Play – ‘A Christmas Carol’, The Old Vic, 14th December 2017

Once again, my friend K deserves much credit for her organisation. We booked tickets to this in August and I suspect that if we hadn’t we wouldn’t have got to go. Much buzz around Rhys Ifans playing Scrooge; spoiler alert -he was great but not by any means the best thing about this production.

So first things first -the set. I’m a sucker for a good quirky/interesting set and this is definitely one of those- the stage is in a ‘cross’ shape with the stalls seats around it and action happens on all parts of the stage. Lots of old Victorian-style lanterns hang over the stage casting moody light. Doorways cleverly pop in and out of the set.

The best thing by far however, is the music. There’s a live orchestra and Christmas carols are beautifully interspersed with the story. The cast also ring handbells which is a lovely atmospheric touch.

All of the cast were superb; the only thing I didn’t love was when it descended ever so slightly into pantomime territory with giant food items being thrown/passed around the theatre, but I suppose after all it is a Christmas show which is meant to appeal to children too. Anyway, it didn’t in any way dim the appeal of this fantastic show.

Overall: as Christmassy as Christmas can be, yet also great theatre. Do your best to go!

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.

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.