Saturday, 27 May 2017

'Ink' at Mr B's

A little while back I saw this beautiful looking book in Mr B's  bookshop in Bath. I read the blurb, and like the sound of it, and the book became part of my holiday reading.

It's Alice Broadway's debut novel,  and it's an excellent read. (its also the first of a trilogy, which is nice, as it means that there's more to come) 



The protagonist, Leora, lives in Saintstone, a city, within a wider world, in which everyone's life story is, quite literally, written on their skin. When someone dies, their skin is preserved as a book and is judged, and weighed as worthy or not. Leora is waiting, confidently, to hear that her father has been judged worthy..........

I won't spoil the book by saying more, but urge you to read it for yourself.

Hearing Alice talk about the book was very interesting, addressing issues around faith, and questioning it, about tattoos, and the preservation of human skin, was very interesting.  She explained that she doesn't (yet) have any tattoos, due in part to the difficulty of choosing what to have permanently on one's skin.                        She also revealed that  she knew from the beginning the 'A' and the 'Z' of the whole story, but not all of the other points on the way, and that she had started writing the book as part of NaNoWrMo, but never really dared to plan for parts 2 and 3 as it seemed so unlikely that the book would be published! 
I am glad she turned out to be wrong about that one!   

Alice read a couple of extracts from the book, and also answered questions, before signing copies of the book. I hope that when the 2nd an 3rd parts of the trilogy are published, Mr B's can persuade her to return.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Bath Festival : Dominic Dromgoole

I was a little disappointed with the line up for the Bath Literary Festival this year, as I couldn't find very many events I wanted, and was able, to attend. However, one I did like the look of was an interview with Dominic Dromgoole, former Artistic Director of the Globe Theatre, talking about his book about the 'Hamlet: Globe to Globe' tour.

For those who don't know, the tour marked the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death by trying to take a production of 'Hamlet' to every country in the world.


Dominic Dromgoole, 20.05.17

It was very interesting. Dominic started by explaining that he is a local boy; he was brought up in Wedmore, so coming to Bath feels like coming home. He also pointed out that the parents of one of the Hamlet cast, another local boy, were in the audience!

He explained that the idea of the tour came about in a 'louche bar' where he and other members of the Globe team were drinking cocktails at the end of an away day (he commented that the Globe doesn't get any government support, and very little sponsorship, so the money comes from the box office and they felt, therefore, able to spend it on such things!). They were unsure, at first, whether it would even be possible, but (he claims) decided to go ahead anyway! It followed on from the season they had had at the Globe, where they performed all of Shakespeare's plays, with companies from around the world performing in a wide variety of languages, so they were able, to some extent, to build on the relationships built with various international theatres and companies.

He explained that they then had to decide which play to take on tour, and decided on Hamlet on the basis that it has iconic appeal, and unlike other plays (such as Romeo and Juliet) it is elusive; there is always more or the actors to discover, so they are less likely to get bored and stale over a long run.

He was asked about how well the play was understood, in non-English speaking countries, particularly as there were no sur-titles, and in some of the countries visited the play would not be (well) known.  He explained that, as at the Globe, they performed in natural light or with the audience, as well as the players, lit, which allows cast and audience to make eye contact with one another, and that key parts of the play 'read' clearly even of you don't understand the words -the opening scene, on the battlements, is a readily understandable scenario,  Claudius can be recognised as an authority figure, ghosts are well known in most cultures, and so on. 

Over all it was an interesting conversation, I was glad to have gone. And it left me really wanting to see a version of Hamlet at the Globe! 

After the event, I had a chance to buy a book (although I bought an older one rather than Globe to Globe, to start with!) and say hello. 

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Don Juan in SoHo

Watching David Tennant on stage is always a pleasure, and I really enjoyed '3 Days in the Country' which was written by Patrick Marber, so naturally, when I saw that Tennant  was going to be performing in Marber's play, 'Don Juan in SoHo'  I booked tickets!





The play is a re-working of Molière's 1665 play, set in contemporary SoHo, with David Tenant as Don Juan, Adrian Scarborough as his long-suffering servant, Stan.

I'm not familiar with the original play, so am unsure how much of the plot has been retained, but whatever liberties may have been taken, they seem to work! 

We meet the Don in a luxury hotel, where he is discovered by his brother in law, initially concerned for his safety, as he has not been seen for two days, although of course we quickly learn that it is simply that the amoral Don has abandoned his wife, to spend his nights with a supermodel in the penthouse suite... 


David Tennant as Don Juan. Production photo by Helen Maybanks

When we first meet him, he slumps into an armchair, apparently too exhausted even to reach the glass Stan has provided for him, and then proceeds to smoke a series of cigarettes, flirting outrageously with the hotel staff members who come to insist he puts it out..

Don Juan is sexy, charming, unscrupulous and almost entirely immoral. He shamelessly lies to his father (Gawn Gainger) to avoid being disinherited, but is cruelly, and ruthlessly, honest in admitting to his wronged wife that he married her as the only way of sleeping with her, and that he was cheating in her even on their wedding day.

As Stan says 'Please don't be charmed, he's not a lovable rogue' and he is absolutely right. He's not a lovable rogue. But he is very entertaining! 


Stan and Don Juan: Production photo by Helen Maybanks
And there are lots of little touches - the script includes contemporary references ("I'm not a rapist, I don't grab pussy") there are telling little vignettes - the woman in the hospital, filming Don Juan as he attempts to seduce a grieving bride while simultaneously enjoying fellatio from another woman, springs to mind - Don Juan is not the only member of this ensemble with dubious morals! 


The play is at Wyndham's Theatre until 10th June, and it definitely worth seeing, if you can!

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Nell Gwynn

I missed Nell Gwynn when it was originally on at the Globe Theatre, but heard many good things about it, so when I saw that it was coming to Bath I immediately booked a ticket. 

And then a little bit later I realised it was for the same night I would be getting back from Venice, but as that was the last night it was in Bath, there was no way of changing the ticket, so I decided to hope that the train would be on time and the traffic light, and that I'd get back in time.

It was, and I did. All the travel gods smiled on me, I was out of Gatwick within half an hour of the plane landing, and got to Bath with time to grab a snack before going into the theatre!

The play, written by Jessica Swale and starring Laura Pitt-Pulford as Nell and Ben Righton as Charles II, begins in 1660 as a young Nell Gwynn, selling oranges at Drury Lane theatre, draws the attention of actor Charles Hart (Sam Marks), and starts on her path towards being one of the first professional actresses in Britain, and, a little later, mistress of Charles II.

It was lot of fun. I particularly enjoyed the performance of Esh Alladi, as Edward Kynaston,an actor famed for his portrayal of female roles, outraged by the idea of women on stage!



Nell gets most of the best lines - there is a lovely sequence where she gives her unvarnished opinion of women characters as written by male playwrights, with particular reference to  Shakespeare's 'Juliet. (Spoiler Alert: She is not convinced by Juliet and her suicide) 

There was live music.  There was singing and dancing. There were ridiculous hats. there were political jokes.

It was all great fun.

Sadly the run is now over, so you can't see it, but if they revive it, go see it.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Venice, More Art, Angels and Architecture

As may have become clear, I do enjoy a good art gallery, and as well as the modern art galleries Venice also has the Galleria Accademia, where they keep all the renaissance art (and later - it covers the 14th to 18th Centuries) .

One of the first rooms you go into is in what used to be the refectory of the Scuola Grande della Carità, which is a 14th C building, and has an amazing wooden ceiling covered in cherubim. Apparently, no two faces are the same.. 
Angel Ceiling, Galleria Dell'Accademia


The gallery's collection is arranged broadly chronological, so you start with 14th and 15th Century religious art - lots of lovely Renaissance Angels and the occasional dragon.


Quite a lot of the rooms were closed when I visited, so I didn't get to see a lot of the later stuff, but I did very much enjoy the room with a series of paintings of 'The Miracles of the True Cross', by Carpaccio, Gentile Bellini,  and Mansueti.

'Miracolo della Croce caduta nel canale di San Lorenzo'- Gentile Bellini, 1500

They show meticulous pictures of Venice in the late 1400's. (Theoretically involving miracles attributable to a relic of the true cross, but really more about the people and the scenery!)

Detail from Carpaccio's 'Miracle of the Cross at the Ponte di Rialto' (1496)

There are gondolas and gondoliers and  posh Venetians, and pictures of the Rialto and on St Mark's

 'Processione in piazza San Marco' Gentile Bellin, 1496
 It's fascinating to see so many little details of Venice in 1500! 

After leaving the gallery, I found another relic of Renaissance Venice, the Scala Contarini del Bovolo, a beautiful, delicate, external spiral staircase.


It was built in around 1400, and is just lovely. 

You can climb the tower, and there are views out across Venice from the top.



The un-named (but sneaky) architect of the tower made the arches smaller on each level as the tower goes up, to make it look taller than it really is!

This was my last full day, so I then spent some time just wandering around and enjoying the sights.



..and the traghetto, and the canals.


I admired the beautifully decorated gondolas 'parked' outside the guesthouse I was staying at, and generally drank in the atmosphere.


It  was all rather nice.



The following morning I had a little time to wander around again before catching the boat back to the airport to fly home.


It was a lovely sunny morning, which made it harder to leave, but at least the trip across the lagoon was pleasant!


Sunday, 14 May 2017

Treasures from the Wreck of the 'Unbelievable'

A couple of weeks before I went to Venice, I saw a review for Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable' , the new exhibition of works by Damien Hirst.



It seemed intriguing, so having time, I went to see it.

The exhibition claims to be the items discovered that a wreck was discovered, in 2008, of a 2nd Century ship, full of treasures collected by a wealthy former slave. It is, of course, entirely untrue. But they have put a lot of effort into making it sound convincing.

I started in the Palazzo Grassi (the exhibition is in two locations, Palazzo Grassi and Dorgana) 

The Palazzo Grassi is a large, canalside mansion, with 3 stories surrounding a central atrium. 

Right now, the atrium is rather full of a 60' tall bronze demon (or, if you ignore the talons, a 60' tall naked headless man)



I'm not sure that it would be a decorating choice I'd make, if I ever happen to have a palace on the Grand Canal, but it's quite dramatic. And a little odd. 

As are most of the other exhibits.



I found a bust of Mazikeen. (or, 'The Skull beneath the Skin', as Mr Hirst calls her)


Then there was Andromeda and the monster, which gave more than a nod to Hirst's famous pickled sharks..

I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition of Andromeda and the Sharks and Things with Tentacles with the lovely gilded and decorated ceiling.


There are some pieces which a cynical person might think are the tiniest bit inconsistent with an 1,800 year old shipwreck...


As you continue round the exhibition, it becomes clear that Hirst is riffing upon, a whole range of targets - the solemnity of museums and their careful speculation about artifacts, his own, and other artists' works, (I didn't realise it at the time, but even the giant naked demon is a take on William Blake's miniature painting, 'The Ghost of a Flea')


There are also takes on modern scientific research (dressed up as a claim that the mouse and the ear were parts of a giant statue of Zeus)

Some of the pieces are beautiful in their own right, such as this 'Sun Disk'


Others look more like props from a Indiana Jones film.

And some are just entertaining, like the Unicorn skulls...


I enjoyed the exhibition. I am not sure whether it is good art or not, but it is good fun, although I felt it perhaps takes itself a little too seriously. In commenting on how seriously art and museums take themselves, it seems to have fallen into the same trap. I got the impression that Hirst was having fun creating the exhibition, and I cannot help but think that the exhibition would have benefited from loosening up a little. I think adding a cocktail bar and some music would improve things.


(I think also that the exhibition is a little too big and repetitious - there are only so may fake artifacts you can see before they start looking the same..)

But over all, it is fun, and I'm glad I went.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Torcello and More

I was a little disappointed by the mosaics in St Marks, not because they are not impressive, because they are, but because it's hard to get to to see them, given how crowded the place is, so,largely for that reason, I decided to take a trip to the island of Torcello, which is, these days, very sparsely populated, but which has a cathedral which is famous for having the oldest mosaics in Venice, created in the 11th and 12th century.

My trip to the ferry stop took me via the fruit and fish markets at the Rialto, after which there was a somewhat grey ferry ride to Torcello. 



I got an early boat,and there were very few people around as I walked up from the landing stage to the cathedral. There is just one canal, which leads from the ferry quay to the village so you can't get lost, and while the landscape is not very inspiring, it it was good to be away from the city for a little while, and enjoy some peace and greenery.



 had not realised, but there are actually 2 churches, side by side. There is the 11thC church of St Fosca, which is starkly plain and understated inside. I liked it, but there are no mosaics!
St Fosca

Then there is the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, which was founded in the 7thC, although the current building was mostly built in the 11thC, with additions and repairs in the 14th 

It does have mosaics. And they are very impressive.  I was fortunate that when I arrived, there was no one else in the church, so I got to enjoy them in peace for a a short time, before others joined me!

There are images of Mary and of Christ in two of the Domes at the Eastern end of the church, but the really dramatic one is on the West wall, where there is a huge image of Judgement Day.

Cattedrale di Torcello (Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta)
I particularly enjoyed the section half way down the left hand side, showing the dead being resurrected from their graves and winding sheets,  and (for reasons which were not adequately explained) from various beasts. I liked the lions.


On the opposite side, are the damned, being cast into Hell, together with little vignettes illustrating the seven deadly sins, although I am embarrassed to admit that I am not certain which sin is which (Although I'd guess that the 3 people on the left, having a snack while standing in a fire, probably represent Gluttony...)



As well as the church, Torcello also has a tiny historical and archaeological museum, which I visited briefly.

At around this point,  a couple of school trips arrived, so I decided to leave.

Back in Venice, and after a rather tasty lunch, I found the Scuola Dalmata - also known as San Giorgio degli Schiavoni. It is one of Venice's mediaval confraternity houses (or Scuolas), and I wanted to go because, in 1502 the members arranged for the painter Carpaccio to paint a series of panels of the fraternity's patron saints, including a rather nice one of St George and the Dragon.


I should mention, perhaps, that I don't know much about medieval art, and next to nothing about Carpaccio, but I saw a picture of this panel and liked it, so I wanted to see the original.

Another panel shows George triumphantly leading the (now much smaller!) dragon into a town square.

Another of the Scuola's parton saints was St Jerome, who apparently struck up a friendship with a lion after removing a thorn from the lion's paw. 


The painting shows Jerome with the lion, together with some rather alarmed friars. I'm with the friars on this one. I am not sure that I would wish to rely , for my safety, on the gratitude of a lion...

But I did like the pictures. They have a certain charm to them which appeals to me. 

I spent the remainder of the afternoon looking at a different kind of art altogether, one which I think needs its own post.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Another post about Venice (Mostly San Marco)

The day I flew to Venice, I checked on the weather forecast for Venice, and it told me that it was due to rain pretty much constantly while I was there. It didn't, but on Wednesday it decided to fulfil the prophecy.



It turns out that rain does discourage people a little, so St Mark's Square was a lot less crowded than usual.



I'd planned to visit St Mark's, and booked a 'skip the line' ticket so I didn't have to queue in the rain, although it simply means that you join the queue inside the basilica instead of outside! 

The sheer volume of people does mean that it's  bit of a conveyor belt; you shuffle along on little fenced paths through the basilica, and can't really stop and take in the atmosphere, and not all of the mosaics are lit, all of the time, but despite this it is still pretty impressive. After walking round the church itself, you get to go upstairs, where you can visit the museum. The original horses of St Mark's are there, now. 


Cavalli di San Marco

The horses have had a long and varied history. They were created (probably) in the 2nd or 3rd C AD, (originally pulling a chariot) and were displayed at the hippodrome in Constantinople for many years, before being looted by the Venetians in 1204 (when they also got their collars, as the heads of the sculptures were removed for transport, and the collars added to cover up the join, when they were reassembled)

They then took up their posts on the facade of St Marks, in 1254. They stayed there until 1797, when Napoleon had them removed, and they spent some time in Paris, before being returned after Napoleon's defeat, and reinstated on the Basilica in 1815. They were moved inside to prevent damage from pollution, in the 1980s, and the ones outside are now copies.




I hadn't appreciated how old they were, until I read about them in the museum! 

The museum also give you the chance to see some of the mosaics up close, and to look down into the church.



And of course there is also the chance to go out onto the loggia and look down into St Mark's Square, and out to the lagoon.


(That line of umbrellas are over all the people queuing to get into the basilica, an excellent reason to use the skip-the-line service!)

On the way out, are the best views of some of the mosaics, and they seem more relaxed about you taking photos of them, in the porch. They are very impressive!



I spent the afternoon mostly admiring modern art, as I visited both the Ca' Pesaro museum of modern art, and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.



My favourite piece in the Ca' Pesaro museum was their Klimt, Salome, although I also enjoyed the Kandinskys and the Rodins.   Not to mention the views out over the Grand Canal.




The same building also houses the Oriental Art museum, which has some rather lovely netsuke, and Japanese screen, and also an amazing Chinese Ivory chess set, which reminded me of the one which Lord Peter Whimsey buys as a gift for Harriet Vane in Gaudy Night..



Then there's the Peggy Guggenheim Collection , with more Kandinskys, plus Man Ray, Jackson Pollock, Picasso and Dali, not to mention a sculpture garden with pieces from Moore, Hepworth, Anish Kapoor and others. Even in the rain it is well worth exploring! 



Despite being distinctly soggy by this point, I did stop off with some other rubber-neckers, on the Ponte d'Accademia to watch another piece of artwork being delivered or installed. I hadn't really thought much about how the lack of roads or trucks would affect that kind of thing - there must be a whole extra set of challenges when even your cranes need to be on barges...