Wednesday, 20 April 2022

Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker (Tour), New Victoria Theatre | Review

Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker
New Victoria Theatre
Reviewed on Tuesday 19th April 2022 by Angie Creagh-Brown

The Nutcracker Suite is an old and much beloved family Christmas favourite. Matthew Bourne's version, however is a somewhat different take on the classic.

What can I say about it? Well it was just wonderful!!! The New Victoria Theatre is a large, modern and inviting building, which at this performance welcomed an audience of all ages; there were some young children (well-behaved) and the ambience was happy and inviting, a taste of the sweet treat evening to come.

Bourne takes the original story of a well to do family celebrating Christmas Eve with friends and family and turns it completely round; his version starts in an orphanage, the cast are dressed in grey, the scenery is grey - no light, no joy. The teenage children are preparing to 'enjoy' their meagre Christmas Eve and are joined by the owner, Dr Dross, danced by Danny Reubens, his wife the Matron, Daisy May Kemp, son Fritz, Dominic North and their very spoilt daughter Sugar, Ashley Shaw.

The children manage to find a Nutcracker, which had been locked away in a cupboard, and they escape to a wondrous scene of falling snow, ice-skating and snowballs. To add to their excitement the Nutcracker miraculously changes from a toy to a handsome, well-muscled and talented young man, (Harrison Dowzellto the delight of the children and the leading lady.

The ensemble dancing was lovely, there were comic moments, surprises and hints of jealousies to come. The dancers were performing with large smiles on their faces, which in turn put joy onto the faces of the audience.

Act Two opens with a kaleidoscope of colour which is The Road to Sweetieland. Clara, beautifully danced by Cordelia Braithwaite, is desperately trying to gain entrance to Sweetieland aided by the The Cupids, wonderfully portrayed by Enrique Ngbokota and Shoko Ito. She is still dressed in her undergarments and they find a pretty dress for her, but it does not compare in any way to that worn by her nemesis, Sugar.

There is a lot of humour in this act. Superbly bright costumes and a plethora of well-known sweets dancing wonderfully. It's a visual treat like no other.

The cast is very diverse, which would mirror the children in an orphanage. The story has been re-written in a modern way. This means it would possibly not be suitable for very young children on whom the innuendoes would be lost, but in terms of aesthetics it's sure to appeal to all ages.

The staging, set design, lighting and costumes all added wonderfully to the most enjoyable evening which finished with a standing ovation and joy abounded both on the stage and in the auditorium.

The Nutcracker plays at the New Victoria Theatre until 23rd April

photo credit: Johan Persson

Wednesday, 13 April 2022

Zorro, Charing Cross Theatre | Review

Charing Cross Theatre
Reviewed on Tuesday 12th April 2022 by Hope Priddle

Last seen in London in 2008, Zorro is back and ready to bring a taste of Spain to the Charing Cross Theatre! Set to a legendary soundtrack by the Gipsy Kings, this sizzling show follows the mysterious masked vigilante El Zorro in his efforts to defend the Pueblo of Los Angeles from a ruthless autocratic leader. Written by Stephen Clarke and Helen Edmundson, the book is pacey and exhilarating. Whilst drama and action undeniably motivate this production, it really shines in the quiet moments of passion and pathos between our central lovers.

Ben Purkiss is perfectly cast in the titular role. He is utterly endearing as the charismatic and courageous Diego, but he transforms into the suave crusader with ease. Alex Gibson-Giorgio gives an accomplished performance as the tormented tyrant, and Diego’s estranged brother, Ramon. Gibson-Giorgio masterfully conveys Ramon’s internal conflict, inviting sympathy despite his character’s irredeemable actions. Special mention must go to Marc Pickering as Garcia, who is tremendous as our comedic antagonist. Not only does he play the fool, but his character has real heart and displays a truly rewarding arc.

Despite its name, this production is all about its women. Phoebe Panaretos is a complete tour-de-force as the sensual, strong-willed Gyspy queen Inez. Her voice is rich and full-bodied, stealing the showing on more than one occasion. Panaretos leads a rousing rendition of Bamboleo at the end of Act One, captivating her audience in every way possible. Paige Fenlon is similarly exquisite as Diego’s childhood friend Louisa. Louisa may appear innocent on first introduction, but a fire quickly ignites inside of her as she leads the Pueblo uprising. Fenlon’s heavenly vocals soar as her character finds her voice.

Panaretos and Fenlon are supported by a searing female ensemble who truly are the lifeblood of this production. Their vital choreography and visceral harmonious drive the action forward. During Libertad, the ensemble cries sympathetically as one, moving as a single pulsating body under sanguine lighting designed by Matthew Haskins.

Creative elements work in harmony to create a production which is immersive and evocative. The traverse staging, admittedly typical of productions at this venue, works to enclose the Pueblo and create a homely, intimate feel. Set and Costume Designer Rosa Maggiora does a tremendous job of world building. A multi-levelled set elevates the action, whilst aisles and doorways are used effectively for either flamboyant or stealthy entrances and exits. An actor-muso approach greatly compliments this production. Talented ensemble members play classical guitar and trumpets, recreating the sounds of 19th Century California. Moreover, the very stage itself becomes an instrument, integral as brass or string. As the cast stamp and stomp across the floor, they ‘play’ the boards and percussive sound fills the rafters.

With thrilling stage combat (Renny Krupinski) and impactful flamenco routines (Cressida Carre) led by the commanding Ajjaz Awad, this dynamic production is packed full of colour, texture and noise. It fully embraces its audience, sweeping them up into the spirited world of Spanish Gypsies and swashbuckling heroes.

photo credit: Pamela Raith

Friday, 8 April 2022

Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear | Victoria and Albert Museum | Review

Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear
Victoria and Albert Museum
Reviewed on Thursday 7th April 2022 by Olivia Mitchell 

In its current exhibition, the Victoria and Albert Museum celebrates the growth and evolution of male aesthetics with Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear. A vast collection of outfits from throughout history and interspersed with paintings, photographs, sculptures and video clips  to offer up a look at how masculine fashion has changed and moved with the times. It looks at the times when the 'traditional' or 'accepted' view of masculinity has been challenged and how these deviations have paved the way for move fluidity and freedom in fashion.

The exhibition is displayed in a fairly structure free way, allowing you to make your own path and experience it however you wish. The loose structure is organised by trends and themes, much like the fashion industry itself. Of course we know that trends repeat themselves but it's interesting to see it laid out physically before you. As you enter you are greeted with naked bodies, specifically those of Apollo and Hercules, the original male ideals of beauty. The section points out how anatomical research and a desire to look a certain way, led to the understanding of wearing more tightly fitting or tailored pieces to showcase the body. 

As mentioned, the showcased cyclical nature of fashion is key to this exhibition with almost every style returning in some way, at some point. It's interesting how the original, puffy shirt worn during the regency era has yet to make a comeback despite corsets coming back with a vengeance; perhaps the new season of Bridgerton will take us back to those roots! 

It's also great to see how small changes and reinterpretations to a classic outfit can have such a huge impact. For example: the suit. A staple in wardrobes for most people, the way in which celebrities have elevated it is well showcased. The addition of leather trousers may seems simple but when you see it in the context of Fashioning Masculinities it's quite amazing how it set off a domino for development and freedom.

The main aspect of the exhibition is how men's fashion is evolving so much now in terms of gender fluidity, with some of the most eye-catching outfits being those from the brilliant designer Harris Reed as well as those at the very end:  Billy Porter's tuxedo dress worn at the 2019 Oscars and the iconic blue Gucci dress worn by Harry Styles on the cover of US Vogue. Both these outfits sparked many conversations, even for those who don't follow either the stars or the fashion.

Sponsored by Gucci, a lot of the exhibition is indulgent and luxurious but it's a real eye opener on how high street fashion keeps up with trends and how deviations in the norm can have effects which reach all of us eventually without us even realising. Fashioning Masculinities is by no means an exhaustive exploration but it certainly whets your appetite to find out more and shines light on how diversity and uniqueness can be captured through male clothing. 

Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear runs at the V&A Museum until 6th November 2022

Monday, 4 April 2022

La Traviata, Royal Opera House | Review

La Traviata
Royal Opera House
Reviewed on Saturday 2nd April 2022 by Olivia Mitchell 

Richard Eyre's production of Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata is certainly a landmark one, having stood the test of time and remaining a timeless version in its 28th season since 1994. The opera encompasses all the swooping storylines you'd expect, with grandeur, passion, sex, family, betrayal, romance and tragedy sewn into every moment. Of course there's also the key element: Verdi's stunning melodies. Even if you haven't listened to the opera before you'll surely recognise a few pieces and as operatic works go, it's very accessible for opera newcomers. This is evident in the audience attracted, with a variety of ages filling the auditorium at the Saturday morning performance.

It's quite clear why this is such a well-loved production. The entire thing is completely opulent and so visually impressive. Gloriously detailed period costumes transport the audience to a 19th-century Paris which feels worlds away from Covent Garden. Despite the grandeur, there's also a subtlety that comes alongside the proceedings. Whilst yes, it is dramatic and luxurious, Bob Crowley's set is also cosy and makes the Royal Opera House's auditorium feel small and inviting. This is also helped by the cast, namely leading lady Violetta, played by Pretty Yende who grabs the attention of all and wraps you up in her tragic story from the moment she steps on stage.

La Traviata tells the tale of a famed Parisian courtesan Violetta Valéry. Seemingly carefree, she is secretly struggling with tuberculosis so when she meets and falls in love with Alfredo, she believes she gets a new chance to live and be happy. They run away together and life off of her money and sale of her property. However one day Alfredo's father Giorgio Germont appears and begs her to leave his son as he is disgracing his family. Due to her strong love, she agrees and from there further drama and pain ensues.

As Violetta, Pretty Yende is a perfect fit. A fantastic soprano, she embodies the role fully and completely shines both vocally and as an accomplished actress. Yende's technique is faultless and she soars throughout with beautifully spun lines, breath control that grasps the audience and complete accuracy on every note.  She is completely in command throughout and is especially wonderful in Addio del passato in the final act.

Partnered with Stephen Costello as her suitor, the pair work together nicely. Costello at times is overpowered but really comes into his own towards the end when he shows more outward intensity that is mirrored in his vocal performance and really captures the romantic majesty.

Giacomo Sagripanti conducts the orchestra with the perfect amount of sensitivity and creates an atmosphere like no other.

This is a version of La Traviata that will surely run for another 28 seasons and is a must see for opera lovers and opera newbies.

photo credit: Tristram Kenton