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Sonata Movements at the Blue Elephant Theatre

Published by: Carolin Kopplin on 21st Apr 2012 | View all blogs by Carolin Kopplin
ConcertTheatre, founded by An-Ting Chang, combine orchestra and performance.  In their production Sonata Movements music is not just atmospheric underscore, it becomes another language expressed by the pianist (An-Ting Chang) - a voice and character in its own right, spoken alongside the actos on the same stage. The four short plays which make up the four movements of this sonata differ greatly in style, form and era, but their recurring themes and imagery accumulate to tell a resounding story of love, pain, loneliness and companionship in human lives from beginning to end.  

1. ABORTIVE by Caryl Churchill and Franz Schubert Sonata D. 960 Mv.I


How happy we are sometimes. 

Originally written for radio, this early Churchill play depicts the lifeless relationship of a married couple. Raped by Billy - an acquaintance who was really a stranger, Roz (Tiffany Wood) decided to have an abortion. This experience has changed her life and her relationship to Colin (Mark Denham). The piano forms an impentetrable barrier between the two actors as they sit side by side in bed. Roz and Colin yearn for a sense of oneness but, like the Schubert sonata, they are thrown helplessly into anguished confusion by the inescapable pain of the world and their own instinctive responses to it. The music perfectly reflects and emphasizes the pain and loneliness of the two characters. Sometimes the piano drowns out the voices of the actors but this does not harm the performance as the music speaks its own language. 

2. OTHER PEOPLE'S GARDENS  by Kenneth Emson and Frédéric Chopin Nocture Op.9 Nr. 2, Ballade Op. 38, Concerto Op. 22 Mv. III

It's important that we have our own space.
Little areas fenced of f from everyone else. 

Sylvia (Mary Sheen), an elderly lady, lives all by herself. Her home is her castle and becomes more and more like a prison with each repetition of Chopin's nocturne. One day, a boy (Darren Douglas -Letts) walks into her garden to retrieve a ball and detects Sylvia watching him from her window. Although Sylvia complains about him  and his muddy footprints on her beautiful lawn, a bond seems to be growing between them. William discovers a form of communication that is fleeting but precious, a memory to be cherished by both of them once William moves away: "Whenever I think of the garden I think of the old lady." The story is told in a very touching way without being sentimental. Mary Sheen plays her character as a cheerful person despite her loneliness. Darren Douglas-Letts is charming and sweet as the young boy who overcomes all barriers to find a form of comunication with Sylvia. 

3. PORTRAIT OF A LADY by T.S. Eliot - Sergei Prokofiev Sonata Op. 28 Prelude in E minor

You do not know what life is in you.

The energetic, racing heartbeat of the Prokofiev sonata reflects the wild and passionate feelings that the protagonist of Eliot's poem (James Northcote) is trying to suppress in his encounter with a society lady who vows to sit patiently drinking tea until he is ready to understand and provide her with the friendship she is asking for.  The return of Chopin's music  links this play to the two others with a reminder that the relationship of two people cannot be reduced to simple absolutes and how rarely we understand each other. T.S. Eliot's beautiful language is a joy and James Northcote conveys the enthusiasm and passion of his character. 

4. SWAN SONG by Anton Chekhov  Luwig van Beethoven Sonatas (Last Movements) Op. 81a, Op. 53, Op. 57, Op. 31 Nr. 3


Where there is talent, old age ceases to exist! 

The elderly actor Svetlovidov (Jonathan Newth) wakes up in an empty theatre, hung over and locked in. Exclaiming: "What a farce. What a complete farce," he reminisces about his life and decides that nobody needs him and nobody loves him any more. Soon joined by the prompter Nikitushka (Joyce Greenaway), who sleeps in the theatre to save money,   Svetlovidov  alternates between extreme self pity and proclaiming himself a great artist. His self confidence grows to such an extent that he decides only his voice should be heard - he orders the pianist to be quiet and covers the piano.  Like Beethoven, Chekhov's character  rages against the dying of his artistry. His posturing, his sudden changes of mood and his appearance are ridiculous, but so are we all. Jonathan Newth gives a beautiful perfomance as the charismatic actor and we all forgave him for silencing the pianist for a little while.

This is intriguing theatre. Please go see it!  

By Carolin Kopplin

Photographs by Dougie Firth.

Tuesday 17 April - Saturday 5 May
8:00 pm
Days of the week
Tuesday - Saturday
Ticket price
£10.00 (concessions)
£9.00 (southwark residents)
£9.00 (Previews Tuesday 17 and Wednesday 18 April )
Available online from Ticketweb
Post-show discussions: Wednesdays 25 April & 2 May
Blue Elephant Theatre
59a Bethwin Rd
(entrance in Thompson's Ave)
SE5 0XT 



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