Sunday, 28 December 2014

Mirabel's wonderland, 1927's dystopia




It's been a staggering year for opera in the UK: quite how staggering I didn't realise until I tried to compile a shortlist 'Best of 2014' for The Arts Desk, and even then there wasn't time to slip in a mention for one of the best children's operas I've seen, partly because this was its second year of performances - Will Todd's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland around the lawns and glades of Holland Park.

It isn't my intention to go over that magical ground again - I've already done so in review and on the blog - but it crops up again because Mirabel, my youngest goddaughter by 16 years, deep joy to go back into childhood again with words and music, is still caught up in the wonderland magic. She's pictured up top with the enchanting Alice of Fflur Wyn after the show - 1927's production of The Golem, seen above in the first of Bernhard Müller's production photos, will have to wait to move into the limelight - and below treading the Mad Hatter's teapot carpet.


I went up to Islington to deliver gifts for her fourth birthday just over a week before Christmas: Lewis Carroll's own under-10s version The Nursery Alice, the only time John Tenniel ever hand-coloured his own illustrations (specimens below) and with a very different if sometimes, for us, slightly cloying, wit and wisdom for the tots, plus the DVD of the Royal Ballet Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and my own CD compilation of music to go with the book. Note to self of what's on it as I didn't keep a copy, and I can cut and paste this in an email to Mirabel and ma Edwina:

The White Rabbit - 'The Interrupted Departure', No. 17 of Prokofiev's Cinderella


Wonderland and Alice's growing/shrinking - 'The Aquarium' and 'Personages with Long Ears' from Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals

Swimming in the Pool of Tears - 'Panorama' from Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty

The Caucus Race - Galop from Khachaturian's Masquerade Suite

The Caterpillar - 'Arabian Dance' from Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker


Alice arrives at the Duchess's house, the crying baby and lost in the woods - Sequence from the 'child at play' movement of Strauss's Symphonia Domestica

The Mad Hatter - Polka from Shostakovich's The Age of Gold


Court of the Queen of Hearts and Lobster Quadrille - March and Gavotte from Britten's The Prince of the Pagodas

Trial - second half of Debussy's 'Fêtes' from Nocturnes

Back on the river bank - closing sequence of Debussy's Prelude à l'après-midi d'un faune

It later occurred to me that I could also slip in the end of 'The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin' from John Lanchbery's marvellous score to the Royal Ballet's The Tales of Beatrix Potter' for Bill the Lizard shooting through the chimney and ' Puss in Boots and the White Cat' from Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty for the Cheshire Cat.

But enough already. The results of this chez Mirabel I have yet to see, but while I was there the young miss bossed ma and me around in scenes from the book in which we both had to play various parts (ma did well when assigned the Duchess) but M was always Alice. I was dead impressed that she cited 'Caucus Race' as one of our scenes, but then I would be, wouldn't I? And apparently 'baroque' is a palace in the sky, stemming from an Aurora Orchestra performance she attended in which that image stood for the style of music.

Before I finish the adoration of young Dancing Delice, as I call Mirabel - as she may or may not embark on the Suzuki method, she may also become Fiddling Felice - I have to put up three shots by mama of her spontaneous and (Edsy swears, and she wouldn't lie) unassisted Lego response a week after she'd been to Holland Park. The Caterpillar:


The Mad Hatter:


and Mr Pantz as the White Rabbit.


I should explain that Mr Pantz is a bad-tempered toy elephant, excluded from Mirabel's christening service but caught eating cake and quaffing champagne at the reception, who is central to artist Edsy's film mythology. Watch him animated (or rather not) in pursuit of mammal studies besides Lake Leman here. And behold him below pictured with some batty friend (apparently).


It's not too tenuous to link the weird and wonderful E Ashton world to the genius I saw on the Young Vic stage the other Saturday. The young and brilliant company 1927 - still not got to the origin of the date-name, but I assume it's to do with a heyday of silent film expressionism - gave us their own 90-minute take on the Jewish myth of the Golem (pronounced Goe-lem, hence not to be confused with Tolkien's little monster), that clay mannekin which takes on a life ot its own. My colleague Alexandra Coghlan's five star review on The Arts Desk was all the encouragement I needed to go back to my favourite London theatre. If you think video production has been overdone in theatre, think again. This is one long animated film, brilliantly realised by Paul Barritt, in which the cast of five play live parts.


Not only that, but two or more of them keep the piano and percussion score by Lillian Henley going. It's based almost entirely on tritones and obsessively monothematic, never monotonous, and for the second time at the Young Vic since Richard Jones's sensational Annie Get Your Gun, with its anti-choreography, we get show numbers which are the antithesis of showy. Except, that is, for the songs of the punk band run by the sister of the protagonist, who narrates this fable of technological 'improvement'.


Should I give the story away? I think I'll let you see how they tell it for yourselves; suffice it to say that Golem One sets in the rot, Golem Two is a control-freak who helps the 'hero' to what he wants, including two girlfriends


and Golem Three is IN US. I have only one slight cavil, that the material is a touch overstretched, but there's so much to take in at every point that it's never exactly boring. It ought to run off with every award for theatrical ingenuity; certainly it's one of my shows of the year.

When senior goddaughter Rosie May asked me what she should take her 15 year old brother Paddy to see, I suggested this. As it turned out we didn't go to the same performance that Saturday - we got in to the matinee, she and Paddy attended the evening show - but we still met up for a burger lunch at the excellent Young Vic cafe. As not all adults in the below photo wish to have names attached to the jolly pic, suffice it to say that Paddy and Rosie are on the right.


After lunch, the two young 'uns went off to the Imperial War Museum, we were ready for the show and after we came out were rewarded by a sunset on The Cut


which simply got richer as we stood outside chatting.


Half the country may be groaning under heavy snow, but here in London it's been more often than not bright and crisp. And now I must go out for a bike ride while the sun is still shining before the next bout of entertaining.

12 comments:

Susan Scheid said...

Several feats of the imagination are celebrated here, and the two I love best are your Alice in Wonderland playlist and the Lego depictions, which are extraordinary! Enjoy the rest of your holiday season!

David said...

Thanks, Sue, and likewise. I do fancy that the Infant Phenomenon could set up a Wonderland Gallery of her artworks. And what a joy it is to make these compilations again - I went through it 15 or so years ago with Russian classics for the story of Ivan Tsarevich, the Firebird and the Grey Wolf, and the godson has not forgotten...

newleafsite said...

David, such a delightful offering of literature and music for your Mirabel, and what a wonderful godfather you are! Any child would love such a grown-up person in his life, and we are lucky to benefit by your sharing.

You had mentioned Mr. Pantz once before, recently, I believe referring to him as bad-tempered. Remembering my own childhood stuffed elephant, soft blue, kind and supportive, I had thought, how bad could an elephant be? But now, seeing his picture, he seems terrifying! Even his four-fingered glove feet look frightening. Your Mirabel must be made of strong stuff!

Anyway, this post is a perfect way to finish the blogging year, and I want to thank you for all the fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable writing throughout this year. I've had a lovely time! -- Elizabeth

David said...

Thank you, Elizabeth, and well remembered. I fancy Mr Pantz (or Panz, as I see he ought to be spelled, though I like my version) has been disgruntled ever since as a 'removed, particular gentleman elephant living in a lakeside hotel' and happily engaged in mammal studies he was taken out of his element and exiled to deepest Kent, where even Mirabel's maternal grandparents find him a nuisance and speak of him disparagingly. For your delectation I have added a link above to the 'Pantz on Lac Leman' animation.

And 2014 blogging ain't over until the midnight bell strikes. In keen anticipation of 10 hours of Tolstoy's War and Peace adapted by Timberlake Wertenbaker on Radio 4 all New Year's Day I have one more post to add. And making your acquaintance has been one of the virtual pleasures of the year.

David Damant said...

It will be recalled that Charles Lewis Dodgson was a considerable mathematician at Christ Church. Alice's parents were the Dean of Christ Church and his wife -

I am the Dean and this is Mrs Liddle
She is the first and I the second fiddle
She's the Broad and I'm the High
We are the University

The Queen, Victoria, was most impressed by the Alice books, and asked her Private Secretary to ask the College for any other book by the same author. She received "The Formulae of Plane Trigonometry"

David said...

I fear the real Alice's mama, 'the broad', may be much maligned by her portrayal as a haughty horror - lining her up for transmogrification as the Queen of Hearts - in the Royal Ballet Alice.

David Damant said...

Well the line in the Mask of Balliol suggesting that she was the first fiddle in a marriage to a man in a very grand position may give some credence to her portrayal in the ballet

And O ! those pre-Freudian days !

David said...

Remember them, do you, Sir David? Bear in mind that Freud wrote he'd only collected together the observations of those before him, especially Ibsen and Dostoyevsky. The systematization, IMO, was where that very great writer went wrong. But he had a name to make.

newleafsite said...

David, oh, thank you for the link to Edwina Ashton's film! It certainly presents a much more complex personality than one could guess at by merely seeing his disgruntled appearance. To my mind he provides quite a contrast to Babar, the elephant I have been more aware of recently, when I pulled out a favorite book memory from young childhood and shared his quest for Father Christmas on Facebook.

I also followed the link to the other film offered by Edwina, "...in a rose columned forest." Her slow and thoughtful style is mesmerizing and suits me perfectly. The background given for both films is so interesting. And noted that the very young Mirabel is listed in the sound credits for the one of Pan(t)z! -- Elizabeth

David said...

I'm delighted you warmed to its singularity, Elizabeth. I wish there were more of E Ashton's amazing creativity on the web. Must-sees are her films of animal futility, usually with humans dressed in costumes, usually knitted: a squirrel sifting nuts, a mouse reading fashion magazines on the beach, a dung beetle vainly trying to get its ball upstairs. And her installations, above all the one of giant cockroaches creating havoc in an office, are essential experiences. That child is not growing up without essential stimulus. And her sensible Auntie June is always to hand.

Nor am I a pimp or agent, but an E Ashton Pan(t)z drawing is a VERY desirable thing to own. I do (nay, more, I have a Mr Pan(t)z soap with him showering on it), and I rejoice.

Laurent said...

Another delightful posting at the year's end.
I was having some serious forgotten password troubles for the last few days and was blocked out. Wonderful thing technology but do not forget your password.
Hope that 2015 will be an equally memorable year for you Entertainment wise.

David said...

Milles mercis, Laurent, and likewise to you two and the Hounds from Hell. Sorry for your troubles and hope Wordpress suits - it's actually more honourable than Google but I'm stuck in my original format.