Roger Barrington

Review: Peterloo at Chapter by Roger Barrington

 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Mike Leigh’s rather uneven film of the 1819 “Peterloo Massacre” is an earnest account of the tragic event, but fails to engage.

On 16th August 1819, at St. Peter’s Fields in Manchester, an estimated crowd of 70,000 people peacefully congregated to hear the famous orator Henry Hunt speak about parliamentary reform.

Trouble had been brewing for a little while prior to this, as local malcontents had been rousing people in Manchester and surrounding area, to act about the social injustices of that time, in particular,  the lack of ability to vote for local representation to Parliament. This corrupt system exploited by the wealthy to their advantage, didn’t see any change until the Reform Act of 1832.

Mike Leigh is a fine writer and director. His “Life is Sweet” is one of the finest British films of the 1990’s. There isn’t much in “Peterloo” to proclaim that life is sweet for the vast majority of British people in 1819.

After the huge financial cost of fighting Napoleon’s French Army for 20 years culminating in Wellington’s triumph at Waterloo in 1815, the country endured a pitiless state of austerity, that makes the current situation in Britain pale into insignificance. The link between Waterloo and Peterloo is conveniently carried by Joseph, a bugler at the first and victim in the second encounter. A hero suffering from PTSD after the battle, and a sabered casualty induced by the actions of an intoxicated member of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry in Manchester.

After the opening scene of Joseph at Waterloo, you witness his long trudge home that he and his companions had to make, whilst parliament decided to award Wellington a colossal financial reward for his victory. When Joseph eventually arrives home, in a state of virtual collapse to the dire living standards that people of the working class had to endure, you can quickly assess where Mike Leigh’s support lies.

This is a very promising start, but then the film stalls going on an endless stream of set pieces of public meeting and political conversations. It seemed like one of those ubiquitous historical documentaries whereby B actors dress up in garb distinctive of their time and station and invariably stare into middle distance. Whilst accepting that you have to provide sufficient background material to explain the ensuing climax, I did feel that I was back in the classroom attending a history lesson, rather than seated in a cinema to be entertained. And I love history!

The climax at St. Peter’s Field is well executed, but, again, not particularly engaging.

Mike Leigh has written a highly eloquent script and has a fine cast of British character actors to work with, and, where the film works best, is in its domestic scenes and personal engagements with Henry Hunt, (Rory Kinnear). He portrays Hunt as a vainglorious man, donning his conspicuous white hat – a brilliant orator, but to what extent he was working for the working class and to what extent he was promoting his own notoriety is questionable. (See image above).

Maxine Peake,  as Nellie, is a fine actress. She plays a stereotypical Manchester mother struggling with bringing up a family in early nineteenth-century Britain,  but is wasted in what she has to work with. Being a Bolton lass. she could play her role in her sleep. At least her accent is authentic, which is more than I can say about others, whose lapses made them sound more like coming from Bristol than Manchester.

Overall, though, the acting is fine. Tim McInnerny as the Prince Regent returning to the period that he so memorably played as Lord Topper in Black Adder the Third, manages to portray the soon to be George IV, as a totally odious man, an opinion that historians tend to agree with. The final scene of the film, where the Regent in an audience with Prime Minister Lord Liverpool, (Robert Wilfort) and Home Secretary, Lord Sidmouth, (Karl Johnson), based on historical fact, has George offering his congratulations to the military for imposing the tranquility of the scene, would be laughable for its irony, if it wasn’t for the fact that 15 men, women and children had been fatally injured and an estimated 400-700 sustaining injuries from the sabre charge of the militia.

Peterloo is obviously a labour of love for Mike Leigh. He has a point to make, and, by and large, he makes it. He doesn’t go overboard with sentimalisimg the working class. Some are odious, and not all the villains of the tragedy, the magistrates who ordered in the militia were evil.

The film reminded me, in some ways of Tony Richardson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (1968) and   Sergey Bondarchuk’s “Waterloo) (1970). You can’t but admire it, but you can’t love it.

It is a sobering thought as we navigate the tumultuous waters of Brexit, that very nearly 200 years ago, people in Manchester, in particular were fighting for democracy. After the Battle of Waterloo, soldiers returning home, suffered in the same way as those having fought in WW1. Not a land fit for heroes but one of austerity and hardship. 1815-1918-2018. I believe that many people, in part, voted to leave the European Union because they thought that things couldn’t be any worse than they are now. Perhaps they need to be reminded by films like Peterloo, that, in comparison to our ancestors, nearly all of us live a life of luxury. The perfect irony is that in 2018, one of the areas that are the staunchest supporters of remaining in the Union, Manchester, is the same community that fought for democracy 200 years previously. Now, you could argue, these people have become  victims of the political process that they fought and died for.

 

 

Roger Barrington

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Review: Ravel’s “L’heure espagnole” by Mid-Wales Opera at RWCMD by Roger Barrington

 

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

 

Mid-Wales’s bold production of “L’heure espagnole” strikes home on every note.

Musical director Jonathan Lyness, who also plays piano, has arranged the score for a reduced orchestra, of only four musicians, including himself. The objective is to be able to take the production to smaller venues, that wouldn’t be able to house a larger orchestra. It works a treat as the four musicians, all of a high standard, provide a superb balance to the singing, wondering why Ravel didn’t write it in this way.  Mind you, I wouldn’t like to take on a composer, renowned for his orchestration ability.

“L’heure espagnole” is a one-act comédie musicale first performed at the magnificent    Opéra-Comique  in Paris on 19th May 1911,  and is based upon a play presented seven years earlier.

Libretto is by Franc-Nohain after his play.

Considered to be highly improper at the time, the story is based in 18th-century Toledo, Spain,  where bored Concepcion wife of clockmaker Torquemada, entertains her lovers every Thursday for an hour, whilst her husband leaves home to regulate the town’s clocks.  The resultant chaos after mule-driver Ramiro arrives at the shop to have a watch repaired just at the wrong time, is typical of high-farce.

Ravel’s Spanish score with its mechanical cuckoo clock and ticking metronomes in the prelude, in part disguises the fact that Ravel intended the opera to be more Italian buffa than French operette. 

The singing is uniformly excellent and all the actors display impressive comedic acting skills. All young singers, they represent a wealth of emerging talent and are building up impressive cv’s.

The costumes add to the visual comedy. Concepcion (Catherine Backhouse – mezzo soprano) scarlet woman as she is, dons a costume of that colour.

 

 

Nicholas Morton, (baritone) as Ramiro has carrots draped around him, representing his occupation as a muleteer conveying vegetables. I particularly liked his hat with two carrots protruding upwards like ears, thereby resembling the features of the animal he is working.

 

 

Anthony Flaum, (tenor)  as Gonzalve, Concepcion’s poet lover, dressed in a white suit, indicating the purity of his love in poetry.

 

 

Then there is stout banker Don Inigo Gomez, (Matthew Buswell – Bass-baritone) daubed in his jacket with banknotes attached.

 

 

Finally, we have the unfortunate husband Torquemada, (Peter Van Hulle – tenor) with his cloak of many clock faces.

 

 

Director/Designer has put together  truly marvellous set, that you can see from some of the mages on display here. The enlarged clock face, big enough to represent the concealment of the lovers, (in the plot hiding in grandfather clocks), are a revelation. It is a rich warm looking design and it embellishes the plot to perfection.

It is impossible to fault this production. It dazzles and pleases  and its English translation is funny and witty. I can thoroughly recommend this and urge anyone interested in opera, (and even those who are merely curious) to pay the modest admission price to see such a high standard production.

The performance that I attended was BSL supported.

Unknown to me, when I made my travel arrangements. if this wasn’t sufficient entertainment, there is a second half that consists of Spanish flavoured arias and showpieces. Sadly, I was unable to watch this, but if it is half as good as “L’heure espagnole” it will be well worth seeing.

 

 

 

Roger Barrington Continue reading Review: Ravel’s “L’heure espagnole” by Mid-Wales Opera at RWCMD by Roger Barrington

Review of “Swan Lake” at Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon by Roger Barrington

 

 

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

Ladies, have you ever encountered a situation when engaged in a spot of on-line dating that, with great anticipation, you arrange to meet for the first time, your Mr. Rights, a suave, slim, handsome, rich, witty, successful, etc. guy…and someone like me turns up?

Well, if you have, you may well feel mightily let down, a feeling that I had when viewing the Russian National Ballet production of “Swan Lake”.  “Russian National Ballet” – grandiose title, so they must be good. National – state endorsement in a country that prides itself with its plethora of ballet companies and academies, that, no other country can rival for it’s quality in depth – well you can imagine my sense of anticipation.

Oh dear! Wrong!  Not the Russian National Ballet performing – just producing.

Wrong! Not a state endorsed ballet company but a family run business.

Wrong. Not a Russian Company at all, but one from Belarus.  That used to be the annoying country to the south of Russia, that you needed a visa to visit or travel through, as I found out to my cost hen planning a rail journey from London to Moscow. Nowadays you can have 30 days to sample the delights of this country, not exactly on the tourist map.

The Russian National Ballet’s mission, is to keep the tradition of classical Russian ballet alive, “by bringing various ballet theatres from Russia and Belarus who embrace the traditional nature of this refined genre.

I know this, because it says so in the programme. This also informed me that I was watching the “State Academic Theatre of Belarus”, a fact that I didn’t realise until I returned home after the performance. For many in the audience, who didn’t buy a programme, they most probably still believe that they had seen the “Russian National Ballet” in action.

I googled the “State Academic Theatre of Belarus” but couldn’t find any reference to an institution by that name. There is one with a similar title in capital Minsk, so I guess this must be the home of the corps  de ballet on display.

Having kind of sorted all that out, I turn to the ballet itself. There are many versions of “Swan Lake” that have evolved from its first performance by the Bolshoi Ballet on 4th March 1877. This version is the shortest swanning in at the two-hour mark, which includes a 20 minute interval.

After a rather flat (literally) start the company gradually got into gear. I wondered whether their rather inauspicious start was down to the gruelling schedule that the company have endured since commencing their UK tour on 3rd October. By the time they reach Brecon, five weeks later, they had already performed at 31 venues in all countries of Great Britain. A punishing schedule by any standards, but for one as physically demanding on the body as ballet, it is almost suicidal. They must really love their Art because, unless you are a principal dancer or a soloist, you don’t enter this profession to become rich.

Another consideration, is that the dancers have to get used to the dynamics of the stage they are performing at, because they would have had little, if any chance to rehearse.

I won’t bore you with the familiar story of white and black swans, wizards and handsome prince Siegfried., whose a little too fond of hunting for my liking.l

A you would expect, choreography follows the traditional work of Imperial Russian Ballet (later became the Kirov) Master Marius Petipa and his collaborator Lev Ivanov. Tchaikovsky’s beautiful and well known score was piped in. Unfortunately, I found the recording to be a little uninteresting – solid but not the most romantic of interpretations that I have heard.

Odette was played by Elena Germanovich in this performance. A leading soloist of the Company, she performed with the elegance of beauty required of her. Her pa de deuxs with Prince Siegfried, (Alexander Misiyuk) were competently performed and balanced.

Misiyuk’s solos possessed both power and exquisitely accurate timing to the music.

The standout performer for me was  Yoshiki Kosaka’s exceptionally springy performance as the jester. He displayed a lot of humour and charm in his performance and effortlessly became the audience’s favourite.

Decent support is provided by the corps de ballet, and a very charming rendition of the “Dace of the Little Swans” by Sofia Krivushkina, Mayko Ono, Alexandra Derevianchuk and Ksenia Meleshko proved a highlight in Act 2.

It’s a solid production if not a brilliant one, and has a couple of outstanding performance. The audience left happy with what they had seen if not appreciating who they were actually watching.

 

Roger Barrington

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Review of The Brodsky Quartet at Theatr Brycheiniog by Roger Barrington

 

 

 

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

 

When I noticed that The Brodsky Quartet were coming to Theatr Brycheiniog, I have to say that I gasped with disbelief. What a coup! Did they live up to expectation – they certainly did!

The Brodskys are a British String Quartet who were formed way back in 1972. Only half of the original foursome remain. JacquelineThomas (cello) and second left Ian Belton, (violin). More recent members are Paul Cassidy (viola) next to Jacqueline and Daniel Rowland, (violin) on the extreme left. Paul having joined in 1982 and Daniel in 2007. References to position refer to the photograph above.

Traditionally, the quartet played standing up, and the three guys did so on this occasion.

The quartet not only play classical composers such as Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert and particularly Shostakovich – all the usual classical string quartet suspects, but also dabble in the avant-garde and the eccentric, and this as represented in the programme they put together in Brecon.

They began with Mexican composer Javier Alvarez’s ” Metro Chabacano” (1991). This is a minimalist piece, a genre of music I particularly enjoy; it reminded me more of John Adams than Philip Glass or Steve Reich. The quick pulse that resonates through its seven minute length conjures up imagery of the Mexico City subway network.

The second piece, “Reflejos de la noche” by another Mexican composer, Mario Lavista is even more unusual. Lavista is renowned for his experimentation and in this piece he really goes to town. Without using the fingerboard of their instruments the Brodskys relying on harmonising , recreate the noises of wild animals at night. I have seen it referred to as a Soundscape rather than a melody and is quite an extraordinary experience watching it being performed. A neighbour of mine in the audience commented that it is great to see it  performed live, but I wouldn’t buy the cd! I tend to agree with that. If you do want the CD it can be found on The Brodsky Quartet’s “Rhythm and Texture”, just one of the 60+ output of this enduring group’s work.

Resorting to a more traditional piece, the quartet then played Edward Elgar’s “String Quartet in E minor, Op. 83”. This celebrated piece was written exactly 100 years ago, just before the celebrated “Cello Concerto”. Both pieces reflect Elgar’s melancholic state of mind and the pathos and English nature of this work was brought out in a powerful rendition.

After the break, the quartet play Shostakovich’s “Quartet No. 3 in F major, Op.73”.  The Brodsky Quartet have a well-earned reputation for performing Shostakovich’s String Quartet output and they didn’t disappoint. Written in 1946, this approximately 33-minute string quartet is in 5 movements, which the composer, allegedly renamed in the manner of a war story:-

Blithe ignorance of the future cataclysm
Rumblings of unrest and anticipation
Forces of war unleashed
In memory of the dead
The eternal question: Why? And for what?

After very recently being reminded of the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1, who can argue with these sentiments?

For their encore, the quartet played a charming Shostakovich number, “Polka” in an amusing manner with sideways glances at what their colleagues were playing.

This concluded a memorable concert that displayed The Brodsky Quartet’s great musicianship, unity of purpose and sheer exuberance of playing technically demanding music.

If you consider the venues this celebrated quartet play at, then Theatr Brycheiniog sdhould take a bow themselves for bringing The Brodskys to Brecon. The eclectic nature of this community theatre’s programme, knows no bounds!

Roger Barrington

Continue reading Review of The Brodsky Quartet at Theatr Brycheiniog by Roger Barrington

Review of Forget-me-Not at Pontypridd Museum by Roger Barrington

 

 

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

A timely reminder of the supreme sacrifice that people from the South Wales valleys made during World War 1 is reenacted at Pontypridd Museum.

Written and presented by Avant Cymru the company’s intention is to inspire the valley’ communities by recalling the past, to discuss the present and create the future.

Pontypridd Museum, itself currently showing a WW1 exhibition and its many links to the social history of the area, proves to be an ideal setting for performing this play.

The action begins by  Reverend Richards (Matthew Bool) conducting a service, which basically provides the opportunity to sing perennial favourite Welsh Hymns such as “Calon Lan” and “Cwm Rhondda” and the English hymn, “Abide with Me”. Accompaniment is provided by David Hutchings playing the fine organ in situ.  Thankfully there isn’t a collection. The Reverend then provides a brief firebrand sermon reminding the congregation forcefully and passionately about their responsibilities at this time of great social turmoil. He turns on young mother Catrin Williams who it seems had a boy aged thirteen attacking her moral behaviour,

The action continues at different locations around the museum. You witness the recruiting sergeant, (Yannick Budd),  and the issues that prevented some men from enlisting. The urging by Catrin that her son lie about being under-aged so that he could be safer fighting at The Front compared to the inevitable going down the mines.

The action moves downstairs to re-enact a scene at the Front Line, although I don’t think the men depicted would have lasted very long at that place, failing to keep their head under the parapet.

 

 

The scene is very loud which is as it should be because it was the incessant shelling and gunfire, (sounds that carried from the trenches to South-East England), that was the reason why many of the soldiers succumbed to neurasthenia, (shell-shock).

Emerging from the depths the final scene takes place at the local post office run by Emily Davies, (Cler Stephens) reveals the anxieties of families awaiting news of their loved ones from The Front.

The mixed professional and amateur actors play their characters with conviction and production values are high with realistic costumes and excellent sound.

I watched the performance in the well-behaved company of primary school children from two local schools. I noted that the boys were in their element when they were being drilled by the sergeant and at the scene at The Front, whilst the girls seemed a little nervous and distracted there but were more engaged with the Post Office scene. A nice touch was to present the entire audience with a red poppy at the end which you then pressed on to a board near the exit, so that you could pay your respects to your ancestors and remember all who had paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Patient research by the production team has revealed diaries and poems that were written by local soldiers and this provided a strong connection to the audience, by its Welsh flavour.

This hour-long play is a brilliant way to convey the terrible time that any war brings to local communities particularly to children. It’s intentions are magnificent and I cannot praise it enough.

 

Roger Barrington

Continue reading Review of Forget-me-Not at Pontypridd Museum by Roger Barrington

Review of “Roots” by National Dance Company Wales at Dance House, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

 

 

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

I must begin by making a confession. Being a critic, you should be able to define what is good or bad abut a production from an informed position.

This is my inaugural dance review and I am not writing from an informed background. I used to watch occasional contemporary dance theatre in London, and in Montreal, but it must be nearly twenty years since I last saw something in this genre, and this is the first time in Wales.

Not wishing to make a song and dance about this, I tentatively submit the view that maybe in this particular art form, this isn’t too big a problem. This point, I shall return to when I review the third and final piece in this production.

The programme consists of three short pieces and collectively provide a European flavour.

The first dance, Omerta is choreographed by Italian Matteo Marfoglia.

 

Matteo acts a Rehearsal Director for “Roots” and is very passionate about the subject matter of “Omerta”. When he talks about it, he does so in an engaging manner. I happen to know this, because, by chance, ( well I think it was by chance), Matteo happened to be seated next to me, so I was in the ideal position to bombard him with questions. Despite my naivety, he answered these questions with great patience and humour and the insight he provided gave me a clearer idea of how this piece was devised.

“Omerta” concerns the role that women in Italian society, located in areas still largely under the influence of the Mafioso, combat the oppressive nature of their existence. Dressed entirely in black, and beginning with veiled faces, the four female dancers are strewn across the space, each with pails carrying water.

 

 

The background music starts with a metronomic beat and also ends in the same way. I interpreted this to mean to mark the endless passage of time that the conditions the Mafia has imposed on Italian society, and women in particular, within that void,  and assisted by the nature of its masculine domination. The spotlights highlighting individual dancers fleetingly, and the four dancers collectively, heighten the tension and focus your attention as the dancers repeat their actions of carrying and cleansing themselves with the water they are carrying.

I put it to Matteo that could the black veiled attire and the pseudo-religious music that followed, be interpreted that the four women were widows, victims of Mafioso vendettas and that the music represented the  powerful influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Italian society. Matteo answered in the negative, that the dress and music represent the region of Southern Italy that the piece represented.  Maybe I was thinking too much about Ford Coppola’s Godfather trilogy at this time.

With the removal of the veils the dancers sweep into a more expressive form that signify their impassioned attempt to break the shackles of this oppressive society of murder, extortion and fear.

I asked Matteo if he would like to present this piece in Italy and how it would be received there in contrast to Wales. His eyes immediately lit up and he answered that he would love to, but the nature of the piece would make it explosive to perform in certain parts of Southern Italy where the Mafia hold is still strong. He was inspired to create the piece after the murder of four judges in Sicily in the early 1990’s and the resultant protests by a group of women to these assassinations. Their courage in a very dangerous environment moved Matteo to create “Omerto”. I likened this to the Peace Movement instigated in Northern Ireland during The Troubles and he agreed.

Matteo Marfoglia is the recipient of a Creative Wales award from The Arts Council of Wales. He has also been awarded a research grant  which he is currently undertaking. He trained in Amsterdam and formerly was a dancer for the NDC Wales before branching out recently on his own and  becoming a freelance choreographer. He is recognised as a future leader in British dance and on the evidence on show in “Omerta”, it is easy to understand why.

The second piece “Bernadette” is a solo work choreographed by Caroline Finn and performed by Camille Giraudeau.

 

Caroline Finn

 

Caroline is NDC Wales’s Resident Choreographer and she also acted as Lighting and Costume Designer for this piece.

The highly effective background music is provided by French band Nouvelle Vague, “In a manner of speaking”. The lyrics of which have a real connection to this piece.

in a manner of speaking
Semantics won’t do
In this life that we live
We only make do
And the way that we feel
Might have to be sacrificed

The dreamlike quality of the sound also enhance the dance.

The piece which I found to be amusing at times begins and ends with a taped male cooking guru giving cooking tips that are received by the dancer in, almost a robotic, catatonic state.

As she starts applying these technqiues in her cooking preparation, she suddenly and totally unexpectedly throws herself across the kitchen table, projecting an egg that explodes in front of  front seat audience members forcing them to involuntarily  take evasive action.

 

 

This is repeated, not only with eggs but with flour, so by the time the performance has finished the space had resembled being hit by a bomb.

When dancer Camille breaks free from her catatonic existence she snatches off her wig and dances with great abandonment before resuming her original “Stepford Wife” existence as the guru’s voice re-emerges over the background soundtrack.

I felt that this piece, in a way, is a companion to “Omerta”. I recently read that a mother’s life bringing up up a young family is the equivalent of working  2.5 jobs. The feminist slant to this work, shows the unnoticed work that many women have to endure in the household and their ambition to break free.

Caroline Finn has a growing reputation for her work and a previous NDC Wales composition, “Folk” and this one have received rave reviews.

The final piece, “Atalay” is choreographed by Spanish artiste Mario Bermudez Gil.

 

 

Mario is Artistic Director of Marcat Dance Company. “Marcat Dance connects to the human spirit and finds inspiration from world cultures, rituals, and landscapes” according to its website and all come to notice in this production.

Atalay is Spanish for Watchtower and reflects a personal experience that Mario and his wife have when walking to a viewpoint near their Southern Spanish home. At this place is a watchtower and Mario feels a close sense of existence to the elements at this place and the natural landscapes of the mountains and the undulating land. He thinks about the four walls of the watchtower that reach out to the four points of the extended compass and imagines the fusion of the different cultures, exemplified through their dance and music. He takes you on a journey using a wide range of culturally orientated music and invites you to connect emotionally through the movement of dance. It is a personal odyssey of spiritual emotions and Mario encourages the four dancers, two of each sex, to input their own feelings revealed through the unique form of dance.

I struggled to find meaning in this composition and voiced my confusion about what the individual segments of the piece, were telling you. I put this question to NDC Wales Artistic Director, Fearghus Ó Conchúir who was with the four dancers post performance. The question met with an initial hesitation from Fearghus and when I glanced at the performers they collectively seem to have that “don’t ask me, I’m only the dancer” look on their faces. However, a consensus was arrived at that basically reached the place that I found to be what Mario’s intentions were.

So maybe I was searching for a meaning that doesn’t exist. That it is the journey and the emotions that you feel through the expression of dance, that is the thing. If there is one lesson that I learnt in this experience is that there doesn’t have to be a precise definition to contemporary dance, then it has been worthwhile.

The piece itself did convey feelings of strong emotion and beauty, love and humour, and the strong costume design and lighting made it a fitting conclusion to a wonderfully diverse programme.

The dancing is excellent throughout. I feel that not only are the dancers putting body and soul into their dancing, they appear to be thoroughly enjoying it along the way.

One unusual feature that I particularly welcomed is how Artistic Director Fearghus Ó Conchúir  introduced each piece and immediately afterwards invited you to speak to your neighbour in the audience about it and to examine each others feelings that came out of it. In addition, at the end of the programme, the audience has the opportunity to put questions to the dancers.  Together, this is a great innovation and helped a contemporary dance ignoramus such as myself to engage more meaningfully in the experience they are experiencing.

I came out of the dance space questioning myself on why .  I had missed out on a generation of experiencing an artistic genre that is a medium for mixing dance expressionism and technique, music, costume and lighting in a collaborative way that is utterly cool.

Roger Barrington

 

Continue reading Review of “Roots” by National Dance Company Wales at Dance House, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

Review of WNO International Concert at St. David’s Hall, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

 

The Welsh National Opera Orchestra under the baton of its Musical Director Tomas Hanus entertained an enthusiastic audience royally at St. David’s Hall in Cardiff.

The programme was divided into two parts with the second being devoted to Czech composer Leos Janacek.

Opening the concert, the WNO orchestra took on Rossini’s perennial favourite, “The William Tell Overture”. This piece never fails to conjure up two contrasting memories. Firstly, sitting in front of  the family black and white television on a Saturday afternoon after Grandstand, anticipating my hero The Lone Ranger and his sidekick Tonto saving the day yet again. My second image is very different, harking back to Malcolm McDowell’s adventures in the bedroom with a couple of girls our anti-hero has picked up, to a greatly speeded up version of the melody in Stanley Kubrick’s, “A Clockwork Orange”. In my declining years, that is the memory, I wistfully try to conjure up the most.

My impression of the playing was that the opening was played a little too languidly. Mind you, that made the contrast to the trumpet announcing the more famous melody to be more striking.

Next we were treated to a soulful rendition of Elgar’s Cello Concert, with soloist, the young Armenian cellist Narek Haknazaryan.

 

 

Anybody who takes on this beautiful cello concerto will be compared to the legendary Jacqueline du Pre. She almost single -handedly brought to notice a piece that became regarded as one of the great cello concertos of any century.

Narek did an excellent job of getting somewhere near the benchmark, really getting into his performance exuding great emotional depth and understanding.  What the audience would have been unprepared for was an unaccompanied encore, whereby Narek sang, (presumably in Armenian), whilst playing his instrument in such a way I hadn’t seen before. It was an exhibition of total mastery of the cello and had the audience in awe chatting about it during the interval that followed it. Narek’s pedigree is worth consideration. Born into a family of Armenian musicians, his father being a violinist and his mother, a pianist, in 2011, at the age of 22, he won the prestigious Cello First Prize and Gold Medal at the XIVth International Tchaikovsky Competition. He is currently, one of the Vienna Konzerthaus’s Great Talent and is in huge demand to perform, not only in the Austrian capital, but all around the world.

The second half opened with Janacek’s charming finale to his opera, “The Cunning Little Vixen”. The Forester, in a monologue returns to the forest after his pet vixen had been shot dead by a poacher, and reflects on the meaning of life. Slovak baritone Gustav Belacek, sang the part of the forester.

 

 

His rich baritone voice resounded around the hall. Gustav is a well travelled and accomplished singer having performed in many of the greatest opera houses and concert halls of the world. He is also a regular soloist with both the Czech and Slovak Philharmonic orchestras.

A thoroughly charming interlude towards the end had young Efan Arthur Williams resplendent in a frog costume hopping on to the stage and singing a few treble lines in a pure clear voice, and this captivated the audience.

 

 

The concert concluded with an accomplished rendition of Janacek’s famous Sinfonietta – a great concert favourite, largely due to its dynamic use of an elongated brass section that heralds in and closes the four movement sinfonietta. The well-loved third movement with its imposing melody which the programme describes as a  “manic trombone solo”was the highlight of the piece.

Conductor Tomas Hanus was born in Brno in what is now the Czech Republic.

 

 

Brno is where composer Leos Janacek grew up and provided the inspiration for much of his creative output. Therefore, you can imagine that Tomos has a natural affinity to this composer’s work, the proof of which is patently obvious whereby he gets the best out of the talented collective body, that is the Welsh National Opera orchestra.

 

 

Throughout, the orchestra played with great skill and unity in what was a very varied programme. Their reputation as one of Britain’s finest orchestras is clearly apparent and well merited.

What I particularly liked about the concert was the way that maestro Tomas introduced each piece providing an interesting insight into the work about to be played with warmth and wit. He explained to the audience that the theme of war as exemplified in the selected pieces is highly appropriate as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice. William Tell’s martial theme, Elgar’s Cello Concerto composed shortly after the end of the Conflict, and written at a time when the composer’s mental state was under great stress largely brought on by the horrors of war that preceded it. Janacek’s work is highly nationalistic and the Sinfonietta in particular reflects the new found nationalism that the country found after the end of WW1.

This WNO concert was a highly enjoyable experience and Tomas Hanus managed to convey a meaning to the audience that the orchestra and themselves are part of a family. The playing of the orchestra and the calibre of the international soloists make you anticipate later concerts next year in this series with great interest.

Continue reading Review of WNO International Concert at St. David’s Hall, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

Review of “Wicked” at the WMC by Roger Barrington

 

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

 

I sometimes think that I am living my life in reverse. When I was young, I was a bookish lad – reading Tolstoy whilst still in primary school for instance. I was as far removed as being Wicked as you can imagine. I have been compensating for this ever since!

“The Untold story of the Witches of Oz” is how this musical is promoted. In case you ever wondered about this, then this story will reveal all.

I never cared much about “The Wizard of Oz” . I couldn’t see myself trundling along the Yellow Brick Road, with Dorothy, Scarecrow, Lion and Tin Man. One thing that as always puzzled me about this story. Obviously there is rain in the land of Oz (Somewhere over the Rainbow”), so wouldn’t the Tin Man resemble a character on TV from my teenage days from “The Magic Roundabout”?

So “Wicked” returns to Muchkinland and follows the adventures of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West.

When Elphaba leaves home to attend Shiz University, a kind of Munchkinland Hogwarts, she is very green. Not only in the meaning of life, but, literally, green. Her green skin means that she is ostracied by society and she fails to make friends. That is until she meets Galinda, who later becomes Glinda, and after an unpromising beginning, a close friendship develops between them. A friendship that is tried and tested along the way. Eventually they make their way to The Emerald City where  Elphaba meets and confronts the Wizard of Oz. The nefarious wizard is behind a pogromist type plot against the animals of the land. In defending them, Elphaba suffers a fall from grace and is hunted herself.

The story does have serious themes. The devotion to fitting in and being attractive, that is hugely important to American young girls in particular and is personified within the  character of Glinda. “Beauty is only skin deep” as exemplified between Elphaba and her love interest Fiyero. The pogrom against the animals, in this case shown by the expulsion of Dr. Dillamond, a goat Professor at Shiz University, reminds us of 20th-century historic events in Armenia, Nazi German, Russia and China.

The show premiered on Broadway on 30 October 2003 after a trial run in San Francisco and is still showing at the Gershwin Theatre. It’s success reversed the trend of recent musical smash hits that originated in Britain, and has provided the impetus for an American resurgence in the genre that it started.

Music and lyrics are by Stephen Schwartz who announced himself to the world of musicals with his 1971 smash hit, “Godspell”.  I can remember that a criticism of this show at that time, was that it was derivative of  Lloyd Webber/Rice “Jesus Christ Superstar” that preceded it by a year. Similar criticism has been aimed at “Wicked” for cashing in on the Harry Potter phenomenon. The music is nothing special , largely generic 21st century fare. The lyrics work better though.

In the performance that I viewed, Elphaba was played by Amy Ross and Glinda by Charli Baptie. Ross belts here songs over with such an intensity, it can verge on the strident.   Baptie possesses a more cultivated voice and shows an admirable talent for comic timing. For me, although Ross puts in a strong performance, it is Baptie, understudy to the stricken Helen Woolf who takes the performance honours in this production. Good support is provided by Aaron Sidwell, (Fiyero), Kim Ismay, (Madame Morrible), Steven Pinder, (the Wizard of Oz) and Emily Shaw as Nessarose, Elphaba’s invalid sister, who in Winnie Holzman’s book that the musical is based upon, becomes the Wicked Witch of the East.

Where the shows does really hit the heights is in Eugene Lee’s spectacular set design and Kenneth Posner’s lighting. Between them they conjure up a magical environment full on. The scene where Elphaba levitates and is caught in mid-air by the searchlights , that ends Act 1 is one of the most striking images that I have encountered in nigh on fifty years of theatre-going.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wayne Cilento’s musical staging and James Lynn Abbott’s dance arrangements are also excellent and provide many memorable scenes, especially of the flying monkeys.

Susan Hilferty’s resplendent costumes also enhance the visual quality of this show.

Live music is also provided under the direction of David Rose and the orchestra acquit themselves well.

“Wicked” is a confident, (verging on brashness), visually impressive musical, that for most of you will weave sufficient magic from its wand, and put you under a spell that immediately renders a state of anesthesia whereby you forget its equally impressive admission price.

 

Continue reading Review of “Wicked” at the WMC by Roger Barrington

Review of Cardiff Boy at The Other Room by Roger Barrington

 

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

I was almost a Cardiff Boy. My elder brother is. Unfortunately for myself, in a moment of extreme recklessness my family moved from Cardiff after my brother’s birth and so I became, a Brecon Boy… that was the start of my problems! I have always wanted to be a Cardiff Boy –  well, until last evening.

Kevin Jones’s monologue tells the story of an invigorated Testosterone  angst-ridden Cardiff teenager and is based partly upon his real-life experience.

Our protagonist is a sensitive artistic lad, existing in the hurly-burly of Welsh laddish behaviour, drunken binging and alpha male aggressiveness. I’ve experienced this myself, although in a slightly different capacity when as a leftish orientated serving police officer, I was out of alignment with the vast majority of my colleagues, united in preserving the status quo. For the sake of fitting in, sometimes I had to say things or act in a way that was naturally alien to me. So, I get our hero’s situation.

Being a typical teenager, he is struggling to find his place in society and lacks self-esteem. Instead he prefers to act as a voyeuristic photographer, surreptitiously sneaking pictures of his mates in varying states of sobriety. With numerous references to Cardiff locations, you are shown that the nature of your social interaction is largely dictated to by your environs.

It is a nostalgic play. Looking back to the 1990’s and in particular the popular music of that period, that reminds us how important that sensory pleasure can influence our life and our relationships with our friends.

The first part of the playlet is the best. Actor Jack Hammett provides a likable, engaging character and he energetically glides around the room engaging members of the audience with direct eye contact. He is able to do this due to the created space being a rather dingy bar setting with tables and chairs  located around – a kind of Aberdare’s Moulin Rouge. 

Surrounding the room are photographs pegged up – obviously our guy’s work. Lighting is used creatively and overall the direction and design work well enough.

However, where the play falls down is the decline into a more melodramatic second part which leads you to the ultimate destination; that it sometimes it takes a tragedy to discover the meaning and value of friendship.

The dialogue is fairly sharp and there are funny jokes within the script, but despite this and Jack Hammet’s likeable performance, upon reflection you realise that this is rather slight fare.

I must include a caveat here. The nostalgic setting of the 1990’s, (music, early reference to Princess Diana seeking a divorce etc), reminded me that I was in middle age when the action would have taken place. My own experiences of this nature occurred in the 1970’s. So I think I probably have a very different perspective of this play to the rest of the audience on the press night I attended.

This isn’t the first time that I have felt out of place in Caridff Fringe Theatre – the Festival back in the early summer is a case in point. It appears to me that the Cardiff Fringe Theatre scene is created by young people for a young audience. Being part of the London Fringe Theatre for twenty years, I cast my mind back to try to remember if it was the same there in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. I believe that it wasn’t like the situation in Cardiff although admittedly younger people were in the majority. Is it due to the fact that Fringe Theatre is populated by younger people with the energy and creative desire to showcase their work? When they get older, they replace their enthusiasm with a more prosaic approach to life dictated to  by the trials and tribulations of growing up, and of course, in many cases raising a family.

This site promotes diversity and all power to it. But, how about diversity in fringe theatre? I have witnessed many an exciting production of classic theatre works on the London Fringe Festival Theatre scene

 

Roger Barrington

Continue reading Review of Cardiff Boy at The Other Room by Roger Barrington