Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Public Image Ltd - 'Double Trouble'

Fab new single from Public Image Ltd - energy and fun rippling through the whole thing. Looking forward to the new album!

Monday, 27 July 2015

'Three Days In the Country' at the National Theatre

Last week I went to see a preview of 'Three Days In The Country' in the Lyttleton Theatre at the National Theatre. It's a new version of the Turgenev play by Patrick Marber and it brings a nice comedic sensibility to the play which is otherwise full of broken dreams. So many broken dreams and lost loves that I lost count.

As the title suggests, it's set in a country house in Russia and the action takes place over three days one fateful summer. We meet the three generations of the family that lives there, their friends and neighbours, and their hired help including the maid and the young tutor. There are a lot of intertwined relationships going on and we watch as they develop and fall apart, and we see the history to some of them and can only guess at what happens in the future with others.

The play opens with Natalya, the bored lady of the house who's summoned an old friend of her husband's to the house to amuse her. Rakitin is in love with her and has been since they first met in Moscow years ago with her husband. She falls for Belyaev, the handsome young tutor for her son and so does her ward, Vera. Meanwhile, Belyaev is having fun with Katya, the maid. Already you can see this is destined to be no good for any of them. In a parallel tale, the family doctor Shpigelsky proposes to the household retainer Livaveta while trying to get Vera to agree to marry local neighbour SomebodyOrOther. It all gets terribly confusing and I won't tell you what happens because I don't want to spoil it for you.

The best scene was a double-header between Mark Gatiss as the doctor and Debra Gillet as the retainer in which he asks her to marry him by spelling out his worst habits and making clear what he doesn't want rather than what he wants. It's even better since he hurts his back, can hardly move, and regales his potential bride while crouching on the floor in pain. It really is an excellent scene and great comic performances from them both.

I also liked Amanda Drew as the lady of the house and John Simm as the long-time friend, along with Royce Pierreson as the tutor and Cherrelle Skeete as the maid (though I'm not at all sure why she kept breaking into song). The youngsters brought a lot of life and vitality to the play whereas their elders all seemed a bit angsty.

I was surprised by, and really liked, the sparse staging, a big open stage with a few bits of furniture and a mysterious red door hanging above the stage. The actors are in simple period costumes and the absence of clutter on the stage makes for a very 'clean' stage which transforms from drawing room to barn with a few deft shifts. Around the edges of the stage were chairs for the actors to sit in when not on the stage proper - given the sheer size of the Lyttleton stage then it was ok and they didn't intrude at all but that approach seems to be a bit on-trend at the moment.

The play is still in preview so I'm sure there's scope for tightening it up in a few places. It's light-hearted and tragic by turn and the overall message is don't throw yourself at your son's tutor because it won't turn out how you expect. O no. But, broadly speaking, I liked it so go and see it!

Sunday, 26 July 2015

'Cinderella' at The Coliseum

A couple of weeks ago I went to see a production of 'Cinderella' by the Dutch National Ballet at The Coliseum. I've never seen a 'classical' ballet so, after loving the ballet suite of 'Woolf Works' a couple of months ago at the Royal Opera House, I thought it was time to try one. And why not start with a fairy tale that we all know, a classic and timeless fairytale of love and how the under-dog (if you see what I mean) becomes triumphant? Cinders isn't a dog, obv.

It's largely the tale you know but with added Prince. Why do we need to know about the Prince's childhood and his friends? I can only surmise that it' because the prodiction needs a leading male role and that must be the Prince so he needs a larger role. But I don't care about the Prince, I care about Cinders so those scenes with the Prince were almost an annoyance. It's fine when he grows up and starts courting Cinderella but I don't really need to see him growing up.

You know the tale of Cinders, how her mother died and her father married again, a wicked step-mother and step-sisters, how she got to the ball and left her glass slipper, how the Prince eventually tracked her down and married her. Yes, that's all there, but it all about we get to that final scene. We see the mice periodically throughout the first half but they come into their own in the final scene, the magical transformaton into a coach and horses to take Cinders to the ball with her cape billowing out behind her in the coach. That scene was one of the highlights and was certainly magical.

We are invited to the ball, to the gloriously blue costumes of the dancers into which Cinders crashes in her silver and gold finery. No wonder the Prince was smitten. They dance and they twirl and then Cinders must make her way home before the magic evaporates as it inevitably must do. And in doing so she leave behind a precious glass slipper that the Prince can use to try on everyone who fits the bill of being 'female' to see if they are his beloved Cinders. You'd think he'd be able to use his eyes to recognise her but that would be churlish to suggest.

We then have the madatory scene about all and sundry trying on the glass slipper including wood gnomes and Thai princesses who weren't at the ball in the first place but why let spoil a good scene? That's an oddly sexist scene - why would everyone want to marry the unknown Prince? He might be an utter bastard for all they know. But tradition is tradition and that is that everyone must try on the glass slipper, including the ugly sisters, until he finally finds Cinderella and they get married under the tree that's planted above her mother's grave. O how sweet.

So there you have it, the bellet version of the fairytale we all know of Cinderella. It was fun enough and all that, full of glamour and glittery costumes, lots of movement and music but... so what? The family with three children in front of us all fell asleep other than the mother. That's a message I think, although it may be more about the attention span involved in popular culture these days.

I enjoyed the spectacle of it all but not really the artistry. What was missing - or rather, what didn't I see? I enjoyed some of the set pieces and loved the bits out in the woods when Cinders danced with the dryans and woodlands folk but the courtly scenes? naah. Some of it was exhuberant and life affirming and some of it wasn't. Maybe I need to see another ballet?

Matthew Bourne's 'The Car Man' at Sadler's Wells

Last week we went to see Matthew Bourne's 'The Car Man' at Sadler's Wells which was where I saw it (possibly in the same seats) when it was revived in July 2007. It seems like it's a summer show and it's certainly hot and steamy.

The tale is set in small town America, in Harmony with a population of some 370 souls, which is little more than a garage and a diner. The local lads work in the garage and the girls in the diner next door and the diner comes alive when the garage closes and everyone gets together for their night out.

Dino owns the garage and diner which is run by his wife Lana and her sister Rita. Lana makes it clear on numerous occassions that she doesn't want to be too close to her aging husband but has nowhere to turn. And then Luca appears, a drifter who is good with his hands and starts working in the garage and eventually starts an affair with Lana. At the same time, he's stringing Angelo along, the local geek who likes to read in his break in shifts from the garage and is supposedly going out with Rita. When Luca doesn't get his was with Lana because Dino comes home early, he lures Angelo into a car for rumpy-pumpy and the car rocks back and forth. Angelo is smitten. He's still bullied by the lads but at least he now has a friend.

The first half is all exuberance and full of a passion for life and love, for showing off and getting the girl, for being one of the lads. Endless movement, quick and focused with no stillness at all. And then it goes horribly wrong when Dino comes home early again. Lana and Luca have danced a most passionate dance, sizzling with erotic energy and then Dino finds them in an embrace on the floor and is enraged by this proof of Lana's infidelity.

She grabs a heavy spanner and slashes him on the head. When that fails to kill him, she gives it to Luca to finish the job and he does before running away when he hears the sound of police sirens. At that point in comes Angelo who holds Dino to see if there's anything he can do and gets blood on him and, just as the police arrive, Lana grabs Angelo to make it look like he's trying to rape her to frame him for killing Dino. And it's all over for Angelo who's life will never be the same again, innocence lost forever and all because of the scheming (and previously sympathetic) Lana.

The second half opens six months later in a swanky club (the Beat Route) in the nearest big city with Lana, Luca and friends all living the high life on Dino's money, gambling, dancing and getting drunk. And then Dino's ghost appears to spoil the fun. Switch to county jail and Rita is visiting Angelo before being scared off and the prison guard starts to abuse Angelo. He's had enough by now and fights back, knocking out the guard, stealing his gun and shirt and escapes. The scene switches back to a gloomy and obviously dying Harmony as Angelo meets Rita and pushes her away since he's been changed by his time in jail, tries to find Lana and ends up shooting Luca. Retribution is tough in Harmony.

Just as the first half is all about eneregy and life, the second half is about consequences. And they are dark. It's a marvel of storytelling through dance and lifts the spirits only to crash them down but it's clear why that happens. Happy and sad. That's life, right?

I had the impossibly named Zizi Strallen as Lana (I saw her sister, Summer, in 'A Chorus Line' a couple of years ago) and Chris Trenfield as Luca, along with Dominic North as Angelo, Kate Lyons as Rita and Alan Vincent (who created the role of Luca in the original production of 'The Car Man') as Dino. It's a really great production taking you up into the highs only to let you plummet to the depths of emotion shortly afterwards. That's powerful dancing and storytelling. Go and see it if you can!

'Everyman' at the National Theatre

Sometimes you see plays that make you laugh, bring you joy or make you wish you'd never bought tickets. And sometimes you see a play that makes you think and makes you wonder, and that's what I saw on Saturday night - 'Everyman' in the Olivier Theatre at the National Theatre with Chiwetel Ejiofor in the role of Everyman. The text is a new version of the old story by Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate, so it's thoughtful and lyrical by turns.

It's Everyman's 40th birthday and he has a flash party in a club with all his friends and ex-girlfriends and after the initial greetings the music starts pounding and the lights flashing. The bag of coke emerges and is spread out on tables for everyone to partake and get wild. Everyman has such a good time he passes out and his friends leave. Then God appears and summons Death. God wants Death to choose a representative human, an everyman, to justify humanity's existence and lo, there lies Everyman in a drugged-up stupor. So Death explains Everyman's challenge and sends him off on a journey to explore the soul of humanity.

Everyman calls on his friends to help him, help him travel to God and say he's a good man. But they can't do that. His ex-partner can't because he had affairs with other women and a man. They know him and his faults so friendship isn't core to humanity. He visits his family because they must have a good word for him - they're family after all. But Death comes a calling and Everyman escapes out the back door to protect his family. Money and possessions, yes, that's what everyone wants. So Everyman goes to a glitzy department store with everything for sale, including philanthropy on the top floor. He's spend tonnes of money in that store and they love him so he wants to buy the shop assistants to say a good word for him before God. But they can't do that, no, they're already on the other side of the glass wall that divides them from God. He can keep his credit cards since they can't be bought.

Down on his luck and despairing, Everyman finds himself with the down and outs and this is where he finds his 'conscience' in the form of a rough sleeper who used to be a whiz-kid but fell from her high place and now drinks vodka in back streets. She suggests he finds his good deeds during his life but Good Deeds is ill and bed-ridden because of the paucity of good deeds. He's swallowed by despair until a young boy appears on a scooter and he realises it's him and he can speak to his younger self.

Everyman's despair turns to revelation as we meet his senses and realises that man is a marvel to behold. He thanks God for his sense of smell, of touch, his sexuality, his successes over the years. O yes, man is a marvel. But we find out that it's too late and Everyman is already dead. Not so dead that he can't call Death a cunt as he leaves. Death is offended and says he's at his most dangerous when he's unpredictable and turns on the audience, choosing who to take with him and the lights go out.

All I can say is 'wow'. The play takes you on a journey and I bet all our journeys are different, a journey into our own soul exposing us to thoughts and concepts, situations that can only make you think. And I did.

The writing was superb and the production as a whole was great, with marvelous lighting, a minimal set and a pit at the back of the stage for characters to vanish into. A massive video-wall for projections and lights to sparkle when you least expect it made up the staging. Chiwetel Ejiofor was exellent as Everyman, marvelously controlled and underplayed and so powerful. Kate Duchene played God as a cleaning lady, suitably downcast and weary with mankind and her servant, Death, played by Dermot Crowley with a charming Irish brogue and implacable intent. I'd also single out Sharon D Clarke as Everyman's mother and singer to enhance the group singing with her great voice. I've seen Sharon in a few things now and always enjoy her on stage.

I had no idea what to expect with this play and that uncertainty continued for the first 10-15 minutes with Everyman's debauched birthday party with no words, just music and lights. Loud, pumping disco music and Donna Summer singing 'I Feel Love' with lights flashing makes me wonder what is it about disco that summons up hedonism and debauchery? 40 years after disco emerged and it's still considered to be the epitome of hedonism? What's that all about?

I was thinking medieval and this production is very 21st Century with Chiwetel Ejiofor as the perfect cypher for linking those changing eons with his calm and controlled delivery and that makes the scenes of despair even more powerful. It's an old, old story updated for the 21st Century and it works so well in 2015. Have we learned anything over the centuries since Everyman first strode the world searching for someone to speak for him before God? I don't think so. I didn't just buy the programme for the production, I also got the script.


Go and see it while it's on. You'll regret not seeing it and how will that fit with your ledger when you stand before God? 

Sunday, 19 July 2015

'The Beaux' Stratagem' at the National Theatre

Yesterday we went to see 'The Beaux' Stratagem' by George Farquhar at the National Theatre, part of it's new season of productions. I've heard of Mr Farquhar's Restoration comedy and am familiar with many of the themes but have never seen performed before. It was good to see it played in period costume and I got quite jealous of some of the frock coats on display.

It's the tale of two young gentlemen, the beaux in question, who have blown their funds in fashionale London and have escaped to the coutry in search of rich wives so they can return to the City. Mr Aimwell and Mr Archer (and the names say it all, really) pretend to be a lord and the other his servant when they arrive at the coaching inn, asking for their horses to be kept sadled at all times for a quick get way - and the intrigue starts. Who are the young beaux?

Not far away is the country house of Lady Bountiful, her daughter Dorinda and daughter-in-law Mrs Sullen (again with the names) and her drunken husband. All the talk is of love and Mrs Sullen making her husband jealous so that he'd pay more attention to her. She brought a dowery of £10,000 a year so is wealthy and Dorina will have a similar dowery when she marries so will be a good catch. And the plot is set for the high jinx ahead, the misunderstandings and reversals, the dashing round and the villainy.

The play is set in the inn and the country house, the same wooden set that with a few swift changes moves from one to the other, then spartan inn and the comfortable and colourful house. It was nice to see that they used all three levels of the house at different times with a lot of running up and down stairs. And with the gentlemen in frock coats and ladies and maids in floor-length gowns it 'felt' as well as sounded and looked right for the Restoration. But sometimes like it was being too fast and too knock-about with lots of running across the stage, lots of fast-paced speaking making it difficult to follow and sometimes the word-play was lost behind all the action.

All in all, I liked it! I liked Geoffrey Streatfield as Mr Archer and Susannah Fielding as Mrs Sullen, working well together and playing off each other as potential lovers. I liked Pearce Quigley as Scrub, the deadpan butler, and Jane Booker as Lady Bountiful (with her herbal remedies and, um, cordials). The country jigs and reels that supported the play and appeared every now and then with some great visual comedy moments and a great version of 'The Trifle Song' at the end got everyone's feet tapping before morphing into a more sombre solo my Mrs Sullen to finish off. 

It's a fun production and it's going to feature in one of the NT Live cinema events over the summer so even if you can't see it in person you can see it in on the big screen. And, of course, admire the gentlemen's colourful frock coats.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Suzanne Vega at Cadogan Hall

I went to see Suzanne Vega at Cadogan Hall a few weeks ago - she's played there several times and seems to like it. It was just Suzanne and Gerry Leonard's inventive guitar work, with no band this time. I love seeing Suzanne play live - she has a very calming voice and she replaces the cares of the day with her thoughtful lyrics.

The latest tour seems to focus on her first album release 30 years ago - is it really that long ago? I have vague memories of first hearing 'Marlene' by Suzanne on Ned Sherrin's Saturday afternoon Radio 4 show 'Loose Ends' and thinking, 'that's a voice I want to hear more of...'. And I have.

The Cadogan show was a mix of 'greatest hits' and showcasing songs from her first album, 'Suzanne Vega' as well as songs from the latest album, 'Queen of Pentacles'.