Archive for the ‘ Theatre ’ Category

Why, there’s a wench!


It can be easy to overlook the fact that texts hundreds of years old can be controversial.  Non-religious texts, that is!  But having seen a production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew this week, in the beautiful grounds of St. Augustine’s Abbey, it would be foolish to pretend this isn’t the case.  You could actually feel the tension in the audience rise as we approached the rather sticky conclusion of the play, particularly the husbands nervously wondering how their wives would react to Katharina’s final speech.  Even if you don’t know the play, you probably know of the speech, particularly this bit:

I am ashamed that women are so simple
To offer war when they should kneel for peace
Or seek for rule, supremacy and sway
When they are bound to serve, love and obey
Why are our bodies soft, and weak, and smooth,
Unapt to toil and trouble in the world,
But that our soft conditions and our hearts
Should well agree with our external parts?

Place your hands beneath your husband’s foot,
In token of which duty, if he please,
My hand is ready, may it do him ease

It’s not really an easy pill to swallow, is it?  ‘Let your husband walk all over you.’  Not a message I’d like to give to anyone.  But of course, it’s not quite so simple.  In theatre, the text is only part of the equation, and whether the dramatist likes it or not, the director, the actors and even (to a lesser, though also more complicated, extent) the audience can have as great an influence on the play’s meaning and tone as the words do.  In this particular case, there are various ways of playing the scene or interpreting the action which make the ending far easier for modern audiences to accept.  Whether you should do so is a different question entirely, which I shall dodge around and leave for others. Continue reading

Messing around


In my post a few days ago about my experiences as a cast member of Die Fledermaus (goodness me, that sounds pretentious!), I mentioned the silliness which we got up to behind the scenes during Act One.  Silliness is often an important, or at least prominent, part of the rehearsal and performance process, but I don’t want to give the wrong impression on this.  There are definitely limits, and when it comes to these limits, I am a bit of an ogre.

Under no circumstances should you do anything to jeopardise any aspect of the show.

Never ever.  Not even a little bit.  Backstage pranks are good.  Enjoying yourself on stage is good.  You do need to do something to pass the time when you’re not on stage.  But this should never affect your performance or the performance of anyone else.  The audience has paid good money to see the show, and (unless it’s a pantomime), they don’t want to see people trying to make each other laugh, or inappropriate comedy props appearing on the stage.  ‘In jokes’ mean nothing to the paying punters and often aren’t even funny to those in the know.

Let me give you an example.  A real one.  Continue reading

Singing Librarian flashback: Die Fledermaus


I recently added a page to the blog on my on stage exploits, and thought I’d use occasional posts to peel back the curtains and give you a peek at backstage life as I’ve experienced it during some of these productions.   Sometimes the things the audience doesn’t see can be just as interesting as the things they do see.  So let’s begin…

Summer 2002.  The Gulbenkian Theatre.  Die Fledermaus, with a cast consisting of a mixture of professionals and local singers.  I won’t explain the plot, as it would take far too long to go into the multitudinous twists and turns, but it’s a silly tale of multiple mistaken identities, most of them deliberate.  We set it in the swinging sixties in New York City, which meant that the pivotal party had guests ranging from Andy Warhol to a guitar-toting hippie (me).  I present to you three scenes from the University of Kent Summer Opera production of Die Fledermaus. Continue reading

Born to play the role?


I’m very lucky.  In my theatrical ‘career’ so far, I have played four principal roles and two of them were so brilliantly suited to my abilities that it was almost unbelievable.  Herr Schultz in Cabaret was admittedly some fifty years older than me when I played him, but it was in a school production, so questions of age were irrelevant.  However, his mixture of quiet joy and pathos, combined with his characterful songs, made him a perfect match for me.  Gerald in Me and My Girl was just ridiculously right, as well.  Everything from the ridiculous accent and the old-fashioned singing style through to his complete ignorance of his own ludicrosity was so ‘me’.  I slipped into the role like a glove.  Not that it wasn’t hard work, it most certainly was, but it was all so right.

The trouble is, there aren’t many perfect roles for each performer, and I’ve already used two up before the age of 30.  And if I really was born to play Gerald Bolingbroke, as some people said, does that mean I’ve peaked, and it’s all downhill from here?  I certainly hope not.  But the idea does make me think – what roles would I like to play, and what roles am I ideally suited for?  Continue reading

Billy (the musical)


My latest visit to a local theatre was to see the musical Billy at the Whitstable Playhouse, a theatre I’d never attended before.  The production was by the Lindley Players, and starred the guy who played Bill Snibson in Me and My Girl when I was in the show in March.  He is a performer I admire very much, and also a person that I like, and so I welcomed the opportunity to see him in a show from the auditorium rather than from the wings with no glasses on. Continue reading

A Slice of Saturday Night


Last night, I saw a local production of A Slice of Saturday Night, a show set in a 1960s nightclub, featuring the lives and loves of a group of teenagers over one typical Saturday night.  I went because I know several of the cast, including my housemate.

It’s not a particularly good show, in my opinion.  The music is 1960s pastiche, but it veers between outright stealing of tunes and general dullness.  There are some fun songs,though – with about 30 numbers, they had to strike gold at least once!  The plot is practically non-existent as well, just wandering around between the characters, with one character serving very little purpose as far as I could tell.  There are some laughs, but it doesn’t hold together particularly well.

However, the cast were very good and carried the material well.  Some of the singing was marvellous, and several of the cast managed to create characters out of very little from the script.  The dancing varied from competent to very good, and the band sizzled nicely.  It’s not a show I want to see again, but it entertained me.  A popcorn musical, I suppose!

Overall verdict: a not-very-good musical performed very well.

On blasphemous operas


A column in the Guardian prompted me to think, yet again, about the intriguing phenomenon that is Jerry Springer: The Opera.  This is a show that I feel rather strongly about, and given that I am an evangelical Christian, you might think that you can see where my thoughts are likely to be headed.  You’d probably be wrong.

Continue reading

Noise Ensemble


On Thursday, I attended a performance of Noise Ensemble, a ‘percussion spectacular’ by local composer Ethan Lewis Maltby.  This was the show’s final stop on a British tour taking in over 20 locations.  One of the major reasons for attending was that I was involved with Ethan’s musical Courtenay a few years ago, which was immense fun.  I was in the chorus, and absolutely loved the music we were singing.

The show was a lot of fun.  It was, as advertised, jolly noisy. And there was indeed an ensemble, of ten incredible percussionists, one of them occasionally doubling up on bass guitar and another once on lead guitar (I think – he was at the back, and I couldn’t quite tell what he had in his hands!).  It contained a number of pure theatrical ‘wow’ moments – the sort of thing that makes me go all tingly even when I know how it’s achieved.  The opening had the ensemble appearing from nowhere, and there was a wonderfully funny bit featuring a couple of ‘flying’ drums.  In terms of technical wizardry, the production really outdid itself.  Lots of moving lights, plus smoke, bubbles and a video screen which shows excerpts from ‘Noise TV’, a group of channels devoted to drumming.  Several of these excerpts were very funny.

The show really opened my eyes to what could be achieved with various percussion instruments.  The second act contained segments featuring triangles and tambourines, which were both amusing and impressive at the same time.  And the tuned percussion numbers were absolutely beautiful.

Some of the louder, more drum-based sections were less my cup of tea, but I was consistently impressed by the performers’ energy and Ethan’s compositional skills throughout.  The whole piece was dynamic, with movement being a key component, complementing the rhythms and sounds of the instruments, creating dramatic and comedic moments.

A most enjoyable evening at the theatre, and I’m very glad I went.  If it hadn’t been by Ethan, I would have overlooked it, which would have been a real shame.  Note to self – take more risks in theatrical attendance in future!

Website: http://www.noiseensemble.com

Four songs


I’ve been trying to organise my thoughts on a topic close to my heart – the defence of musical theatre, a medium which comes in for more than its fair share of (snooty) criticism. Yes, the musical can be blooming silly and rather pointless, but it can also achieve an astonishing level of power and artistry.  CabaretWest Side StorySweeney Todd.  Incredible works of art by any standard, surely.  However, try as I might, I cannot write something without ranting or babbling incoherently.  Perhaps one day I’ll manage it, but for now, I’ll simply mention just four songs written for musicals which never cease to amaze me.

  • ‘Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye’ from Seven Lively Arts, by Cole Porter.  I’ve never been in love, but this song speaks so eloquently of loss and longing, of the highs and lows of parting and reuniting.  It is one of a very small number of songs that can make me cry.
  • ‘Night and Day’ from The Gay Divorcee, also by Cole Porter.  This is a searing song of yearning and desire with powerful lyrics.  But pay attention to the music as well, and the song reveals just how good Cole Porter was.  The staccato opening verse contrasts brilliantly with the soaring, swooping liquid melody it leads to.  It’s simply gorgeous.
  • ‘(I Wonder Why) You’re Just in Love’ from Call Me Madam by Irving Berlin.  This one just makes me smile – it’s a duet between a young man experiencing love for the first time, and an older woman who is touched by this.  His verse is very sweet and simple, while hers is more bouncy and belty (it was written for the very scary Ethel Merman, so it’s hardly a surprise).  And then they sing them together!  I have never understood counterpoint, but I love it.  It makes me very excited, whether it’s in a mass or a love song.  I really do wonder how they write them like that.
  • The ‘Quintet’ from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.  This is surely the pinnacle of theatre music, with counterpoint taken to extremes.  Only ‘One Day More’ from Les Mis comes close for this sort of thing – disparate groups of people anticipating a specific time, and putting their hopes and fears into words and music.  The rival street gangs anticipate their rumble, the two lovers look forward to meeting, and Anita adds a sexual frisson.  And they all come together into something that is greater than the sum of its already-incredible parts. 

I could go on, and make the longest blog post ever, but I won’t.  I don’t wake up and launch into ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Morning’.  I don’t automatically sing ‘My Time of Day’ if I wander the city streets at night.  I don’t (thank goodness) drag out ‘The Sun Has Got His Hat On’ every time the clouds part.  But I’m glad to have a body of songs from a supposedly inferior source to draw on, to sing and to listen to.  As Abba said in ‘Thank You For the Music’ from the mini-musical The Girl With the Golden Hair, ‘without a song or a dance, what are we?’  I don’t know, and I hope I never have to find out.

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