The problem with fennel

Yes, I have a problem with fennel.  Every since we saw Star Wars in 1977 and wondered what Aunt Beru was cooking for breakfast, fennel has been one of those words which can make me laugh inappropriately.

(It’s also a vegetable that tastes like aniseed, and who wants a vegetable that tastes like aniseed?  I don’t even like aniseed balls much, and I have to be really drunk to start wanting absinthe or pernod.  And as for slicing it up and eating it raw in salads, are you insane???)

I forgot bloody Shakespeare, didn’t I?  There were four of us at #Hamletbatch last week, and I happened to be sitting next to my Old Friend From 1977, the person who had identified Beru’s Breakfast in the first place.

So if you were sitting behind us last week, and wondering why the two middle aged ladies started spluttering hysterically while poor old Ophelia was going off her head, well, blame Shakespeare…

…and Aunt Beru.

There’s fennel for you, and columbines: there’s rue
for you; and here’s some for me: we may call it
herb-grace o’ Sundays: O you must wear your rue with
a difference…

So don’t talk to me about fennel.  Seriously.


This is not a review.  Because we went to see #Hamletbatch last Tuesday, when it was still in preview, and not tonight when it’s the press night. Although we still paid £85 a head and aren’t preview tickets usually, you know, cheap?

But anyway, this is not a review; just a few impressions.  And my first impression was the size of the Barbican stage.  I mean, it is big.  Build a castle banqueting hall and still have room for a grand staircase big.  A banqueting hall with room for a functioning antechamber off it big.  And then another room beyond that.  A staircase with a functional landing, with doors leading to other rooms or at least which are functioning entrances through which actors can come and go, big.  I mean, it’s a stage, but it’s big.

And of course this is not a review, but I couldn’t help noticing that everyone arrived and left at a rather athletic jog, because with a stage that size and a set that elaborate, you could hardly saunter thoughtfully off after a soliloquy without the audience expecting the characters in the next scene to go “Yo, Hamlet, how’s it hanging?” or the Elizabethan equivalent.

This isn’t a review, because we didn’t see the finalised production, so I can’t tell you whether “to be or not to be” finished up at the start of the play or whether it wandered back to its rightful place, but I can say that when we saw it, the opening scene was the wedding banquet.  Which, if I had been reviewing it, I’d have said was rather good: the banquet table set out with those grotesque animal relics posh people seem to collect.  Horns and antlers and an atmosphere of decay and decadence, like the production design we saw on the teaser posters.  And, if I were going to review the production, which of course I’m not, I’d say that the way Hamletbatch defied gravity and leapt up onto the table was quite… fetching <fans self>

No, this is not a review, but I have to go back to that set.  I mean, it’s BIG, I think we’ve established that.  Big enough for a banqueting table and a grand piano, big enough to bring in a toy fort big enough for an actor to play climbing up and down stairs inside it.  But once you’ve built it, it’s just there. So when you’re wandering around on the landing, doing the scene that usually takes place on the battlements, some members of your audience are going to think, well, why doesn’t he just go back to bed?  And why are there guards pacing around on the landing anyway?  And in the second half, when the same hall is ankle deep in what looks like coal and coke but which must surely have been largely foam rubber or else they must go through a lot of barefoot actresses, I kept thinking why has no-one noticed they’ve emptied a coal lorry into the living room???

But that’s just me, and this isn’t a review, so let’s move on.  I thoroughly recommend the gin and tonic ice cream.  But don’t have an actual gin and tonic, because (especially if you’re in the really good seats) there’s a hundred stairs between you and the ladies’ loos in the interval, even if you’ll move very slowly down some of them because that’s how far the bloody queue extends.

If this had been a review I might have mentioned the after-show ambience. Because the four of us decided that, as our collective ages added up to more than 200, we probably weren’t going to to and queue at the stage door for an autograph.  So we bought four drinks and found a table and sat down…

…only to find that the bar had almost instantly put its shutters down, and that, before the ice in my G&T had even started to melt, we found ourselves entirely alone in the cavernous wastes of an empty Barbican foyer.

We appeared at that point to be starring in a Pinter play as the only other life evident in the Barbican was the mouse truffling around the bins over to our left.  And then, after a Pinteresque pause, a solitary homeless man shuffled backstage right to front stage left trundling his possessions with him.  At which point we decided we didn’t want to be locked in for the night and left.

The queue for the £10 tickets for the following night were already camped out in their sleeping bags.  Who needs reviews?