Mr Jones, Curzon Victoria 14 February

February 29, 2020

***

mrjones

This film started with a typical Ukrainian wooden house in a field of typical Ukrainian wheat and in the house the Ukrainian writer George Orwell is writing Animal Farm.

Apart from that, the action presumably takes place in 1933 when Gareth Jones, who has just been made redundant as Lloyd George’s secretary and has previously succeeded in interviewing Hitler in an aeroplane travels to Moscow in the hope of interviewing Stalin and finding out there the money to pay for forced industrialisation is coming from.  By that stage of course there was a National Government without Lloyd George, so the reference to him and Ramsay Macdonald sorting out the economic crisis made little sense.

Anyway, once in the Soviet Union Jones manages to escape his minder on a trip to Kharkov and tramp round the Ukrainian countryside observing scenes of hunger, death and cannibalism.  He also has to contend with Walter Duranty, the senior foreign correspondent in Moscow, who expounds the official line that there is no famine, really.  Then we get what seems to be an entirely fictional entanglement with the Metro-Vickers trial  and the British engineers being held hostage for Jones’s silence.  Similarly, the idea that Orwell was converted to anti-Communism by Jones’s account rather than his own experiences in the Spanish Civil War is…strange…

So the mingling of fact and fantasy was unsatisfactory, which can leave people wondering about the historicity of the Ukrainian famine.  Another question would be what the actual story is meant to be. If it’s about the famine in Ukraine, then why does it only exist when a Westerner finds out about it?  If it’s about the discovery of the famine, then Malcolm Muggeridge for instance had already written about it.  As the subject of a film, the story of Duranty could have been better, or compare-and-contrast of him and Jones as very able men who could not easily find a place in normal life.

 

Macbeth, Greenwich Theatre 28 February

February 29, 2020

***

macbeth

Picture from Davy’s Wine Vaults/Twitter

The Lazarus Theatre production of Macbeth at the Greenwich Theatre was manly, clear and straightforward, at least when you could make out the words.  (A scene with Macduff’s pregnant wife addressing her bump was almost entirely lost on me, and it was sometimes difficult to understand what Lady Macbeth was saying.)

In line with manliness, the witches were male and as well as having some witchy exchanges cut they wore gas masks in one scene,  The direct approach meant that the pace of the action and there was on occasion the feeling that the cast just wanted to get it over with quickly.  There was no real distinction between the external world of action and heroism and the inner one of evil, obsession and femininity.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow raised a small shiver at the end, while Macbeth’s address to sleep was rather thrown away as he busied himself with washing off blood.  The murderers waylaid Banquo in complete darkness, rather contrary to their own words on the occasion.  Duncan became simply a comic figure at times.  The scene where Malcolm relates his imaginary failings to Macduff was even more tedious than normal, though that probably can’t be helped.

It was one of those productions where you can ask yourself what they are quarrelling over–if there is no glory, magnificence or colour (apart from Lady Macbeth’s dress) then what is the point.  But it will have been useful in helping anyone studying the text for an exam remember who the characters are and what they do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9apart

Oedipus King, Theatro Technis 18 January

January 19, 2020

**

oedipusking

Overexposed picture I acquired from Twitter

They are certainly very nice people at Theatro Technis, and go out of their way to make you feel part of the family.  At the end of the production, director George Eugeniou made an affecting appearance to thank the audience and to point out the contemporary relevance of the play.  His idea was that Sophocles had reflected in Oedipus the character of his friend Pericles, who had done much good for Athens but also lead it down the road of empire.  And now our world was beset by charismatic, dishonest leaders like Trump, Erdogan and Boris Johnson.

As for the production itself, there was some effective direction in for instance the reaction of individual chorus members to the news of Jocasta’s death, and the creation of striking stage pictures, as in the stolen and overexposed picture above.

BUT it was very difficult to make out what any of the actors were saying, even the native speakers of Standard English, so anyone who did not already know the piece would have been baffled.  ALSO the curse of naturalistic acting, when what was needed to stand and deliver (clearly!) ALSO the chorus neither danced nor sang.  ALSO there should have been some indication that Oedipus and Jocasta are King and Queen and so set apart.  ALSO the translation by Don Taylor depressingly combined inexactness with the bureaucratic-colloquial register.  ALSO the family feeling included audience members recording proceedings on their mobile phones, which distracted me at least.

Twelfth Night, Brockley Jack 16 January

January 17, 2020

***

Twelfth-Night-cast-Brockley-Jack

As far as we know, this comedy was first performed on the sixth of January (the twelfth day of Christmas) 1601, while in the play Antonio advises Sebastian

In the south suburbs, at the Elephant,
Is best to lodge (III.iii.39-40)

So Brockley on the 16th of January was pretty close both in time and space, and appropriately enough this production was very much mainline pub theatre Shakespeare.  In particular, ID tags, mobile phones and messages from electronic devices were very much in evidence.

At the beginning I was just alienated by the people rushing around but then I was drawn in by the poetry and the combination of absolute beauty with absolutely accurate psychological insight.  I enjoyed the boyish charm of Jessica Kinsey playing Viola playing Cesario.  The character of Feste was elided, so his machinations fell to Maria, while Olivia was very much a no-nonsense North Country lass who seemed to be mourning as a matter of form to pass the time.

The audience laughed or at least chuckled quite frequently, which is far from a given at Shakespeare comedies, and this was a very reliable performance of a very reliable comedy.

But what interested me was Olivia with her hard-bitten morning and her name that contains ‘Viola’, as does Malvolio’s name.  First of all, I thought that as in some kind of student clique Olivia (I, Viola) was trying to get in on the sibling mourning thing, while Malvolio (Viola, olm)  was trying to get in on Olivia, just not very adroitly.

Then I decided that in fact this was all an hallucination of the drowning Sebastian, where he fantasises Olivia as a longed-for ideal of salvation but Malvolio (who remains unreconciled) serves a a reminder that all is not well.  In fact, Sebastian is deluded and confined like Malvolio but in a watery grave.

When Malvolio says

I will be revenged on the whole pack of you! (V.i.380)

he will indeed, for they are all dead…

Antigone, New Diorama Theatre 1500 11 January

January 12, 2020

**

Antigone

This was the story of Antigone reflected in the world of two girls too young to go drinking.  I found that painful, with the heroism and beauty of the original dismissed without hope of appeal and what felt like a lot of overextended improvisation of sisters arguing and sistering.  They occasionally got to imitate some other characters as well.

I just about managed to last out an hour by concentrating on Ismene’s spangly sneakers and counting the number of people in the audience and fantasising about a clear run to the doorway.

Once again somebody had missed the point that tragedy is about things happening to people who are adults and are able to comprehend and react to events as adults.  That is tragic, bundles of suffering crushed by the incomprehensible is just disgusting.

After Antigone’s death there followed what I thought was a rather affecting momologue by Ismene covering first sexual experience, marriage, childbirth, social obligations, widowhood, being left unoccupied in a big house.  It would have been better if the actress had spoken more clearly.

So then I thought the playwright wanted to ask what a woman’s life is for.  First of all Antigone tries to be like a man and act in the world and then Ismene although damaged experiences family life and a husband and going to ceremonies with relatives, but all the will and intellect is just the emptiness of unused rooms.

I quickly made my way to the NDT unisex toilets, and then home.  See also  Greek Drama in London 2020.

 

 

An order from Ozon

January 12, 2020

It seemed to be that only Ozon was offering a copy of Портреты без рам, so I tried my first order from them for some time. In order to fill in the address, I had to locate myself on an interactive map and supplement that with further details of street name, house number, postcode. Frightening enough already! That was on 24 December.

ozon1

Then the order remained in process without any sign of it being packed up and sent off:

ozon2

until it turned up on 8 January–that is, as promised, before 9 January!  And so here we are:

ozon0

I suspect that like Frankie and Johnny this story has no moral.  Anyway, it cost me 800 roubles for the book plus 398 roubles delivery.

Visit to Perm in September 2020, for those with Oxford connections

January 10, 2020

perm2020

Karen Hewitt has written as follows (see our own experiences from 2012 here):

Dear Member of the Perm Association,

Here are details about our annual two-week visit to Perm which is open to anyone in Oxford and Oxfordshire or with an Oxford connection. This is because Oxford is twinned with Perm and Oxfordshire with Perm Region. More details are on the form. Most of you have been to Perm, but it is possible – probable – that you know someone else who would be interested in going. We can send a maximum of eight people, and we have already recruited two. So there are six vacant places.

If anyone wants to come, the best thing is to read and think about the conditions, and then send me an email immediately. The completed form and deposit can arrive a little later, once I have confirmed that there is a place available.

Best wishes,
Karen

 

Ravens: Spassky vs Fischer, Hampstead Theatre 1500 7 December

December 8, 2019

***

ravens

Part of Soviet delegation looking worried

So this was a play about the Spassky vs Fischer World Chess Championship Match of 1972.  It began with the actors playing the Soviet delegation (or Spassky’s team) speaking in what they thought was Russian.  Then they changed to English.

The curse of realism was certainly avoided, often by use of what one audience member near me described as antics.  Nikolai Krogius,  a psychologist and perhaps the leader of Spassky’s team, was played by Rebecca Scroggs, and the resemblance was not striking.

krogius

Rebecca Scroggs as Nikolai Krogius

krogius1

Nikolai Krogius as Nikolai Krogius

Russia and the Soviet Union

More of a concern was the fact that Ms Scroggs  as Krogius seemed the one of Spassky’s team who was most willing to compromise with reality, while the Russian Wikipedia article lays great stress on his pedantic nature and prominent position in the Soviet sports bureaucracy.  Oh yes; Spassky’s team referred to Russia  rather than the Soviet Union, and were equipped with regional accents which might have been meant to indicate that Geller was from  Ukraine and Nei from Estonia.  They also referred to ‘the Kremlin’ (impossible) rather than ‘Moscow’,  ‘the Committee’, ‘them’…

Drama

The main problem with the play–allowing that the average punter does not want to know about either chess or Russian history–was that it did not seem to know what it wanted to be about.  The Cold War as a kind of myth (like the Trojan War say) was not really developed (in spite of phone calls from Henry Kissinger), while we had indications of Tennessee Williams (Fischer as a self-deluding fantasist confronting his mother , but you need to be a proper failure for that to work), Fridrikh Gorenshtein (Spassky describing his life in the orphanage), Philip Glass (repetitive music, repetitive movements, stylised video displays), and probably many others.  If we were left with anything, it was the portrayal of Fischer as a deranged narcissistic individual, of an extremity that is probably unfair for the Fischer of 1972 (but not later, see the film).

Chess 

As for chess, I think you should at least get the words right.  Instead of a match consisting of individual games we had a tournament made up of matches.  The initial drawing of lots (to determine colours) was described by some phrase I didn’t understand, and instead of the score of a game we had a move list.  Spassky’s seconds are shown preparing for Game 3 in the certainty that Fischer would defend 1. d4 with the King’s Indian, when he had already played something different–the Nimzo-Indian–in Game 1.

Nobody even now really understands why the Soviet side didn’t just have Fischer defaulted when he didn’t appear at the beginning of the match, though the play follows the explanation given by Spassky that he just wanted to play.

Fischer and Spassky

You don’t really understand that Fischer had won the Candidates’ Matches in annihilatory fashion or that he had a long history of impossible demands about playing conditions, which seemed to be partly a reflection of a tortured psyche and partly attempting to get an advantage.  He is made to say that he plays not to win but to avoid losing, when one great difference between him and the Soviet professionals of his era was that he played to win (nearly) all the time.  His statement that you only know somebody when you’ve crushed their ego by playing them at chess could have been combined with the similarities between him and Spassky (disturbed childhood in many different places, absent fathers, raised by their mothers, sisters played an important part…)

Fischer’s Icelandic security-cum-minder tells a story about how Flóki Vilgerðarson found Iceland by releasing ravens from his boat until the third one headed of determinedly towards the North-West, whereupon Floki followed it and arrived in Reykjavik.  The suggestion is that Fischer is another such pathfinder; but he refers to becoming The Muhammad Ali of chess so in the world of the play the cult of celebrity already exists.

Endgame

It all seemed very long, as many people said in the audience.  But I only checked once to see that my watch was still going and it gave me something to think about/disagree with

Sorry We Missed You, East Dulwich Picturehouse 14 November

November 15, 2019

sorry

So after I, Daniel Blake we get another tale of the deserving poor of Newcastle.

The story concerns Ricky Turner, a construction worker who turns ‘self-employed’ delivery driver and the effect the gig economy has on him, his wife Abby (employed as a carer) and his children, Seb and Liza Jane.  The lad playing Seb did an excellent impression of a schooldays friend of mine from Brotton, say 60 miles away, but then the deserving poor of the North East do not go in for much variety.  Liza Jane on the other hand was just Lisa Simpson with a spelling mistake…There were times at the beginning when the actress playing Abby seemed to be overcome with world-weariness at having to mouth such dismal platitudes…

Unlike Daniel Blake, we got a lot of how people in Newcastle talk as imagined by those who have never been there, and very few nostalgia-inducing shots of the pace itself.

The family seemed to be living in rental squalor in a run-down upstairs Tyneside flat, which already begins not to make sense–if you’ve got a family and no money it’s at least worthwhile putting your name down for a council house.  We also got to see an overcrowded A&E and the houses of various clients of Abby’s who share with her improving moments of working-class history.

The hospital was after Ricky had been attacked and robbed of his valuable packages by a group of scrotes who had come prepared with a sack to put stuff in so they must have known where he would be, but how?  Maybe ESP.  That was early in the morning when he had a full load and we got to see the hospital in the evening, yeah it makes sense.  You could ask why he wore his Man U shirt so encouraging timewasting banter when he wanted to get round quickly or what happened to the money he made when he was providing blameless service on a good route or indeed  lots of other things.

Then again I had some sympathy with the boss Evil Bastard Maloney, who unlike the others had clearly read his Marx before expounding his views on the cash (now modernised to data) nexus, but if you are really living by results rather than incarnate evil you don’t immediately crack down on somebody who has previously been a good provider.

It is probably pointless to point out that operatives who are told what to do, how to do it and when to do it would not count as self-employed for tax purposes or to complain at Seb’s obligatory Black friend (about 2% of the population  of Newcastle have at least some African ancestry, so it’s possible but very formulaic).

Apart from the caricature of life in Newcastle, the real problem is that you need to start with the characters and their relationships and then the way that external circumstances get into them if you’re going to call it a drama, otherwise make a documentary.

 

Rachel’s Hebrew Classes 2019-2020

October 23, 2019

isaac

Rachel Montagu has kindly written to detail her Advanced Biblical Hebrew course for 2019-20.  (Those of a nervous disposition may accurately prefer to read that as  Non-elementary Biblical Hebrew.)

As in previous years, we expect these classes to follow the pattern where each student in turn reads a verse aloud and then translates it, with input from Rachel as necessary. She also provides some background and interpretation from traditional Jewish teaching.

The emphasis is certainly on understanding the text rather than grammar as such. In my experience, there have been perhaps an average of seven or so students coming to lessons. The level things are taken at tends to depend on who the students are, while the fee per term might be something around £110-£130, depending on circumstances.  At about £ 10 per 2-hour session this certainly looks like good value!

In principle, students should have covered the material in the First Hebrew Primer from Eks before starting this class. If you know the qal conjugation (perfect and imperfect) pretty well for verbs with three strong roots (the ‘regular’ ones if you like) and have some idea about hiphil and niphal and verbs with weak roots, that will probably do.

If you want to know more, you can email Rachel.  I’ve also shared just about everything I know about studying Biblical Hebrew with the world here.

Wednesdays 6.30-8.30 p.m., at Liberal Judaism, 21 Maple Street, London, W1T 4BE

Autumn Term

Isaac – Lost Between Father and Son?

28 October                  Gen. 17:15-22, 18:1-15, 21:1-5

4th November              Gen. 21:6-13, 22:1-19

11 November             Gen. 24:62-67, 25:1-11, 19:28

18 November              Gen. 26:1-24

25 November              Gen.26:25-35, 27:1-16

2 December                Gen.27:17-40

9 December                Gen. 27:41-46, 28:1-9, 35:27-29

 

Spring Term

Women Prophets

13 January                  Miriam: Exodus 2:1-10, 15:20-22, Numbers 12:1-15

20 January                  Numbers 20:1-5, 26:59, Deut. 24:8-9, Micah 6:4

Deborah: Judges 4:1-15,

27 January                  Judges 4:16-24, 5:1-12

3 February                  Judges 5:24-31,

Mrs Isaiah Isaiah 8:1-4

Noadiah Nehemiah 6:1-14

 

Huldah and Josiah

10 February                2 Kings 21:19-23, 22:1-20

[17 February half term]

24 February                2 Kings 23:1-25

2 March                       2 Kings 23:26-36, 2 Chronicles 33:21-25, 34:1-10

[9 March no class – Purim]

16 March                     2 Chronicles 34:11-33, 35:1-13

23 March                     2 Chronicles 35:14-27, 36:1-5

 

A Still Small Voice/Sound of Sheer Silence

30 March                     I Kings 19:1-21

 

Summer Term

Lamentations

20 April                        Lamentations 1:1-22-2:7

27 April                        Lamentations 2:8-22, 3:1-10

[4 May – bank holiday – no class]

11 May                        Lamentations 3:11-66

18 May                        Lamentations 4:1-22

25 May – bank holiday – no class]

1 June                         Lamentations 5:1-22

 

Micah

8 June                         Micah 1:10, 3:1-12, 4:1-14

15 June                       Micah 6:1-16, 7:1-10

22 June                       Micah 7:11-20

 

Psalms

29 June                       Psalm 145, 122, 134,

6 July                           Psalms 51, 127, 130, 137, 150

13 July                         Class choice of psalms