Preview of Royal Opera House 2014/15 Season

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There was an air of expectancy as the Patrons and Friends of Covent Garden packed out the Paul Hamlyn Hall at the Royal Opera House on Thursday night to get an overview of the 2014/15 season.

Alex Beard Chief Executive of the ROH welcomed us all, and shared with us how the average attendance of the ROH is 96%, a staggering figure and proof that opera is popular and thriving. He pointed out that those that say “I don’t like opera” 9 times out of 10 have never been to one. This was certainly true for me, and I owe that first ROH production of La Traviata I saw for changing my mind and opening up this theatrical form to me. Since that time I’ve seen many operas and think it is a very special form of theatre.

Kasper Holten the Director of Opera then expounded on the opera season ahead. Let me say now, I was blown away by his passion, knowledge and desire to promote opera. I see a lot of presentations and speakers, and he’s from that special group that you feel inspired after listening to him.

Kasper Holten : Passionate, inspirational and knows his opera!

Kasper Holten : Passionate and inspirational

The coming season is a real mix, the classics are there, some new works and some interesting collaborations/innovations:

  • A production of Orfeo at the Roundhouse in Camden. I love the Roundhouse venue and know this will be a brilliant setting for this piece. Shock horror they’re going to sing it in English! It’s all part of engaging with the Roundhouse community and I think this will be a special collaboration opening up opera to a new audience and showing more established lovers of the form something new with this opera. This is regarded as the first opera written and Michael Boyd will be directing.
  • Anna Nicole will kick off the season. Interesting they’re reviving this piece. Another great innovation with this is that the first night will be for young people and students only. To encourage this demographic, the top price ticket will be the grand total of….£25!!!! What a bargain.
  • The piece I’m most excited about is an opera of Kafka’s The Trial by Philip Glass. On in the Linbury Studio this October. I love the book and I admire Philip Glass’s musicality so I’m hoping this will live up to the expectations I have.
  • The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny by Kurt Weill. Another I’m really excited to see. Kasper spoke about his desire to see opera’s from the 1918-30′s on the main stage. As he believed that period after WW1 has much that resonates with us today. I spoken often about how Brecht shaped my theatrical view. Getting to see his libretto and see an opera he helped to create will be something significant. Another break with tradition is this will also be an English translation of Brecht’s German libretto.

Perhaps the biggest announcement was that this season will be the last time John Copley’s 1974 version of La Boheme will be staged. I may need to make the effort to see this one last time as it’s such an iconic treatment of this fabulous opera.

We then heard from the equally enthusiastic Kevin O’Hare, outlining for us the Royal Ballet’s season.

Kevin O'Hare - The Royal Ballet's Director.

Kevin O’Hare – The Royal Ballet’s enthusiastic Director

Kevin’s care for his dancers came to the fore, the Royal Ballet have suffered from a series of injuries recently, all just down to bad luck. I was impressed that his first concern was to them, and then to the season. What a season too:

  • Kenneth Macmillan’s treatment of Manon returns this September to November. (I saw it in 2011 and regarded as the best thing I saw that year) If you’ve not seen it, make every effort to go! It’s celebrating 40 years since it first came to the ROH.
  • Another shock announcement  – there will be no Nutcracker this year. Hooray I say you, can have too much of a good thing. it’ll be back in future seasons though (another hooray).  This year over the xmas period will be Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on the main stage and a new collaboration with Zoonation in the Linbury Studio of The Mad Hatter’s T Party. I’m sure the ROH will be buzzing with families and inspire a new generation of dancers with these works.
  • May 2015 sees for me one of the most exciting new pieces for the Royal Ballet in this season; Woolf Works a look at the works and life of Virginia Woolf. Wayne McGregor will choreograph and music will be by Max Richter.

The above are just my highlights. The whole season for both Opera and Ballet is outstanding. Have a look at their website for more info and of course check back here for my reviews on the above mentioned pieces.

Bravo to the whole team at ROH for giving us a marvelous season to look forward to!

 

 

Tears of Joy thanks to Perfect Nonsense – Jeeves and Wooster, Duke of York’s Theatre – Review

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Jeeves and WoosterI have quite a distinctive laugh I’ve been told, and my fellow theatre goers the other night got to hear it aplenty at Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense.

What a fabulously fun show! Stupendous silliness ensues as Bertie Wooster attempts to retell the goings on of his recent escapades utilising Jeeves and Sepping as all the other characters. What follows is pure madcap farcical escapism, which is wonderful.

Stephen Mangan is perfect as the loveable Wooster, at home interacting with the audience and ad-libbing as necessary. No fourth wall exists here and the play is much stronger for encompassing the audience. Matthew Macfadyen gives an equally impressive performance as Jeeves, and there is a brilliant interplay between him and Mangan on numerous occasions. Macfadyen also gives excellent performances of the other characters (all the while being Jeeves playing them – I know it sounds bonkers but it works!)

Add to this duo the wacky performances of Mark Hadfield and you’ve got a palpable hit. Mark Hadfield’s turns I think were some of the best and literally had me crying with laughter.

As a fan of the original books, I have to say I think the Goodale brothers have done a tremendous job with transposing the story from the page to the stage. Sean Foley is an expert director of comedy and he nails the nuances and timing perfectly here. They are all aided in bringing it to life by Alice Powers genius set and costumes. Seeing how it all comes together is part of the joy of the piece and I was surprised in how they chose to do it, but by Jove it works spiffingly well I say!

If you enjoyed The 39 Steps, this is similar in its type of comedy and will be right up your street. There are many shows that claim to be “The funniest show in the West End.” for my money this is certainly the owner of that title.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

 

Affairs – Camden People’s Theatre – Review

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Affairs

A packed house gathered at the Camden People’s Theatre to see Affairs on Friday night. It is a quirky and clever piece of theatre that looks deeply at the issues of infidelity, love, sex and emotion.

Sophie Walton is the lone actress that brings the story to life, with her engaging stage presence. I was impressed that Rob Young the writer had written it so authentically in the “voice” of a woman. It really did feel like her story that she was sharing with us. It had the spontaneity and wit that gave it a realism that made it compelling to watch and listen too.

Like any true life story it has many surprises and complexities along the way, which only added to the intrigue and fun of the narrative. Which made for an enjoyable and thought-provoking night at the theatre for me.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★

 

Not I / Footfalls / Rockaby – Duchess Theatre – Review

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I’ve been having a “theatrical sabbatical” the last 6/8 weeks. I was meant to be seeing this Beckett trilogy at the Royal Court Theatre in January, but work conspired against me and I had to miss it. Which I was pretty miffed about. So I was delighted to see it had a West End transfer and bought a ticket straight away. I have a soft spot for the Duchess Theatre, it’s rather bland/functional but that’s perfect for Beckett. I saw Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape here back in 2010.

I know that Beckett isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but for me he is one of a handful of playwrights whose work truly speaks to me. When I studied his work (and other absurdist/existential writers) at college I finally found a philosophy that resonated with me and made sense of this crazy thing we call existence.

The cavernous Duchess has all eyes transfixed on this for Not I

The cavernous Duchess Theatre has all eyes transfixed on this for Not I

Not I is the first play we’re treated to – we’re warned the theatre will descend into complete darkness even the fire exit signs are put out. It was truly eerie to be in compete darkness, something in our neon lit/mobile screens going constantly world, seldom happens. Then Lisa Dwan’s mouth appears, hovering over the stage and wham she’s off on a relentless performance. In the 10 minutes she must easily cram in 20 minutes worth of words!

I'll have to work on my own version with this puppet mouth at somepoint in the future !

My own production didn’t quite get the West End transfer I was hoping for.

In this play Beckett perfectly captures that incessant noise we sometimes get in our heads when our thoughts whirl and those bizarre internal conversations we have with ourselves. It really is a performance piece for Lisa Dwan and it is staggering to see how she performs this.

Captivating and ethereal in Footfalls.

Captivating and ethereal in Footfalls.

Footfalls starts with a beautiful and haunting entrance of Lisa Dwan in white, the ethereal nature of her presence as she walks up and down the thin beam of light was beautiful and disturbing. It ended just as magically as it had begun with her melting away. A melancholy look at death, but sometimes it’s good to face our demons.

Rockaby Performed by Lisa Dwan  free pic

Rockaby was my favourite of the three. I found it truly hypnotic and felt I was being lulled into the world on stage. The repetitive and lonely nature of existence is wonderfully portrayed, and it ends with some say a bleak call to “f*@k life”. To me it’s not bleak, rather a hopeful rallying call, to not take ourselves or our existence too seriously.

A massive “thank you and congratulations” to Lisa Dwan for her performance in all three plays. I found her truly mesmeric to watch and these are no easy pieces to bring to life. Her mouth in Not I, lit and filling the Duchess Theatre was a fabulous thing to see and hear.

Sometimes theatre imbeds itself permanently onto your brain and into your life – this is certainly true for this trilogy for me.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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The Light Princess – The National Theatre – Review

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Review in one sentence : This is one of the most inventive, incredible pieces of theatre I’ve EVER seen.

Light Princess Poster

Review in more than one sentence:

I was excited by the concept of this when I first heard it was being workshopped a few years ago. It’s been a while in gestation but it has been well worth the wait.

This is a Victorian fairy tale (which was new to me), told with an inventiveness I’ve only seen in a few other musicals and pieces of theatre (London Road and Once). All of the various parts that make this an harmonious whole piece; the score, lyrics, script, design, direction, choreography and cast have achieved that magical alchemy that theatre seldom achieves but when it does and you’re present to witness it, leaves an indelible mark on your life.

Tori Amos has crafted a score that is a welcome fresh newcomer to musical theatre. Several of the tunes lodge firmly in the memory when leaving the theatre. There are moments of drama, comedy and a few that send tingles up the spine and one that sends a tear or two down the cheek. Hurry up National Theatre and Tori Amos and release the soundtrack please!!!

2 impressive talent combine in this production. Tori Amos and Rosalie Craig.

2 impressive talents combine in this production. Tori Amos and Rosalie Craig.

Rosalie Craig as Althea (the Light Princess of the title) gives a performance that is extraordinary. Her voice soars as effortlessly as she does. Singing this score would be hard for any professional, yet she does it whilst spinning, floating upside down and swooping over the stage. Performance of the year goes to her for this without a shadow of a doubt. If not greatest female lead I’ve seen, ever!

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Nick Hendrix as her romantic suitor gives a powerful performance. Clive Rowe as King Darius belts out his tunes and he also gives a tender performance in one song that had me going for my handkerchief as he sings to his dying daughter.

Sometimes the set, choreography and theatrical trickery can detract from a piece. Here they add volumes to it. How they’ve got Althea to float all the time is bordering on genius and the VERY hard work of 4 acrobats. If I try to explain it, you’ll think it sounds impossible. So I won’t bother, suffice to say it is definitely the cleverest theatrical idea and implementation I’ve seen. Truly magical. You’ll have to see it with your own eyes.

Just one of the never ending ingenious creations in this show.

Just one of the never-ending ingenious creations in this show.

Add to this intriguing and ingenious puppets and puppetry, with a focused direction from Marianne Elliott it is really a very special piece of theatre.

I came out of the National feeling like I too was floating I was so overjoyed by this experience. My advice is stop whatever you are doing and make sure you book tickets to see this as soon as possible.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Duck House (or should that be Dire House?) – Vaudeville Theatre – Review

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I left the Vaudeville Theatre in a state of despair after seeing The Duck House. After the lacklustre One Man Two Guvnors and the instantly forgettable Raving, we now have the dire Duck House. It appears there are no creative comedy writers for UK theatre at present. What a shame.

The Duck House claims to be a farce based on the MP’s expenses scandal  of a few years ago. All the jokes are obvious and not a single situation isn’t telegraphed so early that you don’t see it coming almost from the moment the curtain is raised.

Again, as in Raving I’m fed up with the laziness of the writing, it goes for the crudest and lowest vulgar laughs far too often. One of characters walks in and we can tell she’s going to be running around in kinky underwear soon, why? Well because the coat she’s in is so short you can see her stocking tops and suspenders! Director Terry Johnson appears to equally not care about any subtlety as this farce lurches from one over the top scene to another.

The writers, Colin Swash and Dan Patterson appear to have just gone through their notebooks of what they’ve written for Have I Got News For You and Mock The Week and shoe horned in as many jokes from those as possible. I really did sit there thinking, “I’ve heard these jokes before”. They also seem to have a checklist of “things that should be in a farce” and have slavishly ticked them off; trousers dropping, tick, woman in sexy underwear, tick, someone hiding in cupboard in their underwear, tick. These are all set up with no style or intelligence, it’s embarrassing.

I love farces, but this is just a bastardised version of what a good one can be. The writers have failed in making the main character loveable in any way. So the scrapes he gets himself in ,I just didn’t care as they were self inflicted and deserved.

What could have been an intelligent and witty look at an interesting part of recent politics has been dropped instead for a crude, crass, piece of drivel, that butchers the farce. My search for a decent modern comedic theatre writer continues.

STARS : ★

Many thanks to www.officialtheatre.com for the tickets.

Kungliga Operan – Stockholm / Swan Lake – Review

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Following on from my previous post about the Theatrical Sites in StockholmI’ve saved my highlight for its own post. It’s also a double whammy of a review too – both the Opera House and the Ballet we saw there.

So first of all the Kungliga Operan, in one word, WOW. What a stunning opera house. Lavish, luxuriant and stylish with friendly staff made for it being a perfect night out.

The Outside of the Kungliga Operan

The outside of the Kungliga Operan

We were fortunate to sit in the area which is actually reserved for the King’s household (unbeknownst to me when I purchased the tickets) and tickets for this are released only the last few days prior to the show if not needed. I could get used to theatre seats that are like armchairs, and a great view! Thanks to a very friendly local couple we sat next to, they gave us a peek of the Kings Gallery and private staircase which are located nearby during the interval.

Inside it is rather spectacular too - The King's Gallery,  © Alexander Kenney / Operan Kungliga

Inside it is rather spectacular too – The King’s Gallery, © Alexander Kenney / Operan Kungliga

Most comfortable theatre seat award goes to Kungliga Operan!

Most comfortable theatre seat award goes to Kungliga Operan!

Main staircase of the Opera House

Main staircase of the Opera House

The ceiling above the main stairs

The ceiling above the main stairs

During the second interval our kind locals sitting next to us asked if we’d been to the Golden Hall? We advised we hadn’t, “oh you MUST come and see it!” so off we went. Alas as I’d not expected to need to take photos I didn’t have my camera on me and I can’t find any pics online. Suffice to say it is a hall that is lit by magnificent chandeliers and the entire room is covered in gold. Rumour has it the room is entirely gold leaf, whether it is or not, I so glad they made sure we saw it.

I was also pleasantly surprised at the reasonable cost of attending the Kungliga Operan, comparative seating in the Covent Garden Royal Opera House, would easily have cost four times as much and people told me Stockholm was an expensive city! Certainly not for ballet or opera. I may start getting a cheap flight and seeing more there, as that’ll still be cheaper the way West End is going.

So to the ballet:

I’ve seen Swan Lake a few times but not recently. Previous occasions have all been Russian companies and so it was gripping to see how another school of ballet would deal with this iconic piece. I have to say I liked the understated subtlety and focus on the story telling they gave it. The dancers had their chance to wow us and show us what they could do, but the narrative of the piece was the centre point. So much so, that a full act I don’t ever recall seeing in my previous versions! I’m sure it must have been in them as I remember the score from them, but clearly they failed to connect the story to me. Whereas this time each act developed the story and built on the last act. I especially liked the quick change of Odette from Princess to swan, it was so magical.

Obviously pride in ones own Royal Ballet prevents me from saying the  Swedish Royal Ballet were better. However they were not quite as slick as ours and this could have been due to one of the dancers injuring themselves and having to bow out of the final act. In no way though is this a slight on the company. They gave charming performances and we had a wonderful time viewing their Swan Lake.

This was seen on my last night in Stockholm, a fine ending to a fantastic week there. I wish we’d had time for an official tour of the Kungliga Operan and should we return, we’ll make a point of doing that. If you are in Stockholm make sure you visit the Kungliga Operan!