A bit of culture

Over the past few weeks we’ve been busy soaking up a bit of culture

The Thursday of my week off work we had tickets for a production at the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick. We’d planned to combine that with a lower level walk in the Borrowdale Valley, but plans had to change after J sprained her foot. Luckily she’d recovered enough to have a look around Keswick before a pre-theatre meal in the Fellpack restaurant

Our theatre tickets were for a performance of The Ladykillers, a play based on the 1955 Ealing Comedy a favourite film of mine that starred Alec Guinness, Herbert Lom and Peter Sellers. The play is based on the film, not the other way round and it had first been produced back in 2011 at Liverpool Playhouse, starring Peter Capaldi.

The plot followed that of the film, with a few differences. As with previous visits to the Theatre by the Lake we enjoyed the production. Is was well acted, particularly Dominic Gately as the Professor, who brought a real comic touch to the role. Devesh Kishore wasn’t as sinister as Herbert Lom as Louis – who could be – but I thought Luke Murphy made more of the part of Harry than Peter Sellers.

This week the weather mid week has been awful with heavy rain (we didn’t get it anywhere near as bad a further east and south, mind). We had tickets for two events – a play at the Royal Exchange on Wednesday and a musical performance at the Halle’s small venue in Ancoats on Thursday so we braved the rain and drove into Manchester two days on the trot.

Another pre-theatre meal, this time at Mowgli’s in the Corn Exchange

Light Falls a new play by Simon Stephens, with music by Jarvis Cocker, at the Royal Exchange, has had good reviews and was almost sold out, even on a wet Wednesday evening.

Connecting five relatives in five disparate English towns, from Blackpool to Durham, LIGHT FALLS is a richly layered play about life in the face of death, about how our love survives us after we’ve gone – and about how family, community and kindness help the North survive.

Royal Exchange website

As with just about everything we’ve seen at the Royal Exchange it was a good production with some excellent performances by the cast. Mind you, the first half in particular really lived up to the saying that “it’s grim up north”. It started by somebody dying before moving round the north of England to “visit” her husband and offspring who all had their own problems. Things resolved themselves a little at the end at the funeral and the ending was a little more optimistic.

Thursday evening and we were back in Manchester to see a performance by a young Polish pianist Hania Rani ( short for Raniszewska) at the Halle St Michaels venue, a converted church, in Ancoats. I’d come across her via Spotify, which has a “Discover Weekly” feature, where tracks are suggested based on your playlists. One week it had included one of her piano pieces from her recently released LP, Esja, and as I liked it I followed the link and explored the LP and some of her other music, including her LP with cellist Dobrawa Czocher.

Looking at Hania’s website I spotted that she was performing in Manchester at the start of a European tour so decided to get along. I had to buy the tickets online and was surprised to see that the start time was given as 7 p.m., which seemed rather early. Turned out that it was! We arrived in Manchester just after 6, parked up and walked across the city centre and Northern Quarter towards Ancoats, stopping off for a drink in a bar. We arrived at the venue at about quarter to 7 to discover that they were still conducting sound checks and that the doors were not due to open at 7:30. An apology would have been nice but the guy on the door seemed indignant that we’d turned up early (as had other people). So, a little dischuffed, we went back to the Northern Quarter for another drink.

I really enjoyed the concert, though. It’s a small venue, rather like the Liverpool Philharmonic’s “Music Room”, but it was pretty full. Hania played a fairly long set – about an hour and 20 minutes, without a break. I recognised many of the pieces from her LP but she also included a number of other pieces including 3 songs.

Hania is originally from Gadansk but now shares her time in Warsaw and Berlin. Her label, Gondwana Records, is Manchester based, which is why her tour was starting there. I think that her style is best described as minimalist classical – rather like the music of Michael Nyman, Philip Glass and Max Richter – with jazz and other influences.

Here’s a couple of her pieces, both from her LP

and here’s a piece performed with Dobrawa Czocher

Lunasa in Keswick

Quite a few years ago now, during one of my first trips to Ireland with work, I picked up a CD of music by, Lunasa, an Irish band I’d heard being played in a shop selling traditional Irish music. I’ve played it many many times since and they’ve become my favourite Irish band. A few weeks ago I found out that they had a short tour over in England and the first date was in Keswick at the Theatre by the Lake, so I booked a couple of tickets, planning to combine the concert with an afternoon in the Lakes.

Lunasa are named after “Lughnasadh”, an ancient Irish harvest festival. They’re very accomplished musicians who play a modern take on Irish traditional music on traditional instruments such as Uilleann pipes, fiddle and flute combined with guitar, and double bass.

There’s no singing, they are purely an instrumental band. Well, usually as on their most recent album they feature a number of guest singers. But in Keswick there was no singing just extremely well played music – plus some banter from the Brummie born (!) flautist from County Clare (I spotted his accent) Kevin Crawford .

The other current members of the band are  Trevor Hutchinson (double bass), Ed Boyd (guitar), Seán Smyth (fiddle and low whistle) and Cillian Vallely (uilleann pipes and low whistles). Although the line up has varied in the past.

Seán is a practising GP in Mayo and doesn’t appear on all their Youtube clips, presumably due to not always being able to Ed Boyd is from Bath and has worked with other musicians, including Kate Rusby. We’re sure we saw him playing in her band during one of her Christmas shows.

Their set included traditional tunes from Ireland, Scotland and Brittany, as well as some of their own compositions.

We also managed to combine the concert with a short walk along the east coast of Derwent Water followed by a vey delicious meal in the Fellpack restaurant in Keswick. It was a bit of a grey day, but it’s always good to be up in the Lakes

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A night at the Theatre by the Lake

After looking round the museum in Keswick, browsing in the shops and a stroll in the parks we headed over to Morrel’s Restaurant where we had a table booked for an early evening pre-theatre meal. Like some other diners we had tickets for that evening’s performance at the Theatre by the Lake.

The Theatre “does exactly what it says on the tin” – it’s a repertory theatre situated close to the northern lake shore of Derwent Water. It opened in 1999 with funding from an Arts Council Lottery Fund Grant. It has a main auditorium and a Studio theatre. From May to November every year a resident company of up to 14 actors perform a Summer Season of six plays in repertory.

We’d decided it would be good to take in a play during our stay in Keswick so I’d booked tickets the week before. The play running that week was an adaption of Jane Austen’s tale of manners, matrimony and social standing – Sense and Sensibility. Now I’m not a fan of Austen’s work and had hesitated when looking at the programme but decided to go anyway. I’m glad I did.

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The play was a light-hearted adaption of the novel featuring the entire company, some in multiple roles. It was funny and well acted with some excellent performances. I though Lydea Perkins’ did a convincing job portraying the young Margaret Dashwood. Sarah Kempton and Alice Imelda as her older sister, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood were also very good. Christine Entwisle was also excellent in the contrasting parts of the cold and cruel Fanny Dashwood and the main comic turn, Mrs Jennings.

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The male leads Oliver Mott as at Willoughby and Thomas Richardson as Colonel Brandon both did a good job in portraying characters of whom the audience’s opinion and sympathies changed during the course of the play.

So, despite my initial reservations, this was an enjoyable evening and I’m glad I decided to overcome my prejudice and go ahead an buy the tickets. Sometimes taking a chance leads to a nice surprise!

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Lady of the Lake

The Theatre by the Lake in Keswick “does exactly what it says on the tin” – it’s a repertory theatre situated close to the northern lake shore of Derwent Water.  It opened in 1999 with funding from an Arts Council Lottery Fund Grant. It has a main auditorium and a Studio theatre. From May to November every year a resident company of up to 14 actors perform a Summer Season of six plays in repertory.

(Picture source; Visit Cumbria website)

We’ve thought about going to see a play there while we’ve been on holiday in the Lake District, but, for various reasons, haven’t been able to to. But during our recent break in Keswick we got tickets to see their production of The Lady of the Lake by a young playwright, Benjamin Askew, in the Studio Theatre.

Studio performances in theatres are usually devoted to new and/or experimental works. And this was the premiere of the first play by, Benjamin Askew who is originally from the Ribble Valley in Lancashire and who spent childhood holidays in the Lake District.

The playwright builds on the Cumbrian take on the legend of King Arthur. There are claims that Penrith is the location of the Round Table and that  his sword, Excaliber, was found in and returned to  Lake Bassenthwaithe. Some have even suggested that Carlisle was the location of Camelot.

The play locates Avalon, a pagan realm, in Cumbria, ruled over by the Lady of the Lake. Arthur and his men, faced with a Saxon invasion, have retreated to Carlisle. This is the seeing for a tale involving a conflict between pagans and Christianity, pagan ritual, incest and ambition and a struggle for power.

(Picture source: Theatre by the Lake website)

There was a cast of seven, relatively large for a Studio production. I thought the two young female performers, Charlotte Mulliner (Nimue) and Emily Tucker (Morgan), were very good, and there was a strong performance by Ben Ingles as the psychopathic warrior Owain.

The “Game of Thrones” and other series set in a mythical or semi-mythical Dark Ages have become very popular on TV and this play rather reminded me of them. I also saw some similarities with the Simon Armitage versions of the Illiad and the Odyssey which we’ve seen in recent years at the Royal Exchange and Liverpool Everyman.

The play was, perhaps, overlong and a little over the top, especially during the second half. The plot got a little over-complicated too, at times. So Benjamin Askew still needs to work on his craft. But overall an enjoyable evening.

A long weekend in Keswick

Last weekend we decided to treat ourselves to a short break in the Lake District. We booked ourselves into a fancy B and B in Keswick, driving up on Saturday and staying for a couple of nights.

Keswick is a market town and tourist centre (ever since Georgian times) in the North Lake District, on Derwent Water

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Surrounded by dramatic scenery

It’s always a bit of a gamble booking a beak in the Lakes where most of the enjoyment is spending time outdoors, but we were lucky with the weather for the first two days. It was overcast and cloudy (so not great for taking photos with the light flat and grey)

 

but it didn’t rain and the sun broke through a few times. The autumn colours were breaking out

 

We managed a couple of walks, half a day on Saturday and a long day out on Sunday.

It rained on Monday, but we’d planned on mooching round Keswick and visiting the Wordsworth House in Cockermouth, and neither were dependant on good weather.

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We also managed to have a rather nice meal out and a visit to the theatre (the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick). So all in all a very good break.