All washed up

We live in a patriarchy and since inhabiting the planet women have not only drawn the short straw but also been on the receiving end of crap masculine arrogance and ego, and we now have a societal acceptance that things need to change. Agree? Then definitely don’t go and see Lyonesse (Harold Pinter Theatre). Kristin Scott Thomas is Elaine Dailey, an eccentric and attention seeking ex-actress who has been in hiding for 30 years in a rickety Cornish house called Lyonesse. Sounds like fun and some of it is as Scott Thomas is given free rein by director Ian Rickson to ham it up to the nth degree and add some melodramatic icing on top. Enter Lily James playing Kate Trellis from Lilith, an all-woman production company, tasked with getting Dailey’s story. She comes with her own complex backstory, a smart but befuddled individual who is torn between career, being a mum and her tosser husband (James Corrigan) who wants to prove his virility by increasing the brood whatever the cost to his wife.
When Elaine first meets Kate she is dressed in a fur coat, swimsuit and wellington boots and holding an axe. She then launches into a tirade of tragicomic behaviour making accusations against men and their violence against her which would have been hilarious but for its seriousness. Meanwhile lesbian neighbour Chris (Sara Powell), a poet and equally bonkers offers solace and soon enough there is a platonic tryst between the three women. Playwright Penelope Skinner is far too earnest in trying to make points about how we mistreat women, for so long unseen, unheard and ignored. This is vacillating, pretentious dross that cannot decide what it wants to be and I imagine all those involved may need a long walk along the Cornish coast to wash this nonsense right out of their hair. Better option, read a book and my starter for ten would be Fix the System, Not the Women by Laura Bates.
Verdi’s opera, La traviata (London Coliseum), is an aching love story between courtesan Violetta and the romantic Alfredo. His family does not approve. His father implores her to think again and she succumbs, ultimately paying the highest price. Peter Konwitschny’s production, artfully revived by Ruth Knight for the English National Opera, is a two-hour rollercoaster that has no interval so buckle yourself in for emotional highs and lows which is akin to watching an Ancient Greek tragedy. The staging is minimalist and hugely effective. Johannes Leiacker’s design comprises red curtains which open throughout, each opening revealing another episode of drama, trauma and heartache until we reach the painfully depressing denouement when the curtain becomes black. Brilliantly simplistic and a lesson for others who sometimes make opera unnecessarily ostentatious.
Nicole Chevalier’s portrayal of Violetta is intense and the contrast between love and loss is dramatically conveyed, her voice simmering with yearning and desperation. Her top notes ping with clarity and heart and when she sings in the lower range it fills the auditorium with feeling and finesse. Roland Wood is a superb singer and makes Germont a despicable man, arrogant and misogynistic with the impending threat of violence ever present. All that lurking behind a façade of being moral and upstanding, horrible. Jose Simerella Romero’s interpretation of Alfredo is a strange dichotomy of gorgeously evocative and crisp vocals not matched by his acting which is wooden and lacking the passion associated with the role.
The Chorus are wonderful, sometimes rising like a wall of sound that envelops the protagonists that then turns into a soft and sensuous accompaniment. Similarly the orchestra, conducted by an animated and smiling Richard Farnes, are excellent in supporting the artistes beautifully. A compelling production that leaves its mark both musically and dramatically. I was rapt.
Get ready to leave your troubles Far Far Away and embark on an unforgettable adventure. I jumped at the chance and now I’m in green heaven having just experienced Shrek the Musical (New Victoria Theatre, Woking). It’s colourful, vibrant and a hoot from beginning to end. We venture through swamps and castles, encounter evil knights, horrible giants and talking donkeys. Why? To gain the hand of Princess Fiona. Which makes it sound like a saccharine love story and far too syrupy for a modern audience. That completely misses the point and I defy even the most politically correct among you not to be won over by the catchy songs (some very familiar too), clever choreography and an abundance of loveable characters who bring joy and comedy to the stage…lots of farting too! It’s a family show with plenty to keep young and old entertained. The twerking mice are hilarious.
The whole cast step up with performances that are full of energy and quality – people seeing shows like these often miss the point that these performers are multi-skilled – and they win you over with their obvious delight in being part of this comedic monster. Stand outs are Brendon Lee Sears as the daftly loveable Donkey, James Gillan as lolloping Lord Farquaad, Georgie Buckland as gorgeous Gingy and Anthony Lawrence in the eponymous role. Another standing ovation in Woking. Yes I’m a Believer!

Lyonesse –
La traviata –
Shrek the Musical – on tour –

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