Category Archives: Drama

When we held hands

There we were, behind a makeshift curtain on the stage at one of the sixth form colleges in Halmstad, staring down at a bucket filled with compost. And then we walked out in front of the audience, hand in hand, and I certified that I had in fact seen a naked, Spanish man at the back. That’s all Björn Granath needed me for.

I must have looked the type who just adores being the one to ‘volunteer’ to come up on stage. I wasn’t, but realised I had to, since my friends on either side didn’t really fit the bill for looking at naked men.

It was the mid-1970s and we’d come to see Dario Fo’s Dom har dödat en gitarr men folket har tusen åter,* brought to us by Teater Narren. There were two of them, but I can only recall the one who held my hand, and whenever Björn has popped up on screens since that night, I remember the bucket. And how much of an idiot I felt like.

(I have to point out here that bucket of compost in Swedish ‘could’ sound just like naked Spanish man. So I didn’t lie.)

Björn’s character had to persuade the other character that there was this person in a state of undress at the back. Sounds like typical Dario Fo, if you ask me. And I suppose he did ask me.

I’ve just learned that Björn died earlier this month. Far too early. He was only ten years older than me. But at least from those early beginnings, he went on to pretty close to the top in Swedish drama. And now that I’m no longer standing in front of my grinning companions, I suppose I quite liked my couple of minutes up there.

*’Han matado una guitarra’ in honour of the then recently murdered Víctor Jara.

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Suitcase

After a while I became afraid I’d lose ‘my group’ as we walked round Piccadilly station in Manchester yesterday. Despite the fact I know the station well, I could begin to understand the anxiety the children of the Kindertransport must have felt on arriving in Britain.

Suitcase - Hanni

It began with me feeling anxious I wouldn’t be allowed on ‘the journey’ because I’d booked too late and every place was already spoken for. And all I wanted was to watch a drama; not to save my life.

I became aware of the production of Suitcase only a couple of weeks ago, as it was about to premiere at Glasgow Central. A crowd-funded drama about the Kindertransport, it was free and it was coming to a railway station near me. Or you. I felt despondent when I realised my only opportunity of seeing it was on my way to Scotland, as I passed through Piccadilly. And then I couldn’t get a ticket!

A very kind person suggested I call at the ‘box office’ (a suitcase, actually) for returns, and I did, and then I was shunted aside and had to wait and that’s when my anxiety levels rose. Just like a refugee. But then the suitcase lady handed me my own numbered label and gave me permission to join the blue group.

Only an idiot like me would go to a promenade theatre performance wheeling a suitcase round with them. But that’s what I did. It seemed almost appropriate, although the superior – and nasty – English lady having tea frowned at it for being red. (And before you are up in arms over my rudeness; this woman was an actor, showing us how some British people didn’t want the refugees.)

Suitcase - English lady

We started under the escalators, where we witnessed the children’s tearful goodbyes, as well as their arrival here, being serenaded with cheery songs. At times the noise and bustle of normal station activities almost drowned out what the actors were saying, but that too fitted in with what it must have been like back then.

Suitcase - Railway porter

As we shuffled between various corners of the station for more intimate sketches with one or two people, refugees, host families, fundraisers and volunteers, it felt as if the real passengers at Piccadilly didn’t really notice us. Rather like it might have been for the original children.

Suitcase - Czech boy and host's daughter

There was the Czech boy who begged us to find work for his clever mother. The railway porter who collected money for the refugees. We met a sister and brother, arguing like siblings do, before they were separated forever. The boy was desperate for the toilet, but they were in a new and strange place.

Suitcase - Kurt

My suitcase lady who objected to the workshy foreigners coming here and ruining things for the English. The couple who ‘knew’ they were getting a young boy, but ended up with a much older girl. Who didn’t even speak English!

Suitcase - volunteer

The volunteer organiser, trying to keep track of everyone, and wondering what to do with the leftover children no one wanted. And at the end, the children writing home, and reading letters from their parents, exhorting them to behave. When the letters stopped coming.

Here one lady had to be led away on a friendly arm. It could easily be too much for anyone. I felt like crying, and my country wasn’t even in the war.

Most of the children assimilated eventually. But Kurt, the one who needed the toilet, never got over the loss of his sister, of having to be grateful all the time, and being passed round lots of families. Heartbreaking.

Suitcase - red

There was music, and there was dancing. They even offered round baskets of doughnuts at the end. And I picked up my suitcase and went to find a train, still wearing my label. I’m so grateful I was allowed to join in.

(Shared with Bookwitch)

Learning a bit of crazy

I’ve got so used to feeling crazy – off my own bat – that I was surprised to remember something the other week. You can learn crazy behaviour, too.

It was thinking back to when I took a Commonwealth literature course at university, which in turn I remembered because I was blogging about the death of Chinua Achebe. And starting to write about the influence of my then tutor – Britta Olinder – at the English department at Gothenburg, I recalled how she set off some new craziness in me.

Actually, I probably tempted her. I was wanting to take four weeks out of term to go to London. I always went to London in those days. It was my crazy. The thing is, you don’t expect a teacher type person to encourage you to skip four weeks of classes, and then to tell you all that you must do when you’re gone.

So, Britta got all enthusiastic and mentioned all the plays I’d want to see in London, including the one I sort of used to justify my absence with, Under Milk Wood. I was writing my essay that term about Under Milk Wood, at her recommendation.

The others in my group got all excited, too, and some of them asked me to get them various stuff in London. So, all was well, and I went to plays, including UMW.

Once back, I found Britta making plans. She wanted to go on a theatre trip to London. She thought that we should all go. Not necessarily in term time, but anyway. She looked through the Observer for inspiration, and she picked a week in February (this was 1979) and phoned round all the theatres and made group bookings for tickets.

Then she set about getting funding. I’m such an idiot I’d have happily paid myself. But with various gifts and group dicounts and with it being off season, we got our week for the princely sum of around £45. That’s hotel, flight, eight plays and two tours. Even in the stone ages that was good value. And off we went.

I mean, the thought would never have occurred to me that you could see two plays in a day, and that you could go to the theatre every day. We did, and on matiné days we got two performances. In he mornings we gathered in the breakfast room and talked drama. Britta told people how to get to the theatres, and I corrected her and suggested a better way. We were all happy.

We saw so much and such varied stuff. Plays I’d never have thought of picking if I’d done it on my own. We saw ‘real’ actors off television. John Thaw. Did the tour behind the scenes at the National. It was great.

And once the seed of madness had been sown, I knew I could do this alone, and I did. Obviously not with funding from any bodies of any kind, but it was a good hobby to have discovered. And all because I was keen on truanting from my education.

Will my first time be my last?

I was so pleased to have found it, but now, a few months later it seems The Byre Theatre in St Andrews is to be no more.

The Byre

In a way it’s not at all surprising. Everything is going under, except the government. And I blame them. Times are bad, and we can’t have everything in life, but we could do with some more encouragement and money spent on sensible things.

The Olympics are gone, but we are still here, and we could go to the theatre. If it can stay open. We have money for wars, but need to close our hospitals. There are Bibles (or was it Shakespeare?) for school children who can’t afford to eat.

The Byre

My first visit to the Byre was a good one. It was for the St Andrews literature festival in October. As litfests go, it was small. But St Andrews is no metropolis, and a big festival is not necessarily better than a small one. I was quite satisfied, and I thought the theatre was fantastic, and set in the most beautiful surroundings.

The Byre

You go through an old passageway, and then there are several small courtyards, and eventually you come to a brand new glass and wood (and stone) theatre.

As someone said when discussing this; the building will remain. Something needs to be done with it. Usually they seem to make obsolete structures into luxury flats. Maybe they will build more student halls?

The Byre

Or, thinking university and theatre; I suppose it could be a new lecture hall. But really, it’s the wastefulness of having perfectly good venues just being cast aside that gets to me.

It was too good to be true.

The Dance of Death

The Dance of Death

It was good. Or it wasn’t. It all depends on which review you read. This one is pretty good. I mean, it is a positive review, but it is also good, because it actually mentions someone who put in a lot of work on The Dance of Death by August Strindberg; the literal translator, aka Son. Mine, not Strindberg’s.

The Dance of Death

He was invited to the press night earlier this week, and I gather he was surprised to find quite a few of his words were still in the play. He had half hoped the artistic interpretation by Conor McPherson would place it on a spaceship or something.

Because of the circumstances I had been very tempted to go and see it myself (it’s on at the Donmar at the Trafalgar Studios until January 5th), but decided that even Son’s translation would not make me want to travel to London the week before Christmas in order to sit through a couple of hours of Strindberg. I have no reason to believe The Dance of Death will ever count as cheerful.

©Simon Kane - The Dance of Death, Kevin R McNally as the Captain

©Simon Kane - The Dance of Death, Indira Varma as Alice

©Simon Kane - The Dance of Death, Daniel Lapaine as Kurt

It just goes to show I was not totally misguided in persevering with that foreign language for all those years. Admittedly, I did not have Strindberg translations in mind back then, but someone has to do them.

(I had half angled for a review of the play, but not only is he busy translating other stuff, but he might be too close. So this is all you get.)

A Midsummer Night’s Superhero

Holidays are horrible things. They prevent you from going to see Shakespeare at the Royal Exchange Theatre. I had to send a replacement to check it out…

“Somehow, I get the feeling that when Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream he didn’t plan on a man dressed as a superhero, a food fight or the need to quickly recruit a member of the audience to play Bottom. But 400 years later, that’s precisely what happened. A fabulous team, directed by Sean Holmes, showed just how insane this play can become.

The Lyric Hammersmith and Filter Theatre production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream opened with Ed Gaughan’s Quince walking into the Royal Exchange Theatre, chatting with the audience. He thanked us for coming, rather than staying at home to watch the Olympic Men’s Gymnastics.

Jonathan Broadbent was an excellent Theseus and a hilarious Oberon, sporting a bright blue leotard and silver cape. The equally talented Poppy Miller gave a high standard performance as Hippolyta and Titania, complete with astounding vocals for the scene where Titania and Bottom first meet.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM by William Shakespeare

Similarly the four lovers; John Lightbody, Gemma Saunders, Rhys Rusbatch and Rebecca Scroggs, were fantastic. Designer Hyemi Shin and director Sean Holmes have gone to town with both costumes and demeanor, using a lot more humour than usual. And we mustn’t forget The Mechanicals, who suddenly were one short when Sir Ian McKellen got stuck in the lift. (Yeah, right!) But no matter, a helpful member of the audience stepped forward, Sainsbury’s shopping and all, to fill the space (after signing a waiver in case he tripped and broke his leg or something).

Chris Branch, Alan Pagan and not least Ed Gaughan were great, and Chris’s impersonation of Sharon Stone is a joy. Puck has always been one of my favourite characters and Ferdy Roberts, with his brash and humorous Puck,  did not let me down.

I applaud the whole team; they took a timeless story and added some glitter, some 1950s music and a couple of Capri-suns, bringing back a play that was originally written as a comedy, making it funnier still. I spent most of the 1 hour 45 minutes laughing. It’s unmissable.”

(Review by Helen Giles)

Sauna for Hamlet

I’d like to think that Hamlet actually lived here.

Varbergs fästning and kallbadhus

This is the castle in Varberg, as seen from the town’s Kallbadhus. Which, as you can tell, means cold bath house. I.e. you sauna and then you jump in the sea; winter as well as summer.

It makes for a long life, which is something Hamlet could have done with. His father, too.