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Posts from the ‘Entertainment’ Category

29
Apr

Now that Spring is Here … Time to get out and about!

Now that Spring is here … and with the hope that Summer will follow, time to cast off winter clobber and take advantage of the open air cultural events that are on offer this time of year.

Screen Shot 2013-04-29 at 14.16.43There are a plethora of offerings around London for the next few months, and not just the usual favourites such as Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and The Globe.  But that’s not to say that they should be ignored; the programme for the former has been out for a while now, and this year they are kicking off the season with an adaptation of the American classic To Kill A Mockingbird. During the hot (maybe!) summer months they’re putting on The Sound Of Music, which I’m sure will pull in the crowds.

Screen Shot 2013-04-29 at 14.14.44Shakespeare’s Globe is, as usual, concentrating on works by the bard and this year is offering The Tempest, Macbeth and that perennial favourite for outdoor performance, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There’s also a smattering of modern plays to increase variety at this most interesting of theatres where you can still stand as a groundling for very little cost and often be part of the action.

But don’t forget that London is now home to a number of summer festivals where sometimes the events are free and rarely cost  a fortune.

Screen Shot 2013-04-29 at 14.24.00There are four in particular really worth mentioning. First up is the London Festival of Architecture that happens in June – I’ve frequently gone along to their offerings which in the main are geared to non-professionals and which give eye-opening views on all aspects of architecture and related subjects. It really is very varied; last year I particularly enjoyed going to a number of the recently refurbished Cameron Mackintosh theatres in the West End one Saturday morning.

Then there are two music festivals I’d like to mention both of which also run non-music related events. The Spitalfields Festival centres on the market area and beyond and a number of the concerts are held in its beautiful churches.

Screen Shot 2013-04-29 at 14.18.53And The City Of London Festival also avails itself of its churches and guildhalls within the square mile, not to mention venturing further afield to Canada Square in the centre of Docklands.

Finally, the area around City Hall is home to the More London festival, with the Scoop amphitheatre (right next to the London Assembly’s building) hosting all sorts of events, most of which are free.

If I’ve whetted your appetite, then the links below will give you a lot more information.  Summers come and go, some shorter than others, some wetter than others, but come rain or shine you’re never short of a cultural treat in London!

http://www.morelondon.com/events.asp

http://www.colf.org/

http://www.lfa2010.org/

http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/

http://openairtheatre.com/

http://www.spitalfieldsmusic.org.uk/whats-on/summer-festival-2013/

Jeannette Nelson, Arts Correspondent

A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.

29
Mar

Life and Death: Pompeii and Herculaneum

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Herculaneum, Bay of Naples, Italy, 2012 Copyright Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei / Trustees of the British Museum

It’s a well known fact that these two Roman towns were buried under mountains of ash, lava and rubble from Versuvius, with the horrifying result of wiping out both populations, grim indeed.  However, the latest exhibition at The British Museum, though set in the context of the disaster, is focussed on people’s everyday lives and their possessions. The things people commissioned, talked about, bought, loved, were proud of, sometimes broke, sometimes threw away, nevertheless things owned by real people.  It’s a new take and a welcome one, as the unusual circumstances of Mount Vesuvius’s eruption leave a unique opportunity of glimpsing the civilisation that was the Roman Empire.  And although Herculaneum is often seen as the smaller sister of Pompeii, it’s given almost equal billing here.

The exhibition revolves around the home, its interior, its gardens, its kitchen and also the streets and shops.  The artefacts are clearly explained with Latin inscriptions helpfully translated.  One fresco that particularly strikes a modern chord is of drinkers gearing up for a brawl;  indeed, you felt yourself thinking on many occasions, that life hasn’t really changed that much since AD79!

The pyroclastic flow that hit Herculaneum was so much hotter than the ash and rocks. People were instantly knocked to the ground, their bones broken, their bodies burned to the bone. Items were crisped and carbonised, so amazingly we’re able for instance to see a loaf of bread from Herculaneum, and even the stamp of the baker on a loaf of bread.  His  name, Celer, means speedy. Speedy was obviously proud of his ability to turn out loaves of bread. The child’s wooden cradle that still rocks serves as a poignant example of everyday life.

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Wall painting of the baker Terentius Neo and his wife. From the House of Terentius Neo, Pompeii. AD 50 to 79. Copyright Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei / Trustees of the British Museum

From the artefacts it’s clear that many slaves became freed men and women and integrated more fully into everyday life in both towns.  Also highlighted is the important role of women which throws into the air our ideas that they were generally considered to be second class citizens.  One of the most beautiful and telling exhibits is a beautiful fresco, showing a man, and his wife, standing side by side, he holding a scroll, she a wax tablet, on which she kept domestic and business accounts; so who was wearing the toga in that household?  Women may not have been able to vote or be elected to public life but they seem to have had equal say in everyday life.

You are encouraged to enter the lovely home and garden with its wonderful frescos of birds and flowers, to make yourselves at home and  view the wonderful items of Roman life  many of which have never been seen in public before.  And as you enter the final rooms of the exhibition, you can also see a few of the famous casts of bodies from Pompeii, a reminder of the tragedy that struck but still telling you that these are real people.

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Gold bracelet in the form of a coiled snake, 1st Century AD, Roman, Pompeii. Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum

Look out for the dormouse fattening up pot! The gold jewellery  is fascinating, you can buy a replica of a beautiful snake bracelet for £120 in the inevitable shop at the exit.

Jeannette Nelson Arts Critic   A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.

22
Mar

David Bowie, That boy from Brixton

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 10.20.22The new V&A exhibition, David Bowie Is, shows the fantastic imagination and creations of David Bowie spanning five decades.

Exciting, dark and theatrical it is bursting with material, providing an insight into Bowie’s mind through a multitude of collaborations with artists and designers. A spectacular and multi-sensory show bordering on immersive theatre, mirrored and faceted  projection,  sound installations, videos, preparative drawings, sketches, scribbles, lyrics, and models for his staging and costumes.

The sound-scape is rich and experiential, tuning into zones and exhibits, as we move around the exhibition, designed by the company 59 Productions (of the Olympic opening ceremony) and innovative sound technology from Sennheiser.

Bowie’s  clear vision and  hands-on approach, is apparent, influenced by a varied host of artists, culture and politics ranging from Marlene Dietrich, Kabuki Theatre, Lindsay Kemp (from whom he mastered the art of theatrical tension), Kubrick, Kraftwerk, Mao, Jung, German Expressionism and Berlin life.

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 10.24.25At the beginning we read:

“All art is unstable. Its meaning is not necessarily that implied by the author. There is no authoritative voice. There are only multiple readings” signed David Bowie

Indeed – Bowie is a master in borrowing and deriving art-works from everywhere!

Bowie’s collaborators affirm he was a perfectionist, yet easy to work alongside, confident to entrust his team with creative freedom. His costume designers such as Burretti and Yamamoto were delighted to work on an androgynous model such as Bowie  with chiselled features and the ideal tall angular figure to carry avant gard silhouettes and flamboyant suits.

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 10.24.39Kathryn Johnson – young assistant curator reveals she was most encouraged and relieved to discover Bowie had been supported by a range of talented individuals, support and teams rather than producing his projects alone and that his creations were not all the product of one mind. The range of characters Bowie creates, explores and plays out to entertain us is amazing.   Although the exhibition is densely packed with over 300 exhibits, Kathryn says it was hard to whittle down the content from so much available. Bowie supplied most of it, although he had no wish to be involved in the curating.

Screen Shot 2013-03-22 at 10.23.51BE WHO YOU WANT TO BE !

Of the Bowie movement, many people say “It spoke to me “ –  he gave us the license to be ourselves, be individual, be liberated.  In the context of the 1960s and 70s he challenged gender convention and gave a voice to gay liberation (which had only been legalised 4 or 5 years prior to Bowie’s emergence onto the pop scene)

I believe Howard Burrell compared Bowie’s influence today, to that of Mozart or to Bach in their time – the bad boy popular appeal.

Bowie deliberately remains elusive and mysterious (very Dietrich) with an edginess and perhaps strategic recklessness derived from Iggy Pop.

The new album is already a best-seller –  Bowie at sixty-six in the Sinatra spot … and why not celebrate age?

The exhibition embraces every technology, projection, stills, sound, installation fabric, manuscripts and scraps – small booths and large staged exhibits against black space.

The exhibition is packed with an extensive amount of material, a sensory overload  – there is too much to decipher – but yet something for everyone, be you a fashion student, designer, musician, anthropologist, a fan, or a dreamer.

I defy you not be inspired.

“AND THERE HE IS MESSING WITH OUR MINDS AGAIN  …” but that is the job of the artist – to evoke otherworldly feelings*.

Curators: Victoria Broach and  Geoffrey Marsh

David Bowie Is – at the  Victoria and Albert Museum, London  23rd March – 11th August 2013

Anne Tilby:  Film, tv and theatre production designer and mixed media artist  Clients include Julian Clary, Ken Russell, Spitting Image and Father Ted, opera design for Covent Garden Royal Opera House, Chicago Lyric, Moscow, ENO, Madrid … Trash Factory bubbles alongside other activities and is symbiotic – a social enterprise for creative recycling in the community and schools. Trash Factory needs for other interested eco-centrics – so do contact us via www.trashfactory.co.uk

Photography provided by V&A Museum archive

21
Dec

Merrily We Roll Along at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Southwark

Stephen Sondheim is not your average writer of musicals. Froth, glamour, jaunty tap-dancing and hummable songs are not part of his repertoire. His musicals are, in fact, more like dramas with words, and serious and meaningful drama at that. What other writer of musicals has taken as subject matter the westernisation of Japan (Pacific Overtures), the attempted assassination, successful or otherwise, of US presidents (Assassins) or the dark side of fairytales (Into The Woods), to name but a few? His work is not to everyone’s taste, but Sondheim fans are a fervent bunch and I’m one of them!
He had a good grounding in the subject having befriended as a young man the son of Oscar Hammerstein, partner to Richard Rogers for countless memorable musicals of the mid 20th century. Sondheim’s parents had divorced and though he remained with his mother there was no love lost between them. Oscar became almost a surrogate father to him and when he realised the talent that his son’s friend manifested, gave him a thorough education in the writing of musicals. Sondheim decided to make his career in music and he never looked back.
His first breakthrough was writing the lyrics to Leonard Bernstein’s score for West Side Story. Not long after, he was writing both words and music for his musicals although he was to collaborate with other lyricists in several instances. Not all were great hits and some were memorable failures, for example Merrily We Roll Along which lasted for only 16 performances on Broadway. But not for the first time Europe was to embrace what the US had rejected, and the 2001 UK production of Merrily scooped the Laurence Olivier award for best new musical.
Screen Shot 2012-12-21 at 11.49.49Now it has been revived at the Menier Chocolate Factory in Southwark, home to most of London’s theatres in Shakespeare’s time and becoming a popular theatrical area again in the 21st century. Starting in 1980 (around the time it was written) it adopts the novel approach of running the story backwards. So we first meet the central three characters, friends from 20 years back, as their lives have become jaded and all youthful enthusiasm and joie de vivre has ebbed away. As the years count back to 1957 (and in particular to the launch of the Soviet sputnik satellite) we see how different ambitions and accidents of life have formed their character and driven them apart. Why backwards, you may ask? Well, it certainly concentrates the mind and makes the audience more aware of changes that have happened, in contrast to the rather lazy way the mind follows events in chronological order.
Screen Shot 2012-12-21 at 11.51.07The production values at the Chocolate Factory are extremely high. Although there are three central lead players, this is definitely an ensemble piece and everyone pulls their weight and expresses music, lyrics and emotions to the full. The balance between the orchestra and the actors is spot-on, something that is not always the case at the fringe, and the whole experience is mesmerizing and absorbing. The run has been extended by two weeks due to extremely high demand, so you now have the opportunity to see this until 9th March. There are also rumours that, like several Chocolate Factory productions before this, it may transfer to the West End and possibly even Broadway. If you are a Sondheim fan, you probably don’t need any more persuading to go; if you’re not, this could well be the one to convert you!
jeannette-adjusted31Jeannette Nelson, Arts Critic   A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.
16
Nov

Want to Brush up on your History? Visit the Theatre!

Some plays have an obvious historical content, Shakespeare’s histories for example. But currently showing in London are some whose titles belie the history lesson you’re about to receive. And here are some examples.
First up, in chronological order, is 55 Days by Howard Brenton (whose drama often focusses on historical events) which is currently showing at the Hampstead Theatre in Swiss Cottage. The title refers to the time in the 17th century between the demise of the Long Parliament and the beheading of Charles 1st. Of necessity partialy fictionalized to make good drama, it stars Mark Gatiss as the King and Douglas Henshall as Oliver Cromwell; one of the highspots in the play is a meeting between the two which never actually happened. Well, if the German playwright Schiller can invent a meeting between Elizabeth 1st and his eponymous heroine Maria Stuart, why can’t Brenton!
Adrian Lester

Adrian Lester

Move forward a couple of centuries and, for the next play, the audience finds itself in 19th century London, bookended by two short scenes that take place in Poland some 30 years later. Red Velvet is currently playing at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. Written by Lolita Chakrabarti and starring her husband Adrian Lester (Mickey of Hustle fame) it tells the story when the legendary English actor Edmund Kean is taken ill and his role as Othello is taken over by a black American actor, Ira Aldridge; his style is considerably more avant garde than that of the English cast, with their ‘teapot’ acting techniques (imagine the item and then the comparable actor’s stance), with the majority of the cast using this as a ready-made excuse to display their prejudices. And all this is set against the background of the Abolition of Slavery Act. Despite the efforts of the radical French producer of the play, the English press is clearly not ready for this, and as a result of damning criticism of the play and his acting style, Aldridge never appears on the London stage again. A final note: Lester will be taking on the role of Othello at London’s National Theatre next spring.

Charles Edwards and Julian Wadham   Photo by Johan Persson

Charles Edwards and Julian Wadham Photo by Johan Persson

The final play I’m writing about is This House at the National Theatre. It’s currently showing at the flexible Cottesloe space with the downstairs seats arranged as in the House of Commons. The play tells of the five years of knife-edge Labour government between 1974 and 1979 – knife-edge because with wafer thin majorities, they only hung on by the skin of their teeth and by ferrying in ‘walking wounded’ and those almost at death’s door for crucial votes. The main focus is on the whips’ office, a topical subject in the ‘pleb-gate’ context, and the wheeler-dealer shennanigans necessary to retain power. As with so many productions at the Cottesloe, it’s currently sold out; however, the good news is that it’s transferring to the large Olivier stage at the National in the new year.

All three productions mentioned here come thoroughly recommended by me – if you do manage to catch one or more, I do hope you enjoy the experience as much as I did. And also, of course appreciate brushing up your knowledge of history.
Jeannette Nelson, Arts Critic A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.
18
Oct

Hollywood Costume opens Saturday at the V&A!

The world of costume according to Tilby:

The Queen starring Helen Mirren in the title role

The Queen starring Helen Mirren in the title role

This show is a stupendous retrospective and archive of costume memorabilia from one early film to the present day. A “must” for film and theatre makers and buffs … there are over 130 outfits displayed which have taken five years to gather.

The montage and audio visuals are stunning and innovative – collating interviews, discussions, anecdotes and drawings as well as the outfits. The curators and their team have used everything creatively to bring the exhibition to life – projection, screens, montage, props, drawings , lighting fx, interviews and script experts,  emotive film scores heighten the experience.

(I “did” the exhibition backwards as the press were spilling out into the corridor so I had a good view of everything!)

I have worked as a designer for film, opera and tv for several decades, and enjoyed the reaffirmation that the design is about creating character and helping to bring that character to life.

It is very different to the world of fashion.

Spielberg sketch

Spielberg sketch

Ultimately the two worlds overlap when the audiences fall love with or are moved by the characters in a story and that character becomes a symbol or is iconic and influences the world of fashion.

The interpretation of period costume in films is often combined with the spirit of the time in which it is made giving a twist to the genre. Yet the overall result should be to advance the drama.

That is the motivation and the raison d’etre of design for stage and film.

The story is paramount and the starting point of any movie and so unfolds the characters and the humanity.

Charlie Chaplin's suit

Charlie Chaplin’s suit

A curator told me that she was moved to tears when she saw Charlie Chaplin’s suit.

When I am researching a design or costume project I often go and look at garments to see how they were made and to study the tailoring but for me this exhibition is not about the technique and the tailoring of the costumes but about the characters and the motivations – the association is far more important.

The associations and emotions from the memory and iconography in these films have become so closely entwined … I defy you not to be moved by seeing and experiencing many of these characters and “revisiting” them !

A very enjoyable and experiential exhibition.

Anne Tilby Jones, Contributing author, film, opera and tv designer

14
Oct

Networking Actors’ Club

Christopher Parker and Elliot Jordon

The acting profession has always been a precarious one, but such is the passion for it that many youngsters embark on this career path despite knowing, or perhaps ignoring the fact, that any success at all let alone mega-stardom may never be attained.

I recently attended the launch of the So & So Arts Club, whose aim is to help and support aspiring and established actors and others involved in the theatre business. It’s basically a networking club which for a modest annual fee of £30 also offers free advertising for shows, professional workshops and seminars and concessions on tickets and rehearsal and performance spaces.

But the networking is the main thing and this was clearly manifested at the launch. The room positively buzzed with the ‘hi’s’, ‘how are you’s’ and shrieks of recognition as the mostly young crowd met and greeted non-stop. Fuelled by the bar (and a welcoming free drink), the optimism and confidence was palpable. Many were dressed up to the nines and no-one was more enthusiastic than the club’s founder, Sarah Berger. In her welcoming speech she gave the answers to so many dreams, outlining what the club was designed to do and what it already has done.

Sean Baker, Daniel Casey and Jean Marsh

I engaged in conversation with a few obviously talented members. One, a guy called Nathan, had come from Malta to study at a drama school in West London. He must have had talent at his auditions because he also had been offered a place at a school in New York. Since graduating, he had done some radio work, some adverts and a number of performances, but confessed that to keep body and soul together his main occupation was that of a waiter. This must have been true of so many of the bright young things in the room. Those actors that make it big are such a tiny proportion of the profession, and although acting in modern times is no longer restricted to the stage, with television, radio and the internet offering more outlets for talent, the increase in numbers competing for jobs has probably meant that there is still around 80% out of work at any one time.

Yet how many become disillusioned? Not many, I’ll warrant. There are not many professions where there’s such determination to carry on despite all the knockbacks. And thank goodness for that, as my life like so many others would be much the poorer without theatre and those that create it. Some might argue that in a time of recession the arts are not a top priority. I would disagree with that. When life’s hard, there’s a real need for its more esoteric side, and the pleasure theatre and the related arts give is immeasurable.

Dwina Gibb and Sarah Berger

I wish Sarah Berger and her new venture, the So & So Arts Club, every success, its aims are laudable and should, in many practical ways, help those struggling to find their way to the top – or even the middle! In a currently rather dreary and pessimistic Britain (with the exception of course of the life-affirming Olympics) it would be nice to think that all the enthusiasm that manifested itself at the club’s launch will continue unabated throughout many of the potential theatrical careers.

Jeannette Nelson, Arts Critic A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.

20
Jul

Get your Culture Fix – London UK Summer 2012

Welcome break, Trafalgar Square

Welcome break, Trafalgar Square

As I type, two major forces are in the frame for affecting traditional summer cultural activities: the Olympics and the Para Olympics, and the good old British weather! Though, of course, the effect up to a million predicted tourists per day in the capital will have on the transport systems is yet to be witnessed and may well show the cries of chaos to be exaggerated. And as for the weather, well, it may be wetter and greyer so far this spring and summer than in living memory, but the resilience of the British character keeps shining through – the rain-sodden Thames Pageant to mark the Queen’s Jubilee showed that!

Nevertheless, for those who like to indulge in cultural activities, it would be wise to plan any trips carefully and to consider perhaps more events closer to home than in any other summer, thus avoiding any potential travel problems and the risk of spending hours in rain-soaked clothing. But help is at hand for those prepared to venture further, and the following link is a useful starting point:
So, armed with travel information, check out this second link to some remarkable offerings to celebrate the Olympiad:
London has become top-notch at festivals; the City of London Festival (which still has a week or so to run) offers many varied cultural events, many of them free, and many in stunning venues including some of the city’s most beautiful churches.
The London Festival of Architecture (which has just finished) likewise offered the opportunity to learn and see fascinating aspects of the city.
Theatres will continue to ply their trade, though it may well be wise to check availability beforehand. Most, including the smallest of the Fringe venues, now have websites that enable you to book in advance (some for a more modest fee than others). If you want to take a chance at the Leicester Square ticket booth, that too has a website that displays the day’s offers from around 11am and also tells you what’s on offer for the next couple of days. You can’t book from this site, but at least you’ll know whether what you want to see is available through Tkts.

Oxford Street, London

Oxford Street, London

If the weather does buck up, then there are many opportunities to get your culture fix outdoors. Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is showing just two productions in rep: the American musical ‘Ragtime’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ The Globe is running a wider range, though with the return of Mark Rylance, even the groundling tickets may be hard to come by. And until 4 August, the Iris Theatre Company are presenting a promenade version of ‘As You Like It’ in the gardens of St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden. It’s a lively experience!
Lest we forget, sport is also culture, and having been regaled already with Euro 2012 and Wimbledon (with a Brit in the final!) there’s so much more to look forward to. Big screens will be up everywhere for communal watching, though I suspect many will be glued to their tv screens.
For those of you not over-enamoured by sport and reluctant to venture forth, a good film is always an option. Lovefilm has an enormous range on offer, and the subscription is not unreasonable.
And amazon sell some dvds of very watch-worthy films at less than the price of a cinema ticket.
Whatever you do this summer, enjoy yourselves, and, just in case it doesn’t happen before, let’s look forward to a sunny, warm autumn!
Jeannette Nelson, Arts Features writer
27
Jun

Three Day Arts Event in Hertfordshire – Childwickbury Arts Fair

Christiane Kubrick 2011

Christiane Kubrick 2011

I first met Christiane Kubrick when she took part in the Open Studio event in 2003 and since then I have made a point of going to her annual Arts Fair at Childwickbury, near St Albans.

Christiane has painted since she was a child, creating theatre sets, some even with electric lighting which nearly killed her!

In 2011 she used backdrops she designed for the set of Hansel and Gretel for the production at the National Theatre, in the area devoted to children working on their own painting. The backdrop included a mysterious eye and a witch that appealed to many children and whose paintings had a mysterious bent.

The witch and the Eye

The witch and the Eye

interviewed Christiane about her life of art and theatre in 2008 when she spoke of her work, her husband Stanley and her background.

At 80+ she continues working daily on her painting and you will be able to to watch her working on her latest work at the Fair.

Her daughter Katharina is also a prolific artist with a figurative style of her own who will also be painting at the event as will many artists and craftspeople.

The work of Katharina Kubrick

The work of Katharina Kubrick

I’m looking forward to the next Arts Fair 6-7-8-July 2012 where it will be possible to watch crafts people at work … fascinating for all concerned. And there is a programme of events specially focussed on children’s interests, juggling, felt making, face painting and concerts in the evening. A three day event it is something of a celebration of creativity as well as a great day out.

www.childwickbury.co.uk

26
Jun

Duxford – A Great Family Day Out … And Grandad came too!

The times I have driven past Duxford War Museum and thought it would make a great day out but never got around to it.  Well we finally managed in the Easter holidays and we loved it. We’ll be making more visits soon – it is so well organised, we all learned a lot and could see there is so much more to find out about.

I would advise using the planner and map ahead of your visit to decide which parts appeal the most.  The website very useful and we decided on our route before our visit, planning in the all important potential toilet stops and lunch place.

If you are unable to do any pre-planning don’t worry; the leaflet given out on purchase of your ticket is very useful and includes: a map, planner, a brief description of each main exhibit and other useful information such as; where to find out about tours and the mobility assistance vehicle.  I have to say the disabled facilities and assistance were impressive.  No worries about finding an appropriate toilet, exhibits were well spaced, lifts were easy to find, staff very helpful, a wheelchair loan scheme and the mobility vehicle to hand.  If you wanted to be idealistic then a smoother runway when pushing a wheelchair (where the joins are) and it would have been nice to access the inside of a plane as, from what we experienced, you had to be able to climb stairs to go inside but I feel nit-picky considering how easy and relatively stress free the day trip was.

… and Grandad came too!

… and Grandad came too!

So, after a friendly greeting we followed the Families with Young Children plan.  Airspace was our first visit.  The first room/hanger display was pretty much what we’d expected with a few planes and a basic information board.  However, once inside the main display room we were surround by planes both on the ground and hanging from the ceiling and the children’s eyes lit up.   As the planes and other flying machines eg helicopters and reconnaissance remote controlled planes were all displayed in a similar fashion our youngest child grew restless but it wasn’t long until we arrived at the planes which you could board via free-standing stairs and once again the children’s enthusiasm was ignited.

Approaching the upstairs displays with historical visual programmes and futuristic design ideas I thought at first we were going to be rushing through as it wouldn’t interest the children enough but was pleasantly surprised at the variety of hands-on equipment.  There is a range of tasks; from adjusting the fins on the plane making it tilt and turn to completing reaction time tests.  The range of activities was not just based on subject but also from very simple (having heart rate monitored) to quite complex (simulation games eg choosing a wing shape and the angle at which to take off) which was great because it meant that there was something for everyone in our party.  Eventually we dragged ourselves away as we were in danger of not getting around the whole tour!

We missed out the playground as it was basic (but handy if you need your children to let off some steam) and went for lunch.  The different cafes serve varying foods and we chose simple jacket potatoes.  The staff were courteous and helpful, the food was quite standard for such places (including the price).  A nice touch were the complimentary crème egg with their purchase – it was Easter. There are picnic benches, including a covered area that are not indicated on the map.

In the Battle of Britain hanger there was the offer of a free guided tour which we turned down due to fact that we believed our children wouldn’t maintain enough concentration but others seemed to enjoy it.  The use of real war footage on television monitors, audio recordings next to some displays and recreations of scenes (such as an enemy plan shot down and being guarded) all made this area much more real to the children and our eldest was particularly interested and enthused which led to lots of questions.  An especially touching moment was the recreation of an Anderson Shelter with actor’s voices playing out a typical scene.  What made it very moving was that I explained to my son that his granddad would have been the about the same age as the young boy featured and the same age as my son is now.  Seeing him absorb this fact, looking at his granddad, asking thoughtful questions and generally trying to empathise with the situation was truly something that all history teachers would have loved to have seen.  You couldn’t ask for a better compliment to an exhibition in my opinion. I know that both my father and I were filled with pride to see the attempt to understand.

On route to our next viewing we enjoyed watching a bi-plane take off on short flights around the area with passengers on board and made a mental note to partake in such a thing in the future.  The same can be said for the flight simulator!

The American Air Museum appeared to be displayed in a similar fashion to the  Airspace hanger but in an award winning design which was very impressive with its long sweeping slopes and glass frontage. One of the best parts of the day, for the children at least, was in here.  The set of complimentary activities was called Whizz, Bang, Wallop! There were plenty of staff/volunteers on hand to supervise the children with additional support from parents if need be.  Our children loved each activity.  First they folded paper to make aeroplanes (different styles with instructions were available) and aimed at a target (of which a record was kept for who had been the closest).  Then they made a rocket to launch along a string, flight path (propelled by compressed air) to see if they could reach the end.  Lastly, they had a choice between badge making and Airfix model making.  For each activity they proudly collected a stamp on their Activities Passport and later, when at home, couldn’t wait to show any visitors what they had made with lots of detailed description of how and where.

Last but not least we arrived at the Land Warfare which had lots of vehicles on display with a ‘jungle’ themed path through it which added to the atmosphere.  The children could see how warfare may have been played out and some of the pros and cons of devices.  My husband particularly found the information on The Forgotten War (WW2 Far East) interesting as he was not as familiar with it and even though I was more so there was still plenty to be learnt.

The weather put paid to the tank display but, that said, there is so much to see at Duxford that we will definitely be back there soon so I’m sure we’ll see it in the future … later this year, if my children have anything to do with it!

Karen Fletcher, Guest contributor

Visit iwm.org.uk for details of Duxford events and activities.
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Follow the progress of IWM Duxford’s new exhibition, Historic Duxford, on its blog by going to iwm.org.uk

What’s On at IWM Duxford:

Flying Legends – Saturday 30 June and Sunday 1 July 2012
The Duxford Air Show – Saturday 8 and Sunday 9 September 2012
Autumn Air Show – Sunday 14 October 2012

Tickets for their air shows are now on sale.  Book online at www.iwm.org.uk or call the Box Office on 01223 499353.

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