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Theatre / The Red Barn - Lyttelton Theatre
« on: November 03, 2016, 01:53:31 pm »
Here, the ubiquitous David Hare gives us a re-working of an obscure Georges Simenon novel (La Main); and with Robert Icke as director and sets by Bunny Christie you’ve got to suspect that style will trump substance in this production.  And so it does: the presentation is extremely sharp and slick and, while it’s not entirely devoid of substance, we are invited to admire the way it is presented rather than find the narrative engrossing or the dialogue stimulating.  Pretty much every critic has remarked on the cinematic quality of the staging and cynics might wonder why anyone would want to go to great lengths to create on stage effects that have been commonplace on film for nearly a century.  More serious, though, is that there is no way round the fact that photo- or cinematographic images are essentially two-dimensional and rely on artificial perspective to show depth.  When a stage production apes a close-up by blocking off the rest of the stage, those who are facing the obscured portion of the stage are denied the natural perspective offered by the ability to look across the stage.   If that seems a bit confused, imagine you are sitting on the left hand side of the theatre and the blackout screens slide across to put the emphasis on what’s happening on the other side (stage left).  No matter how smooth this process (and it is smooth) or how well it imitates split screen/close-up techniques (and it does) the fact is that the most you will see is the action at the very front of the visible part of the stage.  I suppose it’s just possible that the production intends to deprive different audience members of different aspects of the action – but I really don’t believe that.

The drama has a lot in common with film noir with, as one might expect from Simenon, attention paid to the darker aspects of plain middle class folk.  Mark Strong plays Donald *, a lawyer who persuades himself he is a talented, decent, faithful man but is, all the time, consumed with frustration at the effortless success and popularity of people close to him who he sees as clearly less talented, decent and faithful than himself.  One of these people is his long time friend Ray (Nigel Whitmey), whose disappearance in a Connecticut blizzard on the way to Donald's house is at the heart of the piece; while what happens in the Red Barn on Donald’s property around the time of Ray’s disappearance provides the play’s title.  Donald’s halo most definitely slips when he succumbs to his attraction to Ray’s glamorous, glacial trophy wife, the ex-actress Mona (Elizabeth Debicki).  Mona is something of a femme fatale manquée – with all the allure but little of the knowingness of that stereotype.  She has something of Donald’s self-regarding psychology in that she is not so much jealous of his wife Ingrid (Hope Davis) as convinced that what is almost certainly just Ingrid’s nous is evidence that she is putting temptation in their way then monitoring the effects.  I gave Davis the laurels for best performance because, to my mind anyway, she keeps us guessing as to how much of what happens is actually engineered by her and how much is merely the interaction of an ordinary, if relatively privileged, person and two rather neurotic individuals.  Certainly the disparity between Donald’s assumption that Ingrid is reliant on him and the real dynamic of the relationship is, I think, central to the drama.

The Red Barn is worth seeing – indeed it’s probably the most enjoyable of the productions I saw on my latest trip – but it’s likely that the slick production and several fine performances mask the slightness of the drama itself.  I can’t help wondering, too, how it will fare on 'NT Live' where it will essentially be a film relay of a stage play imitating filmic presentation!  Runs until 17 Jan.  The ‘Sold Out’ tabs shouldn’t be taken too seriously as tickets trickle back onto the website quite regularly; and there are always Day Seats, the new Friday Rush and, for genuinely full houses, standing (which might be as good an option as any, given the eccentricities of the staging).

*one wonders whether this is significant given that the setting is 1969 and there is a reference to how Nixon might be just the president the US needs! . 

Theatre / King Lear - Old Vic, London
« on: October 31, 2016, 10:08:50 am »
Deborah Warner’s King Lear is a bit of a mixed bag, though the first thing I should do is acknowledge that the performance I saw was only the fourth preview of a production that hasn’t yet opened.  Several issues will, presumably, be cleared up including some rather indistinct diction from various characters; the worst of which, imo, was Karl Johnson’s Gloucester.  But the main thing – and if you intend paying a lot of money for a ticket you might want to check that this has been resolved – is the sound effects.  Most gravely, the storm noise is so loud that neither I nor anyone I spoke to could hear Shakespeare’s poetry above it.  I know the scene well so I was wondering how Glenda would deliver ‘blow winds and crack your cheeks etc’; and I’m afraid the answer was (through no fault of hers) quite inaudibly.

So, how did Glenda do as the king?  Well, for someone who has been away from the stage for decades, her command of the script is remarkable and, at this stage, contrasted sharply with some of her fellow cast members who  seemed less well prepared and less familiar with the play.  Unfortunately, though, it seemed to me that -how shall I put this – she’s just not man enough for the role.   Lear, I think, is a particularly macho character and the pathos of  his degeneration rather depends on the audience being able to imagine what he  might have been like in his pomp – and this production just doesn’t do it for me.  When Lear turns up at Goneril’s with his retinue – looking like a bunch of unruly football fans – he looks more like their mascot than their leader.  Jackson’s Lear, though beautifully delivered, starts off weary and gets feebler.  The idea that  he could have killed the slave that was a-hanging Cordelia seems highly implausible.  To sum up, as a recital of poetry Jackson’s performance is marvellous; but as a portrait of a fading legend it doesn’t work for me.

As for other aspects of the production, I liked some but disliked others.  The stage is busy long before the start with what at first look like last-minute preparations – floor sweeping, people going round with clipboards etc – but on recognising Celia Imrie and Jane Horrocks on stage I concluded that this was part of the ‘show’; and the play begins without a formal ‘curtain up’, making the division of the kingdom look like some sort of audition – or even turning the whole performance into a rehearsal.  I thought I was really going to hate it when Matt Gavan as France launched into a dreadful stage French accent – even delivering several lines in French that, I’m pretty sure, are not in any official version of the play.  By contrast, though, (and also not officially in the script) there are some neat touches such as Edmund’s sneering reference to Edgar as ‘my legit mate’.  Some of the characterisation is interesting – particularly the contrast between the patrician Goneril and Albany (Celia Imrie and William Chubb) and the more obviously vicious Regan and Cornwall with Danny Webb coming across as a bad-tempered gangster and Jane Horrocks, in sprayed-on jeans and 6-inch heels as a heartless moll.  Regan even offers to fellate Oswald (Gary Sefton) in the hope of enlisting his support against her sister.  Oswald’s expression as he declines this offer is a sight to behold.  There is also, it seems to me, an interesting twist on the relationship between Cordelia (Morfydd Clark) and Kent (Sargon Yelda).  When the two meet later in the play she kisses him on the lips in a manner that goes well beyond the comradely. I’ve often wondered how Kent – on the run and under deep cover – manages to receive letters from the Queen of France and this production suggests an explanation.  Clark’s body language and intonation in the opening scene hints that Cordelia’s response to her father is more of a deliberate strategy that misfires than an honest reply unjustly received.  The idea that Kent might be on Team Cordelia, rather than simply on the side of sanity and justice, right from the start opens up interpretations I hadn’t previously thought of.  It also suggests that they knew in advance what Lear intended – but let’s gloss over that!  There is also a simple answer as to why the Fool disappears after going ‘to bed at noon’.  When Lear and Co. flee ahead of the hue and cry the Fool is asleep (in a supermarket trolley!) and gets left, one can easily imagine, to face the fate that the others are escaping.  Simple – but it seems to work. Unfortunately the portrayal of the Fool himself (Rhys Ifans in a torn Superman outfit)  didn’t impress me.

As one would expect in a modern dress production on an essentially scenery-free stage the opportunity is taken to throw in some modern references to issues like migration, homelessness, poverty, protest etc.  Some of this is quite amusing - the anonymous Edgar entering in a Guy Fawkes mask (geddit?) to challenge Edmund - but very little of it is terribly relevant or thought-provoking (imo, of course).  Overall, I left glad that I’d caught this and had the chance to see Glenda Jackson on stage but not really convinced by the production.  Good tickets are hard to come by at the moment but a lot will depend on what the critics say when the production opens officially.  Runs until 3 Dec:

Theatre / Re: The Rivals - Liverpool Playhouse
« on: October 28, 2016, 09:36:17 am »
...There are also some clear anachronisms in the mainly period production – for example most of the furniture could be 18c but there are a couple of chairs in the modern tubular steel construction; most of the clothes are also in period but there are some modern day interlopers such as sunglasses; and on a couple of occasions snaps are taken with a Polaroid camera...

And there's a typewriter - don't forget the typewriter!

Yes, I forgot that.  And, some days after I saw the production I was thinking about the late Jean Alexander and how, in my opinion, none of Mrs Malaprop’s errors is quite as rib-tickling as Hilda Ogden’s ‘muriel’.  The closest to it, I thought, was ‘men are all Bavarians’ very near the end.  On further investigation, though, it seems this was an innovation too.  Both my print copy and the online Gutenberg edition have the distinctly unmalapropian ‘barbarians’.  I wondered if the joke is taken from Sheridan’s draft before he himself amended it; or is it the invention of a more recent adaptor?

The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts 2016 - 17
« on: October 26, 2016, 11:59:44 pm »
I thought the attendance at St George’s Hall for tonight’s 10/10 concert was rather low,  Indeed, looking at all the empty seats in the central area and listening to the list of composers and families in the welcoming talk I wondered how many actual punters there were in the hall. No more than 50, I’d say; which is a pity because the quality was very high.  Paradoxically, this might not have been a good thing for the one world premiere on the programme.  This was Bethan Morgan-Williams’s Mirages in Pisa and it wasn’t at all bad – just not, in my opinion, as impressive as the other three pieces.  In a generally sombre piece, the xylophone provides a busy, but rather underpowered, contrast.  It’s not clear whether the piece actually has a programme and the composer, unlike the other two present, didn’t give us an introductory speech.  She did, however, provide a programme note explaining that the title refers to actor Raphael Schumacher who accidentally (or perhaps not, the note hints)  hanged himself during a performance of an experimental play, Mirages, in Pisa.

The concert opened with John McCabe’s Rainforest 1 for 10 players, in three groups and as an ensemble.  It has a slow-quick-slow structure with the central section featuring a beautiful interaction between wind and piano/glockenspiel who shadow each others’ presentation of shimmering themes.  Next was Gary Carpenter’s Bermuda Suite and Dolphin which is a poignant memoir of Clacton (a town about which GC was rather uncomplimentary in his intro – but I think that was largely because the town now has the only UKIP MP in the country).  The piece itself is clearly affectionate and, at times, rather skittish and ends with a rather impressive brisk promenade.  The title comes from a sign seen at the entrance to a holiday camp GC doesn’t know what it means, but it makes for a good enigma – very appropriate for a piece with subtitles referring to family members, pets etc!  Finally we got Kenneth Hesketh’s Theatre of Attractions which, very unusually, is a piece I’ve heard before at a 10/10 concert.  I liked it even more on re-hearing – and clearly I was not alone as it was met with sustained applause.

I noted that the 10/10 programme has increased in price by 100%.  I can’t really complain because at £1 it has been the best value public concert programme I know for many years.  At £2 it is now marginally dearer per concert than the ordinary RLPO multi-concert affair.  But the essays (except on the rare occasions when you get one that’s pretentious tosh) are very good.

The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts 2016 - 17
« on: October 24, 2016, 10:07:17 am »
He gave us Rachmaninov's Prelude in C sharp minor, after being called back only twice - but the applause was more than lukewarm!

Aha!  The very work I mentioned to my neighbours on Wednesday.  I've successfully predicted what encore we'd get before now; but this is the first time I've predicted the encore we didn't get.

Unfortunately this afternoon some over-enthusiastic  idiot came crashing in before the last chord

In the midweek concert, too, the applause was well under way before Petrenko's hands were down - but we did, at least, get a discernible gap between the last note and the first clap. 

The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts 2016 - 17
« on: October 21, 2016, 12:49:41 am »
More fine work from Petrenko and the RLPO yesterday evening.  The hall was as near full as makes no difference – probably because of the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 2; the very piece I could have done without.  I’ve nothing against Alexandre Tharaud’s performance, which was decent enough, it’s just that the piece is too popular and it’s a long time since I heard anything fresh in it.  For me the appeal was the other works on the programme – particularly Rachmaninov’s farewell; the Symphonic Dances, which got a sparkling performance from the RLPO.  I don’t know how I’d feel about this piece if we heard it as often as the concerto; but the fact is we don’t, so this was welcome programming.  Another piece that could stand more frequent appearances was last night’s opener, Ravel’s La Valse – which the audience at Sunday’s ‘repeat’ won’t be getting (they’ll get even more Rachmaninov in a concert that opens with The Rock).  This quirky, often frenzied piece got the concert off to a good start and was complemented by Stravinsky’s even rarer (and quirkier!) Scherzo a la Russe which opened the second half.  Mr Tharaud didn’t give us an encore.  Maybe he was waiting to be called back a third time, or perhaps he had nothing prepared.  The fact is, the audience was in no mood to beg for more and no third recall came about.  The applause at the end of the second half was more enthusiastic – though the Phil audience seems to have become more restrained in its standing ovation habit.  I can’t remember the last one.  Still, this applause, though seated, was fervent enough and the concert was fine.  Anyone who missed it might want to consider going along on Sunday afternoon.  The Symphonic Dances is worth the effort on its own.

News and Current Affairs / Jean Alexander (1926-2016)
« on: October 16, 2016, 09:15:28 pm »
I confess that I only remember Jean Alexander as Hilda Ogden but she was the last link to a, for me, magical television era when Coronation Street balanced realism with genuine dramatic impact in a way that no other soap operas (to my knowledge) and precious few stage works have been able to emulate.  The characterisation was often brilliant with Hilda, her husband Stan (Bernard Youens) and, later on, his window cleaning mate Eddie Yeats (Geoffrey Hughes) being my favourite trio and the dynamics of the relationships between them – and between gauche but decent Hilda and the snobbish Annie Walker (Doris Speed) - were observational, and often gloriously comic, gems (everyone now seems to know about Hilda’s beloved ‘muriel’ but it should be remembered that the sheer brilliance of this running gag was fully appreciated at the time).  We later learned of the extent to which Alexander contributed to the development of her character – turning her from the borderline abused wife that the scriptwriters imagined into a domestic fireball.  All four are now gone and, I’m told, only Bill Roach’s Ken Barlow (who was a bit of a misfit even in the early days)  remains from the golden age.  It was Hilda, though, who was my favourite of all.

RIP, chuck.

Theatre / Re: Coming up....
« on: October 13, 2016, 08:46:11 pm »
Follies is not really my cup of tea but I'll be making sure I finally get to see Ms Staunton on stage - as Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Harold Pinter from February.  And I will, after all and in very unusual circumstances, be seeing Glenda Jackson as King Lear.  Last Saturday I got a call from the Old Vic to tell me that yesterday's matinee of No's Knife had been cancelled and when I asked for an explanation it wasn't hard, reading between the lines, to conclude that this was done purely for the convenience of the production company.  I made my dissatisfaction very clear - after all, there can be few justifications for the company's convenience coming before that of advance bookers - but was still quite surprised when I was contacted again and offered almost any other production and date of my choice as compensation for my inconvenience.  I quickly extended my visit at the end of the month, arriving a day earlier so I could take advantage of this offer.  I'm still unhappy with Lisa Dwan and co. (when will I ever get the chance to see this production now?) but I must take my hat off to the theatre for going further than most would to rectify things.  I always had Glenda's 'Lear' on my long list but my budget wouldn't ordinarily have run to a good stalls seat on a Friday night (I usually get a senior concession for midweek matinees at the Old Vic but there are hardly any midweek matinees for this production).

News and Current Affairs / Dario Fo (1926-2016)
« on: October 13, 2016, 08:16:01 pm »
I thought we might see a post here from someone who knows more about Fo than the very famous stuff.  I’m rather ashamed to say I’ve never seen anything other than Accidental Death of an Anarchist and Can't Pay? Won't Pay! (both in English); but I think his passing should be mentioned here.  I couldn’t help noticing that this Nobel laureate’s death was announced  on the same day that the latest prize was given to Bob Dylan. 


Theatre / The Rivals - Liverpool Playhouse
« on: October 11, 2016, 12:11:56 am »
This was the second time I’d seen Sheridan’s famous play and I’m afraid the Playhouse’s co-production with Bristol Old Vic and Glasgow Citizens’ didn’t make me any more favourably disposed to it.  At close to 3 hours I thought (unusually for me) that it would benefit from cuts and perhaps the injection of a bit of vitality.  Perhaps the problem stems largely from expectations of Mrs Malaprop (a character more famous than the play in which she appears).  I’m sure I said something similar in my last report on this play; but Mrs M’s famous comic habit is not all that funny and, for me at least, starts to grate after half an hour.  Julie Legrand (a replacement for Maggie Steed) does nothing wrong but I’m afraid the role isn’t as wonderful as its fame suggests.  Opposite Mrs M, Sir Anthony Absolute is a rather more solid, and solidly amusing, character and Desmond Barrit does it justice.  As his son, Captain Jack, Rhys Rusbatch was my idea of the standout performance.

The production is largely conventional with a few directorial touches for which I couldn’t really see any reason.  The stage is presented pretty much as a back-stage scene with rails of costumes everywhere and inactive characters wondering around in plain view; and the action is contained within oversize picture frames and dummy proscenium arches.  I presume this is some sort of suggestion that the social and marital narratives are akin to a sort of performance.  There are also some clear anachronisms in the mainly period production – for example most of the furniture could be 18c but there are a couple of chairs in the modern tubular steel construction; most of the clothes are also in period but there are some modern day interlopers such as sunglasses; and on a couple of occasions snaps are taken with a Polaroid camera.  Most strikingly, though, in among the mainly ordinary accents Lucy Briggs Owen as Lydia Languish is given an unmistakably modern day brat’s mode of speech (think Vicki Pollard, Catherine Tate’s Lauren or similar).  It struck me as a bit incongruous but it was, at least, an attempt to breathe some life and relevance into the character so I’m not going to knock it.   I read that this production was in honour of the Bristol Old Vic's 250th Birthday so the encroachment of the modern day on the 18c world of the play might be a reference to that.  But why a Polaroid camera, sunglasses and (by now) old fashioned office chairs rather than more obviously 21st century items?

On balance, I enjoyed this slightly more than the Haymarket production a few years ago and certainly don’t regret going.  The audience was rather sparse  - so much so that, in announcing the post-performance discussion, Barrit referred to it as ‘small but perfectly formed’.  I think bookings are stronger for later in the run but it shouldn’t be hard to get tickets.  Runs until 29 Oct then on to Glasgow in November:

Theatre / The Entertainer - Garrick Theatre
« on: October 06, 2016, 11:28:38 pm »
The appeal here was John Hurt, cast as Billy Rice before it became clear that he was too ill to appear; so thanks must go to him as I almost certainly wouldn’t have booked ahead otherwise and, as Kenneth Branagh’s Garrick residency doesn’t do day tickets in the ordinary way, I might very well not have seen this revival. 

I certainly wouldn’t have booked in advance on the strength of Branagh’s name; and yet within minutes of the start I was won over as KB settled into the skin of Archie Rice in a way that, for me, was at least as convincing as Olivier’s film portrayal.  And Hurt’s replacement, Gawn Grainger was everything I could have asked for as Billy.

There are a few problems with the production.  For a start, the showgirls were far too polished – more like the immaculately groomed dancers I remember from Sunday Night at the London Palladium than the seedy ‘nudes’ that Billy complains of.  At least that’s how it looked from the Grand Circle – perhaps you could see the ladders in their stockings from the stalls!  The multi-purpose set, too, might have been a bit confusing for people who don’t know the play what with the Rices’ domestic set-up being placed in front of the fake proscenium that dominates the rear of the stage.  That said, it emphasised the idea that Archie is playing a part even when he comes home; addressing his own family members as if they were an audience.  He is a man well aware of his shortcomings who, for all his faults, at least extends the same tolerance to others that he expects to get for himself.  Phoebe (another fine Greta Scaachi performance after her Amanda Wingfield in Liverpool), the main victim of his serial infidelity and financial incompetence, extends an indulgence he scarcely deserves in recognition of his underlying decency while his daughter Jean (Sophie McShera) is less understanding and more censorious.  Perhaps the biggest flaw in the production is that it rather makes a sideshow of the tragic fate of Archie’s son Mick – though the relevance of the Suez affair that underpins Osborne’s play to today’s foreign policy is still very striking.  The minor problems with the production (which, indeed, some might not see as problems at all) are insignificant set against the quality and continuing relevance of the script and several superb performances (to those already mentioned I must add Jonah Hauer-King’s fine understated effort as Archie’s other son, Frank).

Well worth seeing though a lot of the seats are quite pricey.  Perhaps you could do as I did and get a seat at the side of the Grand Circle for £15.  This will cut off the view to about 10-20% of the stage but if you’re lucky you might be able to move into a more central seat if there are any unoccupied.  There’s also some kind of lottery scheme for day seats but I don’t know how this works as I simply won’t hand over my phone number and other details for the remote chance of getting a cheap ticket (especially as entering such a lottery seriously compromises my chance of going to see something else).

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;

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 (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.

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.


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

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