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Dear reader

 

It seems most appropriate to write this as a letter as I want to tell you about a wonderful evening I recently spent in London at Letters Live.

 

If you don’t already know, Letters Live is an event where some of the best known names from the world of stage, screen, music and elsewhere come together to read letters written by people from all walks of life. Some funny, some sad, some quite ridiculous and some deeply serious.

 

I should point out to you, dear reader, that until each reader and letter was announced I had no idea who I would hear or who they would read. Imagine my delight when Benedict Cumberbatch walked onto the stage. How completely marvellous that he should read Mark Twain whilst doing an impression of another actor’s impression of Twain. Twain’s voice was never recorded for posterity but the impression by a contemporary and neighbour was. This actor, coincidentally, was also the first to ever play Sherlock Holmes! It’s a small world these consulting detectives inhabit isn’t it?

 

I wish you could have been there but as you did not have that pleasure let me tell you a little of what you missed:

 

Louise Brealey and Benedict Cumberbatch reading love letters from the Dear Bessie series. Brealey fluffing a line and exchanging amused glances with her co-star who, when it was his turn, started reading the wrong letter. They laughed with the audience and it didn’t matter one bit.

 

 

The ridiculously attractive Oscar Isaac reading a letter from a wholly unimpressed Alec Guinness complaining about Star Wars and his part as Obi Wan Kenobi. A more fitting reader of such a letter would be hard to contemplate.

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Geoffrey Palmer reading a letter written by Evelyn Waugh to his wife on the occasion of a tree being blown up. We cried with laughter.

 

 

Listening to the lovely Sophie Hunter read a letter written by Helen Keller describing her utter joy at being able to “hear” an orchestral symphony. The letter can be read in full here: My heart almost stood still.

 

And simply surreal moments like listening to Cumberbatch read Marcel Proust’s letter about his terrible masturbation habit and inability to screw; all the more surreal for the fact that Cumberbatch was being watched by his wife. The letter can be read here: My dear little grandfather.

 

Dear reader, I’m sure you know that events such as these are made all the more special by the knowledge that the performers are having as good a time as the audience. We were sat directly opposite the stage entrance. Watching the performers watching and supporting each other, peeping through the curtain, hugging each other, sitting happily on the floor together – shoulder to shoulder (Mr and Mrs C), enjoying every moment just as much as we were made this special night even more so.

 

I don’t like just to list things (I was once told off for writing a thank you letter that simply listed all the things I’d had for Christmas when I was a child); however, I feel it would be doing the other performers a disservice not to give them some credit. They were all equally wonderful.

 

Performing were the following (in order of appearance): Nitin Sawhney, Benedict Cumberbatch, Louise Brealey, Sophie Hunter, Simon McBurney, Hanif Kureishi, Sarah Snook, Geoffrey Palmer, David Nicholls, Jeremy Paxman, Oscar Isaac and Emiliana Torrini.

 

There was truly beautiful music from Nitin Sawhney and Emiliana Torrini which complemented the letter reading perfectly. I wish I could list all the letters that were read too, but I suspect one list in this letter is quite enough. You could peruse the Letters Live Twitter account if you were truly interested.

 

The last letter read was an unfinished one. It was written by Robert Falcon Scott and read by Benedict Cumberbatch. There was barely a dry eye in the house when it ended without the traditional letter ending and everyone realised why. You can read it and see the actual letter here: To: My Widow.

 

In the audience with us were Steven Moffat and Sue Vertue, who we saw stopping to sign autographs and take selfies on the way out. We didn’t join the small queue; they weren’t working and we had trains to catch.

 

To top it all off the event took place at the Freemason’s Hall; a simply stunning Art Deco building that has to be seen to be believed.

 

Stained glass in Freemason’s Hall. My photo.

A stunning ceiling in Freemason’s Hall. My photo.

Stained glass in Freemason’s Hall. My photo.

 

A night of surprises, inspiration and emotion. I wish I could have been at every Letters Live night as one just simply wasn’t enough. And as I mentioned before, I just wish you could have been there.
 
Most sincerely yours,

 

Kathryn

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The curtain rose and just as a copperish head of curls started to emerge on the stage to the strains of Nat King Cole’s Nature Boy I heard a quiet gasp and a hand grabbed my upper arm. I jumped. A voice whispered in my ear, “Knock knock …”

 

“Who’s there?” said Benedict Cumberbatch.

 

Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet. Photographer: Johan Persson.

 

This trip to the theatre had been a whole year in the imagining, the anticipation so great there was a real danger of it being a huge anti-climax. But I remained hopeful, even in the face of some horrible behaviour from the press and some less than favourable reviews of the early previews. Cumberbatch is an actor I consider to be one of the greatest of his generation and I like to make up my own mind about these things.

 

We were making the most of our weekend in London and before we even got to Hamlet we went to the Almeida Theatre in Islington to see Bakkhai with Ben Whishaw and Bertie Carvel. Bakkhai is the story of Dionysus, son of Zeus. An ancient Greek tragedy by Euripides. Now, call me uncultured but I know nothing about the Greek Gods and the myths and legends that surround them. I kept telling people I was going to see Bacchus and was somewhat relieved to discover that Dionysus is referred to as Bacchus quite regularly throughout the play as that’s what the Romans named him. I might just have got away with that one!

 

Ben Whishaw as Dionysus, Bakkhai. Photographer: Marc Brenner.

 

The play was very different to anything I’ve ever seen before. Ben Whishaw is a wonderful waif of an actor, best known to me for his ethereal performance as Richard II in The Hollow Crown series for which he won a BAFTA. Perhaps known better elsewhere for being the latest incarnation of Q in the James Bond films. In this he is almost androgynous, funny and sinister with an otherworldly air. There were only three actors in the whole play, as is apparently traditional, and they take on all the various parts, hence Bertie Carvel played both Pentheus and Pentheus’ mother. He was rather good in drag – apparently something he’s done before. Ben Whishaw aside, the thing I will remember most is the Greek chorus: a group of women who can do things with their voices I have never heard before and perhaps wouldn’t want to hear again.

 

Chorus, Bakkhai. Photographer: Marc Brenner.

 

Bakkhai is ultimately rather disturbing but it was very good and an interesting and cultured start to the weekend.

 

The following day we continued with the culture and ancient things and paid a visit to the British Library to see the Magna Carta: Law, Liberty and Legacy exhibition which is fascinating but rather long and drawn out by what appeared to me to be some fairly tenuous links in the legacy part. Tony Hancock anyone? The stars of the exhibition are the beautiful illuminated books, manuscripts, charters, Papal Bulls and all manner of other things. All stunning in their painstaking detail and fascinating in their content and context. As someone who loves words I wanted to be able to read everything but in most cases it is almost impossible for us who are untrained and so spoilt by modernity to even attempt to read the beautiful and archaic script. The message that one takes away from this exhibition is that our rights, our freedom, justice, are not new concepts. It has ever been thus.

 

But I digress. On to Hamlet, which I can categorically state right now was not, in any way, anti-climatic.

 

We were in the fourth row, mesmerisingly close to the stage. After the knock knock joke from my witty friend Nic, which wasn’t entirely unexpected, I stared at the man on the stage, unable to quite comprehend that this was the Benedict Cumberbatch, right in front of me – Hamlet, no less.

 

Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet. Photographer: Johan Persson.

 

When the whole stage was revealed I was stunned. It is a jaw-dropping set. Beautiful and magical and full of surprises. And it is vast.

 

I am one of those people the press have been trying to shame. I am not a Shakespeare connoisseur. Yes, I love his work but I’ve seen relatively little and I don’t always understand everything. I didn’t know what an arras was, was a bit sketchy on the bare bodkin and knew even less about the story of Hamlet. Unless I’m going to The Globe or to my local theatre I nearly always choose to go and see something because of who is in it. I wanted to see Hamlet because of Benedict Cumberbatch and what’s so wrong about that? Actors like Cumberbatch want to open up the theatre to a whole new generation of theatre-goers. They want people who’ve never seen a Shakespeare play to experience the Bard and love him like they do, and they want to eradicate the elitism and snobbery that prevails throughout much of theatre-land. I, for one, get very excited by the thought of Shakespeare reaching places he’s never reached before. Theatre needs new blood and most of all it needs the kind of blind enthusiasm and utter joy that only the young and un-jaded can bring. In Shakespeare’s day no-one minded heckles and jeers and applause and laughter, it was expected. I do think Willy Shakes may have been with Cumberbatch on mobile phones though.

 

During the interval, while scoffing some seriously good ice cream, we exchanged our views on the play so far. They were unanimous: the whole thing was mind-blowing in the extreme. Cumberbatch was mind-blowing, the set was mind-blowing, we loved it. We all felt that we were watching something rather special – a master at work.

 

Cumberbatch was born to perform Shakespeare. The poetry and the prose make perfect sense only when spoken in the right way and he does this unfailingly. He is witty, poignant, sad, angry and ultimately heart-breaking. He has perfect comic timing and can easily reduce me to tears of mirth or tears of sadness. He is a very physical actor on stage and when he roars he roars – I flinched!

 

For me there wasn’t a bad performance in the whole cast. Special mentions should go to Jim Norton for Polonius who was funny and bewildered, Sian Brooke for a heartbreaking Ophelia and Karl Johnson, an actor I already loved, for the ghost and the gravedigger – the latter being brilliantly dark with wicked humour.

 

The critics seem to be largely fixated on three things: the set being a distraction, the time in which the play is set and what sort of Hamlet Cumberbatch is portraying.

 

The set is immense and sumptuous – later imploding to become something much darker and sinister – but I was only truly distracted by it when it first appeared, staring in wonder with my jaw resting on my chest. After that I was drawn to the players and the story. For me the set only enhanced my experience.

 

I agree that the time in which the play was set was somewhat ambiguous but I don’t see why this mattered. Generally I saw it as being a fairly modern setting but ultimately this Elsinore seemed quite fantastical and ambiguity and fantasy go quite well together I think. So really … who cares?

 

What sort of Hamlet is Cumberbatch? “A bloody good one” according to his mother and I concur. Quite frankly I had no idea that this was “a thing” – I’ve never seen any other Hamlet so for me Cumberbatch’s will always be the definitive performance, the gauge by which I judge all others. I found him beguiling, seriously funny, mad with grief and anger, heart-breaking and full of rage. Most of all I felt great empathy towards him.

 

The instant standing ovation at the end was so well-deserved. Cumberbatch hadn’t quite reached the trinity of blood, sweat and tears but two out of three ain’t bad. He is a force of nature on stage, a fact enforced by the soaked t-shirt, and I only wish I could go and see this Hamlet again and again.

 

Judgement?”
“A hit, a palpable hit.”

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2

 

A sweaty Hamlet contemplates killing Claudius. Photographer: Johan Persson.

 

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The dwarves see the ruins of Dale – the Desolation of Smaug.
Source: RichardArmitageNet.

 

Ok so that might be a slight exaggeration but on Saturday I finally saw The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. It seems that working for a living is not conducive to visiting the cinema on the day a film is released. When I saw An Unexpected Journey last year I came out of the cinema feeling rather overly emotional. This time I wasn’t moved to tears but that doesn’t mean I was unaffected by it.

 

I watched the film in glorious HFR and I can’t tell you what relief I felt when the Warner Brothers logo appeared. I felt like I was melting into the screen as my eyes settled into the beautiful world of Middle-earth. The 3D trailers shown before it were dire at best and I’ll never understand how anyone can enjoy watching standard 3D. If Spiderman is going to swing through the air then I would at least hope to see him swing smoothly rather than some bizarre stuttering effect where it feels like I’m watching each individual frame frozen for a split second as it flits past the lens of the projector. Also, in each of the trailers it appeared as if the 3D was just there because it could be. It didn’t add anything to the image and, if anything, seemed to be an excuse to blur everything that wasn’t in the foreground. In the end I had to look away because it strained my eyes. The HFR was, as I said, a relief.

 

This time around it didn’t take me any time to adjust to the HFR because it just felt so natural. I once again felt the urge I experienced last year and wanted to get out of my seat and step into Middle-earth. The 3D, so obvious and in your face in the trailers, seemed simply to enhance the beauty and spectacle. By the end of the film I’d forgotten I was watching in 3D and the harsh reality of the cinema lights and the real world were not at all welcome.

 

To me, this kind of cinema experience is what it’s all about. The escapism, the sense that you’ve been somewhere else for three hours, the slightly trippy feeling when you step back outside, all add to the sheer enjoyment of watching a truly wonderful film.

 

There were moments in the film that made me want to clap and shout with joy and there were moments that filled me with foreboding. I nearly shouted out when I spotted Peter Jackson at the very beginning mainly because I was so pleased with myself for having actually seen him. I usually miss stuff like that! I also wanted to applaud when Bombur showed us that he may be the tubbiest dwarf but he ain’t half got some moves on him! I’m not scared of spiders but even I had to look away a couple of times because they just looked a little too real! And, some pretty little bees flew out of the screen but because bees and wasps really do terrify me, I had to look away again.

 

Thorin reveals his identity in Lake Town. Source: RichardArmitageNet.

 

But what of Thorin? Still fierce, still drawing my eye and still beautifully acted by Richard Armitage. The memories of him I will take away are too numerous to mention but include him eating in the Prancing Pony, his speech in Lake Town, him with Thranduil, the stamping of his boot as he stopped the key from falling, the wheelbarrow surfing, his goading of Smaug and so much more.

 

Ah yes, Smaug. The intelligent and charming fire-breathing winged beast. Well, Smaug blew me away. Figuratively, not literally. What Benedict Cumberbatch can’t do with his voice is not worth doing quite frankly!

 

The beauty of the film is the thing that will live with me the longest. The awe-inspiring New Zealand landscape was breathtaking but so was everything else. The rooftops of Bree, the squalor of Lake Town, the magnificence and grandeur of Erebor – they all left me wanting to see more.

 

So why the desolation of my mind? When I left the cinema I wandered around the shops in a bit of a daze. Everywhere I went I imagined I could still hear it: the gentle thrum of Middle-earth still buzzing in my mind. I could hear the different languages, the Black Speech of the Orcs, Khuzdul and Elvish. It was as if I was on the edge of a rift between two worlds. Or maybe I’ve just been watching too much Doctor Who …

 

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When I decided to write a blog, I made a conscious decision not to blog about Richard Armitage. It’s no secret that I’m a great admirer of his, some might go so far as to say I’m a wee bit obsessed; however, in the ever-expanding Armitage blogosphere I decided that I had nothing meaningful to add. Selfishly I wanted to write about myself and the things that are important to me. I may have mentioned him once or twice along the way but essentially my blog is “Something about Kathryn”.

 

So … I’m not about to turn this into an Armitage blog but if I’m going to write about what’s important to me then he does have to be up there. He’s not on the same level as my family history, but, given a recent interest I’ve developed in another fine British actor, I find myself questioning why I’m so fascinated with Armitage and some others. Ultimately I’m questioning why they’re so important to me.

 

So who are these men? Yes, unsurprisingly they’re all men … and actors too. If you follow me on Twitter or Tumblr there will probably be no surprises here – well maybe one:

Richard Armitage – no surprises. Known for The Hobbit, Spooks, Robin Hood, North & South.

David Tennant – an old favourite. Known for Doctor Who, Hamlet, Broadchurch, Casanova.

Benedict Cumberbatch – a growing attraction. Known for Star Trek Into Darkness, Sherlock, The Hobbit, Parade’s End, War Horse.

Tom Hiddleston – a new fascination. Known for Thor, The Avengers, The Hollow Crown, Midnight in Paris, War Horse, Return to Cranford.

 

Richard Armitage as Lucas North in Spooks. Source.

 

I was first drawn to Richard Armitage whilst watching Spooks. An avid Spooks fan from the very beginning it was only at the end of series 9 that I realised quite how involved I’d become in the story of Lucas North / John Bateman. To cut a long story short, I think it’s fair to say that it was the Spooks fandom that drew me in but ultimately the Richard Armitage fandom that claimed me. I found myself hopelessly drawn to his other work, but it wasn’t just the characters that I was interested in. I found, as have so many others, that his charm, compassion, humour, talent, and unbridled enthusiasm for his work had me hooked. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that his good looks helped but, if I’m honest, he only became so attractive to me when I knew more about him as a person, or at least what he wants us to know. His use of language in interviews was probably my undoing – I’m such a sucker for a man who uses words and phrases that are missing from my own vocabulary – and he’s a self-confessed geek which is always a winner for me.

 

David Tennant as Doctor Who. Source.

 

Now, I’d been interested in David Tennant’s work since I first saw him in Doctor Who. Geek personified! Looks wise, he’s not the type of man I would normally find attractive, but there’s something about a man with a sonic-screwdriver I find hard to resist (Matt Smith is not on my list but he’s a definite contender). Looking at the man behind the Doctor I found that his attractiveness, for me, lay in his wit, charm, talent, eloquence and compassion. I saw him on stage in Much Ado About Nothing and if I wasn’t bowled over before, I definitely was afterwards. Goodness only knows what will happen after I see him in Richard II. Finally, he inspired me to make a promise.

 

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock. Source.

 

Benedict Cumberbatch is a strange one for me. For a long time, I kept seeing his face on Tumblr and was completely unable to understand the attraction that others felt for him. Then Sherlock happened. Geek personified – again – and a huge intellect too which I can’t resist. But then I realised that the man behind the detective had a great intellect too, was naturally witty, charming and wonderfully talented. Because of him, I intend to go and see Star Trek (something I never thought I’d do), and have found that his unusual looks are becoming more attractive to me every day. Then I read things like this and fall a little bit further under his spell.

 

Tom Hiddleston at the Olivier Awards. Source.

 

If any of these are going to surprise you then I guess it would be Tom Hiddleston. He’s not someone I’ve ever really mentioned on Twitter and, until a few days ago, I’d never posted any pictures of him on Tumblr either. For some time I was uncomfortable with the crush I was quickly developing because apart from Return to Cranford I hadn’t seen any of his work. For the first time, it was the man not the characters that first drew me in. It was his Unicef blogs from Guinea that got me: long words, beautiful phrasing, wonderful compassion. And I found that was just the tip of the iceberg. He has all those things I’ve admired in others and he has them in spades. I discovered that he doesn’t actually look like Loki in real life, a look that does nothing for me at all, and has an infectious joy that creeps out of the screen and into your heart without you even noticing. I’ve decided to be honest about this new fascination because I think I now understand it better.

 

All these men show qualities that I hugely admire and find endlessly attractive. Yes they’re good-looking, but they’re all men whose looks did absolutely nothing for me when I first saw them, even Richard Armitage.

 

My first Armitage experience was actually Robin Hood. I watched all three series when it was first on the television and never once noticed Guy of Gisborne except as a character to be disliked. With both television and films I’m a very shallow viewer and will often miss the nuances of character that others thrive on. I didn’t like the character, and his long hair (each to their own but that wasn’t for me) meant I didn’t notice if he was good-looking.

 

So why are these men so important to me? I can confidently say these are not simply lustful obsessions. I’m drawn to certain characteristics especially intellect when matched with fun, kindness and decency. I seem to be attracted to men who I see as being intellectually superior to me. I look for the things that were missing in the past when my own intellect was a source of humour and derision. It’s only now that I realise that the behaviour of certain people in my past says more about their own insecurities than it does about mine.

 

If anyone was to ask me what I look for in a man, I could do a lot worse than point out the characteristics of these men who I so admire. I’m not looking for a man exactly like any of them, they just happen to epitomise the things I find most attractive. They’re important to me because they have qualities to admire, are inspiring in ways I cannot fully fathom, and because they bring me great joy.

 

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