Saturday, 22 April 2017

Garden, and Birds

Those of you who know me on twitter may have seen that I had an unusual visitor to the garden on Monday.

I'm used to seeing a range of small birds - there are lots of sparrows, a couple of robins, a pair of blackbirds, and regular visits by jackdaws and crows.


However, Monday's visitor was a little more impressive! I didn't see it strike, just looked out through the kitchen window and saw it on the lawn.

It's a Sparrowhawk, and, true to its name, appeared to have caught a sparrow. At first we thought it might have got a young jackdaw, as there was a jackdaw on the shed paying a lot of attention, but on inspecting the left-over feathers afterwards I made a tentative sparrow-identification, so perhaps the jackdaw was just hoping for left-overs. (In which case, it will have been disappointed!) 


I shall be keeping a look out to see whether it visits again!

I have been doing a little more in the garden over the last few days, planting out some of my seedling tomato plants, and the Hydrangea and Fuchsia cuttings I took from my parents' garden last autumn, which I've been bringing on in pots. I'm hoping that they will in due course, become a smallish shrubbery inside my front fence, although that will take a few years! 


And my little baby apple tree is coming along nicely, it has quite a few leaves, and its blossom is starting to come out, on all three branches.

Friday, 21 April 2017

The Mikado

As well as our trip to Muchelney, my parents and I also took a trip to the theatre, to see a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's 'The Mikado'.

I like Gilbert and Sullivan, and while I had some reservations about this production (it is an all-male version, and I was doubtful about whether that would really work)


Alan Richardson, Richard Russell Edwards,
James Jukes, Ben Vivian-Jones, Richard Munday
It was a lot of fun. The production is done as a dream sequence. One of the campers is seen being teased by others, then falling asleep, after which the opera itself begins...

This allows for the everything to be done with no additional scene changes and very limited costuming.

The singing was excellent; very impressive to have all the female roles sung in the correct key etc, despite being sung by men. Katisha ( Alex Weatherill) has a particularly fine voice, as did Yum Yum (Alan Richardson).

Ko Ko's 'As someday it may happen'  song (I've got a little list')  had been updated but other than that there was very little in the libretto which was changed.

It's very entertaining, although even having seen it, I'm still not convinced that a mixed production would not have been at least as good, or better, but still fun!

The production is on tour until July. Details here.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Muchelney Abbey and Church: A Grand Day Out

My parents were visiting for a couple of days after Easter, so when it came a nice day, we decided to go out, and to visit Muchelney Abbey and Church.

Mulcheney was one of the villages which suffered particularly badly in the flooding in 2012 and 2014, so I became used to seeing it on the news, but I have not ever had reason to visit. However, having recently joined English Heritage, we looked around to see what sites there were locally we might be able to visit, and decided on Muchelney.


Muchelney Abbey and Abbot's House

Muchelney Abbey was originally an Anglo-Saxon Abbey, (There is, apparently, a record of a grant of land by Cynewulf, in 762,  then later (in the 10th C) it was re-founded as  a Benedictine Abbey, before being dissolved under Henry VIII in 1538. It was never as powerful or well known as Glastonbury, but was pretty wealthy, and was responsible for draining much of the surrounding moors for farmland.

The majority of the buildings, including the Abbey church, were demolished after the abbey was dissolved, and a lot of the stone reused for building elsewhere. However, the Abbot's House (built in the late 15th / early 16th Century) survived, as did a small portion of the cloisters and parts of the kitchens, and a separate 'reredorter' (the monk's lavatories) also survives.


The Abbot's 'Great Chamber' 
 I enjoyed seeing the Abbot's House. There is a set of 3 or 4 rooms; the 'Great Chamber', where important guests would have been entertained, and which has a wonderful carved mantelpiece, with two slightly improbable looking lions above it. 

The wooden settles are 19th C. but incorporate some medieval panelling.


Lion (from the carving above the fireplace in the Abbot's Great Chamber
There are also some smaller rooms, including one which still has traces of the original wall paintings, and a very nice barrel vaulted ceiling.


Painted room
After visiting the internal rooms we also wandered around the ruins a little, then visited the Parish Church, next door to the Abbey.

From the outside, the church seems fairly ordinary, however, inside, it is a different story! 



When the Abbey was dissolved, some of the medieval tiles from the Abbey church were removed and re-used in the parish church, where they remain. And were decked with coloured light from the sunlight shining though the stained glass windows, when we visited.

Even more spectacular is the ceiling of the nave, in the church.





It is painted with wonderful, Jacobean angels and cherubim.





The ceiling was apparently painted in the early 17thC and is very unusual, both simply by having survived the Puritans, and based on the style - some of the angels are very feminine, which is unusual, and several are bare-breasted, it is believed that this is intended to symbolise  innocence and purity.

It is stunning, and such an unusual thing to find in an English church (and because this is the Parish Church, and not part of the Abbey, it isn't mentioned in the English Heritage information about the Abbey)

It was fascinating.

We were not able to visit the Priest's House, originally built for the priest of the Parish Church in 1308 and almost unchanged since the early 17th C; it is now owned by the National Trust but is only open 2 days a week, and this wasn't one of them. It looks very pretty from the outside, though! 



It was a grand day out!

(complete photoset on Flickr )

Saturday, 15 April 2017

The Mentor

Friday was a bank holiday, and on impulse, I called the theatre to see whether they had any availability for The Mentor, a play by German novelist and playwright, Daniel Kehlmann. This is, I think, the first English production. It's directed by Laurence Boswell, who also directed Intimate Apparel and Trouble in Mind

The production stars Oscar winner  F. Murray Abraham, as Benjamin Rubin, an ageing playwright persuaded, by a cultural institute,  to spend a week as mentor to a young, up and coming writer, Martin Wegner (Daniel Weyman).

Daniel Weyman, Jonathan Cullen, Naomi Frederick and F Murray Abraham.
Photograph: Simon Annand
They are joined by Martin's wife, Gina (Naomi Frederick) and Erwin Rudicek (Jonathan Cullen), the Institutes's representative, an unsuccessful painter.

We first meet Rubin as he arrives at the villa, simultaneously complaining to Rudicek about the driver sent to meet him and the furnishings in his room, and snubbing him. 

I don't want to spoil the plot, but it it very funny, and mercilessly skews the egos of both writers, in different ways, in between discussing questions around the subjectivity of art appreciation, and success.

I suspect that Murray Abraham, in particular, was having  lot of fun with his role.

It's not a lengthy play - just under an hour and a half, and perhaps some of the themes, such as Gina's back story, but it is well worth seeing, and great to see such a strong cast, and the intimacy of the Ustinov studio works very well for this play.

The Mentor is at the Ustinov until 6th May. If you are in or near Bath, and get the chance, go!

Monday, 10 April 2017

Springtime

This weekend, the weather has been lovely, warm sunshine, blue skies - what more could one ask?



I have primroses blooming in the garden, the tulips appear to be on the brink of bursting into flower, and further afield, trees are covered in blossom (and my baby apple tree is going to have blossom any minute now!) 



I cut the grass for the first time this year, on Sunday, and have planted out some of my tomato and pea seedlings, so shall have to hope that the nice weather continues and they all survive!



Oh, and I bought a new washing line and now need to make a deeper whole to put it in, because it turns out the new lie is bigger than the old one, and needs a deeper hole to put the stalk in..!

Sunday, 2 April 2017

A quiet weekend

Having spent the past two weekends with trips to London, first to see Hamlet, and then for work and to see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, I was ready for a more relaxed and low-key weekend, so was glad not to be going anywhere this weekend.

Two weekends ago I did a little gardening, planting an apple tree* which I ordered a few weeks back, and which had just arrived. Loki took a keen interest in the process, and in particular in the hole I dug in the back lawn.

(*I say tree. It came as a bare-root plant, and it isn't very big, so it's basically a stick. A very expensive stick.)



I was a little concerned about whether it would be OK, particularly as the weather turned very wet as soon as I got it into the ground, and I worried it would get waterlogged and rot before it could get established.

However, having checked on it yesterday, it appears (crossed fingers) that it is settling in, as it has produced some little baby leaves. It wouldn't do that if it were planning to die on me, would it? It is a family apple tree, with 3 grafts, so if it survives and produces fruit, it will produce 3 types of apple (and be able to self-pollinate). 

I think it'll be another 2 - 3 years before it starts to produce any apples,but hopefully it will settle in and look nice, even before then.




With a view to other (quicker) home grown stuff I planted some tomato seeds a couple of weeks ago, and have just transplanted the seedlings into individual pots, and have them on various windowsills around the house. 

Given the uncertain weather and the rather disappointing crops I have had for the past 2 years, this year  I am planning to keep some indoors (probably on my office windowsill at work, which is spacious and well lit) as well as planting some out into the garden. It's the nearest thing I have to a greenhouse. So I shall need to find some large pots, suitable for an office environment!

On a less cheerful note, I managed through a combination of clumsiness and a gust of wind to bash my leg with the door of my car, leaving a *very* painful (but oddly unimpressive, visually) bruise. So yesterday afternoon involved a certain amount of sitting with my foot up, and a ice-pack on my leg.

Today was beautifully sunny, and I spent time [trying to] dig up docks and dandelions from my front garden, although I also resorted to some spot-on weedkiller for the more deeply rooted ones which I couldn't dig out by hand. I also planted out a Hydrangea which I have been growing from a cutting since last autumn, which may one day become part of a hedge at the front of the house.

And Loki remembered ( I assume) how warm the tile roof of the shed gets when it is sunny



And also demonstrated his walking-along-the-top-of-the-fence skills, which allow him to go all around the garden without ever setting food on the ground!




A pleasant, low-key weekend. 

Of course, I should have been energetic and done lots of housework and such, but I didn't.

 And I don't regret it, much. 

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Probably)

I've seen Hamlet 5 or 6 times (most recently a week before this show) but I've never seen Tom Stoppard's 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead', but a friend is a huge fan of the play, so when I saw that it was going to be performed at the Old Vic (50 years on from its premiere there) I suggested that she and I get tickets and I could see what all the fuss is about.

I'm glad I did.

We started by meeting up for lunch and cocktails, at 'The Cut', the restaurant at the Young Vic, which were awesome. good food, good booze, and good company!.

We then headed over to the Old Vic, for the play.





In this production, Daniel Radcliffe plays Rosencrantz, (well, probably) and Joshua McGuire, Guildenstern (most likely), with David Haig as the Player, who steals every scene he is in, with great skill and good humour.

The partnership of McGuire and Radcliffe works really well. McGuire's character is the more showy role, with Radcliffe as the quieter, more troubled half of the duo.

Its a lot of fun as they wander, confused, behind the scenes of 'Hamlet', unsure of who they are, what they are doing "were we sent for?"  and what is happening, riffing off philosophical ideas as they go. It reminded me a little of 'Waiting for Godot'.

Luke Mullins' Hamlet, seen only briefly, came across as supercilious and not even a little mad, and, frankly, not one to be missed upon his demise. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's puzzled distress when they learned of his betrayal of them was particularly poignant.



A very enjoyable production. See it if you can. 

The play is at the Old Vic until 6th May, and is also going to be broadcast via NTLive

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Another Hamlet

When I saw that Andrew Scott (Moriarty from 'Sherlock') was going to be playing 'Hamlet' at the Almeida Theatre, this Spring, with Juliet Stevenson as Gertrude, I couldn't not try to get tickets. I didn't manage it directly, but my friend A did, which meant that last night he and I fortified ourselves with an excellent Turkish meal before heading to the Almeida.



This production of the play is almost uncut, and is directed by Robert Icke, who was also responsible for the horribly effective and chilling 1984.

It was very interesting, and very different from the last couple of versions I have seen. This iteration of the court of Denmark is modern, the stage divided by sliding glass doors allowing to see behind the arras at times, the opening scene sees Horatio and Marcellus spot the ghost on the bank of screens showing feeds from security cameras, and updates such as Fortinbras's invasion are shown as news reports (complete with Danish headlines running across the bottom of the screen).

Andrew Scott's Hamlet is not, for the most part, as maniacal as you might expect, from seeing his Moriarty - from the outset, he came across as anxious and uncertain, constantly fidgeting with his watch, and lacking in self-confidence. His soliloquies are often conversational, and this is definitely a Hamlet in which the madness seems genuine rather than feigned.
Production Photo: Claudius, Hamlet and Gertrude
Gertrude (Juliet Stevenson) and Claudius (Angus Wright) are passionate with one another, unable to keep their hands off each other, but I wasn't entirely convinced by Claudius-as-villain , except in the final poisoning scene.

I was left feeling a bit ambivalent about the production. I would quite like to see it a second time. But I found it interesting, and worth seeing. 

Hamlet is at the Almeida until 15th April.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

A Different Kind of Marmalade

The season for Seville Oranges is over now (it is very short), although I have enough in the freezer for one more batch of marmalade, but it occurred to me a couple of weeks ago that it might be interesting to give it a go with blood oranges, as they're so pretty!



It's not as easy as you might think to track down blood oranges, but I managed, it, and spent an afternoon juicing and chopping and boiling.


I ended up with 6 and a half jars.

It's pretty, although not quite as pink as I had hoped, based on the juice.It's also much sweeter than the ordinary Seville kind, so I shall probably use it for baking, or to offer to guests, as I like my marmalade  pretty tart.


For comparison - Blood Orange on the left, Seville Orange on the right.

I also bought some pin grapefruit and am planning to make a small batch using those, too, to see how that turns out.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Abigail's Party

On Friday evening I saw 'Abigail's Party' at Bath Theatre Royal. It's one f those plays which I am aware of, but have never seen before, and I wanted to see it partly for that reason, and partly as I was interested to see Amanda Abbington (Mary Morstan from Sherlock) on stage. 

It was very good, although it is the kind of play which you watch with a degree of horrified fascination, as Beverley (Abbington) and her Estate Agent husband, Laurence (Ben Caplan) throw a cocktail party at their suburban home for their new neighbours Angela (Charlotte Mills) and Tony (Ciarán Owens), and older, divorced, neighbour, Susan (Rose Keegan) who is there to allow her 15 year old daughter to hold the titular party, free from parental interference.

Beverley is the awful, pushy, hostess, constantly overriding her guests' preferences and wishes, to score points off them and her husband, flirting increasingly desperately with Tony, all the while exposing her own insecurities and lack of taste. Her husband, Laurence, clearly prides himself on his more cultured tastes (he has a matching set of Dickens, and another of Shakespeare, but has read neither, and has prints of Van Gogh and Lowry on the walls,  but is put off when Susan appears to be more familiar with them than he is.

The whole thing is full of attempts to 'keep up with the Jones's', and is horribly true.  It's fun to watch as Angela starts subtly to assert herself, and of course for someone my age, brought up in the 70s, there is also the slightly worrying game of seeing how many pieces of furniture on set / props you can recognise from the homes you visited as a child... 

The play is in Bath until next weekend, then on tour until the end of April. The performance I saw was only the 3rd one, and this showed a little, Abbington stumbled on a couple of her lines, but over all, it was fun - funny and very watchable.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Hair Cut and shopping - it's not all theatre reviews, after all.

I have been intending to get my hair cut for a while, and finally got around to it last weekend. 

In fact, I'd left it so long that the hairdressers sent me a "We missed you. Come and get your hair cut and we'll give you money off" text message, so that was handy! Procrastination for the win!

Although since it meant I had to go into Bath, I also (naturally) ended up going into the lovely Mr B's Emporium, and, (equally naturally) having gone in for one book, came out with 5! 

Also did a bit of clothes shopping - my favourite jeans have died, and happily I found a pair which fit (although they were only available in dark blue, which is a pity. I'd have preferred grey or pale blue, not least because pulled threads from cat-claws don't show as badly on light coloured jeans as dark ones! 

And also found a shirt I like, and bought gifts for my sisters, both of whom have their birthdays this month. So I felt that the morning was well-spent. And given that I don't like shopping* and don't enjoy getting my hair cut, it was also fairly stress free.

* Except for book-shopping, obviously. That I like.



And then obviously I spent most of the afternoon reading, because you need to relax after that of day.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Cheek by Jowl's 'The Winter's Tale'

Last January, I saw Kenneth Branagh's production of 'A Winter's Tale', featuring Dame Judi Dench and Hadley Fraser, as well as Branagh himself. This week, I saw a very different production of the same play, by the 'Cheek by Jowl company'.

It was interesting - a very different production, with an understated set, and a lot of cuts. particularly in the second half of the play. 




In this production, Leontes (Orlando James) is clearly, from the beginning, unhinged - as his jealousy of his wife, Hermione (Natalie Redmall-Quirke) and friend, Polixenes (Sam Woolf) spill over, he poses them like mannequins, in the image of his fevered imaginings,  and swings between affection and violence in his treatment of his son, too. 

In the later parts of the play, once Perdita (Eleanor McLoughlin)  is grown up, the production seems to start to have a little more fun, and to approach the text more irreverently. The shearing celebration becomes a mini-festival, and when Mopsa and Dorcas fall out over which of them the Shepherd's son has promised gifts to, the scene was presented like a Jeremy Kyle show, with Autolycus (Ryan Donaldson) .

I found myself a little disappointed by the way that Paulina's (Joy Richardson)  character was portrayed - rather than her being a courageous,and tragic figure, she came over as more as a scold, which was a shame. (I am pretty sure this was a directorial decision, not down to the actor - she doubled as Mopsa and was excellent in that role).

Over all, I enjoyed the production, but I think it was uneven, and that the first scenes of Leontes' obsessive delusions, and the comedy in the second half, were the strongest parts.

The production is currently touring (dates and locations on Cheek by Jowl's site)