Life is a Cabaret!

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‘Life is a Cabaret!

RNCM Concert Hall, 27 April 2014

RNCM Day of Song: Cabaret!

In this concert , the final event of this year’s RNCM Day of Song, we were entertained with cabaret songs by William Bolcolm, Ben Parry and Schoenberg, together with a selection of songs from The Threepenny Opera and Cabaret itself.

It is curious the way in which cabaret songs can conjure a world and a mood, something which Burlesque, her younger, simpler, albeit sometimes naughtier sister cannot quite manage (though, naturally, there are affinities between the two, as the performance of Fred Ebb’s ‘Mein Herr’ made plain).  With cabaret you’re minded of a big city, its high society and its seedy underbelly sitting side by side.  You’re introduced to characters who move between these milieus, seemingly well-to-do, with great prospects even, yet in truth never that far from penury and/or the prison yard.  There’s anxiety as well as hedonism in cabaret, since illicit (true?) pleasure is always transgressive…  Cabaret has an implicit philosophy, it counts the cost.

I liked two of William Bolcolm’s songs best of all here, his ‘Song of Black Max’ and ‘George’ (did the latter inspire Rod Stewart’s song ‘The Killing of Georgie’, I wonder?), mainly for the reasons given above.  And, yes, we did get to hear a rousing version of ‘The Ballad of Mack the Knife’.

As a sampling of the delights and rewards of cabaret, this concert could hardly have been bettered.

Dawn Upshaw can be heard performing ‘Song of Black Max’ here.

The Rolling Stone

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The Rolling Stone

By Chris Urch

Royal Exchange Theatre, 24 April 2015

Robert Gilbert as Sam and Fiston Barek as Dembe in THE ROLLING STONE by Chris Urch.  Photo by Jonathan Keenan.

Robert Gilbert as Sam and Fiston Barek as Dembe in THE ROLLING STONE by Chris Urch. Photo by Jonathan Keenan.

Dembe is gay, a Christian whose brother Joe leads the congregation of their church.  When there is a threat that his sexuality will be exposed – we are in present-day Uganda – he becomes anxious, takes fright.

Chris Urch’s play grabs your attention right from the get-go and holds it fast throughout.  ‘Fast’ is the operative word, actually, for the play drives forward at a breakneck speed.  There’s no let up at all.  And though the odd polemical point is made (how could this be omitted in an intelligent play?), it is the fate of these people – above all, what will become of Dembe and his lover Sam – their lives and predicament, that becomes your overriding concern.

A fine play, with splendid performances throughout, notably from Fiston Barek (Dembe), Sule Rimi (Joe) and Robert Gilbert (Sam). The Rolling Stone is at the Royal Exchange Theatre until 2 May.  Further details can be found here.

Anything Goes

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Anything Goes

Songs by Cole Porter

Opera House, Manchester

8 April 2015

Anything Goes

An entertaining evening of delightful songs and superlative dance, this musical perfectly captures the moment when America segued (nosedived?) from the Jazz Age into the Great Depression.  The youthful arrogance and devil-may-care attitude is still there, but it’s waning somewhat.

I found the story – a knockabout farce penned by, among others, P.G. Wodehouse and ending like one of those Shakespeare comedies with multiple weddings – to be quite absurd, but the splendid Cole Porter songs and the spectacular tap dance routines more than made up for it.  Debbie Kurup (Reno) and Matt Rawle (Billy), the two leads, were wonderful, absolutely top-notch, and another performer who caught the eye was Stephen Matthews.  He played Lord Evelyn Oakley, a Wodehouse-veined English aristocrat, with freshness and real verve.  His performance of ‘The Gypsy in Me’, complete with tango steps and a rose between the teeth, was one of the stand-out moments in the show.

It was exhilarating to hear so many Cole Porter standards one after another: ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’, ‘You’re the Top’, ‘Friendship ‘, ‘Easy to Love ‘, ‘It’s De-Lovely’ and, of course, the title song, ‘Anything Goes’.  Many of these songs are rightly admired for their lyric inventiveness and verbal dexterity, but there were several lesser-known gems here too.  Of these I’d single out the gospel/Negro Spiritual-tinged ‘Blow, Gabriel, Blow’ – a rollicking number – and the exquisitely poignant lyric of ‘Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye’.  There are 19 Cole Porter songs in total in this show, so you are pretty much spoilt for choice.  A great night out.

Anything Goes is at the Opera House until 18 April, then tours throughout the UK.  Full tour dates can be found here.

Blind

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Blind

Directed by Eskil Vogt

Norway, 2014

Cornerhouse, 2 April 2015

Blind

Vogt wrote the screenplay for Trier’s enigmatic Oslo, August 31st a while back and Blind, his directorial debut, is another trying, testing film – still, it is one that’s well worth sticking with.

The fears of a woman suddenly struck blind, lost in the world, at once absolutely dependent on others, anxious about the future: that’s Vogt ‘s playground this time out.

In particular, the woman here fears that her partner will desert her or seek out other women on internet dating sites.  She invents a story with two forlorn lovers (her body is bound yet her imagination is free to roam) and her partner appears in this story.  Like Mommy, Blind is another troubled meditation on the resilience of human relationships.  The finitude of love, how much we care to care.

A bleak and beautiful film.

Mommy

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Mommy

Directed by Xavier Dolan

Canada, 2014

Cornerhouse, 2 April 2015

Mommy

If parents were given the option of washing their hands of their children , pushing the oftimes onerous predicament of raising them on to the state, would they?

It is a question that Dolan explores in this fine film, which focuses on the intense relationship between a single mother and her teenage son.  One of the boy’s issues is his ADHD, another is that he is still mourning the death of his father.

We can see the love between mother and son, but love (as it is here) is finite, conditional, can be all used up.  It is human, all too human.

The Tales of Hoffmann

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The Tales of Hoffmann

Directed by Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell

UK, 1951

Cornerhouse, 29 March 2015

The Tales of Hoffmann

This is an extraordinary film still, being chockfull of elegant, sensual dancing; myriad deliciously decadent scenes and situations; as well as some fraught moments where evil – luxuriant vice – seems to triumph.

Pressburger and Powell’s stellar cast consists of the very best balletic and operatic talent of the day, including Moira Shearer, making her reappearance after starring in the pair’s The Red Shoes a few years before; Frederick Ashton (not yet knighted), who also did the choreography; and Leonide Massine, once a principal with the Ballets Russes and incidentally Ashton’s tutor for a time in the 1920s.  Hein Heckroth’s set and costume designs add enormously to the feel of the film.

As the final credits roll, the film is given the proud stamp ‘Made in Britain’ – and so it was, though you cannot help but wonder at how it was received at the time.  To post-war Britain, beset by a grey and dreary austerity (sound familiar?), Offenbach’s tales of Hoffmann’s unlucky relations with women, of how he is stalked throughout by a sinister nemesis, finally ending his days dissolute and drunk, must have seemed seriously out of kilter.  The film’s many extravagant flourishes and the use of a fiery, bold Technicolor must have come as an energising thunderbolt.

However, when you see it now, you immediately think: masterpiece.  It is a film that’s at least equal in artistic stature to The Red ShoesThe Tales of Hoffmann is showing again on Wednesday, further details are here.

Soul Power

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Soul Power

Directed by Jeffrey Levy-Hinte

USA, 2008

Cornerhouse, 22 March 2015

This documentary is about a series of concerts that took place in Zaire, some weeks before the Ali-Foreman fight.

Ali is around, greeting James Brown, dining with Bill Withers, sparring with one of the Spinners.  Doing his trash-talking shtick.  But Foreman is nowhere to be seen.

We see the stage being built, myriad griping behind the scenes.  There is generous footage of the artists’ performances: JB was at the peak of his power around about this time, but even so for my money it is B.B. King who impresses most.

Well worth a watch.

Anna Karenina

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Anna Karenina

Adaptation by Jo Clifford

Royal Exchange Theatre, 24 March 2015

Jo Clifford’s minimalist adaptation of Tolstoy’s novel – there is little by way of stage or setting – is a drama about love false and true.

While Anna blames others and society’s mores and conventions for her woes and general unhappiness, Levin and Katy accept each other, more or less, and just get on with it.

It is a good, workmanlike production, unexceptional, but no real complaints.  However, I’m uncertain whether you’d be able to follow the story if you didn’t already know it.  Donna Berlin’s performance stood out.

Anna Karenina is at the Royal Exchange Theatre until 2 May, further details can be found here.

Life of Riley

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Life of Riley

Directed by Alain Resnais

France, 2014

Cornerhouse, 21 March 2015

You would be reluctant to call this film of Alan Ayckbourn’s play an adaptation for the screen, for Resnais retains all the trappings of the stage, or so it would seem.

The characters will look out as they speak, allowing their responses to be seen by an ‘audience’.  There are no doors leading to an outside world; instead the characters enter and exit through a curtain.  Much happens elsewhere, off-stage, and (as with the play) George, the central character, is never seen.  Where cinematic conventions which create a curtailed sense of space – in effect, a stage – don’t exist, Resnais invents them.  Close-ups have an artificial quality.

As for the story, which is all about growing old, accepting ones limitations and coming to terms with death, it is a moving and melancholy one.  And it sheds light on the reason for Resnais’ artistic choices, why they are not only apt but brilliant.  The key point is that it is all about letting go.  The camera, for once, lets go of its pretensions to omnipresence.  It doesn’t see everything.

A beautiful film, the experience of watching it being rather like seeing a cinematic version of Queneau’s Exercises in Style; and it was wonderful also to see Caroline Sihol again – she is such an elegant actress.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Music by Benjamin Britten

RNCM Theatre, 21 March 2015

A fine production of Britten’s popular opera – and while this is not his best or most interesting work, it’s certainly his most entertaining.

There are few sustained arias, so it is all down to the drama of the story and the atmosphere conjured by the music.  Here we have pastoral passions, bawdy comedy, whimsy and intrigue.  Britten’s score hits all the right buttons and Charlotte Christensen makes for a riot grrrlish Puck.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is showing again tonight and on Friday.  Further details can be found here and here.

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