Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ireland in Oxford

Mrs The Millbrooker and I took a trip to the dreaming spires of Oxford this week. It was very wet in Oxford. We didn't, therefore, see much of Oxford. I'm metaphorically wagging my finger at Oxford for being wet and miserable.

We took off from Milly's hilltop home in Bath on Thursday morning after an all-too-brief night's sleep and spent a mercifully short time kicking our heels at Didcot Parkway waiting for a connection to the overtly academic city. For anyone who's never had the pleasure of spending time at Didcot Parkway - here's a shot, shamelessly nicked from here.
Exciting isn't it? The only difference between our short time there and the glories of the photographed scene above was that, for us, it was piddling down and a trifle windy which added a certain frisson to the wait.

Once safely into Oxford we took shelter in the Ashmolean museum because it was too early for lunch; I'd have preferred decent weather so we could have wandered around the city, but the Ashmolean made for a pleasing interlude. Mental notes were made to return. We spent a contented hour viewing renaissance paintings and 17th century stringed instruments (some of which are in the photo below) whilst gently steaming from our minor soaking twixt station and museum.We asked the nice lady at the door of the museum how to find the Oxford Playhouse Theatre (the main purpose of our trip) and she smiled that indulgent smile that one uses for the terminally dim tourist as she pointed over the road to where the theatre was plainly obvious. We secured our tickets (booked well in advance by the ever efficient Mrs The Millbrooker) from the box office before hiding from the rain again, this time in the welcoming surroundings of ... No, it's not a Wetherspoon's; they do something a bit similar though. A jolly decent pint (or two) of Taylor's Landlord Ale and a very well priced mixed grill (damn the diet) later it was time to take our seats in the Playhouse for a matinee performance of Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan. (Video trailer of the show we saw on the link).

Mrs The Millbrooker is something of a McDonagh afficionado and needed to see some of his work performed live to help in her studies; this was our (probably only) opportunity. I'll note here that none of the photos that follow are from the production that we saw (except the Hollywood design); I couldn't find any on the interweb. They are of other productions of the same play, though, so there's at least a modicum of representation.Like much (all?) of McDonagh's work, this play is irreverent, dark, violent, uncomfortable and uproariously funny. The main comparison I thought of was Dario Fo's plays which are also irreverent, dark, violent, uncomfortable and funny (but Fo is much more overtly political).

The characters are largely caricatures rather than fully fleshed out which intentionally gives a slightly surreal feel; it also allows them to say things that one couldn't normally. McDonagh is gloriously politically incorrect; not in a Bernard Manning-ly offensive way, but you do find yourself sniggering and then wondering if you really should have been. He does get some great gags in about the English colonial history within Ireland as well.
The narrative is quite simple and concerns the isolated community of the Aran island of Inishmaan in 1934, its petty squabbles and unrealised ambitions. News of a Hollywood film crew working on the neighbouring island of Inishmore brings hope to the hero of the title, Cripple Billy, who has dreams of leaving forever...
The cast gave their all despite one or two technical hitches; a failed projector made the "showing" of a film within the play a bit difficult for them as they reacted to a blank screen - but that's the sort of thing skilled actors can deal with without too much hoopla.
Mrs The Millbrooker and I thoroughly enjoyed our couple of hours in the theatre and came out smiling and with our thoughts suitably provoked; we spent a happy hour or so back at Millbrooker Towers late that night dissecting the play and doing our own critique. There were plenty of things we might have done differently with the production had we been director/actor/designer etc, but that's all part of the fun of the theatre.
Bravo to Garry Hynes (director), the cast and crew - it was worth a long trip from Millbrook, I'd go again.

No comments: