Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Theatrical Interlude 8

Flare Path, Theatre Royal, Haymarket, May 2011

I can't entice Mr Bookworm to London that often and so having planned a weekend in the 'Big Smoke' I thought I'd make the most of it and as well as seeing Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe I decided that we should see something else.

I read Flare Path recently without knowing that there was a London performance and then got very excited when I discovered that it was currently playing. When I found that there were good seats left for the night we were in London I decided on the spot that this was the second play we were going to see.

I hadn't told Mr Bookworm much about it at all, just that it took place over the course of one evening and featured a WW2 airbase. He trusted me and in the end loved it.

The play in itself is I suppose quite slight. The wives of an air crew are all at a hotel near to their husband's airbase and it seems like they will all have one night together when a mission is scrambled. The play is then about the tension felt by the crews and the families during and after a mission. There are another couple of plot strands but I don't want to 'spoil' the play in anyway. The slow drama and the what ifs are what make the play so watchable from curtain to curtain.

The two acts flew past and the whole play felt very much like watching a black and white war movie that was actually written and filmed during WW2 - which isn't surprising as Rattigan did write the play in 1941 and it premiered in 1942.

I think that there were a lot of people in the audience who had gone to see this because Sienna Miller was playing one of the lead roles, and that they either didn't know what to make of the play or didn't like it as there were lots of grumbles about it being 'dated'. I didn't find it at all dated - just a beautiful period piece.
Sienna Miller might also have got top billing for her role but I don't think that hers was the main part in of the play, important yes but not the lead. Again hard to say more without fear of a spoiler...however I found it to be a perfect ensemble piece without a weak link.

It was a magical experience and I will certainly make more of an effort to see more Rattigan plays as they are performed. The balance of pure 'Englishness', humour and emotion worked it's spell over me.

For those worrying about Mr Bookworm being bored by the theatre - don't be.

He assures me he enjoyed both plays and then on the Sunday we did go to the Science Museum to watch the Hubble Space Telescope 3d IMAX movie which although I enjoyed is certainly more his thing than mine!

Monday, 30 May 2011

Theatrical Interlude 7

Much Ado About Nothing, The Globe Theatre, May 2011

There is much buzz about Much Ado as there are currently 2 versions playing in London. One in the heart of the West End starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate and one at The Globe. You can guess which one is attracting most press attention...

We saw the RSC version at the Globe and had a great time. It isn't a play I knew before hand. I'd read a little of it but hadn't managed to read the whole thing but I knew the main story points. I always (and erroneously) equate Shakespeare with school, exams and being serious but this was frequently laugh out loud funny and unlike in many plays I've seen the actors do bounce off the audience.

It took me quite a while to get my ear in to the language of the play. I know that it is English but I did find at times that the words were washing over me like a foreign film and I felt like subtitles would have helped. It didn't detract from the play at all just felt dream like to me at times - I don't think I missed anything as the acting clearly told the story.

It was a special feeling to see a play in the same conditions that it would have been seen originally, and the Globe is unlike any other theatre I've been to as it isn't dark in the auditorium, the audience moves around and you are sat on pretty uncomfortable benches rather than soft seats. You also don't get too make squeaks from the audience as pigeons swoop in at mainstream theatres...

We were lucky and the rain held off until just as the play finished but the stage crew were already striking the Much Ado set and rebuilding it for All's Well which was playing in the evening.

I'm going back to the Globe later in the year and I will make sure that I have watched/read/listened to more Shakespeare before hand so that my ear is in tune from the very beginning - the Bard's work hasn't survived by chance and now I know what to expect at the Globe I want to do it far more justice.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Saxophones and voices

Jan Gabarek and the Hilliard Ensemble, St John's Cathedral, Norwich

I discovered the famous Gabarek/Hilliard work Officium thanks to a clip on You Tube about 2 years ago and so when I saw they were coming to Norwich as part of the NNF11 I was very excited.

The concert was held in the Catholic Cathedral here in the city and we had seats in the choir stalls which were actually behind the stage area. It didn't matter however as the 5 performers roamed around the building really making the acoustics work for them.

While the music, Officium Novum, didn't appeal to me as much as the first Officium I have never before been so aware that the voice is a musical instrument. The four singers filled the whole space with their voices in a way was astounding without microphones. The saxophone and the voices worked in perfect harmony and it was a splendid experience.

From hearing two such varied pieces of live music this week has been wonderful, but I really have learned that I do like to listen to music loudly, horizontal and with my eyes shut - it creates wonderful pictures that way.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Penguin Cafe, Norwich Theatre Royal. May 2011

The beginning of May sees the Norfolk and Norwich Festival and this year I was actually on the ball and booked for some of the events before they all sold out.

Mr Norfolkbookworm has been a fan of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra for years and when the music is on my toe has been tapping so I was pleased to book tickets to an evening with this group.

It was a wonderful evening I only knew two of the tracks in advance but I was captivated from the first note. The new line up and orchestrations are wonderful and there was something very special about seeing the musicians as well as hearing them.

My one disappointment with the evening? The new line up, as yet, haven't recorded any of the music and only the originals are available to buy/download. They are wonderful, don't get me wrong, but I want to have the version that I heard.

If the group come back to Norwich I will be first in the queue for more tickets.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Books to read?

2011 was declared the year of books by the BBC and there have been many wonderful book programmes on the various channels - some adaptations, some histories and some documentaries. What there isn't however is a television book review show.

Sky Arts however has such a programme. Each week three authors are interviewed about their newest books, we get sneak peeks into the places that authors write and also someone makes a book club suggestion in their favourite bookshop. My 'to read' pile has grown enormously since I discovered the show. The programmes are also often broadcast from the major literary festivals which is lovely if you can't get to them.

This season there is a new feature at the end - each of the three main guests has to recommend the book that they think everyone should read before they are 21. And this is where my problems start.

The instant you tell someone they *have* to read something they are likely to be perverse and instantly refuse to do so.

Also the books that have been chosen?
Just last week the three books were True Grit by Charles Portis, Lord of the Flies by Golding and The King James Bible. Out of those three I can see an average under 21 starting True Grit because of the film, dismissing Lord of the Flies as a set text and laughing at the idea of reading the Bible.

The week before the choices were Atlas Shrugged by Rand, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Solzhenitsyn and My Antonia by Cather. The full list can be found here.

There are a lot of classic books on there, but I think that they are better discovered later in life, when you can read them for fun and through choice rather than seeing them as a chore or a flashback to literature study.

If you want to create readers and people who enjoy books then I feel you should either pick books that really will appeal to the under 21s or change the title of the segment to "Books you shouldn't read" - the best way to get someone interested in something is to ban it!

The only person, so far, in this series that seems to understand this is Malorie Blackman who recommended a (challenging) graphic novel.

Now I realise that I do have a problem with reading lists and being told to read things but I really do think that this segment of an otherwise good programme is out of touch and if well meaning friends and relatives print the list off as a suggestion to a young person you'll create a person who thinks books are dull faster than anything.

This is also a long, roundabout way to confess that I have failed to read the 6 books for the Writers' Centre Norwich Summer Read. I will try again but it won't be in time to read along with the project.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Play's the Thing

As has become clear from my blog entries in 2011 I have started going to the theatre a lot more, and this has changed my reading habits somewhat too.

In some ways I am reading more as a lot of the plays I've seen have been in London and so I get about 4 hours of reading time on the train, well except when I go the roundabout route so I can travel with friends - then not so much reading gets done!

In a more profound way going to the theatre is changing my reading habits because I am reading a lot of the plays in advance of seeing them. Some of them I am reading because I have no previous idea of the plot and I like to be a little aware in advance and in other cases it is because I have read one thing by the playwright and just have to read more.

I don't quite understand why I am enjoying reading the plays so much as well as seeing them.

It is totally counter to how feel about books v film after all. I am wondering if it is perhaps because in a play you do tend to just get the dialogue and no background and it takes the actual performance to fill that in, where as with a novel my brain creates the whole world for me and then the adaptation never lives up to this.

I only studied English to GSCE level and we did read two plays then - An Inspector Calls and Romeo and Juliet - I don't recall what I really thought of them at the time, but as we only had the scripts in class and read them communally I am sure that the experience was probably a little excruciating. We also watched the film versions of the plays and again neither did anything for me as I remember. It probably didn't help that due to lesson lengths the films were split into 3 or 4 parts to fit the timetable!

The first play that really touched me was the one we studied for German A-Level - Max Frisch's Andorra. I think that we read it in the original German but I do know that it was being performed somewhere in London at the time and we went to see it. Googling has not helped in this case but thinking back on it now I do recall the whole thing coming to life so vividly. It was the first time I had seen a live play and not a musical and certainly the first time I'd see a play that I had read. I know that the two complemented each other perfectly.

Last autumn I had a similar experience when I saw Aeschylus's Agamemnon in Cambridge. I had read the play in translation a few years ago but seeing this version in the original language (which I don't speak) was amazing. I knew the story and that was enough to get the idea of the play, the language just flowed over me and although possibly not something I will do regularly (not least because the Greek Play season only happens every three years!) I was swept away in the story. Something I wouldn't have been if I hadn't read it before.

The more I think about why I like reading and seeing plays the more ideas are coming to me. Live theatre holds my attention far more than a film does. At home I rarely give my whole attention to a film, I'll flit about and read as well as watching. In the cinema I rarely relax into the experience, and if the film is 3D I am even worse as the glasses have to sit over my own and peering through 2 pairs (or the 3D visuals) always gives me a headache.

In a theatre however there are real life people just a few metres from me giving their all. Each performance has to be slightly different as actors are humans and not pre-programmed robots and usually there are other details, such as set and lighting, to take in as well as the words.
There is something very special and personal about the whole proceeding.

At the moment I have just finished reading Emperor and Galilean in advance of seeing it at the National Theatre later in the year and have Lady in the Van, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Much Ado About Nothing (version at the Globe), Twelfth Night and the Tempest lined up. I've also snuck in a reading of Flare Path as I'd love to see that if I can fit it in!

Thank heavens I work in the library and can get my books for free and spend my money on tickets!