The arts are my passion: drama, music, opera, dance, sculpture, painting, art history, architecture, film, literature... old and new... national and international... and after a period living, writing & performing in Australia and Italy this passion has brought me back to London. 'Blog Julie Arts' is a spin-off after success with 'There's Always A Story' at blogjulie.com

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Always So Much To See

I’ve said it before, no doubt I’ll say it again, but I agree with the millions who agree with Samuel Johnson who famously said in 1777 “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”.

The weather and the cement may sometimes get me down (I need extended doses of sunshine and the great outdoors) but if one is ever bored in London it really is entirely their own fault. 

Putting aside for the moment the brilliant array of museums, exhibitions and historic houses, even the most committed cultural-addict simply can not keep up with all the theatre and music London has to offer.  I try.  I really do.  But lately I’ve been busy and my batting average has gone down.  I have seen and enjoyed these events in the last couple of months but haven’t had time to blog about them:

à        La Rondine with Charles Castronovo and Angela Gheorghiu in Trafalgar Square for the Royal Opera House and BP Big Screens

à        Merrily We Roll Along at the Harold Pinter Theatre

à        The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House

à        The Night Alive at the Donmar

à        Othello at the National

à        The three plays of Henry VI at the Globe (in one day)

à        The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre

à        The Cripple of Inishman from the Michael Grandage Company

à        The Last Ever Musical on the fringe

à        Assorted musical gigs including an opera concert by Opera Alegria in Kensington

Coming up in the next fortnight I have tickets for:

à        Hamlet at the RSC in Stratford

à        A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time at the Apollo Theatre

à        Turandot at the Royal Opera House

à        A Tale of Two Cities at the Kings Head (the play, not the opera)

I may yet slot other performances in between.  Ah, the choice.  And compared to many countries (including Australia) the tickets are so cheap.  Theatre is very affordable in this country, if you know where and when to book, or there’s no way I could have gone to these events while waiting for my next contract to begin.  It’s one of the upsides of a larger population. 

I’m not a critic, so unless I’m writing a broader commentary on the impact a show has particularly had on me or the resonances it has with other aspects of life - as I did in my last few blogs - I don’t need to say too much.  I can, however, say many were a treat.

If you put good actors with Conor McPherson dialogue, as the Donmar has clearly done in The Night Alive, you can put money on the likelihood of a good giggle.  The same came be said for Martin Mc Donagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan.  I’ve seen the play several times around the world and it never fails to make me laugh.  The real gift these writer’s have, however, is that, when least expected, they flip their audience from laughter to tears; or if not tears, certainly great empathy and appreciation for the scene’s poignancy.  Where would the world be without the Irish, eh?!  And I thought Daniel Radcliffe held his ground very well in a talented cast.

There’s a lot of Elizabethan material around at the moment.  Many of us are  anticipating Mark Rylance’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Old Vic and the Donmar’s Coriolanus and Julius Caesar; the latter directed by Phyllida Lloyd.  Even Christopher Marlowe is getting his turn with Edward II at the National.

The Globe regularly satisfies my appetite for Shakespeare and with Henry VI parts one, two and three, I was pleasantly surprised to find plays I have generally considered at the pedestrian-end of the Bard’s achievements – little more than an abridged history lesson - came alive with vigour and believable competitiveness between the Houses of York and Lancaster.  Most of that was due to clever staging, committed characterisation, and sheer energy, reminding me that stage texts can only ever provide a blue-print to inspire creative development. 

If you’re talking about substantial, eloquent plays – yes, I declare my bias - I have never enjoyed an Othello more than Nicholas Hytner’s production at the National starring Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear.  The contemporary setting and dynamic cast drew every nuance from every couplet and (with the exception of only one scene) the production was thrilling and terrifying; terrifying with respect to the destructive effects of manipulation and jealousy.  It is very exciting when you think you know a play but then the piece before you is all made new… when themes you thought you’d considered are suddenly emblazoned with original truth and social challenge.  I said it on the night from the front row and I’ll say it again: Bravo!  Productions like that – the ones which stay with you for weeks, months and years - are what every serious, dedicated artist is striving toward.  Bravo!

On the music front I’ve also been spoiled, though the context has been more frivolous.  Sondheim was at his best in the Chocolate Factory’s transfer of Merrily We Roll Along.  I saw a supremely silly musical about Mormons which somehow manages to navigate offensive insults and university-review spoofs with slickness, wit, and character and circumstance so hysterically ridiculous (yet polished) you can’t resist.  And I enjoyed a live telecast of Puccini’s opera La Rondine while sitting and eating with a friend in Trafalgar Square.  If you don’t know Charles Castronovo yet, you will, for his tenor voice is as rich and seamless as honey, his looks and acting ability to match.  I had liked him as Tamino in The Magic Flute, noting his stage presence from the top balcony last Spring, but it was a bonus to enjoy his arias with a film close-up, and a glorious public event for a summer evening. 

Of course I can’t mention everything, but suffice it to say that this summer has been rich in more ways than sunshine – alleluia -  none of which I take for granted and all of which I am now ready to do again. 

It’s just as well the new season of Downton Abbey is soon to come to air, for that will give me a solid excuse to sit at home some nights with my feet up in front of the television.