All set to Mozart’s powerful and beautiful score, Opera North’s Don Giovanni is a really entertaining night out for seasoned opera lovers or those, like me, who are new to the genre.
Charles Court Opera return to the King’s Head Theatre for the festive season with their traditional twist on a classic story that is funny with plenty of audience interaction. This is Pinocchio but not as you know it thanks to Charles Court Opera’s latest pantomime that takes the classic story and turns it into something completely unique.
Leeds Grand Theatre, Leeds
Music and lyrics by Cole Porter
Book by Bella and Samuel Spewack
Directed by Jo Davies
Quirjin De Lang, Jeni Bern and Company
Opera North, a leading UK arts organisation whose key focus and goal is to ‘actively challenge conventional perceptions of opera’ (as stated in the programme), return to Leeds Grand this Autumn to present their latest season of work, with this new production of Kiss Me, Kate being the first in a diverse line-up.
Kiss Me, Kate tells the story of Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi, two actors whose tempestuous love lives take centre stage as they perform in a new musical version of The Taming of the Shrew in 1940s Baltimore. Almost fabricated as a play within a play, Kiss Me, Kate takes a different tack to the musical theatre norm and allows the audience to see both the on stage and off stage dramatics and hysteria of the story’s main arc.
Quirijn De Lang and Jeni Bern, the key protagonists, shine in their roles offering the audience a true abundance of wit, charm and delight as they work with an overly complex plot that takes an hour and a half to actually get to the point. Whilst there are some great comedic interludes from Joseph Shovelton and John Savournin as Gunman 1 and Gunman 2, Kiss Me, Kate struggles to sell itself as a piece of high class musical theatre.
With a running time of almost 3 hours, Kiss Me, Kate fails to pack the punch required for such a long piece of theatre, with scenes drawn out for much longer than required. At least half an hour could be trimmed and still allow a piece that could be easily grasped without becoming boring due to a lack of tension, suspense or characters one can truly care for.
Tiffany Graves and Ashley Day feel a tad miscast as the secondary characters Lois Lane and Bill Calhoun – there’s a surprising lack of chemistry between the two and apart from a wonderful, albeit small, comedic moment in Tom, Dick or Harry. Katie Kerr as Hattie seems underused with an absolutely divine voice that opens up the first act in Another Op’nin, Another Show, whilst Claire Pascoe as the Stage Manager is another ensemble member who stands out, grabbing our attention as soon as she walks on stage.
The main saving grace of this production is its music. Superbly conducted by David Charles Abell, Kiss Me, Kate harks back to Musical Theatre’s golden era. The best moments are the ensemble numbers particularly Too Darn Hot the second act opener.
The lighting and set designs for this production are ambitious considering the size of the theatre but Ben Cracknell and Colin Richmond do a remarkable job, providing stunning backdrops that draw the audience in and help sell a flawed story.
Kiss Me, Kate’s lack of purpose and confusing storyline will possibly leave many feeling a little cold and put out. For those Shakespeare aficionados however who fancy seeing something a bit different and unconventional, then it may well prove the perfect night out.
Runs until 31 October and then toursGuest reviewer: Megan Kinsey
King’s Head Theatre, London
Music by Arthur Sullivan
Libretto by W. S. Gilbert
Directed by John Savournin
Charles Court Opera are one of the leading small companies, known for their innovative approach and described as “the masters of Gilbert & Sullivan in small places”. For their 10th Anniversary, the company have chosen the lesser known tenth of fourteen comic operas by Gilbert & Sullivan. In 1887 Ruddigore initially struggled following the huge success of The Mikado, but after a few re-writes and a re-spelt title (from the original Ruddygore) it was to triumph.
Ruddigore, or The Witch’s Curse, has an unbelievable plot. A centuries old witch’s curse on the Baronetcy of Ruddigore condemns the eldest sons to commit a crime everyday on pain of death. Heirs understandably try to find ways around this, or abscond, with perilous and confusing results all round, driving fiancées to madness and bridesmaids to despair.
It all makes for a fabulous frolic, executed at the King’s Head Theatre with fine singing, acting and an unrelenting energy. Gilbert’s loquacious lyrics are performed at a breakneck pace, yet the skill of John Savournin’s direction and indeed his performance as Sir Despard Murgatroyd is such that every word is savoured and heard and whats more, that it all seems so ridiculously plausible.
The Bridesmaids’ constant and very funny refrain ‘Hail the Bridegroom, Hail the Bride’ is a memorable air, made all the more remarkable by Susanna Buckle and Andrea Tweedale effectively emulating a chorus of 22 voices, whilst Cassandra McCowan makes more sense of Mad Margaret than is often to be found in Ruddigore productions.
The compact company of just eight sound tremendous, with both acts’ finales sung with a gorgeous musicality and a remarkable attention to detail. David Eaton as Musical Director, accompanies with great dexterity and detail throughout as Philip Aiden’s choreography keeps the cast on their toes admirably and literally, given the speed at which they move and sing. James Perkins’ seaside pier design atmospherically enhanced by Nicholas Holdridge’s lighting becomes hysterically effective when we are introduced to the ghostly ancestors.
It is profoundly re-assuring to see that in 2014 the spirit of Gilbert & Sullivan is more than alive and well in London’s off-West End. With sparkling melodies, glorious singing and rich characterisation, The King’s Head’s Ruddigore makes for a delightful evening of meticulously crafted madness.
Runs to 14th March 2015
Guest reviewer Catherine Françoise
I cannot in all conscience recommend DO I HEAR A WALTZ to any but the most forensic Sondheim fans. It does contain a version of ‘We’re Gonna Be Alright’ but it’s the heavily cut and anodyne one where the couple actually may get along together rather than the acid picture of a disintegrating relationship when […]
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