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31
Theatre / No Man's Land - Wyndham's Theatre
« on: October 06, 2016, 12:58:31 pm »
Famous though No Man’s Land is, I don’t remember seeing it before and I haven’t read the text; and, polished though these performances are, I thought the play itself lacked the vitality and dramatic clout of The Birthday Party, The Homecoming, The Caretaker, Betrayal…or, indeed, any other Pinter play I know.  I can think of a couple of explanations for this.  One is the fact that I do tend to savour the subtleties of pieces like this after I’ve read them at least once; when the indisputable richness of the language slips into context.  The other is the possibility that the aspects of life that No Man’s Land principally deals with (obliquely, of course!) are stasis and sterility.  Certainly Patrick Stewart’s Hirst gives the impression of being in zugzwang (or, to use Pinter’s preferred cricketing metaphor, reduced to staying at the crease to achieve a draw).  He seems in thrall to drink to the extent that he is at the bottle all the time and only seems to leave the house to go to the pub, where he meets Ian McKellen’s Spooner (is this a cruel joke?  I know the characters are all named for cricketers but I can’t be the only one who was tempted to spoonerise several facets of the play in search of hidden meaning!).  Spooner, more than any of the other three characters, is of the real world.  Ostensibly a failure, he has to scrape a living as a potman in the pub while aspiring, even in his sixties, to literary success similar to that enjoyed by Hirst.  The other two characters, Foster (Damien Molony) and Briggs (Owen Teale) seem to be his secretary and his valet (and minder?) respectively.  They also seem, like Hirst himself, to be trapped in what might be the No Man’s Land of the title – Hirst’s high status but seemingly empty life.  The set itself is, presumably, Hirst’s opulent drawing room but looks uncomfortably like a vault (a word I selected because it hints at a banking connection though I mean it principally in the sense of a luxurious burial chamber).  I said earlier that Spooner is ostensibly a failure but I suspect the audience is meant to see his attempts to ingratiate himself with Hirst as ill-advised.  I suppose his poverty would incline him to put himself forward as a replacement for Foster, or as an agent (with the rather pathetic suggestion that he can arrange literary events in a room above the pub – for the benefit of a writer who lives in a Hampstead mansion!).  Spooner seems to sense the danger at the start of the second act when he realises he has been locked in overnight but a champagne breakfast is all it takes to make him persist in his attempts to join Hirst’s retinue.  By the end he still hasn’t succeeded in leaving. 

The two principal performances are very good but it must be said they are a gift for old stagers like Stewart and McKellen – they get to be mannered and realistic at the same time because they are playing very recognisable (to me, anyway) types whose every gesture and utterance in real life looks and sounds like it has been rehearsed meticulously.  The others were less successful – certainly Briggs is a pussycat compared to McCann in The Birthday Party (or more or less anyone in The Homecoming); though I’m still unsure whether it’s the actors, the direction or the script that’s to blame.

My reservations notwithstanding, it’s worth making an effort to see this – though the star casting means the audience might be a bit distracting.  At the performance I saw there seemed to be a lot of people chortling away every five minutes lest anyone think they didn’t realise some lines were meant to be comic.  The German next to me found this very confusing.  Tickets are expensive and hard to come by in the usual manner but they do have £20 front row day seats and as it gets further into the run you might no longer need to queue from before 0800 to get one.  I got a £10 standing place (back of the Circle) quite late in the day and the view of the simple, static set is fine, though you might struggle to read facial expressions.  At £10 for one of the most popular plays in town, though, it’s churlish to complain.  Runs until 17 Dec;

http://www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/Tickets/NoMansLand/NoMansLand.asp


32
The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts 2016 - 17
« on: October 05, 2016, 11:59:33 pm »
I nearly didn’t go to 10/10’s celebration of James Wishart’s 60th birthday.  Having just returned from a fairly lengthy trip and caught up with a backlog of work I considered giving it a miss – especially as I haven’t been that fond of Wishart’s music when I’ve heard at other 10/10 concerts.  But the ensemble has been away for some time – the free Harrison Birtwistle concert excepted – so I decided to go; and I’m very glad I did.  The concert opened with Tango in L, a dreamy, slightly off-beam tango fantasy written by Wishart for Stephen Pratt’s 50th birthday.  I have to say this was a very pleasant surprise as I liked it much more than any other of the composer’s works I’d previously heard.  Returning the compliment was Pratt’s Song and Dance, the first of three world premieres, all written to celebrate Wishart’s three score years. After JW’s dot.song (which I didn’t enjoy any more than when I heard it a few years ago) written for Robin Hartwell’s 50th came Hartwell’s After the Leaving. Liverpool 2016 – an extended conversation between percussion and strings whose title is a reference to JW’s The Leaving of Liverpool.  The last piece before the interval was Louis Johnson’s Chant: For James a very stark, imposing piece making much use of a bass drum and a theme rather redolent of the Dies Irae.  Considering Wishart has been very ill for some time and was unable to attend tonight I thought, impressive though the piece was, the similarity to a funeral march was rather unfortunate.

After the interval came the world premiere of Wishart’s 23 songs for a madwoman – a work that has clearly been a long time in the making given that the composer’s programme notes are dated 2006.  This work – a cabaret piece or chamber opera for bass clarinet, cello, piano, percussion and singing actor (or is it acting singer?) opens the musicians settled on stage and began with a little commotion in the audience where mezzo Louise Ashcroft was embedded, waiting for conductor Clark Rundell and one of the percussionists to guide her to the stage.  Ashcroft is, of course, the madwoman of the title and, hectoring tone and handbag to the fore, is clearly based on Margaret Thatcher.  As JW hints in the programme, though, it’s up to us to decide if this is Maggie herself as a patient – or an unfortunate woman stricken with delusions of Thatcherhood.  I decided it was the latter on the grounds that the piece is, after all, partly a plea for better treatment of the mentally ill.  The delivery was excellent both from the musicians and from Ashcroft .  The soloist's acting skills were very much to the fore in delivering the libretto, which comprised incoherent sounds, seemingly random utterances, various Thatcheresque soundbites and a fair bit of scatological doggerel; but when her singing talents were called upon she was up to the job.  The whole thing was rapturously received with the performers taking several bows (which is quite unusual for 10/10 who tend to head for the bar after one round of applause).

The attendance was very decent – well over 100 – though I suspect that it was boosted by JW’s friends and pupils (past and present).

For future reference there is a free James Wishart at 60 concert on Friday 18 November at the Capstone.

33
News and Current Affairs / Re: Neville Marriner (1924-2016)
« on: October 05, 2016, 12:58:04 pm »
More sad news though, as has been said, he had a good innings and seems to have been in the crease right to the end.  I didn't know about this until I got back from France.  You'd think I'd have got the news on French TV but it didn't seem to be in any of the mainstream news programmes.

RIP

34
Theatre / King Lear - Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon
« on: October 05, 2016, 12:53:43 pm »
It is rather strange that of the recent glut of 'Lears' the two I have found least impressive have been the two big names – Simon Russell Beale and, now, Antony Sher.  I had, perhaps, expected too much from Sher after his very fine Willy Loman but I’m afraid that, for me, he got nowhere near Barrie Rutter’s pathos and tenderness or Don Warrington’s sometimes terrifying anger.  Making a grand (but surely anachronistic?) entrance on a throne within a clear glass cabinet and dressed in opulent furs he delivers Shakespeare’s lines in a rather mannered way but somehow still lacking the grandiosity that belongs in some of the speeches (I thought the storm scene particularly underwhelming).  Add to that niggling little anomalies such as his failure to carry the dead Cordelia on to the stage (after having, presumably, been strong enough to kill the slave that hanged her) and it amounts to a reading that, while not exactly poor, was disappointing.  Sher’s performance, though, was not the worst aspect of this production.  Pappa Essiedu’s Edmund came across almost as a pantomime villain and Graham Turner’s Fool was extraordinarily unconvincing; exuding all the sarcasm and world-weariness of the character but without an ounce of the wit and humour that, among other things, would be what allowed him to get away with such insolence in the face of power.  Antony Byrne’s Kent was better and David Troughton’s Gloucester better still.  It’s probably significant that these were both straight down the line performances; so perhaps with some of the others it was just a question of director Gregory Doran’s imposing interpretations that I didn’t really understand.  Certainly, I thought some of the staging and the rather loud and intrusive music was rather gratuitous; so maybe I just didn’t get it.

It looks like I shan’t get to see Glenda’s King Lear at the Old Vic.  There are very few matinees and, when I went to book for No’s Knife,  learnt there isn’t a single one on a day when I’m in town.  Sher’s has another week or so at Stratford then a few weeks at the Barbican, London from Nov 10

http://www.uktw.co.uk/Tour/Play/King-Lear/T01918995916/


35
Theatre / Relatively Speaking - Tour
« on: October 05, 2016, 12:48:55 pm »
This is a very competent revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s first big success with good performances all round.  My friends who were put off by the idea of seeing Jesus and the former Mrs Stardust on stage were the losers as Robert Powell and Liza Goddard as Philip and Sheila, the older of the play’s two couples, delivered their characters with exemplary understanding and faultless comic timing.  Lindsey Campbell and Anthony Eden (couldn’t help thinking he’d have been more appropriate for The Entertainer which I was due to see a few days later!) also did well as the younger couple, Ginny and Greg, coping well with the fact that their characters’ cohabitation (and that Ginny is hugely more sexually experienced and adventurous than her fiance), still rather daring  when the play was written, would be completely unremarkable these days.  I saw the play at the Lyceum, Sheffield, with a standard proscenium set up for a standard, two location, static set.  It worked very well as there isn’t a lot of scene changing in the piece.  Indeed, a different staging – in the round, say – might not be ideal because neither the youngsters’ flat nor the seniors’ country house is something you really want to be looking right through. 

The play itself is early evidence of Ayckbourn’s talent for smuggling serious social comment into a farce that remains uproariously funny.  It is, as one would expect, less contrived than the average farce though I thought it had a very obvious weakness in that the whole structure depends on Greg not mentioning Ginny’s name in his early exchanges with Philip; but AA can’t resist using the name to bring off a very weak pun in Greg’s first encounter with Sheila.  It’s not a big thing, but I can’t remember spotting any flaws like that in his later work.

Currently playing Richmond on Thames and touring until early December. 

http://www.uktw.co.uk/Tour/Play/Relatively-Speaking/T0886287499/

36
Theatre / Re: The Deep Blue Sea - Lyttelton Theatre
« on: September 18, 2016, 01:01:18 am »
"...In fact, Rattigan was describing the life of Kenneth Morgan,

I spotted this in my research for future theatre visits:

http://www.arcolatheatre.com/event/kenny-morgan/


It probably makes more sense to mention it here than on the 'coming up' thread.  I have two possible opportunities to see it but there is a fair bit of competition from the likes of Ivanov, The Seagull, No Man's Land & Travesties.  If I am lucky enough to get decent, affordable tickets for any of them I probably won't get to Dalston; but if I do see the play I'll be sure to report on it and its inevitable connection to TDBS.

37
News and Current Affairs / Re: Edward Albee, RIP
« on: September 17, 2016, 08:49:18 pm »
Sad news.  I only really know Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf which is a very good play to read as well as to see on one of its rare UK revivals.  It’s a bit of a mystery to me why such a celebrated playwright has his work staged so much less frequently than comparable contemporaries such as Arthur Miller or even Neil Simon.  And these days we’re more likely to see a David Mamet or Neil la Bute revival than one of Albee’s works.  Even his most famous play is seldom seen – making me wonder if its fame is connected more to the universally recognisable pun in the title than to productions of the piece itself.  I regret not seeing A Delicate Balance at the Almeida a few years ago; but in general my ignorance of Albee is attributable more to lack of opportunity than to choice.  A welcome tribute would, perhaps, be a major new Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and revivals of things I only know from reading and/or minor productions in my student days:  The Sandbox, The American Dream,The Death of Bessie Smith etc.

RIP

Thanks, as always, for the fascinating background from Stanley.

38
20th Century / Re: Benjamin Britten
« on: September 13, 2016, 11:57:44 am »
Is anyone going to see this?

https://wiltons.org.uk/whatson/200-britten-in-brooklyn

I might have been tempted had I been in town on any day during the run, but there's no chance of that.  As I definitely can't see it I peeked at the reviews before the end of the run.  It seems I had a lucky escape!

39
I knew Herbert Blomstedt had been around a long time but was still quite surprised to read that he was almost 90 years old and was quite astonished to see how sprightly he looked.  Conducting, as far as I could see, without a stick or a score he took the Leipzigers through a stately Leonore 2 before the Bösendorfer and Andras Schiff were welcomed on for the central concerto.  I last heard Schiff playing Beethoven’s 5th Concerto over 20 years and I seem to remember it being more thrilling than this performance.  It  could just be that I was younger then and more inclined to be thrilled but, while it was by no means bad, I found this latest reading studied and worthy rather than exciting.  An exception was the introduction of the galloping theme of the finale which was quite explosive.  It was interesting to watch how Schiff held his hands poised over the keyboard in the gap between the first two movements to discourage applause.  And, finally, he gave us a fine Schubert impromptu as an encore.  After the interval there was a tremendous performance of my favourite symphony – Beethoven 7 – and, though it is hardly an adventurous choice (indeed I predicted it to my neighbour as the applause was dying down), a rousing Egmont overture to send us happy away.

And that’s all from the Proms from me until next year

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07qbnvz

40
Proms / Prom 57 (2016) - BBCSO, Bychkov, Kulman: Larcher, Wagner, Strauss
« on: September 08, 2016, 11:01:05 am »
Apologies for a tardy report – I’ve been a bit busy since I got back – but it’s still in time to recommend hearing the concert on i-player (though the afternoon repeat broadcasts seem to end tomorrow with the RLPO Prom).

Semyon Bychkov got a very good performance out of a very large BBC Symphony Orchestra.  Where my previous Prom had two concertos, this one had two symphonies; the first of which was the UK Premiere of Thomas Larcher’s Symphony No 2 (Cenotaph).  This was an imposing piece for which the platform was very crowded (it might struggle to get performances other than alongside similarly massive pieces like the Alpensinfonie) but it’s not, I think, too unkind to say that at over 30 minutes it’s a bit too long.  I suspect this will come across even more starkly in the radio broadcast without the advantage of being able to see how the sounds are created. However, when the percussion is in full cry it is very effective; as is, also, the contrast between the violent outbursts and the more contemplative passages (the subtitle Cenotaph is a reference to refugees lost at sea).  Richard Strauss Alpensinfonie, although considerably longer, seemed less stretched – though the task of trying to work out where we were in Strauss’s extensive, very detailed, programme added a level of absorption that made the time fly by.  Apart from the odd duff brass note, the only disappointment was that the famous wind machine was barely audible from where I was standing (quite near the front but on the opposite side from the instrument).  That is probably more a fault of the hall than the orchestra; and otherwise the performance was riveting.  Between the two symphonies we got Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder.  The choice of five rather intimate songs written for piano accompaniment (here done in the common Felix Mottl orchestration) is a brave one between two large symphonies but it worked well; and Elisabeth Kulman’s delivery was confident and attractive.  I wasn’t the only one disappointed at the absence of an encore from her.  Surely a Strauss lied would have been fine farewell and a good appetiser for the second half.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07qblwh



41
The RLPO’s biennial Prom provided some of us with a bit of mystery as well as a fine evening’s music.  I have seen Truls Mork before but I’m not very good at remembering faces so I was rather surprised to see he looked younger than when I last saw him over a decade ago.  As you probably know, the solution was simple.  The soloist in Shostakovich’s 1st Cello Concerto wasn’t Mork at all but last minute replacement Alexey Stadler.  I was unaware of this as when I left home to travel south for this Prom, Mork hadn’t yet pulled out.  Stadler rather divided opinion in the arena.  I and several others thoroughly enjoyed his reading of the concerto.  Indeed, straight after the performance I remarked, still thinking I’d heard the Norwegian, that he not only looked younger but played rather better than I remembered!  Others found his approach, especially in the brisk opening section, not sufficiently dramatic. 

Before the Shostakovich we got another concerto – the premiere of Emily Howard’s ‘concerto for orchestra’, Torus.  I, and a couple of people I met in the Arena queue, had been at the pre-concert event where EH was interviewed and introduced some of her chamber music – which was somewhat astringent and, shall we say, not exactly replete with broad melodies.  Well, some people just don’t appreciate additions to the microtonal tuba repertoire and one of my queue mates made up his mind to go for tea after the pre-concert event and aim to get to the Arena in time for the Shostakovich.  I warned him that the piece for full orchestra was likely to be very different from the stuff he’d just heard but there was no persuading him (though I suppose my letting slip that I quite enjoyed the chamber music didn’t help).  Anyway, it was his loss as Torus had a lot of very fine music in it, not least a lovely bubbly bass clarinet passage and quite a lot of very dramatic eruptions from various percussion instruments.  My other queuing companion – who hadn’t liked the chamber pieces at all – was very impressed with Ms Howard’s larger scale work. 

Much as I like Elgar, I think the Proms audience got a better deal than the Phil – which heard exactly the same programme except that they got In the South rather than Torus.  As in Liverpool, the concert proper continued after the interval with a very accomplished performance of Rachmaninov’s 3rd Symphony and, after a bit of ‘persuasion’ Petrenko and the RLPO gave us Tea for Two, just as they had done at home.  The Prom is well worth catching on the i-player or next week’s afternoon repeat.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07sxq7v



42
Theatre / The Plough and the Stars - Lyttelton Theatre
« on: September 01, 2016, 11:06:31 pm »
I can’t really say what was wrong with this production, but I had, somehow, expected it to be better; perhaps, because it is such a good read, I expected something exceptional from its realisation on stage.  One thing it did bring home to me – something I hadn’t really got from the text – was just how stereotypical are almost all the characters.  This is surely a valid reading and a deliberate policy of O’Casey’s.  From Fluther Good (Lloyd Hutchinson) the heavy drinker who goes on the wagon every five minutes to Rosie Redmond (Grainne Keenan) the tart with a heart to the strident Protestant Bessie Burgess (Justine Mitchell), the busybody charwoman Mrs Gogan (Josie Walker) and many more, all Dublin life is there.  With Oscar Wilde in mind I had to stop myself laughing at the very obvious fate of the consumptive Mollser Gogan (Roisin O’Neill).  But the trick is that O’Casey is careful not to make any individual a saint or a demon.  Even the English soldiers have their human side – while there is no hesitation in making The Covey (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) – surely the character closest to the author himself – the butt of ridicule with his harping on Marxist pamphlets.  The people who respond to fierce street battles by taking the opportunity to loot the shops; or see Burgess and Gogan fighting in the pub and immediately start betting on the outcome are the same people who respond to other difficulties with extraordinary generosity and self-sacrifice.  Such is the honesty that sparked riots when the play first appeared – and the humanity that makes it relevant nearly a century later – and this production brought that out very well.  And yet…and yet…it somehow seemed to lack the spark of the two productions of Juno and the Paycock I’ve seen in recent years.  That might just be a personal impression; but it accorded with the unprompted views of two different people I spoke to over the next few days.  It’s not at all bad, though; and in the centenary year of the Easter Rising, it’s a timely accompaniment to the bare history of the events.  The set is compact and serviceable – though I still wonder why upper floors of the tenement building seem to have been blown to smithereens.  I can’t see any mention of this in O’Casey’s very extensive stage directions.  The pub in Act Two is quite convincing, though; and, as well as the banter and altercations we see the silhouette of the orator (Christopher Patrick Nolan) through the window as he whips up the public to revolt.

The production is probably worth seeing and runs until 22 October with, it seems, quite a good availability of cheaper seats (wish I could find some of those for Ivanov, The Seagull or Amadeus!).

https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/the-plough-and-the-stars/whats-on 

43
I was rather surprised to find this the most fascinating of the three theatrical productions on my latest trip.  I’d only seen the play once before and came to the conclusion that it was rather poor, sensationalist fare.  To an extent, this is still my opinion but LTC’s production has such pace and energy that the rather morbid fixation on the amoral, selfish and unsympathetic behaviour of almost every character is not so much of a drag.  It must be said that this approach might not suit purists.  For one thing, the piece runs less than 100 minutes with no interval so, even allowing for the frantic pace, the cuts must be quite significant.  But the main plot features seem to be covered and the admirable clarity of most cast members’ delivery meant that the speed at which it was played out didn’t result in too much confusion – at least not for me; I can’t really say how easy it would be to follow if you didn’t have some idea of the plot.  The colour-blind casting of Lucy Walker-Evans as Annabella and Prince Plockey as Giovanni was, considering the fact that the main plot is predicated on their being full siblings, courageous; but it paid off as both put in fine performances.  Even finer, though, were Stephen MacNeice as a gloriously sociopathic Vasques, Sasha Wilson as a bitter and determined Hipolita and Luke Dunford’s Woosterish Bergetto.  The traverse staging in the tiny space means everybody gets a clear view except insofar as the dinner table that runs almost the length of the room must get in someone's way at any given time.  The table has a Parma ham (geddit?) as its centrepiece; and in a glass case on a shelf below is the heart that will feature in the climactic scene.  The setting is an ‘immersive’ one in the sense that the players never leave the room but skulk among the audience when not active; and the audience is invited to the party by the simple device of a liveried servant offering glasses of wine to a few lucky audience members.   

It might not be to everyone’s taste but I thought the production deserved a bigger audience than the one of which I was a member (probably no more than 30 people).  It might be picking up now – I see the last night is already sold out – but I have no hesitation in recommending what must be one of the least expensive, but by no means least accomplished, theatre experiences in the heart of the West End.  Runs until 10 Sep

https://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/whats-on/tis-pity-shes-a-whore

44
Theatre / Thérèse Raquin - Southwark Playhouse
« on: August 31, 2016, 03:57:12 pm »
I generally don’t like dramatisations of novels and I’m afraid this treatment of Zola’s tale reminded me why that is the case.  One difficulty of such adaptation is that the dramatist never has the novelist’s option of telling us, directly, what is going on in the characters’ minds – and Secret/Heart Theatre’s production never really finds a way around this.  Indeed, I wondered if they thought motivation was an irrelevance; that the actions of the characters were sufficiently interesting in themselves.  If my memory of the novel is accurate after all these years, Zola presents us with a crude, calculating male protagonist, impoverished artist Laurent (Matthew Hopkinson), who is initially motivated by little more than the fact that he can get away with seducing his effete colleague’s wife and that it will save having to pay his models for extra services.  The eponymous Thérèse (Lily Knight) is driven by desperate frustration.  The cousin with whom she shared a chaste bed in her childhood has become her husband – and there’s been no significant change in the bedroom action.  Or any other action – her future appears to lie in succeeding her aunt at the draper’s counter and nursing her sickly cousin/husband.  Laurent and Therese's relationship gets deeper and more intense as the novel proceeds, of course; but these are the crucial initial motivations.  None of this comes across in the dramatisation – although the husband/cousin Camille (Sam Goodchild) is presented as a grotesque cissy.  The doomed pair seem, rather, to be presented as victims of fatal attraction – irresistible, forbidden love à la Romeo & Juliet or Abelard & Eloise (or even Annabella & Giovanni – see later report!).  This might (just) have worked if there had been a very strong chemistry between the two leads but a) it would still have been less interesting than Zola’s story and b) there wasn’t (imo, of course; but at least one other audience member agreed with me).

The production seems to have put all its faith in Grand Guignol shock effects but even that didn’t work very well with me – indeed I got a bigger jolt from the odd loud bang than from the resurfacing of the half-drowned Camille or the ghostly apparitions with which the lovers/murderers are plagued.  For some reason Zola’s idea of having Laurent show Camille’s face in all his future portraits isn’t used in the drama (or if it is, I missed it).  As is customary, the characters and plot of the novel are amended to suit the dramatisation but this treatment was so odd that I (and others who remembered the original) sometimes couldn’t work out who some of the characters were.  Young Michaud is left out and Suzanne (Venice van Someren) appears not as his wife but as Old Michaud (Freddie Greaves)’s niece/ward.  Unless I was very unobservant, the all-seeing cat doesn’t appear – though this feature would have fitted very well with the production.  Most confusing, though, was the character played by Alis Wyn Davies.  She is listed as Mme Raquin and is, of course, Camille’s mother in the novel but doesn’t seem to be so here.  I had the impression she was Thérèse’s mother (Camille’s aunt?) and my neighbour thought she was Thérèse’s sister.  I’m not going to see it again to check but there’s no doubt that Camille calls her Vivi*, which would be a strange way for a person like him to refer to his mother; and she is a far more sympathetic, vital character than Zola’s dour Mme Raquin.  There were some fine performances from minor characters - notably from Davies and Greaves; and I'm not going to blame any of the less impressive actors for their part in this rather ill-conceived production; but this was undoubtedly the least impressive of the six performances I attended on my latest trip to London.  The only reason I’m making it the first report is that there are only three days left for anyone who wants to go and see it and report back with their own opinion:

http://www.thereseraquin.co.uk/cast/

*her name is Violet – a name I don’t remember from the original – and the character is a victim of the strange decision to leave the setting as Paris but to give most people Mancunian accents.  This wouldn’t be so bad (after all, most of the characters are not from the capital but have moved there from the provinces) if they’d changed the names but they insisted on pronouncing her name Veerlet – a peculiar northern English pronunciation of a French name.  Camille was even worse.  They decided neither to anglicise it (as in, say, Camille Paglia) nor to use the French pronunciation but to call him Camee – which, in any language, is just knickers, isn’t it? 

45
I nearly gave up on this as I set out from my West London hotel bright and early to make sure I got a good position in the queue only to find that the Northern Line was going no further than Charing Cross (shouldn’t they have re-named it the Southern Line for the weekend?).  I needn’t have worried because even though it was nearly 1100 when I got there I was still second in the queue.

The first Roundhouse Prom for some time was staged inside Ron Arad’s installation Curtain Call* – essentially a circular curtain of silicon rods on which a series of images was projected.  The audience seemed to have a choice between standing - or sitting on one of the very limited number of seats (as in the RAH arena?) – inside the circle or walking around outside it while the players performed the first two pieces on the outside (with Andrew Gourlay seemingly conducting empty seats inside!) before moving in for the remainder of the concert. 

The first two pieces were Harrison Birtwistle’s fanfare The Message, for clarinet and trumpet, and Georg Friedrich Haas’s atmospheric Open Spaces which utilised two differently-tuned groups of strings.  Two world premieres followed.  Mica Levi’s Signal Before War was for solo violin (Jonathan Morton) and seemed to consist of a single note rising in pitch.  The title seems to suggest that those who thought it sounded a bit like a warning siren are on the right track but, to be honest, the piece didn’t do much for me.  Next was David Sawer’s April\March, a more substantial piece that I found more stirring.  Then came a rather forgettable (if a piece featuring two ondes martenots can be described as forgettable) piece by Jonny Greenwood whose title, smear, was rather at odds with the enchanted forest visuals projected on the curtain.  Finally, due to a change of running order that now seems obvious, was Gyorgy Ligeti’s Ramifications which, I read, was premiered at an earlier Roundhouse Prom.  Again, the visuals were a bit incongruous – seemed to be giant ants doing battle – but the sound was wonderful.  All in all a very fine Prom – let’s hope there’s not such a long wait for another at this venue (preferably when the Northern Line is getting as far as Chalk Farm!).

*For some reason the ticket issued by the Roundhouse calls the concert Curtain Call Lates – BBC Proms; but the Proms programme and listings don’t seem to mention the installation.


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