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Visit to the Theatre Royal, Bath and the Holburne Museum (18th April 2013)

This was one of the Society's best and more unusual Visits: talks on the Theatre Royal as it is today, its architecture and some of its history; viewing the theatre from the stage (the thespians undoubtedly have the best view); and a performance of elements from the works of Jane Austen - all followed by a chance to appreciate the Holburne Museum.

Jane Tapley, who masterminded the event, talked to the Society on the history of theatre in November 2011, and this was a follow-up to that excellent lecture. After coffee and biscuits in an elegant ante-room, Jane took us into the Royal Circle and brought us up to date on the running of the very successful and self-supporting Theatre today (no reliance on disappearing Arts Council grants!) before taking us onto the stage fully to appreciate the stunning architecture and decoration. This was followed by a talk on aspects of the Theatre's history and its central place in Georgian and later Bath society.

After a remarkably good lunch in the charming cellar restaurant, Jane Tapley gave us brief resumé of Jane Austen's life. Then Kim Hicks, a Bristol Old Vic-trained actress - dressed as Jane Austen -, performed a very entertaining and amusing interpretation of some of the authoress' characters, verbatim from the novels. This really brought to life Jane's bird's eye view of the lives of the upper class and those who aspired to that caste in Georgian England - a full hour's worth of shrewd observations and humour.

Jane Tapley then accompanied us in our coach, by a roundabout route, to the nearby Holburne Museum giving a commentary on a number of Bath's most famous and elegant buildings.

The Holburne is housed in yet another Georgian gem, fairly recently renovated and extended. It houses the extensive collection of Sir William Thomas Holburne (1793-1874), which was given to the City on his death and has since been added to with complementary items from elsewhere: fine art, ceramics, silver, miniatures, majolica, porcelain, etc - over 6,000 items in all. Well worth a visit, ideally for longer than the time we had, which was diminished by the attractions of afternoon tea in the fine café in the new extension.

It was a great shame that, unusually, only 27 members took part. The numbers never rose to our normal 40 or more and there were unfortunate reductions due to illness, etc. on the day. There is no doubt that a great opportunity was missed by the membership in general, as those who went expressed fervent appreciation of a splendid and memorable day.............and the weather was good to us, showing Bath at its best!

Philip Blunden

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