Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Mr Grundy, or a playwright's life is not an easy one ...

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The tidy-classify-chuck-and burn routine goes on ....

Where, and how, did I accumulate all this stuff, in the 1970s and 1980s, with my very limited resources and an almost inexistant wage-packet ...

I suppose that a lot of it simply wasn't wanted ... or more likely, understood ..

Here's today's little find. A letter written by Sydney Grundy (1848-1914), the highly successful English adaptor of such French pieces as Les Petits Oiseaux (as A Pair of Spectacles) and La Femme de glace (as Esther Sandraz), as well as Meilhac and Millaud's book to the succesful musical comedy La Cosaque. Well, you can look him up.


Sydney Grundy: could such a nice young man write a feelthy play?

In April 1887 Grundy adapted another, and thooughly successful, French play, by the brilliant team of Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy. La Petite Marquise had been produced at the Théâtre des Variétés starring Jose Dupuis and Céline Chaumont and the comedian Baron, 13 February 1874, and acclaimed as a 'petit chef d'oeuvre'. It ran, played yound and round the French-speaking world, was revived, revived again, and Mr Grundy decided to English it. With the assistance of Mr Joseph Mackay.


But lo! the British censor, in spite of the fact that nobody in the play actually beds anyone, found the little story far too Feelthy French for the virtuous middle British classes (the upper classes simply popped over to Paris) and refused to license The Novel Reader. So Mr Grundy (1882) staged what pretended to be a private matinée for his friends, with Claude Marius in the star role, and some slight alterations. At the curtain, little Lydia Cowell, who had played the leading lady's role, stepped forward and asked the assemblage 'Do you consider it so very awful?'. She was greeted with cheers. This 'performance of an unlicensed play', however, was not calculated to please authority, and, while Grundy moved on to other successes, and in spite of the war of words that followed, The Novel Reader was not produced in London. Not in English, anyway. French play seasons were popular and regular, and  La Petite Marquise duly made its way to London's Royalty Theatre in 1886, with Noblet and Mlle Magnier featured. And ... the censor forbade it! Journalistic ink flowed like the sillons that abreuve with sang ..  The Era, England's best (but buyable) theatre paper, devoted a whole editorial to the event (6 February 1886) ... 'a filthy play'.

The unbowdlerised La Petite Marquise
But Grundy did not give up. He fiddled with his text a little more, changed the title to May and December, and tried again. On 25 April 1887, the new version was given at a matinee at Gilbert Farquhar's Criterion Theatre. And this is where our letter comes in. The press credited Mr Farquhar as 'producer'. The matinee was paid for by the authors. At the cost of a whacking 95 pounds sterling.


The Prince of Wales came to the show, and the reviews found nothing to object to. Mr Pigot could hardly accuse the royal family of being perverted by the feelthy French .. so ...

The Era recanted, asserting that the 'objectionable feautres' had been removed, and all made conventionally good-is-rewarded and evil-punished (about the most boring tenent in dramatic history!). Other reviews were more perspicacious ...

And the 'well-attended' matinee, royalty or not, made a loss of fifteen percent on its capitalisation...


May and December (the title shows the reorientation of the original story) was finally given a London run, sixteen years after its acclaimed Paris premiere, in 1890 at the Comedy Theatre, with Rose Norreys as the now thoroughly conventional heroine. It was too little, too late, too bowdlerised, too Britishly boring ...

Grundy went on the write the libretto for Arthur Sullivan's vaguely comic and wholly un-French opera Haddon Hall ... had he installed a little of the spirit of La Petite Marquise and The Novel Reader therein, they might have had a wow of a hit ... a playwright's life is not an easy one! But there were more hits to come for this adept playwright ...

So, there we are. My letter is, I would say, a nice piece of documentation for anybody writing one of those things called a thesis, on the subject of theatrical censorship in the C19th theatre.

Pour another glass, Kurt. Put the 130 year-old letter back in its slip-case till someone shows interest in it. And see what's next in the folio...

About two metres from my left elbow is an original playscript of La Petite Marquise. I'm sure I read it forty years ago, but I didn't connect it to my letter. But I've promised myself Beethoven Nine this evening. And some of our old harness-racing wins on ancient video and those old things called CDs ...


Monday, December 30, 2019

"If I once start looking behind me .."

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It's New Year's Eve in New Zealand ... soon it will be 2020 ...  Not so long ago, so it seems, it was New Year's Eve 2010, and I was blogging serenely, sitting in exactly the same chair, in exactly the same room, wearing exactly the same teeth and slightly more hair ...

https://kurtofgerolstein.blogspot.com/2009/12/year-2010.html

In some ways, it seems that not much has changed. In others ... well ...


This dawn of a decade, it isn't 29 degrees, the shimmering is coming not from sunshine, but from a delicate and delightful drizzle, for which we are very grateful ...
Wendy isn't in the garden, for once. She's nursing a broken bone in her ankle ...


And I am way past carpentry and painting, these days, as I reach toward the three-quarter century mark ..
But the Victorian chest, in all its ancient glory, sits underneath our television set ...


Gerolstein itself has changed a bit. Winds, earthquakes and other Acts of God (who, nonetheless does not pay our insurance premia) have swept away a large proportion of our trees since 2010 ... Wendy's gardening skills have produced some glorious gardens, the peacocks have moved in en masse -- and are now in the process of being (mostly) moved OUT -- and the horse population has whittled gradually down to just a few old friends. Yes, twenty-one year-old Boofie (6 wins), twenty-five year-old Sally and her son, Mikie (1 win), are still here, all shiny and fit, a decade on. Duchess and D'Arcy have gone to the Great Green Paddock in the Clouds, while Elena didn't dream hard enough (1 win) and has moved on to friends, leaving behind a handsome and speedy son, Mr B, who, alas, inherited mamma's breathing problems. As for baby Douchelette, after winning two races, she was retired and is now the 10 year-old mother of a beautiful little girl named Emily ...

Emily (1) and Kurt (73). Waist-measurements about equal.
The grande-dame of our 2020 horsey empire, however, is Wilma (5 wins). She doesn't look that much older or fatter now, at twenty-three, than she did ten years ago. I, on the other hand, though even at 63  I was (see below) still quite sylphlike, am (see above) now 30 percent heavier and larger, and not at all the same shape as I was of yore ...
2009: Wilma (aged 13) and Kurt (63)
Then there are little Rocky who didn't make the grade, and dear, huge, Johnny (son of Sally) who never made the races because of a leg defect, and of course, there are these two ....

When we were merely kittens (aged 8)
Minnie and ChiQi have put up with each other (and us) for some eighteen years. ChiQi, the sullen thoroughbred, has kept her form admirably

Teenage calendar girl: 'I'm younger than Marilyn Monroe was...'

Minnie, the one-time wildkitty, has, like me, 'pris de poids' and prefers the couch or the fire rug to any activity which involves effort ... and, when ChiQi feels a little elderly, she joins in. At a distance.


Their patch is a jealously guarded one, and the two further 'orphans of the storm' who have joined them at Gerolstein, during the decade, do not take the risk of encountering the Queens of the Couch on their own territory (38 Maguires Rd).

Sox 42 Maguires Rd
Weekitty 38a Maguires Rd
Outdoors, the cherry-blossom tree bears blossom no longer


But a couple of years ago Wendy planted a wee sprig of wisteria at its base, and the vine is slowly twining its way up the dead trunk ... one day we shall have purple blossoms where once there were pink ...

Wisteria will grow ... wait another decade!
The roses still bloom at Gerolstein ... and yes, one of them is an original from when we moved in, nearly twenty years ago ..



the tropicanna has bloomed overnight to welcome the new decade ..


So ... into it we go! 2020, eh.

When I was a little lad, in the pre-TV cum crackly-radio era, brother John and I each had a prized 'board'. A piece of some sort of varnished hardwood on which we could rest, on our knees, the pieces of writing paper which held the first scribblings of two boys destined, later, to be somewhat known in the world of writing. On my board, I remember inscribing the date, as other children did on their school-desk. 60 odd years on, I'm pretty sure I still remember it: 25 July 1958. Over the interminable months of childhood, I watched that date, and thought 'when I'm old, I and my board will remember this ...'. Alas, when I returned from University, I found that my 'board' was gone. Mother didn't understand ... she'd kept all sorts of things from our childhood. Too much, really. Some of it is here, in a cupboard at Gerolstein, to this day. But my board, and John's, were gone ...  I guess I was supposed to have graduated to a desk ...

Goodness, why do memories and thoughts like this come suddenly back on occasions like the eve of a new decade ...

Dear Diary ...

And oh! The rain has stopped, the sun has come out ... omen felix!!!!

Hoppy, the invalid peacock who is staying
New flowers, old memories ... Alberobello jug 1977







Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Dinner and a Show ... my night out for 2019

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PRELUDE

Once upon a time, I used to go to the theatre a hundred times and more a year. But those days are gone. Of course, the fact that, nowadays, I share my time between Sefton, New Zealand (nearest theatre town: Christchurch), and Yamba NSW (nearest theatre town: er ....) rather than London and Berlin, is, if not exactly responsible for my C21st lack of theatrical enterprise and enthusiasm, certainly supportive of it.

But, still, ten years ago, I used to make the best of what Christchurch had to, intermittently, offer. One or two shows per year at the professional Court Theatre (but no touring productions or opera), the productions of the often very good NASDA students, even the occasional musical by the Christchurch amateurs. They don't call themselves the Operatic anymore: it's Showbiz. The change in name goes with a change in attitude which doesn't rightly suit me, any more than their sad nowadays choice of shows.

So, you will understand that, now, I very rarely go to Christchurch theatre at all. And, yes, the main reason is the dreary choice of shows produced. Do I want to see Les Misérables yet again? Do I want to see the ghastly Miss Saigon? Do I want to see amateurs attempting Wicked or Evita? I hope never, ever again to see a Disney show: plastic beyond belief! Mary Poppins? what a mess the rewriters made of that! Legally Blonde? Perhaps the worst and shriekingest piece of trash I've been subjected to in the last decade. And, as much as I enjoyed the London production of Jesus Christ Superstar in the 60s, and the first performances of Cats in the 80s, why need I go to see those shows, yet again, now? In recent years, we have been given nothing new, nothing remotely original or interesting, from either professionals or amateurs ...  Showbiz and the Court had to leave it to NASDA to produce such as Spring Awakening and Once on this Island ... both highly enjoyable pieces, which were theatrically new to me ... as well as the glorious The Music Man, Sweet Charity and, once upon a splendidly adventurous time, even pieces such as the intelligent City of Angels and the brand new and brilliant Far from the Madding Crowd ... before they, too, slumped back into Hair, the incompetent Curtains and Beauty and the Beast .. sigh, it'll be Rent next, and lower than that (except for pop pasticcio) you cannot, in my opinion, go.

Gayle Spence as Bathsheba in NASDA's Far from the Madding Crowd
The Court Theatre habitually stages a musical piece at Christmas, and I, in past years, habitually took it in. In the last years, I have attended but thrice. I simply did not want to see a mucked-up Mikado, the painful Legally Blonde, an umpteenth Jesus Christ Superstar ... I went, only, to an enoyably lively version of Grease (oddly, I'd never before seen it on stage), that unsupportably awful, botched version of Mary Poppins, and to see a favourite student of mine play Roxie Hart in Chicago. She played it superbly, and the production was the best I've ever seen in Christchurch. So, it can be done ...

Nomi Cohen as Roxie Hart
Anyway, all that is preface to my saying: this year I am going to the Court Christmas show. Yes! So what are they doing to drag me from my cosy home, my bacon-and-egg pie and chardonnay, and the bf's new CD (https://www.hankinsonmusic.com), for seven hours in the city? The answer: the 1990 British National Theatre version of The Wind in the Willows. I shall report back in the morn.

THE MORNING AFTER

I had a very nice night out. My dear friend, Richard, collected me in his wonderful electric limo, and we drove to ... the airport? For a pre-theatre dinner. The dinner turned out to be the first success of the evening. I can't remember when I last dined in a chain restaurant. Berni Inn, Scarborough, 1968? This one is called Lone Star (Spitfire) and I know of it because its owner also owns most of New Zealand's harness-racing horses. The menu was meaty and hearty, and Dolly Parton sang 'Jolene' while you were having a pee in the startlingly glamorous rest rooms. I ordered lamb, Richard a ribeye, and some garlic bread. We got a loaf. Honestly. But a simply delicious loaf. We devoured it entire. Bugger what was to come. Well, what came was a glorious piece of oven-lamb, with mashed potato ... made me think of the dear old Katz Orange in Berlin. Of course, it was huge ... but I wasn't leaving a skurrick, and with the help of a pint of pretty fair export Guinness, I made it to the end of the largest meal I have eaten in ages. After a quick reprise of Dolly Parton, we bulged contentedly out of the restaurant ($123 for two) ...


We were rather early for the theatre, so Richard took me for a small tour around the remnants of Christchurch. Remnants is right. I, who lived five years in the heart of Christchurch, only recognised two or three places. The lovely old brick post office, the revamped Theatre Royal, the river, of course ... Christchurch, as I knew it, is gone, and I don't much care for the concrete boxes and car retail yards that are replacing it. The topless Anglican Cathedral, I was glad to hear, is being obliterated; the lovely Catholic Cathedral, alas, also; both to be relocated (doubtless in concrete and glass boxes) on one of the endless blocks of now bulldozed nothingness ...

I was glad to get to the theatre, where there was life and warmth and a buzz noticeably lacking elsewhere. And it brought all sorts of emotions rushing back to be sitting in a theatre auditorium for the first time in two years ...

THE SHOW

It must be nigh on seventy years since I read The Wind in the Willows. And I think I saw a stage version at Farnham rep in the 1980s. So I am not too hot at giving chapter and verse on the text. But amongst the familiar (to me) episodes and lines, I am pretty sure that there were new elements in Alan Bennett's dramatisation. Maybe not, maybe I've just forgotten some bits. There are, indeed, some bits that are forgettable. Just as their are some bits that are delicious.


Oh. A quick sidetrack to say this is not 'a musical', as such. It is a play with three or four sung bits and a lot of incidental music. Fifty-three pieces so I was told. At the National, apparently, it had a full scale live orchestra. Whether in the pit, or with euphonium and cor anglais playing squirrels, I do not know. Here, the entire score (all 54 pieces) had been tracked. Well, Christchurch does not have the governmental resources of the NT. But ... the music turned out to be my favourite element of the evening. At the start of the play, a lone woodland creature produced an old 78rpm player from a mushroom or tree-stump, put the needle on ... and out came the 'orchestra' with a delightful, warm, olde worlde sound ... no need to explain the musical sound of the piece further! But the triumph of the evening was the 'first-act finale': the little forest creatures, in the most enchanting Woodland Christmas costumes, singing a beautiful harmonised arrangement of 'In the Bleak Midwinter'.

Sidetrack to the sidetrack: the scenery, with its false proscenium of windowed trees and its turntable river, was really pretty, and, now that the theatre has that practical train, perhaps they can schedule On the Twentieth Century for 2020; but the other triumph of the evening was the costume design! Those bunnies and squirrels were so huggable! Not to mention darling Ratty. Mr Badger was a treat! I'm not sure weasels have fur coats ... but they were fun. And the Christmas costumes were wholly, wholly memorable.



Now the play. Curate's eggy. No, that's not fair. Many more nice bits that iffy bits. But I think, perhaps, Mr Bennett tried to fit too much in. Incidents such as the weasels' theft of the baby rabbit, the whole fortune-teller episode, or Mole's venture solo to Toad Hall do not have any effect and purpose in the main stream of events, nor any particular value in themselves. I'd have cut them. But, of course, they may have been done differently at the NT. Albert, the depressive horse, is a gift of a role, but his dialogue is very 1990s. As is the fuss over cross-dressing. There is no reason why Wind in the Willows should not, like a pantomime, be updated (eg the depiction of the weasels and stoats as property developers), but it needs to remain coherent, and that bit, to me, doesn't fit in with Toad's discovery of the motor car -- definitely NOT a 1990s model -- , the presence in the tale of washerwomen and open-cabin trains ...

Toad in a hole
Should one be worried by such incoherencies, or just suspend belief and treat the play as a timewarped or timeless hotchpotch?

Still, like any (ex)-theatrical, I was delighted at little touches such as a brief cross-over by Little Red Riding Hood, and the White Rabbit scurrying down his hole exclaiming 'I'm late'! Author or director, I know not! Coherent - not! But I guffawed.

So, in total, slight reservations about the play, none at all about the music, scenery and costumes, and, indeed, none about the direction, which was straightforward and apt to both piece and subject. Which, in my book, is the best kind of direction there is. But as a very wise international director once said to me: 'direction is 90% in the casting. Get that right and my job's easy'. And here, I think, things went a little wrong. And, once again, I don't know whether it is the author or director who is responsible. And the sound man may have something to do with it..


Casting Mole with an actress, in the National Theatre style of Felicity Kendal in On the Razzle (of glorious memory), seems a valid idea, especially here, where Mole is presented as a simple, childish wee beastie. Alas, the Mole of Eilish Moran (who was a wonderful Judy in Over the Rainbow), was, while she looked and acted grandly, so squeakily pitched as to be all but incomprehensible to me, and, I suspect, to anymal other than bats. When the bunnies and beastlets all took on similarly squeaky tones, the children in front of me (who were clearly not bats) lost interest, and I just gave up. We only got some properly less squeaky lines when good old baritone Badger (Tom Trevella) and the Bargewoman came into the plot.
But worse was to come. In the famous court scene, the actress playing the Magistrate gave a wholly grotesque and garbled performance, which seemed to have been copied from Legally Blonde, and of which I understood only the words 'devilled kidneys'. I can't believe a writer of Bennett's stature wrote the part to be played like that. It was the low point of the evening. Putting on a silly voice is not acting.
Which brings me to my other complaint. Why were Rat (Gregory Cooper), Mole, Badger and Toad (Cameron Rhodes) given moulded-glass English accents, and the 'lower' characters, on the other hand, a confusing array of versions of British provincial and suburban accents? Are we meant to assume, thus, that Rat went to Harrow-by-the-Pond and that the Riverbank, alone, is home to the intelligibly-speaking classes.


Casting Norman, the daft Stephen-Lewisish weasel henchman, with a very obviously female actress, was not a good idea either -- the joke of the character, somehow, vanished -- however, the male Bargewoman (Isaac Pawson, the superb Mary Sunshine of Chicago) was a total success. This young man has playing travesty down to an art. Never campy or flaunting, a genuine bit of on-the-nail character acting. Like. Like. Like.

And one final (I promise) grumble. Most of the young actors in the play's supporting roles were graduates or students of the splendid NASDA. They must be taught not to GABBLE. Look at your four lead players, Messrs Cooper, Trevella, Rhodes and Ms Moran (when not squeaking), you young people, and LEARN. Voices projected, words enunciated, phrases comprehensible ... a basic actor's necessities. One young lady (who shall be nameless) barely took a breath ... one young gentleman who should know better ...

There! Grumbles over. And all of them on the audio side. For there was nothing to grumble about on the visual. Nor, of course the musical ...

The highlights of the evening for me? 'In the Bleak Midwinter', Mr Cooper's characterful, crisp Ratty, Mr Pawson's Bargewoman, the sweet oh-so-sweet costumes, 'In the Bleak Midwinter', 'In the Bleak Midwinter', the bunnies and meeces, bluff Badger and .. of course, everybody's favourite, Albert the Horse (Andrew Todd, who managed to mumble just above the audibility threshold) ...


An enjoyable evening. Infinitely preferably to a Legally Blonde or a Mary Poppins. But I see the theatre's problem. The house last night was but two-thirds full. I imagine that for Grease or Chicago or any other musical with a buzz-word 'film' name, it would have been sold out. I don't suppose for a minute that the Court needs to be self-supporting (witness the rest of their year's programming), but they probably -- like the National Theatre and others such around the world -- need to make up the shortfall from their not generally attractive plays on a festive musical. Shame. So I suppose I sha'n't be back, failing pleasant surprises, to the Court soon.

I certainly won't be attending their next musical production. Guess what. The programme tells me that it is ... Rent! I should have kept my mouth shut. And the amdrams are doing Buddy. So, unless NASDA comes up with something fascinating, as they have, from time to time, over the years ... my next visit to a theatre may be a long time in the coming ...

PS Sadly there is no photo of the Critturs Christmas ... I have asked the theatre for one, and shall add it if and when it comes ..

PPS The theatre tells me it does not want to supply one. Apparently, because they do not want to give away their most picturesque effect before the event. I had to smile. True non-commercial (ie subsidised) theatre thinking. Does it not enter their calculations that if they DID advertise their prettiest scene, they might have full houses instead of 60-70% ones. Oh well, when the run has finished maybe I can ask again...
The theatre also wants me to credit one Danielle Colvin with the photos reproduced (from the programme) above. Well, I'm an agreeable bloke, so, for whatever good it does to the said Ms Colvin: Done. I'd rather have credited the costume designer (Stephen Robertson) and makers ...


























Monday, December 16, 2019

Disastrous December ...

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After all the grand events of early December, yesterday the month went sour with a vengeance.

Wendy stepped in a rabbit hole or tyre track, fell, and broke her ankle. She is now wearing a surgical moon-boot, and our lives are turned upside down ...

Then Hoppy, the one-legged peacock vanished. He's nowhere to be found, and we fear the worst. (Post scriptum: after 2 1/2 days of absence, he turned up tonight!)

And then I found a mistake in my 3-volume ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF THE MUSICAL THEATRE.

I have been very proud of the fact that, over the 18 years since the publication of those volumes, only a handful of errors have subsequently been found (by me). One was a foolish one: see LITTLER. A couple were deliberate lies by living people. Fred EBB, or was it KANDER? The one who's dead. Lied to me about his birth. Then Monty Nosevitch (ka NORMAN) refused to tell me his real name. I got it under my own steam, but too late for the book. But today ...

CLARE KUMMER. American. Lied hugely about her age, and I fell for it. Well, not wholly. I put a question mark beside the year. 1888. FIFTEEN years chopped off.

Today I found this playbill on ebay:


1898, So a youthful work. A comic opera for which, it seems, she wrote both words and music. Produced at the Duke of York's? But the Duke of York's was running the highly successful comic opera The Dandy Fifth in July 1898. This must have been a try-out matinee.

The cast? There are only a handful of names that I recognised without searching. Cissie Saumarez (with whom I have dealt in my Gondoliers blog), having finished in The American Belle, was was surely touring for Morell and Mouillot in The Transit of Venus around this time; Ethel Negretti (née Rosenstreich) was a chorus girl who, here, got to be ingenue, before scoring the Marie Halton role in Wallace Erskine's tour of The Shop Girl. She played good roles in touring musicals and returned to the West End as a singer in The Sign of the Cross, and as Fairy Queen in the 1903 Drury Lane panto. I suspect 'Mabel Lowe' may be the subsequently postcarded-to-death Mabel Love, recently seen in The Yashmak at the Shaftesbury. Thorpe Sheffield (né Wilson) was a minor member of the Carte companies for several years; E G Attwell had toured in The Maid of Athens the previous year; Joseph Brennan had been supporting William Gillette in Secret Service at the Adelphi and Too Much Johnson at the Garrick, and Annie Russel in Sue. I see that W B Smith, Sam Reed and William Sampson also played in Sue ... it had only opening a few days before this matinee, so I fear parts may have been hurriedly conned.

I notice, however, that they ran to an orchestra with Edward Jones as conductor. But the director, Liverpudlian actor Neilson, was another small part player from the Gillette company. He'd recently tried his hand at a musical comedy A Highway Knight, adapted from the German, in collusion with Hedmondt and Winckworth of the operatic world. He was engaged as Charles Frohman's stage manager, so I guess this little affair was, in some way, connected with Frohman.

And I imagine this little piece of paper is the only record around today of its ever having existed.







Thursday, December 12, 2019

Pretty Things (5): Pretty? well, fun ...

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What a pantomime bill!  The Liverpool Empire in the 1961/2 season ...



I must dig in the files!  Tommy must have got a huge salary from Moss's Empires and Julian Wylie to have done this!  As .. what .. Humpty Dumpty?   Book by Phil Park and David Croft. Songs by diito ad Cyril Ornadel ... staged by Stanley Willis-Croft ...

Few of the supporting cast ring bells for me. Hunarian chanteuse Eve Boswell, of course ('sings in nine languages' ... let's hope one of them was Liverpudlian) as principal boy, Wynn Calvin as Simple Simon with Songs, Michael Kilgarriff as alwas as the giant ... and, well, Ted Lune is in black type, so I guess I should know him.

Anyone know Edna Wynn, Seth Jee, Joy Jackley (one of THE Jackleys?), Iris Sadler, Sammy Curtis, Hedley Colson, Peter Britten ...

Well, those were, at least, the days when seasonal shows had original scores ...



Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Pretty Things (4): The real JEEVES musical: by Bolton and Wodehouse

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There is nothing to say about these letters, which predate the advent of me in our theatrical office. But I found and rescued at least a couple of them 'for history's sake' ...

They speak for themselves ...



What did you do last week ... er .... well, I wrote some successful musicals 40 years ago .... yes, but what did you do last week ..

As for the 'fairly important musical' heading for Broadway... whatever it was, it never even made San Francisco....



Pretty Things (3): Lunch at the Algonquin 1975

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Item: One slightly used tablenapkin.

Provenance: The Algonquin Hotel, New York

Date: June 1975

I was't there. I hadn't quite yet risen to being Ian's official consort on business trips abroad ...

So I am not quite sure what was the occasion for this wee gathering. Something to do with our mangled production of the Frank Loesser et al Hans Anderson?

Hans Anderson: Yes, that is I, centre front, singing the notes lovely Milo O'Shea couldn't find

Anyway, the napkin. And the luncheon party ... Ian, of course, on the right. Ben and Mary Bodne, mine memorable hosts of the hotel in its heyday. Ben on the left (well, Mary is one of the Marys) ...  at the bottom the splendid Louis Nizer, New York advocat (which supports my suppositions re: the occasion, given the legal hoo-ha which surrounded the stage Hans Anderson), who made the sketches. And his wife, Mildred is at the top. Someone will know who Dana is, and which is his particular Mary.



Lou gave me a signed copy of his autobiography. It was so well written and enjoyable. But it has disappeared from my library ...

So, what do I do with this lovely piece of ephemera? I'm not putting it back on the shelf. If I can't find it a home, I guess I shall simply ... wash it. And pop it into the table linen drawer ...




Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Pretty Things (2): The Queen has one ...

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Beside me, on my desk, sits a book. Published 1959. It is a 'celebration' of the short life and works of Christopher Wood (1901-1930), artist, featuring twenty coloured plates of his works and a text by a devoted follower.


I know nothing of the gentleman, but then I'm not an art historian. But, as you will see 'Kit' Wood has forced his way into my life ...

The paintings illustrated in the body of the book seem to me to be nice, but nothing more. However, clearly I'm no judge, for the text tells us that those illustrated in the book are from the collections of HM Queen Elizabeth, the Tate Gallery, the Fitzwiliam, Cambridge, John Gielgud (unsurprisingly, 'Nude Boy in a Bedroom'), Noel Coward, the Toledo Art Gallery, the Earl of Sandwich, Richard Attenborough, Whitney Straight ...

Well, one that wasn't illustrated (perhaps Kurt Gänzl and Ian Bevan didn't stand up alongside such glamorous names) was the one I've just dug out of my cupboard. We inherited it from a member of the Redfern Gallery circle ... sigh, he had some nice paintings, why did he leave this one to us? I have never liked it. It went straight into a folder, and has remained there ever since.


And now, the folders are being emptied ... so is it someone's collection or a Gerolsteiner bonfire .....



Pretty things ... (1) Top of the Bill

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This is sweet. It is a book cover design. Intended for Ian's best-selling book Top of the Bill, a history of the London Palladium.

But it's the work of the wonderful Australian artist Loudon Sainthill


Alas, the publishers turned it down as being too elegant. So the sketch went into a folder, where I found it, sixty years and some on ...

It's on its way tomorrow to the Melbourne Performing Arts Museum ...

PS The Palladium played and important part in Ian's life. Some twenty years later, he auditioned a young singer for a show there. That singer became his life-partner. That singer was, of course, me.

Emily Soldene: still in my life .....

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You spend 20 years researching and writing a book of theatrical biography ... then you make the mistake of living 20 years longer ...

Mistake? Of course.

When I wrote EMILY SOLDENE: IN SEARCH OF A SINGER, I travelled the world, seeking out even the most infintesimal fragments on the lady's life, family, work ... and it all came together in two vast volumes of richly-illustrated 'life and times' ...



I solved most of the family secrets: I found and visited the unnamed-by-her Hertfordshire village where Emily was brought up, I found her mother, Catherine Swain, her ancestors, her fathers -- both the bigamous London law clerk, and the biological illegitimate one -- I followed (half)sister, cousins of all degrees, aunts, uncles through the generations, and recorded all in the pages of my books ...

The odd uncle vanished without trace into the mid-1800s ....  or, so I thought ... until descendants of the Swain family surfaced in the 21st century ... with ... this! Taken in Sydney, Australia ...


Emily's Uncle Stephen Swain. Born 1820. Married 1841. And the day after the wedding he and his new wife sailed for Australia ...


So, when Emily visited Australia, and marked forever the history of the musical theatre in that continent, she had family there. She mentioned the 'uncles' in her childhood memories, but she didn't record that she had found one of them on the other side of the world!

Anyhow, Uncle Stephen lived into the new century, and died in Sydney in 1901 (15 April). He is buried in Waverley Cemetery ... and his descendants live in Australia to this day ...

Nice to have tracked him down, but I wish it could have been BEFORE the book came out and not after!




Monday, December 9, 2019

Dear December Diary: or a week at Gerolstein ..

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It has been a happening week in my life ... you know what one of those is like! ...  but it has been, almost entirely, a week-or-so of joyous and positive happenings, so I'm writing them all down to remind me that times like this do happen in one's life ...

The big event, of course, was the launch of Paul's new CD in Berlin. The reaction has been glorious! Dear Emily (inspired by the poetry of Emily Dickinson) may even out-sell his Echoes of a Winter Journey, which spent months and months at the top of the Dussmann sales list ... Anyone wanting a record of beautiful piano music, ideal for dreaming and relaxing to, with candles guttering and fire glittering (or, indeed, to play!) ... go to

https://www.hankinsonmusic.com/?fbclid=IwAR13Q0gyriRpdRoa6kO9H8173ehC1DuBbI3rDq3uQguY1mOCzS43QC8zU7I



The 'family's' last publications were brother John's Blood Book (2018)


and my Victorian Vocalists (2017)



So we're keeping up the task of educating and entertaining the world ...

But back on the bottom of the world ... back at


there have been lively happenings too. The horses have been amazing well-behaved ... that's Mikie, Mr B and Rocky (L to R) ...


And here is big bad Johnny and old Boofie the race-winner


Then, on the other side of the trees, there are the aged ladies: Wilma, Sally, Meryl, Anna, Floss and Flip (or is it Flop?) ...


and, just to make up the dozen, down at Motukarara there is the little yearling filly we share with friends Frank and John ... Emily. Of course!


If the horses, however, have been exemplary ... this week all hell let loose in the peacock tribe. It is clearly the peak of the mating season, and since we reduced the available harem size to just two hens, the seven remaining cocks have become excruciatingly and, I suppose, competitively, vocal. The worst culprit had chosen his 'spot' -- out of a whole 35 acres -- right outside my study window ...  and serenaded me with a cry like 20 virgins being simultaneously disembowelled every ten minutes ..

Call Nigel, the cockcatcher ... fresh from his triumph on the front patio ...


But Mr Shriekcock was canny. He had a missing feather, through which he had a rear view glimpse of what was going on behind him, and Nigel's efforts to catch him in a rugby tackle missed, each time, by a millimetre. Until Wendy recalled the maxim 'the way to a Mormon's heart is via his stomach'. A scatter of kitty biscuits on the door mat, and Mr Shriekcock dropped his guard at the sight of food. Down he stalked, and wallop! Nigel leaped from behind my Nana's old cabintrunk and plaqued him. Now, you can see in the photo above that a cock, once captured, usually goes quiescent. Not Mr Shriekcock, he squirmed, he squawked, he got up to 100 virgins' worth of decibels, he shat, he pecked, and feathers flew everywhere. But he lost. Bundled into the back of the horsefloat, like a Black Maria, he was trundled off down the drive to ... his new home ...


Gerolstein was down to six boys (temporarily a little cowed, after the capture of their captain) and two girls. One girl was keeping Hoppy company in the depths of the haystack


and the other was off through the fence, in the neighbours' hay paddock, undoubtedly plotting a hatch ... yum! eggs for breakfast!

But no. Yesterday morning I flung open my doors to be greeted with sad news. There was to be a burial (my job) before breakfast. Hoppy's hen had died. That's what they do. They just go into a corner and fade away. The haystack seems to have been nominated hospital.


Oh dear. Just when we had the numbers more or less right. Now we have 6 boys and ONE girl. I'm afraid she will have to be christened Bicyclette. But our attitude to her present presumed batch of eggs has now changed. I think we shall let her hatch them. One? Two? Six? How many will survive ...   Peacockworld Problems. And, meanwhile, Hoppy stays, balanced on his one leg, in his corner of the barn, and hopes that the other boys, who have bully propensities, leave him alone. They had better, or ... Ni-gel!

Hoppy
The feline family has given us a wee sadness, too, this week. Princess ChiQi strolls in and out, eating, patrolling the sinktop and ignoring everyone and everything ...
Big boy, Socks (who arrived to stay May 2018), has his early morning scout, scamper and rabbit-catch each morning till 10am after which he is shut inside while the girls go out .. I met him down in the front paddock yesterday guarding a rabbit hole. His mission was successful.

Socks, who wandered in a few years back. And stayed.
But Minnie ... dear, aged, placid, sleep-all-day Minnie ... twice, when we have brought the little kitty in to the main house, for a walkabout on her lead, Minnie has attacked her like a virago ... this may not be going to work. Beautiful wee kittygirl, housetrained, loved ... but, all in all, still frightened of just about everything except Wendy ... may be needing a home ...


But you mustn't think Gerolstein in run ENTIRELY for the pets. The humans need looking after, too. Especially the elderly one. And I've had a rough last few months. And am not exactly in pristine state. Witness the photo above, with little Emily, where I am starting to, vaguely, resemble a pyramid perched on a pair of pants. I have nothing against pyramids, and I have no wish to resemble myself as a 30-something year old



or even as a sixty year old


But I do NOT want to be pale and lingering, I do not want to be more 'handicapped' than I have been since the stroke, nine years ago, the effects of which I have almost taken under my belt. Well, literally, for the immobility rather forced on me by the stroke are partially responsible for the extra 25kg put on since my last (post-stroke) rehab effort in 2014...


Anyway, enough of that. This winter, I began to suffer from very extensive oedema. I had to buy special shoes, support stockings, I could no longer paddle in the sea, I was very unsteady on my once admirable legs, I needed my stick ...


Then one night, in my little flat, I collapsed ... cast on the floor ... TIA? I know all about those ... It seemed I was falling apart. Back in New Zealand, I hastened to the doctor. And, promptly, had another collapse ... I checked my Will, and warned my brother to get himself out to New Zealand soon ...


A week later, I am sitting at my desk, having just fried myself burning up the mountainous bonfire of pine branches from last week's magnus pinus collapsus. My ankles are as slim as a Japanese geisha's ... all oedema gone! And I didn't have a TIA or even two. Plus, on top of that, my liver, put in nightly peril for twenty years, passed the unbloodied and unscarred test! (Just, but he passed!). Seems that there is frog all wrong with me, IF...

My problems of the winter were largely cured by a simple change of medication. I guess I'd been taking the same seven daily tablets (for BP mainly, but also cholesterol and post-stroke bloodthinners) for a long time. It was time for a review. And the review did it! New doctor (super!), new pills (confusing, why all white?) ... old instructions: we've all heard it before: more exercise, less wine ...  I am presently trying to calculate how much wine = 1 kilometre .... and looking at the 4.30pm glass freshly poured beside me and thinking, how many metres are YOU ..?


But the best part is simply knowing, in my head, that I am not going to be 'Tied to a Bed in an empty room, like Andromeda tied to the rock'. That am not at the head of the line for another stroke. That my circulation is OK, that I don't need diuretics ... and if I get off my arse and get out of the house, and stop behaving like an invalid, then I'll be altogether less of one ...   I'll try, my Gods, I'll try! But encouragement always helps!

So good news on the personal and professional fronts, if not perfect on the Pets front ... but then there is GEROLSTEIN. My Summer Palace, and Wendy's all year round home. It is a truly beautiful little (35 acres) farmlet. I loathe the ghastly, sneerish expression 'lifestyle block' (which I think is 0-10 acres, and implies incompetence). This was, a decade ago, a full-on harness racing farm. 30 plus horses, most in training. My stroke put me out of my small place in the team, Wendy's arthritis didn't help her, and disillusion with the lack-of-honesty and the elitist organisation of harness racing in New Zealand, led us to, over the 2010s, run our operation down.


But Wendy is unstoppable. She has turned the place into a glorious collection of trees and flowers ... where the eleven resident ex-racehorses and their peacock and pussycat pals live a life of luxury. And, chuckle, so do I!


There's a story round Gerolstein most days, but today its HAY!!!!!!  We got a huge crop last year. It wasn't the greatest hay, but there were 96 bales of it, and if it was more like a meal at the Chick Inn than at the French Pan Tree, the horses got fat and shiny ....   so this year we thought we'd go for a wee bit less ... just the back two paddocks: total maybe 5 acres. Neil arrived Friday, fifteenth year in a row, with the usual array of machinery ...


O my goodness, that's lovely stuff!


What? 55 bales ...! Yay! We wont be paying for winter feed this year.




Of course, Gerolstein is a farm. But it also has a nice little house on it which is my Summer Palace. And which is the headquarters of my Musical-Theatrical-Historical operation (see the approximate Wikipedia article on me). Well, it is not only the racing activities here which are being run down, but also the Musical-Theatrical-Hoarding side. I sold the bulk of my huge mus.th collection (probably, at that time, the most comprehensive in the world) to Professor Ward of Harvard, some time back, and I've tried to divest myself of the remainder, including quite a few remarkable gems, over recent years.

The Girl Behind the Counter: costume designs
I tried New Zealand's theoretically 'National' Museum/Library. Oh no, no Moriari/Maori content. OK. Turn down a $1m gift ... fine ...  too Jew? I don't know. Too PC ...  They had an enlightened Music department, headed by Roger, which accepted a bundle of Australiasian stuff from me .. but now he's gone ... the NZ Library/Museum is becoming more and more 'racist' it seems.

Anyway, the point of this rambling is to say that ... at last ... I've found someone(s) who values-treasures-will preserve this remarkable roomful of stuff.  The today world's greatest collectors/librarians are flying in to li'l old Sefton, NZ, from the USA, this weekend with two empty suitcases. Well, you all had your chance ...

To be continued, hopefully December will be a wonderful month for all of us ...

18 years ago I transplanted a tiny seedling ... for ten years it struggled against wind, weather and hungry horses. But ... it survived! And prospered ...