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.

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.