Michael Andrews and Richard Serra at the Gagosian Galleries London review *****

Michael Andrews: Earth Air Water *****

Gagosian Gallery, Grosvenor Hill London, 2nd February 2017

Richard Serra: NJ-2, Rounds:Equal Weight, Unequal Measure, Rotate *****

Gagosian Gallery, Britannia Street London, 21st October 2016

Just a very late shout out for two of the most interesting gallery exhibitions currently on in London in my view. Mind you the Michael Andrews closes on March 25th but if you are anywhere near the gallery (on Grosvenor Hill just off Grosvenor Square) this week I very strongly recommend you take a look. The Richard Serra exhibition at the other gallery on Britannia Street just round the corner from Kings Cross has been extended to April 13th is also definitely worth a visit if you find yourself close by.

I knew nothing about Michael Andrews but he was a contemporary of the big lights in his early days in the 1950s and 1960s in Britain (Bacon, Freud, Auerbach and so on). Apparently post 1970 he focussed on landscapes and by heavens it is as well for us that he did. The Proper reviews can walk you through the important stuff. I will just say I found these works extraordinarily beautiful. I mean just aesthetically some of the most wonderful things I have see in a long time. The key lies in the spray painting technique he employed apparently. This means big swathes of acrylic paint to build up landscapes (of Australia in one room and Scotland/the Thames in another) with a further room dominated by a recurrent theme of an air balloon above the landscape (the Lights series). And the room full of paintings of fish is just stunning – I know that sounds a bit daft but it really is.

Anyway please just take a look. You will not regret it.

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The Richard Serra is equally stunning. Three recent sculptures, with NJ-2 the standout, created on a monumental scale. I just kept walking in and out of it – couldn’t help myself. All you need in terms of form and volume but playful and the colour of the weathered steel is breathtaking. The colour of the other two pieces is similarly draw dropping as the weathering on the Rounds pieces is like some sort of reptile skin. Anyway the clever people will tell you more but do go and have wander through NJ-2 and you will see that I am not wrong. It might just be hunks of metal at the end of the day but some of the best hunks of metal I imagine I will ever seen.

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Some forthcoming classical music concert ideas (with a bit of nostalgia thrown in)

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Some recommendations – but read the caveats below

So in this post I have tried to draw out some highlights (for me) of the forthcoming classical music seasons at the major London venues.

Remember this blog is for the curious – all you experts out there are permitted to snigger at the below – but we all have to start somewhere. If you are a youngster there are generally lots of ways I gather to blag cheaper tickets. For most venues a bit of forward planning generally helps but is not an essential to get to see what you want to see. Stuff does sell out but rarely immediately (at least the stuff I want to see) in contrast to the best of London’s (non-West End) theatre.

If you are not a massive cognoscenti, like to take a punt on things you don’t know too well, not possessed of perfect hearing or a cheapskate, or, like me, all of the above, then opting for the cheap seats at most of these views turns up what I consider to be an extraordinary bargain. For a tenner or so, and certainly less than a pony (Cockney not equine) you can see and hear two hours of, for example, a world class orchestra, with a world class conductor performing a world class piece of art. Same price as the cinema which is just a shed with a digital print rolling around endlessly. Oh and with all your hard earned cash going to the performers, shareholders and assorted hangers-on, so they can dick about in frocks at the Oscars and expand their already monstrous egos. In the classical music world the performers take way less, the state chips in a bit, there are some rich philanthropists generally subsidising a bit of your visit and there are generally no grasping shareholder types. Who’d have thought … poncey, classical music as a redistributive challenge to the neo-liberal economic orthodoxy.

Right now to the musical caveats. The key thing to bear in mind is that  I cannot abide any of that Romantic, self-indulgent overwrought slush. For me Western classical music stopped around 1830 after your man Beethoven died and then started again in the C20 when Stravinsky pumped up the rhythm. I need to hear a pulse or beat and not get drowned in too much lyricism, melody and expression.

This probably reflects my starting point. When I was a nipper and started listening to music in the mid 1970s our starting point was heavy and progressive rock. Think Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Yes, Supertramp, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple. There might be some enterprising twists and turns, West Coast rock, Marley, Krautrock, Kraftwerk for example but these were rare. And there was a lot that we considered off limits including to my eternal shame, the likes of Bowie, all soul and disco music, the Velvet Underground and similar ilk. Obviously I eventually saw the error of my ways and have been on a self imposed course of cultural re-education for many years to correct these flaws notably in the case of Bowie. However the heavy/progressive rock DNA cannot be eradicated.

BUT fortunately Punk came to the rescue. Now it took a bit of time to wend its way down to Devon and I can’t deny that shoulder length hair and velvet flares was the look I favoured to attract the ladies until the very end of the 1970s but our music tastes changed substantially for the better. So the golden period for shaping my musical tastes was 1978 to 1985. That is not to say the old order was entirely overthrown (Led Zeppelin at Knebworth in 1979, Pink Floyd The Wall in 1980 were the most obvious aberrations) but a near religious devotion to the NME and especially John Peel for the first few years of that golden age saw a firm shift to the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division, Gang of Four, Talking Heads and the like. I confess that the appreciation of the Fall, Wire and the Wedding Present, now firm favourites, was rather more retrospective and the Smiths too took a bit of time. Anyway hopefully you get the picture. After that life caught up and my appreciation of pop/rock/indie was a more haphazard/measured affair until the last few years. (PS I do realise I just how cliched my musical taste is but unfortunately it probably won’t stop me expanding further on some of these likes in a misty eyed way in future blogs)

The same trajectory applied to my appreciation of classical music. The middle/late 1980s saw the first forays following a bunch of free concerts (oh to be young) which was fairly eclectic but ended up largely centred on Britten, Shostakovich and Beethoven and very little else. And then the ramp up in the past few years. This has meant an expansion into minimalist music (previously it was pretty much Arvo Part and not much else), the beginnings of an understanding of Stravinsky, a reversal from Beethoven into Haydn (but not Mozart), a major Baroque expansion (largely Vivaldi and now other Italians with a bit of Bach) and finally an understanding of the joys of Early Music. I reckon that is enough to keep me going until my time is up.

So those are the parameters around which the recommendations below are made. No doubt some musicologist can make sense of all of this but I will stick with “I know what I like”.

Oh and the final caveat – it’s only going to work if you are based in London. Sorry.

Anyway “hear” you go (ha ha).

  • Barbican Hall – 1st May 2017 7.30pm – Music in 12 Parts by Philip Glass – yep his hallmark piece over the thick end of 4 hours played by a crew of superb musicians – not the easiest way into vintage Glass but maybe the best – looks like some tckets still up for grabs but this will sell out I reckon
  • Barbican Hall – 6th June 2017 7.30pm – a Gerald Barry piece, Chevaux de Frise which I don’t know but sound like a blast, and Beethoven Symphony no 3 – Britten Sinfonia – conductor Thomas Ades – Beethoven 3 is the big shift out of the Classical period – Thomas Ades loves Beethoven and is one of our greatest current composers – as does/is Gerald Barry – they both write contemporary operas people actually want to see  – and the Britten Sinfonia are the top bananas at interpreting contemporary music so sound different to the big orchestras – still loads of tickets here
  • Cadogan Hall – 16th June 2017 7.30pmDebussy’s Prelude, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Shostakovich 5th Symphony – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – two of my favourites here and the Debussy is bearable – but a nice, straightforward programme with a bit of showy stuff – again lots of tickets going here given the plain vanilla nature of the evening
  • Barbican Hall – 23rd June 2017 7.30pmMonteverdi’s Vespers – Academy of Ancient Music – vocal masterpiece of early Baroque – just extraordinary even now – written as a way to drum up business by Monteverdi – I defy you not to lik ethis
  • Wigmore Hall – 29th June 2017 7.30pm – Alte Musik Academie Berlin – Isabelle Faust on the violin – Bach suites and concertos – generally we Brits (sorry for not being sufficiently European) are the period music experts but this bunch are one of the best in the world
  • Barbican Hall – 21st September 7pm and 24th September  2017 6pm so not too late on a Sunday evening – Stravinsky Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring – London Symphony Orchestra – conducted by Simon Rattle – so here you get all 3 of the classic Stravinsky ballet scores in one evening, conducted by Rattle who is coming home to lead the LSO – and I like his Stravinsky interpretations – this is set to be extraordinary – this will sell out so get your skates on as this is a real highlight
  • Kings Place – 16th December 7.30pm – Tenebrae and Oliver Coates cello – a whole bunch of different composer works, songs, hymns and carols for voices and cello – lovely Christmassy stuff
  • Barbican Hall – 29th March 2018 7.30pm – Evgeny Kissin – Chopin Mazurkas and Etudes selection and Beethoven Hammerklavier Sonata – now I normally avoid the showy pianists like the plague and Kissin definitely fits the bill – but if you want to see a piano recital just like you imagine it to be – think extravagant diva Russian type with bushy hair banging the keys like there is no tomorrow and then hunched gently with the merest of taps on the keys – then he is your man
  • Barbican Hall – 4th May 2018 7.30pm – Los Angeles Philharmonic and London Symphony Chorus– Beethoven Symphony no 9 Choral and Bernstein Chichester Psalms – conducted by Gustavo Dudamel (another curly, long haired fellow) – so this is the pick I think of the visiting orchestras in the 17/18 London season – with the wunderkind Venezuelan Dudamel conducting – he made his name with the Venezuelan Simon Bolivar Orchestra which all the luvvies adore – anyway who knows how this will sound but it is the Choral Symphony and the Bernstein piece is a belter as well – mind you they are charging 30 quid even up in the back of the circle
  • Queen Elizabeth Hall – 11th May 2018 7.30pm – mostly Ligeti chamber music – right this is proper contemporary stuff – no tunes here – but Ligeti was a master – so give it a whirl – YouTube the Trio for Horn. Violin and Piano to see what you think
  • Barbican Hall – 31st May 2018 7.30pm– Academy of Ancient Music – soloist Nicola Benedetti – Telemann and Vivaldi concertos – nice easy way into the masters of Baroque strings with a period instrument band and a soloist who is not however too bound to the period performance tropes

There you have it.

My Brilliant Friend at the Rose Theatre Kingston review ****

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My Brilliant Friend Parts 1 and 2

Rose Theatre Kingston, 27th February and 17th March 2017

I had not read the quartet of Elena Ferrante novels coming in to this (though I mean to put this right now). However, as this is a Guardian readers’ and various novelists’ favourite and with the SO having partially read them and given them a qualified thumbs up (she sets the bar pretty high), and with it being the Rose so on the doorstep, we were destined to go. And so we did.

First decision was to split the two parts. For choice I normally wouldn’t do that preferring to take the pain of setting through multi part theatre on the chin, (or more exactly bum), by doing it all in a day where possible. This was a reminder of why that remains the preferred strategy. What you get out of a theatre performance depends in part on what you put in, so different days means different moods and therefore different levels of enjoyment. With these plays, festooned with multiple characters, (and doubling/trebling of parts), an awful lot of sharp, staccato scenes to get through in the 5 or so hours, (to do justice to the novels I gather), and multiple themes to explore, (where I think the adaption was clearly a winner), one sitting would definitely have worked better for me.

A particular attraction was the director Melly Still. I really, really liked her Cymbeline for the RSC. A tricky play but she was unafraid to chuck ideas in, (gender changes for characters, topical issues of national identity, nature vs nurture and so on), which definitely made sense to me in a play where it is very easy to get lost. So a plus there. I had not seen Catherine McCormack (Lila) or, to my eternal shame, Niamh Cusack (Elena/Lenu) on stage before, but felt they were both perfectly cast. In Part 1 Catherine McCormack was outstanding capturing the strength and unpredictability  of Lila, (don’t shout at me I am just using a word to describe a whole gamut of traits), with her movement as well as her speech. In Part 2 Niamh Cusack took centre stage, (and left. right up and down – there was a lot of movement in the production), as her character developed with a determination and a different, egotistical strength.

So I think two cracking complementary performances, a lot of smart stagecraft, the use of set, sound and lighting in a way that the Rose rarely sees, an obviously brilliant story/stories, and breathtaking pace and energy. In fact the pace and energy may just be a little too breathtaking. I gather there is a lot to pack in and this is what the adaption does. This is then multiplied by the character, place and time shifts. So it is all a bit of a whirlwind. No other way to do it and meet the needs of the faithful I suspect but even so there were times when I wanted a bit of air in proceedings (when this did happen, largely in the Lila/Lenu exchanges, I got more meaning I think).

As I said I haven’t read the books which I am guessing is an advantage in seeing this, so no risk of what is in the head clashing with what is on the stage. But overall whilst I thoroughly enjoyed what I was seeing and hearing, and how I was seeing and hearing it, there may just have been a bit too much to take in (compounded I think by my gender – there is a lot of experience for a privileged, white male to take in here given that all the men are – rightly – portrayed as utter c**ks).

I see some reviews of this that are whinging about scenes lost or themes in the novels which don’t come out on stage. Whilst I suspect that the pace of the production did mean some “thinning out” I would, with all due respect, say to these punters that there is a book, and now there is a play (and I believe there will be a TV adaptation). It’s theatre. it’s different, that is the whole point. Let the book take care of interior monologue, invocation of time and place and the clash of ideas. Let the play focus on the character and the drama in a shared experience. Don’t go if you are just going to moan about what isn’t there. Judge what is there. Right rant over. Sorry.

Oh and finally I would come down on the side of those who think there is only really one character here – that make most sense to me. It’s a memory play which to me explores the power of words to shape the past and the experience of women in a grimly patriarchal society (amongst loads of other things). So I only really saw one character through multiple possible experiences.

P.S. I just saw a “review” in Mail Online – yet another reason why I detest everything about that shabby organisation.

 

 

Grounded at the Gate Theatre review ****

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Grounded

Gate Theatre, Notting Hill Gate, 15th March 2017

Given that Grounded is now into its third run at the Gate and that is has had critical acclaim heaped upon it the last thing it needs is this chump adding to the sound and fury. But it seems I am something of a completist when it comes to recording my cultural journey so so no let off for you I am afraid.

And it is good. I mean really good. There was a bit of me that was a bit dubious going in to this. Potentially obvious target with an an obvious outcome (I swear no irony intended in this). But it is some much more than it appears on the surface. To check this I whizzed through the script. Do that and compare to what you have just seen and I think what the writer George Brant has created and, in particular, what Lucy Ellinson, conjures up alone on stage is just really, really good theatre. Makes you care and makes you think without overtly moralising (well maybe right at the end).

The Pilot at the outset is exactly what you might expect of an F-16 fighter pilot. Then love, husband and child take over and the Pilot ends up flying a drone from a base in the Nevada desert. That is when the dilemmas and the twists (of a sort) kick in. The pace of the monologue is rapid but full of imagery (sky, desert, Vegas, family life, being boxed in amongst many others) and Lucy Ellinson completely inhabits the character. In some ways the journey the pilot takes and where she ends up is, in retrospect, predictable but the insight into being a woman in this world, into balancing home and this sort of work (including its drudgery and social interaction as well as its obvious purpose), into the psychological stress of killing from afar, into the morality of this sort of war, are all revealed in a smart way.

Now it is possible that this worked for me because I am a liberal type who knows f**k all about what it is to be the person who is tasked with killing but Brant certainly got me thinking about all of that.

Anyway see for yourself whilst it is still on. Or make a mental reminder should in pop up elsewhere in future.

Oh and a reminder that the best way to see theatre is not in some poxy, neo-classical Edwardian fol-de-rol but above a pub on a bench (though I confess the Gate’s benches are back-breaking – just as well most everything I have seen there has captivated).

 

 

 

Russian Art at the Royal Academy review ****

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Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932

Royal Academy of Arts of Arts, 15th March 2017

Right short and sweet I think here. This was fascinating. But maybe less for the art itself and more for the insight into Soviet history. I only had a vague sense of the events that marked the Revolution, the civil war, the ascent of the Bolsheviks under Lenin and the dictatorship of Stalin. And even less of an idea of how art developed in the period beyond the vague shift away from the avant-garde towards a state approved Socialist Realism. Thanks to this fascinating exhibition I now know a lot more.

So what struck me most was the diversity of artistic movements jostling side by side under Lenin and how the early optimism led the artists of the period to try to support the aims of the Revolution and Bolshevism. We see how the state tried to accommodate the various strands of avant-garde art notably its arguably most important figure Malevich. But it also becomes quickly apparent that the communist regime cannot accommodate this diversity and that the attempts of artists across all forms to criticise the regime as it all starts to go wrong are brutally extinguished. Then we are left with artists either being co-opted entirely by the propaganda of the state or offering a critique in the most elliptical fashion possible. (My only previous exposure to this is through the life and music of Shostakovich so a real eye opener to see this going on elsewhere).

So I highly recommend you take a whizz around this exhibition. Optimism turns to despair and then suffering or deception. Better still contrast with the America After After the Fall exhibition also at the RA as I am sure the curators intend you to. I saw this in Paris (how lah di dah is that) and will run along again to see it shortly (it is that good) but from memory this also shows how art reveals the darker undercurrents in a society racked by economic collapse in the 1930s albeit with a veneer of optimism about the future.

In no particular order the highlights for me of the Russian Art exhibition were ….

  • Just how quickly the cult of Lenin took hold – the crowds turning out for his arrival in St Petersburg and the scale of the mourning at his death
  • Kliment Redko – Insurrection 1925 – this is in the first room I think – looking back critically on the Revolution and aftermath and a very powerful work
  • The real beauty of some of the photographs and paintings in room 2 which capture the industrial advance and the heroic worker
  • The early optimism of some of the artists as they embraced Lenin’s attempt to turn art into propaganda and perhaps how easily they were co-opted
  • The paintings of Pavel Filonov in room 3 – made up of small fragments building into beautiful images
  • Just how quickly the optimism was broken and how brutal was the repression as there were killed – there is a row of photographs of key artists in I think room 3 which conveys this eloquently
  • I don’t really get on with Malevich’s suprematist paintings but the casts of the buildings in room 4 were very interesting
  • The disastrous impact of collectivisation on rural Russia is well conveyed as is the links back to the pre-Revolutionary past – I loved the two Chagalls which have been sneaked in as part of these rooms
  • The various food coupons in I think room 7
  • The model of Tatlin’s glider is a real stand-out and a thing of beauty
  • The room devoted to Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin – never heard of him before but the still lifes in particular are really fascinating in terms of colour, perspective and content – the one with the herring is beautiful and very sad
  • The last room contrasts the daft socialist realist Stalinist sport paintings – and the complete stamping out of any Modernist art –  with a moving memorial

Sorry not so short in the end. Go take a look.

Bryars and Reich, LPO at the RFH review ****

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London Philharmonic Orchestra, Synergy Vocals, Sound Intermedia

Royal Festival Hall, 15th March 2017

Now it is a racing certainty that you will be familiar one way or another with the great minimalist composers of the second half of the C20 even if you don’t know it. The sound is ubiquitous in film, television and elsewhere. Driven by clear rhythms and patterns, with simple sonorities and slow harmonic progression, and with loads of repetition, this is a breeze for the punter (like me) born and bred in a pop/rock/soul paradigm.This is why it is justifiably quite “popular” and is bringing in a load of bearded youth into concert halls (a good thing with some minor exceptions).

From this base I have put some effort in and in the last couple of years have expanded exponentially into the minimalist world. The Minimalist series in 2015 at King Place was very helpful (big respect to Kings Place and the way they pull these series together) and I have seen a fair chunk of the major pieces performed in London since then and bought a lot of CDs to boot. So no expert but unlike many things I see I think I have a bit of a jump on most here.

But whisper this. There are times when the repetition can spill over into the plain dull. Fortunately this evening was not one of them.

Gavin Bryars “post-minimalism”, at least in the context of two of his most well known pieces played here, does ask a bit of the listener though to avoid falling into the dull trap. The “Sinking of the Titanic” takes some tape snippets and then sets a score based on what may have been played by the ship’s band as she went down. The lines are long, the harmonies shift slowly and it does go on a bit but overall the “underwater” effect and the varying of the instrumentation was enough to keep me going.

The second Bryars piece I have heard more often. This is Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet. The tape loop of the tuneful tramp singing will burrow into your brain. However here the slow but palpable building up of the orchestration on top of this makes it easier to follow for a ninny like me. It reminds me a bit of another fave of minimalism for me, Arvo Part’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten. Remember all this is my impression, please don’t shout at me if musically this descriptions or comparisons are nonsense.

Then we had arguably Steve’s Reich’s most famous work, Music for 18 Musicians. I own a couple of recordings of this (how fancy is that) and have seen a few performances. This helps as I can now follow the joins (announced by the fella on the mettalaphone no less) so can hear each of the parts in a way I couldn’t at first. But with the rhythm provided by the percussion instruments (love it when the maracas come in – hard work for the players I guess to do that much shaking in one night), and the pianos I defy anyone listening to this not to be drawn in and get the “minimalist trance” thing kicking in.

I can’t put my finger on why but this was the best live performance I can remember of the piece or maybe familiarity is a virtue here. Or most likely the LPO musicians just had a blinder. Anyway I highly recommend anyone taken by this to delve further into this world.

For Steve Reich I recommend the Desert Music and Drumming on top of this pieces, for Philip Glass maybe Glassworks to start(there is an awful lot of Philip Glass music as I am finding out the hard way), for John Adams I think Shaker Loops and Short Ride in a Fast Machine and I would also put a shout in for Michael Nyman’s string quartets and film music. There are tons of compilations (look away now classical music cognoscenti) to get you going.  Oh and you need the grandaddy of them all In C by Terry Riley. I will deal with the “holy’ Minimalists and especially Arvo Part another day.

Anyway all up I genuinely think your life will be a lot better listening to some of this especially for you youngsters who are steeped in rhythm anyway. So get that YouTube working.

Travesties at the Apollo Theatre review ****

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Travesties

Apollo Theatre, 13th March 2017

Right then. I clearly have to up my game. The more theatre I see the better I am at appreciating, understanding and enjoying. This is particularly the case with the great playwrights. With Will Shakespeare given a half decent director and cast I can now follow the plot, hear almost all the language and grasp, albeit in a rudimentary fashion, the dilemmas and tribulations that are presented to the characters. Until the last couple of years I freely admit it was enough just to keep up with what was going on and I was often bored. All my fault.

Elsewhere I have had some revelatory Greek experiences (not sure that came out exactly as intended), Ibsen and especially Chekhov are falling into place and the Americans, O’Neill, Williams, Miller and Albee, are all firmly on the go to list.

As for the great Britons well I am finally seeing that there is more to Pinter that menace and now I understand why Caryl Churchill is perfect in terms of form and content. And of course for we live right now in a golden age for new British theatre which only a numpty would ignore.

However, Stoppard until now has been a mystery. I have not knowingly seen any Stoppard plays in the dim and distant past though as we know (and delightfully Travesties reminds us) memory is an active construct of the present so I could be wrong. Likely though Travesties was my first ever. Obviously bonkers good reviews from the Menier Chocolate Factory run and the fella Hollander drew me in as well as the ubiquitous Patrick Marber directing (in order I would say the draw here being Marber’s previous directing assignments followed by the Partridge connection rather than his plays which I confess I need to see).

In short Tom Hollander plays Henry Carr some minor British consul type who apparently got into a dispute with James Joyce over payment connected with a performance of The Importance of Being Earnest in Zurich in 1917 where Carr played Algernon. Carr is looking back so a kind of imperfect and comedic “memory play’ is brought to bear. From this Stoppard elides Carr’s interactions with Joyce as well as Lenin and Tristan Tzara (one of the founders of Dada) as well Carr’s butler Bennett, Lenin’s wife (I think) and Cecily and Gwendolen characters. Carr and Bennett I gather are characters in Ulysses (of which I am still massively intimidated so have never read or am likely to read I confess).

So how did I fare? Well I thought I had put some hours in having delved into the history of modernism in C20 culture and with a bit of past, and more recent, boning up on Marxism. But I failed to follow vast chunks of Stoppard’s dazzling brain and wit. I can get the plot crossover into the Importance of Being Earnest (thanks mostly to the 2002 film with Everett, Firth, Witherspoon, Dench etc and the Gerald Barry opera which is a must see should it be revived again). But so much of the direct references to the life and works of Lenin, Joyce and Tzara passed me by. (Mind you I can recommend the Soviet Art exhibition at the Royal Academy for an insight into the rise of Lenin and how he shaped art and literature post the Revolution).

Still all the erudition on show does remind you just how important this time was to the formation of ideas in politics, art and literature and how those ideas have (or in many cases have not) filtered through into later decades. I guess some of the debates on the relationship between art and society, capitalism vs socialism and literary form which are aired in the play were more lively in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Travesties was written in 1974) but I still think there was much to feast on here. I just need to work out what.

But no matter it still made me chuckle where I did get it (Tzara whizzing through the inaugural night at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, Lenin setting out the correct march through socialism to communism, the p*ss takes on street guides to Dublin) and the zip of the whole thing just carries you along. There were multiple shifts in the form and structure of the play which I thoroughly enjoyed such as a scene entirely in limericks, replays as Carr sees events in different ways, lots of punning, music hall parodies, doors opening/closing in a quasi farcical way as well as verbal sparring generally between Carr and the three main characters as well as moving monologues from Carr on the waste of the First World War.

So if you limber up beforehand with a bit of Wiki action, look at the interview in the programme between Marber and Stoppard (obviously I left this until after – doh) and take it easy on all the brain food on offer here then an enjoyable night is on the cards. Tom Hollander’s ability to capture the bemusement and snarkeyness of the British toff anchors the whole thing and the tone of the other characters was ideal. Freddie Fox as Tzara/Jack/Earnest puts a shift in physically, Forbes Masson as Lenin has a bit less to play with but captures it very well and Peter McDonald as Joyce gets to be Stoppard’s favourite methinks (both in terms of his art and as Lady Bracknell). I especially loved Amy Morgan and Clare Foster in the “no I’m engaged to him” parody bit.

Having said that it is, even with a decent pitch in the stalls, a ridiculously uncomfortable theatre for a big unit like me so beware.

But note to self. Put more effort in for the next Stoppard play.