Uncle Vanya at the Rose Theatre

Vanya372 The picture (credit: Guardian) shows Michelle Dockery as Yelena and Neil Pearson as Dr Astrov in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, the inaugural production at Kingston’s Rose Theatre, where I have just spent Saturday afternoon.

The production is absolutely wonderful – every actor is fantastic, the translation naturalistic, and the play even more powerful than I remember. I was moved to tears by Sonia’s closing speech, which, according to the programme notes, Rachmaninov found so poignant that he set these poetic last words straight to music.

There are glowing reviews of the production, which will tour the country for 8 weeks after the Kingston run, here at the Guardian, here at the Telegraph, and here at the Times.

In all honesty I could not single out any of the actors in the ensemble cast for special praise, but I was thrilled to see Neil Pearson, one of my very favourite actors, on stage, playing the prescient environmentalist Astrov, energetically warning against man’s destruction of the climate and ecosystems. As he is sporting a beard for the duration, I am sure regular readers will understand my choice of picture.

No Aragorn in the NBCC

David Orr of the US National Book Critics Circle has kindly explained to me (here) why Aragorn was not chosen as one of the new directors. David points out that he was disqualified because of a late candidate statement. Must have been too busy chasing those orcs.

Anne Frank strikes a false note

Via the Guardian: Anne Frank the Musical strikes a false note. Yes, it seems there is to be a musical based on the life of Anne Frank, backed, apparently, by the Anne Frank foundation – but not by me. The news immediately made me think of Mel Brooks’s film The Producers, in which Zero Mostel, for crazy plot reasons, needs a sure-fire loss maker to put on Broadway, so he decides upon a musical, Springtime for Hitler. Against all expectations, the show is an overnight sensation, which is ruinous for Zero. Much later, the movie was made into an (also successful) theatrical musical — called, unsurprisingly, The Producers rather than Springtime for Hitler – that would have taken irony a step too far.

Back to Anne Frank. Michael Billington puts it perfectly in his Guardian piece:

Anne Frank’s diary exists as a record of a young girl’s thoughts and feelings. Even the play based upon it, according to Kenneth Tynan when he saw it in New York in the 1950s, "smacked of exploitation". And a musical will surely take us even further from the world of raw truth. This is a vital aesthetic question raised by David Hare in Via Dolorosa. Visiting Yad Vashem, the museum of the Holocaust, Hare was struck by the thought that the paintings and sculptures on view seemed superfluous when one was confronted by the matchless horror of fact.

Millais in London

When I was 12 or 13, I joined a local film society, being the youngest member by at least 20 years. I still remember the films I saw there: L’Assamoire, L’Etranger, Animal Farm, Odd Man Out, Battleship Potemkin, et al. Before each film, a short documentary was shown, followed by a talk about the main feature. And that is when I discovered the pre-Raphaelites, and in particular Millais, in a wonderful short film about the movement that I remember to this day. 

I didn’t know anything at that time about Bubbles, the main reason for people to sneer at Millais, and to me this picture is an irrelevance. My love of Millais and his contemporaries was, and is, due to the beautiful evocations of the classics and Shakespeare. This is why I am looking forward to seeing the Millais exhibition currently in London: see Millais’s high drama and low designs – Times Online. The picture of Ophelia has special meaning for me, and is so well-described in the article at the link:

"This discomfiting fascination with the relationship between human bodies and what they are in – both clothes and setting – is one of Millais’s distinctive qualities. Through all the variations in style and genre which this exhibition amply documents, he remains absorbed by the idea that a setting can become a kind of vesture, the vesture project an image, and the image tally uneasily with the human being to whom it is attached. No character has been more comprehensively sunk into a natural setting than Ophelia, and yet the effect of this is the opposite, it seems to me, of that suggested in the exhibition’s detailed and generally perceptive catalogue: “the depicted cycles of growth, maturation and display doubly absorb Ophelia into a natural process, and render her insignificant”. Of course the silver flowery embroidery of her dress mingles with the stream and connects with the sprays of white dog rose above; and the purple loosestrife on the bank calls out to the poppies, violets and daisies of her bouquet now scattered on the water. But this weaving of pretty patterns will not assimilate the bare bits of her moribund body which stick up above the surface: her cupped hands, which are shaped like lily flowers but whose cold fleshiness repels the thought of the comparison as soon as it occurs; her lips, which are not at all like an opening bud; her cheeks, which are pink but hardly rosy. The painting sets up and worries at a contrast between what can be taken as decoration – leaves, flowers, and dress material – and what, here at least, cannot: the woman’s body."

Equiano comes to Kingston

"A new play performed by the award-winning MeWe Youth Theatre. Written and directed by Ann-Marie Olufuwa, this enjoyable new work is based on the life of Olaudah Equiano who wrote a celebrated autobiography detailing his life in captivity and his fight to become a free man. Olaudah became an inspirational figure in London in the movement to abolish the slave trade. Adventurous, informative and uplifting! The performance lasts 1 hour ten minutes, followed by a short panel discussion with distinguished guests."

Date: Thursday 25 October 2007
Time: Matinee 2pm; Evening 7.30pm
Location: Arthur Cotterell Theatre, Kingston College, Kingston Hall Road, Kingston KT1 2AQ
Website; EmailPhone: 020 8547 5409.

If you can’t get there but are interested in the topic, I strongly recommend that you do not watch the movie Amazing Grace, now out on DVD (as I did recently, in the mistaken idea that it would be an interesting and educational family experience): it is among the worst films I’ve seen. The first scene involves Wilberforce seeing from his coach window two men beating a horse. He gets out and tells them to stop. One is about to attack him when the other says "Hang on, Jim [or whatever], I recognise that man, that’s William Wilberforce. He’s against slavery. Let’s leave him alone". Wilberforce gives them a baleful look, gets back into coach: men are last seen patting horse and trying to help it stand up. It goes downhill from there. (Equiano does feature, but not meaningfully. I cannot bear to write any more on this time waster, though.)

Watch this Space this Summer

via email:

The National Theatre’s free summer festival, Watch This Space, is back, bringing an unparalleled programme of outdoor entertainment (and a lovely lawn) to London’s South Bank. This year there’s the chance to see international world premieres, as well as a sparkling mix of street theatre, bands, club nights, dance, cabaret and spectacle. Join us in Theatre Square from 6 July to 1 September.

First up: Friday 6th to Sunday 8th July. "As the Tour de France races through London, the opening weekend of Watch This Space celebrates the joy of cycling. The Bicycle Ballet forms the centrepiece of the weekend, plus a wealth of unicycling, bicycling and tricycling acts. Stunning Magnum photography lights up the Lyttelton Fly Tower in the evening. The first leg of the Tour de France passes behind the National Theatre on Sunday at 10.30am."

Overlooking the Thames, the chilled surroundings of the Terrace Café provide the perfect backdrop for late nights of musical eclecticism with Bring & Share, the original DIY Disco. So get digging and bring along your vinyl, CDs and mp3s for the B&S DJs to mix into their anything-goes sets. 10pm – 1am, Fridays and Saturdays in the Terrace Café.

Coram Boy on Broadway

If you are in New York this week you can see the fantastic play Coram Boy on Broadway (nominated for six Tony awards) for as little as $25, for performances from today to 27 May.

Go to this part of the NT website  for more details. Go here to order or call 212-947-8844.
For the $25 seats use code CB4NPEM (mezzanine); for the $66.25 tickets, use code CBGNA67 (orchestra); or bring this offer to the Imperial Theatre, 249 W 45th Street.

From the NT website:  "CORAM BOY, an amazingly rare theatrical experience [is] arriving direct from a sold-out run at London’s National Theatre. CORAM BOY is set in 18th-century England, where two orphans get a second chance in life at a home for deserted children. One has been rescued from an African slave ship. The other is the abandoned son of the heir to a great estate. The boys are given two very different roads to follow and the adventure of a lifetime begins!" And, they forgot to say, the music (mainly Handel) is a running theme in the play, and truly wonderful.

Here is Richard Morrison, excellent columnist and the Times’ chief music critic, on Thomas Coram, and here is his exuberant article about the play and the music in it.

Here is the Times review of the original production.

And see here for an (as ever) lovely post by Clare of Keeper of the Snails about the Foundling Museum in Coram Fields, London. From Clare’s post:

"Whereas other cities in Europe had homes for foundlings, London did not. It was thought that by having a hospital for foundlings society would be seen to be condoning loose morals; because most of the children were born to unmarried mothers.
Coram faced a long campaign. It took him 17 years to establish the Hospital, but once the Hospital was started he was almost immediately ousted by a committee coup. I keep wondering what he felt about this – doing all that work and then not having much to do with his great accomplishment.
It was a secular independent charity – the first time such an institution had ever been established. One of its greatest innovations was to invite Hogarth to display his pictures there,  which encouraged other artists and it subsequently became the first public gallery in London. Another benefactor was Handel who donated an organ to the chapel and conducted recitals there."

A look at some history

A round-up of a few history-related posts, blogs and books.

On Britannica Blog is a three-part article on Why the Allies didn’t bomb the death camps (links: part 3,  part 2 and part 1). These excellent articles form part of the Encyclopaedia Britannica’s April-long feature about the Holocaust, whose main page (with associated links and multimedia features) is here

While on the Second World War, Becky of A Book a Week has just reviewed Night Watch by Sarah Waters (including a link to the Guardian review: I always like to compare different perspectives on the same book). I have bought this book — back in February for Cathy’s birthday — but have not yet read it. From Becky’s review I should move it higher up the pile.

The latest, and deserved, recipient of the Thinking Blogger award is Carla Nayland, who here recommends seven fascinating history-related blogs and an eighth, Wordcarving, which is the blog of the talented poet John Ahearn. Carla’s blog is, to me, a delight, focusing on Britain in the 5th to 10th centuries AD, but by no means exclusively. Her blog is an excellent example of how much one can expand one’s horizons via blogging– I probably would not pick up a whole book on this topic, but regularly read interesting articles about those ancient times, courtesy of Carla, though I can’t admit to having tried any of her recipes (yet?).

Moving further back still, Amy On the Web links to an amusing feature: If ancient Rome had the Internet. (I think the title would have been better in the pluperfect: "had had" but I’m an old quibbler).

Finally, I received my monthly email from the excellent History Bookshop, which bears the news that there is an extra 10 per cent off even their excellent prices for subscribers to their (free) e-newsletter. Not only is there a vast collection of history books about all eras and from all perspectives, but the website has the usual features of a timeline, quiz, articles, themes and "year view", when you can see what happened in the year of your choice.

normblog: Writer’s choice 94: Frank Wilson

Link: normblog: Writer’s choice 94: Frank Wilson.

A wonderful piece by Frank Wilson on Priestley’s "Literature and Western Man" at the normblog (link above), Norman Geras’s weblog. I’ve read several of Priestley’s novels and seen most of his plays (and read them all), but have to admit to not having read this particular work, by all accounts his masterpiece. Frank writes:

"Literature and Western Man had a profound and lasting effect on me. It demonstrated to me the degree to which literature enables us to discern who we really are and what is really going on in the world. There is more political science in Richard II than there is in any dreary white paper some think tank is currently churning out. As Priestley says of Montaigne: ‘there is something that can be known… something much closer and more comprehensible than the doctrine of the Trinity or the world plan of the Absolute, and that is – the mind, the inner world, that shapes and colours both character and action. No wonder Montaigne was free from the raging and murderous fanaticism of his time. He had taken a peep into the kitchen where that hell-broth was brewing.’
The mystery of which we have the most direct experience is the self. Great literature enables us to find our way around this ever-uncharted wilderness, where angels may be found to dwell, but where also, for sure, there be dragons."
Please do read Frank’s entire essay, at the link above.

Thanks to Debra Hamel of the deblog and Dave Lull for letting me know about this essay.

Dylan Hears a Who!

Link: Dylan Hears a Who!.

Dave Lull has sent me a truly wondrous link (above): Dylan’s tribute to Dr Seuss. Listen to seven tracks, including the incomparable Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and one new to me but curiously inappropriate: Too Many Daves.

Thanks, Dave — I loved it. As you know I usually have the volume turned off, but Jenny has been using my computer to play Sims so had left it on. I got quite a start when I clicked on the link to have the immortal tones of Mr R. Z. blasting out at me — lucky, though, as it turned out, otherwise I would not have realised it was something to which one could listen (being a bit non-intuitive on the audio front).