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Nympho Kidnaps, Brat Grows Up, Serial Killer: London Stage

August 06, 2012

'L’heure espagnole'

Stephanie d’Oustrac and Alek Shrader in "L’heure espagnole" by Ravel at Glyndebourne. The opera is part of a double bill with "L’enfant et les sortileges." Photographer: Simon Annand/Glyndebourne via Bloomberg

It’s a law of the theater that once an evening starts badly, it never gets better.

The U.K. country-house opera company Glyndebourne has broken that law with its new Ravel double bill. The first opera “L’heure espagnole” (The Spanish Clock) is about a nymphomaniac wife who shoves men into grandfather clocks so that she can smuggle them into her bedroom.

It’s an amusing piece, though you wouldn’t guess that from Laurent Pelly’s labored production. He sets the action in a provincial Spanish clock shop, circa 1970.

There are hundreds of fussy and uncomical props, including a life-size bull, a washing machine, and a dress hanging on the wall. Oddly, the dress goes up and down of its own accord sometimes. It’s meant to be cute.

Stephanie d’Oustrac displays an attractive sound and good comic skills as the increasingly desperate wife, and deserves a better setting for her talents.

From the sub-mediocre to the superb. There’s a 180-degree swerve after the interval with Pelly’s magical production of “L’enfant et les sortileges” (The Child and the Sorceries). It tells the story of a spoiled brat (soprano Khatouna Gadelia) who tears his storybook, smashes his teacup and rips the wallpaper in his nursery. When those objects come to life to rebuke him, he learns something about growing up.

Boyish Soprano

Designer Barbara de Limburg creates an enormous table for the first scene. The boyish Gadelia, dressed in shorts, sits on an equally huge chair, banging her head on homework. She’s dwarfed by the massive, threatening surroundings -- an ideal way to set up the action of the opera.

The costumes are appropriately hallucinatory. Coloratura soprano Kathleen Kim (as Fire) appears from the nursery fireplace dressed in red and orange gauze.

She’s perched on a seesaw contraption that makes her fly around the room as she pours out her trills and scales, terrifying the young child. It’s terrifically well observed. Two cats (Elliot Madore and Stephanie d’Oustrac) slink around the child without quite touching him, just like real felines.

The opera ends when the scared boy treats the leg of a wounded bird in the garden. In a moment of emotion, we see he has learned compassion.

It’s like Wagner’s “Parsifal,” minus the sexual repression, and about five hours shorter.

Conductor Kazushi Ono steps up his game after the interval too. In the first opera, his baton-waving is as messy as the visuals. In the second, he creates a charming web of sound, full of atmosphere. Ratings: ** for “L’heure espagnole and ***** for “L’enfant et les sortileges.”

Curious Incident

Mark Haddon’s book “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is clumsily adapted for the stage at the National Theatre.

It’s about a teenager called Christopher (Luke Treadaway) who has Asperger Syndrome. The novel presents his first-person narrative as he tries to solve the killing of a dog.

The tone of Simon Stephens’s script zigzags drunkenly. One moment Christopher’s social worker (Niamh Cusack) becomes a narrator as she reads out chunks from the book. The next, a framing device is shoehorned in: Christopher’s school is going to make a play out of his book -- this may be the play we’re watching. The characters start referring to themselves as characters in a play.

Treadaway has the unnerving focus of a high-functioning autistic adolescent, and sometimes Marianne Elliot’s in-the- round staging has lively energy. When Christopher imagines a journey into space, the cast members carry him on their shoulders and the auditorium is lit with twinkly stars.

At other times, the use of the ensemble to represent trains or objects becomes too much like student-drama, and drags the pace of an already trudging show. Rating: **.

‘London Road’

There’s another chance to catch the extraordinary “London Road” by Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork at the NT.

In 2006, a serial killer began murdering prostitutes in Suffolk, southeastern England. Blythe went there to conduct interviews with the local community. She returned at regular intervals to cover the locals’ reaction to the trial and conviction of Steve Wright.

Keeping every authentic hesitation, repetition and “er…um,” she shaped the found material into lyrics for Adam Cork to set to minimalist music. The result is an innovative show: part musical, part documentary, part speech experiment.

Teenage Giggles

There are moments of high comedy. Two teenagers giggle at the excitement the murders have generated. (Their laughter is faithfully reproduced by the cast, which moves between musical speech and semi-spoken music with facility).

There are moments of poignancy as streetwalkers describe their efforts to get clear of drugs. Ultimately, the locals bond to form community groups to tackle their problems.

Occasionally Rufus Norris’s spare, simple production feels slow, and the documentary-style insights can be repetitive. As an innovative way to meditate on the fragile links holding a group of people together, or keeping them apart, it has extraordinary and uplifting power. Rating ****.

“L’heure espagnole” and “L’enfant et les sortileges,” in a double bill, are in repertoire at Glyndebourne. Information: http://www.glyndebourne.com or +44-1273-815000. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” and “London Road” are in repertoire at the National Theatre, http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/ or +44-20-7452-3000.

What the Stars Mean:
*****     Excellent
****      Very good
***       Average
**        Mediocre
*         Poor
(No stars)Worthless

Muse highlights include Greg Evans on television.

(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on this story: Warwick Thompson, in London, at warwicktho@aol.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.


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