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.


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.


Image not my own 

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a day in the life of Samuel Pepys, 16th November 1666

Sorry about the delay between posts! New Job. New Home. New responsibilities. Book to write – deadline looming 27K still left to write – please send Gin and chocolate this way!


Samuel Pepys as depicted by the wonderful Horrible History fols – Image not my own!

One of my new favourite reads and primary sources for my Monmouth manuscript is the 17th Century scandal loving, court gossip and diarist, Samuel Pepys.  So I found an extract of his diary from 16th November 1666:

Up again betimes to attend the examination of Mr Gawden’s accounts, where we all met, but I did little but fit myself for the drawing my great letter to the Duke of York of the state of the navy for the want of money. At noon to the ‘Change, and thence back to the new tavern come by us; The Three Tuns, where D. Gawden did feast us all with a chine of beef and other good things, and an infinite dish of foul, but all spoiled in the dressing. This noon I met with Mr Hooke, and he tells me the dog which was filled with another dogs blood at the college the other day is very well and like to be so as ever, and doubts  not it being found of great use to Men; and so do Dr Whistler, who dined with us at the tavern. Thence home in the evening, and I to my Preparing my letter, and did go a pretty way in it, staying late upon it, and then home to supper and to bed, the weather being on a sudden set to be very cold.

I find it mind blowing that in the 17th century there was a blood transfusion in a dog. How English is Pepys taking about the weather, complaining about food and dining in pubs.  I promise to attempt to be a better blogger ……

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19 years since the death of Princess Diana

Image not mine

Today is the 19th anniversary of the death of the late Princess Diana, in Paris.
How time flies I remember where I was when I found out, it as a weekend morning, a Sunday I think and both my parents had been up late watching the news unfold, I was 15 and about to enter my last year of secondary school.
For my parents there where were you moment within their living history was when JFK was shot, for me the 2 events that will be emblazed in my mind will be when princess Diana died and 9/11.

I remember the aftermath it was one of the first times I had remembered news coverage changing the TV scheduling, 24hr news was still relatively new. I remember the out pouring of national grief, the flowers left in the royal parks, and Elton John’s candle in the wind rework.

In the run up to the funeral I remember that people queued patiently and respectfully to see her coffin lying in state in Westminster hall. I also remember watching the funeral televised on BBC1 (in fact I think it was on both BBC and ITV) I suppose the next time we will see a funeral like that is when the Queen or Prince Philip die.

This was a turbulent time for the Queen, she was in a new situation, her former daughter in law had died, she was no longer part of the fold, but she was the mother to the future heir to the throne, and the nation loved her for her charitable actions and her style. Eventually the Queen realised that she had to do more than care for her grieving grandsons she also had to show empathy for her grieving nation.

This was a unique time in royal and 20th century history.  


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My Nine Hour Jaunt to Gay Paris 

Apologies about my lack of posts. Life just got a bit real again, a few chapters closed, new beginnings have started, routines have changed. I drafted this on a crowded commuter train at 19:25 on Tuesday only to finish it on Wednesday’s on my journey home.

Last week I was on gardening leave, between ending one job and starting another. The first part of the week was devoted to Monmouth, but Wednesdsy I took a day trip to Paris. 
I travelled to Gard du Notd on the first train out of St Pancras. I was on one of the swish new trains. Seats were more than comfortable in Standard class with new on board Wifi that was a nice bonus. Apparently there is onboard entertain-ment however I did not access this – I prefer the time to be used reading writing or listening music, things that ordinarily I don’t get enough time to do. 
I would prefer if there were child free carriages badly behaved children at 7am is grating in a confined space. I was lucky to get a double to myself (actually on both legs) however I would have liked to be able to book solo seats as I have on previous trips.

Arriving on time at 10.15 by 10.20 I was on a metro heading west (I pre brought a day metro ticket at St. Pancras for £10. My destination was St Denis Basilica – the burial place of the French monarchy. 
The signage from the metro is not particularly clear for direction to the basilica – especially as the station is called St Denis basilica – but its less than 5 minutes. 

Picture by L Brennan

The first part of the cathedral that is clearly still used for services is free to the general public. After the horrific events in Normandy recently, bag search is carried out (as well as in big shops) something I have no issue with; it keeps me safe.
Even in August, late morning there wasn’t a huge number of people visiting the cathedral so it was a very pleasant experience. I would imaging that weekends may well be a lot busier. 
To visit the effigies of the French royals and the crypt you need to pay an entrance fee – options for Audio guides are available – I did rent one but actually didn’t think the signs for audio were very clear and the descriptions long winded. I abandoned it very quickly.

Death in style picture by L Brennan

The various effigies were grouped in to dynastic families from what I could gather. Some monarch were even given additional status with marble tents over their effigies some were additionally decorated with full size marble recreations of the gospel writers, saints and cherubs.  
The crypt was beneath the alter and offered a wide variety of different memorials to the former rulers of France. At the heart of the crypt there were black marble slabs one of which was to remember Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. 

There was also an old part of the crypt with rough stone escophicus what to my very limited knowledge, may have been very early christian in date and style – this section is sectioned off but can be seen relatively clearly 

Louis XVI & Marie Antoniette Picture by L Brennan

The primary reason why I ventured north of the city to visit this basillica was to see the effigies of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  The pair are just off in a small side chapel and depicted kneeling wearing regal and state attire. Its rather moving. They are also in very close proximity to the high alter of the cathedral.
Walking around looking at the memorials around the alter, the saddest ones for me were of royal children; their small depictions lying on the adult size stone plinths brings home that even privileged royalty were not immune to high infant morality through the ages. 

dragons at the Feet of Marie Du Brienne L Brennan

Picture by L Brennan

More dogs Picture by L Brennan

I found that I feel in love with the feet ends of the effigies, where under the feet of the monarch or member of the royal family there were carved dogs for loyalty or lions to signify their royal status. However amongst the effies, on the left hand side of the high alter, there was a curious black marble figure nestling amongest the white marble memorials of the rest of her family and at her feet were 2 small dragons. This arresting woman was Marie du Brienne, the dragons represent good over evil, after to played a role in defeating the Byzantines. She was for me very games of thrones. 

Another woman I went to visit was Queen Catherine de Medici, battleaxe, she wolf and mother in law from hell to Mary Queen of Scots. She may have been an Italians bankers daughter but she left her mark on history.
The gothic cathedral of St Denis (who is also the patron saint of Paris) had amazing stained glass that could rival both Notre Dame and Chapelle Royal, if not in quantity but certainly quality. 
There was a small very small gift shop with votive candles and postcards on sale but not on the scale of the above mentioned churches. 
After my cultured morning I headed to Opera and went to Sephora for make up supplies, C&A for basic clothes and enjoyed Salmon and mashed potatoe, perrier, Creme Brûlée and espresso in the brasserie in La gallerie La fayette before window shopping and a cocktail before returning to Gard du Nord. 

I never realised how big Gard du nord is and defy anyone who says its not as grand as St. Pancas, around by the other platforms there is a gallery of various shops to be explored. It might not be as new but there are shops to be found. 

All in all my jaunt to Paris was without question a lovely treat, it did feel strange not heading to Montparnasse and my usual haunts in the south. These areas are safe familiar and feel like home, however Paris is a big place and she deserves to be explored. 

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