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Archive for the ‘Archaeology’ Category

I so much enjoyed island-hopping The Cyclades on an archaeology trip two years ago that I pounced at the chance of doing the same in The Dodecanese. This one also allowed for overnighters in Athens both ways, and also took in Samos, technically not part of this chain, but hey…..

Here’s a link to some photos, well a lot of photos, because that’s what it deserves ………… https://photos.app.goo.gl/eMwTcWA6FgB5A4ex9

You have to sympathise with the Greeks. Let down by their governments and the EU, no sign of ever paying off their debt and refugees still using their island coasts as their entry point to Europe. They deserve our support and I for one was happy to make another small contribution to their economy. The islands seem to be faring better than the mainland, as they get a much higher number of tourists per capita, and tourism is just about the only industry left. Athens is faring better too, as we found on the outward stopover, as the city is still a magnet for tourists around the world, and rightly so. Our visit was specifically to see the new(ish) Acropolis Museum, built next to the hill, housing the artefacts found there and affording views of it, the top floor the footprint of the Parthenon with whatever they have in situ. The entrance to the galleries is like that of the Parthenon; it’s a brilliant building with stunning contents; well worth a stopover.

Samos lies virtually parallel with Athens, just a few hundred metres off the coast of Turkey, an island of just 30,000 people. It’s famous for being the wedding venue of Anthony and Cleopatra, who I’d seen on stage just two weeks before! Amongst it’s surprises is a successful wine industry. It now seems to be favoured by German sun-worshipers, a relatively small number still there at the fag-end of the season. We stayed just outside the old capital, now renamed Pythagoreio after the local mathematician who went global with his theorem, on the south of the island, built on the Greco-Roman ruins whose walls were still visible, the finds in their outstanding archaeological museum. The recent refugee influx was evident in the present capital Vathy, a bigger town on the north coast, rising from the sea and climbing the mountains (we did it in reverse!), with a lovely harbour and another excellent archaeological museum. Near Pythagoreio we were able (me just!) to enter the 2500-year-old 1 km long tunnel which contained an aqueduct to bring spring water from the north of the island; an extraordinary achievement. Nearby the sanctuary of Hera, Zeus’ wife, showcased her cult with the ruins of a temple three times the size of the Parthenon, where 100 oxen were regularly slaughtered in their ceremonies. With a good archaeologist and more than a modicum of imagination, it came alive.

The ferry to Patmos, our second island, was delayed and mostly in the dark, so we could hardly see the islands of Aganothisi and Arki where we stopped, but as the latter had a population of 44, I suspect there wasn’t a lot to see anyway. The Aegean sunset was some recompense. This island has a population of just 3000 and the visit brought a change from archaeology to religious history. At the top of the hill overlooking the main town there was the Monastery of St. John the Theologian, and below this a cave church where St. John is believed to have had his revelation. A service was in progress when we visited, but we were welcomed and it enhanced the visit, even for a non-believer like me! A lovely wander through the hilltop Hora was the icing on the cake of a brief but unexpectedly delightful overnight visit before we continued our archaeological pilgrimage by ferry to Kos, with stops at Leros and Kalymnos.

A much busier island, though still only a population of 30,000, this came as a bit if a shock to the system. We spent the first full day in the town of Kos, built amongst the Greco-Roman ruins, not unlike Pythagoreio, but on a larger scale with Ottoman and 20th century Italian additions. The overgrown agora was hugely atmospheric and the Casa Romana a brilliantly reconstructed Roman home. One of the surprises of this trip has been the revelation (well, to me) that, in addition to Roman occupation, the Italians occupied these island in the 20th century, until after the Second World War in fact. The following day we explored the island, visiting another spectacular early Greek site at Asclepion, a healing centre dedicated to Apollo’s son of the same name. The setting was spectacular and the climb through three terraces gave you a real feeling for the place. At Kefalos a couple of small basilicas had a lovely beach setting with a picturesque off-shore island adding to the charm, and at Antimachia, a ginormous crusader fortress (the Knights of St. John) dominated all around. Our last morning was spent at yet another fine archaeological museum, looking at the finds from the sites we’d visited.

On to Rhodes with stops at Nisyros, Tilos and Chalki, an island I’ve wanted to visit for decades. A much bigger and busier island, pop. 115,000, and it wasn’t long before I fell in love with the old walled town of Rhodes and its harbour, a lovely collection of buildings from many historical periods. Walking the entire dry moat – a few kms – was exhausting but satisfying, but not as exhausting as the climb to the LIndos acropolis, but I managed it! The views were more stunning than the ruins, but with a tightly packed white village at the foot of the hill too, visiting is a must, despite the surprisingly large off-season crowds.

When I was last in Athens in 2004, the National Archaeological Museum was closed, to be spruced up for the Olympics, and on my previous visit 24 years before that, I wasn’t so interested in archaeology, so I spent an extra two days there on the way home to see it, and also took in the Byzantine Museum, the Museum of Cycladic Art and a return to the Benaki Museum. By the end I was all museumed out, but it had to be done; the National collection is one of the greatest in the world.

The sun shone, the sky was clear and the seas relatively calm. Add in excellent rustic food, a little too much wine and good company and it proved to be a fine trip indeed.

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Starting in Verona, our base for three nights at http://www.duetorrihotels.com and ending on the island of Mozzorbo in the Venice Lagoon, this trip took in the towns of Vicenza, Basano del Grappa and Treviso, with the lovely hill town of Asolo our second base for four nights. Thirteen meals, from simple plates of pasta or asparagus to three at Michelin starred restaurants, were supplemented by visits to prosecco, wine and grappa producers and rice, olive oil and cheese makers. I feel stuffed and pickled.

Photos: https://photos.app.goo.gl/MRU5fJhtBCnaNCfH9

Verona was the only point of the trip where I was retracing my steps, though only for a morning, as we headed out of town to the lovely winery of http://www.seregoalighieri.it in Valpolicella, the estate of Dante’s family, rice grower http://www.risoferron.com at Isola della Scalla where the 17th century mill was still in use and olive oil producer http://www.oliosalvagno.com At Riso Ferron, chef Stephano showed us how to cook risotto in a rather unique way (that’ll come in handy!) and served up three for us to eat, with a starter including leftover risotto and a dessert which substituted rice flour. Dinners in Verona were at http://www.12apostoli.com, built upon Roman and Mediaeval ruins still visible from the cellar where we had our aperitif, and the rather quirky Michelin starred http://www.ristorantelafontanina.com

Our journey to Asolo was broken in Vicenza, a terrific city with a fine main square, famous for Palladio buildings, including a spectacular 16th century theatre with life-size streets on stage providing ready-made sets – one of the greatest theatres of the many I’ve visited – and our one-and-only art gallery. Here we tried four different baccala (salt cod) dishes for lunch. On to our second base in the lovely hill town of Asolo  – http://www.albergoalsoleasolo.com – whose only downside was that our vehicle couldn’t get within a half-mile of our accommodation – but we discovered the shuttle for our very steep uphill returns.

Sunday saw us worshiping the god of prosecco at http://www.villasandi.it, another Palladian building, a long walk through the cellars and an alfresco tasting in the Cartizze vineyards of Valdobbiadene, where the very best prosecco grapes are grown, followed by an alfresco lunch washed down with local wines. The following day, we climbed 3000 ft (no, not on foot!) to an alpine plateau to visit a small Asiago cheese maker, whose cheeses changed with the seasons and in particular his cows’ food. Back down on the plain, Bassano del Grappa proved to be another lovely town with a Palladio wooden bridge, a lunch of white asparagus (which I didn’t know until then was grown underground) & eggs mashed with olive oil and a grappa tasting, obviously, at http://www.nardini.it A visit to Treviso was a bit of a damp squib. Cities never look good in the rain, but I’m not convinced it would have matched the other visits in the sun. We lunched at http://www.ristorantetonidelspin.com

We ended with two Michelin starred restaurants, http://www.fevaristorante.it in Castelfranco, which I thought was good rather than great, and http://www.venissa.it on the island of Mazzorbo in the Venice Lagoon, a short journey by water taxi from Venice airport from which we were flying home, which lived up to expectations, and more. Here the winery ceased production after the infamous 60’s high tide, but they have begun again, just one hectare producing a few thousand bottles of a very distinctive wine from grapes grown in saline soil giving it a unique mineralogy.

History, food, wine and good company; what’s not to like……

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Opera

There was much to like about Coraline, the Royal Opera at the Barbican Theatre, but I’m not sure the adaptation and production served both Neil Gaiman’s story and Mark Anthony Turnage’s music well as neither were dark enough. Good to see a family friendly opera at accessible prices though.

I didn’t go and see the Royal Opera’s 4.48 Psychosis first time round in 2016 because I didn’t like the Sarah Kane play from which it is adapted. The reviews and awards propelled me to this early revival, again at the Lyric Hammersmith, and I’m glad they did. Philip Venables work makes sense of Kane’s play, a bleak but brilliant exposition of depression and in particular the treatment journey in the eyes of the sufferer. Words are spoken and projected as well as sung and there is recorded music, muzak and sound effects. The artistry of the six singers and twelve-piece ensemble was outstanding. Not easy, but unmissable.

Classical Music

The new Bridge Theatre put on a lunchtime concert of Southbank Sinfonia playing Schumann’s 3rd Symphony, which was a delight, particularly as they unexpectedly blended in poems read by actors. I only wish I’d booked seats within the orchestra, as that would have been a rather unique experience; let’s hope they do it again.

At Wigmore Hall, a young Stockholm-based chamber ensemble called O/Modernt gave a recital spanning almost 400 years of English music from Gibbons to Taverner with an emphasis on Purcell & Britten. They were assisted by a mezzo, a theorbo and vocal ensemble The Cardinall’s Musick. There was even a quirky improvisation on a theme by Purcell. It all sounded very fresh, though there was a randomness about it.

At the Barbican, a delightful double-dip started with a concert of Elgar choral works by the BBC Singers at St Giles Cripplegate. I particularly loved the fact the Radio 3 introductions were made by members of the ensemble. Then at Barbican Hall the BBC SO & Chorus under Andrew Davies gave a wonderful WWI themed concert bookended by Elgar pieces and featuring the London Premiere of a contemporary song cycle and a lost orchestral tone-poem, the highlight of which was an Elgar piece this Elgar fan had never heard, the deeply moving but thoroughly uplifting The Spirit of England, so good I will forgive the ‘England’ that should be ‘Britain’.

Another LSO rehearsal at the Barbican, this time with their new Chief Conductor Simon Rattle, a man who knows what he wants, if ever I saw one; Mahler’s 9th and a new work. It proved to be a fascinating contrast with Mark Elder’s less directive rehearsal method. Again, I wanted to book for the concert.

London Welsh Chorale did a good job with Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus at St Giles’ Cripplegate. It’s one of the first oratorio’s I ever heard (my mother was in Caerphilly Ladies Choir!). They were accompanied by a small orchestra and had four fine young soloists.

I actually went to the LSO Tippett / Mahler Barbican concert to hear Tippet’s Rose Lake again (I was at its world premiere) and as much as I enjoyed it, it was Mahler’s unfinished 10th which blew me away. A highlight in a lifetime of concert-going.

The British Museum reopened the fabulous Reading Room for some concerts and I went to the quirkiest, obviously, for Lygeti’s Poeme Symphonique for 100 Metronomes. They were all set off at the same time, but ended individually, with the fifth from the left on the back row hanging in there the longest for its solo finale followed by a minute’s silence. Strangely mesmerising.

Dance

The Royal Ballet’s Bernstein Mixed Bill was a lovely addition to his Centenary. The first piece, danced to the Chichester Psalms, was wonderful, and the last, to the Violin Serenade, was a delight. Though I love the 2nd Symphony, which provided the music for the middle piece, it was a bit dim and distant to wow me as the others had.

The Viviana Durante Company’s short programme of early Kenneth Macmillan ballet’s, Steps Back in Time, benefitted from the intimacy of Barbican Pit, but could have done with programme synopses so that we could understand the narrative, better recorded sound for the two works that had it, and on the day I went some aircon! Lovely dancing, though.

Comedy

Mark Thomas’ latest show tells the story of running a comedy workshop in the Jenin refugee camp in Palestine, two Palestinian comedians with him on stage and four more showcased on film. In addition to a good laugh, you learn a lot about life in occupied Palestine. The post-show Q&A at Stratford East was a real bonus. Important and entertaining.

Film

Love, Simon is as wholesome and sentimental as only American films can be, but its heart was in the right place and it was often very funny.

The action was a bit relentless in Ready Player One, and the ending a touch sentimental, but it’s a technical marvel and proves Spielberg can still cut it, now with mostly British actors it seems.

Funny Cow was my sort of film – gritty, British, late 20th Century – with some fine performances and some really funny stand-up. Maxine Peak was terrific.

I enjoyed The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, though it was a bit slow to get off the ground. Particularly lovely to see Tom Courtney at the top of his game.

Art

A bumper catch-up month!

I was impressed by Andreas Gursky’s monumental photographs of the modern world (ports, factories, stock exchanges…) at the Hayward Gallery. Much has been said about the gallery’s refurbishment, but I honestly couldn’t tell the difference!

I’m not sure I understand the point of an exhibition about performance art events that have taken place, so Joan Jonas at Tate Modern was an odd affair; intriguing but not entirely satisfying. However, Picasso 1932, also at Tate Modern, was astonishing – work from just one year that most artists would be happy of in a lifetime, with an extraordinarily diverse range of media, subjects and styles. Wonderful.

I love discovering artists and Canadian David Milne at Dulwich Picture Gallery was no exception, his Modern Painting exhibition is a beautiful collection of landscapes, with one room of early city scenes, all very soft and colourful.

Another Kind of Life: Photography on the Margins at the Barbican Art Gallery brought together some world class, cutting edge photographers, but it was all rather depressing. The quality of photography was excellent, but all those prostitutes, addicts, homeless people…..Agadir by Yto Barrada downstairs in the Curve didn’t do much for me and the wicker seats you sat in to listen to the audio aspects of the installation were excruciatingly uncomfortable.

At the NPG, Victorian Giants: The Birth of Art Photography consisted entirely of portraits, mostly from the mid-19th Century, by four photographers. They were surprisingly natural and technically accomplished, but I’m not sure it was the ‘art photography’ it said on the can. At the same gallery Tacita Dean: Portrait consisted mostly of short films of people with loud projector sound as accompaniment and it did nothing for me.

At the RA, a small but exquisite display of Pre-Raphaelite book illustrations by the likes of Millais, Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Holman Hunt. A little gem, but oh for a much bigger one.

Ocean Liners: Speed and Style at the V&A was a brilliantly presented exhibition which conveyed the glitz and glamour but also covered the wonders of the engineering and the historical significance of the mode of travel. Unmissable.

At the Photographers Gallery the annual Deutsche Borse Photography Foundation Prize Exhibition had a real political bite this year with swipes at Monsanto, the US justice system and former Soviet and East European states. Downstairs Under Cover: A Secret History of Cross-Dressers was difficult to take in as it was a load of standard size snaps found in flea markets and car boot sales, but the accompanying display of Grayson Perry’s Photograph Album covering the early days of his alter ego Clare was fascinating.

The content of the Sony World Photography Awards Exhibition at Somerset House was better than ever and it was much better displayed, though it made me feel like a rubbish photographer again. In the courtyard, there were five geodesic domes, ‘Pollution Pods’, replicating the pollution in five world cities with live readings. New Delhi and Beijing come off particularly badly but London wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. It really made you think.

All Too Human at Tate Britain was another of those exhibitions where the premise was a bit questionable, but there were enough great paintings to forgive that. Wonderful Lucien Freud and Bacon pictures and a lot of 20th century British artists new to me. In the Duveen Hall, Anthea Hamilton has created a quirky swimming pool like space with sculptures and a performer moving around all day. Called The Squash, it was momentarily diverting.

Rodin & the art of ancient Greece places his sculptures alongside some of the British Museum’s collection of Greek pieces and it works brilliantly. Rodin apparently took inspiration from The Parthenon sculptures and was a regular visitor and lover of the BM. Wonderful.

The Travel Photographer of the Year Award exhibition moved completely outdoors and to City Hall this year, but the standard was as good as ever. The young photographer entries were particularly stunning.

I was overwhelmed by the scale and beauty of Monet & Architecture at the National Gallery. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see 78 pictures together, a quarter of which come from private collections, a third from public collections scattered all over North America, and only 10% in the UK, half in the NG’s collection. Going at 10am on a Monday was also a good idea, seeing them with a handful of people instead of the crowds there when I left. While there I took in Drawn in Colour: Degas from the Burrell, thirty lovely works, but as always with pervy Degas all young women and girls, Murillo: The Self Portraits, which isn’t really my thing, and Tacita Dean: Still Life, which I enjoyed marginally more than her NPG show!

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My two encounters with Shakespeare in this Globe mini-festival to celebrate his birthday earlier in the week were in Westminster Abbey and on the streets of The City and Southwark.

In the Abbey, we were invited to wander amongst the tombs of many of his historical characters, with actors popping up all over the place, individually, in pairs and small groups, speaking lines from his plays to individual visitors or small groups. Within minutes of entering, my first encounter was Mark Rylance close up in the transept giving Hamlet’s To Be Or Not To Be soliloquy; many more followed. We ended up in a circle in the nave around the actors with lanterns, singing before they left the abbey in procession through the front door. A really unique, uplifting and emotional experience.

Forty hours later I arrived at St Leonards Church in Shoreditch, famously connected with James Burbage, who built London’s first theatre down the road, and his son Richard, the first Hamlet and the first Richard III. Collecting a map and a red rose, we set off in small unguided groups on the Sonnet Walk East, which took in the site of this first theatre, appropriately called The Theatre, the recently discovered Curtain Theatre, where Romeo & Juliet was first performed, and the site of the first and second Globe, ending at the third present day Globe where we wove our red roses with the white ones already in the theatre gates.

At ten points en route actors popped up to read sonnets or speeches, one a song. My first encounter, as it had been in the Abbey, was Mark Rylance, but you could only identify him by his voice as he read Richard III’s battle speech from inside a tent on the site of The Theatre (probably wise as he’s now been in three Spielberg films!). We were fooled several times when the people we encountered seemed to be someone else (well, they are actors) until they began speaking verse. This included the site foreman in hard hat at the building site on top of the ruins of the Curtain, who described the find and its preservation, then spoke his lines just as we were about to leave, a lady asking for a photo and a Globe volunteer. Sometimes we imagined passers by were actors, mostly wrongly but occasionally right.

Like the Abbey, this was a lovely experience and together bookended a great weekend. Mark Rylance devised both, so hats off to him.

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It’s just over 40 years since I visited Crete, a lovely villa party in Agia Galini on the South coast. I remember visiting Knossos, walking the Samaria Gorge and getting stranded at the bottom and spending the whole night on the veranda after too much retsina. This was a much more grown up Minoan archaeology tour. Can you have too much Minoan archaeology? Well, maybe, but with good weather, fine company and good food & wine…..

Crete is Greece’s largest and most southernmost of its 166 to 227 inhabited islands (no-one appears to have done a proper count, not even the EU, it seems), the fifth largest island in the Med. It’s only 160 miles from Athens, but not much further from the African coast. A very mountainous island, reaching up to 8000ft, it’s long (160 miles) and thin (between 7 and 37 miles). The population is only 600,000 but there way more goats and beehives and 35 million olive trees!

First inhabited 8000 years ago, it’s the origin and home of Europe’s first great civilisation, the Minoans, who lasted for almost two thousand years, pre-dating both the Greeks and Romans by almost a thousand years, and exceeding the longevity of both. British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans is regarded as the godfather of Minoan archaeology, his partial reconstructions controversial, but responsible for ensuring everything stayed where it was found on Crete, unlike just about any other find in the world. There are palaces, towns, villas, cemeteries and museums full of astonishing finds. Lets start with some photos:

https://photos.app.goo.gl/70FvToq1zYE5uHYs2

We based ourselves first in Heraklion, where we visited the wonderful archaeological museum and nearby Knossos, the palace at the centre of the civilisation with Evans’ partial reconstructions, the Phourni Cemetery and the villa at Vathypetro, with finds in the Arhanes Archaeological Museum. We also ventured south to the Minoan town of Gortyn, the palace of Phaestos and the villa at Agia Triada. On our return, the sand-laden Sirocco wind had turned the air orange and deposited a significant chunk of the Sahara on the land. It was a three-day total immersion that I struggled to keep up with, but the boozy late lunches and dinners helped – Crete has an excellent rustic cuisine with goats cheese, olives, salad and vegetables dominant, and decent local plonk.

Our journey East to our second base, Sitia, took in another Minoan palace at Malia and another Minoan town at Gournia, popping into the popular coastal town of Agios Nikolaos for a non-Minoan break. One of the finest days saw us cross the spectacular mountains to the rarely touched East coast for another Minoan Palace at Zakros, close to both the beach and the mountain gorge. There was a treat on the way home, at the hugely atmospheric Toplou monastery, which now only appeared to have a couple of monks. Back in Sitia, on a sleepy Sunday, Greek Independence Day meant site closures but offered a street parade of just about every school, service and association, in costume or uniform, with a randomness and slickness in keeping with a Mediterranean island rather than a European state.

It was a long journey to our third base in the far West, Chania, but we broke it with a visit to Evans’ atmospheric 1906 Villa Ariadne and the lovely Venetian port of Rethymnon; oh, and another of those spectacular late lunches. Chania was our best hotel, the Kydon, right on the edge of the old town, which we explored after a hazy but lovely visit to Greco-Roman ruins, a Byzantine monastery and a Turkish fort at Aptera, a deeply moving visit to the Commonwealth War Graves at Souda Bay and another lovely visit to a Byzantine monastery on the Akrotiri Peninsula.

I did overdose a bit on Minoan ruins, but Evans’ reconstructions and the extraordinary museum exhibits brought the civilisation alive for me. The big revelation was Cretan cuisine, unique in Greece and Europe and appallingly underrated. A busy but lovely trip, and great to revisit after all those other places in-between.

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Contemporary Music

It was obvious from the second number that Elvis Costello had a problem with his vocal chords, but he didn’t acknowledge it until two-thirds of the way through the main set. It’s a pity because the set for this London Palladium concert was new stuff and less obvious things from the back catalogue (only four or five crowd pleasers) which for me at least was very welcome. He was upstaged I’m afraid by two sisters from Atlanta going by the name of Larkin Poe who’s 30 min set as support was terrific. The evening partially redeemed itself by another 30 min set of Costello with the girls and a couple of crowd-pleasing solo encores, but in truth he should have postponed. There’s nothing sadder than seeing a hero die on stage.

Opera

How can you resist an opera set in a gay club with the toilet attendant played by Lesley Garrett?! As it turned out, Mark Simpson’s 70min 4-hander Pleasure at the Lyric Hammersmith proved rather good, and a hugely impressive operatic debut for this prodigious 28-year-old. The music suited a very dramatic story and the tension built well.

Many years ago I went to a shed in East London to see a bunch of mad Catalans perform a show in which they raced around wheeling supermarket trollies full of dead babies, throwing real liver around. That same company, La Fura Del Baus, are now at Covent Garden staging the UK premiere of Romanian composer Enescu’s only opera Oedipe, one of three 20th century operas based on the Oedipus myth and the most epic, telling the whole story from birth to death. Such is the world of opera in the 21st century. As it turns out, it’s a stunning production of a superb opera which was played and sung brilliantly. Why on earth has it taken 80 years to get here?!

Dance

I loved everything about the Royal Ballet’s Frankenstein. Liam Scarlett’s staging and choreography is excellent, there’s a great dramatic score from Lowell Lieberman and John Macfarlane’s designs and costumes are terrific. Pity the critics were so down on it. Why?

Film

Midnight Special is one of the best SciFi films of recent years. I was gripped throughout. The young actor playing the eight-year-old boy was extraordinary.

Eye in the Sky was another cinematic treat which I almost missed by reading the crits. Its edge of the seat stuff, but very objective in its examination of the ethics around drone attacks. One of Alan Rickman’s last roles, and he was great.

I have fond memories of Peter Quilter’s play Glorious, where Maureen Lipman played Florence Foster Jenkins, now played brilliantly by Meryl Streep in a film that is more poignant though also at times hilarious. A lovely film where even Corrie’s Mavis gets a bit part as a New York socialite!

The Hank Williams biopic I Saw the Light was a good rather than great film, but it was well worth catching. Tom Hiddleston is excellent and I understand he does the singing himself, which makes it an even bigger achievement, as the segments when he’s onstage at the Grand Ole Oprey are particularly good.

Our Kind of Traitor is another good rather than great film, different from the normal spy movie, let down by an ending that was a bit too low key.

I went to see Everybody Wants Some!! on the strength of the director’s last film Boyhood and rave reviews for this. I’m afraid I was underwhelmed. It wasn’t exactly Porky’s 8, but it wasn’t far enough away from it.

Though its ending is somewhat implausible, Sing Street is a delightful Irish coming of age story, real feel-good stuff, with terrific performances from its young cast.

Art

Sicily: Culture & Conquests at the British Museum is a lovely presentation of the history of an island almost everyone visited, but most particularly the Greeks and Normans. It made me want to go back to Syracuse post haste.

I didn’t know much about the work of American photographer Paul Strand until the Strange & Familiar exhibition at the Barbican. In his retrospective at the V&A I loved his B&W portraits and films but the abstracts and B&W flora & fauna did nothing for me. Lots to like, though. Across the road at the Science Museum they look at the birth of photography with an exhibition featuring William Fox Talbot, who just about invented it. The thing that grabs you most is how much the art / science moved forward in its first decade; the difference between the 1834 pictures and the 1845 ones is extraordinary.

Other Worlds at the Natural History Museum was a spectacular exhibition of photographs of the planets taken from satellites and spacecraft then touched up in a real meeting of science and art. Across the road at the V&A again there was a hugely clever exhibition called Botticelli Reimagined which showed the influence of this 15th century artist on 20th & 21st century design, then on late 19th / early 20th century artists like the Pre-Raphaelites before leading you into the biggest collection of Botticelli ever seen in the UK. In this last section, I overdosed on Madonna’s and other religious subjects, but it was a highly original exhibition nonetheless.

Other

Trespass is the latest in the series of passionate, funny, campaigning shows from one-man opposition Mark Thomas. This one, visiting the Tricycle Theatre, looks at the erosion of our rights to roam this green and pleasant land. He was his own support, with different material. Great stuff. If only the real opposition could pack such a punch, as entertaining as they are!

 

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Opera

I liked the music of The Firework-Makers Daughter at Covent Garden’s Linbury Studio but I wasn’t that keen on the production. I usually like this lo-tech style but there was too much I shouldn’t see and too much I couldn’t see in this production. The narrative isn’t the clearest, so I was surprised it was billed as suitable for over-6’s.

Art

The World of Charles & Ray Eames at the Barbican Art Gallery was much broader and deeper than I was expecting. The American design couple are best known for their iconic furniture, but they designed so much more. Like Mackintosh, Lloyd Wright and Gaudi, they covered almost every aspect of design including architecture, exhibition spaces, film and printed matter. Fascinating – and way ahead of their time.

Even though eighteenth century portraits aren’t my oeuvre, I admired the skill of the work of Jean-Etienne Liotard at the Royal Academy, even though he was better at fabrics than faces and some of his men were feminine and his women masculine!

There were some beautiful and stunning items in the British Museum‘s Celts exhibition, but by challenging and questioning modern thinking, it rather muddied the waters and became more of a review of North European history of 1500-3500 years ago.

Film

I rather liked Star War: The Force Awakens; it was well paced, didn’t lag and sustained its 2h15m running time. The 3D was above-average and the story seemed to flow and follow logically from the third film (the 4th to 6th being prequels). I’m now looking forward to the next two!

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