Lord Of The Flies 13.3.18

Ever think acting is easy? Then you should have seen the performance of Lord Of The Flies that I saw at Greenwich Theatre. The young cast not only had to push themselves to their physical limits as the savage drama unfolded but also had to deal with some restless teenagers in the stalls whose inappropriate laughter must have been hugely distracting. The actors didn’t miss a beat, though, which was nothing less than heroic. The noisy faction in the audience were the ultimate losers, however, because this Lazarus Theatre Company production of William Golding’s great novel about marooned children was a gem – brilliantly acted by the cast and tautly directed by Ricky Dukes, although I was baffled by the decision to cast girls as five of the boys. Ben Jacobs’ clever lighting allowed the stage to be divvied up into far-flung parts of the island where the kids were stranded after a plane crash. And Dukes ensured the tension never faltered as the youngsters’ society quickly collapsed into bloody civil war. The two murders were genuinely shocking, particularly the killing of Piggy. But it was the acting that made this production special and rendered the mixed casting largely irrelevant. The four roles at the heart of the story – Ralph, Piggy, Jack and Simon – were magnificently played by Amber Wadey, Luke MacLeod, Nick Cope and Benjamin Victor. They were given excellent support by Michael Holden, Nell Hardy, Calvin Crawley, Robyn Holdaway, Georgina Barley, Abbi Douetil and James Russell-Morley. The actors’ youth meant they had had very little professional theatre experience between them. But you would never have known that because each of them showed an emotional maturity well beyond their years – and helped make this a memorable evening.

Butterfly’s Wing 8.3.18

The children of jazz legends who choose to follow in their parents’ footsteps have to face a lifetime of comparisons, often to their disadvantage. But that hasn’t stopped Jacqui Dankworth and Christian Garrick – and judging by their dazzling appearance at Blackheath Halls, they needn’t ever have worried. Jacqui has inherited the unique voice of her mum Cleo Laine and the musical insights of her saxophonist dad John Dankworth. And Christian’s amazing skills as a violinist are clearly born of the virtuosity of his jazz pianist father Michael Garrick. Add to this the prodigious talents of pianist and composer David Gordon and bassist Oli Hayhurst and their gig as Butterfly’s Wing was of the highest order. Not only did they perform a string of great songs from their new album Le Depart they also let rip with swinging covers, including tunes by Bud Powell and a hauntingly lovely take on Kurt Weill’s September Song which I reckon rivals the version recorded by jazz goddess Ella Fitzgerald. They also had a neat line in wit and whimsy, with a self-penned number about ducks and one called The Alchemist & The Catflap that featured one of the best miaows I’ve ever heard. The fun was the ideal counterpoint to the ballads which Dankworth sang so beautifully and which brought out the very best in her bandmates. And it helped to give their programme a perfect balance of emotion, virtuosity and sheer entertainment.

The Girls In The Magnesium Dress 7.3.18

The gorgeous great hall of the Queen’s House reverberated with the mellow, if unusual, tones of a double bass and harp duo working their way through a programme that included works by some of music’s greatest geniuses – Bach, Mozart, Schubert and Puccini among them. And I can say without fear of contradiction that bassist Valentina Ciardelli and harpist Anna Quiroga showed consummate skill as they interpreted the masterworks in this free Trinity Laban recital. But what turned a terrific performance into something magical was the inclusion of two pieces by the late great rock guitarist Frank Zappa. The duo, who call themselves The Girls In The Magnesium Dress – the title of a Zappa song – broke up an otherwise classical playlist with a storming version of the Californian’s 1969 composition Peaches En Regalia and ended with a stupendous cover, complete with chanting, of Cletus Awreetus-Awrightus from his 1972 album The Grand Wazoo. I’m old enough to have seen Zappa perform both tracks live and I’m convinced he’d have loved Valentina and Anna’s wild and wonderful renditions. I know I did.

Dead And Breathing 22.2.18

This coruscating two-hander at the Albany offered a near-perfect theatrical experience – a terrific play, great direction, a fine set and tour-de-force performances by its stars. Drama-lovers really couldn’t ask for more. Writer Chisa Hutchinson has created an extraordinary piece that swings restlessly from slapstick to heartache, from rancour to redemption and from offensiveness to sophistication without ever spilling over into cliché or bad taste. The plot is also spangled with genuinely surprising twists, including a brilliantly subversive ending, which I won’t spoil in case you get a chance to see the play later on its UK tour. And it is magnificently played by Lizan Mitchell as megarich widow Carolyn who is dying from cancer and by Kim Tatum as potty-mouthed, streetwise, God-fearing nurse Veronika who rails against her patient’s determination to commit the mortal sin of suicide. The plot hinges on Veronika’s moral dilemma when Mitchell offers her her entire fortune – 87 million dollars – to help her die. Yet what could easily have become a dirge or a farce gets the full human treatment here with episodes of hilarity (I loved the pumpkin joke), rage, affection and misery which were given moving depth by the skill of Mitchell and the equally impressive Tatum. The experience was made even more delicious thanks to Sarah Booth’s fabulous set and the breathless pace whipped up by director Rebecca Atkinson-Lord. An early contender for my play of the year – and hard to imagine it being surpassed in the next ten months.

Trumpageddon

Many satirise Donald Trump but most fail because the man’s so homophobic, so mysogenistic, so racist, so paranoid and so egotistical that he’s a parody of himself. The latest attempt I’ve seen was Trumpageddon at Greenwich Theatre, a show written and performed by Simon Jay which aimed to out-offend a president who’s already offended a fair proportion of the planet. Rather than aiming for the ultra-smart and reasoned put-downs of such comedic luminaries as John Oliver and Trevor Noah, Jay presented Trump standing at a lectern making a speech in which he unleashed salvo after salvo of foul-mouthed tastelessness – to brilliant effect. It included gleefully outrageous claims about what Trump did to Theresa May in the Oval Office and a fabulously scurrilous analysis of the relationship between the Queen and Meghan Markle. There was a lurid film sequence of a trouserless Trump on the toilet as well as a running gag about his Slovenia-born wife Melania who he repeatedly described as an Estonian called Malaria. And there were plenty of clever, up-to-the-minute references to Putin, the FBI, the recent world leaders’ gathering at Davos, North Korea’s nukes and the president’s mental health. Several audience members were hauled up on to the stage to “help” as a shamelessly priapic Trump spouted sexist messages of hate and Jay bravely invited us all to join a Q&A session in which he improvised with great aplomb. The evening ended with Trump unleashing World War Three when his once-loyal Republican buddies decided to impeach him. This was a fine and consistently very funny dissing of the Donald. If only the real Trump was as smart and amusing…

TL Percussion

Any concert featuring three drum-kits is unusual, so one set in a church must be close to unique. But that’s the beauty of the free Thursday lunchtime performances at St Alfege’s – you never know what you’re going to get. The kits formed the centrepiece of a recital by Trinity Laban Percussion Ensemble, directed by Mick Dorian, who gave as memorable a performance as I’ve ever seen in Hawksmoor’s wonderful building. The septet began with the world premiere of To Blue, a composition by student Mikey Parson which brilliantly contrasted punky, thunderous drums with the mellifluous, ringing tones of two marimbas. The three kits were also at the heart of Brian Booth’s Rudimental Rock, a deceptively simple piece with an infectious groove. In a change of mood, Gosia Kepa was sensational on four-mallet solo marimba in Anna Ignatowicz’s Toccata, a tear-jerkingly lovely work that required amazing reach. Leonard Salzedo’s five-movement Concerto for Percussion Op74 featured all seven players – Kepa, Rory Clark, Dom Daggett, Tom Daley, Rhys Davies, Isis Dunthorne and Tom Plumridge – who gave bravura performances of this magical piece. I particularly loved the interplay between the four tuned timpani and the other drums. The recital closed with the first movement of JS Bach’s magnificent and world-famous Brandenburg Concerto No2 in F major played on six marimbas. It was hypnotic, offering not only a new take on a familiar work of genius but also helping to give us a new perspective on the way music has developed over the past 250 years.

Edward II

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.

Trinity Laban brass ensembles 18-19.1.18

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.

Wayne McGregor: Autobiography 27.1.18

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.