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Messages - HtoHe

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Theatre / Re: Cleansed - Dorfman Theatre
« on: March 29, 2016, 10:20:55 am »
I couldn't get to 4.48 Psychosis in Sheffield and I'm reluctant to see it as an opera before seeing it as a play - in much the same way as I'm reluctant to see Phaedra's Love in French in the Barbican's portmanteau production before I get to see a more 'conventional' production.  It's certainly interesting to know of these developments, though; and I shall look out for any reviews.

Theatre / The Truth - Menier Chocolate Factory
« on: March 29, 2016, 12:12:17 am »
The success of The Father has prompted the production in London of a third piece by Florian Zeller, again translated by Christopher Hampton.  Knowing that The Mother was an earlier play than The Father I had rather assumed that the plays were appearing in reverse order of writing but a quick check shows the latest production was written between the other two (although Hampton’s copyright for The Truth is a year later than for the others). 

While it’s unfair to be very critical of the play, The Truth (subtitled The Advantages of Concealing it, the Drawbacks to Revealing it) lacks the dazzling originality and insight of the other two.  Indeed it is quite clearly derivative – it’s pretty much Pinter’s Betrayal played as farce – and the fact that, as I quickly discovered on reading a couple of reviews, Zeller acknowledges his debt to the Englishman only partly gets him off the hook.  So much for the negatives, which are heavily outweighed by the positives.  If my view that the play is no masterpiece turns out to be justified it is still quite possibly the best modern comedy I’ve seen for a while.  The pace is beautifully judged, the dialogue hits home time after time and the way the playwright toys with our loyalties and our moral judgement is exquisite.  Just as in Betrayal we are almost left feeling that a selfish cad is the most wronged of all the characters.  The performances from Tanya Franks, Alexander Hanson, Frances O’Connor and Robert Portal* are very fine and the staging is simple but slick, making use of sliding panels to effect scene changes without seriously disrupting the action.  The fashion for 90 minute interval-free presentation is put to good use again; though we had two people who seemed unable to last the course at the performance I saw – probably more weak bladders than boredom, given that they left in the last 15 minutes.

The Truth runs until 7 May and is selling well, though tickets are still available for most dates.  The staff told me that discussions are taking place re a West End transfer**.  I’d say catching it at the Menier is probably best but bigger houses might have more cheap seats and special offers and I don’t think this play will lose quite so much in a less intimate setting as The Father or The Mother.

*The text (at £7.50 far better value than the rather flimsy £4 programme) lists Franks as Alice and O’Connor as Laurence but I can assure you it was the other way round when I saw it.  Another Pinteresque touch – or just a listing error?

**I'm rather surprised that The Mother hasn't yet found a central London stage.  It sold out the Tricycle effortlessly so I can only surmise that they couldn't keep the cast together for a transfer.

The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts, 2015-16
« on: March 24, 2016, 03:54:02 pm »
I was sorry to have missed this.  I was hoping I might just get there on time but a change in hospital visiting hours now means that if I'm on visiting duty the chances of getting to town for 1930 have gone from touch and go to out of the question.

Theatre / Re: Down the Dock Road - Royal Court, Liverpool
« on: March 24, 2016, 03:51:28 pm »
My understanding was that the show started on Irish radio and that the stage version went from The Neptune to the Royal Court and on to the Empire.  That's as far as Liverpool goes.  I don't know if the Neptune was home to the first stage version anywhere.  I'm afraid Mrs Brown's Boys would be the kind of thing I'd avoid on stage because of the audience tendency to roar with laughter at every scatological reference, causing you to miss any truly witty lines that might be spoken just afterwards.  I don't think I'd bother with a stage show even of TV comedies I really like.  What I've seen of MBB has been patchy, though there have been a few very funny bits.  I particularly liked a scene where Mrs B was preparing for a date and her daughters warned her "things have changed a bit since your time.  Men these days expect you to perform fellatio on a first date" to which she replied "Me, sing opera?  He's more chance of a blow job"

Theatre / Re: Down the Dock Road - Royal Court, Liverpool
« on: March 23, 2016, 09:06:03 am »
I am sure that the Royal Court offered this sort of local fare long before Mrs Brown's  Boys came on the scene

It also varies the diet now and then.  I nearly went to see Noises Off there a while ago but was put off by the fact that dining in the auditorium seems to be a feature of every production and that kind of thing is a very big negative factor for me.  I've never seen Bleasdale's work on stage.  It might be interesting, but works like The Boys from The Blackstuff and GBH seem to be TV through and through.  I started to read the script of the former and it came across as rather flat.

The Meet Up board / Re: D'you lie?
« on: March 22, 2016, 11:08:35 pm »
So far my only April date is Wednesday 20th.  I wouldn't arrange anything around me, though, as I couldn't stay long after 7pm.  I'm more likely to be able to meet up in July or August as the Proms usually gets me into town for longer visits.  The Proms programme is announced on 13 April so I'll know more after that.

Theatre / Re: Cleansed - Dorfman Theatre
« on: March 22, 2016, 11:00:34 pm »
Marbs, I certainly didn’t get the impression that any school of psychology, sociology or any other ology was being advanced in the play.  It seemed, if anything, to be a pretty much unmediated communication from a person who experienced the world in a strikingly different, but recognisably human, way from the average person.  Poe and Kafka seem more likely models than Laing, but as I suggested in my report, her voice seems to be uncompromisingly her own.  I can fully understand why some people find it nonsensical – or even infantile – but Cleansed, like Blasted, struck a chord with me.

Theatre / Re: Evening at the Talk House - Dorfman Theatre
« on: March 22, 2016, 10:59:03 pm »
Thanks for this, Jim.  You have the advantage of a much greater background knowledge of Shawn’s work and your observations are most iinteresting.  I’m not tempted to see the play again just yet but I’ll look out for The Designated Mourner.

Theatre / Re: The Skriker - Manchester Royal Exchange
« on: March 22, 2016, 10:57:45 pm »
In case you missed it, this was Drama on 3 on Sunday.  In my opinion the radio version, adapted by Churchill herself, is a leaner, fitter piece of drama than the one I saw in Manchester.  The cast is essentially the same (though the gifted Danusia Samal replaces Jumah Sharkah) and Peake’s handling of the poetic element comes across much better without the overblown visual distractions of Franckom’s staging.  It’s not Shelley but the wordplay is absorbing.  Well worth a listen.

Theatre / Cleansed - Dorfman Theatre
« on: March 20, 2016, 12:00:32 am »
Interviewed at the Liverpool University concert a fortnight ago Harrison Birtwistle said in respect of at least two of his compositions something like ‘there isn’t another piece that’s like x’.  Having now seen Blasted and Cleansed I find myself wondering if each of Sarah Kane’s works isn’t similarly sui generis.  I found Cleansed, like Blasted, a very moving experience; one that prompts a lot of questions to which there are no simple answers and which trusts its audience to draw their own conclusions.  That is, it presents us with some very extreme behaviour without any sense of preaching to us along the lines of ‘look how awful this is’.  The one thing the two plays have in common, superficially, is that in both there appears to be a war raging outside though neither is overtly about war.

I avoid reading reviews before seeing a play but it was impossible to avoid comments on Cleansed as stories about people being outraged, fainting and storming out of the theatre penetrated as far as the Today programme.  There is, I always think, something rather perverse about people who buy tickets for a piece which is advertised as containing graphic scenes of violence and sexual violence and then get upset when it turns out to be less than fragrant.  Fortunately, things had settled down by this afternoon and, as far as I could tell, there were no walkouts or collapses – possibly because it turned out that all the gruesome violence was, in fact, simulated and everyone in today’s audience had managed to work that out.  The nudity was real enough, however; and connected to perhaps the biggest defect of the production.  For some reason the techies had decided the actors needed amplifying (even though it was in the NTs smallest permanent space) so players who had the integrity to strip off for their art were left wandering round stark naked except for belts around their waists and wires up their backs.  It was more than a little ridiculous but the production was strong enough to survive this strange decision.

If Cleansed is sui generis it is by no means ex nihilo.  There were some very strong allusions to other works, the most obvious of which was to Nineteen-Eighty-Four but I thought I also saw references to  Hitchcock (the way one character, several times, spoke the word ‘lovely’ immediately had me thinking of Frenzy) and Bunuel.  A striking similarity to a detail in Patrick Marber’s Closer had me scrambling for the timelines to see that the two works appeared within a year of each other (with Marber’s being the earlier).  And some of the nightmarish images seem to be influenced by Brian Clemens – a sort of X-rated tribute to The Avengers.  Of course, some of this might be down to director Katie Mitchell rather than to Kane and, not having access to the script, I’m not really in a position to disentangle them.

The set – which is the same throughout the unbroken 100 minutes – is a terribly run down hospital.  The walls are crumbling, the panes of  the skylights are smashed, rats run free etc.  This could be a consequence of the ravages of war  but is not necessarily so – the man in charge, one Tinker (yet another fine performance from Tom Mothersdale – the third I’ve seen in the last year or so), admits to not being real doctor, the staff are masked and clearly strangers to the Hippocratic Oath,  the patients all seem to be prisoners of a sort and the ‘treatments’ are sadistic and torturous.  Into this environment comes Grace (Michelle Terry in a very committed performance) looking for her brother.  Tinker agrees to help her  - though what constitutes help in his book is extremely odd – after she begs to be allowed to stay as a patient rather than just accept that her brother – who, it’s strongly hinted is also her lover – is dead.  On one level the story is about how love manages to insert itself even in these desperate conditions and we also get introduced, inter alia, to a tragic gay couple and to Tinker’s obsession with a dancer in a coin-operated peep show (who first appears with a bag over her head as well as the more conventional stripper’s outfit) which seems to take place in a sit-down shower cubicle. 

Confused yet?  Well, there’s lots more but the good news is that, in my opinion at least, the nightmare story holds up very well for the length of the piece and almost certainly has some important insights if only I could work out what they are.  I would, with the obvious reservations for people who feel they might be offended, recommend seeing Cleansed if you can.  It appears that advance tickets are now sold out but there are always returns, day seats and the new Friday Rush thing (see NT homepage).

News and Current Affairs / Re: Peter Maxwell Davies (1934-2016)
« on: March 14, 2016, 02:02:50 pm »
How sad.  We were talking about him less than a week ago in the context of the Birtwistle event in Liverpool.  A fellow concert society member suggested HB was by far the most prominent living British composer to which I said 'with the possible exception of Peter Maxwell Davies'. 


News and Current Affairs / Keith Emerson 1944-2016
« on: March 12, 2016, 12:21:55 am »
Another giant figure from my youth gone.  He was, I suppose, best known as keyboard man for Emerson, Lake & Palmer whose work I found a bit overblown.  I actually preferred listening to his stuff with The Nice (the original 1960s band, I haven't heard anything by the recently assembled outfit with that name - which also involved Emerson). 


News and Current Affairs / Re: George Martin
« on: March 12, 2016, 12:11:54 am »
Very sad.  He was acknowledged as a major contributor to the Mahavishnu Orchestra's fine collaboration with the LSO on Apocalypse and, of course, composer of Van der Graaf Generator's Theme One.  Also did some stuff with a band from Liverpool, I believe.


Sorry about that.  I should have given a link to the E&P website but I went to UKTW - which is usually pretty reliable - to cover the other venues. If I'd looked more carefully I'd have noticed that the UKTW link shows the production playing Liverpool and Watford at the same time so was obviously wrong somewhere.  Are you going to see The Herbal Bed - which actually is on until the 12th?  I don't think I'll get to that as if I'm free tomorrow night I'll be going to your St. Mark Passion.  I suppose the matinee is a possibility but that would make for a very long day after a busy week:

Reading my report again I see there's almost certainly another error.  the quote ‘only one thing more snobbish than rich white folks and that’s rich black folks' probably suffers from my subconscious editing as Lorraine Hansbury routinely uses the now unfashionable 'coloured' rather than 'black'.  I see her Les Blancs is on at the NT soon and, after finally seeing A Raisin in the Sun, I'm tempted to try and see that on the strength of the author's name alone.

Theatre / The Master Builder - Old Vic (London)
« on: March 10, 2016, 10:52:18 am »
I shan’t describe the Old Vic’s Master Builder as a curate’s egg because, in the final judgement, I found the parts of it that are very good most definitely do redeem the whole.  Among these is Ralph Fiennes who, for all that (just as in Man and Superman) I was struck by his remarkable similarity to Leonard Rossiter, gives an utterly convincing performance as Halvard Solness. The actors in the minor roles also, in most cases, get to the hearts of their characters.  Outstanding, for me, was Martin Hutson as Solness’s ill-treated junior Ragnar Brovik; but James Laurenson as Ragnar’s ailing father, James Dreyfus (hard to believe this is the man in those frothy TV comedies) as Dr Herdal and Charlie Cameron as the creepily devoted book-keeper Kaja* also do well.  Linda Emond, too, is good as the sullen Aline Solness, though it must be said that David Hare’s ‘adaptation’ appears occasionally to lift her out of her usual passive aggression to the point of allowing her the odd direct attack**

The exception is Sarah Snook as Hilde Wangel.  The character is, of course, an outsider and a figure out of Solness’s distant past but, even so, the portrayal given by Snook is so extraordinary and so different from all the other characters that I presume she must be doing it under direction.  For me, I’m afraid, it doesn’t work.  The delivery is stilted, almost mechanical and the tone almost hectoring.  I don’t think the play makes much sense unless there is at least an element of seductiveness – or at least attractiveness or manipulativeness – about Ms Wangle.  This Hilde is all outright demand and childishly simplistic pestering.  It’s as if the girl in her early teens has come back unaltered rather than that a woman in her twenties with a particularly obsessive memory from her teens has come in search of the man involved.  It is possible (indeed I’m sure it’s been done) to read the play as though Hilde is not a real person but an embodiment of Solness’s guilt over events of over a decade ago and his fear of the threat of ‘youth’.  But I’ve never seen such an interpretation made convincing on stage; and this new production doesn’t achieve that – if, indeed, it intended any such interpretation.  It’s  likely that, at some level, the production is nodding toward current preoccupations with prestigious adults taking sexual advantage of vulnerable young devotees (the Adam Johnson case might well have seemed a godsend to this directorial team) but I don’t think it’s worth distorting a great play to make such tangential points.   In short, I much preferred Gemma Arterton’s more exuberant reading of Hilde by which I was successfully prevented from thinking ‘why doesn’t he just send her packing’ every five minutes.

The staging is decent enough, though it probably requires the two intervals (leading to a near 3 hour running time) to effect the set changes, which are quite radical.  In the background throughout is charred woodwork representing the burned out family home that is at the root of Aline’s depression and (along with his encounter with the very young Hilde) Halvard’s guilt.

Good tickets are not easy to come by for this so, while I would recommend it with reservations, I can also suggest that, should you be unable to see it, you can console yourself with my opinion that it’s not quite the definitive Master Builder some reviewers seem to think.

*who is Brovik’s niece, named Kaja Fosli in the programme, and my Methuen text but ‘Kaia Brovik’ in the Gutenberg online text. 

**One line nearly raised a round of applause.  When Hilde suggests that she might be dressed decently enough to accompany Aline to town, the latter comes out with something like “one cannot legislate decency but some might think your current appearance somewhat on the wrong side of the line”  The line doesn’t seem to be in other translations I looked at.

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