Il Barbiere Di Siviglia – Royal Opera House – Review

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It felt strange this week to be at the Opera House and laughing heartily, I’m so used to seeing tragedies and weepies there that is was a new experience to see a comedic opera finally.

The Barber of Seville is Rossini’s most well-known opera and I was pleased Director of Opera, Kasper Holten mentioned it was to be part of this season at the ROH preview earlier this year.

The packed house was warmed up by the masterful Mark Elder wielding his baton, conducting the orchestra of the Royal Opera House, I’ve said it before and I’ll no doubt say it again, they’re the greatest orchestra in the world in my opinion. I loved the fact that Mark Elder gave the opening overture a subtle and understated treatment, it teased and tantalised us rather than hitting us a with a wham.

As the curtains swung up we were greeted to a stylish set designed by Christian Fenouillat that was used to full effect throughout. Including a scene where its hydraulics moved it to dizzying effect. It was aided by Christophe Forey’s clever lighting design that took us through the different times artfully throughout the opera.

Michele Angelini as Count Almaviva

Michele Angelini as Count Almaviva – ROH photo by Tristram Kenton.

Michele Angelini makes his ROH debut as the love struck Count Almaviva, his gorgeous voice and lyricism filling the Opera House. Lucas Meachem is the eponymous Barber and relishes his entrance aria of ” Largo Al Factotum”, he made his entrance via the audience in the stalls, which was great fun and added to the comedy of this aria.

"FIGARO!"  Lucas Meachem as the excellent Barber of Seville - ROH Photo by Tristram Kenton

“FIGARO!” Lucas Meachem as the excellent Barber of Seville – ROH Photo by Tristram Kenton

Making her ROH debut as well was Serena Malfi as Rosina. She likewise brought stunning vocals that swelled and filled the ROH. She had a feistyness to her Rosina that was pleasing to see, her scene of throwing darts into the set during her aria in Act 1 was particularly comical.

Serena Malfi - an outstanding ROH debut as Rosina. ROH photo by Tristram Kenton

Serena Malfi – an outstanding ROH debut as Rosina. ROH photo by Tristram Kenton

I went to this opera expecting a fun night out and it certainly was;  a famous score, treated impressively by a great cast made for a laugh out loud night at the opera.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Porgy and Bess – Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – Review

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I used to live near Regent’s Park but until last week had never made the trip to see a production at the Open Air Theatre. Shame on me!

Thankfully the weather in the UK is gorgeous at the moment and so my wife and I spent a pleasant evening enjoying it at the Open Air Theatre. The hot and sticky weather added an extra realism to the setting of the play in South Carolina.

Seeing songs that are now famous such as Summertime and It Ain’t Necessarily So in their original and rightful context was enlightening to see. The programme notes that this is the largest orchestra and company they’ve ever had at the Regent’s Park Theatre. Unfortunately having the orchestra behind the set, means the stage is pretty small.

The production is cleverly choreographed to use the space available. I was struck by how tragic and sad a story this is. No happy and jolly story is this. The sadness, despair and abject poverty of the characters touched me.

I really felt for Bess – a woman trapped and manipulated by the men around her. Until she meets Porgy, his genuine love breaks through to her, but in the end she breaks him. Undeterred he heroically seeks after her.

Nicola Hughes as Bess, Rufus Bonds Jr as Porgy.

Nicola Hughes as Bess, Rufus Bonds Jr as Porgy.

Nicola Hughes as Bess was perfectly paired with Rufus Bond Jr as Porgy. Their performances were emotive and caused a lump to appear in my throat a few times.

The story is wider than just Porgy and Bess though and the other characters are woven into their lives. It’s a raw piece of theatre. The soaring melodies of Gershwin communicate the thoughts, feelings and emotions of the characters without any veneer.

It’s a great way to spend a summer’s evening.

STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – The Savoy Theatre

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This show about 2 conmen has been causing a buzz in the West End since it opened a few weeks back. Mainly due to its stars Robert Lindsay and Rufus Hound.

They are clearly having a ball on stage, but this is no self indulgent show, rather with a nod to audience early on they welcome us into their world.

The cast give us 100 percent and attack all the big numbers with flare. Katherine Kingsley ratchets up the end of Act 1 with her stunning vocal performance as Christine Colgate.

Katherine Kingsley's performance stole the show for me.

Katherine Kingsley’s performance stole the show for me.

It has many laugh out loud moments. Spolied only by the uneccesary crude and vulgar humour inserted along the way (Act 2 especially goes for cheap laughs too often I felt). The quite literal slapstick routine in Act 2 is one of the comedy highlights for me we all winced as Rufus Hound is repeatedly hit.

You'll struggle to see a more effortless stage performance as Robert Lindsay gives.

You’ll struggle to see a more effortless stage performance than the one Robert Lindsay gives.

Robert Lindsay is laid back and guides the show effortlessly. Rufus Hound is a wonderful foil and the byplay between them is perfect. It’ll be interesting to see if the show has much of a life without them.

One of the stars of the show is Peter Mckintosh’s splendid set, that adds a whole extra dimension to the piece.

I saw this on a Wednesday night and it was a perfect mid-week pick-me-up.

STARS :  ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Thanks to http://www.laughingbuddhauk.com/ for the tickets!

Little Theatre Guild – Conference 2014

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This weekend has seen me attending the annual conference of the Little Theatre Guild of Great Britain. I’m the rep for The Miller Centre Theatre.

The Guild is a group of just over 100 community theatres in the UK. We gathered at The Oast Theatre, Tonbridge for 2 days of workshops/talking about theatre/seeing theatre and dealing with the business of the Guild. This was my first time at the conference as I only became my theatre’s LTG rep last September. It was such a great time I can’t wait for next years!

Highlights for me were the workshop where we got to rummage in the extensive wardrobe the Oast Theatre have. Our task was to dress me as a Restoration gent. Finding boots seemed to be the hardest part, but we managed and got everything right. My final touch was a mask to give me a touch of Dick Turpin. A photo will be posted as soon as I get a copy!

Most of all it was nice to meet theatrical friends I’ve garnered over the years, some I’ve been in productions with, others have done the Theatre Studies degree via Rose Bruford. It was great to meet up with them unexpectedly here.

Of special note is our Patron – Sir Ian McKellen. Many charities patrons are simply a valuable figure-head. Ours certainly is, but we’re so fortunate that ours is also very hands on, being present for the AGM and the performance of  Loot the Oast Theatre put on Saturday night. I know I speak for all of us in the LTG by saying a HUGE thank you to Sir Ian, it makes such a real difference having a Patron who is so enthusiastic for our work.

Sir Ian with LTG members

Sir Ian with LTG members

We were also excited to have some observers present. It is unfathomable that there currently is no academic studies on the role/influence/importance of community theatre. That is all changing as a project is underway conducting academic research into community theatre : http://www.amateurdramaresearch.com/ is their website and I look forward to seeing how this develops over the coming years.

It was fabulous to spend time chatting over drinks, sharing stories/experiences and the buzz that our passion for theatre created. We’ve just had our website revamped so take a look at www.littletheatreguild.org.

Here’s to 2015!

 

 

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 : ★ ★ ★ ★