The Observer from London, Greater London, England on May 17, 1981 · 31
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The Observer from London, Greater London, England · 31

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Sunday, May 17, 1981
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31
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OBSEKVJER RKV1EWAB3& Z2 4- Praise for the Palace The cat's whiskers SUNDAY 17 MAY 1981 ROBERT CUSHMAN on Webber's new musical. HERE is a hot flash. A musical called Cats, based on ' Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats ' by T. S. Eliot, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, opened last week at the New London. That is the end of the mews. You enter the auditorium to confront what promise to be the worst sightlines in town. The set is on view, but consists of a vast rubbish tip, piled high with debris, including most of a car. It looks very impressive, but it leaves little space for actors. There's hardly room to swing a cat. However, when the lights go down, the rubbish revolves (as do the first half-dozen rows of the audience), the cluttered foreground becomes evocative background and the stage reveals itself as a marvellous arena for dancers. Already pairs of green eyes have flashed intriguingly and invitingly out at us ; now the cast takes over in a prologue announced in the programme as 'Jellicle songs for Jellicle cats.' Eliot may have thought of Jellicles as a special kind of cat (' roly-poly ' and ' of moderate size,' he said, generalising rather), but in this production they seem to stand for all cats. Anyway they are a permanent ensemble, and the other practical pussies emerge from then-ranks. The Jellicles, as choreographed by Gillian Lynne, begin with an energetic but fairly routine routine, but rise at the end of the first half to a driving ecstatic ballet that must be the most exciting number ever seen in a British musical. Mr Webber, reveals unsuspected powers as a rhythm composer and more crucially, I suspect, as a rhythm orchestrator. Sometimes the ginger is applied indiscriminately ; the motherly Old Gumbie is surely nobody's hepcat. But we get a firework display by Paul Nicholas as the maverick Rum Tug Tugger (clad in feather trimmed with leopard fur) ; a spoof hoof for John Thornton and Bonnie Langford (' Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer were a very peculiar couple of cats ' has always struck me as a perfect jazz line) ; a long zesty narrative E33E From WILLIAM FEAVER on the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition THERE have been changes, needless to say, since W. P. (' Derby Day ') Frith painted ' A Private View at the Royal Academy, 1881.' Top hats are no longer worn. Gallery in has been refloored and the walls, off-white now instead of dulled red, are lined with fewer and less preachy pictures. But this year history repeats itself. Frith's painting hangs gain in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, cordoned off as before in 1883, at the very same spot he chose in 1881 for his commemorative tableau of the RA as a social fixture. ' Beyond the desire of recording for posterity the aesthetic craze as regards dress,' he wrote, ' I wished to hit the folly of listening to self-elected critics in matters of taste whether in dress or art.' Posterity is treated to the sight of three- greenery-yallery Bedford Park charmers so keen on the art they fail to notice that Anthony Trollope has got his eye on them and is making notes. Gladstone, buttonholed by an admirer, is behind him with his back to Millais's portrait of Disraeli, who had died just a month before. Millais himself appears on the right, politely examining an Academy pastoral. Lily Langtry, in cream, is standing next to the Archbishop of York, trying to think of appropriate Smalltalk. Nearby, one of Frith's bosom Andrew Lloyd number for Ken Wells as Skimbleshanks the railway cat ; a jumping, swaying vehicle from which Wayne Sleep can amaze us as Mr Mistoffolees the conjurer ; and, crowning all, a bounding jazz-dance in which Sharon Lee-Hill and Geraldine Gardner (the cat I would most like to take home, a flaming tawny) pay their respects to Macavity the mystery cat and Miss Lynne hers to Bob Fosse. There are besides a soothing, wondering serenade for Brian Blessed as Old Deuteronomy and a music-hall soliloquy to Stephen Tate as Gus, the rundown theatre cat. I'm not sure where Trevor Nunn's responsibility as director branches off from Miss Lynne's ; but it seems reasonable to credit him with the show's technical excellence (David Hersey's lighting, Abe Jacob's sound, both superb), with its overall likeableness (you may look round, as I did, to find Mr Sleep crouching by your side and staring, which may give you paws), and for the smooth, amusing transitions from one number to the next. But these don't make a shape. As a dance musical ' Cats ' knocks spots off Mr Fosse's ' Dancin',' but it can't match West Side Story ' or ' Chorus Line,' because though it tries to be more than a series of charming vignettes, it doesn't really go anywhere. Intermittent shuddering cries of Macavity ' don't do much for suspense ; nor does the temporary disappearance of Mr Blessed. (When the chorus suddenly intones we have to find old Deuteronomy ' it's a pathetic moment in the wrong sense ; and very English.) Then there is Grizabella the Glamour Cat (Elaine Paige), who hangs out ' near the grimy road of Tottenham Court,' emerging to sing a ballad whose gummy lyrics are matched to soupily derivative music. She is redeemed through something called ' the Jellicle choice ' and ascends to, I suppose, heaven : ' Up up up to the Heaviside Layer, up up passed the Russell Hotel.' (The lines are constantly repeated, not to their benefit.) It is all very nebulous, though the giant tyre on which the ascent is accomplished, and Gladstone to chums, the red-nosed G. A. Sala, a jobbing critic, is har-rumphing at the aesthetes, among them a pair I take to be young Lord Fauntleroy and ' Dearest,' his mother, paying court to Oscar Wilde in full bloom. What the self-elected Wilde is saying is anyone's guess. Probably something to the effect that the RA is for those who like their art once a year, all in one go. Frith's ' Private View ' is far and away the most attractive, most intriguing picture in the show. It's the only work that qualifies for the RA's most coveted honour : a white nylon rope slung in front for crowd control. Plenty of other exhibitors have done their utmost to excite attention. The sculp-' tors go in for high-polish routines, feats of balance and dimpled bronze allure, most notably Sydney Harpley, RA Elect, with his 'Nude on a Hammock,' the perfect Victor Lownes leaving present. Dozens try for the RA's silicon chip award, given to the artist who thinks smallest. There are studies of a bluebottle, hares, even a teeny-weeny Dr Roy Strong. Pictures to stuff down the cleavage. And at the opposite extreme are the works designed to engulf, among them a mock-up by Gillian Wise Ciobotaru of her constructivist plans to cheer up part of the Barbican Centre. You stick your head in to get Sound round the world Whether you're travelling on business or on holiday. Whatever happens illness, accidents, car breakdowns. Europ Assistance comes to the rescue promptly on the spot gurop assistance Eun if Assistance Limited, FREEPOST, 252 High Street, Crovdon, Surrey CR9 9EE TeL 01-680 1234 Paul Nicholas as the maverick Rum Tug Tugger with the huge ramp lowered from the sky to meet it, are reasons in themselves for seeing the show. This brings us to the closing number all the cats join in in which Eliot's sprightly envoi, ' the Ad-dressing of Cats,' is given a surprisingly pompous setting. Cats ' isn't perfect. Don't miss it. Does the GLC realise that there are now two theatrical cat-houses in Drury Lane ? Brian Friel has found a beautiful binding conceit for his play Translations (Hampstead). We are in an Irish village in the 1830s, where Gaelic, Latin and Greek are spoken, but not English. English troops arrive to rationalise the country's rnnnoranhv : in of her wnrds to change the Irish place-names to equivalent English ones. The play's dialogue is all in English, but half of it is assumed to be in Irish. So we have characters on stage speaking the same tongue, but failing to understand one another and constantly requesting interpretations ; exploited by Mr Friel for effects comic, catching (in a cross-cultural love scene) and finally chilling. An officer disappears, and his superior threatens wholesale evictions in reprisal : he reads out the new names of the selected villages, while the old ones are relayed to his audience. This is a magnificent piece of dramatic shorthand that says chapters about Anglo Irish history. Mr Friel presents two brothers : one a lame, grumbling nationalist played, in as strong and biting a performance some idea of the mirroring sensation she envisages. The Frith may be a trifle fussy and piecemeal but, none the less, it remains astonishingly good value. Partly because of its content-potted versions of at least 20 1881 paintings as well as about 40 little portraits but also because of its rich period flavour. This is, I suppose, the best thing about Academy continuity. Year by year the pictures record for posterity scenes, fashions, current affairs, personal slants, big occasions. What Trollope noted Frith depicted. Today's equivalent is the England of Watership Down, of Barbara Pym (Stanley Spencer-style vicars getting things wrong or having nasty turns), of Dick Francis. In Frith's painting you can just make out the Hon. John Collier's ' The Last Voyage of Henry Hudson.' They don't do pictures like that any more, but there are substitutes. In place of the Boy's Own Empire there's a world of leisure activities : yachting, fishing, golfing, sunbathing. In place of Disraeli there's a beaming Lord Hailsham, by Norman Hepple, and Lord George-Brown twitted by Ruskin Spear. Academy abstraction is as vacuous as ever this time round. With few exceptions (no, one exception : Gillian Ayres's ' Beltane ') it's non-combatant stuff, just the job for the clock- as he has given, by Stephen Rea ; the other is the sophisticated collaborator whose confusions are richly explored by Tony Doyle. Their drunken, eloquent father keeps a hedge-school, itself the most fascinating dramatic locale since Trevor Griffiths's college for comics ; Ian Barmen, absent from the London stage for 20 years, has glittering authority, but not always the ease to convey it. The director, another long absentee, is Donald McWhinnie ; his fine cast includes Sebastian Shaw (derelict with' total fluency in the class Getting VICTORIA RADIN on new plays at the Theatre LOU is a prostitute who keeps a trunk full of costumes in her garret room, knows all about egg-yolk freaks and hasn't had a john who wanted to do it in a bed ' since God knows when.' She believes in hygiene and insists, in a (wilfully ?) unfortunate phrase, that ' if it wasn't for us sucking the poison off,' the world would be a lot grimmer. A nymphet-seeming colleague, she avers, has ' saved more kids than the entire Leeds Constabulary.' Yes, we're in Leeds, neighbourhood of Chapeltown and this is the prostitute-as-social-worker. Gilly Fraser's I Can Give You a Good Time, written and researched over the past 18 months, takes the Yorkshire Ripper as its starting point, but the Royal Court's anxious programme note asserts that, in scheduling it for the Theatre Hailsham reception areas and vacant slots in the Barbican Centre. A century ago there were no abstracts, though Lord Leigh ton (who holds the centre of Frith's picture, beside the Archbishop) supplied comparable compositions : limbs and drapes drawn from stock, as imposing as could be. Today they splash and speckle and plant giant Xs, producing cover-versions of what were once liberated gestures. The architectural section, always a good indication of prevailing trends, is dominated by renovation projects. The conversion of a Manchester warehouse for Granada, the repair of Speke Hall, Liverpool, Theo Crosby's proposal . for a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, Bankside, repairs and alterations to the Victorian Society's headquarters in Bedford Park : these are signs of the times. To preserve and enhance rather than to take risks. I forgot to hand in my Pimm's Press Award voting slip as I left. Not that it would have made any difference. Peter Greenham's ' Portrait of a Lady,' a marvellous study of animated old age, was my first choice, then Laetitia Yhap's amply-titled ' Podge picking out the Skeleton which came up in the nets of Bill and Darkie ' (or memento moti on Hastings beach) and, third, Barry Flanagan's bronze bust COSMETIC SURGERY in one of Europe's most respected clinics For a free copy of our information brochure write or phone. Pountney Clinic 20-26 Staines Road, Hounslow, West London, 01 -570 96586833 Only 8 minutes from London Airport. pussies galore. ics), Shaun Scott (a lovely study of a shy Englishman drunk on Ireland) and Bernadette Shortt. Occasionally the flow of words becomes pat, and the ending is needlessly indeterminate, but the whole has a grace and conviction rarely encountered. The play is its own man. If you can stand a third rave,may I direct you to Have You Anything To Declare (Roundhouse), a golden age farce by Hennequin and Veber, in a Royal Exchange production by Braham Murray, that gets steadily funnier. Brian Cox agreeably widens his range as a beleaguered, trauma tised iri- down to business upstairs, they could not nave not predicted that its run would coincide with the trial of Peter Sutcliffe. Could they imagine that anyone would think they were exploiting the trial ? We've been barracked and bored by it. In its wake, the play is unseemly. But there is a small irony in the fact that the biggest fear of its self-styled ' business girl ' is not that her perplexing client will turn out to be another ripper, but a journalist. The play opens as a stand-up musical-hall routine, with a spotlight picking out Carole Hayman's ripe Lou leaning on a pillar in the auditorium, musing through a smutty monologue. Once the client (Will Knightley, looking as nondescript as possible) is discovered, the lights go up on a small pink floral chamber. It soon becomes evident that the client's requirements, except in dress, are a bit irregular : in of Paul Potts ( vote for versatility and old Soho). The award went to Carl Laubin for ' Blakeney Point,' with Sydney Harpley's bronze Hammock-mate of the Month a runner-up. The Frith was assumed tc be kors concours. After the Academy hubbub and chitter-chatter those in need of calm and resolve and a bracing absolute aesthetic would be well advised to go and see John McLaughlin's paintings at Annely Juda, Robert Mangold's at the Lisson Gall ery and Brice Marden's at thi Whitechapel. In that order. McLaughlin, who died ii 1976, was a Calif ornian artist who practised a strict and progressively more austere kind of painting. By process of elimination he got rid of all signs of handiwork, all colour, except black and white, all illusion, all uncertainty. That left him with nothing but the basics : rectangular canvas, plainly painted, divided, subdivided to taste. ' My purpose is to achieve the totally abstract,' McLaughlin wrote. What he eventually arrived at was a state of painting that, representing nothing, achieved nothing beyond inducing, in co-operative viewers, a blank peace of mind. Over and out. Robert Mangold, who works in New York, is a busy-body in comparison. He fits canvases together in neat cruciform arrangements with intersecting r INCURABLE?-Yes. The British Home and Hospital tor Incurables specialises in looking after men and women suffering from progressive paralysing diseases. They need very special care and attention. Some are helpless, bedridden . . . these unlucky ones have lo be nursed, amused, cared for with compassion, courtesy and patience. The BHHI receives no Stale aid. Crown Lao. Strvalham. PATRON: HM QUEEN ELIZABETH, THE QUEEN MOTHER comte who must consummate his marriage within three days. For morale, he takes himself off to a whore called Zeze (lazy. Zeze in Susan Littler's en-chantingly languorous performance, which also incorporates some of the querulous practicality of Joan Plowright), whose clientele naturally includes the rest of the male cast. Our hero's in-laws, puritans and purient, are Dilys Hamlett, a momentous battle-axe, and John Phillips, who at one point has to dress up as a traffic, cop - ' I've got quite good at it,' he says, and the gestures stick. Derek Upstairs and the Riverside. fact what John wants is an account of ' what made you a. slag ?' What made Lou a whore is, of course, men : she rattles off half-imagined stories of being raped by her father, groped by an uncle and grabbed by the caretaker ; but perhaps moves closer to reality when she cites her mother's neglect. What made John a john is his fear and loathing of his own sexuality, which is rooted in his mother's own fear. Eventually, to escape attack, Lou is forced to re-enact John's Oedipal trauma. There is a certain amount of emotional truthfulness here about the male madonna-or-the-whore theory of women (it used to be called the double standard), and the possibility that women sell their sex out of low self-esteem. The language is rich and accurate. During the first half of the play Ms Fraser shows that she has a good ear for comedy ; during the second there's ample Carel Weight's ' The Walk ' lines adding minor complications. The colours are sandy and peachy, the intentions pure but maybe slightly perplexed, for in this sort of painting the end is at hand and then what ? Backsliding or the black hole of aestheticism whence nothing! emerges. Brice Maiden is a far more formidable artist, not least because he concentrates with undeviating care and dexterity on tuning and perfecting his plain panels of colour until the mild colours resound and the parts cohere with an extraordinary grace and ease. In 4 Thira,' the most recent and most ambitious, 18 canvas panels are pieced together like heraldic megaliths, dark played We must rely upon your generosity for a very worthy cause in this special year for the disabled. More than a hospital much more than a 'Home' The British Horns & Hospital lor Incurables London SW16 3IB. ill-! M M ft i ;Jh JM HOBBY CtAHK Griffiths plays a camel-dealer who admits that his trade has blunted all finer feelings. The vicomte is pursued by a rival disguised as the customs officer whose ill-timed irruptions ruined his honeymoon ; this recurring vision suggests that though the author's were less inventive craftsmen than Feydeau, they knew or at any rate let on more about sex. The excellent calypso in the National's ' Measure for Measure ' is the work of Iwan Williams, not, as previously stated, of Tommy Eytle. evidence mat the can bnOd and hold tension. Nevertheless, like many earnestly researched works about the darker corners or lite, this two-hander never quite escapes the confinements of documentary, and finally harrows more than it enlightens, Antoma Bird gives We play a well-paced direction ; and Carole Hayman's Lou bursts with olausible life. The Black Theatre Co operative's One Rule (Riverside Studios) contains a fairly gratuitous scene of bare-breasted female humiliation which caused some walkouts. I was only mildly irked : at least it was a coherent moment in Mustapha Matura's underwritten, under-rehearsed and overweening drama about a cormnted reggae star in con' frontation with a committed junior. A good deal of acting and musical talent is wasted. This in the week of Bob Marley's death, too. at the RA. off against light, intrusion aeainst enclosure. They are. as Wilde might have said, utterly utterly and, moreover, ex pressions of faith in flawless matt surfaces and benign colours alone. SEASPEED. YOUR FLYING START TO FRANCE. Over from Dover in only 35 minutes. By car or foot go Seaspeed. Eniov the relaxed, airport atmosphere of Dover's Book at your Travel Aeent or any principal Rail Station or Travel Centre. Or 'phone Seaspeed on 01-606 3681, Dover (0304) 208288, Birmingham (021) 236 0701 or Manchester (061) 228 2041. easpeed 11,, B HOVERCRAFT Hover over from Dover. STEPHEN WALSH on Manchester. THE Royal Opera's three-week season at the Palace Theatre, Manchester, now almost half way through, is a major event in the transformation which British opera has been undergoing since the company last made a provincial tour in (believe it or not) 1964. In those days opera touring was more or less of a condescension, based on the idea that a subsidised company ought occasionally to hack a path through the jungle of provincial ignorance about the higher art forms. One could add that in some quarters this attitude still persists. But it will no longer wash in major regional centres, which have become very well used to high-quality opera provided either by locally-established companies (Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds) or by those and other companies with a well- organised and artistically exigent touring programme presented in theatres many of which have been refurbished to the point where they can seriously and properly be called ' opera houses.' The Palace Theatre, which reopened in March after an extensive (and expensive) rebuild, is one such. There is admittedly as yet no resident opera company in Manchester. . But that might very well come, and meanwhile the Royal Opera has quite rightly taken the opportunity provided by the new theatre to give a season, not of clapped-out productions with a reserve orchestra and retired chorus singers, but of full-dress performances with front-line casts. Nobody can doubt, surely, that an audience exists for such a venture, or for that matter that an audience would exist equally in other large cities, including some others (like Bristol) not blessed with companies of then-own. The Mancunian turnout, though short of capacity, has been strong, the ' feel ' of the house extremely responsive (more so than on many a night at Covent Garden), and the reward has been performances of distinction : a Lohengrin of the highest quality, and a To sea of perfectly reasonable international calibre, if more routine artistically, to say nothing of the 'Otello' and ' Zauberflote which I wasn't able to get to. Some colleagues have expressed doubts about the theatre, especially its acoustics. But to my mind it's a far better house for opera than some others we accept quite readily or take for granted. It's true that the pit is somewhat covered and the orchestral sound therefore noticeably less radiant than in, say, the Coliseum or even Covent Garden. But this of course helps the voices, and although it may or may not be an encouraging house to sing in, the actual effect of voice projection seems to be excellent. This is important, because the stage has been greatly enlarged ' backwards, yet every note was audible, even from far upstage in Moshinsky's ' Lohengrin ' production, which uses the full depth. Moreover the sightlines could hardly be better. Like so many late Victorian and Edwardian music hall-type theatres, the wide am-p hi theatrical curve and steep rake give a great feeling of contact and intimacy. There is none of the craning and straining which can make visits to Covent Garden (whose horseshoe plan is based mainly on social considerations) into an osteopath's benefit. No doubt things are less ideal under the Palace's low overhanging balconies (Cinemascope viewing, International Hoverport, with its total range of modern facilities. Travel in style, luxury and comfort, as you Seaspeed across the Channel. Take comfort, too, from the fact that Seaspeed fares are much the same as those of slower ferries. There are up to 34 flights daily to and from Boulogne ? v or Calais. And once in France, Seaspeed will have you off and away on your holiday within minutes. w Seaspeed. The Covent Garden's visit to listening probably even more voice-biased). But this is still paradise compared with the side stalls-circle at headquarters. I like this new theatre ; it is pretty and well designed, and it has atmosphere, and you can get a drink before thirst has died of boredom. Not only for this reason, it suited Moshinsky's ' Lohengrin,' with its elaborate stage movements and deep perspectives, admirably, despite an' army of first night gremlins who did their best to subvert this most diaphanous Wagner score with rattles in the air-conditioning and various random bleeps and hums.'all of them just not in tune with the first act's preponderant A major triads. The cast (another plus point for the artistic policy behind this season) included significant debuts. Peter Hofmann ap--.: peared for the first time in Britain as Lohengrin, looking suitably radiant as the archetypal knight in shining armour and transmitting the difficult slow arioso with precision, in- , telligence and lyric warmth;, and Guillermo Sarabria was a-':, strongly-drawn, rat-like Telra-mund, an ideal foil to Eva Random's superbly venomous -Ortrud. Eva Randova : A superbly --i venomous Ortrud. v The Elsa, Heather Harper, was new in tie recent London, re- vival. Miss Harper is too clever , an actress to let simple goodness -'o speak for itself, and her Elsa jsf a simpering tool as a xauen ; saint i nnt that this narricularlv' undermines the idea of the , . work, and in anv case her sine-. .' ing was beautifully clean and unmannered (apart from a few oonrla earnnA TtiA Inner thirA" Qli .J JJ 1 J .... . .111. Act duet with Hofmann was ; both dramatically and musically ; outstanding. Edward Downes conducted ' Lohengrin,' a finely-paced reading ; and in charee of ' Trwra ' woe liarria Mavarm. who gave the music its head and J orchestra seemed in good shape. : . Various details of the Zeffixelli ad hoe, but it remains a good vehicle for a singer like Grace Bumbry, who can enliven the murkv soines-on in the Farnese .- Palace with an authentic kit- - tenish sexuality, and for a swarthuy handsome tenor like franco Bonisow, and even tor a rather artificial demon Scarpia like Donald Mclntyre. None of .i . i . j inese singers, ii must, oe saiu, . WjU 111 IU VUWI UAiU Ollkl stretched by Scarpia s higher, flights of temper). The season continues until 30 indicate deserves all the sup-. . " port it can get. In the end it- V might be the box office which 'is determines whether future tours do or don't happen (local . authority approval has been! muted), and whether , the modestly enterprising repertory of this first season expands or contracts. fastest Channel crossing. " uii

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