Down on the river, the swans dance. Springtime sunshine triggers the foreplay ritual: together in pairs, they sway their long necks, curling and uncurling to dip their heads into the water in rhythm – it’s a strange event, but clearly effective – this stretch of the Thames swarms with swan families, nay, clans, proudly and elegantly fecund! The rustle of spring is upon us – on Good Friday I biked the towpath to Ham House, saluted Neptune’s statue, took the ferry across the water and pedalled back along the far bank, taking in the glory of Orleans house, the pretty Twickenham church, and the bridge to Eel Pie island where more than half a century ago the Rolling Stones mixed rhythm with blues. And I found a theatre by the river, where the Richmond Shakespeare Society is offering “Henry IV” – both parts! (Link to production news below)
So the world turns. Above the equator, to the north and west the sun shines on restless wildlife, on bike-rides and picnics, and to the east on merciless slaughter of innocent people, in a war it seems supported by over 80 per cent of Russians. And in Africa a daughter of immigrants into Britain signs a deal with a dodgy dictator, to whom she promises millions of British pounds in return for an offer to take in hundreds of immigrants diverted from Britain….
However – even as the Ukraine tragedy unfolds, as shameless, thick-skinned posturing persists in Whitehall, and despite the lingering, uneasy Covid count – our theatres have stumbled back onto their feet. This week to the Bridge, to witness “Straight Line Crazy” – a play by David Hare about buildings, planning, people and traffic in New York, with lots of impressive acting from Ralph Fiennes, backed up equally impressively by Danny Webb and Siobhán Cullen. Ralph Fiennes is currently at the height of his powers, and is now undoubtedly a Great Actor for our times. I loved his recital of T.S. Elliot’s “Four Quartets” recently at the Harold Pinter Theatre, and at the Bridge his sheer physical presence and magisterial vocal command are quite wonderful – although for my money the play itself wobbled somewhat under pressure…
Over at the Old Vic, we find another extraordinary actor, Bertie Carvel, also bringing amazing skill to a not-quite-there-yet text. He gives a wondrous study of Donald Trump in Mike Bartlett’s “The 47th”. Bertie tells me the production process was accelerated by the Old Vic unexpectedly becoming available, and one has to say that the play, while witty and full of shrewd commentary on a post (or perhaps not post) Trumpian world, and currently needs another draft or two to tidy it up, is well worth a visit if you’re in London. There’s also smashing work in support here, from James Garnon – like Bertie, another grad from my RADA days – as Ted Cruz, and from Tamara Tunie as Kamala Harris.
This is a shifting, uncertain Spring, wherever you look – I hear of friends forking out fortunes to get home from holidays in Europe because of cancelled flights and trains, and of colleagues in Shanghai once more completely locked down because of massive Covid resurgence. And all quite apart from the horrors of a not-so-distant war and echoes of 1960s nuclear threats.In such times comedy will sour and darken – for instance, people are re-discovering the long retired, ninety-five-year old Professor Tom Lehrer’s bleak, razor-sharp cold war wit. There’s a link below to his most apposite song, which should be forwarded to the Kremlin, if anyone knows how. Disjointed, unsettling events appear – I just read that John Darwin, the husband in the true story behind “The Thief, his Wife and the Canoe” currently on ITV, is reported to have taken himself off to fight in Ukraine, at the age of 71 – but maybe in every generation there’s a place for tales of a Don Quixote, or a Walter Mitty. Some events lose their comic potential quite quickly – trouser dropping and gross champagne-swilling in high places are perhaps too familiar, too recent, to generate even the most rueful chuckle. However, as referred to in an earlier post I recently took part in a new short film called “the Contract” by two bright young writer-producers Harry Davies and Adam Howe, which boldly goes into just that territory, and will soon be available on Amazon – watch this space.
Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed in the above paragraph no fewer than two shameless plugs for my own fitful, minor excursions back into the limelight as an actor. Please don’t rush to watch the ITV “Canoe” story expecting to see anything other than very brief, wordless appearances from Carrie Cohen and me as Anne Darwin’s distressed parents – but please watch it because of the superb lead performances from Monica Dolan and Eddie Marsan, and fine writing and directing by Chris Lang and Richard Laxton respectively. If you missed it this week, it’s on the ITV hub, just click below
I am aware that many of you will include varying degrees of travel annoyance in your memories of Easter 2022, and I have been smugly savouring my good fortune in living in a pleasant, historic place which people strive to visit, and thus I have to travel only short distances to enjoy London and its attendant glories like Ham House, like Hampton Court, like Kew Gardens.
And even driving to further London parts isn’t that much of a problem, providing you’re canny about the Clean Air and Congestion charges – or at least that’s what I fondly thought until this week… But then I experienced the growing plague of “rat-run” signs. They look a bit like this:
They’re quite small, and quietly pop up on through-routes in residential areas, routes you might have been using for years, and thus not think to look out for them. And they carry underneath, in quite small print, warnings on the lines of “Buses and cycles only. Cars not allowed 7am to 7pm”. A carer friend has recently been clobbered four times in as many days while visiting a disabled client, simply because the route she has taken for decades suddenly sprouted these warnings and she hadn’t noticed them – and it’s a minimum fine of £65 a time, delivered smartly to your letterbox .. My sat-nav is struggling to cope. I drove to visit friends in Islington yesterday, Easter Sunday, and was repeatedly exhorted by my phone’s Google Maps lady to “Make a U-turn”…”Eh?” says I “I’ve come this way for years, whatever is the matter…?” And then I started to see the little round signs…Beware, my friends, oh beware…
Fortunately a short bus-ride from where I live is, as mentioned, one of the undoubted wonders of the post-Victorian world – Kew Gardens. I confess I haven’t visited there for years, but on Saturday my friend Jo – who’s a member there – and I enjoyed a glorious wander and picnic, amongst the lakes and the blooms and the birds. Oh, and the bees….
The Hive at Kew Gardens is a most extraordinary installation, which allows you to tune in, via an electronic link, to the sounds and vibrations shared by the inhabitants of a nearby working beehive, expressed through flickering lights and vibrating tones in the Key of C – the key in which honey bees buzz. I bet you didn’t know that. I certainly didn’t. Neither did I know that bees recognise a particular vibration which triggers what the information plaque calls “their famous waggle dance”.
So this post starts with the Dance of the Courting Swans and concludes with the Waggle of the Dancing Bees…
The Richmond Shakespeare Society at the Mary Wallace Theatre Twickenham
“The Thief His Wife and the Canoe”
and finally – and I mean finally….