Friday, October 28, 2011

‘Fatou’ by Fatoumata Diawara

28 October 2011

I first saw the young Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara providing backing vocals for the legendary Oumou Sangaré at the 2009 WOMAD Festival (reviewed here in July 2009). I saw her again at this year’s WOMAD Festival where she appeared on the BBC Radio 3 Stage with her own band to perform songs from her forthcoming debut album. That album, ‘Fatou’, was released in September and I’ve been listening to it this week. Fatoumata Diawara comes from Southern Mali and sings in the Wassalou style, familiar to me from Oumou Sangaré (reviewed here in March 2009) and that other great contemporary Malian singer Rokia Traoré (reviewed here in December 2008). Like Rokia Traoré, Fatoumata Diawara now lives in France and her music shows some European influences. Her voice is gentler than Oumou Sangaré and more laid-back than the breathy intensity of Rokia Traoré. And the songs on ‘Fatou’ are lovely – gentle, catchy, joyful, distinctively West African but easily accessible to European ears. Perhaps not as musically ambitious as Rokia Traoré or quite so concerned with political messages as Oumou Sangaré (though she does deal with some important social issues) Fatoumata Diawara has created an album which is sophisticated easy-listening.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

'South Pacific' by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II

21 October 2011

‘South Pacific’ by Rodgers and Hammerstein was the first musical I played for as a member of a pit band. It was a production by the excellent Westwood Musical Society at the Key Theatre in Peterborough in 1991. We did more than a week of performances, at the end of which I knew the score inside out and could recite huge chunks of the dialogue. But, being in the orchestra pit, I never actually saw the show and some aspects of the plot have never entirely made sense to me. Twenty years later I’ve finally got around to seeing ‘South Pacific’ for the first time. We were at Milton Keynes Theatre last Saturday to see the acclaimed production from the Lincoln Center, New York. It was a very straightforward revival which didn’t attempt anything particular innovative or revisionist but it was excellently done. In the same way as Shakespeare seems to have inserted lots of famous lines into ‘Hamlet’, Rodgers and Hammerstein seem to have stuck a load of very well known songs together to make a musical. It’s an impressive show that includes ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, ‘There is Nothin' Like a Dame’, ‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair’, ‘A Wonderful Guy’ and ‘Happy Talk’. The music was wonderful and the cast were very strong, particularly Samantha Womack as Nellie Forbush and the operatic baritone Jason Howard as Emile de Becque. I enjoyed the choreography (by Joe Langworth) but I could have done with more. I’m always a little disappointed with a musical that doesn’t have a really big dance number. And though I now finally understand the story, ‘South Pacific’ is not the most impressive of plots. Nevertheless the music is so good it doesn’t need much assistance and I really enjoyed the show.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

'Comedy Carpet' by Gordon Young

14 October 2011
Comedy Carpet, Blackpool

It was great to have the opportunity to see Blackpool's new Comedy Carpet – an amazing artwork by Gordon Young featuring the catchphrases, jokes and names of more than 1,000 comedians which was unveiled by Ken Dodd at the foot of Blackpool Tower earlier this week. There has been massive worldwide interest in the Comedy Carpet: it was temporarily the most searched for term on Google. The ‘carpet’ is built from concrete and coloured granite and designed to withstand both the thousands of feet that will walk across it and the Blackpool weather. Encountering it for the first time is a compelling experience: the various catchphrases are all in different fonts, colours and sizes and face in different directions so you have to keep walking around to see the words that are initially upside down to you. This draws you in as you keep spotting another familiar phrase and trying to remember who said it. While there were plenty of old favourites I found quite a few lines I didn’t recognise and I kept smiling as I got the gist of another pun or witty aphorism for the first time. I suspect we will all have our favourites and I certainly found myself returning to the large words “I’m playing all the right notes – but not necessarily in the right order”. See:

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Friday, October 07, 2011

'One Man, Two Guvnors' by Richard Bean

7 October 2011

On Saturday we made a first visit to the lovely Waterside Theatre in Aylesbury to see the National Theatre production of ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ by Richard Bean. Based on Carlo Goldoni’s 1746 play ‘The Servant of Two Masters’, this production has been a big commercial hit for the National Theatre and a star vehicle for James Corden, reunited with the director Nicholas Hytner for the first time since ‘The History Boys’. Set in Brighton in 1963, ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ is broad tongue-in-cheek comedy played for laughs but it’s very well done and extremely funny. The Waterside Theatre was completely sold out and much of the audiences was in stitches throughout. There was plenty of audience participation and ad-libbing, some great physical comedy and a wonderful cast. It is interesting to note that Goldoni was criticised for taking the usually completely improvised Commedia dell’Arte tradition and writing it down but, in doing so, he succeeded in preserving the style for centuries. The action of ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ is supplemented by a four-piece Beatles-style band (playing original songs by Grant Olding) who spring from the orchestra pit to play in front of the curtains during each scene change. They are joined, in turn, by a series of members of the cast (including Corden on xylophone) who perform a variety of party-pieces. James Corden is very funny and clearly the star of the show but Oliver Chris also stood out as the public-school educated bully. It was an excellent, feel-good evening in the theatre.

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'Fawlty Towers' by John Cleese and Connie Booth

7 October 2011

On Friday we returned to the tiny theatre in Toddington to see TADS take on ‘Fawlty Towers’. This was a straight presentation of two episodes of the much cherished 1970s sitcom by John Cleese and Connie Booth. I must admit I was dubious as to whether this would work on stage. ‘The Germans’ and ‘Basil the Rat’ are so familiar that most of the audience could probably have chanted along with the dialogue. And the characters of Basil Fawlty, Sybil, Manuel etc. have become so iconic there was a real danger that any attempt to act these parts again now would just seem like impersonations of John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Andrew Sachs et al. It was  great testament to the skills of the TADS actors, excellently directed by James Sygrove, that they managed to create a believable set of characters that drew you into the plot and (almost) made you temporarily forget the originals. When Basil said “Don’t mention the war – I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it”, the line was perfectly in context (and therefore very funny) rather than sounding like the repetition of well-worn catchphrase. The Fawlty Towers scripts were very much of their time and some elements sounded a little uncomfortable to contemporary ears. But Fawlty Towers is excellent farce and the timing in the TADS production generated some hilarious moments (even though we knew they were coming). With a large cast crammed onto a small stage, it was some achievement to get the slapstick to work so well. Matt Flitton stood out as Basil Fawlty – a wonderful performance – but all the actors were impressive, particularly Susie Condor as Sybil Fawlty and David Sachon as The Major.

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