Saturday, 26 November 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Thirty-Six

Madama Butterfly, Glyndebourne on Tour, Theatre Royal, Norwich. November 2016.

I have to thank a friend and colleague for the chance to see this as she very kindly let me take her second ticket to this show.

It has been over four years since I went to the opera last and while I wrote about it favourably at the time I do know that I was nervous about seeing a more conventional production. I had found the confusion caused by so much singing and yet so little translation appearing on the surtitles confusing.  Studying Othello over the pas few years, and seeing the (filmed) opera version of this had explained more to me and so I was much more open to trying again with the format.

I think that it also helped 'knowing' the full story of Madama Butterfly more - after all it does form the basis of Miss Saigon!

Whilst from the first bars of music I was captivated with much of the performance I did find the decision to reset the opera into a post WW2 setting strange - especially seeing as Nagasaki was one of the cities destroyed by the dropping of an atomic bomb, would it really have been a place that welcomed marriages to US sailors or even able to support a thriving Geisha community?

However this soon faded into the background as the story, singing and acting soon made me forget the time period and I was just swept away with Butterfly's story.  Her voice was just out of this world and I really believed that she was a naive 15 year old in love with her American sailor.

Pinkerton was a little more of a problem for me as I didn't really think he came across as quite caddish enough (although as he was boo'd in the curtain call I might be alone in this), he was certainly weak in character - not voice or stage presence - but his persona was for me more of easily lead child than opportunistic and callous opportunist which is what the surtitles seemed to say he was.

The supporting cast were all wonderful both in acting and vocal talent and I admit that at several points I found myself welling up.  The scene where Butterfly and her son were just standing motionless in silhouette at the back of the stage waiting for Pinkerton while off stage the cast performed the Humming Chorus was heartbreaking.

A little bit of me missed the opulence that a Madama Butterfly set in late 1800s early 1900s would have given but I adored this, I've had the score on a constant loop since and I know that I will be trying more opera in the future.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Thirty-Five

Breakfast at Tiffany's, Norwich Theatre Royal, Norwich. November 2016.

Breakfast at Tiffany's is one of my favourite films and when I found out that the play was coming to Norwich it has to be said I was happy.

Then the play opened in London to reviews that weren't great and I got a bit nervous - was this going to be one of those times where the film was better than anything else...

Sadly my fears were right, I don't quite see why the film has been turned into a play. It was very slow with lots of 'telling' not 'showing' and while I can't say I was actually bored during this play I certainly wasn't engaged with it for much of the time.

The cast were mostly likable and I am incredible impressed that they have managed to train a cat to act and I found the set to be very clever but the script was a little dull and all of it to be just "meh" which is very unusual for the things I've picked to see this year. I am pleased that I didn't go to London to see this - a half price ticket to a show I can get home from in 10 minutes made the evening seem a lot better!

The play was a hybrid of the film and Truman Capote's book and I liked some of the additions but overall I just think I'd rather watch the film - and I don't often say that!

Monday, 14 November 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Thirty-Four

The Wipers Times, New Wolsley Theatre, Ipswich. November 2016

Getting to and from Ipswich proved nearly as time consuming and awkward as getting to London but the journey was totally worth it.

This new World War One play from satirists Hislop and Newman could so easily have been over played and the jokes too contemporary, or overly sentimental but the duo managed to pull off the near impossible - a comedy about World War One that was balanced.

The original Wipers Times was a newspaper written and published by soldiers serving in the Trenches and was devised as an antidote to the inaccuracies and propaganda stories published in the mainstream media - and it is this where it would have been so easy to pepper the play with modern references.

The play tells the story of the men behind the paper as well as bringing to life some of the sketches from the paper in a clever way using Vaudeville, projections and a lot of very quick costume changes. Some of the jokes were terrible but on looking at my facsimile copy of the Wipers Times I see that they were all lifted from the original. The few comments about media inaccuracies also came straight from the original!

I enjoyed this greatly but my one criticism was that I found the set / scenery to be too fussy. The scene changes were well done and incorporated more original material from the newspapers but there were just too many of them and too much furniture moved each time for my taste.

What struck me the most was how much Oh! What a Lovely War and Blackadder Goes Forth owed to the papers - the humour in both of these, seen as edgy and challenging, came straight from the Wipers Times. There were moment of poignancy and sadness, and the gas attack was breath taking (pun intended) and I found this a balanced and enjoyable play. It isn't in the same league as Journey's End but I do hope that this gets a transfer or longer run somewhere as I think that the play is much better than the previous television documentary.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Fishermen and Kings Exhibition

Fishermen & Kings: The Photography of Olive Edis, Castle Museum, Norwich. October 2016.

As a photographer I am always interested in discovering new (to me) photographers and this exhibition was sold to me particularly by the fact that Olive Edis was the first official female war photographer.

She was however more of a portrait photographer and this is one area that I really struggle with (unlike my sister who is incredible at taking pictures of people) so I wasn't sure what I'd make of most of the exhibition.

I needn't have worried, Edis had such skill when it came to taking pictures of people - whether they were fishermen or kings - and in every image there is something that catches your eye and means you spend ages looking closely each picture. It really all is in the eyes with Edis, I wonder if she was telling saucy jokes to her sitters to get that twinkle!

The exhibition has been themed cleverly and while I was looking forward to the War section I was most intrigued by Edis' images of influential women involved in the Suffrage movement (and after) I came away with a whole list of people to look up and learn more about.

The section of war photos was as moving as you'd expect, and again her skill as a photographer shines through - you can instantly see which photos were taken before the sitter had seen action at the front and those taken when the men had seen action just from a glance at their faces. I also liked the choice of locations she visited, just a very slightly different perspective than other photos from the era that I've seen before.

Interspersed with the photos are panels explaining Edis' techniques and some of her cameras and inventions for looking at her colour images but one of the nicest touches was the small alcove in which all of Edis' images are projected on to the wall. How wonderful to be able to just sit and see all of the images in a large format. (For those who can't get to the exhibition Norfolk Museums have put the images online for everyone to see).

I went to this exhibition with my dad, the man who taught me how to take photos, and we were both blown away - much to our surprise.  We've both been to other photographic exhibitions by photographers we knew much better and come away a disappointed but this one by an 'unknown' exceeded all our expectations. From the layout, the labels, the images chosen it felt wonderfully curated and I know that I will be going back at least once more before it closes.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Classical thinking in Heffers

Heffers Classics Forum, Cambridge. October 2016.

Last year there was no Classics Forum and I have to say I missed it, the chance to sit and listen to some of the finest Classics scholars talking about either their latest research or their newest book is always stimulating.

This year we were at a more central venue with good tea/coffee on tap and in a room where the acoustics were good and the temperature just right - even with the Zumba class above us at one point!

Like previous years the format was nice and simple, 4 sessions each with three speakers who spoke on their topics for roughly 20 minutes. This set up is ideal because if the topic doesn't interest you then there it will only last a few minutes - I hasten to add that this year all of the topics appealed and I could have listened to most of the speakers for a lot longer than their allotted times.

Highlights for me included the talk from Tim Whitmarsh on atheism in the Ancient World and Gideon Nisbet's Confessions of a Translator.  I also greatly enjoyed Jerry Toner's talk all about how to Release Your Inner Roman - I'm so pleased to see that Marcus Sidonius Falx is still sharing his guide to how to live and prosper in Ancient Rome.

The balloon debate just after lunch was also great - 5 academics presented a case for why they thought that 'their' classical work should be preserved over the others - the idea being that they are all in a balloon that is crashing and all are tossed over board and lost forever to ensure the balloon keeps flying.  Julius Ceasar's Gallic Wars, Sophocles' Antigone, Martial's Epigrams, Aristophanes' Lysistrata and Sophocles' Philoctetes went head to head but this time Edith Hall's persuasive arguments for Antigone won the day. My vote went for Martial - if only one book is going to survive then I want it to be funny!

I've come home with a stack of new books and lots of thoughts running around my head - a great day.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Thirty-Three

My Great Orchestral Adventure, Royal Albert Hall, London. October 2016.

Being an auntie is great, not only do I get to spoil my nephew rotten I also get to try loads of new theatre experiences with him. We've seen traditional children's theatre, Disney musicals and also watched Pixar films accompanied by a live orchestra but this was different again as it was almost just a classical concert.

The idea for this concert was very simple - Tim the conductor has lost his 'magic' baton and so can no longer conduct the orchestra. His brother Tom, with the help of the audience is going to go on a journey to find it and restore order to the instruments.

Well known classical pieces were played as we looked for the baton in the Hall of the Mountain King, in outer space and also on our way to Neverland.  We also fought with Valkyries and Sirens and danced with swans as well as taking a detour to go on a Bear Hunt.

I thought this was a really good event, of course being aimed at a younger crowd the audience was fidgety but the story was clearly told and the music brilliant.  It was also a great exercise in imagination and concentration and once my nephew got the idea that it was all imagination I think he loved it too. Our favourite pieces were the Neverland Suite and We're Going on a Bear Hunt - singing and dancing in the Albert Hall was fun and my nephew sang the whole of the Bear Hunt on the way back to the tube!

I think that we'll wait until he is a bit older before we try another classical music concert but I will look out for other new experiences to try - perhaps an introduction to more traditional ballet (after all we have all loved the Snowman) or even a first trip the Globe...