Handel’s Messiah by the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra at City Recital Halls, Sydney

messiah-creative-no-text-1000w

The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra is renowned for its recreation of the classical sound, playing from the same instruments that would have been heard in the 1700s. With a gorgeous fluidity and cohesiveness within the orchestra, I would recommend attending the Messiah for this element alone. With its unique charms, however, also comes major drawbacks for progress. Paul Dyer not only insists that the instrumentation is authentic, but the voice parts as well. Rather than using female altos, he chose a chorus of countertenors to sing the alto line with a countertenor soloist. This choice is aligned with the Brandenburg values, but unfortunately detracted from the volume of sound for this vocal line. The soloist, Nicholas Spanos, performed with beautiful phrasing in the calmer scenes, but his timbre was completely drowned out by the orchestra in other places.

As you can imagine, having an SATB choir, with male altos, led to a male-heavy chorus. Did the orchestra balance out this discrepancy by having more female musicians? Unfortunately, they were outnumbered as well, unnecessarily making this an extremely male-heavy production.

The staging and costuming were excessively bizarre, with members of the chorus in long white shirts or dresses, and all performers without shoes. In one pivotal moment before the Hallelujah Chorus, the singers rushed onto stage through the aisles, wearing red scarves in different manners, wrapped around shoulders, or perhaps casually draped across the neck. One member of the chorus was clutching onto his scarf as he sang, bringing attention to the odd way in which he wore the scarf. Add “professional choir-singing faces” to the mix, and you have one poor excuse for drama.

The four soloists showed extreme emotion in their deliveries; the chorus members did not. Only a few stand-out choristers breached the divide between the soloists and the choir, providing facial variety in their performance. This discrepancy was extremely disgruntling for the viewer, and although the staging and acting choices were there, they were untruthful and crude. Despite all this, I was bouncing along to most of the scenes, comforted by the beauty of Handel’s music.

If you want to feel flummoxed by distasteful staging and acting choices, please come to this show. If you’d like to hear a delightful version of Handel’s Messiah, please come to this show and close your eyes. You may, however, have to open them to try and read the lips of the countertenor.

WIGS 3/5

by Ranga Liliu

New Nigerians by Oladipo Agboluaje at the Arcola Theatre

image

I came to the Arcola Theatre prepared to be baffled by a play about politics in Nigeria (it’s not my specialised subject). I left 90 minutes later having been warmed up and amused by a bright and funny play about politics in Nigeria, with a brilliant central performance by Patrice Naiambana.

The main character in New Nigerians is Greatness Ogholi (Naiambana). We meet him as he campaigns to be President of Nigeria at the next election. Greatness is an impressive orator who strongly believes in his populist party, the People’s Revolutionary Party, but it is when he stumbles over the speech, clearly written for him, or speaks in asides to the audience, that we really warm to him. He appeals directly to us to intervene with him if his integrity is at risk.

He realises that his party may need to form a coalition with the ruling party, the National Progressives of Nigeria, in order to win. This presents the dilemma of having to make compromises, and we see this played out throughout the course of one day.

Chinasa Umezurike (Gbemisola Ikumelo), Greatness’s running mate, is very much a comic element and bursts onto the stage with her large sunglasses and even larger afro, texting and tweeting. When stressed, she smokes cannabis, which she hides about her person, in her bag, in her hair and down her own cleavage. There is more comic repartee when Greatness hands a large bag of what is probably actually Dalston’s finest marijuana to an audience member to look after. Chinasa cracks wry jokes about not getting enough sex since her husband was born again – again – and later still she is seen swigging wine from the bottle and heard having a clandestine bonk off stage with Danladi Musa (Tunde Euba), the corrupt, sexist leader of the NPN.

My husband is Nigerian, I have heard Nigerians discuss their country and its politics before. However there are still a few bits slightly lost on me. I didn’t even get the strapline at first: You cannot make dodo without frying plantain. (Simpler than I thought: dodo is the name for fried plantain; it is like the English “you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs”). I would imagine there were others in the audience who had less Nigerian knowledge than me. But this does not impede the impact of the play.

The play by Oladipo Agboluaje and directed by Rosamunde Hutt is full of ideas about politics, religion and power. It is an interesting satire on Nigeria today and is bang up to date with its references to social media and even Brexit. Ikumelo is a great actor to watch, playing both the exuberant (and high) Chinasa as well as the newly god-fearing Grace (Greatness’s separated wife) on the other end of the spectrum. Above all there is the wonderful mixture of the gentle, the earnest and the principled man in Greatness. Naiambana is charming, warm and humorous with the audience, and he treats his character and his character’s concerns with great respect. His engaging depiction of Greatness on a human level, as he simultaneously deals with the funeral of his father, and the breakdown of his marriage, makes us care deeply what happens to him personally and what happens to his country.

WIGS 3/5

By Hatty Uwanogho

Intersection by ATYP at the Australian Theatre for Young People

intersection_web_production_large

Intersection, playing at the Australian Theatre for Young People, opens our eyes to the unique experiences of Australian youth. The collection of short plays was whittled down from submissions nationwide, a platform for young writers to display their work. They were given a broad task – to write a short play for young people – but common themes coursed through the presented work, giving it a sense of continuity. Themes included drugs, courting, and drinking, as you’d expect, but other pieces extended to painful topics like parental abuse, transexual bullying, suicide, and the most painful of all:  moving on.

The performers, too, were young artists from Australia. Ranging from ages 15 to 24, they managed the scripts well under the direction of Katrina Douglas. Because of the age-range of the actors, you did get a sense of “acting” from some of the performers, who were hyper-aware of being watched and being on show. However, there were a handful of stand-out performances that created a real bit of magic and nostalgia (for oldies like me), whereas for the young audience members, it was a way to connect to art and realise themselves in the characters on stage.

Some of the most touching scripts dealt with new acquaintances. In Pray 4 Mojo, we discovered two different outcasts, bonding over a robot creation in their favourite deserted spot. The play highlighted how difficult it is to form friendships as a trans kid, having to fight your way to a place of trust. Another matched two unlikely teens forming a friendship despite a racial divide. Switching between teasing and defensiveness, they finally discarded their racial, family-learnt prejudices and agreed to go to the formal together.

All in all, this 90-minute show packed a lot of juicy gossip and growing-up stories into one enjoyable collection. Although some pieces would have benefited with more clarity, from a writing and acting perspective, I came away with a strong sense that the ATYP achieved exactly what they set out to do:  to create an attractive piece of theatre for young audiences.

WIGS 3/5

By Ranga Liliu

Beau Brummell – An Elegant Madness by Ron Hutchinson at The Jermyn Street Theatre

beau-brummell-an-elegant-madness-jermyn-street-theatre-richard-latham-and-sean-brosnan-courtesy-of-savannah-photographic_2-min

You could not find a more suitable venue to stage the play Beau Brummell – an elegant madness, than the Jermyn Street Theatre. Jermyn Street and Beau Brummell are both synonymous with English fashion of the 1800s and onwards; Beau Brummell stands in statue form just along the street with the inscription “To be truly elegant one should not be noticed”.

In the Regency period, Brummell was a truly important influence upon male English fashion. He was intimate friends with the Prince Regent until he, in a moment of pique, turned his customary wit into an insult, and the words “Alvanley, who’s your fat friend?” cost Brummell his noble circles and ultimately led to his downfall. The play takes place in 1819, years after this comment was made, after Brummell has fled to Calais to escape his gambling debts, on the day when the formerly-spurned Prince, now King George IV, comes to Calais.

Brummell (played by Seán Brosnan) is in dire financial straits yet unable to lose the habits gained from his earlier life as a dandy and a wit. Austin (Richard Latham) is his scruffy valet, who still has to perform the tasks such as handing him his snuff (what little there is left) and his mirror, helping him dress. Then there are the more unusual tasks, such as distracting Brummell from shooting himself or colluding in his deluded, imaginary conversations with nobility. Austin is not a one-dimensional servant either: he speaks Latin, he has interesting money-making schemes, and he has other ideas about what he might do when he sees the King.

This is a two-hander, with the men on stage throughout the two acts, but it doesn’t get boring, and director Peter Craze builds up to the climax when the King parades the street below their balcony. We experience the intimate relationship of a man and his manservant, but with the glory days long in the past. There is both comedy and pathos in their manner towards each other, you feel they are equally irritated by each other yet cannot do without each other.

I could have enjoyed even more references to fashion, as Brummell’s witticisms on this subject are very funny, and these are at the very essence of Brummell’s celebrity – he is thought of as the first celebrity, famous just for being famous. My favourite bits are the moments when the spotlight turns orange, angels sing ethereally, and Brosnan reaches out his arms to feel his clothes as they are softly wrapped around him. I was almost entranced to watch the elaborate tying of the white laundered ‘stock’ (the form of cravat) around the neck which he finishes himself with a precise flourish.

Brosnan has the perfect demeanour and expression to play this narcissist yet, as he pines for his youth, we do feel compassion for him in his ‘elegant madness’. When Latham as Austin challenges him for enjoying his own appearance more than, for example, a sonata by Bach, he puts it quite poignantly, ‘Who did I harm except myself?’

WIGS 3/5

By Hatty Uwanogho

Blood And Bone by Cicada Studios at The VAULTS Festival

heather-ralph-blood-bone-supporting-image-4

Blood and Bone is a brand new puppet show from Cicada Studios. On at the Vaults Festival, these four young puppeteers presented a wild and eccentric flora and fauna-themed show.

Following the plight of young fern, Ash, we come across several larger than life shrub-like puppets. There are his two friends in the greenhouse, the sensual Rose from the garden centre, a very grisly Donald Trump root, and then a very sinister spade. In chasing down Rose after a night of horticulture passion (the most explicit plant sex scene ever staged) Ash realises that it is more important to follow his roots.

A slight weakness in narrative is made up for with the incredible puppets and characters, and the clever writing from this team whose script is jam-packed with horticultural-themed jokes. There are also plenty of physical gags too, with the performers diverting from their puppets on occasion to sing and perform outlandish dance routines. The puppet gags on occasion crossed over from puppet on puppet interaction to puppet on puppeteer interaction bringing some of the biggest laughs of the night particularly in the post-coital scene between Ash and Rose. Special character mention to the camp German techno fungi who was hilarious – “We’re just fun guys yaaaaaa”!

Overall this was a very entertaining evening of puppetry from a young group of performers combining a lot of clever writing, inventive puppetry, whilst playing to their budget perfectly. We look forward to the next puppet show from this group

WIGS 3/5

Tickets! £15 & Under!

More more more! There are always more shows to see for 15 quid or less. Here is our latest roundup of things with the GingerWig & StrollingMan seal of approval for the coming weeks…

Out Now 

Strange The Road – The Hope Theatre £15/12 (Until 18 Feb)

strange-the-road-cast-andromeda-godfrey-darren-paul-mcstay-patrick-koupland-rikki-chamberlain-joey-ellis1-700x455

Strange The Road is a love letter to Chandler set in a noir world sometime between 1933 and 2033. Written in the pulp vernacular, the spare dialogue is matched by a sharp design and style where we are placed anywhere a man with his wits about him has to use them to prevent his own murder…or worse…

Coming Soon

New Nigerians – Arcola Theatre £12 Previews (12 – 14 Feb) £14 concessions (15 Feb – 11 Mar)

revolution-website-banners-004

Nigeria: ‘the Giant of Africa’. Conservatives rule over the biggest economy on the continent, and one of the largest and youngest populations in the world. What if the people wanted something different? What if they got it?

Brixton Rock – Mangle £15/12 (15 Feb – 12 Mar)

15965281_566971673501907_3212362195603916805_n

Brenton Brown has never known his parents. A brutal feud with the killer Terry Flynn has scarred him for life. As a care leaver living in a hostel he craves the support of a family. But when he meets his mother and his beautiful half-sister, his life changes forever. Reggae and soul music suffuse the fabric of the story and the rumblings of the Brixton riots threaten to burst.

Will Power – Theatre N16 £10/8 (19 – 22 Feb)

will_power_2128_489x580_20170116

We are all trying to find that little ounce of joy that makes you want to wake up the next day. Toby Boutall’s debut play on masculinity stigmas and male mental health.

On the Horizon

One Was Nude and One Wore Tails – Hen and Chickens Theatre £10/8.50 (7 – 18 Mar)

15621622_1816455268630848_3629515834469734054_n

As in all Fo’s work, serious ideas about society pigeon-holing its citizens are explored satirically, with great humour, knockabout slapstick and vaudeville-style song and dance. Fo doesn’t preach or lecture, but instead uses clowns and buffoons to portray society’s foolish pretensions.

Bunny – White Bear Theatre £12/10 (7 – 25 Mar)

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-01-23-50

A summer of love. A fight. A car chase. A siege. When Katie’s boyfriend is attacked on the streets of Luton, she is propelled outside of her borders on to the frontier of council estates and concrete jungles. Amidst the sweltering heat, the baying for blood and longing for love, Katie is forced to decide her future.

Hearing Things By Playing ON at Clapham Omnibus

hearing-things-2

Hearing Things is the latest piece of theatre from Playing ON, a theatre company founded by Jim Pope and Philip Osment. The company carried out a five-year investigation of mental health, its sufferers and the professionals involved in this area.

Set in a square of sand, we meet several characters all linked together by mental health problems. The presence of the sand and the way the characters played with it running through their hands or digging into it, was quite a good metaphor for experience and memory and how mental illness can destabilise and undermine sanity. The pivotal character is Jim Pope’s Nicholas, a psychiatrist. We witness his struggle to care for his patients as the pressures of dealing with those with mental health seep into his own life. His proximity to the issues coupled with a reluctance to walk away from the profession stem from observing his father’s career as a psychiatrist and subsequent descent into mental illness.

The play laid out the issues very clearly. Mental health is tough to medicate and alleviate, and those trying to help are faced with enormous challenges. Furthermore, the question of whose interests are served when seeking treatment and the kinds of treatment that are available are always morally complex. One interesting insight emerged from the process of helping Daniel Ward’s character, Innocent, deal with the voices he was hearing. It seemed so basic: telling the voices to stop. This method can work.

The messages of the play however were not always subtle and some of the scenes were too fact-heavy. As a piece of theatre, therefore, it came across as didactic and failed dramatically to engage us. That said, it was a noble attempt to raise awareness of the subject matter and there were some good performances from the three cast members. We just needed a more theatrical scenario to provoke and engage us.

WIGS 2/5

Dirty Great Love Story by Richard Marsh and Katie Bonna at the Arts Theatre

Dirty-Great-Love-Story-Arts-Theatre-Felix-Scott-and-Ayesha-Antoine-Courtesy-of-Richard-Davenport-for-The-Other-Richard_4.jpg

Richard Marsh and Katie Bonna are the two main characters in Dirty Great Love Story, playing now at the Arts Theatre in Great Newport Street. They are also the writers of the show and the original performers at the Edinburgh Fringe and then in an off-Broadway run. In this first West End run they have now been replaced by Ayesha Antoine and Felix Scott in their ‘rhyming romcom’ about being single in London.

Richard and Katie meet in a noisy nightclub when on a stag/hen do and, after copious drinking, end up in bed together. Thus begins a series of events and chance meetings over the next two years, linked through their best friends Ceecee and Westie.

This is a modern story about life, sex and love, but it is performed in an unusual rhyming verse, which lends it both its comedy and its tenderness. The poetry creeps up on you, partly because you are not really expecting it, and partly because the delivery from the two actors is quite different. It does not shy away from swearing or modern language, but it still has a gentle, lyrical quality to it, and some visual pictures are created succinctly and beautifully, such as describing a time period of friendship in terms of ‘loo rolls under doors’, or the atmosphere in a cafe as ‘fried egg air’. Some of the lines jump out and get you right in the heart. Others just get you in the ticklish zone.

I liked the theme about seeing, especially when the house lights come up and Richard addresses all of us fellow spectacle wearers. Sometimes love is blind, sometimes we don’t see what is right in front of us and sometimes, yes it’s true!, the nerd in the glasses is the one you’ve been looking for.

The performances are great. Antoine and Scott play multiple characters, swinging between them seamlessly. Antoine as Katie’s best friend Ceecee is hilarious, despite the fact that we have seen this stereotype before: the posh girl who shrieks loudly in over-the-top text speak such as ‘OMFG’ and who you want to dislike, but can’t, as she clearly wants what is best in life for Katie. Scott is equally familiar as Richard’s best friend Westie, but it is frustrating to watch Katie pursue a pointless relationship with the handsome but irritating Matt Priest.

As with relationships, it’s all about the timing, and as with life, it is all about two people. In Dirty Great Love Story, the connection between the two actors is what really gives the story its warmth. The director Pia Furtado ensures that it is this chemistry, along with the poetic lines, that is allowed to shine. It is a story we know and recognise from our own lives, these are real people, and when they corpse we like them even more. The genuine spark that Antoine and Scott have with each other convinces us that we are right to believe in love.

WIGS 3/5

By Hatty Uwanogho