Friday, 30 March 2018

Macbeth (RSC)

It seems that this is the year of Macbeth - both the RSC and the National Theatre have productions this reason, and yes, I'm seeing both.(probably. I missed the NT one due to being ill, but do have a ticket for later in the run)

First, the RSC production at Stratford upon Avon - it features Christopher Eccleston  as Macbeth, and Niamh Cusack as Lady Macbeth.

photo of Nimh Cusack and Christopher Eccleston seated on a bed (as  Lady Macbeth and Macbeth)
Publicity photo from RSC site
It is an interesting production. Although unfortunately features a set design which does not take into account the design of the theatre - you don't expect, when buying seats in the 2nd row of the stalls, to have a restricted view of key scenes.. There is a also a rather distracting clock, or timer, which starts to count down when Duncan is murdered. 

The production is a modern dress one, and features Witches who are little girls, (perhaps 9 or 10 years old),  looking deceptively harmless in their identical pink pyjamas, and fluffy slippers/boots with pom-poms on, and each cradling a battered and uncared-for doll. They speak in unison, and there is definitely a slight 'Midwich cuckoos' vibe there.They were certainly creepy, although the down side is that their appearance makes a bigger impact than their words.

three young girls in pyjamas against a dark background, with a digital clock below
The Witches (production photo from RSC)
Eccleston's Macbeth is a blunt, rugged soldier - someone who is good in a crisis, and liked and admired by his peer. In the early stages of the play he appears out of place among the more obviously sophisticated members of the court: there's a telling little detail when he returns from battle and kisses Duncan's hand, he smears a little blood on it, and appears not to notice, or to notice the King's reaction. Later, as he becomes more and more paranoid and isolated, it seems that 'having' to order the deaths of friends troubles him more than the original murder, and his final defeat is as much at his own hand as that of Macduff. However, Eccleston didn't seem wholly confident in the role. I hope this is simply due to us having seen it so early (pre- press night).

Niamh Cusack as Lady Macbeth is good - increasingly frenetic and chillingly ruthless, coming over as an intelligent, ambitious woman, denied the chance to be anything but a decorative hostess, although her sleepwalking scene was, irritatingly, partly played out in the invisible-to-those-of-us-in-the-side-seats gallery above the stage.

Macduff (Edward Bennett) deserves a special mention, his despair as the distraught husband and father as he learns of his family's deaths is heart-wrenching. The Porter (Michael Hodgson) is on stage through almost all of the play - chalking up a tally of the Macbeths' victims, silently assisting various murders find their victims, and lending a ear (whether sympathetic or not) to Macbeth in his soliloquies. He's wonderfully unsettling. 

However, despite lots of excellent actors I felt that the production as a whole was rather patchy and a little incoherent, and the projected clock, counting down, and the selected lines projected on the set distract from, rather than adding to, the play. 

We saw it very early in the run and there were a few stumbles on lines, too. I do have a ticket to see it again, later in the year, and I shall be interested to see how it feels when everyone is more settled into their roles. But despite the flaws, I did enjoy it, and am glad that I'll get to see it again.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Grumble. Coff. Grumble

I have spent most of the past week feeling sorry for myself, and missing fun stuff.

  • On Thursday, I felt sorry for myself and missed the live broadcast of 'Julius Ceasar'
  • On Friday, I felt sorry for myself and missed 'The Cherry Orchard' in Bristol.
  • On Saturday I longed for oblivion and missed meeting up with a friend and seeing the National Theatre's version of 'Macbeth'
  • On Sunday I felt sorry for myself and missed being about breath easily, and to walk downstairs without having to sit down for a rest half way.
  • On Monday, I felt sorry for myself, speculated on why they make the antibiotics they give you when you have a sore throat quite so large and hard to swallow, and missed work.
  • For the rest of the week, I felt sorry for myself, missed bits of the working day and went to bed at about 7!
In other words, I caught a cold which became a high fever and a rather nasty chest infection, and just a  soup├žon of pneumonia, none of which was any fun at all.

However, after several days in bed, some of the good drugs and larger-than-normal doses of the normal day-to-day drugs, I started to mend, and am now at the point of just having a nasty cold.

Loki approved of me being home and spending so much time lying around where he could sit on me, but disapproved of all the coughing, and would, from time to time, give me an indignant look when I coughed too violently, and stalk off to sleep somewhere less disruptive! 

And fortunately the nice people at Bristol Old Vic let me change my ticket to a different date so I eventually get to see the Cherry Orchard !

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Agnes Colander at the Ustinov

I was curious about this play, billed as a premiere, of a play by Harley Granville Barker, (author of The Voysey Inheritance ) written in 1900 but never previously performed.

Production photo: Otho and Agnes
It's been edited, as the text found was unclear in places, and is directed by Sir Trevor Nunn.

The play revolves around Agnes, (Naomi Frederick) who has left her husband due to his infidelity, and who is trying to make her way as an artist. She is admired by Otho (Matthew Flynn), a Danish artist, and Alexander (Freddy Carter), an impressionable and conventional young man, who knows her through her husband, and initially seeks to encourage her to return to him.

Agnes moves to France to live with Otho, with whom she has physical attraction, but she continues to struggle with the conflicting demands of work, love, sex and relationships, and her desire to grow and succeed as her own person, not merely as a wife or lover, and it become increasingly clear that  while she and Otho are physically compatible, he doesn't love her - and could be equally happy with any number of other women

It's interesting, and all the cast are convincing, but it does bear the marks of being an early work - and despite being unusually modern for the time it was written, it is dated in other ways. Good, interesting, but not great!

Agnes Colander is at the Ustinov Studio, Bath until 14th April

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Foodwork - Network at the National Theatre

I like going to the theatre, and I like eating out, so when I saw that the National Theatre was running a ballot for the chance to book tickets to their pop-up, on stage restaurant, where you would get to dine while attending a performance of 'Network', I entered, and was successful. (I don't know who many entries there were, but there was seating for 42 people on stage, so I was very pleasantly surprised when I got the e-mail to say I could book tickets! )

We had our own entrance, and were (after a short wait) then met by very cheerful serving staff (actors hired as servers for this production, from what Phillipe, our bartender, told us) met us, took our 'reservation' details and led us to the 'restaurant', which is stage left, with clusters of small tables, and then the bar (where we were sitting).

Not a view you get very often, when going to the theatre!
We were let in about 40 minutes before the play was due to start, so we were allowed  to wander out onto the stage (as long as we didn't stray of the shiny copper floor, onto the far side of  the stage, where there were props and fancy electronics, and actors preparing for their roles.
view of stage from the bar

view along the bar towards the kitchen ( featuring Phillipe)
Our seats were at the bar, with two rows of tables in front of us, so we had an excellent view of the stage, and of the big screens, and the auditorium (empty when we arrived, of course) 
Stage, pre-show - fellow diners exploring
When we arrived, we were offered wine or a cocktail, by lovely bar-tender Phillipe (sporting a superb 70's 'tache and mullet)  and, then, after having the chance to wander around on the stage,  the food was served  - we started with butternut squash, kale and shallots. (very tasty) 

As we dined, we could see the auditorium filling up with the rest of the audience, and the Big Clock counting down to the start of the play.
View from our seats!
The menu then took a 70s turn to fit with the play, and we were served with a portland crab cocktail (complete with iceberg lettuce and marie-rose sauce)

Not, I confess, my favourite part of the meal, but entirely appropriate for a play set in 1975!

Did I mention we could see members of the cast preparing on the opposite side of the stage? 
Phillipe, our bar-tender, and the view into the auditorium
As we finished our crab cocktails and waited for the main (Short Rib and Ox Cheek Bourguignon)   the countdown came to an end, the lights went down, and of course all our phones and cameras went off.

I knew that the play is based on the 1976 film, Network, but having not seen the film I didn't know what to expect. For those in the same position as me, the basic premise is that news anchor Howard Beale (Bryan Cranston) learns that he is being sacked, due to falling ratings. 

He responds by announcing, live on air, that he will kill himself on air at the end of his 2 weeks notice, resulting in the network taking him off air immediately. However, his manager Max Shumacher (Douglas Henshall) persuades the bosses to allow him one final appearance so he can retire with dignity. Which isn't quite how things pan out... Howard's broadcast is anything but a dignified exit, but it creates a huge ratings spike.

Which prompts Diana Christensen (Michelle Dockery) to successfully pitch the idea of giving him a show of his own, as the angry / insane man, raging against the world.

I thought it was very interesting, and that Bryan Cranston was excellent, particularly during the period Beale was suffering a breakdown. I also enjoyed Michelle Dockery's performance, although I did feel that her character was someone one-dimensional: Christensen is ambitious and intelligent, but is portrayed as very hard and unsympathetic, unlike the male characters who are all rather more rounded characters.

There's a lot of use of technology - 2 mobile cameras, their output shown on big screens behind the stage, as well a pre-recorded footage and original, 70's adverts and newsreel clips. There is a lot going on on stage, and it's very clever, but at the same time, it felt to me that this, like the whole concept of having the restaurant on stage, fell into the category of stuff which was fun, but unnecessary, as if the director is unwilling to trust that an audience can imagine that his characters are visiting a restaurant, even without importing 3 dozen members of the audience to dine on stage, or that the actors can convince us of the reality of their situation. I have more faith in both audiences and actors, I think it could have worked very well without those extras. But it was fun.

And I can, of course, now boast both that I have appeared live on stage at the National Theatre, and that I have a dining experience few can boast of!  I do think it would have been fun to see it again, without being part of the set, but as it sold out, and closes next Saturday, I won't have the chance.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

The North! The North!

On Wednesday night, I was in Bath at the Ustinov Studio, to see Chris Harrison's one man show, The North!, The North!.

I knew absolutely nothing about it, ahead of time (I won a complimentary ticket via the theatre's facebook page) 

It;'s a fascinating show - a mix of  narration, mime, animation (with hand-drawn art projected onto the set) and acting.

It describes itself as a 'modern myth'  - it can also be read as a modern fairy tale (with all the dark and deadly roots we know from the original versions of most older fairy tales) 

The starting point is the information that, In 1985, a fissure formed at England's centre and split the north from the south... we learn that this has led to all sorts of interesting Things awakening,and new individuals coming to power, and all the implications are simply dropped casually into the narrative for us to untangle.

It's a very imaginative, incredibly well executed production, and I'm very glad I got to see it. It was only in Bath for 2 nights, but keep your eyes own for other venues. Although you may feel the urge to leave the lights on for when you get home afterwards...

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Obligatory Snowmageddon Post

Living in the South West of England, as I do, I don't often have to deal with snow - since I moved house  years ago, we've had  couple of light dustings of snow, but nothing more. I think the last time we had any worth speaking of was in 2010, when we had a white christmas.

This week was rather different, however!

The news and weather forecasts were full of the 'Beast from the East' , and we were forecast to have light snow on Thursday, getting worse on Friday.

There was a little light snow on Thursday morning, which Loki found quite interesting! It was very cold (about -3, I think)

Then during the day we had flurries of snow, getting worse, and in light of this and the warnings from the police and Met office we closed our offices and sent all the staff home at 3, with one or two who live further away leaving sooner.

By the time I got home, after driving a couple of colleagues who had walked in, home, there was quite a lot of snow even on the main road, which of course had not yet been gritted. Fortunately my commute is short, and everyone was driving sensibly, although there were several vehicles with spinning wheels, and I saw a couple of minor skids.

It continued to snow all afternoon and evening, and was also bitterly cold (so the snow was much dryer and more powdery than we're used to) and very windy, which meant that the snow was drifting - I ended up with patches of my driveway that were almost clear.
Thursday afternoon

As it got dark the wind got up further - I was reminded of the quote from Susan Cooper's 'The Dark is Rising' "Tonight will be bad, and tomorrow will be beyond imagining" - I would have got quite worried if I'd seen any dark riders or large numbers of rooks!

And I got to watch Loki experiencing deep snow for the first time.

We'd made the choice to close the office on Friday, on the basis that the police and local council were both were advising against any but essential travel, so I spent Friday doing some work from home, and admiring the pretty white stuff outside the windows. 

The wind made it hard to judge exactly how much snow fell - I have a small drift (about 2' tall) outside the back door, and others by my front and side fences, all with beautiful curves and shapes. I think in places where the snow wasn't drifting it was about 6 inches deep.

I also walked down to the village shop, which had run out of bread and milk, and had no papers (the wine aisle looked pretty bare, too!) The main road wasn't clear, and I was very glad I didn't need to drive on it, or on my own road. I met lots of my neighbours, and lots of excited dogs and small children, but I think during the whole day, I only saw or heard about 3 vehicles go past the house, all of them either tractors or 4x4s.

And of course, working from home had the advantage that I could make a nice slow-cooked casserole, and bake some bread, in between other jobs!

Not far from here, people spent all night trapped in their cars on the A303. I decided not to try to drive into Bristol to go to the theatre, as planned! 

Today (Saturday) has been much milder - I think between 0 and 1 degrees Celsius - I went for a short, but picturesque walk after getting the papers.  (The main road was clear this morning, although ours, being less busy, and  was still mostly compacted snow and ice) 

And Loki continued to explore, periodically. He is a daft cat. 

This afternoon, it's become milder again -the last showers have been rain, not snow. Hopefully, if it doesn't freeze tonight, everything will be back to normal by Monday! 

I shall be curious to see how long it takes for the drifts to go.