Sunday, 25 October 2015

Hamlet : On Screen

Last Thursday, the Barbican Hamlet was broadcast live to cinemas, and I went to see it.

As you know, I saw it live back in August (see here) and I was really interested to see it again, and to see what had changed, and how different the play appeared on film. There are a few of the other NT Broadcasts which I've both on stage an screen, and it's never the same.  (Not necessarily worse or better, just different)

I think that this production, being so big, and with such a cinematic set, worked well as a broadcast.

Some of the things which I have found annoying about some of the other broadcasts, such as the habit of zooming in on primary characters and missing much of the subtle background action, were still present here, but I found it less irritating in this production than in others, as it cut out some of the things I found irritating about the live show, such as the excessive use of over-elaborate props. It did however also mean that there were some subtleties lost - the gradual disintegration of Elsinore was far less obvious, for instance.

I did think that the production has improved as the actors have settled into it - the friendship between Horatio and Hamlet seemed closer and more plausible (although I am still not a fan of nerdy backpacker Horatio) and I thought Ophelia's scenes, particularly after Polonius's death, were stronger, although as a character (though not the actor) is not, in my view, one of Shakespeare's better creations!

I enjoyed seeing it again.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Sculpture and Russian Romance

On my second day in London, I had arranged to meet up with some friends, and to see 'Three Days in the Country' with them at the National Theatre.

But as they were all coming up for the day, and I was already in town, I had time to visit the Barbara Hepworth exhibition at the Tate, before joining them for lunch.

I love Hepworth's work. I was lucky that, at 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning,and 3 months into the exhibition's run, the exhibition was not too crowded.

I particularly loved the big, Guarea wood pieces.They have the same rich colour and tactile appeal as perfect conkers do (although you are not allowed to touch them, which is sad, as they cry out to be touched, as well as viewed)

After leaving the exhibit I had time for a quick look at some of the other rooms in the gallery - it's a long time since I've been to the Tate.

After lunch, and some catching up with lovely friends, we went in for the matinee of 'Three Days in the Country' it is a re-working by Patrick Marber of Turgenev's play 'Three Months in the Country', set in pre-revolutionary Russia, and depicting the explosive effect of new tutor, Belyaev (Royce Pierreson) upon the household.

John Simm is Rakitin, long term friend of Arkady, in love, equally long term, with Arkady's wife, Natalya (Amanda Drew) - she takes him for granted, to the extent of confiding in him, and seeking his help, about her attraction to Belyaev. Simm gives a beautifully restrained performance, cynical and long suffering, but eventually revealing his real pain.

Mark Gatiss has a superficially much more entertaining role, as Shpigelsky, the doctor - the scene in which he proposes marriage is comedy gold, but he too has hidden depths, in his insecurity and overcompensation for it.

Then of course there is the new tutor himself, a little uncertain of himself,   falling in love with the household, but wreaking havoc as Natalya, her ward Vera,and the maid Katya all fall for him.

It is very funny but also full of little tragedies. And there isn't a weak link in the entire cast.

The run is very nearly over so you can't see this production, unless you can get to the National Theatre in the next three days. So you'll just have to take my word for it that it is well worth seeing.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Farinelli and the King

In the evening, after the 'Platform' at the National, I headed straight over to the Duke of York's Theatre for Claire Van Kampen's new play, 'Farinelli and the King'. I booked this back in March, so it has been a long wait, but it did not disappoint! 

The theatre's interior has been changed for the production  - with seating on stage, steps up to the stage and, most impressively, 6 hanging candelabras, with actual candles.(the first 3 rows were all warned that they would have to leave their seats during the interval, so that the candles could be changed) There are also candles for the footlights, and onstage (although they have used electric spotlights, too!)

The play itself was excellent - Mark Rylance was undoubtedly the star of the show as King Philip, from the opening scenes as he discourses to a goldfish, through  return to active rule, but he was surrounded by a very strong cast - Edward Peel as de la Cuadra (Prime Minister), disapproving strongly of, well, practically everything, Melody Grove as the Queen, Huss Garbiya as the Doctor, and Sam Crane as Farinelli (with singing by Rupert Enticknap)

The size of the theatre, and the way it has been set up, meant that the experience was a very intimate one - as at the Globe, there were lots of entrances and exits through the auditorium (which is fun, if you have a seat on the aisle!), there were also moments when the actors spoke to us directly (we were, temporarily, local residents, farmers and poachers) 
And the music was lovely. The plot revolves about the decision of the queen, acting upon her doctor's advice, to bring superstar (Castrati) singer, Farinelli, to Court on the  hope that hopes music will cure the King's 'madness' and melancholia. The idea works, on the whole.

Crane, as Farinelli, is beautifully subtle, reacting and responding, frequently in silence, to the more showy performances of the other actors. Farinelli is billed as the world's greatest singer, and when he sings, Crane is replaced by opera singer Rupert Enticknap, who performs the arias. This takes a little getting used to, but is very effective, distinguishing between Farinelli the performer, and Farinelli the person.

I am so glad that I went, and now I really want to see Mark Rylance in more live stuff. In fact, I'd really like to see this production again. Although I don't think that will be possible, as it is sold out and in any case the run is fairly short and I don't think I'd be able to get to London again in the right time scale.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Celts and Art and Poems and Beautiful Things

On Friday I had a day off work to go to London - back in March, I booked to see 'Farnelli and the King', as I missed the original production at the Sam Wanamaker playhouse, and then was able to organise some other interesting things to do while I was up in London.

I started with a visit to the British Museum to see their exhibition 'Celts : Art and Identity' which I found very interesting.

Hunterston Brooch - AD 700-800 (c) National Museums of Scotland
The exhibition is broadly chronological, and makes the point that 'Celt' has had different meanings and implications at different periods, and did not originally include the countries or regions, such as Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany or Cornwall which we think of, today, as the Celtic countries!

It includes exhibits illustrating the exchanges of ideas and influences between different cultures - Roman flagons found in Celtic burials, Torcs showing different styles, including those with Roman and other influences, Roman monuments and jewelry showing Celtic influences, and also information about how the styles varied between those part of the British Islands which were conquered by Rome, and those which were not.

St Chad gospels Vellum AD 700–800. (c)  Lichfield Cathedral
Later, there are the Monastic and Viking contributions and influences - including some glorious illuminated manuscripts, and replicas of a number of  early Celtic crosses.

One of the most dramatic exhibits is the Gundestrup Cauldron, loaned by the National Museum of Denmark, which has amazing scenes inside and out, of gods and hunters and animals and faces - it is truly stunning, and it is astonishing to think it is over 2,000 years old!

Gundestrup Cauldron : Denmark 150 BC(c) National Museum of Denmark

After visiting the exhibition,  (which I strongly recommend), my next event was at the National Theatre - they are holding a series of 'Platforms' with various politicians, actors, directors and others speaking about their work.

The one attended was hosted by Andrew Marr,publicising his book, 'We British : The Poetry of a People' , following on from National Poetry Day on Thursday.

Marr explained that he had looked at the British Islands, not simply England, in order to be able to look at the different facets of the current country's history. He introduced each poem, and stated that he had chosen the poems for the evening to try to include some which might not be familiar, by poets who were perhaps not the best known (so nothing from Shakespeare, for instance).

The poems were read by Mark Gatiss and Fenella Woolgar, with additional, occasional comments. (John Donne, for instance? "Absolutely Filthy") Which, as he was reading 'To his Mistress going to bed', is fair comment! Other poems included Aphra Behn's 'The Disappointmentt' ("Probably the first poem in English about premature ejaculation - unsuitable for Radio 4") and poems of protest such as Walter Raleigh's 'The Lie' and A E Housman's gay protest poem 'The Colour of His Hair'.

As one would expect, the readings were excellent, and the comments were entertaining!

I had to rush off afterwards in order to get to the Theatre for Farinelli and the King, but it was a very enjoyable 45 minutes. And *very* reasonably priced - tickets were just £4 - I was surprised there weren't more people there, and if I lived in London and could get to the National more easily, there are several more Platforms I would be interested to attend.

Edited to Add: The National Theatre has now put a recording of the poetry event on soundcloud - here

Tuesday, 6 October 2015


This post is a little out of order, as I saw 1984 on Friday night, before the Kids Lit stuff on Saturday, but it seems a little out of place among the cheery fun stuff!

This production is, like the original book, very far from being cheery or fun.

It incorporates the appendix to the original book, which is written as from a historian looking back at the events - in the play, this is used to frame the events of the story - the play starts with a group, perhaps students, or a book club, discussing Winston's diary.

We then see the events in Winston (Matthew Spencer)'s life - with on-going uncertainty about what was real, and what was not, or was simply memories (and if so, whose), with occasional 

It's deeply unsettling - the production makes a lot of use of cameras and lighting - cast members disappear off stage and appear on camera on the screen above the stage, the characters unconscious that they remain under observation, blackouts spare us the worst of the scenes of violence and torture (or perhaps give us the opportunity to imagine the worst), and it's never entirely certain what is fact, what fear, what memory.

There is no interval so there isn't any respite.

It must be an exhausting play to perform.It's not a cheerful evening out but it is terrifyingly well done. I think it is going on an international tour, next..

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Welcome to Night Vale

Saturday was a very good day - as well as seeing Chris Riddell and Michael Rosen, I got to see, and hear, Jason Webley, and a live Welcome to Night Vale show. 

Jason Webley
I admit, I'm not very familiar with Night Vale - I originally booked because I like Jason Webley, and it's been a long time since he has been in this country. But I'd heard good things about Night Vale, so I thought it would be fun. And it was.

Weird, faintly disturbing, but totally accessible and understanding to a newcomer.

I won't mention details, as we were asked not to make recordings or post spoilers, and while the UK tour has now finished, I don't know whether the same (or similar) versions for the live show are showing elsewhere, and in any case, there will be a podcast or recording made in due time.

I will say, however, that I particularly enjoyed the Sheriff's Secret Police and the Intern. 

And now, if you will excuse me, I have some podcasts to download..

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Pugs and Ukuleles and Doctor Who

Saturday means more Bath Kids Lit Festivals events.

The first today was to see Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve  who were in Bath as part of their #PugsRoadshow tour.

I admit that I am just a little bit older than the target audience for 'Pugs of the Frozen North' but it's a lot of fun.

I haven't yet read the book but I understand that it follows the adventures of friends on a race to the North Pole, in a dog-sled pulled by 66 pugs (in warm woolly jumpers) competing with various other characters (all with splendid names, such as Sir Basil Sprout-Dumpling, and his butler Sideplate)

The event included a musical interlude with added 'Yip's from the audience, the creation and playing of a game  and a quick lesson in how to draw a pug.

I also got a lot of fun from eavesdropping on some of the conversations which various small children were having with their parents... (particularly the small boy behind me, explaining excitedly how Sarah got her Yeti Hands!

And it was very nice to meet Philip again, and to meet Sarah in person after following her blog and having  the occasional exchange on twitter.

Pugs of the Frozen North is the 3rd book these two have created together, and they are all well worth checking out, particularly if you have children!

 Then I had to dash across Bath city centre to get to the 'Writing Doctor Who' panel.

As advertised, the panel was supposed to include A.L. Kennedy, Frank Cottrell Boyce and Mark Gatiss, but it turned out that Gatiss was unavilable, so James Goss (who has written both Doctor Who and Torchwood novels, including Summer Falls) took his place. A L Kennedy has also written a Doctor WHo novel (featuring the 4th Doctor) and Cottrell Boyce wrote the Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'

A.L. Kennedy talked about being a lifelong Doctor Who fan, and about a habit of wearing sensible flat shoes due to noticing at an early age that women wearing high heeled shoes tend to tip, or break their heels, and get killed by Daleks or other monsters..

Cottrell Boyce made the point that one of the effects of the show's longevity is that it is now written and produced and run by fans - it's basically its own fanfiction. He also said that when he was asked to write an episode, his immediate response (like everyone's, he says) was to ask whether his children could visit the TARDIS, and to accept when told they could - no questions about fees or deadlines or anything else..

There was a lot of love for Romana, and for City of  Death, and discussions about different Doctors. And of course, as soon as the panel noticed that someone had brought K9 along, the entire panel ground to a halt as K9 came up on stage...

Oh, and when you hear about a movement to have the Doctor Who theme music adapted as the new National Anthem - this is where it started..!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Poems and Pictures

My next Bath Kids Lit Festival event took place on Saturday afternoon, and featured Children's Laureate Chris Riddell, and Michael Rosen (who have recently collaborated on a book of poems for very young children).

I admit that I mostly booked it because I like Chris Riddell's work, and I could not make it to his solo 'Goth Girl' event, and I did feel a little bit conspicuous because I was not accompanied by a child, but despite that it was fun.

Chris was live-drawing to the poems as Michael read them. The Poems are mostly very simple rhymes, playing with words and actions, and eminently suitable for small children and Michael was encouraging the audience to join in, (which they did - with great enthusiasm) but adding his own little touches.

The pictures were projected onto a big screen on the stage behind Mr Rosen, who could not, therefore, see exactly how Chris was representing his poems..!

Michael Rosen:26.09.2015
 For instance, a poem about (among other things) dancing fruit, resulted first in a picture of orris dancing mangoes, followed by  sneaky picture of a Morris Dancing Micheal Rosen...!
It was a lot of fun, and quite a few lucky people from the signing line went home with original Chris Riddell drawings!

(I went home with a signature in my copy of 'The Sleeper and the Spindle' and a signed copy of the latest 'Goth Girl' book, so I was happy!)