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Messages - HtoHe

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Theatre / Light Shining in Buckinghamshire - Lyttelton Theatre
« on: May 22, 2015, 11:11:26 am »
I don’t read reviews before seeing a production but I was a little concerned on reading some of the publicity (and on seeing the large cast list) that director Lyndsey Turner might mar a fine play with an over-elaborate production.  After seeing it I concluded that, while the sumptuous production doesn’t really add much (Mark Ravenhill’s radio production still trumps all others I’ve seen or heard) it doesn’t do much harm either.  The idea of playing out the different scenes on a stage surrounded on three sides by a dinner table before an ‘audience’ of nobles, in the first part, and sombrely dressed puritans in the second is interesting but, for me, no more than mildly so.  The most striking imagery, I thought, was provided by the mirrored ceiling (showing the world turned upside down?)  and the removal of the floorboards to get at the soil where the Diggers attempted the most radical change of a revolution so far ahead of its time that we’re still waiting for it to be realised!

When Ravenhill’s production was broadcast (and shortly afterwards, when I saw an amateur production at the Cockpit) the timing – in the aftermath of Mubarak’s downfall in Egypt – could hardly have been more striking.  But the theme of disappointment at the outcome of tumultuous events for people who thought they were fighting for real improvements in their condition is timeless.  I’m not giving away too much when I say that the core of the play is a reconstruction of the Putney Debates using, I believe, verbatim transcriptions from the debates themselves; and the dramatic background is provided by vignettes (mostly imaginary) depicting ordinary life in extraordinary times – a woman being persuaded to leave her baby on a richer person’s doorstep to save its life; a man overcome by millennial zeal to the extent of giving all his money to a beggar; and many other acute little snapshots.  The combination of the two elements makes for engrossing drama.  A bit of background reading on the period – the £4 programme provides a decent overview – almost certainly enhances the experience but I suspect that anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of English history can get something from this piece.

The performances are good and, without wishing to slight any of the others, I would pick out Adelle Leonce as the female preacher, Trystan Gravelle as Briggs the working man-turned-soldier-turned-rebel, and Daniel Flynn as an obsequious vicar and an obdurate Oliver Cromwell.  The very large ‘community company’ (read ‘unpaid actors’?) did its job well enough though – again, without wishing to be unkind – I didn’t really see the need for scores of what used to be called ‘extras’.

There weren’t many empty stalls seats for Wednesday’s matinee but there seems to be some availability for most dates at most prices.  Until June 22nd   Recommended.

The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts 2014-5
« on: May 21, 2015, 11:34:23 pm »
Thomas Dausgaard conducted the RLPO in an unusual concert comprising the last 3 Sibelius symphonies.  These were performed in order so, as the conductor himself observes on the website, the fifth, for a change, opened the concert instead of closing it.  This meant giving up the chance to end with a grandiose finale, but it didn’t seem to matter – and the magnificent staccato beats of the fifth still closed the first half.  After the interval came the rarely-programmed sixth – I can’t remember the last time I heard it (if ever?) but I thoroughly enjoyed this performance – and the more familiar seventh.  This last, though not as striking as the fifth, provided its own dramatic material just before the serene ending.  I’m happy to report that 1) the brass didn’t make any notable errors – which could have been disastrous in this programme and 2) the attendance – downstairs at least – was pretty good (much better than the last couple of concerts I’ve seen here) and the applause seemed particularly enthusiastic.

The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts 2014-5
« on: May 21, 2015, 11:33:22 pm »
...Ibragimova, brought back for a third call, gave us an encore that I didn’t recognise but which sounded like a real virtuoso piece and was, I was told, by Eugène Ysaÿe.

The 3rd sonata, perchance??

A-ha... Ibragimova has just released a recording of the Ysaye sonatas.

Thanks, I'll look out for that.

The Coffee Bar / Re: What has made you smile today?
« on: May 21, 2015, 11:48:23 am »
I popped in to Wyndham’s Theatre yesterday to pick up my ticket for The Mentalists. They currently have American Buffalo and are displaying a sign saying: Warning.  This production contains explicit language.  While I feel for them as they try and come up with a more satisfactory alternative to strong language, bad language, adult language etc I don’t think explicit language is an improvement!  Made me smile, though.

Theatre / The Hard Problem - Dorfman Theatre
« on: May 21, 2015, 10:50:18 am »
Tom Stoppard’s latest finishes at the Dorfman on 27 May and I haven’t heard of any plans for a transfer.  I mention that because I saw The Hard Problem and the Lyttelton’s Light Shining in Buckinghamshire in quick succession and couldn’t help thinking that: there are similarities between the two plays (not least of which is the fact that they are both essentially vehicles for the discussion of ideas); and that, if technical considerations were the only ones that mattered, they should have swapped theatres.  The Hard Problem certainly suffers from very frequent and tedious scene changes that surely would be done much more smoothly on one of the bigger stages.  But, while I’m confident the Churchill play would have done fine (perhaps a lot better) in the smaller space, I have reservations about the Stoppard in that a smoother, more expansive presentation might expose certain weaknesses in the piece.

Like LsiB, the Stoppard piece has the discussion of ideas as a priority but whereas Churchill uses a series of very loosely connected episodes against the background of real historical events Stoppard creates a narrative which, for me anyway, is rather weak and characters who, for the most part, are either unbelievable or unlikeable against which to rehearse his discussion of the hard problem of the title: the problem of consciousness and, to oversimplify the matter, whether it has any existence outside its host body.  For me Olivia Vinall fails to meet the very difficult task of making Hilary credible.  She is a high-powered research scientist who kneels down at her bedside to pray every night.  Like her occasional lover, Spike (Damien Molony), I find this implausible and, though Spike is obviously meant to be taken as a coarse, unsympathetic type, I often felt he was letting her off too lightly in his questioning of her beliefs.  I also thought that Anthony Calf’s plutocrat Jerry was more  sympathetic than, perhaps, he was meant to be.  I noticed that his ruthless streak was reserved for the people in the hedge-fund world where he operates and he was able to be quite genial where business wasn’t involved (a metaphor for the dualism being discussed in the play?).  Unfortunately, like a lot of the characters, he was rather sketchily drawn.  This was a shame, really, as there were fine performances from Jonathan Coy, Parth Thakerar and others.

Perhaps the play was a lot deeper than I appreciated but I’m afraid I couldn’t help spotting the shallower aspects of it – which, for me, amounted to almost everything except the discussions which were very interesting even if, unlike, say, the deep discussions in Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen, they really didn’t work as dialogue.  As well as the sketchy characterisation the plot itself was (deliberately?) rather thin.  In particular the revelation at the end was not only extremely predictable but also, to my mind, quite preposterous.

With so much good stuff on at present I can’t really recommend making this a priority but it is mildly diverting if you like your intellectual discussions with a bit of drama attached.

The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts 2014-5
« on: May 13, 2015, 09:23:37 am »
Is there an announcement for this?  I can't see it on the website.

(Shall we have a new thread for next season's concerts?)

I'm sure we will - but I still have four tickets for concerts that, I presume, are still in this season.  When does the new season start?

Theatre / Product - Arcola Theatre
« on: May 10, 2015, 12:33:29 pm »
The names of Mark Ravenhill (I hadn’t previously seen any of his plays on stage) and Olivia Poulet (seen her twice before and been impressed both times) got me out to Dalston on the way home yesterday.  Product is essentially a satirical monologue in which desperate producer Leah (Poulet, impressive yet again) has to pitch a dire film script to a top Hollywood actress (well, ‘top’ as in ‘box office banker').  It’s almost certain Leah knows the script is rubbish – though she might, at a pinch, not care – but she has been told to get an A-lister on board (presumably because it’s too bad for straight-to-dvd and its only hope is to get it associated with someone whose name alone draws audiences).  The pitch is cringeworthy with Leah appealing to the shallowest aspects of what, we must presume, Ravenhill perceives as being the priorities of a certain kind of film star.  The product placement is just right ('Versace are on board'), it’s full of what Frank Zappa might have called deep, meaningful Hollywood symbolism (‘you live in an incredibly plush apartment complex in a building that used to be an abattoir’) the moods are underscored with 'wonderfully sensitive' background music and, because no A-list actress wants to compromise her integrity by using her own body for the sex scenes, ‘you’ll have a body double – we’ve got Beate for those scenes’. 

Looking beyond the peripherals to the script itself, things actually get worse.  The concept and the detail are so dire that it sounds like the sure-fire turkey Max Bialystock was looking for.  The actress is to play a 9/11 widow who falls for a jihadi she meets by accident on a business flight.  As for the details, Ravenhill piles on the mockery.  A couple of examples should suffice.  The heroine, we are told, was on the phone to her husband, Troy, when he tells her he has no choice but to jump from the stricken second tower; and Leah pitches her inner turmoil with gems like ‘and what’s flashing through your mind is the fall of the towers…the fall of Troy’.  And when she decides to spring her lover from Guantanamo she goes into a stint of intensive combat training including a visit to a kung-fu style lamasery. As a bonus, Osama puts in an appearance!  A couple of critics I read today suggested that the piece should have been re-written to take account of bin Laden’s death; but I can’t see the need for this.  Most people will twig that it was written while he was still a sinister fugitive.

All this, natch, leads to a climactic action scene that would make Steven Seagal blush.  And here’s the main problem with this piece.  In satirising a culture that has no real depth Ravenhill ends up, almost inevitably, with a piece that has very little depth.  On the plus side, it is only 50 minutes long and Poulet does brilliantly to keep the audience riveted for every second of that .  I thoroughly enjoyed it but it did, as some critics suggest, come across as more of a master class than a substantive drama. 

Tickets shouldn’t be hard to come by.  The tiny auditorium was only half full for my matinee, which, I thought, must have been very disappointing.  I expect the evenings will be busier as a 50-minute piece will appeal to the time-poor crowd; but in times of austerity I couldn’t help wondering whether people are looking at a per-minute price higher than a medium band opera ticket and deciding they can get better value.  My advice, though, is that £16 is not an excessive ticket price and Poulet’s performance is worth every penny.  Until May 23:

Theatre / Each His Own Wilderness - Orange Tree Theatre
« on: May 10, 2015, 12:54:58 am »
There is a week left for anyone who wants to see this rare revival of a rare Doris Lessing play.  I certainly wouldn’t want to put anyone off seeing it as there is a lot to like about it and the performances are decent enough and, as will become clear from the following report, I would be surprised if there is another revival in the near future.  I should warn that anyone who is particularly sensitive to spoilers might want to avoid reading the report if they plan to see the piece.

In my opinion Each His Own Wilderness gives a few clues as to why Lessing had an illustrious career as a novelist rather than as a playwright.  To judge by this production (and I have read the play and have no issues with the way it was presented here) she doesn’t seem to know whether she wants to be Noel Coward or Arnold Wesker; and she lacks the dramatic skill to blend the different styles convincingly.  A fine example of the Coward wit comes in Act 1 Scene 2 when Myra* (Clare Holman) and Tony (Joel MacCormack) are discussing Myra’s much younger lover:

TONY:… You’ve got Sandy, haven’t you?  Isn’t Sandy kind?

MYRA:  You’re a lot of savages.  The young are a lot of savages.

TONY:  Then why – oh, don’t tell me.  Of course - he’s good in bed. Is that it?

MYRA [smoothly]: Oh, he’s very accomplished.  Very.  He’s so efficient.  My dear, there are times when I feel I should be clapping

All good stuff except that Tony is Myra’s son; which makes the conversation a bit odd.  Even odder, Sandy is the son of Myra’s best friend, Millie (Susannah Harker), who promptly ends up spending the night with Tony.  Isn’t it just a bit, well, weird, even in unconventional circles, for pals to be shagging each other’s offspring.  Or am I displaying the petit bourgeois morality that Myra accuses her son (and virtually the whole of his generation) of espousing?  It certainly doesn’t seem to strike Millie or Myra as in any way remarkable.  While this weirdness takes just a little bit of edge off the comedy, Lessing’s real problem is that she actually isn’t writing a comedy.  She has to get the agitprop in and it just doesn’t go.  The comic stuff works fine.  Myra and ex-lover Philip (John Lightbody) are heirs to Amanda Prynne and Eliot Chase while Myra and Tony are ancestors of Edina and Saffron Monsoon.  I couldn’t help wondering if the author had noticed that the comic stuff had promise while the politics came across as naïve and decided to stick to novels in which ideas could be worked out a greater length.  The Orange Tree takes the political side of the drama at face value – which strikes me as the only honest way to approach the play.  We were treated to rousing music beforehand – L’Internationale (in French & English), The Soviet National Anthem (in English sung by, I’m pretty certain, Paul Robeson) and others; and the playing area was littered with old Penguin Specials, posters, pamphlets and a copy of The Grass is Singing (not sure I liked this – seems a bit incestuous – but at least it wasn’t The Golden Notebook – which would have been anachronistic to boot).  The playing space at the Orange Tree is pretty small so, having greedily booked myself a front row seat in the stalls, I can now advise that you might well get a better perspective from upstairs. 

Worth seeing for the curiosity/rarity value alone.  Seats are pretty inexpensive at £20 full price and the theatre is two minutes walk from Richmond station which has excellent rail and tube connections.

*For Myra Arundel?  I know Myra would have been more common before Hindley’s atrocities but it was still quite unusual, wasn’t it?  Another coincidence that struck me was that Milly and Sandy’s surname was Boles.  I surely can’t have been the only person playing about with those forenames!

The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts 2014-5
« on: May 08, 2015, 12:17:30 am »
I don't have the best musical memory but I'm pretty confident that was it.  Thanks, Jim.  I don't want to belittle Ibragimova's fine rendition, but that clip of the Vengerov performance sounded wonderful.

The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts 2014-5
« on: May 07, 2015, 11:42:26 pm »
Tonight’s concert could have been planned with me in mind – a world premiere followed by one of the great romantic concerti and ending with my favourite symphony.  Dima Slobodeniouk was on the podium and opened with Graham Fitkin’s new concerto for orchestra Intimate Curve.  This was a pleasant piece though one has to question how much room there is for more pieces of this type.  It opened with busy, growling sounds vaguely redolent of the opening bars of Die Walküre, progressed to a jazz tinged section and on to a lively ending with delicately managed percussion.  All, as I say, very pleasant but I found myself wishing for the near impossible – eg for the central section to swing in a way that most symphony orchestras don’t seem able to manage.  It went down well, though and Fitkin limped at great speed down the aisle with one leg in calipers then, scorning the steps, made straight for the centre of the stage and vaulted on to the platform to take his applause!

Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto followed, with Alina Ibragimova as soloist and the orchestra compressed into the centre of the platform leaving large areas of empty space on the left hand side in particular.  This seemed to have the effect of accentuating the explosive parts of the piece at the expense of the more expansive melodies but it was good to listen to.  Ibragimova, brought back for a third call, gave us an encore that I didn’t recognise but which sounded like a real virtuoso piece and was, I was told, by Eugène Ysaÿe.  I understand he also wrote a cadenza for the Tchaikovsky concerto but I’ll leave it to more knowledgeable board members who might have been there tonight or plan to go on Sunday*  to confirm that this was the cadenza played by Ibragimova.

After the interval came Beethoven’s seventh symphony.  Majestic, magnificent, exhilarating.  I’ve heard it done better; but it seldom disappoints and certainly didn’t do so here.  Fine evening.

*when Fitkin’s piece is replaced by Sibelius’s En Saga.

The Coffee Bar / Re: The Minor Moan thread
« on: May 06, 2015, 09:57:33 pm »
The BBC website gets worse and worse.  It now seems almost more usual for them to omit cast and crew lists for plays, operas etc than to publish them.  Sunday's broadcast of The Lady from the Sea is a particularly striking example:

Under 'Credits' they list only two cast members and one of them is wrong - Hugh Bonneville was Dr Wangel, not The Stranger (who was played by Christopher Obi).  Obi, like Katherine Parkinson (Bolette), Ellie Kendrick (Hilda) and several others, gets no credit for a fine performance.  This really isn't good enough.  How hard would it be to list at least the full cast even if they can't credit all the behind-the-scenes crew?

On a more positive note, you have (assuming the website has got it right!) 27 days to listen to this - and it's well worth the trouble.

Radio / Re: RE: Antony Sher/Free Thinking, R3 TONIGHT
« on: May 06, 2015, 09:42:33 pm »
Thanks Stanley – just in time to divert me away from Clare in the Community on R4Ex.  This looks very promising.  I didn’t see his Falstaff (and I’m a bit dubious about his forthcoming Lear) but his Willy Loman was very moving and I’m looking forward to getting some background and inside information about a performance I enjoyed very much.

The Coffee Bar / Re: The Cat Basket
« on: May 05, 2015, 03:28:47 pm »
You have my sympathy, Bachtoven.  I've lost count of the number of sites I've given up on because the things we're expected to recognise and reproduce resemble a two-year-old's scrawl.  I hope ours are not bad enough to drive you away.  For what it's worth, Mort isn't joking about the spam.  It was quite depressing for a while, so something had to be done about it.

Broadcast and Recorded Music / Re: Now spinning ...
« on: May 04, 2015, 08:08:59 pm »
Keith Tippett – Mujician III (august air).  Oldham Oxfam seems to be a reliable source of unusual goodies.  OK, most Oxfam shops have unusual stuff but it’s not often any good – generally things like the less well-known efforts of one-hit-wonder pop groups.  In Oldham I’ve often found stuff that’s certainly not well-known but is worth knowing.  Last time I got stuff like Bantock’s Omar Khayyam, Benjamin’s Antara and a disc of works by Paul Dessau; and I’ve had very decent stuff there before that as well.  On Saturday, as well as the Tippett, I got Pharoah Sanders Live (LA 1991) and Ornette Coleman Quartet Live in Milano 1968.  This is not the kind of stuff I know well enough to collect but it’s usually quite interesting. And a quick look online suggests I wouldn’t have collected any of these three for the £1.99 a disc that Oxfam were asking.  If you’re ever passing through Oldham and only have time to look in one shop, this would be the one.  Not bad for books, either.

The Coffee Bar / Re: What has made you smile today?
« on: May 04, 2015, 05:13:26 pm »
I’ve just been told that my niece posted on her Facebook page yesterday morning:

Today’s headlines:  two blokes had a fight, some woman had a baby – just a normal Saturday night for Birkenhead then.

Made me laugh, anyway.

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