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!
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!