Sunday, 11 November 2007

Aida - ENO at the Colesium

Aida by Verdi
ENO at the Coliseum: 9 November – 7 December

Director: Jo Davies

Conductor: Edward Gardner

Reviewed By Crystal Alonsi

Jo Davis is to be congratulated on directing a vibrant, eye catching, imaginative production of this Aida, however I do not think that this performance attains greatness. The majesty, pomp, brutality and agonised sorrow that lie at the heart of this piece was strangely lacking.

Zandra Rhodes’s costumes were magnificent, individualized even in crowd scenes: from lapis lazuli, through the full range of turquoise from blue to green, peacock hues, contrasted with orange, terracotta, tangerine shot through with gold. Amongst these Aida’s (ClaireRutter) was strangely muted. When the lighting on her was subdued she had the disconcerting tendency of virtually disappearing, whilst still on stage, with only the odd glint or so of gold giving a clue as to her whereabouts. The peasant outfits in the very effective muted tones contrasted well with the main characters. There were several good performances amongst the crowd on a very cramped stage. Some Egyptian guards did look rather lumpish and out of their depth. I would not be surprised to hear that they were on work experience having ticked “Security work” on their placement forms.

The ‘elephant’ for the triumphal procession was formed by some of the cast with cleverly controlled head, trunk and tusks, unfortunately the ears were so huge and flappy that they obscured the conquering hero. In my part of the opera house a faint giggle rippled through the audience and Dumbo’s name was softly murmured. This was rather a bathetic arrival for Radames and surely unintentional. The parade included some energetic and accomplished dancers and acrobats who twirled, whirled and stamped with enthusiasm and skill. Aida’s captured people looked a suitable contrast to the polished and highly organized Egyptians.

Act 3 opens to reveal cartoon like trees and sketchy pyramids and a pair of Egyptian eyes on the backcloth which seemed at odds with the imposing staircase with its dramatic lighting on the left hand side of the stage. This dichotomy demonstrated the uneasiness that was present all the way through the performance: was ‘Aida’ being treated as a pantomime with spectacle and roughly sketched comic book characters or as tragedy with complicated people faced with agonizing choices and dilemmas, including unrequited love, consuming jealousy, war and massacre, slavery and hearts torn by divided loyalties? When Amonasro (Ian Paterson) suddenly emerges from behind a tree the d
rama did descend to a farcical level. Far from having the bearing and demeanor of a king, albeit a defeated one, he looked like the understudy in a low budget production of Robinson Crusoe.

Aida’s acting ability was somewhat limited however her singing ameliorated this. Radames also possessed a voice far richer and varied than his physical performance. The scenes with both Aida and Radames were stilted and awkward, there seemed to be no chemistry between them let alone a consuming passion worth dying for. Pharaoh (Gwynne Howell) owellHowgave a relaxed performance, his honeyed tones sounding very assured. Amneris (Jane Dutton) struggled in what is a rather a Bette Davis part although aided by some gorgeous costumes she was clearly hampered by her ugly and unwieldy headgear. Ramfis (Brindley Sherratt) had the best voice of all; caramel tones resonant and confident.

The orchestra gave a great performance under the superb conducting of Edward Gardner. They gave a masterful and coherent rendering of the score supporting the singers and creating much of the drama. The fanfare during the triumphal parade with its familiar and well-loved tune was executed crisply and dramatically and heightened the experience of the spectacle.

The final scene included the device of an open cage, rather suggestive of a dumb waiter slowly wafting Radames from on high down to the stage. This was hardly a dramatic flinging of an enemy of the state to their final doom. While he was singing of death and despair this strange contraption gently wobbled upwards and finally disappeared. It was a curious and unhelpful device at this point in the performance, totally out of keeping with the final awfulness of death and separation that the music conveyed. It undermined the already curiously unconvincing duet between the two main characters culminating in the unnoteworthy death of Aida.

So should you go or not? If you can get a ticket, and they are nearly all sold, you will certainly enjoy yourself. Will you experience a great and influential performance? Not really, but you will have a good evening out enhanced by many interesting effects and several satisfying performances.

Photos by Tristram Kenton top: Jane Rutter (Aida) & Iain Patterson (Amonasio) Bottom: Aida & Radames (John Hudson)

Salsa Saved The Girls - Old Red Lion

Salsa Saved The Girls by Rose Martula
Old Red Lion Theatre: 23rd October – 17th November
Directed by Rachel Parish.

Reviewed by Francesca Elliott

Salsa Saved the Girls by Rose Martula would be more aptly named ‘What not to wear and how not to parent' Cali and her two daughters live in a gaudy, screamingly 80s Long Island apartment filled with neon flamingos, leopard print and vodka.

The play begins with Kai and Sabrina waiting for their father (who they hate), while their mother (who also hates him) is waiting for a date. Sabrina is a sullen 17yr old Goth and Kai is a precocious child dying to be noticed. Dressed in a tutu and ballet shoes she spends the whole play pirouetting round the room, with hardly a glance from anyone thrown her way. Sally Ann Ramage who plays her does an extremely convincing ten year old, wide eyed, stroppy and excitable. It comes as a bit of a surprise therefore when we find out that she’s actually meant to be fourteen. This must be one of the most na├»ve New York 14yr olds in history, and the fact that she is playing her character so young, makes it all the more uncomfortable when we see her swearing like a trooper, downing shots and passing her spliff to her mother.

When the father, the date and her lovesick therapist all turn up, Cali is trapped in the flat with three of her lovers, none of whom are too happy to see the other. The script is mostly made up of people swearing and screaming at each other which becomes a bit tiresome and it’s difficult to see why a roomful of people who clearly hate each other don’t just politely take their leave. Cali is clearly not going to win any mother of the year award as she hands out drugs and booze to her daughters, but it’s her arrogant ex who comes off worst, revealed as a materialistic, greedy and neglectful father.

As the night goes on and the vodka flows more freely, each characters issues and insecurities are exposed. The play is very energetic and has some good one-liners. The intimate space of the Old Red Lion Theatre makes a perfect setting for the claustrophobic flat, and the cast all give good performances. However I have to warn you that the abundance of skin-tight purple Lycra is enough to make your eyes water, and don’t even get me started on the make-up!

Appologies

Dear Reader

We here at the public reviews would like to appologise for the lack of reviews over the last few weeks, this is due to a technical error, which has hopefully been fixed.

Thank you for your support over the last few months

The Editor

No Place Like Home - New Wimbledon

There’s No Place Like A Home by Paul Elliott
New Wimbledon Theatre

Director: Chris Colby
Reviewed by Tom Ryan

There is a moment in the first act of There's No Place Like A Home - the writing debut producing veteran Paul Elliott - where one of the group of ageing actors voices a desire for one last great show for them all. With a cast full of familiar faces, the team behind this production had clearly hoped for the same, but sadly they, and the audience, are likely to be left disappointed.

Set in the Stollberg Hall Retirement Home for Theatrical Performers, the play focuses on the reaction of the residents and staff to the news that closure is imminent. Lacking any money of their own, they look beyond the law and in no time at all a plan is hatched that, without giving too much away sets the scene for “a geriactric version of Ocean’s 11”, as one character puts it.

There is a definite old-fashioned sitcom feel about the piece, perhaps unsurprisingly given the likes of presence of former ‘Allo ‘Allo stars Gordon Kaye and Sue Hodge on stage, together with onetime Coronation Street light relief Ken Morley and children’s TV favourite Brian Cant. However, thoughts that they could match their former glories are quickly dashed by some faltering performances and a weak script that prizes jokes over plot – which wouldn’t be such a problem if they were funnier, or there were less of them. There are a few nice moments here and there, with some strong performances, in particular from Christopher Beeny and Jan Hunt, with a typically energetic showing from Hunt’s former Crackerjack co-star Don Maclean, but its not quite enough to power the play through.

Elliott is clearly very fond of his characters and the world they inhabit, and with a long history of producing plays in the West End and across the country has given a lot of pleasure to audiences but his first writing effort didn’t match my expectations. I hope though that any follow ups hit the mark better, and that his illustrious cast members do get that one last great show.

Floating - WYP

Floating by Hugh Hughes and Sioned Rowlands
West Yorkshire Playhouse 31t October – 3rd November.
Reviewed by Gregory Hale and Lucy Cosens.

Floating is the fruit born out of the collaboration of Hugh Hughes and HoiPolloi, it was an Edinburgh Fringe smash hit and award winner (2006). The story follows the epic journey of the Isle of Anglesey when is breaks away from Wales and floats around the Atlantic, Arctic and back home again, encountering storms, whales, Icebergs, the stubborn Isle of Man and Wales. The story is concerned with, and told through, the memories of Hugh Hughes and his attempts to leave his homeland, to make that first step into the unknown.

Because Floating was conceived from the Fringe it brings with it a refreshing, unconventional style and charm, allowing the actors to make a connection with their audience. This also meant it lacked the rigid (thus limiting) conservative theatre structure; it was a very fluid performance that could adapt to its environment. An example of this is when an audience member came in late, Hugh jumped on this opportunity to make a connection, he stopped the show and persisted in a very polite manner (and for 10 minuets) to question, embarrass, harass and humiliate the audience member with a glitter in his eye, all adding to his humble persona. After clearly removing and defying conventional theatrical rules the audience felt comfortable enough to participate in the performance, consequently the show didn’t get started until we were 25 minutes in. Removing such barriers left Hugh vulnerable and tested his ability to keep control, at points he almost allowed this to go too far, some audience members started to get agitated, he was on thin ice though he never actually lost his grip. Ultimately this gave the performance a refreshing and unpredictable edge.

The set itself was a jumble, filled with panoply of costumes, props, screens and projectors. The space was utilised in a very effective manner, having the ability to reflect the intimate moments of isolation and lonesome angst, and then next showing the bridge collapse and the island floating off on its epic journey. The set as a whole is also reminiscent, playing to this idea that this is the jumbled up mind and (most importantly) imagination of Hugh. The several projection screens also helped create the conflated, distorted and intimate view of the memory and the lies the imagination makes the memory believe.

The writing, like the set, is very intimate and reveals the indecisive hardship that lies in us all, the struggle to make that first step into the unknown and the pressure and struggle to leave behind all that you know and leave behind the place that made you yourself. At times the writing wasn’t as dramatically tight as it could have been, nor was it really thrilling or intriguing, yet somehow that just did not matter. The ambience permeated the entire space, one could not help but feel elated about the piece as a whole, and the reason for this lies with the connection Hugh and Sioned made to their audience, without their enlightening skills and charms this piece would have been mediocre at best. The energy and charisma of these actors is easily reason enough to see this honest piece of theatre, come with an open heart and mind and you won’t leave disappointed.

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