Monday, 31 October 2016

Tarka the Otter (Box Clever Challenge - October)

I visited the Cotebrook Shire Horse Centre in the summer. Whilst the horses were stunning, it was the otters that held my attention. They were cheeky creatures, holding onto the wire fencing and making high pitched screeching noises. One of them just lay on his back and played with a stone; he was transfixed tossing it from one paw to another. I thought the poor creatures were bored and unhappy, but no...they were just passing the time as they knew their food was due to arrive soon. As soon as they saw their keeper, the stone was dropped and the screeching stopped, to be replaced by the hunting and satisfaction of munching fish in the long grass.

A few weeks later I was visiting the Blue Planet Aquarium. They have an outside pen of otters too, and I witnessed them playing in and out of the water; otters splashing one another, finding "toys" in the undergrowth, and so I was spurred on to find my old copy of Tarka the Otter that I have had since childhood, but never read. (You can tell it's an old copy of the book, it only cost 30p!)

Meet Old Nog, Deadlock, Halcyon and Tarka.

Henry Williamson's tale of Tarka takes us through an unsentimental journey around Devon. It is a fascinating book for both old and young, male or female, and will leave you with a new found respect for the countryside. What we have lost, how we have grown, and why hunting with dogs should never be considered sport.

The book is written from Tarka's viewpoint...that of being low on the ground, shrubs become trees, man becomes a giant. Henry Williamson begun his novel in June 1923 and finished it in February 1927. He wrote and rewrote passages to ensure he gave his reader the truest viewpoint of a wild otters life, taking in the smallest details of the river, so that armed with a map, the reader could follow Tarka's journey. You get the sense whilst reading the book that this is a true story, and that's not far off the mark.

After the First World War, Williamson was a lost soul. He left London behind him and rented a cottage in Devon, living there alone, except for the wildlife surrounding him. A stranger knocked at his door asking for help digging out some otter cubs from a hole after a farmer had killed their mother. He only found one cub alive and took it back to his cottage where he introduced it to a cat who was still nursing a kitten. After some intervention, the cat accepted the otter cub and nursed it until the cub was old enough to eat solid food. He followed Williamson everywhere, but on one walk he got caught in a rabbit trap. Writhing in fear and pain, Williamson was able to free the cub, however that was the end of their relationship. The otter fled, never to be seen again. This was where the story of Tarka began. Williamson was already at one with nature, preferring it to human contact, but in order to understand the otters life he would have to enter into the world of the huntsman. So Williamson entered the otters world, seeing it both as a carefree animal playing in the river, and that of the fearful persecuted animal, desperately fighting for his life.

"She ate her prey, holding it in her fore-paws and crunching with her head on one side."

As soon as I started reading this book, the otters from the Cotebrook centre entered my mind. They too ate with their heads to one side, merrily crunching on the bones of the fish they were eating. They looked so joyful, so full of satisfaction. This satisfied otter was Tarka's mother. Tarka was the eldest of her brood, the biggest, a dog cub. His name meant Little Water Wanderer, or Wandering as Water.

The keenest observations of an otter cub show they have similarities to a toddler. They mirror a child not getting their own way. His mother tried to keep Tarka clean, and as she washed him he kicked back at his mother, fighting to get his own way, struggling to be free of the tongue washing his face, in much the same way a child tries to shirk away from the wet wipe a mother insists on clearing all traces of crumbs from their child's face. Tarka also showed that inquisitiveness of a child learning by play. He finds the skull of a field-vole... "Tarka moved it between his paws; some of its teeth dropped out and rattled inside the hollow." Tarka had inadvertently made himself a rattle, and he played and played with his toy. This reminded me of the young otter at the centre, lying on his back, tossing a stone from paw to paw and squealing with delight.

Williamson's novel takes us through the stages of Tarka growing up to adulthood. His first encounter of learning how to swim, spluttering and sneezing as the water went up his nose. The terror he felt when hiding from the hunt as a cub, and the relief when he found his mum again. This is a warts and all account of life in the wild. It's not pretty. Whilst otters fear the huntsman, animals fear the otter. The fox flees from a hole for fear of the otters sharp teeth and claws. Frogs are caught and skinned for supper, bits are left behind for the hedgehog to pick up, only for the hedgehog to be caught and eaten by a badger. But none of the hunting in nature comes close to the animals greatest

Nature is a cruel beast

A poignant moment is when Tarka is no longer a cub, he knows he has become a dog when his days of play in the river with his mother are over. She hears the mating call of a dog otter and instantly forgets who Tarka is. It is time for Tarka to leave home, to forget his mother and sisters, as they have forgetton him. His journey takes him to the sea, and the arctic icy winds of winter. There is a desperation amongst the wild as cold and hunger sets in. An otter kills a swan, which a fox tries to steal. The badger however succeeds them all, leaving with the prize whilst the losers look on, starving, falling asleep, never to waken again. But in all of this bleakness there is a poetic resonance throughout. Williamson's writing sings to you like the tinkling of the streams and rivers of summer, "snow began to fall in flakes like the breast feathers of swans." In this harsh landscape, nature still lets her beauty shine through.

"When the bees' feet shake the bells of the heather, and the ruddy strings of the sap-stealing dodder are twined about the green spikes of the furze, it is summertime on the common."

Summertime comes, and with it new challenges. The otters return to the river to play and squeal and mate, but their whistles fall on human ears where landowners see fit to hide traps in the water to catch or maim their victims; trapping and bringing them to their watery graves as they fight to release themselves.

A David Attenborough film crew was here...

When you read the book you are transported back to a far off time when the land was full of Bog Pimpernell, and John-go-to-bed-at-noon. Where Curlews, Turtle Doves, Snipe and Ring Plovers fly around the landscape in their droves, and hounds are legally allowed to tear otters apart in the name of sport. It is a time gone by, but the novel doesn't feel antiquated. The way it has been written is so visually stunning you could be fooled into thinking you were watching a David Attenborough documentary. There is such attention to detail that you would think you were reading non-fiction, but then you are transported into a land of poetry as your mind wanders across the various landscapes.

This is a book that has stood the test of time, and long may it continue to do so. It gives us an insight into life in the wild, and why, if conservation is needed, it should be carried out sympathetically, and not by the call to the hound. Hopefully those days are long gone for the otter, and may it stay like that forever.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

A Streetcar Named Desire (Tennessee Williams)

I am a bit of a fan of Tennessee Williams. I love the way he writes about real people. He wasn't afraid to shy away from domestic issues or bring mental illness out of the shadows; he showed people what is was, an illness and one that affected real people. I watched Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Glass Menagerie in February, so when I saw that another of Tennessee Williams’ classics was being produced near me, I thought I should make the effort to see it; especially as it was starring Maxine Peake who I had not seen on stage before.

Maxine Peake is a familiar name to the Manchester Royal Exchange, yet whilst I’ve watched her on TV I’ve never seen her on stage, so for me it was interesting how well she would translate from screen to stage. 

Williams’ plays work because he writes from the heart. His family life was dogged by mental illness, and so he was in a position to bring these issues into the public arena, not overly sentimentalising things, but showing the world that people should be treated carefully, and respectfully. He was close to his family and carried a lifetime of guilt about how his sister Rose was treated. She was given a lobotomy in 1943 which he said left her permanently institutionalised.  His feelings towards his sister and how she was dealt with are most prominently seen in The Glass Menagerie.

Here, in Streetcar, he deals with the nostalgia of his mother and sister and their love for the Deep South. This is endorsed in many of the female characters he has so carefully crafted. In this production, Peake has manged to take the soul of Blanche DuBois and make her this delicate individual, you sympathise with her plight, yet you don’t feel sorry for her. She has this harshness in her turn of phrase that stops you feeling too sentimental for her.

I'm almost sat on the stage!
The staging of the play helps to add closeness to the characters. As Blanche arrives at her sister’s flat, you arrive with her, right into the centre of things. You are practically sat in Stanley and Stella’s home. It is almost like a fly on the wall documentary. You feel a bit like an voyeur, spying on the truth that goes on behind closed doors. 

As Blanche sweeps in, in her glamourous clothes and dark shades, to this darker side of tenement life, you see a snob, someone who looks down her nose. Stanley is beneath her. How could her sister marry such a common person? Blanche is disgusted that her sister lives like this, a one room flat with a bathroom. She has to share the same room as her sister and husband, mattresses lying on the floor to sleep on, but from the start you can see this is all a façade. Blanche is pretending her life is perfect, but is she pretending so she doesn’t lose face with her sister, or is it because she cannot bear to face the
reality of her situation?

It is the element of uncertainty about Blanche which draws you into this play. Peake’s performance is exceptional. She has a real connection with the audience, even at the height of her most awful comments. She can’t stop calling Stanley a “Polack” even when he tells her he is as American as she is. She is living in a world of make believe; as she states she doesn’t really drink, you see her sneaking a quick tipple from the hidden bottle of Southern Comfort! This fragility is exquisitely realised, especially when Stanley delivers the cold hard facts to Blanche as he finds out about her non too perfect past!

Ben Batt is a credible Stanley. Having watched Marlon Brando in the film version, Ben had a lot to live up to.  He watches, listens, and then delivers the truth with an unassuming brutality, both physically and mentally. As Blanche slowly disintegrates before our eyes. It is hard to watch Stanley and Stella’s treatment of her. You can understand why they are frustrated by Blanche’s lies, but they never try to understand why she feels the need to live in world of make believe, they never really talk to her. Blanche is secretly crying out for help, but no-one sees this.

At times it is an uncomfortable play to watch, but this is because of the themes, not the performances. Watching someone descend into madness in front of your eyes is both fascinating and painful. As Williams himself said “to desire a thing…is to place yourself in a vulnerable position. And as Blanche delivers her final lines directly into the eyes of the audience, you feel most intimately that vulnerability.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Goodnight Mr Tom... Burke (part 2) A Madhatters Tea Party, & The Deep Blue Sea @ The National

A couple of non-eventful weeks passed, which gave me time to finish The Cheshire Cat and my “M’lady de Winter vs The Queen of Hearts” costume for the Operation Smile/Burketeers “Mad Hatter” tea party. I do like to set myself a challenge, and this was going to be a huge challenge! I am positive the man in the local hardware store thinks I have a glue addiction! 7 litres of PVA glue later (yes 7!) and “Chesh” was ready for his paint job. Now I’m not a huge fan of Disney, I don’t like sugary sweet films, so my Cheshire Cat was not going to be the fluffy pink cat people were expecting. The fact that a cat can disappear leaving just a big grin in the air is a bit disturbing, and I think my cat had just the right element of being bright, but a little maniacal! (My favourite drawing of The Cheshire Cat has to be Arthur Rackham’s version - below).

My dress was also a great challenge. It’s the first costume I’ve made in a while and it’s the first time I have tried to make a corset. I’ve always fancied doing the course at RADA in corset making, but it’s very expensive and I didn’t know whether technically I’d be able to do something so fiddly. I really loved M’lady de Winter’s red cape dress from the first series of The Musketeers. I thought I could do a mash up of her dress, and the Queen of Hearts, as I was going to a Mad Hatters Tea Party. I must say, by the time I had finished I was actually rather proud of my handy work. I think I’d done rather well, especially with my tea cup fascinator!!!

Friday the 16th September, and back down to London. Fortunately I arrived at Chester station 45 mins early for my train. Good job I did because there had been problems with the weather in London and my train had been cancelled! Horrified I ran to the ticket office. Before I could say two words the lady at the counter said “SHUSH” “Platform 1 to Crewe leaves in 3 mins. Go to Crewe and get on any train to London…now run.” So I did…whilst shouting “oh my god I love you!” I squeezed onto the train which was packed, and managed to get on the first train to London, nabbing myself a table seat with plug socket so I could read my Cormoran Strike book. Yes you read that right. I thought the books would be that terrible I downloaded them to my Kindle app rather than buying paperbacks. By the time I’d got to Waterloo I’d popped into the bookshop, bought the paperbacks and decided I’d get Tom to sign them all; seeing it was his fault I’d deigned to read them in the first place! (Tom of course will be playing Cormoran Strike in the TV dramatization of the books if you haven’t guessed!)

In the evening I headed off to watch The Deep Blue Sea (is there anything else on at the theatre?!) As I sat down, I thought I recognised the lady about to sit down in front of me. HELENA BONHAM CARTER!!! Arghhhh. HBC is sat in front of me, hang on a minute, she played the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland…and I’m dressing up as her tomorrow at the tea party. Well that’s kind of freaky!

We saw Tom after the show for a hug and a quick chat, I managed to confess to him to that after telling him previously that I would never (ever) read the Cormoran Strike books but would be happy to watch him on the telly…I’d gone and read the books and they were ok. I even managed to bore him rigid with an in-depth analysis of the books! Once he had regained consciousness he signed book number one for me. I had to laugh when I read it, we were no longer on formal terms, and after his message he signed it “Tom.” Apparently we don’t need surnames now! Tom still had things to do, places to go, and couldn’t stay too long, so he went back into the theatre and brought Peter Sullivan down for us to talk to instead! What a lovely man he is, collectively we discussed the changes he had made to his character which we’d witnessed throughout the run. When we each told him how many times we had seen the production he said “WHAAATTT?” It was a brilliant moment! His poor bewildered face!

Saturday was the day of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. My friend Fiona had done a fantastic job of organising the whole event. It was held in The Duchy Arms, Kennington and the staff couldn’t have been more obliging. Fiona had paid so much attention to detail; we even had flamingo croquet outside! There was a hat competition, and everyone had put a considerable amount of effort into designing and making their hats. I arrived in my jeans and got my friend Cheryl to help corset me up. I tell you what, I could do with wearing a corset every day; it must be the first time I’ve stood up straight in the whole of my life! Sadly it meant not too much eating, but there was plenty of room for a cheeky glass of prosecco or two. As the afternoon of revelry drew to a close, I asked Cheryl to help me out of my costume. I was not going to The National dressed as M’lady de Winter!  Cheryl said she would join me, 10 mins later there was no sign. Thank God Angie was in the toilets to help me out of my bindings! By the time I had got dressed and sorted myself out, I went back into the main room. Cheryl was still merrily chatting and had obviously forgotten all about me!

We left the pub and headed off to watch The Deep Blue Sea – surprise surprise! Well, there was a surprise waiting for us, Minister Treville from The Musketeers was there! We saw Hugo Speer just before we were going to head into the theatre; we introduced ourselves and asked him if we could buy him and his wife a drink in the interval as a thank you for such a special show. He said that was kind, and he held the door open for us allowing us to take our seats. Well blow me, he was sat in the row in front of us. At the interval he came out, and whilst Cheryl headed to the bar to buy him a drink, I asked him what he was up to now. He talked about his work on a new 10-part drama called Britannia. He said it was set in 43AD and filming was taking place in Prague! So no sooner had he left Prague when he finished The Musketeers, he was back again for this!

After the show we sat outside having a drink, wearing our tea party hats! No-one gave us a second glance! Eventually Tom came out and grinned as he saw how ridiculous we looked and he came and signed my third CS book. I don’t know why I told him I’d finished reading it at 6am, but the message he wrote was brilliant…as he handed my book back he said “hmm that could be taken the wrong way!” He stayed for as long as he could, he was heading out with Hugo and his wife, so I think we all managed to get the photo’s and signatures we wanted before waving him off and shouting  we’d see him on the final night. We then decided we really needed to find a chippy, and as luck would have it, one not far from our hotel was still open. Those chips were like the food of the Gods!

I went home for a couple of nights, and then headed back to London for the final night of The Deep Blue Sea. (Really, you’d think Virgin would have given me my own personal seat by now!)
The last night of the show was exceptional. I think every actor threw their all into it; the play was on an entirely different level. Tonight Tom was shouting at Helen, Peter started out speaking quietly to Helen then raising his voice by the end. She was sobbing her heart out. Oh they all really went for it leaving the audience in no doubt that it was worthy of a standing ovation!

It has been an amazing time coming to see this play. I’ve seen how the play has metamorphosed, and discussed with actors why they have made the changes they have, what’s worked, what hasn’t. Obviously it was a thrill to be able to speak to Tom so many times, not many people are blessed to see their hero, let alone engage in conversation with them. But I was a little bit sad that in all the times I’d been down, I hadn’t got Nick Fletcher’s autograph, or met Helen McCrory.

This was my last chance. As I hustled my friend over to say hi to Peter Sullivan, I suddenly realised the lady hidden by a huge bouquet of flowers was Helen. “Please will you sign my book?” I asked. “Yes” she said looking for it. I said “hang on a mo, I left it on the table.” NEVER have I run so fast in all my life. It was worth it though.  Helen’s signature was on my book and I had a quick chat (very quick, I couldn’t breathe let alone speak!) Do you know this must have been about 11pm and she was going to be off filming at 4am the next day!

So there was only Nick to go. I did the unthinkable. I saw him head to the bar with his friends, so I went up to him, apologising profusely, and explained that I kept missing him and I would love his autograph as I thought Miller and Mrs Elton were the best two characters in the play. He was brilliant. He didn’t seem to mind me interrupting him, and he seemed surprised to see all those National Theatre tickets glued to the front of my play book. I got the chance of a quick chat, and left happy in the knowledge I had all the autographs I really wanted…I think by the end I was only missing two signatures!

And so that was that. I’d given Tom a goodbye hug and told him he’d be great as Cormoran and now it was all over.  Time to say goodbye to watching the same play over and over again, and goodbye to the mass of Burketeers’ crowding round the stage door! Well…that is until the next time Mr B takes to the stage.  [You know you can’t escape from me that easily Mr B!!! ;-)]

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

7 plays in 7 days!

Well that was the week that was! Monday was a trip to Theatre Clwyd to see Kreutzer vs Kreutzer based on Leo Tolstoy’s novella.  I’ve already written a review for that one, but must say once again what a joy it was to see Sam West in the flesh! He’s an incredible actor.

A couple of days in work and then it was time to head off to Manchester to watch Maxine Peake in Tennessee Williams’ classic A Streetcar Named Desire. I can’t remember if I’ve ever been to Manchester’s Royal Exchange theatre before…I’m sure I must have been when I was younger, but I really didn’t recognise the place. From the outside it is a beautiful grade II listed building, inside the building’s Great Hall sits the theatre, a circular steel and glass construction. The unique design means that plays are shown in the round, seating surrounds all sides of the stage, and this brings an immediate relationship between the actor and the audience. I can't believe just how close to the action the audience are. No barriers, the audience are practically part of the stage!

Friday. After spending the night at my friend’s parents’ house, I was kindly dropped off at Stockport railway station for my trip to London. What an amazing journey! I normally end up reading and talking to no-one when I travel from Chester, however, this trip was filled with fun and laughter. The couple who were sharing the table seat with me seemed nice; we exchanged a few words and then did our own thing for a bit. There was a man sitting on the table next to me who somehow looked familiar but I didn’t know why. After an hour the lady opposite me said to the group in general, “so I’m really nosey and you all seem interesting people, why are you going to London? Work or pleasure?”  The chap near me said, “well I’m off for an audition for a new programme on the I-player that Simon Amstell has written.” “Really?” Well this was going to be an interesting conversation, and so it was! We had a nice chat with him, and then the lady and I had a good ole gossip. The time flew by in a carriage filled with chatting and laughter. I must remember in future to travel to London from Stockport and not Chester!!!!

I met up with my friends at St Pancras for lunch and Prosecco! We then meandered to our hotel and got ready for our first show of the weekend, The Entertainer at the Garrick Theatre starring Sir Kenneth Branagh. It wasn’t a play I was familiar with, but I thought it would be rather light hearted with a title like that…how wrong I was. It was a play filled with jokes but with some very poignant moments too. Sir Ken put on a fabulous show, but I left the theatre feeling like someone had ripped my insides out. I was almost void of emotion, a hollow feeling that I couldn’t explain…perhaps a sense of loss over the old music hall days when entertainers were funny because they were clever rather than puerile and smutty! It took a couple of days to come to terms with the play, and to realise why I had felt like that.

Saturday was Chekhov day, the day I had been looking forward to. Three plays one after the other, Platonov, Ivanov and The Seagull. I really didn’t know what to expect. When I read the plays they were rather heavy and full of angst; watching three in a row might be a bit too much. I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of comedy in the productions, David Hare had created three fantastic versions of these classic plays.

When I arrived in the theatre, I was entranced by the stage which was like a woodland clearing, silver birch trees loomed in the darkness. As I went to take my seat, I politely said excuse me to this couple, I then looked into the eyes of the lady and thought “Oh my God that’s Celia Imrie.” I smiled and said thank you. OMG…Celia Imrie is a couple of seats from me watching the same play!!!! 

After the plays had finished, it seemed hard not to stick to The National tradition of running round to The Burketeer Table to have a drink. It seemed rather strange sitting there knowing that there was no Tom to walk out for a chat; however, we had our script book to hand and were ready to converse with the Chekhov actors if they were willing. Fortunately the actors we collared were up for a chat and happy to hand out autographs. They thought we were mad to watch all three plays in one day, and then when they realised we’d read the scripts too, I’m sure they thought we should be committed. A big thank you has to go to James McArdle who kindly chatted to us even though he had friends waiting for him (we did tell him to go and join them but he stayed to talk about Chekhov) and Geoffrey Streatfield who had just been announced as part of the cast for Wild Honey which we will be watching in January! It was such a fabulous day, and one that I was sad to see finish.

Sunday. Time to head home. It was a gorgeous sunny day, so I said goodbye to my friends who were heading to the airport and I wandered down to The National for a walk along the river. Cheryl had bought me a book about pretentiousness (that’s another story) and so I sat in the sun reading it, chuckling to myself upon reading the opening chapter. It seems that her comment to Tom was not as much of an insult as I had thought! Soon it was time was time to walk to Waterloo and back to Chester. And yes, the train journey home was quiet and uneventful, that Stockport train really was a winner!

Back home, and one last play to make it 7 plays in 7 days…and of course you already know, we can’t have a week of theatricals without our Tom! The BBC Radio 3 play that night was The Visa Affair by Jake Arnott, all about the life of Joe Orton. It’s a sorrowful and surreal tale, one I had forgotten about, but upon listening to Russell Tovey and Tom Burke, I started to remember elements about the story of the two pranksters defacing library books and the tragic events that unfolded due to the repercussions of their unruly behaviour.

I will eventually write a separate piece about the plays I saw and I know I still have Goodnight Mr Tom part 2 to finish, but I seem to be lacking time at the moment…I can’t think why!!!

So there we are; seven plays, seven days, and now the hit of reality! I don’t head back to theatreland for a whole two weeks, so I guess I should get a bit of writing done while I have the chance!

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

KREUTZER vs KREUTZER - Theatr Cymru 3/10/2016

(A play for voices written by Laura Wade – music played by Aurora Orchestra)

In 1889, Leo Tolstoy’s novella The Kreutzer Sonata was published.  It told a stark tale of jealousy, betrayal and obsession. It was named after the composer Beethoven’s The Kreutzer Sonata and it told the tale of Pozdnyshev, a man who claimed he had killed his wife because she was unfaithful.

In the novella, the tale is told by an unnamed person on a train; it features the husband’s story, but his wife and her “lover” never get to tell their side of the tale.  In this dramatic work, the audience visit the music room where the infidelity is supposed to have taken place, and through music and speech two dramatically different scenarios are pieced together. By the end of the evening you are left wondering whether the wife was faithful, or if was she rightly condemned by her husband.

Jemima Rooper (Kinky Boots) and Samuel West (Mr Selfridge) star in an exceptional play for voices. There is no dominating set, or beautiful costumes to distract the audience, instead clever use of language, rhyme and rhythm create evocative pictures in the audiences mind. Together with complete performances of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Violin Sonata and Janácek’s Kreutzer String Quartet the question is raised whether music can create a strong sexual desire between a man and a woman, and whether it can cause a man to commit murder.

Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No 9 is a wild piece of music in three movements. Rooper and West cleverly enact quick-witted dialogue between each of the three movements at a fast pace which matches the fast notes of the music, which at times seems rather frenzied. It is interspersed with moments of lucid calm. It embraces the mood of the husband who is consumed with these wild imaginings that his wife is not having a music lesson or practicing a duet with her violinist teacher, she is having a wild and torrid affair instead, culminating in him imagining that they are making love astride the piano!

René François Xavier Prinet 
Sonata Kreutzer, óleo sobre lienzo. 1901.

In the Second Act, the start of the play mirrors the start of the first Act, but Janácek’s String Quartet No 1 “Kreutzer Sonata” (1923) provides the audience with a contradictory story. What if the wife was the object of another man’s desire, but she never reciprocated his feelings? The Czech composer had fallen in love with a married woman and he was sympathetic to the plight of Pozdnyshev’s wife. Rooper gives an incredible heartfelt performance about why she should be to blame if a man falls in love with her. Surely it is the man’s fault and not hers.

Again, the writing mirrors the tone and tempo of the music. The music in the First Act ebbs and flows with exuberant dynamism, but the Second Act the music becomes disjointed, even “alienatory” as the violins start screeching intermittently, and thus the dialogue becomes more strained, more desperate. You feel uncomfortable as you try to consider who the guilty party is in this love triangle, because you can never truly know whether the wife was innocent or not.

The juxtaposition of music and theatre was explosive. Watching the orchestra play both pieces of work showed just how passionate music can be. As a musician gets drawn into a piece of music, it is not just the instrument that sings, the body takes over until the person playing is consumed by the score they are playing. Could the passion of the music be felt by two disparate bodies and could this be a catalyst for the husband’s jealousy, that two people can be connected by something that he cannot feel or understand?

I was enthralled during the evening. It was a magical mix of literary genius coupled with extraordinary music, which brought home that we were witnessing a tragic event unfolding before our eyes. My only complaint?  That it was only on for one night!

Monday, 3 October 2016

Goodnight Mr Tom...Burke (part 1)

I really can’t believe how quickly September has passed me by (or how bad I am at keeping the blog up to date). September is the month of my birth and so I decided I would celebrate it by seeing The Deep Blue Sea more times than is strictly necessary…although in my mind the show was extended into my birthday month for a reason…and it would be very rude not to take advantage of the fact!

I started my birthday celebrations by visiting my local cinema on 1st September with some friends, who could not make it with me to London, to watch the NTLive version of The Deep Blue Sea. I love NTLive, it means if you can’t get to London, London can come to you.  I actually realised that it brought a different perspective of the play to me. I was able to see close ups of faces and see Helen McCrory physically shaking as Hester. For the first time I saw Hester’s frailty and I felt some sympathy towards her character; I still thought she was very needy and manipulative, and I still feel more empathy towards Freddie, but for the first time my blinkers came off and I could see another facet of the story! It was interesting how the dynamics had changed from watching it live on stage, to watching a live recording! The 2nd September had me back on the now familiar journey to London!!!!

The House at Lydda - Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (The Globe). 

I was treated to a gorgeous dinner at The Ship by way of a birthday pressie before settling down to watch the play.  The playhouse itself is so beautiful. If you have never been, go! The playhouse is a small and intimate space, lit by candlelight. It is beguiling and as I sat in awe waiting for the play begin, I looked up at the painted ceiling which reminded me a little of an old deck of tarot cards! I got a quizzical look from my friend before I admitted that I dabbled a long time ago. I can’t remember much about it now; so much so, I read a book called The House of Rumour by Jake Arnott a while back and I had already read a few chapters before I realised that each chapter was based on the Major Arcana of The Tarot!!! (I remember reading the book and wondering if it was intentional or not that the writer had switched the order of The Devil and Death.) Fortunately before I could continue with this train of thought, and to the relief of my friend, the play started!

The House at Lydda tells the story of the critically ill Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar. He has heard of this healer who lives in Jerusalem and sets out on a voyage to the Holy Land so that he can be healed by this miracle man. Upon reaching the city of Lydda, he finds out that the man he is searching for has been crucified 3 days earlier. Tiberius is distraught that he is too late to be healed, but then he has a chance encounter with a chap called Jesus! It was a fabulous play, and my friend and I left the theatre ready to discuss our thoughts, but before we could, we were immediately transfixed by St Paul’s cathedral which appeared to be on fire!

We stood and watched in awe as the dome appeared to flicker and burn as artificial flames licked around the dome. Somewhat dazed and confused we continued heading up the South Bank towards the Tate Gallery; everywhere appeared to be on fire. Plant pots we had walked past earlier danced and flickered on fire, the heat being emitted was extraordinary.  And then it suddenly made sense, it was 350 years since the Great Fire of London, and this was a week of celebrations, finishing a couple of days later with a model of a replica skyline being set on fire.

As we left the flames behind and neared The National Theatre on our walk back to our hotel, we decided to stop off for a quick glass of prosecco and to chat about our extraordinary night. We finished chatting and gathered ourselves for the final stage of our route home, believing that we had had the most fantastical evening possible, and then we bumped into a familiar figure making his way home. “Oh hello Tom” I quipped!  My friend Cheryl then said hello and Tom asked if we’d been to see the play. “Erm, no! We’ve been The Globe…BUT, we will be watching you twice tomorrow instead!!” The three of us had a lovely conversation about all manner of things, then Tom went on his way and Cheryl and I headed off to our hotel.  What an amazing and extraordinary evening!

The Deep Blue Sea

I had been lucky enough to notice that there were cheap seats available for The Deep Blue Sea, so I was able to buy tickets for the matinée and evening performance on Saturday, and they were close to the stage (rows B & D…I don’t like row A even thought that was available!) Yes it IS overkill, but you only live once and it was like watching the live stream again, you could see and hear everything. As I sat waiting between the two performances, wondering if Mr B would make an appearance, my tummy started talking to me. I grabbed a pizza, and the minute I shoved a quarter of it into my gullet a certain someone turned up and said hello! I was not impressed as I tried to mumble “hi” back!! I did eventually manage a few words before saying I’d hopefully see him later.

As we took to our seats for the evening show, a buzz went round the theatre that Santiago Cabrera was there. I saw him come in and take his seat and I noticed he was on his own. Cheryl said to me, if he is on his own shall we buy him a drink at the interval? I agreed! At the interval we found him wandering round the bar on his own, so we did buy him a drink, and a small group of us chatted to him. I have been blessed to meet many famous people over the years, some charming, some fools, some I’d rather not say, but I am so pleased I met and chatted to Santi. He is such a charming man, quietly spoken but so enthusiastic about his job, and he had plenty of kind words to say about his mate Tom! That really struck a chord with me, you often see in press reports “oh yes we’re great friends off set” but this showed it was true and that the actors are truly supportive of one another in their new ventures. We chatted about filming his new movie, and how he had taken to fatherhood. Santi then whipped his phone out of his pocket and started showing us pictures of his son. He was definitely one very proud father and it felt like an honour to be sharing these prized photo's with him.

After the performance we sat outside the stage door wondering if Tom would come out. We thought he might not have time for us bearing in mind Santi was over from LA, but to my surprise and delight, both of them came out and talked to us. Santi tried to stay out of the limelight' however, I had brought a drawing for Tom to sign so it could be auctioned off for the Operation Smile Tea Party. I had kept the drawing with all of my other Musketeer drawings and I remembered that I had an ink sketch of Santi with me, so I slipped away and asked him if he would sign it for me. He seemed genuinely pleased to be signing something Santi related and not just Tom’s Deep Blue Sea programme which other people had asked him to sign. And as for the drawing of Tom/Athos...well Tom's reaction really took me by surprise. I just asked him if he would sign it, I was stunned that my sketch seemed to transport him back to when he was filming the scene with Luke. It still makes me smile just thinking that not only did he recognise himself, but his recognition of the actual scene too.......ho hum!!!! ;-) 

Ah, it is so hard to believe what magical encounters happen in the World of Burke…and there are yet more to come in Goodnight Mr Tom…Burke! (part 2)!

Thank you to @c_u_thru_a_lens for the photo on the left.

(Tea party, confessions and more meeting with Muskies to come in part 2 – September was a birthday month to remember!)

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Three Strikes and You're Out! (Box Clever Challenge - September)

I know this is going to seem a strange choice as a classic read, but I’m sure when Agatha Christie wrote her crime novels they weren’t seen as classics at the time either.

When I heard that Tom Burke would be portraying the role of Cormoran Strike in the BBC’s dramatization of the Robert Galbraith novels my heart sank. Robert Galbraith is the pseudonym of J K Rowling.  I remember years ago trying to “get into” the Harry Potter novels. I managed 3 and a half books before giving up. I did not like her style of writing and I did not care for any of her characters. They lacked substance; her imagination was good, but the delivery was lacking. I had grown up reading Alan Garner, C S Lewis and Susan Cooper, these were authors who could transport you and make you care about characters; there was a plot and a straightforward narrative.  I told Tom I would watch him and support him in the role of Cormoran Strike, but I wouldn’t be reading the books. He didn’t seem too perturbed about my comments, maybe he didn’t care, maybe he knew me better than I knew myself and he knew I’d give in. Maybe he even knew if I gave them a chance I might like them. Only he knows. (But if that is what he thought…then he was right!)

I managed 4 days from my big announcement to Tom. I was in work and had to take part in a 2 hour webinar…it seemed rather dull…I downloaded The Cuckoo’s Calling onto my phone (that’s another first…I hate Kindle but I thought the book would be that bad I wouldn’t sully my bookcase with it, I’d just download it.) I had lots to do over the next 10 days, work, maintaining a home, a papier mache cat to finish to post to London and a full M’lady de Winter dress to sew…I didn’t have any spare time for reading…yet by the Friday I saw Tom I only had 20% of the third book to finish. I confessed he was right, I was wrong, and by the time I saw him on the Saturday I had bought the paperbacks and was able to hand him the third book and say “I finished this one at 6am…please will you sign it?!” He did, bless him, and I love the message he wrote!

So September classic reading is the first three Cormoran Strike novels, The Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm and Career of Evil.

You should have come to the cuckoo’s calling…

The first novel introduces us to the private detective, Cormoran Strike, a war veteran who lost his leg in Afghanistan. Cormoran not only has the physical wounds of war to deal with, but the psychological issues too.  He has just finished a long and tumultuous relationship with his girlfriend, he has substantial debts that need paying off; he has resorted to living in his office and is now down to his last client.  Then John Bristow walks through his door, and Cormoron’s life is about to change.  John’s sister, the beautiful model Lula Landry had fallen to her death from a balcony months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John knows differently.  He wants Strike to investigate the glamorous world of modelling, rock stars and designers, to find out did Lula fall, or was she pushed?

I was pleasantly surprised reading this novel and how absorbed I was with the two main characters, Cormoran, and his new assistant Robin. It seems an unlikely pairing, however, the two characters bounce off one another and I instantly fell in love with them both; although I didn’t fall in love with Galbraith’s writing.  I enjoy the author giving sufficient detail to transport you to a specific place; she really encapsulates what a traditional London pub is like for instance. I like that she has visualised our modern society, (her comments about fandom especially struck a chord that made me question and think quite deeply about what she had written) but I sometimes get exasperated that long meandering narratives that serve no purpose and just grate on the reader are incorporated.  “ ’Is there any chance,’ asked Strike, as they were momentarily impeded by a tiny hooded, bearded man like an Old Testament prophet, who stopped in front of them and slowly stuck out his tongue, ‘that I could come and have a look inside some time?’”  It was a cleverly written sentence, but it served no purpose, it was as if she had had an idea and was so pleased with the sentence it had to be placed in the novel.

Whilst I enjoyed the book, I did feel the plot was a little loose. I’m a little conflicted by the ending.  I was a little disappointed and confused (I can’t say too much without giving the ending away) but on the other hand it was a clever twist, obviously the guilty party was playing on the idea that Cormoran was a bit of a loser and desperate for cash, therefore he didn’t have the wherewithal to put the pieces of the jigsaw together!

Despite the book being far from perfect, I finished the book craving more; fortunately it was easy enough to slake my thirst for more of Mr Strike… The Silkworm was already downloading to my Kindle App!

Anyone for Bombay Mix?

Bombyx Mori – it’s latin for ‘silkworm of the mulberry tree’, but as I raced through book two, my mind kept changing the words to Bombay Mix, I have no idea why, although I did think the phrase was overused! 

Owen Quine is a novelist who wrote the novel Bombyx Mori, a book that betrays his editor, publisher, agent…and now he has gone missing.  We’ve left the world of models and fashionistas behind to replace it with a world of novelists and amateur writers. This book is faster paced and a lot darker and gorier than the first novel and to be fair to Galbraith the writing has steadily improved from book one, but I found it still kept grating in parts. The Silkworm is not a silky smooth read!

Whilst I might be considered too critical, I found that maybe I am not the only one uncomfortable with the narrative of the book; Galbraith actually points out the issues in the novel with a huge highlighter pen! Whilst diving into the background of a self-published writer, Robin, Strikes partner, finds a potential suspect’s blog.  She states, “A lot of it’s about how traditional publishers wouldn’t know good books if they were hit over the head with them.” Galbraith then tries to inform the reader what the difference is between plot and narrative. "Plot is what happens," "narrative is how much you show your readers and how you show it to them." I don’t wish to discredit Galbraith, I find the imaginative side of her writing phenomenal, but, if I think back to when I tried to read Harry Potter, the main thing that struck me was how one dimensional the characters were. I didn’t care about them at all and thus I never got further than part way through book four. The Strike novels have addressed this particular problem to an extent, but I have to be honest with myself and wonder whether my love for Strike is because of Galbraith’s prose, or because I can visualise Tom Burke playing him. I honestly suspect it’s the latter!

That said the structure of the second book was certainly better than that of the first. There was more complexity around the crime, and the growing relationship between Strike and Robin is mesmerising.  There is a level of humour that lightens the mood, although often Robin is rather daunted by Strike and his ambivalence towards the horrors that they have witnessed.

The compulsive nature of these books meant that as soon as The Silkworm was finished I needed to know more about the fortunes of Strike. I became obsessed with him and found myself finishing book 3 at 6 o’clock in the morning!

I’m making a Career of Evil

Career of Evil is by far the best of the three books. Galbraith has found an intimacy with her characters and they have begun to flow naturally from the pages. In book 3, Robin takes delivery of a gruesome package, we recoil with her, and we feel her repulsion when she opens the packet to find a leg has been sent to her together with some lyrics from the band Blue Oyster Cult.  Strike is gloriously deadpan as he tells the police that the leg isn’t even his size (Strike having lost his leg in Afghanistan!) and this wry humour lifts what could be a novel that takes its-self too seriously.

Just as Inspector Lestrade was dismissive of Sherlock Holmes, and Inspector Japp was dismissive of Poirot, Strike has upset the police too many times and so they are scornful of his suggestions that this is no ordinary crime. This crime is personal, someone is after Strike and they will use whatever means necessary, including Robin, to undermine and hurt him. And so the game is afoot, pardon the pun, to delve into Strikes murky past to work out who is sending body parts to Robin…and it turns out that Strike has upset a multitude of people during his life, so it really could be anybody!

If Strike thinks that trying to locate a murderer is a complex affair, then that is nothing in comparison to the quirks of human nature.  Robin is trying to organise her wedding to Matthew, and Strike is trying to establish a relationship with a gorgeous but dull woman in the throes of divorce. What is blindingly obvious to the reader is wasted on Robin and Strike, however hard they try, it is crystal clear that their feelings for each other far outweigh the feelings they have for their respective other halves!

Career of Evil has it all, complex relationships, an enormity of disturbed characters intent on revenge, a travelogue up and down the country from Scotland to London  (I specifically liked Robin’s trip to Harrogate…I love Betty’s tearooms, and if I’m there I always have a pot of Betty’s house blend tea and a fat rascal. Galbraith did not disappoint, both got a mention…and it reminded me of earlier in the year when I bought Betty’s tea and fat rascals for Tom!) And let us not forget Strike’s amusing sofa that is constantly mentioned throughout the book. If the BBC adaptation doesn’t have the farting sofa, I have my complaint letter at the ready!

So roll on book number 4. I have been converted! They are not the greatest pieces of literature in the world, but they are compulsive reading, you want to turn the next page, you want to know what happens next. And whilst it is fun trying to solve the “who dunnits”…the biggest mystery of all is what will happen between Strike and Robin…that is…if anything happens at all!

Monday, 29 August 2016

A ChariTEA Party! ( & August's reading challenge.)

Ha ha you like what I did there?!

Tom Burke is both an avid supporter of Operation Smile, a charity which helps children born with a cleft lip/palate as well as being a supporter of Box Clever Theatre. Toms fans, or Burketeers, have been showing their immense support for both of these charities, and on 17th September 2016, they're holding a tea party in London in aid of Operation Smile. To coincide with the tea party, I'm reading what will be the theme of the party for my August reading challenge...Alice In Wonderland. (So I'm kind of hoping that Alice will be raising some money for both charities...hint hint!)

 Alice in Wonderland, a well loved children's classic, and even more so for me, because the writer Lewis Carroll was born and lived in the village of Daresbury, Cheshire...about 5 miles from where I grew up. There's a church in Daresbury where the stained glass windows show Carroll's famous characters, and I can remember going around the church looking at them whilst my dad happily recited The Walrus and the Carpenter and Jabberwocky from memory to me!

(For more information on Lewis Carroll check out this website )

Whilst this might be a children's book, it has an enduring timeless appeal for adults too. As the name suggests, it is full of wonder, but it does tackle the complexities of life that children face when growing up. A mathematician, Carroll made the book logical, but at the same time humorous and imaginative. Much of the writing is absurd, but that is why it has stood the test of time and remains a firm favourite for readers and storytellers alike. (That's the reason why it has been made into several films over the years!)

"what is the use of a book...without pictures or conversations?"

Alice in Wonderland tells the story of a young Alice, who, bored at sitting on the river bank with her sister who is reading a book without pictures, begins wondering whether she is too sleepy to go and pick daisies when she sees a white rabbit run past her. Nothing strange in that, unless you consider this white rabbit is wearing a waistcoat, and has a pocket watch, and can talk! Now Alice, being of a rather nosey bent, decides to follow the rabbit and enters Wonderland after falling down a rabbit hole after him.

What follows is a voyage into the unknown where we meet a myriad of the most fantastical characters in fiction. Whilst we are never going to come across a talking cat or caterpillar in real life, these characters symbolise some of the types of people we come across in everyday life. It is interesting to see how Alice copes and interacts with each of these different traits of human nature and how Carroll has managed to create a world where the real and unreal meet.

One of the first characters she meets is a very laid back caterpillar. He is delightfully vague and contradictory and it makes for an interesting conversation with Alice, he is like a child, answering a question with a question. Fish and Frog footmen are equally confusing to poor Alice as she wends her way towards the Cheshire Cat. Now anyone who owns a cat, knows that really the cat owns them. They are intelligent creatures, and none more so than this cat who can disappear into thin air leaving his smile behind him. He has a sense of unerring logic! " you see a dog growls when it's angry, and wags its tail when it's pleased. Now I growl when I'm pleased, and wag my tail when I'm angry. Therefore I'm mad." You can't dispute logic like that!

We all know someone who is a little unconventional! I had a conversation with Tom Burke once in which someone told him we were mad. I said I'd call it eccentric, he quite agreed and said he felt he was somewhat eccentric himself! I doubt even he could compare to the Mad Hatter and The March Hare though! These characters are so full of life, they have boundless energy and a huge sense of fun, but they're also rather rude and straight to the point with their personal remarks! I do however love the Mad Hatter, not least because he seems rather partial to tea just like me! As he says, "it's always tea-time", Oh how right he is!

Not everyone in Wonderland is nice though and Alice soon gets to meet the despicable Queen of Hearts who after declaring Alice should have her head chopped off, relents and asks her to join in with a game of croquet. But this is Wonderland, so it can't be an ordinary game of this game is played with flamingo's and hedgehogs rather than mallet and balls.

"We called him Tortoise because he taught us,"the poor Mock Turtle wailed at Alice as he told her his sorry tale as to how he went from a real turtle to a Mock Turtle, aided rather well by a Gryphon who thought Alice a rather stupid child. Alice finally awakens and recounts her imaginative tale to her sister, who rather than following her sister back into the house sits and ponders the tale she has just been told. She imagines her sister all grown up, with children of her own who she can recount this land of make believe to, and the joy they would get from the stories of the Wonderland folk.

In reality, Alice's sister was right. Children year after year enjoy hearing the tales that Alice encountered, and even as an adult, it's sometimes nice to take a cup of tea into the garden, and spend an afternoon going back to Wonderland!

Thus grew the tale of Wonderland: 
Thus slowly, one by one, 
Its quaint events were hammered out - 
And now the tale is done, 
And home we steer, a merry crew
Beneath the setting sun.

Alice! a childish story take,
And with a gentle hand
Lay it where Childhood's dreams are twined
In Memory's mystic band,
Like pilgrim's wither'd wreath of flowers
Pluck'd in a far-off land.

Of course...if you haven't had enough of Alice's adventures, you can travel with her Through the Looking Glass to meet many more curious characters, the Walrus and the Carpenter; the Red and White Queen; Humpty Dumpty; and of course Tweedledum and Tweedledee! 

For details of the charity tea party see @burketeaparty on Twitter!

Three Plays - Frederico Garcia Lorca (Box Clever Challenge July)

Whilst I was in Bath, my friends Julie and Nikki told me that they had booked to see a play called Yerma by Frederico Garcia Lorca. I showed my ignorance by admitting I'd never heard of him, and so Julie kindly lent me a copy of her book so that I could acquaint myself with his work.

Lorca has a distinctive way of writing, and he has managed to encapsulate drama with poetry and song in his works. Tragically his life was cut short (he was assassinated in 1936) and so we don't know what further greatness he could have achieved in later life. Having read his plays, I thought it was only fair that I should enlighten others with his work too, and it seemed a befitting set of works for July's Box Clever Theatre challenge, as this is where theatre, literature, music and poetry all combine!  

In the book Three Plays, we enter the world of three different women who are disenchanted with what life has brought to them. They yearn for a life of equality, they crave freedom from repression, and they desire justice for the social failings around them.

Blood Wedding

"How can it be that something as small as a pistol or a knife can destroy a man who is like a bull?"

The play centres around the wedding of The Bridegroom and The Bride. These nameless characters are the main characters of the play, so it is interesting that we are not given any idea of their identity through names, it's almost like Lorca is keeping them at arms length. Their names don't matter, but their role and actions within the play do.

The matriarch of the play, The Mother is biased and selfish to the core. She insists that boys must be boys and girls must be girls. Girls should want to have children and spend their lives embroidering, playing with their children and maintaining ladies pursuits. They should not think for themselves, that is the duty of their husband. Her other son and her husband have been murdered, and she despises the Felix family who committed the atrocity. She does not want her remaining son to marry and leave her on her own in case one of the killers dies and gets buried near her husband. In her eyes, her husband could do no wrong, and throughout the play we can see that no-one compares to him, no-one could ever do any better than him. She wants the reader to suffer with her, until her worst fears are over, the death of her remaining son, and she can then live what remains of her life in peace.

"The three years he was married to me he planted ten cherry trees, three walnut trees by the mill, one whole vineyard, and a plant called Jupiter, with blood red flowers, but it died." Fitting that the flowers were blood red, as blood is the theme that flows in this play.

Her son is intent on getting married but he has chosen someone who once loved one of the Felix family as his bride. She is pure and beautiful, she is the perfect choice as a wife for him, but throughout the play you question whether she is as virtuous as she is made out to be. She was in love with Leonardo, a character who rides about at midnight. He married someone else, and now she is going to get married. Is there a purely innocent explanation why he rides around at night? Where does he go and who does he meet?  Just because she loves her intended, it doesn't mean that she doesn't still love the one that got away; therefore the marriage is not something she looks forward to. It's a big step for her to take, and she doesn't want to loose her current independence, to waste away like all the other women she sees around her. She is a strong woman, she has her own mind, and this marriage will mean her husband not only gains and traps a wife, but will also gain a large amount of land. there is a lot to be considered.

Mother: The Wedding vows weigh heavily
Bride: like lead

How hard it is for her to carry out this duplicity, to marry and be a faithful wife, but to stop having a life of her own, to forfeit her feelings and accept second best. The wedding night has a twist that is both expected and unexpected, ultimately ending with the knowledge that the importance of the orange blossom in her wedding crown was a truly significant part of the play.

It is a beautifully written piece. The interspersion of poetry throughout lifts it, creating a haunted atmosphere on a dark and deeply thought provoking subject.


There's a different feel to this play, it isn't as poetic, but there is still a plaintive, soul-searching tone to it. Yerma is desperate for a child. Nothing else matters. Nothing else plays on her mind. She wants a child, and whilst younger couples manage to have children as soon as they are married, Yerma continues to have no success year after year.

The play cleverly travels through her life. We feel her torment at seeing children all around her, as her friend becomes pregnant after five months of marriage but Yerma has to cover up her disappointment that after two years of marriage there is no sign of children. Her husband works away tending sheep, he does not share her feeling of misery that there are no children, he just wants her to fulfill her other home bound duties. She is trapped, both physically and mentally. Her husband does not like her to leave the house, and she can not stop thinking about her sterile environment.

Mothers have to suffer for children to grow up. "Every woman has enough blood for four or five children, if she doesn't have them, it turns to poison, as it will with me." We share Yerma's suffering as another year passes and we hear how easy it was for an old woman to have borne so many children. She loved her husband, but Yerma does not love hers. Perhaps this was the reason that she was forced to remain childless. The old woman tells Yerma to stop accepting her husband, to love him, if she loves him the children will come. She is empty, empty of feelings, so how can she bear children? But Yerma is not empty, she is full of hate, and the hate continues to grow inside her.

Again, as a woman, she is not allowed her freedom. She takes food to her husband in the hills and he does not appreciate it, he wants her to stop at home, to remain within the four walls doing things she doesn't want to do. But she is obliged to do these chores, she is his wife, it is her duty.

It is hard to understand why the women in these stories should be locked up, but them we learn about Victor, Yerma's first true love.  Again the woman at the heart of the story has been obliged to marry someone she does not care about, she has been forced into a marriage that is beneficial for the families concerned, not for herself.  Her husband by now does not trust her, he still wants her to stay indoors, so he decides that he will invite his two sisters to come and live with him and Yerma. Two women who he trusts to keep an eye on Yerma; two women who Yerma has to stay and clean the house with until it sparkles. That is what her life should be, a life full of cleaning. "I shouldn't say 'Forgive me'. I should force you, lock you up, because that's what a husband is for!"

There is melodious undertone to the gossipy chat of the washer women as they go about their work, some on Yerma's side, whilst others proclaim her barrenness is Yerma's fault. "Spoilt, weak, lazy women don't have children...they wear a sprig of Oleander in pursuit of a man who is not their husband." I like the way Garcia Lorca interweaves the symbolism of flowers into his writing. Oleander is a poison, it's destructive, and no more so in the continuance of Yerma's life. If she had stayed at home and loved her husband she would have the thing she most yearns, but she won't behave, she has her own mind and she speaks it and so she must pay the ultimate price, or so we must believe.

A further five years on in this drudgerous life and Yerma is still childless. She is trapped, her house has become a tomb, her husband does not even wish her to leave the house to go to the well for fresh water. He is unhappy and works hard and takes his frustrations out on Yerma, and it is clear that neither party loves one another. Yerma's anguish for a child has reached epic proportions, she is not envious of those around her, she makes that point clear, but she does feel deprived of the life that she wanted as a mother.

Victor has sold his sheep to Juan and comes to bid goodbye to Yerma. In a last bid of desperation she is helped to escape the confines of her home to visit Dolores the Conjurer. In a churchyard at night spells are cast for Yerma to bear a child, but the truth is that Yerma will never have a child with her husband; she needed to have married another to have had the life she so desired.

Yerma (spanish for barren) is a moving tale of the taboo subject of childlessness. Whilst at times it is harrowing to hear how Yerma is entombed in a life she does not want, it is also powerful in how much someone will strive for the thing that they hold so dear. It conveys the impact of how this tunnel vision can effect someone, madness takes over, and the obsessiveness becomes destructive rather than beneficial. It is also poignant that the character of Victor shows that had she taken a different path, if she had married Victor rather than her husband, she could possibly have had that thing she most craved.

The House of Bernardo Alba

Bernardo's husband has died, and she is now in charge of an all female household. You would think that the tight grip on a woman's freedom and inequality would be released, but instead, it seems to tighten in this bitter tragedy. Bernardo is adamant that the eight year mourning period will be observed by her daughters, and they will not have any further contact with the outside world. "We will brick up the doors and board up the windows". The only person who will be allowed any freedom is Augustias, she has a large inheritance which has attracted a local man, but whilst he loves Augustias' money, his passion is ignited by her pretty sister.

As times passes, Bernardo finds it difficult to maintain her suffocating grip on her daughters. They are full of venom and hatred for each other, and a jealous woman is a dangerous woman. This play shows just how a woman, desperate to leave the jaws of hell can tear a family apart in the worst possible way. "A daughter who disobeys stops being a daughter and becomes an enemy". This is a drama which takes place from within Barnarda's home, but Lorca creates this powerfully repressive atmosphere from start to finish, ending in a crescendo. But even when events take their most dramatic turn, Bernardo is still more concerned about keeping up appearances. It is more important to her that the village think her daughter has died a virgin, rather than mourning the loss of her child or showing any emotional outburst.

The main focus of the play is repression. The women are repressed, both by their sex and sexuality. They are second class citizens. Sexuality is a natural phenomenon to both men and women, but in Lorca's play women are not allowed to give into their desires. Those who do are considered harlots, women of the night, and nothing good will become of them. This is clearly shown when there is a commotion in the village, and it turns out that an unmarried woman has killed her baby. Rather than the women sticking together and showing empathy to their kin, they are baying for this woman's blood. They don't stick up for each other, they are intent on punishing each other, at whatever cost.

It is desire that ultimately leads to tragedy, showing how lust can lead to a terrible ending. Bernarda is perfectly aware of her daughter's yearnings, even her elderly mother cries out that she wants to be married in order to be able to live a happy life, but despite this, she refuses to allow her daughters to express their feelings. Barnardo believes she knows best, but this suffocation of their natural desires only incites bitterness and hatred between the sisters. This is more noticeable because there is only one male character to focus on, Pepe. Because he is the only male allowed near this closed off house, all of the sisters pour their focus on him, hence why their bitterness grows and makes all of the characters rather ugly and not worth our sympathy.

Adela's character fights against this repressive regime and shows the reader that she believes she has a free soul. She has her own idea about what real love is about, but she is still somewhat confused. She thinks Pepe is in love with her, but knows he will marry her sister Augustias for her money. Adela is happy therefore to be Pepe's mistress, but it is difficult to know whether she really loves Pepe, or whether she thinks a relationship with him will bring her freedom from her mother. What is it she really craves, love or freedom? Is there a difference? This leads to an interesting question about a persons life and how it should be lived. Should a person succumb to leading a dull life, living by other peoples moral attitudes, or should they bid for freedom, live their own life as they want whatever the consequences? Sadly, we see throughout the play, that despite Adela's attempts to remain an individual, wearing a green dress whilst everyone is still in mourning black, she becomes increasingly more and more bitter throughout. In some ways she becomes a victim fighting against a lost cause.

As within Lorca's other plays, there are tell tale signs throughout that tragedy will strike. As we head towards the finale, we finally read that Augustias' engagement ring is not one of diamonds, but pearls. Pearls, symbolic of tears to be shed. Tears that the marriage will not lead to the freedom that Augustias thinks will happen."I'll soon be getting out of this hell". "Last night I was so hot I couldn't sleep".  They are acutely aware that they live in a constant hell living at home under the stifling control of their mother, but in reality even if they marry they move from one controlling force to another "Her fiance won't let her go out, not even to the front door. She used to be full of fun; now she doesn't even powder her face!" The pearls can also be seen as a symbol of the plays ending too, and a woman's desperate bid for freedom which will end in tears.

Lorca's three plays are all interesting insights into the lives of women and full of atmosphere and poetry. They make interesting reading, but poetry should be heard, and having read these plays it would be interesting to see how they appear on stage.

Yerma is currently playing at The Old Vic in London until 24th September. It has received a number of rave reviews and is sold out. Whilst it has a modern twist, it shows that Lorca's writing still has a presence in today's world.

The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester has a production of The House of Bernardo Alba from 02/02/2017-25/02/2017