Saturday, 15 September 2018

Art Matters - Chris Riddell and Neil Gaiman

Regular readers will know that I am a huge fan of both Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell, so I was excited to see that they had a joint event in London, celebrating the launch of their new book, 'Art Matters', and naturally could not resist the opportunity, even though it was (most inconsiderately in my view) on a Wednesday evening, so I was for some time on tenterhooks wondering whether I would be able to wrestle my work schedule in order to be able to go, but happily I could, and so Wednesday afternoon found me on train to London, and then in a very long, very hot (but polite and friendly) queue, with a good friend.

And after some queuing,and collecting our pre-signed copies of the new book, we found ourselves in the auditorium. It's a former cinema, and still has some lovely panels on the ceiling.

Chris Riddell was on stage as we came in, sharpening his pencils and drawing sketches. (As Neil commented" There was a moment of panic, about 20 minutes ago, up in the Green Room  when we looked around and went, ' where's Chris?' . We thought we'd lost you" )

Then Neil read the 'Art Matters' speech from the book (after pointing out that it was a slightly new version, as it is the elements of the original speech which Chris liked and chose to illustrate), At the tart, this was accompainied by a running commentary from Neil's son Ash, before his mother took him backstage again. Which was a shame, his enthusiastic 'Dadda!' was lovely to hear!  After which Neil ad Chris  both answered questions put by host Lauren Laverne.

Neil spoke briefly about his current involvement as a show runner for the 'Good Omens' TV show ("Stuff like budget meetings, I was not put on this earth for fucking budget meetings") and about writing the sequel to 'Neverwhere'  100 pages in, but taking time due to the demands of being a show runner)

Towards the end of the evening, Antonia Byatt, Director of English Pen spoke a little about the organisation and it's aims, and read from a recent letter from writer Ahmet Altan ,  who who has been imprisoned in Turkey for expressing unpopular views.

There was also an auction in support of EnglishPen, of one of the original artworks for the book, (which auctioneer Lauren Laverne pointed out, included DNA samples from Neil and Chris from where they had handled it, so the winner would be able to clone their own Neil or Chris!)
Neil holding the artwork to be auctioned

(and photographer Tom Bowles took the most perfect picture of it, which you can see  here)

There was then some time for a few questions from the audience, for which Chris drew replies, as well as giving verbals replies. 

I had to leave just before the end, in order to catch my train home, but the entire evening was videoed and is up on YouTube for all to enjoy. And of course the book is available to buy all over the place. If you don't already have a copy, I urge you to get one. 

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Hunting for Minerva's Owls

This summer, Bath has been hosting an arts trail of Owls, to follow on from the previous pigs, and lions.

This year, they were owls, (for Minerva, given Bath's Roman history)
  There were, apparently, 82 of them altogether, but I only had time to find a selection, about 20 of them (and as I did most of my looking on Saturday, which was supposed to be the last but one day, it seemed they have already removed some of them, which I can't help but feel is cheating!)

Each owl was sponsored by a different local business, and decorated by a different artist or school. Some, like Speculo  and Spokes (above) were beautiful. (Speculo was sponsored by a glass shop, and has separate, glass feathers on it's wings and back)

Others, like Brian, were amusing! (although I think they missed a trick by putting him in Queen Square, and not by the Roman Baths )

Forrest Stump
Some had smaller owls upon them.

The Owl and the Pussycat
After this weekend, I gather they are all collected and cleaned up, before being auctioned for charity.

They are really rather nice !
I have a Flickr album here with all of the ones I found.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Killer Joe - Trafalgar Studios

I had a busy time, when I went to London  - decided that if I was travelling up to see 'Othello' I should find in a couple of other plays as well. So s well as 'Exit the King', and a second visit to 'The Lieutenant of Innishmore' , I also went to see 'Killer Joe', at Trafalgar Studios. 

I chose not to read any reviews ahead of time, so all I knew going in was that it it features Orlando Bloom in the title role, as a cop with a sideline as a contract killer.

The plot features the Smith family, poor 'trailer trash',  living in Texas. Son Chris (Adam Gillen) returns home desperate for money, as he urgently needs money to pay off a drug gang, after his  mother stole his cocaine and sold it for her own benefit. 

He suggests to his father, Ansel (Steffan Rhodri) that they hire Contract killer Joe Cooper (Orlando Bloom)  to kill his mother, who has life insurance of which Chris's sister, Dottie (Sophie Cookson) is the beneficiary. They could, he suggests, use the money to pay Joe, and split the balance 4 ways between themselves, Dottie, and Ansel's wife, Sharla (Neve McIntosh)

The problem is, Joe expects payment in advance, and the family have no money, so he negotiates instead to take Dottie, as payment on account...

Things do not end well for anyone.

There are excellent performances all round - Sophie Cookson is particularly impressive,  vulnerable and child-like, save when she is  unexpectedly alert and aware of her family's plans. 

Bloom is also very good, never letting you forget that this is a man willing to kill for money,and, despite the romantic veneer, to coerce a vulnerable woman into sex. Definitely not someone who you would want to get on the wrong side of!

 I was seated right round to one side, at the front, so was very close to the action, including getting an unexpected eye full of the various incidents of full nudity! 

Very interesting play, if somewhat disturbing  lots of sex, violence and just enough humour to relieve the grimness.

the run ended on 18th August.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Enter the King at the National Theatre

I've enjoyed previous adaptations by Patrick Marber, so I thought that Enter the King was likely to be worth seeing, and I didn't think I'd seen it before. (Once it began, I started to think it sounded familiar, and realised I did see it, at the Ustinov, a couple of years ago).

Pre-performance set

This production features Rhys Ifans as the King, with Adrian Scarborough as the Doctor and Indira Varma and Amy Morgan as his Queens.

For those unfamiliar with the play, the King is, after over 400 years of rule, dying, a fact he is reluctant to accept, and as his life ends, that of the his Kingdom does too. 

It's a dark, but often funny, look at the process of ageing and attempting to come to terms with it. 

While I enjoyed the play, I did feel that it could have done with a tightening up a bit , there were points, particularly in the second half of the play, when the King's musings became a little tedious rather than thought provoking, but it is worth seeing.

It runs until 6th October

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Othello at the Globe

I was excited to see that Mark Rylance was going to be performing at the Globe Theatre, in Othello.  I really enjoy his work as an actor  loved him in Farinelli and the King . So, months ago when the season booking opened, I booked myself a ticket, and on Friday, travelled to London to see it.

It was another blazing hot day and I was a little worried about whether my seat would be in the sun, as despite a hat and lots of sunscreen, I don't think I would have been able to manage 2 and a half hours in full sun.

Happily, my seat (or rather, my segment of backless wooden bench, this being the Globe) turned out to be in a section which was in the shade, although only just so, when I arrived the next bit of bench along was still in sunlight, and as I discovered when I sat down, the patina of god-knows-what which has built up on the wooden bench over the past 21 years had melted, or whatever happens to gunky wood, so I stuck to it when I sat down!

However, that was a small price to pay for the chance to see the production, which was very good.

Andre Holland  was excellent in the title role: he came across as very dignified, and his American accent is an asset, at it reinforces the sense of his distance from the Venetians.

Mark Rylance, as Iago, was, as might be expected, equally good, in an evil kind of way, and comes across as a small, jealous man, rather than one with a towering ambition.  Sheila Atim, as Emilia, was outstandingly good, a powerful, strong woman, uncowed by her husband or Othello himself. 

The play is on until 13th Septmber and well worth seeing if you can get a ticket.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

A Quiet Weekend

Life has been somewhat stressful recently, and in addition, I do not really approve of the heatwave we have been enduring (or enjoying, depending on your point of view),so I was glad to take a long weekend last week to visit my parents and catch up with some other family members.

Having arranged to spend the weekend at (near) the seaside, it was perhaps inevitable that the weather would break and that 3 out of the 4 days I was there would see torrential rain and passing thunderstorms, and the 4th, intermittent rain.

However, since I was mostly going in order to unwind a little, and see my family, that wasn't too much of an issue! 

My aunt and uncle live near my parents, and it just so happened that they, with both of my cousins on that side of the family, had rented a house on the beach, for a family holiday starting that weekend, so on the Sunday, we went over for lunch and to spend time with them.

The beach is one which we as a family have been going to for years, and the house was literally right on the beach, so we were able to sit out on the patio looking out over the beach, and enjoying fizz and food, and retreat inside every time it started to rain! 

Which was handy.

The younger members of the party (aged 3 to 14) braved the sea and did some body boarding while a rotating selection of parents and cousins supervised them, and the older members of the party paddled and chatted , and a good time was had by all.

The rest of the weekend was very low key, and restful, which was good . I did a lot of very undemanding reading, a little baking, and some high quality lazing around!

And of course, as I drove home, the sun came out again!

Monday, 23 July 2018

Happy Potter and The Cursed Child

Two years ago I saw 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' when it was still in previews, and I thought I would like to see it again, from a different area of the auditorium to see some of the special effects from a different angle.

On a second viewing, it's still a lot of fun. There is a whole new cast, featuring Franc Ashman as Hermione, Jonathan Case as Scorpius, Joe Idris-Roberts as Albus, Jamie Ballard as Harry, and James Howard as Draco.

I enjoyed trying to spot how the various bits of magic were worked, and simply enjoying those that I couldn't work out, and it was fun, too, to see how the different cast performed their roles.

However, it's fair to say that the somewhat clunky and predictable plot drags a little (more) on a second viewing.

Overall,fun, but with an element of diminishing returns.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Henry V - Shakespeare At The Tobacco Factory, at the Ustinov Studio

I don't think I have seen any previous Tobacco Factory productions, but I like Shakespeare and I've tended to enjoy plays at the Ustinov, so I was optimistic I would enjoy Henry V, and I was not disappointed.

The production, (directed by  Elizabeth Freestone) has a modern setting,with a minimal, stripped-down set.

At the outset, Ben Hall, as Hal, is still the party prince we know from Henry IV, returning home after a night out, and  the opening scenes, as his lords and bishops discuss his rights to the throne of France, takes place while they assist him to dress and wake up.

As the play progresses, he becomes more confident, but also more vulnerable - appearing a little uneasy in his power, and st times overwhelmed.

The threats made to the 'half achieved Harfleur' speech are made via radio, setting up an interesting question as to whether, and to what extent, Henry is bluffing, as his aides appear appalled, almost on the verge of interrupting him.

The production combines the roles of the Dauphin and Katharine,(played by Heledd Gwynn), which makes for a fascinating and deeply moving slant on the final scenes, and Henry's proposal. Her scene learning English vocabulary, as she cradles the body of her lover, one of the prisoners killed on Henry's order, is extraordinary.

It's a very good production, (and it was good to see women playing Exeter, Monyjoy, Bardolph and the Chorus, as well as the Dauphin)

The play is at the Ustinov until 21st July.
Photos of the show, and tour dates here 

Monday, 2 July 2018

Westminster Cathedral, William de Morgan, Art and Family

While I was in London last weekend I had some spare time, and used it to do a little bit of sight-seeing.

I called in to Westminster Cathedral, which is a Roman Catholic cathedral, built between 1895 and 1903 - it's built from brick, so on the outside it has a flavour both of Victorian municipal building and Italian church - I can't help but think that the architect had seen Siena but didn't have the budget (or the marble)

Inside, it isn't completely finished, but those parts which are complete are Neo-Byzantine, with mosaic ceilings. (I do have a very soft spot for a well done mosaic ceiling)

It's impressive, although I couldn't stay long due to the amount of incense!

My second bit of touristing was a visit to the London Guildhall art gallery, to see their (temporary) William De Morgan exhibition.  I am very fond of William De Morgan's work, from when I first came across his work in the Manchester Art Gallery, years ago.

He was a contemporary, and friend of William Morris', and designed and created ceramics - dishes and tiles (including tiles explicitly designed to complement Morris's wallpaper designs.

What I didn't know before seeing this exhibition was that De Morgan's father was a celebrated mathematician (Augustus De Morgan) who was an agnostic who became a professor at University College London as, unlike Oxford and Cambridge, no theological test was required. He also taught Ada Lovelace. It seems likely that his skills in maths and geometry influenced his son's designs.

I also learned that William De Morgan designed a set of tiles for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (better known, of course, as Lewis Carroll), who was a friend of his,  which were installed round the fireplace in his college rooms: they feature Dodos and dinosaurs, among other things. (They are still in the College, but the exhibition has photos) 

 I loved the dragons and fishes, and the fact that almost all of the designs are symmetrical, some of them in more than one direction.

Sadly the Greast Hall at the Guildhall was not open, so I couldn't look round the hall.

However, the church next door, St Lawrence Jewry, was open, so I popped in for a while. The church was designed by Christopher Wren, but was badly damaged in the Blitz, leaving the walls and facade standing but not much else, so the interior and stained glass are modern. I rather liked St Michael.

 But the best known of the windows is the Christopher Wren window, which features the man himself (flanked by woodcarver Grinling Gibbons and Master Mason, Edward Strong, with the architect and Vicar at the time of the restoration shown at the bottom of the window.

All very enjoyable. As was the duet being played on the church's grand piano, while I was there. It wasn't clear to me whether they were official, as it were, or if they had, like me, simply popped in in passing but (unlike my) had the skills and talent to play wonderful piano duets!

And in between, I got to meet up with one of my cousins, and to have a really enjoyable catch up.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

The Lieutenant of Innishmore

I admit it, I mostly booked this because it stars Aidan Turner, and I have happy memories of him as vampire Mitchell in BBCs 'Being Human', although I did also enjoy the previous  Martin McDonagh  play I saw,  The Cripple of Innishmaan, so it was definitely something to look forward to! 

The play premiered in 2001, and is set in the early 1990's, and is a blackly comic take on terrorist violence.

Aidan Turner is 'Mad' Padraic, unwelcome in the IRA because he is too violent, and facing the wrath of his INLA comrades, as his habit of attacking drug dealers is causing them funding problems. When we first meet him, he is in the process of torturing James (Brian Martin), who is suspended by his ankles, having already lost 2 toenails, and facing the imminent loss of his 'least favourite' nipple. They are interrupted by a phone call from Padraic's father, Donny (Dennis Conway), breaking the news that Padraic's beloved cat, Wee Thomas, is ailing..

Padraic immediately collapses with grief, and pausing only to take some advice about cat-care, and to recommend that James gets to hospital to avoid his injuries becoming infected , and rushes home to Innishmore to be with Wee Thomas, and to deal with those responsible for his unfortunate condition.

It's worth noting that all things considered, James comes out of this better than many...

It's very bloody, and incredibly funny (even Mr Turner lost it for a moment), AND has a real cat on stage (who, sadly, does not get a photo or biography in the programme)

If you are in London or can get there, go. It's great. (It's on until 8th September )

(some photos from the show on its twitter feed,  here, and video trailer here)

Sunday, 24 June 2018


Last January, tickets for the London version of Hamilton went on sale, and I promptly booked for myself and a friend, and then, after a long wait, we saw the show on Friday evening.

It's great fun. This was actually my 2nd visit, as I got a dingle ticket to see it in February, and having seen it 'cold' that time, without having listened to any of the songs, then got the soundtrack so was much more familiar with the music this time round. 
Stage - pre-show (we were in the 3rd row)
I loved the show both times, and would be happy to see it again - there are so many little details to notice and enjoy. And of course the music is great!

I'm really glad that I saw it  the first time without any prior knowledge - I admit that I went in thinking that it could not live up to the hype. 

This second time, I went in knowing it could, and would. (And determined to spot where the London show has differences to the US / Soundtrack version!)

I should try to do a proper, considered review but I just want to say it was great fun, and if you can get to see it, you should.

Although I do have a question for my American readers. IS John Laurens' life and death well known? The sound track doesn't include the letter telling of Laurens' death, which made me wonder whether it's an addition for the UK on the assumption we wouldn't know who he is, or whether that is in the US show too, but for some reason left out of the soundtrack? I have a working knowledge of the American Revolution but didn't know of him.

For the rest - I really enjoyed Giles Terara's performance as Aaron Burr - I've seen him before, in The Resistible RIse of Arturo Ui , and he is very impressive. And of course, Jameal Westman as Hamilton (who is startlingly tall, compared with the rest of the cast!)

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Red: Wyndham's Theatre

After seeing 'Sancho', and hanging out  bit with the friend I went with, I headed into the National Gallery to visit a few of my favourites, then headed to Wyndham's theatre to see Red, which is about Mark Rothko. 

It's a short play, and this production features  Alfred Molina as Rothko, and Alfred Enoch as his (Fictional) assistant, himself an aspiring artist, and deals with the period when Rothko was at the height of his was painting his murals for the four seasons restaurant.

The play starts with the arrival of the assistant, and tracks their growing (if prickly) relationship, with the assistant 'Ken' starting out as gauche, uncertain and reverent, to the point where he starts to challenge and disagree with Rothko, as they discuss art, with Ken speaking up for the new wave of artists such as Lichtenstein and Warhol.

Molina's Rothko is not a likeable character, he is didactic, opinionated and abrasive, but also shows flashes of self doubt, and a clumsy kind of sympathy. 

Enoch, as 'Ken', gradually moves from his initial youthful awe, to a more confident man, questioning and even challenging Rothko.

There is a glorious moment when the pair start to cover a canvas in red undercoat  both of them working, in perfect unison - a pleasure to watch.

I would have liked to see the show from  lower don, to be able to more clearly see the actors' expressions, but even from the balcony it's worth seeing. 

It's at Wyndhams until 28th July.