America’s Pastime

Some things never leave you, they stay with you and give you cause to think of them, almost on a daily basses. Horse riding and horses in general, are never far from my thoughts. I’m not a great horseman or rider, I only did it at school, for a one year in 1973, a whole year and I loved it so much, it has never left me. What had happened was, by 1973 the teachers had given up on us and tried to find things for us to do outside the school, away from them. Bless them or damn then? I’m not sure. Bless… I think. I finally got back up in the saddle when my niece got me two horse riding sessions for my birthday. It felt amazing after all them years.

Some things never leave you; Baseball will never; leave me. I’ve watched it on TV and loved the game. The thing I have learned about myself, is my love for history. I just plain and naturally like looking back and I like nostalgia. Any game I like, I love to hear the old timers talking about the old days and old heroes. Cricket and Football, or in this story, Baseball. A couple of years ago I was on holiday with the family in Florida, it may have been our six or seventh time. We had done all the parks, many times and wanted to try something different. I suggested going to a ball game, Baseball. No one was keen, but they decided to humour me. It was an hour and a bit, straight drive from our villa, so it wasn’t going to be a problem. I checked online to see who was playing. The Tampa Bay Rays were at home to The Cleveland Indians and there was plenty of tickets, so no need to book.

We set off for an evening game, think it was about seven o’clock. The sky was very dark in the West, the direction we were heading. Once or twice I thought about turning back, especially when the rain came down like stair rods. But, we kept going and wonder of wonders, the stadium has a roof on it. Kathy was a bit miffed because she had said to keep driving and if the game was off, we could just go shopping. Katie likes to shop.

We parked in the stadium car park, didn’t cost us anything, we were too early and the parking staff hadn’t arrived yet. I tried to pay them later and the guy just laughed and said, you’re in now and told me not to worry about it. This was just the start of the warmth and generosity we received from the whole organisation. The rain had stopped and the sun was out with a vengeance. The stadium wasn’t open yet so we had to hang about the entrance and the club shop. The shop opened first and we piled into the air conditioned haven and spent a few bucks on caps t-shirts and memorabilia. Kathy finally getting to do some shopping.

Then the ticket office opened and we went over to buy our seats, Baseball can be cheep or very expensive, we bought good seats behind the dugout, not too deer. The girl at the box office must have thought, by our accents, that we were from Cleveland and soled us tickets to the away team dugout, so we were in amongst the Cleveland fans wearing all our brand new Tampa Bay gear. Good job it wasn’t a British football match.

Before the game started we had a good look round the inside of the stadium. The club museum was really special. All the photos of old players, the history of Baseball, I felt like Ray Kinsella from Field of Dreams. We bought hot dogs and chilly dogs and soda, while some folks hearing our accents, asked us where we were from, every one of them, genuinely pleased that we had come to the Baseball and telling us to enjoy the game. That seemed to be the mantra; enjoy the game.

I can’t imagine what it must be like before the World Series, because this game in the middle of an American League series, midway through the season was just amazing. From the throwing out of the ceremonial first pitch by a local US soldier, who had been badly injured in a car crash, to the singing of the national anthem. There were old timers, I think, employed by the club, handing out badges to little kids, some who were at their first ball game. It was just magical. They call Baseball, America’s Pastime. If you ever get the chance to go to a game, you will see why. We watched a fine game that day. The Rays narrowly loosing out by one run, but wining the series, I think 2-1. I hope we go back one day, I dream about those hot dogs


John Lyly and Early Modern Authorship: an interview with Andy Kesson

Mathew Lyons

Lyly coverLast week saw the launch of Andy Kesson’s brilliant new book John Lyly and Early Modern Authorship, which makes an eloquent and powerful case for both the quality of Lyly’s work and its importance to early modern literature as we understand it. It is full of fascinating insights into literary and print culture and commerce and I urge anyone who is interested in the period to read it.

Born in 1554, Lyly is best remembered today for Eupheus, the Anatomy of Wit his 1578 prose fiction which seems to have taken London and the court by storm. “All our ladies were then his scholars,” it was later said, “and that beauty at court which could not parley Euphuism was as little regarded as she which now there speaks not French.”

But that fashionable success has in many respects served to damn him for generation after generation of literary critics…

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Emma Bolland. Tapping into the creative mother lode

Strange Alliances

Lacan Drawings (work in progress) 2013 Lacan Drawings (work in progress) 2013

Both writing and art are practices that potentially draw on the rich seams of narrative in the world around us. When you have someone like Emma Bolland, who illuminates life from both, then the result is a richly textured tapestry of perceptions.

Tell me about yourself.

I’m an artist and writer based in Leeds. I graduated in the 80s, so technically I guess I’ve been at it for a long time, but it feels like it’s only in the last 3 to 4 years I’ve really been able to focus. I’ve had a lot of gaps when I haven’t been able to work. The last one, when I wasn’t writing or making at all, was between 2007 and 2009: totally blocked and an awful time. In 2010 I managed to pick up my practice and it’s been really productive since then. For some…

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Titus Andronicus


Last weekend was the time for me to go, at long last, to London. The Globe tour voucher was burning a hole in my pocket. Kathy had given me it as a Christmas present and we had been planning a long weekend in Town for weeks. My thinking was, as we are doing the tour, it would be mad not to take in a play. Anthony and Cleopatra would have been my choice but, the voucher was only valid for six months and time was running out, so it had to be Titus Andronicus.

I only knew Titus vaguely, so I ordered the Oxford edition from Amazon straight away. It arrived in plenty of time for me to read through it. Then I thought to myself, I won’t read it first, I’ll go and see the play, and see how I get on. This is a different process for me; I have always read the play first, apart from one or two DVD’s I have. These would be: The Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night. I haven’t read them yet but, I have watched the movies.

Before I talk about the play, I have to tell you about the Globe. It is a magical place, right on the banks of the river. We took the tour the day after seeing Titus Andronicus, so we had two days to look at her. We crossed over the river on Southwark Bridge one day and London Bridge the next. Then we went down to the riverside and walked along Bankside a ways and there it was. It is hard to describe how I felt; it looks just like the photos or how I’d saw it on TV. Maybe it is the fact that it’s quite a new building, think that was in the back of my head. That is just a small thing, because I just The Globe was amazing and I would be happy seeing all the plays down here. I am trying to figure out how I could go down to see: Anthony and Cleopatra and Julius Caesar latter in the summer. That would make it three Roman Plays in one season. It would be very expensive, but more to the point, it would be difficult, with my horrible rota, to get the time off from work.


The tour was a joy. We got to see them rehearsing a sword fight for Hamlet, I’ll tell you these guys don’t mess around. Those swords could do a lot of damage. We watched a demonstration on how to dress Ophelia, with a quite embarrassed young lady volunteer. To be honest, I would much rather have watched the sword fighting, think Kathy appreciated it more. Then we had afternoon tea in The Swan tavern, next door. All part of the tour. It was a great day.


The day before the tour, was the play. Titus Andronicus. It is a story of, murder, rape and revenge and more murder. The cast were amazing and all of them played their parts spectacularly. Titus is a very complex story and sitting in the audience, on the first level with a hired cushion to save you from getting calluses on your rump, was a fantastic experience. The story just washed over me, with the palms of my hands sweating, from the sheer tension. The intensity and drama in this dark and foreboding setting, the pillars, wrapped around in swathes of black drapes and the hole in the roof covered over with awnings, with long narrow gaps between them.  You almost forgot to breathe sometimes. The play starts with the late Emperors’ sons, Saturninus and Bassianus being pushed around in raised steel platforms, by men banging on the steel frames and chanting, all amongst the Groundlings on the floor of the theatre. The Groundlings are the audience that stand on the ground and some, get to lean on the stage. Titus has returned from war with the Goths. He has brought prisoners with him. Tamora the Queen of the Goths, her three sons and her lover, a Moor called Aaron. Titus has her eldest son executed, so she swears vengeance on him. Titus is offered the Emperorship but refuses and recommends Saturninus the late Emperors eldest son. He is made Emperor and in gratitude to Titus, offers to marry his daughter Lavinia. She is betrothed to his brother Bassianus, so he chooses to marry Tamara instead.

Now that Tamara is the Emperors wife, she and her lover Aaron the Moor, plan their revenge on Titus. This is when the blood really starts to flow. She sends her two surviving sons to take Lavinia into the forest to rape her and murder Bassianus. After the rape, they cut off her hands and cut out her tongue, so she cannot identify them. Aaron convinces Saturninus that it was the sons of Titus who murdered his brother. Saturninus condemns them to death. Aaron, who is a bit of a boy, tells Titus, if he cuts his hand off and sends it to Caesar, he will spare his sons.

Their heads are returned to Titus, in two grisly looking bags, along with his hand, little bit of comedy there. Quite a few laughs throughout actually, black humour of course.  Titus sends his remaining son Lucius, to raise a Goth army and return to Rome. I was thrilled when Coriolanus got a mention here.

On hearing of the approaching Goth army Tamora and her two sons visit Titus. They are disguised as three Roman furies. Rape, Murder and Revenge, one of the funniest and sinister scenes in the play. She persuades him to invite Lucius to a feast at his house; she goes back to her husband and leaves her sons with Titus. He strings them up by the ankles and cuts their throats, then bakes them in a pie and feeds them to their mother and the Emperor. It all turns into a bloodbath after that. Titus kills his daughter; she was a poor gibbering wreck after her ordeal. I could have cried for her, the way her father smothered her in a loving embrace, it was quite heartbreaking. Then he kills Tamara, Saturninus kills Titus and Lucius kills Saturninus. Lucius becomes Emperor of Rome.

There is a side plot, the Queen falls pregnant and has a baby to Aaron. The nurse brings the baby to its father and there is a bit off light relief, well not really. The baby is black and Aaron is told he must get rid of him. So I’m sitting there, on the edge of my seat, bighting my nails worrying about the little baby. Aaron, who adores his baby, asks the nurse, who all knows about the birth. Why just me and the midwife, she tells him. I knew what was coming. It was the most brutal and violent scene in the play. Everyone in the Globe went Ouch! Followed by Oh no! I won’t spoil it for you but, there were a few walk outs, I don’t think they were disgusted or anything. It was I think just too much for them. I heard some people fainted on the first night. Wonder if that’s true, or maybe just publicity, trying to get more bums on hired cushions.

I thought: Titus Andronicus was an amazing play, as I’ve said earlier in this post the whole cast were fantastic. I bought the program, so I can mention a few of them. Matthew Needham and Steffan Donnelly were brilliant, leading off as the late Emperors sons. Steffan coming back later as a bird seller was very funny, until he was killed, again. William Houston was just brilliant as the war weary general, Titus Andronicus. Ian Gelder as Marcus Andronicus; his brother was magnificent, when he spoke to us as a faithful member of the family, I could relate to every word he said. The compassion in his face and eyes was magnetic. It was he who tells Lavinia to put a stick in her mouth and use her stumps, to write in the sand and identify her attackers.  The Goth Queen Tamora played by Indira Varma, was wonderfully vengeful and stunning. I’m sure I have seen her on telly. I can’t go on saying how wonderful they all were, I’ll run out of superlatives. One last mention and it’s for the musicians. Their talent is amazing; I half expected them to be miming to a backing track. Not a bit of it. One of them, I think looking at my programme it may have been Adrian Woodward, played solo on a very long horn, I swear there was three sounds coming out of it at once, all sounding sweet and beautiful.


A bit about the play, I learned from the programme. Titus Andronicus is believed to have been written in 1590-1 some think later 1593. At first it was thought to have been collaboration between Shakespeare and another playwright George Peele, but most scholars now think Shakespeare wrote it alone. It is one of his Roman plays, but unlike the others it is not based on fact or history. The major influence is thought to be from the tale of Philomel from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. A book William Shakespeare would probably have read as a school boy. It is thought, influences would have come from other playwrights, such as Marlowe and Thomas Kyd. Robert Green warned his fellow playwrights against the “upstart crow, beautified with our feathers” A nice piece of evidence to prove Shakespeare is the author of his own plays.

My first visit to The Globe was an occasion I will never forget and the murderous Titus Andronicus will be a play I shall return to whenever I can. I’ve not read it yet, so there may be another post further down the road.

I’d like to credit The Oxford Shakespeare. Titus Andronicus Edited by Eugene M. Waith. General Editor Stanley Wells. Also The Globe Theatre Titus Andronicus Program. Great sources in helping me write this blog post.





Sex, money and morality: Thomas Middleton’s A Trick To Catch The Old One

Mathew Lyons

Trick posterFew people would disagree that Shakespeare’s shadow has served to obscure a great number of superb plays and playwrights. But Thomas Middleton has a good case for being the most unjustly neglected of them all. I was delighted to discover, therefore, that Mercurius, the independent production company run by my friend Jenny Eastop, was planning to stage Middleton’s rarely performed 1608 comedy A Trick To Catch The Old One at the Rose Theatre this May.

Jenny kindly agreed to take time out from rehearsals to discuss the play, the production and Middleton’s reputation generally.

For those who don’t know about Mercurius, could you give me some background to the company and its aims?
After 20 years as a director, being given plays to direct, I had a list of my own choice of plays I wanted to direct and the only solution seemed to be to start my own…

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After the wonderful, The Devils Music, I couldn’t wait to read ROOK, Jane Rusbridge’ second novel. I pre-ordered it from Amazon and cleared the decks for its arrival.

When it finally arrived I tore it from the parcel and found inside this beautiful book. The front cover has a picture of a girl, must be the main character Nora, standing amongst a building of rooks, on a grassy windswept landscape. Yes building, I looked it up. There are rooks in the air all around her.

The story begins with Nora, who has returned to Creek House, the family home, next to the village of Bosham, on the Sussex coast. Nora rescues an injured rook, which she finds and nurses back to heath, she names him Rook. Her mother Ada lives in the house and is a bitter old woman with a secret. Nora, who has been away from home, is a gifted cellist and while at collage, then onto performing. She has been having an affair with her older and charismatic teacher. Nora has secrets too.

There is so many wonderful layers to this book, from the opening scene of the Sussex coast and an eleventh century battlefield, to the same ground in the twenty first century. Then there is Jonny, an outsider who wants to make a documentary about King Cnut and an attempted archaeological dig in the little church of Bosham. The characters are all wonderfully written and the family story of Nora, her sister Flick, Felicity and their parents is revealed as the book reaches its end. This has been a hard review to write, no matter what I say about ROOK, I couldn’t with my limited skill, do it Justice. I think Jan Rusbridge is something special and we may look back in years to come and realise this. I hope she writes many more books and gets the acclaim she deserves.

Footnote. You can also have a parliament of rooks, I like building.


On my second attempt, I finally finished Cymbeline. The first time I set about it, was with a scruffy, old second hand copy of an Arden 2nd edition. I was enjoying it immensely. But, in the margins there were lots of notes, in pencil and the further I got into the play, the notes got thicker and became a distraction. I gave up and looked on line for a new 3rd edition. Arden hasn’t produced one, yet. So I decided to give The Oxford Shakespeare, Cymbeline a try. I was really impressed and found it relatively easy to read. I do love it when I read a passage, then I look down at the footnotes and there, the way it is explained is exactly the way I thought it meant. I think the spelling has been modernised and I felt as though I was gliding across the pages, sometimes. These are great moments for me when I am reading Shakespeare.

Cymbeline is the King of ancient Britain; he isn’t actually in the play very much. It is mainly the story of his daughter Innogen and her Roman husband, Posthumus Leonatus. Early in the play Posthumus is banished from court by the King and so, returns to Rome. Whilst in Rome he is forced into a wager with Giacomo who is on his way to Britain and Cymbeline’s court. Giacomo bets Posthumus he can make Innogen be unfaithful to him. This is all set to the back drop of scheming; by the Queen, the King’s second wife and Innogen’s step mother. She wants her son Cloten, by a former marriage, to marry Innogen. There is also tension between Britain and Rome, with Cymbeline refusing to pay tribute to Augustus Caesar.

I found Cymbeline very enjoyable, there are some who say it is a very convoluted story and the ending is a problem. I didn’t have any problems whatsoever. There is the scene where Innogen takes poison and dies, then miraculously comes back to life. I don’t see the problem, the doctor, Cornelius, later explains that he left an ingredient out of the draft, which made her seem to be dead. But she was only in a coma. Now isn’t that the same as the potion that Juliet took in, Romeo and Juliet?

When I finished reading the play, I read the introduction. I know you’re supposed to read the intro first. But I can’t wait; I’m too impatient to get started on the play. I always do that. When I did read the introduction, I found Cymbeline being compared, maybe not compared. But mentioned in connection, to a few Shakespeare plays I haven’t read yet. They are, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Pericles, The Winter’s Tale and Twelfth Night, which I haven’t read but have seen, on DVD. Also in the introduction, there is some discussion on the name of Innogen. Apparently in the Folio, it is spelt Imogene. But this is thought to be an error and was heard as Innogen in early performances of the play. Some of the evidence for the name Innogen was a ghost character in early editions of:  Much Ado About Nothing. The name was also that of the mythical first Queen of Britain. I just like it, Innogen and I think she is one of Shakespeare’s greatest woman characters.

There are some wonderful scenes in Cymbeline. I love the part where Giacomo climes out of a box or maybe a basket, in Innogen’s bed room, in the middle of the night, while she is asleep. He observes things about her, mainly a mole below her left breast. He steals a bracelet from her wrist. All this, is to use for evidence, to win his bet with Posthumus.

I am sure I have seen lots of Hollywood versions of this play. It just seems so familiar. It reminded me of some of them old swashbuckling films from the golden age of cinema. Maybe that’s why people get confused when the take in a Shakespeare play and think someone else wrote them.  I do find myself, when I am reading them, looking for connections. When you read a modern author, who has a large body of work, you do see patterns in their writing. Sebastian Faulks for instance, I have read all his novels and I can see certain traits in his stories. So I am always on the lookout for those kinds of things in Shakespeare’s writing. I’m sure; someone could point these things out to me. But, it is more rewarding finding them for myself. I can build up a picture of Shakespeare on my own, it might be wrong but it won’t bring down the establishment, because a truck driver from Bathgate got it wrong, or maybe right.

I have tickets to see Titus Andronicus at The Globe, later this month. Along with a tour of the theatre and a long weekend in London, I can’t wait. Hopefully this will break the ice and knock me out of my lethargy. I miss London; it’s been so long I forget what the ale tastes like. The RSC in Stratford is another destination I am hankering to see. To see a play and a walk round the Shakespeare birthplace, now that would be an occasion. I bought the Oxford edition of Titus Andronicus, I was thinking about reading it after I have been to see the play, for a change. I know the story, vaguely so it would be interesting to see how it ends, I do not know the ending. I had also started reading Richard II. But I have put it to the side for now, I’m going to concentrate on Titus. I did read enough of Richard II to know I am going to love it and the Oxford copy it is written in.