Category Archives: Reviews

REVIEW: “Orphee” by Philip Glass

I just love the way Opera doesn’t flinch from tackling big philosophical issues. It has the potential to wrench powerful emotions from its audience. Challenge them intellectually. Uplift them spiritually. It can be the Campest of Camp and yet still wring out a tear! It satisfies on many levels and offers what no other single art form can.

“Orphee” by Philip Glass is the final offering of the ENO’s (English National Opera’s) bold autumn season of four operas that explore different interpretations of the Myth of Orpheus. This Opera directed by Netia Jones is a groundbreaker, not least, because of the many talented women featured on the technical team. Lets hope it sets a precedent.

Philip Glass wrote this chamber opera in 1993, inspired by Jean Cocteau’s surreal classic 1950’s film of the same title. In it Cocteau depicts Orpheus as a faded narcissistic poet and examines ‘The Artist’s’ life, its successes, failures and obsessions. The films fantastically interweaved and mirrored subplot explores immortality and betrayal.

Glass uses the text of Cocteau’s film as a libretto for his opera, and footage of the original film is projected throughout, behind the onstage action. This, accompanied by Lizzie Clachan’s mainly monochrome set (occasionally punctuated by dazzling crimson) Daniella Agami’s expressive concise choreography, and Lucy Carter’s subtle, atmospheric lighting, sets the scene for an evening of terror, mystery and pathos.

Orpheus (beautifully sung by Nicholas Lester) is driven by love and regret to cross the threshold of life and death to rescue his long suffering and neglected wife Eurydice (Sarah Tynan) and also pursue his passion for the Princess of Death (a stunning ENO debut for the radiant Jennifer France) Nicky Spence’s wonderful tenor voice soothes and stimulates throughout, as chauffeur and mediator Heurtebise.

The music is sublime. A steady stream of haunting undulating melodies, that ebb and flow in and out of your consciousness as the characters on stage move between the living and the dead. This is music that truly awakens the senses. Go see it!

Until 27thNovember //  ENO Box Office: 020 7845 9300

Review: “Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp”

What a crowd! Young, old, stylish and staid…every kind of ‘we’ comes to the Royal Court Theatre these days – thanks in no small part to current Artistic Director Vicky Featherstone’s fresh and innovative programming.

This dexterous and impressive new play from the Grand Dame of British drama does not disappoint. It’s invigorating, macabre and funny!

Caryl Churchill’s quartet of plays explores some of the contentious issues that currently fracture our society, cleverly placed within a framework of the romantic myths, legends and superstitions that we employ to condone and facilitate cruelty and oppression.

“Glass” examines how we train our girls (portrayed by the excellent Rebekah Murrell) to be as fragile and invisible as glass, and our boys to be tough and show no fear or weakness. How our unrealistic expectation of our children and inability to listen to their fears and secrets diminishes and destroys them.

“Kill” asks the question: are we at the mercy of things beyond our control? A nonchalant Greek God (Tom Mothersdale) sits on a cloud and describes to a small boy the unending cycle of rampant ambition (necessitating incest, brutal murders and revenge) that happened when the furies were unleashed on the world. Parents raped, killed, sacrificed and ate their children and nothing was sacred…apart from the Gods.

“Bluebeard”: at a drunken dinner party, its walls garlanded with the bloodied wedding dresses of his victims, Bluebeard’s sophisticated friends bask in the reflected glory of knowing this recently exposed, misogynistic serial killer. They sit around, expressing their surprise, as… he was so talented, charismatic and powerful…unaware of their facilitation of, and complicity in his crimes.

These three short scenes are interspersed with female circus performers demonstrating their physical dexterity in juggling, balancing and acrobatics, serving a useful device for the set changes and as an allegory for a working woman’s life.

“Imp” is the longest of the four pieces, with a slower more reflective, almost ‘Pinteresque’ feel. It explores identity, status and superstition within the fractious relationship of two elderly co habiting cousins, affable, depressed Jimmy (Toby Jones) and Dot (Deborah Findlay) who hides a number of dark and alarming secrets.

Jimmy chats to various local characters (amusingly lifted from King Lear, Hamlet and Oedipus Rex) on his daily runs. Dot broods at home obsessing about her niece’s relationship with a homeless stranger.

Dot has a bottle with an imp inside it, which she believes would cause havoc were it to be released. One day, Jimmy opens that bottle…

James Macdonald’s confident direction ensured the intimacy and pace of this production, assisted by the deft characterization of its cast. Miriam Buether’s set was simple but dramatic. Special mention of Louisa Harland’s understated and convincing performance in two very contrasting parts.

“Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp”: on at The Royal Court until 12th October

Review: “Carnation for a Song”

The Young Vic Café / Bar is bustling…filled with people hanging out and relaxing, unlike the determined queue of people waiting to get access to the performance space for this show, tickets (which are free) are now scarce, such is its popularity.

This Community event commissioned by the Young Vic as part of its ‘Taking part project’ has clearly been a resounding success.

“Carnation for a Song” inspired by Oscar Wilde’s famous queer reference to green carnations, is an ensemble piece for fourteen LGBQ Londoners aged 50+, who share their personal life experience through stories and song.

This is a production that is both comedic and poignant. Its participants have lived through decriminalization, HIV, Section 28 and the legalization of same sex marriage, as well as the day to day trials of Gay life and online dating!

Josephs Atkins’ original songs and musical accompaniment, inspired by the original interviews with the cast, were a highlight, of the show. Expansive, expressive and toe tapping! I particularly loved “Gateways Girls” but enjoyed them all.

Director Megan Cronin shepherded her flock of ‘fearless participants’ and enabled the authenticity of our collective history to shine through. The audience were visibly moved.

This is an entertaining and interesting production. It illuminates the importance of narrating our history, lest it be made invisible. We must not forget our Trans and BAME family’s part in it.

 

Young Vic 10-13thApril

Tate Late 26th April

Review: “Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel”

This is a thrilling and very scary production. I loved it! I was literally gripping my seat…I haven’t seen anything so dramatically and musically accomplished for a very long time

“Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel” is part of the ENO’s commitment to supporting new operas and presenting works that appeal to a large and diverse audience. This one is a winner!

The production tackles its horrific subject matter head on. It unflinchingly depicts the pitiful and harrowing lives of the working class, uneducated, women who lived in Whitechapel in 1888. During this period poverty was regarded as a criminal vice, and women as mere chattels.

It charts the bloody reign of Jack the Ripper, focusing on five of his victims. These women were all in their forties, down on their luck and working as prostitutes. It explores the camaraderie that existed between them and the community the Ripper stalked. It goes some way in restoring the humanity and visibility of those women.

Right from the start, Ian Bell’s atmospheric score draws you into the dark labyrinth of the women’s precarious lives, revealing its humour, bravado and brutality. The fluid complexity of Bell’s beautifully executed composition illuminates the individual characters, as well as their interactions. It gave me goose bumps.

Emma Jenkins’ libretto is poignant and heart wrenching. “None but the lonely heart can know my sorrow” – a quote taken from one of the actual victims’ headstone – still haunts me.

The five central characters are beautifully created and sung with vocal dexterity and sincerity. It’s a star-studded cast and not one of the performers disappoints. Including the forty strong chorus.

This is an opera that will appeal to people who usually don’t go to, or like opera. If you’re a fan of drama, suspense, horror and an entertaining night out, don’t miss it. I suggest you take a friend…there will be lots to talk about

“Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel” runs 3-12 April

Booking: eno.org 

Box Office: 0207 845 9300

Review: War Requiem

I love going to the ENO. It’s not just the gorgeous architecture or its fabulous location.  It’s because of the sense of inclusion I feel as soon as I step into the building. The feeling, that every type of person comes here, and every person is made welcome.

This production of “War Requiem” is of particular interest to the LGBTQ community. Composed in 1962 by Benjamin Britten, (with the tenor part originally written for his lover Peter Pears.) Britten uses excerpts from Wilfred Owen’s poetry, to epitomize the waste and futility of war. Both Britten and Owen were homosexual and living at a time when it was illegal to be so. This particular production’s designer, Wolfgang Tillman, is a gay activist as well as a Turner prizewinner.

War Requiem is a choral extravaganza, epic and thrilling in equal measure. Its score is well served by an enormous chorus of adults and children. The body of the chorus is onstage for much of the production.

The sure performances of soloists David Butt Philip and Roderick Williams draw the poignancy and sorrow from the text. But it was soprano Emma Bell, who stole the show, with her beauty, vocal dexterity and theatrical presence.

Tillman’s set comprises of photographs projected onto three large panels onstage. Apart from the early archive pictures of injured soldiers, I found most of the images irrelevant, their static quality distracting from, rather than enhancing, the emotional intensity of the music and libretto.

Britten’s consummate score combined with Owen’s emotionally harrowing text, clearly depicts the suffering and horror that our gallant soldiers, many of them just boys, endured for their country. Particularly so, for the homosexuals in their ranks who were criminalized because of their sexuality

This beautifully orchestrated production, reminds us that War is not a solution…it’s a tragedy.  Love is the solution. Including the Love that once, dare not speak its name.

E.N.O. until Dec 7th