Friday, 15 November 2019

Lungs - The Old Vic


I haven't previously  seen either Matt Smith or Claire Foy live on stage, although I am of course familiar with both of their works on screen, so I was interested to see Lungs, which is  short, two-person play, about a couple dealing with the practical and ethical issues of whether to have a child, in particular the ecological impact of doing so.

It's often funny, but ultimately pretty bleak.It shows the couple making compromises - with their principals, with their ambitions and even their relationship, and trying, if not always succeeding, to  do the right thing while also trying to keep the things they want from life.

Both actors give excellent performances, although neither character is entirely likeable - and while they remain a couple I was left with the nagging feeling that they might both have been happier apart. I also felt that the play started to falter a little towards the end, when we jumped forwards decades.

However, despite having somewhat mixed feelings about the play itself,  it was an opportunity to see two excellent actors, and to see them in a production where the lack of other performers, or props, or anything but the most minimal set, meant that  the focus was very much on the actors, and they rose to the challenge

The performance I saw was the last matinee, but had the run not already ended I would be suggesting that you see it, if you could! 

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Orpheus in the Underworld

I am not a big opera fan, generally, but decided to give 'Orpheus in the Underworld' a go - partly as it is directed by Emma Rice, whose work in the theatre I have enjoyed, party because it was described as being both light and satirical, plus it is of course the source of the CanCan music, so got to be worth a try!

And it was ...interesting, but a bit patchy, I thought . It started with the death of a baby, triggering Orpheus and Eurydice's separation, which did start things off on a rather depressing note, and it took a while for the lighter side of the opera to kick in.

But it  was  entertaining once it did - the chorus, wearing tutus made of balloons, and dancing with a greater or lesser degree of enthusiasm, were a particular high point!

And Willard White, as a world-weary, lecherous Jupiter, was  wonderful to hear. 


Mary Bevan was a strong, angry Eurydice, full of rage in the 'Can Can' song.

Curtain Call (Photos explicitly encouraged by the theatre)

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Bristol Old Vic - Members Open Day

I currently have membership at Bristol Old Vic theatre, and they recently held a members open day, which involved several short presentations, and the chance to watch a little of a technical rehearsal.

It was interesting - the presentations included one by one of the producers, talking a little about her role, and the Old Vic's role as a regional theatre, which often collaborates with other theatres .

The second was a short play writing workshop, which was very interesting (and applied pretty well to other kids of writing, I think)

After a break for lunch we were then allowed into the auditorium to watch part of a technical rehearsal - The timing wasn't ideal, as we went in at a fairly slow point in the rehearsal, but nevertheless, I found it really interesting, not least to see, the afternoon before the play opened, what was still being worked out! 

Tom Morris, the director, popped up to say hello and explain briefly what was happening.

I wasn't able to stay for the final session, which was about youth engagement.

This was the first open day the theatre has held, and there were a few things which I think they may be able to improve for next time, but I enjoyed it, and was glad I went. And had some interesting conversations with other attendees, too.
foyer



Saturday, 12 October 2019

The David Parr House - Cambridge

Back in about March, I hard about the David Parr House, in Cambridge, and in September, I visited. I had to wait so long because access is very limited, due to the house's size, so it is necessary to pre-book - it looks as though you can currently book slots in July and August 2020.

David Parr was an artisan who was born in 1854,and in 1871 he became an apprentice with a firm, F.R.Leach, which carried out decorative work, for various churches, colleges and homes in Cambridge and beyond, including carrying out work as subcontractors for William Morris and others. 

In 1886,  David Parr bought a small, terraced house, at 186 Gwydir Street, near Cambridge Station, and moved in there  with his wife and eldest child.

Over the next 40 years, Parr decorated the house using the same skills and styles he employed in his work. The walls are hand painted,  using 'pouncing' (marking out the pattern using charcoal, through pricked holes in tracing paper) but no stencils or wall paper!


In two of the rooms, there are also beautifully hand-lettered quotes - from Shakespeare and from hymns (Parr was a devout Christian)

As well as the walls (and ceiling) Parr also worked on the doors - the doorknobs and finger-plates were probably either samples or left over from properties he worked on, as they are all different (often on the same door), and used paint techniques to make the woodwork look like better quality woodwork .

He was also pretty forward thinking, and installed a magnificent indoor toilet!

David Parr and his wife raised their children in the house, then, following Parr's death in 1927, his widow remained living there, with their granddaughter Elsie, who was 12 at the time.

Elsie remained living in the house for the rest of her life. She married and she and her husband brought their children up in the house, preserving her grandfather's decor. There were some changes -  the house suffers from damp, and Elsie and her husband had to paint over part of the drawing room wall (It has now been restored),after it became damaged by damp,  and the upper part of the hall walls  were painted white as the original decor made it very dark.

The house is also furnished with Elsie's furniture . She died in 2013, at the age of 98. It was then that the house was bought, and a trust set up to restore it. It's beautiful,  fascinating, and I think perhaps unique, both for an artisan to have decorated his own home in this kind of style and for it to have survived.

(They don't allow you to take photographs inside, sadly, but the Guardian has a gallery here, it's well worth taking a look)

If you are interested in going, You can book on the house's website.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Jesus Christ, Superstar and other events

It's a very late post, but in August, some friends and I went to see Jesus Christ Superstar at the Barbican - because sometimes one just wants to relive one's youth and the fun of seeing a musical!

And it was fun - Jesus and Judas were both excellent, and Pilate was a lot of fun as well.   I am not sure that glitter in place of blood, in the '49 strokes' scene would have bee my choice, but it was oddly effective! 

The same day, some of us went to Mere for dinner, and had a wonderful meal, preceded by some very pretty, and tasty, cocktails.

Glorious Lemon Verbena dessert
Then in September, I met up with a couple of friends, to go to  see ZoĆ« Keating at  King's Place in London . It's the 3rd time I have seen her live, and it was just as good as the last two times.I strongly recommend her work to any one of my friends who don't already know her work.

Then, at the end of the month, I went to Chichester, in order to see John Simm and Dervla Kirwan, as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Before the show, I went to look around the Cathedral , which is small, as cathedrals go, but rather nice. 


Tapestry
Then the show itself.

There is a glass stage, over the 'blasted heath', and the witches enter from beneath it. There is also a glass backdrop.

I really enjoyed Simm's performance, particularly in the second half of the play,  as Macbeth starts to unravel.  However, the play did move slowly at times, and I did feel that the sound and stage design did, at times, overwhelm the play at times 



I'm really glad I got to see John Simm (especially as I missed his Hamlet)

It's on until 28th October

Monday, 29 July 2019

Vienna 1934 – Munich 1938 : Vanessa Redgrave at the Ustinov

I was intrigued when I saw that Vanessa Redgrave would  be appearing at the Ustinov Studio in Bath, in her own production, Vienna 1934 – Munich 1938



I wasn't sure what to expect, What we got, was a bit of a mixed bag - the production is based on period 1934-38, and some of issues around  the rise of the Nazis and  Socialist resisters in Vienna.  It includes encounters with Stephen Spender , Muriel Gardiner, and of course Michael and Corin Redgrave..

The story is narrated by Redgrave, in a very conversational way, which includes her passing her late uncle's journal (kept by him, per regulations, when he was  a Midshipman, in the 1930s)  to the front rows of the audience to look through during the first act. 


In between, the small cast - Robert Boulter , Paul Hilton and Lucy Doyle, are all very good, and all perform several roles, often narrating their character's thoughts rather than interacting with one another, as the action moves from Austria to England, and finishes with a long and impassioned extract from Thomas Mann's speech attacking appeasement.


I was left somewhat disappointed as there was such as strong cast, and fascinating material, but it never quite came together in a coherent narrative - it's more a series of anecdotes and history.


It is interesting, and the performers,  and in particular Redgrave herself, are good enough that the content grips you, but I felt that it could perhaps have done with  more input from an editor or director, to help bring the disparate threads together more.


I am not sure if it is touring, but if it is, it is definitely worth seeing (it would be worth seeing for Vanessa Redgrave alone)

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).


Programme
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

Rosmersholm

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
'Aziraphale'

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


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