The end of Marivaux

June 20, 2017

This being the first time I’ve produced a play I don’t know whether it’s a common phenomenon but I definitely feel like I have a case of post-show blues. From coming up with the idea to adapt Marivaux on a train to Paris in January to seeing the idea realised on stage in June has been an at times turbulent but always rewarding experience. And now all’s to be done is to think about how it went and come up with a new idea for the future.*

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The script – and direction notes

One of the things I was concerned to do in putting the play on was to position it for a twenty-first century audience. This meant throwing out Marivaux’s finale of reconciliation and replacing it with something much angrier. I feared that perhaps I’d misread the level of anger in this country but recent political and social events would seem to suggest otherwise. Although the snap election and its result did necessitate rewrites. And a change in direction for Jeremy’s character, who went from being a simple figure of fun (for some sections of opinion) to a genuinely inspiring figure (beyond his usual constituency) not just in reality but in the way that he/she was portrayed by us on stage.

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Jeremy in inspirational mode in Corbyn Island (© Emma Hare)

I certainly wasn’t the first to see the potential for a socialist reading of L’Ile des Esclaves. It was picked up in the 30s, a time when France was strikingly polarised between left and right, as representing a radical precursor to calls for social reform. But Marivaux was no socialist and definitely no revolutionary. Those on the right could take comfort from his apparent final advocacy of social hierarchy – for him a  paternalistic version of fraternity trumped equality as a means of attaining the common good.

But Alex/Cléanthis, who is the character I most drastically altered, is not content to live within Marivaux’s or Trivelin/Jeremy’s social order. I envisaged someone whose liberalism was more informed by a Thatcherite urge for individual liberty. Someone who chafed at the way in which Thatcher’s opening up of social mobility in the 80s – whether by the breaking down of the power of unions or of the opening up of professional bodies and the City to state school entrants – seems to be being increasingly closed off in our own age.

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Alex has an issue with Jeremy’s pacifism (©Emma Hare)

 

 

 

 

 

Or at least that’s what I thought, I’m sure the audience would have taken various views of what was going on on stage. If the plot lacked clarity then that was purely my fault as a writer, I couldn’t have asked for a more committed group of actors to take on a novice’s work and turn it into a coherent show that got a lot of laughs. I only wish we’d had a couple more nights to iron out the inevitable wrinkles that crop up in the transition from rehearsal to final production.

But I’ve learnt a lot and I’m grateful to Anna, our director and to all the cast for giving up their spare time to make it happen. Now, what next …

I’m also very grateful to Emma Hare for these fantastic images from our preview. I can heartily recommend her to anyone who is looking for a professional photographer.

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Eve and TC have a touching moment in the seduction scene (©Emma Hare)

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TC and Inglis don’t quite see eye to eye (©Emma Hare)

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Douggie doesn’t like the new ending (©Emma Hare)

*I have a couple or few. If anyone wants to use or read the script contact me here or at geoffreylevett@me.com

#Theatre #London

Resto 27 Assaggetti, Haymarket

June 14, 2017

On a sunny Monday lunchtime we strolled to Assaggetti tempted by their lunchtime offer of two courses for £16.95. It was a good choice. The room is massive and a trip to the loo can add significantly to your step count if you’re concerned about that sort of thing. Fellow diners were sparse (there’s a lot of competition in this part of London), being mostly office workers as far as I could tell.

The food was good value. Smoked salmon to kick off was a generous enough portion with a drizzle of balsamic and some shavings of sweet onion. The spicy tuscan sausage pizza was delicious and big enough for a larger appetite than I possess. I tried to finish the lot because the crust was delicious but I just didn’t have the capacity. The house white at just over 21 quid a bottle was fine and helped the conversation along.

The one downside for a musically sensitive soul like myself was their decision to play Sting after Sting after Sting. For me a little Sting goes a long way. I didn’t like it. The service however was excellent so if you want a quick cheap lunch around here, and you can tolerate wanky Geordies, Assaggetti isn’t a bad option.

#Food #London

7/10

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

 

 

Imperial Wanderers: Cricket Tours in the High Noon of Empire

June 1, 2017

In my capacity as a convenor of the Sport and Leisure History seminar series at the IHR it’s a great pleasure to flag up the forthcoming paper by Dr Prashant Kidambi on early Indian cricket tours to the UK. I’ve written about his work on a previous occasion so if you want to get a flavour of what to expect should you come along to the IHR do read that post. For those interested in cricket history, the history of the British empire or Indian history it promises to be a rewarding evening with the chance to discuss the subject with Prashant in a relaxed but intellectually focused atmosphere. Click here for details.

S&L

#cricket #India #history

Resto 26 Bhatti, Covent Garden

May 28, 2017

Half three in the afternoon is a bit of a weird time to go to for a curry but we’d been to a concert and hadn’t had lunch. On our way to Dishoom (which we knew would be open) we were surprised to see that Bhatti, which screams trad Indian, also had its doors open. So we took a punt.

Two other diners and the waiter were the only other souls in the room. Most of the other restos on this stretch of Great Queen Street have gone upscale but Bhatti has stuck to it guns and retains a whiff of the 1970s in its décor. The menu is solid British Indian staples at pretty reasonable prices for this location but how was the cooking?

Mixed. My starter of aloo chat was some watery spuds and lettuce in an insipid sauce. Reports from across the table on the state of the onion bhaji were not encouraging. However, the main of a chicken jalfrezi delivered the required heat if not being altogether a taste sensation. Good naan bread and okra compensated slightly but it was rather disappointing that two chilled mugs couldn’t be wrangled for our Kingfishers – I had to settle for the warm one.

Service was good and it was obvious that they only had a skeleton crew on for the afternoon crowd. I would hope that things improve once the evening session gets started but if you want the trad Indian in this part of London it’s a better option to hang on if you can till The India Club starts cooking.

5/10

#Food #London

The Crouch End Players and the Comédie-Italienne

May 24, 2017

Corbyn Island with Cast 2

Artwork © Nick Kobyluch

Since translating Marivaux’s comedy L’Ile des Esclaves for the Crouch End Festival I’ve been immersing myself in the culture of the early eighteenth century in France, partly with an eye on working on something more ambitious sometime in the future but also with my mind on costumes for Corbyn Island, the updated version that’s in production with the Crouch End Players. One way I felt that I could tie the modern adaptation to the work that inspired it would be by having two of my modern characters in fancy dress that had a whiff of Baroque France about them.

Naturally my thoughts turned to the Wallace Collection in Marylebone, whose building is a little bit of France in the West End. The 18th Century French rooms I’d tended to skip through on previous visits – all that flouncy, sleazy Boucher is a bit quease-inducing even if you have the reward of the more civilised Watteau alongside.  I prefer the more sober pleasures to be had in the company of Poussin and De Hooch.

So it was a surprise to find that not only did the Wallace have plenty of canvases depicting eighteenth century French fashion it actually had a picture of our antecedents as interpreters of Marivaux, the Comédie-Italiennes.

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The Italian Comedians by a Fountain, Nicolas Lancret


The painting depicts the actors in theatre dress with the stock characters Pierrot and Arlequin most obvious – each in his distinctive costume with Arlequin also masked. Arlequin appears in L’Ile des Esclaves as the slave to an Athenian aristocrat and displays all of the attributes that his audience would expect whichever production he appeared in. He’s a cheeky, rustic joker who has simple tastes – food, drink and the ladies, not necessarily in that order.

In Marivaux’s production he would have been played by Thomassin, the most famous Arlequin of his age and probably the man depicted by Lancret in the painting above. Our own Arlequin (who now goes under the name of TC, a little nod to the Assistant Coach of my football club, Ipswich Town) is played, I have to say magnificently, by Ric Lindley. He doesn’t have to perform the acrobatics that would have been expected of a seventeenth century Arlequin, nor did we direct him to adopt a ‘high-pitched voice like a parrot’ as described as being characteristic of the part by contemporary accounts.* But I think he definitely captures the earthy qualities of Arlequin, as well as his sentimentality and good-naturedness.

Lancret is one of those artists who seems to be permanently overshadowed (like de Hooch by Vermeer) by a more illustrious peer for seemingly no good reason. Watteau of course is the big name here but they had very similar backgrounds starting as apprentices under the theatre scenarist and artist Claude Gillot. For some reason Lancret seems to be treated as the apprentice to Watteau whereas in fact he was much more of a rival. So researching Lancret’s painting was a lot more difficult to do than if it had been Watteau’s. There are (justifiably) books by the yard on Watteau in the library but very little, even in French, on his fellow painter.

Lancret’s ability is shown by many canvases in the Wallace but is nowhere more apparent in London than in the marvellous Gallery A at the National. Tucked away either side of a large canvas from the studio of Boucher (isn’t that telling of Lancret’s neglect, he could probably chat to Guardi about it who has a little picture up the row) are four canvases depicting the four ages of man. Philosophical pieces describing childhood, youth, maturity and old age, they are little gems that deserve a wall of their own.

They also led me to reflect how one would depict the life cycle in the modern age. Childhood and youth separate? It hardly seems that a tot is out of nappies before it is turned into a consumer and given a screen to suck on. But then how to separate youth and maturity when middle-aged men go shopping in the supermarket in leisure wear and spend their cultural capital yarning the ins and outs of superhero franchises. So, it would seem, we go straight from youth to senility. But I digress.

True, Watteau was the pioneer of the fête galante but it was a genre that Lancret developed and proved to be a master of very quickly, as shown by the portrait of the Comédies-Italiennes. The vividness of their characters brought them into the modern age for me as I was standing in the Wallace and gave me the feeling that even if I’ve twisted and mangled Marivaux out of shape as an author, as a company we’re still communicating with these people through four centuries of theatre history and revivifying the roles that they created. It’s a tremendous credit to Ric, Sophie, Richard, Mia, Victoria, Mike, Nadia and Vic that they’ve taken this project on and given it life beyond the page. If only we had Lancret around to immortalise them.

#Theatre #London

 

*François Moreau, Le goût Italien dans la France tocaille: théatre, musique, peinture (Paris, PUPS: 2011), p. 40

More good things at the National

May 21, 2017

In the last post I intended to talk about some more highlights beyond Gallery A but having gone off on one about Arthur Ransome’s oeuvre I thought it best to split my ramblings into two more digestible helpings. There are two temporary offerings at the National that any self-respecting art lover finding themselves with an afternoon in London should get to.

Firstly, Chris Ofili’s wonderful Weaving Magic. A collaboration with the Dovecot Tapestry Studio the work is the brightest jewel in London right now. Ofili’s preparatory drawings in the ante room give you the context of the tapestry’s design, including the information that the cocktail waiter is based on Mario Balotelli.

The tapestry itself is in a grand, subtly lit room where it glows with pure sensual pleasure. If the Trinidad Tourist Board had any sense they’d snap it up immediately for their publicity because it’s the best argument for visiting the Caribbean that I’ve seen since the retirement of Brian Lara.

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But Ofili’s isn’t the only gem. Tucked away by the front door of the NG is a grand baroque canvas by an artist I’d never come across before, a glimpse of which can be seen in the image above. Cagnacci’s Repentant Magdalene is another work of sensual delight on a par with Ofili’s, even if it comes in the guise of a work of religious devotion. The Magdelene is repentant but in the depiction of her transition from sin to contrition she seems to have her carnality multiplied by Cagnacci’s brush. Not even the devil, in the allegorical figure of Vice, has the best tunes in this piece. For once they belong to the godly; Vice barely merits a glance.

Individual sections of the painting are worth studying closely. The Magdalene’s blue robe a gorgeous slather of colour on the floor, a sunlit balcony straight from a perfect holiday on the Med and Cagnacci’s own signature (Guido Cagnacci, Inventor) deserve patient attention before your gaze is inevitably pulled back to the central, intense relationship between Mary and Martha. Catch it while you can, it closes today!

#art #London #NationalGallery

The National Gallery basement and Arthur Ransome

May 15, 2017

The National, besides its usual haul of treasure, now has two must-see freebies to lure in the art hound (of which more in another post). And this in addition to the fact that the whole of the basement is now fully opened up to the public for the first time, or at least in this correspondent’s memory.

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The Fall, 458489 BSIDES. Better than the A-sides for some aficionados.

The basement, as well as housing the displaced works owing to the Michelangelo/Sebastiano exhibition taking place in some of the permanent galleries, now has a smattering of the NG’s artistic B-sides in ‘Room A’. Which makes it sound like it’s not worth the trouble to go down there. But that’s wrong. These are for the most part high quality B-sides, reminiscent of The Fall’s classic compilation, 458489, in that some of this stuff is better than what’s upstairs/on the flip side. Especially in the way that the work is curated – a broad sweep of art from the Renaissance to the late 19th Century in one room, allowing the eye to juxtapose subject, style and composition to delightful effect.

The central space is dominated by four grand canvases of battles from the French Revolutionary wars (Jemappes, Valmy, Montmirail and Hanau) by Vernet that are splendid in their drama and attention to detail, even if the carnage wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste. Those of a more peaceful bent might want to stroll around to Gentile Bellini’s Madonna and child, which for me is as handy a bit of god-stuff as any you’d fine in the Sainsbury Wing.

In between you’ll find a broad range of things to enjoy – the Impressionist Jongkind’s view of the Boulevard Port-Royal, Puvis de Chevanne’s Summer and a heap of Golden Age Dutch stuff were my own particular favourites until I came across a wall of Dutch seascapes from the nineteenth century. These were less familiar to me than the Van de Veldes (of which there are a couple here) from the seventeenth century, which is probably why they attracted my attention.

They are both by Paul Jean Clays, an artist of whom I knew nothing, and on seeing the first I noted in my book, ‘Ships Lying Off Dordrecht reminds me of Flushing in Ransome. Round boats coming up to meet us. Dutch flags, blue sky flash though grey cloud, can hear the seagulls and smell the rain approaching in the air.’

What I meant by ‘Flushing in Ransome’ is one of the greatest children’s books ever written (sadly overshadowed by its more famous predecessor) We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea by Arthur Ransome. In this story the Walker children (made famous by Swallows and Amazons) in a series of slightly improbable conjunctions of circumstance are swept out to the North Sea on a small yacht, the Goblin, where they are forced to cross to Holland, driven by the weather and their own determination not to fuck things up (ok, that isn’t exactly how it’s phrased in the book). If you don’t want to know how things work out for then skip the next paragraph or two!

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Ransome is also an underestimated illustrator.

After a perilous crossing in hideous weather and with a cute cat picked up along the way they are guided into Flushing by a peaceable Dutch pilot, who is flabbergasted to find that they’d made the trip all by themselves and not as they pretended to him under the guidance of a master who is too tired to emerge to talk to the pilot in person. But the real joy comes when they realise that their father by coincidence is on his way back to Blighty via Holland on leave from the Navy and he leaps ashore from his ferry to complete a happy family reunion.

I once heard someone on Radio 4 say that there was no politics in Ransome’s children’s fiction. Let’s  leave aside the fact that the whole adventure is predicated on the disruptive shock of modernity in the form of a symbol of modernity (a motor bus) knocking over a representative of tradition (Jim Brading, the Goblin’s skipper, who is no fan of motors on the road or in boats and romanticises the pre-modern technology of sail).

Putting aside the symbolism involved in the story in the struggle of tradition v modernity the contemporary political context for this novel, while never stated, is ever present. The book was published in 1937, a time when anxiety about British dominance of the sea was not just focussed on the North Sea, where the story takes place, but also in the Pacific, where Walker père has been stationed and the Japanese threat is just as obvious as the Nazi one closer to home (to readers in the 30s at least, nowadays it seems that the British prefer to forget that WW2 was a war of imperialism as much as national survival). Ransome’s story then can be read as an exhortation to the young to be stoic in the face of adversity, and a reassurance of the reserves of British resources far flung around the globe to come to the rescue of those struggling in the motherland.

Looking around for academic analysis of the Swallows & Amazons series I’ve yet to find much. It would seem an admirable project for a PhD to me, especially as as far as I can see most writing about Ransome has concentrated on his role as a sometime spy during the Russian Revolution and beyond.

Anyway, with all this going through my head it was with great delight that I saw that the pendant piece to Ships Lying Off Dordrecht was entitled Ships Lying Off Flushing.

What joy. What simple joy.

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#NationalGallery #Ransome

Putting on Corbyn Island

May 11, 2017

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A short post as a bit of promotion for Corbyn Island, my adaptation of Marivaux’s L’Ile des Esclaves, which I’ve talked about on here before. Well, previously it was just an idea and a little side project to keep me occupied while doing some long commutes (you can read about it here). Now it’s happening!

Rehearsals have started, the costumes are coming together, tech stuff is being dealt with, we have a confirmed venue and tickets are available. And take a look at that poster! My mate Nick Kobyluch has done us proud.

If you’re interested in coming go to the Crouch End Festival website. Our venue is the Great Northern Railway Tavern, fresh from a spanking refurb and serving great food and beer to the north London public. What’s more, tickets are free and you get to see my friend Gemma’s very funny Vibrantly Lieu as part of the package.

#London #Theatre #CrouchEndFestival

Resto 25 Searcy’s St Pancras Grand Restaurant

May 9, 2017

I’d often wondered, as I hurried along to get a Midlands train, who dined in Searcy’s trackside at St Pancras. It seemed a halfway house between the luxury of the Gilbert Scott and the midbrow convenience of Carluccio’s et al elsewhere in the station that couldn’t really work. The door is narrow and you can’t really see inside to get a handle on who your company might be once you’re inside. So we gave it a go at the weekend.

The room is tardis-like, much bigger than you expect, and pleasingly appointed. There are big tables, proper nappery and good, brasserie-style décor. The food is standard bistrot fare too. However, there’s nothing to mark out the restaurant as worthy of note, from food to service. It’s all competent without making you think you must go back so it’s noticeable that most of the customers (on our visit at least) appear to be out of towners who are indeed less than likely to need to go back again. And alas the prices reflect the location rather than the value of the experience. It’s all a bit soulless.

#Food #London

6/10

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

Resto 24 Saki, Crouch End

April 30, 2017

Opposite the now defunct Ohba Leaf Saki is maintaining a solid Japanese option in Crouch End. The elimination of its rival has obviously not harmed business for we were lucky to get a table even at around 6 o’clock. People arriving after us without a reservation were being turned away.

The menu is standard sushi/sashimi, bentos and curries but no ramen as far as I remember. Which was good as it made me try something different for a change. We took a range of appetisers to share which arrived as they were cooked. Duck dumplings were excellent – crispy and squidgy – while the octopus balls (‘When was the last time you had octopus balls?’ badinaged across the table) were okay but not especially life-enhancing. Best of the three was the squid; fluffy batter sweet and hot chilli sauce, made for not sharing, you’ll want the whole plate.

Big food was eel on rice. How I love eel! This was well cooked in a tasty sauce on sticky rice. I wish I’d got some veg to go with it but apart from that it was perfect. Asahi on the side worked fine and for about twenty quid a head this is a good option in a fiercely competitive N8 market.

#Food #London

8/10

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

Saki


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