at the theatre: who’s afraid of virginia woolf?

For anyone with even a passing knowledge of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? the ghosts of Burton and Taylor loom large. Not necessarily because their performances in Mike Nichols’ terrifying noir exorcism are good per se – though they are superlative – but because they have been committed to celluloid, which has become our culture’s lingua franca. (Arguing about the superiority of Uta Hagen’s Martha in Alan Schneider’s original staging is a bit like the arguments made for Laurette Taylor’s turn in Williams’ The Glass Menagerie:  you had to be there. The legacy of the ephemeral artist evaporates with time.) Which is one of the reasons why Tracy Letts – the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of August: Osage County – is so successful as the male half of Albee’s dynamic duo in the Steppenwolf Theatre production of Woolf which opened at the Booth Theatre exactly 50 years after the original Broadway opening. Letts gives a tightly controlled, calibrated impersonation of Richard Burton as George. Like a floor show playing out in front of a movie screen it’s familiar, if not entirely authentic. With crisp enunciation, Letts’ muscular, musical delivery, is at once stylized and powerful but there’s something ineffable missing here: the humanity  On the flip side Amy Morton’s Martha is all too human, throwing off the balance of this marital cage match. You get what the actress is after: trying to get as far away as possible from Taylor’s lasciviously boozy floozy. As admirable as it is to see this fine actress stretch to find Martha’s desperate depths beneath the bluster, Woolf is not a realistic drama; it’s a Walpurgisnacht, as Albee himself titled the second of the play’s three acts: a highly stylized – dare I say theatrical? – transfigured night. Morton expends so much Chekovian energy being miserable that when she finally confesses to Nick  – who, along with Honey, is a virtual non-entity in this outing – that George is the only man who ever made her happy, it rings false. Nothing could make this woman happy – except perhaps a train to Moscow.

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travel tips: round-the-world

It’s the ultimate trip: circumnavigating the planet, stopping off wherever takes your fancy. Great for travelers who want to see it all, or who are just plain indecisive. But booking a round-the-world trip can be a complex business. Here’s a guide to getting started.

How to do it: The most economical way to circumnavigate is to buy a round-the-world air ticket that uses one airline alliance. Theoretically, any routing is possible, but knowing how the RTW booking system works will make your trip cheaper. For example, the Star Alliance, a coalition of 27 airlines, offers a RTW ticket with a maximum of 15 stops. Its member airlines fly to 1185 airports in 185 countries. There are rules: you must follow one global direction (east or west — no backtracking); you must start and finish in the same country; and you must book all your flights before departure, though you can change them later (which may incur extra charges).

How long you need: You could whip round the world in a weekend if you flew non-stop. However, the minimum duration of most RTW tickets is ten days — still a breathless romp. Consider stock-piling vacation days, tagging on public holidays or even arranging a sabbatical in order to take off two months, ideally six to 12. The maximum duration of a RTW ticket is one year.

When to go: The weather will never be ideal in all your stops. So, focus on what you want to do most and research conditions there: if a Himalayan trek is your highlight, don’t land in Nepal mid-monsoon; if you want to swim with whale sharks off Western Australia, be there April-July. Then accept you’ll be in some regions at the “wrong” time — though this might offer unexpected benefits (for example, Zambia in wet season means lush landscapes and cheaper prices). In general, city sightseeing can be done year-round (escape extreme heat/cold/rain in museums and cafés) but outdoor adventures are more reliant on — and enjoyable in — the right weather.

Where to go: The classic (and cheapest) RTW tickets flit between a few big cities, for example London — Bangkok — Singapore — Sydney — LA. If you want to link more offbeat hubs (Baku — Kinshasa — Paramaribo, anyone?), prices will climb considerably. The cost of the ticket is based on the total distance covered or the number of countries visited. Remember, you don’t have to fly between each point: in Australia you could land in Perth, travel overland, and fly out of Cairns. Or fly into Moscow, board the Trans-Siberian train, and fly onwards from Beijing. Pick some personal highlights and string the rest of your itinerary around those. For instance, if you’re a keen trekker, flesh out a Peru (Inca Trail), New Zealand (Milford Track) and Nepal (Everest Base Camp) itinerary with Brazil (Rio’s a good access point for South America), Australia and North India. If budget’s an issue, spend more time in less expensive countries. Your daily outgoings will be far higher in Western Europe and North America than South-East Asia; Indonesia, Bolivia and India are particularly cheap.

Tips, tricks & pitfalls:

— Talk to an expert before you book: you may have an itinerary in mind but an experienced RTW flight booker will know which routings work best and cost least — a few tweaks could mean big savings.

— Be flexible: moving your departure date by a few days can save money; mid-week flights are generally cheaper, as are flights on Christmas Day.

— Think about internal travel: it can be cheaper to book internal flights at the same time as booking your RTW ticket — but, with the global increase of low-cost airlines, you may find it better (and more flexible) to buy them separately as you go.

— Be warned: if you don’t board one of your booked flights (say, on a whim, you decide to travel overland from Bangkok to Singapore rather than fly it) your airline is likely to cancel all subsequent flights.

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the year in numbers

Statistics just in via my hosting service:  this little ol’ blog you’re currently reading was viewed on average 52,000 times a week across 2011. If it was a concert at the 2,700-seat Sydney Opera House, it would take a week crammed with 19 sold-out performances for that many people to see it – which sounds like a really good week at the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular, to put a local spin on the numbers.

In 2011, there were 398 new posts, growing the total archive to 820 posts. The busiest day of the year was October 26th with – get ready - 34,500 views! The most popular post that day was History Meets Mystery in Moscow.

While most visitors came from the United States, the UK and Canada were not too far behind.  Plus, now I’ve got the stats to back up what I’ve known for so long:  I’m huge in Asia.

So that’s the year in blogging.  Many thanks to you, faithful readers, for coming back again and again and continuing to share my curiosity. Stay tuned for a few tweaks and treats to come in 2012.

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