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 Watching David Tennant on stage is always a pleasure, and I really enjoyed '3 Days in the Country' which was written by Patrick Marber, so naturally, when I saw that Tennant  was going to be performing in Marber's play, 'Don Juan in SoHo'  I booked tickets!


The play is a re-working of Molière's 1665 play, set in contemporary SoHo, with David Tenant as Don Juan, Adrian Scarborough as his long-suffering servant, Stan.


I'm not familiar with the original play, so am unsure how much of the plot has been retained, but whatever liberties may have been taken, they seem to work! 


We meet the Don in a luxury hotel, where he is discovered by his brother in law, initially concerned for his safety, as he has not been seen for two days, although of course we quickly learn that it is simply that the amoral Don has abandoned his wife, to spend his nights with a supermodel in the penthouse suite... 

David Tennant as Don Juan. Production photo by Helen Maybanks


When we first meet him, he slumps into an armchair, apparently too exhausted even to reach the glass Stan has provided for him, and then proceeds to smoke a series of cigarettes, flirting outrageously with the hotel staff members who come to insist he puts it out..

Don Juan is sexy, charming, unscrupulous and almost entirely immoral. He shamelessly lies to his father (Gawn Gainger) to avoid being disinherited, but is cruelly, and ruthlessly, honest in admitting to his wronged wife that he married her as the only way of sleeping with her, and that he was cheating in her even on their wedding day.

As Stan says 'Please don't be charmed, he's not a lovable rogue' and he is absolutely right. He's not a lovable rogue. But he is very entertaining! 

Stan and Don Juan: Production photo by Helen Maybanks

And there are lots of little touches - the script includes contemporary references ("I'm not a rapist, I don't grab pussy") there are telling little vignettes - the woman in the hospital, filming Don Juan as he attempts to seduce a grieving bride while simultaneously enjoying fellatio from another woman, springs to mind - Don Juan is not the only member of this ensemble with dubious morals! 


The play is at Wyndham's Theatre until 10th June, and it definitely worth seeing, if you can!

Nell Gwynn

May. 20th, 2017 10:51 am
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 I missed Nell Gwynn when it was originally on at the Globe Theatre, but heard many good things about it, so when I saw that it was coming to Bath I immediately booked a ticket. 

And then a little bit later I realised it was for the same night I would be getting back from Venice, but as that was the last night it was in Bath, there was no way of changing the ticket, so I decided to hope that the train would be on time and the traffic light, and that I'd get back in time.

It was, and I did. All the travel gods smiled on me, I was out of Gatwick within half an hour of the plane landing, and got to Bath with time to grab a snack before going into the theatre!


The play, written by Jessica Swale and starring Laura Pitt-Pulford as Nell and Ben Righton as Charles II, begins in 1660 as a young Nell Gwynn, selling oranges at Drury Lane theatre, draws the attention of actor Charles Hart (Sam Marks), and starts on her path towards being one of the first professional actresses in Britain, and, a little later, mistress of Charles II.

It was lot of fun. I particularly enjoyed the performance of Esh Alladi, as Edward Kynaston,an actor famed for his portrayal of female roles, outraged by the idea of women on stage!


Nell gets most of the best lines - there is a lovely sequence where she gives her unvarnished opinion of women characters as written by male playwrights, with particular reference to  Shakespeare's 'Juliet. (Spoiler Alert: She is not convinced by Juliet and her suicide) 

There was live music.  There was singing and dancing. There were ridiculous hats. there were political jokes.

It was all great fun.

Sadly the run is now over, so you can't see it, but if they revive it, go see it.

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 As may have become clear, I do enjoy a good art gallery, and as well as the modern art galleries Venice also has the Galleria Accademia, where they keep all the renaissance art (and later - it covers the 14th to 18th Centuries) .

One of the first rooms you go into is in what used to be the refectory of the Scuola Grande della Carità, which is a 14th C building, and has an amazing wooden ceiling covered in cherubim. Apparently, no two faces are the same.. 

Angel Ceiling, Galleria Dell'Accademia


The gallery's collection is arranged broadly chronological, so you start with 14th and 15th Century religious art - lots of lovely Renaissance Angels and the occasional dragon.

Quite a lot of the rooms were closed when I visited, so I didn't get to see a lot of the later stuff, but I did very much enjoy the room with a series of paintings of 'The Miracles of the True Cross', by Carpaccio, Gentile Bellini,  and Mansueti.

'Miracolo della Croce caduta nel canale di San Lorenzo'- Gentile Bellini, 1500

They show meticulous pictures of Venice in the late 1400's. (Theoretically involving miracles attributable to a relic of the true cross, but really more about the people and the scenery!)



Detail from Carpaccio's 'Miracle of the Cross at the Ponte di Rialto' (1496)

There are gondolas and gondoliers and  posh Venetians, and pictures of the Rialto and on St Mark's


 'Processione in piazza San Marco' Gentile Bellin, 1496

 It's fascinating to see so many little details of Venice in 1500! 

After leaving the gallery, I found another relic of Renaissance Venice, the Scala Contarini del Bovolo, a beautiful, delicate, external spiral staircase.




It was built in around 1400, and is just lovely. 


You can climb the tower, and there are views out across Venice from the top.


The un-named (but sneaky) architect of the tower made the arches smaller on each level as the tower goes up, to make it look taller than it really is!

This was my last full day, so I then spent some time just wandering around and enjoying the sights.


..and the traghetto, and the canals.



I admired the beautifully decorated gondolas 'parked' outside the guesthouse I was staying at, and generally drank in the atmosphere.



It  was all rather nice.


The following morning I had a little time to wander around again before catching the boat back to the airport to fly home.



It was a lovely sunny morning, which made it harder to leave, but at least the trip across the lagoon was pleasant!


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 A couple of weeks before I went to Venice, I saw a review for Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable' , the new exhibition of works by Damien Hirst.



It seemed intriguing, so having time, I went to see it.

The exhibition claims to be the items discovered that a wreck was discovered, in 2008, of a 2nd Century ship, full of treasures collected by a wealthy former slave. It is, of course, entirely untrue. But they have put a lot of effort into making it sound convincing.

I started in the Palazzo Grassi (the exhibition is in two locations, Palazzo Grassi and Dorgana) 

The Palazzo Grassi is a large, canalside mansion, with 3 stories surrounding a central atrium. 


Right now, the atrium is rather full of a 60' tall bronze demon (or, if you ignore the talons, a 60' tall naked headless man)

I'm not sure that it would be a decorating choice I'd make, if I ever happen to have a palace on the Grand Canal, but it's quite dramatic. And a little odd. 

As are most of the other exhibits.


I found a bust of Mazikeen. (or, 'The Skull beneath the Skin', as Mr Hirst calls her)



Then there was Andromeda and the monster, which gave more than a nod to Hirst's famous pickled sharks..

I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition of Andromeda and the Sharks and Things with Tentacles with the lovely gilded and decorated ceiling.

There are some pieces which a cynical person might think are the tiniest bit inconsistent with an 1,800 year old shipwreck...

As you continue round the exhibition, it becomes clear that Hirst is riffing upon, a whole range of targets - the solemnity of museums and their careful speculation about artifacts, his own, and other artists' works, (I didn't realise it at the time, but even the giant naked demon is a take on William Blake's miniature painting, 'The Ghost of a Flea')


There are also takes on modern scientific research (dressed up as a claim that the mouse and the ear were parts of a giant statue of Zeus)


Some of the pieces are beautiful in their own right, such as this 'Sun Disk'


Others look more like props from a Indiana Jones film.

And some are just entertaining, like the Unicorn skulls...



I enjoyed the exhibition. I am not sure whether it is good art or not, but it is good fun, although I felt it perhaps takes itself a little too seriously. In commenting on how seriously art and museums take themselves, it seems to have fallen into the same trap. I got the impression that Hirst was having fun creating the exhibition, and I cannot help but think that the exhibition would have benefited from loosening up a little. I think adding a cocktail bar and some music would improve things.

(I think also that the exhibition is a little too big and repetitious - there are only so may fake artifacts you can see before they start looking the same..)

But over all, it is fun, and I'm glad I went.

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 I was a little disappointed by the mosaics in St Marks, not because they are not impressive, because they are, but because it's hard to get to to see them, given how crowded the place is, so,largely for that reason, I decided to take a trip to the island of Torcello, which is, these days, very sparsely populated, but which has a cathedral which is famous for having the oldest mosaics in Venice, created in the 11th and 12th century.


My trip to the ferry stop took me via the fruit and fish markets at the Rialto, after which there was a somewhat grey ferry ride to Torcello. 


I got an early boat,and there were very few people around as I walked up from the landing stage to the cathedral. There is just one canal, which leads from the ferry quay to the village so you can't get lost, and while the landscape is not very inspiring, it it was good to be away from the city for a little while, and enjoy some peace and greenery.

 had not realised, but there are actually 2 churches, side by side. There is the 11thC church of St Fosca, which is starkly plain and understated inside. I liked it, but there are no mosaics!

St Fosca

Then there is the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, which was founded in the 7thC, although the current building was mostly built in the 11thC, with additions and repairs in the 14th 

It does have mosaics. And they are very impressive.  I was fortunate that when I arrived, there was no one else in the church, so I got to enjoy them in peace for a a short time, before others joined me!

There are images of Mary and of Christ in two of the Domes at the Eastern end of the church, but the really dramatic one is on the West wall, where there is a huge image of Judgement Day.

Cattedrale di Torcello (Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta)

I particularly enjoyed the section half way down the left hand side, showing the dead being resurrected from their graves and winding sheets,  and (for reasons which were not adequately explained) from various beasts. I liked the lions.

On the opposite side, are the damned, being cast into Hell, together with little vignettes illustrating the seven deadly sins, although I am embarrassed to admit that I am not certain which sin is which (Although I'd guess that the 3 people on the left, having a snack while standing in a fire, probably represent Gluttony...)

As well as the church, Torcello also has a tiny historical and archaeological museum, which I visited briefly.

At around this point,  a couple of school trips arrived, so I decided to leave.

Back in Venice, and after a rather tasty lunch, I found the Scuola Dalmata - also known as San Giorgio degli Schiavoni. It is one of Venice's mediaval confraternity houses (or Scuolas), and I wanted to go because, in 1502 the members arranged for the painter Carpaccio to paint a series of panels of the fraternity's patron saints, including a rather nice one of St George and the Dragon.

I should mention, perhaps, that I don't know much about medieval art, and next to nothing about Carpaccio, but I saw a picture of this panel and liked it, so I wanted to see the original.

Another panel shows George triumphantly leading the (now much smaller!) dragon into a town square.

Another of the Scuola's parton saints was St Jerome, who apparently struck up a friendship with a lion after removing a thorn from the lion's paw. 

The painting shows Jerome with the lion, together with some rather alarmed friars. I'm with the friars on this one. I am not sure that I would wish to rely , for my safety, on the gratitude of a lion...

But I did like the pictures. They have a certain charm to them which appeals to me. 

I spent the remainder of the afternoon looking at a different kind of art altogether, one which I think needs its own post.

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 The day I flew to Venice, I checked on the weather forecast for Venice, and it told me that it was due to rain pretty much constantly while I was there. It didn't, but on Wednesday it decided to fulfil the prophecy.

It turns out that rain does discourage people a little, so St Mark's Square was a lot less crowded than usual.

I'd planned to visit St Mark's, and booked a 'skip the line' ticket so I didn't have to queue in the rain, although it simply means that you join the queue inside the basilica instead of outside! 

The sheer volume of people does mean that it's  bit of a conveyor belt; you shuffle along on little fenced paths through the basilica, and can't really stop and take in the atmosphere, and not all of the mosaics are lit, all of the time, but despite this it is still pretty impressive. After walking round the church itself, you get to go upstairs, where you can visit the museum. The original horses of St Mark's are there, now. 

Cavalli di San Marco


The horses have had a long and varied history. They were created (probably) in the 2nd or 3rd C AD, (originally pulling a chariot) and were displayed at the hippodrome in Constantinople for many years, before being looted by the Venetians in 1204 (when they also got their collars, as the heads of the sculptures were removed for transport, and the collars added to cover up the join, when they were reassembled)

They then took up their posts on the facade of St Marks, in 1254. They stayed there until 1797, when Napoleon had them removed, and they spent some time in Paris, before being returned after Napoleon's defeat, and reinstated on the Basilica in 1815. They were moved inside to prevent damage from pollution, in the 1980s, and the ones outside are now copies.



I hadn't appreciated how old they were, until I read about them in the museum! 

The museum also give you the chance to see some of the mosaics up close, and to look down into the church.

And of course there is also the chance to go out onto the loggia and look down into St Mark's Square, and out to the lagoon.

(That line of umbrellas are over all the people queuing to get into the basilica, an excellent reason to use the skip-the-line service!)

On the way out, are the best views of some of the mosaics, and they seem more relaxed about you taking photos of them, in the porch. They are very impressive!

I spent the afternoon mostly admiring modern art, as I visited both the Ca' Pesaro museum of modern art, and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

My favourite piece in the Ca' Pesaro museum was their Klimt, Salome, although I also enjoyed the Kandinskys and the Rodins.   Not to mention the views out over the Grand Canal.

The same building also houses the Oriental Art museum, which has some rather lovely netsuke, and Japanese screen, and also an amazing Chinese Ivory chess set, which reminded me of the one which Lord Peter Whimsey buys as a gift for Harriet Vane in Gaudy Night..


Then there's the Peggy Guggenheim Collection , with more Kandinskys, plus Man Ray, Jackson Pollock, Picasso and Dali, not to mention a sculpture garden with pieces from Moore, Hepworth, Anish Kapoor and others. Even in the rain it is well worth exploring! 

Despite being distinctly soggy by this point, I did stop off with some other rubber-neckers, on the Ponte d'Accademia to watch another piece of artwork being delivered or installed. I hadn't really thought much about how the lack of roads or trucks would affect that kind of thing - there must be a whole extra set of challenges when even your cranes need to be on barges...

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 One of the things many visitors to Venice do is to go up the Campanile of St Mark's, to see the views over the city. However, you have to queue, and the queues are long. I don't like to queue.

So, instead, I decided to get the ferry across to San Giorgio Maggiore, which *also* has a Campanile with great views, and which seems to be a little of the beaten track, so far as crowds are concerned. Plus, bonus boat ride!


There are nice views back across to St Mark's, from the boat.



When I got to San Giorgio, it was still closed (there does seem to be a certain unreliability about information places provided regarding opening hours, but there are worse things than pottering around a marina and looking at Venice in the sunshine!)



But being early did mean that when I went up the tower (there is the luxury of a lift) there were only 2 other people up there. And some bells. The views are pretty great.

It turns out also that 25th April is the feast day of St Mark, and St Mark is pretty popular in Venice.From the campanile I could hear the brass bands in St Mark's Square.

After leaving San Giorgio I decided, on a whim, to go to Murano, another of the islands, famous for its glass-making.



The Beast from the Lagoon

There is a glass museum, which has some interesting exhibits. I liked the sculpture garden, where I found the creature from the lagoon, and some glass cuttlefish (or maybe squid).



Glass Squid (or Cuttlefish) : Murano

The museum also has displays showing the history and development of glassmaking in Venice . I ave to admit that Murano glass doesn't actually do a whole lot for me, but the museum was interesting, and some of the exhibits are pretty impressive. I mean, I'm not entirely sure why anyone would want a glass trumpet or a glass celestial globe, but it's quite impressive that people are making them...

Mosaic peacocks, Chiesa dei Santi Maria e Donato, Murano

After the museum I visited the church of Saints Maria and Donato, which is one of the oldest churches in Venice. St Donato apparently killed a dragon, and brought the bones with him to this church, where they are displayed behind the alter. It would be churlish to suggest that they look a lot like whale bones..


The church also house some rather nice 12th Century mosaics on the floor, including  a very nice pair of peacocks.


Back in Venice itself, I spent some more time exploring the quieter streets, and came upon the Ponte del Chiodo, the bridge without parapets. Apparently, originally, none of the bridges in Venice had parapets, but this is the only one left in the city itself (there's another on Torcello) 


I ended up back at St. Mark's again. There was still a lot of celebrating going on. I'm not a big fan of crowds or crowded places, but it was all very good tempered and non-threatening. 



There were also nuns selling red roses - apparently it s a tradition, that Venetian men give roses to their wives or girlfriends, a rose on St Mark's day, so the nuns sell them on behalf of the Red Cross.

Museo Correr


 spent the evening visiting the Museo Correr, which is at the far end of St Mark's Square from the Basilica. It is, as you can see, another subtle and understated building!





It was originally built in the 1620s and then updated and extended under Napoleon, who wanted a suitable palace for his brother-in-law. 


The museum has a collection of Canova sculptures, and also some beautiful 17thC globes, with little painting of ships to decorate all the oceans.  The building also houses the city's archaeological museum, so there are some Roman sculptures and Egyptian sarcophagi, as well as the more modern stuff, and a whole suite of rules decorated in the 18th Century with images inspired by Pompeii.

I finished the evening with a stroll down to the Rialto to enjoy the views over the Grand Canal in the dark.

It was a good day.

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 I've always wanted to visit Venice, and decided that this would be the year I did so, so I have just returned after 6 days there. 

I loved it.  

I was staying in a convent guesthouse which was basic but very central, less than 5 minutes walk from St Mark's Square and less than 10 from the Rialto Bridge. I took the boat from the airport to Venice, rather than the bus, which meant approaching across the lagoon and along the Grand Canal, which is definitely an interesting way to arrive!  And I saw my first gondola within minutes! 

The first evening I had time to go out and explore a little, visiting St Mark's Square, as it gradually emptied, and walking along the quay, admiring the moored gondolas and the views across the Lagoon.

The following morning I made an early start and explored further on foot, to see the Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs), with an early morning gondola, then walked as far as the Arsenal (where they used to to build, and moor, warships, in the 12th to 16th Centuries.




 I didn't go in, I think some of the buildings are still military, and it was too early for the Navel Museum to be open.






 After walking back to St Mark's Square I decided to visit the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace).

It's pretty impressive: Most of the current building was built in the 15th and 16th Centuries, (Apparently there has been a building there since the 9th Century, but the Palace had a habit of major fires so they have had to rebuild it quite a lot)

Giant's Staircase

In some respects it reminded me a little of Versailles, in that it is never knowingly underblinged. Still, I suppose if you have Tintoretto and Veronese and Palladio hanging around with nothing better to do you might as well get them to do a bit of home decor!

Sala del Senato 

 While I was visiting they were having a Hieronymus Bosch exhibition at the Doge's Palace, and I decided to go. I'm glad I did, because the exhibition includes some of the major rooms in the Palace which it would have been a shame to miss. 

There were only 3 actual Bosch's, the rest of the exhibition related to those who influenced or were influenced by him. 

Detail from 'The Hermit Saints', Bosch

But the details on the pictures they do have were very .... interesting.  The guy had a very odd imagination!



The visit to the Doge's Palace also includes the chance to cross the Bridge of Sighs (which is, as you might expect, much less attractive on the inside)

After visiting the palace, I spent the afternoon exploring, including crossing the Grand Canal by traghetto (the poor man's gondola - for just €2 you can be ferried across the Grand Canal by a pair of gondoliers, although admittedly there are no gilded or carved decorations on the boats, and the gondoliers don't wear their trademark straw hats!


 Having wandered far enough to reach the railway station and the Scalzi bridge, visiting several churches along the way, including Chiesa degli Scalzi, where there was an Easter display of Murano Glass, including these rather appealing wine goblets! 

After which I took  the advice of my guidebook and taking the vaperetto (water bus) line 1, which goes all the way down the Grand Canal to San Marco, giving you the chance to admire all the canal-side palaces. Which is nice.

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 My friend A has been singing the praises of  Hélène Darroze at the Connaught, and as we had tickets to see Jude Law and Halina Reijn in 'Obsessionat the Barbican for last Saturday night, decided to make a day of it, and have lunch at Hélène Darroze, followed by cocktails at The Alchemist  and then the play.

The food was sublime, and the service pretty awesome, too. Which, given that the restaurant has 2 Michelin stars is perhaps not surprising!

The menu comes accompanied by a solitaire board which you use to pick which dishes you want (you can chose 5, or 7, or the full experience. We went for the 7 courses, which meant a heartbreaking choice to discard 8 possible dishes...

While we struggled to decide, we were brought some amuse bouche,presumably to ensure we didn't starve while being indecisive.. There were fresh, raw peas, with pea shoots and creme fraiche on a savoury tuile, little teeny bites of gazpacho, and a little shot of mushroom consomme with a Parmesan foam.  Oh, and bread and 2 kinds of butter.

Gazpacho bites

Having made our selections, we sat back and let the food arrive. We ended up picking almost exactly the same things:

Salmon:-  this came two ways, another little straw with smoked salmon in, and a perfect disk of raw salmon, with tiny balls of apple and radish, ranging from white, to green, to pink, and a delicious apple and lime consomme.

Then there was foie gras, which came on a bed of ginger jelly, with slivers of rhubarb, after which there was possibly my favourite dish, the wild garlic and ricotta lasagna, with smoked eel, with a touch of lemon in there somewhere. And so pretty!

Wild Garlic and ricotta lasagna with smoked eel

After this we has the different dishes, mine was Scallop, which came with (mild but delicious) tandoori spices, and both purple and orange carrots. A had John Dory with white asparagus and samphire, which also looked delicious.

Then came duck - a little bit of duck breast crusted with herbs, and a chunk of duck-y sausage, with two sorts of potato. 

We then moved on to the dessert stage of the meal...

The first was rhubarb - there was some poached rhubarb underneath, with tiny pinkish meringues, and and the foam which involved rhubarb and ginger, with cashews on the top.

Second dessert was chocolate in a variety of forms, and with yuzu sorbet. It was delicious! 



That brought the meal as described on the menu to an end, but there were petit fours after that, and then, when we had paid, we were each brought a little box with a miniature savarin cake in, to take home! 

It was about 4.30 by this point  (because 3 hours is a totally reasonable  length of time for a meal), so by the time we had wandered through the park (spotting a heron en route, and also lots of TV vans prepping for the London Marathon the following day), and got the tube across to Aldgate, it was a civilized time for cocktails.

I've never been to The Alchemist before, but it was a lot of fun.  They go for 'molecular mixology', and it's all very theatrical, with bunsen burners, dry ice, and all sorts. And certainly the cocktails I had were very tasty! 


Lady Marmalade

Full food and drink album on Flickr.

We then walked down to the Barbican, to see 'Obsession'.  The play is created by Toneelgroep Amsterdam, based on the 1942 Luchino Visconti film, Ossessione (which in turn is based on the novel 'The Postman Always Rings Twice' . It features Jude Law as Gino and Halina Reijn as Hanna, the woman with whom he becomes obsessed, and is directed by Ivo van Hove.

I haven't seen the film, but I was not impressed with this stage play. It's fairly short (1 hour 45 minutes) but feels much longer, and not in a good way. The plot is fairly minimal - handsome drifter Gina meets Hanna, a bartender unhappily married to an older man. Hanna and Gino immediately start an impassioned affair, plan to run away together but split up when Hanna gets cold feet and returns to her husband. Her husband winds up dead an things end badly for everyone. 

The play seems a bit lost on the Barbican stage - it might work better in a much smaller space, and perhaps with a few more clues about the timescale, or indeed the location, of the action. (according to the programme notes, the original had lots of anti-fascist subtext, getting it banned by Mussolini, but none of that really comes through here.

The play also features Chukwudi Iwuji in a dual role as Hanna's Priest and a police Inspector, but the minimal costume changes (dog collar or not) mean it isn't always immediately obvious when he is playing which character.

There's also a lot of cliché; at one point, Law stands, in despair, against a backdrop of projected waves. At this point I thought it was supposed to be a clifftop, and that he was going to hurl himself off (which, frankly, would have come as a relief to everyone at that point). He even had to run on a treadmill to symbolise his attempts to escape his obsession... 

It's a shame, as the actors are all good, it's just that the play really isn't. I have to admit I left with the assumption that the reason there is no interval is because they were afraid no-one would come back afterwards, if there was any chance of escape, but I have to admit that a lot of the other audience members seemed rather more enthusiastic, so either they were all fans of 1940's Italian cinema or they just liked watching Jude Law take his shirt off a lot.

In the event that this hasn't put you off, the play is on at the Barbican until 20th May and is being broadcast by NTLive on 11th May.

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 You may have noticed the lack of blogging for the last week. This is because I  was on holiday in Venice, with trips to the theatre at either end of the week.

I shall be blogging about all of those things over the next week or so as I have time - there was so much to see and enjoy! 

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 Those of you who know me on twitter may have seen that I had an unusual visitor to the garden on Monday.

I'm used to seeing a range of small birds - there are lots of sparrows, a couple of robins, a pair of blackbirds, and regular visits by jackdaws and crows.


However, Monday's visitor was a little more impressive! I didn't see it strike, just looked out through the kitchen window and saw it on the lawn.

It's a Sparrowhawk, and, true to its name, appeared to have caught a sparrow. At first we thought it might have got a young jackdaw, as there was a jackdaw on the shed paying a lot of attention, but on inspecting the left-over feathers afterwards I made a tentative sparrow-identification, so perhaps the jackdaw was just hoping for left-overs. (In which case, it will have been disappointed!) 


I shall be keeping a look out to see whether it visits again!

I have been doing a little more in the garden over the last few days, planting out some of my seedling tomato plants, and the Hydrangea and Fuchsia cuttings I took from my parents' garden last autumn, which I've been bringing on in pots. I'm hoping that they will in due course, become a smallish shrubbery inside my front fence, although that will take a few years! 

And my little baby apple tree is coming along nicely, it has quite a few leaves, and its blossom is starting to come out, on all three branches.

The Mikado

Apr. 21st, 2017 03:25 pm
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 As well as our trip to Muchelney, my parents and I also took a trip to the theatre, to see a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's 'The Mikado'.

I like Gilbert and Sullivan, and while I had some reservations about this production (it is an all-male version, and I was doubtful about whether that would really work)

Alan Richardson, Richard Russell Edwards,

James Jukes, Ben Vivian-Jones, Richard Munday

It was a lot of fun. The production is done as a dream sequence. One of the campers is seen being teased by others, then falling asleep, after which the opera itself begins...

This allows for the everything to be done with no additional scene changes and very limited costuming.

The singing was excellent; very impressive to have all the female roles sung in the correct key etc, despite being sung by men. Katisha ( Alex Weatherill) has a particularly fine voice, as did Yum Yum (Alan Richardson).

Ko Ko's 'As someday it may happen'  song (I've got a little list')  had been updated but other than that there was very little in the libretto which was changed.

It's very entertaining, although even having seen it, I'm still not convinced that a mixed production would not have been at least as good, or better, but still fun!

THe production is on tour until July. Details here.

marjorie73: (Default)
 My parents were visiting for a couple of days after Easter, so when it came a nice day, we decided to go out, and to visit Muchelney Abbey and Church.

Mulcheney was one of the villages which suffered particularly badly in the flooding in 2012 and 2014, so I became used to seeing it on the news, but I have not ever had reason to visit. However, having recently joined English Heritage, we looked around to see what sites there were locally we might be able to visit, and decided on Muchelney.

Muchelney Abbey and Abbot's House

Muchelney Abbey was originally an Anglo-Saxon Abbey, (There is, apparently, a record of a grant of land by Cynewulf, in 762,  then later (in the 10th C) it was re-founded as  a Benedictine Abbey, before being dissolved under Henry VIII in 1538. It was never as powerful or well known as Glastonbury, but was pretty wealthy, and was responsible for draining much of the surrounding moors for farmland.

The majority of the buildings, including the Abbey church, were demolished after the abbey was dissolved, and a lot of the stone reused for building elsewhere. However, the Abbot's House (built in the late 15th / early 16th Century) survived, as did a small portion of the cloisters and parts of the kitchens, and a separate 'reredorter' (the monk's lavatories) also survives.

The Abbot's 'Great Chamber' 

 I enjoyed seeing the Abbot's House. There is a set of 3 or 4 rooms; the 'Great Chamber', where important guests would have been entertained, and which has a wonderful carved mantelpiece, with two slightly improbable looking lions above it. 

The wooden settles are 19th C. but incorporate some medieval panelling.

Lion (from the carving above the fireplace in the Abbot's Great Chamber

There are also some smaller rooms, including one which still has traces of the original wall paintings, and a very nice barrel vaulted ceiling.

Painted room

After visiting the internal rooms we also wandered around the ruins a little, then visited the Parish Church, next door to the Abbey.

From the outside, the church seems fairly ordinary, however, inside, it is a different story! 

When the Abbey was dissolved, some of the medieval tiles from the Abbey church were removed and re-used in the parish church, where they remain. And were decked with coloured light from the sunlight shining though the stained glass windows, when we visited.

Even more spectacular is the ceiling of the nave, in the church.




It is painted with wonderful, Jacobean angels and cherubim.



The ceiling was apparently painted in the early 17thC and is very unusual, both simply by having survived the Puritans, and based on the style - some of the angels are very feminine, which is unusual, and several are bare-breasted, it is believed that this is intended to symbolise  innocence and purity.

It is stunning, and such an unusual thing to find in an English church (and because this is the Parish Church, and not part of the Abbey, it isn't mentioned in the English Heritage information about the Abbey)

We were not able to visit the Priest's House, originally built for the priest of the Parish Church in 1308 and almost unchanged since the early 17th C; it is now owned b ythe National Trust but is only open 2 days a week, and this wasn't one of them. It looks very pretty from the outside, though! 


It was a grand day out!
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Friday was a bank holiday, and on impulse, I called the theatre to see whether they had any availability for The Mentor, a play by German novelist and playwright, Daniel Kehlmann. This is, I think, the first English production. It's directed by Laurence Boswell, who also directed Intimate Apparel and Trouble in Mind

The production stars Oscar winner  F. Murray Abraham, as Benjamin Rubin, an ageing playwright persuaded, by a cultural institute,  to spend a week as mentor to a young, up and coming writer, Martin Wegner (Daniel Weyman).

Daniel Weyman, Jonathan Cullen, Naomi Frederick and F Murray Abraham.

Photograph: Simon Annand

They are joined by Martin's wife, Gina (Naomi Frederick) and Erwin Rudicek (Jonathan Cullen), the Institutes's representative, an unsuccessful painter.

We first meet Rubin as he arrives at the villa, simultaneously complaining to Rudicek about the driver sent to meet him and the furnishings in his room, and snubbing him. 



I don't want to spoil the plot, but it it very funny, and mercilessly skews the egos of both writers, in different ways, in between discussing questions around the subjectivity of art appreciation, and success.

I suspect that Murray Abraham, in particular, was having  lot of fun with his role.

It's not a lengthy play - just under an hour and a half, and perhaps some of the themes, such as Gina's back story, but it is well worth seeing, and great to see such a strong cast, and the intimacy of the Ustinov studio works very well for this play.

The Mentor is at the Ustinov until 6th May. If you are in or near Bath, and get the chance, go!


Apr. 10th, 2017 06:04 pm
marjorie73: (Default)
 This weekend, the weather has been lovely, warm sunshine, blue skies - what more could one ask?

I have primroses blooming in the garden, the tulips appear to be on the brink of bursting into flower, and further afield, trees are covered in blossom (and my baby apple tree is going to have blossom any minute now!) 


I cut the grass for the first time this year, on Sunday, and have planted out some of my tomato and pea seedlings, so shall have to hope that the nice weather continues and they all survive!

Oh, and I bought a new washing line and now need to make a deeper whole to put it in, because it turns out the new lie is bigger than the old one, and needs a deeper hole to put the stalk in..!

marjorie73: (Default)
 Having spent the past two weekends with trips to London, first to see Hamlet, and then for work and to see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, I was ready for a more relaxed and low-key weekend, so was glad not to be going anywhere this weekend.

Two weekends ago I did a little gardening, planting an apple tree* which I ordered a few weeks back, and which had just arrived. Loki took a keen interest in the process, and in particular in the hole I dug in the back lawn.

(*I say tree. It came as a bare-root plant, and it isn't very big, so it's basically a stick. A very expensive stick.)

I was a little concerned about whether it would be OK, particularly as the weather turned very wet as soon as I got it into the ground, and I worried it would get waterlogged and rot before it could get established.

However, having checked on it yesterday, it appears (crossed fingers) that it is settling in, as it has produced some little baby leaves. It wouldn't do that if it were planning to die on me, would it? It is a family apple tree, with 3 grafts, so if it survives and produces fruit, it will produce 3 types of apple (and be able to self-pollinate). 

I think it'll be another 2 - 3 years before it starts to produce any apples,but hopefully it will settle in and look nice, even before then.


With a view to other (quicker) home grown stuff I planted some tomato seeds a couple of weeks ago, and have just transplanted the seedlings into individual pots, and have them on various windowsills around the house. 

Given the uncertain weather and the rather disappointing crops I have had for the past 2 years, this year  I am planning to keep some indoors (probably on my office windowsill at work, which is spacious and well lit) as well as planting some out into the garden. It's the nearest thing I have to a greenhouse. So I shall need to find some large pots, suitable for an office environment!

On a less cheerful note, I managed through a combination of clumsiness and a gust of wind to bash my leg with the door of my car, leaving a *very* painful (but oddly unimpressive, visually) bruise. So yesterday afternoon involved a certain amount of sitting with my foot up, and a ice-pack on my leg.

Today was beautifully sunny, and I spent time [trying to] dig up docks and dandelions from my front garden, although I also resorted to some spot-on weedkiller for the more deeply rooted ones which I couldn't dig out by hand. I also planted out a Hydrangea which I have been growing from a cutting since last autumn, which may one day become part of a hedge at the front of the house.

And Loki remembered ( I assume) how warm the tile roof of the shed gets when it is sunny



And also demonstrated his walking-along-the-top-of-the-fence skills, which allow him to go all around the garden without ever setting food on the ground!

A pleasant, low-key weekend. 

Of course, I should have been energetic and done lots of housework and such, but I didn't. And I don't regret it, much. 

marjorie73: (Default)
 I've seen Hamlet 5 or 6 times (most recently a week before this show) but I've never seen Tom Stoppard's 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead', but a friend is a huge fan of the play, so when I saw that it was going to be performed at the Old Vic (50 years on from its premiere there) I suggested that she and I get tickets and I could see what all the fuss is about.


I'm glad I did.

We started by meeting up for lunch and cocktails, at 'The Cut', the restaurant at the Young Vic, which were awesome. good food, good booze, and good company!.

We then headed over to the Old Vic, for the play.

In this production, Daniel Radcliffe plays Rosencrantz, (well, probably) and Joshua McGuire, Guildenstern (most likely), with David Haig as the Player, who steals every scene he is in, with great skill and good humour.

The partnership of McGuire and Radcliffe works really well. McGuire's character is the more showy role, with Radcliffe as the quieter, more troubled half of the duo.


Its a lot of fun as they wander, confused, behind the scenes of 'Hamlet', unsure of who they are, what they are doing "were we sent for?"  and what is happening, riffing off philosophical ideas as they go. It reminded me a little of 'Waiting for Godot'.

Luke Mullins' Hamlet, seen only briefly, came across as supercilious and not even a little mad, and, frankly, not one to be missed upon his demise. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's puzzled distress when they learned of his betrayal of them was particularly poignant.

A very enjoyable production. See it if you can. 

The play is at the Old Vic until 6th May, and is also going to be broadcast via NTLive

marjorie73: (Default)
 When I saw that Andrew Scott (Moriarty from 'Sherlock') was going to be playing 'Hamlet' at the Almeida Theatre, this Spring, with Juliet Stevenson as Gertrude, I couldn't not try to get tickets. I didn't manage it directly, but my friend A did, which meant that last night he and I fortified ourselves with an excellent Turkish meal before heading to the Almeida.



This production of the play is almost uncut, and is directed by Robert Icke, who was also responsible for the horribly effective and chilling 1984.


It was very interesting, and very different from the last couple of versions I have seen. This iteration of the court of Denmark is modern, the stage divided by sliding glass doors allowing to see behind the arras at times, the opening scene sees Horatio and Marcellus spot the ghost on the bank of screens showing feeds from security cameras, and updates such as Fortinbras's invasion are shown as news reports (complete with Danish headlines running across the bottom of the screen).


Andrew Scott's Hamlet is not, for the most part, as maniacal as you might expect, from seeing his Moriarty - from the outset, he came across as anxious and uncertain, constantly fidgeting with his watch, and lacking in self-confidence. His soliloquies are often conversational, and this is definitely a Hamlet in which the madness seems genuine rather than feigned.

Production Photo: Claudius, Hamlet and Gertrude

Gertrude (Juliet Stevenson) and Claudius (Angus Wright) are passionate with one another, unable to keep their hands off each other, but I wasn't entirely convinced by Claudius-as-villain , except in the final poisoning scene.

I was left feeling a bit ambivalent about the production. I would quite like to see it a second time. But I found it interesting, and worth seeing. 

Hamlet is at the Almeida until 15th April.

marjorie73: (Default)
The season for Seville Oranges is over now (it is very short), although I have enough in the freezer for one more batch of marmalade, but it occurred to me a couple of weeks ago that it might be interesting to give it a go with blood oranges, as they're so pretty!


It's not as easy as you might think to track down blood oranges, but I managed, it, and spent an afternoon juicing and chopping and boiling.

I ended up with 6 and a half jars.

It's pretty, although not quite as pink as I had hoped, based on the juice.It's also much sweeter than the ordinary Seville kind, so I shall probably use it for baking, or to offer to guests, as I like my marmalade  pretty tart.


For comparison - Blood Orange on the left, Seville Orange on the right.

I also bought some pin grapefruit and am planning to make a small batch using those, too, to see how that turns out.

marjorie73: (Default)

On Friday evening I saw 'Abigail's Party' at Bath Theatre Royal. It's one f those plays which I am aware of, but have never seen before, and I wanted to see it partly for that reason, and partly as I was interested to see Amanda Abbington (Mary Morstan from Sherlock) on stage. 

It was very good, although it is the kind of play which you watch with a degree of horrified fascination, as Beverley (Abbington) and her Estate Agent husband, Laurence (Ben Caplan) throw a cocktail party at their suburban home for their new neighbours Angela (Charlotte Mills) and Tony (Ciarán Owens), and older, divorced, neighbour, Susan (Rose Keegan) who is there to allow her 15 year old daughter to hold the titular party, free from parental interference.

Beverley is the awful, pushy, hostess, constantly overriding her guests' preferences and wishes, to score points off them and her husband, flirting increasingly desperately with Tony, all the while exposing her own insecurities and lack of taste. Her husband, Laurence, clearly prides himself on his more cultured tastes (he has a matching set of Dickens, and another of Shakespeare, but has read neither, and has prints of Van Gogh and Lowry on the walls,  but is put off when Susan appears to be more familiar with them than he is.

The whole thing is full of attempts to 'keep up with the Jones's', and is horribly true.  It's fun to watch as Angela starts subtly to assert herself, and of course for someone my age, brought up in the 70s, there is also the slightly worrying game of seeing how many pieces of furniture on set / props you can recognise from the homes you visited as a child... 

The play is in Bath until next weekend, then on tour until the end of April. The performance I saw was only the 3rd one, and this showed a little, Abbington stumbled on a couple of her lines, but over all, it was fun - funny and very watchable.


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