Review: The Crucible

Seeing as I have this gift membership for Sadler’s Wells theatre, on Tuesday evening after work I went to see Scottish Ballet perform their adaptation of Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible.

The play is inspired by the Salem witch trials of 1692, but was also written as an allegory for the post-war witch-hunt of those with alleged communist ties in Hollywood, leading to many in the industry being blacklisted in the 1940s-50s. Some people were even imprisoned for refusing to testify. Arthur Miller himself was convicted of ‘contempt of congress’ for refusing to identify others who had been at meetings he’d attended…

In a devout Puritan village in Massachusetts, teenager Abigail works for John & Elizabeth Proctor, but ends up having an affair with John, discovered by Elizabeth, and she is fired. Abigail and her friends head into the forest, having followed Tituba, the slave of Revd Parris, and she tries to put a curse on Elizabeth Proctor. Frenzied dancing ensues until Revd Parris discovers them and finds his daughter Betty has collapsed. Betty is carried back to the house and Revd Hale, an expert in witchcraft is summoned to investigate. In the process of trying to exorcise the bewitched Betty, a dark force is unleashed and the group of girls begin to accuse lots people in the village of witchcraft. Tituba is framed for witchcraft and jailed. Abigail is the niece of Revd Parris, so her accusations hold sway in the proceedings that follow. The villagers become suspicious of each other and accusations fly, leading to many court hearings. Abigail plants a poppet (mini-doll stuck with a pin) of herself in the Proctor’s home to frame Elizabeth. The authorities search the house and discover this ‘evidence’ of Elizabeth’s witchcraft. Eventually, the affair between John and Abigail is made public, but Elizabeth’s continued denial of the affair leads to her own condemnation. John is also accused of witchcraft and sentenced.

I’ve never seen Scottish Ballet before, so I was very excited to watch a different ballet company on stage. I’ve also never read The Crucible – the only Arthur Miller play I’ve read is A View from the Bridge when I was at school. As you can tell from the storyline and subject matter, the show was quite dark, with a constant sense of menace hanging in the air. With choreography by Helen Pickett, the dancers were fantastic – the dancer playing the role of Abigail performed some very effective jerky, off-kilter movements, visually representing her mental and emotional state. Unusually for a ballet, there was laughter and also screaming from the dancers at various points, which made it even more disconcerting.

I wouldn’t say this was my favourite ballet as it was so dark, but it was very well done and the story kept me gripped until the end.

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: 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?

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

Friday Favourites

Theatre

Last night my colleagues and I went to see the brand new West End production of Prince of Egypt! It lasted an epic 2.5 hours and I didn’t get home until 11.30pm, but the singing was amazing and the staging was atmospheric and effective. Can I just mention that the dancers were fantastic? I didn’t expect that amount of dance, but it featured throughout the storytelling and the top-rate choreography definitely deserves a round of applause. The song When you Believe was a particular highlight, having been made famous by Whitney and Mariah. I would recommend!

Long Weekend

Earlier this month, my SO and I had a long weekend away, Friday to Monday, at a hot tub beach hut retreat by the sea in Devon. We walked the coast path, relaxed in the outdoor hot tub, read books, binge-watched US crime drama and chilled. There was a huge storm raging around us towards the end of the weekend, but we were fairly sheltered. We’ll definitely go back!

Garage Workout

Now that we’ve added to our home workout equipment and reorganised the garage space, my SO and I got out into the garage on Sunday afternoon and did a weight training session. Bluetooth speaker, banging playlist, aerobic warm-up, barbell, kettlebells, dumbbells and stretching. To improve my conditioning for tap dance, I would ideally like to exercise 3 times a week. Let’s see if we can make the weights session a regular thing!

Have a great weekend, whatever you’re doing!

A New Year’s Whodunit

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Happy New Year! I hope the Christmas holidays treated you well?

For me, there was lots of food and family time, plus half a day at work on New Year’s Eve. But I didn’t let office time spoil the week…my SO and I went to the theatre afterwards to see a matinee performance of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap – the longest running show in the world! Yes, the 1950s murder mystery show is now in its 68th year. It was very enjoyable, with lots of humour. I expected it to be more serious, like last year’s Witness for the Prosecution. However, as seems to be the case these days, there was someone behind us rustling a popcorn bag throughout act one, opening fizzy drinks and constantly fidgeting, like we were at the cinema, and not a LIVE STAGE SHOW. Anyway, getting back to The Mousetrap, as is tradition, I’m afraid I am unable to tell you whodunit!

I was back at work properly on Monday after lazing around for the best part of two weeks, and I will be returning to my intermediate rhythm tap class tomorrow after a 2 month break. I had signed up to an 11-week writing class at City Lit in Covent Garden, starting next week, but I changed my mind and got a refund, as I really need to buckle down and get some things finished first. That won’t happen if I’m out every Wednesday evening and my list of commitments is longer than before. I keep saying I want to ‘do less’ this year, so instead of committing to an 11-week course, I’m going to look out for one-off workshops instead, and use my free time to actually sit down and write. And practice ukulele!

On a different note, whilst in Covent Garden on New Year’s Eve, I came across dance wear specialist Bloch’s brand new shop, which had moved from its prior location in Drury Lane. I love checking out the tap shoes, so I went downstairs to the shoe area and found the brand new Jason Samuels Smith patent tap shoes:

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drool!

I already have leather versions in white and black, so I probably would go for a different colour in the patent…if I was splashing out on new shoes.

Which ones you do prefer?

Dorrance Dance Review

Last Thursday evening I went to Sadlers Wells, London’s home of dance, to see Dorrance Dance perform a triple bill: Three to One, Jungle Blues and Myelination. Led by Michelle Dorrance, Dorrance Dance are known for their Rhythm Tap as opposed to the typical theatrical showtap style, which made me jump at the chance to see them.

Jungle Blues

A lighthearted, southern, bluesy piece featuring the whole company. Smiling and laid back, with the gangly and awkward Warren Craft sliding around the stage in a slapstick fashion, it was fun to watch.

Three to One

After a short break, this piece began with 3 pairs of legs illuminated by a rectangle of light. Dorrance was in the middle in tap shoes and two barefoot male dancers were either side, doing exactly the same steps; an interesting concept of sound and silence, light and dark. Eventually they were fully lit and Dorrance is thrust into the darkness.

Myelination

This final, longer piece showcased the entire company, including the two breakdancers. The pint-sized B-girl was mesmerising in her contortions and fluidity of movement, if not slightly disturbing at points. I’m thinking of her frenetic movements on the ground, engulfed by red light as Warren Craft plays an electric guitar behind her, like something from The Exorcist (I’ve never seen the film, but I’ve seen enough trailers and silly gifs).

This show was pure rhythm and every sound was hit like a drum. Each dancer had their time to shine, and my favourite was Christopher Broughton’s old school tap solo, which was a nod to dancers such as the Nicholas Brothers, Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson and others. A suited Nicholas Van Young’s quick tapping brought to mind Gregory Hines’ close to the floor tap style.

Can I just mention the live jazz band on stage. The singing was exceptional. The guy on the keyboard and occasionally the drums had a voice like velvet. I’d buy his album!

I give the show 4 out of 5 stars for its innovative 21st century interpretation of rhythm tap dance, but it wasn’t as exciting as I was expecting, after rave reviews of previous shows. It was probably a little ‘out of the box’ for me this time.