Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Bye Bye Beautiful Bath

The best thing about staying at the university was that they kicked you out at 10am. No lazing about, up showered, packed and exited. Then we headed to breakfast which was amazing. I hadn't expected much but there was ENDLESS supplies of tea and coffee and juice, plus there was cereal, fruit, yoghurt, pastries and a full choice of traditional hot food. It was a pleasure to sit down and have a relaxed breakfast, and then head off into town. We could stay parked at the uni for free all day on Sunday, so we grabbed the bus into town and headed for photo opportunities. The evening before we had taken some shots down by the river, and I had taken Julie and Nikki to where Tom had filmed some of his scenes in the BBC adaptation of Dracula. As he had filmed his scenes at night, I was most insistent that it was important that we did the same!

OMG, I'm wearing a teepee!

I really wanted to go back to the Fashion Museum. If I'm ever in Bath I have to go there, and they had a new exhibition to the one I saw last Christmas. I headed towards The Circus and The Royal Crescent because I knew Nikki could take some nice photographs up there, and then I headed to the museum for an hour.

There were some wonderful dresses on show, and they gave me real inspiration to make some new clothes, and also ideas for a costume for the upcoming tea party The Burketeers are holding in aid of Operation Smile. During my sabbatical year, I dusted off my sewing machine, but it's really only in the last few months that I have made several items of clothing. Sadly though on my walk around Bath I noticed my latest creation resembled a teepee. I was so proud of that skirt...although I have to admit it was funny seeing the faces of some passers by as I had my photo taken next to the offending children's toy!

I met back up with Nikki and Julie at a tea shop (where else) and then we made plans of what to do next. As we headed back towrds town we came across a bookshop. Now I love bookshops so I was thrilled that my partners in crime share the same enthusiasm for them as me. It was an amazing place, if you're in Bath check it out, Topping & Company (The Paragon, Bath, BA1 5LS) I have never been in a book shop that has so many copies of popular books signed by the author. Having been told by Tom to read The Conspiracy of the Human Race, I had decided that I needed to read some more Lovecraft and Ligotti in the future.
I've read some Lovecraft short stories, but I saw a beautiful commemorative edition of Necronomicon and had to purchase it. There was also a copy of The Glorious Heresies signed by Lisa McInerney, it has recently won the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, so I'm looking forward to finding the time to read it.

Like a moth to a flame...

We headed off down the road, but by now it was starting to rain. As we scuttled towards the Roman Baths I saw a book I have always wanted in a charity shop window; Masquerade by Kit Williams. I didn't know too much about it when I was a child, but essentially the book was an elaborate armchair treasure hunt. The book was published in 1979, and the treasure, an 18ct gold hare adorned with semi-precious stones, had been located in 1982. The book contained fifteen detailed paintings, riddles and puzzles featuring Jack Hare, who would help the reader solve the mystery of where the treasure was buried.
To me, the real treasure was to see the physical paintings, rather than pictures on the internet, but I hadn't been prepared to pay some of the prices I had seen in the past. Here, in a window in Bath, was a nearly pristine copy for just £1.50. It's my copy now!!!

I need a nice hot bath!

By now the rain was falling heavily, we could have done with some of the umbrella's used in an art installation in the city, so we marched quickly to the Roman Baths where it was warm and dry. We managed to scuttle through the doors before they stopped letting people in. The place was busy, but we didn't queue for too long before being able to look around. We walked around the remains of one of the paramount spas of Roman origin. The central point of the exhibit is The Great Bath, where Romans would have bathed in the warm waters, and wandered around on the 2000 year old cobbled pavements. Oh how I wish I could have dived into that hot water, even if there were signs saying untreated water, do not touch. By the time we had toured the baths, the weather had improved and surprisingly we noticed we had dried off so our journey's home wouldn't be that uncomfortable after all. We headed back to the bus stop to get back to our cars remarking on what a fantastic trip we'd all had. And to think...I nearly didn't go. Thank goodness I'm not above doing the odd reckless act!

While The Sun Shines (Royal Bath Theatre - 23/7/2016)

OK I lied. My break from Rattigan didn't last long. I heard that two of the actors from Musketeers were performing in While The Sun Shines. I scoured bookshops for the play text to see if it would be worth making the long trek to Bath to see it, and whilst it's not in print at the moment, I did manage to track down an old copy of the play. I'm like a dog with a bone, it doesn't matter how long my search takes me, I WILL find that book I've been looking for!

I howled with laughter when I read the play, but I was still put off organising a trip to Bath. Why? It's a 460 mile round trip for a start. Hotels in Bath are very expensive, and the train journey is both long and expensive and there are no through trains. I talked myself out of going. Plus the play was only on for three weeks, I couldn't go on the first or last week point in trying to sort out a trip down there. I was a bit doleful about this, but it was only a play I was missing.

Living is doing ridiculous, reckless acts...

This is entirely reckless of me I know, but I couldn't let it go, I really wanted to see this play. I'd enjoyed reading it so much and had fallen in love with Rattigan; I just had to see it.  I checked the theatre website on Friday and there was a ticket shouting out my name for the Saturday night, so I bought it and decided "boll***s" to it, I was going to drive down. I convinced myself it wasn't that far, I'd be there in 4 hours no problem. Next thing to do was to find a hotel...I was not paying hundreds of pounds for one night so I found out that you could stay B&B at Bath university for about £35 in an en-suite room. En-suite? Student accommodation? Things had certainly changed since my day as a student.

(Mood lighting by my bed...seriously this is university in the 21st century)

I filled the car up, grabbed my travel mug of tea, popped on some groovy tunes and hoped the time would fly by. It took 6 hours to get to Bath, the M5 was just a glorified carpark and I hadn't packed enough CD's! Fortunately, I had left early enough in the morning that I had plenty of time to calmly find my digs. It was really nice, very comfortable, with a TV, USB ports and coloured "mood" lighting, plus my own bathroom, and a shared kitchen with tea making facilities and fridge/freezer. Total luxury, almost made me think about going back to university!!! I headed onto Twitter to see what was going on in the world and someone mentioned that they knew a couple of my friends were going to the play, so I got in touch to see if we could all go together. It was great to have someone to share the antics of the night with, but even better, they were staying at the uni, so we could also head out together around Bath on the Sunday too.

Blinded by such beauty...

The Theatre Royal in Bath is the most exquisite theatre I have been to in a long time. It is stunning. I was craning my neck looking round at the architecture, my eyes on stalks as I tried to capture all of the ornate details. It was just like going back in time, a proper oldey worldy theatre. The only thing that let the theatre down was that they didn't have any programmes, just a black and white flyer. It was a good job I had taken my "antique" copy of the play with me...just in case I saw any of the actors after the show.

From the moment the curtain rose it was a laugh a minute, and by the time the show had ended my ribs and my cheeks were hurting. I just couldn't stop smiling. It was a slick production with the actors seamlessly rolling from one misunderstanding to another. It was pure farce and a great way to spend the evening, especially in these troubled times. It is somewhat ironic that the play was originally performed around the backdrop of a world war when people were pulling together through difficult times, and now we were enjoying it during a period where there isn't a day going by when there isn't another tragedy reported on the news.

The play takes place during one day in the apartment of the young Earl of Harpenden (Bobby) a rather hapless fellow who is never going to be distinguished in his naval career and still needs his butler to tie his shoelaces. He is due to marry Lady Elizabeth, a beautiful but rather dim young lady; another member of the landed gentry, who lost her stripes in the WAAF by leaving some important papers in the ladies loo.

A little bit "cheeky" in more ways than one!

The cheeky tone of the play is heralded from the beginning when the butler wakes his master, and a naked American soldier appears from the master's bedroom! Bobby felt sorry for Joe who had got rather drunk and had nowhere to stay and so he let him sleep at his apartment, but Anglo American relations were about to become strained when after Bobby arranges for a flirty friend to be a companion for Joe, Joe mistakes Bobby's fiancee for Mabel, the flirty friend.

I didn't quite envisage Bobby being such a nincompoop, however, I found that Rob Heap's portrayal was both endearing and enjoyable. He was like an excitable, exuberant child and showed a marked contrast to Rupert Young's Lt Mulvaney (Joe). Ali Dowling positively shone as the beautiful yet calamitous Elizabeth. It was easy to see why she ended up with three men vying for her attention. One of the most hysterical parts of the play was the young men throwing craps to see who would win the chance to propose to her first! The Duke, her father and played by Michael Cochrane (who Musketeer fans might remember played the judge who sentenced Porthos to death in The Homecoming) was bombastically hilarious. At first he was outraged that the men were gambling for his daughters hand, but then he is succumbed like all gamblers by the lure of the dice and joins in with them, taking the game to a whole new level!

The fall of the aristocracy, and the makings of the common people...

Christopher Luscombe directed a bright and breezy romp through the doomed aristocracy. You can see the decline of this social populace in favour of the brighter younger generation. The down to earth Mabel Crum, played spiritedly by Tamla Kari, gives us an insight into how those of a lower social standing can take advantage of the buffoons with money. Rattigan, in the midst of the madness of the play, cleverly intertwined the demise of the elite following the war, and how the forward thinking working classes were about to take the upper hand. Mabel might not have money, but she is astute, and you can't help but want to give her a cheer when she gets what she wants!

[Above photographs courtesy of Twitter]

As per all of his plays, Rattigan had a deeper message to tell, and whilst this wasn't a deep and heavy drama like Flarepath and The Deep Blue Sea, it was Rattigan's most commercially successful play when it was first staged, and I can see why. I can not believe that this adaptation hasn't been given a longer run, or that it's not going to tour so that other people can experience the same sense of enjoyment that I was lucky enough to observe.

Thank you for such a wonderful night of entertainment

After the show we headed round to the stage door, where we found another Burketeer loitering! It's such a nice fandom to be part of, you can almost guarantee you'll meet someone or other who if not a specific fan of Tom's is a fan of The Musketeers in general. I bet when Adrian Hodges came up with the idea, he never would have thought it could create such enduring friendships...anyway, I'm digressing.

The first person to appear was Jonathan Dryden Taylor who played the butler Horton with such aplomb. I'm not sure if we actually popped his autograph cherry or not, but he seemed genuinely pleased that we were vying for his attention and wanted to speak to him. Next to appear was Rupert Young who played the American Joe. He was rather taken aback that I'd given him a copy of the 1943 script to sign, apparently it was the first time the cast had seen a proper copy of the play, they had only been given some photocopies of the version of the play they were performing.

Next to appear was Earl "Bobby" Harpenden himself. Rob Heaps tried to sneak past us, but his bike was a bit too cumbersome so we noticed him and shouted for him to come and talk to us. Finally Tamla and Ali appeared. We had a chance to chat to them and take photo's, although I preferred to take the pictures rather than to appear in them. They were both so amiable and chatty, it was a real pleasure to meet them. Ali commented on the play book and I said, "oh you won't remember me, but at the Newcastle Comic Con in November I was the one who had located an antique book called Tom Burke." I do remember you she said. I was positively glowing inside; then later I thought I hoped she remembered me for nice reasons!!!

Sadly I didn't catch up with either Nicholas Bishop or Michael Cochrane which is a shame because it would have been nice to tell them how much I enjoyed their performances too. It was such a wonderful night, with magnificent performances that all the cast and crew should be justifiably proud of their achievements.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Miles for Smiles (Burketeers' run 10K in aid of Operation Smile 10th July)

I hadn't aimed to be in London over the weekend of the run, so I didn't bother entering it, I couldn't justify the expense of going to London yet again. However, at a later date I was asked if I fancied watching The Deep Blue Sea again and of course there was no way I could decline such an offer, so I ended up going down to London town after all!

With regard to the play on the Saturday night, it was wonderful to be able to watch it a second time around. You get the opportunity to notice things that you didn't acknowledge either when reading the play, or watching it for the first time. I think some subtle changes had also taken place, when Freddie came back at the end of the play his intentions were a little clearer; this time he untied Hester's dressing gown showing that he was hoping she would succumb to his advances.

One of the overwhelming things second time around is noticing how the audience reacts around you. This time, I was more aware of how shocked and disgusted the audience became when Freddie slammed the shilling on the table before he stormed out of the flat. Even after reading the play several times and having watched it twice, I still find I am on "team Freddie". Helen McCrory does a wonderful job in playing Hester, but I still find the character too needy, too manipulative. The way in which Freddie finds out that she has tried to kill herself is such a shock to him, I can understand both his anger and his nastiness towards her. I know I have been able to say the most hurtful things to those closest to me when angry, so perhaps that is why I am less judgmental of him when he slams that shilling down. It is an action intentionally done to hurt Hester, and possibly the harshest action Freddie could take to show just how upset, hurt and betrayed he felt by her.

I'm going to try giving Rattigan a little break now, but I'll be back to watch DBS in September... a little birthday treat to myself! Well that's the excuse I'm using. It'll be interesting to see how I feel after a break from his writing, I have found it so enjoyable finding his works and reading them.

The next day, the day of the run was a little overcast, but that was perfect for running. As I wasn't taking part, I felt I could be useful as camera woman for the day, so I borrowed my friends camera and kept popping up along the route to take pictures of team Burketeers and to cheer my friends home. It was a really enjoyable morning actually and nice to see the camaraderie between everyone. So many people taking part in the run were dressed up, we all laughed as a group of men dressed like the Spice Girls walked past us, as they made their way to the start of the run.

Team Burketeer did Operation Smile proud. Everyone got round without accident, which really for Burketeers is somewhat unusual, and everyone who took part seemed to enjoy themselves. So much so, I'm even contemplating taking part myself next year! Afterwards we all met up in the park, and it was a great opportunity to speak to the new committee at Operation Smile and explain a little about the Burketeers and how they have helped to raise funds and awareness for this great cause. The weather brightened up after the run, so the runners freshened up, and we all headed to the South Bank to grab some lunch, some well earned booze and a good Burketeer gossip. As per usual, sitting round a table having a natter made the weekend, and as I got up to head towards my train home I was accompanied by a somewhat tired and stiffened Janet..."I'm feeling quite robotic" she quipped. Seriously, she never fails to amaze me with her turn of phrase, and so it was a fond and hysterical goodbye to London...for a little while at least ;-)

If you want to show your support for Operation Smile, just click on the links!

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Terence Rattigan (Box Clever Challange June)

I watched Flare Path earlier this year, plus I had tickets booked to watch Tom Burke in The Deep Blue Sea, and then someone mentioned to me that Alison Dowling and Tamla Kari from The Musketeers were starring in another Rattigan play, While The Sun Shines. I had read Flarepath, and was about to read The Deep Blue Sea, and thought that instead of reading just one novel this month, I would try and read a number of Terence Rattigan's plays instead.

The thing that I find I most like about reading Rattigan's plays is that they are very much like reading an ordinary book. Rattigan does not have characters speaking over each other, and his pages are filled with descriptions that allow you as a reader to visualise what is going on, and so rather than ending up feeling confused (as happens with some plays when you read them) with Rattigan you know what is happening, therefore you are given the opportunity to think more deeply about the context of the play and the depth of the characters.

Flare Path (1942) 

The play is set during WWII and centres on the lives of Bomber Command, a group of Lancaster Bomber pilots and gunners. The play touches on the difficulties brought on by WWII and the effects that the war wrought on both the pilots and their wives.  It is a play that will tear at your heartstrings. The scenes take place in a hotel lobby, where wives have either come to stay for the weekend, or in some cases, the duration of the war. During the weekend that the play is set, a famous actor, Peter Kyle, turns up to stay, it transpires that he has come to visit his former sweetheart, Patricia, and he wants her to leave her pilot husband Teddy. It is a shock for her to see Peter, but it seems that she maybe swayed into leaving her husband; that is until an emergency bombing raid is announced. The atmosphere of the play suddenly changes as we witness the fragility of human life, and the reality of what pilots and their loved ones endured.

We see the calling up of the men, and we spend the evening with one of the wives, Doris, and the squadron commander, Swanson,  as they watch the flare path (the lights on the runway) as it is lit and the bombers take off. As each plane slowly soars into the sky, the relief felt by those watching can be felt. Swanson: "It's all right. He's off. I thought he wasn't going to make it. He must have cleared that fence by inches."  The charged atmosphere changes from relief to fear as the lights on the flare path are suddenly switched off.  The aerodrome is being bombed by the Germans, a ploy of theirs was to wait until a flare path was lit before flying in and bombing the aerodromes.  The fear of the onlookers is felt as they watch helplessly, knowing what is about to happen but knowing that there is nothing they can do. Swanson: "Brakes, you idiot, brakes! Don't take off!"  "An aircraft crashed or was shot down, taking off."  Just reading these lines sends a shiver down the spine as your mind visualises what would have happened.

It is apparent from this scene the stalwarts, Doris and Swanson, have witnessed this countless times. The matter of fact tone that Doris uses belies her fears. She maintains her stiff British upper lip, and to the rest of the the group it is almost as if she doesn't care, that she doesn't have the same fears as they do. Earlier in the play Peter and Patricia even mention that Doris' marriage to the Count is false, and that it would be of benefit to Doris if the war continued. It is when Doris confronts them on what she has heard that she lets her guard down and we see the real Doris, not the brave woman putting on a show. Doris: "I know what you meant. You meant my Johnny's going to leave me flat the minute the war's over. That's what you meant. I'm only all right for him as long as the war goes on, and as soon as it's over and he gets back home he'll realise he's made an awful muck-up in marrying me and he'll - he'll- (Chokes and turns her back quickly). "I don't know it isn't true. I wish I did. I think it is true. (Turns round. Defiantly.) But I don't want the war to go on - just because of that."

The play touches on the stoical courage and high spirits of the RAF bomber squadron and the duty that they have to perform, and it focuses on human relationships. The relationship and trust of the gunners towards the pilots; the passionate romances between a husband and wife; and the difference between having love for a person, and actually being in love with a person. It is a play to amuse, to reflect and to question the lives of those who lived through the war years.

While The Sun Shines (1943) 

This was a difficult play to obtain. I couldn't find a new version of the play, however, diligent searching found me an early edition, costing slightly more than the 4 schillings advertised!  The play is an upbeat farce, and as the only thing I had previously known Rattigan for was Flare Path, it was a delightful surprise and escape to read. I was physically laughing out loud at the more ludicrous moments of the playQA and also in eager anticipation of what was yet to come!

Central to the play is the marriage of Lady Elizabeth Randell (an airforce corporal during WWII) to The Earl of Harpenden (Bobby). Bobby hears of the plight of an American Lieutenant, Joe Mulvaney, he has no where to stay, so Bobby offers him his flat as it will be empty following his wedding the next day. Bobby has been having a romantic liaison with Mabel Crum, which he has acknowledged will have to end once he is married to Elizabeth, and so he decides that he will arrange for Mabel to keep Joe company. Bobby leaves Joe in the flat alone, during his absence Elizabeth arrives, but Joe mistakes her for Mabel and gets her rather tipsy so that he can try out his best lines of seduction.

Elizabeth is rather taken by this American, but to add further to the complications, she has found herself being a good Samaritan to a Frenchman, Colbert, who resides in England. He mistakes her kindness for something more and tries to woo her in typical French style. Matters become increasingly complicated because whilst Elisabeth is not the brightest of women, she does realise that both her marriage and military career could be put in jeopardy. The Earl is rather a buffoon too. He has had countless interviews with the Admiralty to make him an officer, but he has ballsed up each one and remains an able seaman in the Navy instead. "In the first place I was a quarter of an hour late, then I found myself overdoing the free, frank, open boyish manner and got the jitters and became far too servile and cringing, and my hair was too long and I hadn't shaved and I didn't know how many twopenny-halfpenny stamps I could buy fir half a crown. In short, for the fourth time in this war, I proved conclusively both to the Admiralty and to myself that I am not the officer type."

The play's characters become more and more confused as they get more and more at cross purposes with one another. Of course, because the audience is aware who is who, they can watch this drama unfold and enjoy the entertainment of the witless characters trying to make sense of it all! It is an enjoyable and entertaining read and guaranteed to make you laugh. The original play ran for over 1000 performances when it was first released, which shows just how well written and enjoyable it was.

The Deep Blue Sea (1952)

Like Flarepath, WWII forms a backdrop to this play and it shows what the effect of war had on people and their relationships. It is perhaps one of Rattigan's most emotionally charged plays and continuously pulls the reader apart as you battle with your conscience deciding whether you should side with Freddie or Hester.

Tom Burke is currently starring alongside Helen McCrory in a run at The National Theatre, London, and so I have added my thoughts about the play to my summations of plays that Tom Burke has appeared in. To read just click on the link below.

The Winslow Boy (1946) 

This is a particularly interesting play because it is based on a historical event and shows Rattigan's interest in the Law. His family had been lawyers and solicitors, and he found sitting in court an ideal place to find material for his plays. In reality, a young cadet had been asked to leave the Royal Naval College at Osbourne because he had been accused of allegedly stealing a postal order. The cadet was called George Archer-Shee, and whilst Rattigan created his own characters for the dramatisation of the play, he did stick with the most relevant parts of the actual case.

Master Ronnie Winslow arrives back at his middle-class home in pre-war (1914-1918) Britain. He is not expected by his family for a few more days. The maid, Violet, is the only one to see his arrival. When he hears the rest of his family return home, he hides in the rain in the garden, but later reveals himself to the confidence of his older sister. He has been thrown out of naval college for allegedly stealing a five -schilling postal order and he is a young and scared little boy as to what the family reaction will be to the news. It is a comforting part of the play that when he does tell his father, his father knows his son well enough to know whether he is lying or not, and so starts the begging of a long fight for justice.

The play takes place over a period of nearly two years, and it shows the struggles the family faced to win justice in the name of their son. The play also shows the divides within the family, from those who believed they should fight at all costs, with those who wanted to give in gracefully. The British justice system did not allow the Admiralty to be taken to court, not without its own consent, so the family faced a long battle to get the case to court before justice could even begin to be considered.

All inquiries into complaints were done in-house, and whilst it does not state this in the play, in real life the Archer-Shee family were Irish Catholics and there was an anti-Catholic prejudice at Osbourne Royal Naval College, and therefore it was unlikely the boy would have been given a fair hearing. In Rattigan's dramatisation, the family has engaged the most prolific barrister they can find, and he subjects poor Ronnie to a heart rending interrogation before agreeing to take on the case. We don't however get to witness the drama of the courtroom, instead, the play concentrates on the family home and how the constant strain on trying to clear Ronnie's names takes it toll on his father.

It is a powerful drama, and shows that despite the odds, David can take on Goliath if he has faith that the truth will out. Sadly, whilst the real George Archer-Shay was cleared of his crimes, he died in the trenches in 1914 at Ypres aged 19.

The Browning Version (1948) 

The first in two short one act plays.

This is a simple but poignant play to read. It takes place in a boys public school in the south of England. The schoolmaster Crocker-Harris (or Crock as the boys preferred to call him) is on the point of retirement. He is a strict housemaster who plays by the rules and demands the respect of the boys under his tutelage, this means that some of the boys feel they are hard done by, especially as some of the housemasters show more leniency of the rules than Crock does. But whilst Crock has this hard outer shell, one of the boys, Taplow, can see through him. Despite having fun mimicking Crocker-Harris behind his back, Taplow feels sorry for him and gives him a small parting gift.

Crocker-Harris' wife is younger than her husband, and evidently bored by him. She has fallen for one of the other teachers, Frank Hunter, and has had the tenacity to tell her husband of her affair. She does not care how much she hurts her husband by her betrayal, even though she is aware that Andrew does not love her the way she loves him; it also becomes evident that this is not the first affair she has had. Frank can not believe that Crocker-Harris has continued to live with such secrets, so in a particularly poignant scene he explains matters to Frank "I know that in both of us, the love that we should have borne each other has turned to bitter hatred. That's all the problem is. Not a very unusual one, I venture to think - nor nearly as tragic as you seem to imagine. Merely the problem of an unsatisfied wife and a henpecked husband. You'll find it all over the world."

 As the play develops we get a sense of who Crocker-Harris is, and whilst outwardly we may wish to condemn him, when he lets his mask slip, and we see the real man,we can not help but have empathy for him, as Taplow and Frank appear to do. The simple gift Taplow gives to Crocker-Harris is the catalyst to make him reflect and evaluate the rest of his life, and give a sense of hope for his future.

Harlequinade (1948) 

The second in two short one act plays.

Just like While The Sun shines, this is another laugh out loud play. It focuses on the world of the theatre, and if that is what an actors life is like, I really feel like I have missed out. The main actors in the play are a married couple, Arthur Gosport and Edna Selby. They are playing the rolls of Romeo and Juliet, who are 17 and 13, but it is clear that the actors are actually both middle aged and doyens of the theatre and oblivious to what happens in the real world. It is just before opening night and Arthur is tweaking the performance, amidst Romeo's most famous speech, he suddenly decides to add in a theatrical leap, to add to the boyishness of the part. This unexpected manouvre causes Edna to laugh at him, and a conversation ensuing about whether or not it is a ridiculous notion to be leaping about the stage.

Arthur: Does it look awfully silly? I won't do it again.
Edna: Oh no - you must do it. Come on. Let's try again.
Arthur: No. I won't do it if it's as funny as all that. I only thought it might help the boyishness of the line, that's all.
Edna: And it does. It looks very boyish. (To prompt corner.) Doesn't it look boyish, Johnny? 

Rattigan throughout the play builds layer upon layer of comic elegance to the play. From the old dame who refuses to retire, to the elder mediocre actor who is not sure why he has spent his life in the theatre, to the stage manager who needs to escape the madness of the theatre, it is all piled into this one act play. Even the characters who are not part of the theatrical production add a lightness and air of confused bewilderment to the piece. The woman wandering around the stage requesting to meet Arthur (who Arthur believes to be an actress wanting a part in The Winter's Tale) turns out to be his daughter. Johnny (the assistant stage manager) is given an ultimatum by his fiancee, but as the play goes on you know he can not succeed to her demands, and so his fiancee delivers a fine speech towards the end, making the confused Arthur believe she is an actress and he wants to cast her in his next production.

But despite all of the comedy, Rattigan of course has a message to deliver, and there are some poignant moments amidst all of this mirth. Arthur, who lives in this confused world of his own, finds out that he has a grown up daughter, a baby grandson, and that he is still married to his first wife and has committed bigamy. The fact that he has committed this act washes over him. He is completely oblivious as to the seriousness of his crime. "You mean, I might have to pay a fine - or something like that?" ... "Imprisonment - for life." 

The actors in this play live for the theatre, not in the real world and they have a one track mind, "But why, when I'm playing Romeo of all parts? Why couldn't it have turned up when I was playing Lear?" They are sealed off from the reality of life by their entourage of staff who look after the day to day running of the actors lives. It is this which gives the play it's over the top comic edge, despite the catastrophe potentially awaiting Arthur, nothing matters, except that the show must go on.  A great play to read if you should ever need cheering up.

Separate Tables (1954)

Both plays are connected by the fact that they are both set in the same Bournemouth residential hotel; each play focusing on a different set of characters and exploring the different facets of love. The plays are set about 18 months apart. Rattigan is an observer of people and no-where is this more noticeable than at The Beauregard Private Hotel in Bournemouth. Individuals with their secrets to tell sit, mainly alone, at their own tables, living their lives, and the audience ventures into their worlds. Whilst both plays take place in the same venue, each play concentrates on a different guest, and the secrets uncovered will leave you sad, amused and reflective.

Table by the Window

John Malcolm is a journalist. A former politician. A drunkard. A wife beater. An ex-husband.

He lives a quiet life at the hotel, until one day his ex-wife walks in and announces she is now engaged. He confirms he is engaged, but does not confirm that it is to the hotel owner Miss Cooper. There is a lot of tension and animosity between the couple. When they were married, Anne provoked John into a violent act which caused him to be sent to prison which ultimately destroyed his career. John claims that it is his fault his life fell apart, but when he hears that Anne is talking to his publisher, and he realises that it is no coincidence that she has tracked him down to the hotel, he confronts her and says she is now too old and ugly to manipulate men as she once did in her halcyon days of being a model. Anne has a breakdown and confesses everything to Miss Cooper, including her addiction to sleeping pills and Miss Cooper acts as the go between to help reconcile this emotionally fraught pair.

Table Number Seven

This play follows the downfall of the self-styled "Major" Pollock who has tried to conceal a local newspaper article which reported him of sexually harassing women at a local cinema. The guests at the hotel believe that the Major is an upright citizen who has served his country, however, Mrs Railton-Bell uncovers the Major's dark secrets and she tries to lead a rebellion with the other hotel guests against him. She is a formidable and domineering character, and her grown up daughter lives in fear of her, never questioning her mother. Sybil, despite being painfully shy has been able to strike up an awkward relationship with the Major, and therefore finds it particularly difficult to agree to her mother's demands against him, and so it is with relief that we stand by Sybil as she eventually finds the courage and determination to rebel against her mother. As in Table by the Window, the hotel owner Miss Cooper is the voice of reason

In Praise of Love (1973)

This is a very tender play, based in part on the real life tragedy of Rex Harrison's wife, Kay Kendall, who was dying of cancer.

A wife, from Estonia, who has manged against all odds to survive the horrors of war and escape from the holocaust is now dying of an illness brought on by malnutrition in  her earlier life. She bravely carries on going to doctor's appointments where the news is increasingly worse, yet she puts on a brave face and tells her husband than the news is positive, that she is getting better, in order that she may save him from the hurt of knowing that she is dying.

Her husband is a writer, he works from home as a critic, and he appears to the outside world as harsh and unfeeling, and the early conversations between the two seems harsh and critical. It is only as we proceed through the play that we realise that he adores his wife and has been secretly trying to find the best medics available in order to ensure she has the best chance at survival. Both parties in love with each other, both parties keeping a secret from each other.

The couple have a son, he wishes to write plays and become a member of the Liberal party, however his political leanings are met with derision from his parents. Whilst his mother tries to encourage him in his dreams, his father seems distant and cold, but perhaps he has other things playing on his mind that he cannot discuss with his son or his wife. In this threesome, we see another form of love evolving, and that when things are said, it is only because each person cares so deeply about the other that the words appear so uncaring.

In Praise of Love is a moving story of three people who obviously love each other very much, but they are unable to articulate their feelings, that is until an old American friend drops by. It is clear that he has always felt more than friendly affection towards Lydia, but his relationship with her husband and son is close enough for him to allow a channel of communication between all of the parties. An American visitor, who is not as repressed as his British counterparts, allows each character to unburden themselves. as they face their own future and the difficult road ahead.

Before Dawn (1973)

This short play was written as a curtain raiser in conjunction with In Praise of Love. It is a comical reworking about the opera Tosca. In it we have the villain of the piece, Scarpia; a confused captain, Schiarrone, and the diva at the centre of everything, Tosca.

Scarpia has imprisoned Tosca's lover, and tells her that her lover will be released if she succumbs to Scarpia's amorous advances. Tosca eventually agrees, only to find Scarpia impotent. Of course Scarpia does not want this to be known, and tries to enlist the help of the unwitting Schiarrone, by concocting a plan about whether Tosca's lover should or should not be executed. The confusion that arises is exquisitely written, and it is a light ending to some of Rattigan's harder and more emotional plays.

Schiarrone: (After searching Scarpia's face carefully) Yes. The Signora is to be taken down to the platform where she is to bid adieu to her lover -
Scarpia: (Murmuring) No Schiarrone -
Schiarrone: (Undeterred) While the firing squad level their muskets at them both -
Scarpia: (Murmuring again) Not exactly, Schiarrone -
Schiarrone: And the muskets of course, are to be loaded with blanks, not balls. Never fear, Excellency. I have the whole thing pat.

He looks pleased with himself. Scarpia does not look pleased with him.

Rattigan has written many more plays, and at some point I will eventually get around to reading and watching them too. I have really fallen for his style of writing. He has taken note of human behaviour and he is not afraid to show the destructive nature of the human condition nor take on the social challenges of his day. He wrote about depression, suicide, politics, homosexuality; but whilst he tackled the difficult issues of his era, he did it in a manner which was entertaining and quite subtle. He was not afraid to make his characters flawed, unlikable, even violent and unkind. I think that is why he is able to still strike a resonance with readers today. Despite his plays being written in the 1940's/1950's, they still hold true to a modern world. Yes the language has evolved over the years, we don't speak with the clipped tones of the quintessential Englishman anymore, but the messages and meaning of the plays still hold true, and still strike a resonance with the reader.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Tracking Tom to Towton! (A Weekend of Tom Burke and Tom Jones!)

It was a friends birthday and to celebrate we were heading out to Doncaster races to hopefully win a few pennies and then watch Tom Jones perform afterwards. Now I've seen the Welsh Warbler a few times and he is brilliant live, he can still really belt out those numbers, so it seemed like it would be a good weekend, but just to make it even better, I asked my mate if she fancied taking on another one of our infamous road trips on the way home!

Of course Kate was up to the challenge, without me saying a word, she already knew it had to be Tom Burke related! When he was performing in Reasons to be Happy, I asked him about the film that he did with his father as part of The Complete Walk for the Shakespeare celebrations. Tom advised that he was in Henry VI part 3, and that they filmed in a small church, near to where the battlefield was in Towton. Looking at the map, it wasn't too much of a diversion on the way home from Doncaster, so we were set, plans in place for the weekend!

Kate....Can we go visit? Purleasssseeeeee?

Can we look for this father and son....can we????

The weather on Saturday was perfect for a day's racing, and it looked to be a good omen for the Sunday. We drove up to Doncaster the scenic way, crossing the moors around Manchester, which was stunning as the heather was in bloom. It was gloriously sunny in Doncaster, all the girls said hello and then ran off to various rooms to get changed and ready for the afternoon. Our taxi arrived on time (that's a first) and we headed out to Relish for lunch. It's a "contemporary bar and grill", I felt a bit like I was in that short film that Tom did called The Brunchers, "their facial hair confusing me and making me feel old!" It's actually a really nice place and the food is really tasty, so people don 't go there just because it's trendy, but they actually get a great meal and service too!

Lunch was washed down with a few bottles of wine, and so the slightly tipsy entourage weaved its way to Doncaster racecourse. Now, my dad was always fond of putting a couple of quid on the horses on a Saturday and then sitting in front of the TV in the afternoon to watch them romp home last...if he was lucky!!! Having learnt from the master, I never stake more than £2 each way on a horse. Always been my way, and even though last time I was at Doncaster I was lucky enough to have a few good winners, I still stick to my £2 rule. There were 7 races, and as the first race started we ran out of the lounge and onto the balcony to cheer on our horses. First race, first winner!

The rest of the day continued well, with horses being placed, then the 5th race dawned. There was a horse called Stirrups and Spurs and I really fancied it. I put my £2 on and it romped home in first place. I hadn't bothered looking at the odds or the form, so you can only imagine my face when the cashier handed out nearly £80! Champagne for the girls!!! Not bad eh?! Someone said I should have put a bigger stake on it, but you know full well it wouldn't have won if I had!!! Then I had another horse placed, and one I backed which I think is probably still running. I calculated that I spent as much as I won over the weekend, so that's not bad, pretty much a freebie weekend!! The racing over, it was time to head down onto the racecourse and watch Tom Jones. This was where I lost the girls, I didn't realise as I edged forwards towards the stage that they weren't following me! Fortunately we had our 'phones, so after the performance we were able to meet up and find our taxi home, and pizza and more fizz were waiting for us. My friends house was in the middle of no-where, it was the perfect place to have a hot tub, and so we took advantage of this fact, and sat in her hot tub, listening to music, drinking fizz and watching the stars.

Time to track down Tom & Daddy Burke.

Next morning it was another beautiful sunny day. I was really pleased, because I didn't fancy traipsing around a muddy field trying to find out where the hell Tom and Daddy Burke had been filming. Surprisingly none of us had a bad head the next morning; we took advantage of the warm sunshine and had tea and toast outside, how wonderfully civilised!

After breakfast we loaded Kate's TomTom (what else?!) with the co-ordinates of Towton battlefield and headed off into the Yorkshire countryside on another of our grand adventures. Suddenly as we whizzed along the country roads, a pub appeared from no-where, and we caught sight of a small brown sign indicating a church. We pulled into the pub car park and headed down a little lane towards the church. It was the one they had filmed at, and it was tiny! I fiddled with the lock and gained entry to the church. I don't know how they got a film crew in there. As I stood cooing over the fact I was where acting royalty had stood, Kate did something infinitely more useful and looked through the visitor book. "They filmed here 12th December 2015" she shouted across to me. Oooohhhh that's only a few days before we saw Tom at the carol service I thought!

Let's watch the film again...

As there was no-one else in the church, I got my laptop out and watched the play in the church! "Ohhhh that's the bench Tom leaned against" CLICK CLICK CLICK went the camera. "Ohhhh that's where Daddy Burke was sat", CLICK CLICK CLICK! I know I am problem demented, but sometimes exuberance takes over and there's nothing you can do about it.

Despite the church being very very small, it is beautiful and well worth a look if you're in the area, especially if you like Tom or David Burke and you've watched Henry VI with them in it. It brings it home just how different things appear on film. I thought there were two doors into the church. No. Only the one, the one that Tom staggers through with the body. I managed to stay in the church for nearly an hour, which seems impossible, but there you go. We left and wandered to The Crooked Billet pub, which I heartily recommend. The atmosphere is wonderful, and the food even better. I had one of their large Yorkshire Puddings, filled with vegetables and veggie gravy. It was to die for. It was really tasty but so filling I had to forego pudding, which is a shame because they looked delicious too! the battlefield...

Now finding the church is one thing, finding a lone tree in a field in the middle of no-where is a ridiculous notion by anyone's standard; but that is what I was planning as I headed up the road to the village of Towton, where the actual battle took place. There was a lay by in the road which I pulled into and I saw an information board describing part of the history about the battle. As Kate and I stood there reflecting about where we were (and I stood thinking, where the hell was that shot at the start of the film of a lone tree in a field?) two gentlemen walked up and started chatting to us. It turned out they were amateur historians and had walked the entire battle route. Kate jokingly told him that we were there to try to find a single tree in a field. They told us where the walk started, but that they couldn't remember seeing a lone tree. They said "don't walk down the footpath, it's overgrown and very muddy. Walk down the road until you see a ridged field, then hop onto the footpath there." We thanked them and headed down to where they suggested, the ridged field was a field of potatoes...and there in front of us was the sole tree I had been looking for.

I couldn't stop laughing. The irony that "Tom's tree" would be situated in a field of potatoes had me in stitches. For those who are not Tom fans, this is what he said in an interview with TV Times magazine about working on The Musketeers, 'We all eat healthily but nobody has ever come up to me and said "Tom, do you really need that potato?" '

Monday, 11 July 2016

The Brothers Karamazov - Fydor Dostoyevsky (Box Clever Theatre Challenge - May)

Having read Tolstoy and Chekhov, I decided it was time to add another well respected Russian author to my compendium. Crime and Punishment would be the natural choice I suppose, but the title of this novel intrigued me and so it is my reading challenge for May!
Fydor Dostoyevsky
There is a complexity and brilliance to his writing.

The book is narrated by an unknown person who tells us the trails and tribulations of the Karamazov brothers. He recalls the events that he has witnessed, but as he goes off on tangents telling his tales, he sometimes shows his cynicism to the events which unfold. Just like when a person you know tells a story and they go off at tangents, so does this storyteller. The book does not have a linear feel, and it can get distracting as you leap from one tale to the next and as a reader you never fully resolve the first tale before moving onto the next and back again. You therefore need to keep your wits about you to recall all the events, and what has happened to whom; this is made more difficult by complex Russian names, and people also being referred to by different nicknames throughout! Don't start reading this book thinking you are in for a quick and easy ride, set time aside and enjoy the complexity and brilliance of Dostoyevsky's writing.

Who killed him?

The book loosely falls around the murder of someone and it becomes a rather long and complicated "who dunnit". This is by no-means the main focus of the story though, the reader is questioned throughout about their thoughts about crime and justice, the redemption of someone through suffering, and the conflict that families face as they deal with moral dilemmas. It is a highly philosophical novel which questions your beliefs as you read through it. It is set in 19th Century Russia, and Dostoevsky opens up passionate debates on religion and spiritual and ethical questions. He has cleverly created three completely different characters, three brothers, who in their own way try to answer the complex question about human existence. As we read through the book we see the characters evolve, and try to deal with their personal sufferings the best way each one can. Human nature is seen here in all its forms, and you are torn in your feelings as each character develops. At times you feel empathy, anger, despair. You question them, you feel joy with them, you hate them...every emotion you can feel is there between these pages.

The main characters are Fyodor (father) and the three brothers, Dmitri, Ivan and Alyosha. Fyodor is something of a ladies man. He is insensitive and selfish, he doesn't care what effect his actions might have on those around him. He is not an attractive man, but he is rich and can afford to throw his money about on lavish parties, and therefore he is able to get the attention of the local ladies. As he falls in love with a woman called Grushenka, his troubles, and the beginnings of his sorry tale begin to unfold.

Never get carried away by a woman!

Dmitri, the eldest of the three brothers, has also fallen in love with Grushenka. As we know, love triangles never end well, especially when you fall in love with someone as dangerous as Grushenka. In his quest for Grushenka , Dmitri spurns the advances of Katerina, a woman who has lent him a substantial amount of money. As the murder mystery develops later in the book, these events will cast doubt over Dmitri as we see during the murder trial.

The youngest of the brothers, Alyosha, is studying to become a monk. He is as far removed from the lifestyles of his eldest brother and father as possible. During his studies at the monastery, we enter a subplot as Father Zosima teaches him the values of the church. As tensions heighten in the Karamazov family, Alyosha decides a life in the monastery is not for him, and he tries to enter the "real world." He takes on the role of carer for a dying child, a plot which serves the purpose of showing the reader how a person's actions can indirectly influence those around us.

The final brother is Ivan. If Alyosha is the saint and Dmitri the sinner, Ivan must be the intelligence; albeit a rather skeptical intellectual. His pessimism throughout is rather heartening at times, and it shows his ability to think matters through for himself...however hard he finds things. He does not believe that God will make everything alright, he has his own beliefs which, as we hear him talking his thoughts through with himself, often makes him appear selfish.

The path to virtue...

The path to virtue is being honest with yourself. If you can not be honest with yourself then there is no way that you can be honest with those around you, or see their honesty in them.  From a religious point of view, if you lie, you are a sinner, and redemption can be obtained, but only through suffering. This brings into question can there ever be a benevolent God? If suffering is required, what about the suffering of young innocent children? Should they be included? They know no better, so if they lie, do they have to be punished by suffering, or would it be better for them to learn by teaching and compassion? "pray tell me what have children got to do with it? It's quite incomprehensible why they should have to suffer."  If God is willing to see children suffering, those who are even too young to have been sinners, it must mean that God gets a kick out of torturing people. And if God enjoys torturing innocent souls, then why should man not follow suit, and why should man revere God?

Life...isn't is absurd?

Not surprisingly, the issues about belief and religion and the innate personality of a person is still as relevant to today's reader as it was when it was written by Dostoyevsky in 1880. Liza, another sub plot in this complex story, became an especially disturbed character, purposefully crushing her finger in a door. The ideas of self-harm, living in a fantasy world wanting evil and bad things to dance with the devil, they are not new ideas, they have been rife throughout the centuries and continue with modern mankind. It is possible to argue that the issues are more prevalent today with the advancement of the internet and social media. In 1880 you could walk away from abuse, today with the advancements in technology it is harder to do. Even if you hit block or mute on an account, it doesn't stop your name being taken in vain; comments are still spread like wildfire from people with no moralistic aptitude to think about whether their actions are justified before hitting the "post" button. People in Dostoyevsky's time were questioned about their morals, and that still holds true to people today. People have, and always will be, walking contradictions. Life is somewhat absurd if you try to make sense of it, and by reading this novel, and "watching" the lives unfold of the characters within it, you find yourself starting to try to piece that jigsaw of questions floating around in your mind.

I shall leave you with my favourite quote from this novel, which currently features on my Twitter account. "Sobered up, got wise - became stupid. Got drunk, became stupid - got wise." Dostoyevsky

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