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).

Another Spotlit Stage…

It all started in Seville in 2002. It was an additional excursion, added on top of an already busy trip. Tourist-y it may have been but it was spell-binding.

In the deepening twilight, we’d driven down from our dinner in the hillside village of Mijas Pueblo to join the throngs at a tablaos flamencos in Seville. It was crowded and we had to push our way through to our reserved seating in the front rows (one of the perks of much-maligned organised tours). 

Before long the show began: the pounding feet, arched poses and haughty profiles holding my attention, challenging me to avert my gaze elsewhere if I dared. Women danced, men danced, women and men danced together. Skirts and shawls swirled and swayed, fingers flicked and clicked and the cantaores (singers) wailed and clapped. It was powerful and passionate and provocative.

Then a small man took the stage. He was not handsome or well-built. He had a hard, weathered face and a small wiry frame.  But he exuded a raw magnetism and as his heels started their gentle tempo against the floor, he looked out into the darkened audience over his hooked nose, turned swiftly, sharply and raised his arms.

From my seat in the front row, I could feel the heat of his body, see the beads of sweat rising on his face as he pounded the floor. I held my breath, my heart thumping in my chest and my eyes glued to this stomping, whirling, arrogant dervish in front of me. It seemed to last forever and be over in a minute. As he remained still for that last time, it was a few seconds before I could leap to my feet and applaud, so mesmerised was I by his performance.

Ten years later, my pulse still races when I remember the man on that small stage in Seville, dancing with such arrogance and magnetism. And it fuelled an ongoing desire to immerse myself in that wonderful Flamenco spirit at every opportunity.

This weekend I went to see Paco Pena and his Flamenco Dance Company at Sadler’s Wells. It’s the third time I have been to see this unassuming master of plucking, picking and strumming since I’ve lived in London and he has lost none of his musical magic.

This latest show, Quimeras, is a fusion of Spain and Africa. It is filled with foot stamping, arm waving movement that spends two hours weaving in and out of haunting wails and tempestuous rhythms. It was unbelievably good. So good that I was on my feet at the end, cheering and clapping until my arms hurt.


Yet for all its wonderful-ness, as I walked back to Angel tube station, my mind wandered and I was taken back to another small man on another spotlit stage.

My heart skipped a beat and my soul soared again.