Antithesis to HRH’s Quirky Garden Rooms Full of Curiosities: Compton Verney Capability Brown Landscape

Isn’t it lovely how many different moods and themes can be captured by garden designers and landscape architects?

The parkland surrounding Compton Verney house, Warwickshire
The parkland surrounding Compton Verney house, Warwickshire

A week ago I was speaking to the guide who led our tour around Highgrove Gardens about how HRH The Prince of Wales viewed Capability Brown. And the answer was that he realises in some contexts the ideas of that great eighteenth century garden designer might be appropriate, but personally it’s not his “sort of thing”. For when Capability Brown was brought in to transform the surroundings of a stately home, he would be thinking of sweeping lawns flowing seamlessly into the extensive parklands via the ha-ha, dotted with majestic parkland trees, and would of course throw in a cunningly-situated lake, which would create a perfect vista from the house.  This is a profoundly different  approach to that of the sequence of interconnected rooms full of  quirky and unexpected things, which is itself a very popular style of garden design among the great gardeners (such as Vita Sackville West with Sissinghurst Castle Garden, of course).

View across the new wildflower meadow to the chapel at Compton Verney
View across the new wildflower meadow to the chapel at Compton Verney

However yesterday I was in one of my favourite Capability Brown landscapes at Compton Verney in Warwickshire

And again I thought how calming and uplifting it is to be in this spacious parkland, which wraps around the house perfectly, providing an ideal setting.

But there’s now a new feature in the landscape, of which HRH the Prince of Wales would wholeheartedly approve: a new wildflower meadow on the West Lawn, with mown paths running through it corresponding to a William Morris design, relating directly to the theme of the excellent Arts and Crafts exhibition currently showing inside the house.

As we visited it on the last day of August the wildflowers were long past their best; apart from a single patch which gave some idea of what the entire meadow will look like next May:

Wildflower meadow at Compton Verney
Wildflower meadow at Compton Verney

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Quirky, Anarchic, and Fizzing with Life

During the last week we’ve been at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival – an overwhelming variety of acts and shows and comedians and performers, all jostling for your attention. Those who are trying to make a name for themselves are free: the already established are in big venues and do paid-for shows.

On the Royal Mile, Edinburgh - The Fringe (photo credit Abigail Robinson)
On the Royal Mile, Edinburgh – The Fringe (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

I’ve never been handed so many flyers by so many people in such a short space of time as on the Royal Mile – it felt like every member of the crowd heading in my direction was handing out leaflets for his or her show. I recalled online tips for young actors trying to breakthrough at the Edinburgh Festival: “Be prepared to spend most of your time walking the streets and handing out flyers.”

You can be trying to decide where to go and then a troupe of actors dressed in white from head to toe with eerie white masks approaches you and leaflets you; and you decide you’ll go to their show instead.

Or you pass one of the free fringe venues, see something’s on in 5 minutes and just drop in because you happen to be passing by.

And that’s how we found ourselves in the audience at a free fringe event, facing up to whatever the comedians threw at us – including, in my case, a fountain from a shaken-up bottle of Irn Bru, because I happened to be sitting in the second row…

Troupe of actors advertising their show at Edinburgh Fringe - photo credit Abigail Robinson
Troupe of actors advertising their show at Edinburgh Fringe – photo credit Abigail Robinson

We enjoyed Jonny Freeman’s Funtime Family Friendly Impro show, and a one-woman comedy show by Claire Ford called ConsciousMess. Claire showed brilliant clowning skills and I thought she’d be a good children’s TV presenter – with the exclusion of some of her material.

Street entertainment on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Fringe Festival - photo credit Abigail Robinson
Street entertainment on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Fringe Festival – photo credit Abigail Robinson

We also found ourselves in a marquee at The Ibis Hotel where we saw “The Grown Up Show” when London’s “best emerging comedians battle it out for the title of Worst Adult in the World”. I can assure you this was not family friendly, and one of the comedians – host Alexis Wieroniey –  even queried our 2 teens from the stage about how old they were, having been about to deduct “adult points” from us for bringing children in, whereupon she realised it should be herself she deducted “adult points” from for designing the fun cartoon on the flyer! Upon being assured of their true age, the comedians then went on to present their material, packed with lewd humour about sex and bodily functions.

Seeing these “emerging” young comedians made me reflect again upon what I believe makes a great comedian: the ability to connect with the audience, win our confidence, show strong observation of life, say things we know are true and can identify with, and do it all with perfect comic timing.
And in the end, for a performer at The Fringe, what really counts is the way audiences take to you and whether you get noticed and given a chance by a casting director, agent or impresario.

Group of actors advertising fringe performance Chatroom on the Royal Mile - photo credit Abigail Robinson
Group of actors advertising fringe performance Chatroom on the Royal Mile – photo credit Abigail Robinson

Of the paid-for shows in The Festival we saw “The Lift” a new comedy by Fergus Deery at the Bedlam Theatre and “Potted Sherlock“, a fantastic whizz-through of all 60 Sherlock Holmes stories in 70 minutes by 3 excellent comic actors whose previous shows included Potted Potter, Potted Pirates and Potted Panto.

Street entertainer on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Fringe (photo credit Abigail Robinson)
Street entertainer Simeon Baker on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Fringe (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

For many creative actors and comedians, and for those who flock to Edinburgh in August, including ourselves, this Festival is all about fun, zanyness, and the principle of having been here and been involved with a show at the Fringe – however unpredictable.