Review: English National Ballet’s Swan Lake

Original review for Broadway World UK

ENB's Swan Lake

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”

Review: WNO’s La Cenerentola

Original Review: Broadway World UK

WNO's La Cenerentola

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”

Review: Twelfth Night – Bristol Old Vic

Original Review for Broadway World UK

Twelfth Night

Comical, musical, and colourful

‘If music be the food of love, play on’… and play Wils Wilson does with Shakespeare’s chaotic, sharp-witted comedy. With cross-dressing, disguises, and a proto-discussion of gender politics, the text is playful and apt for contemporary adaptation, but Wilson’s production, while playing with the gendering of its couples, withdraws and occupies a decidedly dated time and space. While wonderfully entertaining, and a comical, musical, and colourful delight, without distinct commentary on the seventies setting or a timely political parallel, Bristol Old Vic and the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh’s Twelfth Night is dated to the whimsical, psychedelic revels of a 1970s evening.

Housed in a beautiful abandoned building, New Age energy abounds in this gender-bent Bohemia: Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night – Bristol Old Vic”

Review: Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory’s Henry V – Tobacco Factory Theatres

Original review: Broadway World UK

Henry V

Like the English at Agincourt, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory aren’t unshaken, but they are victorious

Henry V, the final play in Shakespeare’s historical tetralogy, focuses on King Henry’s campaign for France, victory at Agincourt, aggressive patriotism, coming-of-age, and eventual political treaty and promise of peace with his marriage to Katharine of Valois.

From the English court to the fields of France, the performance asks a lot of our ‘imaginary forces’, even to ‘piece out [its] imperfections with [our] thoughts’, and this overt theatricality is, like King Henry’s army at Agincourt, defensive – attacking, forgiving and apologising for its faults – and defenceless in the face of a much greater force: the audience.

And, like the English at Agincourt, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory aren’t unshaken, but they are victorious. Elizabeth Freestone’s direction is austere, with the action playing out in a darkly industrial dystopia characterised by Lily Arnold’s greyed costumes and frayed edges, steely drama and gravel underfoot. Continue reading “Review: Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory’s Henry V – Tobacco Factory Theatres”

Review: Birdsong UK Tour – Bristol Old Vic

Original review: Broadway World UK

Birdsong UK Tour

Visually beautiful, evocative and affecting, and visceral in its brutality and effects

‘Some crime against nature is about to be committed’: true not only on the eve of the Somme in WWI, but of warfare now and forever. Birdsong, based on the book by Sebastian Faulks, is a brutal and beautiful observation of war and remembrance, with this new revival touring in time for the Armistice centenary this November.

Birdsong is at best a liberal abridgment of Sebastian Faulks’s book: in Rachel Wagstaff’s reworking, the novel’s naturalistic narrative style is lost to the non-chronological structuring, with the warfare acting as the frame for lieutenant Stephen Wraysford’s affair with the beautiful but unavailable Isabelle in France a few years earlier.

The effort to adapt an orderly if episodic plot into an analeptic play is fitting – memory and memorials are often a metaphor in the fictionalising of warfare – yet only fleetingly effective in practice. Continue reading “Review: Birdsong UK Tour – Bristol Old Vic”