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Tag: production review

Raymond Briggs THE SNOWMAN Stage Show Review

Raymond Briggs THE SNOWMAN Stage Show Review

Fewer things are as magical as having children at Christmas time. It’s a time of awe and wonder, giving and sharing, and reliving family traditions. One such tradition for my family, as I’m sure it is for many others, is curling up on the sofa in our pyjamas on Christmas eve, and waiting The Snowman animation together. It’s what I did as a child, what I do now with my children, and hope it’s what they do with their children in the future, with fon memories of their own.

The Snowman, written by Raymond Briggs in 1978, was first broadcast as an animation in 1982, and has been a huge success ever since. And so, it seems, has the stage version of the show. Admittedly, I wasn’t aware of the production, perhaps with living in the north, and the show only being staged in London. However the production has been at Sadlers Wells for just over 20 years now, and continues to – ahem – *snowball* in popularity.

As you walk into Sadlers Wells Peacock Theatre, the magic is already visible. The stage setting is chunky and caricature like in style, as if the trees have been lifted right off the pages of the book. The lights are dimly lit, with blue hues to show off the projected ‘snowflakes’ that are whirling round the stage, giving the whole stage a snow globe effect. The programmes are hugely interactive for little people,with games, puzzle and colouring in sections, as well one great background information for the adults.

The music begins and the magic truly starts. The familiar melodies and tunes by Howard Blake transport you to another world, and we peer into the life of the boy and his mother and father on Christmas eve. Much like the animation, there are no words or narrative. The whole story is told by the music wonderfully expressive dancing. The dancing is fairly contemporary in style, to help with the individual concepts, like how the boy uses big, exagerated leg movements as he trudges though the snow, or the choir lulling side to side as they sing carols.

The Snowman has been on stage since the boy first created it, and suddenly jumps to life, much to the amazement of the audience! For those that are old enough to remember, his movements are remenicent of Mr Soft from the Trebor Softmint advert! This much amuses the children in the audience, with their shreiks and laughter echoing around the auditorium. They are totally captivated by him!

All the scenes are exactly as they are in the animation, with the addition of some creative characters, limbo dancing fruit, a music box ballerina en pointe, a toy soldier, and forest animals. Not forgetting Jack frost, who evokes a pantomime feel to the whole thing – the children loving to boo and hiss at his naughty antics! These characters have been written into the story seamlessly, blending so well with the original characters, that you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d always been a part of the story.

The production has a generous dousing of magic throughout, but by far the most captivating is the flying scene. As soon as the first few bars of “walking in the air” are played, the auditorium goes quiet, as you watch the Snowman and the boy take to the air, in what has to be the most nostalgic piece of theatre I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.

The Snowman and women dance considerably well given their rounded nature, with plenty of jumps and lifts. Althought how they don’t melt whilst undertaking these tasks under the stage lighting is amazing! I interviewed the ‘Fred Astaire’ snowman in a Q&A article which you can read here http://danceniche.com/2018/11/30/qa-with-cameron-ball-cast-member-of-the-snowman-stage-production/

Another welcome character is the big man himself, Father Christmas. The children’s faces all lighting up whenever he is on stage. I wonder how he finds the time in his busy work schedule to perform everyday, and put his spritliness down to all the sherry he must be drinking! Watching him piroette and leap about the stage makes it quite clear how he is able to indulge in all the mince pies he will soon be eating!

The final sprinkling of magic is after the finale and when the cast have all disappeared. I do not want to spoil the surprise for you, so i’ll say this…..it is well worth staying in the auditorium after the finale, as the production brings a little of the outside, inside, with ‘dusting’ of joy and a ‘flurry’ of excitement for all.

The Snowman is currently being shown at Sadlers Wells Peacock Theatre until 6th January. More information on dates and times can be found in their website https://www.sadlerswells.com/whats-on/2018/the-snowman/

All in all, The Snowman stage shows manages to capture the essence of the animation and takes something that is so ingrained in the public’s hearts and minds, and do it justice whilst offering new highlights to keep it fresh and exciting. It’s a must see production for the whole family, and something that will bring you back year upon year, creating a new Christmas tradition that all will treasure for years to come.

*special thanks goes to Sadlers Wells Peacock Theatre and photographer Tristram Kenton*

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English National Ballet’s MANON Review

English National Ballet’s MANON Review

Arriving at the beautiful Opera House in Manchester, you can’t help but notice that the Grade II listed building is perfect for hosting such an opulent and decadent production such as Manon, with it’s hunters green upholstery and gold brocade accents. It truely sets the scene for the ensuing scenes of early 18th century France.

Kenneth MacMillan’s production premiered in 1974 and uses scores by Jules Massenet, although not from his Opera, rather using his other well know works. Manon is based on the novel, Manon Lescaut, by Abbe Prevost. The novel was actually banned in France at the time due to its scandalous, controversial and explicit details! It did however prove to be incredibly popular, with pirate copies being widely distributed. I wonder what they would have thought to 50 Shades?!

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English National Ballet Manon – Laurent Liotardo

The curtain rises on ACT 1 to unveil a scene at The Courtyard at the Inn. We are immediately drawn to the differences in the classes. The present folk are disheveled and dirty, dressed in rags, with their hearty and robust allegro and vigorous, almost out of control pirouettes. They convey a light hearted, fun filled demeanour. This is in stark contrast to the gentry and aristocrats who also visit the Inn. Their costumes of rich, heavy embroidered velvets, corsets, frills and pleats, adds to their grandeur presence. Such restrictive clothing exaggerates their straight, nose in the air posture. Their choreography was bold and regal, proudly displaying like peacocks but always maintaining absolute control and pose. We are introduced to Lescaut  who is awaiting the arrival of his sister Manon, before her departure to a convent. Lescaut – played by Jefferey Ciriotis with his good friend Des Grieux – Joseph Caley , a penniless student. Manon’s arrival attracts the attention of everyone, including that of weathly Monsieur GM – James Streeter

Jeffrey-Cirio-in-Manon-c-Laurent-Liotardo-1
Jeffrey Cirio in Manon – Laurent Liotardo

Manon – Alina Cjocaru – and Des Grieux  have a chance meeting and it’s love at first sight. At first Manon is coy but relents to her feelings. The pas de deux has a beautiful quality to it. The choreography is light and fluid with seemingly gravity defying lifts, echoing those wonderful feelings of walking on air and butterflies experienced with a new relationship. They hatch a plan to run away to Paris together. Whilst Des Grieux goes to post a letter to his uncle, Lescaut arrives with Monsieur, who has promised Manon to him for a tidy sum. Initially Manon  resists Monsieur’s advances but she is easily swayed by gifts or fur coats and diamonds. The pas de trois between these 3 characters is wonderfully creative. Manon is passed between the 2 men, like a toy. She snakes her way around Monsieur with imaginative lifts. It is clear that Monsieur sees her as a trophy, something to be glorified and lusted over. he displays infatuation more than love and Manon enjoys the power she yeilds over him, using it to her advantage. Lescaut is compliant and convinces his sister to leave with Monsieur. She looks back one last time before being escorted away.

Alina-Cojocaru-and-Joseph-Caley-in-Manon-c-Laurent-Liotardo
Alina Cojocaru and Joseph Caley in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo

ACT 2 opens on a a party held at a house of ill repute (where prostitutes can be found if you’re unaware of that term). The music is playful and energetic which mirrors the suggestive and coquettish nature of the ‘ladies’ dancing for the highest bidder. We see Manon, draped in more finery, and Monsieur. This scene includes surprising comedic antics, the audience actually laughing out loud at points. The skill and strength displayed by Jeffrey Cirio is astonishing! To be able to dance as if under the influence of alcohol, stumbling and swaying, whilst still maintaining enough control to be able to lift your partner above your head is highly commendable! Love striken Des Grieux arrives, distraught by the betrayal. Manon is dancing for Monsieur. She sees Des Grieux, but refuses to make eye contact with him, denying her true feelings, but love creeps in, and she begins to flirt and dance for Des Grieux when Monsieur isn’t looking. She’s tempted by more gifts of diamonds but ultimately choses love over money and runs to Des Grieux. A fight breaks out. Swords are brandished. The scene is beautifully lit, casting the shadows off the dual on the backdrop. The lovers flee and plan to leave for Paris. They argue over taking the diamond braclet Monsieur gave, but agree to leave it behind. Monsieur tracks them down and has Manon arrested and kills Lescaut in front of her.

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Joseph Caley and James Streeter in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo

ACT 3 begins in the dockyard of New Orleans, where Manon and all the other prostitutes have been shipped to. Des Grieux has followed under the premise that he is her husband. The music has a naval theme which turns into the progressive like motion of the waves of the sea. The ladies are all clearly distressed and almost unable to stand. The Gaoler turns his attention to Manon. He thinks she can be bought and offers her diamonds, but she has changed her way and refuses. He forces himself upon her in what is a particularly distressing scene to watch. Des Grieux bursts in and kills the Gaoler. The couple flee into the swamps but the effects of the long journey, assault and heat prove too much for Manon. She has bursts of life, repeating similar steps to the previous pas de duex but shaky and unsteady, then suddenly becoming limp. Her life and recent events flash before her and she gives up. Des Grieux is inconsolable.

Alina Cojucaru plays Manon beautifully. The way she was able to portray feelings with a simple glance and gesture of a hand was exquisite. Her playful and light mood when dancing with Des Grieux resonates to the audience. The greed in her eyes when she is bestowed with gifts and her enjoyment at being objectified make you despise her. And in the last dance with Des Grieux, her weak, lifeless and limp body whilst she is moved around like a rag doll, makes it evident that this is her swan song, and you pity her. Alina is able to shine on stage without the presence of heavily embellished attire and diamonds.

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English National Ballet in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo

Joseph Caley perfectly captures the essence of a young man in love, full of exuberance and vigour. The way he looks at Manon is reminiscent of a puppy dog. Her betrayal leave him completely distraught and his dancing becomes slightly on the border of uncontrollable, lashing out just as one would. When Manon dies in his arms, you can hear his cry without him making a sound, it comes from his soul.

Joseph-Caley-in-Manon-c-Laurent-Liotardo
Joseph Caley in Manon (c) Laurent Liotardo

You can also read insights of performing with the English National Ballet with other lead principals Jurgita Dronina and Isaac Hernandez along with their take on Manon, just following this link ENB Q&A With Isaac Hernández and Jurgita Dronina

Kenneth MacMillan’s production of Manon is an emotional rollercoaster of love, greed and despair. Never have I ever watched a production that has left me so tense and brought tears to my eyes. Unlike the other tragic love stories like Swan Lake or Giselle, Manon is infinitely raw because it could be real. The story is one of life, the dilemmas  presented, the decisions made and the life altering consequences. I defy you to leave the theatre without it having a profound effect on you.

 

Manon is showing at the Opera House Manchester until Saturday 20th October before it moves onto Milton Keynes Theatre 24-27th October and finally at The Mayflower Southampton 31 oct – 3rd Nov. Tickets can be booked through AGT website here. AGT TICKETS

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