Friday, May 26, 2017

‘Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour’ by Lee Hall

26 May 2017

Last Saturday we were at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London to see ‘Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour’ - Lee Hall’s stage adaptation of Alan Warner’s novel ‘The Sopranos’. Vicky Featherstone’s National Theatre of Scotland/Live Theatre, Newcastle production, first seen in the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival is now enjoying a West End run. It tells the tale of a group of schoolgirls from Oban visiting Edinburgh to take part in a choir competition. But these girls are not really there for the singing: their day out is a riot of drink, drugs, sex and extremely bad language, set to a soundtrack of classic ELO songs. Six young actors play both the six main characters and all the people they encounter in Edinburgh, narrating their story to us as well as playing out the key scenes – as if they are recounting the events to friends after returning home. This technique reminded me of John Godber’s ensemble plays for Hull Truck Theatre Company, such as ‘Shakers’ (reviewed here in November 2009) and ‘Teechers’ (reviewed here in September 2010). The play also could also be seen as a Scottish, female alternative to Alan Bennett’s ‘The History Boys’, The close-harmony singing of the Our Ladies cast is excellent – both in the school choir songs and the ELO numbers (for which they are accompanied on stage by a three-piece band). Lee Hall’s writing is sharp and often very funny. But I thought the show overplayed the shock value of Catholic schoolgirls running wild: the sex and violence was a bit unrelenting and most of the characters’ stories ended very bleakly. There were excellent performances and great music but it was a play that seemed to want to shout at its audience too loudly for too long.

Labels: , ,

Friday, May 19, 2017

'In the Woods' by Tana French

19 May 2017

My exploration of the Dublin Murder Squad novels by Tana French has now taken me back to the start. I’ve just finished reading the first novel in the series, ‘In the Woods’ (as an unabridged audio book, narrated by John McCormack). This story had a lot in common with the last Tana French book I read – ‘Faithful Place’ (reviewed here in April 2017). Both novels have a narrating detective who was personally involved in a historical crime at the centre of new investigation and both these detectives proved to be fairly unsympathetic protagonists. As with most of the Dublin Murder Squad books, Tana French is almost as interested in the relationship between the investigating detectives (here Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox) as in solving the crime. Although there were some signs of an author finding her way a little with this first book in the series, I found the plot of ‘In the Woods’ a particularly intriguing puzzle. And French’s writing is always intelligent and eloquent.



19 May 2017

We had a wonderful holiday in Croatia last week. We were staying in the village of Slano on the Dalmation coast, North of Dubrovnik. It’s a beautiful area – a Croatian version of the French Riviera, with a narrow, winding coastal road providing spectacular views of steep, wooded slopes leading down to the deep blue Adriatic sea. We did a lot of walking – along the coast, into the mountains and on the idyllic island of Koločep – seeing amazing views and stepping carefully to avoid the occasional snake! The medieval, walled old town of Dubrovnik is stunning – it’s a real tourist trap but well worth braving the crowds. You can see why it is in so much demand as a film set. We also walked up Mount Srd to the Fortress overlooking Dubrovnik where there is a sobering exhibition about the 1991 siege of the old town, when Serbian and Montenegrin forces bombed this unique heritage site. Watching recordings of the ITN coverage of the siege felt very strange as we stood in the same area that some of the bombs were falling on the TV screen.

You can see some of my photos of Croatia at:


Friday, May 05, 2017

'Far From The Madding Crowd' by Thomas Hardy, adapted by Adrian Preater

5 May 2017

On Thursday we were at The Place in Bedford to see the Hotbuckle Productions performance of ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’, adapted from the novel by Thomas Hardy by Adrian Preater. It was an excellent show – high quality fringe theatre with four actors playing multiple parts. It had the feel of a  summer outdoor touring production with clear, accessible story-telling, live music and plenty of humour. They steered a course which avoided the danger of being worthy but dull, while not making the comedy too broad and pantomimic. The play used narration passing between each of the four actors in turn, creating a sequential relay Greek Chorus (as in the Propeller production of ‘Henry V’, reviewed here in December 2011, and Polly Findlay’s production of ‘Antigone’ at the National Theatre, reviewed here in June 2012).   The actors – Adrian Preater, Virginia Lee, Mimi Edwards and Matthew Rothwell – were all excellent, conjuring up their different characters through changes of stance and facial expression as much as with costume changes. It was a very likeable and moving performance.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Northampton Symphony Orchestra concert

3 May 2017

I first encountered the stunning young Latvian pianist Arta Arnicane in June 2014 when she joined the Northampton Symphony Orchestra to give a remarkable performance of two Gershwin pieces, 'Rhapsody in Blue' and the 'I Got Rhythm' variations for piano and orchestra (reviewed here in June 2014). That concert is still fondly remembered by members of the orchestra and our audience, in particular for Arta’s encore, 'The Serpent's Kiss' – a Rag Fantasy by William Bolcom, which drew gasps, laughter, rapturous applause and a standing ovation. On Saturday Arta Arnicane was back in Northampton to play the ‘Piano Concerto No 3’ by Bela Bartok – an incredibly challenging work which required intense concentration by all of us in the orchestra, but which Arta seemed to float through with ease. The delicate slow movement, in particular, was beautifully moving: it was a very impressive performance. The first half of the concert also featured William Alwyn’s ‘Symphony no. 5 “Hydriotaphia”’. Our conductor, John Gibbons, is a champion of the Northampton-born composer, Alwyn: we played his piece ‘The Magic Island' (inspired by 'The Tempest') in the NSO’s Shakespeare celebration, 'The Bard's Birthday Bash' last year (reviewed here in April 2016). Alwyn’s 5th Symphony is an entertaining, programmatic work which builds on his extensive experience as a composer of film music. Rhythmically and harmonically unpredictable, it presented some similar challenges to the Bartok but I enjoyed getting to know it and the symphony seemed to go down well with our audience. The second half of the concert contained two much more familiar works, Mussorgsky’s ‘A Night on a Bald Mountain’ as well as the mighty ‘Symphony No 5’ by Sibelius, continuing our season of 5th symphonies. Considered by some to be the greatest symphony of the 20th century, Sibelius’ 5th is a gorgeous melting pot of harmonies with some lovely moments for us horn players. It was a fascinating concert which saw the orchestra rise to a series of very different challenges. You can get a flavour of several elements of Saturday’s concert by watching this 2014 performance of William Alywn’s ‘Piano Concerto No 2’ by Arta Arnicane with the Ealing Symphony Orchestra, conducted by John Gibbons:

Labels: ,