Monthly Archives: March 2023

SIR DEREK JACOBI: ‘THE SOUND AND MAGIC OF VOICE ARE DISAPPEARING FROM THEATRE’ ·

(Dalya Alberge’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/18; via Pam Green.)

The acclaimed actor – who is to receive a lifetime achievement award at this year’s Olivier Awards – says the demise of repertory theatre is putting paid to the vocal prowess

The demise of repertory theatre, where young actors once learned their craft in a resident company, has taken its toll on vocal technique with words “becoming less important” in live performance, according to one of the nation’s most acclaimed stars of stage and screen.

Sir Derek Jacobi told the Observer that “the use of voice, the magic of voice, has all but disappeared [in the theatre]”.

He called for actors and directors “to bring back a sense of vocal expertise, to make the words more important than the sight”. He said: “One of the magic things in the theatre – the uniqueness of the theatre – is the sound. The voice that can fill an auditorium from the front row to the back of the gods is thrilling.”

He added: “It’s the use of voice to express feeling and to lift the words off the page and inhabit them and give them a soul and a sense of feeling and a life.”

Jacobi, who honed his craft with the Birmingham Rep, is about to receive the lifetime achievement award at this year’s Olivier Awards, Britain’s most prestigious stage honours.

Organised by the Society of London Theatre, the ceremony takes place on 2 April at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

It pays tribute to Jacobi’s “remarkable” 60-year career on stage and screen, with acclaimed performances in Shakespeare, both in film and theatre, on the small screen – including I, Claudius and Last Tango in Halifax – and in films such as The King’s Speech.

Jacobi won Olivier Awards for Cyrano de Bergerac and Twelfth Night, and in 1994 was awarded a knighthood for his services to theatre.

He was a founding member of the Royal National Theatre, enlisted by Laurence Olivier himself.

People think they can enter the world of acting by the back door … without putting in the basic groundwork

“He saw me at the Birmingham Rep. The first job he gave me was playing Laertes to Peter O’Toole’s Hamlet, and I stayed with him for the next seven years,” Jacobi said.

He joked that Olivier could also be “a bugger”, even making him cry in one rehearsal. “I was taking over from Albert Finney, a big star. Olivier came to watch the rehearsal. and was vitriolic to me. He hated what he saw and told me so. I was no Albert Finney and I needed to be told that.”

Asked whether Olivier gave constructive criticism, he recalled: “At the time, I thought no. I went away and cried. But of course it was. He wouldn’t destroy just for the sake of destroying. He was better than that. If he destroyed, he created at the same time.”

Of his three years with the Birmingham Rep, he recalled: “We [performed] a new play every four weeks. When I first went, I was absolutely the complete amateur. I was surrounded by very good professional actors and it was a great learning experience.”

(Read more)

VIRAL IRAN DANCE VIDEO INSPIRES IMITATORS TO DEFY REGIME ·

(Ray Furlong’s and Golnaz Esfandiari’s reporting appeared on Radio Liberty, 3/14.)

Five Tehran girls were reported to have voiced contrition after posting a dance video that went viral among Iranian social media users. It’s illegal for women to dance in public in Iran, but the video has inspired others across the country to post similar videos with the same song, in a potentially dangerous act of open defiance toward the regime.

(Go to Radio Liberty)

REVIEW: IN ‘DEAR WORLD,’ DONNA MURPHY LEADS A RIGHTEOUS MARCH ·

(Juan A. Ramirez’s article appeared in The New York Times, 3/16; via Pam Green’ Photo: Donna Murphy, center, as Countess Aurelia in the Encores! production of “Dear World” at the New York City Center.Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.)

CRITIC’S PICK

Review: In ‘Dear World,’ Donna Murphy Leads a Righteous March

Jerry Herman’s rarely seen 1969 musical is revived in an Encores! production at New York City Center.

Dear World

NYT Critic’s Pick

If the composer-lyricist Jerry Herman loved one thing, it was a brassy dame who bulldozes past all obstacles in her quest for the best possible life for herself. The women at the center of his best-known shows, “Hello, Dolly!” and “Mame,” are pathologically positive, speaking directly to our vanities and vulnerabilities — and are celebrated for it.

Who better to teach a larger-than-life lesson than a strident diva in a bold headpiece? Such is the case with Countess Aurelia, the protagonist of his 1969 flop, “Dear World,” which New York City Center’s Encores! has revived in a blissed-out concert production that opened on Wednesday.

Led by Donna Murphy, and directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes with laissez-faire humor, it presents a smaller, looser, but still effective Herman elixir.

Based on a fable-like Jean Giraudoux play, “The Madwoman of Chaillot,” Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s book follows the Countess Aurelia (Murphy), a Parisian eccentric who spends her days al fresco at the Cafe Francis, learning to love all before her “through the bottom of the glass.” When clouds (whimsically rendered by Paul Tate dePoo III as sparse hangings above his bohemian set of chaises, trunks and old clocks) threaten her outdoor seating, she simply wills them away with folksy charisma.

But her peace is disturbed when a young official, Julian (Phillip Johnson Richardson), is sent by the President (a swaggering, delectably petulant Brooks Ashmanskas) to blow up the cafe so they can drill into oil recently discovered beneath. With the water supply already affected, Aurelia leads the charge against the bureaucrats, aided by the friendly Sewerman (Christopher Fitzgerald) and her bosom buddies, Gabrielle (Ann Harada) and Constance (Andréa Burns), the Madwomen of Montmartre and of the Flea Market.

It’s easy to see how this fantastical musical could float away from a less confident, cleareyed director. Here, Rhodes (who helmed Herman’s “Mack & Mabel” for Encores! in 2020) emphasizes the kookiness of his well-sketched characters in a spacey way that makes everything feel, if not logical, then natural. His choreography is similarly simple, and works well for the ensemble, save for a vaguely anti-war, ballet-inspired solo performed during the entr’acte by Kody Jauron, who shines in a miming role.

The score is by far Herman’s most relaxed; if “Dolly” is a bottle of Champagne and “Mame” a speedball, “World” is a Shirley Temple (Aurelia herself only ever takes one sip of wine a day). It’s perhaps a side effect from having written new material for the film adaptation of “Hello, Dolly!” that same year, with songs tailored for the close-up rather than the chorus line.

The new Encores! music director Mary-Mitchell Campbell’s conducting is mostly swooning and enlivens the work, though she often opts for arrangements that warmly dissolve each number into a Parisian haze rather than charge up a triumphant belt. (Campbell, who did extensive research on the score’s many variations, has directed Philip J. Lang’s orchestrations toward a calmer phrasing than the original.) Only the crystal-clear voiced Samantha Williams, as the yearning waitress Nina, is allowed to soar vocally past the end of her stunning “I’ve Never Said I Love You.”

(Read more)

 

EURIPIDES PERSUADES US THAT LOVE IS WHAT MAKES US HUMAN ·

(Michael Bulley’s letter appeared in the Guardian, 3/14; Photo: the Guardian.)

We ruin, waste and trivialise human life by ignoring that, writes Michael Bulley

Charlotte Higgins is right to see Medea, in Euripides’s tragedy, as heroic (Greek tragedies like Medea are an ethical nightmare. That’s why we need them, 11 March). Euripides presents Jason, Medea’s husband, as blind to the power of Aphrodite, and therefore doomed to suffer horribly.

There is a vital speech from Medea, when, having decided to kill her own and Jason’s children, she says: “Yes, I know what sorts of evil things I am going to do, but passion, which is to blame for the greatest evils for mortals, is greater than my considered thoughts.”

Euripides does nothing to justify Medea’s infanticide. It simply stands as a measure of her passion: she loved Jason enough to kill her own children. It is hard to imagine a greater or worse love.

(Read more)

LESYA UKRAINKA: UKRAINE’S GREAT POET—AND PLAYWRIGHT–OF HOPE ·

(Kate Laycock’s article appeared on DW, 3/8; Photo: DW.)  

Ukrainian literary scholar and journalist, Tetyana Ogarkova, pays tribute to Lesya Ukrainka: the poet, playwright and activist whose life and work has helped shape modern Ukrainian identity.

Listen:

https://p.dw.com/p/4OPK6

For more inspirational European women, look out for the Inside Europe podcast’s Women of Europe special. 

https://pod.link/insideeurope\

 

TRAVELLING HOMER: HOW THE NATIONAL THEATRE IS STAGING A MULTI-CITY ODYSSEY ·

(Jessica Murray’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/8; Photo: Patsy Browne-Hope and Frank Hickman in rehearsals for The Lotus Eaters, the first episode of NT Public Acts’ new five-part Odyssey, at Restoke in Stoke-on-Trent. Photograph: Jenny Harper.)

In episodes developed with communities around England, the production aims to tell ‘a story of resilience and healing and hope’

In his opening monologue for The Lotus Eaters, the first episode of the National Theatre’s forthcoming multi-location production of The Odyssey, actor Tony Dudley enthuses about a statue of Perseus in Trentham Gardens on the fringes of Stoke-on-Trent. It’s one of many ways the production is rooted in the place it was created, in order to reimagine the Greek epic for audiences across England.

“We love doing impossible things, and we wanted to do something we’ve never attempted before,” said Emily Lim, director of Public Acts, the National Theatre’s community arts programme, which is celebrating its fifth anniversary with The Odyssey, presented in five episodes. “The idea of telling one story across the whole country, with lots of different communities living in lots of different places, but ultimately coming together through shared purpose and shared imagination, felt really exciting.”

Dudley, 37, a local amateur actor who has long held a passion for Greek mythology, is a narrator for the play, which sees the Lotus Eaters’ island replaced by a nightclub. “It’s remixing the Odyssey for modern culture,” said Dudley. “It’s about being brave and saying ‘Let’s make something of this, and put a spin on it for the modern age.’” He is part of arts organisation Restoke, one of a number of partner groups the National Theatre has collaborated with on the project

After the performances in Stoke-on-Trent, the story continues in Doncaster, Trowbridge and Sunderland, with each community taking on a different episode of the tale, before performers from all groups unite at the National Theatre in London for the final instalment.

“If you’d have told my 18-year-old self one day you’re going to be on the stage at the National, I wouldn’t have believed it,” said Stoke resident and former theatre technician Charis Jones, 50, who plays part of Odysseus’s crew. “It’s been a wonderful experience, and our episode feels very much ours, with all our stories. With a different cast it would be a completely different show.”

(Read more)

 

 

ACCLAIMED PLAYWRIGHT DAVID HARE OPENS UP ON HIS NEXT BIG CHALLENGE ·

(Kerrie O’Brien’s article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, 3/6/2023; Photo: Sydney Morning Herald.)

What David Hare wants to write about at the moment is pretty simple: the fact that two billion of us are doing well in this world and six billion are not.

Often referred to as our greatest living playwright, the 75-year-old Englishman has written 39 plays, many about current events including conflict in the Middle East, media moguls and COVID-19. He received two Academy Award nominations for best-adapted screenplay for writing The Hours in 2002 and The Reader in 2008.

Sir David Hare is only now turning his attention to writing about men.

Speaking ahead of a talk in Melbourne this week, Hare says the huge gap between the haves and the have-nots is the issue of the 21st century. “Global capitalism is not currently delivering an equal way of living,” he says. “So we have this massive disparity between the rich and the poor, which gets greater all the time and makes societies demonstrably unhappier. That, of course, is what I would write about, but god knows how you write about it.”

To his mind, the best writers express something that needs to be said but which has not yet been articulated. What they should do – and what he aims to do – is find the gaps and challenge our preoccupations as a society. All the great playwrights – Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekhov and Moliere – were way ahead of what society was thinking.

Hare argues a lot of theatre produced today is pious. “I’ve never written the kind of play in which people are told what they already believe,” he says. “I’ve never written ‘rally around the flag’. I would rather not write than write stuff which confirms people in what they already believe.”

When Cate Blanchett starred in his play Plenty in London in the late 1990s, in the part made famous by Meryl Streep in the 1985 film adaptation, some audience members couldn’t cope.

(Read more)

 

THE RUMBLE OVER RUSSIAN COMPOSER TCHAIKOVSKY AT AN ELITE UKRAINIAN CONSERVATORY ·

(Rostyslav Khotin’s article appeared on Radio Free Europe, 3 /4.)

Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky had Ukrainian roots and was influenced by Ukrainian motifs.

Should he stay or should he go?

That’s the question sparking heated debate in Ukraine about the man whose name adorns a renowned conservatory in the heart of Kyiv: Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Tchaikovsky was certainly not a Ukrainophobe. He was connected to Ukraine in many ways through his work. Though Tchaikovsky was not a great Ukrainophile, either.”

— Ukrainian cultural critic Maksym Strikha

In the wake of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, students at the Tchaikovsky National Music Academy of Ukraine, previously known as the Kyiv Conservatory, have pushed for the removal of the Russian composer’s name from their university.

And while they’ve received backing in their effort from the Ukrainian government, which views the composer as a tool in the Kremlin’s imperial designs, the academy’s faculty in late December opted to keep the composer’s name.

The debate comes amid measures to “de-Russify” Ukraine across the country since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine a year ago last month. Multiple Ukrainian cities have removed statues of the Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin, while streets honoring the 19th century writer have been renamed.

In June 2022, the conservatory’s academic council voted to leave Tchaikovsky’s name in place, emphasizing the Ukrainian roots of the composer, whose great-grandfather was born in the Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk, which has been struck with heavy Russian aerial bombardment.

In November, an online petition filed with the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called for the conservatory to drop Tchaikovsky’s name, saying it “spits” on “the independence of Ukrainian culture,” though the petition fell short of the 25,000-signature threshold for the president’s consideration.

The following month, the conservatory’s academic council again voted to keep Tchaikovsky’s name in place until further review, a decision that Ukrainian Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko called “disappointing.”

“We hope that the team will return soon to at last make the final decision,” Tkachenko wrote.

Chinese Considerations

Founded in 1863, the Kyiv Conservatory was renamed in honor of Tchaikovsky by the Soviet government in 1940, just in time for the composer’s 100th birthday.

Tchaikovsky considered himself a Russian composer, despite his Ukrainian roots and Ukrainian influences in his music, but the debate about removing his name from the academy only emerged following Russia’s invasion last year.

In an e-mail to RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, student activists wrote that the decision to rename the conservatory is hampered in part by considerations of its branch in China.

(Read more)

‘DOGS OF EUROPE’ (BELARUS FREE THEATRE, ADELAIDE FESTIVAL) ·

(Jansson J. Antmann’s article appeared in Limelight Magazine, 3/2/2023;  Photo: Dogs of Europe. Photo © Adam Forte, Daylight Breaks.)

Exiled from their homeland, the performers of Belarus Free Theatre deliver an urgent warning against complacency in the face of rising authoritarianism.

Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre

 “Intellectual disgrace stares from every human face,” wrote WH Auden in his 1939 poem In Memory of WB Yeats; its “dogs of Europe” left barking in a nightmare world where poetry no longer unites nations.

In 2019, Belarusian author Alhierd Bacharevič drew upon this canine lament for the title of his sprawling, award-winning novel, which has been brilliantly adapted for the stage by Belarus Free Theatre. Both the book and the troupe have since been banned by the authoritarian government in Minsk, with most of the performers now residing in Poland.

The fabric of Bacharevič’s magnum opus comprises several interwoven storylines, but BFT’s co-directors Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada have largely focused on the stories of the young Belarusian Mauchun and a German investigator Teresius Skima, both played by Pavel Haradnitski.

Beginning in 2019, a teacher instructs his class to bury a time capsule. The play then fast-forwards to 2049 and a Europe once again divided. We learn that Russia has invaded Ukraine and, after a brief nuclear war, established the New Reich. This includes much of the former Soviet Union, including the Baltic states. The remaining countries fall under the European League, and the two blocs are physically separated by the latest iteration of the Iron Curtain, now called the Great Wall.

Not that the New Reich and the European League are all that dissimilar. This is a world in which a literary upbringing is a thing of the past, and the literate middle-class has been erased. Depending on which side of the wall you find yourself, books are either burned or simply rendered obsolete by the digital age.

In their place, an alcohol-infused, hyper-sexualised world is split between Russian traditionalism and a more inclusive, ‘Westernised’ hedonism. It’s very much a case of ‘same, same, but different’, and like dogs, the inhabitants on both sides are only too happy to urinate on the place they call home.

If the two blocs differ at all, it is in the New Reich’s rudimentary medical care and education system, which exists solely to breed mistrust, informants and spies. The setting of the first act is the fictional Belarusian border town of White Dews – a nightmarish Pieter Bruegel painting come to life, with people too drunk to recognise how disadvantaged they are.

The play takes place in 2049, but for those familiar with the remnants of the former Soviet Union, this is no dystopia. Barely 25 years after the fall of Communism, industrial towns like White Dews can still be found frozen in time, their Soviet infrastructure rusted, decaying and desperately in need of a capital injection that will never come.

(Read more)