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Sep 29th

Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities at the Richmond Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity...

Charles Dickens considered A Tale of Two Cities the best story he had ever written. It remains a timeless classic, as relevant today as it was at its publication as citizens protest around the world against globalisation and injustice. Co-produced by Touring Consortium and Royal & Derngate, Northampton, James Dacre's seminal 2014 production is presently touring the country. Adapted by Mike Poulton, with whom James Dacre collaborated on Wolf Hall, the production does not attempt to bring the entire novel to the stage but distills the essence of the epic story interweaving a family's personal drama with the violence and terror of the French Revolution.

Starting off with a gripping courtroom scene that sees French aristocrat Charles Darnay falsely accused of spying for the mutinous American colonies, it is only due to the intervention of the clever barrister Sydney Carton, who bears an uncanny resemblence to the accused, that saves Darnay from being sentenced as a traitor. Carton dilligently undermines the credibility of the witnesses - Jenny Herring, who works in a house of ill repute, and Mr Barsad who is anything but the English patriot as which he presents himself to the court. The testimony of the pub landlady of the Homesick Cabinboy brings some necessary comic relief to the tenseness of the trial.

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Sydney Carton (Joseph Timms) and Charles Darnay (Jacob Ifans) enjoying a drink after the trial, served by Waitress (Rebecca Birch)

James Dacre's production has the pace of a thriller. It keeps the audience in suspense throughout as the aftermath of the French Revolution unfolds and draws both Darnay and Carton into the bloody terror. 

The excellent cast of 10, some of which perform a variety of roles, is augmented by the Edmundian Players. As Darnay and Carton, Jacob Ifans and Joseph Timms are complete opposites in temperament though so similar in looks. Darnay is a selfless nobleman who is in a romantic relationship with Dr Manette's lovely daughter Lucie, a delicate Shanaya Rafaat. Joseph Timms gives an outstanding performance as Carton, an embittered, self-destructive drunk who, although desiring Lucie Manette, knows that he will never be worthy of her. Michael Garner impresses as the sympathetic banker Mr Lorry, a loyal friend to the Manettes and Darnay. Noa Bodner is relentless in her longing for revenge as Madame Defarge as she cries: "Vengeance before justice!" 

Although James Dacre's production is set in the late 18th century, the play still speaks to us today. When the odious Marquis de Evrément states that "Repression is the only lasting philosophy” contemporary dictators come to mind. The witch hunt and paranoia after the revolution recalls the excesses of Stalinism and the Cultural Revolution in China.

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Carton (Joseph Timms) and Barsad (Sean Murray) execute a bold plan

Mike Britton's shifting stage design creates picturesque views of the English countryside contrasting with the imposing walls for the courtroom and prison scenes in Paris. Ruth Hall's costumes and Paul Keogan's lighting paint beautiful images and Oscar winning composer Rachel Portman's stirring score boosts the tension of the piece.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 1st October 2016 at Richmond Theatre, then touring

Running time: 2 hours 35 minutes including one interval

Tickets: http://uktheatrenet.ambassadortickets.com/whatson.aspx

Tour dates: http://touringconsortium.co.uk/show/twocities/

All photographs by Robert Day. 

Sep 27th

VIBRANT 2016 – A FESTIVAL OF FINBOROUGH PLAYWRIGHTS Sunday, 30 October – Thursday, 17 November 2016

By Carolin Kopplin

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THE EIGHTH YEAR: VIBRANT 2016 – A FESTIVAL OF FINBOROUGH PLAYWRIGHTS

Curated by Finborough Theatre Artistic Director Neil McPherson.

with plays by Gerry Moynihan, Colleen Murphy, Jim Nolan, Sarah Page, Micah Smith, and James Anthony Tyler

and The Earl’s Court Film Festival 2016

and After Orlando International Theatre Action

Now in its eighth consecutive year, the multi-award-winning Finborough Theatre presents Vibrant 2016 – A Festival of Finborough Playwrights, its annual celebration of new writing, running between 30 October – 17 November 2016. This year's festival also includes the Earl's Court Film Festival 2016, and the European premiere of the After Orlando International Theatre Action, 70 short plays inspired by the Orlando nightclub shooting earlier this year. As always, this year's festival features an intriguing selection of staged readings of new works by UK and international playwrights, both established and new, discovered, developed or championed by the Finborough Theatre.

The Earl’s Court Film Festival 2016, one of the most innovative short film events in London, the Earl’s Court Film Festival returns for the second year featuring six locally shot and co-produced Earl’s Court Film Festival funded short films, as well as showings of an additional 12 external film submissions. The estimated running time of each screening will be 1 hour 30 minutes including a post-film Questions and Answers session led by Festival Producers Sean Duffy and Caroline Tod-Richardson. 

After Orlando International Theatre Action is an international playwright driven theatre action including over seventy playwrights from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and Africa. Plays have been specifically written and curated in response to this tragic event and will be performed across the US and in the UK throughout the autumn including readings in New York City (Rattlestick Theatre, LGBT Center, Abingdon Theatre, and HERE); Los Angeles (Theatre @ Boston Court, The Road Theatre, East West Players and EST-LA); Seattle (Forward Flux Productions and Cornish College); Portland, Oregon (Artists Repertory Theatre and Boom Arts): Washington, DC (Round House Theatre and Olney Theatre Center); Philadelphia (Philadelphia Theatre Company); Boston (Brandeis University) and many more theatres and universities across the United States and internationally.

Playwrights include both noted and emerging voices in the theatre including Israel Horovitz, Neil Labute, Anders Lustgarten, Jordan Tannahill, Caridad Svich, Lindsey Ferrentino, Stephen Sewell, and many, many, more. 

Directed by Clare Bloomer, Liz Carruthers, Robert Cavanah, Helen Donnelly, Melissa Dunne, Tommo Fowler, Sara Joyce, Jonny Kelly, Scott Le Crass, Anna Marsland, Lydia Parkerand Lotte Wakeham

Further information: www.finboroughtheatre.com

PLEASE NOTE – Tickets for the Earl’s Court Film Festival are only available on the Earl’s Court Film Festival website at www.filmearlscourt.com or by calling 07789 435448. 

Sep 25th

Finborough Winter Season 2016/17 Announced

By Carolin Kopplin

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Winter Season at the Finborough concentrates on rediscoveries with works from the 1930s, 1940s, 1970s and 1980s including the rediscovery of playwright James Bridie, one of the West End’s most popular dramatists of the 1930s and 1940s. New writing is represented by the eighth consecutive year of Vibrant 2016 – A Festival of Finborough Playwrights featuring a selection of staged readings by UK and international playwrights, developed, nurtured or championed by the Finborough Theatre. This year’s festival also includes new filmmaking from the Earl’s Court Film Festival, and the European premiere of the After Orlando International Theatre Action, a collection of 70 short plays in response to the massacre at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in June 2016.

The season opens with Magnificence, Howard Brenton’s seminal 1973 political drama, playing 25 October–19 November 2016. It runs alongside the eighth consecutive year of Vibrant 2016 – A Festival of Finborough Playwrights, on Sunday and Monday evenings and Thursday matinees from 30 October–17 November 2016.

Rodney Ackland’s After October receives its first Central London production in 80 years, playing from 22 November–22 December 2016, running alongside the first English production for nearly 70 years of Scottish dramatist James Bridie’s Dr Angelus, playing Sunday and Monday evenings and Tuesday matinees from 27 November–20 December 2016.

The season culminates with Tony Harrison’s The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus in its first London production for nearly 30 years playing 3–28 January 2017, together with the first UK production in over 25 years of Veterans Day by multi-award-winning American playwright Donald Freed, on Sunday and Monday evenings and Tuesday matinees from 8–24 January 2017. The Finborough Theatre will also be relaunching its Friends Scheme this Winter with a new range of categories and benefits.

Elsewhere, following its critically acclaimed sell-out run at the Finborough Theatre earlier this year where it was nominated for seven OffWestEnd Awards including Best New Play, Best Male Performance, and Best Director, Neil McPherson's new play It Is Easy To Be Dead transfers to the Trafalgar Studios playing 9 November–3 December 2016.

For full information, please visit www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk

Sep 21st

Haydn's London Ladies at St Paul's Church Knightsbridge

By Carolin Kopplin

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My heart is fixed in thee.

The Austrian composer Joseph Haydn made two hugely successful visits to London in 1791-2 and 1794-5 where he was welcomed as an international celebrity by the musical society and the Royal Family. During his visits to London, Haydn developed strong friendships with several of his female admirers, some of which were artists themselves - pianist Therese Jansen, soprano Harriet Abrams, poetess Anne Hunter, Rebecca Schroeder, and Lady Emma Hamilton. Some of the relationships are preserved through notes and letters, others only through Haydn's music and other writers references.

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Clare McCaldin

St Paul's Church, Knightsbridge, is a magnificent setting for a concert and the acoustics are rather good. Clare McCaldin begins the evening by illustrating Haydn's voyage from Vienna to London with "The Sailor's Song", a rousing tune about a swashbuckling seaman. When Haydn went to London he was trapped in a childless, loveless marriage and hampered in his creativity by his connection to the wealthy Esterhazy family. He came to London for big ideas and big money - subscription concerts were money-making machines. Many composers from the Continent came to London because English gentlemen did not perform and there was a huge demand for concerts. Haydn returned to Vienna as a wealthy man.

Although not a matinee idol, Haydn had considerable charm and enjoyed the company of women. He admired pianist Therese Jansen and dedicated a sonata to her. When he met Harriet Abrams at a benefit concert, they formed a friendship and collaborated on various songs, which appealed to Haydn's love for folk music - "Crazy Jane" and "The Ballad of William and Mary". He also used some of Anne Hunter's poems for his compositions, such as "The Mermaid's Song". Yet Haydn lost his heart to Rebecca Schroeter, who caused a rift in her family by marrying a German musician.

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Paul Turner

The charming Clare McCaldin provides an intriguing picture of London society in the late 18th century and describes the social position of women at this time. As Ms McCaldin talks about Haydn's relationships with his London ladies, it becomes clear how dependent women still were on their families and their husbands. Financial independence was rare. Gifted performers had to quit the stage or concert halls once they got married because they were not supposed to upstage their husbands. But Joseph Haydn was also trapped, married to the sister of the woman that he actually loved, and unable to leave his loveless marriage for Rebecca Schroeter because of his strict Catholicism.

Performed by Clare McCaldin (voice) and Paul Turner (piano), this delightful concert includes songs by Joseph Haydn with lyrics by Harriet Abrams, Haydn's beautiful cantata Arianna a Naxos and excerpts of various sonatas and other solo piano music.

By Carolin Kopplin

The concert took place on 20th September 2016 at St. Paul's Church in Knightsbridge.

Running time: 2 hours including one interval.

Further information: http://mccaldinarts.com/

Photos provided by McCaldin Arts

Sep 10th

The American Wife at the Park Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Karen Ruiz (Julia Eringer)

All we care about is saving people from a very serious and imminent terrorist attack. Are you going to help your country or not?

When I returned to the U. S. after 9/11 the country had changed. There was paranoia in the air. People were led to believe that terrorists could hide anywhere - in NYC as well as in a barn in North Dakota. Therefore, restrictive laws and human rights violations became justifiable and accepted to protect American lives. The American Wife attempts to discuss some of these issues.

Karen Ruiz lives an idyllic life with husband Eduardo, a former Spanish football star, who now works as a soccer coach, and their two children. They are ready to move to Phoenix, AZ where Eduardo has been offered a job, when Eduardo suddenly disappears. Karen soon finds out that Eduardo has been arrested on terror charges by the American authorities. Advised by AP journalist Mark Loomis that her husband has been transferred to Afghanistan as an enemy detainee, Karen tries everything to see her husband released. Yet is the gentle Eduardo really the man she thinks he is?

Sanee Raval, Julia Eringer & Sophie Angelson (l-r) in The American Wife, Park Theatre. Photo by Orlando James.jpg

Eduardo Ruiz (Vidal Sancho) restrained by Egyptian soldiers (Sanee Raval and Sophie Angelson) 

Co-written by New York Times bestseller author Ralph Pezzullo and playwright Stephen Fife, American Wife is a failed attempt to deal with a very complex subject. Instead of a thoughtful play, they have produced a script for a cheap B movie with clichéd characters and a good deal of unhealthy nationalism and xenophobia that trivialises the problem of terrorism. The storyline is so preposterous that it might work as satire but hardly as a serious drama. 

Eduardo Ruiz (Vidal Sancho) an alleged "sleeper", supposedly committed terrorist acts whilst his Spanish team played away-games and he was laid up with a bad back - the matches "coincided" with terror attacks. No wonder his wife doubts the truth of this accusation. Karen (Julia Eringer) is understandably shocked about the way her husband is treated, especially because she considers him innocent and a patriotic American who has even painted the U. S. flag on his garage door. When she travels to Afghanistan, with the help of AP reporter Mark Loomis (George Taylor) who has some incredibly good connections, she is robbed, mugged, almost raped and ends up in prison. Thankfully, she lets the authorities know her nationality: "Please don't hurt me, I'm an American!" or worse things could happen as Afghanistan is obviously inhabited and ruled by thugs and thieves. The U. S. authorities are hostile too - she is almost shot in one instance - but these actions are justified because she is associated with an enemy detainee. After Eduardo is shipped off to Egypt, where he supposedly committed a terrorist attack, Karen is informed by the U. S. Ambassador (Mitchell Mullen) that "justice in Egypt is very different" before he picks up the phone to arrange an appointment with Dr Hassan (Emilio Doorgasingh), the man who has her husband tortured. The charismatic Dr Hassan immediately makes a pass at Karen and suggests a deal. However, in the end he does not use his powerful position to get what he wants. Instead he advises her: "Go home, pretty woman, and forget this piece of s***." It is surprising that the audience did not start giggling before the interval.

The actors have a difficult time working with a badly written, implausible script and some of the time I got the impression that they did not want to be on stage any more, which is understandable because their talent was wasted. The production itself is very cinematic and seems more like a TV show than a theatre play.

A disappointing production.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 1st October 2016 at the Park Theatre

Venue: Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, N4 3JP 

Booking: www.parktheatre.co.uk / 020 7870 6876  

Running time: 2 hours including one interval.

Photographs by Orlando James.

Sep 7th

The Great Divide at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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Rosa (Hannah Genesius) and Jacob (Josh Collins)

Life was like being in a room with a locked door.

On the afternoon of Saturday, 25 March, a fire breaks out in a sweatshop and because of insufficient safety measures 146 people perish in the flames, 136 of them women. Although this terrible event happened in New York in 1911, it might as well be found in today's news - reporting on a factory in one of the countries were our clothes are now manufactured and workers often endure similar conditions to the sweatshop workers in New York 100 years ago.

Winner of the 2015 Canadian Jewish Playwriting Competition, and a finalist in the 2015 Henley Rose Playwriting Competition for Women, Alix Sobler's play tells the individual stories of some of the doomed workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, most of them young Jewish women from Eastern Europe and Russia, who came to America for a better life.

The traverse stage is bare except for a few big suitcases. Splintered, burnt wooden slabs decorate the maroon walls, resembling a creepy skyline of a big American city (stage design by Sebastian Noel). The performance is framed by Tim Shaw's music, resembling Jewish folk songs. After their opening song, the cast state that their characters are not real, they are representatives of those who died in the fire, whose lives have been summarised. They could be from any country - Russia, Ukraine, Poland but the main character is to be Rosa, a young Jewish woman from Russia.

Rosa (Hannah Genesius) is tired of living in a country where persecution and pogroms are regular occurences. She feels like she is trapped in a cage. Her brother Avram (Josh Collins), a Marxist, urges her to stay and help him change the country - the Russian revolution had not happened yet - but Rosa prefers to try her luck in America with her sister Sadie (Mitzli Rose Neville). When Sadie meets a nice young man on the boat and marries him, she leaves Rosa to fend for herself. Rosa manages to find work in a sewing factory and helps support Sadie's family. She also makes a new friend - the poet Manya (Emma King) from Poland, who helps Rosa tell her story and prods her to continue whenever she is tempted to stop.

Alix Sobler's play is softened with a bit of humour and romance. Most of the workers are young Jewish women who converse in Yiddish. In one scene, Italian newbie Sophie (Mitzli Rose Neville) compliments Rosa on her very good English, confusing Yiddish with English because everybody in the factory seems to speak it. Rosa also attracts a suitor, Jacob (Josh Collins), who works as a cutter in the factory, but Rosa is reluctant because he admires her beauty, not her intellect.

Rosa's work is hard, back-breaking. Foreman Max (Michael Kiersey), a "pawn of the capitalist pigs" is driving them mercilessly and the noise of the rattling sewing machines, created by the cast, reverbarates in the intimate theatre. In 1909, Rosa decides to join the general strike of New York's shirtwaist industry, together with 20,000 others. One of the union leaders is 23-year old Clara Lemlich (Mitzli Rose Neville) who suffers brutal beatings by paid thugs. The strike lasts for eleven weeks. Some of their demands are met but safety regulations are not on top of the list.

Skilfully and sensitively directed by Rory McGregor, the play has a very Brechtian approach, with the cast frequently commenting on their actions and those of their characters. In one very touching scene, Manya refuses to accept what is going to happen to her. Instead she tells us the future that she sees for herself, as it shoud have happened. Sadly, there is no alternative for Manya.

A very important play with an impressive cast that should not be missed.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 20th September 2016

Finborough Theatre 

Running time: 90 minutes without an interval.

Photograph by Graeme Braidwood. 

Sep 4th

The Gospel According to Philip by Arrows and Traps at the Jack Studio Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

God moves in mysterious ways.

The Offie-nominated theatre company Arrows & Traps return to the Brockley Jack Studio after their sell-out production "Anna Karenina" with their take on the New Testament - the world premiere of Richard Melchior and Heidi Svoboda's hilarious black comedy The Gospel According to Philip.

In this fusion of Monty Python, Blackadder and The Book of Mormon, Jesus is trying to organise his Lord of the Dance 30AD tour, but his disciples are more hindrance than help. Judas and Peter are constantly bickering, Matthew keeps asking the wrong questions, and Paul struggles with his sexuality. James doesn't seem to know what is going on at all. Only Philip seems to keep a clear head and he is the one who writes everything down in his diary.

Young Philip (Will Mytum), a fisherman like his father and grandfather, drops everything to become a "fisher of men" and to see the world. His mother (Adam Elliott) is not amused but Philip's decision is final: He has to follow the Saviour. Philip is also the Narrator of the story. Philip's best friend is Simon, now called Peter the Rock (Tom Telford), who considers himself the top apostle, yet his position is constantly challenged by the cheeky Judas (Adam Elliott), a cool cat whose insolence is matched by his cleverness. Judas watches with obvious pleasure as Jesus (divine: Pearce Sampson) struggles with Matthew's (Gareth Kearns) never-ending questions and the childish squabbles among his disciples. Paul (Alex Stevens) is permanently angry because his sexuality, which he keeps on denying, condemns him to hell.

Ross McGregor's production is fast-paced and the cast have great comic timing. As Jesus is on a Lord of the Dance tour, there are plenty of dance numbers with suitable lyrics (choreography by Pearce Sampson). Although this is a laugh out loud comedy, there are also quiet, contemplative moments.

Pearce Sampson's Jesus is the straight man in this black comedy. He is trying to follow what is written but his often infantile disciples keep trying his patience. Sampson's scene in the Garden of Gethsemane is darkly funny but at the same time very touching. Adam Elliott is a charismatic Judas, skilfully playing his part in the story. Will Mytum's Philip is truly enlightened. Whenever he addresses the audience, his face takes on an otherworldly look coupled with a benign smile and he adopts a holy lisp. Alex Stevens gives a hysterically funny performance as the tortured Paul who is in extreme self-denial. Elle Banstead Salim is very good as a self-confident Mary Madalene and an obnoxious Receptionist.

Some of the scenes are a bit dragged out, such as the preachy epsiode in the desert when Jesus encounters Satan, played by Olivia Hanrahan-Barnes, who is very good as Lazarus's wife. Satan is wearing a kiddie costume with footsies, which is, of course, the opposite of scary or tempting. Philip's final speech could also do with some cuts. Yet these are minor issues in a fun-filled evening. 

This production provides lots of laughs and is a great evening out.

By Carolin Kopplin

The short run at the Brockley Jack Theatre has ended.

Until 8th September 2016 at Theatre N16 in Balham.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including an interval.

 

Sep 3rd

Noël Coward's Home Chat at the Finborough Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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I am shirking off the chains that have shackled me for so long – I have suddenly come to realise that I am a woman – a living, passionate, pulsating woman – it never occurred to me before.

The Finborough Theatre is presenting yet another gem - a forgotten Noël Coward play that has not been performed in the UK in almost 90 years! When Home Chat premiered at the Duke of York Theatre in 1927, it was met with hostility. Obviously the audience was not ready for Coward's revolutionary play, which features a strong female character breaking societal norms - one year before women were finally granted the vote. Yet times have changed and one would expect this witty and intelligent play to be part of the regularly performed canon of Noël Coward's work, especially because it boasts a wonderful female lead - Janet Ebony.

Janet and her best friend Peter are on their way home from Paris when they become involved in a terrible train crash. They survive unharmed but outrage and scandal ensue when it is revealed that they were sharing a sleeping compartment at 3.30 am, when the accident occurred. Janet is not welcomed by a loving family, concerned about her welfare, but by a husband who, influenced by his agitating mother, is convinced that Janet and Peter are having an affair. Even her own mother does not believe in Janet's innocence, chiding her for not being more discreet. Incredulous at her family's accusations, Janet decides to take revenge by inventing an adulterous affair with Peter, who is fair game.

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Mrs Ebony (Polly Adams) and Mrs Chilham (Joanna David)

Janet Ebony (Zoë Waites) had resigned to a life in stagnation with her unexpectedly dull writer-husband Paul (Tim Chipping). Yet when she finds her nearest and dearest accusing her of having an adulterous affair although she pleads her innocence, she realises that it is time for a change. Janet, like one of Ibsen's heroines, decides to break free and live her own life. She dismisses her husband's unwarranted forgiveness. His hurt indignation is quite ironic as he claims to have a similar relationship with Mavis Wittersham (Clare Lawrence Moody) as Janet has with Peter. Maybe he is so ready to suspect Janet because Mavie is truly in love with him and - unlike Janet - adores every word he utters. Janet is a courageous, strong character and a gift to any actor, and Zoë Waites makes the most it. She has good chemistry with Richard Dempsey, who plays the somewhat underwritten Peter Chelsworth. The two matriarchs, Mrs Ebony (Polly Adams) and Mrs Chilham (Joanna David) deliver some of Coward's wittiest and most cutting lines as they fight for their respective children like lionesses.

Martin Parr's production does full justice to Coward's sharp wit and Robert Hazle's rendition of Catherine Jayes' jazzy songs during scene changes accentuate the melancholy undertone of the piece. Rebecca Bower's ingenious stage design, aided by Peter Malkin's sound actually manage to reproduce a train crash on the intimate Finborough stage.

A production that must not be missed!

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 24th September 2016

Finborough Theatre

Running time: 2 hours including an interval.

Photographs by Bob Workman.

Sep 2nd

Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola: Maria de Buenos Aires

By Carolin Kopplin

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Sleepy Sparrow of Buenos Aires, you will never reach me.

María de Buenos Aires with the music of Astor Piazzolla and the poetry of Uruguayan writer Horacio Ferrer is a celebration of the tango. First performed in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1968, this “tango operita” is a surreal, spiritual story filled with passion divided in two parts. Born in a deprived suburb, on a day “when God was drunk”, the dancer Maria lives and breathes the tango. She is desired by all men and eventually ends up as a streetwalker. One day she is killed in a crime of passion. In the second part, Maria is reborn as the “Shadow of Maria”, roaming the streets of Buenos Aires to atone for her sins, haunted by the voices of thieves and brothel keepers in the city that killed her. Yet in a way Maria is now free.

Presented by Operaview, a company known for merging opera with dance and visual arts, Natalie Katsou’s production features the tango quintet Deco Ensemble under the musical direction of Ricardo Gosalbo and a cast of six singers and dancers. The stage is a dance floor, with the orchestra located upstage and red dancing shoes suspended from the ceiling and a garden with a floor of red fabric and decorated with beautiful flowers on the upper level (set design by Jemima Robinson). The cast and the orchestra are dressed in black and red costumes except for the young Maria and the Shadow of Maria, who are dressed in pure white (design by Kate Royds).

Duende (Matthew Wade), a creature of the night, wearing a black fishnet dress, leggings complete with dragonfly-like wings and goggles begins narrating the story of Maria, thereby conjuring her. She first appears as an innocent child (Meliz Taylor) who suffers deprivation, using a cable as a skipping rope, before she turns into a young woman (Catarina Sereno) with a burning passion for tango as she walks the streets of Buenos Aires, becoming one with the city. The Payador (Ian Helm), a folk singer, comments on her experiences as she encounters two passionate dancers (Bianca Vrcan and Sacha El Masry), the Thief (Ian Helm) and many other characters. After her death, she reappears as the Shadow of Maria in a beautiful garden before descending back into the city where she is haunted by the voices of the seedy underbelly of Buenos Aires - a Chorus of Old Thieves, Brothel Madams, and 3 Magi Bricklayers.

The poetry of the Horacio Ferrer's libretto is strange and beautiful, complimenting Astor Piazzolla’s powerful music - a fusion of jazz and tango rhythms, milongas and contramilongas, structured around classical forms such as waltzes and marches. Instrumental pieces such as the remarkable “Fuga y misterio” alternate with magical arias – “Yo soy Maria”, which became an instant hit and is one of the highlights of this production -, the funny song of the psychoanalysts and the heartrending “Carta a los arboles y las chimeneas” (Letter to the Trees and Chimneys).  DecoEnsemble, composed of Lucia Veintimilla (violin), Elena Marigomez (double bass), Ricardo Gosalbo (piano), Bartosz Glowacki (accordion), and Rob Luft (electric guitar) was excellent. Ian Helm and Catarina Sereno sang the difficult arias flawlessly.

Yet I found the production very static and the action on the stage left me unmoved. If I had listened to a radio broadcast, it would have had the same effect. The characters hardly moved, except for the dancers and Duende who seemed to overcompensate for the lack of action in the production. Matthew Wade was acting his heart out and did too much whereas the other characters did not do enough. There was little applause until the quintet played the “Fugue”. The lyrics and text were in Spanish, with the exception for Duende’s lines, and English surtitles were projected onto the walls but the surtitles closest to me were obscured by the red shoes that were suspended from the ceiling. Whenever I turned to the alternative options I missed what was happening on the stage.

The production was rather scaled down. The voices haunting the Shadow of Maria were identical, no matter whether we were listening to the 3 Magi Bricklayers, the Chorus of Brothel Madams or the Chorus of Old Thieves. The puppetry consisted of a bar with three marionettes attached that was tilted up or down. It was not quite clear why they were there in the first place but I read later that they were controlled by Duende which was not actually made clear.

A production that becomes alive through its music and the beautiful singing voices but is lacking as a performance.

Until 3rd September 2016

Arcola Theatre

Running time: 90 minutes without an interval

Suitable for 12+ 

Aug 30th

The Threepenny Opera at the National Theatre

By Carolin Kopplin

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 This is an opera for a city that has gone beyond morality.

When Brecht and Weill staged The Threepenny Opera in 1928, Brecht intended their work to pull a punch. This was no dour didactic piece, lecturing people on capitalism, but a highly theatrical show that was meant to make people think, true, but also to entertain.

Rufus Norris has had some experience with both The Beggar's Opera and Brecht's adaptation, which was based on Elisabeth Hauptmann's translation of John Gay's piece. Realising that the book needed editing and updating, Norris asked Simon Stephens to provide a fresh and raw text that would speak to today's audience.

Stephens' version takes the action to 1920s London. An eight-piece band, directed by David Shrubsole, opens the performance with the Balladeer (George Ikediashi), who is wearing a gold helmet as a connection to more traditional opera, and provides a rendition of "Mack the Knife" whilst some of the ensemble help us visualise Macheath's misdeeds by performing shenanigans in a flimsy frame resembling a puppet theatre.

Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum (Nick Holder), a solid businessman who runs a profitable begging organisation, is not amused. His wife Celia (Haydn Gwynn) projectile-vomits across the stage after another binge drinking night and Filch (Sarah Amankwah) thought he could get away with working freelance, taking potential earnings away from Peachum's organisation. Peachum sets Filch straight and sends him off to Canning Town after having cast the new man in a suitable begging role. The beggars all play parts - shell-shocked war veteran, lunatic, abused child... But there is another shock in store for Peachum: His daughter Polly (Rosalie Craig) has run off with gangster boss Macheath (Rory Kinnear).

Meanwhile Polly is enjoying wedded bliss with her new husband as they are lowered onto the stage in a shiny, sparkling moon. When Macheath's gang hopes to gang-rape her as usual after one of Macheath fake weddings, Macheath refuses. And Polly looks very much unlike Macheath's usual ware - donning glasses and a plain dress, she resembles an accountant or librarian and but she has brains, which is just what Macheath needs because he wants to become a businessman like Peachum. When Polly sings "Pirate Jenny" she gets the respect of Macheath's gang, taking over whilst Macheath has to lay low for a while.

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Polly Peachum (Rosalie Craig) and Macheath (Rory Kinnear)

But Macheath visits the brothel instead of hiding away. A notorious womaniser, his brain is inoperative once his sex drive kicks in, which is why he included Police Chief "Tiger" Brown's daughter in his collection. John and Jackie served in Kandahar together and are firm friends and - in Stephens' version - far more than that. Tiger Brown needs Macheath to keep quiet about their past, which makes it even easier for him to turn a blind eye to his friend's wrongdoings.

Polly's parents are not pleased about her new husband and Peachum pressurises Tiger Brown to arrest Macheath. Celia offers the whores a vast sum of money to lure Macheath into a trap so the police can arrest him. When Macheath is caught and jailed, he is visited by both of his wives - Polly Peachum and Lucy Brown (Debbie Kurup) who is a sexy seductress and the opposite of the somewhat mousey Lucy. Their argument escalates into an impressive song duel, one of the highlights of the show. Macheath ditches Polly and Lucy helps him escape.

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Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum (Nick Holder) and Tiger Brown (Peter de Jersey)

Rufus Norris’ production should please Bertolt Brecht because it is highly theatrical. There is little room for naturalism. Simon Stephens' language is rougher and filthier but some of the characters look like pure Otto Dix, others resemble cartoons or comedians straight out of the silent movies. The police force is the spitting image of the Keystone Cops, which might be intentional as in one scene Peachum is holding a megaphone with "Sennett" printed on it, clearly referring to Mack Sennett. Entrails of red wool spill out whenever acts of violence are committed. The stage design by Vicki Mortimer consists of set pieces moved about the stage including various devices that look interesting but don't have any function whatsover. The production has a carnevalesque grotesqueness that distances the audience from the characters and judge them critically.

The cast is excellent throughout. Rory Kinnear is not a matinee idol as Macheath but Brecht did not intend him to be. Donning a thin moustache and dressed in a three-piece suit, he is sinister in a rather attractive way and has a beautiful singing voice. Nick Holder is outstanding as Peachum, so sure of himself and his status that he dares prance around in makeup, heels and a Louise Brooks wig. Haydn Gwynne is wonderfully unscrupulous as his alcoholic wife Celia. Rosalie Craig and Debbie Kurup convince as Mcheath's combative, sharp-tongued wives.

Simon Stephens' adaptation proves that this work is still relevant in a world that is ruled by the rich 1% who know that they can get away with anything. Yet the heart and soul of The Threepenny Opera remain Kurt Weill's timeless melodies - "Pirate Jenny", "Mack the Knife" and "Surabaya Johnny" - which is a guest tune from another show, strictly speaking.

By Carolin Kopplin

Until 1 October 2016 at the Olivier Theatre (National Theatre)

Tickets: https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/threepenny-opera 

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes including one interval

The Threepenny Opera will be broadcast live to over 650 cinemas nationwide on Thursday 22 September.

Photographs by Richard Hubert Smith.