Culture Vulture


One of the benefits of teaching is the longer than average holidays, allowing for true rest and recreation rather than a few rushed days snatched here and there. Over Christmas I was able to thoroughly enjoy myself and see friends I have been ignoring since I started teaching in September, as well as catch up on some culture. On the very night I broke up from school, I hot footed it to London to meet two old school friends. We had tickets to see Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty at Sadler’s Wells. I knew that it was being turned into a ‘Gothic Fairytale’, but I didn’t expect it to be Twilight in tutus…oh, yes! Believe it or not, the twist in the tale is that the fairies are actually vampires! The first section, before Sleeping Beauty falls into her 100 year slumber, is a beautiful feast for the eyes, with an Edwardian tea party, a wonderfully lifelike puppet baby climbing the curtains and some gorgeous costumes. The dancing is not classically complex; there is no en pointe work and no impressive jumps or pirouettes, but the overall effect was spellbinding nonetheless. In the second half, things become a little more…interesting. We fast forward to the present day, where punk vampire fairies dance in night clubs and Sleeping Beauty’s true love, who has been turned into a vampire in order to survive long enough to awaken her, dances in a tracksuit. I didn’t really get the point of this section, and though it was visually very arresting, and not to mention highly inventive, it just didn’t strike a chord with me. When I saw Swan Lake in New York I felt moved by the exquisite dancing, but during Sleeping Beauty I just felt confused. I had to work hard to understand what was actually happening and who was who; there was a lack of coherence to the narrative and the vampiric element was bizarre rather than brilliant. As much as I appreciate what Bourne was trying to do, watching this made me realise that I am more into traditional ballet, and I’ll be sticking with the Royal Ballet from now on!

The Dark Earth and the Light Sky

Over New Year I stayed with the lovely Miranda in London, and we booked ourselves two thrilling theatre trips. First up was The Dark Earth and the Light Sky at the Almeida Theatre, a wonderful art house theatre in Islington. I discovered this play thanks to Mary; it tells the story of the relationship between the poets Edward Thomas and Robert Frost through the eyes of Thomas’ wife Helen, and while neither of us knew much about either poet, we were intrigued enough by the rave reviews to want to go and see it. I’ve had Thomas’ biography by Matthew Hollis and Helen Thomas’ autobiography of their life together on my shelves for ages, so I hoped that the play would give me the push I needed to actually pick them up. Thankfully, it did; we were both absolutely mesmerised by it. The acting was sublime, the script both desperately moving and hilariously funny, and the story of these men’s lives and relationships completely arresting. It’s probably one of the best plays I’ve ever seen, and has made me want to learn everything I can about these two men, and the women they loved and were loved by. Serendipitously, while charity shopping the following day, I stumbled across Eleanor Farjeon‘s memoir of her relationship with Edward Thomas. Apparently it’s rather rare and hard to get hold of, so I feel very lucky indeed that it crossed my path!


The following day, we went to see Kiss Me Kate at the Old Vic. I didn’t really know much about it before going in, and was bowled over by how much fun it was. A play within a play, it is about a stage troupe putting on a performance of The Taming of the Shrew, where the two lead actors are recently divorced from one another and at each others’ throats behind the scenes. Originally written by Cole Porter, the songs are brilliant and the dialogue is sparklingly witty. It was a colourful and entertaining spectacle that had been very well thought through and was marvellously acted – just what you’d expect when Trevor Nunn is at the helm! It’s definitely a must see, and is on until March, so there’s plenty of time to catch it if you fancy going!


Finally, Miranda and I finished our glut of culture by watching a film I’ve been meaning to see for a while, Liberal Arts. Set on the leafy campus of an Ohio Liberal Arts college, it tells the story of thirty something Jesse, who has reached a cross roads in his life. He has broken up with his girlfriend, has a dead end job he doesn’t enjoy, and no plans for the future. Once an idealist with a love of Romantic poetry, his adulthood has not quite turned out as he dreamed it would when he walked the halls of his much beloved alma mater. When his old Professor calls him up out of the blue to invite him back for his retirement dinner, Jesse jumps at the chance to revisit his past. He doesn’t expect to find himself drawn into the lives of several of the current students during his trip, and nor does he anticipate his surprising interactions with his former Professors; both of these will open his eyes in more ways than one, and give him a much needed fresh perspective on his adult life. I found it a heartwarming and moving film, that really got to the heart of how adult life can crush the youthful idealism of those heady university days, when anything seems possible. It reminded me very much of my own student experience at a similarly leafy and bohemian campus, and made me wonder where that naive girl who believed the best in people and thought she could change the world has gone. Maybe I need to go on a similar trip to rediscover my student self; strip off the layers of these past few years of real life and dare to believe in possibility again. I think that would be a good aim for 2013!


  1. mary says:

    What a wonderful book find, Rachel. It’s funny how those those serendipitous discoveries happen and I wonder how many times we’ve passed over the same book because it wasn’t the right moment. And now I’ll make you jealous because I’ve just happened upon a 1p copy of Marghanita Laski’s Love on the Supertax … which is taking AGES to arrive. Well, four days, but I’m impatient having been on the lookout for years.
    I think the key to Matthew Bourne is forget ballet … if you start thinking ballet, you realise he’s a very drab choreographer but as theatre, it can be brilliant. (Swan Lake, Cinderella, Play Without Words … but his Nutcracker was feeble.)
    I appreciate that I am the wrong age to have even ventured into the cinema for Liberal Arts of which all I can remember is feeling that Josh Radnor doesn’t half love hisself as we used to say in the north.

    1. bookssnob says:

      I know, didn’t I get lucky? And I’m NOT JEALOUS AT ALL because I have had a copy of Love on the Supertax for ages. I just haven’t read it! But I didn’t pay 1p for it, so you do win there! Maybe we should read it together?!
      Yes I think I should have done that. He is more theatre than dance, isn’t he?
      Oh Mary! I thought it was very thoughtful and true. Though he totally wouldn’t have got Elizabeth Olsen.

      1. mary says:

        I should have known I couldn’t get one over on you, Rachel. Tall people in bookshops, huh! Bet it was on the top shelf!

      2. bookssnob says:

        You shorties miss a lot of good stuff! 😉

      3. mary says:

        Now, now, be nice … I know we do! And I’m too short-sighted to see what’s up there! I started it this afternoon, so jump in – I’ve only read a chapter. It’s a bit whimsical, not really ML on top form. You’d polish it off in an evening. So would I, except I’m supposed to be at my desk working, not commenting on blogs!

      4. bookssnob says:

        Hehehehe! I’ll try it soon. I should be working too. Some year 9s are going to have nothing to do tomorrow if I don’t get cracking!!

  2. flat stanley says:

    Re. Matthew Bourne, I was equally baffled by his Cinderella, visually stunning – but I thought I knew the story of Cinderella – how wrong I was !!!!
    Loved his earlier works, Carman, Swan Lake and the ultra colourful Nutcracker (adored the image of the Turkish Delight, a sort of oily spiv type.
    Maybe he has bigger budgets now & goes a little OTT.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Yes, I think he gets a bit carried away…I’d love to see him do a musical!

      1. mary says:

        He did that wonderful Mary Poppins, Rachel – and Oliver, I think, too, though I didn’t see it.

      2. bookssnob says:

        Oh of course! I saw Mary Poppins!! Silly me!

  3. I’ve seen the filmed versions of Swan Lake & The Nutcracker & really liked them – and omigosh – yes! – Turkish Delight – that was such fun. Bourne adds a very contemporary twist to the ballet choreo – it was interesting to see the female dancers in soft shoes much (most?) of the time. I wouldn’t dump the classical versions, but it’s grand to see a creative variation.I do so envy your access to the live productions, and your sharing of your impressions.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Yes, much of Sleeping Beauty was in bare feet. I do like creativity in dance but I am a bit of a purist when it comes to ballet and I particularly love en pointe work so I was disappointed not to see more of that. Glad I can share with you – maybe this will be filmed as well!

  4. Jenny says:

    I…do not understand. This vampire business. I don’t understand. It sounds like a joke except that I know it is real.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Me either. It’s become a ridiculous societal obsession. Every single 11 year old manages to shoehorn vampires into their homework and I have HAD ENOUGH.

  5. cbciucci says:

    I’m rather jealous of your theatre spree, especially because of Kiss Me Kate. It sounds like a delightful play, and a very clever idea. I wish I were in England now so I could watch it. Sleeping Beauty, on the other hand… if I never have to hear about another story about vampires finding love, it’ll be too soon.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Oh yes, Kiss me Kate is lovely. I think there is a film? Same here – I am absolutely sick to the back teeth of vampires!

  6. I’m having another jealous-of-people-living in England attack, because I so wish I could just trot to London and see The Dark Earth and the Light Sky! I read Helen Thomas’s book a couple of years ago, and it absolutely pierced me. I was drawn into the world of Helen, Edward and Eleanor Farjeon, and again, jealousy, because I would so love to have joined in the group Dove Grey Reader writes about, that read the books and visited the sites over a long period, lucky mortals! I do recommend Helen Thomas strongly to you, and you have just done me a favor, because I always felt that Eleanor Farjeon’s part of the story was the missing bit, and didn’t know she’d written about it – and I just found an inexpensive copy of the book you just mentioned! So, thanks.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Sorry Diana! I have just started reading Helen Thomas’ book and it is brilliant so far. I can’t wait to read Eleanor Farjeon’s account as well, because I do get the impression that Helen’s recollections are rather idealised. Glad you’ve found a copy of the Farjeon – you must let me know how you find it. Perhaps you could come to England and do an Edward Thomas trip rather than an Austen one next time?!

  7. Deb says:

    You do have the most interesting arts-related adventures! I’m with you on much if these modern interpretations of classical ballets–it’s like Mozart being done by a punk rock band: yes it can be done, but why?

    1. bookssnob says:

      Thanks Deb! Yes, I agree entirely!

  8. Vipula says:

    Vampires? Seriously? What is with the world and their fascination with vampires ? I personally find it so annoying. I think they should have left it at Dracula!

    1. bookssnob says:

      I know! It really is getting ridiculous!

  9. Chrissy says:

    Rachel and Miranda, of course you prefer classical ballets – aren’t you Old Fashioned Girls after all?

    Matthew Hollis’s book is brilliant and moving. I’d love to see that production – if I could only get to London!

    If you like Eleanor Farjeon’s take on things, as I do very much, I think you would really enjoy her autobiography A Nursery in the Nineties. It is wonderful. She was very shy, very intelligent but because of her home education had little social life. I was so happy to discover when I read M Hollis’s book that she found deep and lasting friendships. I thought she was going to be stuck in that nursery forever. But even Beatrix Potter got away so perhaps not all Victorian and Edwardian young women were crushed by their genteel circumstances.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Hehehe yes we are! 🙂

      That book sounds wonderful, Chrissy – if Eleanor and I get along, I will certainly track it down. You really do know so much!

  10. Ah, we did have such fun! I can’t wait for future cultural escapades! x

    1. bookssnob says:

      Me either! 🙂

  11. Simon T says:

    I had no idea Eleanor F and Edward T had an affair – or, if I did, I’d forgotten. Lucky you!

    Liberal Arts didn’t really appeal from the other review I’ve read, but you make it sound more intriguing…

    1. bookssnob says:

      Oh yes…not sure how much of an affair it was though, considering Eleanor was rather old maidish…

      Oh it’s definitely worth seeing, Simon! I felt a bit emotional and everything – loved it!

  12. Darlene says:

    As It Was is one of those books I hugged to my chest when the last page was turned. Simon let me know that the rest of the story isn’t quite as warm and fuzzy so I keep putting off going any further.
    Don’t you just love sitting in a theatre waiting for the lights to dim?!

    1. bookssnob says:

      I just started reading last night, Darlene! It’s brilliant so far. Yes, the rest of the story is sad. Stay where you are
      Yes I do – it’s such a thrill!!

  13. Lisa G. says:

    As I was scrolling down your blog post, as soon as the third photo came into view I thought it must be either The Taming of the Shrew or Kiss Me Kate. Sounds like you’ve had a very nice break!

    1. bookssnob says:

      The costumes are very good, aren’t they?! I did indeed!

  14. Ed says:

    I have to agree with vipula. Vampires were fun the first 50 or so times they were used in TV shows etc, but everyone seems to be just copy catting now.

    1. bookssnob says:

      I completely agree! I’m so bored of it!

  15. Diana says:

    Nothing like a culture vulture holiday! I loved reading your thoughts about these. I’ve been dying to see Kiss Me, Kate. If only I were on that side of the pond.

    Ah, well. I did manage to snag some tickets to Sundance Film Festival screenings this year, so I can’t complain that there’s no culture here. (I still might, though. ;))

    I love these posts of yours!

    1. bookssnob says:

      Its a shame you can’t just hop over for the afternoon! I’d love to see the Sundance Film Festival – you are very lucky!!

      Thanks, so glad you enjoy! 🙂

  16. Rhian says:

    What a wonderful culture adventure. You certainly packed a lot in. My cultural adventures tend to be much more spread out.
    I went to see Sleeping Beauty last week, and did rather enjoy it. Not, for me, as good as his Swan Lake or Dorian Grey, but still a lot to enjoy.
    We are going to see Kiss Me Kate in February, and I’m really looking forward to that. It’s my favourite musical (well one of my favourites), and we saw The Taming of the Shrew at the Globe in the summer, so it it “fits” quite nicely.

    1. bookssnob says:

      Glad you had a chance to see it and that you enjoyed it, Rhian. It was a spectacle!
      Brilliant – you’ll love Kiss me Kate, I’m sure. What a perfect fit with your earlier visit to the Globe – you’ll probably pick up far more references than I was able to. It’s been a while since I’ve read The Taming of the Shrew!

      1. Rhian says:

        I was looking out for Kiss Me Kate as soon as I saw it was at Chichester, in the hopes it would transfer to London. But seeing a recommendation by someone I “know” makes me even more eager.

  17. Kinga says:

    Last week I went to Almeida Theatre as well to see the Turn of The Screw, brilliant show as well. Almeida was such an amazing discovery!

    Also, Liberal Arts looks very interesting. Will rent it this week. Many thanks!

    1. bookssnob says:

      I’m going to see The Turn of the Screw in half term – can’t wait! It’s such a brilliant theatre! Hope you enjoy Liberal Arts!

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