Monday, February 20, 2012

'Oedipussy' by Spymonkey

20 February 2012

One of the most difficult challenges for any artist is how to respond to a particularly bad review. Australian comedian Tim Minchin (reviewed here in November 2008) famously wrote a vitriolic song about the Guardian reviewer Phil Daoust ("occasional Guardian newspaper journal-oust"). Now physical theatre company Spymonkey’s response to a bad review by Joyce McMillan in The Scotsman (and particularly her reference to them as a “bunch of middle-aged actors”) is to create a gloriously silly rendering of ‘Oedipus Rex’ in the style of a 1970s James Bond film which plays on the theme of ageing. As they say at the beginning of ‘Oedipussy’ - “this one’s for you Joyce McMillan!”. We were at the Royal Theatre in Northampton on Saturday to see the last night of ‘Oedipussy’ – a Spymonkey production in association with the Royal & Derngate Northampton, written by Carl Grose and the cast and directed and adapted by Emma Rice. I had loved the visual humour and stagecraft of two previous Emma Rice productions – ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ at the National Theatre (reviewed here in May 2007) and ‘Brief Encounter’ which I also saw at the Royal Theatre, Northampton and this show (her first with Spymonkey) had a similarly inventive approach. Spymonkey are a wonderful quartet of physical actors and clowns who spend much of the show stepping out of character to complain about their aliments and moan about their colleagues. Their re-telling of ‘Oedipus Rex’ (I loved that Sophocles gets a biography in the programme which says he “has several projects in development including a rock opera of his ‘Philoctetes with Einsturzende Neubauten and a sitcom treatment for Baby Cow”) is chaotic and confused with the actors often arguing amongst themselves. This is a physical theatre version of The National Theatre of Brent. There were some great visual gags: why is there nothing so funny as someone trying to walk through a narrow space while wearing headgear that is too wide for the space?! And the show finishes with the most hilarious suicide by hanging that you are ever likely to see on stage! ‘Oedipussy’ was incredibly silly and I suspect most people would either love it or hate it but I was grinning throughout, except for when I was laughing raucously – and many of the audience ended the evening in unstoppable hysterics.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

'Our Version of Events' by Emeli Sandé

17 February 2012

Another week, another eagerly-anticipated debut album by a much-hyped young female singer songwriter. But it's not every week that the young woman in question is a former medical student from rural Aberdeenshire with English and Zambian parents. As you start to listen to 'Heaven', the opening track of Emeli Sandé's album 'Our Version of Events', it's easy to leap to the assumption, guided by the rapid background beats, that you're squarely in dance music territory. But the emergence of brass chords, leading to an epic orchestral backing, seems to take you into more of an R&B feel. And Sandé's voice is a powerful, soulful instrument. The further you travel into the album the less sure you are of where you would pigeon-hole this music. It's a clever and impressive collection of pop songs, ranging from the delicate simplicity of 'Where I Sleep', to the whispered vocals of 'Mountains' to the piano ballad 'Clown'. There's a particularly strong strand of sad but gorgeous songs such as 'Daddy' and 'Maybe'. 'Our Version of Events' is a cool, varied and sophisticated first album: it will be interesting to see what Emeli does next.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

'The Comedy of Errors' by William Shakespeare

7 February 2012

‘The Comedy of Errors’ is a very early Shakespeare play and not one of his best. Even within the parameters of silly farce, the plot doesn't entirely make sense and several of the characters you are meant to care about are less than sympathetic. But it still provides solid material for an enjoyable romp if handled well. Dominic Cooke’s new production for the National Theatre is a very modern take on the play. Set in a seedy, urban, contemporary world it makes good use of the massive stage in the Olivier Theatre, incorporating three-storey buildings which use the full height of the auditorium. I loved the way the passage of years was indicated by the changing sponsors’ names on Dromio’s Arsenal football shirt! The star attraction here is Lenny Henry who gives an impressively restrained performance as Antipholus of Syracuse, with the occasional hysterical outburst, wide eyed astonishment and manic energy all the funnier for their sparing use. Antipholus and Dromio are a classic simpleton double act along the lines of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza (though ‘Don Quixote’ was published more than 10 years after the first performance of ‘The Comedy of Errors’) and Lenny Henry and Lucian Msamati make a great team: it is fascinating to see Lenny Henry more often playing the straight man. As the farce begins to take off in the second act there are some great comic moments with crowds of actors pursuing each other around the set. Claudie Blakley and Michelle Terry deserve a particular mention for managing to negotiate the chase scenes in vertiginous high heels!  

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Friday, February 03, 2012

‘Born To Die’ by Lana Del Ray

3 February 2012

I’ve been listening to the most anticipated debut album of recent years, ‘Born To Die’ by Lana Del Ray, which was released on Monday. I haven’t really been following all the hype, which seemed to centre on outrage in the media that Lana Del Ray turned out to be a character rather than a real person – which doesn’t seem a terribly newsworthy scandal in the world of pop music. I came to the music without much of the backstory and have been enjoying the album on its own merits. This is incredibly catchy pop with a hint of dreamy strangeness.  It’s lusciously produced with soaring strings, gentle piano chords, drums and electronic beats, plenty of echo, some light rapping and Lana Del Ray’s haunting, very slightly slurred vocals. It’s the tunes and their delivery that make ‘Born To Die’ addictive pop. The lyrics don’t bear too much scrutiny but there are some great singalong choruses. ‘Video Games’ is a wonderful song – slow, gentle, littered with harp arpeggios and low, sultry vocals with a weirdly compelling melody that seems to twist sinisterly in unexpected directions. ‘Diet Mountain Dew’ feels completely different – trip hop meets cheerleader with a minor key feel that sounds a lot like early Oi Va Voi. ‘National Anthem’ clearly borrows from ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ by the Verve but takes us on into a memorable chorus. Cleverly manufactured pop music.

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