Review – Aisha and Abhaya, Rambert Dance Company, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 18th January 2022

Aisha and AbhayaIt’s been a very long time since we’ve seen some dance and we always jump at the chance to watch Rambert, one of the best Contemporary Dance companies around, with a massive reputation for excellence and innovation – always a pleasure, often a challenge.

With their latest production, Aisha and Abhaya, it was all challenge and not much pleasure. Pre-show marketing explained that this was a combination of dance and multimedia video, which can be a very heady mix when it dovetails beautifully. It can also enthral when the one creates a fascinating tangent from the other. However, in this show, both Mrs Chrisparkle and I failed to see the remotest connection between the live action and Kibwe Tavares’ video story of the two sisters – princesses, maybe? – attacked and refugeed, trying to survive in an alien environment. Mrs C was shocked by the violence in the video; but then again, refugees often have a violent story to tell.

Much more successful was the video backdrop to the live action, which took us through endless mysterious corridors, leading out into an abstract cityscape, and finally a nightmare dance scenario where identical figures fill the screen all dancing to the same movements. That was genuinely spectacular. However, if you were expecting a furiously frenetic, visually and musically exciting finale to the show – you’ll be disappointed, it ends with definitely a whimper rather than a bang. Several long seconds of an audience staring in silence at a blank stage with one thought between them – is that it?

The show, which fractionally exceeds one hour’s length, started at 7.30pm and it was 7.48 by my watch before we saw any live action – which, for a dance show, I have to say did try our patience somewhat. And when the dance started, whilst there’s absolutely no doubting the extraordinary skill and strength of the group of seven dancers, Sharon Eyal’s unattractive choreography had an alienating effect on me, with the dancers’ body spasms and jerks reminding one of one’s worst ever attack of gastroenteritis. To be fair, the second, shorter, dance scene towards the end of the show had more traditional, graceful movement and felt much more rewarding.

This is a joint production between Rambert and The Royal Ballet; and I have read that the first audiences at the Linbury Theatre were offered earplugs to protect them from the loud and relentless techno music by Ori Lichtik and GAIKA. In fact, the music was driving, pulsating and inspiring, to the extent that the show was probably more entertaining on the audio side than the visual. Sadly, for the performance on Tuesday night at the Royal and Derngate, there was no programme; and Rambert’s website unusually gives no information on which dancers were performing. Try as I might, I’ve been unable to identify them, which I think is a disservice to them. They were all excellent, no question.

Occasionally the harsh critic, Mrs C’s observation at the end was that it had all the charm and appeal of a rave at 10 Downing Street. For me, being able to watch top class (if nameless) dancers perform their hearts and souls out means I enjoyed it more than she did. But at £33.50 for top price seats to see, what, 35 minutes of live action maybe, I thought the price was a bit steep. I guess videography is expensive. Rambert are currently announcing their 2023 production of a dance version of Peaky Blinders – fingers crossed that it’s more en pointe.

Production photos are not mine, but taken from the Royal and Derngate website.

And here are the last lot of old theatre and dance memories! September to December 2009

  1. Separate Tables – Festival Theatre, Chichester, 26th September 2009

Rattigan’s masterpiece double bill of Table by the Window and Table Number Seven were brought to life by Philip Franks’ excellent production, starring Iain Glen as John Malcolm/Major Pollock and Gina McKee as Anne Shankland/Sybil Railton-Bell. The superb cast also included Stephanie Cole, Deborah Findlay, Josephine Tewson and John Nettleton. Traditional English theatre doesn’t get much more traditional or English!

  1. Mixed up North – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 1st October 2009

Out of Joint presented Robin Soans’ entertaining play: from the back of the playscript, “Trish leads a youth theatre group designed to bring Asian and white teenagers together. As the harassed and heavily pregnant director Bella struggles to share her artistic vision with a cast who thing acting is “gay”, the compelling stories of the young stars unfold.” I remember this as being an extremely good play and a great production.

 

 

  1. Mark Morris Dance Group – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 21st October 2009

It was always a delight to see the Mark Morris Dance Group, here with a UK tour that comprised of Italian Concerto, Going Away Party, Three Preludes, and Grand Duo; all dances choreographed by Mark Morris. Fantastic entertainment.

 

 

 

 

  1. Talent – Menier Chocolate Factory, London, 1st November 2009

Moving over two evenings of excellent stand-up on the Derngate stage, with Alistair McGowan on 26th and Julian Clary on 28th October, our next play was Victoria Wood’s Talent at the Menier. This was the play that Wood originally wrote for herself and Julie Walters set in the 70s. When I booked it, it hadn’t occurred to me that the production would have actors pretending to be Victoria Wood and Julie Walters playing the roles of Julie and Maureen. The result was a ghastly mix up that I absolutely hated! I’m still surprised that it was directed by Victoria Wood; the characters should have taken on a new life rather than simply being re-enactments of Wood and Walters. Awful!

  1. Spring Storm – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 3rd November 2009

Artistic Director of the Royal and Derngate, Laurie Sansom, launched a Young America season with two early plays by established and revered American dramatists, both performed by the same cast in repertory. First was Spring Storm, an early Tennessee Williams play, and it was magnificent.

 

 

 

  1. Prick Up Your Ears – Comedy Theatre, London, 8th November 2009

Simon Bent’s play about the relationship – fatal as it happens – between playwright Joe Orton and wannabe writer Kenneth Halliwell was based on John Lahr’s excellent biography of Orton (of the same name), and was brought to amazing life by most convincing performances by Chris New as Orton and Con O’Neill as Halliwell. Riveting throughout.

  1. Beyond the Horizon – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 13th November 2009

The second part of Laurie Sansom’s Young America season was Beyond the Horizon, an early play by one of my playwright heroes, Eugene O’Neill. Fascinating to get a chance to see a relatively lost play – I loved it.

 

 

  1. Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 30th November 2009

Three more comedy nights followed, with Stephen K Amos on 16th November, Rob Brydon on 28th November and another Screaming Blue Murder on  26th November. After that, our next show was our first time seeing the RPO on one of their regular visits to Northampton, and this is another something that has become a regular feature of our theatre entertainment over the subsequent years. The RPO, under the baton of Nicolae Moldoveanu, and accompanied by the Northampton Bach Choir and the Daventry Choral Society, performed Bruch’s Violin Concerto No 1 and Beethoven’s Symphony No 9. Fantastic – and we were hooked.

  1. Rambert Dance Company, Comedy of Change Tour – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 3rd December 2009

Rambert’s 2009 tour comprised Henri Oguike’s Tread Softly, Mark Baldwin’s Comedy of Change and Siobhan Davies’ Carnival of the Animals. A wonderful selection of challenging dance and crowd pleasers.

  1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 26th December 2009

We took our nieces, their parents and the inlaws to see Northampton’s big family panto which starred Linda Lusardi as Queen Lucrietia and Sam Kane as Prince Michael. Pete Hillier was Muddles, and Emily Shaw Snow White. A very enjoyable and glamorous panto. Great fun.

And from 1st January 2010 I started my blog, so if you want to catch up on any more old shows, simply go to the date index on the blog and read at your leisure!

You can’t have too many old theatre and dance memories – August to October 2008

  1. Under the Blue Sky – Duke of York’s Theatre, London, 9th August 2008

David Eldridge’s three-act play, performed without an interval, comprises of three conversations between six people over a period of two and a half years, and had very good reviews. We chose to see it because we were huge fans of Catherine Tate at the time and wanted to see how she’d be on stage (brilliant.) Very funny and very thought provoking.

  1. Rambert Dance Company Eternal Light Tour – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 11th August 2008

Eternal Light was the new production by the company, choreographed by Mark Baldwin,  and was the first dance on offer in a programme that also contained Siobhan Davies’ Carnival of the Animals, Mikaela Polley and Alexander Whitley’s Two Solos as a Tribute to Norman Morrice, and Garry Stewart’s Infinity. So much talent and so enjoyable.

  1. Mary Poppins – Birmingham Hippodrome, 23rd August 2008

The big show that is still packing them out today in London, Richard Eyre and Matthew Bourne’s production was a huge crowd-pleaser and I still remember with awe the amazing dance that Bert performs when he taps around the entire stage, defying gravity. Daniel Crossley was an amazing Bert, Caroline Sheen a practically perfect Mary Poppins, plus Valda Aviks as the Bird Woman. Our nieces adored it.

  1. They’re Playing Our Song – Menier Chocolate Factory, London, 31st August 2008

Mrs Chrisparkle had heard the soundtrack of the original London production of They’re Playing Our Song so many times that she knew it like the back of her hand – I loved it and played it all the time – but she had never seen it, so it was perfect timing that this production should come to the Menier – the first time that we had visited the theatre that would become a firm favourite venue. Alistair McGowan and Connie Fisher were the leads. My memory is that it wasn’t a patch on the original, but still very enjoyable.

  1. Matthew Bourne’s Dorian Gray – Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, 6th September 2008

New Adventures’ new production of Matthew Bourne’s new vision for Oscar Wilde’s well-known character was highly anticipated but my memory is that it was a little disappointing – primarily I found it hard to follow. A great dance cast though, with Richard Winsor as Gray, Michela Meazza as Lady H, Aaron Sillis as Basil, and massive choreographer of the future Drew McOnie in the ensemble.

  1. Enjoy – Oxford Playhouse, 8th September 2008

The Theatre Royal Bath’s production of Alan Bennett’s 1980 play looked like it was going to be a smash hit, with the wonderful promotion picture of Alison Steadman doing the hoovering in a ball gown. Unfortunately none of the script came up to the promotional photos, and I remember this being extremely boring and not at all funny.

  1. Hofesh Shechter’s Uprising/In Your Rooms – Oxford Playhouse, 18th September 2008

Moving past the London Press Night of Eurobeat, which we’d already seen earlier that summer in Milton Keynes, our next show was Hofesh Shechter’s double bill of Uprising and In Your Rooms, which I remember as being very lively and talented although perhaps a little samey. Incredible dancers, though.

 

 

 

  1. Calendar Girls – Festival Theatre, Chichester, 27th September 2008

This was the first outing for what would become Tim Firth’s much loved play about the Women’s Institute group who made a nudie calendar to raise money for charity. Very funny, but full of pathos. The “taking the pictures” scene is an absolute modern classic. A great cast included Elaine C Smith, Lynda Bellingham, Patricia Hodge, Sian Philips, Gaynor Faye, Julia Hills and Brigit Forsyth.

  1. Carousel – Milton Keynes Theatre, 15th October 2008

Ignoring a third and final visit to Eurobeat (a UK Eurovision fan club outing), our next show was to see Rodgers and Hammerstein’s immortal musical Carousel. I’d never seen it before, and frankly, it didn’t come to life and felt very dated, despite choreography from Adam Cooper and direction from Lindsay Posner. Heading the cast was Lesley Garrett – except that her understudy was performing that night. She wasn’t ill or indisposed, she just had a better offer for the night, which really annoyed me!

  1. Flashdance the Musical – Milton Keynes Theatre, 31st October 2008

One of my favourite musical movies, I was keen to see how Flashdance transferred to the stage. Memories are weak, but I think it was pretty good. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt shone as the welding dancer Alex Owens, with the late Bernie Nolan as her mother Hannah.

Another bunch of theatre and dance memories? Who knew! August to December 2007

  1. Pygmalion – Oxford Playhouse, 31st August 2007

One of those calamitous occasions when you arrive at the theatre in good time for a Friday night performance and they’ve already run out of programmes for the entire week’s run – sigh. It makes it very hard to remember the finer details. But the photocopied cast list does remind me that this production performed Shaw’s original concise text, first published in 1916, excluding the extra scene he wrote for a film made in 1938. The late Tim Pigott-Smith was an excellent Henry Higgins, with Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery as Eliza, Tony Haygarth as Doolittle, grandes dames Barbara Jefford as Mrs Higgins and Una Stubbs as Mrs Pearce, and the excellent and up-and-coming Edward Bennett as Freddy. Directed by Peter Hall.

  1. Forgotten Voices – Oxford Playhouse, 7th September 2007

Based on the oral testimonies of First World War veterans and collected by the Sound Archive of the Imperial War Museum, this play by Malcolm McKay tells the story of five survivors – four men and one woman – whose memories provide a vivid and moving first and account of the Great War. An excellent endeavour, to capture these memories in a play so that they need never be forgotten. The superb cast included Rupert Frazer, Belinda Lang and Matthew Kelly.

  1. BBC Proms in the Park – Hyde Park, London, 8th September 2007

Another of those blissful assemblies in Hyde Park, and an excuse for picnics and champagne, whilst being entertained by the likes of Lesley Garrett, Dick and Dom, Chico, T-Rextasy (who are ace), opera star Juan Diego Florez and top of the bill, Will Young. All presented by Sir Terry Wogan. A great fun night.

  1. Donkeys’ Years – Milton Keynes Theatre, 28th September 2007

It’s always fun to see another production of Michael Frayn’s delightful Donkeys Years, a show that relies on the camaraderie of its actors playing the parts of old ex-students returning for their college Gaudy. But this production didn’t work that well because I thought it wasn’t very well cast – even though individually it was full of excellent actors. Ian Lavender came across as too young to play Birkett, the old porter, as did Mark Hadfield as Headingley. Snell is meant to be a wretched no-hoper but Norman Pace gave him too much smartness; and Sara Crowe just felt wrong as Lady Driver! Never mind!

 

  1. Visiting Mr Green – Oxford Playhouse, 5th October 2007

One of those nights at the theatre when you know you’re in the presence of a masterclass of perfection acting.  Warren Mitchell was absolutely stupendous as the old man in Jeff Baron’s brilliant play about the developing relationship between the young executive who nearly kills Mr Green in a car accident and then has to spend six months visiting him as a form of restorative justice. Every bit as good as you would imagine it was.

  1. Rambert Dance Company World View Tour – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 13th October 2007

Rambert’s tour for 2007 was called their World View Tour, because it featured the works of Australian, French Canadian, and American choreographers. The programme for the night started with L’eveil by company member Melanie Teall, then Gran Partita by Karole Armitage, a revival premiere of Christopher Bruce’s wonderful Swansong, and then finally Andrée Howard’s Lady into Fox, originally premiered in 1939. Wonderful as always.

  1. Half a Sixpence, Birmingham Hippodrome, 20th October 2007

Not the amazing Cameron Mackintosh production that wowed everyone about five years ago, but a Bill Kenwright production starring Gary Wilmot as Arthur Kipps, and full of joy and delight he was too – Kipps is the role for a true song-and-dance man to shine as Tommy Steele did originally, Gary Wilmot did in this production and Charlie Stemp would in due course. Elsewhere in the cast was the wonderful Gaye Brown as Mrs Walsingham. Always a fun and entertaining show, although the recent production has rather eclipsed the memory of this one.

  1. The Producers – Milton Keynes Theatre, 1st November 2007

I was expecting this big show to be an illustrious success but it rather left me cold, I’m afraid. I’m not a huge fan of Joe Pasquale, but he was excellent in the part of Leo; in fact, the best performance was from Russ Abbot as the flamboyant Roger DeBris. My main memory is spotting Joe Pasquale at the deli counter in the next-door Waitrose.

  1. Richard Alston Dance Company – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 27th November 2007

Never one to miss the annual visit of the Richard Alston Dance Company, this year’s show featured four excellent pieces: Fingerprint, Nigredo, Brink and Gypsy Mixture. The super company included Martin Lawrance, Pierre Tappon, Anneli Binder, a young Hannah Kidd and the great Jonathan Goddard.

  1. Aladdin – Birmingham Hippodrome, 23rd December 2007

Moving on past another trip to see the amazing Chichester production of Nicholas Nickleby in two parts, all on one day at the Milton Keynes Theatre, our next show was the panto for Christmas 2007, Aladdin, starring John Barrowman in the title role. Fun for all the family, of course, but I thought this Qdos panto lacked a little pizzazz. I wasn’t overkeen on the Grumbleweeds as the policemen (although our nieces loved them); I was looking forward to seeing Don Maclean as Widow Twankey and he certainly put on a good show. I actually think most laughs came from the wonderful facial expressions of Masashi Fujimoto as the Emperor. Good, but not great.

I reckon this is going to be another theatre memories blog post! June to November 2005

  1. Nederlands Dans Theater 2 – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 21st June 2005

NDT2 were back for another of their unmissable tours, so as always, we didn’t miss it! The four pieces were Jiri Kylian’s Sleepless, followed by Hans van Manen’s Simple Things, then Lightfoot/Leon’s Shutters Shut, and finally Lightfoot/Leon’s Skew-Whiff. As it was a school night, I doubt if we stayed for the post show talk. But it would have been a brilliant night.

  1. The Merry Wives of Windsor – Oxford Shakespeare Company at Wadham College, Oxford, 9th July 2005

The start of what was to become a tradition for nearly every year since, this was our first visit to Wadham College to see an open-air production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. The OSC have always had a brilliant knack of creating something magic in a garden, and this production still has us laughing sixteen years later – one of the best productions of a Shakespeare comedy I’ve ever seen. At the heart of it, a brilliant performance by Dermot Canavan as Falstaff, but with only Mistress Ann played by a woman, there was a massive amount of cross-dressing fun to be had, and the thought of David Chittenden’s Dr Caius, together with his fishy (don’t ask) still makes us roar today.

  1. Naked – George Piper Dances/Ballet Boyz – Playhouse, Oxford, 9th July 2005

Having seen open air Shakespeare in the afternoon, we plumped for contemporary dance in the evening, with the George Piper Dances, now almost jettisoning that name in favour of the Ballet Boyz. Naked was a full length dance, the first to be choreographed by the Boyz themselves, and also featured their regular dancer Oxana Panchenko, with Monica Zamora, Yvette Halfhide and Thomas Linecar. My memory is that it was a very strong work – but, before you ask, no one was naked.

  1. Macbeth – Oxford Shakespeare Company at Wadham College, Oxford, 6th August 2005

Our visit to see Merry Wives was so enjoyable that we booked to see the other show that OSC were doing alongside it, Macbeth. The same cast, putting their amazing inventive skills to very different purpose. Here, the most extraordinary performance was by Paul Dinnen as Lady Macbeth – but they were all sensational.

  1. The Importance of being Earnest – Playhouse, Oxford, 20th August 2005

Erica Whyman’s summer show for the Oxford Playhouse was her charming production of Wilde’s classic; my memory is that the lesser roles outclassed the major roles. Anna Calder-Marshall’s Miss Prism was a joy, as was Christopher Godwin’s Canon Chasuble.

  1. Mamma Mia! – Prince of Wales Theatre, London, 27th August 2005

Six years after it opened in the West End, we finally got to see Mamma Mia! – I was never sure if I was going to enjoy it or not – I like Abba, but I was dubious about how the songs would organically accompany a story without being contrived. I needn’t have worried. It was a wonderful show; extremely funny, superbly performed, and remarkable uncontrived! We had a few understudies for our performance – and Kelly Rainford knocked it out of the park as Tanya. A great night’s entertainment.

  1. Jasmin Vardimon’s Park – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 14th October 2005

I’d heard of Jasmin Vardimon but had never seen any of her work so we decided to give Park a try – and oh my word what a terrific piece of contemporary dance it was. I quote from the programme: “Park is a place of refuge. Floating like an island in the urban ocean, Park is the backyard for worn out beliefs and redundant ideologies. In this playground, Vardimon and her eight dancers create a new hybrid of metaphors and tales, a collage made from these remnants. Park becomes the place were the individual escapes the everyday in order to play.” All I can say is, I’d love to see it again.

  1. Le Parc – Paris Opera Ballet at Sadler’s Wells, London, 16th October 2005

Whenever we go to Paris we always try to catch the Opera Ballet at the Palais Garnier. So it only seemed right that we should go to see them when they came to the UK! Angelin Preljocaj’s Le Parc was a beautiful mixture of the classical and contemporary; the latter comes in and out to subvert the former throughout the show, which makes it a challenging but very entertaining show.

  1. Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake – Milton Keynes Theatre, 28th October 2005

I shouldn’t have included this revisit to see Swan Lake – which was actually the second time we’d seen it in 2005 – but I couldn’t resist it. The show had changed slightly from the original; the young prince/schoolboy role had gone, and the disco scene had renewed itself – perhaps not for the better, but we’re used to the new version now. Alan Vincent was the Swan and Simon Wakefield the Prince.

  1. Rambert Dance Company Autumn Tour – Milton Keynes Theatre, 4th November 2005

Back for another shot of Rambert – like NDT2 they were unmissable. The programme for the evening started with Michael Clark’s Swamp, then Rafael Bonachela’s Curious Conscience, followed by Mark Baldwin’s Constant Speed. Wonderful as always.

More theatre and dance memories? You’re insatiable! July 2004 – June 2005

  1. Jerry Springer The Opera – Cambridge Theatre, London, 10th July 2004

Stewart Lee and Richard Thomas’ scurrilous, sacrilegious and totally hilarious musical probably gave me the most laughs in a show until I saw The Book of Mormon. A wonderful parody of the Jerry Springer TV show, this upset people near and far – which is always a good indication that it takes its place in history. Fantastic performances from Michael Brandon as Springer and particularly David Bedella as Satan/Warm up Man. We adored it from start to finish.

  1. Jesus Christ Superstar – Birmingham Hippodrome, September 2004

I don’t usually write up shows in this blog if I’ve already seen them before, but I include this production of Jesus Christ Superstar because of the two extraordinary performances by Glenn Carter as Jesus and James Fox as Judas. A show on a grand scale that was absolutely stunning.

  1. Rambert Dance Company Autumn Tour – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 7th October 2004

Passing over a rather forgettable touring production of Blithe Spirit at the Milton Keynes Theatre, starring Penelope Keith as Madame Arcati, our next show was Rambert’s Autumn tour, featuring four pieces. First up was Frederick Ashton’s Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan, as restaged by Lynn Seymour, and danced by Melanie Teal. Then came Kim Brandstrup’s Songs of a Wayfarer, Ian Spink’s reworking of Ashton’s A Tragedy of Fashion and Michael Clark’s Swamp. Always skilful and inspiring.

  1. Richard Alston Dance Company – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 2nd November 2004

Our annual trip to see Richard Alston’s show, this performance featured three dances: Brisk Singing, Shimmer and Gypsy Mixture. Star dancers Martin Lawrance and Jonathan Goddard on top form. Amazing as always.

  1. Jekyll and Hyde The Musical – Swan Theatre, High Wycombe, 25th November 2004