Posts Tagged ‘Robert Innes Hopkins’

Heart of Darkness, Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, November 2011

2 November, 2011

Wow! This was a remarkable achievement by 33 year old composer Tarik O’Regan, along with a libretto by artist Tom Phillips.

The crew on the boat

They have packed Joseph Conrad’s novella into 75 minutes of gripping musical narrative, starting in London with the old sea captain, Marlow — beautifully sung by Alan Oke — in a moment of recollection, “He was a remarkable man”. This is repeated in different forms, and although nothing is hurried, everything is accomplished. Marlow goes into the heart of Africa, upstream with his crew.

Edward Dick and Robert Innes Hopkins have come up with a wonderful design. The deck of the boat moves up and down on water that seeps through, and the effect is that we are there with them as they move up river. It is all helped by Rick Fisher’s lighting, which is mostly dark, but sometimes brilliantly lit with the crew is in the midday sun, and when the witch-doctor appears later we see a strangely magical projection roiling the air.

Alan Oke as Marlow

The sets and lighting help, but the atmosphere is created by the music and libretto. The tension, the frustrations, “What I really need are rivets”, and when the rivets eventually arrive the crew dance for joy. Bright interludes there may be, but the percussion, strings and woodwind create a sense of the jungle, and the crew pull out their guns, “The jungle has eyes in it”. They survive an attack, instigated by Kurtz, that mysterious man whom we eventually meet, strongly sung by young Danish bass Morten Lassenius Kramp. He looks the part in spades, lying on a table, yet supremely fit and slim when he stands up. A man of vision, or is it obsession — Kurtz and his ivory, “They will try to claim it as theirs. It’s my ivory. I want nothing more than justice”. But as Marlow later sings, “His intelligence was perfectly clear, but his soul was mad”.

Marlow and Kurtz

The opera ends as it starts, on the river Thames in London. Kurtz’s fiancée, sung by Gweneth-Ann Jeffers, reappears and we are back to Marlow’s conversation with her at the beginning. He muses about the ‘remarkable man’, impossible to know him and not admire him. She wants to know what were his last words, and Marlow is stuck. “The last word he announced was . . . your name”. It is almost the end, and as the tide of the music goes out and in, we are left to ponder on the eternal insanity of acquisitive obsession.

The music was played by CHROMA conducted by Oliver Gooch, and I would gladly hear and see it all again. This is the first time I remember seeing surtitles in the Linbury Studio, and they worked very well. Performances continue until November 5 — for details click here.

Clybourne Park, Wyndham’s Theatre, London’s West End, February 2011

6 February, 2011

The title of this play refers to an area of Chicago (about 1400 north) around the junction of Clybourn and Larrabee. It’s a little southeast of the Steppenwolf Theatre, home to the playwright Bruce Norris, and just north of the infamous Cabrini Green housing estate. The general area is often referred to as Old Town where, in the late 1950s and 1960s, there was an exodus of white residents as black families started to move in. Many years later a process of gentrification started on the north side of Chicago, and by the early 1990s it was beginning to take hold in Old Town as block by block young professionals started buying up the lovely frame houses and remodelling them.

Bev (Sophie Thompson) tries to give her maid (Lorna Brown) some unwanted junk, photo by Donald Cooper

The new buyers had to keep within the city’s planning laws, and the second part of this play starts with a meeting between realtor, lawyer, buyers and local (black) residents. The buyers are so-o-o keen. The young pregnant wife is so liberal (“half my friends are black”) and so frightfully wary of offending the black people, but she just doesn’t quite get it. In fact hardly anyone gets it — they’re all so desperately keen to talk that no one listens, so they simply talk over one another when it suits them.

The audience in the theatre loved it when the participants got heated and started telling racial jokes, two of which were quite nasty. The trouble started when the black lady politely tried to say something several times, and eventually got it off her chest, saying she was concerned about the neighbourhood changing its character. But the innuendo was clear and when she got a reaction, her husband bristled with a counter-reaction, and things deteriorated. Ironically, the black lady’s parents had worked for the couple who sold the first house to a black family in 1959 — and it was this particular house.

That happened in Act I where we learn that they defied the local residents’ committee. They did this because their son had committed suicide after getting nasty jibes from his neighbours, following his return from the Korean War. Then in Act II the young husband tries to make peace with the black residents by saying he hates his current neighbours in the suburbs, with their yellow ribbons on their cars. A yellow ribbon shows you’re the proud parent of a someone serving with US forces in Afghanistan or Iraq, and the young husband thinks he’s being liberal and therefore in some confused way anti-racist. The black husband however has three sons serving overseas, so the white man is coming full circle to the issue that led to the original sale to a black family.

The trouble with these people is that they think they know more than they do, which the playwright Bruce Norris makes perfectly clear in both acts with definite statements about capital cities and the origin of the word Neapolitan. In Act I the wife says it means new city, which is correct, and her husband says it means from Naples, which is also correct. They argue. In Act II both parties are in agreement about the beauty of Spain, but then that drifts to Morocco, and the husband asserts its capital is Rabat (correct) while others think it’s Marrakech or Tangier. He’s right, but the point is that while everyone is reasonably well endowed in the IQ department, their emotional intelligence is lamentable.

Both acts end with people angrily leaving through the door, but at the very end a letter surfaces, as do ghosts of the past.

Direction by Dominic Cooke kept the action moving at a great pace, and with excellent designs by Robert Innes Hopkins, very well lit by Paule Constable, this was a fine production. Acting was more variable. Lorna Brown and Lucien Msamati were very good as the black couple, Sarah Goldberg was brilliant as the young wife in Act II, and her husband was very well played by Stephen Campbell Moore. Having lived in Chicago for thirty years, I found some of the accents didn’t quite ring true, and one or two portrayals seemed a bit over the top. When things got over-heated and the angry racial jokes started, most of the audience seemed relieved to burst into loud laughter, but that was their issue not the actors’. It’s a clever play, using the housing market to expose the repressed anger of many black Americans and the self-satisfied ‘liberalism’ of many white professionals.

After transferring from a sell-out at the Royal Court, performances at Wyndham’s Theatre continue until May 7 — for more details click here.