Roger Barrington

Review: Athol Fugard’s “The Island” at Chapter by Roger Barrington

(4 / 5)

When “The Island” was invited to play at the Royal Court Theatre, London  in 1973, such was the incendiary reaction to it’s Cape Town premiere shortly before,that  Fugard’s fellow devisers,  John Kani and Winston Ntshona, also the actors of their namesakes in the play, had to pose as Fugard’s chauffeur and gardener, to allow them out of the country. The fact that Fugard neither had a chauffeur or a gardener was beside the point.

“The island” is one of a group of three plays by Fugard collectively known as “The Statement Plays”.  Together with “Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act” and “Sizwe Bansi is Dead” both from 1972, the plays were developed in workshops  through Fugard’s company, “The Serpent Players”.

“The Island” is based on Robben Island located off the coast of Cape Town and was the notorious home for political prisoners going back as far as the end of the 17th century. It’s most famous inmate being Nelson Mandela who was incarcerated there for eighteen of his twenty-seven years, up to his release in February 1990.  Mandela and his African National Congress colleagues were greeted with the ominous words upon their arrival, “This is the island. This is where you will die”.

Such was the sensitivity of this place, ironically now a World Heritage Site, that the title of the play had to be changed to “Die Hodoshe Span”, or “Hodoshe’s Work Team.” Hodoshe, (in Xhosan it means a “carrion fly”),  refers to a particularly brutal prison guard who is an unseen ominous presence throughout the play. The reference suggesting the parasitic nature of the South African apartheid regime in power, seems to have flown over the heads of the government.

The play was written in 1973 at a time when Apartheid was in full throttle in South Africa. A shameful policy that shows man’s inhumanity to others due to  a different colour of skin, is at its most repulsive. Yet for almost the duration of Apartheid, from it’s beginnings in 1948 to it’s eventual demise in the early 1990’s, the South African government were rigorously supported by lucrative economic deals with the U.K. This point is made explicitly clear as soon as you enter the auditorium by two monitors on either side of the stage relating this in text. This also mentions Prime Minister May’s little dance when she attended earlier this year to mark the centennial birth of Nelson Mandela – notorious not only for its artistic ineptitude but also to the insensitivity of the  British role in Apartheid, which is not something to dance about!

Athol’s “The island” is  Brechtian in its structure. Where the two protagonists display their  human strengths and weaknesses yet are caught up in a system that is beyond their power to influence or change. The didactic nature of the play also connect to Brecht.

Fio’s production breaks away from the direction imposed by Fugard that calls for mime to represent the Sisyphean nature of the two prisoners’ daily tasks for a period of at least 15 minutes. This production opens with a powerful statement by the two actors emerging from opposite entrances behind the audience. They look you straight in the face and tell you why they burnt their passports. In actuality, in the play, only Winston has burnt his passport, an exceedingly serious crime that resulted in a life sentence, as the passport system was a fundamental instrument for imposing Apartheid. John had received a ten-year sentence for being a member of an illegal political organisation.  The onerous nature of the daily tasks the two prisoners endured is exemplified by the two actors repeatedly rolling the other over their back, and the physicality of doing this probably determined the truncation of the 15 minute set mime.

An important introduction to the play, something that Fugard tended to do at this period of his writing, is the introduction of the classical play, Antigone by Sophocles, which in turn, is  based upon Greek mythology. It is clearly apparent that Creon, King of the Thebes represents Apartheid and Antigone herself personifies human rights. She is in fact, in literature the first conscientious objector. This piece of metatheatre, has Winston comically adjusting his few clothes to represent a skirt and donning two tin drinking vessels to represent breasts. By choosing to re-enact a scene from Antigone to it’s audience, (which one would surmise, at least  comprises of members of the prison staff), itself as a weapon against those who think they are directing the theatre of life in South Africa, John and Winston transform their theatre of acquiescence into a Brechtian theatre of protest.

In the final words of the play, Winston, still dressed as Antigone, takes a turn addressing the audience, “Brothers and Sisters of the Land! I go now on my last  journey. I must leave the light of day forever, for the Island, strange and cold, to be lost  between life and death .., Removing his Antigone costume, Winston then addresses the audience as  himself, “Gods of our Fathers!  My Land! My Home! Time waits no longer. I go now to my living death, because I honoured those things to which honour belongs” John and Winston upon hearing the shrill whistle that features throughout the play, and which represents authority, resort back to their Sisyphean tasks.

Heady stuff! No wonder the Apartheid government felt compelled to censure this play and constantly arrest actors who played in it.

Both Joe Shire as John and Wela Mbusi as Winston embody the two characters that they are playing with great skill and agility, and deliver Fugard’s beautifully cadential script perfectly. They manage to change their relationship to each other determined by the script after John finds out that his sentence has been commuted to three years, leaving him only  three month to remain incarcerated, and Winston’s realisation that he is going to be even more isolated after his friend’s departure is handled in an understated way that is even the more powerful for it.

An important feature of this play has to be the lighting. It needs to reflect the claustrophobic nature of being incarcerated in a small space and expresses the optimism of a better existence outside of their unnatural environment. Ryan Joseph Stafford manages this by the simple technique of using low light to empathise the prisoners’ isolation and lack of space, and brilliant blinding light when they express their hopes and desires.

Andile Sotiya’s movement direction is almost balletic at times using the sparse set with surrounding steel apparatus to great effect. Abdul Shayek’s assured direction, never lets the pace of the play lag.

“The Island” is an elegant play that explicitly shows the dehumanisation of men purely based upon the colour of their skin. It is as relevant now, in an increasingly divisive society as it was over 40 years ago, when written. I would thoroughly recommend you seeing this important play from one of the leading contemporary playwrights in world theatre.

 

Roger Barrington

Continue reading Review: Athol Fugard’s “The Island” at Chapter by Roger Barrington

Review: Lord of the Flies at The Sherman Theatre by Roger Barrington

 

 

(3.5 / 5)

Emma Jordan’s Sherman Theatre/Theatr Clwyd co-production of William Golding’s 1954 novel, “Lord of the Flies” takes a bold approach by having the adolescent boys’ roles played by young actresses.

 

 

Those of you who are observant, will notice the entirely masculine presence of Matthew Bulgo in the above photo of the cast, a point I think I should make clear!

In her programme notes, partly Ms. Jordan qualifies this by writing that texts of well known stories can challenge the traditional ways of accepting the reading. After all, if there is only one way of interpreting Shakespeare, it is extremely doubtful whether his popularity and esteem would have carried on to this day.

What confuses me though is that the masculine names of the cast in this production are maintained, which may have the effect of an audience being torn between believing the characters are girls or boys. If it is the latter, then all power to it, because there is nothing wrong with an actress playing the role of the opposite gender, because, that is what they do… act. and I shall take this point of view.

Published in 1954, with The Cold War in full swing, Golding pens a taut novel full of warning about the effect war has in dehumanizing us. During a time of conflict, a plane carrying a group of British schoolchildren boys, is shot don over the Pacific. With the pilot dead, the surviving boys have to come to terms with their predicament and the hostile environment they find themselves in.

In essence, director Emma Jordan and adapter Nigel Williams, manage to keep the message of the book intact in this adaptation. The division of the group into the civilised and the savage, with members of the latter group regressing into simian characteristics. The promotion of self-interest over the needs of the community as exemplified by the division of the camp itself is shown explicitly. A topic that I regularly debated with students in my ten years in China.  Man’s , (through Jack and his gang) instinctive urge to hunt shows the way he relates to his environment. The loss of innocence, a kind of collective bildungsroman is also prevalent and the final emergence of their salvation by a British naval officer, a representative of the military and martial authority, and therefore linked to Jack,  leaves you with the nagging fear that even war aged by the right side, (the British in this case), has negative connotations.

The symbolism of the conch representing order and a civilised society, Piggy’s glasses indicating rationality and the benefits of science and technology, and the fire a signal to attract a civilised response are all present and cogently indicated.

The enthusiastic cast do well enough, although constant shouting throughout the first part left me searching for my packet of Ibuprofen during the interval! Gina Fillingham’s Piggy and Olivia Marcus’s Simon, maybe identified closest to the characters from the book I recall. LolaAdaja as Ralph also conveyed her character’s basic decency and indecision well. It is entirely possible that I have a natural bias towards the rational characters.

Where this production scores well is with the set design and lighting. James Perkins practical design of a meandering rising pathway to an elevated lookout is striking. Together with Tim Mascall’s impressive lighting, they manage to provide an atmospheric setting that shows the isolation of the boys in one of the quieter passages of the play.

 

 

This is a decent adaptation of a book that in the ever-increasing danger of  inflammatory geopolitical rhetoric and actions bears resonance today. Noisy, energetic, slightly distracting, you can’t be critical of  it’s good  intention.

Continue reading Review: Lord of the Flies at The Sherman Theatre by Roger Barrington

Review of Joe Orton’s “Loot” at the Coliseum Aberdare by Roger Barrington

 

(2 / 5)

 

I’ve never really been attracted to Joe Orton’s work. I recall seeing revivals of  Entertaining Mr. Sloane and What the Butler Saw staged in London during the 1990’s and watching the filmed version of Loot on it’s original run in 1970 and a common denominator in all these black comedies for me was that they were just not very funny, annoyingly over-verbose and outdated.

So with a degree of trepidation, I ventured to my local Coliseum Theatre in Aberdare, to see Black Rat and Blackwood Miners Institute Co-production of “Loot” which is touring venues in Wales until the 10th November.

The plot revolves around two young criminals, Hal (Rick Yale) and Dennis (Gareth Tempest) robbing a bank located next door to the funeral parlour where the latter is employed. Needing to hide the proceeds of their crime quickly, they decide on hiding it in a cupboard in Hal’s house initially, and then inside the coffin of his recently deceased mother lying in state in the same room prior to the funeral. Throw into the mix a psychopathic nurse Fay, (Sarah Jayne Hopkins), with an eye for grabbing the inheritance through marrying the newly widowed McLeavy, (John Cording) and a borderline loony police detective Truscott, (Samuel Davies), and you have the ingredients of ensuing mayhem.

 

 

The premise is promising, but is let down by its unnaturalistic dialogue and relentless attempts to be witty that leave you shell-shocked and disinterested after a very short time.

Another problem is that the main character Truscott, an obvious caricature of Sherlock Holmes, meerschaum pipe to boot, is patently unfunny.  Orton created the part with Kenneth Williams in mind, and I can envisage that actor improving the part, However,  for other actors without the unique talent of  Williams’s  affected style of delivery, it is a thankless task.

Fay is an Irish nurse and the most memorable character in the play. Devoted totally to the accumulation of wealth, she has managed Mrs. McLeavy, (an obviously silent role played by Julie Barclay) to change her Will in her favour. Previously married seven times, all her deceased husbands have died violently and now she has her claws into McLeavy.

McLeavy himself, the most moralistic character is a devout Roman Catholic who at first chooses not to believe that his son Hal is a bank robber.  He is torn between paternal responsibility and his religious conviction.

Hal, a product of his parents’ upbringing is incapable of lying, and this does lead to some slightly amusing moments. His friend and co-bank robber Dennis is a ladies man with an eye for snatching Fay, an attractive target as she had nefariously accumulated a degree of wealth.

Orton is targeting the accountability of the police force, exemplified through the sneaky and violent behaviour of Truscott. Orton, as a gay man at this time, (1960’s), had a history of bad experiences at the hands of the police and The Law and had an axe to grind. Famously, he was imprisoned for criminal damage to library books. His severe prison sentence probably down to his sexual orientation. He also has a go at the Roman Catholic Church  and middle-class society.

Orton reminds me of an earlier generation John Lydon, (Johnny Rotten of The ex Pistols) in his relentless quest to shock. He was always running into difficulties with the censors, and Loot was a case in point. However, what passed as shocking and controversial back in 1965 when the play was first performed, is passe sixty years on. I can remember the 60’s well enough and references to events and the way of thinking at that time does bear resonance, but I wonder how a group of schoolchildren that were present in the audience would find any degree of connection.

As for the production team, they make a pretty good attempt at making this redundant play accessible. All the actors have a decent body of work behind them and are collectively strong. The pick being Sarah Jayne Hopkins’s Fay – a lively portrayal with great vocal variation.

Director Richard Tunley creates a brilliant opening to introduce the characters, relying on a protective hospital screen doubling up as a cinematic screen to show an extract taken from a 60’s B-movie bank heist. It then is used for the concealing and exposure of the characters in an inventive way. This certainly caught the audience attention and I looked forward to more examples of this to come. Alas, that was not to be, and the remainder of the play is directed in a traditional way and is the worse for it.

Sean Crowley’s design is also traditional and somewhat perfunctory – religious icons, cupboard, bed, radio, room lamp and table and chairs.

This production makes a valiant attempt to resurrect a moribund play, but overall, you feel it should be resigned to accompany Mrs McLeavy in the centrestage coffin and buried in the cemetery of extinct drama. I can’t help wondering, whether Joe Orton’s work would still be exalted by some if he hadn’t died so young and brutally.

 

Roger Barrington

 

 

 

Review of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo at the WMC by Roger Barrington

 

(4 / 5)

 

On an overcast autumnal evening, I dragged myself down to Cardiff Bay to see Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.

Now my dear readers, when I write dragged I don’t mean it in the Biblical Sense. No, I didn’t don my favourite purple tutu and hot-footed it down to the recently rescued Cwmbach railway station after the weekend deluge, and travelled down the Cynon Valley on the brand new Transport for Wales network. No… not after last time and my close encounter near Penrhiwceiber. And now that my Arrival Trains ban had been lifted…well, you know. Anyway, this is dragging on a bit

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – doesn’t that roll of the toungue and sound as appetising as a Parisian baguette..Ballet and France are synonymous.  Vaslav Nijinsky and his lover  Sergei Diaghilev after creating their name in their Russian Motherland relocated to Paris where they were fixtures in salons of the avant garde and created their questionably best balletic work. In more recent times another Russian immigrant  Rudolf Nureyev found inspiration in a Parisian environment and the elegance of  French prima ballerina Sylvie Guillem have helped to elevate French ballet to the pinnacle of ballet aestheticism.

And of course, we have Les Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo., to take it that step further.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!  Start again.

Les Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo, have nothing to do with France, other than it French title. Some may argue, they have nothing to do with ballet.

The troupe was founded in New York City in  1974, but origins go back a couple of year earlier. Originally playing at off-Broadway venues they received  such favourable reviews that their reputation spread and the venues they played at broke out of NYC to firstly a wider American audience and then worldwide. Ten years ago, they performed at the Royal Variety Performance in front of Prince Charles.

Classical Ballet is easy to make fun of. Who hasn’t performed gormless renditions of such standards as “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” getting on your pointes and then immediately falling off them? I am pretty sure that I have alluded to my own performances of the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Elephant”. – with my own choreography I hasten to add.

The difference here, and it is a substantial one, is that the dancers of Les Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo are damn good. If you cast an eye over their pedigrees, there are dancers on display that are associated in the past with ballet heavyweights such as Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet School,The Dance Theatre of Harlem,San Francisco Ballet School, English National Ballet, Beijing Dance Academy and the Central School of Ballet, (London). Although, as you might expect, the “ballerinas” are largely American, the all-male troupe also has representation from China, Japan, Cuba, Colombia, Spain and Italy.

The Cardiff programme, which seems typical of the majority of other venues it is playing at on their British tour is in five segments.

After a humerous off stage introduction announcing cast changes to the advertised programme, the curtain drops on dancers in their virgin white dresses assuming a pose of unexpectedly artistic beauty. The segment is taken from Les Sylphidess with music by Chopin. Eugenia Repelskii solos in The Valse, followed by Nina Immobilashvili in Chopin’s sublime Prelude, Opus 28,No. 7.  You’ll know it when you hear it. Nicholas Khachafallenjar and Alla Snizova amaze you with respectively, their power and grace, before the return of Nina Immobilashvili dazzles you with another Valse before the curtain falls and the first interval.

There’s not so much shenanigans on show for the next two parts, Harlequinade Pas de Deux and Trovatiara Pas de Cinq allowing such illuminaries as Sergey Legupski, Helen Highwaters, Guzella Verbitskaya and Guzella Verbitskaya showing their considerable talents to maximum effect and Eugenia Repelskii making a welcome return.

For me the highlight is Olga Supphozova’s rendition of “The Dying Swan”. 

 

 

 

The segment begins with a searchlight trying to locate the stricken bird in a scene reminiscent of the clowns in Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai. When she is eventually tracked down the audience is treated to a performance of such artistic beauty, where Ms Supphozova acts out the death throes and involuntary spasms of an intensity that Anna Pavlova could only have dreamed about, all accompanied with  extreme exaggerated  moulting feathers – it is something to behold. Diaghilev would have blown a gasket!

After the second interval, the performance concludes with the famous collaborative team of Ludwig Minkus’ s music and Marius Petipa’s Paquita which was relatively faithfully performed. I’m grateful that The Kingdom of the Shades from La Bayadere also conceived by this pair has been left alone.

Throughout the performances, the audience is kept on their toes picking out the buffoonery on show. The petty vendettas, the mistimed errors, the sideways glances, the knowingly awful choreographic interpretation, the narcissistic performers, there is so much going on you can’t expect to notice it all.

By the time the troupe engage in their crowd pleasing ensemble dance to the appropriate  music of, “New York, New York”whilst wearing the most kitsch of hair gear a la mode of the Statue of Liberty, many of the audience  were on their feet.

The costumes would adorn the most prestigious ballet companies and if that’s not enough for you, then you also have the exquisite piped music.

However, at the end of the day, it is a one-trick pony. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, know their audience though, and any chance of boredom creeping in through repetition, is negated by the interludes of dancing excellence,

By deftly pastiching  the most classical of sensory art forms, Les Ballets have created their own.

Cash in your chips, (Monte Carlo – yeah?) and get down to Cardiff Bay for the second and final performance in Cardiff on Wednesday evening, but check availability as the auditorium was near capacity this evening.

Continue reading Review of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo at the WMC by Roger Barrington

Review of 2023 at Chapter, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

 

(4.5 / 5)

 

 

Lisa Parry’s stunning new play, “2023” is enjoying a run at Chapter in Cardiff.

Back in 2005, legislation was passed by H.M. Government, that decreed that  a person who had been conceived through donated eggs or sperm, upon reaching the age of 18, have a right to know the identity of the donor parent. Hence the title 2023 because that is when this legislation will be tested for the first time.

There’s enough material here by itself to warrant a topic for dramatic work, but into the mix, Ms Parry throws in issues of D/deafness, parental homosexual relationships and the increasing influence  of technology and science that challenge our hereditary traditions of connection.

The opening scene on a park bench in Cardiff introduces Chris and John. This amusing scene is laced with sexual innuendo, and it quickly identifies the two guys as homosexual lovers.

Chris and John are debating on how to go about having their child through the services of a surrogate.

Enter Mary, recently eighteen and a product of the donor programme, who wishes to find her genetic parent, Chris. Mary is Deaf.

I should point out the distinction between referring to someone as deaf or Deaf. With the small ‘d” generally one refers to someone who mixes with hearing people, using sign language or lip-reading. Whereas Deaf people have a strong feeling of cultural identity and will feel part of a community in a stronger way.

Mary’s curiosity is fuelled by the fact that she is Deaf and wants to know whether her affliction was genetic and that she has deaf siblings, who were also brought up by hearing parents, in order for her to establish her bond of Deafness.

Lisa Parry’s script is crisp and lucid. Obviously well researched, she introduces a number of thought provoking issue into the play’s taught 95 minute framework.

 

It’s very much about connections. Familial, genetic, gay marriage, racism brought about from a strong feeling of nationalism, (very much an issue in these Brexit days) and d-Deaf issues.

Director Zoe Waterman provides a non-fussy touch that is just what is required. Lisa and Zoe are co-director of Illumine Theatre, who are presenting this play. It is obvious that together they produce harmonious and a unity of purpose to their work.

 

 

Kitty Callister’s  very white design which consists of  an Ikea type wall unit, and the most uncomfortable looking sofa that I have seen in recent times, complements the action perfectly. Eleanor Higgin’s Lighting helps to create an overall  image of antiseptical clarity.

The use of soundtracks from sci-fi movies also fits in well with the slightly futuristic feel.

Deaf actress Stephanie Back, according to the programme notes has a passion about access and inclusion in society. As Mary, she provides an extraordinarily good performance of charged emotion.

 

 

Supported by fine performances from Tom Blumberg as John and Richard Elis a Chris, who provide sensitivity and comedy in equal measures, this is a first-rate cast who do justice to the skillful writing and excellent production values.

 

Richard Elis

 

 

Tom Blumberg

 

 

“2023” provides a challenging and illuminating experience. I propose that it is in the running for best Welsh new play of 2018.

Continue reading Review of 2023 at Chapter, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

“Gramophone Artist of the Year” Rachel Podger in conversation ahead of Brecon Baroque Festival 2018

 

Ahead of the 2018 Brecon Baroque Festival, I had the chance to chat to it’s Artistic Director, Rachel Podger about what to expect this year and also about her own flourishing career as one of the world’s leading violinists.

 

Continue reading “Gramophone Artist of the Year” Rachel Podger in conversation ahead of Brecon Baroque Festival 2018

Review of “Exodus” at The Coliseum Theatre, Aberdare by Roger Barrington

 

(3 / 5)

 

I have an unusual degree of uncertainty on how to review Motherlode’s latest offering “Exodus”. I say this because the majority of people around me were regularly laughing out loud, whereas I could only manage a couple of chuckles throughout.

I think there are two reasons for this.

The first being I had difficulty understanding the actors at times. In fact, Gwenllian Higginson a Mary, I only tuned into during the final twenty minutes. It pains me to say this as Gwenllian attended my almar mater, Rose Bruford College.

But she wasn’t alone, as I had problems ith the other two speakers, and as many of the jokes are quick fire, they just evaporated into thin air around me.

Also, the play is set in Aberdare, and there are a number of in-jokes relating to it, that I just didn’t get.

The odd thing is that for the past eighteen months, I have lived in Aberdare.

Written and directed by Rachael Boulton, “Exodus” is the company’s second production.  It’s first, “The Good Earth” toured Wales and New York where it received a favourable review from The New York Times.

In 1865, a party of mostly Welsh people sailed on the “Mimosa” to start a new life in Patagonia – Y Wladfa. Aberdare was one of the places where colonists gathered prior to their embarkation. They left because of the social and religious problems in their own country.

Fast forward to today, and a party of four disillusioned daring Aberdare people decide to set off on their own adventure, piloting their plane to Cuba.

Along the way, they recruit, train and eventually head off into the sunset, using High Street Aberdare as their runway.

Along the way, there is much social comment, mainly uttered by Mary in lengthy monologues.

Where the production works really well is in it’s moments of physical theatre. By using clever lighting and a backdrop of a 5 square panelled window, with a scene of green hills and blue sky that cleverly illuminates the action – I particularly liked the blinding sun when the plane changed course.  The use of Karim Bedda’s, (Timmy) violin skills accompanying   the physical theatre also worked well.

The other two members of the cast, Liam Tobin as Raymond  and Bewwyn Pearce as Gareth strive hard for laughs and the whole cast performed energetically throughout.

A special mention is reserved for the innovative programme.

The play tours Welsh venues and moves on to London, where I’m certain it will go down well with exiles, needing a nostalgia boost.

There are many excellent components found in this production – I just wished that I enjoyed it more.

 

Roger Barrington

 

 

 

 

Review of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales Opening Season Concert by Roger Barrington

 

(4.5 / 5)

There are moments in my life when I can pinpoint the occasion when I became enchanted by a composer.

Many years ago, back in the days of the LP records, I happened to buy a compilation of tracks, one of which was “Finlandia” by Sibelius. He has since been my favourite composer.

Then, around 1971, I watched Luchino Visconti’s “Death in Venice” and Mahler’s breathtakingly beautiful Adagietto from his 5th Symphony as Dirk Bogarde is transported on a gondola across the Venice Lagoon resulted in that composer becoming a favourite.

But Ralph Vaughan Williams, a contemporary of both, has never really done it for me. Until last night!

The BBC National Orchestra of Wales, in existence for over 90 years, kicked off it’s new season at St. David’s Hall, Cardiff, with a first half devoted to RVW.

Beginning with “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis”, a piece that, of course I am aware of, (it has repeatedly been placed at 3rd place in Classic FM’s Hall of Fame Poll), by the time it had concluded – around 17 minutes later, I could happily have left the concert, thinking I had had my money’s worth. Except that I hadn’t paid any money because I was reviewing!

Within the first minute, I was emotionally drained by the sheer beauty of the piece, immaculately played by the String section of the orchestra. The mellowness and intensity that the players brought to this composition was superb. Written in 1910, and revised in 1913 and 1919, you can close your eyes and imagine yourself back pre- WW1 on a summer’s day in the countryside – only four years before the world went mad

And if that wasn’t enough, it was followed by another RVW composition, “Songs of Travel”. Nine songs that again conjured up strong images of rural England sung by the world renowned baritone Sir Thomas Allen.

 

 

Sir Thomas, now aged 74, still has the vocal ability to render justice to the nine songs. In addition, his considerable acting talents allowed him to deliver the songs perfectly, stamping his own individual style of delivery – a talent that has him recognised as one of the great baritones of the world.

Upon arriving home, I just had to listen to the Fantasia again and followed it up with RVW’s “Pastoral Symphony” – I’m hooked!

After the interval, the crowd-pleasing, “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Modest Mussorgsky with amazing orchestration by Maurice Ravel, was the sole piece played. This composition for full orchestra, needs tight control and at times restraint, all leading up to the thunderous climax of “The Great Gates of Kiev”. I’m certain that many of us left the auditorium with Mussorgsky’s masterpiece ringing in our ears. Upon its conclusion, the rapturous reception of the audience matched the orchestra’s panache.

All of this under the baton of Japanese conductor Tadaaki Otaka.

Otaka San was principal conductor of BBC NOW from 1987 to 1995 and is now Conductor Laureate of the orchestra. He has a fondness for British music, and this is clearly apparent on the evidence of the orchestra’s performance last evening.

A truly memorable event, and a fitting concert to commence the BBC NOW season.

In December the orchestra tours China and visits my former home in Wuhan, Hubei. I will be urging my ex-students to turn out.

 

Roger Barrington

 

Review of “The Seagull” a film version of Chekhov’s play by Roger Barrington

 

 

(4 / 5)

 

 

Anton Chekhov’s famous play, “The Seagull” is given an airing by a stellar cast, in a straightforward and faithful adaptation by director Michael Mayer.

Chekhov set out to write a  comedy, and much of the framework of the story bears witness to this. Many of the principal characters are victims of unrequited love. Konstantin loves Nina who loves Trigorin, who kind of loves Irina who certainly loves him back. Masha loves Konstantin but Medvedenko loves her. You get the picture? Maybe not!

Any film adaptation of a great play, is, to some degree, on a bit of a loser, because the unique intimacy of the stage and its relationship with the audience, is key in such a tight play as this.

Having said that, if you take the film on its own values, then Michael Mayer has done an accomplished job.

The strength of the movie lies in its actors.

Annette Benning as Irina, an actress on the decline – both guilty of love and tenderness, but, chronically self-absorbed, is perfectly cast.  Having just started her seventh decade, she still has the sexiness to be believable as a fading actress, who can still reel in a younger man, and a famous writer at that.

 

Saoirse Ronan, the talented Irish-American actress, whose name always causes me difficulty to pronounce, has the right balance of sensitivity and determination to make Nina a sympathetic heroine.

For me the pick of the female protagonists, (in a competitive field) is Elizabeth Moss as the increasingly dissolute Masha, who realises that she is alive but only physically.  You wish that she had more scenes because she manage to steal every one she is in.

 

Of the male actors, I liked Corey Stoll’s rather laid-back  Boris Trigorin. I have seen stage actors overplay this character, to the extent that he becomes rather annoying. There is a bit of Chekhov in Trigorin, the acknowledged leading writer in Russia, and there is also part of him in Konstantin, ( Billy Howle)- the writer trying to find himself and make his name.

Good support is offered by stalwart Brian Dennehy as Sorin, Irina’s dying brother, and Jon Tenney as Doctor Dorn, who recognises talent in Konstantin’s writing.

Besides the acting, the lighting and cinematography are really good. It manages to retain the level of intimacy that I talked about at the start of this review.

 

 

The final meeting of Konstantin and Nina, is enhanced by the lighting, and renders it a profoundly moving scene, which is exactly what is required.

One small gripe is that I didn’t think it necessary to be quite as explicit at the end. The viewer is left in no doubt what has happened, but the offstage gunshot in the staged version, followed by Dorn and Trigorin leaving to sort out the mess works better.

“The Seagull” is a worthy adaptation of a theatre classic, that allows an audience who can’t get to see it on stage, an admirable substitute.

County: USA

Genre: Drama, Adapted from a play

Running time: 99 minutes

Cert: 12A

The film was viewed at Chapter Screen 1.