Richard Jones’ gold mine for ENO

Photograph by Robert Workman for ENO

photograph by Robert Workman for ENO It wasn’t the best introduction. I have an awkward feeling that I first saw La fanciulla del West with Dame Gwyneth Jones singing Minnie, sometime in the late 1980s, when she was approaching 50, and her vibrato was so widely spaced you could drive a London bus through the gaps. So it isn’t a piece I was disposed to regard with a great deal of seriousness. I … [Read more...]

Elektricity at the Old Vic

Incest, jealousy, betrayal, murder, and cannibalism are in Elektra’s genes. The poor woman is descended from the House of Atreus, and these are just a few of the negative features of the lives and deaths of her ancestors. She makes an appearance in Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy and gets plays all to herself in Euripides and Sophocles. Sophocles’ Elektra, like all Aristotelian Greek tragedies, … [Read more...]

Please don’t throw the chairs, Otello

Stuart Skelton and Jonathan Summers photographed by Alastair Muir for ENO

  David Alden’s new production of Verdi’s Otello at the English National Opera is interesting chiefly because its Australian-born, Florida-resident tenor, Stuart Skelton decided not to black up for the title role. That’s a little unfair, as his magnificent heldentenor was clarion-bright in tone and unflaggingly dramatic. In truth, I wasn’t for a moment bothered by the political correctness … [Read more...]

Flowering Barbed Wire Means War

A round of raucous applause for my friend, Sir Jonathan Mills, who has just completed his eighth and final year as Director of the Edinburgh International Festival. I’ve attended them all. His tenure has been a success by any measure – even money. The 2014 Festival took more than £3.15m in taking sales income, making more than £3m for the first time in its history since 1947, and with 80% of the … [Read more...]

King Tut’s Tomb Reopened

The gold mask

    “Discovering Tutankhamun,” an exhibition currently at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford celebrates a remarkable fact. Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon of course discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings in 1922. The archive of the excavation was presented to the University of Oxford by Carter’s niece, Phyllis Walker, following his death in 1939. It … [Read more...]

My Night with Reg, La Ronde and the Daisy-Chain Plot


There are many ways a work of fiction or drama can date. If the intention is satirical, it can become dated within a matter of weeks, or even days, as the details of the political or social scandal (or whatever its target may be) are forgotten. Satire doesn’t automatically become dated: after all, we still read Pope, Swift and Orwell. Plays (and films) can also appear dated simply because there’s … [Read more...]

Next Stop, Elysian Fields

Gillian Anderson and Ben Foster

There really was (and possibly still is) a streetcar names Desire. I know because I photographed it as a precocious, naughty 12-year-old on a school visit to New Orleans in 1953 – only six years after the play opened on Broadway. Of course I didn’t see anything of the real working-class culture represented by Stanley Kowalksi and his poker-playing buddies. But our group stayed in the Vieux Carré, … [Read more...]

Selling Waste Food – Make Mine a Harlequin

Jake Tilson's design for Pepe's Lefotovers Menu in Homage to Alicia Rios

  “One third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted before it is eaten, the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization estimates,” said a BBC bulletin on 3 July. The 34th annual Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery took place 11-13 July 2014 at St Catherine’s College on the topic “Food & Markets.” Waste was on our minds. It might seem a far cry from the subjects … [Read more...]

Maria, Violetta and Opera Queens

Joyce DiDonato as Maria Stuarda about to lose her head (by Bill Cooper)

  One of my greatest regrets is that I failed to see Maria Callas at Covent Garden in 1962 and 1964. The truth is that, at the time, tickets seemed very expensive to me (I was only 21 in 1962, and only visiting Britain from the US, though I was at university in London in 1964); and it never occurred to me that it might be my last chance to see a live performance by the greatest singer … [Read more...]

Star-struck and lazy

Time and the exigencies of newspaper production meant that few reviewers were able to group together two theatre productions that opened recently in London, and are a natural fit. It’s a pity, but the British national papers are going the way of American local ones and cutting down the space or even eliminating reviews of every kind – except, it would appear, restaurant reviews. Longer, more … [Read more...]