Archive | December, 2013

Matthew Kelly and BGT dancers Flawless are highlights of Wimbledon panto Aladdin

23 Dec


Review: Aladdin at New Wimbledon Theatre

Dictionary compilers may have decided that ‘selfie’ was the word of 2013 but across panto land, the most remarked-upon cultural happening of the past 12 months has surely been twerking.

The phenomenon certainly gets a mention in director Ian Talbot’s Aladdin, which you can still catch at the New Wimbledon Theatre, although the plentiful dance sequences steer clear of Miley Cyrus-style bottom-wiggling in favour of more vigorously athletic and unimpeachably wholesome routines.

These are delivered with real style by acrobatic, body-popping Britain’s Got Talent survivors Flawless and regularly draw ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the audience.

Wimbledon has a tradition of big-name casting. This year, Jo Brand tops the bill. Her lugubrious stage persona ought to be an incongruous treat in the context of the relentlessly upbeat world of panto but she’s curiously underpowered as the glum, quick-quipping Genie of the Ring.

Fortunately, Matthew Kelly…

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Rhys Ifans is a menacing presence as rough sleeper Danny in Protest Song

20 Dec


According to Danny, a rough sleeper who keeps all his worldly possessions in an old kit bag, the Square Mile in London is a good place to bed down at night. Or at least it was until the Occupy protesters turned up and pitched their tents there…

Tim Price’s monologue is essentially a religious conversion narrative played out around St Paul’s Cathedral, although the faith Danny discovers is that of the political demonstrators rather than the church establishment.

Polly Findlay’s simple, stripped-back production in the National Theatre’s temporary Shed space boasts a real casting coup in the shape of Rhys Ifans, an electrifying presence who doesn’t have to try too hard to conjure up a sense of anarchy. He arrives muttering incoherently but obscenely, and there’s a whiff of genuine danger when he starts to pester audience members for loose change and their phone numbers. It feels briefly as though…

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Cabaret Voltaire’s #8385 Collected Works 1983-1985 and Various Artists’ French New Waves: New albums also out

20 Dec


Ferris Bueller was a Cabaret Voltare fan while French New Wave cheered on Hollywood.

Cabaret Voltaire: #8385 Collected Works 1983-1985

5 star rating

Ferris Bueller had a Cabaret Voltaire poster on his bedroom wall but one wonders what he made of their experimental music.

They started off in the mid-1970s as a Dadaist musique concrète trio but this box set documents the second stage of their career, when they signed to Virgin and attempted to move into the mainstream.

Cabaret embraced the world of Fairlight samplers and programmed beats but were held back from a New Order-style breakthrough by their limited melodies. However, their brand of rigorous digital funk still sounds futuristic.

Four LPs are complemented by two live DVDs, two discs of 12in mixes and a film soundtrack; all sound even better than they did 30 years ago.

Various: French New Wave

4 star rating

In the middle years of the last century, jazz enjoyed a…

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Chance to see three rarely performed Eugene O’Neill shorts

17 Dec


This three-pack of rarely seen short plays by Eugene O’Neill is about as potent an antidote to seasonal good cheer as you’re likely to find. O’Neill was a dedicated portraitist of human misery and disillusionment and these early works, though dramatically immature, are true to the spirit of pessimism of his later, full-length masterpieces.

In the Strindberg-influenced Before Breakfast (1916), a despairing wife berates her unseen husband for his philandering and general fecklessness. There’s grim wit in the sudden appearance of the man’s shaky hand and the dripping sound when he finishes shaving behind his curtain but part of O’Neill’s intention with the piece was reportedly to test the audience’s patience – the fact that here the monologue is brilliantly delivered by the Olivier-winning Ruth Wilson makes it bearable.

The Web (1913) allows a prostitute with a bad cough and a baby briefly to glimpse redemption before dashing her hopes…

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Theatre Royal Stratford’s Dick Whittington: A real crowd-pleaser

16 Dec


Theatre review: Theatre Royal Stratford’s Dick Whittington

The Theatre Royal Stratford East styles itself ‘a people’s theatre’, which makes it a natural home for pantomime, surely the ultimate in ‘people’s drama’.

Unsurprisingly, Olivier-nominated duo Trish Cooke and Robert Hyman’s Dick Whittington proves a real crowd-pleaser.

There’s dynamic interaction between stage and spectators from the off in Kerry Michael’s terrific production, with Caroline Parker’s Fairy Bow Bell busying herself warming up the audience while people are still filing in.

Kinetic energy and a heart-warming sense of community are key ingredients.

The seductive visual menace of Gotham City haunts the atmospheric stage design; until the interval, at any rate, when the protagonists suddenly board an extremely fine-looking rocket and blast off to the Moon.

In a splendidly surreal twist, the second half unfurls on Earth’s cheesy satellite, where Miranda Menzies’s Alien Queen joins the fun and Michael Bertenshaw’s eminently booable King Rat…

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Prime minister asking a favour? Drawing The Line is a big story well told

11 Dec


Imagine the scene: out of the blue the prime minister asks you a favour.

Would you decide how India should be partitioned for him? You know nothing about the subcontinent or its politics, and there’s absolutely no chance of satisfying the demands of the groups involved in this huge geographical carve-up but you say yes anyway.

It sounds fantastical but that’s what happened in 1947 when Clement Atlee summoned Cyril Radcliffe, a judge who cited a trip to Venice as his biggest adventure abroad, and told him he had five weeks to settle the boundary between India and Pakistan.

Howard Brenton’s tale of Radcliffe’s delirium-inducing visit to the British Raj sees him confidentally sketching a series of portraits of major 20th-century political figures (Nehru, Gandhi, Jinnah, Atlee et al).

It’s a big story, with a lot of background information and cartographical detail to be conveyed. But it’s economically and resonantly…

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The National Theatre’s Emil And The Detectives is a mixed bag

10 Dec


Erich Kästner’s much-loved 1929 adventure story about a young boy who is robbed on his way to see his grandmother in Berlin has been adapted as the National Theatre’s seasonal family show.

In order to retrieve the filched 140 marks, Emil enlists the help of a crew of fellow ‘detectives’ – including bicycling cousin Pony the Hat and the horn-holding Toots – to find dumpling-loving crook Mr Snow.

It’s a classic tale of youthful camaraderie and street-smart innocence ultimately triumphant – but the real star of Bijan Sheibani’s eye-grabbing production is the sinister, long-shadowed city rather than the feisty, fresh-faced kids.

Designer Bunny Christie’s architecturally towering, financially down-at-heel Berlin is a high-velocity whirl of tilted Expressionist lines. Street lamps skate around the cinematically framed stage – this is a theatre show that declares a deep love for celluloid, evoking the Berlin of Fritz Lang’s early films and the Viennese sewers…

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