One of the best things about living in Bristol (and let’s be fair, there are MANY great things about living in this amazing, vibrant city) is being able to hang out at the beautiful Old Vic theatre on King Street, which still retains many of its original Georgian features and is absolutely lovely both inside and out. In fact it is such an eighteenth century gem that it was used for the theatre scene in The Duchess starring Keira Knightley. It’s always SUCH a treat to spend an evening there so I really do love it when invitations from their press team pop into my inbox!
We were treated to a wonderful performance of Sebastian Faulk’s Birdsong not that long ago, which was made all the more special by the fact that Faulks himself had decided to take to the stage on the press night to play a few small cameo roles. He looked like he was having the time of his life onstage and got a tremendous cheer from the very appreciative audience at the end. I think we all felt really honoured to have him there.
Birdsong is of course one of the most moving and iconic modern novels about World War One and I wasn’t really sure what to expect from a theatrical version, mainly because there are several intertwined story lines going on and I didn’t know how they would translate to the stage. However, the version I saw concentrated on the protagonist’s life before the war and his experience in the trenches, which definitely simplified matters and the overall effect was extremely fluid and poignant as the stage was by turns a middle class sitting room in northern France and a sordid muddy trench. As I watched I couldn’t help but think of the phrase on my great great grandfather’s WWI death certificate which listed ‘home’ as the ’Theatre of War’ that he had died in as he had managed to get home before dying of his wounds after Armistice Day. This really resonated with me as I watched Birdsong, where for the protagonist, the theatre of war is literally home. Or something. I know what I mean. Anyway, I was deeply moved by Birdsong and was in floods of tears by the end.
It was also a superb treat to see Peter Duncan of former Blue Peter fame on stage. I used to have THE most epic crush on him when I was a kid so was agog to see him in the FLESH at long last. However, when I posted about my excitement to Facebook, things took an awkward turn when one of my friends commented to say that Peter Duncan’s wife is her godmother and she’s seen him in the flesh loads of times. Awkward.
Anyway. Moving on! Let’s go! We were at the Old Vic again last week to watch the BOVTS (Bristol Old Vic Theatre School which has produced such luminaries and Madame Guillotine favourites as Daniel Day Lewis, Peter O’Toole, Jeremy Irons, Olivia Coleman, Miranda Richardson, Brian Blessed, Mark Strong, Rupert Penry-Jones, Sean Pertwee, Pete Postlethwaite, Joseph Mawle, Lydia Leonard and Greta Scacchi etc etc) production of Congreve’s Love for Love, which was first performed in April 1695 and was a bit of a hit back in the day. I’ll be honest and say that the thrust a lot of the dialogue really went right over my head and I wasn’t really engaged by the plot, mainly because everyone in the play was so horrible BUT I loved the production itself as it was all just so darn beautiful as the production team had decided to forgo the usual theatrical lighting and instead illuminate the gorgeously opulent stage sets and period costumes with candlelight as they would have been during the eighteenth century.
This is the second time that I have been to a performance by BOVTS students and on both occasions I have been extremely impressed by the polished, assured and extremely talented quality of their performances. I expect some people might be put off going if they know that the cast is made up from students but that’s just nonsense quite frankly as a glance through a list of past BOVTS alumni ought to make it obvious that they don’t just take ANYONE and their students are amongst the finest young thespians in the country – if not the world. It’s also fun to keep hold of the programme afterwards just in case any of them make it REALLY big – after all, these are the stars of the future!
In summary therefore – although I didn’t exactly love the play itself, I fell in love with the performance, which was really quite extraordinarily beautiful to look at and very vivacious, engaging and lively to watch. I hope they all had as much fun as we did. Sadly I won’t be able to see the next Old Vic production, Pink Mist, which takes a look at the conflict in Afghanistan but I’ll be excitedly counting down the days until The Crucible and Jane Eyre return to Bristol in the autumn. I can’t wait!
(Sadly Love for Love has now finished at Bristol Old Vic – my review was delayed by a malfunctioning hard drive issue on my laptop. So much woe.)
All production photos by Graham Burke.
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