La Nativité du Seigneur

I do have a thing for organ music – it sounds quite majestic, and always reminds me of The Phantom of the Opera. I went along to a concert in the beautiful Old Royal Naval College Chapel, featuring organist Richard Gowers in a performance of La Nativité du Seigneur by Olivier Messiaen.

The music itself wasn’t entirely to my taste, but it was certainly well performed and dramatic. I liked that Gowers introduced the piece before performing and discussed some of the themes and aspects of the work, which definitely aided my understanding.

ORNC Chapel Organ

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C’est La Vie – Sarah Bernhardt and Me

C’est La Vie – Sarah Bernhardt and Me is a one-woman show about the celebrated nineteenth-century actress Sarah Bernhardt. As a fan of this amazing woman, I went along to the performance in the new Katzpace theatre in Katzenjammers.

Written and performed by Hilary Tones, the show begins as an actress travels to an audition. Asked to perform something relating to Sarah Bernhardt, she tries to learn all about her.

Tones brings Sarah to life in front of our eyes, regaling us with stories of her early life, her struggles to become an actress and her career that took her all over the world. The sections in which she portrays Sarah’s various French-speaking roles are particularly impressive. To be honest I don’t think the show really needed the bridging story of the actress going to an audition – Sarah’s story is compelling enough to stand alone.

This is a fascinating piece that does justice to Sarah Bernhardt’s talents and is well worth seeing.

The Mitfords

The Mitfords are probably one of the most interesting and controversial families of the twentieth century. Playwright Gail Louw clearly agrees, as she has penned a one-woman play about the family of six sisters (there was one brother, Tom, killed in the war). Louw has written the play from the viewpoints of four of the sisters: Nancy (who became a novelist), Diana (who joined the Fascist movement and married Oswald Mosley), Unity (who idolised Hitler and attempted suicide after Germany and Britain went to war), and Jessica (who ran away to fight in the Spanish Civil War and became a Communist). The other sisters, Pamela, who shunned the spotlight, and the youngest, Deborah, who outlived them all, are mentioned but not portrayed directly.

Directed by John Burrows, the play sees actress Heather Long take on the four roles, switching easily between personas, using slight differences in accent and mannerism to make it clear which sister she is speaking as. I was incredibly impressed by how well she was able to do this, and how it was always possible to work out who was speaking. All four of the characters are incredibly well drawn, rounded individuals, and I was impressed by Louw and Long’s ability to draw sympathy from the audience when Unity and Diana – who both held some pretty abhorrent views – were going through hard times. Louw captures the complex relationship between the sisters, and brings out their often witty, sharp personalities. There is plenty of humour, too. This is especially true for Nancy, known for her satirical novels of upper class life.

The Mitfords is only an hour long, but packs a great deal into it: the sisters’ lives really were very eventful. It left me wanting to find out more about them, but even as a standalone piece it’s fascinating.

Invisible Web

Invisible Web is a new drama about human trafficking presented at Redbridge Drama Centre. Written by Maggie Driver and Stephanie Barrows, it has an intriguing premise, as four characters, none of whom appear to have anything in common with one another (and one of whom is a Christmas tree angel), take it in turns to talk to the audience. Gradually we come to realise that their lives are all intertwined.

Though it seemed to end quite abruptly, and I wish it had gone into a little more depth, I did enjoy this short play which tackles a very important subject.

Mischief Movie Night

The Mischief Theatre crowd never seem to rest: as well as The Play That Goes Wrong and Peter Pan Goes Wrong, not to mention the Christmas special A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong, they’re presenting a series of improvised shows at the Arts Theatre near Leicester Square. The audience picks a genre, title and lead character, as well as inspiring a couple of key scenes, and the cast improvise a movie on the spot, complete with ‘deleted scenes’, ‘extended cuts’ and ‘director interviews’. Jonathan Sayer comments on the whole thing, prompting and cajoling his cast in equal measure, and altogether it’s pretty hilarious.

The ‘film’ I got to enjoy was a spy movie, starring super spy and lover of sewing Hugo Lovecotton, named, Will He Cotton On? Among other things it featured a jet pack, a human pyramid and a rival knitting spy named Lovewool. However every show is different!

It would be easy to get into the habit of going to see this over and over – after all, you never get the same show twice – so it’s probably just as well for my bank balance that it closes at the end of January. It’s definitely worth checking it out before it goes.

Hair: The Musical

Hair is one of those musicals I’ve always been aware of, but never actually seen, until now. This 50th anniversary production, which started life at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre, has transferred to the Vaults under Waterloo Station, where the whole area has been decked out to resemble a hippy haven. The theatre itself is small and intimate, decorated with multicoloured ribbons.

Hair is very much an ensemble piece: written by Gerome Ragni and James Rado with music by Galt MacDermot, it centres around a group of hippies who spend their time getting high and going to anti-war demos. The plot, such as it is, focuses on the character of Claude, who has been called up to fight in Vietnam, and whether he will or won’t go off to war. I can only imagine how potent this subject must have been at the time.

The show is certainly very much of its time – several of the racial and national stereotypes it alludes to made me uncomfortable. I also found much of the second half, which is essentially a massive trip, a bit dull. However, there is still plenty to appreciate. The cast are hugely talented: Robert Metson as Claude, Andy Coxon as Berger, and Shekinah McFarlane as a standout among an impressive bunch of supporting case members. When they are all singing and dancing in harmony, under Jonathan O’Boyle’s assured direction, it’s pretty impressive. The essential conflict: between commonly-accepted notions of patriotism versus the desire for peace – is timeless. The ending is memorably bittersweet.

The production is obviously an exercise in nostalgia for theatregoers of a certain age, many of whom were first on the floor during the encore when audience members were invited to join the cast on stage. However, it still has a message to offer younger audiences, and it’s a must for anyone interested in seeing one of the most significant musicals of the twentieth century.