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Saturday 19 March 2011

Flare Path by Terence Rattigan, directed by Trevor Nunn at the Theatre Royal Haymarket London, 3.5* out of 5

A Lincolnshire guest house near an airfield during World War II is home to the Royal Airforce aircraft crews of whom Winston Churchill will say after the war: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” The men live their either alone or with their wives. At the centre of the play is the recently married Patricia (played by Sienna Miller). She has fled a long lasting turbulent with famous matinee idol Peter Kyle into a whirlwind marriage with a young socially awkward fighter pilot, Teddy. But Kyle and Patricia are still in love. At the same time the young aircraft pilot cannot believe his luck, that an attractive sophisticated woman like Patricia would have married him. When Kyle, aware that his status as a Hollywood actor is coming to an end, comes to the guest house to claim Patricia back she has a difficult decision to make. The stakes will transcend personal considerations. 

The guest house also houses other couples: a dare devil pilot Polish count recently married to an English barmaid and a gunner and his wife from a no nonsense, salt of the earth working class background.

The play was written in 1943 when a talented, intelligent and sympathetic observer, such as Terence Rattigan was himself part of the ground personnel of the Royal Airforce. His play is a study of the heightened emotional state brought about by a war situation. With intelligence and humour he has written a sensitive study of human character which, of course, is also a bit of a propaganda piece. Rattigan shows us how “situations make a man and not a man a situation”. For man here also read woman.

This is a play that will appeal to an English audience more than to overseas visitors, (although I would have said something similar about the recent film The King's Speech, which has struck a chord with American and other audiences, too.) As a somewhat ironic observer of English attitudes to the World Wars, I could not help being reminded of parodies of this type of piece by British comedians and sitcoms such as 'Allo 'Allo.

Given such caveats, Flare Path is worth a visit. Trevor Nunn's direction is excellent as always. There are also very good acting performances with Sheridan Smith as Doris, Countess Skriczevinsky and James Purefoy as Peter Kyle giving the strongest performances. Sienna Miller is quite credible as the attractive, cool Patricia, a lady who would make a worn out Hollywood matinee idol and a young RAF pilot with anxiety attacks lose their heads (and hearts).

The caricature-like role of the Polish Count Skriczevinsky is not an easy one to perform seriously, but Nunn would have done better to go for a Polish actor rather than rely on an unconvincing attempt of an English actor to play a Polish count.

The theatre was full and the audience very enthusiastic. On this showing This play will have a successful West End run.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Cabaret Russe by Amateur Theatre group Coup de Théâtre at the Café Lebewohlfabrik in Zurich, 3.75*out of 5

Cabaret Russe is a show by Coup de Théâtre, a French language amateur theatre group in Zurich. The show consists of a series of sketches and songs that celebrate Russian literature, poetry and song and their connection with France through a series of sketches and performances, in a cabaret setting.

A number of those associated with this production are friends and relatives of mine. Having declared this personal interest at the outset, I aim to make this review as unbiased as any other I have written.

While the performers and the creative team are amateurs they have brought into their midst some professional and semi-professional skills. The setting in the Lebewohlfabrik (not far from Lake Zurich in the Seefeld area) with tables and chairs takes the audience immediately into a cabaret setting and so does the polyglot master of ceremonies Jaroslav Kilian at home in French and Russian. The use of dance and projection of pre-filmed backgrounds works very well. The sketches and songs include familiar and less familiar pieces which span the period from the 19th century to today. This could have easily become a very disjointed programme; yet the production by Sylvia Radzyner and direction by Marie Noëlle Befferal ensures a natural flow from one subject to another from one time period to the next. This is helped by the inventive choreography (by Theresa d'Oliveira). The theatre company's enthusiasm shone through in the performances and infected the audience. The musical numbers are a highlight of the show with the semi professional bass-baritone Ted Kremer performing in English and Russian covering the genres of Musical (Fiddler on the Roof) and opera (Eugene Onegin). The piano accompaniment by Pavel Posdishev is of professional standard. The undisputed highlight of the show are the musical pieces performed and filled with life and grace by the Russian soprano Yelena Bulavko, whose singing and acting would not be out-of-place in any high quality professional theatre ensemble. Her performances of Russian chansons would by themselves already justify the price of the ticket.

An enjoyable evening. If you are in Zurich you could do worse than dropping in at the Café Lebewohlfabrik for a fun evening or afternoon There are two more performances on 12 March at 8 pm and on 13 March at 5pm at the Lebewohlfabrik, Fröhlichstrasse 23, 8008 Zurich.
Reservations +41 (0) 43 533 51 10

Thursday 3 March 2011

The Theatre of Life: Brüno and Galliano - Gaddafi and Sir Howard Davies

When Sacha Baron-Cohen created his fictional character Brüno, the flamboyantly gay fascista fashionista reporter on Austrian Youth TV, was he aware of any role-models he had met on the cat-walks of Milan, Paris, New York or London?

If so John Galliano, top fashion designer for Dior would qualify as a candidate for inspiring Brüno's political underpinnings, although he seems to totally lack Brüno's charm, intelligence and heart of gold. Witness Galliano's performance in a Paris Brasserie.

Here's a bit of Brüno:

And here's a bit of Galliano:

So what would a PR campaigner suggest to Galliano to rehabilitate himself? A call to the Director of the London School of Economics and ex-Bank of England Deputy Governor Sir Howard Davies might be a first step.

Sir Howard Davies featured extensively as a character in David Hare's didactic play about the origins of the 2008 Banking Crisis “The Power of Yes” at the National Theatre. The play is prophetically aptly named for Sir Howard in particular, as it turns out.

Galliano could propose to Sir Howard to fund a new LSE Research Centre on Racism and Antisemitism in the Luxury Industries. After all the LSE already has named its Sheikh Zayed Theatre Lecture Hall after a highly unsavoury character, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan. The Zayed centre at Harvard university had been closed down previously after it had come out with outrageously antisemitic and holocaust-denying publications. This however was no hindrance for the distinguished LSE committee ensuring compatibility between funding of research and maintenance of academic standards.

The LSE also provided civil rights research funded by Saif-Al Islam Gaddafi, and awarded him a PhD. Sir Howard Davies himself worked as an advisor to the (Gaddafi's) Libyan Central Bank. You can hear Howard Davies' explanation on how this happened in this BBC radio interview:

More recently, the LSE has put Professor Martha Mundy and Dr. John Chalcraft, two vociferous leading members of the anti-Israel Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign in charge of its Middle East Centre. The latter is vaunted as a “centre of excellence” for research on all countries in the Middle East and aims to build ties with universities there. Unfortunately, “due to an oversight”, the map of the Middle East in the Centre's brochures omits the country Israel. Whether this is just a rather extreme form of divestment or a lack of geographical research skills we may never know. Perhaps it is just a clumsy attempt to curry favour with the Middle East Centre's funders from the United Arab Emirates.

A recent report on the Middle East Centre by the organisation Student Rights, which fights extremism on UK university campuses can be found here

So what does anti-Zionism have to do with Antisemitism, you may ask? Not much, perhaps; except in the mind and policies of LSE's Director where anti-Zionist funding from Arab sources can be balanced by funding from people “of Jewish origin”, such as George Soros. Here is an original quote from a recent interview the LSE Director gave the Times Newspaper:

The biggest donor to the School in the past year is George Soros, who of course is of Jewish origin. We operate, I believe, a very balanced view.” 

The theatre of life. We may want to give it a miss but, whether we like it or not we're part of this production.

John Galliano