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CARMEN 1808

15 Feb

CARMEN 1808 ****

Music by George Bizet arranged by Teddy Clements
Book and Lyrics by Phil Willmott
Adapted from the Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy
Based on the novella by Prosper Merimee

At the Union Theatre.

Phil Willmott has based his musical on a painting by Goya which depicts a massacre – a mess of bloody bodies and a young man with his hands up, terrified as soldiers use their guns on the innocent people. This showed an incident of extreme violence in 1808 when Napoleon was dominating Spain and the Spanish aristocracy had made a treaty with the occupying forces. The Spanish army were in the position to quell any sign of rebellion.

Carmen was working for the revolutionary Catalans. It was a job for her to seduce the soldiers into giving information. The tragedy begins when she meets the officer who falls passionately in love with her and deserts from the Army to work for the Resistance.. For the first time in her life she falls for him, but persuades him to get in touch with his ex fiancee Josephina who is in league with the French and she can leak information to him.

Willmott is experimenting with the popular opera – to make a musical in order to tell a different story involving a piece of actual history.

The story is interesting but of course, nobody can possibly deny that the real star of this production is the wonderful swirling music by Bizet. He is using tunes that everybody know and it creates a feeling of great excitement. Excitement that obviously inspires the 17 strong cast and the choreographer Adam Haigh who makes great use of the youth, and vitality of the cast to produce wonderfully passionate and energetic dance routines.

Alexander Barria sings and plays Goya who narrates the story for us as he makes sketches alongside the happenings on stage.
As Carmen, Rachel Lea-Gray stands out in her scarlet skirt when all the other girls in the cigarette factory wear white. All the ensemble work enormously hard –joining in the songs, singing the accompaniment. It was amusing to hear them do the ba dum, ba dum. during the Habanera.
Maximilian Marston plays Velarde, the Spanish officer who is seduced by Carmen into deserting and joining the resistance and her other lover, the over sexed rogue of a corporal is Thomas Mitchells.There is also an impressive performance from Scottish Actor/ Singer Blair Gibson as the leader of the resistance.

It is always satisfying to see a brand new musical. It is excellently devised and performed. But the plot and performances will always be a little overshadowed by Bizet’s music and Haigh’s magnificent choreography..

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14 Feb

NAPOLEON DISROBED as told by an Idiot
At the Arcola
There are many words one could use to describe Napoleon Disrobed as told by an Idiot. Hilarious, tragic, imaginative, ridiculous, insightful, silly, etc. The one that is most appropriate in my estimation is Indescribable.
Katherine Hunter has directed this piece and it is like no other piece of theatre I have seen, Common sense disappears and reality flies out of the window.
The setting by Michael Vale is extraordinary. A stage made out of planks of wood. A stage that is movable, By removing a few blocks from underneath it can start rocking like a boat. And there are struts which can be introduced to set it up to any slope required. To see the actors cope with wheeled suitcases etc on a sloping stage all adds to the feeling of unreality.
On a small barrel in the centre are the vestments appropriate to the robing of Bonaparte. A tricorn hat, a waistcoat and a military dress coat.
Paul Hunter arrives on the stage and talks to the audience as if he is doing a stand up. And he is doing it very well. Waves of laughter coming from the audience. He pretends he is doing University Challenge and itemises certain people in the audience to act as students. From then on, they are referred to throughout the play as – for instance – Brown – Cambridge .
Not sure what this opening has to do with the rest of the story – but that doesn’t matter. The story is an imaginative one. Napoleon wants to escape from St Helena and he teaches a sailor to be him. The sailor dresses up in the Napoleon clothes, Napolean escapes on the boat and the false Napoleon dies.
That is the bare plot – his adventures getting to Paris. Lovely bits like when he gleefully burns the Union Jack. And the wonderful Ayesha Antoine plays all the other parts including Ostrich a girl who sells melons. They get together to build a business which they sells millions of melons without ever opening the shop.
Sounds crazy? Well of course. Hilarious definitely, Tragic certainly, Imaginative , ridiculous and blissfully unusual. Absurd and yet a general fable about the human condition and the personality.

a night at the Oscars

13 Feb

A NIGHT AT THE OSCARS
Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Chris Burgess presents one of his famous juke box shows – with a difference. More differences than expected.
He gives us a taste of Hollywood History – the story of the Oscars.
It is a fascinating subject and an excuse to have a cast of young , excellent singers to come on and sing a whole evening of great – and not so great -songs.

The obvious beginning to this show is the wonderful movie Anthem ‘Hooray for Hollywood’ and the show biz element of this number is perfect for the young voices.

Most of of the first Oscar winning songs were magnificent and haunting and many introduced to us by Fred and Ginger.
During the first half of act one there were the magic words and music of George and Ira Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Rogers and Hart.

These masterpieces of song by the wonderful musicians and lyricists of the thirties are followed up by songs from the war and the years afterwards and finish with the world’s biggest belter – Judy Garland – with The Man That Got Away.

Act two the whole style of singing changed -less sophisticated lyric based and more ‘in your face’. Personally I think the small cast were happier belting out the second act songs. The elegance of the thirties are not familiar to modern singers and some of the songs lost their effectiveness by the loudness of the voices.– why do these powerful voices need microphones anyway? One of the things young singers are not taught to do is to speak sing. This is most obvious in the rendering of the revue number ‘Either Too Young or Too Old’.

The show is written for four singers – now here comes the big difference I promised. Sadly, Kieran Brown, one of the performers had laryngitis on the evening I was there. But did they cancel? Don;t be silly, The Show Must Always Go On.
Steven Danziel took on all Kieran’s songs as well as his own along with the help of musical director Ben Ferguson and the two girls Natalie Green and Laura Sillett filled in the gaps of Chris Cunning’s choreography.
In addition, The company had the lucky presence of John Plews, artistic director of the Gatehouse and he stepped in to do the narration. So the show was carried on thanks to the expertise of Mr Plews and the enthusiasm of the rest of the cast,
The show was directed by Bronagh Lagan who had every reason to be proud of her gallant band of Thespians who played to an ecstatic audience.
There was not a hiccup in the production. A perfect example of an actor’s ability to cope with anything.
Proof without doubt that there is No Business Like Show Business.

the ungrateful biped

11 Feb

The Ungrateful Biped

at the White Bear Theatre

‘Notes from the Underground’ is a disturbing piece written by Feodor Dostoyevski in 1864. It concerns a misanthrope – someone who hates mankind, who cannot understand the meaning of life – rather like Hamlet – or You and Me.

It has been adapted by Philip Goodhew who stars in the unnamed role of the man living in a sordid basement. Jealous and angry with people who are better off than him.

Goodhew has used a modern day version of the man in the original story. He is making a blog video about himself, to himself and for himself. He has a computer and a tv screen so he can watch himself and at the same time the audience can see him.

He is not well, he has fits of coughing, when he doesn’t cough, he sings under his breath. He cannot understand how a man as clever as he is – more intelligent than anyone else, is in his humble state in life and he is racked with hatred. He hates himself because he seems unable to make an impression and he invited himself to a party just so he can make fun of his friend, who is about to become famous as a film star. He insults him cruelly and rather than make an impression, he is just ignored by the assembled company.

We begin wanting to feel sympathy for him, but just as in his life, his horrible behaviour turns the audience against him and we begin to hate him as much as he hates himself..

He knows he is a sick man, he thinks he may have cirrhosis of the liver but rejects all treatment

He has lost interest in anything but himself. Am I ridiculous? He asks And yet he wants to be noticed to make an impression in life, but he cannot seem to help himself.

His final act is one of cruel rejection to the only person who is kind to him, who cares.

Rupert Graves has directed this extraordinary piece of work. The setting is just a whole lots of white sheeting and the lighting is one of the most impressive things in this production. It changes constantly from orange to blue – to no colour, reflecting his mood and doing much of the work for the actor.

An interesting evening, but not one would want to see too often.

January 23rd.

23 Jan

Ok. If anyone tried to call me last evening or this morning I have tied up on both phones, literally been ‘helping the police with their enquiries’.
I had a call last night from two DCs who said they were from Hammersmith Police Station. They said my credit cards had been cloned and they told me the numbers on the cards. The call went on for about half an hour and I realised after a while that there was something strange about them. When we had a Hampstead Police Station, the guys were really friendly and chatty so I didn’t suspect anything with these except their diction was not as clear which I thought was a bit of a handicap for someone in their job. THEN –
They asked me to meet them at Charing Cross Station that night to take some Euros out of my account. Euros? I said ;You’re having a laugh and they said no, it was very important. I logged on to my bank account and found there was nothing untoward. I told them so. The told me that there was a spy at Lloyds Bank who was giving out secret information. I said there was no way I was going to go out at night. But they were very insistent – so was I. When they gave up on me they said they would call me this morning at 9.30.
So, I rang Lloyds Bank and told them all about it and they told me I should inform the met police immediately. I rang 101 and I used the mobile, keeping the bank on the land line. So I spoke to the Met and they were very interested. I told them that the guys were calling me the next morning at nine thirty and so they said there would be two police arriving at my address at nine o’clock. We had a password. Very cops and robbers.! .
In the meantime I got the bank to cancel my cards and send new ones and rang them again this morning to speak to a different person in order to check that this had happened.
Two jolly policemen arrived this morning and got all the details. It was good fun and they left after 9.30 cos the bloke hadn’t rung. He did rung just after they left the house. I chatted sweetly to him for a while in order to waste his time a little. He said I really had to go to the Bank this morning. then I told him that the policemen who came were very charming. – as if he had sent them. Of course he hung up immediately. I ran out and caught the two police guys who were sitting out side in their vehicle and told them what had happened. They were disappointed that they hadn’t had a chance to talk to the scammer. They rang me again from Kentish Town police station and gave me some more private codes to use while the investigation was going on.
Anyway I have no credit cards at the moment and my account has been blocked. Luckily I have lots of food and a small amount of cash to see me through. They have promised I shall get everything sorted by Friday.
I hope they catch those men. I thought it as well to tell you about it in case you have a similar call. Apparently they do this a lot. Impersonating a police officer is a serious crime and they need to be caught.🦋

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natural duty

23 Jan

At the Vaults – theatre well named The Pit, it is as bleak and comfortless as an air raid shelter and we sit on wooden benches expecting to hear the noises of war. But into this gloom ridden venue there enters a beautiful woman in a gorgeous dress of silver and sequins singing ‘I cant give you anything but love’ a perfect beginning to the kind of act she would have done for the soldiers during the war. Into the darkness a touch of glamour which was so needed

Exquisitely beautiful, intelligent, heartbreakingly tender, and full of anger about what has happened to her native Germany. Marlene’s story is like no other. She had been picked at an audition to play Blue Angel in the film . She gives a very funny impression of her audition, singing in a small high voice ‘You’re the cream in my coffee’ Never remembering more than the first few lines and repeating them over and over again. . Nevertheless she got the part, the film was a huge success, and she was soon on her way to Hollywood and eventually she chose to become and American citizen.

There are many jokes and funny scenes in this piece, but the actor brings out the tragedy of war in songs like Pete Seeger's 'Where have all the flowers gone' . She went out to fight with the GIs, energising and comforting them with her performances.

This is Marlene's story told by an incredibly talented young man who seems to have entered the heart of the Hollywood Icon. She was known mostly for her cabaret stylish ness and her recorded songs like 'Look Me Over Closely'. She is the master of jokey sex, known for years as The Glamorous Grandma having attained that stature in her early forties ,and lauded by people like Noel Coward and Cole Porter for her continuing youthful appearance.

But the glamorous image was, as she explains, something to please the people and had nothing to do with the reality of her personality. She is passionate, angry about the terrible waste of young men and she is funny, a typical German housewife, sweeping the stage so as not to dirty her pretty dress.

Peter Groom is a brilliant actor - this is no drag act, this is a real character performance. There is no condescension to womankind. He and his co writer Olivier Gully are privileged entrants into the soul of a legend. Bethany Pitts directs perfectly
.
The show is an experience and great to see a man playing a woman with the deepest respect, sympathy and feeling instead of as a joke.

It is only sixty minutes long and is absolutely riveting.

EAST

18 Jan

EAST *****
By Steven Berkoff
At the Kings Head Theatre
East is Berkoff’s classic play which first brought him to the consciousness of British theatregoers. It is a series of sketches about a white working class family and friends in the years between the second world war and the seventies when it was written. But this is a period piece which has enormous relevance today.
Bawdy, visceral and eventually heart breaking it is a stunning palate of characters who would all love to leave their somewhat Victorian life in the East End.
It begins with the five characters dressed in ambiguous period styles sitting in a row. They sing ‘My old Man said “follow the Van”’ a Music Hall comic song that deals secretly with the tragedy of homelessness and helps set up the hidden unhappiness of the characters. They cannot even sing together – all starting to sing at different stages in the song making a cacophony of sound.
Carol Arnopp, the musical director and piano player has chosen the music well. The war is still in the memories of the older characters. ‘There ‘ll; always be an England’ plays as the background of Dad’s angry speech as he rages against ‘stinking long nosed kikes’ in typical racist manner from one whose hero is Oswald Moseley.
Behind the unromantic love scenes, she is playing ‘If you were the only girl in the world’ for lovely Sylv being treated as a disposable sex object and Mum who longs for romance rather than with a belching farting husband in bed each night. Debra Penny as Mum tells us of her hilarious, secret affair with a stranger in a cinema. Sylv – beautifully and robustly played by Boadicea Ricketts, sings of her longing to be a bloke and have the kind of freedom that a man enjoys.
Les (Jack Condon) works in a shop selling cheap shirts and he treats both the shirts and the customers who buy them with equal loathing. He longs to have an experience with a girl who is not a slapper – like the one he meets on the 38 bus, but he hasn’t got the right verbals to chat her up. (He went to the British Museum but thought the Elgin marbles too heavy to half inch). Mike, played by James Craze is always ready to pull anything that comes along and longs for a Harley Davidson – his favourite sexual symbol.
The thing that stands out from the usual gritty East Enders type is the dialogue. Using Shakespearean rhyme – and many quotes from the Bard along with Cockney rhyming slang and a forest of four letter words, the lines work perfectly in accord with each other.
Jessica Lazar has directed her players so well. They have no inhibitions, some of the scenes are played in mime and even the scene where they clean away the rubbish, sweeping the floor and moving the furniture is absolutely fascinating to watch.
But it is the Berkoff style dialogue which exalts the play and elevates it into something rich and strange, poetic and utterly beautiful.