West Side Story

West Side Story

It is 55 years since West Side Story was first performed.  This pretty much makes it a vintage musical.  Inspired by Romeo and Juliet is follows the rival gangs of the Sharks and the Jets in New York.  The Sharks are Puerto Rican whilst the Jets are Polish-American.  They’re not too keen on each other.

Like the Montague and Capulet rivalry there is a love interest in the mix.  Tony (a Jet) loves Maria (a Shark).  The rest of the clan seems none to pleased about this.  A fight is going to happen.  Tony promises he will stop it.  He goes.  Gets involved and ends up killing Maria’s brother.  Revenge is then on the cards.  You can imagine how it all ends.

As I watched West Side Story all I could think of was doing rehearsals for the battle between the Jets and the Sharks at school and trying to rack my brains as to why we never performed it publicly.  Then I began to question what kind of drama teacher would make their pupils rehearse for so long and to never allow us to show off our wares in public.  This then me sad that I was so bored I was worrying about my drama teacher from junior school.

Sadly this performance of West Side Story did not grab my attention at all.  I loved the dancing.  I think if all gang fights could be done in such a beautifully choreographed way the world really would be a better place.  I loved the set.  The stark metal stairs of a New York apartment block really worked well.  I just didn’t enjoy all the singing.  At half time my friend admitted to me she just doesn’t like musicals all that much.  I am inclined to agree with her a little.  But I don’t think of the rest of the audience at Sadler’s Wells would.  The show was sold out and has been so since it opened.  So although my friend and I would prefer a bit more dancing it is safe to say West Side Story will be selling out for the rest of its run.

To book tickets online visit Sadler’s Wells.

Read reviews of West Side Story: Telegraph, Evening Standard

Sarah Southern

Bolshoi in London

bolshoi

For the summer season the Bolshoi were resident at the Royal Opera House.  The Bolshoi performed 5 ballets: Swan Lake, La Bayadere, The Sleeping Beauty, Jewels and The Flames of Paris.  It has drawn the crowds in.  For every performance there has been substantial queues for returns as all performances sold out.

Sadly the Bolshoi has been making the news and not just for its wonderful dancing.  The acid attack on artistic director Sergei Filin back in January was shocking.  As he recovers from his hideous he did make it out to London and attended a performance of Jewels.  As he was brought onto stage he received a rapturous applause from the audience.

The arts are often seen as a sophisticated arena but this attack shines the light that no matter what your industry the same disputes will exist.  The motivation of the attack on Filin is thought to be due to “a cesspool of intolerable cruelty” along with rivalry between dancers and the people who manage them.

The Bolshoi is impressive to watch.  They do put on a performance that draws you in.  But the main downfall is the obsessive bowing.  During Swan Lake it really took away from the flow of the performance with the constant pause for appraisal.  Sleeping Beauty was probably the strongest out of the four ballets I saw.  It had excessive bowing but not to the point of rolling my eyes.  And it had the story which flowed and really drew you in.  I am looking forward to seeing the interpretation of Sleeping Beauty by the Royal Ballet in the coming year.

Along with the Bolshoi there have been many great visiting companies to London this summer.  The Coliseum has played host to the Boston Ballet, the Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet, Fredrick Rydman and the Shanghai Ballet.  To have so much high quality ballet on offer has been a real treat for lovers of dance.  It is also a real treat to those of us who are new to their love of ballet.  I have been able to see so much to extend my knowledge of ballet and to experience the differing styles of various companies.

Now looking forward to a some great performance from the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet in the coming months.

Sarah Southern

Buckingham Palace

Buck House

Every year I go to the summer opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace.  It may seem a little odd to go and see the same thing over and over but there is always a new exhibition to see.  One year you could see the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress another celebrated 60 years of the Commonwealth.  Last year was all about diamonds and had the most amazing display of tiaras and crowns dripping in them.  This year was a celebrating the 60 years since the Queen had her Coronation.

Buckingham Palace has an unbelievable collection of art.  It is worth the visit alone to see that. The opulence of the building is mesmerising.  The architecture of Buckingham Palace and its grand decor and the massive garden is well worth the visit.

This year’s exhibition is on the Queen’s Coronation is the strongest exhibition that has been out on in recent years. The recorded tour guide had been edited to provide commentary that focused on the Coronation from the moment you arrived.  Providing a theme that led you round the whole of Buckingham Palace.  It gave a real insight of what the Queen and other members of the Royal household would have experienced on that day.  This was also interspersed with commentary from experts in Royal history.  It was extremely informative without being too heavy in content.

The highlight of the tour is the dress worn by the Queen.  The craftsmanship of the dress is incredible.  It is unreal the amount of embroidery and intricate design that make up the dress.  The dresses worn by the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret and Maids of Honour.  But the dress that stole the show (after the Queen’s of course) was Princess Anne’s.  A cute little white dress that had unbelievable detail to it for the little toddler.

Buckingham Palace opens its doors to the public for just over two months.  It is extremely popular so booking in advance is recommended.  The money raised is used to preserve the Royal Collection.  You can learn more about visiting Buckingham Palace and buy tickets at the Royal Collection.

Read more about the exhibition: Telegraph, Independent, BBC

Sarah Southern

The Flames of Paris

The Flames of Paris

Saturday afternoon and a little rainy so it seemed an ideal time to see the final Bolshoi ballet at the Royal Opera House: The Flames of Paris. A ballet first performed in 1932, but then revised in 2008.

The Flames of Paris is set in revolutionary France following the tale of Jeanne and her brother Jerome. Jerome is keen to join the revolution and head to Paris. Another revolutionary, Phillipe, is in love with Jeanne. Sadly though the Marquis is too keen for Jeanne. He makes an advance on Jeanne and she fights him off with the aid of her brother Jerome. He is beaten and thrown into jail. Luckily the Marquis’s daughter, Adeline, has watched this and frees Jerome from his cell. Obviously love then blossoms.

The Marquis learning of his daughters new found fondness of Jerome sends her off to Paris. Hotly in pursuit is Jerome and Jeanne along with the other revolutionaries. The scene moves to the court of Versailles where we see the opulent life of the King and Queen. As the revolutionaries get to Paris a bit of bloodshed was soon to follow. Although Adeline’s father may have lost his head at least she was able to secure the man she loved.

At times the story was a little difficult to follow but the sets, costumes and overall performance was very enjoyable. Compared to the other Bolshoi ballets this certainly had the most interesting sets as the story moved between locations frequently. It had more props including a huge cannon and a stagecoach (minus horses, obvs).

The Bolshoi brought 5 different ballets to London this summer. I have been lucky enough to catch 4 of them. Now looking forward to the new Royal Ballet and English National Ballet season kicking off very soon.

Read reviews of The Flames of Paris: Telegraph, Evening Standard

Sarah Southern

Billy Elliot

Billy Elliot

As my mum was in town we thought we’d go see Billy Elliot.  She had only been away from the North East for 24 hours so I thought she might be missing a proper accent so a musical set in County Durham seemed perfect.

I had been to see Billy Elliot about 8 years ago and thought it was great so was pleased to be able to see it again.  The musical was adapted for the stage by Lee Hall from his incredibly successful screenplay.  And with the move from screen to stage the musical certainly gained a lot more political clout to it.  The story focuses on young Billy Elliot who lives in a small mining community in County Durham during the miners strike of 1984.

Billy should be taking himself to boxing with his dad’s 50 pences but instead starts attending the girls’ ballet class.  Mrs Wilkinson sees the potential in him and wants him to audition for the Royal Ballet in Newcastle.  Alas his dad finds out what he has been up and puts the stops on this.  As his dad begins to realise the true raw talent that his son has he finds the money and takes Billy down to London to attend the audition.  As Billy has his moment of success and is accepted into the Royal Ballet the miners strike comes to an end.  Billy’s dad’s fight has been lost.

This is not a story about a lad who wants to dance.  It is really about the pressure on a community going through a strike.  As the miners were struggling to survive the police on overtime were thriving. A community divided and angry.  There is quite a *interesting* song about the death of Margaret Thatcher that may make some uncomfortable.  I certainly didn’t feel I could applaud the message of it no matter how clever the choreography and how well performed it was.  The evening of her death the audience were asked to vote whether it should stay in the performance or not.

Billy Elliot has been playing in the West End since 2005 yet still won the Audience Award for Most Popular Show at the 2013 Laurence Olivier Awards.  It really is worth seeing again so get your tickets booked tickets online.

Sarah Southern

Jewels

jewels

The penultimate ballet in the Bolshoi’s summer tour to London is Jewels.  A ballet first performed in the 60s by the New York City Ballet the Bolshoi added it to their repertoire last year.  Jewels is three very separate ballets: emeralds, rubies and diamonds.

There isn’t really a story to this ballet.  It is more beautiful dancing and stunning costumes.  Emeralds had a very romantic feeling to it.  The costumes were mid length skirts with a stunning emerald green hue to them.  Rubies had a much more contemporary, almost jazzy feel to it.  It had much more of a punch.  But it was, of course, diamonds that stole the show.  The tutus were dripping in sparkles that glistened as the dancers performed a much more classical routine.

There was almost some drama off stage too.  The very polished chap sitting next to us had a beautiful vintage pear of binoculars with him.  He had tucked them under his seat and I guess used them at times during the performance.  Towards the end of the second interval when the standing patrons behind us returned to their perch he accused them of stealing his binoculars.  He tried to look in their bags.  They contested their innocence.  He demanded their return as they had been his grandfathers.  The ladies opened their handbags and proved they had not swiped them.  He them stormed off before the final and best act of the night began.  It was all very strange and thankfully didn’t turn into a Legoland style brawl.

I took my mum to this ballet as she was in town.  It was her first time to the Royal Opera House so it was lovely to take in how beautiful the Opera House is.  She is not a regular to the ballet but really enjoyed Jewels.  If you would like to see it the Royal Ballet will be performing it this coming season.

Reviews of the Bolshoi’s Jewels: Telegraph, Guardian

Sarah Southern

The Bling Ring

The Bling Ring documents the true story of a group of Hollywood Hills kids obsessed with celebrities and their crime spree.  Using celeb websites like TMZ they’d see when their idols were out of town, look up their addresses online and using Google Maps head to their houses for a bit of ‘shopping’.  What was so amazing was the ease in which they gained entry to these multi million dollar homes.  Paris Hilton kept her key under the mat.

Names have been changed from the kids who really did these crimes.  It is a film, not a documentary, so I guess some artistic license has been used.  The ring leader and instigator of the robberies is Rebecca.  She seems to have no limits.  She’d been kicked out of school.  Has no issue in breaking into cars to steal money so when she befriends Marc suggesting breaking into a fellow pupils house while his family is away doesn’t seem too much of an issue.

After the good haul from the family home they move onto Paris’s house.  Paris is in Vegas for the weekend so they know she won’t be home.  Finding the key under the mat they let themselves in and take a load of cash, clothes, bags and jewellery.  Oh, and some booze from her nightclub room.  It was difficult to decide what shocked me more: the audaciousness of the teens of the facts people have a nightclub room in their homes?

Rebecca and Marc bring their friends Nicki, Chloe and Sam as they target Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom and Audrina Patridge.  They begin to get a little sloppy.  They are caught on Audrina Patridge’s CCTV.  She then releases this on her website.  As the teens begin to brag of their exploits it is not long before they are caught.

The Bling Ring is based on a Vanity Fair article penned by Nancy Jo Sales called ‘The Suspects Wore Louboutins‘.  Sales’s article provides some of the killer lines of the film.  When the ring leader is being questioned by police and he informs her they’ve spoken to the victims she responds ve saying “What did Lindsay (Lohan) say?”.

This Bling Ring gives an amazing insight of what young people care about now.  These celebs have immense wealth yet are their peers.  They are the same age, party in the same clubs, live in the same neighbourhoods and they probably went to the same schools.  Yet these Hollywood startlets have so much wealth and these kids want it.  You almost admire their gumption for just looking everything up online and giving the front door a try.  But then your own moral compass kicks in and the arrogance of these kids makes you relived they were caught.

Reviews of The Bling Ring: Guardian, Telegraph

Sarah Southern

Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty

The Bolshoi’s third ballet at the Royal Opera House this summer season is Sleeping Beauty. After not being 100 percent sure of the story of Swan Lake last week I thought it best to Google it in advance to remind myself of the tale. It is basically the story of Shrek (yes, I am aware of how terrible it is to now view these traditional stories through the prism of Dreamworks/Disney/Pixar and the the like but that is just how the world is sometimes).

For Swan Lake I had been treated to seats in the stalls. Last night I was in the penultimate row of the highest level. And I loved the elevated view. A perfect view of the stage and a good glimpse of the orchestra pit too (in fact I think I’ll opt for V60 again). Don’t be put off buying tickets in high seats at the back. If you have good eyes you’ll be fine.

The ballet flowed and certainly the first half kept me captivated. The Evil Fairy and her sinister minions reminded me of something from the Labyrinth or the flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz. And when Sleeping Beauty came onto the stage you couldn’t help but applaud. The second half seemed to drag a little. When the Prince gave Sleeping Beauty the kiss to wake from her slumber it seemed like a good time to end. But instead we returned to the Royal Court to be entertained by fairytale characters. The Puss in Boots was very charming and gained much applause from the audience.

It didn’t surprise me to see people queuing for hours in the return queue for this ballet. It really was superb and despite the constant bowing I am enjoying the traditional style of the Bolshoi. Looking forward to Jewels and the Flames of Paris next week.

Read the reviews of the Bolshoi’s Sleeping Beauty: Telegraph, Guardian, Independent

Sarah Southern

Cripple of the Inishmaan

Cripple of IM

Cripple of the Inishmaan is the third play in Michael Grandage’s latest offering.  With Daniel Radcliffe in the lead role it is certainly proving to be popular.

Radcliffe plays Cripple Billy well.  His accent is good (although my fellow theatre goer did inform me it did have more of a Dublin lilt to it than it should), his physical portrayal of someone with a disability seemed believable and you never thought you were watching Harry Potter.

The scenery, the direction and the acting was all great.  It was impressive.  But I just didn’t warm to the story.  At no stage did I really warm to the adventure of the characters.  At times I found it a little depressing.  It left you with no hope.

Cripple Billy is looked after by two ‘aunts’.  His parents died when he was a baby.  The local newsman (read gossip) Johnnypateenmike tells the tale they drowned holding bags of rocks in rough seas.  Nobody seemed to care for Billy’s parents.  They didn’t sound too nice.  Later you learn that the unkind parents tried to drown Billy too and Johnnypateenmike swan out and rescued him.  In the process stealing the money to pay for Billy’s essential medical treatment.  So perhaps the local gossip who is trying to kill his elderly mother with drink is kinder than he lets on.

The island learns that the next island is being used as a location for a Hollywood film.  Helen and her younger brother Bartley decide to go see and Billy manages to tag along to.  But Billy doesn’t return.  He is taken to Hollywood for a screen test.  He doesn’t succeed and he is in Hollywood in a dollar a night hotel room and all alone.  His aunts at home are heartbroken wanting to know where he is.  He eventually returns.  But having contracted TB things really aren’t looking up for the chap.  As I said this play had little hope within it.

It is on until the end of August and tickets are still available online.  If not, day tickets are on sale from 10am at the Noel Coward theatre.

Read reviews of Cripple of the Inishmaan: Telegraph, Independent, Guardian

Sarah Southern

 

Battle of Swan Lake

 

Londoners have two versions of Swan Lake to take their fancy this summer.  The Bolshoi at the Royal Opera House and Swedish Fredrick Rydman’s version at the Coliseum.  They could not be more different.

The Bolshoi of course draw the crowds.  Every performance is sold out.  And the queues for returns has been starting at 10am when the box office opens.  Such a famous ballet company doing Swan Lake is going to be a draw.  But I wouldn’t say I loved it.  The dancing was phenomenal.  But it just didn’t flow.  At times I was confused as to how the scenes connected.  This was my first time seeing Swan Lake and although I had an idea of the story I just couldn’t get why the Prince was one moment at the Royal Court and the next at a lake.  Even my pal who has seen Swan Lake many times said it didn’t quite make sense, especially for a novice like myself.  But the magic of the Opera House (is it wrong to be so mesmerised by that curtain??) and the aura of the Russians certainly keeps you enthralled.  The constant bowing might irritate a little but it’s all par for the course.

Now cut to Swan Lake: Reloaded.  A more modern take in story and in dance of Swan Lake.  The starkness of the orchestra pit gave the first indication that this would be a very different performance.  That and the polite warning from the box office staff this was contemporary.  It was electric from the get go.  The swans were in fact prostitutes with a bit of a drug problem.  The prince was a party boy with a lust for coke.  It mixed the traditional ballet and music of Swan Lake with contemporary dance and house music.  And it worked.  The story was gripping at times.  I had my hands to my faced and gasped in the final scenes.  I, along with many others, were on our feet at the end.  It was just brilliant.

I look forward to seeing Matthew Bourne’s version at Sadler’s Wells this coming winter.

If you want to see Swan Lake I would definitely opt for the Swedish version: a performance with more clout.  Buy tickets online or call at the box office.

Read the reviews of the Bolshoi’s Swan Lake: Telegraph, Guardian

Read the reviews of Fredrik Rydman’s Swan Lake: Evening Standard, Time Out

Sarah Southern