Monday, 9 April 2018

Coraline, The Opera

As you will have seen from last week's post, I was deeply disappointed on Easter weekend when a combination of my illness, and GWR's idiosyncratic approach to providing a train service meant that I couldn't use the ticket I booked (last October) to see the Coraline Opera. At the time, I thought this meant I was going to miss it altogether, as it was only on for 9 performances and was completely sold out.

However, when I called to return my ticket, the nice chap at the Royal Opera House was able to find a returned ticket for me for the matinee this Saturday, so I got to go after all.

I don't know a lot about opera - as regular readers will know, I'm generally more about 'straight' theatre, but I am also very fond of 'Coraline', and curious about how it would translate onto stage and music.
photo shows curtain reading 'Coraline' and projected image of the auditorium and audience
Curtain, pre-performance
When I took my seat, I saw that the curtain not only had Coraline's name across it, but was also showing a projected image of the auditorium and the audience, acting as a huge mirror, but one too dark to be able to tell whether it was a true reflection, or whether what we saw might be, in fact, the Other audience, button eyes an all!

The opera has a small cast  of just 6, and the story is also pared down - the cat is gone, and Miss Spink and Miss Forcible's scotty dogs, and Coraline's battle with the beldame simplified, but the bare bones are still there.

Production photo:
Alexander Robin Baker as the Other Father, Kitty Whately as the Other Mother

At the performance I saw, Coraline was sung by Robyn Allegra Parton (the role was shared with Mary Bevan),who did an excellent job as a the brave (but also often sulky and occasionally stroppy) eleven year old, with Kitty Whately and Alexander Robin Baker were both excellent as her parents (and as her Other parents). I particularly enjoyed the poignancy of the Other Father's end, after he tried to help Coraline to escape.

At the interval, the curtain came down again, but this time, we, like Coraline herself, were on the wrong side, and the image was reversed...

Curtain, half time. We are the Other audience, now
This, and the original curtain, were indicative of the design of the show,which plays heavily on mirrors and reflections - the Other version of Coraline's house is the mirror image of the original, for instance, and the homes of Mr Bobo and of Miss Forcible and Miss Sink come from the opposite sides of the stage, dependent on whether we are in our word, or that of the Other Mother.

I personally felt that the Other Mother's world wasn't as creepy and terrifying as it could have been, but it seemed to do the job for the target audience; at the point where the there Mother produces her buttons and needle and thread, there were audible gasps, and more than one squeak of fear, and I heard a little voice from behind me saying (and sounding pretty scared) "Don't be scared Daddy. It's not really real" ........ "is it?" .  (It sounded as thought Daddy was able to reassure her that he wasn't too scared, and that she need not be, either, and she seemed to enjoy the rest of the performance)

Over all, I enjoyed it, and I'm very glad I got to see it. I thought it kept the underlying 'flavour' of the original book, although the it took a while to get going in the first act, with rather more exposition that was strictly necessary. But  I have to admit that I am still not big on opera - I suspect that I would have enjoyed it more had it been a straight play. However, I can see that it could spark n interest in opera for children, and even for a non-opera fan it was well worth seeing. There were no surtitles, abut that wasn't an issue, the singers were all admirably clear (much more so than in the last opera I saw!

The run at the Barbican has finished now, but I believe that there are plans in the pipeline for translated productions to be performed in Germany, France and Sweden, and I would imagine that it may well be revisited - it sold out completely, and from what I could see, was very warmly received by those of all ages who saw it. 

Sunday, 8 April 2018

The Man Engine

I vaguely remember seeing something on the news, last year, or the year before, about the 'Man Engine', an 11m tall puppet, created to celebrate the 10th anniversary of  the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site, and thinking it looked interesting.

Then last autumn I saw a local news item, saying that the Engine would be visiting this part of the world in April. 

Earlybird tickets were cheap, and it looked interesting, so I booked... and it was!

photo of 'Man Engine' Giant mechanical puppet

The puppet was very impressive, and interesting - as you can see,  it is made from elements of heavy plant machinery, which is appropriate, as it is named after the original man engine, which was a way of using stem engines and mining machinery to allow men to be carried up and down from mines, as an alternative to having to climb all the way on ladders.

It takes about 10 or 12 people to operate it, with ropes and levers, as well as someone in the cab of the JCB on which it is based. At the end of the performance it slowly folds down to its resting position.

The Man Engine resting!
According to the publicity material, it is the largest mechanical puppet ever made in the UK (they are quite specific abut that, so I'm guessing that perhaps the French 'Sultan's Elephant' was bigger)

Back when I booked my tickets, I wasn't sure whether I'd be free in the afternoon, as the tickets were only £5, so I also booked for the evening show, and I decided to go back. 

As well as the puppet itself, the show includes songs and readings  the main readings are from the diary of a Cornish tin miner William Crago, who started work at the age of 9, in 1869.

There were  also local references. Radstock was chosen as a site for the Engine to visit, due to its own mining history (coal was mined here until the 1970s), and reference was made to the Norton Hill Disaster of 1908, in which 10 miners were killed in a colliery explosion, with the names of some of them being read out, as part of the 

The evening show was the same as in the afternoon, but of course the pyrotechnics were more dramatic after dark! 

It was very dramatic, and I'm glad I went. 

The show is currently touring, to places across England and Wales with mining heritage. Full details are on their website -

Monday, 2 April 2018

Easter, and I'm still feeling grumpy

Easter weekend was supposed to be fun. I had booked (back in October) to see the Coraline Opera at the Barbican, and was very much looking forward to it, and had then also booked to see the RSC's  Hamlet (starring Paapa Essiedu), which I saw at the start of its run back in 2016, and very much wanted to see again, as it was one of the best Hamlets I have seen.

Unfortunately, I realised that while I am recovering from the lurgy which struck me down last week, I am not fully recovered, and there was no way that I could manage the long day involved in the travel to London and seeing 2 productions in a day. 

I reluctantly decided that I would have to give up on seeing Hamlet, have a quiet morning and see the opera. So much for plans, however. 

When I looked online to work out what train to get, I discovered that on top of running a reduced service due to the engineering works around Bristol (which I knew about and had taken into account) GWR had cancelled a whole slew of additional trains. Including, as it turned out, both the one I'd originally booked for the morning, and the one I was planning on returning on.  And that as they had cancelled the return train, the only option was one leaving almost an hour later, and including  change at Swindon, and a replacement bus service after that, all of which would have mean that the earliest I could have got home would have been around 2 a.m. Which just wasn't do-able, for me.

I spent quite a lot of time trying to work out whether there were any other options - had I been fully fit, I might have driven to Oxford and got a train from there, which would have made for a long day, but just about manageable, but Oxford is a 2 hour drive from here and I just couldn't do it.

So,I had to give up on the trip to London all together, and I was so disappointed I could have cried. (Possibly still being unwell contributed to that!) I am waiting to hear whether the theatre was able to resell my Coraline ticket (I hope so - it's completely sold out so presumably popular) but the Hamlet one wasn't returnable or refundable, so that cost was a dead loss.

I thought I would miss out on the opera altogether, given that it is only on for 10 days and is completely sold out, but happily I was able to snap up a returned ticket for next Saturday, so health and travel gods permitting, I should still get to see it (albeit not from so good a seat as the one I originally had)

Keep your fingers crossed for me! 

So I ended up spending most of the 4 day weekend at home, trying to relax and recruit my strength to get fully well. It's irritating, as if I'd known I'd be unable to do anything else, I could have gone to my parents for the weekend, where no doubt I could have been cosseted and had someone else cook things.  

I did, however, as arranged, meet up with my parents on Easter Monday (our homes are a little over 2 hours drive apart, so meeting mid-point is very manageable for us both) for a pub lunch and catch up, which was nice. And my mother brought me some mini Easter eggs, so I ended up with some chocolate, which is always good :) 

Although I did find that the 2 hour round trip, even with a 3 hour rest and meal in the middle was surprisingly tiring, which does support the idea that my choice not to try t do a 4 hour road trip drive, plus trains and theatre, 2 days earlier, was the correct one, however frustrating)

I'm hoping the week will get better. Given the long weekend, it is a 4 day week, which should help. 

Sunday, 1 April 2018

The Cherry Orchard : Bristol Old Vic

Originally, I was supposed to see The Cherry Orchard on 2nd March, in previews, but the Beast from the East put paid to that, as somehow setting out to drive along hilly country roads in a blizzard when the police were warning against any non-essential travel didn't seem like a sensible idea. 

So I rebooked my ticket to go on 23rd instead, and a little mild pneumonia put paid to that, but the nice people at the Old Vic let me switch my ticket and I finally made it on Thursday evening.

Photo of banner on outside of theatre, showing Kirsty Bushell as Ranyevskaya, and Jude Owusu as Lopakhin, and a bowl of cherries

I have not seen the play before, and had no preconceptions about it.  

The theatre has been rearranged for this production, with the stage moved forwards into the auditorium, and some additional seating added behind the stage to make it - not quite in the round, but nearly. The down side of this is that the sight-lines for audience members on the sides of the circle (never great) are much worse, with up to half the stage being obscured. This is something of a disadvantage (I was seated on one side, although able to move into a more central seat for the second half)

photo of the (empty) stage from the circle, showing 'fiary lights' around the stage, and the temporary seating behind the stage

It's an interesting production, the opening scenes have the cast in 1905 costume (the period the play is set), with clothing become more modern as the play progresses, tying in with its themes of change and progress.

Lyuba, (Kirsty Bushell) is appealing and attractive, generous and warm, but also deeply irritating in her willful deafness to all helpful suggestions as to how to save her home and family, and blindness to Lopakhin (Jude Owusu)'s love of her, and to the damage to her family and dependants that her lack of action causes. 

There is plenty of comedy, particularly from Lyuba's brother Leonid (Simon Coates) and neighbour, Boris (Julius D'Silva), both hard-up aristocrats who, like Lyuba, are ineffectual and apparently incapable of doing anything to improve their own, or their friend's position, or even recognising that there are things they could do.

My sympathies were firmly with Lopakhin and the other former serfs or children of serfs (all played by actors of colour, which was perhaps particularly effective here, in Bristol, with it's history of profiting from slavery).

I enjoyed the performances, and the play itself but was less enamoured of the design and sets.

The play continues at Bristol Old Vic until 7th April and is then at Manchester Royal Exchange from 19th April (where presumably the staging will work better, as the Royal Exchange has a round stage)

Friday, 30 March 2018

Macbeth (RSC)

It seems that this is the year of Macbeth - both the RSC and the National Theatre have productions this reason, and yes, I'm seeing both.(probably. I missed the NT one due to being ill, but do have a ticket for later in the run)

First, the RSC production at Stratford upon Avon - it features Christopher Eccleston  as Macbeth, and Niamh Cusack as Lady Macbeth.

photo of Nimh Cusack and Christopher Eccleston seated on a bed (as  Lady Macbeth and Macbeth)
Publicity photo from RSC site
It is an interesting production. Although unfortunately features a set design which does not take into account the design of the theatre - you don't expect, when buying seats in the 2nd row of the stalls, to have a restricted view of key scenes.. There is a also a rather distracting clock, or timer, which starts to count down when Duncan is murdered. 

The production is a modern dress one, and features Witches who are little girls, (perhaps 9 or 10 years old),  looking deceptively harmless in their identical pink pyjamas, and fluffy slippers/boots with pom-poms on, and each cradling a battered and uncared-for doll. They speak in unison, and there is definitely a slight 'Midwich cuckoos' vibe there.They were certainly creepy, although the down side is that their appearance makes a bigger impact than their words.

three young girls in pyjamas against a dark background, with a digital clock below
The Witches (production photo from RSC)
Eccleston's Macbeth is a blunt, rugged soldier - someone who is good in a crisis, and liked and admired by his peer. In the early stages of the play he appears out of place among the more obviously sophisticated members of the court: there's a telling little detail when he returns from battle and kisses Duncan's hand, he smears a little blood on it, and appears not to notice, or to notice the King's reaction. Later, as he becomes more and more paranoid and isolated, it seems that 'having' to order the deaths of friends troubles him more than the original murder, and his final defeat is as much at his own hand as that of Macduff. However, Eccleston didn't seem wholly confident in the role. I hope this is simply due to us having seen it so early (pre- press night).

Niamh Cusack as Lady Macbeth is good - increasingly frenetic and chillingly ruthless, coming over as an intelligent, ambitious woman, denied the chance to be anything but a decorative hostess, although her sleepwalking scene was, irritatingly, partly played out in the invisible-to-those-of-us-in-the-side-seats gallery above the stage.

Macduff (Edward Bennett) deserves a special mention, his despair as the distraught husband and father as he learns of his family's deaths is heart-wrenching. The Porter (Michael Hodgson) is on stage through almost all of the play - chalking up a tally of the Macbeths' victims, silently assisting various murders find their victims, and lending a ear (whether sympathetic or not) to Macbeth in his soliloquies. He's wonderfully unsettling. 

However, despite lots of excellent actors I felt that the production as a whole was rather patchy and a little incoherent, and the projected clock, counting down, and the selected lines projected on the set distract from, rather than adding to, the play. 

We saw it very early in the run and there were a few stumbles on lines, too. I do have a ticket to see it again, later in the year, and I shall be interested to see how it feels when everyone is more settled into their roles. But despite the flaws, I did enjoy it, and am glad that I'll get to see it again.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Grumble. Coff. Grumble

I have spent most of the past week feeling sorry for myself, and missing fun stuff.

  • On Thursday, I felt sorry for myself and missed the live broadcast of 'Julius Ceasar'
  • On Friday, I felt sorry for myself and missed 'The Cherry Orchard' in Bristol.
  • On Saturday I longed for oblivion and missed meeting up with a friend and seeing the National Theatre's version of 'Macbeth'
  • On Sunday I felt sorry for myself and missed being about breath easily, and to walk downstairs without having to sit down for a rest half way.
  • On Monday, I felt sorry for myself, speculated on why they make the antibiotics they give you when you have a sore throat quite so large and hard to swallow, and missed work.
  • For the rest of the week, I felt sorry for myself, missed bits of the working day and went to bed at about 7!
In other words, I caught a cold which became a high fever and a rather nasty chest infection, and just a  soupçon of pneumonia, none of which was any fun at all.

However, after several days in bed, some of the good drugs and larger-than-normal doses of the normal day-to-day drugs, I started to mend, and am now at the point of just having a nasty cold.

Loki approved of me being home and spending so much time lying around where he could sit on me, but disapproved of all the coughing, and would, from time to time, give me an indignant look when I coughed too violently, and stalk off to sleep somewhere less disruptive! 

And fortunately the nice people at Bristol Old Vic let me change my ticket to a different date so I eventually get to see the Cherry Orchard !

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Agnes Colander at the Ustinov

I was curious about this play, billed as a premiere, of a play by Harley Granville Barker, (author of The Voysey Inheritance ) written in 1900 but never previously performed.

Production photo: Otho and Agnes
It's been edited, as the text found was unclear in places, and is directed by Sir Trevor Nunn.

The play revolves around Agnes, (Naomi Frederick) who has left her husband due to his infidelity, and who is trying to make her way as an artist. She is admired by Otho (Matthew Flynn), a Danish artist, and Alexander (Freddy Carter), an impressionable and conventional young man, who knows her through her husband, and initially seeks to encourage her to return to him.

Agnes moves to France to live with Otho, with whom she has physical attraction, but she continues to struggle with the conflicting demands of work, love, sex and relationships, and her desire to grow and succeed as her own person, not merely as a wife or lover, and it become increasingly clear that  while she and Otho are physically compatible, he doesn't love her - and could be equally happy with any number of other women

It's interesting, and all the cast are convincing, but it does bear the marks of being an early work - and despite being unusually modern for the time it was written, it is dated in other ways. Good, interesting, but not great!

Agnes Colander is at the Ustinov Studio, Bath until 14th April

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Foodwork - Network at the National Theatre

I like going to the theatre, and I like eating out, so when I saw that the National Theatre was running a ballot for the chance to book tickets to their pop-up, on stage restaurant, where you would get to dine while attending a performance of 'Network', I entered, and was successful. (I don't know who many entries there were, but there was seating for 42 people on stage, so I was very pleasantly surprised when I got the e-mail to say I could book tickets! )

We had our own entrance, and were (after a short wait) then met by very cheerful serving staff (actors hired as servers for this production, from what Phillipe, our bartender, told us) met us, took our 'reservation' details and led us to the 'restaurant', which is stage left, with clusters of small tables, and then the bar (where we were sitting).

Not a view you get very often, when going to the theatre!
We were let in about 40 minutes before the play was due to start, so we were allowed  to wander out onto the stage (as long as we didn't stray of the shiny copper floor, onto the far side of  the stage, where there were props and fancy electronics, and actors preparing for their roles.
view of stage from the bar

view along the bar towards the kitchen ( featuring Phillipe)
Our seats were at the bar, with two rows of tables in front of us, so we had an excellent view of the stage, and of the big screens, and the auditorium (empty when we arrived, of course) 
Stage, pre-show - fellow diners exploring
When we arrived, we were offered wine or a cocktail, by lovely bar-tender Phillipe (sporting a superb 70's 'tache and mullet)  and, then, after having the chance to wander around on the stage,  the food was served  - we started with butternut squash, kale and shallots. (very tasty) 

As we dined, we could see the auditorium filling up with the rest of the audience, and the Big Clock counting down to the start of the play.
View from our seats!
The menu then took a 70s turn to fit with the play, and we were served with a portland crab cocktail (complete with iceberg lettuce and marie-rose sauce)

Not, I confess, my favourite part of the meal, but entirely appropriate for a play set in 1975!

Did I mention we could see members of the cast preparing on the opposite side of the stage? 
Phillipe, our bar-tender, and the view into the auditorium
As we finished our crab cocktails and waited for the main (Short Rib and Ox Cheek Bourguignon)   the countdown came to an end, the lights went down, and of course all our phones and cameras went off.

I knew that the play is based on the 1976 film, Network, but having not seen the film I didn't know what to expect. For those in the same position as me, the basic premise is that news anchor Howard Beale (Bryan Cranston) learns that he is being sacked, due to falling ratings. 

He responds by announcing, live on air, that he will kill himself on air at the end of his 2 weeks notice, resulting in the network taking him off air immediately. However, his manager Max Shumacher (Douglas Henshall) persuades the bosses to allow him one final appearance so he can retire with dignity. Which isn't quite how things pan out... Howard's broadcast is anything but a dignified exit, but it creates a huge ratings spike.

Which prompts Diana Christensen (Michelle Dockery) to successfully pitch the idea of giving him a show of his own, as the angry / insane man, raging against the world.

I thought it was very interesting, and that Bryan Cranston was excellent, particularly during the period Beale was suffering a breakdown. I also enjoyed Michelle Dockery's performance, although I did feel that her character was someone one-dimensional: Christensen is ambitious and intelligent, but is portrayed as very hard and unsympathetic, unlike the male characters who are all rather more rounded characters.

There's a lot of use of technology - 2 mobile cameras, their output shown on big screens behind the stage, as well a pre-recorded footage and original, 70's adverts and newsreel clips. There is a lot going on on stage, and it's very clever, but at the same time, it felt to me that this, like the whole concept of having the restaurant on stage, fell into the category of stuff which was fun, but unnecessary, as if the director is unwilling to trust that an audience can imagine that his characters are visiting a restaurant, even without importing 3 dozen members of the audience to dine on stage, or that the actors can convince us of the reality of their situation. I have more faith in both audiences and actors, I think it could have worked very well without those extras. But it was fun.

And I can, of course, now boast both that I have appeared live on stage at the National Theatre, and that I have a dining experience few can boast of!  I do think it would have been fun to see it again, without being part of the set, but as it sold out, and closes next Saturday, I won't have the chance.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

The North! The North!

On Wednesday night, I was in Bath at the Ustinov Studio, to see Chris Harrison's one man show, The North!, The North!.

I knew absolutely nothing about it, ahead of time (I won a complimentary ticket via the theatre's facebook page) 

It;'s a fascinating show - a mix of  narration, mime, animation (with hand-drawn art projected onto the set) and acting.

It describes itself as a 'modern myth'  - it can also be read as a modern fairy tale (with all the dark and deadly roots we know from the original versions of most older fairy tales) 

The starting point is the information that, In 1985, a fissure formed at England's centre and split the north from the south... we learn that this has led to all sorts of interesting Things awakening,and new individuals coming to power, and all the implications are simply dropped casually into the narrative for us to untangle.

It's a very imaginative, incredibly well executed production, and I'm very glad I got to see it. It was only in Bath for 2 nights, but keep your eyes own for other venues. Although you may feel the urge to leave the lights on for when you get home afterwards...

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Obligatory Snowmageddon Post

Living in the South West of England, as I do, I don't often have to deal with snow - since I moved house  years ago, we've had  couple of light dustings of snow, but nothing more. I think the last time we had any worth speaking of was in 2010, when we had a white christmas.

This week was rather different, however!

The news and weather forecasts were full of the 'Beast from the East' , and we were forecast to have light snow on Thursday, getting worse on Friday.

There was a little light snow on Thursday morning, which Loki found quite interesting! It was very cold (about -3, I think)

Then during the day we had flurries of snow, getting worse, and in light of this and the warnings from the police and Met office we closed our offices and sent all the staff home at 3, with one or two who live further away leaving sooner.

By the time I got home, after driving a couple of colleagues who had walked in, home, there was quite a lot of snow even on the main road, which of course had not yet been gritted. Fortunately my commute is short, and everyone was driving sensibly, although there were several vehicles with spinning wheels, and I saw a couple of minor skids.

It continued to snow all afternoon and evening, and was also bitterly cold (so the snow was much dryer and more powdery than we're used to) and very windy, which meant that the snow was drifting - I ended up with patches of my driveway that were almost clear.
Thursday afternoon

As it got dark the wind got up further - I was reminded of the quote from Susan Cooper's 'The Dark is Rising' "Tonight will be bad, and tomorrow will be beyond imagining" - I would have got quite worried if I'd seen any dark riders or large numbers of rooks!

And I got to watch Loki experiencing deep snow for the first time.

We'd made the choice to close the office on Friday, on the basis that the police and local council were both were advising against any but essential travel, so I spent Friday doing some work from home, and admiring the pretty white stuff outside the windows. 

The wind made it hard to judge exactly how much snow fell - I have a small drift (about 2' tall) outside the back door, and others by my front and side fences, all with beautiful curves and shapes. I think in places where the snow wasn't drifting it was about 6 inches deep.

I also walked down to the village shop, which had run out of bread and milk, and had no papers (the wine aisle looked pretty bare, too!) The main road wasn't clear, and I was very glad I didn't need to drive on it, or on my own road. I met lots of my neighbours, and lots of excited dogs and small children, but I think during the whole day, I only saw or heard about 3 vehicles go past the house, all of them either tractors or 4x4s.

And of course, working from home had the advantage that I could make a nice slow-cooked casserole, and bake some bread, in between other jobs!

Not far from here, people spent all night trapped in their cars on the A303. I decided not to try to drive into Bristol to go to the theatre, as planned! 

Today (Saturday) has been much milder - I think between 0 and 1 degrees Celsius - I went for a short, but picturesque walk after getting the papers.  (The main road was clear this morning, although ours, being less busy, and  was still mostly compacted snow and ice) 

And Loki continued to explore, periodically. He is a daft cat. 

This afternoon, it's become milder again -the last showers have been rain, not snow. Hopefully, if it doesn't freeze tonight, everything will be back to normal by Monday! 

I shall be curious to see how long it takes for the drifts to go.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

A Couple of Quiet Weeks

I had a very important responsibility recently, as my neighbours went away for half term, and entrusted me with the care and feeding of their nearly new guinea pigs. I had guinea pigs of my own, many years ago, so I felt quite nostalgic. I'm sure mine used to shout much louder, though, and as these ones are smooth coated they seem smaller than I remember (although that may also be because I'm bigger now!) 

Harry the Guinea Pig

Anyway, they survived being in my care for a week, and let me stroke them, although Loki sniffed my hands and coat very suspiciously each time I came back, and is probably wondering why I never want to hold the rodents he brings me!

Last weekend should have involved me travelling North to spend the weekend with friends, but unfortunately they were unwell, and I was unwell, so we agreed that me driving 200 miles so we could all exchange germs was not a good idea.

It was undoubtedly the right choice - I ended up spending most of the weekend curled up on the sofa doing nothing more energetic than making cups of tea, and finding even that amount of activity rather exhausting!

This weekend has been equally quiet in its own way, but I'm feeling much better, so have been able to do lots of dull but necessary stuff, like washing floors, general cleaning and housework, and so on. I also did some baking, which I enjoy, so my co-workers will get double chocolate chip cookies and walnut and dark chocolate biscuits tomorrow.  

This weekend has bee one of extreme (for this country) cold, but also, today at least, bright sunshine, so lots of beautiful blue skies, and  very bracing walks down to the shop for the weekend papers. We are told that there may be snow later in the week, although I think only fairly light showers, here. All of which meant that I was able to put all my washing outside to dry, which made a nice change, and that Loki has been forced to drink from his own water dish, as the various planters etc. outside,  which collect rainwater, and which he likes to drink from, all all frozen over.

I am very thankful that my central heating works so well!

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Imperium at the RSC

It is fair to say that back in March, when I booked to see the RSC's 'Imperium :The Cicero Plays' (based on novels by Robert Harris), and decided that since it is 2 plays, it would make sense to see both on the same day, they had not yet announced the run times. If they had, I am not 100% sure that I would have chosen to see them both on the same day.. 

Part one runs 3 hours 15 minutes plus intervals, Part 2, 2 hours 45 minutes plus intervals. That's 6 hours of theatre. It's a good thing that the Swan Theatre has reasonably comfortable seats!

The plays cover the period of Roman history around Julius Caesar's (Peter de Jersey) rise to power, his assassination, and Octavian's subsequent rise, as seen through the eyes of Cicero (Richard McCabe) and his secretary, Tiro (Joseph Kloska).

We start out with Cicero's election as Consul, defeating patrician Cataline (Joe Dixon), who is Not Pleased (after all, it was his turn!) Cataline steals every scene he is in, with his gloriously over the top villainy! 

As the play continues, we learn about the Cataline conspiracies, as Cataline, having failed to win election to a Consulship, attempts to get there by foul means rather than fair. (of course, an historian might point out that one of the main sources of evidence is the writings of Cicero, who was not exactly impartial, and who made his name by suppressing the Cataline conspiracies. But lets not be picky!)

photo of programme with cover art showing a broken bust and against a backdrop of flames and rioters

Cicero's secretary, Tiro, acts as narrator for the plays, bringing the audience up to speed with backstories and explanations, not to mention seeing things more clear-sightedly than his master at times! 

Particularly having seen Julius Caesar so recently, I enjoyed seeing the same events and characters from  a different perspective - Brutus, in this version, is not the passionate but flawed leader we know from Shakespeare, but rather a rule-bound man, anxiously reviewing points of parliamentary procedure as Rome collapses into civil war. 
photo of empty stage with backdrop of a large mosaic of a pair of eyes.
Stage and set
Julius Caesar is an amoral, manipulative, power-hungry politician, and Mark Antony (Joe Dixon again, Cataline having wound up with his head in a bucket at the end of Part 1) originally appears as a belligerent and none-to-bright drunk, before showing himself as a military force to be reckoned with, and young Octavian (later Caesar Augustus) (Oliver Johnstone) is a much more subtle chip of the old block, who is disastrously underestimated by Cicero (and pretty much everyone else)

The script was fun - lots of direct addresses to the audience, mainly by Tiro, but also by other characters who addressed the audience as if they were the Roman Senate, or people, and of course there were also a few topical allusions, and a sneaky nod to Oscar Wilde "To lose one Consul may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose two..."

I felt, too, that he cast was very strong  - although regrettably (if perhaps inevitably, for a play about Politics in ancient Rome) rather short on women.

The performances I saw were the last ones, so you can't go to see it, but if you are like me you might decide to give the books a chance...