Tag Archives: Play

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).

LEGO bricks, an Investment worth its weight in Gold?

LEGO – A golden investment opportunity

LEGO logoKids (and adult-kids) don’t open your Christmas presents! Pristine LEGO sets have risen by 12% p.a. since 2000, unlike the FTSE100, Gold, Oil or Savings accounts. Buy, buy, buy LEGO! That’s my excuse, anyway! I do have a secondary loft devoted to the stuff, but mine is for building inspiration not buying as an investment. It is of course an investment in play, imagination, even a career choice at LEGO or as an independent builder-designer-artist. The UK even has a dedicated Adult Fan of LEGO (AFOL) Convention-Conference and Brickipedians have their own Wiki with nearly 30,000 pages.

Meanwhile, LEGO has funded a £1.5m professorship “of play in education, development and learning” at the Cambridge University, and is currently advertising for a new professional LEGO builder with:

“…Lego building experience and be able to design and build sturdy, accurate, complicated, safe and installable Lego models for a wide variety of Legoland attractions including miniature scale models and/or life sized organic models from prototypes, diagrams or computer generated instructions.”

So whilst most of the western world has seen economic austerity since 2007/8 and many nations have exercised restraint on housebuilding amidst increasing population demand, LEGO builders have bucked the trend. The ‘toy’ remains a firm favourite across the generations whether as conventional bricks, computer game play, or film.

‘Cafe Corner’ (2007, set 10182) is the most lucrative accumulation at an original retail price of £89 and which is now worth £2,096 at a 2,230% return on investment and just over a £1 a piece.

The Ultimate Collector’s ‘Millennium Falcon’ (2007, set 10179 ) is the most expensive and largest Star Wars Lego set ever made with 5195 pieces weighing over 10kg – around £230k if it was made of gold. It has shot up in value from an original RRP of $499 in 2007 to over $4,300 today (peaking at $5.2k in July 2015), indeed they range in price on Amazon from £4,495 to £5,950 new or £3,250-£3,950 secondhand. There is even a brick-box tracking index at brickpicker.com.

Gold 14k LEGO Brick
Gold 14k LEGO Brick

In reality, Gold at £23/g is worth more than an equivalent LEGO brick in weight. An actual 2×4 LEGO brick made of 14 karat gold was made and allegedly given to some long service employees – it’s now worth $14,445 for a 25g brick, which would only be $999 for its gold value alone.

LEGO Star Wars

LEGO Set 7190 Star Wars Millennium Falcon 2000
LEGO Set 7190 Star Wars Millennium Falcon

LEGO launched their first full commercial tie-in and intellectual property protected range in 1999, Star Wars – not the Millennium Falcon (2000, set 7190) but a lightsaber duel between Darth Maul and Qui-Gon Jinn (set 7101). During the current England-South Africa cricket match, Test Match Special commentators discussed their regrets at handing over a Millennium Falcon set to the school fete.

Whilst the Millennium Falcon may be the biggest Star Wars set it’s not the biggest Star Wars model – that goes to an X-Wing fighter made up of over 5 million LEGO bricks, measuring 42x44ft.

LEGO Doctor Who

The LEGO product range continues to reinvent itself embracing the early town/city building ranges through knights, castles and pirates, to modern Harry Potter, Marvel and DC Comics Super Heroes, the Lord Of The Rings and Hobbit-verse, Indiana Jones and Jurassic World.

LEGO 21304 Doctor Who Tardis Dalek
LEGO Doctor Who Set 21304 £49.99 Tardis, Companion and Daleks

Whovians, aka Doctor Who fans, can now also get there hands on two Doctors, a pair of daleks, and one Jenna Coleman, as this month saw the launch of the first official LEGO sett for the BBC show. LEGO Dimensions also offers Doctor Who multiverse video gaming options. This will no doubt grow and grow alongside Star Wars LEGO merchandise

LEGO Quantity Purchase Restrictions

LEGO quantity purchase restriction

Demand for the Doctor Who range, among collectors, is expected to be so high that LEGO have limited purchases to one per household. Even trying to buy the similarly priced Big Bang Theory “Leonard and Sheldon’s Living Room” set (21302) one is limited to a maximum of two sets.

“Dear LEGO® Customer: We appreciate your interest in ordering large quantities of a particular product. However, in our efforts to be fair to all consumers and children who order products from us, we do have to set a limit of 1 per customer/household on certain items. If your request exceeds this limit, we will have to change your order quantity to 1 to ensure availability for other LEGO customers. We thank you for ordering from the LEGO Company.”

There’s fairness, and then there’s preventing stockpiling as an investment, creating a secondary market due to scarcity. LEGO have also admitted to supply problems keeping up with demand. They also have a policy of not supplying LEGO to depict scenes of violence or politics. This resulted in the million bricks used in Belgium’s memorial of Napoleon and the Battle of Waterloo in 2015 being restricted to monuments, art and a portrayal of his funeral, none of the battle scenes, despite ranges of LEGO knights, soldiers, and pirates – not known for their pacifism. They’ve probably not seen this then:

LEGO Political Censorship of Artist Ai Weiwei

Artist Ai Weiwei also had a request for large volumes of LEGO for an art project refused due to its political purpose. After protests members of the public campaigned to supply Weiwei with bricks. Ironically, he wants to use them in an ‘Andy Warhol / Ai Weiwei’ exhibition exploring the concept of freedom of speech.

LEGO Company History

According to the Wiki Brickipedia among the several origins stories for LEGO. Nearly a century ago in 1916 a Danish carpenter, Ole Kirk Christiansen, bought a woodworking business but which due to an accident caused by his young sons set fire and burned down in 1924. After rebuilding Christiansen used to make model furniture as design and display aids. Struggling with 1930’s economic conditions he diversified into wooden toy production alongside furniture. In 1934 LEGO as a brand was coined, by an employee who was rewarded with a bottle of homemade wine. ‘Lego’ came from a contraction of the Danish phrase leg godt, meaning “play well” but which was later discovered to be akin to “I assemble” in Latin.

It was not until the late 1940s that production shifted to plastic and interlocking bricks – inspired in no small measure by a British inventor’s Kiddicraft ‘Self-Locking Building Bricks’. Indeed, three decades later LEGO bought Kiddicraft. Ten years after their introduction with numerous teething problems now mostly solved the modern LEGO brick was born around 1958. Another fire in 1960 destroyed the last of LEGO’s wooden business and LEGO bricks took over completely.

LEGO looks set to reinvent itself, grow and grow, as an investment and as an inventive and interactive ‘toy’ – if it can be called that at all now, for adults are just as keen to collect and to ‘play’ with it. It may even prove a career choice for some and/or a profitable trading commodity for others.