The weekend started on a less than promising note, after I'd had a nightmare train journey, and then we got to the hostel on Friday and realised that we were booked in for the wrong nights, and what's more, they were entirely full on that Friday night. There was a brief moment of panic, but then the very nice lady phoned the other hostel which was literally 200 yards up the road, and checked if they had any vacancies, which luckily they did, so we duly trundled up the road and checked in at the other place. Crisis averted! After that, the rest of Friday passed by in something of a blur of food, drink, squeeing, and a very nice walk around the city on a surprisingly warm evening (and some surreptitious scouting out of the theatre and the Roman Baths in advance of Saturday).
So, me and fififolle descended upon the city of Bath this weekend, and had an absolutely fantastic time, not least bcause of some awesome fangirl Primeval related squee, but more of that later.
On Saturday, the heavens opened, and we got utterly drenched traipsing around the city before we eventually took refuge in the Roman Baths, which are far, far bigger than I actually realised. You see them on TV and it looks like it's just the big courtyard with the pool and the columns all round it. It's not. There's a huge warren of tunnels and excavations under the city revealing a massive bathhouse complex, several other pools, Roman drains, and they've done a really good job with the museum and everything. I had quite a lot of archaeological squee and took many, many photos with my shiny new digital camera.
This is the famous Roman Bath courtyard and pool (remember it from Bonekickers, anyone?)
And I have to admit my archaeological squee went into overdrive at the sight of this incredible hypocaust (the Roman underfloor heating system). It's apparently one of the best preserved in Britain. Actually, there were many signs all around the visitor cetnre telling us how the Roman Baths in Bath are the best preserved example of several things in the whole of Britain, if not the whole Roman World!
As an added bonus, by the time we had finished going round the Roman Baths our clothes had dried off after the morning downpour, and it had stopped raining, so we got some lunch and hardly ate anything because we were too busy squeeing at the thought of the next item on our itinerary - going to the theatre and seeing Ben Mansfield.
Henry IV Part 1 was awesome. I have to admit, I haven't ever seen proper Shakespeare performed by a proper professional company before, so I have nothing to compare it to, but I suppose if you're going to start anywhere, the Sir Peter Hall Company is probably one of the best ways to start . I also have to admit that I was worried that I might not really enjoy it, or might only be really interested in the scenes where Ben was on stage, but that wasn't the case at all, all the actors were excellent, and I really enjoyed the entire play.
But of course, the highlight was Ben Mansfield. Firstly, the costume. Baggy white shirt, tight black trousers, knee high black boots, and occasionally a military jacket over the shirt, and frequently carrying a sword. The word 'sexy' does not even near begin to cover it! And he looks bloody gorgeous with a beard as well (this coming from someone who doesn't normally like men with beards!). And he can act. God, can he act. Without meaning this to sound like it's going to, I was very pleasantly surprised by just how *good* he is on stage. He has stage presence, even amongst several veteran theatre and Shakespeare actors, and it was great seeing him throwing himself into the role of Hotspur. The over-riding impression of the character is passion - whether that be at politics, on the battlefield, or with his wife, the character is passionate, and Ben played it wonderfully. I don't want this to sound like I didn't think he could act before, but let's face it, if you only really know him from Primeval, the character of Becker doesn't really offer him a particularly wide dramatic or emotional range to get his teeth into, so seeing him play Hotspur was so much more of a treat because he was such a fiery, passionate, excitable and angry character.
And then the best bit of the weekend - we met him! Well, we loitered around the stage door for about ten minutes, getting ever more nervous and panicky, until he suddenly appeared and I had to be the one who attracted his attention and asked if we could get his autograph. I know Fred and Nietie and the others all said this last week, but he's lovely. He was so friendly, he stopped and signed autographs, let us get a couple of photos, and chatted for a couple of minutes, asking what we thought of the last series of Primeval, and he seemed genuinely pleased when we told him how much we'd enjoyed Part 1, and that we were staying to watch Part 2 that evening as well. And he was more than generous with his time, considering that his mates were waiting down the street for him, and he quite clearly needed to go and get something to eat and have a break between the two shows (he was going to be back on stage again in slightly less than two hours at that point).
I think it's safe to say that both myself and Fi did not stop grinning or squeeing for the entire rest of the weekend after this, and I have to admit the next hour or two passed by in something of a blur!
Anyway, that evening we were back at the theatre for Henry IV Part 2, in which Ben was playing the role of Pistol. It's a much smaller role than Hotspur, and again I was worried that I might not be too interested in the play when he wasn't on stage, but again, it was completely unfounded. Part 2 may not be quite as enjoyable as Part 1, but it was still a very good play, and by that time we were both starting to recognise other actors from Part 1, and finding ourselves caring about them and their characters as well, so it didn't feel like we spent half the play waiting for Ben to appear. When he did, however, it was well worth it. Drunk, rowdy, debauched, and with a pretty convincing Cockney accent, Pistol dominated the first scene that he appeared in, and didn't do too bad a job of trying to steal the other scene that he was in as well! Plus, Part 2 also had the unexpected bonus of Ben playing a non-speaking soldier in another scene, and I have to admit, I'm fairly sure there were some incredibly plot critical politics going on in that scene, but I spent most of it staring at Ben and thinking 'He really, *really* needs to do some period costume drama for TV, because he looks bloody gorgeous in that uniform!'.
Finally, on Sunday, Fi wanted to see the Royal Crescent Georgian houses, which were very impressive. We also discovered that neither of us were entirely certain exactly what date range constituted Georgian, Victorian or Edwardian, and may need to go and look it up at some point! I'd also spotted on the map the William Herschel Museum of Astronomy, and I'm a big fan of astronomy, so we went and gave it a look, and it turned out to be the house where William Herschel had lived, and from where he discovered the planet Uranus, so that was quite interesting as well.
Of the weekend as a whole, it was nice to actually feel like we'd had a proper holiday and done touristy stuff as well as just go to the theatre (which, to be fair, was the main point of the weekend). Bath is a lovely city, and it was a great weekend.
Re Ben Mansfield, I have to say that I was very impressed with his performance in both plays, and if he continues to do lots of theatre work rather than TV, finances and travel logistics permitting, I fully intend to go and see more of his stage roles. I know some of the Denial gang were muttering about seeing whether they could afford to go after the rave reviews that came back last week. I'll just say, if you are thinking of going, if you can only see one play, make it Part 1, because Hotspur is brilliant. If you *can* afford to go to both, Part 2 is also pretty good, even if Ben is only in three scenes (one of them non-speaking).