Friday 30 November 2018

Ennio Morricone In Concert At The O2 - Review

The O2, London


Maestro Ennio Morricone
(Last year Turkish TV channel TRT World broadcast this 6 minute tribute to Morricone - At 2:12 into the clip, I am interviewed about the Maestro)

Ennio Morricone played London for the last time this week, his farewell visit to the capital heralding the gifted composer’s imminent retirement.

But what a spectacular farewell. In an evening that largely revisited the programme of his 60 Years in Music concert  from early 2016, (my review to that gig below) and again with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, with whom the Maestro recorded his Oscar winning score for The Hateful Eight, for the best part of three hours Morricone conducted a heavenly symphony of instrument and voice. Enchantingly sprinkled with l’italianità, the concert was a unique fusion of cinema, music and passion.

And enchantment is no understatement as to witness this musical genius conducting  the music that he has created is to see a summoning up of spiritual wonder. With more than 200 souls breathing life into his work within the sold-out O2, the Maestro wielded his baton as a sorcerer might wave a wand, delivering an evening of sheer magic and displaying an energy that belied his advanced years.

Hearing Morricone conduct his work live offered a chance, not just to re-enter the ethereal cocoon of his music, but also to observe some of the finer details woven into his compositions: the harp melody incorporated into The Good, The Bad And The Ugly; the fusion of baroque, tribal and sacred that make up On Earth As It Is In Heaven from (what should have been an Oscar winning score) The Mission. The detail that underlies his melodies and orchestrations is breathtaking.

The evening’s programming was inspired too, with the staccato Tarantella seamlessly segueing into Susanna Rigacci’s sublime soprano take on Nostromo. Morricone could almost have written for Rigacci’s voice – her delivery of the the vocal line in The Ecstasy Of Gold proving almost literally, an ecstatic, spine-tingling flourish to what is possibly the Maestro’s signature tune. Dulce Pontes offered a second wave of vocal delight – with no number sung more verve-infused than the lesser known, samba-esque Aboliçao from the 1969 movie Burn!.

The choral background to the evening came from the Crouch End Festival Chorus who, when called upon, were magnificent – with none finer than their own exquisite soprano Rosemary Zolynski who more than deserved her handful of solo moments.

Rigacci and Pontes both returned to the stage for powerful, passionate encores but perhaps the sweetest moment of the encore'd movements came from the delicate beauty of the Cinema Paradiso themes - reducing many in the packed arena to tears.

Now in his tenth decade, while there may have been an aura of mortality to the occasion, there was not a jot of frailty in Morricone’s presence. We may never witness the Maestro perform live in London again - but he has gifted to the world a musical legacy that will live forever.

My review of Ennio Morricone's 2016 Concert  at the O2

Friday 16 November 2018

Hadestown - Review

National Theatre, London


Music, lyrics and book by Anaïs Mitchell
Directed by Rachel Chavkin

Patrick Page
Running at the National Theatre prior to a Broadway opening, Hadestown offers a uniquely folksy and enchanting take on the tragic tale of Orpheus and his love, Euridice. For a potentially grim narrative, the musical is a joy thanks to the transformation of Anaïs Mitchell’s surprising and layered concept album into one of the most refreshing and riotous shows in London.

Rachel Chavkin directs the fascinating tale of human weakness and hope. The story goes that Persephone, wife of Hades lord of the underworld visits the earth bringing with her the seasons of Spring and Summer (and joy and booze). As Hades' jealousy grows, so Persephone’s visits become less frequent, unleashing hunger upon the world’s population including Euridice. An impoverished Orpheus promises Euridice the world, and it is against this backdrop that the musical plays out.

The range of voices that Chavkin has assembled is phenomenal. Reeve Carney’s Orpheus hits notes that would make Freddie Mercury proud while Patrick Page’s Hades occupies yje lower end of the register, bringing a growling, booming bass resonance to Mitchell’s score, the two men proving a perfect juxtaposition to each other. Eva Noblezada’s Euridice’s sweet and perfect Disney-esque voice almost doesn’t match the show's cool although, and again in contrast, Amber Gray offers a gloriously brassy, sassy Persophene. Winged narrator and journey maker Hermes is played by the inimitable André De Shields adding an easy, laidback “how it is” attitude to this sometimes overly fanciful show.

The production is a 101 lesson in modern musical theatre done well. Rachel Hauck’s glorious set twists, turns and expands, segueing intimate scenes into lavish numbers as Bradley King’s lighting transforms the stage, stunningly transforming a New Orleans jazz bar into an infernal labyrinth. 

Hadestown sees the capital graced with yet another sensational piece of new writing. A big, beautiful show with a soundtrack that you’ll want to listen to all the way home.

Runs until 26th January 2019
Reviewed by Heather Deacon
Photo credit: Helen Maybanks

Tuesday 13 November 2018

Don Quixote - Review

Garrick Theatre, London


Adapted by James Fenton from the novel by Miguel de Cervantes
Directed by Angus Jackson

David Threlfall

In James Fenton’s adaptation of Cervantes’ 17th Century classic, the fabled antics of Knight Errant Don Quixote are given a contemporary understanding that still preserves the original’s richness. 

David Threlfall is the aged Quixote, climbing onto the Garrick stage from the stalls in the first of the show’s many “Fourth Wall” breaches and is, quite simply, magnificent. Robed and biblically bearded, there is something of the Billy Connolly in Threlfall’s appearance which only underlines the tragi-comedy that driving this curious yet also intuitive take on ageing and fantasy. Threlfall captures the essence of Quixote - driven by proud self belief, and yet slowly being deprived of his mental faculties. His is a performance of the utmost sensitivity, perfectly nuanced in both physical presence and emotional magic.

Of course the relationship between Quixote and his manservant Sancho Panza is one of the oldest double-acts in literature, a pairing that might well have inspired the latter day genius of Blackadder and Baldrick.  Rufus Hound plays Panza and his casting is perfect. Amidst scripted and (when the fire alarm sounded on press night following mismanaged onstage pyro effects) ad-libbed audience interactions, Hound provides the perfectly tipped foil to Threlfall’s straight-guy, his common touch bouncing off the elderly would-be patrician. And whilst Panza’s coarseness contrasts with Quixote’s chivalry, Hound skilfully demonstrates that both men share a resolute moral code. Cynical, corpulent and always caring even if often underpaid, Hound’s Panza remains as lovingly loyal, as he is perceptive - with his devotion proving a bittersweet background to the play’s final act.

There is lovely work all round from Jackson’s company. Richard Dempsey’s Duke captures the mildly cruel foppishness of Spain’s aristocracy, while Natasha Magigi as Sancho Panza’s wife Teresa, surrounded by a bevy of wailing (marionette) infants puts in a neatly detailed, even if caricatured, glimpse of the manservant’s background.

Robert Innes Hopkins’ design is unpretentiously clever, with state of the art stagecraft mixed in with deliciously simple, centuries old puppetry. Windmills are cleverly tilted at and sheep are brilliantly battled, and when Quixote finally ascends to the heavens, the charm of his flight lies not in the obviously visible harness - but rather in the simplicity of its gorgeous imagery. The music is delicious too, with Grant Olding’s Latin and flamenco themed compositions (under Tarek Merchant’s baton) only adding to the tapas-like spread of treats that the evening offers.

If the moments of excessive boisterousness make for minor occasional distractions, they are trifling. The RSC’s Don Quixote has well deserved its transfer to the West End - it is poignant, funny, and perfectly played. Brilliant theatre!

Runs until 2nd February 2019
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

Wednesday 7 November 2018

Romeo and Juliet - Review

Barbican Centre, London


Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Erica Whyman

Karen Fishwick and Bally Gill

Romeo and Juliet arrives at the Barbican as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s London residency. Directed by Erica Whyman, Shakespeare’s classic story of love and rivalry is given a contemporary makeover that results in an energetic and urgent adaptation.

Although written over four centuries ago, this production feels chillingly relevant, with members of rival families brandish knives and fight on the streets, the bloody consequences of gang warfare brutally highlighted. The tale of the warring Montagues and Capulets is set in Verona, but it is easy to translate this culture to Sadiq Khan’s contemporary London. And yet, despite the tragedy, there proves a surprising amount of comedy interwoven within the drama and heartbreak that makes for an engaging evening.  

The production’s highlight is the host of standout performances drawn from a talented and diverse cast. Whyman elects to have the Prince of Verona and Mercutio played by women (Beth Cordingly and Charlotte Josephine respectively) and for the most part this works. Though a little over-exaggerated at times, Josephine puts in a fine performance as the spirited Mercutio, who is just as tough and brash as any of the boys and, tragically isn’t afraid to back down from a challenge. 

Elsewhere Andrew French provides a calming presence as Friar Laurence, keen to help the teenage couple but unwittingly setting in motion a wave of calamitous events. Ishia Bennison threatens to steal each scene she’s in as the cheeky, no-nonsense Nurse, a mother figure for Juliet, and at times it feels as if she wouldn’t be out of place in a Victoria Wood sketch, providing most of the comic relief. 

At the heart of the play of course are the star-crossed lovers, played by Bally Gill and Karen Fishwick, exuding chemistry. Gill shines as the lovesick Romeo, trying to keep the peace with his new wife’s family at first, then quick to turn with a dark, underlying temper. Fishwick’s Juliet is endearing, playful and passionate as the teenager struggles with the conflict of her heart’s desire and parental pressures, and it very much becomes her play. Though she is a joy to watch throughout, it is a particularly unnerving scene between Juliet and her bullying father, played by Michael Hodgson, as both actors thrillingly convince. 

Tom Piper’s minimalist urban design, centred by a rotating cube, takes some getting used to but is surprisingly versatile. There is a poignancy in it providing both the setting for Romeo and Juliet’s marital bed and their final resting place. Sophie Cotton’s music highlights the contemporary feel and boundless energy of the play, notably during the Capulets’ masked ball, now a rave. 

While the play isn’t perfect – the opening scene feels out of place, the production drags at times and purists may wish to look away – it is undoubtably a fresh and accessible take on an age-old tale. And much like Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 movie, this inspiring, compelling and youthful adaptation is sure to open Shakespeare’s most famous love story to new audiences.

Runs until 19th January 2019
Reviewed by Kirsty Herrington
Photo credit: Topher McGrillis