There was a great opening to Christopher Marlowe’s tragedy Edward II at Greenwich Theatre. To an electronica soundtrack the cast, in suits and ties, milled around the stripped-back stage in slo-mo as if they were corporate drones, staring ahead mindlessly or scowling at one another whenever their path was blocked. It set the scene perfectly for a claustrophobic horror show that neatly drew a parallel between medieval totalitarianism and the retrenched, nationalistic regimentation we increasingly see in the modern world. The crushing air of doom was further intensified by some fine acting, particularly Timothy Blore as the king, Alicia Charles as his ignored queen, Oseloka Obi as Piers Gaveston, the object of his gay passion, and Stephen Smith as his nemesis Mortimer. And the play’s notoriously gruesome climax was well worked with the use of copious plastic sheets and a huge candlestick. But director Rickey Dukes had adapted the piece to cram Marlowe’s majestic words and deeds into only 90 minutes, which meant that plot development was at best staccato while nuance went out of the window completely. That was a shame because this promised to be a really interesting new look at a play written more than 400 years ago by a brilliant young man who had been murdered just down the road in Deptford. An extra 15 minutes could have made this a brilliant production rather than just a fast and furious, though stylish, romp.
I used to think I didn’t like brass band music, even though I always adored the sound of a Stax horn section. But age has mostly shown me the error of my ways and any lingering doubts I may have had were blown away in 24 hours by two of the best recitals I have ever heard. The first was one of the marvellous free Thursday lunchtime concerts at St Alfege’s, this one featuring Trinity Laban Brass Ensemble. Students conducted by international tuba virtuoso Oren Marshall gave us a programme of modern music that was uniformly and joyfully brilliant, especially their version of Suite Americana by Enrique Crespo and The Battle Of Jericho, which featured a great solo by jazz trumpeter Magnus Pickering. Best of all, however, was the finale, a thunderous recital of Tribute To Kenton by Francois Glorieux conducted by percussion giant Gary Kettel.
The following lunchtime, three of the ensemble’s star players – trumpeters Emily Bristow and Sarah Owens and trombonist Martin Lee Thomson – were at the Old Royal Naval College chapel as part of Mesh’d Brass with tuba player Hannah Mbuya and Derryck Nasib on French horn. This was an altogether quieter but no less marvellous selection of music which hit lyrical heights with Gabrieli’s gorgeous Ricercar Del Duodecimo Tuono and Scheidt’s Battle Suite before finishing with Gordon Carr’s terrific Movements For Brass Quintet. These two performances may have differed in style but the musicianship on show at both was matchless. What a fab way to spend two lunch hours – and what a tribute to Trinity Laban.
World-famous choreographer Wayne McGregor has spent 25 years probing the mysteries of the human soul. His new work, Autobiography, takes a new turn and investigates the genetic make-up of our bodies and how that affects our psyches. The result is a work that challenges the limits of our understanding yet is never less than thrilling. Proof of that came at his company’s two performances of Autobiography at Laban theatre. Both were sold out and both ended with some of the most sustained ovations I have ever witnessed. McGregor, who is a professor at Trinity Laban, set about creating the show by having his own genome sequenced. He then used the 23 pairs of chromosomes it revealed to inspire 23 chapters with headings such as avatar, memory, sleep, ageing and choosing. He also had the sequence converted into a computer algorithm to pick the order the chapters are performed in so that no two shows are the same. Far from wrecking the work’s natural rhythm, however, this uncertainty gave it a tremendous edginess which was brilliantly enhanced by Ben Cullen Williams’ minimalist set, Lucy Carter’s steely lighting and a score by Jlin that ranged from the baroque to industrial noise artists like Merzbow. But best of all were the dancers themselves. Rebecca Bassett-Graham, Jordan James Bridge, Travis Clauses-Knight, Louis McMiller, Daniela Neugebauer, Jacob O’Connell, James Pett, Fukiko Takase and Jessica Wright managed to combine eye-watering flexibility with heart-warming grace and heart-breaking emotion to give life and meaning to McGregor’s genetic code. They were extraordinary – just like the work they were interpreting.