Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Sancho: An Act of Remembrance

My curiosity was piqued when I saw that Paterson Joseph, (whose work I've enjoyed since I first saw him as the Marquis de Carabas in 'Neverwhere', back in 1996) was going to be performing in a one-man show, in London. 

I was pleasantly surprised at how affordable tickets were, and curious about the venue - Wilton's Music Hall, which is a new one for me. The music hall is in Whitechapel, just off Cable Street,and dates back to the  early 1800 (although the buildings are older).

The performance is a monologue, told in the first person, about the real -life historical figure, Ignatius Sancho, who was  born on a slave ship, in around 1729. His mother died shortly after his birth, his father killed himself rather than endure life in slavery, and he was given as a gift to three sisters living in Greenwich, who saw him as a fashionable curiosity. They also considered that allowing him to learn to read would make him dissatisfied with his lot....

Despite these far from promising beginnings, Sancho managed to gain an education, following a chance meeting with the Duke of Montagu, whose widow later took him on as a servant, rising to become her butler.  

He became  writer and composer, publishing a number of plays, and became a friend and correspondent of many notables in Georgian society, including Laurence Sterne. His portrait was painted by Gainsborough in 1768, and later, after opening a grocers shop in London (and becoming a property owner) he qualified to vote, and became the first known black British voter.

It is a fascinating story, and Paterson Joseph (who wrote the script, as well as performing the monologue ) brought it vividly to life. 

He opens the show as himself, explaining that as a young actor he wanted to be in a costume drama, but was told that "in England before the twentieth century there were'n't any black people" (except, as he comments, the black centurions on Hadrian's wall, the emperor Septimus Severus, the 'blackmoores' whom Elizabeth I ordered to be expelled from the Kingdom), so he did some research, learned about Ignatius Sancho, and has written his own costume drama.. 

The performance 'proper' then begins, with Paterson, in character as Sancho, telling the story of his life, which is fascinating , poignant, and at times, very funny. He is wonderfully versatile, Sancho appears vividly, first as a small boy, a young man, enthused and mesmerised by the opportunity to learn, a disappointed thespian, through to the older, sadder man, plagued with weight and gout, mourning the loss of a child and but celebrating  his long and successful marriage, and finally, reaching the point where he is able to vote, casting his ballot in support of Charles Fox, abolitionist.

It's ultimately a highly entertaining and surprisingly, given the subject matter, uplifting play.

I'd like to go back an see it again, but sadly as the run ends on 16th June I shall not have the chance, but it you are in London, or can make it there, do go. 

Edited to add  - The BBC has a segment about Sancho and the show, here

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

King Lear - Antony Sher at the RSC

Antony Sher's King Lear originally played at Stratford 2 years ago, and has returned after a US tour.I missed it the first time round, so decided to go this time, and in Stratford-Upon-Avon for the matinee on Saturday

It's a big, bold production - Lear presents as a feudal lord,surrounded by a medieval-styled cast. His first entrance comes as he is carried in, enthroned, wearing a huge, fur, gown and (somewhat bizarrely) seated inside a perspex box (which detracts a little from the early medieval feel of the rest of the props and costumes. 

It means that his curses upon his daughter feel believable - both he, and Goneril,(Nia Gwynne) seem genuinely to believe that his curse has force, that the gods will listen, and his bewilderment when this doesn't make her back down is palpable.

Buom Tihnbang was an excellent Edmund,and David Troughton, as Gloucester, is also an excellent choice. 

I was less taken with the random, unspeaking characters on stage - homeless 'poor wretches' pointing up Lear's speech in the storm scene, (and incidentally, responsible for the death of the Fool, left behind when Gloucester intervenes to send Lear to Dover) They didn't seem to add much to the performance, it felt more that the director didn't trust us to understand the text without them!

Over all, however, well worth seeing. I'm glad I went (I believe the run is now over)

Monday, 4 June 2018

A Monster Calls : Bristol Old Vic

Patrick Ness's novel (based on an idea by Siobahn Dowd) has been made into a stage play, directed by Sally Cookson. 

The play is going to be showing at the Old Vic in London, from 7th July to 25th Aug, but first, it's at the Old Vic in Bristol, and I went to see the 2nd performance, on 1st June.

I wasn't sure what to expect - the set is very sparse, other than the Yew Tree (made from ropes, woven afresh each time it is needed), and the ensemble plan multiple roles, from Conor's schoolmates, nursing staff, kings and people in the Monster's tales.

It has moments of lightness and humour, and is particularly poignant as Conor tries to hold on to his belief that his mother will get well, and as his reactions to her illness - fighting with a school bully, and smashing up a room at his grandmother's house, and the refusal of his teacher and grandmother to punish him, "What would possibly be the point?", his teacher asks.

The culmination of the play, as Conor is forced to tell his own tale, and explain his own nightmare, had me in tears.

This is a very powerful production, and Matthew Tennyson (Conor), Marriane Oldham (Mum) and Stuart Goodwin (the Monster) were particularly good.

See it, if you can. It is at Bristol Old Vic until 16th June, and then at the Old Vic in London from 7th July.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Chess, the musical

If you are going to regress and relive your lost youth, you may as well do it thoroughly. Having seen Miss Saigon on Friday evening, Saturday saw me heading to London to meet up with friends and to see Chess, the musical.

Like Miss Saigon, Chess is a musical I'd never seen live before, although I was very familiar with the score and lyrics. (although I don't think I have the bootleg cassette tape of the original cast recording any more). I had not regretted not seeing it as much as with Miss Saigon, but the chance to meet up with old friends and relive our shared memories was too good an opportunity to miss!

The production was at the Coliseum in London, by the English National Opera, and features Michael Ball as Anatoly,  Cassidy Janson as Florence, Tim Howar as Freddie, Cedric Neal as The Arbiter and Alexandra Burke as Svetlana.
stage at Colesium for 'Chess' showing neon squares on stage and set
'Chess' Stage
The musical is set in the early 80s, and the stage and set reflect that, with neon squares marking out the stage and back drop, although as the show proceeds the backdrop is revealed to be big screens on which are projected everything from mountains and a jet-plane (for the arrival of Freddie at Merano) to Indian-style shadow puppetry (for the opening 'Story of Chess' song).
photo of stage showing papercut puppets as backdrop, and 4 pairs of people playing chess, on stage. Orchestra visible  above the stage
Production pic  of 'The Story of Chess' (from @Chessthemusical twitter feed)
The main characters are also shown on the big screens, which was handy for those of us in the cheap seats who couldn't see them at all when they were placed at the front of the stage! 

It was a lot of fun, and the music was excellent, as was some of the singing (I think the theatre had some issues with the sound, as the music drowned out the singing at times, which was a little frustrating.)

The show does have a very weak plot, but the performers gave it their all, and in the moment one can forget and forgive the lack of coherence or character development!

My favourite part remains the Embassy Lament (although I was disappointed that they have taken out the percussion typewriters)

I did not care for the use of mirror images when projecting the singers images - once noticed that the images were mirrored it was impossible not to notice, and be distracted!

The run ended on 2nd June, so it's no longer available, but it was fun.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Miss Saigon

When I was a teenager, I, and a small group of my friends used to go to the theatre most weeks, travelling in to Bath by bus, paying for standing room tickets, and then persuading one or other of our parents to take us home, as the last bus went far too early. 

We would occasionally see a musical, but those rarely came to Bath, and while they did come to Bristol, were far more expensive, so my experience of big-budget musicals mostly involved listening to the soundtracks, rather than actually seeing them on stage. 

All of which means that while I was, at one point in my life, pretty much word-perfect on the lyrics of Miss Saigon,  I had eve actually seen it, so when I saw that the touring production was visiting Bristol, I decided to go.

It is a big, polished production, and fills the stage. Including, of course, the famous helicopter scene which i have to admit is very impressive!

Production picture (c) Cameron Macintosh Ltd
I was impressed with the performance of Sooha Kim as Kim, and also that of  Ryan O'Gorman as John - a less showy role, but important, and very well done. 

And of course, the choreography is very slick.

I'm glad I finally got to see it, and realised that I am still pretty much word perfect on all the big numbers! 

Monday, 28 May 2018

Public Art, and Architecture (Or, What I did on my holidays, Part 7)

One of the things I liked about Toronto was how much public art there was, and (no doubt because the city is relatively young) how much of it was modern, and playful.

I was very much taken with this sculpture, 'Rising', by Zhang Huan, which is covered with birds (or hands, or birds made of hands) 

There are more birds inside the building, and on the roof, although you don't notice them at first!

This one was outside the courts.

 This butterfly was at Crawford Lake.

These fish were set into the pavement, along with many others, among patterns of maple leaves, laid out as part of the brickwork.

This couple (called - 'Immigrant Family' ) is by Tom Otterness

This medallion, not far from the St Lawrence market, commemorates on of the ships used in the 1812 war.

The mural was next to a fire station near the Distillery district.

Both these sculptures were in the distillery district.

Then there were some urban cattle, in the financial district.

A couple of whales (also in the financial district)

The giant model soldiers I only saw from the tram. They weren't far from Fort York, but I don't know whether there were intentionally related to it!

I couldn't find who the artist was, of these playful, slightly Gromit-like dogs, but I liked them!

Then there was the architecture.I liked the shape of this mall, and the old Stock Exchange of Toronto, engulfed in a much bigger, newer building.

Then there was the car in the wall of the CTV building, which should probably count as art rather than architecture...

And of course there was the Art Gallery, and the RMO, both of which you've seen on previous posts.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Fishes and Things (What I did on my Holidays, Part 6)

By Friday, we'd covered most of our 'must see' things, so were doing more free range wandering.But since my feet had started to protect all the walking we'd been doing, we did it by tram/street car. (several of the routes have loops at the end, so we did a couple of round trips, which allowed us to see some of the bits of Toronto we hadn't yet walked to.

We started by going to St Lawrence Market, which is a food market but also has some  craft stalls. It would be a great place to shop if you lived locally, or were self catering, but other than the craft stalls, less relevant to us!

We did however then walk up towards Union Station, passing the flat iron building, which is quite nice looking.

On the end, it has a rather nice mural.

Just behind it, is an extremely strange, but entertaining, fountain. It wasn't yet running, so we didn't get to see it in it's full glory. It has a couple of dozen dogs (mostly, but not all, pugs), surmounted by a golden bone.

There's also a single cat, on the fountain, although we later spotted a second,  some distance away, as well as a pair of birds on a nearby lamp-post.

Then, a little later, we visited the aquarium, which (unsurprisingly) has lots of fish....

This includes some goofy-faced fishies, smiley rays, and sharks.

There were also lots of jellyfish, with extra-dramatic mood lighting to make them look even weirder than they naturally do

It was fun, but it was also very crowded.

We had a very nice meal that evening at Luma, then on the final morning, we did more walking - down to the lake side, where we found a menhir. And lots more boats.

We also visited the Distillery district, where old warehouses and (duh) distillery buildings have been re-purposed as shops and restaurants.

There is also a fair amount of public art. I was particularly taken by this Tripod! 

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Tall Places and views (or what I did on my holiday part 5)

The CN Tower is visible from practically everywhere in downtown Toronto, given that it is pretty tall. (although sneaky perspective lets it hide, just when you need it to help you navigate).

It also has a revolving restaurant at the top, and a viewing platform, and a section with glass flooring, all of which combined to make it absolutely irresistible!

We decided to book for the revolving restaurant because i you can look at amazing views while being plied with delicious food and cocktails, why wouldn't you? (assuming, of course, that you like tall places)

We had window seats (not everyone did - there is an inner set of tables which are further from the wndows, but also higher up, so I guess people sitting there still get good views) 

So we sat back, ordered cocktails and food and enjoyed the view as it slowly rolled past the windows.

view  looking towards AGO and ROM
I'm glad that we went later in the week, after we had already explored quite a bit of downtown Toronto on foot, as we could pick out where we'd been (you can see the blue facade of the Art Gallery of Ontario, in the centre of the photo above) There was even a little mist in the far distance, marking Niagara.

The restaurant takes about 75 minutes to make a full revolution, so over the course of an unhurried meal we got to go all the way round, and then a little more! 

Afterwards, we went up to the 'skypod' which is another 33 stories above the restaurant, and lets you look straight down the tower.

(If you look very closely, above you can see little orange spots (at about '1 o'clock' ) which are the people doing the 'edge walk', outside, above the restaurant)

We could also look down on the roundhouse, which we visited the first evening. 

Then back down to the  observation deck, where there is a small section of glass floor.

It looks down over the roof of the aquarium, and is fun, but I was a teeny bit disappointed as I was expecting it to go all the way round the tower, and it doesn't!

It does, however, have a mirrored ceiling, so you can look up at yourself looking down. Or something.

hen there was time to go back down to the observation deck again, and visit the  observation deck,to look out at the sunset.

 Although I am not sure what they have against Spider-man....

I really enjoyed the whole experience.