Blink.

Who you are, I once was.
Where you stand, I once stood.
Blink and the world turns.

Details change, people don’t-
they find fresh ways to hurt,
fresh ways to be kind,
fresh ways to strut and preen,
fresh ways to create and destroy.
Life goes on
while we watch ourselves
recede into the distance.
Things fall apart.

Memories sweeten
as the past is recreated
in our own image.
We retell our story
as we hoped it would be-
editors of our own existence,
bringing meaning,
adding in,
leaving out.

Who you are, I once was.
Where you stand, I once stood.
Blink and the world turns.

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A moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is time in a life
when you will be happy.
It can come at any moment
and it will not last forever.
Stuff happens.
People leave.
Things change.
Rain falls.

Know your patch of sunlight
when it comes.
Let it feed your heart.
Stand in it.
Raise your face.
Feel the light.

Remember.

Tobacco Factory Theatre at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. 11-10-18

Production-photos-collage-Henry-V

Production images by Craig Fuller.

I had been looking forward to the Tobacco Factory Theatre’s production of Henry V and I wasn’t disappointed. They are one of the best small scale theatre companies doing Shakespeare in the country and we are lucky to be able to see them up in Scarborough, a long way from their home in Bristol. The round at the Stephen Joseph is a perfect space for them- a home from home which reflects their own Factory theatre- and the production energised the space beautifully. Even within a relatively small matinee audience I could feel the tension ramp up and the temperature drop as we watched the devastating final scenes. Put simply- it worked.

While more could have been done with the with the characters of the bunch of renegades who went to war with Henry all the cast worked hard and delivered well. There were three performances which were outstanding for me. Ben Hall gave us a Henry who was clearly still struggling for control of himself, his dissolute past never far away. This was not a king who had shrugged off his past and chosen the route of leadership and duty easily without looking back. He is no hero, his route to becoming a great king throughout the play is fraught and costs him dear. In a small space every expression, every small gesture, is seen in detail, there is nowhere to hide, and this was a performance with great truth. He is young and relatively inexperienced and I hope that someone from one of the national companies has taken note. When he had scenes with Heledd Gwynn, another relatively inexperienced actor, the play really caught fire. I absolutely loved her performance, both as the Dauphin and Katherine- I doubt I will see anyone I like better in that role. She was full of fire and energy, a true warrior who wore her pain and outrage as a badge of honour. It was a masterful idea to combine the two roles and transpose the scene where Katherine learns some English onto the battlefield over the body of Orleans. It made the later scene where Henry has to persuade her to marry him absolutely electrifying. There was pain, resentment and anger but at the same time she knew what she had to do. It was quite different to the way that scene is usually played and it was a revelation. I shall be looking out for her in anything she does in the future- I have a feeling there will be plenty.

It was a great pleasure to see an experienced actor alongside those two shining young people playing the Chorus and Burgundy. Joanne Howarth was excellent, drawing us in and speaking directly to us in exactly the way that the round loves. Every word was thought through, engaging and accurate. She knew exactly what she was doing and there is no better feeling for an audience than having a close connection in a small space with an actor who you know is not going to let you down. You don’t develop that kind of skill overnight and it was a pleasure to see. The chorus is one of the most important parts in the play. It provides an ironic and lyrical voice to comment on the action and drive the play forward and it really matters that it is done well.

I have already praised the direction and Elizabeth Freestone’s considerable experience showed throughout, both on a large scale, allowing pace and clarity, and in small details like the way that French and English armies were able to transform into each other instantly with subtle changes of attitude and costume. Lily Arnold’s set and costume design worked perfectly, mesh boxes and rubble for a set and weathered military jerkins that crossed the centuries, creating an archetypal world that could be anywhere, anytime. Exactly right for a play that will never lose it’s relevance while people still fight and those who are caught up in the carnage- not least the leaders- have to attempt to deal with the damage.

I want my time with you. Tracey Emin. St Pancras station.

Railway stations are places of drama and transition, places for meetings and partings, excitement and regret, a stage set for moments of intimacy played out among strangers. There is a freedom which comes from being in transition that rubs up against the insecurity of being in a strange place. Even a familiar station and a regular platform are somewhere that we don’t belong. We only have the right to be there for a short while. We are watching the clock. This is particularly true of the Eurostar platforms at London’s St Pancras. You will be chaperoned and chivvied through- told when to move and where to go. This is a special place, part of a journey which includes a ride under the English channel (or la Manche if you live on the French side) but there is no ceremony. Wait, walk, lift, stow, sit. Breathe out. This lack of ceremony is a shame as rushing through the darkness at almost a hundred miles per hour with the heavy weight of the sea bearing down over your head is never going to be ordinary. Coming out into the light after thirty five minutes and finding yourself in a different country is always going to be a surprise- a moment of revelation. What you have left behind and what you are heading towards deserve a moment of recognition. Attention must be paid. Your thoughts and feelings should be acknowledged, savoured and given space to grow.

Tracey Emin’s work, I want my time with you, was installed at St Pancras in April 2018. It looks like it has always been there, fitting the space perfectly and drawing it together, giving it meaning. The glowing pink sentence twenty metres long above the station clock is a short, heartfelt love letter to Europe, written at a time when we are about to leave the EU. It is also a deeply personal work for anyone who sees it. We bring our own thoughts and feelings to it when we look up, whether we are leaving or returning, happy or sad. It is a shape-shifter of a sentence which means different things at different times while remaining constant. A glowing modern beacon perfectly at ease among the mellow Victorian brick and ironwork, seeing you off or welcoming you home, allowing you to pause for a moment of heartache, joy, regret or poignancy.

Alleluyah! The Bridge Theatre. 5-9-18

Production photograph by Manuel Harlan.

Nobody likes old people- old people don’t like old people.

Alan Bennett’s play Alleluyah! at the new Bridge theatre is a brave but flawed piece of theatre. It takes some big ideas and a large cast and shows us a time of crisis in a small Northern NHS Hospital threatened with closure. In particular it shows us the ups and downs of life on the Dusty Springfield ward where a group of frail elderly people are hanging in there, not quite ready to give up yet. They are kept going, in spite of pain, frustration and a ward sister who has a sinister list of patients who are becoming too much trouble, by their ward choir and the dedication and kindness of young Doctor Valentine- a lovely performance by Sacha Dhawan. There are some great moments and plenty of trademark Alan Bennett one liners and revue numbers where the elderly patients are set free to dance and sing but I came away thinking that while there was a lot to enjoy what could have been a great piece of theatre just didn’t quite work as it should have done. I am not for a moment suggesting that it is bad- Alan Bennett and his director Nicholas Hytner would have to work very hard to be that- but it felt like it wanted to be The History Boys or Forty Years On and got a bit lost in the attempt. There was good acting, good writing and good staging but alongside this there were moments where you could see what Alleluyah! might have been and when that happens it is never good. In particular there is a scene where a lacklustre work experience lad doing his stint at the hospital turns nasty and it quite simply should have been better written and better acted. The best of the writing- and some of the best of the acting- came in the scenes where the veteran performers were given their chance to shine. It was wonderful to see so many of them on stage seizing their moment with real energy and pathos.

The finest moment came right at the end when Doctor Valentine- now under threat of deportation- spoke directly to the audience with great charm and simplicity. Not many actors can do that in the way that Sacha Dhawan did- it’s harder than it sounds- and the warmth that he got back from the audience in return was genuine. It was for both the play and the NHS itself. If only they had got Alleluyah! exactly right we would have been on our feet.