Saturday, 26 September 2020

Autumn, kittens, deer and a hegehog

 I have been a bit remiss with blogging, because there isn't a great deal happening - although I am getting a lot of entertainment from Vashti's adventures.

photo of small black and white kitten climbing up a glass panelled interior door, kitten is clinging to the second frame up


She and Loki are getting along better - mostly because Loki is tolerating Vashti's bounciness and adopting a policy of mostly ignoring her until she bounces too close or too often, at which point he will hiss and (usually) move away, and occasionally growl and/or cuff her around the ears if she doesn't take the hint.

                               balack and white kitten in left foreground looking startled, with arched back, looking towards large black and white cat sitting and ignoring it.


Vashti is  not noticeable daunted by any of it, but will generally cower a bit to show willing, before bouncing at home again as soon as he turns away!


Two black and whte cats, one small (on left) and one large (on right) sharing a footstool, cats are touching noses

I have been going out for walks as much as possible, although with the nights starting to draw in, and the distractions caused by a kitten at home I have been out less frequently!

I haven't seen the badgers for a while - I suspect that now the ground isn't so dry, it's easier for them to find food so they are perhaps not ranging quite so far, and pf course th young ones will be getting older and more wary. 

I have, however, continued to see deer quite regularly.

photo of Roe deer standing in field of stubble. Deer is side on to camera and facing rightis f

The deer continue to be spectacularly bouncy, 'pronking' vigourously.


I've also seen a hedgehog - I went out to put the bins out rather late, and heard a lot of rustling, in the hedge, which I assumed was Loki, so went to greet him, and found it was in fact a hedgehog, so I gave it some cat biscuits and wished it well. I haven't seen it again, but it makes me happy to know that there are hedgehogs (or a hedgehog) visiting the garden.


It is starting to look and feel quite autumnal - it's definitely chilly in the mornings, and I may have to consider putting the heating on soon, although I am hoping to wait until October!

Sunday, 2 August 2020

Foxes and Badgers and Kittens, Oh My!

I have continued, despite the bad examples set by our politicians and their advisers. to stick to all of the guidance and lockdown rules, and have been remaining at home except for my daily walk, and occasional forays to the office when it hasn't been possible to work from home. 

I have been doing a certain amount of gardening - I now have containers with tomato plants, pea plants and  courgette and carrots and a plant which I thought was going to be patty-pan squash but which I have now determined (on the basis that it has produced several small cucumbers) is in fact a cucumber plant. I had planted both, but clearly somewhere along the line, what with thinning and planting out seedlings,my labelling obviously went awry. 

Since my last post, things have moved on. I continued to see the fox cubs for a while, until they got bigger (as did the nettles and brambles near their den) and harder to spot - the last few times I saw them they were some distance from the den and getting much more cautious.

I have also been seeing badgers quite a bit - I was fairly sure that there were some living in the woods as I had seen what I thought was the entrance to a sett, but didn't expect  to see the badgers themselves,until I went for a walk later in the evening than usual and saw one out in a field digging for earthworms. 

Then after that I saw them quite a lot - they are surprisingly hard to spot, unless they are looking straight at you, as their grey fur is excellent camouflage, but if you are walking quietly on your own they make quite alot of noise digging and crunching roots and things. 

And from time to time, if they are young and playful, making loud squeaky noises, as caught on video one evening in June!
Squeaky Badger




I then also found a second sett in a different area, and struck lucky one evening and saw about 5 or 6 badgers within about 15 minutes, including one who was industriously clearing out the entrance to the sett.


photo of a (european) badger standing in long grass
Of course, with no consideration for passing humans wanting to take pictures, they had built their sett in a ditch surrounded by lots of dense foliage, and had then emerged at twilight, so I couldn't take any very good photographs...

As lockdown here has eased, I am no longer working from home, but am now mainly in the office, where we have gallons of hand-sanitiser, lots of rules about keeping at least 2 metres apart, boxes of masks and restrictions on the number of people allowed in at any time. Fortunately we have older buildings - so most of us have individual rooms, or rooms large enough to stay distanced, and no aircon, so we can avoid major risks.

I have become used to attending court by phone or video instead of in person.

Meanwhile, a new member of my household has arrived.



You know how these things go. You casually mention in passing to one person that you are considering whether getting a second cat would be a good idea, and the next thing you know, a co-worker shows you a photo of a kitten they just happen to have going spare, and then a new furry overlord arrives in your home.

This one Vashti, She is, as of today, 10 weeks old and weighs just under 2lbs.



Loki is not yet convinced that this is a good idea, and there has been a good deal of hissing, but we are slowly making progress. I m ensuring that Loki gets lots of attention, extra treats and some kitten-free time with me, and am cautiously optimistic!



I have also, finally, after a long delay, had the guttering on my house replaced. It was very old and would leak and overflow badly in several places, but I had difficulty finding someone to do the work, then when I did, Covid happened and everything got put on hold.
Of course, sine the new gutters went up last week we haven't had any heavy rain so I have not yet seen them in action, but knowing they are up is a huge weight off my mind, as water pouring down the walls and not into the drains is not a good thing.

I am still going out for walks on a daily basis, kitten or no, but am seeing less wildlife at present - I think perhaps the young and incautious are growing up, and there is more food available so they don't have to forage as far! 

All in all, and considering that we are still dealing with a global pandemic, things are OK. Mercifully, my family remain well. Running a business in these circumstances has its challenges, and I am sure that, like many businesses, it will not be a great year, but compared to what many are coping with, I am doing alright. 

Friday, 8 May 2020

A Global Pandemic, Social Distancing and spending more time with nature

I have not been blogging recently - partly, of course, because my usual subject matter of theatre trips and exhibitions hasn't been available, (although there are a couple of shows I saw just before all this started, which I had not got around to blogging about), partly because I haven't had the mental energy;   and partly as I have been working from home and spending 7 hours a day staring at a laptop screen, so doing more of it for leisure hasn't really appealed. 

 It's a very strange time to be living through. I am angry and ashamed at how poorly our government has dealt with the pandemic, the failures in providing adequate PPE, the lack of testing and tracing, and so much more, and,in common, I suspect with most people, I am worried for y family and friends. (My close family are all currently well,mercifully, but knowing how many work in front line medical roles, or have pre-exisiting conditions or vulnerabilities is  a source of constant, underlying anxiety. And sadly, I have friends who have not been so fortunate.)

And of course, it's a situation which adds all sorts of new stresses and problems to being a business owner - I admit to having felt a certain amount of envy of those who are furloughed and have a steady income, at least for the present!

I am primarily working from home - we have furloughed some of our staff, and those of us who are working are, where possible, working from home, while means that when it isn't possible, the office is empty enough that it's possible to maintain appropriate distancing. When I have needed to go in, I've mostly done son during the evening or at weekends, when it is quieter or even empty. After 3 days f working from my dining table, I cleared off my old desk (bought for me by my parents, when I was around 12 or 13) in order to be able to separate my work space from my living space, and a few days after that I manhandled my office chair into my car to bring it home, as sitting at a dining chair for hours a day is...not good. I's much harder work, and less efficient, than being able to work normally from the office, but it's the best I can do right now.

However, it is not all gloom and doom. As well as the stress and anxiety there are positives. I am deeply grateful that I live where I do, in a rural area, with a house large enough that I don't feel too confined, and with the luxury of a garden. I would have found lockdown in my previous house, which was smaller, and where several of the neighbours lived loud and at times volatile lives, and their children had nowhere much to play except the street, much harder. 

I already had a good relationship with both sets of immediate neighbours before this started,  which has been a boon - we've checked in on each other,  shared  relevant information about services available in the village, and each time we have a grocery delivery or click-and-collect have checked in to see if the others need anything adding. 

My right hand neighbours have even been delivering a paper to me, on Saturdays, (I had mentioned, in passing, that  it was the non-essential purchase I was missing, and as they normally do a run to the village shop for essentials on a Saturday morning,they've been buying a paper and putting it through my door, which is lovely.

Photo of a bare chestnut tree against a blue sky
I also feel very lucky that I am am able to go out every day for my one,  government endorsed, Permitted Exercise each day, and that I have such lovely countryside in which to walk. It's rural enough that most days, I either don't see anyone, or just see  one or two people walking or walking dogs, and there is plenty of space to stay over 2m apart.

There are lots of public footpaths, so I can vary my route, and I've enjoyed watching the fields, woods and hedgerows change as Spring advances, from bare branches and frosty mornings, when lockdown started, through the blooming of primroses,  blackthorn and hawthorn, then wild violets, bluebells and wild garlic, and the trees coming into leaf, and now, flower. 

Photo of a large chestnut tree in full leaf

I have also enjoyed seeing more wildlife - initially, it was mostly rabbits, in all the fields, and commoner types of bird, such as robins, blackbirds, bluetits  and sparrows.

Chaffinch perched on a bare hedge (photo)
Chaffinch

I have also spotted wrens several times,which gives me great pleasure. I love wrens, they are so tiny, and so very bolshy and territorial despite their size. (also uncooperative - I haven't managed to get a picture of any of them, yet) 
Photo of a Great Tit on a conifer branch, against a blue sky
Great Tit

However, as Spring has advanced, and I have explored more and found less frequented paths, I have also seen deer - I've been getting better at walking softly and appearing unthreatening, so I can get closer without causing them to flee.

Photo of a roe deer buck, with bluebells and wild garlic flowers
Roe Deer bucj


There have been foxes, gorgeous, bright red ones, and smaller, leaner ones.



And, in the past week, I even found a den where there are a family of fox cubs
photo of a small fox cub looking out from a hole under the roots of a beech tree

I am not yet quite sure how many there are. I am absolutely certain there are 3, as I have seen three of them at the same time. 
Photo of a red fox cub, sitting and looking to the right, in front of tree root


I am nearly sure that there are four, and there might be as many as five. 

Two fox cubs in front of tree roots, stinging nettles in foreground (photo)

They are adorable - just like puppies, when they relax and start playing they yip and bark and make little squeaky noises, and while they are wary enough to disappear back into their earth if I move to fast or get too close, if I am patient, they will often re-emerge 


I saw a rather thin and harassed looking fox in the same field, which I assumed was their mother, but I have since seen another, much larger and redder and sleeker one, too, and have read up and learned that foxes cooperate to raise their cubs, and there will often be a group of 4 or 5 foxes (male and females) cooperating to raise one litter of cubs.


They sometimes have more than one vixen who has a litter, and raise them together, co-parenting fox style, but generally just the most important vixen will have cubs. (Nature being what it is, the strongest cubs get most food and attention,and develop faster - I am hoping that all of 'mine' survive - the smallest of them is (seen in my first photo) is extremely cute, and I really he hope that s/he makes it, as well as the bigger ones.

I have a bigger selection of wildlife pictures on flickr.

My neighbours tell me that they've seen a hedgehog in their garden - I hope it visits mine, too, although I haven't seen it so far, and I am hoping I might manage to see a badger at some stage. 

I must go now - my neighbours have just arrived to deliver some scones and cake they have been baking, (from a socially approved distance, of course! )

How is everyone else's lock down treating them?

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Tutankhamun - Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh

I wasn't around for the visit made by Tutankhamun's death mask and other artifacts to the British Museum, in 1972, although I did see the 2007 exhibition at the O2 - so I wanted to see this new exhibition, especially as it is being touted as the last time that the artifacts will leave Egypt.

I booked some time off work in order to be able to travel the evening before, and booked the earliest slot for the exhibition, in the hope that the exhibition might be a little quieter at that time. (which also meant I ended up having a pleasant walk to the gallery in the morning ) 

I was very impressed with the exhibition - it is well thought out, with explanations of the ancient Egyptian's beliefs about death and the afterlife, including quotations from the book of the dead, and explanations of the significance of many of the items on display. 

The artifacts were also very well displayed, with many in free-standing cases so you could see them from all angles, and with multiple copies of the labels which helped reduce congestion as people moved through. (something some other exhibitions I have visited recently could learn from!)  


photo of faded embroidered glove
Embroidered Gloves

On to the exhibits themselves! In the first room, there were food containers, modelled in the shape of the food they had contained (apparently they have been able to analyse some of the contents, and found that things were not always correctly packed, so the wrong foods were stored in some containers!) 

There was then lots of the Pharaoh's luggage - wooden boxes of various sizes and shapes , inlaid with ebony and ivory, and decorated with gold paint and Tutankhamun's cartouche, and this rather nice little calcite box (which held hair believed to be that of Tutankhamun and his wife Ankhesenamun, and a pomegranate, which may have symbolised their marriage contract) 

Photos of white (calcite) box with painted decoration of lilies and lotus flowers
Painted Calcite Box
There were other items - I liked a little pen case - made in the shape of a column, inlaid with ivory and coloured glass. It made me wonder - was it for the use of a scribe, or could the Pharaoh himself perhaps write? 

Pen case
Next, there were two model boats - one with a two-storey cabin painted with chequered patterns, and the other with a throne on board, there were gilded figures of Tutankhamun - one of them showed him on a skiff, with a harpoon - it was explained that he was hunting Hippo, but the hippo itself wasn't included, as it was believed that everything put, in model form, into the tomb would exist in reality in the afterlife, and hippopotami are too dangerous to risk including them! 

Horus with solar disk


I loved this beautiful statue of a hawk / Horus, carrying the sun disk (and looking, I feel, a little disgruntled about it) It was part of the decorative fixtures for one of the chariots in the tomb.
Lion head end to bow case


There were two shields, one showing Tutankhamun as a Sphinx, crushing his enemies, and the other showing him hunting lions , and a beautiful bow-case, decorated with hunting scenes, and with two lovely lions heads on the ends.

Bed
There was furniture - a beautiful gilded bed (the woven base still almost intact, after 3,000 years). I was interested to read that the board was actually a foot-board, not a head board!

Another of the pieces of furniture on display was a child-sized chair. Tutankhamun was only nine when he became Pharaoh, and suitably sized furniture and other items (bows, sears etc) were made for him, and some of them were buried with him (he was around 19 when he died)

One of the most impressive exhibits, for me, was a life-sized, black and gold statue f the King as Guardian. It apparently symbolises his re-birth as night turns to dawn

head and shoulders photo of statue of  Tutankhamun in black wood with gold headdress
Tutankhamun

It's stunning,and it looks as though it is a portrait of a real person, the face is very human, relateable. It's stunning. 



Coffinette

This might look like the famous death-mask, but it isn't, it is a miniature version, a coffinette, to hold one of the King's internal organs. This one was, I think, for the liver, and there were apparently others. 

It's about 12 inches tall, and is exquisite, with incredibly delicate decoration, and  hieroglyphs engraved on the inside.

Bust of Tutankhamun - stopper for Canopic jar


Displayed with it was a bust of Tutankhamun, which I think was the stopper for a canopic jar. Like the statue, this seemed to be a real portrait of a real person (and did look a lot like the *same* person! 
'straps' and pectoral

There was then a  model of the inner sarcophagus, on which were displayed gold 'straps' and items such as gold-plates sandals, finger- and toe-stalls (basically, gold-plated false fingers and toes!) as well as golden hands holding the crook and flail.

Pectoral in the shape of a vulture

There were also lots of items of jewelry - pectorals n the shapes of vultures, hawks, scarabs and boats, as well as smaller items.

The exhibit also included information about the excavation and some of those involved.


Alabaster 'Loving cup'

There was an alabaster cup, then, finally,in  the last room,  a stone statue of the King, standing alone. It was originally one of two, and after his death, Tutankhamun's cartouche was removed and replaced with that of his successor

Statue of Tutankhamun

A projection on the rear wall explains that the ancient Egyptians believed that the dead would live on, as long as their names are remembered, and of course, Tutankhamun is now the best known of all the pharaohs.

It is a very good exhibition and I am glad that I got to see it. My Flickr album with more pictures is  here.

Edited to add: The gallery now has a virtual tour available - https://youtu.be/WKxsDuqoqsk

The astute will have realised that I visited before we were all advised against travel, and the museums were closed, due to Covid-19.  It was originally due to stay open in London until 3rd May, and  then moving on to Boston and then Sydney. There are also more hotos on the Saatchi Gallery website.

Friday, 13 March 2020

Cyrano - James McAvoy at the Playhouse

I almost missed this - I booked a ticket months ago, but have been unwell with the cold-from-hell-the-will-not-die, and wasn't at all sure that I would be up to a trip to London, but in the end, I decided that I would regret missing it.


I had avoided reading any reviews so had no preconceptions at all. I haven't ever seen the original play, either.

I very much enjoyed the show - there is virtually no set, a bare stage with hand-held and stand microphones, with the actors in modern dress.

The play draws on rap and hip-hop, and beat boxing - it's poetry, knowing, thoughtful, often gleeful and funny, sometimes raw, but almost always engaging and entertaining

There is, of course, the love story between Roxane and Christian, and the unrequited love of Cyrano for Roxane (not to mention the attraction of christian to Cyrano, which I suspect perhaps didn't appear in the original!)

But it is mostly about  the love of language. And it is glorious. 






“I love words. That’s all.”

The run in London run has finished now, but the play was filmed for National Theatre Live, and is well worth seeing if you have the opportunity. 

Saturday, 29 February 2020

Leopoldstadt - Tom Stoppard

New plays by Tom Stoppard don't come along very often, so of course when one did, it was inevitable that I would book tickets. My friend A and went on what turned out to be press day 

I have very mixed feelings about the play. I really wanted to like it, and given Stoppard's track record, I had high expectations, but I ended up feeling that there was a much better lay somewhere inside, struggling to get out.

The premise is that it follows a single family, living in Vienna, from 1899 to 1955. The family are (mostly) Jewish - Hermann Metz (Adrian Scarborough) , head of the family, has converted and been baptised as a catholic, and married a catholic woman and considers himself to be assimilated into Austrian society. He has ambitions to join the jockey club, is an optimist about the ways in which the Austrian Empire has progressed, allowing Jewish people to leave the ghettos and become accepted in society.


His brother-in-law, Ludwig Jakobovicz, is a mathematician at the University, and is less optimistic,  more resigned to the realities of anti-semitism and a slower rate of change, and primarily focused on his research.

The play moves forward in time, with scenes in 1900, 1924, 1938 (Kristallnacht) and 1955, there is a cast of over 40 people, although the numbers fall over the course of the play, with the final scene having just 3 characters remaining on stage. Almost everything takes place in a single room, which changes from turn-of-the-century richness to the grim, battered state of the room in 1955,. It's an excellent visual reflection of the changing fortunes of the family.

Given that the play follows the fortunes of a Austrian-Jewish family through the first half of the 20th Century it was inevitably going to end tragically, and this is constantly foreshadowed throughout the play, to the extent that is feels very heavy handed.

And that is my key issue with the play - it has an awful lot of  very obvious, repetitive exposition, with characters laboriously explaining things to each other,including things about their own shared personal and family history.

There are parts where the exposition and foreshadowing are done much more subtly, and work far better - for instance, in relation to WW2.

The final scenes were very well done  - the remnants of the family have returned to try to recover their looted art (A Klimt portrait of Hermann's wife, Gretl) and home . The survivors include the character presumably based on Stoppard himself, a young man whose mother was widowed before the war, and remarried an English journalist, who was able to take her and her son to England, in 1938, and to bring her son up as a Englishman, forgetful of his Austrian and Jewish roots, who becomes someone to whom the others can explain what happened.

The play ends listing the names of the characters we last saw in 1938, and their fates.. Auschwitz, Dachau, Suicide....

I think this could have been a very good mini-series, with more time and space to allow us to get to know the multiple characters and perhaps to show more, and cut down on the lectures-to-the-audience , alternatively I think it could be a very good play, if it were perhaps to be edited a little, with a view to trusting the audience a little more. 

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Carmen - ENO at the Coliseum


I saw Bizet's Carmen a couple of weekends ago, in a production by the ENO at the London Coliseum. I have had mixed feelings about the previous operas I have seen - I like the music, but find it much harder to suspend my disbelief and get immersed in the show than I do with straight theatre.

I enjoyed Carmen - maybe because so much of the music is familiar, but it has to be admitted that having it sung in English, and therefore wholly understandable, does rather expose the er.. somewhat thin plot.

The story, as far as I could make out, is along these lines:


  • Soldiers are doing soldiery things like parading around on guard duty and ogling passing women. A good, well-brought up young woman comes looking for a soldier, José, she brings a letter from his mother and there is some very loud musical flirting based on her bringing kisses from his mother..
  • She leaves, and a lot of girls from the cigarette factory come out to take a break and flirt with the soldiers, with Carmen singing about how she doesn't love anyone who might love her, and giving  José a flower., before going back to work.
  • A fight breaks out in the factory and  Carmen is accused of knifing another woman - at which point we learn that the army apparently doubles at being the police force, and  that they are not believers in any kind of investigative process. For no obvious reason, rather than taking Carmen immediately to prison, she is instead to be tied up, first.
  • This provides the opportunity for Carmen to manage the fastest seduction in history, plotting (very musically and at the top of her voice) with José, to suggest that he should allow her to escape. José, being clearly very susceptible (and presumably sex-starved) instantly succumbs, and agrees to let her escape by ... er.. giving him a shove and running away.
  • Carmen  duly runs away (there appears to be a rule that if she makes it off stage, she's free and no-one is allowed to chase her any further), and José is arrested and sent to prison for 3 months for letting her get away (his superior officer having found him out, possibly through having overheard Carmen laying out her plan in detail, and possibly due to the inherent improbability of a young cigarette girl managing to break out of her bonds and escape from a heavily armed soldier.
  • We are now half way through.At the start of the second half, Carmen, along with some other gypsy women, is dancing in a nightclub. The patrons mostly seem to be soldiers, including the on who ordered her arrest, (who appears not to recognise his fugitive, possibly because she is wearing a different frock). In this production, the nightclub is a car, instead. Much flirty dancing ensues.
  • A passing toreador, Escamillo, arrives at the club, mostly as an excuse for the splendid Toreador song, which doesn't really need any excuse! 
  • José gets out of prison and shows up at the cafe / nightclub / car where Carmen makes him very welcome. However,  all is not good - the bugles ring out from the barracks, and Jose must return to do his duty. But, sings Carmen, she loves him and wants him and he should stay..  
  • Despite the fact that the last time he listed to Carmen's plans, he wound up with 3 months in prison,José allows his libido to overcome his judgment once again,and decides to stay with Carmen rather than returning to barracks. For no very obvious reason, Carmen's gypsy friends also kidnap José's boss.
  • Time passes. There  is some singing. We learn that Carmen and the gypsys are involved in smuggling. There is some singing about how they are excellent smugglers, how women are useful to distract the guards and how smuggling is very dangerous. It does not appear to occur to anyone that a loud choral exposition about their smuggling plans might be a bad idea. 
  • While waiting for their smuggling plans to mature, Jose's original girlfriend (remember her? With the letter, from the first act?) turns up looking for   José. He is unimpressed by her skill and determination in tracking him down and her committment to getting his other's letter to him, despite his being somewhat unsatisfactory track record as a boyfriend so far. Carmen and her friends so a spot of tarot and find that Carmen is doomed! The is Death in cards, no matter how often you deal them.
  • Escamillo, the toreador, also shows up.  He has the hots for Carmen, but being a sophisticated metrosexual type of chap is unfazed by the fact that she has a lover, points out that she also has a low boredom threashold and will be over him in a few months.  José is less relaxed about things, and starts a fight with Escamillo. He fails to kill him, and Escamillo leaves, inviting everyone to his next bull fight.Because just because someone just tried to stab you death is apparently no reason not to put them on the guest list.
  • We then go to the bull fight. There is much rousing singing about how brave and daring he bullfighters are, how great everyone looks, and how amazingly awesome Escamillo is. Carmen has got a bit bored of José by this point and enters on Escamillo's arm, enjoying the limelight. Jose shows up, and they have a fight, which mostly consists of José making it clear that he loves Carmen and no-one but him can have her, and Carmen telling him she isn't interested. And then he kills her.Which rather dampens the mood.
Despite the downbeat ending, it was entertaining, and I enjoyed it more than the other operas I've seen - I am glad I went. Although I am still not convinced that setting it in the 70s really worked. 

Monday, 10 February 2020

William Blake at Tate Britain


I was in London again to see the final performance of The Ocean at the End of the Lane at the National Theatre, which was just as good on re-watching.



But before that I went to Tate Britain to see their big William Blake exhibition.Like a lot of popular exhibitions, they seemed to have oversold the tickets so it was very crowded, which was frustrating, but despite that, I did enjoy it.

Job, his wife and friends 1785
I enjoyed Job, and various angels and demons.
Blake painting of a naked man using a pair of compasses on a scroll
Newton C1795-1805
And I especially enjoyed this big-eyed owl!
The Night of Enitharmon's Joy (previously known as Hecate) 1795


Seeing so much of the art together I was struck by how modern a lot of the art felt, despite having been created in the late 18th C. 

More photos here 


Sunday, 2 February 2020

Henry VI at the Sam Wanamaker


My friend A and I saw the Globe's trinity of Henrys - Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V. last year,so when we saw that the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse next door was ding Henry VI, it seemed like a good plan to go!

Henry VI is 3 separate plays - I've seen the plays once before, in 2013, as 3 separate plays this production is a compressed version of the 2nd and 3rd of the trilogy, so starts with  the arrival of Queen Margaret, and the news that she comes with no dowry, and at the cost of losing provinces in France won by Henry V. Things don't do well, from there...


It's a modern dress production, York appears as a wide-boy type, in a white suit embroidered with white roses, and the others has suitably colour coded and decorated clothes, too. This King himself, Jonathan Broadbent, appears in a hoodie, making him less impressive and memorable in appearance than any of his courtiers, emphasising his passive role.


photo of a group of  9 people on stage at the Sam Wanamaker theatre
Cast photo (photo from Globe theatre) 

Later in the play, once the battles started, characters wore sports kit in red or white, emblazoned with their names (and in some cases, regnal numbers) - a costuming choice which  does help to allow the audience to keep the characters and their allegiances straight, but at the same time does downplay the serious nature of the conflicts.

I particularly enjoyed Sarah Amakwah's performance as the strutting,  prickly Edward, and John Lightbody as Gloucester.

However, over all I felt the play was a bit patchy - it dragged in places and felt rushed in others - perhaps as a result of the cuts and merging of the 2 plays.

I am glad to have seen it, but don't regret my decision not to also book for RIchard III, which is part of the same season

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Ian McKellen

Back in March of last year, at the start of his epic tour of 80 theatres to celebrate his 80th birthday, I went to see Sir Ian McKellen in Bristol, and then after he finished his tour, he added extra dates and did 80+ performances at the Harold Pinter Theatre, and on an impulse, last autumn when the dates were announced, I booked a ticket for the very last show, on 5th January.


photo of hanging sign advertising Ian McKellen's show and including photo of him

Because why not, if you get the chance to see Ian McKellen, why wouldn't you?

I went up with time to spare, and walked from the station, which took me via Marble Arch, where, it appears, a rather large herd of baby elephants has appeared, since I was last there.


photo of a sculpture of a large realistic elephant in a sitting position, and 10-12 baby elephants. background of photo shows office buildigns and london buses

The sculptures  are raising awareness of orphaned elephants (The Sheldrake Trust). 

There is also a beautiful sculpture of a horse's head, which I did enjoy.
photo of a sculpture of a horse's head, drinking, with red london buses in the background of the picture

My seat was in the second row of the stalls, so I had an excellent view.

The show was similar to how it was when I saw it last March, although not exactly the same - it still covered him talking about his life history in the first half, including talking about his childhood, his opposition to s.28 and his coming out, being awarded his knighthood, (he wasn't a fan of the Queen's choice of dress on the day) and some of his roles, including his role as Widow Twanky in pantomime - which was hugely entertaining even if, like me, you are not a fan of pantomime! (His reprise of the role involved him throwing first sweets, then oranges, and finally a couple of bananas and a cucumber, into the audience)

This demonstrated that he has excellent aim - he managed to get sweets and oranges into the circle, and even the balcony! The lady sitting to my right got an orange.   

Among other things, he gave us 'Gus the Theatre Cat's song from Cats,(prefaced by some plate-licking, which I think is a reference to the new film)

The second half was primarily Shakespearean, with Sir Ian getting the audience to try to name all of Shakespeare's plays (first folio only), with his comments on them and some excerpts.

Sir Ian as a stroppy teenage Juliet was particularly entertaining, and his Rogue and peasant slave speech from Hamlet, and fear no more the heat of the sun from Cymbeline. We also got Aufidius' speech welcoming Martius Coriolanus. 

Oh, and a skit on the speech from Henry V , naming the French dead at Agincourt, but replacing their names with various wines - imagine, if you will, Sir Ian intoning 'Chateuneuf de pape' mournfully, as befits a death...

At the very end of the   evening, he gave us Sir Thomas More's The Strangers Case speech (the only speech we have written in Shakespeare's own hand, and one which Sir Ian was the first actor to perform, as the lay was banned in Shakespeare's own day. 

He had us perform the art of the crowd, caring for the strangers to be expelled, and then delivered the impassioned defence of strangers and refugees, which Shakespeare  gave to More.




Because this was the final night, after the show came to an end, there were speeches, from Ian, and his director and stage manager, with thanks and jokes all round.



It was all a great deal of fun.  And afterwards, Sir Ian came out to the foyer to collect cash from us as  we left (asking for a 'silent collection' - paper money only!

The tour has been an astonishing achievement - over 160 performances at 80 theatres, and raising over £3M for various theatre-related charities.

Friday, 10 January 2020

Christopher Eccleston at Toppings

I am lucky to live near Bath, which has two independent bookshops, both of which do regular author events. The most recent one which I attended was when Topping's invited Christopher Eccleston to speak about his autobiography, I love the bones of you.


Its a very personal book, focusing on his relationship with his father,and as taking about his own history, his mental health and struggles with anorexia, - I haven't yet read it in full, but he spoke about all of those things, very frankly, and with a lot of humour.

He was warm and friendly, especially during the Q and A section of the evening when people were sharing information about their own experiences of a family member with dementia - it was both moving and, at times, surprisingly funny.

He also talked a lot about his family and his choice to become an actor having a lot to do with  not wanting to follow his father into a factory job!

I am  looking forward to reading the book!