Tag Archives: music

Theatre review – White Christmas

White Christmas  – review for  Essential Surrey website.

Review: White Christmas by the Runnymede Drama Group

White Christmas is being performed by the Runnymede Drama Group at the Rhoda McGaw Theatre in Woking until December 9

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White Christmas is a wonderfully festive feel-good musical, up there with movies It’s a Wonderful Life and Love Actually to guarantee sending you home with an elfy spring in the step, and a song in even the most Scrooge-like heart.

Irving Berlin wrote the iconic song in 1940, and Bing Crosby’s recording of it in 1941 has since sold over 100 million copies. But it was the 1942 film Holiday Inn, starring Bing and Fred Astaire, which has probably done most to immortalise the music, within a heart-warming story.

This production of the musical version of White Christmas is performed by the Runnymede Drama Group, an amateur company but with a rich thespian heritage and renowned as one of the best am-dram groups in the country.

It’s Christmas Eve, 1944. American soldiers from the 151st Division are putting on a Christmas show, to rally the troops on the Western Front. Captain Bob Wallace and Private Phil Davis are natural performers, and close friends. The Division’s commanding officer, General Henry Waverley, is a stickler for discipline but with a heart, and a leg injury that is forcing him to return home. In his Christmas message, he prays for peace and wonders what life will be like in 10 years time…

Fast forward to 1954….Bob and Phil are stars of stage and screen, even appearing on the legendary Ed Sullivan Show. Phil fraternises with the showgirls, but Bob is more traditional and is drawn to Betty Haynes, one of the dancing and singing Haynes Sisters, when Phil engineers a visit to a club where the girls are performing.

The action migrates to Vermont – although Bob thinks he’s going to Florida for the Christmas holidays – where they are all staying at a struggling Inn owned by their old General, and where there is an unseasonal heat wave.

Each episode of the story is brought to animated life by song and dance, every member of the cast throwing themselves into the joyous spirit of the occasion. Count Your Blessings (instead of sheep!) is the advice given by Bob to Susan, the General’s grand-daughter; Let me Sing and I’m Happy is belted out beautifully by Martha, the Inn’s concierge and self-confessed busybody; Love You Didn’t Do Right by Me is the plaintive cry from Betty, back in New York and performing solo after she misjudges Bob.

But the real show-stopper is I Love A Piano, Phil and Betty’s sister Judy opening the second half in a blaze of tap-dancing glory with the rest of the troupe, piano keys on their lapels and fire in their shoes.

Leave your cynicism at the door and embrace this joyous tale of optimism and festive cheer. Come the final curtain, all the loose ends are neatly tied up with a large red Christmas bow and – spoiler alert – it even starts snowing on Christmas Eve, by which time the audience is singing along with the cast and good old Bing.

It would be wrong to call out any single member of this talented group. The whole production – from cast, dancers, set designers, the entire production team and to the excellent 11-strong band, whimsically visible in a retro-style recording booth – exudes professionalism and passion.

Congratulations and thanks to the Runnymede Drama Group for banishing any bah humbug thoughts. Let the festive period begin…

Theatre review – Nocturne – The Romantic Life of Frederic Chopin

What an original concept. Lucy Parham has scripted this engaging performance, fusing music and words as deftly as Rick Stein marries food and travel.

Lucy provides the magical music, some of the favourite piano concertos of Frédéric Chopin , as a dazzling soundtrack to the story of the composer’s romantic life.

Image courtesy of Classic FM

Esteemed thespians Alex Jennings and Patricia Hodge speak the words, the core of which is the outwardly surprising love affair between the delicate genius of young Chopin, newly arrived in Paris from Warsaw in 1831, and George Sand, the slightly older and sexually voracious literary sensation.

Through letters to each other, and occasionally from friends, we follow the lovers from Paris to a disastrous winter in Majorca, where Frédéric is plagued by a consumptive cough, on to Barcelona and back to France, where they at their happiest in Nantes.

But the affair is fated to end in disaster.

Frédéric dies in Paris, in relative poverty and at the tender age of 39, his short life dominated by ill health and melancholy, reflected in many of the pieces played so beautifully by Ms Parham.

This was a charming – and innovative – performance, but I must confess that I found myself more engaged by the words than by the music. And by Alex Jennings’ sensitive acting of his script more than by Patricia Hodge’s sometimes stuttering recital of hers.

Image courtesy of Alisa Connan

But in a nice personal squaring of the circle, this all gave some touching context to my stumbling across the charming hidden Musée de la Vie Romantique a few years ago, the home of Dutch artist Ary Scheffer in a cobbled back street of Montmartre, where the lovers would meet at his Friday salon.

Two of his most regular visitors were George Sand and her lover Frédéric Chopin. Somewhat bizarrely, you can see a plaster cast of her right arm – and the musician’s left hand – in one of the 8 small rooms forming this understated museum.

 

Theatre review – You Give Me Fever

You Give Me fever – review for Essential Surrey website.

5 STARS, May 23-27. “What an intelligent antidote to the Jukebox Musical gravy train Jack Lynch has written”, says Andrew Morris

Was the huge success of Mamma Mia! responsible for the deluge of so-called “Jukebox Musicals” invading our theatres over the last 20 years, do you think? We Will Rock You, Our House, Jersey Boys, Thriller… the list of musicals with contrived plots woven loosely around artists’ songbooks goes on and on.

I guess it’s all about the Money, Money, Money, so how refreshing to see a more thought-provoking, entertaining and intellectually challenging work from that over-extended genre, performed on a much more intimate stage.

Head down to The Back Room of the Star Inn, Guildford to see You Give Me Fever – “the Phaedra Cabaret”, an innovative production from LynchPin for the Guildford Fringe. I bet you didn’t know that the tragic heroine of Greek mythology loved the jazz and blues classics, did you? Or that she mixed a mean Aegean Fizz cocktail?

Sultry siren Pippa Winslow is Phaedra (“Fey”), luring us into her tangled mythological web of Greek gods, bull-headed Minotaurs and doomed love affairs as she mixes drinks and sings us jazzy standards. Mad About The Boy, Let’s Face the Music and Dance, One For My Baby, Crazy…. Fey seduces her enthralled cabaret audience in perfect harmony with the sad narrative of her life story.

Thwarting her sister Ariadne in pursuit of Theseus, falling in love with Hippolytus – son of Theseus by another woman – Fey warns us from the outset that her story will not have a happy ending. But along the way, thanks to brilliantly synchronised song choices and some crazy cocktails, the mythological minx serves up a whole lot of fun.

Pippa delivers a seductive performance as Fey in this one-woman show, equally adept at singing, acting and mixology. No wonder Theseus and Hippolytus fell for her significant charms.

Also on stage throughout is James Shannon, a jazz guitarist recently graduated from Guildford’s very own ACM, and whose moody finger-style arrangements breathe even more life into Fey’s songs. Watch out for James’s brief – but perfectly pitched – acting cameo….

You Give Me Fever – “the Phaedra Cabaret” – is written and directed by Jack Lynch, co-founder of LynchPin Productions Theatre Company. What an intelligent antidote to the Jukebox Musical gravy train Jack has written.

And thank you to the Guildford Fringe for another 5* piece of stimulating and entertaining theatre.

Movie review – La La Land

For once the hype is justified.

Well, almost….

Winner of a record 7 Golden Globes – in every category for which it received a nomination – La La Land is surely bound for Oscar glory too.

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The movie is written and directed by the enviably talented Damien Chazelle, still only 31 and the creator of Whiplash, another jazz-themed original piece of artistic brilliance from a couple of years ago.

La La Land sets out its musical stall in the dazzling opening set-piece. Gridlocked LA commuters jump out of their cars and onto the freeway tarmac, bursting with colourful, choreographed energy.

Image result for la la land opening scene

Chazelle has created a musical drama very much for the 21st century. There are too many nods to old-time Hollywood song-and-dance classics to call out, but La La Land is a brilliant and original updating of the genre.

Emma Stone is Mia, a wannabe actress pouring coffee for stars in the Warner Bros film studios between her own unsuccessful auditions .

Ryan Gosling is jazz pianist Sebastian, forced to betray his musical principles to pay the bills.

Mia and Sebastian meet, They fall in love. They break up.

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So far, so very Hollywood. But the freshness comes from Chazelle’s use of music, dance and lush cinematography – and the chemistry between Stone and Gosling – to bring the story to sumptuous, vibrant life.

With a critic’s hat on, the movie feels a little like a game of two halves. The first is musical, the second more conventionally wordy. And I’m not totally convinced by the Sliding Doors-like alternative ending to the love story…..

But these are churlish observations.

Leave your cynicism at the cinema door, open your cold English hearts and embrace the cloudless skies and musical warmth of highly original La La Land.

And start counting those Oscars……

A Day To Remember

Well, I’m glad today is nearly over….

Image result for poppy images lest we forget

Leonard Cohen checks out on Remembrance Day.

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We get back from the funeral of Victor Sayer, a wonderful old friend of Gill’s, and who will be sorely missed….and find out that my dear father is in hospital again.

In the prescient words of Jools Holland and his ever brilliant Rhythm & Blues Band, who we were lucky to see in Guildford last night with good friends Chezza & Dave: Enjoy yourself….it’s later than you think.

Image result for jools holland it's later than you think

 

Theatre review – Black is the Color of My Voice

I worship books. I love movies. I like music. But is there anything better than live theatre? And when it’s a wholly original piece, brilliantly performed, in a quaint seaside theatre and seen on your 19th wedding anniversary, with your wife, family and good friends, the whole experience takes some artistic beating.

Apphia Campbell wrote and performs Black is the Color of My Voice. For 75 mesmerising minutes, she stands alone on the small stage of the Marine Theatre in charming Lyme Regis, and she is Nina Simone.

In a virtuoso one-woman performance, she locks herself away in a dingy bedroom in an effort to battle her demons, and to reach peace with her dead father. Along the way, she plucks props out of a battered suitcase on the floor, and we gain insights into her troubled life.

Donning a hat, hopping up onto the spindle-leg table, crouching and adopting an exaggerated negro drawl, she becomes her bible-bashing mother.

An old frock reminds her of dancing with her beloved Daddy. Faded love letters are from her first – and lost – love. And those same letters introduce us to her jealous, violent, controlling fiancé Arthur.

But what persists through a damaged life is her music. At the age of just three, she has already assimilated how to play the piano. The proud family raise money to send her to college, and she is on track to become the country’s first black concert pianist.

And then she finds her voice. That smoky, bluesy, jazzy voice. The Devil’s voice, as her disappointed mother calls it.

Image result for apphia campbell black is the color of my voice

But it gives her money, fame, and the ability to stand up and be heard in the long, bitter, violent fight for racial freedom in the entrenched racist southern states of the US.

Apphia Campbell is not only a gifted actor, she also has a damned fine voice. For the iconic songs, interlaced with key episodes in her troubled life, Nina Simone is on stage in Lyme Regis.

I Put a Spell on You; To Be Young, Gifted and Black; Mississippi Goddam; See line Woman and others are beautifully reproduced, with just a distant gramophone player occasionally accompanying the singular voice.

And Feeling Good brings down the curtain on a scintillating theatrical performance, leaving you humming those haunting rhythms as you head out into the Dorset night.

Apphia first performed Black is the Color of My Voice in Shanghai, in 2013. She’s bringing it to the UK now, on a short tour, until early November. Catch it if you possibly can, for a life-enhancing piece of live theatre.

 

 

 

So long, Marianne

One of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in recent years was I’m Your Man, an expertly crafted biography of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons.

A significant part of Cohen’s early life was spent on the Greek island of Hydra, where he met Norwegian beauty Marianne Ihlen in the 1960s. She was his muse and inspiration for two of his best known pieces of work, So long Marianne and Bird on a Wire.

She died in Norway on 29th July, aged 81.

A close friend of Marianne’s – Jan Christian Mollestad – had contacted Cohen a short while earlier, letting him know his old lover was close to death.

It took only two hours and in came this beautiful letter from Leonard to Marianne. We brought it to her the next day and she was fully conscious and she was so happy that he had already written something for her,” Mollestad said.

Mollestad read Cohen’s letter to her before she died. “It said: well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.”

And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”

Mollestad told CBC that when he read the line “stretch out your hand,” Ihlen stretched out her hand. “Only two days later she lost consciousness and slipped into death. I wrote a letter back to Leonard saying in her final moments I hummed Bird on a Wire because that was the song she felt closest to. And then I kissed her on the head and left the room, and said “so long, Marianne.”

So Long Marianne

Leonard Cohen

Come over to the window, my little darling,
I’d like to try to read your palm.
I used to think I was some kind of Gypsy boy
before I let you take me home.
Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began
to laugh and cry and cry and laugh about it all again.

Well you know that I love to live with you,
but you make me forget so very much.
I forget to pray for the angels
and then the angels forget to pray for us.

Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began …

We met when we were almost young
deep in the green lilac park.
You held on to me like I was a crucifix,
as we went kneeling through the dark.

Oh so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began …

Your letters they all say that you’re beside me now.
Then why do I feel alone?
I’m standing on a ledge and your fine spider web
is fastening my ankle to a stone.

Now so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began …

For now I need your hidden love.
I’m cold as a new razor blade.
You left when I told you I was curious,
I never said that I was brave.

Oh so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began …

Oh, you are really such a pretty one.
I see you’ve gone and changed your name again.
And just when I climbed this whole mountainside,
to wash my eyelids in the rain!

Oh so long, Marianne, it’s time that we began …

Spin Cycle

No, not the washing.

I’m talking about a full-on cycling session in a funky indoor studio at a gym, such intense exercise that blood, sweat and tears will soak clean through your lycra-clad body.

Spinning has been around a while, but I’ve only got into it recently. I go to the Charterhouse Club in leafy Godalming, Surrey. There’s a certain irony in the beauty of nature outside the studio walls, and the torture that’s wreaked on your body inside.

Each session is 50-55 minutes in total, including the essential warm-up and cool-down elements.

Bring a large bottle of water, a towel – you WILL sweat profusely -and more energy than a hormonal teenager at a school prom.

The bike is a Keiser. The name is appropriately redolent of power and control.

Adjust the height and pitch of the saddle, the handlebar – vertically and laterally – and settle your feet into the metal pedals. And start spinning those wheels, dude….

The instructor will rule your life for the duration of the session. But at least you know it will be a well-trained, measured death.

Dim the lights. Turn on the fans. Crank up the music. Warm up the legs. Stretch the key muscles. And begin….

That monitor tells you everything you need to know for the next 45 minutes….

  • RPM….how quickly are you spinning those wheels? 70-100 is comfortable, anything above 100 could hurt. But it all depends on…
  • Gear = resistance. The flat road gear is likely to be 10-12, and a hill climb could start at 14-16, maxing out at 24. I think it’s 24, but I’ve never been above 22. And that really hurt
  • the clock. Do not look at how many minutes have elapsed. Just get in the Spin Zone and enjoy the ride. Ha!
  • watts & calories counter. Watts = power being expended. Apparently the wattage is more important than calorie consumption. All I know is that a wattage of 200+ is invariably really, really hurting, that a 450 calorie session is painful, and that 500 calories is a near-death experience

What I love about a spin class – in a masochistic way – is the way the instructor puts together the session: they will drive you onward – beyond what you think you can achieve – using a devious combination of RPM and resistance, on long sprints, up gruelling mountains and – using the all-important principle of “intervals” – every possible combination in between.

And the music – their personalised playlist – is chosen to sync perfectly with the pace and resistance of each part of the session. I’m not sure I could see a class through to the finishing line, without that symbiotic relationship between the pulsing power of the music and the rapidly sapping energy of mind and body.

At the end is a sense of simultaneous physical weakness and mental strength. And some very sweaty clothes.

Cool down those fatigued muscles. Stretch. Dry the sweat off your bike for the next victims.

Breathe.

Shower.

Rinse and repeat.

Other Peoples’ Lives

I used to read almost exclusively novels. Fiction. Usually contemporary. Sometimes a classic novel. Always escapism.

But something has changed in the last few years…..

It started with I’m Your Man, the mesmerising biography of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons. I had grown to love the great man’s uniquely poetic music, but Ms Simmons gives a depth of insight into an extraordinary life that allows you to begin to understand the very human form behind the stage performer.

Artemis Cooper’s An Adventure brings depth and colour to another remarkable life. Arguably the greatest British travel writer, Patrick Leigh Fermor was only 18 when, in 1934, he walked across Europe. In just over a year, he had traversed 9 countries and taught himself 3 languages. And that was just the beginning of a life that is so well-lived that it seems more like fiction than fact.

This Christmas, Gill has bought me Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, Elvis Costello’s autobiography. I heard him reading excerpts on the radio a few weeks ago, and I’m looking forward to understanding how huge early success – and a self-confessed abuse of fame – has moulded his later years.

And I think I might have to splash out on Easily Distracted, the newly published autobiography from Steve Coogan. I admire some of his recent work – including The Trip and Philomena – but I’d like to understand how he reached this point, and how he has dealt with some of the many demons in his life.

So why the sudden interest in real people?

I think I find it humbling, as I go deep into the second half of my own life, to read what others have achieved in theirs. It certainly forces me to confront the reality that I haven’t done much of substance, relative to these well-known high-achieving personalities.

In the same way, I’m increasingly drawn to listen to Desert Island Discs, hearing Kirsty Young peel away the layers of a guest’s character and life, whether in the arts arena, business, sports, science or any other aspect of life.

I’ll continue to escape into fiction, but sometimes reality is just that little bit more incredible. For some people.

Theatre review – Lilies on the Land

Lilies on the Land – review for Essential Surrey website.

Rating: 4.5 of 5

The Electric Theatre