Much ado in July & August

The advent of the August Bank Holiday in the UK heralds many things. Holiday-makers return home sporting skin ranging from gently flushed to glowing bronze to fire-engine red. School starts again albeit in fits and starts depending on where you are and how much you pay. And the British Summer ends, folding its wings away to let September take flight.

I missed my July out and about update, overtaken as I was by my birthday-ing in Geneva at the start of August. As sharing July’s gadding about is well overdue, this post will bring you a double dose.

Let’s start with a Gidday First.

I had my first open air theatre experience at Morden Hall Park seeing a performance of Much Ado About Nothing. A beautiful summer day had segued into a lovely evening as we shared a picnic supper, made our way through a bottle of wine and watched a full male cast give their multiple roles and catchy ditties a hefty dose of ribald fun. It was full of hilarious moments and I felt that this was how Shakespeare was meant to be performed, to an appreciative audience in the open air without all the smoke and mirrors of modern theatre. I absolutely loved it.

Staying with the Bard, I also saw a live screening of Kenneth Branagh’s staging of Romeo and Juliet starring Lily James (you may remember her as Lady Rose from Downton Abbey). It was my first experience of the stage version versus reading the play/story or seeing it on film – interestingly Branagh’s interpretation had a black and white cinematic quality (nothing to do with being a live screening!) lending the story a 1950s feel. Lily James was an extraordinary Juliet and simply outshone the rest of the cast but for all that, I was reminded why the play, with all of its melodrama and outpourings of eternal love, was never my favourite.

Speaking of favourites, the return of the fabulous Paco Pena to Sadlers Wells with Patrias was quite different from the high energy flamenco shows I’d seen before. His tribute to the impact of the Civil War in Spain was reflective and haunting and I left the theatre incredibly moved by the beautiful music and poignant story-telling.

I returned to Sadlers Wells a few weeks later to see Vamos Cuba!  I was looking forward to being energised by sexy Cuban rhythms but instead of a slick high-octane show, it was bland and limp and actually felt a bit under-rehearsed. I was bored through most of it and struggled to stay engaged – unusual for me. It was very disappointing.

I had a musical foray of a completely different kind with the Sacconi Quartet, a chamber music group who manage to pierce my heart and capture my imagination every time they play. They were as brilliant as always, playing with their usual passion and intensity. However, they had a male soloist join them after intermission and I felt like that got in the way of the music. I experienced the same reaction earlier this year with another quartet I like so I suspect it’s more to do with my preference for ‘unaccompanied’ chamber music rather than the quality of the singing.

I do like a great female protagonist so I took myself off to see the movie Maggie’s Plan starring two fabulous women – newcomer Greta Gerwig and Oscar winner Julianne Moore – and the rather fabulous-looking Ethan Hawke (forgive my objectification peeps but really…*sigh*). Gerwig plays Maggie, the woman with the plan, as adorably gauche while some of the film’s most hilarious moments come from Moore’s world-weary Georgette. The movie wasn’t on wide (or long) release but it’s an absolute delight so if you get the chance, I’d recommend you see it.

I was also thrilled to snap up a Bank Holiday deal to see Sheridan Smith in the musical Funny Girl (see my reaction  here). It was extraordinary and wonderful and all of those great things.

And last but certainly not least, I discovered Divergent. After a run of average-to-good reads over last few months, I was overdue to be blown away and I fairly inhaled Veronica Roth‘s dystopian tale of rebellion and belonging. It follows a similar plot to The Hunger Games but I liked Divergent more, particularly the use of the factions – Amity, Abnegation, Candor, Dauntless and Erudite – and the underlying thread that a little bit of each is the key to humanity. I’ve heard mixed reports about the movie but I’m much more interested in seeing if the second book, Insurgent, is as unputdownable as the first.

So that was July and August and as we leave the heady ‘hot’ days of British summertime behind, September beckons with promises of coloured leaves, cooler mornings and the hope of an Indian Summer. I’ve got a few interesting things booked but like always I’ll be working hard to make the most of whatever opportunities appear…and keeping my fingers crossed for a deal or two.

Have yourselves a fabulous September.

Boudicca

Real-life female protagonist Boudicca overlooks the River Thames from her chariot (in the shadow of the tower of Big Ben).

Funny girl with star power

I went to see the West End version of Funny Girl last night.

For those of you who don’t know, it’s the semi-biographical rags to riches story of American actress and comedian, Fanny Brice. I’ve long been a fan of the movie starring the inimitable Barbra Streisand and ever since this latest run in London was announced, I have been keeping an eagle eye out for a deal.

So yesterday, I battled the Saturday evening throng to take my seat at the Savoy Theatre (itself a Gidday first).

Savoy topiary (360x640)

Savvy (or should that be Savoy) topiary on arrival.

I felt excited and wondered whether the show and its star, Sheridan Smith, would live up to the hype. And boy oh boy, it did!

Darius Campbell played the smooth yet hapless Nick Arnstein sympathetically – he filled the theatre with rich, sonorous tones like velvet. And the rest of the cast were brilliant but it was Sheridan Smith who stole the show.

I’d seen Smith previously in a couple of television dramas – The Accused: Stephen’s Story in 2012 and The 7.39 in 2014 – and had been seriously impressed by her acting chops but I had no idea just how far her talent stretched.

Smith filled the stage with her presence, flinging her tiny frame into the gauche mannerisms and Brooklyn twang of the unpolished Brice. Her timing was impeccable and, ably partnered by her cast mates, she gave us plenty of laugh out loud comedy moments. She played Brice as the pushy, domineering, larger-than-life character that I remember as being really irritating yet she gave Brice a heart-melting pathos in the second act as she faces the price of her success.

In addition, let me tell you tha this pint-sized lady has a serious set of pipes. Taking on songs made famous by Streisand – People, Don’t Rain on My Parade and I’m the Greatest Star – is no mean feat and Smith was absolutely magnificent in making them her own.

The show finished, the cast emerged for their bows and Smith, clearly emotional, got a standing ovation. It takes something quite special for me to leap to my feet at the end of a performance and I clapped and clapped and clapped until the stage finally emptied.

As we all flooded out onto the street, the signature tunes and Smith’s showstopping voice stayed with me with the defiant strains of Don’t Rain on My Parade playing over and over in my head all the way home.

Funny Girl is playing at the Savoy Theatre in London until 8th October so if you want to see this musical marvel for yourself, I’d advise you to get a wiggle on