Friday, 17 February 2017

Review: Lace in Fashion, Bath Fashion Museum

If you are going to the Fashion museum in Bath any time in 2017 you have an extra treat in store as they have an exhibition on all about Lace in Fashion. As well as modern designer pieces there are some going back to the 16th Century, when lace was rare, expensive and handmade. It then moves forward to the modern day, when lace is made by machine.

There's a couple of lovely Jane Austen-esque dresses, which as well as being beautiful are also simple and elegant, and look comfy to wear. Alas, this is soon subsumed in the high Victorian era of too much everything, swiftly followed by these ultra-fashionable late Victorian pieces which are just ouch. Fortunately World War one comes along and women are soon able to breathe again, in a variety of elegant and comfy drop-waisters which are also wonderfully tasteful.

Sadly the whole 'less is more' ethos of the inter-war years goes missing again in the 1950s, and while there's a couple of lovely 1950's lace frocks (including one owned by Princess Margaret, designed by Norman Hartnell) there's also a couple of horrors. Layers of tangerine lace do not for elegance make. The modern items in the exhibit are probably the least interesting, though I did swoon over a lovely, lovely pink and green dress by Alberta Ferretti.

If there's one thing I'd have liked some more of it's the background information about the lace and how it's made. I was curious about the huge handmade lace efforts of the Victorian era – it's easy to know about the kind of women that wore them, but what about the women that made them? Were they skilled, well-paid artisans, or slaving away in a factory? The dresses are amazing but I felt they were slightly bereft of stories – like this beautiful dress, knitted by a lady's grandmother in the 1930s as a wedding dress, eventually used for the wedding in 1946. What happened? Was the 1946 wedding to the man she was planning to marry in the 1930s, or someone else entirely? And what happened in between? And there's the lovely flapper dress, made in France, worn by an Indian Rani – who was she, and what happened to her? Clothes are an intimate part of women's lives, and as such if you're interested in women's history then any history of fashion is always fascinating. But I'd have appreciated a little more about the lives behind the fashion, as well. 

Admission to Lace in Fashion is included in the museum entry price.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Review: The Snow Queen at Bristol Old Vic

It's always a challenge to find the story that'll make a Christmas play that isn't a panto or done to death already. The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson might seem like a good candidate in that it's pretty wintery, with lots of opportunities for ice and Christmassyness and a bit of central-European scariness all wrapped up in a nice, heartwarming message. In other respects it isn't, as the story is long and rambling and thus, quite difficult to adapt to stage.

This production met some of these challenges magnificently, while falling foul of others. It's a lavish, technically adapt production which wows with effects and fantastic stage design. The Snow Queen herself is a puppet, and a rather scary one. There's goblins and turtles and reindeer and talking parrots and various sub-stories of the main adventure, all created in neat little scenarios, which in their own right are funny and engaging. The costumes are great, the music brilliant, the design amazing.

Photo (c) Mark Douet/BOV

And yet, even as an adult, there's so many twists and turns it's hard to keep up with the story. This wasn't helped by the theatre makers adding another layer, in which the lead male character is clearly having gender issues and nobody in the village understands him, because y'know, they're peasants. The central relationship between the boy and girl characters is redrawn as 'friendship' in which they 'love each other as they are' blah blah. Because having a boy and a girl whose love overcomes evil in a happy ending is obviously too heteronormative these days. There was also a cringy scene in which the supporting characters recap what the heroine learned as a person on her journey, as if there's some sort of Oftsed review due and they're afraid she might not have met her key learning outcomes. It was so Peak Guardian, I can't even.

Anyway, apart from that there were lots of things to enjoy. What there wasn't, in my opinion, was enough snow. I wanted a bit more peril, a bit more cold, a bit more ice and sparkling frostiness, a bit more Northern European menace. The best bits were with the actual Snow Queen, who was genuinely scary. I know I'm old now but when I was a kid, being forced to consider a bleak wasteland of Scandinavian hopelessness was thought to be good for your education. Meh. All in all, could have done with a bit more Scandi-noir, a bit less Generation Snowflake. Also: MOAR CHRISTMAS.

(Can I get a job for the Daily Mail, yet?)

Puppets: yay!
Politics: yikes.