28 September 2005

Bath Night

B. and I had a very pleasant evening in Bath last Thursday, going for the first time in absolute ages both to one of our favourite restaurants and to the theatre.

Demuth's is, I'm fairly sure, the best purely vegetarian restaurant I've ever been to, with a marvellous selection of mouth-watering foods assembled from all over the place. There's art on the walls (including, on this occasion, something which appeared to have once been an aeroplane door, but was now painted to look rather like a rug), the staff are lovely and there's a calming no-mobiles policy.

Admittedly it's not cheap, but fortunately our recent diet has succeeded in reducing our joint appetites sufficiently that we were able to share the amount of food which one of us would once have eaten. (Of course, we don't then get the variety of being able to share two dishes in each course, but you can't have everything.)

We chose the "sunshine mediterranean mezze", which included some extremely good houmous and a wonderful feta-and-sesame pie. This we accompanied with some excellent sweet potato and halloumi kebabs (a starter which doesn't appear to be on that version of the menu), good organic beer, three-seed bread and a bowl of green olives (the only component which was disappointing, being a bit bland and oddly watery). We finished with Demuths' famous vegan chocolate fudge cake, served with soya ice cream, which is, frankly, incredibly gorgeous.

We then hurried to the Theatre Royal to see Otherwise Engaged by Simon Gray -- a playwright who I knew almost nothing about, but who evidently knows his stuff.

Otherwise Engaged appears for the first hour or so to be a light comedy of a pretty familiar pattern, as the mildly put-upon but terribly witty hero (here even called Simon -- a bit of a giveaway as far as being the writer's mouthpiece is concerned) copes with the comic incursions of various friends and relatives into his planned evening alone with Wagner. The first act ends with an unsettling revelation, and the second then proceeds to deconstruct the whole setup, demonstrating that behind his imperturbable fa├žade Simon is actually a complete shit, whose life is in the process of going hopelessly and irrecovably off the rails. It's elegantly disturbing, and has at best a mitigatedly miserable ending as Simon condescends to share his Wagner with his old friend Geoff, suggesting some hope of feeling his way towards an actual connection with another human being.

Again, the two of us were constrained by budget, and had picked the cheapest seats in the house... which, in an interesting sidelight on the way society's changed during the past couple of centuries, are actually located in the private boxes at the very front of the theatre. The very adequate reason for their cheapness is that they were designed with the visibility of the occupants in mind rather than that of the stage, so that the angle obliges one to lean over the balustrade like a gargoyle in order to see anything at all... which I think Richard E. Grant found offputting on occasion.

My neck ached for all the next day, but while our stork's-eye view may not have been quite what the director had in mind, we were unusually close to the actors -- the tops of their heads, at least -- and got the full benefit of their performance while they were actually in view. (I particularly appreciated this during the scene where one of the characters spends several minutes with her top off. Certain establishments would have made me pay good money for that alone.)

Simon was played splendidly by Grant, on form throughout -- being a drily charming but terribly reserved upper-class scoundrel is, of course, the thing he does best, but here he did it very well indeed. His comic delivery was impeccable, with many of the jokes riding on his inflection alone. (He had the two of us in stitches just folding up a handkerchief, although admittedly this was because he made Simon do it in exactly the same way I always do, and appear just as neurotic as a result.)

Anthony Stewart Head was somewhat less good as Geoff; but as a foul-mouthed, drunken newspaper reporter (albeit one who went to Oxford and enjoys Wagner) he was playing rather beyond his usual character range. He was still very entertaining, and the rest of the cast (none of whose names I have to hand, unfortunately) all turned in respectable performances.

Plus there was organic ice cream, on the rather dubious grounds that we probably hadn't had too many calories yet. We've decided that, if these are the delights Bath has to offer, we really must try to sample them more often.

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