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Cart Noodle Show

Fantastic Frustration

Cart Noodle Show

by ShumGhostJohn

ShumGhostJohn, DARE Festival, Upstart Theatre, Shoreditch, On-line until 28th February

Review by Nick Swyft

Last night I went to the theatre in Shoreditch.  Due to problems getting there, I didn’t have time to look around the gallery, go in the games room or have a drink in the lounge.   Others were in there chatting about the Dare Festival.  I hurried to the auditorium, an usher checked my ticket, and I sat down in my seat.  I pressed the X key and the show started … by Zoom.   You see, I was actually over fifty miles away at home.  Watching a show on-line has become commonplace these last twelve months, but thanks to new technology I visited the theatre too!!

Putting on an effective show via Zoom is a tall order for any arts company.  Better known for their highly innovative contemporary dance productions, ShumGhostJohn (a collaboration between the London based Hong Kong trio, Shum, Ghost and John) took on the challenge with creative gusto with their highly effective Cart Noodle Show, as part of the Dare Festival, hosted by the Shoreditch Theatre via Gather.  *

We were asked if we had ever had Cart Noodle, and they didn’t mean those ghastly tubs of gunk, popular with students, the pot noodle. .  No, we were introduced to the original Cart Noodle as it developed in the street markets of Hong Kong when it was served in metal trays.

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Milly Forrest

Expressive and Charming

Milly Forrest

Opera Live At Home, On-line from 23rd February

Review by Claire Alexander

All live arts have been catastrophically hit by the enforced closure over almost a year now – not just depriving performers with their livelihoods and ability to share their talents, but audiences too of their passions and imaginations.   I for one have particularly missed the spontaneity of live music.  I admire how all creative artists have maintained their motivation, and practice during these troubled times.  I have seen many many ways in which groups of artists have come together in innovative and inspiring ways to support each other and continue to entertain.

Opera Live at Home is no exception to this ingenuity.   We were treated to an hour of arias by emerging soprano Milly Forrest, accompanied sympathetically by Ian Tindale on piano.   She was singing from St Michaels and All Angels church in Chiswick – a church I know and blessed with great acoustics, broadcast on Zoom to a dedicated and appreciative audience.   The evening’s compère was Helen Astrid, founder of Opera Live at Home

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Henry V Scenes

Marvellously Macaronic

Henry V, Scenes from Shakespearean Plays

by William Shakespeare

Teddington Theatre Club, zoomed until 14th June, then on-line on YouTube

Review by Mark Aspen

The English can’t speak French and the French can’t speak English.   Patently untrue of course (well, except for some), but why let facts get in the way of fun, let alone in the way of a good story.  Across twenty-odd miles of water, nos voisions français have always been the butt of (largely) good-humoured jokes, while the other side of the water, we biftecks are ribbed à point.  Thus has it been for centuries, something not lost even on The Bard himself. 

William Shakespeare wrote Henry V ostensibly to report or recall then pertinent history of almost two centuries earlier.  As the culmination of Shakespeare’s sequence of English history plays it is epic, or as epic as can be within the constraints of the theatre, as the opening Chorus apologetically point out.  As such, it had to appeal to everyone.  So we have sublime poetry and knockabout ribaldry.   It presents history to reflect the Zeitgeist of the politics of the day (whilst cleverly being a bit double-edged in this respect), which pleases the upper-classes.  It has soaring poetry and patriotic oratory, which pleases the yeomanry.  It has glamour and heroism, which pleases everybody.   Then there are the groundlings; how does WS please them.  Well, there are the earthly rustics, the soldiers, Pistol, Nim and Bardolph, who provide the comedy (and it must be said much of the pathos).  Now, where does comedy lead?  Where romance and love nudge up against lasciviousness and, dare we say … sex, there lies a rich ground for comedy.   After all, Donald McGill sold 200 million saucy seaside postcards … and how many of us have “never Kippled”?   However, an earlier master of the double-entendre was William Shakespeare.

Teddington Theatre Club’s latest two-day on-line marathon was What’s Love Got to Do with It?, presented over St Valentine’s weekend and designed to be “celebrating love in all its forms (or at least as many as we could think of and fit into two days)”.  The event was designed as a lockdown return match for its Wilde Weekend bonanza back in June 2020.  This is getting to be a deliciously bad habit.

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Stephan O’Goodson

No Panic, No Fuss, Just Warm and Leisurely

Stephan O’Goodson

Live Lounge, OSO, on-line via YouTube from 10th February

Review by Vince Francis  

We have all been changed by the lockdowns and it could be argued that some aspects of that change might be for the better, such as moves toward more flexible working arrangements.  What has also changed is the presentation of live performance and the usage of performance spaces.  OSO Arts is to be saluted in this regard, transforming their auditorium into a ‘Crisis Kitchen’ and shifting the performances on-line (and, apparently, outside when that had been possible).  It is into this on-line space that I was invited last night, to enjoy the performance of vocalist Stephan O’Goodson, accompanied by guitarist Paul Stead. 

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Virtual Fourth

Pain and Beauty of Perseverance

Virtual Fourth

Poetry Performance, On-Line, 7th February

Review by Melissa Syversen

Set against the backdrop of a cold, windy and snow-filled night, Poetry Performance gathered once more for a digital evening of language and poetry.  As an ever-increasing multitude of Covid variations continue to keep us cooped up inside, Poetry Performance, like many artists, have adapted and moved its meetings on to Zoom, as their usual meeting spot The Adelaide Pub remains off limits until further notice. 

This was my first introduction to Poetry Performance, an ‘open mic’ kind of gathering where amateurs and professionals alike can come along and share their own poems, work in progress or favourite verses by other writers.  It is a bit of an odd feeling to have our first meeting be a virtual one; I felt a bit like a fly on the wall, but it was clear from the start that Poetry Performance is a group that is warm, supportive and clearly passionate about poetry.  After a seemingly never ending year of dreadfulness, and being but a month away from the first anniversary of the start of the nation-wide lockdown, a meeting such as this was quite comforting.  I think many of us these days have a need to be able to gather and share some thoughts and words together, even if it is via zoom.

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Cliff Zammit Stevens

Purr-fect Pleasure

Cliff Zammit Stevens

Opera Live At Home, On-line from 26th January

Review by Suzanne Frost

Oscar Wild (the cat) is curled up in bed with me for our Opera Live at Home experience, the fourth such concert since Covid locked us all up in our homes.  This time, the young tenor Cliff Zammit Stevens is singing for us live from Malta, where he is joining the Zoom call from the living room of his accompanying pianist Maria-Elena Farrugia.  Meanwhile, our presenter, the founder of Opera Live at Home, Helen Astrid, is speaking from Richmond-upon-Thames. The programme they have put together for us is centred around the theme of longing – something that, with is prevalent in all of our lives at the moment, be it for love or connection, like in so many emotional opera arias, or for pleasures that used to be quite common in simpler times – travel, seeing friends and family, leaving the house, breathing freely … …

Cliff also is eager to add to the list of longing a yearning for the stage, since like all artists he hasn’t performed live in a theatre since before March 2020.  Another common thread for the programme could be “Best of”, since so many of the chosen arias are proper smash hits from the most popular operas around.  It is comforting, after a long day of digital work meetings, to hear the classics, songs that are easy on the ear and wrap you in a hug of familiarity.  We start off with Tamino from Mozart’s Magic Flute, hands down the most popular opera in the world, swiftly followed by Donizetti’s romantic una furtiva lagrima from L’elisir d’amore, a proper crowd pleaser in a rich, velvety minor key, which hits that sweet spot of sounding sad but rather snuggly.

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Brothers

Sibling Rivalry

Brothers

by Matthew Huntington

Short Plays for Short Journeys, Wild Duck Productions, on-line

Review by Eleanor Lewis

In these trying times I feel an overwhelming need firstly to offer a huge vote of thanks to Harry Doyle, Sound Designer for Wild Ducks’ recent series of podcast plays.  I refer specifically to Brothers by Matthew Huntington in which two men are sitting in a wine bar – yes, an actual wine bar! – and if you relax and close your eyes you could be right there, in said wine bar, with a glass of something nice, chatting to other people at the same table!  Frankly in the midst of a global pandemic, I view this as a public service.

Getting back to the play in question, Dan and Simon, the Brothers, meet for a drink and proceed together on a journey of personal discovery over the course of fifteen minutes.  Dan (Luciano Dodero) has been trying to keep up with Simon (Daniel Wain) for most of his life, both are bright and talented but Simon has always been just ahead.  Dan and his wife are now struggling to have a baby, while Simon and his wife are on pregnancy number three.  Both characters are consumed by sibling rivalry.  Dan sees himself as validated only by equalling or surpassing his brother’s achievements

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Sofia Kirwan-Baez

Smoky Sounds at Virtual Midnight

Sofia Kirwan-Baez

Live Lounge, OSO, on-line via YouTube from 20th January

Review by Thomas Forsythe

Quite a trans-Atlantic day: it was the day that the 46th President of the United States was sworn in, in splendidly soulless isolation, in sleety-snowy Washington, around about midday.  Meanwhile, Venezuelan soprano Sofia Kirwan-Baez slipped in, in splendidly soulful isolation, in sleepy-slinky Barnes.  But, yes, it was some hours short of being around about midnight. 

Sofia Kirwan-Baez has started the OSO Arts Centre’s series of Live Lounge, interactive on-line recitals, recreating the ambience of a jazz club.  Here she was back in the second of the continuing series.  Dark drapes and relaxed atmosphere, all that was missing was midnight, lots of cigarette smoke and an audience packed into the space.  Tier 4 has scotched the packed audience, but OSO has recreated the shared experience by preparing a hot supper (this time Stroganoff), although you must eat it at home.  Who needs cigarette smoke, particularly on your hair the next morning?  Midnight came some hours early, but the Live Lounge’s virtual midnight set the atmosphere and the smoky sounds of Kirwan-Baez completed the ambience, with a chatty but intimate, relaxed but animated, style.  She had eschewed her usual black for a colourful peacock blouse, although the fun shades thankfully sat on the piano. 

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The Shell Pilgrim

Perceptions of Humanity

The Shell Pilgrim

by Susan Conte

Short Plays for Short Journeys, Wild Duck Productions, from 16th December

Review by Mark Aspen

Last summer, that is 2019 the last summer that one could move freely, I travelled the full length east to west of the Pyrenees in northern Spain.  Your poco-loco critic was in a vintage car, open to all the elements (and we met all of them in extremes).   The Pyrenees comprise mountains soaring to over 11,000 feet slashed with ravines and cañons, so to drive along their length you must often come down to lower ground.   (This makes the road route nearly 500 miles, but it was part of a three thousand mile trip, so what the hell.)   But when you drop down into the towns below, you often find that you are on the Camino.

The Camino de Santiago is the well-known walking route for pilgrims to the reputed tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostela.  You soon discover that it is not a single route, but a network like tributaries feeding a river.  Some feeders start the other side of Europe, so it is a long way.  (It is 500 miles even if you start at the French border.)   In my weather-battered and tired state, I would feel genuine empathy for the pilgrims.  I felt a desire to join the walkers, but being in my eighth decade a shaking open car is enough adventure. 

The Camino is a pilgrimage dating back to the ninth century, but it begs the question, how many of today’s walkers are pilgrims on a spiritual quest or doing religious penance?  This is the question posed in The Shell Pilgrim, a podcast by Wild Duck Productions released on-line just before Christmas.  It is a bijou piece, in two senses.  It is part of an inaugural season of a series of playlets entitled Short Plays for Short Journeys.  At ten minutes, it does what it says on the tin.  Designed to be listened to on the move, it is an intensely concentrated piece.  In the second sense, it is a brilliant gem.  Susan Conte’s writing is incisive and gripping.  Under the direction of Jane Gough, the podcast has been created with skill and clarity. 

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Quiristers of Winchester Chapel

Bright and Crisp

Quiristers of Winchester Chapel

West Green Opera at West Green House, Hartley Wintney, until 17th December

Review by Mark Aspen

There is something peculiarly English about open-air performances: perhaps we like to match the cussedness of the weather with peculiar English stoicism.  Perhaps surprisingly, it always works.  In summer the open-air picnic on the lawn watching Shakespeare has its own genteel charm, even if from time to time parasols are replaced by umbrellas (or neither when the performance is underway).   However, the whole concept is notched up in wintertime, when genteel charm becomes sheer enchantment. 

The Illuminated Garden at West Green House transforms the cold darkness of a winter’s evening into an ethereal world whose atmosphere is pure magic.  It was here, a week before Christmas, that the Quiristers and Choir of Winchester Chapel infused the spiritual message of the coming of The Light at the special season of Christmas into the wonderland of light that is the Illuminated Garden.  

The opening night of the Quiristers’ performance was blessed in a way that uncannily often seems to touch open-air performances: the weather at the last moment was fine.  It had rained heavily up until under an hour before the start and suddenly we had a fine crisp night and clear skies.  It was almost as if the heavens had decided to add the stars of nature to those of the Illuminated Garden.    We entered and passed along twinkling paths, albeit underfoot muddy and heavy, but over-foot happy, and light in all senses of the word.  This sparkling way leads us appropriately past the Temple Garden where an angel silently heralds what is to come.   Bijoux bridges take us across streams shining in the dark, offering views across the Lake.  The scattered oriental motifs, like the Chinese bridge and the huge illuminated lotus flowers, floating on the water and in the air, are symbols of birth.  Since our way is lit with stars, we can imagine we are the Magi, coming from the east. 

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