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imageYes, the entire Clarke clan (including a new favourite child) trooped to the Barbican last night to see the  much-trumpeted, much hyped, much anticipated Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Hubby and I had seen him on stage before in the fantastic Frankenstein at the National, and of course I’d also adored him as Sherlock.

And he was good. Yes, he really was. You have to watch him when he’s on – your eyes are drawn to him. And he is amazingly physically adept – climbing up and down the huge ‘last supper’ dining table in the midst of a huge country house that is Elsinore and he delivers text in an easily digestible way. But no one gives a shit about him. Or any of the characters. We can’t – somehow all the real emotion has been sucked out of the play.

I don’t know Hamlet well enough to be able to tell you what was missing or moved around. Was it meant to be seen that he was really pissed off he didn’t get to be King rather than sent mad with grief so threw his toys out of the pram and broke the whole dynasty like a spoilt only child? “I’m the King of the castle” perhaps should have been the opening song rather than Nature Boy….

So I loved him, loved the vast set. hated the pointless costumes which were non-descript.  Couldn’t get Ophelia at all –  pathetically child like and too quirky to ever have been believably loved by Hamlet or seen as a future daughter in law by Gertrude – she came across as about nine years old. Polonius and Gertrude each had their moments but were essentially dull and leaden, and don’t get me started on Rosencrantz and Guldenstern who were like intense sixth formers playing their parts. The grave digger was great (as was the person catching the skulls he threw!) but really this wasn’t one of those Shakespeare productions where you come away thinking how amazing it is that we are still watching this 400 years later. It was one of those where you think “I can see why people don’t like Shakespeare”. But I still love the Cumberbatch and would go see him in anything he’s ever in on stage. I just wish he’d had the benefit of a better cast and director.

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Atmospheric setting at the Globe. And it stayed dry!

Last night we abandoned Australian rels to go to the first night of Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry in Twelfth Night at the Globe theatre. It marked Stephen Fry’s return to the stage after running away with stage fright (or was it after a bad review?) 17 years ago. So I expect he was nervous.

The Globe is just a magnificent setting and it was packed to the gunnells. And it was great. Played full on for laughs and they got them. An all male cast excelled as women dressed as men dressed as women. Yes, Twelfth Night is the one with the twins who each think the other has drowned at sea, so the girl becomes the male valet to the King and has to court Olivia for him. Olivia, in mourning for her brother, refuses to acccept his advances, but falls for the girl/boy messenger. Meanwhile Malvolio, Olivia’s servant is hopelessly in love with her, and the girl/boy valet in love with her boss…….. You get the idea. Oh what a tangled web we weave. When we also intoduce a drunken cousin, his friend who also tries to woo Olivia, Olivia’s maidservant and a fool, the longlost twin brother and his manservant we have near farce.

Yet again Rylance alone  is worth the price of the ticket. He plays Olivia and the stage lights up when he is on. He is absolutely fucking awsome. Dressed head to toe in a corseted black dress, with a high neck ruff and a black veil so we cannot see his face. Yet STILL he can convey every inuendo, every slight winsomeness, every beat of melancholy. He physically embodies the character as if he is transformed in to her. He glides across the stage as if on wheels. He plays with the language with such ease and accomplishment – tripping over words, stumbling as if they are just being formed in his head. One forgets entirely this is Shakespeare. This is sheer fun and enjoyment.

His maid (reminiscent of ‘Nursie’ in Blackadder) was also completely on the money – with marvellous expression and intonation. And perfect comedy timing. The final ‘woman’ – Viola – too was a complete victory – (s)he was played expertly and you could watch her falling in love with her boss and really believe it was happening.

But what about Stephen Fry? Well he was good. But not brilliant .Too much like Stephen Fry. Who I love. And I’m not meant to love Malvolio initially.  He was not unlikeable enough at first and then not quite smarmy and smiley enough after the trick is played on him. I think he needs to push it to the edge more and be more extreme in his portrayal, but this was his first night and I think he’ll warm in to it. The one that perhaps let them down was the jester – which is actually a big part and his diction wasn’t clear enough for me so I missed things particularly in the first half.

But if you get chance to see it do go – it’s Shakespeare as it should be.

And she still turns out for her Sheffield club even though they are in the third division. What a superstar.

Husband and daughter went to athletics during the day yesterday and saw Jessica Ennis nail her long jump and javelin. Whereupon husband’s heart rate and stress levels declined somewhat as he could relax knowing that she really could do this. Being a true fan, he knows piles of facts and stats and is brilliant to sit with as he can put everything in context and explain what’s happening and why it matters or not.

So, the day before when we saw her run that blistering 100m hurdles, he immediately turned to us and said “She would have won the women’s final individual event in Bejing with that!” . The one downside of being in the satudium itself is that you don’t get the pundits telling you stuff like that. Unless of course you’re siting with someone like my husband. So we get the best of all worlds being there in person and with him doing the commentary.

When he isn’t in an exhausted heap of nerves unable to speak.

So last night we had tickets for the volleyball, but an eye (phone) on those finals in the stadium. The venue for the volleyball is Earl’s Court – and in fact this ws my first ever trip there I think (although I have a bizarre feeling I might have seen Aida there years ago). Anyway, easy cab ride there and straight through army security with the usual banter and good humour.

Bulgary in green

The venue itself is a bit shit. I was disappoionted. It is an old venue and it looks it. I suppose if i hadn’t been to any of the other Olympic venues I might have not noticed as after all it has been hosting huge events successfully for years and years. Cavernous bar and food area under the arena seating and we bought booze and sausages in rolls (my staple diet at the moment!) whilst waiting to go in. The noise from the stadium was deafening at points as the two previous matches went to 5 sets and over ran by an hour and the crowds were yelling their heads off for their teams. It sounded a brilliant atmosphere.

Our seats were on the first tier back row, so in theory great seats. Not so in practice as we couldn’t see the scoreboard and it was difficult to make out what the guy with the microphone was saying. So we tried asking the ticket guy if we could move, but then decided to simply bed in to the empty corporate sponsored seats ten rows in front of us. The sound was much better, but still nowhere near as good as that at beach volleyball or the Olympic Park.

We were going to be watching Bulgaria versus Argentina. The whole audience appeared to be in green red and white supporting the Bulgars. A Diversity-lite dance troupe performed before the match, but they weren’t a patch on the swimsuited beach volleyball girls (and boys).

Then the play started and the crowd went wild. “Bul -gar ee.Bul-gar -ee” and that was great. But I didn’t like the fact that they boo-ed the Argentinians all the time and tried to put them off their stroke. Didn’t feel it was in the Olympic spirit somehow. There wer e very few Argentinian fans apparently, although I was rooting for them since the Bulgarians crowd were so partisan. Every ten minutes or so a ‘technical time out’ was called and six volunteers with floor mops would come on and wile up all the sweat off the field of play in a beautifully synchronised way. The game itself is fantastic to watch – fast paced, easy to follow, superb athleticism and points points points.

The 80s hits boomed out, with snatches of stadium rock throughout the play. Then we were led in a “We are the Champions” sing along with the words up on the screen for us all to follow. The roving microphone guy interviewed spectators and everyone seemed to be having a good time. When he announced Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah’s golds suddenly a sea of union jacks appeared from nowhere!

Yet again plenty of ladies loos so no queues – this is a big thumbs up for the organisers! The whole thing was great, but the venue does suffer in comparison to the others I have seen.

Then we head home -hailing a black cab easily outside the main entrance and we were home with the TV on within half an hour. We watched all the coverage we could to make the most of these great games and incredible results for team GB. We’d watched Jessica Ennis in person on her journey to Gold. What a privilege. What a joy.

Huge Danny Boyle fan – loved Trainspotting, Shallow Grave, Millions and Slumdog. Adored Frankenstein at the National. And by all accounts he’s a great guy, so I was hoping against hope that the Opening Ceremony would do him proud. And us.

Woo hoo! Its the Jubalympics!

We cracked open the champagne at the start of the TV build up and had text updates form my sister as she was there. Not only that, we knew our parents would feature in the actual ceremony itself as all ticket holders were asked if they’d like to send a photo of anyone they had recently lost if they would like them to be remembered in the ceremony. And sure enough the photo of them in Venice celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary was part of the photo montage during Abide with me. Have to admit I didn’t actually spot it, but my sister did!

So, how was it? I think it was fabulous in parts but was let down by the BBC coverage.  Let’s not even mention the twatty children’s TV presenter-type who was fronting various bits (apparently he isn’t a kids TV presenter but F1), but Gary Lineker was good – and of course I love love love Michael Jordan and John Macenroe so enjoyed their brief mots juste.

Funamentally, I feel it would have been so much better if Doyle himself had control of the cameras and sound as all of the prerecorded footage was absolutely fabulous. The surprise when it really was  HRH herself when she turned round from her desk to set off with 007. Priceless.  And the Rowan Atkinson/Chariots of Fire montage – brilliant. But we had no sense of the crowd – where was the noise of the interaction with the audience? And often the shots we were shown didnt give us the visual feast Danny Boyle had intended. What the hell were the BBC doing showing us a bizzare angle of the cauldron rather than letting us watch it evolve from all the individual horizontal petals rising up to form the bowl of flame?

I’m not sure we saw all the elements or neccessarily understood exactly what everything represented, but I imagine being there would have been awesome. The transformation of the idyllic countryside in to a belching foundry casting those five glowing rings looking exactly like molten steel was stunning.

Impressive

But much as I love Kenneth Branagh having seen him perform at the National (mesmerising as Edmund – a New Yorker whose life disintigrates after one seemingly small disagreement. Took my parents only to discover he spends half the time stark bollock naked (and with Anna Friel as a hooker  in similarly minimal attire) which made for interesting interval chat!). Anyway, I digress. I was saying I do love him, but think his role wasn’t big enough or explicit enough to have real impact. The commentators told us he was Isambard Kingdom Brunel ( could have guessed that from the hat, although non UK-ers probably thought it was Lincoln!) so not sure why he gave a speech from the Tempest. I think Shakespeare could have featured a bit more, but maybe he did and we weren’t shown it . I flleetingly spotted WWI soldiers, but then Sergeant Pepper lookylikeys so wasn’t clear what was going on. i would probably have liked a bit more recognition of the military contribution to society.

Enjoyed the celebration of the NHS – the jiving doctors and dancing nurses and those huge beds with fluorescent sheets. The children’s literature  chose darker themes and the BBC didn’t appear to notice the Mary Poppins’ until they’d landed to save the day. The musical montage was great but not sure  I would have chosen Sir Paul to finish the whole event off.  Emile Sande had sung beautifully earlier on  and I would have liked to see a young artist up there with him – ideally of course my fave Adele.

Hardly classy but at least they’re happy

The team parades took forever as usual, but they are the reason we have the Games so it is difficult to moan, but the uniforms were shite. Ours may have been the worst. Nasty white shell suits with gold trimmings. Chavtastic. Other countries too though were disgusting, but Nigeria got my vote for best uniform – plain white with emerald green trimmings. they looked stunning.

The Nigerian team resplendent in white and green

The lighting of the cauldron lacked the dramatic emphasis it needed. We wanted a star to light it but were given the upcoming athlesetes nominated by 7 previous Olympians. The idea was good – handing the baton to the next generation, but it didn’t work. At the very least those Olympians should have been part of that actual ceremony.

So overall I’d give it 4 stars I think as a TV spectacle.  Probably 5 if I  had been there and felt the buzz of the crowd and been able to see everything the way it was meant to be seen, not filtered and fucked about with. And 2 stars for the BBC coverage.

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