It's tomorrow! We are off to Australia for a week in Townsville as part of the Australian Festival of Chamber Music. And in the meantime I can report that you get some very interesting looks when trogging up to Vauxhall station in the heat of the sun, carrying a huge plastic bag emblazoned with NATIONAL THEATRE COSTUME AND PROPS HIRE.
Tucked away in a south London warehouse/college/arts pad a few minutes from the Oval cricket ground, there's a facility that, if you like dressing up or giving theatrical performances of any type, is better than Aladdin and his Genie ever dreamed of. London's Royal National Theatre here keeps row upon tempting row of costumes - covering all eras from echt-Shakespeare to 1920s flapperville to 1980s glam rock - and they hire them out for a suitable fee. Silken gowns, embroidered waistcoats, feathered and bejewelled headdresses, era-appropriate strings of pearls, underskirts of any colour, petticoats galore, and the sort of under-contraptions you're very lucky not to need to wear under your dress in this day and age. Walk in and you might even see an ass's head lurking on a shelf, ready for the next Midsummer Night request.
You phone them up, book in and have a good browse, with a chance to try on your most suitable targets, complete with accessories of any type from royal crown to bum pads. I can't say I ever expected to need bum pads, but bum pads I've now got, because they go under 18th-century dresses to create that sumptuous shape... A happy afternoon a few weeks ago led me to the perfect outfit for Anna Magdalena Bach to take to Australia: a dark overdress with a subtle pattern and a black underskirt. Nothing fancy, I promise. Just...18th century.
I did try to research what Anna Magdalena looked like. There aren't many pictures of her. There is, however, this:
As you may remember, Kathryn Stott, the new AFCM artistic director, has commissioned me to write and perform a new show with words and music about Anna Magdalena Bach. Being Mrs Bach will receive its world premiere on 1 August, 5pm, with musicians including Roderick Williams (baritone), Siobhan Stagg (soprano), Guy Johnston (cello), Daniel de Borah (piano), the Goldner String Quartet, Pavel Fischer (violin), Kees Boersma (double bass) and Winterschool Strings. Anna Magdalena, when she appears, is an impoverished widow, looking back over her life with Johann Sebastian, with all the associated agonies and ecstasies... And I've never worn a costume before. I hope I can still get into it on Wednesday week. In case you were wondering: Lucy Worsley I'm not. (Nor am I the blonde bombshell pictured above.)
The next day I'm giving a lecture about women composers for the festival's Winterschool and then joining Kathy and some of the musicians for the morning Meet the Artists chat on 3 August before heading, no doubt with reluctance, back to the airport. In the meantime I will be writing about the festival a fair bit, and have promised to do a daily blogpost while there, so please check back after Friday for my festival diary and PICS.
You wouldn't believe what it takes to get ready for a thing like this, unless you're especially prone to taking part in festivals on the other side of the world. First there's the preparation of the show. In October, I went to Leipzig to see the Bach family's own territory at first hand - it made all the difference, too. Then the writing and whittling down, choosing the music, fitting it all together, making sure it's the right length. That's the easy bit. Then the paperwork: visas, documents, passports, emails and more emails. (Can you believe we're going to have to do all this for Europe as well soon, when currently we don't? Those Brexiters are out of their tiny minds.) There's booking the travel, deciding where and when to stop (straight to Sydney on the way out, to see my aunt, then to Townsville the next morning; and Hong Kong on the way home...). The costume. The house-and-cat-sitter. Finishing everything that needs finishing before going. Remembering everything that needs to go in the suitcase. Panicking.
And above all, panicking about the jet-lag. Most of the festival artists - to judge from Kathy's Facebook pics - are already in Townsville and acclimatising. I'm still in sweltering in London and won't arrive until Friday. I'm not sure this was the greatest plan, but it's too late now...
Anyway, if all goes smoothly we shall be there in time for the big opening night on Friday evening, in which no fewer than 24 festival artists will perform works by Saint-Saëns, Villa-Lobos, Paul Stanhope (world premiere of a new piece for marimba), Wu Tong performing another world premiere on the sheng, Leopoldo Federico, JP Jofre (world premiere of new piece for marimba, sheng and bandoneon), and one of my great all-time favourite pieces, the Chausson Concert, with Kathy on the piano, Alexander Sitkovetsky (violin) and the Goldner String Quartet. That would be enough to turn me upside-down on its own.
For the rest of the programme, please see here.