Last weekend I witnessed history in action or, at least, east Kent's version of it.
Last weekend I witnessed history in action or, at least, east Kent's version of it. Two hundred adults and dozens of excited small children were drawn to windswept cliffs outside Herne Bay by a promise in the local paper of a rerun of the battle of Reculver, fought between the Romans and Saxons in AD437.
As it was staged by the Britannia Re-enactment Group, which claimed to have worked on the blockbuster Gladiator, I hoped to see a Russell Crowe lookalike engaged in mortal combat on the slopes of the fabulous Reculver Castle, surely one of the most spectacular ruins on the English coastline.
The twin towers of the fort are a splendid sight, visible for miles in all directions. So, too, are the caravan park behind them and the ugly fish farm to the east. Surely lottery money could have been spent to acquire the surrounding land and showcase this valuable relic of Roman history in an appropriate fashion? I had a sinking feeling as I strode over the cliffs from Herne Bay. The re-enactment was not taking place anywhere near the castle, but in a roped-off field between the café, the shops and the car park.
The event, sponsored by Kent council, also promised to include displays of crafts and scenes from everyday life in Roman Britain. Two extremely large women wearing very non-Roman spectacles and brown hessian frocks strode past me en route to the Saxon Village, a collection of modern tents featuring a stall selling pendants and a line of teddy bears dressed as warriors. The Saxon and Roman foot soldiers were a motley crew with wooden shields and home-made arrows, hairy legs and the odd tuft of dreadlocks. They spent 20 minutes running at each other, shouting and spitting as the battle was choreographed by a Bruce Forsyth type with a microphone. I ate a choc ice and wondered if I was being churlish – it all seemed so low-grade and feeble, suppressing sniggers as the "Romans" charged the crowd, whooping madly and waving their axes.
The souvenir booklet (£1) gave the game away, claiming the group was formed "for the promotion of Arthur as a factual figure in the form of a Romano-British warlord ... as opposed to the fanciful king of medieval legend", but adding, "basically we're a bunch of nutters with swords and axes, who like nothing more than to hit each other".
A few years ago I needed to recreate a wild west scene in Kent for a film for Channel 4. We discovered a similar bunch of nutters who liked to dress up in full Billy the Kid gear and hang out in wooden cabins near Brands Hatch. It turned out that most of them worked for the Post Office. I suppose with the redundancies announced last week, there will be a lot more re-enactments over the summer holidays. The children enjoyed it on the level of a panto. The male warriors enjoyed it as a chance to revert to their hunter-gatherer role of yesteryear. Their womenfolk enjoyed it as an opportunity to flog bone pendants and bits of knitting. I remembered Saturday afternoons as a child, watching Kent Walton introducing wrestling matches on ITV from Bethnal Green Baths. At least they didn't pretend to be "historic". I hope Kent County Council didn't use money from their education budget for this bit of harmless fun, because it had about as much to do with history as the finger-bowl I crafted in pottery back in 1955.
Burchill the bore
Karen Carpenter soundalike Jackie Clune gives a brilliant performance as journalist Julie Burchill, left, at the Soho Theatre. The trouble is, that while Jackie captures the voice, the body language and the little-girl-lost persona of Julie, where does writer Tim Fountain get his material from? I can't understand why Julie didn't just license her columns to Jackie and cut out the middleman and the pretence that this is a play, rather than a stand-up monologue.
There's no dramatic content, unless you find hugging a cushion, phoning for a minicab and applying full eye make-up theatrical weaponry of the highest order. This is like watching David Coulthard or Michael Schumacher drive a Smart Car – talent wasted. An unadventurous enterprise, playing safe when Julie herself is never afraid to take risks. David Benson's acidic plays about Frankie Howerd (To Be Frank) and Kenneth Williams (Think No Evil of Us) which opened in Edinburgh are more innovative in the treatment of their subjects. The problem with this play is that you know all the punchlines, and hearing them delivered in a whispery little voice makes even 70 minutes seem interminable.
Two very different museums in south London were relaunched last week, and yet they have a surprising amount in common. The Ranger's House in Blackheath, built around 1700, has always stood rather unloved at the top corner of Greenwich Park. Restored in the 1950s it was once a tearoom, then provided changing rooms for the tennis courts, before housing the Suffolk collection in the 1970s. Now English Heritage has installed the Wernher collection, previously at Luton Hoo. Julius Wernher made millions from diamonds and gold in South Africa and collected jewellery, ceramics and bronze sculpture. It might not be to your taste, but the Ranger's House seems like a dowdy widow who's been given a facelift and a Balenciaga gown. One dish – a large, highly glazed Palissy serving plate encrusted with eels, fish and newts – is worth the train journey to Greenwich alone.
And at the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, a new extension by the architects Allies and Morrison opens up views of the fabulous gardens and lets light into one of the most eccentric collections anywhere in Britain, put together, like the Wernher Collection, by a single passionate Victorian collector. From "ugly" tribal masks, right, to a huge range of musical instruments, this is a fun palace for children, whose enjoyment will now be enhanced by a gallery where they can make music. There's far too much focus on the national galleries in this country. Somehow we need to get tourists out to smaller, local jewels such as these. I hope the English Tourist Board has major plans.
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Finally, how irritating incidental music is, particularly when it's played throughout complicated dramatic action in an attempt to heighten the atmosphere. Monday nights on television offer two very different approaches. Spooks on BBC1 has a soundtrack by Jennie Muskett that drives me mad – and, as if the plot wasn't complicated enough, we now have sequences like mini pop videos in order to spice up the proceedings. The new American comedy Six Feet Under on Channel 4 is a far classier enterprise. Created by Alan Ball, who wrote American Beauty, this is ironic, well written and subtly scored. Less is definitely more.Reuse content