The Convict's Opera (Stephen Jeffreys – adapted from The Beggar's Opera by John Gay): Sydney Theatre Company at the Sydney Theatre

I believe in its original incarnation, The Beggar’s Opera was quite a searing look at 18th century society. The same cannot be said of its reworking into The Convict’s Opera.

The basic premise is that a number of prisoners on a convict ship bound for Australia are given permission to put on a production of The Beggar’s Opera. So rehearsals of portions of the Opera are seen (fortunately in chronological order) interspersed with non-rehearsal scenes in which we learn about the convicts’ backgrounds, see the effect being involved in the play has on them and follow events such as a planned mutiny. There was enough plot and characterisation to keep the whole thing moving along, but nothing all that powerful or insightful about it.

Original songs from The Beggar’s Opera were mixed with more modern numbers, such as Sailing, 500 Miles, You’re So Vain and I Want to be Straight – though often with the words somewhat changed to fit the historical setting. There was no separate orchestra: where there was music, it was provided by the actors themselves, playing instruments on stage (or, if they weren’t actually playing them, doing a very, very good impersonation). For some reason, the actors seemed a little less comfortable with the very simple settings of the original songs, whereas some (though not all) of the modern songs were delivered very effectively. Overall, I thought the mix of old and new worked reasonably well, but not outstandingly so.

This was a co-production between the Sydney Theatre Company and Out of Joint: five of the actors were Australian, and five from the British company. I thought the cast was solid but not brilliant, with the best performances probably being Catherine Russell (Mrs Peachum/Bett Rock) and Brian Protheroe (Peachum/Ben Barnwell). I would also be curious to know whether the costume design was done before or after Juan Jackson was cast as Macheath/Harry Morton. Not that many actors have the physique for a final entrance in nothing more than a pair of budgie-smugglers, but he absolutely did!

Stephen Jeffreys, who did the adaptation, had previously written The Art of War, which was one of my favourite plays of 2007. The Convict’s Opera wasn’t painful to sit through, but neither did it even come close to the achievement of Art of War.

Plays in first half of 2008

So far in 2008 I have seen 8 plays:

Blackbird (David Harrower): Sydney Theatre Company at the Wharf Theatre
The subject matter of this play is fairly confronting – a man receives an unexpected visit from a woman he had a sexual relationship with many years ago, when he was 40 and she was 12 – and apparently the first production, in Edinburgh, was very popular. But for some reason – I don’t know whether it was the cast, the direction or the play itself – I just wasn’t engaged by it. I think part of the point (aside from dealing with such a taboo subject) was to look at the layers of lies and deception gradually being stripped off, but in the end I didn’t really care what the final truths were.

As You Like It (William Shakespeare): Bell Shakespeare Company at the Playhouse (Sydney Opera House)
As You Like It has never really worked for me on the page, and I’d never actually seen a professional production before, so I was looking forward to seeing what Bell Shakespeare would do with it. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. I finally realised that Rosalind can be an engaging character, rather than a pain in the neck, and Celia came across as having a bit more backbone than I had thought. The production didn’t really change my opinion that Orlando is a bit of a thicko, but it seemed to me as if they’d just gone “OK, he’s a dork, let’s just accept that and move on”. So rather than try and make him anything more than he is, they concentrated on making him fundamentally likeable – and succeeded. Most of the rest of the cast were good fun as well, though Jacques seemed rather inconsistent between scenes (in that his personality was whatever they wanted for that particular scene, regardless of what he had been like before) but maybe that smoothed out later in the run: we saw it fairly early on. All in all, the production was a fun romp, and though I still wouldn’t put As You Like It on the same level as Twelfth Night or Much Ado, I now have more time for it than I did previously.

The Vertical Hour (David Hare): Sydney Theatre Company at the Drama Theatre (Sydney Opera House)
The problem with this was that the two main characters were self-righteous and basically unpleasant, and the number three character was nice enough but totally wet. It could have been an interesting debate about the Iraq war, and there were some good bits, but her voice was like fingernails down a blackboard, and he was a nasty manipulative piece of work, and this really made it difficult to get any empathy with either of their positions.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (William Shakespeare): Dash Arts at the Sydney Theatre
This production was by Indian and Sri Lankan actors, using a range of different languages – English, Tamil, Malayalam, Sinhalese, Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Sanskrit – without surtitles. So it helped to be moderately familiar with the text, or one might have been quite lost as to what was happening – languages would change between characters, and even within speeches. The performances and costumes were good, but what really struck me most was the athleticism of the production. The acrobatic work – apparently all done without safety harnesses – was just breathtaking.

Rock ‘n’ Roll (Tom Stoppard): Sydney Theatre Company at the Sydney Theatre
Michael thought this play was baby boomer self indulgence. I quite enjoyed it, though it would have been better if Matthew Newton (Jan) had had more charisma (or any). But I thought William Zappa (Max) was fine, and Genevieve Picot (Eleanor and then Esme) was very good. I thought the moment where (as Eleanor, suffering from breast cancer) rips off her wig and tears open the front of her dress was very powerful – far more confronting than any single moment in, for example, Blackbird. I might have got more out of the play if I had been more familiar with Czech history: the play starts in the late 60s and finishes in about 1990, and I knew absolutely nothing about what was happening in Prague through this period (nor did I have any idea that Plastic People of the Universe – a group whose name I was vaguely familiar with – were Czech). But the play did inspire me to look it up afterwards. Which has to be considered a Good Thing.

The Serpent’s Teeth (Daniel Keene): Sydney Theatre Company at the Drama Theatre (Sydney Opera House)
This was actually two one-act plays, dealing with different aspects of war. The first one, Citizens, was set at the dividing wall of an unnamed country beset by war. It was a series of vignettes of citizens walking past the wall, getting on with their day-to-day lives in the face of hardships – an old man and his grandson taking a tree to the next village, and bringing a different one back, a married, pregnant couple walking to a new home, a woman carrying her dog to find a vet. It had some very compelling moments – the bit where the husband and wife are arguing, and spill part of their last bottle of water made the whole audience gasp – but there was somehow something a bit distancing about it. In spite of being about “the human spirit”, it was intellectually interesting, but for the most part not emotionally gripping.

The second one, Soldiers, was set in an Australian airbase (or something), where the families of five dead soldiers are awaiting the return of the bodies – a mix of wives, siblings, parents, children, etc. This one really was emotionally compelling. At some stage, most of the characters had a “poem” – sort of Ancient-Greek style theatre – which I found a bit stylised and not really successful. But the interactions between family members, and between members of different families, were very powerful.

As with just about every other STC Actors Company production, the standouts were Amber McMahon, Hayley McElhinney, Pamela Rabe and John Gaden, with Peter Carroll also putting in excellent performances in each half.

The Great (Tony McNamara): Sydney Theatre Company at the Wharf Theatre
This play about Catherine the Great was not very historically accurate, and had many intentional anachronisms (not to mention a truly remarkable number of horse references in the first act) but it was hugely fun. Robin McLeavy, who played young Catherine in the first act and her daughter Natalie in the second, was very funny, and Liz Alexander (the older, second-act Catherine) filled the stage with personality. Toby Schmitz as the second-act Orlo was wittily amusing but also emotionally resonant at times.Toby Schmitz was funny as Peter in the first half (though he seemed to have watched Hugh Laurie in Blackadder III way too many times) and okay as the son, Didi, in the second act. I thought the play was at its best when delivering clever dialogue and court intrigues, and at its weakest in the more emotional scenes (excepting some of the older Orlo’s). In particular, I found the love-of-Catherine’s life plotline not very successful. Overall, though, it was a fun play, if not particularly deep and meaningful.

Hamlet (William Shakespeare): Bell Shakespeare Company at the Drama Theatre (Sydney Opera House)
This production has had very good reviews, but it didn’t really work for me. Brendan Cowell’s Hamlet was very “big” (for want of a better word): he wasn’t actually chewing the scenery, but he was certainly very out there. I would like to see something a bit more intimate and introspective. And I didn’t think the scenes with the ghost were very successful: they were using a sort of split-stage effect (which the Cheek-By-Jowel Othello also used) with the ghost on one side of the stage, and everyone else on the other side, but rather than looking at the ghost, they were looking straight ahead, as if the ghost were in the audience. On the other hand, I enjoyed Colin Moody’s Claudius, and Heather Mitchell’s Gertrude was okay, up until her rather overdone death scene (it’s a bit of a worry when the audience actually laughs). Ophelia was pleasant, but not very strong, and R and G were basically a comedy act. The fencing in the duel scene wasn’t very impressive.

The Golden Compass at Hoyts, Broadway

The accepted wisdom is that the film The Golden Compass is much weaker than the original book, Northern Lights. Certainly, everything is much more obvious and unsubtle, and some nuances are missing. Having said this, however, I felt that they did a pretty good job of compressing the actual plot of the book (except for the ending – more on this later). I didn’t think that the removal of all references to the Church, to God and to sin actually detracted in this instance, though how they plan to sustain this for the later books has me baffled. Aside from the ending, I thought the single biggest problem was the scene with the intercised Billy Costa: the equivalent scene in the book (with the not-appearing-in-the-film Tony Markarios) was intensely powerful and heartbreaking, and it was somewhat emasculated in the film – particularly since Billy Costa still seemed to be alive at the end. Actually, I was a bit worried about seeing this on screen, as I thought it would be too harrowing, but by making it less disturbing, they also reduced the impact of how evil the intercision process is.

I thought all the performances were good. Actually, given the way the plot was trimmed, it was basically just Lyra and everyone else. Possibly Ian McKellen’s Iorek sounded a bit too cultured, but Sam Elliot was great as Lee Scoresby, as was Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel, Eva Green as Serafina Pekkala (for the tiny amount of screen time she got) and the rest. I had imagined that Nicole Kidman would be perfect as Mrs Coulter, but when she first spoke I got a bit of a shock – her voice sounded a bit high and “little girlish”, rather than mature and sophisticated. But she looked exactly right, and either her voice changed or I just got used to it as the film progressed.

But Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra was brilliant. I have never really been able to warm to Lyra. A bit like Jane Austen’s Emma, I have never been able to make sense of the fact that other characters in the book love her, when all I can really see as her faults. But Dakota Blue Richards finally made me see it (as Alicia Silversone did as the Emma equivalent in Clueless, but Gwyneth Paltrow completely failed to do in the big screen Emma). All of Lyra’s faults were still there – she was a liar, she was shamelessly manipulative – and yet through all that, she completely shone through as a pure and even lovable character.

The “look” of the film was great – particularly some of the early scenes with the group of children and their daemons running around, and some of Pantalaimon’s transitions from one form to another. The big battle scenes were also good: clearly riding on the coat-tails of Lord of the Rings, but then there are only so many ways you can show a battle.

So the only real problem with the film – and it’s a biggie – was the ending. I’m really not comfortable with the idea of cutting off the last few chapters, and writing a new, upbeat ending to the book.

Michael, who hasn’t read the book, found the final scene rather saccharine, and felt that it undercut what had gone before. So in at least one case, the changed ending didn’t work for someone who didn’t know any better.

But for me, knowing what was to come, the ending was neither upbeat nor even saccharine – I found it unbelievably heartbreaking. Because they think everything is alright, and it so completely isn’t. Finishing the film on Lyra’s totally optimistic – and totally wrong – understanding of what is happening just feels wrong. In fact, she is even more wrong than she was at the equivalent point in the book, since I think we are meant to assume that she will also be able to get Ratter back for Tony Costa.

So if the changed ending doesn’t necessarily work for people who haven’t read the book – and those who have will obviously know what comes next – it would surely have been better to climax with the tragedy, and then finish – as the book does – with Lyra, sadder but wiser, moving forward and making her own choices. This is not exactly a happy ending, but neither is it despairing: Lyra is no longer anybody’s puppet, and she may well achieve what she sets out to do.

2007 in review


I read 167 books in 2007, of which 106 were re-reads and 61 were new (though of the 61, there were two I didn’t finish – Lolita and Crime and Punishment). Dividing up by category, 104 were adult fiction, 32 children’s fiction, 20 young adult fiction and 11 non-fiction. By genre, I read 55 crime/thriller and 53 SF/fantasy – though SF/fantasy is spread across all age categories, and crime/thriller was only adult books. My most read author was Agatha Christie, of whom I am slowly doing a chronological re-read – this probably also skewed the genre numbers, since slightly over half the crime/thrillers I read were Christies. There was a big drop to my second-most-read author (Donna Andrews – also crime/thriller, and also a complete re-read – with 10 books) and there were 47 authors of whom I only read one book.

Probably my favourite “discovery” for the year was Sonia Soanes – I absolutely loved her verse-novel Stop Pretending: What happened when my big sister went crazy. Though I found her other books much less gripping – Stop Pretending was a very emotional book, whereas the others were a bit more lightweight. The other young adult book I was very impressed by was Alex Flinn’s Fade to Black, and I will probably be chasing up more of her work. In the adult fiction line, I have been enjoying Amanda Grange’s diary-of-Austen-hero books, and (at the other end of the “literature” scale) I am glad to have read The Odyssey, though at times it was a bit of a struggle.

None of the other new authors I tried really grabbed me, and of the new-books-by-favourite-authors probably the one I was most pleased to get was Susan Geason’s new(ish) Syd Fish story, Hook, Line and Sinker. This isn’t actually published, but it’s available for download from her website. The new Dick Francis was very readable, but not out of this world, and I was a bit underwhelmed by the new Lois McMaster Bujold fantasy – I don’t find this particular fantasy world all that interesting, and in any case I prefer her SF books.


I saw 10 films at the cinema, and another 8 or so on various planes. There were no real stand-outs, though my favourites were probably Breach (which I unaccountably failed to blog), Hot Fuzz and Music and Lyrics, with honourable mentions to Pan’s Labyrinth and No Country for Old Men – these two were probably the “best” films I saw, but Pan’s Labyrinth was rather depressing – and very violent – and No Country for Old Men didn’t quite work for me. Amazing Grace and Sunshine are also worth mentioning.

The worst film I saw was probably Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, though there was competition from 300.


I only saw 6 plays, all by the Sydney Theatre Company. The two best were Riflemind and The Art of War, and I probably got least enjoyment from The Season at the Sarsparilla and Tales from the Vienna Woods – though neither of these came even close to the awfulness of 2006’s The Lost Echo . But I’m definitely going to make an attempt to get to the theatre more often in 2008.

No Country for Old Men at Hoyts, Broadway

Somehow, No Country for Old Men didn’t quite work for me. It was very well written, and the performances were excellent. I liked the twists on standard action-film cliches, I liked the theme of random chance, I really liked some of the dialogue and the cinematography. And I thought the last few scenes, in particular, were very well done. I even found most of the characters interesting, but in the end, I just wasn’t emotionally engaged with any of them.

I’m certainly glad to have seen it, but I don’t feel any urge to see it again. I have some slight curiosity about the book, but probably not enough to actually hunt it up.

Mr Darcy's Diary and Captain Wentworth's Diary by Amanda Grange

The number of Jane Austen spinoff books seems to be growing exponentially.

I have read a couple of Austen sequels – ages ago, before the recent fad for them – but they didn’t really do a lot for me. I think my main problem is that the original books end on an unquestionably positive note – at least for the main characters – but sequels need to have conflict of some kind, or there is no story. So they often introduce problems in the main characters’ marriage, or with their children. Which I don’t like, because I’d rather have them just living happily ever after. Also, of course, by making up new events, the authors often have the characters behaving in ways that I don’t agree that they would.

An alternative to sequels, though, is the stories retold from another point of view. Often these can be quite fun. Ages and ages ago, I read Jane Fairfax by Naomi Royde Smith – I remember very little about it, except that I enjoyed it more than the one or two Austen sequels I read at about the same time. More recently, I read Diana Birchall’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek In Defense of Mrs Elton with great pleasure. Of course, both of these are retellings of Emma, which is not my favourite Austen.

Amanda Grange appears to be planning a full set of retellings. She has already published Mr Darcy’s Diary, Mr Knightley’s Diary, Captain Wentworth’s Diary and Edmund Bertram’s Diary, and I believe the next to come is Colonel Brandon’s Diary. She has also written a couple of fairly generic looking romances. I’m not entirely sure whether they are self/vanity published, or whether it is just a small independent publishing house. However, the physical books seem to have perfectly adequate production values, and they aren’t full of typos, which suggests at least some level of editing and commitment on the part of the publishers.

So far, I have read Mr Darcy’s Diary (which was originally published simply as Darcy’s Diary) and Captain Wentworth’s Diary, and I am just about to start Edmund Bertram’s Diary. One could perhaps argue that the writing style is a little bland, though I would prefer a term like “unobtrusive”. She certainly makes no attempt to imitate Austen’s ironic turns of phrase – and a good thing too, since most of the Austen pastiches I have seen fail miserably (IMHO). I found a couple of jarring moments – Darcy used the word “saucy” to describe Elizabeth rather too often, and I also wasn’t 100% sure of whether he should have been referring to “Caroline” rather than “Miss Bingley” (though I could be wrong about that) – but in general I found the unobtrusive/bland style worked well. The only real downside of it is that the “voice” of the two diarists is virtually the same. But I can live with this.

I think one Amanda Grange’s great strengths is her familiarity with the source novels. So in the opening part of Captain Wentworth’s Diary (which covers the events of the year six) I think she does a very nice job of showing a young man who is “spending freely what had come freely”, and who “knows” that he will soon have a ship. Furthermore, she doesn’t feel the need to make any explicit reference to Austen’s words – she lets the reader make the connection for her/himself, and if that connection isn’t made, well it doesn’t really matter to the story.

She also appears to have a genuine interest in exploring the emotional journeys of the two heroes: whether she will sustain this through six or more books is open to question. It seems likely she has started with the ones that interest her most (and it probably helps that Darcy and Wentworth are my own two favourites – I haven’t yet read her Knightley, which she wrote in between these two), but she may struggle more if she doesn’t find as much to interest her in Henry Tilney. And it may say something about her interests that she has chosen to do Colonel Brandon’s Diary over Edward Ferrars’ Diary.

But she does seem to be trying to give an internalised presentation of the heroes’ changing thought processes and emotions that we only see externally in the original novels, and in both books I enjoyed the journey. I think she is at her best when she is only one degree removed from the originals. So I found her picture of Anne in the year six harder to reconcile with the novel than her picture of Wentworth – probably because Austen gives us a clearer picture of her hero at that time than she does of the heroine. We know Anne has changed a great deal in the time since, but we don’t really know from what, so Amanda Grange has to do a lot more character creation with the young Anne than with the young Wentworth.

Similarly, her development of Anne de Burgh (and to a lesser extent, Colonel Fitzwilliam) was definitely not consistent with the original. But then it was a very small part of Grange’s book – and maybe it’s just that she felt sorry for Miss de Burgh. I also thought the slight glimpse we got through Darcy and Elizabeth’s bedroom door was a bit unnecessary, though I guess it’s not that much of an issue.

So I think she is at her best when giving the “other side of the story” for events that actually occurred in the original books. I found I really could believe in the Darcy and the Wentworth she created. They weren’t Austen’s characters – but they were sufficiently consistent with them that I didn’t keep going “no, that’s wrong”. I don’t know how well the books would stand on their own merits alone – as I said, the writing style is arguably on the bland side, and maybe the character presentation is as well. But then, it is highly unlikely that anyone will by trying to read them on their own merits alone. They are designed as … I was going to say “companion pieces” to the originals, but maybe that elevates them to a level of equality that I don’t think any spin-off deserves. Perhaps “adjuncts” or “appendices” – completely and utterly unnecessary, but for some who love the originals (and by no means everyone) they offer an enjoyable diversion. (I am not the only one to enjoy them – AustenBlog has positive reviews of both Darcy’s Diary and Captain Wentworth’s Diary – as well as Mr Knightley’s Diary.)

One thing to note – Amanda Grange is not the only author to have written a Mr Darcy’s Diary. There is another book of the same title by Maya Slater, which I will not be reading, as it sounds completely awful. AustenBlog has a commentary on a Daily Mail review of this book.

Riflemind (Andrew Upton): Sydney Theatre Company at the Wharf Theatre

This was a very depressing play. But it was also probably one of the most powerful productions I have seen this year.

The gist of it is that “Riflemind” was an incredibly popular rock band that broke up when John (Hugo Weaving) quit some years previously. They are now getting together for a few days to talk about the possibility of reforming for a tour.

All the performances were very strong, but I was particularly impressed by Susan Prior, who played John’s wife, Lynn. She was so tightly wound, so desperate for everything to work out, and her slide back into alcohol and drugs was both sad and inevitable. And the final scene, between her and John, was incredibly poignant.

There were times when the play seemed to be concentrating too much on being clever – all surface and no substance – but this was more than made up for by the moments of raw emotion. I don’t think I actually liked any of the characters. But at different times, I did feel sorry for all of them.

I found it interesting that in the end, the character you knew least well was the central one – John. In terms of the plot, everything relied on his decision, and yet you never really, completely saw inside his head. With all the others you absolutely knew what they wanted and what was driving them. And you did sort of know that with John, but even when everyone else was stripping bare their emotions, you felt that he was still holding something inside. I don’t mean that there was a vital piece of information about his motivations or anything – just that, unlike the others, he never completely let go. Not even in the scene towards the end when he was explaining to his brother what had happened with him (and, BTW, I really liked this scene – the sense that in spite of everything that had gone wrong between them, they still had a shared childhood, and a shared love of music.)

I saw this with Mark, as Michael is still overseas. He mentioned afterwards that he had read an article about the Sex Pistols (I think) which said that they were great when they were making music together, but a complete disaster the rest of the time. This seemed like the same sort of dynamic. When they were jamming – and presumably when on the stage – they were fine. So the challenge for the manager was to stop them from self-destructing before they got on the stage.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman, and Stardust at Hoyts, Broadway

I’m not a huge Neil Gaiman fan (except for Good Omens) but when I found a copy of Stardust going cheap, I thought I might as well read it before seeing the film. In some ways, it reminded me a bit of Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, in that both books are written in a very self-consciously twee style (particularly at the beginning), and yet their purpose is really to subvert the conventions of fairy tales. While I quite enjoyed Stardust, I don’t feel that my life would be any less if I had never read it. It is probably more subversive than Howl, but I think Howl is a bit more fun.

The film of Stardust, on the other hand, is not really subversive at all. It was all very nice and pretty, and there were some fun performances (Robert De Niro, playing a part that basically didn’t appear in the book, was having just way too much fun) – but ultimately it was fairly lightweight and forgettable. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it, and I have even recommended it to people, but if it was trying to be this generation’s The Princess Bride (and I think it is), well, it just doesn’t come close.

Being completely honest, I probably preferred the film to the book – in that I’m slightly more inclined to see it a second time than I am to re-read the book. However, I think the book had more substance to it: it was deliberately playing with the genre, whereas the film was just trying to be a crowd-pleaser.

Various movies seen on international flights

Music and Lyrics
This was pretty much a by-the-numbers romantic comedy, but I enjoyed it quite a lot. The scriptwriter knew how to write exactly the kind of dialogue that Hugh Grant delivers particularly well. It probably also helps if you have a bit of a soft spot for 80s music.

I think maybe I was watching this one a bit too late at night, but it didn’t really work for me. It wasn’t happy enough to be a romantic comedy, nor really clever enough to be quirky and interesting. I guess “bittersweet” is possibly the best description – and quite likely what they were trying for – but for some reason it didn’t quite make it. I think I just couldn’t care enough about the characters to really see the point of it all.

Shrek the Third
Not unfunny, but rather underwhelming and fairly forgettable. Not a patch on the first one, and probably a step down from the second as well.

The Last Mimzy
Very much a Disneyfied version of the short story “Mimzy were the Borogoves”. Some of the same central ideas, but thematically quite different as it was turned into a kids’ adventure (the original short story was NOT aimed at children). Mildly pleasant, but not particularly inspired.

Ocean’s Thirteen
The mixture as before. And for me, even Ocean’s Eleven had too many characters.

Spider-Man 3
It had some okay moments, but there were too many different plot threads happening, so none of them was explored as well as they might have been.

Amazing Grace
I really enjoyed this. I know pretty much nothing about William Wilberforce, but I found the story well presented and quite comprehensible. I thought they did a good job of covering the timeframe, but still maintaining the character focus (in other films covering a long period of time, it often seems like they are so busy fitting in all the events they don’t give you a chance to connect with the characters). I was even able to keep all the secondary characters sorted out (though I was probably helped in this by the fact that I recognised almost all the actors from other British costume dramas).

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
The whole film seemed to consist of everyone setting and resetting double- and triple-crosses to serve their own agendas. Which is fine as far as it goes, but isn’t really enough of a story to carry the whole film. Not that there weren’t some fun moments, but the franchise has completely lost the freshness of the first film.

Rome Again

Our last two days were back in Rome, and we stayed at Eva’s Rooms again – a different room this time, on the third floor, rather smaller and somewhat cheaper.

After getting the train back from Florence, and checking back into the hotel, we went to the Via Appia. We got off the bus at about the 6th mile and walked all the way back to the start. We really enjoyed it. On the way, we stopped at the Catacombs of San Callisto. This was actually a bit disappointing. The catacombs themselves were fantastic, but the tour through them was very short, and we were rushed past a series of rooms with frescoes in them.

On Monday we went to the Vatican Museums. We mostly looked at the Roman collection, plus going through the Room of Maps, the Library, and, of course, the Sistine Chapel. The Chapel itself was horribly crowded, which is understandable I guess given the quality, and fame, of the art. By contrast, the Roman collection was much easier to move around (lack of tour groups, for one thing) and was an interesting mix of gods and mythic heroes with real people. I particularly liked a bust of Hadrian.

The rest of Monday was spent doing various errands. We went to Statzione Termine, to find out about shuttle bus services to Ciampino Airport (for Michael, who is flying RyanAir to the UK) and the train to Fiumicino (Leonardo da Vinci) Airport for me (flying Cathay Pacific/Qantas back to Australia). We also posted some books back to Australia, did a bit of shopping, and then spent the evening packing.

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