Friday, 16 March 2012

"Oliver!" Lands in Birmingham

Cameron Mackintosh's production of "Oliver!" has brought Charles Dickens' London to 21st Century Birmingham leaving last night's audiences asking for more.

With such a strong cast it's hard to figure out who leads the show: Neil Morrissey had the perfect comedic appeal as Fagin making audiences love such a slimy character, Ian Fletcher's Bill Sykes was evil yet enchanting whilst Samantha Barks played a gutsy Nancy that can belt out a tune or two, establishing herself as a true musical theatre leading lady. Max Griesbach and Harry Polden were the press night's Artful Dodger and title character, holding their own on stage and having audiences roaring at the end of their solo performances. The supporting cast and ensemble all deserve a special mention for excellent performances as well, comedic duo Suzie Chard and Jack Edwards were hilarious as Widow Corney and Mr Bumble and the ensemble brought to life the East End of London with uplifting musical numbers.

Totie Driver and Adrian Vaux's design for the show in outstanding, using an array of staircases, bridges and stunning backgrounds to bring to life Bloomsbury London, Fagin's den and a whole host of other locations where the musical takes place - the set alone is worth a ticket. The staging of this classic musical is genius too - one moment I was gaping at the sheer beauty of the stage being filled with dancing milkmaids and rose sellers in the number "Who Will Buy?" while the next moment I was gaping with anticipation watching blood thirsty Londoners running through to streets looking to kill Bill Sykes.

All the classic songs are there, "Food Glorious Food", "Consider Yourself", "Where is Love?" and "As Long As He Needs Me", all performed with commitment, energy and full emotion by the cast and the beautiful orchestra. Matthew Bourne's choreography is a joy to watch. It's hard to pick out many faults with this classic production. Everyone involved was dedicated and helped to craft one of the best pieces of theatre I've seen in a long time. I even found myself welling up as Oliver finds his happy ending (and believe me, I didn't even cry at "Ghost"... Everyone cries at "Ghost"!)

One small annoyance with this production: was it really necessary to throw in a Bob the Builder reference to get a few cheap laughs for Neil Morrissey?

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

First Night at the Opera

Having never been to the opera before I wasn't too sure what to expect last night at Welsh National Opera's production of "La Traviata". I've always liked the idea of "going to the opera" but have always been a bit anxious as to whether I could sit through two and half hours of singing in another language. However, last night's show was a really enjoyable experience and I'm glad to say I could sit through the two and half hours of singing in another language!

Before the show itself I did a bit of research (a quick Wikipedia of the story of the opera, what language it was in, who it was by etc) so I wasn't going into the totally unknown. I'd recommend other First Nighters to do this too, it means you won't be getting lost midway through the show. Also, the idea of everyone in the audience turning up in tuxedoes' and ball gowns put a bit of a shake in my boots, but it seemed to be a "dress as you want" dress code making the atmosphere less threatening and more relaxed.

Ok, so the production itself. La Traviata is a great "first opera", it's not too long and has two intervals (which broke the show up perfectly so I didn't get too agitated). This production was visually beautiful. The raked stage is lit sweetly and decorated with quaint French furniture and large dramatic drapes, at one point I found myself caught up in the wonder of the design rather than the drama taking place. A large orchestra plays hand in hand with a large ensemble to create a nice sound that doesn't make your ears wants to explode but is easy to listen to. The plot is somewhat easy to follow (if not a little bit dragged out) and resembles somewhat of a modern day soap episode, although I would recommend reading up on it beforehand.

The whole "foreign language barrier" is easy to get past with large sub-titles being played overhead. At first I couldn't figure out if I should watch the action or read the translations but I found I forgot about that in the end and started to naturally flip between the two. An interesting point to make is that the translations are played at the top of the proscenium arch and people sitting underneath the Circle couldn't see it.

WNO's production of La Traviata was visually and orally classic and beautiful and was a good introduction to the world of opera. I found myself caught up the character's lives and stories and gawping at how effortlessly they appear to sing. Forget what preconceptions you might have and give it a chance, you'd be pleasantly surprised... Just make sure you've done your research and have a seat where you can see the subtitles!