Cooper’s London




London is Hot, Hot, Hot….

Well, of course, if you can get tickets, you might want to try the Olympics. They are the biggest show in town for a couple of weeks. Personally I figure you can see it better on TV – but if you’re in town in July, you might want to share the experience live. I suspect there will be returns and standby seats if you aren’t ticketed already. On the other hand, I predict that London will be hot and overcrowded and that this might be a very good time to explore the Highlands of Scotland or the mountains (well, large hills) of Wales.

If you’re interested in the visual arts, consider seeing  Damien Hirst at Tate Modern. Even if you hate his work, the building itself is a pleasure; and you’re right next door to that wonderful facsimile, Shakespeare’s Globe and can sneak into Henry V or The Taming of the Shrew, if you get lucky. Meantime, the Hirst show rings my bells because it’s the first-ever retrospective, I believe, and you can see that shark in formaldehyde and the bisected cow live, as it were.  The show runs til 9 September.

Meantime, free, gratis, no charge, you should go visit places like the British Museum and the National Gallery. The permanent collections are wonderful. They always also have good exhibitions to pay for; but in the case of the National, for instance, there is also an interesting free exhibition. The current one is focused on a work by Titian, The Flight Into Egypt, probably his first masterpiece, painted when he was about fifteen or sixteen and still studying/working in the studios of Giovanni Bellini. It’s in a large room surrounded by works of the period, mainly from the gallery’s own collection, which are simply stunning to see all in one place; and the painting itself is so relatively unknown because it’s been hanging in The Hermitage for two-and-a-half centuries. I had never seen even a reproduction of it before, and I’m now in love with it. It’s large, brilliantly executed, and you can see both the flat-planed layouts of a Bellini-style approach and the more adventurous loosening of technique that will lead, one day, to those final works by Titian that are almost the precursors of Impressionism. And then there are those colours! Relevantly, from 11 July to 23 September, there will be an exhibition of new works inspired by Titian, which I think is a really interesting concept. Meanwhile, if you slip around the corner to the National Portrait Gallery, until 21 October you will be able to see 60 images of the Queen’s 60 years of sitting on her throne. It’s a pleasure to examine how painters, photographers, photojournalists and ordinary Brits have seen her over six decades! And, in the same building, you’ll be able to experience the BP Awardwinners for portraiture from 21 June to 23 September. Like the Royal Academy show every summer, it’s one of those London fixtures; but it’s always one that I get a big kick out of. Some of the portraits are laughable in technique and approach; and some are simply breathtaking, always.

The theatre in London, of course, is still full of those old standbys that everyone wants to see – the musicals that run for 250 years, the plays that are revived every decade or two and called contemporary (though they are at least half-a-century old). I feel that London theatre is more of a cultural museum, these days, than an evolving community of artistry; and I fear that most of the new plays, despite ridiculous and hysterically positive reviews, often leave me feeling “so what?” about the actual texts. But, as usual, the staging and acting are superlative, and even if you don’t collect a new text to think about, you almost always come away riveted by the style and professionalism of the production.

If you’re here with family, especially youngsters, the idea of attending one of the musicals is pretty irresistible and naturally you’ll be trying to book into The Wizard of Oz, say. Well, it does have a yellow brick road and lots of familiar songs; and it is very slickly done. And you get to experience being in the famous London Palladium. This production’s been going for around 500 performances, now; and there will be a new Wizard (Des O’Connor) who should be good. The show is very spectacularly mounted. You’ll certainly recognize quite a lot of the songs!

But more interesting, perhaps, is the musical of Matilda, based on the novel by Roald Dahl and that film by Danny de Vito, who is in town (live), in The Sunshine Boys and very worth seeing, even if you’ve seen the film on TV 400 times). It’s a real romp and the production pays homage to the British Pantomime tradition with a man in drag hilarious as the headmistress. The music (by Tim Minchin) is quite good, too.

The Young Vic is soon mounting a new production of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House that should be worth seeing. Simon Stephens, who wrote the highly-regarded Punk Rock, is adapting it and he’s usually very interesting in his perceptions. I also like the work of director Carrie Cracknell and will be curious to see how she deals with this classic text.  It runs 29 June till 26 July; and will be followed in September by a new production of Chekhov’s The Three Sisters that also sounds promising.

And, speaking of classics, there is a very fine production of Noises Off by Michael Frayn, playing at the Novello Theatre until 30 June. The brilliant Celia Imrie and Janie Dee head a superbly drilled ensemble cast  that really makes you ache with laughter, as long as you’re patient about Act One–a set-up that will pay off as the play progresses. Trust it! The same director, Lindsay Posner, has also just shaped a fine production of Mike Leigh’s iconic play Abigail’s Party with the inestimable Jill Halfpenny in the main role. It’s at Wyndham’s Theatre in the Charing Cross Road until at least 1 September (and originated at the Menier Chocolate Factory). The classics at the Donmar Warehouse will be Durenmatt’s The Physicist and Brian Friel‘s Philadelphia, Here I Come. I want to see the first simply because it’s rarely done and I like Durenmatt; but mainly because Sophie Thompson is in it. She is the equally talented sister of the better-known Emma. I’ve never seen her give a bad performance, ever.  She is incapable of being anything but intelligent, witty, convincing, and utterly heart-rending and adorable. In fact, I think I’m falling in love with her. Josie Rourke is directing the new adaptation.

The Stratford Season seems to me a bit weak so far, but I wouldn’t miss the Julius Caesar. The cast is exceptionally interesting and, of course, it’s being directed by my hero, Gregory Doran – Stratford’s new Artistic Director Designate for the RSC. I will review this one anon. It only plays till 7 July – and you must book tickets immediately!

And then there’s “our” Porgy and Bess (see my post of June 4)! A production from the Cape Town Opera, South Africa, is coming to the Coliseum for only 14 performances, from 11 to 21 July. It’s 75 years since Gershwin died, 78 since Porgy was first produced on Broadway, and this is still one of the most innovative, tuneful and moving shows you can see. I think it’s splendid to have an opportunity to see the original opera version of the show anywhere, any time. This production shifts the action to Soweto in the period of apartheid. Not a huge stretch!

There’s more. I will deal with as much of the rest as I can soon! Meantime, England is basking in brilliant summer weather at last and I have to take my dogs for a walk in a nice park.

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