Review: The Brothers Karamazov, Tron Theatre, Glasgow (Sunday Herald)

THEATRE REVIEW

 

The Brothers Karamazov

Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Until October 28

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

Karamazov - Biggerstaff
Sean Biggerstaff, photographed at the Tron Theatre. Photo: Jamie Simpson/Herald & Times

It isn’t difficult to see why Glasgow’s Tron Theatre chose to stage this revival of Richard Crane’s 1981 adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s famous novel The Brothers Karamazov. The piece has an impressive heritage.

Originally presented, by the Brighton Theatre Company, as part of the prestigious programme of the Edinburgh International Festival, its four-strong cast included the late, great Alan Rickman and excellent Scottish actor Peter Kelly. Faynia Williams’s Festival production enjoyed critical plaudits. Reviewing for our daily sister paper, then called The Glasgow Herald, my colleague Mary Brennan praised “a lean forceful play”, which was given “uncluttered, pacey direction” by Williams.

This Tron revival is very much an homage to that celebrated production of 36 years ago. Not only is it working with the same text, but it also boasts the original music by Stephen Boxer (who also acted in the 1981 show) and the services, as director, of Williams herself.

If this new staging of the Karamazovs arrived loaded with expectation, sad to say the production dashes one’s excitement quickly and emphatically. Williams has created a production which is so dry and languid that it is difficult to believe that she actually created the fondly remembered show of the early-Eighties.

Dostoyevsky’s novel places the bloody, internecine crisis of the bourgeois Karamazov family within the wider context of a decadent Czarist Russia. As in a Chekhov play, we sense that this is a social, political and religious order that is on the brink of collapse. Indeed, both writers, Dostoyevsky and Chekhov, are so penetrating in their observations of the clash between Czarism and European Enlightenment thought that they seem almost to prophecy the rise of Bolshevism and the revolution of October 1917.

Crane’s adaptation of the Karamazovs pares Dostoyevsky’s novel down to the essentials of the brothers (including Smerdyakov, reputed “bastard” son of the rancid and disreputable paterfamilias Fyodor). Unlike the original production, however, there is little in this revival of the stifling atmosphere of late-19th century Russia.

Williams’s production never achieves the promised, swift, sharply focused evocations of, for example, the dissoluteness of the wayward Dmitry (Thierry Mabonga) or the piety of the youngest brother Alyosha (a novice in an Orthodox monastery, played by Tom England). Instead the piece feels hesitant and disjointed, the acting performances strained and uncertain.

Sean Biggerstaff tries to lend some kind of moral weight to Ivan, the restless nihilist who, like a Lucifer of the Enlightenment, tests Alyosha’s faith. However, his playing is heavy on exposition and emotional hyperbole, and light on subtlety. Likewise Mark Brailsford’s Smerdyakov, who is a caricature of oily servility, rather than a complex schemer capable of violent patricide.

This production isn’t even a decent advert for Boxer’s music, which is characterised in this staging by occasional chimes and awkward singing by the cast. If Williams’s decision to have her actors sing, in pairs on either side of the auditorium, from behind the audience, is intended be emotionally evocative, it fails dismally. One can only imagine the spiritual polyphony that might have been achieved by her original production, because it is entirely absent here.

The show’s set, designed by Carys Hobbs, certainly contributes to the piece’s sense of dull inflexibility. A hard, static arena, the actors either clamber upon the steps upon its walls or roll, barefoot in the too-obviously metaphorical mud. The results are both theatrically unforgiving and visibly unedifying.

It is only four years since director Dominic Hill brought us a superb production of another Dostoyevsky novel (Crime And Punishment, adapted brilliantly by Chris Hannan) at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre. The inevitable comparison does this listless Brothers Karamazov no favours at all.

This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on October 22, 2017

© Mark Brown

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Reviews: Cockpit, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh & Dragons Of Drummohr, Drummohr House, East Lothian

Cockpit,

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

Until October 28

 

Dragons Of Drummohr

Drummohr House, East Lothian

Until October 29

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

Cockpit
Peter Hannah as Ridley in Cockpit

Cockpit, by the late Anglo-Irish writer Bridget Boland, is both an extraordinary historical document and a remarkably prescient drama. First staged (at the Playhouse Theatre, London) in 1948 it is set in a grand theatre in Germany which has been transformed into a post-Second World War transit centre for “DPs” (displaced persons) from across Europe.

Young, multilingual Captain Ridley of the British Army is tasked with sorting the multitudinous and diverse refugees into westbound and eastbound convoys. However, as no-nonsense, Geordie Sergeant Barnes (who has been keeping order in the centre ahead of Ridley’s arrival) has discovered, ethnic, national and political conflicts make this a complicated and dangerous task.

It is not difficult, in these days of the Catalan crisis, Brexit and the return of ideology (on both the Corbynite left and the xenophobic right), to see in the play a premonitory metaphor for Europe in 2017. Yet, if the recent war in Ukraine teaches us anything it is, surely, that we are still living in the divided Europe instituted by Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt at Yalta in 1945.

By setting the action in a requisitioned playhouse, the play cleverly puts the audience at the heart of events. Designer Ana Ines Jabares-Pita has put additional seating at the back of the stage, thereby enhancing the claustrophobia of the piece.

The splendid Lyceum auditorium itself is hung with drying laundry and (courtesy of superb musical director Aly Macrae) filled with the musics of Europe. One can feel the nervous energy of a broken continent on the move.

Director Wils Wilson and her talented, international cast build excellently on these atmospheric possibilities. Boland’s intelligent conceit, in which the theatre is sealed for a time by a health emergency, magnifies the dramatic intensity.

There are fine performances all over the place, not least from Alexandra Mathie as a Polish professor of anatomy, who is as rusty in her medical practise as she is distrustful of Russians. Peter Hannah (the idealistic Ridley), Deka Walmsley (the deliciously blunt Barnes) and Dylan Read (the comically unctuous stage manager Bauer) also impress.

For all its dramatic sophistication, there is a degree of reductive, political over-simplification in the play. Ridley represents Boland’s doctrine that “belief is dangerous”, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his “anti-ideological” liberal humanism is also an ideology.

Unsurprisingly, the politicos among the refugees are often two-dimensional caricatures. A Yugoslav partisan, for example, shouts “Tito! Tito! Tito!”, with clenched fist in the air, at the very mention of his leader’s name.

Depicting a period of crisis-induced cooperation sandwiched between belief-inflamed conflicts, Boland’s anxious and humane drama is a bold and brave exploration of the complexities of post-war Europe. However, it has beliefs of its own, and they are not without their own dubieties.

Dragons of Drummohr
Dragons Of Drummohr

From the besmirched grandeur of an appropriated theatre to the (on Wednesday night) somewhat waterlogged splendour of a Scottish country mansion. The grounds of Drummohr House in East Lothian provide the location for Dragons Of Drummohr, the latest, dragon-inspired “augmented reality theatre adventure” from Edinburgh-based company Vision Mehanics.

With the “Dragon Matrix” app downloaded to your smartphone or tablet you are invited to join the Dragon Protection League (DPL) in their quest to find the various creatures that are inhabiting the grounds of the house. At the DPL’s base camp a little museum exhibition tells us all about dragons and the evil poachers who threaten to eradicate them.

Then, out in the grounds, we explore a variety of splendidly constructed, interactive (and often delightfully eccentric) installations and sculptures. There’s a place where we can assist the survival of dragons through dance, a garden of massive, multi-coloured flowers and, of course, an enormous, very friendly-looking red dragon.

Throughout the grounds there are codes to scan with the app, each of them bringing creatures, from scary spiders to despicable trolls, into your phone. Collect all of the animals and there are prizes to be won from the grateful DPL.

Needless to say, this is all great fun for media-savvy primary school kids. A good pair of wellies, a decent torch and the app on their phone are all that’s needed for an engrossing and active 45 minutes of exploration.

The only slight disappointment is that Vision Mechanics’ emphasis on computer technology means that the actual physical materials of the piece tend to be sculptures, rather than puppets. An actual moving dragon in the grounds of the house would have been a treat.

For details of Dragons Of Drummohr, visit: dragonmatrix.org.uk

These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on October 15, 2017

© Mark Brown

Review: The Brothers Karamazov, Tron Theatre, Glasgow (Daily Telegraph)

THEATRE

 

THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV

TRON THEATRE, GLASGOW

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

Brothers Karamazov
Tom England (Alyosha) and Thierry Mabonga (Dmitry). Photo: John Johnston

In 1981 the Brighton Theatre was the first company to be taken from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and placed on the prestigious programme of the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF). The show it presented was Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

The great tale, in which we witness the violent implosion of the bourgeois Karamazov family, was adapted by Richard Crane and directed by Faynia Williams. It was performed by a four-strong cast that included Alan Rickman.

According to Crane (writing in 2011), EIF director John Drummond was “looking for rough brilliance.” This revival of Crane’s adaptation by Glasgow’s Tron Theatre Company, with Williams back at the directorial helm, is certainly rough, but it has precious little brilliance.

The four cast members (each of whom plays a Karamazov brother, including Smerdyakov, rumoured “illegitimate” child of the degenerate and neglectful patriarch Fyodor) appear like proverbial fish out of water. Uncomfortable with Crane’s cut-and-paste approach to the text (which necessitates regular and sudden shifts between dialogue, exposition and narration) they anticipate their lines visibly, like greyhounds ready to be released from the traps.

Dostoyevsky’s novel concerns itself with the immense religious, philosophical and cultural anxieties that wracked the soul of Czarist Russia. As such it demands a style and gravitas that is entirely absent from Williams’s production.

The conflicting world views of Ivan (the nihilistic “sensualist”, played by Sean Biggerstaff) and Alyosha (an earnest novice monk, performed by Tom England) are delivered either as dry diatribes or histrionic outbursts. The attempted humour of the piece is frivolous and inconsequential, not least in Mark Brailsford’s characterisation of the servile and slippery Smerdyakov, which is excruciatingly overacted.

Even continuity is a problem. When Thierry Mabonga’s Dmitry removes his blood-soaked shirt, the vest underneath is a miraculously pristine white.

The production boasts Stephen Boxer’s music from the original 1981 production. However, it is delivered here, not with the enigmatic soulfulness of eastern polyphonic song, but with a variably competent lack of vocal conviction.

Carys Hobbs’s set offers no respite from the general dreadfulness of the show. A rigid crucible of wood and soil, it is (that contradiction in terms) a literal metaphor, representing, among other places, a monk’s cell and a courtroom. Ugly and intrusive, its only defence might be that it is no worse than any other element of this crushingly disappointing production.

At Tron Theatre, Glasgow until October 28: tron.co.uk

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on October 14, 2017

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/theatre/what-to-see/rotten-revival-not-worth-russian-see-brothers-karamazov-tron/

© Mark Brown

 

Review: The Macbeths, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

THEATRE REVIEW

 

The Macbeths

Citzens Theatre, Glasgow

Until October 14

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

The Macbeths - Alex Brady
Charlene Boyd and Keith Fleming. Photo: Alex Brady

Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre has a strong tradition of smaller scale, studio work. Famous though it is for the grand productions in its main house, the Citz’s staging of studio pieces dates back to the mid-Sixties.

Initiated in 1965 and destroyed by fire in 1973, The Close Theatre Club sat immediately adjacent to the Citz. It presented a programme which often included leftfield modernist theatre.

In 1992, 23 years into his extraordinary 34-year reign as artistic director, Giles Havergal opened two small studio spaces within the Citizens’ building. These studios allowed the Citz to stage avant-garde work (such as Eva Peron, by Argentine dramatist Copi, in 1997) and some exciting new writing (like Mark Thomson’s Pleasure And Pain, first staged in 2002 and revived in the Citz’s Circle Studio earlier this year).

Current Citz artistic director Dominic Hill plans to replace the studios with a new Close theatre studio as part of the theatre’s forthcoming major renovation. For now, however, he is returning the spirit of the late Havergal era to the Gorbals playhouse with The Macbeths, a pungently abridged version of Shakespeare’s Scottish play.

Using a carefully cut version of the text, this two -hander, created by Dominic Hill (director) and Frances Poet (dramaturg), is assiduously modern. Imagine a version of Tracey Emin’s famous 1998 artwork My Bed hosting, not the solipsistic detritus of a supposedly dissolute youth, but a powerful, human drama of loss, ambition and, above all, desire.

Here the Macbeths, Charlene Boyd (Lady M) and Keith Fleming (Macbeth), crash headlong into violent chaos through a haze of cigarette smoke and vodka. The modernisation and domestication of the drama reduces the significance of the witches’ prophecies, putting the greater motivating influence upon the sexual relations between Macbeth and his wife (which is where it should be in any case).

Boyd’s Lady M urges her husband to regicide with a sharp, forceful argument that brooks no disagreement. However, in this intense, domestic setting, the crux of her persuasiveness is her sexual power over her spouse. Rarely have I encountered a Lady M who appears so menacing when she speaks the crucial words: “When you durst do it, then you were a man;/ And, to be more than what you were, you would/ Be so much more the man.”

As the play’s title suggests, these king killers are a double act, joined not only in sexual desire and vaulting ambition, but also in anguish. When Lady M pulls open a drawer beneath the bed, from which she takes toys that belonged to her child who died in infancy, due heed is paid to her remembrance: “I have given suck, and know/ How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me.”

For his part, Fleming’s Macbeth is the perfect embodiment of public, militaristic swagger combined with private uncertainty. Sweating like a bull, his sensuality is craving, rather than domineering. In the boudoir, at least, he and his wife are equals.

The bigger political picture of Macbeth’s burgeoning tyranny, complete with speeches by other characters, comes, cleverly, in the shape of surveillance technology which is more 20th-century analogue than contemporary digital. As events undo the minds of, first, Lady M and, then, Macbeth, one wonders whether these are the private interactions of modern murderers (such as the Ceausescus in Romania or the Marcoses in the Philippines), or a bleak, mutual, psychotic fantasy.

Either way, this is Shakespeare’s play delivered in powerfully concentrated form, as if straight into the bloodstream. Cleverly set and superbly acted, it is a reminder of the possibilities of studio theatre at the Citizens.

A slightly abridged version of this review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on October 8, 2017

© Mark Brown

Review: Faithful Ruslan, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

THEATRE REVIEW

 

Faithful Ruslan

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

Until October 7

 

Reviewed by Mark Brown

Faithful Ruslan
Martin Donaghy (The Master) and Max Keeble (Ruslan). Photo: Robert Day

Georgi Vladimov’s novel Faithful Ruslan: The Story Of A Guard Dog is not an obvious candidate for adaptation to the stage. Set before and immediately after the death of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, it tells the story of the Gulag forced labour camps, and their dissolution, from the perspective of a guard dog.

It takes a special skill, both in performance and design, for an actor to represent an animal without unintended pathos or inadvertent comedy. This three-way co-production (between Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre, the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry and London-based KP Productions), adapted and staged by Polish director Helena Kaut-Howson, avoids the pitfalls brilliantly, delivering the story with tremendous ingenuity and emotional power.

Kaut-Howson is joined by Polish designer Pawel Dobrzycki, Italian movement director (and co-founder of the great, London-based theatre company Complicite) Marcello Magni and Polish composer Boleslaw Rawski. The production they have created combines the bold atmospherics of the great Polish theatre-makers (from Jerzy Grotowski to Tadeusz Kantor and Krzysztof Warlikowski) with the very particular physical training and aesthetics of the French master Jacques Lecoq (at whose school, in Paris, Magni trained).

Max Keeble (a recent graduate from Drama Centre London) gives an outstanding physical and vocal performance as Ruslan, the guard dog whose world is torn asunder when Stalin dies and the Gulag is dissolved. Trained to trust no-one but his now demobilised master, Ruslan is left disorientated and famished by the sudden disappearance of master, prisoners and, the only purpose of his life, The Service.

Played out on Dobrzycki’s fine set, an abstracted Gulag exercise yard, the piece takes us forward, through the dog’s desperate, confused attempts to survive (including a period “guarding” a former prisoner who, foolishly, thinks he has become Ruslan’s new master). We are also taken back to the early days of The Service and the harsh lessons the dog is taught in order to make him perfectly obedient and ferocious in his loyalty.

The cleverly alternative, canine perspective combines with the performances of a superb ensemble to create a stark and memorable evocation of the unrelenting human misery of the Gulag. This is enhanced by Rawski’s excellent, mainly eastern European music (including affecting singing by Camrie Palmer); although an early, entirely incongruous blast of rap music seems badly misjudged.

Reminiscent of the glory days of Scottish touring company Communicado, Faithful Ruslan is a very welcome addition to our theatre’s explorations in European aesthetics.

This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on October 1, 2017

© Mark Brown

Feature: The Fairy’s Kiss by Scottish Ballet, preview

It started with a kiss

Can a 1960s version of a 19th-century fairytale still cast a spell over modern audiences? As Scottish Ballet prepares to breathe new life into Kenneth MacMillan’s The Fairy’s Kiss, Mark Brown talks to the creative team who are re-envisioning the magical ballet

Fairy's Kiss #1
Creating the backdrop, using Deborah MacMillan’s photograph

It is 25 years since Dunfermline-born master choreographer Kenneth MacMillan past away, at the age of just 62. A quarter of a century on, the world of dance continues both to mourn his passing and to celebrate his influential ouevre.

Scottish Ballet is one of six major dance companies from across the UK which will mark the anniversary during an event entitled Kenneth MacMillan: A National Celebration at the Royal Opera House in London between October 18 and November 1. Performers from Scotland’s national dance company will join dancers from the Royal Ballet and other companies in reviving Elite Syncopations, MacMillan’s homage to the age of jazz.

Even more significantly, Scottish Ballet will stage its own new version of the early work The Fairy’s Kiss, which is based upon Hans Christian Andersen’s 1861 fairytale The Ice Maiden and danced to music by Igor Stravinsky. As well as playing at the London celebration, The Fairy’s Kiss will sit alongside a revival of the company’s acclaimed 2013 staging of Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring (choreographed by Scottish Ballet’s artistic director Christopher Hampson) in the company’s autumn tour of Scotland.

The Andersen-inspired ballet (which was first staged in 1960 and has been revived only once since) will honour MacMillan’s choreography, of course, but will enjoy an entirely new design by Gary Harris. An acclaimed ballet designer, Harris designed Hansel And Gretel for Scottish Ballet, as well as working on many other projects with Hampson, both at the English National Ballet and the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

I visited Harris and the production team at Scottish Ballet’s headquarters at the Tramway arts centre in Glasgow. I was interested to see how the company was re-envisioning Andersen’s tale of young love and dark, metaphysical forces.

Harris was keen to show me the image which will function as the backdrop to his set, which has proved to be the central inspiration for his entire design for the ballet. The picture has been created from a stunning black and white photograph, taken some years ago by Kenneth MacMillan’s widow the Australian-born artist Deborah Macmillan, who continues to play a very active artistic role in the staging of her late husband’s work.

Taken from an airplane, the photo gives an extraordinary, bird’s eye view of the Andes Mountains in South America. Following a little treatment by Harris, it becomes reminiscent of the great German painter Gerhard Richter’s famous photograph paintings, which capture so much of the power of nature.

For Harris, the photograph was the perfect representation of the mountain homestead of Andersen’s young orphan boy, who is caught between his love for a girl from his village and the enchantment of a wicked fairy. The designer considers the image beautifully evocative, both of the Swiss Alps of Andersen’s story and the ethereal otherworld of the tale.

“It’s in the middle of nowhere, it could be anywhere”, says Harris. “I love the sense of vertigo you get from this little village living high in the mountains.” Deborah MacMillan’s photo, he continues, provides a visual reflection of, “the cold, inhuman part of the story.”

For her part, Deborah, who spoke to me from her London home, is delighted to have been able to assist in the development of Harris’s design concept. “I thought the photograph was rather interesting”, she says.

“It’s a fairytale, none of it is real, and there is this land beyond time and place. You have to invent a space that is otherworldly. I think the photograph helped trigger Gary’s imagination.”

The key to the power of the photograph, Harris and Deborah MacMillan agree, is its perspective. “You don’t really look at mountains from above”, Deborah comments.

“You look at them from down below, and your sense of perspective is from ground level, looking up. [The photo] just seemed to fit [the ballet] very well, and Gary’s grabbed hold of it and made these beautiful designs.”

The designs, which include windows and lights suspended in mid-air, evoke the contrasts within the ballet itself. Like Andersen’s story, Kenneth MacMillan’s work is a tale of earthy, simple peasants and ethereal, dangerous sprites.

Deborah’s evocative photo and the assiduously cold costumes of the fairy and her minions contrast with the designs for the mountain-dwelling peasants themselves. The gentler, more humanistic dimension of the tale comes, says Harris, “with the villagers, who bring oranges, yellows and browns, warm, earthy colours.”

“With these fairytales you can’t make it too real”, Deborah adds. “The audience has to be able to suspend its disbelief. You create a world for the audience that they can believe in. As long as the designs don’t get too real, they’ll go along with that.”

Fairy's Kiss #2
Gary Harris creates a costume for a villager

A visit to the Scottish Ballet costume department, courtesy of head of wardrobe Mary Mullen, uncovers costumes of tremendous contrasts. The villagers will be danced in garb that is an almost hyper-real evocation of the connection between the idealised European peasant and the land that sustains them.

The sprites, by radical distinction, will be in shimmering silvers, greys and blacks. Having watched the grainy film of the 1960 production, Harris brought just one original design into Scottish Ballet’s staging.

“The only costume I kept from the original production, in terms of its silhouette and shape, was the fairy”, the designer explains. “The rest is all new, straight out of my head.

“It’s a traditional, villagey ballet”, he continues, “but I also wanted to keep the cold, icy, black and white vision of the fairy, the wind and those characters from the otherworld.”

Although the designs are his own, Harris is full of praise for Deborah MacMillan’s supportive input. Not only did she provide the central image for the piece, but the choreographer’s widow has made herself available as a regular adviser on the design of the piece.

“She’s been brilliant”, says the designer. “She and I have been talking throughout the whole process.” Indeed, Harris tells me, none of his design ideas, be they for the set or costumes, have gone ahead without discussion with Deborah.

The admiration is entirely mutual. “I’ve been watching the design as it’s been coming together and I think it’s great”, Deborah tells me. “Gary’s a highly talented designer.

“It’s quite a lonely job designing something for the stage, and you need to work with someone you can bounce ideas off.”

Deborah has more than a few ideas about this year of celebration of Kenneth MacMillan’s work, and about Scottish Ballet’s role in it. “I’m thrilled. I’m very touched that [the celebrations are] happening”, she says.

“There’s a variety of his work being shown. It helps the dancers to understand his work a bit better, and it’s very good for audiences to see the great variety of the work that he produced.”

She is, she continues, “particularly thrilled with Scottish Ballet. They’ve taken upon themselves to revive these purely classical pieces. That’s thrilling because it shows where he started and where he came from.”

Deborah is grateful to Scottish Ballet’s artistic director (” I have a lot of time for Chris Hampson”, she tells me) and is looking forward to seeing The Fairy’s Kiss take its place on the Covent Garden stage.

The Fairy’s Kiss and The Rite Of Spring open at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow on October 6. For full tour details, visit: scottishballet.co.uk

This feature was originally published in the Sunday Herald on October 1, 2017

© Mark Brown

 

Review: Royal Ballet gala, Hull New Theatre

DANCE

 

ROYAL BALLET GALA PERFORMANCE

HULL NEW THEATRE

Reviewed by Mark Brown

Royal Ballet in Hull
Steven McRae and Elizabeth Harrod perform The Two Pigeons. Photo: Coris/Getty Images

With Hull’s successful UK City of Culture 2017 programme in full swing, how better to herald the reopening of the New Theatre (following a splendid, £16 million refurbishment) than with a star-studded gala performance by the Royal Ballet? A packed house of 1,200 people inside the theatre were joined by another 5,000 watching a relayed film screening in Hull’s Queens Gardens, making the performance a genuinely historic cultural event for the city.

In a nice touch, the organisers arranged for the film relay to be put on a 30-minute delay. This gave the dancers time after the show to make their way to the Gardens and take their bows before the audience watching on the big screen.

The match-up between the world-renowned ballet company and Hull’s year-long celebration of the arts is rooted in the city’s considerable contribution to dance. Kevin O’Hare, director of the Royal Ballet, was born in Hull and made a number of his early performances, as a young boy, on the New Theatre stage.

Early in this incredibly diverse programme of 17 short pieces, O’Hare came on stage to speak about the importance of the city to him, to his company and to the world of dance. Not only did the director’s offering include three Royal Ballet dancers past and present (namely, Elizabeth Harrod, Demelza Parish and, her brother, Xander Parish) who are from Humberside, it also starred guest artist Joseph Caley (currently principal dancer with English National Ballet) who was born in Hull.

Indeed, Caley’s performance of David Bintley’s Hamlet solo from The Shakespeare Suite was one of the highlights of the evening. A jazzy choreography, mixing playfulness and melancholy, danced to music by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, it was executed with a delightfully paradoxical combination of expressive individualism and faithful exactitude.

The mixed programme presented perfectly pitched tasters from such choreographic greats as Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, William Forsythe, and Kenneth MacMillan. The audience very much appreciated the inclusion in the show of the dancers (some of them very young indeed) of the Hull-based Northern Academy of Performing Arts and two other local dance schools.

If there was a stand out among this startlingly varied programme it was, surely, the pas de deux from Wayne McGregor‘s Qualia. A modernist piece, danced to intense music by experimental composer Robin David Rimbaud (aka Scanner), it was performed with extraordinary muscularity and eroticism by Melissa Hamilton and Edward Watson.

By the time the show closed, with a gorgeous Petipa pas de deux by local hero Caley and the immense Akane Takada, the audience were out of their beautifully re-upholstered seats and cheering this memorable gala to the rafters.

For details of the Hull City of Culture programme, visit: hull2017.co.uk

This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on September 17, 2017

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/dance/what-to-see/royal-ballet-reopens-hull-new-theatre-gala-performance-remember/

© Mark Brown