A couple of weeks ago, I read a piece on the BBC about a new play, “Queen Margaret” that was being staged at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.
“Queen Margaret” is Margaret of Anjou, who has parts in four Shakespeare plays – Henry VI parts one, two and three, and Richard III – and across those plays, she has the most lines Shakespeare wrote for any part. For Queen Margaret, the playwright (Jeanie O’Hare) takes those lines and adds new ones to connect all the extant scenes.
Anyway, it all sounded interesting enough that I booked a ticket for last Saturday’s matinee performance, and made a day-trip of it. It’s easy enough – the train from Milton Keynes gets to Manchester in 90-100 minutes, which brings it well within day-trip range. I certainly couldn’t do the drive in the same time.
I’m really glad I did so, too – I thought the entire play was excellent, and done well enough that you couldn’t easily tell who had written which lines. (Although I’m no expert on those Shakespeare plays, so if one were super-familiar with them then I assume it’d be easier to separate the two writing styles) The whole thing held together really well, and I enjoyed it thoroughly – while also learning a lot about all of the stuff around Henry VI and Richard III.
The run finishes this week (on Saturday 6th October) and I really hope that it’s generally perceived as having been excellent so that it gets a longer run, and ideally comes down to London and elsewhere. In my opinion, it thoroughly deserves it.
It hadn’t been super-high on my priority list, but a friend of mine is running the lighting desk, and it was also in consideration as something to take my mum to later in the year, so I picked up a ticket to see what it was like.
I didn’t really know what to expect – and in many ways, I’m glad of that. While I did enjoy it, it’s not one I’d go and see again (and also I’m not convinced that mum would like it) so it was definitely worth seeing as research first. In fairness, a lot of people really like it and have seen it multiple times – and Meatloaf himself saw it a couple of days before I did, and seemed to be pleased with the entire thing. It just didn’t really do it for me – it’s a subjective thing, and I’m never going to say to anyone “Don’t go”. It just turned out to not be my thing.
The staging, set, lighting and so on are great, the music performances are pretty good – but the story itself is woeful, and seems to be there just as a kind of bare basic scaffold on which to hang the songs. (I’m no expert on juke-box musicals, so this could be the case with all of them, I don’t know – and I’m not going to generalise based on a sample of one!)
But still, it was entertaining enough, and kept me amused. I didn’t come out thinking I’d wasted my money, or disappointed in the production – but I still wouldn’t want to pay to see it again…
As I said earlier in the week, over the last two weekends I’ve ended up seeing two versions of Macbeth, one at the RSC in Stratford-on-Avon starring Christopher Eccleston, and one at the National Theatre in London, with Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff .
It’s a weird piece of scheduling – for whatever reason, I’d have expected the two main theatre companies to at least communicate a bit, in order for this kind of clash to not happen. However, everyone else I’ve said that to has said “No, they don’t talk”, but all the same it seems pretty odd to me – not least because as well as those two, there’s also the Verdi operatic version also being performed at the same time at the Royal Opera House !
Anyway, for my purposes, it made it interesting to be able to compare the two performances in such proximity.
For me, the RSC version was the one I preferred, although both had flaws. In the RSCs version, parts of the stage set weren’t visible from our seats – seats that hadn’t been marked as ‘restricted view’ – which was annoying. It’s a modern-dress setup, which is fine with me, but sticks with a more traditional timescale all the same. The witches were played by a trio of young (9-10 years old) who all spoke in sync, and were extremely good at being creepy. The porter in this one was very good, quite creepy, always on stage, and marking off all the deaths in chalk on the wall. I hadn’t noticed that initially, but it was very effectively done in later scenes where news of Macbeth’s rule, and the deaths involved – seeing them all getting marked on the walls was a very effective way of putting the point across. We weren’t just seeing the on-stage deaths, this despot was killing all and sundry, feeling invincible while doing it.
We were very early in the run, so there were some hitches with lines not being perfect – but I am seeing it again with different friends later in the run, so it’ll be interesting to see what’s changed – but all told I thought it was a pretty good performance, and really good to see Christopher Ecclestone doing his thing.
The NT version was much more modern, supposedly staged ‘after a revolution’, on a blackened stage. It is very dark in general, but also emphatically trying too hard (in my opinion, of course!) and in particular I felt the witches were less effective as a result. Rory Kinnear was good as Macbeth, as was Anne-Marie Duff as Lady Macbeth, but most of the rest of the cast faded in the memory very quickly. There’s one particular scene with the witches that is very effectively creepy, but the rest is just… meh. I wasn’t overly taken with the production – and it manages to miss the ‘double double toil and trouble’ speech completely – but I’m still glad I went to see it, and to compare two quite different interpretations of the same play.
This coming weekend, the end of March, is the first weekend this year that I’ve had free.
Until Friday, it wasn’t free, but plans changed – which is fine. It had been a chain change – yesterday became free because of another change, which meant I could bring the planned day-trip for next Sunday back to this one, and it all worked out pretty well.
It meant that yesterday was daftly busy, with a day-trip down to see friends in North Somerset, with an early start leaving by 6.30am – just what you need on the day that the clocks also went forwards an hour – to get down there, and getting home at 23.30 in the evening. A Looooooong day, but a good one. I’d already spent the Saturday in London, doing a fair amount of walking, and seeing Macbeth at the National Theatre (having already seen the RSC’s version of Macbeth last Saturday!)
Anyway, that all means that, at the end of the first quarter of the year, I actually have two weekends on the trot where I have nothing booked in or organised. Which is pretty weird, and is already making me somewhat twitchy.
I’ll still be doing things, and I’ve got some plans in place for both weekends – but they’re all more random and disorganised, it’s nothing scheduled or appointments.
And to be honest, that’s just fine with me.
On Saturday, I went to my first opera – a production of Aida at the London Coliseum by English National Opera. As with going to plays and so on, I went in with very little knowledge of Aida or what to expect.
I did enjoy it – although it’s not necessarily something I’d plan to go to on a regular basis, or to see this particular opera again. I don’t yet know – but as with other things, I’m not going to base any judgements or expectations on a sample of one, so I’ll definitely be going to at least one more production.
*Personally*, I found that the first half dragged, but the second half was better. The staging throughout was really interesting though, which did help things.
The plot/story is hideously melodramatic (in my opinion) and would’ve been rejected from most soap operas as being too ridiculous. So yeah, the odds are I won’t bother with Aida again, but there’s plenty of others I can try instead.
All good fun, though…
Over the weekend, I went to Stratford-on-Avon. It’s somewhere I’ve only been once before, and had thought it was a long drive to get there. Then when I got in the car on Saturday morning, I discovered it’s actually only 70 miles, and so only just over an hour. Why had I thought it was much further? Because I’m an idiot – last time I went, I travelled via Cheltenham, for lunch at Champignon Sauvage (it was part of my Michelin Project last year)
So I got there a lot earlier than I’d originally planned/expected to, which gave me plenty of time to wander and explore the place a bit, and do some other stuff as well. Last time I went, I got mislaid a couple of times (not majorly – it’s too small a place to get properly lost in) so I wanted to do things differently this time.
I really enjoyed wandering around – or at least until midday or so, once the coach trip people had all woken up and descended on the place, along with usual weekend shoppers and the like. But it’s a nice place that’s easy to walk around, and my mental map of it is now a lot more comprehensive.
Then I met up with a friend, M, with whom I was having lunch, and then seeing a play later – see, there was a reason for going, it wasn’t just random!
We had lunch at Salt, a passion-project restaurant for the chef, Paul Foster, who used Kickstarter to fund getting it running. That was thoroughly enjoyable, and is definitely somewhere I’ll be returning to next year when there’s other RSC stuff on that I want to see.
Finally, we saw Coriolanus at the RSC (about which more another time) , and back to hotels. I’d booked the room before realising how easy the drive home would’ve been, so that was a bit of expense I won’t need to make next time, but it still made for a decent weekend away from home.