Exhibition – ‘Harry Potter – A History of Magic’, British Library, 25th November 2017

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I cannot deny that I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan. I didn’t get into the books as soon as they were published -I’m one of those contrary folks who hates hype and I was working in a bookshop the summer of 1997 when the first book came out, so we heard a lot about this AMAZING new book and I made my mind up I absolutely wouldn’t read it (stupid, I know). Sometime during my gap year in 1999 I decided to read ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, and that was it, I was sold for life.

Luckily I have quite a number of friends who are also big fans and one of them, my friend K, is also super-organised, so she booked tickets for several of us to go to the British Library exhibition a few months ago. I knew the exhibition was to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the books being published but I still hadn’t really got much of an idea of what to expect. It was, in fact, FAR better than I expected.

The exhibition has an intro with some background about the series (and some of JKR’s original illustrations -fascinating) and then goes through all the subjects taught at Hogwarts – Potions, Alchemy, Herbology, Charms, Astronomy, Divination (boo), Defence against the Dark Arts and Care of Magical Creatures. Each section looks at what JKR wrote in the books and how it relates to history (did you know Mandrakes have their roots in Greek mythology?!), to evidence and to language- I was astonished by how much historical derivation there was.

However the BEST bits of the exhibition, by far, were the original manuscripts and illustrations which were scattered throughout the exhibition. I had no idea JKR had done so many illustrations herself, nor how many changes there were between her original version and what eventually got published (no spoilers here, but you HAVE to read the original draft of the first chapter of ‘Philosopher’s Stone’, it will take your breath away!)

Overall: if you’re a HP fan, a genuine must-visit.

Play – ‘Heisenberg – The Uncertainty Principle’, Wyndham’s Theatre, 27th November 2017

Perhaps my expectations for this play were unrealistic. But the reference to Heisenberg in the title made me think that there would be something in here that pertained to science, or at the very least to the life of Heisenberg himself. Whereas actually, this is a mild romantic comedy at best and a waste of 90 minutes at worst.

On the plus side. I liked the set where things effortlessly moved in and out of it. And certain moments of Kenneth Cranham’s delivery made me smile.

But. Nothing about the love story was really plausible- certainly not the speech in which Anne-Marie Duff’s supposed waitress character referenced Heisenberg, and certainly not the part where she propositions the elderly butcher she has met on a bench. And there just wasn’t enough spark between the two of them to keep me interested, in the absence of ANYTHING else in the story whatsoever.

Overall: it’s not about Heisenberg, fair enough. Unfortunately it’s not about anything else much either.

Play – ‘The Lady from the Sea’, Donmar Warehouse, 25th November 2017

I’m going to go a little smug with this one because it’s rare that I manage to write about things in such a timely fashion that anyone might actually be able to see it after I’ve written about it. BUT this play is on for another week and I see there are a few tickets left for later this week so please, if you get a chance, do go.

I love the Donmar Warehouse as it’s such a beautiful, intimate little venue and I’m lucky enough to have received membership as a birthday present from friends this year, so I see most of their productions. When my friends R and J started talking about this Ibsen play, I was envisaging something set in the frozen wastelands of Norway. But actually the setting of this production has been transferred to a Caribbean island and it’s absolutely beautiful with a rocky pool on the stage itself which is used to good theatrical effect.

It’s a quick production; 1hr45min straight through with no interval. Regular readers will know that generally that’s the kind of thing I like and it is, but on this occasion I would actually have liked it to be just a tad longer to flesh out the characters more; while Dr Wangel and his wife Ellida (‘The Lady from the Sea’) were well drawn, the doctor’s two daughters, particularly Bollette, could have done with a little more development. She had a lot of promise but it wasn’t entirely there for me. However, all the cast were simply superb.

Overall: beautiful modernised production of Ibsen on a stunning set in a great little theatre; well worth a couple of hours of your time.

Exhibition – ‘Opera: Passion, Power and Politics’, V&A, 23rd November 2017

V&A exhibitions are usually on a fairly large scale, but the opera exhibition surpasses even their usual standards. A little sign at the entrance suggests you allow 70 minutes for your visit; myself and my friends K and S were actually in there for nearly 2 hours reading the plaques, watching the clips and, of course, listening to the music.

The exhibition is beautifully laid out, taking you through 7 European cities and 7 opera premieres that took place in each, with associated music that plays through the headset that you’re given on entering as you walk through each area. Some are well known operas (relatively speaking; I think most people have some familiarity with ‘The Marriage of Figaro’) and some are much less well known (I hadn’t even heard of ‘Rinaldo’, although I am now desperate to see it when Glyndebourne stage it in 2019). There’s plentiful reference to the changing times as reflected in opera, for example sexuality and eroticism in ‘Salome’, and the banning of ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk’ by Stalin as he felt it wasn’t appropriate behaviour for Soviet women to see.

Overall: a huge and beautiful exhibition which is a real feast for the senses.

Play – ‘Witness for the Prosecution’, London County Hall, 23rd November 2017

Regular readers will know there are certain things that can guarantee I will be enthusiastic about a play- I’ll see anything with Tamsin Greig in it for example. Another thing I’m always enthusiastic about is Agatha Christie -I started borrowing her mystery books from my school library aged 11 and shot through them all in a matter of months. Since then I’ve seen pretty much any film/TV/stage adaptation that’s come along and I’ve seen ‘The Mousetrap’ twice, though not for many years (in fact perhaps a repeat visit is in order!) so I was keen to see this new production, and the fact that it was set inside London’s County Hall was a real bonus.

I know the story well (I’ve read it and seen the TV adaptation in the past) so it wouldn’t be fair to comment on the twist since I knew what was coming, but as always with Christie, you’ll get a clever mystery with an outcome you don’t anticipate. I LOVED the setting, with a real magistrates’ bench for the judge to sit at (and the jury get sworn in on the left hand side bench just before the play starts -keep a look out for it!) and the layout feels like you really are part of the performance, especially in the courtroom scenes when you feel like you could be in the spectators’ gallery.

Overall: great fun in a unique and beautiful setting. Go go go.

Play – ‘Oslo’, Harold Pinter Theatre, 20th November 2017

No, not another sneaky post about our Scandinavia holiday, but the title of the play which has had a lot of buzz around it -not surprisingly with the challenging topic of little-known Norwegian diplomats arranging peace talks between the Israelis and the PLO.

It certainly is fascinating, but my advice is to do your homework (if you don’t know much about the background you will be pretty lost) and you do need to concentrate- miss a bit of dialogue and you’ll spend the next half hour whispering to your companion trying to catch up (in my case frantically asking my friend R ‘so was that an Israeli..?’) However, it is well worth a watch and there are some lovely touches of humour included within the serious stuff (the enthusiasm for the Norwegian cook’s waffles was great!)

Overall: not easy watching, not lighthearted, but a proper good stimulating evening’s theatre.