Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Shakespeare: Cycle of Kings

Richard II
A feast for the eyes, the ears, the emotions and the memory.
Twelve hours of drama in all, and only once did a mobile phone ring.  No-one rustled sweet papers or got up to go to the toilet during a scene.  A respectful audience indeed.

In the first play, David Tennant played Richard II. Pictures from the production are subject to copyright, so, a taster from the past.
Here's a little excerpt of Richard Burton giving one of the most famous speeches from this play.


Much as I have always admired Burton's statuesque voice, I think David Tennant did it better. He played it much younger.  Indeed this king was only 32 when he was deposed and murdered.  Tennant has a young voice, sounds contemporary.  He made it seem like he was not declaiming some famous lines, but just chatting informally with his immediate circle, so that the build-up to the climax was all the more impressive:

"I live with bread, like you, feel want,
Taste grief, need friends; subjected thus,
How can you say to me I am a king?"

The audience was spell-bound, and there was absolute silence in the auditorium, which was sold out.  Most of the seats were on a block-booking, so the same people came to all four plays, like me, and I can vouch for the fact that many had coughs, which they indulged plentifully in the noisier Henry plays.  For Tennant, they kept a lid on their coughs.

I am so happy that I was able to attend this once-in-a-lifetime event. It became addictive, I wanted to carry on and on throughout the Shakespearean catalogue.

By the end of the fourth play, Henry V, the audience was so totally engaged, there was almost a pantomime atmosphere.  Actors spoke to the audience, asking for translations of French words, and people shouted back.  There was a lot of laughter.  I began to imagine that we were all Elizabethans, rowdy, interested, but not po-faced or self-important, enjoying the rough-and-tumble as well as the patriotic history.

A fabulous experience. 

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Thomas More, family portraits, and The Princes in the Tower

Thomas More and his family, as represented in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.  It's a miniature, isn't it wonderful?

Here it is again, (scroll down to item 3 on the page). With it on this page you can see the sketch, item 2, by Holbein, on which it is based, and a related picture, item 1, which you can see better in my next link.  This version is held at Nostell Priory in Yorkshire (National Trust).

And here is another related picture in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

First off, isn't it wonderful that
(a) these pictures have been handed down through the centuries, and not destroyed, by ignorance, malice or neglect.
(b) public-spirited people, into whose hands they came, bequeathed them to the nation - both the galleries acknowledge the name of the donor. 
(c) they are available for us to look at in public galleries and at the National Trust.
(d) they are available for us to look at online.

Next, all the pictures are linked, by a fascinating conspiracy theory. This was originally aired by one Jack Leslau, (sadly, now deceased).  It has regained currency as a consequence of the revival of interest in Richard III, after the discovery and conclusive proof of identity of his skeleton, followed by his stately reburial in March last year.

Of course, interest in Richard III has never gone away, largely due to the many mysteries surrounding his brief reign.  The greatest is the mystery of what happened to the Princes in the Tower.

It would test your patience to read the full conspiracy theory here; if you wish, you can follow the link to Jack's own lengthy exposition.  To sum up in a sentence, Jack believes that the Princes were kept safe in the home of Thomas More, and that the paintings offer clues to the discerning that prove this to be the case.

It's easy to get confused, but on this wonderful free site, the BBC, no less, shows you both the Lockey paintings right next to each other so that you can see the differences.

In essence, the second of them includes later generations of the More family, who could not all have been alive at the same time.  It seems to be meant as a sort of family tree seen from the perspective of the 1590's.  The first of the two, the painting Jack Leslau uses for his argument, only shows the members of the family as they would have been around the time Holbein made his sketch, ie about 1527. In his view, the young man standing holding a scroll on the far right is Richard, Duke of York, who disappeared aged 10 in 1483.

The young man is identified in the painting as John Harris, secretary to Thomas More.  Leslau, however, believes that he is meant to represent John Clement, who married More's adopted daughter, Margaret Giggs, (the lady standing on the far left of the Nostell portrait) and was hence a member of the family.  Although actually, says Leslau, he really wasn't John Clement at all, but Richard Plantagenet.  So three layers of ambiguity.  What is certain is that he doesn't appear in Holbein's original sketch.  Can't argue with that.  So there is a mystery there, although it may not be what is suggested.

It's all a great testimony to the value of history, of documents and art, and permanence, and display.  And the power of the imagination, to draw out links from tenuous observations, and draw conclusions.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

The Aftermath

So, it's over at last.  We've taken down the tree, put the decorations back in the loft, and emptied the chip pan.

We only had, what was it, three arguments during this morning's procedures.  And we've agreed on proposals for re-decorating upstairs in the coming months.  As you can see below, this bedroom, decorated in primary colours to our younger daughter's specification when she was eight (she's now 28) needs to be first on the list.

After they'd gone

I've cleaned the house three times, changed the beds, and we have hosted four large, festive meals totalling 33 people.

There was one major incident when our younger daughter told our elder that she "Hates Mum", provoking elder to give back her present and declare that she did not want to have anything more to do with her sister.  I think we've managed to overcome this.

I got through hosting the New Year's Eve dinner party for eight by devoting a whole day to skivvying, helping with all preparations (hub did the cooking), and by not drinking any alcohol at all.  You will see why this was necessary when I tell you that his menu plan included the following:

Two starters, for one of which he insisted on making his own mayonnaise from raw eggs.  For the other he made vegetable stock by boiling a saucepan full of fresh veg which then had to be thrown out.  (Stock cubes and mayo from a jar are anathema).

Three puddings, nothing simple like fruit salad.  Apricot frangipane tart (he made his own pastry and his own frangipane, you could just grate marzipan).  Cheesecake, (again, he made his own sponge base, you could use mashed up biscuit crumbs in butter).  And Delia's ginger sponge puddings, which involve three steps, make the sponge, grill it, and cover it with a creamy ginger sauce.

The main course I have left until last, as reading it might cause a loss of will to live. 
Pea puree (with fresh mint). Asparagus.  Lemon sauce (made by melting butter and zesting fresh lemons).  And the centrepiece - salmon fishcakes.

For this, you have to peel, boil and mash potatoes,  and bake the salmon in an aromatic bath in the oven.  Then you flake the salmon and mix with shallots and a few other flavourings.  Form into balls, dip them in raw egg, then breadcrumbs (home-made, naturally), and finally fry in a deep-fat fryer.
I spotted hubby hovering over the supposedly automatic fryer with the basket in one hand and a jam thermometer in the other, constantly monitoring their progress.

So, an eight-stage process, which ended this morning with us throwing out all the oil from the chip pan (after two arguments provoked by the difficulties), and me saying, with deep feeling, "I really, really hope you never make that dish again."

Chip Pan Dismantled in Disarray, a Defective Robot.

In his book, Gary Rhodes describes his recipe with the words, "This is simple to make."

Fortunately the neighbours seemed to really enjoy the party.  They blew whistles, balloons and pea-shooters with abandon, helped by plenty of wine.  The meal ended with indoor fireworks.

Hub had gone to the office earlier to fetch a fire extinguisher, but it was not needed.   Thank goodness.  Now we can relax.