Tuesday, April 14, 2009

This evening we attended the performance of Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring with LIVE soundtrack played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Ludwig Wicki. Howard Shore's Academy award-winning score was performed live on stage by the original soundtrack orchestra and choirs, The London Voices and The London Oratory School Schola.
This was a birthday present and we have been anticipating this wonderful evening for a few months. We began with an early dinner at Carluccio's by South Ken Station, then walked up Queen's Gate to the steps leading up to the Royal Albert Hall. Many people joined us as we walked up, allowing ourselves to be impressed by the lovely building. We entered by door 11, to gain acess to the arena where we were to be sitting. This is where the promenaders usually mill about during the Proms season. Tonight there were seats, and we had a grand view of the podium with the big screen in position behind, covering the organ and its associated pipes.
The orchestra seemed pretty large and included several places for the percussion. This included a huge drum cradled on its side as well as bells, other drums and the usual percussion instruments. The choir sat behind the orchestra, just under the screen.
It took some time to get everyone seated as it was definitely a full house, but eventually the house lights dimmed and the conductor appeared. The screen flickered to life and as the opening credits rolled, the conductor brought down his baton and the performance began. It was stunning and we sat spell bound; watching the film; reading the subtitles; and watching the orchestra as the musicians created the magic with their expertise. Luckily there was an interval when we could stretch our legs, then the second half began and again we were fascinated by all the performances - trying to spot when the very large drum was used, but not wanting to miss the action on the truly big screen.
As the film drew to an end, everyone remained seated as the closing credits rolled up the screen - of course, the music continues right to the end, and then the whole of the Royal Albert Hall errupted into ecstatic applause. The audience loved the perfomance, and we said a very big thank you to the giver of this wonderful birthday present. A night to remember.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Hats, Hatchards and a High Street dinner

We thought we would go to the Darwin Exhibition at the Natural History Museum and set off for South Ken only to find that the queue to get in – just to the Museum, was down the steps, through the garden, passed the wildlife garden, out of the gate and up Queens Gate. It would probably take a couple of hours just to get to the front door. So, we decided to visit the V&A, next door, where the crowds were less dense!
Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones was our chosen exhibition, and we nearly got in for free with our Art Fund cards. It is an exhibition reflecting one by Cecil Beaton in the 1971 – in fact the V&A’s first fashion show. This exhibition is a collaboration between V&A and Stephen Jones, world famous milliner. He has been producing hat collections twice a year for twenty years as well as working with many famous fashion houses and designers. I find this quite interesting as Grannie trained as a milliner in Manchester in the 1930s at a well known milliners, Jones of Manchester.
The exhibition is wonderful, with hats in displayed in ‘shop windows’, grouped in topics such as Inspiration, Creation, The Salon and The Client. The displays included some very old hats – the oldest we saw being and apprentice’s hat from the 1550s, as well as Stephen Jones creations from this year. We saw some beautiful creations as well as some weird ones, but all were great fun and beautifully displayed. In the centre of the exhibition there is milliner’s workshop with shelves stacked with the tools of the trade, half made and finished hats. The visitor can see into this workshop through several windows, each giving a slightly different view – the wooden heads, the sewing machine, boxes of feathers, flowers and other accessories overflowing the work tables. There are hats you would wear to Ascot Ladies Day and others that graced the King’s Road in the 60s; Queen’s hats, star’s hats and hats for you and me! A really fascinating collection, and yes, I’m sorry we missed Mr Darwin, but I’m not sorry we saw this great exhibition.
To continue our ‘day out’, we made our way to Green Park tube station and walked down Piccadilly. Our aim was to browse around Hatchards Bookshop, but first we came to Fortnum and Mason and who can resist a look in the windows, and we just had to go inside.

After wandering around the food, we made our way upstairs to look at all those amazing articles one never knew you needed! But sense prevailed and nothing was bought! However, we came across a stand of Stephen Jones hats, which were duly photographed, as that was strictly banned in the V&A.

There is also a display advertising the exhibition on the staircase.

So Hatchards came next and we couldn’t resist a copy of The Return of John MacNab, having a John Buchan fan with us.
We had consumed most of the day, so we made our way to the train home and walked up the High Street from the station to enjoy a glass of wine in the bar of The Farriers before we had dinner in their bistro - Upstairs@the Farriers. It was a lovely way to end such a jolly day out.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Dancing at Lughnasa

I always wondered what Lughnasa was, when I read that the play Dancing at Lughnasa was being performed. Was it a place in Dublin – a bar or dance hall or club, maybe? So when we decided to sample the delights of another performance in the CQS space at the Old Vic, I really had to find out.
Apparently, Lughnasa ( pronounced ‘loo nasa’ ) refers to the 1st August Celtic Harvest Festival, which is celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Bilberries are a key feature of the festival; the boys thread bilberries to make bracelets for their girls; and on the first Sunday in August, the young folk pair off for the afternoon to go bilberry collecting up the hill. There is a lot of singing and dancing, and before they come back, the girls leave their bracelets up there. Then there are sporting contests like horse-racing, weight throwing – and it is thought that the Highland Games are the modern version of the Lughnasa Festivals in Scotland. Perhaps these contests are the representation of the battles to protect the crops that are ripening from disaster.
This production is the first in the West End since Brian Friel’s play premiered in London, October 1990; and a wonderful cast has been gathered under the direction of Anna Makmin: Niamh Cusack, Michelle Fairley, Simone Kirby, Susan Lynch, Andrea Corr, Finbar Lynch, Peter McDonald and Jo Stone-Fewings.
The play is narrated by Michael, the adult, illegitimate son of Chris Mundy, the youngest of the five sisters who live just outside Ballybeg. He has returned to the empty cottage and his reminiscences of the summer of 1936 are the basis of the play. The sisters make ends meet with Kate’s wages as a teacher and the small amount that Agnes earns making gloves, with a little help from the rather slow Rose. The summer of 1936 seems to be a turning point when the sisters realise that perhaps they are too old to attend the Lughnasa Festival dance; when Kate learns that her job at the school is in jeopardy; and when Agnes finds she no longer has a market for her hand made gloves as the factory made ones are cheaper. Their brother, Jack, returns from his priest's job in Uganda adding to this mix and there are sporadic visits from Gerry, Michael’s father, who announces that he is off to fight in the Spanish War.
The story twists and turns and looking into the ‘cottage’ and its garden in the CQS space at the Old Vic, we are completely taken up with the fates of the characters. It is with sadness that we learn from Michael’s final monologue what has befallen the family, which includes the deaths of Agnes and Rose, destitute in London. This is the Old Vic at its best and after this production the theatre will be returned to its original format. Whether or not the CQS space will be a future possibility only remains to be seen.