Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Birds, birds everywhere, but not a Cormoran(t) in sight!

Holibobs! OK, it’s just a long weekend in Yorkshire, but it’s a break…and there’s a hot tub on the horizon.

Over the years I’ve visited a few Hoseason’s lodges and they are a great place to wind down. The ones I go to are usually in a remote place where you can unwind and relax with a bottle of Prosecco, a book and a hot tub. There are usually places to walk and explore and they’re great if your idea of fun is peace and quiet!

This winter (it’s always winter when I go, best time to go I think for hot tubs) I decided to try a new location. Cedar Retreats in West Tanfield is relatively new, about 4 years old, and near the Yorkshire Dales. As I was heading northwards, I thought I’d stop off at York for a little wander around The Shambles, a bite of lunch, and a quiet pint at the iconic King’s Head by the river.  Iconic because it is prone to flooding, it even has a sign on the pub wall showing how high the water has risen!

Thirst slated and onto West Tanfield, a lovely little village near Ripon. The welcome at Cedar Retreats was warm, and we were directed to our lodge. Now the brochure shows lodges surrounding a duck pond, but in the company’s defence, they do state that you need to advise them if you want a duck pond view. Our lodge was quiet and out of the way, and not overlooking the duck pond. As much as I love wildlife, three ducks started having a squabble about 11:30 at night, and it was then that I was relieved I wasn’t near the pond. I was trying to relax in the hot tub and I just wanted to hunt them out with a vat of orange sauce. That from a veggie…terrible!! Even worse, the next morning when I opened the patio doors, Mr and Mrs Duck decided they would join me for breakfast.

I hadn’t made any plans with what to do with my time away, often my plans are weather dependent, so I just decided I would take each day as it came. The hand book supplied in the lodge suggested a place called Thorp Perrow Arboretum for a good day out. The sun was shining, and I had just signed up to a digital photography course to learn how to take better photos and get the best out of my Canon EOS700D. A day shooting the springing snowdrops seemed a pleasant way to spend a sunny day. There is a bird of prey centre at the arboretum and seeing as I missed out on a planned visit to a bird of prey centre a few weeks ago because my cat was poorly, I thought I’d check this one out. A flying demonstration was due to take place, so I took a seat on a bench at the front of the display area and the head falconer Lindsey introduced us to three owls. She was so entertaining, informative and clearly had built up a wonderful relationship with the birds. She had them flying and sitting next to the people on the benches, and I just sat and held my breath as these owls sat next to me.

I was enthralled. I had recently started reading H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald and the magnificence of these birds was just starting to dawn on me. I hadn’t realised the connection that could be achieved by the falconer and the birds, it was pure poetry watching the trust between raptor and human. A further demonstration was to be held a couple of hours later with three different birds and so I wandered off for a cup of tea before coming back to witness George and Mildred, a couple of Crested Caracarra who were great entertainment value.

By the time the birds had finished it was nearly 3pm; just enough time to slip down the road to Masham, home of the Black Sheep Brewery. The last time I was there, my friend had just got married and she held her reception there. I did the brewery tour, which I heartily recommend if you have the slightest interest in beer, and then I sampled some of Yorkshire’s finest ale. It was so good that several bottles of beer made their way home with me… together with a rather snazzy Riggwelter t-shirt!

I hadn’t realised just how close Masham was to where I was staying, it was only about ten minutes away in the car. By the time I’d finished at the brewery it was too late to go into the village for a meander round, so the next morning I went for an early walk by the river in West Tanfield, and then after breakfast I set off to Masham to take a few photographs around the town square. Why? Well some of The Cormoran Strike series was filmed there, and I like seeing the differences between what you see on TV and what the real place is like. Normally I will go to places after I have seen them on screen, but as the opportunity was there I thought I should take it.

Masham is still as pretty as I remember it from over ten years ago. I walked through the church the production crew had filmed at and the graves were carpeted in spring snowdrops. It really was peaceful. It was hard to imagine a film crew had been bustling around there only weeks before. At the back of the graveyard a gate leads across the fields and down to the river. I wandered down and followed the path round, fortunately, despite having no idea where I was going, it turned out to be a circuitous walk which eventually took me back to the village.

More cheese Gromit?!

All too soon it was time to think about heading home. I’d decided to go to Betty’s tearooms at Harlow Carr on the way home, but I didn’t want to get there until lunchtime, so I needed to find something to do for a few hours…and it was raining. Hard! The day had started out so well. I’d gone for an early morning walk to the local wetlands centre, but as I headed back for breakfast, the sky had taken on a foreboding, menacing look. A friend had suggested the Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes, which was technically in the wrong direction, but it would be a picturesque drive, whatever the weather! So, despite the views not being as far-reaching as I imagine they are on a bight sunny day, I ambled through the Dales to the home of Wensleydale (Wallace and Gromit's favourite cheese!) The museum is small and interesting, and I enjoyed watching the factory workers making cheese, but the best place is the tasting shop. There must have been about 15 cheeses to try, and try, and just to make sure before buying, to try again! Beer and cheese, a delightful way to spend the weekend, and there was still Betty’s to visit for Welsh rarebit, tea and cake.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Skylight - David Hare @ Theatr Clwyd

What would you do if your past came back to confront you?

There you are, minding your own business, you’ve come home from a long day at work and all you want to do is have a hot bath, make some dinner and mark your student’s homework. Before you know it there’s a knock at the door and your former lover is standing there, expecting to pick things up from where they were left.

I don’t know much about David Hare’s work. I had watched his versions of three of Chekov’s plays at The National, and I knew I wanted to watch The Red Barn at The National but the dates of the play didn’t match up with when I was in London. I wasn’t prepared to spend lots of money travelling down to see it when I knew so little about the play, so having the opportunity to see his work at my local theatre was a real blessing.

Skylight is the tale of school teacher Kyra Hollis (Jeany Spark) who receives a surprise visit from Edward Sergeant (Oscar Batterham.) He walks into her flat armed with a four-pack of lager and a plethora of rap CD’s which he bestows on her. A somewhat stilted conversation begins and it becomes clear that Kyra had once lived with Edward’s family; that he looked up to her, he saw her as a big sister who would always be there for him; but she left. She walked out on the family, she walked out on him. Edward wants to know why Kyra left; he can’t understand why she would just suddenly leave. Edward’s mother died in the last year and it is clear that he is hurting and he has no-one to turn to; his relationship with his father evidently rather tense.

Following Edwards departure, Kyra begins her evening again, only to be interrupted by Edward’s father, Tom Sergeant (Jay Villiers.) Tom is a wealthy restaurant owner, he is used to the good life, he wants for nothing, or so it would seem. He pokes fun at the lifestyle that Kyra has chosen for herself, a simple existence but one she professes to be happy with. Will these enormous differences between the two help reignite their old relationship, or will it be blown out forever?

As you enter the theatre, the clever design gives the impression of an out of date seventies London tower block. It seems shabby and unloved, but it is a simple place, a place that Kyra calls her home. Here she has built a simple life for herself, helping those less fortunate than herself in a deprived London school. As her story unfolds, this cold, grey building highlights the isolation of her character.

Kyra cooks up a treat!

It is in this flat that Jenny Spark gives us a heartrending performance of a woman trying to find her place in society, doing her best to help deprived children gain better lives for themselves, and trying to find happiness after a life of infidelity and betrayal. Kyra believes it is never too late to think of the future, an idea that Tom cannot believe in, unlike his son who brings a sense of optimism to the plays end.

Tom suggests they go out for an elaborate meal, Kyra instead wants a simple meal at home, so throughout the play she cooks spaghetti bolognaise (on stage in real time) as she and Tom discuss their past and future.

Despite a few passing references to the nineties when the play was written, Skylight has not dated. Many of the social issues the play touches upon still exist today. It is a play that highlights happy memories of the past, but awkward complexities of the future, especially when political issues of right and wrong come into play. Can one person make a difference? Should one person scrimp to get by and help others even less fortunate than themselves or should they cave in and live the high life with someone wealthy; someone with money but maybe no morals?

It’s a thought provoking play, full of wit, romance and hope. Just make sure you’ve eaten before you go to watch it!

Sunday, 12 February 2017

In The Depths of Dead Love (Coronet Print Room) House of Bernarda Alba (Manchester Royal Exchange)

When I first met the Burke fans, I decided to brush up on Tom’s theatrical career. I read all of the plays that were listed on Wikipedia that he had performed in. There were playwrights I had heard of, and some I hadn’t; it was an interesting education. At the time, I wrote up my thoughts on the plays on this blog, and I now think it would be interesting to revisit those thoughts at some point. I’ve now got used to reading plays, and then watching them being performed, and so I notice things now that perhaps back then I missed when just reading the plays.

One of the playwrights I enjoyed reading was Howard Barker. I particularly loved Scenes From An Execution, not least because it is set in Venice, a city I love and have fond memories of.  My friend Nikki saw that one of Barker’s plays was being performed in London and we were a little undecided as to whether we could see it because we had already booked to see a play in Manchester the following day. We decided it was doable, it isn’t often that you get the chance to see Barker performed, and so we booked to see In the Depths of Dead Love at The Printworks, London.

In The Depths of Dead Love – Howard Barker.  
Coronet Print Room, London.

Our night started in The Flying Horse Pub where we sank some pints of Doombar and then headed off towards The Coronet Theatre. I was spellbound as I walked towards the front doors, what an amazing building! It was opened as a theatre in 1898 but in 1923 the building became a full-time cinema. The cinema featured in several films, including Notting Hill, and it has had the Sword of Damocles hanging over its head on a number of occasions. In the 1990’s The Coronet nearly closed its doors to be turned into a McDonalds, I shiver at the thought, but thanks to the likes of the late Alan Rickman, Joanna Lumley and Gillian Anderson, the theatre is now a Grade ll listed building, and theatre still plays on there.

We took a walk around the Coronet's narrow, dark, winding corridors and went downstairs to the bar. It was dark and like a Victorian parlour. I loved it. It appealed to my very core. I grabbed a bottle of beer from the fridge (which had a feather glued to the front of it) and paid the man behind the piano…yes I said piano! I then went and sat on a bed in the middle of the room to take in my surroundings.    

The play was a simplistic affair. We’d spoken to someone pre-play who said they often left half way through plays and doubted they would watch all of this, especially as it was Barker; a playwright renowned for his plays not having a specific message – you just take what you want from them.

The stage was a plain affair, to go with the simplicity of the storyline. Set in China, In the Depths of Dead Love tells the tale of Chin, a former poet in exile, who bought a bottomless well. People pay to visit the well, they may wish to throw themselves in, if they decide not to, then they have pay to leave as well. One frequent visitor is Lady Hasi, she wants to die but cannot bring herself to throw herself in. Her husband, Lord Ghang, visits Chin and tells him "So shove her" "SHOVE HER / SHOVE HER IN THE BACK." Chin is outraged. His sense of poetry and language has been sullied, not the fact that Lord Ghang is basically telling Chin to murder his wife, but the use of the word SHOVE?!

The play is easy to watch, despite the dark theme of suicide. Barker has written it with beautifully poetic language and he takes on a humorous approach to the nature of Lady Hasi’s suffering. She clearly has this desire for death, but Chin focuses on Lord Ghang’s incorrect use of language, and what words he should have used instead. I thought that this, rather than being an incidental aside, showed that perhaps Chin was also suffering in this life, that perhaps he was filled with hopelessness now he no longer had his poetry, and he desired “this life” to be taken away from him for something better. He sits, every day, next to the thing which can offer him sweet oblivion, but he just sits and watches others take the opportunity to battle their conscience.

When we left the theatre, my friend and I bumped into the men who “would probably leave early.” We said, “So you stayed to the end then?” and we then struck up a chat about the play. It’s the first time I’ve ever stopped and discussed a play with a stranger when leaving the theatre…but this is the effect of Howard Barker. The play is not a cut and dried tale with a right or wrong reaction. It is an emotive piece inciting discussion. Barker describes his work as The Theatre of Catastrophe. He does not clarify a scene, he leaves ambiguity, he allows the audience the right to think and discuss what they’ve seen, to explore and consider Barker’s themes of violence, human motivation and quests for power.

And so we left the theatre, and over pizza, Nikki and I discussed our thoughts. The play showed suffering and endurance from all three principal characters. Chin had been a successful poet, now he charges people to visit his well, he endures people coming in day after day toying with their conscience as to whether they wish to live or die. He watches people suffering; Lady Hasi desires death more than she desires her husband. Lord Ghang has the ability to show his wife affection in death but not in life. Is this why she wishes to end it all? Death is inevitable, we all die, but it is how we face death. And death doesn’t have to be the physical act of no longer breathing and terminating our life…metaphorically speaking it could be the death of an old life we no longer want, and the birth of a new life…a new beginning, the quest to finish our lives on a different path to the one we started on.

Having watched and enjoyed the play, I was disappointed to read reviews which concentrated on the fact that whilst the play is set in China, all four of the actors were white. I thought that the play was not a literal interpretation of life in China and thus necessitating Chinese actors; the play could easily have been set in a Swiss clinic where the question of assisted suicide could be discussed; but the setting in China is important, it allows for a more poetic feel. The play suddenly takes on a wider meaning, more questions can be asked rather than concentrating on the suicide element of the play. The bottomless well is where people stand on the periphery, where they feel scared, where they don’t know what to do and need a helping hand, a push towards a new experience.

The well is an allegory; Lady Hasi thinks she needs a push to help her face her fears. As we move through life we sometimes need a push, either physically or mentally. If we are scared of the unknown, it is easy to take a step back, to not take a chance and walk into it, but sometimes we get a helping hand…a friend will give us the push we need to face our demons, to give us the confidence to do the things we thought we never could.

And THAT is why I am a fan of Howard Barker…his ambiguity can make you go through so many levels in the thought process and invite a night of deep discussion, and like the well, the conversation can be without an ending!

The House of Bernarda Alba – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester   (Graeae Theatre Co)

Saturday dawns and its goodbye London, hello Manchester. There’s a bit of time to kill though before our train leaves, so seeing as Tottenham Court Road underground is en route to Euston, we stopped off at The Flying Horse which now seems to have become my local (I never get the chance to go to a proper “pubby” pub at home…they’ve all been turned into gastro pubs or I’m usually driving) so I take the opportunity to sink a rather nice pint whilst Nikki sensibly reawakens on extremely good coffee!

After a snoozle on the train we arrive at Manchester Piccadilly and head down to the Royal Exchange. The streets look really pretty decked out with Chinese red lanterns in celebration of the Chinese New Year.

Now I read The House of Bernarda Alba as part of my yearlong reading challenge, so for the premise of the play click here –

It is a straightforward tale; we enter the house of Bernarda Alba following the funeral of her husband Antonio Maria Benavides. We enter an all-female household, and Bernarda is the matriarch who rules with a rod of iron. As with all families, each of her 5 daughters are different, some are more headstrong and outspoken, others quietly frustrated at their eight year confinement (mourning period) and their inability to be allowed to fall in love and lead the life they want to lead. As always with a group of women there is the inevitable one-upmanship and spiteful comments!

As each scene plays out, the suffocating grip that Bernarda has placed on her daughters starts to show cracks. Her more headstrong daughters are becoming defiant. The play is at times dark and tragic, but the performances keep you on the edge of your seat until the end of the play. Kathryn Hunter who plays Bernarda is truly believable as this ageing woman who still needs to exert her control, who never smiles, and who makes her daughters lives a misery because they are too scared to confront her.

What caught my attention about this particular staging is that it was performed by the Graeae Theatre Company, a world-class theatre company specialising in putting disabled actors centre stage in roles that anyone can play. Why shouldn’t one of the sister’s be blind, why shouldn’t one of them be deaf, why do they all have to be able to walk? There are families across the world where the "able" and "disabled" are together as one family and treated the same, so why shouldn’t this be delivered on a stage too? I loved that the sisters were happy to taunt one another, even running off with Amelia’s prosthetic leg, a clever twist which stopped any focus on this becoming a “preachy production about disability.” 

I found trying to write about this performance difficult, I didn't want to sound patronising, and I found it hard to articulate my feelings after watching the play as well. In contrast to the night before where we couldn’t stop talking, after this performance both of us were quietly reflective. The staging was absorbing, the acting was superb with some notable outstanding performances, and the play had been cleverly rewritten so that conversations were clarified to the audience but still sounded like the normal flow of siblings conversing with each other. This was still Lorca's play and I enjoyed it because it stayed true to the narrative.

I really enjoyed the play on many levels and would recommend going to see it if you have the chance, but you need to be quick as it finishes its run on the 25th February!

Campaign by Real Cats to Stop Theatre Visits.


As New Year’s go, 2017 has been pretty good so far.  I read some of the air of despondency on Twitter (last year we had seen Tom in War in Peace, then there were the radio plays, and of course the excitement of tickets in our sweaty paws to see him on stage for the first time...but we've got nothing at the moment...) but I seem to be too busy to worry about Burke Blues! I'm even having the odd moments when I'm wondering if I'm a real fan of Tom's at all! Of course I can't wait to see him bring Cormoran Strike to life (I could easily picture him in the role when I read the novels and I did become rather excited about what the end result would be like) but we won't see the series until the end of this year...so what am I supposed to do until then? 

Tom/Athos enabled me to find some like-minded people who are out for fun, adventure and a bit of theatre, and so rather than sit waiting for Mr B's next move, 2017 has already started with a bang, and it seems like there's been no time to write about it all!

So, what HAS been going on in the first six weeks of the year? Here's a flavour of a few bits...  


I’ve started the year with two trips to London! I really should have my own gold plated seat on the Chester to Euston train by now. (Virgin trains take note of that.) I watched Wild Honey at The Hampstead Theatre, London and Love at the Dorfman Theatre (at The National Theatre London). This was followed by another trip down for a girly weekend, in which I went to see Art at the Old Vic, London where I met Rufus Sewell - another hero of mine! (There’s a separate post about that trip!)

Love at The Dorfman was so entrancing that I also decided to take a trip down to Birmingham to watch it there too.  I wanted to see what sort of reaction it would evoke in another city which also has substantial homelessness problems; although to be honest, I really didn’t enjoy the prospect of tearing down the M6 after work to see it. I use the term ‘tear’ loosely as the M6 to Birmingham resembles a car park with lots of irate drivers on it. (For my thoughts on Love – see my separate post.)

In amongst this I tried to finish off my reading challenge = success (finished it all with one day in hand!) and I also felt inspired to try sketching Cormoran Strike. (I can’t believe how hard I found it…Athos became easier because I could see the character not the actor, Cormoran is harder. I keep trying to stop making it look like Tom, which is actually rather hard, especially when you haven’t seen the series; just a rough photograph to copy!)


Start of a new month…must be time to hop onto a train for London then! Friday I zipped down to meet a friend and watch a Howard Barker play. I’ve read a few of his plays (his work introduced to me because Tom had acted in a couple of Barker plays) but I had never seen them performed. 

Reading them can be hard, they are meant to be seen, or at least heard. The words on the page are given life by the actors, and so I was really excited to see In The Depths of Dead Love at The Coronet Printroom London. What an amazing place that was! Next day a trip up to Manchester was planned to see The House of Bernarda Alba, however, just after breakfast my phone rang. It was my nextdoor neighbour. “Hi, hope you’re having a good time, I think Gerrard (my cat) might need to go to the vet. He’s not weeing properly and he's licking his bits. Which vet do you use?”

Oh my God. I know this was supposed to be a weekend of drama, but really? He chose the weekend neither of his owners are at home to have a flare up of his ‘usual’ problem! Well that’s typical. What do I do? I can get off at Crewe and get another train to Chester and take him to the vet myself (he’s got an appointment for 4:00) or, or, well what else do I do? Well according to my friend (she really is the best) “Go to Manchester, I’ll see what the vet says, then you can take it from there.” So I did. I got off at Manchester and she rang me later. “He’s got tablets…lot’s of them.  And errrmmm, did you know he has a heart murmur?” Yes I admit, p’raps I should have mentioned that at some point. So with relief that he was going to be ok, I went to watch The House of Bernarda Alba. It was only when I was reading the programme that I realised it was a “disabled” theatre group that was putting on the performance. I wasn’t sure how it would work, but I went in with an open mind and came out completely blown away. The play was amazing.

My friend and I then played “escape from Manchester.” It’s an interesting game, even with the help of SatNav woman. We saw every side of Manchester before finding the motorway and escaping. I never drive into Manchester, now I know why. It was like being in a Murukami or David Mitchell novel. You think you are in reality…but are you? And if you’re not in the real world, how do you leave this strange land behind to get back to where you were?

The Campaign for Real Cats

Sunday I was supposed to accompany my friend to a wildlife centre and polish up on our photography skills. I was really looking forward to it, but Gerrard had to take number one spot in my decisions, and he was still at that stage milking all the attention he could get.  I got an amusing book for Christmas called “The Unadulterated Cat” by Terry Pratchett. Never mind the Campaign for Real Ale, this is the Campaign for Real Cats.

In the chapter Types of Cat, at No 5 Sort of Tabby Cats with a Bit of Ginger, But sometimes In the Right Light You Could Swear There’s a Hint of Siamese There  Your basic Real cat. Backbone of the country’s cat population.  

Gerrard is most definitely a real cat. He matches that description, plus he refuses to wear a flea collar,  he never chases anything you throw for him to play with, and when your back is turned he will eat anything left on the side if he thinks he can get away with it. Yes, he eats quiche, gravy, butter, Marmite… anything he can wave his slobbery tongue over. Yes he’s a Real cat, he’s not going to stick to the vet’s nonsense “urinary health” diet. No no no. He will supplement his very expensive diet with anything he can find, then get himself in a pickle which necessitates his lovely neighbour whisking him off to the emergency weekend vet for £100’s worth of treatment and the vet ringing me on a Sunday morning to go through what he had previously said to my very nice friend and neighbour!

Anyway, after a week Gerrard seems to be on the mend which is good. I can go back to concentrating on feeling sorry for myself because my chest hurts from all the coughing I’ve been doing recently. Blummin winter colds.

Carrying on Regardless

So what’s next on my busy schedule? Well there’s David Hare’s Skylight to see at the theatre in Mold. My nephew turns 21 (impossible I refuse to believe that), I’m heading up to Yorkshire for a 40th birthday, and there's a promise to go and watch 50 Shades Darker…well I drag my friends to see all things Burke…about time they dragged me to see all things Dornan!

Wonder what the month of March will have in store for me…

Art - The Old Vic (London)

noun - the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance. 

A friend asked me if I fancied a weekend in London (she knew full well I would say yes) and she told me to book my usual hotel for the pair of us. I thought little of why she wanted to stay near Waterloo, but I was soon to find out. We were off to watch Art at The Old Vic, with RUFUS SEWELL in it!

I loved watching Rufus Sewell in Zen, and more recently as Lord M in ITV's Victoria. For the first time ever, I wanted a historically based drama to not pay heed to history; I wanted Lord M and Victoria's relationship to continue long after Albert was on the scene!!

I was thrilled, I knew very little about the play, but quite frankly Rufus could just stand on stage saying nothing and I'd be happy to watch him. He's one of those actors that can say a thousand words without uttering one syllable.

It’s not really a painting…is it?

Who in their right mind would invest in “a canvas about five foot by four: white? The background is white and, if you screw up your eyes, you can make out some fine white diagonal lines.”
Serge did.  His friend Marc is not happy about it. Not happy at all. Unlike Serge who is thrilled with his purchase. It makes him happy. It’s his money (a hundred thousand euros to be exact) and it leaves him with a smile as long as the Nile on his face. Unlike Marc. He REALLY is not happy about this investment.

Art appears to be an easy storyline to follow, someone has bought what he considers to be art. He finds the painting beautiful, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and what one person loves can be hated by another. The play centres on this painting and the thoughts of Serge and his two friends, but as you get absorbed into their conversations, you realise that this story is about a lot more than just a painting.

A Stark Reality

The play takes place on a simple set. There is a stark, neutrally painted room, with a coffee table and three chairs. It highlights the relationship of three male friends as we move between each of their houses. As the successive scenes unfold; only a painting on a far wall changes to reflect their different personalities.

There are three friends, Marc (Paul Ritter) Serge (Rufus Sewell) and Yvan (Tim Key) The question is, why is Marc so upset?  Serge has spent his own hard earned cash on a painting which makes him happy.

Serge looks at his painting, thrilled.  
Marc looks at the painting.
Serge looks at Marc looking at the painting.

Marc: You paid a hundred thousand euros for this shit?

Serge: By whose standards is it shit? If you call something shit, you need to have some criterion to judge it by.

He doesn’t like the painting. Fine… But there was no warmth in the way he reacted. No attempt. No warmth when he dismissed it out of hand. Just that vile, pretentious laugh. A real know-all laugh. I hated that laugh.

Yvan’s flat.  He has left the career he knew behind him to start again as a sales rep for a stationery business…and he’s about to get married. Marc tells Yvan all about the painting, he wants Yvan to agree with him, but Yvan is rather relaxed about the whole affair. If the painting makes Serge happy and he’s not harming anyone, then surely there is no problem.

But there is a problem, as the scenes play out we realise that this is a play about how friendships change, how people grow apart, their tastes shift, they move on. Where once upon a time people had control and influence over their friends, their friends may have now gained a new found confidence to be themselves. Those with influence and power don’t like this change in status, and this play shows the fear and disintegration of a person who has been used to getting his own way for too long. Rather than Marc admitting he doesn’t understand modern art to Serge, and asking questions to learn and understand it, he just says it’s shit. He’s not happy to discuss the matter, because in this instance Serge knows more about the subject than he does. Serge doesn’t need Marc in this instance and Marc doesn’t like this sudden loss of control. Small minor irritants from throughout the years have suddenly built into a crescendo, every word that is uttered suddenly grates on each other’s nerves.

In the midst of this feud is Yvan. He is about to be married and suddenly he's having a meltdown about the politics of a family wedding. A quarrel between his two friends is the last thing he needs, nor is this the time to suddenly find out your friends feelings on your future bride “if you’re already letting yourself be fucked about by her, you’re in for a hideous future.” As more and more grievances about each other’s imperfect lifestyles are aired, we begin to reach the climax of the play.

Extending an Olive Branch

The men sit around a table drinking and slowly, one by one eating from a bowl of olives. It is time for the focus to return to the painting, the painting that enabled each party to express their hidden thoughts and feelings, the painting which nearly destroyed three friendships.

A final act of sabotage seemingly shows that a friendship means more than a painting…but what is this clearing of the air and trial period of friendship based on? Another series of lies to save face…and so the friendships continue…but for how long?

Meeting The Man Himself!

After the play we were “ushered” out down a back stairway, and we were suddenly on the street right by the stage door. I looked at my friend, and we said why not? We’ll either meet Rufus or we won’t so we might as well give it a go. As we stood patiently waiting a chap scurried past us…my slow brain suddenly thought “That’s Tim Key (Yvan)” Now the question was whether I should run after him or not. Of course I did, I asked him if it would be ok to get his autograph, and bless him he said yes it was fine, he just assumed I only wanted Rufus’ autograph! I had a nice chat with him about his performance (he does this wonderful long soliloquy) and then I scurried back to my place at the stage door.

Rufus came out a few moments later and chatted with the ladies in front of me, then he turned to me. What a lovely, lovely man. We had a really nice chat (and poked a bit of tongue in cheek fun at the expense of poor Tom Burke – Rufus had worked with Tom in “The Brunchers”) It’s often said you should never meet your heroes, but in my case I’m glad I’ve ignored that advice, meeting Tom and Rufus has worked out well. Both have been as nice as I hoped for! Such an amazing end to a thoroughly enjoyable day.

Love - Alexander Zeldin

LOVE - what does it mean? It can be such an overloaded word. It is often said without thought or meaning. "I love cake." "I love you." Do we really love a slab of cake as much as we love a person? And what do we mean when we say we love a person? Well I guess it depends on the person or the relationship. Are they your soul mate, a person that you have a passing infatuation with, a member of your family? Well this play shows that there are many sides to Love. What will you do for another person to show how much you love them?  After watching this play, it's not a Valentines card and a bunch of roses that show you care. It's the small things in life that really matter. It’s the small things that help you to keep going on.

Survival in the face of Poverty

Love is the first play I have watched which has completely drained me; put me through the wringer. It made me question myself, question what is going on outside of my world, and question my attitudes towards homelessness. It's obvious that the system is broken for so many people to be living in temporary accommodation or on the streets in the 21st century, but why is the system broken, and what can be done to put things on the right track?

It's an emotive topic, and one best for face to face discussion. After the play, the group of us who watched it discussed it afterwards, both together as a group, and also with one of the actors from the play. It was interesting to hear his experiences as he researched his role and surprising what points came to the table. Some we agreed on, some we didn't, but the most notable element of the night was the level of discussion the play provoked. 

A Different Point of View?

A full day in work and then a drive along the carpark called the M6 to Birmingham on a Thursday night. Who in their right mind would do such a thing? Well after watching Love twice in London, I was intrigued to see how it would transfer to the stage in Birmingham. So I headed down for the opening night, met up with friends, and headed to the Birmingham Rep. The seats were allocated on a first come first served basis. We were at the head of the queue, and although having seen the play in London and knowing what to expect, we still sat on the first row. (I prayed that when Anna came into the audience she would bypass me. What would I do if she held her hand out to me? I'd probably grab her, burst into tears and hug her to death and then worry about what the rest of the audience thought.) My prayers were answered, she walked past me.  A near miss, for both of us I felt!

It was interesting being on the front row though. I missed a lot of the subtleties of the play when I was in London by being sat just a few rows back from the stage. From the front you can hear the muffled conversations going on behind closed bedroom doors; the anxiety and frustrations going on behind the closed bathroom door. You can see the tiny flickers and sparkles of emotion in the actor’s eyes. You were transported into the house they were sharing, not just invited to look through the window. Every now and again you became one of them. You weren't just a voyeur, you felt emotional attachments to each of these people, you wanted to shout at them, shake them, hug them, and tell them it would all be ok eventually. Eventually?! As if you could promise that with any certainty.

Is it Down to Luck or Hard Work?

The play is a huge emotional conflict because there is no easy answer to any of it. It's not black and white. I have no idea what goes on in the “real” world. I've worked since I was 17.  I got a Saturday job and the boss kept it open for me when I went to university; " Just phone me when you get home or you need a few hours, I'll find a spot on the rota for you."

I’m a jack of all trades, turning my hand to whatever is thrown at me. I got a job on the shop floor selling crockery but quickly ended up working on the shop floor, in the stock room, in the restaurant and in the kitchen. I could serve, cook, organise people, use a till, add up, and even foresee what was required before it happened. I was useful and hardworking and always in demand if I wanted the hours. Even after an 18 year career as a professional trustee and then being made redundant I fell on my feet. I took a year out of the rat race, and just as I was getting ready to face the job seeking world, I got a phone call asking me if I would consider working as a Trustee for another firm. But sitting on that front row, I could now see that it could so easily have been so different for me. The majority of people in the UK are only 2 wage slips away from the plight of the people in the play. That statistic is still haunting me. What if I hadn’t received that phone call? What if I couldn’t get another job? 

It’s easy to be Sceptical…

There are those that have seen the play who have been really affected by it. They've experienced some of the issues first hand, and it is interesting to hear their take on matters; but then there are those that say there are systems in place and so don’t believe the sob stories…”there’s more to that person’s story than meets the eye.”

I don’t really know what or who to believe, but I know that somewhere along the line, the system has broken down. To have a society where if you live in one council area you will be looked after properly, but if you live in another, the council will spend thousands and thousands of pounds putting people up in emergency accommodation for months on end in a property that is barely habitable, well that can’t be right.

A Mother’s Love…

To me, Love is what makes great theatre. The actors, especially Anna Calder-Marshall as Barbara and Nick Holder as her son Colin, really grip you. There is a really poignant part of the play where Colin washes his mum’s hair. He does it over the communal kitchen sink, with a pan of water and a bottle of Fairy liquid!

Colin: D’you want me to wash your hair?
Barbara: No
Colin: Go on you’ll feel better. Just a quick wash.
Barbara: No.
Colin: Go on, you always feel happy after.
Barbara: Use the fairy.
Colin: I’m only trying to make you happy.
Barbara: Sorry.
They cross to the kitchen.
Colin: You lean over.
Barbara: Yeah.
Colin: Don’t get wet as you’ll get a cold.
He pours and she shrieks.
Barbara: Fucking fuck, gone down me neck.
Colin: Aright, Mum, I’ll put some fairy on. You’ve got lovely hair ain’t you.
Barbara: Gone down me neck
Colin: You’re alright, bab.
Barbara: Squeaky.
Colin: Squeaky clean.
Golden princess
Barbara: I love you.
Colin: I love you too.

This scene really choked me…it showed two people trying to make the best out of difficult circumstances in the only way they knew how. A simple act of kindness, worth its weight in gold.

Open Your Eyes

I had an interesting chat with a gentleman sat next to me before and after the play in Birmingham. This was a piece of theatre that was so moving it provoked a reaction from everyone in the theatre. There could be an argument that the play should be brought to a wider audience. Not to make people feel guilty, but to give people another facet to the argument that there are all sorts of reasons why people find themselves homeless.

Love does only show the problem from one point of view...it would be interesting to see another play from the system's point of view. In this play the system has a lot to do with the situations that the characters find themselves in. What if the people cutting the benefits and not helping those in need are bound by chains we are unaware of?  If we could be given the 360 view of this complex situation, it might actually allow us as a population to do something positive about it... and maybe that's the real meaning of LOVE.