SINGER LIRAZ BRINGS ISRAELI, IRANIAN MUSICIANS TOGETHER – AND CHALLENGES TEHRAN REGIME ·

(Grégoire Sauvage’s article appeared on France24, 12/3; via Drudge Report;  Photo:  Israeli-Persian singer Liraz recorded her third album, “Roya”, with musicians from Israel and Iran. © Cem Gültepe.)

Israeli-Persian actress and singer Liraz Charhi, whose song “Zan Bezan” (“Women, Sing” in Farsi) has turned into an Iranian protest anthem, secretly collaborated with Iranian artists in Istanbul on her latest album, “Roya”. The recording challenges the Tehran regime, which forbids cooperation between Israelis and Iranians. 

In an Istanbul basement hidden from view, Israeli singer Liraz Charhi, who records as “Liraz”, brought together her Tel Aviv sextet and musicians from Tehran to create her third album in secret. “Roya” (Fantasy in Persian) was released in October. 

It was a risky project for the four musicians from Iran. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, the Iranian regime has considered Israel an enemy state. Travelling to Israel or collaborating with Israelis is strictly forbidden and subject to punishment in Iran. 

The Iranian violin and tar (Persian lute) players had contributed, via the Internet, to Charhi’s second album. But this was the first time they found themselves in the same room with their Israeli colleagues in Turkey, one of the few countries accessible to Iranians without a visa. 

 To guarantee their anonymity and safety, their names do not appear on the album cover and their faces have been blurred in all the promotional photos and videos. Similar precautions were taken during a concert in a synagogue in Krakow, Poland last summer, when the Iranian musicians appeared masked. 

“It was a bit like being on a secret mission for almost a year. We knew it was dangerous, but we had agreed not to talk about it,” Charhi told FRANCE 24. “But as soon as we met, fear turned into joy and the dream became reality during the ten days of recording…it was magic.”

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‘HENRY V’; ‘VARDY V ROONEY’; ‘¡SHOWMANISM!’–REVIEW ·

(Susannah Clapp’s article appeared in the Observer, 11/27; via Pam Green; Photo: ‘Utterly concentrated’: Oliver Johnstone as Henry V. Photograph: Johan Persson.)

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse; Wyndham’s, London; Ustinov Studio, Bath

Oliver Johnstone mesmerises as Henry V, Vardy and Rooney go head to head, and Dickie Beau lipsyncs a swarm of voices, from Hitchcock to Fiona Shaw.)

Imagine Henry V without crowd-lashing feats of oratory. Imagine it without crowds. Without the patriotic fervour of Olivier’s 1944 film, the sceptical disaffection of Nicholas Hytner’s 2003 production. Without some of the most flaring speeches: no “muse of fire”! You might think you would hardly recognise Shakespeare’s play. Well think again. In an extraordinary stripped-back version, for which the playwright Cordelia Lynn was the dramaturg and Holly Race Roughan the director, you seem to be looking into the core of the young king. The battlefield may be France, the site of contention England. But it is also the self.

There is little rush and roar on this stage. Under the stately glow of the Wanamaker candelabra, Moi Tran’s design begins with unfortunate ruched curtains but moves revealingly to a glorious background of tarnished mirrors. The cast are in modern dress (Fluellen wears a Scandi jumper), often seated on chairs. Dialogue is intimate and intense.

Oliver Johnstone is terrific: utterly concentrated; steadily growing; a young king propelled by anger but riven. There are reminders of Hamlet and of Richard II. He delivers “once more unto the breach” hugging his knees, not roaring at troops but willing himself into action. The deathbed scene from Henry IV Part 2 is helpfully imported at the beginning so that inheritance haunts the action.

I have never seen a Henry with such an inner life – nor one so evidently toxic. He gloats over the dead. His threats to the French – basically, I’ll kill your babies – are not hurled from a distance but delivered with intimate menace. They have never sounded so horrifying, or so like curses – which are usually women’s work.

The personal and political are intertwined, growing one from another, helped by fine, crisp acting throughout, particularly from Eleanor Henderson as the dauphin. When the French princess Katherine – oh these familiar names – is handed over to seal the peace, the action is freezing, forced, brutal. You might expect a coda involving 21st-century British immigration officials to be embarrassing and obtrusive, yet the past seeps naturally into the present. What a feat.

There is a shift in outrage as the filthy online abuse hurled at Vardy is repeated

Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial is a game of two halves. Half-panto, half-audience provocation. With impressive speed, Liv Hennessy has adapted the transcript of the mind-boggling court proceedings earlier this year between footballers’ wives Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney. Lisa Spirling directs the result to make a springy insta-success.

Framed by avid commentators who deliver match reports on the action, the trial takes place in a set as flimsy as the evidence; the judge blows a whistle to declare time. It is not hard to reproduce the appearance of women branded from head to foot – tiny top-of-the-head buns, big top-of-the-range handbags – but Lucy May Barker (Rebekah Vardy) and Laura Dos Santos (Coleen Rooney) are vibrant with attitude.

Barker enters to boos and proceeds to do brilliant f***-off acting, much of it with her neck. Brass neck. Dos Santos, who grew up in Liverpool, emphasises Rooney’s Liverpudlian accent to an extent that a London audience found hilarious, and gets approving murmurs. She emits resigned attention – spelling out the word “Wags”, as she doesn’t use the term – her sharpness honed by a canny lifetime of dealing with the media. Beside her, Nathan McMullen’s Wayne looks bewildered.

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LONDON’S THEATER CUTS MATTER, ON BROADWAY AND BEYOND ·

(Matt Wolf’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/24; via Pam Green;  Photo: Rebecca Humphries and Alex Austin in “Blackout Songs,” directed by Guy Jones at the Hampstead Downstairs.Credit…Robert Day.)

The cushion of state money let the Hampstead and Donmar playhouses develop broad programs with international reach. Now they must find creative ways to play on.

LONDON — Standing ovations at London theaters are drearily routine these days, but I experienced one a few weeks ago that felt genuinely impassioned. I’m thinking of the fervent audience response to a new two-character play, “Blackout Songs,” on Hampstead Theater’s intimate second stage. (The show runs at the 100-seat Hampstead Downstairs until Dec. 10.)

Chronicling the bruised and bruising relationship between two self-destructive drinkers who meet at an A.A. meeting, Joe White’s spiky tragicomedy is impressive on several fronts. Its performers, Alex Austin and Rebecca Humphries, fearlessly inhabit two restless lovers trying to stave off psychic and physical ruin. The writing plays with time, asking the audience to piece together a fragmented narrative that views these characters — unnamed until the very end — at critical points as they ricochet in and out of each other’s lives.

The play asks a lot of the two actors, who meet its demands with force. But there was an additional reason for the palpable excitement in the house at the show’s end that night. The excellence of the show dealt a direct rebuke to the still fresh news of major cuts in government ‌subsidies for arts institutions across London, in which the Hampstead lost its entire grant. Work like “Blackout Songs” is what the Hampstead exists to do, and suddenly the theater felt at risk.

The same fate befell the venerable Donmar Warehouse, another small theater with an outsize reach. Might the activity of two playhouses so crucial to the theatrical ecosystem — not just in London — be somehow curtailed? Would they have to become safer, less adventurous?

Both houses have long shown their importance, here and overseas. Equipped with three auditoriums between them (the Hampstead has a 370-seat main stage as well), they have generated a substantial body of work, sending shows from London into the world and also offering homes to shows from abroad. The Donmar has just staged the European premiere of “The Band’s Visit”; a second American musical, “Next to Normal,”

To cut these theaters’ subsidies is to advocate, willingly or not, for shrunken ambitions. Philanthropy and commercial activities can pick up the slack, of course, as in the United States. But donor bases don’t arrive overnight. The cushion of state money let the Hampstead and the Donmar develop broad programs with international reach. Unless the theaters tread carefully, the effects of the cut will be felt far beyond London.

I can easily see international producers snapping up “Blackout Songs,” not least because its compactness — two characters, one set — is attractive financially. But the director Guy Jones’s production sets the bar high. On a bare stage with just a few chairs, the play’s jagged, nonlinear style is accompanied by whiplash shifts in mood that Humphries and the compellingly volatile Austin capture with ease. The impact couldn’t be stronger, prompting the best sort of guessing game about where the play might end up next.

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‘THE MOUSETRAP’: AGATHA CHRISTIE’S WEST END HIT TO MAKE BROADWAY DEBUT AFTER 70 YEARS ·

(Chris Wiegand’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/25; via Pam Green; Photo:  It’s a scream … Mary Law in the West End production of The Mousetrap in 1957. Photograph: Mirrorpix/Getty Images.) 

Whodunnit running in the West End since 1952, interrupted only by Covid, will open in New York in 2023

The world’s longest-running play, The Mousetrap, is to finally make its Broadway debut. The announcement was made on Friday to mark the 70th anniversary of the London production of Agatha Christie’s whodunnit.

The only surviving piece of the original set from 1952, a mantelpiece clock, will be lent from London for the run in New York when it opens in 2023. The play will be co-produced by The Mousetrap’s UK producer, Adam Spiegel, and US producer Kevin McCollum, whose credits include Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights and the Broadway outings of the British am-dram spoof The Play That Goes Wrong and the musical Six.

McCollum said that Christie’s murder mystery “changed popular theatre” and had long been a landmark attraction for US visitors to London. Theatregoers are encouraged to keep secret the identity of the murderer in the play, in which a group of strangers are snowed in at a remote guesthouse.

Roughly a third of the play’s West End audiences are believed to be foreign tourists. He added: “I’m excited for the huge Christie fanbase in North America, and for the acting company in New York who will join the esteemed ranks of The Mousetrap alumni.” Casting has not yet been confirmed.

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IRENE CARA OBITUARY ·

(Adam Sweeting’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/27;  Photo: Irene Cara as Coco Hernandez in Fame, 1980, directed by Alan Parker. She also sang the title song, which topped the British singles chart. Photograph: MGM/Allstar.)

American actor and singer best known for her role in the film Fame and co-writing the 1983 hit Flashdance … What a Feeling

Although her catalogue of recordings was not large, there were two songs that guaranteed Irene Cara a permanent place in the pop music hall of fame. In 1980 Cara, who has died unexpectedly aged 63, announced herself by topping the British singles chart with Fame, which also went to No 4 in the US.

It was the title song of Alan Parker’s eponymous film, documenting the struggles of students at New York’s High School of Performing Arts. Cara’s character, Coco Hernandez, was originally a dancer, but

The song’s pumping, anthemic tune and ecstatic lyric made it the perfect embodiment of every wannabe star’s ambitions – “I’m gonna live forever, I’m gonna learn how to fly … I’m gonna make it to heaven, Light up the sky like a flame.” Its aspirational influence reached down the years through a string of talent shows such as American Idol, Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor. Cara also became an inspiration for other Latin artists. The actor John Leguizamo tweeted: “She made me believe that if you were Latin you could make it! She fuelled my community.”

Both Fame and another single from the film soundtrack, Out Here on My Own (a Top 20 US hit), were nominated for Oscars, and since both were sung by Cara she achieved the rare feat of singing more than one song at an Academy Awards ceremony. Fame took the best original song statuette on the night. But her best was yet to come. Oscar night, 1984, found Cara back in the spotlight, basking in the glow of her huge success with Flashdance … What a Feeling.

It was the title song from Adrian Lyne’s film Flashdance, and it occupied the No 1 slot on Billboard’s Hot 100 for six weeks while topping numerous other charts around the world. This time Cara was one of the songwriters, along with Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey, and shared in the triumph when it won the Oscar for best original song.

It also picked up a Golden Globe and two Grammys. The film was the story of an ambitious dancer trying to win a place at an elite dance conservatory, and Cara wanted the lyric to show how the character is “in control of her body when she dances and how she can be in control of her life”. She added: “I did sense that I had something special with this song.”

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HOW ‘THE LION KING’ GOT TO BROADWAY AND RULED FOR 25 YEARS (SO FAR) ·

(Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/16; via Pam Green; Photograph: Julie Taymor, who not only directed the show but also designed its costumes, puppets and masks, became the first woman to win a Tony Award for directing a musical. “I like challenges,” she said of the project.Credit…Kenneth Van Sickle.)

A surprising collaboration between an entertainment giant (Disney) and an avant-garde

 

A quarter century is about twice as long as the life span of your average wild lion. But there’s nothing average about “The Lion King.”

In the years since it opened on Broadway, the musical, thanks to 27 productions that have filled 112 million seats and have played on every continent but Antarctica, has grossed nearly $10 billion, more than any other stage show and more than any film.

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SHAKESPEARE PORTRAIT SAID TO BE ONLY ONE MADE IN HIS LIFETIME ON SALE FOR £10M ·

 (Nadeem Badshah’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/17.  Photo:  The portrait is unveiled by conservator Adrian Phippen (right) and Art and Antiques writer Duncan Phillips. Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA.) 

The artwork by Robert Peake went on display on Wednesday at Grosvenor House hotel in west London

A portrait said to be the only signed and dated image of William Shakespeare created during his lifetime has gone on sale for more than £10m and is being displayed in London.

The owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, is offering the piece for sale by private treaty without an auction.

It is the work of Robert Peake, court painter to King James I, and is signed and dated 1608. The artwork went on display on Wednesday at Grosvenor House hotel in west London.

Prior to 1975, the picture hung in the library of a stately home in the north of England, once home to the Danby family. Since then it has been in private ownership.

Those behind its sale claim the connections between Shakespeare and Peake are “extensive” and that the artist was regularly commissioned to paint the portraits of high-ranking members of the court and Jacobean society.

They also noted he was commissioned by the Office of the Revels, which oversaw the presentation of plays, and worked in the premises in Clerkenwell, London, where some of Shakespeare’s plays were rehearsed.

However, only two paintings of Shakespeare, both posthumous, are generally recognised as validly portraying him – the engraving that appears on the title page of the First Folio, published in 1623, and the sculpture at his funeral monument in Stratford-upon-Avon. Shakespeare died in 1616, at the age of 52.

Art expert Duncan Phillips, who investigated the work ahead of the sale, said: “There is more evidence for this portrait of Shakespeare than any other known painting of the playwright.

“It is a monogrammed and dated work by a portrait painter of serious status with connections to the artist who produced the image for the First Folio.

“The picture has survived the past 400 years almost untouched by wear and tear thanks to its ownership by a family of Shakespeare enthusiasts who hung it in their library.”

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IN ‘THE CHINESE LADY,’ PREJUDICE AND EXPLOITATION, SEEN FROM A STAGE (BOSTON) ·

(Don Aucoin’s article appeared in the Boston Glober, 11/14; Photo:Jae Woo (left) and Sophorl Ngin in “The Chinese Lady” at Central Square Theater.NILE SCOTT STUDIOS.)

CAMBRIDGE — When it came to the craft of writing, E.B. White’s famous dictum was: “Don’t write about Man. Write about a man.”

That’s the path Lloyd Suh took with “The Chinese Lady,” and it has yielded a small gem of a play about a person who is seen and unseen at the same time.

After premiering in 2018 at Pittsfield’s Barrington Stage Company and then running at New York’s Public Theater earlier this year, “The Chinese Lady” is now at Central Square Theater under the sensitive and astute direction of Sarah Shin.

Suh’s play was inspired by a real-life figure, Afong Moy, who was brought from China to New York in 1834 at age 14 and put on display in a museum. At Central Square, Sophorl Ngin delivers an expertly shaded portrayal of Afong that traces her emotional arc while also signaling the slow-but-steady dawning of her consciousness. As Atung, her translator, Jae Woo delivers a note-perfect performance.

Over 90 absorbing minutes, with only occasional lapses into overly message-y territory, “The Chinese Lady” essentially distills the history of anti-Asian prejudice and exploitation in the United States — as well as the (very) dark side of the immigrant experience — within Afong’s story.

When we first meet her, Afong is heartbreakingly innocent and chipper. Seated on an upholstered chair at center stage and smiling brightly, she explains — as if there were nothing odd about the arrangement — how her family “sold me for two years of service” to two traders from an American import company. Now she is on display “for your education and entertainment.”

At each performance, Afong enacts various rituals: eating rice with chopsticks, brewing tea, walking around a room on her bound feet. She tells us that the terms of the deal that brought her to the United States were that she would return to her homeland and her family in two years. That does not happen. In “The Chinese Lady,” her servitude lasts for decades.

Those of us in the Central Square Theater essentially function as stand-ins for 19th-century spectators, implicating us in all we see and hear in “The Chinese Lady” — a notion shrewdly underscored by director Shin when Afong tears down upstage curtains to reveal a large, circular mirror. From then on, we watch ourselves watching.

Crucially, Shin avoids the kind of ham-fisted staging decisions that seriously marred the ending of the otherwise excellent Public Theater production. What Shin has devised for the ending at Central Square is less showy and comports better with the nature of the play.

At first, Afong is touchingly eager to make a connection with Americans (she speaks glowingly of “your first emperor, George Washington.”) Afong sees her role as that of cultural ambassador, a human bridge of understanding between China and the United States. Atung, the translator, clearly knows that the museum’s goal is nothing so noble as that.

Outside that room, history inexorably unfolds: the construction of the transcontinental railroad, starting in 1863 and using primarily Chinese laborers; the 1882 passage by Congress of the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting Chinese migration to the US. Inside that room, Afong and Atung are growing older. “With each passing hour, I am less and less Chinese,” Afong says.

Their relationship evolves over time, defined by amusing byplay at the start. With the hauteur of a born star, Afong tells the audience several times that Atung is “irrelevant” to the show; his imperturbable responses, which she recognizes as passive-aggression, get on her nerves.

As years pass and they play their roles day after day, including a 40-week tour of the Eastern states, they achieve a certain solidarity, perhaps bolstered by a realization that they are both, in different ways, trapped. But are their fates as inextricably tied together as Afong believes they are?

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NOT TO BE: SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL FUNDING PULLED OVER ‘CANON OF IMPERIALISM’ ·

The title page from an antique book of the plays of Shakespeare

Asia-Pacific

(Eva Corlett’s article appeared in the Irish Times–from Wellington–10/14.)

New Zealand’s arts council has pulled funding for a Shakespeare festival that has been running in secondary schools for roughly three decades. Photograph: iStock

Relevance of event in New Zealand schools is questioned by country’s art council

New Zealand’s arts council has pulled funding for a Shakespeare festival that has been running in secondary schools for roughly three decades after questioning its relevance to the country and because it focuses on “a canon of imperialism”.

Every year, the Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand runs the Sheilah Winn Shakespeare festival — a secondary school competition where students perform excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays.

Students are given the scope to direct, compose music, perform and create sets and costumes for their show. It has been a popular event, with more than 120,000 high school students from more than half the country’s secondary schools having participated in the festival since its inception.

The festival regularly secures about $30,000 (€17,400) a year from the government’s arts funding body — Creative New Zealand. But this year, the council has decided to pull the money.

In the funding assessment document, the advisory panel said that while the festival has strong youth engagement, and a positive impact on participants, it “did not demonstrate the relevance to the contemporary art context of Aotearoa in this time and place and landscape”.

The board signalled concerns that the organisation was “quite paternalistic” and that the genre was “located within a canon of imperialism and missed the opportunity to create a living curriculum and show relevance”.

One assessor said the application made them “question whether a singular focus on an Elizabethan playwright is most relevant for a decolonising Aotearoa in the 2020s and beyond”.

The board felt the centre did not offer a strong proposal compared with other groups seeking funding.

The centre’s chief executive, Dawn Sanders, said the organisation was dismayed by the decision.

“Creative New Zealand say it is irrelevant to modern day New Zealand — the opposite is true,” she said. “We’re dealing with what people are thinking, the human psyche, competition, jealousy, misogyny and so many things that are totally relevant.”

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