King Lear at the Globe: homelessness, madness and mediocrity

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The opening of King Lear at Shakespeare’s Globe is less ‘lights, camera, action’ and more a fizzling illumination and gradual realisation that, indeed, the play is starting. Beanie-clad and backpack-carrying folk make their way through the still chattering crowd and onto the stage – a huge ‘Keep Out’ sign at the set’s centre signals a disused and abandoned building that these squatters are about to claim for themselves.

Once it is ascertained that these scruffy-looking individuals must be the cast and the theatre-goers quieten down, the actors begin to tear down dust sheets, force down barricades, and make the stage into a set more fitting for their rendition of King Lear, an almost Brechtian touch. Throughout the production, the initially covered-up set becomes more and more exposed, mirroring the King’s increasing descent into madness.

Kevin McNally, best known perhaps for his roles in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, is undoubtedly the star of the show, playing a phenomenal Lear. Joshua James as Edgar, and the character’s disguise of Poor Tom is also highly successful – disguise is certainly the order of the day in Lear, with Saskia Reeves’ Kent taking on a male identity with equally dramatic effects.

It has to be said that for such a tragic play, there are a fair few comedic moments, with plenty of laughs – in true Bard fashion there are innuendos dotted throughout, despite the depressing turn of events. Unlike Emma Rice’s previous colourful, fiesta-style version of Much Ado About Nothing however, her latest directorial work for King Lear is a wholly more subdued affair. Colours are duller, with pastel shade costumes only brightened by the odd instance of pillar box red jackets.  With the exception of the theatrical drumming scene to portray the tempestuous storm, the entire three and a half hour production (which at times feels elongated) seems slightly muted – it’s a solid rendition of King Lear but perhaps one that lacks a wow factor.  

Fiesta vibes at Globe’s Much Ado revival

Shakespeare’s Globe on London’s Bankside is known for its alternative takes on the classics. Their new production of Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Matthew Dunstar, is no exception, bringing the Bard to revolutionary twentieth century Mexico, and boldly putting a sombrero on Shakespeare.

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Audiences will be transported back to 1914 where political upheaval meets Latin music and desert sands — romance, unsurprisingly, is central, but the strobe lighting and gunshots will remind you that revolution rumbles in the background.

This revival is part of the Globe’s Summer of Love season — Much Ado follows Beatrice and Bendick as they reluctantly realise their feelings for one another, egged on by their outspoken friends.

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Being in the midst of Mexico’s Latino vibes, the play is full of colour and creativity — this is indeed the case with the script, which occasionally veers from the original, but to the effect of much laughter from the crowd. The cast frequently also move into Spanish — whether it is good espanol or not, I cannot comment, but it undoubtedly reaffirms the Mexican setting.

The set is impressive,  featuring a freight train carriage complete with more windows and doors than you can shake a maraca at. Atop the train sits the band — heavy on Spanish guitar — whose soundtrack significantly adds to the fiesta-style atmosphere. Expect much flouncing of skirts, singing, epic one-liners and a ‘so what?’ to tradition. Hardcore Shakey fans may feel shortchanged, but this version is definitely worth witnessing.

Much Ado About Nothing runs until 15 October at Shakespeare’s Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, SE1 9DT.

 

Adapted from original review for Londonist, 

42nd Street Is A Toe-Tapping Success

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There’s a new show in town, and it comes from the bright lights of Broadway. 42nd Street, the dance-heavy musical set in 30s New York is now showing at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and is the perfect performance for anyone who likes toe-tapping, stunning costumes and a lot of glitter.

42nd Street follows the story of Peggy Sawyer, a young hopeful keen to get a foot in the door of the theatre world. Peggy is played by the talented Clare Halse, a former Hairspray, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Gypsy performer.  She may be small, but she is certainly mighty: indeed what Halse lacks in height, she makes up for with her incredible tap dancing.

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And there is a lot of dancing. Expect fantastic formations, uber-quick footwork and beautiful costumes. All gets messy when we meet Dorothy Brock, Peggy’s rival in terms of nabbing the top spot in the upcoming production. The role of Dorothy is played by the utterly amazing Sheena Easton –she may be best known for her Bond soundtracks (For Your Eyes Only)  but she is stunning as the one-time star and surefire primadonna Brock in 42nd Street.

This is the ultimate ‘lights of Broadway’ spectacular – if you need a bit of glitter in your life, heading to see 42nd Street is a no-brainer. Whilst it may be humanely impossible for your eyes to keep up with the speed of all those feet tapping away, watching the pros at work will definitely make you want to take up dancing. That, or get some really noisy shoes.

Photos thanks to 42nd Street: The Musical’s media.

Show 7: The London Fashion Week Underdog

What happens when a bunch of (insanely) talented London students put on a show to kick off the much anticipated A/W 17 Fashion Week? This.

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Let’s face it: fashion can be insanely elitist. High prices, privileged circles, and unspoken ‘connections’ are key to the maintaining of a world that many of us will never get a taste of. London Fashion Week is proof: you only need to look at what the guests got in their goody bags, or hear a few of the Front Row names to realise that this is fashion with a capital F and a requisite to be a Somebody.

Sometimes, though, something or someone comes along to make you realise once again that this tiny bit of the fashion world is in no way representative of the whole industry. In this instance, it was Show 7, the brainchild of a group of creative fashion students from renowned Central Saint Martins (CSM) and London College of Fashion (LCF), that proved fashion, and Fashion Week, is something that is open to all.

The show was put on by seven students, all keen to make a name for themselves in the fashion world.Ciara Di Salle, Rhiannon Davies, James Walsh, Johannes Warnke, Sophia Donald, Paul Parnell and Ben Mak are all studying some variation on Fashion Design, whether it be with knitwear, tailoring, marketing or womenswear.  Mix these eclectic students together with a bunch of innovation, creativity and drive, and you have Show 7.

Forget grand halls and exotic venues, Cannon Street Jersey Fabrics, a fully functioning fabric warehouse in Tottenham, was the site of the venture. Among rolls of patterned materials and stacks of fabrics, fellow students, fashion magazines and beaming parents lined the makeshift but oh so cool catwalk.

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From Ciara Di Salle’s arctic inspired coats to Ben Mak’s leopard print gowns, Show 7 was a totally varied affair. Intricate laser-cut garments designed by Johannes Warnke appeared alongside fur and knit combos courtesy of Rhiannon Davies.

James Walsh’s bold colours and classic designs were modelled on the 60’s housewife, a fair few decades before the 90s vibe of Sophia Donald’s collection. Paul Parnell’s clothes were a tongue in cheek and completely barmy yet brilliant concoction based on the concept of Baked & Glazed, although more naughty-but-nice than their donut counterparts.

Lighting, filming and photography was done by other UAL students, meaning the whole evening was a thoroughly student-led affair. Despite this,  not one of the looks that went down the catwalk could be called anything less than highly professional and completely LFW worthy.

This was the part of Fashion Week that shunned the usual elitist model, and opened it out to pretty much everyone and anyone. What Show 7 ultimately achieved though, was to show just what can be done on a limited budget, with tons of enthusiasm, a few willing helpers, and bags and bags of potential. These kids have talent – and I have no doubt that they will be fashion’s future.

Wilton’s Music Hall: Head East for Entertainment

Looking for an evening’s entertainment or a quirky cocktail? Look no further.Tucked away between Tower Hill and Aldgate Stations is a hidden gem of an establishment: introducing Wilton’s Music Hall.

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If you think that all of the city’s best theatres and show venues are in the West End, think again. Despite the majority of musicals centring around Soho and Covent Garden, and perhaps the more ‘serious’ plays taking place at the National or the Globe, there are plenty more hidden away, off-West End performances that are equally, if not more, mind-blowing. If you look hard enough, a short walk from the Tower of London will show you one such place: Wilton’s.

For a spectacular venue that, yes, may lack the light up signs and the overpriced merchandise that is synonymous with London shows these days, the unique Wilton’s Music Hall is definitely worth a visit. Having started out in 1839, this Grade 2 Star listed building is still going strong today after some recent renovation, and as one of the oldest grand music halls in the world, hosts a variety of top-class acts and entertainment.

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On first glance (when you have finally located the place having walked down several side streets), Wilton’s may not strike you as a fabulous night out. But step inside, and you could be mistaken to think you have been transported back to the era of music halls and gin dens. Low lighting, subdued hues and cosy décor meets a thoroughly relaxed vibes to create one of London’s best-kept secrets.

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The Mahogany Bar and upstairs Cocktail Bar serve up some exceptional and inventive cocktails amongst the usual beers, wines and softies for the drivers. Hearty pre-show food, courtesy of The Gatherer’s, is available, with local Brick Lane Beigels and the likes of chicken scratchings on the menu.

Recently, I was lucky enough to see one of the stunning performances that Wilton’s hosts – this one was a play cum cabaret cum musical and was gripping from start to finish. Titled ‘City Stories’, the show told four individual love stories set at different points in time, but all based in our beloved London. Exceptional music accompanied the drama thanks to one (very talented) woman and her piano, who also happened to have written the score.

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This, alas was only a two-night affair, but the constantly changing  programme of events is just why Wilton’s is so fantastic. From jazz bands to plays, cabarets to comedy, the variety in entertainment coupled with its one-of-a-kind atmosphere makes Wilton’s Music Hall the ultimate fusion of venue, entertainment, drinks and history.

ENO’s Madam Butterfly: a feast for the eyes and ears

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Take several Japanese screens, a fair few Kimonos, countless lanterns and fans, and an incredibly moving score, and you have all the ingredients for ENO’s latest offering, Madam Butterfly.

Puccini once again hits the London scene, and the mix of orchestral masterpiece with stunning minimalist Japanese theatre is a feast for the eyes and ears. American soprano Rena Harms takes the title role, and is a beautifully sincere Madam Butterfly.

Yesterday’s opening night performance at the Coliseum was a success on all fronts; the talented orchestra transporting the London audience to the The opera is a classic tale of unrequited love, and of one woman’s faith that her American husband will one day return to Japan to her. This lady is one patient individual, but her three years of waiting flies by in ENO’s production. Innovative use of lights and silks as well as effective instances of puppetry ensure that not only is the audience gripped by the stunning melodies and impressive vocals, but also the visual cinematic masterpiece that is the stage. Costumes and set were equally colourful, and utilisation of shadow was simple, yet stylish.

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The characters of Suzuki (Stephanie Windsor-Lewis), Madam Butterfly’s maid, and her absent husband Pinkerton (David Butt Philip) matched up to Harms’ near-perfect performance. One of the most effective characters, I have to say, was that of Madam Butterfly’s baby son – a puppet so lifelike and so ingeniously controlled that after being on-stage for a matter of minutes, I was completely sure that it was a real person. Forget CGI, this is special effects at its finest.

Being an opera, and a Puccini one at that, the ending is an emotional culmination of three years of patience and love. A visually stunning, and musically enchanting oriental performance, Madam Butterfly at the ENO is one that may require a pack of tissues.

 

images courtesy of ENO (www.eno.org)

 

Mamma Mia: Dancing Queens and Super Troupers

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Somewhere in the crowd, there’s you me. Aka the night I went to the ultimate Abba musical.

 

When it’s a cold, drizzly Tuesday evening in the city, a bit of entertainment is much needed. With the current steep cinema prices (enough to buy multiple DVDs from Amazon), seeing a film, albeit on a big screen, seems like bad value for money. For little more than a cinema ticket, however, you can see a real live show. Yes – one with actual people in – singing, dancing, making you feel good about the world. So, this Tuesday, I spent a reasonable £22 on going to the Novello Theatre and witnessed two and a half hours of Abba fabulousness: I saw Mamma Mia.

I remember the film Mamma Mia coming out a few years back (funnily enough, I did actually see it at the cinema – but this was back in the day when you got change from a tenner), and the stellar cast alone was enough to make the movie decent, even if the storyline left something to be desired. The London show uses the same narrative, songs and characters as the movie, and is reassuringly familiar, yet utterly different. Having seen the film, I couldn’t help comparing the stars of the stage show to Meryl Streep, Julie Walters and Christine Baranski. Despite their on-screen counterparts, these performers did a cracking job.

The music, costumes, comedy and (let’s face it) fairly very good looking cast made for a fantastic experience. Watching Mamma Mia made me realise a) just how many songs Abba wrote, and b) that I somehow knew nearly all the words to them all. That either makes Abba ridiclouly memorable, or me kind of embarrassing. Or both.

The best thing about seeing a live show is the reality that at any moment, something could go wrong. Admit it – when sitting in a theatre, there is a tiny part of you wondering what would happen if someone forgets their lines/trips over/gets drunk in the interval and changes the entire second half. That, thankfully, didn’t occur on this occasion, which was lucky as the final numbers of the show are incredible. A lot of shiny trousers, a fair few pairs of platforms, a tonne of energy and music, and you have the ultimate feel-good finale. The audience were up on their feet singing to Waterloo, and I realised that as much as my brain could have been broadened that evening by watching a BBC documentary, seeing a Shakespeare play or visiting a museum, Mamma Mia made me pretty much as happy as I could be on a weekday evening. Ultimately, the show reaffirms life’s positivity – a happy ending, a lot of singing, and a seat with a pretty good view that didn’t break the bank. This, my friend, is what London is about.