Monday, 26 December 2016

Happy Holidays!

I had a lovely, low-key  Christmas Day with my  sister, her partner and our parents , and got some lovely gifts, including the new, illustrated versions of 'American Gods' and 'Anansi Boys'.

Also aquired some fancy fruity gin, and LOTS of chocolates!

More relatives today and tomorrow, and then some time with some old friends.

I hope your holiday season is full of love and happiness.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Shakespeare Trilogy at Donmar Kings Cross


Phyllida Lloyd first directed her all-female version of Julius Caesar 2 or 3 years ago, at the Donmar Warehouse, and followed up with a production of Henry IV, with a final production of The Tempest.

And all three are now being performed as a trilogy. People can see the plays separately or, as I did, can see all three in one day.

All of the plays are performed in the round (or technically, in the square), and are set in a women's prison, which does add an extra layer to the plays. Each actor plays the role of a prisoner, as well as their roles within the plays, and each play is introduced by  different actor, in character, explaining their character's offence, and there are moments in each play when the prison environment breaks through, and the play is interrupted, by the 'guards' or a person falling out of character. (for instance, in one of the tavern scenes in Henry IV, as Falstaff quarrels with the  'Hostess' (Zainab Hassan), they insult her increasingly personally, until she breaks character in distress and and the 'guards' intervene) 

This works surprisingly well, and invites us, the audience, to pay attention to the parallels in the plays with the prisoners own lives, and how the plays may speak to them.

Seeing all three plays together was amazing - for one thing, it allows you to see how incredibly versatile and skilled the actors are, but also to see how their characters develop.

In Julius Caesar, Harriet Walter is Brutus, Jade Anouka is a wonderfully eloquent Mark Anthony, and Jackie Clune a somewhat Trump-esque Caesar, and the prison setting worked very well indeed.

Clare Dunne's Portia was as eloquent as Mark Anthony - every un-heard and ignored woman..

Henry IV (which compressed Parts I and II into about 2 hours) featured Harriet Walter as Henry IV, tired, world-weary, less querulous than is sometimes the case, and obviously a prisoner of his own crown, softening the final scenes as Hal tries the crown.

Jade Anouka was an excellent Hotspur, and Clare Dunne as Hal,resplendent in headphones, baseball cap and Chelsea shirt! 

The scenes as Hal draws back from his relationship with Falstaff are made particularly poignant by the setting - Dunne introduces the play in character as a prisoner about to be released after a drug-related sentence, and so the farewells, and the idea of giving up excess and debauchery echoes with the 'reality' of the prisoners' respective positions.

The Tempest was, of the three plays, the one which  was most sceptical about, in terms of whether it would work in the pared down 'prison' setting, given the magical and fantastical content, and of course it was bound to draw comparison with the wonderful (and high-tech) RSC production we saw last week.


Harriet Walter as Prospero (photo from Donmar site)

I need not have worried. Of the three plays this was perhaps the most successful. 
Harriet Walter as Prospero gives a searing, heart-breaking performance - she introduces this play in character as 'Hanna', an inmate in her 60s, in her 4th decade of a life sentence - it highlights the way that the Island is a prison, despite Prospero's power there, and her grief and regrets.


The play also draws in the audience - on entrance we were all given tiny torches, which were used to create hundreds of stars, almost the only 'special effect' in the production.

Jade Anouka was again a stand-out performer, as Ariel, and the 'spirits' which guide the shipwrecked mariners were all dressed as prison guards, an insight into the 'inmate's' view of their situation.

As the play ended, rather than bringing the curtain down on Prospero's final words:

And my ending is despair,                        
Unless I be relieved by prayer,                
Which pierces so that it assaults              
Mercy itself and frees all faults.               
As you from crimes would pardoned be, 
Let your indulgence set me free.               
      
the production leaves Hanna alone in her cell (reading Margaret Attwood's 'Hag-seed') while the other inmates, not in civilian clothing, say their farewells, thanking her for her support and help. 

It's an infinitely moving way to end the performance, and the trilogy.

I would urge eveyone who can to see the trilogy, although that may be tricky -the run at Donmar Kings Cross finishes on 17th December. 

However, they were filming the performances I saw, so (though the cameras were a little intrusive at times) I think this must mean there must be a reasonable chance that it may be available in cinemas or on DVD at some point in the future. Which is a Good Thing. 

I would love for anyone who thinks that Shakespeare isn't relevant to modern audiences, or isn't for them, to see these plays.

(Edited to Add: The company have created more background for the prison Characters, which can be found at Donmarshakespearetrilogy.tumblr.com )

Thursday, 8 December 2016

The Tempest

On Saturday, I went with  some friends  to see the RSC's production of 'The Tempest' in Stratford on Avon.

The production has been created in collaboration with the imaginarium studio,  (Which did the motion capture special effects for films such as the Lord of the Rings) .

Stage, pre-performance

Going in the the theatre, the set is striking, the huge, broken shell of a  ship, and then of course the performance begins - Simon Russell Beale is, at first, not  a striking Prospero,a small figure, in a simple, dark, academic gown, but he grows in strength and power as the play progresses.


Simon Russell Beale as Prospero (Photo (C) RSC)
Ariel, (Mark Quartley) is one of the stars of the show, performing, as he does, with his own avatar - it's fascinating to watch, as mostly he is on stage at the same time as the projected version of him; sometimes in the shadows, sometimes more obviously. The avatar takes all sorts of different forms,  including a huge, winged harpy, and seemed almost synchronized with his movements, but sometimes with a slight lag, and occasionally appearing to be moving a little in advance of him!


Ariel in the cleft tree (C) RSC
It was absolutely stunning.

I was a little concerned that the special effects might overshadow the play itself, but I didn't feel that they did, largely due to Mark Quartley and Simon Russell Beale's performances.

I was slightly underwhelmed by Caliban,who seemed to be defined by grotesque costuming (and a fish) but had little opportunity to let any character show. I don't find the 'comedy' between Trinculo, Stephano and Caliban very funny, but it was well done (particularly Tony Jayawardena as Stephano.)



All in ll, I was very impressed, and enjoyed the play a lot. I know it is due to be broadcast to cinemas on 11th January and I am tempted to go to see it, to have the chance to look more closely at the details.

The live play is at Stratford until 21st January, and then in London at the Barbican from 30th June until 18th August next year.

There is a video about the making of the special events, for those who are interested!

Thursday, 1 December 2016

I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue

If you are familiar with  'I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue' you'll understand why I was so excited when I found they were going to be recording in Bath, on 27th November.

If you aren't familiar with it, I recommend that you go  here and listen to an episode or two, then pop back.

I've been fortunate enough to go to  previous recording, and to the touring show,  so I know I was in for a treat!


Chairman Jack Dee (and producer John Naismith)

And I wasn't disappointed. It was great fun! The Theatre Royal was completely sold out, with people also standing.

The evening starting with the producer, John Naismith,explaining the ground rules (including 'no-one can hear you smile on the radio, so do laugh' and 'if you're not sure whether something is supposed t be funny - give us the benefit of the doubt')

Jeremy Hardy and Barry Cryer
There were then a selection of all the usual games, from 'one song to the tune of another' (Barry Cryer singing 'I am an anarchist, I am an Antichrist, to the the of 'A You're Adoreable' was particuarly moving) to sound charades, and of course, Mornington Crescent!

We actually got tohear two complete recordings, which will be broadcast on 12th and 19th December, with the second episode being repeated on Christmas Day


Miles Jupp and Tim Brooke-Taylor (with Colin Sell at the piano)
It was an enourmous amount of fun!

Friday, 25 November 2016

Opus Anglicanum



Rather than trying to travel home late at night after my theatre-going on Saturday, I stayed overnight at a hostel close to St Paul's Cathedral. So I took the opportunity to take a few pictures of the cathedral from a slightly different angle from usual!



Then, in the morning, as it was Sunday and I was so close, I decided to go to the cathedral for the first service of the day.

It's years since I've been to St Paul's, and I had forgotten how opulent and visually impressive it is (even the Baroque is not my favourite architectural style)

There is also something quietly impressive about participating in a service in such a building,  Although it seems that even St Paul's can't muster a large congregation at 8 a.m. - there can't have been more than about 25 people attending!


St Paul's Cathedral Choir looking east, London, UK - Diliff
Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

After the service and checking out of the hostel, I  went to the Victoria and Albert museum to see their current exhibition - Opus Anglicanum. For those (like me!) not fluent in Latin, this means, simply, 'English Work', and refers to embroidery, created in England during the 12th to 14th Century when, apparently, England led the world in creating such work.

The Toledo Cope, 1320-30, England.
© Toledo, Tesoro de la Catedral, Museo de Tapices y Textiles de la Catedral

The exhibition isn't huge, but it is fascinating. Most of the embroidery which has survived is ecclesiastic, as items such as vestments were kept carefully, and in some cases, high-status Bishops or other priests would be buried in their best vestments, so these were preserved in their tombs.  There were one or two non-ecclesiastical items, most notably the funeral achievements of the Black Prince (1367), and a fragment of a 14th C. horse trapping.

Fragment of Horse Trapper - 1330-1340

Extraordinarily, some of the items in the exhibition have been loaned by the current owners, which are the same churches or institutions they were originally made for - 700 or 800 years ago!

Detail from the Steeple Ashton Cope (1330)


I would have liked it had the exhibition included a little more background information - more details of the saints depicted on the garments, and the other images - I am not sure whether all the birds on the Toldeo Cope are symbolic or primarily decorative, for instance, but despite this, I enjoyed the exhibition.

The museum helpfully offered a little booklet which had crib sheets for each of the pieces, telling you which saints and bishops were depicted (I particularly enjoyed the images of St Margaret of Antioch, who had a Dragon) , and also a helpful diagram explaining what copes, chasubles and orphreys are, for those not intimately familiar with vestments! 

After visiting the exhibition, I had time to visit some of the rest of the museum. I found a rather nice 15thC tapestry depicting the Trojan War, for instance.


And of course, no visit to the V and A would be complete without a trip to the cast court, which features 19th C plaster cast reproductions of Italian sculptural masterpieces...

for Nathalie


Thursday, 24 November 2016

Nice Fish

Being in London to see King Lear, I decided also to see 'Nice Fish' at the Harold Pinter theatre - mostly because it features Mark Rylance, who is a superb actor.


It is set on a frozen lake in Minnesota, so the stage is entirely covered in 'ice', and when Rylance (Ron) and his co-star, Jim Lichtscheidl (Erik)  first appear they are suitably dressed for ice-fishing, in thick, padded parkas, hats and balaclavas, nothing but their eyes visible.

It is a very odd play; in fact it is less of a play and more of series of vignettes. It's written by Louis Jenkins, a prose poet, and Rylance, and is low on plot but high on gentle humour and reflections on life.


There are also little puppets, used to show the characters in the distance, and the whole thing is entertaining in a strange, understated way. And there's a perfect moment as 'Erik' attempts to put up a pop-up tent, and Ron 'helps', inadvertently collapses it around him!

It gets a little darker as the evening progresses, with poignant reflections on age and loss and death. 

Ultimately - strange but good, and I do like Mr Rylance - he's the best thing about the production.

And if you go to the box office dressed as a fisherman (with rod and line) or as a fish, you could win a pair of tickets. How many west end plays can offer that?

It's on at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 11th February.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

King Lear - A Return to the Stage

As Glenda Jackson has been working as an MP for the past 25 years, meaning I have never before had the opportunity to see her live on stage, so when I saw that she was playing Lear, I immediately booked a ticket.



Closer to the performance, more cast members were announced - Celia Imrie and Jane Horrocks as Goneril and Regan, respectively, Rhys Ifans as the fool, and Harry Melling as Edgar... 

It was an interesting production - it's in modern dress, with fairly minimal sets, and the practice which seems to be popular just now, of having cast members and stage hands on stage as the audience come in to the auditorium, and a blurring of lines between cast and crew.  

For much of the play, there is very little in the way of set, although this changes in the storm scenes, when  curtain of black plastic, together with lights and sound effects - very effective!

And the performance itself? 

Very very good, in parts, but uneven. 

Jackson's Lear is physically frail from the start, but terrifyingly powerful in every other way, an aging despot, whose mental state then gradually deteriorates during the play, showing the slow ruin of the old king more effectively than many Lears - her delivery of "O, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven, Keep me in temper: I would not be mad!"  is heart-breaking. Lear is far from being a likeable character, but Jackson is an excellent Lear. 

Jane Horrocks and Celia Imrie as Regan and Goneril seem underused, for such excellent actors, and there was little sense of the daughters' frustration or the justifications for their treatment of their father, leaving them as slightly one-dimensional villains, which was a bit disappointing. Although they do get the chance to show their vamping skills in their scenes with Edmund (Simon Manyonda).



Edmund himself is full of energy and malevolence - he delivers his opening speech while working out, skipping, doing one-handed press-ups. And without it affecting his delivery of the speech at all, which is pretty impressive. However, as with other aspects of the production, having started well, the director goes  step too far, and we have a scene in which he bares his buttock (and they are, I admit, nice buttocks) to the audience while he has a quick wank. It seemed somewhat unnecessary.


Edgar (Harry Melling) is good, but he seem ineffectual in his early scenes, and the Dover scene, (not) on the cliff top seems a wasted opportunity.



Rhys Ifans is excellent as the Fool, and the relationship between him and Lear is one of the most convincing in the production, he comes over as genuinely attached to Lear, but unafraid to challenge him. And his little ad-libs - a snatch of Dylan on mouth-organ and a comment on Edgar's bin-bag couture which I am pretty sure isn't in the original text!



So, all in all, a good production with some great performances, but with some odd directorial choices. I mean, stamping in Gloucester's eyeball, properly wince-inducing. Throwing the second one into the stalls? Not so much. 

4 out of 5 stars from me! Well worth seeing. And on until 3rd December (And there is a radio adaptation to be recorded and broadcast by the BBC on Boxing Day, if you can't make it to London)

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash

I love Dave McKean's Art, and have had the pleasure of seeing him speak and perform on a number of occasions, so when I saw that he would be appearing at Tate Britain, on Remembrance Sunday to give a performance related to his new graphic novel, Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash I immediately booked a ticket.


I have to admit that I know very little about Paul Nash, and though I have seen some of his paintings, I would not claim to be familiar with his art. But I read a little about him before going - he was born in 1889 and having originally worked primarily as a landscape artist, he then became a War Artist as a result of his service in WW1.

The Menin Road - Paul Nash (Imperial War Museum collection)
The performance on Sunday was a film of Dave McKean's new book, with live music from Dave himself (keyboard), Clare Haythornthwaite (violin) and  Matthew Sharp (Cello and voice) plus spoken word narration and dialogue.


It was beautiful and haunting, exploring Nash's experiences and his response to them, his struggles with depression and with the impact on Nash's art of his experiences.

As far as I know, there are no further performances planned, but the book is available from all good bookshops. It's beautiful.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Trouble in Mind : Ustinov Studio

I first became aware of Tanya Moodie when she played 'Hunter' in the BBC TV series Neverwhere, and more recently saw her stunning performances in Intimate Apparel, and Fences, both in Bath, and as Constance in King John, and Gertrude in Hamlet, at the Globe and RSC respectively.

She is an excellent actor, so when I saw that she was coming back to Bath, of course I had to book a ticket!

She is appearing as Wiletta Mayer  in a new production of Trouble in Mind, the 1955 play by Alice Childress.

Wiletta is an African-American actress, who has built a successful career in the theatre, catering to the preconceptions and   prejudices of (white) directors and writers. 

She is cast in a production of a "progressive" anti-lynching Broadway play, 'Chaos in Belleville', written by a white writer, directed by a white man who is proud of his progressive and egalitarian attitudes, but is far less open-minded than he likes to believe when Wiletta challenges his attitudes.
Tanya Moodie as Wiletta Mayer

The play deals with issues of racism (both direct, and subconscious) and is depressingly current, given that it is 60 years old, but there is also a lot of (often dark) comedy, and the pleasure which comes with watching excellent actors.

It's a very good production, and Tanya Moodie's singing voice is a gorgeous addition! I don't think I have heard her sing before! 

The play is on until 17th December, and I cannot recommend too strongly that you see it, if you possibly can!  Full booking details here, on the theatre's website.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Doctor Strange

I went to see the Doctor Strange film last week.


I saw it in 2D, as 3D tends to be awkward (trying to fit the specs over my own) and to leave me with a thumping headache, but would imagine that it would be pretty impressive if you can take 3D.

And it was a lot of fun. I loved that, like other films in the Marvel universe, it doesn't take itself too seriously. It's fast, funny, and a little in dnager of inducing motion sickness..!

I didn't care for Mr Cumberbatch's early beard, but once he shaved that off and displayed his cheekbones all was well!  And the cloak is excellent.

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo and Benedict Wong were both excellent, as, inevitably, was Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One.

If you've enjoyed the other Marvel films, go and see this one, and you'll have fun. If you didn't,you probably won't.

Oh, and don't forget to stay for both the after credits snippets.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Amadeus: An evening with Wolfgang and Antonio

I remember seeing the film 'Amadeus' years ago, and enjoying it, and I've also seen and enjoyed 'Equus', another Peter Schaffer play, so when I saw that the National Theatre was reviving 'Amadeus' I couldn't resist.

I went on Saturday, and have to say that it is  very good.  



The undoubted star of the show is Lucien Msamati, as Antonio Salieri. He opens the play by addressing the audience directly, 'conjuring' the ghosts of the distant future to witness his despair, before stepping back into the past, and then narrates the story, which works surprisingly well.

Adam Gillen as Mozart: photo from NT website

Mozart is played by Adam Gillen, and is deeply annoying (as he should be), with an inane laugh, and horrible lack of awareness of appropriate behaviour! In any other role his behaviour would have to be described as overacting, but in this one it is excusable. 

Gillen gave him a certain, slightly pathetic appeal at times, as well.

Mozart & Salieri - photo from theatre website
In this production, the music is supplied live by the Southbank Sinfonia, which worked very well indeed. I have great admiration for the musicians who were able to provide excerpts of Mozart opera, and original music, while contending with the distraction of the flamboyant performances, including having Gillen, as Mozart, 'conducting' some of the performances. I assume that Mr Gillen is not a conductor!

But getting to hear good musicians and singers performing pieces such as the Queen of the Night aria from the Magic Flute was wonderful.

Msamati and Gillen are the key performers, but there's a strong supporting cast.  Tom Edden, as the po-faced and  unimaginative Emperor Joseph II.

Definitely worth seeing. It is on at the National Theatre until February (and possibly beyond) but many performances are sold out. It's being broadcast as an NTLive show, I think on 2nd February. I may well go, to see it again!

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The Grinning Man



On Thursday, I attended the first ever performance of Bristol Old Vic's newest production, 'The Grinning Man'. 

It's a musical, loosely based on Victor Hugo's novel, 'L'homme qui rit' , and is set in an alternative  17th Century Bristol, capital of a divided England, seat of an aging and despotic king, and his children of questionable character.

Our protagonist is Grympayne, an orphan, disfigured by his mutilated face, adopted as a child by travelling showman and puppeteer Ursus, (and his pet wolf.), and seeking the truth about his past. (which is, it turns out, complex and full of coincidences).

The play involves puppets (I loved the wolf, less so the two children, but happily they grow up and turn into people instead of puppets fairly early on, so that was OK!)

It very melodramatic, and at times somewhat surreal, and is very well done. It's pretty dark, with murder and mayhem to spare, but also very funny in places. I particularly enjoyed the foppish Lord David!  Being the first preview, there were inevitably a few minor glitches - one incident where the action briefly stopped and SM had to come on stage, and a couple of moments when players stumbled on their lines, but even with this minor hiccoughs it was well worth seeing.

Judging by the reaction from the audience at this first preview, I think it will be popular.

There is a sample of some of the music from the show, here, and the production runs at Bristol Old Vic until 13th November.