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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.

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.

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!

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.

When I got to the RAH steps at 1830 to find the queue less than halfway down I feared the attendance would be very poor for this Prom; but the Arena, though hardly tightly packed, filled up to a respectable level and, while there were clearly lots of empty seats at the highest level, the stalls and lower circle were pretty full.  I can’t say Juanjo Mena and the BBC Phil converted me to the cause of Alberto Ginastera.  I’d never heard Ollantay before and I can’t imagine going out of my way to hear it again.  Steven Osborne’s reading of the Britten Piano Concerto, though, was a welcome chance to hear a rarely performed work by this composer.  It’s not a piece I know well but I got the impression that Osborne handled it beautifully – and the Ravel encore was also very fine.  After the interval we got Schubert’s ninth and what seemed like a world record attempt by Mena.  My watch isn’t the best thing for precise measurement but I timed it at about 44 minutes.  My recordings tend to be around 55-60 minutes so I presume the difference is largely explained by failure to take up optional repeats; but there’s no doubt that the speed was also rather quicker than I’m used to – which worked for me but disappointed a couple of people I spoke to the next day.

Theatre / Yerma - Young Vic
« on: August 03, 2016, 12:56:09 pm »
WARNING:May contain spoilers.  I’m afraid it was difficult to say much without referring to the plot and how it deviates from the original.

I suppose you have to give Simon Stone and the Young Vic credit for billing this as Yerma – After Garcia Lorca and Stone, in his programme note, comes out with some tosh about elevating Lorca to the status of myth maker by creating a play based on the Spaniard’s classic.  But another way of putting it is that Stone seeks to validate his banal offering by giving it a title that refers to a celebrated work.  At the end the young man next to me said something along the lines of ‘I don’t know the original but I expect it’s a bit more than gender issues for shallow people’.  I don’t know the play that well myself – certainly not as well as I know Blood Wedding or The House of Bernarda Alba – but I do know that the story and the characters are rather different, even allowing for the updating to the present day, from what Stone gives us.  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: Billie Piper’s ‘Her’ (she isn’t listed as Yerma – fair enough as understand this is not really a name but a word meaning  ‘the barren one’)  is a monster of self-centredness and her partner John (Brendan Cowell) is a veritable saint compared with Lorca’s original Juan.    In this story, for example, far from getting his sisters to guard his partner lest she stray, he gets her own mother (Maureen Beattie in the best performance on show here) to care for her while he is away.  There are other major deviations from the original – none of which, imo, constitute an improvement.  For example, there is not just a previous relationship with Victor (John MacMillan) but a strong hint of a pregnancy and termination -  which, again imo, complicates and confuses matters with no obvious dramatic gain.  The ‘wise woman’ is, vaguely, replaced by a promiscuous colleague and the ‘hermitage’ becomes a rock festival.  All of this is done with modish staging – a glass box in the middle of the auditorium – and gimmicks like chapter headings flashed up to the accompaniment of loud music.  All intended to divert attention away from the fact that the plot and script aren’t up to much – well, certainly not what I expect from Lorca.  On the positive side, it follows the trend of running for 100 minutes without interval (a piece of modishness of which I approve) and the stage should be fully visible from almost any seat – so you won’t need to spend too much if you want to go, and can get a ticket (Piper is still a big draw, though, personally, I can’t, after seeing her three times, see her as a major stage talent).

Theatre / The Deep Blue Sea - Lyttelton Theatre
« on: August 03, 2016, 10:34:07 am »
I wouldn't want to say I was disappointed, as such, but I found this offering less engaging than I'd hoped.  Furthermore, I had hoped Helen McCrory would impress me more as Hester than she had as Medea.  As it turned out, while she captured the character's desperation well enough, I saw little of the exuberance that I found in Hester when I read the play.  She's not the only  one who director Carrie Cracknell evidently reads rather differently from me.  Peter Sullivan's William is not only younger than I imagine him, but considerably less sympathetic.  Indeed, one of Cracknell's, ahem, embellishments of the text I remember seems calculated to put him in a bad light.*

Other characters are rather better treated.  Tom Burke's Freddie is a bit mean but not that far from the immature character - victim of a forced wartime growing up - that I imagined; The Welches (Yolanda Kettle and Hubert Burton) are credible lower middle class couple; and the two most sympathetic characters are well portrayed.  Nick Fletcher as Miller fumbles the odd line but is otherwise very good, while Marion Bailey as Mrs Elton was, for me, the outstanding performance. 

The set, concentrating on the 'Pages'' flat but with views off the rest of the divided grand house is serviceable.  The background noise, though, is rather annoyingly pervasive.  Are they supposed to live next to the tube line?  Even so, the rumble in the background is more continuous than you would get in real life - so much so that I wondered if it were from work on the theatre building.

I have a few more thoughts on this production so might get back when I get home.  For now, though, it's a less-than-wholehearted recommendation (though it's by no means as 'awful' as the chap I spoke to at the Donmar warned)

*SPOILER ALERT:  When W takes his final leave of Hester he rather bitterly takes off his ring and leaves it on the table.  I can't find this in the detailed stage directions of my text.  I wondered whether he put it next to the shilling that Freddie callously put there 'in case I'm late for dinner' - which would be an obvious attempt to put the two men at the same vicious level -but. I'm not going to see the play again to see if I was right!  Even more irritating (unless, of course, there's an alternative script) is the fact that Cracknell decides to alter the final scene so Hester fries an egg instead of sitting by the gas fire.  Both, of course, show her using the gas supply more safely then before -  but it really does look like changing the text gratuitously.

The Opera House / Re: Norma
« on: July 29, 2016, 04:34:13 pm »
Curses!  How does one edit, cut and paste from previous posts?

I'm sure there are better ways but I usually just click the 'quote' link at the top right of the message.  This will bring the entire message, surrounded by the coding that represents the opening and closure of a quote, up in a reply box.  Then I just cut out bits I don't need.  You can then copy and paste the coding and put other quotes in between - or, if you want to be really mischievous, you can make it look like someone wrote something they didn't, eg:

Curses!  Why is this editing so complicated

The Opera House / Re: Norma
« on: July 29, 2016, 02:09:41 pm »
what WAS the name of that large chemist’s at the corner with Wigmore St, John Croydon

Nearly right, Mario.  John Bell & Croyden.  When I worked in catering I was occasionally sent there (and to Culpeper Herbal in Covent Garden) to get culinary chemicals that our wholesalers didn't sell or deliver.  The shop is still there, apparently:

The Opera House / Re: Norma
« on: July 27, 2016, 11:00:43 am »
Welcome, Mario.

My first post!

Booked a ticket at the ROH to see Norma, an opera I do not know, but with Pappano and Calleja, thought it too good an opportunity to miss.

Mad I know, but I do not know a note of this work

I'd be very surprised if you don't know Casta Diva.  Even I know - and like - that; and I generally avoid bel canto stuff.

I hope you enjoy the performance.

My next opera will be a concert performance of Duke Bluebeard's Castle a week today at the Proms.  Charles Dutoit is reputed to do this very well and it's my favourite 20c opera so I'm really looking forward to it - especially hearing the famous RAH organ in the 'door 5' climax.  I'm told they've put Arena standing places up to £6 (after many years frozen at £5) but it's still very good value.  And the Arena will be the best place to hear this if you can stand for the duration.

The Meet Up board / Re: D'you lie?
« on: July 26, 2016, 07:50:49 pm »
Assuming we're looking at the usual weekday tea time meeting I could get to the George on the 1st Aug, though I'd have to leave by 1900 to get to the Young Vic for Yerma (with the rather odd casting of Billie Piper in the title role). On the 2nd I could, in theory, skip the Prom, though Stephen Osborne playing the Britten concerto is rather appealing.  The 3rd is right out - no way I'm missing Dutoit's Duke Bluebeard's Castle!  Unless, of course, we make it lunchtime - in which case, as things stand, I could do any of those three days.  On Friday 26th I can also put in an appearance pre-theatre.

If we can stretch to weekends I should be in town and, so far, completely free, on 31 Jul, 21 Aug and 27 Aug as well as having odd hours free on other days around those dates.

I don't know how committed we are to London Bridge.  I'm certainly open to alternative suggestions - especially in the Waterloo area.

The Coffee Bar / Re: The Minor Moan thread
« on: July 26, 2016, 07:31:46 pm »
I know that, these days, almost nobody has to listen to radio programmes at the time they are broadcast but you’d think the BBC would at least acknowledge that some people are in the habit of listening ‘live’ and schedule their programmes accordingly.  This evening’s Front Row on R4 has a piece about Anthony Payne and his forthcoming Proms premiere. Absurdly, though, anyone who wants to listen to this item will, at the very least, have to miss the live opening of the Prom that contains said premiere.  It’s not the first time they’ve done this with artists featured at the Proms.  Can anyone think why, other than being utterly incompetent, they might do this kind of thing?

The Coffee Bar / Re: The Waffle Thread
« on: July 24, 2016, 03:13:48 pm »
stitching them together in narrative-defying formations is very much not my thing.

Under which category I would very much include the Prelude and Liebestod, for what it's worth.

Me too.  It’s not a combination I’d put on the turntable out of choice; but as a concert piece it at least passes the Ronseal test.  By contrast, neither last night’s programme shown on the website nor the presenter’s intro prepared us for over two minutes of the Walkürenritt (suitably adapted so they didn’t have to hire extra vocal soloists) followed by a rather clunky segue into the actual final scene.  Not so much bleeding chunks as a cutlet made of reconstituted meat.  I suppose no great harm is done, but I really can’t think of a good reason for not billing it as, say, Act 3 excerpts or Opening and closing scenes of Act 3.    I wonder if they paid it scant attention as it was little more than a filler because A Child of Our Time isn’t long enough for a Prom to itself.  To be fair, I thought the Tippett was rather good.

The Coffee Bar / Re: The Waffle Thread
« on: July 23, 2016, 08:05:40 pm »
As I’m more of a Wagner fan than a Wagner expert I wonder if anyone can tell me if there is a precedent for what we just heard from the RAH under the title of Die Walküre - final scene.  It sounded to me like an edited version of the famous Ride of the Valkyries from the opening of Act 3 fading into the actual final scene starting just before War es so schmählich, was ich verbrach…  I’m used to concert excerpts like Prelude and Liebestod or even The Ride of the Valryries and Wotan’s Farewell but this concoction seemed to be not only ill-advised but wrongly labelled. 

The Coffee Bar / Re: The Minor Moan thread
« on: July 21, 2016, 11:08:23 pm »
I was mildly disappointed to notice last week that The Globe in Covent Garden has undergone one of those pointless name changes that seem to be all the rage these days.  Instantly recognisable, long after the market it served has gone, as the pub in Frenzy (you know, that Hitchcock film that makes Psycho look feminist) where Anna Massey works and from which Jon Finch gets sacked by Bernard Cribbins, it's now called, in a stunningly original move, The Covent Garden.  It's been a crap pub for as long as I can remember - The Marquess of Anglesey next door has better food, better beer, better service, in short, better everything - and now it's given up the only thing that made it interesting.

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