Tag Archives: Southbank Centre

ABBA: Super Troupers (exhibition review)

A few weeks ago, we visited the new installation at the Southbank Centre, which is a ten-room look at the life and work of the Swedish pop group ABBA, promoted as “an immersive, one-of-a-kind exhibition”.

abba 1

Tours must be pre-booked and are led by a guide – although I felt this simply lengthened the time required to experience this exhibition in total.  Each room is named after an ABBA song, beginning with Super Trouper, which is a cheesy collection of excerpts from their hits, in a small dark space, with a Super Trouper spotlight pride of place.

Other rooms showcase a typical living room of the 1970s, with accompanying television broadcast about the Common Market and a couple of display cases with real ABBA memorabilia – tip, make sure you walk around all the rooms and look at the exhibits as the time allowed to do this is limited, a fake forest representing an outdoor festival, a recording studio which demonstrated the complicated mix of music which made us a particular track – plus a chance to sing along to Dancing Queen, a club bathroom complete with graffiti, a flat with items packed up ready for a new life, and a luxury jet cabin.

01-Installation-vie_-ABBA-Super-Troupers-on-display-at-Southbank-Centre-CREDIT-Victor-FrankowskiPhoto by Victor Frankowski.

There are costumes, video footage, records, some personal items, and a final look at the legacy of the group (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and French and Saunders), but if you compare this with the recent exhibitions on Elvis Presley at the O2, and the Rolling Stones at the Saatchi Gallery, this is something of a disappointment, and would perhaps benefit from a more thoughtful curation of the available space, focusing on what is really rare and interesting so they are not missed.

However, if you are a fan of the group – and of course they have recently announced a reform of sorts with a new song and a holographic tour – this has now been extended until 29th July 2018.  Cheaper entry prices are available mid-week than at weekends.

 

 


London Literature Festival: Terry Gilliam and Tom Jones

Two very different nights out last week in the company of two very different chaps, both born in 1940, at the London Literature Festival at the Southbank Centre.

‘Inside the head of Terry Gilliam’ was a conversation between the American film director, artist, and ex-Python; and Arts Editor of the BBC, Will Gompertz.  Starting with the young Gilliam’s childhood in Minneapolis and working through his start in animation, through to his breakthrough at forty years old as an international film director, this conversation – supporting the publication of ‘Gilliamesque: a pre-posthumous memoir’ – was engaging, informative, and funny.  It also included a rather beautiful montage of scenes from his feature films, and a chance for audience members to ask questions.  Sad to say, with John Hurt’s recent illness it seems that the Don Quixote film is again stalled.

‘A conversation with Tom Jones’ was a night of two halves; first an opportunity for the Welsh singing legend to talk about his life and work, with Matt Everitt from BBC Radio 6, using photographs displayed as slides on a big screen to illustrate the tale and promote his ghostwritten autobiography, ‘Over the top and back’, and then a concert in excess of an hour which opened with ‘It’s Not Unusual’ and then settled into tracks from his new album, ‘Long Lost Suitcase’, proving that the ‘Voice’ was very much present and correct.  We even got an outing of his 80s hit, ‘Kiss’, but thankfully not with the thrusting around of old.  My favourite tracks of the night were Gillian Welch’s ‘Elvis Presley Blues’, Bob Dylan’s ‘What Good Am I’, Leonard Cohen’s ‘Tower of Song’ (and I’m a big Cohen fan, but this was a good version), and John Lee Hooker’s ‘Burnin’ Hell’.


History Is Now – exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre

Any exhibition which aims to present a history of British culture from 1945 to the present day has to be wide-ranging and risk-taking, and the Hayward Gallery’s new exhibition manages to be both.

Seven curators have presented six exhibitions within this space and generic umbrella of ‘History is Now’, and although there are no obvious links between the different shows, together they present an immersive snapshot of the country as it was, and where it is going.

Richard Wentworth’s section, on the top floor of the gallery, goes back the furthest, presenting photographs, sketches and texts around the immediate aftermath of the war, along with books about the period arranged above head height, covers facing downwards, on glass shelves.  His vision also includes a surface to air missile which sits outside in the Southbank Centre’s space, aimed towards the financial heart of modern London.

Hannah Starkey’s set of images includes collages of advertising from the 1970s, hugely sexist and geared towards a culture which has all but disappeared, where shoes, household appliances, and politics could be presented in ways that – if you remove the sexual politics and objectivity from the equation – remain startling and innovative.  Her section also includes real life photographs of destitution and degradation which are at odds with the glossy images depicted in the advertising.

John Akromfrah presents seventeen films which look at Britain’s artistic past and future – in themselves they represent hours of footage on which we only quickly glanced on our visit – but there is material from Hepworth, Bacon, and others, which could repay repeat visits.

The Wilson twins Jane and Louise focus much of their attention on Northern Ireland and the Troubles, in a thought-provoking set of images, paintings and texts which focus on both sides of the issue.  The most powerful piece in their section though might be the cage of gloves, each representing a person unemployed with hands idle at the height of the employment crisis of the 1980s.

Roger Hiorns presents a whole room devoted to BSE and the hysteria around mad cow disease – hard to remember now how this was headline news for so long, but newspaper covers, articles, reports, photographs and other artifacts remind us of the fact – a peripheral side effect of this is seeing what else was news at the time, which caused some nostalgia when viewing this particular exhibit.

Finally, and the first section you will see on entering the Hayward, Simon Fujiwara shows us David Beckham sleeping, Meryl Streep’s costume for ‘The Iron Lady’, some plastic cutlery, a couple of bin bags, and Damien Hirst’s dot painting (his cattle heads in formaldehyde are in Hiorns’ section).  This is the most ephemeral and the least engaging part of the exhibition, but the one which is the most flash – even including a section of balcony from a Canary Wharf apartment.

A mixed exhibition, and one which does require some attention to be paid to its messages and juxtapositions – we took nearly two hours to circulate on its preview night and could have stayed longer, had we engaged with every film on show.  I particularly liked the photographs from Erin Pizzey’s Chiswick Women’s Refuge, the items from Greenham Common peace camp, and the sense of history once you move away from the throwaway nature of Fujiwara’s vision into something with just that bit more depth.


Friday Night is Music Night (Queen Elizabeth Hall)

A finely nostalgic night about The Light Programme, titled ‘On the Wireless and Off the Box’, on stage at the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall and live on Radio 2, with the ghosts of Hancock and Semprini, Jimmy Edwards, Flanders and Swann, Gus Elen, Max Miller, and others jostling for space with songs from My Fair Lady (‘Show Me’) and Carousel (‘If I Loved You’), as well as Noel Coward’s sparkling Nina.

Bringing these to life for us, under the watchful eye of Master of Ceremonies Ken Bruce and conductor Gavin Sutherland, were the BBC Concert Orchestra, Kitty Whately, Simon Butterkiss, Roy Hudd, and Tim FitzHigham/Duncan Walsh.  It’s quite a feat the move from the fun of ‘In Party Mood’ to the pomp of ‘Orb and Sceptre’, to the music hall high jinks of ‘It’s A Great Big Shame’ and ‘Lucky Jim’ to the crowd-pleasing singalong of ‘Mud, Glorious Mud’ and the patter song ‘My Name is John Wellington Wells’ (from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Sorcerer).  The most touching thing was to see Roy Hudd, a man who appears more elderly when he isn’t in full flight, deliver ‘While London’s Fast Asleep’, by Harry Dacre, which could indeed “have been written yesterday”.

Funny, too, to see an audience delight in banter between Tony Hancock and Kenneth Williams, relayed over the years, and snicker at Dick Barton.


Pelléas et Mélisande (Southbank Centre)

This opening performance in the Philharmonia’s ‘City of Light: Paris 1900-1950’ season presented Debussy’s opera in a concert setting, with the orchestra centre stage and the singers walking down from the choir seats to stand stage front and sing their roles.

A piece rich in melodrama and both orchestral and vocal power, the music unfolded at a leisurely pace (starting at 7pm and finishing at 10.25pm, with a 20 minute interval) but there were moments which were moving, engrossing, and which presented the story with an immediacy which was captivating – much of this was down to the choice of lighting and in the use of cleverly staging (each act was ‘dressed’ in a different way to push the story forward).

Of the cast, Sandrine Piau (a last-minute substitute) was outstanding as Mélisande, her acting of the role as effective as her singing – while Stéphane Degout as Pelléas displayed a vibrancy and power of voice which kept you watching.  No less effective were Laurent Naouri as Golaud (I enjoyed watching him inhabit the role, through curiosity, anger, suspicion and finally grief), Jérome Varnier – a fine bass – as Arkél (the grandfather, so he looked too young, but his voice was perfect), Felicity Palmer as the mother of Golaud and Pelléas, and Chloé Briot as the little boy Yniold.

If I had a quibble it would be with the decision to add a narration which added nothing and which was hesitantly delivered by Sara Kestelman.  I appreciate this was an experiment to try and gain the pauses and silence which usually come naturally in a fully-staged production of this opera, but it didn’t quite come off.

Far better was the decision to have the cast garbed in white masks at the start, which were removed as the piece began.  As a metaphor for blindness, shadows, and secrets this worked very well indeed – this also reminded us of the great Greek tragedies, where the Chorus were generally masked but all-seeing.

In the case of ‘Pelléas et Mélisande’ much is hidden, misconstrued, or simply missed.  The King, almost blind, sees only Mélisande’s innocence.  Golaud sees this in her, a frightened bird, but can not bring himself to trust this mysterious bird of paradise, while Pelléas betrays his family and eventually brings tragedy to them all.

An intelligent production, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, with the Philharmonia in good form.  Exhausting and immersive, but very much worthwhile.


Quick Saturday post

At the Southbank Centre today for a live with orchestra screening of Abel Gance’s Napoleon – the Photoplay restoration with music by Carl Davis (who conducts the Philharmonic Orchestra today).

Full review here tomorrow.


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