“Wine and Women are the Glory of the World” – Don Giovanni – Royal Opera House – Review

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My opera education continued this weekend with a visit to see Don Giovanni. The tickets were bought as a present for my wife at xmas, she asked if I knew what Don Giovanni was about, “no” I sheepishly replied. A wry smile appeared on her lips and she explained. I’m glad I’d not got them as a Valentines present!

We follow Don Giovanni during a 24 hour period as he seduces his way through several women (adding to his considerable lists which he keeps in numerous notebooks, over 1000 sexual conquests in Spain alone!). One of the women happens to be a bride on her wedding day, the bridegroom is not too happy about this as you can imagine. As he wriggles his way out of the mess he’s got himself in he get his just deserts and is taken down into hades.

The score contains many beautiful moments, especially the arias that Donna Anna, Don Ottavio and Donna Elvira sing. These were played by Carmela Remigo, Pavol Breslik and Ruxandra Donose. Their voices were amazing and their characterisation very strong as they sought out the cad of Don Giovanni. The set for this production was sparse (perhaps a little too sparse for the cavernous ROH stage), which heightened our focus on to the characters and their acting and singing. They were brilliant and we were drawn in to their struggles and passions which is no mean feat in the vast Royal Opera House. Their gorgeous velvet costumes in black, blue and purple I especially liked as it accentuated these characters.

Erwin Schrott was a ravishing, rampant and powerful Don Giovanni, even trying to chat up an audience member at one point of the opera, which was a nice touch. Somehow Erwin Schrott manages to make us like Don Giovanni, he is a total anti-hero, but you can’t help but like him.

This show however is one of those where the comic role can actually “steal the show”, and Alex Esposito as the witty sidekick Leporello, did just that. his comic timing was impeccable, his physical humour perfect and what an lovely voice too.

The star of the show for me - Leporello

The finale of Don Giovanni being taken to the furnaces of Hades was a dramatic ending, we could feel the heat of the flames up in the amphitheatre, they must have roasted on stage.

The fine Royal Opera House Orchestra conducted by Constantionos Carydis carried us along this journey with their perfect playing, they are fast becoming my favourite orchestra.

So another great trip to the Royal Opera House, my knowledge is expanding and I can’t wait for my next visit.

STARS : * * * *

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In Basildon by David Eldridge – Royal Court Theatre – Review

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A touch of glamour comes to Sloane Square at the moment in David Eldridge’s new play In Basildon. Well maybe not glamour but certainly a lively and entertaining piece of writing. Romford boy Eldridge has penned a piece about love, loss, inheritance, greed, money and mortality. The play is set in the living room of Len’s house in Basildon as he is slowly slipping from this world. Around him are friends and family, including his sisters Maureen and Doreen and his best mate Ken. I’ve never seen the Royal Court transformed into a “theatre in the round” space before. It works extremely well having us all seated around the room and provides a more intimate and involved feeling to the play.

After his Lens death attention turns to his will and it is here we see the fractures that finances can bring to family members. Be they close or whether they hate each others guts. Eldridge’s play touches on numerous emotions and thoughts, with wit and tenderness.

Despite Eldridge tipping his hat to a few stereotypes and the sense of humour that is part of Essex, he provides his characters with depth and intelligence. I loved the scene where rich boyfriend Tom is confronted by the hard facts of people who graft and have a sense of pride. As opposed to his poncy liberalism. Those that know me, know I bemoan the fact that theatre seems to have an aversion to portraying the right of centre political view. In the unlikely event they do portray it, usually it is to mock it or say how bad it is. Here I find liberalism confronted with heart and pragmatism, by right wing politics,  something I never thought I’d see on the stage of the Royal Court!

The cast give excellent performances. I’m a bit of a snob I’ll admit (well I am from Kent you know) but my heart grew to love them, and understand the reason they love their town and county. The play is also exceedingly funny, and I’m sure there were plenty of “in jokes” that people from Basildon and Essex got that I didn’t. 

The Brilliant Basildon Cast

I also found it a pleasure to watch as it was so well structured and written. I’ve long admired David Eldridge’s work and his writings on plays and theatre. I was also able to hear him in person last year at this event speak about playwriting. Here we have a play that is crafted. It has tension, humour, and drama. Each act builds and it’s nice to have a “cliffhanger” to ponder on during the interval. I’ve mentioned before my admiration for writers that craft their work, and Eldridge is certainly in this school of playwriting.  The final act is especially touching. I’m sure they’ll be some that find it idiosyncratic or maybe even anti climatic, for me though I felt it provided a nice change of pace to the riotous act before and helped cement the more serious aspects of the play.

I left the theatre with a spring in my step and I really suggest you take some time to go and see it. It’s a brilliant piece of writing, performed superbly.

STARS : * * * * *

 

 

 

 

An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde – Miller Centre Theatre Company, Miller Centre Theatre – Review

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Oscar Wilde’s classic play of political intrigue, manipulation and scandal in Victorian society comes to Caterham from now until the 25th February. I’ve been a great admirer of Wilde’s wit and writing but have never actually seen a play of his before, so it was a delight last night to be whisked back in time to see this play. This feeling of being taken back in time was in no small part due to Keith Orton’s wonderful set design and the perfect period costumes.

David Sanders as the "Ideal" Husband Sir Robert Chiltern and Tonia Porter as the conniving Mrs Cheveley

David Sanders gave a convincing portrayal as Sir Robert Chiltern, the apparently spotless politician whose one misdeed from his youth comes back to haunt him. Thanks to Mrs Cheveley played with just the right “bitchyness” by Tonia Porter. What a nasty piece of work! (Mrs Cheveley not Tonia!)

Sir Robert Chiltern’s wife, Lady Chiltern is the whiter than white idealist played with a great sense of gravity by Rachael Poulloin. It would be easy with this role to become a bit patronising and holier than thou. Rachel gave it a tenderness that made you sympathise with Lady Chiltern as she realises the man she has thought her Ideal might have feet of clay.

The charming Lucy Baker as Mabel Chiltern

Along with the blackmail storyline is the love story of Mabel Chiltern and Lord Goring. Lucy Baker portrayed the ditzy and playful Mabel with a great sense of fun that was infectious. The star of the show is without doubt Lord Goring, in many ways a character that is Oscar Wilde himself. This role was played with relish by Danniel Horton. Who got great laughs with his witty quips and observations.

A stage with TWO Danniel Horton's, can you have too much of a good thing??

Peter Damesick as director has molded and guided his talented cast to bring this wonderful play to life. I was struck by how contemporary the themes of corrupt politicians, blackmail and scandal are. The joy of Wilde’s wit is timeless too. I do feel that the final few lines are a bit clichéd and perhaps a bit of their time, but I’m about to summarise my review with a cliché so I’ll let Wilde off. My cliché? “This production of an Ideal Husband is an Ideal Night Out!”

 

DISCLAIMER: As regular readers of my blog know, I’m actively involved in the Miller Centre Theatre Company and I know a good number in this cast. HOWEVER my review is as impartial as I can honestly make it. All photos are with thanks from Avril Jones Photography.

 

A Few Man Fridays by Adrian Jackson – Riverside Studios – Review

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Adrian Jackson’s latest play brings to life the true life story of a paradise lost, that of the Chagos Islanders. Never heard of them? Until Wednesday night I’d not heard of them either. Adrian Jackson has written a play about the island and more importantly the islanders who were evicted.

It’s told from the viewpoint of Prosper a mental health patient trying to piece together his past and his memories of people and dogs. Linked into this are his counsellor and her marine biologist husband. As we journey through the history of the islands we are confronted with the injustice the British and Americans have done and also how conservation can also be used as a political tool.

I spoken before about my admiration for Cardboard Citizens and the work they do and I’ve enjoyed the previous productions of theirs I’ve seen (for reviews see, here and here) . I always come away from them having learnt something and with this production it was the same. Their skill is that it never comes across as “preachy” or like it’s meant to be “educational”. That’s because it’s told through the stories of people. This isn’t a play about issues, it’s a play about people.

The island references came thick and fast, but the story is certainly timely with the Falkland Islands being in the news again this week. The play makes the grim but important point that the Falklands are inhabited by white people and have possible oil reserves. Diago Garcia was inhabited by black people and had no oil, perhaps this is why the British were not so interested at the time?

The cast give good performances, I thought Ansu Kabia was a strong lead as Prosper. The rest of the cast play numerous characters, Sharon Duncan-Brewster was exceptional, movingly so as Madame Talate and then switching to the smarmy and manipulative politician Peter a few scenes later (as well as other roles throughout too). Nicholas Khan is one of the highlights of Act 2 with an uncanny impression of a well-known person (no I’ll not tell you who it is, you’ll have to go and see it, as I don’t want to ruin the surprise). Johanna Allitt gives a tender performance as the Counsellor trying to help Prosper and her Conservationist husband is shown to be struggling with the options of conservation of a reef and it’s species over the human rights of a group of people by Alasdair Craig. Tom Hodgkins and Josian Fauzou support the play well with their numerous roles.

Act 2 is certainly the stronger of the Acts, and I do feel the play could do with a bit of editing to tighten it up and increase the pace in certain scenes. I like the staging and use of projections that range from Mickey Mouse, to coral reefs, to Maggie Thatcher! I especially liked the floating fish (pictured above). There is a scene where the dialogue is via comments being posted on YouTube which I thought was a very contemporary way of conducting dialogue.

So I recommend going to the Riverside Studios and catching this interesting piece of theatre.  You’ll come away having learnt more about the Chagos islanders and the islands history told in an entertaining and creative way.

STARS : * * * (and a half)

Backstage at the National Theatre – Review of the Backstage Tour

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I’ve sat in all three theatre spaces of the National Theatre, I’ve wined and dined in most of its eating spaces/cafes and restaurants, spent far too much money in its fabulous bookshop and enjoyed sitting outside watching events, or just chilling with friends in the summer. Yesterday however I got the chance to go behind the scenes to see backstage.

The NT hold tours :

Monday – Friday: 10.15, 10.30, 12.15, 12.30, 17.15, 17.30
Saturday: 10.30am and 12.15pm
Sunday: 12.30pm ( on days when the building is open)

and the tours cost:

Individuals – £8.50
Concessions – £7.50
Entry Pass Members – £5 (not available to book online)
Groups of 8 or more – £7.50 each (not available to book online)
Schools rate (for 30 or more places): £5 (please call 020 7452 3400 to book)

All tours bookers receive 25% off in the Espresso Bar and 15% off in the NT Bookshop.  (bargain!)

It takes about 1hr 10 mins and takes you behind the scenes of this fantastic theatre. Seeing them changing the sets from She Stoops to Conquer to The Comedy of Errors was exciting. As was looking up into the fly tower, which contained sets for both these productions.

I was most impressed with the Lyttleton and how the entire set is literally on a trolley that gets wheeled in or out of the space. I’ve always wondered how the hell they can do such quick change overs, and now I know, they “just” wheel one set off and slide the other one in.

I knew the NT was a purpose-built and clever theatre, but I had no idea it had its own workshops on site and seeing these was also enlightening. They were painting the sets for the Broadway production of One Man Two Guvnors, yesterday.

Throughout the tour our guide pointed out little bits of trivia, such as why the Olivier theatre seats are the colour they are, and geared the tour to the little group I was part of. It’s listed as one of Time Out’s “101 things to do in London”, and I really wished I’d done it sooner. The reality is I’ll certainly do it again in the future as when other productions are in, it’ll be a totally different tour.

I came away with even more of an appreciation for how lucky we are to have the NT and the hard work and dedication that goes into putting on a production there.

If you’ve an interest in the NT, theatre, architecture or just fancy being nosy, this is a brilliant tour of a brilliant theatre.

2011 Another Bumper Year – But What of 2012?

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The stats are in from the Society of London Theatre and 2011 was another success for the West End. The big question is how do you measure success?

Yes, the box office takings were up by 3% BUT attendance was down by 1.7%. I think we need to see if that downward trend in attendance continues, which as ticket prices soar I think will continue. Please don’t get me wrong I’m VERY pleased that the West End is bucking the trend and doing so well in the current climate. It’s also always helpful to remind the Treasury that the West End’s VAT contribution was nearly £90 Million!

One encouraging sign is that attendance at plays is up by 2%. Musical attendance is down again for the second year in a row. That may change this year with Matilda and the arrival of Top Hat and Singin in the Rain. However the swathe of jukebox musicals I think is starting to wear a bit thin with audiences. The long runners of Les Mis, Phantom, Lion King etc. seem to be doing as well as ever. Play’s do seem to be becoming more popular, just this last week I’ve had two friends who are not regular theatre goers ask me about plays to go to, specifying they want to see plays not musicals.

A Blessing or a Curse to the West End in 2012?

The confusing thing for me is the different views I keep hearing with regards the Olympics and their impact on the West End this summer. Some are saying theatres will close, advance ticket sales are awful and others that it’ll be a huge boost for sales. Who’s to believe?? I think we’ll just have to see what actually happens. I’m not trying to be a naysayer but I don’t think the SOLT figures this time next year will be so rosy.