We once saw an excellent production at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin of Three Sisters. Memorable because it was the first time either of us had ever seen a professional actor going on with a book.
Three Sisters at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin – 2008.
Lorcan Cranitch, playing Vershinin, became suddenly unavailable and an actor “familiar with the role” and with barely a rehearsal came on with a book.
It was a small, discreet book from which he extracted the most brilliant performance.
How? I can’t imagine. The print must have been tiny and soon we were completely unaware of its presence.
I say memorable for this, but would add that of all Three Sisters productions I have seen, and having played Vershinin myself once, this was the best version (by Brian Friel) I have ever seen. The aching relationship between Masha and Aleksandr Vershinin, despite the book, was most truthful and moving.
I mention this because last week we went to see a revival of Somerset Maugham’s 1921 romantic melodrama The Circle which, despite being rather clunky, had some excellent dialogue, amusing moments and some surprises. It survives somehow, and the Richmond Orange Tree Theatre gave it a good run for its money.
Nicholas La Provost and Clive Francis were particularly good though we felt the re-imagined Teddie Luton played by Chirag Benedict Lobo was miscast as an Indian businessman. Teddie Luton whichever way you look at him is the ultimate hearty, buttoned-up Englishman and Lobo’s version was certainly not that.
Jane Asher did not appear as Lady Catherine Champion-Cheney as she was ill; another actor, wearing the startling wig and costume of Lady Catherine went on with an enormous A4-size script, her part highlighted in pink.
As we were above her in the gallery we could clearly see all her speeches on each page as she moved through the action giving an excellent performance notwithstanding! And with no warning at all. It chills my actor’s blood. If it were me I’d go into immediate meltdown! Even with a script in hand!
Maugham is supposed to be the missing link between Wilde and Coward – and so it would seem. It was dated but nonetheless fascinating and hats-off to Miranda Foster (Barry Foster’s daughter I believe) for bravely standing in for Jane Asher at a few hours notice.
Tarry Tours – Madeira Mayflower Festival – a 16 kilometre hike along Levada do Norte
It’s been a while since I last posted. The Easter holidays soon segued into a rainy, cold spring encouraging a quick ten-day visit with Tarry Tours to Madeira where the sun shone, the flower festival, rather underwhelming, paraded on unlikely floats but the walking was good, the Levadas abundant with new growth and colour-colour everywhere – trees and flowers. This is the first time we’d ventured there in Spring, it has always been in Winter; lots of people and we shall probably revert the next time. Mah deah – the Heat! The Crowds!
But before that there was time to see The Motive and the Cue Jack Thorne’s dramatisation of the stripped-back production of Hamlet John Gielgud directed in 1964 with Richard Burton as Hamlet, on Broadway. Sam Mendes directing. I’m always rather nervous of what are called “luvvies-on-Luvvies” plays. Does the public want to know about the machinations of actors and writers working up their schtik? I’m not sure. Is it self-regarding? I think so. Certainly the reviews have been mixed though it is now impossible to get a ticket. This was a preview and it got off to an uncertain start; then after that, I thought it flew. It was a moving, polished production.
“Where the play comes alive is in Gielgud’s story and Gatiss’s performance. He sounds like Gielgud but captures something beyond imitation: the pained spirit of a great actor grappling with the ageing process – the old guard, reluctantly, giving way to the new. Gielgud admits to his envy of Burton and shows his insecurity as a director. We see the fear his homosexuality brings in an era when it was criminalised; a hotel room conversation with a sex worker carries great, subtle power. While Gielgud’s inner complications are slowly but searingly explored, much of what surrounds him feels emotionally sterile,” writes Arifa Akbar in The Guardian, “There is a real sense of remove too as we watch actors playing actors who, in turn, are playing characters in Hamlet, or unpicking the meanings of the play, scene by scene. Ultimately, this play-about-the-play leaves us wishing we had been there to see Burton in the real thing.”
We went round afterwards to see Allan Corduner and Johnny Flynn whose Burton impressed us, though how you play such towering personalities as these without sinking into impersonation I do not know. Impossible.
Great to see Allan back in voice and on stage again, playing Hume Cronyn.
Disabled people have sex. Meandering exploration of what dating is like for disabled people is the reality celebrated in Park Theatre’s latest show, Animal, an exceptional piece of theatre that is searingly insightful, soulfully intimate and utterly hilarious.
Christopher John-Slater, himself Cerebral Palsy, plays David, whose mobility is severely compromised and has live-in carers. Animal follows him as he negotiates the unforgiving and relentless world of app dating;
ultimately, it is a zippy, poignant play about wanking, though the difficulties encountered by handicapped people are poignant indeed.
Donatello at the V & A, a superb display of some of the sculptor’s works. Great influencer of course, of the sculptors to come in the guise of Michelangelo among others – given that Donatello sculpted the first male nudes since the Roman era, his supposed sexuality, that he was gay, adds prurience to his story. Apparently his lover ran off to Ferrara which so enraged Donatello that he asked permission from Cosimo de Medici, his Patron, to be allowed to pursue him there and to murder him in an act of passionate revenge!
This was at a time when sodomy or any related homosexual act could lead to hellfire at the stake; but Cosimo was indulgent in these matters and allowed his charge to run off to Ferrara where all ended happily and in much laughter.
This must surely be a topic worthy of a Netflix production! But it upped the ante of our visit to the V&A.
The launch of Kate Worsley’s new book Foxash here in Manningtree has set off the peal of literary bells. A beautiful story and part of my reading at present – “…a visceral, visual novel of rural experiment and dark secrets, set in 1930s England at the height of the Great Depression…” – not a mile away in, yes, Foxash! I am loving it.
There have been other books too which I have enjoyed. I am now a Kindle devotee. It’s true I do miss leafing the pages and riffling backwards and forwards when I need to be reminded…but you soon get used to that with Kindle and it certainly helps reduce the weight on travel expeditions!
I have loved re-visiting A Month in the Country J.L.Carr’s bitter-sweet story of two men trying to find the peace and contentment they knew before the Great War, “…..an elegiac meditation on nature, loss and the passing of time…” published in 1980 and a Booker Prize contender, it was made into a beautiful film back in 1987 with new boys on the block Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh.
Not forgetting Letters to Camondo : the collection of imaginary letters from Edmund de Waal to Moise de Camondo, the banker and art collector who created a spectacular house in Paris, now the Musée Nissim de Camondo, and filled it with the
greatest private collection of French eighteenth-century art, dissipated, desecrated and plundered by the Nazis along with the evisceration of a whole family. Another moving and excellent read. Go for it Friends!
Another kind of Carr, Philip Kerr this time: a return to Bernie Gunther, this time in Argentina in a thrilling story of Peronista intrigue and vile politics, A Quiet Flame, just when you thought it was safe to venture to Latin America. Good airline lounge reading as is David McCloskey’s Damascus Station.
I am a great fan of Sebastian Faulks too. Where My Heart Used To Beat I discovered the other day though it was published in about 1915 I think. Another beautiful story “……love, loss and passion…..”!
And before I move to Vermeer, I must say that I have been privileged to read Tony’s latest work, finished literally last week, now warm in his agent’s hands, hot out of the Hewlett-Packard, If It’s Tuesday a whimsical, magical-reality story which you will have to wait to experience. I’m not giving a thing away here. Just to say I enjoyed it hugely. Fingers crossed for publication.
A glitch on the Rijksmuseum booking site enabled us to get three tickets for this spectacular exhibition in Amsterdam. The ferry to Hoek is at the end of our local line here, minutes from Mistley. We often use it to get to the Continent and set off a few weekends-ago, sailing on a day crossing and getting to Amsterdam in the early evening for a three night stay during which we walked the crowded city, visited the ever-shocking Anne Frank story at her erstwhile home on the Prinsengracht in its recently refurbished state.
The Vermeer Exhibition was simply breath-taking. 28 out of 37 known paintings, dramatically hung at the Rijksmuseum, leaving lots of space for the crowds: a little larger than we would have liked, I am afraid.
The Girl with a Pearl Earing had been moved back to the Mauritzhuis in The Hague already and we had to make a special trip there to see it and the collection at that beautiful museum which houses the Royal Cabinet of Paintings consisting of 854 objects, mostly ‘Dutch Golden Age’, neither of us had been there before.
The week before, we’d walked up to Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath to visit the Kenwood House Museum and have some tea in the garden.
There is housed The Guitar Player excluded from the Rijksmueum exhibition because it is too frail to travel stretched, as it is, over its original frame. That is one of my favourites – famously stolen in 1974 in a daring raid.
We went to look at the Rhododendrons too while we were there – they flower in May and are prolific on the lawns outside the House – and were shocked to find that they have been pruned and chopped
back almost out of existence. No-one seemed to know why though apparently in future seasons they will grow back.
The Mauritshuis, Den Haag.
I have never seen so many bicycles in one place in my life!
Back in Amsterdam then – our visit there was short but sweet and we were able to see friends, dining at the lovely Café Schiller Restaurant on Rembrandtplein on one evening and the oldest Cantonese Restaurant in A’dam on Oudezijds Voorburgwal, on another. Great food and good company; but it is a young person’s city we have concluded! I have never seen so many bicycles, you take your life into your hands when you cross the road! It’s also a victim of its fame and success. 18 million visitors last year and the city can barely cope with the masses and the mess; nevertheless it remains one of my favourite places. We could learn a lot from the Dutch!
- Bridge over Groenburgwal.
- Anne Frank Huis.
- Cafe Schiller.
- Oriental City.
Back in Blighty much else to amuse and shock not least the Westminster scene which seems to play like a TV Sit-com these days.
Will Boris… or won’t he…? Will Rishi….or not? What will Reece-Moggie do?
And could one care less? We are used to being a laughing stock. A rant-in-my-pant is narrowly avoided!
You can only laugh like a drain so we took ourselves off to see the unlikely musical comedy of Operation Mincemeat at the Fortune Theatre. A startling subject for a musical you would think, specially as it is rather overshadowed by the recent movie of the same name. At first I thought it a little tasteless but after a while became amused and rather moved by the handling of such a serious topic.
The plot is based on the Operation
Mincemeat, a Second World War British deception operation. It premiered at Southwark Playhouse as a small scale piece but its success moved it into the Westend; it has only five actors who interchange roles and sexes so that it never matters who is who, who is what and what is what – if you see what I mean. They were all extraordinarily talented and in the end we thought it a clever piece of theatre – even thought-provoking.
And don’t forget our dear Jazz Mentors, Richard & Cathie G. who took us to Jazz at Lauderdale House where John Etheridge riffed with his friends, entertaining us lavishly with their incomparable talents. A great evening.
Simon Butteriss excellent as King Gama & The Narrator
Two evenings of Gilbert & Sullivan from the sublime to the ridiculous: Princess Ida at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, an enchanting platform production by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under the brilliant baton of John Wilson.
Not a G&S that I know well but certainly one of their best.
To the ridiculous, though fun, all-male Mikado at that Music Hall treasure Wilton’s. It looked like an amateur show that might be put on by an enthusiastic, rather camp, Scout troupe temporarily lost in the bush somewhere – making do with whatever material might make convenient cozzies and props!
G&S purists were not impressed and there were some departures at interval. Personally I thought it rather diverting and good fun. Period. Katisha, I should mention, an elderly lady of the Mikado‘s court, reminded me of Margaret Hamilton’s Miss Gulch/The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz!
Friends – the end is in sight. That is if anyone has ploughed this Bloggy field to its conclusion: but I wanted to mention the ballet rehearsals we attended at the Opera House. Not usually my thing at all as I am not all that keen on modern ballet. I prefer the grand set and frocks of the great classics – not to mention their romantic music; but this was a triple bill – Untitled, 2023, a brand new ballet by Wayne McGregor; it fascinated with bleak landscapes “invoking infinity” and with music written by the Icelandic composer, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, itself conjuring the bleak spaces of that island. I don’t know her music at all but thought it beautifully evocative.
Using the five movements of Bernstein’s Serenade, Corybantic Games, conceived by Christopher Wheeldon, didn’t really float my boat but the last piece in the bill, Anastasia Act III most certainly did, ‘old hat’ though some may think it. The madness of Anna Anderson whose delusions really serve to underline the tragic awfulness of the murderous demise of the Romanovs in 1918.
Lets lighten up!
I know lots of you didn’t like it but I thought the New Hockney Exhibition at Lightroom in Kings Cross was spectacular. I know this so-called immersive art trend is the thing these days. This one is described as “visually astonishing, alive with sound and rich in new perspectives”. Well – it is all that – and more; but do you know what: I sat in that four-storey hall for an hour watching the colours and shapes unfolding and it filled me with joy and peace – and not a little optimism. It had real love in it and I cared not a jot for any of the niceties of clever-arse criticism. Those of you who can – get on down there and have a look. It is fabulous.
Thanks for being here, dear Friends. Enjoy the summer now that the Solstice is upon us.
Pedro of the Green
With Friend Jane Balfour at Kings Cross for the Hockney.