Archive for December, 2012

Maria Friedman has built a considerable reputation as a performer of Stephen Sondheim’s work and she clearly brings all of her experience into play in directing this revival of his 1981 musical. The characterisations and the interpretation of the lyrics are spot-on throughout and the 18-strong cast, led by Mark Umbers, Jenna Russell and Damian Humbley are uniformly superb. This is hard core Sondheim, probably not for the unconverted; the writer is at his most introspective examining the conflicts between financial gain and artistic integrity in the lives of songwriters and assessing the value of real friendships in the shallow worlds of Broadway and Hollywood. Furthermore, there are no instantly recognisable hit songs and the story defies convention by running backwards in time. With these handicaps, it is hardly surprising that the original Broadway production was a dismal flop but, at this small venue and in the hands of this team, it begins to look like a minor masterpiece. Every word of every intricate lyric serves to develop the narrative or to provide further insight into the characters, giving a cumulative effect that is utterly heart-rending. Yet another triumph for the Menier.

photo-115The Cottesloe’s long run of successes is extended further with this absorbibg multi-layered drama. The context for Lucy Prebble’s new play is the clinical trials being carried out by a drugs company for a new anti depressant and the characters are two couples, doctors and test subjects. Whilst charting the progress of these relationships, the play examines the ethics of neuroscientism and debates the defining lines between natural emotions and drug induced ones. Performed in the round and faultlessly acted throughout, this is thought provoking adult theatre at its best.

A 30 minute companion piece to “Cocktail Sticks” and just as affecting. Performed by the superb Alex Jennings and a string quartet, with an original score by George Fenton, Alan Bennett reflects on music in his childhood. Funny and moving in equal measures.

In his new play, Alan Bennett postulates, with more than a little irony, that properties and artefacts are to be treasured and that people only spoil them. He berates the National Trust for its mission to make them accessible to the wider public. Blessed with three cracking comic performances (Frances de la Tour, Linda Bassett and Selina Cadell as sisters in possession of such inherited assets), this production should itself have become a National treasure. Yet somehow the whole of the evening seems worth much less than the sum of the constituent parts. Too often dialogue that should sizzle only fizzles and jokes fall flat as the script meanders and sidetracks, thereby diluting the clarity and wit of the arguments being presented. In a segment at the beginning of Act II, the play veers into broad farce with double entendres, falling trousers and even an intruding bishop, but hilarious as this is, it is a mere diversion which seems incongruous when set in the context of everything that precedes and follows it. To sum up, a disappointment but an intermittently entertaining one.

Alan Bennett on familiar territory with an hour long reflection on his parents and early life in Yorkshire. Alex Jennings gives an uncanny impersonation of the writer whose grasp of the common language and everyday trivia of lower working class life in 1950s Britain remains as sharp as ever. A nostalgic, melancholic pleasure.

Day 40 – Home

Posted: December 11, 2012 in Travel

Landed at Heathrow at 6.30am this morning and am now settling into a very cold house. Thanks to Qantas and their awesome A380s for the smoothest, quietest long haul flights I can remember. The adventure is over. For now…….

Day 39 – Christchurch/Home

Posted: December 9, 2012 in Travel

Just finished packing. The scheduled journey time from taking off at Christchurch to landing at Heathrow, including stops at Sydney and Singapore, is 28 hours 50 mins. Joy!!!

Day 38 – Omarama/Christchurch

Posted: December 9, 2012 in Travel

Winding down now, thinking of home. A pleasant enough journey, stopping to view Mount Cook and various other scenic spots, a good lunch in a quaint town called Geraldine and then a late afternoon arrival back in Christchurch. We’ve all had enough of coaches for a while.

Day 37 – Queenstown/Omarara

Posted: December 8, 2012 in Travel

We departed at a civilised hour and very soon made a 90 minute stop in Arrowtown, a pretty little town full of upmarket shops, exactly the sort of place I didn’t need to be let loose in with a credit card on my Birthday. Anyway, I treated myself to two possum/merino jumpers, nice mementos of New Zealand. Then onto the World’s first bunji jump site; apparently Stephen Fry jumped here recently, but I wasn’t tempted. After a couple more unmemorable stops, we arrived in the early afternoon in Omarama, a one horse town where there is absolutely nothing to see or do, so I’ve got no idea why we are here. I’m having a celebratory dinner and Champagne this evening with four nice people. After that, I think I want to go home.

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Day 36 – Queenstown

Posted: December 7, 2012 in Travel

Just as yesterday, we rose early to find it raining, but this time we were given the all clear to leave for Milford Sound. As the crow flies, it is only a short distance from Queenstown, but the crow can fly over the intervening mountain range, whilst the road around it takes almost four hours to drive. After an hour or so, the rain eased and the clouds started to break, giving us near perfect weather for the cruise through the Sound (technically a fiord, similar to the Norwegian ones but spelled slightly differently) as far as the Tasman Sea. More sedate than yesterday, but glorious to behold! We got back to the hotel just before 8.00pm.

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