Gloucestershire: Berkeley Castle and Britain’s Best Pub 2015

It’s a golden Tuesday in September and I’m the only person in my carriage on the 9:15 train from Paddington, going west. The inspector comes by after a quiet three-quarters of an hour, and I hand him my ticket. “You’ve been there before?” he says. It isn’t really a question; it’s to a tiny station in Gloucestershire, where there’s no good reason to go unless you know what you’re doing.

“Oh – no,” I say.

“Someone picking you up? It’s out in the sticks, mind.” Read more...

St Albans is where Londoners get to go if we’ve been very, very good

I took last Monday off work for no real reason and decided to go to St Albans. It’s a cathedral city I’ve been wanting to visit for a while; I’ve heard it’s cosy and pleasant, it’s where two important battles in the Wars of the Roses were fought, and most importantly, it claims to have the most pubs for a town its size in the UK.

St Albans has been around for a while – it was originally a Roman settlement called Verulamium, and the town still has Roman ruins as well as a spectacular Norman cathedral. It’s around a day’s horse ride from London, so as soon as London was established as a centre of government and commerce, St Albans became important as the overnight stop for Londoners on their way north.

Alban, the saint who gave the cathedral and later the town its name, was a Roman citizen who converted to Christianity. He was killed (‘martyred’) by the Roman government and, as Christianity grew in the British Isles, the place where he was supposedly executed became a shrine, then a pilgrimage site. (Early Christian Britons were really big on pilgrimage sites.) Read more...

Globe to Globe: Henry IV, Part Two in Argentinian Spanish (Argentina)

While Monday’s Mexican production of Henry IV Part One took a straightforward approach to the historical play, and succeeded, Elkafka Espacio Teatral played with the setting a bit more. The result was hit and miss, but the hits were very interesting, and many of the misses were down to the simple fact that Henry IV, Part Two is a patchier play than Henry IV, Part One.

Part of the dramaturgical problem with Part Two is that we’ve seen it all before, in the previous play: Falstaff aggrandizing himself between begging for money, Hal and Poins playing a trick on him at the Boar’s Head, a rebellion due to Henry IV’s shaky claim to the throne, Henry summoning his son to Westminster to tell him off for screwing around in pubs.

There are some key differences, however, which the direction picked up on to good effect. There is no energetic character like Hotspur driving the action; the rebels are more self-doubting and sophisticated. There is no grand comic figure like Owen Glendower; the new additions are the nostalgic, slow-paced country justices Shallow and Silence, and the Boar’s Head denizens Doll Tearsheet and Pistol. Pistol has something of Hotspur’s fierce energy, but he’s a less solid character, and less important (read: not onstage as much). Hal could be excused for wasting his time in the pub in Part One, but we’ve already seen his (apparently sincere) promise to reform at the end of that play, so coming back Part Two to find him lounging in the Boar’s Head again is a bit depressing. Read more...