Musée Yves Saint Laurent – Paris, January 2018

Happy new year! 10 days ago I headed for a 36 hour jaunt to Paris, as a treat having survived Christmas. My usual hotel was closed for its annual post festive “holiday” as they are a family run establishment so I sort digs in another part of Montparnasse. As the original reason I had booked the trip had since gone away and I had no agenda for my time apart from some much needed me time in the city I love the best.

Star exhibit iconic Mondrian dress Photo by L Brennan 21/1/2018

I enjoyed lunch in a favourite spot, window shopping, walking and exploring neighbourhoods less known to me knocking up 22.5km over 36 hours.  A hotel room with a bath tub and wifi were the ended the first full day well especially as I was able to watch Spiral (Engrenges 6) on iplayer.

A lazy start and big breakfast on Sunday set the pace for Sunday, I walked and found a little Market open, I brought a fresh croissant and coffee and just walked. I found my way to Pont alma were the third exit for metro was closed due to the rising waters of the river Seine. from their I walked to the Musée Yves Saint Laurent and in the rain queued like an English woman for 1hour and 15 minutes to gain entry. The museum dedicated to the late fashion designer opened last October (the same weekend I had last been in Paris) so is still relatively new. according to the door man everyday has a long queue so it is well worth booking your ticket ahead of your visit.

Image by L Brennan 21/1/18

Upon entering the swanky building and buying my ticket (10€) you enter a room with a video montage of fashion shows I and information about YSL. the room was decadent, Parisian chic with gold leaf statues and and gilded mirrors and a selection of velvet covered seats. The adjoining room on first appearances was empty until you discovered desecrate lockers to stash your coat and bag, I was more than happy to do this as I was damp and my hand bag was my over night bag and I was happy to lock it away to browse the museum.

Armed with guide, purse, mobile and ticket I wondered in to the exhibition space. That is in fact the best way to describe this “museum” as an exhibition, lovingly and wonderfully curated, I could easily see these exhibits in the V&A i a special exhibition. examples of famous dresses and Iconic styles and sketches made by Yves Saint Laurent with swatches of fabrics were on show in 3 well lit and displayed rooms including the conic 60’s Mondrian dress that was one of the most replicated patterns and dresses in the world. Then after 15 minutes you find yourself in a small book/gift shop – I brought 2 postcards and headed for the locker to retrieve my bag and coat.

Image taken by L Brennan 21/1/18

Having queued in the rain for so long I was slightly disappointed, 3 rooms and a video of fashion shows. However upon reflection, if I had prepaid and brought my ticket in advance I would have been totally happy with the experience, it was well put together, small but perfectly formed. The staff were beyond, helpful. Would I go again, maybe not for a while, and if I did I would prebook. Do I recommend this Musée – for those who love the world of fashion I highly recommend paying a visit but if classic haute couture and women’s dresses are not your thing, you maybe worth saving your time and money instead.

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The Secret Theatre: A review

With finishing one book, temping and working on a second Manuscript has meant that the blog this year has been somewhat neglected. So in the summer when I saw that there was a Elizabethan themed play due to run at the Sam Wanamaker Jacobean theatre I knew I had to book it just so that I could get a blog out of it as well as a seasonal treat.

Secret Theatre is an Elizabethan play looking at the English relationship with Europe, looking at security and terror risks, and political in fighting and relationships. You maybe mistaken into thinking from that description that I am referring to Elizabeth II and the 21st century but in fact I am referring to the politics and state of Elizabeth Tudor in the 16th Century.

The play looks at the spy network of Sir Francis Walshingham better known as the queens spy master, and Lord Burghley, as they try to find out and investigate catholic plots to assassinate the queen, with the added motive to preserve the Protestant religion and eliminate Mary Queen of Scots – Elizabeth’s biggest and most dangerous Catholic rival.

During the play we witness murder and plots, the hanging of 2 traitors, the torture of a plotter, and hear the blood curdling botched beheading of Mary Queen of Scots off stage – in many ways this is worse as it leaves it to your imagination to create what happens. The play is therefore not for the weak of stomach nor is it for those of you who find the use of strong course swear words or sexually graphic dialogue distasteful.

Aiden McArdle as Sir Francis Walsingham – Image taken from Globe Instagram feed

Walshingham played by Aiden McArdle plays the part of sickly Walshingham well (modern thought was that he may have been a diabetic). He had the right amount of cunning and intelligence as well as political sneakiness required of courtier and spy  master.

Fitzgerald as a walking embodiment of Elizabeth I taken from the Globe Instagram feed

The star performance goes to Tara Fitzgerald who played the role of Elizabeth I. her first entrance on stage took my breathe away and I must have audibly gasped as the man next to me asked me if I was okay. The make up., costumes and manner of Fitzgerald made it look as if Elizabeth had stepped out of a painting of herself the National Portrait Gallery and on to the stage. due to the intimate size of the play house, the close proximity of the stage to the audience and the candle lighting, the effect was left me feeling I was in the presence of the real Queen Elizabeth.

Thought provoking with some references that could transfer to British politics both toady as well as four centuries ago, witty, cleaver and dramatic stage stunts the the show was frankly one of the best things I have seen at the theatre ever.

The play is on at the Sam Wanamaker theatre within the Globe Theatre complex in Southwark London until 16th December and is highly recommended should it tour the country.

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Tour Montparnasse

It doesn’t matter how many times you cross the channel and go to Paris each trip you discover something new and each trip is never long enough.

Last Saturday I dragged my tired self out of my bed at 3:45am. well actually 3:55am swearing under my breathe. All I had to do was get dressed check all window and doors were closed and wait for my 4:15am cab to arrive. Somehow I managed this – honestly could not tell you how or even remember it.

St Pancras at 4.45am is actually quite busy. some of the cafe shops are open, somewhere there is a Starbucks and a costa open as I saw people clutching their coffee fixes as I consumed a energy drink to start my energy.

Catching the first train out on a Saturday morning is rather fabulous the check in is smooth and  there are seats – beware of the over charged amount for a croissant after the gate though….

Solo seat, note pad, planning, snooze, ply slap on and as if by magic I arrive at 10am in paris and that first inhalation of air seeps into my pours.

I walk straight to line 4 and in 25 minutes exit via the escalator at the start of Rue odessa. It Saturday and the market is in full swing, I check in to the hotel leave my bag at reception and look for Breakfast.

Cafe Liberte Edgar Quinet Montparnasse Pic by L Brennan 2017

Adrien my usual waiter at Cafe Liberté welcomes me and bring Petit dejeuner and un cafe noir and I feel the happiest and most relaxed I have been in months. No more edits, No more book two, No more job hunt, No more self doubts and fears about what has happened to my life and it current state of utter mess. It was just me and Paris reconnecting like old friends.

I always stay near Montparnasse. I always stay in the same hotel, Hotel Odessa. I love the food market on Saturdays with the variety of fresh food and clothes. But I must be the only person I know, who loves the Tour Montparnasse. For me when I see in life or in pictures my hear sings. But until this trip I had never ventured up to the observation tower. Over my cafe and croissant I decided it was time to head up the building that meant so much to me.

The motivation for this decision was that days before my stay, the Parisian mayor, Anne Hidalgo, had announced a renovation program for the 1970s skyscraper. The new plans involve a sky garden like that in the Gurkin in London and a lighter new modern exterior look. But I wanted to see her before her make over, she her as my memory loves her.

Tour Montparnasse image by Laurent Gerard 2017

The view was magic. I found myself spellbound. My heart drummed in my chest and I felt alive. The crisp autumnal sunshine showed the city off to her best. I decided then and there that I needed to stop dreaming and start working towards making this city my new home. As the minutes passed the bells of the major churches chimed; they reminded me to not dream too long but to get back into the city and feel her while energy while I could.

Paris, Je T’aime image by L Brennan 2017

The price for the entry to the tower is 17€ for an adult and that would get you access twice. If you wanted to be there very early or late to see the sun rise or set then the ticket was 24€. You can still enjoy the view if it is a bad day as the tour has an inside viewing deck on Floor 56. also on that floor is tacky a gift shop and a place to get refreshment. There were also guys trying to get you to pose for a picture like a theme park ride. This area is tired but in all honesty if you were going all the way up the Tour Montparnasse for a cafe then you are doing Paris wrong.

Was it worth it? For me yes but that might be because The Tour Montparnasse holds a very special place in my heart, but for others I would urge you to wait until the renovations are complete and take go and take in the best view in all the world in the luxury of a renovated observation area.

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Update and Happy Birthday Agatha Christie

I know its been a while since I sat and typed you a post. Life’s been busy. Temp role then a second edit of Monmouth and another temp role. I am now juggling time between writing book two and job hunting. I now know what music artists claim the second album is “difficult” especially if you are finishing off the production of Book 1 (a learning curve from the beginning) trying to incorporate what you learnt first time, trying not to let negative experience affect future work.

There have been positives, health wise Thyroid is at a great level where both myself and the GP are happy (only taken 8 years body!) and while working I have lined up a few treats to get through the next few months. On 7th and 8th October I will be back in Paris I hope to get 5-8K more words down on the Elizabeth MS in that time. Projected publication date for Monmouth should be spring 2018 as long as we do not hit any more snags.

Agatha Christie Image not Mine 

Which brings me to the topic of the new post HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Agatha Christie author and creator of one of the most beloved fictional characters of all time Hercule Poirot.

Christie was born in 1890 in Torquay Devon on the south coast of England. During the events of the second world war she worked in the pharmacy of the local hospital where it is thought that she expanded her knowledge about the various different types of drugs and poisons. it was just to this period in the interwar years that she eventually managed to get her first book published. It was the first of the Hercule Poirot novels The mysterious affair at styles and her writing career was off. like many great authors she had been rejected several times before she was finally accepted.

She went on to write 39 books featuring Poirot, 14 novels about sleuthing spinster Miss Marple, 5 books about husband and wife duo Tommy and Tuppence, 6 works under the pen name Mary Westmacott, 2 autobiographies and a selection of stage plays the most famous of which is  Mousetrap which is the longest continuous running play in the west end of London and highly recommended click here for my review.

Her creations have gone on to be reproduced for TV and Film and played by some of the best actors of the age but for me there will only ever be one Hercule Poirot – David Suchet. My favourite books of hers are the ones set in foreign climes, Murder on the orient express Murder in Mesopotamia, Death on the Nile, An appointment with Death and Evil Under The Sun.

Christie left us an amazing legacy of literary art and characters who help us to escape the modern world. reading on of her books literally feels like stepping back in time due to her style of language and the way her characters speak. to some modern tastes it might feel politically incorrect now however she was merely reflecting the times she wrote in and I have no issue with them.

Happy 127th birthday Agatha and thank you for the stories and hours of pleasure.

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The Death of a Duke

15th July 1685, Tower Hill. A 35 year old man climbs the scaffolding erected on Tower Hill the purpose of this moment, the moment of his death. The last person on his mind is not his long suffering wife or any of the children that he had with her, but his last mistress with whom he loved passionately, Lady Henrietta Maria Wentworth. The man in questions name was James Scott, the late Duke of Monmouth, eldest illegitimate child of the late King Charles II, traitor and rebel, condemned to die upon the orders of his estranged uncle and rival, King James II.

Even though these events happened 332 years ago, they have had a get impact on my life personally. I fell in love with the Duke of Monmouth when he was the subject of my MA dissertation, I found the times he lived in, the politics, and socio religious climate at the dawn of the early modern period fascinating, and in some ways we are still seeing the ripples of this time reflected in todays politics.

So today on the anniversary of his horrific and botched execution upon Tower Hill it gives me great pleasure to reveal the cover for my first book which happens to be about The Duke of Monmouth. It seems I found the Duke so unforgettable that 8 years after completing my MA I have a book on him about to be published.

Currently the manuscript in in the editing process with my publishers, Pen and Sword books and we are looking towards a publication date in spring 2018.

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Otello Live from the ROH

Time has slipped away and sadly I have neglected the blog and for that I apologise.

After the success of Wolf Works live via the cinema I wanted to see how the opera faired live via the big screen compared to seeing it live in Covent Garden.

I sit in the first interval in a truly uncomfortable seat in the Odeon Maidenhead blown away by the detail and atmosphere of Otello – arguably Verdi’s best operatic work.

The front screen as I entered the cinema at Maidenhead

Based on the play by Shakespeare, Verdi transforms this most human of plays to some of the most beautiful music ever composed.

The cinema is the closest you will get to seeing the opera live. Unlike listening to a recording of the opera, you get the full experience of seeing the opera and it is a feast for the senses, visually, as well a sense of feeling the music. Unless you live in the middle of nowhere rarely would you get the opportunity or have the quality of recording to play at a volume en par with hearing the orchestra and singers live. Cinema is as close as it will get.

This production is also Jonas Kaufmanns debut part at the Royal opera house he plays the Nobel venetian moor to perfection.

Left Iago Right Otello image filched from ROH live on instagram

Originally Verdi wanted to call his version of this Elizabethan play Iago after the Machiavelli villian, played by Marco Vratogna. The cinematic experience allowed us to see the acting of the performers up close. Vratogna was the perfect mix of Bond villian and Right Said Fred to get a boo at curtain call – when playing that character you can only assume that is a good sign to get boo-ed.

The staging was simple black backgrounds that were manipulated to change location and atmosphere. The simplicity was similar to more traditional performances at the Globe which I happen to like.

Traditionally the Shakespearian character is played by a Black actor depicting a black a moor, however the term Moor was also used to describe, in Shakespeare’s time, what we who understand as an Arab or Muslim. It was this root that that this performance chose to depict the lead character. It is worth noting that Venice was extremely multi cultural and traded heavily in Constantinople, now Istanbul, where they had a thriving Venetian community.

Cinematic experience also allows the audience to see the small details of the costumery up close – something you would miss from the rafters in the cheap seats. The attention to detail in both costume and make up adds to the marvel of the performance.

Before Love turns to jealousy Desdemona and Otello Image not mine

The cinematic audience also get to download a free digital programme offering interviews, rehearsals and interactive information.

I feel for the costume and prop departments having to wash the white linens after the final bloody scene.

Overall the experience in the cinema is as close as you will get if you can not be in the opera house itself. The bonuses are the HD up close visual of the performance normally only preserved for those in the front few rows.

This was the last live performance of this season, however you can book now for the 2017/18 season. Check your local Cinema for details.


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Nell Gwynn at the Globe

Editing phase 1 has been completed for my Monmouth book and I am happy to announce that the title has officially changed to The Duke of Monmouth, His Life and Rebellion and after a few weeks off and settling into a new Temp assignment it is time to start working on Book two before proofs arrive to be checked.

This weekend I therefore book my annual treat at the Globe to end this phase in the process. when looking at what was on this years Nell Gywnn seemed to be the perfect play to go and see.

My Programme and Ticket

There is a certain irony that my two favourite plays seen at the Globe on London’s Southbank have both been contemporary plays about real historical women. Until yesterdays annual visit to the Globe Anne Boleyn by Howard Brenton was my ultimate favourite experience of the last 12 years. But Nell Gwynn has just equalled it.

As part of the Summer of Love season at the Globe which unfortunately is still under the artistic directorship of Emma Rice, Nell Gwynn is a relatively new contemporary play based on the real life of Eleanor Gwynn one time the girl from the gutter who rose to be an actress and the favourite mistress of Charles II.

The stage set as both Kings Theatre and Restoration Court photo by LBrennan taken prior to start of Performance NOT DURING

The play written by Jessica Swale was debuted with Actress and starlet Gemma Arterton as Nell to rave reviews in October 2015 at the Globe. The production has been revived as of this season’s repertoire.

As far as staging is concerned it was one of the more prop heavy productions I have seen at the Globe but that did not take away from the experience. the costumery was fabulous especially the male costumes and they gave a real visual taste of 17th century.

Having just finished writing a book of this period based on the one of the leading political and court figures of Charles II restoration reign, I can attire than the historiography was mostly sound with even some excellent use of quoted Primary sources. however Charles II was not at his fathers execution. having additional knowledge was a bonus as small references made in the play such as the Royal Oak, Lady Castlemaine trying to trick Charles into executing the Earl of Clarendon tickled me. There were even brief references to the Exclusion crisis although no mention of the duke of Monmouth, but it was enough to make me smile.

The play was witty and funny, the actor playing Charles II, Ben Righton, had comic timing and was the right side of truth and caricature. Gwynn was played by Laura Pitt-Pulford captured the spirit of Charles’s Little Nelly well. the biggest star of the show however goes to Esh Alladi, for a performance that would have been just as on point in La Cage aux Folles. He played Edward the kings company’s “leading lady” with Linen Tits and who found himself demoted when the company of players promoted Nell from Orange Seller to Actress to compete with the Dukes company of players who had Moll Davis within there company.

In fairness the full cast were amazing, witty, great fun and excellent. There were quirky and contemporary points on Europe that raised a laugh. all in all very good.

The only oddities if I am being very very picky would be that maybe Clarendon would have been a better choice of minister than Arlington and he certainly had as many caricature and satirical elements to him. I was unfused with the depiction of Catherine of Braganza but will happily say that is due to too much knowledge and a soft spot for her. this was a caricature artistic exaggeration not a history lesson. I can not help but think this may have been better suited to the Sam Wannamaker theatre due to its 17th Century content but I am glad it was staged on the Globe stage as I am still unsure if I will see any shakespeare at the Globe while Emma Rice is Artistic director – Last years bizarre interpretations have put me off.

Bawdy, witty, comic, fun and satirical all in all what the spirit of the Globe is all about. it is a must catch. Tickets can be brought via the Globe website and start from £5.

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