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items in the exhibition have been loaned by the current owners, which are the same churches or institutions they were originally made for - 700 or 800 years ago!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

Sunday, 16 October 2016

A Good Day

I got officially older yesterday, which isn't always much fun.

This time, however, my birthday fell on a Saturday, which is nice, and I have friends here, which was even nicer.

They arrived on Friday evening, and we walked down to one of the pubs in the village, (which I haven't been to before). It re-opened fairly recently following a total refurbishment and under new management, and the food, and ambiance, were both good. (And I notice that they feature a 'gin of the day', although I didn't try that (at least this time).

Then on Saturday, we went into Bath, where we met with some friends of my guests, who were both lovely! It was a beautifully warm,sunny day,so we ended up having lunch at Browns, and eating outside (not something which I often get to do on my birthday!)

We had pondered visiting the Roman Baths, but having looked at the queue and the prices we decided against it, and instead visited book shops and fudge shops and cheese shops and a tea shop (well, a tea shop in a cheese shop) and generally enjoyed one another's company. (Well, I enjoyed the company, and I think the others did too).

It started to rain just as we decided it was time to go home, where we tried some of my birthday gin, and spent the evening eating and chatting and watching Baldrick going to a walk.

gifts and one of my cards,, showing that my friends and family know me all too well

So, a good day.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

No Man's Land

When you learn that Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart are reuniting to appear on the stage together there is only one possible response, if you live close enough, and that is to book a ticket immediately.

So that is what I did.

And on Saturday I went up to London to see the play, 'No Man's Land' by Harold Pinter.

It's not one I've seen before. I really enjoyed it. Partly because it's Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, who could both make reading the telephone directory fun, and partly because this is a play with many darkly comic moments.

billboard on theatre showing Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen

Patrick Stewart is 'Hirst', a wealthy and successful writer, but apparently suffering from some form of memory loss/confusion, although whether this is purely due to excessive alcohol or something more is unclear. Ian McKellen is 'Spooner', a down-at-heel and unsuccessful writer.

They have apparently met in a pub, and returned to Hirst's home to continue to drink, and talk, often at cross purposes. Later, we meet Hirst's companions / servants - Foster (Teale) and Briggs (Molony) who add an air of occasional menace.

It's an odd play, where nothing is entirely clear (how many of the mens' reminiscences are true, how many are attempts at oneupmanship or pure invention, for example) but it's gripping, and often very funny (sometimes doubly so due to the performers, for instance when Spenser comments on Hirst's hair loss).

Well worth seeing.

The live show is on until 17th December, although tickets are not cheap, but it is being shown in cinemas on 15th December - I'd see it, if I were you!

Saturday, 8 October 2016

A Farewell to Bees

As you know, I had a very nasty experience at the end of August, when I was stung by one of my bees, and ended up having an anaphylactic reaction (blog here, with more details).

As a result, I made the sensible but disappointing decision to give up, fetching though the bee-suit is.

It took a little while, as this is not the ideal time of year to sell bees, as  they are about to settle in for the winter, and it is always a bit of a gamble as to whether they will make it through the winter.

But via the local beekeeper's association I found a lady who was looking for some bees to boost a weak hive going into the winter.
New bee-owner sealing up
 the hive

So, on Friday evening she came to shut up the hive, and on Saturday morning she, and a friend, came and collected the hive and bees. 

So, I no longer own any bees.  

Which is sad, as I liked having bees, right up to the point when they nearly killed me. 

But since I can't look after them any more, I'm glad that they have found a new home, and relieved not to have to rely on others to look after them for me.

So, bye-bye bees. It was (mostly) nice to know you.

Friday, 7 October 2016

The Threepenny Opera # 2

I saw the National Theatre's production of 'The Threepenny Opera'  with friends back in June, and enjoyed it so much that I decided to book to see it again.

The run ended on Saturday and I booked for the matinee, the penultimate performance.I was again able to get one of the £15 Travelex tickets,  near the centre of the very front row.

It meant that I had a very different view from the first time, but the show was just as much fun (although not the company, obviously. The company last time was great!)

Close to the Action
It was fun to see things from a different angle - harder to see the big picture, but easier to pick out the little details.  And seeing Rory Kinnear being scary up close was a lot of fun! 

Empty Stage after the show was over

I hope that it is shown again at the cinema, as  NTLive encore. I'd like to see it some more!

It's over know, so you can't see it live, but if you get the chance to see it in the cinema, go. You'll thank me.