rival by snapping his neck.

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“Telling it like it is means telling it like it was and how it is now that it isn’t what it was to the is now people.”

– Jill Johnston, “Okay Fred” [The Village Voice, May 23, 1968]

Trilogy

by Nic Green

Barbican Theatre, London

reviewed by JULIA PASCAL

January 2010

This long evening in three parts is a mix of dance, polemic, song, a feminist history lesson and a stage of naked women. It is sprawling, naive and quite thrilling.

Nic Green is a young performance artist who is amongst the few theatre practitioners currently working on that most neglected area in the arts: women.

Her show constantly changes focus but at its centre are film extracts from the 1971 New York debate between Norman Mailer and feminists Germaine Greer, Jill Johnston, Jacqui Ceballos and Diane Trilling.

The problem is that most members of the young audience don’t even know who Mailer is, nor the importance of seventies’ feminism. All around me young women were saying that they were ‘completely lost’. It might have helped if Green had first shown the whole film at the Barbican performances, allowing for discussion and debate before the performance of Trilogy.

The work opens with female volunteers dancing naked onstage and it ends with most of the audience in one massive chorus, shedding their clothes to sing Blake’s Jerusalem, the anthem of the suffragettes.

A hundred singing, naked women, reclaiming their bodies from the erotic images of advertising and pornography, produces a mesmeric final tableau, a moving search for a cultural link with the liberation struggles of the past.

Not everything works in this presentation. Often the staging is clumsy and the stagecraft raw. But better a provocative mess than a neatly crafted anodyne work.

Green has an engaging character with a mischievous personality. As a performer she has a gift for movement but her voice lacks range. In her double act with her performance partner Laura Bradshaw, it is Bradshaw who shows herself to be the more vocally-skilled. But this doesn’t matter in the end because of the work’s energy, intelligence and ambition.

The battle for parity in the arts has been neglected by our British Arts Council. In contrast, this week Nicolas Sarkozy’s right wing French government proclaimed it would demand 40% female representation at boardroom level. Our own, supposedly egalitarian society, while championing the cause of minorities in the arts, does nothing to redress the gender imbalance.

Green’s Trilogy is brave, challenging and highly stimulating, a political happening that reopens debates about women’s demand for equality. In Hollywood Nora Ephron and Meryl Streep have been calling for more female directors, writers and major roles for women. In Britain, at the rougher end of the theatre world, Green and her ensemble’s demands may be more modest but are equally fearless.

Forty years on, we still have to challenge those who use our taxes to fund theatres that even behind the scenes reinforce gender inequality.

Photo credit: http://www.bac.org.uk/press/

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I Am Yusuf And This Is My Brother

Written and directed

by Amir Nizar Zuabi

Young Vic Theatre, London

to 6 February 2010

reviewed by Julia Pascal

This is a haunting piece of Palestinian theatre which seamlessly marries the personal and the political. While the aesthetic is spare and the story simple – it opens on a stage draped with tents and a suspended bath – the end result is complex.

The narrative explores the story of two brothers before and after the forming of the state of Israel. Ali is in love with Nada but is not allowed to marry her in case she becomes the mother of fools such as Ali’s brother Yusuf. This is the central conflict in the text but it is intertwined with the larger political drama of Palestinian loss.

Sometimes the actors speak in Arabic, sometimes in English, a device used to great advantage. For instance, Arab villagers encounter a soldier representing the British Mandate. When asked to translate long English speeches promising protection, the Arab journalist translates them thus: “Lies!”

At times the simplicity of an image offers a complex reading. So, for instance, a man uproots a tree from his garden and carries it on his back so that an Israeli couple are unable to enjoy its shade or love one another underneath its leaves. In a land where plants are more than just decoration, this striking image of a tree bourne on a man’s spine has political resonance.

Throughout the play the atmosphere is dream-like even when the two brothers clown theatrically, verging on the vaudeville convention of the straight and funny man. Well directed by the writer, the production is one of both humour and tenderness, using elements of Brechtian technique and Peter Brook’s Holy Theatre. There are strong performances, notably by Amer Hiehel and Yussef Abu Warda, who play the parts of Yusuf as a young man and as an old man.

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2009-2010

Year In/Year Out

Our performing arts editor Julia Pascal considers her 2009 highlights and the year ahead.

The end of the year round-ups are everywhere. Mine are more selective as they were predicated by choice viewing rather than a critic’s compulsion to see all.

The Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man hits me as an amazing movie with the first scene completely in Yiddish. And I had thought my own work esoteric. Gene Wilder speaks Yiddish momentarily to the native Indians in Blazing Saddles. This plunges Yiddish into the indy mainstream. The Coen’s suburban US Jewish life comes out as a deeply Jewish movie close to a modern Job. Every frame held me. Why? Perhaps it was the relief that a serious study of Jewish life in the US could be seen as kind of mainstream. Does this mean that my own plays, so rooted in Jewish history and culture are validated by the Coens coming out? But of course their universe is the US and mine is England which still sees Jews as a ‘speciality interest’. What does that say about England? What does that say about the US?

My theatre visits were sporadic but the most exciting was at the opera: ENO’s highly-theatrical Bluebeard. This French conte has always fascinated me but Daniel Kramer’s production was so brutal as to draw gasps. The final scene where Bluebeard rapes his wives with a sword was the apotheosis of gynocide. This was one of the bravest theatrical moments I’ve ever seen.

At the National Theatre there is praise for Tadeusz Slobodzianek’s Our Class. Bravo for giving space to the subject matter of the murder of Polish Jews by Catholic Poles in 1941 Jedwabne. The production was flat. The problem is that I saw Tadeusz Kantor’s Wielepole, Wielepole and The Dead Class at the Riverside Studios London in the 1980s. His Polish ensemble theatre, born in the Communist era, rooted in Jerzy Grotowski’s Poor Theatre techniques and his own hidden Jewish heritage, was as shocking as Bluebeard. The National Theatre’s earnest storytelling lacked striking imagery and felt mundane by comparison. Which tells us what? That English actors who have not endured repression find it difficult to ‘live’ this kind of political reality? Or was the director striving for a downbeat ‘English’ style which was quite at odds with the material? Yes subject matter has to grab but it’s inventiveness, rhythm, eccentricity and a daring vision that remains in the memory.

This quiet time allows me to read the year’s new books. Julia Franck’s The Blind Side of the Heart was a high. And I am sad to finish YiYun Li’s The Vagrants which though written in English feels as if I am reading it in Mandarin. She is not translated into any Chinese language and therefore her critique of totalitarian China remains a luxury to be read outside her native land.

And the year ahead? A great invitation to perform my version of The Dybbuk at an off-Broadway theatre of renown but where do I find the funds to pay the cast? New York City is my aim and it’s haunted me for two years with the writing of my latest play Woman On the Bridge. A dynamic woman cop inspired one of the characters. The other, the protagonist Judith, goes to the Brooklyn Bridge to jump off it. A rehearsed reading we did at London’s Drill Hall in the autumn confirms it as a wacky piece.

Now to get it on and move the work West.

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Artist Descending a Staircase

by Tom Stoppard

Director Michael Gieleta

Old Red Lion Theatre, London

1-31 December, 2009

Reviewed by Barbara Lewis

Tom Stoppard

Artist Descending a Staircase, Tom Stoppard’s sardonic celebration of avant-garde art, young love and dotage, was originally a 1972 radio broadcast. It was first performed as a stage play in Islington in 1988. Two decades on, it’s back in the borough, not at the King’s Head where it was initially staged but at the Old Red Lion, another well regarded pub theatre a stone’s throw away.

It is a tribute to director Michael Gieleta’s reputation that he was granted the rights to the play and Stoppard’s rehearsal attendance to make new edits. Gielata’s intimate production relishes the quality of the playwright’s precisely chosen words, intellectually satisfying humour and clever plot switches in time: the cast of seven portrays three artists in old age, and their younger selves, and the blind young woman whom they each once wooed.

The tragi-comic momentum builds with the entry of the aging artist, Donner (Edward Petherbridge). He is withering in his scorn of fellow artists and life-long friends Martello (David Weston) and the older Beauchamp (Jeremy Child). Their bickering, based on years of familiarity, descends bathetically from a critique of Dada to arguments about who used his face flannel to clean the bath.

A Stoppardian telescoping of all of life’s experience takes us back to the halcyon days of the three characters’ youth when their twin obsessions of art and love were taking hold. The object of all their affections is the doomed Sophie, played with doll-like sweetness by Olivia Darnley.

When, for instance, the younger Martello (Ryan Gage), laughs silently as the blind Sophie attempts to pour out tea, it is comedy to him but tragedy to the love-struck young Donner (Max Irons). Meanwhile sexual success belongs effortlessly to the indifferent young Beauchamp (Alex Robertson) – but even then only fleetingly.

Sophie is an embodiment of the premise that love is blind. She first glimpsed each of the young men at an art exhibition before completely losing her sight. Because of an obscurely seen painting he was standing in front of, which she can vaguely describe, the men assume that her preference was for Beauchamp. One of the play’s teases is that they all may have been wrong.

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Archives

Theatre Reviews by Patricia Morris

The Young Vic

Kafka’s Monkey

reviewed by Patricia Morris

Director – Walter Meierjohann

Adaptation – Colin Teevan

Set – Steffi Wurster

Costume – Richard Hudson

Light – Mike Gunning

Sound & Music – Nikola Kodjabashia

Movement – Ilan Reichel

Cast: Kathryn Hunter

The Young Vic director Walter Meierjohann has based this superbly crafted production on a satirical short story called Report to an Academy (1917) by the Jewish, German-speaking Franz Kafka (1883-1924). It has been beautifully adapted by Colin Teevan with wonderful sound and music by Nikola Kokjabashia.

The story lends itself to a stage production as it is written in the form of a lecture to an audience by an ape (not a monkey in fact, which is quite a different creature on the evolutionary scale). This humanised animal was supposedly captured, or rather, enslaved, five years previously in Africa. He gives an account of how, since then, he trained himself to appear to be a man.

Report to an Academy has long had a stage life. Amongst recent productions in English translation there have been the Royal Court Theatre’s production of Kafka’s Chimp (1993) with Howard Goodman performing and directing himself as a large gorilla with body padding and a 14 inch neck (- his work was reprised in 2007 by BBC Radio 3); and the Canadians based a successful opera on it, Kafka’s Chimp (1996) by composer John Metcalf and librettist Mark Morris. But in Germany it is much better known and is often performed.

Given that Kafka’s short life was lived in Prague, in what we knew until recently as Czechoslovakia, it may seem curious that he wrote in German. At the time the region was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Jewish community spoke German, regarded themselves as German and fought on the side of the Germans in World War I.

Director Meierjohann’s interpretation of the story is familiar and also fitting in this year of our celebration of the 200th year of Darwin’s birth. The ape, movingly played by physical theatre actress Kathryn Hunter as a double-joined, sprightly simian, describes how he was shot, disabled, and caged by Gold Coast hunters. On the voyage back to Europe he realises that if he wants to survive the world of men, he’ll have to become as they are. He does this first by learning to drink alcohol and imitating their manners and mannerisms, then later learning to speak. Once on dry land he has the option of being put in a zoo to be gawked at or joining a vaudeville act. He chooses the latter and it is as an acrobatic entertainer, with both poignancy and comic insight, that Hunter plays an ape aping a man.

Kafka’s sub-text addresses two main debates: the distinction between freedom and survival, and the difference between civilisation and animality. The ape apes the ways of men, says the ape in the play, not because therein lies freedom from a benighted bestial state but because posing as a man he is less likely to be abused or slaughtered by men. In his oblique references we understand that both as an “animal” (which of course a human being is) and as a “human”, one is vulnerable to abuse and attack from men if one is ostensibly not one of them.

Confronted with the play’s surface satire, an audience may well be roused to feel tender shame about our human brutality – especially towards lesser creatures, whether human or not. The production asks us to open our hearts and minds to the evidence that despite the chasm which separates us, we may discover via this rare talking instance of Otherness that in fact some of their best attributes are quite akin to our best attributes. There is much both to laugh at and to feel chastised about as we are shown man’s evolutionary proximity to the ape.

But something about this kind of transmutation of Kafka’s text in the end leaves a slightly bitter taste in the mouth.

The fact is that apes do not speak, and are not human, and to ignore this in the story-telling is to ignore the central premise of Kafka’s Report to an Academy.

As long as the text is interpreted so that an actor has to go to the zoo to study ape behaviour in order to play an ape playing a man, these productions will always, ironically, consolidate the audience’s inclination to make a distinction between “them” and “us”: the play need not disturb our certainty that there exists such a clear distinction.

This is a very different interpretation of Kafka’s Report from one which finds that a human being is always a human being even when he appears to you to be an ape.

A more accurate examination of the meaning behind Kafka’s original text might be to tackle the difficult task of showing not an ape pretending to be a man but a man (or woman) pretending to be an ape pretending to be a man. Then we may begin to grasp the thinking behind Kafka’s report on difference, equality, and prejudice.

In Report, it is suggested that while he is an ape, men treat him as fair game in more ways than one. Then “as a man” the ape finds himself living in virtual isolation, supplied with a bewildered female ape to use as a sexual companion: there are critical limits to society’s accommodation of the outsider.

Much like, it seems, others before it, the Young Vic’s production does not address an implied preoccupation in the short story (as also in Kafka’s Metamorphosis). This is that one of the reasons for a character’s alienation is that society regards homosexuality as bestial.

Given the popularity of Kafka’s Report in Germany, perhaps equally pertinent is that after Kafka’s death in 1924, Max Brod, one of his circle, proposed that the mystifying story was about the social position of Jews in Prague. It is this interpretation apparently which has lingered in Germany.

Jews in most of the Austro-Hungarian Empire were restricted by either custom or law to the Jewish quarters of towns unless they gave up their religion and cultural identity. There lies the parallel with the ape in the Report giving up his ape identity to become accepted – but never successfully – into the world of humans. Obviously Kafka, more than anyone, would have guessed how the story’s satirical underbelly could be ignored and the piece used to confirm an audience’s anti-Semitic views – ironically ensuring the text’s longevity.

The Report to an Academy originally appeared in 1917 in Der Jude (The Jew), a monthly periodical with a serious political agenda, published by the Austrian philosopher, Martin Buber. Buber had launched the publication the year before with the support of Max Brod, Hans Kohn, Robert Weltsch and his cousin Felix Weltsch. In the 1920s and ‘30s in Berlin, the political philosopher Felix Weltsch also published a twice-weekly paper Juedische Rundschau (Jewish Review) edited by Robert Weltsch. Before it was closed down by the authorities in the 1930s, it was one of the few publications openly critical of the Hitler regime’s institutionalisation of anti-semitic activities. Felix Weltsch and Max Brod escaped the Nazis in March 1939 and, like Buber in 1938, settled in British-occupied Palestine (which at the time referred to the regions today constituting both Israel and Jordan). Martin Buber, with Robert Weltsch and Albert Einstein, were all active together in Brit Shalom, the organisation advocating a bi-national Palestine for Jews and Arabs to live together instead of in a two-state solution. As we know, their views were rejected: in 1948 the land was divided so that the Arabs would have the much larger state of “Jordan” and the Jews would have – supposedly – “Israel”. The rest is history.

Kafka’s Report was first accepted for publication in this serious and mature context. It suggests how multi-layered a reading of the story needs to be and that his intention was remote from evoking pity for the underdog or providing vaudeville entertainment.

But true to Darwin’s theory as well as to the stage, since Kafka’s death the Report’s productions have proceeded to evolve on a branch all their own.

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Seen and reviewed 19th March 2009
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Royal Court Theatre

Over There

by Mark Ravenhill

reviewed by Patricia Morris

Director – Ramin Gray & Mark Ravenhill

Designer – Johannes Schütz

Lighting – Matt Drury

Sound – Alex Caplen

Cast – Harry Treadaway & Luke Treadaway

A literal interpretation of this production allows for its enjoyment as a  smart-arsed farce exploring nurture over nature, using twins to examine the different consequences of being raised in a capitalist or socialist environment. In the theatre I happened to sit next to a teenage boy who all the way through hooted with excited laughter at the naughty, absurd bits.  Yes, it is an hilarious absurdity that our nurturing enthralls us to different sets of values – but as sure as night follows day, the fittest, the most cruel, will overpower the other. Eat or be eaten. This is not so funny.
Beyond the farce, Ravenhill offers something important.  By deconstructing the process of theatre, he explores issues which lead down, like the steps at the front of the stage, to our everyday existence.  He has pared down to essentials the notion of a staged work, minimising the assumptions that the audience and the playwright can bring to the theatre, tightly integrating the writing and the detail of the onstage “business”. And so he can pack in much more.
To start with, there is a prologue anticipating the end, a lightly amusing statement distinguishing stage from screen: he starts with a scene from a film as it were, not any film but, according to the “sound-track”,  the “dominant” film that first conquered the world, the American Western and all it stands for – or, here,  its updated version where there’s a dude in a roadhouse diner being seduced by a sexy country waitress with bursting buttons.
The stage is a claustrophobic plastic box with no exits or entrances aside from those stairs into the audience, and almost the only props appear to be stacks of supermarket boxes.  The plastic-lined space looks perfect for hosing down later on: the messy, bloody world we live in entirely understands the need to cater for such eventualities.  Like the gun on the wall in times of yore, the pristine opening presages the mucky end.
What about the sets and scene changes?  A character turns on his heel and turns again – and time and place have changed.  There is no time to lose.  The Berlin Wall?  It is a pile of cardboard boxes of branded commodities. It falls down. We need a mirror in which our East and West Berlin characters can admire their shiny western transformations.  No we don’t need a mirror because we have cast a twin.? ?What about actors? Shall we get some mega-famous Method actors? No, get one nerdy-looking guy, doubled, who can remember his lines. The audience knows how to fill in the rest.
Do we need multi-lingual actors, you know, east, west etc?  No, invent an impromptu language when needed. Everyone will understand.??And do we need kaka, semen, blood? No, we’ll use the gunk that is the apogee of Western food – spreadable chocolate paste, spurty mustard, squirty ketchup.
What about characters? We’ve already got the one man split into two.  When a gender change is required, just throw on a wig and some gender indicators – high heels, breasts, bottom. After the guffaw, the person is seriously the wo-man. What about a child?  We’ll use a little sponge. A minute later when the inner giggle subsides, nobody doubts that the sponge is a child. Does theatre need a cast of thousands?
Ravenhill walks a knife-edge with these constant abbreviations of convention, and his achievement is that all of it works, subtly interrogating what theatre is and what theatre is for. Most refreshing is his reliance on the audience’s intelligence and imagination to add the padding which in conventional theatre consumes useless space.  There is airy room for miniscule detail and observation about how we are all split into a thousand fragments, both foul and fair.

Despite our Aristotelean impulse to repair and connect – to become one – either our cruel selfishness or our envious submission doom us to fail.  Each of us is to blame for our being each alone in this world. We are divisive, disgusting, and in despair, yet for Ravenhill at least, worthy of pity, possibly love.

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Seen on 6th March 2009
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Royal Court Theatre

A Miracle

by Molly Davies

reviewed by Patricia Morris

Director – Lyndsey Turner

Designer – Patrick Burnier

Lighting – Nicki Brown

Sound – David McSeveney

Cast:

Sorcha Cusack

Gerard Horan

Kate O’Flynn

Russell Tovey

At the least, this small but powerful play, ‘A Miracle’ by Molly Davies, pulls off again what the Royal Court Upstairs always does so well. This is to display to the intellectual theatre-goer – preferably via characters played by the best actors speaking in regional accents – the ostensibly alien struggle to survive that is the struggle of most people.

On the face of it, the play is composed of the predictable clichés: a semi-rural setting in a time of agricultural crisis, the firm but benevolent maternal Nan, the stress-inducing crying baby, the traumatised soldier home from the war, the brutal father, the helpless juvenile single mother, Amy, whose own mother has so little interest in her that she doesn’t even have a part in the play.

It is an indication of the quality of this very young playwright’s gift that the play grips the audience despite its televisual soap-opera components and sound-bite structure. In performance each one of the characters is entirely credible.

The ‘miracle’ of the play’s title directly refers to thDance/p/p/pe baby that gets herself born, surviving all the attempts of the pregnant girl to induce a miscarriage. But more powerfully the ‘miracle’ refers to the wonder that any one of us survives the suicidal misery we live with and the misery we cause each other.

Throughout the production one feels strongly the distinct influences of its several makers but the casting is the pièce de résistance. Each of the actors is marvelous and one expects no less at the Royal Court Theatre, but the performance of Kate O’Flynn is exceptional. She manages in just the right proportions to show the often enraging, inarticulate Amy’s torn, contradictory emotions – rough, raw, lost, trapped, and heart-breakingly fragile. It is an outstanding performance.

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Seen and reviewed on 5 March 2009

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Riverside Studios

The New Electric Ballroom

by Enda Walsh

A Druid production

Director – Enda Walsh

Cast:

Rosaleen Linehan

Catherine Walsh

Ruth McCabe

Mikel Murfi

reviewed by Patricia Morris

Writing brilliantly, like Beckett on speed, Enda Walsh enters the psyches of three sisters who obsessively act out the fantasies which sustain them holed up at home in a small fishing village in Ireland. Through them he sets out to explore the hopelessness of everyday life as well as its searing purport lodged in memories whose scars cannot heal.

The older sisters Breda and Clara were each once beguiled and betrayed by the same man, Roller Royle, a peripatetic rock singer who invited them to be amongst those who would be his one and only. Only Breda has been properly kissed. Her slightly younger sibling Clara came close to it with the same man in the car park of the New Electric Ballroom, but she was traumatically trumped at the last minute by a girl who looked like Doris Day.

Since the night of that betrayal, Breda and Clara have not stepped out of the safety of home, escaping the further ravages of the Ballroom and also village gossip about them. Their story-telling routine (partly the playwright’s deconstruction of the role of theatre in the life of the members of the audience) is intended to teach Ada, the very much younger sister, about the dangers of love.

Ada is the only one who ever leaves the house. She has a job at the fish cannery to which she goes every day and then comes straight home. At the cannery she turns fish into numbers, or numbers into fish, and there she also tries to shut her ears to the gossip about the three of them, rushing back every evening to the safety of home.

Breda and Clara live an hermetically sealed life filled with re-enactments of memories and fantasies of passion, love and rage. Ada is the one who, presumably thanks to the training received from Breda and Carla, has no passion, no love and no rage, who says she doesn’t feel ‘anything’.

They have one regular visitor, young Patsy the lonely fishmonger, scorned in the village not least for his fishy smell. He regularly delivers their fish along with high velocity orations about the minutiae of goings-on in the village. Patsy is filled with passion in the form of frustrated love and rage but he cannot find an object to which to attach his passion.

The first part of the play concerns the prelude to the moment when Patsy’s anguish triggers in Breda a need to introduce something new into their claustrophobic domestic pattern. She and Clara re-make Patsy, make him naked, wash off his fishy smell, clothe him in the glamorous gear of Roller Royle and prompt him into transforming his logorrhoea into love-song and speech. Thus do they give him the Word, teach him how to offer deliverance to Ada, to open his heart and declare his love for her as Roller Royle never did for them.

Patsy’s re-formation is the opportunity for Ada to snap out of being the cold fish which Breda and Clara have worked so hard to teach her to be. For an instant she understands love and longing.

But the re-scripting of the older sisters’ traumas is doomed to sterility. Re-birth is not easy. Walsh indicates that it is the stuff of fantasy: perhaps of religion.

Patsy, open to the world for a moment rather than only to his interior suffering, finally turns away from companionship and love, terrified that once he accepts a life in the world with Ada, she will reject and humiliate him as people always have done.

In his direction of the play, Walsh disallows us from seeing it as plot-driven: the sudden alteration in the women’s obsessive routines is not sign-posted in the script. For instance, not too much is made of the late indication that Patsy is the unwanted child of Roller Royle and the girl who looked like Doris Day. More to the point, we may deduce that Ada is not actually the youngest sister but is Breda’s daughter. If that is indeed the case, it must be that Roller Royle is her father too, which is to say that Ada and Patsy are brother and sister. They ‘cannot’ marry.

While leaving these possibilities in place, Walsh deftly avoids cementing such a causal construction in his direction. Instead he leaves room for the poetic generality of the play which is concerned with disjunction rather than concord: at the moment when the Woman is at last able to put aside her fearful knowledge to let the Man in, he cannot correspondingly put aside his own fearful knowledge. He has to run.

So Patsy abandons Ada and she learns for herself, as we all must do, the lesson which Breda and Clara have always taught her: we are each alone. After this sacrificial abandonment, she will no longer be the one who doesn’t feel anything.

The play is a tour de force of poetry, outstanding performances, and authoritative direction. It is exciting, funny, and moving. It’s no surprise that it has won so many awards.

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Seen and reviewed on 15th March 2009

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