Sunday, 30 September 2007
Libretto by Meilhac and Halévy
Directed by Sally Potter
Conductor: Edward Gardner
London Coliseum, 29th September to 23rd November (15 performances)
Reviewed by Mark Valencia
Whereas the last ENO season closed on the fiasco of Kismet, an old musical with dubious operatic credentials, the current one gets into its stride with a true opera that’s often (glibly) dubbed the ‘first musical’. And it’s true – the hits just keep on coming. Indeed, a recent revival of Carmen Jones leads one to wonder why Oscar Hammerstein ever bothered to tinker with the original at all. His Broadway hybrid has quickly dated in a way Bizet’s masterpiece never will, for all the abuse it suffers at the hands of directors du jour.
This time round it’s the turn of the Orlando director Sally Potter to use this titanic opera as her toybox. Let’s start with the music, though, because here ENO has served up a feast. The best news of all is happening down in the pit, where Edward Gardner is galvanizing the orchestra into an exciting musical force. There are many opportunities during this Carmen to divert one’s gaze from the stage and thrill instead to the energy and synergy going on between conductor and players. As with last season’s Death in Venice, Gardner’s judgements are spot-on and the whole thing sounds a million dollars. And it is ravishingly sung. Alice Coote makes her title role début in sensational style, her voice like molten gold and her hushed moments spellbinding the entire Coliseum. She is matched by Julian Gavin’s deeply considered José (no Don here) and by the plangent soprano of Katie Van Kooten as Micaëla. Only the ENO Chorus continues to disappoint: most west end musicals can field a stronger team than this, and their poor diction alone justified the presence of surtitles for Christopher Cowell’s clever but distracting translation.
Eyes closed, this is a memorable, sun-drenched Carmen. Eyes open, we have Potter to contend with. We start in a CCTV surveillance compound; by Act 3 we are on the crossing bridge of a motorway service area. Es Devlin’s designs are drab and spare, in keeping with Potter’s night-time vision of an amorphous, semi-totalitarian landscape (Britain?), and only in Act 4, where the action moves to a recognisable Spain, do we see daylight.
‘Director’s theatre’ is all very well provided it works. The overiding problem with this take on Carmen is that it creates so many problems for itself, then fails to solve them. For example, the appearance inside the security compound of a white-clad children’s chorus makes no sense whatsoever, and their exhortation to ‘join the ranks of God’s batallion’ suggests that Potter herself had little idea how to shoe-horn this set piece into her concept. If she had adopted a more consistently stylised approach she might have got away with it; instead, her staging is often Kismet-bad. Formless crowds swamp David Kempster’s Escamillo during his big number and his arrival goes for nothing. A hundred smugglers risk death by spanning the motorway, improbable prostitutes totter on stilettos they do not know how to wear and for some reason both Mercédès and Frasquita are presented as Amy Winehouse. Most seriously of all, the director sanctions no visible hint of sexual frisson between Carmen and José (although vocally they compensate in spades), and thereby betrays the very essence of the opera.
Carmen is being performed only 15 times until the 23rd November for dates and more information visit http://www.eno.org/
Photos by Tristram Kenton: Top - Alice Coote & David Kempster, Middle - Carmen Company, Bottom - Alice Coote & Julian Gavin
Saturday, 29 September 2007
Liverpool Everyman: 26th Sept - 13th Oct
Director: Gemma Bodinetz
Composer: Conor Linehan
Reviewer: Gill Cooke
Big things are set to follow for new graduate of the Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse Young Writers Programme Lizzie Nunnery if this, her first and flawless full length play is anything to go by.
Intemperance is set in 1854, whilst a family live in the squaller of a small Liverpool cellar with no light bar a small shaft of light creeping through a crack in the roof which was stunnigly designed by Ruari Murchison, all around them merchants from around the world come to Liverpool to trade and the money abounds so much that the grand St Georges Hall walls grow bigger by the day.
Gemma Bodinetz's excellent direction helps you get straight into the story, the pace really puts you on the edge of your seat empathising with a family that struggles to understand why things are getting better on the outside but in the cellar things are just the same, Conor Linehams underscoring really adds to the mounting tension and gives the stellar cast a first rate atmospheric platform to really shine...and shine they do.
Brid Brennan and Kristofer Gummerus play husband and wife Milly and Brynjar Slidness with ample effection and love, whilst Brendon Conroy plays Milly's father Fergul giving a subtle but emotionally weighted performance. Matthew Dumphrey provided the show with a biter and angry performance playing Ruairi, that for once in a play doesnt seem out of place or coming from nowhere, and special mention must also be given to Emily Taaffe who makes her professional debut playing the part of Niamh, holding herself strong within the cast in a highly credible and stellar performance.
This play comes at a really piognant time in Liverpools history with being Capital of Culture in 2008, with so much money coming into the area, we only have to look at some of Liverpools inner city areas and ask ourselves have things really changed in the last hundred years or are things going to be hidden to the public eye, by politics and big events once again?
Intemperance runs at Liverpool Everyman until the 13th October for more information visit www.everymanplayhouse.com
Photos by Robert Day - Top:- the cast, Middle:-Brid Brennan (Millie) Kristofer Gummerus (Brynjar), Bottom:-Brid Brennan(Millie).
Friday, 28 September 2007
Landor Theatre: 19th Sept - 20th Oct
Book & Lyrics: Ryan Cunningham
Music: Joshua Salzman
Director: Robert McWhir
I Love You Because, set in New York follows the life of greeting card writer Austin Bennet, but life is turned upside down when on another Saturday night, he walks in to find his long term girlfriend Catherine sleeping with somebody else. Whilst on the other side of the city Diana is trying to cheer up Marcy after a break up with her long term boyfriend of 2 years, what follows is another boy-meets-girl romantic comedy, you could describe this show as Friends mixed up with Sex and the City, shaken and stirred with the best of musical theatre, even the set (excellently designed by Andy Edwards) take us to the places all to familiar in those TV shows, a coffee shop, a bar and of course the bedroom.
This show has the legs to go far, it is a rarity that I sit in the theatre and find it near impossible to find fault with a production, the only fault I did find was within the first few minutes of the opening number where Daniel Boys (Austin) was a little hard to hear – which is a pity because the opening number is fantastic, but as the show moves on Daniel’s confidence grows and provides the audience with a character we really care about. Richard Frame also provides an excellent older brother for Austin in his larger than life brother Jeff. Jodie Jacobs was in fine tune as Marcy, as was Debbie Kemp who perfects another hot heeled New York woman with her portrayal of Diana. Supporting roles were played with real panache and wit by West-End veterans Lucy Williamson and Mark Goldthorp. I Love You Because is a real ensemble piece with each cast member really putting their mark firmly into this premier and that only strengthens the show even more.
It’s rare to find a new musical that has both an excellent book and libretto, but Salzman and Cunningham’s show provides us with some memorable tunes and a huge aching grin at the end of the night. Robert McWhir has directed a piece that is fluid and never lacks pace, he has added so many little details that it is hard to take in with one viewing, this is probably one of the best pieces of theatre I have seen in a very long time and I may if I can get myself a ticket, go and see this gem once again...but my guess is I will have to pay in blood or murder someone outside the theatre to get a seat.
Photos by stagephoto.co.uk and show, Top; Jodie Jacobs (Marcey) & Daniel Boys (Austin). Middle; Mark Goldthorp (NY Man) & Lucy Wiliamson (NY Woman). Bottom; Debbie Kurup (Diana) & Richard Frame (Jeff)
Monday, 17 September 2007
The Garrick Theatre – London
Book by: Maureen Chadwick & Ann McManus
Music & Lyrics: Kath Gotts
Directed by Maggie Norris
Reviewed by Helen Patrick
Its refreshing to see a show in London’s West end that doesn’t take itself to seriously, If you go to see Bad Girls the Musical don’t go expecting a score of Lloyd-Webber orchestrations, or the acting of a Eugene O’Neil Play, which is why I feel some “high-end” reviewers have just slapped Bad Girls the Musical into the trash before its even had chance to establish itself, which I feel isn’t a very fair judgement.
Bad Girls takes us to the first three series of the hit ITV drama, in which lecherous Jim Fenner and sidekick Sylvia plan to rise further up the screw ladder by whatever means possible. Chadwick & McManus with their book have managed to condense nearly 36 hours worth of material into a well paced story line which has some very funny moments. I was a Bad Girls fan before going to see the show and was pleasantly surprised that the transfer from Screen to stage worked as well as it did, but in terms of creative excellence full marks must be given to Kath Gotts, her music and lyrics may take on many different musical genres but the skill is in her word play is worth the ticket price alone, stand out songs include the very funny “all banged up” about being a woman in prison and not getting any sex, and the very touching “freedom road” sang hauntingly by Camilla Beeput as Crystal Gordon at the top of act two.
The set by Colin Richmond is very simple with some of the best use of video projection I have seen on stage, which helped create the feeling of real isolation and the claustrophobic conditions of being in prison.
There are some excellent performances especially from west-end veteran Sally Dexter as Yvonne Atkins, as soon as she steps onto the stage, the atmosphere charges and she demands centre stage. Helen Fraser reprising her role of Sylvia
“Bodybag” Hollamby gives a new comic edge to her role on stage, along with David Burt as Jim Fenner; they both shine as bright as their costumes when singing together in their duets.
A mention must go out to Maria Charles who perhaps must be the oldest performer in the west-end at the moment, playing old timer Noreen Biggs, every line executed with comic perfection. Other notable performances include Nicole Faraday as Shell Dockley, Amanda Posner as Denny Blood, an almost unrecognisable Rebecca Wheatley as Big Julie and Julie Jupp who plays Little Julie, Jupp really comes to her own, in the touching song “sorry” which made even the hardest of emotional people like myself shed a tear.
All in all this production gives you what you want a fantastic night out, it has a great mix between pathos and humour, great songs, excellent performances and all mixed in with a little bit of camp, as one of the songs in the second act says this show is “The Baddest & The Best.”
Bad Girls the Musical is now on at The Garrick Theatre for more information visit www.badgirlsthemusical.com
Photos: Top – Helen Fraser as Sylvia “Bodybag” Hollomby. Bottom – Nicole Faraday as Shell Dockley and Amanda Posner as Denny Blood with other cast members.
Saturday, 15 September 2007
The Arcola Theatre: 11th September - 13th October
Directed by Julia Pascal.
Thursday, 13 September 2007
West Yorkshire Playhouse 7th - 29th September
Directed by Paul Hunter
Designed by Naomi Wilkinson
Music composed by Iain Johnstone
Reviewed by Murray Moss
Casanova: a man who confidently slept his way around Europe, boasting of his sexual exploits and living the charmed life of a libertine, right? Wrong. As Carol Ann Duffy and Told By An Idiot relate she is a sexually confident but compassionate woman, an epicurean who refuses to be bound by conventional gender roles, as she races across Europe, meeting great historical figures such as Voltaire, Mozart and Catherine the Great, while always fleeing from her pursuing would-be gaoler, a death-like figure who casts a shadow across her otherwise charmed, risky life. In transforming him to her and allowing Casanova to be the inspiration for Voltaire's aphorisms and Mozart's operas, the piece gently questions the patriarchal versions of history and culture that we have been fed through the centuries. But, dear reader and pursuer of theatrical entertainment, this Casanova is so much more than mere historical revisionism.
This is a beautifully and wittily written text, both lyrical and simple (as in immediately accessible but not uncomplicated, like much of Carol Ann Duffy's poetry) while remaining determinedly theatrical in its language. And Told By An Idiot's performance of the piece could be described in similar terms; it is physical theatre that is deceptively simple and unostentatious: the skilful ensemble of seven actors, from Albania, Spain, Switzerland and Britain, let the story unfold with a disciplined and restrained exuberance, drawing us into their performance rather than hurling it out into the auditorium.
And this is an ensemble piece; while Hayley Carmichael is strong and vulnerable in equal measure as Casanova and provides the energetic centre to the piece, the other performers are equally impressive in playing both individual roles and as single and choric narrators of the story. Indeed it is a measure of the strength of the performers and the play that it shifts seamlessly, sometimes mid-sentence, from dramatic scene to epic narrative. My one quibble with Paul Hunter's otherwise strong and precise direction is that the occasional off-stage, microphoned narration could have been delivered on-stage by a live cast member. The dull electronic delivery of these sections of text sapped energy from the performance and seemed out of keeping with the live-ness of the main body of the piece.
But this criticism is more than made up for by the wonderfully imaginative and comic invention to be found elsewhere in the performance: a mop, bucket, cushion and two scimitars are transformed into the head, body and swollen genitalia of an ebullient and enraged bull (the ultimate metaphorical alpha-male), which is finally and very funnily tamed, charmed and seduced by the irresistible Casanova. The design too is witty, simple and complements the performance style. Idiosyncratic wigs are flown in to sit on the heads of the elegant bourgeoisie at a formal dinner; the multi-levelled black cut-out set, with a wonderful shiny black floorcloth, frames the action and is used inventively by the cast, allowing visual height and depth to be fully utilised, while the costumes act as a playful but highly actor-friendly suggestion of the 18th century when Casanova was at large. The music and soundscapes hit the note juste, providing supporting energy and emotional shadow.
And this play is so much more than a highly skilled romp. While the first half has a picaresque exuberance, the second is darker, charting Casanova's decline, as it travels towards its melancholically uplifting conclusion, beautifully and simply captured in the final moving image of Casanova swinging in an ornate, black picture frame. Top theatre.
Sunday, 9 September 2007
Oldham Coliseum – 6th – 29th September
Reviewed by Kat Copsey – Tri-Athlete