Thursday, 31 July 2008

Marco distinction

To tell or not to tell? Mr Gnome has been in two minds about trumpeting the delights of Marco's Deli and Bistro, Church Street, Stratford-upon-Avon.

After all, having discovered a treasure, one might be forgiven for not broadcasting the map reference to all and sundry.

Anguished moment over. Here goes.

Marco's is one of those family-run, small-scale, high-quality, low-price eateries that you may have been tempted to believe had gone the way of the dinosaur.

Fear not. Marco's is alive and kicking, a byword for quality to shoppers, office workers and the staff and students of the Shakespeare Institute (just across the street).

Breakfasts, lunches (not open in the evening) and snacks. Delicious bread baked on premises.

Service is prompt and cheery. You'll probably be addressed as 'Darling'.

And the bacon rolls. Words fail us. The fresh bread. The dizzying aroma of the bacon. The outrageous generosity of the bacon-to-roll ratio. Heaven.

Ditto the roast beef sandwich - carved and carved again from the just-roasted joint. Can so much pleasure be morally justifiable? Whatever. Tuck in.

Go. Try. Tell.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Pappa, Poppa, Puppo

Mr Gnome found himself embroiled in a spelling-related shopping crisis today.

His conclusion?

Variety always goes with spice...

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Friendly Opposition

Despite being a regular visitor to Stratford, Mr Gnome has yet to comment on the tip-top eateries of Bardsville-upon-Avon. Here comes the first of several enthusiastic recommendations.

The Opposition, on Sheep Street, is just around the corner from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

This cheerful restaurant is justly popular with both theatre-goers and non-kulcha-vulchas.

Mr Gnome recently joined a post-Hamlet party of nine for a late-night supper - and in-depth discussion of David Tennant's performance as the puzzled prince.

Mr G relished a delicious Caesar salad while his co-diners tucked in to a wide selection from the menu.

The food was terrific. Plenty of it, well presented and hot. Hurrah!

Service was speedy, upbeat and friendly. Staff seemed genuinely interested in our opinions of the production.

Three cheers for The Opposition.

More info at: The Oppo

Friday, 25 July 2008

Tennant takes ownership

Mr Gnome relished every moment of last night's first performance of Hamlet at Stratford's Courtyard Theatre.

So much can (and often does) go wrong when this strange, complex play makes the journey from page to stage: dodgy directorial 'concepts'; showy-offy performers; a mis-cast Prince (too old/dull/self-indulgent/bold/scared).

In short, a regular minefield of hot potatoes.

I'm pleased to report that the current production, under the direction of Gregory Doran, features none of the above.

Doran and his cast concentrate on getting the words across and telling the story - with clarity, briskness, wit and spirit. The show came in at just over three-and-a-half gripping hours, with a tip-top cliff-hanger immediately before the interval.

Played on a mostly bare stage, the production benefits from an atmospheric background of shifting reflective panels.

Doran has chosen modern dress - fine for immediacy, but, for me, at the price of connection with the 'thought world' out of which Shakespeare created the play, in which, for instance, a belief in Purgatory had as many political implications as religious.

David Tennant's Prince is, as you might expect, quirky and intense. But also mercurial, intelligent and charismatic. His grief for his father is palpable. It's a performance of terrific energy, insight and authority: fast and funny, tender and broken. No Shakespeare character comes with more boxes to tick - and Tennant checks every single one.

No danger of this being a 'star vehicle' with the in-depth casting that Doran has assembled.

Patrick Stewart doubles the roles of the Ghost and Claudius, suggesting the latter's complex inner life and occasionally hinting that, apart from his homicidal tendencies, he was probably a tip-top monarch.

I could go on.

I've seen umpteen dysfunctional Danes over the years. This is one of the best.

And thousands of young Who fans are going to turn up to see the Doctor - and will go away, I'm certain, having had a close encounter with William Shakespeare - life-changing, quite possibly.

What's not to like?

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Who's the prince

Ever in the foremost forefront of the kulchural avant garde, Mr Gnome is nursing singed digits caused by possession of this year's red-hot ticket.

He's off to Stratford-upon-Avon tomorrow to spend the evening with that deeply dysfunctional Danish royal family. Yes, it's Hamlet time again.

Added piquancy because the moody prince is being played by David Tennant - aka (to half of the planet) Doctor Who.

Hence the fact that the entire run is sold out.

And as if that wasn't enough, both uncle Claudius and the ghost of Hamlet's father will embodied by RSC veteran Patrick 'Star Trek' Stewart.

The director is the gifted and usually unfussy Gregory Doran. The buzz has it that the production will be in modern dress.

Mr G's next post will bring his first impressions.

The tension is almost unbearable. I hope it lasts.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Greene Street 2, New York City

An unremarkable street at the rougher end of the city. A boarded-up doorway. Some random graffiti. Not much here for the artist or the poet?

Fortunately, artist Jeremy Duncan's eye doesn't work like that.

He pauses and invites us to share a moment of stillness and strange, unexpected harmony.

Awareness of urban grunge subsides as morning sunlight picks out the elegant classical column, a remnant of the street's former dignity.

Its jagged shadow draws the eye to the delicate blue of the boarding, and then to the doorway, with its single window, the focus of the picture: intriguing and mysterious.

Suddenly, a scene of utter ordinariness becomes extraordinary as light, silence and stillness reveal its 'hidden' beauty.

For me, the picture speaks powerfully of the 'holiness' of the everyday, human world: damaged and fragile, but also resilient, graceful, enduring. And always worth a second look, a second chance.

In short, the picture is a sort of everyday epiphany.

You can see more of Jeremy Duncan's work via the dealer Waterhouse and Dodd.

You can buy prints via EasyArt.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

From the park side

Hurrah for our Victorian forebears for dedicating themselves bountifully to the beautification of our municipal open spaces.

And hurrah for the preservationists of Leamington Spa for salvaging the exquisite bird house in the town's Jephson Gardens.

Ten years ago, the aviary was a derelict, dilapidated disaster.

Now it's a cheerful cafe, its froth of wrought-iron latticework painstakingly restored - an airy delight, possibly all the better for the absence of avian inhabitants.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

'My dear - the noise, the people....'

The useful quotation given above seems to be popping up all over at the moment.

It can be applied, with an air of weary, slightly arch dismissiveness, to a variety of situations.

One thinks, of course, of the hoo-ha-maximus currently going on in the Church of England.

But what is its source?

Resarch indicates that it originated with the actor Ernest Thesiger, a man of such epicene languidness, that he made Noel Coward look like Clark Gable. (Steady with the eye-liner, Ernest...)

Nevertheless, Thesiger fought bravely during the Great War.

Not surprisingly, in later years he was reluctant to recall his wartime experiences.

When asked about his memories of the Battle of the Somme, he sighed briefly and murmured: 'Oh, my dear: the noise, the people...!'

And, finally, Rory is available.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Sherlock Gnome's casebook

Fearless sleuth Mr Gnome tonight found himself embroiled in a steamy murder mystery.

What started out as a pleasant birthday celebration at Warwick's Lord Leicester Hotel rapidly degenerated into a real-time drama of shrieking accusations, shocking revelations and, inevitably, murder most foul - see pic.

Who had poisoned naughty Squire Willoughby, dodgy property developer and rural racketeer?

Who indeed? Trouble was everyone in the vicinity had a rollickingly good motive for bumping him off.

Feisty Nell at the pub. The gamekeeper with a big secret. Glamorous Chime the herbalist. Toby the fey florist - he seemed to know all the village people. Pat the vet - with a bag full of, er, special medications. Edwin the vicar who may not be all he seems.

Hmm. Enough to say that thanks to the investigative skills of Mr G's table companions, all was solved by the time coffee was being served.

Mr G ought to acknowledge that nearly all his chums that evening were police officers. Respect.

OK. You've guessed. This was a pretend murder. You're quick.

A team of tip-top actors mingled with diners to provide an evening that was as enertaining as it was intriguing.

Top marks to the skilled performers from Murder Sleuths -

Hurrah for them.

The show was, er, quite literally, bloody marvellous!

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

More is more

Always pally with paradox, Mr Gnome has no difficulty in being simultaneously a fan of modest minimalism - and abundant excessiveness.

All of which takes us inexorably to the glorious, sparkly over-the-top-ness of the semi-divine Dolly Parton.

And there's the thing about Dolly. Don't be too dazzled by the diamante: she's a fine writer and, in my opinion, a thoughtful, pioneering woman.

Here's the very beautiful 'Jesus and Gravity' from her new CD Backwoods Barbie.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

A bit of a ding-dong

Tranquil, elegant, unshowy - the interior of St Martin's-in-the-Fields offers a welcome contrast to the hubbub of London's West End.

Set on the north-eastern corner of Trafalgar Square, St Martin's couldn't be more central - in fact, it's the Queen's parish church.

Mr Gnome popped in yesterday during a brief visit to the capital to admire the recently completed clean-up and refurbishment, which includes a massive below-ground extension to develop the church's work serving London's poorest and most vulnerable inhabitants.

Outside in the square crowds were gathering around a huge temporary stage in readiness for the celebration of London's gay pride weekend. Inside all was classical calm - visually, at least. Up above the bells were tolling - full peal.

A twinkly member of staff updated us entertainingly on the ten-year refurb project.

The verger must have noticed Mr G straining to listen - what with the overhead din of the bells.

'We've got a team of gay bell-ringers visiting today,' he explained. 'They're here for the pride weekend.'

A pause - and then, by a micro-second, he beat Mr Gnome to the only possible comment.

'I guess that gives a whole new meaning to campanology....'

Friday, 4 July 2008

Mr Gnome's must-see movies - La Belle et la Bête

Naturally enough, 'less is more' is one of Mr Gnome's most deeply held beliefs. Few films could give greater proof of this maxim than Jean Cocteau's 1946 masterpiece.

Working with a minuscule budget, Jean Cocteau was obliged to make a virtue of necessity. No cash for elaborate sets? No problem. He poured what little he had into exquisite costumes, props and, of course, the amazing make-up that transformed actor Jean Marais into the eponymous monster.

Frequently shooting against backgrounds of inky blackness, Cocteau creates an atmosphere that is by turns enchanting and terrifying: I saw the film first as a child and have never forgotten the impression created by scene after scene - the living statues, Beauty's extraordinary floating progress down an endless corridor, the disturbing sensuality of the Beast lapping water from Beauty's cupped hands.

Above all, there's the charge created by the relationship between the exquisite heroine and the strange, ambivalent, tortured Beast. Extraordinary.

This amazing, magical, utterly bizarre film got under my skin almost fifty years ago, And it's still there.