Archive | August, 2018


26 Aug

At the Arcola as part of a National tour
The Arcola Theatre presents us with many surprises. Nothing is ever as it could be expected.
This version of Carmen is taken from the original story by Prosper Merimee, retold by Dan Allum who has transplanted it from Seville to a travellers encampment in Great Britain. Dan Allum is the Artistic Director of Romany Theatre, whose plays tour nationally and it is written in English and Romani. He is also responsible for the original Gypsy folk songs.
Carmen (Candis Nergaard) lives in a gipsy encampment represented by a rectangular openwork metal fence which is the sole setting for the piece most of which is performed inside. Mariah and the Musician sit outside with their instruments. There are only five actor / musicians and they play a wide variety of instruments, three guitars, violin, accordion, tin whistle and a couple of spoons.
Carmen is married to Garcia (Michael Mahony) – a bullying husband. ‘Tute shan meero rom, kek meero doovel’ she remarks – (you are my husband not my god).
Carmen longs to escape from her traditional life. ‘Gyppos are parasites, Rats in the sewer’ and crashes her body against the Walls of her cage over and over again . When she meets a young discredited solder don Jose (Adam Rojko Vega) she uses her tarot cards to tell he fortune. He falls in love with her and wants to help her get her freedom.
She is a fortune teller and uses the cards to tell the fortune of a young discredited soldier Don Jose Adam Rojko Vega a ‘Gadje’,( non-traveller) he loves her and wants to help her get her freedom.
“But When the outside world thinks you are scum, can you ever be free?”
‘It’s what we feel that frees us’
The company indulge in traditional cage fighting. Every member of the cast play at boxing a various times, but it becomes serious when Don Jose is pushed into a competitive boxing match. An event which leads into the inevitable ending.
It is a fascinating piece, beautifully performed, but surely can hardly be called an opera because it is mostly spoken and most of the songs are rendered by Mariah (Christina Tedders) and Gareth O’Connor. The rest of the cast join in the singing and we wait for Carmen to sing, but she never does.
The musical director is Candida Caldicot and choreography by Chi San Howard.
Abigail Graham directs.


14 Aug

Libretto by STEVEN BERKOFF from his stage play
Adapted by Mark Antony Turnage and Jonathan Moore
At the Arcola – in the Grimeborn Opera season.
They warned me that there were no tunes, in case one goes to an opera expecting beautiful soaring arias. There is a large orchestra – about thirteen instrumentalists – which acts as a Greek chorus commenting on the action, heavy on rhythm as well as handling sound effects.
Berkoff has brought Oedipus up to date, making him a cockney, Eddy, born ‘not far from the Angel’ as he says in his first speech, but fed up of the pub led life, preferring to drink in wine bars.. . The director must have been so happy to have rising star, Edmund Danon to play Eddy because his posture and movement is almost balletic and as Jonathan Moore has made practically every scene end in freeze frame, the effect is beautiful, like something out of the National Gallery
But all four actors are astounding. Richard Morrison – also a good mime artist and a very experienced opera performer, is the cockney Dad, Philippa Boyce cosy as the Mum and weirdly prophetic waving her beautiful hands about as the soothsayer and Laura Woods lovely mezzo soprano, who is gorgeous and very dignified even during the sex scenes with Eddy. The two ladies also play a couple of weird sisters as The Sphinx, blending their voices in harmony and rhythm.
There is a lot of laugh aloud comedy, most especially when the cockney Mum and Dad come to visit Eddy and his posh wife. The wife does her best to love the in laws, but she obviously doesn’t understand a word they are saying. And the old couple are subservient, impressed by the way their boy has improved since he left home.
The lines are sometimes spoken, sometimes sung in Berkoff’s stylish work and in the same way, the orchestra, drawn from the Kantanti ensemble talk to us and make appropriate noises. The orchestra remain as the decorative set at the back of the stage – loved the Harp. Baska Wesolowska the designer has allowed the setting to speak for itself. There are just tracer lights which change colour depending on where the action is taking place and there is some expert lighting by Matt Leventhall. The astonishing thing about this production is that every member of it seems to be completely integrated in the work. There is artistic endeavour of all kinds here, music, ballet, comedy, poetry, effects all working towards the well-known tragic ending.
It is easy to shed tears at the end, not at the tragedy but with simple pride at the conductor Tim Anderson, the musicians the actors, all the people who have made this thing happen with so much creative expertise.
An opera with no popular tunes? This is something else.


10 Aug

By Gaetano Donizetti
Libretto by Salvadore Cammarano
Based on the Walter Scott novel The Bride of Lammermoor
At the Arcola Theatre
On a rainy Thursday night what could be lovelier than a typical melodramatic opera by Donizetti
It is part of the Arcola Grimebourne Opera season which specialises in making opera relevant for today.
In this case, it seems to be just a matter of dressing people in normal clothes and doing the opera as written. It is of course in Italian but one soon forgets this as there are English subtitles coming up from time to time on a screen above the piano.
It is a little odd to see the opera with only a pianist -Ben Woodward with Michael Thrift conducting beside him throughout.. Odd it may be , but it doesn’t interfere with the enjoyment of the action.
It is set in Scotland, because Donizetti was fascinated by the wars of the clans in Walter Scott’s story. The Bride of ‘Lammermoor’ and clan wars are at the bottom of the plot.
It’s a well-known story of greed, revenge and frustrated love. In this version, the girl, Lucia Ashton, is romantically in love with Edgardo Ravenswood, a man whose family is at war with hers. Her brother Enrico wants her to marry Arturo a rich man who can get him out of financial difficulties.
The two lovers are vocally beautifully matched in their love scenes. Alberto Sousa as Edgardo wears casual clothes, where Enrico and his religious advisor Raimondo wear elegant suits in order to easily distinguish the factors and making it obvious that Edgardo is an unwanted stranger in these parts.
Nicola Said as Lucia is especially strong in her final mad scene in which she completely dominates the room surrounded by the rest of the cast and the chorus who feel unable to interrupt her enormously powerful voice. This is a brilliant characterisation from a pretty girl with a voice to die for.
Another voice to die for is the operatic base of the remarkably tall and handsome Simon Grange as Raimondo, the priestly advisor to Enrico. The voice is remarkable in his dramatic scenes – it is his job to tell everybody what is happening so he is an ever present character.
Ashley Mercer plays the wicked brother Enrico who cheats her and forces her into an unhappy marriage. He is well cast and gives the impression of his panicky state of mind and desire to save his own skin. He is helped in his nefarious plans by Normanno played by James Bowers. Alisa, Lucia’s friend and confidante is played by the mezzo soprano Rebekah Jones.
It is a satisfying production and one must be grateful to Ben Woodward of the Fulham Opera for the terrific chorus work and to the fabulous Sarah Hutchinson for directing this production.
di lammermoor

bring it on

9 Aug

Book by Jeff Whitty
Music and lyrics by Tom Kitt ,Lin-Manuel Miranda and Amanda Green

Energy and fun abound in this young peoples’ show. Cheer leaders at two very different schools. One is Truman’s, full of WASP style pupils all dressed in pink. The other is the rough and ready multiracial, multi cultural, multi everything Jackson High – mostly dressed in assorted colours.
The British Theatre Academy has taken on the Southwark Playhouse, both the large theatre and the little one for the whole of August to present two shows.
One has already been dealt with here – the terrific drama ‘Goodnight Mr Tom’ .which is on at the Little Theatre . This was the David Wood adaptation of Michelle Magorian’s children’s book which I have since read and enjoyed. This production was stunning with all the roles played by people under 23 and totally convincing.
Bring it On is something quite different. It is a show for the young, performed by the young. At Truman High School, they have a high standard in their cheer leading squad and their Captain is a talented and charismatic girl called Campbell (Robyn McIntyre). She has just been appointed Captain for their entry into the National Championships when she gets the news that she has been transferred to Jackson High , a tough school with low standing. Her friend Bridget, the squad’s mascot – usually dressed as a parrot – joins her. Bridget is not a member of The Squad. She is small and dumpy and basically a comic figure with some really clever comedy work and great singing from Kristine Kruse. ‘It ain’t No Thing’ which she sings with Matthew Brazier as La Cienega.
The play deals with their relationships with boyfriends and in Campbell’s case her growing friendship with Danielle, leader of the Jacksons dance crew, played by the very powerful Chisara Agor
However the plot is slight as it is the dance that runs this show. The differences in the choreography. The cute Cheer leading dancing of the Truman’s – all in pink and silver dresses and the free style costumes and athletic hip hop style of the Jacksons. Ewan Jones not only directs but choreographs and does wonders in the smallish space available at Southwark.
Particular credit to all the cast who are superlative, in their vigour and dynamism, and a special mention to Isabella Poppa who plays Skylar, a really bitchy member of the Truman Squad and gets all the put down lines.
The music and lyrics are by Tom Kitt along with the musical man of the moment Lion-Manuel Miranda composer of the current hit Hamilton and there are some great numbers. ‘Do your own Thing’ and probably the most resonant ‘The Killer Instinct’ sung by Eva the new leader of the Squad..
The bright, busy setting is by Tom Paris and Ben Jacobs provides some atmospheric lighting.
Long live the British Theatre Academy – a magnificent Institution that can provide such exciting talent in these two shows at Southwark.


3 Aug

Book by Nadim Naaman
Based on the book by Kahlil Gibran
Music and lyrics by Dana Al Fardan and Nadim Naaman

A new and beautiful musical comes to the Haymarket.
The story is an operatic one. Secret love, death, evil clergymen. Not a load of laughs, but it has its own enchantment. The haunting music, written by the authors is simple, but in the Lebanon scenes has an Eastern flavour to contrast with the American style of the New York episodes.
The Broken Wings was an autobiographical story written more than a hundred years ago in Arabic, about tragic love, condemning the antifeminism of the regime in Beirut and criticising the organised religion that allowed it to happen.
Gibran was a poet and early feminist, who spent his early life in Beirut and this is a story about his visit there as a young man. He fell in love with his beautiful cousin Selma who returned his passion but she was given to a nephew of the Bishop and neither she nor her father had any say in the matter. Gibran was distressed to find that a girl could be just given away as if she were a thing to use rather than an intelligent living person.
It broke his heart and it impelled him to write the story which has now been made into a musical play by Nadim Naaman and Dana La Fardan..
Nadim Naaman, who wrote the play, also plays the role of Gibran aged 40 and acts as narrator speaking from his drinks table in New York..
The young Kahlil Gibran (Rob Houchen) arrives in Beirut and is greeted with friendship by his friend Karin (Nadeem Crowe)and his uncle Farris (Adam Linstead) – the father of Selma (Nikita Johal). Of course, the two young people fall in love, but the Bishop (Irvine Iqbal) decides that his worthless nephew Mansour should marry Selma in order to take advantage of his future father in law’s great wealth. The young man just goes along with it happy to have the use of Farris’ money.
The singing is superb throughout but in the Lebanon scenes, the sound is not Western – especially from Nikita Johal when she cries out against the injustice of her life she is almost screaming Soophia Foroughi also as Gibran’s mother sings out with great passion and power
It adds so much to the meaning of the story that these woman could rule the world with very little trouble and yet they are practically slaves.
The designs by Claudio Rosas and Mira Abad are exceptionally creative and innovative and all is brilliantly lit by Nic Farman. The musical Director is Joe Davison and the show is directed by Bronagh Lagan
The names of the cast are difficult to get one’s head round, but it is wonderful to see so many Middle Eastern actors on the London stage.


2 Aug

RIOT ACT *****
BY Alexis Gregory
At the Kings Head

A NEED TO BE HEARD. Here is a verbatim theatre piece on gay liberation and queer history with a stunning and deeply emotional performance by the author.
Alexis interviewed three gay men, and he took note of their stories word for word and their experiences. Michael Anthony Nozzi – a man who at the age of seventeen had witnessed the Stonewall riots in New York; Lavinia Co-op an East End Drag Queen and a fifty year old gay man Paul Burston who is a leading activist for the establishment of Pride and a continuing battle with AIDS and HIV.
Alexis has taken from the three guys not only their words in their exactitude but also their voices their gestures and mannerisms and brought the men to life. He inhabits these men, telling their stories exactly as they were told to him.
The most symbolic representation of LGBT is Pride which marks the anniversary of The Stonewall Riot in 1969 . Michael who speaks in a husky American voice, knew that he only felt comfortable in New York in Stonewall, the single gay bar in town in 1969. Here there were mainly frightened middle aged and older men wo were constantly afraid of the constant police raids who arrived with heavy truncheons. He remembers there was a Judy Garland film on. Suddenly during the police raid, the Gays started fighting back. Gay Hell’s Angels swept in and war broke out. The police had banned ambulances and taxis to take the wounded to hospital so it was young men like Michael who ran to get water to bathe the wounds.
Donning a pair of killer heels, Alexis next becomes the persona of Lavinia – an East End drag queen – this section is both comic and poignant. She loves dressing up on stage but is afraid to wear make up or ‘transvestite’ clothing in the streets of Notting Hill because of possible prison sentences and hostility from the community.
Paul Burston, the activist sums up the story. He is so happy to have a wedding photograph of himself and his husband but he warns that the current freedom could easily turn back the other way, one has to be vigilant not to lose what has been gained. It is important that the fight carries on.

This is a deeply profound production, deftly directed by Rikki Beadle-Blair.

Aline Waites


1 Aug

By David Wood
Adapted from the book by Michelle Magorian
At the Southwark Playhouse

This play begins with a crowd of children singing ‘Wish me Luck as you wave me goodbye’ It is 1939 and London children are being evacuated to the country to escape the war. The singing of the children immediately creates an atmosphere, especially as they have their gas mask boxes and labels around their necks. Some of them are afraid, some excited, none are as sad as the parents who are saying goodbye to their children for who knows how long.
Some of these children were unfortunate, being turned into slaves by the people who were meant to nurture them. They were made to do housework and work in the fields and were not treated as part of the families.
David Wood’s quite brilliant play tells the story another way round. Tom Oakley is a crusty old widower who lost both his wife and his newly born child many years ago and has become a recluse. He has, billeted on him a little boy .William, who has been abused by his bible thumping mother. Tom finds this out by seeing the bruises on the boy as he gets dressed for bed and from at the contents of the boys luggage which contain a bible and a cruel belt obviously used for beating him.
We see the boy gradually warming to the country people and it is devastating for him when his mother sends for him to come back to London
The story is blisteringly honest and we are torn apart by what is done to the boy in the name of religion. This is great drama and it is beautifully performed.
What is totally surprising is that it is being acted out by children of the British Theatre Academy. They are well known for producing light hearted musicals, but this is real stuff and the leading characters seize their roles with both hands and are utterly convincing.
The Press night performance has James Sampson as the grumpy but kind recluse Tom Oakley and an enormously appealing Evan Huntley-Robertson as the little boy William The leading roles are shared among the children with a different cast each night. There are actually four Williams in the company, but having seen this one it is hard to see how it could be performed better. The other starring role is that of Zack – a comedy characterisation by Felix Hepburn who plays a boy whose parents are actors and he bounces around quoting lines from Shakespeare whenever appropriate. Again, during the run he is one of four actors playing the role.
It plays at the Southwark Playhouse until 25th August and is directed by Jo Kirkland for the British Theatre Academy – a remarkable organisation which gives children the opportunity to work in a professional environment with theatre professionals in every aspect of the business.