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Boatswain’s Mate

Dealing With a Sex Pest – Edwardian Style

The Boatswain’s Mate

music and libretto by Dame Ethel Smyth

Spectra Ensemble at The Arcola Theatre until 13th August, then on tour until 9th October

Review by Patrick Shorrock

Ethyl Smyth

It seems to be Dame Ethel Smyth’s year, with her opera, The Wreckers, performed at Glyndebourne and the Proms.  The Boatswain’s Mate is lighter fare and actually funny (which can’t be always be said for operatic comedies).  It’s worth hearing, as the music is pleasing, if not, perhaps, desperately individual.  Pianist and Music Director John Warner – well supported by Emily Earl on violin and Meera Priyanka Raja on cello – did a fine job with the reduced score, while giving hints that the full orchestration might have something to add to the overall effect. 

The lively overture features Smyth’s famous March of the Women – the anthem of the Suffragette Movement.  We see a woman on a deck chair reading.  She is subjected to the clearly unwanted advances from a man in beachwear.  She is successful in driving him away when she proves that she is better than he is playing with his beach-ball. 

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Clue

Clued Up

Clue: on Stage

by Sandy Rustin, adapted from a screenplay by Jonathan Lynn

YAT at the Coward Room, Hampton Hill Theatre until 13th August

Review by Andrew Lawston

Anyone who has seen Jonathan Lynn’s 1985 film, or who has spent a rainy weekend playing board games, will have a fair idea what to expect from Clue, Sandy Rustin’s comedy thriller based on the famous Waddingtons’ board game.  But YAT’s youthful and energetic cast breathe new vitality into the old favourite, resulting in a highly enjoyable couple of hours of madcap theatre.

Hampton Hill Theatre’s Noel Coward Room is transformed into Boddy Manor, with a minimalist set consisting mostly of a chandelier and a map of the mansion on the back wall.  Furniture is wheeled in and out by a slick backstage team, all dressed as domestic staff to maintain the illusion.  In one corner, a radio announcer discusses McCarthyism, setting the play firmly in 1950s America.

Against the traditional backdrop of a dark and stormy night, a diverse group of individuals with somewhat iconic names are due to arrive at the country house.  Each with something to hide, and each intensely suspicious of the others.

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Siegfried

Changing Lives

Siegfried

by Richard Wagner, adaptation by Jonathan Dove and Graham Vick

Arcola Theatre Productions at the Hackney Empire until 7th August

Review by Helen Astrid

To scale-down any production is not an easy task.  What would have been six hours of music and drama became just two.  Jonathan Dove and Graham Vick’s reduction of Wagner’s Siegfried, the third opera of the tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen or “The Ring Cycle” as we know it, has certainly made a mark in the repertory for smaller venues with even fewer resources to perform large-scale operas or in this case music-dramas.

The entire Ring Cycle takes around fifteen hours to sit through, which is an endurance test.  When it was staged in Seattle in 2003, the opera house issued advice to ticket-holders suggesting they lay off the booze and get plenty of sleep the night before.  The great English conductor Adrian Boult said that two acts of Wagner was enough for anyone and he used to skip the middle act to go and have dinner.  Grimeborn’s production though was without any intervals.

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Bee Master

Buzz on the Fringe

Bee Master

by Chris Harris and Chris Denys

Blue Fire Theatre Company at Space Two, theSpace on the Mile, Edinburgh until 13th August, then on tour.

Review by Millie Stephens

When the Bard wrote “To bee, or not to bee …”, he had not read Harris and Denys’ witty and educational script, Bee Master.  Otherwise, Brother Barnabus’ knowledge of the humble bumble bee could have been a source for the unwritten Merry Hives of Windsor … … However, we should be sticking to Blue Fire Theatre Company’s sweet story of bees and beekeeper, which is creating a growing buzz at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.  

Bee Master consists of a monologue performed by Steve Taylor, who plays the role of the monastic beekeeper, Brother Barnabus. We in the audience are informed about the bees in his hive, as well as being given an insightful education into the life cycle of the female and male bees. This informative soliloquy is filled with comedic one liners, making it very engaging for the audience.

Brother Barnabus tells a story of self-discovery, learnt in his beekeeper role ensconced in the peaceful surroundings of Clumpton Abbey.  Along the way, he uncovers a honeycomb of thoughts about his own existence.   These can only be thoughts, as the Abbey houses a silent order of monks.

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Midsummer Mechanicals

Dream Awakening to Shakespeare

Midsummer Mechanicals

by Kerry Frampton and Ben Hales, after William Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s Globe and Splendid Productions, at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse until 21st August

Review by Emma Byrne

Well, I’m going to start this review with a confession – I love the Globe.  I love the imperfect illusion of stepping back in time.  It’s not just the occasion contrail puffing lazily apart above the thatch, or the shriek of a slowing train on the approach to London Bridge.  It’s the audience: the way we sometimes approach Shakespeare with reverence or fear, depending on the teachers we were lucky – or unlucky – enough to have.

So I mean it sincerely when I say: Midsummer Mechanicals feels like the most Shakespearean show I’ve ever seen at the Globe.  It’s not so much that the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse encloses you, TARDIS-like, and whisks you away from the modern bustle of Bankside, it’s that the audience of young families arrives with none of the baggage, and all of the enthusiasm, for a wild, gripping, hilarious, anarchic show in which they, too, can play their part.

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Götterdämmerung

Powerful, Emotional, Magical

Götterdämmerung

by Richard Wagner, adaptation by Jonathan Dove and Graham Vick

Arcola Theatre Productions at the Hackney Empire until 7th August

Review by Suzanne Frost

Grimeborn, the Arcola Theatre’s annual opera festival, has for fifteen years sought out wildly exciting new productions for curious and brave audiences – and what could be more wild, exciting and brave than a pocket-sized fringe version of only the most epic saga of the opera world, Wagner’s Ring cycle.  Fifteen hours of music and an all-encompassing story boasting over twenty individual characters, all tangled up in the same intricate web of greed and deceit, has been boiled down by Jonathan Dove and Graham Vick, to bring the epos to a wider audience, originally in a community setting in Birmingham in the 90s, which proved quite the sensation.  During the height of the pandemic, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, home to one of the most legendary and huge scale Ring productions by Götz Friedrich, decided to play Dove’s stripped down version of Rheingold outdoors on the opera house’s own parking deck – tickets sold out within twelve minutes to the culture starved German audience.  While in 2019 and 2021, Grimeborn presented the first two chapters, Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, the cycle comes to a conclusion this year with the last two instalments Siegfried and Götterdämmerung.

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Bob Marley

Truthful Musicianship

Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical

by Bob Marley, book by Lee Hall

Playful Productions with Stage Play and Cedella Marley at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, until 8th January 2023, then on UK and international tour

Jazz and pop critic, Vince Francis talks to Michael Duke, who plays Bob Marley in the West End musical Get Up, Stand Up!  

Interview by Vince Francis

Once in a while, an opportunity arises that should be grasped firmly with both hands.  Sometimes, the gods conspire to make that opportunity a bar of soap and the attempt to grasp it almost comical.   Thus it was with the meeting with the actor, producer and musician Michael Duke, currently playing Bob Marley in the production of  Get Up, Stand Up at the West End’s Lyric Theatre.  Michael’s availability was understandably limited, and I had an obligation that couldn’t be moved.  I’m therefore extremely grateful to those who worked to make it happen.

So, for those who may be unfamiliar, Bob Marley was probably the most influential reggae musician to come out of the home of reggae, Jamaica.  Reggae – the word has its roots in the patois word for ‘ragged’ – is a genre of music which evolved from origins in Trinidadian Calypso, through other popular sub-genres, such as Mento, Dance Hall and Ska, for which, by the way, the Jamaican pronunciation is “Skya”, to rhyme with the “Tia” in “Tia Maria”. 

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The Dumb Man

Speak No Evil

The Dumb Man

by Jagoda Kamov

The Cockpit Theatre, Marylebone until 6th August

Review by Gill Martin

The Camden Fringe, which runs throughout August, has earned a reputation over the sixteen years it has been running as a London alternative to Edinburgh, offering fresh new theatre, edgy and experimental, at affordable prices.  This year two hundred productions are on the menu across the Borough of Camden and beyond.  The range is wide, from children’s shows, comedy and dance to magic, music, physical theatre and musicals – even opera.

We opted for The Dumb Man at the Cockpit Theatre, a sixty-minute play billed as a dark comedy.  Dark it certainly was.  Comedic?  The jury is still out.

The man character of Richard (Michael Molino) is angst-ridden and grief-stricken.  The balding widower in his comfy rocking chair and cosy cardie cannot come to terms with the death of his wife Anne (Lana Helena Hulenic).

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Black, el payaso

Send In the Clowns

Black, el payaso

byPablo Sorozábal, libretto by Francisco Serrano Anguita

Cervantes Theatre Co at the Arcola Theatre until 6th August, then at the Cervantes Theatre, Southwark until 24th September

Review by Patrick Shorrock

On paper, Black, el payaso(Black, the Clown) did not have a lot going for it: a composer Pablo Sorozábal (1897-1988) barely heard of over here writing in a distinctively Spanish genre that is likely to seem both obscure and defunct to UK audiences.  This is its UK premiere. (There must be a reason why no-one seems ever to have tried to do a zarzuela in the UK before?).  However, Grimeborn very definitely knew what they were doing.  Blessedly free of the usual operetta clichés, the piece takes to the stage like a duck to water, and is pure delight.  On this evidence, there is a lot more to zarzuela than operetta with castanets.

Sorozábal should take a lot of the credit, helped by an interesting plot and libretto, fine performances, and an effective production.  Even in a reduction for piano and violin, his quirky score is extremely attractive.  The violin in particular gets opportunities to sound romantic in a Brahmsian Hungarian Gipsy mode, as is appropriate for its central European setting (the kingdom of Orsonia).   Ricardo Gosalbo (piano) and Elena Jáuregui (violin) made an excellent case for it, and never let the pace flag, and the audience interrupts regularly with delighted applause.

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Colloquium

Hot-Seats of Learning

Colloquium

by Katherine Stockton

Cavendish Productions at Hen and Chickens Theatre, Islington, as part of the Camden Fringe, then at The Golden Goose Theatre, Camberwell until 6th August  

Review by Heather Moulson

A Colloquium is by definition an academic meeting of specialists, and this was the exact setting that took place in Oxford University. 

During the interviewing of two potential candidates for a place in the English department, there are clashes of brilliant minds, arrogant candidates, overtones of resignation, and internal power games.  There is a stand-off with a weary professor in his last year, and a maverick younger colleague who indeed sees things very much outside the box.  The wry humour excelled during these encounters. 

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