I am very grateful that I got the chance to end my extremely long absence from the theatre, by attending the opening performance of HMS Pinafore, on Thursday 21st July; a truly memorable performance!
At first I was quite anxious, that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate the context and irony of the show, to the fullest extent, which was heightened by the much older audience I could see around me. Yet, I still thoroughly enjoyed myself and was rather amused by the comical performances from the male cast.
The realism of the performance was spot on, due to small actions, such as: torches used for light, cigarettes being smoked, actors changing on stage and the brotherhood displayed by the cast, which allowed us to accurately witness the lifestyle of World War II sailors.
Also, the vocals which filled the room, were very impressive and I was stunned by the variety of notes sung, melodically, by the male actors, who were even able to impressively imitate women for the show. I felt, that I further enjoyed the show due to the music and vocals, which helped to heighten the atmosphere and emotions being presented and in turn brought the whole show to life.
Personally, I loved this theatrical experience and would encourage fans of Opera, as well as people who are interested in history and class struggles, to hurry and watch this performance!
You will laugh, be immersed in breath-taking vocals, and emotionally connect with the talented male actors of the show, who are able to push aside gender barriers to create a performance of intimacy, presenting social injustice in our British class system. HMS Pinafore has helped me to fall in love with theatre again, and I can’t wait to return.
A Curve & De Montfort University co-production
Lyrics by Willy Russell
Directed by Julia Thomas
Our rating: ***
A musical written by Willy Russell in 1977.
A delightful entertainment that brought the vitality of youth to the studio of Curve.
Tonight’s show brought together the huge artistic skills of Curve with the energy and enthusiasm of the students of DMU in what was the sixth annual co-production marking the established collaboration between Leicester’s flagship theatre and one of the city’s two internationally renown Universities. Tonight cast included first, second and final years students from DMU.
The story is set in a Leicester school. Teacher Mrs Kay’s take her ‘Progress Class’ (teenagers who have been excluded from mainstream classes) on a coach trip to Skegness. Deputy Head, Mr Briggs, joins them on the coach. Their destination is the castle at Lincoln but along the way they make various stops – at the café, the zoo, the beach and the funfair. The trip proves to be a succession of problems for the teaching stuff. At the cafe they steal all the sweets; at the zoo they try to steal the animals. At the seaside, one of the teenagers threatens to jump off a cliff. They get back to Leicester having had a marvellous day out but the trip opened up tensions within the teaching staff and laid bare the difficult lives that the group of disadvantaged children faced both at home and at school. Two of the girls in the group perform a routine several times in which they reprise what they feel about the whole thing: It’s boring. For teacher Mrs Kay it is a chance for the kids to get an experience they otherwise would never get; for Deputy Head, Mr Briggs the errant group represents a constant threat as he constantly shouts at them to behave themselves. Like Blood Brothers the show highlights the lot of working class youth, its bleakness and hopelessness and the irrelevance of education to their lives. It does however have moments of poignancy and tenderness as well as flashes of humour that lighten the gloom. Willy Russell used to be a teacher and so had experiences of field trips. Russell is best-known for Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine, Blood Brothers and Our Day Out went to on become a firm favourite with audiences and with youth theatre groups.
The cast did an excellent job, singing, dancing and acting with real commitment and enthusiasm. It was interesting that the plot has been transposed to Leicester from its original setting in Liverpool and the stage set was decidedly simple. The young cast brought the production to life and gave a vibrant performance that captivated the audience.
Our Day Out runs at Curve from 28th to 30th April 2016.
Straight from the West-End to the East-End – East Midland’s DeMontfort Hall, that is – this is a concert, a movie and a musical, all rolled in to one. And it is with us for eleven days only. Showing from 15th-26th March before moving onto its next leg.
This stage adaptation of 1992s movie The Bodyguard just about has it all. Pyrotechnics envelope the stage seconds into the performance and the explosions do not stop there. Three-time Brit nominee and X Factor winner of 2008 Alexandra Burke as Rachel Marron greets the audience with a performance worthy of a Grammy as she provides the voice of Whitney, delivered with the energy of Beyonce, and it certainly sets the scene for the rest of the two-hour performance.
The story of Rachel Marron and Frank Farmer, based on the 1992 Warner Bros Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, is told beautifully, moved along by a sweet and nostalgic current of sixteen Whitney Houstin mega-hits, including One Moment in Time, Queen of the Night and I Have Nothing – all, of course, given the kiss of life by Burke’s contemporary and soulful delivery.
Global superstar diva Marron ‘s life is endangered by a crazed stalker convinced that they are meant to be together. Concerned for her well-being, her manager hires Secret Service Agent Frank Farmer (played by Stuart Reid), a no-nonsense, dry-humoured Bodyguard, renowned for his good work, to wrap her in the thick cotton wool that she requires. A man of business, versus a woman of freedom, and she initially resists his attempts to keep her safe – that is, until she falls in love with him.
Running parallel to this love story is the close yet fractured relationship between two Marron sisters, which becomes more apparent as the performance goes on. Nicki Marron (Melissa James) is modest ignored and slightly bitter, yet passive. Rachel is strong-willed and at the centre of the Universe. They seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, however they both have one thing in common – they both develop an ever-increasing interest in the Bodyguard. Is it to fill the overwhelming voids of emptiness that they are both feeling? The breath-taking duet of Run to You, delivered by the talented stars, may suggest so.
As the production rounds itself up to a finish, you can sense the almost unbearable anticipation of Houston’s most famous hit I Will Always Love You – and it does not disappoint. The Oscar aspiring Marron shines bright dressed head to toe in an Oscar trophy-esque gown, possibly mirroring her long-running Oscar ambitions which were a clear theme within the performance.
A very up-tempo and equally emotive performance delivered by Burke truly showcases her to have the full package – a singer, a dancer and an actress, displaying impressive choreography without even missing a note. This will be sure to leave you begging to ‘Dance With Somebody’.
Good Friday and Christians gathered in Humberstone, in Leicester city centre, for a celebration of Easter, the Christian festival that marks the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It was a bright sunny morning at Humberstone Gate began to fill with people. A large stage had been assembled at the Charles Street end of the wide pedestrian concourse.
On stage was a full live band and enormous puppets took part in the enactment of various parts of the easter story.
In a dramatic scene, an actor, playing the part of Jesus, was raised on the stage to portray the crucifixion.
The crowd was invited to join in with singing led by local musician David Lewis who had written a song especially for this event. David also sings with the local band Once Vagrant Souls.
A lively and inspriational performance was given by local artist Jonezy, the hip-hop singer from Loughborough who is well known in Leicester.
The act of worship was opened with prayers from the acting bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd John Holbrook.
A welcome address was given by the Archdeacon of Leicester, Revd Dr Tim Stratford.
Scenes from the Easter story were enacted by giant puppets, making it easy for people to see what was happened from a long distance away.
A dramatic moment in the event was when an actor, playing Jesus, was hoisted up on stage, on a large wooden cross.
Public performances of the Easter story have been taking place in Leicester since the middle ages.
The whole of Humberstone Gate was filled with people, on this bright Friday morning and the local radio station was there to provide a live report.
Sheets were handed giving the words of the songs enabling people to join in with the singing, led by local musician David Lewis and backed by a substantial live band.
One of the highlights of the event was a performance by local hip-hop artist Jonezy, who performed several of his own songs, with plenty of zeal and energy. This proved to be a hit with the crowd, for people of all ages but especially for the youngsters who were there.
On stage, actors and puppeteers portrayed scenes from the easter story including palm Sunday and the Crucifixion.
The event was organised on an inter-demoninational basis, drawing in members of the Anglican and Methodist faith traditions.
Jonezy performed his song I’m Alive, a positive vibe affirmation of the way he feels and a testimony to his Christian faith.
Music by Green Day
Lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong
Director and Choreographer Racky Plews
Fifteen years ago I was watching Billy Joe Armstrong and his punk band Green Day performing live at The Reading Festival. I have been loving their music ever since. The audience in Curve Studio theatre tonight also loved it; they gave the performers a standing ovation at the end of the show. It was one of the best musical events I have seen at Curve, or anywhere else for that matter.
So many things stood out for me in this show: all the cast members danced, sang and acted and played guitars; in fact in one scene they are all on stage playing guitars – en masse. You won’t see that again in a musical in a long time. The cast were very ably supported by a live band; some of the band guitarists were on stage, on a platform above the main performance area. The three principals sang songs accompanying themselves on guitars.
The moment that stole the show for me was Matt Thorpe singing Boulevard Of Broken Dreams; the Green Day song that has a special resonance for me; I quoted from the lyrics in my novel The Trench, were its sentiments epitomised what rock bands often seem to feel about working in live music. Not what the song is about but hey it seemed to fit anyway.
I walk a lonely road
The only one that I have ever known
Don’t know where it goes
But it’s home to me and I walk alone
American Idiot is a punk rock opera; its roots could be said to lie in the rich soil of Tommy, The Rocky Horror Show, West Side Story, Jesus Christ Superstar and various other productions that have broken the mould of musical theatre over the past few decades. Green Day’s album of the same name was released in 2004, the musical being premiered in 2009 at The Berkeley Repertory Theatre prior to the show moving on to Broadway.
Tonight’s show at Curve’s Studio was absolutely marvellous. The standing ovation given by the audience at the final curtain was well deserved. The singing was fantastic, the dance was massively good, the acting amazing and the whole show a complete sensation.
American Idiot was exciting, colourful, dramatic, engrossing, poignant, enjoyable… no shortage of adjectives to describe how good it was. The show opens with the cast singing and dancing to American Idiot, the hit title song Green Day’s album of 2004. A number that fizzed with unbridled vitality.
Well maybe I’m the faggot America.
I’m not a part of a redneck agenda.
Now everybody do the propaganda.
And sing along to the age of paranoia.
Everyone in the cast was good but Matt Thorpe (who played Johnny) was pretty amazing; Tunny (played by Alexis Gerred) was electric and Amelia Lily (as Whatsername) wonderful, Steve Rushton as Will, superb. The performance of the cast sizzled with energy. These guys really rocked out bringing it all to life on the stage.
We did not see the drummer Alex Marchisone until he came on stage for the curtain call right at the end. But the guitarists were visible for most of the show which was great because seeing them playing live gave the whole thing an extra resonance.
The show tells the story of three friends from a suburban area, following different journeys in search of their true selves. Through the songs they express their love, their rage and their struggles. The theme of the show includes a preoccupation with TV and a screen is lowered over the stage from time to time. The story line revolves around the lives of Johnny, Will and Tunny. Will’s girlfriend Heather becomes pregnant. Johnny wanders through the city streets pining for a woman he saw in a window. Tunny enlists for the army. Johnny starts to shoot heroin. Will feels trapped in life as a father with a baby and Tunny is shot while on active service.
Well there is a lot more to the story and I don’t want to spoil it for you; I just want you to see it. American Idiot is one of the best productions I have seen at Curve – and there have been a few of them. The show’s eight day run in Leicester is a great shame, for its brevity, but it’s on tour and many other audiences in many other towns will want to see it. The show is moving on to several other cities in the UK between now and July.
This article was published in Arts in Leicester magazine on 23rd March 2016; it has been transferred to this blog.
Arts in Leicester visited Loughborough today (18th March 2016) to look at the work of The Loughborough Music School.
Loughborough Music School is part of the Loughborough Endowed Schools (LES) and is housed in a purpose-built building opened in 2006 by the composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.
My host and guide today was Richard West, Director of Music. We visited several of the rooms in which classes and rehearsals take place; these are quipped with an impressive number of pianos, keyboards and drum kits. Richard showed me the IT room; again, another impressive display of equipment including computers that the students can use to compose music and edit the results.
The school also has a large hall suitable for staging concerts. Musical instruments were everywhere: guitars, cellos, harps… clearly this was a place where almost every imaginable musical instrument had a presence. Learning to play an instrument – any instrument – fosters a range of skills and a variety of mental facilities; these are things that stay with individuals throughout their lives.
The school focusses on the classical music repertoire but other genres also find a place in the many bands and orchestras populated by the students, including jazz. It’s not always about violins; there is plenty to suggest that students with an interest in rock music will have their needs met. These days musicians use a large array of things; gone are the days when only wood and cat-gut were all there was; now we have a a bewildering array of electronic gadgets, wires and boxes, all harnessing the new technology that has come to represent modern music-making.
The building had a light and airy feel to it; bright corridors and well lit study rooms made it welcoming and cheerful. The school is the second biggest specialist music department in the country, Richard told me.
I asked Richard about the career prospects of the more musically inclined students. The School provides musical education for all the students attending the LES. Only some of these will plan to make music their chosen career. It is clear that musical education needs to start at an early age and the classes begin at Kindergarten age, at around three years. Students continue to benefit from the work of the music tutors through to sixth form.
It was particularly good to see so many full drum kits; I have never seen so many in one room before. Pianos are, of course, stock in trade for music education and the school has the distinction of being one of a select number of Steinway partners.
Being able to see inside this prestigious school was a rare privilege for me. I was delighted to be able to attend the recent LES concert at the De Montfort Hall and was impressed by the high standard of performance shown by both the choirs and the various soloists who were on stage that night (see below for the link to our article.)
Music is an important part of the school curriculum; it always has been, even since the middle ages. There are many reasons why this important; not least the fact that the UK’s export of music is one of the country’s highest revenue earners. The music industry in this country has been thriving for several years and out-pacing several other sectors of the economy. Making music is good in itself but, as many teachers have found, it aids other aspects of children’s lives both personally and educationally. One more thing about music in schools is interesting, I think, it is a leveller. Children today come from a wide range of cultures and communities and all of them have their own musical traditions; being able to learn about the music of other cultures helps young people to appreciate and understand each other.
Loughborough is a town with a growing international notoriety in academia. Its University recently was voted top for students in the UK league tables and its contribution to sporting excellence has been known for a long time.
LES is not the only educational institution locally that has won positive acclaim. The work of Leicester College has also received many accolades, for its music courses and for its work in sound technology. The notable singer and songwriter Howard Rose, for example, is cited as one local musician to have benefited from its work.
We have also written about the work of De Montfort University in music education, technology and innovation (see the link below to our article about Arts Education.)
Loughborough Endowed Schools spring concert
De Montfort Hall
Tonight’s programme would have been a challenge for a professional orchestra; but 400 school students gave a performance of which many professional choirs and orchestras would have been proud.
Students aged from nine to eighteen delivered an impressive selection of musical delights; in the first half works by Sibelius, Chaminade, Grandjany, Warlock, Karrick and Monti; then, in the second half, Mozart’s Requiem.
What we saw tonight was just how much music education has advanced over the past forty years. This country has no shortage of opportunities for young people to demonstrate their musical talent, from the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain through to regional and city orchestras and in the choral sector The National Youth Choir, several for children and the many church-based groups and choral scholarships of our prestigious academic institutions. For young musicians there is much to aim for. What stands out is that, here in Leicestershire, we have a music tradition that clearly rates highly at a country-wide level.
Tonight’s programme began with Alla Marcia from the Karelia Suite by Jean Sibelius. This well-known piece is one of the great lollipops of the classical music repertoire. A delightful confection of jaunty melodies offers a good start to a programme, although, I suspect, the youthful musicians were not quick to warm up, as some of the playing tended to be somewhat plodding and lacked the vigour and sparkle that you would hear from more seasoned performers. Even so, the piece rolled off the stage with satisfying precision and commitment. Flautist Emilie Harlow joined the orchestra for Cécile Chaminade’s Concertino. Now in year 13 at Loughborough High School, Emilie has performed with the National Schools Symphony Orchestra and is a member of the National Youth Wind Orchestra. Emilie gave a delightful and engaging performance of the 1902 work by the French composer whose concertino is an examination piece for flute students. Few would contest that Harlow passed with flying colours.
The stage was rearranged for the next piece, performed by the 16 or so members of the string ensemble. Harp soloist Aoife Miralles joined them for Marcel Gandjany’s Aria in Classic Style giving a vibrant and charming delivery of this piece by the French-born American composer. This was followed by three movements from Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite based on Renaissance dance tunes.
The items on tonight’s agenda were introduced by compère Peter Sargeant who talked about the music while the stage was re-organised for the various groupings of the first half. After the string ensemble had left the Symphonic Wind Band came to the stage, comprising flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, saxophones, trumpets, horns, trombones, euphonium, tuba and percussionists. They began with Brant Karrick’s Memor Vita! A poignant piece written in memory of a boy who died of cancer at the age of 14. In it, some of the musicians sing acapella, part of a song – How Can I Keep From Singing – unusual if not unique for a wind ensemble but they all sang beautifully. This lively celebration of life is full of vibrant rhythms and engaging tunes. The combination of wind and brass produced plenty of ear-pleasing harmonies.
More stage adjustments saw a range of percussion instruments taking centre stage in readiness for the arrival of Jake Baum for Monti’s Czardas arranged by Gert Bomhof. The rich and exhilarating rhythms of Hungarian dance music were vividly and dexterously brought to life by Baum on the xylophone, marimba, vibraphone and glockenspiel. Some might remember selections from this piece in Lady Gaga’s song Alejandro. The melodies we heard were memorable; tunes we have often heard before. In the fastly-paced Friska, Baum was able to show off his considerable talent as a percussionist. The piece illicted sustained applause and ended the first half of tonight’s programme.
The story behind Mozart’s Requiem will be remembered by some from the film Amadeus (1984) directed by Milos Forman, written by Peter Shaffer and starring Tom Hulce. In it we saw the 35 year-old composer, on his death bed, dictating the score of his Requiem to Salieri, his life-long rival. Terminally ill, the young composer died before he could complete what many would say was his greatest masterpiece, a work shrouded in myth and fable not least those manufactured by the playwright Alexander Pushkin and the composer Rimsky-Korsakov. Started in 1791, but never finished by Mozart, The Requiem Mass in D minor was conducted, in tonight’s performance, by Richard West with soloists Isabel Bridgeman (soprano), Joanne Edworthy (mezzo-soprano), David Morris (tenor) and Nicholas Crawley (bass-baritone). On stage all tiers of the choir stalls were filled with the members of the LES singers, serried ranks of children and youths supplemented by adult singers.
This great work of musical genius is a daunting challenge for experienced choirs and orchestras; to see it performed by a group of school children and students is astonishing and to hear it performed with eloquence and fully-powered solemnity is nothing short of stupendous. The whole evening was highly enjoyable and impressive but to take on the Requiem and deliver it with considerable ability is quite an achievement. The LES brought together their choir, Chesterton Cantamus and Burton Choristers, Loughborough Singers, and LHS’s year 7 singers. The Introitus and Kyrie won over the sizeable audience and then the Dies Irae. With its urgency and feverish string parts, the forces required from the choral parts are challenging, to create that sense of dread needed by this incredible piece of musical brilliance. Just as the Rex Tremendae calls for considerable resoluteness and stature to capture its feeling of majesty and awe. Tonight the huge forces marshalled in the DMH were magnificent and the concert was inspiring.
I was very pleased that the LES invited me tonight; being there was not just very enjoyable but revealed how far musical education has come (since I was at school) and what a wealth of talent there is in Leicestershire. A lot of my time is spent watching teenage musicians playing guitars and singing pop and rock songs; so, to see those of a similar age-group playing orchestral instruments and being part of a choral tradition was an exhilarating change to my usual routine. What tonight did for me is to re-affirm that our county has a deep fund of skills and abilities in its younger population than is acknowledged or recognised at national level; not as much as it deserves to be.
The LES Music School has added to its reputation for excellence the accolade of being an All-Steinway partner, one of only 175 establishments worldwide and of 22 in the UK (only 13 of which are independent schools.)
Leicester is a city of festivals; every weekend, and sometimes during the week, there is always at least one festival in Leicester and Leicestershire.
Music, culture, dance, comedy… there is always an event going on to temp you into the city or out into the county.
Here is our our selection of what to expect in 2016
Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival is underway now; drawing people into Leicester’s venues, from all over the country.
The festival season kicks off at the end of May with the Glastonbudget festival held over the May bank holiday weekend. A host of bands and singers will gathered on the festival’s many stages to bring you all the best of new music from today and the most memorable tunes from yesteryear.
A huge variety of stalls were gathered together on the ground floor of Curve today for Local Offer.
On the foyer stage local artists Jonezy and Lacky C were entertaining the crowd with their hip-hop songs, joined by Freitas from Leicester. The hip-hop stars appeared courtesy of Xcluded.
Local Offer drew in displays from a wide range of organisations including Attenborough Arts, Changing Places, Disabled Childrens Service, Excluded Ltd, FTM Dance, Healthwatch Leicester, Leicester Centre for Integrated Living, Vista, Austism East Midlands and many, many more.
This a free event designed to showcase the services and support in Leicester City provided for children and young people with Special Educational Needs or Disabilities (SEND), aged 0-25 and their families.
The Foyer Stage saw performances by local hip-hop artists Jonezy, Lacky C and Frei and a DJ set by Harri Giorgio (a Leicester music producer.)
Jonezy appeared courtesy of Xcluded music management.