In a concept developed by choreographer Francesco Scavetta Wee’s Hardly Ever combines quirky humour with out-there surrealism. The four performers spout out text that is then represented using the very physicality of their bodies. But despite being on the verges of physical theatre the cast really do convince us that they can actually dance too.
The set is minimal proving that sometimes less is more: The only fixed part of the set is the sofa which comes replete with a video screen used late on in the piece both to show a classic film and the result of an earthquake. Then there is a little tent that serves as a tent on Everest and shelter during a thunderstorm.
The sound design includes an electric bass that is used to create atmosphere and retro vinyl cuts that matches the 70s costumes too. The textual references range from geology to geography, relationships to relativism, memory to mime. The movement is so spontaneous you really do not know what will happen next and despite having a structure to work with there is also a great deal of improvisation.
I found the performance quite transfixing due to its being in a constant state of flux and using a multiplicity of methods to get over its message. The performers range from being incredibly intimate to absolute alienation. The show benefits from the inventive use of music and the lighting also adds to its immersive nature.
The NSCD audience really lapped up both the hilarity and more serious elements. Like the song about trust ridicules those in a position of power but also looks at our own everyday lies (whether white or black). So this is the imperative function of Hardly Ever: the blurring of fact and fiction, movement and physicality to subvert and confuse, and finally the beauty of slapstick that makes this piece so endearing. A masterpiece reminiscent of Jacques Tati meets Tommy Cooper!
Reviewed by Rich Jevons on 27 September at Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Leeds
Lancastrian and seminal Northern writer Jim Cartwright had his Road first performed in 1986 prior to his more well-known The Rise & Fall of Little Voice. It is a spicy slice of social realism that examines working class life in the North with all its unfair inequality. It takes place in a Pop-Up Theatre in a workshop and scenery storage space while the former West Yorkshire Playhouse has been renamed Leeds Playhouse and undertaken a £15.8m refurbishment.
Designer Hayley Grindle has made a suitably bleak two-level set for this seriously skint street. Director Amy Leach is once more in great form in this powerful and passionate production. Cartwright’s script focuses on unemployment, alcoholism and sexual depravity and Leach makes great use of the ensemble to conjure up suitable desperation and despair.
Road is a series of vignettes with narrator Scullery (Joe Alessi) fueled by bottles of rum and full of comic cynicism. Characters include the irrepressible Prof (Robert Pickavance) as a sociologist treating the street as an anthropological study. Then there is the tempestuous Carol and Louise (Elexi Walker and Tessa Parr) painting the town red but in a very debauched way.
Act One climaxes with an excruciatingly painful scene when Joey and Clare make a suicide pact that is the inevitable end result of their nihilism. Thankfully Lladel Bryan as DJ Bisto provides some light relief pumping out 80s classics. Darren Kuppan gives a convincing performance as Skin, a fitness freak become bonky Buddhist. The biggest laugh-out-loud moment is when we see Susan Twist as a sex-starved slapper trying to seduce Lladel Bryant doubling up as a comatose soldier.
There is strong language and adult themes throughout and even an old-style red phone box used to perform audio description. Road is full of political furious anger with the use of tragi-comedy to make this even more direct. Yes, the characters are dysfunctional but we still care about them and are looking for a way out that is not fueled by booze and sex. This is black humour at its very best and I suspect that the Telegraph’s accusation of being ‘outdated’ is the result of never even having lived up here. If this all sounds a tad depressing do not worry, the cast will carry you through with their spunky spirit.
Review by Rich Jevons on 7 September 2018 at Leeds Playhouse
Photo: Kirsten McTernan
Edward Dick’s disturbing dystopia displays masterful direction in its depiction on how church and state collude to wield oppressive power. Giselle Allen’s Tosca, the demanding diva, is simply brilliant. While Rafael Rojas’ Camaradossi as the artist painting Mary Magdalene reveals further fine talent. Then John Savourin’s Angeletti from the moment he descends by rope onto the stage to his tragic end matches the ensemble’s operatic magic.
But perhaps the star of the show is Robert Hayward’s scarily sadistic Scarpia which is convincing as this evil villain who schemes to humiliate his rival Angeletti and rape the seductive Tosca. Conductor Antony Hermus is exceptionally powerful and the design easily transports us from the traditional setting of 1800 Rome to a more modern violent dictatorship.
As ever, Opera North are pushing the boundaries of opera with such novel inventions as a laptop and webcams but, above all, remain true to the fabulous finesse of Puccini’s work.
Reviewed by Rich Jevons on 7 September 2018 at Leeds Grand Theatre.
Photo: Richard H Smith
See the Opera North website for tour dates.
Northern Ballet’s Choreographer in Residence Kenneth Tindall makes a most welcome return to the Company following the simply brilliant ballet of last year’s racy and sensual Casanova. His The Shape of Sound is set to Vivaldi’s classic The Four Seasons in a reworking by Max Richter. This seminal dance piece takes its inspiration from the four seasons and their effects on mankind.
The work has moments of exquisite pleasure but contrariwise is at times movingly melancholy. Whilst using the strict methods of classical ballet it also takes a sideways nod to the styles of contemporary dance. It benefits from fantastic set and costume design by Kimie Nakano and sumptuous lighting design by Alastair West and Kenneth Tindall.
Morgann Runacre-Temple presents her first work for Northern Ballet with The Kingdom of Back, based upon the story of Mozart’s older sister Nannerl and the way she was eclipsed by his stardom. In this excellent production she uses her body to depict symbols and signs to accompany original music by Keith Moon. The score includes a cappella renditions of Mozart’s most famous compositions and excerpts of David Bowie’s Life on Mars. This fascinating work is inspired by letters from the Mozart family and displays both passion and power.
An emerging choreographer from within Northern Ballet’s Company of dancers, First Soloist Mlindi Kulashe makes his choreographic debut with Mamela… Meaning ‘listen’ in his native language Xhosa. Kulshe explains that the work focuses on the themes of ‘frustration and imprisonment’. Jack Edmonds’ strings perfectly match the haunting movement of the dancers in a piece that belies Kulashe’s youthful years.
Once more Northern Ballet have proved themselves as a jewel in Leeds’ cultural crown and putting the city onto the world map for innovative dance.
See the Northern Ballet website for more info and tour dates.
Reviewed by Rich Jevons at Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre.
Photo by Emma Kauldhar.