Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Oram’

Peter and Alice, Noël Coward Theatre, March 2013

25 March, 2013

Imagine yourself, as a child, the subject of a book — the protagonist in a series of whimsical adventures that happen around you. How would it affect your future life? Being true to yourself and dispensing with the image formed by millions of readers may be hard. And does it make any difference whether you’re a girl or a boy? In this play there is one of each, the Peter of Peter Pan and the Alice of Alice in Wonderland.

— check back later for images, when available —

They are quite different. Peter Llewelyn Davies and his four brothers were informally adopted by J M Barrie after their father’s death, and Barrie publicly indentified him as ‘the original Peter Pan’. By contrast, Alice Liddell, daughter of scholar Henry Liddell, Dean of Christ Church College, Oxford, was only twice in her life alone in the company of Rev Charles Dodgson (alias Lewis Carroll) who wrote the Alice books. At least that is what she says in this new play by Peter Logan.

The play refers to a break between Charles Dodgson and the Liddell family in June 1863 when Alice was 11, and associates this to Alice’s feeling uncomfortable in Dodgson’s company once when he took a photograph of her (he was a keen amateur photographer). But the central truth in this drama is a meeting between Peter and Alice that took place at Columbia University in America on the centenary of Dodgson’s birth in 1932 when Alice was 80. It was the first time that Peter Llewelyn Davies, aged 35, had met the widow Mrs. Alice Liddell Hargreaves, and Ben Whishaw and Judi Dench brought their characters very much to life.

As they talk, the young Alice and the young Peter join them, along with J M Barrie and Charles Dodgson, brilliantly played by Nicholas Farrell. Judi Dench brings out razor-sharp responses from Alice, as if she were one of the queens in Through the Looking Glass, overwhelming Peter with her intelligence and insight. As present meets past we see the proposal from her future husband Reginald Hargreaves, nervous that a girl from her intellectual background will simply dismiss him.

When the meeting between Peter and Alice took place, the First World War was over, and the world they grew up in was gone. We hear of Peter’s searing experience in that war, and at the end of the play we find out he committed suicide by jumping in front of an Underground train at Sloane Square in 1960. By contrast, Alice died peacefully two years after this meeting.

Good set and costume designs by Christopher Oram, and lighting by Paule Constable, served this Michael Grandage production very well. Fine acting — and I went for the actors — but I found its 90 minutes insufficiently compelling.

Performances continue until June 1 — for details click here.

Le Nozze di Figaro, Glyndebourne Tour, October 2012

5 October, 2012

This Michael Grandage production, new in summer 2012, is now on tour with a delightful young cast. Its staging gives a 1960s take on Mozart’s opera, with the Count and Countess as European nouveau riche living in a house boasting Moorish designs by Christopher Oram and lovely flowing robes for the countess, all exquisitely lit by Paule Constable.

Susanna, Figaro, Bartolo, Marcellina, all images Bill Cooper

The cast sings beautifully, sometimes brilliantly, and their acting is a joy. Figaro himself was strongly and sympathetically sung by Guido Loconsolo, portraying a man of bold intention but without the supreme knowingness one sometimes sees, and Joélle Harvey as his fiancée Susanna was a delight, very pretty in her black dress with white collar and cuffs, and singing with deft maturity. Her contretemps with Jean Rigby as Marcellina was charmingly done, and the Bartolo of Andrew Slater was a hoot.

Daniel Norman’s Don Basilio was also a bit of comedian, a wide boy in ill matching plaids and a red barnet moving amusingly around the stage and shifting his plates to the music. John Moore sang well as Count Almaviva in his Carnaby Street style clothes, moving with histrionics that wouldn’t be out of place in Fawlty Towers. Kathryn Rudge played the difficult role of Cherubino, doing well in the bit where she is a young man pretending to be a young woman, and Ellie Laugharne as Barbarina sang and acted very prettily.

Count and Countess

The cast worked well together, but the supreme performance was Layla Claire as the Countess. Her glorious purity of tone was complemented by body language and glances that expressed her feelings to perfection. She seems to have had fine ballet training, and her very few dance moves were excellent. This Canadian singer has been a young artist at the Met in New York and is clearly someone to watch out for.

The Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra under the baton of Jonathan Cohen played with plenty of forward movement and enthusiasm, and if you’re anywhere near the tour venues, don’t miss the lovely individual performances, particularly those of the Countess and Susanna.

After Glyndebourne this opera continues on tour at: Woking, Norwich, Wimbledon, Plymouth, Canterbury, Milton-Keynes and Stoke-on-Trent — for details click here.

Le Nozze di Figaro, Glyndebourne, June 2012

28 June, 2012

If you demand this opera in eighteenth century costume — and I overheard some in the audience who did — then forget it. But if you are happy to see a more up to date interpretation, then this is a winner.

All images Glyndebourne Opera/ Alastair Muir

It’s the 1960s and Almaviva is one of the nouveau riche, possibly a pop star, who occupies a magnificent house with servants. He arrives home with his wife in a two-tone sports car, dressed in a loud jacket of Carnaby Street style, while Basilio wears check trousers and jacket. He lights a fag from a silver case, and offers one to Almaviva, who later in the opera smokes a joint and shares it with Susanna.

Susanna and Almaviva

Don’t be put off — Almaviva’s a prat, we all know that — and he gets his come-uppance. It all works perfectly. Sally Matthews as the countess in long flowing dresses was elegance itself, and her soliloquy Dove sono i bei momenti in Act III was a lovely moment that captured the heart of the audience.

The countess

This Michael Grandage production gave us a wonderful stage play, complete with music and singing, capturing the natural interactions between its characters during this ‘crazy day’, taken from Beaumarchais by Mozart and Da Ponte. Vito Priante as Figaro showed quick-witted intelligence as well as becoming admirably disconcerted, and Lydia Teuscher as Susanna switched effortlessly from melodious phrases to annoyance and determination. Her interplay in Act I with Ann Murray’s well-nuanced portrayal of Marcellina was great fun. Andrew Shore as Bartolo delivered a superb La vendetta in Act I, and when he and Marcellina finally realise that Figaro is their son, he showed palpable astonishment and delight as he calls out Rafaelo! … gently pummelling his long lost boy. This is acting of very high quality, preceded of course by Almaviva’s short-lived delight at hearing Don Curzio’s legal opinion of Figaro’s contract with Marcellina, robustly delivered by Colin Judson.

Susanna, Figaro, Marcellina, Bartolo

Isabel Leonard as Cherubino showed characterisations ranging from an attractively sympathetic young man in Act I to infuriatingly testosterone-fuelled impertinence in Act IV, and her Voi che sapete in Act II was a knockout. Sarah Shafer as Barbarina was delightful in her mini skirt, and the dancing at the end of Act III amplified the location of this production to the 1960s when ballroom was strictly passé. Alan Oke’s Don Basilio fitted perfectly with this new hedonism, as did Audun Iversen’s Almaviva as a youngish success story in the world of fashion or entertainment with an elegant wife who no longer fuels his fancy.

Almaviva, with his wife in disguise

Sets by Christopher Oram filled the Glyndebourne stage with the feel of a vintage country house, a rotation converting Act I to II, and a second rotation after the interval converting Act III to IV. Stage positioning and movement of the performers was beautifully judged, and lighting by Paule Constable was superb. From the orchestra pit, Robin Ticciati commanded the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment with fine forward drive and sensitivity to the singers. A hugely entertaining co-production with Houston Grand Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, but see it at Glyndebourne first! Performances continue until August 22 — for 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.

Danton’s Death, National Theatre, NT Olivier, August 2010

14 August, 2010

This play by Georg Büchner deals with a two-week period during the terror following the French revolution. The events he describes were but forty years in the past, and Büchner knew many of the speeches by Robespierre and Danton by heart. He was born in 1813, the same year as Wagner, so both these brilliant artists were at a very impressionable age when the 1830 revolution in France brought the ‘citizen king’ Louis-Philippe to power, and both became young revolutionaries. But while Wagner lived to create great operas, Büchner died at 23. This play was written in 1835 when he was just 21.

Robespierre and Danton, photo by Johan Persson

The main characters are Danton, Robespierre and Saint-Just. In an interesting essay in the programme, Ruth Scurr writes that “Büchner presents a brilliant portrait of Robespierre as a cold-blooded hypocritical fanatical prig”. Does he? If so this production didn’t quite show it. Robespierre is a background figure in the second half of the play, and seems to show serious reservations about condemning Danton, while Saint-Just is the prime mover in getting him convicted and guillotined. In this sense I thought Alec Newman gave a strong performance of Saint-Just, while Elliot Levey gave Robespierre a wrather camp feel, as did Chu Omambala with Collot d’Herbois, but that was presumably the intention of director Michael Grandage. It did however create something of a Monty Python feel to the whole thing, except that it wasn’t funny. It was dull and unrelenting, and while Toby Stephens’ extremely emotive portrayal of Danton may have been convincing, it didn’t elicit my sympathy.

Saint-Just in public mode, photo by Johan Persson

Paule Constable’s lighting, and the music and sound by Adam Cork, were wonderful, as were Christopher Oram’s designs showing enormously tall doors and windows that made the revolutionaries look small. Robespierre’s remark that ‘Virtue must rule through terror’ is often repeated, and the play has plenty of youthful energy from its young cast, but feels a bit like a history lesson. It only had its first performance 65 years after its author’s death, and Büchner went on to write deeper things, particularly Woyzeck, which was later used by Alban Berg in his opera of that name. Of course it’s always worthwhile to recall the history of the French terror in the early 1790s, but if one wants to recreate a sense of idealism, and revolutionary energy run amok, Giordano’s opera Andrea Chenier is the thing to see — Covent Garden and the ENO please note.

The four acts of this play are performed without a break — lasting about an hour and three quarters — and near the beginning we hear Robespierre saying (in Howard Brenton’s new version), “Only by your own self-destruction can you fall” (German: Du kannst nur durch deine eigne Kraft fallen). Robespierre fell just a few months later, but at the end of this play it is Danton and his friends who go to the guillotine, and that final scene is a brilliant coup de theatre. Whether it’s worth waiting for, I’m not so sure.

Performances continue until October 14 — for more details click here.

Billy Budd, Glyndebourne, May 2010

21 May, 2010

The power of evil to destroy good is an integral part of this opera, so a production and its performance must be partly judged with that in mind. This new production by Michael Grandage goes for a sense of claustrophobia inside the ship, darkly lit, with two levels above the deck that the sailors inhabit. I liked the set design by Christopher Oram with its curved edges at the front, as if we are viewing the whole scene through a giant peep hole. The final death of Billy is done off-stage, only the pulling of the rope being visible within the ship.

Jacques Imbrailo as Billy, photo by Alastair Muir

The music — and this is wonderfully powerful music by Britten — was brilliantly played by the London Philharmonic under the baton of Mark Elder. The part of Billy, the cheerfully trustworthy foundling whom everyone loves, was strongly sung by Jacques Imbrailo, who acted the part with a suitably ready optimism. His nemesis, Claggart was Phillip Ens, whom I last saw in the Ring at Covent Garden singing Fafner. He was surprisingly lyrical, giving an impression of Claggart as a more nuanced and less evil man than one normally associates with the role. In his monologue in the second scene of Act II when he sings “alas, alas, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness comprehends it and suffers” it seemed he really regretted being the dark force he has become. The intellectual honesty and sad weakness of Captain Vere was brought out well by John Mark Ainsley, and Iain Paterson sang strongly as Mr. Redburn the First Lieutenant, as did Matthew Rose as Mr. Flint the Sailing Master. The cast worked well together, the chorus was terrific, and Jeremy White showed particular strength and sympathy as Dansker, the older sailor.

Volunteers with Billy, ready to fight the French, photo by Alastair Muir

The costumes by the designer, Christopher Oram were wonderfully drab, suiting Paule Constable’s sombre lighting, but with a flash of red for the marines who escort Billy to the yard arm. If you’ve never seen Billy Budd before then this production has a welcome conventionality that eschews unexpected imagery. It adumbrates the restrained power of a warship that has no immediate battle to fight, apart from the sighting of a French frigate that disappears into the mist as the wind drops. But I would have liked a greater sense of the open sea and the Christ-like aspect of Billy to emerge. Darkness is good, though I felt the shining light of Billy was dimmer than it needed to be, and the menace of Claggart could have been stronger. A greater contrast between good and evil might have left a more lasting impression, but it was a wonderful performance, with powerfully nuanced musical direction from Mark Elder in the orchestra pit.

Glyndebourne’s production of this remarkable opera, an opera having not a single female voice, is very welcome indeed, and performances continue until June 27.

Hamlet, Donmar production, Wyndham’s Theatre, August 2009

12 August, 2009

Hamlet

This was an excellent production by Michael Grandage, with large plain sets and modern costumes by Christopher Oram, well lit by Neil Austin, and the music and sound by Adam Cork was very effective. Jude Law was an anguished Hamlet, and though not a traditional Shakespearean actor he managed the part well, but I found little joy in his speeches. They seemed to be delivered too fast, or with inadequate breathing, to have the cleverness one often associates with Hamlet. Penelope Wilton was wonderful as his mother Gertrude, changing gradually from calm sympathy with her son to being an appalled accomplice in murder. As one critic said, she did look awfully like the ex-home secretary Jacqui Smith, but her increasing self-awareness left Ms. Smith in the narcissistic shadows inhabited by more than one of our modern politicians. As the king, Kevin McNally was robust and confident, a clever schemer well shown to be hoist on his own petard. One can hardly imagine him putting up with a doddering Polonius, and indeed Ron Cook portrayed that role with more vigour than is often the case. As Ophelia, Gugu Mbatha-Raw was lovely, but not entirely convincing in her descent to madness. Alex Waldmann was her brother Laertes, and I thought Matt Ryan was a wonderfully warm-hearted Horatio. The ghost of Hamlet’s father was very strongly portrayed by Peter Eyre, who also acted well as the player king.

Altogether this was a good production, well worth seeing, but I wish Hamlet’s speeches had been given with less force and more subtlety. And I did not quite see the point of having the soliloquy “To be, or not to be” given alone on the stage in a snowstorm.

A View from the Bridge, Richmond Theatre, May 2009

31 May, 2009

ViewFromTheBridge

This Arthur Miller play, about the self-destruction of dockworker Eddie Carbone, who lives in 1950s Brooklyn with his wife and niece, was beautifully revived and directed by Lindsay Posner. Ken Stott was excellent as Eddie, well demonstrating his insecurity, his intensely narcissistic love for his niece Katie and growing disenchantment with his wife. After overcoming his reluctance to let Katie go to work and become independent, he is presented with two brothers from their extended family in Sicily who move in to work as illegal immigrants. The elder one, Marco intends to stay five years and then go back to his wife and children, but the younger brother Rodolpho wants to become an American, and Eddie immediately senses a rival for Katie’s affections. When Rodolpho and Katie begin to fall in love, Eddie gets obsessed with the boy’s easy going and outgoing attitudes, accusing him of being gay. He eventually snitches on both brothers to the US Immigration Service, despite his lawyer’s warning that the reaction of his neighbours will destroy his own life. Eddie’s narcissism is well expressed by his cri-de-coeur “I want respect”. The wretched man cannot respect himself so he begs it from others, and his eventual demand for apologies, where none are due, leads to the execution of ancient Sicilian custom resulting in his own death.

The lovely 17-year-old Katie was beautifully played by Hayley Atwell, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio gave a strong performance as Eddie’s anxious and almost powerless wife. Harry Lloyd was a charming Rodolpho, and the elder brother Marco, who says but little, was powerfully portrayed by Gerard Monaco. The lawyer, who has a narrative role like a single-person Greek chorus, and attempts to turn Eddie from his fate, was excellently played by Allan Corduner.

Christopher Oram’s designs of the costumes and interior of Eddie’s apartment worked superbly, as did the lighting by Peter Mumford. The production by Lindsay Posner, which moved from the Duke of York’s Theatre in London’s West End, was well suited to this intense and emotional play, and the performance was riveting.

Madame de Sade, in a Donmar production at Wyndham’s Theatre, May 2009

15 May, 2009

madamedesade

The interesting question about this production is why the Donmar decided to devote their excellent creative energies to this play, which is such poor theatre. Indeed it’s not so much a play as a sequence of philosophical discussions concerning the Marquis de Sade and why he had such a strong influence on some of the women close to him. There is little action. All conversations take place in the house of Madame de Montreuil, who was brilliantly played by Judi Dench. She is the mother of de Sade’s wife Renée, excellently portrayed by Rosamund Pike. There are four other actresses, and no male actors. Fiona Button plays Reneé’s sister, who waltzes off to Venice with de Sade at some point in the recent past, but we only hear of this, never see any of it, and the same is true of the rest of the non-drawing room activities. Frances Barber as the Comtesse de Saint-Fond starts the play out by cracking her riding whip, showing a fascination in all forms of sex, and it looks as if this may make interesting theatre. But her later death during a riot in Marseilles, in the early years of the French Revolution, is only recounted in conversation, describing how she became a street girl, a darling of the people, whose dead body was seen to show her as far older than her pretended age. Her original interlocutor Baroness de Simiane shows a prurient interest in the countess’s gossip, and eventually reappears as a nun who will take Renée into holy orders, but none of this works as theatre. The interaction between Judi Dench’s Madame de Montreuil and her daughters is very well done, as is the interaction with Fiona Button as the maid, and the costumes and sets designed by Christopher Oram are lovely. But without action there is nothing to hold our attention, and the only blessing is that it lasts no more than an hour and three quarters, without an interval. If there had been an interval the audience would very likely have diminished, and I’ve heard that Judi Dench and Rosamund Pike, who have the largest roles, are counting the days to the end of the run.

So why did they put this strange 1965 creation by Yukio Mishima, translated by Donald Keene, on stage? Apparently the director Michael Grandage found it fascinating, and having seen his recent work on Ivanov and Twelfth Night I was expecting something really engaging. But while de Sade himself may have appealed to masochists, I did not realise you had to be a theatrical masochist to sit through this stuff.