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Messages - HtoHe

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I missed Howard Brenton’s Abelard and Heloise piece at The Globe but saw it in a very engaging, but also very confined, production at LIPA’s Sennheiser Studio space.  At that time it was called In Extremis– which might sound mildly pornographic but is surely a better title than the current one, which almost seems calculated to attract a Mills & Boon audience.  I should stress that anyone looking for either porn or high romance will be very disappointed in a play that spends a lot of its time rehearsing theological and philosophical stances.  In fact, the play is (almost) as much about Peter Abelard’s rivalry with Bernard of Clairvaux as about his attachment to Heloise. 

ETT’s co-production with The Globe offered me the chance to see the play on a bigger stage so I booked a train to Blackpool and a seat in the Grand.  I must confess I was ever so slightly disappointed with a production that was much less effervescent than the LIPA one.  Perhaps the piece is better suited to a studio space – certainly the disputations don’t need anything more expansive – but I think there’s more to it than that.  To be blunt, Jo Herbert and David Sturzaker as the central couple were pretty passionless.  I wondered whether this might have been deliberate – rather than uninspired performances – and decided that the script probably could be read that way.  Both Abelard and Heloise are written as individuals whose main concern is with being right and being true to themselves so I suppose the extent to which either could really give themselves to the other might be limited.  But dramatically this is problematic as it leaves the field clear for Bernard to be the romantic lead with god as his love object.   There’s no holding back here – Bernard (Sam Crane) might be bonkers but he is passionate.  Where Abelard is concerned with winning the argument, and with being seen to win the argument, Bernard is just convinced he’s right.

If the performances of the central couple are a bit underpowered there is plenty of passion from some the more minor characters.  Pick of the lot, for me was Rhiannon Oliver as Peter’s devoted, put-upon sister Denise; but mention must also be made of Sally Edwards as no-nonsense Abbess Helene and Julius D'Silva as a bluff King Louis VI; and Edward Peel struck a good balance between indulgence and outrage as Heloise’s uncle and guardian, Fulbert.

The run at Blackpool is now finished but the production goes on to Edinburgh, Malvern, Brighton and Canterbury.  Despite my reservations about the production I think the play deserves to be seen.  It certainly deserves better than the tiny audience for today’s matinee.

News and Current Affairs / Re: Tony Benn RIP
« on: March 14, 2014, 11:34:09 am »
A towering figure, for sure, but a bit of an enigma.  I never had a word to say against him as a person so I’m certainly not going to start now; but I found his political stance very problematic.  He knew very early on that Labour was not a socialist party and by the time I attended one of his famous public meetings I think he knew it never would be one; but he seemed to appoint himself the party’s conscience, prodding activists to remember the history of the Labour movement and what it was supposed to represent long after the point where it became clear the leaders not only didn’t agree but didn’t even care.  The comparison with Bob Crow is illuminating, I think.  Both drew praise from adversaries but I thought Bojo the clown's praise for Crow almost smacked of relief whereas Cameron on Benn could almost have been describing a sporting rival. 


The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts 2013-4
« on: March 13, 2014, 11:27:43 pm »
It was certainly an interesting concert with Christian Lindberg on the podium at the Phil this evening.  CL was also the composer of the opening piece Peking Twilight.  According to the programme notes this is not a reference to China at all – Peking being a slang name for Norrköping, Sweden, whose orchestra commissioned the piece.  I have little doubt though that people – especially those who hadn’t read the programme – would spot (stereo)typically far eastern melodies and percussion in the piece.  To be fair, they’ll also have spotted other things.  There is, as one might expect, a strong Nordic element with anthemic brass underpinned by busy strings a la Sibelius.  There are also several strongly rhythmic, dance like passages; which made me think the piece might be better followed by, say, a short concerto rather than Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story where the rhythmic and dance elements are just done so much better.  Peking Twilight is an enjoyable piece alright – just not (imo, of course) particularly original or brilliant.  The Bernstein itself was well played with the RLPO proving up to the finger clicking and shouts of ‘mambo’ as well as the more conventional musicianship. 

After the interval came Dvorak’s New World Symphony which the conductor seemed determined to put his stamp on.  I’d be the last to expect a symphony – even one of my favourites – to sound the same every time but I’m afraid I wasn’t very impressed with this reading.  He seemed to stress certain aspects, especially in the brass, that I’d never even noticed before, let alone heard emphasised.  Sometimes unfamiliar emphases can be a real revelation but here, more often than not, they just sounded odd.  Even odder was the famous Largo which was, in parts, so quiet it was barely audible.  I wondered if this might have been done to boost the effect of the third movement – which was indeed the one I enjoyed most tonight – but it seemed too high a price.  Most disappointing of all, perhaps, was the ending, where it seemed to splutter to a close, though that might have been a fault in the brass rather than the direction.  Still, it’s a wonderful symphony that’s able to withstand an idiosyncratic reading so I still contrived to enjoy it; and I retain enough respect for CL to be planning to go to his Sibelius concert next week and possibly his gig with the youth orchestra a week on Sunday. Unfortunately I’m in London on Tuesday so won’t see his 10/10 concert – though given that that’s at the Epstein maybe it’s a good one to miss as I don’t like that venue.

The Coffee Bar / Re: The Minor Moan thread
« on: March 13, 2014, 01:06:49 pm »
This is More Michael Billington’s moan than mine but I must say I agree with him.  By a circuitous route (I don’t use Twitter myself) I came across this comment by the venerable Grauniad man:

Depressing to read that David Cameron was checking his texts and emails while
watching the RSC Wolf Hall. Why not just focus on the play?

See post of 6:12 am Mar 7 here.

It also seems that nobody has come to our PM’s defence – though, as I said, I don’t use Twitter so might be looking in the wrong place for dissenting comments.

Theatre / Re: Twelfth Night - Liverpool Everyman
« on: March 13, 2014, 10:17:34 am »
I was rather surprised to see that Viola (Jodie McNee) and Sebastian (Luke Jerdy) had different colour hair and were still mistaken for each other by people who knew them intimately;

It would appear that I wasn't the only one to notice this (or that my eyes deceived me!) because matching hair seemed to be in place by the time this critic saw the play:

Other reviews - all positive as far as I can see - are online now.  Anyone planning to see the play might want to avoid the Liverpool Echo where Catherine Jones, to  my mind, gives rather too much away right at the start of her piece.

Radio / Re: Stan Tracey (1926-2013) tribute
« on: March 12, 2014, 09:18:21 pm »
Thanks for the tip, Stanley - from me and several of my friends, none of whom would have dreamed of checking the R2 listings.  I thoroughly enjoyed the performance.  R2 seems to be on a bit of a roll with a broadcast of Oh! What a Lovely War from Stratford East coming up on Friday.  I know about this because, unlike Under Milk Wood, it's been trailed on R4 for a couple of weeks.

Theatre / Re: King Lear - Olivier Theatre
« on: March 12, 2014, 08:53:16 pm »
A quick heads up for those willing to take a chance.  A slew of cheap seats - some of which would, in ordinary circumstances be the best in the house - are now on sale for May 1.  This is the date of the Live relay and the 'restricted view' shown against the £15 seats refers to obstruction from cameras and other necessities of outside broadcast.   Another reason for the cheap prices in the theatre is, I'm told, the fact that the actors will be playing to the camera rather than the auditorium.  But for those who can't queue for day seats or returns and are free on May 1 it could be an option.

News and Current Affairs / Re: Bob Crow Dies
« on: March 11, 2014, 11:40:43 am »
That's rather sad and, as you say Mort, a big shock.  Although he gave the impression of being a man who sought confrontation for its own sake, he was one of the few modern figures who would stand up to the big institutions and their 'we're doing what suits us and to hell with the staff and the customers' attitude. 

The Coffee Bar / Re: Grumpy Old Rant Room
« on: March 11, 2014, 09:17:29 am »
Sorry to hear this, Jonathan.  It's happened to me and to almost everyone I know: and it's galling to know that one reason why it continues is that banks find it more cost-effective to take the hit than to implement proper security measures.

I’ve thought for some time that the banks are almost criminally complacent about security on personal accounts.  In one of my final conversations with the Co-op Bank before I switched they made it clear that they weren’t going to change their policy of putting contactless features on all new debit cards and tried to reassure me in several very unconvincing ways:

They suggested the technology was completely sound though they couldn’t tell me how this claim squared with the stories on all the consumer programmes about Marks & Spencer, TfL and other very prominent bodies and their problems with contactless cards – not to mention very strong rumours that the cards could be read and hacked by thieves who got close enough to you.  In other words it seems your pocket can now be picked by someone who never gets closer than a few feet away from you.

They said the potential losses (on this particular feature) were very small – I think £20 per transaction up to £100 per day.  My response was that this might be small compared with their CEO’s bonus but could be very significant to ordinary people.

Finally, perhaps most offensive of all, they said if anything did go wrong I would be reimbursed.  This made me absolutely furious as they were essentially saying I should have no objection to being forced to have a contactless card because my money was already being used to reimburse other people with such cards if the bank’s security wasn’t robust enough.

Underlying all this, of course, is an arrogant disregard for the worry and inconvenience caused to Jonathan and others when they become victims of fraud.  The banks push the idea that there’s no need to worry about security because you will, eventually, be reimbursed when things go wrong. 

The Coffee Bar / Re: Grumpy Old Rant Room
« on: March 09, 2014, 01:19:41 pm »
I don't get the recent trend for people to sit on the outside seat...

I generally do it when I'm only going a few stops and don't want someone to sit on my outside and have to get up to let me off.  I confess I also prefer to have the extra leg room afforded by the aisle rather than the dubious view from the window!

... then sigh and roll their eyes if someone asks to sit on the inside one

That's just rude.  My normal response to such a request is to reply 'of course'.  If someone asks me to 'shove up' I explain why I want the outer seat, but if they're getting off before me I move to the window seat.

In the example you give I'm afraid I'd probably have made a point of making the young man's journey as miserable as possible by interrogating him as to how he got to be so selfish - did he think he was genetically programmed to act that way or was it his upbringing. Telling me to F off is a big mistake as it generally makes me press my point far further than I originally intended. 

PS Sorry to read that you're having a tough time Jonathan.  I hope things improve very soon.

Theatre / Twelfth Night - Liverpool Everyman
« on: March 09, 2014, 12:58:58 am »
The wait for the new Everyman is over as the inaugural season of the rebuilt theatre opened last night with Twelfth Night.  I must confess I was rather worried when the play opened with Orsino (Adam Levy) repeating the first word many times.  It was obvious from his demeanour that this was deliberate but it struck me as a little bit pretentious; then the action skipped to the next scene with Viola and the Captain making a spectacular entrance (I won’t give it away) which led to a round of applause.  I had an awful feeling that the flow of the play was going to be spoiled by people clapping every entrance and exit; but, to my relief, it settled down a bit after the opening. 

The set was very simple with an almost bare stage backed alternately with interior (hearth etc) and garden (trellises draped with greenery or flowers) scenes.  There was a bit of nonsense with plant pots descending from the ceiling in early scenes – which didn’t do much for the sight lines – but otherwise simplicity was the watchword.  Costumes appeared to be mid 20th century with the siblings wearing bright blue suits and crepe shoes putting me in mind of teddy boys.  I was rather surprised to see that Viola (Jodie McNee) and Sebastian (Luke Jerdy) had different colour hair and were still mistaken for each other by people who knew them intimately; but then I don’t know much about theatrical conventions.  Matthew Kelly was a rather exaggerated Toby Belch, though I must say he made a very convincing drunk.  Paul Duckworth as Feste will have pleased a lot of people but for me his mannerisms – a sort of cross between Boy George and Lily Savage  - rather buried the Fool’s lines.  The two standout performances in my view were: Natalie Dew as a very fetching Olivia -  her ‘Most wonderful’  when presented with two copies of her love object was the most memorable single moment; and Adam Keast as a foppish Andrew Aguecheek -  looking very Oscar Wildeish and getting the humour out of the plot without resorting to the high camp of Kelly and, especially, Duckworth.

Perhaps the highest praise comes in the observation that the time – very little short of three and a half hours – flew by.  One can’t read anything into the fact that the end was greeted with loud applause.  Anything else on the first night at the new theatre would have been unthinkable.  For some reason the cast decided to do a Globe-style dance afterwards – which might have been quite appropriate for this production but I don’t think I’d like to see them make it a feature of all performances as at Bankside. 

To conclude – well worth seeing in the bright new Everyman whose sightlines from all parts of the auditorium seem very good.  Even the second row of the circle might be good because it seems – in a similar way to the upper level seats at the Royal Exchange – to be raised high above the front row thus reducing ones vulnerability to people leaning forward and blocking ones view.

Theatre / Re: Coming up....
« on: March 07, 2014, 11:56:32 am »
Bottled suspension of disbelief will be on sale in the local chemist I should think, Jim.  I don’t know how old Lady Bracknell is supposed to be (after all, one didn’t ask a Lady’s age when this play was written) but I’ve always thought of her as younger than the youngest member of this cast.  On the other hand, raw sexual chemistry is not a major feature of the play, is it?  It doesn’t have any characters like Mrs Erlynne in Lady Windermere’s Fan so once we get it into our heads that Algernon, Gwendolen, Jack & co are twenty-somethings it should be plain sailing .  The name that scares me more than the idea of people my age playing gilded youth is that of Simon Brett, who I associate with gentle radio comedy like After Henryor The Charles Paris Mysteries – all very pleasant on the wireless but not what I want from the theatre. The sad thing is that I’ll probably end up seeing this as the Harold Pinter usually has a good day seat scheme and matinees on Wednesdays when I’m most likely to be in town.

The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts 2013-4
« on: March 06, 2014, 11:15:20 pm »
Tonight’s concert was introduced with a little talk on how wonderful the sponsors were and how this was one of an exciting series using RLPO section leaders as soloists.  Of course this was nothing to do with saving money but turned out to be an inspired idea as the customary audience loyalty produced the wildest applause I’ve heard for a soloist in ages.  You’d think we’d heard something akin to Denis Brain at his best  - and I don’t think we really had; though Timothy Jackson was good enough (after a rather shaky start) in R Strauss’s 2nd Horn Concerto.  This was preceded by Mahler’s Blumine – also decent enough – but the tickets didn’t say Petrenko’s Elgar for nothing.  Elgar’s 2nd Symphony came after the interval and I thought Petrenko’s reading of it was very exciting – certainly the best thing on the programme for my money.  I suppose it should be no surprise that a conductor praised for his Shostakovich should handle Elgar’s sprawling melodies and booming percussion well.  I remember one of my earliest Petrenko concerts in which I was surprised by how much I liked Cockaigne – which I’d previously thought a rather bread-and-butter opening piece.  This evening I was struck, at the end of the 2nd Symphony’s third movement, by the thought that Petrenko made this scherzo (or Rondo – Presto as the programme describes it) sound so sparkling that it could be a rousing overture in its own right.  Whether that’s technically a good thing or not I don’t know; but it worked for me.  Apart from a very odd horn note a couple of minutes before the end the performance was very good, in my opinion.  The clapping-between-movements people seemed to be back but gave up after failing to get the rest of the audience to join in after the first movement; but they still couldn’t wait for Petrenko’s hands to be fully lowered after the fourth.  The attendance was probably slightly lower than for last week’s Panufnik & Strauss but still respectable enough for a repeat of last night’s programme.  I expect most people chose last night’s performance to give themselves an excuse not to watch England in the football.

We are planning to go.  I'm always a bit doubtful about Jacobean comedies, in that the jokes aren't just funny any more...

Have you booked yet, Don B?  If not, you might want to try and get seats with a direct view of the whole playing area.  It struck me that this is more of an issue for this play than for The Duchess of Malfi. The Pit looks like it might be best, though I have no direct knowledge and don't really know whether you'd be looking up at the stage or how restricting that might be.  The side seats at ground level might be OK as long as you don't get the ones too flush with the backdrop.  Bear in mind, though, that quite a lot happens below the stage rather than on it.  The upper gallery side seats seem to be the worst of all worlds.  The standing places are bad but the seats in front can't offer a much better view - and at least standing only costs a tenner. 

I look forward to reading what you make of it.  I'm also hoping to read your comments on King Lear if you have time.

The Coffee Bar / Re: The Minor Moan thread
« on: March 04, 2014, 08:25:58 pm »
I'm an occasional sufferer and sodium bicarbonate is a new one on me. Must give it a go next time -

I don't want to come across as a fusspot as I'm sure it works if done properly; but it must be worth mentioning that it's probably wise to get expert advice before doing this.  Oil is one thing, but surely pouring an alkali into your ear canal is quite another.

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