BWW Review: ARA MALIKIAN - THE INCREDIBLE VIOLIN, Barbican HallAra Malikian (and his violin) have been around the block: touring with Boy George; playing Jewish weddings in Germany as a bemused teenager; and now fetched up in Madrid. He is the living rebuttal to Theresa May's crass and offensive remark that "If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere," More of that later.

We get a set list that showcases a band solely comprising strings and percussion, in which the stars are, of course, our host sawing away on his violin playing a million notes per second and Hector El Turco, whose drumming is both precise and necessarily energetic - as if Keith Moon had stuck to his doctor's advice.

There's showmanship to spare of course. Malikian, despite being a scarcely believable 50 this year, can rock a pair of silver jeans like a member of Hot Gossip (which it would be no surprise to see appearing on his CV). Think Andre Rieu inside Russell Brand's body and wardrobe, and you're getting there. We're not short of high testosterone stuff from his tattooed violinist sidekicks, who look like benign hitmen and a couple of women (Cristina López and Tania Bernaez) on cello and double bass, unafraid to hold their own with the muscle boys.

Roll in some dazzling lighting and there's more than a touch of the Electric Light Orchestra shows of the late 70s going on and that's never a bad thing!

The music draws on the breadth of Malikian's influences, with his own compositions capturing Indian, Jewish and Arabic vibes in that space that feels traditional, even classical, but also highly contemporary and commercial. He filled a big hall on a Monday night - not an easy thing to do even in cosmopolitan London.

We get a some Paganini (naturally, which violinist could resist?), an electric burst of Pulp Fiction in tribute to Malikian's childhood hero, John Travolta, a nod in the direction of Radiohead (his appreciation of whom led to a summary sacking by Boy George), a beautifully subtle "Life On Mars" and a full-blooded "Kashmir". There's time for an exquisite piece by JS Bach just to show he can do the straight stuff too.

I'd have liked some visuals to support the stories of Malikian's life with his violin - relatively easy to do in most spaces these days - which might have also shortened the show's unbroken two and a half hour running time. Maybe one or two more classic rock tunes would have changed pace now and again - though rights might be an issue.

The thump in the solar plexus is left to the end of the show, though it's signposted well enough for it not to be too much of a surprise. For a couple of hours, we've heard some very amusing anecdotes, full of very British self-deprecation about how Malikian and his violin fell into advantageous situations through a combination of luck and talent.

But we learn that the violin in his hand was also his grandfather's passport out of the Armenian genocide of a century ago and later his own ticket away from the horrors of the Lebanon in the 80s. As Alexander Hamilton's talent with words lifted him from danger and poverty, so too the Malikian violin provided an escape from mortal danger.

A poignant end to an entertaining and edifying evening.

Ara Malikian is on tour.

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From This Author Gary Naylor

Gary Naylor is chief reviewer for and feels privileged to see so much of London's theatre. He writes about cricket at for 99.94 ( (read more...)

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