I went up to London yesterday with my son and my partner to see All's Well That Ends Well in Marianne Elliott's outstanding production at the National Theatre. I'd never see All's Well in the theatre, and must admit I thought of it as just another of those slightly odd plays WS cobbled together out of his bitbox of play parts -- a wrong righted by a roundabout route, an unfunny clown, some swaggering soldiers, a mocked misfit, the ever-popular bed trick ... What, no twins? ... but it turns out it's an extraordinary play and one with a lot of strong female roles and, most amazingly, written out of a proto- feminist viewpoint. Shakespeare's sister, indeed. Marianne Elliott brings out its fairy tale elements in a very compelling way, with a set that at times turns into Arthur Rackham-esque tableaux. An exhilarating afternoon in the theatre, much recommended.
In the foyer of the National there is a show of the photographs of James Ravilious. These were, frankly, disappointing, and a reminder of how poorly even the best 35mm black and white photography is served by over-enlargement. I'll admit that I'm a bit of fetishist for finish, and that nothing puts me off any piece of 2-D visual art quicker than a sense that the artist was rather more interested in the content than the look of the thing. But 35mm negatives are tiny things and, like printing on a balloon, the more you blow them up, the thinner and less visually satisfying becomes the result. There's a very sweet spot around 8" wide where any well-exposed negative looks great. Then there's a final point around 15" wide where only a very well-exposed negative on fine-grained film looks good, but most images are beginning to lose visual appeal -- the grain is spread out too far and the blacks are not black, the out-of-focus areas look smearily grey, and highlights are pure paper white. If you want to print BIG, don't choose 35mm.
The worst experience I ever had like this was in a rather magnificent French chateau now given over to the arts, La Roche Jagu in Britanny. They were showing a travelling show of the Magnum agency's "greatest hits" and the quality of the prints was jaw-droppingly bad. They might even have been photocopies, I suppose, or poorly-printed scans -- it can be surprisingly hard to tell behind glass -- but I doubt Magnum would put its name to anything like that. They were simply very poor prints, that vaguely resembled the famous originals, so familiar in print. But I have seen and salivated over real Josef Koudelka prints, for example, and these versions were travesties. Mystifying.
Talking of mystifying, this week has seen the start of graduation, an occasion I can never fathom. At last count I had four degrees (well, three and a half --I was in a position to buy one of them from a certain overrated English degree factory) but I have never yet attended a graduation ceremony. I suppose I am at heart one of life's Quakers, and abhor any occasion that inclines men to wear suits and women to wear idiotic hats. It may be the primary reason the Prof and I have never married, after 35 years together -- the embarrassment would have been too much.
The most mystifying -- indeed, semi-mystical -- aspect is the transformation of yet another cohort of students, for God's sake, into swaggering Masters and Mistresses of the Universe, trailing colourful gowns and camera-toting parents (or, in the case of some overseas students,what look like entire extended families plus film crew). Though I suppose this may simply be the mass emergence of precisely the ones who were least evident around campus during the rest of the year. They worked hard, they got their good degrees, and now is their moment in the sun, idiotic hats and all.