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On Saturday I spent the day in London, meeting up with friends in order to go to the National Theatre to see 'The Threepenny Opera'


We met up in time to have lunch (Pies!) near the river, then, as we walked back to the theatre, we found that the RAF had kindly put on a fly-past to celebrate our meeting.


(I suppose it is just possible that they may also have been marking the Queen's 90th Brthday and Trooping of the Colour)

Spitfire and Hurricane - Battle of Britain Flight


There were initially a group of 4 helicopters, followed by a Hurricane and a Spitfire from the Battle of Britain Flight


There were then various other planes,  from the Hercules, and other big transport planes, to more modern jet planes, including Tornados and Typhoons.


The finale was provided by the Red Arrows, who came in over the Thames in their distinctive 'V' formation.


I hope the Queen enjoyed seeing them. We did!

The Red Arrows


And it was a fun addition to the day.

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The full-on Hamlet post will be coming a little later, this one is about the rest of my London trip
.

I arrived around mid-day, and checked into our hotel, near the Barbican, and met with my sister.

We had plenty of time before the highlight of the trip, so we decided to go and visit the Geffrye Museum, which is based in a former almshouse and is a museum of the home.


Outside there are trees and benches and grass.

Inside, there is a little chapel, and a series of galleries with rooms, furnished as a main living room or parlour would have been furnished, in various different periods, starting in the early 17th Century and continuing up to the 1990s.

There are, unsurprisingly, more rooms for the 29th Century than for earlier periods, but all are interesting.


After having lunch in the museum's cafe and  going through the galleries, we went out to the back of the museum where there are gardens, which are again arranged to reflect tastes of of different periods, together with a separate walled garden featuring bee-friendly plants, plants for dyes, medicinal plants, and edible herbs/plants.

And the museum also has a number of (very clean and bright!)beehives (wisely, these are beyond a flowerbed with clear 'no access' signs!)

It is not a large museum, but it is an interesting one to visit, and I am glad we went.


Afterwards, we walked back to our hotel to freshen up and change, then went to the Barbican where we were able to meet up on the 'lakeside terrace' with one of our group, for a quick drink and  lots of chat.


After this, we headed up to the 'Gin Joint' restaurant. This has (as the name suggests) an extensive list of gins available, and a very impressive cocktail menu which is would have been churlish to ignore.


We each indulged. Of course we did, how could we not?

Mine was a 'Bermondsey Orchard' which featured rhubarb liqueur, apple and sage and egg white (and gin, obviously).

Others in our group tried the 'Fort Fiesta' (which included pink gin and grapefruit) and a 'misty French' which involved lemon and champagne (and gin)...


They were all very nice. As was the meal which followed, although  it was a little alarming that all of the staff disappeared when we were trying to pay our bill. Given that this is a restaurant in a theatre, advertising  pre-theatre menu, and not particularly busy, to make it so difficult to pay, at a point 10 minutes before the evening's performance is due to start, is a bit of a failing!


Happily, however, we all made it into the the theatre and into our seats before the doors were closed!

Sadly, two of our original group were not able to join us, both due to family illness. We had one substitution, and returned the other ticket which was duly re-sold. I hope the young woman who bought it enjoyed her evening!

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This week started well, with a visit from my sister and brother-in-law on Monday (which was a Bank Holiday, and therefore rainy). Since we've all been busy, I've not seen them for a while, and this was the first time they've been to the new house.

So we celebrated with prosecco, and by getting C to help put up some curtains and replace the thing to hold the shower head. (the old one was not up to the job, and I was unable to work out how to get the damn thing off the wall.)

Then on Thursday I had more visitors - E, who I was at University with, and her husband and daughter. E is one of my theatre-going friends, so I last saw her last November, in Stratford upon Avon, but haven't had the chance to send time with her family, so that was fun!

On Saturday, I travelled up to London for the day, to see Richard III at Trafalgar Studios, starring Martin Freeman in the title role.

My original plan involved getting to London with about 2 hours to spare, to allow time to go looking for a few of the Books about Town book benches, but unfortunately my train was delayed, and as they were predicting it would be at least an hour and a half before it moved on, I ended up getting off and taking a 45 minute bus ride, and another 40 minutes on the tube, to get to Charing Cross just in time, so other than taking a quick look at the giant blue cock in Trafalgar Square I had no time for anything other than the show itself.

Richard III is not my favourite play -  but decided to see this production as I was interested to see Martin Freeman in the role, and as I  have been to other productions at Trafalgar Studios,and directed by Jamie Lloyd, which I've enjoyed. And I did enjoy it.

The play is set in the 1979 'Winter of Discontent', with the the implication of a Royalist/Military coup having taken place just before the play opens - the stage is set up like a civil service office, with desks, phones, reel-to-reel tape recorders and sickly house plants. I have to admit, I didn't feel that this worked awfully well. It's too complex, and it doesn't really sit well with the severed heads .

Richard's initial speech was given partly as a 'public' address, given to the rest of the nobility, via mike, and partly as a soliloquy, with the mike off, and the others all frozen - it worked quite well, but the same convention wasn't followed for other asides and soliloquies, which seemed odd.

Freeman is good as Richard - there have been mixed reviews, but I felt he has created a truly scary Richard - as the play progresses, he comes across as an increasingly unpredictable and paranoid dictator, with his black humour leaving other characters unsure as to whether he is joking or not - Freeman is quite subtle - I liked it (one of my dislikes about the Kevin Spacey production was that everything was rather melodramatic and over the top)



I was a little worried about the welfare of the poor goldfish, in whose tank the Duke of Clarence was drowned (and into whose tank his throat was cut, too) I am not sure how goldfish feel about fake blood in their water, but having a person thrashing about in your tank can't be good.

All in all, I enjoyed the production, but having seen 2 versions of Richard III with modern settings, I would rather like to see a production set in its own period.

And for the record, I didn't experience any inappropriate applause (there have been a couple of reviews suggestion that 'Sherlock' fans unused to live theatre were attending and cheering / clapping at inappropriate points)

Me? I'd like to see Freeman in other live productions, and I think he benefited from a really strong supporting cast.
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I travelled up to London yesterday morning, to meet up with N and A and to see Neil Gaiman at the Barbican.

The day started with a good omen - at Chippenham, all of us  in the quiet coach were told we would have to move, due to a fault with the door lock. Which would have been annoying, except that they moved us all to 1st class. Which was nice. It did amuse me that after we'd all moved, the conductor made an announcement, apologising for the delay and inconvenience, and then apologising specifically to the 1st class passengers for the [long pause] inconvenience. Poor 1st class passengers, being invaded by the common herd!



Once arrived in London, I checked into my hotel before heading over to Tate Modern to see the Matisse Exhibition


I enjoyed it. I'm fairly familiar with his blue dancers, but there were lots of other pieces which I didn't know, including stained glass (and studies for other windows) and 'Oceania', which Matisse had on his own studio walls.

Celebes (Max Ernst)


I was also pleasantly surprised that the exhibition was not overcrowded, unlike other exhibitions I've seen recently!


After seeing the Matisse, I also wandered through some of the other galleries, getting my fill of surrealists.


Turns out that the Tate has some rather nice pictures. I haven't been for a while, and I tend to forget, between visits.


There are also some nice views from outside the gallery.

I always rather enjoy the fact that you get Tower Bridge, and the Shard, and the Globe, all in one relatively small piece of skyline!.

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Way back in June, tickets went on sale for a production of 'Coriolanus' at the Donmar Warehouse in London, with Tom Hiddleston in the title role.


I was originally hoping to go with friends, but it appeared that everyone else had the same idea, and despite trying the moment that the tickets went on general sale, it was almost sold but immediately and I could only get a single ticket, and only on New Year's Eve.

So, Tuesday saw me setting off for London, on a surprisingly quiet train, travelling through water-logged country (but not as much flooding as I'd expected - most of the rivers were very full, but didn't, for the most part, seem to have burst their banks, or at least not within sight of the railway!) I'd built in lots of extra time in case of travel delays, so I arrived with plenty of time to check into my hotel (also booked back in June, which is just as well, it would have cost me more than twice as much had I left it to closer to the time to book!), eat and change before heading to Seven Dials and the Donmar Warehouse.

I haven't been there before - it's not a big space -just 4 rows of seats in the stalls, wrapped round 3 sides of the stage, and a slightly larger number of seats (I think) up in the circle. I was in the back row of the stalls, and right round almost at the end of the row, so I saw a lot of the action side on, but although this did mean missing some of the actors facial expressions at times, this wasn't a major issue. (and if I am 100% honest, there are worse fates, than to find oneself forced to stare at Tom Hiddleston's backside.. Or Hadley Fraser's, come to that.)

I haven't ever seen 'Coriolanus' before,(I saw parts of the Ralph Fiennes film version, but not all of it) and I am not familiar with the play (although I think  may read it now) and I think it has probably been cut quite a bit for this production, but it's not difficult to follow, and the lack of familiarity meant I was really focused on the dialogue, and not on waiting for familiar speeches or quotations.


For others who may be equally unfamiliar, the play focuses on Caius Martius,(later Caius Martius Coriolanus)  a noble of Rome. At the start of the play, we see the People of Rome are discontented, calling for bread, and fairly priced grain. Martius is one of the few to stand against them, sowing the seeds of their hatred of him. Mark Gatiss, as Menenius, is  more conciliatory and diplomatic (shades of his Mycroft, but much more approachable!)

In this production, there are few props or scenery, and the citizens mark their discontent with graffiti on the brick wall at the back of the stage, the Senate is represented by a row of chairs, and other than a lectern there are no other furnishings. Costumes are similarly sparse - a mixture of modern clothes with swords and leather breastplates which works surprisingly well.

Martius goes off to war, and we meet his formidable mother, Volumnia (Deborah Findlay) and his wife, Virgilia (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen). Volumnia is clearly the kind of Roman mother who expects her sons to return bearing their shields or upon them - and Findlay and Hiddleston do a fantastic job of showing the relationship between mother and son - it's obvious that Volumnia has shaped Coriolanus's character - he is desperate for her approval, and she is single minded in her pride.

We then see Martius as soldier, taking part in the war against the Volscians - at the siege of Corioli, he is the ultimate soldier - where others falter and  are willing to give up, (in the face of rains of ash, and fire) he swarms up a ladder and into the city, to reappear, bloodied from head to toe, as his companions give him up for lost, pausing only to reassure them before moving on to engage the Volscian general, Aufidius (Hadley Fraser) in single combat. he is, perhaps inevitably, victorious.  The fight was a very physical one, with the actors sword-fighting, then wrestling, throwing each other around the stage.

I admit that I lost the plot very slightly here. On account of that nice Mr Hiddleston taking his top off and having a quick shower. In a way which was, I am sure, entirely necessarily and justified. I'm sure Shakespeare would have said so, too. There is probably a footnote in a lost folio somewhere suggesting it.

Anyway, after his shower, and being given the name Coriolanus for conquering Coriolis all on his own, Coriolanus returns to Rome where he falls out with the populous due to his unwillingness to play politics. All joking aside, Hiddleston was superb - he brilliantly conveyed a mixture of contempt for the system and pride in his own achievements - as Coriolanus spectacularly, and inevitably, shoots himself in the foot.

It was at this point that I started to doubt the wisdom of the early Romans. It seems to me, that if you have a spectacularly successful soldier who has recently single-handedly invaded and defeated a rival city-state, then it is, to say the least, a little short-sighted to piss him off, throw rotting fruit at him and banish him from the city. You might make him angry, and you won't like him when he is angry..

Whatever his other failings (personal relationships, for one) Coriolanus doesn't lack chutzpah, and goes straight to Aufidius (last seen, if you recall, being comprehensively defeated both in battle and in single combat by Coriolanus) to put himself forward as a conquering-general-for-hire, in a home-erotic scene which leaves you wondering whether Aufidius is going to cut Coriolanus's throat, or take him to bed...

By this point, it's not hard to see that things are not going to end well, and they don't. Coriolanus is, ultimately, a tragic hero, and he finds himself, inevitably, at the gates of Rome at the head of an invading army, facing first his friend and mentor Menenius, and then his wife, child, and mother, as they try to persuade him not to invade and conquer his former home. The moment when he gives in to his mother's entreaty, and you can see him make that choice, to sacrifice himself, rather than his wife, son, and mother, is heartbreaking. Particularly as Volumnia seems unaware of the consequences of her action.

The play concludes with Coriolanus submitting to Aufidius's judgement for having failed to drive home his attack on Rome, and is executed (lots more blood.)

Over all? If I want to be picky, there were times when the use of the chairs on stage as props was a bit irritating, and I felt that the small child playing Coriolanus's son was mostly a distraction (He didn't speak until the final scenes, but appeared at various points to do.. nothing much)

But these are very minor points - the positives are much greater, and I loved that hiddleston gives us a Coriolanus who is very human.


The run at the Donmar is completely sold out, but the production is being broadcast to cinemas as by NTLive - on 30th January in the Uk, and other dates elsewhere - well worth seeing if you manage it (I'm going - I want to see it all again)

And did I mention? that Hiddleston is a damn fine actor.
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I forgot, when I was booking my train tickets to go to London for the Kickstarter party, that the clocks would be going back on Sunday morning, and I had anticipated that I  might be a wee bit hungover, and wanting a lie-in. I was also holding out hope I might be able to meet up with a friend, too, so I'd booked a ticket for 1pm.

As it happened, I wasn't hungover, didn't need the lie-in (just as well) and my friend wasn't free. so I did what any sensible person would do, and went to the British Museum. I like the British Museum.

Painted Drinking Cup, Athens, 460BCE

They have lots of interesting stuff, and it's free to get in, so you can pop in when you've a spare hour or so, and just browse a little.

This time, I mostly wandered around the ancient Greek sections - I don't recall having seen the Bassae Frieze before -

Detail of Bassae Frieze (approx 400BCE)
I particualrly liked these footsoldiers on the Neiried Monument, peering over their shields.

Detail of Frieze from the Neried Monument (Lykia, 380 BCE)
And the magnificent horse from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.



I gave the Parthenon marbles a miss, and wandered on to ancient Ninevah. I think it was Ninevah, anyway.

Then, a couple of hours on a train (and a  lot of time sitting on platforms waiting for trains) and home. Given the weather forecast, I was glad to be travelling on Sunday and not Monday, when they were threatening apocalyptic storms.
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After lunching at the Savoy*, I decided to go to see London's Roman Amphitheatre, which is underneath the Guildhall in the City. As an added bonus, they are currently having a  exhibition of |Victorian Inspired modern Art - Victoriana.


The museum is in a newer part of the building - and when they were putting in the foundations, back in the 80s, they discovered the remains of a Roman Amphitheatre (as one does). And so they kept it there, in the basement, and built the rest of the new gallery over the top.



I have to admit that, as Roman Amphitheatres go, it's not hugely impressive, as the pieces which are left are only about 12 inches tall, (although there are some wooden drains, which is quite impressive) but i love the idea of it being there, under the Guildhall. and they have made an effort with the presentation, with lots of wireframe impressions of what the structure would likely have been like, to give you a sense of scale.

The Victoriana exhibition was a completely different kettle of fish. Sadly they would not allow photographs, so I can't show you - but there were pieces by Grayson Perry and Jake and Donos Chapman, there was a wedding cake made entirely from hair, a modified Victorian engraving of a woman with tentacles instead of legs) and  my favourite piece, one by Tessa Farmer, which features her trademark skeletal fairies, riding bees and butterflies, and armed with hedgehog spines, attacking a Victorian marble statue. It was beautifully disturbing.

Contrast: New and Old

Then there was the portrait of the lady with a squid instead of a face, a wonderful set of Alphabet prints and some original art from Alan Moore's 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen'.

Great stuff.

The following morning I decided to go back into the City, to visit the Museum of London, and in particular their exhibition of the Cheapside Hoard.

Before going to the museum I wandered around a little, enjoying the contrast of modern and not-so-modern London. And just near to the Museum I found a little garden called Postman's Park, which is the site of "G.F.Watts' Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice".


Apparently, Watts was a successful Victorian artist, who painted portraits of many of the great and the good (or at least the successful) and came to believe that ordinary people who behaved in heroic ways should also be remembered, and set up the memorial to do so. The memorials are all tiled plaques - the earliest ones designed by de Morgan, the later ones by Royal Doulton - and although the project stopped after Watts' wife dies in the 1930s, there is one much more recent memorial, to a gentleman who died in 2007, saving a child from drowning.  Despite the sometimes florid wording of some of the plaques, it's a moving place. I had it almost to myself.

The museum visit was interesting - the Hoard itself was discovered by workmen in 1912, and is believed to have been buried in the late 17th Century - it consists of hundreds of uncut jewels and pieces of jewellery from the 16th and 17th Cs, and may have been the stock in trade of a local goldsmith. There are some amazing pieces - long, intricate gold and enamel necklaces, carved jewels, a tiny pocket watch set in a single emerald, numerous brooches and pins - there was high security and one could not take photographs, but the museum has some here.

I also made a whistle-stop tour of the rest of the museum, which has exhibits ranging from the remains of prehistoric beasts, to remnants of Roman Londinium, Viking artefacts, through to medieval pilgrim badges, medieval tiles still stained with soot from the Great Fire of London, right through to  some of the costumes from the Olympic opening ceremony.

Oh, and the Lord Mayor's Coach.


And a Dalek.

I would have liked to stay longer, but I had a party to get to.Which is pretty good, as reasons to leave go!

(*Please note the oh-so-casual name drop)
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Last weekend I went to London. I'd pledged via Songkick for Kim Boekbinder's first UK show, and the gig was on Friday night.
The show was at the Sebright Arms, which seems to be a pretty nice pub, quite apart from the cool musicians in the basement.
I met up with friends Mike and Sue, and some lovely friends of theirs.

She Makes War opened the gig - I hadn't heard of her, but I enjoyed her music. (and it turns out she is based in Bristol, so I may be able to see other gigs in the future.
And then ... The Impossible Girl herself!

Who played lots of songs from her new album, The Sky Is Calling, (which you should all buy, if you haven't already done so). I've been listening to the album a lot since it came out, and thoroughly enjoyed hearing it live.

What made it even more fun was that Kim was obviously enjoying herself so much. In addition to the music, she told us about bonding with Laura (SheMakesWar) over cheese, and about having a place on Mars names after her.
And at the end of the gig we all got to meet and chat with her, and get lovely posters.
And it was a relatively early end to the gig, so we had time to had about and chat and drink after the gig, too.
Lots of fun.
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Back in the mists of time, before I knew that Neil would be coming to Bath,and that Nathalie would be coming to see him and to visit me, I booked a ticket to see The Cripple of Inishmaan on Saturday. Which was a pity, as it restricted the time I had available to spend with Nathalie.

But we did our best. We breakfasted on Sicilian style Brioche which Nathalie brought with her, and then caught a train to London. the train was surprisingly full, but we managed to find seats together, and the train was on time, which was a bonus!

Once we arrived we went to Chinatown, and had lunch at a restaurant called Dumplings' Legend. Not the greatest food in the world, although the vegetable dim sum were delicious, and my friend beef Ho Fan was very tasty, too.

As we left the restaurant, the sky was suddenly full of aircraft - a Lancaster Bomber, then some larger and newer planes (one in formation with some fighters) and finally the Red Arrows, in formation (I didn't get my camera out quick enough, but I found some pictures here)  I'm choosing the believe that the fly-past was in Nathalie's honour. I am sure that the fact the it was apparently the Queen's Official birthday and the Trooping the Colour was therefore taking place was purely a coincidence...

After lunch I had to say goodbye to Nathalie, and we parted company. it was lovely to see her, and next time we shall manage (or, it would be fairer to say, *I* will manage better) so we can have a little more time to hang out.

So, at 2.30 I was settled in my (somewhat cramped, and lacking in legroom) seat  in the Noel Coward theatre, waiting to see The Cripple of Inishmaan. It's part of the same season as  Peter and Alice, which I saw in March, and stars Daniel Radcliffe as the eponymous 'Cripple' Billy. I saw him in Equus back in 2007 so I already knew he is more than just Harry Potter.

I was not familiar with the play before seeing it, but I enjoyed it - it's a bleakly funny play, set on a small, impoverished island off the Irish coast in the early 1930s. News comes that a Hollywood producer plans to make a film on the neighbouring island, and Billy, the cripple of the title, wishes to be in the film.

Throughout the play there secrets and lies - did Billy's parents drown accidentally trying to get to America, or kill themselves at the thought of having a crippled child, or kill themselves so that their life insurance money would pay for Billy's treatment..? Or was it something still more disturbing?

There's a very strong cast -particularly Sarah Greene as Helen McCormick (who gets to throw a lot of eggs) and Pádraic Delaney as BabbyBobby.

And Radcliffe is excellent, both in the comedic parts of the play, and in Billy's frustration with his physical limitations and the poverty and limits of his home.

Well worth seeing.

After the play, I had a smooth trip home, in a virtually empty train, through sunlit landscapes.

The sun was still out as I arrived in Bath,  but as I waited for my train home it started to rain, and there was a glorious rainbow.

It made for a fitting end to a long, and very enjoyable day.

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My last post was about my trip to see 'The Hothouse', which was the main purpose of my day trip to London. However, that didn't take all day, I had time to take in a few other points of interest.

I started by going to The Illustration Cupboard, a small gallery/shop, which is currently showing the illustrations from David Almond / Dave McKean's new book, 'Mouse. Bird, Snake, Wolf' .

They are gorgeous (there's a full list, with images, on the gallery's site), and since I got home I have been looking down the back of the sofa in the vain hope of finding £1,500 or so, so I can go back and buy one.(I especially like 'They Made a Wolf', if anyone has a sudden urge to buy me an unbirthday present). The gallery also has lots of other nice art and prints.

My second non-theatre-y indulgence, after the play finished,  before I caught my train home, was more art, at the National Gallery, which has the advantage of being close to the theatre, and of being free, so its possible to call in and spend a little time visiting a few highlights, without feeling that you've wasted the visit.

I spent most of the time I had looking at some of the galleries earliest works, among them one of my personal favourites, the Wilton Diptych, which was made for King Richard II, at the end of the 14th Century.

I love the way that the angels all wear Richard's badge (even if some of them look pretty bored).  I particularly like the white stag on the back of the diptych.

I also enjoy the other early works - the gallery has a couple of Uccellos (including a delightful St George and the Dragon (which seems to show that the dragon was in the RAF, so it seems a little unpatriotic to have killed it...)

Leaving the Gallery I found that Trafalgar Square was full of many competeing groups of Morris Dancers. Which was unexpected. I'd noticed that the pub I ate lunch in seemed to have an unusually high number of men in white with bells round their knees, but I just put it down to the local clientele!

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A few months ago I saw that John Simm was going to be appearing in a play in London, and as I still haven't really got over the fact that I missed seeing his Hamlet when that was on, I decided that this time, I'd make it to see him.

He is appearing in The Hothouse, and as I realised after booking, not only does it feature Simm, but also Simon Russell Beale (who I last saw in the cinema broadcast of the National Theatre's Timon of Athens). The rest of the cast is equally impressive:

Harry Melling (best know as Dudley Dursley, but unrecognisable)
Christopher Timothy (who has got somewhat older since playing James Herriott),
Clive Rowe (among other things, he was in the Voyage of the Damned episode of Doctor Who),
Indira Varma (Suzie Costello of Torchwood) and
John Heffernan (I don't think I've seen him before, but I think he is going to be one to watch



I haven't seen the play before, and decided not to read any reviews before seeing it, so as to see it fresh

The play is set in an Institution. It's never explained what  kind of institution, whether it is a rest home, a psychiatric hospital, or something more sinister - we never see any of the inmates (patients?), although we hear wails and screams, and learn that they are known by numbers, not names, and that they are locked into their rooms., and everything is run under the distant control of The Ministry

Simon Russell Beale is Roote, the director of the institution, initially merely ineffectual, but as the play proceeds, increasingly, frighteningly unhinged and unpredictable. Simm's Gibbs is coldly efficient, the perfect 'company man', apparently more in control of himself than the other staff members, (and perhaps therefore more culpable) .

As the play unfolds, we learn that one inmate has died, another has given birth, probably as a result of rape by one of the members of staff. We see the hapless Lamb (Harry Melling) subjected to mental and physical abuse in the name of experimentation, and things do not end well.

Despite the nature of the setting and subject matter of the play, it is full of very funny moments - as long as you don't think too closely about what you are laughing at. It's a very strong cast, and well worth seeing.
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It's been a busy few days.
On Friday I drove up to London, to visit relations, and to go to the theatre on Saturday. It wasn't a fun drive, lots of rain, sleet and spray, so I was very glad to arrive.
On Saturday, we woke to find it was snowing. Which is not usual, here, at the end of March. And which made the prospect of going Out rather less appealing. But we did.

My cousin J and I went into London - we started off with a trip to the British Library, so see their exhibition about the Mughal Empire, which was fascinating. Being the British Library, the majority of the exhibits were books and other documents, although they did have a rather splendid armoured horse, and a very fancy crown  (which they borrowed from the Queen, who apparently has enough to spare one for a bit).

The exhibition showed how the culture of the Mughal Empire influenced and was influenced by western european visitors, and gave the opportunity to see some lovely pieces of art, and illuminated manuscripts which are not normally on display. Towards the end of the exhibition there were some early photographs, too, taken after the Indian 'Mutiny' of 1857 and showing deserted and looted palaces.

It was well worth seeing, and seemed to be very popular.
While we were at the Library, we also saw their mini exhibition 'Murder in the Library: and A-Z of Crime Fiction', which was entertaining, even if they had to stretch a little for one or two of the letters of the alphabet.
I learned that Baroness Orczy wrote crime fiction (as well as the Scarlet Pimpernel) - stories featuring a plucky female detective, written in around 1910.
We then went on, to visit the Hunterian Museum, which is part of the Royal College of Surgeons.It grew from an original collection begun by John Hunter, and bought by the government in 1799. It's full of bottled body-parts (animal and human) including half of the brain of Charles Babbage, and other medical curiosities. Interestingly, although it seems that many of the specimens were bought, or (in the case of the earlier ones in particular) acquired from 'resurrection men') others were acquired with the donor's full knowledge and consent - a sort of 'celebrity body parts...'

As well ass the human remains, there are various fossils, and zoological specimens, including delicate examples of dissected insects, some of them 200 years old. (This is all the more remarkable when you learn that the museum suffered significant bomb damage during WWII: firebombs and 1000s or specimens pickled in alcohol are not a good combination)

While we were there, there was a 'Promenade performance' by first year drama/design students from the Rose Bruford college of performing arts. The students were moving around among the visitors wearing costumes, and giving a performance both inspired by the collection. It was .. odd.

All of this took us well into the afternoon, so we decided to finish up with a nice cup of tea, and a visit to Foyles, before we went to the theatre. (Yes, of course I ended up buying several books. Was there really any question?)

It carried on snowing the whole time, but wasn't settling ion the roads or pavements, so other than the cold it didn't really effect us.
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I spent Saturday in London, enjoying a trip to the Royal Academy, to see their Bronze Exhibition, and then to Hampstead theatre to see '55 Days'

I has a slightly stressful start to the day, as the first of my two trains turned out, when I got to the station, to be running late, which seemed likely to cause me to miss my connection, but as it turned out, we made up a bot of time getting to Bath, the London train was slightly delayed too, so with a bit of running, I managed to catch the train, and even to find my seat (not an easy task, as the train was very crowded due to an earlier cancellation), so made it to London as originally planned.

The exhibition at the RA was fascinating. The curators have chosen to group the bronzes by theme, rather than chronologically or by region, so in the section devoted to 'figures' were examples of ancient Greek and Etruscan figures,(including the first piece in the exhibition, a glorious and beautiful 'dancing satyr', around 3,500 years old, found quite recently near Sciliy)

'Dancing Satyr' 

Also medieval saints, works by Ghiberti and Cellini,  images of the Buddha and figures from Benin.

Similarly, in the section devoted to 'Animals' there was a glorious Etruscan Chimera (from around 400BCE), as well as a Louise Bourgoise spider, a Baboon made by Picasso, an Elephant from China, and many others.

Chimera

There were also sections titled 'groups' which included a Frderic Remington group of 4 cowboys on horseback, and also one of the most extraordinary pieces, the Trundholm 'Chariot of the Sun' which is beautiful in it's own right, as well as awe-inspiring for it's age and fragility (It's believed to have been made between 1,800 and 1,600 BCE

Trundholm Chariot of the Sun

I am so glad I managed to get to the exhibition - I know the RA managed to borrow pieces from all over the world for it (although Florence appears to have been particularly generous!)

'Damned Soul' Massimiliano Soldani-Benzi, after Bernini

And of course, the 'poster boy', Soldani-Benzi's 'Damned Soul', which I feel sure must have inspired the 'weeping angels' (I felt safe visiting, there were so many people looking at it at all times...)

After visiting the exhibition, I headed across to the theatre, where, after a brief and welcome break for a sandwich (at one of the least stable tables I've encountered for some time)

I had booked my ticket because I wanted to see Mark Gatiss, and because I thought the play (which deals with the period leading up to the conviction and execution of Charles I, at the end of the English Civil War). I hadn't been the the Hampstead Theatre before, and had not realised that the play is by Howard Brenton, who also wrote 'Anne Boleyn, (which I saw earlier this year, and blogged about here)

Mark Gatiss as Charles I

It's a small theatre, with a central stage with entrances at both ends, which means that a lot of the time the actors don't face the audience - but once I got used to it I rather liked it - it makes you feel more engaged in what's going on on stage.

The play switches between the two main protagonists - Mark Gatiss's Charles I, arrogantly and utterly convinced of his own divine right to rule, and Douglas Henshall's Oliver Cromwell, equally sure of himself (perhaps with better reason) and, despite his talk of 'waiting on Providence', coming across as a far more canny politician.

Charles was presented in period costume, but all of the other characters were presented in (fairly) modern dress - with a 50s feel to it. Despite knowing the inevitable outcome the play still managed to be gripping, as the parliamentarians struggles with the issues of whether to put the King on trial, and if so, whether he should be executed, not to mention whether and how Parliament could try him, and whether the ends (putting him on trial) justified the means (Pride's Purge of Parliament, which effectively rigged the vote by ensuring that anyone who voted against the trail, first time round, being excluded from the second one...)

The performance I saw was the last but one of the run, so I can't advise you to grab tivkets and see it, but if it were still running, I would, as it was well worth seeing.

It was a long day, as I didn't get home till  around 9.30, but very enjoyable. I haven't any further theatre trips planned until the new year, now, so for the last \play of the year it was an excellent one to go out on!


marjorie73: (Default)
I booked a ticket a while back, to see Zoe Keating, at her one London show, Then this weekend I had a mild panic for fear I would be too ill to go (The panic was mild only becuase I had no energy to panic properly) However, come Monday I decided that if I was well enough to go into work, I was damn well well enough to go to London to listen to music.
I am not sure whether the logic of that decision would hold up to rigourous examination, but it seemed reasonable at the time.

I had prebooked an afternoon off work, and a rail ticket, so I arrived in London at around 3.30, and decided to head across to the Science Museum, which currently has an exhibition celebrating Alan Turing's centenary.

It was a small, but interesting exhibition. As well as the obvious points, such as Turing's work at Bletchley Park during the War, and his tragically early death after his conviction for homosexuality, the exhibition included some information about his childhood friendships, as well as about his work at Manchester University following the war.

One striking piece of information, new to me, was that 2 of the papers which Turing wrote during his time at Bletchley, were not released publically until April this year, apparently becuase it was felt that the work they contained was sstill too relevant and too important.

Which is astonishing.

After looking round the Turing exhibition I wandered into a few other parts of the museum. I admit that the section about vetinary history left me rather cold - it's hard to get interested in toothrasps and horse drenching bottles. I liked the Wellcome medical history gallery better, although possibly not for the right reasons. It is full of tableaux and dioramas, peopled by manniquins which appear to be rejexts from even the most undiscriminating shop display. The tableaux themselves range from an oddly unconcered Roman with an arrow in the neck, to a modern operating theatre, but are arranged, apparently at random. They also have some interactive exhibits where you can try out some psychometric tests, but without being told how you score, or what the normal reaction might be. I should like to think that the whole exhibition might be an elaborate psychological experiment..

The random Roman bath-tub was nice, though.

I then wandered back downstairs, pausing to take a look at the microscope made for George III (it has cherubs, and semi-naked ladies on it) and at Mr Babbage's Difference Engine, then I took a wrong turning past the Daleks (they label them as being V2 and other early rocket engines, but you only have to look at them to see the truth =>) and I found myself unexpectedly face to face with George Stevenson's 'Rocket'

It's pretty impressive. And I like how they keep it next to the Apollo 10 Command Module, and a few other bits and bobs of a similar kind.

There are Steam-Engines and Beam-Engines and great big Jet Engines, and bicycles and biplanes and all sorts of other fascinating things. It reminded me why I like this museum, and that I ought to come more often!


But, like all good things, the museum visit came to an end, as they like to close it in the evenings, so I took the hint, and headed out to Hackney, and the Vortex Jazz Club, where Zoe Keating was playing.
The venue is small, and was very full. Opening for Zoe was Ruby Colley - a composer / violinist who, like Zoe, uses a computer to allow her to accompany herself.
She played a short, but fascinating set, which left me feeling that she is a name to watch - I shall certainly be keeping an eye out for any future performances.
Then, Zoe started her set (with a slight delay in starting, due to a computer issue). I can only say that her music is even more stunning live than it is recorded - and she's a witty lady, too. And despite the crowded, overheated room, the uncomfortable chair, and the nagging anxiety that I might miss the last train back, I lost myself in the music for a time.
and, although I was forced to leave before the set ended, I did not miss the last train home.
marjorie73: (Default)
So, as everyone must know now, Amanda Palmer decided to fund her new album via Kickstarter, and was spectacularly successful. I initially signed up just for the CD level reward, but then, after failing to get tickets for the public gig on Wednesday, and realising that I really wanted the Art Book, too, Not to mention the fact that every Amanda Palmer gig I have been to has been so much fun that I would always go to one, given the chance, I decided to take the plunge and back at that level. All of which resulted in my getting on a train on Monday, to go to London, to the Kickstarter Backers' VIP Art Opening and Gig..
I think it is fair to say that the gig lived up to and beyond my expectations!
The gig was at Village Underground, in Shoreditch, and was easy to spot. For a start, the club has several Underground railway carriages on the roof, and to be going on with, there was a typical Amanda Palmer queue outside - lots of happy people, dressed in a vast range of styles from ballgowns and dinner jackets to the most casual of clothes. While we queued, we talked, and as we got closer to the entrance a young gentleman (who we later learned is AFP's cousin) arrived and serenaded the queue upon the bagpipes!

On getting to the head of the queue there was the inevitable frisson of fear lest my name turned out mysteriously to be missing from the guest list (happily it wasn't!) and then the pleasure of being given a goodie bag, which included a mask and a free book, and stickers, and a felt-tip pen (do not forget the felt-tip pen, best beloveds). And all of this before the gig even started.

Village Underground is a big, warehouse style space - all red brick and girders, and made a good backdrop for all the wonderful art.

There was time to look around, and admire it, and to trade the little cards marked with 'The Very Hungry Caterpiller' for drinks at the bar, and to admire the outfits of the other guests, and then, and then, the music started.

First up, Princessin Hans - who sang to us of passive-aggression, got lots of audience participation, and ROCKED in a wonderful silver dress and almost equally wonderful ginger beard...


And later, Amanda chatted with us, and encouraged us to talk, and drink, and admire the art, and swap books,
And we did. and I think it was round about that point in the evening that I got to meet up with twitter-friend @MsClara, who is even more beautiful and entertaining in person, (and her husband, the marvellous Mr. Mitch Benn. And then there was a further musical interlude, this time with strings, by Jherek Bischoff - wonderful, beautiful, wordless music.
and it was the kind of evening where you sit on the floor of this space, and close your eyes to focus on the music, and then you open them and realise that the person who just sat down on the floor next to you is Neil Gaiman...
Then - the invasion of the Grand Theft Orchestra - there were masks, and flashlights, and a beautiful woman in a beautiful dress, and saws and knives and a loudhailer and new songs and old.
And the music spilled out into the audience, and the audience surrounded the band, and at some point there was a singalong 'last christmas' too, although I can't quite recall why..
Amanda sang 'The Bed Song', and 'Trout Heart Replica' from the new album, and Neil sang 'Psycho',
and EVERYBODY sang 'Map of Tasmania' and the 'Ukulele Anthem'.
and then - did you remember the felt-tip pen, best beloveds?
This was the writing on a rock star part of the evening,

There was so much love and so much happiness and laughter...
And then evening started to wind down, and there was chatter, and hugs, and signing of books (did I mention there was a book in every goodie bag?) Amanda and Neil visited a couple of 2nd hand book shops in Charing Cross Road to buy books for everyone, and Amanda was telling us whether each book we showed her was a 'Neil Book', or an 'Amanda Book' (Mine was a Neil Book, and one day someone browsing my bookshelves is going to wonder why I have a copy of Micheal Chabon's 'The Final Solution' signed by Neil Gaiman, and I will explain it is because it has Sherlock Holmes, and because Neil was married in Michael's living room, and they will probably give me a funny look and move on. And I won't care, because to me it will be another reminder of a wonderful evening, full of friendly strangers and magical art, when Amanda Palmer kissed me.
marjorie73: (Default)
OK, I bet that got your attention!
I've been following Russell Tovey on twitter for a while (he plays George the Werewolf in 'Being Human', was Alonso in the Doctor Who / Titanic Christmas episode, and Henry Knight in 'Sherlock') and he has been tweeting about the play he is currently starring in, 'Sex with a Stranger', by Stefan Golaszewski.

It sounded interesting, so I booked myself a ticket, and set off to London early this morning. It was cold. Very cold. The journey took a little longer than expected, as my first train got delayed, so we went rather a long way round, but fortunately there are plenty of trains from Swindon (where I was changing), and I'd left myself lots of time. I enjoyed sitting in a nice, warm train as it travelled though wintry landscape, especially as it was a beautiful bright, sunny, clear day.


London was freezing cold - literally. There was ice on the fountains in Trafalgar Square, and snow still lying under some of the trees in St James' Park. The mounted sentries at Horseguards looked rather cold (although not as cold as the poor un-mounted chap. I suppose that the fact you are sitting on a horse, even if you have to keep completely still, must give you a little warmth.

There were a lot of people in Trafalgar Square, as part of Amnesty International's day day of solidarity with Syria - and massive numbers of police, although there seemed not to be any problems, so far as I could tell.

After fortifying myself with some good beer, and mediocre fish and chips in a pub just off Whitehall, I popped into the National Gallery for an hour or so. I like it there.

Today, I looked in on a couple of my favourites: Rousseau's 'Surprised!' and Stubbs' 'Whistlejacket', for instance, and checked that the Van Gogh 'Sunflowers' doesn't say 'for Amy' on it, then wandered (via 'The Ambassadors' and a completely unexpected (to me) Da Vinci cartoon ) into the Sainsbury Wing, where they keep the medieval paintings. It's amazing to see paintings which are over 500 years old but still so bright and clear.

Richard II's diptych, painted in around 1395, is stunning, for instance.

I then headed over to Trafalgar Studios for the play itself.

It's short, and has just three cast members.

Adam Russell Tovey
Grace Jaime Winstone
Ruth Naomi Sheldon

We start with Adam and Ruth, making their way back to Ruth's flat, via night buses and cabs and a kebab, making awkward conversation to fill that all-to-long gap between picking one another up in a night club, and getting back to Grace's home so they can have sex. There are a lot of awkward silences, and both actors are very convincing. It's funny, but in a slightly unsettling, too close for comfort kind of way. Ruth originally comes across as brash and confident, but as time passes exposes her own insecurity.

As the play continues, there are flashbacks to Adam preparing to go out, from which we learn that he has a partner, Ruth, and see the build up to his night out, including Ruth's half-formed suspicions, and Adam's angry response to them. There is a scene where we see Grace compliment Adam on his shirt, and then jump back, to see Ruth, alone on stage and in total silence, carefully ironing it for him, ready for his evening out.

The play doesn't resolve these issues - we don't see any of the aftermath of Adam and Grace's one night stand.

I was very impressed by all three actors. The studio is tiny, seating fewer than 100 people (in 3 rows) so it's very intimate, and there was very little in the way props (and no physical scenery at all - just light and sound) which must make it harder to capture and keep an audience's suspension of disbelief.

I'm glad I went. (oh, and for what it's worth, Tovey takes his shirt off, twice, allowing one to admire more than just his acting skills...!)
(There are some amazing pictures taken by photographer Elliott Franks, of the cast, here)
marjorie73: (Default)
I went to London yesterday. The purpose was to go to the theatre (which I'll blog separately) and to meet up with my cousin and his partner.

We were due to meet up at 1p.m., I got an earlier train, to allow time for delays, so of course both trains were on time, and the tubes round from Paddington to London Bridge were also all delay-free. So, having a little time on my hands, I took the time to wander around Southwark a little.

I visited Southwark cathedral, because I like cathedrals, and this one of course makes me think of Doctor Who (The Lazarus Experiment) although of course the interior scenes of that episode were not filmed at Southwark Cathedral, but in my old home town of Wells!

 The cathedral has a rather nice memorial to Shakespeare (the Globe theatre was, and the new Globe is, in Southwark)

You can't tell from the photo, but behind the effigy is a relief of Southwark, with the Globe.

I then wandered along the Thames path, past the replica of Drake's 'Golden Hinde' and further along, towards tower Bridge, HMS Belfast and the Tower of London.

I confess, it's a while since I've been on this part of the river, and I'd totally forgotten that the Tower of London was so close to Tower Bridge (I am somewhat geographically challenged at the best of times, and when you add in the fact that most of my London travel is done by underground, it's perhaps understandable!)
I enjoyed the contrasts between old and new buildings; this area has been through a lot of regeneration and is clearly doing well.

We had arranged to meet for lunch at the Butler's Wharf Chop House, where we dined very well, and I had some delicious black sheep ale, then had a chilly walk back along the Thames to the Southwark Playhouse.

(More photos in  my flickr set here )
marjorie73: (Default)
When I booked my tickets for Amanda's gig on Friday and Neil's on Sunday I hadn't yet decided whether it would be best to stay in London throughout, or to go home on Saturday morning, so I hadn't made any plans for Saturday. Which was rather nice, as it left me free to just wait and see how things went.As it turned out, despite aving got to bed late (and to sleep even later) I woke up early.

I'd seen a lot of ads in the tube stations for a production of Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, with Ralph Fiennes and Nicholas Lyndhurst, and directed by Trevor Nunn, so I decided to see whether there were any day-tickets available.
As a result, 9.20 found me waiting outside the theatre, in company with about 10 other people, waiting for the box office to open.

Forty minutes, and several chapters of 'Anansi Boys' later I had my ticket, and wandered off to see what I could do with the rest of the day.

I ended up going to the Victoria and Albert, which I always enjoy. I started by going to look at the wonderful glass sculpture (by Dale Chihuly) which hangs in the dome.

In the unlikely event I ever find myself living anywhere with space for a 27' long chandelier, I'll ask Mr Chihuly to design one for me..

Then I went through the Mediaeval section of the
museum, and spent some time inspecting the Great Bed Of Ware (which is mentioned in 'Twelfth Night', and which appeares to have beem built as a tourist attraction back in the 1590s), and Queen Elizabeth I's virginals, and some lovely little miniatures, and some lovely textiles - astonishing that delicate lace and embroidery should have lasted so long.

I came across this embroidered casket - it was made by a little girl named Martha Edlin, in 1671.
She was 11 years old at the time.


There were a number of other samples of her work,which her family had kept for years, but from what I could tell, what was unusual was that the pieces of work had been kept, and kept together, not that her work was unusual for her age!

I also admired this Court Dress from 1740, although I am deeply grateful that I neither have to wear anything of this nature myself, or spend my life stitching away at something similar. (although
had I been born in the 18th Century I should almost certianly have died in infancy anyway, so it wouldn't have arisen. Another reason to be glad I wasn't!)

I wandered around a little more, visiting Beatrix Potter's botanical watercolours, and the Raphael cartoons (which you are not permitted to photograph)  and was looking for the gold and silver when I found myself wandering though some modern designs, where I found the Bayko, which amused me because it's so familiar -

My grandparents used to have some (left over from my mother's childhood) - in fact I think an identical set -  and I spent lots of time as a child happily threading bakelite bricks on little metal rods to build a house...!

Hours of fun! Every time I go to the museum I find new things, sometimes entirely new rooms. This time I found a giant artwork made out of squashed tubas, for instance. Where else do you get squashed tubas, gold cups in the shape of parrots, and Rodin sculpture, all under one roof?

But it can be a little tiring, so I went back to the Hall for a nap, before heading out to the the theatre in the evening.
The day-tickets they sell are for the very front row of the stalls - so you get a very good view, if from a somewhat unusual angle. My ticket was actually for the end seat, but the guy in the centre asked me if I would swap, so I did, and found myself sitting nose to nose with Prospero's Book, which was laid out on the stage...

I enjoyed the play, although in some respects I liked it despite, rather than because of, how it was staged - it felt, to me, a very traditional production, old fashioned, even.

The costumes were all period, with a believable variety of styles, and both Prospero (Ralph Fiennes) and Miranda (Elisabeth Hopper) had additional 'jewellery' made from sea-shells, as nbefitting people who've been shipwrecked for 12 years.
(Photo by Alistair
Muir)
Some of the special effects, such as the initial storm, were excellent - others, like Ariel's flying (by wires) less so - to me, it felt rather clunky and distracting, acting as a reminder that this was all artificial. For me, it broke into, rather than aiding, my suspension of disbelief!

There were some excellent performances - Ralph Fiennes was very good, particularly in the soliloquies. The double act between Trinculo (Nicholas Lyndhurst) and Stephano (Clive Wood) were very well done - and the by-play between the cynical, worldly Antonio (Julian Wadham) and Sebastian (Chris Andrew Mellon) in the earlier parts of the play was very well done, although I found their later contrition at the end of the play far less convincing!

Ferdinand (Michael Benz) was also very good - both he and Miranda were played as very young, very naive.

Over all, it was interesting, and I loved hearing Shakespeare well-spoken, but I didn't find it as engaging as the last Tempest I saw, (blogged here) which felt much more adventurous and exciting, to me)  I've seen several interviews where Ralph Fienne's is quoted as saying he hopes that people who know him from his role as Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter films will be inspired to come and see the play, and love Shakespeare as a result. I rather hope they don't. I suspect that if you don't know, or love Shakespeare, and have just 'done' it at school, you'd find this production would confirm most of your prejudices. I think seeing someone like Filter Theatre, or the Tennant / Tate 'Much Ado' would be far more likely to spark a love of Shakespeare, or of live theatre generally.

Despite all of this, I am still very glad I saw it (although also glad I hadn't spent £60 on a 'proper' ticket) And Fiennes in particular gave a very memorable performance, especially in the closing scenes.

It was officially still preview week, and so I haven't seen any 'proper' reviews yet - I'll be interested to see what they critics think, and whether any of them agree with me.
marjorie73: (Default)
I have had a VERY full, and very fun weekend, so will try to break it down into managable chunks.

I got a train to London on Friday, having enjoyed a lazy morning at home. After booking into my accommodation (very cheap; I stayed in one of the LSE's halls of residence - they rent out rooms on a B&B basis, during the university holidays) I headed down the road to the Grant Museum, which is part of UCL and which I've wanted to visit for ages, but have not been able to because it doesn't open at weekends.

It's wonderful. It lives in an old library, and gives the impression of not-quite fitting, so that everything has been squeezed in. I've got cupboards like that, except they don't (mostly) contain the skeletons of extinct animals or jars of skulls. The collection was originally used for teaching (we are talking about 1828, or thereabouts) and those who benefited included one Charles Darwin.

The museum has a lot of bones. And a lot of Things in jars. Such as moles, and foetal pigs, and skulls, and snakes.


There are skeletons, including those of a Quagga (albeit one with slightly fewer legs then it ought to have) and of a Tylacine, and a Dodo.

There is a Sabre-Tooth tiger's skull, rather endearingly displayed between a small plastic model of a sabre-tooth, and a plastic box containing a big-cat hairball. Around the galleries of the library are more skeletons - including several primates of different kinds leaning companionably on the bannisters and looking down into the displays.
I was slightly disappointed that there was (as far as I could see) no jar of eyeballs, but one can't have everything.  There were some beautiful glass models of squid, and corals and sea-urchins.

There's a pickled pangolin. (at least I think it was a pangolin) And you can adopt specimens if you want. I rather fancied adopting a bug-eyed monster loris, or maybe the walrus penis bone,  but they seemed to have been adopted already.                                        

It's a fascinating place.

I'm glad I went.After looking round the museum, I wandered down to the British  Library, to pick up my tickets for Sunday, and to have another quick look around the 'Out of This world' exhibition - (the TARDIS is still there) before heading down to Charing Cross, to Amanda Fucking Palmer's gig . .
.

Which I think should have a post of it's own, don't you?
marjorie73: (Default)
I left you, at the end of the last post, as we were walking down Charing Cross Road to Wyndhams Theatre, to see' Much Ado About Nothing' . We've been waiting and looking forward to it since we booked the tickets at the end of January, and so as you can imagine we were in a fine, happy mood! We splashed out on good seats, so were in the stalls, and Wyndhams is a relatively small theatre, so no-one is all that far from the stage.

And so to the play.

(Picture from
davidtennant.com)
The setting was 1980s, and, judging from the sunshine and heat depicted, not in the UK  - Gibralter, maybe - just after the Faulklands War, to give Don Pedro, and Claudio, and Benedick a war from which to be returning.

We saw Hero (denim shorts, blonde bubble perm) sunbathing in the company of her cousin Beatrice (Catherine Tate), and then Don Pedro and his men arrived, all in crisp, white naval uniforms, and followed by Benedick (David Tennant)  driving a mini golf-cart, festooned with
union flags  (and a single Saltire), clearly establishing himself as a joker,
and there was then immediate drinking and smoking and joking and  high
spirits.
(Picture from
davidtennant.com)
The play was very, very funny. I don't think that one usually assosciates Shakespearian comedy with being genuinely, laugh out loud funny, but this production managed it. The cast (especially David Tennant) gave the impression that they were enjoying
themselves, and the audience undoubtably were.

The masked dance scene was done as a fancy dress party, which of course made it rather more believable that
Hero should not recognise Don Pedro, or Beatrice recognise Benedick. (It also provided an excuse for Mr Tennant to be dressed up in a very short denin skirt, and lacy tights, and wig, and for Claudio (Tom Bateman) to appear in leather trousers, pirate shirt and a single diamante earring, (think Adam Ant)

It was also very physical - during the scenes where Benedick  overhears his friends discussing Beatrice's alleged love for him, for instance, there was a lot of by-play involving paint, and as Beatrice overhears her friends
discussing Benedick's alleged love for her, she is actually hoisted up on a pulley (and managed to continue to act under the circumstances - very impressive!)
(picture:davidtennant.com)
The wedding scene was another opportunity to revisit the 80s, with Hero's wedding dress being the image of Princess Diana's (albeit with  a rather shorter train), worn with fingerless lace gloves, no less! And of course all the men in dress uniforms.

I was particularly impressed that both David Tennant and Catherine Tate were able to dial down the comedy so that their reaction to Cladio's accusations against Hero, and Benedick's subsequent challenge to him, came across as (quite literally) deadly serious.

So, all in all, a fabulous, hugely enjoyable performance. I think inevitably, the focus was on Tate and Tennant, but the rest of the cast were also very good - special mention is deserved for the boy, who has only 2 lines, but whose appearances (trying to do a Rubiks cube, fetching a book for Benedick and so on) added  very entertaining background.

Although we hadn't realised in advance, it turned out that this was the 100th performance of the show. That being the case, I found it was still very fresh. And, in case you haven't worked it out  yet, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'd been looking forward to it hugely, and I think it's fair to say that it exceeded my expectations!

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