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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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Cross-dressers

My daily newspaper was one of the last to succumb to the sudoku craze and then made a fuss about how they were hand-produced – making them sound rather like my favourite potato crisps. At least we have been spared a version in this journal but the rest of the press seems besotted with factorial 9. Let’s hope the summer cures most people of this unhealthy obsession. Fortuitously, the heat on 27 May appeared to signal a formal end to spring and, by coincidence, this was to be the occasion of my first visit to Stratford this year for a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. At the interval of the production by Gregory Doran I was as unsettled as the recent weather and it was not until I left the theatre that I realised the success it had been.Often it is Puck’s characterisation that defines this play and Jonathan Slinger’s surly, overweight fairy is not the sprightly girdler of the world to which one is used. His malevolence was quietly seething and a sense of otherworldliness and distortion permeated the play. Even Titania was not the seductive siren one expects and Doran enhanced the dark mischief of the fairies with magnificent lighting by Tim Mitchell. It was a deeply disturbing evening overall, punctuated with fine comedy from the four mortals in the forest of confusion and a bravura performance from Malcolm Storry as Bottom. The mechanicals in ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ produced one of the funniest examples of the play within a play that I have seen. It was slightly risqué and very much a 21st-century interpretation but in no need of comstockery.

Pensions crisis solvedAt the Swan next afternoon there was a half-full house for A New Way to Please You by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley as part of the ‘gunpowder’ season complementing the comedies in the main house. The Duke of Epire creates a law stating that men over the age of 80 and women over 60 should be put to death as they are of no more use to the state. It’s a comedy and great satire with a large number of actors in their debut season. My tip for the top is Miranda Colchester who graduated from RADA in 2004, will undoubtedly break a few hearts before she is much older, and is destined for greatness. It was great ensemble playing and very funny. Michael Boyd, as artistic director of the RSC, has begun to make a big impact on Stratford and it was his Twelfth Night on the menu that evening.A couple of last-minute cast changes upset the equilibrium a little. Clive Wood as Sir Toby Belch was his usual self, brilliant, but the stand in for the cross-dressing, breeches role of Viola was a little at sea, not inappropriate for someone just shipwrecked. Boyd focused on the sea and music for his leitmotifs with both a rowing boat and a piano suspended from the flies all evening. As Feste concluded by singing ‘the rain it raineth every day’ sheet music rained from the sky. It was very clever and intellectually satisfying. Richard Cordery joins the long list of outstanding Malvolios and Forbes Masson gave the best musical interpretation of Feste I have seen. All in all, the RSC is in good hands and it bodes well for the rest of the season.

Once more into the breechesIf your name happens to be Verney, and this is unlikely as there are none in the 2005 actuarial directory, you will be aware that your country seat at Compton Verney was vacated by the last Verney in 1921 after nearly 500 years of continuous occupation by your forebears. The house appears today to be in the middle of nowhere but in fact lies not half a mile from the Fosse Way and thus in Saxon times was sited conveniently for a trip to the market in Cirencester or Leicester. After 50 years of neglect philanthropist Sir Peter Moores has constructed within the shell of this grand house an art museum of uncommon taste. Six areas of personal interest to Sir Peter are represented here including one of the best collections of Chinese bronzes in the country after that in the British Museum. The golden age of Naples is illustrated with landscapes by Strozzi and Solimena. The real jewel is the small collection of British portraits including those of Henry VIII, his son Prince Edward, Queen Elizabeth I, and Sir Thomas Knyvet. All are outstanding and displayed in an exceptional viewing environment but the showstopper for me was that of a boy aged 2 by Marcus Gheeraerts the younger. Partly as a cost saving it was the custom for boys, as well as girls, from wealthy families in the 16th century to wear dresses until they were around five or six when they were ‘breeched’. This poignant portrait hints starkly at the high rates of infant mortality of the period and transfixed me with its wistful hint of future tragedy.

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