Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Terry Gilliam’

Am I the only one who finds it somewhat ironic that the premiere of this anti-woke play is at the theatre that cancelled Terry Gilliam, resulting in the ‘deprogramming’ of Into the Woods?

Jonathan Spector’s play is set in a very liberal American school, where everyone is keen to please and upset no-one. The task the governors are undertaking when we join them is determining what ethnicity categories should be included in their website’s drop-down box. You quickly get a flavour of the culture of the institution we’re observing, on Rob Howell’s brilliant Day-Glo set.

The big issue that faces them, though, is on the horizon, when an outbreak of mumps pits the anti-vaxxers against those who don’t want to put their children at risk. It becomes very personal as the child of one of them is a victim of the disease. As with most things these days, it escalates very quickly from a debate and disagreement to outright war, in this case one that will lead to a dramatic change in their culture.

Though it’s refreshing to see such arguments aired in a theatre, its uproarious humour risks burying the debate of what are important issues in modern society – polarisation, divisiveness, bandwagons, lack of healthy discussion, comments taken out of context, jumping to conclusions……That said, it delivers as a satirical comedy, with fine performances (but why so many American imports?) though you can’t hear what they are saying in the funniest scene involving a zoom meeting, as they are upstaged by the ‘chat’ exchanges projected above.

Sitting in an audience made up of mature members of society who lapped it up, I couldn’t help wondering what a much younger audience would make of it. Go for the laughs, particularly if you’re tired of the woke new world. I suspect a sequel called ‘bloody health & safety’ would go down just as well.

Read Full Post »

I once had an email from the ENO encouraging me to book for ‘Terry Gilliam’s The Damnation of Faust’. I’d already booked, so I replied asking for a refund as I thought it was Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust. Such is the power of the director. I was therefore somewhat cautious about seeing a favourite show by my musical theatre hero directed by the same man, though in all fairness it wasn’t billed as Terry Gilliam’s Into the Woods. I needn’t have worried. Though it’s got his aesthetic stamp all over, it serves the show well.

Four fairytales are interwoven under the umbrella of a tale about a childless couple who need to collect four items – Cinderella’s slipper, Rapunzel’s hair, Jack’s cow and Little Red Riding Hood’s cloak – in order to break the curse. You are lulled into a false sense of security in the first half only to be confronted with the giantess’ wrath in the second. It’s very clever, containing some of Sondheim’s best tunes and lyrics, closing with a message cautioning us about what we say to our children.

Gilliam and his co-director Leah Hausman give it a period feel in keeping with Bath’s Georgian Theatre Royal, starting each act with a girl playing with an antique toy theatre. Jon Bausor’s design and Anthony McDonald’s costumes are brilliant, again with a period feel, a nod to panto and references to Monty Python when the giantess appears. What makes the show though is brilliant casting leading to sky high musical standards led by MD Stephen Higgins.

Chief among the stars of the show are Nicola Hughes as The Witch, a properly malevolent presence with stunning vocals, probably the best I’ve ever seen in this role. Rhashan Stone & Alex Young are excellent as the baker and his wife, at the centre of the story, Rhashan (who I’ve never really associated with musical theatre despite seeing him in three musicals) with charm and vulnerability and Alex with her beautiful vocals. Audrey Brisson is a firm favourite of mine and she’s simply excellent as Cinderella. Barney Wilkinson captures the naivety and neediness of Jack and Lautren Conroy makes an impressive stage debut as a feisty Glaswegian Little Red Riding Hood. The rest of the ensemble make outstanding contributions.

Nothing will ever replace that first time in 1990, or the Regents Park Open Air Theatre’s magical production in 2010, but this was still well worth the trip to Bath, after the Old Vic caved in to its staff’s wish to censor. Well, their loss was Bath’s gain. Surely someone will transfer this to London, or is wokeness going to override freedom of expression in our increasingly constrained artistic world.

Read Full Post »

Maybe because it was my first theatrical day in over two weeks I was easily pleased or maybe it’s because I’m old enough to remember Python first time round, but I rather enjoyed this somewhat indifferently received play about the 1975 US court case where the giant ABC network was challenged by the Pythons over the editing of its shows.

Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam travel to New York to persuade the network to restore much of its cuts and when they fail seek a legal injunction to prevent the scheduled broadcast. Starting and ending in Palin’s North London home, most of Steve Thompson’s play tales place in NYC – in a hotel room,  the network offices, the court and other locations. Along the way, it explores how humour is received differently depending on age and culture and the rights of creative people as well as the relationships between the Pythons (even those not on stage). It’s often very funny indeed.

Francis O’Connor’s design is an homage to the TV show and provides a superb surrealistic frame for the play. Edward Hall’s staging zips along and there isn’t a wasted moment. The cast is uniformly excellent. Harry Hadden-Paton broadens his range with a superb characterisation of Palin, starting as reluctant, moving to apologetic and later to indignant. Sam Alexander’s Gilliam excellently combines outrageousness with eccentricity. It’s great to see Clive Rowe in a non-musical role and he’s terrific as Python’s attorney, as is Matthew Marsh as the judge.

It’s not a great play, but I enjoyed it a lot more than I was expecting – and a lot more than most critics and other bloggers it seems.

Read Full Post »

I’ve been critical of ENO’s recruitment of film directors. These opera virgins – the late Anthony Minghella, Sally Potter, Mike Figgis and now Terry Gilliam – have had limited success, but it seems to me the real point of recruiting them is not what they bring to the art form but to generate a hype which sells seats. The best part of Figgis’ Lucrezia Borgia was in fact the films slotted into the action. The hype for Gilliam’s effort has been relentless; at one point the opera was billed as ‘Terry Gilliam’s The Damnation of Faust’, demoting Berlioz to a bit part in his own creation.

It’s an unusual opera – is it an opera? – with surprisingly little singing, but it does have some lovely music and the Faust legend is of course made for opera – Gounod, Busoni and Boito also had a go. Gilliam’s concept is to ‘follow the trajectory of German art and history from the late nineteenth century to the mid twentieth century’ and it’s a perfectly valid concept. The opening Caspar David Friedrich image is spellbinding. Then his imagination runs riot and he downloads so many ideas it’s difficult to keep up. It does slow down in the second half, which allows the story to breathe, but it is an extraordinary flight of the imagination. The trouble is, this swamps the story and overpowers Berlioz’ music, so it really is ‘Terry Gilliam’s The Damnation of Faust’.

The more experienced design team of Hildegard Bechtler, Katrina Lindsay and Peter Mumford do extraordinary work converting these ideas into stunning visual imagery, assisted by Finn Ross’ giant projections. Things aren’t so good in the music department, despite the fact that Edward Gardner is at the helm. The chorus was often ragged, Peter Hoare started well as Faust but in the second half was no match for Christine Rice’s gorgeous Marguerite and Christopher Purves continued his long journey from Harvey & The Wallbangers to give us a respectable Mephistopheles. Musically it wasn’t a patch on the LSO under Sir Colin Davies in concert or even Met Live at the cinema.

If you want to see Terry Gilliam’s The Damnation of Faust, you’ll be rewarded with a spectacle as spectacular as anything you’ve seen before in an opera house. If you want to see Berlioz’ The Damnation of Faust, you might be better giving it a miss.

Read Full Post »