Plain English: March 2009 Archives

On Monday 30th March 2009, I attended a ceremony to rededicate the monument the chef, Soyer, erected to his wife, Emma, at Kensal Green Cemetery in West London, and where he is buried as well. It was a glorious day, and about 50-75 people, including the French Ambassador, were there to hear a contemporary Franco/British chef, Raymond Blanc, give a moving, sometimes funny account of Soyer's life. Alexis Benoît Soyer (1810-1858), was a big-hearted, genial man, whose public benefactions and good deeds far outweighed his personal shortcomings. Though he was never good with money, and though his ambitions often exceeded his grasp, leading to repeated business failures, he showed vision and social concern, and was never involved in the petty thievery or the corrupt kitchen practices that characterised later Victorian chefs, particularly Escoffier. As M. Blanc said, Soyer probably learned from Napoleon that an army marches on its stomach -- he was certainly the founder of modern military catering in Britain.
March 30, 2009 6:32 PM | | Comments (0)


Cheek by Jowl's Andromaque is a co-production with the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, and I managed to catch up with it while on tour at Oxford Playhouse. Director Declan Donnellan and his designer/partner Nick Ormerod have devised the most spare production imaginable - a bare stage with only a few chairs, and costumes that amount to Ruritanian uniforms for the men and sexy 1930s/40s French dresses for the women. Such movement as there is, is provided by the cast of nine actors processing around the stage and moving the chairs. Gloriously, the play is delivered in French, with English surtitles keeping the audience informed about what the actors are declaiming.

March 27, 2009 5:03 PM | | Comments (0)

Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d'Éon de Beaumont (1728-1810),  le Chevalier d'Éon, was a career diplomat, in addition to being a part-time soldier and an amateur spy. But it was only the last of these that attracted the difficult-to-categorise Canadian art/performance producer Robert Lepage. For d'Éon, says the programme for the performance called "Eonnagata" (at Sadler's Wells recently), "was probably the first spy to use cross-dressing in the pursuit of his duties." I doubt this, but can't cite from memory a Homeric or classical counter-example. The same note says that he incurred the wrath of "Louis XVI, who forced him to wear a dress all the time." In the end d'Éon appears to have been so used to his frocks, that no one really knew his sex.

March 13, 2009 6:33 PM | | Comments (0)

At the Royal Opera House (with one more performance, tonight [March 7] and a BBC Radio 3 broadcast on May 30) is one of the musically finest productions of Wagner's  Die Fliegenede Hollander I can remember. Bryn Terfel looks more like a Monty Python lumberjack than a sailor, let alone the Wandering Jew, but his singing of the role of the Flying Dutchman is so nuanced and dramatic that it's an astonishing bonus that the same is true of Anja Kempe's Senta. There have been a certain number of critical complaints that the costumes, the wavy curtains during the overture, and the large curving set all ignore Wagner's (over)explicit stage directions. However, I feel that Tim Albery's contemporary dress production with splendid, simple sets by Michael Levine,is simply straightforward, with the confidence, unusual as it is welcome, to let the story tell itself. And its single departure from simplicity, when the spinning song takes place in a factory full of sewing machines, is such a good visual joke that it made me love the production even more. Mind you, it was so different from last month's concert performance at the Barbican that it really could almost be another work entirely - but isn't that a good thing? Doesn't it mean that the staging actually adds something significant?

T: +44 871 911 0200

March 7, 2009 3:34 PM | | Comments (0)

There's a lot of noise going on in London about the National Gallery's major show "Picasso: Challenging the Past." Some critics are cross because the London show, unlike its Paris avatar, does not display the Picasso pictures alongside the Old Masters they are "challenging," while others regret the absence of Picasso's contemporaries (viz., Matisse) being available for enlightening comparison. For myself, I enjoyed walking through the main rooms of the NG's permanent collection, on the way to the excellent Picasso prints show in Room 1, and looking for connections with that I had just seen in the Sainsbury wing. My only reservation is the Sainsbury wing galleries themselves, which feel mean, pinched and crowded. We know from the Velázquez show last year how much better temporary shows can look at the NG, when hung alongside the permanent collection.

A little noise is being made, too, about the new "Van Dyck & Britain" show at Tate Britain. In the Evening Standard Brian Sewell even grumbles about its title. Why, he asks, call it Britain - which "did not exist." As he says, Scotland was then another country, and Van Dyck was attached to the English court of Charles I. And he thinks it does Van Dyck no favours to mount a show with only the work he did in England, as it "shows how bad a painter he could be and swamps the few masterpieces with paintings that are curate's eggs, flawed in drawing and construction, more than faintly ridiculous in conception, and by workshop hacks as much as by himself." Whew

March 4, 2009 10:35 AM | | Comments (0)
Sometimes it's sheer laziness that keeps us from seeing the Royal Shakespeare Company's productions at their very best - in their Stratford-upon-Avon HQ - as it's only an hour's drive for us, less time than it takes us to drive to London. But I did catch up with the RSC's new "Taming of the Shrew," directed by Conall Morrison, at the Novello in London, and their new "Othello," directed by Kathryn Hunter, at the Oxford Playhouse.
March 1, 2009 3:21 PM | | Comments (0)

Me Elsewhere


About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Plain English in March 2009.

Plain English: February 2009 is the previous archive.

Plain English: April 2009 is the next archive.

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