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...


We don't go in for such things as a general rule, in this country, so when I heard a sort of rumbling thump and felt the house shake, 'Earthquake' wasn't my first thought - I had a confused thought that there might have been a road accident, or that something (like the chimney) had fallen through the roof. 

(actually that's not quite true. my absolutely first thought was that the Cat had done something unspecified, but as soon as I realised he was  in his hammock, giving me a dirty look or having woken him up, my thoughts went to accidents not earthquakes. But I have learned that earthquakes are another of things which, according to the cat, are entirely my fault)

But it seems that there was a 4.4 Magnitude earthquake, centred on Cwmllynfell in South Wales, which is around 70 miles from here, as the crow flies (or the tremor travels)

screenshot of British Geological Survey's webpage with details of earthquake location

It's my first earthquake. Or at least the first I've noticed. A quick perusal of the BGS's website shows me that it is the 16th earthquake in the UK this year, although larger than most - apparently we get one this size about once every 2 to 3 years. Just never one which I've personally felt, before.

copy of British Geographical Society seismometer image

It doesn't seem to have caused any damage here. The pictures on the walls rattled, my toothbrush fell over, and the sparrows outside went quiet for a moment or two, but that's about it. 

Very odd sensation, though, and I am glad we do not make  habit of having them.

(all my Californian friends, and others in earthquake zones may now laugh!)

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Home, Cooking, Cars

After my theatre binge in January, things have been a little more low key  - I've been at home and at work, the weather  has been cold, and wet, and windy and unappealing, and I've had issues with my car.

I was driving home and my car started to lose power and basically no go at all - complete with flashing dashboard light. Quick stop to check whether this is a 'do not drive another inch' light or a 'limp to a garage' light. It turned out to be the latter., so I crept home, (probably annoying anyone behind me, but fortunately it was a Sunday morning so not too much traffic) .

When I got home I was able to speak to my mechanic (who is usefully also my neighbour), who said "that sounds like a coil", and that this meant that it would not be firing one one of its cylinders. I'm familiar with the idea of not firing on all cylinders as a metaphor, and now I understand it! 

So on Monday, Neighbour took my car with with him to work (happily I'd booked the day off so didn't need to work out alternative transport) and brought it home that evening, restored and ready to go, and with a new coil and some spark-plugs ( I think) 

Then a week later it was off again to have its MoT test, which it passed with flying colours, so that's done with for the year.

Last weekend I made a small batch of marmalade, which is something I enjoy doing, (plus you end up with delicious marmalade) 

I've still got another 2 or 3lbs of oranages so will make another batch soon.

I have planted out some mini-daffodils, although so far no buds or flowers. Hopefully they will come out soon. So far, all I have is a few primroses.There are lots of snowdrops in the headge-bottoms, but none in my garden.

And still it rains.

This weekend, so far I have mostly been baking, and batch-cooking stuff for the freezer.  Still to do: deep cleaning the kitchen! (who says I don't know how to party?!)

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre

I enjoyed my first visit to the new Bridge Theatre, to see their opening production, Young Marx, in November, so was looking forward to going back for their first Shakespearean production, Julius Caesar, which features David Calder as Caesar, Ben Whishaw as Brutus, David Morrissey as Mark Antony, Adjoa Andoh as Casca and Michelle Fairley as Cassius. 

Which is quite an impressive cast, I think you'll agree!

For this production, the seating in the stalls has been removed, and the galleries extended to the 4th side of the theatre, creating an arena-style central area, where the audience members who had bought 'promenade' tickets were allowed to stand.

As we waited for the play to start, the promenaders were given the chance to buy nuts, and drinks, and badges and red baseball hats supporting caesar...

And in keeping with that, the production is in modern dress, and there's something worrying familiar about Mark Antony, particularly once he starts to make speeches...

I was curious about how the 'promenade' style would work, and how easy it would be to see the action, but it turned out that there were various 'blocks' which came up and down as and when needed, with the audience moving around them, which worked well both to keep the actors visible and also to take the place of scene changes.

Ben Whishaw's Brutus is presented as a liberal, intellectual man  - when we first see him at home he is seated at  desk with lots of books - I admit I was a little distracted trying to read the titles of his books (they included books about Franco and Hitler, that I could see),vehemently opposed to tyrants and nepotism, but unfortunately a bit short-sighted in dealing with others. 

Michelle Fairley makes an excellent Cassius, passionate and much more astute than Brutus -  shes' not an actor I am particularly familiar with but hers here is a stand out performance.

The promenade audience are showered with political flyers, with balloons, and follow the actors around the stage. It's very dramatic, and it must be amazing to be part of that (I'm considering going back to see it from that angle!) 

It's a superb and very timely production - well worth seeing. It's on at the Bridge until 15th April, and is being shown in cinemas via NTLive on 22nd March. (and presumably other dates internationally) I'm sure the filmed version won't be as stunning as being there in person, but it will be a lot better than not seeing it at all. Go if you can!

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Mary Stuart (Almeida West End)

Another weekend, another couple of plays.

My friend A and I booked to Mary Stuart, which has transferred from the Almeida theatre to the west End - I went into it with very little prior knowledge; I mean, I have a basic knowledge of Tudor History, but I hadn't read anything about the play in advance.

The original play was written in 1800 by Friedrich Schiller, this version is an updated translation, produces by Robert Icke, (who was also responsible for 1984, and the Andrew Scott Hamlet .

he two leads, Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams play the roles of Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots. At the start of the play a spin of a coin determines which of them will play Mary, and which Elizabeth.

The day we went, Juliet Stevenson played the Virgin Queen, and Lia Williams the Scottish one.The production is a modern dress one, and the moment that the coin falls, the remaining cast of courtiers bow deeply to Elizabeth, while Mary is stripped of her jacket and shoes and led away to prison.

The play revolves around the period leading up to Mary's execution, and imagines a (wholly fictitious) meeting between the two queens, and explores the similarities, and the differences, between the two - Mary's Catholicism and Elizabeth's Protestantism, Mary's marriages and Elizabeth's virginity, Mary's self-confidence due to having been born and raised to be a queen, and Elizabeth's history of being proclaimed as illegitimate. 

Both of them are imprisoned, in their own ways. Mary literally, and Elizabeth by the expectations of her role and by her advisers. Indeed, as the play moves on, it appears that Elizabeth is, in some ways, more trapped than Mary , political pressures pushing her towards authorising Mary's execution, while Mary herself grows calmer and embraces martyrdom.

At the end of the play, Mary appears, ready for her execution, in a simple shift, while Elizabeth (despite the play being otherwise in modern dress) is dressed in full Elizabethan style, with a red farthingale, white dress, white painted face, and a wig and ruff, leaving her almost immobile, and utterly isolated.

It would be interesting to see the play the other way round, with Juliet Stevenson in the title role. The play is coming to Bath in April,perhaps I shall have to go again, and see! 

The play is at the Duke of York's Theatre until 31st March.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Living with gods - British Museum

Having spent all of Saturday, pretty much, at the theatre, I stayed over night so, before heading home on Sunday morning I decided to visit the British Museum (because I do love the British Museum) and to visit their 'Living with gods: peoples, places and worlds beyond' exhibition. 

One of the first (in every sense!) items in the exhibition is the 'Lion Man', which is around 40,000 years old - it's made from mammoth ivory and it apparently the earliest known example of figurative art, of a being not known in nature, so an early survival of the product of someone's imagination. It's rather lovely, and awe-inspiring that it has survived for so long.

The exhibition then looks at various themes - light, water, air, pilgrimage, birth, coming of age, and death. It's arranged thematically rather than either chronologically or by reference to a specific religious belief. 

However, I found the exhibition rather disappointing after the first exhibit - the ideas being explored seemed to be addressed in a minimal way - and so while I found some of the items individually interesting, the exhibition as a whole doesn't seem very coherent or satisfying. 

So, after I had been around the exhibition, I went to visit some of my favourite parts of the museum. 

I went up to visit the Lewis Chessmen, because I  am extremely fond of them. As you my know, they were made in around 1150-1200, from Walrus ivory.

This chap is a rook, in the form of a Beserker warrior, biting his shield. I learned that for a period in the middle ages monks were forbidden to play chess, although it wasn't entirely clear whether this was due to it being a game of battle strategy, and thus unfit for men of god, or because it could be played by men and women, and thus lead to flirting and the like!

I then took some time to admire the Sutton Hoo treasures, and some of the other Anglo Saxon artifacts.

I loved this beautiful crozier head, and these horses.(which originated in what is now Ukraine, in around 550AD.)

It's fascinating stuff. 

I also paid a visit to the Lycurgus Cup, a Roman survival form the 4th C. It is glass, made from dichroic glass - the glass has small amounts of gold and silver in it which makes it appear either red or green, depending on whether or not light is shining through it!

An enjoyable visit. I like visiting the museum in small sections, so I can focus on whichever part I visit.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

The Birthday Party

When I booked for Titus Andronicus, I thought I might want a bit of light relief afterwards, so booked a ticket for Harold Pinter's  The Birthday Party, on the basis that it is billed as a comedy, and that it has an interesting cast, including Zoe Wanamaker, Stephen Mangan, Toby Young and Pearl Mackie.

It's a very weird play. It starts off in a fairly straightforward way; we see Petey (Peter Wight) and Meg (Zoe Wanamaker), an older couple, running their home as a boarding house, run down and (as we learn) with only a single guest (Stanley - Toby Jones, of whom Meg is extremely fond). Petey works as a deck chair assistant, Meg (inefficiently) looks after the house, and Stanley has't worked for a while.

Meg is planning a birthday party for Stanley, and has arranged for her neighbour, Lulu (Pearl MacKie) to buy him a gift on her behalf.

Things then get much stranger, as two men, Goldberg (Stephen Mangan) and McCann (Tom Vaughan-Lawler) show up, allegedly looking for a room for a night or two, after which things start to get weirder. 

Goldberg and McCann are there for Stanley, but it isn't ever clear why, or where they are from. At first, it seems as though they might have been involved in crimes together, then perhaps that they are there in a more official capacity.. having seen 'The Hot House' a couple of years ago, I can't help but wonder whether that is where they were going to take him...

Stephen Mangan was unrecognisable, and very intimidating, and Tom Vaghan-Lawler manager to be somehow both vulnerable and scary. I would have liked to have seen more of Pearl Mackie's acting sills, but the role didn't offer much scope for her.

So, weird, but well presented weird!

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Titus Andronicus, Or, I won't be fancying meat pies for a while

I have never seen Titus Andronicus, and I know it is performed less often than many of Shakespeare's plays, so when I saw it was on as part of the RSC's 'Roman' season, I decided it was worth giving it a go.

I saw the production after it transferred to the Barbican, and deliberately didn't read up in advance, so although I was aware in advance that this is one of Shakespeare's bloodiest and most graphically violent works, I didn't know any details of the plot.

This is a modern dress production - as the audience comes into the auditorium, armed 'police' in stab-vests prowl along the front row of the stalls, looking menacingly at audience members, and occasionally asking them questions, so everyone can start out feeling a little uneasy..

Then, as the performance starts, there was a voice-over from a news-reader giving us a little background. The Emperor is dead, the succession is unclear, markets are volatile, and so on, before the play 'proper', as it were, begins.

Titus Andronicus (David Troughton) returns victorious and covered in glory, after defeating the Goths (and losing 21 of his 25 sons) in a war which has lasted for 10 years,  bringing with him as prisoners Tamora (Nia Gwynne), Queen of the Goths, her 3 sons and her lover, Aaron (Played in the performance I saw by understudy Joseph Adelakun)

Despite Tamora's pleas, Titus orders the sacrifice of her eldest son, to honour his fallen sons. This is, as things pan out, a bit of an error... 

Titus resists attempts to put him on the Imperial throne, and throws his support behind the previous Emperor's eldest son, Saturninus (Martin Hutson), in preference to his younger brother, Bassianus (Dharmesh Patel). Again, not, as things turn out, the best choice he ever makes, but it is, I presume, an indication of his integrity, that he does not seek to seize power as Emperor himself. 

Things continue to go.. less than optimally. In quick succession, Saturninus agrees to marry Titus's daughter Lavinia, then changes his mind and marries Tamora instead, Titus falls out with his sons (killing one of them) as they assist Lavinia to elope with Bassianus, to whom she was betrothed before Titus offered her to the emperor, oh, and Tamora vows revenge on Titus for the death of her son.

Having now been made Empress, she is of course in a good position to pursue her revenge. Aided by her dastardly lover, Aaron, she engineers an appalling attack by her sons, who murder Bassianus and rape and mutilate Lavinia (cutting off both her hands and cutting out her tongue, so she cannot speak or write to tell anyone who is responsible) and frame 2 of Lavinia's brothers for the attacks.  

Nor do things get any better. Murder, missing limbs,  betrayal, feigned madness, adultery, and finally, that scene, where Titus kills Tamora's remaining sons, and serves them to her, baked into a pie.. after which his killing of his own daughter seems almost an anticlimax!

(Check out Good Tickle Brain's 'Death Clock' to check out all the deaths in order) 

It is an interesting production, the violence is graphic and bloody, but (perhaps surprisingly, given the grim content, this production also has its humorous moments, even in some of the bloodier scenes. The arguments between Titus, his brother Marcus and son Lucius as to which of them should sacrifice a hand in a (doomed) effort to save the lives of Martius and Quintus, for instance, early scenes as Titus parades his sons / soldiers, and some lovely subtle visual byplay  in the horrific closing scene,  as Marcus (aware of Titus's culinary revenge) gently encourages his nephew Lucius to try the salad, rather than the pie which is on the menu...

Other parts were, to my mind, not quite so successful - Tamora and her sons, in the guise of 'Revenge' were rather overdoing the silly voices and deliberately bad acting, although the honours were fairly even, with Titus having to play a large part of the scene from inside a giant cardboard box! I did feel that he the actors were having to do their best with the rather odd directing decisions.  There was a certain amount of ad-libbing, with Titus asking members of the audience for paper and pen in order to write to the Emperor, and Lucius  giving Aaron's infant child to an audience member to hold at one point.

David Troughton gave a very strong, nuanced performance, but I think Hannah Morrish (Lavinia) was also excellent, particularly as she, of course, could have no speaking lines after the first couple of scenes. And Joseph Adelaken as Aaron was also very good - the character is pretty unsubtle, rejoicing in his own wickedness, and utterly unrepentant, but  the performance was excellent, and particularly impressive as Joseph is the understudy and, presumably, stepped in at fairly short notice.

I'm glad to have seen the play, but I am not sure that I shall be rushing it see it again. I like my murderous Romans a little more subtle. This is one of Shakespeare's earlier plays, and it's not exactly subtle. And somehow, despite having missed lunch before the performance, I lost my appetite a little. No pies for me!

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Heisenberg : The Uncertainty Principle

As I was going to be in London for the Harry Potter exhibition, I booked a ticket to see Heisenberg :The Uncertainty Principle by Simon Stephens.

I had not read any reviews before going, so went in with a completely open mind. 

It's a curious little play, just 90 minutes long, and with just 2 characters, whose relationship we watch, as it develops.

It starts when Georgie, (Anne-Marie Duff) a woman in her 40s, kisses total stranger Alex (Kenneth Cranham), a man of 75, as he sits on a bench at Kings Cross station, and things develop from then.

It is a love story of a sort - the idea is that neither Georgie nor Alex is looking for love, and that despite Georgie's undeniably manipulative actions, she falls for Alex despite herself, and he fall for her despite her (many, many) faults.

We are, I think, supposed to find it heartwarming and, as the billboard says, life affirming. 

I didn't. I mostly found it a bit irritating. I also felt that there was more than a whiff of male wish fulfilment going on.

So, for me, it was interesting in places but ultimately uninspiring. I found the set (lots of moving walls to change the shape and size of the piece of stage being used, and lots of use of lighting), well done, but not enough on its own to rescue the play!

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Harry Potter : A History of Magic

I was intrigued when I saw that the British Library was going to be having an exhibition about Harry Potter, and the History of Magic, so I booked a ticket, and on Saturday morning, set off to visit. I didn't feel terribly enthusiastic immediately (getting up early, cold weather, and train with broken heating, were to blame for that), but once I arrived, I started to feel more enthusiastic!

The Library has made an effort to welcome visitors, with the Hogwarts Houses represented in the foyer. (Sadly, no photographs were permitted in the exhibition itself)

I did however enjoy the decor which has appeared above the area immediately outside the exhibition entrance - so many flying keys, although unless you bring your own broomstick, they are too high to reach!

The exhibition combines items from  Harry Potter, including Rowling's original synopsis for her publisher, part of a very early draft (in which Dudley Dursley was 'Didsbury Dursley), and handwritten notes and drawings by JK Rowling, as well as artwork (mainly, I think, from the new illustrated editions) there are portraits of Dumbledore, Snape and McGonegall, as well as illustrations of Diagon Alley, and various beasts and plants.

Then there are items associated with the history of magic,mythology and folklore, exploring some of the ideas which influenced Rowling.

It is arranged by way of different Hogwarts departments; after a general introduction (including 'flying' books suspended from the ceiling), we start with Potions - the room was lit by lights set in upside-down cauldrons, and exhibits included a portrait of Severus Snape, a genuine cauldron, and documents such as illuminated manuscripts showing apothecaries and medieval lessons on making potions, and  Bald's Leechbook, a 10th C medical text (open to a cure for snakebite). The information card mentioned that research recently discovered that one of the cures in Bald's Leechbook has recently been found to be remarkably effective against MRSA! 

 There were also some apothecaries jars, a unicorn head (it explained that the Unicorn was often used as a sign for apothecaries shops, as a reference to their ability to source and supply rare ingredients.

Bezoar Stone in case (Image British Library)
And a bona-fide Bezoar stone (together with a manuscript explaining where to find them, and how much more those from a 'proper' bezoar goat is, than those found in cows or horses.

The next room was devoted to Alchemy, with pride of place being given to The Ripley Scroll, a 6 metre long scroll explaining how to make the Philosopher's Stone. Other exhibits include Nicholas Flamel's tombstone (on loan from the  Musée de Cluny).

Ripley Scroll (image from British Library)
The next room was Herbology which of course included displays such as Culpeper's Herbal, John Evelyn's manuscript record (complete with pressed plants) of plants collected in Padua in 1645, and a copy of Elizabeth Blackwell's beautiful, hand-coloured 'A Curious Herbal'

It also includes a genuine Mandrake root (borrowed from the Wellcome collection, and dating to the 16th or 17th C) which did look  disturbingly like an old man, and a 14thC Arabic Herbal, from Baghdad, (again dealing with the Mandrake). These were complemented by original Harry Potter art relating to mandrake roots, and also to garden gnomes.

Next came Charms, which was in a room decorated with broomsticks and witches hats, and includes manuscripts dealing with the Pendle Witches and other historical witches, and also included an 'invisibility cloak' (hanging from a hook in a glass case, and apparently made of 'unknown substances' and loaned by a 'private lender'! 

There was also a long, panoramic illustration of Diagon Alley, and one of JK Rowling's own original illustrations (showing the entry to the Alley), and a golden snitch projected flying around the walls.

Manuscripts on display included a 4thC papyrus from Thebes, and the 13thC  Liber medicinalis, showing the first recorded use of the word 'Abaracadabra' (to cure malaria, in case you were wondering) 

Image (c) British Library

There were also some Ethiopian manuscripts, and a hand-written copy of the 'Tales of Beedle the Bard' (one of a very limited edition, created by Rowling for charity) 

The next room was Astronomy, which featured a lovely starry ceiling, and a beautiful 1693 Coronelli celestial globe, and exhibits including the Dunhuang Star Atlas, from 700BC, a Chinese star chart which is apparently  the oldest complete map of the skies, and a rather lovely 11th or 12thC astronomical text which included little sketches (and, I believe, poems) about different constellations

Image (c) British Library
There were also a couple of pages from the notebook of Leonardo da Vinci, relating to observations of the moon.

We then moved on to the Divination room, which was decorated with teacups and saucers having from the ceiling, and lots of red drapery and a wall displaying crystal balls, and a portrait of Sybill Trelawney. 

This section included one of the oldest items in the exhibition (and indeed in the Library) a Chinese 'oracle bone' - the specific one on display is known to be over 3,000 years old, as it references a Lunar eclipse which took place on Dec 27, in 1192 BC.

There are also more modern artefacts - Victorian and early 20thC guides to reading tea-leaves, a 700 year old guide to Palmistry, and an interactive, digital tarot reading!.

Moving on to Defence Against the Dark Arts, you will find a Sphinx, several pages of a very early draft of HP#1, featuring a Muggle minister named Fudge, sustaining a visit from Hagrid to warm him against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and references to Fudge's colleague, Vernone Dursley,and his son, Didsbury...

There was also a lovely 16th C illustration of a Basilisk (a three tailed dragon, in this iteration). I think the portrait of Remus Lupin was in this section, too. And the Kappas (Art of JK Rowling's version, and some older, netsuke versions)

In the Care of Magical Creatures  room were a row of large, frosted 'windows' along one side, behind which could be seen the silhouettes of various creatures could be seen moving past - I spotted a unicorn, a toad, a winged horse, and a few others.

There were sketches of Hagrid, manuscripts showing different breeds of unicorn, a number of dragons, and of course the Phoenix - including the original Jim Kay art used on the exhibition posters, and others from the Library's collection

Phoenix - 3thC Bestiary. Image (C) British Library

The Library also displayed their copy of John Aubedon's The Birds of America (which is huge, over 3' tall) open to the page showing the Snowy Owl. There was also a copy of Maria Sybilla Merian's book Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium - she was a naturalist who led an exhibition to Surinam in 1699 and discovered bird-eating spiders (but her findings were dismissed as fantasy until corroborated by male naturalists, over 100 years later)

The final part of the exhibition is titled Past, Present, Future - one wall is taken up with a display of the books, in many different languages and editions, and this section also includes Rowling's copy of the screenplay for 'Fantastic Beasts, showing her annotations, a highly detailed model of the stage set for the Harry Potter play.

Throughout the exhibition there were things from JK Rowling's own archive - sketches, notes, lists and so on - a first, handwritten note of the Sorting Hat's song, for example, notes of other possible methods for students to be sorted, and detailed tabulated plot planning.
Sketch of Hogwarts, (C) JK Rowling

I thought the exhibition was very well done, and has a nice mixture of items and lots to interest and engage both adults and children, and the design was a lot of fun. I was very slightly disappointed that, while several rooms were lined with images of bookshelves, the titles suggested that these were simply scans or photos of some of the British Libraries own, muggle collection, and not of the Hogwarts library, but one can't have everything.

The exhibition runs at the British Library until 28th February - pre-booking is recommended, and I think availability is mostly limited to week-days, now. It's apparently then going to New York in October 2018.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017


If you were celebrating, I hope you had a good Christmas and if you weren't, I hope you had a couple of nice, relaxed days! 

I have been visiting my parents, which is nice. This year, it's just the three of us, which has meant a quiet, low key time, with lots of nice food and relaxation, just what I needed after a stressful couple months!.

I've enjoyed looking out at snow showers, from the warmth and shelter of the house, and have also enjoyed watching the birds on the feeders.

The feeders were attracting the starlings this morning,after I refilled them. Mostly, however, we are seeing goldfinches, sparrows, blue tits, and chaffinches. And also the occasional coaltit, great tits,and greenfinches. 

If we are lucky, the sun may come out tomorrow in which case a walk by the sea may be in order!

Friday, 8 December 2017

Aida at the ENO

I am, as regular readers will have noticed, a fan of the theatre, but opera is something I have very little experience of. However, my friend Lyle and I decided we would give it a try, and booked to see the ENO's production of Aida. 

For those who, like me, are unfamiliar with the plot of Aida, it goes something like this:

An Ethiopian princess (Aida)  is a slave of the Pharaoh, in Egypt. The Egyptians don't know she is a princess. She loves, and is loved by, an Egyptian General (Ramades) loves her, but cannot admit this (presumably because she is a slave who doesn't belong to him). She loves him, too.

The Pharaoh's daughter, (Amneris) is also in love with Ramades.

Aida's father, (Amonasro) leads an invasion of Egypt, and as luck and Senor Verdi would have it, Ramades is chosen to lead the Egyptian armies against the invader, leaving Aida with a rather uncomfortable conflict of interest.

While Ramades is away fighting the Ethiopian Army, Amneris, who seems to be of a jealous turn of mind, decides to try to find out whether Aida is in love with Ramades, so tells her that he has been defeated, and is dead. Aida betrays herself, grieving for him, Amneris admits she lied reducing Aida's problems from 'my lover is dead' to 'my father and countrymen have been defeated in battle, and the most powerful woman in the country, who literally owns me, is pissed at me'.

Ramades returns in triumph (you can tell, because there is a Triumphal March, complete with trumpets and *that* tune that even non-opera fans can recognise) bringing with him a number of Ethiopian prisoners, including Aida's father, King Amonasro (who pretends to be an ordinary general).  The Pharaoh and High Priest plan to execute them all, because what's the point in crushing your enemies and parading them in chains through the city if you don't get to execute them afterwards?

Production photo from the ENO website

The Pharaoh is pleased with Radames, and (perhaps a little rashly) offers him anything he wants as a reward, and also announces that he will give Radames his daughter's hand in marriage and that Radames will get to be Pharaoh after he is gone. Radames, who is clearly the kind of sensitive and thoughtful guy who can see that defeating his prospective father in battle and then assisting at his execution might result in some relationship issues, asks that the Ethiopian prisoners be spared, and released. Not being a complete idiot, Pharaoh agrees, but keeps Aida's father as a hostage for their good behaviour, and gets on with planning Amneris' wedding to Radames.

After the interval, we are back with the wedding planning. While Amneris goes off for a night of pre-wedding prayer, Aida meets with her father, who suggests that if she can get Radames to tell her where the Egyptian army is likely to be, he and she can escape, rejoin the Ethiopian army and successfully fight back. (which, tactically speaking, sounds fairly sensible). Aida resists, not wishing to ask her lover to betray his country, but is persuaded when her father threatens to disown her.

Aida and Radames then have a duet in which she tries to persuade him to come away with her, singing eloquently of the beauties of her country (she doesn't mention anything about the potential social awkwardness of moving to a country after decimating their army, but perhaps she overlooked that), while he sings about his concerns about whether leaving would leave him dishonoured, and how much he loves Aida, but is silent about whether he is planning to jilt Amneris and marry Aida (probably not a career-enhancing move) or to marry Amneris and have an affair with Aida (probably not a relationship enhancing plan...)

Aida convinces him to come with her, so he discloses to her and her father where the Egyptian Army is due to be, so they can avoid it to reach Ethiopia. At which point, Amonasro reveals his identity and that he plans to use the information Radames has just provided to ambush the Egyptian army. I can' help but feel that this may be why Amonasro and his army were defeated in the first place. It doesn't seem to me that, from a tactical perspective, telling the enemy general your plan (even if he does want to marry your daughter) is a very good idea. Although perhaps the dramatic force of the opera would be reduced f anyone were to act sensibly! 

Things go rapidly downhill for our protagonists. Radames is overcome with remorse and with being arrested and thrown into gaol. He is then swiftly tried by the high priest and all the lesser priest, and is tunefully condemned to death. By being entombed alive. 

Radames decides (arguably a little belatedly) to be Very Noble and refuses to explain himself, or to let Amneris intervene on his behalf, and as such is duly buried alive (in a large and well-lit tomb). As he muses on fate, Aida shows up,having hidden herself in the tomb to be buried alive with him, rather than (say) escaping with her father.  It's all very sad.

And in hindsight, bearing in mind that Amonasro invaded Egypt specifically to rescue his daughter, suggests that his entire war was a colossal waste of time and energy.

I did enjoy it,especially the  big choruses, I have to say. I'm a fan of big choruses! But I suspect that I shall continue to spend more time in theares than opera houses in the future!