A Saturday in London

I had another glorious stay in London this past weekend, visiting with my brother who lives there.

I flew out last Friday evening. It was cloudy but the view from above the clouds was really beautiful. I could already feel the worries in life just disappear into to the background, hidden somewhere underneath the clouds.

I even had the luxury of my brother picking me up from the airport and we spent the rest of the evening catching up.

Bro had plans for Saturday during the day and I asked him how I could best get to ‘Little Venice’ from his place on my own. I had read and heard about it but in all my visits to London, I’d never been and I was curious to see the canal with those famous narrowboats. He suggested that if I didn’t mind a bit of a walk, I could walk there from his house. Regent’s Park is only a 10-15 minute walk from where he lives and from there all I needed to do was follow the canal. And so I did and what a beautiful experience it was! Even more so because the weather was cheerful and sunny that day.

I got to Regent’s Park (passing some villa’s along the way – wow!) and quickly found the path next to the canal. The route was beautiful and made even more special as an occasional narrowboat passed me by. There were also some stately houses along the canal path route, with one such house having the most immaculately mowed lawn I have ever seen in my life. As I came into a more residential area, the narrowboats were moored along the sides of the canal. I eventually got to Little Venice and found that there was a boating festival going on, the 40th IWA Canalway Cavalcade. A moored narrowboat restaurant was serving cream teas, they had a spot for one, and so I jumped at the chance to eat scones, drink tea and just have a wonderful time looking out the window at all the boats (click on images to enlarge).

I walked around after that, watched the boating parade, there was a crafts market and there was music. It was such a glorious afternoon!

At the end of the afternoon I made my way to the westend, to the Gielgud Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue to meet up with my brother. We were going to see the play of To Kill a Mockingbird, starring Matthew Modine.

As we made our way to find a quick bite to eat, we passed by the stage door entrance to The Gielgud, and who should we happen to see but Matthew Modine himself, who had apparently just finished a matinee and was outside talking to some audience members!

We walked on and found a place to get takeaway wok noodles (with duck and veggies for me, and beef and veggies for him) and ate them in the sunshine at a table in the garden/park of a nearby church…

At 7 pm To Kill a Mockingbird started and at the end I even snuck in a picture of the curtain call…

I was so happy to see the play and it was also unexpectedly very funny in places too. The staging was clever and the telling was nicely done from daughter Scout’s point of view. I loved that they kept her as the narrator, Dill was very funny and endearing, and Calpurnia was more vocal about the racism issues than I ever remembered her being in the book. For me the biggest twist was on the issue of empathy and “walking in someone else’s shoes” to understand them. In this play the question arose as to how far empathy should really be extended, something I never really got to that extent from the book. It was all more explicit in this play. Other aspects of the story weren’t even touched upon in the play, which was a bit of a pity but I get it, there is only so much time. The focus seemed to be mostly on the character development of Atticus, which is fine, but I missed some of Jem’s and Scout’s development. Also, Atticus felt a little different, maybe a bit less heroic than he seems in the book. To me that echoes Go Set a Watchman a bit, the follow up from Mockingbird, in which Atticus is more fallible and also shows his own prejudices. As always, food for thought, but also (sadly) this still feels very topical for the world today.

Matthew Modine was a good Atticus, although he couldn’t beat Gregory Peck in that role for me. And really, no adaptation, not even the Peck film, can beat the actual book for me. I thought Anna Mundin made a very good Scout, Ellis Howard was really noteworthy as Dill, Cecilia Noble was good as the no-nonsense Calpurnia and Jason Hughes was really good as creepy Tom Ewell. This is an adaptation of one of my fave books ever. Even though it was somewhat different, I enjoyed it and am so glad I got to see it!

Afterwards, Bro and I wandered to the stage door, and sure enough, Matthew Modine was there again. It was nowhere near as busy as the Richard Armitage stage doors that I’ve been to but there were some fans there and we watched him interact with them. A young girl, maybe 12 years old, was overwhelmed at seeing him (did he do a youth show?) and he was so sweet to her and hugged her. He handed out cards of the play that he had signed himself with a gold pen and Bro insisted I get a picture with him as well, which I did.

That Saturday in London was just such a perfect day. It was filled with such lovely surprises, from the beautiful walk, to the cream tea on a narrowboat, to the boat festival, the lovely takeaway dinner in the sun, to the play and even briefly meeting the star of the play. This one will definitely stick in my memory for a long time.

Concerts (and a musical) in November

November was a pretty busy theatre month for us this year! We hadn’t really planned it that way but it sort of happened.


David Bowie

First off, on Friday, the 4th of November, Mr Esther and I went to a David Bowie tribute concert in Rotterdam. It had been postponed twice due to Covid, but finally the time came and we went. Scroll through some pictures of the concert under this link, if you like and here are some (not so great ones) from me…

The Bowie songs were sung by three different artists: one woman and two men. One of the male singers actually sounded uncannily like Bowie at times, so he was my fave! It was really cool hearing the songs (and for me being able to sing along to all of them). Here’s a video someone took of the three singers doing Heroes:

And Let’s Dance, which gives an idea of the singer who sounded most like Bowie:

Downside to the concert was that there was a narrator present. At the beginning and in between songs he spoke of Bowie’s life and a bit about the impact Bowie had had on him. The text in itself was fine but it took the rhythm out of the evening when after almost every song or every other song the music stopped because the narrator was telling us something. It was really distracting and annoyed me. Also, they chose to play each song to the absolute last note where I felt that for some blocks it would have been better if the songs had flowed into each other more. The singing and music were good, though (it’s always great to hear Bowie’s music!), so that counted for a lot, but the show alas didn’t wow me.


Soldier of Orange

Next, on Sunday afternoon November 12th, my whole family (including my siblings, their families and my mother) went to a Dutch musical. My mother had arranged it (with help of my sister) for the occasion of her 87th birthday. It was also for my sister’s 60th and my younger brother’s 49th.

The musical is called Soldaat van Oranje (Soldier of Orange) and is a dramatized personal true story of resistance and collaboration during the Second World War in The Netherlands, with the resistance fighters even going to London to assist Queen Wilhelmina (in exile) in her efforts. It was also a popular Dutch film from the late 1970s, even nominated for a Golden Globe at the time. A hangar on an unused airfield near Leiden has been turned into a theatre, just for this musical, which has been running here in The Netherlands for 12 years(!!) now.

The musical aspect of it was…meh… but the staging of it was spectacular! The theatre is in the round and the audience sits in the middle on a rotating plateau…

… and gets turned towards the different sets where a scene is played. There are also really nice digital displays, showing images of the time and the costumes and set design are truly great. There is an actual sandy beach with water on one set and, at the end of the musical, the outside, where an actual old Dakota airplane is parked, is opened up as an additional set for a scene with Queen Wilhelmina returning to The Netherlands after the war. You get a bit of an idea of all of that in this trailer for the show…

Some pictures I took from the programme booklet. (click on images to enlarge).

The songs and music were forgettable (maybe it would have been better as a play?), but the story was quite exciting and the visuals and the staging were truly outstanding!


Chris de Burgh

Last, but not least: Mr Esther and I went to see Chris de Burgh two weeks ago on Tuesday, November 15th. A few months ago I read that he was coming to Amsterdam at the CarrΓ© theatre for a concert. In my early teens I used to love Chris de Burgh, he was very popular in Germany at the time (which was where I was then living). His big hit gift to the world was Lady in Red, which for me, alas, was the beginning of the end of my De Burgh admiration. I never liked that song much and the most of what I heard from him after felt downhill from what he had made in the 70s and early 80s. So, I stopped listening to him but when I saw this concert announced and it said he’d be playing from his whole body of work, I figured I’d give it a shot, for nostalgia’s sake.

Mr E and I made our way to Amsterdam, which was looking pretty, despite it being wet out. In the picture on the left, the theatre is on the left bank in the distance (with red light on the roof).

I had booked the tickets months ago but had forgotten that I had apparently booked front row seats. In hindsight I remember I had tickets for balcony front row seats in my online basket but then saw two final actual front row tickets for the same price and Mr E said, “Book those, then”! So, front row at the theatre it was. Oh, and maybe not surprisingly, we heard a fair amount of German fans around us.

As you can see the set up was simple, just a piano and a guitar. De Burgh came on, started singing standing at the mike and with his guitar. He seems like a very soft-spoken man, from the way he spoke inbetween the songs.

Not long after he started the concert, he set himself down at the piano and that’s when I had a personal Chris De Burgh – Esther interaction! As he sat down at the piano, I had to strain a bit to see him, as my view was obstructed by the guitar in its stand and the glasses of water on the piano. He must have seen me shift a little because before he started playing, he suddenly got up again from the piano, wordlessly walked to the guitar stand and moved it to the side a little. He then walked back to the piano, moved the water glasses and sat down again. He looked me straight in the eye from his seat behind the piano, tilted his head questioningly at me and patiently waited for my reaction. It was only then that I realized he really must have done all that moving of stuff for my benefit! I raised my two thumbs in the air and grinned my approval at him. He smiled back (he hadn’t said a word during all of this), the audience tittered and he then started to play. Pretty cool. πŸ™‚ (Picture below taken by Mr E who sat to the right of me).

The concert itself was nice (although it was a pity he didn’t have a backing band; some songs were sung to a backing track) and his voice is still good too. I didn’t know any of the newer songs but everything that he played from the 1970s and 1980s was familiar to me and I really enjoyed hearing him sing live. At the end of the concert everyone was encouraged to stand and come forward and then at the very end he walked by the front row of people (including us) and shook hands. Mr E tried to get a picture but it didn’t really work, we only have a picture from right before the handshake (his hand felt very soft, by the way).

The newer songs didn’t convince me to become a fan again (and alas, he did not skip Lady in Red) but Chris sang and played well and it was really lovely to hear some of the old songs that I used to love like Spanish Train, A Spaceman Came Travelling, Waiting for the Hurricane, Borderline, The Ferryman and High on Emotion. It was nice to be out with Mr E as well, and after the concert we went out for a drink before driving home again.


So there you have it, our month of concerts. Well, semi-month, really, as it all happened in the first half of November (and I just didn’t get around to posting about them earlier). It’s been fun!

Yay for Richard!

Guylty has announced the results of the #HoHoHolidayFundRAiser and they are even better than I expected: € 4.452,29 for the LOROS hospice! What a lovely Richard Armitage Christmas gift this is. I had a thank you card made to accompany the socks with red wine tea set and the magnets I have donated and sent out. As a thank you to all you donors and bidders and winners and signal boosters and likers and just general enthusiasts, here is the front of that card for your viewing pleasure.

Thanks to all for helping to raise such an excellent sum!

In other Richard news, Uncle Vanya has picked up a few ‘What’s on Stage’ award nominations. I’m so very pleased that Richard has been nominated too…

Tough competition! I’ve got say I’d also be partial to James McAvoy winning this (I saw his Cyrano in the cinema and thought he was so excellent in it) but first and foremost I really hope that Richard wins. He gave such a poignant performance which gained extra significance during this pandemic, something that became even more clear in the filmed version. His Dr Astrov proved to me yet again why he still remains my favourite actor. So yes, congratulations to Richard on this recognition! It is well deserved.

Aimee Lou Wood has been nominated…

… and the play has been nominated for ‘Best Play Revival’.

I’ve got to say I’m surprised Toby Jones wasn’t nominated because I thought he was just as good as Richard was. Just for that, I think he at least deserves a picture here…

Via the links in the tweets above you can vote for Richard and Aimee Lou and the Uncle Vanya play, so please do so if you are so inclined.

This really is a good news Thursday. πŸ™‚

Princess Diana in fiction & me

Princess Diana portrayals in movies – they hold a sort of fascination for me and yet they can never live up to what I expect from them. Not that I exactly know what I want, I just want them to feel authentic and good and somehow they never are good enough. Why this sudden interest? Well, I actually went to see a Diana musical (gasp!) in a theatre in Amsterdam a few days ago. Let me explain (in a long and rambling way)…

In 1981 Charles and Diana got married. We were on summer holiday in England at the time and the night before the wedding we (a family of 10) went to Hyde Park to see the fireworks and hopefully see Prince Charles, who was apparently attending that night. I remember Hyde Park being busy, we sat somewhere on the grass with our picnic dinner in a less crowded part, and of course we never even caught a glimpse of Charles. The fireworks were great, though. We all watched the royal wedding itself the next day in the TV room of the campsite we were staying at. My younger sister was 8, I was 11, and we, like so very many girls that age, were captivated by Lady Diana and also that royal wedding. At home, we collected pictures and stuck them into scrapbooks.

By my mid teens I still liked looking at pictures of Diana and reading about her and seeing her on TV, but I lost that fangirling quality. I was more impressed by other royals (European royalty is always a big thing in German gossip magazines and I read a lot of gossip magazines then) such as the Swedish queen Silvia, who seemed to have more gravitas, but even that waned when I hit 15 or so. Still, with Diana being such a famous woman and me still quite liking her, I did read about her marriage falling apart in the early 1990s and I saw the famous TV interviews both she and Prince Charles gave and I even read that book Andrew Morton wrote about her. Once, in the early 1990s, I even saw the back of her when I was in London. It was pure chance, I was walking by a very busy Leicester Square, heard Princess Diana was there and then spotted the back of her surrounded by a crowd disappearing into a cinema for some film premiere.

When she died, like the rest of the world, I was shocked. I can still clearly remember finding out. It was a Sunday morning, Mr E and I had been living together for a year and we were sleeping in when my younger sister, then 24, called me, then 27, to tell me Diana was dead. It felt unreal, she had just seemed to be coming into her own by then, but there it was.

So yes, while I would never consider myself a particular fan, Diana did always hold a sort of fascination for me and I had more than a passing interest in her. It’s why I also was happy to visit her childhood home Althorp a few years ago.

Anyway, back to adaptations on Diana’s life. My interest for such a work of fiction was first piqued when I was 13 or so and I saw an early dramatization of Diana’s romance on TV, in a film called The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana, starring Catherine Oxenberg (from 1982).

I liked the fairytale romance quality of it but at the time I didn’t think Oxenberg made a great Diana and I remember especially her shyness and innocence feeling over the top and fake to me. Although I haven’t seen the film in maybe 35 years, I even remember thinking that most of it was lies. Pretty lies that I wanted to believe, but lies nonetheless and therefore not really authentic. It was charming in many ways but also fake in a way that even naive little me didn’t buy it. (Oh goodness, I now find the movie is available on YouTube! Should I watch it again?)

I know there have been more Diana portrayals after that (even a sequel with Catherine Oxenberg reprising the role of Diana) but I didn’t watch them because I always felt there was too little to go on to make good movies about her. I also felt that no one looked right or felt right for the Diana role. In addition, Charles is always the one being vilified and while I’m not a fan of his, that does seem like a very one-sided viewpoint. I’m sure the man has his qualities as well.

Then in 2013, I finally did brave a film called Diana starring Naomi Watts in the titular role and Naveen Andrews as the surgeon Dr. Hasnat Khan with whom Diana had fallen in love. I like Naveen Andrews, so he was what finally drew me in to actually watch this.

The film focussed on that love story and while intriguing (how can the world’s most famous and hunted woman, and British royalty at that, even hope to build a life with a publicity shy Pakistani doctor?), it did largely feel like conjecture as well. The film was alright, I liked it better than the Oxenberg one, but Naomi Watts never quite convinced me as Princess Diana. I like Naomi Watts, just not so much as Diana either.

More recently, I watched season 4 of The Crown because I was curious to see how Diana would be portrayed there (I have yet to watch seasons 1-3 but season 4 didn’t convince me enough to give the earlier seasons a try). Although Emma Corrin won an Emmy for her portrayal of Princess Diana, she never quite did it for me.

She does sound like her and dress like her and sort of have her hair (it never looked quite right, too stiff somehow), but her portrayal always felt more like an imitation of mannerisms to me and not an embodiment of Diana.

So yeah, an actress portraying Diana can never do it quite right in my eyes and I wonder if Kristen Stewart will finally convince me in the upcoming Spencer movie…

Not only are there books and movies about Diana, there are also musicals! One will be coming to New York City later this year and that musical will also come to Netflix. I’m not sure if I can brave that.

Another Diana musical, a completely Dutch production, has started playing in Amsterdam. I saw a blurb about this musical on the news last week, and I thought ”No! Not a melodramatic, sanctifying Diana musical in Dutch!” Then my younger sister called early this week (the one I used to fangirl Diana with at age 11), saying she had two free tickets to the musical for the next evening. She got them through her partner who has some ties in the Dutch musical world. They had already seen it together and had loved it and had cried and she thought I might want to see it as well and I could take our mother along with me. A little side note: my sister and I don’t always cry at the same things. Anyway, I didn’t have the heart to tell her that my expectation for this Diana musical was extremely low and I was never ever intending to go see it. Her sweet generosity in offering me free tickets and her enthusiam and my husband’s encouragement to use the experience (bad or good) for input in a blog post, combined with my general interest in Diana, made me decide to just give it a try anyhow. My mother, who had the same trepidations as I did, indeed came with me.

The musical, Diana en Zonen (translates to Diana and sons) is still in its tryout phase (official premiere this coming weekend). The musical is about a posthumous Diana (Eek! I know!) to whom Harry still talks and later it is revealed William does as well. She stands by her sons as Meghan Markle appears on the scene and guides them through some difficult choices. The whole musical is set before Harry and Meghan get married.

So, what did I think of this musical? First the things I did not like so much:

  • The songs and music were not really my thing, just the typical kind of dramatic songs you’d expect from a musical (two of them on YouTube here and here, in case you’re interested). Maybe the second song I linked to, sung by Meghan Markle (played by Danique Graanoogst), stood out most but none of them really felt remarkable to me and often even felt a little boring. While I do like some musicals, maybe I am not musical fan enough to appreciate these songs.
  • I wondered, especially in the first half, how this was about the sons – it seemed to be mostly about Harry (played by Freek Bartels) and most of the story was really his point of view. I think the makers of this musical are Harry and Meghan fans.
  • The story is all conjecture. Apart from the obvious (Meghan being vilified on social media), the way especially William (played by Jonathan Demoor) and Kate (played by Liss Walravens) are so against Meghan in those early days just didn’t feel true to me. Maybe it is true, maybe it isn’t, but it felt so gossipy and fake, it really annoyed me.
  • Much was made over Meghan and Harry separating during their courtship because she didn’t want to deal with the magnitude of it all. That felt like a lot of conjecture as well, especially the way that was played up. Did they really separate? I don’t know, of course, but I think it more likely they discussed these things in depth with each other, rather than separate over it.
  • Diana seems less approving of Kate than of Meghan and that is some huge conjecturing as well, as she never even met either woman in real life. And even as a hypothesis from beyond the grave, it feels like a very questionable position.
  • Harry took his shirts and shoes off and put them on again, I don’t know how many times. Don’t get me wrong, he was nice to look at, but I just didn’t get what the point of that gimmick was.
  • There were more gimmicks, like Harry and an urn and paper confetti being thrown out and put back in again. I guess it signified picking up the pieces again? The urn thing happened several times during the musical.
  • There was this Harry fangirl part that felt completely superfluous to me, like someone thought it should be in there somewhere but apart from the comical element for five minutes, it didn’t do anything for the story.
  • Camilla (played by Gerrie van der Klei) was the comical element which somehow felt out of place in the first half of the musical and Charles (played by Jan Elbertse) was such an over-privileged sap, not daring to talk to Harry and leaving William to do the dirty work and not really standing up for anything. He may not be the most inspiring person but I don’t see Charles as being like that.

Surprisingly, though, it wasn’t all bad to me. The good things:

  • To my great surprise, I actually liked the posthumous Diana (played by Marlijn Weerdenburg). She’s a slightly older Diana, having learnt from her life. She wasn’t sanctified, she seemed reflective and wiser and more forgiving of Charles and even at the end finds respect for Camilla after being snide about her earlier. She owned her errors of judgement in marrying Charles and gives her sons (especially Harry) advice on fighting for what they care for. I thought she really looked the part too, with her hair styled right and that elegant white suit she wore throughout. You recognize her instantly and yet she is not the same. I also liked that there wasn’t any real shyness in her body language, she was a woman who now knows herself and acts self-assured and even a little repentive.
  • I liked Meghan, who is shown as strong, a woman with her own life and her own independent mind, finding it difficult to submit to the chains a royal life would put on her.
  • They also showed the older and wiser Charles and Diana looking at the younger versions of themselves during their own enagement, I think that may have been the most touching part of the whole musical for me.
  • And, in the second half of the musical, Camilla became more than just a comical side note and I got to like her after all, especially in her advice to Meghan, telling her to bide her time, saying that in time vilification will ease. She speaks from experience. She is also a good antidote to the somewhat morose Charles and peps him up.
  • Harry was somehwat melodramatic to me but there is this one scene where he gets so angry at his mother, angrily crying out to her that he and his brother can never break free from her shadow and that really rang so true to me. It is difficult for them to find their places without constantly being compared to or linked to their mother. I think pretty much everyone still does that.
  • In one of the few scenes of Diana and William alone he accuses his mother of treating Harry as the favourite and she guiltily admits that although she loves them both equally, she protected Harry more because William ”had his father”. ”Did I?” William asks. I would have liked to have seen more of that Diana and William dynamic.
  • Kate and William were more one-dimensional but I did like that they addressed Kate and her somewhat boring image that she doesn’t seem to be able to break away from. She has been completely usurped into the royal role, and accepts it all but sometimes there’s a little rebellion, even in her, when she tries to show more of herself and tries to break free from Meghan overshadowing her.
  • All in all, the second half was better than the first half of the musical.

In the end, I thought this might have worked better as a play than as a musical. I would have liked to have seen more of William with his mother and maybe more of an honest portrayal of Charles, it didn’t feel so honest here (except for a few small moments). I liked the element of looking back on a famous life and figuring out what people might have learned and taken away from that. In short, there were some interesting thoughts in this production that might have been explored better in a good character play.

I don’t know any of these Dutch actors (I’m not up to speed with Dutch TV, movies and theatre, they normally don’t hold that much attraction for me) but Marlijn Weerdenburg as Diana did stand out. Maybe I liked her so much because she wasn’t exactly trying to be the Diana we all know, but more of an evolved version? I also liked Danique Graanoogst as Meghan and in the end even Gerrie van der Klei as Camilla as well. The acting was fine but the story overall (despite a few interesing elements) and the music were very iffy. I left with very mixed feelings. I’d rate it 2.5 out of 5 stars, maybe? Not something I’d really need to see again but not as terrible as I feared.

On to the next Diana adaptation. Will there ever be a really good one?

My Armitage theatre wall

The other day I blogged about the Uncle Vanya framed collage I had made needing another frame. As I have other things hanging on that wall with black frames, I figured black would be the way to go. So, I bought a new black frame and decided to keep the red background of the old frame for the collage. The end result looks like this…

Not only does this look better than the old, thick, light wooden frame, suddenly everything hanging on that wall pulls together nicely and I now have a complete Richard Armitage theatre wall in our dining area. My mother’s The Crucible painting now replaces a (pretty standard) Audrey Hepburn canvas I had hanging above that window, and the Uncle Vanya collage now hangs on the The Crucible poster’s old spot. I really like my themed wall.

The extra bonus is that the red background in the Uncle Vanya collage actually matches very nicely with the antique old Dutch children’s chair we have standing there. As a child I actually sat in that chair to eat. It is now used to store the cats’ food and is the spot where our black cat eats.

I start work again on Monday and the best thing of my working day will be that I can look at that Richard Armitage theatre wall. πŸ™‚