Saturday 27 January 2018

Australian Travels Part Two: Canberra to Melbourne

Our short stay in Canberra was over before we knew it and soon we were heading south. Eden was to be our destination but we couldn’t resist a stop off at ‘the snow’ en route.  The green landscapes turned to the brown more commonly associated with the Australian outback before entering the lush mountain area. A brief pause at Jindabyne was necessary to buy passes for the Kosciuszko National Park. It was a very brief stop which was a shame as the mountains and lake (which covers the previous site of the town) shimmering in the sunshine were begging to be explored.

We arrived at Thredbo as the first flutterings of a snowstorm were floating through the air. An obligatory snowball fight later and we were back on the road again. Even the skiiers were moving away from the mountain as visibility had decreased so drastically.
A seemingly interminable drive along dark and twisting roads followed until we finally arrived at Eden Beachfront Holiday Park where we passed a chilly night (a natural hazard of winter travel). With the rising of the sun the next morning we realised what beautiful views we had stretching out to sea. Our first tourist stop was the Killer Whale Museum where we learnt about how whalers and killer whales worked together to trap humpback whales that entered Twofold Bay. I admit boats and whaling don’t exactly get my heart racing but it told a fascinating tale, and I skipped through the rest of the exhibitions. A walk along the beach to stretch the legs and soak up some fresh sea air made a welcome interlude before heading to Boyds Tower.

The tower is a short walk from the car park along an accessible path lined with melaleuca trees, signs of bush fires apparent. When built in 1847 it was one of a number of similar structures, many of which did not survive as they were made of wood. Boyds Tower was built of sandstone so weathered the years better. It does show some damage from its age however, part of the top missing from a lightning strike in the 1860s. Unfortunately, visitors are unable to climb the tower but any disappointment will be washed away with views from the lookout. Eden is very aptly named.

Green Cape Lighthouse is a 31km walk away but alas the sun would begin to fade before we could cover such a distance and so had to rely once more on the car. When built in 1883 it was the tallest lighthouse in New South Wales but lost this title shortly afterward with the construction of Smoky Cape in 1891. Green Cape was replaced by a solar power light tower in 1992 but the original structure still stands and if you time your visit right you could be treated to a tour.

The very nature of a road trip means there’s never much time in any one place and soon we were on our way to Lakes Entrance, our first stop in Victoria. Unfortunately, everywhere seemed to close by 8pm so we struggled to find anywhere for dinner (our only choice in the end was a takeaway pizza place which turned out to be satisfyingly tasty). The benefit of arriving in the dark is the pleasure of waking to unexpectedly beautiful views in the morning, especially after another cold night. The water with boats floating gracefully atop was serene as the sun glimmered off the still surface.

A walk along the sunny esplanade led us to Esplanade Mini Golf, a wonderfully fun course which is just how I imagine crazy golf should be and yet very rarely is. Just across the road is Charnwood café, a charming little eatery
attached to a gift shop. The perfect place to warm up and toast the victor. A few more stops to look at various of the Gippsland Lakes and we were back on the Princes Highway heading for Melbourne.

Monday 22 January 2018

Cinderella, Sadler’s Wells, London, 21st January 2018

The return of Matthew Bourne’s retelling of Cinderella has been met with great enthusiasm and a sold out run. Rightly so – his decision to set it during the London Blitz adds an extra level of depth and real emotion. The set is wonderfully evocative of wartime London, the colour palette dreary, the costumes full of the elegance of the age. Prokofiev’s famous score is interspersed with air attack sirens and the sound of bombs falling. It seamlessly fits into its new setting, perhaps reflecting the influence of the time of its creation on the composer. The final act, in a traditional ballet a glittering celebration, is instead subdued – the couple are reunited in a convalescence home and their wedding is transplanted to a railway station amid the reunion of couples and separation of others as more soldiers head to war. It is an appropriately understated affair that is nonetheless heartening.

The ball scene is a triumph. It opens heartwrenchingly on an already bombed Café du Paris, bodies litter the floor, the glamour of the place stripped away in its rubble. The Angel (our Fairy Godmother equivalent) appears and the destruction reverses, the simple beauty of a wartime dance brought to life. The reminder of how fleeting life became weighs heavily as the revelers reanimate. Cinderella makes her entrance in a flowing white ballgown, the envy of all, and dances the night away before heading to bed with her newfound love. This feels very modern compared to the more innocent traditional tellings and highlights the awareness of the ephemerality of love in such uncertain times.

Cinderella’s transformation from a downtrodden, ordinary young woman to an elegant blonde bombshell is beautifully realised but her return to normality and the fact of her husband’s war damage gives a sense of reality to the story. The Angel, in his shiny silver suit, dances with ethereal lightness, a pleasure to watch.

An utter triumph of a retelling that fits so neatly with such a well-known tale. If you want a more grown-up version then this historic version is not one to miss. Sold out for the rest of its run at Sadler’s Wells, it is worth travelling to catch it on its tour of the UK.

Saturday 13 January 2018

Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic, V&A

The V&A has opened its doors to one of our most beloved bears, and visitors can now get a glimpse of the Hundred Acre Woods as they step into this enchanting exhibition. The space has been beautifully decorated with blown-up versions of Shepard’s famous illustrations. You can step through the door of Owl’s home, cross Poohsticks Bridge, and cosy up in a tree trunk to listen to a story. It’s an incredibly child-friendly display but it is a wonderful outing for adults as well, demonstrating the timeless appeal of Milne’s characters.

You are first greeted by a display showcasing how far-reaching merchandising for Winnie the Pooh has gone. From exercise books to dress, music to a tea set owned by Queen Elizabeth from her childhood, there’s no escaping the popularity of Winnie and friends. The exhibition focuses mainly on the original artwork but does acknowledge Disney’s rebranding in 1966 and the now familiar look they created.

The exhibition is a veritable treasure trove of delights. There are photos of Milne with Christopher Robin and Edward bear (though Shepard in reality based his drawings on his own son’s teddy, Growler). There are original manuscripts and correspondence between Milne and Shepard as well as sketchbooks that show how much work went into creating this iconic world. The main bulk of the items on display are original drawings by Shepard, and it is clear what a symbiotic partnership it became – there’s even an example of Milne adding an extra scene to incorporate one of the drawings.

All in all a gem of an exhibition that is bound to banish the January blues. It is open at the V&A until 8th April. 

Saturday 6 January 2018

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage, Philip Pullman

Pullman’s greatly anticipated return to the world of His Dark Materials hit shelves late last year. The story is set a decade before Northern Lights and focuses on Malcolm Polstead, an intelligent and inquisitive child. He lives and works in his parents’ inn, the Trout, and is friendly with the nuns at Godstow Priory, just across the water. The nuns take in a baby named Lyra under a certain amount of secrecy and Malcolm soon finds himself attached to his young neighbour. His innocent life is shaken up when he sees a stranger lose an acorn and then be confronted by a group of threatening looking men. This leads our young protagonist into a world of intrigue, spies, and alethiometers.

There’s also the problem of Gerard Bonneville, a seemingly friendly man whose three-legged hyena daemon shows his true, dark nature. A scientist and pedophile, he is even witnessed attacking his own daemon, an action that is practically unheard of. When the flood comes and the Priory is badly damaged, Malcolm attempts to take Lyra to safety on his trusty canoe, La Belle Sauvage, with the help of Alice – a churlish employee of the Trout. In their attempt to return Lyra to her father in London they are hounded ruthlessly by Bonneville who wants her for far more sinister purposes. They also have to try to avoid the Consistorial Court of Discipline, but it is Bonneville who is relentless in following them. He becomes an eerie, much-feared figure who the reader will feel great distaste for.

There is a real sense of claustrophobia and distrust in the early parts of the novel with the League of St Alexander giving children power over their elders by reporting them for not toeing the line. As Malcolm comes to understand the complexity of the world around him you feel all the uncertainty with him, never quite sure of whose intentions are honourable. During the flood, although some of the situations occasionally feel a tad far-fetched, the desperation and suffering is vividly written, bringing the struggles that the children face to life. It is all too easy to forget how young they are.

With Pullman’s latest offering you feel you are in safe hands with this experienced and masterful storyteller. Whether you’re a Dark Materials superfan, a general reader, or new to this fictional world, you’re bound to enjoy this thrilling adventure tale with the bigger philosophical and theological preoccupations woven throughout.