All in the mind

I have been studying how I may compare
This prison where I live unto the world.

King Richard II

This prison is sharply defined on stage at the Almeda Theatre where Simon Russell Beale remembers the events which lead him to incarceration, and predicts events which wil lead to his death. The four grey walls which surround him may just be the prison cell, but they also seem like a metaphor for his own brain, his mind in turmoil recalling snatches of conversation, and unconnected episodes which make up his story.

Richard II is an episodic play. Discrete chapters of history; characters introduced and removed without adding much, anything, to the narrative; and major swings in plot-line without any back-story or build up. This new performance, directed by Joe Hill-Gibbons, builds on that episodic nature and everything that is needed to tell the story, for Richard to remember the story, is on stage throughout. Eight cast playing a dozen or so parts, buckets (literally) of blood and earth, and a single prop – the hollow crown. As Simon Russell Beale calls to mind or imagines a conversation, those characters detach from the group of players huddled at the sidelines waiting like substitutes for the manager’s instructions.

And as the vast sweep of the story unfolds in Richard’s mind, little groups of characters emerge, change, flow across the stage mingling with others as alliances are built and destroyed. As traitors to one cause become protagonists for another.

If you know the play, it may be marginally easier to follow which character is betraying who and why. But that is not necessary and it is not how this play reads. Instead, we have a central character, the King, remembering and imagining a series of events. It almost doesn’t matter how that narrative is constructed. Think of how you remember a significant period of your own life. Highlights come and go; people come and go; different friends and family have slightly different roles each time you remember.

But because we are seeing the story through the eyes of the defeated King there is one significant change to other productions of Richard II that I have seen. Bolingbroke, about to become Henry IV, is portrayed as a weak and hesitant man. A puppet controlled and instructed by the puppet master, Northumberland, who Richard clearly blames for his fall. And, of course, Richard is the victim here and not (as ‘1066 and all that’ would have it) a bad King.

This is a completely new and thought-provoking production with Simon Russell Beale giving another consummate performance as the embattled and then doomed King. Whether you come it with a knowledge of the play traditionally directed, or with no pre-knowledge, this is a thoroughly entertaining and different view of the ebb and flow of English History.

★★★★☆

Context is everything

In 1995 we went to Ireland on a birding holiday. Just before going we bought new binoculars.

That was 19 years ago. It’s important you understand that. The context is, as I say, everytng.

So here we are on holiday in Norfolk. Mostly birding, but some good food and drink and a bit of culture and shopping. Today we thought we must visit the Birdscapes Art Gallery. Last time we were in Norfolk, 10 years ago according to our notebooks, it was still a project on the drawing board. Now it’s been open for nine years and we intend to give it the benefit of our collective cheque-books. After all, there are still, um, two shopping days to Christmas.

We find the place easily enough – it’s just up the road from us and our satnav gets us there without any difficulty.

But it’s closed. Or, at least, not open yet. But there’s plenty of other stuff to see in their little industrial estate. Including Cley Spey. The optics specialists. You can see where this is heading

We’ve parked in their carpark so it’s only polite to call in.

Cley Spey – “Can we help?”

Me – “No, just browsing until Birdscapes opens.”

Clay Spey – “Doubt if he’s up yet.”

Me – “OK, let’s have a look at those Leica Trinovids then.”

And it was all downhill from there really, ending with, “Why not have look these Ultravid HD?”

They did trade in our 19 year old Leicas, much to our amazement, and gave us a good deal on 8×42 HD Ultravids – now replaced by the new HD plus. We did decide the addition of a mathematical symbol to the name wasn’t worth an extra £400 a pop. But, even so, our bank accounts were substantially lighter than 30 minutes ago.

And now Birdscapes Art Gallery is open – but who cares. We’ve spent our money on bins. So it doesn’t matter how reasonably priced your David Koster’s are. Or that you’ve got cute little ceramic bats to hang on the wall. Or drypoint by Emerson Mayes that Jan had fallen in love with at this year’s SWLA annual exhibition. Or stuff. Don’t think you can get round us just by wrapping it up nicely.

Bugger. How can we ever be rich like this?

And there’s still one shopping day left.

PS – Birdscapes Art Gallery is one of the best wildlife galleries we have seen. It has a range to suit all tastes and most pockets. As we have said it is right next door to Cley Spey and there is a fantastic art cafe selling coffee processed in a neighbouring unit. It’s web-site, however, is shite. But don’t let that put you off. Go. Just not too early in the morning.