This was Egypt three weeks ago. Before Egypt I was briefly in India. Anything – oh anything – to get away from Brexit….
Last time I wrote about New Zealand, where all our thoughts flew when we heard of the terrorist attack, and to whose citizens we can only send sympathy, love and admiration for the quiet dignity of their response. I’ve a few more lovely memories of my time there still to share, but for now let’s briefly catch up on travels and events elsewhere.
As regular readers know, a fairly weird range of projects comes my way, including sometimes on ships. This time it was to create theatre workshops reflecting “A Thousand and One Nights”, for passengers on a ship sailing from India to Egypt via the Red Sea. The team was me, Cyphers director Marcus Bazley, and Pallavi Patel, recently Costume Supervisor for the Indian Disney stage musical of “Aladdin”. Pallavi lives in Mumbai (which she and most locals still, by the way call “Bombay”) so we flew there to join her and the ship.
It was frustrating to leave the plane and cross in a single hour by taxi one of the world’s more amazing cities and immediately to set off elsewhere. Swirling traffic, ladies in saris clinging to the backs of men on scooters hurtling past dusty water trucks, amazing Victorian architecture, glimpses of cricket, and of the dazzling inner-city beach at Chowpatty.
We decided to base our workshops on just one of the Arabian Nights stories, the original tale of “Aladdin” as translated by the Victorian polymath Sir Richard Burton. His is a rather different tale from that told to generations of British Christmas pantomime audiences, and indeed from the story as told by Disney. The thing about Richard Burton, apart from sharing a name with a legendary Welsh actor, was that he was a dead ringer for Freddie Mercury…..
The tale of the street urchin and his magic lamp as told by Burton makes lively workshop material – and was complemented on the ship by lectures by the distinguished and irrepressible writer Tahir Shah. Tahir has written over twenty books, including “In Arabian Nights”, which contains the true story of how he survived solitary confinement in a Pakistani jail after his arrest on charges of spying (subsequently dropped). There’s a link to finding out more about the wondrous World of Tahir – adventurer, writer and film-maker – at the end of this post.
On our way to the Red Sea we called in at Oman for coconuts and bananas and marvelled at white, white sand and nodding palms.
The Gulf of Aden is a pirate zone, so for a while extra armed security appeared on board, who slipped away as we sailed north, with the Yemen then Saudi Arabia to our right, to our left the ancient Land of Punt. This, called by the ancient Egyptians the “Land of the Gods”, is modern Djibouti and northern Ethiopia. We sailed by, latter day Sinbads, and with our fellow-passengers re-told the magic lamp story, all of us decked out in Pallavi’s lovely costumes, past lands where ancient conflicts still seethe, and where all-too-present starvation prowls.
All adventures come to an end, and a few hours after land-fall in Egypt (where we met the above camel – called, believe it or not, Sinbad) we were bound for Gatwick – and the next day back to, oh dear, benighted, Brexit-bound Britain.
But hey, for now theatre life in London thrives, and my lovely students from NYU Tisch have been savouring rich fare – work for instance featuring former students from Gower St days – Naomi Frederick in “Agnes Collander” at the Jermyn St Theatre, and Tom Hiddleston in “Betrayal” at the Pinter.
So soon after leaving Egypt it was almost as exotic to go with my Americans to discover the gloriously resurrected theatre at Alexandra Palace, once host to performers like Gracie Fields, Ellen Terry and RADA’s revered founder, Herbert Beerbohm Tree. In amongst the vast spaces of the East Court, the Palm Court, the Skating Rink and beside the world’s oldest television news studio you will find a magnificent performance space.
There we saw a strong “Richard the Third”, co-produced at Bristol and Northampton, on tour to those places and beyond – and soon afterwards caught the version of “Richard the Second” currently at the Wanamaker Playhouse. This all-female company is led by Adjoah Andoh’s fiercely passionate Richard, who the night we were in drew a sour chuckle from the audience on Richard’s assertion that England “…has made a shameful conquest of itself”. No, let’s not mention the “B” word! Let’s reluctantly offer a warning to any of you who haven’t yet visited this playhouse. It’s a magical place, a beautiful creation from original architect’s plans of a 17th century theatre, in which all productions are lit by bees-wax candles.
But you should know that while the seats above the front row of the upper level are attractively inexpensive, the sight-lines are villainous. For much of the time you can only see about a third of the stage, so that we felt we’d experienced much of “Richard 11” more as a radio play, rather than a stage show.
One other special event to mention – Ireland’s currently most charismatic actor Cillian Murphy is giving an extraordinary performance at the Barbican in “Grief is the Thing with Feathers”, a production co-produced by Complicité and Judith Dimant’s new Wayward Productions. If you’re a “Peaky Blinders” fan like me, or if you’ve not yet seen this guy, do go and watch. His character is obsessed with, and becomes occupied by the Crow as personalised in the famous Ted Hughes poem. Weird, brilliant and disturbing.
Now, today is a Significant Day in that it marks the 80th birthday of the most successful British playwright, the writer whose shrewd, wise, witty – and sometimes edgy – comedies have added to the gaiety of our nation (and many others) for six decades. Happy Birthday, Sir Alan Ayckbourn. In Scarborough and across the globe the theatre world salutes!
In September, Sir Alan’s EIGHTY-THIRD play will be produced – called, appropriately enough “Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present”.
Tahir Shah: http://www.tahirshah.com/
Pallavi Patel: https://pallavipatel.com/
Cyphers Theatre Company: https://www.cyphers.org.uk/
P.S. You will have noticed that the pictures in this post are oddly of different sizes. This is because WordPress have introduced a new format and I simply can’t fathom how best to edit and post photos – so if you have any ideas as to how to get this under control – please share via the Comments link. “Tis charity to show…”