Tuesday, 27 October 2009

A Tale of Two Theatres.

Went with Level 1 on a whistle stop tour of the Royal Opera House this afternoon, made doubly entertaining by the eccentricities of the guide, who seemed petrified that we'd get lost in the rabbit warren of corridors, studios and offices hidden away behind the vast auditorium and stage and rather panicked whenever we seemed to dawdle or want to explore.

I have to admit I'm not drawn to the Opera - to me it has a musty Victorian air, as extreme as an intoxicating potpourri. For all the undoubted technical virtuosity, the vocal dexterity of the great singers and the breast swelling, cleavage raising, passion of the arias, I find it slightly ridiculous.

There were some fascinating moments as we trawled around the building, however. A window into the Fredrick Ashton studio, allowed us to watch a ballerina work through her impressive paces and admire the strength, precision and control of her work. The beautiful ironwork architecture of the old floral hall, raised a level from its original foundations offered a whiff of bright nouveau opulence and the gilded glory of the auditorium, huge and expectant waiting for the evening's performance of Mayerling.

Afterwards I travelled East to catch Cosh Omar's new farce The Great Extension at the Theatre Royal in Stratford. It was great fun and, along with a brave plot, the show seemed to play homage to the style of performance that Joan Littlewood pioneered here back in the fifties. Then, as now, the playing was broad, clear and compared with the psychological realism of their theatre rivals at the Royal Court, unambiguous. In some ways it was the fore runner of the great sitcoms of the late sixties and early seventies. The Rag Trade, George and Mildred, and Steptoe and Son, all featured actors and actresses, who cut their teeth on the stage here. It's hard to find this kind of performance in the mainstream.

If the style harked back, the narrative theme was bang up to date.

Omar, himself plays hero Hassan, a second generation Turk and secular Muslim Sufi, living
with transexual houseboy Sanjay, is trying - in a neat metaphor for EU expansion - to build an extension on his house. Ranged against him are his racist English neighbour Mr Brown, who disputes the land, Dave, a Jewish builder, hiring Polish workers and the orthodox Salafi Khan family, who have turned up to rescue their sister Jamila, from an accidental drunken marriage to Hassan, carried out, under influence, the previous evening. Insults, profanities, jokes and slurs fly about the stage in a glorious attack on the linguistic taboos of political correctness as each cultural stereotype is destroyed in turn. No sacred cows here. Eventually an Uber positive policeman, bearing a cunning resemblance to President Obama enters and delighting in the gathering of the creeds, forces everybody, against their will, to celebrate multi culturalism.

The local audience as culturally diverse as the characters on stage, laughed until they cried and went home delighted. There's an advertising campaign for the Olympics that proudly asserts the world is coming to Stratford in 2012. The truth is they're already here.

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