Sunday, 30 June 2019

Present Laughter - Old Vic

I always enjoy seeing Andrew Scott, so seeing him in 'Present Laughter'  seemed like a good idea, and seeing it with a friend, better still.

We went on Saturday evening, which was very early in the run, and it was excellent.

The production switches the genders of some characters to great effect - Joanna is now Joe, and Henry is Helen, which brings things up to date and, given that the play is clearly to some degree a self-parody by Coward, probably also more accurate! 

Andrew Scott is marvellous as Garry Essendine,  the  successful, needy actor who is coping (badly) with impending middle age. He clearly has great fun with the role, which involves lots of deliberate histrionics, but he also beautifully  portrays Garry's underlying loneliness and uncertainty, ensuring that he is a character, not merely a caricature.

The production is fantastic - very, very funny , but with enough depth to make it  more than just a farce. 

Sophie Thompson, as Garry's long-suffering secretary, is a joy to watch, and  Indira Varma, as his cynical-but-protective (estranged) wife, whom he  purports to be uninterested in, and dismissive of, but who he clearly still needs and relies upon.

A special mention is due also to Luke Thallon, as Roland Maule, the gauche young playwright who gatecrashes at all the most awkward moments, who starts by being critical of Garry's populist choices as a performer and rapidly becomes embarrassingly infatuated with him...

The whole thing is beautifully done, highly entertaining and makes for a great evening out.

It is on at the Old Vic until 10th August, and for those not able to get to London, is going to be broadcast as a NTLIve broadcast  - tickets are currently on sale for a screening on 28th November with international screenings to follow. 

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Blithe Spirit - Theatre Royal Bath

Bath Theatre Royal's summer season has opened, with a revival of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit,  featuring Jennifer Saunders as the medium, Madame Arcati,who is  disastrously successful in raising a spirit, when invited to run a seance by novelist Charles Condomine (Geoffrey Streatfeild) and his second wife Ruth (Lisa Dillon).

It's a lot of fun, but perhaps inevitably , also rather dated - some parts of the play work better than others, and especially when, in the later part of the play, Charles' first wife, Elvira, and second wife Ruth are pitted against one another.     

Jennifer Saunders is excellent - and Geoffrey Streatfeild's egocentric Charles is also very good.

Fun to watch,, but not overly memorable! 

The play is at Bath until 7th July.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019


I wasn't familiar with Ibsen's play Rosmersholm; before I went to see it. I booked mainly on the basis that as the cast includes Giles Terera and Hayley Atwell it ought to be worth seeing!

In which assumption I was perfectly correct. 

It is not a cheerful play (it is Ibsen, after all)

Giles Terera is chillingly good as Kroll, the ambitious, right-wing politician, hoping to persuade Rosmer into opening endorsing him, and Rosmer himself (Tom Burke) is equally good  as the intelligent, broken man, seeking to do the right thing but without the underlying strength of character to do it.

Hayley Atwell appears as Rebecca, former companion of  Rosmer's late wife, with her own demons to conquer.

It's well worth seeing,  but very dark and depressing. 

It's on until 20th July.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Emilia the play

I went to see Emilia last  Saturday, for the penultimate performance.  The play started life at the Globe, and then transferred to the Vaudeville, where I saw it.

It's loosely based on the life of Emilia Bassano Lanier,(1569-1645) who is one candidate for Shakespeare's 'Dark Lady'. She was the daughter of a court musician, and spent part of her childhood in the household of the Countess of Kent. By the time she was 18 she had become the mistress of Henry Carey, the 61 year old Lord Chamberlain (Shakespeare at the time had a company of players, the Lord Chamberlain's men, so it is reasonable to assume that they may have met).

A marriage was arranged for her when she became pregnant with Carey's child,(which led to financial problems which seem to have dogged her for the rest of her life)  and his death  shortly after left her unprotected. Later in life, with the help of a number of well-born female patrons, she published a volume of poetry.

The play imagines  her as an early, justifiably angry, feminist, doomed always to be dismissed due to her gender, despite being as (or more) talented than her male counterparts. 

It puts her words into the mouths of some of Shakespeare's characters (most notably Emilia in Othello) and her anger at his appropriation of her words, and his publication of verses originally written for her.

Emilia is the narrator of her own story - there are 3 actors playing Emilia at different stages of her life, the eldest of whom also narrates and frequently addressing the audience directly, and perhaps due to its origins at the Globe, there are also frequent incursions into the audience by the cast  Shakespeare and the Lord Chamberlain turn up in the boxes, chatting to punters, for instance. 

The cast is entirely made up of women, some of whom, in their roles as amorous or  lecherous men are clearly having way too much fun with it! 

It's very good, and covers a lot of ground that remains all too pertinent. The run is over now, but if it is revised, or tours, do see it , it's great!

Friday, 7 June 2019

Admissions, Trafalgar Studios

About 5 years ago, I saw Joshua Harmon's play 'Bad Jews' ,at the Ustinov Studio in Bath, and it was excellent, so when I saw that another of his plays, Admissions, was being produced at Trafalgar Studios, I was keen to see it, and when I saw it would star  Alex Kingston, it sealed the deal! 

The play features Kingston as Sherri, who is head of admissions at a private school, and who is  very consciously,  proudly, and vocally seeking to increase diversity and access in in the school. 

We see her, at the start of the play, demanding that her subordinate  amend the school brochure to show more photographs showing student who aren't white, and saying (while trying not to say so explicitly) that photos of Lewis, the mixed race son of another staff member, don't count because he isn't obviously black..

We learn that Sherri's son Charlie, and Lewis, is best friend, have both applied for early admission to Yale, and are waiting to hear back.

When it turns out that Lewis has been accepted, and Charlie hasn't, things go rapidly downhill, as Charlie, and his parents, try to navigate how far they are willing to stick to their principles when it starts to involve personal sacrifice.

It lays bare a lot of uncomfortable truths, but it does it with style, and is very, very funny.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Good Omens - Neil Gaiman, David Tennant and Michael Sheen at the Royal Festival Hall, and a bookshop.

As you know, I am a fan of Terry Pratchett's work, and a fan of Neil Gaiman's work, so I am, and have been, pretty excited about the Good Omens TV series, which is out this weekend.

So, when I saw that Neil had an event at the Southbank  Centre, I couldn't resist, even though it was a week night. I'm pretty sure that Master Crowley would say I shouldn't try to resist temptation..

photo of a wooden sign against green foliage, reading 'beware of the snakes'

I went through Waterloo station, on my way, where there was a  pop up garden, with an apple tree, and warnings about snakes. (there were snakes, too, but they were having a snooze in private when I visited)

photo of a hand holding a red apple, on which appears the 'Good Omens' logo

And , there friendly demons, tempting passers-by with apples...

I met up with my friend, and we dined, then went to the Southbank Centre. Where there were, perhaps inevitably,some chattering Satanic nuns. Which is not something you see every day, even at the Southbank Centre.  

Sadly we arrived just as they were finishing their mini concert, but I am sure that they sang beautiful, profane songs about the Antichrist. (they have an album out, you know)

photo of a group of women dressed as nuns

Then the main event.

Neil Gaiman, Michael Sheen, and David Tennant were being interviewed by Kirsty Wark. 

The event started with a short clip from the show (the scene in the band stand, from Ep.3, for those who have seen the show) then Kirsty (who has a cameo in the show and was clearly a fan) interviewed the others.

Neil explained how he had felt that he had to make the series, for Terry, and that he was show runner so that no-one else could mess it up. He and Michael talked about a very awkward  meal they had together, when they were each trying to break it to the other that Michael wasn't right for the role of Crowley.

photo of Michael Sheen (L) and David Tennant (R)

Michael and David performed a brief scene from the show (with Neil reading the stage directions ) - hearing Drunk Crowley and Drunk Aziraphale was a lot of fun. Kirsty Wark described Crowley's appearance as being 'aging rock star' - resulting in David feigning offence at the 'aging'  part (she hastily changed to 'young rock star' but David continued to make comments about his age during the rest of the evening! 

Neil talked about some of the other members of the cast, and how they accepted their roles (Frances McDormand's response when asked to play God was that it would confirm what her family had always suggested about her...,and Nick Offerman offered to pay for his own plane ticket if necessary!  )

 Michael talked about having been a fan of the book since it first came out, and David about having just loved the script when it was sent to him. 

It was a lovely evening, not least because both those on stage, and in the audience, seemed genuinely happy to be there and enthusiastic about the show. Although there was a slightly awkward moment during the Q and A when someone asked  rather oddly worded question which resulted in an uncomfortable silence as an entire auditorium full of people tried to  work out what was meant, and the four people on stage all looked as though they were hoping one of the others would work it out and say something!  (Kirsty Wark stepped in and asked the questioner to frame it more simply).

Neil also explained that Crowley would still have an answering machine, and that he took the view that this was for Aziraphale's benefit, that he would have found it hard to adjust to mobile phones, so Crowley dug out his old ansaphone and set it up again!

Then, a day or two after the Southbank event, I was in London for other reasons and was able to make time to go to Soho, where there was, very briefly, a pop-up version of Aziraphale's bookshop, which one may visit. 

I wasn't sure how easy it would be to find, or whether I would be able to get in, but when I arrived in Greek Street, I guessed, from spotting the VIntage Bentley, and Angel and Demon wandering around, that I was in the right place. 

Blck and White photo of a young man dressed in white with white feather wings

Black and white photo of a man whearing sunglasses, a black T short reading 'good omens' and black wings

And after a wait of around 15 minutes I was able to go into the shop. 

Photo of a black and grey 1930s Bentley car
Crowley's Bentley, outside Aziraphale's shop in Soho 
It's very well done. The entrance has heaps of old leather-bound books, and a gentleman looking not unlike the late, great, Sir Terry, grumpily telling people to go away, and not to touch anything. (Crowley, wandering up and down the queue outside, was actively encouraging everyone to touch (and lick) everything)

Aziraphale's Shop
Then upstairs there was one room with an exhibition of art by Lorna May Wadsworth, including sketches made during filming, a giant portrait of Neil, and various Icons of David as Crowley, and Michael as Aziraphale.

photo of display case holding a wooden book, on the cover of which is painted a portrait of Neil Gaiman

 There was a second room with an exhibition of props and costumes from the series, including the basket Crowley takes the baby to the convent in, a very burned and battered copy of the Nice and Accurate Prophecies , and a copy of the paper with Shadwell's advert for the Withcfinder Army (among other ads, for Terry's lost hat, and for a book club reading of  'Neverwhere' , led by a Neil G..

There were some perfectly charming Demons and Angels keeping an eye on each of the rooms, all staying, like Crowley and Aziraphale outside, in character.
blck and white photo of a young woman dressed in black and wearing dark glasses and black feathered wings

I didn't get to do the escape room, as this had to be booked in advance and sold out very fast, but the bits I did see were very good!

The shop was only open for 3 days, so I was very lucky to get the chance to go.

And all this on top of getting to see the show itself, which is of course now available on Amazon Prime and, f I may say so, well worth watching!   

More pictures over on Flickr

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Chihuly at Kew

The 'Henriad' at the Globe didn't finish until late, so I made arrangements to stay over, and on Saturday morning  headed to Kew Gardens, which is currently hosting an exhibition of works by Dale Chihuly. 

I've loved his work since i first saw his glorious chandelier in the entrance to the V and A, but this is the first time I've had the chance to see an exhibition of his work.

photo of a round, tree shaped  Dale Chihuly glass sculpture - predominately  red , standing in front of a lake
Summer Sun
There are a dozen pieces scattered around the gardens, plus several in the Temperate House .
photo of Chihuly glass sculpture of red and yellow 'paintbrushes' or bullrushes, in a flowerbed
The exhibition is titled 'Reflections of Nature' and most of the sculptures do seem to be inspired by plants, and they do look at home at Kew. 

bright blue and purple glass 'reeds' and 'leaves' in a garden bed
Neodymium Reeds and Turquoise Marlins
I loved the contrast of the vivid colours against the more muted flower beds.

Chihuly sculpture - white glass lilies in a lily pond, with real lily leaves and flowers
Ethereal White Persian Pond 
And the way that the glass sculptures and the plants complemented one another - particularly in the Lily Pond!

Photo of Chihuly glass sculpture - re and orange glass reeds standing in long grass under trees
Cattails and Copper Birch Reeds
The 'Cattails and Copper Birch Reeds' were installed along both sides of a path up to another of the houses, beneath fruit trees, and mirroring the colour of the tulips  there. 

I'd love a few in my garden!
photo-  on left, Chihuly glass sculpture-  2 inverted conesmade up of white and yellow glass tentacles, on right, neo-classical white building (the temperate house at Kew Gardens)
Opal and Amber Towers

The 'Opal and Amber Towers' outside the Temperate House are less reminiscent of plants, but I do love the tentacles, and inside, we are back to plants again  ...

big blue glass flowers having from the roof  of a Victorian greenhouse (the temperate house at Kew)r

Green glass plant-like  sculpture among succulent green plants

As well as the sculptures in the gardens, there was also a small exhibition in one of the buildings, with lots of smaller pieces, and drawings and commentary.

photo of 6 large glass scupltures,like giant glass poppies in bright colours

 Then I went back out into the sunshine for the last of the sculptures.

Photo showing raked grey gravel (Japanese garden) dotted with large glass spheres
Niijama Floats
'Niijama Floats', a set of giant marbles, or miniature planets, in the Japanese garden, and finally, and,  I think,   my favourite - 'Sapphire Star', which is like a giant Allium flower.

Phto of a glass sculpture made of blue and white glass, in the shape of a starburst or allium flower
Sapphire Star
 It looked particularly beautiful when the sun came out and shone through the clear tips of the spikes.
sapphire star galss sculpture in foreground, greek style temple, and trees in the background
Sapphire Star, in front of the temple
As well as the Chihuly, my other reason for visiting the gardens was to see another sculpture, one which has been there longer,  artist Wolfgang Buttress's The Hive, which I have wanted to see ever since I first heard about it. 

Photo of 'the hive' sculpture at Kew -interlocking aluminium framework, against a cloudy sky

It is a big (17m tall) walk-in sculpture, made up of a honeycomb aluminium structure, and incorporating led lights which light up in response to activity inside one of Kew's beehives. 

photo of a spiral shaped structure, looking up to a hole to the sky
Looking up, inside the Hive
I went there first so had it to myself, although there weren't many lights, it was perhaps too cold for the bees to be very active, back in their hive! 

I enjoyed my visit, and I recommend it to anyone who is in London and has the time to go out to Kew. 

The Chihuly exhibition is on until 27th October. And of course, even without the sculptures, the gardens are rather nice!

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Henry IV and V, at Shakespeare's Globe

Months ago, my friend A suggested that we see the Globe Theatre's trilogy of History plays - Henry IV Part I, Henry IV Part II and Henry V. They are all on as part of the Globe's summer season, and if one is particularly keen or, some might suggest, masochistic, one can book to see all 3 plays in a day, with the first at noon, the second at 4 and the third at 8, meaning one spends around 7 hours in total sitting on the Globe's rather unforgiving wooden benches! 

The cast is relatively small  - 11 people for Henry IV Part 1, and 10 for Part 2 and Henry V, so most play more than one role. 

Henry IV Pt 1 was excellent  - Michelle Terry, who is the Globe's Artistic Director, played Hotspur (see amazing photo here ) and hers was a stand-out performance - her Hotspur was wonderfully angry, fiery, vibrant and funny, and her scenes, both with Hal (Sarah Amankwah) and with The Douglas (Nina Bowers) were highlights of the evening, and her scenes with Lady Percy (Leaphia Darko) were poignant, as Hotspur ignores her love and concern.

Pt 2 was a little less fun - partly as it isn't (in my view) as strong a play as either of the others, plus it has an awful lot of Falstaff in it, and for me, a little Falstaff goes a very long way! And in this case, I was still missing Hotspur!  

Then, that evening, we returned for Henry V.The flags of all the factions had been taken down, and replaced with the royal standard, 

And we were off to Agincourt!

I always enjoy Henry V, and this time was no exception. Sarah Amankwah was excellent - although her 'Upon the King' soliloquy was much angrier and less pensive than in many productions. 

Colin Hurley is not the obvious choice for Katherine, being a balding, middle aged man, but the casting worked surprisingly well, and he seemed to be having a lot of fun with the role (including giving Michelle Terry, who had joined the groundlings to watch this performance, a Very Hard Stare when she kicked a plastic cup someone had dropped, during  a quiet moment in the wooing scene...!)

I enjoyed all three plays, and seeing them all in one day was a really good experience.And I did enjoy how much of the humour (as opposed to the often rather laboured jokes) came through.

I think if I were only able to see one, I  would pick Henry IV Pt 1.

The plays are on as part of the Globe's season until 11th October .   

Monday, 13 May 2019

Gainsborough Old Hall, The Moon, and the Red Arrows (And some knitted churches)

One of the things I wanted to see while we were in Lincolnshire was artist Luke Jerram's  'Museum of the Moon' , which is a  1:500,000 scale representation of the Moon, 7 metres in diameter, made using NASA imagery of the Moon's surface.

photo of the Moon (art installation made of a photo composite of the Moon)
Luke Jerram's 'The Museum of the Moon'
It's rather impressive, although it must be even more so when presented in some of the other venues it has visited, such as Tintern Abbey and Liverpool Cathedral ! But  I was happy to have seen it! 

We also looked around the rest of the museum, which has various Roman and Viking artefacts discovered in the locality, and more up to date exhibits, including a Robot guide , which,  in response to  opinions chosen form its touch-screen, will lead museum visitors to a particular exhibit and provide information about it.

Red anthropomorphic robot with University of Lincoln logo on body
Lindsey the Robot
 After a visit to a second hand bookshop (always a high point for my family!) we the went to Sleaford, where we spent some time visiting a watermill and going for a walk by the river, where we found lots of adorable ducklings. I also spotted a water rat!.

photo of a group of very small brown and yellow ducklings, swimming

We also went to the National Centre for Craft and Design, which was, we found, between exhibitions, but did have a small collection of knitted churches, which were rather appealing.

photograph of a model of a church, crafted from grey wool

The knitted churches are a community project called 'Woolly Spires', which was based on the fact that the building of many of the impressive churches in Lincolnshire was funded by wealthy land owners who make their fortunes wholly or in part by wool, from a local breed, the Lincoln Long Wool. The models were made from that same wool, and are of local churches, and were knitted by groups of people from the respective parishes.

The following day, we went to  Gainsborough, to visit Gainsborough Old Hall, a wonderful survival of a medieval manor house

photograph of brick and half-timbered house

It was built in 1460, and was sold once, in 1596, then remained in the same family until it was given to English Heritage in the 1970s!  

It was visited by Richard III in 1483, and later by Henry VIII, (together with his 5th wife, Katherine Howard), in 1541. It also has connection with the Mayflower pilgrims, as the Hickman family, the second to own the hall, included Puritans and was a base for the Separatists, who went on to become the Mayflower pilgrims. 

Photograph of Great Hall of Gainsborough Old Hall, imposing room with half timbered walls, vaulted wood ceiling and banners hanging from the walls
The Great Hall - Gainsborough Old Hall
The Hall remains largely unchanged, and includes the magnificent Great Hall (where, while we were visiting, there was a school group enjoying dressing up and re-enacting a Tudor Royal visit) . There are also rooms with original panelling,and huge and very impressive kitchens. 

It's a stunning place, and I am surprised it isn't better known.

It was our last touristy outing, but not the last event of stay. 

The cottage we rented was very close to RAF Scampton, which is the home of the Red Arrows. 

While they clearly had some time off over the Easter weekend, they were back again, and rehearsing their performances, for the final 4 days of our break, which meant that we had a front row seat to watch their displays, from the kitchen window of the cottage.!

I imagine that permanent residents may find them rather noisy neighbours, but as visitors, they certianly added to our trip!

photo of vapour trials from the red arrows display team, against a blue sky

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Castles and Memorials and Planes

Not all the family was able to stay beyond Easter Weekend, so we were a smaller party by Tuesday

We started with a visit to the International Bomber Command Memorial, which is just outside Lincoln. 

During WW2, Lincolnshire was the home of  most of the air force's bombers, including 617 Squadron (The Dambusters), and the Bomber Command Centre, where the memorial stands, includes a small museum and details of all of the airfields.

The memorial itself references the planes which flew then -  it's height is 102', which is the wingspan of a Lancaster .

Surrounding it are walls of remembrance, recording the names of all of the airmen and ground and support staff staff who were killed during the war - almost 58,000 of them.  

It's austerely beautiful, and very moving.

From the site, there are excellent views over Lincoln, including the cathedral, and we also got to see the Red Arrows in the distance over the city. 

After visiting the memorial, we visited Tattersall Castle which is owned by the National Trust, having been acquired by Lord Curzon in 1910, to prevent it being torn down and sold to America, and passed on by him to the Trust on his death. (There was not a great amount left, much of the castle was destroyed in the Civil War, so all that is left is the main tower and the gate house) 

The Castle dates back to 1231, the current one was built in around 1440. It is unusual in being built of brick rather than stone.

photo of red brick castle tower with turrets on each corner
Tattersall Castle
It was a ruin when Lord Curzon bought it, and he arranged for renovations and installed a lot of stained glass, showing the coats of arms of various families associated with the castle.

It has a good deal of graffiti, showing that people have been writing their names on walls for hundreds of years! 

Stone with carved graffiti  reading 'J Smith 1766'

As well as the castle, Tattersall has a set of Bedeshouses (Almshouses,connected to a church, whose inhabitants would be expected to pray for the souls of the benefactor) the original almshouses were built in the 15th Century by Lord Cromwell, who also built the Castle.(According to the information boards, he decided to erect them in thankfulness for having returned safely from Agincourt)

There is also a rather beautiful church, which was built between 1465 and 1485, and which is tall and light and airy. (apparently it is an excellent example of Perpendicular Gothic architecture, for those who are into such things)

Most of the windows are now plain glass (which enhances the lightness of the church) but there is some medieval glass in the chancel, although it isn't in its original configuration.

Medieval stained glass including angels and a dragon
Tattersall Church - Stained Glass
The church also features the grave of Tom Thumb, who was a resident of the town and died in 1620 at the age of 101. 

Stone with carved inscription reading 'T.Thumb Aged 101, Died 1620'

Having watched a number of  Typhoon planes flying upside down, and flying loops and things, we then went to the viewing area of RAF Conigsby and watched them taking off for a little while, then went off to Old Bolingbroke Castle,    which is a proper ruin! 

As the name suggests, it was owned by John f Gaunt and was the birthplace of Henry Bolingbroke, later King Henry IV - it  then fell into disrepair, was re-fortified during the Civil War, as a Royalist Stronghold, and was destroyed during a siege and never repaired.  

Now, it's a peaceful site, with bits of the moat remaining, full of rushes and  (currently) ducklings!

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

More Travels in Lincolnshire

On Bank Holiday Monday we took a  trip down memory lane, visiting the village where my mother grew up, and the church there where she and my father were married, which was nice. 

We then went to Gunby Hall, a property now owned by the National Trust, nearby.

The estate was owned by the Massingberd family, and the current house was built in 1700, (Now with a Victorian extension),

Gunby Hall 
It has quite extensive gardens, with orchards and beehives, and a wood with lots of bluebells

Bluebell Wood

Inside the house, there was a small exhibit about one of the last of the Massingberds to live there, a successful soldier who was friends with Rudyard Kipling - the exhibition included studies for 'The cat who walked by itself' drawn by Kipling, which was nice.

After leaving the Hall, we then took a trip to the beach, because really, there are some things that you really have to do on a Bank Holiday Monday. Although in a break with tradition, it was warm and sunny, whereas of course traditionally, a Bank Holiday visit to the seaside includes rain, wind, and mild hypothermia!

It was a good day