If this winter was a cricket team it bats a long way down the order, it’s got a long tail. And spring is going to have to draw on the sort of recovery the England Test Team is currently showing in New Zealand if it’s to live up to its name and put one back in our step when we venture outdoors. In the meantime, luckily we have the arts to keep us warm. Nevertheless, the car was iced up all over when we emerged buzzing from the theatre on Wednesday night.
The set of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of The winter’s tale was intriguing from before the off – a video backdrop of mediterranean island coastline and sparkling sea, lots of sea, a bit like one of those screen saver animations that had their moment a few years ago. When the action started – the party goers waking up – I thought, blimey, that makes a change: Shakespeare done in your actual traditional Shakespearian costumery. It was only on starting to read the programme the day after I discovered that this was not actually the case. So I stopped reading the programme as not to cloud my impressions of the night until I finished this. Act 2 and they’d gone all eighteenth century Lutheran bureaucrat until the emissaries to Delphi appeared in Ripping Yarns (or was it cod Victorian) explorers garb, while the shepherd arrived tooting the horn on an upright Edwardian bicycle.
Following the interval it got even more postmodern diverse, but that was after the famous ‘Exuent pursued by a bear‘ stage direction moment in which a giant bear emerged from a turbulent video sea in some sort of transmutation from a sea monster and the veranda/ramparts centre piece up to then of the stage had been inexplicably lifted up as if it rested on top of one of those old gas holders that used to dot the urban landscape as the gas holder refilled. After the interval this structure, turned around, was revealed as some sort of steam punk industrial interior cum helter-skelter ride at the Donald McGill postcard people populated seaside complete with pier on the video backdrop (not forgetting the morris dancers).
The winter’s tale is oft described as one of the ‘problem plays’ and it’s an odd one. I crammed the plot and skimmed the play before going, as you do, and didn’t get the usual frisson of recognising book titles drawn from the text; indeed, that ‘Exuent pursued by bear‘ seemed to be it. And with director Lucy Bailey’s inventive take on the play the schism between the straight jealousy plot and the light interlude of the sheep shearing festival/seaside holiday episode was all the more disjointed by Pearce Quigley‘s show stealing comic turn as the pickpocketing con man (and here also beach entertainer extraordinaire) Autolycus; Bohemia had become Blackpool, but this small time rogue is tellingly the crucial link in the play’s happy ever after resolution.
I loved the whole show and gloried in what I thought was this glorious a-historic anarchic mix; though I’ve still got doubts about the gas holder’s rise, it’s innards were brilliant. I’ve never been convinced by Othello‘s jealousy – oh come on, man, don’t be so bloody stupid – but the passage in Winter’s Tale where Leontes tells the audience of his growing suspicions, delivered here with his wife and brother (innocent, but adulterers in his eyes) bathed in a red spotlight and moving ambiguously in slow motion, was a fine example of the imagination on display in this enervating and entertaining production. The music, scored by Bellowhead’s Jon Boden judiciously and atmospherically helped the action along and was a delight in itself beside the seaside, beside the sea, too. ‘Twas a good night out, well spent.
(From what I read of the programme before I stopped, the production was set in the 1860s, the Pre-Raphaelites and all that – well they painted scenes from Shakespeare in trad costume – so the seaside 1880s (there is a 16 year gap in the action of the play) was yer first generation proletarian holiday makers courtesy of the railways. I think I prefer my jumble.)
As a bonus on the first night in MK, the Stony Steppers clog dance side were performing in the theatre entrance as the audience came in. The marble floor and the atrium acoustics made for a sharp variation to their usual sound. Sad the sight of the lanky Nureyev of the troupe, Shaun Lambley, ankle in plaster in a wheelchair. Get well soon.
The March Scribal Gathering was a belter. Freezing on the walk there, I could swear it was the temperature had risen outside by the time we going home. Warm-up act was three-quarters of the featured band The Screaming House Madrigals – great name, great band – and when just half of them launched into a rousing take on The Civil Wars’ Barton Hollow we had lift-off in the room from there on in. With the addition of a cellist in the bass role the full band’s main self-penned set was a performance of subtle power and rough beauty (not to mention the occasional vice versa), post-Zep folk blues with jazz infusions. Rapunzel-haired charmer Jo Dervish can go from blues shouter to a hint of Billie Holiday in the space of a song’s line; an extraordinary voice, delivery of which is enhanced by an elegant range of hand inflections that could stand on their own as mime.
Featured poet was the immaculately suited Poeterry, who was, as ever, in fine form. Poeterry – “Wycombe’s finest romantic poet” it says on his rrrants page – is a phenomenon, a presence, great fun. Chocolate daddy, The masterpiece … lust and love, so concise: “And I thank you,” as most of his pieces end. High standard of both regular and fresh open mic performers too, except for a rancid reworking of the Bee Gee’s po-faced New York Mining Disaster 1941 (with its ‘Mr Jones’ chorus line) boasting of cuckoldry. Good shout for the choice of a song that deserves a going over, massive shame about the manner of so doing; Billy Paul’s Me and Mrs Jones it was not. Pat Nicholson – beer had been taken – saved the day with his blazing harmonica.
Crossword clues of distinction
Interviewed after he had revealed he had cancer of the oesophagus in one of his regular Guardian crosswords, John Graham aka Araucaria, doyen of the setters, said, “I have a vague picture in my mind of an idealised solver, who is a combination of everybody I’ve loved.” That makes me feel good. Lovely man, lovely interview (click for the link). Here are a few that I’ve appreciated lately from his colleagues:
Clue me three times
- from Pasquale: Merriment authentic in cathedral? It’s without joy! (10)
- Paul: Mountain meat and drink for man at top (5,4)
- Gordius: A pious type, Winston, fit to move the queen (10)
- Picaroon: Shakespearian warrior reportedly gave battle wearing ladies’ lingerie (10)
- from Brendan: Doing crosswords and so on? Not I – I’m a philosopher (6)
- Brendan: Things scheduled apart from hospital, for famous doctor. (6)
- Rufus: Cut, cut hard (5)
- from Paul: Kaleidoscopic expression coming up now certainly – ouch, that’s horrible! (12,4)
- Tramp: Fish catcher? Source of the runs around India (4)
- Crucible: Smell ship’s captain (4)
- as opposed to Paul’s: Reserve suggesting no need for deodorant (4)
Just groan …
- from Araucaria: Having a strong local accent? More or less (7,8)
- Puck: Drinking session to make Scrabble player’s day? Just the opposite. (5,2,3,5)
- Crucible: Some say stain leather in compound (7)
- Orlando: Fussy car rental (4,2,6)
- Pasquale: Defiled building looked over by Indian musician (8)
- and timely from Rufus: Doesn’t include signs of spring (6,3)
You can find answers and workings out under these pictures of an unlikely candidate to appear in our latest seasonal wine box. Had to be a spicy shiraz. Not exactly a ballbreaker, didn’t set me on the highway to hell, certainly not a whole load of rosé, no let there be hock, cue whatever other bad puns to be found in the AC/DC discography. Was OK, pretty tasty actually.
Clue me three times
- from Pasquale: Merriment authentic in cathedral? It’s without joy! (10) Funereally
- Paul: Mountain meat and drink for man at top (5,4) Alpha male
- Gordius: A pious type, Winston, fit to move the queen (10) Churchgoer (Churchill is fit so he’s not ill)
- Picaroon: Shakespearian warrior reportedly gave battle wearing ladies’ lingerie (10) Fortinbras
- from Brendan: Doing crosswords and so on? Not I – I’m a philosopher (6) Hobbes cf Hobbies
- Brendan: Things scheduled apart from hospital, for famous doctor. (6) Watson cf What’s on
- Rufus: Cut, cut hard (5) Sever cf Severe minus the e
- from Paul: Kaleidoscopic expression coming up now certainly – ouch, that’s horrible! (12,4) Technicolour yawn ( it’s an anagram)
- Tramp: Fish catcher? Source of the runs around India (4) Ibis
- Crucible: Smell ship‘s captain (4) Boss
- as opposed to Paul’s: Reserve suggesting no need for deodorant (4) Book ie bo-ok
Just groan …
- from Araucaria: Having a strong local accent? More or less (7,8) Broadly speaking
- Puck: Drinking session to make Scrabble player’s day? Just the opposite. (5,2,3,5) Night on the tiles
- Crucible: Some say stain leather in compound (7) Dioxide (Dye ox hide)
- Orlando: Fussy car rental (4,2,6) Hard to please
- Pasquale: Defiled building looked over by Indian musician (8) Ravished
- and timely from Rufus: Doesn’t include signs of spring (6,3) Leaves out