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Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

Arts Club production of “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” (photo credit: David Cooper)

Today is the anniversary of Jane Austen’s birth but, being unintentionally ahead of the game, I was already paying homage to her yesterday.  I went down to Granville Island (which is always far more joyous in winter than in tourist-ridden summer) to my very favourite theatre to see the delightful “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon.

Set two years after the events of Pride and Prejudice, “Miss Bennet” reunites the audience with favourite characters as they prepare to spend Christmas together at Pemberley.  The family arrives in waves, with the BIngleys and Mary Bennet arriving first, followed by Lydia alone (Wickham, obviously, not being welcome), with Mr and Mrs Bennet and Kitty to follow on Christmas Day.

But soon it is not just Bennets descending on Pemberley.  Lady Catherine de Bourgh has recently passed away and it has been discovered that, due to the conditions of her late husband’s will, Rosings now passes to Arthur de Bourgh, his nephew.  Mr Darcy has invited Arthur to join them for Christmas and soon Anne de Bourgh, showing much of her mother’s determination, arrives as well.

Mary Bennet takes centre stage here and, as played by Kate Dion-Richard, is wonderful.  In the two years since her sisters married, she has matured but no one seems to notice.  Jane and Elizabeth, when reunited, barely acknowledge their younger sister is in the room.  They don’t stop to consider how Mary must feel, left at home with their ill-matched parents, expected by everyone to remain a dutiful old maid, content to be quiet and alone with her books and piano.   But Mary is not content and she wants more, even if she doesn’t quite know what that would be.

She is still Mary – socially awkward with her dedication to absolutely factual statements, absorbed by lengthy dense books that her sisters can’t begin to understand, and happier in a library than a ballroom – but she is far more interesting and energetic than Austen ever made her.

Arts Club production of “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” (photo credit: David Cooper)

Mary is saved from spending the holidays entirely alone in the library by the arrival of a fellow socially-awkward bookworm: Arthur de Bourgh, played absurdly well by Matthew Macdonald-Bain.  An only child who went from home to school to Oxford, Arthur has lived in an almost entirely male and almost entirely academic world.  He is in no way prepared for his role as master of Rosing – or for a Christmas among the lively Bennet sisters.  He is particularly not prepared for Mary Bennet, with whom he instantly feels a kinship.  Their shared joy in discovery and learning, and their general conversational awkwardness make for some hilarious and heartwarming scenes.  Everyone in the theatre spent the entire first act, as these two got to know one another, with a broad smile on their face.

There are, of course, comic complications but it is a Christmas play – and more importantly an Austen-inspired one – so all ends well.

The set was gorgeous, all the actors were excellent, and every theatregoer had a marvellous time.  It’s playing until December 30th and I’m already considering going again.  After all, it’s hard to have either too much Christmas or too much Austen in your life, especially when it is this much fun.

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Opera and Olympics

rusalka_thumbIt’s a long weekend here in BC and I am determined to make the most of it.  To start it off, I went to my first ever “The Met: Live in HD” performance on Saturday morning.  For those not aware, these performances are broadcast live from the Metropolitan Opera in New York to movie theatres around the world (1,900 theatres in 64 countries, according to their website).  It’s been a clever (and successful) initiative (I highly recommend Ann Patchett’s essay on her love of these performances, included in her essay collection This is the Story of a Happy Marriage) and it was wonderful to see how packed the theatre was yesterday morning for the Met’s production of Dvorak’s “Rusalka” with Renée Fleming.

Now, seeing an opera on a screen is nothing like seeing one in person but it was still a great experience (and, not living in New York, the closest I’m likely to get to seeing this sort of production).  Fleming is not my ideal Rusalka but she still has a beautiful voice and this is one of her signature roles.  I brought my mother with me to the show and, as a native Czech-speaker, she of course had great fun critiquing everyone’s pronunciation.  I loved the Prince, I loved the Water Gnome, and I particularly loved the three nymphs who get to frolic saucily about while everyone else’s lives get progressively darker.  But most of all, I loved the sets.  The shimmering pond in the woods where Rusalka lives before being turned into a human was beautiful in every detail.  The operas I’ve seen recently in Prague and Vienna have all had budget-conscious staging so it was wonderful to see such richness on stage.  The whole experience was enjoyable and I’m definitely looking at the rest of this season’s offerings, wondering what else I should go see.

I’ve also been enjoying all the Olympic sports on television – and, because I’m hugely sentimental, all the tear-inducing interviews with athletes.  Really, all I do is cry during the Olympics: any interview, any glimpse of a grandparent cheering from back home, any particularly well-executed commercial is enough to have me reaching for the tissues.  Canada has had a great start with a gold, two silvers, and a bronze in the first two days and I am loving being able to watch the primetime events live early in the morning.  This twelve-hour time difference is working out quite well!  Plus it leaves my days free to spend outside (where it is usually cold and I am getting good use from my patriotic Team Canada mittens) or inside, with a good book (Lucy Carmichael by Margaret Kennedy is off to a great start).

Justine Dufour-Lapointe via @CBColympics

Justine Dufour-Lapointe via @CBColympics

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A Blue Room in Kensington by James Durden (via here

A Blue Room in Kensington by James Durden (via here)

It has been an unusually busy past couple of weeks for me but this weekend particularly so.  I have barely had time to sit down with a book, but that is what I have planned for the rest of the afternoon.  There is no ending so perfect to the weekend as spending a grey, wet Sunday afternoon curled up with a book, a pot of tea, and the knowledge that everything you needed to do has been done.

I have been reading Jane Ridley’s wonderful biography of Edward VII, Bertie, but for some reason I find myself unable to really get into it.  It is an odd feeling, especially since it is such a well-written and brilliantly researched book.  On every page I learn something new and Ridley’s writing is excellent.  But…what?  I am not sure.  I have never been much interested in Bertie, despite my fascination with other members of his family, which could be part of the problem.  As much as I have enjoyed what I have read, I have been deeply frustrated by my inability to sit down with this book for any lengthy period.  I think I shall probably put it aside for now and come back to it in a few months, when I can do it justice.  The fault here lies entirely with me and not with the book.

In order to kick-start my reading after my struggles with Bertie, I have reread Kristan Higgins’ Just One of the Guys, breezed through Dodie Smith’s Autumn Crocus, and am blissfully working my way further and further into Trollope’s Orley Farm.  The perfect antidote, it turns out, for what ailed me.

But most of my entertainment this weekend has been decidedly non-bookish.  On Friday, I went to the theatre to see Boeing-Boeing, a 1960s farce about a businessman in Paris juggling three fiancées – all air hostesses – whose foolproof plan for keeping them all separate falls apart when their flight schedules are disrupted.  The play itself is hilarious but the physical comedy in this production was what made it.  It has been a long time since I laughed so hard.

On Saturday, I finally saw Quartet.  The film is set at a retirement home for musicians and focuses on the four members of a once-famous quartet, played by Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, and Pauline Collins.  It is a quiet, uneventful film but a lovely and quite funny one.  While all four main characters give good performances, I loved that the film did not focus exclusively on them.  There were glimpses of the other residents as well, as they worked to put together a gala showcasing all of their talents and hopefully succeed in raising enough money to run the house for another year.  Michael Gambon’s turn as the flamboyant, snobbish operatic director in charge of the gala is wonderful – complete with a magnificently colourful and dramatic wardrobe – but it was lovely to also see the accompanists featured alongside the divas.  This is a home for lovers and performers of all kinds of music, for big names and forgotten ones.  And the house itself is gorgeous.  I am half a century short of needing a retirement home but would happily live there now.

Now, to ready myself for the coming week…but first a few hours with Trollope!

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Between work and a newfound passion for the marvellous Borgen, I have not done a lot of reading the last week or so.  By day I have laboured and by night I have obsessed over two season’s worth of fictional Danish politics.  I know many of my British readers will have seen the show and now I can finally agree with you that yes, it is amazing.  I have always loved shows focused on politics but this is the best I’ve ever seen, by far.  Writing realistic strong female characters can be difficult – it is certainly a discussion that comes up on book blogs often enough – but Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg is the best one I have come across in a long time and all the other characters are equally compelling.  But now I am finished Season Two (thank you, Internet) and have to wait until spring for the next installment.

In addition to work and Danish television, there’s been the usual mix of friends, family and volunteering filling my time and last night I was at the theatre to see She Stoops to Conquer.  I’ve got another theatre date for next week so am doing my bit to support the arts here!

Even though I haven’t been reading in earnest, I have been dipping in and out of The Gentle Art of Domesticity by Jane Brocket again.  I love this book and find it both comforting and inspiring.  It is just so eclectic and positive, full of appreciation for all the little domestic details that can bring one so much pleasure.

I always love rereading her book recommendations, perhaps because she focuses on books I already love, like The Home-Maker and The Diary of a Provincial Lady, or am eagerly anticipating reading, like They Knew Mr Knight.  I also really enjoy the selection of paintings she highlights, especially Summer in Cumberland by James Durden, which Brocket likens to “the domestic novels of Angela Thirkell with their tennis parties, rectories and lovely mothers…”  Well, that clearly explains why I was drawn to it!

I was also amused to come across a photo of bright pink and yellow fondant fancies that are a clear reminder of what those tiny cakes should look like – unlike the sloppy specimens presented on The Great British Bake Off finale earlier this week.  Though how you can get them looking that precise when making them at home (Brocket’s were wisely store-bought), I have no idea.

Right now though, what I am really drawn to are Brocket’s handcrafts – specifically her quilting, knitting and crocheting.  Maybe it is just the sudden onset of autumn that is making me long to take up such cosy, productive activities but I cannot deny the allure.  Technically, I do know how to crochet but it has been years since I made anything and I don’t even know where my hooks are after the last two moves.  I have absolutely no sewing skills but for some reason quilting seems the most attractive activity in the entire book.  My house is full of crocheted blankets (they are in every room and more are stored in every chest of drawers) but there are no quilts anymore.  The ones we have from my grandmother, great-grandmothers, and great-great-grandmothers are all too fragile for everyday use.  And I love quilts.  I don’t think I could live with the brightly coloured, dizzyingly patterned beauties that Brocket creates but I admire them nonetheless.  Maybe it is time to take up a new hobby…

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The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood’s female-centred retelling of the Odysseus myth, began its run at a local theatre this week and tonight my mother and I went to see it.  I was enthralled while my mother was a bit uncertain about the whole thing.  I read The Penelopiad as a book when it first came out and admired its echoing of classical Greek drama structures with Penelope’s monologues and her wronged handmaidens’ as the chorus.  This made it the perfect book to adapt for the stage but, at the same time, it was those classical conventions that my mother found too experimental.  She missed the dialogue and interaction between characters, considered the staging excessively minimal, and just thought everything was rather odd (which, to be fair, it kind of is and I was much better prepared for that than she).  But I loved, loved, loved it.  I loved Penelope’s wry sense of humour, the actress’ excellent delivery, the haunting repetitions by the handmaidens, and, most of all, the incorporation of beautiful songs into a number of the scenes.  Penelope singing to her son or with her handmaidens, sailors telling of Odysseus’s adventures…all the songs were excellent and cleverly incorporated into the show.  I had no idea there was going to be any music at all so it was a delightful surprise. 

And what made it all even better was overhearing people say, as we were leaving the theatre, ‘I can’t wait to get home and start rereading The Odyssey.’

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