Friday, 27 April 2018

A Trip North

So,this weekend I got to visit one of my  oldest and dearest friends, and her family. They live near to Manchester, and on Saturday, we decided to take a trip into Yorkshire and visit Haworth, famous for being the home of the Brontë family

It's a beautiful town, lots of very steep, cobbled streets, independent shops and views out over the moors and hills.

The Rev. Patrick Brontë was perpetual curate at Haworth, and the Parsonage is now a museum, dedicated to the family.

Haworth Parsonage
We visited it - it's very interesting. Several of the rooms have been furnished to show how they would have been when the Brontës were living there, including in some cases with some of the original furnishings, and with the walls painted or papered as they were (in at least one case, with wall paper having been printed specially after reconstructing it from a small sample!) 

Dining Room - the table is original, and the wallpaper reproduced
to match the paper Charlotte chose in 1850

The museum also has some personal artefacts (mostly belonging to Charlotte, who was the last survivor, and who became famous in her own life-time resulting in more of her possessions being kept). These included Charlotte's wedding bonnet, as well as her writing desk, Emily's sampler, and some letters. 

There was also a (reproduction) of Bramwell's room (I think this was based on props created for the BBC drama 'To walk Invisible', much of which was filmed here on location) - chaotic and intriguing!

It's also very poignant, particularly the reminders that the  Brontës had 6 children, and that Patrick Bronte outlived them all, seeing two daughters die within weeks of each other, aged 10 and 11, and then, later, Bramwell, Anne and Emily, with Charlotte left alone for another 6 years.

While J and I were visiting the museum, the other half of the party went to the Keighley & Worth Railway and took a ride on a steam train. (I suspect this was more fun for a 3 year old than a literary site would have been!) 

We got down to the station just in time to meet them after their trip, and to watch the train pull out of the station. 

After which we found a nice cafe  and then did a little (mostly window) shopping, before heading back.

It was a beautiful day, and lots of fun.

Sunday was greyer and quieter, and I got to hang out with my friends and their son, before driving home. It was a fun weekend.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Coraline, The Opera

As you will have seen from last week's post, I was deeply disappointed on Easter weekend when a combination of my illness, and GWR's idiosyncratic approach to providing a train service meant that I couldn't use the ticket I booked (last October) to see the Coraline Opera. At the time, I thought this meant I was going to miss it altogether, as it was only on for 9 performances and was completely sold out.

However, when I called to return my ticket, the nice chap at the Royal Opera House was able to find a returned ticket for me for the matinee this Saturday, so I got to go after all.

I don't know a lot about opera - as regular readers will know, I'm generally more about 'straight' theatre, but I am also very fond of 'Coraline', and curious about how it would translate onto stage and music.
photo shows curtain reading 'Coraline' and projected image of the auditorium and audience
Curtain, pre-performance
When I took my seat, I saw that the curtain not only had Coraline's name across it, but was also showing a projected image of the auditorium and the audience, acting as a huge mirror, but one too dark to be able to tell whether it was a true reflection, or whether what we saw might be, in fact, the Other audience, button eyes an all!

The opera has a small cast  of just 6, and the story is also pared down - the cat is gone, and Miss Spink and Miss Forcible's scotty dogs, and Coraline's battle with the beldame simplified, but the bare bones are still there.

Production photo:
Alexander Robin Baker as the Other Father, Kitty Whately as the Other Mother

At the performance I saw, Coraline was sung by Robyn Allegra Parton (the role was shared with Mary Bevan),who did an excellent job as a the brave (but also often sulky and occasionally stroppy) eleven year old, with Kitty Whately and Alexander Robin Baker were both excellent as her parents (and as her Other parents). I particularly enjoyed the poignancy of the Other Father's end, after he tried to help Coraline to escape.

At the interval, the curtain came down again, but this time, we, like Coraline herself, were on the wrong side, and the image was reversed...

Curtain, half time. We are the Other audience, now
This, and the original curtain, were indicative of the design of the show,which plays heavily on mirrors and reflections - the Other version of Coraline's house is the mirror image of the original, for instance, and the homes of Mr Bobo and of Miss Forcible and Miss Sink come from the opposite sides of the stage, dependent on whether we are in our word, or that of the Other Mother.

I personally felt that the Other Mother's world wasn't as creepy and terrifying as it could have been, but it seemed to do the job for the target audience; at the point where the there Mother produces her buttons and needle and thread, there were audible gasps, and more than one squeak of fear, and I heard a little voice from behind me saying (and sounding pretty scared) "Don't be scared Daddy. It's not really real" ........ "is it?" .  (It sounded as thought Daddy was able to reassure her that he wasn't too scared, and that she need not be, either, and she seemed to enjoy the rest of the performance)

Over all, I enjoyed it, and I'm very glad I got to see it. I thought it kept the underlying 'flavour' of the original book, although the it took a while to get going in the first act, with rather more exposition that was strictly necessary. But  I have to admit that I am still not big on opera - I suspect that I would have enjoyed it more had it been a straight play. However, I can see that it could spark n interest in opera for children, and even for a non-opera fan it was well worth seeing. There were no surtitles, abut that wasn't an issue, the singers were all admirably clear (much more so than in the last opera I saw!

The run at the Barbican has finished now, but I believe that there are plans in the pipeline for translated productions to be performed in Germany, France and Sweden, and I would imagine that it may well be revisited - it sold out completely, and from what I could see, was very warmly received by those of all ages who saw it. 

Sunday, 8 April 2018

The Man Engine

I vaguely remember seeing something on the news, last year, or the year before, about the 'Man Engine', an 11m tall puppet, created to celebrate the 10th anniversary of  the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site, and thinking it looked interesting.

Then last autumn I saw a local news item, saying that the Engine would be visiting this part of the world in April. 

Earlybird tickets were cheap, and it looked interesting, so I booked... and it was!

photo of 'Man Engine' Giant mechanical puppet

The puppet was very impressive, and interesting - as you can see,  it is made from elements of heavy plant machinery, which is appropriate, as it is named after the original man engine, which was a way of using stem engines and mining machinery to allow men to be carried up and down from mines, as an alternative to having to climb all the way on ladders.

It takes about 10 or 12 people to operate it, with ropes and levers, as well as someone in the cab of the JCB on which it is based. At the end of the performance it slowly folds down to its resting position.

The Man Engine resting!
According to the publicity material, it is the largest mechanical puppet ever made in the UK (they are quite specific abut that, so I'm guessing that perhaps the French 'Sultan's Elephant' was bigger)

Back when I booked my tickets, I wasn't sure whether I'd be free in the afternoon, as the tickets were only £5, so I also booked for the evening show, and I decided to go back. 

As well as the puppet itself, the show includes songs and readings  the main readings are from the diary of a Cornish tin miner William Crago, who started work at the age of 9, in 1869.

There were  also local references. Radstock was chosen as a site for the Engine to visit, due to its own mining history (coal was mined here until the 1970s), and reference was made to the Norton Hill Disaster of 1908, in which 10 miners were killed in a colliery explosion, with the names of some of them being read out, as part of the 

The evening show was the same as in the afternoon, but of course the pyrotechnics were more dramatic after dark! 

It was very dramatic, and I'm glad I went. 

The show is currently touring, to places across England and Wales with mining heritage. Full details are on their website -

Monday, 2 April 2018

Easter, and I'm still feeling grumpy

Easter weekend was supposed to be fun. I had booked (back in October) to see the Coraline Opera at the Barbican, and was very much looking forward to it, and had then also booked to see the RSC's  Hamlet (starring Paapa Essiedu), which I saw at the start of its run back in 2016, and very much wanted to see again, as it was one of the best Hamlets I have seen.

Unfortunately, I realised that while I am recovering from the lurgy which struck me down last week, I am not fully recovered, and there was no way that I could manage the long day involved in the travel to London and seeing 2 productions in a day. 

I reluctantly decided that I would have to give up on seeing Hamlet, have a quiet morning and see the opera. So much for plans, however. 

When I looked online to work out what train to get, I discovered that on top of running a reduced service due to the engineering works around Bristol (which I knew about and had taken into account) GWR had cancelled a whole slew of additional trains. Including, as it turned out, both the one I'd originally booked for the morning, and the one I was planning on returning on.  And that as they had cancelled the return train, the only option was one leaving almost an hour later, and including  change at Swindon, and a replacement bus service after that, all of which would have mean that the earliest I could have got home would have been around 2 a.m. Which just wasn't do-able, for me.

I spent quite a lot of time trying to work out whether there were any other options - had I been fully fit, I might have driven to Oxford and got a train from there, which would have made for a long day, but just about manageable, but Oxford is a 2 hour drive from here and I just couldn't do it.

So,I had to give up on the trip to London all together, and I was so disappointed I could have cried. (Possibly still being unwell contributed to that!) I am waiting to hear whether the theatre was able to resell my Coraline ticket (I hope so - it's completely sold out so presumably popular) but the Hamlet one wasn't returnable or refundable, so that cost was a dead loss.

I thought I would miss out on the opera altogether, given that it is only on for 10 days and is completely sold out, but happily I was able to snap up a returned ticket for next Saturday, so health and travel gods permitting, I should still get to see it (albeit not from so good a seat as the one I originally had)

Keep your fingers crossed for me! 

So I ended up spending most of the 4 day weekend at home, trying to relax and recruit my strength to get fully well. It's irritating, as if I'd known I'd be unable to do anything else, I could have gone to my parents for the weekend, where no doubt I could have been cosseted and had someone else cook things.  

I did, however, as arranged, meet up with my parents on Easter Monday (our homes are a little over 2 hours drive apart, so meeting mid-point is very manageable for us both) for a pub lunch and catch up, which was nice. And my mother brought me some mini Easter eggs, so I ended up with some chocolate, which is always good :) 

Although I did find that the 2 hour round trip, even with a 3 hour rest and meal in the middle was surprisingly tiring, which does support the idea that my choice not to try t do a 4 hour road trip drive, plus trains and theatre, 2 days earlier, was the correct one, however frustrating)

I'm hoping the week will get better. Given the long weekend, it is a 4 day week, which should help. 

Sunday, 1 April 2018

The Cherry Orchard : Bristol Old Vic

Originally, I was supposed to see The Cherry Orchard on 2nd March, in previews, but the Beast from the East put paid to that, as somehow setting out to drive along hilly country roads in a blizzard when the police were warning against any non-essential travel didn't seem like a sensible idea. 

So I rebooked my ticket to go on 23rd instead, and a little mild pneumonia put paid to that, but the nice people at the Old Vic let me switch my ticket and I finally made it on Thursday evening.

Photo of banner on outside of theatre, showing Kirsty Bushell as Ranyevskaya, and Jude Owusu as Lopakhin, and a bowl of cherries

I have not seen the play before, and had no preconceptions about it.  

The theatre has been rearranged for this production, with the stage moved forwards into the auditorium, and some additional seating added behind the stage to make it - not quite in the round, but nearly. The down side of this is that the sight-lines for audience members on the sides of the circle (never great) are much worse, with up to half the stage being obscured. This is something of a disadvantage (I was seated on one side, although able to move into a more central seat for the second half)

photo of the (empty) stage from the circle, showing 'fiary lights' around the stage, and the temporary seating behind the stage

It's an interesting production, the opening scenes have the cast in 1905 costume (the period the play is set), with clothing become more modern as the play progresses, tying in with its themes of change and progress.

Lyuba, (Kirsty Bushell) is appealing and attractive, generous and warm, but also deeply irritating in her willful deafness to all helpful suggestions as to how to save her home and family, and blindness to Lopakhin (Jude Owusu)'s love of her, and to the damage to her family and dependants that her lack of action causes. 

There is plenty of comedy, particularly from Lyuba's brother Leonid (Simon Coates) and neighbour, Boris (Julius D'Silva), both hard-up aristocrats who, like Lyuba, are ineffectual and apparently incapable of doing anything to improve their own, or their friend's position, or even recognising that there are things they could do.

My sympathies were firmly with Lopakhin and the other former serfs or children of serfs (all played by actors of colour, which was perhaps particularly effective here, in Bristol, with it's history of profiting from slavery).

I enjoyed the performances, and the play itself but was less enamoured of the design and sets.

The play continues at Bristol Old Vic until 7th April and is then at Manchester Royal Exchange from 19th April (where presumably the staging will work better, as the Royal Exchange has a round stage)