David died two months ago.
What can be said?
Loss is immeasurable. Grief inexplicable. It works in many ways for all of us. The image I still carry in my mind is of that frozen face asleep in a cheap coffin, traces of the mortician’s art mocking my memories.
And look at this: the fate of the ship we would have been on had David lived:
It is certain he would not have survived that.
“God works in mysterious ways….” someone said.
“It is written, then?” asks Auda Abu Tayi in Lawrence of Arabia.
But to the living!
One of our Godsons is Friend Lois’ son, Guy Bentley and he has just got married to Jaclyn Boudreau at Great Marsh Estate, Bealeton, Virginia. Tony flew first to Canada to be with family there. I was to have flown to Washington from Auckland but that was not to be and instead met Tony at Dulles, he from Ottawa, me from Mistley, where we picked up a car and drove through stupendous autumn colours to Baltimore to be with friends Judith & Douglas who always make us feel welcome in their lovely home in, yes, Homeland!
Then the drive to Culpeper where an hotel had been requisitioned for everyone, the day before the wedding – it was a very American event! Fully rehearsed; camera angles sorted; bridesmaids and groomsmen paired off on either side of the stage overlooking the lawns and woods; those with speaking roles were positioned. The house itself looks Georgian but was built in the 1980s as an event venue. It looked beautiful in the sunshine and the autumnal colours.
After the rehearsals the bride’s family hosted cocktails & finger food at Grass Rootes, a restaurant in the old, quaint part of town – itself about forty minutes away from Bealeton where the Great Marsh Estate actually is.
Mother Loïs & Aunt Diana in Culpeper diagonally opposite Grass Rootes. A folksy Virginian country town.
On the day, the 4th November, all the important players went into hair and make-up first and at 4pm sharp the show kicked off; we processed out of the house to take our places overlooking the dais and the woods and fields; bride and groom entered separately at the end, Jacquie coming in last and looking gorgeous.
There were touching moments but for me their promises to each other were very moving – neither of them had any inkling what each would be saying to the other.
There were tears. It was lovely.
And so to the Reception in the Barn
TO NEW YORK!
On the 5th November the day after the wedding, we returned the rental to the Baltimore agency, lunched at Gertrude’s in the Baltimore Museum of Art with Friends Judith & Douglas who dropped us off at the station for the Acela to New York where we spent a week.
How nice to be back in New York. It’s been a while: four years for me and ten for Tony.
Both happy to visit the safe old haunts, so rather a cozy visit really, nothing unfamiliar except the fantastic new Whitney Museum of American Art at the end of The High Line showing all of Edward Hopper’s New York works, a massive collection, beautifully hung in what has now to be one of my favourite galleries with its vast space, overlooking the Hudson River to the west and the old meat packing district to the east through enormous windows letting in plenty of light even on grey days.
We walked north along The High Line through a canyon of new high rises, the trees and shrubs having grown up in a managed wilding, all new since our last visit, and came off at the astonishing Shed where Ralph Fiennes is appearing in the London transfer of Straight Line Crazy, onto Hudson Yards where stands The Vessel a $200 million art project by the British designer Thomas Heatherwick, 16 stories, 2,500 steps and 80 landings high, closed to the public after several suicides but spectacular to look at.
The High Line and the Vessel
Tony had read a review in the TLC of the Morris Hirshfield Rediscovered exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum (almost opposite The Met on Columbus) of “the uncannily original work of a self-taught painter saved from snobbish neglect”. Hirshfield was a Jewish immigrant from a shtetl in Russian-ruled Poland. Escaping the pogroms he came to New York where to cut a long story short he made a fortune in the garment industry using his tailoring and cutting skills to invent boudoir slippers which established his E-Z Walk Manufacturing Co.; but all he ever wanted to do was paint and at 65, after his slipper company went bust, he turned to painting., having never picked up a brush in his life. His auto-didactic talents were looked down on by the contemporary art establishment and he only achieved fame in the last nine years of his life after he was discovered by the wealthy Jewish collector, dealer and curator, Sidney Janis.
It is a striking collection and a fascinating life. Entrance to the museum, unusually, is free.
The weather in New York was unseasonably warm while we were there. In fact hot. We set off across Central Park to visit all our favourite Klimts and Klees at the Berner Museum only to find it shut and prepping for a new exhibition opening, you’ve got it, the next day!
Our other favourite is of course the Frick, also undergoing a facelift and shut. So we walked down to Grand Central instead and rewarded ourselves rather egregiously and greedily with platters of oysters.
Speaking of eating we ventured to old faithful’s like Joe Allen, twice, Café Fiorello, for The Met, Marseille on 9th, trad. French brasserie and Café un Deux Trois on 44th West, also trad. French. All excellent though the weak pound did not serve us well and New York generally was expensive.
Serafina, a franchise, was good value too. On Long Island – we visited friend Ira in Bellport – the seafood at Varney’s was great as was Eataly’s on Madison Park under the Flatiron.
We saw three shows:
Don Carlo at The Met, production by David McVicar, Carlo Rizzi conducting the immaculate Orchestra; the standard was as high as ever for this long and difficult opera but we were shocked at how poorly it was attended; there couldn’t have been more than two hundred people in that vast auditorium, the affects of inflation and the pandemic though a Monday night performance may have made its contribution too!
The Piano Lesson at the Barrymore was better attended, a rather clunky revival of one of August Wilson’s The Pittsburgh Cycle plays with Samuel L Jackson playing Doaker. We were a little disappointed. It had its moments but there was a whiff of am-dram we thought. Jackson gave a film performance and could hardly be heard betraying what should have been an enormous stage presence. I didn’t understand a lot of it though there were some good moments. We preferred Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom which we saw at The National a few years ago.
And then the revival of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man at the Winter Garden, a vast hanger of a place, packed to the ceiling with enthusiastic fans of Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster playing Harold Hill and Marion Paroo. It was a Broadway production at its best, immaculately staged, choreographed and sung; one of those shows you come away from with your heart strings twanging!
So it was back to chilly damp London, and Mistley on the 12th November where we have been on and off ever since – with a broken boiler here…..and a broken boiler there: Yes! Both addresses have broken boilers.
Last weekend we camped on ice for various dates – seeing friends and visiting some theatres. Can you bear a full report. Read on if you can!
What can be said of John Gabriel Borkman at The Bridge Theatre? “Interesting” is damning with faint praise, isn’t it? But it was indeed interesting.
I’m not sure Ibsen can be modernised. We saw Patrick Marber’s version of Hedda Gabler directed by Ivo van Hove a few years ago and thought it risible. We had similar doubts about Zinnie Harris’ A Doll’s House with Gillian Anderson playing Nora, directed by Kfir Yefet at the Donmar back in 2009.
Ibsen’s Naturalism and heightened use of language, for me, just doesn’t bend into a believable reality today. Here Lucinda Coxon’s adaptation directed by Nicholas Hytner was not only radically redacted, adapted and vulgarised, it’s long four acts were certainly evident but we were out of the theatre in just over ninety minutes!
This had the effect of undercutting any attempt by Simon Russell Beale as Borkman, to reach epic, Lear-like grandeur and envisioning a global future for trade and industry, power and wealth. He came across
as a self-pitying, unredeemed speculator who frankly elicited not one jot of sympathy from me.
Certainly the themes had modern parallels. Speculation, corruption, state-capture not to mention misogyny, are all familiar to us these days. Trump, Johnson, Putin, Zuma, Bolsonaro to mention but a few – narcissism, greed, megalomania et al run through the veins of the global body politic – and we learn nothing new. Even Borkman’s dreams are old fashioned and decidedly “unwoke and politically incorrect”. Imagine Borkman pitching up at Sharm el-Sheikh for COP 27! He’d be taken down in seconds. So it was an uneven evening. We felt entertained by it. It is after all a tragi-comedy. Simon Russell-Beale deployed his usual vocal mannerisms and gave a familiar performance; the production design was of the usual high standard: Anna Fleischle gave us Brutalist instead of Trad-scand architecture; Clare Higgins and Lia Williams were great; but leave
Ibsen in the 19th Century where Norwegian Calvinism, prejudices and suppressed emotions work much better. Tony saw Richardson playing it in the 70s and I saw Scofield play JGB in 1996 at the National. Both productions were left in the 19th Century. Both performances achieved an epic quality absent from this one.
And Grieg was in all of them!
And The Sex Party at The Menier Chocolate Factory? Oh dear, wake me when it’s over! At least, wake me only at the interval because this so-called comedy elicited not one laugh and we sat in embarrassed silence watching a crescendo of sexual innuendos, clichéd romp-com situations and double entendres, wondering what on earth we were doing there. That is, as I said, until after the interval with the arrival of Lucy, a transitioning male with breasts and a penis who it transpires is shortly to complete surgery and her gender-reassignment.
At this point the play became extremely interesting and I am glad that we resisted the impulse to leave the theatre at the interval. The tension between the different opinions and prejudices pushed the piece into didacticism of the kind I love, and it is brave of Terry Johnson to take on this subject – or should I say, these subjects since there was a lot flung at us on an uneven trajectory!
Pooya Mohseni, an Iranian actress of great elegance and beauty was excellent in the role of Lucy. Whether or not in real life, she has transitioned I do not know nor, of course, should it matter. She was brilliant and brought intelligence to a controversial subject. I read in her biography that she is a transgender advocate and a voice for immigrants’ and women’s issues from New York where she now lives.
The Guardian review refers to her as “the grenade lobbed into the play”; and so it was. Thank goodness else it would have been a waste of time. The production is slick, the set excellent, the acting good – but I fear this will not head into the Westend.
From the Menier we zipped straight across to the Noël Coward Theatre for Best of Enemies.
Oh Wow, what a contrast. I said I love didactic theatre and here you have it in spades in a brilliant rendering of the famous ABC TV debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley during the 1968 Republican and Democratic Conventions in Miami and Chicago https://youtu.be/0XGpc8gnc-Q . Playwright James Graham has added another title to his oeuvre well worth visiting and the two contenders, Zachary Quinto and David Harewood as Vidal and Buckley Jr. were riveting.
Afterwards we visited Sheekey’s, where we have not been in years! Excellent fish and the juiciest oysters; we were amazed to get in at a moment’s notice as London is jumping at the moment; in fact I’ve not see it this busy for years. Everyone wining and dining and looking at the lights and visiting the theatres and clubs; very festive; quite like old times and certainly despite the prevailing terrifying global circumstances of war, famine, inflation and disease.
We couldn’t resist The Nutcracker at Covent Garden with the Royal Ballet. How very many times have we seen this ballet? When I was growing up in Durban the local ballet company put it on at Christmas as Cassa Noisette. I loved it then and I love it now. A pop-up book of perfection; a magical, jewelled music box; a confection of sweet sentiment and all to the timeless tunes Tchaikovsky gave us where to this day the glorious Sugar Plum pas de deux makes me cry.
Just beautiful, Friends. Beautiful.
HAVE A VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS DEAR FRIENDS, WHEREVER YOU ARE
AND BE PEACEFUL IN THE NEW YEAR