Roger Barrington

Video Review of Matthew Bourne’s “Cinderella” at the WMC, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

(5 / 5)

 

VIDEO REVIEW

 

 

The interview excerpts of Sir Matthew Bourne are copyright New Adventures Production.

If I have inadvertently used any other copyrighted material, please let me know – I shall be happy to acknowledge the owner or remove.

REVIEW SUMMARY

 

Matthew Bourne’s ballet, “Cinderella” is currently playing at the WMC until 7th April.

It provides a scintillating experience of creative development of a familiar story. Set in the London Blitz of WW2, this is not a gimmick, but a version that works on every level.

Cinderella is pretty much as you would expect, wicked step-sisters in tow, but there is no Fairy Godmother. Instead you have a male character called The Angel who guides Cinderella for good and bad in order that she fulfills her destiny.

Instead of a handsome prince, you have Harry the Pilot. The RAF, recent victors in spoiling the Luftwaffe’s attempt to pave the way for the Nazi invasion of Britain, were the glamour boys of the Armed Forces. Actually. they were known as The Brylcreem Boys due to the way they used the cream to obtain a smooth look with hair in total control.

The Ball scene, is re-invented in the real life venue of the Cafe de Paris, which was a venue where chic young people met and danced the night away, irrespective of whether there was a air-raid being enacted overhead. On the 8th March 1941, the club received a direct hit, killing and wounding over a hundred people.

The dancing is as polished as you would expect from a Matthew Bourne work. He is the director and choreographer and together with his lighting designer Neil Austin and set and costume designer Lez Brotherston, conjour up a magical two and a half hour show of countless memorable visual delights.

Music is recorded, but played by a specially commissioned orchestra, over 80-strong, named the Cinderella Orchestra, and it is played in Sensurround which makes you feel that they are present.

Prokofiev’s music is delightful and all the sums add up to a wonderful work of creativity.

Irrespective of whether you like ballet or classical music, there is enough theatricality in this show to last you a very long time, and I unreservedly recommend it.

Continue reading Video Review of Matthew Bourne’s “Cinderella” at the WMC, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

Audio and text review of All But Gone at The Other Room, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

(4 / 5)

 

Callum Hymers as Kai and Owen Bowen Harries as Owen

 

 

 

Nicola Reynolds as Olwen asserting her authority over Owen (Wyn Bowen Harries) with Bev (Erin Phillips) and Kai (Callum Hymers) looking on

 

 

 

 

Owen (Wyn Bowen Harries) and Howell (Daniel Graham) sharing an intimate moment

 

 

Photographs by Keiran Cudlip

 

 

 

REVIEW

 

TRANSCRIPT

All But Gone is the second production of the Lovesick season at The Other Room in Cardiff. It marks the debut direction of the Other Room’s new artistic director Dan Jones, and if this astonishing show is anything to go by, it will make this venue, not only one of the most exciting in Cardiff but in Wales as a whole.

For a fringe venue to put on a new play by established playwright Matthew Trevannion of this quality is an outstanding achievement.

The action begins with Kai, (played by newcomer Callum Hymers with great emotional control for a young actor), burgling pensioner Owen’s house. Owen who had previously noticed Kai acting suspiciously at a neighbour’s premises is waiting for him – shotgun pointed at the intruder. After putting the Fear of God into him, Owen slowly reveals a sympathetic side, and realising that Kai is famished, offers a sandich and sends him on his way. But not before Howell, (Daniel Graham who brilliantly plays the character alternating between gentleness, manic antics and uncontrolled rage) enters the scene from upstairs and recites a soulful passage of poetry. However, he appears not to notice kai before returning to where he came from.

In fact, only Owen interacts with Kai throughout the entire play, even though he is often present in scenes with the other characters.

This puzzling question is the beginning of what becomes a highly complex play. If Kai isn’t actually a person then hat is her and what does he represent?

Does the illegal entry through the kitchen window, mirrored in the final scene by Howell represent an intrusion into Owen’s impaired memory . As the play develops, it becomes obvious that the action takes place with Owen as a younger man and where he is now.  But how reliable is his memory for he seems to be undertaking a decline of his mental facilities and entering a state of senile dementia?

The other characters are also marvelously observed. Nicola Reynolds plays Olwyn, matriarchal head of the family where Owen is living. She plays the archetypal Welsh Mam to a tee and has the funniest lines. There is a lot of humour in this play despite its poignant subject matter.

Her daughter Bev,  (Erin Phillips) is a kindhearted Welsh girl of the kind we all know and love. Her brother is Howell who has already been introduced.

Everyone in this production seems tailor-made for the characters they portray which is a testament to their acting abilities. A special mention has to go to Wyn Bowen Harries,  a veteran actor on the Welsh TV and theatre scene. His control, especially vocally is superb and you can’t help looking at his character sympathetically.

The play touches upon a number of themes as well as dementia – confused sexuality and lost opportunity.

The set design is perfect for a small space. A table and kitchen unit wwith window back centre and stairs leading upwards. A porch and outer door lead to the street. Carl Davies miraculously  manages to make the set appear much larger than it actually is.

Joe Fletcher’s lighting provides scenes of great intimacy.

In fact, this is a flawless production, and if I could, I would be awarding it four and a half stars out of five.

This is a truly thought provoking play about a thought disintegrating subject matter. This production deserves a transfer to a larger venue after it ends its run here.

Due to the strong language throughout, and adult scenes and subject matter, this play is for mature audiences only. It runs at The Other Room in Cardiff until 14th April and I would urge you to view it.

Please follow the link below to check ticket availability.

 

Continue reading Audio and text review of All But Gone at The Other Room, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

Review Inheriting Gods, Chapter Arts Centre by Roger Barrington

Image credit Kirsten McTernan

(4 / 5)

 

“When each of you in this room were born, there were 6,000 languages spoken on the planet. Now, a language is not just a body of vocabulary or a set of grammatical rules. A language is a flash of the human spirit. It’s a vehicle through which the soul of each particular culture comes into the material world. Every language is an old-growth forest of the mind, a watershed, a thought, an ecosystem of spiritual possibilities”.

So says my friend Wade Davis in a TED speech in Monterey  in 2003.

This premise is largely what drives the excellent Theatr Gwalia’s “Inheriting Gods” that has now finished its short run at Chapter in Cardiff.

Writer C.M. Stephens links the Wampanoag language to the Welsh by interacting a Valleys tourist Rhiannon, and an indigenous descendant, English name Shaw, within a Cape Cod setting. Once they sort out their national identity, they find that they have an awful lot in common. In finding out about each other’s language and culture, they reach a state of transcendence where they discover their own.

Playwright C. M. Stephens 

Both my paternal and maternal lines originate in Somerset. My Barrington line found themselves in Brecon in the 1870’s and remained for the next one hundred and twenty five years. Why Brecon? Well my great great grandmother, was a typical female Welsh export at this time, a servant in Weston Super Mare. She came from Llanspyddid outside Brecon and this obviously prompted their emigration. My mother’s family landed up in Cardiff in the 1890’s.

Inevitably, both families married Welsh folk so I have the usual Davies, Williams and Powell lines on my family tree. When examining the 1901 Census, my great grandfather, James Davies is recorded as a Welsh speaker., but like so many families, this was not passed down to his children. Brecon, being located close to the English border is not a particularly Welsh speaking town and despite learning the language in school for many years without distinction, I now know only a basic number of Welsh words, but am unable to string sentences together. This mirrors Rhiannon in the story.

Shaw a descendant of the indigenous people  has been Americanised. Cape Cod, where most of the action takes place has a large Wampanoag settlement at Mashpee. Other reservations are found on Martha’s Vineyard. In fact, each year, a powwow takes place, a weekend of dancing, drumming and musical performances celebrating the People of the First Light. This year, the three day festival starts on 6th July. I guess it is the Wampanoag equivalent of our Eisteddfod.

Charlie Jobe

 

 

Saran Morgan

 

 

 

 

The Wampanoag language is unusual in that it was, at one time extinct, but has been revived since the 1990’s.  Even more so than Welsh, it struggles to survive being immersed within the English speaking communities.  Also, like Welsh, it has its own varied culture and way of life.

The play touches upon many subjects besides language loss. The Wampanoag were the people who greeted the Pilgrim Fathers at Plymouth Rock on November 11th 1620. Ms Medway-Stephens makes the point that I used to debate with my Chinese students in their American Literature class when studying William Bradford’s controversial contemporary  account. The point being that each year American’s celebrate the fact that the good earth provides nourishment on Thanksgiving Day, whilst simultaneously and mostly unintentionally, wiping the faces of the indigenous people’s whose land they stole in the same soil.

Of course there is a common denominator in that both races were exploited by the dreaded English, another point the writer is anxious to make. To be fair to our neighbours over the other side of Offa’s Dyke, it as not only the English who colonised America, as the ill-fated Darien Scheme instigated by the King of Scotland clearly shows. I’m sure us Welsh did our bit – well Patagonia springs to mind.

The name Rhiannon, the Horse Goddess of that great work of Welsh literature, the Mabinogion is also brought into the narrative. There is also much attention paid to Shaw’s anglicised name.

Then there are the Welsh politicians who went on hunger strike to successfully plead the case of having a Welsh language television station.

The burning question to be addressed may be an uncomfortable one for us Anglo-Welsh. That is, how Welsh can you actually be without speaking the language of your nation; without reading its literary heritage in its mother-tongue; without singing the beautiful songs that have been passed down over the ages?

If there is a more important Welsh play in the English language written in this or any other year, I would very much like to see it.

My only criticism is that I feel it is under-developed as it stands. Lasting only sixty five minutes, the issues and others not mentioned here, don’t get sufficient time to be explored fully. I recall seeing Robert Lepage’s seminal play, “The Seven Streams of the River Ota” in both it’s workshop production and its triumphant seven and a half hour epic presentation at the National Theatre a couple of years later. I can see “Inheriting Gods” developing in a similar way. By having twenty to thirty minute vignettes exploring the issues referred to for both the Welsh and Wampanoag themes bound together by the central premise.

The two characters played by Saran Morgan and Charlie Jobe are both likeable. Scenes are divided by videos and photographs of both Cape Cod and Wales. Accompanied by an assortment of songs in both English and Welsh, I think this worked really well. The set seems to be some kind of stockade, although it may represent the reservation or even the traditional architecture of Wampanoag huts.

Saran Morgan and Charlie Jobe

 

 

 

The play has now ended its short run, but I hope to see it re-emerge, perhaps somewhere along the lines I have suggested here.

Finally, to slightly change one of the central anthropological questions, what it is to be human and alive. Carmen Medway-Stephens poses the question, what it is to be Welsh and alive.

More information about the Wampanoag People

culturalsurvival.org-Awakening a Sleeping Language on Cape Cod The Wampanoag Language Reclamation Project

tolatsga.org-

 

Roger Barrington

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio Review The Motherf***ker with the Hat at the Sherman Theatre by Roger Barrington

(3 / 5)

NB. This review contains strong language and adult themes within the context of the subject matter of this play.

Transcript

The immediate problem I face with this review is how to name it.

Its correct title is The Motherfucker with the Hat, but in polite circles it is either called, “The MotherFxxxxr with the Hat or The Mother with the Hat. Being fairly polite myself, I shall refer to it as the MotherF with the Hat.

This play markes the first collaboration  between Glasgow’s Tron Theatre and Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre. Having seen Tron Theatre productions previously in Scotland and in London, I was aware that I was in for a challenging hard-hitting show, that is not so much “In Yer Face” theatre as slapping you around the face drama.

The MotherF with the Hat is a Tony Award nominated play by esteemed New Yorker Stephen Adly Guirgis. This playwright is often mentioned in the company of such American icons as David Mamet and Tracy Letts, so you know he is right up there with the American cream. That’s cream not Dream as there is little to associate the content of this play ith that national American ethos.

Written in 2011, the play premiered at Broadway’s Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on April 11th of that year to mixed reviews. Much of the adverse criticism was aimed at the portrayal of Ralph D by Chris Rock as many critics were a little underwhelmed with his performance.

The play was a bit of a financial flop, largely due to the problem I highlighted at the start of this review. In the more Puritanical American world, it as difficult to market because you couldn’t even call the play by its name. A dig at American Puritanism is referenced in the script when a potential bout of bed-hopping leads to an exclamation from Jackie, putting a halt to Victoria, his sponsor’s wife’s advances, “I mean what are we – Europeans or some shit?” Made me feel quite proud (to be European).

MotherF with the Hat made its British premier at the Lyttleton Theatre on 10th June 2015, to almost universal praise.  This Tron/Sherman production marks its Scottish and Welsh debut.

The play is a five-hander and begins with Veronica tidying up her bed in preparation for a visit from boyfriend Jackie, who has just been released from prison and who is trying to start living a decent life, beginning with finding a job. Veronica is a cocaine-sniffing attractive girl nicely played by Welsh actress Alexandria Riley, who recently appeared in the acclaimed Sherman production of “The Cherry Orchard”. Her single room located in a residential hotel in Times Square is a bit of a mess. Empty bottles and full ashtrays and clothes scattered untidily on the floor.

When Jackie enters and they start conversing, it is obvious by the tone of the conversation  that they are going to get down to a bit of rumpy-pumpy.  Whilst Veronica prepares herself by taking a shower, (offstage), Jackie strips down to his briefs, ready for action and gets into bed. He then espies a man’s hat lying on the coffee table. Suspicions arise and Jackie wants to know who the motherfucker with the hat is. He sniffs the bed imitating an anteater hoovering up its prey trying to identify whether any sexual activity had recently occurred which he wouldn’t have been a part of.

Jackie played by Francois Pandolfo is probably the central character in the play  and he does well playing the paranoid Puerto Rican New Yorker.

Other characters are Jermaine Dominique as Ralph D., Jackie’s sponsor. I found his Machiavellian excuses for behaving badly very funny. His wife, Victoria, played by American actress Renee Williams has just had enough of her husband’s antics.  The final character Cousin Julio, (Kyle Lima), is a macho individual, being a kind of mix of a masseur and notary public. He also has connections to the Mob.

The acting is fine throughout with just a couple of lapses with the New York accent. For me however, the star quality of this production is Kenny Miller’s set design.

On three split levels, each representing a character’s abode, at the bottom you find Veronica’s hotel room in Times Square – probably a run-down establishment. The middle level represents Ralph D’s and Victoria’s Hell’s Kitchen place. An area of NYC largely associated ith actors and a has a prominent gay quarter. At the top, you have Cousin Julio’s minimalist Feng Shui abode in gentrified Washington Heights. This arrangement is no accident as it depicts an ascending order of prosperity.

The play depicts betrayal, guilt, infidelity and addiction but has an abundance of dark humour within it.

With so much going for it, why did I find myself constantly checking my watch for the final twenty minutes, with the production only lasting ninety minutes? Maybe it is because I found it rather one-paced – there isn’t much variety in it. The naturalistic dialogue is sparkling and has a cadence to it that almost makes it sound lyrical at times, but it overwhelmed me in its intensity.

Having taught for many years in China, I became aware that Chinese audiences always judge the merit of a movie based upon its resolution, and being Chinese, it should have a moralistic quality to it. I found the play rather slight, and I liken the spectacle to travelling up to London for a day’s sightseeing and spending all your time travelling around the circle line.

Can I recommend this play? Well, I guess it comes down to home being where you hang your hat, (sorry about that). If you are at home watching an amusing, profanity driven play which offers little hope but doesn’t make you think too hard, then you should love this play.

Due to profanity throughout, adult themes and brief male nudity, I suggest that this play is meant for adults only.

The show runs at the Sherman Cardiff, having already completed its Glasgow run, until 31st March 2018.

 

Francois Pandolfo as Jackie and Jermaine Dominique as Ralph D

 

 

Francois Pandolfo as Jackie and Renee illiams as Victoria

 

 

 

Tickets are available from Sherman Theatre

 

Roger Barrington

Review Eugene Onegin at Theatr Brycheiniog by Roger Barrington

Cover

(3 / 5)

 

Mid-Wales Opera’s Eugene Onegin is a hugely commendable effort that provides quality singing to venues that are not usually associated with opera productions.

Putting on opera is an expensive operation and that invariably results in high ticket prices to compensate for it. In order to make it financially viable, then productions are usually found in major cities and at dedicated venues such as Glyndebourne and Bayreuth.

Tchkaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin is an opera based upon Alexander Pushkin’s  verse novel. Unusually, Tchaikovsky wrote most of the libretto in addition to the music and managed to retain much of the poetic nature of this great Russian work. The opera is highly esteemed within Russia bringing out the nationalistic quality of the nation in both literature and music.

The story is quite simple. A pretty rustic girl Tatyana, whose family are landowners, is introduced to Eugene Onegin, a pompous and haughty young man, whose friend Lensky is betrothed to her sister Olga. Tatyana is immediately attracted to Onegin and later that evening writes an impassioned letter to him outlining her feelings.  This has a negative effect on Onegin who informs Tatyana that her passions have been met by a stony heart.

Later, Onegin and Olga flirt openly to tease Lensky, but take it too far, with the result that the affronted lover challenges his great friend to a duel at dawn the next day. This is accepted and the two act out their ritual resulting in the demise of Lensky.

Five years pass, and at a magnificent ball in St. Petersburg, Onegin notices the now sophisticated Tatyana on the arm of Prince Gremin whom she has married. Onegin is struck by her beauty and grace and tells Tatyana that he had made a huge mistake in rejecting her previously, and expresses his love for her. Tatyana, admits that she still loves Onegin, but will not leave her husband thereby honouring her commitment to her marriage.  Onegin is left in abject despair realising that he has forever lost his true love and feeling the guilt of killing his best friend.

Pushkin’s work would have been well known to Russians, which is why  Eugene Onegin is not described as an opera per se, but as Lyric Scenes in three acts and seven scenes. Although the text would generally follow the source, departures from it are made but as the story is so well known it wouldn’t greatly matter and the lyric scenes would act as a reminder.

Eugene Onegin was first performed in Moscow in 1879.

Tatyana (Elizabeth Karani) and Olga (Ailsa Mainwaring)

 

 

 

Naturally, when working within a shoestring budget, compromises have to be made. The design sets in this production are rather bland and do not convey any feeling of it being Russian in essence either in the rural setting nor, by contrast, showing the opulence of the St. Petersburg in-crowd. In fact, in the final act which is set at a ball within the house of a rich Russian nobleman, and is supposed to be a sea of light,  only three rather undernourished candelabras are on display.  The only scene that works in terms of design is that which depicts the duel that has a silvery look and together with the dry ice conjours up a feeling of dawn. The  peacefulness of that time of the day being interrupted by the devastating sound and consequences of gunfire is well realised.

Tatyana is played by young British soprano Elizabeth Karani. It is refreshing to see young artists playing characters of roughly their age throughout this production. No need to apply copious amounts of makeup on display w hen mature “big names” take on the role of youthful protagonists way beyond their age, resembling something akin to a character out of traditional Chinese opera. Ms Karani is at her best during her lengthy letter scene in scene to of act one. She portrays the passion that Tatyana is expressing in her letter to Onegin with both power in her singing and movement in her acting.

Elzabeth Karani as Tatyana

 

 

 

British baritone George von Bergen plays Eugene Onegin. He sings well enough but in portraying Onegin as a stiff-necked haughty individual, he comes across as being wooden. Maybe the direction is at fault here.  His head is so much up his own backside, it is difficult to envisage Tatyana falling for him at first sight.  It is not surprising therefore that he says that Lenska is his only close friend. In the final scene, he does show his passion in a memorable duet with Karani’s Tatyana and it is a pity that he doesn’t show his evident acting ability prior to that. I feel there is a need to readdress the balance on how von Bergen portrays Onegin, who, after all, is the central character of the opera.

George von Bergen as Eugene Onegin

 

 

 

The supporting cast and chorus are excellent.  Welsh bass Sion Goronwy as Prince Gremin, received the greatest applause of the performance for his  aria comending the virtues of Tatyana, his wife to his old friend Onegin. Tenor Robyn Lyn Evans as Lensky sings a sad aria “Shall I survive the day that’s dawning?” with great pathos and regret prior to his fateful duel with Onegin.

Robyn Lyn Evans as Lensky

 

 

 

Music provided by Ensemble Cymru under the baton of Jonathan Lyness, play well but again are subject to the production constraints, which limits their size and consequently the sound produced. Tchaikovsky is one of the great Romantic Classical composers and the orchestra associated with this genre demands a weighty brass and wind section which had to be matched by a corresponding number of players in the string section.   There are times here I think the sound produced is a little unbalanced with the wind section in particular, overpowering  the string section.

Despite my quibbles, one can only commend the ambition and enterprise of Mid-Wales Opera in bringing this work to venues such as my hometown of Brecon. There is a huge amount to admire in this production and the ticket price is so low for an ensemble cast of this size and quality,  it is a minor miracle in itself. It may not be Covent Garden or La Scala, but it is way better than I imagined it would be and I can endorse my support and look forward to the next Mid-Wales Opera production with great anticipation.

Photographs courtesy of Mid-Wales Opera

Continue reading Review Eugene Onegin at Theatr Brycheiniog by Roger Barrington

Report: Wales for Peace – Young Peacemakers Awards in Cardiff by Roger Barrington

Recently, I attended the Wales for Peace Young Peacemakers Award held at the Temple of Peace in Cathays Park, Cardiff.

Wales for Peace a 4-year Heritage Lottery funded project, based at the Welsh Centre for International Affairs.  According to their website their vision is “To inspire a new generation of internationalists through learning from Wales’ peace heritage… the individuals, communities and movements who have championed Wales’ peacebuilding role in the world, from the First World War to today”.

This event marked the second event of this type this week, because, due to the amount of travelling involved, this year’s awards were divided between venues in North and South Wales. On the 14th March 2018, the ceremony took place at Ysgol David Hughes in Menai Bridge, Anglesey, with the Cardiff event taking place a couple of days later.

I interviewed Jane Harries, the learning co-ordinator for Wales for Peace, shortly before the event commenced.

Jane Harries Learning Co-ordinator Wales for Peace

A project that particularly interested me was that undertaken by Ysgol Dyffryn Aman from Ammanford in Carmarthenshire.  Teacher Rachel Evans and pupils Catrin Brodrick (13) and Mason McKenzie (14) tell you about it.

Teacher Rachel Edwards with Catrin Brodrick and Mason McKenzie of Ysgol Dyffryn Aman

I left this event  greatly heartened by the energy and interest on display by young Welsh people and feel that the efforts of Wales for Peace, particularly with what is going on in the world today, should be supported and encouraged, as it spotlights Wales, (in what we should all be focused on), and that is a concerted effort in maintaining a peaceful existence on this planet.

My grateful thanks to all participants who assisted me in producing this report,  andin particular, to Jane Harries who under great pressure as organiser of the event, maintained a pacific attitude suitable for the place and occasion.

Continue reading Report: Wales for Peace – Young Peacemakers Awards in Cardiff by Roger Barrington

Review The Sleeping Beauty, Wales Millennium Centre by Roger Barrington

(4 / 5)

Music: Pyotr IlyichTchaikovsky

Choreography: Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov, Peter Wright

Production: Peter Wright

Designs: Philip Prowse

Lighting: Mark Jonathan

Re-created by Peter Teigen

The Sleeping Beauty is probably the best classical ballet in the world. It has more famous tunes than any other, so with great anticipation I attended at the WMC to witness the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s lavish production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

The BRB has a long connection with this work. As long ago as 1949. the eminent ballet critic Richard Buckle was commenting on this, although he referred to a production by the Sadler’s Well Ballet , the company that evolved into the BRB in 1990. Today, together with the Royal Ballet and the English National Ballet, the BRB completes the “Big Three” ballet companies in the U.K, so you know that a quality production will be  on show.

We all know the story. In the palace, the King and Queen await the christening of their only child Princess Aurora. All the fairies are invited to the ceremony and are to be godmothers to the princess. However, Carabosse, the ancient Fairy of wisdom, seems to have been on extended leave and hadn’t been seen for years, so she is not invited. The fairies, led by the Lilac Fairy, arrive and present their gifts, but then, spurned Carabosse and her gang of evil fairies turn up and lay a curse on the princess, saying that on her sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on a spindle and die. All is not lost because the Lilac Fairy, although being unable to remove the curse, issues a counter spell whereby Aurora will not die, but fall into a deep sleep, even longer than the semi-comatose state that I find myself in after consuming a bottle of Malbec! In fact, the only thing that will awaken her up is that a prince who truly loves her will plant a kiss on her. Right on cue, at Aurora’s sixteenth birthday do, Caraboose, in disguise,  tricks her way into the celebrations and presents the poisoned spindle to Aurora, who captivated by something she hasn’t seen before, dances with it, but is then pricked with the potentially fatal poison and collapses. Step in the Lilac Fairy who reminds all present that the princess is not dead but sleeping, and deciding that everyone should have a good kip, places a spell of somnolence resulting in all present falling asleep. The story now moves on a hundred years when Prince Desire out hunting with his cronies is waylaid by the Lilac Fairy, who happens to be his godmother also, and she takes on the part of Cupid introducing the Prince to Aurora’s spirit.  Well the inevitable happens, and after a brush between Caraboose and the Lilac Fairy,  the Prince falls in love with the princess and the final act consists of their wedding ceremony.

The tale is adapted from Charles Perrault’s 1697 work, which, in turn was based upon an earlier story. It is essentially a tale of good and evil represented by the characters of Caraboose and the Lilac Fairy. In the ballet, each of them have their own leitmotif, and in case of any doubt of the audience, in this production Caraboose is dressed in black and the Lilac Fairy in white.

This production, created by Sir Peter Wright in 1984 for the Sadler’s Wells Company largely follows the original 1890 version, choreographed by the master of classical ballet,  Marius Petipa. In fact, such is the skill of this nineteenth century choreographer, many of the leading ballet companies of the world still base The Sleeping Beauty in their repertoire on Petipa’s version.

To stage The Sleeping Beauty is a logistical nightmare. By some way, the largest production that the BRB has in its repertoire,  the demands on the costume department are immense. Princess Aurora wears three different tutus, and as there are nine ballerinas performing this part over the course of the tour, that requires twenty seven costumes to begin with. In fact, it takes an articulated lorry to transport the costumes alone between venues. The dresses the Court Ladies wear weigh over six kilos and Caraboose’s gown double that. Some of the costumes are so wide, navigating through doors is a skill in itself. Due to the high expense making these costumes, they are continually being repaired, and many of those on view today originate from the 1984 production.

What struck me most about this production is how opulent it is. The beautiful costumes, the grandiose sets and the marvellous lighting. In particular, the second Act set in the forest where Prince Desire is hunting, has a mystical quality that transports you into this world of fantasy.

The role of Princess Aurora is said to be the most difficult in classical ballet consisting of steel point work, sharply accented spinning turns. First Artist Karla Doorbar acquitted herself well, managing to portray the beauty and grace of the princess.

The nomenclature of the Prince is a little confusing. In the programme playlist, he is called Prince Florimund, although in the 1890 production, he is called Desire. It is speculated that the name change came about in the 1970’s originating from the Royal Ballet’s production at that time.  In the role of Florimund/Desire, First Artist Max Maslen manages the soaring leaps and daring lifts with aplomb and complements Doorbar’s Aurora as exemplified in their majestic Pas de Deux in the final act.

First Artist Jade Heusen portrayed the evil Carabosse with suitable menace, whilst conversely, Principal Dancer Jenna Roberts looked the personification of all good things in the role of the Lilac Fairy.

The Prologue pas de six with the fairies was cutely performed and the various cameo appearances in the final act were well presented. I particularly liked the Kit Holder and Anna Monleon’s Puss-in-Boots and the White Cat.

However, it is the Panorama scene towards the end of the second act, that always moves me the most in versions of The Sleeping Beauty I have seen over the years. Tchaikovsky’s languid melody matched by Petipa’s beautiful choreography and heightened by the mystical set design by Philip Prowse and the lighting of Mark Jonathan, conjure up a feeling of emotion within me, reminiscent of a truncated version of  the Paris Ballet’s “The Kingdom of the Shades” from “La Bayadere”.

Finally, a special mention should be made of the wonderful rendition of Tchaikovsky’s score by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under the baton of Paul Murphy, who provided a faultless performance. Their interpretation of the famous Waltz in the second act, didn’t fall into the trap of playing it too slowly that I have sometimes encountered in recorded versions.

All in all The BRB’s The Sleeping Beauty is an excellent production and well worth the modest ticket price. That is, modest for a production involving so many people, and I can thoroughly recommend it. It provides the perfect introduction to the world of classical ballet and it is heartening that I witnessed a number of young children at the matinee performance that I attended.

The Sleeping Beauty is a ballet with a Prologue and three acts lasting approximately two and three quarter hours including two intervals. It is suitable to all over the age of five.

At Cardiff’s  WMC it has two performances on the 17th March at 1430 and 1930. before moving on to the Theatre Royal in Plymouth.

Further details can be found at https://www.wmc.org.uk/Productions/2018-2019/DonaldGordonTheatre/Sleepingbeauty/#TabOne

Continue reading Review The Sleeping Beauty, Wales Millennium Centre by Roger Barrington

Review Don Giovanni, Welsh National Opera, Wales Millenium Centre by Roger Barrington

(4 / 5)

Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte

Mozart’s Don Giovanni performed by the magnificent Welsh National Opera tells the story of an arrogant sexual predator who uses his power and influence to entrap and overpower young ladies to succumb to his will. Sound familiar?

First performed in 1787 in Prague.  it had to wait a further thirty years before receiving its UK premiere. Mozart has often been referred to, in his operatic work, with comparison to Shakespeare, in as much as he can move you from tears to laughter at the blink of an eye. Don Giovanni,  is a black comedic version of the Spanish seventeenth play  “El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra” by Tirso de Molina, (1571-1641), which introduces the world to Don Juan, the legendary conqueror of over two thousand women.

Taking away all the trimmings, the story is a revenge tale, starting with a murder and ending with the protagonist getting his comeuppance. What accompanies the story are incidental occurrences to the main plot.

This WNO version, originally directed by John Caird, and revived under Caroline Chaney, has some rather incongruous sculptures  reminiscent of Rodin, that seem to have little connection to the story.  However, the sets are interesting and generally work well, The supernatural inclusion of ghostly figures is a success, but  it is the lighting that, in particular, impressed me. Lighting designer David Hersey has created some beautiful and atmospheric scenes, especially at the play’s climax when a Doric gate is lit up in red depicting the protagonist’s descent into Hades in Dantean imagery, which is both is exciting and memorable.

 

The quality of the singing is uniformly excellent, without quite reaching the realms of brilliance.

American soprano Emily Birsan playing the part of Donna Anna, marking her first appearance outside of the US. She possesses a pleasing controlled voice and her rendition of the duet with her suitor Ottavio,  “Fruggi, crudele fruggi”, (Cruel, why art thou near me?) is sung alternating between pathos when lamenting her dead father, and violence when expressing her need for revenge. Emily Birsan manages to maintain the dignity and elegance of  Donna Anna throughout.

 

 

English soprano Elizabeth Watts, was the recipient of the Song Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the Year in 2007. Having previously performed in the WNO’S production of The Marriage of Figaro, she plays Donna Elvira, a spurned ex-lover of Don Giovanni. Although  abandoned by Don Giovanni and seeks revenge, she maintains a misdirected belief that she can change her ex-lover’s mind and win back his heart. Ms Watts has a cultivated clear soprano voice and her beautiful singing is illustrated in the aria, “A, fuggi il traditor”, (The traitor means deceit!),   which is sung with great passion.

 

The third soprano, Zerlina is played by Devonian Katie Bray. Zerlina is a naive country girl betrothed to Masetto. Ms Bray manages not to make Zerlina too much of an innocent, and  manages to project the darker side of her personality. Her duet with Don Giovanni, ” La ci darem la mano”, ( Give me thy hand, oh fairest), with the Don utilising his most seductive charms is one of the most memorable scenes in the entire opera.

 

Masetto, Zerlina’s bethrothed is regarded as a country bumpkin by Don Giovanni, and unworthy to be her husband. British baritone Gareth Brynmor John plays the character with gusto showing the right level of outrage and anger projected at his rival Don Giovanni.

Don Ottavio, “Benjamin Hulett), is Donna Anna’s betrothed. Hulet possess a pleasing tenor voice. His highlight is found in the aria, ” Il mio tesore intanto”, ( To my beloved, o hasten,) when Ottavio decides that it high time the police are informed about Don Giovanni’s antics.

 

Hungarian bass Miklos Sebastyen plays the Commendatore, Donna Anna’s murdered father. His strong voice add the required gravitas to the role.

David Stout plays Leporello, Don Giovanni’s much put upon servant with great comic ability as well as possessing a fine bass voice. His duets with Don Giovanni are a feature of any production.  ” Eh! via buffone”, ( I’ll not believe thee), is particularly well done.

 

Irish baritone Gavan Ring in the title role, makes his debut with the WNO in this production. His acting skills come to the fore, rendering Don Giovanni as one of the great monsters in the world of opera, but without making him too unsympathetic to upset the balance of the story. He displays the Don’s arrogance and cruelty well, and manages to show heroism  when accepting his fate. It is a very charismatic  and energetic performance.

Conductor James Southall gets the best out of the musicians of the orchestra of the Welsh National Opera, although I felt that the overture was a little sluggish in places.

One minor quibble is in the climax, Don Giovanni after entering the gates to Hades is seen to be scampering off stage immediately afterwards. This detracts from one of the most electrifying climaxes in Opera, and is reminiscent of a similar complaint I made about the final scene of Tosca which I reviewed recently, also at the WNO. I would suggest that a greater attention to detail to rectify these distractions be paid in future.

I attended at the final performance of this production in Cardiff, but from the 7th March 2018, it tours England and ales. Futher details can be found at here

I cannot envisage a better scenario than to listen to the sublime music of Mozart backed by excellent singing and acting in a auditorium, to warm up the cockles of your heart on a cold winter’s day in Cardiff.

All photographs by Richard Hubert Smith

Roger Barrington

 

 

 

 

Review A Number by Caryl Churchill at The Other Room, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

A Number at The Other Room Cardiff

(3 / 5)

 

I have always struggled a little with the plays of Caryl Churchill and the Welsh premiere of A Number at The Other Room, Cardiff continues this trend. I find her admirable in her dramatic innovation but she never seems to engage me emotionally.

However, her reputation as one of Britain’s leading dramatists makes this presentation in Cardiff’s only pub theatre, a noteworthy event.

First performed at that bastion of post WW2 British theatre writing, The Royal Court, in its main auditorium in Chelsea, on 23 September 2002, this two-handed play, directed by Stephen Daldry, (whom many years ago I shared the experience of being locked out of the first act of a play at The Young Vic until the end of the first act – I think we must have been on the same Tube train!), starred Michael Gambon as the father Salter and Daniel Craig playing three of his sons.

The programme notes to production under review, describes the play as, “a fearless and affecting dissection of the relationship between father and son, A Number strikes at the heart of what it is to love unconditionally – and the tragic failure to connect”. Whilst this is true, I understand the play to be more about human identity, brought into moral and ethical questionability  through the instrument of cloning. A fundamental criticism of cloning is that it turns humans into commodities such as in this case, replacing a dead loved son. The cloned have a feeling of a lack of uniqueness inevitably resulting in a lack of identity.

The intellectual premise of the play is largely influenced by the philosophy of Ludwig Wittengenstein, whom the playwright has, in more recent times, returned to in her 2012 play Love and Information. Wittgenstein’s thesis is that a word, taken by itself, could have meaning without the existence of other  elements that determines its character. These entities, he states, may not be the same, but upon closer analysis can reveal a pattern of similarity, “a family resemblance”. Therefore, Wittgenstein allows us to speak in a meaningful way about things and people without reverting to essentialism – a belief that things have a set of characteristics which make them what they are, thereby providing the essence of Churchill’s  statement in A Number on identity.

The play is in five scenes, with the father Salter, a manipulative and deceitful man, and three of his cloned sons, all played by the same actor.

This production of  A Number is directed by  Ed Mannon and is performed by Brendon Charleson as the father Salter, and Stevie Raine as three of his sons.

Brendon Charleson

 

Stevie Raine

An enduring problem at The Other Room’s small space is set design. In the original production in the Royal Court’s main house, designer Ian MacNeil, (who together with Caryl Churchill won Evening Standard awards for this production), devised a blank set, a rectangular platform above the stage, devoid of decor other than two chairs and an table carrying an ashtray, thereby heightening the lack of context for Salter’s filial visitations.  For this production, designer Carl Davies, has designed a site-specific staging with a kind of thrust stage that runs the entire length of the space, bisecting the audience into two equal halfs facing one another in a semi theatre- in- the round way. This heightens the feeling of intimacy between the actors and the audience and works well. On the one end of the stage there is an easy armchair, with the entrance facing it at the opposite side.

Stage design

 

Brendon Charleson and Stevie Raines

Brendon Charleson, (who incidentally played in the first ever production at the Sherman Theatre), and comparative newcomer Stevie Raine do well in their roles, and their timing, (which is a very important part of Churchill’s writing style), was largely maintained.

The production is an admirable effort in introducing this important 21st century British dramatic  work to the Welsh public and deserves to play to good audiences, although, like me, you may come away feeling emotionally empty.

A Number runs at The Other Room, Cardiff until 3rd March 2018. For timings and tickets,  https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/otherroomtheatre

Duration: 1 hour without an interval.

Suitability: All (a few instances of persuasive language)

All photo credits Kiernan Cudlip

Roger Barrington