Monthly Archives: January 2017

La fille mal gardée
reviewed in Norwich on 27 January

In the UK we have become accustomed to the 1960 version by Frederick Ashton with its quirky Osbert Lancaster sets, which used mainly the Hérold score of the 1820s and 30s. The music which Pepita and Ivanov chose for their 1885 St Petersburg staging was that by Hertel, originally created for the 1864 Taglioni production in Berlin.

This story of the farm-girl Lise who hoodwinks her widowed mother Simone and her potential suitor to marry Colas, the boy she really loves, has a pretty distinguished parentage. Ironically, this pastoral idyll all first reached the footlights a mere fortnight before the fall of the Bastille; it was the creation of Dauberval and used a medley of contemporary popular songs and dances. It reached London in 1791.

The version which the Russian State Ballet of Siberia is currently touring across the UK adds choreography by Alexander Gorsky and Mark Peretokin to that of Dauberval; the score is that of the now little-known Hertel. So it has pedigree, with proper weight given to the mime narrative elements of the story (Dauberval was one of the pioneers of the ballet d’action). The mixture of choreographic styles – late 18th, early 20th and 21st centuries – though not entirely seamless.

As always, the corps de ballet makes the most of its chances, as does Dmitry Diachkov as Colas, whirling across the stage in a sequence of virtuosic displays while always remaining in character. His Lise is Elena Svinko, a dancer who does not seem to be his natural partner, and whose wrist and hand movements are not as elegant as they should be, though her pointe work is impeccable. She also missed that sense of innocent mischieviousness which should bring Lise alive.

Almost walking away with the whole show is Alexey Balva as Simone. British audiences, brought up with the pantomime dame tradition, tend to take this sort of travestie character to its heart, and the final scene’s clog-dance proved it. Denis Pogorely as dim-witted Alain and Maxim Dashidondokov as his well-to-do father complete the line-up of principals.

Balva and Diachkov apart, it is difficult to escape the feeling that the joins in choreographic styles are altogether too visible. The kermesse-like buccolic dance at the end of the first act has great liveliness, but this Rousseauesque tale of simple country life remains just a little two-dimensional. Yes, the characters are all types rather than flesh-and-blood people, but I couldn’t help but be reminded that the genesis for the story was an engraving – La reprimande.

Three and a half star rating.

La fille mal gardée can also be seen at the Regent Theatre, Ipswich on 23 February. The Russian State Ballet of Siberia tour continues with Swan Lake at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 28 January, at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend on 29 January and 26 February and at the Regent Theatre, Ipswich between 23 and 25 February.

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Filed under Ballet dance & mime, Reviews 2017

ShowStopper!
reviewed on 21 Jan at Bury St Edmunds

Showstoppers have hit on a winning formula with its series of carefully crafted improvised plays and musicals. This one, with a full house at the Theatre Royal wholeheartedly entering into the spirit, proved to have the catchy title of God Help Us!.

This plot is a weird concoction marrying elements of The Young Pope, Jerry Springer: the Musical and Tom Lehrer’s Vatican Rag with the audience’s suggestions for musical styles including galley-years Verdi, Carousel, High School Musical, Oliver!, Wicked! and a couple of Lloyd Webber hits thrown in for good measure.

Basically,a man and a woman about to take religious vows find themselves in love. Could be serious stuff, but not handled this way and treading a brilliant path between could-be-one-day fantasy and actual human emotions. Not to mention sexuality.

You’d have to be devoid of humour to take offence at the situations in which Lucy Trodd as Maria, Justin Brett as her on-off suitor Marius, Andrew Pugsley as the Pope and Philip Pellew as the all-purpose Steve find themselves. Not to mention Lauren Shearing’s over-burdened Sister Clara…

Dylan Emery attempts to keep proceedings under control as a harrassed would-be producer desperately trying to sell the idea of a new blockbuster musical to Cameron Macintosh (well, who else?). Simon Scullion has devised an outline, flexible set consisting mainly of screens and benches in scarlet and black.

There’s an equally ecletic range of costumes and props by Gabriella Slade. Instrumental accompaniment is provided by Duncan Wesh Atkins at the keyboard and Alex Atty with a whole range of percussion, while the nifty choeographic consultancy comes from Donna Berlin, though I suspect that the cast know precisely what’s required for the storyline and situations.

Four star rating.

ShowStopper!: The Improvised Musical is at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester between 9 and 11 February and at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 18 and 19 February as part of a national tour running until 23 April.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & Opera, Reviews 2017

La Cage aux Folles
reviewed at the Theatre Royal Norwich 17 Jan

Every show has its special audience, one to whom the story and its characters seem to speak personally. What transforms that show into one with universal appeal requires a special sort of magic. That can be provided by the writing, or the music, the design elements or the performances. You may not be able to pinpoint which of these it is (or indeed a fusion of them) but you know when you’ve experienced it.

That’s what happened on the opening night of the new tour of the Herman-Fierstein musical La Cage aux Folles in Norwich last night. It’s a visual extravaganza, this deceptively simple story of a drag-act nightclub in Saint-Tropez, thanks to designers Ben Cracknell, Gary McCann, and Richard Mawbeyand to choreographer Bill Deamer. Martin Connor’s direction keeps the action brisk when it needs to be – though the first half seems a trifle over-long, due I suspect to the telescoping of a three-act piece into two parts.

Spontaneous standing ovations – real ones I mean , not the carefully orchestrated variety – are rae in regional theatre. It was a deserved tribute to the magnificent performance by John Patridge as Albin, the trasnvestite diva in command of the stage but much less sure of his long-term relationship with Adrian Zmed’s Georges and Georges’ son – the result of a one-night stand – Jean-Michele (Dougie Carter). The peacock flock of Cagelles, with their on- and off-stage personae so lighgtly yet three-dimensionally sketched for us, also merit their plaudits.

It’s the sort of story where young, heterosexual love isn’t really to the fore. Both Carter and Alexandra Robinson as Anne, the girl Jean-Michele wants to marry and whose parents’ meeting with his own triggers the major flashpoints of the drama, do very well with words, song and dance. There are two enjoyable cameos from Marti Webb as Jacqueline (the restauretrice who saves the day, at a price) and Su Douglas as Mme Dindon, Anne’s mother – who turns out to be more of a scorpion than the worm which husband Paul F Monaghan thinks she is.

All in all, it’s got my reviewing schedule for 2017 off to a champagne start. Let’s see what else the year has to offer.

La Cage aux Folles runs at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 21 January with matinées on 20 and 21 January. The national tour until 26 August includes the Milton Keynes Theatre between 8 and 12 August.

Five star rating

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Filed under Music Music theatre & Opera, Reviews 2017