Category Archives: theatre tourism

Day 19 Barcelona and Ubu Roi

 

imageMy final day was spent at Parc Guell and with this visit all my long held desires to explore Gaudi were realized. Again whimsy and practicality are forged with nature and this beautiful location captures the cool harbor breeze that eludes the town below.  Gaudi, greatly informed by the ancient Greeks, has made our world a more beautiful and happier place.

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With a few hours to go before going to the theatre, I decided I really should try to do some shopping and so I started along the Ramblas only to find the last thing on my bucket list, the Gran Teatro Liceu and I was able to join the final tour of the day.image

It really is a superb opera house in the Italian style. Privately owned for generations, it is now in the hands of the government. Its most recent refurbishment following a fire in the 1990s, has improved the acoustics, the staging, rehearsal and dressing rooms and made the previously exclusive grand reception area available for all patrons. It’s a lavish and very appealing theatre.

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And finally after a sangria and a sit down it was time to find the Teatre Lluire on Mont Juic. I never did get to do any shopping. image

As I walked amongst the charming buildings of this arts precinct to get to the theatre, I discovered the Barcelona Institute of Theatre, an establishment that has always fascinated me in that it has a specific charter to teach, research, conserve, promote and innovate Catalan performing arts. It has also hosted many significant, international theatre studies conferences.image

imageNot knowing what sort of theatre is housing Ubu Roi, I’m astonished to find myself in the 1929 Palace of Agriculture, also built for the World Fair, now with a 2000 seater conversion in high Barcelona design. Even more astonishing is that I’m in the front row.image

And the play is also astonishing. With a fine pedigree coming from an invitation from Peter Brook, Cheek by Jowl created this production in co production with The Barbican, London.

Presented in French with Catalan surtitles, this is French high art in what I would expect from  La Comedie-Francaise. Jarry’s, Ubu Roi (1896) is always open to extraordinary interpretations and while this was salon style farce in a proscenium arch theatre, it was not so much the interpretation that was astonishing but the performances  particularly of Mere and Pere Ubu. However can I describe their energy and ability to turn on a sixpence? However can I even imagine what the rehearsal process must have been like to accomplish this level of slickness and how did the director know/ imagine what these people were capable of? How did he take them to those places? What an extraordinary accomplishment.

And please remember that I’m seeing this in a language I only just understand, so for the most part I’m missing the text and seeing French chic dissolve into the madness of vulgarity and scatology and back again. Really, for acting and production, this show takes the prize on this trip. Cheek by Jowl has presented a wonderful range of classics and this is no exception. I think there were at least 20 curtain calls. The audience went wild for it and so did I.image

What a wonderful note on which to end this tour.My sincere thanks for all comments, tweets and follows. It’s been a joy to stay in touch.

The next tour? Same time, same station, 2015.

Please go to http://www.alltheworldsastagetheatretours.com for a full itinerary and to register your interest to See the World & See World Theatre. It’s a great experience.

In theater, there is nothing to understand, but to feel.
Louis Jouvert
French actor and director.

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Barcelona



Day 17 BARCELONA AND THE GREC FESTIVAL

imageArriving late in the evening from Madrid, in the morning it was great to find how conveniently my hotel is situated among the arts centre of Montjuic and many of the cultural sites of the city. All within easy striking distance once I got my Metro ticket and my bearings. With several objectives to round out my previous Barcelona experience, this visit was planned around the festival, followed by sightseeing of the National Theatre of Catelonia,  Gaudi, the Gran Teatro Liceu, the L’Auditori and then some. image

The festival is so named after the Teatro Grec, an ampitheatre also located on Montjuic and while it specializes in contemporary theatre, its international reputation made it a must see for me.

The exciting thing about Barcelona, is that you can turn a corner and there is some significant monument or building that you’d read about or always wanted to see.

Simageo for me, on day one, it turned out to be the Bullring and the Bullring Museum. Why wouldn’t one important cultural activity be in the same area as the others? And I stumbled across the bullring on my way to find the NTC. image
Both were equally impressive. I found the theatre workshops before I found the theatre and then discovered that the whole thing takes up a block in the area devoted to culture. It is huge! Also en route I found the Auditori for music events   – again huge, with a terrific horse, a restaurant where the arts crowd eat, and where I had my first Barcelona speciality, fideula, and the Barcelona design district, enfant,bn.

The spires of  Sagrada Familia are  very present on the landscape so I jumped on the metro to make a recce and after seeing the queue for admission decided that this would require a dedicated, early morning excursion to actually get into the basilica in under an hour or three.

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So that was day one, rounded off by a production of Pinter’s Old Times at the Sala Beckett in a very elegant part of town. image
How to get there? Two metro changes and a walk…I didn’t think so and so more I added to my ownership of Barcelona taxis.

image The Sala is cute, very cute, but the playing area is very challenging and so was Pinter for the Spanish cast. Working  on a raised stage, running the width of the room, our eyeline was at crotch level with the three actors and their closeness to the ceiling was very disconcerting.image

I love Pinter and I think that playing this one on the floor with the audience raised around the actors, might have been an improvement. In other words we all  would have been in their space retracing our old times.
The Sala Beckett is dedicated to experimental theatre. It provides space and courses for young writers,  and specifically promotes contemporary drama, and it was certainly worth the effort of two taxis.


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Day 15 Almagro

imageSadly this is my last day in Almagro. Still looking into the logistics of the 2015 tour, the day was spent in exploring the museums I’d not been to before, viz the Casa de Pacas, the Lace Museum, and the Museo Etnografico, the Ethnographic Museum. The feature museum of Almagro is the National Theatre Museum and while it is truly splendid and deserving of another visit, it was not to be so for me on this occasion.

The Lace Museum is located in a lovely 3 storey casa off the Mayors Square. Lace making, linen work and embroidery is a traditional artesan art form throughout La Mancha, seemingly with each area having its particular designs and embellishments. Almagro has high art lacemaking and it’s not uncommon to pass a lace shop and see the shop keeper actually working with her bobbins while waiting for customers. Indeed it seems to be a rather meditational activity but with incredibly sophisticated patterns and coloured pins depicting the elements of the design.

On this visit, a group of schoolgirls were being taught the art and while photography of the exhibits was prohibited, I thought I might be able to photograph the next generation of lace makers. But when I asked the tutor, I received a negative response as the children were minors and their fathers were not there to grant permission.

As a wonderful addition to the lace, there was also an exhibition of the graphic art for the 400 year celebration publication of Cervantes’ Don Quixote (2004). Antonio Mingote is a highly esteemed Spanish artist, cartoonist and academic and this display consisted of copies of the chapter illustrations from among the 600 illustrations created for the auspicious edition.   The drawings were charming, utterly charming and often I found myself laughing out loud at the evocations.

My laughter however turned to misty whimsy when the museum attendant gifted me a small picture – they were not on sale – and when I looked at it, it is the scene of Quixote on his death bed with a tearful Sancho kneeling by the bed.  It immediately evoked the memory of that scene when I played Aldonza and Sancho and I were in exactly those positions – and all of a sudden there were tears rolling down my cheeks some 30 years later.

On leaving the museum, I quickly did a spot of local craft shopping, including lace, and then off to the ethnographic museum before it closed for the siesta.

imageThis was a collectors dream. Jose Louis had spent his lifetime collecting the full range of ethnographic activity in the area ranging from agriculture, wine and oil production, leather work, black smithing, and so it goes on and on with every aspect of life covered, from the laundry, through the kitchen, to the bedroom, to children. It was well worth the visit and Jose Louis was justifiably proud of his curatorial expertise. Again, he did not speak English but we were certainly able to communicate. And that was my museum morning, sadly without photos. The next thing was lunch in the square where one always finds people one knows and it’s another beer and some more tapas. By then it was time to meet Genaro for the visit to the windmills.

In Don Quixote, there is a quote about seeing 40 windmills on the far horizon. So driving for about half an hour out of Almagro, we turned and indeed there they were – not 40 – but eleven.  image

There are two main areas that have windmills and we were at Consuegra. The village itself is rather charmless with nothing to further a tourists curiosity but then when up on the mountains with these beauties what else could there be? Of course, a terrific bar. But that is not to be at this stage. Pedro, the windmill shopkeeper had some Manchego cheese, small cans of beer, and the usual desirables of imageCoca Cola and chocolate. He was a wag and made the purchases and visit to explore the interior of the windmill great fun.

Each of the mills is named after a Don Quixote character and as you look out across the vast plains and see the wheat fields, you can reflect on the days when horses both hauled and ground the wheat at the top of these steep and rocky slopes.

The photo above is with Councillor and Deputy Mayor of Almagro,  Genaro Galan Garcia, who very graciously organised the trip.

imageCuriously, La Mancha remains one if the largest agriculture producers, especially wheat, olives and grapes and of course there is always the cheeses from either sheep, goats or cows or a blend thereof.

Below are some shots of the bulls being raised for bull fighting. I’m fascinated by the ritual of bull fighting and have always wanted to see a bull farm.

Following our excursion, we dined in the converted convent where Genaro had spent his childhood. A little off the tourist track, I was treated to a meal consisting of local Manchego fare and loved it. And that sadly is goodbye to Almagro for 2014.

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Day 14 Almagro

 

imageToday was spent organising logistics. How was I to get to Toledo and Barcelona and even more pressing was to get to the ‘Cervantes Windmills’ and the bulls?! image

Through an unexplainable series of synchronistic events and meetings, my dream was about to become a reality. And in addition to that I was invited to go to the nature reserve, Tablas de Daimiel National Park, another dream come true. Such kindness and generosity exists amongst theatre people – I was even offered two cars to use! And although I’ve driven in Spain before, the stress of getting there and getting lost, let alone the stress of a borrowed car was more than I wanted to contemplate.

My Caballero came in the form of the Almagro Deputy Mayor and Councillor for Culture, Gerano Geran Garcia, who graciously offered to take me to the windmills tomorrow, while the outing to the nature reservation was from Salome Bielsa, another theatre
festival employee. The hilarious thing is that Salome doesn’t speak English and my Spanish is totally embarrassing! Anyway we set off at 6.30 pm still in the heat of the day, for this remarkable wetland that has been chronicled since 1300. The curious thing is finding this wetland in the midst of these vast yellow plains  and where there was continuous habitation by one family for over 300 years.

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Salome is a keen photographer and wanted to photograph the ducks and bird life. The hides located throughout the park are perfect for photography and Salome got some great shots using the telephoto lens on her smart camera.

imageMy dear iPad, was not able to cope with such photographic challenges – or is it the operator? Please enjoy what my 21 century box brownie was able to capture.

However, for truly stunning shots, here is Salome Bielsa’s flickr link: https://m.flickr.com/#/photos/bambolia/sets/72157634673113526/

Then of course back to the main square for dinner in the comparative cool – 11pm – I’m really very fond of the tapas and beer and el fresco lifestyle. Thank goodness I don’t have a job to go to after these late nights!image

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ALMAGRO and the International Festival of Classical Theatre


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imageDespite the early morning train and a long but comfortable journey, arriving at the deserted Almagro station felt like a homecoming.  With ease I was able to walk to the centre of town and find The Almagro Parador. The cool comfort it offers feels like an oasis in the desert.  Almagro is in Castille-La Mancha which is pretty much in the centre of Spain. I just love it. It is the wide yellow plains of Don Quixote, with evocative architecture, specialized manchegro cuisine, bull raising, and unique hospitality and friendliness.

imagePredictably another wonderful gin and tonic, then quickly into ‘town’ to get a ticket for tonight’s show.

I am greeted by Laura who I met last year and even though the show was fully booked, I did manage to get a ticket for the Compania Nacional de Teatro Clasico production of Donde Hay Agravios No Hay Celos by Rojas Zorrilla. The approximate translation of the title is, Where There is No Jealousy, There is No Grievance.
imageAs the name of the theatre company suggests, this is the National Classic Theatre Company and is based in Madrid. Its’ charter is to preserve and present theatre of The Golden Age  and each year it takes up residency at Almagro for the festival and performs in the beautiful outdoor auditorium at the Teatro Hospice de San Juan.image The director, Helena Pimenta is very well regarded and the very stylish and slick production I saw last year made me a big fan.

A return to the Parador, a beer, a snack, a bath and a nap to get ready for the 22.45 start. Very civilized indeed and then people still go out for drinks and tapas afterwards, the main square is full of activity and the craft market operates over the weekend. So both tourists and local artesans are well catered for.

image This rarely performed play was quite a contrast to the high camp sophistication that  I saw last year and instead presented the rakish adventures of a country caballero and his buffoon, Sancho. When considering the location of this festival, there is an irrepressible charm associated with the choice of this work.   Basically, it’s a let’s swap identities story that reminded me a bit of Don Giovanni, in a rural setting. The set and costumes were appropriately rustic: again, a stark contrast from the high glamour of 2013. The execution of the piece was very imaginative with a piano accordion as a musical accompaniment that served to link scene and lighting changes orchestrated by one of the female actors with some captivating moments that made me look forward to her every entrance just to change a scene!

What I derived from this production was the superb use of language. The language of The Golden Age is exceedingly difficult High Baroque and I was very aware of the vocal coaching provided by Vincente Fuente, whose vocal workshop, The Way of Verse, I had attended last year. Overall the tightness of the company in executing the piece was the stand out which is all due to the masterful direction by Ms Pimenta.
As it transpires, and for a range of circumstances that will become apparent, this is the only show I saw in Almagro and it was an exceedingly fine example of The Spanish Golden Age. It also embodied the lovely lifestyle experience of being in Almagro during the festival, and yes of course, I was able to help the local economy by getting a couple of things at the craft market.

For Salome Bielsa’s truly evocative photos of Almagro go to
https://m.flickr.com/#/photos/bambolia/sets/72157606164312650/

 

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Almagro Day 6

SEE THE WORLD AND SEE WORLD THEATRE

Almagro International Festival of Classical Theatre, Almagroff, Golden Age of Spanish Theatre, Fuenteoveojuna by Lopes de Vega, El lindo don Diego by Moreto, Fuentovejuna by Lopes de Vega, the Castile – La Mancha countryside, Almodovar’s village, Caldaza de Calatrava, Volver

This was a wonderful day and almost as if I’d be saving the best till last. In preparation for my drive to Merida tomorrow, I had to go back to Ciudad Real to collect the hire car before 1.30. Once again I headed to the Almagro Estacion and made the 15 minute trip by fast train. As I needed to familiarize myself with right hand side of the road driving, I decided to do a bit of sight seeing before returning to Almagro. I started off in the heat of the day and as I was driving (well getting lost really) around Ciudad Real, I saw a very big market. And the best thing was that it had stall after stall of fruit and vegetables! I left with bags full of goodies.

From the market I went to several special sites including Alacros, a medieval town, military stronghold, which included the Knights Templar Order of Calatrava, and a battlefield, against the Moors. Close by is another historical medieval sacred castle and monastery called Calatrava La Nueva which the Knights of the Calatrava maintained.

Just exploring these places enabled me to contextualise the period of chivalry in this province of Castile-La Mancha that so inspired Cervantes. Looking at the broad, empty landscape (and not a windmill in sight) one can appreciate the journeys of Don Quixote (with his squire, Sancho Panza) and his quest to do right.

Another curiosity is that Calzada de Calatrava, the village at the foot of the castle, is the birthplace of Pedro Almodovar. When he was 8, Almodovar was sent to boarding school in Caceres, Extremadura, which is in the Merida area of Spain. His film,Volver, is based in and around Almagro and I was reminded of the opening scene when each day I noticed the women in Almagro scrubbing the brick work, window sills and pavements of their houses. Of course Almodovar is exceedingly famous now and he lives, and has his production office, in Madrid, but it is interesting to connect any artist to place.

While I was in Caldaza, I stopped in a bar for an ice cream, and there I saw a local Bullfight on TV. I am greatly attracted by the theatricality of Bullfighting and have resolved to go to one. Madrid of course houses the main bullring but as it is a seasonal activity I will need to plan for it on another trip. Although, I’m not averse to a municipal bullfight like the one I saw advertised in Ciudad Real.

Before going to the theatre in the evening, I was able to include a visit to the Museum of Theatre. What I found extraordinary is that the museum is a huge building at the end of the Plaza de Mayor
in a small provincial town. While it may be true that Almagro values the tourist influx associated with its’ festival, I also suggest it is equally true that it also has the greatest respect for its theatre history and the history of theatre in general. This museum focused on theatre memorabilia, ephemera and costumes. And sadly for me, its’ opening at 6 pm meant that I had very little time there before going to catch the bus to Teatro La Valete. This museum is another place to which I’d like to return.

This production Lopes de Vega’s, Fuenteovejuna, was a perfect blending of old text and contemporary adaptation. I am told that it has been in the company’s repertoire for some two years, and that certainly shows in terms of slickness, wonderful ensemble work and a real commitment to telling the story.
Set out of doors on this beautifully balmy evening, the play unfolded with all of the well known elements associated with this piece. Despotism, municipal corruption and abuse of power, community fear, torture on the rack, the ultimate resistance by the community and hubris of the Corregidor was handled in the manner of modern day activism, sort of a class action approach, with appropriate slogans, chanting, a petition and enlistment of supporters, to no avail but a totally concerted agreement by the whole town that ‘Fuenteovejuna made me do it.’
Each actor excelled in representing the various characters and situations as well as working well with the audience to gain its support for the cause. It’s a marvellous play, which I encourage people to read. And at the end of it, I couldn’t help but feel it was an appropriate choice given Spain’s economic difficulties at the moment.

The second play of the evening was totally superb. El lindo don Diego by Agustin Moreto, was for me an example of everything The Spanish Golden Age of theatre stood for. Performed by Compania Nacional de Teatro Clasico, it was a triumph of style, theatricality, wondrous period costuming, innovative, economical, stage design and beautiful execution of the verse on the part of the actors. (Once again trained by Vincente Feuntes.)
This is a play of foppery and narcissism, a twisted plot of suitable social status for marriage and the ultimate humiliation of Don Diego, who realizes that it is only his extravagant appearance that has suffered.
I’m very regretful that I was not able to get some worthwhile photos during the production and the scanty curtain call photos do nothing to indicate the triumph of the piece. I had certainly left the best to last and that in itself made the Almagro experience intensely rewarding. I look forward to the programme next year and put out a challenge to some Australian actors to consider a classic to perform there in 2014.

I was sad to leave Almagro, I had been with some terrific people and the experience of immersing myself in The Golden Age of Spanish Theatre in a ‘ golden age’ location was not only rewarding but has left me wanting to know more.