A few more theatre and dance memories for you from July to September 2009

  1. The Revengers’ Comedies Parts One and Two – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 11th July 2009

The Royal and Derngate’s 70th birthday celebrations for Alan Ayckbourn continued with his two part comedy The Revengers’ Comedies, performed in the studio Underground theatre by the Community Actors Group. We saw it on the Saturday where Part One was performed at the matinee and Part Two in the evening. An extremely funny play, performed to perfection by the group.



  1. Man of the Moment – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 5th August 2009

The last of the big three shows in the Ayckbourn celebration season was Man of the Moment, a blisteringly funny and savage play that starred Kim Wall, Matthew Cottle and Malcolm Sinclair, and directed by Ayckbourn himself. It put the finishing touches to a perfect season.



  1. The Winter’s Tale – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 15th August 2009

David Farr’s production of what I always find a difficult Shakespearean comedy starred Greg Hicks as Leontes, Kelly Hunter as Hermione, Darrell D’Silva as Polixenes Samantha Young as Perdita and Tunji Kasim as Florizel. The Courtyard Theatre was a temporary theatre to give the Royal Shakespeare Company a home base whilst the Royal Shakespeare Theatre was being redeveloped. Can’t remember much about the production but I think it was considered a success.

  1. Romeo and Juliet – Oxford Shakespeare Company at Wadham College, Oxford, 22nd August 2009

Shakespeare’s lovers’ tragedy was re-imagined as a pair of warring Oxford families in the summer of 1959. Guy Retallack’s inventive production was very effective with fabulous attention to contemporary detail.

  1. Forbidden Broadway – Menier Chocolate Factory, London, 23rd August 2009

The Smash-Hit Broadway revue came to London with a bang, and a fantastic cast of Anna-Jane Casey, Sophie-Louise Dann, Alasdair Harvey and Steven Kynman. No Broadway/West End musical is beyond ridicule in this wonderfully funny revue. It helps if you know the shows it lampoons, but even if you don’t it’s still hysterical. Absolutely brilliant.

  1. The 39 Steps – Criterion Theatre, London, 31st August 2009

Patrick Barlow’s adaptation of the old wartime spy story had already been playing at the Criterion for three years before we finally got to see it. A fantastically funny spoof, performed with incredible gusto by John Hopkins, Stephen Critchlow, Stephen Ventura and Natalie Walter. A very successful production originally performed at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

  1. BBC Proms No 67 – BBC National Orchestra of Wales at the Royal Albert Hall, London, 5th September 2009

Jac van Steen conducted the BBC National Orchestra of Wales at this Saturday night Prom, with David Pyatt on horn. The programme started with Janacek’s Cunning Little Vixen suite, then the London Premiere of John McCabe’s Horn Concerto, Rainforest IV, and then after the interval, Dvorak’s Symphony No 9. A fantastic night of classical music.


  1. Screaming Blue Murder – Underground at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 10th September 2009

This was our first ever experience of a Screaming Blue Murder show; hosted (almost certainly – I don’t know the line up that night) by Dan Evans, with three fantastic comics and two superb intervals. Once we started going to these shows we couldn’t stop – and we still regularly go twelve years later.

  1. Last Night of the Proms – BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall, London, 12th September 2009

As I had done on many previous occasions, I entered the ballot for a couple of tickets to the Last Night of the Proms – and, lo and behold, we were successful! Here’s the programme: Oliver Knussen, Flourish with Fireworks; Purcell (arr. Wood) New Suite; Purcell, Dido and Aeneas closing scene; Haydn, Trumpet Concerto in E flat Major; Mahler, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen; Villa-Lobos, Choros No 10 “Rasga o coracao”; Arnold, A Grand Grand Overture; Ketelbey, In a Monastery Garden; Gershwin (arr Forgie) Shall We Dance “They Can’t Take that Away from Me”; Piazzolla (arr Milone) Libertango; BBC Proms Inspire 2009 Young Composers, Fanfares for the Last Night; Handel, Music for the Royal Fireworks excerpts; Arne, Rule Britannia; Parry, Jerusalem; Elgar, Pomp and Circumstance March No 1; National Anthem; Auld Lang Syne. Probably a once in a lifetime experience.

  1. Thank You For the Music, A Celebration of the music of Abba – Hyde Park, London, 13th September 2009

We stayed over in London after the Last Night of the Proms and went to Hyde Park on the Sunday to see this celebration of Abba. A huge list of stars gathered to play Abba, with Bjorn and Benny also present for some of the songs. A great night out.

Review – BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, Prom 21, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, R. Strauss Don Juan and Dance of the Seven Veils, Walton Violin Concerto, Prokofiev Alexander Nevsky Cantata, July 30th 2011

BBC PromsEvery year Mrs Chrisparkle and I take a trip down to London to see a Prom. The choice of which Prom is often the source of lengthy debate and the weighing of pros and cons, until finally a compromise is made – music we think we’ll enjoy on a date that is convenient and with no work the next day. Albert HallGetting to and from the Royal Albert Hall from Northampton is no mean feat. Anyway, this year it was an easy choice – Alexander Nevsky on a Saturday!

We always make an occasion of it and treat ourselves to a slap up meal in one of the RAH’s restaurants. A couple of years ago we upgraded to the Coda Restaurant, a real destination eatery. This year, for some reason I can’t quite remember, I booked for the Elgar Room. This will be the subject of a future blog post, quite possibly tomorrow. Suffice it to say at this stage, I probably shan’t make the same decision next year.

Andris NelsonsMoving on. It’s all about the Hall and the concert, after all. Our conductor was Andris Nelsons, and from our vantage point he seemed to be enjoying himself thoroughly. We started off with Richard Strauss’ Don Juan, one of three pieces of music in the programme that was completely new to me. In an action packed seventeen minutes it seemed to have everything you could possibly want from a piece of classical music. Sparks, crashes, searing notes, quiet bits, lively bits, all coming together to form a satisfying whole. Don’t ask me to be more erudite about the performance, that’s all I can offer you on the subject.

MidoriA palpable sense of expectation for the next item – Walton’s Violin Concerto, with Midori as soloist. When not moonlighting as a melon-based liqueur, her day job is as a fantastic violin player. She has a commanding presence on the podium, and she got the most extraordinary sounds out of her instrument, made in 1734 according to the programme notes. View of the BalconyWhen she feels the music vibe, she really feels it, contorting her neck and upper body into the most uncomfortable looking positions that allow her to express the real personality of the music. I have to be honest here – I didn’t really like the concerto per se. It didn’t really inspire me musically, and I know that’s my fault. To me it was almost too clever, too difficult, too unnatural for me to get a sense of anything that might approximate a tune. But this is nothing to do with the performance, which I could tell was sensational.

Proms AudienceWhilst I was in an interval queue for the Gents, Mrs C observed Midori sweeping majestically out of the Hall, through one of the side vestibules, where a group of onlookers withdrew to the side to allow her to pass; at which point she graciously, and much to their surprise, shook hands with each and every one of them. Mrs C felt it was one of those unexpected moments of accidental theatricality, and I wish I’d seen it.

Alexander Nevsky himselfThe second half of the concert started with my favourite, Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky cantata. The CBSO, augmented by their wonderful chorus, gave a lively, exciting performance. There are so many delightful passages in this music, and they shone as usual. If I’m honest, I thought the balance of sounds within the orchestra for the Battle on the Ice was a bit off. If, like me, you imagine one army represented by the jolly string tune, and the other army by the discordant brass section, the string army never got a look in, for the brass were on the ascendant from Round One. But the percussion was great; I particularly loved the xylophone playing and the magnificent huge drum is the stuff of childhood fantasy. Nadezhda SerdiukThe chorus were spot on, and it was all magnificently stirring. I should also give mention to the mezzo-soprano Nadezhda Serdiuk, who waited patiently on the podium for her four minutes of singing in the penultimate section, and it was well worth the wait, I thought her performance was very moving.

The final piece was Richard Strauss’s Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome. Again, full of vitality and exuberance, engaging and beautiful. Albert Hall lit upFor me, though, it was a let down after the high of the Prokofiev. I feel the programme would have been much more rounded if the Salome had started the second half rather than ended it.

Nevertheless an extremely enjoyable concert, and we all emerged triumphantly into Kensington Gore, on a wave of Bolshevik fervour.

Review – BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, 15th August, LPO, Musorgsky, Shostakovich, Scriabin, Prokofiev

BBC PromsFirst and likely to be only visit to the Proms this year for a concert of Russian music, with which I was mostly unfamiliar.

It always feels like such a special occasion to go to a Prom and share a musical experience with such a large audience, in charmingly grand surroundings, with good friends. Even if the bar prices at the RAH are stonkingly heavy, and why do they not let you take drinks inside the hall, even in plastic glasses, like virtually every other theatre in the land? It means you have to down your Pinot ultra rapidly, as you spend at least a quarter of the interval merely making your way from your seat to the bar and back. Vladmir JurowskiAnyway. Don’t let me be grumpy about such a pleasant evening.

The London Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Vladimir Jurowski started with Musorgsky’s Night on Bare Mountain a la Rimsky-Get your corsets off, and it was a very pacey and exciting rendition. Full of attack and sinisterness, but ending all mellifluous and relaxed.

Then we had Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No 1, with Julia Fischer on the violin. Now I’m not overfamiliar with Shostakovich. I think I had the day off school when we did him. His surname always sounds so intellectual to me that I think there is an impenetrable boundary in my brain and appreciation of Shosta is just one league too far me to contemplate. I’m sure I’m wrong though. Julia FischerThis Violin Concerto starts languidly but builds through lots of musical angst and violence to end up a most satisfying piece. And what about Ms Fischer? What a star turn she was! Extraordinary playing, and incredible energy. To say she went down a storm was an understatement. Probably the most enthusiastic reaction to a Prom performance I have ever seen. (And I have seen – oh – at least six Proms!!)

After the gulped interval wine, we had Scriabin’s Reverie. Very nice. Very short. You can’t help but wonder why he didn’t work it up into a proper piece. Still it was a nice aperitif before Prokofiev’s 3rd Symphony, which is full of the industrial clashes and crashes of that type of early Soviet music, representing the cacophony of the noble operation of machinery. Jurowski had the LPO pounding away twenty to the dozen and it was a violently stirring sound.

All that and an evening rounded off with a nice meal in old Polish Kitchen style, to continue the Eastern Bloc theme. Triffic!