Review: Casanova

Casanova programme

Last Saturday I decided, fairly last minute, to take myself into London to Sadler’s Wells to see a matinee of Northern Ballet’s production of Casanova. I was given a gift membership for Sadler’s Wells for my birthday this year, which means I get 20% off tickets, plus priority booking: win-win!

Unfortunately, the Northern Line wasn’t running Euston to Angel, so the plan was to get the 214 bus from King’s Cross. HOWEVER, I accidentally got on the bus going the other direction, so I ended up in Kentish Town! OOPS. So I jumped off the bus, crossed the road…and then caught the bus back to the Angel. Honestly, I could have just walked from King’s Cross in that time.

Anyway, onto the performance!

We’ve all heard of the name and the legend of Casanova being a ‘ladies’ man’ but this ballet drew from the real story of Casanova – trainee priest, writer, philosopher, polymath, violinist and professional gambler. Of course, his reputation wasn’t for nothing and he did indeed have many love affairs, as according to his memoirs, and so the story was a little suggestive in places, hence being for age 12+! The Saturday matinee featured talented first soloist Lorenzo Trossello as Giacomo Casanova. The dance was mesmerising, the costumes were authentically 18th century Venice, the set was atmospheric and the orchestra was spectacular. This is my third Northern Ballet show and I just love the way they tell a story. I would say on this one, because I didn’t know the story, I had to refer to the synopsis in the programme before the show began and also during the interval.

External view of theatre

The second circle where I sat wasn’t completely full, so I had most of row G to myself and a few people shifted closer to the front after the interval for a better view and more space. I really love Sadler’s Wells theatre at Angel because unlike many of the theatres in London, it’s a large, spacious and modern theatre, and the view is pretty good wherever you sit. I have been to their Peacock Theatre venue in Holborn many times and exciting news – next year they will be opening a new venue, Sadler’s Wells East at the Queen Elizabeth Park in Stratford!

Verdict: Fantastic storytelling and what a talented bunch!

Review: Tina The Musical

Two years ago I was supposed to see Tina The Musical for my birthday, and then the pandemic happened…but I finally got to go and see it last week!

I am a BIG Tina Turner fan and this musical was an AMAZING, high-energy telling of the story of Tina Turner’s rollercoaster life and career, beginning with her difficult childhood in Nutbush, Tennessee, and journeying through the beginnings of her singing career, her volatile relationship with Ike Turner and subsequent escape, her wildly successful career comeback and how she met her husband Erwin Bach. The show told the story through her most well-known songs, including hits River Deep Mountain High, Simply the Best, We Don’t Need Another Hero, Nutbush City Limits, Private Dancer and a personal favourite, Better be Good to Me.

On the day I saw the show, Tina was played by Chanel Haynes of gospel music trio Trinitee 5:7, and I was so impressed with how much she sounded like Tina! She had a very powerful voice and great Tina mannerisms. The show took us through all the emotions and even though we were all in tears by the interval, there was lots of humour, (particularly in the scenes with her Australian manager, Roger Davies) and the show ended with an explosive performance.

We were advised not to sing along during the show, but to leave it to the professionals and wait until the encore, where we could sing, dance and clap as much as we wanted to! (I heard that experiences were ruined for some by certain audience members singing along badly throughout – eek!)

The music was incredible, the singing was incredible, the dancing was HIGH ENERGY, the story was engrossing and I didn’t want it to end. I’m sad I didn’t get to see Tina Turner in concert when she was still touring and throwing it down, but this is the closest I’ll get and it did NOT disappoint!

Verdict: See it NOW!

 

Review: Fatal Attraction

On Saturday afternoon I went to see Fatal Attraction on stage at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham, known locally as ‘the Alex’. I actually got wind of the show being on after having seen a TV interview with a member of the cast. 

I’ve never seen the 1987 Oscar-nominated movie starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close, so I had no expectations of the play. In case you don’t know, the story is of a supposedly happily married man who ends up having a one-night stand, but this one-night stand comes back to haunt him and starts to stalk him and his family, making his life very difficult…One particular incident that takes place in the story gave rise to the term ‘bunny boiler’.

The play starred Kym Marsh (Hear’Say, Coronation Street, The Syndicate) as Alex Forrest, along with Oliver Farnworth (Coronation Street) as Dan Gallagher and Susie Amy (Footballers’ Wives) as Beth Gallagher. The audience were on the edge of their seats the entire time, and the sense of foreboding was constantly hanging in the air. The staging was effective, with scenes set in various homes, Dan’s workplace and the bar where Dan and Alex meet. Kym Marsh was excellent as the desperate Alex and the British cast did a convincing job with their American accents!

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

The ending to the play is different to the movie, but on reading around, I believe this was the intention of the original screenplay, and also it was the ending that actress Glenn Close would have preferred. But of course, Hollywood had other ideas. You get more of a sense that Alex has mental health issues, rather than her being framed as the ‘crazy stalker woman’, and with all of his lame excuses, we actually wanted Dan to face the consequences of his actions.

Fatal Attraction continues to tour the UK, with Susie Amy taking over as Alex Forrest and Louise Redknapp (Eternal, Cabaret, Strictly Come Dancing) joining the cast this week as Beth Gallagher.

My Highlights of 2021

Happy New Year! I do hope you had a good Christmas. Unfortunately my SO and I both had COVID-19! We’re both vaccinated and I’d just had my booster, but by then my SO was already ill and he then passed it on to me. Being vaccinated at least meant we weren’t seriously ill, but it was like a type of flu for about 5 or so days (headache, eye ache, body ache, sore throat, altered taste and smell, high temperature etc) followed by feeling very, very tired. Our next door neighbour got us some supplies and my family dropped off Christmas dinner and nibbles on Christmas Eve, which was MUCH APPRECIATED (although I had no appetite for a while).

Because we felt rubbish and couldn’t leave the house, we watched A LOT of Law and Order. We made a point of watching a carol concert from the Royal Albert Hall, and the Royal Opera House’s Nutcracker online for all the Christmassy feels, and we also watched several movies…

My COVID Christmas Movies:

  • Back to the Future (1985)
  • Uncle Buck (1989)
  • Mrs Doubtfire (1993)
  • Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1994) 
  • Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018)
  • Lady in the Van (2015)
  • The Fugitive (1993)
  • US Marshals (1998)
  • K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)

I had some actual Christmas movies, like Home Alone, lined up, but we haven’t got around to watching those yet. We did get to see family properly later on in the week after Christmas, including a lovely (yet windy!) walk along the beach at Bexhill-on-Sea in Sussex.

 

Thinking about the craziness of 2021, I struggled to recall what stood out to me as highlights of the year, even though I know there were many. Here’s the list I came up with…

My Highlights of 2021:

I’m now having a think about my goals for 2022, but I’m not putting myself under any pressure right now. The main things on the list are a bookbinding course, improving my tap dancing, more writing… but I’ll come back to my 2022 goals in another post 🙂

What were your highlights of 2021? 

Review: Ballet Black Double Bill

Photo credit: Bill Cooper

Last Thursday I went to see Ballet Black at the Watford Palace Theatre. I was so burned from work last week that I wasn’t really in the mood until we got there. In their 19th season, Ballet Black were performing a double bill of two very different pieces: Then Or Now and The Waiting Game.

Then Or Now

This muted piece was set to a spoken score, the poetry of American poet Adrienne Rich (1929-2012) from her Dark Fields of the Republic, along with the music of Heinrich Franz von Biber (1644-1704). Being set to poetry made it a series of shorter pieces, with themes of the breakdown of community, selfishness, individualism, politics and violence. For me, Then Or Now was powerful but I found the spoken word difficult to concentrate on after a while (probably because I was really tired), and it was a little abstract for me, but it was danced really beautifully and I enjoyed the variety of Will Tuckett’s choreography.

Photo credit: Bill Cooper

The Waiting Game

Choreographed by Mthuthuzeli November, this was my favourite piece of the evening, on the topic of something almost everyone can relate to: the monotony of the daily grind and the desire to escape! Spoken over and over again were the words (I hope I’ve remembered this correctly) “Wake, shower, eat, work, eat lunch, work, home, dinner, sleep, wake, shower, eat, work….” and it went on and on like that. The main character, the work drone, is ruminating on the meaning of life and death and is trapped in a cycle of constantly trying to leave his life via a mystery door, that seems to be enticing him (through a group of mischievous dancers) to an exciting life…but he keeps being prevented from opening it. He meets his sparky alternate (female) self on his cyclical journey of torment and eventually the door is opened and he joins the party, complete with sequined jacket, dancing with gospel church joy to Etta James’ fabulous song Something’s Got a Hold of Me…before returning to his monotonous old life, and the punchline is delivered. This scene was so uplifting and a visual treat.

Verdict: A really enjoyable contemporary ballet double bill, displaying creativity and contrast. As you’ve probably gathered, The Waiting Game was my favourite piece.

 

Two Theatre Shows in Two Weeks!

Message in a Bottle

Message in a Bottle Theatre Programme

Last Saturday my SO went into London to see Kate Prince’s latest dance story, Message in a Bottle at the Peacock Theatre in Holborn. The show how told the story of a family of refugees who have been displaced following civil war in their homeland. This was set against the backdrop of the songs of Sting, including Roxanne, Englishman in New York and of course Message in a Bottle. The story was poignant, current and very moving in places and the music and dance was just fantastic.

The Lion King

Lyceum Theatre

This Saturday just gone, we took my mum and nephew to see the award-winning musical The Lion King. We originally had tickets for August, but it was postponed due to cast and crew members having tested positive for Covid. It was a fabulous, colourful show and of course Elton John’s songs are amazing (The Circle of Life is a particular favourite). Unfortunately, there were a lot of people in the audience fidgeting, looking at phones and generally messing about – the adults, not the children!

It’s been great to get out there and support the arts! Have you been to the theatre lately?

Swinging at the Cotton Club

A few weekends ago my SO and I went to see ‘Swinging at the Cotton Club’ at Watford’s outdoor summer event space, Stage in the Park. We opted to take our own deck chairs, rather than sit on blankets or sit in the area with chairs provided – cheaper tickets!

The park was also hosting the annual Jiveswing Festival that day, so we went along a bit earlier to make sure we caught some of that beforehand. We only got there to catch the end of the festival, but looking at their social media feed, it looks as though it had been a fantastic day.

Stage in the Park advertised lots of food options, so we didn’t eat beforehand. Unfortunately, there really wasn’t anything there, besides some sausage rolls. There was a Caribbean food van that was setting up, but wouldn’t be ready to serve until the interval…no burgers, no Mexican food as promised! And the people running the event didn’t seem to acknowledge the fact that none of the other food vans had materialised either. We ended up walking back across the park to the Jiveswing Festival to grab a burger from a van that was just starting to pack away and head home. Once we were in our seats, the HEAVENS OPENED and it continued to rain for most of the show. It got to the point where some of the dancers were slipping on the stage, which was mopped during the interval… ANYWAY, onto the actual show:

In celebration of the hottest joint in 1920s-30s Harlem, Swinging at the Cotton Club was a variety show of song, Lindy Hop, vintage jazz dance and tap dance, against the live music of Duke Ellington, played by Harry Strutters Hot Rhythm Orchestra. The dancers were from the Lindy Hop Dance Company (which included Jreena Green, who was one of the special guests on BOP Jazz’s ‘Let’s Talk Jazz‘ series last year), and the featured tap dancer was Worthing-based artist Lee Payne, who is part of Tap Dance Research Network UK – I had no idea there would be tap dance in the show because it wasn’t mentioned in the blurb, so that was a pleasant surprise!

Lee did a GREAT job with his exciting tap routines, including one dedicated to Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, and he even pulled out a sand dance later in the show, which was awesome. Vocalist Marlene Hill breezed through classic songs such as ‘Is You is or is You Ain’t My Baby’ (with compere Megs Etherington) and ‘Stormy Weather’, which was particularly apt in the relentless downpour. The Lindy Hoppers did some flashy routines, which were really fun to watch, framed perfectly by the shimmering lights of the background staging and the various costume changes. They also showcased a bit of tap, and I particularly enjoyed their soft shoe routine – I love the fact that tap doesn’t always have to be fast and furious.

The audience was quite small, but very encouraging to the artists and most of us stuck it out in the rain until the end, and actually, the sun did come out in the second act. Many people got up to dance and I got out of my seat to join in with the Shim Sham at the end 🙂

Verdict: It was a great show and I loved the music and dance and atmosphere. I just think I’d rather watch it indoors next time!

 

A Holiday, A Decision & A Festival

Holiday

I can’t believe it’s July already! My SO and I recently had a week’s holiday in Torbay, aka the English Riviera, which basically consists of the seaside towns of Torquay (as in Fawlty Towers), Paignton and the beautiful fishing harbour of Brixham. We had such a great time, and we were really spoiled with the lovely weather (because everyone back home had rain a lot of that week). The week ended up having an Agatha Christie theme because we visited her holiday home Greenway, by the stunning River Dart, we saw an Agatha Christie exhibition at Torquay Museum and some of the set and costumes from ITV’s Poirot (one of my favourite shows ever – although only series 1-8. Not so bothered after it changed production and we lost the comedic relationships between Poirot and Inspector Japp, Hastings and Miss Lemon), we saw her comedy-thriller play Spider’s Web at Paignton Theatre one evening, and while visiting her hometown of Torquay, we also found the site of her childhood home, which is sadly no more. What a week!

Big Decision

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

After thinking about it for quite a while, today I closed my soap business that I’ve been running for about 10 years. Although I had been thinking about doing it for a while, Brexit ended up being the catalyst as I had to jump through a number of hoops to submit all my product details to the new government cosmetics portal, and I just knew I was over it already. Although I feel a little sad about it, I also feel like a BIG WEIGHT has been lifted off my shoulders. About 5 years after starting my craft business I got into tap dancing which requires time and dedication, plus I didn’t have much time for writing for fun anymore, so it feels good to have that extra time back! I have a small-scale wholesale customer who I will continue to make for once a month, but I’m just done with all the other stuff.

Tap City

American Tap Dance Foundation’s TAP CITY festival starts on Monday!!! I’m really excited to be able to join in while it’s taking place online. I mean, who’s getting on a flight from London to New York at the moment?? I’ve printed off the schedule, highlighted all the intermediate classes, and added in the class times in GMT (big thanks to my SO for reminding me about that!). I will actually be working Monday and Tuesday (still working from home, so I can join in from 5pm) and then I am on holiday the rest of the week so I can take part live, but my registration actually includes 30 days access to the recordings. Result!

On another note, I am currently working on a mini-bio about a female tap dance legend to share with you shortly. I did start doing research while I was in Devon, but I was too distracted by the sea views!

Quick Bio: Buddy Bradley

 

Photo credit: Brook Bassett 1937

A few months ago I attended an online talk by Annette Walker of Tap Dance Research Network UK, where she was sharing some of her research on the forgotten African American choreographer ‘Buddy Bradley: Choreographing British Film and Theatre’.

He was a pioneer here in the UK, but most people haven’t even heard of him!

Who: Clarence ‘Buddy’ Bradley Epps

Born: Pennsylvania, USA in 1905 and was an orphan by his teens.

Died: 1975 in New York

Family: Married Dorothy, known as ‘Dee’.

Training: Largely self-taught in Tap dance, Charleston and the other jazz dances, influenced by the environment of the Harlem renaissance of New York City.

Known as: The UK’s answer to Busby Berkeley

Career: Being black in the US at that time, he was not credited for much of his early choreography of several Broadway shows. This changed when he was invited to work in the UK on the musical Ever Green in 1933 and decided to settle here. (This is a common theme when you look at the African American performers, like Josephine Baker and Will Gaines, who also found success and credit for their work once they moved to Europe).

Buddy Bradley, Jessie Matthews & Jack Buchanan featured in Picturegoer Weekly 1936

Notable Students: Fred and Adele Astaire, Ruby Keeler, Eleanor Powell. Buddy was the go-to person in London for tap training, and he taught lots of the UK’s big names, including Jack Buchanan, Jessie Matthews, Lionel Blair and the late Bruce Forsythe, John Mills and Roy Castle. He had his own dance studio at 25a New Compton Street and later Denman Street in Soho, London, called the Buddy Bradley School of Stage Dancing.  By 1950 the school had over 500 students!

Teaching style: Apparently he liked his dancers to move across the stage rather than hoof on the spot. He taught in routines, like Henry Le Tang (rather than the ‘watch me and pick it up’ style of some of the masters) and he was known to be a ‘task master’.

Some of his film & stage choreography credits: High Yellow (1932), Ever Green (1934), Radio Parade (1934), A Fire Has Been Arranged (1935), Anything Goes (1935), Brewster’s Millions (1935), Blackbirds (1936), This’ll Make You Whistle (1936), I Can Take It (1939), Full Swing (1942), Something in the Air (1943), It’s Time to Dance (1943), Sauce Piquant (1950)

Quotes: 

People lose sight of the fact that all these modern dance creations…beginning with the Charleston…the Black Bottom, Pickin’ Cotton, Beguine, Rhumba and Carioca, all have African origin.

When I set out to conceive such a dance as the Caranga, I first ask “what is the background?”

Unfortunately, there really isn’t a lot written about him. He wasn’t even mentioned on British television until about thirty years after his death, when the actor John Mills tap danced across the stage on the popular evening talk show Parkinson, and he was asked who taught him to dance – Buddy Bradley!

Buddy is mentioned in the following books that I used as my sources for this post:

  • Bourne, Stephen, Black in the British Frame (2005)
  • Stearns, Marshall & Jean, Jazz Dance: The Story of American Vernacular Dance (1994)
  • Valis Hill, Constance, Tap Dancing America (2014)

Happy New Year

Hello and Happy New Year to you! Well, we’re actually 8 days in now, and things in the world seem crazy at the moment, what with Covid and Trump and Brexit…but I hope the start of the year is going okay for you.

Christmas was very different this time around because we weren’t allowed to meet with other households, so on Christmas day afternoon, after our online church service, a sunshine walk and a massive gammon dinner with all the trimmings, we ended up hosting a 3 and a half hour quiz with my family on Zoom which included rounds on country flags, Strictly Come Dancing and a (particularly difficult) music round, and then we video called my SO’s family straight after. We managed to do lots of walks in the evenings to see the amazing Christmas light displays that people had done on their houses, and we walked around the village in the daytime to try and get some vitamin D. I completed a very tricky 500 piece jigsaw and a couple of books I’ve had on the go. My SO painted the bathroom in Cooking Apple Green (Farrow & Ball) and made chocolate fondants, a baked cheesecake and pastel de natas (Portuguese custard tarts) – I also worked (from home) on the 30th, but who wants to hear about that?

Usually in the run up to Christmas, many of us like going to the theatre (if the bank account allows!) to see a pantomime or another show. Last Winter we saw The Mousetrap in London and the Northern Ballet’s The Nutcracker in Sheffield. This Winter, the theatres are closed, but we were able to get tickets to watch the film It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) at a drive-in in North London (complete with burger…and fries!), and we also got tickets for the Barbican’s live streamed performance of A Dickensian Christmas, which featured beautifully sung Christmas carols and dramatic excerpts from A Christmas Carol, read by actor Kevin Whately (of Inspector Morse, Lewis, etc). Definitely gave us all the Christmas feels.

We made a point of watching movies over the holidays, including Running on Empty (1988), Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987), North by Northwest (1959), Die Hard (1988), Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1994) (technically a TV episode, but hey ho) – we did have more Christmassy/wintery movies on the list (Uncle Buck, Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Miracle of 34th Street) but we haven’t got around to those yet!

Another thing I did was to spend a little bit of time in the garage working on specific tap steps, something I’ve been trying to do since the summer. This time I concentrated on my ‘Shirley Temple’. A very well-known combination, but one that you can trip up on, or add too many extra bits to. To make it even better, I had some Christmas Jazz songs on in the background! I’m back to tap class next week, and because we’re on lockdown and therefore online-only again, I’m able to join the Thursday afternoon class – a welcome break in the working day. I also start ukulele class online next Friday – I’ll let you know how that goes 🙂

Have a great weekend x