Hogarth’s Progress Part 1, The Art of Success, Rose Theatre, Kingston

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The Art of Success was first produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1986. it was written by Nick Dear, he has now written a companion piece, set 30 years later and they are being presented as a double bill at the Rose Theatre in Kingston, under the title “Hogarth’s Progress”. The first play depicts Hogarth’s life at the time just before the copyright act came into force when he had just done “A Harlot’s Progress” and before he started “A Rake’s Progress”. The second will depict him in later life. They are meant to complement each other and still work as stand alone plays.

Set in London in the 1730s, “The Art of Success” is a ribald and raucous story, telling of the partying antics of many of the renowned people of the day. These include Hogarth himself, the satirist Henry Fielding, Prime Minister Robert Walpole, brothel keeper Elizabeth Needham and even George II’s wife Queen Caroline. Many scenes are salacious and slanderous, reflecting the satirical plays of the time that led to the passing of the Theatrical Licensing Act. Hogarth was instrumental in causing the engraving copyright act to be passed and there is a subtext to this play about the ownership of art and about how art develops in times of social change, which chimes with the present day challenges for art in the different forms of social media.

Having said all that, the main thrust of the play is a bawdy farce about an epic night on the town and is meant to be enjoyed as just that. In this respect it works well.  It has funny jokes, although it occasionally veers into Carry-on territory. It is merciless in lampooning the aristocracy and it has enjoyable characters. The cast is spectacular, every performance is good.  Jasmine Jones is excellent as Sarah Sprackling, she manages to get a great balance between comedy and pathos. Jack Derges as Henry Fielding is both funny and loathsome. Bryan Dick does a fantastic job of holding it all together as runs about the town in various stages of disrepair.

The set is ingenious, I liked how contemporary it manged to be while still displaying the 18th Century. I cannot imagine that they had the ability to use the effects on display here when it was first produced 32 years ago, and I enjoyed the little nods to modern technology in the direction. “The Art of Success” is a play that you continue to appreciate after you have left the theatre and I am looking forward to seeing part 2 “The Taste of the Town” when it opens next week.

 

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Girl from the North Country, Old Vic Theatre, London

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Girl from the North Country contains three or four intertwining stories. These are slight, almost sketches really, but are beautifully told so that we care about the people we see on stage. It contains about twenty songs from Dylan’s back catalogue. These are used, in  an abstract way, to accentuate the drama rather than to move the narrative forward. It would be misleading to call this a musical, it is more a play with musical accompaniment.

The prose and the songs complement each other very well. Given the quality of the cast, the strength of the acting is no surprise. The singing, orchestration and choreography are the revelation. There are some amazing voices in the ensemble. Shirley Henderson and Jack Shalloo, in particular, shock when they sing, but every song is delivered well. The impact of a downtrodden, beaten character suddenly opening their vocal cords is not to be underestimated. Even the songs that I already knew, appeared to be given new life in the context of the play.

The reception of the audience was good, it is not too often that the whole audience stands at the end. I enjoyed this show, Conor McPherson and Bob Dylan are a combination that go together very well.

This was a real dream that I had last night.

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I realise this post is off topic, but last night, I had an odd dream and I feel compelled to share.
Tessa Jowell’s autobiography arrived in the post. I was surprised as I had no interest in her or her policies. The book had a very nice cover; it was bright yellow with embossed gold fleur-de-lis.
I opened the book and inside the dust cover was a matching dress, the pattern was a bit more garish in a dress than on a book, but nevertheless, I decided to put it on – in order to understand her mindset better. The dress was restrictive, uncomfortable and made me unhappy. However, even worse, the zip was in the middle of the back and I could not get it off. I had to ask friends to help me remove it.
Kerryjane, said “it’s just like the plot of a Disney move”. I asked which one, Catty said “Beauty and the Beast, of course, that’s Emma Watson playing Tessa Jowell. Justine told me that she was writing an aria for the soundtrack and said “It has to have a heavenly choir and Dick on harmonica” Jayne said that Black Radish was supplying the globe artichokes. Kelly said that she had brought me some underwear in case I wasn’t wearing anything underneath. She said “They belong to Olly, but I’m sure he won’t mind, if you really need them – you don’t have to give them back” I assured her that I was fine, I had put the dress on over my normal clothes.
Just then, Fiona arrived carrying a gigantic pair of shiny blue scissors and cut the dress off, much to the relief of everybody involved.
Apologies to anyone who made it to the end, I know how dull other peoples dreams are, but just writing it down was very cathartic!

Khoo Kongsi, Georgetown, Penang

There are many beautiful Chinese clanhouses in Penang, but for me, if you were to choose only one, it would have to be Khoo Kongsi.
It is the most impressive on approach, set in its own square, and once inside, the ornamentation and artwork are exceptional. The detail in the carvings and wall drawings are impressive and unusual.
Not for nothing is this part of Georgetown a UNESCO world heritage centre   
    
    
 

Dusky Leaf Monkeys in the Botanical Gardens, Penang.

These gardens are a short taxi ride out of Georgetown or they are at the bottom of Penang Hill if you descend by road. They are free to enter and have many lovely trees and flowers. There is a train (paid) that will carry you round the gardens if the heat is too much for walking; it does get very hot in the afternoons. For me, the highlight of the gardens was the Dusky Leaf Monkeys eating the topiary trees near the entrance. They are beautiful and seem quite at ease around people. They are also less cheeky and noisome then the Macaques up the hill, near the top of the park.

Worth the trip for the Dusky Leaf Monkeys alone.

   
    
 

A trip up Penang Hill, Penang Malaysia 

The funicular railway to the top is a good way to get to the top.
Make sure that you go early in the morning; the queues for the train get long in the summer and the view from the top is more spectacular before cloud cover comes in.
You can walk down (you can walk or cycle up too, but I suspect it is a killer journey!) it is a 5k walk. It is very, very steep and took us almost 2 hours. However, there were many monkeys on the way down and it ends in the Penang Botanical Gardens which are beautiful.
The views from the top though are the best because trees line the road all the way down. So, I think if I were to do it again, I would catch the railway back down and visit the Botanic Gardens separately so that I would be able to give them all the time that they deserve.
  

Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 

The Petronas Twin Towers are spectacular from the ground, outside during the day. 
The trip up to the top is also well worth the money, the views are great both from the walkway between the towers half way up and from the observation deck at the top. The 3D high tech equipment and models of the city are great fun and futuristic 
But for me the real amazement was seeing them, from ground level, lit up at night – beautiful, imposing, visionary! Don’t miss them lit up at night!
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