Thursday, December 24, 2015

Kenneth Branagh and Dame Judi Dench light up the stage

We had planned a very busy day. First of all we did our final M&S shopping accompanied by a nice cup of tea and mince pie. The mince pie a day theory didn't really work since we forgot to have one yesterday.

Once more we made the trip to Leicester Square where we found a nice pub for a steak pie lunch. It was quite an elegant pie complete with mashed potatoes and kale and beans. At least part of the meal was healthy.

Then we went back to the Garrick to see Shakespeare's tragicomedy "A Winter"s Tale" with Dame Judi Dench and Kenneth Branagh. The story follows King Leontes (Branagh) in a search for redemption after his obsessive jealousy destroys his family and divides the kingdoms of Sicily and Bohemia.

Branagh brilliantly portrayed Leontes’ descent into madness. His easy smile becomes a grimace as he observes what he thinks are tell-tale signs of adultery by his wife, Hermione. All because she is so eager for his oldest friend, Bohemian monarch Polixenes, to stay on as a guest.

Within the blink of a deranged eye, Branagh was reeling, drunk with self-made poison, his speech faltering as the mania gripped him. His nearest and dearest become abhorrent to him, his son dies, his wife apparently follows suit and their new-born daughter is abandoned then lost.

The lost daughter is at the centre of the second, comedic act. The abandoned infant, rescued by a shepherd has grown into a beauty. A local prince, son of Polixenes, has fallen in love with her. The father is enraged when he discovers his son wooing a commoner, but then her true identity comes to light and the happy group board ship for Sicily.

In the final act we see a grey, withered, broken Leontes, after 16 years of penitence. It turns out his wife is not dead but has been under a spell, not to be broken until the return of the daughter. Which is exactly what happens.

That climactic, tearful reunion is presided over by Judi Dench’s wise, grave, lady-at-court Paulina. Dame Judi’s powers remain undimmed and it is a pleasure to listen to her unique raspy voice. Finally, restored to a youthful bloom after a trial scene that washed all colour from her – is Leontes' wife, Hermione, a study in wronged womanhood.

The play was three hours long but worth every minute of it. It isn't every day you get a chance to see the 80-year-old Judi Dench perform with Kenneth Branagh.


Once again outside we found Leicester Square busier than ever, thronged with fans awaiting the Star Wars premiere. Roads were blocked, a helicopter flew overhead, masses of people were everywhere and several screens were previewing the movie outside the theatre. Only people with passes were allowed anywhere near the red carpet area. All we could see were a few storm troopers in amongst the crowds. There was a huge queue for the midnight show as well.

We made our way over to Piccadilly for the evening performance of the Burt Bacharach jukebox musical, "Close to You." Some 30 classical songs were stripped back and repackaged for the show. The stage was decked out in Bohemian bric-a-brac of old sofas, lamps and suspended guitars. The music was rock and roll with a hint of heavy metal, not your regular Bacharach.

I found it a little disjointed. The musicians were very good but some of the music, Strains from Magic Moments reverberate against the melody of Trains And Boats And Planes. Walk On By, Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head and Close To You blur into each other like some mysterious musical mirage.

After our heavy day of plays we decided to have a good walk from Piccadilly through Hyde Park before we jumped on the tube.


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