Saturday, 3 September 2011

Part 3 - Unplanned Fun, and Theatre

When I booked my tickets for Amanda's gig on Friday and Neil's on Sunday I hadn't yet decided whether it would be best to stay in London throughout, or to go home on Saturday morning, so I hadn't made any plans for Saturday. Which was rather nice, as it left me free to just wait and see how things went.As it turned out, despite having got to bed late (and to sleep even later) I woke up early.

I'd seen a lot of ads in the tube stations for a production of Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, with Ralph Fiennes and Nicholas Lyndhurst, and directed by Trevor Nunn, so I decided to see whether there were any day-tickets available. As a result, 9.20 found me waiting outside the theatre, in company with about 10 other people, waiting for the box office to open.

Forty minutes, and several chapters of 'Anansi Boys' later I had my ticket, and wandered off to see what I could do with the rest of the day.

I ended up going to the Victoria and Albert, which I always enjoy. I started by going to look at the wonderful glass sculpture (by Dale Chihuly) which hangs in the dome.

In the unlikely event I ever find myself living anywhere with space for a 27' long chandelier, I'll ask Mr Chihuly to design one for me..

 Then I went through the Mediaeval section of the museum, and spent some time inspecting the Great Bed Of Ware (which is mentioned in 'Twelfth Night', and which appeares to have beem built as a tourist attraction back in the 1590s), and Queen Elizabeth I's virginals, and some lovely little miniatures, and some lovely textiles - astonishing that delicate lace and embroidery should have lasted so long.

I came across this embroidered casket - it was made by a little girl named Martha Edlin, in 1671. She was 11 years old at the time.

There were a number of other samples of her work, which her family had kept for years, but from what I could tell, what was unusual was that the pieces of work had been kept, and kept together, not that her work was unusual for her age!

I also admired this Court Dress from 1740, although I am deeply grateful that I neither have to wear anything of this nature myself, or spend my life stiching away at something similar. (although had I been born in the 18th Century I should almost certianly have died in infancy anyway, so it wouldn't have arisen. Another reason to be glad I wasn't!)

I wandered around a little more, visiting Beatrix Potter's botanical watercolours, and the Raphael cartoons (which you are not permitted to photograph)  and was looking for the gold and silver when I found myself wandering though some modern designs, where I found the Bayko, which amused me because it's so familiar -

My grandparents used to have some (left over from my mother's childhood) - in fact I think an identical set -  and I spent lots of time as a child happily threading bakelite bricks on little metal rods to build a house...!

Hours of fun! Every time I go to the museum I find new things, sometimes entirely new rooms. This time I found a giant artwork made out of squashed tubas, for instance. Where else do you get squashed tubas, gold cups in the shape of parrots, and Rodin sculpture, all under one roof?

But it can be a little tiring, so I went back to the Hall for a nap, before heading out to the the theatre in the evening.

The day-tickets they sell are for the very front row of the stalls - so you get a very good view, if from a somewhat unusual angle. My ticket was actually for the end seat, but the guy in the centre asked me if I would swap, so I did, and found myself sitting nose to nose with Prospero's Book, which was laid out on the stage...

I enjoyed the play, although in some respects I liked it despite, rather than because of, how it was staged - it felt, to me, a very traditional production, old fashioned, even.

The costumes were all period, with a believable variety of styles, and both Prospero (Ralph Fiennes) and Miranda (Elisabeth Hopper) had additional 'jewellery' made from sea-shells, as nbefitting people who've been shipwrecked for 12 years.

(Photo by Alistair Muir)
Some of the special effects, such as the initial storm, were excellent - others, like Ariel's flying (by wires) less so - to me, it felt rather clunky and distracting, acting as a reminder that this was all artificial. For me, it broke into, rather than aiding, my suspension of disbelief!

There were some excellent performances - Ralph Fiennes was very good, particularly in the soliloquies. The double act between Trinculo (Nicholas Lyndhurst) and Stephano (Clive Wood) were very well done - and the by-play between the cynical, worldly Antonio (Julian Wadham) and Sebastian (Chris Andrew Mellon) in the earlier parts of the play was very well done, although I found their later contrition at the end of the play far less convincing!

Ferdinand (Michael Benz) was also very good - both he and Miranda were played as very young, very naive.

Over all, it was interesting, and I loved hearing Shakespeare well-spoken, but I didn't find it as engaging as the last Tempest I saw, (blogged here) which felt much more adventurous and exciting, to me)  I've seen several interviews where Ralph Fienne's is quoted as saying he hopes that people who know him from his role as Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter films will be inspired to come and see the play, and love Shakespeare as a result. I rather hope they don't. I suspect that if you don't know, or love Shakespeare, and have just 'done' it at school, you'd find this production would confirm most of your prejudices. I think seeing someone like Filter Theatre, or the Tennant / Tate 'Much Ado' would be far more likely to spark a love of Shakespeare, or of live theatre generally.

Despite all of this, I am still very glad I saw it (although also glad I hadn't spent £60 on a 'proper' ticket) And Fiennes in particular gave a very memorable performance, especially in the closing scenes.

It was officially still preview week, and so I haven't seen any 'proper' reviews yet - I'll be interested to see what they critics think, and whether any of them agree with me.

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