All posts by Brent Black

An MA Journalism student at Birkbeck, I am passionate about writing and human communication in its many different forms. SInce graduating from University of the Arts, London with a BA (Hons) Journalism degree in 2011, I have worked on the editorial teams of a number of publications, including Schon! Magazine, QX Magazine and, most recently, Vice Magazine. I'm a creative. I have an enquiring mind. Words fascinate me almost as much as people do. Aptly, my favourite hobby, after writing, is people-watching. I was born, raised and schooled in South Africa - and moved to the UK in 2007, for what was originally supposed to be a "gap "year. But, if you tire of London, you tire of life - so I'm still here, and I'm still in love with London.

Little Black Book: A pleasing exploration of human desire

Little Black Book,  by the French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, tells the story of an odd relationship, or, more aptly, an extended encounter between a lawyer, Jean-Jacques, and a strange woman, Suzanne. It is playing at the Park Theatre until January 19.

It is a simple story, but one that is also, beneath the surface, a creative exploration of human temperament and the rules of attraction. Translated from the 2003 original by Solvène Tiffou and directed by Kate Fahy, it is undeniably French in its quirks and eccentricities, whilst still also distinctively human.

Little Black Book opens with the abrupt and unexpected arrival of the strange woman into Jean-Jacques’ life and explores the changing dynamics in their relationship that ensue. In a bizarre love triangle of sorts, the apartment plays a role in this tumultuous relationship. The Park90 theatre space, intimate and comfortable, feels more like an extension of the studio apartment set on which the production is staged, inviting the audience into the apartment whilst giving the production a freedom beyond the confines of the apartment’s walls.

The script does not seem to offer the depth necessary to sustain the simplistic nature of the production. Story-wise, Little Black Book is lacking in substance in that the characters’ respective lives, prior to their meeting, remain almost entirely unexplored,  with the exception of Jean-Jacques’ sexual history. The initial mystery surrounding Suzanne’s arrival and intentions remains largely unresolved, resulting in a distancing between audience and characters. The lack of character development in the script proves problematic for Gerald Kyd (Jean-Jacques) and Jenny Rainsford (Suzanne) who both fervently tackle the superficial character roles, but both roles are seemingly without purpose.

Despite struggling to connect with its audience, the production does succeed in communicating a thought-provoking sub-script. The characters, though in many ways frustratingly undefined, are remarkably human in their respective behaviours and emotional temperament. Though it may seem that the progression and dynamics of their relationship make very little sense, there is a distinct familiarity in their absurd, unpredictable behaviour and tumultuous three-day relationship that makes the play an exaggerated but pleasing exploration of isolation, relationships and human desire, which, in reality, do often defy all logic.

Rainsford, as Suzanne, takes superb control of her character’s sense of entitlement and self-assured charm, with a volatile unpredictability that is both amusing and endearing. Kyd, though delivering a commendable performance, doesn’t achieve the same level of character communication that Rainsford does with her role, making Jean-Jacques more difficult to connect with than Suzanne, and perhaps less likeable. The lack of character depth in the script impedes both Rainsford and Kyd from assuming greater command of their roles, as neither succeed in fully engaging with the audience.

Little Black Book is curiously charming and appealing, but, in other ways, particularly in scripting, shallow and lacking in personality. These opposing underlying feelings seem to fuse into a frustratingly odd, whimsical and presumptuous production that reflects, rather artistically, the intricacies of human nature and the yearning for that which we do not have.

Matthew Bourne’s vivacious Swan Lake @Sadlers_Wells

“Bourne presents an accessible, vivacious and thoroughly enjoyable Swan Lake… A truly exhilarating experience”

Matthew Bourne’s audacious Swan Lake has in its 18-year existence collected over thirty international awards, enjoyed four wildly successful UK tours and has become one of the longest-running ballets in the West End. No small feat for a bold, contemporary reinterpretation of one of ballet’s most-loved stories.

Bourne presents an accessible, vivacious and enjoyable Swan Lake – one that is reflective of the times and appealing to audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

Before taking my seat at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre I had fallen victim to a few common misconceptions about Bourne’s ballet-influenced production.

First, the cast is most definitely not “all-male”, as conversations with colleagues and friends leading up to my visit had led me to believe.

Second, the production is technically not strictly ballet, but rather a contemporary dance/theatre production.

The common misconception of an “all-male” cast evokes notions of men in flamboyant, feathery drag (which couldn’t be further from what is presented) and is derived from one of the production’s boldest offerings: not an all-male general cast, but a virile, all-male group of swans, distinctly masculine and visually captivating in both casting and costume. The replacing of the female corps de ballet is the most obvious, and enthralling, deviation from the original Swan Lake.

Contemporary dance productions often lack one essential component: accessibility to a diverse audience. They often require some level of critical understanding and awareness – and while in the case of Bourne’s production a critical awareness of both ballet and contemporary dance would enhance the impact of the performance, it is in no way essential to the experience.

The production is spectacular to say the least, which with its reputation is to be expected. Tchaikovsky’s exquisite score, which Bourne has adapted by re-ordering certain numbers and omitting others, merges seamlessly with the contemporary choreography, particularly in Act 4, where the choreography transitions from classical ballet to modern dance integrated with definite jazz forms.

As a classically trained musician, I have encountered Tchaikovsky’s score at various times, and this interpretation is beautifully communicated, complementing the modern visual elements of the production superbly.

Bourne focuses the production on the Prince (Simon Williams) and his longing for liberation, love, acceptance and comfort. Williams dominates the stage with a mature confidence while balancing his performance with grace and vulnerability.

Jonathan Oliver, the lead swan, majestically engages with Williams, tackling the themes of love and betrayal with a mesmerising form and technique in his dancing. His charisma and fine physical form feed the sensual eroticism that oozes through the choreography and dance sequences between the two.

Michela Meazza dances the role of the Queen with the authority, majesty and grace that the role demands, but the Queen at times feels somewhat forced and lacking in a human element that is so vital to the production.

As a whole, the ensemble is captivating and their chemistry fluid. Most notable, of course, is the group of swans, which collectively carry the production and audience through a spectrum of emotions.

The minimalist set and props set the stage beautifully.  The props form the backdrop to the production without drawing attention from it. Lighting is used with dramatic effect and the use of spotlights and shadows cast by the dancers is incredibly effective, visually capturing and enhancing the emotional elements of the production.

The costumes, particularly those created for the group of swans, enhance the distinct masculinity of the dancers, while also capturing the beauty of the swans. These two elements are interpreted into beautiful yet ultimately masculine feathered high-rise, three-quarter-length shorts.

The production doesn’t seek to dictate an absolute storyline through the dance and choreography, which could feel confusing, especially to an audience that may not be familiar with the myth behind and the themes explored in the original Swan Lake. I struggled to follow the storyline, especially during Act 1, and this distracted initially from the beauty of the performance.  I decided to simply enjoy the production and leave interpretation to later, allowing me to appreciate the production as I watched.

To a first-time audience member, the production may feel more like an abstract emotional exploration, with interwoven scenes that don’t seek to impose, or indeed attempt to provide with certainty, any specific storyline. Perhaps this is Bourne’s intention: to allow an audience to interpret his production and the scenes within in whichever way they choose.

Bourne regularly reworks, updates and reviews his production, ensuring that it grows and develops with the times. Every element of the production seems to merge seamlessly together to create a truly breathtaking experience – an experience that feels like a culmination of tremendous passion, dedication and commitment on the part of Bourne and his superb cast and crew. The production really speaks to its audience, carrying them on an emotional journey and capturing their attention from start to finish, culminating in a breathtaking finale that leaves the audience aghast.

Bourne’s Swan Lake is a truly exhilarating experience.

Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake is at Sadler’s Wells until 26 January.

Ticket office:  online or  0844 412 4300.

A remarkable new twist on Sleeping Beauty

This Christmas, one of the most loved and enchanting stories ever told, Sleeping Beauty, is boldly adapted and transformed by Jez Bond and Mark Cameron. It’s premiering as the Park Theatre’s first annual Christmas pantomime.

This new stage version not only reinvents the classic fairytale, but completely transfigures it – spinning it upside-down and inside-out, dousing it in spectacular colours, showering  it with fairy dust, wrapping it in twinkling Christmas lights and inflating it to bursting point.

It comes with new and original music, comedy and drama – all in true raucous pantomime style. Co-written by the artistic director, Bond, and associate artist, Cameron, the original script and music brings a fresh, quirky and at times vulgar take on the good versus evil story to the stage. It’s bursting with bold, loveable characters tackled by a superbly talented cast, both human and canine.

The result? A wildly entertaining and, for the most part, captivating production in which the audience revels, drawn in with magnetic effect.

The attention to detail in every aspect of the script is a treat; set in the mythical land of Waa – a nonsensical far-away kingdom encompassing various distinctive provinces and a bizarre original dialect – the setting and background to the production and script is a creative success in itself. The ridiculous ‘Pilipotsian’ dialect used throughout the pantomime to tremendous audience amusement is a personal highlight, as is the simple but novel inclusion of “A Note on Pronunciation” – a guide to the language of Waa – that’s included in the production guide (a beautifully produced book covering all aspects of the production, together with the full script). It’s these small details that bring this Sleeping Beauty to life.

The cast of six, including co-writer Mark Cameron as the Dame, tackles the range of colourful roles confidently and with fluidity.  This is a feat, considering the amount of role-doubling in the production.  Every character exudes personality, charisma, charm and unique comedic value, and each is instantly loveable.

Special mention must be made of Cameron, who brings a most farcical, slapstick Dame to the stage, whose gaudy antics and constant demand for audience participation (Pilipotsian dialect training, including body movements) in true pantomime style adds a vigour to the production.

The original music is fabulous in its simplicity. The toe-tapping musical numbers are interwoven into the production in such a way that there’s a steady balance between song and drama. The entire cast does glorious justice to the vocal elements of the production. The visual elements, ranging from the set and lighting to the costumes, are all of an incredibly high standard and one would be pushed to find fault in any of these aspects.

Victor Craven’s eye-catching projection designs add an extra creative element to Sleeping Beauty and allow for smooth, swift transitions from scene to scene and far more visual exploration into the land of Waa than would otherwise be possible.

Unfortunately, it does feel as if the performance loses momentum and some of its spark towards the end of Act II, and the final few scenes feel somewhat rushed by the cast, especially when compared in duration to the opening few scenes. Distracted younger audience members – fidgeting, crying and generally restless – indicate a drifting audience, which is a huge pity as one gets the feeling that Sleeping Beauty climaxes early and doesn’t end at its best. It could perhaps do with being slightly shorter, even if purely for the youngsters.

Sleeping Beauty is as raucous and boisterous as it is charming, making for light-hearted entertainment that, taken at face value, is a joy for the entire family. Yes, the production is gloriously absurd in every way, but isn’t that the point and the appeal of the peculiar British tradition that is winter musical comedy theatre?

Cheesy, imaginative and thoroughly enjoyable, Sleeping Beauty is a true winter warmer and one that I recommend.

Sleeping Beauty runs until 19 January 2014 at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park.

Evenings: Tues – Sat 7.30pm
Matinees: Sat & Sun 3pm

Booking information:
By phone: 020 7870 6876