By rights, I should be back in France by now, but thanks to our friends the French air traffic controllers, I am enjoying an extra week in England. Our flight was cancelled, along with thousands of others last Tuesday, and we now have to wait until next Tuesday to begin the second part of our stay in Canet this year. At least here in England, the sun is shining! Being back in the U.K. has enabled us to catch up on our theatre visits, and in this period we have managed to fit in four shows, three of them musicals and one play. Aida the Musical was the first production that we saw. This show was successful on Broadway, but apparently has never been produced professionally in the United Kingdom, although amateur companies have been allowed to produce it here for a few years. YOG, the Coventry Youth Operetta Group chose it as their Spring production this year, and they made a valiant attempt at it, indeed as always the youngsters put their hearts and souls into it. The story is based on Giuseppe Verdi’s Italian-language opera of the same name. The music is from the pen of Elton John, and the words from Sir Tim Rice. Sadly, in my opinion, however much effort people put in, and so much effort was put in, if the substance is not wonderful, then the production will reflect that. For me, the music is not memorable, and Tim Rice has written much better lyrics. However, congratulations are due to the young people who gave some very powerful performances.
The American romantic film, An Officer and a Gentleman, starring Richard Gere is certainly very popular with ladies of a certain age. It has recently been turned into a stage musical by the creative team at Leicester’s Curve Theatre. Usually what originates from that theatre is excellent, but I was very disappointed with this show. The day we saw it in Birmingham, the theatre was full of ladies of that certain age who obviously loved the film, and they quite clearly loved this production too. It left me rather cold. When I’m in the theatre, I need to feel for the characters in a show, to empathize with them, but that was not the case here. This production is doing a national tour before going into the West End. No doubt it will be successful, because of the attachment that people have with the story from the film, but it was not something that appealed to me.
Perhaps you are thinking that this is not going well, two shows and neither of them getting a good review! It gets better! Indeed much better!
Chess, with lyrics again by Sir Tim Rice, but musical score this time by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of Abba fame premiered in London back in 1986. I saw it back then, and loved it. It is currently playing at the London Coliseum, home of the English National Opera for a limited season. I saw it last week, and loved it even more.
Very cleverly and beautifully staged, a black and white set, with three camera operators who are part of the cast filming close ups of the action which are then displayed on the many screens around the stage, was both original and delightful as we saw the faces of the stars, and the actions of the chess players. I use the word “stars” because that is what they are. Michael Ball, as the Russian Anatoly Sergievsky, singing the song Anthem at the end of Act One, was superb, (a hairs on the back of the neck moment) as was Alexandra Burke, playing Svetlana, singing Someone Else’s Story. Tim Howar as the American, Cedric Neal as The Arbiter, and Cassidy Janson as Florence all added to this star cast, ably supported by the Chorus and Orchestra of The English National Opera.
The lady sitting next to me told me before the show started that she had been given the Long Playing Record of Chess back in the late 1980s for passing her school exams, and she had waited thirty years to see the show on stage. At the end I asked her if it had been worth the wait; “Indeed it was!” she said. Indeed it was for me too, a brilliant production, musically, artistically and technically. Sadly it closes next week, so let’s hope we don’t have to wait another thirty years to see it again!
On Monday of this week, Art, the comedy opened at the Birmingham Hippodrome, as part of its national tour, and as the picture above shows, stars three very different but well known British actors. The play itself is about art and friendship. The three friends are Serge, Marc and Yvan. Serge, played by Nigel Havers, has a penchant for modern art and has bought a very large completely white painting with white lines on it, costing £200,000. Marc is horrified, and their relationship goes through a difficult patch as they air their differing views about what constitutes modern art. Yvan, played by Stephen Tompkinson, finds himself in the middle trying to please and mollify both of them. What follows is both hilarious and very sad. The three men play their different characters brilliantly; Serge is so proud of his painting, and describes so much what he can see in this all white work of art; Marc is scornful, but is he scornful of the piece of art or of Serge who has spent so much money on it? The insecure Yvan who just wants the support of his two friends, laughs about the painting with Marc, but tells Serge that he likes it! His two faced attitude fuels a blazing row between the three of them. It would be wrong to say too much more, it would spoil it; but if it comes your way, take the opportunity to see it, it’s a brilliant play with three excellent actors.