The Albany in Deptford continued its welcome patronage of old-fashioned political theatre with Philip Osment’s Hearing Things, a furious but deeply moving polemic about mental health care in the NHS. This production, directed by Jim Pope for Playing ON, featured David Annen, Jeanette Rourke and Seun Shote. Their performances were flawless, fizzing with anger but also full of humanity. Osment cleverly interwove plots and timelines, often mid-sentence, which meant fewer scene-changes to interrupt the narrative flow, although the decision to give his psychiatrist character a disastrous domestic life didn’t quite ring true. Despite this minor flaw, Hearing Things is an important new drama and this fine production thoroughly deserved the ovation it was given by an enthusiastic audience.
If you fancy a quick yet in-depth guide to the role of the photograph in arts culture today, get down to this excellent Tate Modern exhibition that covers the whole of the 20th century. Some of the pictures on show represent the sort of thing that infuriates punters, like the shots of Yves Klein’s public demonstrations of creating huge abstract canvasses by using curvaceous naked women as his paintbrushes. Others are magnificent by whatever standard you judge them – Masahisa Fukase’s underwater selfies, Cindy Sherman’s mischievous stills from non-existent films and a couple of Man Ray’s brilliantly revealing portraits of Marcel Duchamp’s alter ego Rrose Selavy all spring to mind. There are several hundred items on display. Love them or hate them, I guarantee you’ll be fascinated.
Despite being advertised as a harp event, this recital in the lovely chapel of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich was in fact a selection of chamber works for harp, wind and strings. The adventurous programme was made up of works by lesser-known composers such as 19th century German Louis Spohr and Frenchman Jean Cras (early 20th century). And there were two standout performances: a gorgeous interlude by Jacques Ibert played exquisitely by harpist Laure Genthialon, oboist Olivia Fraser and violinist Edmund Taylor; and Lowell Liebermann’s challenging sonata for flute and harp (opus 56) which was nailed by Davinya Cooper and Francesca Gao. Another triumph for the conservatoire.
Audiences have been enjoying Wizz Jones’s unique style of blues and folk for the best part of 60 years. And judging by the veteran’s St George’s Day gig at Mycenae House in Blackheath he looks set to carry on wowing the crowds for a while yet. His concert for Global Fusion Music and Arts ranged by Billy Hill’s 1936 classic The Glory Of Love by way of Blind Boy Fuller (Weeping Willow Blues) and Walter Vinson (Sitting On Top Of The World) to Pete Atkin/Clive James (Touch Has A Memory) and Dave Sudbury’s jaunty ode to a racing pigeon, The King Of Rome. He also included four of his own brilliant compositions – the elegiac Burma Star, the hauntingly beautiful ballad Happiness Is Free, the equally lovely Lucky The Man and his finale When I Leave Berlin, which Bruce Springsteen recently used to open a Berlin concert – although, Wizz quipped, “the bastard didn’t mention my name.” As a finale he was joined in a blues jam by GFMA founder and harmonica ace Louisa Le Marchand. His improvised song began: “The Queen is 90 years old and Barack Obama is in town/ And someone called Boris seems to be wearing a crown.” Genius.
Black, the latest show by this Nigerian cabaret star, is a meditation on his life as a gay, overweight drag queen with clinical depression. And its combination of childish cartoons, public service film parodies, stories of an abused childhood and plenty of singing helps to create one of the most original shows I’ve seen for a long time. His one-hour performance at the Albany in Deptford included extracts from Purcell, Wagner, Nina Simone, Leonard Bernstein, Jacobean poet John Fletcher and Whitney Houston. But the highlight was a spellbinding version of Strange Fruit that Billie Holiday would have envied. Black was heartbreaking, hypnotic and hilarious in equal measure. If only all cabaret was this good.
There are only a few dozen pictures in this exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. But what the show lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in the quality – and some of its stand-out works are as fine as anything ever put on to canvas. There are marvellous portraits of the literary giants Tolstoy, Turgenev, Chekhov and Dostoyevsky. But the two finest paintings here are of a dying, drink-addled Mussorgsky and of Baroness von Hildenbandt, reputedly the model for Anna Karenina. Both pictures are the work of the realist Ilia Repin. And both are worth the entrance fee alone.
This London-based Greek guitar virtuoso played an enthrallingly eclectic recital at St Alfege in Greenwich, moving from the Renaissance with two gorgeous works by the English lutenist John Dowland (Lachrymae Pavan and Fantasia) t0 20th century pieces by Lauro and Hadjidakis and three of his own compositions, Zephyr, Optica Suite and his latest creation Oros. Optica’s third movement, Night, was the highlight for me – a wonderful melody over a hauntingly simple backdrop of repeated plucked strings. Fabulous…
Dancer/choreographer Zoi Dimitriou won a deserved ovation at Laban theatre at the end of this extraordinary work which acts as a kind of five-chapter retrospective of her recent creations. She revisited them through a combination of her own brilliant dancing – her slo-mo and stop-start animation routines were mesmerising – and through video filmed live by Mark Coniglio then projected on to sheets and cards strung across the stage. Dimitriou introduced each chapter – mythos (plot), phileo (brotherly love), ptosis (fall), crisis (turning point) and anastasis (resurrection) – with a narration spoken backwards during the first part but repeated the right way round during the filmic playback. The result was challenging, certainly. But it was also an hour of beauty and intellectual stimulation.
The new planetarium film-show at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park will take you to an asteroid in the solar system where astronauts have built a staging post for exploring deep space. Its wondrous special effects include vertiginous vistas of the endless tracts of our universe and because the 30-minute film, narrated by Alien superstar Sigourney Weaver, is projected on to the underside of a dome it becomes almost tangibly immersive. It’s the perfect introduction to the observatory’s aerospace latest exhibition Above And Beyond, which opens on May 27.