Friday, 30 November 2018

The Madness of George III (twice!) - ramblings rather than a review - Nottingham Playhouse

Now here's an unusual thing for me - I'm not sure if it's a comedy of errors or a happy accident, but I'm inclining towards the latter - going to see a play twice, with only a week between performances. I frequently go out to the theatre (we have some brilliant productions here in the East Midlands) but generally I go to see a play once during its run. I might catch it a year or so later with a different company's production but I can only afford to go a certain number of times each year, and I'd rather see several offerings than one over and over again. But, more by accident than design, that's what I ended up doing this last couple of weeks at Nottingham Playhouse. And it's made even odder when you consider that initially I was a little sceptical about seeing it at all!

The play in question was Alan Bennett's The Madness of George III, directed by Adam Penfold, starring Mark Gatiss in a superb portrayal of the poor mad king, and one of the best pieces of theatre I've seen in a while (Was Steven Berkoff's Oedipus better? That was sooo long ago, it's hard to be certain. Interestingly, Louise Jamieson was in both)

So, why the initial caution ... well ... back in the day - early 1990s - Alan Bennett's play concerning the madness of George III was extremely popular in the West End and made into a film directed by Nicholas Hytner, starring Nigel Hawthorne, Helen Mirren, and Rupert Everett, and with the title changed, as allegedly some folk might wonder what had happened to Parts I and II of The Madness of George. Now I know you can't really compare film and stage productions but having seen Nigel Hawthorne's George III on screen I rather wondered if that performance would be fixed firmer in my mind than if I'd seen him on stage; that he might have somehow set a sort of bench mark to compare any other interpretation to. BUT Adam Penfold/ (directing) and Mark Gatiss have proved me wrong.
Also (hugest apologies to both actor and director) I was a little concerned about the casting of Mark Gatiss. I know him mainly from playing Mycroft in Sherlock, and Bamber Gascoigne in Starter For Ten, and rather thought he was just being bussed in as a big name that people would flock to see. I couldn't have been more wrong!

Despite these qualms, when my daughter talked about going we decided to make a mother/daughter evening of it, and bought tickets way back sometime in Spring with all the normal prevarication over price versus view, and such. Even then, seats were selling well but I got some good ones, down in the stalls (the circle wasn't open for sales at this point), not too far to the side. And then we waited.

The production opened, and Twitter was awash with praise. Another cause for scepticism on my part - perhaps they were so excited to see a famous person from the telly that they left any critical thoughts at home for the evening? I'm coming over as way too cynical but that's me. Anyway, I picked the tickets up the week before we were due to go ... and daughter fell ill. Crossing fingers, we assumed she'd have recovered in time ... but a couple of days before we decided that wasn't going to happen and I tried to change the tickets.
There weren't many seats left for the remaining performances (and even the vertiginous circle was nearly filled now) but the box office were willing to change my tickets, but needed the originals to re-sell them. If only I hadn't picked them up! Was it worth dashing down to Nottingham that night to return them? When I explained the predicament to him, my husband even decided to try some man-bargaining about cutting up the tickets we had, and I was rather pleased the box office backed me up and said no, they wanted the physical tickets back to use.

To cut this ramble short, I bought two more tickets, and took my husband along for the first trip.

And it was AMAZING!

Mark Gatiss was brilliant - from regal majesty to gibbering fool, and back. The rest of the cast were fab - the posturing Prince of Wales (Wilf Scolding) slipping in a moment from someone only interested in fashion and his own self-importance, to a distraught son reluctantly obliged to assume the role of regent to help his papa (as if!), the doctors jostling for importance, arguing that theirs was the best way to treat the king, and even the equerries and attendants - never underestimate the guys who have to stand strictly to attention and not move a muscle while things happen around them.
The costumes were gorgeous. The set wonderful. It was funny, and tragic. The story of one man's illness, and the government factions trying to make political gains from it.

 By the time the interval came around, I was delighted I was going back.

My second evening out was the night of a very special Gala Evening celebrating Nottingham Playhouse's 70th birthday. A long list of actors, directors, playwrights associated with the theatre over the years would be there, and for a higher price you could mingle with them, but we were in 'common' seats so no champagne or hob-nobbing with celebrities for us. The play's the thing, though, as someone said :)

I'd wondered if I might feel a bit, not bored, but less involved the second time - but no, easily as enthralled as the week before. It's a bit like watching your favourite film for the tenth time - you pick up a snatched bit of dialogue you might not have caught before, you understand the importance of a minor character, you're ready for the one-liners. A slight mishap with a chandelier in a scene change only served to underline how brilliant the cast were - carrying on without batting an eye.

It's an experience I wouldn't mind trying again, but the question would be how to fund it ...

Meanwhile, The Madness of George III has been transmitted as one of the NTLive screenings, so maybe I could catch an 'encore' of it ...

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Re-discovering Matlock Bath

This week we found ourselves out at Matlock Bath, looking for the cafe where my mum and dad met sometime in the 1930s.

Despite being barely a mile further down the road than Cromford which is one of our favourite places for a lazy walk, Matlock Bath isn't a place we often visit. My parents, though, were part of a cycling club which met there seemingly most weekends in the pre- and post-war years.

On a sunny summer's day the A road running through is heavy with traffic, and the pavement filled with visitors wandering between amusement arcades and chip shops, but midweek in November it was almost empty, especially along the Lovers' Walk, on the far side of the river.

Maybe anywhere with water and bright autumnal trees looks beautiful, but I certainly found myself wondering why we don't visit more often.

The day had started quite overcast but as we walked by the river the sun began to appear, and by the time I'd walked up one of the steep switchback roads leading above the village I was warm enough to take my coat off in November! Those side streets are definitely steep!  We didn't go right to the top - the Heights of Abraham attraction which you can reach by the lazier cable-car route - just to the castellated building in the centre of this photo.

Checking with my dad later, it turned out the cafe in question was hardly a hundred yards up the hill, but the views from higher certainly made the effort worthwhile.

Friday, 16 November 2018

A Golden Dog Walk

We've been luckier with the weather this week, especially on the day I ended up on dog-walking duty.

A beautiful, blue sky day when all the trees seemed turned golden. This park is only a few hundred yards from our house, in the middle of a modern housing estate. I think it proves you don't have to go great distances for some outdoors beauty.

Such a wonderful improvement on last week! I'm sure we'll be back to damp, misty days soon but for I'll make the most of this late sunshine

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Getting 'myself' back

Normal life (or what passes for it here) has slipped away over the last couple of months. I've managed to carry on with the day to day grind, though some might doubt if that includes any housework beyond the absolutely necessary, but grief has stopped me constructing sentences to form blog posts - either here or at OurBookReviewsOnline, and has definitely put an end to a desire to go out for fun. Folk have suggested going out as a way of  'cheering up' or 'getting over it' but my gut instinct was having none of that - it wouldn't have felt right. There's been plenty of dog-walking, sunset-chasing, grandson buggy-pushing trips to country parks and nature reserves but when it came to proper evening's out I've cancelled on gigs I said I'd attend, missing some touring artists I really wanted to see, but I just couldn't face going.
This last week without me really noticing something changed and I feel like I'm back to my normal self.

First I went out to a gig. Dave Giles is a guy I've known for a couple of years and he's come to feel like a friend. Since I last saw him perform, he's been up to exciting stuff - heading out to Nashville to record his new album, and bringing the musicians who played on it over here on tour, so when he came to Nottingham last week I decided to take the plunge and go see him, and I realised how much I'd missed been out in a happy crowd.

Over the weekend, our youngest daughter was home playing at a gig/birthday party on Saturday evening but earlier we spent the afternoon at Chatsworth catching the first day of the house being decorated for Christmas.

The next day we took her home with a lovely drive through the Peak District and a break for lunch at Lyme Park. It's how our weekends used to be - full of varied activities and experiences.

Tuesday saw me out again; this time to the theatre to see Alan Bennett's The Madness of George III. Mark Gatiss was amazing as 'Mr King', the rest of the cast fab, the set and costumes wonderful, and it was one of the best pieces of theatre I've seen in a while.

In part it feels like it's been yet another crazy full week, and certainly everything didn't run smoothly to plan, but it's been better and more stimulating than most of late. I feel more settled, and much more 'myself' for it. Now perhaps it is time to get back to 'normal'.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Rainy walk in the Wood

'It looks nice this morning,' I said.
'I'll come along dog-walking'

We were hardly out the door when the rain started.

It made the leaves in their autumnal reds and yellows brighter, but the pumpkins (I assume put out for wildlife to eat) sadder.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Step by step ...

Somehow nearly six weeks have gone since my mother died, and mostly the days have passed on auto-pilot, disappearing under funeral plans, paperwork, and the extraordinary amount of sleep I suddenly seem to need, while the world around me has held little of interest.

What I've felt has been nothing like I imagined grief would be, no floods of tears but an emotional, painful, yet numb, time. After the initial flurry of activity we were left with a long wait before the funeral. During it I occupied myself with gardening and lots of walking - activities which don't really require thought or concentration, but which occupied my mind just enough. Time spent outside is always a plus but having a purpose - pulling weeds or walking the dog - mixed with the mindfulness of seeing the colours change on the trees or watching the sunset has really soothed me. We've probably been out more in the last few weeks than we normally would! Meanwhile lots of things have been allowed to slide - I've ignored anything beyond the most urgent of housework, relied heavily on ready meals and take aways for dinner, and, although I've been reading, putting thoughts together for book reviews seems too difficult to contemplate.

Oddly that most maligned place - social media - has proved to be wonderfully supportive. From a few kind words to conversations about others' loss and how to cope, I've found so many caring people there ready to help me through this dreadful phase, and to distract me with political rants or cute puppies, whichever I needed.

Now I'm pulling out of that numbness and realising that somehow we seem to have moved from summer to winter while I wasn't paying attention. Warm days have suddenly been replaced by overnight frosts, and the shops are stocking up for Christmas. It's starts to feel like time to get back into the world. Step by step. No rush.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Swan Lake again

Since we 'discovered' Swan Lake back in summer, it's become a favourite spot to head out for a short walk, so we thought it was time to share it with our grandson.

Somehow we'd remembered the paths as flat and easy, but pushing a buggy up an old railway bank proved us wrong.

Other than that little blip, the paths were easy as many of them are cycle routes so require a good surface

As we started out, the sky was blue and the sun warm (considering the time of year)

but as we wandered further the sun disappeared behind clouds

and the crisp autumnal leaves were replaced by the murky water of the old canal - suitable spooky for Halloween!

Returning to the car park by the lake, we encountered a feeding frenzy. The birds here expect ALL visitors to have brought food and this time they were in luck.

Seagulls were being the noisiest and making most fuss, but the Canada geese look more determined! I hope something was left for the smaller birds - ducks and coots - but I suspect not.