Category Archives: concerts

Rainbow (O2 Arena, London)

We’ve all lost count how many iterations of Rainbow there have been since 1975, and this current line-up came together over twenty years after the last one: since that time, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, now aged 72, has made several albums with his Renaissance project Blackmore’s Night (featuring his wife Candice on lead vocals, she appears as one of the backing singers here tonight).

Ronnie Romero fills the large shoes of big former voices of both Rainbow (Ronnie James Dio, Graham Bonnet, Joe Lynn Turner) and Deep Purple (Ian Gillan, David Coverdale), and does admirably well, with a set list which opens with ‘Spotlight Kid’ and then goes through ‘Mistreated’, ‘Soldier of Fortune’, ‘Since You Been Gone’ (featuring writer and musician Russ Ballard on guest back-up vocals and guitar), ‘Stargazer’, ‘Child In Time’, ‘Burn’, ‘Black Night’, ‘Long Live Rock ‘n Roll’, ‘Catch The Rainbow’ and (of course), ‘Smoke on the Water’.

Supported by the Sweet, who, like Deep Purple, formed fifty years ago next year, and retaining just one original member (Andy Scott) entertained with a mix of glam and hard rock numbers from ‘Hellraiser’ to ‘Little Willy’.

But Rainbow, and the return of Blackmore to rock, was the main event here, and they didn’t disappoint: I was also really pleased to see Dio and Cozy Powell remembered by video footage in the background during ‘Long Live Rock ‘n Roll’, a lovely moment.  I hope this isn’t the last hurrah, but if it was, I’m going away happy.


Honeymoon in Vegas (London Palladium)

The London Musical Theatre Orchestra presented a special concert version of ‘Honeymoon in Vegas: The Musical’ last night at the London Palladium, conducted by the composer, Jason Robert Brown.

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Based on the 1992 film, this musical teams a rather silly story with an old-fashioned but punchy score from Jason Robert Brown, who also penned the lyrics, which are sometimes clever but now and again straying into the area of corn (a ballad ‘Out of the Sun’ provoked giggles across the auditorium with its SPF references and it didn’t quite hit the funny/touching vibe I suspect the song should have).

The book by Andrew Bergman is slight but keeps the action moving, and even in a concert version, images of Vegas showgirls and parachuting Elvii (a definite showstopping number referencing the stance and vocal inflections of the King) are effortlessly conjured up.

Arthur Darvill’s Jack opens up proceedings with one of those delightful list songs, ‘I Love Betsy’, which references all the things his girlfriend likes (“she likes hockey, no, I swear / she likes guys with thinning hair’) while celebrating his love for her.  He puts the song across well, with good engagement with the audience while acting out the text.  His singing was a nice surprise as well, with an old-timer charm.

Betsy is played by Samantha Barks who is slinky and playful, but stronger in her solo numbers (especially ‘Betsy’s Getting Married’ which sizzles and fizzes) than in her duets with Darvill.  Having said this, the whole cast feel more relaxed and comfortable in their roles and in the concert format as the show progresses, and everyone essentially does a good job.

Gangster sleazeball Tommy, who sees in Betsy a resemblance to his dead wife, is played well by Maxwell Caulfield, who makes up for a lack of singing ability with the right characterisation of a wealthy man who thinks he can buy happiness but eventually knows when he’s been bested – by Betsy!  Rosemary Ashe does her best to steal scenes as the ghost of Jack’s mother, while Simon Lipkin is both the Bublé-like lounge singer and the hip-shaking leader of the flying Elvises. 

This show, directed by Shaun Kerrison, is a lot of fun, with the kind of music that makes you want to tap your feet and click your fingers, while the songs move on the action just as they did in the golden age of stage musicals.

The London Musical Theatre Orchestra, now in its second full year, is packed with excellent musicians who can do anything from put on the jazz to provide a beautiful melody.  Their vision is to have fun with music, and also to develop new professional players, and they do both with aplomb.

Thanks to Premier PR for arranging this night out.


Katherine Jenkins (Barbican Centre)

This was the last date of Katherine Jenkins’ ‘Celebration’ tour, but with the Christmas carols dropped and a new guest performer in John Owen-Jones.

I am not much of a fan of Jenkins and her light classical crossover warbling, although taken purely as an entertainment her show certainly seems to please her hardcore fans of men of a certain age and their wives.

‘Santa Baby’ added a sprinkle of fun, and three dress changes and a crystal encrusted microphone gave a dash of glamour: there was strong accompaniment from the London Concert Orchestra conducted by Anthony Inglis (Die Fledermaus and Sleigh Bells opening both halves of the show).

In anticipation of the upcoming ENO production of ‘Carousel’ in which Jenkins makes her musical theatre debut in April, she treated us to a stirring ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, while more traditional repertoire included an Italian translation of Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ and ‘Sanctus’ (to the melody of Elgar’s Nimrod).

John Owen-Jones is always a solid proposition, having served long stints in the musicals ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Les Miserables’, and we heard a song from each plus one from the underrated ‘Love Never Dies’, the lovely ‘Maria’ from ‘West Side Story’, one from ‘Miss Saigon’ (with a slight lyric fluff), and even the Eurovision winner from Conchita Wurst a couple of years ago, ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’.  

A duet of ‘Barcelona’ with Jenkins didn’t really work though, and she shone most convincingly in anthems like ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘How Great Thou Art’.


The Human League (Royal Festival Hall)

I’ve been a fan of The Human League since the early 80s: not their Don’t You Want Me phase as I was only nine years old then, but not that long after when The Lebanon was in the charts in Spring 1984.  Quite soon after like many other teenagers I sang along to the whole of ‘Dare’ on cassette in my bedroom many, many times; I had posters of the band on my wall; and loved their big selling singles Louise and Human.

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I lost them around the time the 90s hit, but eventually came back and now, finally, have seen them live, so it’s been a long wait.

As with anything else which teeters on the ‘nostalgia’ tag (although I know they hate that and they haven’t really, technically, been away) you never know what you are going to get, but the moment the set appeared with the pulsing beat of the opening song, Being Boiled (a showcase for Phil Oakey alone, as it dates from the days of The Human League #1, when they were a kind of Yorkshire Kraftwerk electro outfit) and the video projections kicked into life, I knew we were in for something special.

Watch a bit of ‘Seconds’

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The songs from ‘Dare’ were liberally sprinkled through this set: The Sound of the Crowd, Seconds, Open Your Heart, Love Action, The Things That Dreams Are Made Of.  There were those big singles I loved, too, plus Mirror Man (which I had forgotten, not having heard in years) and, of course, Don’t You Want Me, with the neat conceit of having one of the backing band playing an instrumental introduction of it which just got the crowd more fired up.

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Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley are the decorative side of the band, and an integral part of their trademark sound, and they were showcased well on their own with One Man In My Heart as well as (particularly Susan) providing energy to keep the audience going throughout.  Their costume changes were slightly exceeded by the parade of Phil’s designer wardrobe, but it all adds to the spectacle.

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Can I just pause to say how fantastic Phil Oakey’s voice still is?  It’s been said in some quarters that he isn’t one of the best popular vocalists, but I have to disagree: he has such a recognisable vocal style that fits the band’s songs perfectly; and I was so pleased that we got to close with Together In Electric Dreams, a song which I have always loved, even if the film it was written for is now hopelessly outdated.

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Now slightly north of 60 years old this singer has unbounded energy and enthusiasm, and he is a total showman.  It is always a pleasure to see an act coming across so professionally, and The Human League are one of the most professional and accomplished acts I have seen.  Compare last night’s work with something way back like The Path of Least Resistance from nearly forty years ago and the look may be different (a sleeker hairline these days, but that’s no bad thing) but the voice hasn’t changed much.

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I haven’t danced so much in years, and loved every minute.  How could I have waited so long?  My husband (not really a fan) enjoyed himself too, and yes, first thing we did on the way home was order a CD copy of ‘Dare’ to replace that tired out 80s cassette!

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I wanted to give a nod to London band Ekkoes who were the support act, right at the start of their career.  Their cover of the late Laura Branigan’s Self Control was excellent and I liked their own song Last Breath as well.  I hope they go places and it was a bonus to see them, even if I would have rather liked (for 80s nostalgia again) to see Blancmange, who are doing some of the other dates on the tour as support.

You can investigate Ekkoes a bit more at http://ekkoes.com/.

Here’s the twenty song setlist from The Human League: Being Boiled, The Sound of the Crowd, Sky, Heart Like a Wheel, Filling Up With Heaven, Open Your Heart, Soundtrack to a Generation, Seconds, The Lebanon, One Man In My Heart, Human, Louise, Stay With Me Tonight, Love Action, Tell Me When, Keep Feeling (Fascination), Mirror Man, Don’t You Want Me, The Things That Dreams Are Made Of, Together in Electric Dreams.

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Photographs taken by Louise Penn and Colin Penn.  Video clip by Louise Penn.

 

 


Opera North’s Ring Cycle (Royal Festival Hall)

Many opera companies would balk at giving a full Wagnerian Ring Cycle, but Opera North have been spending the time since April giving six Cycles as part of a tour, in an innovative concert format.

We caught up with this tour on its London stop at the Royal Festival Hall last week; and from tonight it makes its final stop at the Sage Gateshead and on Radio 3.

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This was the first live Ring Cycle I had seen: and without props, sets or costumes to speak of, it really had to stand or fall on how well the acting and singing puts across the story.  In this the production is helped by textual matter projected on screens and taken from Michael Birkett’s ‘The Story of the Ring’, explaining what we are about to see.  This may be irritating to Wagner purists, but makes the four operas extremely accessible.

The ‘preliminary evening’ and the first, and shortest opera in the cycle, is Das Rheingold, which tells the story of how the gold in the Rhine was stolen by the evil dwarf Alberich, forged into a ring, and used to make an attempt to achieve world domination, and how he was tricked by the gods Wotan and Loge into giving up this power, only giving it up with a curse on whoever owns the ring.  Wotan’s greed almost causes the goddess Freia to be given up to a duo of giants, Fafner and Fasolt, but the eventual passing of the ring causes them to turn on each other and to cause the cycle’s first shedding of blood (in this version, by the dropping of a red necktie to the floor).

wotanalberichMichael Druiett and Jo Pohlheim, photo copyright Clive Barda.

This evening’s entertainment presented the first of three Wotans throughout the cycle, in Michael Druiett a rather dry old stick (no match for Jo Pohlheim’s superb Alberich, who is quite the star of this production with a glorious bass baritone voice).  Yvonne Howard was a decent Fricka, and Giselle Allen making the first of three different characterisations as Freia, bewildered by her misfortune in being exiled from the fruit gardens of Valhalla.  As Loge, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke was all flickering fingers and devious looks.

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The second evening presented Die Walküre, which introduces not just the nine Valkyries, led by the vibrant Brünnhilde (played here in the first of three appearances by Kelly Cae Hogan, an excellent soprano and actress), but also the ill-fated twins and other children of Wotan (in his human guise as Walse), Siegmund and Sieglinde. 

Lee Bisset’s Sieglinde is beautifully sung, and her act one interaction with Michael Weinius’ Siegmund is one of the highlights of the piece, with their incestuous love so incensing Fricka (Howard again), goddess of marriage, that she sets in motion the tragic events which cause Wotan (Robert Hayward here, whose vocal deficiency at times can be forgiven when set against his moving final act) to cause his favourite child, Brünnhilde, to be cast out of the sight of the gods forever, and imprisoned in a wall of fire only a man without fear can penetrate.

haywardRobert Hayward, photograph copyright Clive Barda.

Hogan is again superb in both acts two (where she decides to defy her father and save Siegmund from his decreed death) and three (where she visibly reduces in stature as she is removed from her Valkyrie sisters – eight ladies with large voices and personalities – to face a life of eternal sleep until woken to live in mortality).  Meanwhile, Hayward’s Wotan causes the destruction of his beloved Walsung son, and affects disinterest in the offspring of the twins.

The third opera in the cycle centres on this child when he is fully grown – Siegfried, who has been brought up by the dwarf Mime, brother of Alberich.  We had first met Mime (sung by Richard Roberts) in Das Rheingold, but he has more to do here and successfully merges the evil with the comic (I loved the scene where Siegfried gains the power to read Mime’s thoughts, while the latter desperately tries to hide his true feelings), although some of his singing was lost in his early scenes, overpowered by the orchestra.

siegfriedLars Cleveman, photograph copyright Clive Barda.

As the ‘boy’ Siegfried, Lars Cleveman looked far too old but certainly had the lung power to carry the role after a shaky start, and his scenes when forging the sword Nothung from fragments, and combating the scary dragon Fafner (last seen as a giant, and sung powerfully by bass Mats Almgren), were excellent, as was his final act with Hogan’s still-stunning Brünnhilde.

In this segment of the Cycle, Wotan is disguised as the Wanderer, and in long coat and hat, Bela Perencz resembles a stylish lounge lizard.  He is the best singer of the three to take on the role in this cycle, and his scenes with Cleveman’s Siegfried and Pohlheim’s Alberich are well done.

There is no family feeling here, though, and by the end Wotan’s power is spent, his spear shattered in a mirror image of the destruction of Siegmund’s sword in Die Walküre.  (There are no swords or spears on stage, though, nor eye patches, armour, or anvils.  The audience has to imagine them all, although we do see the woodbird hovering around in the choir seats before her few lines of song).

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Finally, we returned to the cycle for Sunday’s Götterdämmerung, in which the gods face destruction, and the happy lovers Siegfried and Brünnhilde, left within the fiery rock in the throes of passion, find their union threatened by spells, portions, and intrigue, all in the name of taking control of the ring and the Nibelungen treasure. 

There is a delightful scene at the beginning of act two which chills the blood as the sleeping Hagen (Mats Almgren, again, and exceptional) is visited by the slimy Alberich (Polheim again, outstanding) and goaded into hating anyone who is happy.

A change of casting as Siegfried brings the jovial Mati Turi to the part, and although I enjoyed his characterization, I felt his voice was more lyrical and less powerful than Cleveman’s.  I see that Tuti has played the lead in Siegfried in earlier performances, and would have been interested to see his interpretation, but here he is simply the easily-led fool, not the great hero his prior mastery of the sword and despatch of the dragon might suggest.

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Kelly Cae Hogan and Mati Turi, photograph copyright Clive Barda.

His scene with the Rhinemaidens who warn him of the future is very good, though, and well-sung, and the trio (Jeni Bern, Madeleine Shaw, Sarah Castle) are just as cunning in trying to get the ring back as they were when teasing Alberich back in Das Rhinegold before he snatched their gold.

The orchestra have been superb throughout this cycle, led by outgoing Opera North conductor Richard Farnes.  He has led his company (including the Chorus in Götterdämmerung) through sixteen hours of drama, music and mythology, and rightly gained a standing ovation for both Die Walküre and Götterdämmerung.

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The Opera North Ring Cycle broadcasts tonight, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday evenings on Radio 3.


Shakespeare 400: The Complete Walk and Shakespeare Live! (RSC)

The 23rd April is both St George’s Day and the anniversary of both the birth and death of William Shakespeare (1564-1616), and as we have now reached 400 years since the poet/playwright’s death, both the Globe Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company have created projects which happened this weekend.

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The Complete Walk presents all 37 plays in chronological order in a route starting at St Thomas’ Hospital with The Two Gentlemen of Verona and finishing at Potters Fields Park with The Tempest.

We saw eleven of the plays between Hungerford Bridge (Titus Andronicus, with Peter Capaldi, rather battling against the noise of the trains above), to the back of the Oxo Tower (The Merry Wives of Windsor, with Mel Giedroyc).  Three screens (The Comedy of Errors, Henry IV Part 2, and Much Ado About Nothing) were not working as we passed, and I understand technical issues have plagued this project a bit on a windy, cold and showery day yesterday – hopefully today will have more of a hit rate.

  1. Titus Andronicus (under Hungerford Bridge).  Filmed in Rome, this shows a different side of Capaldi than is familiar to most these days from Doctor Who.
  2. Henry VI Part 2 (under Golden Jubilee Bridge).  Filmed at Spitalsfield Market, this was a very modern take of a little-known history play.
  3. Romeo and Juliet (opposite Royal Festival Hall).  Filmed at Verona with Jessie Buckley and Luke Thompson in glorious blue tints in the closing tomb scene, this was well acted and also featured scenes from the Globe’s production with Ellie Kendrick and Adetomiwa Edun.
  4. Richard III (next to Waterloo Bridge).  Filmed in the Tower of London, with a glorious monologue from Claire Higgins, Queen Margaret’s speech from Act 4.
  5. Love’s Labour’s Lost (in front of the National Theatre).  Filmed in Navarre, with Gemma Arterton and David Dawson.  Beautifully shot but the volume made it hard to follow.
  6. King John (in front of the National Theatre).  The Hubert and Arthur scene, filmed a the Holy Sepulchre, with the right amount of murderous intent and tension.
  7. Richard II (Observation Point).  Filmed in Westminster Hall, with James Norton in the abdication and ‘I have wasted time’ scenes.  An actor I don’t care for, but I wanted to see more of this.
  8. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Gabriel’s Wharf Bandstand).  Filmed at Wilton House, with the Theseus and Hippolyta scenes, and the wall scene with ‘the rude mechanicals’.  Funny but lacking the play’s magic.
  9. The Merchant of Venice (Riverside Slice).  Filmed in the Jewish Ghetto, Venice, with Jonathan and Phoebe Pryce reprising their roles as Shylock and Jessica alongside scenes from the Globe production.  Looks great but the sound was drowned out by an adjacent screen.
  10. Henry IV Part 1 (Bernie Spain Gardens).  Filmed at the George Inn, Southwark, with Toby Jones as a drunken Falstaff we first meet passed out in a cubicle in the Gents.  Very funny but far too loud.
  11. The Merry Wives of Windsor (behind the Oxo Tower).  The scene between the Mistresses discussing Falstaff and the basket, with one of them in drag.  Plays like a comedy sketch.

It’s a varied project, and an accomplished one.  The YouTube channel for Shakespeare’s Globe includes trailers for Timon of Athens (with Simon Russell Beale) and King Lear (with Kenneth Cranham).  I hope this project – which also ran in Liverpool this weekend, but mainly in interior locations – has an additional life beyond the opportunity to see the films in situ.

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In the evening, there was a television broadcast live from Stratford-upon-Avon which mixed music (excerpts from West Side Story and Kiss Me Kate, opera and ballet, jazz and hip hop, and appearances from Rufus Wainwright and tenor Ian Bostridge), comedy (a delightful ‘nine Hamlet’ sketch which includes Cumberbatch, McKellen, Dench and others, including Prince Charles, advising on how to speak the classic ‘To Be or Not To Be’ soliloquy), speeches (Ian McKellen as Thomas More, Roger Allam as Lear, Judi Dench as Titania with Al Murray as Bottom, Rory Kinnear and Ann-Marie Duff as the Macbeths) and filmed inserts (Joseph Fiennes within the Shakespeare Trust properties at Stratford, and Simon Russell Beale doing part of the John of Gaunt speech from Richard II).

Uneven at the start, this settled into a classy piece of live theatre, although it was not quite as good as the earlier ‘National Theatre at 50’.  Appearances from the likes of Helen Mirren, David Suchet, and the aforementioned Dame Judi and Sir Ian interested me more than a group of students performing Bernstein or a poorly spoken Juliet in the balcony scene.  Still, there was a good range of plays represented, and a strong sense of how Shakespeare has moved into many areas of popular culture.

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To close this post, I will share the costume from the 1948 film of Hamlet, starring and directed by Laurence Olivier, which can be found in the BFI Southbank’s small Shakespeare on Film exhibition in their Mezzanine (above the box office), which accompanies their rather populist season of screenings.


Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds (Dominion Theatre)

You may be familiar with the 1978 album which brought the progressive rock bombast to the words of HG Wells to tell the story of the journalist George Herbert’s encounter with invading martians threatening the Earth.

To give it its full title, ‘Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of War of the Worlds’ has had several years touring arenas, first with a kind-of hologram presentation of an actor impersonating Richard Burton and mouthing his narration, and more recently, with screen presence of Liam Neeson, allowing additional segments of text to be included and the plot, such as it is, to be developed further.

Don’t expect a full musical presentation here.  What you do get is Jeff Wayne on stage with an all-female string ensemble and a rock band led by Chris Spedding on bass, driving through the familiar instrumental backing and synth wailing you’ll remember from that album.  You’ll get Neeson’s narration, sometimes as video inserts on cloth backdrops, sometimes as full holograms.

The on-stage cast includes Michael Praed (if you’re a certain age, you will remember him as Robin of Sherwood) as the journalist, singing ‘The Eve of the War’ and ‘Forever Autumn’, the musical’s two big numbers.  You have David Essex, there for nostalgia’s sake as he was the original recording’s Artilleryman, voice not quite there anymore but appearing as the ‘Voice of Humanity’ with Chris Thompson’s shoes to fill in the Thunder Child number.

The Artilleryman in this production is Daniel Bedingfield, but he was off the afternoon we saw this and we enjoyed understudy Simon Shorten’s performance instead, especially in the staging of a rather Village People-ish ‘Brave New World’, with a troupe of lads and lasses stomping around with shovels and rhythmic steps.  There are leading ladies, too, with Madalena Alberto as Carrie (a much extended role from the original), and Sugababe Heidi Range in Julie Covington’s old role as the Parson’s wife, Beth.

And then there’s Jimmy Nail, as the Parson, and he overacts like crazy whole trying to sing the role the way the late lamented Phil Lynott did back then.  The singing is OK, but he needs to tone down his portrayal, especially in one of the two new superfluous songs, ‘Life Begins Again’, which takes a musical coda from the original recording and develops it into a bloated number which works about as well as the intrusion of a group of candle-holding children signalling to the alien craft in Act One.

There is a bit of CGI, and a real cylinder and Martian pod, and a bit of artfully choreographed red weed, and, of course, autumn leaves.  There are tongues of fire which shoot up as fireballs at alarming close quarters to the cast, and a bit too much smoke spilling over the edge of the stage.

But you can’t fault this on spectacle, and you can’t fault Wayne on his rockingly good creation.


a-ha (o2 Arena, North Greenwich)

Just over thirty years ago a trio of Norwegians hit the charts with a synth-pop tune with a quirky and clever video which was shown a lot on MTV: the song was ‘Take On Me’ and they were a-ha, Morten, Mags and Pal.

Fast-forward to 2016 and they are back together again following their retirement in 2010 as a band, and in their video projections and tightly professional set they are still highly entertaining.  Hits and familiar songs (‘Crying in the Rain’, ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’, ‘The Living Daylights’, ‘Cry Wolf’, ‘Hunting High and Low’) are mixed with the new (‘Cast in Steel’) and some solo efforts (‘Velvet’, ‘Lifelines’).

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Morten’s voice is still reaching the high notes, and if he is still aloof and leaving the interaction with the crowd to Magne, then that’s OK.  The set is short – less than 100 minutes – but is crowd-pleasing, and even veers into the ‘getting the arena to sing’ and ‘getting the arena to wave their phones’ territory.

An enjoyable evening.

 


Review of 2015

This is the point where, now 2016 has started with the traditional fireworks and hangovers, we have a look back to the good (and bad) of 2015.

Theatre

In January I saw two productions, the frankly disappointing ‘Potted Sherlock’, and the excellent ‘Taken at Midnight’, in which Penelope Wilton excelled as a woman whose son was in the hands of the Nazis.

February brought a new Tom Stoppard at the National, ‘The Hard Problem’, which tried to mix academia with personal relationships, but didn’t really do either justice.

In March I enjoyed the revival of ‘Harvey’, starring James Dreyfuss, which stopped off at Richmond before a run in the West End, and I travelled to Hampstead for my first visit to the theatre there to see Zoe Wanamaker in the revival of ‘Stevie’ (a piece I know well from the Glenda Jackson film).

April brought three top-class musicals associated with Stephen Sondheim: first, the show on which he wrote lyrics, ‘Gypsy’, at the Savoy, which some of you will have seen and enjoyed when it was on television over the Christmas break, and second, the transfer of ‘Sweeney Todd: Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ at the ENO, with Bryn Terfel, Emma Thompson, and the welcome return to these shores of Philip Quast.  Finally, the concert version of ‘Follies’, at the Royal Albert Hall, which was ridiculously overpriced but certainly star-studded.

In May, a silly but perfectly-pitched tribute to the Bonzo Dog frontman, Vivian Stanshall, who died twenty years ago, was on for one night only at the Bloomsbury.  ‘Radio Stanshall’ teamed old hands with a fun reboot of the Sir Henry at Rawlinson End tales.   Meanwhile, over at the Globe Theatre Jonathan Pryce impressed as Shylock in ‘The Merchant of Venice’, and on transfer from Stratford-upon-Avon, Antony Sher and Harriet Walter reteamed for the first time since the late 90s Macbeth for ‘Death of a Salesman’, which was a definite highlight of the year.

June at the Barbican heralded the Beckett International Festival, of which I chose to see the starry ‘Waiting for Godot’ with Hugo Weaving, Richard Roxburgh, and Philip Quast (again!).  I love the play, and this production seemed to polarise audiences, but I found it very good indeed.

In July, there was comedy at the National in ‘The Beaux’ Strategem’, and a major misfire at the Young Vic with a head-scratching version of ‘The Trial’, in which a conveyer belt set and Rory Kinnear were excellent but the translation was not.  Closer to home, Julian Clary headlined the Ealing Comedy Festival, while in town, David Suchet donned a dress for a hilarious take on Lady Bracknell in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’.

August brought us one of the year’s total turkeys, at the Charing Cross Theatre, where the dreadful ‘Dusty’ had cast changes, delayed press nights and worse.  Back at the National, ‘Three Days in the Country’ was a new and truncated version of the Turgenev play, which had a bit of overacting from John Simm but a finely judged comic bit from Mark Gatiss.

In September, the delightful Rattigan play ‘Flare Path’ stopped by at Richmond, while ‘Mr Foote’s Other Leg’ did well at Hampstead before a West End transfer – I especially liked Dervla Kirwan’s delicate actress-whore.    And the month ended with the new version of the Bristol production of ‘Jane Eyre’, a high-energy adaptation which was a total joy to watch.

October saw a trip to the Bridewell Theatre for an excellent version of ‘Sunset Boulevard’ by the amateur Geoids Musical Theatre, an ensemble I would happily watch again.

In November the final piece of the RSCs King and Country puzzle fell into play with the showing of ‘Henry V’, which I liked a lot, and which, coming so soon after the Paris attacks, felt oddly relevant and very moving.

Meanwhile, December brought the undoubted un-highlight of the year, with the National’s jaw-droppingly terrible ‘wonder.land’.   I would recommend a trip to the National’s Shed instead to see the fun ‘I Want My Hat Back’, and New Year’s Eve brought the year to a sentimental close with ‘Goodnight Mr Tom’.

Concerts and live cinema relays

The Southbank Centre hosted a special ‘Friday Night is Music Night’ in February which I really enjoyed: with the Light Programme being represented with everything from Max Miller and Roy Hudd to Flanders & Swann and Gilbert & Sullivan.  The concert a week later in the same series, looking at post-1959 music, was fun, but not quite in the same league.

On Valentine’s Day the Berlin Philharmonic with their conductor Sir Simon Rattle was in residence at the Royal Festival Hall, with a programme showcasing their splendid rendition of Mahler No 2.   And on the big screen there was a live relay from the Royal Opera House of ‘The Flying Dutchman’, with Bryn Terfel, which was another of the year’s highlights: he really had made this role his own.

In April Daniel Barenboim was at the Royal Festival Hall with the Staatkapelle Berlin, playing Elgar, and it was an honour to be there, especially to see him awarded the Elgar Medal which he dedicated to his late wife, Jacqueline du Pre.   This month also saw a live musical accompaniment to a little-seen Lillian Gish film, ‘Annie Laurie’, at the Barbican.

In October, the London Literature Festival gave us both Terry Gilliam (with a video retrospective of some of his films), and Tom Jones (who sang, and by heck, is he still good).  The end of the month had a return visit to the Royal Festival Hall from Randy Newman, who with just a piano, was rather marvellous.

December was the month of NT Live screenings, with the Broadway production of ‘Of Mice and Men’ and the Barbican ‘Hamlet’ (which I didn’t add here for some reason, but which can be seen in my review over on Letterboxd).  We ended the year in concert mode with the professional gloss of Andre Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra at Wembley Arena.

Film

Letterboxd (where I post as loureviews) tells me I watched 451 films – including shorts and miniseries, in 2015.  Eight of those merited a full, five-star score, and all were rewatches: Mary Poppins, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Lifeboat, I Know Where I’m Going, Guys and Dolls, Witchfinder General, Rebecca, and The Snowman.

There were, however, some four and a half star films I had seen for the first time, so these are my picks of the year: Night Will Fall (2014), Laughter in the Dark (1969), Her (2013), Maxine Peake in Hamlet (2015), Mr Axelford’s Angel (1974), The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), Contempt/Le Mepris (1963), Shylock’s Ghost (2015), Night and Day (2015), and Tony Benn: Will and Testament (2014).

The turkeys of the year, the true stinkers, number ten: Carry on England (1976), Happy Hooligan (1903), Ride Along (2014), Sherlock Holmes (2011 – and it isn’t the Asylum one), The Other Woman (2014), Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015), The Nut Job (2014), Annie (2014), Bed and Breakfast (1938), and The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978).

Tributes

I marked a trio of anniversaries this year.  Twenty years since the death of Vivian Stanshall, thirty-five years since the death of AC/DC frontman Bon Scott, and twenty-six years since the death of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman.  You can find links to all these in the ‘Index to tribute profiles’ at the top of the page.

Exhibitions

In January, the London Transport Museum was the venue for ‘Goodbye, Piccadilly’, which I loved.  Later in the year, the Hayward Gallery hosted the thoughtful ‘History is Now’, which was odd but engaging.

 


Andre Rieu (Wembley Arena)

Just before Christmas we went along to see the most wealthy and successful classical musician currently working, Andre Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra.  Rieu does not come cheap – our tickets came to £91 each once you factored in booking fee – but he does put on a spectacle.

His USP is his digital backdrops, his sopranos dressed as Disney princesses, and his own slightly cheesy Master of Ceremonies schtick.  The musical programme is made of crowd-pleasers: not simply the Strauss waltzes he is known for (the Blue Danube, for which we were handed tiny keyring lights to wave), but also such well-known pieces as the Hallelujah Chorus, the Pearl Fishers duet (for tenor trio and choir here, a bit odd), that aria from Madame Butterfly, 76 Trombones, the theme song from Exodus, and some Christmas pieces – The Holy City, O Holy Night, White Christmas …

There was a guest bell ringer, who had a speed playing contest with the xylophonist.  There was a trilling soprano who sang Christine’s Think of Me from The Phantom of the Opera.  There was a lot of mock drinking.  There was fake snow dumped on to the floor-sitting audience.  There were balloons.  There was Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again, ending proceedings.

Rieu has energy, and, in a trio for Amazing Grace with his violin, and flute and bagpipes, he proves he can actually play a decent solo.  He also has friendly patter with which he engages his adoring audience.  Those waltzes get people up dancing, whether they are ageing couples, mums and daughters, or grannies and tots.

He puts on a good show, but like all good things, especially sugary or cheesy ones, he is best enjoyed in moderation.  This was a tightly programmed and shrewdly scripted piece of entertainment of which Rieu is the mullet-haired ringmaster.  And the audience went away humming the tunes with smiles on their faces.


Randy Newman (Royal Festival Hall)

Randy Newman has been in the singer-songwriting business for close to fifty years now, and here he is at the Royal Festival, with just his piano for accompaniment, sharing in excess of thirty songs with us over two hours, ranging from his one hit, ‘Short People’, through to classics like ‘I Think It’s Going To Rain Today’, ‘Political Science’, ‘You Can Leave Your Hat On’, and my personal favourite of his songs, ‘Feels Like Home’, which closed the concert and sent us home.

Newman has quite a range of songs even if his delivery and vocalising is much the same throughout – there are love songs like ‘I Miss You’ (written for his first wife when he was with his second) and ‘She Chose Me’, more jokey numbers like ‘The World Isn’t Fair’ and ‘My Life Is Good’, serious pieces like ‘Rednecks’, and fun pieces like ‘Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear’.

There was even a bit of audience participation in ‘I’m Dead (But I Don’t Know It)’, while the song Newman claimed was his personal favourite, ‘My Country’, came across well.  Toy Story’s ‘You’ve Got a Friend In Me’ was perhaps more commercial than pieces like  ‘Where’s My Wandering Boy Tonight’ or even ‘I Love To See You Smile’, which opened the concert.

What I like about Newman is the way he can change the mood of a room from amusement at clever lyrics, to emotional engagement, to shock at more edgy and sarcastic material.  His voice may have weakened, but even in this large space it felt like an intimate occasion in which one person engaged with many in a way which transcended the venue.  Pricey it may have been, but this was a show well worth catching.


London Literature Festival: Terry Gilliam and Tom Jones

Two very different nights out last week in the company of two very different chaps, both born in 1940, at the London Literature Festival at the Southbank Centre.

‘Inside the head of Terry Gilliam’ was a conversation between the American film director, artist, and ex-Python; and Arts Editor of the BBC, Will Gompertz.  Starting with the young Gilliam’s childhood in Minneapolis and working through his start in animation, through to his breakthrough at forty years old as an international film director, this conversation – supporting the publication of ‘Gilliamesque: a pre-posthumous memoir’ – was engaging, informative, and funny.  It also included a rather beautiful montage of scenes from his feature films, and a chance for audience members to ask questions.  Sad to say, with John Hurt’s recent illness it seems that the Don Quixote film is again stalled.

‘A conversation with Tom Jones’ was a night of two halves; first an opportunity for the Welsh singing legend to talk about his life and work, with Matt Everitt from BBC Radio 6, using photographs displayed as slides on a big screen to illustrate the tale and promote his ghostwritten autobiography, ‘Over the top and back’, and then a concert in excess of an hour which opened with ‘It’s Not Unusual’ and then settled into tracks from his new album, ‘Long Lost Suitcase’, proving that the ‘Voice’ was very much present and correct.  We even got an outing of his 80s hit, ‘Kiss’, but thankfully not with the thrusting around of old.  My favourite tracks of the night were Gillian Welch’s ‘Elvis Presley Blues’, Bob Dylan’s ‘What Good Am I’, Leonard Cohen’s ‘Tower of Song’ (and I’m a big Cohen fan, but this was a good version), and John Lee Hooker’s ‘Burnin’ Hell’.


Ealing Comedy Festival opening night

A mixed bag of acts to open the Walpole Park’s festival, but overall a decent night out.

Julian Clary headlining the first night was bound to pull in the crowds and so this first night was a sellout, and definitely from the older end of the spectrum.

Delivering a typically smutty set as expected, Clary shared a long shaggy dog story about how he saved Joan Collins’ life, by way of noting his ageing ailments (policeman’s heel, housemaid’s knee, and male prostitute’s rectum: ‘gentlemen callers have been temporarily blinded’) and talking about his domestic arrangements in Kent with boyfriend Rolf – who has a boring office job and understands how to work an enema kit.

Looking great under the eyeliner and red lipstick it is impossible to believe Julian has hit fifty-six, but age hasn’t tempered his sweetly – delivered guy puns, and it was a delight to see him and his final song of ‘Frankie and Johnny’, of civil partners where one couldn’t help but stray.

Supporting acts Justin Moorhouse – a funny fat lad from Blackpool who started well but wandered into slightly weird territory – and irritatingly middle – class Shabbi Khorsandi  (who overstayed her welcome) were complimented by Geordie  exile Mickey Hutton,  who hasn’t been living up north for twenty – five years but still has an act which pokes fun at the London he calls home.


Radio Stanshall (Bloomsbury Theatre)

As I posted earlier in the year, it is twenty years since the versatile singer-songwriter, wit, wordsmith and all-round oddball Vivian Stanshall passed away.  This show, although retitled, is rather similar to the one mounted for Vivian’s 70th birthday celebrations back in 2013 – so much so, in fact, that the programmes for that show were on sale last night albeit for half the cover price. (However, someone who went to both shows said the anniversary show was better).

The centrepiece of the evening was a performance by Michael Livesley of what is probably Vivian’s best and more enduring work, ‘Sir Henry at Rawlinson End’, English as tuppence and gloriously un-PC, with all characters from the beasht himself, Sir Henry and his wistful wife, Florrie, to his brother Hubert (‘in his late forties and still unusual’), their servants Old Scrotum (‘the wrinked retainer’) and Mrs Eeeeeee, and Florrie’s brother Lord Tarquin Portly and his wife Lady Phillipa.  As well as these you get the know-it-all Reg Smeeton (‘do you know there is no proper name for the back of the knees?’) and the mincing pair of painter-decorators Nice and Tidy.

The ‘Sir Henry’ piece is full of clever and nonsensical wordplay with a smattering of songs, close to the work of the Master, Noel Coward (whose patter song, ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ was on the tape played before the show started), and comic singers like Frank Crumit (‘What Kind of Noise Annoys An Oyster’).  Livesley’s homage to Stanshall is quite staggeringly good: a Northerner by birth he captures the faux posh phrasing of the piece perfectly, as well as mimicking the East End bolsh of the song ‘Ginger Geezer’ at the end of the night.

He’s been performing ‘Sir Henry’ since 2010 and has honed it well, adding his own flourishes and inflections here and there to make it remain an interesting piece outside of the simple spoken word – having said this, I do enjoy the mental pictures that can be painted by listening to the original radio shows and album, with lines like “The body of Doris Hazard’s Pekinese, unwittingly asphyxiated beneath Sir Henry Rawlinson’s bottom” or “A pale sun poked impudent tiger fingers into the master bedroom and sent the shadows scurrying like convent girls menaced by a tramp” or “The Wrinkled Retainer took cover behind a leather armchair, peeping through his fingers and clutching a rosary.”

Aside from this performance, we had a handful of songs, with Neil Innes and Rodney Slater opening proceedings (a few renditions of ‘Happy Birthday’ aside) with Kevin Eldon on surprisingly good vocals for ‘Look Out, There’s A Monster Coming’, and later on, Eldon again on ‘Sport’ and with the first Rawlinson appearance on record, ‘Rhinocratic Oaths’.  Livesley joined Innes and Eldon with the rather topical ‘No Matter Who You Vote For, The Government Always Get In (Heigh Ho)’ and shared Vivian’s favourite song (from ‘Teddy Bears Don’t Knit’) ‘The Cracks Are Showing’ with us.

I might have picked something to show Vivian’s softer and sentimental side (like one of his songs for Steve Winwood), but otherwise, a good mix of titles.  These last few benefited from the addition of drummer John Halsey (once Barry Wom in The Rutles) playing alongside Slater and the Brainwashing House Orchestra, with Innes and Rick Wakeman making the occasional foray on the piano.


Follies in Concert (Royal Albert Hall)

follies program

Not quite a ‘once in a lifetime’ show, but a ‘twice in a lifetime’ as this staging of Stephen Sondheim’s musical ‘Follies’ played at the Royal Albert Hall yesterday afternoon and evening.  It now has the distinction of being the most expensive ticket I ever bought for a show – I initially baulked at the £98 ticket price, and sales were sluggish for quite a while, but we duly booked once the cast was announced.  Good seats, in the stalls.  Nothing could go wrong, could it?

follies tix follies view

When we arrived, it was clear these were restricted view seats, although not sold as such.  I appreciate the RAH may not have known at the point of sale that this was the case, but in advance of the show they would have done.  This problem affected four seats on each side of the stage.  Note the speakers and the ugly black rail that gave one double vision when watching a cast member singing at the front (only affected three numbers, but still).  At a sporting event where we had a slight restriction on the view of a full price ticket at Wembley Arena we were given the option to be reseated: as ‘Follies’ was not entirely sold out, this would have been a nice gesture from the Hall.

I might have let this go had we not paid extortionate premium West End prices for our tickets.  For nearly £100 I don’t expect a rail in my way or speakers that stop me seeing people’s feet when dance numbers have been staged (as Craig Revel Horwood of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ was directing, it was no surprise to see some inspired pieces, of which more later).  So that’s my one negative of the night: on to the show.

(And do look for the 1985 concert version, too, which is available in part on DVD.  Revel Horwood rightfully flags it in the programme: Follies in Concert (1985).)

When the cast was announced, it was quite a mouthwatering confection – the four main roles of the couples Buddy and Sally, and Ben and Phyllis would be played by Peter Polycarpou and Ruthie Henshall, and Alexander Hanson and Christine Baranski.  A slight disparity in ages aside this was excellent casting, and Henshall’s emotive vibrato worked well on ‘In Buddy’s Eyes’, ‘Too Many Mornings’ and her big number, Act Two’s ‘Losing My Mind’; while Baranski’s acid vibrancy pepped up ‘Would I Leave You’ (circling Hanson’s Ben like a snake as he was symbolically caged between the set’s flexible arches, which also served as doors, mirrors, and showcases, and her sense of brassy fun fizzed through ‘The Story of Lucy and Jessie’.

Polycarpou’s Buddy was a jaded traveller who juggled the wife who was bored by him and the girlfriend who was wowed by his status with seedy charm, and ‘Buddy’s Blues’ was fun, while his acting in the background while the story of his wife’s former love affair with the young Ben unfolded was well thought out.  As Ben, Hanson was in very good voice and he was well matched by Alistair Brammer as his younger self (we’d missed Brammer in ‘Miss Saigon’ as he was ill when we attended the show, I can see he would have been an excellent Chris).

‘Follies’ in many ways is about the girls, and they were all introduced in a chorus line by Russell Watson’s ‘Beautiful Girls’.  We had Stefanie Powers as Solange, Betty Buckley as Carlotta, Anita Dobson as Stella, Anita Harris as Emilie, Lorna Luft as Hattie, and Charlotte Page as Heidi.  I’d seen Page a couple of weeks ago as the Beggar Woman in Sweeney Todd, so she is definitely versatile with pure opera coming to the fore here, but she seems far too young to play alongside such a veteran cast – although of a similar vintage to Henshall.  What I didn’t realise until I just looked it up was that Page is married to Alistair McGowan, who was tonight’s Dimitri (wasn’t this originally announced for Christopher Biggins?).

The other ladies do well in their roles.  The Whitmans’ ‘Rain on the Roof’ always strikes me as a curious inclusion to the score alongside the big numbers, but Harris, still glamorous, played well alongside comic great Roy Hudd in this piece; while Powers was a cheeky minx in ‘Ah! Paris’ with better singing than I expected.  Lorna Luft (otherwise known as Judy Garland’s second daughter) exuded star quality and big voice in ‘Broadway Baby’, the first palm-tingling showstopper of the night – I’d seen her on stage once before, in a show in Leeds alongside Wayne Sleep, and she hasn’t lost any of her energy: this song was a belter.

After Ben and Sally’s quieter, reflective pieces it was time for a bit of fun where Dobson took centre stage for ‘Who’s That Woman’ aided and abetted by her colleagues – nicely portraying Stella’s hesitation at going back to her singing and dancing past, and also perhaps the fact that this artist does not have the same musical range as the other ladies.  Whichever, the staging was superb, with a rotation of ensemble girls mirroring their mature counterparts, and Dobson clearly having a lot of fun, and deserving of her prolonged applause.

Betty Buckley – last seen here in Dear World – was, as expected, a superb Carlotta.  ‘I’m Still Here’ has been much performed: if you go to YouTube you can watched Dolores Gray, Ann Miller, Elaine Stritch, Elaine Paige, Shirley MacLaine, Carol Burnett, tonight’s own Christine Baranski, Yvonne DeCarlo, Polly Bergen, Eartha Kitt and more perform the number.  It was perhaps the highlight of the night, although I still find Buckley a cold performer in some ways while others might engage more with their audience.  Regardless, she is a huge Broadway star and was a good choice for this show’s Carlotta.

The richness of the Sondheim music is often lost in a show which is hard to revive, but the central quartet and their regrets and futures were portrayed well, and the quieter songs were not lost in the mix.  ‘Too Many Mornings’ is perhaps one of his finest lost relationship songs, and this was done well – as was Henshall’s Sally reacting with clear grief when she realised her suspicions about her husband Buddy’s infidelity were true.  Baranski’s Phyllis also showed a soft centre under the hardness she had developed over the years in a marriage where she felt taken for granted.

A word, too, for the ensemble, who worked hard, from the glamorous girls to the suited boys (young Sally – Amy Ellen Richardson, young Buddy – Jos Slovick and young Phyllis – Laura Pitt-Pulford), to Carol Ball’s veteran chorus member – and of course the City of London Philharmonic under the baton of Gareth Valentine.  This was a show I was pleased to attend (no sign of cameras or recording equipment so I assume it has not been recorded for posterity), despite the disappointment of feeling cheated by the venue in their description of the seats we purchased.

Some decent curtain call photos were afforded by our view though (once we stood up), and I present a couple for you – Miss Luft and Miss Powers:

follies curtain call 1

… and the best I could get of tonight’s core couples:

follies curtain call 2


Staatkapelle Berlin/Barenboim (Royal Festival Hall)

A very special concert this week at the Royal Festival Hall, with Daniel Barenboim leading his Staatkapelle Berlin orchestra through a couple of intense pieces from Tchaikovsky (Violin Concerto, with Lisa Batiashvili as soloist), and Elgar (2nd Symphony).

The violin piece is a chance for the soloist to show off her virtuosity, and such was the case here – and a joy to watch, from our seats above the orchestra, the interaction between Batiashvili and Barenboim as he watched her play.  Just wonderful.  This is a joyous and uplifting piece in which the Staatkapelle excelled themselves.

The Elgar, though, was the highlight of the evening – and across the whole orchestra, there was outstanding work from strings, woodwind, percussion, and brass.  Barenboim was awarded the Elgar Medal at the end of the night for his five decades of work championing this great modern composer, and in mentioning his former wife and ‘great Elgarian’ in his speech (not by name, but everyone in the house knew who he meant) he awakened memories of that superb Cello Concerto performance of days gone by.


Berlin Philharmonic/Rattle (Royal Festival Hall)

A London visit from the Berlin Philharmonic is always an occasion, and this Valentine’s Day visit from them, with their conductor Sir Simon Rattle on the podium, did not disappoint, especially as they were playing their signature piece, Mahler’s Symphony No 2, the Resurrection, in an emotional and absorbing rendition assisted by the London Symphony Chorus, the CBSO Chorus, soprano Kate Royal, and mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozená.

The orchestra could very well play this piece in their sleep, but the strings, the woodwind, and the percussion all gave it life and energy, and the solo arias from Royal and Kozená were beautiful.  But it is the chorus, that chorus, that soar of voices which makes this piece so special, and which brings tears now and then from audiences.  The human voice is probably one of the greatest of all instruments – and even if this choir performs much of their singing seated in Rattle’s voice of the piece, it remains an effective piece of ‘theatre’.

Before the Mahler, we were treated to Helmut Lachenmann’s Tableau for orchestra, which is a very modern and sparse piece, enjoyable and very different to the melodies of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  A good companion piece, then, to the mighty Resurrection.


Twisting the Dial (BBC Concert Orchestra, Queen Elizabeth Hall)

This second concert in the series by the BBC Concert Orchestra was of rather more pedestrian fare than the one presented last week as part of Friday Night is Music Night.   Grant Llewellyn was the conductor, the singer was Anna Jane Casey, the solo flautist was Ileana Ruhemann, the MC was Ian Skelly, and the concert was transmitted live to BBC Radio 3.

Although there was a mix of music from television, the radio, and the cinema from the years 1959-1979 included in this concert, it didn’t really give a sense of the changing times, although there was some discussion between Skelly and a historian who specialised in the period (I didn’t catch his name).

So the songs – the theme to the Bond film ‘You Only Live Twice’ (John Barry/Leslie Bricusse), ‘Alfie’ (Burt Bacharach/Hal David), ‘Yesterday’ (Lennon/McCartney), and ‘As Long As He Needs Me’ (Lionel Bart’s song from the musical ‘Oliver!’) – were well enough delivered, although the sound mix sounded a bit off in the hall itself.  The musical pieces varied from the buoyancy of the ‘Thunderbirds’ theme by Barry Gray, the ‘Carry On Doctor & Carry On Again Doctor’ suite by Eric Rogers, and excerpts from the opera ‘Our Man In Havana’ by Malcolm Williamson to a truly dull ‘Suite on English Folk Tunes’ by Britten and a well-performed but forgettable ‘Flute Concerto No 2′ by Malcolm Arnold, and nostalgic pieces like Johnny Douglas’ theme to the film ‘The Railway Children’ and Walton’s prelude for Granadaland.

Hard to say why this concert didn’t quite succeed – perhaps the programming was slightly on the heavy side, perhaps the sound balance was a factor (we couldn’t hear Skelly’s introductions as I am assuming he was miked up only for radio), perhaps we needed an MC and a conductor with a bit more energy.  Whatever the reason, the applause tonight was polite rather than enthusiastic.


Friday Night is Music Night (Queen Elizabeth Hall)

A finely nostalgic night about The Light Programme, titled ‘On the Wireless and Off the Box’, on stage at the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall and live on Radio 2, with the ghosts of Hancock and Semprini, Jimmy Edwards, Flanders and Swann, Gus Elen, Max Miller, and others jostling for space with songs from My Fair Lady (‘Show Me’) and Carousel (‘If I Loved You’), as well as Noel Coward’s sparkling Nina.

Bringing these to life for us, under the watchful eye of Master of Ceremonies Ken Bruce and conductor Gavin Sutherland, were the BBC Concert Orchestra, Kitty Whately, Simon Butterkiss, Roy Hudd, and Tim FitzHigham/Duncan Walsh.  It’s quite a feat the move from the fun of ‘In Party Mood’ to the pomp of ‘Orb and Sceptre’, to the music hall high jinks of ‘It’s A Great Big Shame’ and ‘Lucky Jim’ to the crowd-pleasing singalong of ‘Mud, Glorious Mud’ and the patter song ‘My Name is John Wellington Wells’ (from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Sorcerer).  The most touching thing was to see Roy Hudd, a man who appears more elderly when he isn’t in full flight, deliver ‘While London’s Fast Asleep’, by Harry Dacre, which could indeed “have been written yesterday”.

Funny, too, to see an audience delight in banter between Tony Hancock and Kenneth Williams, relayed over the years, and snicker at Dick Barton.


Highlights of 2014

I want to share my personal cultural highlights of the year, especially when living in the capital where so much goes on and so many opportunities are around to visit the theatre, the cinema, and exhibitions (I haven’t done many this year, so I haven’t ranked them).  I don’t work in this field (I’m a senior manager in academic libraries), but I like to see as much as possible, and with the BFI Southbank, the National Theatre, the Southbank Centre, and the Barbican, we are extremely lucky, as well as being able to make the occasional excursion into the expensive West End.

Theatre:

1 The Crucible, at the Old Vic.  Richard Armitage was superb as John Proctor in Arthur Miller’s still-powerful play.

2 Ballyturk, at the National Theatre.  This divided audiences but I really liked it and came away thinking about Enda Walsh’s absurb creation for a long time afterwards.

3 Happy Days, at the Young Vic.  Juliet Stevenson was heartbreaking as Winnie in the Samuel Beckett classic.  More Beckett to come in 2015 as I see ‘Waiting for Godot’ at the Barbican.

4 Henry IV, parts 1 and 2, at the Barbican.  The RSC brought Antony Sher as Falstaff and Jasper Britton as Henry in this pair of classic Shakespeares.

5 The Importance of Being Earnest, at Richmond Theatre.  I liked this gentle parody of the Wilde classic, seen through the eyes of an ageing amateur theatre company.

Honorable mentions go to the revival of Miss Saigon, at the Prince Edward, and Twelve Angry Men, at the Garrick.

The disappointments of the year were Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and Richard III, at Trafalgar Studios.

Film:

1 NT Live – there were some excellent performances transmitted to cinemas this year – War Horse, Skylight, and A Streetcar Named Desire.  This is fast becoming a much cheaper alternative to forking out London theatre prices.

2 Jane Eyre (1956).  The BFI Southbank showed the entire Stanley Baker/Daphne Slater series as part of its Gothic season back in January.  It is absolutely terrific.  Whether it will ever see the light of day on DVD (it is a BBC production) is doubtful, but if you get a chance to see it, it is a definite must-see.  It is now my fourth favourite version of the eleven films/miniseries I have seen adapted from this book.

3 Monty Python Live – 1 Down, 5 To Go.  I saw this at the cinema, live from the final night at the O2.  I am a long-time Python fan but was sceptical about whether this reunion would work.  It was a musical comedy extravaganza.

4 I was very pleased to get a chance to watch the original Django (1966) on one of those cheapo Sky channels.  The gorgeous Franco Nero in an ultra-violent (for its day) Spaghetti western.

5 I got twelve films into my Reverse Hitchcock marathon.  With 44 more films to go, I might finish this in 2015, but then again I might not.  Psycho and Frenzy were particularly brilliant.

Honorable mention goes to my discovery of the 1919 The World and Its Woman, which I thought was lost.  Now I have seen three Geraldine Farrar films!  You can see it, and many other films from European film archives, here.

Television:

1 Peaky Blinders (series 2, BBC).  The television event of the year as far as I’m concerned.

2 CBeebies commemorated the anniversary of the Great War with a very touching short called Poppies.  Quite superb in its simplicity, geared to its young pre-school audience.

3 Grand Hotel continued its mix of murder, secrets and period drama in the Spanish series running on Sky Arts.  It returns for a final run in the first week of January 2015.

4 The viral video that was Too Many Cooks took everyone by surprise with its quirky take on American sitcoms.

5 We got the first series of The Vikings, which ran, curiously, on History, with an American and Irish cast and creatives.  It was a TV highlight while Gabriel Byrne appeared as the warrior leader (he also appeared with less fanfare as the alcoholic pathologist in Quirke), but tailed off thereafter.

Honorable mentions go to Remember Me, a creepy ghost story starring Michael Palin, and the Victoria Wood play That Day We Sang.

DVDs:

1 My purchase of the year has to be the 1965-69 series The Power Game.  Intrigue in the boardroom (and implied in the bedroom) this series from half a century ago is sharp, engrossing, well-acted, and has a marvellous opening sequence where all the main cast assemble in Paternoster Square in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral.

2 The Dutch release of Who Pays The Ferryman was well worth watching.  I like Michael J Bird’s dramas and was similarly impressed with his earlier series The Lotus Eaters.

3 Young Anthony Newley made his debut in The Adventures of Dusty Bates, a TV serial that has made it to cut price DVD.  He was around 12 or 13 here and wasn’t quite in Vegas mode, yet.  He was a decent little performer.

4 The wonderful set of Ealing Rarities from Network Distributing came to an end with volume 14.  This series of discs has brought 56 films back into distribution, some for the first time since their release.  Network continue with their companion series of British Musicals of the 1930s, which is about to reach volume 3.

5 The BFI, as part of their Sci-Fi season, released Out of the Unknown, which presents all the surviving episodes of the BBC landmark series.  I have had these episodes on bootleg discs for years but this set makes them look as great as possible with a sumptuous booklet.  Well worth a purchase, and will be the subject of a more in-depth blog post in 2015.

Sport:

The only event worth noting really is the surprising rise of Brentford FC in the Championship, which is good news for the other member of our house, a fan of some 40+ years standing.  May they stay in the top half of the table for the remainder of the season.

Concerts:

Chrissie Hynde and Joan Baez both impressed, independently, at the Royal Festival Hall.  Chrissie gave us her new album but saved the best of Pretenders material to last, and Baez performed a rounded set of classics.


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Emily Baycroft

Currently a final year English student at the University of Cambridge. Producing Intern for Fuel Theatre July-October 2016. Aspiring Arts Administrator/Theatre Producer, blogging about my projects (mostly).

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Currently a final year English student at the University of Cambridge. Producing Intern for Fuel Theatre July-October 2016. Aspiring Arts Administrator/Theatre Producer, blogging about my projects (mostly).

MTAS

West End Reviews | West End Challenges | Exclusive West End News

A Red Lip And A Nude Shoe

Dior Dreams On A Kmart Budget

is there room for me to sew?

Quilting, Reading and the Movies

The Case for Jeanette and Nelson

"Whaddya gonna do? I love her. I think she loves me." -Nelson Eddy on the Jack Parr Show, 1960

STARDUST AND SHADOWS

Opinions on Classic Hollywood , B Movies, Grindhouse, SF film , Classic Horror, Film Noir, Books, and related subjects by Canadian film guy TERRY SHERWOOD. (This site is not affiliated with author Charles Foster and his book Stardust and Shadows.)

The Wonderful World of Cinema

This blog is all about cinema, movies and stars of every decades. It's wonderful!

Movie classics

Thoughts on older movies, especially those from the 1930s to 1950s.

Hiss and Tell

Featuring Gryff, the angry diabetic cat, and the humans who serve him

TESSA BARRIE'S LOST BLOGS

LIFE'S TOO SHORT TO BE NICHE ...

[insert title here]

just one of many things i'm still trying to figure out

buchanblog

A trip down Memorex lane

The Phantom Frame

Information about the creative works of Gareth Preston

West End Blog

Bringing you independent, honest, experienced reviews of current theatre shows. We believe theatre is something truly magical and can be enjoyed by everyone.

Archive Television Musings

"To waste one second of one's life is a betrayal of one's self! I wonder what's on television?"

The Actor's Advocate

In defence of acting

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