Sunday, July 14, 2024

My Life in ... Theatre Programmes: The College Years

The seventeenth in an occasional series of alternative Curriculum Vitae because no-one on their death bed says "I wish I'd spent more time in the office"

Recap: Over the years, I have kept just about every theatre programme for every play, dance, performance. The bankers’ box full of programs had grown over the years into two boxes and travelled with me from home to home. The vinyl collection mostly went in 2015 as part of a downsize, the theatre programs were next on the list. I looked at selling them on eBay, as many other people have done, but the effort involved and the prices they would fetch meant it just was not worth the effort. So what I did was scan them, mostly just cover page and cast list. Then off they went to the recycling bin. Exceptions were programs where I knew one of the performers or they were particularly significant productions.

Scanning old theatre programmes is like watching your life flash before your eyes but v-e-r-y slowly. 

Oxford years.

In the four years at Oxford my attendance at the arts was eclectic as is only right and proper at university with everything from Gregorian Chant to Karlheinz Stockhausen with a fair number of theatrical productions thrown in. As I am missing a number of ticket stubs and programmes I am indebted to the geeks and fans of the internet for supplementing my memory.

Oxford University Film Society (1971/1972) My introduction to many classic films including Throne of Blood, Metropolis, Casablanca and the overlong, pretentiously arty Chelsea Girls by Warhol.

Oxford University Orchestra at Oxford Town Hall (01-December-1971). Mozart, Beethoven and Walton. I do remember that one of the percussionists was a red haired biochemist called Arabella who I also saw in another, undocumented concert, playing a brass instrument - versatile lady.

Clerks of Oxenford at Magdalen College Chapel (04-March-1972). Thomas Tallis and a load of 13th century music.

Karlheinz Stockhausen at the Oxford Union (May 1972). I saw Stockhausen when he gave a talk at the Oxford Union [Part 1, Part 2 Part 3]. We were up in the balcony which is where the cheap seats were because we were on a student budget. Stockhausen looked at the almost empty stalls and invited all of us seated upstairs to come on down. So we got excellent top price seats for next to nothing.

Conduct Unbecoming at the Belgrade Theatre (16-May-1972). Well I had the programme so I must have seen it.

Hawkwind at Oxford Polythechnic (10-June-1972). We went as a group to see them and hear their new single "Silver Machine". Two things I remember from the gig were:

  • The roadie doing the sound check didn't bother with "One, Two, Testing". He just went "One, One, One, ...".
  • They had a large, naked lady dancing on the stage who Google informs me was Stacia.

Julius Caesar at RSC Stratford (Summer 1972). My first time seeing a young Patrick Stewart (the next was nearly 40 years later in Waiting For Godot with Sir Ian McKellen). Given the venue it would have been a family outing organised by my parents during the summer holidays. Of course back then the cast names meant nothing to me (Corin Redgrave, Margaret Tyzak, etc.) such is the wisdom of hindsight.s

BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall (26-July-1972). This was my first ever Proms with a programme of Mozart, Stravinsky and Bruckner.

  • Mozart Symphony No. 38, in D major (Prague)
  • Stravinsky Capriccio for piano and orchestra
  • Bruckner Symphony No.3, in D minor.

Hertford College Music Society (05-November-1972). My first encounter with the lovely and ever popular "Lark Ascending" conducted by a very young Simon Rattle.

King Crimson at New Theatre (25-November-1972). We were into prog rock and bands like Yes, Soft Machine, Kevin Ayers, The Bonzos. One of our group had the classic album In the Court of the Crimson King. I remember little of the actual gig but a bootleg recording is available at DMG.

Fellow student from my primary school. Catherine Bott in As You Like It at the Talisman Theatre (1972) and again in Venus and Adonis at King's College, London (1974).


Fellow student from my secondary school. Jane Broughton Perry in
Androcles and the Lion (1972).


... and Saksoon at Teddy Hall (1973).

Schola Cantorum Oxoniensis at St Edmund Hall (17-February-1973). Renaissance music, mostly 16th century.

Jesus Midsummer Ball (1973). A Commemoration ball is a formal ball held by one of the colleges of the University of Oxford in the 9th week of Trinity Term. They start late and go on to the wee small hours. I felt I could not miss out on going to one of these so I asked my friend Jane to be my guest. We saw Steeleye Span and I remember watching Magical Mystery Tour through a slightly alcoholic haze.

Plan and timetable.

Plays at Various colleges (Summer 1973). Many of the colleges had amateur dramatic groups who put on plays during the summer term when I could easily see three performances per week. There were no exams at the end of the second year so it felt like I was a liberty to study less and enjoy more.

  • Androcles And The Lion - Regents Park College 
  • Dom Juan - Brasenose
  • Hadrian VII - Keble Collge
  • Mandrogola - Magdalen
  • Pericles - University College 
  • Volpone - Lady Margaret Hall
  • Saksoon - St Edwards
  • Caravaggio Buddy - ?
  • Hay Fever - Keble College
  • Peer Gynt - Merton College
  • Richard III - Brasenose College
  • Six Characters - Jesus LMH
  • The Cocktail Party - Oriel St Annes
  • The Fall And Redemption Of Man - Teddy Hall
  • The Flies - St Catz
  • The Mad Islands - Wadham College
  • The Seventh Seal - Magdalen
  • Toad Of Toad Hall - Oriel College
  • Venus And Adonis - Kings College

Gregorian Chant (venue and date unknown). One of the more esoteric concerts. Strange to hear Latin spoken with a pronounced American accent.

Ballet Rambert at Oxford Town Hall (date unknown). All I remember is one dance where the dancer wore a brightly coloured cloak which was repeated whipped away to reveal another colour underneath. Or I may have just imagined that.

Mayfly Festival (01-May-1974). It was a small two or three day concert in Oxpens Meadows in Oxford. I have no memorabilia but I believe I must have attended in 1974 because one of my college mates was a huge fan of Gong, Hatfield & the North and Henry Cow. and one of the acts was the Virgin All Stars comprised of members from all three bands.  

It was a lovely sunny day is about all I can remember. I also remember one of the performers saying that he rehearsed and rehearsed so that what you heard when you saw him live was as close as he could make it to the studio album. I am convinced that it was Kevin Ayers but I can find no evidence on the internet of his performing there so perhaps I imagined it was him. Or it may have been some other artist.

Kevin Ayers et al. at The Rainbow (01-June-1974). I do not have the programme but I do have the vinyl as the concert was released as an LP. It was with Pete from college plus Pete’s friend Graham. Graham lived in Greenwich where he ran GAS ((Greenwich Audio Services). He had an amphibious car and a Messerschmitt bubble car that he gave me a lift in to the concert. You whizz along with your bum just inches from the tarmac - scary! 

"The album is officially attributed to all principal performers Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Brian Eno and Nico, although other well-known musicians, including Mike Oldfield, Robert Wyatt, and Ollie Halsall, also contributed to the concert." [Wikipedia]

That is a fair old mix.

Saturday, July 06, 2024

Austrian Wine Tasting

Vienna, Austria. Sunday 07-July-2024.

Every day's a school day! Basically we knew nothing about Austrian wines so we booked a tour with Wine and City and were picked up by our guide Stefan. Around 30 minutes north of Vienna we visited three different vineyards, tasting three whites and a red at each stop, the last one including supper. We were a small group of six: us two, a couple from New Jersey and an Argentinian/Spanish couple.

First venue: Wiengut Hoermayer. []. 

Our host at Hoermayer was Roman, the winemaker himself, who filled us in on the background to Austrian wines, this vineyard and his wines. It is small winery of 6 hectares producing 30 thousand bottles a year. 

He explained that the soil is loess and similar to the soils found in Burgundy. Red grapes (predominantly Zwiegelt in this area) are grown on the slopes and Grüner Veltliner in the valleys where they receive more water. Zweigelt is an Austrian hybrid grape variety created in 1922 by Friedrich Zweigelt and is a cross between the St. Laurent and Blaufränkisch grape varieties. He explained that the appellation DAC [Districtus Austriae Controllatus] not only defines the grape but also the style in which the wine is made. It means that the wine displays the unmistakeable characteristics of that wine-growing appellation region. A bottle labelled Grüner Veltliner, for example, from elsewhere will not necessarily taste the same as his. 

  • Weinviertel DAC Grüner Veltliner Ried Fürstenberg 2023 13,0% ABV 
    Fresh and tasty, ideal as an aperitif wine.
  • Gemischter Satz Ried Fürstenberg 2023 13,0% ABV
    This is a way of winemaking also found in Puglia where a mix of varietals are grown together in the vineyards, then harvested and vinified all together. This was a mixture of sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, pinot blanc, chardonnay and grüner veltliner!
    A bit more flavour but still fresh.
  • Weissburgunder Ried Fürstenberg 2023 13,0% ABV
    Fermented in old oak. It is pinot blanc, loved by wine experts but does not sell so well in Austria. 
    More body and flavour than the first two. Would go better with food.
  • Zweigelt Grosse Reserve Reid Neustift 2021 14,5% ABV
    Ferment is 50% new oak and 50% old oak barrels. Spends one year in barrique.

Second venue: Laimer [Weinbau Laimer] is a three generation, family-run winery, again a small 6 hectare estate. We went down into their cellar for the tasting and nibbles.

As before, we tasted three whites and one red.

  • Grüner Veltliner Again a fresh and tasty aperitif style wine.
  • Gemischter Satz Another mixed grape wine: grüner veltliner, pinot blanc, riesling and yellow muscatel.
  • Yellow Muscatel Dry, more body, tasty.
  • Zweigelt 12%. Six months maturation in barrel. We liked this red and bought a bottle to have at home. Eating out in a restaurant every night for five weeks would not be good for the waistline. As we are staying in people's homes we have the facilities to cook in every so often.

Third venue: Paul. [Weingut Paul]. This was a tasting and meal combined. No tasting notes as we were too busy chatting and eating!

  • Chardonnay 2023.
  • Grüner Veltliner 2023
  • Sauvignon blanc 2023
  • Zweigelt 2021

First course was assorted meats with a mustard sauce accompanied by a delicious parsley potato dish and saurkraut.

Pudding was a selection of cream filled pastries.

After that it was back into Vienna. Stefan very kindly dropped us off very close to our apartment. As it was still relatively early we went for a beer at nearby Balkan bar, Juzni Vetar, to round off the evening.

Tuesday, July 02, 2024

Grand Tour 2024 - Fiesole

Fiesole, Tuscany, Italy. Thursday/Tuesday 26-June/02-July-2024.

Table of Contents:

  • All posts
    • Bari, 25-June-2024.
    • Fiesole, 26-June/02-July-2024
    • Vienna, 03/10-July-2024
    • Konstanz, 10/17-July-2024
    • Freiburg, 17/22-July-2024
    • Carcassone, 22/31-July-2024.

Wednesday 26: First day’s travel was a six hour journey from Bari to Florence with a change in Rome. On our arrival we treated ourselves to a taxi up into Fiesole because of our luggage. Afterwards, having been in and out of Florence on the bus several times and with the wisdom of hindsight, we might of saved ourselves the taxi fare but what the heck? We’re on holiday and we're worth it!

Fiesole is a pretty little hilltop town, close enough for sightseeing in Florence (25 mins on the bus) but far enough away up in the hills to be out of the crowds and the heat. We only chose it due to availability of a Home Exchange stay and were so glad we did.  Not only a refuge from the big city but also so much to do and see in the town itself.

The view from our apartment.

The first evening we strolled around the town then went for an aperitivo and enjoyed a meal in the traditional style Antica Fonte Taverna

Typical street in Fiesole.

Thursday 27: We took the bus into Florence and did culture. We bought a multi pass ticket including a pre-booked slot for the Ufizzi and spent nearly 4 hours there! 

Highlights included Botticelli’s Primavera and Birth of Venus. The cover of Venus on the Half Shell by Philip José Farmer is a spoof on the latter painting. I also used to own a kitsch, alabaster statuette of the central figure.

A print of Botticelli’s Primavera graced my childhood home. All the other pictures at home were painted by my father so this image was burned into my retina for years. As a young child I thought the figures of Chloris being pursued by Zephyrus were a little macabre and a little scary.

Lunch was a pasta dish at Oinos a little away from the main tourist sites. It had mixed reviews on various sites but we were happy with our choices and the friendly staff.

After lunch we visited the Basilica of Santa Croce not only a stunning building but also the burial place of some of the most notable Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, the poet Foscolo, the philosopher Gentile and the composer Rossini.

We struck lucky as our visit coincided with a Fiesole festival "Estate Fiesolana 2024". We bought tickets for that night’s entertainment - the tale of the “Corsaro Nero” (The Black Pirate) with a narrator, set to music, an all wind and brass ensemble, together with illustrations projected behind the orchestra. An early supper at home then off to the Roman amphitheater, fortunately with cushions provided as stone is hard.

Friday 27: In the morning we went for a walk which took us all around a Villa Medici, one of a dozen the Medici family owned around the area, but unfortunately no views of the villa itself. Steep hills all around so it took a long time to walk a relatively short distance but a lovely walk.

All around Fiesole we saw paintings on many exterior gas cupboards. A lovely way to brighten up something utilitarian.

Our original plan for the Saturday was to do Mensola parkrun but we only found out a couple of days before that the Tour de France was starting in Florence and so the parkrun was cancelled. Boo! 

Fortunately, there is an another parkrun not too far away in Montecatini. However it was a 25 minute bus ride into Firenze then 50 minutes on the train so we decided on a trip within a trip and did an overnight stay in Montecatini. We chose a hotel very close to the parkrun course to allow for a leisurely breakfast.

Montecatini is a UNESCO world heritage site on account of it being one of a select group of spa towns [Great Spa Towns of Europe].

Saturday 29: Parkrun in the morning. A winding course on which several people have reported taking wrong turns. We had the foresight to take a stroll round the park on Friday evening working out where to go so we did not get lost.

We came north to escape the heat but Saturday was predicted to be the same temperature as Salento! Three laps of a lovely park with a quirky loop in the middle, lots of welcome shade and a mix of tarmac and gravel paths.

Mary tripped and fell on a gravel path and badly grazed her knee and hand. The team were lovely and so helpful over her grazes making sure it was all cleaned up.

After a shower back at the hotel we took the funicular up to Montecatini Alto for a stroll round this pretty hilltop town. 

The passing place exactly half way up.

Looking up to the oldest and highest church in town.

The main square was packed with restaurants catering to the tourist trade so we found Casa Gala just off the square and had lunch there. Clearly quirky: one dish was called "The chef is not a cod" and I got €3 knocked off the bill just for trying out my mangled Italian on our host!

In the afternoon we retraced our journey back to Fiesole for another event in the amphitheatre: a discussion with film director Gabriel Salvatores having being recently presented with an award by Fiesole. Answering questions from the panel and recounting tales, he came across as a lovely man; thoughtful, caring and funny.

Sunday 30: Fiesole played host to two markets on the Sunday: a flea market in the main square and a food market just below our apartment. Two slices of Porchetta later and our lunch was sorted!

After lunch at home we went for a bit of a wander finishing back in town for a Yoga festival. Mary had a reflexology treatment while I tried a bit of martial arts yoga called Kalari Yoga. I was alright at the start with the individual poses but once they started the flowing sequence I was the classic dork going in the wrong direction, facing the wrong way.

That evening we dined in Reggia Degli Etruschi, reputed to be the best restaurant in Fiesole. We had a window table with fantastic views over the Tuscan hills. They specialised in steak so I had a lump of extremely tender fillet served with truffle - nom, nom, nom.

Monday 01: We caught the bus into town to visit the Pitti Palace and the Boboli gardens, another UNESCO world heritage site. Unfortunately being Monday, the palace was closed but we wandered around the gardens, an extensive green space in the heart of Florence, and spent a couple of hours there.  

From the gardens you can see Fiesole and if you look carefully the church on the top of the hill.

After that we needed food. Walking away from the crowded areas we found Osteria Giglio D'Oro.  In typical Italian fashion they do not put salt and pepper on the table but here they also seem to have forgotten to put salt in the cooking water for my ravioli. Starch needs salt and it’s absence sadly detracted from my dish whilst Mary enjoyed her salad.

An unexpected bonus was walking past the supposedly closed Opificio delle Pietre Dure to discover it was, in fact, open for visitors. I would called them paintings in stone. More than mere mosaics they were incredibly detailed illustrations in marble and other minerals - a bit like a stone jigsaw.

That evening we dined at Bistrot Al 5 in Fiesole which turned out to be the best meal so far and sadly only discovered on our last night!

Tuesday 02: Our last half day we did the Fiesole archaeological zone and museum which covered everything from Etruscan temple and walls, through Roman amphitheatre and baths to mediaeval graveyard. The museum was more informative than many we have visited - with lots of explanatory plaques in English as well as Italian. The collection was boosted by various wealthy donors who had donated their collections of antiquities, we assume to demonstrate what good guys they were!

Etruscan walls around the town and tombs all with amazingly large stones. 

We had a light lunch in the apartment to clear out the fridge and headed off to Firenze main station for the start of the next leg of our journey.