Archive for category Tony Challis
Tony’s favourite Fringe shows this year were:
Mies Julie (review)
A dynamic show that takes you into its own world of explosive relationships in today’s South Africa. Fabulous acting, and The Guardian, The Scotsman and Three Weeks have copied my 5 stars idea!
A brilliant dissection of the life of Alan Turing, gay national hero (unsung). It tells us about him, his ideas and even suggests what it means to be truly alive. Feel what it was like to be a gay man sixty years ago.
Strip Search (review)
This is the very powerful, disturbing and erotic story of Squaddie, who is an disadvantaged youth, who spends time in homes and the army, and as a hustler. He gradually learns more about himself. And tells us all of this whilst doing a splendid striptease.
This event was subtitled, “We are all from somewhere else.” The subject was her new book The Mara Crossing – or rather, the many fascinating aspects of that book and the many thoughts they promote. In a mixture of prose and poetry, Ruth moves from the earliest forms of life on the planet, to many forms of migration, especially those of birds, with which she is greatly taken, and even of jellyfish, to the migration of refugees and asylums seekers, which she observed at the edge of Europe, in Greece, recently.
Chair James Naughtie commented on the amazing range of the book and the great research that must have gone into it, as well as the rich poetic content. However, the poem with the continual refrain, “You go,” with which Ruth Padel ended could, I felt, have made its point very effectively more briefly.
Yet, this is a book both to dip into and to read with thoroughness, and one which cannot fail to make the reader more appreciative of the amazing world we live in, and more concerned to preserve and sustain it in the face of our human depredations.
Toby’s Room, Pat Barker’s latest novel, is a sequel to her acclaimed Life Class. She mentioned reading in the papers that this was going to be a trilogy, so she is now a couple of chapters into the next book. She has returned to the First World War as a topic; Elinor’s brother Toby is missing presumed dead. There is a mysterious secret concerning brother and sister in 1912. Kit Neville was her fellow art student, and he returns from the war with a disfigured face. In the extract that Pat Barker read at the event we find Neville – a difficult and irascible person – wearing a face mask of the very handsome Rupert Brooke – also killed in the war. He jokes about causing panic when removing his mask on the London tube.
Elinor seeks the truth about what happened to her brother, and believes Kit Neville can help her discover that. This very vividly written novel is a worthy addition to Pat Barker’s considerable oeuvre. Readers may be familiar with her Regeneration trilogy, which also concerns the effects of fighting in the First World War and which was filmed. This new novel asks how far we want to face the truth, both of what has been done to the injured who are in our midst, and what really happened in the course of conflict.
In 2010 Polly Toynbee and David Walker published a volume called, The Verdict, an appraisal of the achievements and lack of them of the outgoing Labour government. Now, just in time for this Book Festival, they have produced a short but incisive volume called Dogma and Disarray: Cameron at Half-time. This was the main focus of today’s discussion, where Toynbee and Walker made a series of alternate statements outlining the ways in which they claimed the Conservative opposition had misled the public in terms of their intentions, and then the radical ways in which the ensuing government were using the crisis to reshape much of British society in an image comfortable to them and their powerful friends.
There was very concerned discussion of the damage the Lansley reforms were seen as doing to the National Health Service. Some in the audience seemed to feel safely glad that these reforms did not affect Scotland, but there were warning voices suggesting that this security may be short-lived. Polly Toynbee also suggested Scotland needed to think of the level of taxation it would be prepared to tolerate when independent to maintain the kind of services it desired. She was perhaps thinking of economies of scale when she said that larger countries could more efficiently provide high quality public services.
These two writers clearly appeared to feel that things would go from bad to worse for the present British government, and that it would not last beyond one term. They provoked a range of responses, with some audience members referring to other political discussions at this festival. Toynbee, Walker and their books will encourage much vigorous discussion for the foreseeable future.
Many of us know John Burnside for his poetry, for which he has won an almost embarrassing number of prizes, most recently for the very resonant and suggestive Black Cat Bone. Today we learned more about the man who lies behind the poetry, and about his political concerns and enthusiasms.
John Burnside has become fascinated by the life of David Gilbert, an anti-imperialist American author and activist who is serving time in a U S prison for his part in an attempted robbery. He was involved as a driver, but his sentence is long. John Burnside is working on a novel inspired by Gilbert’s life. He describes him as a gentle man who is happy to be an inspiration to others from where he is.
John Burnside was, if anything, keener to enthuse the audience about the writings of David Gilbert than about his own, and he had brought quite a pile of copies of Gilbert’s book, Love and Struggle, published in the U S A by PM press. The book recounts the experience of a political radical in the 1960s, amongst other things, a time which now appears historical. ( I lived through it, and not only that decade but the 70s are often misrepresented now – television accounts of that decade can now cause wry smiles.)
The discussion was wide ranging, covering what was and was not achieved back then and the chances of change now, plus the possibilities and restrictions made available by new technology.
John Burnside is a prolific writer, with much poetry, fiction and autobiographical non-fiction to his name (his memoirs A Lie About My Father , and Waking up in Toytown were available today.) I very much look forward to seeing the publication of his new novel.
This was a discussion of the continued influence of one of the most iconic of early twentieth century writers. Sadly, neither the Hungarian writer Laszlo Krasznahorkai nor the highly regarded Chinese novelist Can Xue were able to be there. However, chair Daniel Medin has written a study of Kafka’s influence, focusing particularly on the American Philip Roth, originally famous for Portnoy’s Complaint, the South African J M Coetzee, and the German writer who lived most of his career in England, W G Sebald.
There was plenty of time for a lively discussion, covering the status of Kafka and how he compares to other significant figures in modern western literature, who, it could be argued, create more deeply felt social structures and a wider emotional range; but it was felt that his labyrinth tended to draw in and seduce the reader. Particular reference was made to the way that people’s students tended to find Kafka “easy” whilst perhaps missing his depths.
The way in which people in many different countries and cultures could identify with Kafkaesque situations was seen as evidence that he had pinpointed an aspect of human existence not often highlighted in writing, and which could be related to in China, in European dictatorships, under communism and in today’s increasingly surveilled and bureaucratised world.
This was a very involving discussion of the work and legacy of a writer who will continue to be read and talked about, no matter what the critical view of his position becomes.
Lavinia Greenlaw’s most recent collection of poetry is called The Casual Perfect. She is also well known for writing opera libretti, radio dramas and essays on art. Her absorbing poems reflect her fascination with the depth that lies beneath the ordinary and everyday.
Marie Howe is a celebrated American writer and teacher, who began by saying how she loved Edinburgh and how it was different from what she imagined. Many British people say they love New York – but if you are familiar with either of these two cities, it is likely that the contrast between them will make the lesser known attractive – which is not to say that Edinburgh is anything other than a city of great charm and beauty, and a very fine place in which to live.
Marie Howe also has poems which make the everyday special, sometimes through a religious connection. She has a series of poems in which the Virgin Mary reflects on many things from the Annunciation onwards.
These are two collections of poems which appear easy to assimilate at first reading, but which have depths that will be revealed by further consideration.
Paul Durcan is a deservedly popular poet who was greeted enthusiastically this morning. He began by reading the first poem in his new collection. Praise in which I Live and Move and have my Being, a poem called On Glimpsing a Woman in Hodges Figgis Bookshop in Dublin. This details Durcan observing a woman writing in books, and discovering that she is signing them as author. He is taken with her audacity and with her living in the moment, and she causes him to think of many of his own small decisions and of mortality. Many of his characteristics as a poet are here – the apparent simplicity, the wit, the sense of a serious undercurrent and of human limitations, all in a memorable style which is crafted to seem throwaway.
At a time when many of us have just been watching Olympic strivings, his The Boy from Belarus, with the boy seen hammer-throwing on a screen, fits with and heightens the common experience of many of us. Durcan takes us into his experiences in many locations, including the last breakfast in Paris – beware the woman here! There are tributes to friends such as Michael Longley, reflections on the wonder of nursing, and intimations of the ultimate vulnerability of all human bodies.
This is a collection to be savoured for wit, life-enhancing vitality, sad echoes and art that hides art.
Gabriel Josipovici is a leading academic critic and fiction writer, though not as well known as perhaps he should be. His seminal The World and the Book was an influence on many, including myself. His new novel, Infinity: the Story of a Moment, is told through the voice of the manservant of a famous composer. By this method we learn much about the thoughts, desires and peccadilloes of both people, and perhaps wonder how accurate a picture of the composer we are getting. This is an intriguing way of getting insights into two worlds at the same time. Music, of course, only exists in the moment; but then, what doesn’t?
Christoph Simon is a rising star of Swiss literature, and Zbinden’s Progress is his fourth novel, but the first to be translated into English, subtly and effectively by Donal McLaughlin. Simon mentioned that he did his national service in the forces, but that many people did alternatives, such as a caring option. This novel is spoken to a new carer in an old people’s home by an 87 year old widower who has always loved walking. It is, Christoph Simon says, as though he has inhabited the caring option he did not take, and it shows us a person who seems to know all his fellow residents very well, and to recall his marries life well, but how far is his memory accurate?
Both of these novels are relatively quiet in tone, both focus on one voice and its outpourings, and both offer much pleasure and insight.
This show is directed by the famous and radical Romanian Director Silviu Pucarete. We begin by watching a horse being brought onstage and downstage, then led off. This suggests already the Country of the Houyhnhnms, and the fourth and final part of Swift’s famous work. But we do not see anything of these noble creatures again, or learn of the virtues Swift ascribed to them. We do see a wigged gentleman, maybe Swift, with his manuscript (?) being attacked, perhaps by Yahoos, the wretched human – like creatures of Book IV. A boy appears, and takes up the pages left undestroyed by the mob. Is he Swift’s alter ego? Or just a boy? But if what we are seeing is just what remained of the text, that gives license for a very partial account of the travels…
We see the gent getting fairly rough treatment in hospital, though in a fairly comic style. A rack of baby corpses appears, and one is cooked and given to a passer by who is not too keen and gives it to a giant rat. With whom it does not agree. This is clearly a reference to Swift’s A Modest Proposal, where his anger at the poverty and starvation in the Ireland of his birth led him to suggest, with savage irony, that it would be better for the Irish poor, whose children were starving anyway, if their babies were fed well to the age of one, and then their parents rewarded for handing them over as a treat for the tables of the British aristocracy. To have this black satire reduced to little more than a music hall joke is almost unforgiveable.
We do see the Lilliputians, as models taken from a box at front of stage, with actors reflecting their use behind – a clever idea. We also have great shadow effects for the giants of Brobdingnag, in a set that does have a feel of Irish bogs and hedgerows. There are many very clever theatrical effects, and we end with a famous speech which talks of knowing yourself, but the drift of this production has been to focus on knowing the baser side of yourself and not to provide the dramatic contrasts that could have come from looking at how Swift compared his base man and his idealised horse.
Very little of the ideas that infuse Swift’s work survive in this production, but the distortion is at least refreshingly different from that to be had in popularised versions. The audience looked very pleased and merry at the end, ready to continue the festival merry-go-round.
This opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier was first seen in Louis XIV’s France in 1688. It tells the story of the relationship of the former shepherd boy who killed Goliath, David, and King Saul’s son Jonathan. Saul continually resents David and feels threatened by him. The civil war that develops forces the pair onto opposite sides with the risk one may kill the other. Jonathan is killed, and David vividly sings a lover’s grief, asking what remains for him when the one he loves is dead.
It is usual to look to the Old Testament for condemnation of human affections that do not comply with the most rigid rules, but here a deep, even if non-physical, love between men is celebrated. The relationship is shown as physical here, with the physical closeness and touching normal to lovers and with an on-stage kiss. Pascal Charbonneau is a terrific David, with a richly forceful and sensual voice, Ana Quintans is very good in the soprano role of Jonathas, and Neal Davies has a very powerful edge to his voice and characterisation as Saul.
The set somewhat grew on me, but the bareness of the wooden effects and the continual moving in of the walls to suggest claustrophobic situations, no doubt, seemed overdone. Turning the Witch into ten dead wives of the widowed Saul was a neat idea, but I’m not sure what it added. (Breaking a character into two, four or more performers seems almost a theme in what I have seen this year.)
Yet overall this was a very emotionally rewarding evening, where the personalities on stage made an impact and crossed the chasm of the centuries. The “mini scenes” involving the children helped this, and they added to a very moving finale.
Most festival goers will be aware of Camille O’Sullivan and her tremendous voice. Here she takes on a very challenging role. Accompanied by Feargal Murray on the piano, she performs, with a mixture of speech and singing, Shakespeare’s long poem, ”The Rape of Lucrece.”
We are at the founding of the Roman Republic. Collatinus brags to his fellow officers that his wife Lucrece’s virtue is impregnable. This inflames Tarquin, who begs lodging as a kinsman while Collatinus is still away, then demands sex with Lucrece. When she refuses, he threatens to frame her, saying he caught her with a servant, and slew them both. Her resolve weakens at the thought of the loss of reputation for her and her husband, at which Tarquin brutally rapes her. She tells all to her father the next day, demands they revenge her as she stabs herself, and thus begins a revolution that sees the Tarquins driven from Rome.
Camille O’Sullivan begins by greeting her audience, then providing a little prose introduction, soon moving into Shakespearean text, and then into song. It seems a natural and fluid progression. The set is simple; a red backcloth, the black piano, a chair, papers. Camille O’Sullivan wears a black gown, which when the collar is raised and it is drawn about her, seems almost to embody Tarquin. In this she inhabits his violence and sexual rage. Losing it, and revealing a white shift beneath, she then becomes the vulnerable and suffering Lucrece.
She very effectively inhabits each character, with a remarkable range of voice, tone and expression. To act and sing as well as she does whilst writhing on the ground as Lucrece is remarkable. The poem has been adapted by Camille O’Sulivan, Feargal Murray and director Elizabeth Freestone, including the music. The whole is a deeply affecting and, because of its artistry, satisfying musical and theatrical event. It is a disturbing and tragic story, redolent of types of crime and violence that are sadly still very much with us today. Yet the powerful and very talented way in which this tragic story is presented, and the approach taken to the tale, reinforce a moral order. Camille O’Sullivan in her powerful singing and acting and Feargal Murray with his sympathetic, dynamic but largely unobtrusive accompaniment, draw us into the story almost as if the singer is speaking just to us, hauling the individual through the tale. This is an extremely accomplished show, which deserves great success.
Villa Grimaldi, after which the first part of this original and most engrossing drama is named, was the largest and best known of over twelve hundred detention and torture centres that have been identified as being so used during the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. Onstage in this first half we have three young women; we quickly realise that these are all Alejandra, they all represent the same character, arguing amongst themselves, ostensibly about what should happen to the site of Villa Grimaldi. Should it be erased from memory, should there be a visitor centre, should there be merely an electronic record of the people held there…..it emerges that Alejandra was an inmate, one of the abused, and there is talk of torture and of rape, even by forced dogs. There is talk of her mother, also raped, and at one point one of the Alejandra’s discloses that she is the child of her mother’s rape, and that her mother, part native American, is reminded of her rapist at times by her fair skinned daughter, at which the speaker moves towards another Alejandra, who turns away. There are a number of such visually electrifying moments.
The acting is splendidly dynamic and fluid, and – believe it or not – there is humour. We live along with these three spirited young women, who are a dizzying three-in-one. Whether there is meant to be a suggestion of split personality, and maybe this as a source of strength under duress, is difficult to say. However, as a theatrical conceit it works wonderfully well.
There is a ten minute interval before Discurso, and the press are invited into a separate bar. Which is quiet, with hardly any press chat; guys just study their glasses.
For Discurso, the same three actors appear, this time as three incarnations of Michelle Bachelet, the first left President of Chile post- Pinochet, the only woman so far, and someone who was incarcerated. Was she tortured and raped? There is much speculation but she will not speak about it. What we see and hear in Discurso is her farewell speech when she resigned in defeat in 2010 – or rather the speech which the playwright wishes she had made. In this speech she talks of her ideals and hopes, how she compromised in power and felt the pressure of American corporate power. She asks forgiveness and understanding. She mentions her time in one of Pinochet’s concentration camps, but only repeatedly says, “when I was tortured…or not…” Part way through, Sonia Mena appears as a fourth Bachelet, a much more mature and grey one, meant to be taken as “the real thing.” She also makes firm statements about her legacy and experience.
What I have described may not sound like an evening of outstanding theatre, but it is…the quality of the writing, the energetic way in which the language moves between topics , and the committed and outstanding acting of Francisca Lewin, Carla Romero and Macarena Zamudio as the three Alejandra’s and three of the Michelle Bachelet’s – these are the things that make for a most memorable and absorbing event.
Playwright Guillermo Calderon is a rising young star of South American theatre, and he spoke briefly before the play about its context. It takes art of a very high order to take such disturbing and sombre material and create a theatre event which fuels sad anger but which is also uplifting and is a celebration of the people seen on stage. Calderon deserves every credit for achieving this.
This work is the brainchild of Dmitry Krimov, who is both designer and director. It is in no way like a performance of either of the Shakespeare plays mentioned. It focuses entirely on the comic play of Pyramus and Thisbe put on by the mechanicals at the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
You may think that this would not make a full evening’s performance. That would be to fail to allow for the imagination and creativity of Dmitry Krimov. It takes a while for the mechanical’s play to begin. In the original, they do nervously attempt a prologue. Here it takes longer as we begin with the cast bringing in a tree from the back of the auditorium – a big one – and taking it through and off backstage. Maybe a suggestion of the Forest of Arden. There were sighs around me and I could not see what was achieved by this, albeit stunning, bit of business. The mechanicals come on, change on stage, then the distinguished party come on, with fuss, and after about half an hour the story begins.
The highlight of the evening is the appearance first of Pyramus then of Thisbe, who are both fourteen foot puppets. It is a matter of great ingenuity to get these to move, eat, kiss, be stimulated (there is a pump for inflating Pyramus’ penis) and be so distressed by the lion in Thisbe’s case that the stage becomes somewhat damp. All good fun and very skilfully done.
I found it difficult to decide where I stood on the evening. It was brilliant puppetry, very accomplished comic acting, and the slowness with which effects are created is familiar to anyone who has seen Russian clowning or circus work. And this was a Russian company largely working in Russian with surtitles. It was an event of tremendous originality and theatrical ingenuity. It may be entirely my fault that I was unable to warm to it.
This is the first of two programmes by Ballet Preljocaj. It is meant as an “assiduous but rational” reading of The Apocalypse. Angelin Preljocaj has been developing his own unique choreographical language over thirty years. He felt that the established language did not allow enough freedom for his expansive ideas for creating movement.
This is quite a lengthy ballet which makes great demands on the extremely skilled and athletic company. There are substantial sections for groups of men and of women early on, but less interaction between the genders. There is a schooldays section, which includes dancers coming in with books attached to their mouths. Striking, but the whole section did not seem very original. A male couple kiss at the climax of a sequence that has much that is conflictual at times and suggestive of wrestling. Always good to see.
Blocks dominate the set late on, and there is much dynamic almost acrobatic dance in this section. Truly engaging and impressive. Eventually, washbasins appear and a succession of flags are washed, flicked and laid out. This must be the summer of the Olympics, one thinks. And this must be the conclusion, as you can’t dance on a wet floor. Then two people appear with their backs to us, carrying hidden bundles; but we know what they are because they are bleating. The two lambs are laid on the flags and that is about it.
There were very inspired moments in this performance, and the ensemble work was quite brilliant. We are told this is a “poetic and impressionistic” view of the Apocalypse. So if it is difficult to see much that makes one think apocalypse that is fine, no doubt. This was a company performing at a very high level, and communicating very expressively. Perhaps it was best to enjoy each vivid section and not to try to find a connecting narrative. Overall, an evening that felt lengthy but which was inspiring.
This is the show currently being toured by the famous Juilliard Dance School of New York. It comprises three distinct dance pieces, each one displaying the skills, versatility and athleticism of these young performers.
First, The Waldstein Sonata: we begin with Yuxi Qin playing the opening of the Beethoven Sonata, before the dancers arrive. They proceed to dance to the complete sonata, the four couples making delightful patterns and structures across the stage. This piece was first performed in 1975; it is extremely elegant, very pleasing, but not a piece of great depth.
This cannot be said about the second piece, Gnawa. Choreographed by Nacho Duato, this reflects the various cultural elements making up Spain’s heritage – the Moorish, the Sephardic and the Christian. The Moroccan music makes this piece seem the more exotic given what we have just been listening to. This is a very special piece; the lighting is subdued but just sufficient; the dancing in pairs, trios and groups is exquisitely poised, graceful and dynamic; the costumes add a special lustre, the women in black or in body-hugging paleness, the men just in shimmering trousers, made, we are told, “with the fabric inspired by the Valencian depiction of the shroud of the Virgin Mary.” They glow stunningly.
This is a piece of dance that, using both words very broadly, depicts how sensuality and spirituality may intertwine and help each other thrive. It is a magnificent dance work, and deserved the roar that came from the audience at its conclusion.
Episode 31 was recently created for Juilliard Dance by Alexander Ekman. It was preceded by a film of the dancers taking their work onto city streets and subways, which was a delight and very funny. The dance that followed began with one figure slowly walking across the stage as the curtain repeatedly rises and falls, showing a school scene – vigorous action by school students with post-gender uniforms. Is the single walker reminiscing? Maybe. Dance and music are urban; the dancers clearly enjoyed themselves, there was a poetry lesson overheard that was not too inspiring – I don’t imagine it was meant to be – but it had relevance to the dancers’ movement, maybe – and the dance was over rather suddenly. This was a very imaginative piece, but it did not greatly engage me.
However, this was a splendid display of the talents of this group of tremendously skilled and beautiful young people, who have dedicated themselves to a very demanding and unforgiving profession.
This play centres on Andy, who just wants an ordinary home, wife, kids and especially a shed of his own. Try as he may, he is thwarted in these aims, as first his bright idea is sold on, he loses his job, he is persuaded to take on debts to fuel an unsustainable lifestyle, and all his schemes fail until he becomes caught up in an incessant round of global trips to promote his business. All conveyed at a breakneck speed in a style that is extremely comic and entertaining.
This main character is played by Billy Mack, who never puts a foot wrong and makes all the leaps of the text seem very credible. The rest of the cast play a variety of characters – his wife, who leaves him because he is so obsessed with work, the banker who lends and lends, the first girlfriend from school who reappears – all at times rushing, until someone declares that life is not a competition, and we are all headed towards the same place anyway.
We see people rushing to maintain systems in ways we are familiar with, desperate not to be left behind. The plot follows the financial crisis of the past few years and its causes – and this is a subject really so amazing in its risk-taking and its folly that it could easily become top-heavy. That it does not is a tribute to the skill and dexterity of this cast, and what we are watching becomes madly funny.
After seeing this show surely what we want is to leave the madness behind and just be ourselves.
The Sri Lankan born Guneskera has written about the troubled times of his native country, starting with his novel Reef, where the central character is a servant boy growing up in a significant household as the clouds gather. His latest novel, The Prisoner of Paradise, is set in Mauritius in the 1820s, focusing on a young woman arriving on the island and the love she finds, and the many political cross currents of the time.
Glenn Patterson’s The Mill for Grinding Old People Young is also set in the 19th century, and is told in the 1890s by a very old man recalling his youth, when at the age of seventeen he falls for an older woman and as a result almost becomes involved in an act of terrorism at a time when the Belfast docks are to be redeveloped - a recurrent local ambition, Patterson tells us.
These two writers and their books seem very different, but after discussing their themes for a while and the story developments, it became clear that the effects of Empire, political currents and the search for meaning and personal purpose on the part of young adults, were important aspects of both books. Both can be recommended for taking the reader into new worlds and illuminating both past and present.
This was the first of a series of concerts conducted by Valery Gergiev in which he plays the symphonies and violin concertos of the gay Polish composer Szymanowski and the symphonies of Brahms.
Szymanowski’s dates were 1882 to 1937. Growing up in late nineteenth century Poland he will hardly have been encouraged to think well of himself as homosexual, though the later experience of the Paris of Debussy, Ravel and Diaghilev will have been decidedly different.
The First Symphony is an uncompleted two movement piece containing much angst and drama. The first Violin Concerto is a later and more assured work, played here by Nicola Benedetti. It is a very beautiful piece, and a favourite of mine. The orchestral opening almost suggests trolls at play, but the solo violin from the start is like a startling presence which appears, and whose glow outshines all else. It is impossible not to be taken with the instrument on its journey. The composer said the work had “great charm,” and it does indeed, and was very deliciously played by the brilliant Nicola Benedetti. It is delicately seductive and ends with a bright and cheerful, but not ostentatious, farewell. Anyone who loves music should get to know this concerto.
Brahms First Symphony is one of the most often played of Symphonies, and it is Neil Kinnock’s favourite, so people heard lots of accounts of part of the last movement during the 1992 election! It was sturdily and attractively played tonight, though there was some slackening in the second movement.
Overall, this was a very memorable concert, which reminded me of how much I relish the work of these composers.
This event was subtitled. “All the fun of the Farce.” Michael Frayn is famed for writing brilliant farces for the stage, most especially, “Noises Off”, as well as serious plays, such as “Copenhagen,” and a number of novels.
His most recent novel, “Skios” takes its name from an imaginary Greek island. Dr Norman Wilfred is a world famous authority on the scientific organisation of science. He is due to give a lecture on this island. A young chancer arrives at the airport, sees an attractive young woman holding up a card and – bingo – becomes Dr Wilfred. Haven’t we all been tempted? Dr Wifred somehow ends up with this guy’s disconsolate girlfriend. Cue farce.
Michael Frayn had a lot of fun with the audience regarding identity, asking if we could be sure he was the real Michael Frayn?… there may be many doubles…what constitutes our identity? To what extent do we believe we are seeing any celebrity? He mentioned earlier experiences with tribute bands.
This is sure to be a hilarious read, and ideal for that autumn beach holiday you have promised yourself when the Book Festival is over.
This very imaginative and visually appealing production is based on Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. There is a striking main set which is a tree but could almost be a ripe corn plant, and the dancers at times move very nimbly over this, perhaps especially the character of Pushkin himself, who is danced by one man and one woman – the woman being Deborah Colker herself, creator, director and choreographer of this piece.
Not only do two dancers appear as Pushkin, but the four characters, – Onegin, Tatyana (who falls for him), Olga (her sister), and Lensky (her betrothed and Onegin’s friend) are each danced by four dancers. In the second half, when we focus only on Tatyana and Onegin, these are both danced by eight dancers.
The results of this are visually very appealing; at times a character, such as Tatyana, may appear to be consulting with herself; at others, we may see four different aspects of the interplay of Tatyana and Onegin. However, on the whole I did not think that this made the relationships clearer, as may have been intended. I found that as my eye travelled continually between the dancers I felt little contact with any of them. There were moments when they may as well have been a chorus.
One moment that was affecting was when the male Pushkin allowed the rejected Tatyana to rest her head on his shoulder, as though he felt for his creation. There were other moments when he seemed to stride off as though frustrated and perplexed by his creations – a good and almost Pirandellian touch. When writing the famed letter to Onegin, we see the Tatyanas writing on their bodies with quills – a very effective idea, as then she is really offering herself when she sends the letter to him.
Eventually, Onegin regrets his rejection, but by now Tatyana is richly married and settled. Brilliant in her jewelled status and writhing in his despair, the two characters are arresting visually at the end, but I am not sure that we see and feel enough of their emotions. It is as though a respect for Russian formality has been too much insisted on.
Despite these caveats, this is a very memorable and wonderfully danced event.
This is a brilliant and incredibly versatile one-woman show. Katie O’Kelly takes us through James Joyce’s year of 1904, the year in which he set Ulysses on June 16th. Jojo, a stall-holder in Dublin’s Rathmines Market, is obsessed with everything to do with Joyce. We encounter many characters and cronies from Joyce’s life, – his crazy Dad, the tenor John McCormack, Alfred Hunter (who was recreated as Bloom) and of course Nora Barnacle, the love of Joyce’s life.
Katie O’Kelly is someone who can be a different character literally every ten seconds. Her impersonations are vivid and arresting, and she moves from one to another in a way that seems as easy as breathing but is the fruit of long practised art. Apart from the winged vision that she appears as first and last, set and costumes are very simple, but we are drawn into a fascinating world simply by the voice and movement of Katie.
Whether you are a Joyce enthusiast or someone merely curious about him and his work, you will be sure to find this performance illuminating and entertaining. This is an hour in the company of a host of striking characters, including a crazed night of gunfire in the Sandycove Tower, Joyce’s medal win for singing in the Feis, and much more.
Go along and rattle through these events in Katie O’Kelly’s company, and discover – if you need to – the joy of Joyce.
This was Janacek’s penultimate opera, written when he was well into his sixties. It would not be surprising if mortality was on his mind, and the central character is an opera diva who is three hundred odd years old – her father having been physician to an Emperor who sought the secret of eternal life. The potion developed by her father was to be tested on her, and she was ill for weeks – so her father was banished. But, it worked, and she lived and lived…so the story goes.
At the start of the opera she is a famous diva who entrances many men, and who is tired of successive generations falling for her, even committing suicide when spurned by her. She seems to know more than she should about the case of a disputed will dating back a century. She wants the documents relating to that deceased guy – because amongst them is the formula for the potion , and after 300 years the effect is wearing off and she is dying.
In this Opera North production the diva Emilia Marty is sung by Yiva Kihlberg, who is a commanding central presence and whose singing is outstanding. Paul Nilon as Albert Gregor is strong in voice and acting. The Opera North cast are generally impressive. The sets are very striking, especially in the final scene in the hotel bedroom, where the formula is eventually burned.
It is usual to come to this opera knowing it is about a woman who lives for hundreds of years, yet it remains compelling, partly because of the everyday detail of the ongoing case – a little like Jarndyce and Jarndyce – but mostly because of Janaceks’s exciting and driving score, which heightens the whole experience, and was very colourfully performed by the orchestra of Opera North here. This was a very stimulating and satisfying evening.
This is a very charming piece of storytelling using puppets, tarot cards, specially composed music and a group of actors. The very vivid Firebird is the last of his kind, struggling on afraid and alone. He pursues the Spirit Girl who helped him hatch. Just what happens to him depends upon which cards are chosen by members of the audience – this company have a few possible shows up their sleeve. Storms, devils, kings – many things may challenge him.
Andrew Fowler is a forceful actor, who makes a good King and Devil. Beth Kilburn, one of the founders of this group, Ikou Theatre, wrote the original music and appears here on keyboard. Jess Neale created the splendid Firebird, and manipulates him gracefully. In this show Stephanie Corbett and Danny Neale become argumentative lovers who say things that ring true, even if we may wish that people would listen to themselves in such situations.
It is a pity that this show does not appear at an earlier time, as it would surely appeal to children, who were not present this evening; it is a family show, but one with a complex narrative. More individual than group singing may have worked better. This is the first production of a new company, and they are ambitious, and skilfully incorporate considerable material within a short time frame.
As I walked in the woman in front of me noticed the skull on stage and immediately said, “Alas, poor Yorick.” Yes, at one level we are into the play that lives in the mind of more theatregoers than any other. And we are into memento mori, with rapiers brandished, the most famous of Hamlet’s soliloquies, and the actor’s forgetfulness.
“Tick tock /The mirror’s a cruel clock.” We are in the dressing room of an actor who is about to perform Hamlet uncut, alone, and who has not performed for 15 years and who has a drink problem. Yes – daunting. Guy Masterson gives a tremendous performance in this role, as the actor hears his “Half,” -the half hour before performance call, and realises he has just 35 minutes till he is on-stage. He has to prepare himself and stay focused, but he is beset by many demons – his marriage break up and its memories, his years in the alcoholic wilderness, his self- defeating superstitions. And, where are his trousers?
There is a wonderful one-man rapier fight which has just been expertly choreographed, and was first included today – another excellent reason for taking in this show.
Guy Masterson treats us to a show that is both hilarious and touching. We are with him at every new twist, and we laugh as he struggles to get everything in order within and without. Will he be able to go on? Will he collapse? What is in the mystery envelope? What glows brightly in the bottom drawer? Get along to this most professional and stimulating of performances and find out for yourself!