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How to Spot an Alien

Jelly through Sticky Fingers

How to Spot an Alien

by Georgia Christou

The Questors, at the Judy Dench Playhouse, Ealing until 31st July

Review by Emma Byrne

Something awfully strange is happening in Ealing.  The theatres are coming back to life?  Well, yes, there’s that, but no, I mean something really scary!  Your reviewer thought she had better check it out.

So I took along my daughter who, at five, is a little younger than the recommended audience of 7+ and – bless her timid little heart – hates even mild peril on screen.  I wasn’t sure if she’d make it through, especially when our protagonists, Jonjo and Jelly – played with charm and enthusiasm by Sara Page and Emily Sanctuary – warned that there was no guarantee of a happy ending.

Despite a few “watching through her fingers” moments, my daughter was entranced enough by the show, and the very reasonably priced Smarties stocked behind the Questors Theatre bar, to stay for the full fifty minutes without an interval that the show runs.

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La Rondine

Romantic Demons

La Rondine

by Giacomo Puccini, libretto by Giuseppe Adami

West Green House Opera, Theatre on the Lake, Hartley Wintney until 25th July 

Review by Mark Aspen

“Every soul contains a romantic demon”.  The whimsical words of Prunier, the romantic poet, “fondo d’ogni anima c’è un diavolo romantico”, casually tossed into the playful chatter at a Parisian society rendezvous, prove their prescience in the life of Magda de Civry, the party’s glamourous hostess.  Within her heart, there are four personalities, Magda, the self-assured courtesan; Doretta, the fictitious subject of poem that points to her heart’s desire; Paulette, her escapist alto ego; and La Rondine, the eponymous swallow that flies away but must always return.  

Giacomo Puccini

La Rondine is an opera that is unmistakably romantic.  After all, as Tony (Sir Antonio) Pappano says “Puccini does love like no other composer”.  And, I might add, Puccini does tear-jerking like no other composer.  Cio-Cio-San’s heartbreaking aria in Madama Butterfly, Un bel dì vedremo, as she waits in vain expecting to see the husband who has deserted her, or Mimì’s Sono andati in La Bohème, as she tells Rodolfo their love is her whole life, just as she dies of consumption, will have anyone in tears (even wizened old opera critics).   But in both these tragic operas the heroine dies.  In La Rondine no-one dies.  The final tragedy is an emotional tragedy. 

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Invictus: a Passion

Eclectic Magnificence

Invictus: a Passion

by Howard Goodall

West Green House Opera, Theatre on the Lake, Hartley Wintney until 23rd July 

Review by Mark Aspen

What has Mr Bean and Blackadder to do with The King James Bible or Requiem Æternam (the everlasting peace at the end of the world)?  Answer: they are pieces of music by the English composer, Howard Goodall, a prolific and wide-ranging creator of music, who fills a mixed bag of genres, film and TV scores, stage musicals and secular and sacred choral works, picking up EMMY, BRIT and BAFTA awards along the way.

Howard Goodall

Invictus: A Passion is Goodall’s latest work, which premiered in Texas, followed by its European premiere in St John’s Smith Square, London.   Now West Green House Opera has opened its 2021 season with the first major production of Invictus in oratorio form (Goodall calls it a choral-orchestral work), with a chamber orchestra (The Lanyer Ensemble), soloists from The Sixteen and almost forty voices including Aurum Vocale and The Quiristers from the Chapel Choir of Winchester College. 

So far, so good, but one would normally expect a Passion to find its inspiration in the Gospels.  However, Goodall has stated that he wants the piece to “find relevance” and be “approachable” to audiences of the 21st Century.   He has included “a feminist critique of the events” and references to slavery, the holocaust and atheism.  With all these buzz-words would the piece lose the intention and message of a Passion, and be trampled by the zeitgeist, one could be forgiven for wondering?    Nevertheless, Goodall says that although the resurrection of Christ is an event “uniquely adhered to by believing Christians, much of the Passion– persecution of the innocent, malevolent authority exerting itself against ideas that threaten and challenge, the power of a peaceful, loving humility in the face of tyranny, the facing-down of fear – holds profound universal resonance for people of many faiths and those of none.” 

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Quartermaine’s Terms

English as another language

Quartermaine’s Terms

by Simon Gray

Richmond Shakespeare Society, Mary Wallace Theatre, until 24 July

Review by Matthew Grierson

As St John Quartermaine (Luke Daxon) enters the common room of Cull–Loomis Academy, Cambridge, he touches various props and pieces of furniture as though to affirm their reality. Were I allowed, I may have done likewise, given that it’s so long since I’ve been in an actual theatre and I wanted to be sure what I was seeing was directly in front of me and not just a digital projection.

But the silent conceit sets up effectively the play’s contrast between words and world, later touched on when one of Quartermaine’s fellow English language teachers refers to the dispute between nominalists and realists in Medieval philosophy. The premise allows director Rodney Figaro and his cast to mine a rich seam of misunderstanding in what proves to be a farce of the mind – or perhaps the mouth, given that it is not bodies but words that are forever missing their mark.

The production does, admittedly, take a little while to get going, with the opening exchange between Quartermaine and Anita Manchip (Charlotte Horobin) for instance seeming a little stilted and wordy, as though they, like us, are only just getting used to small talk once again. Quartermaine’s general cluelessness means his colleagues tend to info-dump their private lives on him, which brings us up to speed without making them seem particularly real, at least at first. This is coupled with characterisations that are, initially, a little broad, be they absent-minded professor or wronged wife, and subsequently a depressive writer, angry northerner and bluff windbag, among others. They are the English equivalents of the very stereotypes the faculty harbours about their international students.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Kew:

Dream Magic from Down-Under

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Preview

Australian Shakespeare Company at Kew Gardens from 29th July

Preview with Thomas Forsythe and Peter Amesbury

Drama critic Thomas Forsythe talks to Peter Amesbury, Production Manager of the Australian Shakespeare Company, about the open-air production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream coming soon to Kew Gardens

TF:     It’s exciting to hear that The Royal Botanic Gardens will once again be welcoming Theatre On Kew, the touring company of the Australian Shakespeare Company, to Kew Gardens to show us its “flagship production”of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  It’s quite a way from its home in Melbourne!  I was wondering how this partnership started.  Did the ASC suggest coming to Kew or did you have an invitation from RBG?  How did it all start?

PA:     The Australian Shakespeare Company has been a leading force in outdoor theatre for over thirty years, having strong partnerships with both the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne and Sydney.  In particular, Glenn Elston’s production of The Wind in the Willows has nurtured countless Aussie kids.  Being a staple in early childhood experiences across countless generations, it’s almost tricky to find someone who doesn’t remember seeing it at some stage in their early childhood.  I think that’s a pretty special party of the company.    

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was also the first Shakespeare production Glenn staged with the company as Artistic Director, marking a new incarnation of the company under his watch.    

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The Children

Generation Gap and Other Current Problems

The Children

by Lucy Kirkwood

The Questors, at the Judy Dench Playhouse, Ealing until 17th July

Review by David Stephens

On Monday evening, I witnessed my own electrical disaster when, following the torrential rain and resulting flash floods, and while on call as an Electrical Engineer, I spent the entire night pumping water from a number of live substations.  It was, therefore, off the back of a sleepless night and with a pair of extremely heavy eyelids that I set out to attend Tuesday night’s performance of The Children at The Questors Theatre in Ealing.   My main concern was not, therefore, whether I’d enjoy the play, but, rather, whether I’d make it to the end without falling into a deep, and potentially very noisy, slumber.  However, I needn’t have worried. 

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Prima le Parole

Nectar but No Honey

Prima le Parole

Opera Live At Home, On-line from 29th June  

Review by Mark Aspen

Have you ever watched a bee zipping from bloom to bloom collecting nectar as he buzzes about his business totally engaged?   Our busy bee at Opera Live At Home seventh on-line production was Tama Matheson, who was introduced by the tireless Helen Astrid the programme’s founder and presenter, as an illustrious and prolific opera director, who has worked at the Sydney Opera House and Covent Garden, as well as across Europe. 

For his Prima le Parole, however, he was clearly his alter ego, a versatile drama practitioner, as actor and director.  He is Artistic Director of the Brisbane Shakespeare Festival, but nevertheless tonight he was fully engaged as the unfazed consummate actor.   Perhaps, as an actor, he was a little too trammelled by his script, for when he allowed himself off the leash, both his knowledge and his wit leapt out. 

Watched over by his “tutorial spirits” Beethoven, Mozart, ever present over his right shoulder as hirsute terracotta busts, Matheson took us on a whistle-stop tour of a selection of operas and their inspirational literary sources, in order to answer the age-old question, which came first, the libretto or the opera’s music.  It may be chicken-and-egg, but he rather let a spoiler out on his own views in the very title of his talk.  

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Macbeth

By the book

Macbeth

By William Shakespeare

The Lord Chamberlain’s Men at Chiswick House, 7 July; touring until September

Review by Matthew Grierson

TLCM’s production of Macbeth moves along at the pace of Raheem Sterling up the left of the field, and one suspects that the lads have half an eye on finishing the get-out in time to catch the end of the match. Why, their set of Gothic, rusty-looking battlements is even designed to come apart during the action, cunningly plucked into the bark of Birnam Wood by the advancing English army.

The driving rhythm of the piece is underpinned by the drumming of the weird sisters, presaging the haunting folk melody that accompanies them. But it also signifies the martial march of the action – and indeed, the pulse of blood through the play. It’s a production that hits all the expected beats.

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Zoo and Seven Monologues

It’s All Happening at the Zoo

Zoo and Seven Monologues

by Lily Bevan

Teddington Theatre Club at Hampton Hill Theatre until 10th July

Review by Andrew Lawston

It’s the first night back in sixteen months for Teddington Theatre Club at Hampton Hill Theatre, and the sense of relief, excitement, and goodwill is palpable.  Artistic Director Lottie Walker marks the occasion with some brief words of welcome and receives warm applause.

And without further ado, we’re off for a half-dozen monologues by Lily Bevan.  These brisk and well-observed pieces are performed on a plain set, with effective costumes from Lesley Alexander (the sheep with a plaster cast and crutches for Nativity was particularly fun) and occasional props; a wheelbarrow for Helen Geldert’s enthusiastic gardener in Allotment, or a glass of red wine for Rebecca Tarry in Bridesmaid, sipping laconically as she takes the microphone from a boorish best man, and deconstructs the often agonising tradition of wedding speeches.

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