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Posts Tagged ‘Pride’

Ten years ago Stephen Beresford’s first play, The Last of the Haussmans, went straight onto the NT’s Lyttleton stage and was a huge success. I loved it, and have been waiting ever since for his next. We’ve had a very good adaptation of Bergman’s Fanny & Alexander, a short monologue streamed as part of the Old Vic’s lockdown season and a terrific screenplay for Pride, but this second original play has taken ten years, including two waiting to get onto the Bridge Theatre stage for the now customary reasons. It’s what I call ‘a proper play’, well worth the wait, and the cast of this premiere production is uniformly excellent.

The Church of England in Devon may not seem the most exciting prospect for a drama, but this even-handed examination of it’s role in 2022 dispels that prejudice quickly. The vicar finds himself at the centre of a storm when he refuses just one of the requests for the funeral of a child. The community, most of whom never attend his church except for christenings, weddings and funerals, turn against him. Even his loyal wife, newly arrived curate, daughter / verger and the church authorities want and expect him to give in to the pressure, but he insists its what they need, irrespective of what they want.

Not only is the debate an objective view of the church in our times, it’s also sharp-witted and often very funny, both an entertaining and enlightening piece which takes place entirely in the vicarage kitchen (designed by Mark Thompson) whilst most events occur offstage. I couldn’t wait to get back after the interval and felt deeply satisfied at the end, as only good live drama can provide.

Alex Jennings is simply superb as Rev David Highland, a flawed but well meaning man who cares for the community as a whole, church-goers or not, despite his past infidelities and issues with alcohol. The uncle of the child, finding himself in conflict with his own family, uses him; this is another fine performance from Josh Finan, who so impressed in Shook and Peggy For You. Hermione Gulliford is superb as doctor’s wife Janet, jumping on the bandwagon, the woman you love to hate. Holly Atkins is a delight as the pregnant copper on a motorbike singlehandedly trying to keep the peace.

This is great writing, excellent staging by Nicholas Hytner and a fine ensemble. The cheers said it all; lots of us have been waiting for a meaty new play that never forgets to entertain whilst it illuminates.

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Contemporary Music

A friend suggested going to see Welsh harpist Catrin Finch & Senegalese cora player Seckou Keita at Union Chapel and what a brilliant suggestion it was. Their instruments blend beautifully and create an uplifting sound. It was the perfect venue, with a quiet respectful audience. Gorgeous.

I really don’t know what to make of Elvis Costello‘s concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Part of BluesFest (what?!). He brings Steve Nieve & they play 8 songs together, some in radical new arrangements. His song selections are eclectic and perhaps a bit quirky. He’s often uncharacteristically flat or off key. He talks a lot. It contained sublime moments, but not enough of them. It was certainly no crowd-pleaser and the audience reaction was distinctly underwhelming. Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames, supporting, were great (though he talked a lot too). They played two songs together, one in each others’ set. I’ve seen almost every EC London outing in 30+ years and this was probably the least satisfying. Most odd.

Opera

The autumn Rossini pairing at WNO was amongst their best ever. Neither William Tell nor Moses in Egypt are typical Rossini (which may be why I liked them so much!); the latter more identifiably Rossini. Tell was the more satisfying all round – Moses was also a musical feast but the production wasn’t so good. Former MD Carlo Rizzi brought the best out of the orchestra and chorus (yet again) and there was no weakness in the soloists – just various levels of good to great.

The English Concert’s performance of Handel’s opera Alcina at the Barbican was a huge treat. A faultless cast was led by Joyce DiDonato & Alice Coote and the orchestra made a beautiful sound. I’d thought it might be a star vehicle for Joyce, but she was superbly matched by the rest and the audience showed their appreciation for them all.

I’ve seen a handful of Philip Glass operas, but until The Trial they’ve all been on a huge scale. What this chamber piece proves is how much more suited his music is to this smaller scale. It’s an absurdist, impenetrable story but it was superbly staged and performed by Music Theatre Wales in Covent Garden’s Linbury Studio.

Dance

Lord of the Flies is a big departure for New Adventures at Sadler’s Wells. With two-thirds of the large cast amateurs selected from workshops and open additions, there’s a freshness and energy thoroughly in keeping with William Golding’s story and contemporary dance is a suitable form to tell the tale. It was dark, but I loved it.

I don’t normally like mixed ballet programmes but Birmingham Royal Ballet‘s Shadows of War at Sadler’s Wells caught my imagination, largely because of the music. The first piece, to a Ravel piano concerto, was a bit frivolous for me, but the second was a fascinating re-staging of a Robert Helpmann work set in wartime Glasgow with music by Arthur Bliss and the third a lovely piece set to Malcolm Arnold and Benjamin Britten – and all at a half to a third of prices at the other Royal Ballet.

Cassandra is a rare modern dance piece from the Royal Ballet at the Linbury Studio. It was a nice combination of dance, music and film and it held me for 70 minutes, but in the end it was just OK. I think it was the lack of effective narrative drive / story that was its weakness.

Classical Music

I persuaded a friend who has recently taken up choral singing to go for one of those ‘scratch’ performances put together in one day. The choice of Elijah was ambitious, but they pulled it off. The soloists were terrific, particularly baritone Neal Davies, who gave it his all as if was at the Royal Albert Hall, and the orchestra of a handful of Philharmonia section principals with music students sounded great. It would have been good to see a much bigger audience – where were all the friends and families of the orchestra and chorus?

The third of the Composer Portrait series at St John’s Smith Square was the best so far. Reverie was about Debussy whose writings were spoken by Simon Russell Beale no less. Pianist Lucy Parham played his gorgeous music beautifully and it was a captivating couple of hours.

Film

As much as I loved Pride, the casting of so many English and Irish actors as Welsh characters did irritate me – though I suppose you need Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton to sell films like this. I was surprised I never knew the true story behind it, but maybe it didn’t get much news coverage at the time. It’s certainly the most heart-warming, feel-good film for a long long time.

Dylan Thomas centenary

I found out about the Dylan Thomas in Fitzrovia festival very late on, by which time the diary was choc a block with other stuff, but I did manage to fit in some. A Warring Absence was readings of writings by him and his wife about one another by Daniel Evans & Sian Thomas with accompaniment by the Bernard Kane Players as a Platform performance in The Olivier Theatre and it was original and fascinating.  I’d never heard the Stan Tracy Jazz Under Milk Wood before – read excerpts accompanied by jazz which somehow works brilliantly; again original and fascinating. The final Gala Concert I had known about and this proved a real treat. An eclectic selection of Welsh music played by Camerata Wales (including world premieres) with readings of letters and poems by Sian Phillips, Tom Hollander, Griff Rhys Jones, Robert Bathurst, Lesley Manville, Jonathan Pryce and Owen Teale and songs from Welsh tenor John Owen-Jones and old folkie Ralph McTell. Two of the pieces combined Thomas’ works with music very successfully. For an Englishman, Tom Hollander’s reading of Fern Hill was almost as good as Dylan’s own!

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