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The Green Room

Michael Hasted brings you news, views and interviews from the Everyman Theatre

The New Year at the Everyman has a rather déjà vu feel about it. There are several productions in the first two or three months that are making a, hopefully, welcome return. Luckily they are all shows that warrant a second viewing or catching up with if you missed them last time round. The excellent “Blood Brothers” hits the stage in the middle of February and “Yes, Prime Minister” at the beginning of March. More on both of these in the February Green Room.

If you picked up this copy of The Cheltonian hot from the presses there will still be a few days left of the pantomime which I would recommend if you haven’t already seen it. It’s now exactly three years since “The 39 Steps” was at the Everyman and it falls, along with “The Woman in Black”, into the ‘must see every time it comes’ category. It has a lot in common with the Susan Hill classic. Both have an enormous cast of characters played by a handful of actors. Both plays have a breathtaking list of locations ranging from desolate moorland to rattling railway carriages. In both plays the scenery is minimal and the settings are magically brought to life through pure theatrical skill and imagination.

“The 39 Steps” is the creation of Patrick Barlow. That is perhaps not a name that is much to the forefront of anyone’s theatrical consciousness, which is a pity. I have been a fan of his for thirty years ever since I saw his National Theatre of Brent two-man production of “The Messiah” at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn in 1983. Barlow, as his alter ego Desmond Olivier Dingle, was one of the men, Jim Broadbent was the other – need I say more? Barlow’s NToB specialised in staging epic tales like “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, “Zulu”, Wagner’s “The Ring” and “The Complete History of the World” with just a couple of actors so “39 Steps”, with four actors, almost rates as a cast of thousands.

Richard Hannay, the hero of “The 39 Steps”, is someone I have known (though not personally) since I was a lad and have seen all four of the screen versions of the story. I have no hesitation in saying that this stage adaption is better than any of them. Highly recommended. Straight after the pantomime, opening on 21st. January, is what promises to be another fine production from Bill Kenwright and the Agatha Christie Theatre Company. The Company tours a new Agatha Christie play every year and has been doing so since 2007. This year’s presentation is “Go Back for Murder”. Agatha Christie may seem to some a bit old fashioned, indeed this play opened first at the Duchess Theatre in London in March 1960. However, I have seen most of the productions by the Agatha Christie Theatre Company and they are all very well done. They usually have first class, all star (not just somebody off “Emmerdale”) casts and the sets, costumes and lighting are worthy of the West End.

The “Go Back for Murder” cast includes Liza Goddard, Robert Duncan and Sophie Ward and there is every reason to suppose that it will be up to the very high standards the Company has set itself over the past five of six years. The play concerns Carla Le Marchant learning a disturbing family secret - that her mother, Caroline Crale, died in prison after being convicted for poisoning her father. Caroline leaves an intriguing legacy in the form of a letter professing her innocence and, believing this to be true, Carla is determined to clear her mother’s name. Carla enlists the help of Justin Fogg; the son of her mother’s defence lawyer, and searches out all the players from her tragic history and brings them back to the scene of the crime to uncover the truth… Sounds alright, doesn’t it?

I have to start my preview of the operas “Madame Butterfly” and “La Bohème”, which are on in the first week of February, by saying what they are not – but I’m being negative in a very positive way. For those of you who saw, and were probably disappointed in these two operas presented at the Everyman last March, I have some good news – these productions are in no way related to the Ellen Kent Productions shows last year. It’s very important to stress that. I’m sure a lot of people were so let down by them that they would assume the February presentations would be by the same people. They are not.

The Ellen Kent company was largely Russian which is where another point of confusion could lie. The forthcoming company is the Grand Opera of Belarus and are presented by the same organisation that brought us the very excellent “Swan Lake” and “Sleeping Beauty” ballets in November. As I said last month, I am not a great classical dance fan but these two shows, although perhaps small by the standards of, say, The Birmingham Royal Ballet, were nonetheless brilliant. From what I know, and from speaking to the producer Alexej Ignatow and seeing production photos, it looks as though the two Puccini operas will be presented to the same high standards. Alexej with the Amande/Russian State Ballet and Opera, presents tours of classical ballet, opera, dance and folklore. They work closely with the Cultural Ministry of the Russian Federation and have liaised together with all ensembles and artists in the Russian region, engaging the best of them to perform. Alexej and his wife Julia are therefore able to represent the rich cultural diversity of Russia and to offer audiences high quality shows. They have more than nine years experience as tour organisers and have mounted twenty-two tours and, during that time, have employed over 1000 singers and dancers.

“Madame Butterfly” and “La Bohème”, by Giacomo Puccini, are two of the world’s best loved and most accessible operas. When first performed in February 1904 at La Scala in Milan, Puccini’s tragic story of Cio-Cio-San, a Japanese geisha, cruelly used by a visiting American navel officer, was very poorly received. It was subsequently revised with the new version, the version that is performed now, premiered four months later. “La Bohème”, another tear-jerker, is set in Paris amongst the Bohemian artists’ garrets and cafes of the 1840s. It tells the story of the doomed love affair between Mimi, a poor seamstress and Rudolfo a starving poet. The world première performance of “La Bohème”, conducted by the young Arturo Toscanini, took place at the Turin’s Teatro Regio on 1st February 1896.

This Company is one of the three theatres in the former Soviet Union to receive the status “Bolshoi” (meaning Grand). The National Opera and Ballet Theatre opened in 1933 gaining an exceptional reputation for its high quality and professionalism. The Company toured the most prestigious stages in the former Soviet Union, including the world famous Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. It gained the honorary “Bolshoi” status in 1940, and was awarded the title “Academic” in 1964. The current company has continuously toured around the globe and visited more than 30 countries over the past fifteen years. The Grand Opera of Belarus presents lavish productions of these two popular operas at the Everyman from 5th – 7th February.