Sunday, 26 March 2017

'Flaming June' at Leighton House Museum

I finally made it to the 'Flaming June: The Making of an Icon' exhibition at Leighton House Museum yesterday. Leighton House is the home and studio of Sir Frederick Leighton in Kensington and it puts on exhibitions of Victorian paintings including those of it's former owner. 'Flaming June' was painted in his last years to be exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1895 along with four other paintings. By that time, Leighton had been President of the Royal Academy for a decade so it was an important exhibition for him.

The exhibition is made up of lots of sketches and preparatory drawings for these works and the highlight is the  room presenting the finished paintings in the same order as he displayed them in his studio (captured in the photo below) when he was visited by the Prince of Wales to see them before the public display.

Nice as it is to see the sketches the main event is clearly the five paintings Leighton did for the Academy, still in their original frames.

The painting that really caught my eye was ' 'Twixt Hope and Fear', described in the guide as being possibly 'a Roman empress or patrician'. My eyes were drawn to the sheep's skin, complete with head and legs. over the back of the chair and under her arm. This suggests to me someone a bit more rugged than a Roman and I decided she was a barbarian princess or queen and named her Boudicca.

She is proud and fierce but thoughtful, maybe the night before her critical battle with those Romans that resulted in her defeat. That strong arm and unwavering gaze, the rough robes and sheepskin, the simple band tied around her hair to keep it out of her eyes all shout warrior queen to me, used to being worshipped by her people. It's a strong composition.

The highlight of the exhibition is, of course, 'Flaming June', the languid lady dozing as the sun sinks below the Mediterranean on a lazy evening. Her bright orange, gauzy, see-through dress and her elongated thighs are main thing you notice, her bowed head centred in the sunset on the water in the distance, the flowers growing over the balcony to the right and the calm of a pretty lady sleeping all give the painting a sense of peace and relaxation. The careful folds and creases in her dress and seeing her toes through her dress are a big show-off 'look what I can do' challenge to other painters and rivals.

It's a lovely little exhibition and well worth seeing if you can make it before it closes on 2 April. The next exhibition is of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema over the summer and that will, I'm sure, be well worth a visit or two.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

'Sussex Modernism' at Two Temple Place

There's an interesting small exhibition on at the moment at Two Temple Place called 'Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion'. Two Temple Place is a Victorian mansion built by the Astor's and the inside is covered in carved wood decorations and some huge and detailed stained glass windows. It's a good place to host an exhibition like this, comparing the old and the new.

There's a wide range of artists in the show, many of whom I'd not heard of before, and a wide range of works - sculptures, paintings, sketches, furnishings, books and even two engraved garden rollers. It's split over two floors which helps with seeing the rest of the house. At one end of the large downstairs room is a 'Bloomsbury' section with paintings and furnishings from Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.

One of the highlights of the exhibition is a gorgeous painting by Duncan Grant, 'Venus and Adonis'. We see a pink, voluptuous Venus lounging on her bed looking out the window at a smaller Adonis running in the distance. The colours are marvellous (much better in real life than this reproduction) and it simply glows with life. The curves, the swag of the curtain, the fluffy clouds and the pink on pink of Venus on her red/orange bed all pulls you into a comfortable world and then you wonder why Adonis is running?

Further on from this painting is the much larger 'Bathers by the Pond' by Duncan Grant using a very different colour palette. It's a series of young men lounging around on a warm, sunny afternoon, some naked and some in colourful trunks (I couldn't help but wonder where you could get bright orange trunks these days). It's a very different painting and not as lush as 'Venus' but is quite arresting with it's large bush dabs to give a texture to the surface of the painting.

Another delightful work by Duncan Grant is a wooden chest he painted at Charleston with all four sides painted and the inside of the lid painted with the tale of 'Leda and the Duck', changing the swan to a duck. The front of the chest is painted with a joyous image of naked swimmer, with other scenes on the other sides of the chest.

There are also works by Vanessa Bell including book covers and a lampshade, but the most surprising were in the upstairs room and were two large sketches for decorating Berwick Church of 'The Nativity' and 'The Annunciation'. I hadn't expected to see religious paintings but these were delightful and hung opposite each other in an airy, light alcove that made them seem even lighter and more delicate and very early Renaissance. The sketch for 'The Nativity' compared to the finished painting in the church (below) is quite noticeable, particularly with the shepherd on the left wearing a jacket - which he doesn't have in the sketch - over his red jumper.

There are lots of other artists and crafts people included in this exhibition, include Salvador Dali's 'Mae West Lips' sofa on loan from Brighton Museum, a Henry Moore sculpture and paintings by Wadsworth (a detail of one is used on the poster above).

There's also a rather lovely 'Madonna and Child in a Landscape' by David Jones, one of the many artists I haven't come across before. I liked the muted colours and I liked the Madonna kissing her child while holding him protectively. It's a relatively small painting and is one of the few images that you can buy as a postcard in the shop. I'd like to see more of his work.

Two Temple Place was a new space for me and it's only open when there's an exhibition on. It's free to enter and have a look around so if you're in the area (it's just along from Temple tube station) then it's definitely worth popping in.

Monday, 20 March 2017

'Revolution: Russian Art 1917 - 1932' at the Royal Academy

Last week we went to see the new blockbuster exhibition at the Royal Academy, 'Revolution: Russian Art 1917 - 1932'. It shows the art of the revolution and the struggles that followed. There were lots of art movements on the go in those years in Russia with Kandinsky, Chagall and Malevich working, the new Soviet Realism being developed as well as traditional arts and crafts continuing and adapting to circumstances. We see paintings, ceramics, a giant mobile, and textiles, all depicting the art of revolution.

One of the first paintings that grabbed my attention was 'The Defence of Petrograd' by Alexander Deimeke. It's a monumental painting, almost life size and incredibly powerful - this reproduction doesn't do it justice at all. We see men and women marching to the front while the wounded and exhausted trudge home on the walkway above. The workers were given rifles to defend their home city led by Leon Trotsky, an untrained army prepared to die to defend their homes from the White Army. It's a very simple painting with a powerful story of workers rising up to fight their class and political enemy. I'm sure there are other versions of the tale behind the battles at Petrograd but I can only think of bravery and death and revolution.

Another stirring painting of revolution is 'The Bolshevik' by Boris Kustodiev, which is also the poster for the exhibition. A giant walking through a snowy St Petersburg carrying a huge red flag with hordes of workers following in his steps. Again, a simple image that can stir the blood. That's one of the gifts of political artists, narrowing the scope of works down to the key image or images, being very on-message in designs meant to raise the passions. Play on the archetypes and present a simple message.

There was already a lot of experimental art going on in Russia and the exhibition includes a couple of abstract Kandinsky paintings I haven't seen before. Hanging beside one of them were a few works by an artist I hadn't heard of before, Pavel Filonov. I know nothing about Filonov other than the notes beside his paintings that tell us that he died of starvation during the siege of Leningrad in 1941. The notes didn't say that he was still working up until that time but I like to think that he was.

I was fascinated by his endless tiny paint marks on the canvas to create his images, a strange mosaic style of different shapes, colours and patterns. I need to know more about Mr Filonov.

The 'star' of the show is Kasimir Malevich who gets a room to himself. The room was laid out to resemble the order of paintings Malevich displayed in an exhibition in 1929.  I recognised many of the paintings from the exhibition of his works a few years ago at Tate Modern and it's nice to see them again. I still remember a photo of his funeral procession at that exhibition that showed a stream of people following his coffin all carrying a poster of his 'Black Square'.

I like his simple, geometric paintings of peasants and sports people, broken down into a basic shape and distinct colours, such as his 'Peasant With A Rake'. We have a solid worker with an impossibly thin rake standing in a field with a village in the background. He was a theoretician but, even so, I wonder how he came to see in those terms?

As well as the paintings there was also a nice selection of ceramics with some wonderfully colourful designs and one of my favourites was a big painted vase labelled as 'Large Vase with Peasant Dance' by Ivan Ivanovich Riznich. I couldn't find a picture of it but it was covered all over with colourful scenes of happy peasants dancing, no doubt enhanced by vodka. I'd happily have that in my living room.

There were also some more 'traditional' paintings with some lovely snow scenes and I couldn't help but break out in a smile over 'Carnival' by Boris Kusztodiev from 1919 (one year before he painted 'The Bolshevik' above). It shows a troika in the centre of town with groups of people standing around in the snowy streets. It's a lovely 'chocolate box' type of painting and I quite like the idea that amongst all the artistic experimentation that was going on in Russia at the time, that people still had time for something like this. I think it's lovely.

One of the last artists we're introduced to is Kozma Petrov-Vodkin and his really lovely paintings. He was a great fan of the Italian Renaissance and Fra Angelico and this shows quite clearly in his painting '1918 in Petrograd (Petrograd Madonna)'. Those colours call out to you from across the gallery as being in the wrong time zone and belonging quite clearly to Renaissance frescoes. It's a painting of a worker on a balcony wearing a head-scarf and holding her baby and harks back to so many paintings of the Madonna and Child. It looked really out of place in the exhibition and quite rightly so to represent the full range of art in the revolutionary period. I will have to do some research into Mr Petrov-Vodkin.

The exhibition ended with examples of Soviet Realism and a small booth in which photos were projected of people arrested in the 1930s and sent to the gulags where many of them died or were killed. The hopes and dreams of the revolution didn't last long and soon degenerated into the purges and mass slaughter. It was so sad to see photos of ordinary people and a few words about their stories - teachers, accountants, farmers, Soviet officials, translators, academics - projected on a screen, the photos from when they were first arrested. I sat there to see them all, to witness their lives, as one by one their photos were projected in front of us, until they started to repeat. It was the least I could do.

It's well worth seeing this exhibition. I won't say that I enjoyed it since there was little joy, but it is powerful and made me think and ponder and made me want to know more. That's a good thing.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Fra Angelico 3/12

On the 18th day of each month in 2017 I'm posting a picture of a painting by Fra Angelico that I have seen and want to share to celebrate his Feast Day on 18 February. This month I've chosen the altarpiece in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, 'The Annunciation'. It shows that moment when the Virgin is told that she will be the mother of God's son and the holy spirit enters her in a shaft of light. To the left is the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, a reminder of original sin from which the Virgin is free, and, below the main altarpiece are five small scenes from the life of the Virgin, from birth to death.

It's a glorious painting, full of light and colour, with the angel Gabriel bowing to the almost enthroned Virgin Mary. The longer you gaze at this painting the more you see, such as the tiny detail around the hems of the clothing and the garden full of little flowers (some are carnations but I didn't recognise many of the flowers).

In the room in the Prado where this is currently housed there's a bench a few feet in front of this painting so you can sit and gaze at it for as long as you like if you don't mind other visitors wandering past. I sat there for a while, scanning the painting and then getting up and going closer when i found another detail I wanted to see. It rewards multiple viewings.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Seasons - Summer, Autumn, Winter & Spring

For the first time, in 2016, I learned how to slow down and actually look around me. I finally had the time and the inclination. I noticed the seasons and the changing of the year and I loved it.

Spring invariably marches into Summer with lengthening days and trees and bushes and flowers continuing to burst into leaf and flower before the inevitable decline of Autumn. But I've never really noticed the changes, not really. But in 2016, for the first time, I had the time to notice the passing of the year.

Here we are, on the doorstep of Spring, and I'm thinking back to those lazy sunny days of Summer and the first leaves turning that says quite eloquently that time is passing.

I signed up to do the 1 Million Steps Challenge to raise money for Diabetes UK in June and that would guarantee that I was out and about between July-September, the three months of the Challenge. This encouraged me to get out and explore my local neighbourhood and find out more about the area I've lived in for 25 years.

I roamed around Tooting Common and found new routes to get there and different bits to explore, trekked up the hill of Streatham Common to relax and marvel in the Rookery's gardens, enjoy the plants and flowers and wonder what they look like in Autumn. I walked down streets I'd never set foot on just to see where they might lead and what might be at the end. I discovered Brixton Windmill and walked to Dulwich Picture Gallery. There's so much to see within an hour's walk of where I live. And all under the glorious sunshine of Summer 2016.

I was so busy going out and exploring that I didn't have time to do things that I'd planned to do.

Then, suddenly it was September and I flew off to Madrid and the hot sun of Spain. Walking through the lovely El Retiro park in the middle of Madrid brought Autumn home to me since it was more advanced in Spain than at home. Trees covered in leaves turning brown and gold and red under the glorious blue sky and temperatures in the mid 30s. I hadn't really noticed the changing of the season at home but here it was, a prediction of what was to come.

It's lovely how a classic English Summer seems like it'll never end, a series of endless blue skies and fluffy white clouds meandering across the sky and then you turn round one day and notice that the temperature's dropped, that the leaves don't look as green and thriving as they did and the days shorten. It's always a surprise even though it happens every year. And last year I was able to enjoy it.

Walking on the Common and seeing the blackberry bushes laden, the hips and hawes ripening and deepening in colour, the increased activity of the birds and squirrels as they scampered around. Then the leaves browning, some trees turning before others and, noticeably, chestnuts littering the ground, the nuts crashing out of their shells and littering the paths under trees. That's when you see the squirrels really scampering.

Shorts and short-sleeved shirts were replaced by longs and by jackets to keep the arms warm but I still explored the Common, seeing different birds appear at the lake, some for a few days and others for a few weeks on their migrations to more exotic places. The swans still sailed serene, the lords of the lake. And piles of leaves started appearing under trees and the dogs joyfully leaping into them and making a fuss because... leaves.

One day it got a bit blustery as I wandered and I was caught in a storm of leaves and I just stood there with a stupid grin on my face. I was in the middle of a massive leaf fall whipped up by the breezes to make them swirl around me. That was magical. I felt so lucky to experience that, something that probably happens all the time but I'd never been in the right place at the right time before. It was a gift to help me open my eyes.

Some trees dropped their leaves sooner than others, and some keep tight hold of their last remaining leaves, brown and withered, even now. The colours of the leaves have been marvellous, so many colours brightening the Commons as the days grew shorter. It happens every year but I've never really noticed it before. I've been too busy getting from A to B and not really looked around me. I've finally had the time to look and I like what I see.

Winter wasn't too cold this year but I value the day the temperature dropped between Christmas and New Year and I went over to Tooting Common to check on the swans and found the lake half frozen. The swans were fine but I couldn't help a chuckle as the seagulls tried to walk on the ice and slipped onto their bums. Some things are funny.

No scenes of expanses of white grassland and trees weighed down with snow but there's always another winter around the corner.

I've always been pleased that I live in a country with four seasons - I want Summer to be hot and sunny and Winter to be cold and snowy. It doesn't often work out that way but I can hope. I'm really looking forward to Spring this year, to see Spring emerge as trees start budding and bushes turn green again. There's something delicious about that fresh, new green of new leaves shouting to the word that it's their turn now.

I wonder what miracles I'll see as I wander the Commons. I've already seen baby goose chicks paddling in the lake and hope to see baby squirrels taking their first scamper as buds erupt. It's marvellous to see the buds on the trees, some already starting to open with that new green and others of the international variety with blossom covering the boughs. It won't be long until the blossom blows off some trees like a late shower of snow.

I need to learn how to 'look' better, to see the creatures in the undergrowth as they emerge and explore. I'm really looking forward to this year, to see and appreciate the changes I'll witness. The season is changing again...

Thursday, 9 March 2017

'Tree of Codes' at Sadler's Wells

Last night we went to see the new ballet by Wayne McGregor at Sadler's Wells, 'Tree of Codes'. It had been created for the Manchester International Festival in 2015 but it has finally arrived in London. I say it's a new 'ballet' but the list of co-creators should instantly make you doubt that - McGregor has collaborated with Olafur Eliasson and Jamie xx to create this astonishing spectacle. This is more than 'ballet' but what is it?

Wayne McGregor clearly does bodies and movement and he's brought together dancers from his own Company Wayne McGregor with the Paris Opera Ballet to perform this work. Olafur Eliasson has taken care of the visuals for the work - Eliasson will forever in my mind be the creator of the Big Sun at the Tate Modern in the early '00s in the piece called the Weather Project. Jamie xx has provided the sounds for the work and a very good job he's done too, no two pieces of music the same but themes drifting through the soundscape he creates. No one element takes precedence and the three have worked to create a most beautiful whole. The creation is stunning.

What's it about? I don't know. Everything and nothing? It opens in darkness, lights out all over the auditorium and then there's a dancer, then three, dressed in black save for a few lights in different places across their bodies, and they start moving. All you can see are lights moving on the stage, changing and making shapes, blurring and joining with others, almost like watching amoebas grow and mate and divide at times. The music pounding and primitive and the lights - the lights are just as important as the dancers and it's the movement of the lights that creates the dance and vice versa. This is not your normal dance show. And we were off and running

The dancing was superb, never still, constant movement through duos, trios, small groups and full ensemble, finely tuned and dynamic. The work is 75 minutes long but the dancers seemed to be on such a high at the end that they could probably have kept going for much longer. Complicated steps, jumps, poses, some synchronised and others chaotic, they filled that stage with movement and beauty.

The visuals (as I'll call them) from Olafur Eliasson were astonishing. From pitch black with tiny lights on the dancers, to dancing in front of a cracked mirror to a clear mirror making it look like the stage is crowded, with lights going back and back and back to make the stage look huge and a screen dividing dancers close to the audience and those behind the screen. How were the dancers behind the screen reflected backwards in the mirrors but not those in front of the screen? I couldn't work that out at all and then, suddenly, something else is happening that drew my attention away from that conundrum. Dancers dancing in front of a blue screen which turns out to have been pink all along and a giant screen with two great rotating circles cut in it changing colours. I gave up and just indulged in the spectacle.

The music and overall soundscape is the other element that made this spectacular.  I was only vaguely aware of Jamie xx before this but I'll pay more attention now. The music was excellent, constantly changing in style and texture, pace and density, giving the dancers so much to work with. Lots of different styles in there (I was reminded of The Creatures early on) all pushing things forward with heavy, thumping beats and lighter moments.

I've commented before that great ballet isn't solely due to dancing, it needs the right music, the right sets and costumes, the lighting, it needs it all, a total package. That's what 'Tree of Codes' ably demonstrates. It's a true collaboration between Wayne McGregor, Olafur Eliasson and Jamie xx, all contributing their parts to make this a seemingly perfect whole. Even as I write (and this helps to clarify my thoughts) I'm still not sure what I saw last night, but I do know that I want to see it again. This run is sold out (and quite rightly too) so I can't see it again now, but I will when it's revived. This is too good to leave in the vaults.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Vanessa Bell at Dulwich Picture Gallery

There's a new retrospective of the work of Vanessa Bell at  Dulwich Picture Gallery which is well worth a visit. Vanessa holds a possibly odd place in the hierarchy of 20th Century British art and I don't have any feeling for how well known she is - or I didn't until I attended on Saturday afternoon and it was incredibly busy. She's the sister of Virginia Woolf and is at the centre of the Bloomsbury group, the creator of Charleston house which was often the country refuge for the Bloomsberries. So she's there at the heart of this early 20th Century coterie of artists and thinkers but is she known in her own right? If not, she deserves to be after this excellent exhibition.

The exhibition is made up largely of paintings but there are also examples of her photographs, her book covers for her sister's books (I was pleased that they were displayed as books and not simply as framed designs), examples of her textile designs for the Omega Workshop printed on linen, an example of her ceramics, a painted screen along with other designs for screens. There's something here for everyone.

Vanessa is, of course, the poster girl for the exhibition, with her self-portrait from 1915 on the posters and front of the catalogue. It hangs in the first room beside a portrait of her sister, Virginia, from 1912. It's nice that they were hung together. 

It's thinly painted and, presumably, done quite quickly. She did several paintings of Virginia, some with the face obscured or not showing, presumably to emphasise that Virginia's work was about the inner life, not the external. But I like this portrait, a young Virginia who has yet to hit her stride as a writer, still finding her own style and her own reasons to write.  I think that's almost caught in her eyes, heavy lidded and thoughtful, her body almost blending with the background, just the hair, the eyes and the slightly parted lips standing out.

Vanessa did lots of portraits of the Bloomsbury group, of family and friends, but what I didn't realise was that she did lots of landscapes throughout her life. There's a room dedicated to her landscapes, vast vistas of rolling hills or glimpses through a window and I loved the colours in them, very expressive and bold. One of my favourites was 'View of the Pond at Charleston', her home down in Surrey. The colours are lovely and warm, welcoming, as we see the pond in the garden through a window with a vase on the window sill. It's very comforting and welcoming, guaranteeing a pleasant stay at Charleston when you need it most. I like the curtain and the objects on the window sill, an interior looking out.

Another interior was 'The Other Room', the largest painting in the exhibition. We see a room with a vase of flowers just off centre, and then notice the three women all engaged in their own business, not talking or interacting. The blocks of colour and the swag of the curtain and pattern of the green arm chair. One woman looking down, one seemingly reading and one looking out into the garden - what is she looking at? The day is warm and still, so what's going on in that room? Have the women had an argument? I don't think so otherwise there would be signs of turbulence. They're in their own worlds and perfectly comfortable there.

Another 'interior' painting that caught my eye was actually called 'Interior With The Artis'ts Daughter', Angelica Bell, from about 1935. This is more thickly painted and a more detailed painting, with rows of books behind Angelica sitting in the arm chair in the distance. The foreground is taken up with a table with a vase, scissors and thread and a pamphlet and we look through a doorway to the library. I like the detail of the book shelves, of the rug and the table cloth and the other vase of flowers beside the arm chair. Vanessa seemed to like vases of flowers and they feature in many paintings, from these 'interiors' to still lives. Are we suppose to admire the decorative inside of Charleston in this painting or is there a message about the young lady reading? Who knows?

The painting with the most people in it and most people interacting is 'Bathers' from 1911. Partially clothed, clothed and naked, this group of people on the beach makes for an intriguing painting - what's going on? The colours are warm and sunny and the figures seem to be mainly female but what do these groups say to us? There are very young girls, older, teenage girls, woman as mother and a woman naked as Venus, overlooking the scene. There is also a figure in the striped skirt with a parasol gazing out across the beech. What is going on? I don't know, but I stood and looked at this painting for a while, trying to puzzle it out, wondering what they might have been looking at and when it would be tea time.  

There's a lot to see and consider in this exhibition and I intend to go back to see it again during the week when I hope it will be less busy so I can wander and gaze in a more relaxed environment. One of the portraits I really liked was of 'Duncan Grant In Front Of A Mirror', in which Duncan is painted from behind with his face in a scrap of mirror with a cloth over his head. What an original way of doing a portrait.

Well done to Dulwich Picture Gallery for a great exhibition and for putting Vanessa Bell clearly on the map. I've seen various paintings by Vanessa over the years but have never been in a room surrounded by her work and knowing there are more rooms to come. I thoroughly enjoyed this exhibition and fully recommend it. I'll be going back for seconds!

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

'Hamlet' at the Almeida Theatre

Last week we went to see the new 'Hamlet' on the block at the Almeida Theatre. It's Andrew Scott's turn to play our sweet prince with Juliet Stevenson as his mother, Gertrude. 'Hamlet' is a funny old play by Mr Shakespeare and one that many actors feel they have to do when they're successful and in their 30s. I've seen a few productions over the years and my first was Derek Jacobi back in 1978. I've seen bad versions (yes, you Michael Sheen, that was an awful production), versions I can't remember (the production with Jude Law in 2009 - I blogged about it so I was there but can't recall it at all) and blockbuster versions (Benedict Cumberbatch at the Barbican a couple of years ago).  And now the Almeida with Andrew Scott.

This new production is set in the here and now and has the added challenge of using technology, video screens, computers and video cameras beaming live to the big screen that raises and lowers occasionally. I don't actually have a problem with that provided it works and is done well. I don't think this is done well. For some of the critical scenes the court is sitting off stage with snippets beamed to the screen which means that we - most of the audience - can't really see them or what they're doing, especially if you're in the circle (which I was). So every now and then the main cast would vanish other than the odd flash of them. As well as being quite annoying it's also quite lazy - doesn't the director know that we can't see what's happening? Or don't they care because it's their vision and that vision must be right?

It was particularly annoying especially in the sword fencing scene when we need to see Gertrude's realisation that the wine is drugged and she will drink it herself (as this production plays it). We see snatches of this on stage as she drinks the wine but the moments before when she finally understands the position are missing. I call that shabby production.

On the plus side, I thought the cast were largely very good and spoke the verse well. Not all, but most hit the mark. I thought Juliet Stevenson was great as the happy newly married queen and later as the harassed queen trying to do the right thing. But then, of course, she would be. Peter Wight was good as Polonius, played on the verge of altzheimers but he brought life to the character. Angus Wright was the big let down playing Claudius, the murderous, ambitious, power-hungry wannabe king who played it all so diffidently I sometimes couldn't even make out what he was saying. How is that Claudius? Imagine John Le Mesurier in 'Dad's Army'.

And Andrew Scott? I thought he got it right, the right mix of madness and scheming prince, even catching glimpses of why characters like Horatio seem to believe in him and love him, something very difficult to achieve. But even he had some downer moments, like when he jumped up and down like a toddler in a temper tantrum beside Ophelia's grave (sorry, should it be a spoiler for anyone that she dies?). Hamlet has been sent to England, grown up and come to his senses by that stage of the play so the toddler impersonation made little sense.

The thing I really *hated* about this production was the final scene that someone has written when we see the dead characters hand over their watches to the gateman and enter the ongoing party in the afterlife... yes, I mean what? What on earth was that about? I couldn't believe what I was seeing or how trite it was. It spoiled the whole thing for me. And I'm starting to get angry just remembering it. Experiment with the play, bring new angles to it and keep it fresh by all means but, good grief people, at least have some taste and style and understanding.

The whole run is, I think, sold out so I'm sure it'll be a great success. Andrew Scott is clearly attracting his fan base to the show so it'll be good for him. Me? I wouldn't go again even if I could get a ticket.

The more I think about it, the more I think Rory Kinnear's 'Hamlet' at the National Theatre is possibly the best 'modern' production but, even with that, I had my doubts (bouncing on the bed with a duvet, anyone?). 'Hamlet' is a great play with some gorgeous poetry and excellent critical thinking and I hate to see it spoiled. Maybe I need a break from the play for a few years...?

Mind you, on the plus side for using the video camera and projecting it on the big screen, it meant that I saw Vanessa Redgrave in the audience. I last saw her in 'Richard II' at the Almeida last year so it's nice to see she's a patron as well.