An archive of our reviews 2017 (Part Two)
Back to OnOurOwn click HERE 
A concert by the Ensemble I Disinvolti 
in the Church of Santa Corona, Vicenza, Italy. 
What was it? Under the title L’Eredita’ Di Monteverdi (the legacy of Monteverdi), this was a performance of sacred vocal and instrumental music by Claudio of that name (1567 – 1643) and by less-well-known composers of the same era who worked with him or were in other ways influenced by him. 
What did it have going for it? With the post-referendum £ virtually at par with the €, a free concert, however esoteric, was irresistible. The additional temptation was the venue – the church of the former Dominican convent is (internally) a gleaming pink and cream confection barely to be distinguished from a luxury gelato of some scale. Its gothic vaults rise high above the marble floor and its rich assemblage of side altars, paintings (Giovanni Bellini for example), monuments and other decorative signs of its long history create a striking impact. It was in this church that Andrea Palladio (d. 1580) whose architectural achievements can be seen in so many places in Vicenza (including part of the Teatro Olimpico) was initially buried. 
Did We Enjoy it? The prospect of a programme of no fewer than 17 items with no indication of an interval was a tad daunting, as were the bare wooden benches with no sight of a cushion. In the event, however, there was no suffering, even though there was indeed no interval. All the pieces were of modest length, so even the addition of an encore did not keep us long from the supper table. For all its limited forces (two tenors and a bass plus portative organ and theorbo), the Ensemble – whose title, itself a musical term, seems to translate as “easy” or even “breezy” – filled the echoing spaces with bubbling  energy and dramatic intensity. All the voices, heard sometimes together, sometimes as pairs, sometimes solo, were supple, expressive and polished. On occasion, their vocal passion was cooled with delicate fluting by the organ in a canzona by Gabrieli (1557- 1612) and with soft filigree by the theorbo in toccatas by Kapsburger (1580 – 1651). 
To the untutored ear, the vocal items - motets in varied formats - by various hands – Rovetta (1536 – 1668), Rigatti (1613 – 1648), Grandi (1586 – 1630) et al – were not easy to distinguish one from another (I stand to be corrected and enlightened). That seemed true too of Claudio Monteverdi and of his younger brother Guilio Cesare (1573 – 1630). This may be understandable, given the political and cultural dominance of Venice in the region at this period. The common characteristics were highly ornamented lines and highly passionate invocations and adorations. The line between “sacred” and “secular” was indeed fine – as witness contemporary paintings where the depiction of religious ecstasy is often not very far from more fleshly passions. And this was the moment, verging on the baroque, when “opera” as now commonly understood achieved its particular identity. 
Those of us from the land once condemned as being “without music” could not help but reflect that solid protestant metrical psalm-singing may have been good for the souls of our early 17th century church-going forebears but it cannot have been as exhilarating and delightful as our evening with the Easy Ensemble. 
Our Rating: 3.5/5 
Would the Group have booked? Sorry, Vicenza is just a bit too out of reach for us to organise a visit. 
Would the group have enjoyed it? For our Theatre Group, this would need to be filed under 
Collectable: Misc. 
Group Appeal: ?/5 
Desire under the Elms by Eugene O’Neill, 
at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield 
What's it about? We're down on the farm. Eben believes that the farm belongs to him, as his mother earned it from his father Ephraim before she died. Ephraim returns home with a new wife, Abby. There is a powerful sexual attraction between Abby and Eben, and she has his child. It’s Phaedra in the mid-West, blended with other borrowings from Greek tragedy. 
What did it have going for it? This early work by one of the great dramatists is rarely performed, and therefore it’s highly collectible. This was a chance to see it staged by rising star director Sam Yates.  
Did we enjoy it? It was a handsome production, and visually very striking. Sam Yates seemed to catch the appropriate mood of the play, and to understand O’Neill’s intentions. Matthew Kelly was suitably patriarchal, and Michael Shea as Eben is clearly an actor to keep an eye on. However, Aoife Duffin was too young for the role of Abby, and lacked an essential earthiness. Overall, I’m glad we collected it. 
Our Rating: Not quite 4 stars, but so close…3.8/5 
Would the Group have booked? We aren’t running trips to Sheffield yet! 
Would the group have enjoyed it? Anyone who likes intense drama would have liked it. 
Group Appeal: 3/5 
Beginning by David Eldridge 
at the National: Dorfman Theatre 
What's it about? The party's over but Laura is not ready to call it a day. Her biological clock is ticking and the last guest, Danny, lingering to finish his beer, may prove reproductive. Can chalk and cheese be a romantic squeeze? Is this the beginning of something more?  
What did it have going for it? A new play by David Eldridge; the subject was enticing too; it received enthusiastic reviews.  
Did we enjoy it?  Looking beyond the first kiss, if it ever comes, proves absorbing, suspenseful and surprisingly amusing in this romantic two-hander. These two lonely characters, as played by Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughton, may not look ideal partners but their body language, their hesitancy and suspicion of each others' motives, contribute as much to the believability of their situation as does the all too natural dialogue. She is affluent yet needy, he is lost yet needy too, and as they warily try to understand each other, we soon warm to their slowly revealed plights and will them to hit it off. Justine Mitchell is maybe cast a little too posh but Sam Troughton (why is he directed to play so much with his back towards us?) makes this unassuming Everyman just endearing enough for the encounter to be both original and believable. It's a cautious dance of desire and is a joy to see. We loved it.  
Our Rating: 4/5 
Would the Group have booked? The names involved are not widely known so it might be a difficult sell. 
Would the Group have enjoyed it? Oh yes, they would join the cheering at the end. 
Group Appeal: 4/5 
Albion by Mike Bartlett 
at the Almeida Theatre 
What's it about? An English Country Garden as a symbol for...(insert title) 
What did it have going for it ? It's a new play by Mike Bartlett, writer of King Charles III and tv's 
Doctor Foster; it's directed by theatre's eternal wunderkind Rupert Goold and has the wonderful Victoria Hamilton in the lead role. Oh yes, the reviews were enthusiastic too. 
Did we enjoy it? I did, but my companions did not. Move over Jerusalem, this English Country Garden is another 'state of the nation' play, or at least a stand-in for the Playing Fields of England – read into it everything from 20th century malaise, war grief and class animosity, right through to today's nostalgia for a golden past, the disillusion of the young and of course Brexit. But beware –  too much symbolism and it all becomes a bit silly. Audrey has inherited a decrepit garden (plus adjacent house which is not yet a home); she decides to have it restored to its former glory, bossing everyone around her into supporting her pet project, but alienating them all at the same time, destroying family and friends as the garden grows. The impressive in-the-round grassy garden set with central tree gives the whole cast an added task of planting the beds between scenes and then clearing them again as things turn out for the worst. This rather impressed me but irritated others. The wilful Audrey, as played majestically by Victoria Hamilton with a haughty air of self-righteousness, grabs our attention and never lets it go, but those around her are less engaging. Act one rounds up the woes and aspirations so we wonder where 'the nation' is going, but Act 2 changes its mind too often and soapily deflates – all rather like Brexit. But it entertained me despite its irritants and implausibilities. 
Our Rating: 3/5 
Would the Group have booked? The writer and plot would have raised interest, as they did ours. 
Would the group have enjoyed it? Like the plants, some would blossom and some wilt. 
Group Appeal: 3/5 
Life is for Living: Conversations with Coward  
written and compiled by David Shrubsole, sung by Simon Green 
at the Crazy Coqs, Brasserie Zedel 
What's it about? Songs, letters and extracts from Noel Coward’s diaries, interspersed with songs from his contemporaries, presented and sung by Simon Green. 
What did it have going for it? We were guests of our friends Jan & Michael. Simon Green reminded us that Noel Coward is the Master, but this 70 minute tour of his life and work made me feel that perhaps he was Jack of all trades, but Master of none. Certainly several songs didn’t stand up well against the Berlin and Gershwin examples included in the programme. And charming entertainer though he is, Simon Green really only introduced some variety into his presentation towards the end of the programme, with affecting interpretations of Marvellous Party, LondonPride, I Travel Alone and Sail Away. Full credit to him for not relying on the more familiar (and better) material, though some of that might have represented Coward’s achievements more convincingly. 
Did we enjoy it? I couldn’t have liked it more! Oh, that was being with Jan and Michael. Yes, Simon Green was appealing, but I think the act needs to be sharper, with more light and shade. 
Our Rating:  3/5 
Would the Group have booked? It’s a small room, not appropriate for a group. 
Would the group have enjoyed it? If you’re a Coward addict, yes. 
Group Appeal: 3/5 
Saint George and the Dragon by Rory Mullarkey 
at the National Theatre: Olivier 
What's it about? Saint George slays dragons through the Ages. 
What did it have going for it? A new play in the Olivier with John Heffernan in the lead and directed by the ever inventive Lyndsey Turner. Another dud after Salome and Common? We wanted to find out.... 
Did we enjoy it? The Nation is in a state again! This is becoming a common theme this year (see some previous reviews). Here the titular saint is fighting symbolic dragons through the Ages (three Ages, of course). To start us off it's rather disappointing to discover the dragons sometimes take on human form, to talk if not to fight. The first, an ogre suppressing villagers, is reassuringly slain in an unseen battle which nevertheless has 2 of the dragon's 3 heads flying amusingly over the heads of the audience. George's bloodied robe becomes the St. George flag. After that we move forward centuries and the next dragon, symbolically, is the Industrial Age exploiting workers. The third Age seems to be Society itself, or Capitalism, or football fans...yes, the focus strays uncertainly here so we can make up our own minds about today's dragon(s). The tone of the piece seems to be aimed at teenagers – nothing wrong with that – and there's much to entertain in the presentation on the Olivier's vast revolving stage. Model houses sprout smoking chimneys for the rise of industry, and mini tower-blocks rise for today's landscape. A large cast of largely unknown faces is lead by John Heffernan in sackcloth and a Spamalot wig - his innocence and enthusiasm charm the populace, even supporting a romance of sorts with an ageless damsel, and we happily wish him well with each quest. More of a success than Salome and Common, decidedly less tedious and irritating than both and with more laughs I would suggest, and why some friends left at the interval I cannot guess. 
Our Rating:   3.5/5 
Would the Group have booked? Not a lot to tempt us in advance, nor in subsequent reviews. Did the NT really think this would fill the Olivier? 
Would the group have enjoyed it? Probably yes, if expectations were not high. 
Group Appeal:   3/5 
Kathie adds: The critics have not been overly thrilled by this production but we found a lot to enjoy and it satisfied on entertainment value (dragon fighting, music et al) and John Heffernan was delightful as the naïve but optimistic George. On a deeper and more general level it also provoked thoughts about how far an insular and nationalistic focus can be both satisfying and terrifying. It also had added relevance on Armistice Day.  
Marnie, an opera in two acts, 
Music by Nico Muhly, Libretto by Nicholas Wright, based on the novel by Winston Graham 
What's it about? Adapted from Winston Grahams 1961 novel, and subsequently filmed by Hitchcock, it is the story of a troubled young woman - a thief and a liar, who moves on by assuming new identities. Eventually we learn about her early life and the root of her troubles. 
What did it have going for it?   A world premiere with music by Nico Muhly and libretto by Nicholas Wright; a cast lled by Sasha Cooke as Marnie, with Daniel Okulitch as her husband and James Laing as his devious brother.    
Did I enjoy it? Overall, yes, I did. A splendid production that moved its filmic script adroitly from office to kitchen to bedroom to cemetery etc; music that is always effective and at times quite beautiful; a cast of excellent singers, and a pleasure to see Lesley Garrett as the fearsome mother-in-law. Conducting was in the safe hands of Martyn Brabbins, and the chorus was on excellent form. The first act was the less interesting but after the interval the piece gathered momentum - maybe not the thriller I had been expecting, but I was gripped. I was somewhat puzzled by Marnie having four vocal lookalikes (maybe reflecting her state of mind?) and the presence of ten anonymous trilby hatted besuited male dancers who moved in and out of the action. I could imagine a few alterations before it moves to the New York Metropolitan but it is already a piece that deserves attention. 
Our Rating: 3/5 
Would the Group have booked? I doubt it, though some fans of 'new' opera or the Hitchcock film might. 
Would the group have enjoyed it? Moderately, as a collectible, if collecting operas is on your Wish List. 
Group Appeal: 2.5/5 
The Twilight Zone adapted by Anne Washburn 
(based on stories by Rod Sterling, Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson) at the Almeida 
What’s it about? Various stories where the unusual and unlikely often happens, brought to the stage and borrowing heavily from the look and time of the original TV series (1959-1964).  
What did it have going for it? While none of us had been faithful viewers of the original series, or its subsequent revivals, it was going to be interesting to see how the concept could be staged.  
Did we enjoy it? The relatively small cast of 10 were well used to play various roles through some recurring storylines and some stand-alone. Their depiction of real, unreal, human and non-human characters was entertaining and just a little tongue-in-cheek at times. There were alien visitors from space, figures of the imagination, a creepy ventriloquist's puppet, screams in the night, and lit cigarettes which appeared from nowhere, all set in a starry black void with highly choreographed scene changes and a monochrome dress code - very impressive and overall it delivered on its promise of mystery and threat with a mixture of uneasy smiles and a few shivers. The second half did drag a little though and some storylines didn’t work as well as others. A bit of pruning and a bit more “I didn’t expect that” would have helped. With a fair number of youngsters in the audience it added to the slightly festive nature of the experience. 
Our rating: 3.5/5 
Would the Group have booked? Fans with memories of the orginal tv series might be tempted. 
Would the group have enjoyed it? Some would, if in the mood for tv nostalgia. 
Group Appeal: 3/5