Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Theatrical Interlude 24

Sunday Double Bill, Lyttleton Theatre at the National Theatre, London. December 2012

I think that the general feeling was that Rebecca and I were slightly insane in planning a theatre trip to London less than 10 days before Christmas but we're afraid that the lure of two new Alan Bennett plays was too strong.

After some freezing cold and dreadful weather we were very lucky and spent the morning wandering along the South Bank's Christmas market in glorious (and for December)warm sunshine.  An indulgent lunch followed before we settled in to the circle at the Lyttleton for the first of our two playlets.


This is  a collection of memories and micro essays from Alan Bennett set to live music.  The set is very sparse, just an armchair and side table plus 4 seats for the string quartet. The musician appear first and were very talented then Alex Jennings, looking and sounding very much like Alan Bennett, walks on and starts talking.
The snippets were humorous, moving and educational and the music sublime although just occasionally I lost some of the words due to the volume of the music.

This is a very short piece, just 30 minutes and then we left the theatre for the 45 minute interval - the idea is that you indulge in a nice Sunday tea but we were too full form lunch so browsed the bookshop and then looked at the Landscape Photographer of the Year Exhibition.

Cocktail Sticks

The second of the two plays is longer, and more traditional although there are still musicians on the stage.  This time the play starts with Alan Bennett clearing his parent's house and coming across a packet of cocktail sticks in the kitchen cupboard.  From here it becomes a narrative tale with Bennett's memories and thoughts about his life being told and at times re-enacted by his parents and various other people.
A cast of 5 (Alan, Mam, Dad and 2 people playing everyone else) tell over 40 years of family history in just over an hour and in that time the audience is taken on a really emotional roller coaster journey - such as only Alan Bennett can.

The stories weren't new to me as I have read Bennett's books of autobiography/memoir but this didn't matter at all - hearing them in Alan Bennett's voice and acted out made the stories live even in a way that Bennett's writing hadn't.

These are two very odd pieces of theatre that were both sublime.  They were odd because unlike so much theatre I think that you really do need to be older to understand and appreciate them.  If you have no experience of his themes you won't understand either the humour or the sadness.

The best bit? Bennett's take on the line "they f*** you up, your mum and dad"

This isn't my last theatre trip of 2012 but was the last with Rebecca and very soon I shall have to work out my top 10 shows of the year.

I'm loathe to do this yet for as I started to do this with my books of the year but then in the past 3 days have read 2 books that have been fantastic and who knows what I'll think of the last play!

Monday, 10 December 2012

Time to celebrate

6 Years in a row!

Whilst the headline in this news article is very depressing the fifth paragraph has made me and a lot of other people happy today.

For the sixth year in succession the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library has retained the status of busiest library in the country.

In fact we have retained the double crown - we issue the most books of any library in the country and we have the most visitors through our doors.

We know we can't rest on our laurels - there are lots of other fantastic libraries out there all of whom would love to take our crown but thanks to the support of our customers, a County Council that sees the benefits of a world class library and all of the guests we've hosted we can add this celebration to Christmas 2012.

I am well underway with event planning for 2013, January looks exciting and then in February we are working with the British Library and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to bring their Writing Britain exhibition to the city.  The British Library are loaning us some items and we have a full week of events planned to celebrate this.  More details will be coming early in the New Year but it you are on Twitter please do follow the project to keep fully up-to-date with our plans.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Theatrical Interlude 23

One Man, Two Guvnors, Norwich Theatre Royal. December 2012.

Norwich is getting some great London shows at the moment (and next year's brochure looks just as exciting) and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to see this without a trip to London.

I missed the initial buzz around this play when it opened in London, and to be honest the original lead wasn't someone that I particularly liked but after winning so many awards I realised that I'd be daft not to see One Man, Two Guvnors when the chance arose.

I knew that it was a comedy based on a style of theatre from years ago but nothing more than that, and again the not knowing worked very well. The show started with a very good quartet playing guitars, double bass and washboard. The theatre was noisy with people arriving and I couldn't tell if the songs were original or music from the era (late 1950s/ early 1960s). They were very good and it made a nice start to the evening.

To explain the play and plot is nigh on impossible - it is farce, pantomime, melodrama and totally ridiculous...but very funny. As the audience you can see everything that is going to happen it doesn't matter, in fact as the cast address the audience directly throughout it is hard to remember sometimes if you are seeing a stand up comedy show or a play.

The first half was brilliant, I was giggling like a loon throughout and even the audience participation worked a treat - never has the phrase "normal for Norfolk" been more apt. I'm not a great one for slapstick comedy violence but the restaurant scene was just perfect.
The second half didn't quite hit my funny bone in the same way, the humour became a little cruder and the script felt like it had run out of steam. 
The actors gave it their all throughout even if events and interjections caused them to corpse more than once - who knew Swaffham could cause such hilarity?!

It was still a fun evening and for once seeing a comedy alone didn't matter - the play was funny enough to overcome the need to share the emotion - but Noises Off* remains the funniest thing I have ever seen in a theatre.

*luckily for me (and Mr Norfolkbookworm) the Old Vic are touring Noises Off next year and Norwich is one of the cities it is coming to. Time to book some tickets I feel!