A LITTLE CHAT WITH MATTHEW DUNSTER AND ONE UP FOR THE GLOBE

Well, Matthew Dunster redeemed himself for me last night, after his brutalization of Dickens at Regent’s Park Open Air, with his triumphant direction of Much Ado About Nothing at The Globe.  So, after a little Press party that should put the scruffs at lazy Jo Allan PR, representing the Open Air Theatre, to shame, I was lucky to collar him over his glass of red, after the show.

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Remarkably un-phased by the negative reviews of a Tale of Two Cities, which he claims he never reads anyhow, he talked about the peculiar and rather unnatural pressure point of any Press night and how he had just taken himself out to dinner to avoid the whole grizzly business.  How much too he enjoys the real stuff of theatre, namely rehearsals with both casts. At which point I pompously reminded him that it’s surely about the audiences too, though heaven forbid the critics, certainly a link broken for me in his adaptation of Dickens.

Well, he did say how many shows he was doing back to back, and I didn’t want to be the downer, as he grinned talking about how he and the composer James Maloney had swanned off to Mexico to find inspiration for Much Ado and even made it to Durango.  Not a bad life, but if they had a fun time, and remember Shakespeare’s intimate link with musicians, it breathes throughout his marvellous production. As it says in the programme, and Dunster relayed again, it was an image of Mexican women in Edwardian dresses, but wearing cartridge belts, that gave him a sudden vision of his very off the wall Much Ado, with a subtle attack on Trump’s wall too.

He’s fond of class war as well, so a fitting sally into to the world of Pancho Villa’s revolutionaries. But his remark in the programme is also right, namely that this is no bolt-on message, but a very carefully thought out frame, done with superb designs as well, that serves Shakespeare’s play, rather than the other way around.  So cheers, Mr Dunster, and can I have a job?!

David Clement-Davies and companion were hosted wonderfully by the Globe, and must simply get over Jo Allan PR!

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A MARVELLOUS ‘MARIACHI’ MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

“Let wonder seem familiar” says Charlie De Melo’s magisterial Friar Francis, and Matthew Dunster’s superbly original production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe Theatre should be made familiar to as many people as possible. It’s wonderful.  The steamy snort of a Mexican transport train starts it all, depositing the players before the Groundlings, straight out of the bloody peasant battles of Pancho Villa’s revolutionaries. His female rebels too though, those ‘Soldaderas’ of real history, sporting cartridge belts across their fiery breasts and giving a new voice to the women in the play.

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So Mariachi music, big hats and the threat of maracas, sets your nerves slightly on edge too, wondering if everyone is about to break into a sonnet form of Mejicano. Caramba! No need for nerves, or indeed an over worthy respect for the classical either, in an evening that turns into a visual and sensual feast. This utterly joyous, superbly colourful production is so inventive, so alive and so mercurial too, yet so true to Shakespeare’s themes and the possibilities of what after all is a very peculiar and rather problematic play – in those macho and murderous soldier’s attacks on Hero and the rest – you want to pull down the wall, impeach Donald Trump and get back to loving one another, or at least going to the theatre.

Dunster takes big liberties, sure, because now the malevolent, near Deus-ex-machine figure of Don John is a girl, Don Pedro’s nasty sister, wait for it, Juanita. Gender issues then, whatever they are, (having read my Shakespeare), are on the slab again, to remind us of Dunster’s much praised and hugely popular version of Cymbeline, which he re-styled Inogen.

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In fact, not having read the programme, thankfully, the Trump-Mexico-Wall frame, and Shakespeare uses the stitch-up term, with Dogs Berry the ‘watch’ in the form of Ewan Wardrop’s  swaggering, idiotic film director for the American Mutual Film Corporation, which made a real deal with Villa to film the lot, did not become really apparent until the second half.  When the hand cranked box-film cameras draped in US flags roll out and those poor beleaguered Mexicans all spit on stage at the filthy Americanos.

This production then, which never takes itself too seriously, is exactly the opposite of Dunster’s recent writing follies, with his adaptation of Dickens and A Tale Of Two Cities at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre (see review below). Perhaps a battle there with the director Timothy Sheader. Namely the modern reinvention is not bolt on, as it certainly is there, or tub-thumping either. Instead it’s a wonderfully cheeky and liberated comic conceit, born  of pure instinct, but with thematic integrity behind it too, beautifully realised in Anna Fleischle’s sparkling designs, that frames and serves Shakespeare’s play perfectly and somehow frees up everyone, to both wonder and the familiar.

The actors are really allowed to get down to it then, or to double step floridly up to it, waving their Flamenco skirts at us and each other, or firing their six guns. The entire cast is superb, in a show that is all singing and dancing throughout. Well, an enchanting mix of clever new music by James Maloney, that serenades our swaying journey through that desperate kingdom of love, with nothing as clichéd as Mariachi, and some very beautifully sung ‘Shakespeare’ too.

As Dunster turns Aragon and Messina to Monterray and Durango and Dog Berry’s malapropisms become arrogant American mistranslations, mis-hearings or misunderstandings. Which are also the mistranslations of romantic movies themselves, or the desire to play it heroic.  Much Ado About Noting, the title may have been, noting being false rumour and gossip, which sets the stage beautifully for the black and white film footage, in an age before the talkies, that reveals the truth and reminds you the camera never lies, except in Hollywood.

Of course the play belongs to Beatrice and Benedick, smutty pun intended, performed with such feeling and fiery wit by Beatriz Romilly and Matthew Needham, who Dunster has directed before, to engage us in that ‘Merry War’ of the sexes.  Steve John Shephard is gorgeously arch and wickedly moustachioed as the potentially ambivalent Don Pedro, that patriarchal master of ceremonies and masks, supported valiantly by Marcelo Cruz’s excellent Claudio and Martin Marquez as a Leonato straight out of the Mendoza family in The High Chaparral. But at last the women come centre stage and with Doreen Blackstock’s whip-cracking attack on the men seated on their mimed horses as Antonia, never again so easily dismissed either.

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In this version too, with a dramatic shift towards female power, or nascent revolution, in Villas’ case thwarted and betrayed, yet set against the perpetually comic, almost Fist-Full-of-Dollars backdrop, Much Ado takes on a new pathos and a strange new symmetry too. Suddenly all the ironies, knots and limitations of this threateningly misogenistic soldiers’ play find a united thread, because a woman is liberated into malevolence too, in Juanita, the war out there joining with the war within, in a true dance of lovers. So clarifying just why the magician Shakespeare, working within the mores and male structure of his time, forces Anya Chalotra’s lovely Hero, a name of course ripe with heroic male connotations and hypocracies, to die for love and be reborn, or Claudio to publically mourn her, in the search for his magic and often revolutionary resolutions.

In that the religious context of the play, and Shakespeare’s own peculiar sanctity too, that ‘poet of marriage’ as Germaine Grier called him, is served beautifully by the hyper Catholic-Mexican period framing, the clever and beautiful tying-of-the-knot already undone, and the cult of the Virgin too, though Shakespeare’s is the cult of love.

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I found myself wondering too why men on stilts, with wire horse heads out of War Horse, or pistols fired at tin cans leaping like cucarachas, should so bring a sixteenth century play to life. One reason is that it’s just such fun, those train doors and windows used to lovely comic effect. But the other is that in the setting of the Globe, all the space used too, it’s almost as if you’ve stepped back five hundred years to that age of players and musicians, and that extraordinarily odd but also liberated time, linguistically and even socially, that breathes out of Shakespeare’s utterly instinctive genius.  It is pure directorial instinct too, serving the writer, and the actors, that has made this such a triumphant success.

David Clement-Davies went to Much Ado About Nothing courtesy of the Globe Theatre. The production runs until October 15h .  For tickets Click Here

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The Durrells on Corfu, The White House and The Black Book

With the hit TV drama on the Durrells going to another series, it was interesting to see the Bristol TV unit vans camped below the Achilleon palace on Corfu and meet some of the locals who have been used as extras.  Except the Government seems to have  tightened up the rules, so no one who has recently retired is allowed to work as an extra.

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It was for a different reason though we made a little pilgrimage to that beautiful bay at Kalami and the White House. We went not in search of a popular and rather innocent British TV series, but one of the Durrells themselves, Lawrence Durrell.  Gerald Durrell’s elder brother of course led the Durrell family out to Corfu in 1935 and made it a base for his own extraordinary and highly controversial writing career, that almost won him a Nobel Prize.

Camped in that White House, which is now a pleasant restaurant billed for ‘fine dining’, a doubtful concept in Greece, with a little plaque on the wall and various old photos and books by reception, it was here that he penned his scandalous novel, The Black Book. Although, talking of his ‘white ark’ in the novel, Durrell signs it ‘the house of Anastasios Athenaeios, Kouloura’.  In fact Kouloura is the bay right around the corner, but it seems perhaps that Kouloura then was a district name and this was where The Black Book was indeed written, a Black Book for a White House, though elsewhere it says they rented the house in April 1937.

I met the son of Anastasios Athenaeois, now 82, his father having died several years ago and tried to glean some reminiscences, just as I have heard various bits of gossip, good and bad, about Lawrence on Corfu, from leaving various children, to not being especially nice. But sadly the grand old man has been ill recently and especially last year, like his wife, and seemed weary of the subject, or unable to remember. He said he wanted to sleep, and so I left him gazing out at the beautiful blue Ionian, now dotted with too many smart yachts, and noisy water-skiers in the bay.  Not an unpleasant sight, but just as Gerald Durrell complained of over development when he returned in the eighties, so hardly the isolated and utterly authentic paradise the Durrells must have experienced first hand.

Lawrence Durrell’s famous and very charming travel book on Corfu is of course Prospero’s Cell, where the claim is made that perhaps this was the isle of Prospero and Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and that witch’s name Sycorax is an adaptation of Kerkeira, the island’s Greek name. Charming, though not especially convincing, but I wonder how many have read The Black Book. Banned, or unpublished for forty years in Britain, it has variously been billed as obscene, pretentious or unreadable.  Although TS Eliot, who was managing editor at Faber and Faber at the time and one of Durrell’s great supporters, billed it as the salvation of the English novel.

Like Durrell’s journey to Corfu itself it is certainly the young author’s manifesto of intent and liberation. Highly experimental, it attacks what Durrell called ‘The English Death’ and so all the mores, forms and conventions of the time, with sexuality and sometimes obscenity as its first weapon. For that it is a fascinating, if an often opaque read.  It, like his other novels, or indeed his personal biography, is of course far darker than the likes of enchanting TV series. But Durrell certainly found freedom in it, as he did on Corfu itself, where he lived and loved with his first wife Nancy, and without it would probably never have been able to reach to the heights of the far more narratively accomplished Alexandria Quartet, his true masterpiece.

It was of course the celebrated American writer Henry Miller, author of the likes of The Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer and lover of Anais Nins, who so inspired Lawrence Durrell, after the young writer found the celebrated and also scandalous Tropic of Cancer in a public toilet.  He sent The Black Book to Miller, suggesting he might throw it in the Seine, but instead Miller published it privately in Paris and they became life long friends. Indeed, on the eve of the second war, Miller came out to Corfu and the White House himself, staying for a year, and together, bathing naked, though by then the now balding 52-year-old Miller was billed by locals as ‘the Old Man’, eating, drinking, talking, working and enjoying the glories of the island.  They are still always there on Corfu, as is much of that liberated spirit, but it would be wonderful to find out more of their time there, before the true stories are really lost forever.

David Clement-Davies is an author and planning a book on Lawrence Durrell on Corfu. He would be grateful if anyone on the Grapevine has any stories of the Durrells, especially Lawrence, relayed or first hand.  You can write here or to dclementdavies@aol.com Thank you.

 

 

 

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JO AllAN PR, REGENT’S PARK OPEN AIR AND WHY THEATRES START TO HANG THEMSELVES!

If the terrible production of a Tale of Two Cities is anything to go by (review below), something is wrong at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.   My own personal experience of it was not just having to sit through that busy evening though, unpaid, but my handling by the company’s so-called Public Relations people, Jo Allan PR.

Company of A Tale of Two Cities (2). Photo Johan Persson

At first I called the Box Office to try and get Press Tickets, to be given an email by a very helpful member of staff that simply didn’t work.  Then I was quickly fobbed off by Jo Allen PR over breazy reasons that successful productions don’t merit wide ranging Press Tickets, or that allocations were already full.  Except, after pressing, I heard a second Press Evening had suddenly been arranged for A Tale of Two Cities. I now realise it was probably because of a mounting sense of nerves about the show itself, that has been generally slated and in The Telegraph was recently called a clash of two egos, that of the writer Matthew Dunster and the Director Timothy Sheader. I wonder how many egos are at war.

I’m now furious though at further sloppy treatment, as sloppy as that production, first being put on the waiting list for Oliver Twist, but so rudely to hear nothing at all, then having to ask twice for Production photos. I seriously wonder if the reasons for it are deeply related in the culture of the place. Is it the great successes that the theatre has had in recent years, for the magical venue itself, and for Musical productions that have proved great commercial triumphs, that is making them generally so blasé? Or that violent commercialism everywhere is letting them ignore the spirit and work of serious writers and bloggers? To the point where only the voices of the major papers, and those Stars they give, merits proper PR handling, because everything is about platforms. Having worked in box offices too I know how oddly tickets and comps can be allocated.

Both the Globe and the RSC, and I have had little arguments with the RSC, say consistently how that kind of coverage and interest are important to them.  They usually prove it too, although of course they make necessary equations about the depth of the coverage, its commercial value and so on.  Jo Allan PR seems not remotely interested though in the quality of the reviews here, their seriousness, or their wider cultural value either, let alone showing any modicum of general courtesy.  Actually in PR.

I am not only indignant as a highly published and prize winning author, a journalist and also a blogger at the financially very foolish Phoenix Ark Press, which seeks and makes no profits at all. But because I must admit to a vaguely proprietorial interest in the Open Air theatre too, having aeons ago been House Manager there for two years, after training as an actor myself.  So what makes my blood boil, in being so casually dismissed by the Jo Allan PR girl, who I doubt has ever had the commitment to the Arts I’ve shown, in everything I have done, let alone swept the tiers and screwed in the bloody chairs where ‘her’ audience now put their bums on seats, is that they simply no longer care and so make only commercial equations.

Of course they must make money, of course the Arts are difficult and always underfunded too. But when theatres throw it all up for profit alone, or obvious coverage, then a company starts to lose its soul.  Because actually, and precisely what is wrong with the assumptions and easy politics in A Tale of Two Cities, it is not all just about money, or must not be, but the quality of thought, art, acting, interest and above all writing surrounding it all.  That’s what gives the Arts connection with an audience or indeed critics who can be as passionately hungry, engaged, or disappointed as they are.  Regent’s Park might well pause this season then to evaluate precisely what it is doing, what its wider values are too, or whether such PR people also deserve a little taste of the guillotine, or the rope. Perhaps I should go back and tell them!

David Clement-Davies is not invited to any other productions at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, so frankly won’t be going. The photo shows the cast on stage hanging themselves.

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A FAIL OF TWO CITIES – REVIEW

It’s heart may be in the best of places, but it’s only that magical Open Air setting that just about saves Matthew Dunster’s adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities from being the worst of times.  Three huge revolving blue cargo containers set the alienating modern scene in Regent’s Park, then hit you over the head with the message that those 18th Century emigreés from France’s Revolutionary Terror are now today’s tragic migrants on the borders of Brexit Britain, warning us of blood.

Claire-Louise Cordwell as Mdm Defarge. Photo Johan Persson

Meanwhile the implication that we are all on the unstoppable Super Tanker of the Nasty Rich is symbolised by the figure of Monseigneur, dressed like Elton John, riding the metal juggernaut of capitalist brutality through Paris, then and now, mowing down the peasants, so perhaps we’re all in this together. Not me, I’m afraid.  Call me an old bourgeois, and perhaps it was the sloppy treatment of a much-loved classic, but bring back Shakespeare, apparently now banished from those leafy groves forever.

With the play and programme notes throwing in anything from Donald Trump to Grenfell Tower to be relevant, when the story is so obviously relevant, we are served not with a real and potentially smouldering drama, but modulated in its scenes, moods and social levels, so allowing for various kinds of empathy and the grand build to that eventually thundering Dickensian social rhetoric. Instead we get a hefty kit pack of modern tricks, poor improvisation and lazy messaging, highlighted by images cast on two pointless screens referencing Teresa May, Trump, or weirdly the chariot race in Ben Hur. The show may have heart, but has had its head guillotined from the start, like the rubbery decapitation that signals the horror.

Nicholas Khan as Monseigneur. Photo Johan Persson

The production is as sloppy as its political assumptions too, for just as it is right and very timely to highlight traditions of British tolerance and legal protection, in a country once a proud refuge of the refugee, it also seems irresponsible to assert that there is some easy equation between The Terror that succeeded the French Revolution and religiously motivated Fundamentalist terrorist attacks in Manchester and London.  Or perhaps we need a  play truly dealing with Grenfell Tower, burning in London’s richest Borough, that does explore the relationship between poverty and the failure of social, religious and ideological integration and also made the Tower a centre of Muslim immigrants.

A Tale of Two Cities becomes more accessible in the second half,  and there is no doubt crusading Dickens could be a man to sound the crises of the hour. But in an exhausting splurge of ensemble acting, with ponderous chapter announcements to bring needed narration, and give supposed dramatic impact too, that just become irritating, I was left feeling how much this falls down in comparison to the RSC’s famous, astonishing production of Nicholas Nickleby, so it can be done well.

There actors were allowed to breathe, explore and bring to life the very texture of a rich Dickensian novel, his marvellous characters and language too, lost here in easy modern effings and blindings  and meagre narration.  The magical changing of clothes is the actors’ very art, which also involves the changing of class and status, of place as well, that tests or reveals their ultimate humanity. Precisely the point of a tale of two cities.  Here the over small cast are encouraged mostly to be the threatening mob, or the tragic and angry container victims, which is only one element of that story and itself can alienate. 

This has no subtlety then, and no real modulation of human experience either. Where too in Fly Davis’ designs are those Capitals of degradation but splendour as well, London and Paris, that  also created the comforts, ideals and intimacies of those essentially middle class heroes, the Manettes, but also attracted and attract migrants, political and economic, in the first place?

Nicholas Karimi as Sydney Carton. Photo Johan Persson

So to the conscious voiding of Dickens’ famous identity trope,  the physical similarity between Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay, née Evremonde, that reviled name that suggests somewhere the world is ever thus, so securing Darnay’s release from court in England, on false charges of espionage. That was the political threat and paranoia here at the time. With a black and white actor, Jude Osuwu and Nicholas Karimi, who, though both good, look nothing like each other, it certainly serves the purpose of ensemble acting and insisting we are all human beings under the skin. The problem is it voids Dickens’ interest in the swings of fate, in character and in clever plotting, that help him describe the injustices and vagaries of real life, while ringing the human heart-strings.

In not even attempting to be convincing, or make it important though, suspending far too much disbelief, firstly it gives absolutely no chance for dramatic tension later. But so it comes to reflect the writer’s general laziness and lack of concern for presenting truly realistic and moving human relationships, in a deepening play that might make us really love and care about the fate of the characters. The encounter between Carton and Lucy Manette, for instance, Mariéme Diouf too wooden or just not given the script to capture Lucy Manette’s enormous courage and enduring loyalty for her father, just doesn’t earn its spurs. So it fails to persuade us of Carton’s redeeming love for Lucy, vulnerable in her fainting but no easy victim, and through her Darnay too, especially a love that could make the ultimate sacrifice for both of them.  Karimi’s performance is the best thing in the play, but if you are making points why not have a black look-alike play Sydney Carton instead?  As my companion said though, in the general meleé, if he had not known the story, he doubted he would have had a clue what was going on.

As importantly though, ignoring what happens in court and why, testing our credulity over it, voids one of Dickens’ novelistic obsessions, and an English obsession too, the imperfect but also necessary processes of Law, founded in vital aspects of fact and proof, of presumed innocence too, so dismantled to allow for the mechanism of The Terror in the first place. A process that has been true of Revolutions from Robespierre to Stalin and Pol Pot. Carton himself is after all a brilliant but disillusioned barrister, and it is not just the rage of the mob that threatens the characters, but malign human agency and lies in the figure of the paid double-agent Barsad pointing the finger. Just why that trick of identity – and eye-witness accusations are notoriously unreliable in Law – becomes so important.

Company of A Tale of Two Cities (1). Photo Johan Persson (1)

Moments are good, like the weary, tragic procession of immigrants on the revolve, falling by the wayside, or trying to find some kind of home. The final execution denouement just about works too and almost touches Dickens’ always eloquent humanity. Claire-Louise Cordwell, knitting those ultimately arbitrary and bloody revenges in Dickens’ brilliantly captured historical symbol, seen with a jourbalist’s eye, is a good actress,  though she doesn’t make Madame Defarge nearly nasty enough.  Patrick Driver is subtle as Dr Manet and works hard, Kervork Malikyan stands out as the loyal lawyer Lorry and Nicholas Khan makes an amusingly vile Monseigneur, but is underused. For a moment Sean Kernow’s angry description of a little girl’s death touches the agony of real poverty and pain that migrants and others experience here and around a world where sadly there are a lot nastier things out there than cargo containers.  

But over all, especially in a Brexit torn country that seems as confused as this production, in a world of the doubling inequalities of Super Capitalism since 2008, and with economists saying Brexit may not only make us irrelevant on a world stage but, by impoverishing, raise fear and mistreatment of immigrants further, frustrations not with the message but with the art make me misquote Wordsworth on Milton – “Dickens, wouldst thou were living at this hour, England has need of thee.” 

David Clement-Davies went courtesy of Regents Park Open Air Theatre. Timothy Sheader’s production of A Tale of Two Cities runs until August 5th.  For tickets Click Here

 

 

 

 

 

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ELECTION: THE FIRST PREDICTIONS AND A CHANCE FOR HOPE

If the Hung Parliament exit polls prove right this is the most extraordinary moment in British Politics and the chance to pull back from the Abyss. The Abyss being Brexit.  It is what the Election was cynically called on, what both major parties have avoided campaigning on at all, for any Labour successes, and what the Liberals have failed to be really heard on.  But with a slightly improved Liberal representation and a weakened SNP, pro Europe, potentially pro a dissolution of the Union, those two parties must come together very quickly to change the shape of Brexit, even force a new election on the issue that has been so avoided. The Referendum that should never have been called was no great victory, it split the country in two, 52 to 48%, and it was absolutely no justification for May’s revolting, opportunistic vaulte farce and ruthless politicking.  Whatever happens tonight her cynicism has failed and her position will very quickly prove untenable.  Unless of course the exit polls prove very wrong, as they did in 1992. Watch these spaces!

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THE ELECTION: A LIBERAL SITE GOES LABOUR

Well, this cynical, snap election is tomorrow and we urge you to vote tactically for the only party apart from The Greens calling for a second referendum on Europe and Brexit, the Liberals, who may double their seats. But elsewhere to vote for Jeremy Corbyn and Labour. He will not win it, indeed his cabinet is not fit for office, and yet he has a voice of real integrity that must be heard. Especially in the face of Teresa May’s utterly cynical soundbite political opportunism. A woman who voted to stay in Europe jumped on the Brexit bandwagon, was so stupid to make it a Hard Brexit, when no one else around the world can understand it, and is playing the strong-Britain card like a puppet of the Ministry of Truth or one of the bad witches in Harry Potter.  What turned it for us though was not only Corbyn’s marvellously improved speech making and rally to arms, which has breathed new life into a democratic process, but his saying he would not be afraid to pick up the phone and tell Donald Trump he is simply wrong about Climate Change and so much more.  In such contrast to May’s very Tory scramble to suck up to Trump, getting promises that mean absolutely nothing, now Trump has gone rather quiet on Brexit and Britain being at the head of any queue.   People have come to power on populist opportunism and we need conviction politics everywhere.  Good luck tomorrow.

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THREE FREE LIONESSES OUT OF THE CAN!

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She doesn’t have a name, such a beautiful wild lioness, even though the guides on our trip had at least got her used to the jeep.  We were about twenty five feet away, after having searched for two days, seeing old, dry tracks, and the remains of a zebra that had been killed months before. Then, bumping through the bush in the Kalahari, that lions will use as shade and cover to take animals, Jonah suddenly spotted what we couldn’t see at all.  He swung the jeep around and there they were, not one but three lionesses, the two more retiring companions almost lost in the tangle of Wait-a-Bit trees next to her, stretching and yawning in the African heat. Breath taking.

I don’t know if I could see the anguish in her face that my companion Arabella did, the tension and strain, that made us warier of moving where we sat. Apparently lions’ eyesight cannot easily distinguish shape and colour, they see blocks, so they react to things breaking out of the frame. That anguish though is because she had had two cubs, a male and female, but a lion, not the father, who had been following these three females around the area, had first killed the male cub, then driven out or killed the female too.  Perhaps new cubs will succeed the little tragedy.

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How gloriously different though, after our experience of meeting two lions in South Africa in a 4 hectare fenced enclosure in Plett Bay, to see these Queens of Jungle and Bush in the true wild and led by such a proud, beautiful, astonishingly powerful creature.  The story of lions though, and the collapse of populations in the late Twentieth Century, is as tragic as  so many wildlife stories.   It has a particular nasty Human side too, in the existence of what they call ‘Canned Hunting’, not here in Botswana where any such hunting is illegal, but in South Africa. Where it is legal to breed lions in captivity – there are something like 8000 captive lions there today – for the private zoo trade, or ‘Petting Tourism’, where Europeans pay high prices to supposedly suckle them for Conservation, but where their final destination is really death at the end of some high paying ‘hunter’s’  rifle. In South Africa three lions are shot for sport every single day and they go for around $60,000.  I don’t know if Donald Trump’s sons have taken such lions, but they have certainly been in the Press for their enthusiasm for Big Game sport shooting. The shameful, cruel and scandalous practice of Canned Lion Hunting, animals often drugged and baited before an easy and senseless kill,  I am sure the likes of that lion of a man Nelson Mandela would not have condoned, was confirmed in 2014 by the South African Supreme Court under Jacob Zuma’s administration.

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The irony in it though is that lion numbers in South Africa have probably gone up because of legal breeding.  Yet, compared with this vision of the true wild in Botswana, what kind of life do those captive animals really have? What kind of sport is it to slaughter them too? Or is that killing of this lioness’s cubs in the wild part of a brutal truth always in the background of existence, human and animal, with increasing populations and ever shrinking habitats, we just have no answer to?  Yet, for all the brutalities of life and the world, surely Man’s real talent could be to avoid that kind of senseless ugliness, and what the wildlife organisation Four Paws describes as “selling brutality”. In the Kalahari, with the raising of endless miles of fencing, partly to try and stamp out Foot and Mouth disease, European meat markets are so sensitive to, natural migration routes have been disrupted and both Zebra and Wildebeest populations decimated.  Inevitably predators like lions have suffered dramatically too.  But at least that hot day this beautiful February in Botswana, three graceful lionesses enjoyed their freedom, only caught in the photo can, and the true wild was there, in all its paradoxical wonder.

David Clement-Davies February 2017.  David travelled with Uncharted Africa, for their website Click Here  If you are interested in opposing the practice of Canned Hunting you can find out more by visiting the Four Paws website Click Here

 

 

 

 

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INTRODUCING SOME GREAT, BIG AND VERY BEAUTIFULLY GEOGRAPHICAL TREES!

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They stand at the heart of that oddly adult Children’s Classic The Little Prince: The mighty Baobab trees.  The first I met, several in fact, bloomed wonderfully, grotesquely and inspiringly in the Kalahari, at the tourist camp in Botswana, Planet Baobab. The second was the sad sight of a fallen giant, the legendary Chapman’s baobab.  It tore apart and collapsed after the hottest day ever recorded in Botswana, for those Global Warming sceptics, on January 7th, 2016.  Much more to say on that, or Green’s baobab,  we sloshed over a kilometre to reach, through unusually waterlogged ground this February, with excellent rains this year in Botswana. But for the moment you can see some of the ideas, the Art and the ambition too around them in an article in Geographical Magazine, Just Click Here. It’s the start of a great adventure, and if you’re a traveller, a tree lover, indeed a tree hugger, or just like great stories, then do please Like, for more tales and blogs of the wonderful creatures.

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The photo is of a very healthy Chapman’s baobab in 2014. The second picture is a drawing by the artist Arabella Caccia.

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SUPPORTING THE KALK BAY ARTISTS!

Phoenix Ark are very proud to be supporting and promoting a group of four great artists in South Africa, who have founded a little Collective in Cape Town’s beautiful Kalk Bay, at The Kalk Bay Artists Collective. There Chris Bladen, Pete Strydom, Arabella Caccia and Jean Tiran now have their own workshops, but a lovely gallery space too, currently by invitation, to help support each other and to try and challenge the Gallery system too.

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Chris is a highly renowned fish and wildlife sculptor, whose almost scientifically realistic fish, birds and animals stem from his own love of sports fishing and the environment. They sell around the world.  He is also a superb jeweller. Pete is self taught, but his passion and wit ring out, and his sculptures range from gorgeous sunbirds to humorous modernist camels. Arabella is both award winning painter and sculptor whose work has auctioned at Southebys and, like all of them, is deeply inspired by nature and the shapes inside it, especially trees, to capture the vivid colours and forms of Africa. Jean Tiran is the Master Craftsman of the workshop, but also a wonderful abstract sculptor in his own right. To see them, their Mission Statement, their website and their work, just Click Here

Phoenix Ark and the artists are keen to build long term relationships with buyers, not least because work can be finished to detailed orders and editions.  Links to individual websites can be found by clicking above.  For International clients, even with the costs of shipping and tax, the work still represents considerable value. To contact them you can write directly here, to The Collective or to the artists individually, via the website.

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