Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Great Gatsby – Sadler’s Wells

The Great gatsby, NORTHERN BALLET:Jay Gatsby; TOBIAS BATLEY,Daisy Buchanan; MARTHA LEEBOLT, Myrtle Wilson; VICTORIA SIBSON, Tom Buchanan; KENNETH TINDALL,Nick Carraway; GIULIANO CONTADINI, Jodan Baker; HANNAH BATEMAN, George Wilson; BENJAMIN MITCHELL, You

How do you tell a story without words?

I love things to do with the 1920s, but I’ve never yet managed to read The Great Gatsby or see the films.  I also love dance, but I’m so accustomed to spoken plays that I’ve often wondered how easily you can convey a storyline with no words at all.  My understanding of the English National Ballet’s production of Romeo and Juliet to the famous Prokofiev score (which includes the music from The Apprentice for the uninitiated) was probably more down to knowledge of the plot.  So I decided to conduct an experiment and see the first half of this ballet without reading the synopsis or character list – just watch.

Thankfully, Northern Ballet are very good storytellers:  When I read my programme at the interval, I was quite pleased to have picked up about 70-80% of what was going on, and was able to piece together the rest from the synopsis (of course it would’ve been far easier if I’d read the programme first).  Jay Gatsby throws legendary parties at his New York mansion, but the only thing he’s ever wanted is Daisy, the girl he met before he became an officer in the First World War.  Daisy is in a loveless marriage with Tom Buchanan, who is having an affair with another man’s wife.  When Daisy’s cousin Nick moves into the cottage next door to Gatsby, old feelings come to the fore.

If there’s one thing ballet does well, it’s representations of imagination and memory.  There is a great use of symmetry and repetition as we see Jay Gatsby (Giuliano Contadini) and his younger self (Matthew Koon) dance various phrases simultaneously throughout the show.  Equally we see this in Daisy (Antoinette Brooks-Daw) and her younger self (Rachael Gillespie).  There is a lightness and hopefulness in the younger versions, contrasted with palpable sense of loss in the same movements by Brooks-Daw and Contadini.  The body language between Daisy and Tom (Ashley Dixon) is very telling of their failing relationship and his mean, scowling posessiveness.  Lucia Solari is effervescent as Daisy’s coquettish golfing friend Jordan Baker, and Joseph Taylor brings a little bit of physical comedy to his role as garage owner George Wilson.

Even when you’re not following the storyline, you can sit back and enjoy the spectacle of the multi-roling ensemble cast.  The large party scenes ooze glamour and decadence.  They dance the Charleston with wild abandon (those iconic moves are no mean feat in pointe shoes) – it’s the sort of joyful choreography that has you grinning like an idiot and wishing you were up on stage dancing with them.  All of this is completed by a stunning minimalist set of moving panels and a few deco-inspired pieces that descend from above.  The evocative lighting compliments each scene pefectly, hiding shadowy figures in the darkness until the right moment, making apartments seem cosy and accentuating the huge space, adding and ethereal touch to the memory episodes, particularly when Gatsby and friends stare out across the bay at a flashing green light on the far shore.

If you’re looking for an alternative place to start with ballet (rather than Swan Lake) this is a gloriously easy-to-follow production filled with stunning choreography, beautiful costumes and a toe-tapping jazz-era score.  Can I see it again, please?  Perhaps this time having read the book (or even just the synopsis).

The Great Gatsby is on until Saturday 28th March at Sadler’s Wells, Roseberry Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN.  For tickets and more information, go to http://www.sadlerswells.com/whats-on/2015/northern-ballet/ 

Radiant Vermin – Soho Theatre

Two words: standing ovation.

It takes a monumental performance to get me on my feet at the end of a play.  But Radiant Vermin has done just that.  With the general election just 6 weeks away, Philip Ridley’s satire on materialism, entitlement and the housing bubble is perfectly timed.

Ollie and Jill are living on a rough housing estate and expecting their first child together. When a mysterious letter arrives making them an offer they cannot possibly refuse, they start on a path which shows just how far some people will go to own their dream home.  You’ll need to put realism on hold for this one (the dialogue in the initial set up is a little contrived), but over the course of 90 minutes their trajectory takes them from need to greed with startling ease, exploring how people’s perception of “enough” changes as they get richer.

Gemma Whelan, Amanda Daniels and Sean Michael Verey.

Gemma Whelan as Jill is bright and smiley, with an endearing naivety to her character – even when she become quite ruthless towards the end, she still elicits some empathy from the audience, as she just wants the best for her child.  Sean Michael Verey as Ollie is a suitably geeky beta-male – everything about him suggests that he’s too nice to harm anyone.  There is great on-stage chemistry between them as they lightly bicker and finish one another’s sentences.  Their impersonations of their neighbours had the audience in stitches.  They flip with ease between narration and acting out their story, with perfect clarity between the two.

Amanda Daniels has a slightly sinister streak to her benevolence as the estate agent Miss Dee – quite a contrast to her later appearance as homeless woman, Kay; she gives a very subtle performance which adds a chilling human dimension (she represents the true cost of what Ollie and Jill are doing) and the change of pace helps to balance out the stylistic nature of the play.  The parallels with real life grow ever more uncomfortable, particularly for anyone who “just wants to get the kitchen done.  And the bathroom.” and how one want soon leads to another.  We are relentlessly bombarded with advertising for all the things we “want” – of course “want” is a completely artificial construct to make us buy things.  I don’t think anyone could’ve left with their own “wants” unquestioned.

But the pièce de résistance has to be the birthday party at the end.  Throughout the play we’ve been introduced to each of their new neighbours with little asides and impersonations: so when all of these extra people descend on the house for their son’s first birthday, we are treated to a theatrical maelstrom as Gemma Whelan and Sean Michael Verey snap between 5 or 6 characters each, with a speed and accuracy that left me breathless.  The sort of thing than an average actor might be able to sustain for perhaps a minute, but that these two kept up for at least ten (at a seemingly accelerating pace) in performances to rival Kevin Bishop in Fully Committed (which I saw last year at the Menier Chocolate Factory).  It has to be seen to believed.

Radiant Vermin is on until Sunday 12th April at Soho Theatre, 21 Dean Street, London, W1D 3NE.  Contains strong language and not suitable for under 14s.  For tickets and more information, go to http://www.sohotheatre.com/whats-on/radiant-vermin/

An open letter of love to Battersea Arts Centre

Dear BAC,

I find myself standing in my kitchen crying my eyes out over the devastating pictures of your recent fire.  I don’t think anyone realises quite how much they love a place until a part of it goes up in flames.  I am so relieved to hear that all of your staff, performers, crews, neighbours and Pluto the cat are safe and being looked after. I’m saddened by the photos showing the extent of the damage, especially after all the hard work that has gone into the restoration of that part of the building.

The newly refurbished Grand Hall.

The Grand Hall completely destroyed. Photo by London Fire Brigade.

The Grand Hall completely destroyed.

After the trauma of my Theatre degree (the prospectus never made it clear we’d be studying the weirdest extremes of contemporary performance art) and having to re-sit one of my modules (and see more of this stuff) in order to graduate, I was very skeptical about my first visit to Battersea Arts Centre in 2004. I needn’t have been. Vacaxion! Vacaxion! was joyful lunacy from start to finish and my first real taste of promenade theatre. Crazy Horse Theatre Co took us on a summer holiday in Battersea, from the ‘departure lounge’ of Allders cafe to balmy sunshine of Ilo San Pacaya. It was the first proof I had that contemporary performance could be fun – funny even. But with a degree (eventually) achieved, I shut myself off from anything even a little unusual.  I’d had enough.

About 2 years ago, I’d started seeing plays that had a quirky twist – I wanted more stuff like this. It finally felt safe to go back to the unusual of my own volition. I knew exactly where to look first: BAC. As I stepped into your foyer, with the grand staircase and mosaic floor, it felt strangely like coming home. It was warm and welcoming, with a real buzzy atmosphere. I couldn’t have timed it better: It was your 120th birthday and the most amazing party in every conceivable space throughout the building.  You fed me cake and introduced me to Hackney Colliery Band.  We celebrated the fact that you’d have guardianship of the building for the next 120 years.

In the last 18 months, I have explored rooms – both real and imaginary – in Rebels and Rubble and twice in The Unbuilt Room.  I have been snowed on, crawled around on my hands and knees, and made lightbulbs in The Good Neighbour.  I’ve been talked into holding hands with strangers by a transistor radio sitting on a chair in When We Embraced.  I’ve sat in total darkness and listened to some of the most exquisite sound design in Ring.  I have been bewitched by the choreography of Missing when I visited last Friday.  I have kicked myself endlessly for missing out on 9 years of productions.

I have got lost in your rabbit warren of endless corridors.  I have stood and just looked at curious bits of the building in all its crumbling beauty, history oozing out of the cracks.  Your bee-themed mosaic floors never fail to make me smile.  I’ve thrown money into buckets to go towards your restoration fund.  I have sat amongst excited chatter in your Scratch Bar.  I’ve made new friends in the space of an evening.  I’ve sat with Pluto nuzzling his face into my shins (then felt cheated on when he’s gone off to flirt with someone else).  There have been evenings where it has been a huge wrench to leave to get the last train home.  You have always been more than just a building – it just happens to be in one of the most beautiful buildings in South London.

The glass-domed octagonal atrium near the Grand Hall.  The words written around the top are from Shakespeare’s Richard II: “The purest treasure mortal times afford is spotless reputation: that away, men are but gilded loam or painted clay. A jewel in a ten-times-barr’d-up chest is a bold spirit in a loyal breast.”

When I heard the awful news yesterday afternoon, it broke my heart.  I left work, sat on a train going through Clapham Junction, staring out the window, dreading the moment I would see it for myself.  As we passed at 6pm, the roof was clearly gone and smoke was billowing into the sky.  There were still pockets of flames in the corners.  Other people on the train looked, but didn’t fully understand much more than that a large building was on fire.  I could smell the smoke when the doors opened.

For some time now, you have perhaps been my favourite arts venue.  BAC has a heart and a soul that only ever seeks to welcome in more and more people – you cherish, nurture and inspire. You provide a safe space in which to experiment – to try things, get it wrong and then put it right.  You love your community and your community love you.  This is evident in the mass outpouring of support on social media from across the theatre and arts spectrum.  You have entertained me, challenged me and nourished my passion for the arts.  You’ve been there with something ingenious when I’ve wanted to go and see something on the spur of the moment.  Until yesterday, I don’t think I had realised how much a part of my life you have become.

I am so glad that everyone’s alright.  I am relieved that a lot of the building is unharmed.  I cried again when I found out that the London Fire Brigade had managed to save your domed atrium (last Friday I stood in there for a good few minutes just taking in what a wonderful space it was).  I am reassured by your stoic response to this tragedy.  I am heartened by the fact that in less than 24 hours, over £18,000 of donations have poured in to help rebuild your wonderful theatre. I am smiling at the fact that people are already starting to bounce back and to find a way forward.

In December 2013, I came to see your Christmas show The Good Neighbour – your actors told the story of George Neighbour, a man who bravely helped others out from the fire at Arding & Hobbs in 1909, but died when the floor gave way beneath him.  I thought of that story as I walked past the A&H building (now Debenhams) on my way up to you last Friday.  I remember the whole audience being asked to say together “Be strong, George! Have courage, George!”.  It was a truly memorable evening.

So be strong, and have courage.  We’ll be back when you’re next ready to open your doors.  I cannot wait to return.

With deepest love,

Gail xxx

For anyone wanting to donate to the cause, please give what you can to: https://www.nationalfundingscheme.org/battersea-arts-centre/BAC012#.VQQqQPmsWnk