Archive for October, 2007

Terrible Buildings

You would think, wouldn’t you, that a brand new Country Club and leisure facility might offer the chance to produce an interesting building.

Well, don’t go to the Deer Park Country Club at Livingston expecting to be inspired.    It looks like an agricultural shed, the bar has no windows at all, the public space is too tight, the staircase narrow and awkward, and the loos extremely cramped for space.    The meeting room I was in had only a few small windows.   The bar was so deep inside the building it had no mobile phone signal.    All the air was recycled, the ceilings were too low ….. the whole place was deeply depressing in a sort of missed opportunity way.

It is not surprising that their website doesn’t show one picture of their building, or interior of their restaurant or bar.    I’d be ashamed of it too.

Why does it have to be like this?

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Parent – Teacher evening

Total contact time (5 teachers) 23 minutes.  

Time waiting in queues to see 5 teachers 87 minutes

There really must be a more efficient way of doing this.    We watched one pupil and parent take over 20 minutes in discussion alone.

It can’t be that complicated – either the pupil is doing well, in which case there is little need for further discussion, or needs some pointers to improve, or a verbal kick up the arse if they need that too.    It should take 5 minutes max – probably less.

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The second opera of the season at Scottish Opera is Mozart’s Seraglio.    A co-production with Nationale Reisopera in the Netherlands (and seen there in January 2007), this is sung in English, and retains all but one of the principal singers, most of whom are making their UK opera debuts.

Musically, there was a lot to like with all the roles generally well sung.    Eberhard Lorenz’s Pedrillo and Rebecca Bottone’s Blonde made a stronger and more certain couple than Julia Borchert’s Konstanze and Eric Laporte’s Belmonte.      Indeed, Osmin and Blonde really stole the show with very impressive singing and acting.      Initially Eric Laporte was never quite happy with the brisk tempo set by Jeremy Carnall in the pit, and there were passages not quite together.    Julia Borchert sung sweetly enough, but needed to sing out more at times, and in one particular aria will have to practice getting her runs in time with the orchestra.    Master of the Harem Dimitry Ivanchenko was a lovely growly Osmin.

The orchestral playing was especially interesting, with lots of attention to Mozart’s detail.   A couple of natural trumpets, baroque timpani and some interesting period percussion added appeal.    Jeremy Carnall was entertaining to watch, beating time to everything and had his arms going like windmills at exciting bits.     I am a big fan of his arrangement of the orchestra with ‘cellos and violas in the centre with 1st and 2nd violins on either side.    I noticed a spare chair next to the two flutes in the first half, and it was amusing to see a third flute appear for one aria only – a passage requiring two flutes and a piccolo – after which she left the pit.    An early night for one, then.

The chorus appears for two brief numbers in Seraglio – end of Act 1 and end of the opera.   They were unseen in this production, but sang well.     I think if I was a chorus member, I would be a bit fed up about that, but I suppose it saves makeup and costumes.   No bow at the end of course either.

The production was a little strange:   a sand-pit and two white waist high barriers on hinges.    6 cushioned seats:   3 stage right, 3 stage left.     The rest stage black.   Given that much of the opera is a series of ‘fights’, then this theme was well thought through, with the sand pit being ‘the ring’.     I did find that the constant changes of lighting became irritating after a while – bright for the livlier bits, dark for the quieter bits.    It was a rather unsubtle approach, and indeed left some of the singers faces very underlit at times.

But all in all, a good show and worth catching in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness and Edinburgh this month and November.

And by the way, if you are under 26, you can get seats for £10 for any seat at any performance under Scottish Opera’s Under 26 Campaign.    (Same goes for The Barber of Seville).   

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream

We booked tickets for Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Kings in Edinburgh as we had read great things about this “Indian” production of the play when it opened in the UK at Stratford, and later transferred to London.    Also, at the TMA awards this past weekend, the prize for Best Director went to Tim Supple for this production.

The play is performed in seven different languages in use in India, including English.    It is a big production with around 25 actors, and involves lots of movement, singing and climbing ropes and strips of brightly coloured cloth.

It was actually hugely enjoyable.    At first I did miss, really missed all the words in English, but there was enough there to keep the audience on track with the story, and it did not become a problem.   The English that was spoken was in native accent, and familiar passages sounded strange and new.     For me, and I think most of the packed house, the passionate acting and thrilling spectacle more than made up for the text that was in the six foreign tongues.

This production opened in New Delhi and toured all over India, sometimes in makeshift theatres built out of bamboo for the occasion, before coming to Stratford as part of the “Complete Works” series.

A whole new take on the Bard.    This is a ravishingly sensuous and well thought out production.   Runs until Saturday this week.  Highly recommended.

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TMA Awards

Scotland did really well in the TMA Awards  just announced.  

Let’s hear it for

Best Supporting Performance, Meg Fraser in All My Sons at the Lyceum 

Anne Louise Ross for Best Supporting Role in a Musical Sunshine on Leith at Dundee Rep  

Dundee Rep for best Musical, Sunshine on Leith  

Best Touring Production Wonderful World of Dissocia from National Theatre of Scotland

Citizens/TAG’s production of Yellow Moon , best Show for Children and Young People.   

Honorable mention to nominee Kate Dickie for Aalst – National Theatre of Scotland.

You can still catch Best Director Tim Supple’s Midsummmer Night’s Dream at the Kings in Edinburgh this week.

And Opera North are putting on Peter Grimes again this spring – well worth the trip to Newcastle to see it.   

I missed Sunshine on Leith I am afraid because the Pretenders don’t do it for me.   Also I did not get to Yellow Moon, but did manage all the others – including Midsummer Night’s Dream tonight.

We do indeed have excellent theatre in Scotland.

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Scottish Opera ‘s new production of The Barber of Seville directed by Sir Thomas Allen was eagerly awaited.     It did not disappoint – the opera was witty, well sung and played and had an ingeniously designed set.

All the principals bar one were on top form, and what a treat to hear Karen Cargill back in Glasgow again.   I have been following her since her opera appearances across the road from The Theatre Royal at RSAMD, and her voice has been coming on by leaps and bounds.   She gave a genuinely witty performance as Rosina.   Thomas Oliemans was completely at home as Figaro who held centre stage as the town ‘fixer’ – a  masterful UK operatic debut.    Nicholas Folwell was a wonderfully grumpy Dr Bartolo.   If I had reservations about anyone, it was with Adrian Dwyer as Count Almaviva – he acted very well but his voice had a rather nasal edge.   The male chorus were particularly splendid.

The Barber is a difficult piece to keep together with fast ‘patter’ arias, recititive running straight into arias, and passages with  the characters and men’s chorus all singing very fast, and about different things.    Unless the conductor keeps a tight rein, it can fall to pieces very quickly.    Sergio La Stella in the pit managed OK on Saturday, although there were a couple of very slightly hairy moments if you were looking for them.    The orchestral playing was excellent with plenty of attention to detail.

When Scottish Opera had their ‘dark’ year, Welsh National came up to Edinburgh, and we saw their production of this opera.    Their male chorus was very disappointing (couldn’t hear them), and the conductor certainly let it get away from him more than a few times.

Not so for Scottish Opera.    This was a really enjoyable fun night out.    The packed Theatre Royal clearly thought so as the applause went on for  a considerable while.    Catch this Barber if you can in Edinburgh, Inverness and Aberdeen.

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Live TV

Left home early to go on a Live TV programme.    I was a guest on daytime sofa TV, and it was a whole new learning journey.     Cameras, radio mics, make-up and lots of people with clipboards and headphones.    What a whole army of people it takes just to get an hour of TV out.

The program was actually too jammed packed with stuff, meaning that each topic got far less airtime than it should have done.    Given the degree of preparation involved, it was all in all a bit unfulfilling.    

Perhaps that is just the daytime TV animal – nothing too serious, too long or controversial.    The most clued up people there were the researchers and technical staff.    The producer was clearly running to her own agenda, which certainly did not match the research done, or expected questions.    One presenter was sharp, interested and relaxed – the other wasn’t any of those things.

Hmmm.    It was a bit like eating a marshmallow – a bit too fluffy and ultimately insubstantial. 

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Caught the lunchtime concert by the Scottish Ensemble with Toby Spence on at RSAMD Friday.      I heard Toby Spence singing in the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings in Perth a while back, and have been haunted by the experience since!

We started  with Benjamin Britten’s Three Divertimenti which were played as if freshly minted with incredible detail.    It was really exciting to listen and watch the complicated rhythms being passed about.

Next was Elgar’s Serenade.   The tunes were familiar, but the delight of the Scottish Ensemble in particular is making the familiar seem new.    The exquisite restraint in the slow movement was breathtaking.

And finally, we had Finzi’s cantata Dies Natalis with Toby Spence.    What a fine singer he is, and he has such an expressive voice and manner to really put across the piece.

All in all, an hour of probably the most passionate string playing around.   It was utterly thrilling.     One hour of world class music.

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Peer Gynt

Armed with tickets for the very last performance of the pretty much universally acclaimed 5 star show Peer Gynt at Dundee Rep, we had high hopes for a really good evening.

It started really well, with the cast as a loud and drunk wedding party getting out of an open-top car which drew up outside the theatre.   The actors fought their way through the crowded bar upstairs and sang a few numbers with the house band before ushering us into our seats:   “The Buffet takes place in 3 minutes, so get those fucking mobiles turned off” kind of set the tone for what was to come.  

Peer Gynt is famously “unstageable”, but Colin Teevan’s translation and Domenic Hill’s direction gave this a really good shot.    In Naomi Wilkinson’s design, the stage was boldly stripped bare to the back walls, with a house band hiding in the shadows, and a huge long staircase going diagonally up the back wall.   Most of the cast sat visible in the wings when not part of the main action.    

Keith Fleming played the young Peer – wild and drifting, dreaming and storytelling – threw energy and wit into his performance.    The two scenes with his mother – the first, a wonderful reindeer tall tale, and the second, a journey with his mother to St Peter’s gates were special highlights.    The wedding party, and the Troll King scenes were manic and exciting, if a little long.     I was less convinced by his relationship with Solveig, played by Helen Mackay at this performance.

In the second half, Gerry Mulgrew took over as older Peer, with tales of arms dealing in Africa, becoming a Guru, surviving a plane crash – not to mention being cornered by 5 or 6 gorillas.   

I did have some reservations about this show:    firstly, the language was unnecessarily foul.    I don’t mind bad language in the theatre, but it has to be justified, and its relentless use certainly wasn’t here, where it actually became tiresome.     Secondly, there were too many moments where the action flagged.   Thirdly, I felt there were too many loose ends left untied, and I felt more could have been made of some aspects.   The second half was messy and for me missed a chance to pull things together coherently.   Perhaps that was the point of course, but it left me rather unsatisfied.   I did think the ending was especially well done though.

Having said all of this, I welcome a big show like this one which was highly imaginative and took substantial risks.    It did not all work, but taken as a whole, and with reservations as above, there was actually a lot to like.      Cliff Burnett, onstage the whole time as the Buttonman who sees everything Peer’s life brings,  also fronted the Buttonman Band – great to see him back at Dundee Rep again after all these years.      Domenic Hill has nurtured his team of actors at Dundee Rep, and it shows in the quality of performance he gets on stage.

I bought a script, like I usually do for new work, and I am looking forward to reading it to see if it sheds a bit more light on things.    And like Statler at View From the Stalls, I need to have a look at those 5 star reviews to see if I missed the point.

All in all, a fitting farewell to Domenic Hill before he takes up the reins at the Traverse.    At the final curtain call, Keith Fleming whipped on a T shirt saying “Cheers Dom” with ***** on the back.   A good way to leave Dundee, and I wish him well in Edinburgh.

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Hamlet – Citizens, Glasgow

Sadly, I was umimpressed with the production of Hamlet at the Citizens.   

Like many, I remember this from school, and apart from being taken to a production then, the only other one I have seen was Kenny Ireland’s production at the Lyceum with Tom McGovern as the Danish Prince, which was very good.

Firstly, some basic questions.     Why did the whole play start off with the big speech?    “To be or not to be…… ”       Where on earth was was Rosencrantz?    No there at all, it seems.    What happened to some of the text?     

Secondly, there was some really terrible line delivery – mechanical ‘getting the words out at all cost’ delivery.    Too much was simply shouted out loudly for no good reason.     Someone needs to tell the director that less can mean more at times.    Taking the level down so we all actually have to listen can be really effective.

Thirdly, some direction was dreadfully weak.   The great speech that Gertrude has on the death of Ophelia was delivered stage centre, straight out.   

Bits were good – the final fight scene,  Ophelia’s mad scene, the play within the play.    Hamlet’s performance was the best of the bunch, with Ophelia taking ages to warm into her role.

Shakespeare, like Bach, is a personal thing, where the interpretation is up to the performer/director.   I am afraid this simply did not chime with how I thought the words should be delivered, nor how the action should be interpreted.     

And, please tone down the smoke next time.   I don’t mind lots of smoke if it is needed, but it was really overdone here, and made for a very stuffy auditorium.   Clearly the ventilation was not up to much.

I have been spoilt with Domenic Hill’s brilliant Shakespeare productions at Dundee.   I would love to see what he would have done with this.

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