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Theatre / Little Eyolf - Almeida Theatre
« on: December 11, 2015, 09:56:07 am »
On the positive side, this is undoubtedly a return to form for the Almeida after the questionable Oresteia and the decidedly dodgy Medea.  On the other hand, anyone spotting the names of Henrik Ibsen and Richard Eyre would be unwise to expect a triumph equivalent to the recent Ghosts.   

I didn’t know Little Eyolf until I saw this, but I see nothing to suggest that the general view of this play as a minor work compared with Ghosts, Hedda Gabler, a Doll’s House etc is unfair.  Eyre has, as with Ghosts, gone for an interval-free presentation of around 80 minutes and I have no hesitation in approving of that decision (though perhaps I’m in no position to approve, having never seen the play an any other format!).  He also, as in Ghosts, uses a variety of accents and more sensitive audience members might find the attribution of a thick Irish brogue to the strange and sinister rat exterminator (Eileen Walsh) slightly offensive. 

I haven’t read Little Eyolf carefully but it is, I think, fair to say it doesn’t quite pack the punch of Ghosts (though there are similar themes such as mismatched spouses, hints at incest and the insidious influence of class and/or wealth).  Whereas in Ghosts Eyre went in for a bit of trimming and (ill-advisedly in my opinion) gave Regina a few lines in French that aren’t in Ibsen, his Little Eyolf (described as ‘adapted from a literal translation’) seems to take a few more liberties.  Or, to put it bluntly, he seems to have sexed it up.  I had a quick look at the original online and it seems unlikely that a line like Rita’s ‘when I got your telegram….I dressed myself all in white’ and the words ‘…I took off all my clothes’ as spoken by Lydia Leonard in Eyre’s version are alternative translations of the original Norwegian.  And there’s certainly no stage direction instructing Rita to whip her tits out a few seconds later.  I have absolutely no problem with bare flesh on stage (in fact I’m more likely to be irritated by coyness in scenes that quite clearly require nudity) but scenes like this (and, to mention a couple more, the shower scene in The Hairy Ape and Genevieve O’Reilly’s topless posing in the NT’s The Doctor’s Dilemma) which have obviously been added to a classic script leave the director open to the charge of using gratuitous titillation to sell theatre tickets.  That said, the scene works well enough as far as the flow of the action goes; and, to be fair, the original itself clearly deals with several sexual taboos in a way that seems remarkably frank for the turn of the 19th/20th century) 

While Lesley Manville’s Mrs Alving would be difficult to match, the acting in Little Eyolf is of a very high standard.  Leonard manages to make the character of Rita credible, walking the tightrope of outward respectability while simultaneously suggesting the violent emotional and sexual frustration that erupts when she’s alone with Alfred (well played by the aptly named Jolyon Coy).  The parallel, and equally frustrated, relationship between Alfred’s sister Asta (Eve Ponsonby) and engineer – with, for some reason, a northern accent - Bjorne Borgheim (Sam Hazeldine) is also played out with great subtlety; especially as Ponsonby has to carry the subtext of Asta’s inappropriately fervent feelings for her sibling.  Less subtle – deliberately so – is Walsh’s pest exterminator (listed as just ‘Woman’ in the programme).  She does well but I could have done without her cute little dog eliciting ‘aahs’ from some audience members.  Billy Marlow as the eponymous little Eyolf* also impressed in his short scenes. 

As is often the case in Ibsen (eg the late General in Hedda Gabler, the sea in The Lady from the Sea) there is an unseen character.  This is 'poverty' or 'want' as embodied by the destitute wretches camped on the beach and mentioned many times by the main characters.  As I left the theatre I determined to check the original text to see that Eyre hadn’t expanded the role of this ‘character’ (especially in the ending) and I’m happy to report that it seems to be all there in Ibsen.  The final lines do come across as a bit soppy but the message is a powerful one and Eyre is to be commended for leaving it as a timeless warning rather than trying to link it to current events.

Little Eyolf is selling well but is not quite the hot ticket that Ghosts was; so it should be easy enough to see it before 9 Jan.  I don’t know if there are plans for transfer to the Trafalgar or elsewhere.  If you book for the Almeida you would be well advised to avoid the extreme right of the stalls (the side furthest from the entrance) because, as in Ghosts, they have put a chaise longue stage left at the front so if it's in your eye line you get a restricted view of anyone on it or in front of it.

*the title would appear to have a dual purpose.  Eyolf’s parents, unsurprisingly, refer to him as little Eyolf; but it also emerges that Alfred used to call Asta by that name as she would have been so-called had she been the boy her parents wanted; so, arguably, she would be 'big Eyolf'

Theatre / Here We Go - Lyttelton Theatre
« on: December 10, 2015, 09:43:26 pm »
I’ll usually go out of my way to see a production of anything by Caryl Churchill; so disappointed is a very mild word to use for my reaction to this short piece.  Several people (including actor Susannah Harker, whom I once met by chance in a theatre queue) expressed the view that Churchill was taking the mick with Love and Information – which, on one level, is a collection of scarcely connected sketches.  I liked the piece, finding its very lack of structure a positive opportunity for interpretation and directorial initiative. That’s pretty much still my view but having seen Here We Go I seriously wonder whether I was being too indulgent just because I love most things I’ve seen by this author.

Here We Go doesn’t lack structure.  Despite its brevity there are three very clearly delineated sections and they are linked by the main character – who is the only  character outside the ensemble and even then is only credited as Old Man (played by Patrick Godfrey).   No, structure isn’t missing – it’s content of any substance that (imo, of course) the piece lacks.  It not possible to say much more without describing the ‘action’ so anyone worried about spoilers might want to stop reading now. 

The Old Man is not present in the first scene, which seems to be set at his funeral reception.  The mourners engage in chit chat about his full and not entirely virtuous life and each, in a surreal aside, tells us the relative time and circumstances of their own future death.  So far, so good.  Not much going on but surely Churchill will build on it.  The second scene, presumably some time before the first, shows the spirit of the Old Man against a background of complete darkness describing, one must suppose, his experience on or after the point of death.  Gerontius it aint; nor is it particularly inventive.  He seems to describe coming across stock images like Anubis and Thoth and ruminates, inter alia, on whether he might be in purgatory.  I certainly found little food for thought in this monologue but, hey ho, surely all will be revealed in the next scene. No fear.  The next and final scene is perhaps the most meretricious thing I’ve seen on a major stage in my life.  I presume the journey back in time continues as the Old Man is now alive and in what appears to be a bedroom in a care home.  The entire scene, a third of the play, consists of his carer taking off the Old Man’s pyjamas, dressing him in his day wear and moving him from the bed to an armchair.  Then immediately removing his day clothes, dressing him in his pyjamas and moving him from the armchair to the bed. Then taking off his pyjamas, dressing him in his day wear and moving him from the bed to an armchair.  Then immediately removing his day clothes, dressing him in his pyjamas and moving him from the armchair to the bed.  Then taking off his pyjamas, dressing him in his day wear…all in complete silence (heaven knows what effect a rogue mobile phone would have on this scene but by the end I was beginning to think it might be an improvement).

If that third scene had been an installation nominated for the Turner Prize, no doubt the Daily Wail would have been up in arms.  As it was something foisted on an unsuspecting theatre audience I, and several other audience members, were up in arms.  I struck up a conversation with a very placid sounding couple on the way out and one of them said ‘it’s not often I feel cheated, but that was bad’.  I couldn't help but sympathise.  I presume the intention was to give the audience some idea of what it might be like to have ones life reduced to getting up and dressed and getting undressed and put to bed.  One might begin to wish for the end.  But this device, if such it be, is crude, obvious and above all, almost anti-dramatic. 

Absolutely not recommended, but if you insist, it runs until 19 Dec:

George beat me to it.  I was going to ask if it was the production with Catherine Zeta Jones as Mae.  The couple in Manchester did their best and it would be churlish to criticise them but Moon Faced, Starry Eyed, already wonderful just for the music, must be an amazing experience if you can cast people who are first rate singers and dancers.  I don't think I've ever seen Royal Palace but I love Lost in the Stars, have seen it at least twice and would travel a long way to see it again.  It's a bit unfashionable, I think - possibly suffering, like Cry, the beloved Country itself, from the disapproval that some people have for white artists treating of the iniquities of Apartheid.  Both the novel and the musical are, in my opinion, very moving.

The first thing to point out for the benefit of anyone thinking of buying tickets for this is that the side stalls, especially the left (low seat numbers) are at a disadvantage.  We got a side-on view, slightly obstructed by the three-storey set and, while it wasn’t that bad, I think an extra £5 for a more central position is worth it.  Somewhere central behind the first five or six rows is probably ideal (the front rows not only give a less favourable perspective on a busy stage but require you to look steeply upwards if you want to read the surtitles).  Finally, if you need to get away quickly, it’s worth knowing that  only the rear doors are used so if you are at the front you’ll have to climb back up (after the people in the seats behind you) and then back down the outside stairs to the foyer and exits.  It took us a good five minutes to get out – though if you’re really desperate you could make a run for it while the applause is still going on.

After the rather cramped production at the Young Vic a few years ago it was good to see this piece in a theatre that had a big enough stage to do it justice.  Clark Rundell and the orchestra were behind a screen at the back, playing over the action rather than upwards from a pit.  It was an arrangement that worked well and, as I expected, Rundell got a fine sound out of the RNCM Opera Orchestra (presumably talented students that he knows well from his day job at the college).  When he took his bow it was touching to see the leader (Katie Payn, according to the programme) out there with him. 

The set was a good representation of the apartment building and street where everything happens.  As mentioned, there were three floors (four if you count the cellar implied by the stairs, stage right) with a view into all the dwellings, but blinds that could be drawn if it wasn’t appropriate to be looking into any particular one.  The costumes were colourful and striking even if they did tend towards various stereotypes such as Lippo Fiorentino’s loud checks and his wife’s habit of lounging around in her slip.  And there was the odd unintentionally hilarious moment such as when Mrs Jones’s dog refused to go walkies and had to be carried off  the stage.

The performances were pretty decent with some of the voices sounding very promising.  I particularly like bass-baritone Aidan Edwards as Frank Maurant (but note, there are two casts so if you wanted to hear a particular singer you’d need to check they’re on when you go).  I was, though, a bit disappointed to see the performers were all (or, at least, nearly all) wired up – which is surely more of a Musical Theatre norm, whereas Weill was insistent that this piece is an opera.   There is, also, a small problem in the structure of the piece with the showstopping Moon Faced, Starry Eyed really calling for very skilful dancers.  Any opera singer who can also dance that well would be truly multi-talented.  Yesterday’s Dick and Mae didn’t quite fit the bill but they had a go and the audience loved it.  The applause for almost every number was also a bit of a trial for a dull old Wagnerian like me, but I didn’t let it bother me (though I thought it bizarre that the second-half highlight – the grotesquely ironic Lullaby from the two nursemaids – was one of the few ‘numbers’ that drew no applause at all.

To sum up, I enjoyed it and my young nephew and niece were enthralled so I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who can get to one of the three remaining performances:

The Concert Hall / Re: Live Concert Thread
« on: November 30, 2015, 02:52:58 pm »
It's very simple, Selva.  I found the thing so tedious that I was forced to consider the possibility that there was something about it that I didn't have the tools to understand.  After all, a music festival I visit every year and where I enjoy most of the things I hear chose to programme it so it seems unlikely that it's total garbage!

For what it's worth I find everything I've ever heard by Klaus Lang unbearably boring, but then I may not really be a musician...

Well, even if it is a 'musicians'' piece that doesn't necessarily mean all real musicians have to enjoy it, does it?

I just booked for this.  Kurt Weill insisted it was his first American opera so I’ll put it on the 'Opera House' rather than the 'Theatre' board.  The esteemed Clark Rundell is at the helm and he and the RNCM did well with Albert Herring last time I went to their ‘Theatre’ space.  It’s a bit pricey compared with student productions but this lot are usually as good as most professionals so at around £30 for good seats it compares well with most opera and musical theatre performances.  I’m going on Sunday so I’ll post a report around this time next week.

The Concert Hall / Re: Live Concert Thread
« on: November 30, 2015, 01:45:59 pm »
No Huddersfield thread this year?  I only got to one concert – yesterday’s Arditti Quartet event.  I was rather surprised to see so many free seats; not that the attendance was that bad but I thought it would sell out, especially with a nearly-new Harrison Birtwistle quartet on the programme.  The two short pieces that opened the concert were fine.  John Zorn’s The Remedy of Fortune was pretty lively with lots of pizzicato (especially in the two larger instruments) and a tricksy ending where what sounds like an Amen is followed by a few more bars.  Iris ter Schiphorst’s Aus Liebe (frei nach der Arie Nr.49 aus der Matthäus-Passion von J.S. Bach) was absorbing stuff which was actually assisted by background noises when violent gusts of wind outside pre-figured a passage later in the piece, then a rather high, wailing section was followed a few minutes later by a police siren from the ring road outside the hall!, The third piece, the longest on the programme by some way, was rather less attractive.  I suspect it was a musicians’ piece because to me it sounded almost like 45 minutes on the same note. I wasn’t alone in this.  When I came back after the short interval one of my neighbours asked the other who composed the last piece and got the reply ‘Klaus Lang…probably short for Langweilig’  For the record, it was called Seven Views of White.  Birtwistle’s piece, his String Quartet No 3, was subtitled The Silk House Sequences and lasted 30 minutes rather than the 20 estimated in the programme.  There was nothing langweilig about this, though, with more variety in the first ten seconds than in the whole of the previous piece.  With a lively opening followed by a slower passage I instinctively anticipated a sort of sonata form but it was soon clear that the structure was either freer or more complex so I just let it wash over me; and very attractive it was.  The concert is due to be broadcast on R3 on Sat 2 Jan next year.

Theatre / Re: Coming up....
« on: November 26, 2015, 12:25:31 pm »
Thanks, Jim.  I'm not sure I like this.  Has anyone seen the Broadway version?  Is it worth seeing or is it strictly for Harry and Rhonda?

The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts, 2015-16
« on: November 26, 2015, 11:10:12 am »
an attractive programme from the Youth Orchestra
Are you sure? I heard the Franck Symphony for the first time at a concert a few months ago and, well, that's forty minutes of my life I'll never get back.

I've never heard it live but I've always enjoyed his chamber works.

Which forecasts are they?
Presumably the ones that generally turn up in the UK at this time of year that can basically be boiled down to "OMG!!!1!! winter weather in winter!!!!"

I sincerely hope the weather doesn't spoil things; but the transpennine routes are particularly vulnerable - especially to snow.  It would be ironic if now that they've got the Liv-Hud journey time down to just over an hour the weather should intervene.  In theory I have four or five trains that will get me there I good time for the midday start so, unless the route is completely blocked, I should be ok.

Theatre / Re: Coming up....
« on: November 26, 2015, 10:52:07 am »
Pam Gems's Piaf is coming to Charing Cross next month.   The theatre has had some turkeys recently but I'll probably take a chance on this.  One thing that struck me, though, is that at least one of the announcements lists Valerie Cutko as Marlene Dietrich.  Now it's ages since I saw this play but I don't remember Dietrich being a character - and she's not listed in my script (Pam Gems, Three Plays.  Penguin 1985).  Does anyone know if the piece was re-written?  If so, how much of the drama is sacrificed to musical numbers?  I'm no sure I'm all that keen if it's just been turned into a vehicle for Je ne Regrette Rien, Forlink in Luff Agairn etc

Theatre / Re: The Winter's Tale - Liverpool Playhouse (Northern Broadsides)
« on: November 26, 2015, 10:29:00 am »
Are we to infer that you've seen it then, George?  I heard Dame Judi was very fine, Ken less so; but that was just one person's view of an early performance  If you've seen it I, for one, would be interested in your report.  I'm not even worried about spoilers as I think my chances of catching it are now quite remote.

The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts, 2015-16
« on: November 26, 2015, 10:22:57 am »
There's no repeat though, is there? 

Sunday afternoon brings an attractive programme from the Youth Orchestra which, unfortunately, clashes with the Arditti 4tet in Huddersfield, for which I've already booked.

Mind you, if the weather as bad as some forecasts say I might not even be able to get to Huddersfield!

The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts, 2015-16
« on: November 23, 2015, 12:01:39 pm »
Does anyone know what Rachlin's encore was? I forgot to look if there was a notice about it afterwards.

I knew there was something I forgot to mention, Mary.  There was no notice because, according to the cloakroom staff he didn't have a planned encore.  I was particularly interested because I'm almost sure it was the same piece that Alina Ibragimova played as an encore to her Tchaikovsky concerto performance:  the Ballade, Sonata no 3 by Eugene Ysaye.  The reason for choosing this piece (apart from that fact that AI has a CD of the Ysaye Sonatas for sale!) is that Ysaye supplied a cadenza for the Tchaikovsky concerto.  I'm not enough of an expert to know whether or not this cadenza is the one we heard yesterday but it would make sense. Does this sound familiar to you?

There's a link to Maxim Vengerov's performance, too, on the Liverpool Concerts 2014/15 thread.   

The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts, 2015-16
« on: November 22, 2015, 10:11:34 pm »
It was a splendid concert.  I wouldn't have said it was anything like a full house, unfortunately, but ratjherfuller than appeared if you looked at the website in advance.   

It was similar today.  The online seating plan last night made it look like a quarter of the seats (if that) had been sold; but by the time the concert started the upstairs section seemed over half full.  The rear circle was very sparsely populated, which might be evidence that the poorer concertgoers are being driven away by relentless price increases – or it could just be that lots of people had paid £14 then upgraded themselves, making the lower, costlier reaches of the circle fuller than the ticket sales suggest. 

There was a long queue of pensioners waiting for half-price standby tickets, I thought.

The half-price standby tickets would also, I suppose, favour the more expensive seats as the psychological appeal of the bigger saving might outweigh the attraction of the lower price.  Alas, that’s of mere academic interest to me for at least five years as the Phil’s ‘senior’ concessions come at 65 (presumably even later as the pension age rises) – unlike, say, the Everyman/Playhouse and many West End theatres where it kicks in at 60.

this concert is being repeated on Sunday, so perhaps people preferred the Tchaikovsky violin concerto to the Shostakovitch, which we heard?  The fools!

Or ‘the unfortunates’, perhaps?   The only reason I didn’t choose Thursday’s concert was because I couldn’t go; and the main reason I attended today’s rather unadventurous offering was because I could.  To make matters worse, the rarity on the programme - Li Huan-zhi’s Spring Festival Overture was scrapped in favour of the overture to Nabucco (presumably at the stand-in conductor’s request).  Out of interest I checked out the Chinese piece on youtube and it sounds fairly ordinary – but I think I’d still have preferred it to the Verdi.  I love Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto but, honestly, we’ve already had it this year; and, to be frank, I preferred Alina Ibragimova’s reading to Julian Rachlin’s – which was decent enough but came across as a bit mechanical.  I don’t know if the Prokofiev was the same as Thursday’s.  We got five movements that aren’t listed in the online programme – Romeo at the Fountain, Morning Dance, Friar Laurence, Morning Serenade (what on earth is a morning serenade?) and Romeo at the Grave of Juliet – at the expense of Scene (The Street Awakens) and Minuet (The Arrival of the Guests).  Anyway, the orchestra was again in fine form and they and Markovic were generously applauded.  Not a bad afternoon but I’m pretty sure I’d have preferred a repeat of Thursday’s concert.

Theatre / The Winter's Tale - Liverpool Playhouse (Northern Broadsides)
« on: November 19, 2015, 09:50:37 am »
I don’t think I’d seen a production of The Winter’s Tale before last night so I have nothing with which to compare this; but if Judi & Ken’s version at the Garrick is better it must be very, very good.

This is a modern dress production, but in a timeless story set in a non-existent place (ok it’s in Sicily and Bohemia but as it appears to be in an imaginary Bohemia complete with coastline I think we can safely say the location is unimportant) the clothing hardly matters.  What does matter is that Northern Broadsides, as always, concentrates on speaking the verse in such a way that even if some of the words might be unfamiliar the meaning is always clear.  Which is just as well because, as with most Shakespeare comedies the plot is bonkers.  Actually, the play is not a purely comic creation.  There are elements of tragedy but as they stem from Leontes (Conrad Nelson)’s jealousy, which is even less rational than Othello’s, the knowledge that the plot is obviously bonkers is rather comforting. 

The characterisation, though, is wonderful in the sense that we come to know and care about these characters – especially as they are so well acted.  From Leontes, to the wronged Polixenes (Jack Lord) and the terribly wronged Hermione (Hannah Barrie) to the faithful Camillo (Andy Cryer) and the righteous Paulina (Ruth Alexander Rubin) they set up an intriguing story in the first half which is beautifully co-ordinated with the introduction of new characters in a new country after the interval.  An apparent weakness is that the transformation of Leontes from vengeful tyrant to broken penitent is implausibly sudden; but there is a sixteen year gap between the point at which he admits his terrible faults and the magical redemption that ends the play; and Nelson plays both aspects of the king very well.  After the abrupt passage of those sixteen years (each part opens with New Year’s Eve celebrations – 1999 and, presumably, 2015) we are transported to Bohemia where we meet, inter alia, Florizel (Jordon Kemp), son of Polixenes and Perdita (Vanessa Scofield), unwitting daughter of Leontes and Hermione and mischievous Autolycus (Mike Hugo, who steals the show with his deviousness, frequent changes of accent, Bob Dylan impersonation and much, much more); Florizel and Perdita fall in love (what else would they do?) and the chain of events leading to the redemption of her father (and events even less likely than that) is set in train.  The named performers all did very well; which is not to say that those I haven’t mentioned weren’t also important contributors to a very successful production.  Probably the best-known action in the play – where Antigonus (Anthony Whitehead) leaves the baby Perdita to her fate and exits pursued by a bear* – is just one of the entertaining peripheral events.  Nelson is also credited with directing and composing the original music, which is an altogether superb effort – oh, and he wrote one of the programme notes, too.

Live musical performances from a talented cast (well, to be brutally honest, some of them were more talented than others) was a crowd pleaser though, on a rare negative note, I found the applause for individual numbers ever so slightly disruptive.  On the whole, though, I have no hesitation in recommending this.  At the Playhouse until Saturday, then on to Halifax for five days:

*I’ve always wondered if Wagner – a big Shakespeare fan – specifically had this in mind when he had Siegfried make his first entrance preceded by a bear.

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