Monday 20 February 2017

Puppet based opera, science, some comedy and a gangster classic on the big screen...

13th February - 19th February 2017

Another quite varied week, which also included the first visit to a venue which we'd heard a lot about but had never been to, so...

The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare The Freak

Miss C was a little under the weather on this chilly Monday night so a solo visit was the order of the night for this one.

I first became aware of this intriguing production via a Facebook post which showcased the trailer for this show, (it's available via the link above to the official site for this outfit), which teased only snippets of what might be expected, however it's faintly macabre feel and the prospect of some original delivery via puppetry was enough to draw me in.

The venue itself is billed as the oldest music hall still operating in London, transformed in Victorian times from a sailor's pub, (being sited so close to the docks), it became a successful destination for entertainment and has been restored and maintained, despite basically everything surrounding it being renovated.

On a pedestrianised walkway alongside a couple of blocks of flats and a school, it's a real sight to behold as you can see in the photo.

The shabby chic Wilton's Music Hall...

The interior continues the trend of maintaining the shabby, but authentic finishes with the auditorium itself also showcasing the bare plaster finish and the surrounding upstairs balcony comprising of carved wooden facades. There's also a bar with food available.

It also seems it has a history of being a location for filming too.

Some of the films shot here...

The downstairs stalls area is comprised of removable seats and the balcony sits around the side walls and rear of the room, not overhanging half the stalls like a traditional theatre would.

For this show I had a dead centre front row seat, and quite reasonable it was too at about £20, but I wanted to make the most of the visual aspect of the show.

Even the flyers are well designed...

The show then... Wow!

An original opera performed by a cast of four, (two puppeteers and two singers), and two musicians, a pianist and a violinist. For this performance the piano was played by the composer also, Tom Poster which was a bonus.

The story is based on the true story of a French man called Tarrare, who legend has it had an insatiable appetite and could swallow anything, as it seems he also had a dislocatable jaw to facilitate bigger items such as cats and babies...

His story takes us from his early adulthood in a freak show, through a stint as part of the Revolution and his subsequent life in a hospital, (asylum?), where he eventually succumbed to his problems.

The entire opera is performed in English by two male singers, who sing in a higher register for the couple of female characters, whilst the puppeteers flawlessly perform the body movements and lip sync the puppets to the words.

The puppets themselves have a haunting sunken cheeked, eyeless, (except Tarrare), look to them, created from what looks like linen type material and are just torsos with arms and heads, operated by one or two puppeteers at a time to carry out various tasks, which look incredibly natural and fluid.

One way to describe it is like if Tim Burton filmed a Muppet opera.

From the performance, to the story, to the music and singing, to the design of the set and characters this was a pure work of art. I'm most interested in seeing some of the puppet team, Wattle & Daub's other shows.

It's finished it's run at Wilton's Music Hal but is touring a few places and is an absolute must see in my book!

We Need To Talk About Physics

So onto Wednesday's event, some Physics this time courtesy of self confessed 'bubble scientist' Helen Czerski.

Tied in with the publication of her latest book 'The Storm In A Teacup : The Physics Of Everyday Life' this lecture was based around how everyday items or occurrences are actually complex scientific processes when we actually take the time to look at what something is doing and what causes it, specifically it's basis in the world of Physics and it's theories.

It was an engaging talk which took things we consider to be mundane daily things, such as a cup of coffee sloshing around when you walk with it, and explained in an accessible way the Physics based reason for why it does it and how it's behaviour is not as unpredictable and random as it may first appear.

Czerski herself is used to presenting, having produced several programmes for the BBC on several scientific subjects and this was evident in her straightforward but entertaining delivery.

Another worthwhile event, just one of many which the Royal Institution hosts, and was an evening well spent, I also learnt some stuff too.

Adam Buxton Videos His Old Bits

On Thursday night we took our first of two trips to the BFI this week to see BUG host Adam Buxton presenting a non-music video based show, centring around his audio visual skits, presented as a cross between a stand up show and a trawl through Buxton's laptop.

Those not familiar with Buxton's brand of comedy may find it all a little nuts, which it is, however it's also ridiculously funny.

He produces spoofs of films, music videos and adverts, makes up bonkers songs with surreal lyrics, (one of which is entirely made up of pictures of bald male celebrities as he sings the names Moby, Michael Stipe, Bruce Willis, Michael Chiklis and John Malkovich), and re-edited footage of his kids to crate hilarious vignettes.

One of the best sections involved a Keynote presentation which he used to tell the story of when he had an earache and eventually went to his local A & E department as it got so painful, only for his local BBC news station to report a few days later about how the hospital's A & E department was overstretched due to people attending with silly reasons including 'shampoo in the eyes and earache...'

The videos came from a variety of other shows such as the BUG shows at the BFI, his appearance on '8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown' and other stand up appearances, and was being filmed for a digital release at some point.

His skills with video editing are good enough that his creations are really well done and this chance to see so many along with Buxton's off the wall presenting was a joy.

GoodFellas and Lorraine Bracco Q & A

We were back at the BFI on Saturday night for an event in their current Scorsese season, a screening of the classic GoodFellas, (in a nice 4K presentation), followed by an extended interview with Lorraine Bracco.

Surely most people who are interested in this film will have seen it, a prime example of Scorsese showing off not only his directing prowess, but also his ability to extract amazing performances from the cast, co-screenwriting duties and his skills when it comes to putting together a soundtrack.

The print looked fantastic, nice a film like, and seeing it on the big screen for the first time really meant that the achievements in camerawork and cinematography really stood out, for the instance the famous Copacabana scene is a masterwork of steadicam and would have been cut together with CGI nowadays.

De Niro, Liotta and Pesci are outstanding, and Bracco as basically the sole female lead is phenomenal.

The film spans three decades and the soundtrack is a pure joy too, framing every scene perfectly.

If you haven't seen it before, do so, as not only are the cast at the top of their games, it's a another classic of Scorsese's repertoire too.

The BFI film notes are always a welcome addition...

Following the film itself we had the pleasure of Lorraine Bracco in conversation about her experiences working on 'GoodFellas' and working with Scorsese.

She didn't disappoint, she was entertaining, witty and larger than life, and surprisingly candid about the shoot itself and her views on how the violence in the film, (and her subsequent work in 'The Sopranos), is portrayed by the audience.

Bracco in full flow...

She also recounted on how Scorsese works with actors and his willingness to listen to ideas from his actors, how the film was shot almost entirely in the order it plays out on screen, (no mean feat in itself), and how it was entirely filmed on location, no sets used at all.

The floor was then opened to the audience to ask some questions, and thankfully this was one of the better ones we've been to, (some people ask the most ridiculous, irrelevant or plain embarrassing questions), and actually managed to glean a bit more info, particularly getting a bit more detail on a scene which Bracco contributed an idea to which made the final cut, (for those familiar with the movie, it's during the scene in which she ask Henry for some spending money and how she goes about getting a bit more...).

It's always interesting to hear people speaking at the BFI, and especially so when they're as entertaining and engaging as Bracco, a great event.

That's all folks until next week, which has a little theatre with a Hollywood great and some new exhibitions at the Royal Academy. Until then, it's a big city with plenty to offer, so get inspired...

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