I'm off to go see a stage production of "The Fully Monty" at the Lyceum Theatre, here in Sheffield.

It amuses me greatly that this is my first theatrical experience in my new city.
Last night, my beloved [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I made our first visit to London's Donmar Warehouse theatre to see a production of Coriolanus.

This production was special for us in a couple of ways and, actually, we were quite lucky to get tickets. All the seats for the two month run of this production sold out within half an hour. Tis only because I was at the ready, keyboard in hand, at the moment that they went on sale to the general public.

Part of the reason for the quick sellout is that the Donmar Warehouse is a rather small venue, with only 250 seats. The other part, which I did not realise when buying tickets months ago, is that the title role is played by Tom Hiddleston -- best known for portraying the recurring villain Loki in Marvel's cinematic universe. Indeed, it wasn't until after reading this NY Times review of Thor: The Dark World, that I became aware that we would be seeing "Loki" on stage.

Hiddleston was very good and, in a true testament to his ability as an actor, he played a character very different than Loki. The production was good, although I must confess that this is not one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. Indeed, I would say that it is my least favourite of the four Roman plays; Coriolanus is too flat of a character, lacking the depth of a Brutus, an Anthony, or a Caesar. To say nothing of a comparison with the brilliance of Titus Andronicus

At the end of the performance, I turned to [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and said: "That's it. We've done it." The woman next to me -- who had flown over from Ireland[*] to see Tom Hiddleston -- overheard and, being curious, asked what we had done. I explained to her that we have now seen every one of Shakespeare's extant plays performed live on stage. This one, Coriolanus, was the last of the lot. After nearly eight years of living in Merry Olde England, we have seen a live production of every single one of the Bard's thirty-eight plays.

Accomplishing this goal took a fair bit of hunting! As noted in this comment, I had seen 23 of the 38 after living here for two years and a bit. It then took over five more years to track down the remaining 15! After all, tis easy to find a Hamlet or a Midsummer Night's Dream or a Richard III or a Twelfth Night or a Henry V. Much more challenging to find a Timon of Athens or a Two Noble Kinsmen or a Cymbeline. Or a Coriolanus.

So, yes, it took time. And effort. Living in Oxford -- an hour's drive from Stratford-upon-Avon and two hours from London -- helped a lot. So did this page, which was a tremendous resource. It took work, but we did it. Every single one of the Bard's plays, live on stage. Mission accomplished. To be honest, that was even more of a treat than seeing Tom Hiddleston up close, from our third row seats.

Speaking of which, Hiddleston's performance continues a recent trend of seeing some Big Name ActorsTM tread the boards.

In October, we saw David Tennant perform the title role in Richard II at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. It was the first time that we have seen him on stage since 2008 and, quite frankly, he did much better at Richard than he did then in either Hamlet or Love's Labours Lost. In both of those shows, he was basically playing David Tennant, which didn't work so well -- particularly as Hamlet.[**] This time around, he only lapsed into himself once or twice; his Richard II was a suitably tragic king.

We then continue the trend next week in New York City, when we will be seeing Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen in Pinter's No Man's Land. I've seen each of these amazing actors on stage multiple times, but only once before have I seen them together. That was nearly five years ago, March 2009, when we saw them perform in Waiting for Godot. I'm not a Beckett fan, but they made that show well worth seeing. I suspect that they will do the same for Pinter next week.

Meanwhile, I sit here in the post-Solstice light, enjoying the gradual return of the newborn Sun, and contemplate what my next theatrical goal should be. I suggested seeing all of Alan Ayckbourn's plays -- currently 78 of them -- but this idea was swiftly vetoed by [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat.[***]

[*] Which is nothing compared to her friend, who had flown in from Canada to see Hiddleston!

[**] It's rather similar to how I enjoy seeing Jim Carrey act when he's not playing Jim Carrey.

[***] Mainly because, having seen roughly ten of his plays so far -- including six of the most recent eight -- we find the quality to be rather inconsistent. Some are quite good, and I particularly enjoy Communicating Doors. Others are rather disappointing. Definitely hit-or-miss with Ayckbourn. We will be seeing his latest, Arrivals & Departures in February, and I hope it is one of the good ones!

Back in Japan now. I flew out first thing Saturday morning for a week of shift work at Super-Kamiokande, followed by three days of holiday.

As is usually the case on the day before an intercontinental trip, Friday was rather busy. I took the Oxford Tube into London to work during the day; in the evening, I went to the Oxford Playhouse with my beloved [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and my darling [livejournal.com profile] miss_amaranth to see a fairly dreadful musical adaptation of Golding's Lord of the Flies.

After the show, we went to Indulge to indulge in some going-away dessert. Then we dropped [livejournal.com profile] miss_amaranth off at the House of the Rising Bun and stopped in to visit our lovely girl, Stumpy. Those of you that know Stumpy will not be surprised to learn that she was very happy to see us. Although, to be fair, any three humans petting her would have been welcome to this attention-seeking kitty!

Next, [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I headed back to Chiron Beta Prime. We got in at about midnight and ate dinner. Yes, gentle readers, we had dinner after dessert -- is there a problem? Following food, it was time to pack for Japan.

All of this was finally accomplished around three o'clock in the morning. With one exception, all of the pre-flight items on my "to-do" list had been ticked off. That exception? My third -- and final -- Bridge-to-10K run. Oooops.

I've done nighttime runs before. Actually, when I first started Couch-to-5K last Summer, I only ran at night. I'm not too proud to admit that I was fairly self-conscious back then; as an obese and out-of-shape bloke struggling through sixty second bursts of running, I preferred to minimize any "audience" of onlookers. That hasn't been true for many months now, though, and the timing of my runs is dictated more by scheduling than anything else. I prefer to run during daylight hours, but I am also comfortable running after dark if necessary. Between work, theatre, and bell ringing, it is often necessary. I have done plenty of late-night runs, with the latest being a couple where I set out at about half past one.

Even so, there is a big difference between going out at half past one and starting at half past three -- especially when my running workout has grown to 70 minutes[*]. Also, I needed to leave for the airport bus at six o'clock, to be reasonably sure of catching my 9am flight. Thus, I must confess, I entertained the notion of not running. It would certainly be easier and would allow me to get a couple of hours rest before my travels. If I did run, I would need a shower after; together, the two would consume nearly all of my remaining time before setting out. I would have a few minutes to stock up on snuggles with [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat... but that would be all.

On the other hand, this was to be my graduation run! My final Bridge-to-10K workout! After months of effort, overcoming the major setback that was January's torn muscle injury. Yes, I could do the final run in Japan... but there seemed something fitting about completing the programme before my travels.

Thus it came to pass that, at a quarter past three in the morning, I did my pre-run stretches and changed into my running gear. Mere moments before I set out, I received an e-mail from the ever-awesome [livejournal.com profile] tawneypup. She had written to tell me that she had just returned from her final Couch-to-5K run. Her graduation run sounded lovely, running into the sunset and passing a couple of deer.

Well, that clinched it. If I had not been certain about this run before, I certainly was now. T'would be a beautiful symmetry -- [livejournal.com profile] tawneypup finishes Couch-to-5K with a run into the sunset; minutes later, I set out on my final Bridge-to-10K workout with a run into the sunrise. And that's exactly what I did.

When I left the house, the first glimmers of twilight were beginning to show in the night sky. When I returned, seventy minutes later, it was well past the dawn. I enjoyed a fantastic run, feeling fast and strong, as I ran a variant of my usual East Oxford route whilst watching day break. It was, in all ways, an absolutely amazing run. At that time of the morning, there was a certain serenity in the air. Alas, there were no deer on my path, I'm afraid. On the other hand, the unusual hour meant that there were also very few people -- and cars -- to watch out for.

Crunching the numbers afterward, the numbers bore out what I had felt during the workout. This had indeed been my best run ever. Twas the fourth time that I had run for sixty minutes -- and only the third time that I had done all sixty minutes in one continuous stretch.[**] Of the four runs, this was my best speed and distance yet: 10.7 kilometers (or, if you prefer, 6.66 miles). That's an average pace of 5:36 per kilometer (or 9:01 per mile). Were I "only" aiming at 10 km -- rather than 60 minutes of running -- this average pace would have meant crossing the finish line at precisely 56 minutes. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself!

I returned home in triumph as a Bridge-to-10K graduate, with just enough time to shower and change before the aforementioned pre-flight [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat cuddles. Then it was six o'clock and time to catch the coach to Heathrow.

And thus it was that the Nomad became a 10K runner...

[*] Five minutes of brisk walking to warm up, sixty minutes of running, then five minutes of not-as-brisk walking to cool down.

[**] Week 5 Run 3 of Bridge-to-10K consists of two 30 minute runs, with a 1 minute walk separating them.

Yesterday evening, my beloved [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I saw the Royal Shakespeare Company's latest production of Titus Andronicus, in the Swan Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon.

It was..... surprisingly good.

Not being one for mutilation and gore, I have avoided this play for years. Shakespeare's first tragedy is also his bloodiest by far. As S. Clarke Hulse of the University of Illinois at Chicago has noted, this play contains:
14 killings, 9 of them on stage, 6 severed members, 1 rape (or 2 or 3 depending on how you count), 1 live burial, 1 case of insanity, and 1 of cannibalism – an average of 5.2 atrocities per act, or one for every 97 lines.

It is not uncommon for the Bard's plays to include a high body count -- witness Hamlet or Richard III as examples of other works where nearly everybody dies. However, in Richard III, it is only Richard himself who dies on stage; all the other murders are committed beyond our sight. Hamlet does have five killings in view of the audience, but they are fairly clean and relatively bloodless. Indeed, most of the five occur by poisoning. Also, as far as I can recall, Titus Andronicus is the only Shakespearean play that contains a rape.[*]

Ah well. At least nobody gets their eyes gouged out!

It is only now -- when I am close to completing my goal of seeing all of the Bard's thirty-eight extant plays performed live on stage -- that I decided to relent and finally watch a production of Titus Andronicus. When the RSC included it in their summer repertoire, it seemed like the ideal opportunity to get this one out of the way attend.

On Monday evening, we drove up to Stratford to see a production of A Mad World, My Masters in the RSC's Swan Theatre. Written by one of Shakespeare's contemporaries, Thomas Middleton, the play is a bawdy romp that delivers up a laugh a minute -- sometimes more! Tis one of the smuttiest, filthiest works of drama to come out of the English Renaissance.

On Tuesday evening -- one day later -- we returned to see Titus Andronicus produced on the same stage with [mostly] the same cast.[**] But the tone and content of these works could not be more different. Seeing them on consecutive days was nearly enough to give me dramatical whiplash!

That said, I am rather glad that we did see this production. The play is remarkably intense, and the performance was exquisite. The director, Michael Fentiman, did not resort to symbolism to soften the impact of the atrocities committed in the play -- for instance, using red streamers instead of blood, as some productions have done. Nor did he go to the other extreme, embellishing upon the violence already inherent in the text. Murder, rape, severed heads, and severed limbs were all to be seen -- with plenty of blood to go around -- but it was done discretely enough so as to not turn the stomach.

My one complaint about this production was that I thought Lavinia too passive a character after being raped and mutilated by Chiron and Demetrius. This was clearly a deliberate choice made by either the director or the actress. Certainly once she loses her tongue, Lavinia can no longer speak. Yet I would have preferred her to remain more engaged and more responsive, in spite of her enforced silence.

Some years ago, I saw a production of Cymbeline performed amongst the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. Watching one of the Bard's final comedies, there were obvious echoes of earlier works, as Shakespeare recycled many of his plot devices (and plots) in Cymbeline -- you have the sleeping potion that creates a death-like state (a la Romeo & Juliet), you have a villain falsely persuading a husband that his wife has been unfaithful (Othello), and you have the damsel in distress solve her problems by dressing up as a boy (Twelfth Night and As You Like It).

I had a similar experience with Titus Andronicus. Watching one of the Bard's first tragedies, there was significant foreshadowing of plays to come. Tamora ruthlessly urging on her husband, the Emperor Saturninus, bears a striking resemblance to scenes with Lady MacBeth and her husband. The insidiously deceptive Aaron seemed a racially inverted version of Othello's Iago, causing havoc for the sheer fun of bringing misery to others. The interaction between Titus and Tamora was strongly reminiscent of that between Richard III and his sister-in-law, Elizabeth Woodville. In both cases, we have an ambitious woman dominating her husband -- an emperor or king -- to advance herself and her children to the detriment of all around them. And, of course, it would be impossible to escape the parallels between the father/daughter pairs of Titus/Lavinia and Lear/Cordelia. Both evoke great tenderness and great pathos, with fathers enduring (or feigning) madness and eventually grieving the tragic and senseless loss of their daughter before perishing themselves.

Actually, I am rather pleased that I postponed Titus Andronicus for so long. For, having seen nearly all the other plays already, I can properly appreciate these many parallels. Overall, this was a fantastic performance, and I enjoyed the play far more than I had expected!

I have now seen thirty-six of the Bard's plays performed live on stage. Only two to go! We already have tickets to see Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse in December[***]; now I need to track down a production of Pericles to complete the set!

ETA: Y'all should be proud of me. I made it all the way through a post about Titus Andronicus without making a single joke about pies...

[*] The Rape of Lucrece is clearly another Shakespearean work that includes a rape. However, it is a narrative poem and not a play and, thus, does not figure into this count.

[**] Indeed, Tuesday night was certainly a cheerful one for the Royal Shakespeare Company. With Hamlet playing on their main stage and Titus Andronicus in the Swan, twas barely a survivor to be found! I teased an usher, saying they should re-open their old Courtyard Theatre allowing them to play Richard III or MacBeth concurrently with these two!

[***] We were very lucky to get these! Although the run is two months long, the Donmar Warehouse is a Big London Theatre with a small capacity -- only 250 seats. The tickets went on sale to the public last week... and the entire production sold out in under half an hour! Thankfully, I was online with mouse at the ready when the booking opened at 09:00.

Six hours ago, priority booking began at Royal Shakespeare Company for their Winter 2013 season. Full members -- and only full members -- were able to start buying tickets for the October to March shows.

Thus it was that I spent about three hours procuring tickets to see Richard II with my beloved [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat in October. It should not be so difficult to buy theatre tickets! However, the flagship of their Winter 2013 season is a five week run of R2... with David Tennant in the title role.

I really want to see Richard II on stage again, having seen it only once before, as part of the RSC's complete History Cycle back in Feb 2008. (Gods, was that really five years ago now??) Although it doesn't get nearly the circulation as they play about his first cousin twice removed (i.e., Richard III), Richard II is really a rather good play. Indeed, tis one of the few plays by the Bard that I have taken the time to read through, in addition to seeing it on stage!

That said, I am not particularly impressed with David Tennant as an actor. [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I saw Tennant in the title role of an RSC production of Hamlet back in August 2008. Patrick Stewart's portrayal of Claudius was fantastic. The rest of the cast was excellent. As Hamlet... well, let's just say that Tennant made a very good Doctor Who. I really really hope that his Richard II is better.

Nevertheless, the man is clearly a draw, as indicated by the difficulty in procuring tickets. All I can say is that it's a good thing we are full members of the RSC. By the time booking opens to the public in three weeks, there may not be any tickets left!

Meanwhile, as a follow-up to my previous post, I have to say that I finally sought out a comic book store and bought up all the issues of The Superior Spider-Man. With the exception of Iron Man -- where I have a complete run covering fifty years of publication -- I had stopped collecting super-hero comic books a couple of years ago. However, Spider-Ock, or whatever one wants to call Doctor Octopus in Peter Parker's body, is just a fantastic read! What finally pushed me over the edge and made me get them is the three page preview of Superior issue #3. Check it out here -- you won't be sorry!
Many thanks to all who replied to my previous entry about choosing a Bible. I've not replied to any comments yet, as I wanted to watch the opinions pour in without influencing them in any way. A follow-up entry is forthcoming, which will be a collective response to all the excellent recommendations that you have made, my dear friends.

Meanwhile, I am off to bed fairly soon. I just returned to Chiron Beta Prime a short while ago after a spiffy weekend in London with my beloved [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat. Whilst there, we got to spend time with [livejournal.com profile] nw1, and also with the ever-awesome due of D&J.[*] In addition to seeing these three friends, we also saw three plays -- all by the Bard, and all ones that we had not seen before.

On Saturday afternoon, we went to the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre to see a theatre company called Perfect Shadow Mingled Yarn perform what they call "Shakespeare's Bookends". The "bookends" are Shakespeare's first and last play[**] -- "Two Gentlemen of Verona" and "Two Noble Kinsmen" -- performed by the same cast. These two plays have very similar plots, and the actors were cast accordingly, with corresponding roles. We saw the Kinsmen as a matinée and the Gentlemen in the evening.

Whilst enjoyable, these two productions were clearly the work of an amateur company working in a black box theatre. Happily, a professional company in Bristol -- Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory -- will be producing the "Two Gentlemen" next Spring. I have already noted the day that tickets go on sale; it will be good to see this again, performed by a more professional cast.

On Sunday afternoon, we went to the National Theatre to see Simon Russell Beale star as the eponymous character in "Timon of Athens". In contrast to Saturday, this was most definitely a Big BudgetTM production, and they did an excellent job with the text. I particularly enjoyed the first act, though the second left me unable to shake the feeling that Timon was a second rate Lear. This is no fault of the actors or director; I think tis inherent in the text itself. Considering that this is one of the least well known Shakespeare plays, it was gratifying to see that the National was completely packed! I was, however, slightly baffled at the overwhelmingly thunderous applause at the end of the performance. The show was good, but not that good! I have seen far better performances of plays that did not receive nearly as much noise at the curtain call.

With these three shows ticked off the list, [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I have but three more remaining before we have see all of the Bard's extant plays performed live on stage. We have also seen a recreation of his "lost play", "Cardenio", as well as a theatrical adaptation of one of his narrative poems: "The Rape of Lucrece". Whilst both were excellent -- and I would happily see an adaptation of his other narrative play, "Venus and Adonis" -- I am only counting the thirty-eight surviving plays in my goal to see performances of all the Bard's theatrical work.

Thirty-five down; three to go! Exciting! What's left? In alphabetical order, we still need to see "Coriolanus", "Pericles", and "Titus Andronicus".

We already know that the Royal Shakespeare Company will be producing "Titus" in 2013, and I shall be buying tickets as soon as they go on sale in a fortnight. That leaves two more shows to track down. It was always my goal to have "Titus" be the final Shakespeare play that I see; the upcoming RSC performance ups the urgency of finding the other two. I might need a little luck with that, as neither is commonly produced!

Right. On that note, tis off to bed with me! Much busy-ness ahead in the coming week, my friends! Stay tuned, gentle readers, to hear more!

[*] Hurm. Come to think of it, both social encounters were with fellow US American expatriates that we have known from when we all lived Stateside. That wasn't planned; just an amusing coincidence.

[**] Understanding that it is difficult to determine a precise chronology of Shakespeare's plays, it is generally considered that the Gentlemen came first and the Kinsmen came last. See here, for instance.

anarchist_nomad: (Loch Ness Monster)
( Aug. 15th, 2012 11:58 pm)
Last Sunday -- August 12th 2012 -- marked eighteen years since the start of my relationship with my beloved [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat. Eighteen years?! How did they fly by so quickly? There are now adults walking around who were not even born when we met for our first date!

Eighteen years. That is 6575 days... or 48.1% of my life. Wowza!

To celebrate, we took a weekend road trip to Yorkshire. Setting out after work on Friday evening, we made it up to Doncaster at a reasonable hour. Knowing that we would arrive slightly before midnight, we booked nothing more posh than a simple Travelodge. No point in splurging for the night where all we needed was a comfy bed. Even so, we were pleasantly surprised, as our hotel room window boasted some spectacular lake views.

The other advantage of our basic accommodation was that we started Saturday in close proximity to our first destination: Pontefract Castle. Originally constructed in Norman times by a man named Ilbert de Lacy, on land granted to him by the Conquerer, the castle is now in ruins. Ah, but what a history it had!

Pontefract -- or Pompret, as it was then called -- is perhaps best known as the place where Richard II was held captive and then murdered, after being deposed from England's throne by his cousin, the usurping Bolingbroke -- later known as Henry IV. Shakespeare immortalizes this in his history play The Life and Death of King Richard the Second. This incident is also referred back to in the more famous play Richard III, with the lines:

Pomfret, Pomfret! O thou bloody prison,
Fatal and ominous to noble peers!
Within the guilty closure of thy walls
Richard the second here was hack'd to death

Pontefract Castle was also a Royalist stronghold during the Civil War, where it was besieged three times. First by the Roundheads and then, after they successfully took the castle, by the Royalists, who wanted it back. They got it, too... after which the Parliamentarians went right back into siege mode. Indeed, Pontefract Castle contained such devoted Royalists that theirs was the last castle to surrender at the end of the war; King Charles I was dead two months before they finally gave up the fight!

Unfortunately, all this stubborn resistance was ultimately Pontefract's downfall. After winning the Civil War, Oliver Cromwell set into motion plans to destroy the castle, lest it ever be used against him again. Hence the current ruin.

Here is a picture of the castle in the twilight of its glory days, painted in the early 17th century:

Impressive, isn't it? However, it certainly does not look like that now! If there is interest, I can upload photographs from the weekend, showing the castle in its current ruined state (including a certain Nomad in the basement of the tower where Richard II was held prisoner).

After finishing with the castle, [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I made our way a little further North, to the city of York. We had been before, of course! [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I enjoyed a lovely trip to York in 2007. Additionally, I had stopped by for dinner with my dear [livejournal.com profile] miss_amaranth on our way back from Scarborough last year... and, just this May, I spent a weekend in York with our friend EB, who was visiting from the States. So we are certainly no strangers to York!

Upon arriving on Saturday, [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I began by taking in some familiar sights, like touring the Minster and taking a stroll down the Shambles. In the evening, we checked into our hotel; for our anniversary proper, we had booked much more extravagant accommodation -- the luxurious Grange Hotel, located in a Grade II listed building. After settling in, we cleaned up from a day of scurrying about on castle ruins and, properly attired, enjoyed a phenomenal dinner at the Ivy Brasserie. Absolutely marvelous! With soup, a generous main dish, sides, and dessert, I certainly ate too much... but, hey, it was our anniversary dinner!

Following the meal, [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I moved to the hotel sitting room to open our cards and gifts. We chatted with another couple, who was there to celebrate their first anniversary. When all the gifts were open, we retired to our bedroom to enjoy some quality alone time together.

On Sunday morning, we rose late and, after breakfast at a yummy café (found with EB in May), set off to explore parts of the city that we had not visited on previous trips. So no Jorvik Viking Centre, no guided walking tours, no Richard III Museum, no evening ghost walks (or ghost cruises on the River Ouse), no National Railway Museum, no walk along the city walls, no York Castle Museum (with its awesome Victorian street), no climbing of Clifford's Tower, no descent into the haunted cellar of the Treasurer's House. All of these places are lovely... but I have seen them all before. After re-visiting some old favourites on Saturday, for Sunday we wanted something new.

We began our afternoon by taking a turn through the Museum gardens, laid out in the nineteenth century by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, and situated on the land that had once been home to St. Mary's Abbey before the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The garden naturally let us out at the side of the River Ouse, so we continued to stroll alongside the river for a bit. We then ducked into the Yorkshire Museum to see their special exhibit 1212: The Making of the City, commemorating eight hundred years since York was granted a City Charter by King John. Whilst in the museum, we also attended a lecture on the history of the York Medieval Mystery Plays. More on those plays in a bit!

When the museum closed, we crossed the river and took a ride around the Wheel of York, a sixty meter ferris wheel -- sort of a younger sibling to the London Eye. Actually, we took three rides around the Wheel, taking advantage of the uncharacteristically excellent weather to enjoy some spectacular views of the city from way up high. Then we grabbed a quick dinner before returning to the ruins of St. Mary's Abbey... just in time to be seated for the evening's performance of the York Mystery Plays.

Performed once every four years, the York Mystery Plays tell the history of the Universe, from before the Creation to the Last Judgment. The English mystery plays originally date to the mid-fourteenth century, when they were performed on the feast day of Corpus Christi. We know that at least thirteen cycles of medieval mystery plays once existed, although only four remain in a complete or near-complete state. Each cycle consisted of a series of biblical plays, and each play told one part of the story. The York Mystery Plays are the most complete cycle that we have, consisting of forty-eight pageants.

Traditionally, the annual production of these plays were organized, financed, and performed by the York Craft Guilds; each guild would take responsibility for a particular play. Rather than being staged in a fixed arena, the plays were performed on pageant wagons. These wagons would parade though the streets of York, stopping at twelve different playing stations to perform.

Although vastly popular, the mystery plays stopped being performed shortly after the Protestant Reformation took hold in England. The plays were viewed as being too Catholic, which was unacceptable. The last record we have of the York Mystery Plays being produced dates to 1569. At least until the modern era.

In 1951, the cycle was revived for the Festival of Britain. The twentieth century revival was based on the original medieval text, though several significant changes were made. For one thing, the overall length of the cycle was shortened from the original runtime of about fourteen hours. Also, the language was modernized from Middle English to something like Early Modern English (think Shakespeare here); words like "mickle" and "gramercy" still pop up... but the revised text is understandable by a modern audience. Finally, it is worth noting that the 1951 production took place on a fixed stage, in the ruins of St. Mary's Abbey, rather than on travelling wagons.

This revival was an absolute success, and the plays have been regularly produced ever since -- first in three year intervals; then, from 1988, these became four year intervals.[*] In addition to being spectacular theatre, the modern York Mystery Plays are also a major community affair. A professional director is hired, and two professional actors play the roles of God/Jesus and Satan; the rest of the 250-member cast is composed entirely of local amateur volunteers. Indeed, 500 volunteer actors are recruited from the local community, forming two casts that alternate performances. This year, Ferdinand Kingsley (son of the more well known Ben Kingsley) played God and Jesus, whilst Graeme Hawley made a delightful Satan (especially when flanked by his ultra-sexy band of devilettes!).

The cycle ended at 23:00, after which we embarked on the three hour drive home. Thus, we got back to Oxford and Chiron Beta Prime at 03:00 on Monday and were rather tired when it was time to get ready for work in the morning. Even so, it was well worth it! I thoroughly enjoyed having front row seats for this astounding spectacle, and I was thrilled to participate in a work that has such a rich and resounding history!

Without a doubt, [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I had an extremely memorable anniversary weekend, ensuring that our eighteenth will be looked back upon fondly for many years to come! Huzzah!

[*] Interestingly enough, in recent years, a revival of the wagon-based plays has also sprung up, circa 1994. As in days gone by, they are sponsored by the York Guilds. These productions are not as elaborate as the originals; rather than perform all forty-eight plays at twelve stations, they are currently running twelve plays at each of four stations. Even so, that's pretty spiffy! The wagon plays are also done on a four year interval, covering the even numbered years when the stationary cycle is not performed. Think of these as the Winter Olympics complementing the original revival's Summer Olympics -- indeed, even the years work out correctly in this anology! [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I definitely want to go back to York in 2014 to see the wagon production as well!

Lots of stuff going on recently, which means not enough time for LiveJournal. There are several entries that I hope to compose in the not-too-distant future but, for now, here is a classic weekend summary post. Enjoy!

Friday: Worked in London during the day. Returned to the City of Dreaming Spires in the evening to collect my beloved [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat; together, we made our way to the Oxford Playhouse. There, we saw a touring company from Shakespeare's Globe put on a performance of Henry V. It was very well done; one of the best productions that I have seen from the Globe. Makes me look forward to their Hamlet, which we have tickets for in July. It will be staged in the quad of the Bodleian Library, which is a rather wonderful setting!

Incidentally, this performance marks the fifth time that I have seen Henry V on stage -- unambiguously earning it the honour of being Shakespearean play that I have seen most frequently. At least for now. On Thursday, [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I, along with EB who is coming from the States, will be going to Stratford-upon-Avon to see a production of The Tempest. So, four days from now, The Tempest will tie with Henry V... and, in August, I will also be seeing Richard III for the fifth time.

Meanwhile, there are five of the Bard's plays[*] that I still need to get tickets to see!

Saturday: The Oxford City Branch of the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers had its half-annual meeting, which I attended in my role as Hon. Treasurer to present the State of the Finances report. Additionally, the City Branch had its annual six-bell striking competition just before the meeting. Back in March, I was more than a little shocked when the tower captain of St. Giles Church -- my home tower -- invited me to join the competition band! My ringing has progressed quite a bit in recent months, mainly thanks to the near-daily practice in February. Tangible results are starting to be seen, with my first quarter peal on a working bell last month, and my first striking competition yesterday!

In recent weeks, I was very nervous about competing. However, all went very well. We rang at Horspath, which was a new tower for me. Still, their bells are relatively light and rather easy to ring. Indeed, there was even a brief window when I thought that we might win! Our band rang second-to-last in the randomly chosen order. When we finished, I was rather confident that we had managed the best ringing thus far. Which was correct... but the final band out-rang us. Oops! Even so, second place on my first try is not bad!

Here is a picture of our band. after the competition:

And the runner ups are...

(click for full-sized version)

For those with some interest in this weird change bell ringing thing that I do, you can click here to hear a recording of us in the striking competition. The first few single strikes are a signal to the judges, sitting outside, that our practice is over and we are ready to begin. Then we ring in rounds -- a simple reverse scale -- for about a minute. Finally, we ring a touch of Grandsire Doubles for about four minutes, before settling back into some brief rounds before setting our bells.

In this recording, I am on the #3 bell. Which will make it easy to identify me during rounds, though I will be impressed if you can keep track of my bell during the method!

Sunday: In the morning, I rang for church services at Headington. Afterward, I made my way to the nearby town of Wheatley to pay a visit to the Wheatley Windmill, which was having an open day. There has been a mill on this site since at least the mid-17th century; the earliest records are from 1671, noting that the mill of its day had fallen into disrepair. It enjoyed a resurgence in the 18th and 19th centuries, but is now only maintained for historical value by the Wheatley Windmill Restoration Society.

The mill was rather quaint and lovely. Its octagonal shape is rather unusual... and its clockwise motion is exceedingly rare. I arrived early in the day, when they were still putting the cloth sails onto the frame so that it would spin. The weather was particularly nice, so I did not mind the extended wait a'tall. Eventually, they got it going, which was much fun. After watching the arms spin for a bit, I went inside and explored the four stories of the tower. The top was particularly fun, with all the gears interlocking this way and that!

Below is a picture of the windmill, taken by your friendly neighbourhood Nomad. I wanted to share a photo of me posing with said mill... but, in all honesty, the picture that I took was much better than the one that the random stranger took of me plus the mill. Ah well!

The wild winds of fortune
Will carry me onward,
Oh whithersoever they blow.

(click for full-sized version)

You can see that the sail has just been put on the arm at the bottom... but the two at the top are still awaiting their canvas!

On Sunday afternoon, I hopped on Ye Olde Oxford Tube and headed into London. There, in Kensal Rise, I joined in a party to celebrate the 65th birthday of LF, my high school history teacher. She is one of only three teachers that I bonded with in high school[**], so having her in London for a year is really quite lovely! At the party, I met a couple of her other former students, her daughter and daughter's partner... and an old friend of hers that I had met back in March 1990, during a class trip to London!

All in all, twas a most lovely evening, which means that I didn't get back to Oxford until nearly half past midnight. Happily, my darling [livejournal.com profile] miss_amaranth was also making her way home from London at the same time... so we kept abreast of each others' progress by text message! Silly, I know, but fun!

Finally, I wound down the night with a couple of phone calls. First, of course, I called Mom to wish her a Happy Mothers Day. We had a very nice conversation; indeed, twas the best interaction that we have had in quite some time! Afterward, I phoned [livejournal.com profile] gyades, just to catch up on the live and times of my best friend.

When that was done, I put the weekend to bed by putting myself to bed. Snuggled up next to my beloved [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat, I drifted off happily to sleep.

[*] Which are: Two Gentlemen of Verona, Pericles, Coriolanus, Two Noble Kinsmen, and Titus Andronicus.

[**] And one of the remaining two passed away whilst I was her student.

Saw an excellent show at the Oxford Playhouse last night! It was a new (2011) play entitled Mogadishu.[*] The piece tells the story of a fifteen year old school bully. In the opening scene, he beats up a younger child; when one of the teachers intervenes, he lashes out in his anger and knocks her to the ground, too.

From there, the situation escalates -- slowly at first, then ever rapidly. To protect himself, the bully reports the teacher as having racially abused him... and gets his five friends to corroborate his story. The teacher is suspended. Then the police and child protection get involved. Finally, social services is brought in and the teacher is even in danger of losing her own daughter. All the while, the young bully is reveling in his own power of manipulation.

The human drama and racial tensions play out on a backdrop of two troubled households: That of the teacher and that of the bully. At the end, which is left at least partially ambiguous, there is no winner... but the audience is certainly left with a lot to think about.

Powerful stuff! For my friends in the US, you may be out of luck; but, for my friends in the UK, this play is currently on tour. If it happens to end up near you, I highly recommend seeing it!

[*] Though the reasons why are a bit of a mystery -- the city of Mogadishu is mentioned precisely once, in a throwaway line.

Heading out to the Oxford Playhouse shortly, where my beloved [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I will be seeing our first theatre of 2012. Tonight's performance is John Ford's Tis Pity She's a Whore, put on by the acclaimed production company Cheek by Jowl.

I have been anticipating this show with eager anticipation. Not only has it been too long since we saw a show -- late December 2011 -- but it has also been quite some time I saw a new Renaissance drama. The most recent one was Massinger's The City Madam, which we saw the Royal Shakespeare Company perform back in August.

Thus it was that I found myself reading a plot synopsis earlier this afternoon. For Renaissance theatre, I feel that my enjoyment of the performance is enhanced by knowing as much about the story as possible before the curtain lifts. This way, I can focus my attention on the staging, the acting, and the language... without needing to piece together what is actually happening from the Early Modern English.

Alas, in reading about Tis Pity today, I realised that a true tragedy awaits in this piece. I don't mean the fact that all will come to a bad end -- one assumes that in a tragedy. No, I refer to the fact that the main female character's tutoress, Putana, is going to have her eyes put out.

Damn. I could have sworn that we declared a moratorium on the gouging of eyes. At least for some time. No more King Lear, no more Into The Woods, no more Oedipus Rex, no more After Troy. So much for that. Looks like tonight we are heading back into the world of eye-gouging once more...
In the interests of being a better blogger, your friendly neighbourhood Nomad is taking a momentary pause from the holiday festivities to update Ye Olde LiveJournal.

I hope that you are all enjoying the Decemberween festivities, dear friends. Here at Chiron Beta Prime, a delightful three-day visit from the lovely [livejournal.com profile] weegoddess and J has just come to an end. Whilst they were here, there was much holiday goodness to be had by the five of us[*].

On Tuesday evening, we brought them to see the Mother Goose panto at the Oxford Playhouse. Panto is a very British holiday tradition and, despite having previously lived on this side of the pond for three years, I was delighted to introduce them to their first panto. Needless to say, a good time was had by all!

On Wednesday, as the Sun began to set, we did our Yule ritual at Chiron Beta Prime. Lighting a candle to keep the light going through the longest night, we did our ritual WORK then celebrated by going to the ever-delicious Pink Giraffe for dinner.

There was also much fun to be had, unrelated to the holiday season. A visit to one of our favourite neighbours, the exquisite Coco Noir; a tour of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein sites, including their favourite pub, the houses where they lived, and a trip to their final resting places; dinner at the always awesome Atomic Burger. However, the highlight of the week was very much tied in with the holiday cheer. On Thursday morning, as the longest night drew to a close, we made our way to Stonehenge to celebrate the rebirth of the Sun from within this ancient Stone circle.

Open access to Stonehenge is permitted on the Solstices and the Equinoxes. I have been attending regularly since Summer Solstice 2007. In that time, I have been at Stonehenge for three Summer Solstices, three Winter Solstices, and one March Equinox. Each experience is magnificent, of course... with variations that make it unique. For instance, Winter Solstice 2009 was the first time that I saw snow on the Stones. Winter Solstice 2010 was the first time that I had a snowball fight whilst within the circle. These nuances keep the experience fresh... and this Solstice was no different.

In fact, this time was extra special, as we finally saw the Sun rise. At the seven previous dawns, the sky was overcast and the Sun could not be seen. The eighth time was a winner -- at long last, I have seen the Sun rise, aligned to shine from the SouthEast through one of the Stone arches. Words cannot do this justice; it was truly a spectacular sight to see. Of course, dear friends, with camera in hand, I did my best to capture this uncapturable moment on [digital] film to share with you.

Here is the new Sun, freshly risen above the horizon.

A closer look; with this dawn, the days will begin to get longer once again.

According to the news reports, over one thousand people were present to witness this breathtaking sunrise. This is much more then the tens of thousands who attend at the Summer Solstice, but still a nice crowd.[**] Of course, with so many people present, I was not the only reveler with a camera on hand. You can see many taking pictures in the above photos and journalists were also there. The Daily Mirror has an article on the event here, and the BBC posted some of their own photographs here.

Of particular interest to me is the second photograph in the BBC collection. My first reaction upon seeing it was: "Oh! They took almost exactly the same picture that I did!" In contrast, [livejournal.com profile] weegoddess's first response was a more astute: "Oh! You and [livejournal.com profile] miss_amaranth are in the picture!" You can tell which of us is the more observant.

For those who do not wish to cycle through the BBC collection, I have re-posted their image here:

Courtesy of the BBC. Can you find everybody's favourite Nomad in this picture?

Yesterday's trip to Stonehenge was definitely the undisputed high point in a very lovely week. Also, there is much more holiday splendour to come! With [livejournal.com profile] weegoddess and J moved on to other travels and [livejournal.com profile] miss_amaranth en route to her parents, my darling [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I are off to London this evening to visit D&J for Christmas Eve... then home late tomorrow night to spend Christmas Day together at Chiron Beta Prime.

Happy Yule and Merry Christmas, gentle readers!

[*] "five of us" = them, me, my beloved [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat, and the adorable [livejournal.com profile] miss_amaranth

[**] Actually, one thousand is a much nicer turnout. When there are thirty-six thousand people present, as was the case for Summer Solstice 2009, the site can feel a touch overcrowded.

Tickets to the next season of shows at the Oxford Playhouse went on sale today. Huzzah!

At this point, with seven weeks still remaining in 2011, my beloved [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I now have theatre tickets to eighteen different shows for 2012. Hooray!

We already had tickets to nine performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of the upcoming World Shakespeare Festival. Now we also have tickets to nine performances[*] on the Oxford Playhouse's main stage.[**] Yay!

2012 is looking rather good so far...

[*] Since interest has been expressed, I will refer the curious reader to the comments section for a list of what we will be seeing.

[**] Additionally, [livejournal.com profile] tawneypup and [livejournal.com profile] jadesfire55 also have tickets to an Oxford Playhouse show in March, though [livejournal.com profile] jadesfire55 doesn't know it yet.

anarchist_nomad: (The cape as red as blood)
( Nov. 9th, 2011 08:17 pm)
Greetings, gentle readers! Your friendly neigbourhood Nomad has been a bad, bad blogger. Very little about the past month has been written in these pages. Tsk tsk! Thus, the occasional "Week In Review" post has temporarily been upgraded to a "Month In Review". Here are the highlights of the past month... or at least those that I can remember at the moment!

  • P**T***: The Sooper Sekrit October Pagan Festival went very well, as it usually does. This year was particularly poignant, as it is the last time that we will be in buildings that have been our home for over twenty years now (and for all of the fifteen years that I have been attending). Also, my beloved [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I seem to have found ourselves running P**T*** 2012. Ooops. This time, it will be as part of a team of seven experienced organizers, rather than on our own, that were elected to guide the community through its transition year.

  • US tour: After coming to the States for P**T***, we stayed for nearly two weeks. This gave [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I the opportunity to do lots of nifty things! Whilst in New York City, we went to see a fantastic piece of experimental theatre called Sleep No More, recommended by the lovely [livejournal.com profile] jeneralist. SNM is loosely based on MacBeth and set in a six story hotel; guests don spectral masks and wander freely through the rooms as the action goes on around them. Later, [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I made the journey back to Chicagoland; I drove and she read Sense and Sensibility to me. She reads rather well, adopting different voices for each character. In this way, we finished almost the entire book. Back at the Event Horizon, we spent some excellent time with the grand [livejournal.com profile] gyades. We also had a wonderful visit from the wonderful [livejournal.com profile] tawneypup. Together, the three of us enjoyed breakfasts at the ever-delicious Butterfield's; we explored the Morton Arboretum in all its autumn glory (including a wonderful art exhibit of a glass pumpkin patch!); and we played many games. The Event Horizon Halloween party was also a huge success, as I wrote about in a previous entry.

  • Theatre: Besides the rather spectacular Sleep No More, my darling [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I have been to several shows in the past month. The Oxford Playhouse is on a particularly good role, with a nifty student production of The Picture of Dorian Grey, an excellent new show called Family Business, and the thought-provoking Earthquakes In London. Perhaps best of all, however, was a trip to Milton Keynes last week, where we saw Slava's Snowshow. What an absolute delight! Pure, unadulterated joy! Seriously!! If anyone gets the chance to see this, please treat yourself! The entire show is amazing... but the ending alone makes it worth going!

  • Samhain: This year, my Samhain was nice... but not terribly intense. I cannot pretend to be surprised -- it seems normal that when one Samhain is very highly charged, the following year is much more mellow. For instance, Samhain 2006 was extremely intense... and 2007 barely felt like Samhain. Similarly, Samhain 2010 was very powerful, with many rituals to cut cords and burn away baggage... culminating in my first salt circle. In contrast, this year Samhain was relatively quiet. Our coven of five performed our traditional ancestor rituals of the feast and the toast, thus completing another Wheel of the Year. I am very pleased to say that, once again, we managed to WORK all the sabbats during the cycle that just ended. I am even more pleased to say that the year which has now passed was a very good year in many ways -- [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I received our indefinite leave to remain in the UK, no relationships ended and the existing ones grew stronger, I travelled to a couple of new countries and explored more of Great Britain. Definitely a much better year than the one that came before, which was rife with drama, tension, and strife.

    Probably the most important part of this Samhain was a ritual that I ran for somebody else. I was pleased to serve as HP for doing such vital work.

  • Work: Lots going on right now. Fiducial volume optimization with one of my graduate students; particle interaction studies on neutrino-induced charged current positive single pion interactions; professional seminars and outreach talks; you name it!

  • Misc: After being on a de facto hiatus from bell ringing over the Summer, due to travel, I am back to regular ringing at least once per week. That is very good for me. Gaming sessions have also happened a couple of times since my return to the City of Dreaming Spires. Oh, and I met Eric Drexler at a Halloween party last week; we spent some time chatting about supernova and neutrinos as well as projects that fall in the gap between physics and engineering. He is giving a lecture on nanotechnology tomorrow afternoon, which I am very much looking forward to attending.

On that note, gentle readers, I must end this entry. For I am writing from Ye Olde Oxford Tube once again... and we are very nearly home! Have a lovely evening, dear friends!

Went to the Oxford Playhouse last night to see Alan Ayckbourn's play Communicating Doors. Really, it was just your typical show about a hotel room with time travelling doors. Still, [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I enjoyed it.

The show premiered in 1994 and was originally set in 1974, 1994, and 2014. To keep the spirit intact, this production updated the timeline to 1990, 2010, and 2030. I thought that this change worked well, especially since it is not actually obvious at first that the play begins twenty years in the future.

I have now seen twenty-six plays this year. That is slightly better than one per week and well on track to my goal of at least forty shows in 2011. Nice!

What was also nice was coming out of the theatre at half past ten to see that the sky was still light -- a beautiful blue twilight. Ah, how I love this time of year!

To appreciate the season further, my beloved [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I are heading up to the Lake District this evening for a long weekend away. We are finally taking our late-May bank holiday weekend[*], which was deferred when I stayed to work longer in Japan. Given the push to release our electron neutrino appearance results, both [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I worked on the holiday and are taking tomorrow off instead.

It has been about four years since we last visited the Lake District in May 2007. It is such a breathtakingly beautiful area and we had an absolutely awesometacular weekend when we were last there. I am rather looking forward to a new set of adventures in such a gorgeous setting!

[*] For those gentle readers in the States, this coincides with Memorial Day weekend each year.

anarchist_nomad: (Road trip!)
( Jun. 9th, 2011 12:36 pm)
Tis now Thursday, my fourth day back in Merry Old England since returning from Japan on Monday morning. It is most excellent to be back at home in Oxford again, and to see my beloved [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat, my adorable kitties, and my darling [livejournal.com profile] miss_amaranth.

Since returning home, here is a quick snapshot of what your friendly neighborhood Nomad has been up to:

  • On Monday, I went North (about 50 miles) to Stratford-upon-Avon, with [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat, where we saw Sir Patrick Stewart play Shylock in an excellent Royal Shakespeare Company production of The Merchant of Venice.

  • On Tuesday, I went South (about 50 miles) to Winchester, where I saw the lovely [livejournal.com profile] miss_amaranth perform in a student production.

  • On Wednesday, I went East (about 50 miles) to London, where I spent the day at Imperial College working with RT and PS.

  • On Thursday, today, I will go West (about 75 miles) to Bristol, with both [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and [livejournal.com profile] miss_amaranth, where we will see the awesometacular Jonathan Coulton perform in concert with Paul & Storm.

That pretty much covers the four cardinal directions, one per day. Ironically, I have not yet been to the city centre of Oxford, about two miles distant, since my return. I think this says something... though I am not quite sure what. In any case, the oversight will be rectified soon because:

  • On Friday, tomorrow, I will stay local, going into Oxford city centre to do some interdisciplinary collaborating with some good people at the University of Oxford.

That is my week in a nutshell, dear friends. What have you been up to?

Happy Friday the Thirteenth, gentle readers! Seeing that thirteen is my lucky number, I'm not surprised that I had a good day. I hope y'all did, too, dear friends!

As the icon for this entry would imply, my beloved [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I trekked up to Stratford-upon-Avon this evening. There, we saw the Royal Shakespeare Company produce a re-creation of Shakespeare's famous lost play, Cardenio in their Swan Theatre. Using what bits of information have traveled down through the years -- like the eighteenth century adaptation Double Falsehood -- the RSC has reconstructed a play by the Bard that is based heavily on the work of his Spanish contemporary, Miguel de Cervantes.

Overall, the piece was extremely well done. The programme may have gone a little over the top, making claims about Shakespeare and Cervantes like: "You cannot refer to one without alluding to the other." Um, yeah, I don't think so. I talk a tremendous amount about the Bard but I almost never discuss Cervantes... excepting, of course, the occasional reference to Man of La Mancha.

Nonetheless, except for some laughable excerpts from the programme, the RSC did a fantastic job on this one. Their version of Cervantes definitely sounded like something that the Bard himself might have written. There were moments that felt very much like some of his other plays -- references to Pyramus and Thisbe; the dispute between Luscinda and her father strongly resembled Hermia and Egeus; Dorotea disguising herself as a boy and running off to the woods invoked memories of Rosalind / Ganymede; and the ending conjured up memories of Cymbeline. The language, as well, sounded extremely believable... and the actors, as one would naturally expect, were all superb! Both [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I had a fantastic time!

As the original script -- if, indeed, there ever was one -- has been long since lost, this recreation does not increment my Shakespeare number, which is currently at thirty-one. Even so, it made for a delightful way to spend my second-to-last evening before heading off to Japan!

Also on the theatrical menu tonight, in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, was Sir Patrick Stewart starring in The Merchant of Venice. This was the first night of the show, which opened in previews today, and so the house was packed. It looks to be an interesting production; we will be seeing returning to Stratford next month to see it.

As a side note, I am rather amused at how many people working at the RSC know us by now. Being regular patrons for several years, we are recognized instantly and often get into long conversations with the ushers and other staff. It is a nice feeling, being so well established. Actually, it is not just the RSC. We have been living in Oxford long enough that we have developed a rapport with the local pizzeria, an excellent Indian restaurant, the Oxford Playhouse, and more. Heck, on a recent visit to one of our local favourites -- Atomic Burger -- one of the waitresses greeted me with a kiss! Now that's familiar!
One of our theatre outings this week was a trip to the Oxford Playhouse to see the Oxfordshire Youth Music Theatre perform Gilbert & Sullivan's famous piece, The Pirates of Penzance. Later this month, the Oxford Operatic Society takes to the same stage to perform another G&S classic, The Mikado. Ironically, I shall be unable to attend, as I will be in Japan at the time.
Greetings from Austria, dear friends!

Apologies for going AWOL, but my hotel here doesn not do the WiFi thing... and the two common computers in the lobby (where I am now) are often occupied. That and I hate typing on a German keyboard -- though not quite as much as I detest French keyboards. So if you see a "Z" where a "Y" should be -- or vice-verse -- now you know why.

But I digress. Am wrapping up my third day in Vienna, where I have been having a blast. The past few days have seen visits to the Hofburg Imperial Palace, to St. Stephan's Cathedral, a ride on the Riesenrad ferris wheel, a view of the Secession House, a day at the Schrönbrunn Summer Palace, and more! Travelogues -- complete with pictures -- shall be posted soon after I return home to Merry Olde England (or whilst "on shift" in Japan in a couple of weeks, which will allow lots of slow time). Likewise for catching up on replies to recent comments... including the "caption that photo" contest!

Meanwhile, I have just returned from seeing a performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni at the Staatsoper and need to go hop into bed. Early morning tomorrow, as I have a ticket to hear the Vienna Boys' Choir sing mass in the Imperial Chapel.

Nighty-night, all!
Went into London last night with my beloved [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat to see the Richmond Shakespeare Society put on a production of King John. This raises our Shakespeare number to thirty-one. Seven more plays left to go.[*]

This was the last of the English history plays that we had yet to see performed on the stage.[**] In some ways, it reminded me very much of certain other history plays. War with France, for instance, was also a central part of the plot in King Henry V and in King Henry VI, part one. A sitting monarch ordering the murder of the child who could make a rival claim to the throne smacks heavily of King Richard III; the turning of public opinion and ill fate that follows the child's death is another commonality. Conflict with the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church was also integral to King Henry VIII, though the outcome broke differently there.

Other bits draw heavily on different legends that were never translated for the stage by the Bard. For instance, in exasperation, King John refers to Cardinal Pandolf as a "meddling priest", thus echoing the description that his father, King Henry II, used in reference to Archbishop Thomas à Becket. Similarly, when John he hints of his desire to be rid of his youthful rival, Arthur, it is expressed in words that mimic his father's infamous utterance: "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?"

However, in certain ways, this play was rather unlike those that we had seen before. The characters keep changing their minds, over and over again. Phillip will wage war on England... then he will make peace... then he will go to war. John shall absolutely not heed the Cardinal's demands, even though he be excommunicated... except then he shall. The Bastard of Richard Couer de Lion wants to keep his dubiously inherited lands... until he gives them away to become a landless knight. The Lords Salisbury and Essex and Pembroke are loyal to England. I mean France. I mean England. And John will not let his nephew and rival to the throne, the young Price Arthur, be killed. Oh yes, he will! Oh no, he won't! It goes on to the point where these characters make Hamlet look positively decisive!

Certain parts of the play were rather funny, such as the scenes where the citizens of Angers cannily avoid choosing between the two sides in the war that rages just outside their city walls. They repeatedly pledge allegiance as loyal subjects to England's rightful king... whilst ever dodging the dangerous question of just who should be that king. Many of the scenes with the Bastard were also quite amusing. Indeed, I found that the entire performance of this character, known first as Philip Falconbridge then later as Sir Richard Plantagenet, to be particularly compelling. Tis fitting, since it is probably the best role in the play and would have been a great disappointment if done poorly. This particular production was put on by an amateur theatre company blessed with few noteworthy actors. The Bastard was certainly one of these, as was John himself and also his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Well done!

Overall, we enjoyed the play quite a bit and it possesses some rather beautiful language in parts. One of my favourite examples comes in Act 4, when Lord Salisbury berates King John for performing a second coronation ceremony. Tis the same verse that gives us the commonly misquoted phrase, "To gild the lily":

To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw a perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow, or with taper light
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.

I was rather thankful that John's henchman Huber did not follow through with his plan to put out Prince Arthur's eyes with hot pokers. I've rather had my fill of eyes put out lately and have have tried to declare a moratorium. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be sticking, as Mestor, King of Mestor, had his eyes poked out last week in the godawful production of After Troy that we saw at the Oxford Playhouse, and Gloucester will lose his eyes next week when we see Derek Jacobi star in King Lear. After that, though, no more eyes gouged out! I'm serious! This means Oedipus Rex (and, for that matter, Into The Woods) is off the list for the foreseeable future!

Although not the greatest of the Bard's works, King John is also far from the worst; it really is a shame that this piece is not performed more frequently. Perhaps it will make a comeback in various repertoires come 2015, when the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta is upon us. Despite the play spanning past the end of John's life, this monumental event is never touched upon.[***] Still, it would not surprise me to see a resurgence linked to the Great Charter's "birthday".

Even though we have completed the round of Shakespeare's English history plays, I very much enjoy this genre and would like to see more. Last year, [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I attended a production of Marlowe's King Edward II at Oriel College, which Edward himself had founded. I would very much like to find a production of King Edward III, which is thought by some to have been penned by the Bard, to continue on from here... and then into a showing of Thomas of Woodstock. Together, those two plays would nicely bridge the gap between Marlowe's King Edward II and the start of Shakespeare's eight-play history cycle with King Richard II. Besides, as we begin to finish up our Shakespeare list, we will need to look elsewhere for sources of new Renaissance drama. I have seen Middleton's The Revenger's Tragedy and the aforementioned King Edward II. Next week, we will be seeing Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. Need to keep an eye out for more. A production of Tamburlaine the Great, for instance, would be most welcome!

[*] Specifically, our "Shakespeare number" refers to the plays of the Bard that we have seen performed live on stage. I do not count recreations of lost plays or adaptations of his poetry. Thus, even though we have tickets to see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform a recreation of Cardenio and an adaptation of The Rape of Lucrece, these shall not boost our S-number.

[**] Overall, the remaining plays that we need to see are Pericles, Timon of Athens, Two Noble Kinsmen, Coriolanus, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Titus Andronicus, and All's Well That Ends Well. Happily, we have already have tickets to the see the last of these performed at Shakespeare's Globe in July.

[***] Nor, for that matter, is his role in the Robin Hood mythos.

anarchist_nomad: (One Day More)
( Feb. 23rd, 2011 11:23 pm)
Just got home from the Oxford Playhouse. My beloved [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I had a date night this evening: Dinner in city centre, followed by theatre.

Tonight's show -- our fifth for 2011 -- was a piece from 1928 by Robert Cedric Sherriff entitled Journey's End. Written from his experiences as a British Army captain in the First World War, this is a very powerful piece. It takes place in a trench in Saint-Quentin, France, during four days in March 1918. Those four days involve the lead up to a major offensive push by the German troops who are living in their own trenches across No Man's Land, sixty yards away.

Although not terribly well known now, this play had a major role in launching Laurence Olivier's career. Noël Coward also starred in a production at one point.

This makes the second play inspired by the Great War that we have seen at the Oxford Playhouse; last May, we saw Oh, What A Lovely War!. The two works actually flow together and are rather complimentary.

The Playhouse's director of learning had organised a post-show question-and-answer session which was rather interesting. I asked the actors how they prepared to play these roles when everything in our experience pales before that of those who engaged in trench warfare.

Overall, a very good evening out... and thought-provoking, too!

As an extra bit of trivia, it seems that there were over 65 million people involved in World War One in some capacity. Of these, only three remain amongst the living. Out of the actual combatants, there is but one survivor remaining -- Claude Stanley Choules, who celebrates his 110th birthday next week.

Much more going on in the life of the Nomad, gentle readers, and I am more than a little pleased to report that nearly all of it is good. Huzzah! Since there is too much to 'splain, I should at least sum up. Expect a "State of the Nomad" entry coming soon to a website near YOU!


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