Postcard from China, 2

Friday afternoon, towards the end of the first week of our China holiday. We are in Datong in the north of the country, not so far from Beijing. In the late fifth century CE (around the time of the last stages in the disintegration of Rome’s empire in the West) Datong was the site of the prosperous capital of the Northern Wei dynasty, one of the three competing states across China in these years. Around 460CE the rulers commissioned a major Buddhist cave temple complex, and this is our destination today. The surviving statues are deeply impressive but the visit as a whole is, like so much on our trip so far a puzzling and even a touch disconcerting experience.
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Songs for Sky

Songs for Sky

Today we film for Sky Arts the first of four (and, we hope, more) Rosenblatt Recitals from Wigmore Hall. The American bel canto tenor Lawrence Brownlee, accompanied by painist Iain Burnside, is giving a programme of songs by Verdi, Poulenc, the contemporary American composer Ben Moore, Rossini and Mozart – and we will be there with six cameras to translate it to the screen. The programme will be shown on Sky Arts next year. In the meantime, follow the links for more – and enjoy Lawrence Brownlee from an earlier Rosenblatt Recital singing ‘Ah, mes amis, quel jour de fete’ from Donizetti’s La fille du régiment.


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What a lot of Will

What a lot of Will

In case you hadn’t noticed, the Shakespeare spring kicks off tonight. First up is a cluster of programmes on Sky Arts – a goodly number of them, including Being Shakespeare, produced by Illuminations.  Then there is the big BBC season Shakespeare Unlocked, which is online and on air right through to July. We are making our own contribution to this, of course, with our BBC Four film of the RSC’s new Julius Caesar. And the director of the play and film, Gregory Doran, who is also the RSC’s new Artistic Director, was on Radio 4′s Midweek talking about this and more. Plus Julius Caesar is itself part of the World Shakespeare Festival, which offers a cornucopia of delights through the summer. Not to mention (because I can’t yet – but can on Monday – our Shakespeare’s Sonnets project.) So it feels like the time for a Shakespeare miscellany: something from Greg first, then the Sky transmissions, a trailer for the BBC season and lots of other links.
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Where there’s a Will

Where there’s a Will

Simon Callow’s one-person show Being Shakespeare today makes a triumphant return to London’s Trafalgar Studios. The production plays until 31 March before transferring to New York (for tickets, go here) but today is also the release date for our DVD of the production (click here to buy a copy). Retailing at £14.99, the DVD features the full 90-minute theatre show, and also has an exclusive interview with Simon Callow and performances by him of three of his favourite Shakespeare sonnets. With a host of extracts from the plays – some familiar, many not (and no ‘To be or not to be’) – Being Shakespeare is an exceptionally good introduction of the life and work of the world’s greatest writer, but it is also sufficiently smart to offer much to those steeped in the plays and, such as we know it, the biography.
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Lord St John, our saviour

Lord St John, our saviour

The late Lord St John of Fawsley, whose death was announced yesterday, is not perhaps the first person who you might expect to find celebrated here. As Norman St-John Stevas, he was a Tory minister for the arts and an early confidante of Margaret Thatcher. His politics were hardly ours, nor his religion – he was a prominent Roman Catholic. As for his personality, Edward Pearce, in his obituary for the Guardian, captures this well: ‘Mannered, self-applauding, with an aura of camp and given to tiffs and squabbles, he had outstanding intellectual gifts, vitiated, despite an underlay of real scholarship, by eternal public performance.’ Yet for several years he played an important part in my life, and in the development of Illuminations. Indeed, there is a very real sense in which LSJ, as we came affectionately to refer to him in private, was the company’s saviour.
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Leonardo half-live [Updated]

Leonardo half-live [Updated]

Well, that really was very curious. I’ve just sat with around one hundred others in one of smaller screens at Clapham Picturehouse watching a live Sky Arts HD broadcast from a party at the National Gallery’s Leonardo da Vinci exhibition. Perhaps the first thing to say about Leonardo Live is that it was in truth only half-live, since I would guess (it was a bit dark for a stop-watch) at least fifty per cent of the 73 minutes was composed of pre-recorded packages. Yet even the live elements felt more than a touch over-produced as the show made its breathless, relentless way around the galleries. Which is not to say that it wasn’t a treat to see the paintings VERY BIG in HD – when, that is, the camera kept still for long enough. Co-host Tim Marlow was his usual polished, expert self (with only one intriguing and engaging lapse) and some of the guests insisted on making interesting and provocative points in their allotted brief span (Fiona Shaw – what a star!). So I appreciated the visuals and learned quite a bit about Leonardo, but I never really got beyond how, well, curious it was to be watching this curate’s egg of a television programme – in which, you’d have to say, nothing actually happened – on a cinema screen in Clapham.
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