Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Sheridan's School for Scandal at the Dr Johnson's Reading Circle



It could have been the scorching heat, the decision to move the wine into the reading room, the fact it was the last meeting of the year or the fact that we were performing Sheridan’s ‘School for Scandal’ to each other - but something put the the Dr Johnson Reading Circle in a festival mood.

Cast lists had been sent out in advance; everyone had the chance (if they wished) to step out of their normal boundaries and try different roles. Perfectly lovely men played sneering, gossipy women whilst perfectly lovely women played hypocritical, conniving men. A prudent curator became a spendthrift wastrel and I had the opportunity of exploring my inner coquette.

The plot is one of those things that makes sense while being swept along but almost impossible to recount in the cold light of day. There’s an old husband and his young wife, trying to work out how to be married, there are two brothers whose characters are being tested by their rich uncle in disguise, there’s a young innocent who is loved by both the brothers and there is the school for scandal, an intimate group of male and female gossips who love nothing more than to spoil a good reputation.

What was surprising, is how Oscar Wilde-ish much of Sheridan’s dialogue is.  One member of the school explains that she destroys reputations in retaliation for her own being tattered and is told that, ‘nothing could be more natural.’ Another member of the group constantly spreads gossip in the same breath as denouncing it, while yet another member declares, “ I have no malice against the people I abuse. When I say an ill-natured thing, ’tis out of pure good humour.” A character called Mr Snake who is paid to do a good deed and begs that no-one else is told of the good deeds as it would spoil his reputation. This combination of restoration-comedy-esque intrigue and Wildean wit creates a sense of pleasure and abandon. 

The characters’ actions are not completely realistic, this would make a truly ludicrous novel, but on the stage, with the quick pacing (many of the lines are written to interrupt each other) smooth over gaps in plausibility and set up gags and set-pieces galore.

I had particular pleasure (as Mrs Candour) in rattling off long, digressive speeches full of nasty gossip and weak admonishments against gossip. I also had the joy (as Lady Teazle) in alternately flirting and arguing with my husband, Sir Peter. However, my favourite scene was probably one I wasn’t in, where Charles Surface (the profligate but honest brother) sells his collection of family portraits to his uncle, who is in disguise to test him. 

We enjoyed reading the play so much, that when our allotted time ran out, we took our books to the local pizza place and read there, laughing as cues were lost in mouths of mozzarella and reaching a triumphant conclusion while the staff were ready to kick us out. I do feel we should have included the epilogue (as it was a long speech for me).


‘School for Scandal’ is genuinely enjoyable, and even fairly scandalous. There are performances of it in Finsbury Park until July 7th, which it might be worth getting tickets for. If I can’t, and if you can’t, I recommend doing what we did - get some friends over, pour some refreshments and read it together. It certainly worked for us.



Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Reading Casanova Volume Three


Volume three starts exactly where volume two’s cliffhanger left us. Casanova is about to perform some fake sorcery in order to defraud a man of his money and virgin daughter. The clock strikes midnight…
…Casanova starts the incantations, a storm begins to rumble overhead. As he reaches the climax of the ceremony, the storm crashes ahead and lightning throws down its barb├ęd forks. This makes him think twice about what he his up to, so he makes amends and scarpers to Naples.
On the way, he meets an old Hungarian officer who is accompanying a young French soldier - who is clearly a woman in a uniform. The two cannot converse and mainly make do with sign language, so Casanova lends a hand. Naturally he falls in love with the young French woman. He makes plans to steal her away from the officer in Parma, but, in his translation duties, discovers that she wants to leave him in Parma anyway and that he is resigned to it. When they arrive at Parma, Casanova steps in as a gentleman and escorts the lady to a shared house.
Here name is Henriette - if you watch the BBC adaption of Casanova with David Tennant, she is the love of his life. They do indeed set up home and Casanova talks about them living ‘as married’ and the time being one of the happiest he ever enjoyed. But there’s a problem. Henriette is on the run from her family in France and Parma is under heavy French control and influence, so it’s not long before she has to leave Casanova behind and return to them. She scratches a command in the window for him to forget her and he proceeds to cry for several days. 
In his weakness, a man manages to convert him to sober and religious life. He then finds out charges in Venice against him have been dropped so he returns to his patron, Bragadin’s house and falls back to his old ways.

With friends at home and money in his pocket, Casanova naturally buggers off to France and has fun. There he is shocked and pleased by the louche-ness, makes a few faux-pas with the language and learns the phrase ‘je ne c’ext quoi’. He has a few flings, pimps for Louis XV, fakes himself a master of cabbala and makes a bunch of friends before moving onto Dresden, Vienna and then back home to Venice.
Where this volume started with a love of his life, it also ends with one. A disreputable friend of his has a gorgeous, young sister he falls in love with. Her father is a respectable merchant who has banished the disreputable son and wouldn’t countenance Casanova as a suitor but he falls head over heels, arranges the necessary false names and hideout, then proceeds to a common-law marriage.


She is taken away and ensconced in a nunnery on one of the other islands in the Venetian Lagoon and he arranges a system of secret letters and a ring that has a secret trap-door in it that contains a picture of his face. Thus we leave him, longing for his ‘wife’ with her brother trying (and failing) to hoodwink him.
I found Casanova more likeable in this volume then the other ones. His violent, even murderous impulses are less (though I do recall him waving a pistol around and shooting at stableboys at one point) and his romances seem less like flings and more like the proper love he always claims it is. Slightly more queasily, some of these loves are thirteen/fourteen at most and that is a rather icky area it might be best to chalk up to different cultures (though still quite unpleasant to realise).

It was also a pleasure to be reading Casanova in his beloved Venice, even if he didn’t get to spend much time there, and even if I hadn’t got to the famous bit of him escaping the ceiling-jails of the Doge’s Palace. That escapade happens in volume four - and I shall be sharing it with him at some point soon-ish.



Wednesday, 7 June 2017

A Few Words on my Trip to Venice

Last week I was in Venice and I now have sore eyes. How could I shut them in such a beautiful and interesting place? 
Everything about Venice fascinated me; from its foundation as a refugee camp fleeing from the Mongol and other ‘barbarian’ invasions on the flailing Roman Empire, to the development of a unique and peculiar republic that fought the battle of Lepanto - the last major battle fought with galleys and battering rams, to the masked and revelrous world that birthed Casanova and finally, the tourist magnet it is today.

What struck me most was how I had been mislead by the word ‘canal’. I had in my mind the British form of canal that was championed by the Lunar Society. It is a purposeful, dug-up system created to make transport easier. Venice’s canals and waterways are what have shaped the city, often as an obstacle to be overcome. Even today; food, toilet rolls and other necessities are boated into the Venetian islands where porters load up handcarts and push them all around the city. It reminded me of eighteenth century London, which also boated in products to be carried throughout the city - it created a thriving atmosphere, the porters providing a bloodline throughout.

I wasn’t there long but in that time I managed to boast myself around the lagoon, exploring the glassblowers of Murano (where one of Casanova’s lovers was ‘safely’ ensconced in a nunnery), the astonishingly pretty Burano (birthplace of influential eighteenth century composer Baldassare Galuppi) and the tranquil Torcello (where I sat on ‘Attila’s Throne’).

I also explored the Jewish ghetto - a specifically Venetian word that originally meant factory but eventually applied to all deprived, squeezed and downtrodden areas. On a lighter note, Venice also gave us the word ‘sequin’, named after the zechinni, a small shiny coin of the republic.

To the art or museum fan, Venice has far more than can possibly be enjoyed in less then three weeks. I enjoyed a number of churches, from the ancient one on Torcello to the famous St Mark’s - though I most enjoyed the trip to the Doge’s Palace. First I was fascinated by the system of government, the various councils and committees, the secret postboxes to denounce heretics and the Bridge of sighs over to a warren of dank prison cells. I spent hours wandering the halls of power and listening to chunks of tours. Finally, I also explored a few museums in St Mark’s square where there was much to enjoy.


It’s hard to explain how many interesting things I saw..in writing this, I feel I can either write a page on each thing or a sentence. If you haven’t been to Venice, I’d recommend it straightaway and I’d ask if you fancied taking me.

Yours



P.S 
A hilarious contribution to the genre of 'ugly baby Jesus' paintings.