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Messages - HtoHe

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News and Current Affairs / Re: Lynda Bellingham, RIP
« on: October 20, 2014, 02:32:50 pm »
This is possibly the least unexpected death of recent months but no less sad for that.  It’s particularly cruel that her brave decision to reject intrusive treatment in the hope of enjoying one more good Christmas with her family was not rewarded.  I remember her as a fine character actor and cringe when she’s referred to as ‘best known as the Oxo mum’.  I only saw her once – in Peter Terson’s Strippers in the days before that play and, unaccountably, Terson himself were marginalised to the point of invisibility – but for me she’ll always be Faith in the radio series Second Thoughts*  as well as a hardworking, indispensable participant in dozens of dramas.


*I've just noticed that Second Thoughts is currently running on R4Extra with an episode scheduled for 1700 today.  I'll be tuning in for that;

Theatre / Re: Juno and the Paycock - Liverpool Playhouse
« on: October 18, 2014, 07:13:55 pm »
(Wasn't 'Captain' Boyle played by Des McAleer?)

Quite right, jean.  I don't know either Des McAleer or Donal Gallery (who was, in fact, a convincingly nervous Johnny Boyle) well and, in my haste, I read the cast list wrongly.  Thanks for the correction.

I was quite surprised to see the production didn't sell out.  Everyone I know who saw it enjoyed it - and especially enjoyed Cusack's wonderfully balanced performance - and I've been doing my bit by recommending it to everyone I meet who hasn't seen it; but on Wednesday, when I was applying persuasion to my brother and family, there were still tickets left for all performances.  On the plus side, there aren't many unsold seats, but I'd have expected it to have been sold out by then.

Theatre / Re: Hamlet - Royal Exchange, Manchester
« on: October 17, 2014, 10:09:02 pm »
to top it all off , while it was clear that the gravediggers (Michelle Butterly and McNee again) were female ...Hamlet still addressed one of them as ‘sirrah’ and corrected it to ‘madam’. 

I asked my friends to listen out for this and can confirm that it was deliberate.  They saw the play on Tuesday and confirm that the line 'Whose grave's this, sirrah?' isn't just altered to 'Whose grave's this, madam?' as one might expect.  The gender-changed line is spoken in addition to Shakespeare's original.  Daft - imho, of course; though, despite having enjoyed the evening overall, my friends agreed that this and various other directorial indulgences added nothing of value.

I went to a student production at MMU yesterday (something called Brezhnev's Children by Olwen Wymark - decent performances, dull play) and got chatting to a couple of the ushers who, unprompted, expressed opinions about the Royal Exchange Hamlet that very much agreed with mine: scrappy production with several ill-conceived features; Peake was good but not nearly as good as some critics report and John Shrapnel was the best thing about the production.  I got the impression that, with the usual lavish partisan praise for Peake and the RE, they were glad to meet someone who was as underwhelmed as they had been.

The Coffee Bar / Re: SJH's football thread
« on: October 14, 2014, 10:34:11 pm »
Quite remarkable goings on in the European Championships.  Not a single group would seem to be topped by the most likely country and some of the leaders are almost unbelievable:

Group A Iceland lead a group including The Netherlands and Czech Republic.

Group B Wales currently lead though Belgium might restore some pride in the favourites if they win their game in hand.

Group C Slovakia lead a group including Spain.

Group D Poland and the Republic of Ireland lead a group including world champions Germany.  The Germans are fourth, with Scotland also above them.

Group E England lead the group - which wouldn't normally be that surprising but a) Switzerland, who were favourites, are six points below them and b) England have been playing really badly but still manage to lead the group.

Group F Northern Ireland (who usually struggle to get a point) lead a group including Hungary and Greece

Group G Austria lead a group including Russia and Sweden

Group H Croatia lead a group including Italy - though, admittedly, only on goal difference

Group I Albania lead a group including Denmark and Portugal

There is still a long way to go but this must be one of the most bizarre sets of group tables ever.

Theatre / James II: Day of the Innocents - Olivier Theatre
« on: October 13, 2014, 08:36:16 pm »
In my backwards journey through Rona Munro’s trilogy I formed the firm view yesterday that James II: Day of the Innocents is not nearly as good as James III: The True Mirror – leaving me hoping that the quality does not improve in a linear fashion as that would make James 1: The Key will keep the Lock hardly worth seeing.  And I’ve already bought my ticket!  I’m encouraged, though, by the fact that the other two plays seem to be sold out except for the usual day seats while Day of the Innocents has ‘good availability’ so perhaps James II is the weakest of the three.

I must confess that the production used certain techniques I found gimmicky so perhaps it’s no surprise that I found it less impressive than The True Mirror.  The boy king, for example, is shown as a puppet while his adult counterpart (Andrew Rothney) looks on; his manipulation by powerful factions is suggested by the puppet (and sometimes Rothney himself) being made to hide in a chest for his own safety; the effect of traumatic events in his childhood (which apparently caused him to have disturbing dreams throughout his life) is underlined by repeating an entire scene in which his nurse is desperately trying to find the lost boy.  In a rather slight narrative this kind of imagery makes the words ‘laying’, 'on' and ‘trowel’ spring to my mind and, to top it all, the boy king who never really grows up marries a woman played by the same actor who played his mother a few minutes earlier!  In fact the real shame is that this gimmick detracts from superb performances by Stephanie Hyam as both Joan and Mary.  Also good is Blythe Duff as embittered prisoner Isabella Stewart.  Ms Duff appears as Annabella, James II’s sister, in The True Mirror.  Annabella is played by Rona Morrison in Day of the Innocents.  Confused?  Don’t worry, I wasn’t; so you almost certainly won’t be should you see the plays.

As with The True Mirror, I had little knowledge of the facts on which the play is based but it still seemed to me that Rona Munro concentrated rather too much on the relationship between the king and his boyhood friend William Douglas (Mark Rowley).  It’s true that the Douglas family’s relationship with the crown was problematic, what with several of the Douglases being killed early on and with William’s father Balvenie (who I always thought was a whisky) being a particularly manipulative schemer; and it’s also true that James’s relationship with William – and its tragic outcome – was a prominent feature of the king’s reign; but I couldn’t help feeling that the play concentrated on this at the cost of unbalancing the narrative.  Furthermore, from my brief reading about the historical James II I got a rather different perspective from the one Munro seems to present. Still, as the James plays have been compared to Shakespeare’s histories perhaps Munro feels entitled to have the characters do whatever suits her purpose just as the bard did.

The above reservations notwithstanding, I don’t suppose too many of the people who filled the Olivier (I saw so few empty seats that it’s likely yesterday’s matinee was sold out) will actually have disliked Day of the Innocents; and I’m still looking forward to The Key will keep the Lock.

Despite the fact that I found Pitcairn by some way the least impressive of the six Richard Bean plays I’ve seen I still, just, contrived to enjoy it.  I’m really not sure whether that’s a tribute to Bean or just a consequence of my being predisposed to like a piece by an author whose other works I’ve enjoyed immensely.  I certainly, on reflection, find I have a lot more negative things to say than positive. On the credit side, Pitcairn is frequently amusing – always a plus – and occasionally thought-provoking (though I never really thought it had anything truly original to say).  The acting was pretty decent, though a lot of it – even more than in most of the classics I’ve seen here – is in the Globe tradition of interaction with the groundlings which, while amusing, seldom seems to me to give the players a chance to show off their acting skills.  Special mention, though, must still go to the two characters  - Hiti (Eben Figuereido) and Mata (Cassie Layton)  – given the job of moving the narrative along.  The young man fills in the historical background to the various scenes (or ‘history days ‘ as he calls them) while the young woman gives us sociological background from the point of view of the Polynesians that Fletcher Christian and co. basically kidnapped to use in their attempt to set up a new life on Pitcairn.  The revolutionary/utopian sentiments of the Europeans are also prominent but these are covered more in dialogue than by addressing the audience.  The set, by contrast, in a departure from Globe tradition, has some rather obstructive rocks stage right and I’m not sure I’d have been happy had I paid for an expensive seat with them in my sightline.  The real problem, though, is that for all its amusement value Pitcairn doesn’t really work as an integral drama.  Where Great Britain and, to a lesser extent, OM2G effortlessly incorporated serious issues into broad comedy and The Big Fellah and The Heretic wove everyday humour into essentially serious dramas Pitcairn just seems to be neither fish nor fowl.  The sense that the humour never really took off as in OM2G and GB might be down to my own personal tastes but I didn’t get the impression the rest of the audience was in stitches either.  More problematic, though, was that things like rapes and beheadings didn’t really strike home.  These were clearly meant to be taken seriously but I got the strong impression that the audience was just wanting to get on to the next part of the story.  This was not an impression I got in ,say, the torture scene in The Big Fellah.  At times I wondered if some aspects of the production had been sanitised for various reasons.  The severed heads, for example, were not Salome style prostheses but scalps such as one might see in an old Western movie. 

To sum up, I just about managed to have a good time but my devotion to Richard Bean has now diminished so that I no longer feel obliged to see Made in Dagenham for fear of missing something.  Pitcairn is now going on the road  - indeed the removal trucks were outside the Globe as we filed out – so you might catch it if you’re near Plymouth, Coventry, Guildford, Eastbourne, Oxford or Malvern on the relevant dates:

Radio / Re:Alan Bennett's 'Denmark Hill'R4
« on: October 08, 2014, 10:39:22 pm »
I just managed to catch this on the i-player before I went abroad.  I sort of agree with both of you - it's not Bennett's best work but it had its moments.  I'd listen to it again if it was repeated.

Theatre / Re: Coming up....
« on: October 08, 2014, 10:35:17 pm »
Anthony Sher as Willy Loman looks like one for the diary.  Booking opens on 22 Oct for performances in March-May so I’ll be checking how quickly the tickets are going.  Arranging a trip to Stratford could be difficult.  I wonder if it will transfer to London;

After a superb Hobson’s Choice, director David Thacker’s take on Hindle Wakes in Feb/March in Bolton makes great appeal.  It’s listed as an Octagon/Coliseum production but I can’t see any dates for Oldham.

Here’s a strange one:  Brian Blessed in King Lear in a Guildford Church for a very short run in Jan/Feb:

I wonder if it will be possible to get tickets for that.  I bought the DVD of his film of this play in Poundland and it’s not all bad!  I could be tempted by this as I'm in Surrey during the run.  The fact that his daughter is playing Goneril is interesting if nothing else.

Theatre / Re: Juno and the Paycock - Liverpool Playhouse
« on: October 02, 2014, 02:38:20 pm »
The Playhouse’s Juno is very good – and having now seen both Sinead and Niamh Cusack as Mrs Doyle

Should be Mrs Boyle, of course; but it would be a shame to edit one of my better Freudian slips.

Theatre / Juno and the Paycock - Liverpool Playhouse
« on: October 02, 2014, 12:00:35 am »
The Playhouse’s Juno is very good – and having now seen both Sinead and Niamh Cusack as Mrs Doyle I wouldn’t want to choose between them. Niamh is a trifle less abrasive with a tad more good humour in her battles with the Captain than her sister but both portraits worked wonderfully well for me.  The Playhouse scores over the NT by not using a vast space to represent a Dublin tenement dwelling.  Not only is the stage much smaller than the Lyttelton’s but the family were crammed into the front of the stage with the rear taken up with a mountain of furniture (including an upright piano!) presumably symbolising both overcrowding and the shadow of the pawnbrokers and repossession agents.  Members of the ensemble were often to be seen – and heard playing various instruments – perched precariously on this mound. 

Performances were very strong – especially from Cusack and from Aoife McMahon as a an irrepressible Maisy Madigan.  Donal Gallery and Louis Dempsey as the knockabout, almost vaudevillian, Captain and Joxer were also very fine.  In fact, there wasn’t a weak performance in sight.  I did, however, dislike the decision to present Charles Bentham (Robin Morrissey) as a figure straight out of PG Wodehouse.  I also wondered whether there had been some cuts as I seem to remember the development of the relationship between Bentham and Mary Doyle (Maureen O’Connell)  being more fully fleshed out (but I haven’t time to study the text right now to check this out).  On the plus side, I thought having Morrissey double as one of the men repossessing the Doyles' furniture was quite neat.  I also thought the musical interludes (other than those in the text, of course) rather de trop but they did no real harm.  Those quibbles aside, though, this is a very moving production of a play that grows on me every time I see it.  The piece comes very close to melodrama but its flirtation with cheap sentimentality without ever becoming tainted marks it out, for me at least, as a work of genius. 

Apologies for a report that's a bit briefer and more hurried than the production deserves; but I'm off on holiday early in the morning.  This is very highly recommended – and you can risk a preview if you can get a ticket because any rough edges have clearly been smoothed over in Bristol.    Runs until 18 Oct.

Theatre / Re: Electra - Old Vic, London
« on: September 29, 2014, 09:36:48 pm »

KST is on this evening’s Front Row talking about this production and being very frank about her disenchantment with screen work.  I get the impression she doesn’t much care whether or not she gets offered another cinema/TV role - though, of course, she has the luxury of knowing the offers will almost certainly keep coming in!

Theatre / Re: Hamlet - Royal Exchange, Manchester
« on: September 28, 2014, 12:31:03 pm »
Maxine Peake discusses this production on R4 at 1330 today:

Theatre / Ghosts - Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold
« on: September 28, 2014, 12:24:12 pm »
Unlikely though it is that many R3OK readers can easily get to Mold, this production is worth a mention.  It cannot, to be honest, be judged in same category as the recent Richard Eyre Almeida production but that would be too much to expect.  It does, however, follow that production in presenting the drama without an interval; making me wonder, optimistically, if that is now going to be the norm.  The set was also, like the Almeida’s, quite simple, though not much (apart from weather) happened immediately behind the translucent screen at the rear of the stage.  Both the orphanage fire and the Gengangere of Mrs Alving’s forebodings are shown by illuminating the back of the stage – which at first appears, like the other walls, to be marble (odd choice, or did I misinterpret it?) but becomes see-through at various points.  It would be unfair, too, to judge Sian Howard’s Helen Alving by comparison with Lesley Manville’s brilliant performance;  but Ms Howard was very good.  More striking, though, was Llion Williams as Jakob Engstrand.   Looking rather like Rupert Rigsby and with an air of duplicity approaching that of Uriah Heep, Williams conveyed the comic and the sinister aspects of the character, as well as the pathos of his situation, without ever seeming a caricature.  I wish the same could be said about Simon Dutton’s Pastor Manders which was, for me, the only truly disappointing performance.  The cleric’s pompousness, hypocrisy and cowardice – along with his underlying frailty – are conveyed, but at the expense of Dutton coming across as more than a little hammy.  He also delivered his lines too quickly – to the point where they were, at times, incomprehensible – but yesterday was still a preview so we can hope somebody will have noted this and steps will be taken to rectify it.  The two young people were pretty decent, though I thought Michelle Luther’s Regina a bit timid compared with some portrayals I have seen – and her French phrases were delivered almost sotto voce; which rather spoiled little touches such as Engstrand thinking pied de mouton was English.  On the plus side, though, I preferred that to Richard Eyre’s decision to over-emphasise the French – to the extent of writing some of it himself!  Owain Gwynn as Osvald was suitably low key until his dreadful attack – which he brought off movingly.  I don’t think there’s much else a director can do with this character, who is essentially little more than a plot device; the sins of the past made carnate.  The biggest star, though, is still the author.  Ghosts is a shocking, moving, intense tour de force after more than 130 years and any decent production is, like this one, worth seeing.  Until 18 Oct.

Theatre / Re: James III: The True Mirror - Olivier Theatre
« on: September 26, 2014, 03:21:03 pm »
I’m not muddling him up with anyone, Don B, though it’s possible, indeed almost inevitable, that Ms Munro has embroidered the story.  I’m sure if you look into the background of the play you will find the usual stuff about multiple historical personages being represented by single characters etc etc.  You’ll also note I referred to ‘dalliances’ and 'flings' – ‘relationships’ would be putting it a bit strongly.  Be that as it may, and historically undocumented as it might be, the character chasing after the laundry maid and getting intimate with at least one of his male courtiers is definitely James III.

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