26 January, 2013

Thumbs down for the National

Last weekend we were looking forward to an exciting family treat involving both kids and grandparents -- dinner out in London, followed by the evening performance of 'Hansel and Gretel' at the Cotteslowe Theatre at the National. But things didn't go quite as planned...

Snow had fallen on the Friday, so we checked that our route was clear beforehand and set out early, arriving at the National with time to have a coffee and look round the shop before meeting the grandparents. So far, so good.

We were just settling down with our menus in the Mezzanine restaurant, when an announcement came across the tannoy: 'We regret to announce that we have had to cancel this evening's performance of "Hansel and Gretel"'. No explanation as to why. We were somewhat surprised and somewhat disappointed, to put it mildly. But there was nothing we could do except make the best of it and enjoy our meal.

When we went down to the box office to ask what was going on, we were told that one of the principal actors had fallen ill after the matinee and, as the Cotteslowe runs at a loss, they don't employ understudies. So the show couldn't go on.

We got our money back, but the explanation for cancellation seemed lame, to say the least. Surely it shouldn't be that difficult to cover for such an eventuality? It is the National after all. Plenty of understudies around for the other theatres in the complex. Why not have them double up and understudy for the Cottesloe too? Or, for that matter, many of the waiters in the Mezzanine restaurant are young actors trying to make it. I'm sure they'd jump at the chance to understudy as well as wait -- even if the understudying wasn't paid. What an opportunity for an aspiring actor to fill in at the National, after all!

So, we'd travelled 65 miles in snowy conditions with excited children for what turned out to be a non-event. Actually, the kids were fantastic, accepting the situation with equanimity and simply being pleased to see their grandparents. But the whole fiasco may well make us think twice about booking tickets for the Cottesloe in the future. I'm sure others are thinking the same. Not a good thing for a theatre that already runs at a loss, is it?

19 January, 2013

The end of Creation?

We went to see a fantastic production of Aladdin over the Christmas holidays put on by local company, Creation Theatre. It was very entertaining—imaginative props, strong acting and a truly talented circus performer. But then all of their productions are very good and imaginative.

They started out (in 1997, I think—the year that we moved to the area) as an open-air theatre company, performing during the summer only, in the gardens and quads of Oxford colleges. They gained themselves some deservedly good reviews and grew gradually over the next few years, moving into indoor as well as outdoor venues and putting on productions at other times of the year. Eventually, they opened their own theatre—the North Wall.

But the poor summer weather, flooding and a reduction in tourism over the past couple of years have really taken their toll on Creation. Summer bookings were down and outdoor performances were rained off. Things reached crisis point this Christmas when Creation regretfully announced that if they were not able to raise £50,000 by the end of the financial year, they would be forced to close down.

All of this makes you realise just how wide-reaching the effects of unusual weather patterns can be. It’s not only about ruined houses and impassable roads. It can even affect entertainment and the arts. Let’s hope Creation survives.

12 January, 2013

Back to school—and exams

My kids went back to school on Monday, but it was a busier start than usual as they were going in opposite directions. My youngest was going back to primary school and my oldest was off to a different school to sit a secondary entrance exam. Both of them had to be at their respective locations by 8.45 am, so I had to play that common parental trick of managing to be in two places at once. (Well, not quite. It was more a case of dashing from one location to the other at high speed.)

This also meant two lots of kits to get ready for Monday. School bag, PE kit, school meal order form and water bottle for my youngest. Pens, pencils and geometry kit; packed lunch; and sangfroid for my oldest.

Both came home by 3.10. Both were relatively happy. Now we just have to wait for the results of the exam!

05 January, 2013

The oddities of senior management

I mentioned in a management meeting recently that I needed to ask one of the folk at Head Office whether he could help us advertise one of our initiatives. My boss' response was, 'While you're at it, can you ask him whether he's yet managed to talk to Bill about funding for the XYZ project?'

Seemed a bit convoluted (Tim: my boss has asked me to ask you whether you have yet spoken to Bill about XYZ...), but I did as I was asked. I then forwarded the response to my boss when it arrived and he immediately emailed me back saying, 'Can you ask Tim if I can phone him about this before 11am on Monday?'

What's the point of that?? By the time my boss had asked me to ask, he may as well have asked Tim directly if he could phone him, thereby saving everyone time. Plus, it looks pretty stupid me saying 'Tim: my boss has read your email and has asked me to ask you whether he can phone you before 11am on Monday.'

But I did as I was asked. Not much choice when it's your boss, really. Still, I do sometimes wonder at the oddities of senior management....