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Jessica Cale and George Ireland

Singing into the darkness

Jessica Cale and George Ireland

Opera Live at Home, St Pancras Clock Tower, then online from 28 September

Review by Matthew Grierson

It must be quite daunting to sing into a webcam; even if you can make out the faces of the audience who have their cameras switched on, they’re surely postage stamp-sized. But as soprano and pianist alike reflect in the Q&A following the recital, performing takes them half out of their surroundings and into the world of the opera itself. Mind you, Jessica Cale and George Ireland are coming live from the St Pancras Clock Tower, which seems a suitably dramatic venue in which to imagine the sung action.

By concentrating on soprano arias, tonight’s recital juxtaposes lone women from across the repertoire. It would be too easy to suggest that they were all as a result lost or abandoned characters, though there is, necessarily, a common theme of isolation. But in their different responses to literal or figurative solitude, we see a greater variety of female agency than one might imagine in opera, their modes ranging from lament and vengeance to playfulness and daring.

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The Children

When the Lights Go Out

The Children

by Lucy Kirkwood

Richmond Shakespeare Society at the Mary Wallace Theatre until 25th September

Review by Patrick Adams

Richmond Shakespeare Society presented a fine play, The Children, by Lucy Kirkwood, ‘who has firmly established herself as a leading playwright of her generation, the writer of a series of savagely funny, highly intelligent and beautifully observed plays that tackle the pressing issues of our times’.  The Children displayed all these qualities in dealing with the effects of nuclear contamination.

The play, directed by Michelle Hood, is set in the kitchen cum dining room of a remote cottage on the coast, with the kitchen area set along the back wall, having a central window overlooking an effective view of the sea and a rocky promontory holding back surging waves.   The whole area is rather ramshackle, in keeping with the story that unfolds. 

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Ordinary Days

Extraordinary Poetry of the Ordinary

Ordinary Days

 music and lyrics by Adam Gwon

BROS Theatre Company, Hampton Hill Theatre, until 18th September

Review by Mark Aspen

Stand back and look at a big city.  It can seem cold and impersonal; its people are overwhelmed by its demands, yet feel anonymous.    But look closely and see the individuals there.  They are trying to make sense of their lives, to make their own mark, each to have a meaning and a name.

One such city, New York, is the setting for Ordinary Days, a neatly paired-back musical about four individuals, their relationships with each other and with that city during the tense late 2000s, when the city was still coming to terms with the aftermath of that cataclysmic assault that we know simply as “9/11”.    

BROS’ set for Ordinary Days, designed by its director Wesley Henderson Roe, is simple, subtle and stylish.  On low multi-levels, it is black and white, silhouetted against the cyc, which is lit in purple (an ambiguous colour of mourning, or hope, or reflection?).   A series of representational paintings of New York are seen through free-standing doorframes.  The set becomes the participants’ apartments, the street, the rooftop of a high-rise building, or galleries in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This is where our four individuals live out their lives.  They are intelligent twenty-thirty-somethings, at the time of life when they are establishing their futures.  What they have in common are that each is trying fulfil greater or smaller ambitions, and that each is struggling to express themselves fully. 

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Barons Court Alive

Yesteryear Lives Now

Barons Court Alive

Star Child, at Baron’s Court Theatre, The Curtains Up until 11th September

Review by Vince Francis

A balmy September evening, a quirky pub in a side street in Barons Court, a darkened, vaulted cellar, with a small stage illuminated by an artfully placed light string.  Add in a poetic girl with flowing red hair, dressed in paisley top and pyjama-striped trousers, delivering heartfelt folk-based compositions whilst accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, supported by a stylish young chap on a jazz-voiced electric guitar.  Top it all off with a decent pint and one could seriously be back in 1966.  But this was no mere flibbertigibbet fantasy, no boozy bagatelle; no, indeed.  This was Baron’s Court Live at The Curtains Up Theatre (and pub) and the aforementioned songstress is the lyrical Aurora Manola, who, with Deniz Stern on electric guitar, make up Star Child.

The theatre at The Curtains Up is in what was the cellar for the pub and, OK, the ceiling technically isn’t vaulted, it’s supported by brick arches.  But, whatever, it is an intimate space and I’m sure you’ll forgive the poetic licence.  Old cinema chairs form the short rows around three sides of the playing area, adding to the feel of a different era.

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Roger McGough Poetry Celebration

Honest Raw Reflections

Roger McGough Poetry Celebration

Arts Richmond at the Exchange Theatre, Twickenham, 4th September

Review by Simone De Almeida

(See also a review by Denis Valentine.)

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to attend the awards ceremony of the highly anticipated Roger McGough poetry competition.  Though a little further spaced out than we once might have liked to be – our smiles now covered with masks – the afternoon was no less special, and there was a certain sense of community as we took our seats.  Perhaps inspired by this year’s theme of ‘identity’ no doubt, my mind was instantly drawn to one thought: so many people, from so many different places – such different walks of life – all here to celebrate the one thing that unites us all, and has united us through these unparalleled, and at many points quite frightening, times: our love of poetry.

The concept of identity being so fundamental to our very sense of self, one would think that we would consider it far more frequently than we do, but having grown up in an age in which we consume far more from our screens than we do the world around us, I am almost ashamed to admit that I spend far more time contemplating the character of others than I do myself … ah, the burden of the introvert!  I can only imagine the level of self-reflection and introspection it must have taken in order to capture such honest, raw reflections on who they are, and where they’ve come from.

One of the poems that earned third place, Riding Tandem by Tony Trafford, was a personal favourite of mine; telling the beautiful, tragic story of a first romance – a harsh reminder of both the beauty and pain which coexist in our world, leaving both fond memories and heartbreak in their wake.

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A Dog’s Solution

Barking up the Wrong Tree

A Dog’s Solution

by Richard Franklin

Charterhouse Square Productions at Baron’s Court Theatre, The Curtains Up until 2nd October

Review by Eleanor Lewis

Beyoncé is a street-dweller, she has a home but it’s chaotic and she prefers the street and the companionship of her ‘dog’ Jimmy.  Alongside this she worries about the state of the planet and where climate change and other related world issues will lead.  Over the course of an hour and a bit (including a ten-minute interval), and with the help of Jimmy and several other characters, Beyoncé examines the future of the developed world via a mix of metatheatre, a little pantomime and a dash of school play.  Such is A Dog’s Solution, which is running at Baron’s Court Theatre until October.

Opening with what might be a conventional story line the play then widens out.  Two young men appear from time to time and offer small vignettes and explanatory asides as chorus characters.  There is also a mysterious Old Bag Person with philosophical insights (and a rich father), a Lobbyist and a suited corporate-type to complete the spectrum of present day world influences.  After the interval the audience is involved in the proceedings, voting, winning virtual prizes etc, in a section that’s valid but needs a clearer point than it currently has. 

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Roger McGough Poetry Celebration

Complementary Insights

Roger McGough Poetry Celebration

Arts Richmond at the Exchange Theatre, Twickenham, 4th September

Review by Denis Valentine

(See also a review by Simone de Almeida, one of our younger reviewers.)

As theatres, performance spaces and the arts in general begin to reopen and become accessible again, it was a wonderful to spend a day in a theatre auditorium being entertained and engaged by a host of wonderful poets, poems and readers at the Exchange Theatre in Twickenham.  The Roger McGough’s Poetry Celebration afternoon and wonderfully hosted by the man himself (who interludes throughout and offers at times his own masterful works), is aptly named as the feeling is just that, a day to celebrate poetry and what can be conveyed in the works it allows. 

Each poem read in their category complements each other, as they all offer an insight into a different aspect of the topic they cover.  Whether it is issues of blatant racism in the “Differences” category being immediately followed by that of accents and misplaced remarks, or the journey of finding one’s own self in the “Identity” group to also exploring issues of breeding and purpose, each poem offers another part or perspective on the spectrum it’s covering. 

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Acis and Galatea

Bijou Delight of Bubbly Baroque

Acis and Galatea

by George Frideric Handel, libretto by John Gay

The Vache Baroque Festival, Chalfont St. Giles until 5th September    

Review by Mark Aspen

One of the transformations in Ovid’s Metamorphoses is the tragic result of a heavily skewed love-triangle intruding on the idyllically passionate romance between the water nymph, Galatea and the shepherd Acis.   Ovid’s myth kindled the brilliance of Handel to make his own transformation into his pastoral opera, Acis and Galatea.  Since the opera demands a pastoral setting, it would be hard to find one more suited than The Vache country estate, with its rolling parkland, nicely adorned for the occasion with cut-outs of winged sheep and putti.  Thence the transformation of Handel’s “little opera”, as he called it, by VBF (as The Vache Baroque Festival is affectionately known) into a bijou delight of bubbly baroque. 

The bucolic simplicity of the plot and the ornate ebullience of Handel’s music is enhanced by the energy and enthusiasm of VBF’s youthful cast and nimble baroque octet, conducted from the harpsicord by Music Director, Jonathan Darbourne.

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Escaped Alone

Old Wives’ Tales

Escaped Alone

by Caryl Churchill

Teddington Theatre Club, streamed from Hampton Hill Theatre until 6th September

Review by Nick Swyft

Don’t old women seem to witter on about nothing!  This is a common prejudice however ‘unwoke’ it is to say so.  And yet if you listen carefully, who knows what you might learn?

Escaped Alone starts with Mrs Jarrett (Sally Halsey), peering through a window at Vi (Jane Marcus), Sally (Michelle Hood) and Lena (Jenny Hobson).  They are enjoying tea together and invite her in when they see her.  Mrs Jarett is thus placed as an outsider, but as the play progresses it becomes apparent that, in their way, each of them is an outsider.  Indeed, so are we all.

After she joins them, the conversation seems to become banal.  The women are talking but not really listening to each other.  But listen carefully.  Some of those hanging comments mean much more later on.  In fact there is probably more to glean from this play than one performance can deliver.  See it twice if you can!

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A Simple Tale of Love

You May Meet a Stranger

A Simple Tale of Love

by Sasha Ravencroft

Rude Raven Productions at the Hen and Chickens, Camden Fringe, then touring until 29th October

Review by Heather Moulson

I was intrigued about this production as the flyer carries a very haunting and macabre image, and yet the title is romantic, a mysterious combination.  So as I sat down in the auditorium to a living room set, my curiosity was already inflamed.

Molly, played by Helen Walling-Richards, made an impressive entrance accompanied by an acoustic guitar soundtrack, and gave us a significant monologue.  Her words were funny, sad and edgy.  Molly has suffered a blow from her job and she describes her colleagues in vivid detail, making them real and alive.

JD, played by Daniel Singh Pabla, entered and gave a good first impression of being striking, moody and mysterious. They sat together but, although they interacted, I felt his projection faltered, while Molly’s was powerful.   Unfortunately, this made Molly have to work harder in this vital two-handed scene.

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