Tag Archives: Nicholas Hytner

Opera Review: The Magic Flute

26 Feb

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Plot: Mozart’s final masterpiece is the story of a terrifying and joyful journey in pursuit of love, wisdom and happiness. From the stratospheric arias of the Queen of the Night, through the jolly folk tunes of Papageno the Birdcatcher to the profound music of Sarastro, leader of the enlightened ones, it is a full expression of Mozart’s musical and dramatic genius.

This is a restaging of Nicholas Hytner’s 1988 production and having missed it at the ENO last year I didnt want to pass up the chance. Fellow opera fan Abigail has already given it a thumbs up so I was quite looking forward to it. This is somewhat my introduction to Mozart’s work and by the time the overture has finished I knew I would have one helluva time, and then there’s Papageno! Oh I just loved him! Roderick Williams did a really winning performance. With his melodious baritone voice and his comic timing in full gear. Maybe it’s just me but I really couldnt care less about Tamino and Pamina. The most interesting characters were really Papageno and the Queen of the Night, okay, maybe Sarastro even.

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I am really tempted now to catch the ETO’s version that will play at the Hackney Empire next week.

The Magic Flute: 4/5

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Theatretrotting in February

31 Jan

My theatre escapades in January was carefully planned, not too much and not too little at three. But looking at my calendar for February I dont know if I could make it to all of them! Last year I missed nearly a dozen plays because I was too exhausted to see them and also because they were total duds which really saved me the trip. So this year I promised not to book too many or too few, but then, let’s see how it goes.

Here’s my planned theatre excursions for the month of February.

5- England People Very Nice, Olivier, National Theatre

I try and book anything that the National dishes out, and as part of the Travelex season of just £10 per ticket, even if it disappoints, it wouldnt hurt the pocket so much. Although I am really hoping it will be great!

9- Three Days of Rain, Apollo Theatre

When the news came out that James McAvoy was doing a West End play I thought to myself, there was no way I would pass this one up! It also turned out that fellow theatretrotters and friends, the West End Whingers have organised an outing and I am part of their party so I will be seeing this one with them. And really, to see James McAvoy on stage, that’s just another dream come true!

12- Zorro, Garrick

Yup, this is my 2nd trip to see Zorro, the best musical I have seen in recent years. I have been hyping about it to my friends so I booked it via GetIntoLondonTheatre and only got the tickets for £25 each. Two other friends who have seen it ahead of us were pleased with the experience and couldnt thank me enough. If you still havent seen Zorro, and would like to pay less, the promo for their £25 tickets is available until 12 February.

17- Oliver!, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Right, confession time. I still havent seen Oliver the movie, but know a few of the songs from the musical so I am watching this literally with a fresh set of eyes and ears and I really think that’s exciting! My Welsh family of friends Christine, Gaynor, Annette and mummy Megan are joining me in this occassion and we can’t wait!

24 – Burnt by the Sun, Lyttelton, National Theatre

And last but not the least, Ciaran Hinds. I may not have waxed poetic about my love for the man in this blog the way I have done with Simon Russell Beale but I also admire Ciaran Hinds. Wait, werent they together in Persuasion? So, I was also wishing that Mr. Hinds would go back to his roots and now I will get that chance. Another case of too many men and so little time!

Simon, if youre reading this, it’s always been you, but since youre away, sometimes there are others too. x

26- The Magic Flute, London Coliseum

It was a choice between watching the ENO production playing at the Coliseum or seeing the ETO’s production which will be playing at my local Hackney Empire in March, and the former won, mainly because Nicholas Hytner’s genius is attached to it and is very highly recommended. If I enjoy it too much and have the spare time and dough, I might just book it again in March (as if I am not busy then too!). You just can’t have too much opera!

So looks like it’s gong to be a fun-filled February eh?

Theatre Review: Much Ado About Nothing

17 Mar

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Plot: Don Pedro of Aragon, commander of the Spanish army in Sicily, returns to Messina after a victory against rebel forces which included his brother, Don John. Now reconciled with Don John, and in the company of his Italian comrades Claudio and Benedick, Don Pedro accepts the hospitality of Leonato, the Governor of Messina. A marriage is quickly arranged between Hero, daughter of Leonato, and Claudio. Don Pedro resolves to fill the time before the wedding by tricking Benedick into marriage with his old sparring partner Beatrice, Leonato’s niece. Don John, still simmering with resentment, meanwhile plots to destroy Claudio’s faith in Hero.

“I do love nothing in the world so well as you, is not that strange?” – Benedick to Beatrice

Oy!!! It seems like my initial dislike for Shakespeare is clearly unfounded now having seen 2 of his plays and coming out enjoying them. With a tragedy that was King Lear, which left me in tears, Much Ado About Nothing on the other hand, left me in stitches. This Shakespeare romantic comedy may have been written circa 1600, but even in our modern times, it still resonates the same realities that befall our main protagonists, Benedick and Beatrice. I may sound really biased here but this production is owned by both Simon Russell Beale and Zoe Wanamaker. Their wonderful and mischievous attack on their characters were spot on and was a delight to watch. Not having the pleasure of reading the play yet, I initially thought that Russell Beale and Wanamaker were rather older than their stage counterparts, but this is where I think Hytner’s gamble paid off. It’s because even more so now, there are actually more single people whether by choice or circumstance, and most are probably already in their middle age and can easily relate to the joys of singlehood and/or the curse of it.

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I thought Benedick’s mockery of Beatrice when they had their first encounter was delightful, “what my Lady Disdain, are you yet living?”, but you can feel that these two are really in love with each other and just would not accept that fact, this time around though, they would need a little help from their friends. And some of us have experienced that. We loved someone, then for some reason they’ve wronged us and we lose them, and if their really not some big time loser who is mentally abusive, or with no real red flags waving in the air, sometimes an old love can be that someone who is our equal, that one person who is a match for you, that you can not love no one else but him, or her, and this is really what Benedick was for Beatrice and vice versa. You just know they had to end up together and so we watch them how.

One of the most comical parts of the play was Benedick eavesdropping on his comrades discussing how Beatrice really loves him and we see an amused but giddy looking Benedick tiptoeing, avoiding the pond which he eventually falls into and in a quick soliloquy, incredulously asks, Love me? But why? Beatrice follows the same fate after overhearing Hero (Sussanah Fielding) talking about Benedick’s own passions for her. But it’s the scene after Hero has been spurned by Claudio (Daniel Hawksford) that Benedick comes to comfort a distraught Beatrice and asks her, “and how do you?” Beatrice replies, “very ill too”. And Benedick, with a look of love and devotion tells her, “serve God, love me and mend”. Awwwwww!!!

Russell Beale again played against type for he may not be a swaggering kind of Benedick but in my books I loved the way he made Benedick real. Coming out of that pond, soaking wet but elated knowing that Beatrice might still just be in love with him and then he tries to walk erect striking a pose as if some cool, sexy cat really brought the house down. he is such a sweetheart. Wanamaker complemented his performance by allowing us to feel her world-weary Beatrice, showing us the pain of being alone and her masked vulnerability but despite this she remains a strong-willed, independent woman nevertheless that is admirable.

The supporting cast did just great, I thought Mark Addy as Dogberry and Trevor Peacock as Verges provided great comical relief. Rachel Portman’s music (with special mention to Thomas Goodridge playing the role of Balthasar who sung beautifully in his scenes perfectly) evoked the mood and aura of this part of Italy, and Vicki Mortimer’s beautiful set design complimented Nicholas Hytner’s great and fantastic revival of this sweet Shakespearean play.

Much Ado About Nothing: 5/5

Playing at the National Theatre until March 29.

Theatre Review: Major Barbara

28 Feb

Plot: Major Barbara (Hayley Atwell) works tirelessly for the poor at a Salvation Army shelter until a large but morally dubious donation is welcomed from her estranged father Andrew Undershaft, (Simon Russell Beale) a millionaire weapons manufacturer. But when she visits the factory itself, the well-fed workers in their thriving model town make a devastating case for arms trade profits and a whole new set of ideals.

This is my first time to watch the inimitable Simon Russell Beale on stage although I have seen him in a couple of made for tv films such as Jane Austen’s Persuasion, and Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time where he played the enigmatic but awkward Widmerpool which earned him a BAFTA. Mr. Russell Beale is truly larger than life and I can now comprehend as to why he is dubbed -now let me get this right- by The Independent as “the greatest stage actor of his generation”. In a recent article from the Times, he is fast in garnering the most brownie points as “the perfect actor to have ever played Hamlet”. Now, I have yet to see him in a Shakespeare production (the horror! I know, I missed them all!) but I have managed to get tickets for Much Ado About Nothing on March 17.

Going back to this production, it was very clear that Russell Beale owned it. His Undershaft was not overdone, he played it quite subtly well, and it seems like with Russell Beale, less is more. And with the intelligent actor that he is, he used that again wonderfully here. Having been reunited with his family, and seeing that he has got more in common with Barbara, you can palpably feel this quiet admiration of a father to his daughter without a barrage of words, but just silent approval, for love, even in silence can still be heard.

The rest of the company were just as compelling particularly Claire Higgins as the Undershaft matriarch, her opening scene with John Heffernan unforgettable, and was reminiscent of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell. Hayley Atwell did quite well as the zealous savior of souls, but it’s not her fault that Barbara is a one dimensional character, I also thought she became more interesting in the final act. What I have to give the direction its due respect and recognition is the staging of the Undershaft & Lazarus weapons factory with rows and rows of missiles that quite expectedly drew an applause of recognition from the audience. The use of sound effects depicting the Great War added a chilling effect to this brilliant, and what could be considered as Shaw’s greatest literary work. Thanks to Nicholas Hytner having gotten over his Shaw skepticism.

Major Barbara: 4/5

Playing at the National Theatre until May 15