June: The stages of life

June brings us up to the half way point of the year so it’s time for the interval, the intermission, the half-time break. So what’s been going on in the closing stages of the first half? Plenty as it turns out.

The headlines have been all about the referendum – the lead up and the fall-out – and we are still waiting to see who will step up to the mark and lead Britain into this next stage of our history. Attending a panel discussion hosted by The Guardian entitled ‘What will the world look like in 2025’ yielded little in the way of answers other than in this world where nothing seems to last, getting skilled in the art of managing uncertainty is a smart thing to do. And while all of this was going on, a new stage closer to home came to pass with a change of ownership at work and new management marking the occasion with a rather delicious cake to welcome us to the fold. I like them already.

This month I also started volunteering again and spent a morning at one of the local secondary schools…with more than 200 fourteen year old girls taking to the stage. This definitely took me out of my comfort zone and at the same time, left me feeling really inspired. More on this in a later post.

I was also delighted with another discovery of the stage variety this month: The Invisible Hand, a play running at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. I even managed to get a little education on high finance as I watched high-flying banker Nick Bright, kidnapped by Pakistani militants, use his knowledge of how money works to stay alive. The cast of four were outstanding and combined with the compelling plot, I found the whole production both gripping and thought-provoking. However it finished at the Tricycle – itself a great find – on July 2nd, otherwise I’d encourage you to book your ticket but you should definitely keep an eye out for another run of this.

Staying with theatre exploits, I enjoyed a couple of previously live-screened plays in the comfort of my local cinema this month. The dark and broody staging of the RSC’s latest production of Hamlet was as one would expect but was also elevated by its militant Africa backdrop as well as by an extraordinary performance from 25-year-old Paapa Essiedu in the lead role.

At the other end of the spectrum, I spent a light-hearted evening with Oscar Wilde’s cast of pretentious yet lovable characters in The Importance of Being Earnest. David Suchet – you may know him as the eccentric Belgian detective Hercule Poirot in many an Agatha Christie whodunnit – sashayed around the stage as the inimitable Lady Bracknell and with witty repartee and oodles of innuendo, it was a very entertaining couple of hours indeed.

I also spent a hour or so wandering in between various stages of Undressed. No not me personally. It’s an exhibition on the history of underwear at the V&A running until March next year. Seeing some of those teeny tiny corsets up there on their podiums made me feel quite Amazonian in stature and also rather glad that I live in an age where I can dress in relative comfort and not have to worship at the altar of society’s [size 6] ideal. The blokes are not exempt from a little vanity either – there were quite a few examples of ahem, shapewear (not to mention that my ‘mens enhancing underwear uk’ google search yielded more than 76,000 results).

But without a doubt, this month’s highlight was The Battle of the Big Bands at Cadogan Hall. The Jazz Repertory Company recreated the famous 1938 battle on the stage at Carnegie Hall, a musical masterclass between the established Benny Goodman and the up-and-coming Glenn Miller. Compere cum clarinet maestro Pete Long (he was absolutely awesome and fairly made that clarinet talk) brought this great rivalry and the eventual changing of the guard to life with his savvy storytelling. With all of my favourites on offer – Sing Sing Sing, Little Brown Jug and In The Mood – the whole night was just brilliant, foot-tapping fun and In The Mood was definitely how I felt going home on the tube.

That, my dear Gidday-ers, was June and as the curtain falls and June takes its bow – having been fun and full of plenty – I’m already off treading the boards into July…

What’s that? An encore you say? Well okay – here are a couple of my commuting gems from Victoria Embankment, the site of many of the Thames’ old landing stages

Have yourselves a fabulous July peeps.

[Exit stage left]

The test of time

There’s a lot of change being debated in the UK at the moment. The election for next Mayor of London – aka “on ya bike, Boris” – seems to be a bit of a two horse race and the EU referendum is looming in a matter of weeks. Everyone has something to say about it, including those from many a foreign shore, and it’s dividing both nations and political parties.

At the same time some of the world’s great voices – Alan Rickman, Sir Terry Wogan (the voice of Eurovision for many years), David Bowie, Jon English, Ronnie Corbett, Victoria Wood, Prince and Phil Sayer (we hear his dulcet tones telling us to “Mind the Gap”on London’s Underground network) – have died in the first few months of 2016, leaving a swathe of public tribute in their wake.

In the midst of all of this comes the Shakespeare400 celebration.

On the 23rd April in 1616 – that’s 400 years ago – William Shakespeare shuffled off this mortal coil. He was 52 years old, a husband and a father of two daughters as well as a playwright and poet. He was a contemporary of other literary greats like Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe and left a legacy of 38 plays – comedies, histories and tragedies – and hundreds of lines of verse in his sonnets and long-form poems. In short, he was a man of many, many words and Shakespeare400 was designed to celebrate his contribution.

I attended a live screening of Shakespeare Live! from the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon last night. Shakespeare is viewed by many as hard going with its tangled prose and its forsooths and makeths, but this show was fantastic. It was a mix of some of his most famous scenes – A Midsummer Night’s Dream was brought to life with much hilarity by Judi Dench as Titania and Al Murray as Puck-turned-donkey – as well as other performances that have been inspired by his works. Romeo and Juliet has spawned the likes of the musical West Side Story as well as a ballet score by Prokofiev and choreography by Kenneth MacMillan. Another Broadway musical, Kiss Me Kate, is a re-telling of The Taming of the Shrew, whilst the bloody tragedy of Macbeth has been transformed in cultures as disparate as Japan and South Africa. And we were treated to all of these and more over the two and half hours.

Hamlet is enjoying quite a resurgence in the UK with actors such as David Tennant (2008), Jude Law (2009) and Rory Kinnear (2010) as well as Maxine Peake (2014) and Benedict Cumberbatch (2015) taking on some of literature’s most famous phrases. One of the highlights of last night’s show was this year’s Hamlet, Paapa Essiedu, receiving a note on his “To be or not to be” from Australian comedian and composer, Tim Minchin…and a slew of other British acting royalty. I don’t seem to be able to embed the video code for you to watch but it is on youtube here for you to enjoy.

Anyway, the point of all of this is that William Shakespeare stopped wielding his pen four centuries ago yet his work remains prolific, whether as inspiration for other artistic expression – dance, opera, musical theatre, hip hop and the big screen (think of Baz Luhrmann’s brave and modern take on Romeo and Juliet in 1996) – or in its original form, on the stage.

Shakespeare’s work was written for everyone, from monarchs to the man on the street, and last night I left the cinema thinking how relevant and powerful his stories remain some 400 years on. Whilst current propaganda and politics may change the course of history, I wonder who in today’s pantheon of cultural expression will be as celebrated and accessible 400 years from now as this talented wordsmith from Warwickshire.

william shakespeare

Memorial plaque on the site of the original Globe Theatre in Southwark, London

Summer’s Lease…

It’s the first of June so that must mean it’s time for another Calendar Challenge and this month, Simon Drew offers a pictorial take on the words of the immortal Bard to kickstart our days of Summer…


To my mind, I think ‘not to be’ sounds rather drastic so I’m voting for the former. But in any case, this quote (from Hamlet in case you were wondering) does make me think about William Shakespeare’s influence in our language

I took literature both at High School and then as my minor at Uni, and I remember how surprised I was at the proliferation of quotes that were already familiar to me. Just sticking with Hamlet, I had heard of both to thine own self be true and neither a borrower nor a lender be despite never actually studying the play itself. 

And while I’ve never gotten around to seeing As You Like It, my theatre forays here on Gidday from the UK are tagged with all the world’s a stage. Imitation is, after all, the sincerest form of flattery.

What I did study was Macbeth – three times. Not for me the dark romance of Romeo and Juliet (who was the sun) nor the comic delights of a Midsummer Night’s Dream, where the course of true love never did run smooth

No, after wading through this tragedy as our compulsory Shakespeare in Year 11 English, taking English Literature in Year 12 found me double double toil and trouble-ing again with the teacher thinking it would be better to do something we already knew. And then I went to Uni to broaden my horizons and such-like only to find that rather than bear[ing] a charmed life, fair was foul and I was in the hurly burly…again.

Thanks goodness we did The Merchant of Venice in second semester and I got to learn all about pound[s] of flesh. And I did finagle a spate of Twelfth Night. With wonderful lines like ‘Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them‘ it is little wonder that this remains one of my favourite plays.

I have since seen quite a few of the Bard’s back catalogue here in London, most recently Measure for Measure, King Lear and Much Ado About Nothing. And I love them but I’ve noticed a peculiar pattern emerging. The norm is that I struggle to keep pace with the language in the first half, then google the story again in the interval to see whether I have managed to gain any sense of what’s going on. The answer is almost always yes and I invariably return and just relax into the language, trusting that I will get all of the points that must be made and having a much more enjoyable time as a result. 

And speaking of enjoyment, today is the first day of Summer here in the UK. It has been sunshine-y and warm and the roses are out in force at Gidday HQ – who needs all the perfumes of Arabia [to] sweeten this little hand?

And with that, it seems to me that the only fitting end to this post lies in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18:

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date”.

Here’s to a fabulous Summer!

ps…and just in case you are struggling with the translation of the pictogram

To be or not to be – that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep–
No more

——————————-
Calendar Challenge 2014 – Back Catalogue
Keep Calm And Carry On
Sour Grapes
Water Water Everywhere

On The Shore

What Lies Before Me