15 March 2007

Royal Ballet Triple Bill, Royal Opera House, Wednesday 14th March 2007

What a truly bizarre evening. And what a strange programme!

The first offering was “Apollo”, a very odd (but apparently now considered as a classic) piece for four dancers and a couple of hangers-on, two of whom are described as “handmaidens” but who are on for about 30 seconds in total and do very, very little, and one poor cow who sits on the top of a flight of steps going through all the motions of giving birth to the title character – balletically, of course. Interesting, if not a lot to write home about. Basically three muses – Calliope, Polyhymnia and (I think) Clio interacting with Apollo. No plot, just dancing. Odd that the woman dancing Polyhymnia was much taller than the other two muses (and a much better dancer). The programme spiel said that Apollo was the only god in the Greek canon represented in art without a beard. I would like to refer the writer to statues of Hermes! Tsk, tsk – some people really don’t know their business.

The second piece – “Children of Adam” was what I would (and did) describe as “pretentious wank” – although the chap walking in front of us down Henrietta Street afterwards obviously didn’t agree with my opinion (OK, I did say it rather loudly I suppose). He gave me a look as if I had run up beside him and pissed all down the leg of his suit while calling his mother a whore. It seemed to be the story of Cain and Abel, overlaid with some pompous references to homosexuality, with bits of “The Rite of Spring” thrown in for good measure. Nasty, nasty set – all green and brown splodges and some kind of weird “tree” with wiggly roots and branches, and one odd branch going all the way up to the top of the proscenium. Some odd flowers – apparently irises – made an appearance at one point. The garden historian in me forebears to comment. Weird “modern” choreography set to the kind of music played by the string section that Eddie Izzard described in one of his routines as “weasel, weasel, weasel”. I can’t believe people get paid to write that kind of atonal scratchy rubbish. I can play music like that on a cello given the opportunity – and I don’t play a note. Printing error in the cast list transposed the names of the two male characters and they had to make an announcement correcting this. Tsk, tsk – an administrator obviously needs to pull their socks up.

The final piece was “Theme and Variation” – a classical piece and the only bit of “real” ballet in the whole triple bill. Pretty cossies, sparkly stage tiaras, nice set of draped curtains, columns and chandeliers – but Ms. Cojucaru, dancing the lead missed out a sequence of steps at one point and finished dancing a bar and a half before the orchestra finished playing. Tsk, tsk, how standards are falling at the Royal Ballet!

Add to the fact that it seemed to be “cut price tickets for miserable old bags” night – the miserable old bag in front of us glared at me several times for having the temerity to cough, and the one behind me actually put her claw on my shoulder and physically pulled me back in my seat when I leant forward in order to see better at one point. She spent both intervals having a very pretentious conversation with two of her victims (sorry, friends) in a nasal “wah, wah wah wah wahhh” voice and I hope that somebody dropped a house on her on her way home.

12 March 2007

The Canterville Ghost, English National Ballet, Sadler’s Wells – Saturday 10th March 2007

Well, it was a game try – but it really didn’t come off. There were lots of things I didn’t like about this production – and judging by the rather lukewarm applause at the end, the majority of the audience at Sadler’s Wells didn’t really go for it either.

Perhaps I would have enjoyed this more had I been able to see more of it. The lighting was SO dim that a lot of the visual jokes (particularly in the dinner table scene) just failed to register. The action was also obscured by the heavy use of stage smoke, which hung around in the auditorium throughout the performance and coloured everything with the type of blue haze which I only usually see hanging about the flat when Clive has had the oven on too high. It obviously failed to register with the costume designer that, on a black-floored stage with a black backdrop and dingy lighting, characters dressed completely in black become essentially invisible.

Tom Baker’s rather overblown narration sat very uneasily on the production – if you need narration to explain a ballet to its audience, then there is obviously something very wrong with the ballet itself. What narration there was seemed rather pointless, in fact, particularly when it was duplicating the action on the stage (for example, in the dinner table scene, a large picture frame hangs over the table, in which the “back story” of the murder of the Ghost’s wife is acted out. This is also played out in classic ballet mime by the housekeeper at the same time, so what is going on should be quite easily understood by anyone. But ENB have obviously decided that the scene needs narration as well. Result: complete overkill).

Neither did I quite see the point of framing the whole set with Edwardian theatre boxes – were we supposed to infer that we were not actually watching a story unfold, but a theatrical presentation of a story?

The trouble with this adaptation is that I really didn’t care about the characters and what happened to them. Most of the horrible Otis family are mere cardboard cut outs – even the ghastly twins were just played for laughs. What could have been a touching side-plot about the romance between the housekeeper and the butler was shoe-horned into a short pas de deux, and then forgotten. We are meant to identify with the bookish Virginia, but a pair of wire framed glasses does not a simpering ingĂ©nue make. And why would she fall for Cecil, played as a P. G. Wodehouse twit, when the alternative is immortality with a glamorous and sexy ghost? And was there some point being made by having Mrs. Otis double as Lady de Canterville? In essence, all it meant was that Mrs. Otis wasn’t present at the family dinner table. As an essentially non-dancing role, Lady de Canterville could have been played by one of the female corps de ballet.

There were a few nice touches – the splitting of the back wall showing the descent to Hell, the ancestral portraits, through which their faces protruded like those old comedy seaside photographs, being carried by the ghosts themselves, and the skull being used as a football by the twins in the final scene, but it really was a very lukewarm evening out. Not so much Canterville as Can’tBeBothered.

The Man of Mode – National Theatre, Friday 9th March 2007

Oh dear, I thought. Another of these Restoration so-called “Comedies”. Another one “wittily updated” to make it seem more “relevant”. I was planning to secrete a paperback in my trouser pocket or paint open eyes on the lenses of my glasses and nod off behind them. But what a revelation. The play was originally set in 17th century London – a place “obsessed with having it all, a place where young people are driven to have the latest clothes, the latest gossip and each other’s bodies” – just like London today, which is where this production is very firmly placed. With its sly (and not so sly) digs at pretentious gallery openings, society florists, daft fashions, the cult of “celebrity” and smarmy, manipulative City boys shagging anything with a pulse, it could have been written yesterday. So well was the production thought out that the modern anachronisms really didn’t jar at all. I had been a bit worried that the plot device of the arranged marriage might be rather shoe-horned in, but in this production the two families are Indian, which of course is up-to-date as you can get with all the current hoohaa in the press. There were (apparently) a few updates from the original text, but I doubt if anyone would have noticed unless you were a real Restoration Comedy Freak. I liked the device of using text messages rather than the handwritten notes being passed from one character to another, and the part where Sir Foppington’s unwittingly hysterical performance on the piano was captured on mobile phones – you just KNOW that its going to hit the Internet within 30 minutes.

Tom Hardy was fantastic as the slimy, manipulative Doriant. His “body acting” was incredible to watch – whether he had been taught this or was inherent is difficult to tell. He has a great body anyway, and used it to underscore practically everything he said and every move he made – in the very natural way that those blessed with great bodies do in real life. A lascivious comment would be accompanied with a slight flick of the hips, a knockback paired with a subtle squaring of the shoulders or flexing of the biceps; you were aware at all times of his body language without having to see the body underneath his suit –although having seen him in his Calvins, I would quite happily let him kick me out of bed, but only so that he could do me on the floor. I also thought it was fantastic the way he made the most out of his lips, which have that touch of Michael Portillo about them. In fact, at the point when he was smarming Indira Joshi’s wonderful Lady Woodvill, I was convinced that Portillo was who he was imitating.

Excellent though he was, Hardy had to enter into a fiercely competitive two-horse race to take the acting honours whenever Rory Kinnear (Sir Fopling Flutter) appeared on stage. It was literally neck and neck all the way, and I think that Kinnear may well have won by a nose. He was brilliant –funny, charming and quite unwittingly pathetic (in the real sense of the word as well as the accepted sense). What made him so fab was that he played the role as if he was truly unaware that his uber-fashionable designer clothes were, in fact, making him look like mutton dressed as lamb – a male version of Edina Monsoon. For the first 10 minutes or so, I had problems with his performance, thinking that he was playing it too much in the style of a large, cuddly version of James Dreyfuss, but he soon won me over – and if he would ever like to come clubbing with me, then he’d be very welcome!

I wasn’t quite so impressed with some of the ladies on stage – Abby Ford made a very scraggy, colourless, practically emaciated Emilia and I really didn’t think that a stud like Doriant would have gone for that type (unless for her money, of course). Nancy Carroll’s Mrs. Loveit didn’t really come off either – but then I must admit that I was prejudiced because she looked like someone I used to work for and didn’t really like a great deal. Penny Ryder gave a good account of Pert – rather like a poor man’s Felicity Kendall.

Costumes were excellent – lots of thought obviously given to shoes – although Abby Ford looked like a bag of rags tied in the middle with string most of the time. Loved Hardy’s beautifully cut suit, which enhanced the sexy body beneath with great style. And Kinnear’s first costume was one I would be happy to wear myself (minus the tassels and fringing, of course). Great dancing as well all the way through, terrifically choreographed.

A great night out – and made all the better by the fact that I fully expected to loathe the whole thing.