July 2011

New York Arts in London

A Woman Killed with Kindness at the National Theatre, London

Whether or not Charles Lamb was over-generous in calling Heywood “Shakespeare in prose”, it quickly becomes evident watching Katie Mitchell’s production of his best work A Woman Killed With Kindness (first performed in 1603) that neither director nor cast have much faith in his literary merits. Frenetic stage action across an expensively exquisite split-set by Lizzie Clachan and Vicki Mortimer aims to literally bulk out what the company clearly believes is an insubstantial text, one merely possessing salacious plot elements for a prurient modern audience seeking high-brow soap-opera. In the comfortable house to the right we have the unhappy marriage of John Frankford and his wife, destroyed by her infidelity with their houseguest, Wendoll, while she is heavily pregnant. To the left, in a grander but colder manor, Anne’s brother Sir Francis Acton engages in an altogether less lusty and consenting relationship with Susan, the woman he is offered as compensation for bailing her murderer brother Sir Charles Mountford – by Charles himself.
A London Summer with Huntley Dent

Stephen Sondheim’s Road Show at Menier Chocolate Factory

Music at the close. The adage is leave 'em wanting more, not less, but Stephen Sondheim has barely skirted the latter fate. At eighty-one, he's been erratically revising a problem child since 1999 that is now called, blandly, Road Show. Under various uninspired titles — Wise Guys, Gold!, and Bounce — the musical flipped and flopped around the country from Chicago to New York and Washington D.C. At every step of the way Sondheim, being Sondheim, attracted the biggest names to direct and star, including Hal Prince and Nathan Lane. But no luck.

A London Summer with Huntley Dent

Schiller’s “Luise Miller” at the Donmar Warehouse, London

Star-crossed Geliebte. The trouble with taking Shakespeare as your model is that you can't hide it and you will always be in his shadow. In 1784, writing his third play, Friedrich Schiller remixed the ingredients of Romeo and Juliet to concoct his perfervid tragedy, Luise Miller. Two lovers die by drinking poison at the end, and there are contending fathers, anguished partings, and extravagant avowals of undying passion ("undying" seems to be an automatic death sentence in the theater). Without the poetry, Shakespeare loses an immeasurable amount, but the twenty-four-year-old Schiller was left with a template for doomed romance. He made extraordinary use of it, and although Luise Miller contains no Mercutio, emotions get so capriciously out of hand that it can seem as if everyone on stage is a Mercutio.

Theater

Richard III by William Shakespeare, directed by Miles Potter – until September 25, Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Stratford, Ontario

In 1953, the town of Stratford, Ontario inaugurated its annual Shakespeare Festival with this very play directed by Tyrone Guthrie and starring Alec Guinness. This year Seana McKenna takes on the title role, adding—as husband and director Miles Potter explains—“one more layer of artifice on Richard.” With over twenty years of experience at Stratford, McKenna hardly needs an excuse to play the part. Yet I understand the public’s demand for an explanation.
A London Summer with Huntley Dent

The French Orchestra at the Proms: Myung-Whun Chung Conducts the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France

Whee! Paree. A general moaning arose from music reviewers, starting around forty years ago, about French orchestras. They no longer sounded French. No more pinched oboes being played through the nose. No more horns sounding as if they were warbling underwater or inbred with the saxophone clan. No more lean, on-the-dot precision in the strings. As they lamented this loss, the same bemoaners forgot that they once carped about the very sound that was fading away. Uncharacteristically, the French were listening.
A London Summer with Huntley Dent

Prom 4: Havergal Brian’s Symphony No 1 “The Gothic”

OMG! The appearance of Havergal Brian's "Gothic" Symphony is like the biblical Leviathan surfacing in Hyde Park. It's epochal. The buses lined up behind the monster aren't full of gawkers but the assembled forces needed to perform the work, not counting trucks loaded with 32 timpani, eight brass choirs, a horde of extra offstage trumpets, and more — much, much more. Choruses throng from all points of the compass. Somewhere at the musicians' union a shop foreman is screaming into the phone, "Don't tell me we've run out of ophicleides and sarrusophones! This is apocalypse!" Oh wait, it was Berlioz who calls for ophicleides and sarrusophones. But some wisp of his spirit hovered over Stoke-on-Trent when the very, very dotty composer, Havergal Brian, was born in 1876.
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