Sunday, 28 August 2016

Two Noble Kinsmen

I have never seen 'Two Noble Kinsmen' before, and I chose not to read the plot in advance, so as to come to it fresh. 

(If, like me, you are unfamiliar with the plot, skip to the end of the post for a synopsis).

It was interesting to see it so soon after having seen 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' as, like that play, it features Theseus and Hippolyta, just before their wedding (although here they are interrupted by a small war!)

I think the costume designers had fun with this production - Duke Theseus  (Gyuri Sarossy) shows up for his wedding in a glorious, gold-frogged military greatcoat over a Greek-themed shirt, he goes hunting and maying in blinged-up motorcycle leathers, with 3D skulls on the shoulders! 

He's also surprisingly wiling to put of his wedding in order to go fight a battle, and seemed clsoer to, and more attracted by, his (admittedly extremely attractive) friend Pirithous than to his bride!

Hippolyta (Allison McKenzie)  has a gold helmet and tribal tattoos, and looks every inch the warrior queen.(She also, at one point, had an entirely unexplained chainsaw, which I suspect may not have been mentioned in Shakespeare's original script and stage directions) 

Palamon and Arcite (Photo from RSC website) 
The production is very physical - there are wire panels which descend to create a cage-like effect around the stage as Arcite (Jamie Wilkes) and Palamon (James Corrigan)   are imprisoned, and the pair of them then climb up, hang off, and generally clamber around on them, meaning that for those in the front rows you get up close and personal with the actors! (indeed, at one point, Palamon bounced into the empty seats next to me, and addressed a couple of lines to the young woman sitting in the next seat along!)

I really enjoyed the production - there was a very strong cast, the plot (through preposterous) moves swiftly and there is a lot of humour, despite the somewhat bloody plot. It's a play about love, as much as anything. Arcite and Polamon are at all times, even when fighting one another, very close, and poor Emilia, the cause of their discord, is herself unenthusiastic about either of them and describes her far closer, and deeper feelings for a female friend.

The Jailer's Daughter (Danusia Samal) who is, Ophelia-like, driven mad by unrequited love, is a fascinating character - vulnerable and yet, of all the characters, genuinely loved. Her father, uncle and suitor all working together to try to heal her, and despite her not being named, is one of the more rounded characters.

Well worth seeing. 

Plot Summary 

For those who, like me, are unfamiliar with the play, the plot is fairly straightforward.

Theseus, Duke of Athens, is about to marry his Amazonian bride, Hippolyta, then the celebrations are interrupted by the arrival of three widowed queens, who beg him to drop whatever he is doing, and rush to Thebes to fight the tyrant Creon and allow them to find and bury their husbands, slain in battle and denied proper rites. Theseus agrees, after some persuasion, to put off his wedding and go to fight instead. Meanwhile, noble cousins Palamon and Arcite discuss leaving Thebes in disgust at the corruption there, but when they hear Theseus is attacking, they decide to fight for their city, if not for their Duke.

Theseus is, naturally, victorious, and Palamon and Arcite are taken prisoner. While imprisoned, they see Hippolyta's sister, Emilia, and both fall instantly in love with her, and fall out with each other. Arcite is then released by Theseus, on condition her leaves the country, but chooses to remain, in disguise, in the hopes of wooing Emilia. He is successful in the midsummer games and Theseus (who totally fails to recognise him) gives him a post as servant to Emilia. Meanwhile, Palamon remains imprisoned. His jailer's daughter falls in love with him and releases him, hoping he will love her back (He doesn't, so she goes mad, gets caught up with some Morris Dancing (which probably doesn't help) and then, on the advice of a Doctor called in by her father)  is cured by her former suitor posing as Palamon.

Arcite finds Palamon in the forest, brings him supplies and feeds him up until he is fit enough to fight to the death over Emilia. They are discovered by Theseus, who admires their manliness, so rather than executing them sends them home to prepare, prior to a duel to the death involving their closest friends as well as themselves, with the winner to marry Emilia and the loser to be executed. Their friends are surprisingly ready to agree to this.

"So mate, will you come and fight for me? If we lose, we all get executed. If we win, I get to marry the girl"
"Sure, why not Sounds fun"

Both pray to the gods and receive encouragement from them, and prepare to fight.

Arcite wins the duel, but is then stumbled to death by a horse, and has a tearful-but-manly farewell scene with Palamon, to whom he bequeaths his bride-to-be, so that Palamon (and his friends) are not, after all, executed. 

Emilia, you notice, has no say in any of this, but ends up with a *very* manly and only slightly battered husband, so is presumed to be happy.

The play is on in Stratford until 7th February 2017, so you've plenty of time to see it!

Saturday, 27 August 2016

A Trip to Stratford on Avon

Jut over a week ago  I drove up to Stratford - upon - Avon to see' Two Noble Kinsman' at the RSC.

I had the day off work (having inadvertently booked the play for the Friday not the Saturday night!) so had time to make the trip a leisurely one. Traffic was heavy so I left the main road and went cross country, resulting in my meeting a flock of sheep, and coming upon an unexpected folly!

I had time for a meal in Stratford's oldest pub (at least it claims to be so, and who am I to argue?), The Garrick.

The pub is on the left in this picture - the house on the right, with the American flag, is Harvard House - it dates to 1596 and was built by one Thomas Rogers, who left it to his grandson, one  John Harvard, who emigrated to the American Colony in Charleston, in 1637, where he died in 1638, leaving his library and half his assets to the proposed new college to be established... The house became the property of Harvard University in 1909) .

I then had a stroll through the town, passing Shakespeare's birthplace (I was a day or two early to go to New Place, which has been closed for several months and only just reopened. Maybe will visit in September when I am back in Stratford. 
Shakespeare's Birthplace

The performance was in the Swan Theatre, which was another first for me - the last few productions I have seen have been in the main, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, which is in the same bulding as the Swan, but is significantly bigger (it seats about 1,000, compared to the Swan's 450) 
Swan Theatre, RSC

The play was still in previews, which meant I was able to get an excellent seat (front row of the stalls) at a very reasonable price!  It's a relatively small theatre with a thrust stage, so many of the audience are seated to the sides,rather than the front of the stage.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

A Midsummer Night's Dream

I'm a big fan of Shakespeare, and it was something of a surprise to realise, a few months ago, that I have never seen a live performance of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. I did see the TV production which the BBC did earlier this year, which I enjoyed, but the story was so familiar I had to stop and think to work out that I really *hadn't* seen it before! I think perhaps because the story pervades so many works of literature it is part of my mental furniture despite not having watched it on stage before!

This production was at the Bath Theatre Royal, as part, fittingly, of their summer season, and features comedian Phill Jupitus , in his first Shakespearean role, as Bottom.

It's an interesting, and successful, bit of casting.  Bottom came across as a having (misplaced) confidence in his own theatrical skills, and was, in the final scenes, gloriously indifferent to the difference between laughing at, and laughing with, as the Duke and his court enjoyed the play. And in his scenes with Titania he portrayed Bottom's self-importance and ridiculousness beautifully.

As a whole, I enjoyed the production, and the rude mechanicals' play was hilarious.  I was less convinced by the costume choice for Puck - he appeared naked except for a loin cloth and a lot of blue paint, but unfortunately the bulkiness and mismatch between the blue of the cloth and the paint meant he ended up looking rather like he was wearing a nappy...

Darrell D'Silva and Katy Stephens played dual roles -  Theseus / Oberon and Hippolyta / Titania, which worked well - D'Silva had an excellent line in restrained power, both as ruler of Athens and King of the fairies.

The lovers, Hermia (Eve Ponsonby) and Lysander (William Postlethwaite) and Helena (Maya Wasowicz) and Demetrius (Wilf Scolding)  were excellent - Lysander was presented as something of a hipster, with Demetrius distinctly more buttoned up and formal, although both ended up nearly naked once the fairies were finished with them - the only part which was hard to believe was that Helena was spurned by Demetrius - she was a much more striking and appealing character than Hermia!

I should like to see other productions and see how they compare

The production has now ended in Bath, I'm not sure if it is touring elsewhere.

I regret that I haven't been able to get to see the version of 'Dream' at the Globe, as I've heard very good things about it, and I will be looking out for another production to see, as I was left feeling a little underwhelmed by this one! 

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Adventures in Beekeeping - The Queen is Dead, Long Live the Queen

I'm still new to this bee-keeping lark, and it is a fairly steep learning curve.  I was hoping for a nice, straightforward first season, but it was Not To Be.

 I started the season with a lovely, golden Queen Bee

But at some point last month she disappeared, missing, presumed accidentally squished. Or otherwise lost or damaged.

In these circumstances, what is *supposed*  to happen is that the bees find a nice new egg (or several) and feed them Royal Jelly to make a new queen (or more than one new queen, in which case they can fight to the death when they emerge)  

the books also say that if your hive becomes queenless, the bees will normally be grumpy.

My bees obviously haven't read the books. 

They didn't make any queen cells, and continued to be pretty mellow and laid back.  I got a more experienced (as in, has been keeping bees for 38 years) to come and give me his view. He thought my bees were behaving as if they were queenright (i.e. there was a queen in there somewhere), so recommended leaving them another week to see whether anything changed (one possibility was that the old queen had gone, and that there had been a queen cell I'd missed, in which case a new queen would take a while to hatch, mate, and start laying.

But nothing changed, so a week later, he kindly gave me a cut out from one of his hive.
This is a small section of comb with fresh eggs in - you  replace a bit of you own comb with this, and if there is no queen, the bees can use some of the fresh eggs to build queen cells)

Which, in my case, is what happened. 

Queen Cells - on cut out 

At this point, there is a choice. You can either wait for one (or more) of the queens to emerge, at which point they fight to the death, and the survivor then goes out, has lots of wild sex with lots of drones (which is literally the only reason for the drones to exist - they do nothing else!)  an then comes back and start laying eggs, Or you buy in a new, mated queen, introduce her and hope the bees accept her.

I decided to go for the second option, because  I was worried about how long my bees had been queenless ( leaving it for a queen to emerge would have meant anything up to 4-5 weeks for her to emerge, fly and mate, and then start laying - and in the mean time, the bees are getting older and there are fewer 'nurse bees' to look after any new brood, ad it is getting later in the season

So, I ordered a new Queen.

She was sent to me in the post. She came (via special delivery) in an introduction cage, accompanied by about 6 attendants. 

My new queen in Introduction cage
And a set of instructions. Which start by telling you you should remove the attendants.

They do not offer any clues as to how you are supposed to extract 6 of the 7 bees in your tiny box,  without either (i) losing or (ii) stressing the Queen. (They are very specific that you shouldn't stress the queen out, although I would imagine that being sent through the post might be a little stressful) 

Frantic googling reveals that around 50% of beekeepers think there is no need to remove attendants, and that about 50% consider it to be absolutely essential. And that you do it by opening the cage inside a plastic bag near a (closed) window, in the hope that the bees will come out towards the light, but remain in the bag so you can avoid losing the queen.

It's not as simple as they made it sound, and after getting 4 of the attendants out, and having the queen out once and back in again, I decided that I'd leave the last 2 in with her and hope for the best.

So, down to the hive.

You'd think, given that a hive will die out with no queen, that they would be happy to see a new queen,but this isn't always the case. It all has to do with pheromones, apparently - each queen has her own individual scent, so if there is already a queen in the hive, the bees will be loyal to her, and attack a stranger. But (I didn't know this until I started reading about introducing a new queen) her pheromones also act to supress the egg-laying ability of the worker bees. If she's gone too long, then workers may start laying eggs. They re not fertilized, so won't become new workers, but will develop into drones (who may get to mate with queens elsewhere, so there is a chance of some of the colony's genes getting passed on) 

But this can mean that if you do get workers laying eggs, the pheromones sloshing around can mimic there being a queen well enough that the bees will reject a new one..

So one of the reasons for having an introduction cage for a new queen is that it gives the hive time to get used to her 'scent', while keeping her safe, so the bees can't kill her.

I took a short video of what happened when I put the queen, in her introduction cage, down on tip of the hive.

As you can see, the bees were all over her (literally). Apparently, if the bees like her, they are all over her but if they don't like her and are trying to kill her, they would *also* be all over her ... the difference, according to the books, is whether they are biting - and (if you are not well-versed in spotting whether a bee is biting) you can tell by whether or not you can brush them off..

So, I felt hopeful, as the bees were pretty relaxed and let me brush them off the cage, and went ahead with the next step, which is to put the cage into the hive, still sealed.

The instructions suggest that you use cocktail sticks to hold the cage in place against the comb. This would probably work best for someone who had not carefully located some cocktail sticks, put them in her pocket, and then zipped pocket, sticks and all inside a bee-suit...

However, one can improvise.

Twenty-Four hours later I returned, made sure that the bees were still seeming happy to see her, and took the packing tape off the cage - underneath is an entrance tube filled with sugar candy - the bees eat there way through the candy, releasing the queen. In the mean time, she has already spent 24 hours with her personal pheromones wafting through the hive, and by the time she is released the bees should have accepted her.

At this point I ha to be very patient, as the instructions, and the advice from experienced beekeepers, is that you should leave the hive completely alone for 10 days after taking the cap off the cage, as opening it up to inspect could, apparently, cause the bees to change their minds and reject the queen (I like to imagine that this involves small cadres of revolutionary workers, standing around on corners of the comb and preaching republicanism, but I suspect that it is less political than that! )

Anyway, after a nervous 10 days, I went back to check on the hive on Sunday.


It seems as though the introduction has been successful.  I didn't actually spot Her Majesty (my Queen-spotting skills are not great, and for the second time I appear to have bought a Queen Bee ho was supposed to be marked, but had been cleaned off by her courtiers) 

BUT, there are lots of new eggs (and they appear to be proper eggs from a queen, not from workers), and larvae of various ages, so it appears that La Reine has emerged from her cage, and got to work.

Comb with new eggs and larvae
I shall be checking again this weekend, to make sure that all is well, and shall be hoping to spot the Queen.

I am hoping, also, that with the sunny weather we've been having, and the plants which are out, that they will have time to build up a few more stores before we go into autumn.

It doesn't look as though there will be any spare honey for me (I may take a little bit of comb, just so I can taste it, but people are mostly harvesting their honey crops and starting to prep for winter, now). I'm hopeful, however, that the colony will be strong enough to make it through the winter. 

And it is all experience! 

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Richard III (Almeida Theatre)

After my trip to London to see Harry Potter, I returned to London the following  weekend for a very different theatrical production - Shakespeare's Richard III , featuring Ralph Fiennes as Richard, and Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Margaret, at the Almeida Theatre in Islington.

ralph fiennes as Rochard III, blurred moving
Production photo

The Almeida is fairly small, so the setting is very intimate, a feeling increased by the fact that this production uses the side aisles a lot, for entrances and exists (and let me tell you, glancing to one side an realising that Richard III is just standing, silently, there, is quite unnerving!) 

The play opens with a scene form the 2012 excavation of the car park in Leicester where Richard's remains were found. Actors in hi-vis vests are digging on stage as the audience make their way to their seats. I am not entirely convinced that this framing helped the production; Shakespeare's Richard not having a great deal in common with the historic one.

Fiennes is a chilling Richard - convincingly murderous, with little of the wry humour you sometimes see.And at times, as when he literally licks blood from the block after Hastings' execution, utterly horrifying.   And he draws the audience in, making everyone complicit in his deeds.

In one scene, as he is plotting the murder of his nephews he approaches members of the audience, asking "is thy name Tyrrell" , as if expecting to find a mercenary murderer in the front row, and so convincingly that it does not seem at all unlikely that he might.

He is ably supported by Aislin McGuckin as Queen Elizabeth, and Finbar Lynch as Buckingham. Vanessa Redgrave appears as Queen Margaret, quiet and inexorable, rather than the more aggressive, virago like way the character is often portrayed.

As the play progresses, skulls start to appear on the back wall behind the stage, one for each of Richard's (named) victims - (and his brother Edward) - Clarence, Rivers, Hastings, Anne, Young Edward and Richard and Buckingham, a silent testimony to the violence of his rise to the throne.

There are a few false notes in the production There is an entirely gratuitous rape scene, and there is a rather odd costuming change at the end - Richmond appears wearing a single arm's worth of armour (Winter Soldier style) over his business suit, and then gradually the other characters are armoured-up to allow for a final battle with swords, pikes and armour. It is rather jarring and doesn't really work, and the lighting in this scene is also poorly thought out.

Still, all in all, it's a very good production, and Fiennes is a deliciously scary Richard.