Tag Archives: Hostry Festival

Jean Cocteau’s Play, The Eagle Has Two Heads, Hostry Festival Norwich

Jean Cocteau’s, The Eagle Has Two Heads, Review

Peter Barrow (actor & backer) and Stash Kirkbride (artistic director) together make up the PBSK partnership that puts on the annual Hostry Festival in Norwich. This year their main play is the L’Aigle à deux têtes by Jean Cocteau, written in 1943 and first performed in Brussels, Lyon and Paris in 1946. The French play both became a film and was ‘adapted’ by Ronald Duncan for English productions as “The Eagle Has Two Heads”. Whilst Cocteau once unfairly derided his translation as “preposterous”, the performance, staging and script, on the opening night (continues till 29/10), were superb.

Melodrama Revival or Tragicomedy?

“It’s a revival of a long lost French melodrama, a romantic play not seen in Norfolk since 1947 when it was performed at the Maddermarket Theatre.” – Stash Kirkbride

Although, Cocteau himself, would rather see it as comic tragedy uniting a “human play” and “great rôles” in “intellectual theatre” with “violent action”. Take the sarcastic bite of these lines, for example:

The Queen: “I have not shown my face to a living soul, except to my reader, Edith. It is questionable whether she has a soul. It is still more questionable whether she is alive.”

Cocteau has sections of Hamlet read during the seemingly multiple plays within a play and references a resurgent theatre in suggesting that the King was killed for building theatres and the Queen criticised for her love of the arts and actors in the family.

The Queen: “…they all wanted to become actors. that was impossible, so what could they do but turn their lives into a play, each living his own comedy. But I dreamed of making mine into a tragedy.”

There were times when I wasn’t sure whether laughter was appropriate in this tragedy, for there were great comic moments and fantastic verbal put-downs by the two leading female roles, and to a lesser extent by the resurgent Stanislas when not in cowardly assassin or fawning lover mode, as for example when he calls the Queen on her conceited notion that suicide was insufficiently dramatic a death.

“All love is a little death, and great love is suicide.”

For those with a knowledge of French, back-translating the dialogue led to some great double entendres, including le petit mort above,  perhaps unintentional, but it added to the depth of the typically French philosophical and somewhat sexy melodrama – or tragic farce, at times.

Tracey Catchpole & Adam Edwards - Hostry Festival 2017, THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau. Photo © Simon Finlay Photography
Tracey Catchpole & Adam Edwards – Hostry Festival 2017, THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau. Photo © Simon Finlay Photography

Historic Setting & Political Commentary

“On a wild Autumn night circa 1910, a reclusive Queen dines alone in one of her many castles mourning the loss of her late husband. An assassin appears – he has come to kill the Queen but instead he falls hopelessly in love with her. For a brief moment in time their love blossoms, but it is not long before the corridors of power begin to echo with disapproval. And so, it must all end even before it has begun… but how?…” – Synopsis, Hostry Festival

Indeed, the play has echoes of Romeo and Juliet‘s tragic romance. This 20th-century play, set in the late 19th – loosely based on the “strange death of Louis II of Bavaria” – is, in addition, interlaced with questions of anarchy, the poetic temperament, philosophy of ideas, court intrigues, and even class commentary.

Lucy Monaghan (Edith de Berg) & Christopher Neal (Duke of Willenstein) - Hostry Festival 2017, THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau. Photo © Simon Finlay Photography
Lucy Monaghan (Edith de Berg) & Christopher Neal (Duke of Willenstein) – Hostry Festival 2017, THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau. Photo © Simon Finlay Photography

The latter almost creates a play within a play as the supporting actors Lucy Monaghan (Edith de Berg) and Christopher Neal (Duke of Willenstein) carry on their own drama of love, jealousy, position and power among lower order nobility.

The Queen: “Those who are born slaves are free. Compared to us who are imprisoned in this tyranny [love, or indeed royalty].”

Meanwhile, enter the anarchic poet peasant with royalist leanings, with his uncanny resemblance to the dead king, on the anniversary of his death. The hermit Queen, not seen in public for years, has her own anarchic and heroic leanings, owning a copy of the poet’s seemingly anti-monarchy poem. She both dispenses with and asserts class and court etiquette in dialogue with Stanislas – a fact which he gains courage to take advantage of, to both the Queen’s dismay and pleasure for she hates cowardice. He, nonetheless, recognises that it is all within the Queen’s gift and that she is “the axis around which all men must move”.

“You are in the presence of your Queen. Don’t forget it.”

But then comes the distinction, is he, or indeed she, against the office of the Queen, rather than the person? For it is the crown that wields the power, not the wearer alone. Who is to be assassinated, the idea or the individual? Typically French revolutionary political ideas mixed with high philosophy.

Stanislas: “I am not hating my Queen. I fell in love with a cause and let a cold idea ravish me. So that when I broke into your room I was nothing but a mad idea.”

Adam Edwards as Stanislas - Hostry Festival 2017, THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau. Photo © Simon Finlay Photography
Adam Edwards as Stanislas – Hostry Festival 2017, THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau. Photo © Simon Finlay Photography

As with the incognito Empress Elisabeth of Austria’s assassination in 1898, the assassin was attacking the system:

“I am an anarchist by conviction…I came to Geneva to kill a sovereign, with object of giving an example to those who suffer and those who do nothing to improve their social position; it did not matter to me who the sovereign was whom I should kill…It was not a woman I struck, but an Empress; it was a crown that I had in view.” – De Burgh (1899). Elizabeth, empress of Austria: a memoir, pp326–327

Staging & Acting

Hostry Festival 2017, THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau. Photo © Simon Finlay Photography
Cellist Ivan McCready – Photo © Simon Finlay Photography

The fast-paced three-act play opens with an opulent open stage, set in the round – well a square (squircle?), with raised seating on all four sides. The backdrop is a large piece of double-headed eagle art by local Russian artist Gennadiy Ivanov.

A live cellist, the excellent Ivan McCready, sits at one corner of the stage adding real musical backing overlays and that resonant wooden tone that only a cello provides.

Tracey Catchpole as the Queen - Hostry Festival 2017, THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau. Photo © Simon Finlay Photography
Tracey Catchpole as the Queen – Photo © Simon Finlay Photography

I was sat on one of the four front rows, next to the cellist and to a card table that the Queen and leading actress sat at during the play, giving the audience a rare intimacy and experience of the action. And, action it was at times, with erotic embraces,  intense thumping dialogue, and not a few near and acted deaths taking place at the audience’s feet.

The actors threw everything into their craft, faces were stretched, contorted, angry, impassioned, spitting, “acting without restraint” like a Jean Marais (Cocteau’s lover) in Les Parents Terribles. This was something Cocteau wanted to restore to modern theatre, including a reading of Hamlet within the play, “with as much violence as [Stanislas] put into [his] last insult.”

“The appearance of a comedian-tragedian is the great novelty of the theatre today. By exaggerating the comic lines he manages, without seeming ridiculous, to put on the sublime grimaces of which the screen deprives us.” – Jean Cocteau

Tawa Groombridge as Tony - Hostry Festival 2017, THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau. Photo © Simon Finlay Photography
Tawa Groombridge as Tony -Photo © Simon Finlay Photography

Even the deaf and mute role of Queen’s servant was acted with strength, poise and dignity by Tawa Groombridge, despite the scripted abuse by another role.

The calmer role of courtly Baron, yet no less conniving, Chief of Police, was played by actor and executive producer, Peter Barrow, presenting a foil to the rollercoaster love and hate, life and death, of the other interplaying roles.

Baron & Chief of Police, Peter Barrow - Hostry Festival 2017, THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau. Photo © Simon Finlay Photography
Baron & Chief of Police, Peter Barrow – Hostry Festival, Photo © Simon Finlay Photography
Tracey Catchpole as the Queen - Hostry Festival 2017, THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau. Photo © Simon Finlay Photography
Tracey Catchpole as the Queen – Photo © Simon Finlay Photography

To be honest, the Queen (Tracey Catchpole) rightly steals the show as both actor and author of some of the best lines, including lengthy monologues, that are far from monotonous because of her range of presentation, and constant movement to ensure that all four sides of the audience can be played to. Tracey describes the role as a “gift of a part”.

In fact, the gifted part was meant to be that of Stanislas, since: 

“The Eagle Has Two Heads was written…in part as a favor for Cocteau’s lover and favorite leading man, Jean Marais. Marais asked for a part in which he did not speak in Act One, shed tears of joy in Act Two and fell backwards down stairs in Act Three.” – The Harvard Crimson

The Harvard article goes on to compare Cocteau to David Lynch and The Eagle Has Two Heads, to Wild at Heart and Twin Peaks. Elsewhere, it has been compared to an inverted Beauty and the Beast!

Adam Edwards as Stanislas - Hostry Festival 2017, THE EAGLE HAS TWO HEADS by Jean Cocteau. Photo © Simon Finlay Photography
Adam Edwards as Stanislas – Photo © Simon Finlay Photography

Adam Edwards, does play Marais’ part well, but the stage presence and gravity of role mostly lie with the Queen’s lines. The to and fro of their interaction, the ebbing strength and weakness, love and morbidity, truly make the play stand up.

The Hostry play runs from the 23rd – 29th October – tickets here or via 01603 598676 (Theatre Royal box office).

Melvyn Bragg’s King Lear in New York, off-Broadway Hostry Festival Norwich

King Lear in New York, Melvyn Bragg

The 2016 Hostry Festival production of the 1994 original play by Melvyn Bragg has been revised by Melvyn with suggestions by Stash Kirkbride, who directed this version, and one of the principal actors, Peter Barrow. The result is a play that positively zips along, in just 90 minutes without a break, with two outstanding performances from Louis Hilyer playing Robert and Rebecca Chapman as Jackie, who set the depth and drama of Shakespeare against the gossip and glamour of Hollywood.

Peter Barrow and Louis Hilyer in Melvyn Bragg's King Lear in New York for Hostry Festival 2016. Photo by Matt Dartford
Peter Barrow and Louis Hilyer in Melvyn Bragg’s King Lear in New York for Hostry Festival 2016. Photo by Matt Dartford

The other starring role in King Lear in New York goes to drink, for it is a dysfunctional family tragic-comedy with father, daughter, and brother, ex-wives and ex-lovers, and a prominent role for the not so on-off relationship with alcohol.

Modelled on Richard Burton’s own demons – drink and women, as Bragg admits, having also authored his biography, Richard Burton: A Life. Burton said, himself, that he turned to drink to “burn up the flatness, the stale, empty, dull deadness that one feels when one goes offstage.”

“I was fairly sloshed for five years. I was up there with John Barrymore and Robert Newton. The ghosts of them were looking over my shoulder.” – Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole, and Oliver Reed, by Robert Sellers, p145 (2009)

Burton of course, never played King Lear, only King John, and whilst wanting to play Macbeth to spite Laurence Olivier, in a film version, never achieved that either. This play imagines a type of Burton before opening King Lear, albeit in off-off-Broadway.

Melvyn was in town on Wednesday to see the new version and take a Q&A on it. He was asked about the cutting and editing process, that included the removal on one character in their entirety. Personally, I don’t feel the daughter’s addiction is fully sold to us, indeed there’s enough broken family angst between father and daughter, even without her addiction to drugs paralleling her father’s to drink. Melvyn was keen to present her fragility and yet, unlike Lear, portray redemption and rescue.

There is a cracking score of music and storm effects, projected New York backdrops, vintage ‘brick’ phones and, I think I spotted a Dalwhinnie whisky centre stage, alongside the Jack Daniels and plenty more drink besides, on the permanently-on-stage cocktail mini-bar. More likely to have been cold tea or coloured water than the marvellous amber single malt nectar. Peter Barrow holds the stage alone at first, almost making one wonder if we are watching a 1980-90s Wall Street drama.

Before any chance of settling in, there was an early dramatic entrance by Robert, amidst a cacophonic clatter and clink, rather alarming the back row, and one wondered whether this was going to be a cross between Withnail and I and Waiting for Godot, or perhaps even Whisky Galore! The entry brings wine and JD to join the already well-lubricated ‘actor-playing-an-actor’ on stage who is on the knife-edge of a return to fame or floundering as a washed-up thespian wannabe.

Nina Taylor in Melvyn Bragg's King Lear in New York for Hostry Festival 2016. Photo by Matt Dartford
Nina Taylor in Melvyn Bragg’s King Lear in New York for Hostry Festival 2016. Photo by Matt Dartford

As if his drink and acting problems weren’t enough, he has broken relationships with his daughter Julie played with teen-twenty angst by Nina Taylor and ex-lovers to manage. Rebeccas Aldred and Chapman squared off with each other, arguing over Robert, his career, and his affections. Aldred was an excellent foil to Chapman, an in her role was equally torn between her allegiances and hopes for Robert.

All that, and King Lear too? A knowing audience would be left wondering how far the play within, or rather before, a play will ape Shakespeare’s own and be a full-on tragedy and no mere storm in a whisky glass.

Rebecca Chapman and Rebecc Aldred in Melvyn Bragg's King Lear in New York for Hostry Festival 2016. Photo by Matt Dartford
Rebecca Chapman and Rebecc Aldred in Melvyn Bragg’s King Lear in New York for Hostry Festival 2016. Photo by Matt Dartford

King Lear faced the challenge of dividing his realm between his three daughters, with the lion’s share going to the one who loved him most. In this play, there are more than three rival and competing loves. Dialogue and drama swing between the paternal love of his daughter, fraternal to his brother, and erotic – and there are a few good speeches about that in the play with regard to ex-lovers. Excusing his past loves as natural processes, defending the self-acknowledged Lotharian love rat that he was/is, he expounds on ‘what is love?’ Or rather, on sex – “Sex is like emptying your bladder.” Though, the full “repertoire of love [is] grander than a cathedral organ.”

Then there’s the titanic struggle between the allure of Hollywood and the age-old stage actor’s dream of Shakespearian challenge. A challenge, that the role of Robert is simultaneously tempted and tortured by, not to mention taunting by his ex-lovers. Whether an actor will ‘die’ on stage is part of the attraction he says. But one day and one death on stage would also kill his Hollywood resurrection, the others counter with. In the play’s first outing in 1994, one reviewer described Kate O’Mara in Jackie’s role as “horny for disaster”, Chapman, instead, seems to desire either his success or failure, but nothing in-between.

Life is an act. “He is him when he is most someone else”, the actor’s brother says, even the agent has to ‘act’ on his behalf. We are all the great pretenders, performing our ‘lie-dentities’. Whether in life or on the stage, we are actors in our own dramas.

Louis Hilyer in Melvyn Bragg's King Lear in New York for Hostry Festival 2016. Photo by Matt Dartford
Louis Hilyer in Melvyn Bragg’s King Lear in New York for Hostry Festival 2016. Photo by Matt Dartford

This drama is part sitcom, part tragedy, but fully engaging. Torn between multiple loves, do we love it? In the context of the play, it might be pushing it to say addictive, but the editors seem to have got the revision just about right. Quitting Shakespeare is as hard as quitting drink, it is as much a drug to its proponents as the skin-deep glamour and glitz of Hollywood celebrity. The play expertly channels King Lear through the funnel of boozy dysfunctionality of its players. Louis Hilyer is Shakespearean and Rebecca Chapman revels in exuding the worst of Hollywood and TV chat shows, even reeling in the excellent Rebecca Aldred as Bett. The play is certainly worth a second visit after 20 years and maybe even a second visit this week. Norwich’s Hostry Festival event is certainly off-off-off Broadway, and deserves greater visibility.

Hostry Festival’s 2016 Norfolk Arts Awards – EDP People’s Choice Award

Norfolk EDP People’s Choice Awards

Today, Tuesday 23 August, is the last day to “nominate your stars of Norfolk‘s arts scene” for a special EDP People’s Choice Arts Award. The deadline for submission is midnight to put forward your favourite community or corporate arts organisation, artist, or event.

Nominate EDP People’s Choice Norfolk Arts Awards NOW

2015’s Norfolk Arts Awards saw 6,000 votes and winners included artist Matt Reeve, Norwich Arts Centre and GoGoDragons!

Over the last year have you loved an art exhibition at St Margaret’s Church of Art – e.g., Pride Without Prejudice, or Asylum at the Undercroft Gallery, or the Sainsbury’s Centre? Did you enjoy Paint Out‘s artists roaming the streets of Norwich and Wells-next-the-Sea? What about the 2015/16 programme of plays at the Maddermarket Theatre? Nominate your favourite Norfolk arts event.

Hostry Festival Innovation

The Norfolk Arts Awards is the Hostry Festival‘s red carpet gala event celebrating the arts. It’s really an opportunity to celebrate people who make a difference. The EDP People’s Choice Awards is a chance for people to have their say and nominate their own stars for the award. The top 10 in each category will be revealed and then there will be an online vote to find three winners. Winners will be announced at the Norfolk Arts Awards ceremony at Norwich Cathedral’s Hostry on Friday 21st October.

Norfolk Arts Awards 2016

Hostry Festival Norfolk Arts Awards EDP 2016
Hostry Festival Norfolk Arts Awards EDP 2016

The Arts Awards consist of 15 awards, with 30 nominations and celebrate the rich and diverse world of arts and culture in Norfolk. The EDP People’s Choice Award features 3 categories and nominating arts groups or individuals for the public vote closes Tuesday 23rd August – it is your chance to have your say by recommending an arts project, organiser or artist for their creative work in Norfolk.

Check out the interview with the event’s co-founder, Stash Kirkbride, on BBC Radio Norfolk (from 3h34m).

“Nominations have already been flooding in for this year’s awards, and people have until Tuesday, August 23 to send in their entries. Once again there are three EDP People’s Choice Awards categories – individual, small organisation and large organisation.” – Emma Knights, EDP

This year the awards are returning to the Hostry building at Norwich Cathedral, held on Friday October 21st 2016, 7-9.30pm with after show canapes and champagne reception.

Nominate EDP People’s Choice Norfolk Arts Awards NOW

Full List of 2015 Arts Awards Nominees

Individual Artists who went through to the public vote:

Small Venue, Organisation, Festival who made the public vote:

Large Venue, Organisation, Festival reaching a large number of people who went to the public vote: