Tag Archives: Bishop’s Stortford Rhodes Arts Complex

Beauty and the Beast

reviewed at the Rhodes Arts Complex on 22 October

Ballet Theatre UK has developed an important niche – bringing classical ballet with fresh choreographic and production values to smaller venues. These are not cut-down versions of the repertoire classics but full-scale dance-dramas in their own right.

Take the latest production, Christopher Moore’s Beauty and the Beast. It’s a familiar story which we know best in its 18th century French origin or through Christmas pantomimes. As with so many well-love “fairy tales”, it also echoes classical myths.

Costume designers Daniel Hope and Val Plant use a Fragonard-derived palette for Beauty and her greedy sisters, while the Beast, the Enchantress and their entourages are burnished in bronze and gold. Martyn Plant’s set is simple – screens consisting of rose-entwined coils of  silver, like the decoration of a Book of Hours.

A chair or a chest are the sole items of furniture and do not distract from the dancing. Moore’s choreography gives his cast opportunities to shine. The dancers respond with neat, precise footwork and jumps as well as the discipline needed to create floor patterns – not that easy to maintain given the variety of venue stages.

Some of the lifts in the performance which I saw looked awkward, and not every tour en l’air finished as cleanly as intended. The story allows for dance-classic and realistic mime with the Enchantress (Ana Caroline Feerer) every bit as imperious as Giselle‘s Myrtha and the Father allocated a pas de seul as well as acting and ensemble opportunities.

As the heroine, Erin Flaherty displays a good technique and conveys the range of emotions demanded by this principled girl, from her hero-worship of and dependence on her Father through her acceptance of the responsibilities forced on her through the theft of the Beast’s rose.

Ben Crossley Pritchard makes the Beast into a truly tormented soul, with his dual royal and animal instincts constantly warring within him. He is a supportive partner with a flair for solo scenes. The pre-recorded choice of music, drawn largely from Dvořák’s suites, fits the story admirably.

This year (2018) Ballet Theatre UK is celebrating ten years of performance. Its young dancers continue to show commitment and a sense of style. They are also cultivating the art of drawing audience’s into the world of classical ballet, with the display never outweighing the art.

Four star rating

Beauty and the Beast tours nationally until 10 February 2019, including the Grove Theatre, Dunstable (28 October), the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds (19-21 November, the Towngate Theatre, Basildon (13 January) and the Broadway Theatre, Peterborough (2 February).

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Filed under Ballet and dance, Reviews 2018

Abigail’s Party

(reviewed at the Rhodes Arts Complex, Bishop’s Stortford on 7 October)

Mike Leigh’s searing dissection of 1977 England is now both a period piece and a play for all times, because its characters are truly people. Probably we all know go-getters, second careerists and socially ambitious neighbours. With luck, these don’t include a Beverly, in whose sitting-room the action of Abigail’s Party takes place.

Her guests for the evening include an established resident, Susan (Gailie Pollock) – whose teenage daughter is throwing the party of the title – and new neighbours nurse Angela (Natalie Caswell) and husband Tony (Matthew Bancroft). Former beautician Beverly is determined to be the queen bee in this particular hive; of course, queen bees have a lethal way with their mates.

Director Simon Anderson in this new Contexture production takes it all at a brisk pace with Tom Cliff’s extended set flanked on stage left by the pseudo-Georgian front door marked with its ominous number 13. Anderson is not afraid to put the sofa on which Angela, all girlish naïvité with a school-of-Laura-Ashley frock to match, and sensibly-clad Susan perch so uncomfortably facing the audience; we become flies on the fourth wall waiting for the inevitable to occur.

Charlotte Newton-John, sashaying around either the coffee-table or her guests in an ankle-length flame-coloured gown, her hair teased into a topknot of suspiciously bright curls, is an eye- and ear-riveting Beverly. Her “Don’t get me wrong” catch-phrase carries destruction every time she trills it. This is a performance to savour. It puts both Pollock and Caswell somewhat in the shade, however.

As monolithic and monosyllabic Tony, embarrassed by his wife’s gushing over Beverly’s taste in furnishings, Bancroft creates a realistic portrait of a man who will go his own way, regardless. Harassed estate-agent Laurence, juggling with clients’ demands and his wife’s constant commands so thinly veiled by a last-minute “please” gradually earns our sympathy as well as understanding. Stephen Cavanagh has the measure of the man as he finds something of a kindred spirit in Susan. By then, it’s all too late.

Abigail’s Party runs at the Rhodes Arts Complex, Bishop’s Stortford until 13 October.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015

Aladdin

(reviewed at the Rhodes Arts Complex, Bishop’s Stortford on 14 May)

No, Christmas hasn’t suddedly arrived in the springtime. Christopher Moore’s dance version of the Arabian fable of Aladdin has been created for his own Ballet Theatre UK. We all know the story, that of a poor but carefree lad who falls for a princess, is bamboozled by a magician but finds help partly through his own unexpected resources and partly through the aid of two genii trapped respectively in a ring and a lamp.

Moore puts the story firmly in its original Levant setting – no China, no fall-about comics and definitely no widowed mother. The market-place setting for most of the early scenes is colourful, with whirling, rainbow-hued costumes for the girls and voluminous dark breeches allied to short jackets for the boys. Pivoting triangular structures indicate the changes of scene.

The choreography is suited to the abilities of the company.For the most part, the girls of the corps dance on demi-pointe, with full en-pointe reserved for the spirits until the second part – Jessica Hill is a particularly strong Slave of the Ring – and Ines Ferrira’s winsome Princess. Vincent Cabot’s smiling villain of a sorcerer swirls folds of black cloak as he grasps for domination.

David Brewer makes a likeable hero, somewhat akin to Ashton’s Colas from La fille mal gardée. It’s one of those stories where the second part requires quite a bit of padding, which we receive in the form of a sequence of duets and trios interspersed by full corps numbers.

Ballet Theatre UK is one of the few companies which genuinely try to reach places and audiences which other classical ensembles cannot or will not attempt. As an introduction to classical ballet, the majority of the company’s own creations (not to mention its versions of established repertoire pieces) usually work very well. Aladdin, however, somehow doesn’t quite pull it off.

I’m fully aware that the production of fully-illustrated programmes is an expensive operation, especially when advertising revenues for printed matter seem to be on the decline. But – especially for a new work such as Aladdin – a simple two-page A4 cast and creatives list with a plot summary could surely pay for itself. I overheard many foyer grumbles about this.

Aladdin can be seen at the Key Theatre, Peterborough on 6 June and at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 15 and 16 June

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Filed under Ballet & dance, Reviews 2015

Stones in His Pockets
(reviewed at the Rhodes Arts Complex, Bishop’s Stortford on Tuesday 21 April

Marie Jones’ Irish rural tragicomedy offers a superb opportunity to its two-man cast. Between them they play tens of different parts, including a female one. The setting is a rural village, suffering the usual unemployment and boredom malaises, and currently taken over by a Hollywood film-crew.

A bodice-ripping epic is in progress, with the heiress heroine taking the part of the down-trodden peasantry thanks to their school-of-Rhett-Butler spokesman – with whom (naturally) she has fallen with love. The locals have been roped in as extras, which at first seems a well-paid way to garner a little kudos, even though the four euros a day is more likely to be spent in the pub than saved.

The main two characters are Charlie (Richard Galloway) and Jake (Stephen Cavanagh). Charlie has written a screenplay and is desperate to use the opportunity of the film to get it accepted. Jake has itchy feet; he has tried to make a success in the USA but returned home disappointed and more than slightly disgruntled.

Charlie also has a teenage cousin, a lad without hope or prospects, who drinks too much and is now into drugs. Falling for Caroline Giovanni, the star of the film, he is strong-armed out of the pub where he accosted her and, all hope gone, drowns himself (hence the play’s title). It’s a tragedy for the close-knit village, but only a time-wasting nuisance for the film crew.

Director Gailie Pollock in this new Contexture production keeps the action on the move with low-level projections to indicate location and the main stage occupied by sloping green turf and a bench by a well. The design is by Pollock and Tom Cliff and works very well. But any production of Stones in His Pockets is only as good as the multi-cast two actors, and they don’t let Pollock down.

Whether it’s the camp Ashley and his opposite number cynical Simon, the winsome Caroline flattering Jake because she wants to copy his accent (he does eventually suss this out), Caroline’s security gorilla, the old man who was an extra in a John Wayne film many years ago or the priest who has buried too many of his former pupils, it would be hard to say whether Cavanagh or Galloway walks away with the acting honours. They are both equally good.

Stones in His Pockets runs at the Rhodes Arts Complex, Bishop’s Stortford until 26 April.

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