No escaping legacy

 The Lafayette family gather at their late father’s home in Arkansas to bury the hatchet and prepare the former plantation for an estate sale. Until, that is, they make a discovery which changes everything. Families are complex structures but trying to portray that on stage in an interesting and engaging way is not easy. I can site several examples where looking at the family photo album would have been far more appealing and revealing. Thankfully Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’sAppropriate (Donmar Warehouse)is anything but and is a compelling piece of storytelling that gets beneath the skin of a disputatious clan to expose differences that up to now have been unsaid.

Dead daddy was a man who divided opinion. His offspring struggle to understand why he had acted in the way he did while alive. Toni (Monica Dolan), around whom much of the play revolves, will not have a bad word said about him. Not so her two older siblings, Franz (Edward Hogg) and Bo (Steven Mackintosh) who believe he was a little deranged, had prejudices that were intolerable and perhaps worst of all he cared far more about himself than his children. The disagreements pale into insignificance when they make their hideous discovery, a book with photographs of countless black people who have been murdered. Suddenly perspective becomes everything, and they are forced to confront a whole new reality.

Jacobs-Jenkins gets this privileged, white family to engage in a seriously uncomfortable discourse about race. This about to be sold plantation had been a place of tribulation to many slaves, the morbid stench of which will follow them wherever they go, yet one by one they adopt a position that says so much about their desire to run away. Bo sees dollars and wants to sell the photographic evidence while Franz and fiancé River (Tafline Steen) set up a goldfish bowl therapy session which has hints of a seance. Although the emotions jerk suddenly, not giving enough time for the arguments to develop the writing shines a bright light on liberalism and its very uneasy relationship with racism.

Director Ola Ince skilfully manoeuvres the minor writing glitches by allowing the simmering pot to boil over at just the right moments on Fly Davis’s eerily macabre set that is intensely evocative and in the darker moments appears like a mausoleum for the frazzled Lafayettes. Riveting drama excellently performed.

Meanwhile Lisandro Finaglou continues to revel in the season…

Prom 50showcased quirky and quintessentially classical with the Orchestre de Paris, under the skilful baton of music director Daniel Harding, rising to the challenge with aplomb. Jörg Widmann’s Babylon Suitefrom his opera Babylon, is something akin to a Derek Jarman film in musical form. It starts with a simple accordion and then grows into a frenzy. It really is that crazy but thankfully it mellows into an eclectic blend of lyrical and brash. I loved the oompah band. I jest not. Again taken out of context from the whole opera did it no favours but it was a fascinating roller coaster listen. Prior to this there was a beautiful rendition of Schumann’s Genoveva Overtureand the second half was given over to Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’, Symphony No.6, heavenly music played immaculately. After all the earlier madness I was calm again.

MeanwhileProm 51was all about Mozart, well almost. The Magic Flute, Die Zauberfloteto the cognoscenti, is a wonderful piece of work. This version came from Glyndebourne in a semi-staged format, concocted by Donna Stirrup. After this experience I have vowed never to watch semi-staged again. It was a farce and the visuals, costumes and set, dominated by giant puppets, were all set in the Downtown Abbey kitchens. Topical but tragic. Thankfully we had the maestro’s gorgeous music and some quality singing. The undoubted doyenne of proceedings was Caroline Wettergreen as Queen of the Night and she nailed that unforgettable aria in act two. Bjorn Burger also impressed as Papageno, a crisp baritone with excellent comic timing. Conductor Ryan Wrigglesworth kept his composure despite the on-stage shenanigans and as a result the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, featuring some original period instruments, did what they do almost every time I hear them, played superbly.

 

Appropriate – 020 3282 3808

Proms 2019 – www.bbc.co.uk/proms

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