Lest We Forget (Barbican Centre)

This four-part dance show in remembrance of the First World War is a bit of a mixed bag, with some excellent moments (notably in the first sequence, ‘No Man’s Land’, choreographed by Luke Scarlett, where the women wrap their arms round the men’s shoulders in mimicry of the straps of kit-bags, and where the yellow hands of the women workers flash around the ghosts of their men-folk following battle in the trenches; and in the last sequence, ‘Dust’, choreographed by Akram Khan, which uses snatches of the recording of Cpl Edward Dwyer from 1916 singing to the tune of Auld Lang Syne to accompany a powerful duet between soldier and nurse, poignant even more so when you realise Dwyer was only twenty years old when he died in combat shortly after making the recording), and some mis-steps – Russell Maliphant’s ‘Second Breath’ uses a distortion of Richard Burton’s reading of the Dylan Thomas poem ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ which simply jars and distracts from the formation of bodies within the routine; George Williamson’s ‘The Firebird’ is beautiful and engaging, but does not belong here, within this theatre of war.

Tamara Rojo, artistic director of the English National Ballet, dances a major role in ‘No Man’s Land’, and she has the style and authority of the great classical tradition to work with – making her character very touching and memorable.  Scarlett’s choreography is by turns gentle and aggressive, and his male duets work well to depict the scale of the conflict.  In ‘The Firebird’, the dancing is centred by the damaged bird and the men who conspire to remove her finery.  ‘Second Breath’ is an ensemble piece, well punctuated by recordings from the audio archives, snatches of which set the scene – “constant bombardment”, for example.  ‘Dust’, however, is a stunning and powerful piece of work which stands well on its own, and has the most to say in tribute to those who lost their lives in the Great War; it also states a truth that women in munitions were building material that would kill other women’s husbands, fathers, sons, and the disconnect between this role and the one genetically expected of women, to care and nurture other people.


Bond in Motion (London Film Museum)

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This well-presented exhibition of classic cars, planes and submarines from the movies which make up the James Bond franchise is now open for business in Covent Garden, and if you have any interest in the films or the vehicles, I recommend you pay a visit.

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Whether you are interested in the classic films of Connery, Moore, Lazenby, Dalton and Brosnan, or the recent reboot with Daniel Craig, you will find memorabilia from each era here, the vehicles and props themselves showcased with clips from the films showing them in action.  The classic Aston Martin is here, as is the crocodile submarine, the underwater sled, and the cello case which got Dalton’s Bond into Austria.

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For boys of all ages there is also a chance to play with the mini-cars of the Scalextric, as well as a snippet of models and other merchandise meant for Bond fans to take home.  You can also buy the catalogue which illustrates the vehicles included in the exhibition, which in itself is worth the £12 price tag.

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The Strange World of Gurney Slade, 1960 – ★★★★★

One of the archive television events of 2011 was the DVD release of ATV’s 1960 six-part series, ‘The Strange World of Gurney Slade’.

Gurney, devised and performed by pop singer and former child actor Anthony Newley (he was the Artful Dodger in David Lean’s 1948 film of ‘Oliver Twist’), and written by the team of Dick Hills and Sid Green, is an odd character who lives through his own imagination – an idea which would be developed in Newley’s first stage musical collaboration with Leslie Bricusse, ‘Stop The World … I Want To Get Off’ (1962).

A cult classic since its first showing (at first in a primetime slot but then relegated to after 11.00pm), and subsequent 1963 repeat, ‘Gurney Slade’ is sharp, clever, funny, and full of quirky and original ideas.

There’s a couple of talking dogs, a billboard girl who comes out to dance, a floorshow in Gurney’s mind, and even a court case over whether the show is really funny – featuring Douglas Wilmer (Sherlock Holmes for the BBC in 1965) as prosecuting counsel. The mind of Gurney Slade is a tangled web of thoughts, visions, a fairy in an Italian suit, and some half-created characters.

Showing the influence of the Goons and looking forward to the Fringe and Monty Python, ‘Gurney Slade’ was an enormous gamble for both ATV and their young protégée who had only previously fronted variety shows, and appeared in one film referencing the drafting of Elvis into the Army, ‘Idol on Parade’ (1959).

Critics approved, but viewers did not, and were left bemused, confused, and cross. However one young viewer was impressed enough to develop a new, Newley influenced persona – one David Jones, who found fame as David Bowie. Compare his hit ‘The Laughing Gnome’ with Newley’s ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’ if you’re not convinced.

As for Newley, he was to have a turbulent decade ahead following Gurney – divorce from actress Ann Lynn and a dalliance with the young Anneke Wills (Gurney’s perfect miss from episode two) was followed by a high-profile marriage to Joan Collins, which produced two children, an audio collaboration with Peter Sellers (Fool Britannia) and a film ‘Will Heironymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?’ (1969).

Professionally, ‘Stop The World …’ was followed by ‘The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd’ (1964) and there were more films – ‘The Small World of Sammy Lee’ (1963) and ‘Sweet November’ (1968). Notably, too, Newley collaborated with John Barry on one of the great James Bond themes – ‘Goldfinger’.

Gurney Slade flags up Anthony Newley’s comedic gift and timing, and his talent as an actor. It is sad that his death at sixty-seven in 1999 prevented us from hearing his insights on this rediscovery of his before-it’s-time comedy. But for any fan of quirky humour, or of Newley himself, this mini-series is a must-see.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews


Pull Out The Stops: Organ Gala Concert (Royal Festival Hall)

The organ which is the centrepiece of the stage of the Royal Festival Hall originally dates from the Festival of Britain, and this was its first unveiling in a full concert since it has been reassembled and restored thanks to lottery funding and a generous amount of support from concert-goers.

The Gala Launch Concert presented a mix of old faithfuls (Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue; Mendelssohn’s Scherzo and Nocturne from A Midsummer Night’s Dream), new commissions (Maxwell Davies’ Wall of Music and Taverner’s Monument for Beethoven) and arrangements (Bach’s Concerto in D arranged for trumpet and organ; Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz arranged for organ), all designed to show off this beautiful instrument at its best.

The highlights for me were the Bach and Mendelssohn pieces, although the Taverner piece was characteristically provocative and the Maxwell Davies, set to a poem by Jo Shapcott, attempted to juggle organ, brass and a children’s choir and almost pulled it off.

The four organists (John Scott, Jane Parker-Smith (who arranged the Liszt), Isabelle Demers, and David Goode) had very different styles of playing and presentation which made the evening varied and enjoyable.  I am not enough of an organ aficionado to comment on their phrasing but to me the organ sounded ‘a wall of music’ indeed, and as we were fairly close to proceedings we could see something of the technique involved in playing these pieces as well as the mechanics of the instrument.

The Pull Out All The Stops festival, much of which is live on Radio 3 (the station is currently ‘in residence’ in the Royal Festival Hall’s foyer), will include solo recitals as well as Cameron Carpenter’s improvision of a score to a live screening of ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’ (which I will review in due course).  The organ may have taken several million pounds to restore, but on the face of this concert it has certainly been worth the money.

 

 

 


Masterpiece Theatre: Pride and Prejudice (1980)

Pride and Prejudice (1980); director, Cyril Coke (5 episodes); adapted by Fay Weldon from the novel by Jane Austen; with Elizabeth Garvie as Elizabeth Bennet, David Rintoul as Darcy, Sabina Franklyn as Jane Bennet,  Osmond Bullock as Bingley.  A BBC production.

This version aired on television fifteen years before the renowned Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle adaptation of Jane Austen’s famous book. As such, it shows its age, being rather studio-bound and stiff in its construction.

However, Elizabeth Garvie does come across as closer to Austen’s conception of Lizzie Bennet than either Jennifer Ehle or Greer Garson in the Hollywood film.

Sabina Franklyn is particularly good as Jane, not a mouse but just a genuinely nice person, while Clare Higgins (Kitty), Tessa Peake-Jones (Mary), and Natalie Ogle (Lydia) are watchable as the remaining Bennet sisters.

Of particular interest though is David Rintoul’s Darcy. Of a very different stamp to the brooding landowner of the 1995 version, he gives an extremely interesting portrayal, just as attractive in its way, and again, closer to the character depicted in the book. Others of note in the cast are Moray Watson as Mr Bennet, and Judy Parfitt as Lady Catherine de Bourgh.


Reverse Hitchcock #4, Torn Curtain, 1966 – ★★★

Torn Curtain has had something of a bad press over the years – rumours of a tense production shoot because Hitch wanted Cary Grant and Tippi Hedren in the leads rather than Newman and Andrews, accusations of a lack of chemistry between the stars – but it is a fairly tense political thriller with some characteristic Hitchcock touches, notably the lengthy death scene in real time and without musical flourishes, and a sequence in a theatre which harks back to The 39 Steps or The Man Who Knew Too Much.

To my eyes, Newman (as the scientist turned supposed defector to East Germany) and Andrews (as his fiancée) are excellent together and it is clear they did get on during the filming, their scenes together having the right balance of sexy banter in the early bedtime close-ups and mounting unease as the double-dealing plot develops. It’s an unusual film for both, giving Newman a chance to shine in a role which doesn’t just require his usual Method charm, and Andrews to do something a little different to Mary Poppins or the Sound of Music.

There is also an excellent John Addison score which doesn’t overwhelm the action or undermine the plot as it unfolds. This is a better film than Topaz which suffered from poor casting and a lumbering plot which goes nowhere. Torn Curtain has an element of real suspense and danger which keeps us watching.


King Lear (National Theatre) review

This much-anticipated production by Sam Mendes of Shakespeare’s greatest tragic play stars the actor Simon Russell Beale, who at fifty-three may be on the younger side of Lears, but who is undoubtedly one of our most gifted classical actors.

Mendes and Russell Beale have worked together on numerous occasions before (notably in ‘Othello’ (SRB as Iago) and The Tempest (a startling Ariel opposite an imposing Alec McCowan’s Prospero) so there must almost be a shorthand of technique between them as they created this excellent version of what becomes in their hands the story of a military dictator who is pitched into dementia by the harsh treatment of his two eldest daughters (Goneril, played here by Kate Fleetwood; Regan, played by Anna Maxwell Martin), and the slow burn of guilt following the banishment of his youngest ‘jewel’ Cordelia (Olivia Vinall).

Now and again the production may stray into a flashy cinematic flourish (the rising ramp Lear and his Fool walk on, the out of character rage from Lear leading directly to the demise of the gentle Fool (Adrian Scarborough, very good indeed)) but its strength is in the performances, notably that of Russell Beale, from his strutting yet tiring despot of Act One through to his hopeless flower carrying fractured spirit of the scenes immediately following the interval.

As Gloucester, Stephen Boxer is very touching in the scenes where he is reconciled with his wronged son Edgar (Tom Brooke), albeit without knowing it.  Brooke himself makes an excellent Edgar, taking the references to the ‘naked fellow’ literally in his first appearance as ‘Poor Mad Tom’, but keeping the dignity of the exiled gentleman.  Rounding out the cast of principals is Sam Troughton as an Edmund who has expressive eyes and a knowing smirk, especially once he has the attention of both the wicked sisters.

This is not a perfect Lear, nor the best I have seen, although Russell Beale does not disappoint (unlike some reviewers I do not see his small stature as a problem, and his interchange with Cordelia when they are reconciled is deeply moving, as it should be, but often is not) and the modern setting makes us think of overthrown dictators and aged rulers.  Unlike the Almeida production of two years ago this production does not imply incest between Lear and his children, although the sisters remain highly sexed and this remains their eventual undoing, two harpies destroyed by jealousy.

All in all, a triumph, with Stanley Townsend’s bruiser of a Kent also worth a mention.  This is a Lear which does not pull its punches, and sometimes it veers into violence which seems to jar with everything that has gone before – but yet, a despot who has towering statues of himself across the city may, if his eyes are pecked at long enough, might simply cease being able to see clearly and take responsibility for his own actions?  Only the return of his beloved youngest child can bring Lear back to a semblance of sanity, but too late.


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