Original Review for Broadway World UK
Physical theatre full of aching truth and tactility
Theatre is physical: isolated from its spectacle and pageantry, theatre’s principal narrative tools are physical figures in a physical space. The effect that a space can produce in its occupants is the focus of physical theatre aces Gecko Theatre’s Institute, a work that perfectly illustrates with grace, poignancy, and fragility the effect of a severely institutional space on its defenceless occupants.
Artistic Director, deviser, and dancer Amit Lahav envisions an industrial dystopia that crystallises as set designer Rhys Jarman’s greyed and glowering citadel of desks and towering drawers. Alight with Chris Swain’s versatile lighting and singing with Dave Price’s lyrical original score and the electric dissonance of Nathan Johnson’s sound design, it’s a transcendent stage for a set of devised, genre-defying vignettes.
Though the nature of the institute – for sanctuary or incarceration, as a vision of an austere future or a vestige of an afflicted past – is strategically vague, and the narrative structurally nonlinear, the physical and psychological effects that institutionalisation elicits are evocative and visceral. With flashing lights and electronic strikes echoing through the space and inflicting the strict structure and invasive feel of the Institute on the spectator and occupant alike, it’s physical theatre that forces itself to be felt. Continue reading “Review: Gecko’s Institute – Bristol Old Vic”
Black, beautiful, and brilliantly funny
Beauty pageants and bus boycotts seldom belong on the same page, but in Chinonyerem Odimba’s joyously playful and beautifully played Princess and the Hustler, they’re brought together by Princess James, a flamboyant young girl who is black, beautiful, and brilliantly funny. Odimba’s play, also black, beautiful, and brilliantly funny, focuses on an oft-forgotten and unforgivable time in Bristol’s past, the Bus Boycott of 1963, and is part of theatre collective Eclipse’s ground-breaking programming of Black British narratives.
As the sister to Junior, a nascent photographer engaged in the fight for civil rights, with her no-nonsense mother Mavis only just earning enough to finance her family and her estranged father knocking on the front door with a new daughter in tow, Princess’s narrative is overflowing with new-fangled influences. Yet, it centres on Princess’s natural hair as much as her city’s history, Continue reading “Review: Princess and the Hustler – Bristol Old Vic”
Poetic, fragmented and poignant reflection on race, forgetfulness, and legacy
‘Will there really be a morning? Is there such a thing as day? Could I see it from the mountains, if I were as tall as they?’ For Lewis, an African American mathematics professor in the throes of an insomnia and amnesia plagued night in the nineties, with his refusal to go to the Million Man March threatening his marriage and his forgetting of past generations’ plights triggering a tense confrontation with them, it feels like a morning will never come.
From the night emerges a poetic, fragmented and poignant reflection on race, forgetfulness, and legacy enlightened by two fine performances in a thoughtfully directed production from Eleanor Rhode as part of the Ustinov Studio’s UK premieres from the Americas.
Tanya Barfield’s beautifully written Blue Door – a symbol descended from the traditional belief that a door of blue would ward off demons and devils – debuted in 2006, but the black narrative it lays bare, from bondage to defamation, is, like the tonal beats of Barfield’s songs, still drumming on our doors. Continue reading “Review: Blue Door – Ustinov Studio”
This Tchaikovsky classic is the elegantly forged, glitteringly tragic jewel in the crown
From folktales to fairytales to festive (nut)crackers, Tchaikovsky’s trio of nineteenth-century compositions, originally choreographed by Petipa and Ivanov for the Imperial Russian company, are the crowning glory of the classical canon. Following on from performances of The Sleeping Beauty at the Coliseum and with the festive finale, The Nutcracker, to come at Christmastime, English National Ballet’s Swan Lake is the elegantly forged, glitteringly tragic jewel in the crown.
With Tchaikovsky’s iconic score shimmering in its elegance and shattering in its dramatic crescendos under conductor Gavin Sutherland’s assured leadership of the English National Ballet Philharmonic, the evening is an all-enveloping fight for good against evil. With evil sorcery, seduction, duplicity, and sacrifice, Swan Lake is a tragedy with untold dramatic depth: Odette, cursed to live as a white swan by the villainous von Rothbart – a devilish Junor Souza – waits for a saviour to swear their everlasting love and set her free, but valiant, if naïve, Prince Siegfried, deceived by Rothbart’s daughter Odile disguised as Odette, dooms his love to a life at the lake that only death can defeat.
A deceptively simple premise, the devil in Derek Deane’s production is in the detail: Continue reading “Review: English National Ballet’s Swan Lake”
The magic’s in the music
The original Italian premiere of Rossini’s rags-to-riches opera was more morally pragmatic than magical: with a ‘goodness triumphs’ moral in its title (‘La bontà in trionfo’), Roman Catholicism restricting an unclothed foot from appearing in the performance, and nineteenth-century theatrics making transformations impractical, the music was the magic. And the music is magical, with all its coloratura, patter, and character from the principals, male chorus, and orchestra magnificently managed by Tomáš Hanus, but there’s still some magic amiss in this staging from Welsh National Opera.
La Cenerentola falls away from the French fairy tale and into the Grimm’s grotesque without a fairy godmother or twelve o’clock curfew, and Joan Font’s staging fuels the fantasy with giant mice and the suggestion that it was all a sugarcoated fever-dream danced in Joan Guillén’s garish costumes.
The opera follows in the footsteps of the fairytale Continue reading “Review: WNO’s La Cenerentola”