The Alchemist, Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon — assessment

Mark Lockyer in ‘The Alchemist’. Photo: Helen Maybanks©Helen Maybanks

Mark Lockyer in ‘The Alchemist’. Photo: Helen Maybanks

In the Royal Shakespeare Business gift shop in Stratford-upon-Avon you can purchase a Shakespearean Insult Generator kit, but old Bill was as nothing compared with his near-modern Ben Jonson. He is all too seldom staged these days, due to the fact his language refuses to be tamed. It can be dense, classical, or inventively vulgar . . .  sometimes all at once, as when one particular of the conspirators right here remarks of his companion operating on a single of their con victims, “She have to milk his epididymis.” It is virtually incomprehensible (the epididymis is element of the male genital plumbing), but sounds flamboyantly filthy and so gets the job carried out with verve.

The master of a London townhouse has fled to steer clear of the plague his butler has invited in a fraudulent alchemist and a whore, and together they gull a succession of victims ranging from a foolish but ambitious tradesman in search of a type of Jacobean feng shui reading to an epicurean nobleman (named, in fact, Sir Epicure Mammon) and a cult of religious dissenters who alike seek the limitless wealth of the Philosopher’s Stone.

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It’s fundamentally an excuse for a series of swift-modify comic turns, interwoven at ever-rising pace as with the greatest classic farces, till — also farcically — everything unravels at after.

The oddest issue about Polly Findlay’s revival is that it is not ostentatiously frenzied. Ken Nwosu as Face the butler, Mark Lockyer as Subtle the grouchy alchemist and Siobhán McSweeney as Dol Typical perform with the comparative calm and surely the assurance of practised swindlers. (Corin Buckeridge’s score suggestions us the wink with an overture of assorted movie themes including that of The Sting.) They can even improvise arguments that are virtually as vicious as their true ones.

Nevertheless, without having appearing to, the pace and intensity steadily build, stoked by the likes of Ian Redford’s hymns to excess as Mammon and Tom McCall, who manages to be at once languid and turbulent as a young man who desires to discover how to be fashionably quarrelsome.

And you can’t say the RSC are not acquiring their money’s worth out of that life-size plaster crocodile hanging from the ceiling: this isn’t its initial appearance this season . . .  it’ll be getting a programme biog subsequent.

To October 1, rsc.org.uk

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Section: Arts


Swan Lake, Opernhaus Zurich — ‘Triumphant’

Viktorina Kapitonova and Alexander Jones in ‘Swan Lake’. Photo: Carlos Quezada©Carlos Quezada

Viktorina Kapitonova and Alexander Jones in ‘Swan Lake’. Photo: Carlos Quezada

Down by the water’s edge some thing stirs: a “reconstruction” of Swan Lake by Alexei Ratmansky which received its triumphant premiere in Zurich on Saturday.

Even though a prolific choreographer, the former Bolshoi director has turn out to be a passionate resurrectionist: Le Corsaire (2007), Paquita (2014) and last year’s broadly acclaimed Sleeping Beauty , danced by each American Ballet Theatre and La Scala (who will also dance Swan Lake later this year).

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  • Bel/Millepied/Robbins, Palais Garnier, Paris
  • The Winter’s Tale, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London — ‘A lovely, delicate staging’
  • Rabbit Hole, Hampstead Theatre, London — ‘Nothing to fault, but . . . ’
  • Dans la solitude des champs de coton, Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, Paris — ‘Thoroughly French’

Swan Lake has undergone countless modifications and distortions considering that its Moscow premiere in 1877 but the St Petersburg production by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov in 1895 has proved the most enduring. Notations of the actions and ground plans have been created a decade later according to the system of Vladimir Stepanov. These valuable documents have been smuggled out by ballet master Nicholas Sergeyev in 1919 and formed the basis for several productions like the version danced by Ninette de Valois’s fledgling Royal Ballet in 1934. Covent Garden’s most recent new production, by Anthony Dowell in 1987, was also rooted in the Stepanov text.

Petipa regarded his ballets as living things that could evolve to suit the strengths and weaknesses of the dancers at his disposal. That spirit definitely survived in Russia: a capering jester was added in 1920, most of the mime was stripped out and the dual part of the Swan Princess and her dazzling doppelgänger typically became a showcase for ballerina stunt operate.

Ratmansky, returning to Stepanov, has washed all of this away. “We can’t sit ourselves in a time machine,” he says in the programme but he has undoubtedly turned back the clock. Mime is given in complete. Siegfried’s friend Benno (originally introduced in 1895 as an power-saver for the 51-year-old Pavel Gerdt) is restored so that the lakeside duets are as soon as once again pas de deux à trois (a slightly crowded connection). The princely embellishments added by Nureyev and other folks have been hurled from the back of the sledge and Odette/Odile is markedly much less virtuosic.

Ratmansky has been fighting a rearguard action against circusy “six o’clock” extensions in classical work and Odette’s leg is kept modestly low. Poses are rounder, arabesques significantly less taut and the glacial tempi favoured by successive generations of Russian ballerinas are also ditched in favour of brighter, more alert handling from Rossen Milanov and the Philharmonia Zurich. Viktorina Kapitonova, with her soft, sharp feet and yielding torso, embraces the older style specifically in Ivanov’s Act 4 where she drapes herself ragdoll-like on the shoulder of the noble Alexander Jones (a Royal Ballet College graduate who got away).

The swan maidens are not mere set-dressing, but warm-blooded creatures who interact fully with Siegfried and his huntsmen. The 20 couples of the Act A single Valse Champêtre produce a globe of ribbons, flower baskets, 16 stools and a maypole. This could very easily appear cluttered (as it does in the Covent Garden version) but Ballet Zurich’s nicely-drilled corps tends to make this exuberant sequence a main highlight.

Jérôme Kaplan’s sets produce a mood with no acquiring in anyone’s way: a gate, a lake, a ruined archway, a handful of chandeliers. Museum costuming is frequently a error — it proved the kiss of death to the Mariinsky’s 1999 Sleeping Beauty. Kaplan is given a freer hand with court costumes that echo the cod-medievalism of the Pre-Raphaelites. Odile sports a sooty rainbow of black, green and maroon while Odette and her companions put on feathery knee-length tutus that have a pleasing Victorian solidity that anchors the production in period without having cramping its style.

Balletomanes will devote a lot of a pleased interval playing Best Trumps with the numerous versions but ultimately any Swan Lake must succeed on its personal terms as “living theatre” (as Ratmansky puts it) and this 1 most emphatically does.

To May 22, opernhaus.ch, then La Scala, Milan

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Section: Arts