Redeemed by the bells

The last time I saw that fine actor Stephen Mangan on stage was in an awful “concert performance” of Guys and Dolls at The Royal Albert Hall in which he played a faux gangster narrator with an equally awful American accent. Theatrical redemption comes, fittingly, in his portrayal of curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge, whose miraculous transformation from grumpy and greedy to gloriously generous in A Christmas Carol (Old Vic) is a performance worthy of mention among the very best interpretations seen on a British stage. He begins as an intimidating bully with an uncanny feel and resemblance to an older version of another Dickensian character, Bill Sykes. He has an unkempt two tone beard and shock of white hair covered by a scrunched up top hat, the only thing missing being a cudgel but his tongue more than makes up for that which reaches an apogee of arrogance with the declaration: “I am a great man!”
Jack Thorne’s adaption, now in its fifth year, is the perfect dichotomy of the horrible reality of the lives of many in nineteenth century London contrasted by the warm glow of the embers of an open fire surrounded by festive decorations. Matthew Warchus’s production will make you angry, sad, laugh, cry and ultimately it’s dramatic and beautiful theatricality will have you smiling with pleasure at having experienced it. The scene is set from the moment we enter the auditorium and are welcomed with an offer of mince pies by members of the cast which may sound a little cheesy but perhaps that is to lull us into a false sense of Christmassy schmaltz. A short while after Marley’s ghost appears and suddenly we are into a gothic horror worthy of Boris Karloff’s monstrous creations, only this time shackled by a seemingly endless bundle of chains. The three spirits that follow are similarly idiosyncratic in their own way, each with their own colour and character offering an insight into Scrooge’s past, present and future.
The musical element of the production is an absolute joy, evocative carols all beautifully sung by the excellent ensemble who also perform a number of roles. The ending is euphoric, the Cratchit family dinner followed by an abundance of fruit and vegetable filling the theatre (literally) preceded by some digital bell-ringing that warm the cockles of your heart. They are both melancholic and joyous. A tale that begins as a nightmare ends as a party, a celebration of the innate goodness of humanity. To quote Tiny Tim “A merry Christmas to one and all.” Happy New Year everyone…it can only get better.
And Vivat Stactou is gripped by musical drama…
An melodramatic opera by Giacomo Puccini set in Rome in 1800. The city is under the control of the Kingdom of Naples but looming large as a challenge to their authority is Napoleon and his invasion of Italy. Being about matters of war it contains depictions of torture, murder and suicide. Putting music to such a bloody tale, Tosca (Royal Opera House), will have been grist to the mill for the composer, yet the work is best known for some beautifully written lyrical arias.
The production had been badly affected by illness on the evening I attended but the quality of performance was not all affected. Act One sets up the story of the escape of Angelotti, a political prisoner, helped by Cavaradossi an artist who is painting a portrait of Mary Magdalene. Tosca, an actress and performer, is his lover and accuses him of having an affair, since he has painted Mary Magdalene with blue eyes. A woman scorned…
Act Two is so gripping and includes the torture of Cavaradossi. The highlight is undoubtedly Tosca’s aria Vissi d’Arte and it duly brought the house down. Anna Pirozzi plays the diva to perfection even managing to cope with a train on her dress that rivalled that worn by Princess Diana at her wedding. In Act Three we are on the ramparts of Castel Sant’Angelo with Cavaradossi awaiting execution. Ricardo Massi is superb in the role and at that moment he sings a heart rending e Lucevan le stele. He dies and Tosca commits suicide, all of which is executed with great style and dynamism. Completing a triumvirate of top class performers Claudio Sgura is the personification of evil as Baron Scarpia, so much so he was booed, pantomime style, during a well deserved extended curtain call. A very fine production and great credit to all involved having had to make cast changes at the last moment.

A Christmas Carol –
Tosca –

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