Saturday, 10 October 2015

The theatre looked - and smelled - fabulous, lit by dozens of real wax candles. I envied the people in the stage boxes for whom it must have been a magical, and intimate evening. I was up in the gods, unfortunately, kicking myself for being a £10 cheapskate because when you can't see Mark Rylance's expressive face, well, you've missed out.
Farinelli and the King (written by Rylance's wife) is about the melancholic Philip V of Spain (think Madness of George III but rather less heartrending) and the healing power of music in the form of the castrato Farinelli. It was simply entrancing to hear this lovely aria from Handel's Rinaldo in such a  setting.
I can see why the play got 4* from reviewers rather than 5*. Rylance as Philip V wasn't up to Rylance as Cromwell. (What pressure though, to face audiences expecting you to measure up to a role that was the peak of your career.) Now I think of it, I don't think I've seen him on stage since he played Cleopatra at the Globe, which I thought was a bit gimmicky. (Well, the previous Cleopatra I'd seen was Judi Dench and that was some act to follow.)
But I think Farinelli and the King is maybe like a miniature painting. If I'd been in a different seat, enfolded in the light from those flickering candles, close enough to reach out and touch ... it would have been quite a different experience. Sometimes I don't mind the £10 seats for the thrill of being there but this time it felt a bit like peeping through a window.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

What happened to penny book reviews? Some few years ago, I remember people reviewing forgotten classics that they'd bought for 1p on Amazon - but I can't find them now and I suppose it must have fizzled out.  I think this must have been one of them because I was burning to read it. It's still 1p on Amazon but I came across my copy - sadly, without the John Piper book jacket - in a charity shop in Broadstairs. And like so many books that I must, must, must have ... it has been gathering dust on a pile for years!
But eventually its time came and I thought that autumn evenings demanded a wallow in the underbelly of Victorian England. (It was actually published in 1947.) Michael Sadleir was the author of the better-known Fanny by Gaslight, which I vaguely remember as a TV series that I wouldn't have bothered watching back in the Eighties. (I vaguely remember that I was never in on a Saturday night!)

Fanny by Gaslight was concerned with the amusements (predominantly vicious) of rich people in London during the seventies of the last century. Forlorn Sunset is a story of the same period, but presents the evil folk who pandered to those amusements, and the miseries (and therefrom arising vices) of their poor and helpless victims. Inevitably it lacks the glamour of its predecessor, and the characters encountered are for the most part disreputable.

Well, there's a touch of George Gissing and Grub Street about it (but Gissing is miles better). This is a book about London, and thank heavens there's a couple of maps because without them I'd have got terribly confused. (It starts in the vicious streets in the vicinity of Waterloo Station, then shifts to Marylebone.)
At the centre of the novel is a child called Lottie Heape who escapes from an establishment,  'this vile Dothegirls Hall, ' for grooming young girls for a life of prostitution; she does very well for herself in St John's Wood as a kept mistress until her protector is murdered and she falls in love with a brute. Apart from that, all human life is there - vicars and pimps, tarts with a heart, and characters who could have walked straight out of Dickens. I was interested to discover that the Moonlight Mission really existed.
When it works, this is a fascinating story of organised crime and vice on streets I often walk today ... but what a tangled web to keep up with! I got horribly confused by some of the business scams and share-dealings. And there are longueurs when Sadleir drones on and you're tempted to skip chunks. A good penny's worth? Certainly, but I doubt I'll be reading him again.

However, this postscript interested me:

London's street-plan was in most districts haphazard, complex and unsuited to through traffic. One consequence of this .... was that the areas of popular resort - whether fashionable, social, official, professional, commercial, pleasure-seeking or dissolute - were few and circumscribed, so that chance encounters between folk of a similar sort were much more frequent than is the case nowadays.

So perhaps all those unlikely coincidences in Dickens' novels aren't so unlikely after all?

Friday, 2 October 2015

The trouble with blogging for any length of time is finding anything new to say when you do pretty much the same things again and again ... because you like them, so why not!
Compton Verney looked lovely today in this soft, autumn light - as indeed it did four years ago. I strolled around the lake again; I scrumped some apples again. They have a very nice shop and I even bought a C-word present because I knew I'd regret it if I didn't.
Their new exhibition is inspired by this book which I haven't read, science never having been my thing at school. Turns out that gilded kale leaves are rather beautiful.
And the periodic table is rather fun when it's Au-drey for gold, Cu-for John Thaw and Eu-for Jacques Delors. Which, of course, reminded me of this.

Thirty Pieces of Silver (Exhaled), Sugar Bowl (Cornelia Parker)

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The V&A's Fabric of India exhibition starts with an 'Oooohh,' as the first thing you see when you walk in is this enormous summer floorspread that must have been like sitting in a field of poppies. If I hadn't managed to lose the notes I took on my way home, I'd tell you all about dyes made from chay root bark and pomegranate husks, luscious reds and golden yellows, shimmering cloths of gold and silver and muslins so fine you could surely pass them through a wedding ring. I was aching to touch and stroke and throw bolts of fabric over my shoulder. Less interested in the contemporary designs towards the end; the zip-up sari does not seem an improvement in elegance on the original. I'm sure I'll be going back for a second look but it was a real treat today with hardly anybody there. The shiny trimmings on this dress fabric are jewel beetles' wings. 

I wasn't going to ... but of course I did, as soon as I noticed it was down to £9-something on Amazon. Had to be done? Even though I've probably only made about two recipes from Vol 2? Feeling a bit silly as I'd resisted the Honey&Co baking book which I actually wanted more.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

I like a big, fat book for autumn evenings, something to get lost in, a page-turner that's not too challenging after a wallow in Downton Abbey.
And although I don't normally care for sequels and prequels (unless they're as good as Longbourn, a rare exception),  I did enjoy Nelly Dean, the housekeeper's tale that fills in the gaps in Wuthering Heights. (You really do need to read the original first, or you'll get your Cathies in a twist. The story takes the form of a letter from Nelly to the former tenant Mr Lockwood and as she has already told him the story of Cathy and Heathcliff and the other inhabitants of Wuthering Heights, she isn't repeating herself - so you do need to know who's who. Alison Case is a professor of literature and she's assuming you've done your homework!)
This is Nelly and Hindley's story - and Nelly leaves the torrid lovers to get on with it off-stage. (If you  have ever felt impatient with grand passions on the moors, you might actually prefer this.)
Nelly is a battered child who comes to live at Wuthering Heights, sharing the childhood of the other children but not quite part of the family. It's ages since I last read WH; I'm sure I thought Nelly was boring, holding up the action when all I was interested in was smouldering passion. (It really is the perfect escapist novel for teenage girls.) But Nelly has her own secrets and passions ...
To be honest, you'll guess them well before the end but it's still an enjoyable read. I could have done with a whole lot less of the pages and pages of breast-feeding - but I'm not the maternal type. (Now I think of it, the only novel I can think of with so much action at the breast is Enid Bagnold's The Squire who was far too much of a Smug Sainted Mummy for me.)

Improvised comedy isn't really me. I used to hate Whose Line Is It Anyway? because they all looked so pleased with themselves. But this improvised musical was really clever.
Tonight was show no 619 and it was a love story (sort of) set in Marks and Spencer's in 1894, when the purveyors of Percy Pigs received a visit from Prime Minister Gladstone ... so, yes, it was topical.
The musical references, I'm afraid, passed me by ... I heard other older members of the audience muttering about this on the way home. It's no good referencing Dreamgirls and The Book of Mormon ...  we need Oklahoma and Guys and Dolls. (When did musicals stop having proper songs?)
But it was clever. A musical made up on the spot from suggestions shouted out by the audience. Tonight M&S Percy Pigs. Tomorrow it will be something entirely different.