Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

Sleeping Beauty

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

This is an image from the pre-tour publicity for Matthew Bourne’s new ballet, Sleeping Beauty (not, note, The Sleeping Beauty, as you are required to say of the ‘real’ ballets – tosh and poppycock).

I have never embraced the vampiric literature and film genres that have swept and appear to still be sweeping the nation, but I read that this new ballet will feature vampires amongst other creatures.

The way Matthew Bourne treats ballet just amazes and delights me.  The vision and theatre, the daring and sheer energy – just stunning.  His Cinderella is still the best ballet I have ever seen, traditional or modern.

I am beyond excited to be going to see this when it is released.  And just look at the pictures! Imagine the knitting design inspiration this will yield!

Ibsen; and a visit to that London

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

File:Fruen fra havet by A. Golovin 01.jpg

I’ve just got back from 3 days in London.  It’s a great place, that London, I had forgotten how much I like it.  I think I stopped loving it sometime in the last 3 or 4 years of my so-called career with the outfit I used to work for in the linen cupboard, because I grew to associate going to London with being tortured by amazingly clever change-managers.  By the way, I do wish I was an amazingly clever change-manager, as an aside from the main point of this post which is still Ibsen.  It looks easy, being amazingly clever at change-management, they make it look easy but of course, it’s really very difficult.  It’s more difficult than, say, knitting in the round, or even more difficult than getting roast pork to be at the same time moist and not deadly.  In the case of our change managers (who weren’t real change-managers at all, because that is a special skill, but ours were people doing their ‘real’ jobs and imagining they didn’t need to hire in any experts.  Rooky error), they so nearly had it right, except that repeatedly, they’d find at the last minute of the last hour of the financial year-end, that a shed-load of money had gone missing down the back of the corporate sofa, as it were.  That’s unlucky.  Especially if you’re, for example, a financial accounting and management expert type organisation…but what do I know, other than how to knit in the round?  The roast pork thing still evades me.

So for a long time, boarding the London-Town train made me feel a bit sick. And grumpy.  However, I side-stepped this last week when I went to stay in (no, near) London with a friend – who whipped up an amazing little holiday for me, packed with treats and trips of the sort she knows I love the best – and I only felt very happy to be back in London.  One of these was a visit to the theatre, to see an Ibsen play called The lady From the Sea.  You lot probably know all about this famous playwright, but other than having heard of him, I didn’t.  I therefore decided not to research the play via the interweaves, but instead to just go and let it happen.  However, I expected it to be dark, difficult even and maybe not that up-lifting.  Wrong.  Again.  It was fantastic.  Funny, surprisingly modern in its clever themes, very over-wrought in places but of course, the more over-wrought the better as far as fiction goes for me.  (Not real-life though.  No, real-life has to be more serene and quiet, no sobbing, of which there was masses in the play).  So, I once again come to this party very late.  Now I want to see all his plays.  The cast for this was superb, starring Joely Richardson who was really excellent.  The Standard gave it 3 stars, but I disagree – being a renowned theatre critic, I am sure this is going to devastate them – and I’d have given it at least 4. 

I also visited the luschious knitting shop in Islington, Loop that’s been on my wish-list for ages and I bought a big hank of wool, silk and cashmere blend to make some cuffs and a matching neck-warmer.  And we managed a visit to the Hockney exhibition which was a) stunning and b) packed like salt-herrings in a barrel despite the timed ticket system.  How I wish I could just spend an hour thinking and seeing like he does.

Bit of a set-back on the way home, if by set-back you mean I got on the wrong train.  Seasoned traveller that I am.  This is why I rarely leave the shire.  I was at Reading, and waiting for my last train home, but possibly because I was also listening to a very weird audible book called 1Q84 – more another time if I can unravel it – I just wandered onto the very next train that arrived.  It looked just like the one I was expecting.  That is to say blue and with First Great Western written on the side.  The very worst bit is that I had a seat reservation and so I made my way along to Seat 49A, Coach C only to find it occupied by A Man.  Now I am very short-sighted and yet annoyingly I can’t walk about safely in my glasses, so though I could see his seat had a reserved ticket I couldn’t read it.  However, we compared our reservations – we both had Seat 49A, Coach C!

Well, (I said) oh dear, do you know, this is the 3rd time in the last month that FGW has muddled up my seat reservations?  and he said oh well, look, I’ll move.  And I (thank God) said oh no please don’t move, look, there are masses of unreserved seats, I’ll sit here (quite near to where I ought to have been).  And we exchanged a few friendly words in which we agreed about FGW’s seat reservation department, but mild words, not hot-criticism.  We smiled and shook our heads, not in anger but disappointment.  Oh, poor blameless FGW! I am so sorry.  And then I got out my knitting and carried on with my mobius loop and 1Q84.  Only after some time had passed and I inadvertently heard the train manager’s announcement about where the train was going, did I start to wonder.  Then I vaulted into the corridor and in the teeth of the howling gales that always infest the corridors between carriages, I interrogated my iPhone and rang Mark to break it to him that I wasn’t going to be in Taunton any time soon. 

You know that slowly-spreading hot feeling of mild panic, when An Incident is brewing, or A Mistake beocmes apparant?  Then it grows into moderate-to-acute panic and finally you’re bathed in beads of sweat?  That was me, not because I was on the wrong train though that was bad enough, but because of The Man In ‘My’ Seat.  I had somehow to get my mountain of luggage away from there without arousing his suspicion.  His well-founded suspicion that I am an air-headed idiot who dreams her way about 80% of the time and really, truly ought not to be out alone.  In the end, I just brazenly grabbed my stuff and sprinted to another carriage, with The Man only watching me with a faintly puzzled expression as I volleyed off the seats, my arms full of knitting and bags. 

Then, I located the Train Manager and his colleague and Help-Meet, The Restaurant Car Man.  Restaurant Car Man was very sweet and went and got Train Manager from First Class where he was attending to something.  I just explained, in a very dignified way, that I had inexplicably boarded the wrong train and they kindly agreed that this was so easy to do as all the trains look the same.  Then I asked about the best way to get back home (this is starting to remind me of the Wizard of Oz, sorry) and TM said:  if you like, you can come with us at X station  and if your husband can get to X instead of Taunton, and we will make sure you get the right one.  And do not worry about your ticket, that is fine, just a mistake.  This is why I am not going to name the stations we went to, in case they were supposed to make me take out a mortgage there and then to secure a new ticket.  And RCM made me a coffee.  Because I was by then not afraid anymore, only a bit shaky.  He was only sorry that all he had left was instant, no fresh that having all been sold.  Oh, weren’t they sweet?  They did get me off at the right place and on the next train, and there we parted but I will never forget their kindness.  I fear that as I seem to get only older and yet not wiser, I will increasingly have to rely upon the kindness of strangers…

Gershwin and the ballet

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Last night we went to see English National Ballet dance Strictly Gershwin.  Really, with that music, a fabulous band – on stage – and some gorgeous dresses, you can’t go wrong.

 The best part, without a doubt, was the orchestra, seen above behind the dancers and led by the most energetic conductor I have ever seen.  He had his own little dance routines! 

It was a bit disjointed, with neither the sense of  ‘story’ that you get in a conventional ballet – even if, as with Matthew Bourne, it’s unconventionally staged – or the sense of an entirely un-linked series of 3 short ballets, as often staged by the Birmingham Royal Ballet.  There was also 4 vocalists, who were not bad and 1 of the women had a lovely second-soprano voice; and, though it seemed bizarre at first, we had 2 tap dancers 1 of whom also sang, very well, ‘A Foggy Day’, which I did not know was Gershwin! But then, when you think of Hollywood musicals and Fred and Ginger, you can’t leave out tap dancing, can you?  It was better once they took off the silver and black striped jackets and just danced in the matching waistcoats, shirts, ties and trousers.  It was still murmuring: marrow;  or maybe humbug, but it was better.  

I felt, here and there, as if they had assessed the chief touring company opposition (New Adventures, I’d have thought) and gone:  OK, Matthew does awfully well with kitsch, gay and quirky, let’s try that!  But they didn’t abandon en pointe, as he does, or quite ‘let go’.  Which is fine, they aren’t Matthew Bourne, they are ENB and they’re fab.  The only time I have seen real elegance teamed with abandon, doom and grit, is in Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella and you’d have to go a long way to top that.

Both acts flew by and you did lose yourself, lots of handbags were tapped and toes politely wiggled.  No-one is going to book this under the illusion that it will be testing or dark.  It was light, sparkly, frothy and fun.  I call that a good Valentine’s night out.

And next time I go to the theatre it will be to see The King’s Speech in Bath next week;  and after that it’s Spamalot, I think!


Monday, November 21st, 2011

First up:  ‘Nutcracker!’

It was good – very good in fact.  It was also very exciting that Matthew Bourne himself (praise be to Matthew) was there.  This chap just wandered onto the stage before it started looking as if he was going to ask to turn off our phones, and said:  hello, my name is Matthew Bourne…to which the entire audience made a collective and involuntary ‘ooooo’ noise, a cross between sharply sucked in breath and a proper coo.  Anyway, he was there to introduce a ‘curtain raiser’ in which a group of local school children who had been rehearsed with his leading dancers for some weeks, did a short dance as a ‘starter’, really.  Very moving it was too.

Then they served up the main ballet, which I did love.  However… it wasn’t quite as amazing as Cinderella.  I really wish Mark had seen that first, as I did.  Nonetheless, we really enjoyed it, it was dark (ish), funny and very clever.  Now, I am going to make a statement that I never expected to make:  it was slightly too pink.  I know!  I adore pink as you know and normally, anything pink makes me happy – and it did, don’t let’s over-react.  But oh my, there was an awful lot of pink, mainly hot pink, again, my preferred end of the pink spectrum, and in the end, it was just a tad too much.  Meh.

The Millenium Cntre is an amazing building, really beautiful:

Breathtaking, inside and out, with sweeping stairs and masses of open space giving the feeling of being on a huge liner, or in a very modern ball-room.  The theatre space itself is impressive and the acoustics (though no live orchestra of course so not able to judge that) and the overall vision of the stage were superb.  We had front row seats on the first balcony.  As we sat down I felt the stage was going to be much too far away – I am used to the Bristol Hippodrome, you see.  But in fact, once the lights were down and the curtain was up, it was fine. 

I did feel a little frisson, just a whiff, of ‘Colston Hall’ as we  went into the auditorium…Colston Hall is a venue in Bristol that, despite the recent foyer face-lift remains, for me, one of the deadliest venues ever.  Think sixth form college lecture theatre…I rarely go there anymore because the atmosphere is almost non-existent in the performing space and the wooden seats plus an odd, jumbled lay-out really detract from the performances, I think.  The ‘stalls’ (completely flat with movable seating so quite impossible to see the stage if anyone even vaguely normal in size sits in front of you) is even worse than the upper levels which are better.  And yet we have seen some lovely shows there, it’s such a shame.  I always feel the performers must have to make an even greater effort to overcome the setting.  Incidentally, having seen bands, solo performers, choral works and full orchestras there, the latter works best because although I couldn’t see the solo violinist or the conductor, it matters less with things like that. 

Inside the Millennium Centre auditorium, there is a lot of wood.  A forest (I assume sustainably grown!) of trees must have been used to clad the place, which therefore murmurs ‘sauna…?’ as you walk in.  And it makes it feel slightly chilly, not literally.  However, it just works.  Very comfy, Mark’s legs were able to stretch out, no loo-queues, no blasts of hot and then cold air.  And, the car-park was right next door and Nandos was 500 meters away.  Sweet!

Next my review – more of a ponder, really – of our next book club read.  It’s The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. 

The Alchemist - 10th Anniversary Edition

Yes, I am still in the book club though I have missed the last 2 meetings due to a mixture of work and not reading one of the books because it was set in a concentration camp.  The Alchemist is certainly not a book I’d a) ever heard of, yet I now realise it is famous, apparently;  and b) ever have read, voluntarily.  It is described as ‘inspirational’ and ‘life-changing’.  In fact 2 friends to whom I mentioned it both said:  this book changed my life.  Wow.  OK.  I’d better read it too!

It is a short story about a boy who dreams of finding his ‘treasure’ and follows his heart and his destiny to find it.  Along the way, he meets with strangers and teachers, robbers and warriors, love and loss.   And chiefly, the alchemist.  His ‘treasure’ which I assumed all along would be symbolic, for, say, love is in fact actual treasure– a chest of Spanish gold, though he does also find love – in the desert.  It’s an atmospheric little book, quite evocative of the places he visits and it is sweetly and childishly written making it feel very open and easy.  The translation is rather American.

In fact, sadly, I just don’t think I get it.  Maybe it is less open and easy than I thought.  Maybe it is because I can’t accept it as just so simple.  I think I could accept it as a simple allegorical tale, were it not for the fact that 2 people I know and respect told me that it changed their lives.  I have read it through, it’s very short and took about 3 hours to read from cover to cover with a further hour of back-tracking to make sure I hadn’t missed something.  It’s quite a gentle and sweet fable, really, or fairy story.  I do get that it is supposed to be illustrative rather than ‘real’.  I think I understand that its stages – his journey – represent  breaching personal barriers and having the courage to follow a dream.  I just have an uneasy ’emperor’s new clothes’ feeling about it all.  I did enjoy it more than I expected to, having read the preface.  I was really turned off by the book’s obsession, throughout, with money, gold and treasure.  It is very focused on the acquisition of wealth.  This may be an extended metaphore, but the fact that he does, in the end, dig up a chest of gold before going back to claim his love, makes me doubt it.

All that aside, I have almost never read any ‘self-help’ or self discovery books, though I do like books about running, for example, so maybe it depends on being very personally bound up in the things the author is exploring.  Finding my inner goddess, exploring my higher earth-mother-self, letting the child within me have a play in the park of my unconscious psyche – none of these appeal.  The Alchemist, however, isn’t really like that.  It’s much more simple.  It doesn’t ask anything, there are no ‘excercises’ or tasks or lists.  It seems too simple.  Which is why I feel as if I might be the only one who thinks:  how can this change your life?  Maybe I’ll read it again.

This led me to think if any books had changed my life.  Well, Anne of Green Gables did because it taught me that my love of puffed sleeves and dislike of my own freckles were normal and also, even more importantly, it taught me that books are a magical gateway to other worlds and with a book in your hand, you can escape your earthly life and fly.  Oh my, that was rather Alchemistic!  Sorry.  Many books and poems have had a powerful impact on me and may even have caused me to make changes – but I do not think one has changed my whole life, no.  Apart from anything else, what a responsibility for the author.

If you have read it, I’d be interested in what you think.  And, if there are any books that have changed your life – what are they?  and why?  I’m assuming it won’t be a book about making perfect pasta or how to grow straight carrots, but if that is your Alchemist, why not?  Go for it!