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Arts UK

  • Lempicka on Dr Who

    medium_39.jpgI was ludicrously pleased to spot a version of Tamara de Lempicka's unfinished portrait of Tadeusz de Lempicki featuring in Episode 6 of the new Dr Who. Her heroic, geometric style was perfectly suited to a portrait of the nasty Geocomtex boss Henry van Statten, played by Corey Johnson.

    medium_tdltad.jpgThe 1928 original is in the Musée Georges Pompidou in Paris, but featured in the Royal Academy's terrific Lempicka show last year. Van Statten's look seemed to have been influenced by another striking de Lempicka portrait, of Dr Boucard, her Swiss Chemist patron. I'm almost a complete convert to Christopher Ecclestone as the Doctor, even down to his street-wise northern grittiness, though quite where the great Gallifreyan got his Manchester accent is beyond me.

    See http://www.goodart.org/artoftdl.htm for more on de Lempicka (1898-1980)

  • Twilight of the Gods, ENO

    'What use is my wisdom against this chaos?' sings Brünnhilde in Phyllida Lloyd's production of 'Twilight of the Gods' at the Coliseum in London. After almost six hours of climactics, Wagner's Ring Cycle ends as Brünnhilde immolates herself together with the cursed ring of the nibelung which is to be purified by the same fire that will take her to her beloved Siegfried.

    This was the first time I had seen more than 'the Valkyrie', the second in the cycle. That production in Budapest stunned me, every emotional nuance of the characters seemingly mirrored by the wonderful expressiveness of the orchestral writing.

    The ENO production has been more controversial. I sent my sister to the much shorter 'Rheingold' - number one in the cycle - as her introduction to live opera. She and her husband loved the music and the light-hearted staging.

    Traditionalists found plenty to gripe at: Wotan seem to have been partly inspired by Ozzy Osbourne and we saw him in the bath. A soap opera in every sense. On balance, I enjoyed the 'home life of the immortals' staging. The non too subtle story was that the Gods have crises just like characters in 'Eastenders'.

    Even so, a measure or two tragic grandeur in the final part of the Ring seemed essential, even for the most contemporary of productions. Act one, the longest at over two hours, began with the lady norns getting their knitting of time in a twist. The Rhinemaidens pole danced again and the valkyrie were encouragingly punky (as seen at last year's Glastonbury Festival). But the singing lacked oomph, wicked Hagen was off-key and Siegried was underwhelming.

    It got much better in the second and third acts. Siegfried's death and funeral march and Brünnhilde's burning were terrifically involving. The Rhine rose to cover her ashes and Valhalla fell with three vast shimmering golden curtains and a fade to black.

    Powerful stuff and far too complex for me to fully comprehend after just one performance. The sensual, amoral music thrilled me but the performance lacked the devestating impact I hoped for. Am I becoming jaded or can the English not do Wagner?

  • Rebecca in Cambridge

    Seen at Cambridge Arts Theatre, 12.3.05.

    'Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again'. Du Maurier's novel makes an enjoyably gripping play in this new adaptation by Frank McGuinness. It begins with the second Mrs Maxim de Winter alone on a beach of white stones, with a projection beyond of breakers running in to shore. Through the projection a dim yellow light picks out the features of Mrs Danvers climbing a great stair. She is fetishistically, erotically obsessed with her lady Rebecca, the first Mrs de Winter. There is an over emphais on sexual deviation in the play: a young footman likes make-up and ginger beer, and the estate manager was almost gay (played by family friend Martyn Stanbridge).

    Nigel Havers was excellent as de Winter, and Danvers was brilliantly played with steely focus by Maureen Beattie. There were rather too many laughs in the first half and perhaps the menace grew more slowly than du Maurier might have wished in the second.

    A great delight to see such a lavish, well-cast show running with precision. In the final scene the beach becomes blazing coals as Manderley is destroyed by fire. It made a juicily satisfying ending to the evening's entertainment.The houses are record-breakingly good, the cast have incredibly been given a pay rise, and everyone goes home happy.

  • Britten's War Requiem: semi-staged


    At Pangbourne College Falklands Chapel last weekend.


    A youth, sepulchre-white and bare-chested, was borne in on the shoulders of his equally floppy haired pals.

    Two male soloists spent the performance on a scaffolding tower, one had a glitter ball for company, the other the pale (and still shirtless) boy. The tenor needn't have worried as he had his time later, when the youth popped up on his tower (looking for someone to light his candle). When the soprano had to sing Rex tremendae maiestatis the single follow spot (which had been pursuing her all evening) obliged by tremulously expanding and contracting all over her. Too many excitements, really - very camp. In his madder moments Britten might have approved but I rather doubt it. More's the pity as all this pantomime distracted from the fine music, which was well played.