Sunday, 22 February 2015

Phoenix Dance Theatre: Mixed Programme 2015 – West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds (On behalf of The Public Reviews)

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews and the review can be accessed here:

Photo credit:  Phoenix Dance Theatre

Phoenix Dance Theatre opens 2015 with their exciting mixed programme premiering at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.  The company prides in collaborating with professionals to produce diverse new works of which four are presented in this programme.

The programme opens with Christopher Bruce’s Shift.  This short piece represents how time dictates life in a big city.  The dancing is done mechanically and methodically to Kenji Bunch’s Swing Shift in stages and in a manner with similar moves replicating one after another.   The tempo of the percussion, reminding of a clock ticking, and piano music is consistent and the slicky aligned movement feels like a clock’s pendulum swinging symbolising representation of time.

Next is Bruce’s poignant Shadows which shares an insight into European history with a specific focus on suffering during the turbulent events in the 20th Century.  The show portrays the suffering of a family who are going through a lot.  A wide range of emotions are expressed with intricate and physical movement working in unison with Arvo Part’s Fratres.   There is clever usage of John B Read’s lighting to reflect the poignancy of what the family is going through and the effective stillness of the stage.   The limited number of props is admirably used; the suitcases and coats figuratively marking the suffering the family has experienced, symbolising the uncertainty of their fate.  This could suggest a link with the Second World War where many were sent away to Concentration Camps but unknown to them at the time.

Sharon Watson’s new show TearFall, begins with a scientific analysis of the eyes; how important the eyes are to humans with is strength and yet fragility through tears which Yaron Abulafia’s staging of light bulbs and balloons illustrates.  The slick fluid and incredible dancing demonstrates the scientific and emotive connections with Kristian Steffes’s music which reminds one of the diverse emotions expressed through tears.  The production is supported by Wellcome Trust with scientific advice received from Sir John Holman.  TearFall is well received and certainly another successful scientific theme work following Repetition of Change.

Caroline Finn’s Bloom, premiering in this mixed programme, is commissioned in partnership with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures and is linked to the company’s Choreographer Award.  Bloom represents a number of characters telling their stories amidst physical and emotional facades and barriers.  Through dance, outward attempts to individually and collectively tell their story are made, but inwardly with reluctance.  During the course of the show the characters become more confident in the spotlight and begin to reveal all, even if they think society expects differently.   The longing to be yourself can conflict with what you perceive society expects of you.  To use a parallel today, people live in layers which may gradually become revealed when different situations are presented, but caution prevails. Are you truly ever yourself?

This Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Mixed Programme has something for everyone.   It is easy relatable, and there is a lot to explore and think about in terms of your own perception. The production takes certain themes and shows how these can affect everyday life past, present and future.  Exceptionally skilled dancing by a superbly talented cast with sound choreography across four diverse shows makes for an enjoyable evening of contemporary dance theatre.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Cosmopolitan Players Blue Remembered Hills

 Image Credit:  Cosmopolitan Players/Carriagework Theatre

Cosmopolitan Players produced an amateur production of Dennis Potter's Blue Remembered Hills set in the Forest of Dean, where the author hailed from, the play is about a group of  seven seven-years-olds playing in 1943 - the height of the Second World War.

The children are played by adults which Potter originally used as a dramatic device when the play was first broadcasted by the BBC in 1979.  Using this device offers scope how the children are really feeling emotively during their play and interaction with their peers.

There appears to be a care-free innocence among the group of children during the play's narration with imaginative games and play in the great outdoors.  They are oblivious though aware of the war's realities such as the air raids especially when Angela said to others that they should be at home when a raid happens.  The innocence and the care free days are suddenly ended with consequences which they have to live with for rest of their lives.

The play sums this in the end echoing words in vein of A.E. Houseman's words in A Shropshire Lad (40th poem).

"Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again!" 

Cosmopolitan Players give an intimate heartfelt rendition of Potter's Blue Remembered Hills under the direction and production of Lara Woodhouse and Carolyn Craven.  An excellent play for one to see the world from a child's perspective as well as an adult one.  Blue Remembered Hills is at the Carriageworks until 14th February 2015.

Leeds Youth Opera's Sweeney Todd

 Image Credit:  Carriageworks
(Accessed from

The audience is invited to their seats and get a glimpse of life during Victorian London,  It is acknowledged that life is tough; evident with the activity that is happening on stage before the show begins.  Sweeney Todd, a Sondheim musical and based on Hugh Wheeler's book, premiered in Broadway and under the original direction of Harold Prince.  This amateur production is produced by Leeds Youth Opera and directed by Anita Adams

Sweeney Todd,  played by Jonny Lindsay, is certainly a complex character and a victim of miscarriage of justice returned to London after serving his time in Australia.  Only to learn that his wife is supposedly dead and his daughter, Johanna, is the ward of the corrupted Judge Turpin.  Mrs Lovett, played by Gemma Beck, schemes with Todd by convincing him to open a Barber Shop above her pie shop.

What is admirable about this production is that it is flowed smoothly from beginning to end; when the cast ensemble congregating on stage before the opening of the first act to after the closure of the second act.  There is no sudden stoppage between the acts with some continuation of the show happening at the interval and also when the show finishes.

The props and staging are used effectively and no space is left unattended.  Some members of the cast where masks which symbolises the musical's darkness and links well with Sondheim's intricate and dramatic musical score and lyrics under the direction of  Tom Newall.  Despite some technical issues in the first act the performance was a success and explores the social issues that were relevant in the Victorian times such as poverty, social hierarchy and the misuse of power and so on...only for Sweeney Todd to seek revenge to justify what he himself had to suffer.

A heartfelt performance from the cast and support from its creative team.  Sweeney Todd is playing at Leeds Carriageworks until Saturday 14th February 2015.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Edward Scissorhands in Salford and Liverpool by Annie

     Edward Scissorhands
                                                   New Adventures

                The Lowry, 27th November 2014, matinee performance
        Liverpool Empire, 31st January 2015, matinee performance

Photo Credit:  New Adventures

(Accessed from

This dance-drama is loosely based on director Tim Burton's 1990 film of the same name, using the film plot as a springboard for Matthew Bourne's own, slightly differing version of the story, while still retaining the heartrending spirit and romance of the original.

The music, by Terry Davies, is based around the original score by Danny Elfman and also conjures the charismatic essence of its predecessor.The sets and costumes, by Bourne's usual designer Lez Brotherston, are a clever mix between Gothic mystery,magic and a cartooned pastiche of 1950's suburban America.

The story is another reworking of the classic tale of the Beauty and the Beast; a struggle for acceptance into society. Edward Scissorhands is vaguely reminiscent of Frankenstein's monster, but infinitely more innocent and tender, evoking empathy rather than fear from the audience, if not all of the other inhabitants of the stage.

Adopted by the motherly Peg Boggs, Edward attempts to mimic humanity, his automaton-like, stuttering movements gradually growing in gracefulness; he tries to copy those he encounters and is desperate for acceptance - something that many in the audience can relate to, and therein lies the secret of Bourne's success: the ability to touch a chord and rouse empathy and understanding in his audiences.

1950's American suburbia is initially represented as a cosy, somewhat sugarcoated normality but this is revealed to be a superficial pretence, concealing a world full of gossip, jealousy, hypocrisy, oneupmanship and resentment, simmering under a seemingly harmless facade.


This is a tale of tolerance and intolerance; an exploration of misconceptions where Edward's seemingly dark,Gothic and mysterious origins are less of a horror than the attitudes of those dwelling in bright,pastel-hued suburbia.

In both matinees, Dominic North excelled as Edward, a beautifully eloquent dance-actor, perfectly personifying the sweet natured, pure-hearted Edward, highly expressive in both face and movement, combining a sense of comedic timing with plaintive longing and a sense of trusting innocence, as he struggles to overcome his frustration at being trapped within his physical differences, forever denied true acceptance by society.

Etta Murfitt was a motherly Peg Boggs in both performances, full of compassion and warmth yet still an archetypal soap-opera housewife.

At the Lowry matinee, Saranne Curtin portrayed Joyce Monroe as a cold, sophisticated Vamp, selfish,heartless and elegant, pursuing Edward with frightening single mindedness - an accomplished characterisation of the intimidating older woman.

At the Liverpool Empire, the role of Joyce was played by Madelaine Brennan,creating a more comedic character, a clever parody of a desperate and frustrated middle-aged housewife attempting to be an urban cougar.Both approaches were equally effective!

Dominic Clark as Jim Upton was a threatening physical presence, a bit of a lout, whereas Tom Clark portrayed a youth desperate to be intimidating, less physically powerful, a teenager trying to prove himself.Very different interpretations which were again equally valid.

The role of Kim was danced capably by both Ashley Shaw and Katy Lowenhoff, Lowenhoff bringing a particular sensitivity to the role, particularly when partnering Dominic North.

The ensemble dances were full of character and in places, a certain cheeky comedy and observation so typical of Bourne's choreography.The Topiary ballet was a particularly surreal and magical moment.

This beautiful piece of dance drama has a yearning poignancy enhanced by the backdrop of superficiality combined with emotive music.It is a commentary on the inability of society to accept things and people that do not conform to the recognised norm,cleverly concealed within an enchanting family fairy-story and paralleling the themes in Bourne's Swan Lake, which also explores the concept of acceptance and self-acceptance set against the background of perceived society norms.

This is an excellent production for all the family to enjoy, catch it while you can during 2015 at Norwich Theatre Royal, Birmingham Hippodrome, Milton Keynes Theatre, Bradford Alhambra, Southampton Mayflower and Cardiff Wales Millennium Centre. 


Gods and Monsters at Southwark Playhouse by Sister Morticia

 Image Credit: Southwark Playhouse
(Accessed from

'Gods and Monsters' is adapted from the book 'Father of Frankenstein' by Christopher Bram and tells the story of James Whale, who directed the original Frankenstein films, at the end of his life after he has suffered a series of strokes.

He is a forgotten director, living in Hollywood with his housekeeper, Marianne, who looks after him and worries about him, as well as chiding him and despairing of his proclivities.  Whale was a rare man for the 1950s, living an openly homosexual lifestyle.

One day a young college film student comes to talk Whale.  Perfectly played by Joey Phillips, all bright eyed, breathless excitement, beside himself with coup of being able to interview his hero.  Whale tries to talk to him about his film career, but young Kaye wants only to hear about the Frankenstein films. Whale is a little annoyed by this, but takes the opportunity to enjoy the company of an admiring young man, and decides to entertain himself.

“For every question you ask me, you must remove one item of clothing,” he tells Kaye, who is initially shocked but quickly begins to understand the game and is happy to play along, weighing his questions until he is eventually stripped down to his underpants.

Talking about his career stirs up memories in Whale's stroke-damaged mind. With a flash of lightning, he is taken back to his own student days, back in Dudley where he watches his younger self (now played by Will Rastall) at art college, life drawing with a fellow student in an afternoon that ends up as a happy, sexual encounter between the boys.

Back in the present, this vivid memory causes Whale to collapse – frightening Kaye and bringing Marianne in to scold them both and bring the medication.

Whale is plagued by memories and hallucinations – there is a constant storm raging in his brain. Trips to the neurologist confirm that this is result of the strokes and there is no cure. This is how his life will be, reality and memory will blur into one without warning and he can no longer trust his senses.

Back at home, Whale's attention is drawn to the lawn boy; a muscular gardener, working near the windows, mowing the grass, cutting the hedges. Whale goes out to introduce himself and chat.  The gardener is Clayton Boone, an ex-marine and self-professed 'hick from Missouri'. Whale invites him in for iced tea and lets Boone know that he was once quite famous in Hollywood, explaining that he was a film director. Clayton is fascinated by Whale's artwork, and eventually Whale asks if Clayton would pose for him.

At first Boone is wary of this, but Whale assures him that he wants to draw only his face, nothing more, and that he will pay him per hour, the same as he would for cutting lawns, and a time is arranged. Ian Gelder deftly conveys gentle innuendos that amuse Whale, but that Boone is oblivious to.  Marianne eyes all this with suspicion; fearing that it will set off another stroke, but Whale dismisses her concerns.

As the drawing sessions continue, Whale and Boone get to know one another. Boone is initially uncomfortable being scrutinised, studied and asked to remove his shirt as “it will not do – it ruins the frame of the face!” But they talk.  More memories surface for Whale – more faces from the past to haunt him.

Boone arrives early for a session, and is met by Marianne who makes her disapproval  of the situation very clear to him. Eventually she explains to a shocked Boone that Mr Whale is a homosexual, and that these drawing sessions may not be a good thing for either of them.

Boone is disbelieving – he has never met such a man. Later he asks Whale if he's ever been married. “Oh, not in the legal sense...” Leading Whale to explain that he'd had a male partner for thirty years. But still they talk, find understanding.  Sharing their own stories of being in the military.  Boone was an ex-Marine, and Whale had fought in World War One - “the Great War.  You Americans had a good war, but we had a Great War.”

Talk of the War brings back vivid memories; suddenly he is watching himself as a young officer, back in the trenches, showing a young soldier the lights over No Man's Land and listening to the German guns a few hundred yards away, back in the mud and the cold and the wet and the horror and loss...

Will Austin is a powerful, physical presence as Clayton Boone; awkward as a model but fascinated by Whale, and watching the relationship between them develop into trust and a strange friendship is captivating.  His character grows as he learns more about Whale and his life. Ian Gelder plays Whale with a slight twinkle in his eye and a strong spirit, but with the frustration of a man who knows that he is old, physically broken and at the mercy of his failing body. He is a master of the nuance, and perfectly captures the moments of magic and those other moments where Whale struggles to speak or find the right word due to the impairment of the stroke.  Lachele Carl is wonderful as Marianne; the Hispanic housekeeper who knows that her employer needs to be looked after and saved from himself.  She employs the dead pan humour and exasperated air of a woman who cannot entirely agree with Whale's lifestyle, but thinks the world of him and would protect him at all costs.

A very strong, atmospheric production which relies on strong character-driven writing, it has a strange and fascinating relationship at it's heart, which builds inexorably towards something dark and disturbing. and a very talented cast bringing those characters to back life. Definitely a show worth seeing!

Sister Morticia
10th February 2015


Friday, 6 February 2015

The Royal Ballet's Onegin by Annie

         Annie went to see The Royal Ballet's Onegin in February and she had kindly offered to review the ballet.

                                                   The Royal Ballet
                                          Choreography  :  John Cranko
                 Music: Kurt-Heinz Stolze after Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky

Marianela Nuñez as Tatiana and Thiago Soares as Onegin in Royal Ballet’s Onegin
Photo Credit: Tristam Kenton

This ballet is an adaptation of Pushkin's eponymous novel-in-verse, Eugene Onegin, a tragic tale of selfishness, self-destruction, betrayal and unrequited love, set against a backdrop of Tsarist Russia and its social conventions.

John Cranko originally choreographed this work for Stuttgart Ballet in 1969, using a score created by Kurt-Heinz Stolze using a selection of music taken from various of Tchaikovsky's works.

Eugene Onegin is a bored, arrogant dandy from St.Petersburg, who has recently inherited a country estate from a deceased Uncle.He befriends an idealistic young poet, Lensky, and is introduced to Lensky's fiancée Olga Larina, and her family. Olga is a flirtatious and fun loving young woman, contrasting sharply with her sister Tatiana who is a bookish, quiet girl full of dreams and romantic notions.

Tatiana is attracted to the sophisticated and urbane Onegin, and even dreams of him, in the first throes of awakening teenage passion, and she sends him a letter in an open declaration of her love.

Tatiana's birthday celebration arrives and the rather shallow Onegin shows his contempt and boredom with the local, provincial gentry. In a quiet moment, he tells Tatiana he can never love her, ripping up her letter in front of her eyes. Annoyed by her heartbroken attitude, he proceeds to flirt with her sister Olga, inciting the rage of his friend Lensky, who subsequently challenges him to a duel.

Tatiana and Olga attempt to dissuade Lensky from his course of action but he cannot shake off his romantic ideals and sense of betrayal. Onegin kills Lensky in the duel and is overcome with despair.

Years later, Onegin returns to St.Petersburg, disaffected with life, and at a society ball, encounters Prince Gremin and his wife, a beautiful, sophisticated and assured Princess.Onegin recognises in the elegant woman the girl he once rejected, Tatiana. Onegin is overwhelmed with passion and desire, writing of his love to Tatiana. On receiving the letter, Tatiana is conflicted between her love for Onegin and her duty to her elderly husband. Onegin visits her in her boudoir and tries to convince her to make a new life with him. Despite Tatiana's confession to Onegin that she still loves him, she chooses duty and marital vows, and ripping up Onegin's letter in front of him, she orders him to leave.

John Cranko's choreography is reminiscent  in many ways of that of Kenneth MacMillan, full of lyricism and emotion, with plenty of opportunities for the principals to characterise and really act the roles.The dancing is full of swathes of adagio movement, elegant and beautiful, it may be lacking the dramatic leaps and overemphasised hyper extension of other ballets, but the graceful elegance of movement is perfectly suited to the setting and story.

In Act III, the ensemble choreography was melodic and pleasing, contrasting strongly with the more earthy Peasant dances of Act I and the "Country Squire" provincial dancing in Act II. The ensemble choreography may not be full of dazzling moments yet the flowing expressive dances do create the atmosphere of pre-revolution Russia in its various social spheres.  

The character of Eugene Onegin has been shaped by the constraints of Society and his own shallow pursuits as a dandy, frequenting parties have developed his manner into a bored, cold, emotionless sophisticate lacking empathy, always yearning for the unattainable.

Nehemiah Kish danced the role of Onegin with precision and a pureness of line, combined with assurance and elegance. In Act III, Kish effectively portrays the disaffected man who becomes desperate in his love for the now unattainable Tatiana and his despair and passion is well portrayed.

As Tatiana, First Soloist Itziar Mendizabal gave a dreamy portrayal, a quiet portrayal of the intelligent, romantic and initially emotionally open Tatiana. Where Mendizabal really shone was in her transformation into the married Tatiana, older, polished,sophisticated, shaped by experience and society, bound by duty but tortured by her earlier love, yet strong and intelligent enough to ultimately reject Onegin. I felt Mendizabal danced with grace and precision of movement and developed the character well, partnering effectively with both Kish and Johannes Stephanek (Prince Gremin).

Olga was characterised perfectly by Beatriz Stix-Brunell, with a flirtatious lightness and gracefulness which was a joy to watch, light footed, with beautiful lines, a heartless flirt well acted! Nicol Edmonds danced Lensky with competence, his yearning Act II pre-dual Solo was the highlight of his performance, full of betrayed romanticism and wistfulness.

The development of Tatiana's character is fascinating, through romantic and impulsive teenager with wild and uncontrolled feelings, full of dreamy abandonment, transformed into a woman with a cold, unromantic and sophisticated exterior, her love and emotions hidden within. Onegin takes the opposite journey, from cold sophisticate to desperate lover, but within, his selfishness still thrives: externally they may seem different but deep down they are still the same people.

At the beginning of the ballet, Onegin holds the balance of power but by the end it is the strong and intelligent Tatiana who holds the strength to command, the pivotal moment in the ballet being the death of Lensky.

This is an excellent staging by the Royal Ballet, fine costuming and set design and a production made interesting by the almost restrained sense of tragedy.Some memorable  moments include the Mirror/dream sequence of Act I, Lensky's melancholic solo in Act II , the aristocratic ensemble dancing in Act III and the final Pas de Deux between Onegin and Tatiana.

This is a ballet for those who enjoy choreography in the MacMillan style, and those who enjoy dance-drama with plenty of scope for dancers who have strong storytelling capabilities: actor-dancers who take the roles and bring them to life.

Onegin is being performed on a number of dates by the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House, London during February 2015.  

by Annie ( )