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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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Last week was mostly distinguished by being very, very hot. At least by English standards.


It was an mixed week for me - on Monday, the exhaust pipe (or at least the back half of it) fell off my car on the way home from work. Annoyingly, the exhaust broke somewhere in the middle,and the bit attaching it to the back of the bumper didn't, so it didn't actually fall off, it just dragged along the road, so I had to stop can carry out emergency tying bits of the car together (fortunately I had several bits of bungee in the boot)


Fortunately my neighbour is a mechanic and kindly removed it for me once I got home, and the car is now fixed, but it was not a good start to the week.


Wednesday I had planned to go to the cinema to see the live broadcast of Carmen but it was too hot, and by the time I got home from work I was tired, hot and had a nasty headache, so I didn't go.

After that, the week started to improve. On Thursday I went bee-ing again, which was interesting. I am starting to feel a bit more confident, and competent,  around the bees, which is nice. I am going to have to start scouting around to see where I might  be able to keep a hive or two next year...


Then on Friday evening I met up with my friend T to go to the theatre, in Bath,which was lots of fun.

Catherine Steadman (Kate) and

Michael Pennington (Mr Hardcastle)

We saw 'She Stoops to Conquer' which is on as part of the Theatre Royal's summer season. The play was originally performed in 1773, but for this production the setting has been updated to the 1920s, which mostly works - it is still feasible, just about to have the big class divides which underlie the plot.


The plot relies heavily on characters being unable to recognise one another, and on the dashing young gentlemen being fooled into thinking that the manor house was in fact an inn...


Hubert Burton plays Marlow, shy and tongue-tied with women of his own class, forward and brash with women he believes to be his social inferiors, and cringingly snobbish and superior towards his host, Mr Hardcastle (Michael Pennington) who he believes to be an inn keeper. Marlow has a touch of Bertie Wooster about him, and while his way with innkeepers and serving maids is a little unappealing to modern eyes, it is very well done.


Micheal Pennington had a far less showy role, but played it with beautiful restraint, as Mr Hardcastle, ready to welcome the son of his best friend as his daughter's suitor, but  met with arrogance and treated as a servant.


Catherine Steadman (who I last saw in 'Oppenheimer') was Kate Hardcastle, who seemed more n control of events than any of the other characters, and seemed to enjoy playing the barmaid to 'conquer' Marlow.


It was all good fun, I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and felt the setting - (both the period and the revolving set) worked well.


The play is on in Bath until 18th July, so plenty of time to see it if you are in the area!

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Last night I went to the Ustinov Studio in Bath (which is a small, studio theatre attached to the Theatre Royal) to see a production of Lynne Nottage's Intimate Apparel.

Tanya Moodie as Esther


I visit the Theatre Royal pretty regularly, but this was the first time I've been to the Ustinov, which is a much smaller (and newer) theatre.  I really enjoyed the evening.


I have to admit that I'm not familiar with Lynne Nottage's work, but based on this performance, I have been missing out, and would like to see more of her work.


The play is set in New York in 1905, and is an imagined history of the author's own great-grandparents. Esther (Tanya Moodie) is a 35 year old seamstress, who has lived in the same  boarding house for 18 years, since walking to New York to seek work, and who sees other girls coming and going, moving on to marriage and motherhood.  She longs for love, and dreams of opening her own beauty parlour where poor, black women such as herself could go to be pampered and treated well.


Esther then receives a letter from George Armstrong (Chu Omambala), a labourer on the Panama Canal. Being illiterate, Esther relies on two of her clients, wealthy, unhappily married Mrs Van Buren (Sara Topman) and singer / prostitute Mayme (Rochelle Neil) to read the letters to her, and to compose replies.

Esther also has a friendship with Mr Marks, (Ilan Goodman) a Jewish haberdasher with whom she bonds over a shared love of fine fabrics.

Tanya Moodie's performance is perfect, creating a deeply moving, poignant character, longing to be loved.


George is a less obviously sympathetic character, particularly in the second half of the play, and I was slightly distracted by his accent, which seemed to slip from the Caribbean, to Bristol, to Ireland.

Over all, however, this is a fantastic performance, of a great play. And it's on in Bath until 28th June, so if you live locally, there is still time to see it. (and it is in London after that)

Go.

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The plays are a bit of a mixed bag, and, I would say, *not* Shakespeare's best, but still worth seeing.

The first play covers battles with the French, and Joan of Arc (who was portrayed with a strong Yorkshire accent, presumably to try to emphasis her rural/working class antecedents, although it made a odd contrast with the French accents of the other 'French' characters. Henry VI (who is of course a child during this period) doesn't speak for most of the early part of the play, but in this production is present on stage, reacting with fear, surprise and so on, to the action. There weren't any severed heads in this production, although a number of characters, including Joan or Arc, wind up dead.

The second to plays flow much more readily into each other - , 'The Houses of York and Lancaster', starts with Henry's politically embarrassing marriage, to Margaret of Anjou, the strong-minded but dowerless daughter of the King of Naples, and goes downhill from there, with internal strife at court (leading to the first of the severed heads.. the Duke of Suffolk - and as the same actor played Jack Cade, he later got to admire his *own* severed head, which must be interesting!

The play also saw Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) - who was played as having practically no redeeming features whatsoever (admittedly, difficult to avoid given the text) but also with an exaggerated limp, crookback and unusable arm - which is no doubt authentic in terms of the Shakespearian production, but did strike me as being a bit over the top - quite apart from anything else, it made it difficult to believe in his military exploits!

The body count rises throughout the plays. Which I suppose is fair enough for a civil war.

Over all, I enjoyed the plays but I can see why the aren't among the more frequently performed of the plays, even the history plays.

The tour included several battlefield performances, in the open air at various civil war locations, which I imagine must have been interesting!

Fences

Mar. 3rd, 2013 07:06 pm
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Last night I was in Bath, to see August Wilson's Fences, starring Lenny Henry.

The play is set in Pittsburgh, starting in 1957, and concluding some 7 or 8 years later. Lenny Henry plays the lead character, Troy Maxson, a garbage-man, whose hopes of a professional baseball career were unfulfilled due to segregation.

He's not a lovable character; the play gets darker as it progresses, and we learn that despite Troy's strengths - his close friendship with Jim Bono (Colin McFarlane), his love for his wife, Rose (Tanya Moodie) and his apparent care for his brain injured brother, Gabe (Terence Maynard), he  has very deep flaws, too.

He prevents his son, Cory (Ashley Zhanghaza) from trying for a football scholarship, and we learn that he has been having an affair (resulting in the birth of a child). We also learn, as the play progresses, of his own very bleak past, which goes some way towards explaining, if not excusing, his conduct.

Despite this, the play has a lot of lighter moments, and ends on a hopeful note, with Cory having made a career for himself in the US Marine Corps. Rose gives a very moving description of Troy, and of her life with him, after his death.. "Sometimes where he touched, he bruised".... and of their relationship " I didn't know that to keep his strength I had to give up little pieces of mine" - a portrait of a hard life, creating a hard man.

I freely admit that I booked my ticket on the strength of Lenny Henry's name; having seen his performance as Othello and I wasn't disappointed; he made the character totally believable, but he wasn't alone. The rest of the cast were equally strong, and particular praise has to go to Tanya Moodie, and to Ashley Zhanghaza who gave terrific performances as Troy's wife and son.

The performance I saw was the last one in Bath, but the production is transferring to the Richmond Theatre in London, and to Milton Keynes, so there is still time to see it. It's well worth it.

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It's been a busy couple of weeks. last Friday I was due to meet my dad's cousin, M, for a meal, and to go to the theatre to se The Mousetrap n Bath.

We'd booked at a nice restaurant near the theatre, we had out tickets, I arranged to take a short lunch break in order to leave work a little early, to give myself time to go home and change, and it was all intended to me a nice, relaxed evening.

It didn't work out quite like that.

On my way home from work, I stopped to fill up the car. And when I got back in the car, it wouldn't start. It made a little feeble cough and that was it.

So, I called the RAC. Who said, cheerfully, that it would be about 2 hours for them to get to me. Which would mean they wouldn't even arrive until 45 minutes after out restaurant reservation, and I'd be lucky to get to the theatre at all. However, it seemed that it was the battery, so I kept my fingers crossed that it might recover on it's own, enough to start, given a little rest. It didn't, but after a Looooong rest, it did condescend to start. So I called my cousin to arrange to meet at her home rather than in town (on the basis that then if it did it again when I stopped, I would be stranded at her home, not in the middle of Bath) And I was hopeful that the time spent with the engine running outside my house, and then the drive to hers, would be enough to recharge the battery enough to allow me to go home.

We didn't have time to eat together, but did make it in to Bath in time for the show.  It's fun, in a predictable way - and despite the murders, it has a lot of very funny moments. The touring production is going all over the UK, I think the tour as a whole lasts about a year, although this is nothing compared to the London production. I can't help but feel it must get a little dull for the actors, though. According to the programme notes, there have been actors who have stayed in the show for 10 year !

Oh, and my car did start again, so I think it was probably just the cold, plus not having driven much for the two days beforehand. I shall pop into the garage and see about getting a new battery, as I suspect that it perhaps getting towards the end of it's life!

At the weekend, I met up with my parents, as my christmas gift from my brother was delivered to their home (late. It should have got there in time for christmas, when he and I were both there). We thought it would be a good excuse to meet halfway and have lunch, rather than them just posting it to me. And it was. We met up at a pub, and had a leisurely lunch (including succumbing to the lure of the dessert cabinet) and I got to come home with Vol.3 of the Absolute Sandman, so it was a bit of a win all round.
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It stopped snowing yesterday afternoon, but stayed very cold, so today the pavements and the road in my street are all sheets of ice, as there's been enough traffic to compact the snow, but not enough to clear it. It looks as through the roads further out are mostly clear, so I should be able to get to work on Monday, provided we don't get more snow. Although  getting to the end of my own road is likely to be interesting, knowing that the road is clear beyond that is reassuring.


I went out this morning to see how bad the going was likely to be, and then walked down to the station in order to get a train into Bath,  to go to the theatre.


The train was late, and horribly crowded - to the extent that there were people unable to get on, at Avoncliffe. It turns out that Bath Rugby were playing at home this afternoon, which no doubt was part of the reason for it being so crowded. It makes me hopping mad that they never put on any extra trains (or even extra coaches) despite that fact that trains on match days are *always* packed. I imagine that the snow and the lateness made it even worse than usual. And they have just put the fares up. Grr.


Once I got to Bath, I grabbed a pasty for lunch, and took a few photos of nice buildings with snow on them, then back to the theatre to see 'Quartermaine's Terms'


The play, by Simon Gray, is set in a school teaching English as a foreign language, in Cambridge in the 1960s, and is presented as a series of scenes in the staff room, over a period of around 2 years.


There are lots of funny moments, but the play is ultimately a tragic one.


All of the characters experience their own personal disasters, whether in the shape of an unfaithful husband, a dependent and critical mother and unsuccessful love life, a daughter's suicide, a partner's death, snobbery and lack of professional appreciation or family breakdown and failure as a novelist. Everything is presented through the medium of staff room conversation, so practically all of the drama takes place off stage, and we only ever get a partial and understated view of anything.

Quartermaine himself (Rowan Atkinson) presents as, perhaps the saddest of all. He appears to be a well-meaning but ineffectual teacher, and to have no life beyond his job.  Throughout the play he is ignored or taken advantage of by his colleagues, who use him as a babysitter for their children, but forget or turn down his own invitations, and the play finally sees him facing the loss of his job.


There was a little too much of Mr Bean in Rowan Atkinson's performance for my taste, pushing his character from pathos to ridiculous once or twice, but despite this is was an interesting play, and I'm glad I was able to see it.


It is going to the West End now, for (I think) a couple of months - I shall be interested to see what the critics make of it.

My train home was late, which was actually a good thing for me - it meant I was able to get on a train 10 minutes after getting to the station, instead of missing one by 3 minutes and having to wait half an hour, and it was reasonably empty, too, so I got a seat.

The walk home from the station was hard work, due to the ice, but having spent a lot of time over the past 48 hours looking for my yaktrax I gave up and bought some new ones (well these) when I was Bath, so I was able to walk safely.


And I called into one of the local mini markets on the way home and bought a lime, so the well-earned G'n'T I gave myself when I got home could be properly garnished.

Tomorrow, I think I shall try to make another batch of marmalade. It's a nice, warm, indoor occupation.

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Having spent the morning listening to Rupert Everett talking about his new book, I then spent the evening at Bath Theatre Royal watching him, and others, in David Hare's play "The Judas Kiss"

It was a superb production.It covers two events; the hours at the Cadogan Hotel, immediately before Wilde's arrest for gross indecency, and a similar period at Wilde and Bosie's  home in Naples, immediately prior to their final separation.

 
Rupert Everett as Wilde
(photo from Bath Theatre Royal website)
Everett is completely convincing as Wilde: witty, satirical and an ultimately tragic figure. Calm in the face of his own impending arrest and disgrace, and Robbie's increasingly desperate attempts to persaude him to flee to the Continent while there is still time, he is moved to tears by the kindness of the Hotel servants.

 Toward the end of the play,we see him refuse his wife's demand to separate from Bosie (knowing this refusal will result in her stopping his allowance, leaving him penniless) only to learn that Bosie is abandoning him at his own family's behest - Bosie, characteristically, tries to disclaim any responsibility for anything which has happened, even going so far as to claim he was 'never an invert' (homosexual) "No," responds Wilde, dryly "Just a very good mimic"
Freddie Fox as 'Bosie' (from Theatre Royal website)

Although Freddie Fox's Bosie is so petulant, hypocritical and spoilt that it is a little hard to see why Wilde would have remained so devoted to him, he is very consistent, and convincing, and is also very beautiful, which of course could explain a good deal! Cal MacAninch was excellent as Robbie Ross, whose good sense, and enduring friendship for Wilde did not seem to be well rewarded, and was at times heartbreaking.

Oh, and the nakedness?  the maid and valet at the Cadogan, in Act One (taking advantage of Bosie's room while cleaning) And Bosie and Galileo (a fisherman of Naples) (Tom Colley), who sleeps with Bosie and makes conversation in Italian with Wilde. 

It's ultimately a tragic play, but there are so many entertaining one-liners that it is easy to overlook this, for large chunks of the play.

It's now transferring to the West End, to the Richmond Theatre. It's well worth seeing, if you can manage it.
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Last week, on twitter, I spotted a message from Bath Theatre Royal, mentioning that Russell Brand would be appearing for a one-off gig there on Sunday night. It sounded like fun, so I booked a ticket. (It's just as well I did. They seem to have sold out very quickly)

I mostly went out of curiosity - I think Brand can be very funny, and at other times.. not, so I went along hoping to be entertained.

I was.

The show opened with warm up from poet Mr G, who managed to move from comedy to poetry and back without missing a beat (literally or metaphorically)

Then Russell himself came on. The show was billed as being a warm-up / try out of new material ahead of a bigger tour, but a lot of it was (or seemed) spontaneous - riffing on his visit to Bath and the Abbey, and on the theatre and the set for The Tempest (which is half way through its run)
The set includes two raised balconies, and inevitably Russell ended up climbing up the ladder, playing with the drums, and nervously coming down with the assistance of James - a very good-looking volunteer from the audience!


I think Russell Brand is possibly one of the few people who could move seamlessly from a visit to Bath Abbey to a new story about bestiality. and then there was the whole part where Russell ended up swapping his socks with  another audience member. And stories about performing in the Olympic closing ceremony.

I was very favourably impressed - and glad I'd followed the impulse to buy a ticket!

The Tempest

Sep. 1st, 2012 09:52 pm
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As I mentioned in the last post, I had a ticket to see The Tempest at Bath on Friday night.

I found it to be a somewhat patchy production. Tim Piggott-Smith's Prospero was excellent, a controlling man, but one who was able to change, to listen to Ariel, and to keep his promises. Ariel (Mark Meadows) was also excellent, and alien, although I felt that the odd choice to suddenly put him on stilts part way through - it changed him from being a powerful, other-worldly character to one who appeared awkward, and there didn't seem any reason for it, so it seemed to me to be a distraction from, rather than enhancement of the scene.
(photo (c) The Guardian)
The production also featured 10 or 12 sprites - dressed a little like old fashioned theatre nurses. They watched from the sides of the stage, invisible to the players, for the most part, but contributing towards 'the isle being full of noises'.
Caliban was excellent - naive and vindictive, and Miranda was convincingly young and enthralled by her new experiences.
I was a little underwhelmed by the masque scenes, which involved the 'sprites' manipulating puppets and performing an homage to riverdance using clogs on their hands. 
Over all, I thought it was an interesting, if patchy, performance, which I am glad to have seen.
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This weekend should be fun.

On Friday night I have a ticket to see 'The Tempest' in Bath, Saturday is the first episode of the new series of Doctor Who, and on Sunday Russell Brand is in Bath doing a live show prior to a new tour, which should be fun.

I'm guessing that housework is going to take a back seat again this weekend.

I'm feeling fairly relaxed about that.
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'The School for Scandal' was first performed in 1777, and I have to say that some parts of it have worn rather better than others. Last night's prodution was well done, but not entirely to my personal taste.

The play is not subtle. We open with Lady Sneerwell and her accomplice, Mr Snake, who carefully explain to each other their nefarious plot. All of the characters have names which clearly telegraph their defining (when you have a character named 'Sir Benjamin Backbite' or 'Lady Sneerwell' None of the actors could be accused of under-acting, or allowing any undue subtlty to creep into the performance. Of course, this is very much down to the text itself, and once you adjust to an almost pantomimic level of ham the play is quite entertaining.

I enjoyed the performances of Edward Bennett and Nigel Harman, as Joseph and Charles Surface, respectively - and of Susannah Fielding as the spendthrift and pleasure-seeking Lady Teazle - in fact, the majority of the actors were excellent - but I got a little bored with the text. Which is, I suppose, Sheridan's fault, and not that of the company!
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This weekend has been a lot of fun.
On Friday I met my friend Anabel (who was passing through Bath, en route from Dublin to London) and after having yummy Nepalese food at Yak Yeti Yak, including a delicious dessert made with yoghurt and orange and saffron, then I headed over the the Theatre Royal to see Matthew Bourne's 'Early Adventures'
It was fun! Three short pieces; The first, Spitfire, featuring four competitive (male) underwear models, the second, Town and Country featured a 1930's styled set of short pieces, to well known music, including Elgar's 'Pomp and Circumstances' and including synchronised bathing and dressing, a 3-minute version of 'Brief Encounter',an interpretation of 'Shepherd's Hay', a Clog Dance, and some synchronised scooter-riding. The final piece, The Infernal Galop (A French dance with English Subtitles') which included a sexy encounter in a pissoir, some matelots and culminated in the least be-ruffled and most entertaining version of the Can-Can you could ever hope to see.
If you didn't think ballet could be funny, this will change your mind.
While I was watching fit young men in their underwear, Anabel was seeing The Avengers, and when both had finished, we headed home for chatting.
Then yesterday, as the sun came out, we headed out to Wells on a Hot Fuzz pilgrimage, which included visiting St Cuthbert's Church, the Market Place, and Wells Cathedral and Bishop's Palace. We also bought cornettos at 'City News', but didn't shoot any one.
Bishop's Palace, Wells
Although Wells is still what I think of as my home town, (or maybe because I still think of it as home) it's been a long time since I last did the tourist thing.
Cloister
The Cathedral is beautiful. And although there were lots of musicians and choristers in the nave, preparing for a concert, but other areas such as the Cloisters, Chapter House and the museum in the Undercroft were relatively empty.
Undercroft door
After visiting the cathedral (and enjoying our cornettos), we had lunch at The Old Spot, which is one of my favourite restaurants - on any given day, the menu will be short, but everything is always fresh, seasonal, locally sourced, and oh-so-delicious...
After gorging ourselves enjoying lunch we headed over to Bristol, where the Bristol Comics Expo was going on. We met up with Cheryl Morgan, Paul Cornell and Mike Carey, in the bar, and I ended up spending the hour or so chatting with them (much fun) while Anabel headed over to the Expo to see Ian Sharman, then Anabel introduced me to Ian and Holly and we went out for another meal..
Today was much quieter, involving Anabel and I relaxing and chatting and eating the chocolates she until it was time to put her on a train, and for me to go back to laundry and other housework.
A VERY fun weekend, and, for what feels like the first time in months, the sun was out.

Anne Boleyn

May. 7th, 2012 03:21 pm
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Anne Boleyn starts with members of the cast coming into the chat to the audience, and swiftly moves on to Anne herself (or rather, her ghost) displaying her own severed head to the audience. What follows is fast moving, often very funny, and thought provoking.

King James I, a camp, twitchy, and at times terrifyingly astute Scot, arrives in London to take the throne following Elizabeth I's death - he is dealing with disputes between different religious sects and becomes interested in Anne Boleyn, finding her (protestant!) prayer book in an old chest. We then flash back to the events of her life, and death.

Anne is portrayed as a very witty, principled woman, motivated by her strong protestant views and support for William Tyndale, seeing her relationship with the King as an opportunity to make England into a Protestant country.

The play manages to portray the frightening and often dangerous flavour of life in 16th Century England without ever losing its light touch, and the frequent asides to, and knowing nods toward the audience work very well (When Anne finally (after 7 years) gives in to Henry's persistent attempts to seduce her she turns to the audience. "There will now be a fifte.. twenty minute interval"...)

A very strong cast, in a very good play. I thoroughly enjoyed my evening out, and am looking froward to seeing 'Henry V' which is on in 2 weeks time, and which is also a 'Globe' production, this time touring before, rather than after, a London season
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I've always enjoyed Maureen Lipman's work, both as an actor and writer, so when I saw that she would be appearing at Bath Theatre Royal I booked my ticket immediately, and last night, I went to the show.The play was 'Barefoot in the Park' by Neil Simon, which I think it would be fair to say is not a heavyweight show.

The plot follows a young couple in the first days of their marriage, in their first, small, apartment, as they meet their (odd) neighbour, and deal with the Bride's mother, and with their first row.

It *is* funny, although there are some aspects which are a little dated, especially in the relationships and expectations of the husband and wife (there is, for instance, no suggestion that the young wife might look for a job)

However, I did enjoy the play (other than the couple behind me who decided to chat loudly throughout the first act, despite glares from everyone around them. I mean, why bother to fork out £60 or more for a pair of tickets and then chat rather than watch the play?)

I will be looking out for Faye Castelow and Dominic Tighe (who played the young couple) in future productions, as, other than occasionally allowing their American accents to slip, both were excellent.

An enjoyable evening. And having made a spate of bookings, I am also looking forward to seeing Anne Boleyn, Matthew Bourne's Early Adventures and Henry V over the next few weeks.
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Yesterday was one of those glorious, clear, sunny days you sometimes get at this time of year, with a bright, cloudless blue sky, and brilliant sunshine (if not much warmth).

I walked into town, through the park, where there are hundreds of snowdrops, and a river of purple and white crocuses. I think Spring may really have arrived!
I spent the day catching up with housework, and cooking. I made some rice pudding (the rice came in bag with the labelling "Pudding rice : ideal for rice pudding" which seemed a little redundant, but which was correct, of course) It's a long time since I have made real rice pudding, and it was just as delicious as I remembered, even though an slight error of timing meant I ended up eating it at 4.30 in the afternoon!
In the evening, I headed into Bath again, to the Theatre Royal, to see 'The King's Speech', by David Seidler. I gather that he originally wrote it as a play, although it was not staged, and was then re-written as a film, so this is not 'the play of the film', exactly. I have not yet seen the film version, (other than a few clips), but I think this was perhaps a good thing, as it meant I wasn't comparing the two.

The play opens with 'Bertie', Duke of York (Charles Edwards) standing naked before a mirror - in the 'reflection' he stands in full dress uniform with medals, orders, and masses of gold braid - the scene giving an immediate impression of how vulnerable he is feeling. The next scene shows his painful efforts to deliver a speech with his father, King George V (Joss Ackland) an unsympathetic observer.
The play then follows the Duchess of York/Queen Elizabeth (Emma Fielding), and later the Duke as they make their first contact with Lionel Logue (Jonathan Hyde), and then switches between the King's work with Logue, Logue's (failed) auditions for serious acting roles, scenes between Logue and his wife, Myrtle (Charlotte Randall), who is homesick for Australia, and desperate to return, and scenes involving the Prime Minister, Baldwin (David Killick) Churchill (Ian McNeice), Archbishop Cosmo Lang (Michael Feast) and Edward VII (Daniel Betts) and Mrs Simpson (Lisa Baird).
'David' (Edward VII) is portrayed as both cruel and selfish - mocking his brother for his stammer, dancing and drinking champagne with Wallis Simpson within weeks of his father's death, and having dangerously close links to Hitler and his regime.
Charles Edwards does an excellent job of portraying the King, as a man with a strong sense of duty, crippled by his consciousness of his own failings, with little ability to interact with others except through the rigidity of court protocol, and ultimately very lonely. There is a moment where Logue speaks about how men behave with their friends. "I wouldn't know", responds the King.
His frustration at his inability to speak fluently is projected, not only through his outbursts when pushed by Logue, but also with physical tics. He also comes across as a keen thinker - incisive in determining the title to be given to his brother following the abdication, for instance, and as a man who, while determined to do what he sees as his duty, is not prepared to be pushed around.
Jonathan Hyde's Logue is also a well-drawn and believable character, his confidence in his ability to help the King contrasting with his repeated failure to succeed in his ambition to become an actor.
The other characters were less nuanced; Queen Elizabeth came across as rather cold and acidic, and Archbishop Lang as a power-hungry snob.
There were a few jarring moments in the play. For me, Bertie telling Logue that King George V was euthanized by his doctor, didn’t feel right (We know that this is historically accurate, but it’s not clear that Bertie would have known at the time – it only became commonly known when the Doctor’s diary was made public in 1986 – and his apparent acceptance of it seems inconsistent with the character of a man who viewed as treason, or very near, any speculation that he might one day be King)
There were also one or two other minor points which struck me as slightly off: Shortly after the abdication, in a scene between the King and Churchill, Churchill sits down, uninvited. I don’t claim to be an expert on 1930’s Royal protocol, but I don’t think that anyone gets to sit down while the King stands, unless invited to do so. Especially this King, who points out the need for people to be five paces away when they speak to him.
I also found the constantly revolving giant frame/screen in the centre of the stage to be, at times distracting.
However, despite these minor quibbles, I very much enjoyed the play. I felt that Charles Edwards in particular, really shone. The only other thing I am aware of having seen him in was Holy Flying Circus, but I shall certainly be looking out for him in future!
And I think I shall now borrow the DVD and watch the screen version, to see how that compares.
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Back in August, Nail Gaiman tweeted about the shows he was enjoying at the Edinburgh festival. One of them was 'Fascinating Aida' - and he exhorted all his readers to go to see them. I hadn't heard of them before, but when  looked I them up, I saw they were due to play in Bath on 30th October, so I bought a ticket, and so, on Sunday night, I found myself in the Theatre Royal, not entirely sure what to expect, but hopeful I would have a good time.

The current line-up consists of Dillie Keane, Adele Anderson and Sarah-Louise Young (the newest member). The show was great -modern, topical cabaret.

The opening song "Companies Using Nifty Tax Systems" (enjoy those initials..) was followed by the wonderful Dogging song - http://youtu.be/sSaV3YUGiM8 (very much NSFW) which included Ms Keane's warning "For those of a sensitive disposition.... what the fuck are you doing here"  I loved the show, and also got a good deal of pleasure watching the older ladies sitting next to be going gradually from incredulity to hysterical laughter!

A little later in the evening we were treated to the song 'Cheap Flights' (http://youtu.be/uVASZ2lCY5Y) (after which the current tour is named) at which point I realised I had seen them before. Very funny.

All too soon, the evening came to an end. The final song was dedicated to Bath itself, "your Roman ruins are extensive, but your pumproom teas are too expensive"...

Watch the videos, they give you a far better idea of what these women are all about that I can. and in the event they play anywhere near you, go to see the, You won't regret it. (unless, of course, you are of a sensitive disposition!)
marjorie73: (Default)

Yesterday was my birthday. I was feeling a bit ambivalent about it, what with the getting older and older, and the inevitable musings on life, however, I then remembered that I had good friends coming to visit, and fun things planned, and felt a lot more cheerful about it!
My friends arrived from Manchester on Friday evening, in time for us to enjoy a leisurely meal (with cake!) and several glasses of wine, as we caught up, and just relaxed together.

Then yesterday, which turned out to be a beautiful, sunny day, we had a long lunch in Bradford on Avon, then spent the afternoon in Bath (1 pub, 1 independent bookshop) followed by a delicious Nepalese meal, and then Simon Callow's one-man show "Dr Marigold and Mr Chops", which was great! 
 
                                                      

The Show is Simon Callow performing two of Dickens' monologues:

The first, about Mr Chops, was a short story published for Christmas 1858 entitled "Going into society",narrated by Mr Magsman, a showman, about a Dwarf known as Mr Chops who wins the lottery and goes into society. Although having its moments of pathos, it's very funny, and Mr Callow is excellent at doing all the voices!

The second, about Dr. Marigold (He was named "Doctor" after the Doctor who delivered him!) is longer, and although it has a lot of humour in it it, is a real tear-jerker.
Narrated by Mr Callow in the character of Dr. Marigold, a cheap-jack, describing his marriage to an increasingly bad tempered woman, her cruelty towards their daughter, the child's death from illness and his subsequent adoption of a 'deaf-and-dumb' child, who had herself been neglected and abused. Being dickens, it's not surprising that there is a deal of sentimentality, but before the happy ending there is a lot of (still relevant) content about poverty, grief, politics, discrimination and domestic abuse, and Callow's Dr. Marigold is a well-rounded, complete character, whose loneliness and grief comes across between the comedy moments.

It was a superb performance, and made for a thoroughly enjoyable evening. And all in all, the combination of good friends, good entertainment, and delicious food, wine and beer made for a great way to celebrate my birthday, and left me feeling set up for the year to come.
marjorie73: (Default)
This weekend has been lovely, in all sorts of ways. For a start, my best and oldest friend, J came down for the weekend, then it has been a wonderful sunny weekend, warm enough that we were able to spend time sitting out in the garden, reading the papers and enjoying the warmth.

On Saturday afternoon we went over to visit my 2nd cousin, who was celebrating her 80th birthday, then we went for a meal out, and to cap it all, we had tickets to see Derek Jacobi, and a wonderful cast, in King Lear.

It was good to see my cousin - most of the other guests were her friends and members of her church, but another of my dad's cousins was there with his wife, so I was able to do a little catching up with family, then J and I headed into Bath for a meal, before going on to the theatre.

The meal was at a rather nice Greek restaurant on the river - I haven't been before, but after sharing some very tasty meze, I'd be more than happy to go again..

Then on to Bath Theatre Royal. Way back in September, I bought tickets for this production, which has been playing at the Donmar Warehouse in London. I have been a huge fan of Derek Jacobi's since I first saw him as a teenager, and I know J would be keen to come too, and, being a Friend of the theatre I was able to take advantage of priroty booking, and get excellent seats in the middle of the front row of the Royal Circle.

Derek Jacobi and  Pippa Bennett-Warner
It was a wonderful production - a very plain set, and little in the way of props or set dressing. with the exception of the Fool, the costumes, too, were almost monochrome, which left nothing to distract from the strength of the actors and the play.

 
Lear is hardly a sympathetic character, but Jacobi manages to evoke sympathy, as Lear decends into madness and confusion, and the vengeful, tyrannical King becomes a bewildered, innocent old man.

Gina McKee and Justine Mitchell, as Goneril and Regan were both very strong - Goneril calculating from the start, Regan more changeable, becoming almost manic.

Edmund and Edgar (Alec Newmwn and Gwilym Lee) were excellent - Edmund initially appearing engaging, but quickly revealing his duplicitous, calculating behaviour, Edgar first aappearing somewhaat ineffectual, but later showing is strngth in furst supporting, then avenging his father.

All in all, it was an absolutely stunning performance - well worth the wait!

As an added bonus, he programmes, while a litle more expensive than usual, are beautiful - free from any  advertising, and including a full copy of the script, and a number of photos from the production.  A great souvenir of the production.

marjorie73: (Default)

I don't often go to the theatre two nights running, but this week was an exception - Saturday night's 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' being followed on Sunday by a trip back to Bath to see Handel's 'Messiah', performed by The 18th Century Concert Orchestra who perform in period dress and on period instruments.
It was wonderful!

It's a while since I have seen any classical or choral music live, and this reminded me what a great experience it can be.

I enjoyed the fact that all the musicians were in period dress, each of them slightly different, and with slightly different wigs (although no real macaroni or beaus among them!)

The orchestra consisted of 5 violins, 1 viola, 2 cellos, a double bass, a harpsichord, an oboe, 2 trumpets and a timpanist on kettle drums, and there was a 13 person choir. The aim was to provide a concert which sounded as it would have done when Messiah was premiered, in 1741 - I am not (obviously) in a postion to say how successful they were on that front, but I'm willing to take in on trust - the rest of it was spot on!

I had been feeling tired and wasn't over-enthusiastic about going, but I am so glad that I did!

All in all, an excellent evening out.

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