stapsdoes101things: detail of a hymnbook page showing hymn no. 101, tune 'St Bernard' (101music)
Saucy Lamp (b/w)

... and all of the chanteuses are simple honest floozies...

Upon re-reading my statement of intent for this goal, I note with some amusement that I was planning to take advantage of all the theatres that I can reach so easily now that I'm living in Surrey. Well, so far in this challenge I have been to three theatrical performances, two of them in a church - and one on the Isle of Wight.

Yes, on Monday I found myself back in Shanklin Theatre, where I began my short-lived and undistinguished career in amateur operatics as a dresser backstage in The Merry Widow. (I subsequently appeared in the chorus of several of the Savoy Operas, and eventually had a couple of lines to myself in The Gipsy Baron.)

As it happens, I was going to see The Merry Widow, but this time presented by Opera della Luna. My father and brother had been to see their production of The Sorcerer at the Theatre Royal, Winchester, and raved about it. Besides, I have always had a soft spot for The Merry Widow - 1900s Paris! Huge hats! Women doing what the hell they like! - and so I decided that obviously it was a good idea to commute from Ventnor to Guildford on Tuesday morning for the sake of going to the theatre on Monday night. (Actually it wasn't as bad as I expected - just over two hours. But never mind that.)

And this was indeed a very good production. Opera della Luna have reduced the cast to eight and the orchestra to seven, one of whom doubles as a non-speaking character. The orchestra is tucked into a corner of the stage, where it effectively suggested a palm court trio at the series of parties that are the setting of The Merry Widow. Elsewhere, puppets and mannequins made up numbers; it was all very clever.

The translation and production combined found and emphasised a very cynical edge to the libretto, which cut through the musical schmaltz beautifully, making the indifferent slush that I first saw into something savage and witty. The Merry Widow is about sex and money, and nobody was trying to explain that away. It is also about class and gender - not for one moment were we allowed to forget that Hanna started out as a 'peasant girl'. It is about the double standard. Chez Maxim, ever present in the dialogue, and, later in the flesh, reminds us of the value assigned to women in this society. The Maxim's scene was hilarious (and a very clever use of the limited cast) but also rubbed in the uncomfortable truth.

Oh yes, and the singing was great, too. I loved it.
stapsdoes101things: '101' superimposed on a rose window (101church)
Church = Theatre

February in our church is a month of mixed frustration, curiosity and wonder. It's the month when the Guildford Shakespeare Company moves in and transforms the building into a theatre. For three weeks the vestry is full of velvet and lace and metal crates, choir practice happens in the parish hall, huge lights appear in unexpected places, and half the church is inaccessible. Seventeenth century English crops up a lot. Depending on the sort of church you're used to, some of that might be normal. Some of it, not so much. It is all par for the course when every day of those three weeks, Sundays excepted, is going to see a performance of some Shakespearean tragedy.

Anyway, I do make a point of going to the performances. (I keep meaning to go to GSC's summer performances, too, which are outdoors, but I've never yet got round to it.) This year's tragedy is Richard III, a play I had a passing acquaintance with. (Read it twice, spent a couple of hours teaching time on it at university, seen the Ian McKellan film.) This was a convincing performance, set in goodness knows when (Richmond appears in desert combats and a pristine white trench coat crawling with gold braid, sometimes both at the same time) and that not mattering at all.

What struck me particularly this time round was the extent to which Richard makes the audience complicit in his plot - and it is his plot, in more ways than one. He is the only person who seems to be able to tell us what is going on in this twisted mess of Woodvilles and Plantagenets, and so we cling to him almost gratefully, no matter that we know exactly who he is and what he's in it for. (Except, of course, we don't.) Because, to tell the truth, none of the other characters is a paragon of virtue, not until they're dead. Even the young Duke of York is a horrible little brat.

And then Richard loses us. He has to, and then poor old Richmond has to do his best not to look like a deus ex machina. In this performance it happened in the scene with Buckingham and the crowd (enter Richard between two priests and all that). It was clever. They made us the crowd. It's all very well to watch other people being manipulated, but when it's happening to you, and you can see it happening, they tend to lose your sympathy.

If it sounds as if this was all about Richard, well, it was, really. He was made, as I've hinted, a very engaging character - a relatively young actor, with a wonderfully twisted sense of fun about him. After him Queen Margaret stands out most in my mind, and then Elizabeth Woodville. (There is, after all, a small advantage to female underrepresentation, and those two really are fantastic characters. I would love there to be more about Margaret.)

The church setting lends itself very well to use as a theatre. Though it's two hundred years later than Shakespeare, the subtle (and occasionally not so subtle) use of the church fixtures and decorations works helpfully to frame the action within the Christian-centric society that Shakespeare portrays. (I will be impressed, though, if they ever do Antony and Cleopatra in there.)

In other news, I've just received the programme for the retreat I'll be going on in March. It looks good. And I had a solo verse in a responsorial psalm on Sunday.
stapsdoes101things: detail of a hymnbook page showing hymn no. 101, tune 'St Bernard' (101music)
28 January 2012

- Running a BookCrossing challenge for LGBT History Month. Nobody seems to have released anything yet, but it's early days, and I haven't managed to release anything either, so I can't talk. I have, however, begun to gather some goodies together to make prizes for the lucky winners.
- Having another go at writing 1001 words every day. The same rules apply as last time: journal entries, on or offline, and additions to my own writing projects, will count towards this; comments on other people's posts, or forum posts, won't.
- Seeing how far I get with the family guitar and a book entitled 'The Right Way to Play Guitar'.
- Going to see Richard III.
- Taking a packed lunch to work every day. (This is the one most likely to fall by the wayside, mostly because I only really decided to go for it today. On the other hand, this really is the time of year to make a big batch of soup in the slow cooker and take in a bowl's worth every day.)

Choosing such a short month as February to complete some of the 'Do X every day for a month' does feel like cheating, but it is at least a longer than average February. It's also a relatively quiet time work-wise and family-wise, and I think I've got a better chance of getting these goals done than I would in a lot of other months.
stapsdoes101things: A sculpture of a Wellsian Martian Tripod; text '101' in corner (101woking)

If you were wondering, Holy Trinity Church, Guildford, is indeed my regular church. Guildford Shakespeare Company, however, is worth seeing wherever it performs. (In the summer they do outdoor performances. I'm thinking of taking a picnic.)

So, once I'd finished my first aid training, I wandered back into the centre of Guildford and met [personal profile] countertony for dinner at Pizza Express. Olives, pizza rustichella, and tartufa di cioccolato. (Dull, I know, but it does count.) We then wandered over to the church, and watched Marcellus and Barnardo patrolling the stage until 7.30.

It was a good performance. Hamlet is not my favourite Shakespeare, or even my favourite Shakespeare tragedy (though at least it wasn't Romeo and Juliet again!) but I did enjoy this version. For me, Claudius and Polonius were the most convincing; Hamlet himself didn't quite live up to my expectations, though I don't know exactly what my expectations were! Ophelia was very shouty all the way through and then surprised me by moving me almost to tears in the mad scene.

I think the great success in this production lay in the emphasis on the military side of things: a kingdom constantly under the threat of war (and the stylised 1930s costuming went a long way to help with this) and cracking under the strain. I could have done with less of the Doctor Whoesque incidental music, at least at the volume they were playing it. And I could really have done with a cushion.

Little Black Dress

Then, yesterday morning, I was wandering around the charity shops of Woking, and came across my little black dress. The photo above is a detail of the beading at the waist. It's a John Rocha design for Debenhams, tags still attached, in my size, for £15.99. Sixteen quid is a lot for a charity shop - but it's cheap for an unworn 'designer' dress.

I wore it to a party last night. The party was in Reigate and, while it's possible to get home from Reigate after nine o'clock, if you don't want to take two hours and go round via Clapham Junction, it's more sensible to throw yourself on the mercy of your friends who happen to live ten minutes' drive away, near Redhill.

Said friends put me up for the night, and I spent this morning raiding their back-up drive for photos. I've now got copies of all the pictures I could possibly need for my scrapbook of other people's weddings. As for the scrapbook of my own wedding, it's almost finished. I just need to get prints of a couple of photos from my hen night.
stapsdoes101things: A sculpture of a Wellsian Martian Tripod; text '101' in corner (101woking)
I'll Be Seeing You

Why do I want to do this?

I used to be completely and utterly stage-struck, and to this day there's something about the swish of a red velvet curtain that makes me happy. I don't go to the theatre nearly as often as I'd like, and this is because I'm never organised enough to find out what's on and get myself a ticket. This is frankly ridiculous, with the Ambassadors (or is it the New Victoria?) on my doorstep and London just up the railway line.

How will I know I've done it?

I'll be able to produce ticket stubs or programmes for the following:

- one grand opera (as distinct from light opera, below - this doesn't have to be restricted to nineteenth-century spectaculars, but it does have to be at least vaguely serious);
- one light opera or operetta (this can be one of the Savoy operas, though if this is the case it must absolutely be a professional production; I've seen plenty of amateur G & S, so it wouldn't be a new experience);
- one musical (can be anything)
- one ballet (can be anything)
- three Shakespeare plays (not to include Romeo and Juliet, if I can help it)
- one play not (so far as is known) written by Shakespeare (but can be anything else)

I'll record this in posts in this journal.

August 2013

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