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Mussorgsky Pictures from an Exhibition

Young Vic, London 13 May 2009

Musical Supervision & Arrangement Joel Fram
Sound Fergus O'Hare

Direction Daniel Kramer
Choreography Frauke Requardt and Daniel Kramer
Design Richard Hudson
Lighting design Peter Mumford
Text James Fenton

Conor Doyle
Kath Duggan
Edward Hogg
Carl Joseph
Rob McNeill
Michela Meazza
Inn Pang Ooi
Vinicius Salles
Margarita Zafrilla Olayo

A sequel to Kramer's very successful and greatly admired version of Birtwistle's Punch and Judy at the Young Vic, for Mussorgsky afficionados this Sadler's Wells co-production at the Young Vic will not offer comparable illumination.

His Pictures from an Exhibition are heard in various guises, with electronic distortion and dazzling neon lighting, a live red-headed pianist hamming it up, bits of the Ravel orchestration hurled at us through not very good PA equipment at up to near-pain volume, and other 'contemporary' treatments.

That is at variance with James Fenton's telling us in the programme essay (hard as printed to read at the theatre) that, after Mussorgsky's dismissal for long as "an ugly, incomplete composer", his master works finally achieved acceptance in the composer's original versions; Fenton cites especially the naturalism of his settings "especially in the Nursery songs which exhibit incomparable empathy for young children (q.v. the original version recording with Simon Woolf which I produced).

For this show the Young Vic's theatre-in-the-round capability is abandoned in favour of a more conventional stage, with a lot of doors within which the near-death composer is trapped in a nightmare situation which concentrates upon frustrated sexuality. The dancing seemed to us limited in scope in comparison with modern dance which we see regularly at Laban, including from their own Transitions Dance Company.

Peter Grahame Woolf

For dance expertise read Judith Mackrell in The Guardian,
Debra Craine in The Times: A strange show that won’t be to all tastes.
and What'sOnStage: - - an amazing nightmare gallery design by Richard Hudson and a drunken composer lurching around inside his own music - - resist it as maudlin gothic hokum or go with the flow.

Images: Alastair Muir