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Messages - HtoHe

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31
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 

32
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

33
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? 

34
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.


35
I was quite surprised how few people were queuing for this when I arrived at about 1700.  With Janacek specialist Karita Mattila in the title role, Jiří Bělohlávek on the rostrum and a largely Czech supporting cast this promised to be special and, for me anyway, it didn’t disappoint.  To a degree this just reflects the tendency of prommers to turn up later for all but the hottest tickets; but I still thought the Arena was less crowded at the start than it had been for Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

It was a costumed, rather than a semi-staged,  performance but the mannerisms and facial expressions of the cast – not least Mattila herself – showed they understood the story of EM, the alchemist’s daughter turned ageless opera diva, very well.  And it was easy enough for the audience to keep up, courtesy of the programme (now £5 for major operas, but good value if you like your librettos rather bigger than you get with a CD recording).  As in the earlier Duke  Bluebeard’s Castle, the absence of complex duets, trios etc made it very easy to follow.  The one slight flaw, if it’s not too ungallant to say so, is that even the lovely Ms Mattila can’t emulate Emilia Marty’s perpetual youth so that, for example, the fresh faced Eva Sterbova as Kristina seemed rather strange expressing her awe of the older singer’s glamour.  The rest of it worked very well, though; and I couldn’t help thinking what a pity it was that the BBC couldn’t put this on the TV where a wider audience could not only see the fine acting on display but could also follow the plot with subtitles.  However, the singing and the fine performance of the BBCSO make it well worth going to the i-player if you didn’t catch it live.

36
Theatre / Re: The Deep Blue Sea - Lyttelton Theatre
« on: August 13, 2016, 11:42:17 pm »
Given that Rattigan was lambasted as fuddy duddy in comparison to Osborne, I was impressed that there was just as much awareness of human pain and human tendency to inflict pain on others and one self as in Look Back in Anger, if not more.

I’m glad you mentioned that, Don B.  I was going to say how this (and the radio broadcast a few weeks ago) had impressed on me the similarities between Osborne’s play and The Deep Blue Sea; but I thought it was just too much of a digression for my original post.  Perhaps I wouldn’t have noticed these similarities were it not for the antagonism between the two playwrights; but I found them, nonetheless, rather striking.  Most obvious is the fact that we are presented with a female protagonist completely captivated by a man that we, the audience, can see is immature, self-obsessed and destructive.  Furthermore, both have left apparently more comfortable and loving situations – Hester having left William and Alison her father – for this man.  I kept thinking that William Collyer and Colonel Redfern serve similar dramatic purposes in their respective plays.  I personally – and, of course, with the benefit of hindsight – think TDBS is a rather more convincing study of what you call ‘human pain and human tendency to inflict pain on others and one self’ than LBIA, but then I can never directly appreciate the impact of Osborne’s play when it first appeared. I certainly think Rattigan’s is better theatre, but that’s very much a personal opinion.

it was good to be told of its origins in Rattigan’s own emotional life and that even so Hester was not a code for a gay man.  Peggy Ashcroft who created the role thought it was eminently feminine.

Yes.  The background is fascinating - and the programme hints there is a lost 'original' where the central relationship is between two men - but the play as presented works perfectly as a study of a dysfunctional heterosexual pair.

I didn’t notice the business with the wedding ring.


Did you notice the rumble/soundtrack?  I see Billington did, so it wasn’t just me that found it ineffective and distracting.


37
Theatre / Re: Coming up....
« on: August 13, 2016, 08:29:15 pm »
I can make allowances for differences of opinion, but the review that declared ‘Lorca rewrite places Billie Piper among her generation's very best’ had me spluttering.  How anyone could put Piper (33), on the evidence of a few portrayals of young, self-centred, present day English women remarkably like herself, in the same league as Gemma Arterton (30), Sheridan Smith (35), Ruth Wilson (34) or a few others of that generation I could mention I don’t know.   To bring things round to the topic, though; I just noticed that Arterton – with Hilde Wangel and The Duchess of Malfi as well as a couple of musicals on her cv – is Shaw’s Saint Joan at the Donmar in December.

http://www.donmarwarehouse.com/whats-on/donmar-warehouse/at-the-donmar/2016/saint-joan


This looks like being a rich month as Wilson (Stella Kowalski, Anna Christie etc) supposedly opens in Hedda Gabler at the NT then – though the website doesn’t seem very forthcoming about dates or when tickets go on sale.  The NT also has a new David Hare, The Red Barn, which I spotted some time ago but, rather foolishly, didn’t look at the credits as I thought it might be a re-working of the Maria Marten melodrama!  With Mark Strong in a major role and Hare (who seems to be everywhere) as writer this looks a hot ticket.  Fortunately it’s the Lyttelton so if I can’t get seats to suit there will be front row day seats.

Finally, the talented students of MMU have another exciting season coming up.  All living playwrights this season, all of whom I have liked and not a single piece I’ve seen before.  Hare is there again with The Blue Room – which I might have gone to see some time ago but wasn’t keen enough to queue up overnight with all the people keen to see Nicole Kidman in the altogether. 

http://www.capitoltheatre.mmu.ac.uk/


38
I'm just listening to the repeat.  I couldn't help noticing the Beeb website has surpassed itself with the write up on this one.  Or perhaps my lack of musicological expertise has kept me ignorant of there being twice as many wives in the score as in the libretto.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07mwnqx

In case they change it later, I should mention that it currently reads:

The gothic horror story of Duke Bluebeard prompted some of the most imaginative, descriptive and shocking music Bartók would write. With its huge orchestra, underpinned in this concert performance by the mighty Royal Albert Hall organ, Bartók's score speaks of the darkness of Bluebeard's vast castle and the cold-blooded murder of his six wives.


Ooooh...in the Arena I never noticed the very distinct wobble in Komlosi's 'Aaaah...' as the fifth door opened.  It's quite surprising what the microphones pick up sometimes.  Still a very fine performance so far, though.


39
Theatre / Re: Coming up....
« on: August 10, 2016, 08:13:48 pm »
A bulb lit up in my head when I spotted this:

http://www.breadandrosestheatre.co.uk/desire-caught-by-the-tail.html

I knew I'd heard of this 'rarely-produced play by Pablo Picasso' and finally remembered it was mentioned in the sleeve notes of The Soft Machine (not the novel but the debut album by the psychedelic rock band) as a play for which the band provided live music in a French production in 1967. 

I think I'll have to try and see this as I'll be in London on the 20th and should be able to get to Clapham for 1930 after the 1500 Prom at the Roundhouse. 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/events/eg85v2

Talking of which, does anyone know the 'promming' arrangements for that Prom?  I presume there will be provision for getting in without an advance booking.  I would buy a ticket just to be sure but they seem to have evaporated. 

OK...I've found where they buried the info:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/38Mb5bKG8yWC89TrJpRjpTh/roundhouse-camden





40
The Coffee Bar / Re: The Waffle Thread
« on: August 09, 2016, 09:04:39 pm »
In case anyone missed it, I thought the BBC Phil's unlisted tribute to Peter Maxwell Davies before the Elgar Symphony at tonight's prom was very touching.  It took the form of a short speech followed by a performance of Max's own tribute to Charles Groves - Sir Charles his Pavane.  A lovely gesture - well worth checking out on the repeat or the i-player.  I wish I'd been there, now.  Mention of Groves takes me back to my earliest days when a teacher used to take pupils to the Phil (he kept up a subscription in memory of his late wife).  I scarcely knew what wonderful music I was hearing then, but I remember SG as Principal Conductor.

41
The Coffee Bar / Re: Grumpy Old Rant Room
« on: August 08, 2016, 08:29:50 pm »
If memory serves, chivhu, the fragmentation of the railways is such a bonkers idea that even Maggie thought it was too much and it was John Major who decided to go through with it - almost as way of demonstrating how hard he was.  There is, however, a slight complication with the 'renationalise now' idea and it's this: Govia Thameslink, who operate the old Southern routes, is no ordinary franchise.  As I understand it, all GVT's money comes from the Department for Transport and all income from fares goes to the DfT.  It's widely believed - though I should stress that my knowledge isn't sufficient for me to say how true it is - that the company is a proxy for the government with the job of breaking the rail unions; and, as long as they keep the government onside, almost nothing to lose if they don't collect another fare for the remainder of the franchise period.  It's a bit far fetched, but not totally out of the question, that a form of renationalisation is on the cards if the suppression of the unions is a success. 

42
Theatre / Platonov - Olivier Theatre
« on: August 08, 2016, 04:09:47 pm »
I seem to have missed this out of my reports on my last trip; possibly because it was not part of my plans like The Deep Blue Sea and Yerma; or maybe because I was reticent about a piece of which I know little. It shouldn’t be overlooked, though, because none of the stage performances I saw on that trip was more impressive than Nina Sosanya as the vivacious widow Anna Petrovna, who is a target for grasping and ruthless businessman Shcherbuk (David Verrey) but is herself more interested in local schoolteacher and heartthrob Platonov (James McArdle).  He, wouldn’t you know it, is not only happily married – or, at least, his lovely but somewhat dowdy wife Sasha (Jade Williams) is – but also pursued by half the maidens of the region.  It all gets rather complicated – well it is, essentially, a farce – and I’ve no intention of giving away more of the plot except to say that it all unfolds in a captivating manner over two and a half hours or so. 

Sosanya and McArdle are outstanding but they are ably supported by a pretty large company.  A problem I quite often have with Chekhov – probably because I have little previous knowledge of his stories – is that he often seems to flood the stage with characters and it can be hard to work out who’s what to whom and why.  Initially, this Platonov is no exception but there is a very welcome central part where the characters come on in ones and twos so you can get to know them better.  I don’t know if this is a feature of David Hare’s adaptation or of the original.  Indeed, I don’t know how different Hare’s version might be from the original but it’s very entertaining and I ended up being rather glad I didn’t have a fixed idea of a ‘genuine’ version with which to make comparisons.  There certainly don’t seem to be any anachronisms or gratuitous updating in the piece so perhaps purists will be happy with it, too. 

The set is uncluttered, though not bare or  minimalist and works very well and the music, too, is unobtrusive (and the programme tells us they have composer Jonathan Dove on accordian (sic)!).

You might struggle to get good, affordable seats for this (it’s in the Olivier so day seats are a long way from the action) but I should mention that the NT website wasn’t really giving accurate information the day before I left home.  I looked at the plan and saw that there were just a few back row Circle seats at £15 and half a dozen Stalls at £39.  I went along anyway, thinking I’d get a standing place but, when I asked, was told that the performance was not sold out so there was no standing – but they were selling Stalls on standby at £20.  I was pleasantly surprised but this certainly didn’t tally with what I’d seen on the website.  Likewise, The Deep Blue Sea, for which I had an advance booking, had been showing ‘Sold Out’ on the website for many days – but, according to the Foyer information, was not sold out when I got to the theatre.  A website glitch?  Or a peculiar kind of marketing?  I don’t know – but don’t lose hope if the website shows full.

https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/your-visit/current-season/young-chekhov-season-page

43
The Coffee Bar / Re: Grumpy Old Rant Room
« on: August 05, 2016, 09:41:38 pm »
Maybe this should be just a minor moan.  The hurt to me was, after all, quite minor; but I thought I’d rant on behalf of the victims of the Southern Rail fiasco.  After my experiences last weekend I scarcely want to imagine what it must be like to go through this, and worse, every day.  I had seen the reports of misery and demonstrations at Victoria station but, while I never doubted the truth of the stories, I suspected the media were concentrating on extreme cases.  After all, I lived in  Greater London for over 20 years and have a few nightmare stories of my own.  However, my mind began to change when I spent last Saturday night at the Croydon Travelodge.  I checked in and headed off to East Croydon station for what should have been a very quick trip to Waterloo to see The Deep Blue Sea at the Lyttelton.  I was astonished when I looked at the departure board to see that every train that wasn’t cancelled was delayed.  I had to wait 12 minutes for a very crowded train and mused on the likelihood that cancellations were very likely the reason why there was no delay that worked to my advantage.  After all, if all the trains were late you’d expect the effect on someone going into London to be fairly neutral.  Anyway, I got to Waterloo with time to spare and wondered whether the disruption was just bad luck.  And I was moving hotels the next day so any problems would be short lived.  Leaving Croydon on Sunday morning was, however, even worse.  Once again every train that wasn’t cancelled was delayed so the previous day’s experience hadn’t just been my bad luck.  I got there about 1130 to see the next train - the 1130 to Victoria as it happened – was expected at 1146.  Here, things take a rather sinister turn as when I went to the platform and consulted the ‘Next fastest train to…’ screen I saw, against Clapham Junction,  1146 and ‘On Time’.  This – there’s no other word for it – was a lie.  The train to Clapham Junction at 1146 was one and the same as the 1130 to Victoria – and very much not 'on time'.  Those familiar with such things won’t be surprised to learn that it didn’t even turn up at 1146 – more like 1151 – and it was so full that, at ten to twelve on a Sunday morning, it wasn’t possible to squeeze everyone on the train.  Fifteen minutes or so later I found myself in the previously unthinkable position of being mightily relieved to change to a South West Trains service at Clapham.  For most of the years I lived in London I thought SWT’s service very poor; but last Sunday morning it looked a model of efficiency compared with Southern.  I was also mightily glad I'd resisted the temptation to save about £40 by spending my entire stay in Croydon rather than moving to Richmond.  Fortunately, I decided the extra money was worth it for the direct London Underground connection to South Kensington for the Proms.  I had no idea how much stress I might be saving myself by not being in Croydon for four weekdays.  I now, seriously, wonder how long the situation can continue before there is a serious incident or even a minor riot; the conditions are that bad.  I have a work colleague whose commute includes a stretch of just two stops on a Southern service and she says even that is so bad she is considering a detour several miles in the wrong direction every day just to avoid that part of the journey.  Truly awful.  Surely somebody, or some body. must intervene here.  Even if they don't care about the misery of the poor travellers, the effect on business must give the authorities pause.  I certainly won't be staying in Croydon again while Southern holds the rail franchise there.

44
Theatre / Re: Yerma - Young Vic
« on: August 05, 2016, 11:44:15 am »
Apologies for the typos in the original post.  I blame an unfamiliar PC and the fact that I had to save before my time ran out.  I’ve now corrected the worst of them.

I must stress that this piece is not one of those ill-considered attempts – like some of the Almeida’s recent ‘Greeks’ – to stuff a familiar story into a feminist mould.  Rather the opposite, if anything

I was thinking of things like Oresteia in which inconvenient females like Artemis, Helen and, especially, Electra are excised while Iphigenia is promoted from mere mention to a (arguably the) central role.  Stone’s Yerma certainly doesn’t gloss over ‘women behaving badly’ – indeed I half-wondered if  he wasn’t flogging a faintly misogynist line – but, without the background of a rigidly traditional, patriarchal culture, the story he tells is reduced to melodrama or soap opera sensationalism.  And that’s probably being unfair to soap operas which, at their best, treat such issues more effectively.  Three days later, and as a few gushing reviews start to appear, I can’t help asking why, if the drama is so gripping, Stone couldn’t have given it a different name (as, for example, Simon Stephens’s Blindsided did with the Medea story) and see how it fared on its own merits.  I think I know the answer, but, of course, other opinions are available!

45
I looked forward to this as the highlight of the 2016 Proms season and it didn’t disappoint.  The Dvorak Cello Concerto was very pleasant with Alban Gerhardt giving an intense performance of his ‘favourite concerto’ and clearly communicating closely with both the leader and conductor (these are the things I notice when standing near the front!).   Without any slight to Gerhardt (or Dvorak) I must say it was Bartok's Duke Bluebeard's Castle I’d come to hear, with Charles Dutoit (a remarkably sprightly octogenarian) on the podium.  The one slight disappointment was that they had decided (why, I wonder) to have bass John Relyea deliver the Prologue in an English translation.  Personally, I would rather hear the sonorous Hungarian words and not understand a single one of them than listen to a translation; but when the singing is in the original language and the programme offers parallel texts I can’t understand why they would want to dilute the experience in this way.  But everything after the Prologue was wonderful.  Judit was the experienced Ildiko Komlosi, a native Hungarian speaker, while the Canadian Relyea’s command of the libretto is perfect – according to Komlosi, who should know.  Another advantage of being near the front (and of the parallel texts) is that I could follow the facial expressions and see that they, Komlosi especially, were living every line.  And both had the confidence to take the platform without a printed libretto.  Dutoit got a fine dramatic performance from the RPO and the Door 5 climax could be felt through the Arena floor.  I’m looking forward to visiting the i-player for the broadcast version but I don’t expect it will come near to re-creating the live experience.  A very fine Prom.

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