Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Year That Was Part 2 - A View from Elsewhere

From the viewpoint of the first day of a brand new year, I look back on more personal highlights (and a few sad moments) from 2014. In most cases Elsewhere refers to London and outlying areas, for example East Sussex, location of Farley Farm House. AKA Home of the Surrealists, it was in fact the home of photographer Lee Miller and her artist husband Roland Penrose. Among their many houseguests were Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Richard Hamilton, Eileen Agar, and Antoni Tapies. The house, which is maintained much as it was when its owners were alive, contains a fine collection of artwork, not only by Miller and Penrose, but also by many of its distinguished guests. There is also an extensive sculpture garden, which overlooks the glorious South Downs. 

Pictured above, top left: Barbara Britton, Shane Jones and Sue Verney in the sculpture
garden at Farley Farmouse. The sculpture is by Antony Penrose.
Remaining photos:interior and exterior views of the house and garden.
Pictured bottom right: DK outside the farmhouse.

For the second year running, one of the year’s high spots was provided by Dame Angela Lansbury. As good fortune would have it, our visit to London coincided with her triumphant appearance as the delightfully batty spiritualist Madame Arcati, in Noel Coward’s play Blithe Spirit. The play’s director was Australian-born Michael Blakemore (seen below, bottom left, with Angela Lansbury). Through the years, I’ve seen extremely fortunate to see other productions by him. Simply stated, they stand tall amongst the finest theatre I’ve ever seen: The Front Page, 1972, Long Day’s Journey into Night (starring Lawrence Olivier) 1972 and City of Angels, 1990. Like these productions, Blithe Spirit was gorgeous to look at, with a meticulous but affectionate feel for period. This production was distinguished by a singular a decorative touch that was probably lost on most of the audience: the walls of the elegant set were hung entirely with the works of Australian Modernists, predominantly Margaret Preston.

Our London stays wouldn’t be complete without a walk on Hampstead Heath and at least one visit to Kenwood House. Noted not for the first time on this blog, much as we admire certain works in the collection (NOT the ghastly paintings of children, but including, among others, the Bols, pictured below, bottom left, the Vermeer, bottom right to the left of Shane and one of the finest of all Rembrandt’s self portraits) our favourite works remain the magnificent William Larkin portraits (pictured below, top left and right).

But it’s also friends who make our visits to the UK so special. Unfortunately Shane and I both caught  flu, which impeded severely on our travel plans, so we were unable to reconnect with friends outside of London. Still, we soldiered on as best we could, and managed to spend quality time with some of our oldest friends, including Barbara Britton, Sue Verney, and Roger and Bev Murray. Later this year we were doubly blessed, as back in Australia we had visits from both Sue and Bev.

Top left: Barbara and Sue; top right: Barbara photographs Shane and his self portrait, April 2014
Bottom left and right: Bev, Roger and I

The collage below contains more highlights, some from the UK, others closer to home. Top left: the flyer for Renaissance Impressions Chiaroscuro Woodcuts from the Collections of George Baselitz and the Albertina, Vienna, which we saw at the Royal Acadamy. A stunning show, a must-see for relief printmakers.

Shane and I have fond memories of the day Sue, Barbara and I spent in Chichester, where we visited Pallant House Gallery. Its permanent collection is remarkable; however our main focus was the exhibition Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War. Timed to coincide with the centenary of the First World War, the exhibition featured his famous cycle of murals from Sandham Memorial Chapel in Burghclere, Hampshire.

Henri Mattisse The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern opened towards the end of our stay. Shane had more or less recovered by then, but I was still quite ill. Nevertheless, we managed to get ourselves to this dazzling show, which if while didn’t cure the flu, at least managed to raise my spirits.

2014 gave Shane and I a veritable Stephen Sondheim feast. Back in July, Victorian Opera showed yet again how brilliantly they perform his work with their scintillating production of Into the Woods. (I can hardly wait for their Sweeney Todd in 2015). In October, Shane and I were treated to an exemplary production of Sondheim’s rarely performed (at least in this country) Assassins, directed by Tyran Parke. Then in November we were profoundly moved by Lifelike Company’s production of Sondheim’s Passion, performed for the first time in Australia, and featuring a handful of the cast members from Assassins.

The last play we saw this year was also a bobby dazzler: the Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of I’ll Eat You Last, with the one and only Miriam Margoyles. Shane, who adored it as much I did, has written about it on his blog. To read his post, click HERE.

2014 was also the year we lost our former Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam (pictured below with his wife, the late Margaret Whitlam).

I was also saddened at the passing of two of my favourite actors: Bob Hoskins and Elaine Stritch. In a year where we lost some real greats, some far too early, for me personally the death of these was felt keenest. It’s extraordinary how someone you’ve long admired but have never met, and who never even knew of your existence, can still play such a big part in your life. I still can’t believe the incredible life force of these extraordinary talents has been extinguished. 

Elaine Stritch and Noel Coward, circa 1962

Stephen Sondheim and Stritch, Company, 1971 

The Tony Award winning Elaine Stritch at Liberty, 2002

Bob Hoskins in Dennis Potter's seminal TV series Pennies from Heaven, 1978

Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren in The Long Good Friday, 1980

Bob Hoskins and Cathy Tyson in Mona Lisa, 1986

Vale Bob Hoskins, Elaine Stritch and Gough Whitlam.