Saturday, 27 April 2013

The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night - Propeller Theatre Company


If you’re one of those people who think a Shakespeare comedy isn’t funny, then you’ve clearly never seen one performed by the Propeller Theatre Company.

Recently I had the opportunity to see Propeller’s latest productions of The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night at the Lowry Theatre in Salford and can honestly say that I can’t remember when I had enjoyed theatre so much. The energy and enthusiasm the cast invest into each scene had the audience in stitches from the opening scenes and held them captive until the end.

Propeller is an all-male theatre company formed back in the late 1990s under the direction of Ed Hall. They are renowned for the way in which they bring Shakespeare’s plays to life, offering a very modern take on such stalwart classics, making them both entertaining and enjoyable but also thought-provoking and comparable to society today. This year, their performances of Twelfth Night and The Taming of the Shrew proved no exception. The liveliness and fast-paced delivery of the lines directed to the other performers as well as the audience created an informal atmosphere which drew the audience into each scene.

 


Once you get used to the language style, it is easy to get caught up in the stories being played out before you. Because of Propeller’s modern approach to each play, you find it easy to relate to the situation and characters and can empathise with them.



 
This was particularly so in the case of the Taming of the Shrew. At the beginning you admired the feisty character of Kate (Katherine) whilst also sympathising with her father for having such an unruly and headstrong daughter. On the other hand you were drawn to his other daughter Bianca but soon realised that your ideas were about to be tested. As the play progresses, you can see how much is made of Bianca’s beauty and that Kate’s boisterous behaviour is not admired but needs to be tamed. She is then subjected to cruelty and humiliation until she yields to the commands of her husband and becomes almost recognisable as the person we admired in the beginning. The transformation was at times comical but as you thought upon the situation more, you could see how Shakespeare and Propeller were challenging the concepts that beauty is to be admired and wild behaviour and out-spoken characters controlled. They also examine the theme of marrying for love and marrying for money and how sometimes the difference between the two is a very fine line. The cast performed this brilliantly but I particularly enjoyed Vince Leigh and Dan Wheeler as Petruchio and Kate respectively.




In Twelfth Night we see the classic tale of mistaken identities, transformations and deception. It looks at the question of what happens when you fall in love with the wrong person and the answer is often comical and heart wrenching. Having a man play a girl who in the course of the play disguises herself as a boy is also humorous but draws many parallels with situations in society today with people often hiding their sexuality to be accepted by society.  The way that Propeller’s male actors portray the female characters is done so cleverly that like the language, once you get used to it, you often forget about the actor as you are so engaged with the character and the play itself - their speech and movement as well as their facial expressions are so true to the female nature. This production was side-splittingly funny at times but also had some very poignant moments and you felt each of these emotions with the main characters.

 



I would thoroughly recommend seeing Propeller for yourself, not only will it give you a deeper appreciation and understanding of Shakespeare’s work but will keep you entertained and amused for hours. Be warned though, once you have seen them once, you will want to see them again and again. These were the  5th & 6th productions I have seen by Propeller and I have thoroughly enjoyed every one.





Look out also for the cast performing during the intervals of the shows. This year they are raising money for Target Ovarian Cancer and invite donations to be made through their just giving page www.justgiving.com/Propeller13.


For more details of Propeller’s current productions and tour dates see http://propeller.org.uk/current-productions

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Review: Paul Stone - Reprise of Swing

It’s likely that you may not have heard of this guy before now, but the way things are going for Paul Stone, it won’t be long before his name is as familiar as some of the singers he pays tribute to with the release of his debut album Reprise of Swing.



Yorkshire based Paul, a former student at Leeds College of Music is currently touring the globe withhis 11-piece orchestra, bringing back the sound of Swing with that big band style in his own inimitable way. He’s appeared on local and national radio and also performed at a charity gala concert with pop legends The Osmonds last year.  His debut album, Reprise of Swing had a limited release just before Christmas 2012 but has just been released globally through itunes this month. 

Paul learned to love music at an early age and by the time he was 14yrs old, could play the piano, the violin and drums. He enjoys performing and for many years has entertained  as a solo artist or with his band at corporate events, charity nights and on cruise liners. He saw the way that his style of Swing appealed to the audiences and so set out to record his own album.  He has a fresh faced look with a smile that would rival a Cheshire cat. His voice and personality are well suited to Swing and it is impossible to see him perform without feeling upbeat, such is the energy and enthusiasm he exudes in his performance. I have known Paul for quite a few years now, having first met him when he sang as part of the duo Stone & King. I don't think he's aged a day since I last saw him and his positive attitude and cheerful disposition are quite contagious, you can't help but be happy when you're around him.



Reprise of Swing includes many well known and much loved favourites from both rock and pop genres, but with that added “Swing”. The songs included on the album work surprisingly well with this new sound and although I had been a bit dubious when I first read the track listing, I have to admit that the arrangements flow smoothly and give each song a new appeal.  That big band style  sound possesses quite a nostalgic feel with the cheerful and optimistic beat giving even the more sombre songs like With or Without You a positive feel.

 Watch Paul Stone live at Lakeside



 Album Tracklist
1.Don't You Forget About Me    
2.With or Without You
3.Lovely Day
4.Wicked Game
5.Beautiful Stranger
6.Long Train Running
7.Sex On Fire
8.Rise and Fall
9.Englishman in New York
10.Could It Be Magic
11.I Need Your Love
12.On the Road Again



I would find it hard to pick one favourite from amongst the tracks on offer but do have A Lovely Day, Long Train Running, An Englishman in New York and I Need Your Love on repeat on my ipod quite regularly.

To find out more about Paul Stone and his music click on one of the links below or order his album through AmazoniTunes or Linn Records
Paul Stone Official Website
Paul Stone Twitter
Paul Stone Official Facebook Page

Remember in music, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing!”

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Review: Doctor Faustus - West Yorkshire Playhouse




Tired with the pursuit of knowledge through more conventional means and a desire for fame, fortune and glory, Doctor Faustus makes a pact with Lucifer that he will trade his soul in return for 24 years of service by the devil Mephistopheles. Despite warnings from Mephistopheles about what it feels like to fall from the grace of God and live a life of eternal misery and servitude, Faustus signs the pact.



He soon enjoys all that his pact has to offer in terms of notoriety, fame, women and others who he can manipulate at will. He occasionally suffers bouts of consciousness and feelings of guilt where he questions what he is doing. By this time, he has fallen too far and at the end of the 24yrs realises all too late what his fate will be as the devil comes to claim his soul for Lucifer.

Doctor Faustus was written in the late 1590s and initially published in 1604 under the title The Tragicall History of D. Faustus; however the themes in it are still as prevalent today as they were then. Currently showing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, I wouldn’t say this was a play to go and see if you want to be entertained. The dark themes explored in this play certainly give way to reflection and contemplation but with the exception of a few lighter moments in this modern day adaptation; Doctor Faustus is both dark and disturbing.

I had seen the play before but in a more traditional setting. This adaptation by Colin Teevan was cleverly written and you could see many parallels to the world today. The desire for power, wealth and popularity are still present in society today and whilst people may not go to such extremes to get them you might say that in the pursuit of them they lose sight of what they have.

Overall I found the play quite disturbing, which being the aim, I think, it was achieved with ease. Several scenes such as the appearance of the seven deadly sins were quite unsettling although the costume and make up departments had clearly excelled in their work. The use of the stage as both the main stage for performance and as a side stage dressing and changing area meant that you not only got to see the physical changes the characters went through but also the emotional and mental changes – a more subtle method of contemplation perhaps.




I thought that Siobhan Redmond really surpassed the other cast members in her portrayal of Mephistopheles. She was witty and funny, grave and intimidating. Through the delivery of her lines, she gave you the most to think about and examine about the play as a whole and the other characters. She held the audience’s attention whenever she was on stage and the applause she received at the end was entirely justified.



There was the opportunity to attend a post show talk with the co-writer Colin Teevan. Christopher Marlowe sent his apologies although this being Faustus, they might at least have tried to conjure him up – at what cost though?

Thanks to West Yorkshire Playhouse and Culture Vultures for a very thought provoking evening. I’m glad to say I didn’t have nightmares afterwards!

Doctor Faustus is running until 16th March. For more information and to book tickets go to www.wyp.org.uk

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Yinka Shonibare MBE - Fabric-ation

Yorkshire Sculpture Park 02March – 01Sept 2013.


This week I had the opportunity to attend a blogger’s event arranged by the lovely Emma Bearman  (www.theculturevulture.co.uk/blog) at Yorkshire Sculpture Park to preview the new exhibition for Yinka Shonibare MBE. I didn’t think I was familiar with his work until I did some research and saw that he had previously had a piece of work displayed on the 4th plinth at Trafalgar Square, a piece that I had seen and photographed on many occasions.


We were greeted at the park by YSP deputy curator Sarah Coulson, who led us through the exhibition, explaining more about each piece and the inspiration behind it as well as a brief biography of the artist himself, Yinka Shonibare.

Yinka was born in London in 1962 to Nigerian parents. He returned to Lagos aged three and remained there until his teens when he returned to London to study art.  In his work, Yinka often challenges the misconceptions that people have whether it is about a certain place or period in history.

The exhibition is set out over several rooms in the underground gallery with a couple of pieces also outside, although at the time of our visit it was a little too dark to see and appreciate these works. The pieces within the gallery though were very colourful and eye catching and engaged you immediately so that you wanted to study them in more detail.

What I liked about the exhibition and Yinka’s work is that it can be enjoyed on many levels and by people of all ages. Firstly, with every piece, you instantly notice the use of colour and bold prints on the fabric which are quite beautiful. However as you study each piece in more detail you are drawn into it and become aware of the other themes that are being explored. In many instances there seemed to be a reference to childhood, whether it was the size of the sculptures or the children’s toys used as part of them. These prompted me to think of how children often have more simplistic and fantastical views of things and yet are also blatantly honest in what they see - something which as adults we often fail to see.
Black Gold - photo from www.yinkashonibarembe.co.uk
 


I had many favourite pieces amongst the collection including: New York Toy Painting, consisting of many painted globes each adorned with figurines representing something traditionally associated with America or New York; Black – Gold a large piece of artwork adorning one wall which looks like a splash of oil with several smaller circles inside. It tells how Nigeria has been one of the main oil producers since the 1980’s with 80% of its exports being in oil yielding high values to government revenue. But Nigeria is also a place rife with corruption and the production of oil also raises many environmental issues. Despite all the wealth produced from the export of this oil, it is of little benefit to the Nigerian people; Alien Family, fabric sculptures that were bright, colourful and rather cute to look at but riding on flying machines that looked like they were designed by Leonardo da Vinci rather than the hi-tech spaceships you would expect.

Dysfunctional Family - photo from www.yinkashonibarembe.co.uk
 

I also enjoyed the room that seemed entirely devoted to Lord Nelson – from the brightly coloured cannon made as replica from HMS Victory to the paintings copied from old masters and imposed with a dying Nelson and other characters such as women and people from different nationalities that you might not have expected to see around the time of Nelson. However, if you study Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square you will see at the bottom of the plinth 4 carvings from scenes on HMS Victory. One of them portrays how they were 19 different nationalities on board with Nelson, so what might have seemed artistic licence by many was actually correct.

My favourite piece though was the ballerina on a cloud. Like many of Yinka’s sculptures, the ballerina is headless and the skin tone used makes it impossible to identify a nationality. What immediately stood out for me was how beautiful and graceful the ballerina was, posed whilst dancing en Pointe with her arms stretched out either side of her. The attention to the detail of her leg and arm muscles was incredibly lifelike and the colours of her tutu and shoes all added to the aesthetics of the piece. Whilst you are busy admiring all of this, you perhaps don’t notice that the cloud she is dancing on is actually a black mushroom cloud. What Yinka alludes to here is that the ballerina is representative of the higher echelons of society who are so removed from reality that they are stood on a cloud and unaware of what is going on around them.
Flower Cloud - photo from www.yinkashonibarembe.com
 


Of the exhibitions I have been to, I found this to be one of the most enjoyable, not just because each piece was so visually captivating but because you are drawn in to study in greater detail and get to appreciate the thoughts and themes behind each work. Each piece challenges your initial perceptions leaving you with much to ponder over and talk about afterwards. I would thoroughly recommend a visit to this exhibition.

Thanks to Emma Bearman from www.theculturevulture.co.uk for organising the event and to Sarah Coulson for a fascinating insight into Yinka's work.

For more information on the artist http://www.yinkashonibarembe.com/
For information on Yorkshire Sculpture Park http://www.ysp.co.uk/

To read more about cultural events in the Yorkshire area http://www.theculturevulture.co.uk/blog

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Julius Caesar - RSC



Late September, I had the opportunity to see not one, but two Shakespeare plays; Macbeth at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield and Julius Caesar at The Alhambra Theatre in Bradford. Both were enjoyable in their own way, but my favourite by far was the RSC production of Julius Caesar, the on stage drama was gripping and the drama continued into the interval with a set malfunction adding to the intensity.



Set in Africa, the production was captivating from start to finish. I had initially wondered how it would translate to being set in Africa but have to admit it worked exceptionally well. The cast was made up from many well known actors who will have been familiar to many from their previous work in film and television and this had been part of the appeal for me to see the play. It was not a play I had studied or seen before so I made sure I read up on it before going to see it and was impressed by the reviews that I had seen.



The acting throughout was incredible, the famous soliloquies were exceptional and really captured the mood of the play. The entire cast gave outstanding performances but the real drama came from Paterson Joseph as Brutus and Ray Fearon as Mark Anthony.



The interval had a drama of its own when the safety curtain refused to raise at the end. The stage manager, theatre manager and RSC manager all came out to apologise for the delay which then turned into a cancellation. Everyone was offered a refund or the chance to see the evening performance. Someone asked if the cast might come out into the stalls area so that we could applaud their performances so far. In good nature they all came out and took bows and chatted to the audience at the front of the stalls. As they took their final bows, the safety curtain suddenly rose like a phoenix from the ashes and the RSC manager told a now delighted audience that the show would go on.

The second act seemed just as gripping and I was glad I hadn’t left early like so many others. Mark Anthony’s speech “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” was so powerful that he really brought the text to life. I wish I had seen productions like this when I studied Shakespeare at school as it really brought out the feeling and emotion of the piece.



At the end of the performance, the actors all came on stage to take their bows and applauded the audience for staying with them. It was a fantastic production and I dearly hope it gets released on DVD in the future.

Chatsworth House

Many years ago I visited Chatsworth House but perhaps didn’t appreciate what a magnificent place it was at the time.



Over the years I have seen it appear in many well-known films and television programmes and after visiting nearby Hardwick Hall and learning a little more of their combined histories I was determined to see it again.

In August I met up with my friend Lyndsey and we spent a full day exploring the many wonders of the place.


There was so much to see and do, it would have been better to spend a couple of days there and after
seeing just a fraction of the property I wished I could have stayed overnight.

The House itself is incredible; superb architecture, intricate and ornate carvings and mouldings, rich and opulent colours, magnificent table settings and so many ornaments and paintings that each room was a wonder to behold. One of my favourite places within the house was the library – a long gallery filled with books on every side and featuring a beautiful portrait of Henry VIII and the exquisite sculpture by Rafaelle Monti The Veiled Lady.



One of my main reasons for wishing to come to Chatsworth was to see this sculpture. I remember seeing it in the film Pride & Prejudice as the character Elizabeth Bennett walks through the sculpture gallery . The sculpture is so intricately sculpted that you can see the features of the lady’s face despite it having a veil over it. It really is breathtakingly beautiful.

Moving into the sculpture gallery there were also many fine pieces including two large lions that marked the end of the tour and the entrance to one of the gift shops.



Outside there were so many wonders to see you could appreciate why a large family would find so much entertainment in their land. From the majestic Emperor’s waterfall to the maze along with the many gardens, sculptures and ornaments it was impossible to find one place to settle as you just wanted to see more and more and more.....


 
 
 

 

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Così fan Tutte - Opera Holland Park




Così fan Tutte is one of three operas written by composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. Written in Italian, it translates as “Thus do all women” or “All women are like that”.  It tells the story of two sisters; Dorabella and Fiordiligi, their lovers Ferrando & Guglielmo and their friend, the old philosopher Don Alfonso.  Following a proclamation made by the young men that the affections of their sweethearts are unwavering, Don Alfonso places a bet with the young men. Given one day and providing the young men do everything he says, he will prove that their sweethearts are fickle (as all women are).

Opera Holland Park’s production of this well- known opera is given a traditional 18th century setting in terms of costumes but with a modern twist in terms of staging. Don Alfonso is the first character we the audience are introduced to and together with the chorus singers (seated on the stage like an audience) are let in on the experiment he is about to conduct. The staging thereafter is reminiscent of a cross between the Truman Show and Big Brother as we watch the main protagonists and the supporting cast caught up in Don Alfonso’s experiment.




I have been to several of Opera Holland Park’s productions and have never been disappointed. The outdoor setting provides a welcome change to a theatre or opera house and has a more intimate feel to it. The cast and chorus are always very strong vocally especially when you consider that like most operas the singers don’t wear microphones and given the outdoor setting have to project their voices in a different way. In this setting you can also see the orchestra which again makes a change from them being in a pit or hidden off stage – you really get to see a full performance in every sense.

Whilst Cosi fan Tutte is not one of my favourite operas (I find the storyline somewhat melodramatic) I was nevertheless eager to see this production by Opera Holland Park. The fact that they always put on operas to such a high standard – and given the fact that my good friend Nick Garrett was performing the role of Don Alfonso added to its appeal. I had read several reviews of the performance before attending and so was anticipating a great performance – I was not disappointed.




The singers all performed to an extremely high standard and were amusing, eloquent and emotional.  Each of the singers performed their solo parts so well that it would be hard to pick out any one as a highlight of the opera .Whilst I could not remember many of the songs from the opera , I did enjoy Soave sia il Vento performed by Don Alfonso, Dorabella and Fiordiligi. There were also several comedy moments – usually involving Don Alfonso and Despina which I thoroughly enjoyed.At times it seemed they were delivering the lyrics with such speed that it became a tongue twister of words which added to the comedic value of the piece

Although the opera did seem quite long at times, I enjoyed the innovative staging and thought that setting it in such a way as to reproduce a big brother sort of feel, gave it a very modern and contemporary twist. I would gladly have seen this production again had it not been for the travel distance from my home and the fact that like Opera Holland Park’s many other productions, it was sold out!





Conductor Thomas Kemp
Director Harry Fehr
Designer Alex Eales
Lighting Designer Colin Grenfell
Fiordiligi Elizabeth Llewellyn
Dorabella Julia Riley
Ferrando Andrew Staples
Guglielmo Dawid Kimberg
Despina Joana Seara
Alfonso Nicholas Garrett
With the City of London Sinfonia and the Opera Holland Park Chorus


For further information on Opera Holland Park and their forthcoming productions see www.operahollandpark.com.