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 ingénue 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.

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