Saturday, 14 January 2017

The Tempest live streamt

Whoever came up with the idea of live streaming top theatrical performances into cinemas around the country and beyond deserves all the riches of Heaven bestowed upon her/him. If nothing else, it permits us masses to retain a fuzzy glow about something, even as our human rights are removed, the NHS and schools are sold off for profit, and our children's wages line the pockets of slum landlords.

The first live stream I saw was a 2011 performance of John Hodge's 'Collaborators'a satire based on the relationship between writer Mikhail Bulgakov and Joseph Stalin, in which Simon Russell Beale played the dictator with a (to me very familiar, and therefore terrifying) West Country accent. It was SRB again in a live stream of King Lear three years ago, also at the National, and again three nights ago, playing Prospero in the RSC's latest production of The Tempest.  

Guardian/Tristram Kenton

This time Beale's got his work cut out, being pitted against a jaw-dropping array of special effects that I'd never thought to see in a theatrical production (even one being shown in a cinema). How does an actor impose her- or himself on a whirl of bats, mad dogs, drowning fathers, and fiery spirits, while a pine tree imprisons Ariel before the audience's eyes, tightening and cracking its branches? Rough magic indeed. He manages it, however, as the commanding and mostly calm (but sometimes frighteningly rageful) eye of the storm, ultimately conquering his desire to control others and converting his need for revenge to pity. A humanity that trumps all digital wizardry.

Not all the casting was great. The courtiers were fairly forgettable, Miranda tended to bleat at moments of high tension, Ferdinand resembled Jimmy Carr and was similarly irritating. Stephano and Trinculo were hilarious, however, even though the latter's costume made him look as if he'd stepped straight out of the video for The Prodigy's Firestarter. I was even enthralled by the betrothal masque, through which I usually doze. As for Caliban - well, Caliban made me cry, though that's nothing new. 

In fact, the production stirred a seething of emotions. On a personal level, the settling of post-divorce legal wrangling a few days earlier also put an end to a baleful, 36-year enchantment, allowing me to inhabit fully my brave new world.  More broadly, the intimations in the play of Shakespeare's withdrawal from the theatre, mirrored by Prospero's breaking of his staff, recalled more recent losses, underlined by the first anniversary of David Bowie's death, and I wept a little for all our lost magicians.  And now that the Brexit button is about to be pushed and those who would turn this country into John Of Gaunt's island fortress hold sway, the rest of us must, like Prospero, find a new way forward, where every third thought shall (not quite yet) be the grave.   

Monday, 2 January 2017

New Year on Dundry

It was a sunny second of January in Bristol so I decided to carpere the lucem and go out for a walk with the hound. New Year forays are all the better for having a bit of a view, so we headed for Dundry right on the southern edge of the city.

Unsuprisingly, given its dominance of the skyline, the Church is dedicated to St Michael. Here's a glimpse of the view from the churchyard.

These days my favourite tomb up there is so overhung by holly that it's covered in moss. It's not as easy to make out the carved, apotropaic outlines of shoes as it once was ... 

... which might be why there was a Father Christmas perched on one end of it. Got to strike the fear of God into all those evil spirits somehow. 

In less sheltered spots it was still a bit frosty, though the sun was having a good go at melting it. 

Just as I was admiring the spectacular views from Dundry Down ... 

... a muckspreader turned up. The smell of slurry has never bothered me but this was something else. Ted and I hurried on our way ...

... and dived over a stone stile just as it came back up our side of the field. 

Barrow Gurney reservoirs

In Little Down Wood I saw a man lurking by a rabbit warren. As I hurried past, talking a bit too cheerily to Ted, I noticed he was holding a somewhat diabolical-looking albino ferret clutched to his chest, and that all the exit holes bar one in the warren had been covered with bright green and yellow nets. Happy New Year, rabbits.

Walking back up to the village, I spotted a consternation of jackdaws and rooks up in the tall trees. Then I noticed what they'd already heard ...
... the circumlocutory mew of a buzzard as it looped closer and closer. 

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold from the Staffordshire Hoard at Bristol City Museum

It would be a physical impossibility for me to walk past an exhibition containing the word Hoard and featuring items from the largest stash of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found. How odd, then, to find myself in a space inhabited - while I was there, at least - only by men. I suppose the word Warrior might put many women off, but they're missing some perfect, precise craftwork that would put the majority of stuff on Pinterest or Etsy to shame. Like this:

A Seax hilt plate 

A Seax is a type of single-edged dagger. The pattern on this hilt plate is of running animals, each holding the hind leg of the one in front in its mouth. 

If, like me, your knowledge of the Dark Ages is at best sketchy, there's lots of useful information about the various parts of the sword, and a potted history, from the departure of the Romans in 410AD to the invasion of the Normans, which helps put the exhibits in context.  (The hoard is believed to have been buried approximately midway through this period, around 1300 years ago.) But it's the timeless skill of the goldsmiths that is so memorable - the finest of work wrought without aid of magnification, electric light or sophisticated tools. It's fascinating and breathtaking, and reminded me of the examples of embroidery worked by Bess of Hardwick's servants, on show at Hardwick Hall, only older and goldier.

As you can see, my photos aren't very good on account of the very small size of the exhibits and the darkness necessary to show them to full advantage. There's plenty of better ones on the Staffordshire Hoard website

A bird of prey with double spiral filigree decoration 
What I found most affecting is that almost all the pieces are in a damaged or fragmentary state. They're the spoils of war, ripped from the weapons of dead or dying men and buried for later retrieval - although probably not as late as 5th July 2009, which is when they were discovered by heroic metal detectorist, Terry Herbert. The detail of each design depicts the original owner's status, wealth, family and even his religious beliefs - knowledge lost to us for ever.

Anyway, I highly recommend this exhibition even if you don't watch Game of Thrones. It runs until 23rd April, but the presbyopic attendee is going to need their reading glasses to get the full benefit of what's on display.  

Thursday, 29 December 2016

'Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter' at the RWA

I shook off my post-Christmas torpor and went to two fascinating exhibitions in Bristol today: The Staffordshire Hoard at Bristol City Museum, of which more anon, and 'Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter' at the Royal West of England Academy. 

You'll find far better photos than mine of the exhibits online, but I'll share some anyway.

'Castle' by Sarah Woodfine, right and above

Any exhibition with paintings by Leonora Carrington, Marc Chagall, Stanley Spencer, Holman Hunt, Dame Laura Knight, Paula Rego, Karl Weschke is going to grab my attention, but the more modern pieces easily hold their own. 

'Women's Place' by Juli Haas, above

As Carman Callil writes in the preface of the excellent accompanying publication, Carter was herself an accomplished artist, so it's not surprising that her writing should conjure fantastical images in the minds of these artists. 

'The Fairy Tale' by Di Oliver, above

Some of it is really quite creepy. 

This - 'The Shipwrecked Bride' by Katarina Rose - struck a chord and made me shudder. 

'Not waving but drowning' by Wendy Mayer

Heather Nevay's The Murder ...

... and 'The Lesson'

Details of Tessa Farmer's 'The Perilous Pursuit of a Python'

I was disappointed to see that the writing workshops associated with this exhibition are being on held on weekdays, which means I've no hope of getting to them; still, the exhibition itself runs till 19th March so and I hope to return to the RWA to see it again. 

Monday, 26 December 2016

The Berrow Tradition

Whenever the weather is brilliantly sunny on Boxing Day, we go to Berrow Beach. It's become something of a tradition. 

Except that until today, we'd only done it once. The semi-hallowed feeling comes from the astounding brilliance of that first visit, and the fact that I was lucky enough to come home with a poem in my pocket.

It can be hard to summon up the courage to repeat dazzling days. It was 12 years before I could bring myself to revisit Kelmscott Manor, William Morris's dream manor on the banks of the Thames in Oxfordshire, because, of course, subsequent visits can never live up to memory of those huge, juicy, 
black cherries in our picnic basket and that surreptitious and forbidden brush against my hero's coat, hanging on the back of the north hall door. 

As a matter of fact, today's visit to Berrow was not in such glorious technicolour. In fact, looking along the coast towards Burnham it was positively monochrome. 

Ted didn't mind, however. 

Unusually for this part of the coast, there was a very loud roary sound coming from the sea which suggested that it was quite stormy. Not so unusually, the tide was so far out we could barely see it. 

I also had trouble deciphering the flock of smallish, whitish birds running over the mud flats as if blown by the wind. Sanderpiper-y types, I suspect. (I'm rubbish at birds; even worse at remembering to bring binoculars on jaunts.)  I did spot a few oystercatchers, however, and the water-wobble call of  a curlew was easily recognisable. 

What was different about this visit (and something always is) was that the wreck of the SS Nornen was much easier to access than usual. Normally it lies exactly on the mudline, pointing towards the shore, so that you can reach the prow of it but go no further. This time sand had piled up around it so it was easier to have a really close look at it, and even walk into what would once have been its hold. 

The non canines amongst us had to be careful, however, as what looked like sand seemed on occasion to be doubling as mud. 

By now the tide had come in so far that it was just about visible on the horizon. It was time to head for home. 
Back at the Church someone had tied a piece of red fabric to one of the trees (just visible above the wall) which looked quite festive ... 
... and a flock of starlings were carousing in a thicket. Blessings of this season. 

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Bath Abstracts

And so to Bath for a jauntette with Dru, and our hitherto virtual friend Chrissy, who is over on holiday from New Zealand. And a lovely day we had for it too. 

Having met Chrissy and her mum Peg, and daughter Pretoria, at the railway station, we headed immediately for what is already (on my second visit there) my favourite cafe in Bath, at Chapel Arts Gallery. Then we paused at the Abbey, with its brilliant Jacob's Ladder ... 

... before making for the nearby Roman Baths.


Stele or gravestone showing a dog chasing a hare  

Three mother goddesses

Chrissy and Pretoria with the head of Sulis Minerva


Then a walk over Pulteney Bridge to the Holburne, where we had lunch in the cafe. Dru spotted a peregrine flying over. She says a pair nest on the Abbey. 
I only managed to get a photo of a seagull.
Having crossed Sydney Gardens we reached the Kennet and Avon, where we ambled under footbridges painted by John Nash. 

Wandering back through town, we stopped at the vintage clothing shop on Walcot Street. Peg bought herself a red Burberry which suited her perfectly. 

And then with a stop at the wholefood shop ... 

... and a pause by Alyson Hallett's poem on Milsom Street and a flock of siskin in a tree outside Waitrose ...
... we were just about done.

Always good when you meet people you first encountered online in real life and they turn out to be as interesting and amiable as you suspected. It was a contented drive home to Bristol.