MAKLENA | London, Camden People’s Theatre

Theatre - Recommended

Following rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe, Night Train Theatre Company’s production of Maklena marks the English-language premiere of this Ukrainian play by Mykola Kulish, which was banned by the Soviet authorities in 1933, and lost to the world to decades.

The play might be nearly a hundred years old, but director Maria Montague’s brand-new translation is fresh as a daisy. The themes of unbearable poverty and revolution, seen through the eyes of a young girl trying to make sense of the world, remain charged and provocative.

In addition to the remarkable text itself, Night Train use puppetry and physical theatre to brilliant effect. The text veers unpredictably between moments of guttural, suicidal misery and light, madcap joy. The cast of six guide us through in a strange, sepia world, as Maklena retreats further into her fantasies, pushing her understanding of communist and capitalist ideologies to the extreme.

The music by Oliver Vibrans is rich and evocative in a way few theatre scores ever manage, and help us connect even further with Maklena’s harrowing world.

The rediscovery of such an important play, in such a perfect production, is a remarkable theatre event. A must see.

For five performances only at the Camden People’s Theatre, 17 – 21 July 2018.

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FESTIVAL: MONTREUX JAZZ FESTIVAL 2018

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One needn’t seek a special excuse to visit the idyllic shores of Lake Geneva: the natural beauty and tranquility of the region are reason enough. However, if you are looking for a bullet-proof justification for a trip, the musical delights of the Montreux Jazz Festival are just the ticket.

The festival has been growing in diversity, confidence and reputation for over half a century and the result is what Quincy Jones describes as ‘the Rolls Royce of all festivals and the absolute best place for musicians to share their gifts with the rest of the world’. The 52nd festival encompasses a dazzling array of ticketed concerts as well as more than 250 concerts, DJ sets, and workshops on six stages — a generous offering by anyone’s standards.

In terms of musical expectations, Q himself is an excellent reference point as Montreux is a meeting point of all sorts of genres. This year, Deep Purple rub shoulders with Mils Frahm. Massive Attack follows Young Fathers. Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin , Christian Scott and Derrick Hodge do the jazz thang on one stage while Queens of the Stone Age rock out on another.

Light on the ‘jazz’, heavy on the ‘festival’: you know where the party’s at in Switzerland, 29 June – 14 July this summer. Explore the full programme here and the free listings here.

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WHISKY: THE GLENLIVET CAPTAIN’S RESERVE

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The relationship between Scotland and France – the Auld Alliance, as it’s fondly known north of the border – is one of history’s greatest bromances. It was forged around a mutual distrust of England. Legend has it that William Wallace, of Braveheart fame, even went to France to fight the English there, a sort of medieval hooligan’s holiday. Two centuries later, Mary Queen of Scots grew up in France, then illuminated Scotland with Gallic glamour before the English rather unkindly cut off her head.

But now we live in more civilised times, and relations with the Auld Enemy are somewhat less murderous. Franco-Scottish relations need a newer, nicer sense of purpose.

Glenlivet, one of Scotland’s most storied distilleries, may provide an answer with their new Captain’s Reserve. It is a marriage of classic Scottish single malt with Cognac, a spirit so quintessentially French that Napoleon took barrels of the stuff into exile.

The process for making Captain’s Reserve is much like any Glenlivet at first, using American Oak and sherry casks. The twist comes with final months of maturation in Cognac-steeped barrels, imparting a richer, complex finish. Although this technique is common with bourbon and sherry casks – and similar examples involve port, rum, madeira, and even IPA – Glenlivet are the first major single malt distillery to offer a Cognac finish.

The Prickle can report that the experiment is a success.

We first tasted it with a few drops of water. The nose exudes honey, vanilla, dried apricot and raisins, giving way to a taste of rich jam, cinnamon pastry, even a faint hint of aniseed. Finally, the finish lingers, nutty and deep – unmistakably elevated by the Cognac. It’s good stuff – certainly a cut above Founder’s Reserve, Glenlivet’s (perfectly respectable) entry level Speyside – tasting more luxurious than its lack of age statement might suggest.

Ignoring purist tuts, Glenlivet encourage the use of their single malts in cocktails. To prove the point, they treated the Prickle to a dazzling concoction from Bobby Hiddleston, mixologist-patron of Swift Bar, mixing Captain’s Reserve, plum sake, Poire Williams and even a delicate spray of homemade lemongrass spritz. For those of us with simpler tastes – or less exotic drinks cupboards – the Captain’s Reserve could also form the basis of a cracking Old Fashioned. But you can’t go wrong the even more old-fashioned way – whisky with just a little cold water.

Captain’s Reserve is named after Captain Bill Grant Smith, a grizzled Highlander who fought in France in WW1 – the French link that inspired Glenlivet to use Cognac casks -before directing the distillery from commercial wilderness to global success. This oaky-sweet marriage of whisky and Cognac would surely have pleased the Captain. And even Mary Queen of Scots herself. But at £45-48 RRP you won’t need a royal budget.

The Auld Alliance seems alive and well – and now we have a drink with which to toast it.

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PHOTO GALLERY: ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO | Jazz Cafe, London

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A full house, came saw and above all listened to The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s 75-minute set at the Jazz Cafe on Monday. What first stays in the mind is the opening. All seven musicians stood stock-still and silent and faced in the same direction. The way they instantly brought a sense of shamanistic ritual, of respect, of dignity into a chatty club had more than a touch of magic. And they held that mood. Starting with a deep thrum – pulseless long notes from the deep from the basses… and then the cello of Tomeka Reid started to skitter over them.

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Then there were the moments of surprise: like Hugh Ragin’s trumpet intoning a simple melody with the classically purest of timbres.

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Or Don Moye (later to be introduced to the audience as “philospher”) on congas and then at the drum kit laying the basis for the deepest of all known grooves

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Or Roscoe Mitchell’s circular breathed-multiphonics on soprano sax and on Ab sopranino sax giving way to clarity – a passionately intoned melody on alto.

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This group demonstrates in a way that perhaps no other can the contrast between asserting the freedom of the individual and the depth of a shared commitment. It is a powerful message. And Monika Jakubowska’s photos portray a lot of that intensity, that concentration – and that joy. \

Check out more of Monika’s photographic work here.

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Too Many Zooz | Ronnie Scott’s, London

Music review

I had two tickets for the rave at Ronnie Scott’s last night. Queues all down Frith Street for the fusion trio beloved by Beyoncé, and a regal appearance from the Zooz themselves some forty minutes after their scheduled slot began. They walked on stage wordlessly, and after a small pause began one of the most relentlessly paced and technically extraordinary shows I’ll probably ever see.

Masters of fresh, fierce, discordant revels, they whipped the crowd into a frenzy of Englishly awkward head-banging and shoulder rolls, with their carnival speed, Leo Pellegrino’s commanding gestures, and the trio’s intense improv. Laconically fronted by the furiously concentrated Matt Doe (trumpet) who never once removed his sunglasses, Leo Pellegrino (baritone sax, mainly) left me open-mouthed as he leapt, thrust, and cavorted over the stage, barely stopping for breath as he produced the sound of six saxophones from one. Operating on a register from squawk to didgeridoo, he was supported and punctuated by Doe, and all this was bound together by David Parks’ uniquely ferocious drumming. It was rebarbative, insouciant New York invention at the top of its game. Looking around, I saw a packed house full of the possessed, with a few bewildered – or frankly incredulous – faces, still ensnared by sheer bedazzlement.

Since they’ve just been signed by the Ministry of Sound (as a thoughtful Parks broke his silence to tell us), I’m curious to see where the stardom that must, surely, be about to overtake them will direct their music. Commercialisation seems the last thing that could happen to this unique trio – especially when they pulled an unexpected card from their sleeve halfway through. A glimmer of romance (with a swing rhythm and insistent drumming, naturally) suddenly shone out when Doe sat down at the piano to take on Pellegrino’s sparkly black alto sax. Wherever they’re going next, long may Too Many Zooz keep surprising us.

Too Many Zooz are touring the UK throughout May: https://www.songkick.com/artists/8221618-too-many-zooz

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JOEY DOSIK | The Jazz Cafe, London

Music review

If we had things our way, there would be a weekly (daily?) residency of Vulpeck at The Jazz Cafe.  Their live shows are a funky wonder to behold and we’ve made no secret of it: ‘the most mind-blowing group on the planet‘.  Instead, visits from the Vulfs are a rarity to be savoured and devoured upon delivery.  For those whose appetite just cannot wait, dinner will be on 16th May served in the form of pianist Joey Dosik.  His golden vocals and irresistible hooks make for a potent recipe.

This is Dosik’s biggest London show to date and it’s certain to be a fun one.

Be sure to grab one of the few remaining tickets.

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THE WORM | Katzpace, London

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Hot on the heels of his New Zealand transfer of COFFIN, Elliott Langsdon brings a short ‘Work-In-Progress’ production of his new dark dramady to Katzpace in a strictly limited run of just five performances, all about “worming” one’s way back into a relationship. COFFIN received a phenomenal reception in London, and one New Zealand critic called it “the funniest play I’ve ever seen”.

“I’ve always been drawn to Machiavellian characters like Iago,” says Langsdon, “and this play is almost a little bit like a modern-day Othello in structure, but crammed with some absolutely mad humour and surreal moments. We’ve been having an absolute ball in rehearsals. I’m really excited for people to see it.”

Meet Stefan (Sam Goodchild) and Mica (Mica Williams): two young millennials just trying to get through their hectic lives whilst maintaining their relationship and paying off their student debt. Meet Sam (Sam Stay) and Faye (Melissa Coleman): Stefan and Mica’s best friends, and closest allies, as things seem to be going south. Meet Ben (Robert Frimston): Mica’s ex, down on his luck. Returned from the past. And ready to “patch things up”.

With adult themes, strong language and nudity, audiences can expect to do plenty of worming and squirming of their own. If COFFIN is anything to go by, Elliott Langsdon is one to watch, so get on down to Katzpace and get ready for THE WORM.

3 – 7 March 2018. Book online for £10 tickets.

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PARADE | Pleasance Theatre, London

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Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts is renowned as one of London’s leading universities for musical theatre, with many of its graduates moving straight into jobs in the West End. The chance to see a cast of these talented students, in the final year of Mountview’s three-year Musical Theatre BA, is an opportunity not to be missed.

Parade (1998) — with sophisticated, Tony Award-winning music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown — tells the true American story of how in 1913, factory owner Leo Frank was falsely accused of rape and murder, revealing horrific, institutional antisemitism.

The last major London production of Parade was in 2011 at the Southwark Playhouse, so Jason Robert Brown fans are going to be thrilled about the chance to see it again, even in a strictly limited run of just five performances.

Award-winning director Josh Seymour worked at the Donmar Warehouse for many years as assistant and associate director, as well as more recently for the National Theatre and West End. It will be exciting to see his take on this dark, jaw-dropping musical. So come to Islington and join the Parade.

Parade runs at the Pleasance Theatre 7-10 February 2018.

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TÜMANZ: TÜK18 | Leicester Square Theatre, London

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This is sketch comedy as you’ve never seen it before: camper than a Gilbert and Sullivan away day; it’s a sort-of musical; it’s topical satire; costume quick changes; very silly accents. There are also sketches that stretch from the traditional to the inexplicably macabre.

Yes, Unleash The Llama are back with an hour of dystopian sketch-comedy about a totalitarian dictatorship not too far away (cough—America—cough). Saul Boyer (pictured: psychotically grinning) and Joe Bence are being forced to rewrite and perform all known audiovisual media to the exact specifications of their televisual overlord, Big Dick.

The opportunity to see these two sensational performers in their idiosyncratic wünder-show cannot be missed. And in the West End, no less. (Well — an intimate fringe venue with limited tickets. But still. Good enough for Audra McDonald.)

TüManz: TüK18 is likely to end up leaving you Tü shook for words on the first viewing, so you might have to go Tü timez, but not more than three (they are only doing three dates). Best to go see this dynamic duo now, before the TV commission and the arena tour begins.

TüManz TüK18 is on at the Leicester Square Theatre 18-20 January 2018. Tickets £10.

Milestones Presents: THE SOUNDTRACKS OF JOHN WILLIAMS

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Wednesday 3rd January 2018 19:00-23:00

The UK has gone John Williams mad in 2017, with many concerts over the country celebrating the iconic film composer’s 85th birthday, including an entire BBC Prom dedicated to exclusively to his work.

John Williams’ scores are known for being enormous and lush, with gargantuan orchestras packed to the rafters with percussion (think Star Wars; Harry Potter; Jurassic Park; Indiana Jones; E.T.; the list is endless).  John Williams has a close association with the London Symphony Orchestra, known for the original Star Wars soundtrack recordings, often reaching up to a hundred musicians for those real fortissimo moments.

How exciting then that the intimate, rock-gig-esque setting of The Jazz Cafe in London is putting on a show of John Williams’ music but with only a twenty-piece ensemble.  It will be fascinating to appreciate Williams’ breathtaking music up close and personal; and not swimming in reverb but where we can appreciate the individual musicians.

At the John Williams BBC Prom, about 1,350 people stood in the Royal Albert Hall’s central “arena” for the best views, while a further 4,000 sat around the outside.  The Jazz Cafe has only standing room, for 420 people maximum, with a restaurant on the upper circle if you do fancy sitting.

It’s all set to be a cracking gig, and a chance to hear John Williams’ stunning music like never before.  The John Williams Prom sold out well over 5,000 tickets in a few days; make sure you get your tickets for this intimate gig asap.

For more information and to book tickets, visit The Jazz Cafe website.