Sunday, 5 July 2015

Indigenous Australia, and Bad King John

I spent this weekend visiting relations in London.We had tickets to see the Globe Theatre's production of Shakespeare's 'King John', and also took the opportunity to visit the British Museum and see their 'Indigenous Australia' exhibition.

The exhibition is not big, but it is very interesting, and has some beautiful artifacts and art, and it appeared to me that the curators had tried very hard to ensure that the exhibition was presented in a way which was respectful of the indigenous Australian's culture and history, including details of how they were treated by the British Colonists and Australian Government, although there were a few odd phrases... for instance, referring to the lack if recognition of Indigenous People's rights to / occupation of Australia as a 'mistake' and a 'misunderstanding' seemed a little odd - not least because it implies that the country would not have been Colonized had Cook and his successors understood more, which, baring in mind British Colonial Expansion in the 18th and 19th Centuries seems a bit unlikely! 

But over all I enjoyed the exhibition, learned things I didn't know before, and would encourage anyone likely to be in London to see it.


After visiting the exhibition, we browsed a little elsewhere in the museum, including taking a look at the Waddesdon Bequest, which includes some lovely medieval jewels, plate and other artifacts.(The museum has just rehoused it in a newly refurbished gallery) 

I am not a big fan of the elaborate gold / gilt tableware, although the workmanship is amazing, but the various jewels are beautiful, and fun - I rather liked this little ram. I should be happy to give it a home, if the Museum should suddenly decide to start rehoming its art!

After that, we had a very pleasant Chinese meal before heading over to the Globe to see King John

I have never seen the play before, and deliberately decided not to read it before seeing it, although of course I am broadly familiar with the history. It isn't performed very often(this is, I think, the first time the Globe has done it) and I did wonder whether there was good reason for that, and that it perhaps isn't one of William's best.


I need not have worried. It was excellent, with a very strong cast. I enjoyed it immensely, and there were a surprising number of funny moments, among the battles and deaths and betrayals.


King John was played by Jo Stone-Fewings, (who played Buckingham in the production of Richard III I saw at Trafalgar Studios last year). His John was initially gleeful (the play started with his coronation, during which there was a plainsong setting of 'Zadok the Priest') 

Alex Waldmann, as 'the Bastard' had, in some respects, the biggest role, and seemed to have a good deal of fun with it, and left the distinct impression that had the play continued much longer, John might have discovered he had a usurper on his hands...

The rest of the cast was equally strong. Tanya Moodie's Constance seemed, at first, to be pushing her son (Prince Arthur)'s claims for political reasons, arguing her (his) case, but as the play progressed and Arthur was captured by King John, she was the bereft and mourning mother, a picture of grief.

I don't think there was a single weak link in the cast,

Although I had not realised it in advance (perhaps because it wasn't me that booked the tickets, the performance we saw was the last in the run, so after the play ended there was a brief speech from Artistic Director Domenic Dromgoole, followed by the cast throwing roses ito the crowd. (with a special cheer for (I think) Giles Terera who managed, at the third attempt, to get a rose up into the gallery! 



It was a great evening, and I'm really glad that I got to see the play. Seeing it at the Globe was an extra bonus, and even a minor train issue on the way back didn't dampen our enjoyment! 

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Two Plays

I had a ticket to see Damian Lewis, John Goodman and Tom Sturridge in Mamet's 'American Buffalo' at a matinee performance, and another to see Chiwetel Ejiofor in 'Everyman' at the National Theatre in the evening.

Which made for a fun day.

The last thing I saw Damian Lewis in was the BBC's adaptation of Wolf Hall, in which he played King Henry VIII.  His role here is very different.

The play is deceptively simple; three no-hopers, none of whom is as smart as they think they are, trying to plan a robbery to recover a rare and valuable coin (the titular American Buffalo (nickel) ) 
American Buffalo (photo from theatre site)
John Goodman is excellent as the slow-thinking Don, roughly generous towards the young, vulnerable,  Bob (Sturridge), and guilty when Teach (Lewis) persuades him to exclude Bob from their heist.

In fact all three performances are great - Lewis is flashy (and so very 70s!) but also lets us see Teach's underlying insecurity, and Sturridge's Bob is both pathetic and oddly appealing. 

It was a beautiful sunny day, so between plays I wandered along the embankment, through a pop up market, and visited Cleopatra's Needle.  Which is nice, and has some only-slightly-shrapnel-damaged sphinxes flanking it, which I don't think I have ever seen up close before.

Everyman  was very interesting. It's an updating (written by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy) of a 15th Century mystery play in which 'Everyman' has to account to God for his actions in life.

Everyman (Image from National Theatre site)
I had mixed feelings about it. Ejiofor is a superb actor, and I enjoyed the verse and the updating of the story, with Everyman starting the evening with an alcohol and cocaine fuelled birthday party, before being confronted with Death, the frailty of his relationships with friends and material possessions, and even with his family. 

However, the staging seemed, at times, to overwhelm the play - I can't help but feel that a slightly more muted production might have allowed the acting, and the writing, more space! 

I did, however, enjoy the specially printed banknotes, some of which were blown out into the auditorium, and loved Kate Duchene's cleaning lady/God)

Everyman and God (photo from National Theatre production gallery)
Despite some reservations about the over the top staging, I did really enjoy the play, and I'm glad I went.  I may even see the NTLive broadcast to give me a chance to see it again, and see what else I spot on a second viewing. 

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

A Belated Post About London

There has been a bit of a delay in writing about the rest of the trip to London, what with the house being torn down around my ears leading to (quelle horreur) 2 weeks with no TV or internet access at home. So no blogging.

After the lovely evening with friends and with Neil and Amanda and their friends, I had another 2 days in London, as I had, before hearing about the New Statesman event, booked to see 2 plays, on the Saturday, so I decided to stay up and tke in an exhibition or two in between.

So, on Friday, I went to the British Museum,to visit their 'Defining Beauty - the body in ancient Greek Art' which was fascinating.

The exhibition looks at the evolution of the idea of beauty, from ancient Egyptian figures, through to the Renaissance's rediscovery of ancient Greek Art.

The exhibits include, of course wonderful sculptures. There are also  reproduction figures, reminding us that ancient Greek sculptures were not the classic white we know now, but were brightly, indeed garishly coloured. I have to say, I much prefer them without the colours!

There are also vases (mostly of Herakles, but also a very nice one showing a woman spinning (apparently an unusual example of a well-born woman - mostly women only get a look in as slaves or goddesses)

It's worth seeing.

I then went to the British Library to revisit their Magna Carta exhibition - it was less crowded than when I made my first visit, which was nice, as it meant I could spend time trying to read bits of medieval French manuscripts, and bigger chunks of trial transcripts. 

It's still a really great exhibition.

The following morning I went to look for art of a different kind - I wanted to see the mural in memory of Terry Pratchett and Josh Kirby, just off Brick Lane.

I found it, but before I got there, I also found lots of other wonderful art. 

I loved these steampunk ravens, and the fox, and there were also some wonderful octopi and a mongoose. 

Then the one I'd gone looking for - 
It is very impressive.



So much love on one wall!  I was really glad I got to see it.  And that the Librarian is there.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

A VERY busy weekend (but fun). Starting with Friends, and Neil and Amanda.

I just spent 4 very crowded days in London,doing all kinds of fun stuff, some of it with lovely people (and some by myself)

First up was 'An Evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer' at the Hackney Empire, which was tied in with Neil and Amanda guest-editing an edition of the New Statesman magazine.

Despite the New Statesman having made a real mess of the ticket sales, I was fortunate enough to have not one, but two good friends who offered me tickets, which meant that not only did I get to go, but I also got to put friends in touch with each other so they could go too - so there ended up being 5 of us meeting up before the event (although we did not all get to sit together at the event ) for drinks and food and general catching up.

We drank beer (after a struggle with an entirely un-trained bartender) and bumped into further friends and acquaintances, and we ate delicious ramen at Tonkotsu, before we headed to the Hackney Empire.

After a brief introduction on behalf of the New Statesman, Neil and Amanda came on stage, and Neil read a new poem, Credo, (which is published in the magazine) then there was a mix of Amanda and Neil's performances, and a number of special guests.

Guests included Roz Kaveney, who is a writer and activist, performed a very personal poem, comedian (and transvestite vegan) Andrew O'Neill who performed what may have been the longest drawn-out joke ever, (and later, a wonderful reconstruction of the genesis of the 'knock-knock' joke....Writer Hayley Campbell, who read her piece from the magazine, a horrifying picture of what may happen if google and twitter ever publishes all our un-sent drafts, and comedian and writer Mitch Benn, who, in keeping with the 'saying the unsayable' theme of both the evening, and the magazine, performed a song written in response to the Charlie Hebdo murders.
Neil, Roz Kaveney, Haley Campbell, Andrew O'Neill, Amanda Palmer (and bump) Mitch Benn
 Although the evening had a theme, and a set list, it was fairly free-form it was fun - everyone on stage seemed relaxed, despite the variations on the running order (Neil kept looking at the list in front of him and gently trying to follow it, but I think Amanda was seeing it more as a guideline than a binding list, and I suspect they were both a little jet-lagged!

But despite the slightly free-form style (or perhaps because of it!) the evening worked well, and little things like Hayley Campbell being introduced after, rather than before, her reading  with a mix of light-hearted and more serious takes on the theme of saying the unsayable, the age of outrage, censorship and its effects - Neil read a (very funny, but also scary) article about hosting a table at the PEN benefit where Charlie Hebdo received an award, and his story Babycakes (which he described as the only story he has written which disturbed him)


Amanda playing the Ukulele Song
Amanda played 'The Killing Type' and parts, by way of illustration, of 'Oasis', and there was discussion, and conversation. It felt very intimate; we, as well as those on stage, were among friends. 

As always when seeing Neil and Amanda on stage together, I loved seeing the obvious and open affection between them, and enjoyment of one another's performances.

At the end, Amanda returned for an encore, playing the Ukulele song, with  a short, pregnancy acid-reflux induced interruption.

It was a whole lot of fun,and I think, on appearances, it was mostly fin for those on stage, as well as those of us off stage.

And yes, I have now bought a copy of their New Statesman edition!

Thanks again to Hellie and Lyle,who booked tickets. 

a couple more pictures on Flickr, all from the curtain call, as photos were not allowed during the performance itself (and anyway, I was concentrating on what was being said!) 

Saturday, 23 May 2015

In which there is a Lot Of Dust

When I moved house last year I knew that the place was going to need redecorating, and it was fairly clear that this would (unless I were willing to live with painted woodchip wallpaper for ever) also mean lots of plastering. 


Before starting work
 It took a while to get quotes, and to work my way up to taking the plunge, but I did, so this weekend just gone I spent a lot of time putting things into boxes.

End of day 1
Then on Sunday, watching while 2 removal men carted virtually everything I own out to be stored in the garage. 

And on Monday morning, work started.  I went off to work, leaving the house to the tender mercies of the builders.

It turns out that if you are to have new plaster on your walls and ceilings that this means that the old plaster all gets removed. Which I knew in principle, but that had not really prepared me for coming home to discover that my bedroom walls were down to bare brick. 
End of Day 2
Or to the new experience of seeing the loft insulation from underneath.

It is all rather alarming.  And they haven't even started on the living room yet. (when they do, that will be even more dramatic. 

End of Day 5
The bedroom decor looked OK from a distance (or in a photo). The living room will probably look better even at the 'bare brick' stage, than it does now!

In the past day or so they have started putting the new walls on, and I am sure that the extra space where the chimney now isn't will be nice, once the room is finished.

Meanwhile, I am getting used to sleeping out in the garden shed, (which is, I should add, built of brick and has electricity and light, so is fairly comfortable for a shed. Especially as it currently contains all my bedroom furniture) I find that I am remarkably efficient at getting up in the morning, due to a terror of being caught in a state of undress by the builders (they arrive very promptly in the mornings, and the bathroom is,despite dust, still in use. (Except for that one morning when they turned off the hot water and forgot to tell me, or to turn it back on afterwards, which resulted in my having an extremely fast, and bracing shower!)

I am, however, looking forward to my trip to London next week, when I shall get to sleep indoors, and will almost certainly not 

Now, if only I can find a reliable local painter and decorator..

Sunday, 17 May 2015

The Louvre - Pyramids and Beautiful Things

As our visit drew to a close we decided to visit the Louvre. I'd been once before, when I was still at school, and had a vague memory of visiting the Mona Lisa, but that was all, and I don't think that my mother had ever been before.


Last time I went was before the Pyramid was built, so I had not seen that before, in person.
I liked it.

Particularly the spiral staircase leading up to ground level, under the pyramid.

We decided that we would start by visiting some of the better known masterpieces, so we started with the Mona Lisa, (beautiful, but unsurprisingly, rather crowded)

In order to get to her, we passed through galleries of other Italian art - I particularly enjoyed Ucello's Battle of San Romano, (not least, I must confess, because I correctly identified it as being by Ucello before looking at the label!)
The Winged Victory of Samothrace

We then visited the Winged Victory of Samothrace, which is a little bit headless, but otherwise glorious. She is Greek, dating from around 190 BC. Apparently she may originally have stood above a pool of water, so that the (stone) ship on whose prow she stands may have appeared to float. I would love to see the Louvre display her that way..

As we were on a roll with ancient Greek sculpture, we moved on to visit Aphrodite of Milos, more famous as the Venus de Milo who manages to look very serene despite the huge crowds around her! 

I also found  this lovely little blackwork vase of an owl. I should have been very happy to take it home with me had that been permitted! 

There was an exhibition on, about the discoveries made in Bulgaria, of a number of Thracian burials - there were vast quantities of grave goods, many of them in gold or silver gilt, and none marred by any trace of restraint! 

Fascinating stuff! 

We then visited the wonderful Islamic Art department (via Coptic Egypt). 





Unlike the famous highlights, this section of the was almost deserted, and we were able to admire the beautiful tiles, woodcarvings and mosaics almost alone.   
Which was a treat.

By this stage, we were starting to become exhausted - there is only so much art one can take in at any one time, so we wandered back through the courtyard to visit the Horses of Marly, before heading out of the museum and into the Tuileries Gardens for a late lunch.


We then spent the final afternoon wandering around the ile de France. We had thought we might visit Notre Dame, but after seeing the queue to get in, decided that we didn't want to go as badly as all that!  

Instead, we wandered along the banks of the river, watching boats go past, and admiring the various bridges, including those where the railings are collapsing under the weight of 'love-locks'. . .

It made for a rather nice, relaxed finale to our holiday!

Our journey home  the following day was slightly marred by a security alert at the Gare du Nord which resulted in our standing in a very large queue for 40 minutes, while the security services carried out a controlled explosion on someone's luggage, but fortunately this was done swiftly enough not to delay our train. 

(More photos of the trip, for anyone who is interested, on Flickr)

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Science and other Interesting Things

On the Sunday we decided to visit the Musée des arts et métiers, which is another museum situated in a redundant church, and which is one of the world's oldest science museum.

It has lots of fun stuff, including 18th Century clocks trying to tell decimal time (I knew that the French revolutionary government renamed the months of the year, but had not realised they also introduced decimal time. It didn't catch on.)
Clement Ader's 'Avion 3' - 1890

There are also lots of weights and measures, many of them very beautifully decorated, and lots of bits and pieces from Lavoisier's laboratory.

I enjoyed the architectural scale models of bridges and windmills, and the baby steam engines.

There are also more modern exhibits - early televisions and computers, not to mention M. Lumiere's film.

My favourite part of the museum came at the end of the museum, however, where there are some early flying machines and vehicles. 

There was Clement Ader's 'Avion 3', which looks like an inspiration for Batman, and is displayed very strikingly above a staircase. It didn't quite achieve flight, but it does look impressive.

Then in the body of the church itself, there are further planes, (Including a reproduction of Louise Bleriot's plane, in which he crossed the Channel)  and Foucoult's pendulum, hanging from the centre of the Apse.

There's a walkway which allows you to climb up to see the planes 'face to face', as it where, and also to view various vintage vehicles.



I am not certain it would have occurred to me to display vintage aircraft in a deconsecrated church but it works beautifully!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Tall Places

No trip to Paris would be quite complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower. We were originally only going to look at it from the bottom:



We had not pre-booked tickets, as they were sold out by the time we looked, but once we got there, my dad decided that we wanted to go up.

So, we queued for tickets, and then for the lifts, and then we went Up a Very Tall Thing.  Which is always fun. (Well, it is for me. I like Very Tall Things).  There were views, letting us play 'spot the famous landmark', plus you get to peer down at people below.  Did I mention that I like going up very tall things?       Having gone right to the very top, we then came down to the lower levels, including walking on the new glass floors at level 1 (which wasn't an option last time I visited) It gave more opportunities to look down at all the people still queuing, down below!                                                         

Then back down, just in time to eat crepes and avoid being rained on. Which I think counts as a win all round!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

More of my Holidays

We moved on (after lunch, of course!) from Cluny to the Musee D'Orsay, which started life as a railway terminus, and which now holds lots of 20th Century art, including lots of Impressionist paintings, and sculptures.

It's a nice building. I like that the exterior still has the names of all the towns and cities that the trains used to go to. And I like the big clocks, and the fact that you can go inside and peer at out Paris through the clock face.

Oh, and the Art is pretty good, too.

Seeing famous artworks in real life is always a little odd - there is that shock of recognition,at seeing something so familiar for the first time. And then you start to look more closely, and realise that the eyes in Renoir's paintings are always and distinctively Renoir's, for instance.

(and, slightly embarrassingly, I realised for the first time that Monet actually painted that woman with the parasol twice, once facing left and once right..)


I enjoyed the Art Nouveau exhibits, which included a wonderful plate by William de Morgan, with Eagles (there was a glorious dish with griffins, too, but the angle was wrong to get a picture of that (it was much richer in colour than the picture at that link suggests)


And then we could wander past the Degas's and the Rodin sculpture, and past the Polar Bear, and then there were the Van Goghs, and I do love Van Gogh's work.

There were some Gaugins as well, but it is the Van Goghs I was really drawn too.

After all of the art, we were exhausted and had to have some very expensive tea in the museum restaurant (with another Big Clock!)

There comes a point when tea is, at least temporarily, more important even than great art.

Monday, 4 May 2015

What I Did on My Holidays: Cluny

Day two of our trip started with a visit to theMusée national du Moyen Âge (which used to be known as the Musee de Cluny). 

The museum is housed in the former Benedictine Abbey of Cluny, near the Sorbonne, in very attractive buildings.

It is famous for housing the 'Lady and the Unicorn' series of medieval tapestries, but also has a huge collection of other artifacts.

Swabian wood carving
When we visited, the museum was holding an exhibition of Swabian wood carvings. 

These were impressive by virtue of their age and state of preservation, but I have to admit that they did not appeal to me very much aesthetically - it is extraordinary that they have survived since the 1500's.

Stained glass - Partridge
The Abbey was built on the site of a Roman Bath-house, parts of which remain,  and the museum also has a number of pieces of Roman carving (mainly the heads and bases of various columns) as well as later additions such as statues from various churches around Paris. (Apparently a lot were removed as they were seen as Royalist, during the revolution)

Ivory Casket - 1300
There is some stained glass (I enjoyed the Partridges), and other art work, including reliquaries, a few illuminated manuscripts and some works in ivory. 

I particularly liked an intricately carved ivory box from around 1300, illustrated with scenes of knights and ladies, and courtly love.

And a gold rose, which is delicate and perfectly formed. 

Then there are the tapestries themselves.

The 'Lady and the Unicorn' series consists of 6 linked tapestries, 5 of which illustrate the five senses, and the 6th, "À mon seul désir"  which has been interpreted in a number of ways, including as love, free will, or even renunciation of the emotions or passions raised by the first 5 senses.

Taste
The tapestries are large, and all show the arms of the Le Visite family. They have been dated to the end of the 15th or beginning of the 16th Century, and are charming.
"À mon seul désir"


As well as the Lady, and the Lion and Unicorn, the tapestries all have lots of other birds and animals in the background 

Mostly rabbits, but there were also hawks, storks, foxes and a  magpie. 

There was also something which the guide said was a baby unicorn, although how they decided it wasn't just an ordinary foal (it had no horn) they did not disclose.

I have a particular weakness for the rabbits, although there was also a rather nice stork or heron, lying on it's back in order to fit among the flowers!

The 'Lady and Unicorn' tapestries are not the only ones, there are also a whole series of 23 tapestries detailing the life of  St. Stephen, completed in 1490. (There is a scene where his body is exposed to the beasts, which features a rather lovely porcupine).

There are others showing daily life, including one of a woman spinning using a drop spindle, which includes a cat playing with the thread - obviously cats have changed very little since the 1500s!

There is also the Abbot's chapel, which is small, but exquisite.

I loved the delicacy of the stone carving in the ceiling.

It is not a museum I am familiar with - this was my first visit, but it is well worth it. We spent most of the morning there, and it would not have been difficult to stay longer. We mostly only left because we got hungry!