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Swan Upping

Clipped Swans Fly

Swan Upping

Retrospective by Mark Aspen

Coronavirus has claimed another victim: the annual royal tradition of Swan Upping on the River Thames.  For the first time since the 12th century the full ceremony has been cancelled this year.  Normally for five days at the end of July the river between Abingdon in Oxfordshire and Sunbury-on-Thames buzzes with excitement as crowds watch the river’s population of mute swans being marked and a census undertaken on behalf of the Queen.

Swan Master (Andrew Crowley)

The Crown has sovereign ownership of all the swans.  However, for the past four hundred years, rights over swans have been granted by the monarch.  The only bodies currently exercising these such rights are two livery companies of the City of London.  Nowadays, ownership of swans in the Thames is shared equally among the Crown, the Vintners’ Company and the Dyers’ Company.   The event is carried out from traditional rowing skiffs under the supervision of Royal Swan Uppers wearing scarlet uniforms, who weigh and measure cygnets and check on the swans’ welfare, along with swan uppers from the livery companies.  The cygnets are ringed to denote whether they belong to the Vintners or the Dyers, whilst Crown birds are left unmarked.  Previously marking used to by clipping nicks from the edge of the beaks of Vintners’ and Dyers’ Companies’ birds.

SwanUpping Skiffs

A mile or so downstream in the London Borough Richmond upon Thames, Swans have had their wings clipped this year as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak … …  The Swan Awards are Arts Richmond’s local “Oscars” for the best in the non-commercial theatre within the Borough.  Normally the season runs from September to July, but this year’s coronavirus restrictions brought the Swans down from the sky in mid-March. Read more…

Wilde Weekend

Wilde About You

Wilde Weekend

Teddington Theatre Club, zoomed until 28th June, then on-line on YouTube.

Overview by Mark Aspen

Only the very few see the sad sight of an empty auditorium in our locked-down theatres, thousands of theatre-makers itch to put a show on stage, while hundreds of theatre junkies yearn for their fix of real theatre.

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Real theatre is a living breathing, three dimensional creature, in which the audience feeds off the stage and the stage feeds off of the audience.  When real theatre is reduced to a screen it becomes merely a pale imitation of itself.  But needs must and we have all become accustomed over the past few months of seeing our favourite theatres boiled down to the small world of on-line entertainment.  The bigger the theatre the bigger the reduction, of course.  Nevertheless, I have found myself hooked every evening on seeing Covent Garden, the National Theatre, or the London Coliseum squeezed into the small screen … and have enjoyed it (as second best).

But what about our smaller local community theatres, the non-commercial theatre?  Read more…

A Florentine Tragedy

What Money Cannot Buy

 A Florentine Tragedy

by Oscar Wilde

Teddington Theatre Club, zoomed until 28th June, then on-line on YouTube

Review by Quentin Weiver

During that brief interlude in Oscar Wilde’s life when his mind was preoccupied with the gathering storm clouds of criminal charges, his prolific writing output was directed away for his trademark acerbity towards more reflective subject-matter.  A few months in 1894 when the impending prison sentence was almost inevitable, saw the creation of La Sainte Courtisane, his masterpiece Salome, and the languorous poem The Sphinx.  As another quirk that year he experimented with early seventeenth century styles and started a blank verse drama, A Florentine Tragedy, whose style smacks of Shakespeare but whose plot is scarily Jacobean.

One might speculate that Wilde may have been harking back to a period in history when his precarious predicament would not have been a matter for the courts of law, for during and after his incarceration in Reading Gaol for gross indecency in 1895-97 he never completed the work.  It remained unfinished at his early death from syphilic meningitis in November 1900, but the extant fragment of the manuscript was published in 1908. Read more…

La Sainte Courtisane

Spirituality and Sensuality in Equilibrium

La Sainte Courtisane

 by Oscar Wilde

Teddington Theatre Club, zoomed until 28th June, then on-line on YouTube

Review by Thomas Forsythe

There was a short time in Oscar Wilde’s life that his writing embraced the spiritual.  Two plays in particular, Salome and La Sainte Courtisane, concern Christian subjects.  Both were written in 1894, ironically the year before his conviction for gross indecency.  If there were a burgeoning faith for Wilde, his experiences in Reading Gaol seems to have extinguished it.  Nevertheless, Salome remains his masterpiece, free from the destructive cynicism otherwise typical of Wilde.   Who knows, La Sainte Courtisane may have eclipsed it … had it ever been finished. Read more…

Mrs Langtry as Hester Grazebrook

Waxing Lyrical

Mrs Langtry as Hester Grazebrook

by Oscar Wilde

Teddington Theatre Club, zoomed until 28th June, then on-line on YouTube

Review by Mark Aspen

If we were to present the review below at Mark Aspen Reviews as written by Oscar Wilde, you probably would smell a rat.  Since Wilde died 120 years ago, at best we could present it as late copy, lost in the post probably.

Wilde wrote the piece in New York, where the famous beauty of the time, Jersey-born Lily Langtry, a favourite of the then Prince of Wales, had her American acting debut.  It was 6th November 1882 and she played Hester Grazebrook in An Unequal Match by English biographer and critic Tom Taylor, who for a short while was editor of Punch.  Most critics put in mixed reviews, but the public loved Lily Langtry, mainly for her exquisite looks rather than her acting skills it seems.  A newspaper reported, “It is perhaps needless to add that the floral contributions between the acts were at once many and rich, one piece seven or eight feet in height, and surmounted by a dove, being so massive that it was wrecked in being hoisted to the stage and taken therefrom.”  The report added dryly, “It was afterwards patched up and used in the drawing-room scene.”  Read more…

An Unequal Match

Impossibility of Absolute Perfection

An Unequal Match

 by Tom Taylor

Wallack’s Theatre, New York, until November 1882

Review by Oscar Wilde

Mrs. Langtry as Hester Grazebrook, first published in New York World, 7th November 7, 1882

It is only in the best Greek gems, on the silver coins of Syracuse, or among the marble figures of the Parthenon frieze, that one can find the ideal representation of the marvellous beauty of that face which laughed through the leaves last night as Hester Grazebrook.

Lily Langtry

Pure Greek it is, with the grave low forehead, the exquisitely arched brow; the noble chiselling of the mouth, shaped as if it were the mouthpiece of an instrument of music; the supreme and splendid curve of the cheek; the augustly pillared throat which bears it all: it is Greek, because the lines which compose it are so definite and so strong, and yet so exquisitely harmonised that the effect is one of simple loveliness purely: Greek, because its essence and its quality, as is the quality of music and of architecture, is that of beauty based on absolutely mathematical laws. Read more…

De Profundis

Arrested Development

De Profundis

 by Oscar Wilde

Teddington Theatre Club, zoomed until 28th June, then on-line on YouTube.

Reviewed by Eleanor Lewis

De Profundis conjures up laundry for me.  When I lived in Paris in the ‘80s I rented a avenue_rapp-1-819x1024 Sophieroom in an apartment close to the Eiffel Tower and on Thursdays while I did my laundry in the laundrette down one of the little streets off the main drag, I read Oscar Wilde.  This was not really OK, I should obviously have been reading Baudelaire, but who’s perfect?

De Profundis is quite a read, particularly when you’re starting at 11:15 on Saturday night as part of TTC’s 25 hour Wilde Weekend and have only a five minute break to look forward to.  Steve Taylor rose to the occasion though, performing acres of text straight to camera and channelling Wilde in way that managed to be both philosophical and quite bouncy. Read more…

An Ideal Husband

Out of Darkness

An Ideal Husband

by Oscar Wilde

Teddington Theatre Club, zoomed until 28th June, then on-line on YouTube

Review by Heather Moulson

 This production of Oscar Wilde’s dark play An Ideal Husband was part of the ambitious Wilde Weekend, put on by Teddington Theatre Club via Zoom.  I was particularly drawn to this play, because despite its well-known title, it doesn’t have such a significant high profile as, for instance, The Importance of Being Earnest.

With four acts full of blackmail and political corruption, the play could have easily fallen into the trap of being dry and overlong.  However, the strong performances and sharp direction brought it up with buoyancy. Read more…

The Star Child

Slavery Beaten by Kindness 

The Star Child

 by Oscar Wilde

Teddington Theatre Club, zoomed until 28th June, then on-line on YouTube.

Reviewed by Heather Moulson

 As part of Teddington Theatre Club’s Wilde Weekend on Zoom, I was keen to watch and listen to the reading of The Star Child, one of Wilde’s lesser known children’s story, part of the anthology House of Pomegranates.   It is one that is deceptively grim and moral, not to mention its child brutality and slavery, concluding with only a brief happy ending.

Caroline Ross and Enyd Galia took on this complex tale, and became an impressive team.  Alternating with reading passages and supplying vital sound effects, this story came over as credible and smoothly produced.  It was read at a good pace, and no trace of overlapping – the occupational hazard of Zoom.  Read more…

Salome

Salacious Undertones Mined

Salome

 by Oscar Wilde

Teddington Theatre Club, zoomed until 28th June, then on-line on YouTube.

Reviewed by Nick Swyft

Salome, the story of a man who is prepared to give anything to have his step-daughter dance for him is one that has inspired, and continues to inspire, artists throughout the centuries.  And why not?  It is a mine of those salacious undertones that we all love. Read more…