Sunday, August 30, 2009

A book review

Writing adverse criticism is never much fun. Each time you go to a new show, or read a new book, you always hope it's going to be a winner. Well, here is my antidote to Edgar Allan Poe



My review is on the website of the Operetta Research Centre at:

http://www.operetta-research-center.org/main.php?task=3&cat=1&sub_cat=1&id=00112

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Nearly a Racehorse



The story of my lovely Lena – ‘Elena de Gerolstein’ – the Falcon Seelster-Ester Bromac filly I bought at the yearling sales more than three years ago, has become a saga. She has had more false starts than an ancient tractor in her attempts to make it to the race-track and to become a racehorse. But now, at last, following her grisly operation for what ailed her all along, she is nearly there.
Last weekend, she was taken to the Rangiora workouts for her first appearance on any track as a now unhandicapped horse. In order to give her some idea as to what this business is all about, she was sent round in the 2000 metres Learners’ heat, and she duly led the field home in comfortable style, with respectable 60 and twenty-nine second quarters as her final splits.
So this week she was taken up a notch, and set to run over 2600 metres, in the regular heat for as yet unqualified horses. In spite of running greenly – for although she is five she knows next to nothing about the racing game – she turned up trumps again, taking the lead at the home turn and finishing off in 59.8 and 28.6 at the head of the field.
One more step to go.
All being well, on Wednesday she will go back to Rangiora for the official qualifying trials, and hopefully, at the end of the day, and in time for my return to New Zeaand soil, Elena will be, at last, a racehorse!

Getting Around in Germany, or No, No, Mr Poe

A colourful day on Thursday. First, a stroll around the Reinickendorf-area in northern Berlin, through the Rathauspark, and ending with a quick beer at the very companionable and cosy Zur Dorfquelle, an old inn in Alt Wittenau, alongside the village green and church, and just around the corner from my 'home' at the house of Kevin's parents. I struck up conversation with Michael from the Nordgraben (a little river round the corner), who breeds German shepherd dogs and somehow the quick beer turned into more than one…
Come evening, Kevin and I headed for the fashionable, East Berlin Prenzlauerberg and there we lucked upon a new restaurant, the Zum dritten Mann on the corner of the Kollwitzstrasse. A delicious and sophisticated dinner, the best of its kind I’ve had in Berlin (gaspacho with watermelon and a tiger prawn, Seeteufel with spinach and wild rice, a light Austrian rouge…), which ended with an almost embarrassing hiccup. They don’t take Visa cards, no matter how platinum!
From there, lured by the promise of a performance of Offenbach’s Les deux aveugles, on to the splendidly reconstructed Konzerthaus (ex-Schauspielhaus) in the Gendarmenmarkt. There was no Offenbach, but instead we promenaded in the impressive main hall during a performance of the Die Meistersinger overture, energetically played by an orchestra made up of members of the public. A great atmosphere…
At 11pm, we were to be found on the forecourt of the Hall, making music (?) on a giant set of resonating metal tubes…



NO, NO, MR POE!
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Friday, Kevin, Alessandro and I went even further afield. A two-hours plus drive south to the Saxon city of Halle, the birthplace of Handel, lured this time by the ‘world premiere’ of a new musical, directed by a friend of Kevin’s and Alessandro’s (thus the pilgrimage). Halle must have been a beautiful city in the 18th century. It has some spectacular buildings and some really characterful corners. Alas, it has been aesthetically murdered during its past half-century under East German socialism: every building constructed since the war is of a coarse ugliness scarcely to be believed, and as a result Halle has become a city with something of a split personality.





We visited the Moritzburg – an exhibition of German art, much of it 20th century, housed in a very neatly adapted group of 16th-century buildings -- we passed by the Birthplace of Handel and through the Marktplatz with its several-spired church and its ‘Red Tower’, before ending our cavalcade at the splendid local Opera House.





The Opera House, understandably, specialises – though far from exclusively -- in the production of the works of Handel, but -- having had some success with the production of a musical -- they decided, this year, to produce another. But not a tried and true musical, a virtually untried one.

I wonder who is going to shoulder the blame for Edgar Allan Poe.

Here it would undoubtedly be kinder to say nothing more, but I was in Halle to see and report on the production, so here goes.
I cannot imagine why Eric Woolfson, the author and composer of the musical, thought that the life story of Poe had in it the material for a theatrical piece. It doesn’t. People stand around and talk. A few of them sing, a couple of them (and the vast, hard-working chorus) a great deal too much. The performer taking the title-role fiddles around with what looks like an omnipresent white birdcage and rips the stopper from a few bottles in the nearest thing to action in the course of the night. And as if to compensate for this lack of histrionic movement, everybody, endlessly and infuriatingly, does choreography. I thought I was back in 1950s or 1960s Britain, watching a flop Wendy Toye production at Birmingham. I simply could not believe what I was seeing. Or hearing.
Huge amounts of (public!) money have been flung into the production of this flavourless show, almost everywhere without judgement and without taste. A set of fluffy-tulley white costumes which accompanies a wobbly aria from the grave by the hero’s late mother could go down as one of the visual horrors of theatrical history. And as for the busy scenery, trundled on and off by stagehands, or projected on front or back cloths (what was that thing on the gauze?)…
All these things must have cost a packet, as also the vast sound desk in the middle of the stalls which bleached all the singing into the same sexless studiofied sound … and all to no avail. Because if you haven’t got a piece, all the decoration, all the frills, all the money and over-the-top publicity in the world (and, Lord preserve us, the entire contents of the bible of ancient choreography) can’t make one. And here there is no piece. Just a dull collection of theatrical and musical reminiscences of a hundred other flops seen and buried.
Is there nothing nice to be said? Was there not one moment during the evening when I could sit up and smile? Yes. One. At the beginning of the second act, there is a little waltz song bred from Oklahoma, West Side Story and Gone with the Wind, and sung amid a welter of mint julep scenery (plus chorus, plus choreography) by a young soprano, Evita Komp, in the role of the ephemeral Mrs Poe. It was pretty, she was excellent – the one performer of the night of whom I wanted to hear more. Alas, the raven got Mrs Poe (I think) and she was heard nevermore, except as a Miserables-ish spirit.
After forty years of viewing and reviewing musicals I am still not brave enough to lie. To do the darling-you-were-wonderful act with my tongue in my cheek. So as a rule I don’t go to post-premiere parties. I made an exception for night one of The Phantom of the Opera and last night I went too. The hospitality at Halle was grand. The theatre – as it had with the printing and the front of house and all the trimmings – did the thing in splendid style. How maddening then that all these resources and all this enthusiasm should be wasted on an Edgar Allan Poe.

Friday, August 28, 2009

I have been to the cinema

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Not world-shaking words for most people, but for me, yes. For I am a man who has been to the movies only a few dozen times in his life. I think the last time was for that ‘coarse-acting’ No Bed for Bacon film about Shakespeare in Love, which was enough to put anyone off trying again. Prior to that, I remember from my London years A Passage to India at the Saville, Broken Blossoms and the original Star Wars at the Dominion, and a very bad A Little Night Music at the Curzon. But, over the last three decades, I think that’s about it.
Tonight (Weds), we zoomed across Berlin on Kevin’s motorscooter, took in a nice light supper in the thoroughly beautiful Viktoria-Luise Platz in Schöneberg, and then headed on to the Odeon cinema and the big event. Inglourious basterds (the spelling is important in showing the film’s intentions) is apparently the Big Box Office BlockBuster of The Entire Planet at this time, so I was being brought in at the cutting edge of 21st century world cinema.



So what did I discover? What did I think? I discovered that, in the entertainment world, some things never change. They just get metamorphosed into the language of the times. This film tells a slim tale of a couple of plots to blow up the leaders of the Third Reich (yes, them again), and it tells it in what I think of as the transpontine melodrama style. Lots of simple, exaggerated scenes, two-dimensional acting, colour and movement, bags of manufactured ‘tension’, and, of course, in textbook String of Pearls fashion, buckets of gore. Or, as a little feller I know once said, not ineptly, ‘guckets of bore’. It is the story of how a bunch of fictional Americans (with a little help from a Jewess and a negro) won the war. Haha. Well, it would be ‘haha’ if I were quite sure that a certain part of the population might not take the antics of Lt Rambo Raines and his Dirty not-quite-a-dozen for real.
In traditional fashion, the film ducks from the absurd to the campy, from the extravagant (and of course the gory) to the vastly sentimental, doing nothing by halves, and all the time resembling nothing so much as a vaguely humanised 20th century Japanese cartoon. The ‘action’ kind rather than the pornographic kind (for sex doesn’t get a look in in this show).



This means, of course, that the actors don’t really get to act, although apparently many of them are well known. Not to me, though. I guessed that Brad Pitt (I mean you can’t live in this century without having heard the name) was the one with the second-best part and the cornpone American accent, but that was it. I presume the film will make a very big star of Christoph Waltz (above) who camped the chief baddie in great Robert-Helpmannesque style, and will doubtless camp it again and again, for although the body count in this film is enormous, and nearly the entire principal cast is exterminated in one delicious way or another during the variegated massacres of the evening, both Lt Raines and his antagonist are still alive at the final curtain. So I guess we will have Inglorious .. whoops, Inglourious .. Basterds two, three and twenty-three. Since they have done for the Third Reich, I guess they will move on to extinguish Mussolini, Eva Peron, Fidel Castro, Idi Amin, Colonel Ghadaffi and the United Nations Central Committee to the ringing of tills and the rewriting of the history books.
Whew!
So, the big question. After this, my rebaptism in celluloid, will I go to the cinema again? Maybe. But if I do, I think I shall pick something less determinedly ‘popular’.

PS This was the second time during my Berlin stay that I’ve been to a show featuring a burlesque Hitler (see the already departed The Producers). It really is dreadfully vieux jeu now, maybe someone can come up with something new? Like cowboys and indians?

Adieu, Paris ... noch einmal Berlin!

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And now its time for ‘Adieu, Paris’ as well.

I’ve crammed a lot of social life into my last few days: a Parisian reunion with Barry and Rosemary from Sydney and Brian from Couptrain ... apéritif à la fourchette chez Jean-Baptiste and dinner, of course, at the Bistrot Sainte-Marthe.., an evening chez Alexis, who cooked the most magnificent salmon for us, and an evening out with Christophe and Pierre on the left bank – pastis at the Café Buci, a very nice dinner at No35 in the Rue Jacob (just along from a plaque saying ‘Richard Wagner Lived Here’ even if briefly), and – in a splash of euros – digestifs and coffee at the Pub Saint-Germain (charming atmosphere and disappointingly tarty waitresses). Plus, in between the courses, a wander round the Latin Quarter which Pierre knows intimately and historically, and which in the month of August is almost as thronged with tourists as Barcelona. Finally, a thoroughly exaggerated farewell evening a la maison (how many bottles of wine? .. not possible!), and then heigh ho for Orly once more…

Well, Paris in the last three seasons has certainly given me some good times and grand memories. I’m sure I shall come back again: later, at least, if not sooner.

The final stop on the 2009 leg of my Grand Tour is Berlin. Just for ten days, really to find out if I do want to come back and do an extended stay here in the future. Once again, I’m being looked after by the Clarke family, and today (Tuesday) I sallied forth with Kevin for my first little adventure, luncheon at the lovely old village of Lütbars, very close to the ancient divide between East and West. We ate at the one table outside a little delicatessen on the corner of the Alt-Lütbar … Eisbein mit sauerkraut and a pint of light may not be an adventurous meal for a German (the local equivalent of corned beef and cabbage), but I loved it, and went away with a little Polish sausage for my tea in a paper bag. After lunch we walked along the fields behind the village … a lovely taste of old countryside Berlin where the haymaking and the horses had me feeling half home-sick…



Garçons and their jouets!!
Christophe snapped (on his iphone), Pierre demonstrating to me the utter necessity of possessing an iphone...
and how he can 'put me on the wall' with his machine...

Technology is just moving too fast for me!

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Bye Bye, Barca...

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I don’t suppose we’ll meet again, but it’s been interesting knowing you…

We flew out of Spain on Tuesday 18th August, back to Orly, but scarcely on a high note. For our final night in the city, we went down town to the beach at Barceloneta, and there we drank uncold beer at 3.50 a glass at a sullen beech bar (slap it on the table, and no receipt), and wasted some 180 euros in an excessively mediocre restaurant opposite which served tinned (?) vegetables and shredded lettuce with sole grillé (inadequately filleted) and of which – with the help of a few life-saving brandies -- I blotted the name forever from my memory. No I didn’t: it is Ria de Vigo. Even good Spanish brandy can’t drown it. Point: avoid the beachside tourist traps, and anything that shows pictures of the food served…
Ah, well, you can’t win ‘em all. But I think its worth noting that – apart from the paella at Sitges, which was in a class of its own – the most enjoyable food Barcelona’s eating-places turned up was in the little suburban and city cafes, with their tasty ‘tapas i burradillos’. If ever I go again to Spain, this is a lesson I shall firmly remember.



Apart from food and drink, what will I remember of Barcelona? The heat, of course. That vast heat. And the noise. The vast noise. The thronging town in general, especially on that amazing Fiesta Night… the colour, the smiles, the croquetas, the berberechos, the cold beer and the Vichy Catalan, and the endless traipsing..
The Sagrada Familia, of course, but from the distance. The Placa Reale where we finally sorted out the best cafés (and believe me, there is a huge difference in price, quality and above all, service) and spent a few refreshing hours during our wanderings in the old town. The little area of Sant-Feliu with its charming cafes, and its big classic church, on the Placa de Vila, built 2 months after my birth. And, of course, the magnificent night with Shakespeare at Manaró.
And the swimming pool, without which life in that city would surely be impossible.

We rolled into Paris at the cocktail hour, and made our way straight to my favourite bistrot, Place Saint-Marthe, where the culinary disaster of the previous night was quickly forgotten in the embrace of the marvellous Parisian cuisine that you find there…

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Another Big Night Out in Barcelona!

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The suburb of Grazia – halfway across the city from Sant-Feliu and us -- opened its week-long ‘Festival’ yesterday, and we were there.
The five of us (3 adults, 2 little girls) took Barcelona’s leisurely but very comfortable tramway from one extreme of its line to the other, walked a quarter of an hour up the deceptively quiet Traverzza di Gracia .. and suddenly we were in the middle of it, just as the festival parade was about to start. All the traditional elements of the Spanish Fiesta were there – the horses, the sweet-throwing, the human-castle athletes, the stick-games, the ear-shattering drums and an even more ear-shattering marching ‘band’ of arquebuses. Quite how one Spaniard in three isn’t totally deaf I will never understand…







New to me were the fire-devils .. bands of men and girls in Mephistophelean costume, with long forks topped by big red fireworks .. when the crackers are lit, the ‘devils’ run and twirl and dance, in a rain of sparks, until the things explode with the millionth huge BANG of the day…





I’m not a man for crowds, but here we were in the middle of a whole suburb simply exploding with people (they say over a million people visit the festival during its week of life), and the atmosphere was grand. Everybody smiling, everybody laughing, everybody having a good time … all the joy that I didn’t see at Sitges was here at Grazia. And so were the beautiful people that Sitges lacked .. boys, girls, men, women, children … all together, filling the streets and hanging from the balconies, in a Babel of tongues and laughter, somewhere between Hansel and Gretel's cottage and the garlands of recycled everything.
With even a part of a million people thronging the Callers and bars and restaurants. we were lucky to find a table for the nine people we had become, but we did, and there we sat in the hot Spanish air and plastic chairs, drinking beer from plastic cups and nibbling delicious Spanish bits and pieces from plastic plates until what is for me far too late, but evidently for a six year-old French-Espagnol lass, a perfectly normal time.
After a quiet bus trip back to Sant-Feliu, I think it was something like 1.30am when I subsided under my sheet…

I always wondered why the Spaniards were so good at the Marathon. Now I think I know.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Rosy finishes fast at Ranes

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Yay! Jack has uploaded the last bit of Rosy's race for me ... so here she is 'in person', right on the outside, in the orange colours, mowing 'em down...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

My brother, the poet

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A big day in the Gänzl/Gallas family. My brother, John Gallas, has just carried off the first prize in the 2009 Welsh Poetry Competition with his work 'The Origami Lesson'



the origami lesson

To make Derry Railway Station,
fold the gentle Foyle
beside this end, thus,
where the train breathes at a slight curve,
and for the white fence,
press the line
upon the middle crease
in a fine rain, then
unfold the sheeted roof wing by wing
in line with dim bridges
and the rounded wall.

For Evarethilion,
begin by folding lengthwise
and separating
amongst bright enamels.
To make the unearthly shine,
fold the top point –
which will be the blade –
into a garnet beast, and double back
the silver pommel
into the dotted fist.
Align the creases as if
a rainbow were a staircase
upon which
folded feet boldly tread.

The leaping gnu.
You may use the shimmer
from a lake amidst grassland,
but a hill will do.
Divide the top half into three hearts:
cow, horse and goat.
Take point X upon the hoof
and fold the top edge, thus,
upon its grunt,
so it is roughly equal
to the distance from
the far sun that pours
beneath black clouds to the brown,
dusty horizon.
To make the water,
turn the world over,
and crease.
Your gnu will fall from the mountain fold
towards sunset.
The valley fold will open upon it,
and his beautiful beard
will make a tasselled shadow.

Judges' comment:

the origami lesson, by John Gallas
The winning poem struck me immediately as a glorious ‘leap’ of the imagination (rather like the ‘gnu’ in verse three!). I admired greatly the notion of creating places and animals out of paper intricacies and the spare, instructional tone is wonderfully counter pointed by the glint of its language throughout. It moves so very subtly, verse by verse, from the mundane to the mythical and on to a conclusion which brings all the elements together in a gently universal manner without the need for any kind of grandiose statement. It recalled haiku both in content and style with its emphasis on the tactile and visual and with its vital purpose – ‘No ideas but in things’.

A soirée at Sitges

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After our half-day of sunshine and swimming pool, real life moved into action – as it has a habit of doing in this part of the world – at the approach of evening.
Our mission for the evening was my Very First Proper Paella, and for that we got out the car and headed out of town, to the village of Sitges.
OK, call me naïve (quite a few people already have), but Sitges to me was just the name of a vaguely remembered Spanish port. What I didn’t know was what it (or a good part of it) has become. The Blackpool or Majorca of the gay holidaymaker.



Blackpool and Majorca aren’t at all the towns you think of when you approach Sitges, with its pretty beaches and wide promenade lined with attractive restaurants, the sleekly restored buildings of the original village floodlit above … it has more the air of Monaco in the years before that poor principality was concreted over.
Happily for us, Guy knew which restaurant was the one to patronise, and we dined deliciously at the Costa Dorada on the lightest, tastiest paella one could wish for. I should have photographed it for the benefit of the culinary world that thinks a paella has twenty ingredients. It doesn’t. And soggy is a sin.
A little light white wine, two bottles of a sparkly liquid called Vichy Catalunya which can’t have much to do with Vichy but is one of the nicest mineral waters I’ve ever tasted, a little Irish coffee .. the whole accompanied by a lovely view of the sea and the prettiest and most thoroughly untrained waitress I’ve ever met!
A perfect Mediterranean soirée.








After dinner, it was time to take a stroll through the village, and now the real surprises started. You climb over the little mound where perches the old village and its picturesque church and voila! on the other side is another Sitges, another bay, more restaurants, more people. You have descended out of Monaco and into Blackpool. A gay Blackpool. You move off the front, into the streets and squares behind, and there are men everywhere … flooding the footpaths and roads, bulging from the bars, and strolling, strolling, strolling … I felt as if I had migrated into some strange science fiction film… Thomasinetta of Finland?
Guy, who evidently had no wish to partake of a gay bar (and neither did I), picked us an inoffensive-looking terrace table: but his nose didn’t work as well as it had for the restaurant. We’d chosen a spot at what appeared to be the hub of strollers’ promenade, and opposite the gayest of bars. In the time we sat there, there must have been a thousand or more men, very often in pairs, wander past. Jean says there were lots of different types, but I didn’t see that. To me, large or small, young or quite old, emaciated or bullockish, they looked all cut to the same pattern: a simple rather sad caricature of that gay ‘look’ of the last decades which I find so ridiculous and so twee. And everyone from the wannest fesseless Asiatic to the grotesquely gymnasiumed American, seemed so plain, so unattractive, so joyless, so unimaginatively decked out in plunging t-shirt and shaven head… I could only think selfishly ‘God, if I ever thought I came over anything like that…’. Evidently, though, I don’t. Evidently I didn’t fit in. Jean and Guy confirmed with a grin that I was being ‘looked at’. Since no one in their right senses would ‘look at’ me for 'appreciative' reasons, when tall, handsome, thirty-something Guy was sitting right alongside, I suspect my unsuitability for the streets of Sitges was only too evident! But hey! I’ve seen it. (It’s seen me?) And I think I might forget the idea I had of going on an all-male cruise voyage next year: Jean says I’ll meet exactly the same gang there.



We wandered back to the sophisticated end of town, now closing down for the night – the prettiest waitress was showing more aptitude with a broom than she had with a bottle-opener -- via some little back streets .. to where had the thousand men who had strolled into those streets during the past hour disappeared? Behind some of those gloomy doors? The ‘Bears Bar’ didn’t seem very active, and anyway I had a horrid suspicion that a Sitgean bear might be a gymnasiumed cublet from Kentucky or Yokohama, with a swishy tail…
Obviously there’s a thriving tourist traffic and a large public for gay Sitges. But count me out.
You know, I have a strange feeling that there is no ‘place’ for me. A place where one can relax, dine, meet, drink and chat with other Gentlemen who have no wish to be anything but themselves, and most certainly not a cliché or a caricature; who have no need of plunging t-shirts and leather wristbands and all the curious paraphernalia of 20th and 21st century gaiety. If anyone knows different, do let me know, but I can see myself forced finally to take refuge in the Garrick Club or the Jockey Club.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Barcelona

In thirty-three degrees. Thank heaven for the swimming pool.

But I’ve done the tourist thing. In the way I like best. That is, as much as possible on foot, as much as possible seeing things from the outside rather than from the inside, and in general getting round the town (as much as is possible, this city is simply teeming with people on every footpath) rather than peering at exhibitions and collections.
Yesterday, Jean and I put in a ten-hour day to add to the exploration of the old town of the previous day … the tramway and the metro from Sant-Feliu to the centre of town, and (after a fairly ordinary tapas lunch at one of the few eating-places near the Sagrada Familia that had an empty table), the rounds of the old town, the Placa Catalunya, the Ramblas (Teatro Liceu, of course, a feature point for me), and the port via a variety of Catalan buildings with the work of the favourite son, Gaudi, prominently featured.
I managed to squeeze what may very well be the last photos of its life out of my trusty Kodak …
(1) the obligatory Sagrada Familia – a truly amazing creation, which I actually like better from a distance than close up. The soaring lines of the towers (which will be contrasted with the builders’ cranes for the decades the place takes to finish) I find stunning. The rather frilly bits of decoration ‘pasted on’ here and there appeal to me less.




(2) various other buildings Gaudiesque and not, including of course the theatre





(3) the port with Montjuich in the background.



(4) and one of a delightful series of old (?) notices which can be found on the street corners telling one where one can and can’t take one’s horse…



After a comparatively quiet and unbustling vino at a café in the Placa Reale, we took the return route on the metro and the tramway…
and finished our day with a really enjoyable little supper .. mine was what I think were whelks (correction: they were cockles) in a pimiento sauce with olives … at a little establishment which didn’t seem to have a name (it's Chez Raul for me, after our welcoming young host) on the ‘other Rambla’, the quiet little Rambla of the Marquesa Campo-Someone of Sant-Feliu.
Finished, did I say? Not at all. We arrived home at 11pm in time for convivial post-dinner drinks (5 adults --– one Kiwi, one Argentinian, one German and two Alsacians -- 4 children) on the tropical star-capped top-floor terrace…
A huge day.
And one obligatorily followed by a snooze and swimming day with just a little time out for a blog…

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Midsummer Night's Marvel

I suppose I expected my visit to Barcelona to be largely sunshine and swimming, eating and drinking, a little sightseeing ... and quite a lot of sleeping. I certainly didn’t expect it to bring up one of the most enjoyable nights I’ve passed in the theatre in many, many years. And Shakespeare at that! Worse, Shakespeare in French with Catalan subtitles. Worse still, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I’ve seen far too many times, from New Zealand amdrams to the RSC, and always found an hour and many a rude mechanical too long.
Not this time.
Our afternoon of wandering amid the alleyways of old Barcelona over, we headed for Mataró, on the hills behind Barcelona where the annual Shakespeare Festival (number seven this year) takes place in a little amphitheatre in an amazing private complex, for a 9.30 curtain. Nine thirty already! But it didn’t happen. The electricity had blown. So the audience dallied, drinking in cava and the glittering view over the night lights round the bay of Barcelona until power was restored around 11pm… You simply couldn’t wish for a lovelier or more suitable setting in which to dally.
But, of course, a setting with nothing it is worthless…
How to describe this slimmed, all-action, unselfconscious, rich comedy version of the Dream (En attendant le songe), played with inexhaustible energy and just the right level of grotesquerie by an all-male group of seven? Or was it six. Or was it sixteen? I’ve seen this kind of small-cast/large-cast production so many times, but I’ve never seen it done so well. You stop marvelling at the quick changes, and wondering which actor is playing whom: you just accept the characters. I think Hippolyta and Puck were the same person, but only because he was the tallest actor. At least I think he was. And surely the Wall and the catamite weren’t the same fellow... Bottom’s pigtail and waistline gave him away, as did Theseus’s bald spot, but apart from that…



But the wonderful thing about this Songe is not its cleverness and its professional slickness (both of which are natural rather than shown-off), it is the fact that … goddamit, it made me laugh. Out loud. Frequently. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is written as a comedy, but I can’t truthfully say that it has made me laugh very often . Not till tonight. And tonight made up for all the dreary Dreams I’ve suffered from the Aldwych to the Antarctic. I guffawed.
Memorable moments? I think Puck’s deliciously original girdle round the earth was the winner for me. But the vision of Titania in a gold lamé wrap floating across the swimming pool on her ceremonial life raft (a touch added for this occasion as most theatres don’t have a swimming pool!) with infinitely more poise than Elizabeth Taylor, will stay long in the memory…
OK. Its time to tell you just what this company and production are. It is the Compagnie Irina Brook – and I suppose I have there to tack on ‘Irina, daughter of Peter’ – and the piece was put together by Ms Brook (director) and Marie-Paule Ramo several years ago to be played at a Festival at Brétigny. Since then its been given on a couple of hundred occasions around Europe, and doubtless there will be several hundred or thousand more, although the company is following up with versions of Don Quichotte and The Tempest. All I can say is, if they are anywhere at all near you, for goodness’ sake don’t miss them. They are a perfect theatrical treat such as one doesn’t see too often. They give weary old theatricals like me –blasé with too many shows over too many years – a great boost of fresh air and interest. They prove just what fun the theatre can be.

Photos hopefully to come

Saturday, August 8, 2009

It's a long way to Barcelona

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I’ve travelled a few kilometres since I last published a blog in the comfort of Hermitage Court Farm.
A week later, here I am blogging from a terrasse in Barcelona, perched above the city and the bay in 35 degrees (at least) but thankfully only five floors from a very large swimming pool and a car-drive from the golden Olympic beaches and apparently clean waters of the Mediterranean. Both of which have been tested already.
I’m the guest here of Lucille (9) and Alix (6) Henrich, and their father, Guy, who is Jean-Baptiste’s cousin …
But I’m doing this backwards. Back to Wight.
In typical Gänzl fashion, I exaggerated. I got out of bed at 5.30am, I delivered Red Fred back to Shanklin at 7.30, I was on the train to Ryde at 7.45, on the FastCat to Portsmouth at 8.45, and on the fast (and very smart South-West Rail) train to Waterloo, London at 9.15. Which meant I reached St Pancras and the Eurostar four hours early. But St Pancras has free wifi, so I sat comfortably waiting until it was time to go… thus, I was at the Gare du Nord twelve hours after quitting the downs, and evidently it could have been much less.



But being exaggerated got me five extra days in Paris, chez Jean-Baptiste, and they have been feted in the fashion you can imagine, including my first visit to tourist-stuffed but fascinating Montmartre, two visits to the Bistrot Sainte-Marthe, a dinner party à la maison with Manu Henrich (the family is half way through relocating back to Paris), and an evening in the 2eme with Samuel and Gilles Bertrand, artists, and Xavier, exuberant Mexican hotelier ..




That was a particular evening for me, for while I was living it up in Paris, Rosy was strutting her stuff at the hippodrome of the village of Rânes, Normandy …
She ran a smashing race, off 25 metres, rattling home at a great rate for a third which would have been a win in another 50 metres. Such excitement! Probably her best run yet…
And then… Barcelona. A strange flight on a very elderly and noisy Spanish airplane, with strange attendants .. but it came and it went on time, and it was cheap, so….
We arrived in the evening, and only yesterday were we struck by the full strength of the Catalan sun. Thus, much of the morning was spent in the huge communal pool of the apartment block, mostly taking orders from Mlle Alix as to where she wanted to be pushed or in which direction the ball should be thrown .. a new experience for me!
Another new experience .. a beach such as one sees on the telly, with gold sand, wide sea, and a hundred bodies per square metre. We sported in the sea in relay (one cannot leave one’s bag unattended), threw more balls over the waves (I shall have muscle in my shoulder before I know where I am!), and at 6pm when the sear was somewhat gone from the sun, retired to the the noisiest beach-café in the hemisphere for a half-litre of local cold beer..



And then to the Caller Gaudi, when we indulged in mountains of tapas (oh! those green chilis!) and Spanish red wine, under the towers of the incredible Sagrada Familia cathedral, until it was time …
Well, Alix and I fell asleep on each other’s shoulders in the car…
Today a wonderfully relaxing sunny day around the pool … I am a tiny bit pink … and, goodness, it’s time to drink and eat again…
And at 10.20pm our Rosy goes out at Amiens to do it all over again, in a field of sixteen! Fingers crossed .. imagine if she could do as well as at Rânes ..



Stop Press Rosy 7th out of 16 and seemingly not that far away. Best, though, she broke her personal time record hugely: a kilometre rate of 1 17.9 against 1.19.6. Report from Jack says, yes, pushed back, finished well, but too late. Tomorrow is another day! And Wendy reports that at last Elena is on the verge of returning to the trials...