King Lear – Northern Broadsides

[Northern Broadsides production, Rose Theatre Kingston, 19-23 May 2015]

Shakespeare’s King Lear is one of his most powerful tragedies, with fathers estranged from the children who truly love them and betrayed by those who merely pretended to. At the end of the play the dead outnumber the living and what redemption has been achieved has been painfully and fatally bought.

Northern Broadsides’ production at Kingston’s Rose is plain and unadorned, staged by the director Jonathan Miller as if in a Jacobean court theatre with no scenery, subdued lighting, the minimum of props and with the cast wearing 17th century dress. Continue reading

Each His Own Wilderness – Doris Lessing

Joel MacCormack with Rosie Holden
Joel MacCormack with Rosie Holden

[Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond. 15 April – 16 May 2015]

Myra Bolton leads a hugely complicated life. Her house is littered with books, pamphlets and newspapers, as well as friends, lovers, ex-lovers, would-be lovers, and the lovers of ex-lovers. They all discuss politics “with the passionate intensity others reserve for sex”. She moves from protest march to committee meeting to yet another campaign.

Back into this chaos comes her 22 year old son Tony, returning from two years of National Service. The army gave him the order and stability his life had never had and now all he wants is to be back in his old room in the house that was the only constant part of his childhood. Continue reading

Swimming in the Thames

Over on Kickstarter, the Thames Baths Project is within a whisker of getting its first stage of funding together to build a swimming pool on the Thames. The pool would be a floating pontoon on the river and take water from the river, so one could swim in the Thames right in the middle of Central London. This £125,000 round of funding would help the team behind it apply for planning permission and make the case for it to be built (although that case seems self-evident to me).

Back in the 1930s one could actually swim in the river by Tower Bridge as that was the site of the Tower Foreshore, a beach created as a free amenity for the children of the East End. 1500 barge loads of sand were dumped on the north bank between St Katherine’s steps and the Tower with the beach being officially declared open on 23 July 1934. King George V decreed that it was to be used by the children of London, and that they should be given “free access forever”. Continue reading

Victorian London on Film

The very first moving pictures of London were taken by the cinematographic pioneer William Friese-Green in January 1889. He filmed Apsley Gate near Hyde Park Corner – the first moving picture in the world to use celluloid, but not (quite) the world’s first movie; Louis le Prince had filmed Roundhay Park and Leeds Bridge the previous year.

Friese-Green’s film does not survive, but Yestervid.com have included the oldest-surviving footage (ten frames of Trafalgar Square) from 1890 in their compilation below. It was shot by the splendidly named Wordsworth Donisthorpe on a film camera of his own invention. This was obviously an incredible time for cinematographic pioneers – we’ve already mentioned three inventors with their very different processes and in the US Edison had patented his Kinetograph, to be followed in 1895 by the Lumiere brothers and their Cinématographe. Continue reading

Rosetta Stone

It’s a very dull piece of a granite-like stone, and the stuff that’s carved on it isn’t hugely interesting either – it’s to do with Ptolemy V, the new king of Egypt, granting tax exemptions to the priesthood. It’s not even complete – the top bit has been broken off.

So why is this the most visited object in the British Museum, buffeted by crowds sometimes ten deep, its image featuring in the British Museum shop on everything from headscarves to iPhone covers?

Because this uninspiring bit of stone – a ‘stele’ from 196BC – allowed us to decipher hieroglyphs – to understand a form of writing for the first time in over 1400 years and so unlock the secrets of ancient Egypt.

That’s because there are three scripts on the Rosetta Stone – at the bottom, Greek, the official language of the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt as the were descended from a general of Alexander the Great; demotic, the writing of everyday in Egypt; and hieroglyphs, used by the priests. Continue reading