Posts Tagged ‘Royal Opera House’

Ballet Summer 2009 – Mikhailovsky and Diaghilev program at Royal Opera House!

April 25, 2009

I finally flipped through the Royal Opera House program last night and was very pleased to see that we’ll be getting some Russian ballet this summer! The Mariinsky/Kirov is coming to the Royal Opera House from 3-15 August and presenting four different programs. However, I was disappointed at the rather unimaginative seat-fillers they’ve got on offer – Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty. I mean, GAH, could they pull any chestnuttier chestnuts out of the chestnut case? (Oh, wait, they’re not doing Nutcracker, so I guess they could have pulled one more out still.)

Now, it’s Leonid Lavrovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, and Petipa’s Sleeping Beauty, so it should be substantially different from the Royal Ballet productions people would be more likely to be familiar with. (Note that the Swan Lake is choreographed by Konstantin Sergeyev off of Petipa and Ivanov, so again a different version.) But I’m just really disappointed at the lack of really different productions, like when the Bolshoi brought Spartacus and The Pharaoh’s Daughter to the Royal Opera House five years back. They weren’t just different versions of the same old stuff (Look! A cheese sandwich with relish on it!) but just entirely different worlds of ballet to what I was used to seeing (rather like chicken mole’ after a lifetime thinking Mexican food meant tacos). And that is what I would like to see – or, better yet, some really modern choreographers, the Mariinsky doing work especially choreographed for it, a chance to see something truly new! But no, all we get is Balanchine, and it’s Balanchine war horses to boot. I mean, come on, Serenade and Rubies, not only have I seen them before, but they will have both been done in London earlier in the yeah, and even on the stage of the Royal Opera House.

Wah. On the other hand, there’s this wacky little “Tribute to Diaghilev” thing happening on June 7th, directed by Valeriy Ovsyanikov, with various Russian dancers and Royal Ballet members doing some real classics I’ve never even had a chance to see (Le Spectre de la Rose and The Dying Swan being particularly notable holes in my ballet experience), and while the tickets seem a bit painfully priced, I think I’m going to make the effort – 30 quid is more than I’ll normally spend for a ticket, but, well, you know, a few times a year I can let myself splurge. And, inevitably, it’s for ballet, and it’s in the summer, and it’s the shows that, with luck, I’ll spend the rest of my years talking about “that one time I saw that really great production of that wild XXX” and I won’t regret spending the money one little bit.

(Booking for these shows opens on April 28th, 2009. Gentlemen, start your engines!)

Review – Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas – Royal Opera House

April 18, 2009

Wanye Macgregor directing Baroque opera, with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment providing the accompaniment? Really, when I read about this production of Dido and Aeneas at the Royal Opera House, I thought someone might have been reading through my mind and picking my dream production. Movement has frequently been a problem with Baroque opera for me (i.e. Partenope), and I thought with Macgregor, not only would this be taken care of, but we would actually have someone with enough imagination and vision to really shake up the the whole Baroque opera “thing.”

I don’t really like opera, and the only opera I do consistently enjoy IS Baroque/early music opera, but it has this horrible tendency to be staged in a manner I find just painful. It’s really all about the artistry of the singing, see, so there are these long bits where people are just standing there … singing. Sometimes this means that, well, basically someone is frozen on stage while they make really pretty noises, and sometimes … and this is worse … the director decides this singing thing, it must be very dull, I need to make sure the audience is entertained, a la the mortifying Orfeo we saw the English Touring Opera perform, and then my ability to enjoy what is coming in my ears is destroyed by my desire to claw my eyes out to get away from the horror that is on the stage in front of me.

So. Totally modern, “with it” guy taking on Baroque Opera? I say, Bring It On! It’s not a case of making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear (of not trusting the material), it’s an opportunity to take a really unusual ingredient to a master chef and, let’s say, make a mole’ out of ultra-dark chocolate. In addition, to me it promised the opportunity to see some great dance on stage in addition to the whole orchestra/singers shebang, so BIG STOKE!

Except for … well, the fact that on April 15th, I was just coming back from a 14 day vacation. And exhausted. Which is why I am not also reviewing Acis and Galatea. Do forgive me for this! But 90 more minutes of show after a 25 minute intermission – I don’t know what I was thinking when I booked tickets for a weeknight instead of on a weekend. I couldn’t risk being shot all of the next day at work, so I gave my modest side balcony seats to someone in the slips, realizing I was going to be missing out on a lot of great music in favor of, er, keeping my job. Ah well.

The curtain arose on the overture to show a stage with a very modern/postmodern design – a simple stage with a perhaps shoulder height light colored rectangular box on it about two thirds in, and the light-grey, Greek-esque robed Dido (Sarah Connolly) having her maid, Belinda (understudy Simona Mihai, filling in for the evening) fiddle with her dress. The overall feel for the costuming was greys (darker for the rest of the cast) and fairly simple robes … except for the dancers, who wore sleeveless shirts and black short shorts. It had a very unified feel to it, and much fresher than usual, and while the women and townsfolk looked fairly, if anonymously, classical, the men (well, Aeneas and a few of his shipmates) in their rather Japanese wide, split pants did manage to look different. Aeneas, though, wore what looked like a scarab beetle chest piece, which cracked me up. The costuming generally help focus attention on the singers, though, which was good.

I’m actually not very good at talking about singing, and should have taken many more notes to try to prod my memory (three days later) so that I could discuss it better. Sarah seemed good at Baroque singing, full of trills and expressiveness. Her movement on stage wasn’t histrionic, but neither was she stiff. Simona did sound years younger than her mistress, which was good, and benefited from sounding generally fresh and excited to be on stage. While I expect she’ll sound even better as her voice matures, it was a pleasure to watch and listen to her. Aeneas (Lucas Meachem) was fine, but the opera doesn’t focus on him so much and even a few days later I can’t remember how he sounds. I do remember what a laugh I got out of the Siamese twin First and Second Witches (Eri Nakamura and Pumeza Matshikiza) – it sure added a lot of visual interest to what in a previous viewing of this opera had been a very snoozy scene!

On to the choreography, which was a lot more of why I came to this. In general, the movements of the principles and the chorus on stage was far better than I’ve seen in any Baroque opera since I’ve moved to England (I usually manage two or three a year). They didn’t move just because there was nothing else going on on stage, but mostly to move the story forward; the massing during the scene in the witches’ lair was very good, while the couples promenading and cooing during the “grove” scene (“Thanks to these lovesome vales”) and the snuggling and then leave-taking of “Come away, fellow sailors” really increased the dramatic impact of the music.

However, the effect of the dancers was mixed. In part it was because of their costumes; to suddenly throw these ultra-sexy, bare-legged creatures on stage with people parading around in robes just pulls your focus right off the story and into the present. In the scenes where they were filling in for an unsung musical interlude, they were generally good, even though the dance didn’t feel quite integrated into the “feel” of the piece. In the scene where a dancer took the role of Mercury/”Spirit” (as sung deliciously by Iestyn Davies) and mimed the content/feel of his speech to Aeneas (telling him he must leave Carthage) was perfect; gorgeously lit, the offstage voice adding more to the otherworldly feel of the scene, the dancer himself looking very much like an incarnation of a god. However, during the witches’ scene, “Here Actaeon met his fate,” the dancing made me think of tits on a bull – it just didn’t fit (the costumes and movement were so wrong for the moment) and was a complete distraction. Ah well, perhaps more experience with this kind of work will lead to Macgregor getting the format right.

Overall, though, this evening proved to me that Baroque opera can be just as enjoyable to watch as it is to listen to, and I look forward to seeing such a strong performance in the future.

(This review is for a performance that took place on April 15th, 2009. Two more performances are set for Saturday, April 18th and Monday, April 20th. This is the Dido you will want to see this spring!)

Best (Top Ten +) cheap restaurants in London’s West End Theatre-land

March 2, 2009

Going to the theater twice a week can really leave a hole in your budget, even if, like me, you dial down your costs by sticking to nose-bleed seats and £10 shows at the National. Add to this the cost of meals out, and WHOOSH! There goes your budget!

However, I make penny pinching into a sport, and keeping down food costs is a big deal to me. After four years of London theater watching, I’ve got several restaurants* I make regular visits to on show nights. This is my overview of the best cheap eats to be found in London’s theater-land, from Covent Garden, Leicester Square, and Shaftesbury Avenue, to the South Bank, and all the way out to Islington, Hammersmith, and Dalston – and a real and genuine summary of the places I go to have a pre-show dinner over and over again.

All times included are walking distances, based on a brisk Londoner-style walk from the front door of the restaurant to the front door of the theater. Allow additional time if you haven’t picked up your tickets, need to go up three flights of stairs to get to your seats, and of COURSE if you are having a hard time getting the waiter to give you your bill!

Theater Neighborhoods & Best Cheap Restaurants (click neighborhood for details)
Covent Garden (Royal Opera House, London Coliseum, Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Noel Coward Theatre etc): Battersea Pie Station, Pepe Italian Street Food, Lupita, Chando’s Opera Room (drinks only), Gelatorino (dessert)
Leicester Square/Shaftesbury Avenue (Wyndhams, London Hippodrome, Lyric, Apollo, Gielgud, Queen’s, etc. – I consider this the “West End” proper, more theatres than I can type): choose from nearby options, or Taro, the Baozi Inn or Flatiron (see below).
South “West End” (Theatre Royal Haymarket, Criterion, Comedy Theatre, Her Majesty’s Theatre): Assaggetti (corporate but quick and reasonably priced); Flatiron Steak House (DEELISH but must be there at 6).
North-“West End” and Soho Square (Dominion, Shaftesbury, Soho Theatre, Palladium): Enrique Tomas ham emporium, Thai Cottage, Pitt Cue Co, Inamo, Icco Pizza
Southbank and Waterloo, a.k.a. the Deep South “West End” (National Theatre, Old Vic, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Young Vic, Southwark Playhouse): Culture Grub, Waterloo or Southbank Wahaca, Mar Y Tierra
Sloane Square i.e. the Southwest “West End” (Royal Court, Cadogan Hall): La Bottega
Islington i.e. the slightly east West End (Sadler’s Wells, Almeida): Masala Zone, Oregano Pizzeria, Banana Tree Canteen, Tenshi Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar
Hammersmith, a.k.a. the Way-out West End (Lyric Hammersmith, Hammersmith Apollo): Akash Tandoor
The Barbican, a.k.a. the slightly East West End (Barbican Theater, Guildhall Music School, Silk Street Theatre): Amico Bio (at Barbican station), Grab Thai food (near Old Street station)
Hackney and Dalston a.k.a. the Far-east West End (Hackney Empire, Arcola): 19 Numara Bos Cirrik
Southeast West End Docklands/Wapping/South End (Wilton’s Music Hall): “Bon Appetit” Lebanese restaurant (133 Leman Street, really very close and in a neighborhood that’s a bit of a wasteland)
Far-northern West End (Tricycle): Small & Beautiful
Far-southern East End (aka Greenwich) (Greenwich Theatre): Goddards at Greenwich
Far-southern off West End (Landor): Alba Pizzeria

Covent Garden (east West End, including the Noel Coward, Duke of Yorks, Royal Opera House and London Coliseum – 5 minutes, Theatre Royal Drury Lane – 8 minutes, Aldwych and Novello – 10 minutes): new to the fold and close to my heart is Pepe Italian street food, across the street from the Noel Coward and in spitting distance of the London Coliseum (and the Duke of York’s). It’s got some of the best pizza in London, and while £4 a slice seems steep, it’s so damned good (and a meal with a side salad, about £2.50) that I don’t care. In addition they have these crazy sandwiches called piadina (£5.50 ish) made with an ultra puffy, tortilla like bread that just becomes heaven with melted mozzarella inside. I’m drooling just thinking about it. Bonus: everything served in 2-5 minutes – if you arrive at Leicester Square Tube at 7 for a 7:30 show, you’re safe.

Your best option if you want to eat right in Covent Garden is the Battersea Pie Station, in the basement of Covent Garden. Why? Imagine this: you have about 15 minutes to eat before you go to your show (say, for example, Shrek the Musical at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, 10 minute walk) but don’t want a cold sandwich. If there’s no line, you can order a small pie and mash (with gravy) for 5.25 and be eating a nice hot meal in 5 minutes. I kid you not. They have veggie as well as meat options, and while I don’t want pie all the time, if you’re looking for a pleasant hot meal you just can’t beat this place for price and speed.

A favorite from 2011 is Mexican food hole-in-the-wall Lupita (13 Villiers Street, WC2N 6ND, Villiers Street exit from Charing Cross Station, London Coliseum, Noel Coward and Duke of York Theatres – 8 minutes, ROH – 12 minutes), which has totally eclipsed overpopular and loud Wahaca despite the lack of mole (a kind of Mexican curry sauce). Lupita is real Mexican style and not TexMex, with tiny flat tacos, fresh guacamole, burritos and tortas (Mexican sandwiches). One burrito or two of the small plates (tacos, tostadas, quesadillas – please eat with your hands and don’t embarrass yourself), and for about £10 you are out the door. Personal favorites: queso fundido with chorizo (God’s gift to my tummy) and quesadilla with squash blossoms (it’s just super tasty and weird, I love it!). Arrive at 6 and your dinner is secure, and you’ll even have time for a margarita – but only one: any more is NOT a good plan when you’ve got a night of opera ahead of you.

A former favorites, though still good if you haven’t eaten there weekly for a few years, is the Bedford Street Paul. Though this is a chain, the lovely French meals available in this sit-down location are well priced and tasty, the atmosphere pleasant, and service is generally fast. The bread is the best I have found in London and makes the meal extra-yummy. A friend of mine usually gets the soup of the day and then splurges on a dessert, which isn’t a bad plan. They suffer from long lines around 6:30, but even at 6:45 you may be able to eat, get out at 7:20, and make your show at the ROH provided you jog across the market and bullet your way up the stairs at the Opera House. God knows I’ve done it many times!

While I won’t recommend pubs for dinner, Chando’s Opera Room (29 St. Martins Lane, WC2N 4ER) is my preferred location for a cheap pint in the neighborhood. Since they’re a Sam Smith pub, they have the delicious Sam Smith cider on tap. If you’re going for “bringing your own,” this is a great place to have a drink to wash it down with – or wait for people before you to go a show together. (Note: be sure to go upstairs as this is where the action is. It’s a gorgeous pub with lots of windows. I love it!)

Finally, if you just want a fast, filling delicious scoop of ice cream, Gelatorino opened in May 2011 at 2 Russell Street (WC2B 5JD) between the Royal Opera House and the Theater Royal Drury Lane, and I can recommend it as an ideal cool down and cream up – speaking as a person who’s made it a life goal to find the best gelato anywhere.

Leicester Square (Wyndhams, London Hippodrome – 3 minutes; Shaftesbury Avenue – 5 minutes): this area is a diner’s wasteland. Pick one of my options nearby and add walking time, or roll the dice and go for Chinese. And I’ve finally found one I like: the Baozi Inn, on the little alley behind Shaftesbury. Cash only, £8 minimum, fantastic, traditional Chinese food. For those of you at the Palace Theater, Taro (10 Old Compton Street, W1D 4TF), a Japanese food restaurant, has cheapie prices and quickie service and a tasty, unpretentious menu. Don’t kill your wallet with sushi, get a chicken teriyaki don for £5.90. At these prices I can promise you’ll be back later.

South “West End” (Haymarket Theatre, Her Majesty’s Theatre – 3 minutes; Comedy Theatre – 5 minutes; Criterion Theatre – 8 minutes): my former favorite Galileo’s Locanda Toscana has been replaced by a corporate Italian joint, Assagetti, at the same address, 71 Haymarket (SW1Y 4RW). I hate the stools and the fake charm but they’ve got the speed thing down and you can get three small dishes for £11.25 and still make it to the Haymarket – or over to Shaftesbury Avenue – with time to spare. (And if you were looking for a place where you could get fifty or so people in, their basement space is huge.) However, I’m too picky about my Italian to come here again.

On the other hand if you’re feeling brave and you’re willing to plunge into the heart of Soho, walk straight up Sherwood street, past the Picadilly Theater and the back side of Whole Foods, along Golden Square until you get to Beak Street (go left!), home of the brilliant Flat Iron Steak House, my cheap eats find for 2014. £10 for a steak with a side salad and some popcorn to nibble on I KID YOU NOT (other sides £3-£4ish). Trick is you need to be there at 6 sharp (or earlier) if there’s any chance of you getting a seat as they don’t take reservations and fill up fast. But it’s SO WORTH IT as the steak is always EXCELLENT. And they usually have some other kind of special like a burger or a different cut of steak. Once you’re sat down, you can order, eat and leave in about 30 minutes, which is a kind of a dream for me but also as a theater goer gives you time to get to your show. So if you’re seeing anything on Shaftesbury or near Haymarket, just do it because this restaurant ROCKS. Book of Mormon AND STEAK! Dirty Dancing AND STEAK! Les Miserables AND STEAK! I mean, hey, if you’re working £15 tickets, why not make it £25 and say AND I HAD STEAK!

North-“West End” and Soho Square (Dominion and Shaftesbury): I will often come eat here and then make the trek further south, leaving the restaurant at 7:10 or so depending on distance. Best options are:
Enrique Tomas, a “jamon iberico” ham emporium selling fantastic cheap sarnies for about £3.50 a shot if you go for the cheap stuff. It’s not entirely a meal, but OMG ham it’s just like being in Spain. Perfectly situated for the Soho Theater and if you want a big meal you can grab one after your show, or get a cupcake from Hummingbird Bakery (across the street) or Gails (next door).
Thai Cottage, fondly known as “Five Alarm Thai” (34 D’arblay St, London, W1F 8EX) – With lunches and pre-theater dinners for around £7, and the food all made in the kitchen by granny, this one gets visits from me any time I’m near Soho Square/Tottenham Court Road.

Not exactly cheap but absolutely awesome is the Pitt Cue Co, very conveniently located near the London Palladium (1 Newburgh St, W1F 7RG near to Oxford Circus). Their barbeque is not just good, it’s world class, and I’ve had barbeque all over Kansas, Texas, and Mississippi, not to mention nearly every other state in the US I’ve been to. However, their 6 PM opening time may not give you enough time to make a 7:30 show, so perhaps you should consider it for a matinee on a Saturday, or just a dreamy night of barbeque. MMM mmm MMM!

Inamo (134 Wardour Street, W1F 8ZR) – this amusing restaurant can be very competitive to get a seat at, but with a £10.00 pre-theater menu that neither my husband nor I could finish (baby back ribs, kakiage, homemade pickles, rice and edamame), it’s utterly worth the effort. To top it off, the interior is SO cute and the “touch your table to place your order” gimmick is fun and seems to result in getting your food much faster than it would at any normal joint. No need for faffing – just tap the table and BOOM people come brink you food. You can even watch them making it on a video cam that projects in front of you!

Speaking of Thai, AVOID AT ALL COSTS the “all you can eat Vegan Thai food” joints springing up all over London like poop in a park on a sunny day. I’ve been to Tai Buffet and Tai Veg and the quality was EXCEEDINGLY poor. Frankly I would have rather not had all you can eat and just had one thing I WANTED to eat besides the dried seaweed.

Icco Pizza (46 Goodge Street, W1T 4LU) – add an extra 5 minutes for any destination but with pizzas between £4 and £5 this may be worth the hike for you.

Southbank and Waterloo (National Theatre, Old Vic, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Young Vic): while the National Theatre can actually feed you for about £5 at their downstairs cafe, clever theater goers will instead head to Culture Grub, halfway betweeen the Young and Old Vic (84 The Cut London SE1 8LW). Their ultra-discount Chinese plates are filling and served in about three minutes – a real gift if you were held up at work but still want more than a packet of crisps before the interval. Or you might want to go for some speedy Mexican at Wahaca’s Waterloo location (101 Waterloo Road SE1 8UL), cunningly located directly across the street from Waterloo’s big tube entrance. They also have a location right on the Southbank, though this location has shorter lines and is closer to the Vics. But if you’ve made it to Southwark Playhouse, it’s impossible for you to not go to Mar I Tierra, the most perfect tapas place I could ever dream of finding. It’s the kind of place that makes you pick your theater based on your food. You can rack up a big bill if you want but you can also get a bowl of gazpacho, some olives, and a cheese plate for around £10, though if you can resist a jug of sangria you’re made of stronger stuff than me. There’s a menu of daily specials and OH the garden. What a joy!

Sloane Square i.e. the Southwest “West End” (Royal Court, Cadogan Hall): Now that the Royal Court is the new Donmar (and just don’t they have great deals on tickets for their shows!), it’s important for the frugal theater-goer to have a nearby dining option. I’m delighted with the La Bottega (65 Lower Sloane Street, SW1W 8HD, 5 minutes to Royal Court, 10 minutes to Cadogan Hall), which, even though it closes at 8PM, is still open at good hours for pre-show diners. Sadly, their hours are much shorter on weekends (6 PM close Saturdays, 5 PM Sundays), but them’s the breaks.

Slightly east West End, aka Islington (Sadler’s Wells, Almeida): the obvious cheap choice for Sadler’s Wells attendees is the Garden Court Cafe, located at the Lilian Baylis entrance to the theater. The menu is limited but with hot mains around 7 quid and sandwiches for four, this is the best and closest option – and especially convenient for weekend matinees. Bonus: free wifi!

Masala Zone (80 Upper Street, N1 0NU, 8 minutes to Almeida, 15 to Sadler’s Wells) has a pre-theatre dinner combo for under £10. Oregano Pizzeria (St. Alban’s Place, N1 0NX, right around the corner from Masala Zone so same distances) makes real, Italian style pizza in a proper oven and has tasty, affordable pastas, though beef and seafood hits the over £10 mark. I’d also recommend it for a sit down and relax kind of meal if you don’t have theatre tickets hanging over your head. Finally, Banana Tree Canteen (412 St. John Street, EC1V 4NJ, 8 minutes to Sadlers, Wells, 15-20 to the Almeida) serves up nice cheap plates and bowls of Thai and Malaysian food and has an early-bird dinner deal for about £8, starter and main. They are cheap and good enough to warrant a visit to on a normal basis, since their available any time “combo plate” is only £8.95 and includes one of many mains, rice, and two sides so is a complete screaming deal. Note that it’s best if you aren’t too fussed about having really authentic Oriental food (it’s still miles above Wagamama and their Laksa rocks the house) and don’t mind the occasionally lame service.
Tenshi Japanese Restaurant and Sushi bar
(61 Upper Street). I made it here during the Flamenco festival and wound up going three times in two weeks – the truly authentic Japanese food (almost all under £10, sushi and non-fish food both available) really worked for me. Shame they don’t have beef teriyaki but vegetarian options are available – but note they close between 3 and 6PM.
Way-out West End, aka Hammersmith (Lyric Hammersmith, Hammersmith Apollo): Akash Tandoor (177 King Street, W6 9JT). I highly recommend their 20 quid two person combo – it’s an eight minute walk to the Lyric but SUCH a better option pricewise than Chula!

Barbican and Old Street (Barbican, Silk Street Theater, etc.): If you want some really good Italian food before you go to a show at the Barbican and don’t want to break your budget, Amico Bio (44 Cloth Fair London EC1A 7JQ ) has incredibly tasty food and a price point that will make your eyes glitter. At about £7 for an entree, it’s a perfect place to show up at for an antipasto and a main and still be able to leave without having even spent a tenner. They are literally five minutes walk from the tube (but print a map out at this neighborhood is very medieval) but it will take you 15 very brisk minutes to get back on the highwalk and in the Barbican theater so leave time. HIGHLY recommended especially given how overpriced and pants the Barbican’s house restaurants are.

If you’re really going for cheap, you might also try Grab Thai food (about 5 steps south of Old Street station at 5 Leonard Street, London EC2A 4AQ), where you can get a small pot of curry and rice for under £5, but they close at 7PM on weekdays so you need to move fast. Still, if it’s sunny you can get it to go and eat it at the waterpark in the middle of the Barbican, which would be just VERY nice.

Far-east West End (Hackney Empire, Arcola): two different neighborhoods, one restaurant with locations in both: 19 Numara Bos Cirrik (Dalston branch at 34 Stoke Newington Road, Dalston, N16 7XJ, Hackney at 1-3 Amhurst Road, E8 1LL). Free starters, piles of food for cheap, occasional flying charcoal bits turning your table into a barbeque grill, YUM! In fact, this restaurant is so good, it’s made me start going to the Arcola more.

Southeast West End Docklands/Wapping/South End (Wilton’s Music Hall): “Bon Appetit” Lebanese restaurant (133 Leman Street, really very close and in a neighborhood that’s a bit of a wasteland). The food here is really good (it’s mostly reproduced here) and it’s within about six steps of Wilton’s, so if you find yourself in this tremendously underserved area and hungry, give it a try. It’s not worth a separate trip but it’s definitely tasty and can hold its head up high no matter where the location.

Far North West End (Tricycle): Small & Beautiful. About five doors up from the Tricycle, this restaurant is a tightwad’s dream come true. Most of the entrees were around 5 quid, the starters were about 2, and I was able to get a glass of decent wine for 2.50 – our total for two (with one glass of wine) was 16 quid. And the food was yummy and attractively presented. After the horrible experience I had at the African restaurant down the street, this will be my new home in Kilburn henceforth, possibly encouraging me to brave the great Northern unknown more frequently.

Greenwich (Greenwich Theater): on a corner of the Greenwich Market is the wonderful “Goddards at Greenwich,” a traditional pie and mash shop that’s been running since 1890. Like most traditional pie and mash places, you can feed yourself for under £5 and tea is less than a quid. It’s about ten minutes from the rail station but only five minutes from the theater. Highly recommended if you’re on the way to the annual panto!

Clapham North (Landor Pub Theater): NOVEMBER 2014 update: either remodeling or closed, will let you know! Directly across from the quieter street flanking the Clapham North tube station, Alba pizzeria is THE place to go for a quick and decent meal before a show at the Landor. On Mondays and Tuesdays (I think) they do a “pizza and a glass of wine” deal for 10 quid, but this isn’t the draw: it’s the fact that their pizza is good, really good. I mean, who cares about the deal? Truth is that their wine is cheaper than the Landor anyway and there’s a much better selection, so just eat here before the show and have a glass of wine to boot. The house at the Landor doesn’t open until ten minutes before curtain anyway so no reason to rush.

*Sure, you can always pack a meal, buy bread and cheese at the store, get a quick (overpriced) sandwich at Pret, find a pasty (this is actually not the worst thing to do if you want to stick under £4, and there is a Cornish Pasty shop cunningly located in Covent Garden), or go to some chain pizza joint. But I want a good meal, something I actually enjoy.

Review – Into the Little Hill – Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House

February 19, 2009

Well, some people have all the luck. I read today about the debut of “Into the Little Hill” taking place in the Royal Opera House bar (due to a power failure at the Linbury), and I thought: Staging? Give me free drinks any old day! But it wasn’t to be my luck: I’d bought my tickets for Wednesday the 18th, and my drinks looked like they’d only be coming along provided I’d paid for them.

However we still had the luck of having the composer of “Into the Little Hill” (George Benjamin) perform the piece, and truth be told I was happy to have seats, even though the two operettas were only 40 minutes each. The first was Harrison Birtwistle’s “Down by the Greenwood Side,” a truly bizarre performance that was modern opera meets a Mummers play as performed by homeless people, including a strange little bag lady (Claire Booth) who kept singing snatches of “The Cruel Mother.” Oddly, the other characters (a hobo “Father Christmas” – Pip Donaghy, St. George – Wela Frasier, some bizarre creature called the “Bold Slasher” – Robert Hastie, and a hysterically menacing “Dr. Blood” – Julian Forsyth – no idea if any of these besides Father Christmas and St. George actually relate to Mummers plays) did almost no singing at all, but instead re-enacted a ritual in which St. George fights and loses to the “Bold Slasher,” then is resurrected by Dr. Blood and proceeds to beat the tar out of the Bold Slasher – well, sort of, only his arms and legs (which fought on their own for a while) and then eventually his head get cut off, which turned the whole thing into some kind of Monty Python sketch. It all ends with the men beating up the bag lady. I didn’t get it at all but it was more or less absorbing, except that I didn’t find the music at all interesting – it was reminding me of my uncomfortable visit to see “Pierrot Lunaire.” 1960s classical music just isn’t for me.

This was followed by “Into the Little Hill,” the star piece for the night, described as a retelling of the tale of the Pied Piper. It was performed by two women, a mezzo (Susan Bickley) who played the role of the mayor and the mother, and a soprano (Claire Booth back again in much more flattering clothes), who played the role of the Mayor’s daughter and the Pied Piper.

The text itself was quite interesting, and the staging was good – it included projections that made it possible to follow the text in some of the more poetic moments – but the music just wsn’t of a style that I cared for at all. I did enjoy the way the “sound” of the Piper’s demand for money (which was not sung) was expressed by what seemed like a fixed piano, but the piece overall left me longing for the days when music was musical. Are composers really so busy rebelling against the plebian nature of musical theater that they are satisfied to throw together disparate notes and expect people to enjoy them? I just wanted to throw my hands in the air. Really, this noise has been going on for so many decades – it’s as if the world of painting got stuck at cubism and never moved forward again! I may just have to give up on seeing performances of this type altogether. While I appreciated the intimacy of the venue and the skill of the singers (and Jon Clark’s lighting design was totally on the money), I didn’t enjoy myself at all and wound up looking at the price on my tickets somewhat bitterly at the end of the night. Things are just too tight for us right now for me to make mistakes like this. I should stick with Baroque and other early music and otherwise not go to opera any more – after 10 years of trying to cultivate a taste for it, it’s probably time to throw in the towel.

(This review is for a performance that took place Wednesday, February 18, 2009. There is a final performance of this show on February 19th.)

Review – Die tote Stadt – Royal Opera House

February 12, 2009

Last night I went with J and Cate to see Die tote Stadt at the Royal Opera House. I was attracted to this opera for two reasons; first, it was the first ever UK production of this show; second, it was a 20th century opera written in the early part of the century, when things were more musical. I like new shows and I liked the possibility of an opera that I’d actually enjoy – because, I must be honest, I am really just not much of an opera fan. I keep trying and trying but I’ve failed to create a passion for the art form, though I do enjoy listening to people sing.

Anyway, I found Die Tote Stadt really quite fun. It started slowly, in the house of a man who’s created a massive fetish about his dead wife – his house is full of pictures of her and he sits around caressing her hair (ew!). But he’s convinced he’s found her again, in the person of a dancer he’s run into on the streets of Brussels.

At this point, I am forced to quote Robyn Hitchcock, whose song “My Wife and My Dead Wife” played over and over in my head during the course of this show. I’ll refer to it again during the review as it just seemed to appropriate for the show not to share.

“My wife and my dead wife
“Am I the only one that sees her?
“My wife and my dead wife
“Doesn’t anybody see her at all?”

While listening to Paul (Stephen Gould) wax poetic about his love for his dead Marie, either to himself or to his friend Frank (Gerald Finley), I was a bit creeped out, but also not very interested – it seemed all so sterile and dull, like even when Marie was alive there was something extremely non-physical about their relationship. I feared for the evening. The staging was reminding me way too much of almost everything I’ve seen at ENO, where the singers stomp back and forth from one end of the stage to another with no apparent purpose but to demonstrate the size of the venue.

But when dancer Marietta (Nadja Michael) appeared on stage, the show gained momentum. She was full of life, dressed in yellow and full of passion and love for herself. While she was willing to play with Paul’s obsession, she made it clear that she was herself, and not anyone else, and ran off into the night to attend her show rehearsal.

“My dead wife sits in a chair
“Combing her hair
“I know she’s there.”

At this point Paul appears to pass out in a state of exhaustion, and has a conversation with his dead Marie, who appears in a room that’s behind the one in which he sleeps (and a copy of it). I found this trope quite cool – Marie sitting in the same chair in the living room that’s now empty, addressing a man whom in the dream world is sitting up (while Paul sings in the front room, apparently asleep). Marie chides Paul for not being faithful to her, then says she’s going to warn him about what will happen if he tries to renew his love for her with this other woman. What? A jealous ghost? It all seems to be Paul’s subconscious handling his guilt poorly. It all builds up to this triumphal/spooky moment where all of these top-hatted dancers come onto the stage to reveal …

WHAT? While my ultra cheap, very very very back of the opera house tickets did manage to let me read the supertitles, the climax of this scene (like “Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend”) was invisible from where I sat as the person who was revealed within the circle of dancers was only visible from the waist up and thus completely obscured by the top of the set. Wah. Was it a gowned or bejeweled dancer, the dead woman, or perhaps a skeleton? I will never know!

However, at this point the set went even wackier, as the ghost attempted to illustrate for her husband the ill things that would occur to him if he hooked up with Mariette. This part left me somewhat confused as to whether or not it was reality she was showing or just his fevered dreams, but I loved the energy and surrealism, with houses floating across the back of the stage (a la Wizard of Oz), nuns marching by carrying a crucified Mariette (or was it Marie?), and white garbed dancers (Mariette’s troupe) who suddenly flip the 6 foot portrait of Marie around to show it as WHOOP WHOOP a gaping skull! (It seemed really obvious that this would happen.)

“And I can’t decide which one I love the most
“The flesh and blood or the pale, smiling ghost”

At some point it appears that Paul has actually hooked up with Mariette in reality, but by the end of the scene he’s guilting about how he’s ruined his pure love for his wife. Mariette reproaches him for not accepting his love for her, and it seems that things are going to go well … but no, it’s German culture 1920 and women who embrace their sexuality can pretty much only be vampires, a la The Blue Angel. Mariette parades aroudn stage with no hair at all and Paul gives in and admit it’s she he loves – and his reward is to get stuck wearing the Pucinella/”Dumbo” costume. Bah. Can’t it be a good thing that he’s finally decided to move forward with his life instead of living in the past? Is all of this just his wife attempting to control him from beyond the grave?

“My wife lies down on the beach/She’s sucking a peach
“She’s out of reach/Of the waves that crash on the sand
“Where my dead wife stands/Holding my hand”

“Now my wife can’t swim/but neither could she/And deep in the sea
“She’s waiting for me …”

At this point, 90 minutes in, the interval occurs … and I realized I didn’t really have any curiosity about Paul and what else might happen to him, and I felt emotionally satisfied by him accepting his love for Mariette, and I was worn out and not looking forward to getting home after 11 and being exhausted all day at work. Cate proposed that we go home – and so we did. That said, I did enjoy the opera, and I recommend it as fun to watch, though I can’t say the music was too exciting – but that’s probably more about me than about the music, not that Erich Wolfgang Korngold would really care one way or another.

(Cast list here. This performance took place Wednesday, February 11th, 2009. Die Tote Stadt’s last performance is February 17th.)

Into the Little Hill – Linbury Studio – Preview

February 5, 2009

I just bought some tickets to Into the Little Hill at the ROH Linbury Studio. The theme of the show sounds pretty interesting, and I really like the tale of the Cruel Mother, which is part of the accompanying “Down by the Greenwood Side.” That means the ROH has hit me up pretty heavily in the last two days – I hope they’re proud of themselves!

New season booking opens at ROH today

February 4, 2009

I am right in line to buy my tickets to Dido and Aeneas/Acis and Galatea as choreographed by Wayne MacGregor! What an awesome meeting for my love of early music (Handel and Purcell!) and my love of dance – I mean, my God, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment? And Mr. Macgregor? I’m so there! (And he needs a nickname, doesn’t he? Wayne seems too informal … Jimmy Mack too Detroit … what should I call him?)

Here’s the blurb: “Two great works of British Baroque opera in new interpretations by Wayne McGregor, Resident Choreographer of The Royal Ballet, make for a very special evening with The Royal Opera in collaboration with The Royal Ballet. Also, we celebrate 350 years since the birth of Purcell and 250 after the death of Handel with these complementary works on classical themes, which remain as appealing in melody and seductive in rhythm as ever.

“To both, McGregor brings his individual and acclaimed approach to the fusion of music and movement in settings of richly layered design and atmospheric lighting. Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas contrasts musically and dramatically the supernatural with personal tragedy – there are the witches who delight in destruction, but at the heart is Dido, Queen of Carthage, whose Lament is one of the most famous and beautiful pieces of English opera. The pastoral mood of Handel’s Acis and Galatea also turns dark as the eponymous loves are threatened by the monster Polyphemus, but its succession of arias and choruses show its unique charm. With Christopher Hogwood conducting the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and soloists including Sarah Connolly as Dido, this programme will have an especially rich musical interpretation.”

I can’t believe booking just opened an hour or two and it’s almost sold out! I’m getting some tickets for the triple bill (Les Sylphides / New Marriott / The Firebird) in May while I’m online.

LATER: Bought! Unfortunately my tickets are near thet end of the run. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find a pair for opening night so I can get a review in while it’s hot.

Review – Three Short Works (Voluntaries, The Lesson, Infra) – The Royal Ballet

November 27, 2008

Last night was my long awaited trip to the Royal Opera House to see Wayne McGregor’s new work, “Infra.” However, it was not the only work on the program; it was the final work on the program, which was rather a compliment, as my experience has been that mixed rep ballet sandwiches are usually stacked “nice/boring ballet” “the thing that makes you feel weird” “the big winner with the crowd scene that sends you home feeling energized.” “Chroma” got the “weird” placement, with the missible “Danse a Grande Vitesse” the supposed “feel good” finale, but it seems that the Royal Ballet were feeling more confident this time that McGregor could be the anchor for a show. It was a shame in some ways, but as there was nothing in the evening I really didn’t like, I mostly just minded that I wound up getting home after 11 PM on a weeknight.

“Voluntaries” (choreographed by Glen Tetley) was something I’d seen before, but I was still happy to see it what with Marianela Nunez leading the cast. The costumes are a horrible 80s look with big open chests for the men and the women in white, but it’s cool to hear the awesome Poulenc organ music blasting across the house while the women are being thrown around. To me the piece has a really primeval feel to it, with the big, sparkly, universe/sun cir
Webcowgirl’s Theatre Reviews › Create New Post — WordPresscle on the back of the stage and the woman looking like they are being offered up as sacrifices; but though a lot of contorting goes on, I think it’s my conclusion that this work just doesn’t thrill me. Nunez was full of energy, lithe as can be, and amazingly muscular, but … I guess I wanted her to have an opportunity to do more and be carried around less.

“The Lesson” (choreography by Flemming Flindt) was a ballet I’ve actually been very interested in seeing since I first heard about it. What a story – wicked ballet master manipulates and kills student! My uncle said it seemed like an upscale Sweeney Todd, though it wasn’t quite – it was more of an Expressionistic piece, a comic Grand Guignol ballet, with a movie-like set of greens and blues and greys and yellows. Johan Kobborg did a great job of being a psychotic teacher – it’s actually one of the best “acting” roles I’ve seen for a man in a ballet in a dog’s age. Roberta Marquez was an adorable pupil, light on her feet, expressive, and impressive in her ability to dance while someone was holding on to her ankles (is this actually something they do in dance school?). Kristen McNally was fun to watch as The Pianist, a sort of assistant to the teacher, like Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney, but with huge, exaggerated actions. I was afraid I’d be terrified and shocked by the ending, but it was all over really fast and just came off as a bit of black humor, to my relief.

Well, then, on to the main event (after another thirty minute interval – what in the world are they thinking!), we finally got on to Infra, the star of my evening. Sadly, I can’t go on about it at length right now, as it’s late and I’m too exhausted to talk much. To me, the ballet seemed to be a lot about how people live and interact with each other, the kind of connections we make, the way you can be surrounded by so many people and actually be completely lonely. The movement didn’t have the shock to me of “Chroma,” which is probably in part because I’ve become more familiar with the vocabulary of movement MacGregor uses, but it also didn’t feel as sharp edged – but it was a more introspective piece overall.

The soundscape, by Chris Eckers, was very … well – it’s really hard to describe. There were violins playing at times, and at other times there were scratchy noises, and al the time this was going on, overhead there was a LED art thing by Julian Opie of people walking, walking, walking by, which I stopped paying attention to, though it kept going. And I got lost in the noise, and the movement, and the truly amazing lighting (Lucy Carter), and the dancers caressed and fought with one another, and they touched and brushed and manhandled each other, and Melissa Hamilton was tiny and so flexible and strong that at one point as Eric Underwood was folding her inside out, the people behind me gasped in amazement. And then all of these people came walking, walking, walking out of the wings, walking in an endless stream, mirroring the images that had been showing above them forever, while one woman fell apart in the middle of the stage, broken and ignored by the crowd … and then she disappeared into them, and “the great river ran on.” It was an awesome moment.

And, well, I guess I wish I could watch it again. I really liked it a lot.

  • (This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, November 26th. This was the last performance of this set of dances.)

  • Review – 2008 Firsts at the Linbury, second program (Compania LA, Chisato Minaminura Dance Company, Albert Quesada and Vera Tussing, Helen Stromberger)

    November 19, 2008

    Last night I went with my friend Ruth to see the Firsts program at the Linbury Studio of the Royal Opera House. This is the third year of this tradition for me and I really look forward to having an opportunity to get exposure to performers/choreographers etc. that I’d never heard of before (i.e. Hofesh Schecter). It’s a stunningly affordable event at 5 quid a pop, which helps cheer me up when there is (inevitably) mixed quality among the pieces. (I figure just one dud within four short pieces is quite tolerable – what I’m hoping for is just one thing that is really brilliant.) There’s also a problem in that there are several bills during the course of each year’s firsts, and how do you choose which to go to? Unsurprising the series is tremendously popular and as it’s turned out it can be difficult getting tickets to even one!

    The first performance was Compañia LA doing Hambre. I was expecting some sort of circus act (as per the program note), but what I was got was much more so than that; physical performance (in this case juggling) used in a way that illustrated character and told a story. It was two men, one young and bookish, the other bald and hunched over, interacting with each other over a dinner table. The first man gave a clue about what was to come as he balanced a strange, giant-turtle-egg looking ball on a book he was reading, then fought with the other man to keep him from stealing his ball. This led to dinner and some silliness with plates, and, of course, a basket with eggs in it had to show up. There was a bit of a build up to the use of the eggs as items to juggle with, but finally they got going (once they’d established they actually had white balls instead of eggs), and the balls were flying everywhere. There was a regular theme of the guys stealing the eggs from each other, but really it was about them keeping them in motion, finally ending with a PONG like bit where they were bouncing balls off of chairs on top of the table and at each other. And it all ended … well, with a laugh. It was a great start to the night.

    After a brief pause, the Chisato Minaminura Dance Company got rolling with “The Canon for Duet,” a piece which apparently made it through the trials of The Place Prize 2008 (something else which I should actually start seeing). The two dancers (Jemima Hoadley, Hannah Shepherd) performed in silence for about 4/5s of its length, with the music being represented as a projection at the back of the stage – basically what a stereo would show of the music at different tones from bass to treble. There was a fair bit of hand flapping and some movement forward and backwards in the center of the stage, which changed the height of the shadows they were casting. However, they mostly seemed to ignore each other, never really making eye contact, and I found the performance not very engaging. When the music – which was specially composed for this Minaminura – was finally played, it did add a tremendous layer of context to what they were doing, but overall I found this only engaged me as a mental exercise, not as interesting choreography.

    After the intermission, we moved onto Albert Quesada and Vera Tussing’s “Beautiful Dance.” For this piece, the two dancers instructed us that, “During the performance will weill ask you to close and open your eyes. Please close your eyes.” We then listened to them walking and dancing on stage for a bit (I think – I didn’t take notes because my eyes were shut!). It sounded to me like they were trying to express the music of a song entirely through the beats of their feet (this would, I believe, be Beethoven’s Sonata number 13). When we opened our eyes, they stood side by side on stage, the one marching his feet while the other did what seemed to be arpeggios with hers, still in a bit of a march step. While this music they were making with their bodies continued (and a strange sight to watch it was, too), they started playing with the shadows they were creating on the back of the stage. I actually really enjoyed this, as they made it look like four people were performing, managed to get the shadows to cross over each other while the performers did not, and even made the shadows walk off of the stage so there was not one remaining. It was a really fun lighting trick and the whole performance was actually quite enjoyable, even though they only added the music in for a tiny bit. It really contrasted with the Minamura piece and I think was far more compelling.

    The final bit of the night was Helen Stromberger’s “Illuminating Georgia,” which was my absolute favorite. It was less about dance than about creating a look which used human bodies to achieve it – while also commenting on the nature of people (in my mind). The dancers were very tightly controlled in a way that reminded me of “Attempts on Her Life.” Yet somehow, while I felt like the actors’ spirits were being sucked out of them by the highly structured, improv killing set up used for AHL, the work of beauty that was created in “Illuminating Georgia” left me in no way feeling like I’d been short changed (though it’s likely that the dancers weren’t being stretched as much as they could have been).

    The piece opened with four women in white dresses standing in the dark, then having projections very precisely aimed on their faces, making for a kind of “Haunted Mansion” effect. They then had fire images (sort of) projected on them, which seemed to very deliberately also hit the curtain at the back of the stage, so that their bodies were faintly outlined, in a way that made me think of the old Kyrilian Aura they showed on “In Search Of.” And then the woman’s bodies, to me they looked like they were representing the swirls of energy inside the human body – the energy of thought, of mind, of emotion, of all the things that make us humans, and the outlines behind were what was visible of our tremendous inner experience. I was completely entranced – in fact, I was so caught up in what was going on on the stage that I forgot to take notes other than, “It’s a giant Nazbatag!” Oops. That said, what a great way to end the night!

    Overall, this was a highly successful Firsts evening, leaving me regretting that 1) I hadn’t brought J (the lighting geek) and W (the juggling geek) with me and that 2) I couldn’t see any of the other performances. My other quibble? Too many open seats downstairs, for which I’m assuming people just didn’t bother to show up. I would say charge more – say 10 quid – and maybe people will value the experience a little bit more.

    (This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, November 18th and repeats on November 19th – but it’s sold out.)
    Description from the ROH website, which I will expect they will take down soon as they don’t really bother to archive their performances:
    18 | 19 NOVEMBER 7.45PM

    Compañia LA are a young and exciting contemporary circus/physical theatre company. Their show Hambre, which has toured widely in Europe, explores the change in relationship between two characters when their lives, confined to their home, become distorted through hunger and fear. The fusion of object manipulation and physical theatre in this comic yet reflective show, with a surreal twist, will delight.

    Born in Japan and deaf from birth, Chisato Minamimura is a remarkable dancer and choreographer whose aim is to visualize a deaf person’s response to sound through choreography. In the Canon for Duet, which reached the Place Prize 2008 semi-finals, she works with film, sound and silence to create this intriguing and thought-provoking work.


    ‘ This engaging duo mirrored the spirit of the music in their percussive limbs, producing an understated delight.” Metro

    Described as a ‘sonata for the body’ , Beautiful Dance explores movement as an acoustic, as well as a simply visual device; to achieve that peculiar sensitivity that occurs when each of the senses is isolated, and only then brought into play with each other. Beautiful Dance is part of an interdisciplinary and quirky project combining music, the science of semiotics, and dance to create a new movement-language.

    Questioning the essence of physical existence, Illuminate Georgia uses the performers’ bodies as a projection surface to create a world of illusion where the appearance of the bodies is constantly transformed, abstracted and fragmented. As the dancers move through a series of physical states they enter a realm of an abstract existence where they merge with vibrating shapes and flickering lights.

    Warning! Performance contains flashing lights.

    Great deal on Wayne Macgregor’s “Infra” tonight; and preview review (November)

    November 13, 2008

    Well! That Facebook membership has paid off at last, as the Royal Opera group has posted half priced seats for Wayne Macgregor’s new work, “Infra.” These are even realistically priced tickets as it’s £30 and £22 balcony seats for £15 – reducing a £117 seat to £55 (like for Electra) doesn’t really help me much! Unfortunately I can’t really take advantage of it as I’m going next week – tonight I’ll be settling down in a riad in Morocco and ballet’s not really an option.

    Meanwhile I noticed that I’m doing a poor job of attending fresh content to my blog, in part because I’ve been travelling an awful lot – but also because I’ve got my uncle coming to visit at the end of this month and I’m stocking up for when he gets here. The schedule for the rest of the month looks like this:
    Nov 18: First, Linbury Studio, ROH
    Nov 19: The “Wayne Macgregor New Thing” at the ROH (and some other works but … I know why I’m going)
    Nov 20: Sankai Juku butoh program at Sadler’s Wells
    Nov 28: August, Osage County at the National (so excited!)
    Nov 29: Cinderella, Lyric Hammersmith
    Dec 2: A Little Night Music, the Menier Chocolate Factory
    December 5: Mother Goose, Hackney Empire
    Dec 6: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – Battersea Arts Centre
    Dec 12: Christmas Carol (the musical), some pub in Islington

    And that will be it until we go to New York over the holidays. I’m realizing a lot of good theater time in my schedule is also being blocked out by apartment hunting. Well, that will be an incentive to find a place soon – the sooner I have one, the sooner I can start going out again!