On Saturday sion_a and I headed up to Cheadle for his dad's birthday meal. I confess I was expecting it to be a bit awkward -- I'm not great with big hordes of people I don't really know, and I don't generally have that much to say to the ones I did already know (they're nice people, it's just that I don't feel I have very much in common with them). However on the whole it wasn't too bad. The food was good, too; although I was very glad that the music which was playing in the bar wasn't playing in the restaurant (while we were having drinks beforehand we heard "I've got a brand new combine harvester", "Ma na ma na", "Two Little Boys", "Popcorn", "Mouldy Old Dough"... need I go on?).
On Sunday, since we were already in the right area of the country, we went to visit Mémé and Pépé (my grandparents). Raclette for lunch -- always a good thing! -- and then a game of Scrabble after lunch. I won in the end, but I'm sure Mémé would have won if the rest of us hadn't unanimously voted not to allow French words as well as English. Eventually left with bags full of home-made jam, some 'spare' pots and pans that I'd scrounged, and the last-but-one of the chairs for my dining table (we could only get one in the car). Really must stop acquiring all the junk that the rest of the family don't want! It was good to see Mémé and Pépé again, anyway, hadn't seen them for ages (they hadn't seen my hair this colour before, which means it must be over a year).
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Last night sion_a, hoiho and I went to see Hamlet at Emmanuel College, as part of the Summer Shakespeare Festival. (Believe it or not, this is the first time since I've moved to Cambridge that I've actually managed to see any of the Shakespeare Festival plays... shameful!)
This minimal-scenery, modern-dress production was certainly a competent interpretation of the play, although (as expected for a Summer Festival) not particularly challenging. The minimal cast (most of the minor characters were cut, and several parts were doubled) were variable: Hamlet's dynamic grotesquery tended to leave a wide-eyed and at times overacted Ophelia looking awkward; Claudius played the controlled anger of the villain effectively, while Gertrude seemed unsure of her character's direction, Laertes was unremarkable, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were mostly weak even as comic relief. Polonius alone stood out as superb: his character was coherently presented, and his interminable rhetorical ramblings were beautifully delivered and got several well-deserved laughs.
The production opens with Hamlet winding up a clockwork eyeball and letting it jitter its way across the spotlight; this is the first intimation of the strong emphasis that is placed on absurdity throughout the production. When the ghost of Old Hamlet appears, he does so in the form of a semi-naked man sitting cross-legged on a crown, his exposed chest pasty and flabby in the half-light, with a red nose and a crooked crown: a King of Misrule presiding over a court of fools -- ironically, more a "King of shreds and patches" than Claudius appears to be. Later, in his madness, Hamlet brandishes a hand-puppet of this same figure; this perhaps raises the question of the extent to which all the characters are puppets: Hamlet, following the instructions of his father's ghost (although the extent to which he does follow them is open to debate; he remains to some extent more puppet-master than puppet); Ophelia, used by Polonius to prove his theory about Hamlet and by Claudius to disprove it; Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, summoned by Claudius and then sent to their unwitting death by Hamlet's conniving; Laertes, whose rage is provoked so that he can be used by Claudius to effect Hamlet's death; and so on. When Hamlet finally kills Claudius, he places the ghost's red nose on Claudius' face: the revenge is complete, Claudius is reduced to the same state as Hamlet's father.
The play was heavily cut, but on the whole this cutting was effective. The characters of Marcellus and Bernardo were omitted altogether, which allowed the scenes with the ghost to focus more clearly on Hamlet's interaction with his father's spectre; the character of Fortinbras was likewise abandoned, and the play ended with Horatio's farewell to Hamlet. The dumb-show and the actual playing of The Mousetrap were neatly conflated, thereby ducking the awkward question of why Claudius fails to notice the familiarity of the murder which is being acted before his eyes until it is accompanied by words; and the banter between the gravediggers was mostly (some might say mercifully) lost, the scene being played with only one (female) gravedigger.
It was annoying that the music which accompanied the ghost's appearances was sufficiently loud to drown out all the actors, but this was the only real technical hitch; on the whole the staging was sparsely effective. The minimal props and scenery left plenty of space for Hamlet's very physical madness; the semicircular stage felt almost like a circus ring as he variously grimaced, gestured, galloped and groped his way across the stage in the grip of his "antic disposition". It was perhaps a shame that his grief-stricken gurning spilled over into his soliloquies, but otherwise they were feelingly delivered.
All in all, not a portrayal of the Dane to go down in history, but a fairly enjoyable performance with a few interesting and insightful touches.
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Today I have been mostly drinking coke, catching up on email, and resisting buying CDs on Amazon.
Bits and bobs, administrivia, requests:
1. Erotica: I've ordered 6 tickets for the Saturday (I rounded up), and 2 for the Sunday. I should also get a free ticket for the Saturday. Will distribute these when they arrive, but this may not be for some time.
2. Recording from RealAudioThingyWhatsits: I mentioned this in the pub the other week. I want to record something from Radio 2's "Listen Again", and I believe (from what simont said at the time) that the easiest way to do this is with a minidisc recorder. Does anyone have such a thing that I could borrow (preferably tomorrow night) please? Or a better way of doing this (ideally burning the result to CD, since I don't have any way of playing a minidisc)? Or if I point somebody at the show in question, could they do the recording for me? Very much appreciated if so.
3. Poi: this book looks rather good. Has anybody bought it already? If so, is it any good to learn from? I seem to have reached a bit of a wall in learning to do poi, and there's only so many different ways I can clonk myself around the head before I give in and ask for help.
4. http://www.play.com: a random recommendation. Because I just ordered the latest Oysterband album from them for half the price HMV were asking, and they don't charge any postage.
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Random weird dream:
In the dream I had last night, I had a strange kink which I was trying to indulge at various opportunities: I liked pressing my bare breasts against windows. The attraction of this was partly the potential for being seen, and partly the feel of the cold glass. (In the dream there were several occasions where I was trying to do this but clothes were getting in the way, or it was too difficult to get to the window and get myself at the right height etc. -- but then all my dreams seem to be anxiety dreams at some level.)
To the best of my knowledge this has never occurred to me in real life before as a thing that it might be fun to do, but it felt really good in the dream. Go figure.