A last hurrah for the Zoom play

Lockdown is about to end but some theatres are gripped by cabin fever and want to explore the two new formats created by the pandemic. One is the Zoom play with multiple actors, the other is the sequence of filmed soliloquys linked by a theme or storyline. Tim Crouch has directed a Zoom version of B.S. Johnson’s satire House Mother Normal, which is set in an old folks’ home in the 1960s. The inmates are detained in a communal ward run by a sadistic nurse, the ‘house mother’, who enforces a programme of singalongs and party games. The house mother carries a weapon and feels free to beat anyone who

Clever, funny and fearless: Good Girl at Soho Theatre online reviewed

A new work by Alan Bennett features in Still Life, a medley of five ‘untold stories’ from Nottingham Playhouse. The dramas were filmed during lockdown. Before the Bennett première, there’s a monologue by a wittering granny complaining about the price of cereal in a deserted food bank. Then, a banality-crammed slice of jabber between two van drivers eating lunch on a flight of stairs. This is followed by a ten-minute soliloquy from a precocious schoolgirl whose insights include, ‘my books are very heavy’ and ‘England is not part of Scotland’. A fourth cascade of tosh is parroted by a dim cab driver who trundles around the city bantering aimlessly with

The sermons poked out of the songs like busted bed springs: Van Morrison livestream reviewed

Over the decades, Van Morrison’s role within the tower of song has shifted from chief visionary officer to head of complaints. It’s not a promotion. The title track of his new album, Latest Record Project, Volume 1, is a rebuke to those who insist on living in an artist’s past rather than his present. A laudable sentiment, perhaps, but one less easy to put into practice when Morrison’s present consists of 28 tracks which hone an already ornery world view to a paranoic peak. When he isn’t griping about his divorce he’s peddling half-baked conspiracy theories, sneering at internet users and ‘media junk’, and bitching about modern music, crooked politicians

Josquin changed musical history – why don’t we hear more of him?

Stepping into the Sistine Chapel, the choir loft is probably the last thing you’d notice. ‘Loft’ is, frankly, a stretch for what amounts to a small alcove with a wooden bench, carved out of the chapel’s wall. But if you made your way up there and ran your hand over the stone you’d feel something unexpected. Etched into the wall in haphazard graffiti are hundreds of names. In most cases the carvings are all that remain of centuries of singers from the papal choir. But one is different: ‘JOSQUINJ’. Chances are it’s the only surviving signature of Josquin des Prez — a composer whose name and legacy are carved just

Watch kids go giddy in Niamey: Mdou Moctar live in Niger reviewed

The other week someone posted on Twitter a link to a YouTube clip titled ‘Family Lotus and D.J. Cookin’ at the Golden Inn, July 4 1981’. It showed a bunch of long-haired people on a makeshift stage in the New Mexico desert and a handful of people dancing around in the dust to the music, which was a weird, trippy, hyper-freaky form of electrified banjo music: ‘psychedelic bluegrass’, apparently. Watching the stream of the Tuareg guitarist Mdou Moctar was an unnervingly similar experience: he and his three-piece backing band were set up in the dust outside a friend’s house, watched by whoever came along. And Moctar’s guitar playing — blurrily

Moments of pure wonder: Folk Weekend Oxford reviewed

Has any musical moment extended its tendrils in so many unexpected directions as the English folk revival of the mid-1960s? In its beginnings, it was a source of pilgrimage for Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, who pinched his arrangement of ‘Scarborough Fair’ from Martin Carthy way back in the dim and distant past when the Beatles walked the earth. It spread into progressive rock and heavy metal (the black metal musician Fenriz, of the Norwegian band Darkthrone, told me recently that he considered Steeleye Span to be an important band in promoting pagan traditions). As it evolved into folk rock, it laid down a path for rock bands seeking to

Lloyd Evans

Why do theatres think audiences want Covid-related drama?

Hats off to the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. They’ve discovered a new form of racism. Some people say we have enough ethnic division already but in south-west London they’re gagging for more apparently. A new play, Prodigal, examines the prejudice endured by a Ugandan chap whose mother moved to London when he was a child and whose younger siblings are British. Family tensions depressed him. ‘You all made me feel ugly,’ he moans. The shifty whinger has returned home after his mother’s death in order to cheat his family out of an insurance pay-off. It’s remarkable to see a drama that reinforces a damaging stereotype but the author, Kalungi

The songs are still as fresh and appetising as a hot loaf: The Lightning Seeds livestream reviewed

One thing about a streamed festival is that the toilets are better than at the real thing. The other thing, though, is that it’s not really a festival. That’s not to knock the North Will Rise Again (TNWRA), which took place over Saturday and Sunday nights a few weeks back, the first featuring Liverpudlian bands and filmed in that city, the second coming from Manchester, with Mancunian groups. The simple fact is, you can’t replicate a festival online: what the best festivals offer is chance, when one stumbles across something wholly unexpectedly on some outlying stage at an unpromising time of day. Simple economics make that impossible for an event

Lloyd Evans

A fantastic online show of Euripides’s take on Helen of Troy

Everyone knows Helen of Troy. The feckless sex popsicle betrayed her husband, Menelaus, and ran off with the dashing Paris, which triggered the ten-year Trojan war. The Greeks were victorious but after sacking the city they went straight home again. So what was the point? Euripides’s play Helen takes a radically different approach in this Zoom production by the Centre for Hellenic Studies at Harvard. The script is crammed with enough twists and turns to make an entire Net-flix series but the running time is barely 60 minutes. Euripides opens with a narrative bombshell by revealing that Helen was absent from Troy throughout the conflict. The gods had spirited her

There’s the kernel of a good show in this copycat Hamilton: Treason the Musical reviewed

Copycat Hamiltons are everywhere. Lin-Manuel Miranda led the way by turning an unexamined corner of history into a smash-hit show. The latest antique subject to become a musical is the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. The script, by Ricky Allan and Kieran Lynn, ought to include those words in the title because they give vital data about the location, the historical period and some elements of the story. It’s a priceless asset. But they’ve tossed it aside and plumped instead for the vague, unsuggestive ‘Treason’. The best-known figure in the conspiracy, Guy Fawkes, gets a mention — as ‘Gwee-dough Forks’ — but doesn’t feature as a character. Another puzzling decision. Writers

Epic prog rock without the widdly-woo solos: Mogwai at the Tramway reviewed

You very possibly know the music of the Glaswegian band Mogwai, even if you don’t think you do. You might well have not listened to a note of their ten studio albums, their three live albums, or their four compilations. You may never have seen one of their pulverisingly loud live shows, or heard them on BBC 6 Music, their natural home. But you may well have heard them on TV, either as background music, or on one of their commissioned soundtracks — seven of them now, including the current Sky Atlantic mob series ZeroZeroZero. It’s hardly surprising that one of their soundtracks was for the French TV show Les

Lloyd Evans

This fabulous play is like a Chekhov classic: The One Day in the Year reviewed

The One Day In the Year is an Australian drama about the annual commemoration of the Gallipoli campaign in 1915. It was written in 1958 but it could have been dashed off last week. What makes it thrillingly topical is that the personality of Churchill and the truth about Britain’s colonial past are central to the story. The main character, Alf, is a veteran of the second world war who works as a lift operator. He detests the new Australia and he calls the younger generation a ‘stink lot of imitation Yanks’. For him, Churchill is the greatest Englishman in history. But his rebellious son, Hughie, describes Britain’s wartime prime

Perfect to fall asleep to: Good Grief reviewed

Good Grief is a new drama starring Sian Clifford who shot to fame as the older sister in Fleabag. The script by Lorien Haynes is described by the producers as ‘sharp, funny, brutal, irreverent and quintessentially British’. The action begins after a funeral where a handsome young Asian guy named Adam, chats to a fellow mourner, Cat, who looks about ten years older than him. Cat has set up Adam with a blind date that he didn’t enjoy. ‘I was peeling her off me,’ he says, ungallantly. But Adam’s sexuality is rather a puzzle. His wife, Liv, has died and he boasts to Cat about Liv’s endless romantic conquests. At

The music we need right now: James MacMillan’s Christmas Oratorio reviewed

The two most depressing words in contemporary classical music? That’s easy: holy minimalism. I know, I know. Lots of people love the stuff, and I wish them joy. But the notion that one simply jettisons the whole western tradition of struggle, of purpose, of wholehearted emotional argument — and that the greatest and most crucial of human questions can be answered by a mush of soothing stylistic mannerisms — well, I’ve tried and so far I just can’t do it. I can’t simply tune in and drop out amid a haze of Yankee Candle harmonies. I hear those static choral clusters and watery melismas, and it feels like being suffocated

Refined and dreamy: CBSO centenary concerts reviewed

For an orchestra to lose one anniversary concert may be regarded as unfortunate. To lose two? Welcome to 2020. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra gave its first ever concert on 5 September 1920. But that was only a warm-up, a sort of soft opening if you like. The big public fanfare came two months later, on 10 November 1920, when the all new ensemble descended on Birmingham Town Hall for an inaugural gala conducted by Sir Edward Elgar. The plan in Birmingham this year was to recreate both events, in lavish style. Well, life comes at you fast, doesn’t it? Go online, came the cry from 1,000 armchairs, but

What’s an art form that feels unpopular and pointless, but isn’t?

How did the universe begin? Did the great god Bumba vomit us up, as the Kuba believe? Or did we emerge, as the Navajo think, from a cloud of coloured mist? Or do we listen to the ancient Egyptians who thought the curtain opened on a giant cobra slithering across the oceans? Perhaps it starts with a computer screen: Milky Way wallpaper, a folder labelled ‘History_Of_Universe’ and a sharp intake of breath. That’s how one of the great video artworks of the 21st century begins anyway. This summer New York’s Museum of Modern Art uploaded Camille Henrot’s ‘Grosse Fatigue’ (2013) to its YouTube channel. It gives you the birth of

Lloyd Evans

Like eating 58 luxury chocolates: The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk reviewed

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk begins with a phone conversation between a pretentious art critic and a man called Marc. This turns out to be Marc Chagall, the expressionist painter, who was born in Vitebsk in Belarus in 1887. It would have been helpful to include his name in the title. Emma Rice, the director, relies on her usual blend of dances, songs and pretty lighting to tell her tale. She has very low expectations of her audience. The sad characters cry. The happy characters laugh. The amorous characters dance rapturously. Everyone sings a lot. The script consists mainly of plot points written in clunky, airless prose. ‘It was the

The genius of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue

I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue has just been voted the greatest radio comedy of all time by Radio Times, ahead of Hancock’s Half Hour and the brilliant Round the Horne. The first two episodes of series 73 (can you believe it?) are also the last Tim Brooke-Taylor recorded before losing his life to coronavirus earlier this year. Brooke-Taylor was part of the original cast of the self-styled ‘antidote to panel games’, which first aired in 1972 with Bill Oddie, Jo Kendall and the show’s deviser Graeme Garden as fellow performers (Barry Cryer joined during the first series and Willie Rushton two years later). When Brooke-Taylor’s voice broke through this

Lloyd Evans

Absorbing and beautifully designed: Jane Eyre reviewed

Blackeyed Theatre is another victim of the virus. Its production of Jane Eyre was midway through a UK tour, and due to visit China for a month, when the pandemic shot its plans to bits. Last month the show was revived on stage and committed to film. Kelsey Short (Jane) leads a team of just five actors who tell the story as Charlotte Brontë wrote it. The costumes, hairstyles and habits of speech seem authentically Victorian. The director, Adrian McDougall, has rejected the fashionable habit of presenting Jane as a rad-fem freedom fighter surrounded by grotesque male oppressors. His version reminds us how sympathetic the novel is towards men. Mr

How we became a nation of choirs and carollers

Between the ages of 15 and 17 I had a secret. Every Monday night I’d gulp down dinner before rushing out to the scrubby patch of ground just past the playing fields, where a car would be waiting. Hours later — long after the ceremonial nightly locking of the boarding house — I’d sneak back, knocking softly on a window to be let in. I’d love to say that it was alcohol or drugs that lured me out. It wasn’t even boys — or, at least, not like that. My weekly assignation was with Joseph and Johann, Henry, Ben and Ralph. My addiction? Choral music. Better than some and worse