Archive for the ‘January-April’ Category

Gianni Schicchi, Beijing, National Centre for the Performing Arts, April 2011

2 May, 2011

We entered the theatre late, but though the Chinese are very punctual it didn’t matter a bit. Silently taking our seats we found ourselves watching a spoken prologue — in Chinese. The side-titles were also in Chinese, so I was fairly mystified at first. Then after Buoso died, the pianist lifted her hands to the keyboard, and the familiar music started, followed by the singing, in Italian.

Gianni Schicchi is such a witty opera one can hardly go wrong, and this was all enormous fun. The singers were wonderfully animated, all clearly looking forward to the death of Buoso, a silent mime that I’ve seen staged in other productions and found rather effective. After he expired, the entire cast — except Schicchi and his daughter Lauretta — surrounded the body, and events soon gathered pace with the search for the will.

When Brian Montgomery entered in the role of Schicchi, the performance reached new levels of wit and charm. This man, who has performed at the Met in New York and the Lyric in Chicago, as well as in many parts of Europe and the Far East, was a game changer, and the other singers supported him superbly. I can’t tell you the names of most cast members as they were only written in Chinese characters, but Rinuccio was well sung by Yang Yang, and his fiancée, Schicchi’s daughter Lauretta, was prettily sung by Wu Bixia, whose lyric coloratura is rather different from the usual soprano one expects.

It was all such fun that I managed to overlook the quiet chatter from audience members behind us, to say nothing of the man who used the light from his Blackberry to read the programme notes. Normally I’d go ballistic about such things, but somehow it didn’t seem to matter. We’d entered slightly late, and weren’t the only ones. Others arrived throughout the performance and the ushers quietly and kindly showed them to their seats. The last ones came in ten minutes before the end of the opera, after which there were two encores, including a reprise of O mio babbino caro sung by the whole cast.

Anyone visiting Beijing should see the National Centre for the Performing Arts, a fabulous egg-shaped building surrounded by water. Its several theatres take time to walk to — and that’s after you’ve been through security where you must give up cameras and bottles of water — so arrive ten minutes early or, like us, you’ll be late for the performance.

Manon, with Benjamin and McRae, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, April 2011

22 April, 2011

This work is one of the jewels in the Royal Ballet’s crown, and it hardly seems thirty-seven years since Kenneth Macmillan created it.

Leanne Benjamin in Act I, all photos by Bill Cooper

The performances had a wonderful freshness, and Leanne Benjamin brought Manon beautifully to life, showing her complexity: frivolity and teasing, anguish, fecklessness and the desire for pretty clothes, jewellery and a good time. She entered the party in Act II looking like a little girl surrounded by grown ups, seeming so pleased to see her brother before exhibiting a catching vivacity and zest for life as she engages the lecherous attentions of eight ‘gentlemen’. Steven McRae as her lover was a brilliant partner in their various pas-de-deux, and although Des Grieux is a bit of a cipher in this ballet, he performed with such perfect control and élan that his dancing took on an ethereal mix of nobility and youthful energy. This was McRae’s debut in the role, and from his first solo adagio in Act I to his remarkable spins in the scene where he knifes the gaoler, and his final attempts to console the dying Manon, he was superb.

Ricardo Cervera was wonderful as Manon’s brother Lescaut with his amoral attitudes, followed by later regrets and failed attempts to rescue his sister. His drunken performance in Act II was convincing without ever being over the top, and he was well aided by Laura Morera as his mistress, showing just the right amount of sexiness without in any way overshadowing Manon. Christopher Saunders portrayed a brutally powerful Monsieur G.M., and Gary Avis was riveting as the gaoler, from the moment he entered front stage left in Act III. This was altogether a terrific cast, and Martin Yates conducted with great sensitivity and emotional tension.

Leanne Benjamin in Act III

The music by Massenet contains nothing from his opera of the same name, and was originally compiled by Leighton Lucas, with collaboration by Hilda Gaunt. However, it seems that Martin Yates has re-orchestrated it, with fine effect. This was the first performance in the present run, and although Steven McRae was due to take the role of Des Grieux later, he replaced Edward Watson in today’s first night and I was delighted to witness such a marvellous debut in the role.

Performances with various casts continue until June 4 — for more details click here.

The Tsar’s Bride, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, April 2011

15 April, 2011

This is about love, jealousy, guilt and remorse — ideal material for opera — ostensibly set in the time of Ivan the Terrible (late Tudor period in England). The power of the oligarchs and the state security police (the oprichniki) is part of the story, and director Paul Curran, who has lived and worked in Russia, sets it all in modern times. The result carries complete conviction, allowing the human emotions, insecurities and scheming to shine through in a milieu that is easy for us to understand.

Lïkov and Marfa in Act 2, all photos ROH/Bill Cooper

Rimsky-Korsakov wrote this opera at the end of the nineteenth century, and made no attempt to follow what was becoming an academically Russian style. Quite the opposite in fact, and in Act I the young man Lïkov, who is in love with the heroine Marfa, sings a beautiful arioso commenting favourably on the way things are done in Germany. This is immediately countered by a chorus singing the glories of the Tsar, and dancing girls who entertain the oprichniki at a party given by Gryaznoy. He is also in love with Marfa, and his mistress Lyubasha is insanely jealous, to the extent that she asks the Tsar’s pharmacist Bomelius to give her a potion that will destroy Marfa’s beauty. Gryaznoy also acquires a potion — to make Marfa fall in love with him — and he gets her to drink it before her wedding to Lïkov.

Act 3, the wedding party for Lïkov and Marfa

The Tsar himself we never see, but he’s in the process of choosing a wife, and his choice falls on Marfa. She, however, has taken the potion given her by Gryaznoy, and yet unbeknownst to him, Lyubasha has switched the potions. These multiple deceptions end in tragedy in the last Act, as Marfa, now the Tsarina, finds herself dying. To cover himself, Gryaznoy has accused Lïkov and killed him, but as Marfa becomes delirious she believes Gryaznoy to be her beloved Lïkov, and he is overwhelmed by remorse. He admits to his crime, only to be outdone by the scheming Lyubasha, who realises she’s lost him. Death all round, but in the style of great opera we were rewarded with glorious singing.

Marina Poplavskaya was a wonderful Marfa, so pure of tone and innocent looking. Johan Reuter portrayed a powerful Gryaznoy, and Dmytro Popov sang Lïkov with a lovely lilt to his tenor voice. The other fine tenor voice was Vasily Gorshkov as Bomelius the pharmacist. The bass role of Marfa’s father was well sung by Paata Burchuladze, and it was altogether a strong cast, with Ekaterina Gubanova singing powerfully as Lyubasha, particularly in her unaccompanied aria in Act I.

Act 4 in the Tsars palace, Marfa lies dead

The direction by Paul Curran was excellent producing well-nuanced and entirely convincing performances. Sets and costumes by Kevin Knight were superb, and I loved the women’s costumes in the Tsar’s palace for Act IV. The purples blended with the gold leaf in the background, and gave a perfection to what in fact is a frightful scene of madness and eventual death. The set in Act III was simply fabulous, a penthouse with an outdoor pool, and the lighting by David Martin Jacques was remarkable. The bright skyscrapers in the distance, and the reflection of the pool on the upper facade of the balcony drew spontaneous applause from the audience.

Act 4, Gryaznoy kills Lyubasha

This opera is a favourite Rimsky-Korsakov work in Russia, yet little known in the West. The trouble is of course that recordings, and even scores, were not readily available until after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but we need to be seeing more of these works. Mark Elder did a terrific job with the orchestra, bringing the score to life, just as the production brought the story to life. For anyone who thinks this representation of Russia is over the top, and I met one such, read Adrian Mourby’s excellent essay in the programme. Yes, Russia looks entirely normal, but the abnormalities are associated with the oligarchs, and this is essentially the setting of The Tsar’s Bride.

Performances continue until May 2 — for more details click here.

Le Comte Ory, Metropolitan Opera, live cinema relay, April 2011

10 April, 2011

This uniquely Rossinian opera — his penultimate — is wonderful fun, and I’m delighted the Met has put it on, and done so in a cinema screening for the whole world to share. It’s not often performed because it needs three superb singers — in the roles of Count Ory, his page Isolier, and the Countess Adele — and the Met did us proud by having Juan Diego Flórez, Joyce DiDonato, and Diana Damrau in these roles. The superb singing and acting from all three was a treat.

All photos: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

In its original form this was a one-act vaudeville production by Scribe and Delestre-Poirson, produced eight years previously, and they turned it into an opera for Rossini in 1828. The story is based on the exploits of the libidinous Count Ory, a medieval Don Juan who featured in a well-known Picardy legend. Ory and his page are both enamoured of the Countess Adèle whose husband has departed on one of the Crusades. In Act I, Ory disguises himself as a hermit whose religious virtue and ascetic background can help sad people, such as the lonely Countess, to regain their composure. He does this by telling her she needs a lover to give her a zest for life, and the page Isolier sees his chance. Ory soon dissuades the Countess from such a liaison by telling her the young man is page to the terrible Ory, but then he himself is unmasked by his tutor, who’s been searching for him, and the plan fails. But Ory is a man of ingenuity and in the second act he and his companions dress as nuns and gain entrance to the Countess’s home in the midst of a storm. Lots of fun, particularly in a bedroom scene with Ory, Isolier and the Countess all together in a bed. When the Crusaders return it’s all over.

Rossini’s music is partly adapted from his wonderful earlier creation Il Viaggio a Reims, a sort of cantata-opera written for the coronation of Charles X. It may lack the vitality and flow of L’Italiana or Il Barbieri, but as that great Rossini expert Francis Toye writes, “No score of his shows such elegance, such piquancy, such grace”.

The page and the Countess

The production by Bartlett Sher was set in the eighteenth century, with suitable stage props operated from the side by a master of ceremonies who tapped his stick to tell the orchestra when to start. His comings and goings started before the overture as he walked over the stage within the stage. The glorious costumes by Catherine Zuber came from several time periods, and those for the Countess were magnificent, well matched by Diana Damrau’s brilliantly assured singing of the role, particularly in the top range. As her amorously insistent lover, Juan Diego Flórez made a superb entrance as Ory, disguised as a hermit with an obviously fake beard. His presence was riveting, and in the interval conversation with Renee Fleming we learned that he’d been in attendance at home as his wife gave birth a mere half hour before the performance. Congratulations to the Met for magically transporting him, and presumably his dresser, to the theatre on time!

Ory and the Countess

The page is a trouser role, and though it’s not easy for a woman to appear as a young man, Joyce DiDonato’s performance was as good as it gets. She was utterly convincing, and this is a woman I’ve seen as Rosina in Il Barbieri looking the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen — even in a wheelchair, which she used at Covent Garden in July 2009 after a stage accident. Superlatives fail me.

These three principals were well aided by Stéphane Degout as Ory’s friend Raimbaud, Susanne Resmark as the Countess’s companion Ragonde, and Michele Pertusi as the tutor. Fine conducting by Maurizio Benini kept the singers together beautifully and the ensemble at the end of Act I was simply terrific. A better performance of Le Comte Ory is difficult to imagine, and I would love to see the Met do more Rossini in live screenings.

Opera Shots: The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Doctor’s Tale, Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, April 2011

9 April, 2011

The Tell-Tale Heart is an Edgar Allan Poe story in which the narrator kills an old man whose pale blue “vulture eye” bothers him inordinately. He worries about his own sanity, yet insists he must be quite sane since he carried out the murder with such care and precision, dismembering the body and hiding the pieces under the floorboards. The neighbours heard a scream in the night and called the police, but he gladly welcomes them and they find nothing amiss. Yet the beating of his own heart makes him believe the old man’s heart under the floor is still alive. This confirms his insanity, and he pulls up the floorboards, confessing to the crime.

Richard Suart as Edgar

Stewart Copeland’s wonderful adaptation of this story to the opera stage starts with the narrator — here called Edgar — in a straightjacket  that he then takes off to tell the story. Edgar was sung with excellent diction by Richard Suart, showing a calm sanity while hiding an interior insanity. This craziness was cleverly emphasised by having a shadow Edgar, sung by Richard Scrivens whose voice I heard echoing the real Edgar before seeing him appear darkly on stage while the real one was there in full view. Sneaking into the room to commit the murder is an important feature of the story and we see several slow silent attempts at night while the victim’s “vulture eye” is closed. The perpetrator’s mad idea is to close that eye forever, but he needs to see it open before committing the act, which he performs on a night when a ray of light wakens the eye.

In this production, directed by Jonathan Moore, the eye, both open and closed, is shown as a projection on the rear wall of the room, which functions as a stage within the stage. When the two policemen in their nineteenth century costumes enter the room with two neighbours, they search in a choreographically stylised manner, finding nothing, yet the music reveals the increasing sound of the tell-tale heart, until Edgar can stand it no more, and after his confession the police put him back in the straightjacket.

In 1977, Stewart Copeland was a founding member of The Police, a rock band in which he performed as drummer and percussionist, as well as doing vocals. His music in this opera rises from the bass, and its rhythmic intensity gives the story huge forward drive. It’s terrific — the music, the conception, the staging, everything works together to give a riveting and intense experience. Robert Ziegler’s conducting gave the necessary tension to the music, and this short opera was worth the whole price of the ticket.

The second item of the evening was a huge contrast. Terry Jones has created a Monty-Python-esque story called The Doctor’s Tale. Its earlier title was The Doctor is a Dog, a very accurate description of the story. A human looking dog, well sung and performed here by Darren Abrahams, is seeing patients, particularly those who “need a little love and attention”. We see a picture of his mother, and hear lines such as “They said they wouldn’t let her loose/ to wander round the town/ They said that she had cooked her goose,/ and then they put her down”. Towards the end the doctor meets his mother in doggy heaven where all these human dogs are endowed with angel wings. This is after he’s been put down himself, having been imprisoned with other dogs, one of was once a headmaster, who was found out to be a dog because he “slobbered and drooled”. Those who feel that a dog is a man’s best friend will love it, and I loved the start with the fun choreography where the dog and his patients do a one leg, other leg routine just as if they were in a Monty Python sketch.

The dog-doctor with his secretary

Terry Jones created the production using 1950s costumes along with floppy ears, tails and black noses for the dogs. The music by Anne Dudley, conducted by Tim Murray, had Kurt Weill qualities at some points but was far lighter than Stewart Copeland’s music for The Tell-Tale Heart. The audience obviously enjoyed the whole experience, which ended in doggy heaven with an outbreak of love.

Performances of this double bill continue to April 16 — for more details click here.

Derek Jacobi as King Lear, Richmond Theatre, April 2011

3 April, 2011

From the first moments of irascible folly to the final moments of grief as he cradles the body of his dearest Cordelia, Derek Jacobi’s Lear came alive on stage in a way that made this relatively long play seem to race past in no time.

The production by Michael Grandage, touring from the Donmar, uses an almost bare stage to concentrate our minds on the characters and their interactions. Christopher Oram’s set of tall slats making an open box of the stage emphasised the immense proportion of the drama in which each character is in one way or another a victim. Wonderful lighting  design by Neil Austin — I loved the silhouettes as Lear is seated to await his meeting with Cordelia — and a terrific soundscape by Adam Cork helped bring atmosphere without ever overpowering the action. The heralding of the storm by lighting and sound created a sense of bleakness that moved the play forward to the next stage without losing any of the tension between Lear and his nasty elder daughters.

These ladies were coolly and cleverly played by Gina McKee as Goneril, and Justine Mitchell as Regan. When Regan puts Lear’s old servant in the stocks, and even more when her husband gouges out Gloucester’s eyes, Ms. Mitchell combined elegant beauty with cool sadism — superb acting. The third sister, Cordelia, was beautifully played by Pippa Bennett-Warner, and her dark skin colour compared to her two sisters suggested a Cinderella-like fiction that her sisters are step-sisters. In fact there is a Jewish story about a man who asked his three daughters to declare their love for him, and while the first two say they love him “as much as diamonds”, and “as much as gold and silver”, the third one declares she loves him “the way meat loves salt”. He throws her out, she becomes a servant and the Cinderella part of the story starts.

This more complicated story was beautifully acted by the whole cast. Tom Beard as Albany was calmly authoritative as he faced down Alec Newman’s Edmund at the end, and Newman himself showed nefarious intent throughout the play by his body language, making me wonder that the other characters did not see through it and look beyond his words. Paul Jesson was a wonderfully sympathetic Gloucester, but it was Jacobi’s Lear that overwhelmed my sympathies, and made this a truly great performance.

This Donmar production has already been to Glasgow, Milton Keynes and the Lowry, Salford. After Richmond its tour continues to the Theatre Royal at Bath, April 5–9; and Hall for Cornwall in Truro, April 12–16.

The House of Atreus, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, March 2011

1 April, 2011

Imagine a Greek theatre director adapting three of Shakespeare’s history plays into a single evening’s show. And imagine he did it by inserting new words and ideas into the original. How would you feel?

It’s not an idle question, because that’s exactly what Richard Twyman and Paul O’Mahoney have done with three Greek plays: Iphigeneia at AulisAgamemnon, and Elektra. The second is by Aeschylus, the other two by Euripides. The programme also credits Sophocles with the third one, but in fact this performance is based on Euripides in which Elektra lives with a farmer, rather than in the palace as she does in the Sophocles version.

Olivia Ross and Ben Lloyd-Hughes as Klytemnestra and Agamemnon, photo by Clive Barda

It’s worth noting that when these plays were written the stories they tell were already part of ancient myth. The Trojan War was hundreds of years in the past, and although this production is in modern costume, which is fine, it’s not so acceptable to insert a lot of modern vernacular in the context of ancient ideas about human sacrifice and honouring the gods. Such distortion of the original is a dangerous game, and I wonder what the point is. Certainly the whole thing was defiantly modern to the extent that in the last play, Agamemnon’s name was scrawled on a wall opposite Elektra’s hut, and written in modern Greek, rather than ancient Greek — what was the point of that?

In the first play there were boxes labelled hellfire missiles, which is fine in a modern context, but this gutted version of the play made Agamemnon — nobly portrayed by Ben Lloyd-Hughes — appear too weak and indecisive, as it omitted the huge build-up of tension while the army stayed becalmed and frustrated in port. When Klytemnestra appears, saying, “If someone could see their way to helping me with our luggage . . .” her words seem odd in the context, and that’s what I mean by inserting modern vernacular. The much repeated phrase, “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” is a neat aphorism, but more Shakespeare than Euripides.

It was a similar story with the other plays, and the oft repeated, “Count no man happy before he’s dead” is just not right. This originally comes from the reply Solon of Athens gave to King Croesus of Lydia when asked whether he, Croesus wasn’t the happiest man Solon had ever met. The response was, “He who unites the greatest number of advantages, and retaining them to the day of his death, then dies peaceably, that man alone, sire, in my judgment, is entitled to bear the name happy”. Sophocles, in Oedipus the King, used Solon’s reported words to create a brilliant line of lapidary compactness with which to end his play, “And none can be called happy until that day when he carries his happiness to the grave in peace”. Rather different from the brief line Twyman and O’Mahoney have created.

Despite criticising the adaptation, some of the acting in this student production was very good. I’ve mentioned Agamemnon already, and I liked both Olivia Ross as Klytemnestra and Rachael Deering as Elektra. Laurent de Montalambert came over strongly as Achilles, and Mabel Clements was happily enthusiastic as Iphigeneia, yet strongly determined when she decided to sacrifice herself. The determination suits her name, which means ‘born strong’ in ancient Greek, an epithet applied to Artemis, the goddess who transports her away, replacing her with a deer at the last second.

The direction was very effective at the end when Orestes kills his mother Klytemnestra — it was a nastily convincing murder — but that does not exculpate this bowdlerised combination of three plays. The work of those ancient Greek playwrights has crossed twenty-four centuries or so — a herald of excellence in itself — is that not good enough for us? Why tamper with them?

Cinderella, Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB), London Coliseum, March 2011

30 March, 2011

Stage versions of Cinderella are many and varied. In Rossini’s opera there’s a pompous stepfather, in Massenet’s a stepmother, and in Ashton’s classic ballet a father. But all agree that Cinderella’s mother has died, and in David Bintley’s new production we see a glimpse of her funeral during the overture. It’s a brief but poignant scene, well supported by Prokofiev’s music, as is much else in Bintley’s new creation — seen here in London for the first time.

The magic starts, all photos by Bill Cooper

The two stepsisters are played here as obnoxiously juvenile girls, their teasing easily turning to pushing and shoving, but they can also be funny and I loved the incidents at the ball with the major domo’s staff of office. Above all, however, is the nasty stepmother, brilliantly portrayed by Marion Tait. Her ball dress was stunning, and when the prince brings the slipper to the house she follows her awful daughters in trying it on . . . before Cinderella herself comes forward.

Frog coachman, lizard footmen and mouse pages

The business with the slippers is very cleverly done, starting in the kitchen scene of Act I. Cinderella brings out a red box containing a portrait of her mother, and two pretty bejewelled slippers. The stepsisters suddenly enter and grab them, until more urgent matters claim their attention and Cinders can hide them again. Then when everyone’s gone, and she’s alone again, the fire suddenly springs to life and a barefooted old crone appears from nowhere, seated next to it. Cinderella gives her the precious slippers, catalyzing the magic. Bintley uses the slippers very skilfully and when Cinders returns from the ball she fishes out the red box again, hiding her remaining slipper. Once again the wretched sisters burst in again and grab it, but this time they are interrupted by the arrival of the prince himself, and Cinderella, unable to hide the box in its usual place, sits by the fire holding it. This seems an awkward moment for her while the sisters and stepmother try on the slipper, but then shyly and slowly she comes forward with the matching slipper. There is no rush, and this important moment is given full focus, creating a sense of wonder, well supported by Prokofiev’s glorious music.

Elisha Willis and Iain Mackay, Act III

The music is well used, and Bintley’s production manages to insert magic into moments that are sometimes missed, greatly helped by Koen Kessels’ wonderfully sympathetic conducting. Designs by John Macfarlane express the dichotomy between the cold looking kitchen and the mysterious world beyond for the seasons and the stars, glimpsed in the distant background of the ball scene. I loved the way the coach came together at the end of Act I, taking Cinderella off to the ball, and I loved the clock, as it came together in Act II, with its inner workings showing the rapid passing of time. Lighting by David Finn was excellent and I particularly liked the gradual visibility of the ball scene at the start of Act II.

The corps de ballet and soloists danced beautifully and Elisha Willis was a lovely Cinderella, showing refinement and strength in reserve, well deserving her very handsome prince in the form of Iain Mackay. Victoria Marr was a gentle fairy godmother, and the sisters were very amusingly portrayed by Gaylene Cummerfield and Carol-Anne Millar — I particularly liked Ms. Cummerfield’s clumsiness at the ball, sickling her foot most horribly at one point. And throughout it all, Marion Tait as the stepmother, holds the stage with a nod and glance.

This production by David Bintley has moments of magic, and when you go you should buy a programme to read Neil Philip’s interesting essay on the myth of Cinderella, including a version connected with the folk tale aspect of Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Performances at the London Coliseum continue until April 2 — for more information, and to book on-line, click here.

Cause Célèbre, The Old Vic, London, March 2011

30 March, 2011

A young man kills his lover’s husband in a fit of jealousy. Should he hang? This is 1935 when the death penalty was mandatory for a murder conviction of this sort but the public was unduly sympathetic because the wife, Alma had carried on with him under her husband’s roof, and presumably wanted her husband, Francis Rattenbury out of the way. He was not an altogether nice man — after leaving his first wife he had the heat and lights turned off in their home, and flaunted his affair with his future second wife, the 27-year old Alma Pakenham.

The husband’s nasty streak is, however, not the point in this Rattigan play, which deals with the illicit relationship between Alma and her chauffeur, along with the court case, a cause célèbre in 1935. This frames everything towards the end, allowing us to see what really happened. Times have changed, of course, but the public’s prurient interest in personal scandal is timeless, and well expressed in this, Rattigan’s last play.

Anne-Marie Duff, photos by Johan Persson

Anne-Marie Duff as Alma Rattenbury was utterly convincing as a charmingly batty woman who lived life to the full. She probably wasn’t very bright, saying in court that she had no sex with her husband because, “the flesh was willing but the spirit was weak”, but then her lover was none too bright either, thinking he could get off by claiming to be on cocaine. The brightest person in the play is probably O’Connor the barrister, brilliantly played by Nicholas Jones. Add to that Niamh Cusack as Edith Davenport, portraying a fiercely judgemental woman who became the leader of the jury, and Lucy Robinson as her friend Stella Morrison, who takes a large, ultimately losing bet on the outcome, and here was the germ of a superb cast. Ms. Robinson’s cut glass accent was absolutely of the time, and Niamh Cusack was convincingly earnest in her possessive relationship with her son, her strict avoidance of her estranged husband, and her jury role as a key player in the verdict. These wonderful actors allowed Anne-Marie Duff to carry off the role of the adorable and infuriating Alma with tremendous spirit.

Niamh Cusack with Simon Chandler as her estranged husband

At the time of these events, Alma was 39 and her lover was 18, though in this production he looked older than that. The large age difference was one of the things that shocked the public, who saw her as the dominant partner. But as Rattigan’s Alma points out to the judge, it’s the younger person who has control in this situation. Thirty-nine can be a desperate age for some women, and had the age difference been the other way, the home secretary might not have intervened after the sentence. As it was the young chauffeur lived “a quiet life” until he died in 2000, aged 83.

The director, Thea Sharrock was also responsible for the National Theatre’s excellent revival of Rattigan’s After the Dance last year, and here again we have a fine production with designs by Hildegard Bechtler. I loved the lighting by Bruno Poet, which at times brought various characters from darkness to light, and vice versa — this was particularly good during the court scenes because the Old Vic is a cavernous theatre with a huge stage, and the lighting helped to create a useful intimacy.

The play runs until June 11 — for more information, click here for more details on the Old Vic’s website.

Preview — Cinderella, Birmingham Royal Ballet, London Coliseum, March 2011

28 March, 2011

Following its world premiere in Birmingham last November, and Christmas Day BBC Television debut, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s new production of Cinderella comes to London for the first time.

all photos by Bill Cooper

Choreography is by the wonderful David Bintley, with designs by John Macfarlane whose brilliant work on the Magic Flute was recently seen at the Royal Opera House. To top this, the lighting design is by David Finn, whose updated lighting for the Royal Ballet’s Giselle gives such a wonderful air of threatening magic to Act 2.

See my report after the first night on Tuesday, March 29.

Performances at the London Coliseum continue until April 2 — for more information, and to book on-line, click here.