Sunday, 23 February 2014

One of the best operas I've ever seen!

 Verdi's Macbeth (Opera North, Leeds Grand Theatre, February 2014)

My thoughts are in the title above about an opera about a story which leads to a 'chain of bloody, unstoppable events' (Opera North Website, 2013 (accessed 23/02/2014).  I recently saw Tim Albery's 2008 opera production of Verdi's Macbeth which is a revival for the current Opera North's season.  

I was transfixed to the performance from beginning to end.  It immensely helps that I'm fond of Macbeth and have a great understanding of the story and its contextual themes.  It was nice for the opera to demonstrate some of the story's dramatic elements through the exceptional musical direction of Tobias Ringborg and the powerful portrayal of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth by Bela Perencz and Kelly Cae Hogan respectively.  They have successfully put themselves through a rollercoaster of emotions from their powerful ambitions (Vieni! t'affretta! and Mi si affaccia un pugnal?) to their consequential downfalls throughout the performance (Una macchia รจ qui tuttora! and La patria tradita (sung by the chorus). I adored the Witches (performed by the Opera North's chorus) prophesied with their apparitions what is to come at the beginning of the Acts which Macbeth would not have imagined even if he had intuited successfully.

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) it seems was an admirer of Shakespeare's plays although the opera was composed on Carlo Rusconi's translation.  However Verdi did refer to Shakespeare works which subsequently led him to compose Othello in 1887.  He composed Macbeth in 1847 with Francesco Maria Piave writing the lyrics (with additions by Andrea Maffei).  The opera was revised in 1865 through a French translation - At the it wasn't as successful as the original but today it's the preferred version and performed in Italian.  The notable differences is combining Macbeth's death (Cielo!) with the triumphant ending when Malcolm (Robyn Lee Evans) is the new king (Salve, o re! sung by the chorus).

I love the simple but effective staging by Johan Engels (Set) and Bruno Poet (Lighting).   I feel with the simple modern sets is that the opera can transit between the acts and focus on the drama with a wide range of emotions from the the artists and the music - all choreographed in unison by Maxine Braham.

Seeing Verdi's Macbeth was a mind blowing experience with a lot of drama and emotions packed...not to mention the blood! I left the theatre knowing I had a very good night at the opera. I gained a deeper understanding about Verdi and Shakespeare and trying to imagine how they would like the story of Macbeth told through text and voices.  There is more information about Opera North's Verdi Macbeth via this link and a description of the actual opera via Wikipedia.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Next Interviewee....Mariano Ignacio

I now have the pleasure to interview Mariano Ignacio, a fellow theatre and Phantom fan.  He discussed how The Phantom of the Opera has changed his life and he hasn't looked since!

Please tell me how you got into musical theatre/theatre in general?

It began when my mother took me to see a musical comedy Sugar and El loco de Asis, a play about Francis Assisi, in Argentina.
What have been the highlights of your musical theatre journey?

Seeing The Phantom of the Opera in San Francisco, USA, back in the 1990s.  I had no idea about the musical beforehand but it was definitely a life changing experience!

What shows do you recommend that are currently playing in the West End or Regionally?

I would recommend Wicked, Les Miserables and National Theatre's War Horse, which are currently playing in the London's West End.

Are there any shows that you haven’t seen that you would like to?

I would like to see The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night Time, Mojo and Henry V, which we have booked to see during our time in London.  I look forward to seeing Miss Saigon on a future London trip.
What have been your theatrical highlights in 2013?

It was seeing The Audience starring Helen Mirren last year in London and seeing Casi Normales (Next to Normal).
What show are you planning to see next?  
We're planning to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and Henry V during our time in London and in Buenos Aires it is likely to be Casi Normales.  There is a possibility that Mary Poppins will open in Buenos Aires.

May I take an opportunity to thank Mariano for taking part in this interview.  We wish him a great stay in London.  Please keep tuned for more interviews.

*Photos to follow soon*

Monday, 17 February 2014

Next Interviewee.....Lien Van Beversluys

I now have the pleasure interviewing Lien Van Beversluys, a musical fan from Belgium. 

Lien Van Beversluys
Photo Credit: Lien Van Beversluys

Please tell me how you got into musical theatre/theatre in general? 

My very first musical was Cinderella in Belgium and I guess I was 9 years old. So didn't know much about musicals yet. I did a few musicals with my mother, but when I got older I stopped going to musicals with her because she actually didn't love it.  She wanted to go for me because of the people who acted in these musicals of Studio 100.  After a long break, the first musical I saw again was Evita (in Belgium) and thanks to a cast member I got free tickets. But that didn't started my journey to musicals - I know a lot of people in theatre from Belgium but also from the Netherlands and this is mostly why I go to musicals to see these people again.  I'm always curious about their acting and singing and how they participate in a new role.

What have been the highlights of your musical theatre journey? 

Surely, We Will Rock You! I saw it eight or nine times in Belgium and already four time in London and I still love it! The music is so awesome! That's surely my number one! The second one should be Wicked, same story as We Will Rock You - saw it a few times in The Netherlands and also two times in London.  I love the story, the music and the cast!
The third one should be Domino, this is a Dutch musical and it is songs of Clouseau, a Dutch group. It was really beautiful but also sad because at a scene a certain character is dying from cancer.   

Lien with Lauren Varnham 
(Was in We Will Rock You; currently in From Here to Eternity and will soon be in Pajama Game) 
Photo Credit: Lien Van Beversluys

What shows do you recommend that are currently playing in the West End or Regionally? 

I recommend We Will Rock You, Wicked, The Bodyguard and Matilda.  

Are there any shows that you haven’t seen that you would like to? 

Lien with Brenda Edwards (Killer Queen in We Will Rock You)
Photo Credit: Lien Van Beversluys

I would love to see Thriller, The Lion King, Dirty Dancing, From Here To Eternity and Pajama Game.  So many shows I want to see!

What have been your theatrical highlights in 2013? 

In Belgium I saw Annie, Shrek and Cats (International tour).  If I have to choose then I pick Shrek. It's really a funny musical!  In The Netherlands, I saw Sister Act and Flashdance. Between this two shows I cannot choose which is my favourite one - they were both so good! I love the music, the acting, it's just perfect!  In London I saw The Bodyguard, We Will Rock You, Matilda, Rock Of Ages and Wicked. If I choose between these ones I would go for The Bodyguard and Rock Of Ages. I really am gutted that this show Rock of Ages stopped! But The Bodyguard is really a swinging musical and I really love the story. 

What show are you planning to see next?

In Belgium, next month, De Kleine Blonde Dood (The little Blonde Dead). The Little Blonde Dead describes the life of the artistic Baldwin who fathered a child with his old elementary school teacher MiekeAlthough Baldwin doesn't have anything to do with his son, Micky, his love for him grows by the dayMainly by memories of his own youth between him and his father Rainier, he increasingly feels the need to be thereMicky falls on a day from the stairs and into a coma. The doctors given Boudewijn a choice that is heartbreaking. In April and May I'll see The Sleeping Beauty and 14-18 which is about the war in 1418.  In August, in London, I'll see
We Will Rock You, Wicked, The Lion King, Thriller, Bodyguard and Pajama Game.

I would like to say thanks to Lien for taking part and please keep tuned for more interviews!

Being Transported Back in Time to Trinidad and Tobago!

Photo Credit: Talawa Theatre Company (From Website)

"I remembered the calypso and sounds of this play which transported me to the Caribbean from my seat in theatre!"

I recently saw Errol John's Moon on a Rainbow Shawl at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.  To be honest I never really heard of his literary works until I saw the play advertised via the National Theatre.  My curiousity rose about seeing the play so I booked myself a ticket!

The first production of Moon on a Rainbow Shawl was produced in 1958 and played at the Royal Court Theatre in London.  There has been subsequent productions since then including this one.  Errol John wrote the play during the decade when literary players from the Caribbean wrote about their life before emigrating to Britain.  They discussed the social and political landscape of their homeland especially with the effect of some of the Caribbean islands' independence from Britain.  John broke traditions when he wrote the play in standard (at the time) English instead of Creole.  Though in the play there was considerable usage of Creole idioms and colloquial expressions.

The play is set in the Port of Spain, Trinidad, and is about Ephraim (Ozlezie Mono) who yearned to have a better life in Britain and to escape the poverty from Port of Spain's slums.  I feel there was a similar parallel with both Ephraim and the playwright.  There were other characters; Esther (Tahirah Sharif) who looked at the potential independent and prosperous nation as her future with Eduction; and Sophia Adams (Martina Laird) who held firmly onto the country's traditions and cultures by trying her best to hold the community and her family together, despite set backs and neighbours' changing attitudes towards the community.

I love how the play refers to the Trinidad's and Tobago's social, cultural and political landscape including independence (pending at the time of when the play was written), its revived economy with the off shore oil industry, the community cohesion and references to cricket, a national sport.  Also still fresh in one's mind the post war celebrations as the islands' troops fought with the allies abroad.

Talawa Theatre Company and National Theatre produced this current production.  A big thanks to the talented cast and its creative team for this amazing production including Michael Biffong (Director) and the designers; Soutra Gilmour (Stage), Johanna Town (Lighting) and Steve Brown (Sound).  I'll would like to see more Talawa Theatre Company productions in the future as they produce productions which enhance the British cultural life by celebrating the lives of those in the Black British Community.  Further information about the Talawa Theatre Company can be found on their website

It's always refreshing to see a play and appreciate the culture along with the social and political landscape which is different to where I live.  However the issues shared and the themes raised are just universal as to every country in the world.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts

I decided to have one spontaneous Friday not knowing what show I'll see!  On my arrival, I visited TKTS, to see what was available that evening and get tickets at a discounted price.  I had a budget which helped me narrow down the choices and I ended up having two shows in mind.  I opted for Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts at Trafalgar Studios.  I was happy with my choice.

I never heard of Henrik Ibsen until last year when I saw a Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre Production of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House starring Cush Jumbo as Nora (you can read my blog here).  Since seeing the play I became more curious to see more of Henrik Ibsen's works on stage.  There was a production of Ghosts at my local theatre in Leeds and sadly I was unable to see it.  Since then Ghosts has intrigued me so I was very pleased to see Richard Eyre's production.

The evening came for me to see GhostsGhosts first ran at Almeida Theatre in September 2013 and transferred to the West End three months later.  Trafalgar Studios was formerly the Whitehall Theatre.  Since Ambassador Theatre Group took over the theatre ownership it has been divided into two studios.  Studio 1, where I saw the play, is the larger space.  I love the intimate stage and you get a great view wherever you sit.

Henrik Ibsen wrote Ghosts in 1881, a year after A Doll's House.  It's about Helene Alving (Lesley Manville) who endured an abusive relationship with her husband.  Since the death of her husband Helene plans to move on from her former life to tell Oswald the truth about his father.  However Oswald, it seems, is living the 'ghost' of her husband's life.

 Looking forward to Ghosts at Trafalgar Studios, London

The play explores a variety of themes in the lives of Helene and Oswald and those around them.  Not only the 'ghosts' of having the past affecting Helene and Oswald but these seem to interlink to the other characters in the story.  The raised themes include love, feminism, independence, domestic violence, indirect attacks on societal conventions and traditions especially the church, incest, transmitted disease, alcoholism and assisted suicide.  Richard Eyre did a great job in raising these themes on stage which link to one store and which are relevant in society today.

Ghosts was delivered by a very talented cast which is lead by Lesley Manville (Helene Alving) and Jack Lowden (Oswald Alving) who I saw in The Chariots of Fire last year at the Gielgud Theatre.  As well as Richard Eyre, the creative team deserves a big thanks including the designers, Tim Hatley and Peter Mumford.  There was an interview in the theatre programme about why Hatley and Mumford designed the stage the way they did and how the designs (especially the lighting) fitted in the mood of the characters and story's setting.  Hatley and Mumford summarised how Ibsen used 'composition, colour and light' were used figuratively for his stories.

What a powerful and enjoyable production! A great evening in al!
I have more or less caught up with my theatre blogging so watch this space for more theatrical postings and interviews.  Signing off for now, Dawn x

Sunday, 9 February 2014

A Matter About The Enlightenment

Candide at Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre

I confess I haven't heard much about Bernstein's Candide except hearing the opening Overture at a classical concert.  I knew of the song, Glitter and Be Gay.  At the same time, an amateur company in Leeds was putting on the musical but I was unable to go and see because of prior engagements.  Anyway I heard the Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre is putting on Candide.  I always wanted to see one of their productions.  With a strong and reputable cast and creative team line up I didn't hesitate to book a ticket for Candide!

I did some further research about Candide,  It's classed more as an operetta than a musical.  It's based on the novel Voltaire which Hugh Wheeler adapted.  Lyricist, Richard Wilbur, wrote the lyrics with additional ones from Stephen Sondheim, John La Touche, Lilian Hellman, Dorothy Parker and also Bernstein.

I enjoyed Candide - the story of Candide has the hallmarks of The Enlightement and how key players thought, explored and experimented. Voltaire (whom Francois-Marie Arouet was known as) was a French Enlightenment writer and wrote a variety of literacy genres from novels to plays.  He was forthright with his beliefs and attacked on traditions and promoted freedom of thought, expression and reasoning based on individual experiments and explorations.  The views, at the time, weren't popular which led him being in trouble with the authorities in France.  He ended up fleeing to different countries and becoming an exile until further trouble - then only to flee again.

Candide (Fra Fee) is in similar vein to Voltaire who escapes to different countries in the eye of disaster and/or trouble.  Candide also follows his love Cunegonde (Scarlet Strallen) and also the spirit of Dr Pangloss (James Dreyfeus) infamous philosophy of optimism (sung in Life is Happiness Indeed and The Best of All Possible World).  Candide's journey is full of ups and downs and in the end learns, from personal experience, about life (sung in Make Our Garden Grow).

Me with Scarlett Strallen (Cunegonde) and Fra Fee (Candide)

I enjoy my Sunday afternoon outing at Menier Chocolate FactoryCandide was performed by a very talented and excellent cast which included Fra Fee, Scarlet Strallen, Christopher Jacobsen, Ben Lewis (who is the Phantom in the Australian Production of Love Never Dies), David Thaxton, James Dreyfeus and Company.

Me with Ben Lewis (Played varies roles in Candide)

I liked how the space was used as a stage.  Full credit to the creative team including Matthew White (Director), Adam Cooper (Choreographer), Paul Farnsworth (Set and Costume Designer), Paul Anderson (Lighting Designer), Gareth Owen (Sound Designer) and the musical arrangements managed by David Charles (who was musical director for Love Never Dies), Seann Alderking and Jason Carr.

Me with Christopher Biggins, Celebrity and TV Presenter

I had the honour meeting Fra Fee, Scarlet Strallen and Ben Lewis after the show. It was nice to have the opportunity to say thanks for their performance and time after the show.  It was also a bonus meeting Christopher Biggins who was the TV presenter for On Safari, one of my favourite Children's TV programme in the 1980s and he also saw Candide the same time!  I was very happy to have finally met him!