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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ENO’s Pirates of Penzance

I did it – I submitted the manuscript at the end of February. Who knew that the writing was actually the easy bit. All I will says is that editing is a whole different ball game and not one I particularly like. Research into book two has started and job hunting is frustrating. It seems for the time being I am living the dream as a history writer.

My reward to myself for submitting the Monmouth MS was a trip to the ENO. I hoped to see Rigoletto however sadly when I attempted to book the final performance anything I could justify paying for a ticket was long gone. Shame as I hear from a very reliable source that it was indeed very good. So I set about booking something and decided on Pirates of Penzance.

Image not my mine. The ship in the first scene ENO Pirates of Penzance 2017

Last night I learnt that I prefer Italian operas to Gilbert and Sullivan. Firstly I should say that the performance in its self was great some of the female singers were slightly weak and hard to hear – either that or I am going deaf. The staging was minimal and clever and I found it worked well, the costumery was superb it was just the content that I found not to my taste.

I was also pleasantly surprised that the much of the score was familiar and had been used in contemporary ways my favourite being the Element song which can be heard here.

I have never really been a big fan of pantomime and Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates is the theatrical lovechild of a Carry on film, Punch and Judy and Pantomime, fine in its place but not what I personally enjoy or wanted to see last night. In many ways a great show to bring children to in order to start their love affair with the theatre.

Image not mine. Andrew Shore as the Major General and Ashley Riches as the Pirate King

There was one stand out performance that I have to mention, the General Major stole the show and was performed by Andrew Shore. The evening was worth it just for his performance alone.

The minimal stage setting and props reminded me of the Globe in its simplicity. The staging of the boat in the first scene was very clever. The seats have not gotten any more comfortable and I must try and remember to bring a cushion for my next trip. For the regal sum of  £12 there was as far as I could see very little in the way of restriction in my view and in now way was a bad view. However if you hate heights the balcony is not recommended the steep steps are heady to walk up and down to your seats.

The last performance of this run is this Saturday, 25th March.

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Ballet Live 2017: Woolf Works

Image not mine – ROH2017

With 19 days until my manuscript deadline and a new job to find I should not be blogging and probably should not have gone to the Ballet live last night but dear reader I am very glad I did.

For the last few years The Royal Opera House have used selected cinemas around the world to show key performance live each season for one night only, enabling more people to access the arts close to home.

I Now, I Then – Image ROH 2017

Last night the Maidenhead Odeon in Berkshire and 850 odd other cinemas in 20 odd countries were treated to a live performance of the award winning ballet; Woolf Works. The ballet is the masterpiece of the in house choreographer Wayne McGregor.

Woolf Works is split into 3 parts using selected works and Virginia Woolf’s diaries and letters to create 3 unique and very different ballets. I should now confess that I am not particularly familiar with Woolf’s literally works, I am more familiar with the authors story rather than her legacy of words.

I should now say that the medium of ballet works on the big screen, especially for those of you, who like me would be in the cheap seats at the top with awkward views and have bad eyes. The performance is captured in digital precession up close and details that would be lost from the rafters can be captured.

The first performance was entitled I now, I then and is inspired by Mrs Dalloway but also Woolf herself. For me this was the most emotionally powerful of the three performances. Woolf herself is depicted on stage by the legendary and inspiring Alessandra Ferri. The visualisation of Ferri’s  depicting the remembering of youthful love sensuality and friendship is beautiful. The ballet moves on to the heart wrenching depiction of grief, the physically and mental pain that anyone who has experiences the full force of the loss through death will understand. If grief could be shown visually this is raw real tragic and beautiful in its depiction.

When you think that the average age that ballerina’s retire is 35 years old due to the toll on the human body, at 53 Alessandra Ferri is amazing inspiring and beautiful as a performer and as a woman.

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Becomings – Image ROH 2017

The second part of the ballet was Becomings inspired by the Orlando by Woolf. where I Now I Then was reflective emotional, classical Becomings was contemporary, powerful modern and androgynous. if you were in any doubt of the power and skill of the ballet dancers body this performance will prove that these men and women are athletes.

Visually the performance is modern, with the setting, costumery and use of lasers. elements of Jacobean costume is reinvented in modern materials and as the performance evolves the costumes evolve to until they are skin toned body suits leaving the viewer feeling more voyeur and the human bodies move in front of you, in powerful shapes and positions, making gender hard to define – a theme that is reflected in the literary work as well.

The last section was named Tuesday and was inspired by the work Waves. Woolf is again depicted by Alessandra Ferri and for me it was a moving and beautiful yet a painfully acute visual expression of a depressive crisis. The words read at the beginning of this final part of the performance are resonant of the self analysis  that will be familiar to anyone who has had experience of depression. Like Woolf herself, this ballet ends in death, but it is a reflective beautiful, sacrificial death, freeing her lover as she is grateful for their love and exhausted from the mental struggle. I openly wept as the end scene unfolded and instead of finding it melancholic I found it inspiring – live each day fully, make memories, beautiful memories, feel all emotions, both good and bad, live life fully so that when you come to your end the memories of your swan song replay they will as beautiful as this ballet.

Contemporary, modern, beautiful, physical, emotional and visually stunning Woolf Works is hands down one of the best performances I have ever seen.

Woolf Works runs until Valentine’s day at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. ROHLive performances coming up include The Sleeping Beauty 28/2, Madam Butterfly 30/3 Jewels 11/4. Check roh.org.uk/cinema for your local theatre screening.

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Another important part of my formative years left us on Christmas Day. 

Image no my own. Little wonder I fell in love with is man as a teenager ❤️

Lets go back to the mid 80s. My brother and I love Michael Jackson, Bros and Wham. Wake me up before you go-go was  fun to jump on the sofa to and squak along to. 

In the 90s as a teenager I fell in love with George Michael his lyrics hit home to those hormone crazed and confused times. Music was for me a route to mental escapism. 

My 18th birthday I went to Wembley and

Image not mine – George in his trade mark sunnies

saw George as part of Netaid with other artist such as Robbie Williams – the reason I had asked for tickets was to see George. The cold October air and beer in plastic bottles were worth it to see George. 

A pligrimage to Plymouth to see George live in 2007 – waiting on tender hooks for the okay from the venue after thunderstorms threatened to cancel the gig. 

Image not my own – Faith


Like the greats seeing George Live was amazing the pirontecnics and staging was not necessary as george sang live the material from his career and could still bust the moves and wiggle that bottom. Worth the sleeper train the grim b&b and Plymouth. 

Georges songs have an ability to hit home. Jesus to a child sent goosebumps up the back of my neck, Father figure spoke to me, fastlove, freedom, outside, careless whisper, faith…. the list goes on and on everyone of those songs held a special place in for me as a teen and young adult. 

Even as a hetrosexual female George Michael normalised sexuality – sex is a normal part of being human. That maybe one of his biggest gifts to the world.

Even today I find comfort and safety in music that can transport me back to a point in my life or help decode an emotion I haven’t the words to describe. Many try but few express these things clearly George Michael could in his lyrics. 

He was and will always be a big part of my life. Georges music is his beautiful legacy.  The greatest sadness is that there will be no new material. 

George thank you for being there at the important points in my life, soothing my broken heart, being part of my tribe, being frank about sexuality and not giving a f*ck about the haters, being generous and sharing your beautiful music with the world. 

Image not mine. George Michael 1963-2016

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Tosca at the ENO

Last Tuesday I took another step in my education into the world of Opera when I went for my seasonal outing to the theatre to see the English National Opera’s current production of Tosca.

It seems that I have so far been drawn towards seeing productions of strong women, having seen Carmen and La Traviata so of course Tosca was a natural next stop I suppose.

I wanted to see if the experience was enhanced or changed in any way, if lyrics had been translated and sung in English and to my delight I found it made no difference at all, indeed I think I prefer the operas in French or Italian. However I also have a fondness for French and Italian contemporary pop music so have a fondness for European languages sung.

I was lucky enough to get one of the cheap seats for £24 and I will be frank it was most definitely worth the cost and I would be happy to pay more to see future productions.

I had never been to the Coliseum before. The staff were helpful and upon arrival I was directed up to the balcony bar upon arrival I liked the fact you could buy a programme with your drink. I liked that if you wanted to bring your drink into the theatre something ROH will not allow. I like that there was water available to help yourself to in the bars. However I would recommend bringing your own snack, they are over priced and small portions.

I was sat in the Balcony and although not necessarily scared of heights its not for the fait hearted especially when wearing stiletto heels. I was pleased to see a variety of ages at the production in fact to my right there were three women in their mid twenties. it was also great to see that the majority of the audience were smartly dressed this might have been as it was mid week and may of the audience may have come directly from work. The seats were en par with the Wanamaker theatre cushioned but don’t be fooled they were not particularly comfortable.

For those of you not familiar with the story of Tosca it was set in three acts and this is brief summary of the story. Castle St Angelo in Rome, The palazzo Farnasse in Roma and then the roof top of the Castle St Angelo. Between the acts there were intervals of 20 minutes and they changed the stage setting. Tosca and her lover Mario meet and, Mario helps an escaped prisoner leave the fortress.  The police come looking for prisoner and accuse Mario of helping the prisoner out of Castle St Angelo n his absence. They trick Tosca knowing that she will worn her lover he i s in peril and follower her.

Act 2 Mario is brought to Chief of police, Scarpia home, in he palazzo Farnasse to be interrogated and Sacrpia who is in lust with Tosca uses her to aid his interrogation of Mario. in order to save her lovers life Tosca agrees reluctantly to allow the slimy Scarpia to sleep with her to save her Mario. she gets him to agree to write a passport so that the two lovers could leave rome and resettle. After Scarpia had written the passport Tosca while in the grips of his clutches learns that Mario is to face a “fake” execution and then they can leave. she reaches for a dagger and stabs Scarpia to prevent him from sleeping with her.

Act three see Mario being lead to the pace of execution. he want to get a message to Tosca to tell her he loves her. Tosca comes to him and tells him that he is to face a fake execution and the soldiers will fire blanks at him and he must be brave and they dream of their lives after they escape. she tells him that she killed Scarpia and that they will have to leave quickly after he had faked his death.

But it is not to be like Romeo and Juliet they were not too have their happy ending. The firing squad fired real shots. As Tosca discovers that Scarpia had lied to her and that her Mario is dead, the hue and cry goes up, upon the discovery of the chief of polices murder being discovered. The police come towards Tosca but she wont be taken and the final scene is Tosca falling backward off Castle St Angelo walls to her death.

The costuming and casting were amazing. The three main characters were outstanding, Keri Alkema as the diva Tosca, dashing and handsome Mario was performed by Gwynn Hughes Jones and the slimy and cunning Police inspector Scarpia was depicted by Craig Colclough.

My only niggle was that I found Act 2, that the lighting was a bit too dark for me to see clearly from the balcony. I know it is set at night but more lighting would have help but this may have be personal preference to myself.

I appreciated that although the opera was sung in English rather than Italian, they still supplied a small screen above the stage with the words. I am however a firm believer that the music and power of the voice can convey the feeling and meaning of the story without the meaning of the words being needed.

I highly recommend anyone to go to the ENO to see one of their productions, they are en par with ROH. Tosca is on until 3rd December.

tosca

Image not my own 

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