Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Hypochondriacs, Hamlet, Friends and Fun

There's been a lot of theatre in my life just recently. Last weekend, my parents came down for the weekend, and we went to see 'The Hypochondriac'  in Bath, starring Tony Robinson. It's not a play I've seen before, and I admit that I had vaguely assumed, given that it is a classic of French theatre, that it would be erudite as well as funny.  

I discovered that it is (in this new translation, at least) pure farce, with many jokes about pee and shit. The plot, involving an avaricious 2nd wife, a beautiful daughter in love with an unsuitable young man,and a selfish father, is predictable, but none the less fun for that, and we enjoyed the evening.

Then *this* weekend, I was up in Manchester to visit some very good friends, and we went out to see 'Hamlet' at the Royal Exchange.

This production features Maxine Peake in the title role - I'm most familiar with her as the tough barrister, Martha, in the TV series 'Silk', although she also appeared as 'Doll Tearsheet' in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 when they were filmed  for the 'Hollow Crown' series. 

I have not seen her live on stage before.

It was an excellent production - Peake's Prince comes across as vulnerable, and very much a grieving child, rather than a Prince resentful of the loss of his throne.

I didn't feel that there was much chemistry between Hamlet and Ophelia (Katie West) but Ophelia seemed a fuller character than she often is - very aware of the manipulative way which Claudius and Polonia use her, and unhappy about it. Which feeds in well to her grief and madness following the death of her mother.

The play has some cuts - all mention of Fortinbras and the Norwegians have been cut, leaving very little in the way of political content. There have also been some changes to the play - Laertes returns home in time to see Ophelia in her madness, for instance, and the 'To be, or not to be' soliloquy comes later in the play than normal. 

Hamlet - Maxine Peake ( (c) Royal Exchange Manchester / Jonathan Keenan)
 On the whole, I thought the production was very good, with an extremely strong cast. John Shrapnel (playing the ghost of Hamlet's father, and Claudius) was suitably unlikeable as Claudius.

There were one or two things I wasn't too keen on (aren't there always?) - for instance, in contrast to the otherwise fairly sparse staging, the gravedigger scene suddenly involved a big heap of old clothes falling from the ceiling and being 'dug' to make Ophelia's grave, with Yorick's skull being represented by a rolled or folder sweater. I assume that the aim was to avoid the cliche of an actual skull, but I found it rather distracting and out of keeping with the rest of the production.

However, this was a pretty minor issue in an over all very strong production, and I'm really pleased that we saw it. I think the run ends this Friday so not many chances more to see it!

The rest of the weekend was lovely - lots of relaxed time with dear friends!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Stephen Fry, Cinema and cats

Last Wednesday there was another live broadcast to cinemas - not a play or ballet this time, but the lovely Mr Stephen Fry, talking as part of the publicity for his new book, 'More Fool Me'

The cinema had not sold many tickets, which I didn't find particularly surprising: it was a Wednesday night, plus the cinema has only fairly recently started to do the live theatre screenings or other 'art' events (unlike the two other cinemas  the district showing the live broadcasts, both of which have been showing 'art house' , rare and foreign language films for decades, and have therefore, naturally, built up a loyal audience for such films.

Which is relevant, as when we arrived (and it turned out that the start time had been changed by the broadcaster, so we had a wait) the cinema owner (Retired -I think his daughter(s) now run it) came into the auditorium, and having started well by welcoming us and explaining the reason for the delay, he then unfortunately decided to give us all a scolding about how if not enough people come to the live screenings then they won't be able to continue, and it involves  a lot of work,and how more people ought to come. 

It went on for about 10 minutes,  and really soured the evening. I can understand that he might be frustrated at the low turn out, but seemed to have missed the point that those of us sitting there, having bought tickets, are not the ones who need convincing. And I doubt anyone would show up in response to  a scolding.

Fortunately the evening improved once the broadcast began and Mr Fry came on screen.

He was (as anticipated) highly entertaining, in particular talking about his encounters with Prince Charles, (with passing reference to the perils of being friendly with impressionists, if you get unexpected personal phone calls from the heir to the throne..), who came to tea one Christmas. (Cue Rowan Atkinson frantically vacuuming, and discussions as to whether serving Battenburg cake would be considered a commentary on the Prince's ancestry, and what to serve to the bodyguards..

He also spoke about his current love of technology, and his love of reading and how important books and the mobile library were to him when he was growing up, and a little about his past use of cocaine, which is of course what made all the headlines the following morning.

An entertaining evening, apart from the poor start.

And the cats? They have had their second set of jabs, so they will be allowed to go outside very soon. I did take them each out briefly on a lead at the weekend, just in the back garden,which they both seemed to enjoy. 

I've had a new cat flap put in, but until they are a bit bigger, and have had their ops, won't be letting them out unsupervised (They will be getting their microchips while they are sedated for neutering, so they are not chipped yet)

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Garth Nix and Joe Abercrombie at the Bath Kids Lit. Festival

I was back in Bath this evening for an interview with Joe Abercrombie and Garth Nix (conducted by John McLay, who is the festival director)
Garth Nix and Joe Abercrombie

I have seen Joe a few times before, at Bristol Con, although I have not got around to reading any of his work, yet.

I love Garth Nix's work, and 'Old Kingdom' books in particular, so I was very excited to hear he has written a prequel to the existing trilogy, Clariel, (which officially comes out next week, but which was available at the event, so naturally I bought a copy!)

The event was a lot of fun, both Garth and Joe appeared to be enjoying themselves, and to be interested in the questions being asked.

Garth mentioned having recently rediscovered his first ever 'book' written when he was 8 or 9, leading to questions about whether either agreed with the proposition that a writer ought to throw away their first two or three books.Joe did not agree, commenting that as his first 3 books books are his trilogy, throwing them away without trying t get them published would have been a bit of a waste! 

Garth was kind enough to share the golden rule of getting stuff published (you have to finish things - finishing stuff doesn't guarantee you'll be published, but not finishing pretty much guarantees you won't get published!)

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Dave McKean at Bath Kids Lit. Fest

Saturday morning was devoted to dull but necessary tasks, such as getting up far too early for a Saturday in order to get a 'flu jab, buying food, doing laundry and getting a cat-flap installed ready for when the kittens are allowed out.

The afternoon, however, was much more fun. 

This year's Bath Festival of Children's Literature has begun, and one of the events was 'In Conversation with Dave McKean' which took place on Saturday afternoon at the Holburne Museum.

I was  particularly keen to see Dave McKean, partly because I love his work, but also as his event last year had to be cancelled, as he was prevented from getting to Bath by major road delays! 

He started his presentation by apologising for last year, and explaining that he had arrived in Bath 3 hours early, this time, to ensure that there wasn't a repeat of that issue!

He then gave us a whistle-stop tour of some of his works, with illustrations,  concentrating in particular on the work he has done with children's books.  It was particularly interesting to me to hear him explaining to people who might not know, who Neil Gaiman is, with particular reference to his Crazy Hair!

He also talked about his work with David Almond (in glowing terms, and pointing out first that David was sitting in the audience!) Richard Dawkins and S.F.Said, speaking a little about the techniques he had used for some of the different art works.

He mentioned that his new film, Luna, is out soon. He didn't play us the trailer, as it is not a children's film (apparently it has just been classified as a 15) but did mention that it will be showing in Bath next month, and that he will be doing a QandA, but he did play us Sheepdip, Johnson and Dupree whicch was fun.

After the event he signed books - sadly the  event bookseller had not brought any copies of his new book Pictures That Tick (Vol 2) - they only had older ones (all of which I already own!) but Dave himself had brought along some spare copies of Jazz (in Quotes) which is a limited edition collection of illustrated quotes, which was produced for SDCC, so I was able to get one of those, and to get Dave to sign a couple of my existing books. 

All in all, a most satisfactory evening. And when I got home, I was able to book a ticket for the screening of Luna

Saturday, 27 September 2014

In Which there is Wildean Fun

We are very fortunate that Bath Theatre Royal has(usually) a new show every week, plus the productions at the Ustinov, and we get to see many productions wither before, or after, a West End run. 
This season is particularly rich, and I was rather extravagant in the number f tickets I booked when the brochure came out...

Last night I was in Bath to meet up with my 2nd Cousin, to have dinner and go to see  'The Importance of Being Earnest', starring Nigel Havers, Martin Jarvis and Siân Phillips

There is, of course, a slight issue with this - Havers is 63, Jarvis 73, and Gwendolen (Cherie Lunghi) and Cecily (Christine Kavanagh) are also older than the average debutante.

To address this issue, this production used the setting of an aging amateur dramatics group, preparing for a production of 'Importance', the idea being that we are watching the final dress rehearsal, at the home of two of the members. 

This kind of works: There are jokes about the cucumber sandwiches being eaten by members of the cast, and side play involving a stage hand with a ladder, but while these were entertaining, I am not entirely sure that that production might not have been better played straight, despite the advanced age of the players.

Once the Wilde was under way, it was excellent, but there were points where I felt that the wish to follow through with the 'modern Am Dram' meant that there were some points where this overshadowed the original play - for instance, Gwendolen's line about the name Ernest 'producing vibrations' is an excude for some very modern over-acting, which was a shame.

All that said, it was a lot of fun. Siân Phillips was excellent in the Lady Bracknell role, as was Rosalind Ayers as Miss Prism. Nigel Havers played Nigel Havers beautifully.

I'm glad I went, and I had fun, but I think another time I would prefer to watch the play Wilde write, not one with additions by Simon Brett!

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Naming of Cats

I have always had cats, and after Tybalt  died early last year, it was only ever going to be a matter of time! Once I felt ready for another cat, I did put it off a little while as I was moving house, but once I had done that, and having returned from Amsterdam, I felt the time had come. 

Those of you who follow me on Twitter or are friends on facebook will have noticed that there has been a net increase in the number of kittens in my life.

Meet Small Kitten and his sister, Very Small Kitten.
Very Small Kitten

Small Kitten
They came home with me on 10th September, from a small local rescue - Very Small was the runt of the litter, and although it's a little hard to tell from the pictures, she was only about 2/3 the size of Small, and weighed just 1 Kilo (2.2lbs) to his 1.5 Kilos. 

Kittens find a comfy seat
And although when I went to chose which 2 of the 4 kittens would come home with me, that they were all black and white, it's clear that Very Small is actually very dark brown, with some tabby swirls if you look closely enough.
Very Small Kitten  and envelopes

Unlike Tybalt, who was always rather shy and jumpy, and who took months before he would sit on me, the kittens took about half an hour, and quickly established that my shoulder and chest made suitable perches for small cats.

As, indeed, does my lap, my laptop, the windowsills, the bookcases... you get the picture!

They were so very small when they arrived that it has taken a while to determine their names. 

I had thought about Shakespearean names again, but while Very Small could, perhaps, have been an Ophelia, Small lacks the dignity and darkness needed for Hamlet, and although they have the spiky affection which would suit Benedick and Beatrice I'm not overly fond of Beatrice as a name...

So then we considered other literary inspirations, not forgetting the fact that, being cats, they are of course (at the very least) demi-gods.

The Naming of Cats, is, after all, as T.S. Eliot knew, a serious matter, and Mr Gaiman has explained that Cats don't need names, as they know who they are, so I felt we could could take a little time to get it right. 

And I think, now, that we have come to an agreement.

His Lordship, Loki Calcifer Benedict Cat
Small Kitten may now be addressed by his human minions as Loki Calcifer Benedict.

Her Ladyship, Coraline Sekhmet Ophelia Cat (She Who Mauls)

Very Small Kitten will allow herself to be spoken to as Coraline Sekhmet Ophelia. 

Being cats, they of course ignore their names, but I feel they ignore them in a way which makes it clear that they ignoring them specifically.

I don't speak fluent cat, but I think they have names me "Hey You, Minion".

October In The Chair

While I was in Amsterdam, I saw 'October in the Chair' , by Old Sound Roomwhich was showing as part of the Amsterdam Fringe. 

(C) OldSoundRoom
The production is based on a number of Neil Gaiman's short stories, (mainly from 'Fragile Things') and is superb! 

I won't go into too much detail (Spoilers, Sweetie!) but will say that the small cast (five members) manage to portray a large and changing cast, with the help of quick (on stage) costume changes, props and puppets. 

I loved the imaginative introduction to the performance, and particularly enjoyed their interpretation of 'Firebird' - and over all, I felt that they captured the tone and atmosphere of Neil's stories.

The Fringe festival is over, now, but the show will be performed in New York at the end of October - well worth seeing, if you can make it!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

What I Did on My Holidays - Amsterdam

I travelled to Amsterdam on a 'Rail and Sail' package, with trains from London to Harwich and Hoek van Holand to Amsterdam, and an overnight ferry in between. It's obviously slower than flying, but much more civilized - being able to have a meal, shower and go to bed certainly beats hours in an airport!

I visited Amsterdam once before, about 10 years ago, but haven't been back since. Part of my reason for going was that it would enable me to see a performance of 'October in the Chair', a project based on Neil Gaiman's short stories, which I supported via Kickstarter, but I also wanted to see the city again, and I enjoyed my visit.

I visited the Rijksmuseum, which has, among other things, a large collection of ship-builder's models, some loot  trophies of war, including the stern transom carving from a British Ship, the Royal Charles captured in 1667, in Chatham, Kent...

The museum also, of course, houses Rembrandt's 'The Night Watch', which is, I admit, and impressive painting, but I confess that I'm not a big fan of his style of painting, and spent most of my time elsewhere in the museum.

I also spent a wonderful morning in the Van Gogh Museum, which is (obviously) full of the most glorious art. 

I didn't know, (or had forgotten) that the skeleton smoking a cigarette was his - and that he painted works influenced by Japanese prints.

I spent a while with my (current) favourite - the Irises I took the precaution of going on a week day, and at opening time, which meant that the galleries were not too crowded.

Nor were these the only museums I visited. I also went to the Kattenkabinet, a glorious little museum dedicated to cats (and occupied by several, although I did not meet them on this occasion) It has little gems by Picasso, Rembrandt and Steinlen, as well as less elevated art. 

I also spent a day in Haarlem, with a Dutch friend of my sister and brother in law (they met while travelling in Turkey!) and we had a lovely day, looking at canals and windmills and beer (there was a wonderful brewery in a deconsecrated church) and visiting Teylers Museum - the oldest museum in the Netherlands. 

It was lovely to have a day in good company, particularly as I was mostly alone.

As well as the museums in Amsterdam and Haarlem, I spent a lot of time wandering around and enjoying the architecture, and of course visited the flower market, where I bought some more wooden tulips, to go with the ones I bought last time I visited, and some tulip bulbs,which I shall try to grow for next spring. 

I also wandered along the outside of the Ship museum to see the various historic vessels they have.

And I went, one morning, to the Holander Manege, a riding school based on the famous Spanish Riding school in Vienna. You can go and take tea on the balcony and watch people as they ride, and I did so, although the riders were having lessons, rather than riding beautiful figures, but it was still pleasant to watch!

I also visited the Begijnhof - a peaceful, enclosed 'square', with a couple of churches - it was originally a religious retreat for unmarried/widowed women, where the oldest house in Amsterdam is situated.  (It is still occupied solely by women!) 

Naturally, I took the opportunity while in the country to try a few specialities such as poffertjes (thick, mini pancakes) and stroopwafels. And some beer. 

I enjoyed my break, and would have liked to have stayed longer.
Sunrise over Harwich

More photos on Flickr, for those interested.

Friday, 19 September 2014

What I did On My Holidays - London

This is a somewhat late blog - I am not on holiday  any more, but my laptop has been playing up so I haven't been able to blog for a bit, but it has randomly restarted, so I'm making the most of it!

I decided to go to Amsterdam for a few days, and went via London. I wanted to see the exhibition 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red'',  the installation by Paul Cummins, at the Tower of London, commemorating WWI. 

There will eventually be 888,246 poppies, one for each British fatality during WWI.

It is pretty sobering to see the vast numbers of poppies and to realise that the installation isn't complete yet.

You don't have to go into the tower to see the poppies, but once I got there, I decided to go in and have a look around.

I have been to the tower before, but I was about 8 at the time, so I don't recall it in huge detail.

I was there on a Wednesday, so it wasn't too crowded, and I was able to wander around.

It is impressive - the Tower itself was built by William the Conqueror in around 1078, although  there are Roman ruins on the site -  and it still holds the crown jewels (I went to see them. They are proof that the Royal family has never allowed good taste to
Raven and Yeoman Warder
 stand in the way of Really Glittery Stuff)

There is also an exhibition of armour and wooden horses and stuff. It had my favourite ever caption for an exhibition - after boating that the exhibition has, in one form or another been at the Tower since 1652, it adds proudly "the exhibition was changed several times over the next 300 years"  which you have to admit, is nice, as even the best exhibition can get a bit dull after the first hundred years or so!

There is a dragon on the top floor.

After spending several hours wandering around, I decided to go and hunt book-benches - the National Literacy Trust had arranged for lots of benches, decorated by various artists and celebrating specific books to be placed around London. 

I didn't get to see all the  Books about Town, but did find all of the 'Riverside Trail', from Tower Bridge down to the Globe. 
My favourites were The Librarian, Paddington Bear, and Shakespeare.

And then there were trains and a boat, to get to the Netherlands. It was an interesting day.

More pictures on Flickr for those who may be interested

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

In Which I Go Shopping

I was not in work today, or yesterday, being technically on holiday. But still at home, which is quite relaxing as it requires very little packing.

Of course, it's probably more relaxing if you remember to tell the alarm clock on your phone  *not* to  go off as if it is a Monday morning and you have to go to work....

It did mean, however, that I had no excuse for not getting up and doing stuff. Stuff, in this context, meaning going shopping as sadly, both my favourite jeans and my second favourite jeans have reached that point in their lives where they are starting to become unsuitable to wear in polite company, due to holes in unseemly places.

Also my proper, not-quite-walking-boots shoes have reached the end of their natural life, so I needed to buy some new walking shoes/trainers, too.

I don't like shopping. But sometimes, you have to bow to the inevitable.

As shopping goes, it was a successful day.

I bought some jeans, and some shoes, and a couple of tops, and a couple of dresses, and I picked up 2 books I'd ordered from Mr B's, and succumbed to the temptation of one more (but only one!!) And apart from the jeans, all of the clothes are things I should be able to wear at work as well as at home, which is good. 

But it was a little stressful, as I don't like it. It is better when I can go in the week when the shops are not too crowded!

Today involved lots of house work, mowing the lawn, running lots of errands and such like. There may also have been a certain amount of napping. It's a *long* time  since I've have much time off and I think several months of stress at work are catching up with me.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Blood, Shakespeare and Friends and Family

This week started well, with a visit from my sister and brother-in-law on Monday (which was a Bank Holiday, and therefore rainy). Since we've all been busy, I've not seen them for a while, and this was the first time they've been to the new house. 

So we celebrated with prosecco, and by getting C to help put up some curtains and replace the thing to hold the shower head. (the old one was not up to the job, and I was unable to work out how to get the damn thing off the wall.) 

Then on Thursday I had more visitors - E, who I was at University with, and her husband and daughter. E is one of my theatre-going friends, so I last saw her last November, in Stratford upon Avon, but haven't had the chance to send time with her family, so that was fun!

On Saturday, I travelled up to London for the day, to see Richard III at Trafalgar Studios, starring Martin Freeman in the title role. 

My original plan involved getting to London with about 2 hours to spare, to allow time to go looking for a few of the Books about Town book benches, but unfortunately my train was delayed, and as they were predicting it would be at least an hour and a half before it moved on, I ended up getting off and taking a 45 minute bus ride, and another 40 minutes on the tube, to get to Charing Cross just in time, so other than taking a quick look at the giant blue cock in Trafalgar Square I had no time for anything other than the show itself.

Richard III is not my favourite play -  but decided to see this production as I was interested to see Martin Freeman in the role, and as I  have been to other productions at Trafalgar Studios,and directed by Jamie Lloyd, which I've enjoyed. And I did enjoy it.

The play is set in the 1979 'Winter of Discontent', with the the implication of a Royalist/Military coup having taken place just before the play opens - the stage is set up like a civil service office, with desks, phones, reel-to-reel tape recorders and sickly house plants. I have to admit, I didn't feel that this worked awfully well. It's too complex, and it doesn't really sit well with the severed heads .

Richard's initial speech was given partly as a 'public' address, given to the rest of the nobility, via mike, and partly as a soliloquy, with the mike off, and the others all frozen - it worked quite well, but the same convention wasn't followed for other asides and soliloquies, which seemed odd. 

Freeman is good as Richard - there have been mixed reviews, but I felt he has created a truly scary Richard - as the play progresses, he comes across as an increasingly unpredictable and paranoid dictator, with his black humour leaving other characters unsure as to whether he is joking or not - Freeman is quite subtle - I liked it (one of my dislikes about the Kevin Spacey production was that everything was rather melodramatic and over the top)

I was a little worried about the welfare of the poor goldfish, in whose tank the Duke of Clarence was drowned (and into whose tank his throat was cut, too) I am not sure how goldfish feel about fake blood in their water, but having a person thrashing about in your tank can't be good. 

All in all, I enjoyed the production, but having seen 2 versions of Richard III with modern settings, I would rather like to see a production set in its own period.

And for the record, I didn't experience any inappropriate applause (there have been a couple of reviews suggestion that 'Sherlock' fans unused to live theatre were attending and cheering / clapping at inappropriate points)

Me? I'd like to see Freeman in other live productions, and I think he benefited from a really strong supporting cast.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Ice Bucket

So, a great many people have been taking the ALS / MND Ice Bucket challenge, to raise awareness and funds for research into Motor Neurone Disease (ALS) 

As I'm in the UK, I donated via the MND Association. In the USA you can donate to the ALS Association.

And here are 4 of my favourite films...

Amanda Palmer

Neil Gaiman

Tom Hiddleston

Benedict Cumberbatch