Sunday, 23 May 2010
Rights o'man in Lewes
The penny didn't drop until I was back in Lewes after a harrowing evening at Glyndebourne: Tom Paine, the author of The Rights Of Man evoked by Britten's Billy Budd and labelling him a potential mutineer though he's actually referring to the name of a ship, spent crucial years in that generally liberal, if Catholic-hating town so close to the country opera house. We have a distant gleam in the eye about a home and a garden there, which grows by the year and with better acquaintance. Much encouraged by making the acquaintance of gems like the above shop, the Tom Paine Printing Press and Gallery which has only been there about six months, bang opposite the house where the great man himself lived and worked (and with one of my favourite of all second-hand bookshops just up Pipe Lane to the side).
Peter Chasseaud, who's just run off from the press the prints up top - and I want to buy one - also has a blog devoted to the Press. Last year was the bicentenary of Paine's death, and to my shame I still haven't read his seminal defence of the French Revolution, though I now have a copy. As for the show, it had a defect or two too many to be compulsive, as it should be, from start to finish, but Michael Grandage's first opera production was a pretty fine piece of work. Here's John Mark Ainsley's Captain Vere trying to reassure a flabbergasted Billy (Jacques Imbrailo) as he stammers in the face of accusations from the awful Claggart (Phillip Ens; this photo by Alastair Muir).
I wrote up my Arts Desk review in record time, 45 minutes tapping into the Glyndebourne WiFi outside the Press Office before our taxi arrived to whisk us back to Lewes. Didn't even have the opportunity to look it over, but it turned out OK. Picnic interval as the temperatures rose towards a hot weekend was full of friendly faces - philosophers, Italian princesses, students, publishers - and much enhanced by splendid fare put together by the emporium which is one very good reason for living in Lewes, the splendid Bill's. That's another Hockney design on the 2010 programme cover, celebrating 35 years of his immortal designs for Stravinsky's Rake's Progress.
As so often, we stayed with former Glyndebourne stalwart Charles Kerry, who served up a characteristically superlative lunch of local gathered produce, including sprouting sea kale from the beaches below Newhaven.
What I love about Lewes is that you can strike out in every direction, and every walk is rewarding: to the east, Glyndebourne over the cliffs and along the ridge; to the south, the sea either over the Downs or along the Ouse valley; to the west, the race course and the next wind of Downs. On Friday, we headed north along the Ouse
with hawthorn in profusion, nesting, nestling and gliding swans and roving cattle in the water meadows. For a morning's jaunt, it makes a wonderful circuit to head up the hill and through dense woodland back into town.
Our evening destination on Friday couldn't have been at a greater remove from Glyndebourne. The drama that our New Best Friend Chris Gunness of UNRWA had originated in Jerusalem, about the Israeli bombing of the UN humanitarian-aid warehouse in Gaza, had been reworked by Brighton stalwarts Faynia Williams and Richard Crane. Once again, I've written up the experience on TAD. Here's a production shot by Malcolm Crowthers, one of the few photographers to make much of the stage, of Anna-Maria Nabirye as the 'conscience' of the burning warehouse.
Anyway, here's a bit of context, with my own photos around the fort above slightly creepy Newhaven, clearly a well-organised tourist attraction. First, above the nissan hunt and casements where the entertainment took place:
Looking east over the bay to Seaford
out to the quay and beyond
and upwards to further guns.
We wound our way back along the harbour, where a cross channel ferry was just docking
and had to settle for just a bag of chips before the train back to London. It was, as I wrote in the review, a ghost town on a Friday night, and even the fish and chip shop was closing at 9 - avoiding pub closing time chaos? A world away from Lewes just ten minutes' train ride up the Ouse valley. But decidedly with its own creepy fascination.