The busy-ness of life

Gidday peeps!

Sorry I’ve been lax on the posting front of late. It’s been a bit busy since I got back from stopping in Muscat seven weeks ago and while I managed to have a little rant about burgers in my last post, finding the time and head space to craft something more has proved a challenge. But I wanted to let you what’s been happening here at Chez Gidday.

First things first – I finished my fourth MOOC, this time on Democracy and Development in Africa, on 14th November and achieved 94%.

Hurrah!

This was quite a hard going course in terms of workload. In each of the seven weeks we were asked to complete several pieces of work – a mix of video lectures and interviews, reading, questions, discussions and essays – which was then capped off by a 3-part exam in the last week. Let me tell you there were many times when I cursed myself for signing up in the first place and then for not being able to walk away and let it go.

But in catching up with a close friend a couple of weeks ago, he complimented me on my commitment and acknowledged my self-discipline as a real strength. Interestingly, one of my reasons for doing these MOOCs was to ensure that my self-discipline ‘muscles’ stayed active. So I’m glad I stuck with it and am proud to say I have the certificate of achievement – as well as a whole lot of new ideas and opinions – to show for it.

My school governor role has really taken off as well. I’ve been attending the monthly marketing meetings as well as making my first visits with each of the dance and the drama curriculum leads at the school. I’ve also spent a day and evening completing my new governor induction training as well as the mandatory safeguarding training. So I’m now in the thick of it and really enjoying it.

Speaking of getting into the thick of it, I took part in an intensive 3-day Property Investment seminar at the beginning of November and also attended the Rethink Mental Illness Members Day the following weekend. Both are areas I’m very interested in exploring over the coming months. Needless to say I don’t think there’ll be any more MOOCs for a while.

Then amongst all of this was my usual smattering of out-and-about-ness.

On the culture front, I had my first ever visit to the Affordable Art Fair

…and spent another afternoon at the V&A immersed in their latest exhibition Opera: Power, Passion & Politics.

Both are areas I know little about so I really enjoyed having my eyes and my ears opened and my cultural horizons challenged.

The last seven weeks has also produced a couple of excellent theatrical highlights with the Donmar Warehouse’s production of The Lady from the Sea (by one of my favourite playwrights Henrik Ibsen) and INK (the story of Rupert Murdoch’s purchase and transformation of The Sun newspaper in the UK). And as regular Giddayers know, I love dance so it was with great delight that I went to see BalletBoyz’s Fourteen Days (and was especially moved by the intimacy of Christopher Wheeldon’s piece, Us). Then last weekend I was completely mesmerised by the provocative musical Cabaret that is touring regional theatres in the UK at the moment (and stars singer Will Young as the irrepressible emcee).

Literary-themed events got a look-in too with a walking tour of Fleet Street – called Publish and Be Damned! – on a rather chilly Saturday.

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There was also the chance to listen to readings from the Man Booker Shortlist authors the evening prior to the announcement of the prize winner, the British Library’s annual Equality Lecture by Professor Mary Evans and Gresham College’s free lecture on the wonderful Jane Austen, the last a welcome follow up to the Jane Austen exhibition I visited in Oxford earlier this year. I also went to some fascinating talks about The Future of Work, Artificial Intelligence, The Fight Against Alzheimers and The Future of our Digital Selves.

But amongst all of this, there was one lowlight.

As a long-time Agatha Christie fan, I had been looking forward to seeing Kenneth Branagh‘s remake of Murder on the Orient Express. But it had a different storyline and while the cinematography was gorgeous, the whole film was a bit ponderous and suffered from style-over-substance syndrome. As far as I am concerned, no-one writes Christie better than Christie so in tinkering with her work, Branagh’s effort left me feeling a bit flat.

And then last week I squeezed a 5-day rendezvous in Paris into proceedings (more on that later)…

…so maybe the word smattering was a bit of an understatement.

Not to mentioned that December 1st is only two sleeps away – when I get to open the first window of Mum’s annual advent calendar and put up the Chez Gidday Christmas tree…

*excited squealing*

So stay tuned. There’ll be more Gidday adventures coming to the blogosphere soon!

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]

January’s bucket list

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. My resolve tends to scatter across the year and is generally underpinned by my penchant for exploration and variety. However I do love moments, snatches of time when I am completely caught up – and sometimes out – by intense feeling, largely a mixture of delight, wonder, melancholy, outrage and curiosity. I carry this image of a bucket in my mind and I often imagine putting a particular moment into it. Somehow they all combine into a life that inspires me.

I was checking something in my calendar earlier and it occurred to me that while I share about particular experiences, I don’t often reflect on all of the things I’ve done. Fellow blogger, author and longtime Gidday follower Jack Scott commented recently “you do get about” so I thought that it would be interesting – for me anyway – to end each month this year by checking out what’s ended up ‘in the bucket’.

So here goes.

This month it all started with a new chapter in an old story and I absolutely loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I then moved into a Kenneth Brannagh double bill: All On Her Own, a maudlin 25 minute 3-stars-from-me soliloquy, and the hilarious 4-stars-from-me farce, Harlequinade.

A trip back in time with the Museum of London and a tour of an old Roman fort inspired my historic sensibilities so much that the Museum became a new Friend. Five days later I joined hundreds of women at the Central Methodist Hall in Westminster to listen to the Women’s Equality Party and left non-plussed and suprisingly uninspired: lots of valid and important messages but the whole thing was a bit ‘rah rah’ for me.

A decidedly French tone emerged in the second half of the month with the NY MET’s performance of Bizet’s opera The Pearl Fishers and the National Theatre’s production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) being live streamed at the Phoenix Cinema just a ten minute bus ride away. When I was raving about the latter in the office the next day, I was informed by a young French colleague that the book continues to be part of the literature curriculum in French schools and is considered “a classic”. By the way, both productions were ‘magnifique’.

I’ve also read six books this month and rated three of them a mighty 5-stars, an excellent 50% hit rate. March Violets by Philip Kerr and A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute were my first dip into these respective writers and my return to Stephen King (and introduction to his criminal mastermind Mr Mercedes) was the recommendation of another Gidday follower, author Charlie Wade. (Thanks Charlie!)

In between all of this I embarked on some new cooking adventures with a foray into pastry (albeit frozen) as well as ‘cooking with beetroot’ and I managed catch up dinners with three different friends, one long overdue.

I also inadvertently fell across London’s Lumiere Festival on the face of the Abbey…

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…and delighted in the lighter mornings on my walk to work.

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Speaking of commuting, this gem really lifted my tube ride home one night.

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It also snowed…

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…and I celebrated twelve years in London.

So Jack was right and January was full to the brim with moments that were both planned and completely surprising. (And that’s doesn’t include what happens in my job.)

In any case, I’ve quite enjoyed this retrospective approach to bucket list-ing and am curious to see what reflecting on February might bring.

What would a look back at your January moments yield?

A Pinter…Pause

Last night I went to see Old Times with a couple of friends. The play follows a particular evening in the lives of married couple Kate and Deeley, an evening when Kate’s old friend Anna comes to visit. It’s 80 minutes long and stars Kristin Scott-Thomas, Rufus Sewell and Lia Williams so I was ready for enoyable evening.

I did not factor in that it was a Harold Pinter play.

As we walked back across Leicester Square to the tube station and puzzled over what we’d seen, all I could say was ‘I just don’t get it’.

We debated what we thought it might mean – I had read somewhere that the two female characters actually represent two facets of the same woman’s personality and the play explores Deeley’s interactions with each. We compared notes on restlessness and boredom – both our own and of those around us throughout. We all agreed that it was well-acted but enjoyable? It was thought-provoking – definitely – but I was left feeling a bit ‘so what’ about it all – but not so much that I was sorry I had gone.

It wasn’t until this sharing afterwards that it occurred to me that this had happened before.

I saw my first Pinter – Betrayal – back when I was living in Melbourne. And then it was Old Times last night. A Pinter pas-de-deux so to speak.

And I realised that both times I’d felt the same…incomplete-ness. A kind of bereft-ness, like I’d been on the outskirts of a conversation that I didn’t quite understand and had then been cut loose and left to drift away.

I’m not averse to a challenge but after a couple of similar experiences, I’m starting to think that perhaps Pinter’s just not for me.

Or maybe it’s just that I need another Pinter Pause

Everybody Needs Good Neighbours…

Another excellent deal snaffled on my commute put me in an aisle seat at the Cottesloe Theatre for Detroit tonight. Written by Lisa D’Amour and first presented by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago in 2010, it’s a raw and wry out take of life in the suburbs – but not quite as we know it.

Ben and Mary scratch along together in life, she as a highly-strung paralegal, he as a mortgage advisor recently made redundant. The play opens on their back patio with new neighbours Kenny and Sharon who have been invited over for a BBQ, and continues by moving back and forth between the adjoining back yards until the final scene.

I don’t want to divulge too much so I won’t talk about the plot. In any case, I went along without any knowedge of the story, just letting it all unfold in front of me and I loved it. Often when you don’t know what to expect, you can just be present to the action in front of you rather than taint it with the anticipation of what’s to follow.

Suffice to say Kenny and Sharon have an interesting past and these two unlikely couples share neuroses, dreams and philosophies on life until the whole thing goes up in smoke.

The characters are larger than life and there’s no one performance that shines brighter than the others. One minute I’d be cringing at Mary’s pedantry and nagging, the next chuckling at Kenny’s slightly skewed outlook on life (or dancing), then smiling at Sharon’s passionate neighbourliness, before wondering what sort of business Ben could possibly end up with as he interrupts his website ‘development’ activities to offer some self-help style financial mentoring for ‘them next door’.

The Cottesloe is quite a small theatre with the audience sitting right up against the performance ‘space’ so the whole time I felt like I was peering over the fence from my own back yard. It added an intimacy to the play and it felt slightly voyeuristic with every afternoon shindig and midnight tryst that played itself out before us.

The performances were electric and with no intermission, this ensemble cast maintained a cracking pace for the audience for just under 2 hours. Will, Stuart, Clare and Justine really did leave it all on stage. They were brilliant.

Alas, this production at the National Theatre on London’s Southbank closes next Friday (14th July) so you’ll have to get your skates on if you want to see this one. But it’s expected to have its off-Broadway debut in August at Playwrights Horizons and as tickets went on sale today, those of you across the pond have the opportunity to partake.

I saw a play years ago – Art written by Yasmin Reza – which is one of my all-time favourites and Detroit reminded me a little of that. Gritty, dark, passionate and not for the faint-hearted. But absolutely fantastic and not to be missed.

Aaaaawkward….

I went to the theatre last night. Another super deal in the Metro tempted me to the Wyndham Theatre in Charing Cross Road to see Abigail’s Party. So I headed on in after work and had a quick bite to eat before making my way around the corner, into the theatre and up the stairs to my seat in the Royal Circle.

The scene below brought back memories of growing up in the 70s: bold patterned wallpaper (we had the most…ahem, extraordinary black and white geometric pattern on our kitchen walls when I was a kid), shag pile carpet and orange, orange, orange…

The play follows its five protagonists who gather to while away the hours as Sue’s 15 year old daughter hosts her own party down the street. Laurence and Beverly host, complete with nuts, cheesy pineapple sticks and copious amounts of alcohol, and give the audience a sense of their toxic relationship right from the outset.

Before long, the new neighbours arrive. Tony, handsome and morose, sparks a predatory gleam in Beverly’s eye, and Ange, gauche and outspoken, seems to say all the wrong things at the most inopportune times. Long-time resident Sue arrives last, conservative and mousey. And so this freakish five are left to careen slowly towards the play’s shocking climax.

Mike Leigh has the ability to cut to the very heart of our human foibles.

Selfish, opinionated Essex girl Beverly is hell-bent on her gin-fuelled binge while Ange faux-pas her way through several G&Ts herself as she tries valiantly to fill the uncomfortable silences. And the men? Well Tony stays stoic under Beverly’s lascivious eye and Laurence flaps about, swinging between conciliatory concern for his guests and violent fury at his wife. And Sue tries, politely yet unsuccessfully, to stay aloof from them all. The whole evening is just awkward.

And absolutely hilarious.

I am told that no-one does Beverly like Alison Steadman, but for the rest of my life, I don’t think I will ever forget Jill Halfpenny, gyrating on the cream shag rug in her mint green maxi dress…to Demis Roussos.

The end is not all happy-happy and tied up with a bow and I did leave the theatre thinking it was all over with a whimper rather suddenly. But that certainly didn’t detract from a very entertaining and laugh-out-loud kind of evening.

Even if it was all a little bit…aaaaawkward.

Bookings are open up to 1st September but if you are anything like me – marking something mentally that I’d like to see, then never getting around to booking until it’s finished that is – you should google theatre deals and Abigail’s Party and get yourself along…

…or before you know it, it’ll be curtains.

Death and the Maiden: A study in vengeance

As a result of another Metro offer (I do love a deal!), I was off to a matinee at the theatre this week to see Death and the Maiden. Not the opera – although there is a reference to the music of Schubert, thus the name. This is the play written by Ariel Dorfman in 1990. The theme is judgement – human rights butting up against vengeance to challenge what we think is fair and just.

 

Paulina Salas is a former political prisoner who has been the victim of torture and rape. The play is set 15 years later when she and her human rights lawyer husband Gerardo are living a quiet life by the sea. On the particular night of the play, Gerardo has a flat tyre on the way home and is helped by a passing stranger who then visits their home later that evening. Paulina becomes convinced that he is the sadistic Dr Miranda, the instrument of her rape and torture all those years ago.

The play centres around Paulina’s absolute conviction, and her desire for vengeance contrasts starkly with her husband’s belief in ‘the human rights process’ he has been fighting for all his life. In the midst of all of this, we are left to wonder about Dr Miranda – is he or isn’t he?

This is Thandie Newton‘s West End debut and she grips the audience with her impassioned portrayal of the slightly crazed Paulina (and is more than ably supported by Anthony Calf as Dr Miranda and Tom Goodman-Hill as her husband Gerardo). The play raises challenging issues throughout: how certain can we ever be of innocence/guilt and the single-mindedness of a victim’s belief in the release revenge will bring as well as the broader themes of penitence, forgiveness and above all, justice – what is it and how far is too far to achieve it.

This is a powerful and thought-provoking piece of theatre that poses more questions than it answers in the end.

I think you should go.

 

After The Dance…3 Sleeps To Go

Today is Day 1 of my pre-birthday long weekend (only 3 sleeps to go peeps…isn’t it exciting?!) and while I’ve been out and about today and have some rather magnificent plans for the rest of the time, I wanted to tell you about an unexpected treat I discovered on telly last night.

I am, by nature, a night owl and would happily stay up til all hours but with my 2 hour each way commute at the moment, I am fairly disciplined about getting myself to bed by 11 each night (and that’s an hour later than what’s known in these parts as Surrey Bedtime) so that I am spritely enough to get myself out the door in an efficient 30mins each morning.  But on holiday, all bets are off and last night I trawled the channels to see what late night movie I might like to partake of.

I came across ‘After The Dance’, a 1992 TV adaption of the play written by Terence Rattigan in the 1930’s.

It’s one of those kinds of plays I loved seeing when I frequented the MTC‘s program in Melbourne – a little Noel-Cowardish in style with the action all taking place in one room (or within earshot of said room). It’s crammed full of gorgeous language, crisp banter and subtle innuendo all the while covering the fragile egos and unspoken political agendas surrounding the era.  Anyway, this film for TV adaption had been made in 1992 by the BBC and re-kindled a whole rash of revivals in the West End in the years to come.

It’s a little slower to get into than modern films but once I settled into listening to and watching for the subtleties, the intrigue crept slowly into the room and curled its wicked fingers – in the form of Helen Banner – through the fabric of David and Joan Scott-Fowler’s 15 year marriage. A small ensemble cast added colourful layers but Rattigan makes a stinging comparison between the ‘Bright Young Things’ of the 20’s and the serious ‘new generation’ facing a society crushed by the onset of World War II.

Frivolous. Sad. Thought-provoking.

I LOVED IT!

And despite this being an adaption for TV, After The Dance made me realise that I’d forgotten how much I enjoy theatre…so I’m off to scour the internet for some super-dooper deals!

In the meantime, land is definitely in sight and the SS 41 is cruising comfortably towards its mooring…