13 May 2023

Star Wars in Concert - RNS at Sage Gateshead

I'm starting to get addicted to films in concert. I got into the Christmas spirit in December with Home Alone in Concert at the Sage, and can't believe how quickly May 4th came around. The globally recognised Star Wars Day is a chance for fans to attend events, get dressed up and escape reality, be it as a member of the Empire or the Rebel Alliance.

Of course some of the most popular characters were present - Darth Vader and his variety of troopers, also flanked by an Imperial Officer. I also saw a Jawa, and a Gomorrean Guard. It was interesting that no one was dressed up as a good guy, but I guess the bad guy costumes are more interesting! Audience members took full advantage of the photo opportunities, with a variety of poses with Vader (captured on their knees, being asphyxiated like me etc). Behind the costumes were the 99th Garrison, who raise a lot of money for charity.

The might of the 99th Garrison

I was a bit disappointed that they weren't showing film clips but I guess the rights to show those are difficult to get hold of. In the end it didn't matter though, as the incredible scores by legendary composer John Williams speak for themselves. There were saber-like lights which flashed different colours depending on which side was being featured at that point. The conductor, Stephen Bell did a great job of providing the back story of each film. When I saw the Chorus of the Royal Northern Sinfonia, I knew that we were in for a great show - the choir takes some of the scores to a new level. I loved how some of the RNS had dressed up - Kyra Humphries (First Violin) was Rey, I caught a glimpse of a rebel pilot and to top it all of there was a Wookie playing the Cor Anglais. How some of them played wearing a mask was beyond me. 

Proceedings got underway with the 20th Century Fox theme straight into Star Wars Main Theme, which never fails to produce goosebumps, especially the first note. I just recently watched all of the films again and realised what a massive part the scores play, and how Williams totally encapsulates each character in their theme. 

Darth Vader takes the stage, a fitting mural, the Stormtroopers enter, a creepy Jawa

So things proceeded chronology, starting with Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. We were treated to "The Flag Parade" (the brass section were amazing) and "Anakin's Theme", which perfectly captures his character and downward spiral to the Dark Side. The real showstopper here is the "Dual of the Fates", which is just downright terrifying paired with the epic battle between Darth Maul, Qui Gon Jinn and Obi Wan Kenobi. I knew that the choir would blow it out of the park and I was not wrong, just seriously spine tingling stuff. Then we heard the beautiful love song "Across the Stars" from Episode 2 featuring Eleanor Sullivan on oboe (written for the love story of Anakin and Padme). 

This was a nice respite before "Battle of the Heroes" from Episode 3 (the theme of the gut wrenching fight between Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi). Before the interval and more photo opportunities, we went forward (and back) in time to Episode 4: A New Hope complete with "Princess Leia's Theme" and the ominous "Imperial March." It amazes me how Williams weaved all of these themes throughout all films when it served the action. Darth Vader took to the stage,  giving me a shock his entourage streamed in down the aisle next to me. One of my favourites, the catchy "The Cantina Band" was snuck in before the interval, offering some light relief alongside some of the darker themes. 

Conductor Stephen Bell - can you spot Leia in the background?

The original films include "Yoda's Theme" (a hymn-like piece which captures his wisdom), "Luke and Leia's Theme" (which highlights the strength of their bond is also instantly recognisable from Return of the Jedi) and the lighthearted "Parade of the Ewoks." Then it was onto the final three films (well, two because the rights aren't available for The Rise of Skywalker yet). "Rey's Theme" from The Force Awakens starts out sounding youthful and adventurous, then becomes something altogether more serious and powerful signifying her increasing ability to use the Force. "Scherzo for X-Wings" was truly epic, incorporating the main theme and amazing skill by the trumpet/brass section (I think it's my favourite piece from the sequels). "The Jedi Steps" when you first see Luke again is perfect to set up that epic shot on top of the mountain, then the rousing "The Rebellion is Reborn" from Episode 8 before ending with the theme from the "Throne Room" and the end titles (you can watch it on Youtube without the music and realise how crucial the music is). 

At times I was close to tears - the emotional effect of these scores cannot be underestimated. I hope the RNS enjoyed playing as much as the audience enjoyed hearing it. 

Click here to find out about upcoming shows at The Sage.

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