Monday, 31 March 2014

A Blogger's Update: Some Personal Thoughts

 Enjoying a walk in a North London Park (March 2014)

Lately I've changed...changed for the better, to me it is! I feel about my theatre going and my relationship with it which has an impact compared to the past.  I don't consider myself a fan but a theatregoer! 

The status quo, it seems, as a 'fan', you go see a mainstream show, go to stage door afterwards and tell your fellow fans and friends that you love the show and have met so and so! I find this not me at all anymore especially that I'm embarking on a journalism/reviewing career where I hope to break professionally.  I also want see a wide and diverse range of shows of different theatre genres.

My priority now is to focus more on the show rather than who's in it.  I like to analyse and critically approach the show from humanities and social perspectives.  I do have my favourite shows and performers but I like many genres of theatre especially plays.  There is a time and place to focus on individual shows and performers.  At the end of the day, the show is first and nothing else! It's the only reason why I go to the theatre!

I now dislike stage dooring and would prefer to tweet my thanks to the performers and express my wishes via reviews.  The thought of waiting outside for some considerable time after a show doesn't appeal to me anymore.  I would much rather have a coffee somewhere or go for a night cap in a pub!  Even an earlier night in bed sounds more appealing!  Even stage dooring at Phantom, my favourite show, is a big effort these days.  However I know the current cast pretty well so I feel it's only courteous to say hello, though not every time, when I see the show.  Please don't expect me to say hello to specific actors at stage door whenever I see shows.  The likelihood is that I won't be visiting stage door before or after the show and certainly not if I'm not seeing the actual show!

Apart from some exceptions to the rule, I don't follow performers, even my favourite ones, on Twitter.  I always to get to know of upcoming professional engagements they're involved with indirectly and via retweets.  I simply follow the official shows accounts and any theatre/art organisations.  I would tweet those concerned if I'm seeing the actual show.  I'm not interested in show business's off stage gossip especially their personal lives.   I pay attention to what they do on stage and appreciate them for it.  I'm more interested in the professional careers and its successes than their love life!

I try and not see shows with celebrity casting unless the story of the show is of particular interest to me.  I would rather support fringe, local and amateur productions which will need more support.  Besides there is a lot more to life than theatre!

Thank you for your understanding.  Happy Theatre Going! xxx

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Being inspired by Dicorcia and Vogt at The Hepworth!

Another inspiring visit to The Hepworth!

Philip-Lorca Dicorcia: Photographs 1975-2012 

A well deserved visit to Philip-Lorca Dicoria: Photographs exhibition at The Hepworth in Wakefield.  Dicoria is premiering his photographs spanning from the 1970s to the present day.  He focuses on contemporary and modern stories that are of relevance to society today.

The exhibition is divided into six sections: East of Eden (2008-ongoing); Lucky 13 (2004), Streetwork (1993-99); Heads (2000-1); Hustlers (1990-92) and A Story Book Life (1975-79).  The photographs tell stories from just viewing them.  It's admired how Dicorcia focus on the subject, usually people, and how the use of the camera focuses primarily on them with their body language, facial expressions and general demeanour.  The attributes shared are the stories told.  The viewer is encouraged to focus on the photographs backgrounds giving a contextual flavour to the stories told.

What stood out the most were two photographs in the Hustlers (1990-92) section.  These are of male prostitutes telling their stories of how one lives realistically.  One photograph tells of a guy, posing for Dicorcia, and in the background there is a barrier along with the city's lights and glamour.  Metaphorically, his dreams are either out of bounds or still out of reach.  Another photo illustrates a worker sleeping roughly on the Hollywood's Walk of Fame.  He may have reached his dream of being in 'Tinsel Town' but the photos tell a different story - it isn't all well and his demeanour demonstrates this.  Like those two photographs, the rest of the photograph gives messages of disillusionment, feelings of despair, experiencing broken dreams and aspirations and uncertainty of the future.

The exhibition overall interconnected the stories of people's lives from all backgrounds.  Most importantly, these lives 'connect to the larger universal truths' (Source: Dicorcia/The Hepworth).   There are fundamental and emotive feelings to Dicorcia's works which one can relate to in society today.

Celebrating the Industrial Heritage at The Calder

Erika Vogt's Speech Mesh - Drawn Off

This fascinating exhibition by the American Filmmaker, Erika Vogt, is currently housed at The CalderVogt exploits audio and visual technologies which bring meaning to the still sculptured objects.  Emphasis is on the sculptured objects to represent daily functions and explore past functions in 'economic of labour and exchange' (Vogt/The Hepworth).  The objects relationships between people are emphasised.  

The Industrial Revolution is thought of which can link the aesthetic aims of the objects such as the 'cast' bell, casting industry; the 'clay' jug (the potteries and Josiah Wedgewood) and the sculpted anchor, the exportation and importation of goods by boat via the rivers/canals.  The repetitive audios and visuals (no words!) give the objects an exploratory and aesthetic meaning of its relationships with people.  Figuratively also links with the mill and factory workers putting repetitive emphasis on inputting and outputting production.  The sounds, particularly the dong bell, are significant marking the revolution of the industries in the late 18th Century.  How the English cities became world centres especially Manchester (for its textile trade/industry) and Bradford (for its wool exchange/industry).

The maximum usage of space at The Calder could represent the expansion of the industries and its centres during the Industrial Revolution.  The order of objects remind how the workers were disciplined in producing.  Also the order and presentation of objects remind viewers today of this legacy.  The layout and debris of objects could signify the political fragmentation and the disbandment and decline of the industries in the late 20th Century.  The objects do link with the future such as the advancing services and commissioning industries where, in the exhibition, they intertwine and layer with the audio and visual aids.

Vogt's exhibitions and installations are known to have 'an intrinsic feeling of instability' (Vogt/The Hepworth). This is parallel the Industrial Revolution - initially began with the industrial expansion but the never end changes in society whether politically, social and economic which brought uncertainty along with instability.  This is still the case even today. One thinks of The Calder being unique for this exhibition. It is formerly known as the Caddies Wainwright Mill and the building is perfectly located by the River Calder for which the water was used as a source of power for production.

It is discussed about Vogt resisting 'the possibility of any singular reading being fixed upon them' (Vogt/The Hepworth).  This is so important as the nature of Vogt's exhibition is not to be looked in a descriptive ways.  The viewers are left to their own devices to interpret the exhibition with experiences which are familiar with.

A visit to The Hepworth is highly recommended for its unique and contemporary exhibitions and further information about this amazing cultural centre can be found via the website.

Sources: Philip-Lorca Dicorcia, Erika Vogt, The Hepworth Wakefield

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

"Where there's muck there's brass" - John R Wilkinson

Brassed Off is based on Mark Herman's screenplay of the same name.  The story is about a mining village in Grimley and its community.  The focal point is the village's brass band, led by Danny (John McArdale), and the arrival of Gloria (Clara Darcy), a brass band player.  Shane (Luke Adamson) narrated the moving story and introduced the characters.  Brassed Off is in similar vein to Grimethorpe, a former mining village in South Yorkshire, and its award winning brass band.

The play is set in 1992 when Grimley colliery faced the threat of closure along with doubts of the brass band's future.  Loyalties between the miners and members of the community are tested with these issues. It's only the arrival of Gloria (Clara Darcy) that changes everything through romance and controversy but with hope and support.  The story raised a number of things which are traditionally associated with the mining communities.

Firstly, Brassed Off coincided with the 30th Anniversary of the 1984/85 Miners Strike.  Opportunity is set aside to celebrate and remember the mining village communities.  The legacy continues to live on today as much as when coal mining was at its prime in the 19th and 20th Centuries.  The industry is a lot more than just employment in the colliery.  The mining communities were tight knit communities dependent on the mine for economic and social survival.

The communities are strengthened with its culture and arts.  John Wilkinson stated that brass bands were 'poignant symbols of determination' which remain the pride of the former mining communities.  Grimethrope especially is unique for its award winning the National Brass Band Competition in 1992.  

The play raised about the role of the women and their role in those communities.  The mining villages always have been traditional with the men going down the mines and the women staying at home.  It was unheard of women having professional careers or being part of the brass bands which were traditionally male dominated.  It was certainly an eye opener to the play's characters when Gloria (Clara Darcy) asked to join the band and she, a single independent woman, worked a quantity surveyor in the coal industry.  However during the Miners Strike of 1984 women became proactive members of the community in supporting the miners, joining the picket lines and becoming united in solidarity across the mining communities.

The miners protested against pit closures and the then Government's reasons for 'progress'.  Closure of the pits have had a big social and economic impact to the communities with many suffering social deprivation and a lack of opportunities such as employment and regeneration.  Grimethorpe, especially, became of victim of this, and it's such a poignant reminder of how these communities have been affected but their way of life won't ever be forgotten.

Paul Allen cleverly adapted the screenplay with additional material geared for the community on stage.  Loved how the 1980s/1980s music adapted as a transition between the scenes.  Clifton and Lightcliffe Band was well represented in Grimley with their performance for the final scene when 'Land of Hope and Glory' was performed.  Credit to Dawn Allsop's for her stage design and Mark Howland's lighting.  Brassed Off is directed by York Theatre Royal's Damian Cruden and produced by York Theatre Royal, Bolton's Octagon Theatre and Touring Consortium Theatre.

Appreciation has grown immensely and story's context from seeing Brassed Off and also at the post show discussion with Paul Allen and Clara Darcy.  There is a diverse range of messages raised from the play and there is certainly a lot more than to mining!

Source: Brassed Off Programme, Alhambra Theatre Bradford, March 2014

Monday, 17 March 2014

Lonely in a Vast Landscape!

West Yorkshire Playhouse's production of Of Mice and Men is the perfect play for raising a number if issues and feelings familiar with human beings today as well as in the Great Depression era.  John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, published in 1937, explored the nature of human beings and how the aftermath of the Great Depression years of 1930 had an impact on the workers. 

Loneliness and isolation were a couple of the messages raised from the play and a focal point in this review.  George (played by Henry Pettigrew) said to Lennie (played by Dyfing Morris) that 'Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world.  They got no family.  The belong to no place...' and poignantly concluded, 'They ain't got nothing to look forward to' (Steinbeck, 1937, p. 15).

Three characters came into mind during this production who experienced loneliness and isolation through marginalisation and ignorance in general society at the time.  Crooks (played by Kesley Brookfield), a black worker, experienced racism and race segregation, prevalent in the 1930s.  Lennie (Dyfing Morris) had learning disabilities was misunderstood by all in his society.  His actions perceived innocent only led onto devastating consequences.  Curley's wife (Heather Christian), unhappily married to Curley (played by John Trindle), experienced loneliness along with domestic violence.  Her situation would have raised issues about a woman's role in society along with gender equality which is still the case today.

Loneliness linked into the great set cleverly designed by Max Jones and the co-ordinated lighting and sound by Tim Mitchell and Rick Walsh respectively.  What struck the stage was the abundance of space representing the open American fields and its expanse!  Mark Rosenblatt, play's director, was keen to use Quarry Theatre's to maximise this space to reflect the vast openness for the play's landscape (from an interview in Of Mice and Men Programme, 2014).

Rosenblatt collobrated with Heather Christian, production's musical director as well as playing Curley's Wife, who produced American hymnals - influencing and linking the character's emotions and their environs.  Christian believed the characters were looking something beyond their loneliness, possibly hope?  Hope was something George, Lennie and Candy (played by Johnson Willis) had which was a dream of owning their own ranch.  Curley Wife's dreamt of becoming famous in Hollywood.  Hope was their strategy for dealing with their loneliness and isolation they experienced day in and day out.

The cast were incredible and portrayed the characters as to how, one thinks, Steinbeck would like them.  This excellent play is very appropriate for the modern contemporary audiences today.  Loneliness is very common in today's society and many lonely people took their dreams, goals and aspirations to cope with their predicament just like Of Mice and MenJames Brining, West Yorkshire Playhouse's Artistic Director, said in his welcome in the play's programme about 'profound questions about humanity and our place in the natural world'.  Very much so! A production highly recommended for all! Of Mice and Men - catch them while you can!

Source: Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck, 1937

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Fulfilling the Senses of Sounds - Hy Brasil

Chris Watson's sound installation, Hy Brasil, was at the Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, for approximately two weeks in March 2014.  Watson, a sound artist, is renowned for his works with BBC's Frozen Planet and Cabaret Voltaire.  It's suggested that Hy Brasil hides in a fog off the Irish Coast and makes a metaphoric appearance once every seven years via light and sound to humans.

The installation focuses on the sounds of natural nature which travels one to the depths of the ocean; ascends back up to the coastline and land; and a final ascension to a mountain's summit.  The dim but soft lighting accompanies the sounds of marine and land wildlife in its natural habitat.  A figurative round the world journey suggests the listener to appreciate and being more aware of this beautiful planet.  

A perfect way to relax and be taken on a journey of sounds.  BBC quotes this as 'Cinema for the ears'.  Agreeable and a highly recommend sound installation!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Three Tenors Concert Review by Emma McKeating

I am new to reviewing though I've been blogging as a hobby for a while.  I thought it would be nice to share a review which my friend, Emma McKeating, recently did for the Three Tenors Concert featuring Rhys Meirion, Aled Hall and Alun Rhys Jenkins at Venue Cyrmu in Llandudno, North Wales.  This is her first ever review to be published in The Carmarthen Journal.  You can read the review via this link.

 Emma McKeating with Rhys Meirion, Aled Hall and Alun Rhys Jenkins after the concert
Photo Credit: Emma McKeating

Like me, Emma is new to reviewing.  She proudly wrote the review and the experience has given her confidence to review more events now and in the future. She is now looking forward to doing her next review!  I have interviewed Emma last year which you can read here and also here is her very first blog she has ever done.   

I would like to say thanks to Emma for her permission to share her review for my blog and I look forward to reading her future reviews!

Sources: Emma McKeating, Carmarthen Journal

Monday, 10 March 2014

A Production Tchaikovsky would be proud of!

 Matthew Bourne's Swan at Bradford's Alhambra Theatre (March 2014)

Matthew Bourne's production of Swan Lake first premiered in 1995 at Sadlers Well, New Adventures's spiritual home.  Eighteen years later the production is still going from strength to strength.  I had an opportunity to see the production one evening at Bradford's Alhambra Theatre.  I was secretly confident I'll enjoy the production after being positive about the company's new production of Sleeping Beauty last year.  Seeing the Billy Elliot movie the night before, especially the very end, gave me a taste of what is about to come.

  The Cast Board

I admire and respect Matthew Bourne's fresh and modern approach to these productions especially the timeless classics such as Swan Lake.  I feel it's a personal invitation by Bourne for us to approach these productions with our own open and creative minds.

The production is a modern tale of Swan Lake.  The focus is primarily on the Prince (Simon Williams) and his life in Royal High Society.  The story explores his character: Exploration of his identity as a person and in society; his estranged relationships with his mother, The Queen, and his Girlfriend; his longing to be loved and wanted and, crucially, his encounter with The Swan/Stranger (Glenn Graham) and the consideration of his sexuality.  

I feel the story of the Prince is a parallel one to Tchaikovsky whose tendencies were similar especially around sexuality.  I was watching the programme, White Swan, Black Swan and Tamara Rojo, the presenter, echoed similar thoughts of the composer - how Tchaikovsky's societal life aligned with the Prince's.

From beginning to the end I was enthralled with the production.  Loved Glenn Graham's Swan/Stranger; Simon William's Prince; Suranne Curtin's Queen and Anjali Mehra's Girlfriend and the talented members of the cast.  They did a great job telling the story of Swan lake with innovative and contemporary acting and dancing which was united by Matthew Bourne's choreography.

The production of Swan Lake brought the deep emotions from Tchaikovsky's score and gave an insight to the audience about how Swan Lake meant a lot to the composer.  I loved the modern sets and the iconic swan costumes, courtesy of Lez Brotherston and the lighting by Rick Fisher.

The performance received a well deserved applauses and a number of people gave standing ovations.  I've never seen the theatre, especially the upper circle auditorium, full!  So it must attract an exciting wide range of people for them to come and see it. Definitely a good thing! I hope Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake will tour again in the not too distant future.  A favourite production highly recommended! Please check out the website for the remaining venues on the tour.