18 November 2009

The Tsarina's Slippers - Royal Opera House, Friday 20th November 2009


As the witch Solokha admires the beauty of the moon, the Devil comes and flirts with her. He has come to the village to take revenge on her son Vakula who has painted an insulting image of him on the church wall.The Devil invokes a huge snow storm to cause confusion in the village, making the moon disappear so that he can steal it. He and Solokha ride into the sky on their broomsticks.The villagers, Chub and Panas, get lost in the blizzard below.

Oksana, the village beauty, is at home admiring herself in the mirror. Vakula arrives and declares his love for her but she ignores him. Chub, Oksana's father, and his friend Panas stumble in. In the dark of the blizzard, Vakula does not recognise them and kicks them out, believing them to be intruders.

Solokha and the Devil return from their broomstick ride and the Devil tries to seduce her. There is a knock at the door. It is the Mayor who has also come to woo Solokha; the Devil hides in a sack so he won't be found. There is another knock at the door, and the Mayor hides in a sack. It is the school teacher, he has also come to woo Solokha, and he also hides in a sack. Then Chub enters, also intent on wooing Solokha, he too conceals himself in a sack.Finally Vakula comes in to see his mother. He is miserable after being rejected by Oksana. He exits, carrying off all the sacks.

The villagers dance to celebrate Christmas Eve and one of the boys presents his girlfriend with a pair of slippers. Oksana is jealous and challenges Vakula to fetch her the Tsarina’s slippers. In return, she says, she will marry him. He sets off in despair, leaving all but one of the sacks behind. Solokha’s lovers (except the devil) all pop out of the abandoned bags - to everyone’s surprise.Vakula is so dejected that he contemplates throwing himself in the lake. Just as he is about to fling himself in the water, the Devil pops out of the last sack he has been carrying and offers him a deal: he will help Vakula get the Tsarina’s slippers in exchange for his soul. They fly to St Petersburg to find the Tsarina: Catherine the Great. They enter the palace where a great ball is underway. They marvel at the dancing, steal the Tsarina’s slippers and leave.

Back in the village, both Solokha and Oksana grieve for Vakula believing he has drowned himself in the lake. Vakula appears and they are overjoyed.Vakula offers Oksana the slippers and she agrees to marry him, declaring that it is he she wants – not the slippers.

Creative team:
Composer: Tchiakovsky
Director- Francesca Zambello
Set Designer- Mikhail Mokrov
Costume Designs- Tatiana Noginova
Lighting Designer- Rick Fisher
Choreography -Alastair Marriott

Oxana -Olga Guryakova
Vakula -Vsevolod Grivnov
Solokha-Larissa Diadkova
Chub -Vladimir Matorin
The Devil- Maxim Mikhailov
Schoolmaster- Viacheslav Voynarovskiy
Pan Golova- Alexander Vassiliev
Panas -John Upperton
His Highness -Sergei Leiferkus
Master of Ceremonies -Jeremy White
Wood Goblin -Changhan Lim

Anyone who’s been following this blog for a while ( I HOPE there are more than six; six readers after four years of hard slog does seem a little disappointing, particularly when there are so many people fawning over the likes of the West End Whingers) will know that I don’t “do” opera. The idea of sitting for three hours listening to people sing at each other in Foreign while disguised as their maid or taking an inordinate amount of time to die ain’t really my idea of fun. So it was with a great deal of trepidation that I pencilled this outing onto the calendar in the kitchen a while back. Still, thought I, its Tchaikovsky, so there will be something to hum along to, at least, as well as a vaguely festive storyline (I see that the Royal Ballet are rolling out their incredibly dreary Nutcracker AGAIN this year, while the Birmingham Royal do their fantastic version for those people fortunate enough to live within striking distance of the Midlands). There was a slight contretemps when I announced to Him Indoors that at least Tchiakovsky might be vaguely hummable; he countered with “No, its by Rimsky-Korsakov” and we argued back and forth until an old programme was unearthed from god knows where of “Christmas Eve [the alternate title of the piece] by Rimsky-Korsakov”. I went and had a sulk until I read in the programme a couple of hours later that the original story had been turned into operas by four different composers, among them Tchaikovsky, at which point I became unbearably smug for another couple of hours.

The Opera House was completely and utterly packed out; loads of Russians and people with those insufferable little Jocastas and Tarquins that you get every time something vaguely child-friendly is on there. Standing room only. Sold out for the entire run. All of which makes what happened in the following three hours somewhat of a let-down. Somehow the whole thing didn’t gel. Yes, it was charmingly costumed and the whole thing looked authentically “Russian” in the manner of those little black lacquerwork boxes you get with pictures from Russian fairy tales on them. Yes, there were some very good voices on the stage (but also, it has to be said, a couple of the cast who were distinctly off form). But it looked rather under-rehearsed, with some poor staging of the chorus scenes; people didn’t look as if they knew exactly where they should be standing and there was a lot of vague milling about and gesticulating as a result. Scenes inside houses were very cramped, staged on small “floating” sets plonked at the front of the stage. Lots of opportunities for comedy were missed. Important parts of the story seemed to have been cut in favour of long, pointless recitatives which did nothing to progress it and the ballet sections seemed very badly placed on the stage. The only saving grace for me was, essentially, the final act, which exploded onto the stage as if the lid had popped off a toy box on Christmas morning. Finally the entire thing took on some life and everyone on stage looked like they were having fun. There was a dancing bear (in pointe shoes, a tiara and a tutu), lots of chorus movement, a panto-style walk-down of all the cast, a wonderful sunburst set and the campest exit for the hero and heroine I think I’ve ever seen in an opera; both piled into an enormous gold slipper which was on runners like a sledge. And then it was over.

I felt a bit underwhelmed really and not a little cheated of what I expected to be a fun night out. The pro critics of all the major newspapers have been incredibly sniffy about the entire production; this is just as expected. I sometimes wonder whether opera critics are trained not to like anything they consider "populist". OK, the evening wasn't fabulous, but it wasn't that bad.

What the critics thought:





13 November 2009

Mrs Klein - Almeida Theatre - Friday 13th November 2009


Mrs. Klein is one of the most admired psychoanalysts of her time, but her relationship with her daughter has been damaged almost beyond repair, and unexpected message from abroad brings it to a bitter confrontation.


Mrs. Klein - Claire Higgins
Zoe Waites - Melitta
Nicola Walker - Paula

Creative team:
Director -Thea Sharrock
Design -Tim Hatley
Lighting -Neil Austin
Sound -Ian Dickinson for Autograph
Casting Director - Sarah Bird
Dialect Coach - Jan Haydn Rowles
Fight Director- Alison de Burgh
Assistant Director- Oliver Baird

Goot evenink, you are very prompt. This is good, no? Ven coming for psychoanalysis it is most important to be prompt, so zat ve ken do as much digging around in the liddle grey cells as possible. Zere are many, many dreadful zings to be discovered lurking around in ze depths of zat naughty little brain of yours. Please, to be sitting in zis chair. I am sorry zat it is only a chair, but after so many productions recently at Ze Almeida featuring counselling sessions, I am afraid zat ze couch is now completely worn out.

It vas a goot play, no? Veeeery interezting, veerry … vat? “Freudian”, you say? Ach no, zat Freud he vas a complete sex maniac, seeing villies and boobies and ozzer disgusting leetle bits and pieces of ze body all over ze place, effen vile vandering round zis loffley set, vich as you can see is all red. Veeerry red, veeery claustrophobic. Vat? “Klaus-trophobic”? Vat is dat? Oh, I see, you make the leedle joke. Very funny. I am glad ze set makes you feel so comfortable. Ze set is my drawing room, not a vis-drawing room. See, I make the little joke too, eh? Anyvay , the set is aaalll red. Just like going back to ze vomb, non? See, it has vindows, so it is a vomb viz a view. Ha ha, I make anozzer little joke.

Vould you like a leettle drink? Sherry? From zis bottle zat looks like a penis? No? Visky then? From zis bottle zat also, strangely, looks like a penis? Ach, goot. Let me pour you a liddle visky into zis glass zat looks like a vagina. Gott in Himmel, vat is the matter vis me today? I haf been reading too much about Herr Freud, obviously. Ze visky is very brown, no? Just like the little poo-poos you did ven you ver a liddle baby. I vonder if Herr Freud ever did ze little brown poo-poos? If so, zat probably means zat he hated his mozzer and his fazzer veeeeery much and vanted to have secks viz dem both. Visky is referred to in zis play as "symbolic urine".

So, about zis play. Vat? You found it a liddle “heavy going”? Vy? Did your mozzer play naughty games viz you ven you were a liddle baby doing poo-poos? Ach, goot, I can see zat you vill haf to be coming to me for a loooooong time in my liddle red room. Probably at least for ze second half of ze play. Ach, I haf dropped my pen. Please to be excusing me vile I pick it up. Vere haf you gone, liddle pen? Vere is der little pen…. Is it here? No, here ze pen is! Hmmm…. Pen. Is. Pen. Is. It sounds like “penis”, no? Vat? You zink I am fixating on ze penis? Zat is veeeeery interesting – I must write it down vis my little penis…ach…. PEN and remind myself to ring my analyst zis effening. My anal-lyst, in fact. Vat is this you say? Oh yes, ve anal-ysts are all veeeeery anal. Zat is why ve are called analysts. Ve aaall hate our mozzers and projects those feelings of hatred onto our kinder. Dat is why zey have to have analysts also.

You sink ze play vas a little bit too gloomy? Vy is dat? Zere were lots of veeery funny lines, I sink. Ach, zat is vat ve anal-ysts called “bleak humour”. It is veeeery important to make de silly liddle jokes all ze time, ozzervise ve vould be throwing ourselves off ze cliff. Just like my son. But not to vorry. After nearly two hours of make de liddle jokes and getting all vorked up about villies and poo-poo and blaming our mozzers for ze fect zat we are all monsters and very horrible to each other and our daughters and anyvon else who might happen to come into zis liddle red room – such as ozzer psychoanalysts fleeing from ze Germans who haf volunteered to vork for ozzer psychoanalysts by typing up there latest mansuscript - ve vill find out zat he did, in fect, not throw hizzelf off ze cliff shaped like ze boobie. It vas, in fect, just a liddle accident, despite ze fect zat he vas probably a raving loony from heving me analyse him for all those years ven he was a liddle boy growing up into a naughty teenager interested in villies.

I do vish dat det lady in zer row behind vould stop coughing so. It is veeeeery annoying and I am sure det it means she is suffering from being over-analysed about vanting to hef secks viz her father and vanting to chop off his villie and cover it with visky. Because the visky bottle looks like a penis, no?

Vat? Yes, it is a great shame dat ze couple in the seats next to you decided to leave at ze interval. Perhaps ze play made zem veeeeery depressed. Never mind. You vill probably see zem again veeeeery soon, hanging by de neck from a tree in zer street outside. Did you know, just out of interest, zat ze interval represents the dark void of the vomb?

Vat? You sink I sound like Julie Valters? I em chust doing my best Cherman eccent. Who is dis Julie Valters? Is she anozzer analyst? Ach no, I sink I sound like Claire Higgins. You know her? She is in a veeeeery strange play at ze Almeida, aaaaaall about poo-poo and villies and hating your mozzer.

Vat ze critics thought:




http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/0e24d57e-c7d1-11de-8ba8-00144feab49a.html - can I just point out that several critics have chortled in an extremely over-intellectual way about the “three drawer filing cabinet”, each identified by the title character as “the ID drawer, the EGO drawer and the SUPER-EGO drawer”. What none of them seem to have noticed is that the cabinet on stage actually has FOUR drawers.


03 November 2009

Arturo Brachetti's "Change" - Garrick Theatre, Wednesday 4th November 2009

Synopsis (from the Garrick Theatre website):

The world’s greatest quick-change artist Arturo Brachetti presents the world premiere of his new show written and directed by Sean Foley. In an amazing display of virtuosic skill that simply has to be seen to be believed, Arturo Brachetti brings over one hundred characters to the stage in a unique and spectacular show. From James Bond to the Queen via Johnny Rotten, he transforms between characters in the blink of an eye in an astonishing display of the time-honoured art of quick change.

Arturo’s own distinct brands of humour and charm combine with eye-popping illusions in a show that tells the story of a famed entertainer whose memories of his illustrious career come to life.

Well, what a bizarre night. Him Indoors was convinced that we were going to see Ennio Marchetto even though I’d done my best to persuade him otherwise. Trouble is, I couldn’t come up with his name to do a google search, and the keywords “Italian paper costumes” didn’t really come up with any possibilities. So, we didn’t get to see someone lip-synching Britney Spears and Edith Piaf. Which was a shame.

Having said that, it looked like the audience was doing its best to provide a display of outrageous outfits anyway. Five rows in front we had the old chap in a broadly-striped boating blazer and tie made of exactly the same material so he looked like at least one of his parents had been a deckchair, next to whom was a VERY expensively coiffured woman who looked like she should have been at the opera instead. Immediately in front of us we had the Scum Family, complete with 16 year old son wearing a Burberry Alice band, to the left an impassive Italian with the biggest afro I’ve ever seen on a white man. To the right, an old guy in carpet slippers and a slightly grubby parka (who took a tube of Rolos out of his pocket, opened it, put one in his mouth, put the tube back in his pocket, chewed the Rolo, swallowed it, took the tube out of his pocket, opened it, put one in his mouth…. repeat until tube empty, then drop wrapping on the floor), in the row immediately behind a black guy wearing dark glasses and a trilby. Somewhere off to the right a pair of very expensively suited Suits next to four Japanese lady tourists of decreasing height looking like those wooden dolls you unscrew to find a smaller one inside and, three rows behind us, Bobby Davro (mums and dads, boys and girls!), who spent the entire evening laughing in the manner of Zippy from Rainbow. So, the bello mondo, the alto mondo, the meta-mondotutti, in fact. I think the phrase they use in Theatre-speak is “heavily papered, dharling” – either that or the management were standing on Charing Cross Road with an extremely large butterfly net and dragging in anyone they could catch with it. In fact, we were the only normal people there.

Brachetti’s show is a strange thing, neither fish nor fowl. Essentially he is a quick-change artist/magician, and if you had seen one of his routines involving magic tricks, quick change, shadow puppetry etc on something like the Royal Variety Performance (not that any of my readers would ever watch such a thing) it would completely blow you away. But two hours of it and you start to get desensitised to exactly how incredible the whole thing is. Another problem is that his material is essentially old-fashioned variety but wrapped up in a modern theatrical way; I had to describe it later to someone as a stainless steel gift box with a copy of The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady inside – the two elements feel forced together and somewhat at odds with each other. And because of this, I think that the audience didn’t really know how to react to a lot of it. I mean, what would you make of going to the theatre and sitting watching someone making shadow puppets of bunnies and elephants on a big screen? Yes, I bet the Victorians would have loved it…Him Indoors, of course, loved it but then Him Indoors loves Ken Dodd, for pete’s sake.

Another problem with Brachetti’s material is that it is very uneven. Some of it is brilliant, highly entertaining in a kind of “end of the pier show” kinda way, with spectacular routines involving magic and mind-bogglingly fast costume changes. But this takes a long time to arrive – the first long section of the evening is merely him assuming different characters via costume changes and – basically – standing there waiting for the applause. Which sometimes fails to come. The “linking device” between each section is a rather grandiose multimedia “dialogue” between his “older self” and his “younger self” about “the final transformation”, which turns out to be death itself; all this feels laboured and completely at odd with what we are actually there in the theatre to see. The long end section is based around, and laden with references to, Fellini’s films, starting with The Clowns, then moving to 9½, La Dolce Vita and La Strada. Now, like it or not and however much theatregoers might like to deceive themselves and others about how well they know the works of Fellini, this fell spectacularly flat as it flew completely over the head of the vast majority of people.

The best section was undoubtedly the opening of the second half – a long, visually witty and extremely funny tribute to some of Hollywood’s greatest films. Using the enormous spinning “box of tricks” on the stage as an ever changing backdrop with projected images, doors, windows, ladders and screens, Brachetti proceeds to affectionately send up Nosferatu, Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, Gone with the Wind, Carmen Miranda films, Shrek, Star Wars, the Harry Potter films, Frankenstein, Lord of the Rings, Titanic, King Kong, Jaws, ET and Cabaret (among others) in an almost never-ending stream of visual jokes and costume changes. Because the very vast majority of these films are cross-cultural references, everyone “got” practically every joke and I thought Bobby Davro (mums and dads, boys and girls!) was going to wet himself. It was brilliant – exceptionally clever, wonderfully paced and something I would happily sit and watch again. Unfortunately, it was followed by the Fellini sequence and this completely deflated the audience again. All in all, the evening was very much like the “Curate’s Egg” – good in parts. But parts of it definitely didn’t work for me, or for many other people by the sound of the very muted applause at times.

Still, I did manage to send an email today to the theatre journalist who wrote an article for the programme and correct a couple of points he made about two Shakespeare plays. Which was nice.

What the critics thought: