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Messages - HtoHe

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News and Current Affairs / Re: Today's Barking News Story
« on: January 22, 2015, 10:54:50 pm »
Since there is going to be a very big purge of bus services in many parts of the country this would mean in a UKIP Utopia that many benefit claimants would land up having to walk everywhere!

Surely the conventional wisdom is that they should be on their bikes - as long as they can't afford the expensive machines favoured by moneyed classes, of course.

Theatre / Re: Coming up....
« on: January 22, 2015, 10:51:24 pm »
Hurrah!  At last an opportunity to see a high profile production of Light Shining in Buckinghamshire.  So, with Man and Superman that's two unmissable Lyttelton productions in succession for me.

Also of interest to me is a new play by Patrick Marber.  A stage play about football is difficult to bring off but it's good to see someone try - and revivals of Brighouse's The Game show that it can be done.

Marber's Closer is revived at the Donmar soon as well; but with Rufus Sewell and other top names in the cast it might be very hard to get tickets and I'm not sure how much effort I'm prepared to put into seeing this.

Theatre / Made in Dagenham - Adelphi Theatre
« on: January 22, 2015, 10:31:01 am »
Given that musicals as a genre leave me cold I should, perhaps, have gone with my gut feeling and given this a miss; but the names of Richard Bean, who wrote the book, and Gemma Arterton, in the lead role, attracted me against my usual inclinations.  I’m afraid I have to report that Arterton, who had impressed in The Master Builder and The Duchess of Malfi, duly provided mediocre singing for a mediocre score but was given very little opportunity to display her acting talents.  Which brings us to Bean who, likewise, was given scant opportunity to shine as his contribution was relegated almost to short bursts of linking dialogue between formulaic, overblown musical numbers.  There was the odd flash of the slick Bean wit – I particularly liked ‘I’m not a Marxist or a Leninist; I’m a machinist’ – but it wasn’t enough for me and I spent most of the 130 minutes praying: please let this song be over soon so we can get back to the interesting bits.  I say 'for me' to emphasise the possibility that for people who like musicals these songs might be precisely the kind of thing they like.  The pedigree is good, with lyrics by Richard Thomas, but all these songs did for me is make me wonder if I’d have liked Jerry Springer – the Opera as much if I’d seen it on stage instead of just on dvd. 

The piece, for  those who might not know, deals with the equal pay demands of women at the Ford motor company in the late 1960s – demands which began in Dagenham and are considered hugely important in the progress towards gender equality in the workplace.  The trouble is, I thought the story was told in a worryingly simplistic and over-romanticised way.  Perhaps I’m being too serious about a piece that, on one level, sets out to be a feelgood musical but I thought the whole presentation smothered any chance of getting a deeper message through.  The concentration on the fictional Everywoman character of Rita O’Grady (Arterton) was probably a necessary device but is loaded with too many implausible developments – striking up an unlikely alliance with the boss’s wife, being invited to Whitehall (and told to bring any of her mates who wanted to come!) by Barbara Castle (Sophie Louise Dann) and extemporising at the TUC conference after the boss of Ford USA has – in person if you please – destroyed her speech notes.  In fact I thought the best serious point in the production was made by the silent character of the cleaning woman who is on stage before the curtain goes up and appears in the background of several scenes – most notably when Barbara Castle has the Dagenham women in her office and offers everyone except the cleaning woman a sherry (I know, I know: you wouldn’t offer an on-duty cleaner a drink; but what was she doing in the office at all if it wasn’t to make the point that many workers are still left unfairly treated?).   

Perhaps the best illustration of how the serious messages are buried is the fact that the show is stolen (for me but also, judging by the audience reactions, for many others) by Castle and, especially, Harold Wilson (Mark Hadfield) presented as caricatures of almost Spitting Image grotesqueness and goofing about for all they’re worth.  A caricature too far was Tooley (Steve Furst) a pantomime villain of an American business leader so exaggerated that it’s hard to take the role he represents (or the message behind it) seriously at all. 

The set and props are impressive and the quick scene changes very slick.  Indeed the whole production is efficiently managed in a way that I imagine – not having seen any - to be a feature of big musicals.  Unfortunately it is, in places, rather meretricious – sometimes disturbingly so.  For example, I understand (and indeed applaud) the fact that they have accurately portrayed a period in which many women would have worn their hemlines very high and new cars would have been promoted with dolly birds draped across their bonnets.  But why, other than for gratuitous titillation, was the Tooley character introduced to us backed by a retinue of young women dressed in military fatigues on the top, bare midriffs, and ripped or fishnet tights below?   Even more problematic for me, though, was the closing number Stand Up – an exceedingly dull anthem in the course of which Arterton is clearly inviting the audience to put their hands in the air, clap rhythmically and, well, stand up.  Even if I’d liked the song I’m sure I’d have baulked at according a performance a standing ovation because cast members instructed me to do so. 

While I’ve certainly seen worse than Made in Dagenham I’d hesitate to recommend it though, to paraphrase one of my favourite sayings, those who enjoy this kind of thing may find this the kind of thing they enjoy.  I can’t find any closing date so there should be plenty of opportunity to catch it.  The official Leicester Square booth usually has reduced price tickets and, I was told, £25 front row day seats (not bad, but rather short on leg room) are usually fairly easy to come by on Monday to Wednesday but might sell out as soon as the box office opens later in the week.

Theatre / King Lear - Guildford Shakespeare Company
« on: January 20, 2015, 04:55:36 pm »
My carefully planned visit to Guildford to see Brian Blessed as King Lear was marred by misfortune though, as will become evident, it could have been much worse.  The capacity audience at Holy Trinity church waited eagerly, drinking in the simple set in front of the altar space and chattering away until, a little under five minutes late, the players made their appearance.  A feature of this production is that Lear is seated on his throne from the start, watching a wrestling match (I’m almost sure this was between Burgundy and France but wouldn’t swear to it) before the usual opening dialogue between Gloucester and Kent.  Blessed, looking like the imposing figure he undoubtedly is looked on in amusement until the time came for him to ‘express his darker purpose’ and, straight after the famous ‘Know we have divided in three our kingdom’ and before he could announce his intention to ‘Unburthen'd crawl toward death’ collapsed in a heap on stage.  It was, I estimate, a good minute before another cast member made the classic request ‘is there a doctor in the house’ adding ‘seriously…this isn’t part of the show’.  A doctor was found and, roughly half an hour later, Blessed was back on the stage aplogising to the audience and telling us that he felt it was really important to get straight back in and, at the very least, get past the point at which he fainted so that that point in the play didn’t haunt him through all future performances.  So, with the caveat that we might be getting as little as ten minutes of the play before it had to be abandoned, the action resumed from Lear’s opening words.  Blessed, it must be said, looked very feeble and confused but got through the first scene on sheer determination and with frequent prompting from other cast members.  However, after the king gave way to the scheming Edmund and Blessed had had another respite he returned restored to something like his accustomed vitality.  So, as I said, things could have been much worse but the delay was enough to enough to make it highly impractical for me to stay after the interval as the new finishing time was five minutes after my last train left the station half a mile away andmy enthusiasm didn’t stretch to paying for a taxi half way across Surrey so I can’t really give a useful description of the production.  To be fair, also, it is difficult to be too objective about the first half performances given that the whole cast will have been shaken by the events of the first few minutes.  It did seem to me, though, that Blessed’s stature, after he regained his composure, did seem to put him in a different league from most of the other cast members.  In the difficult acoustic of the church, his was the voice that could always be heard clearly – and not just when he was employing his trademark bellowing technique, either!  Although he was not the subtlest of Lears (anyone who has seen his film of the play will know what to expect) he did seem a professional amongst amateurs and semi-pros, which rather unbalanced the production. A couple of the others, notably Noel White as Kent, stepped up to the mark and I have no doubt most of the cast would have looked very good in an Amdram setting.  The production itself is similarly lacking in subtelty.  The costumes were rather mixed, ranging from lounge suits to medieval robes and some of the messages sent out were a bit trite – Regan (Sarah Gobran) and, especially, Goneril (Blessed’s daughter Rosalind) given rather tarty appearances while Cordelia (Emily Tucker) was dressed more demurely and with a great deal more class.  Tucker doubled as the Fool, got up pierrot style in elaborate top and hot pants and was amusing though, to my eyes and ears, not entirely convincing (especially as she was one who had more than average trouble overcoming the acoustics and often couldn’t be heard clearly). The music, too, was somewhat jarring – more like a Hammer film score than a suitable accompaniment.

To sum up, I suggest this might be worth seeing as long as classic performances are not expected.  It’s clear that a great deal of work has gone into it and it is probably worth it for a lot of people (yours truly included, if he’s honest) just to see the larger than life Blessed on stage.  I hope, though, that last night’s scare disposes Mr B towards caution a I’d hate to read he’d done himself serious harm by ignoring fairly clear warning symptoms.

News and Current Affairs / Brian Clemens RIP
« on: January 16, 2015, 03:56:46 pm »
I’m surprised there’s been so little mention of the death of Brian Clemens, which happened nearly a week ago.  I know there’s been a lot of serious stuff in the news recently, but I still find it odd that I haven’t heard anything about him on the radio.  Maybe the TV paid more attention to his passing as that is where he was most famously occupied.  I don’t know very much about him but he certainly seemed to put his mark on anything he was involved with and to be a master of making the preposterous strangely fascinating.  There is a piece about him on R4s Last Word, starting soon.


The Coffee Bar / Re: What has made you smile today?
« on: January 14, 2015, 10:38:49 am »
Less of a smile, more of a coffee-spluttering chuckle.  Woman's Hour, on in the background, is interviewing hetero spouses whose partners have left them for a same sex relationship.  I'm finding it hard to concentrate on the intricacies of the discussion after one woman announced she found out about her husband's infidelity by 'the age old method of reading the texts on his mobile phone'.  I suppose I should be offended, really.  After all, this must make me older than 'age old'!

News and Current Affairs / Re: Today's Barking News Story
« on: January 12, 2015, 10:52:40 pm »
I'm genuinely surprised.  The Wail has corrected the error.  Actually, somebody pointed it out in the comments column, but I'm surprised that anyone on the staff, other than the moderators, reads those.

Theatre / Donkey Heart - Trafalgar Studios 2
« on: January 12, 2015, 10:24:32 pm »
It’s difficult to know what to say for the best about Moses Raine’s play.  With modest ticket prices and a biggish cast in a small theatre they could really do with full houses and, if Saturday evening is any guide, they’re not getting them.  On the other hand I found it hard to warm to the piece.  I think this was more a case of its having few shining virtues rather than many grievous faults.  I found it mildly amusing but not particularly gripping.  It made some valid points but few interesting arguments.  And, perhaps most tellingly, it dealt with themes that are fascinating subjects for conjecture but, for me at least, failed to do so very convincingly. 

Let’s not be too negative, though.  The acting was fine – especially from Patrick Godfrey, Lisa Diveney and the ever-reliable Amanda Root; and the plot and dialogue would do well as a one-off television play – especially if reduced from its current 115 mins to the standard 90m of the TV product.  Godfrey plays Alexander, a Russian grandfather who has seen it all from the great patriotic war, through the grind of the Soviet decline and fall to a still materially underprivileged life in Putin’s Russia.  He lives with his son Ivan (Paul Wyett), d-i-l Zhenya (Root) and their children Sasha (Diveney), Petya (James Musgrave) and Kolya (Albie Marber) who are aged (at a guess) early-mid 20s, late teens and 10-12 respectively.  Additionally there are outsiders in the flat all the time:  Sasha’s lovestruck English friend Thomas (Alex Large) on a visit to Moscow; Petya’s volatile girlfriend Clara (Georgia Henshaw) and Ivan’s colleague Natalia (Emily Bruni) – ostensibly made homeless by a whopping rent increase but, in fact, the motive force behind what little plot there is in the piece.   Plot, though, is not what the piece is about as it delivers its plus ça change message – which is quite often driven home too explicitly.  Alexander brushes aside the overcrowding in the flat (effectively demonstrated by the small cluttered set where the cast have to take great care not to trip over outstretched legs in the front row) by reminiscing about how they all had to pull together in the old days.  As if Raine doesn’t trust us to get the point of how decades of repression has left the country full of damaged people he has one of the characters (I forget which) pointing out that even without the KGB the first thing they thought of to do when presented with someone whose story was not a completely open book was to spy on them.  Mercifully we were left to muse for ourselves on the fact that you don’t need secret police blending into the background and bugs in the walls when you can just press a button on your i-phone and record everything.  The whole thing really wasn’t (imo, of course) greater than the sum of its parts and, to be honest, I found it hard to believe that this was an even mildly realistic picture of modern Moscow – not that I’d know!  More like Shamelesski – not that I’ve seen more than one episode of that egregious programme.  It’s not bad, though; worth a look if you’re at a loose end (and there really isn’t an awful lot on in the West End just now).  You shouldn’t have much trouble getting a ticket and the view from the £15 seats is fine – indeed the only reason I can think of for paying more is if you’re keen to make a donation (or if you like trying to trip up unwary cast members!)

Runs until 31 Jan

In case they don't tell you, there is a bonus performance by Emily Bruni of a monologue by Moses Raine after each performance of Donkey Heart.  It lasts about 20 minutes I was told, so with a 10 minute break after the main play the total for the evening is about 165 minutes.  I was a bit miffed because I'd arranged to meet people at Waterloo based on the length of Donkey Heart alone - and because Donkey Heart started at 1945 I couldn't even phone them as they were at a play with a 1930 start. 

News and Current Affairs / Re: Today's Barking News Story
« on: January 12, 2015, 09:09:41 pm »
Here's a puzzle.  Do we think this is the fault of the Wail's sub-editors - or are they taking attention to detail to the extent of guessing what spelling errors Mr F might make?

Just in case they correct it, the headline currently reads Farage says West bares some 'culpability' for Paris massacres

Theatre / Widowers' Houses - Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond (Surrey)
« on: January 11, 2015, 06:24:55 pm »
I don’t think I’ve been to the Orange Tree before, though I’ve been tempted a few times, and I’m happy to report that, as well as offering adventurous programmes, this is a well laid out little theatre with seats on all four sides of the playing area and no obviously disadvantaged places.  There is just one row upstairs (if you don’t count the standing places) which means you don’t get the problem of people in the front row leaning forward and blocking the view of those behind.  The only place where there looks like there might be poor visibility is the row behind the rail at the back of the stalls but my neighbours yesterday assured me that the view is clear from there, too. 

The set for Widowers’ Houses was simple and thoughtful.  The floor was covered with a magnified facsimile of a (presumably) Victorian banknote on which furniture to represent a bourgeois house and a German hotel catering to well-heeled tourists was placed.  Round the circle were maps of London districts annotated with Charles Booth’s comments on their inhabitants – from ‘Lowest class.  Vicious, semi criminal’ to ‘Upper-middle and Upper classes.  Wealthy’ with five intermediate categories.  The costumes were appropriate for the late 19c setting.

The play itself was a a bit of a mixed bag.  The foreshadowing of Mrs Warren’s Profession was very striking so it was no surprise to find out later that WH is the first of the Plays Unpleasant set of which MWP is the third and last.  Strangely, though, this production of a very moral tale went in for very broad humour that I’m not entirely sure is justified by the text.  The German waiter is almost a cartoon character with his delivery sounding more like an ignorant foreigner imitating a German than the real thing.  That’s not particularly serious as it’s a very minor role; but one of the major characters, Lickcheese the rent collector (Simon Gregor) is an outrageous caricature played as a sort of cross between Groucho (complete with cigar) and Uriah Heep; and Stefan Agdebola as Cokane is more a parody of an English gentleman than even a comic portrait of one.   This tactic of playing up the comic aspects of various characters might have been an attempt to divert attention away from some of the plot defects  - eg Lickcheese, according to the script, goes from unemployed, penniless rent collector to wealthy manipulator in four months! – but it was a bit much for me; especially as the other core characters such as naïve doctor/rentier Harry Trench (Alex Waldmann), ruthless (or realistic, depending on your interpretation) landlord Sartorius (Patrick Drury) and his self-serving daughter Blanche (Rebecca Collingwood) were played fairly straight (although obviously, this being Shaw, all had the odd trenchantly witty line to deliver).   This dichotomy made the production a little unbalanced in my view.

The performances, though, were rather good, if we accept that the general representation of each character was a directorial imposition.  Collingwood in particular was remarkably assured for someone making her professional debut.  The production is well worth the trip to Richmond and the theatre is very near the station so really quite accessible via London Underground, Overground and National Rail.  Runs until the end of the month but note that some dates are already sold out;

21st Century / Re: Stabat Mater dolorosa, James dillon
« on: January 11, 2015, 06:18:41 pm »
No legal advice from me, either; but, at the risk of stating the obvious, you have supplied them with details of your trip so if you do absent yourself and they, as they are entitled to do, take out a warrant for your arrest they're not going to have much trouble finding you, are they?  I would hope you'd have a good case for recouping the cost of the aborted trip from the court as you have given them clear proof that that you booked before you received the citation.  But let's hope it all works out so you can both satisfy the court and go the event.

Television / Re: Frances de la Tour/BBC4
« on: January 08, 2015, 04:10:38 pm »
I only saw half the interview, Stanley, but I will catch it on i-player next week.   It was interesting to hear her opinion of Scorsese.  For the director of so many hard-boiled movies he comes across as a big softy!

I was rather disappointed with the film of The History Boys.  Generally, the cinematic need to get shots of the landscape, background etc rather diluted the dramatic effect; and specifically, I was looking forward to hearing Frances de la Tour express Mrs Lintott's, ahem, forthright description of the headmaster but they seem to have cut it.  It certainly wasn't in the place allotted to it in the script - straight after the meeting in which the headmaster tells her the pretext for Hector's dismissal.  Political correctness?  Worries about the film's certificate?  I can only guess; but it was one of the most memorable things in the stage version and the film suffers by omitting it.

News and Current Affairs / Re: Today's Barking News Story
« on: January 05, 2015, 06:13:37 pm »
The other one is better though; overheard from a passanger-to-be "but I actully WANT to fly to Gerona, not Barcelona!"...
Of course if you actually live near those godforsaken places budget airport locations they're very convenient indeed! (I have friends who live (or whose families live) near Weeze and Idar-Oberstein, so there must be others...)
Sure, but Gerona is the v ery opposite of a godforsaken place (or even a godforsaken place)!...

You beat me to it.  I was going to say that Girona is a provincial capital and was, if I’m not mistaken, the main destination for the Costa Brava before Ryanair was thought of.  Not all Ryanair destinations are in the middle of nowhere.  Madrid, Dublin and Bratislava, to name but three, are the actual airports for national capitals.   When Ryanair was trying to get people hooked with giveaway prices I visited several places of primary interest – Santiago, Genoa, Granada, Malaga for example – as well as the ones that aren’t really Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Leipzig, Brussels, Venice and so on.  And that’s without mentioning, ahem, Liverpool.  The loss leaders backfired on them as far as I’m concerned, though, because I just go so fed up with their awful attitude that I resolved not to use them again.  Ironically the shabbiness of Ryanair probably made me better disposed towards Easy Jet than I might otherwise have been because, though far from perfect, Stelios’s outfit in its loss leader days seemed to provide stellar service by comparison.   And, to the best of my knowledge, all Easy Jet locations are ‘real’ places.

Theatre / Re: The Last Days of Troy - Royal Exchange, Manchester
« on: January 05, 2015, 10:15:46 am »
This is being broadcast – with a different director but substantially the same cast – on R4 starting on Sunday.  I think it should transfer well though I think it’s a bit mean of the website to say, without apparent irony, Lily Cole gives her radio debut as Helen of Troy - the face that launched a thousand ships.   Whether or not Ms Cole has the ideal face for radio, this production was fairly simple so the absence of the visual aspect shouldn’t be a big loss.

News and Current Affairs / Re: Today's Barking News Story
« on: January 05, 2015, 09:24:21 am »
In any case, certainly if I'm coming to London from Köln I'm pretty sure it's quicker to take the train than fly to Stansted.

Quite possibly.  It's certainly more comfortable.  But Bilbao is a different matter.  I would have preferred to avoid Stansted, even based on past experience, but it was the only practical option given my travel dates.  If I plan to visit that very interesting city again I'll check flights from Manchester before finalising my holiday dates.  It was actually quite shocking to see how degraded the airport had become in the decade or so since I last used it.

adding up what I'd paid to get from Frankfurt to 'Frankfurt-Hahn' airport (it could with equal exactitude be called 'Luxembourg-Hahn') and from Stansted to London, and the extra baggage fee, and realising I could have done it with a proper airline not only twice as fast but cheaper

Hahn is the epitome of Ryanair effrontery.  When I flew there (much more than a decade ago) the fare to Frankfurt on the Ryanair bus (there was no other way apart from taxi or hire car) was more than the airfare, taxes and all.  Worse still, if the bus back to the airport was full (no advance tickets were available) you could be left with no affordable way of getting to the airport for your flight. 

I trust you remember the old Ryanair slogan... "Flying you from nowhere near where you are to nowhere near where you want to be."

You'll note from my destination that I was not flying O'Leary Airfreight on this latest occasion.  The Ryanair airports in Germany are sometimes converted military bases which, I presume, were originally built as far away from centres of population as possible.  My brother once picked me up at Weeze, which Ryanair fancifully called Düsseldorf, and was so shocked when he finally got there that he checked the distance back to Düsseldorf on his odometer.  It was over 100km. 


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