Give me your hands if we be friends’

Review of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Globe, London

And so I’m wafted along the wobbly bridge with London twinkling all around me, a round dream the size of a globe. Tonight’s production has me under its spell, that feeling of complete helpless joy, the stuff of carnival and bacchanal, so loud and yet so soft. I’ll go anywhere, believe any trick now, after all life is but a dream…

This year’s production of MSND at the Globe is a carnival themed beam of joy that should light up every heart on the planet. It passed the Globe’s acid test – made standing, for 3 hours not only bearable but thoroughly enjoyable, for hundreds of people from the 4 corners of the real globe. It made us all feel alive and happy to be sharing this pop legend of a play with the actors, as if we’d all been drugged by Puck. And only cost a fiver! As Michelle Terry, the Artistic Director says, ‘Let’s reimagine what is possible when individuals come together across difference, in a shared space, a shared light, a shared experience’.

And indeed we did. Thanks to the brass band and various other playful: the “moonshine-Lamp was supplied by a real, live, audience member, Puck was a part seamlessly passed round all the cast, darting among us like a fire baton and master Quince, the director of the amateur play-within- the-play, was an MC and DJ complete with carnival float.

We feel like anything could happen; indeed, we might suddenly find ourselves onstage or falling in love with the person in front of us and out of love with our supposedly ‘real’ lover.

Midsummer Night’s Dream was written over the same 2 years that Shakespeare wrote both Romeo and Juliet and Love’s Labour’s Lost. And so, during this period, we see him lead us into Love’s labyrinth of dramatic possibility, from farce to tragedy, with MSND a trippy sleep, somewhere deep in a daze between head and heart.

The text was jerked up with improv that shouldn’t work but does, marvellously. A handful of people left, maybe they were tourists who’d come to see men in tights pretending to be Tudors, “Shame on them” I hear Shakespeare tut, this is how it’s meant to feel – lost in the woods, the magical psychedelia that panic brings, the uncontrollable fits of fantasy, the rabbit holes that our waking brains close off – this is Theatre, and tonight it drew us in, showed us ourselves, yet again, in a new form, yet again, unimaginable, fantastical, farcical, ridiculous even, but somehow real and true and totally disarming, totally free from gender, race, sexuality – rainbow upon rainbow of sound and word and dance. As the inimitable Bottom says:

“I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what the dream was. Man is an ass if he go about to expound this dream”

And so, if you are a half-assed critic/punter who sniffs and questions all sorts of things, like the fact that we were all asked to sing “Dancing in the moonlight” and there were jokes about Jamaica, and all sorts of ‘woke’ extras where added – know that this is exactly how the play was performed in Shakespeare’s day and for centuries after.

Indeed, shortly after the first production, it was put on as an opera and was later reshaped for 18th century ears by Mendelssohn. And so it’s right and proper for the sound- track to be what we are listening to now – The play is nothing if not eccentric, new, Avant-Guard, decidedly ‘outre’, with 2 cheeky fairy fingers up to the rules. Indeed, after one of the earliest productions the chief producer was put in the stocks wearing Bottom’s ass’s head because it was too bawdy.

This play lends itself to being cut up and reassembled in whatever parts we need at any given point in time. It will always retain its integrity, as if by magic – anything goes except the boring and the unimaginative – these two are unforgivable and must be avoided at all costs.

I would say, however, that it was all light and no darkness, that dark madness that the play is capable of, as we’ve seen in this year’s somewhat flat production in Regents park and the Young Vic’ austere 2017 production (the stage was mud, the fairies tramps):

Image result for 2017 Midsummer Night's Dream, Young Vic

But maybe this focus on the bright and jolly interpretation is because we need a lift, we need an antidote to bad news, we need some reasons to be cheerful.

Although light was the major note, we had just enough darkness to keep us grounded, with the added African magic spells and Notting Hill carnival threads. These chime with the historical and contemporary use of this play as a tool for defiance by oppressed cultures as varied as Native American, Polish Jew, Apartheid South Africa and Australian Aboriginal.

And now, in these days of climate change, the play reveals a new depth – Titania’s speech about nature being topsy-turvy – this was the moment, the passage or two in every Shakespeare play, that speaks directly to you, in your exact moment in time, and we are in 2019, when ‘toxic odours’ do indeed pervade our globe and the weather is too inconsistent to say if it’s winter or spring:

“The spring, the summer The chiding autumn, angry winter change

Their wonted liveries; and the mazed world,

By their increase, knows not which us which.”

The harvest at the time Shakespeare was writing had been one of the worst in living Elizabethan memory, and so, as we have now managed to wreak on ourselves, “a progeny of evils”,  we can perhaps share the feeling, as 21st century extinction rebellion Elizabethans, that the original hungry and exhausted audience must have had when they heard these lines than any other generation.

The rest of the performances seem to have come and gone, as a wonderful bopping dream, with perhaps the liveliest, most charming cast the globe has seen. Helena and Hermia’s catty face-off was one of the most realistic portrayals of their relationship we’ve seen on the modern stage. There can be a tendency for these two to be a kind of wedge parts, propping up the others, but here they shone out,  front and centre.

Image result for 2019 Midsummer Night's Dream, Globe

If the play was a glittering carnival float, we were on it, with them – friends welcomed into their clap-along, ding-a-ling, sing along good time.

This was a spectacle unapologetic panto, of irresistible misrule, where a bright flower-crusted turquoise bin serves as a bower fit for Her Majesty, and who knows? Our glittery Faery Queene might invite us in for a cuddle and a sprinkle?Image result for Midsummer Nights Dream, Globe 2019

There was a nod to Peter Hall’s ground-breaking, sell-out ground-breaking production,

Image result for Peter Brook - midsummer night's dream, Queen Elizabeth as Titaniawhere Titania, queen of the fairies was dressed as the 16th century Queen Elizabeth the First. Here we see Titania a panto version of Hippolyta, dressed as our very own hunting shooting fishing, Queen Elizabeth,  and Theseus as a camp Duke of Edinburgh in pink army dress.

All this and somehow, respectfully. I must say, however that some of the lines were lost in the daze of bright colours and music, that the poetry inherent in the lines was sometimes overdressed and bloated by the excesses of this modern production. That said, we looked up at the stars and at my fellow trippers and thought “We are laughing, We are actually giggling from tingling knees up, standing here, laugh-sway-whistling along…

And so were they, probably, 500 years ago, at this play, and then, like us, they left the brightness of their piqued imaginations and returned to the grey world of frowns and people who aren’t dreamers or dreaming, who haven’t been drugged by buzzy bee Pucks. The central line was a massive come down. Time to go, go back to sleep….

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at the Globe Theatre until the 13th October 2019.

Book your trip here

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Once upon a time in Hollywood….

..is a fable told by the Homer of modern cinema, Quentin Tarantino. With a pantheon of Hollywood gods, heroes and harpies, he weaves a dreamlike tapestry in vivid, acid-dipped tangerine, chocolate, fuchsia and blue, bringing it home with the blood red signature we have come to expect from all things Tarantinoed.
It’s as perfect a vehicle for Brad and Leo as you’ll see. Two actors, perfectly balanced on either side of a ’66 cream Cadillac. They reel you in, you are totally thrilled that they let you hitch their ride. You are safe with them, they tell a good story.

wheel cadillac
Brad keeps everything on the road with his cheeky charm and rusty biceps. Leo draws you in, fools you, again, into thinking he was born to play this part and only this part, forget Gilbert Grape, Romeo, The Great Gatsby or Wolf on Wall Street, this is the one. He is the not-so-has-been cowboy actor Rick Dalton, the fictitious star of TV western ‘Bounty’ that Quentin wants him to be. The year is 1969. It’s summertime, “The goddam hippies are everywhere”, and they’re higher and darker than they’ll ever be again…
I watched this, and heard it’s brilliant, Neil Diamond-studded sound-track with my mother, who’s of the right vintage to remember it all, as though the 60 years between were just another LSD trip. She said she was moved, which is as sound a seal of approval as you’ll find, she’s been there, lived that time, time when a cigarette was your index finger and a maraschino 🍒 was the definition of ever so tacky decadence.
If you’ve not seen OUATIH yet, stop now/burn after reading, the next paragraph dramatically spoils the fun, but is a must-read once you’ve seen ‘OUATIH’.

Sharon
And so we come to Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie, the wife of Roman Polanski, is a smiley feet-dangling side-show to Leo and Brad’s shenanigans. She is introduced as the unattainable love-interest, lusted after by blonde gods like Steve McQueen but faithful to her beloved Polanski. We are waiting for her to be brought into the Tarantino action, like a Thurman, to bathe the baddies in blood, but she remains protected, innocent, like a doodle daydream in the margins. Why? Does Leo really get the girl in the end? He’s invited into her house and seems pleased – but maybe it’s just because it brings him closer to getting that Polanski part he’s always dreamed of.
Tarantino has not only cut but changed what really happened in the end. Those of you who are 70, you already know the twist, you know who Sharon Tate was and how she, her unborn child and 4 other house guests were mercilessly murdered by the Manson cult members in what was labelled “the most horrific crime in modern history”, in Polanski’s own house. Why has Tarantino changed this? It feels right, it feels good, to see the evil doers go up in laughable flames, to feel the trauma averted, healed. The hippies are bad, but their evil is left at a superficial level, they are overcome, unlike the truth of the gory Manson murder. Tarantino explains, in his interview with Empire:

“I was just getting ready to do a deep dive, and all of a sudden I was just like, ‘Let me stop before I get started on this – do I really want to let the Manson family into my head, into my psyche? Do I really want to think about where they were all coming from?”
And so he didn’t. I wonder how Polanski feels, in his exile, maybe he is pleased to see the trauma erased, to see what might have happened in a better scenario, see the past rewritten. Or maybe he is angry at the near-farce of Tarantino’s horror, at the uncanny reimagining of his long-lost wife and unborn child.

Tarantino’s offering comes out with a couple of other films to mark the anniversary of Tate’s demonic murder. And for the first time her family have spoken out about it.

As someone going into the film without any idea who she was and how she died, I would have left it none the wiser, were it not for my mother filling me in. Now I do know, I find the absence of her death in the film a fitting memorial, leaving her spirit undisturbed, allowing it peace and safety, if not in reality, at least in the collective consciousness, which must surely be a good thing?

The other side of Florence

As a student in Bologna I made a few trips to this capital of renaissance opulence, bobbing up for air in cool basilicas before plunging into palazzo after palazzo, packed closely with more art than I could chew in a lifetime, let alone a day, before sinking into a bowl of something starchy somewhere shady, off the deeply beaten tourist track that circles Brunelleschi’s egg-topped duomo.

Now in my 33rd July, I’m pleased to be back in Florence with a little more time. I recommend you give Florence at least 3 days – enough to let it introduce itself to you in its own time. I’m not one for these prescribed “36 hours in” tours, which tie you to your map and your intention on getting there, missing the joys of happenstance. Cities like Florence, with so much to see and eat everywhere, are designed to be eaten whole, from seed to peel.

My favourite quarter is on the other side if the river,  L’Oltrano, across the river from the Uffizi and duomo , near the miles of box hedges in the Boboli gardens. Here, on the other side, is space and peace broken only by mouthwatering artisanal markets and brilliant buskers . Also, in seeming homage to the statue of Abundance (L’Abbondanza) that surveys this quarter from the top of the Boboli estate , there’s not a street or piazza without a place to feast on beef and udon-like ‘pici’, gnocchi, bean stew, wild boar and all manner of Tuscan treats, finished off with a basket of edifying almond-packed Cantuccini biscuits steeped in soul-affirming Vin Santo.

 

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Where was I? Ah si si, the other side of Florence’s  river Arno, bridged by the ancient, tourist-heavy jewellery arcade that is the Ponte Vecchio, joint equal with Venice’s Rialto, the most touristed bridge in Europe and possibly the world. As if by magic the tourist flow dissipates once you cross over, with the duomo behind you, as the Oltrarno’s network of clear streets welcomes you into its confidence. 

Here you’ll find a couple of palazzos now turned into public museums and art collections,  time capsules created by the 18th and 19th century aristocratic ‘grand’ tourists and later “cognoscenti”. Here you’ll also find the piazzas of Santas Spirito and Croce. The former is perhaps my favourite square in Florence. Its beauty is not it’s ornate medieval-renaissance architecture, that forms merely the stage – it’s the players: Florentines, students, immigrants, all milling about, lining the long steps outside the Basilica of Santo Spirito, letting the stirring of the busking dancers and musicians fan their ‘discorsi’ in the gently simmering dusk.

 

Santo Spirito

 There’s a 15th century convent on this square that the Catholic church have obligingly allowed to become a lovely hotel, each room blessed with its own character and heavenly views over the city. There’s one with a bathroom that looks like there’s a romantic painting of the cathedral on the wall, until you realise it’s actually a window with the best view in Florence. I’ll never forget having a shower, looking out into this with the evening sun and breeze flowing through the window, mingling with the smell of gorgeously cheesy opera music wafting up from the Piazza below.

Room with a view

Hopelessly sentimental I know, but Italy does this to you, it’s very hard not to be lost in ‘sentimentalità’ here. I have a friend who is one of the rare breed of non-Italians who have managed to penetrate the impenetrable ancient world of the Florentine artisan. What I wouldn’t give to have a little garret  in Piazza Santo Spirito and have a pastry and espresso under the trees before making my way to my cave-like workshop in a dusty side-street to work diligently and thoughtfully on an altar piece or a memorial stone of pietra dura, carving different stones into animals and crests and flowers before stopping for a beautifully simple lunch somewhere delicious and affordable

ribollita-camillo-florence

But back to reality and London frenzy we Londoners must go, thanking Italy for yet another beautiful city of art, love and of course, food. Here are some of the places I love in Florence. If you spot them, bene, if you don’t, bene, you will no doubt find your own treasures. The only thing I would recommend above all, is to stay in the converted covent in Piazza Santo Spirito, formerly known as Convent of the Sorelle Bandini (Bandini Sisters), now Hotel Palazzo Guadagni.

guadagni1-low

 

Review of Dunkirk

On leaving the cinema, I felt moved and a little seasick after 2 hours in Nolan’s stylishly be-washed version of the Dunkirk evacuation. Looking back, however, I do think he missed quite a few tricks. More sea and sky than man and action. And the dialogue? Sparse, garbled and inaudible. Tom Hardy’s aviator goggles will probably get the Oscar for looking up…Then down…Then up… Perplexed yet calm.

Branagh and Rylance get their teeth stuck in, no question, but the screenplay doesn’t give them so much as a tin of spam to chew on. Lank grey scenes lap the repetitive sinking-ship action, as each new batch of grey extras topple off the decks. One or two figures form a bond and are distinguished from the crowd with a few close ups, but we’re given little to latch on to.

The rich tapestry of Dunkirk stories that could have populated the shores of both France and Britain, are not here – The tales within and behind the queues for boats, the tales of heroism from the civilian seamen from other side, are carried solely in Mark Rylance’s father-son skiff team, splashes of colour in desperate need of background.

The scale of the recovery feat, termed ‘The Miracle of Dunkirk’, the sheer number of men and the relatively small number of tiny boats that ferried them all back, (over 300,000 men in only 700 brave boats, back and forth, in just over a week) did not come across, visually or mentally.

It would be interesting to ask the veteran rescuers if they think Nolan did the scale of their efforts justice. Perhaps they weren’t the focus he was after. But, of all the lenses he could have put over Dunkirk, it seems to me he chose a very obvious one and lost the chance to distinguish Dunkirk from other war films.

What was unique about Dunkirk and why it is now known as ‘The Miracle of Dunkirk’ was that it demonstrated human capacity for hope and fearless altruism, en masse, collectively.  Not the old story, tired and tested in every war film – man saves men.  This one could have been different – hundreds of ordinary people of various ages and both sexes, getting up and going, against all odds, for the greater good, at the last minute, together. Rylance’s civilian voice was good but it could never be broad enough to hold all that water. Nolan needed to scale up the message. It would have been a timely one.

Further reading

That said – Nolan’s Dunkirk has done a good job in whetting my appetite for Dunkirk, or at least what ended up in the editing room floor.

‘Dunkirk, the History behind the motion picture’

‘The Little Ships of Dunkirk’

‘The Little Ships’ (tale for your little ones not lucky enough to be able to sit on great-grand-parents’ knees,  told from a girl’s perspective)

Thoughts on Health and Artificial Intelligence

If it hadn’t been for a trip to the optician, I’d be, as my cockney gran and the Good Funeral Guide used to say, ‘pushing up daisies’. My sight had started to go, and it turned out that a tumour was eating into my optic nerves…

My life-saving optician pointed out:

‘Your eyes aren’t just the mirrors to your soul, they tell you how healthy the rest of your body is and, when you get ill, they do too.’

The only thing worse than going blind (I lost 70% of my vision before I had corrective surgery, and that was bad enough!) is going blind and knowing that it could have been avoided:

Eighty percent of blindness worldwide is preventable if detected and treated early (WHO).

Most people see blindness as one of life’s unavoidable poker hands, not realizing that regular screening can safeguard two of our most precious tools and that, if you’ve got a condition that affects your hormones, like diabetes (world’s top cause of blindness) you need to be extra vigilant..

The good news is that, with the help of a little Artificial Intelligence, we can now see previously undetectable/easy to miss pathologies in the eyes of say, diabetes sufferers or undiagnosed glaucoma patients. IBM Watson AI, famous for chess and Jeopardy triumphs, has begun to use its loaf to solve some of the most complex diabetes and glaucoma screening conundrums.

I was lucky enough to participate on winning team at the latest IBM & Ogilvy Hackathon. Our project involved the diagnosis of pre-diabetes. I hadn’t heard of pre-diabetes, let alone realised that one in three of us are at risk.

Doughnuts

I hadn’t realised that, if that one in three of us carry on with an unhealthy lifestyle, stress levels and being that wee bit overweight, we’re more likely to get diabetes, but that we can actually avoid it, quite easily, by making a few habit and mind-set changes..

It now occurs to me that whatever we can do to avoid diabetes, is also helping us protect our vision. All the more incentive for us all to look away from that Krispy crème for 2 mins and take the Know Your Risk survey

 

Read more

IBM & Ogilvy Hackathon site and Twitter

IBM Watson and spotting diabetes and glaucoma

WHO blindness data

Ads without borders

For 5 days last month, #MarchForGiants reminded at least 25,000 of us about the plight of elephants.

A 2,500 strong digital herd, created by brands and people, marched across billboards around the world, from Hong Kong to London and New York via Birmingham and Manchester.

It linked outdoor ads globally. No campaign has ever done this before. It’s the start of the outdoor web, the web jumping into our periphery vision, connecting us when we are out and about, above and beyond our pocketed phones..

During their digital trek, adult elephants wore corporate sponsors’ logos, while their babies sported the name and chosen colour of people who’d donated a £5/$6. Brands and people shared ‘their’ elephants on websites or social networks.

Elephant march

You might say that the elephants were just 2,500 corporate/personal brand vehicles, that  impact weighed against need was minimal. But let’s not be cynical. It’s a win win. Brands and, increasingly, people, like free/cheap exposure, elephants like marching.

I hope this new form of connected, user-generated outdoor ad, will see the ethical slant as part and parcel of it’s success. With all the water, food and fuel ‘elephants in the room’ just about to blow their trumps, this kind of a borderless approach to communication and action is what’s called for, urgently.

More about the march.

See how and why we should make More Space for Giants .

One a side note, I was inspired to draw some elephants and sell the prints to support the their cause.

Elephants etsy

How to survive the Roman rat-race and open Heaven’s gates before lunch

If you are going to Rome to escape the daily grind of commuter overcrowding, don’t set out for the Vatican.

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Never was there such an economy built on subsidized queue-skipping. And once you are in, there is no turning back. You must go with the flow of 25,000 tourist and pilgrim rats that run their trainer tracks through the Vatican every day. After all that queuing, it does feel like a race to make up for lost time. No-one stops to look at anything, the modern art display glides by in a  Sistine-hungry haze; eyes and bellies craving the long awaited micheangelan feast ahead.

And when you get there? Police not priests, and much firefighting of illegal android flashing. The police, in riot-managing mode, hurling riot-squad voices across the ‘chapel’ make you forget where you are and forget to look up, as they urge you to “keep moving”. There’s the sense that it wouldn’t be Christian to linger any length of time, that you are taking up scarce standing space for the next rat-batch to swell into.

Visitors-in-Sistine-Chapel

Guided tours can short-cut to the cathedral but humble individuals must power on through the halls of relics (if lined up, they’d stretch for 9 miles). However interesting they might have been to our un-queued selves, they can’t compete with the currents that pulls us all: the prospect of food or at least a moment of sitting down on a non-stoop modern Italian loo. Phew! Will have to Google Sistine-chapel and look at God and Adam’s garishly restored sinews from the time and comfort of my London broadband sofa…

But it’s not over yet, we still had Heaven’s gates to open, before lunch.

St Peter’s Basilica

Having paid to skip the queue for St Peter’s we found ourselves queuing in the queue for the paid-to-skip-the-queuers.

Then we paid some more to take the elevator and skip 500 steps to God and the top of St Peter’s, the world’s highest, largest stone dome.

With no expectation, only that tourist-tick-box feeling that we must reach the end of the last queue, whatever the cost, wherever it led, we were struck, as we came out onto the dome’s inner ledge, by a throat-tickling, eye-stinging awe.

The majesty of the sheer drop beneath and the arc above are enough to make even the most atheist of spines tingle. So many thousands of square feat of marble hosting so much space for thought and prayer and song.

Saint Peter’s is like a mountain. Humbling, terrifying, and yet intensely liberating and peaceful. Truly as close to a house for God as we humans can make. And, as a non-Catholic agnostic yoga, humanist-leaning type, I can say I’m unbiased.

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And so, after all this terrific peace and splendour, you’ll need something warm to bring you  back down to earth. Here’s where the Vatican’s canniest rats find the best crumbs:

Perdincibacco – pizza, spaghetti – simple, subtle yet traditional, bicycles hanging on the ceiling, wine lining the walls, you can sit outside if you don’t mind being in the traffic scooting round the Vatican. Via Delle Fornaci, 5/9 San Pietro.

More tasty morsels:

Near the Trevi and Pantheon

Za Za Pizzaorganic sourdough, charged by weight unusual twists like salmon + pots + mascarpone –  I was highly suspicious but quite possibly these bites were the best pizza moments of my life to date. Note that it’s no frills, just pure pizza  –  outside on plastic chairs in the pretty square. Piazza di Sant’Eustachio 49

On and near the Island

Tiberino –  cat’s tongue biscuits (like anorexic shortbread) and coffee or some homemade gnocchi, if it’s close to mealtime and you fancy being tucked away in the old attic by the bridge – better in colder weather. Via Ponte Quattro Capi 18

La Gensola  – sea-bass tortellini, fresh anchovies, tart lemon sorbet, fish is the thing here as you sit overlooked cartoon-doodled table-coths hanging on the wall , drawn by former patrons, well oiled with the excellent wine. Piazza della Gensola 15

Near the Circus Maximus

(and that stone face, the Bocca della Verita that thousands queue to touch, thanks to Audrey, Anita and Brigitte)

audrey_hepburn_e_la_bocca_della_verita

Volpetti –  best tonarelli (the Roman lovechild of tagliatelle and spaghetti) and anything you like from the sister deli (rated by Guardian as one of Rome’s 10 best delis).  Via Marmorata 47

Gelateria ai Cerchi – nice selection, nutty flavours are best, all good for gearing up for a ‘giro’ round the circus maximus.. or a queue to stick your hand in the old Bocca della Verita.. Via dei Cerchi, 61

Near the Botanical Gardens and Trastevere ( if you fancy a bit of peace and quiet)

 Da Gildo – woodfired pizza, homemade pasta, seasonal veg and  the best tiramisu of all time. Via Della Scala, 31/A

Where I’d try next

At least 3 of these 9 pasta places

Where I’d stay again

VOI Donna Camilla Savelli 

 – especially in Spring, when the magnolias and camellias deck the courtyard, a haven of 17th century ex-convent bliss with a breakfast that would have have had nuns confessing to the 2nd deadly sin every morning…