With Your Hands You Clap Clap Clap!

Co-opera Co presents Hansel and Gretel at John McIntosh Arts Centre

I thought I wasn’t familiar with this opera before last night: as a child studying music. Humperdinck was not one of the composers I learnt about, and I’m afraid I encountered the music of the 1960s Englebert before I realised he was named after an eminent musical predecessor.   However, upon hearing that I was attending Hansel and Gretel that evening, a colleague advised me that I would recognise lots of songs from my childhood.  He was right, the aria which provides the title of this piece being but one of them (I have been singing it all day).  This, of course, added a lovely sense of recognition to my enjoyment of the evening.

The action was initially set in 1950s Britain, but later seemed to move forward in time; with the witch using an overhead projector and a camera vintage 70s or 80s, and marking the contents of her fridge “Best Before 2013.”  The set was broadly based around the mother’s washing business, and some of the garments from the washing line were used as Chinese lanterns at the end of the story to great effect.

Musically, this was of a high standard, starting with the orchestra (conducted by Stephen Higgins), whose overture set the tone for the night, being both beautiful and haunting.  There was no chorus, so the production was the work of only five singers (mother doubling with witch).  All five gave excellent vocal performances, with Rahel Moore’s Sandman being particularly evocative.

The show was very well choreographed, and the cast’s movement skills were wonderful, especially Carris Jones’ drag queen witch, and Gretel’s jerky puppet steps.  Lone man Stephen John Svanholm played the exuberant, drunken father very well, and Susanne Holmes portrayed Hansel with all the exuberance of boyhood.  With such a tight cast and consistent performance, it is difficult to pick out a favourite, but personally I was particularly impressed by Llio Evans (Gretel).

When an adult woman plays a small child, there is a very real danger of her ending up looking like Baby Jane.  The audience had nothing to worry about on that score, however, as Llio’s physicality perfectly captured that of a little girl.  The way she stood, walked, moved her arms, and her facial expressions were all ideally calculated to convey Gretel’s emotions (her terror in the forest at night is a good example).  Her singing was consistently skilful and accomplised: I especially enjoyed her opening aria of Act II.

All in all, Co-opera Co have done a marvellous job with Hansel and Gretel, and much credit is due to director James Bonas, working with the company for the first time.  As he said when I interviewed him prior to the performance, (Hansel and Gretel is) “an absurdly brilliant opera.  It’s full of music so delicious you want to eat it and it’s joyfully short but densely written so that it’s packed with action.”  The same can be said for this production.

Hansel and Gretel, along with Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute will now go on a nationwide tour.  For more information, please visit www.co-opera-co.org.

Mary Tynan

Twiglets, Cocaine and Formaldehyde

Co-opera Co presents Don Giovanni at John McIntosh Arts Centre

This is the second production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni I have seen this year (I reviewed the production at Heaven back in April  – see One Night in Heaven).  Although Co-opera’s was not as hilariously smutty as the gay offering, it was nevertheless a very sexy, and funny, performance.

Right from the outset the orchestra set the tone – the playing was flawless and evocative throughout the evening, led by conductor Tim Murray.

The standard of acting in this performance was high from the start: David Milner-Pearce played the Don as a dissolute Damien Hirst-type artist to perfection, whilst Yair Polishook (Leporello) made an excellent sidekick.  The opening rape scene was very effective with Lisa Wilson (Donna Anna) playing the victim very well.  Susanna Fairbairn (Donna Elvira) made a good jilted lover, whilst Jerome Knox (Mazetto) gave a solid performance throughout the show, with the stage combat between him and David Milner-Pearce being particularly well executed.

I had been told that the production was to be anything but traditional, and that was certainly the case.  Much of the action was set in the Don’s art gallery where naked shop dummies (with pubic hair) continued the Hirst theme.  There were many amusing and interesting touches such as the Don photographing the dead father on his mobile phone; a smartphone ap (Leporello’s) which keeps a record of all the women the Don has seduced – Yair Polishook singing very well on this aria; the Don singing a serenade to the backing of a ringtone (aptly rendered by the orchestra);  the Don’s lines “I find the working class is only turned on by clothes that come from Primark” and “Since I’m spending so much money, I expect to be amused” as he is eating take away chips and pizza from yellow plastic boxes.  Twiglets and cocaine also make appearances.

Vocally, there were many wonderful moments.  Some of my favourites were Donna Elvira’s “Rip out that Heart with Glee”, the chorus number “Pleasure Tonight”, Robyn Allegra Parton (Zerlina)’s first duet with the Don, Don Ottavio, Donna Anna and Donna Elvira, disguised Ali-G style, singing “Avenge my broken heart,” Don Giovanni and Leporello’s “Glorius I shall return.”  For my money the best male vocal performance was by David Menezes (Don Ottavio), but overall the women outshone the men, with Donna Anna’s solo “The God I cherish will come and grant me rest” being hauntingly beautiful.

The opera finishes with Il Commendatore (Matthew Tomko) returning to the grave to drag the Don down to hell, and this he does in a suitably menacing and eerie manner.  The chorus close by singing “That’s the fate of evil men” as Don Giovanni goes to join his own artistic creations, becoming yet another glass case dummy in a rather Roald Dahl-esque ending.

Don Giovanni’s second night is 24 August 2012, Hansel and Gretel is on 23 and 25 2012, all shows at 7.30pm at John McIntosh Theatre, Seagrove Road, London SW6 1RX.  Tickets are priced between £10-25 and can be purchased online at http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/user/?region=xxx&query=schedule&promoter=co-opera.  The theatre is wheelchair accessible, and free parking is available next to the John McIntosh Arts Centre.  Both operas, along with The Magic Flute, will then go on tour nationwide.  For more information, please visit www.co-opera-co.org.

Mary Tynan

Co-Opera Co – Singers Helping Singers

This summer, Co-Opera Co. will present two much-loved operas, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, at the John McIntosh Theatre of the London Oratory School.  On tour later in the year, the company will also revive its successful production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. All three operas will be sung in English.

Founded by soprano Kate Flowers and lighting designer Paul Need, Co-Opera Co is an innovative opera company, striving to help singers earn while they learn, and promote the welfare of professional opera singers.  I asked Kate to tell me how the company started and how it has progressed since its small beginnings.

After our first discussions about the lack of an apprenticeship stage in a singers’ training – over far too many glasses of red wine one night in Dublin!  – Paul and I decided that we should do something about it.  I suggested one to one sessions – he suggested starting our own training opera company!  So it is Paul we have to thank for being the driving force behind Co-Opera Co, from its inception.  I set about calling all my friends and colleagues in the business – over 50 of today’s eminent artists who became our members – and Co-Opera Co was formed on June 13th 2008.”

We first opened our doors in January 2009 with a series of weekend workshops run by our members, one of whom was the legendary Philip Langridge, sadly no longer with us. In August that year we ran our first summer season, with two performances each of Albert Herring and La Boheme – produced in just three weeks (we must have been mad!), with the wonderful Chroma Ensemble as our orchestra.”

To give the singers the chance to see what it would be like to perform in a different space, the company also took both shows for one performance each to The New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth.

2010 was the year the Co-Opera Co Orchestra was formed, and the company toured 7 performances of La Boheme and the Marriage of Figaro to 7 UK venues in four weeks.  2011 saw the tour grow to 25 performances in 12 weeks, with two new productions, The Magic Flute and Carmen.

Leading up to their summer season and UK tour in the autumn the company runs a comprehensive training programme, Connections, where participants work on every aspect of opera.  I asked Kate Flowers to give me a flavour of how it works.

“Connections has grown out of those weekend workshops back in 2009 and has again developed in a very organic way, taking into consideration what singers have told us that they want – this year we held a series of one day workshops in the spring.  Each workshop was run by one of our members working with up to 12 singers. Each workshop had a theme suggested by the member running the workshop – Sir Thomas Allen for instance wanted to work with the singers on Listening and Reacting;  Janis Kelly on Body, Soul and Voice; and David Parry wanted to work on singing True Bel Canto.  With everything that we have learned about what singers need, Janis Kelly is developing a fully integrated 3 month course – Professional Connections – which will cover every aspect of being an opera singer, and we are also working on a new course – Opera Matters – for opera enthusiasts and those singers who perhaps do not wish to follow a professional career but who nevertheless would like to explore the genre and work on their personal progress.”

“Because we work with so many levels of ability – and we have no age limit – in the various training programmes we run – to be honest, we will accept applications from anyone who has a real desire (and ability) to be involved in opera.  Obviously for the touring operas we need to be able to present a truly professional standard of performance (and therefore performers) to the audiences – and to the theatres.”

We have had singers as young as 15 – our Harry in Albert Herring for instance – Marina Lawrence-Marrha – and this year we have a singer aged over 60 in The Midsummer Night’s Dream – neither of them have any qualifications – other than a true ability and a longing to sing/perform.  (Marina by the way is just about to start a foundation year at the Urdang Studios and we like to think that her experience of performing with Co-Opera Co. went a long way to developing her aptitude and enthusiasm for performing – she is simply wonderful.)”

This year the company is rehearsing four operas over four weeks – Hansel and Gretel, Don Giovanni and a revival of The Magic Flute for a tour to 12 venues – at the moment (still more in the pipeline), preceded by a new venture: the Summer Opera, which is a four week course in which 30 singers work on their own opera ( A Midsummer Night’s Dream) with the Director Peter Watson, Conductor David Gostick and Choreographer Jenny Weston, performed at the John McIntosh Theatre on 17th and 18th August.

James Bonas, Director of Hansel and Gretel, believes the work of Co-opera is very important, because “There is a real shortage of programmes and performance possibilities for younger singers to gain experience once they’ve left formal training. The opportunity for near enough a hundred people to spend a summer together doing coaching, master classes, and rehearsals in one place is remarkable. It’s the chance for everyone to make contacts, get experience and take hold of some big roles that they wouldn’t yet get their hands on in the larger companies.”

James also told me about the people involved and the rehearsals for Hansel and Gretel.  “The cast is small actually – just five singers.  Then we’ll have the Co-Opera orchestra and backstage there are the stage manager, deputy stage manager and assistant stage manager.  Rehearsals have been swift. We’ve had a couple of weeks working in a rehearsal room and now we’ll have a couple of weeks onstage doing technical work, lighting and then bringing in the orchestra. With those time frames there’s no mucking about – we started with a day of music and then were up on our feet staging the scenes the next morning.”  

They did spend one Saturday morning playing games and dancing with the singers playing Hansel and Gretel.  “It’s always so important as an adult acting a child that you remember that the child is not childish – they don’t walk strangely, they don’t pull faces constantly and they don’t whine. I think we have a tendency to do an impression of a kid rather than simply being very direct and straightforward in the world – which is what young children actually are.”

Talking about opening night (Thursday 23 August) James says, “I think it’s a bit like having a baby – a mixture of excitement and terror. You’re kind of looking forward to it but you know it’s going to take a heck of a push to get there.”

David-Milner Pearce, who is playing the title role in Don Giovanni, told me that this production is anything but traditional.  “It is set in a Contemporary Art Gallery and the Don himself is based around a Damien Hirst.  To keep thing current we have made slight tweaks to the libretto, but the translation by David Parry works very well.”

Kate and Paul’s vision for the future of the company is to eventually create a Centre of Excellence: “a theatre of our own with rehearsals studios, technical workshops, etc – based around a main touring company and with a training arm for professionals and non-professionals of all ages. A lottery win would certainly help with that!!  But in the absence of that, we are aiming to  build a commercial side of the business to provide year long employment to our associates – and our beloved Co-Opera Co. Orchestra –  by moving our rehearsals for the touring productions to Easter next year, in order to prolong the touring season to include the festival market, and developing the Summer Opera Course so that August becomes the focus of the training element – and of course Janis Kelly’s Connections Programme- and Opera Matters –  which we hope to launch next spring.

Lastly, I asked Kate Flowers what Co-Opera Co means to her.  “Everything – well after my three sons and my mum that is.”

“Since Paul Need and I first started talking about the possibility of helping singers as they enter the profession, I have found that my time – and Paul’s – has become almost entirely devoted to running the company, coaching and training the singers and generally making sure that Co-Opera Co. achieves what we set out to achieve four years ago.  I would like to emphasize that everything we are doing here at Co-Opera Co. is done with no outside funding whatsoever – we rely on box office sales – especially in our London shows during August which have the potential to raise enough money to significantly reduce the unfortunately inevitable deficit we will face at the end of the season, and that whilst we pay all our members for the work they do with our singers, musicians and technicians, and we pay our associates for their performances and pay for and organise travel and accommodation on tour, neither Paul nor I have paid ourselves a penny during the past four years – and we will not even consider doing so until we have reached the point where no-one has to be asked for a contribution.  I say this because there might be a perception that there is something other than altruistic about the way we run Co-Opera Co.  To be honest, I would never have imagined that I could ever be so enthused about something that had no personal financial gain – and I think I can speak for Paul too here – but we really are doing this, we believe, for the greater good.”

Don Giovanni is on 22 and 24 August 2012, Hansel and Gretel on 23 and 25 2012, all shows at 7.30pm at John McIntosh Theatre, Seagrove Road, London SW6 1RX.  Tickets are priced between £10-25 and can be purchased online at http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/user/?region=xxx&query=schedule&promoter=co-opera.  The theatre is wheelchair accessible, and free parking is available next to the John McIntosh Arts Centre.

The tour covers Croydon, Yeovil, Wolverhampton, Darlington, Epsom, Manchester, Bury St Edmunds, Wellingborough, Buxton, Camberley, Blackpool, Hertford, and Southport, with further dates to be announced.  For more information please visit www.co-opera-co.org.

Mary Tynan

The Law of Attraction versus “I’m not bothered!”

I remember one lunchtime in infant school being by the door to the playground where a dinner lady was on duty.  A classmate of mine offered her a sweet from a well-filled bag.  I asked if I could have one.  I was immediately told by the adult that “it’s rude to ask for things.  You should wait to be offered.”  My friend was too embarrassed to give me a sweet until we were around the corner and out of sight, when she happily did so without any further prompting.  Ironically, the reason I was in the corridor in the first place was that I was late out from lunch due to being punished for not eating my dessert (a common occurrence – cue a lifetime’s unhealthy relationship with food, but that’s another story).  The moral of the story?  Don’t ask for what you want, but take what you are given and be grateful for it.

I grew up believing that the only way to get something was not to really want it.  And I wasn’t the only one.  I was reminded of this the other day when reading Germaine Greer’s “The Whole Woman,” in which she says (on page 320): “The things you want don’t tend to turn up until you have given up looking for them.”  As we grow into adolescence and adulthood this belief develops into such behaviours as “not wearing out your welcome” “playing hard to get,” and “don’t appear desperate” – basically, pretending not to care.  This applies not only to our dealings with prospective romantic partners, but with friends, possible employers, or potential clients, in all sorts of situations ranging from discussing marriage or interviewing for your dream job to something as simple as a Saturday night out.  This can be a delicate balance for many people, for example, as an actor you are expected to promote yourself to casting directors, producers and directors, but at the same time must appear happy to be passed over or ignored, when everyone knows the truth is you would probably gnaw off your own leg for that one-line part on The Bill.

And often it really does seem that you are more likely to get things when you’re not looking for them:  you accept one job and are offered several others, you start a relationship and everyone seems interested in you, you spend months looking for the ideal flat or house without finding it, but as soon as you sign the lease on something less than ideal, the market seems to be flooded with perfect properties.  To paraphrase an old saying: “Make the gods laugh.  Tell them your plans.”

All this, I believe, goes somewhere to explaining my problem with implementing the Law of Attraction and its various related mental laws.  One of the basic tenets is “Think about what you want, not what you don’t want,” which seems to make sense, however it totally contradicts the theory of only getting what you want when you stop wanting it (for want of a better name, let’s call this the Law of “I’m not bothered.”)

And yet …  I consider myself a scientific person.  I have a BSc and have studied both mathematical logic and cosmology at third level.  I can program computers, and I read hard science fiction and books about physics for fun.  The Law of Attraction seems to make sense.  The Law of “I’m not bothered,” despite the apparent statistical evidence in its favour, doesn’t seem to have any logical theory behind it.  So why have I (so far) failed in applying the former?

I believe the answer lies in depth, and balance.  We need to appear not bothered to a certain extent: neediness is very unattractive and nobody wants to employ or go out with someone like that.  However, “appear” is the operative word here.  We should continue inside to want the job up until we haven’t got it, and then we should move on.  What we certainly shouldn’t do is take being “not bothered” to the extreme that so many of us do whereby we turn our back on our dreams, be it through being afraid to follow the career we always wanted or not having the courage to tell someone how we feel about them.

So not being bothered is a surface behaviour which can be useful socially if not taken to extremes.  Unfortunately so many of us from an early age internalise the message that we can’t have what we want (simply because we want it, it seems).  This is, in a sense, the very opposite of the law of attraction.  And in order to put the law of attraction into practice it also needs to be internalised, but when we try to do so, it comes up against the law of “I’m not bothered” and it comes down to a battle between the new and the deeply entrenched.

May the best law win!

Mary Tynan

Science meets Art at the Enlightenment Cafe

An exciting and unique new theatrical project will be taking place from 31st May – 4th June in the vaults of the Old Vic Tunnels.

Presented by LAStheatre, the Enlightenment Café combines the beauty of science with the power and imagination of immersive performance in a place of exploration, where people from all walks of life can debate, play and laugh the night away.  Only the tedious will be off limits as The Enlightenment Café aims to provoke imagination and intrigue; scientists will demonstrate their art and artists will demonstrate their science.  Scientists in residence include Tim McInerny, Stuart Clarke and Alex Bellos.   This is an interactive adventure where new theories can be mooted as to why things are, how they got there and what will happen next. The Enlightenment Café will delve into topics ranging from astronomy to paleontology, from My Little Pony to zombies and from art to invention.

Doors to the Old Vic Tunnels will open every night at 7pm, and the evenings will be split into three sections: firstly, a period of immersive theatre and free exploration; secondly, stage pieces and panel discussions; and, finally, live music and entertainment. Each night will have a different theme and aesthetic but will all inspire, breaking away from the idea that science and facts can only be learnt in a lecture theatre or laboratory.

Times and tickets for all events at the Enlightenment Cafe can be found at http://www.eventbrite.com/event/3487295595. Tickets are priced at £15 with a booking fee of £1.55.  For more information about LAStheatre visit www.lastheatre.com.

Mary Tynan

Be Part of Art!

Have you ever wondered who the Mona Lisa was? Or perhaps imagined what it would be like to see your likeness on display in a gallery?

Next month, Gérard Rancinan is offering attendees at his Wonderful World exhibition the chance to be immortalised as part of the final composition in the series, which will be shot entirely on-site at the Londonewcastle Project Space.

Presented by The Future Tense in association with Opera Gallery and Londonewcastle, Wonderful World is the concluding part in Rancinan’s seven-year Trilogy of the Moderns.  Fresh from La Triennale di Milano, photographer Rancinan brings this revolution in three acts to a close, debuting the complete Wonderful World series to the UK public.

With galleries one and two housing the main exhibition of 15 large format works from Wonderful World, gallery three will feature a purpose-built set and studio, offering a voyeuristic glimpse behind the scenes of a fine art photo shoot. Repeat visits will reveal the organic nature of studio life – part art installation, part film set, part soap opera – as the shoot moves from concept, through production and postproduction, to the climactic unveiling of the finished work at a special reception on Wednesday 20th June.

To celebrate the completion of Trilogy of the Moderns, The Future Tense will publish a new print edition by Gérard Rancinan. Limited to a signed edition of 20 + 4 Artist Proofs, the work will be available only to those attending the show. A pop-up store will also sell related merchandise including the supporting books.

Wonderful World will open to the public at a launch reception from 6.30pm on Thursday 7th June 2012 (part of East London’s First Thursday late night art openings) and will remain on view until Sunday 24th June 2012.  Photoshoot auditions will be held on Saturday 9 and Sunday 10 June, from 11 am to 6pm, with the shoot itself being on Monday 11 June.

Wonderful World runs from 7 – 24 June 2012 at Londonewcastle Project Space, 28 Redchurch Street, London E2 7DP:  Tuesday to Saturday, 11am-7pm; Sunday, Noon-6pm; closed on Monday.  There will be an artist signing on 16 June from 12 – 1.30 pm; curator-guided tours on 17 June at 12, 2 and 4pm; and an unveiling reception on 17 June from 6.30 – 9.30 pm.  For more information visit the artists website at www.rancinan.com.

Mary Tynan

Everything’s Coming Up Roses

Time of Our Lives Music Theatre in association with All Star Productions presents When Movies Were Movies at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre, Walthamstow.

The opening song set the tone for this mesmerising evening’s entertainment, as we were taken through the history of cinema from silent movies up to 1969 via the mediums of song, dance and comedy.  Flo (Dympna Messenger), an usherette in the fictional Trocadero, is interviewed by Charlie (Raymond-Kym Suttle) about the cinema’s history as it faces its imminent demise (conversion to a bingo hall).

Dympna Messenger gave a very strong performance as Flo, and was a very effective anchor for the show.  She also sang very well and had some great comedic moments: her imitation of Carmen Miranda springs to mind as combining both.  The vocal standard throughout the show was extremely high, with some of the high points for me being Lullaby of Broadway (full cast), You Ought to Be in Pictures (Nerine Skinner and Robert Wilkes), Secret Love (Jessica Poole) and the Beatles medley delivered by the whole cast.

The musical numbers were interspersed with highly amusing comedy sketches, covering themes as varied as Frankenstein and James Bond, with my personal favourite being the “terribly” sketch (you’ll have to see the show to find out what I mean by that!)  Other comedy highlights included the show’s take on silent movies – with Flo speaking the words while the rest of the cast mimed the actions, “My Brother Makes the Noises for the Talkies,” with Raymond-Kym Suttle and Robert Wilkes as the two brothers, and the scene with Flo and the cleaner, played by Nerine Skinner.

Raymond-Kym Suttle’s choreography was inspired, and his own dancing was marvellous – particularly during the Top Hat sequence – I would like to have seen more of his tapping!  The musical direction (and playing) by Aaron Clingham was flawless, adding to the overall power of the performance.  The costumes were fabulous, with very many quick changes which I’m sure must have required their own choreography!

I could go on, but I don’t want to spoil too many of the surprises.  Suffice it to say that this is old-fashioned variety at its best with something for all the family to enjoy.  Ably directed (and written) by Keith Myers, this captivating show is robust enough for a much larger space.  Give yourself a night of nostalgia and catch it at Ye Olde Rose and Crown before it closes on 4 May.

When Movies were Movies is playing at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre, 53 Hoe Street, Walthamstow Tuesday – Saturday at 7.30pm until 4 May, with matinees at 3.30 on Saturday and Sunday.  For more information visit www.roseandcrowntheatrepub.webeden.co.uk

Mary Tynan

One Night in Heaven

RC Theatre Productions presents Don Giovanni, The Opera, at Heaven

Those of you who remember the 1980s will find much nostalgia in this highly original reworking of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.  Richard Crichton’s production aims Mozart at a new audience and reinvents Don Giovanni himself as a gay, debauched playboy and nightclub owner in the heady world of the 1980s.

Cleo Pettit’s set is the first thing you notice on entering the club, and straightaway you are conveyed to 1987, the time being marked by various graphics of the period, including a conservative party campaign poster, film posters for Dirty Dancing and The Running Man, and a mock up of the Thames Television ident (5 years before they lost the franchise to Carlton).  The evocation of the era is also greatly aided by the costumes, designed by Mia Flodquist, with the assistance of Samantha Gilsenan, which show great attention to detail.  Two personal favourites of mine were Marina’s white lace boots, and Leo’s office handbag.  Finally, the hair and makeup by Evan Huang also helped to set the scene.

All gender roles in the opera have been reversed apart from the Don himself (now just Don), and the relocation of the sexual roles works very well.  Don’s pursuit of an endless series of sexual adventures and his indulgence in sensuality of all kinds lends itself to a gay world as readily as to a heterosexual one, and the addition of the late 80s drug scene adds further to the moral ambiguity of the story (although they have pre-empted the use of Viagra by more than a decade!).  The opera is performed in a new English translation by Ranjit Bolt, though I imagine the translation is far from literal.  Said to be inspired by New York’s legendary Studio 54 and Matthew Bourne’s all-male Swan Lake, the production seemed to draw ideas from many quarters.  In the early part of the story, Don reminded me of the character of Stuart in Queer as Folk, with broken hearts strewn left, right and centre; a later scene, where he is corrupting Milton Keynes sweethearts Zak and Marina, was evocative of the Rocky Horror Picture Show; but as the show progressed, and the libretto got more outrageous, it was reminiscent of the musical humour of the wonderful Avenue Q.

Musically, the opera was a delight.  The orchestra were tight, and played exceedingly well despite taking the time to laugh at some of the more amusing parts of the libretto.  Some interesting variation was provided by a disco backing track at one point (an adaptation of the Minuet by Vince Clarke), and Don accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar at another.  All the cast gave excellent performances as actors as well as singers: vocally my favourites were Mark Cunningham (Eddie) and Stephanie Edwards (Olivia) who both entranced me with their voices, though Duncan Rock, (Don) and Helen Winter (Marina) were also marvellous.

Don Giovanni kept its energy high throughout, and I assume this is a testament to the skills of director Dominic Gray.  The ending was a bit ambiguous – I wasn’t quite sure where Don ended up – but this in no way took away from my enjoyment of the evening; which ended with a blast of Falco’s Amadeus, thus tying the opera and the 80s together and rounding everything off nicely.  I highly recommend this inventive, capricious, laugh-out-loud, libidinous, and euphonious entertainment.  Catch it while you can – and look out for a surprise cameo from a famous camp disco group!

Don Giovanni is at Heaven, Under The Arches, Villiers Street, London WC2N 6NG on the following dates: Sunday 22nd April, 5pm, Monday 23rd April, 7pm, Sunday 29th April, 5pm, Monday 30th April, 7pm.  Tickets can be purchased from http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/venueartist/254189/1677123?camefrom=CFC_UK_TH0401_WEBLINK

Mary Tynan

Time Well Spent at Store Street

Contemporary Printmaking: From Andy Warhol to the Emerging Generation

This exhibition by Orion Contemporary combines household names with Orion’s young, emerging stable of artists to promote printmaking as an art form and celebrate the importance of the medium.  To quote Andrés Olow Clase, director of Orion Contemporary: ‘From Andy Warhol’s exceptional print of 1974 to works made in 2012, the show explores the diverse vivacity and technical skill of printmaking.’  Following the inaugural exhibition in 2011, this year’s offering includes a variety of work by Lisa Denyer, Alexander Gough, Damien Hirst, David Hockney, Max Lowry, Dénes Maróti, Will Martyr, Andy Warhol and Giulia Zaniol.

I am not going to talk about the big names here; nobody needs me to tell them about the likes of Hockney or Hirst.  Instead, I would like to focus on some of the less well-known artists.

Alex Gough’s woodblock prints of Levi Mountain are influenced by his Finnish ancestry and are imbued with strong tonal contrasts, reflecting the twilight dancing on the snow, or the midnight hue as the mid-winter landscape melts into long dark nights.  Lisa Denyer’s ‘Range’ continues the mountain theme and uses a mystical combination of silver and black to engage the eye.  William Martyr’s art deco ‘Sweet Spot’ and ‘’Time Well Spent’ employs bright, vibrant colours to excite the viewer’s imagination.  Dénes Maróti pleasantly surprised me by his range: I was startled to discover that the bold, powerful images of repetitive figures were drawn by the same hand as the delicate flower prints.  Finally, Giulia Zaniol’s ‘Angels of London’ series uses a highly advanced two-plate technique of soft and hard ground, litho colours and spitbite to create images with deep and varied tonal harmony.  The combination of colours and images manages to be both haunting and calming at the same time.  Although chromatically I think the finest of the three pieces is ‘Parliament Angels,’ the image of the solitary seraph stood staring across the Thames at the distant ‘Tower Bridge’ will remain with me for some time.

Comtemporary Printmaking opens today at Store Street Gallery.  On the evening of 14th March, Gabriel Angel Moreno, will be reading a selection of his poetry written in response to the works in the exhibition, and Giulia Zaniol will lead an informal talk on the art of printmaking on Saturday 17th March at 4pm.

Contemporary Printmaking is at Store Street Gallery, 32 Store Street, WC1E 7BS.  Opening Times: 13th March – 17th March, 11am-6pm. 18th March, 11am-4pm.  Admission Free.

Mary Tynan

A Magical Production

Lost in the Dark presents Ondine by Jean Giraudoux

When I was a child, I used to make up plays.  They would often involve princesses, love stories and magical powers.  Ondine is exactly the type of play that child would have loved: the embodiment of the sense of wonder that draws us to drama in the first place.  To bring this off in a small fringe venue like the White Bear is no small achievement.  But bring it off to a very high standard is precisely what Lost in the Dark have done.

Ondine is the story of a supernatural creature who falls in love with a mortal man. When Hans and Ondine meet, the worlds of a mortal man and a magical creature of the water dangerously collide and she is forced to make an inexorable pact, which will change both their lives forever. Should he betray her, he must die and, along with her time on earth, be erased completely from her memory for her to return to the world of the lake forever.

The first thing to strike me when I entered was the set.  Auguste (Michael Eden) and Eugenie (Terry Diab) were already seated, she knitting, he reading, in a fisherman’s cottage, complete with daub walls and a working window.  The small oil lamps were a particularly nice touch.  Haunting music played from offstage.  The first act takes place in this kitchen, with Hans (Andrew Venning) and Ondine (Elizabeth Merrick) completing the cast for this part of the story.  The second set takes place in the Royal Palace, where Richard Hurst, Brice Stratford, Rob Leonard, Phoebe Batteson Brown, David Frias Robles, Marian Elizabeth and Hilary Hodsman make their debuts.  The final act takes place on a rock by the sea, where the story comes to its tragic, but inevitable end.

There were no bum notes in this production, although a personal preference would be for the actors not to turn their back on the audience quite so much, but apart from that they dealt with the small space admirably.  Everyone involved did a fantastic job: however, there are some who deserve a special mention.  Firstly, set designer Zanna Mercer has created three excellent environments for the play, which are spectacular by the standards of black-box theatre.  Andrew Venning grabbed my attention from the moment he came on stage, and continued to captivate the audience throughout, with his expressive, heartfelt delivery and physical presence.  Elizabeth Merrick was superb as Ondine, her opera training showing to advantage in her movement, her vocal range, and her portrayal of wide-eyed wonder, tragedy and love.  The final scene between Ondine and Hans was particularly poignant, with both actors showing marvellous emotional depth.  Marian Elizabeth gave a lovely, credible performance as Bertha, particulary in one scene, where I almost believed she had a live bird in her hand.  She played the part with charm and grace.  I would have liked to see more of Phoebe Batteson Brown (Voilante/Kitchen Maid).  She drew my eyes whenever she was on stage and although her parts were small, they gave indications of a much larger potential.  Finally, a play is only as good as its director, and Cat Robey must take a large amount of credit for this magical piece of theatre.

Ondine is running at the White Bear Theatre, London, SE11 4DJ, 28th February – 18th March 2012, Tues-Sat 7:30pm, Sun 6pm.  For more information, visit www.ondine-lost-in-the-dark.com.

Mary Tynan

Choose for Yourself

Excellent Choice by Eye Saw Theatre

The Vault Festival, Old Vic Tunnels

On entering the studio, the audience was greeted by the ominous sound of a loud ticking clock.  Each seat was adorned by a cork, labelled with the credits for the show, which was written by Rob Hayes and directed by Ned Bennett.  The performance area was delimited by wine bottles.  The space was clearly a wine shop.

At first I wasn’t sure whether this was a black comedy or a dark play with comic elements: as time progressed it seemed that the latter was the case.  Although right from the outset there was very funny dialogue (“Are you open?  Yes.  I hate secrets”), the suspense was built from the beginning with some uncomfortable pauses,.  However, the comedy was also present, with Benjamin Dilloway (the customer) putting me in mind of David Walliams in those Little Britain sketches where he enters a shop to buy a very specific item (eg,.pirate game, David Baddiel outfit), and Jeff Rawle (the proprieter) reminiscent of Ronnie Corbett at times.  Nevertheless, as the show progressed, the tone got darker, until the audience realised that something very disturbing was going on.  Both actors played their roles very well, having the confidence needed to take their time with emotions and motives ranging from desperation to dread to deceit.  The play culminates in a perturbing ending which is as unsettling as it is ambiguous.  The audience is, in essence, asked to make the choice for themselves.  We leave, as we entered, to the sound of the ticking clock.

Excellent Choice was billed as half an hour long, but I think it ran slightly longer than that, as I was not aware of it starting significantly later than its 6pm starting time, and it didn’t finish until 6.45 – which was a good thing.  Prospective audiences should be aware that there are a couple of items which may cause offence to some (I won’t detail them for fear of spoiling the plot – but they did cause a slightly sour note), and which perhaps could be toned down without causing any reduction in the effectiveness of the piece.  That said, I am glad I made the choice to see this startling and original play.

23 – 26 February 2012.  More information at www.thevaultfestival.com.

Photograph by Natalie Lindiwe Jones

Mary Tynan

Burlexe – Interview with Cast Member Dympna Messenger

Tell us a little bit about yourself as a performer

I was a “late starter” and came into the business after bringing up my 3 children and a stint of teaching drama in a Dagenham comprehensive. Because I hadn’t waited this long and trained this hard in order to be unemployed, on graduating I formed my own company “Time of Our Lives Music Theatre” with Keith Myers who had directed me at Drama School, sadly we lost our funding in 2008 so I am now relying on other producers to employ me and have the headaches.

How did you get involved with Burlexe?

I got involved with Burlexe by responding to an ad in Casting Call Pro, I never dreamed I get the job but so glad I did, it is so totally different to anything else I’ve ever done.

What was your impression of Burlesque prior to this?

Before this job I had no idea the Burlesque world existed! I was vaguely aware of things like Gypsy Rose Lee and Strip Tease.

What is it now?

Working with the Burlesque ladies has totally opened up my eyes to a whole style of entertainment that is the descendant of old fashioned Variety and Music Hall of which I am a big fan.

Has doing Burlexe changed you in any way?

Doing this job has been a revelation. I would love to have a discussion/debate with “women’s libbers” who disapprove of this type of thing, but my Burlesque friends tell me that they find what they do to be liberating and who am I to argue with them!

When and where is the next show?

The next show is in The Shadow Lounge, Brewer St, Soho on Wednesday 21st March at 8pm.

Read our review of Burlexe here.

Mary Tynan

Proud to be a Woman

Burlexe, Wednesday 22 February 2012

I didn’t really know much about the format of this show before I went.  I had the idea that it would tell the story of Burlesque, combined with actual performances of the art.  As to what that art actually is, I wasn’t too sure.  So, prepared to be enlightened, I made my way to Soho.  I wasn’t disappointed – by the show that it is.  The venue left a lot to be desired, particularly in the way that the clientele were treated.  I could elaborate on that, but I have decided to concentrate on the positive in this review, and there is certainly a lot to be positive about.

Burlexe was hosted by Kelly Le Roc, whose powerful upbeat vocals meant the audience were soon in the palm of her hand and receptive for what was to come.  Apart from her songs, the show was a combination of Burlesque performances and monologues based on the stories of real-life Burlesquers.  Each act flowed seamlessly into the next, and the atmosphere got better and better, and the audience more appreciative, as the night went on.  This was a true variety show, with far too much content for me to detail it all, but what follows should give a flavour of it, and point out some of the highlights.

All of the physical performances in Burlexe were of a very high standard.  Luna Rosa moved beautifully, her arms sinuous and sensual and her dances were polished and professional.  Fancy Chance’s “Alice” was a treat, both in terms of movement and comedy.  Aurora Galore did a wonderful routine with fans and black feathers.  But the best Burlesque performance of the evening for me was by Bettsie Bon Bon, whose sheer exuberance and pink and white flounces brought a smile to everyone’s face.

As mentioned, the dancing and singing was interspersed with monologues.  These were all heartfelt: some tragic, some comic, some both; but all delivered with sincerity and believability.  Each of the actors played several disparate characters, demonstrating their versatility and range.  Chloe Ewart played a number of vibrant roles, the most memorable being a young Mexican girl who lost her inhibitions to Richie Valens’ “La Bamba.”  Kiki Kaboom’s delivery was sensitive and natural, particularly as the “two Cheris” – a representation of the conflict her character felt about Burlesque.  Gillian MacGregor is obviously a strong actor, and I loved her “banker by day, burlesquer by night.”  Burlesque icon Jo King made a guest appearance and treated us to a friendly, genuine tale of an American girl called Angel with some very famous friends.  The final piece, and the highlight of the night was delivered by the talented and accomplished Dympna Messenger.  Slightly confusingly, Dympna was telling Jo’s story of what Burlesque means to her.  Her delivery was both uplifting and powerful.  She told us: “I’m 52, I have broken veins and cellulite, my tits are on that long journey south. I have lumps and bumps in some good places, and some in places I’m not supposed to have them, and I am still to this day the sexiest woman I know!”  It made me feel proud to be a woman.

As well as to the cast, much credit is due to director Jayne Hardy and the rest of the creative and production team.  I found this show to be enlightening, life-affirming and exhilarating.  If I didn’t have such a bad feather allergy, I would be enrolling myself in Burlesque school!

The next performance of Burlexe is on 21 March 2012.  For more information visit www.burlexe.com or read our interview with Dympna Messenger.

Mary Tynan

Laugh-out-loud Chekhov – Two for the Price of One

Backpocket Productions and Scrawny Cat Theatre Company present The Bear and The Proposal by Anton Chekhov, Studio 180, 23 and 24 February 2012

On arrival at this intriguing venue in Waterloo, guests were given a ticket either with or without a white square.  This determined the order in which one experienced the plays, as both were performed twice in the evening, with the audience switching at the interval.  I started with The Bear, which I had not seen or read before.  It turned out to be a very entertaining piece of theatre with the laughs coming thick and fast.  The antagonism and admiration between Popova and Smirnoff was very well played, but for me the most interesting relationship was that between Popova and Luka, which was captivating from the outset.  Rae Brogan (Popova) ran the gamut of emotions, and was particularly effective (and amusing) as the grieving widow at the start of the play.  The irrepressible Avena Mansergh-Wallace (Luka) gave a remarkably physical comedic performance, and I especially liked her despair at the prospective duel.  Noah James (Smirnov) was a suitably angry and commanding Bear.  Well directed by Marisa Freyer, the piece was balanced and well-constructed, and ended on a high note.

After the interval, I moved upstairs for The Proposal, a play with which I am familiar.  I was eager to see the company’s take on this classic comedy.  It was hilarious.  Ryan Wichert (Lomov) was already in position, in dress shirt and tails, nervously waiting to pop the question.  Ryan used his physicality to great effect throughout the show to convey both anxiety and irritation, captivating the audience with voice, twitches and tics, and clever use of a small metal snuff box.  Marie Rabe was humorous and engaging as the lively Natalya, who wants to get married but can’t resist a good argument.  The character written as Stephan, Natalya’s father, was changed to Stephania, her mother, a directorial decision of which I highly approved.  Silvana Maimone proved herself a strong, versatile actor in this role transforming from stately to short-fused with ease.  All three of the actors gave engrossing performances, ably directed by Charlotte Ive, and my only complaint is that it seemed to be over too quickly!

This run of The Proposal and The Bear has finished, but for more information about the companies visit scrawnycat.co.uk.

Mary Tynan

A Refreshing Addition to the London Fringe Scene

A Weekend at Vault

According to the publicity, Vault transforms a newly discovered labyrinth of tunnels underneath Waterloo to offer London three weeks of kaleidoscopically varied entertainment between 9 and 26 February 2012. Many of the shows in the festival are in the immersive theatre style, and whilst I have been a cast member in several immersive, promenade, and physical theatre shows, I have never been a spectator (aside from Alien Wars in the Trocadero many years ago). With this in mind, I went down to check out the opening weekend.

This was my first visit to the Old Vic Tunnels, and there was a certain frisson to arriving at Waterloo Station on a frosty February Saturday night, walking down the almost deserted street and descending the staircase into the graffiti covered underpass. Once at the door however, I was warmly welcomed and directed towards the bar to await the start of the 8pm performance.

Don’t Stray from the Path by the Wonder Club

I was excited about seeing this production, described as a beautifully dark spectacular promenade performance based on the story of Little Red Riding Hood. It started very well, with the action beginning in the bar as both Little Red Riding Hood and a musician sat on top of a couple of lockers, and other cast members came to talk to the soon to be audience. Eventually, we were all lead down the tunnel to the “Forest of Elsewhere,” where the adventure was to begin.

How to describe Don’t Stray from the Path? There was a strong physical theatre element to the show, including some excellent circus skills, and the promenade aspect was certainly there: however I think I have to come down on the side of performance art, as it was the meticulous attention to detail that really impressed me.

The Wonder Club made the decision to divide the venue into two levels, which almost doubled the room for installations, but I think it might have been better to use the height to elevate parts of the performance, particularly the aerial work, as the volume of people made it hard to see what was going on at times. The music was lovely, and one particular song held my attention during a dance where I could barely see the tops of the performers’ heads. The acting in this piece was dramatic rather than naturalistic, which I assume was a stylistic choice on behalf of the director. The ending was particularly good, with Red Riding Hood and the Woodsman bringing us full circle. The girls eerily smeared with chocolate on the way out were also very evocative of the dark side of fairy tales.

Overall, I enjoyed Don’t Stray from the Path, and would recommend it to fans of fairy tales, promenade theatre, and performance art. There were some very good ideas, and striking physical and musical performances from all concerned – it was a truly collaborative ensemble work, which makes it impossible to pick out anyone for special mention. I admired it on an intellectual level, but with a smaller audience and/or a bigger space, I could have really felt the Wonder.

Don’t Stray from the Path finished its run on 12 February. Visit http://thewonderclub.co.uk for details of future performances.

The Furies by Kindle Theatre

While waiting to get into the next performance, the queue was patrolled by bouncers, and T-shirts and CDs were on sale nearby. We entered a sweaty basement club, where we were greeted by the sound of pounding drums and guitar (Russell Collins and Phil Ward). And then came the girls.

The Furies is basically a rock opera telling the story of Clymtenestra. It is billed as a fusion of rock, metal and soul songs, but I would say that it is also heavily influenced by classical opera. Emily Ayres, Samantha Fox and Olivia Winteringham all have powerful voices and strong physical presence, and there wasn’t a dull moment either musically or story-wise in this audiovisual extravaganza. Clymtenestra was an operatic diva, some group songs wouldn’t have been out of place in a pop musical, and others, particularly those by Agamemnon, were pure heavy metal.

This wasn’t a promenade performance – the audience were not moving around following the action. As there was no seating, this meant standing in one spot for an hour, which for me meant being distracted from the enjoyment of the performance by physical discomfort. It wasn’t until I moved to the side and held on to a lighting rig, that I was able to be carried away by the music. Putting in seating appropriate to the setting, ie, rough chairs and tables, would only add to the atmosphere and make the audience’s experience more enjoyable – it would also make some of the show easier to see.

The Furies starts on a high and keeps getting higher, climbing to a spectacular finale. Although the staging is interesting and atmospheric, it would work equally well in a traditional theatre setting. Unfortunately I had to leave before the encore, as the next show was due to start. This is definitely one to watch. Thoroughly entrancing, mesmerising music.

The Furies is playing at Vault for the rest of the festival, ie, Thursday – Sunday until 26 February. Visit www.kindletheatre.co.uk for more information on the company.

The Great Puppet Horn by Pangolin’s Teatime

The final show of the evening was The Great Puppet Horn. Comfortably seated in the front row, I looked forward to something that would once again be a complete contrast to what had gone before. Accompanied by the Harry Potter theme music, Jeremy Bidgood and Lewis Young appeared on stage to introduce their show (the horn is ambiguous, apparently).

Puppets and political satire proved to be a serendipitous combination, and I was soon howling with laughter at The Boy Who Lived – in the East Wing (David Cameron). The audience were treated to magical explanations for university fees and immigration policy, and told about the influence of boy bands on the economy. There were also other non-political topical comedy sketches, such as The Life of Brian (Cox). But my personal favourite was Grammar Cop. Being somewhat of a pedant, grammar-wise, and a part-time English teacher to boot, it was hilarious to watch him battle his arch-enemy Mr A Postrophe.

This is basically a traditional comedy show with shadow puppets – which were excellent by the way: the skill in both their manufacture and use was evident. The only audience interaction was when, during the Grammar Cop sketch, there was a threat of reading Molly Bloom’s soliloquay – I couldn’t help begging them not to.

The Great Puppet Horn was well-paced, with the laughs coming thick and fast, and I had tears in my eyes by the end of the performance. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Pangolin’s Teatime on our television screens soon. Catch them if you can.

Like The Wonder Club, Pangolin’s Teatime finished their run at Vault on 12 February. Visit http://pangolinsteatime.com for news of future shows.

Vault Lates – Itchy Feet

As the puppet show was 20 minutes late in finishing, the vintage dance party was well under way when I returned to the bar area. If I say that Booker T & the MG’s Green Onions was playing when I entered, and that the last song I heard was Higher and Higher by Jackie Wilson, it will give you a flavour of the sort of floor fillers being spun by the DJ. The floor was hopping, though not unpleasantly crowded. If I’d had a friend with me I would have danced the night away, but, as I was alone, I left, like Cinderella, at midnight, to catch the last train home, already looking forward to returning the next night.

One night only at Vault. www.itchyfeetonline.co.uk

La Boheme by Silent Opera

Audience members at Silent Opera are given headphones to wear throughout the performance, through which the live singing is mixed with the pre-recorded score. This is a very clever means of having a full orchestral sound in a fringe venue. The sound quality was excellent throughout, which I assume was due to Sound Designer Ed Currie.

After checking our coats in the cloakroom, the audience found ourselves wandering round a Christmas market where Colline (Tim Dickinson) tried to interest me in a Greenpeace campaign. We were then escorted upstairs to Marcello, Rodolfo, Colline and Schaunard’s flat, where the opera began.

We were moved between several locations during the course of the show: some worked better than others. The flat, for example, was excellent, with various forms of seating round the outside (I sat on a blow up chair the first time) and the action taking place in the middle. The scene in the bar worked pretty well also. However, the occasions where the audience was standing three deep against the wall didn’t make for good visibility (I kept missing all the snogging bits!) and I would have found Mimi’s death scene more moving had I not been sitting on a cushion on a crowded floor.

I am a bit of a sucker for opera, and have been lucky enough to see both the Royal Opera and the ENO over the years. Musically, Silent Opera gave them both a run for their money. The score, by the London Symphony Orchestra, was wonderful, and all of the singers gave flawless vocal performances with emotion and pathos. The acting was strong, particulary by Mimi (Emily Ward), Rodolfo (Alistair Digges), and Colline (Tim Dickinson), as well as by those in the non-singing parts. Daisy Evans’ libretto was clever, interesting, and quite funny in places. The setting of modern day London worked well, and the headphones seemed to add, rather than distract from, that sense of being absorbed in the story which to me is the sign of good theatre (particularly opera or musical). I would have no hesitation in recommending this production to anyone, whether an opera buff, or someone experiencing the genre for the first time.

Silent Opera is playing at Vault for the rest of the festival, ie, Thursday – Sunday until 26 February. Visit http://silentopera.co.uk for more information on the company.

So, after spending the weekend at Vault, what are my feelings on immersive theatre? They are mixed. Don’t Stray from the Path was a promenade performance with lots of audience interaction, but with the other shows the audience interaction was limited and sporadic. Yes, I was close to the performers, but that is generally the case at fringe venues. I think perhaps there is a delicate performer/audience balance that needs to be achieved – although I am not suggesting one audience member at a time, as happens in some productions.

In conclusion, I would encourage one and all to visit Vault before 26 February when the festival finishes. All the performances have something to recommend them, and the venue is warm and welcoming. It truly does offer a kaleidoscope of entertainment.  A refreshing addition to the London fringe scene.

Although The Wonder Club and Pagolin’s Teatime have both finished their run at the vaults, the studio performances are constantly changing. Both The Furies and Silent Opera are running till 26 February. More Vault Lates are on 17, 18 and 24 Febuary. There is also a cinema, where the Flicker Club hosts a season of horror films (mostly Hammer). Visit http://www.thevaultfestival.com for more details and booking.

Mary Tynan

Mixed Up Productions presents As You Like It

Firstly, let me say that I did like it!  Time passed quickly while I was watching this production, which is always a good sign.

The physical energy of this production was evident from the outset, with the sparring between the two brothers practically spilling over into the audience.  However it was in Scene II, with the arrival on stage of Rosalind (Clare Langford) and Celia (Gabrielle Curtis), that the emotional and intellectual content became equally apparent, drawing this reviewer fully into the narrative.  From this point onwards, with one or two exceptions, the pace continued unabated, and, before we knew it, we had reached the interval.  The second half was, if anything, more engaging than the first, with one scene blending seamlessly into another, so that on reaching the final wedding scene and closing epilogue, one was left still wishing for more.

Rosalind and Celia were each imbued with a spirit of liveliness and playfulness by the respective actors, both of whom spoke Shakespeare’s words as naturally as modern-day English.  Also excellent in that respect were Yvonne Riley and Owen Nolan: the former bringing a chilling sense of menace to the character of Duke Senior, and the latter playing the bucolic Corin in a very laid-back and credible manner.  Owen was also responsible for much of the music, along with Catriona Mackenzie and her haunting flute, using Irish folk ballads to bring the atmosphere of the forest to life.

Will Wheeler and Ryan Wichert gave convincing performances as Orlando and Oliver respectively, and Kate Bancroft (Phebe) and Jeffrey Ho (Silvius) were hilarious in their scenes together, although Silvius was quite camp for a man so passionately in love with a woman!  Overall, the company acquitted themselves admirably, capably directed by Marianna Vogt.

There are obvious staging difficulties that arise with a cast of 16 in a venue as small as the White Bear.  I had a restricted view for a significant amount of the time, and did not get the full effect of the final scene.  It would be nice to see the production on a larger stage, which would also give the director the chance to develop her Tent City theme, to which it was difficult to do justice in such a confined space.

I am told that tickets are selling very well, but there are still a few left, so if you fancy an evening’s romp through the Forest of Arden in the company of some talented performers, then make sure and get yourself down to Kennington one evening this week.

At the White Bear, Kennington 24 – 29 January 201


Mary Tynan

Poe: Macabre Resurrections

Second Skin Theatre

St Mary’s Old Church, Stoke Newington

If you go to see this production, and I certainly recommend that you do, please remember to wrap up warmly.  It was freezing, and this did distract slightly from my overall enjoyment of the show.  However, the subject matter was also chilling, so perhaps the cold was deliberate!

Second Skin have taken five of Edgar Allen Poe’s stories and woven them together into a festival of horror.  Set in the church where Poe is said to have worshipped as a boy, this is environmental theatre at its best.  The staging takes place all over the church and grounds and every nook and cranny is utilized to eerie advantage.

The five pieces are linked together by the preacher (Stephen Connery Brown) who steps are dogged continuously by the raven (David Hugh), right up until the dramatic denouement of the show, presided over by the demonic Prospero (Conrad Williams) when the preacher finally descends to his doom.

I had two favourites among the Poe adaptations woven into this drama, the first being “The Cask of Amontillado,” featuring Owen Nolan and Sarah Scott.  This piece had a good balance of characters and effective use of different locations, the ending being particularly poe-esque.  Both actors played their parts to perfection.  In particular, Owen Nolan’s journey from drunken lechery to abject terror was both believable and frightening.

The second piece I especially enjoyed was “Premature Burial.”  Again, the characters were well balanced and the location was utilised effectually.  Michael Amariah’s Jake grabbed your attention from the first moment, Steve Brownlie’s performance as Clive had a dream-like, otherworldliness to it, and Sarah Feathers sympathetic portrayal of the grieving widow was especially poignant.

As well as the cast, the sound and lighting were true stars of this show.  The background music (and other noises) contributed hugely to the grisly atmosphere, and the sinister use of lights, candles, projectors, smoke and even electric heaters all added to the supernatural ambience.  This is stage management at a level not normally seen on the Fringe.  Black box it ain’t!

Overall, I highly recommend a visit to Poe: Macabre Resurrections.  You will be cold, you will be scared, but you can buy a glass of wine at the interval, and if you wait around afterwards a woman will come and mop up the blood.

Running till 4 December 2011 Tuesday-Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 8.20pm, St Mary’s Old Church, Stoke Newington Church Street.

Mary Tynan

A Special Experience

Rosemary Lee’s Square Dances – Gordon Square (part of Dance Umbrella www.danceumbrella.co.uk)

12 performances of Square Dances were held in each of Woburn, Gordon, Queen and Brunswick Squares over the weekend of 8/9 October 2011.  I attended the 12pm show in Gordon Square.

Knowing that I was to attend a performance where all the dancers would be carrying handbells, I imagined them as some sort of rhythmic punctuation to an energetic country-style dance, perhaps vaguely Morris or maypole like.  The name, Square Dances, also reinforced this impression.  However, I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The bells were not used to mark time, they were the music – a specially written score by Terry Mann – and created a haunting, ethereal sound which was even slightly disturbing at times.

The choreography appeared to be more ballet than folk inspired.  Entering suddenly but softly into one end of the square, the more than 100 dancers conjured up a feeling of nature coming to life, as if the spirit of the place had appeared to share its joys and sorrows with the audience.  The execution was flawless, movements flowing together as the performers spread out throughout the garden, or come together in one large group under a tree.  After 15 minutes of delight, the dancers gracefully slipped out through the opposite end from which they had entered, the sound of the bells gently fading away as they moved further down the street.

Mary Tynan

The Lime Cafe, Haringey

Being a veteran of Haringey’s famous Cafe Lemon (I was Morcilla’s mysterious dining companion), I decided to boldly go and sample the delights of the next door establishment, which has recently changed its name to The Lime Cafe, from its previous, more Italian-sounding appellation Mambocino. On first glance, it appeared as if the decor had also been completely altered, but no, the sublime fountain was still there, featuring a mermaid accompanied by dolphins and fish in variegated tones of blue and pink, and the magnificent glass dolphin sculpture had merely been moved to the top of the fridge. The nautical theme was continued with anchors and other ship parts hanging from the walls, although alas no sea shanties were to be heard, but only the ubiquitous sound of Turkish pop.

Having just spent two hours in the doctor’s waiting room, I was in the mood to have my taste buds tingled, so I ordered the vegetarian set breakfast number 1, accompanied by a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. The coffee was first to arrive, and was, I am pleased to say, not instant. The orange juice was indeed freshly squeezed, and, whilst the toast was slightly on the dry side, the tomato and mushrooms were done to perfection, and the beans were not touching the (single) egg. The bubble and squeak was a bright green colour (presumably to match the waiting staff’s shirts) due to the inclusion of marrowfat peas in the mix, and rounded off this epicurean delight in a satisfying way.

Pleasantly full, I left a tip and went in search of more citrus-themed restaurants, but have so far been unsuccessful in my search.

Heidi Sausage

(Previously published in both the London Review of Breakfasts and the London Evening Standard)


Welcome to Notes from Xanadu.  This journal is dedicated to the finer things in life – not necessarily expensive! – but those that make us smile, laugh or just generally feel good.  It contains a variety of writing: from features to fiction, reviews to editorials. Enjoy!

By notesfromxanadu Posted in Welcome