Monday, 29 September 2008

The Barber of Seville

The Barber of Seville by Rossini
English National Opera

Review by Crystal Alonsi

Wow! What a delight------a thoroughly enjoyable performance.

Rossini’s music greets you warmly like an old friend as you recognise tunes and themes. The first scene, set on an Italian street presented like a faded watercolour, is simple yet effective at establishing the view of Dr. Bartolo’s house. In this first scene there were a few uncomfortable moments, as the orchestra seemed slightly over-powering but thankfully this tendency was overcome as the piece continued.

There was such energy and enthusiasm coming from the stage. The cast played for every laugh that was available. From the first ripple of giggles that went through the audience as a ten foot ladder came out of a small wooden chest in the first few minutes of the performance, through the general hilarity as Dr.Bartolo explored every possible piece of comic business as he sought to disentangle himself from the piano.Every humorous angle was exploited to great effect and it was a pleasure to be in an audience that really laughed. There were a few niggles though.

Having gone to all the trouble and expense of installing a surtitling system it was frustrating that Rosina was not translated in her Italian aria and we were not given any clues as to the meaning of her words, which would have added to the enjoyment of the scene. The change of scenery from the fist to second act was painful to see and hear as the stage jerked, shuddered, clicked and staggered into place while from above descended, uncertainly a long cloth over short poles. The draped ceiling fabric was not quite even and it needed to be tweaked to achieve perfect symmetry or re-arranged for deliberate a-symmetry. The careless, untidy effect spoiled the otherwise elegant scenery and was at odds with the perfect diction and performances beneath it.

The costumes were a mixed bunch. Worst of all, Berta’s costume looked like a reject from the ‘Hansel and Gretel’. Everything jarred and it was amazing she was able to sing as beautifully as she did in such a discordant costume. Her voice seemed to warm up and develop through the evening. Maybe it took her a little time to get over the shock of being squeezed into such a ghastly outfit that clashed with everything every time she appeared. The soldiers all had bright splotches of red over their cheeks making them look like escapees from the ‘Nut Cracker’. Rosina, having been dressed originally in a very fetching very pink pale pink dress eventually appeared in an extraordinary pale grey outfit smothered in overlarge silver sequins so that the total effect was that of a rather cheap Christmas fairy doll. Fortunately she had a beautiful voice which was confident at both extremes of her range and she triumphed over the non-descript appearance of her dresses.

Count Almaviva, when still in disguise, wore a perfectly respectable dark purple cloak, however, on transformation he was wearing such a pale grey outfit that he all but disappeared into the background. Don Basilio costumes were all together more successful with a slightly captain hook appearance and a rounded, easy bass voice. He held the stage comfortably. What brought particular joy to the evening was the strength of all the characters’ singing ability. No one let the side down by not quite reaching the mark. They could all act and were not afraid to do so and they brought an exuberance, confidence and energy to the performance that was received with great enthusiasm by a very receptive audience.

Photos by Alisatair Muir

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Calender Girls - Chichester

Calendar Girls by Tim Firth
Chichester Festival Theatre
Director: Hamish McColl
Review by David Aldridge

I have to say that my reaction to this acclaimed performance of calendar girls rather echoes the comments of a reviewer earlier on this site who observed that Jonathan Church appears to be catering to the “Sussex blue rinse” contingent. Obviously the subject-matter of this piece lends itself to a certain audience, but nevertheless I feel that both the writing of this stage version of Tim Firth’s successful film and Hamish McColl's direction still lacked a certain energy, which is a shame considering the story’s central theme of not yielding to the cultural boundaries imposed by age and background.

It was a delight watching the performance in the company of the original calendar girls, and this certainly lent the occasion an additional emotional charge, but overall I found the piece to be heart-warming but never heart-rending, touching without ever really moving.

An inventive set-design by Robert Jones saw almost all of the action taking place in a conventional WI hall complete with piano, serving hatch and markings for a badminton court. The same court was then raised at a gentle angle to suggest “John’s Hill”, where two of the more poignant

scenes in the play take place. Some simple lighting on a vision of the Yorkshire countryside which was constantly in view suggested the inexorable march of the seasons (at quite an alarming rate, as it happened).

Sian Phillips stole the show for me, as the strict schoolteacher who was also the most elderly of the Calendar Girls; provided with a rather predictable line in response to some patronising comments about her age, she nevertheless relished declaring that she was going outside to “score some crack”, and a passionate speech about the way that in old age one’s interests tend to expand to fill the time one allots to them was – for this reviewer – the most arresting point of the evening. Linda Bellingham’s bold costume after she disrobes for her photograph will have given her something to talk about on “Loose Women” for years to come, and the rest of the impressive cast do a fine job, although on more than one occasion after yet another impassioned rant about the role of the middle class wife I felt that applause was offered more out of duty than rapture.
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