Theatre Review: Titus Andronicus @ The Royal Shakespeare Company

In the RSC’s recent production of Titus Andronicus all the foulest deeds of mankind come to roast. Murder, affair, execution, rape and even cannibalism are unashamedly showcased in Shakespeare’s bloodiest play. As I found myself watching execution after execution I found it hard to believe that this play could have possibly been penned by the same great man who also wrote about fairies dancing in the wood and young lovers coming together in merry song.

Titus Andronicus, a great general who has fought greatly and lost much, returns to Rome to much praise from his family and supporters. However the decision to refuse his nomination for the throne, coupled with his backing of the weak Saturninus for emperor, starts a chain of uncontainable blood and devastation for all sides. Formerly persecuted by Titus, the empress Tamora and her lover Aaron sees to the destruction of the general by inflicting increasingly gory and brutal punishments on his family. As the bodies started to pile up on stage, I was left on the edge of my seat, wondering not who will survive, but how will they die.

This recent adaptation of the Roman-based play is set in the 21st Century. In the opening scene, actors in hoodies climb the fences and cry out of injustice as Rome continues to crumble, only to be swiftly beaten down by highly-clad police officers. In my comfy seat with cool air conditioning, I was witnessing a society falling apart right in front of me, knowing that there was nothing I could do to stop the pain and misery. It’s that feeling of helplessness, that visualising of a dystopian future that is more relatable now than ever before and that sadness that what you’re seeing on stage is happening around the world as I type this very review. The language changes, but the darkness of human nature always prevails.

This classical play is attributed with a suburb acting cast, headed with David Troughton, Hannah Morris, Patrick Dury and Nia Gwynne. I cried with Titus as he cradled the head of his son, felt rage at the sight of his raped daughter and felt a sick, twisted joy from witnessing the execution of the perpetrators. For once in my life my very British emotions and civil nature were reduced to their base, primitive, level. I was hooked from the very start until the very end.

Forget notions of concealed knives under armpits and melodramatic deaths, in the space of three hours there you will be forced to absorb some of the most difficult of moral and emotional scenarios known to man. The stage will be covered in more than just the spit of the actors. You’ll witness the closest thing to a real-life public execution, scenes of female empowerment which you’ll loathe and outright racism that you cannot shout out against. Leave your political correctness in the clock room, this is an Elizabethan play like no other. More blood please!

 

Rating: 5 stars

 

For more information, including showing times and tickets, visit the RSC’s website: https://www.rsc.org.uk/titus-andronicus/

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Girl About Swindon Town: The Greek Olive

When the tall one suggested trying out The Greek Olive on Faringdon Road I must admit I was a little thrown. In British culture you get so used to going out for either an Italian or Indian that the notion of Greek caught me off guard. However, keen to try something different I gave the suggestion my full backing.

I had high expectations of the eatery, in the weeks preceding my visit I’d heard nothing but positive feedback from my friends. As the tall one and I sat down at the table our thoughts turned to drink. We spared little time in opting for a one litre jug of Greek house wine which came in at £12. Given a lot of restaurants charge an arm and a leg for a very average bottle, we found the quality, quantity and price of the red wine to be very fair.

On this particular night we opted out of having a starter (it was a tough call, the selection to choose from was very tempting), however upon ordering our mains the waiter presented us with complimentary bread and freshly made hummus. “This is much better than the stuff in the shops!” the tall one remarked. Between us it didn’t take long to demolish the portion.

Onwards to the main course, for me a Kleftiko (slow cooked lamb) and for the tall one Beef Stifado (meat cooked in a rich red wine sauce). Despite making a classic Alice faux pas of accidentally eating some of the paper wrapping covering the lamb (I thought it was filo pastry, alright?) the food was superb. The lamb fell off the bone with ease and tasted amazing with the feta cheese and Greek seasoned vegetables. Positive feedback also shared by the consumer of the Stifado and, although the portions were enormous, we refused to let any food go to waste. Clean plates all round.

With stomachs full of rich food and wine our plan was to also skip dessert and ask for the bill. That was until the waiter gave us two pieces of Baklava, a Mediterranean sweet dish (which actually does contain filo pastry) and said my three favourite words, “on the house”. I mean the dish was pleasant enough, but even tastier given it was free. This was swiftly followed up by a complimentary shot of liqueur (“how much free stuff are they giving us?!”) which by choice had to be Greek ouzo. The reactionary head shakes of strong alcohol marked the end of a very enjoyable meal at the little restaurant.

Unsurprisingly I’d very much recommend The Greek Olive for anyone wanting a change from the standard Italian but not keen on a hot spicy Thai. The staff were unaware that I was a writer yet they went out of their way to make sure our dining experience that little bit more special versus a predictable meal out at Nandos. I’m just gutted that I’ve written an entire review on Greek food and haven’t been able to make a single reference to My Big Fat Greek Wedding (I really tried to think of one but alas I have failed).

Three word summary: So much food!

A Quick-ish Review: Topsham, Exeter (Devon)

Speedy Summary

The website says:

Topsham is an attractive town on the Exe estuary, Devon, in England’s Westcountry. Now part of Exeter, it nevertheless maintains a distinctive identity. Loved by its locals, and savoured by those who visit, Topsham offers river walks; wildlife; a Saturday morning market; many characterful shops, restaurants and inns; and quiet space to sit and watch the sailing boats go by.

I say:

A former town now Exeter suburb, Topsham is a quaint little place to visit. Boasting independent retailers and several side streets, you are never more than a few steps away from undisturbed views of the quay. Be prepared to spend £15+ a head if you’re planning to stay for ‘proper’ food and arrive early to secure car parking in high season. Small, pretty and close to the buzz of Exeter city life, there’s a reason why it’s one of the more expensive places to buy/rent in the region.

Top Sights

If you’re a typical tourist looking to cover the main elements of the town in a short space of time plan your visit well in advance. Although the town has several car parks Topsham is notorious for its summer crowds as visitors flock to see a ‘quaint Devonshire community’. Even if you plan to visit outside of school summer holidays, then aim to visit on a weekday and early-ish in the morning to secure the best parking. It’s also best advised if you want the luxury of being able to stroll up the relatively car-free one way high street.

As a small town things to do are limited, but a must are the shops. Most of these are independently run and stocking a range of pretty items from interiors to clothing, wine to flowers. Just don’t expect to walk in and find a multitude of pocket buys. These traders operate in a well-established town with the clientele to boot. You won’t find sniff of a Poundland or Card Factory here.

If you’re like me however then you’ll find great joy rummaging through the multiple charity shops dotted up the high street. The wealthy resident effect, the keen eyed bargain hunter can pick up a number of star buys from high-value items donated by former owners. On this visitation alone I bought a beautiful 1960s retro tea pot to compliment my own property and a pair of mint condition retro curtains to be either reused or turned into cushions (I’ve yet to decide). Total spend: £7. My sister, a devil for vintage books, made a couple of sound purchases also alongside my cheeky purchase of a 1949 Ladybird book, all for £1 a pop. I’ve seen similar books retail for eye wateringly high prices. The money also goes to charity which is never a bad thing.

Also worth a look in is the Topsham Quay Antiques Centre, located right on the quayside at the far end of the town. Three floors of antiques, vintage and retro memorabilia gives much for the curious collector to look at and if nothing else is great for starting conversation. “What was this used for?”, “Did people find that fashionable back then?”, “Where could we put this?”, “Can you even legally display that nowadays?” etc.

Walk up the side streets to be filled with envy at the delightful houses of various periods before grabbing the chance to take in visually (and photographically) the quayside. This part of the river Exe is dotted with sailing boats yet has remained undeveloped on the opposite side, giving a pleasing vision out across the landscape whilst sitting down with a pint on a pub bench.

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A Note on Food

It’s not the cheapest place to eat. If you want coffee and a piece of cake then the choice is endless, however if you’re looking for a light lunch the cheapest you’ll be looking to spend is around £12 and upwards. This is based on looking at a range of menu boards placed outside various eateries in the town. As a result we unfortunately found ourselves looking elsewhere to satisfy our rumbling stomachs. That said, I am aware that for some people this might not be an issue and for others the price tag marks the sign of a carefully and well made meal, but when there are four mouths to feed it may be something to take into account.

Three Word Conclusion

Unique little shops.

A Quick-ish Review: Brixham (Devon)

Speedy Summary

Wikipedia says:

Brixham is a small fishing town and civil parish in the district of Torbay in the county of Devon, in the south-west of England. Brixham is at the southern end of Torbay, across the bay from Torquay, and fishing and tourism are the major industries. At the time of the 2011 census it had a population of 16,693.

I say:

A lovely working harbour located on the English Riviera, Brixham serves both the historic local fishing trade and the busy tourist season. This creates a unique Devonshire window into the lives of those working a thriving traditional trade, without overkilling it on tourist shops and greasy spoon joints. If you have time try out some of the freshly caught fish, if not grab or a coffee from one of the numerous independent shops. Just be aware of the sea gulls.

Top Sights

Top of the agenda when visiting Brixham has to be a stroll around the harbour. One of the older parts of the town, the historic working marina has remained largely unchanged.

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If you want to be suitably impressed by more modern-day aquatics, the boating club marina is located a via a 10 minute walk around the promenade. The spectacle of hundreds of boats lined up neatly along numerous jetties will keep even the most obsessive of boat fans happy.

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And if you’re looking for the authentic Brixham experience, then a sampling of the local cuisine is a must. Freshly caught fish pass through the market sellers of Brixham in their millions every day, with buyers coming from across the country to source the best produce for their eateries. However local restaurants will often pass good deals secured by fewer road miles and differing clientele to their customers, which means you can secure fresh, high quality, fish at a vastly cheaper price. The most popular dish for passing tourists is the classic fish and chips combination, a meal that can be obtained from any number of dining or take away establishments.

If fish isn’t you bag there are also several bakeries in the town selling traditional pasties and rolls, alongside a couple of small supermarkets. Want the marine experience without the price tag? Grab a pasty and sit on one of the many promenade benches for an alfresco lunch with a view.

With all things food and coastal related just be sure to watch out for pesky gulls. While they are not as troublesome as in other destinations, locals and other tourists will not thank you for encouraging them. If finishing an outdoor meal do the right thing and remain seated until the waiter clears the table or take your rubbish with you. Seagulls will not think twice about swooping in on your leftovers (trust me, I’ve seen it).

 

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You don’t necessarily need a formal backdrop to have a pleasant dining experience. Close up shot from a public bench.

 

Recent regeneration in the town centre has seen a vastly increased improvement in the number and quality of coffee shops, including the prominent Old Market House. Located next to the old covered fish market, the coffee shop-come bar-come classy eatery is now the site for a many a people watcher.

The harbour and town is also home to many shops from stylish interiors, to typical tourist souvenirs to high street favourites including Boots, Costa and Tesco. Something for everyone.

 

What Else is There?

Check out the well kept little volunteer-created gardens along the promenade which cleverly make use of the rock face and what was a redundant open space.

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You can also board the Golden Hind Museum Ship, a full size replica of the famous galleon sailed by Elizabethan explorer Sir Francis Drake. More information on the attraction can be found here.

Head up the road a little further (towards the Berry Head Hotel) and you’ll stumble upon the self proclaimed ‘hidden gem’ of this South Devon town, the Shoalstone Pool. A free-to-use outdoor salt water swimming pool, it stands as a Victorian creation and one of only a few remaining UK examples. A must for anyone wanting to prove their ability to brave the elements and thus their Britishness. More information can be found here.

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Three Word Conclusion

Lots to see.

Five Minute Review: The Classic Cocktail Bible

How do I sum up this book? Alcohol, that’s how. Lots and lots of alcohol.

Amusingly you open the cover and see not a Drink Aware message, but instead a warning against consuming raw eggs (a foodstuff that features in some of the recipes.) Sandwiched between the hard covers of this recipe book are some very attractive looking images and nice little introductions to each drink (where their name comes from, the type of ingredients in the drink etc.). You’ve got the classics, your Mojitos, Bloody Marys Martinis, but you’re also got the different, for example Kinky Witch, Rusty Nail and Bobby Burns. In many ways there is something for everyone here* (unless you’re teetotal or under eighteen, in which case no, there isn’t).

All this however doesn’t detract from the simple truth that, as with all cocktails, you need about 100 different spirits and mixers tucked away in the cupboard to make them. The Classic Cocktail Bible is a classic by name and a classic of its genre; it is a book which sits on one’s shelf for many months/years until one day you think “oh, I really fancy a Cosmopolitan right now, I’m sure I can make that”. You open this book to mild disappointment when realise you can’t so instead you reach for a can of cider and consume that instead.

The Classic Cocktail Bible is a must have for the coffee table of the young professional or the kitchen cupboard for the impulsive buyer but be warned, it takes more than vodka and coke to make a good cocktail.

Catherine Mayer on Equality, Red Heads and the Manifesto She Wants You to Steal

“Crossing the stage, Catherine Mayer strikes a formidable figure as she throws down her bag and proclaims, “will there be rock?!””

Check out my review on Catherine Mayer here:  Catherine Mayer on Equality, Red Heads and the Manifesto She Wants You to Steal

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