Saturday, 16 July 2016

Sigiriya and Acrophobia

Twenty-odd years ago I went to the glorious island of Sri Lanka to travel around and see what was to be seen. I took a train up from Colombo to Kandy in the hills to visit the Temple of the Tooth and take part in the evening puja and travelled all over the place. One of the places I went to was Sigiriya, a rock fortress that rises out of the central plains and is murder to get to. The ruins of a palace are all that is left of ancient Singhalese royalty, along with some lovely frescoes on the way up the stairs. Ah yes, the stairs.

From a distance, it looks like the stairs up to the summit are built into the rock face, but they're not. They're built out from the rock on little stilts so you're walking over nothing but free air. Of course, I was part-way up before I realised this and by that time it was impossible to turn round because one set of steps led upwards and another set downwards. So I had to keep climbing and reached the top with wobbly legs and all I could think of was how on earth would I get down? Do they have a helicopter on stand-by to rescue tourists (I remember thinking this)? Do many people fall off in the average year? All sorts of things raced through my mind. So, I waited for the crowds to thin a bit so I could take my time getting down and started downwards rather than enjoy the fortress ruins. Of course, there was soon a long queue of people behind me but I wasn't going to be rushed. No. You can wait.

That's what started my fear of heights, the sheer terror of Sigiriya. And it's gradually got worse over the past twenty-odd years. A year or so later I was staying in a skyscraper hotel in Singapore that only had scenic, external lifts above floor six. It was dark outside so I got into the lifts not seeing that they were scenic above the sixth floor and imagine my terror as we went whooshing up? I got off as quickly as I could and walked up the stairs to find my room. That made for an interesting return to the hotel every day.

It's been getting worse over the years and while I used to merrily run up and down escalators I no longer do. I stand stock still gripping the handle like grim death and still think I'm going to fall. If I'm going to fall then I might as well get it over with and just let go and fall. And walking over bridges is just as bad - I can no longer do the Millennium Bridge of Hungerford Bridge and can only do Waterloo Bridge if I walk by the side of the road, away from the edge. I can't even use the see-through stairs in the Apple Store.

This is all very foolish of course and I know it is. But I can't help it. The panic sets in whenever I approach an escalator and I'm fine when I get off at the other end, all is forgotten and everything's fine. Until the next Tube journey and the next escalator. I've started to challenge this irrational fear and won't let it hinder my travels around London - I walked up the escalator at Embankment the other day and felt fine so perhaps that's the answer? Don't stand still and be a passenger, walk and take control? We'll see...

Saturday, 2 July 2016

'The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk' at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Last week we went to see 'The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk' at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe. I knew nothing about the play other than it was about the love of Marc and Bella Chagall so, naturally, I had to get tickets as soon as they went on sale. Bella was his muse for so many paintings - so many paintings of flying lovers, too - and I wanted to know more. The play is by Daniel Jamieson who wrote it 20 years ago but I've not heard of to before.

The play is essentially a double-header with just Marc and Bella for most of the time, joined occasionally by two musicians on stage. It opens with their first meeting before he vanished to Paris to learn his craft and to start becoming famous but not rich. He returns to Vitebsk in Belarus to marry Bella with the aim of returning to Paris but they get trapped there by the First World War and have to make the best of it. They survive through the Russian Revolution and eventually move on to France and then America where Bella dies during the Second World War. The play ends with Marc having lunch with the ghost of Bella - he's re-married by now but his new wife isn't his muse - and I loved the simple 'Sorry' to Bella for having re-married. She doesn't seem to mind.

This play is part of the 'Wonder' season, Emma Rice's first season as Artistic Director for the Globe, and is full of whimsy and simple magic. It fits right in with the 'wonder' theme - suspend your judgement and fall into the world this play creates, the magic and joy of love, and release your imagination. I loved it.

I wasn't desperately keen on the set with it's wooden poles sticking out all over the place but I loved the colour-washes that covered the stage with the newly installed lights.
Marc Antolin played Marc and Audrey Brisson played Bella and they had a lovely stage presence. I've seen Marc in plays before (including 'Into The Woods' and 'Taken at Midnight') and it was nice to see him in this dreamy production. Audrey is new to me and is definitely worth watching out for in future.

It's a gentle little play and I loved it. I'm very pleased that I've seen it. I even bought a programme.