With Your Hands You Clap Clap Clap!

Co-opera Co presents Hansel and Gretel at John McIntosh Arts Centre

I thought I wasn’t familiar with this opera before last night: as a child studying music. Humperdinck was not one of the composers I learnt about, and I’m afraid I encountered the music of the 1960s Englebert before I realised he was named after an eminent musical predecessor.   However, upon hearing that I was attending Hansel and Gretel that evening, a colleague advised me that I would recognise lots of songs from my childhood.  He was right, the aria which provides the title of this piece being but one of them (I have been singing it all day).  This, of course, added a lovely sense of recognition to my enjoyment of the evening.

The action was initially set in 1950s Britain, but later seemed to move forward in time; with the witch using an overhead projector and a camera vintage 70s or 80s, and marking the contents of her fridge “Best Before 2013.”  The set was broadly based around the mother’s washing business, and some of the garments from the washing line were used as Chinese lanterns at the end of the story to great effect.

Musically, this was of a high standard, starting with the orchestra (conducted by Stephen Higgins), whose overture set the tone for the night, being both beautiful and haunting.  There was no chorus, so the production was the work of only five singers (mother doubling with witch).  All five gave excellent vocal performances, with Rahel Moore’s Sandman being particularly evocative.

The show was very well choreographed, and the cast’s movement skills were wonderful, especially Carris Jones’ drag queen witch, and Gretel’s jerky puppet steps.  Lone man Stephen John Svanholm played the exuberant, drunken father very well, and Susanne Holmes portrayed Hansel with all the exuberance of boyhood.  With such a tight cast and consistent performance, it is difficult to pick out a favourite, but personally I was particularly impressed by Llio Evans (Gretel).

When an adult woman plays a small child, there is a very real danger of her ending up looking like Baby Jane.  The audience had nothing to worry about on that score, however, as Llio’s physicality perfectly captured that of a little girl.  The way she stood, walked, moved her arms, and her facial expressions were all ideally calculated to convey Gretel’s emotions (her terror in the forest at night is a good example).  Her singing was consistently skilful and accomplised: I especially enjoyed her opening aria of Act II.

All in all, Co-opera Co have done a marvellous job with Hansel and Gretel, and much credit is due to director James Bonas, working with the company for the first time.  As he said when I interviewed him prior to the performance, (Hansel and Gretel is) “an absurdly brilliant opera.  It’s full of music so delicious you want to eat it and it’s joyfully short but densely written so that it’s packed with action.”  The same can be said for this production.

Hansel and Gretel, along with Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute will now go on a nationwide tour.  For more information, please visit www.co-opera-co.org.

Mary Tynan

Twiglets, Cocaine and Formaldehyde

Co-opera Co presents Don Giovanni at John McIntosh Arts Centre

This is the second production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni I have seen this year (I reviewed the production at Heaven back in April  – see One Night in Heaven).  Although Co-opera’s was not as hilariously smutty as the gay offering, it was nevertheless a very sexy, and funny, performance.

Right from the outset the orchestra set the tone – the playing was flawless and evocative throughout the evening, led by conductor Tim Murray.

The standard of acting in this performance was high from the start: David Milner-Pearce played the Don as a dissolute Damien Hirst-type artist to perfection, whilst Yair Polishook (Leporello) made an excellent sidekick.  The opening rape scene was very effective with Lisa Wilson (Donna Anna) playing the victim very well.  Susanna Fairbairn (Donna Elvira) made a good jilted lover, whilst Jerome Knox (Mazetto) gave a solid performance throughout the show, with the stage combat between him and David Milner-Pearce being particularly well executed.

I had been told that the production was to be anything but traditional, and that was certainly the case.  Much of the action was set in the Don’s art gallery where naked shop dummies (with pubic hair) continued the Hirst theme.  There were many amusing and interesting touches such as the Don photographing the dead father on his mobile phone; a smartphone ap (Leporello’s) which keeps a record of all the women the Don has seduced – Yair Polishook singing very well on this aria; the Don singing a serenade to the backing of a ringtone (aptly rendered by the orchestra);  the Don’s lines “I find the working class is only turned on by clothes that come from Primark” and “Since I’m spending so much money, I expect to be amused” as he is eating take away chips and pizza from yellow plastic boxes.  Twiglets and cocaine also make appearances.

Vocally, there were many wonderful moments.  Some of my favourites were Donna Elvira’s “Rip out that Heart with Glee”, the chorus number “Pleasure Tonight”, Robyn Allegra Parton (Zerlina)’s first duet with the Don, Don Ottavio, Donna Anna and Donna Elvira, disguised Ali-G style, singing “Avenge my broken heart,” Don Giovanni and Leporello’s “Glorius I shall return.”  For my money the best male vocal performance was by David Menezes (Don Ottavio), but overall the women outshone the men, with Donna Anna’s solo “The God I cherish will come and grant me rest” being hauntingly beautiful.

The opera finishes with Il Commendatore (Matthew Tomko) returning to the grave to drag the Don down to hell, and this he does in a suitably menacing and eerie manner.  The chorus close by singing “That’s the fate of evil men” as Don Giovanni goes to join his own artistic creations, becoming yet another glass case dummy in a rather Roald Dahl-esque ending.

Don Giovanni’s second night is 24 August 2012, Hansel and Gretel is on 23 and 25 2012, all shows at 7.30pm at John McIntosh Theatre, Seagrove Road, London SW6 1RX.  Tickets are priced between £10-25 and can be purchased online at http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/user/?region=xxx&query=schedule&promoter=co-opera.  The theatre is wheelchair accessible, and free parking is available next to the John McIntosh Arts Centre.  Both operas, along with The Magic Flute, will then go on tour nationwide.  For more information, please visit www.co-opera-co.org.

Mary Tynan

Co-Opera Co – Singers Helping Singers

This summer, Co-Opera Co. will present two much-loved operas, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, at the John McIntosh Theatre of the London Oratory School.  On tour later in the year, the company will also revive its successful production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. All three operas will be sung in English.

Founded by soprano Kate Flowers and lighting designer Paul Need, Co-Opera Co is an innovative opera company, striving to help singers earn while they learn, and promote the welfare of professional opera singers.  I asked Kate to tell me how the company started and how it has progressed since its small beginnings.

After our first discussions about the lack of an apprenticeship stage in a singers’ training – over far too many glasses of red wine one night in Dublin!  – Paul and I decided that we should do something about it.  I suggested one to one sessions – he suggested starting our own training opera company!  So it is Paul we have to thank for being the driving force behind Co-Opera Co, from its inception.  I set about calling all my friends and colleagues in the business – over 50 of today’s eminent artists who became our members – and Co-Opera Co was formed on June 13th 2008.”

We first opened our doors in January 2009 with a series of weekend workshops run by our members, one of whom was the legendary Philip Langridge, sadly no longer with us. In August that year we ran our first summer season, with two performances each of Albert Herring and La Boheme – produced in just three weeks (we must have been mad!), with the wonderful Chroma Ensemble as our orchestra.”

To give the singers the chance to see what it would be like to perform in a different space, the company also took both shows for one performance each to The New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth.

2010 was the year the Co-Opera Co Orchestra was formed, and the company toured 7 performances of La Boheme and the Marriage of Figaro to 7 UK venues in four weeks.  2011 saw the tour grow to 25 performances in 12 weeks, with two new productions, The Magic Flute and Carmen.

Leading up to their summer season and UK tour in the autumn the company runs a comprehensive training programme, Connections, where participants work on every aspect of opera.  I asked Kate Flowers to give me a flavour of how it works.

“Connections has grown out of those weekend workshops back in 2009 and has again developed in a very organic way, taking into consideration what singers have told us that they want – this year we held a series of one day workshops in the spring.  Each workshop was run by one of our members working with up to 12 singers. Each workshop had a theme suggested by the member running the workshop – Sir Thomas Allen for instance wanted to work with the singers on Listening and Reacting;  Janis Kelly on Body, Soul and Voice; and David Parry wanted to work on singing True Bel Canto.  With everything that we have learned about what singers need, Janis Kelly is developing a fully integrated 3 month course – Professional Connections – which will cover every aspect of being an opera singer, and we are also working on a new course – Opera Matters – for opera enthusiasts and those singers who perhaps do not wish to follow a professional career but who nevertheless would like to explore the genre and work on their personal progress.”

“Because we work with so many levels of ability – and we have no age limit – in the various training programmes we run – to be honest, we will accept applications from anyone who has a real desire (and ability) to be involved in opera.  Obviously for the touring operas we need to be able to present a truly professional standard of performance (and therefore performers) to the audiences – and to the theatres.”

We have had singers as young as 15 – our Harry in Albert Herring for instance – Marina Lawrence-Marrha – and this year we have a singer aged over 60 in The Midsummer Night’s Dream – neither of them have any qualifications – other than a true ability and a longing to sing/perform.  (Marina by the way is just about to start a foundation year at the Urdang Studios and we like to think that her experience of performing with Co-Opera Co. went a long way to developing her aptitude and enthusiasm for performing – she is simply wonderful.)”

This year the company is rehearsing four operas over four weeks – Hansel and Gretel, Don Giovanni and a revival of The Magic Flute for a tour to 12 venues – at the moment (still more in the pipeline), preceded by a new venture: the Summer Opera, which is a four week course in which 30 singers work on their own opera ( A Midsummer Night’s Dream) with the Director Peter Watson, Conductor David Gostick and Choreographer Jenny Weston, performed at the John McIntosh Theatre on 17th and 18th August.

James Bonas, Director of Hansel and Gretel, believes the work of Co-opera is very important, because “There is a real shortage of programmes and performance possibilities for younger singers to gain experience once they’ve left formal training. The opportunity for near enough a hundred people to spend a summer together doing coaching, master classes, and rehearsals in one place is remarkable. It’s the chance for everyone to make contacts, get experience and take hold of some big roles that they wouldn’t yet get their hands on in the larger companies.”

James also told me about the people involved and the rehearsals for Hansel and Gretel.  “The cast is small actually – just five singers.  Then we’ll have the Co-Opera orchestra and backstage there are the stage manager, deputy stage manager and assistant stage manager.  Rehearsals have been swift. We’ve had a couple of weeks working in a rehearsal room and now we’ll have a couple of weeks onstage doing technical work, lighting and then bringing in the orchestra. With those time frames there’s no mucking about – we started with a day of music and then were up on our feet staging the scenes the next morning.”  

They did spend one Saturday morning playing games and dancing with the singers playing Hansel and Gretel.  “It’s always so important as an adult acting a child that you remember that the child is not childish – they don’t walk strangely, they don’t pull faces constantly and they don’t whine. I think we have a tendency to do an impression of a kid rather than simply being very direct and straightforward in the world – which is what young children actually are.”

Talking about opening night (Thursday 23 August) James says, “I think it’s a bit like having a baby – a mixture of excitement and terror. You’re kind of looking forward to it but you know it’s going to take a heck of a push to get there.”

David-Milner Pearce, who is playing the title role in Don Giovanni, told me that this production is anything but traditional.  “It is set in a Contemporary Art Gallery and the Don himself is based around a Damien Hirst.  To keep thing current we have made slight tweaks to the libretto, but the translation by David Parry works very well.”

Kate and Paul’s vision for the future of the company is to eventually create a Centre of Excellence: “a theatre of our own with rehearsals studios, technical workshops, etc – based around a main touring company and with a training arm for professionals and non-professionals of all ages. A lottery win would certainly help with that!!  But in the absence of that, we are aiming to  build a commercial side of the business to provide year long employment to our associates – and our beloved Co-Opera Co. Orchestra –  by moving our rehearsals for the touring productions to Easter next year, in order to prolong the touring season to include the festival market, and developing the Summer Opera Course so that August becomes the focus of the training element – and of course Janis Kelly’s Connections Programme- and Opera Matters –  which we hope to launch next spring.

Lastly, I asked Kate Flowers what Co-Opera Co means to her.  “Everything – well after my three sons and my mum that is.”

“Since Paul Need and I first started talking about the possibility of helping singers as they enter the profession, I have found that my time – and Paul’s – has become almost entirely devoted to running the company, coaching and training the singers and generally making sure that Co-Opera Co. achieves what we set out to achieve four years ago.  I would like to emphasize that everything we are doing here at Co-Opera Co. is done with no outside funding whatsoever – we rely on box office sales – especially in our London shows during August which have the potential to raise enough money to significantly reduce the unfortunately inevitable deficit we will face at the end of the season, and that whilst we pay all our members for the work they do with our singers, musicians and technicians, and we pay our associates for their performances and pay for and organise travel and accommodation on tour, neither Paul nor I have paid ourselves a penny during the past four years – and we will not even consider doing so until we have reached the point where no-one has to be asked for a contribution.  I say this because there might be a perception that there is something other than altruistic about the way we run Co-Opera Co.  To be honest, I would never have imagined that I could ever be so enthused about something that had no personal financial gain – and I think I can speak for Paul too here – but we really are doing this, we believe, for the greater good.”

Don Giovanni is on 22 and 24 August 2012, Hansel and Gretel on 23 and 25 2012, all shows at 7.30pm at John McIntosh Theatre, Seagrove Road, London SW6 1RX.  Tickets are priced between £10-25 and can be purchased online at http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/user/?region=xxx&query=schedule&promoter=co-opera.  The theatre is wheelchair accessible, and free parking is available next to the John McIntosh Arts Centre.

The tour covers Croydon, Yeovil, Wolverhampton, Darlington, Epsom, Manchester, Bury St Edmunds, Wellingborough, Buxton, Camberley, Blackpool, Hertford, and Southport, with further dates to be announced.  For more information please visit www.co-opera-co.org.

Mary Tynan

The Law of Attraction versus “I’m not bothered!”

I remember one lunchtime in infant school being by the door to the playground where a dinner lady was on duty.  A classmate of mine offered her a sweet from a well-filled bag.  I asked if I could have one.  I was immediately told by the adult that “it’s rude to ask for things.  You should wait to be offered.”  My friend was too embarrassed to give me a sweet until we were around the corner and out of sight, when she happily did so without any further prompting.  Ironically, the reason I was in the corridor in the first place was that I was late out from lunch due to being punished for not eating my dessert (a common occurrence – cue a lifetime’s unhealthy relationship with food, but that’s another story).  The moral of the story?  Don’t ask for what you want, but take what you are given and be grateful for it.

I grew up believing that the only way to get something was not to really want it.  And I wasn’t the only one.  I was reminded of this the other day when reading Germaine Greer’s “The Whole Woman,” in which she says (on page 320): “The things you want don’t tend to turn up until you have given up looking for them.”  As we grow into adolescence and adulthood this belief develops into such behaviours as “not wearing out your welcome” “playing hard to get,” and “don’t appear desperate” – basically, pretending not to care.  This applies not only to our dealings with prospective romantic partners, but with friends, possible employers, or potential clients, in all sorts of situations ranging from discussing marriage or interviewing for your dream job to something as simple as a Saturday night out.  This can be a delicate balance for many people, for example, as an actor you are expected to promote yourself to casting directors, producers and directors, but at the same time must appear happy to be passed over or ignored, when everyone knows the truth is you would probably gnaw off your own leg for that one-line part on The Bill.

And often it really does seem that you are more likely to get things when you’re not looking for them:  you accept one job and are offered several others, you start a relationship and everyone seems interested in you, you spend months looking for the ideal flat or house without finding it, but as soon as you sign the lease on something less than ideal, the market seems to be flooded with perfect properties.  To paraphrase an old saying: “Make the gods laugh.  Tell them your plans.”

All this, I believe, goes somewhere to explaining my problem with implementing the Law of Attraction and its various related mental laws.  One of the basic tenets is “Think about what you want, not what you don’t want,” which seems to make sense, however it totally contradicts the theory of only getting what you want when you stop wanting it (for want of a better name, let’s call this the Law of “I’m not bothered.”)

And yet …  I consider myself a scientific person.  I have a BSc and have studied both mathematical logic and cosmology at third level.  I can program computers, and I read hard science fiction and books about physics for fun.  The Law of Attraction seems to make sense.  The Law of “I’m not bothered,” despite the apparent statistical evidence in its favour, doesn’t seem to have any logical theory behind it.  So why have I (so far) failed in applying the former?

I believe the answer lies in depth, and balance.  We need to appear not bothered to a certain extent: neediness is very unattractive and nobody wants to employ or go out with someone like that.  However, “appear” is the operative word here.  We should continue inside to want the job up until we haven’t got it, and then we should move on.  What we certainly shouldn’t do is take being “not bothered” to the extreme that so many of us do whereby we turn our back on our dreams, be it through being afraid to follow the career we always wanted or not having the courage to tell someone how we feel about them.

So not being bothered is a surface behaviour which can be useful socially if not taken to extremes.  Unfortunately so many of us from an early age internalise the message that we can’t have what we want (simply because we want it, it seems).  This is, in a sense, the very opposite of the law of attraction.  And in order to put the law of attraction into practice it also needs to be internalised, but when we try to do so, it comes up against the law of “I’m not bothered” and it comes down to a battle between the new and the deeply entrenched.

May the best law win!

Mary Tynan

Science meets Art at the Enlightenment Cafe

An exciting and unique new theatrical project will be taking place from 31st May – 4th June in the vaults of the Old Vic Tunnels.

Presented by LAStheatre, the Enlightenment Café combines the beauty of science with the power and imagination of immersive performance in a place of exploration, where people from all walks of life can debate, play and laugh the night away.  Only the tedious will be off limits as The Enlightenment Café aims to provoke imagination and intrigue; scientists will demonstrate their art and artists will demonstrate their science.  Scientists in residence include Tim McInerny, Stuart Clarke and Alex Bellos.   This is an interactive adventure where new theories can be mooted as to why things are, how they got there and what will happen next. The Enlightenment Café will delve into topics ranging from astronomy to paleontology, from My Little Pony to zombies and from art to invention.

Doors to the Old Vic Tunnels will open every night at 7pm, and the evenings will be split into three sections: firstly, a period of immersive theatre and free exploration; secondly, stage pieces and panel discussions; and, finally, live music and entertainment. Each night will have a different theme and aesthetic but will all inspire, breaking away from the idea that science and facts can only be learnt in a lecture theatre or laboratory.

Times and tickets for all events at the Enlightenment Cafe can be found at http://www.eventbrite.com/event/3487295595. Tickets are priced at £15 with a booking fee of £1.55.  For more information about LAStheatre visit www.lastheatre.com.

Mary Tynan

Be Part of Art!

Have you ever wondered who the Mona Lisa was? Or perhaps imagined what it would be like to see your likeness on display in a gallery?

Next month, Gérard Rancinan is offering attendees at his Wonderful World exhibition the chance to be immortalised as part of the final composition in the series, which will be shot entirely on-site at the Londonewcastle Project Space.

Presented by The Future Tense in association with Opera Gallery and Londonewcastle, Wonderful World is the concluding part in Rancinan’s seven-year Trilogy of the Moderns.  Fresh from La Triennale di Milano, photographer Rancinan brings this revolution in three acts to a close, debuting the complete Wonderful World series to the UK public.

With galleries one and two housing the main exhibition of 15 large format works from Wonderful World, gallery three will feature a purpose-built set and studio, offering a voyeuristic glimpse behind the scenes of a fine art photo shoot. Repeat visits will reveal the organic nature of studio life – part art installation, part film set, part soap opera – as the shoot moves from concept, through production and postproduction, to the climactic unveiling of the finished work at a special reception on Wednesday 20th June.

To celebrate the completion of Trilogy of the Moderns, The Future Tense will publish a new print edition by Gérard Rancinan. Limited to a signed edition of 20 + 4 Artist Proofs, the work will be available only to those attending the show. A pop-up store will also sell related merchandise including the supporting books.

Wonderful World will open to the public at a launch reception from 6.30pm on Thursday 7th June 2012 (part of East London’s First Thursday late night art openings) and will remain on view until Sunday 24th June 2012.  Photoshoot auditions will be held on Saturday 9 and Sunday 10 June, from 11 am to 6pm, with the shoot itself being on Monday 11 June.

Wonderful World runs from 7 – 24 June 2012 at Londonewcastle Project Space, 28 Redchurch Street, London E2 7DP:  Tuesday to Saturday, 11am-7pm; Sunday, Noon-6pm; closed on Monday.  There will be an artist signing on 16 June from 12 – 1.30 pm; curator-guided tours on 17 June at 12, 2 and 4pm; and an unveiling reception on 17 June from 6.30 – 9.30 pm.  For more information visit the artists website at www.rancinan.com.

Mary Tynan

Everything’s Coming Up Roses

Time of Our Lives Music Theatre in association with All Star Productions presents When Movies Were Movies at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre, Walthamstow.

The opening song set the tone for this mesmerising evening’s entertainment, as we were taken through the history of cinema from silent movies up to 1969 via the mediums of song, dance and comedy.  Flo (Dympna Messenger), an usherette in the fictional Trocadero, is interviewed by Charlie (Raymond-Kym Suttle) about the cinema’s history as it faces its imminent demise (conversion to a bingo hall).

Dympna Messenger gave a very strong performance as Flo, and was a very effective anchor for the show.  She also sang very well and had some great comedic moments: her imitation of Carmen Miranda springs to mind as combining both.  The vocal standard throughout the show was extremely high, with some of the high points for me being Lullaby of Broadway (full cast), You Ought to Be in Pictures (Nerine Skinner and Robert Wilkes), Secret Love (Jessica Poole) and the Beatles medley delivered by the whole cast.

The musical numbers were interspersed with highly amusing comedy sketches, covering themes as varied as Frankenstein and James Bond, with my personal favourite being the “terribly” sketch (you’ll have to see the show to find out what I mean by that!)  Other comedy highlights included the show’s take on silent movies – with Flo speaking the words while the rest of the cast mimed the actions, “My Brother Makes the Noises for the Talkies,” with Raymond-Kym Suttle and Robert Wilkes as the two brothers, and the scene with Flo and the cleaner, played by Nerine Skinner.

Raymond-Kym Suttle’s choreography was inspired, and his own dancing was marvellous – particularly during the Top Hat sequence – I would like to have seen more of his tapping!  The musical direction (and playing) by Aaron Clingham was flawless, adding to the overall power of the performance.  The costumes were fabulous, with very many quick changes which I’m sure must have required their own choreography!

I could go on, but I don’t want to spoil too many of the surprises.  Suffice it to say that this is old-fashioned variety at its best with something for all the family to enjoy.  Ably directed (and written) by Keith Myers, this captivating show is robust enough for a much larger space.  Give yourself a night of nostalgia and catch it at Ye Olde Rose and Crown before it closes on 4 May.

When Movies were Movies is playing at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre, 53 Hoe Street, Walthamstow Tuesday – Saturday at 7.30pm until 4 May, with matinees at 3.30 on Saturday and Sunday.  For more information visit www.roseandcrowntheatrepub.webeden.co.uk

Mary Tynan

One Night in Heaven

RC Theatre Productions presents Don Giovanni, The Opera, at Heaven

Those of you who remember the 1980s will find much nostalgia in this highly original reworking of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.  Richard Crichton’s production aims Mozart at a new audience and reinvents Don Giovanni himself as a gay, debauched playboy and nightclub owner in the heady world of the 1980s.

Cleo Pettit’s set is the first thing you notice on entering the club, and straightaway you are conveyed to 1987, the time being marked by various graphics of the period, including a conservative party campaign poster, film posters for Dirty Dancing and The Running Man, and a mock up of the Thames Television ident (5 years before they lost the franchise to Carlton).  The evocation of the era is also greatly aided by the costumes, designed by Mia Flodquist, with the assistance of Samantha Gilsenan, which show great attention to detail.  Two personal favourites of mine were Marina’s white lace boots, and Leo’s office handbag.  Finally, the hair and makeup by Evan Huang also helped to set the scene.

All gender roles in the opera have been reversed apart from the Don himself (now just Don), and the relocation of the sexual roles works very well.  Don’s pursuit of an endless series of sexual adventures and his indulgence in sensuality of all kinds lends itself to a gay world as readily as to a heterosexual one, and the addition of the late 80s drug scene adds further to the moral ambiguity of the story (although they have pre-empted the use of Viagra by more than a decade!).  The opera is performed in a new English translation by Ranjit Bolt, though I imagine the translation is far from literal.  Said to be inspired by New York’s legendary Studio 54 and Matthew Bourne’s all-male Swan Lake, the production seemed to draw ideas from many quarters.  In the early part of the story, Don reminded me of the character of Stuart in Queer as Folk, with broken hearts strewn left, right and centre; a later scene, where he is corrupting Milton Keynes sweethearts Zak and Marina, was evocative of the Rocky Horror Picture Show; but as the show progressed, and the libretto got more outrageous, it was reminiscent of the musical humour of the wonderful Avenue Q.

Musically, the opera was a delight.  The orchestra were tight, and played exceedingly well despite taking the time to laugh at some of the more amusing parts of the libretto.  Some interesting variation was provided by a disco backing track at one point (an adaptation of the Minuet by Vince Clarke), and Don accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar at another.  All the cast gave excellent performances as actors as well as singers: vocally my favourites were Mark Cunningham (Eddie) and Stephanie Edwards (Olivia) who both entranced me with their voices, though Duncan Rock, (Don) and Helen Winter (Marina) were also marvellous.

Don Giovanni kept its energy high throughout, and I assume this is a testament to the skills of director Dominic Gray.  The ending was a bit ambiguous – I wasn’t quite sure where Don ended up – but this in no way took away from my enjoyment of the evening; which ended with a blast of Falco’s Amadeus, thus tying the opera and the 80s together and rounding everything off nicely.  I highly recommend this inventive, capricious, laugh-out-loud, libidinous, and euphonious entertainment.  Catch it while you can – and look out for a surprise cameo from a famous camp disco group!

Don Giovanni is at Heaven, Under The Arches, Villiers Street, London WC2N 6NG on the following dates: Sunday 22nd April, 5pm, Monday 23rd April, 7pm, Sunday 29th April, 5pm, Monday 30th April, 7pm.  Tickets can be purchased from http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/venueartist/254189/1677123?camefrom=CFC_UK_TH0401_WEBLINK

Mary Tynan

Time Well Spent at Store Street

Contemporary Printmaking: From Andy Warhol to the Emerging Generation

This exhibition by Orion Contemporary combines household names with Orion’s young, emerging stable of artists to promote printmaking as an art form and celebrate the importance of the medium.  To quote Andrés Olow Clase, director of Orion Contemporary: ‘From Andy Warhol’s exceptional print of 1974 to works made in 2012, the show explores the diverse vivacity and technical skill of printmaking.’  Following the inaugural exhibition in 2011, this year’s offering includes a variety of work by Lisa Denyer, Alexander Gough, Damien Hirst, David Hockney, Max Lowry, Dénes Maróti, Will Martyr, Andy Warhol and Giulia Zaniol.

I am not going to talk about the big names here; nobody needs me to tell them about the likes of Hockney or Hirst.  Instead, I would like to focus on some of the less well-known artists.

Alex Gough’s woodblock prints of Levi Mountain are influenced by his Finnish ancestry and are imbued with strong tonal contrasts, reflecting the twilight dancing on the snow, or the midnight hue as the mid-winter landscape melts into long dark nights.  Lisa Denyer’s ‘Range’ continues the mountain theme and uses a mystical combination of silver and black to engage the eye.  William Martyr’s art deco ‘Sweet Spot’ and ‘’Time Well Spent’ employs bright, vibrant colours to excite the viewer’s imagination.  Dénes Maróti pleasantly surprised me by his range: I was startled to discover that the bold, powerful images of repetitive figures were drawn by the same hand as the delicate flower prints.  Finally, Giulia Zaniol’s ‘Angels of London’ series uses a highly advanced two-plate technique of soft and hard ground, litho colours and spitbite to create images with deep and varied tonal harmony.  The combination of colours and images manages to be both haunting and calming at the same time.  Although chromatically I think the finest of the three pieces is ‘Parliament Angels,’ the image of the solitary seraph stood staring across the Thames at the distant ‘Tower Bridge’ will remain with me for some time.

Comtemporary Printmaking opens today at Store Street Gallery.  On the evening of 14th March, Gabriel Angel Moreno, will be reading a selection of his poetry written in response to the works in the exhibition, and Giulia Zaniol will lead an informal talk on the art of printmaking on Saturday 17th March at 4pm.

Contemporary Printmaking is at Store Street Gallery, 32 Store Street, WC1E 7BS.  Opening Times: 13th March – 17th March, 11am-6pm. 18th March, 11am-4pm.  Admission Free.

Mary Tynan

A Magical Production

Lost in the Dark presents Ondine by Jean Giraudoux

When I was a child, I used to make up plays.  They would often involve princesses, love stories and magical powers.  Ondine is exactly the type of play that child would have loved: the embodiment of the sense of wonder that draws us to drama in the first place.  To bring this off in a small fringe venue like the White Bear is no small achievement.  But bring it off to a very high standard is precisely what Lost in the Dark have done.

Ondine is the story of a supernatural creature who falls in love with a mortal man. When Hans and Ondine meet, the worlds of a mortal man and a magical creature of the water dangerously collide and she is forced to make an inexorable pact, which will change both their lives forever. Should he betray her, he must die and, along with her time on earth, be erased completely from her memory for her to return to the world of the lake forever.

The first thing to strike me when I entered was the set.  Auguste (Michael Eden) and Eugenie (Terry Diab) were already seated, she knitting, he reading, in a fisherman’s cottage, complete with daub walls and a working window.  The small oil lamps were a particularly nice touch.  Haunting music played from offstage.  The first act takes place in this kitchen, with Hans (Andrew Venning) and Ondine (Elizabeth Merrick) completing the cast for this part of the story.  The second set takes place in the Royal Palace, where Richard Hurst, Brice Stratford, Rob Leonard, Phoebe Batteson Brown, David Frias Robles, Marian Elizabeth and Hilary Hodsman make their debuts.  The final act takes place on a rock by the sea, where the story comes to its tragic, but inevitable end.

There were no bum notes in this production, although a personal preference would be for the actors not to turn their back on the audience quite so much, but apart from that they dealt with the small space admirably.  Everyone involved did a fantastic job: however, there are some who deserve a special mention.  Firstly, set designer Zanna Mercer has created three excellent environments for the play, which are spectacular by the standards of black-box theatre.  Andrew Venning grabbed my attention from the moment he came on stage, and continued to captivate the audience throughout, with his expressive, heartfelt delivery and physical presence.  Elizabeth Merrick was superb as Ondine, her opera training showing to advantage in her movement, her vocal range, and her portrayal of wide-eyed wonder, tragedy and love.  The final scene between Ondine and Hans was particularly poignant, with both actors showing marvellous emotional depth.  Marian Elizabeth gave a lovely, credible performance as Bertha, particulary in one scene, where I almost believed she had a live bird in her hand.  She played the part with charm and grace.  I would have liked to see more of Phoebe Batteson Brown (Voilante/Kitchen Maid).  She drew my eyes whenever she was on stage and although her parts were small, they gave indications of a much larger potential.  Finally, a play is only as good as its director, and Cat Robey must take a large amount of credit for this magical piece of theatre.

Ondine is running at the White Bear Theatre, London, SE11 4DJ, 28th February – 18th March 2012, Tues-Sat 7:30pm, Sun 6pm.  For more information, visit www.ondine-lost-in-the-dark.com.

Mary Tynan