Imperium Parts I & II – based on the books by Robert Harris and adapted by Mike Poulton for RSC

A long title for today’s post and a very long day driving down to Stratford, watching two plays in a day and driving back again!

I haven’t read any of the three books these plays are based on although I have read some of Robert Harris’ books and have one sitting in my pile of books to read. I also don’t know that much about ancient Rome, other than what I’ve learned from seeing Shakespeare’s Roman plays, so this felt like an adventure into the unknown.

Rather than being two definite plays these are more like two lots of three “playlets” each covering a chapter in the life of Cicero.

The first play starts with Cicero coming to power as Consul, unusual in that he is a self-made man, and trying to reinstil the old values of the Republic into the populace. Julius Caesar, Catiline and Crassus are plotting against him.

The second segment of play I covers Catiline’s uprising and Cicero’s handling of the crisis, ending with Cicero passing death sentence on some of the conspirators but sparing Caesar.

The final segment is entitled Clodius. Clodius is a friend of Cicero who commits an act of sacrilege against the Vestal Virgins. Knowing him to be guilty Cicero refuses to defend him. He manages to get acquitted and swears revenge on Cicero.  Cicero is then inveigled into defending Hybrida and ends up being accused himself.  Cicero is forced to seek Caesar’s protection.

Play II covers the more familiar territory of Caesar, Mark Antony and Octavian as seen in Shakespeare’s plays Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, but seen from the perspective of Cicero whose star is fading but who is still a pawn in the power politics of the era.

I enjoyed the plays and learning something more about ancient Rome; I shall need to look out a book on the Roman Empire, if anyone can recommend one.

I thought Richard McCabe did an amazing job of portraying Cicero from new Consul to old relic on the sidelines.  He must have been exhausted by the end of the day having been in pretty well every scene of the two plays.

Peter De Jersey did a good job a Caesar, seemingly rational with bits of megalomania peeping out in the early stages.

Joe Dixon was a bit bonkers in play I as Catiline – some definite scenery chewing going on! – but made an interesting Mark Antony in play II.

I thought the women actors were woefully under used.  All the female parts were very small and either harpies or floozies.  I know ancient Rome was a male dominated society but there are enough examples of women wielding high levels of influence and power in this period to have given an actor of the stature of Siobhan Redmond something more to do!

I loved the stage set for the plays.  It was simple, dramatic and flexible.  It was also slightly disconcerting to have no actual stage and to have to remember to keep your feet tucked in so you didn’t trip up an actor as they walked past.

One thing I wasn’t sure about was the globe hung above the stage. I guess the colour changes represented the changing influences of the planets but it wasn’t obvious and sometimes the patterns playing on its surface were a distraction.  The small boy sitting next to me during the second play was clearly confused by it and kept asking his Dad what it was for.  Dad didn’t have an answer.

I also thought the costume department did a great job.  Sitting so close to the front we got a close up of the level of detail that went into each costume and into making each character look different.

And, as an extra bonus, the lovely staff of the RSC had spotted that it was the 100th performance we had attended and stood us a drink.  Thank you.

Overall, I’m pleased we went to see these two plays.  It will be a long time before we see two plays in one day again – it will take a while for my bum to recover! I learned something about ancient Rome.  And these plays won’t head onto my “must see if they ever do them again” list.

Click here to find out what else is on at RSC

Click here to find out more about Robert Harris and his books


Alan Turing; unlocking the enigma – David Boyle

A sort of biography of Alan Turing this is one of my less successful 99p from Amazon downloads.

In principle it is an interesting read.  It gave me more information about Turing’s early life and post-war work than I’ve read before; most of what I have read has been about Bletchley and has skimmed over other parts of his life. It also tells the story of Lord Sharkey’s proposed private members bill to give a statutory pardon to Turing.

I enjoyed finding out about Turing’s upbringing; his remaining in England whilst his parents returned to India and his mixed response to school.

It was also interesting to understand how the media shapes our perceptions of people.  Turing is often portrayed as an oddball loner only interested in his mathematical problems.  Yet this book suggests he was interested in philosophy and, whilst at Cambridge, seems to have been a reasonably sociable person.

The post-war era, as covered, seems to have been a frustrating and depressing time for Turing.  It seems there was a line drawn between theory and engineering and the ideas Turing was developing about computing and intelligent machines were stuck inside the “theory” bubble.

The book concludes that Turing’s death was suicide.  That he understood the Allies, particularly the USA, understood how much he knew from his code breaking days and, following the defections of Burgess and Maclean, they saw his open homosexuality as a threat to Western security.  He saw himself doomed to a lifetime of being observed and investigated.

What there is of the book is interesting, although I would call it a long essay rather than a book.  It skims over huge swathes of Turing’s life and I was looking for a proper biography.  It seems I will have to go on looking.

Click here to find out more about Bletchley Park, one of my favourite museums

Jingle Blues – The Chicago Blues Brothers at Alhambra Theatre Bradford

The perfect ways to relax and have fun after a somewhat busy and stressful end to the week.

I probably wouldn’t have come to see this of my own volition but a friend chose it as the way she wanted to celebrate her birthday.  I’m so glad she did.

You don’t have to be a Blues Brother aficionado to enjoy it although many in the audience were and it helped to make sense of the backdrop, the references and the dancing.

All of the songs you would expect were included and some Christmas songs thrown in as well.

In the first half the audience were polite and remained seated.  In the second half the band encouraged everyone to stand and dance.  I would have liked them to do so in the first half as well.  I find it nigh on impossible to sit still when I’m enjoying the music and would have appreciated some encouragement to stand and dance.

It’s a huge testament to the skill of the band that one of my friends, who is notoriously reticent about being seen dancing, voluntarily started grooving on at least 2 occasions! 🙂

At the end of the evening my feet hurt from trying to dance in one spot and my throat was dry from singing.

What would improve the show?  A couple of things for me.

Firstly, one of the pictures on the slide deck was a back view of a Santa with his arms around two girls wearing thongs, heels and skimpy tops.  Really?  Have we, as a society, not moved on from such pictures that objectify women?  Particularly when your audience is mostly women.  It was a jarring note in what was otherwise a good backdrop for the music.

Secondly, please finish the fringing on the dresses worn by Marcia and Laura in the second half.  The super, swingy fringing looked fabulous from the front and the back of the dresses looked cheap as though they weren’t finished off.

Apart from these minor nit-picks I had a really enjoyable evening and I’d certainly go and see the Chicago Blues Brothers again.

Click here to find out more about The Chicago Blues Brothers

Click here to find out What’s On at Alhambra Theatre Bradford

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens, adapted for RSC by David Edgar

This early in December I’m still a bit bah humbug about Christmas so I’m not entirely sure what possessed me to book tickets for A Christmas Carol on 2nd December but I’m so pleased I did.

The play starts with Charles Dickens and his friend and editor, John Forster discussing a tract Dickens has written on the iniquities of child labour.  Forster is telling Dickens that sugar-coated pills work better as a way to bring social injustices to people’s attention at Christmas.  So, begins the telling of the famous story.

I thought Phil Davis was an excellent Scrooge and, as he travelled back in time with the Ghost of Christmas Past, I loved the was he and younger versions of Scrooge interchanged with each other.

The plot moved along at a good pace without being too fast and bits of the story that often get missed out, like the Fezziwigs, got included.  There was also time to add in extra bits about the horrible plight of child labourers.

I thought the costumes were amazing; Jacob Marley’s ghost was particularly effective and I loved the garish, exuberant checks worn by most of the men in the cast.

The set overall was effective; it created an impression of the edges of poverty in London.  However, it didn’t quite hang together for me.  The towering backdrop of the warehouse front distracted from the human sized props on the stage, especially during the complicated door sequences in Mr Scrooge’s office.  It could almost have done with the top half being covered to focus the viewpoint on the stage.  And the doors got in the way of the action a bit.  I understand, from the gentleman sitting next to us, that how the scenery is used has already changed from the beginning of the week. I suspect it will change again before the end of the run.

Another part I’m not sure about is the section with Ignorance and Want.  I know that the book was written, in part, as a response to child labour.  Perhaps, in our current society, rather than highlighting child labour, the focus could have been directed at child poverty or poverty in general to remind people that although we live in a different world there are still social injustices to be fought.

There was plenty of light and shade in the production –  the dark parts of Scrooge’s story interwoven with humour, song and dancing – which dissolved some of my bah humbug feeling and has left me humming Christmas Carols.  And, of course, the story has the required happy ending.

Would I go and see it again?  Yes; although I wouldn’t rush back or make a special journey, if I find myself in Stratford and it is still showing I will go again.

Click here to find out more about Dickens’ book

Whatever you think, think the opposite – Paul Arden

This is a book of sound bites about how to think to become successful.  The essential message is that to be successful you need to think your own thoughts not follow popular opinion and that rather than follow a steady trajectory you should bounce around a bit.

The secondary message is that any decision followed by an action is the right thing to do rather than making a “perfect” or “good” decision and doing nothing.  No, really?  Surprising conclusion, not!

This is essentially my problem with most self-help books, the fact that they almost all state the obvious in a generally patronising tone.

However, to be fair to the book it did make me think about whether I generate too many ideas and so end up doing nothing with them.  I’ve even gone so far as to write a list of 5 ideas I do want to do something with.  I guess the ultimate test of the book is whether any of the ideas get further than the list!

I did find it somewhat contradictory though that a book that encourages me to think differently is telling me what and how I should think!