We’re in June, we’ve left May behind – well almost – is that her, not waving but drowning?
June the first found me blogging above the clouds above Iceland, and now I’m at sea, approaching the coast of Mexico. I’m on one of those unfair, stressful jobs that sometimes come my way, running acting workshops on a rather lovely ship in a rather lovely place – so for the June 8 event I voted postally. And I’m delighted to report that Walthamstow had the good sense to award our excellent sitting MP Stella Creasy an extra ten thousand votes more than at the last election. So if Jeremy really wants to bring some meaningful unity to his newly emboldened party then he must muster the likes of Stella – a sane, intelligent and mature thinker, commanding respect across the local spectrum – into his front ranks.
Anyway, while in the air en route to catch up with the ship, I attempted to catch up April and May jottings:
Thanks to an item in Stella Creasy’s newsletter, I caught a glimpse into London’s cultural past. Did you know that in the early years of the last century east London had its own version of Hollywood, with two busy film studios around Wood St, Walthamstow? We’ve now have two new plaques on the sites, unveiled by Paul McGann. After the ceremony we all trouped down to the Duke’s Head, where the early directors recruited their extras. “Anyone sober enough to earn sixpence?’
Back in April I went to Stratford on Avon to help celebrate Will Shakespeare’s 253rd birthday, which this year fell on a Sunday, so most of the events were on Saturday. My pal Charlie and I started the day with buck’s fizz and buns in the circle bar at the theatre, and a birthday breakfast toast. We then escaped into bright sunlight and joined the crowds lining up for the Birthday Parade.
It’s all very jolly and colourful, with bands and banners, folk in Elizabethan fancy dress, mayors and civic dignitaries in even fancier dress, and parties of Shakespeare lovers from all over the world. There are lots of flowers, which are paraded through the streets to Holy Trinity Church to be laid on and around Will’s tomb. Then people disperse, some to picnic on the river-bank, some to sup ale in the many pubs, others this year to boats to carry them upstream to the Crowne Plaza Hotel and the Shakespeare Birthday Lunch.
Collective noun for civic dignitaries? A float of mayors?
Two mutual pals, Jay and Paul Norris, tireless globe-trotters both, had chosen to celebrate settling into their new Warwickshire base by very generously hosting a table at the said Lunch, and had kindly invited Charlie T and me. It’s a prestigious affair, with more toasts and talks, and this year a special lifetime achievement award to Sir Anthony Sher. Our table was not without distinction, it must be noted, the party including highly-regarded teachers and writers, an actor or two, and a retired Senior Mariner – Bernard Warner, formerly the Cunard Commodore. Bernard, his wife Tina and I reminisced about former days on the ocean wave, when my companies of RADA actors whiled away the Queen Mary 2’s passengers’ sea-miles with plays, poetry and the odd game of Call My Bluff.
On Sunday to yet another Special Lunch, in honour of – wait for it, a delegation from China…suddenly there was I once again in a chorus of Mandarin chatter, cameras clicking selfies and v-signs, New Year in Soho all over again…The Chinese City of Fouzhou has commissioned and presented to the Stratford Shakespeare Birthplace Trust a fine bronze sculpture depicting Shakespeare and his Chinese contemporary, Tang Xianzu. So to the clicking of cameras the sculpture was unveiled by the eminent Shakespearian scholar Professor Sir Stanley Wells.
(By the way, there is a nice link with this blog’s previous entry, as Sir Stanley is a product of Hull, and indeed like Townsend and me, a graduate of that city’s Kingston High School. We Old Kingstonians now proudly include in our number two knights theatrical, Sir Stanley Wells and Sir Tom Courtenay)
Back in London, I saw a play or two. What are we going to do about the current wave of Intrusive Directors? I have been asked to record that Emma Rice’s decision to quit next year as Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe was her own, not that of the theatre’s board. I have no further comment, other than to say that my latest Bankside experience was wearisome. The current “Romeo and Juliet” is infected with every “avant garde” cliché of the last sixty years – meaningless charades of characters dressed as clowns, scenes of pointless prancing to pop music, etc, etc No sign of the story, no chance for actors just to do their job. (And this hapless cast included at least one fine actor from my RADA days, Edward Hogg, utterly wasted as Romeo.)
In front of me sat a young girl with her mum and dad. She had clearly been told she was coming to see a famous, glorious love-story. I’ve never seen on a young face such growing bewilderment and dismay, gradually slipping into misery. When the huge loudspeakers above the stage started to pump out the Village People’s “YMCA” at the opening of the ball scene I could take no more. Can these directors not realise that this sort of stuff isn’t innovation, it’s old hat! These devices were explored years and years ago by much cleverer directors, who sometimes back in the sixties did indeed bring some welcome illumination, along with charm and wit, so lacking in this bleak Bankside event.
If we ever get a government again in this country, I will urge legislation to require – on pain of exile – the likes of Mr Kramer (who inflicted on us this R & J) and other “innovators” like Mr Van Hoe – to sit quietly in the Apollo Theatre and observe how little obvious direction there is to witness in Trevor Nunn’s exemplary production of Terence Rattigan’s “Love in Idleness”. And to note how the audience is allowed to enjoy a brilliant piece of theatrical storytelling delivered with meticulous acting, supported by beautifully crafted blocking, pacing, use of carefully chosen period props, etc – all of which serve the text and don’t distract from it, by screaming “Look at me, I’m a director! Look, look – I’m bringing on an actor dressed as a big teddy bear! Look at me I’m making an actor vomit blood over an actress….”
If you can, try and catch “Love in Idleness”. It’s a real treat, and has Eve Best on top form – what else needs to be said?
Photo: Catherine Ashmore
Breathe, Jones… there is a world elsewhere. Indeed there is, and a part I’d never been to is Hawaii, where I spent a couple of days waiting for the ship. The biggest of the islands is dominated by the world’s most active volcano, although life-threatening major eruptions are quite rare. The volcanic fabric of the countryside creates amazing colour-splashed gardens, and lovely black sand beaches. It’s a far cry from the reservoirs of Walthamstow, and that poor bewildered lady, sitting in dismay in Downing St, her broken toys strewn across the carpet. Maybe by the time I get home, she will have withdrawn from the field. Maybe we’ll see Boris, the white knight on a crippled horse – or a broken bicycle – riding to the nation’s rescue…Maybe ….
The crater at Kona Hawaii, volcanic garden, Old Kona Airport, and the Richardson Beach Park, Hilo Hawaii
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