Tag Archives: Marie Arnet

Peter Panned


Hippodrome, Birmingham, Thursday 11th June, 2015

Odd, you think, that Welsh National Opera present Richard Ayres’s opera at this time of year. Surely, it might attract more of an audience at a more festive time of year.

Anyway, here it is.

Ayres’s score is sophisticated and complex, at odds with the subject matter for the most part, making me think we are to observe through the lens of adulthood rather than the innocence of childhood. It’s a hard listen though superbly sung. Hilary Summers as Mrs Darling sings a weird lullaby in which she tells her kids she will ‘tidy their minds’ while they sleep. She returns as Tiger Lily later on, which seems a lot more fun. Ashley Holland blusters as her husband and struts and preens as a colourful Captain Hook – it is when the pirates come on that the whole enterprise lifts, as silliness and camp are permitted to creep in – but just for a moment.

Marie Arnet’s Wendy is both sweet and earnest, while her brothers (Nicholas Sharratt and Rebecca Bottone) throw themselves around with enthusiasm. It’s Aidan Smith in a dog suit as Nana who gets the best reception. An air of surrealism hangs over the whole enterprise: Jason Southgate’s set takes elements from an Edwardian nursery and enlarges them – Neverland, for example, is a collection of building blocks, and the pirate ship is an overgrown choo-choo.

Counter-tenor Iestyn Morris is Pan, in white and silver garb, performing aerial tricks while singing. He’s suitably heroic and boyish but there is something missing – and I mean with the entire production. It’s lacking in a spirit of fun and adventure, the playfulness of Barrie’s play.

It’s not just because of the dense music. The lighting (by Bruno Poet) is simply too dim for the majority of the show. Both the ‘real world’ and Neverland are murky places, never mind the mood of the characters or the time of day.

And it’s a shame because the orchestra under Erik Nielsen’s baton and the chorus (as ever) are in superb form, summoning up some of the exuberance the material requires to get off the ground.

Director Keith Warner adds some comic touches but they are lost in the general gloom – which is just as well in the case of some ill-advised fart jokes.

It seems to me a mismatch all around. Neither Ayres’s score nor this production’s design suit the material. Neither do they shed new light on the familiar story – in fact there is very little light at all.

Me and My Shadow: Peter Pan - Iestyn Morris; Wendy - Marie Arnet Credit: © CLIVE BARDA/ ArenaPAL

Me and My Shadow:
Peter Pan – Iestyn Morris; Wendy – Marie Arnet
Credit: © CLIVE BARDA/ ArenaPAL

Blood and Circuses


Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 5th March, 2013


Welsh National Opera bring Alban Berg’s unfinished opera to startling life in this stylish and colourful production that somehow manages to accentuate the grubbiness of the subject matter.

This is the tale of Lulu, a woman who is like catnip for men.  Around her, men drop like flies – some to their knees in supplication, some from heart attacks, suicide or murder.  But despite or perhaps because of her chequered past, the men keep coming.  Through it all, Lulu is indifferent, taking what she can get, knowing her power over these weak creatures.

Marie Arnet is sublime as glamorous, free spirit Lulu.  There is an ambiguity to the character: is she predator, prey or parasite?  Immoral or amoral?  My view of her shifted with each scandalous event in the plot but Arnet remains unassailable.  Lulu’s ‘availability’ keeps her apart.

As ever with WNO, the ensemble is excellent.  I was impressed by Paul Carey Jones’s Dr Schön but found his Jack the Ripper compelling.  Mark Le Brocq’s Artist is great fun but for me, the belle of this ball is Natascha Petrinsky as Countess Geschwitz, the lesbian lover Lulu shamelessly exploits with tragic consequences.  Her anguish and devotion are in direct contrast to Lulu’s cold indifference and opportunism.  Geschwitz is the most human of these bizarre characters – perhaps that was seen as shocking at the time, that we should have most sympathy for a ‘deviant’.

David Pountney directs the piece as a surreal circus, a carnival of animal-headed, dinner-jacketed creatures.  There is no attempt at naturalism – this is all about keeping us at a distance from the characters.  We are to weigh Lulu’s conduct, and society’s conduct, from an emotional detachment.  The absence of melody in Berg’s atonal score helps with this.  There are some lovely touches.  When dead, the men are replaced by life-sized effigies of themselves that are hauled up into the air, suspended over the rest of the action.  They are literally ‘hung up’ over Lulu.  The set (by Johan Engels) is a circus ring of tall ladders, a cage for the menagerie of characters, with a spiral staircase at its centre that can be covered with a gauze for reveals of the more shocking moments.  As she goes from man to man, Lulu’s outfits are colour-coded: gown, shoes and even hair all match.  Marie-Jeanne Lecca’s costume designs are sharp, clean and striking, both stylish and stylised, providing a unity to the look of the piece – although I must admit the schoolboy clad entirely in white made me think of the ghost of wee Jimmy Krankie.  But only for a moment.

The Verfremdungseffekte keep us detached but this also works to make the final scene, the brutal murder of our heroine at the hands of the Ripper all the more powerful and shocking.  Lulu’s bleeding body is thrown against the gauze with a splat, and she stays there, naked, revealed, an object and ultimately, a victim.

The impact of the final scene remained with me as I left the theatre, defining the whole piece.  It’s a challenging listen – I’m more of a bel canto boy at heart – but this sumptuous and inventive production rewards the effort.


"You can bring Pearl, she's a darn nice girl..."

“You can bring Pearl, she’s a darn nice girl…”