Thursday, 26 August 2010

In Pursuit Of Silliness

Hello everyone - I'm back! I got home from Toronto later than planned on Friday (much later) due to hellish M25 and M1 traffic. Phew. After catching up on sleep, I'm back to blogworld, happy to say hello and read up on what I've missed. Toronto was humid but great and now I'm looking forward to exciting changes in the next few weeks and months. For today, all I wanted to share was a little bit of silliness. Being silly is good for the soul, I think; often underrated and overlooked when feeling fraught/nervous/tired/busy. So to that end, I give you me and a Whoopie Cushion. If you have no idea what one is, the Wikipedia article is enlightening. (!) Couple this with the fact that I'm standing in front of a favourite picture of Audrey Hepburn exuding her usual poise, beauty and elegance and it becomes even sillier. I hope you find the time to inject some silliness into your day and have as much fun as I did with the Whoopie Cushion...

Photo by André.

Saturday, 14 August 2010


Put the kaleidoscope to your eye and look:

Squint a little and turn it again as the lights dance before your eyes...

The colours shift and change...

Definite shapes begin to form.
Is it any clearer now?

Hello Toronto! See you very soon!

By the time this is posted, I'll be fresh off a plane from Manchester and wandering around Heathrow. Back in a few days...

Photos by me.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Things To See: Matthew Bourne's Cinderella

Always an innovator and a maverick-- dancer, choreographer and director Matthew Bourne has been twisting and changing traditional ballets and stories for years now. As well as The Car Man  (Bizet's Carmen), Bourne has also turned his hand to creating dance productions of Edward Scissorhands and Dorian Gray. Classical ballet has also received the Bourne treatment; his is the all male version of Swan Lake you see at the end of the film Billy Elliot, and the first time I saw Nutcracker! I think my jaw stayed firmly on the theatre floor for the entire performance. I was enchanted, entertained and totally blown away. Tchaikovsky's famous score remains, but Bourne's Nutcracker! is a completely modern spectacle of contemporary dance; by turns emotional, dramatic, funny and exciting.

I read the other day that a revamped version of Bourne's 1997 production, Cinderella will be premiering at Sadler's Wells Theatre, London on the 30th November, running until the 23rd January before beginning a UK wide tour. The short clips available on both YouTube and the Sadler's Wells website are enough for me to be itching to see it already. This is Cinderella totally reinvented and just in time for Christmas...

Sunday, 8 August 2010

What I've Been Watching: The Man In The Iron Mask

I've seen the 1977 version of The Man In The Iron Mask so many times that I've lost count. If you happen to have not seen the 1998 version with Leonardo Di Caprio (playing Louis XIV as a pantomime villain-Lothario), then skip it and watch this older, but far superior adaptation instead. Unless you'd like to see Gerard Depardieu, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich and Gabriel Byrne enjoying themselves and hamming it up while competing for most luxuriant hairpiece award.

The story,The Man In The Iron Mask originally formed one volume of Alexandre Dumas' serialised work, The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later; his sequel to both The Three Musketeers and Twenty Years After.

Fascinated by the true and mysterious story of an unknown prisoner of the French crown who was reported to have worn a cloth mask at all times, Dumas took the few known facts and crafted them into an exciting tale of intrigue and adventure. The cloth mask became iron, and the prisoner, whose identity has long been debated, becomes Philippe, the secret older twin brother of King Louis XIV, whisked away at birth and brought up in seclusion at the behest of Cardinal Mazarin (chief advisor and minister to Louis' mother, and later Louis himself). Dumas invents the premise that Mazarin, hungry for power at all costs decides to bring up King Louis' older twin in secret with the desire to one day usurp the throne and set the legitimate Philippe upon the throne as a puppet ruler.

The unwitting Philippe becomes the titular Man In The Iron Mask when his existence is discovered by King Louis. As killing his brother would be regicide, Louis instead gives orders for Philippe's face to be covered permanently. Luckily for Philippe, however, help is at hand from the dashing Captain D'Artagnan, and so the treasonous plotting, adventure and swashbuckling begin in earnest.

The 1977 version may have been made for TV, but don't let it put you off. Directed by Mike Newell (Four Weddings And A Funeral, Donnie Brasco, Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire) it has a wonderful if not eclectic cast. Richard Chamberlain plays both Philippe and Louis XIV. Playing the hapless Philippe with sincerity, his real achievement is his portrayal of an arrogant, vindictive Louis. Of course, this is Dumas' and Mike Newell's version of Louis, and there is an element of contrived villainy. (Historical sources on Louis do not paint him in such an unflattering light- quite the opposite, in fact). Yet Richard Chamberlain's performance as The Sun King is subtle but striking. He wears the elaborate costumes, wigs and make-up with graceful ease (no mean achievement for a modern man unused to curled wigs, ribbons and heeled shoes).

Alongside Chamberlain, Jenny Agutter, Louis Jourdan, Ralph Richardson, Ian Holm and Patrick McGoohan make up the rest of the cast. Admittedly, it's always odd seeing Patrick McGoohan not being chased by a giant white balloon, but he plays the wicked Fouquet with dastardly aplomb.

The budget for the film was not inconsiderable: there are no shaky sets or dodgy costumes. The locations are gorgeous, alternating between English and French locations including Versailles, Fontainebleau and the Chateau Vaux-Vicomte. The production is lavish, and there is an interesting amount of attention paid to the rituals, etiquette and pastimes of the French court (the scene in which Louis, covered in gold paint, dances in a court ballet as The Sun King particularly stands out). The costumes are accurately and beautifully designed, for which the designer, Olga Lehmann was nominated for an Emmy.

The whole production comes together to create an exciting and interesting version of Alexandre Dumas' tale. I can and have watched this over and over again and always come away from it wishing it was just a little bit longer.

For an original costume sketch by Olga Lehmann of Richard Chamberlain and Jenny Agutter's costumes, click here.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Georgette Heyer Month At Austenprose

Thomas Lawrence, Miss Laura Dorothea Ross, c.1800

It's been a few years since I first cut my historical novel teeth on Georgette Heyer's wonderful stories. I almost shy away from calling her eighteenth century and Regency tales romances, as I'm conscious that such a label would put people off and bring about a host of sniffy remarks about trashy romance novels. The fact of the matter is however, that Heyer's historical fiction is romance, but romance that is perfectly observed, witty and intelligent. Not only that, Heyer's attention to historical detail (and accuracy) is nothing short of remarkable. Fashion, medicine, architecture, technology, entertainment and more fall within Heyer's sphere of research. She seamlessly weaves her information, as well as the events and politics of the day into her plots so successfully that they never feel laboured or boring. The information she provides is never merely an "information dump." Georgette Heyer's world is always entertaining and lively, her heroes and heroines are real and the ensuing love stories are always a joy to read.

Austenprose are celebrating Heyer's birthday for the whole of this month, and I was really pleased to discover that there will be daily reviews of Heyer's historical works, as well as other articles posted by avid Heyer fans and academics. Still something of an enigma, even after her death (once commenting, "My private life concerns no one but myself and my family"), it's always fascinating to read more about the lady herself, and to reacquaint myself with her stories, sparkling heroines and dashing heroes.

My own two personal favourites are the first two of her books I ever read: Black Sheep and The Convenient Marriage. If intelligently written historical fiction, laced with humour, packed with detail and a healthy dose of romance is something that interests you, go to Austenprose, read a review and take your pick! As for me; I'm off to read Black Sheep again... 

Image courtesy of The Tate Collection Online.