Thursday, 14 July 2016

Puccini's Madama Butterfly, English National Opera, London Coliseum

I recently enjoyed English National Opera's Madam Butterfly at the London Coliseum.  We were treated to a three act opera which is based on John Lutterlong's Madame Butterfly.   

English National Opera's Madam Butterfly

Lyrics written by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica and the opera was originally premièred in 1904 at Milan's infamous La Scala.  This production, courtesy of David Parry's translation, was sung in English and starred Rena Harms as Madam Butterfly and David Butt Philip as Pinkerton.

I adored the staging of the opera, particularly Michael Levine's sets, Peter Mumford's lighting and Han Feng's costumes particularly the ones Harms wore for Madam Butterfly.  I wasn't convinced about the puppetry but on the whole a great performance - sung heartedly and passionately by the singers portraying the characters.

What a beautiful production with the hope of Un bel di (One Beautiful Day) intertwined with the tragic story.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Barnbow Canaries, West Yorkshire Playhouse - 21st June 2016 (Reviewed on behalf of North West End)

This was originally reviewed for North West End and the link can be found here.

This eagerly awaited West Yorkshire Playhouse Production, Alice Nutter’s Barnbow Canaries, finally arrives at the Courtyard Theatre.
The story is about two sisters, Agnes (Colette O’Rourke) and Edith (Tilly Steele), who join the women at Barnbow munitions factory in Cross Gates, East Leeds. It is set during the height of the First World War when men were conscripted to serve at the front. This meant the women had to do jobs men would usually do including work in a munitions factory. Both Agnes and Edith are fully aware of the dangers being munitionettes but the high wages offered opportunities and hopes they probably wouldn’t have got otherwise. Only for them and fellow women to eventually receive the truth the work brings and tragically with catastrophic consequences.

At the beginning opportunities and aspirations are celebrated with patriotic pride and to them what the war means. This is celebrated with song We are the Barnbow Lasses and their lured beliefs in ‘Shells, shells and more shells’ and that ‘Plenty of ammunition saves lives’. In time the atmosphere and attitudes changes among the women. Particularly when ‘duty proud’ Edith (Steele) questions ‘only good could come out of the war’ following the disturbing discovery of her and her workers being poisoned from the TNT and going ‘yellow’ after the doctor (Joseph Tweedale) attempts to conceal the truth.
One must admire the incredible staging by Mark Bailey; the well drilled choreography and co-ordination of music and movement which gives a glimpse of the workers’ livelihoods in the factory and its grim working conditions.   What poignantly sticks out is the enactment of the 1916 explosion and its devastation on the stage. This is combined dramatically with dim lighting, smoke, effects and thunderous soundscapes courteous of Bailey, Katy Morrison and Dyfan Jones. 5thDecember 1916 is a date to be remembered for Leeds’ largest ever single loss of life.

Image credit: Anthony Robling
(Contributed imaged accessed from

Alice Nutter (My Generation) brings honestly and determinedly her authorial presence to this story about the spirited brave women who risked their lives and initially believed this will 
make a better world. Only to unfold for them those social attitudes towards women in a post war society remained the same as before. In contrast to the soldiers, the women were unrecognised for their efforts and were expected to continue on with their prescribed lives just as before the war. In a similar spirit to the suffragettes, they fought for such rights including compensation and benefits but only to be dismissed from the factories and were unfairly accused of taking ‘men’s jobs’.
Barnbow Canaries doesn’t primarily commemorate the centenary of the Great War. Instead it focuses on the working class women who played their part in being ‘behind the man behind the gun’ but only receiving half the pay of the men and also the story remembers the almost forgotten Barnbow factory explosion almost a century ago.
An excellent production, under the direction of Kate Wasserberg, with a fantastic cast and talented creative team who portrays with equilibrium poignancy, expectations, disappointments and hopes with performance and songs – featuring catchy Barnbow Girls and the philosophical Pack Up Your troubles in your old kit bag which is supported by a chorus of women from the communities of Leeds.
At the end of the Second Act the cast touchingly releases yellow balloons to remember the 35 women who were killed in the 1916 factory explosion. Reflections are shared how women’s empowerment and solidarity have slowly moved on in the 20th Century; including the right to vote, the choice of profession, property ownership and optimism for the future. In conclusion draws ‘our history is her history’.

Red Ladder's Leeds Lads

Product image
Photo Credit: Malcolm John
(Accessed from

My friend and I had an opportunity to see Red Ladder's Leeds Lads starring Jamie Jones-Buchanan last month.  The local story is about a local family who relooks at the past and particularly the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.  Tara's (Leah Francis) grandfather fought with Leeds Pals at the Battle of the Somme and her mother Susan (Emma Tugman) reminisces.  The story dips in and out of the First World War and links with modern warfare where Tara's brother, Liam (JJB) is serving as a soldier.  

Themes such as equality, camaraderie, gender, patriotism, politics and sociology intertwining with societal values which shaped in the past and now shaping the present and future.  Characters, past and present, relive the past and share how multicultural Leeds have become today.  Leeds Lads certainly explores and reflects how fears, hope and love amidst conflict past and present can affect family and friends.

Ali Allen's staging and Tim Shelley's lighting compliments one another.  Space is utilised with smooth transitions between each scene and each plot is co-ordinates.  There is no feeling of the stage being 'cluttered' particularly with simultaneous actions.

Live music by Boff Whalley, Beccy Owen and Sam Butterfield accompanies the production with song and mood.  The singing determines how one can appreciate the past and present events which were important and even more important now.  An excellent production which offers one a lot more about the Battle of the Somme.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Personal Thoughts on Scottish Ballet's Swan Lake - Saturday 4th June 2016, Liverpool Empire

Scottish Ballet's Swan Lake
(Imaged accessed from

This is my first even Scottish Ballet production I've seen on stage.  What appealed to me is to see David Dawson's ambition adaptation.  An unassuming production which hasn't been done before!

His aim was met; the production performed on a stage that has been stripped bare and the dancers worked with a minimum of props and in some scenes, none!

The chosen story is about Siegfried (danced by Andrew Peasgood) and his lonely existence.  Only to have his solitude interrupted by Odette the Swan Queen (danced by Constance Devernay) whose human like and swan lake like presence graces and catches his captivation.  Mutual feelings develop and a a pact of trust and loyalty is agreed in form of a keepsake jewel.

Act Two is a similar vein to how the story is interpreted from many productions.  Siegfried foolishly falls for Odile.  The new conclusion is for him to face very sad and tragic consequences in which the encounter between them finishes and vanishes forever.

It was a truly beautiful production with the stark colour contrasts with the staging and dancers. The dancers wore simple modern bright costume...the colours worn had this silhouette feel as if they are the focal point at different stages of the story.

One suggestion is to reconsider the fabric for some of the male character costumes.  Odette and the swans' costumes were beautiful; original, white and crisp feel to them and works well in the dancing and choreography.

The cast for the matinee interpreted beautifully the tragic story; which moved many in the audience as evident in their applauses at end of each act and finale.  Tchaikovsky's beautiful and dramatic musical score was not compromised and fitted nicely in this contemporary adaptation.

An unmissable production with retelling Swan Lake at is best!