Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Theatre’

Tierra Lorca

Granada had so much to offer us. We only went for a few days and yet look how I can go on about the place on The Daily Norm for what must seem like an eternity! Two clear highlights of our trip had to be the stunning Generalife gardens, followed by those similarly lush gardens surrounding the previous family home of Federico Garcia Lorca. In both places, a truly poetic sensibility lingered in the air, making each of the senses stand on high alert as perfumes, colours and ambience were magnified in turn. Imagine then just how good it got when these two experiences came together. And that is exactly what happened when, on the night of my 33rd birthday, we headed to a flamenco concert in the Generalife gardens, whose choreography and artistic direction was entirely based on the life and work of Lorca. It was a match made in heaven.

Sitting in an audience of plenty, out in the open air on a warm balmy night in the Generalife gardens seeing before me an incredibly original modern flamenco spectacle based on the work of one of my all time favourite poets, I felt like a truly well-treated birthday boy. The stars were shining so brightly above us that they felt like part of the stage set, while in front of us, the stage itself was constructed from wings and scenery made from the perfectly erect rows of cypress trees which fill the gardens. For someone rather in love with cypress trees, this was a spectacle indeed, and I was particularly thrilled when the director of the show used various lighting effects to make the magnificent natural surroundings part of the show’s scenery.

The performance, with its mix of traditional and modern flamenco was a true spectacle, and the essence of Lorca transmitted was particularly engaging. The effect of the show was long lasting, and when finally we arrived in Marbella after our stay in Granada, I was moved to paint a small work based on the performance.


Tierra Lorca (2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

So the painting I post today is entitled, like the show, Tierra Lorca, for Granada is indeed the land from which Lorca came. With its simple shapes and a frame like the proscenium arch around a stage, this painting focuses on the line of poker straight cypress trees which so enthralled me, and the energetic movement of the incredibly agile flamenco dancers, illustrated by the rose like kinetic shape flowing onto (or off?) the stage. On the right, a black and white photo of Lorca reminds of the protagonist of the piece – a poignant memorial to a genius who himself put so many masterpieces on the stage.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at

Shakespeare 400: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

2016 is the year of Shakespeare. It is a festival which marks the great Bard’s birth, and his death, and above all things a celebration of his incredible works, masterpieces which have shaped generations, been interpreted and reinterpreted across the centuries, and which are a core of both British and global theatre. In exploring my own reinterpretations of his plays, some 20 years after I completed my first Shakespeare collection at the age of 13, I have moved onto my second work, painted in my new interpretative abstract style.

The play is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a comic frolic of cross-purpose love affairs, mischievous spells, sparkling forest fairies and of course the famous Donkey metamorphosis of Bottom, all set between the trees of a forest near Athens. That wonderfully magical forest setting forms the background of my work, a simplified design of vertical brown stripes, creating a sense of the darkness and depth of the forest which characterises the tone of that mystical Midsummer’s Night.

Midsummer FINAL

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

Central to the piece is a large yellow shape, representing the wall in the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, whose chink provides the only channel for communication for the two forbidden lovers after whom the story is named. Creating something of a play within a play, the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe (originally told by Ovid) is acted out at the end of the play by the theatre troupe from whom the actor-turned-donkey Bottom comes, and which likewise reflects the theme of forbidden love which is played out in the forbidden love between Hermia and Lysander.

It is in fact that disallowed love affair which sends Hermia and Lysander fleeing to the forest, where in their wake Helena, Hermia’s friend, and Demetrius, the man Hermia’s father wishes her to marry, follow. These four characters then become the pawn of Oberon and Titania, the King and Queen of the forest fairies whose own conflict results in a series of magical mischief which in turn results in the four youngsters of Athens variously falling in and out of love with one another while under the bewitchment of the “love-in-idleness” flower. That same juice is used to bewitch Titania, who in turn is caused to fall in love with the metamorphosed Bottom.

All this is represented by my painting of shapes and lines. The energetic lines which cross the canvas are those of Titania and Oberon, whose ballet of magical conflict weaves in and out of the play’s plot. Where they meet, and form shapes within their overlaps, these shapes represent the four young lovers, Helena, Hermia, Lysander and Demetrius. The grey triangle is of course the donkey head of Bottom, and when Titania’s “line” traverses the space, it is transformed blue, as though bewitched by Oberon. Meanwhile above Oberon’s line, the blue curve represents his faithful assistant Puck, the cheeky little fairy who mischievously applies the love-potion, and above the red triangle of Titania, the four little pink lines are her flying little fairy assistants, Peaseblosom, Cobweb, Moth and Mustardseed.

For those unaware of this brilliant play, the description above may bamboozle the mind. Where that is the case, please enjoy the painting instead, whose simplified lines and structure make, in themselves, what I hope is a thoroughly pleasing image for Midsummer’s Night.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at

Cabaret returns in style to London’s Savoy Theatre

I’ve always adored Cabaret and I really don’t understand why it has taken so long to come back onto the London stage. With its unforgettable score, including classics such as Wilkommen, Maybe This Time, and the title song Cabaret, and a vivid, contrasting, and unsettling historical setting of 1930s Berlin just before the Nazi stranglehold on the city made its sinister debut, the musical is one of the all time greats. Of course, the spectacle is engrained upon the minds of most musical-lovers in the guise of Liza Minelli’s show-stopping performance of Sally Bowles in Bob Fosse’s 1972 film spectacular, but as a theatrical showpiece, it is every bit as enjoyable. Why then isn’t Cabaret a long-running favourite like the composing team (Kander and Ebb)’s other musical great, Chicago? The mind boggles.

The current showing, directed by Rufus Norris, is sadly only set to run until 19 January – so when I heard that the show was making a swift return to London’s Savoy Theatre, I bought tickets as soon as I could get myself onto ticketmaster. The main attraction for many will be the 2001 Pop-Idol winner, Will Young, cast in the role of Emcee. Will Young was born to play this role. He was nothing short of superb in the overtly exaggerated, flamboyant and at times menacing role of the Cabaret’s Master of Ceremonies. Young’s voice, which shot him to fame as the winner of the first major talent contest of the current millennium, was predictably mesmerizing – he didn’t sing a note out of tune. His performance played notable homage to Joel Grey’s famous imagining of the role in the Fosse film version, but also brought the character to life with fresh and abundant energy, with greater versatility in adapting the role of cabaret host into an effective historical narrator of the social changes happening outside of the Cabaret’s doors but whose poisonous potency was leaking more and more into the lives of the Cabaret’s showmen as each day of the Nazi uprising went on.

Will Young as Emcee

Puffed up for “Money makes the world go round…”

Indeed, while Will Young was easily the star of the show, the other real success of Norris’ direction was his use of the pre-existing score and story line to import an altogether more menacing historical narrative into the piece. The terror which was trickling and then stampeding onto the once sexually liberal, permissive and hedonistic Berlin streets was tangible throughout the show, and this allowed the audience to partake in the very real tension which pervaded the age, climaxing in a stunningly poignant ending which, while not giving it away for those of you who may still have an opportunity to see the show, hinted at the terrorising fate which lay in store for the “alternatives” of Berlin’s Cabaret underworld once the Nazis took control. It left one both chilled, moved and surprised at the end of a show which, in previous manifestations, had maintained a fairly light-hearted atmosphere throughout. In fact in Fosse’s film, the only tangible reference to the fate of the Cabaret is the presence of a swastika armband subtly reflected in the mirror of the Kit-Kat club as the film’s credits come down. Here, the impending doom of Nazi destruction is far more prevalent. My favourite scene was probably Will Young’s performance of the Hitler Jungen marching song, Tomorrow Belongs to Me, in which Young, latterly affixed with the emblematic moustache of Hitler, controls all the surrounding dancers on huge puppet strings, the handles of his puppetry manifesting into large red swastikas which can only be viewed at the climax of the scene, when Young’s singing moves from a demure politicised aria into the increasingly erratic screams of Hitler’s rally rantings. Meanwhile the puppets’ choreography swings from sexualised movement to the regimented marching of gun-wielding soldiers – a brilliant testimony to the mass manipulation of the Nazi propaganda machine and the social changes which swept through the nation.

Michelle Ryan as Sally Bowles

For me, the only real disappointment was Eastenders actress Michelle Ryan in the role of Sally Bowles. Minelli’s shoes are big ones to fill, and the role of Sally Bowles must be a daunting prospect for even the most adroit of singer-actresses. And yet such is the complexity of the role – a second-rate show star with an overtly familiar manner hiding a destructive, and at times desperate personality – that it would come as a challenge which most actresses would relish. But in Ryan’s interpretation, that depth and complexity of character was insufficiently prevalent. The eccentricity of the characterisation appeared a little forced and contrived, while the emotional breadth of the role was only scantly explored. Sally’s big ballad, Maybe This Time, lacked the integral desperation of the character who gives the audience this rare glimpse into the true insecurities lying beneath the bravado. Ryan’s performance seemed more concentrated on hitting the high notes – which she failed to do with any confidence. And while her singing was not at all bad, it appeared to be heavily reliant on amplification so that it could carry with anything resembling gusto. I understand that theatres want to attract audiences by casting celebrity stars, but Will Young will have been enough to pull in the crowds here. Sally Bowles is a superb opportunity for a budding actress to make it big, and I think it’s a real shame that this opportunity was not afforded to a deserving young star in the making.

Overall, Norris’ Cabaret is a brilliant reimagination of this piece of classic musical theatre which is given new life and a potent historical re-examination. Its success is however highly dependent on the captivating role played by Will Young, and for that reason is inherently unstable as an ongoing production, with a quickly evaporating shelf-life and a near disaster if Mr Young catches the flu. Let’s hope he keeps on pleasing audiences right through to January 19th.

Twelfth Night at the Roundhouse: Laugh-out-loud funny with a Fawlty Towers twist

As a Director, being given one of Shakespeare’s best known plays to direct must be a bit like being handed a gift-wrapped life time of Christmases all at once: On the one hand you get the most spectacular array of gifts to play with, but on the other, there’s always the risk, as comes with the familiar, that the experience will descend into Family warfare, as new generations upset the old fogies in the corner, and traditional conservative values give way to brash commercialisation.

Nicholas Day as Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night. Photograph by Keith Pattison.

So it is with Shakespeare. You get those who turn up expecting ruffs and garters, men playing all the parts and the accompaniment of Greensleeves or some other suitably Tudor refrain in the background. Then there are those who want to see a familiar tale, with the same dialogue and characters, but retold in a totally reinvented way. I must admit to being one for the latter category. Admittedly, reinvented Shakespeare doesn’t always work. Shakespeare played out in the modern age can jar. Often directors are so intent on modernising that they lose all essence of the story they are reinterpreting. But the RSC’s latest offering, Twelfth Night, now commencing its London season at Camden’s Roundhouse, faces no such problems. Reinvented in a brilliantly original way, but losing none of the charm of the characters nor the tale, this new production, directed by David Farr is, in my refined Shakespearean experience, a phenomenal success.

Stephen Hagan as Sebastian in Twelfth Night. Photograph by Keith Pattison.

First off, the scenery. It’s brilliant. How to stage Twelfth Night, which on paper is part set in Orsino’s palace, part set in Olivia’s and part set on a beach? Well David Farr and designer Jon Bausor came up with an original solution. They set the play in a rickety old hotel, reminiscent of  Fawlty Towers age hostelries, with a rattling old lift, swing doors, a dusty set of pigeon-holes containing all the room keys, and old-style air con in the form of a single fan with ribbons attach so that they flicker limply in the air whenever the fan is switched on. This hotel setting is in turn amalgamated into a sweeping curved wooden floor, which at the foot of the stage dips limply into a pool of water before curving across the stage into a steep incline at the back of the space, upon which a bed, a bath and other paraphernalia hang steeply suspended, and over which the darting shadows of a ceiling fan spin and flicker. In short, there isn’t a straight line anywhere on the stage, and this gives the set a dilapidated charm perfect for the 70s/80s reinvention.

Cecilia Noble as Maria in Twelfth Night. Photograph by Keith Pattison

Meanwhile the hotel setting is adapted to both the homes of Olivia and Orsino respectively through subtle lighting changes, all of which give the impression that these people live on some expat seaside resort, where the drunkenness of Sir Toby Belch and co. and the electro-keyboard cabaret of Feste the fool seem perfectly pertinent, like the tragic faded grandeur of Benidorm, or Blackpool on a good day.

The best part of the set however has to be the pool filled with real water at the corner of the stage. It is from this pool that at the most unexpected moment, both Viola and a little later Sebastian, the shipwrecked protagonists of the play, emerge, gasping for breath, in the most fantastically realistic staging of a shipwrecked twosome. After this initial use of the pool, that same watery expanse is not forgotten. It provides the backdrop for some brilliant slapstick comedy by the likes of Bruce Mackinnon as a fantastically dippy Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and is a suitable space into which the phlegmatic Olivia can discard the unwanted gifts given to her by love-struck Orsino as she shuns his many indefatigable advances. True, the first few rows of the audience did get relentlessly splashed as the pool slowly emptied upon each dramatic entrance and exit by the actors, but at least they can’t moan that the play isn’t inclusive.

Emily Taaffe as Viola – Photo: Alastair Muir

Kirsty Bushell as Olivia and Kevin McMonagle as Feste in Twelfth Night. Photograph by Keith Pattison.

This brings me to the actors themselves, all of whom were brilliant, but with a few standout stars. Number 1 for me was Jonathan Slinger as the odious steward, Malvolio. The hotel setting worked best for Slinger’s character, as Malvolio went from palace porter to over-inflated Hotel Manager with a very heavy dose of small-man syndrome, complete with a clip board and name tag – you know the kind. This made for some genius comedy moments, not least when he travelled across the stage in a golf buggy marked “for management use only”  and as for the famous scene with yellow stockings and cross-garters – this production took the stockings to an all new level of risqué. It was laugh-out-loud hilarious. And it takes a lot to get me almost doubled over with hysteria.

Jonathan Slinger – brilliant as Malvolio – Photo: Jillian Edelstein

Second standout for me had to be Cecilia Noble as a diva-Queen Maria, the brilliant matriarch in amongst the drunken debauchery of Sir Toby’s den, wonderfully complicit as she was in the grand plan to bring the malevolent Malvolio to his shame. Brilliant too were the energetic Kirsty Bushell as Olivia, Bruce Mackinnon as Sir Andrew, and Nicholas Day as Sir Toby. I was a little disappointed by Emily Taafee as Viola, whose delicate Irish accent seemed a little strained in her efforts to be heard amidst the tomfoolery of her fellow cast members, and more often than not I found it difficult to decipher what she was saying. However that too is a problem with theatre (almost) “in the round” which meant that more often than not, we found ourselves facing the back of an actor whose voice simply didn’t carry.

Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Fabian

No matter – as is often the case with Shakespeare, the old english is frequently difficult to understand in its totality. Which is why the role of a director, in translating that hyperbolic verse into the modern age, is so important. David Farr’s Twelfth Night not only translated brilliantly, but it lived, breathed and pulsated energy and jocularity which was contagious across the Roundhouse audience – even the wet ones at the front.

Twelfth Night continues at the Roundhouse until 5 July.