Incredible silence, extraordinary occasion
Growing up, in between listening to my mother talk about being part of the Communist party in Cyprus and shouting over the garden wall to our Jamaican neighbour, another matriarch, as they trashed colonialism and capitalism, I was aware of the “season”, a sequence of summer events that were, in my eyes exclusively for spoilt ‘Sloanes’, the Oxbridge lot, booted and suited Eton students, Polo jet setters and parents of all of the above. These events include Henley, Ascot, Wimbledon, Glyndebourne and The Proms. In my world these were occasions that working-class kids of immigrant parents would never get near to, never mind attend. The closest I got was sitting on the grass (non-ticket holders) at the Kenwood Open Air concerts with some louvi and paklava while the deckchair denizens sipped Chablis. But Dylan was right when he sang about The Times They Are A-Changin‘.
Wind forward to 2018 and there I was in the Royal Albert Hall for the historic Last Night of the Proms (they have been going since 1895). I’d made it. Actually, I hadn’t because the audience was not just full of posh folk in their gowns and tuxedos but a diverse range of individuals from all walks of like, just as Sir Henry, the founder of the “Henry Wood Promenade Concerts” would have wanted it. We, the hoi polloi, are now mixing it with the upper echelons of society and indeed have been for many years now, so I finally caught up. As I began wondering why it had taken me so long my neighbour’s European Union flag blew across my face. The ‘Remainers’ and Brexiteers enjoyed some jovial banter in between some beautiful music. Hanging from the balconies were flags of all nations, the Cypriot one had “Southgate” graffiti over it.
There was an air of conviviality and rapprochement among the ‘Prommers’, packed into the arena, standing proudly to attention at all the appropriate moments while trying to wave their assortment of inflatable items without clobbering anybody over the head unless of course it was a polite way of airing their disagreement. I can think of far worse ways to be abused then being bonked on my bald pate by an air-filled flamingo. Politics and eccentricity aside, nobody does these occasions better, this is a party so many would love to be part of and tick off their “bucket list”. An opportunity for people of all ages and types to give free rein to the child inside. The sea shanty arrangement by the eponymous Wood gets everybody swaying, stamping and bobbing. I sat firmly in my seat as all this movement and flag waving was making me sea-sick.
The concert itself, the word itself being an oxymoron or euphemism depending on which way you look at it, was most definitely a game of two halves. The first part, obviously an appetiser for the reason most people were there, an opportunity to demonstrate their patriotism, was somewhat underwhelming, though the boisterous Prommers tried to lift our spirits with a medley of strange noises, sometimes shouted out at inopportune moments, taking even conductor, Sir Andrew Davis, a Proms veteran, by surprise. The highlight being Berlioz’s haunting Lélio, given a very artful rendition by the excellent BBC Symphony Chorus. Less interesting, and in truth a strange choice, was a new ethereal work by Roxanna Panufnik, which got lost as the sound drifted upwards and beyond the dome.
The interval came and went, yet more paraphernalia appeared, and interestingly more Union Jacks unless I was imagining it, and we were ready to let the celebratory carnival begin. Saxophonist Jess Gilham lit us up, probably too much for those already showing distinct signs of rising blood pressure, with a frenetic premiere of Milhaud’s Scaramouche. The orchestra worked hard to keep up and in time while she made up her own. The new arrangements of popular songs from the First World War were poignant and uplifting as was Gerald Finley’s dramatic version of the soliloquy from Carousel. Jerusalem, Pomp and Circumstance (Land of Hope and Glory), the National Anthem, encores aplenty and we were gone. Unforgettable and extraordinary for all sorts of reasons. And did those feet in ancient time…
A few days earlier Leonidas Finaglou was silently awestruck…
Prom 69 featured Bernstein’s lightweight Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium) and Shostakovich’s heavyweight Symphony No.4. Solo violinist, Baiba Skride, gave us whirlwind virtuosity that almost took all the hair off her bow which thankfully was a major distraction from a Bernstein composition lacking any quality or cohesion. The Shostakovich was otherworldly in comparison. You could tell the Boston Symphony Orchestra had recorded it this year, they knew it inside out. It even included funky rhythms intertwined with the violence and tragedy. Latvian conductor (Skride is too) Andris Nelsons was like a man possessed as he laid down the law. The brass and woodwind sections were sensational. He left over twenty seconds of dead silence at the end. Incredible.
Finally, Helena Lavirinthos is gasping for air…
Dust (Trafalgar Studios) is a rough ride. Self-harm is an increasing problem among teenagers, mainly girls and Milly Thomas’s play is an unflinching and unrelenting portrayal of the issue. Alice is already dead, the result of suicide. On the ‘other side’ she looks back at her physical life. She doesn’t like what she sees. Her body, self-harmers obsess about their image. Worse still her father is showing her affection, something he has never done before. If all this sounds familiar, it is, for this is something that consumes those afflicted as well as those close to them.
The play grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. Thomas plays Alice and what comes across strongly is how ‘normal’ she is, saying this could happen to anyone with a sub-title saying, “this could be you”. As a piece of theatre, it is suffocating, not dissimilar to the health warnings now part of every cigarette packet. That said Thomas is a very likeable and engaging performer and depicts sassy and sarcastic well in stark contrast to what befalls her. The production is a little too much in your face and it is in the quieter moments when we are allowed to breathe and reflect that the impact is greatest.
Dust – 0844 871 7632