Published: 17:16, 04 November 2009
| Updated: 17:16, 04 November 2009
THE Canterbury Festival came to a close on Saturday, after a fantastic fortnight of events including stand-up comedy, drama, classical music and jazz.
Members of the public have submitted the following reviews of some festival events:
Gulbenkian Theatre, Canterbury
A YEAR since the Aussie stand-up last came to Canterbury, Jim Jeffries returned bang on form and, with a mix of old and new material, ready to unleash his razor sharp tongue once again.
There’s no hiding the fact Jim’s material is highly offensive and not everyone’s cup of tea, but his ability to get an audience onside from the very beginning cannot be faulted. Hitting the ground running, he launched straight into a series of jokes about Michael Jackson’s death and the sensationalism surrounding the man, before his comic attention turned to among others, Katie Price, Peaches Geldof, fellow comic Michael McIntyre and even Stacey Solomon from this year’s X Factor.
But, arguably his best moments came through improvisation, when a persistent and foolish heckler attempted to take him on. If you’ve not managed to catch this one-man exhibition of loose morals then do so, before he is shipped back off to his adopted LA.
St Peter’s Methodist Church, Canterbury
EVEN the conductor was surprised by the astonishing volume of sound at the entry of the choir as they sang Handel’s Zadok the Priest after the long orchestral build-up. This was the final item in a carefully and interestingly crafted programme entitled Sacred Music down the Centuries, given by the Dolce Singers and orchestra as a festival umbrella event. The ambitious selection was managed well by the performers, with verve, commitment and enthusiasm.
The two-part Bach Cantata No. 75 - these works are a speciality of the Dolce Singers - began the first and second halves of the concert in which the soloists were Joanna Slater, Jane Farrell and Peter Cox, with Julian Podger especially excelling as tenor. The Credo from a Palestrina Mass meant that the choir has performed the whole of this work over their four concerts this year.
After a Tudor motet, Purcell’s two anthems, one accompanied by strings, filled the first part which ended with Handel’s Let the Bright Seraphim which showed Joanna Slater’s voice to great advantage, accompanied by Richard Deacon’s professional trumpeting.
The second half included three early and late 20th century motets, preceded by short contributions by anniversary year composers, Haydn and Mendelssohn, a charming string quartet movement and the vocal trio Lift thine eye to the Mountains respectively.
Floriane Peycelon’s violin playing, both in the quartet and as orchestral leader, was particularly appreciated by all.
The next concert by the Dolce Singers is on Sunday, December 13, at 3.30pm at St Stephen’s Church, Hales Drive, Canterbury. It will feature a Christmas Cantata by Bach (No 91), Christmas motets and unusual carols.
Romeo and Juliet Pantaloons
Bramley’s Bar, Canterbury
SHAKESPEARE has been introduced to novices by many a company, but this one, boasting four actors under director Stephen Purcell, must be one of the most refreshing and innovative. Mark Hayward sat with his guitar on this occasion beside a small platform backed by a flimsy red curtain, singing Shakespearean songs, while behind the curtain among bundles of makeshift costumes, the first actors climbed into their own.
This was the Pantaloons’ stage and green room, and if Hayward’s guitar was occasionally too loud in some scenes, he redeemed himself by sharing numerous roles with Caitlin Storey, Ross Drury and Martin Gibbons.
Though Romeo and Juliet remained constant, each actor was equally happy as several other characters. Into the necessarily abridged play were incorporated informal 21st century exchanges with the audience, badinage and anachronistic props such as water pistols and screwdrivers. Juliet’s nurse was copiously padded and played by various actors (including Romeo and Juliet) and Paris was a randomly victimised member of the audience, but not required to appear on stage.
The balcony scene began as a gap in the curtain behind a hand-held picture-frame, but the heroine ultimately stepped onto the platform to be with her lover.
Despite the boisterous levity of much of the production, love scenes were sensitively performed and tragedy enacted with compelling pathos; both silenced the audience and hilarity was entirely forgotten when, for example, the strikingly powerful death of Hercutio occurred. The company’s gloriously resourceful contrasting moods and its captivating involvement with the audience demonstrated how successfully to create a climate in which appreciation of Shakespeare can flourish.
Launch of Canterbury’s new Poet Laureate Patience Agbabi
Festival green room, Waterstone’s
WAITING in the festival green room for the launch to start I had a chance to read some of Patience Agbabi’s work which had been placed on displays around the room. Amazed by her work, I quite happily stood there for a good 10 minutes reading her poems. Drinks and nibbles gave it an informal atmosphere and encouraged people to mingle and discuss poetry.
John Prebble, programme assistant of Canterbury Festival, gave a short speech introducing Patience Agbabi and the laureate squad and also talked about the My Canterbury Tale project and its hope of bringing literature to the people.
It was an honour that Carol Ann Duffy, first female poet laureate, could be there to introduce Patience Agbabi. She had a great understanding of the dynamics of her work and was enthusiastic about Patience’s new role. I think everyone in the audience was quite in awe to see Carol Ann Duffy and it was encouraging to see her so passionate about Patience Agbabi’s work.
After hearing so much about Patience Agbabi I was keenly anticipating her talk. She is animated, enthusiastic and most importantly a brilliant poet. Her performance of her work was quite inspiring, both comical and captivating. It was clear that she was very excited about her new role and for us, the audience, it was clear that she would be perfect in this. The launch was an excellent introduction to our new Poet Laureate with the addition of introducing Canterbury’s Laureate squad: Andrew McGuinnes, Danny Rhodes, Gary Studley and Vicky Wilson, who all presented a selected piece of their work. It was a night of celebrating poetry in all its glory!
International Study Centre, Canterbury Cathedral precincts
CHAMPION of the pensioner and dubbed the “thinking man’s crumpet” by Frank Muir, Joan Bakewell’s combined attributes flowed when she climbed effortlessly onto the stage, instantly at ease with her audience, as they were with her.
Her lecture introduced her novel: her memories, how they inspired her, her research and how she bound it all together. The abundant information she imparted about the Second World War’s Battle of the Atlantic was instructive and stirring and what enhanced it was the incidental revealing of her own background.
Joan Bakewell was born into a working class Stockport family and won a scholarship to a girls’ grammar school which adopted a ship during the war - the background for her story. Her description of the genteely disciplined atmosphere there reflected the experiences of many women listening. There was much to laugh at - her confession of having been a “truculent and noisy” pupil and the girls’ view of boys as a separate, threatening species, but her huge respect for her dedicated spinster teachers and her nostalgia for the intense activities of adolescents in the absence of modern technology, shone through.
Primarily, Ms Bakewell felt awe when research made her aware of the immense changes between the year in which she set her book - 1942 - and the present - changes in education, politics and the nature of patriotism. Then, for example, if your house was bombed you went - though late - to school or to work next day. People needed each other.
Now, she concluded, we are more democratic but also more confused. Much is delightful about today’s youth, but how difficult they are to understand!
Vida Guitar Quartet
Shirley Hall, King’s School
THE concert started with a big surprise. The audience thought they would be attending a performance by the Zagreb Guitar Trio. But visa problems kept the musicians out of the country - so at short notice the festival was forced to organise alternative entertainment.
That was the bad news. The good news was that the substitute they found was the Vida Guitar Quartet of Mark Ashford, Helen Sanderson, Mark Eden and Christopher Stell (the latter also perform as the acclaimed Eden Stell Guitar Duo).
Perhaps mindful of guitar highlights over 300 years, which had been the promise of the original evening, the quartet played pieces ranging from Six Dances from the collection of 16th century French music printer Pierre Attaingnant through to Baiao de Gude by Paulo Bellinati, one of Brazil’s most accomplished contemporary guitarists.
Also on the programme was The Prayer of the Bullfighter, by Joaquin Turina; Love, the Magician, by Manuel de Falla; and pieces from de Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat.
All were played with the mixture of verve and delicacy which have garnered the quartet such a high reputation.
But perhaps the best was saved to last. The exceptionally lively and well executed Gypsy Dance from Bizet’s Carmen Suite ended a programme which seemed to more than compensate the audience for the absence of the original trio.
The evening finished on a light note with the encore. The musicians returned to the stage minus Christopher Stell, who appeared to have slipped away to change for their departure. Had he not realised what was happening? No, the minute the other three started to play The Third Man theme the lark was revealed - and back the third man came on stage for some jokey guitar work with his colleagues.
It was a good natured way to end a rewarding evening.
The Trondheim Soloists
CANTERBURY welcomed for the first time the critically acclaimed Trondheim Soloists to the Cathedral. This venue was perfectly suited for the classical performance as the vastness of the Cathedral really set the acoustics alive and it accurately captured the tender autumnal mood.
The Cathedral nave was both welcoming and warm and the simple use of chairs and music stands allowed for the audience to unite the beautifully angelic music with the mesmerising architecture of the Cathedral. Alone, the string ensemble was electrifying yet the performance really came alive as the dynamic and youthful trumpeter, Tine Thing Helseth joined them.
The sound of her grand yet simple instrument was pure and charming which delightfully contrasted the softness of the string instruments. Their pieces, Britten’s Simple Symphony and Neruda’s Trumpet Concerto, were stylish and played fluently, highlighting their skill and passion for performance.
The evening was definitely enjoyed by the wide range of audience members; a huge contribution to this enjoyment was the venue as many people took the opportunity to view the Cathedral in more detail during the interval and also after the performance. The friendly atmosphere created at this spectacular setting was innovative and unique and the same atmosphere would be difficult to create at a theatre or concert venue. The location was perfect as was the first class, stylish music from these gifted young musicians.
Sammy Rimington International Band
Festival Club St Alphege Church Canterbury
THIS festival gig was, unsurprisingly, a sell-out, since Sammy Rimington was returning to the venue by popular demand. In fact, at one point during the evening he said he hoped to be back next year and make his festival club appearance a yearly date. There could have been few in the audience who wouldn’t want that.
The evening got off to a rousing start with Tishomingo Blues and Willie the Weeper which featured Sammy’s great clarinet. From then on the tone of the evening was set, with New Orleans, blues and gospel numbers coming thick and fast. Sammy showed his skills on alto sax in When I Dance to the Mardi Gras, which finished the first half, along with the second half’s opening number Panama.
The Same Old Love, a slow New Orleans style song, was great, with Sammy on sax and vocals and there was some amazing clarinet from him on Silver Threads Among the Gold and Jerusalem Blues, the latter also featuring some great controlled trombone from Swede Fredrik John.
This is a truly international band of great musicians - Dutchman Emile van Pelt (piano), Britons Eric Webster (banjo) - who’s just moved to Germany - and Trefor Williams (string bass) and Dane Keith Minter on drums. Let’s hope they make it again next year.
Edward l Marc Morris talk
International Study Centre Canterbury Cathedral
MARC Morris has just written a book on Edward l, subtitled A Great and Terrible King. And in this very accessible talk he told us why he had chosen this epithet.
After giving us a resume of his early life before he became king, which included a crusade to the Holy Land where he was stabbed on his 33rd birthday by a Muslim assassin, he embarked on his reign in 1272 determined not to repeat the mistakes of his father.
He made new laws, some of which stayed on the statute book until the early 20th century, conquered Wales and built a string of castles, fought wars with the Scottish and French, subdued the Scots in 1296 and expelled all the jews from the country in 1290 after having first made them wear badges to show who they were - an action which caused him to be viewed as anti semitic in the 20th century .
By the time he died in 1307, Mr Morris said, his contemporaries described him as great, although to the Scots he was a cruel oppressor and the Welsh viewed him as ruthless. He was unpopular outside England.
Edward I was the most travelled king until Edward VII and spent a huge amount on wars and crusades. He fathered 18 children, 15 of them with his first wife.
Mr Morris told his audience: “Being terrible was what made Edward I great in his contemporaries’ eyes.”
Useful Donkey Theatre Company
Gulbenkian Theatre, Canterbury
THIS one-man show offered a compelling and totally absorbing evening as it charted the brief life and then death of First World War poet Rupert Brooke.
Told in flashbacks, this play, by Mark Payton, seamlessly wove Brooke’s poems and letters into an intense yet funny account of the poet’s life, offering insights into the person who was so much more than a soldier poet.
Jonathan Race portrayed Brooke perfectly and his character’s often complex life and thoughts came over well, as did his humour and confidence, emanating no doubt from his privileged life. But the play also showed a different side to Brooke, who was already popular with the public before his death.
We heard about his nervous breakdown, his travelling and writing and his amusing letters which showed a man with a well formed sense of humour, as well as his politics and complex love life.
A simple set consisting of a backdrop containing the names of dead servicemen, a suitcase holding Brooke’s letters, a kit bag and uniform added to the impact of the words, which were at times funny and revealing, at others poignant.
Race managed to convey the more interesting character which was Brooke, a man of more substance than the beautiful fallen soldier who died from blood poisoning and in the process provided a totally absorbing performance.
The Trondheim Soloists Canterbury Cathedral
IN the world database of happiness Norway scores seven 7.7 on a one to 10 point scale (the UK does not feature). It is not difficult to understand when combined with the magnificence of the landscape, the nation produces such beautiful music and musicians. We were treated to an absolutely wonderful programme of Norwegian and English music by perhaps one of the most joyful, dynamic and youthful ensembles performing music on the international circuit.
The Trondheim Soloists, 17 string players playing without a conductor, filled the nave of the Cathedral with a warmth and depth of sound which was quite remarkable, managing the acoustic as if this were their performance home. The works of Grieg were balanced by Elgar and Britten, all three composers’ evocative and nationalist voices revealed through the tight and energetic playing of the ensemble. This was achieved by some of the most overtly physical playing witnessed, each member reliant on each other’s gestures or by means of direct eye contact to achieve such perfection of ensemble. Here was the Norwegian happiness shining through as each player took obvious delight in the contribution each made.
To add to this wondrous palette of sound the ensemble were joined by the quite stunning trumpet soloist Tine Thing Helseth who even ignoring the fact she is only 21 must rank as one of the best players in the world. Her command of the instrument was absolute, the breath control and dynamic range staggering, resulting in a luxuriant sound. The audience was seduced by her playing of the Neruda concerto to such an extent that she encored with the haunting Oblivion by Astor Piazolla. Quite superb!
Spymonkey’s Moby Dick Gulbenkian Theatre Canterbury
THIS production interlinked excitement, comedy and drama, in this fantastic interpretation of the classic novel by Herman Melville.
The production took place at the Gulbenkian Theatre, with the theatrical production company, Spymonkey, providing a fresh spin on a traditional tale. The performance enrolled four actors, who subsequently assumed a variety of roles. However, the key concept throughout was that only the 'on stage director’-come-actor considered the production to be serious, which contrasted with the pulsating use of comedy all the way through.
However, Melville’s novel was by no means stuck to. In fact, the energy and exhilaration that was created failed to mirror any similarities that the story originally tells. Yet despite failing to tell the story of Moby Dick, the performance was very successful.
All members of the cast welcomed the interaction of the audience, with Ishmael being the ringleader of the performance, by ensuring that everyone understood what was going on, although in truth it was difficult to highlight a specific storyline, although this added to the colourful beauty of the piece.
The actors also managed to involve completely unrelated characters, such as the mermaid on the front of the boat, in order to occupy the only female member of the cast. Despite her irrelevancy she provided an excellent relief from the antics of the whalers.
To conclude, the performance, involved an excellent use of lighting and staging techniques, which helped paint the portrayal of this ridiculous adaptation and made the act vibrant and unique to any other interpretation that there could have been, showing that classic novels can, in a strange way, be turned into contemporary masterpieces.
Beethoven: The Last Master An Evening with John Suchet Shirley Hall King’s School Canterbury
A LARGE audience at the Shirley Hall were treated to John Suchet’s presentation of the life of Ludwig van Beethoven, with musical examples played by pianist Simon Mulligan. Suchet’s admiration for Beethoven was eloquently presented with a series of anecdotes and historical detail illustrated by short musical excerpts. The focus of the evening was on certain areas of Beethoven’s life – especially his relationships with friends and colleagues in Vienna.
Much has been written about Beethoven’s life-long aim to find a female partner and Suchet presented many interesting and amusing insights into this area of his life. Beethoven’s relations with colleagues was also considered (though not his ambivalent relations with Haydn); and of special interest was the unfortunate English violinist George Bridgetower who, but for a social gaffe, would have been the dedicatee of what became known as the Kreutzer Sonata. Beethoven’s preoccupation with his nephew Karl was a curious episode in the composer’s life, occupying years of litigation and emotional upheaval and offering some insights into his obsession with the need for a 'normal’ family life, whatever the cost.
Interesting though all this was, there was little sense of Beethoven the composer, or a clear idea of why Beethoven is, generally, so highly regarded in the art music world. Having a pianist of Simon Mulligan’s pedigree 'on tap’, it was an ideal opportunity to explore some of Beethoven’s compositional techniques and his development as a composer rather than be relegated to a relatively minor role presenting arrangements or truncated versions of some of Beethoven’s best known piano works. From a musicological perspective Beethoven’s compositional development covered several distinct areas, one of which, clearly, was the piano sonata - a missed opportunity to present at whatever level some insights in this area.
John Suchet has joined a long line of writers who have presented Beethoven as the embodiment of romantic ideals – the 'artist as hero’. Wagner was perhaps the most significant advocate of Teutonic hegemony in 'great music’ and many others followed his approach. It’s time perhaps for a more considered perspective on the composer as composer within a cultural, economic and political context with less emphasis on our contemporary obsession with personality and charisma.
Freddy Kempf Shirley Hall Canterbury
A PACKED Shirley Hall gave a resounding welcome to Freddy Kempf on his latest return to Canterbury Festival.
In the first half, devoted to Beethoven, the opening Sonata Pathetique was followed by a performance of the Waldstein Sonata. Here every facet of Kempf’s virtuosity was employed. There are few pianists who can articulate with such clarity at high speed without losing the shape and development and the sense of mounting Beethovian struggle in the opening movement. Here the sensitive shading of tone and subtle drops in tempi to gather pace again were compelling.
After a sonorous middle section, the Finale was eminently satisfying. The flute like purity of sound of the sustained melody was punctuated by increasingly violent episodes in the contrasting minor key leading to the mercurial prestissimo finale which brought a magisterial performance to a stunning conclusion.
Kempf’s affinity with Russian music was demonstrated with a powerful performance of Rachmaninov’s less well-known Variations on a theme of Corelli. This combined kaleidoscopic changes of tone and grand emotional sweep with typically Russian grotesqueries reminiscent of some of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. The emotional range, contrasting melodic and rhythmic patterns of two Chopin Ballades combined elegant simplicity with sparkling decoration and passionate intensity. A beautifully wrought Nocturne as encore brought a fitting end and an enthusiastic ovation.
Kempf is based in Berlin and we are fortunate that he re-visits so frequently the city where he launched his career.
International Study Centre
INTRODUCING himself as “not a hippy, not a tree-hugger”, and flashing occasional Green-mocking cliches such as “yoghurt underwear”, this affable Northern Irishman nevertheless described how he decided to take his family to Cornwall and try Green living. Forsaking his army, engineering and industrial background, he has so far succeeded in maintaining his planet-saving activities, albeit being stalked by a television crew.
Strawbridge is still persevering with wind-turbines, compost lavatories and a foot-thick recycled fleece to insulate his loft, and enjoying himself enormously, and used a teacherly collection of visual aids to convince his audience of the fact. He related without embarrassment cases in which he met setbacks produced by unsympathetic bureaucracy; for example if you keep a pig only you can kill or eat it, and you can use a wind-turbine only if your neighbours don’t object.
Audience questions required Strawbridge to admit that certain personal preferences governed some of his lifestyle, and to say that choices had to be made in cases such as flying, vegetarianism and using either worms in one’s compost sorted by energy-using machines abroad or those hand-sorted in the UK.
The lecture was friendly, amusing, encouraging but also comfortably laidback, possibly suggesting to the less committed that a degree of laxness was permissable. AS Strawbridge said of himself: “I don’t do guilt”.
The One and Many, Alistair McGowan, Shirley Hall, Canterbury.
If they were giving out prizes for value for money from this year’s festival, Alistair McGowan would surely qualify after managing to pack 120 voices into 120 minutes during his show.
(I wasn’t counting but I’m happy to take his word.)
No one in the audience could have been left in any doubt as to his genius for mimicry – the familiar voices came at a fast and furious pace, from his beloved world of football to TV presenters, writers and comedians. Sometimes half a dozen of them were combined into one single sentence, segueing seamlessly from the likes of Alan Titchmarsh into Alan Bennett and on into William Haig.
Occasionally the material didn’t quite match the quality of the impressions and there were one or two pieces which didn’t work and I suspect will be swiftly ditched, but there were also very funny and well observed cameos, from a parody of the verbose Will Self to Alan Hansen commentating on the Nativity.
The sequence combining Simon Callow’s Shakespearean speech with McGowan’s own imagined commentary on the text was a highlight, and, for cultural balance, we also had the other Simon – Cowell – judging himself as if he were an X Factor contestant.
This is the first time McGowan has been on tour, and there were moments early on in the show when he didn’t seem completely at ease on the stage, but that improved and the second half definitely felt more relaxed and confident.
And when he warmly thanked the Canterbury audience after the prolonged applause at the end of the evening it was no impression, it was the genuine article.
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