“Enjoy a mixture of history and horse racing as our walk takes us through the glorious Coverdale countryside to the pretty and interesting Coverham Church. After lunch we will return over the famous High Moor Gallops to Middleham with the opportunity to view the ‘Middleham Jewel’ as we complete our walk.”
O Brave New World that has such people in it!
The weekend after we arrived home from New England at the end of September I spotted a small listing in the newspaper for the play “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder. At first I thought the play was due to tour and was actually coming to Leeds but an online search proved fruitless so I checked the dates again and saw that it was showing at The Almeida Theatre in London during dates I was going to be in town.
The notice had particularly caught my eye because the week before in Vermont we had made an excursion into New Hampshire from Brattleboro which is literally on the border between the two states. They are separated only by the Connecticut River.
The Connecticut River
The Brattleboro Road Bridge Linking VT and NH
Our intention had been to visit a mountain we had seen on the previous day from another trip to Wilmington VT and the viewpoint at Hog Back Mountain.
View from Hog Back Mountain – 100 Mile View
But when we arrived at Mount Monadnock the State Park Warden told us that, although it is the most visited mountain peak in the USA [A magnet for hikers, Monadnock is said to be the world’s third most climbed mountain, following Japan’s Mount Fuji and China’s Mount Tai.], we might find ourselves limited by time (it’s really a full day hike) and advised us to drive a few miles further to Miller State Park where it is possible to drive right to the top and take a shorter trail from the peak car park.
View from Miller State Park
“Miller State Park is located on the 2,290-foot summit and flank of Pack Monadnock in Peterborough and is the oldest state park in New Hampshire. A winding 1.3-mile paved road leading to the scenic summit is open for visitors to drive in summer and on spring and fall weekends. Three main hiking trails ascend Pack Monadnock to the summit. The best known is the Wapack Trail, which is a 21-mile footpath that extends from Mt. Watatic in Ashburnham, Massachusetts to North Pack Monadnock in Greenfield. It is believed Native Americans named the area’s mountains, and that “pack” means little. On clear days views reach to Mount Washington, the skyscrapers of Boston, and the Vermont hills.”
Boston Skyline just visible (slightly right)
Yes, indeed, it was amazing to see the skyscrapers of Boston on the horizon from a distance of 55 miles away!
Could this be Mount Washington?
We were fascinated by the Audubon Hawk Watch set up in a clearing. It reminded me of the Malhamdale Hills and Hawks Walk in July. Just like the RSPB The Audubon Society had set up an area with information boards, information table, binoculars and telescopes on tripods and staff and volunteers ready to answer questions and tell about the project. We felt very under-equipped!
A Serious Twitcher
As we left the park and drove back towards Brattleboro I suggested we stop at the town of Peterborough. A good friend and reader of posts here, Sarah, had told me some time ago about the pretty town which served as the inspiration for Thornton Wilder’s play “Our Town”.
Views of Peterborough
“We all grow up, we fall in love, we have families and we all die. That is our story”
And that is the story of “Our Town”.
From Renishaw Hall on the eighteenth of June we made our way to Stratford upon Avon where we checked in at our hotel in time to wash and brush up before heading on foot (only a few minutes distant) to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre by the River Avon. It was a lovely warm evening and there were lots of people about enjoying relaxing by the River and the Canal.
We were booked for supper at The Rooftop Restaurant followed by a performance of Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part Two by the Royal Shakespeare Company. This was no dull, boring history play rather it seemed to me dominated by comedy. Anthony Sher played Falstaff and the whole performance was being filmed and relayed simultaneously to a greater audience in cinemas throughout the country. This meant that the director, Greg Doran, came on stage at the beginning to introduce the play.
The Swans of Avon and Clopton Bridge from The Rooftop Restaurant
River Avon and Spire of Holy Trinity church from The Rooftop Restaurant
The Shakespeare Hotel – one time I stayed here
The Grammar School, Stratford upon Avon
The next morning after a leisurely breakfast and opportunity to take a walk in Stratford we headed off to nearby Compton Verney where we had a full programme of tours, a sandwich lunch and time also to walk in the park, visit the chapel and spend time (and money) in the attractive gift shop.
“10.30am Depart for Compton Verney. Set in a park designed by the ubiquitous ‘Capability’ Brown, this long-derelict house of the Willoughby de Broke family is now resurgent under the inspiration of the [Peter] Moore’s Foundation. The collections are numerous and varied. The morning will be given over to the current display of sculptures by Henry Moore and Auguste Rodin, while the afternoon will feature a guided tour of salient points of the main collection which encompasses British Portraits, Chinese Ceramics and Bronzes, British Folk Art and for Textile-buffs The Marx-Lambert Collection. You will be free to visit those parts of the collection which are your particular interest. www.comptonverney.org.uk” [Our Programme]
Moore – Rodin
Rodin’s Burghers of Calais
15 February 2014 to 31 August 2014
10th Anniversary Year – Moore Rodin at Compton Verney
This ground-breaking international exhibition compares the work of two giants of modern sculpture: Henry Moore and Auguste Rodin. This is the first exhibition to be devoted exclusively to these artists, with major works being displayed in our ‘Capability’ Brown landscape as well as in our exhibition spaces.
Fallen Caryatid by Rodin
Reclining Figure : Bunched by Henry Moore
In the grounds
Enjoy eleven large scale works which complement, challenge and create new perspectives to vistas ‘Capability’ Brown formed in the 1760s. Amongst these amazing pieces is one of Rodin’s most famous works, Monument to the Burghers of Calais (usually on display outside the Houses of Parliament), Moore’s magnificent monumental Three Piece Sculpture: Vertebrae and The Arch.
Rodin’s Walking Man on Column
Henry Moore Upright Motive No. 9 with Chapel
Inside the galleries
Gain an amazing insight into the works of these two artists. Explore the parallels between their treatment of the figure through a beautiful collection of drawings and models made for larger works. See a special display curated by Moore’s daughter Mary which reveals both artists as keen collectors of antiquities and found objects which profoundly influenced their work. The final treat is a display of rarely seen archival documents and photographs taken by Henry Moore revealing that … ‘as time has gone on, my admiration for Rodin has grown and grown’.
After our sandwich lunch I wandered round the grounds and visited the Capability Brown Chapel. This was built in 1776 as part of the relandscaping of the site and is one of the few surviving Georgian chapels in Britain, and one of the very few remaining architectural works by ‘Capability’ Brown. It is currently undergoing a restoration project and more funds are needed to support this work as it’s hoped to use the building in future for music and learning.
The Chapel Interior
And in the afternoon we had a tour of the permanent collection – British Portraits
and British Folk Art. Currently there is an exhibition of British Folk Art at Tate Britain and this will then come to Compton Verney from 27 September 2014 to 14 December 2014.
British Folk Art
And finally, the Marx-Lambert Collection.
“Enid Marx (1902-1998) was one of the brightest design stars to emerge from the Design School of London’s Royal College of Art (RCA) during the interwar years. She was an author and illustrator of children’s books, a book designer, a printmaker, a textile designer and a painter.
The Marx-Lambert collection at Compton Verney features both work produced by Marx and a large number of pieces of folk or popular art which were collected by Marx and her friend Margaret Lambert (1906-95). These then inspired Marx’s own work -sometimes directly, as seen in the pair of ceramic wall-mounted cornucopia cases which inspired her ‘Cornucopia’ textile design.”
Canal Art and Wallpaper
A wonderful trip full of interest and variety marred only by a 3 hour delay on the M1 due to a lorry on fire.
The men do some strange things over in Lancashire. They wear fancy straw hats with real flowers in them; they dance in lace-up shoes with wooden soles and they celebrate something called The North West Rush Cart Tradition by building and decorating a tall cart with rushes upon which they place a saddle and one of them is brave enough to climb up onto the top of this cart with a kettle on a rope – don’t ask! At least they did in 1914 – 1915 when this play was set.
Written especially for Northern Broadsides Theatre Company ‘An August Bank Holiday Lark’ is based on a rural village in Lancashire where the cotton mill rules but the old traditions still continue.
Commissioned to write a suitable play as a Remembrance for the World War I Centenary Deborah McAndrew has produced a winner. There is music and dancing and humour and traditional customs and, I’m afraid, needless to say, tragedy as well. The title is taken from a line in Philip Larkin’s poem ‘MCMXIV’.
Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;
And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day—
And the countryside not caring:
The place names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat’s restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;
Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word – the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages,
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.
Back in November last year I wrote about my great uncle Marshall Howman who was killed at Gallipoli in August 1915. The lads in this story enrol in the 6th Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment which in real life suffered many casualties and great loss of life in the ill-fated August Offensive in the Dardanelles in 1915 .
It is currently showing at The West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, which where I saw it this afternoon, but will move around the country for the next couple of months.
Tuesday evening was my last in London and I returned home on Wednesday morning.
The title quote is from a review in The Guardian.
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to buy the last ticket for the evening performance of The Duchess of Malfi at the brand new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe by the riverside in Southwark. I’ve visited its sister theatre The Globe proper several times and loved each performance. In rain and in sunshine and with a bench seat and cushion I have looked down on the (in my view) unlucky groundlings in the pit. These theatres are not built for comfort.
I’ll warn you now about the seating. Unlike in the Globe itself no cushions are required as all the benches (to call them seats would be an exaggeration) are padded. By lucky chance I was on the back row of four in the pit and I had a back wall (of sorts) to lean against (kind of). Looking round, and thinking of possible future visits, I could see none better to go for. As it happened, in the end, the comfort of the seats was unimportant.
This play and its performance in the intimate (seating for just 340), candle-lit auditorium was one of my theatre-visiting highlights of all time. And I can think of quite a few good ‘uns.
The candles themselves played a part in the performance; even just the lighting of them and the blowing out of them. The candelabras rise and fall from the ceiling, single candles are carried by actors and others flicker in their sconces. All contribute the atmosphere and action as the performance unfolds. I’ve been unable to add the Youtube video about the candles but scroll down through this link to watch.
Gemma Arterton – The Duchess – with her candle
Candles in a Sconce
“The Duchess of Malfi” was written by John Webster (1580-1634) and first performed around 1613-1614.
“The widowed Duchess of Malfi longs to marry her lover, the steward Antonio. But her rancorous brothers, Ferdinand and the Cardinal, are implacably opposed to the match. When their spy, Bosola, discovers that the Duchess has secretly married and carries Antonio’s child, they exact a terrible and horrific revenge.
First performed by the King’s Men – Shakespeare’s own company – ‘privately at the Blackfriars and publicly at the Globe’, The Duchess of Malfi is a thrilling combination of brilliant coups de théâtre, horrific set-pieces and vivid characters – notably the tragic Duchess and the subtly villainous Bosola – all lit by Webster’s obsessional imagination.” [Source]
I’m looking forward to more visits to The Globe and The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in future!
“Celebrated children’s author Edith Nesbit escapes her annual Christmas Eve soiree and finds herself in her attic writing room with a young male guest and Biddy Thricefold, her loyal housekeeper.
The trio decide to observe the festive tradition of reading scary stories to help ward off wicked spirits, choosing the stories penned by Nesbit herself. Yet as they breathe life into these terrifying creations, all is not as it seems…
One of the people in the attic is hiding a deadly secret.
Millions have grown up with the fabled work of E Nesbit,which includes classic novels Five Children and It and The Railway Children, but she began her writing career as a mistress of horror. For the first time ever, these flesh-creeping yarns have been freely adapted for the stage.” [Source Harrogate Theatre website]
Way up on the second floor of the Harrogate Theatre (just a 20 minute train journey from home) is the intimate 50 seat Harrogate Studio Theatre. Yesterday afternoon I very much enjoyed a couple of hours in the company of the three characters playing out some of Nesbit’s ghost stories.
I had read a review in the local free paper earlier in December and was intrigued to know that Edith Nesbit, author of such children’s (and adults’) favourites as ‘The Railway Children’, ‘Five Children and It’ and ‘The Story of the Treasure Seekers’, wrote much more besides including ‘Tales of Terror’.
Here are Scott Ellis (as Mr Guasto) and Blue Merrick (as Edith) in Edith in the Dark [source]
Blue Merrick the actress who played Edith could have been EN herself. I had never heard of her but my friend recognised her as having played the registrar presiding over marriages in eleven separate episodes of Coronation Street on ITV.
From this new play I learned more about E. Nesbit’s life and the past that haunted her. She was an original member of the Fabian Society and named her son Fabian after it. Sadly he died at the age of 15 during a tonsil operation. She dedicated several of her books to this son including Five Children and It. She also seemed to feel very strongly that she did not want to be famous just through her children’s books. She was a keen socialist and defender of women’s rights.
I don’t know whether the play will transfer to other theatres but I was very glad to have spent the afternoon away from the shopping hordes again and in the company of Edith Nesbit.
Last Saturday I arranged to meet up with a couple of members of my online book discussion group for our annual ‘Summer Meeting’ away from London (last year we were at Chatsworth). This year’s venue was Great Malvern in Worcestershire. I had never been there before, nor I believe had Carol, but Simon (Stuck-in-a-Book) used to live not so far away in Eckington so he was pretty familiar with the town and its book shops, of course.
These meetings generally follow a similar pattern. Meet for tea and cake, head off to a book shop or two, decide to have a light lunch, followed by more book shopping and ending with more tea (and often, cake). Anyway the theme is always of tea, cake and books in some kind of order.
As I was dropping off another friend at Great Malvern Station I arranged to meet Simon there. The station is probably one of the prettiest I have ever been to – there is a tea shop (Lady Foley’s Tea Shop) with tables and chairs outside on Platform One and as it is a listed building you can imagine it still has the signs and furniture of a bygone age. The station is slightly out of the town centre though so we drove, uphill, to a more convenient car park.
Great Malvern Priory Church
There are two very prominent features that dominate the town: the Malvern Hills that rise straight up vertically behind the town to the west and Great Malvern Priory right in the town centre and which is also the parish church.
After our first tea and cake at Mac and Jac’s near the Priory and a visit to the friendly, helpful and well-stocked Malvern Bookshop :
The Malvern Bookshop
7 Abbey Road
MALVERN Worcestershire WR14 3ES
tel: 01684 575915 fax: 01684 575915
Open: Monday – Saturday 10.00 – 5.00, closed Thursday and best to ring first in the winter.
Several rooms carrying large diverse stock. Quality books bought and sold. Music a speciality. By the Priory steps near the Post Office.
we decided to head up, straight up, vertically up to St Ann’s Well for lunch.
For me it was well worth the climb to see the original well/spring and enjoy lunch on the terrace. The trees are very tall and block the view from the cafe itself but we had fantastic views each time we stopped for breath and looked back across what must be The Vale of Evesham.
The View as begin our ascent to St Ann’s Well
View as we return down to Malvern
“In bygone days Malvern water was remarkable for its healing virtue, an efficacy that was held to be supernatural. How early the waters gained local repute it is impossible to say; but the fact that the old spring at Great Malvern is dedicated to St Ann, and that the well at Malvern Wells is the Holy Well, carries their reputation far back into the Middle Ages at least; while documentary evidence exists that they were in exceptional request early in the seventeenth century, especially for skin diseases, as public open baths.” So says my rather old copy of Ward Lock & Co’s “Malvern” illustrated guide book.
Surely everyone has heard of Malvern Natural Spring Water – the only bottled water used by our Queen Elizabeth II, which she takes on her travels around the world. Or does she still? There are still many natural springs around the town – some with warning signs.
‘Safe’ Malvern Spring in the Town
Natural Spring Water – but beware!
St Ann’s Well
Simon suggested a slightly less steep descent into town and a visit to Books for Amnesty :
Books For Amnesty
3 Edith Walk
MALVERN Worcestershire WR14 4QH
tel: 01684 563507
Open: Monday – Saturday 10.00 – 5.00.
Large general stock of donated books in all categories and at reasonable prices. Malvern has two other secondhand bookshops.
As we arrived he pointed out to me the world’s smallest theatre building in a converted Gents public convenience. I was intrigued and left the hard core book buyers in order to investigate. I bought a ticket for the five minute show and was entertained by The Deep Sea Diva and Stradi and his Various Voyages amongst others. After the show there is a photo opportunity which I couldn’t resist! [Pictures below]
Eventually we bought ices from the shop next door and headed to a park to eat them in the sunshine and for a final ‘show-and-tell’ of the books we’d bought before going our separate ways at around 5.30pm. We all agreed that it had been a most perfect day. We’ll soon be planning the next one …
The Theatre of small Convenience
About the Theatre
Shared Experience theatre company are back at the West Yorkshire Playhouse this month with their latest production ‘Mary Shelley‘. It’s a dramatic and powerful account of the late teenage years of Mary Godwin, later Shelley, and her very unconventional family and lifestyle during the years 1813-1816. Mary Shelley wrote and had published her famous novel ‘Frankenstein’ before she was 20. She married the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Her father was William Godwin a well-known political philosopher and novelist and author of ‘Political Justice’, published in 1793. Her mother was Mary Wollstonecroft author of ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ whose suicide is depicted at the beginning of the play.
Mary had two sisters Fanny and Jane. Jane Clairmont later changed her name to Clare Clairmont and was the mother of one of Lord Byron’s children, Clara Allegra. Read more about Mary here and here :
The play goes a long way in explaining the relationships between the members of this unconventional family and P. B. Shelley; those are ‘crazy mixed-up kids’. With only 6 actors and a versatile set consisting of a very large dining table which also doubles as a tombstone and a quay and a desk and even a bedroom plus several tall bookcases crammed with books and papers and boxes the words flow quickly and the tension mounts throughout.
I think that I have been far too influenced by the over-hype connected with all the Frankenstein-related films and books which, although I have never seen nor read any of them, have totally put me off reading the original book. A colleague highly recommends reading it and suggests that I put ‘Frankenstein, a modern Prometheus’ forward as a suggestion at my next book group meeting. And do you know? After seeing ‘Mary Shelley’ I think I probably will!
My interest in the Windsors dates back to earlier this year when I stayed at their weekend retreat near Paris, now handily converted for self-catering holidays by the Landmark Trust. Back in the spring I read this book and the biography by Michael Bloch “The Duchess of Windsor”, and the one by Hugo Vickers “Behind Closed Doors: the Tragic, Untold Story of the Duchess of Windsor” and then most recently Anne Sebba’s new biography “That Woman”. The authors of each book, it seemed to me, had an agenda and I still feel I am nowhere nearer knowing what the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were really like. Of course we can never ever know for sure!
Reading the last sentences I realise that all my reading has concentrated on Wallis and not so much on Edward. I need to address that. I’m currently reading James Pope-Hennessy’s life of Queen Mary which will go a little way to adjust the balance. I think perhaps the library can help too!
Last evening the Duchess was the main subject of the play I went to see at the Hampstead Theatre. This was a performance of the world premiere of “The Last of the Duchess” adapted by Nicholas Wright but based closely on Blackwood’s book.
I booked tickets when I came upon a link to it by chance via Google. At the time I was searching for more information about Lady Caroline Blackwood, the author of the book I had just read, back in May or June this year. At the time there was no inkling as to the cast but I knew that I wanted to see it. And anyway the theatre is just steps away from my elder son’s flat.
The casting was inspired. Sheila Hancock played, as if she were a Frenchwoman herself, the role of Maitre Blum, the Duchess’s Parisian lawyer. Her accent, her French, her dress and demeanor all had that je ne sais quoi of Parisian style that is so hard for Englishwomen to replicate. Of course, that meant that Caroline Blackwood , played so wonderfully by Anna Chancellor, would be the antithesis of the smart, immaculate, maybe teetotal, Blum. There were touches of humour throughout but the major protagonist of act two was Lady Diana Mosley who was played magnificently by Angela Thorne (great buddy of Penelope Keith in TV’s To The Manor Born). Mosley was a Mitford sister and close friend of the Duchess. At this period in her life she was profoundly deaf and forbidden by butler Georges, on instructions from Blum, to see her dear friend.
The setting is the house in the Bois de Boulogne leased to the Duke and Duchess by the City of Paris. The Duke has died some time before and the Duchess appears briefly at the beginning of the first act, in a kind of dream of Blackwood’s. That is the Last we see of her. From then on she is upstairs helpless in her bed as the arguments and contretemps continue below. Lady Caroline, thrice married journalist, has come to Paris to interview the Duchess but Blum will have none of it. There’s a suggestion that Lord Snowdon has been appointed to take her photograph. This Blum forbids but somehow as a kind of bribe she manages to arrange her own photo shoot with Snowdon. This takes place offstage during the second act. In the final act Blum coolly responds to every accusation of Blackwood’s as she herself becomes more and more intoxicated. I came away from the play with the same feeling of uncertainty as after reading the book. Was Blum a consummate liar and villain or was she, in some strange way honestly protecting the Duchess from exploitation?