Entertainment Views Interviews: Soprano, Eleanor Dennis

Soprano, Eleanor Dennis arrived on my radar when I attended Three Choirs Festival at Worcester Cathedral. Her voice is so exquisite that it still resonates almost a year on. Since then I’ve been keeping an eye on her career and have thus far been unable to make the requisite journeys see her on stage. However, I am delighted to be seeing her next month when she appears in Three Choirs Festival again, in Hereford. 

I’m delighted that she’s allowed me to chat to her about her career to date, so without further ado…

Thanks so much for talking to Entertainment Views, Eleanor. First of all, tell me what inspired you to pursue a career in Opera.

I grew up in a very musical household in Aberdeenshire. My parents were both involved with the Haddo House Choral and Operatic Society, who put fully staged operas on every year. They couldn’t always find a babysitter, so my brother and I usually ended up onstage in the big chorus scenes. My first operatic memory is being in the Peter Grimes opening chorus, aged about 4, and having the time of my life! From then on, opera just became the thing I loved.

Earlier this year you appeared in A Midsummer Night’s Dream with ENO, tell me about the experience and what you enjoyed most about playing the role of Helena?

I absolutely loved being involved with this production – it’s so iconic. Helena is immense fun to play – she has some glorious music to sing, and is so feisty! I really enjoyed the physical challenge presented by this particular staging, I came offstage feeling like I’d done quite a workout!

Last year I saw you perform at 3 Choirs Festival at Worcester Cathedral, what were the challenges of singing Mendelssohn’s St Paul?

St Paul is quite unusual, in that the soprano role is mostly accompanied recitative, rather than arias. This can be tricky, as in recit, you’re responsible for conveying the story to the audience. I think the main challenge for me was making sure my text and intention were clear enough to get the message of the work across to the audience.

What do you find are the main differences between performing Oratorio and Opera? Do you have a preference?

They are two very different beasts, both as dramatic as each other, but in very different ways. With opera, you can really lose yourself in a character, with the costumes, set and distance from the audience. With oratorio, it feels more intimate to me, it’s just you in front of a chorus and orchestra, creating a piece of drama, with words and music alone. I love both equally – although you do get some wonderful frocks in opera!

Eleanor Dennis with Kitty Whately in Cosi Fan Tutte at Opera Holland Park –
Photo Credit: Robert Workman

You’re currently appearing in Cosi Fan Tutte, tell me about the production and the character you’re playing. 

It’s a really beautiful period production, set in Naples in the 1790s, when the opera was written. I play Fiordiligi, one of two sisters, who have a very cruel trick played on them by their fiances… she goes through a real rollercoaster of emotions, and I’ve found it fascinating to play her. It helps that she has the most sublime music to sing!

What are your personal highlights in Cosi Fan Tutte?

My absolute favourite part of the opera is the duet Fiordiligi sings with Ferrando in act two, where she finally gives in to her feelings for him. It is so perfectly written – it conveys the tumultuous emotions so clearly. I also love singing her act two aria “per pieta” – for me, it’s Mozart’s finest soprano aria.

What are your ambitions for the future? Any roles you’re keen to play, in particular? 

I’d love to take on some of Strauss’ great heroines – Arabella, Marschallin – and maybe even dip my toe into some Wagner… All in good time, though! My favourite opera is Peter Grimes, so I’d also really like to play Ellen Orford.

Who are your favourite composers and why?

I think Mozart will always be my favourite to listen to, and to sing, he had a real understanding of the human voice. I also love Britten, for his amazing word painting, and you can’t really beat Puccini when it comes to high-emotion arias.

What’s coming up for you next?

I’m heading to Madrid next week to do Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at the Auditorio Nacional de Musica, which I’m really looking forward to. It’ll also be great to head back to ENO next season, where I’m doing 1st Lady in Magic Flute.

Cosi Fan Tutte has completed its run as we go to press, however, as you can see there are plenty of opportunities coming up to see Eleanor performing. Another great big thank you to her for a superb interview. 

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Travis ‘The Man Who’ in Concert 2018 ~ Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Star rating: *****

Over twenty years ago a band burst onto the scene who offered music which resonated with every aspect of my teenage life and lyrics which to this day are so poignant to a myriad of life experiences. The Scottish-bred group were indeed, Travis and last night, thanks to Birmingham Symphony Hall – I finally saw one of my all-time favourite bands live.

The tour is based on their break-through album ‘The Man Who‘ which is perfectly timed given the decades that have passed since Travis became what I would call ‘mainstream’. Therefore, the most part of the evening is dedicated to the band playing that entire album all the way through. With no audience interaction to begin with, simply moving seamlessly between album and single hits with multiple guitar swaps, if you closed your eyes you would have been led to believe you were merely listening to the album. In fact, lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist, Fran Healy made a joke along those lines! The line-up still includes Dougie Payne (bass guitar, backing vocals), Andy Dunlop (lead guitar and backing vocals) and Neil Primrose on drums and percussion. With the introduction of Dave on keyboards/piano – if you were there or you’ve seen this show, you’ll know why Dave’s introduction is a key moment in the gig! No spoilers!

As a whole, the band’s charisma is ever-present whether they’re communicating directly with their fans or immersed in playing their hits. Their genre varies which is one of their many strengths and it was also a treat to have an extremely extended encore following completion of the full album. Selecting highlights is not easy, however my personal favourite numbers from the album are Driftwood and Turn and of course, Why Does It Always Rain On Me, which raised the roof and then some. I was absolutely beside myself when they proceeded to treat us to Side, Flowers in the Window and Sing. One criticism? my all-time favourite hit is Re-Offender and we weren’t privy to a live version of that immensely emotive tune. However, there were still plenty of old faithfuls played for Healy and the gang to have the audience in the palm of their hand. When’s the next one, boys? This was by far one of the best gigs I’ve had the privilege of reviewing!

Catch Travis on tour for yourselves, follow the link and book your tickets: Travis Tour

Plebs Series 4 ~ Review

Plebs series 4 offers the usual hilarious antics and high-jinx, often wildly inappropriate and cringe-worthy antics and high-jinx! ITV2’s must-watch comedy has got it all going on again.

Stylax

This series we see the return of Joel Fry as Stylax – albeit briefly, no spoilers if you haven’t seen it yet, I’m a huge fan of Fry’s and Stylax was one of the best characters in my humble opinion. To counter-balance, Jason is introduced (played by Jonathan Pointing), he’s grown on me, it wasn’t ‘love’ at first sight, however Pointing is an engaging actor. The positive is that the regular writers, Sam Leifer and Tom Basden are still at the helm and their jokes are the making of the show.

Aurelius

Series writer, Tom Basden plays the role and I liked the way they’ve landed him at the centre of the darkest humour which borders on brutal (especially where murders are concerned) yet remains thoroughly comedic throughout. The script has been cleverly constructed and Aurelius’ continued involvement is a genius move. I’m equally impressed and intrigued by the return of many characters who previously appeared in the show. Recurring characters are the life-blood of a sitcom.

Roman Roots

The roman roots together with the silly, childish humour offers a hilarious sitcom which should still run and run. As long as the writers stick with what works and we don’t wave goodbye to too many beloved characters in the future, I’ll be a happy viewer. All hail Plebs!

Get your hands on a copy of the latest series on DVD (see the image below):

Kiss Me, Kate – The London Coliseum

Kiss Me Kate is booking until 30 June 2018, strictly limited run – get your tickets here: Kiss Me Kate Tickets
Guest Review: Francesca Mepham 
Star rating: ****
Opera North have brought to The London Coliseum, their sensational touring production, of perhaps Cole Porter’s finest work, the Musical Kiss Me, Kate. 
Quirijn de Lang
From the moment the sumptuous Overture is played by Opera North’s incredible orchestra, conducted by James Holmes, the high energy ride begins, that you are delighted to be swept along upon. The opening number Another Op’nin, Another Show, performed by Hattie (Aiesha Pease) and the ensemble, is executed with charisma and introduces the ‘show within a show’ genre, that Kiss Me, Kate is based upon, which is Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew.
The love-hate relationship, of the shows divorced actor and director Fred Graham (Quirijn de Lang) and Lilli Vanessa (Stephanie Corley), finds its stride, when they are playing the roles of Petruchio and Kate, compared to the earlier scenes, where the fire and bite is very much solely felt from Corley. The passion in Cole Porter’s masterpiece So In love is performed separately by each character, with honesty and warmth, which they never find a way to show each other. A depiction of Petruchio ‘spanking’ Kate, was slightly uncomfortable viewing and dated, its inclusion in the production today, is rather curious.
Wit and comedy are the real highlights of this production, with Bella and Samuel Spewack’s dazzling book, with Jo Davies having kept the staging quite minimal, which works tremendously well as this a character driven show. The First Gunman (Joseph Shovelton) and Second Gunman (John Savournin), are a joyous double act, which captures the great screwball comedy of the forties era, but with a great freshness. The duo’s number Brush Up Your Shakespeare was a stand-out number of the show, as was another outstanding moment in Act Two, with Zoë Rainey’s quirky and stunning rendition of Always True To You In My Fashion as the ditzy nightclub-dancer-turned-actress Lois Lane.
Jack-Wilcox as Hortensio Zoe Rainey as Bianca Piers Bate as Gremio and Alan Burkitt as Lucentio
Will Tuckett’s choreography was shown to its full strength by the ensemble numbers most notably Too Darn Hot, which Stephane Anelli as Paul showed great charm. The real revelation of the show was Alan Burkitt as lovable rogue actor Bill Calhoun, whose jaw-dropping solo tap number was mesmerizing. Zoë Rainey also displayed great pizzaz with the choreography, giving one of the most enchanting performances I have seen in a long time, with her portrayal of both Lois Lane and Bianca.
Kiss Me, Kate is full of moments, that remind you of the magic of Cole Porter’s timeless music, when performed by a truly remarkable cast and orchestra. Opera North have a triumph on their hands, which will enthrall audiences, lucky enough to see this classy production. Wunderbar!

Photo Credits: Tristam Kenton 

Entertainment Views Interviews: Creator of TV Series, Romper Stomper… Geoffrey Wright

Romper Stomper arrives on DVD TODAY!


A QUARTER of a century ago, a film about skinhead racists running amok in Australia exploded around the world in an orgy of violence, shocking audiences with its realistic take on neo-Nazi culture and making a star of its young lead, Russell Crowe. Now, with nationalism and racism on the rise around the globe, Romper Stomper is set to return for its sequel, this time as a powerful and daring TV series, with a distinctly modern take.

Generating both critical acclaim and controversy across the globe, Romper Stomper arrives as a compelling six-part series. Following its run on BBC Three, it makes its DVD bow on 18 June 2018 courtesy of Acorn Media International.

Original writer and director Geoffrey Wright has created a new world in and around Melbourne, one inhabited by right-wing extremists, anti-fascist revolutionaries radicals and a group of Muslims caught between them. He has also revived some of the characters from the 1992 feature, played by original cast Dan Wyllie (Love My Way), John Brumpton (The Loved Ones) and Jacqueline McKenzie (The Water Diviner). They are joined by Lachy Hulme (Beaconsfield), Sophie Lowe (The Slap), David Wenham (Top of the Lake), Nicole Chamoun (Last Dance), and rising star Toby Wallace (Boys In The Trees).

Told from multiple points of view, Romper Stomper follows Patriot Blue, a new generation of white supremacists. Into their midst comes Kane, a smart, young 22-year-old with a secret past and a plan to secure his place in the group. His street smarts and winning way with words soon see him rising to the top as his band of hardcore right-wing extremists come into contact with both anti-fascist hardliners and a trio of conflicted Muslims. And as their rivalry intensifies, a wider political thriller emerges…

Series Creator, Geoffrey Wright chatted to Entertainment Views about the television series. 

Thanks for talking to Entertainment Views, Geoffrey. When you first wrote Romper Stomper (the movie) where had your inspiration originated from?

I grew up near a suburb called Pascoe Vale. It was here that a skinhead Nazi crim called Dane Sweetman murdered a man on Hitler’s birthday. It was a shock but then I noticed other skinheads with their swastikas, racist tattoos, and steel capped boots, on the local trains. I realised you didn’t have to go far to find them. Something had to be said about them so I began interviewing and recording kids who had been part of that scene but who were (more or less) out of it.  I couldn’t interview anyone still operating in it because they wouldn’t talk. From those interviews I assembled the script for the movie, compounding many events into a compressed time span.

Why do you feel now is the right time to revisit it?

With the rise of the Alt Right in the USA, the election of Trump, and  the coming of Brexit, it felt like the far right was less shy about making its presence felt. The far right was selling itself as a viable political force, not a fringe dwelling oddity.  It seemed like the moment had come when someone like Hando in the old film would look around and think ‘Mmm, this is more than interesting’.

What can the audience expect from the TV series and how will it compare to the film?

The audience can expect a new generation of extremists trying to ‘top’ or live up to the expectations of the old. They can also expect new players like ‘Antifasc’, our take on ‘Antifa’, who are the far left opponents of the Nazis and at least as physical and combative as them. There’s also some exploration of identity, whether it’s inherited or open to choice.

What are the challenges of bringing this to the small screen?

The challenges are working with sometimes very large numbers of people in very short shooting schedules, not that the film had a long shoot, either.

What do you feel the strengths of the piece are?

I think it tackles difficult material in a medium too given to political correctness. From a technical angle, it’s a well designed show that tends to avoid predictable execution in terms of camera and sound. I think it makes the most of today’s bigger screens and better sound systems. That doesn’t happen enough in TV.

Do you feel that writing and directing have an easy symmetry?

Do you mean writing and directing the same work? They can have a very clean and satisfying symmetry but directing off someone else’s writing is good too. On the series I wrote two episodes but only directed one of those I wrote. The other episode I directed was written by someone else and that can be liberating because you have (literally) fewer preconceptions. However, I do get anxious watching others direct something that I wrote.

What advice of you got for budding writers and directors?

Try and capture some kind of truth about human beings, be memorable in the process. If your work isn’t memorable it’s not worth doing.

Finally, why should we all tune in to the series?

Too much of the western world is worried about causing offence, you won’t get that fear in this show. Besides, we have some great young actors, Toby Wallace, Lily Sullivan, Markella Kavanagh, and Sophie Lowe; and some great established stars in Jacqueline McKenzie, Lachy Hulme and David Wenham.

Huge thanks to Geoffrey for his time and insightful answers – make sure you all look out for Romper Stomper which was released on DVD today. 

Blackpool Tower Circus ~ Review

You can book to see this incredible extravaganza by clicking the link: 

Blackpool Tower Circus

Star rating: ****

Circus has been a popular entertainment and art form for 250 years, now! What a revelation, and indeed a superb achievement. It deserves a few honks of a clown’s horn at the very least and perhaps a mammoth celebration, you might think? Well, Blackpool Tower Circus have produced that very celebration. It’s a spanking brand new show for 2018 and stars Blackpool Circus favourites, Mr Boo and Mooky.

With the two popular clowns at the helm, what could go wrong? Plenty, with Mooky mucking about and getting under Mr Boo’s feet, interrupting his pal’s attempts to play a full tune on the sax and of course, the age old mirror trick adding an extra dimension to their well established comedy act. It was a delight to follow the hilarious pair ‘around the world’ as we were treated to acrobatics, tricks and an astounding array of balancing acts. The talent within the troupe knows no bounds, from using a bike to increase the risk in a stunning balancing act, to using the whip in the most extraordinary fashion (and without any animals, I hasten to add). Just when you think you’ve seen it all, Storm Troopers appear and so do trampolines – mind blown! All of which is punctuated with Mooky and Mr Boo clowning around and engaging the audience in their madcap antics.

With a finale to beat all finales, the acts you’ll see will amaze, wow and astound you beyond belief. There’s never been a better time to go to see the Blackpool Tower Circus, it’s great family entertainment, although a few of the acts lost our little boy’s attention – but he is only 4 years old. If you’ve been to the Circus before, you’ll already know what a treat you’re in for and if you haven’t been to one yet, this is a fantastic one to start with. Make sure you have your photo taken in front of the green screen too!

 

Falstaff ~ Garsington Opera

Falstaff is one of four Operas in a sensational annual programme from Garsington Opera, ticket availability is limited, follow the link to see what’s on: Garsington Opera

Star rating ***** 

Sung in Italian with English subtitles, Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff opened at Garsington Opera last night and it was glorious. An evening of beautifully constructed, overt comedy featuring an elite cast of exceptionally talented artists. Ably assisted by the Philharmonia Orchestra, whose sound was carried effortlessly by the venue’s magnificent acoustics. This was their Conductor, Richard Farnes’s Garsington debut.

The libretto for Falstaff was adapted by Arrigo Boito from The Merry Wives of Windsor and scenes from Henry IV parts 1 and 2, by Shakespeare. The notorious, obese Knight, John Falstaff (Henry Waddington) is at the centre of the story – gluttonous to the core, in order to aid his money worries he’s plotting to have his wicked way with two of the three merry wives of Windsor (and almost succeeds in turning the head of the third, Mistress Quickly (Yvonne Howard)). Alice Ford (Mary Dunleavy) and Meg Page (Victoria Simmonds) each receive an identical love letter from the scheming braggart, delivered by the Page Boy, as Bardolfo (Adrian Thompson) and Pistola (Nicholas Crawley) have refused to be part of Falstaff’s deception. The unscrupulous pair are quick to tip off Ford (Richard Burkhard) about the devious plan and so forms another concurrent plot. Simultaneously, Ford and Alice’s daughter, Nannetta (Soraya Mafi) is desperate not to be matched with Dr Caius (Colin Judson) and with the help of the wives of Windsor she sets out to defy her father’s wishes and ultimately unite with her true love, Fenton (Oliver Johnston).

So unfolds a twisting, tantalising tale of mischief, enveloped by elegant, engaging and wondrous scenery and versatile props. Giles Cadle has designed a frame for the action which offers a window into the period of the piece, transporting the audience back in time with a simple flourish. I was truly transfixed by the backdrop and indeed the costumes which enhanced the overall depiction.

Henry Waddington is visually and physically comical in the title role, his articulate vocals perfectly portrayed the cocky character and the fat suit added a hilarious extra dimension. Richard Burkhard’s facial expressions were as integral as his strong voice in playing the fiercely jealous husband of Alice. He has palpable chemistry with Mary Dunleavy as Alice, Dunleavy is a gentile yet impish Alice and her dazzling vocal ability shone. Victoria Simmonds was equally engaging as Meg, cautious in comparison to her fellow mischief-makers yet just essential to the counter-plot forged by the wives. Yvonne Howard is perfectly cast as Mistress Quickly, who is the intrinsic cog in the elaborate prank – she takes joyous glee in the unfolding mayhem whilst resembling Queen Victoria in her black apparel. Howard’s mezzo-soprano voice melodiously complemented the character. Soraya Mafi was delightfully naïve and inquiring as the love-torn Nannetta, impeccably paired with Oliver Johnston as her desired partner, Fenton. Mafi’s vocals will resonate with me for a long time to come, pitch perfect.

Bruno Ravella has meticulously directed a rollicking ride of a comedic Opera, while Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting design complements the natural light afforded by the remarkable, innovative venue. Movement direction from Tim Claydon is spectacularly notable and there is excellent support from Garsington Opera Chorus. If you’re not an Opera aficionado, this is a perfect introduction to Italian Opera, the comedy element alone offers insight into the synopsis. If you are an Opera buff and familiar with Falstaff, this production is absolutely worth a watch. Either way you’re in for a treat!

Photo Credits: Clive Barda

Matilda the Musical ~ Milton Keynes Theatre

Matilda the Musical is currently touring, check out the tour dates, venues and book your tickets, here: Matilda the Musical

Guest Review by Hayley Makepeace 


An amazing show from the RSC, it’s obvious why it is doing so fabulously well.

The children are the most talented I have ever seen in a production. They really steal the show. This is a musical made for children and adults alike whilst still very much retaining its roots as a children’s story. Everything about it keeps you in a child’s world…the ‘oversized’ set…huge building blocks featuring the alphabet, large swings that send the children soaring in the air across the stage, huge school gates that can be scaled. It all transports the audience to a 5 year old child’s perspective.

Rebecca Thornhill as Mrs Wormwood with Matt Gilleett as Rudolpho

Then there are the elaborate and colourful costumes that extenuate the Wormwood characters whilst Matilda is dressed plain and ‘normally’ by contrast. The set creates an imaginative child’s world with wonder, fantasy and excitement yet it is tinged with darkness mirroring the sad existence endured by Matilda.  This is a show that pulls at the heartstrings. Poppy Jones as Matilda showed us a very intelligent yet solemn, grown up but mischievous girl. A tiny girl, she maintained a stage presence that left you in no doubt who the show was about. An amazingly strong and clear voice when she was talking, a beautiful sweet singing voice that held an air of sadness but wasn’t too grown up and suited her young character.

Trunchbull (Craige Els) is a giant towering over everyone and everything, reflecting the scary darker side of life. The character was brilliantly played by the actor, Very strong and completely stood out as a character on its own against the world. I loved it when Truchbull swung Amanda (Maddie Gilbey) around by the pigtails. The scene had the effect of Amanda being swung into the audience, but then cleverly the girl fell from the ceiling onto the floor.

Craige Els as Trunchbull with Carly Thoms as Miss Honey

There were also excellent performances from Carly Thoms as Miss Honey, Matilda’s timid yet determined teacher and Rebecca Thornhill and Sebastian Torkia as Matilda’s parents, the brash Wormwoods.

A captivating and energetic production that holds your attention entirely, throughout. In fact I’ve never been at a show that seemingly passes so quickly. I loved the score and may have to purchase a CD!

Matilda the Musical stays at Milton Keynes Theatre until 30 June 2018. 

Photo Credits: Matilda the Musical Website

A Very English Scandal ~ Episode Three

On Sunday 3 June we reached the concluding part of Russell T Davies’ A Very English Scandal, and it was a cornucopia of lies, truth and underhanded dealings. Culminating in the greatest shock of all (if you didn’t already know the outcome), that Thorpe (Hugh Grant) got away with it. He was cleared of involvement in the attempted murder of Norman Scott (Ben Whishaw) and his cronies? Similarly ditto!

Frustratingly, we see that Thorpe and his side-kicks get away with their plot to kill Scott, with a Judge who epitomises the word ‘biased’, naturally excellent representation (played by Adrian Scarborough) and stoic support from Marion (Monica Dolan), Thorpe’s second wife. Although Marion must have suspected that there was more to the story than met the eye, she certainly didn’t appear to be stupid and when a letter from Thorpe to Scott was published in a newspaper (a spin doctor move from Thorpe’s advisors) – could it truly be denied? The relationship between the two could be summed up in one ‘dangerous’ word – ‘bunnies’! Of course, Ursula Thorpe (Patricia Hodge) remains in shell-shocked denial and on her Son’s side throughout. While Scott still has the backing and friendship of the aptly named Edna Friendship (Michele Dotrice). Justice isn’t set to conquer and that becomes evident as the episode progresses.

With a consistently considered and measured performance from Grant in all three episodes, a delightfully skittish and self-absorbed portrayal from Whishaw as Scott and equally an excellent performance from Alex Jennings as Bessell, this series was one of the BBC’s most gripping dramas. If you’ve missed it, you MUST catch it on iplayer, you’ll see Hugh Grant as you’ve never seen him before. Who’d have though he would be perfect casting for this real-life role? Not I!

A Very English Scandal – Catch up on iplayer

 

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