February 2008 Blog
By Karen Fisher
This month’s blogger is 25 year old Neuroscience PhD student Karen Fisher. When she isn’t busy studying she keeps herself active through sports like kickboxing and badminton.
She regularly attends live music and theatre events but tends to stick in her comfort zone. This month as our blogger she is looking forward to trying some new events and will be keeping you updated as to what she makes of them.
Jekyll & Hyde at the Gala Theatre, Durham
5th March 2008
A classic story of good versus evil, Jekyll & Hyde has been adapted for stage and screen many times. This particular version however was slightly unconventional. But being a highly unobservant individual, this fact didn’t register with me until the last minute. It wasn’t until the curtain went up and Dr Jekyll began to convey his grand ideas through song that the penny dropped: this was a musical adaptation!
In truth, it took me a while to warm to this production. Perhaps this was simply because I don’t like surprises. Or maybe it was the clumsy arrangement of the first few songs which were somewhat awkward and contrived. But actually, despite the slow start, this blossomed into a show that was very well written and produced.
The first big number, ‘Façade’, involved the entire cast in a musical stand off between the rich and poor of Victorian London. It was a fitting introduction to the story, and prompted us to consider the sinister undertones of many of the characters.
The story itself is centred around scientist Dr Jekyll who attempts to play god and eliminate the wicked side to humankind. Instead, he unleashes his evil alter ego, Mr Hyde, who sets about murdering all those who stood in the way of Jekyll’s research. These murder scenes are particularly evocative - red hues, smoke filled stage and the whisper of ‘Murder, Murder’ in the background.
There is also the addition of a love story - Dr Jekyll is engaged to be married, but Hyde is obsessed with a prostitute, Lucy Harris. The ladies voice their affections in the duet ‘In his eyes’, but it is Lucy who steals the show with her powerful voice, especially in the saucy number ‘Bring on the men’.
Jekyll’s torment in general was portrayed well, although I found the transformation scenes suffered from a bit of overkill. And the microphone interference during this was unbearable at times. In fact, microphone inconsistencies throughout did tarnish the show – at times some characters were barely audible whereas others were extremely loud.
This rendition of Jekyll and Hyde was performed by members of the Gala Theatre Stage School, widely acclaimed as one of the leading youth theatre ensembles in the North East. I was impressed by the mature performance of such a young cast. And with fabulous set design, costumes and lighting, I have to say that this turned out to be a pleasant surprise. As a result, I will certainly be watching out for future productions, and purposefully overlooking the blurb so that I can learn to love the unexpected.
The Bowes Museum
28th February 2008
The Bowes Museum was purpose built in the 19th century by a local couple who were keen to bring the arts of the world to the people of Teesdale. The building itself was designed by a French architect and is somewhat reminiscent of a colonial Chateau. It is magnificent and sits proudly in the centre of the quaint town of Barnard Castle.
Every nook and cranny of this museum is filled with interesting items. However, I will politely overlook the permanent collection. For instead, I was here to peruse the current temporary exhibition which features two local photographers.
On the first floor, disappointingly squeezed in next to the toilets, is a collection of Elijah Yeoman’s work. Yeoman was one of the first commercial photographers, and his pictures allow a rare insight into the Victorian period in this area. Employed to capture family and public events, many of his pictures are the typical posed compositions one might expect from this era. Yeoman was also fond of landscapes and his stylish postcard scenes of local attractions such as High Force are also on display.
In contrast, Eddie Ryle-Hodges’ work spans the second half of the twentieth century and is much more eclectic. Ryle-Hodges dabbled in a number of genres including fashion, industry, portraiture and local history. All of these are represented in the exhibition, along with various other photographic paraphernalia and an informative commentary on Ryle-Hodges’ life. The body of work on display is impressive, but I think it is the portraiture which stands out here; in contrast to the posed Victorian shots, these beautiful photographs are full of activity and emotion.
Although these retrospective exhibitions are only small, they are well worth the visit. They provide an interesting record of life in Teesdale over the past century, and also illustrate just how much the art and technology of photography has evolved. And I think it is fitting that the Bowes’ vision has been reversed, for at the moment at least, the art of the locals is on display to the world.
Kate Walsh at The Sage Gateshead
21st February 2008
Kate Walsh is the latest in a line of twenty-something singer/songwriters to achieve fame via internet sites such as myspace. Like many others, her success has happened remarkably quickly and so she currently finds herself in the midst of a national tour on the back of an album produced in her friend’s bedroom.
The Newcastle leg of the tour took place in Hall 2 of The Sage. This intimate venue boasts fantastic acoustics and was the perfect setting for the concert. Support was provided by Sam Isaac, a 21 year old unsigned solo artist. Whilst his music was creative and pleasant to listen to, I felt the performance wasn’t entirely refined. However, this is a singer who has been tipped for big things (his sound has been compared to that of early Coldplay records) and I suspect his music will mature with experience.
Following the interval, Kate appeared on stage to rapturous applause from some very excitable fans. She genuinely looked at home in that environment, at one with the crowd and completely unfazed by initial microphone problems. When the performance began, the place fell silent, all attention directed upon Kate in hopeful anticipation.
Kate’s style is unique; her voice has a mellow, breathy quality that is a pleasure to hear. She sings beautiful heartfelt ballads, usually accompanied only by her guitar. Despite the rather sombre theme of many of the songs, her voice is wonderfully serene, drifting up and down in tone beautifully. I have to say that I liked the simplicity of her music. It isn’t ordinarily ‘my thing’ but then that was my reason for choosing this concert.
Overall, I’d say this was an engaging performance by an artist mature beyond her years. An angelic voice, talented musician and accomplished performer, Kate has already been compared to soulful superstars such as Norah Jones and Joni Mitchell. And like them, I am sure she has a lot more to offer.
Snozzcumbers and Frobscottle! The Wonderful World of Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake at Seven Stories
16th February 2008
Snozzcumbers and Frobscottle! is an instantly recognisable collection of Quentin Blake’s illustrations for Roald Dahl’s children’s books. I was pleased to see that many of the most famous front cover illustrations were included along with some interesting facts and extracts from the books. The displays were arranged at a child friendly height and there were plenty of copies of the books around should anyone choose to dip into one.
One drawback is that the exhibition is only small and for those visiting solely for this purpose I would say that £5 is a little expensive. However, there is currently also a second exhibition, ‘Up to mischief’, which showcases memorabilia featuring some of the most loved characters from children’s books and comics. This is an interesting add-on to the Quentin Blake exhibition and offers plenty of interactive novelties to occupy the kids.
For those families who have an afternoon to spare, Seven Stories is an ideal place to visit. Each of the seven floors houses different attractions, from book dens and research areas to literary exhibitions…plenty to keep the family busy on a rainy day!
Kaos Dream at The Round
13th February 2008
The Kaos Midsummer Night’s Dream was probably the most bizarre piece of theatre that I have ever seen. Billed as a ‘raunchy, physical fuelled, surreal, sexy Shakespearian spectacle’, I expected a gritty, contemporary reworking of the classic play, but wasn’t exactly prepared for the extent to which this went…
The play opens with a voyeuristic display which instantly transports you into the debauched ‘dream’ world. The characters have all been given a new ‘urban’ twist: a pole-dancing Hermia, pimp Oberon and transsexual Titania. And although the language remained faithful to the words of Shakespeare, everything seemed to have been given a new meaning. There were crude puns at every turn – in fact, you almost felt that it was the kind of adaptation which could have been masterminded by a group of undersexed adolescents.
Whilst parts of this play were entertaining and witty, much of it was farcical and vulgar. Bottom’s magical transformation into an ass (not a donkey!) left little to the imagination, as did the sordid routine played out by Pyramus and Thisbe. However, the addition of a live jazz score was an inspired one. This was performed entirely by the cast, and added some much needed depth to the otherwise very one-dimensional show.
The Round is a relatively new theatre in town. Located in the Ouseburn village and with a quirky layout, it is a charming alternative to the bigger venues. I liked the small, intimate scale which almost makes you feel part of the performance. However, the pillars which restrict the view for all but the very front row are annoying. You find yourself twisting and turning as the characters move around the set and it really is an unnecessary distraction.
Whilst this was certainly an original take on the play, I am unsure as to how well received it will be by the general public. I suspect die-hard Shakespeare fans will be disappointed by the vulgar content and the loss of a substantial proportion of the plot. On the other hand, this might be a new way to get teenagers interested in learning the classics! Definitely not one for the family though…
Chicago Blues Brothers at the Journal Tyne Theatre
1st February 2008
Being largely ignorant of the 80’s cult film, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this show. Initially I had the mistaken impression that it would take the form of a musical – with a story. Whilst not entirely untrue, I came to learn that the ‘Chicago Blues Brothers’ are actually a tribute band. That is, a tribute to the original Blues Brothers band formed by Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi for a comedy slot on Saturday Night Live in the US; the band that was to become the star of that famous film many people know and love.
The energetic performances and genuine charisma of the two lead characters, Jake and Elwood were a joy to watch. Belting out classic tunes from such legends as James Brown and Ray Charles, the pair truly owned the stage, dancing circles around it in the trademark Blues Brothers attire. The duo were backed by a superb singer who took on the challenging vocals of Aretha Franklin. And the musicians themselves were equally superb, as one would expect from seasoned professionals with such an extensive string of credits. Particularly impressive was their sense of fun and enjoyment – clearly talented individuals, they genuinely thrived on the performance and projected much of the light hearted energy which was the basis of the original Blues Brothers sketches. I was particularly captivated by two of the band members – the saxophonist and trumpet player – who bounded around the set causing mischief, at one stage popping up in one of the boxes to the delight of its occupants.
On arrival at the theatre I had been surprised that there really weren’t many people in the audience, and for that I thought the band would struggle to gain a rapport with the crowd. How wrong I was – the crowd responded heartily throughout, lapping up the humorous banter. And by the end, everybody was dancing in the aisles shaking a tailfeather or two. Indeed, the floor of the theatre was also shaking!
I was also impressed by the variety of fans that the show had managed to pull in. The audience spanned countless generations, and I was particularly surprised to see a group of teenage boys who had dressed for the occasion, Ray Bans and all. This really goes to demonstrate the timeless quality of the music featured in this production. The Chicago Blues Brothers is a truly entertaining show and it really is just a shame that there weren’t more people at the Journal Tyne Theatre to enjoy it.