It’s become a bit of a tradition for me to make my birthday into a bit of a foodie thing, since starting off the whole “Eating on my own” thing with the Michelin-starred restaurants a couple of years back.
This year I’d taken the week off and booked a week in Northumberland, which made it even more fun.
So this year my actual birthday meal (well, the day after, but it counted) was at L’Enclume. One heck of a drive across-country – two and a half hours each way – but still better than the five hours each way it would be from home.
Then during the week was an evening at House of Tides – which I love, and rarely miss taking the opportunity to go to when I’m in the North-East.
And finally, while I was in Manchester I visited a very new place, Mana, because it sounded interesting. (And it was!)
So it’s been a foodie week, and very enjoyable. But I might need to walk a lot over the coming week or so to make up for it…
In an ongoing thread, there are times where I realise I really am a silly sod. This is another of those things.
A fair while back, the Cowboy Junkies (one of my all-time favourite bands) announced they were coming to the UK. It had been a fair while since they’d been here last, and even better, it was happening the weekend after my birthday. However, that was also the end of the week I was already booked up to spend in Northumberland, which was a Friday to Friday booking. And they were playing Manchester on the Saturday, and London on the Sunday.
So I figured what the hell, it’ll be a weekend, and booked tickets for both Manchester and London. Well I was up in the area anyway, and the London one was billed as being different to the Manchester one (although that has since changed). So why not? (Other than mileage, of course) I’d drive over from Northumberland to Manchester on the Friday, stay in a hotel overnight, do the gig on the Saturday night, and then drive home afterwards. Easy.
And then the plan changed a bit. When I saw the play Queen Margaret in Manchester, I realised how painless the journey was by train. So instead I figured I could drive home from Northumberland on the Friday – allowing me to get laundry and so on done in the evening and so on. Then on the Saturday I could get the train up, have lunch somewhere new and fancy that had grabbed my attention, then walk down to the hotel, check-in, drop off bag etc., go to the gig, stay overnight on Saturday, train home on Sunday morning, then down to London for Sunday night.
Yes, I’m an idiot, and an absolute loon. But I cut my mileage by taking the train, and improved my own safety by not driving home from Manchester late on a Saturday night. So that, at least, was sensible…
Every year I say “I’ll do less next year“. “I need the downtime“, I say. “I can’t keep on living like this” (or, others say to me “You can’t keep on living like this”) Every damn year.
And then every year stuff starts happening from October where I go “Oooh, I’ll book that“. And suddenly I discover/realise that I’ve already got at least one thing booked in per month through to this time next year.
Plays, shows, activities, exhibitions, travel. It’s all in there already.
As usual, I knew sod-all about it beforehand – I’d figured some of the basics (that it was around the Trojan war and so on) but that was it.
It’s an interesting production, with extra percussion and sound created by Evelyn Glennie, and in some ways feels like it’s a mix of Stomp and Shakespeare. (Which isn’t a bad thing, in my own pantheon of opinions/preferences) It’s also a fairly modern staging, with shipping containers taking the place of tents and so on, whereas the costuming (and in some cases lack thereof) is more traditional. So it’s a bit confused, but in a way that I liked.
I was, to be honest, less taken with the play itself. It was interesting enough, and enjoyable enough, but at the same time I don’t know that it’s one I’d make a big effort to see again.
Weirdly, Troilus and Cressida themselves aren’t really major roles within the play – they’re on stage a lot less than most of the other primary characters.
All told, there’s a lot of focus on political intrigues and deal-making as well as the war itself, and it makes for a complicated script and set-up that can sometimes be confusing.
So yes, I enjoyed the entire thing and I’m glad I went. But there are other Shakespeare plays I’d prefer to see before seeing Troilus and Cressida again.
And all told, I have to say I was really impressed with the play as a whole. The staging is really clever, making use of tables as an initial example of a rock-face, and it’s also a hugely physical production, with a large suspended structure being used to tell most of the story of the mountain climb.
There are a couple of odd bits (two musical numbers in particular seem pretty stramge) and I personally found the last five minutes to be a bit of a let-down, but all told it’s a very very good production, and worth going to see if you get a chance.
(This, it turns out, isn’t unusual – the knowledge of McDonagh’s works seems to be pretty polarising. I haven’t yet met anyone who could blather about both sides of his work – people know either the films or the plays, but rarely both, and are surprised to learn of the other side)
Back in January, it was announced that there would be a new McDonagh play premiering at the Bridge Theatre in London, and on spec I thought I’d book tickets and give it a go. (Still knowing nothing about his plays) The play was called “A Very Very Very Dark Matter” (always a good omen) and the description for it was…
In a townhouse in Copenhagen works Hans Christian Andersen, a teller of exquisite and fantastic children’s tales beloved by millions. But the true source of his stories dwells in his attic upstairs, her existence a dark secret kept from the outside world.
As it turned out, I managed to get tickets for the second performance – previews rather than “proper” performances, but still, second ever one. Which is pretty good, by anyone’s standards.
On Saturday, that’s where I was. And it’s a strange old production for sure. I’m fully aware that I have other friends going to see it still, and I’m not tosspotty enough to spoiler it at all (which makes this a bit harder to write) but it’s a weird, dark, sweary and scabrous affair.
Jim Broadbent plays Hans Christian Andersen as a fairly unpleasant human being – utterly self-centred, but also a quite spectacular idiot – who is taking advantage of the source of his stories. He also goes to visit Charles Darwin Dickens (a regularly repeated joke through the play) who is played by Phil Daniels as an exceptionally sweary (and very funny) Cockney – and who may also be housing a similar source for his stories.
Along the way there’s violence, creepy attics and puppets (and arachnophobes should be aware that one of them is a big spider), time travel, writers, lots of swearies, and general weirdness. In short, it’s a Martin McDonagh script.
All told, I did enjoy the play – although I did feel that it could’ve been better, and made more of the subject matter it had – but I don’t honestly know that I’d want to see it again…
“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.