Saturday, 16 November 2013

The Real Jane Austen - Paula Byrne at Leicester Literary Festival

I went to listen to Paula Byrne talk about her biography of Jane Austen last night – The Real JaneAusten – A Life in Small Things, as part of Leicester University’s brilliant but under-attended Literary Leicester Festival.  I can’t believe anything so good is for free!

I have to admit I’ve not yet read Paula’s book, although I’m going to put that right as soon as possible.  I guess I thought well, what else is there to say about Jane Austen, but Paula’s biography with the structure of using objects to take a new look at Jane’s life sounds fascinating.  Paula has taken things that were close to Jane,  such as a silhouette and an East Indian shawl, to take a new look at Jane and explode the myth that the author spent all her life in her Hampshire cottage, coyly hiding her work from others. 
Paula was so far away from the stereotype of an academic and was fast-talking, witty and warm and so lovely at the book signing afterwards.  She looked very glam too in LBD – apparently she was going to Leicester’s Champagne Bar afterwards – a good choice I have to say.
Most of the audience made middle-aged me feel positively young and I wonder why there weren’t more students there – particularly those reading English Lit at either Leicester University or De Montfort. 

I know, I know, it was Friday night and students have got far better things to do – but you could take a wine chaser  in with you and it was only was only 6.00 – 7.15 pm, which leaves plenty of time for partying afterwards, as Paula proved.

The Good: Paula was a very engaging speaker and made me want to read the book.
The not so good: Lady Antonia Fraser who was scheduled to be on after Paula had been taken ill and had to cancel.

Go again: Definitely – Leicester Literary Festival has some brilliant, engaging speakers and given it’s a FREE event should be so much better attended.


Thursday, 7 November 2013

Swan Lake, The Curve, Leicester

Swan Lake at Curve Theatre, Leicester
©Curve Theatre
On a miserable November evening, The Curve was a beacon of lit-up floor to ceiling windows, big,  multi-coloured Christmas tree style light bulbs strung garland style across the windows.  I’ve got used to the inside now and like the  huge spaces:  a cross between an aircraft hangar and a factory with all the gleaming pipes above looking as though they’re wrapped in bacofoil. 

Swan Lake at The Curve, Leicester
Swan Lake©Bill Cooper
We were at The Curve for Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, the story revolving around the Prince, like a slumping shouldered Rodney from Only Fools and Horses with mental health and alcohol issues.  He was pathetically desperate for love, which wasn’t coming from his Queen, played like a controlling but rejecting mother rather than partner.

I loved the sleazy bar scenes, the ballet within a ballet that the Prince and his entourage watched and the laugh-out-loud humour when the Prince’s fluffy-love interest’s mobile went off while they were watching the ballet and us in the audience thinking, OMG – is that mine?

The swans’ dancing was amazing, perfectly choreographed, although the principal white swan’s chest was sweating like past-by-sell-by-date pre-packed ham, but I’m sure it couldn’t be helped.
Swan Lake at The Curve, Leicester
Swan Lake©Bill Cooper
The scene where the prince unravelled further was set in a ballroom with huge pillars and two great Olympic style torches suggesting the power of the old Eastern Bloc and then the Stranger arrived, like some Russian Mafia man, slapping his black leather trousers, big, bold and dominant, turning every woman’s head not to mention the Princes’, although once again he was rejected.
The female dancer’s costumes in this scene were fabulous:  a black velvet suit with sequin revers, a net dress with two butterflies of chiffon protecting the dancer’s modesty.  The fluffy love interest was in black sequins and lace and the Queen, most definitely the Queen Bee, was in serious scarlet with layers of black beneath.  And how did they manage to dance in high heels?  Only one pair of proper ballet shoes to be seen and that was in the ballet within the ballet.

Next the bewildered, mad, prince is in a blindingly white room, the sinister Svengali figure in cahoots with the Queen, orchestrating electrolysis treatment delivered by robotic, masked medic dancers and … well .. it’s never going to be a happy ending is it?

Overall, this Swan Lake production was one that you could love on so many levels.  The dancing, of course, but even if you aren’t into ballet, the costumes and the scenery were great as well as the actual acting.  I’d not appreciated what good actors that dancers also need to be to convey action and moods with everything being conveyed through body language rather than speech.
The Good:  Going to a ballet and really enjoying it.
The Not so Good: My coffee at the interval was in a horrible, disposable cup.
Go Again: Definitely, I'd like to see another ballet – The Nutcracker maybe?



Monday, 4 November 2013

Winter in Middle England

Clocks have gone back, it’s getting dark:  what to do about winter?  Embrace it or fight it?  In my middle-aged manner I’m going to sit on the fence and do both, so this month, I’m going to:

Fight it

©Turtle Bay
I've heard it's really popular and difficult to get a table, but I want to eat at Turtle Bay in Highcross.  A friend went there recently and said it was just how she remembered beach bars in Barbardos – it sounds a bit of a stretch to me – Highcross to Barbados, and it may be her middle-aged, febrile imagination, but I’m more than willing to go with the fantasy.   She said the spicy food, cocktails and service were brilliant.

Dos Hermanos, Leicester
Carrying on my usual night out at Dos Hermanos on Queens Road, Leicester.  I love sipping a glass of Cava in the front bar while nibbling on the freebie tapas you sometimes get early doors.  With it's chandeliers, sepia photos of South America, tiles; old wood and general over the top d├ęcor, despite the darkness and cars swishing by in the rain outside, you could be in a bar in Havana.

The Alpine Bar, Asfordby, Leicestershire
©The Alpine Bar

Embrace it

With it's ski theme, you can't get more winter than the The Alpine Bar, Asfordby, Leicestershire.  Decked out log cabin style like a French Alpine ski bar it's  rustic with huge wooden tables, blankets draped over backs of chairs and a big wood burner surrounded by sofas.  The theme is continued into the food with choices like Tarteflette, Fondue and Pizza Moriszete, though they also do more traditional snacks, meals and cakes too. 

By cosying up with a good book, a real fire, a coffee and a glass of baileys with ice.   I also have a fantasy about a cashmere blanket to add to these winter accessories, but maybe cashmere is a touch too decadent for my budget and an ordinary blanket comes too close to old lady rather than elegant middle-age.  Before I know it, I’d be wearing bed-socks.  I suppose there’s always the onesie – not a route I’ve taken yet!

A book that suits the curling up on the sofa and shutting out the winter is the spine chilling Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, which as well as having a totally engrossing plot is also so well written.  Another ghost story also set in the 1940s, but a much shorter read than Little Stranger, is Helen Dunmore’s creepy but compelling The Greatcoat.