There weren’t any of those swinging Disney songs in Greenwich Theatre’s production of The Jungle Book but that didn’t stop it being tremendous fun which more than deserved the ovation it was given by a sell-out audience. Using Tracey Power’s faithful adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling classic, director James Haddrell and his super-talented cast, all playing multiple roles, gave us a show of energy, exuberance, entertainment and emotion that enchanted the watching families. There were only five actors on the stage yet they managed to make it feel as if there were a dozen.
My granddaughters Maisie, 12, and seven-year-old Isobel particularly loved Joseph Black in his main role of Baloo the bear and Kandaka Moore as snivelling jackal Tabaqui. But they also adored Antonia Elson as Mowgli, David Hubball as Bagheera the panther and the evil tiger Shere Khan and Serin Ibrahim as chief wolf Akela and Kaa the snake. So did I. I also loved the clever quick-change collar-and-cuffs costumes of Cleo Pettitt, who designed the excellent tropical set as well. Her contribution was the cherry on the cake for what was the perfect way to spend an afternoon in the long school holidays.
I love the way drama company Changeling make theatre. Everything I’ve ever seen them do is heartfelt, real, immersive, leftfield – and terrific fun. Their production of Shakespeare’s dark comedy Measure For Measure, staged at twilight in the woods surrounding magical Severndroog Castle, was as good as anything I have reviewed all year. Directed by Robert Forknall and designed by Robin Soutar, the multitalented performers acted, sang and played instruments with such skill and joie de vivre that it was impossible not to be entranced by this tale of love, loss and redemption. It would be invidious to single out any one member of the cast because they were all marvellous – Cameron Butterwick, Jennifer Clement, Hannah Etheridge, Marc Mackinnon, Toby Manley, Jess Nesling, Charlotte Palmer, Jake Setters and Robin Willingham were pitch-perfect in their multiple roles. And, of course, the play boasts one of the finest of all Shakespearean character names – Pompey Bum the pimp – and the funniest ever euphemism for sex: Groping for trouts in a peculiar river. The labyrinthine plot may be dodgy but killer lines delivered by a brilliant cast made this a night to remember.
Some of the most innovative public performance art I’ve ever seen graced Giffin Square, Deptford, over thee weekends in August. Four pieces, presented by the Albany as part of the London-wide Circulate festival, were moulded in the white heat of the creative crucible in which dance meets circus – and transmutes into gold. The Deptford leg of the festival began with Belly Of The Whale, which was one of the hits of Greenwich Fair in June. It involved Amanda Homa, Nathan Johnson and Stefano di Renzo tumbling, soaring and tightrope-walking on a huge rocking wood-and-steel seesaw to a live soundtrack composed and played by Gabriele Pierro on keyboards and mandolin. It was brilliant. The following weekend, Catalan company Cia Moveo gave us Conseqüències, a mix of dance and acrobatics with lots of audience participation about cause and effect and about being out of step with the rest of the world. Dancers Marta Hervás, Xavier Palomino, Núria Planes, Adrià Viñas and Pino Steiner made this a life-affirming as well as a beautiful experience through the sheer joy of their performances. They were followed by some fabulous bodypopping by kids on a summer street-dance course at the Albany. And the show was closed by Cie Dyptik, who gave us D-Construction, a hiphop piece with amazing ensemble dancing and acrobatic fence-climbing set to thunderous score melding ghetto beats and Indian voices and horns. The work, which contrasted unity and uniqueness, social obligations and freedom, was both immersive and intimate thanks to the consummate skill of the cast – Elias Ardoin, Evan Greenaway, Samir El Fatoumi, Yohann Daher, Katia Lharaig and Emilie Tarpin-Lyonnet. Circulate’s Deptford dates ended a week later on a wet Saturday afternoon with Motionhouse’s stunning work EXO which featured two humans, Martina Knight and Alasdair Stewart, and a giant JCB digger driven by Bill Power.
After a long delay while the surfaces were dried with paper towels following torrential rain, the dancers climbed all over the JCB and swayed in its buckets as it sped balletically round an area no bigger than a tennis court, raising the pair high in the air in gravity-defying arcs. At one point Stewart lost his grip on the damp metal and fell 10ft on to the paving below. The crowd gasped in horror – but mercifully he was only bruised and gamely climbed back up. The programme described this as a thrilling exploration of the relationship between man and machine. I agree – this was about as thrilling as it gets. And who would have thought a JCB can dance like a real trouper?
Shakespeare always seemed to know exactly what his audiences wanted. I reckon the London Theatre in New Cross does too, judging by its exceptional take on the Bard’s magical comedy A Midsummer Nights’s Dream. Director Harry Denford and his 15-strong all-woman cast – 16 if you include Abba the dog – threw themselves into the madcap love story with impish glee and gave it a raucous enchantment that is so often lacking in contemporary versions. They did what’s so difficult to do with an uproariously silly plot – took it very seriously. And that, of course, made it funnier still. The sequence in which the so-called rude mechanicals ham it up in the play within a play was a masterclass in how to portray a bad actor. I make no apologies for not singling out anyone for special praise because this production was blessed with a uniformly terrific cast – Charlotte Green as Oberon, Elizabeth Huxley as Titania, Robyn Holdaway as Puck, Lauren Edwards as Bottom, Merriel Plummer as Demetrius (with the best comb-over I’ve seen in years), Hayley Grainger as Helena, Roisin Moore as Lysander, Rachael Sparkes as Hermia, Leslie Hayes as Quince, Jemma Epstein as Snug and a fabulously daft lion, Chloe Keenan as Flute, Isabella McGough as Snout, Brittany Lewis as Starveling, Georgia Forde as Cobweb and Nadine Turk as Mustardseed. It was a huge cast for such a tiny venue but the production never felt anything but intimate. It was an object lesson in how to bring Shakespeare alive – and how to entrance an audience.
Krump is a form of hiphop street dance from LA that features highly stylised moves designed to echo gang violence, so the bloody story of Macbeth looks like it should be a natural fit. And choreographer Theo “Godson” Oloyade’s new work K.R.U.M.P. Macbeth got off to a flier at Laban theatre with a brilliantly spooky scene about the three witches followed by a breathtakingly exciting battle sequence danced to a thunderous score by Michael Mikey J Asante. The four performers – Amanda Pekfou, Jordan Franklin, Dean Steward and Vincent Maduabueke – were impeccable throughout a production that harnessed the spirit of Japanese Noh theatre in a manner that made it wonderful to look at. But this felt like a work in progress. The pacing was off and Oloyade chose to close his piece in the middle of Shakespeare’s story with the coronation of Macbeth. I was so looking forward to the tragedy that unfolds in the original that the abruptness of this ending came as a surprise – and a bit of a disappointment. But there was enough here to make me look forward to a future revamped production that follows the story to its apocalyptic finale.
Blackheath Halls’ annual opera always has the community at its heart, with local residents and schoolkids performing alongside professionals and Trinity Laban music students. But this year the organisers took the idea one stage further – and included the audience too. Their home venue is currently being refurbished so the four-day run was moved down the road to the Albany in Deptford, where the performance space is in theround. This was too good an opportunity to miss for director Polly Graham and her production of Purcell’s tragedy Dido & Aeneas used every inch of the space available, including all the seating areas. It meant you were likely to find one of the stars singing next to you, even if you thought you were hidden away at the back of the upstairs gallery. It turned an already brilliant show into a truly immersive and wonderful experience. The musicianship on display was magnificent. German mezzo-soprano Idunnu Münch – in her UK debut – and baritone Marcus Farnsworth made a great title couple. The countertenor tones of William Towers as the sorcerer were nothing less than extraordinary and there were fine supporting performances by Alison Rose, Sofia Celenza, Rebecca Leggett, Jemma Mitchell, Guste Sinkeviciute, Jude Smith, Laura Kislick, Leia Joyce, Stanislaw Kochanowski-Tym and Zarofina Farodoye. And musical director Lee Reynolds kept the action moving in perfect harmony as he conducted the Blackheath Halls Opera Chorus and Orchestra, pupils from Greenvale School and Charlton Park Academy and members of the Royal Greenwich and Blackheath Halls Youth Choir. Designer April Dalton created a terrific set that allowed Graham and her team to forge an unforgettable performance. A particular highlight was The Three Fates who wrote the protagonists’ tragic destiny in chalk on the floor throughout the performance. It was genuinely moving – and chilling. This is going to be a tough act to follow for the organisers of next year’s opera. I can’t wait to see how they get on.
What do a telly, a tea service, a broken umbrella and a copy of the Financial Times have in common? They were all used as musical instruments by Trinity Laban percussionists Connor Chambers, Tom Plumridge, Rory Clarke and Dom Daggett in a free lunchtime recital at St Alfege’s. Living Room Music, by the avantgarde maestro John Cage, also featured a wooden table with tubular steel legs which the quartet played with plastic ballpoint pens. They even added their own comic touches – including a bit of Football’s Coming Home – by setting the piece in a students’ flat-share. Two works by minimalist pioneer Steve Reich bookended the second half of the programme. Music For Pieces Of Wood was 10 minutes of hypnotic repeating rhythms played on tuned blocks and claves whilst Mallet Quartet combined the metallic chimes of vibraphones with the woody warmth of marimbas. In between, we were treated to a magnificent solo performance by Chambers of Cold Pressed, a thunderously pulsating work by Dave Hollinden. The quartet, directed by Mick Doran, finished with the Velocipede Galop, a 1930s bit of whimsy featuring xylophones and car-horns. This recital had everything – virtuosity, fascinating if challenging music, just the right amount of theatre. And an awful lot of fun.
You should always expect the unexpected at one of Trinity Laban’s free lunchtime recitals. And that was never truer than when soprano Patricia Auchterlonie and flautist Antonia Berg joined forces in the Old Royal Naval College chapel to play a wildly challenging piece by contemporary American composer Kate Soper. Only The Words Themselves Mean What They Say is written for soprano and three types of flute – bass, C and piccolo. It requires peerless musical virtuosity – and the ability of both performers to intersperse their parts with speech, cries, sighs and percussive breaths. Soper said of the 2011 piece that it was a manifestation of “insanity as the two players struggle, with a single addled brain, to navigate the treacherous labyrinth of simple logic”. I have never heard insanity so beautifully rendered as it was by Auchterlonie and Berg, who gave us a version that was as close to perfect as makes no difference. Earlier in this recital of works by modern women composers the soprano, accompanied by pianist Mairi Grewar, had sung Chanting To Paradise by Libby Larsen, Navždy by Vitēzslava Kaprálová, Escape by student composer Clare Elton and selections from Clairières Dans Le Ciel by Lili Boulanger.
All four pieces were wonderful. But the Soper was transcendent.
Life as a progression interrupted by brief encounters and occasional relapses was the theme of a Transitions Dance Company triple bill created by internationally acclaimed choreographers Hagit Yakira, Jarkko Partanen and Richard Chappell – and it wowed audiences at Laban theatre. The 14 young dancers swayed, crawled, walked, crept, ran, leapt, romped, embraced and finally slumped in a round of works that were at times weird, sometimes worrisome, often witty but always wonderful – much like life, in fact. Yakira’s The Ar/ct Of Moving Forward had a fluidity that enchanted from the silent walking opening to the electronica-induced frenzy at its close. Partanen’s extraordinary Lovers began with what looked like a pile of binbags at the back of an empty stage. But this apparent detritus suddenly came to life and revealed itself to be figures encased from scalp to ankle in metallic silver costumes (by Suzie Holmes) who writhed and entwined beneath a disco-ball to the thumping beat of Rihanna singing Diamonds. In a gloriously witty touch, they continued to dance for a few moments after the music finished before shuffling off the stage in embarrassed silence. The show finale was Chappell’s When Running Starts And Stops, which was a joyful exercise in the poetry of pure movement. The piece closed with the dancers running in circles and dropping one by one till only a lone performer was left, still moving as the lights faded to utter darkness – again, much like life. This was a fabulous Trinity Laban show with inspired choreography and magnificent dancing by Ayongga, Yee Kei Yuki Chung, Kieran Lee Covell, Paola Drera, Irninta Dwitika, Gabriele Farinacci, Orion Hart, Wilhelmina Ojanen, Umut Ozdaloglu, Lexie Palasciano, Ana Guilherme Ruano Cardoso, Gloria Trolla, Mac Daniel Villanueva Palima and Menghang Wu. Truly a a dance to the music of time…