Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Week in Performing Arts - 10/5/12

It seems that it’s the season for unlikely musicals. After the news that Bret Easton Ellis’American Psycho is to be turned into a musical, so now comes the revelation that Coronation Street is destined for the same fate. But this isn’t an ordinary musical adaptation – this is a musical designed for arenas rather than proscenium stages, with massive video screens over the stage showing footage from the series, a huge stage and a large cast.

The Corrie musical: 'Street of Dreams' ©ITV

Alex Edwards, a 22 year-old graphic design student from Wakefield, has won the Roses Award for his new project, called ‘Were4 rt thou Rmo?’ Edwards has reduced the language of Shakespeare into text-speak in a flip-book with the text-language alternating with Shakespeare’s actual lines. He says the idea is to make people realize how much easier Shakespeare is to understand when written out in full, and to appreciate the beauty of Shakespeare’s language.

A 23 year-old on a training placement has bagged himself a lead role in a West End show, directed by the renowned British director Peter Brook. Rikki Henry went out to Paris to work behind the scenes at the Bouffes du Nord theatre as part of the Jerwood Assistant Director scheme. He was helping out at auditions when Brook offered him the role. David Lan, artistic director of the Young Vic where Henry will perform later this month in The Suit, was unsurprised, saying that Henry has ‘an instinctive sense of theatre. […] Talent will out’.

Shoreham-by-Sea in West Sussex is the unlikely setting for a new staging of Hamlet from the site-specific company dreamthinkspeak. What is even unlikelier is that is it taking place in a warehouse previously home to a ‘vacuuming solutions’ company, near a rubbish tip, on a dilapidated industrial estate and opposite a scrapyard. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, indeed. Upon stepping inside the warehouse, visitors will experience a multimedia play – like being ‘in a kaleidoscopic, 3D art gallery, or being immersed inside a film’, according to artistic director of the company, Tristan Sharps.

It’s no surprise that this year there will a whole range of Olympics-related performance art. Joe Cutler’s Ping! will be the first piece to be accompanied by a string quartet and 4 table-tennis players. The table-tennis players are ‘the percussion section, but also like dancers’, he says.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Review: Jerusalem Tango

Jerusalem Tango opens a window on to a part of history previously unknown to me: the British colonial presence in Jerusalem after the Second World War, and the story of the King David Hotel bombing. The blurb for this show was promising; it had romance, war, suspense, violence and was based on historical fact. I was excited to see it. I needn’t have been.

Pushed into one of the small studios at the top of the Carriageworks in Leeds, it was clear that New End Theatre had trouble adapting to the space. I can only owe it to a problem with the wings, but rather than change the staging, they had actors just walk across stage whilst another scene was going on, in order to get to the right side for their entrance – presumably hoping that the magic of the theatre, combined with their miming of corridors, would make the audience believe that the character was merely wandering past whilst a dramatic scene raged on inside an adjacent room.

©New End Theatre

This clumsiness also transferred to the performances. The play opens with a Palestinian Jewish woman who seduces a young British officer by inviting him to dance the tango with her at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Although Jenny Leveton as Ziva was by far the strongest actor in the cast, these opening scenes lacked the provocation and passion necessary to make the rest of the plot believable. Ziva was meant to be the self-assured tango teacher, enjoying her seductive mastery over her adopted protégé, and instead they both found themselves stumbling over the steps, perhaps concentrating too hard on the lines being spoken simultaneously. The whole play seemed under-rehearsed, the scenes between Michael Forrest as Albert Corby and Peter Alexander as Sir Henry Gordon suffering from what appeared to be the actors fumbling their lines. Forrest was meant to be the light relief, a ‘salt of the earth’ character who fell off stepladders and then carried an exaggerated limp for much of the play, but his slapstick efforts to draw out humour from certain choice lines fell flat amidst the melodramatic script. He never made eye-contact with the other characters, or looked up properly towards the audience - possibly in order to demonstrate his meekness, but it was quite a frustrating trait as the audience never got the full brunt of his lines.

Staging problems continued with the age-old problem of the desk in an end-on space: just how does one place a desk – with one end towards the audience, on a diagonal, with its longer side facing towards the audience? Never have I seen a set prop so clumsily navigated in a professional production – actors were talking to each others backs, they were walking stiltedly backwards in order to be in a position where they could actually see each other and so give some impression of dialogue. Similarly, on the other side of the stage, the one set prop was a single bed, and some portions of dialogue were played with the two actors sitting with their backs to the audience – this is a convention that can be tolerated, if the conversation is interesting enough and if it is not kept up for too long. Unfortunately neither of these were the case. The script was often melodramatic, with clichéd lines such as, ‘I have to go. They’ll be wondering where I am…’ and ‘I didn’t mean to fall in love with you! But I did’. Joel Parry as Thomas Wilson was the lucky recipient of some of the most cringe-worthy lines, and did little to redeem himself as a character with which the audience could sympathise. His wooden acting was unfortunately held in sharp contrast to his ‘dancing partner’, Leveton, who was much more believable (and, by the way, had an excellent accent).

The playwright had the formidable task of presenting a short snatch of history to the audience and providing them with all the political details required to understand the context of the play. This was mostly achieved, although resulted in some lengthy political diatribes from some of the characters. It is a shame that based on such an interesting premise, this play could have been good. Unfortunately, undermined by a predictable script, flaccid direction and wooden acting, it was an evening better spent elsewhere.

Monday, 7 May 2012

except for when they are of flying, all my thoughts are with you

Just found out a mate of mine does beautiful, talented illustrations and book covers. Of course, if it's at least kind of literary, I'm hooked. Check him out here:

I am counting down the days until these essays are in, and TakeOver starts and I'm still busy but it's good busy rather than stressful busy and I've got good theatre to look forward to and organise. I'm so excited about this festival starting - the other day someone complimented me (on behalf of the rest of the TakeOver team - I had nothing to do with the programming side of it) on our line-up for the festival and it made me stop and think, 'Actually, yeah. We do have an incredible line-up.' What a nice realization to have.
So if you're in York and you're reading this... For goodness' sake, will you just realise how lucky you are and treat yourself with a few tickets before they all run out? 

Kate Tempest's Wasted by company Paines Plough, coming to TakeOver from 24th to 26th May.

In other news, I've found out how to get an incredible amount of likes on your Facebook statuses. 

There's a good marketing tip coming up, so prick up your ears all you PRs and marketeers out there. (The word marketeers always makes me think of meerkats).

Drum roll...

Write a status complaining about the lack of seats in the library and damning all first years who even bother coming to the library in final term. (Pssssh. Like they have any work to do!) You're practically guaranteed upwards of 30 likes - you've got every single third year in the uni on your side.

One more thing. 

Marriage is an expression of and a commitment to a life-long, lasting, loving relationship. Homosexual couples are as capable of loving and being loved as heterosexual couples, and should be allowed to express that love and that commitment in exactly the same way.

If you agree (or even if you don't), fill out the online form, as the government are asking for public opinion on the matter of Equal Marriage Consultation, and I think this is important.

Friday, 4 May 2012

The Week in Performing Arts - 4/5/12

The Brighton Fringe is soon to start on the 5th May until the 27th. The three weeks are packed with 681 acts across 193 venues. The biggest arts festival in England is known for its unusual performance spaces – from public lavatories to prisons and churches, the festival is a haven for site-specific performers. More information can be found here.

York’s very own TakeOver Festival at York Theatre Royal is getting underway. Starting on the 21st May until the 9th June, this Festival has a kids half-term festival, a comedy night, ex-Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, and a whole variety of touring shows that have sold out their previous venues. The ‘Best play of 2011’, Philip Ridley’s Tender Napalm, and performance poet Kate Tempest’sWasted, in association with renowned theatre company Paines Plough, are just some of the exciting events coming to the city. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter for more details.

©Tender Napalm at TakeOver Festival

This writer spotted Alan Cumming taking a stroll (surrounded by security guards) in London the other week. However, that has little to do with the announcement that the Scot will be returning to his roots by performing Macbeth… all of it. National Theatre of Scotland are doing Macbeth with a twist: set in a psychiatric hospital, Cumming speaks all of the lines himself through his character reliving the story of Macbeth. It’s transferring to New York, and already American critics are getting overexcited.

Bret Easton Ellis’ cult classic, American Psycho, is set to be turned into a musical. The score will be “completely electronic”, and promises to rival another West End gore-fest, Sweeney Todd. Music and lyrics were written by Duncan Sheik, who also wrote for the West End hit Spring Awakening. The production does not yet have a confirmed venue or opening date. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa wrote the adaptation, and says that there definitely will be murders on stage. Suffice to say, “There’s going to be a lot of blood”.

The National Youth Theatre had to be thrown a lifeline by the Arts Council – a fund of £200,000 to help it meet its financial obligations. The organization that kick-started the careers of the likes of Dame Helen Mirren, Orlando Bloom, Rosamund Pike and Daniel Craig is under financial threat due to ‘human wrongdoing’. Cutbacks will take the form of production closures and job losses after the organization “overstretched itself”. It is understood that it is not in danger any more and is working hard to get back on track.
Carol Ann Duffy, ex-Poet Laureate, will retell several folk tales for the stage. Rats Tales is set to be shown at the Manchester Royal Exchange this Christmas. Duffy is collaborating with designer, choreographer and director Melly Still, who has worked with both the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company in the past.

The Tony Awards 2012 nominations have been announced. Predictable results include Nicholas Hytner’s direction of One Man, Two Guvnors, and James Corden’s nomination for best performance by an actor in a leading role in the same play. Clybourne ParkNewsiesOnce and Death of A Salesman crop up several times throughout the nominations list.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

28.3 miles south west

listen to these beats.

keeping on for Barcelona. I gotta lotta plans for my life, trying to make some of them happen.
kinda tired.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

loving much, and experiments in living

'Why should it be essential to love rarely in order to love much?' said Camus.

Look at that handsome man! Camus was well-loved, by literary critics and women alike. He was gorgeous and intelligent, and kept mistresses constantly throughout his married life. I'm reading 'Le Premier Homme' at the moment for an upcoming French exam, and you can see traces of the adult he was to become in the autobiographical work. A footnote early on in the book stipulates that the book should be 'heavy with things and flesh'. Right at the end of the book, he declares how much 'Jacques Cormery', the protagonist (a pseudonym for him) has a 'love of bodies, of their beauty, which made him laugh with bliss on the beaches, of their warmth that never stopped attracting him, with nothing particular in mind, like an animal'. This is a man who delighted in bodies, and love, whether long-lasting or brief. There's nothing sordid in that.

Sartre used to compare writing and love, saying that they came from the same creative process. He and de Beauvoir championed an experiment in living: the open relationship, which was scandalous at the time. In the 21st century climate, with things like girlonthenet, Belle du Jour, Tulisa's sex tape broadcast, and swingers parties or clubs like Killing Kittens in London becoming normalised, then an open relationship doesn't seem that exciting now. But de Beauvoir - author of The Second Sex, the manifesto for the beginning of the women's movement - described her relationship with Sartre as the 'greatest achievement' of her life. And despite all of our desires to have many lovers, to be sexually active - to love often and to love well, in other words - it is still an achievement nowadays to have a long-lasting relationship. What is more of an achievement in this day and age is not to successfully pull off an open relationship where each partner can take their own lovers, but, perhaps, to have a long, happy (possibly monogamous) relationship. That seems to be the more unusual thing. 

A famous Baudelaire quote reads, “Unable to suppress love, the Church wanted at least to disinfect it, and so created marriage.” Baudelaire was a dandy who squandered money and carried on illicit affairs, one of which was with his 'Black Venus', Jeanne Duval. What is it with these French writers? Not to mention Marguerite Duras' 'L'Amant', an autobiographical account of herself as a 15 year old having an affair with a 27 year old Chinese man. Then of course, the quintessential story of the adulterous wife: Flaubert's Madame Bovary. 

Basically, what I'm trying to say is this: my module in French Realism is like a course in how to have an exciting sex life.

Chicago review

This sultry jazz musical, full of glint-eyed murderesses and big dance numbers, shot to fame with the 2002 film starring Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Any touring company will rake in an audience because of the success of Chicago, but will also perform in the shadow of the Oscar-winning film. Unfortunately, this production captured none of the sparkle and sassiness that is such a defining characteristic of the show and remained firmly in the shadow of previous, more successful adaptations.

Hoping to be swept away by the well-known opening number, All That Jazz, I remained uninspired by the lacklustre beginning. The choreography was performed correctly (but this faint praise is all I feel able to offer due to the desperate lack of energy on stage), and Velma Kelly’s (Tupele Dorgu’s) vocals were spot-on, if she seemed to take little pleasure in the performance. Ali Bastian as Roxie Hart had more sass in her performance, lolling sexily off a steel ladder brought on to one side of the stage, and her entrance far outshone that of Dorgu. Bastian in general put her all into the role, and portrayed Roxie with a slightly more wicked twist than I’ve seen in other interpretations, with absolutely no guilt felt towards her maltreated husband Amos, and instead a Machiavellian determination to earn celebrity and fortune.

©Grand Opera House York

The Cell Block Tango was the first song to start to convince me that some of the performers actually wanted to be on stage. The female chorus, notably Genevieve Nicole and Claire Rogers, exploited the more comedic moments of their parts with gusto, earning laughter from the audience. The energy raised from the sexy rendition of Cell Block Tango was unfortunately dissipated by the following song, When You’re Good to Mama, performed by Bernie Nolan as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton. Nolan is no stranger to the UK touring scene, having performed in the lead role of Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers, but despite her achingly beautiful singing voice, she had none of the avarice, the double-dealing and the sex appeal that is so important in the role of Mama Morton. Her physicality was static and she looked uncomfortable with some of the more suggestive lyrics, offering an uneasy lean towards the audience with a half-suggestive gesture towards her cleavage. Although I do not doubt the vocal talent of Nolan one bit, I think that the ribald humour and easygoing sexuality of the role didn’t sit easily with her as an actress.

The scenes with Billy Flynn (portrayed suavely by Stefan Booth) were the most reliant on props in this mostly bare touring production. The ensemble girls used luxuriant feather fans (which were accommodated well by the choreography, both encapsulating the seductive style of showgirls and also a humourous slapstick-esque sequence), or small umbrellas to protect them from the rain of glitter floating down from the ceiling. The Billy Flynn scenes were the most glitzy, and really took advantage of the jazzy show numbers and the overall style of the musical. One noticeable aspect of the production was how bare it was – the costumes, hair and make-up were beautifully done, even if there were too many men in leather trousers (can you ever have too many men in leather trousers?), but the staging was simplistic, due, presumably to it being a touring production. Small details like newspapers which were printed only on one side and blank on the other, and an unnecessary proscenium arch that only served to narrow the stage-space, made the performance seem less professional than it should have been. Although the energy did increase over the course of the show, the lifeless beginning is unfortunately the main element to have stuck in my mind, which meant that Chicago just wasn’t as thrilling or sexy as it could have been.