Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony

As part of the coverage of the Finnish Independence anniversary this year, I'll be cropping up across the BBC talking about Sibelius. The first couple of instalments are up now - the first is a clip discussing how Sibelius's theatre music relates to his wider output: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05hdg06 If 10 minutes is just too long, then... Continue Reading →

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream

I've just had a short film released by the BBC! I am incomparably excited about this. It's available from BBC Arts - I'm talking about why we should listen to history as well as look at it, exploring Max Reinhardt's 1933 production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'.  

A year without Shakespeare?

I’ve just come back from the Sage Gateshead, where I was at Radio 3’s Free Thinking Festival for my last official outing as a New Generation Thinker. It was a little different to the essays and discussion shows I’d done so far: we all had to come up with a “controversial idea” for an academic... Continue Reading →

Music Into Words

Music Into Words is a series of events set up by music bloggers and journalists to discuss the future of writing about music, whether online or off. I will be speaking at the next event, on Sunday 12 February (13:15-17:00) at Morley College in London. Alongside Katy Hamilton, Tom Hammond, Kate Romano, Adrian Ainsworth, and... Continue Reading →

Review: Tom Stoppard on text and performance

A review of Sir Tom Stoppard’s lecture as Humanitas Professor of Drama at Oxford University.

The Oxford Culture Review

How much “Shakespeare” is there in a Shakespeare play? A facetious question, perhaps. But it’s a question that is peculiarly specific to the theatre — how much of the author can one distinguish in a play text? Unlike the novel, with its possibilities for narrative stretches where the author’s “voice” can emerge, in plays the author is heard through the lens of an actor playing a character. And that’s before you take in to account the director, stage and sound design, costumes, lighting… Of course, in poetry and prose the author can also adopt masks and assume characters, but the presence of multiple voices is more acute when dealing with live events such as plays. This relationship between page and stage, and the position of the playwright’s authorial voice, provided the subject for Sir Tom Stoppard’s first lecture as the Humanitas Visiting Professor of Drama at Oxford University. With characteristic…

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Review: ‘The Rape of Lucretia’

On staging The Rape of Lucretia.

The Oxford Culture Review

Seventy years after its première at Glyndebourne, Benjamin Britten’s opera The Rape of Lucretia is still deeply unsettling. Its small cast of eight singers and thirteen musicians places very little distance between the audience and the unfolding of Lucretia’s rape and subsequent suicide onstage. And unlike operas such as Das Rheingold where the idea of rape functions symbolically, the actuality of sexual assault tempered in some way by using it as a metaphor for the violation of nature and plundering of gold, in Lucretia the rape itself is unavoidable. The act of sexual assault is written into Ronald Duncan’s libretto, with the physical and musical drama entirely revolving around the central scene between Tarquinius and Lucretia.

Added to this, Britten’s music and Duncan’s libretto are deeply problematic. There are no clear-cut villains or heroes in their setting, and the women themselves are given very little agency in comparison to…

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Review: ‘Macbeth’

How do you stage Macbeth with only two actors? Review of a great performance from Out of Chaos at the Old Fire Station in Oxford.

The Oxford Culture Review

Staging a well-known Shakespeare drama in his anniversary year is beginning to seem something of a madness —and it’s only March. Having been given Hollywood treatment last year by Justin Kurzel, Macbeth is being, or has been, staged at the Young Vic, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, London Globe…the list continues. With this amount of coverage, how do you bring something new to a play as famous as Macbeth?

Out of Chaos’s answer to this, rising admirably to the challenge, is to cut the running time by half, and the number of actors to just two. For a play as full of people (and corpses) as Macbeth, this is no mean feat. By necessity, such a pared back version of the text has to be extremely innovative to stop it falling apart at the seams. And with slightly less charismatic actors than Troels Hagen…

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Review: ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’

Review of a stage adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’.

The Oxford Culture Review

The Picture of Dorian Gray has hardly been short of adaptations. Oscar Wilde’s only novel, first published in 1890 with significant deletions on account of being considered “indecent”, has since been transformed into films, musicals, plays, audio books, and provided the inspiration for various other forms of fiction, including graphic novels and erotica. St Hilda’s College Drama Society is the latest company to put Dorian on to the stage, in a production currently running at the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building. The immediate problem for dramatic adaptations of this book is that so much of the novel’s brilliance is in the style of its prose, not just in its characters and plot. In this respect, their new script fared relatively well, using original dialogue from the novel to capture much of Wilde’s wit and lightness of touch. The rest of the production, however, did not make the most of the…

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