I’m about to start several tours for (mainly) Americans who are following in the footsteps of Winston Churchill. We’ll be doing Chartwell, Blenheim, Bletchley Park, the Cabinet War Rooms, and various Winston-related sites in the capital.
I’ve been prepping like mad by reading a whole bunch of biographies and commentaries, some of which are listed below.
There are millions more, and if I read any others I’ll add them to this list. Recommendations from you, dear reader of this blog, are welcome.
And of course, don’t forget Boris Johnson’s biography of Churchill. I say ‘don’t forget’ so that you remember never to buy it or waste your time reading it – “bears about as much relation to a history book as an episode of Doctor Who does to a BBC4 documentary” is one of the politer reviews.
Thanks very much for following the blog this year, and for coming on the virtual tours (and the handful of real life walks) that have been organised. There have been over 8,000 visitors to stuffaboutlondon.co.uk with over 11,000 views – a record year on both counts. It is very much appreciated.
There’ll be more posts in the new year (or perhaps sooner if I get too Scrooge like over Christmas) and for those of you who like lists, here are a couple of lists you might like. The first is of the top (most read) posts on the blog this year and the second the top five new posts. Cue ‘Pick of the Pops’ theme music:
I’m in serious danger of becoming a fanboy for Matthew Bourne’s ‘New Adventures’ company. Their ‘Sleeping Beauty’ was a beautifully realised, beautifully danced reimagining of the classic ballet, and their ‘Swan Lake’, with its all-male ensemble of swans, is rightly famous. The company now gives us their take on Powell and Pressburger’s 1948 film ‘The Red Shoes’, which is considered one of the greatest-ever British movies.
Young ballerina Victoria Page joins Boris Lermontov’s company at the same time as aspiring composer Julian Craster. They both succeed and she becomes principal ballerina in Craster’s ballet ‘The Red Shoes’, their artistic triumph mirrored by their falling in love. Continue reading “Review – Matthew Bourne’s ‘The Red Shoes’”
This review from Essentially Surrey is from September 2019 and the production at Clapham Omnibus.
Angela Marray gives a bravura performance in Frank McGuiness’s emotionally charged study of pain and loss. Don Brown sees The Match Box at Clapham’s Omnibus Theatre.
Sal is living on a small island off the coast of Kerry. She is physically isolated – she’s left her English home and friends to live in the place from where her Irish parents emigrated. She endures (or has constructed) emotional isolation, removed from the lives of her cousins, aunts and uncles.
Over the 100 minutes of the play, we unpick the layers of Sal’s secret, as the story turns through loss, grief, absence and revenge to a catharsis of sorts, as Sal acknowledges her deep emotional pain caused by the shocking death of her 12-year-old daughter.
Compulsively lighting matches, Sal reflects on how we don’t know how long each match will burn. Each has “its own time to flare… its own span of life”, and in the first half of the play, this seems an obvious metaphor for the life of her child. But as Sal’s story progresses this burning hints at something altogether less metaphorical: “ I’m the smell of sulphur or brimstone…come near me and I will burn you.”
Frank McGuiness’s play is a gruelling study of how we deal with extreme grief and loss, of a woman who has “a hole where my heart was”. It’s a one-woman show, with Sal (Angela Marray) talking directly to the audience throughout, occasionally inhabiting other characters in Sal’s life – her mother, father, friends and acquaintances.
Marray captures the emotions of Sal wonderfully, with an expressive face and physicality, taking us further into Sal’s suffering. Occasionally the words that are spoken don’t seem to belong to Sal, but I think this is an issue with the play itself – at times it seems more like a short story to be read rather than a play to be performed.
This review is from Essentially Surrey in September 2018 and is about the Clapham Omnibus production.
Lorca’s 1932 tragedy has been reimagined in an exceptional new production at the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham. The original’s themes of fated love, vendetta and passion have been overlaid with the concerns of contemporary London – the experience of immigrant communities, of maintaining one’s cultural identity in a foreign city, and the ways in which wealth and poverty exist side by side in the 21st century capital.
This staging also brings in elements of physical theatre and music, particularly at the start of the second half, when the conventional characters are replaced by sundry ‘Greek choruses’ of street sweepers, a bag lady and the moon – the ever-present but unnoticed of the city, who see all.
The tragedy is prefigured from the opening dialogue between the Mother (Maria de Lima – an incredible performance throughout) and Son (Federico Trujillo). The mother saw her husband murdered and, decades later, is still consumed with grief, keeping herself apart and forever cleaning her house, as if she could wash away the memory of the murder.
The son is anglicised, born in London to Spanish immigrant parents, running a successful restaurant and engaged to the daughter of a shopkeeper. Her former lover is Leo (who is from the same family as the murderer of the Son’s father), who married on the rebound and now feels trapped by his marriage and his shortness of money.
The unresolved passion between the fiancée (Rachael Ofori) and Leo (Ash Rizi), is what destroys the wedding day and brings the play to its tragic conclusion. But although the story is one of death and pain, the play is shot through with humour and there are great performances from a universally excellent cast.
Konstantin wants to be a writer, but his work is ridiculed by his mother Irina, a famous actress. Irina (Lesley Sharp) is in love with Boris (Nicholas Gleaves, Sharp’s real-life husband), who is a famous and successful writer, who becomes infatuated with Nina, a local girl who wants to be a famous actress; Irina is jealous of both that relationship and Nina’s youth. Konstantin is in love with Nina, so is jealous of Boris. Running parallel to this, Pauline, the wife of the estate manager, is having an affair with Hugo, the local doctor, while Pauline’s daughter Marcia loves Konstantin, but marries Simeon, a schoolteacher, as she knows Konstantin will never love her.
It sounds like the plot of a farce, but Chekhov’s play is a tragicomedy, following these destructive relationships through the seasons, from the optimism and promise of spring to winter’s cold and bitter conclusion – suicide, betrayal, adultery, madness and failure. As we follow the characters on this journey we hear them meditate on the nature of art and of theatre, and on modern concerns of fame and celebrity. Continue reading “The Seagull”
This review dates from April 2017 and is the Clapham Omnibus production. It first appeared on the Essential Surrey website.
April runs a guesthouse on the site of an old WW1 field hospital, catering to the ‘war tourists’ visiting the battlefields and graveyards of the western Front.
Despite it being the start of the season, she has only two guests – Pam, who has spent all her adult life living with and caring for her mother, and Tom, a former military man who runs battlefield tours and sells souvenir tat (“we went to Ypres and all I got was this lousy mug”). In this new play by Victoria Willing, we watch the three bicker and quarrel as they await the arrival of other guests and the return of April’s son. As the evening progresses, the atmosphere turns poisonous and we learn more about the motivations, the secrets and the histories of the protagonists. Continue reading “Spring Offensive”
This review dates from November 2016 and refers to the Glyndebourne Company’s production at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking. It first appeared on the Essential Surrey website.
Tickets for the summer season at Glyndebourne sell out remarkably swiftly, so the opportunity to see the Glyndebourne company on tour is not one to be missed. Last night’s performance of Don Giovanni at Woking’s New Victoria theatre did not disappoint, with a strong orchestra conducted by Pablo Gonzalez, wonderful singing – particularly in the ensemble pieces – and a striking and ingenious staging.
Mozart’s anti-hero is a man with no moral scruple, his catalogue of sexual conquests numbering thousands, and the women he can’t seduce he takes by force. The opera opens with his attempted rape of the noblewoman Donna Anna, whose screams alert her father the Commendatore, whom Giovanni murders – in this production most brutally, battering him to death.
Giovanni and his servant Leporello (a fine performance from Brandon Cedel) flee into the night, leaving Anna (sublimely sung by Ana Maria Labin) and her fiancé Ottavio swearing vengeance on the murderer. The Commendatore will be Giovanni’s nemesis. Continue reading “Don Giovanni”
This review dates from October 2016. The production was seen at the Richmond Theatre.
A Room With a View is a visually interesting, but wordy and emotionally unengaging adaptation of the E M Forster novel.
Lucy Honeychurch – a young middle-class Edwardian woman – is visiting Florence with her older, spinster cousin Charlotte Bartlett as chaperone. There are suffragettes on the streets of London, but ‘ladies’ are still expected to follow the Victorian rules surrounding ‘class’, social status and polite behaviour.
In their pensione Lucy and Charlotte meet George Emerson and his father – socialists and humanists, with radical ideas about religion, sexual equality and life. The snobbish Charlotte rebuffs the approaches of the lower middle class Emersons, but Lucy falls for George and, on a day trip to the Tuscan countryside, kisses him. Charlotte is mortified and whisks Lucy away from Florence.
“Extravaganza Macabre” by Little Bulb Theatre at Battersea Arts Centre, is tremendous fun from start to finish, a knowing comedy from a talented cast that mixes music and melodrama and some great jokes and sight gags.
Devised to initiate BAC’s new open-air Courtyard Theatre, the production makes great use of the limited space, the energetic performers appearing and disappearing from all possible entrances around, above and below the performance area.
The setting is that we in the audience are present for a Victorian theatre company’s performance of the melodrama ‘Extravaganza Macabre’, the tale of lovers Ernest and Elizabeth, separated on their wedding day in tragic circumstances, and how, aided by a clairvoyant maid, a chipper cockney orphan boy (called ‘Chipper’) and his dog (called ‘dogdog’, “because he’s a dog”), they overcome the murderous Lord London to be reunited. Continue reading “Extravanganza Macabre”