Lighting the way of expectation

Sometimes when you enter a theatre and know what to expect, it’s no bad thing but the element of surprise is also an exciting proposition which can inspire or misfire. Read on…
The brand that is Cirque du Soleil has become a global phenomenon and their shows are hot tickets wherever they pitch their big tent. Of course, they don’t perform in tents but in major venues and the one time I saw them outside London, in Las Vegas, there was a deafening chorus of “awesome” as the loquacious and excitable American folk made themselves heard. It’s January, so the troupe (one version of) are back in London with a reiteration of one of their most popular shows, Alegría: In a New Light (Royal Albert Hall), directed by Jean-Guy Legault and designed by Anne-Séguin Poirier (set and props) and Dominique Lemieux (costumes). This comes thirty years after its premiere, which I also saw. My memory is fine but trying to distinguish between Cirque 1994 and 2024 is a step too far for my recall abilities, no bad thing. Thrilling trapeze acts, electrifying gymnasts and a variety of speciality acts who collectively generate oohs and aahs, catching flies as you try to work out how. The narrative on the other hand, which in theory binds it all together, requires a little more thought. Our ‘step into the light’ is interesting; ethereal music, mystical sequences that may have you scratching your head, yet when perceived as part of the whole it delivers what it promises, a spectacle to be enjoyed. So, leave your metaphysical tendencies outside, and allow the child inside to be inspired.
My personal favourites are the clowns, a trio made up of two Pablo’s from Spain and the court jester, Bogdan Zavalishyn, who cause mayhem, amuse and agitate and become agents of change. Crazy but true and good post ironic fun. Not sure if the audience saw it in that way as they were busy being stunned by the feats of a cyr wheel (Ghislain Ramage) that transforms into a spinning top, Yan Zhuang’s magical neon hula hooping, group tumbling on two trampolines and an incredible gobsmacking trapeze climax. Meanwhile, fans of the Slava (Polunin) Snowshow will tingle with excitement when the blizzard erupts all over the hall – audience now in an ecstatic state – culminating in the manifestation of a gigantic snow globe. Well, they did promise a spectacle. Their productions are also notable for the music and René Dupèré delivers an eclectic score that is both pulsating and atmospheric, with singers Sarah Manesse and Cassia Raquel outstanding with their interpretations. Expectation delivered, plusieurs fois.
So to the surprise. Paul Unwin’s new play The Enfield Haunting (Ambassador’s Theatre) is based on reports of supernatural activity in a north London council house in the late 1970’. It attracted national headlines. This production may garner headlines of its own. Rarely have I been so unengaged and disconnected from a show. Good theatre all begins with the writing and for the life of me I cannot understand Unwin’s approach. A seventy-five minute one-act travesty in which two fine actors, Catherine Tate and David Threlfall, struggle to give it coherence and a semblance of theatricality. We join the “action” when the paranormal activity has been going on for a while. Single mum Peggy Hosgson (Tate) is at her wits end, struggling with three children, one of whom, daughter Janet (Ella Schrey-Yeats) may be the source of the scary happenings. Two experts are investigating and one of them, Maurice Gosse (Threlfall) turns up out of the blue to investigate further.
If I stopped now that would pretty much sum it up. Not much happens apart from several silhouetted appearances by a big old man who had previously lived there, is haunting the house and wants to scare them off. I was embarrassingly amused more than spooked and the direction by Angus Jackson is caught between the poltergeist and the pathetic. When Peggy defiantly exclaims at the end “This is my house”, my thought was this is where the play should have started. Themou bkion, how did it get here in this state?
Meanwhile Thomas Grise is once again in thrall to superb musicianship…
Organist Roger Sayer last weekend gave a concert to remember. Interstellar at 10 (St John’s, Smith Square), included work by Strauss, Holst and the iconic soundtrack by Hans Zimmer of the film Interstellar, celebrating the film’s ten year anniversary. Sayer also gave us an insight to how the soundtrack came about and his experience working with Zimmer and director Christopher Nolan, he of Oppenheimer fame now in the running for several Oscars. Sayer’s playing of what is an extraordinarily difficult instrument to master was astounding and the sound resonated around this beautiful venue. He played one of my favourite pieces, Mars from The Planets, along with Venue and Jupiter, giving each remarkable nuance and contrast. Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra, inspired by Nietzsche’s philosophy, is a deep and moving tone poem, again thrillingly played by Sayers. The Interstellar Suite, a epic score, was the icing on the cake. Stellar in every sense.

Remember the 90’s? They’re everywhere. I was born in ’92 so most of my memories of that decade involve me being too young to engage in much of the culture. I knew about the X Files, but like The Blair Witch Project, the idea of it was so scary I gave it a miss. Princess Di’s tragic passing meant that children’s cartoons were cancelled that Sunday morning, to my chagrin. Cruel Intentions was a film about grown-ups being mean to each other.
Now we have Cruel Intentions, The 90’s Musical (The Other Palace). At an exclusive Manhattan high school, step-siblings Sebastian Valmont (Daniel Bravo) and Kathryn Merteuil (Rhianne-Louise McCaulsky) make a bet – If Valmont can seduce the virginal transfer student Annette Hargrove (Abbie Budden), Marteuil will sleep with him. While not the fault of this production (it is, after all, an adaptation,) the 90’s high-school setting does this plot no favours; the level of cynicism that the two leads carry themselves with doesn’t lend itself at all well to teenagers; the original novel has them as middle aged courtiers in pre-revolution France; there’s just not enough time to become so jaded during one’s adolescence – the world moves too fast. Contrast this with something like Romeo and Juliet – a play whose tragedy lies in their youth, their naivety, which causes them to act so drastically and finally.
The music (this is that most contentious of genres, the ‘Jukebox Musical’) is fun and the songs come at a lightning pace. The choreography is note perfect, a brilliant throwback to the Wade Robson school of pop video dance numbers (You might not recognise the name but you’d certainly recognise his moves – especially if you’ve seen an N*Sync or Britney Spears video). The vocal performances are consistent, but McCaulsky stands head and shoulders above the rest – I thought she was great but underutilised in Six, where she played Catherine of Aragon, and seeing her sink her teeth into a much meatier, villainous role was a relief, I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Alegria: In a New Light –
The Enfield Haunting –
St John’s Smith Square –
Cruel Intentions’ –

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