Friday, October 26, 2012

"The weight of this sad time we must obey" - Theatre Review King Lear @ Almeida Theatre, London Saturday 20 October 2012

When this was first announced about 18 months ago, Helen Lisette and I were both very excited - the prospect of seeing Jonathan Pryce on stage doing King Lear was a great prospect.

And we waited.  And waited.  We thought we may have missed the public ticket sale dates, but then somehow, HLW did it ---- she got us tickets.  Hurrah!

So last weekend, with the late addition of an early schedule performance of 55 Days to enjoy as well over the weekend, we headed to London for what we hoped would be a tremendous theatre experience.

It was: if I see a better Lear in my lifetime I will feel privileged indeed.  I suspect it may take a current generation to get older before there will be something to match it.  The sisters, especially Goneril (Zoe Waites) and Regan (Jenny Jules) were excellently venal in their manipulation and overthrowing of Lear's power - but there was also a well-played (and mostly understated) hint of a somewhat abusive relationship between Lear and his older daughters.  For example, in the opening scenes, where Lear throws open the map to allocate his kingdom according the whim of the daughters' ability to flatter him, Lear kisses Goneril.  And the kiss is... unseemly, excessive, inappropriate, unnerving. The jealousy of the older sisters towards the youngest, Cordelia, reaffirmed by Lear crowning her with a coronet before the division of land has even begun, is thus undercut by the pointers to the past.  What horrors have the older sisters endured before their - much younger - sibling arrived?  It is not overplayed throughout, but there are hints to highlight the power relationship between father and daughters that perhaps contextualises the later violence and horror of the play.

The cast was uniformly good I felt - a real ensemble performance.  Cordelia (Phoebe Fox) stands her ground to her father; Gloucester (Clive Wood) is powerhouse of a figure, bought low by the betrayal of his King and his bastard son; Kent (Ian Gelder) never waivers from his loyalty to Lear despite the horrors that ensue, and he works throughout to bring Lear back to himself, to those who care for him; and the Fool (Trevor Fox) is charmingly wise in his observation of the social disintegration around him.  These are just a few of the key performances, and I always find the worst weaknesses in the role of Cordelia are within the text itself (though Fox and the director Michael Attenborough, do their best to make this a livelier Cordelia than is usual).  But everyone does their part.  I never quite got the measure of the Duke of Cornwall (Chook Sibtain), but Cornwall is an odd role - the utter violence and spur of action with Regan at his side one moment, having come across initially just as an ambitious and thwarted husband to Lear's second daughter who ends up cuckolded almost as badly as Albany (Richard Hope).  Indeed, the husbands to the elder Lear daughters have a rough time all round really, and it is credit to Richard Hope that Albany's own cuckolded haplessness is pitiable rather than despicable (Steven Elliott as Oswald really bring out the self-serving venal qualities of this character). I was also impressed with Richard Goulding as Edgar who was suitably fit (in all senses) to play the high-born, well-born son of powerful Gloucester, who is bought down by the intense hatred of his illegitimate sibling, Edmund (a finely powered Kieran Bew).

An additional note: hilariously, at the interval (post-eye-gouging) I actually heard someone complaining about the production "excessively bloody, far more than necessary".  I nearly fell over in astonishment - did they fancy bloodless eye-gouging?!  What is this - the Disney version?

Probably difficult, if not impossible to get tickets before this closes next weekend, but a gem nonetheless.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Theatre Review: 55 Days @ Hampstead Theatre, London Friday 19 October 2012

So, we're quite keen on political plays over here at Rullsenberg Rules: a play about the English Civil War, the King and Cromwell was definitely something to be intrigued by! I was thus hardly likely to pass the chance to see Mark Gatiss on stage, especially given that Douglas Henshall was also in the cast of 55 Days.

So with a weekend in London already planned, Helen Lisette and I headed to Hampstead Theatre up near Swiss Cottage/Finchley Road on Friday night fresh from arriving in the capital.  The rain lashed down, and then the fire alarm went off and we had to evacuate, and so for 10 minutes or so poor Mark Gatiss in his frilly shirt and 17th century trews was stood under an umbrella gamely chuckling at the fun and games.

It was a fairly starry evening all ways round actually, with Ed Bennett sat in front of us (Leartes to Tennant's Hamlet, and an incredibly fine Hamlet himself - as I noted when I saw Bennett's London performance). Clare Holman also in attendance, inevitably as she is wife to Howard Davies, director of the play.

The play itself
The isolation of King Charles is highlighted by his being the only figure on period costume - everyone else has vaguely modern suits (it's a very male play, though there are a couple of good female performances).  This actually works rather well - even if it did mean there was no 'wart-counting' for Cromwell [shallowly, no complaints from me for that, though I did miss the prospect of high boots and period trews for all concerned].

The script makes canny use of the tone of 17th century discourse (the religious attitudes, the political factions), without getting too bogged down in period diction: again, King Charles is isolated for having more florid speech in keeping with what we know (or rather imply) was typical speech patterns for the period.  It is, by virtue of its nature and topics, a rather densely expositional play, but it isn't unduly overbearing.  It IS an intelligent play, with a lot going on, and worthy of attention for that.  It is also, despite the weight, not without laughter - indeed, the hysteria at the end of the play finely shows how those signing the death warrant for the King probably could hardly believe what they managed to do.  It's an uncomfortable moment - hilarious and horrific for its consequences.

Cromwell takes several scenes to appear - tantalising for me of course, but it really heightens the tension for getting the main characters all present.  And once he does, Cromwell becomes a real pivotal force - both utterly and subtly in control and yet driven into his courses of action by events he cannot quite control. The scene where Cromwell and Charles meet and talk is pretty electric for all that it is entirely fictitious.

Charles is in turns baffled by the threat to his authority, automatically expecting and mostly getting deference from his jailers and challengers. His accent and his stammer are exacerbated as his control over his destiny diminishes: when he realises that the quality of his argument - a divinely annointed King, far more than a man - will not save his neck from the axe, it is quite horrifying how he suddenly tries to get out of the situation.  The bravado of earlier ripostes disappearing, replaced by uncertainty in speech and demeanor.

I mentioned before about the limited female roles: but they are good ones.  Abigail Cruttenden as Lady Fairfax is brilliant - her faith and conflict with her husband is archly portrayed to rich effect.  She is more than equal to her husband who finds events, and Cromwell, going far beyond his own expectations of developments.  Likewise, Laura Rogers as Mary Cooke - wife of the recruited lawyer prosecuting the King, is similarly measured up to her husband and what he needs to do.  And if I need a more female-orientated Civil War narrative, I'll re-watch the excellent Channel 4 drama: The Devil's Whore.

Early days, early responses
I made the mistake of reading a review/comment on the play on Friday before heading to London.  It was pretty damning and I did fear for how the evening would go.  Both myself and HLW were exhausted (work is always pretty knackering this time of year) but as the negative reviewer commented on how high their own expectations had been, it did unnerve me. I shouldn't have worried though.  It was fine.  Press Night is Wednesday 24 October 2012 - but I'm not deterred.  I know I have a vested interest to enjoy the play, but Helen who has far less personal interest felt utterly enthralled and we ran on adrenaline til 1am.

Review - negative
Review - positive

Personal note
Awh, bless you Mr Henshall, you can make the worst of times light up with your friendly smile and affection.  At the end of a long working week, you were a real tonic.  I hope you enjoyed your much desired cigarette after the play.  Thanks to Mr Gatiss who also was kind enough to sign my programme.

Clothing and other things: London October 2012

Ooooh... goodies....

Hat from Covent Garden market

Lisa modelling new hat, and with my new weekend bag I tested out on this trip!

Lisa modelling hat in close-up

Art Deco cufflinks (to share with Neil) from Circa 1900 in Camden Passage, Islington

 Small handbag from Covent Garden

And if you didn't see it elsewhere, here's the dress I didn't buy.  *sob* - it was a lovely 1930s dress from Annie's in Camden Passage, beautiful fabric, and the fit was fine, except on my back where the fact it was probably for a taller lady (oh to be Professor Celeste-Marie!) really came into play.  The bag hung like a sack on me and nothing in the world could change that.  Given the bias-cut and patterning it would have took a really serious vintage expert seamstress to even restitch it to fit me so sadly it had to go back on the hanger.  Gutted.  Sorry about the picture quality.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sunday cultural highlights in Leicester (1): August Sander

We headed over to Leicester about 1.30pm and arrived just after 2.30pm by the time we had driven to East Midlands Parkway train station and got a train.  As we walked out the station we passed an 'October Highlghts' poster with a super picture of an August Sander picture from the 1920s.

(I meant to take a photo of the full length poster but forgot and only a cropped version seems to be online)

The full-length image of an unnamed secretary at the German Radio Station is a stunner - and I wish I could find the woman's name.

Anyway: being interested in German early-mid 20th century culture, we duly trotted off to the Leicester Museum and Art Gallery for the August Sander exhibition.

This exhibition from Art Fund Touring Rooms, is BRILLIANT - and really worth seeing if you haven't already caught it.  It's on in Leicester until January 2013 so plenty of time to make a journey up the motorway/trainline.

We ended up spending quite some time in the gallery - they also have a great permanent collection of German art from the early 20th century anyway: Kollwitz, Grosz, Dix and earlier expressionist artists such as Marc, Kandinsky, Münter, Heckel, Kirchner, Jawlensky and Schmidt-Rottluff.  We got into a couple of conversations with staff: one of the gallery assistants (pointing out a couple of images in the Sander exhibition were wrongly hung/labelled) and talking about the exhibition more generally with a woman who was doing a questionnaire on behalf of the Art Fund who were funding the tour.  I think I bluffed my way reasonably well, though almost certainly was wrong on some things.  But it was nice to stretch my cultural historian muscles.

(This was one of the pictures concerned: easy to pick up as there was another of Dora further along the same wall)

Sander's work tried to categorise and capture archetypes and inevitably gained criticism during the 20th century.  Was his work for or against Nazism?  It is useful to consider that his son was arrested - and indeed died - due to his Communist sympathies and actions.  Was August as active in his politics?  No.  But he clearly had sympathy for the intellectuals as well as 'those of the soil' and his work captures the diversity of Germany in a way that could have hardly been comfortable for the Nazi regime.  His work has been criticised over the years - misunderstood for what he was trying to achieve.  He didn't make it easy for Germany to look at itself, but he did provide a unique record of itself for future generations.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Diary of a Football Nobody - by William Ivory: Saturday 13 October 2012 (matinee) @ Nottingham Playhouse

Diary of a Football Nobody is a remarkably touching - if VERY sweary* - play about Notts County Football Club and much more.

The play is adapted by William Ivory from David McVay's memoir Steak...Diana Ross: Diary of a Football Nobody (and Ivory was in the Cast bar at the Playhouse ahead of the play - no, we didn't bother him).

It's a very parochial play - for all the life-affirming stuff and context which speaks to community, family life, education and employment - the play is shot through with a vein of Nott'um nostalgia and reference points that would probably be lost on anyone lacking experience/awareness of Nottingham either past and/or present.  The play - for all it's brilliance - is unlikely to travel far (heck, getting beyond the boundaries of Nottingham would be difficult and as the likes of Bingham and Mansfield come in for flack, alongside the inevitable loathing for Derby and Nottingham Forest, I can barely see it travelling into Nottinghamshire).

But it IS brilliant.  I mentioned before the life-affirming stuff, and that is something that moves this play beyond JUST being about football, to highlighting that "Football isn't a matter of life and death - it is much LESS important than that".  This play shows that human beings play football: people with lives and families, lusts and foibles.  Too much Shippo beer, too many women, too much distraction from the people around us.  But in representing an age when a football player could achieve the giddy heights of earning so much as to have had to be a 'Foreman at Raleigh' to match their financial power, it's a wonderful reminder of how football has changed.

The music in the play is deftly chosen - from the obvious pop chart stuff to the delicacy of Nick Drake. It's a beautiful evocation of period, place and people (anyone with memories - first or second-hand acquired - of those days of County 'stars' will chuckle at the representations.  The staging is like Roy of Rovers come to life in graphic tone, and the comic-book realism suits the recollections it presents.  There's little in the way of fancy, the imagery of Nottingham is lightly used, and the most technical most involves a short use of wires which draws spontaneous applause from a delighted audience.

And all this is topped by the generous and heartfelt performances:  Eric Richard is especially good as Jimmy Sirrel and our lead, Perry Fitzpatrick as Dave McVay is by turns baffled, distressed and desperately trying to have a good time being a footballer with A-levels.

LeftLion like it - of course they do.  It's only on for another week.  Get there if you're in the locality.

*It would be ridiculous if it was non-sweary (does anyone alive think football and its milieu was NOT sweary in the 1970s?)  But nice that the sexism, racism and homophobia is largely dropped.  You can be too honest...

Yoda kitty - my birthday card from Neil

Now try and tell me that's not cute...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

46 years on the planet

It's my birthday!

Okay, I don't actually have this cake, but I can imagine it right?!

Thank you to everyone who has already been so kind to me: Neil and I got a magnetic photo frame and an owl cover cover from the New Zealand gang; and I need to bank the little cheque from Neil's ma.  Chrissie sent me the most adorable donkey to sit on my bookshelves (rather like my pukeko that I got in NZ), a little fridge magnet with a polarbear on 'pacing myself' (definitely me this morning), and fab glitzy brooch of a crown (for being queen of the mix-tape/CD).  Awesome!

The lovely George and Sonia, Xavi and Max (our friends in the north) sent a brilliant looking CD Lisboa Mulato by Dead Combo.  Looking forward to hearing that in full:

I've also had a great pair of red heart earrings from Caroline at work (wearing them today!) and more besides!

Mostly though I'm very lucky to have so many good friends and nice people around me.  Their friendship and kindness are the things that keep me going.  Everything about what they say and do makes it all worthwhile!

I've had cards with the following on:

  • cute wet kitty wrapped in a towel (from Neil - cat as Yoda)
  • shoes
  • flip-flips
  • teddy bear
  • shopping
  • headphones with an incredible list of music genres identified (guess who sent that?  Yup, the Guiness Dude himself, G-man!)
  • a Tardis (from my fellow sci-fi geek colleague, along with what he guarantees me will be "a winning lottery tickey" - will definitely share if it is!)
Now, what does that little collection tell you about me?

BTW, if tonight we don't end up watching through to the season 1 finale of Fringe, I will be very surprised.  if I am very lucky I may sneak in the s1 finale of Angel before we 'Fringe-it' but am loving it all so much!