The English National Ballet – The Nutcracker – London Coliseum – Review

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It’s a quintessential part of the Christmas period theatrical fayre. The music is well-known by everyone, but I’d actually not ever seen a production of The Nutcracker live until last night. Would I find it all a bit too twee or a bit too childish? Or would it tick all my nostalgia and ballet boxes?

Wayne Eagling and Peter Farmer have created a rather enchanting piece of ballet here. There are hundreds of variations and ways of doing The Nutcracker, but placing it in its original period and drawing on the classic Edwardian Christmas nostalgia, gives it a real resonance and charm.

The story itself is standard fairy story silliness, but it is Christmas and sometimes its nice to just sit back and be swept away and not have to think or analyse too hard. My main criticism of the actual score/story, is it can on occasions feel a bit disjointed. However as it’s the holiday season I won’t be too curmudgeonly.

As is to be expected the dancing was up to the English National Ballets usual high standards. Eagling’s choreography certainly pushes them. Act 1 had some lovely pieces, the party scene was fun, I was impressed by the child dancers, and that was a clever piece of casting. As the audience had a large number of children present. I imagine a great many are probably dancers too, it certainly gave all the young aspiring dancers a chance to see their contemporaries, and hopefully acted as an inspiration to some watching.

The jewel in the crown of Act 1 was the snowflake scene, which was enchanting.

Act 2 is really where the ballet starts to shine though and here Eagling starts to pull all the clever choreography out of his proverbial conjurors sleeve. Anais Chalendard as Clara was a wonder to behold, such poise, grace and beauty. Partnered against the powerful Vadim Muntagirov as the Nutcracker and Junor Souza as The Prince whose leaps were something to behold.

The Waltz of the Flowers was one of my favourite parts of this act, but the best part of the entire show was the final Pas de Deux, which was majestic.

The enthusiastic applause at the end showed that we’d all had a good time and enjoyed this seasonal nostalgic trip. The Nutcracker is a true Christmas classic, and Eagling’s telling of this tale makes for a masterly version.

STARS : * * * *

Looking back at 2011

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For me 2011, has certainly been my busiest year theatrically. As I sit here with my Xmas Turkish Delight and box of choccy’s, what were my highlights?

  • Finally getting to see Robert Lepage was certainly a memorable occasion. His play The Blue Dragon I referred to as “Theatrical perfection”.

    Robert Lepage as Pierre Lamontagne

  • I saw my first Burlesque  show, which was certainly an eye opener!

    Mistress of Ceremonies

  • London Road at the National Theatre is certainly one of the highlights for me. An amazing piece of theatre.
  • The best new play of this year I think was The Acid Test by Anya Reiss.

Best new play of 2011

  • The best acting I saw this year was in The Seagull at the Arcola, especially Yolanda Kettle as Nina, who gets my “Best Actress Award”. Best Actor goes to Joseph Milson as Ben Stark in Rocket to the Moon at the National.

    Yolanda Kettle, best actress I saw in 2011, in The Seagull at the Arcola.

Joseph Milson, best actor I saw in 2011, in Rocket to the Moon

  • Crazy for You, was definitely the best musical I saw this year.

    The best legs in London!

  • Manon at the Royal Opera House, wins “best ballet” award.

    Manon left me speechless.

  • Best entertainment award would go to Strictly Gershwin. (so good I saw it twice and my wife saw it three times!)

    Dancing from the beautiful Rhapsody in Blue

  • Best theatre book of the year, without a doubt the publication of Volume 2 Samuel Beckett’s letters from 1941 – 1956, I’m still ploughing my way through them, but they’re one of the most rewarding things I’ve read in a long time.

So all in all a very good year theatrically for me.  Thanks to all my readers and I wish you all a very prosperous 2012.

An Illuminating and Entertaining Car Journey with Terence Rattigan – BBC ArchiveVoices – Review

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Christmas came early for me this week as I noticed the above was now released, so I treated myself to it, as it wasn’t on my Xmas list.

I had a 90 min journey to drive this week and so used that as a chance to listen to it. I got through it all on my journey there, and I enjoyed it so much I listened to it all again on the way home.

It’s great to hear Rattigan himself speak, and he expounds on some of his plays, views on theatre and playwriting. I absolutely loved it and gained some real insights into his work, into the man himself and into the art of playwriting and theatre. In this his centenary year Rattigan has (quite rightly) resumed his standing as on of the 20th centuries greatest playwrights. His views may not always be in keeping with a great many of the current trends taught in theatre schools. Personally I think he talks a HUGE amount of sense and would recommend this collection of interviews to students of theatre aswell as fans of Rattigan as you’ll certainly learn something.

I’m currently writing a paper on the critic Kenneth Tynan, looking partly at his reviews of Rattigans plays and it’s great to hear Rattigan himself respond to Tynans criticism. It’s quite saddening to hear Rattigan talk about the effect the critics had on him and why he stopped writing for theatre for 10 years due to it.

In one of the interviews he talks at length about his creation of “Aunt Edna” and how that was misunderstood (which he takes the full blame for, he had a deadline to meet and rushed the preface where he wrote about her). A fascinating part of this is his emphatic insistence that the playwriter treats the audience as a single entity. He talks affectionately of John Osbourne and their friendship and speaks extremely highly of Pinter and his work.

As has been proved this year, many of his plays are classics and still have the ability to entertain, and speak to a 21st century audiences. I find it sad that he’s dismissed by many of the current academics in the theatre world. He was certainly given a very brief mention in my post-war British playwriting module, and that was the first mention of him in my course. I wish I’d come across his work sooner. His craftmanship is something I really admire and have learnt from.

This is a fascinating collection of interviews spanning a really important part of British Theatre history. I’m even more of an admirer of Rattigan having heard the man himself. Get yourself a copy, settle down in a comfy chair with a Gin and Tonic and enjoy being in the company of one of the greatest playwrights.

STARS : * * * * *

 I also recommend this brilliant documentary that was on earlier this year which Benedict Cumberbatch hosts all about Rattigan.

The Office Party – Pleasance Theatre, Islington – Review


And Lo, the archangels Mark and Christina appeared to me in a dream saying, “Thou must arrange the most epic Xmas party our team have ever known.”.I awoke to see a star that led me away from the Watford office and there was much rejoicing. Where would it lead? I descended tunnels and as I ascended the escalator at Victoria tube the star hovered over the poster above. T’was a sign!

I pleaded with my colleagues and their trust and faith in me was rewarded, a few however chose to follow the dark side and not come, excuses were offered but the Lord shall smite them, Oh mighty smiter!

We awaited the evening with trepidation and trembling, mysterious black carriages arrived and whisked us off to Islington, that most lowly of London boroughs, but the Lord works in mysterious ways and places.

On arrival, I was thankfully placed in the “Creative Team” department, those not so lucky were assigned to the “The Technical Services” (ie. cleaners.). We went our separate ways, my team created their own jingle, which had certain words pinched from a financial companies “Brand Attributes”, another miracle (and nothing to do with me I assure you 🙂 )

We were all led back to be reunited on the top floor, where the bar was open and the disco beats pumping. What followed was a unique and hilarious 90 mins of games, theatre, cabaret and the bizarre (most notably my colleague Mike’s rendition of YMCA) .

The holy writ doth say, “What goes on at The Office Party, stays at The Office Party.”, far be it from I to go against such holy words of advice.

My prophecy to you all is thus : If you want to take your work colleagues to the most unusual theatrical event I’ve been to, get a group of you together, have a drink or two beforehand to get you in the party mood and go for it. You’ll laugh (lots!), you’ll be shocked (perhaps), but you’ll never be forgotten.

STARS : * * * *

Ps. There are a few photos and videos from when we went, but in the interests of me wanting to keep my job I’ll not post those here. (we’ll circulate them round the office at a future date)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – LAMPS – Liphook Millennium Hall – Review

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As you’ll see from my blog, I have a varied and eclectic theatrical taste, the last week alone has seen me see a new play at The Royal Court, a Forum Theatre Piece by an ex-homeless cast in East London, La Traviata at the Royal Opera House and to top it off, I saw an amateur production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Liphook Amateur Productions (LAMPS).

I’ll make it clear now, the reason I went is because I know the writer and director Stephen Baker. He’s due to marry into the family next year and so I thought it best to check out his theatrical credentials in case I need to yell out “YES! His theatre group is pants!” at the line in the wedding ceremony where they ask, “if anyone here present knows of any lawful impediment why these two should not be joined together in matrimony?”. It’s ok Steve, after last night I shall keep quiet.

It was a great fun evening, with the cast of mainly young people giving their all as they acted and sang their hearts out. It was good to see them so supported by the large audience that attended, and it was good to see the youngsters in the audience getting into the spirit of things. Rob Miller relished in his role as Willy Wonka and Amy Bleakley as Charlie (see what Steve did their – Charlotte/Charlie – clever old bean!) was fantastic.

Amateur theatre is a different beast to professional, but no less important in my eyes. LAMPS is giving young people the chance to try out what it’s like on stage, develop their talents and I’m sure have a great laugh at the same time.  Congratulations to all involved. I look forward to seeing their spring production of “Grease, the early years” in 2012.

I hope you keep the Oompalumpa costume Steve as I may wear it to the wedding 🙂

La Traviata – Royal Opera House – Review

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It’s only over the last few years that I’ve developed an interest in opera. I have a few operas in my music collection, but I’ll admit my knowledge of this theatrical form is limited.

The thing I love about it, is that it so different to anything else, it really does take you to “another place”. For example,  this week has been a manic week for me, work has been busy, I’ve had two other visits to the theatre and also rehearsals for the next play I’m in and an assignment to submit for college. So when I arrived at the Royal Opera House on Friday night, I was very tired and in need of something that would refresh and take me somewhere away from all these other commitments and pressures. What followed was three hours of brilliance, as if I’d dived into a refreshing cool pool, all the things I’d been worried about, floated away as I was engrossed in this opera.

From the gorgeous opening of the strings, right through to the tragic end, I was captivated by the story and performances. The Royal Opera House orchestra played with finesse and grace, I was up in the gods and their playing soared effortlessly up to me.

The singing of Ailyn Perez, Hanna Hipp, Daniel Grice, and Eddie Wade was mesmerizing. They filled the opera house as did the cast during the full cast numbers. I especially liked the scene set in the gaming room as the cast and moved around and onto the table. The costumes were sumptuous. The whole production had a “wow factor”, as the towering sets, huge cast and thundering voices took us to this other world.

So as a form  of pure escapism it worked, which is what opera is to me. It took me out and away from myself and provided a wonderful refreshment to a wearying week.

STARS: * * * *

Three Blind Mice – Cardboard Citizens / Bola Agbaje – Toynbee Studios – Review

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Off I headed to Aldgate East on Wednesday night to see Three Blind Mice, I stopped at a cashpoint to get some money out to pop in the donations bucket for Cardboard Citizens and was amused to be given the following options by the  machine with regards which language I’d like; “English”, or “Cockney”!! In hindsight I wished I’d pushed the cockney option, perhaps next time.

The Toynbee Studios was heaving, a tangible atmosphere as we mingled prior to going into the theatre. I was amazed at what an amazing space/theatre the Toynbee Studios is. London has many theatrical gems tucked away in all sorts of places. This is a fabulous theatre, which I’m pleased to say was packed. I recognised a few faces in the audience, they were cast members of the previous Cardboard Citizen’s event Life ‘aint no Musical that I saw earlier this year. Adrian Jackson (Artistic Director) greeted us all and informed us this was the 30th out of 46 performances of this play. It’s been touring hostels prior to it’s two night at the Toynbee Studios and it’ll then finish off touring.

Forum Theatre is a slightly different form of theatre, developed by Augusto Boal. Cast Member Terry O’Leary explained the concept to us. It’s easy to understand, the play is performed straight through. Then we voted on which character/scene we wanted to focus on. The cast then started performing again but at ANY moment a person in the audience can shout out “STOP!”. The audience member then gets up and acts out how they would do things differently.

The play itself struck a chord with me as I have a close family member who lives in social housing and they had their own problems with mice and rats, just like these characters. We followed the mice as they worked their way through three flats and the human inhabitants they found in each one, and the issues each was facing. Cardboard Citizens felt it would be useful to have a play that looked at the issues people face when they go into their first house. Often this is when some of their real troubles begin. Bola Agbaje’s script contained the right amount of drama and fun and the cast performed superbly well the multiple roles they each took on. Jonathan Whitty, Shara Ismail, Helen Donoghue, Andre Skeete and Terry O’Leary, gave compelling and powerful performances.

Jonathan Whitty and Andre Skeete

Then it was on to the Forum Theatre part, what an experience! Again I must say how impressed I was by the cast. They not only perform a play they then have to improvise it with strange people on stage with them trying to change the play’s action. Their improvisational skills are some of the best I’ve seen. The suggestions from the audience ranged from the insightful, helpful, not so helpful and frankly hilarious. My personal favourite was a suggestion to take two of the protagonists onto the Jeremy Kyle show! Despite the serious issues being discussed, I found the Forum Theatre section to be absolutely joyous. I was surprised how we all engaged and Terry O’Leary’s experience as a Forum Theatre Joker showed. The Joker role acts as “chairman” of the Forum Theatre section – no mean feat with all that’s going on!

I left with an insight into the struggles that people face when they go into social housing and realising how powerful Forum Theatre can be in helping people look at consequences, actions and how they can change the course of their lives.

If you want to give an Xmas present which will make a difference, please visit their website and give as generously as you can.

Terry O'Leary - There's a Rat in the Flat!