Condensing Wagner at the Charing Cross Theatre

Unexpected Opera have made Wagner’s ‘Ring Cycle’ more accessible with its newly reduced version showing at the Charing Cross Theatre. The Rinse Cycle is a production that attempts to squeeze 16 hours of Wagner’s work into just 2 hours. Aiming to please audiences that would not consider themselves to be opera fans, Unexpected Opera use an educational tone to simplify and explain Wagner’s work.

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A cast of 5 established opera singers accompanied by a talented pianist take the audience on a journey through Wagner’s 4 operas. Approximately half an hour is allocated to each opera with some beautiful musical pieces laced throughout. Vocal performances by Simon Thorpe and Edward Hughes are particularly notable; their voices resonated with the audience long after the performance had ended.

Described as a comedy, puns and simple jokes are used to break the tension and intensity of the traditional opera. Set in a launderette with washing machines that emit bubbles and spin, this is not a show for those who take themselves too seriously; laughter bubbled out of the audiences’ mouths throughout the cycle of the show.

To enjoy this production it is not necessary to know much about Wagner’s work but it was noticeable that some scenes had secondary meanings that only a clued up opera fan would be able to understand. In addition, the comedy seemed to be aimed at the middle aged with the use of unoriginal and predictable jokes. It is a chaotic and arguably fun production that is structurally similar to a pantomime with cast members breaking the fourth wall and encouraging audience participation.

For fans of opera who also have a funny bone, a visit to the Charing Cross Theatre would make for a great night out but I am unconvinced that this production is going to create a new generation of opera enthusiasts. However, if you want a quick lesson on Wagner and opera then this may be the quickest and most entertaining way to do so.

To experience Wagner’s Ring Cycle in an original form you can buy tickets for performances up until 12th March 2016:

http://www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/show/22/The+Rinse+Cycle#.VshJXPKLS01

 

 

Thomas Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy

The Spanish Tragedy at the Old Red Lion Theatre (Islington) is a very good adaptation of Thomas Kyd’s work. With a theme of revenge, the audience follow Horatio’s mother who sets herself the task of avenging her son’s death. To make the play all the more exciting, the character, Revenge, meddles in events causing unjustifiable deaths leading the play to a chaotic end.

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via http://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk

 

The set was quite alternative, abstract and sterile making this particular adaptation of Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy very interesting to observe. At the time the play was first produced, busy sets and colourful more elaborate costumes would have been used. In this production the costumes were simple and the majority of the cast wore black. The floor was white and there were menacing hooks hanging from the ceiling. There was a sort of white-noise playing throughout the entire piece. The lighting reminded one of an old psychiatric hospital; sanitary, neutral, and occasionally flickering. The light, sound and set came together to create a real sense of uneasiness. It almost had similar traits to a psychological thriller and in some ways it could be described as one; Hieronimo did end up murdering the wrong man because she was in such a mental state that made it easy for her to be misled.

The prominent colour of the play was blue. This emphasised a coldness. When a character died, a plastic bag full of paint was carelessly ripped from a hook hanging above the stage and the paint decorated the white (and unnervingly clean) stage floor with blue splatters. The bag clearly represented life and the way that the bags could be so easily ripped showed how casually the characters were playing with life; as though it had no real value.

One of my favourite parts of the set were the opaque screens that lined the edge of the stage. Behind these screens is where the murders happened, emphasising the physical separation that death causes. For example when Hieronimo sees Horatio dead, she has no physical attachment to his body as it is behind the screen. Instead the audience are drawn to a disturbing scene that shows Hieronimo covering herself in Horatio’s spilled blood. The feeling of isolation that death can bring was vividly prominent and the imagery of the play was incredibly poetic at times.

The cast were very talented. Each had their own very individual character giving the play a real diversity that I haven’t seen in a long time. Leo Wan (Revenge) was particularly strong as was Janet Etuk (Lorenzo). Throughout the play I was filled with a feeling of eeriness and intrigue which was largely due to the actors’ presence.

This production was incredibly engaging and its combination of set, sound and light are worth taking note of. It could all be described as very simple but I believe that the way it was used really did give the play a complexity that would not have been in existence otherwise.

If you want to experience an abstract adaption of a 16th century tragedy then make sure you book tickets before the 5th March 2016: http://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/the-spanish-tragedy.html

This Was the World and I Was King at the Brockley Jack Theatre

Based on a part of history that still touches us today, HookHitch theatre have produced a musical play that allows its audience to reconnect with the lost vivid imagination of childhood. In order to hide away from the horrors of WW1 (a war that has temporarily taken their father away) 3 siblings use incredible puppets, made by the HookHitch creative team, to voyage to a land of excitement and untroubled fun.

This Was the World and I Was King takes its audience through a wave of different emotions and each mood is embroidered with folk music that is beautifully sung by the ‘out-of-scene’ cast. The cast spend the majority of their time on stage whether it is to sing, to play an instrument at the side of the stage, to work a puppet in the background or to be the prime focus of the scene. The way the cast work together creates a real sense of community; a reflection of the way that society came together to get through the depression of the First World War.

Unlike many productions, the unchanging set did not scream ‘low-budget production’. The static set emphasised the children’s ability to outwardly project their imagination and change the scene around them. It reminded its audience of how easy and simple it used to be to change simple objects into a convincing alternative reality. Despite its underlying themes of war and depression, it was magical to see the workings of a child’s imagination unfold so beautifully onto the stage.

Melodic music, a powerful family bond and a strong multi-talented cast make this production worth seeing (ends 20th February): http://www.hookhitch.co.uk/#!this-was-the-world-and-i-was-king/cphw

Avenue Q – Making audiences laugh all over the Kingdom

Avenue Q is a well-established modern musical that uses cute cuddly puppets to soften the blow of home truths and politically incorrect statements. Skilfully funny and easy to relate to, Sell A Door Theatre Company’s production filled the auditorium with hysterical laughter from a diverse crowd. Having won three Tony Awards and completing a successful run on the West End, Sell a Door Theatre company had high expectations to live up to. With a highly skilled cast and excellent creative team they have not let down the legacy of Avenue Q.

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Via http://www.queens-theatre.co.uk

 

With lyrics that make you laugh out loud, Avenue Q’s songs covered topics such as racism, homosexuality and (something I can relate to) what to do after you complete a BA in English. Despite having a technically negative attitude “it sucks to be me” the show made the audience re-evaluate their lives and see that the struggles of life are human and not personal: we are all in this together. With this message, the audience left the theatre with an energetic positivity.

The cast deserve to be congratulated on their abilities to be puppeteer and energetic performer at the same time. Seeing the puppets’ characters anthropomorphised in the actors themselves created a magical connection between puppet and human. It was very interesting to see the traditional ventriloquist taken out of the equation.

The whole cast were of course exceptionally talented but Stephen Arden (Nicky, Trekkie Monster and Bad Idea Bear) deserves to be mentioned in particular. His diverse acting ability was strongly visible in this performance. In particular, his characterisation of Trekkie Monster took the production to a whole other level of energy. The vocal changes between each character were impressive and each was given a strong and unique personality. Although difficult to do, Arden successfully managed to focus the audience solely on the identity of the puppets rather than on his identity as a puppeteer.

This production will be playing at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 6th February before continuing with its UK tour at various other locations. I urge you to buy tickets for this West End standard production at community theatre prices:

http://www.queens-theatre.co.uk/show/772/avenue-q

This Will End Badly at the Southwark Playhouse

This Will End Badly is a thought provoking and necessary piece of theatre. Three intersecting monologues skilfully performed by one man (Ben Whybrow), explore what it is to be a man in the modern age. In an era where there is such a focus on feminism, it is refreshing to centre on a male’s thoughts. Raising awareness of male suicide and emphasising that men have emotions too, Anna Haigh Productions are working with CALM (The Campaign Against Living Miserable; a charity that works to prevent male suicide).

via http://www.thestage.co.uk

The three monologues explore three different personalities of men. One is the anxious man lacking in confidence, struggling to cope with life and contemplating suicide. The other explores the mind of a man in a bar trying to ignite a relationship with a woman no matter how short or long he intends that relationship to last. The third monologue follows a man with a constipation problem caused by a difficult break up with the love of his life.

The “constipation monologue” is an interesting one. It digs down to the real biological processes of man (and humans in general). If we want to go with stereotypical reactions to break ups, women cry hysterically and men come off lightly. But with this insight into a man’s thoughts and bodily functions, we see that man does react. But due to certain social stigmas he is forced to repress these emotional feelings that are eventually internalised and (in this case) cause a man to fail at carrying out a basic animal function.

This Will End Badly makes you laugh, think and even fear. Seeing a man so emotionally exposed is hard and unusual to watch. The production really emphasises how bad society is at representing what it really means to be male. The audience is reminded that being a man should not be solely attached to the idea of a physically strong and emotionless being. Showing emotions is not emasculation and society needs to accept that men need emotional support in the same way that women do.

For a mentally stimulating and insightful evening, visit http://thiswillendbadly.co.uk/ (last show 16th February 2016)

Oh Poppy Cock! Jeckyll and Hyde All Jazzed Up at The Cockpit, London

The Blue Orange Theatre Production company attempted to make their adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel innovative by setting it in the jazz era. But trying to stand out from the crowd resulted in a performance of all show and no substance. The actresses donned flapper dresses, the set was very art deco and the pianist played jazz songs throughout but that’s as much as Blue Orange invested in its 1920’s research. As the play progressed, the era in which it was set became very irrelevant and almost distracting from Stevenson’s classic tale.

 

Although the cast were very strong in terms of their acting ability, the script and structure of the play became very monotonous. In between every single scene, as though they feared that the audience would forget what era the play was set, the pianist would play a jazz song and one of two actresses would sing it. Having a song between every short scene became very tedious and time consuming. Unfortunately, the actresses were very firmly actresses and not at all what you would class as professional singers. It made me question what the point of the jazz music was apart from for Blue Orange to be able to claim that their version of Jeckyll and Hyde was unique. And it certainly was unique but not in the way one would hope.

There have been many adaptations of Jeckyll and Hyde that have succeeded because they have maintained and exaggerated the dark tale that Stevenson created. However, this particular production (staged at The Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone) failed to create tension or feeling and instead highlighted the reasons why Jeckyll and Hyde should never be associated with jazz again.

The Haunting – Jack Studio, London

It is no surprise that Jack Studio has already won Off West End awards for ‘Most Welcoming Theatre’ and ‘Best Theatre Bar’. On walking into the pub area, members of the press were greeted with bowls of chips, prosecco and wine. But regardless of the additional touches used for the purpose of impressing, the attitude of all staff was incredibly positive and welcoming and the pub itself felt warm and traditional. It made the entire theatre experience very enjoyable (if enjoyable can be a word used to explain the terror The Haunting instilled upon its audience).

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The Haunting is a horror adapted from Charles Dickens’ Ghost Stories by Hugh Janes and is Jack Studio’s official Christmas production for 2015. Adaptations of literature are at the risk of being too literary in content with a lack of focus on developing action. Hugh Janes adaptation of the stories, however, was in fact quite excellent and cleverly put together in contrast to other recent adaptations.

The Haunting led character David Filde to Lord Gray’s manor house in order to price up some books of Lord Gray’s late father to relieve him of his debts. During his stay, David experiences the paranormal. Unknown voices, unexplainable movements and distorted noises scare Filde and Gray into finding an explanation to these strange occurrences. Using a book found in Gray’s house, the two manage to free the spirit from its restless state. But all does not end there. The final scene of the play adds a touch of mystery and makes the audience question whether what they had just experienced was instead a depiction of the future to come.

The play itself was very good but did not feel entirely original, with a structure that was very similar to The Woman in Black. For example, the play had an explicit cast of two male characters and one hidden female playing the role of Mary the ghost. The play was also set in a similar period and in a similar area of marshlands. Despite these similarities it still managed to feel like a refreshing and new piece of theatre. And the good thing is, if you liked the stage version of The Woman in Black then you will definitely enjoy The Haunting. Nothing had been left out of the budget: actors, set, sound, lighting and costume alike were all given the upmost attention to detail.

The acting was particularly good, with mainly two actors (Robert Dubin and Jamie Laird) keeping the audience engaged throughout. There was a slight drop in both atmosphere and excitement in the middle of the play that left one feeling a little bored but this did not last for long with the terror of Mary’s spirit making a strong and physical reappearance. What was good about Mary the ghost, in contrast to the female role in The Woman in Black, was how active she was in the play. Rather than merely being a relatively still object of fear, she was a very real and necessary character whose body language, facial expressions, and movements were all particularly important in making the production the scary success that it is.

The production was successful in its purpose and theme. Too often, thrillers tend not to thrill or excite the audience. Here, tricks of the light, clever sound and ominous stage effects all worked toward making the audience feel uneasy and frightened.

Although nothing stood out in particular, it was a very strong piece of theatre that needs to fine tune the middle section of the play and to perhaps find some originality. It is a play that I could watch again and I would recommend travelling to the South East of London to see it.

With tickets at only £14 for a production that is worth far more than that, I would not hesitate at buying a ticket.

http://www.brockleyjack.co.uk/portfolio/the-haunting-8-dec-3-jan/