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Messages - HtoHe

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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.

Radio / Re:Alan Bennett's 'Denmark Hill'R4
« on: September 26, 2014, 11:41:28 am »
Thanks Stanley.  I heard about this a couple of days ago and gave thanks for the i-player as I will be seeing Ghosts at Clywd Theatr when Denmark Hill is broadcast.  I do hope it's not one of those programmes that is excluded from the i-player for copyright reasons.

Theatre / Electra - Old Vic, London
« on: September 25, 2014, 11:26:14 pm »
If I’d been looking forward to Maxine Peake’s Hamlet, I had almost been crossing off the days on the calendar before Kristin Scott Thomas’s Electra.  Fortunately I trained myself not to raise my hopes too high so I enjoyed a very fine production rather than being disappointed by one that had very real faults.  The first thing I noticed was that this was not the same KST that I remember from the two recent Pinters (Betrayal and Old Times) and, if I’m honest, I have to say I prefer the one in the Pinters.  That, I should stress, is hardly her fault.  She puts as much into portraying Sophocles’s deranged, obsessive, self-neglecting character as into Pinter’s smooth, sophisticated beauties.  I suppose that in the Pinter she’s playing to her strengths whereas as Electra she’s almost unrecognisable with her face made up to look almost hollow, wearing a simple, shabby shift (even giving up the belt from around her waist early in the action) and moving with the footwork of  a caged animal or a boxer in the ring.  It’s a credit to her acting skills that she still dominates the stage; but I wondered how much rehearsal she had had because I got the strong impression she hadn’t yet mastered her lines (but this was just the third or fourth preview so that will surely improve).  A bigger disappointment for me, though, was Frank McGuinness’s ‘version’.  I’m not in a position to compare with the original Greek but I know it works better for me when the delivery is more declamatory and more imposing.  McGuinness’s words were mundane to the point of soapiness – I’ll swear I heard ‘so what are you saying’ at least three times and was expecting ‘we’ve got to talk’ at any moment.  The number of times I heard chuckling in the audience – in a play with almost zero comic content – was disturbing; though I almost doubled up myself when the words ‘I’m not insane’ came from Electra’s lips!

On the positive side, the production itself was appropriately bare.  To my left (the production is in the round so there’s no absolute right or left) was the massive door to Aegisthus’s palace and to my right a large stricken tree in the waste ground outside, where Electra and her attendants gather.  These major features apart there is a water tap embedded in the ground and a small fire.  The costumes, while not the loose robes suggesting a classical setting, are pretty plain: peasant homespun for the ensemble and more elegant, but still quite subdued, dresses for Clytemnestra (Diana Quick) and Chrystothemis (Liz White).  The one exception is Aegisthus (Tyrone Huggins) who is very ostentatiously attired for his brief appearance.  I thought most of the cast did as well as can be expected with the lines they were given – the ensemble, for example, were not presented as a chorus but as minor characters, mostly attending Electra so the lines lack the hypnotic quality I associate with classical tragedy.  I found Orestes a rather unlikely avenger but I suppose the slight, indecisive, faintly petulant young man was the character Jack Lowden was told to portray and, to be fair, the Servant (Peter Wright) was given the job of keeping the young man’s mind on the task. 

Despite my reservations (which might seem a bit overstated here; of the three plays I saw on this trip I enjoyed this one the most) I still recommend this.  It might not be nearly as difficult to see as I expected, either.  There were lots of empty seats upstairs – possibly because the staff are overstating the problems with the view from the cheaper seats (a deliberate policy to favour the stalls, which were indeed full?).  I can’t vouch for the view from the circle/gallery but I find it hard to imagine such a simple set would be hard to see except from behind pillars or from very bad angles.  Of course tickets might sell out very quickly if the critics receive it well.  Runs until 20 Dec

Theatre / James III: The True Mirror - Olivier Theatre
« on: September 25, 2014, 09:56:18 pm »
Logistical considerations mean I’m seeing Rona Munro’s James plays in reverse order.  I am assured that this won’t spoil the experience and I can report that James III: The True Mirror works well enough as a stand-alone piece – indeed, I found it more coherent that Mike Bartlett’s King Charles III which I saw the same day and which actually is a stand-alone piece!

For those who might not know, James III is a Stewart king of Scotland and ‘the true mirror’ of the title is an actual mirror with the property, apparently quite novel at the time, of showing an undistorted image of the person who looks into it.  In a minor, but presumably significant, scene James (Jamie Sives) – who seems to be a sort of cross between Nero and Ludwig II in the way he abuses his authority and allows his fondness for the arts to distract him from matters of state – presents the mirror as a present from Venice to his wife Margaret (Sofie Grabol) in an attempt to remind her she’s not all that.  This backfires as Margaret is very happy with her own image – she keeps saying ‘Oh, I like this woman’ – and takes great delight in showing the mirror to her attendants.  This reminded me very strongly of a scene in Light Shining in Buckinghamshire where a poor woman is showing another a piece of mirror that she has looted from the house of a fleeing Royalist and tells her that there are full length mirrors in the house ‘so these people know what they look like all the time’.  Surely Munro will have been aware of Caryl Churchill’s piece – and might even have been paying it some well-deserved homage.

The True Mirror, in a non-literal sense, can also refer to the reflections on life at court – in Edinburgh and Stirling if I followed the action properly – with which the play deals.  James appears to be an attractive, but very selfish person who rides his authority as king to the edge of disaster.  He is more interested in his own fancies – clothes, dalliances with people of both sexes, various musical fads including his own personal choir* - than in his responsibilities to his family and his country.  This is contrasted with the loyalty of his wife – who attempts to balance the books and pacify the conspiring factions while resisting the advances of John (no surname, head of Privy Council; played very well by Gordon Kennedy) – and shown to have awful consequences for his relationship with his son Jamie (Daniel Cahill).  The background is clearly one of the degradation of the Scottish state and the perpetual threat from England but the action centres on life at court, particularly Margaret and her circle – including the king’s aunt Annabella (a show-stealing performance by Blythe Duff).

For a history play it’s fairly lightweight but very entertaining – much like Anne Boleyn, though I don’t know if Munro takes as many liberties with history as Brenton does.   I’m looking forward to the other two plays:

*given that James’s homosexual dalliances cause more of a commotion than his hetero flings with members of the household staff I couldn’t help suspecting that the listing of Munro’s translations of some Scots songs in the programme under the title of The Kingis Quair was meant as a bit of a pun!

The Coffee Bar / Re: The Minor Moan thread
« on: September 25, 2014, 08:34:02 pm »
You really couldn't make this up.  The RT online, using content obviously lifted from the BBC, has contrived to alter an accurate entry; making it utterly wrong when it would have been far, far easier to get it right.

the R3 entry, using the same picture and (almost) the same text, says:

As the Schaubühne Berlin's production of Henrik Ibsen's 'An Enemy of the People' opens at The Barbican

what on earth possessed the RT to change this to:

As the Schaubühne Berlin's production of Henrik Ibsen's 'Master of the People' opens at The Barbican

Some of you might remember they did the same thing with the listing for Ute Lemper's Edinburgh concert last week but at least in that case they had the excuse that the BBC's listing was itself wrong.  This latest cock up is almost beyond belief.

Board Usage Help Forum / Re: Moderation
« on: September 25, 2014, 07:11:52 pm »
Can anyone else see the post?,4729.msg147784.html#msg147784

it's spooky, it's not letting me approve it...

Very odd.  When logged in I could click on it, access it with authorial privileges (ie, make amendments etc) and, apparently, clock up 'views' - more or less everything apart from make it visible.  When I did access it there was a message saying it was awaiting approval by a moderator but that didn't happen when, for example, I initiated this thread.  On the assumption that the problem was specific to that thread I just re-submitted it and it seems to have worked.  Can everyone see the 're-submit' thread?

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