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Messages - HtoHe

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Cinema / Re: Doris Day (don't worry, not an RIP!)
« on: September 22, 2015, 02:20:07 pm »
Do you remember her before she was a virgin, Stanley?

Radio / GBS rarity on R4Extra - and just look at the write-up
« on: September 22, 2015, 02:07:47 pm »

For Pete's sake:

Written in 1909, Shaw pokes fun at the suffragettes' British campaign for votes for women

I don't know this piece at all well but if it's the one I remember he surely pokes fun at everything but the suffragettes.  The politicians, the military and the women's anti-suffrage movement are mercilessly parodied. I shall listen again but will be amazed if Shaw (a member of the Men's League for Women's Suffrage) mocks the campaign for votes.

Cinema / Re: Doris Day (don't worry, not an RIP!)
« on: September 22, 2015, 01:57:59 pm »
Off at a slight tangent but I noticed that my step-mother's care home has arranged, to go with the coffee mornings and bingo evenings, a 'Doris Day Afternoon'.  I couldn't help thinking there was a Sidney Lumet/Al Pacino fan having a sly smile when that one was put on the agenda.

Theatre / Re: Coming up....
« on: September 21, 2015, 01:39:26 pm »
I don't intend to miss the forthcoming production of The Homecoming - even if the casting looks very odd.  I trust Ron Cook as Max; but Keith Allen, Gary Kemp and Gemma Chan?  Let's just say I'm looking forward to having my fears proved groundless!

Television / Re: The Go Between - BBC 20th September
« on: September 21, 2015, 01:32:24 pm »
Well, don't forget:

1 Stanley loved it, so there's a contrary opinion to consider

2 I gave up very early.  When I told a friend he said he'd watch his recording with a text to hand as well - and joked that it might revert to a completely faithful reading after the moment at which I gave up!  I just got really frustrated wondering what was so wrong with Priestley's dialogue that made them want to re-write it.  I actually got the text out in case my memory was faulty.  It might not bother some people as long as the 'plot' turns out more or less the same; but the sheer pointlessness of it offends me. 

Television / Re: The Go Between - BBC 20th September
« on: September 20, 2015, 09:25:54 pm »
However, if it is of the same quality as the start of the new season, last night, an adaptation of JB Priestley's "An Inspector Calls", - gripping and compulsive viewing - then perhaps the promised rejuvenation of TV drama by the Hall regime may now be under-way!  Optimism the key factor.   :)

I gave up on An Inspector Calls after five minutes.  I missed the broadcast and was really looking forward to catching up on the i-player but after weathering the interminable establishing shots and ghastly background music before the drama proper began I quickly realised that this wasn't Priestley's play at all - somebody had decided his dialogue wasn't good enough and had re-written the early lines.  After reading about what they'd done to Lady Chatterley's Lover the previous week (apparently they concluded Lawrence didn't really mean all that sex and vulgar language) I decided to skip the rest.  I didn't mind missing Lady Luvverly's Chatter as I've never really been a fan and, anyway, the Lawrence is a novel that had to be dramatised (not something that usually appeals to me); but An Inspector Calls is a riveting drama and I was looking forward to seeing what Ken Stott, Miranda Richardson etc made of the play and not how some self-indulgent hack thought they could improve on Priestley's text.  I hope you enjoy The Go-Between but I'll be skipping that, too. 

News and Current Affairs / Re: Brian Sewell (1931-2015)
« on: September 19, 2015, 06:54:11 pm »


Interesting writer.  I didn't often agree with him but he certainly gave the impression of knowing what he was talking about - unlike some of the people who pass for critics these days!  He was Peter Warlock's son, wasn't he?  No mention of that in the BBC obit.


Theatre / Re: The Beaux' Stratagem - Olivier Theatre
« on: September 18, 2015, 01:04:46 pm »
His song and dance routine was brilliant.

Yes, I forgot to mention the music; which was good but a bit 'semi-detached'.  People who enjoy Musicals will, I expect, find this element an bonus.

The Coffee Bar / Re: Grumpy Old Rant Room
« on: September 18, 2015, 12:59:19 pm »
Virgin Media (unlike Virgin Rail which I've always found surprisingly reasonable) are pretty awful.  To mention just the most flagrant (though perhaps not the most serious) of their failings, their customer service department is almost impossible to contact - indeed it's extremely difficult to get through to anyone without navigating through an extremely complex automatic routing system.  The irony of a communications company being so hard to, ahem, communicate with is something I've raised with them many times but it doesn't seem to register.  I'd have migrated a long time ago because of the way they keep putting the bills up but, as my employer pays all but my actual line rental, it's not really my call.  Ironically, one of my main peeves about Virgin is that they give all sorts of special deals to new customers while loyal ones have to accept frequent price hikes or leave.  It's a pity your new provider didn't offer 'introductory' deals so that, at least, someone I 'know' could get some benefit from this insidious practice.  But you seem to be suggesting that leaving Virgin doesn't even have that consolation.

Theatre / The Beaux' Stratagem - Olivier Theatre
« on: September 18, 2015, 09:22:09 am »
I’m afraid this report might be of little use as the run finishes on Sunday but at least anyone deciding to go to one of the last few performances should have little trouble getting a ticket.  At last Sunday’s matinee there were lots of empty seats with the back of the circle looking almost empty.

I won’t deny that I enjoyed this but came out with the strange feeling that I should have enjoyed it more.  It was the kind of production that seemed to be comfortably warm throughout but never to be set alight. Unusually the set, while clever and functional, is rather static for the Olivier.  The frequent moves between the inn and Lady Bountiful’s house are achieved by changing a few panels and moving the furniture rather than using the revolve or one of the other more technically impressive options. 

The acting is commendably competent but, again, doesn’t really shine.  Indeed it could be said that there is something a bit odd about a production in which the most striking performance comes from Pearce Quigley as Scrub and that the most striking thing about his approach is that he is deliberately and conspicuously projecting a character that seems to come from quite another society.  His laconic, sardonic deference operates almost as an offensive weapon against masters he clearly despises and fellow menials to whom he obviously feels superior.  He is quite the funniest aspect of the production – which is, I suspect, not quite how it’s supposed to go.  Samuel Barnett and Geoffrey Streatfield as Aimwell and Archer are amusing enough but the biggest laugh we got from them was clearly an error covered by extemporisation (one throws a sword to another crying ‘shall we kill them’ but misses his aim and nearly hits him; at which the other, quick as you like, quips ‘them, not me!).  Susannah Fielding and Pippa Bennett-Warner as Mrs Sullen and Dorinda were charming but I couldn’t help feeling they could have been more assertive.  Likewise, many of the others came across as one dimensional stock characters: the wily landlord Boniface (Lloyd Hutchinson), the drunken wastrel Sullen (Richard Henders), the menacing highwayman Gibbet (Chook Sibtain) and several more. 

One consolation of the rather slow burning quality of the comedy is that the remarkably forward-looking message of this play wasn’t buried.  Farquhar’s assault on the iniquities of marriage, especially as it impinged on the financial position of women, must have been revolutionary in its time; and, what’s more, he concocts a divorce settlement that, while it would look pretty reasonable to us must have been a wild fantasy in the days when divorce could only be sought through an act of parliament.  Remarkable stuff which is, to employ a cliché, worth the ticket price just for the satisfaction of seeing how he works it out.

Until 20 Sep

Theatre / Oresteia - Trafalgar Studios 1 (from Almeida)
« on: September 14, 2015, 10:47:00 am »
Don Basilio mentions this production on the thread dealing with the one at Shakespeare’s Globe.  While being mainly complimentary, Don B informs us that Robert Icke’s piece is ‘not Aeschylus’ and, having now seen it, I can definitely say he’s not wrong.  In my opinion he’s so far from wrong that I question whether it’s honest to describe it as Aeschylus adapted by Icke.  The description 'Robert Icke (after Aeschylus)' might be a bit mealy-mouthed but it would, I think, be more accurate.

Don B tells us that, in this production, Electra is deemed not to have existed – to have been a figment of Orestes’s imagination: which, considering how much she interacts with the other characters, stretches credibility to the limits.  The revelation comes rather late in the play via the character of the Doctor* (presumably a figment of Icke’s imagination) who is, it seems, an employee of the state involved in the assessment of Orestes prior to his trial.

The Doctor is not the only character in the piece who is not present in traditional productions.  In the early scenes there are quite a few appearances of Menelaus; who has a fair bit to say but somehow never seems to mention his wife, Clytemnestra’s sister, or the original reason/pretext for the war.  It was roughly at this point that I began to think the piece wasn’t just unfaithful to the original but also implausible in its own right.  The pretext for the sacrifice of Iphigenia was swallowed more or less whole even though the production was in modern dress with Agamemnon an elected politician and Clytemnestra his dutiful spouse doing photo-ops, magazine interviews and everything.  The idea that such a leader would even consider sacrificing his daughter for the promise of a fair wind is quite ludicrous.  Certainly I find it far easier to believe that a modern PM would deploy an army if, say, the Duchess of Cambridge had been kidnapped than ritually sacrifice a child on the strength of a glorified horoscope.

A more prominent addition than Menelaus, though, is Iphigenia herself.  Indeed, it is arguable that Ag & Cly’s younger daughter , and not Orestes, is the central character of the piece.  Much of the early action deals with the home life of Argos’s first family and it is that beloved younger daughter who attracts attention – especially when she sings her party piece: the Beach Boys’ haunting God Only Knows.  I couldn’t help thinking that this was a significant choice as it was just about the only mention of god(s) – who, of course, feature prominently in a traditional telling.  Here we have no Apollo, the Furies are represented by one old woman (the same actor as the family servant) who repeats ‘there is a death outstanding’ frequently and (unless I missed the reference) the presiding judge at the trial is not identified as Athena.  There are other oblique references to the myth: for example when Iphigenia expresses concern at being given venison for dinner Clytemnestra explains ‘if we could ask the deer I’m sure it would be happy to die so we can eat’.  This (surely deliberately) puts one in mind of the alternative version of the myth where Artemis substitutes a deer for Ipheginia at the last minute.

The comments above might make Icke’s piece sound interesting – and indeed it is – but they also prompt the question: how much would this really mean to someone unfamiliar with the story?  Would it be captivating – or even credible – without the name of Aeschylus (who, let’s face it, wrote a substantially different drama under this name) on the title page to add authority?  For me it never quite works - possibly because it seems to be attempting a feminist re-working but is unable to overcome the obstacles to such an interpretation.  Icke manages to soften the character of Clytemnestra in that the terrifying ghost of the final play never appears (Williams comes back as prosecuting counsel at the trial) but the gods have to be written out completely (presumably because of the inconvenient fact that it is Artemis who demands the sacrifice of Iphigenia and Athena who ultimately acquits Orestes.)  In the end, even then Icke can't change that verdict because the alternative is that Orestes settles the account by being ordered to kill himself - which would come close to validating the sick judgement of those spouses (usually men) who punish the partner by killing the children and then themselves.

There are far more deviations than the ones mentioned above but, wary of spoiling the experience for future audiences, I shan’t list any more.  Classical comparisons aside , what makes this production worth seeing is the slick staging, which will appeal to a certain kind of theatregoer, and some very strong performances, which should appeal to most.  Lia Williams is tremendous and, apart from anything else, is a certainty to get ‘most blood-curdling scream’ should The Oliviers introduce such an award.  She is ably supported by Angus Wright as Agamemnon, Jessica Brown-Findlay as Electra and the rest of the cast: including the children playing the young Orestes and Iphigenia (who, as my neighbour said, must have needed some shielding to avoid being emotionally scarred by the experience).

Runs until Nov 7 and, if Saturday's matinee is any guide, tickets are surprisingly easy to come by:

*as the programme seemingly contains no character list I only know this character was ‘The Doctor’ because the original actor fell ill at the interval and we were told that The Doctor would be played by an understudy for the rest of the performance.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thinking ‘can’t we have Tom Baker’.

After refusing to pay the iniquitous ‘administration fee’ in Crewe a while ago I caught London Classic Theatre’s Absent Friends in Shrewsbury (where the ticket prices were pretty much the same but were honestly stated).  I like the way this hard working company takes its productions to local theatres and admire the resilience in the face of what must sometimes be disappointingly small audiences (Saturday’s matinee was watched by, at a liberal estimate, 120 people).  Absent Friends was, it must be said, probably the least impressive of the four productions I’ve seen but I’d still give it a qualified recommendation if it comes near to you.

As with Betrayal, LCT were doing a play that I’d last seen at the Harold Pinter theatre but I thought the contrast between the two productions was starker here than with Betrayal.  Perhaps I’m being a bit unfair because I can still see Kara Tointon as Evelyn and Kathryn Ritchie just didn’t capture that character’s studied insolence anywhere near as well.  In another direct comparison I couldn’t help thinking Susie Emmell as Marge was channelling Alison Steadman’s Beverly from Abigail’s Party whereas Elizabeth Berrington in London gave Marge more of a character of her own.

I ended up musing on whether it might be an easier task for a competent company just below the highest level to put on a major work such as Equus, The Importance of Being Earnest or Betrayal than to get the best out of a well-constructed comedy that, without wishing to be rude to Ayckbourn, is unlikely to become a timeless classic.

The above reservations aside, there is a lot to like about the production.  The set is uncluttered without being oversimplified; the period detail looked accurate; and the performances are competent where they are not very good – with Kevin Drury’s Paul being in the latter category.  The piece itself is very entertaining even if it’s not in the same class as, say, The Norman Conquests.  Historically it might be important on the grounds that (as I observed in my report on the London production) it pre-dates works like Abigail’s Party and the programme notes attempt to claim it as a very early model for the ‘cringe’ school of situation comedy that still holds sway on TV.  I’m no historian but there’s no disputing the fact that the 1974 premiere took place over a year before the first episode of Fawlty Towers was shown on TV.

The Shrewsbury run is finished but the tour continues until 21 November:

and note that LCT has Godot on the road at the same time.  A report will follow – probably of the Oldham visit – but here is the itinerary:

Theatre / Re: The Oresteia- Shakespeare's Globe
« on: September 04, 2015, 12:40:45 pm »
Thanks, Don B.  I might yet see this at the Trafalgar - more or less anything with Lia Williams appeals - but you're not the only person to suggest that the departure from Aeschylus is significant.  In the groundling queue the other day I heard that this production includes flashbacks to the sacrifice of Iphigenia - an event that's only mentioned in the original.  And the fact that they are advertising it as 'Part The Godfather, part Breaking Bad' might be encouraging to some but prompts caution in me.  I might break my habit of not reading reviews in advance before I make my final decision.  At the Globe I thought that Clytemnestra, despite Katy Stephens's very fine acting, was ill-served; and from what you say it seems the Almeida production goes to the other extreme.

Theatre / The Oresteia- Shakespeare's Globe
« on: September 03, 2015, 09:29:07 pm »
The Oresteia seems to be doing an imitation of the number 9 bus at the moment.  Having missed Lia Williams at the Almeida (might still catch her Clytemnestra at Trafalgar Studios) and with the Ted Hughes translation coming to Manchester soon I caught Rory Mullarkey’s condensed treatment (still close to 3 hours) at Shakespeare’s Globe yesterday. 

The production was a deliberate mixture of traditional and more modern with some characters appearing in classical garb and others dressed more like present day city workers and the Globe’s stage backed with graffiti-smeared plywood rather than either the usual Jacobean backdrop or monumental stone.  This led to the odd anomaly – such as the queen telling men in suits and ties that she knew of the fall of Troy because the beacon had been lit to signify the event; but it aided the text in drawing parallels between the story told by Aeschylus and events in present-day Greece/Europe/The World.

Mullarkey and (director) Adele Thomas certainly take a view as regards characterisation.  Clytemnestra – superbly played by Katy Stephens – is hard to like in Agamemnon, hard to pity in The Libation Bearers and easy to fear in The Furies (the three parts are not actually done as separate plays but there are breaks in the appropriate places).  Her two men are no better:  Agamemnon (George Irving) is a pompous, over-confident git and Aegisthus (Trevor Fox) a slimy coward and bully.  The idea that these people deserve each other is as inescapable as the fate that overtakes them and they all end up – along with poor Cassandra (a very imposing Naana Agyei-Ampedu with a fine singing voice to deliver her prophecies) – as headless limbs on a table; presumably a reminder of Thyestes’s dinner.  Orestes himself (Joel MacCormack) seems an altogether more reasonable person – still bent on bloody revenge but somewhat less jubilant about it and keen to get the approval of the gods Apollo and Athena and even the support of a jury. Electra is very far from the deranged character of Strauss’s opera so maybe that familiar work distorts my view but I found Rosie Hilal’s portrayal disappointingly low key. 

Overall, performances were very strong with the chorus (including Brian Blessed look-alike Dean Nolan – recently Liverpool Everyman’s Nick Bottom) working very hard to keep the audience’s attention firmly held.  The customary live music came courtesy of more modern instruments – including French horn, saxophone and bass clarinet – than usual but worked very well.

I enjoyed this and would recommend it.  If you are unable to get tickets for the Trafalgar’s production or if you’re up for more than one Oresteia I suggest this won’t disappoint. Various dates until 16 October:

Proms / Prom 62: Brahms - OAE, Alsop, Barton, Appl
« on: September 03, 2015, 01:07:12 pm »
This was another of my must-see Proms, mainly because an opportunity to hear the Alto Rhapsody live is not something I pass up lightly.  Jamie Barton didn’t disappoint, her gloriously rich voice reaching effortlessly into the huge space leaving me, for once, in little doubt that she’d be heard clearly right to the furthest crannies of the gallery.  She held a script throughout, though I presume this was just for reassurance as her interpretation suggested she was completely familiar with the words and their meaning.  The angry emphasis on ‘Menschenhass’ contrasted tellingly with the measured delivery of the rest of the poem and was, to me at least, very convincing.  I thought the male chorus was somewhat obscured but that might have been because I was near the front of the Arena and had the soloist closer to me than she was to the choir – with, of course, the orchestra in between.  Overall, though, it was a fine performance by all concerned and probably the best Alto Rhapsody I’ve heard live (though there have only been two or three others!).

The concert opened with a decent enough Academic Festival Overture and continued with a 25 minute piece which I’d never even heard of – Triumphlied, written to celebrate the end of the Franco-Prussian war.  To say it was twice the length of the Alto Rhapsody and half as interesting would be to flatter the piece.  Poor Benjamin Appl had no opportunity to shine like Ms Barton as the solo baritone part is buried in choral pryotechnics a la Handel.  It’s alright but it’s not hard to see why it’s seldom revived; but at least it confirmed my intuitive assumption that flag-waving wasn’t that close to Brahms’s heart.

After the interval came Brahms’s first symphony, which I found curiously underpowered until the blazing last few bars.  These were really rather glorious but sounded almost as if someone had turned the volume up for the last couple of minutes.  I wonder how it (and the chorus in the Alto Rhapsody)  will come across on the i-player.

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