Archive for October, 2009

Mother Courage National Theatre 30 October

October 31, 2009



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I arrived at my seat to find myself between an older lady who was hunched up trying to escape the sheer noise and two younger ladies excitedly pointing out details to each other.

When it began, it seemed like ‘Mother Courage’ as the ill-starred tour of an (Irish) rock group, with Fiona Shaw as the lead singer.  The pre-interval session proceeded in satisfying session, showing the horror and stupidity of war–Corruption is the human equivalent of God’s love–though Fiona Shaw had an ineradicable well-scrubbed wholesomeness that didn’t really fit the part.  And the voice of Gore Vidal read the scene titles with fitting malignity.

After the interval, I began to feel a little impatient.  Then Courage’s dumb daughter Kattrin banged on a drum to rouse the sleeping inhabitants of Halle to their defence and an extremely noisy machine gun cut her down.  This was the only act of self-realisation in the play and it meant getting people to fight…At the end, Mother Courage was on her own pulling her waggon round in a circle.

And why did Fiona Shaw sound so genteel? At the end, she got a standing audience from about 3/4 of the audience for flogging herself half to death–that’s what we like, someone who gives absolutely everything they can.  Then she announced that there would be a collection in aid of 15 actors’ charities, and burly men wielding white buckets climbed down from the stage and bounded up the stairs to guard the exits.

It was all certainly impressive as an exhibition of what the National can do…But it is not middle-aged Irish actresses who need to be flogged on account of  warmongering.

Одинокое место Америка (Ирина Борисова)

October 29, 2009



Ну вот.  Данная книжка включает в себя 40 маленьких рассказов о том, как русские женщины заходят, не заходят, или хотят зайти за иностранцев (инострнец–или финн или американец), отвратительное сочинение под названием <<Когда мы обеднеем>>,  вполне рзумные советы о том, <<Как писать письма>>.

И все это предельно вяло, пресно, скучно…Рассказчица (во всех рассказах повествование идет именно от ее лица) владеет своим брачным агенством и, следовательно, ее герои и героини тоже занимаются маленьким бизнесом.  Все иностранцы наивны, не понимают, что такое жизнь и любовь, а представительницы России одинаково озабочены детьми, (скорее–ребенком), родителями, трудностями денежного типа.

Достигается нулевая точка литературного слога–как будто, не очень продвинутая 12-летняя школьница пишет о том,  <<Как я провела летние каникулы>>…

Среди советов о том, <<Как писать письма>>

Я бы посоветовала описывать детали: мелкие детали бытия…я бы не советовала рассказывать [о вашей жизни] общими словами

но сама так не поступает, и результат просто безинтересен.

Greek Drama in London 2010

October 27, 2009

A good year for Aeschylus

We hear that UCL will be doing “Choephoroi” and “Eumenides” (in English) from 10-12 February at the Bloomsbury Theatre–further details are now available here.  Meanwhile, KCL will be doing “Persae” in Greek at the Greenwood Theatre–details  here.

And so far it’s 3/3 for Aeschylus!

Now you can read our account of the UCL production here, and of the Persae here. And I’ve added some new listings (as of  3 May) here.

2 for 1 tickets for The Spanish Tragedy (Arcola Theatre)

October 26, 2009


The Arcola have just emailed:

Just in case you needed any further incentive to experience the top notch culture The Guardian’s on about, we’d like to offer our e-subscribers 2 for 1 tickets for performances of The Spanish Tragedy this week.

The offer runs from Monday 26 – Friday 30 October. To take advantage, phone the Arcola box office on 020 7503 1646 and quote “Hieronimo”. Tickets must be booked in advance and are subject to availability. Only one offer valid per person.

Well, not entirely surprising I must say!

The Spanish Tragedy Arcola Theatre 24 October

October 24, 2009



Why then Ile fit you.  Hieronimo’s mad againe (from The Waste Land) was all I knew or thought I knew about this play.  And in fact neither of these phrases occurred in this production, though the second one seems to be the subtitle (as above).

Anyway, the audience outnumbered the actors but not by too much, and it was all rather a mess, especially in the first half.  The layout of Arcola’s Studio 1, with the playing area in between two facing sections of seating made the frequent exits and entrances rather tedious.  Also there wasn’t anything I recognised as poetry, but both of these points seem to be explained by the text having been extensively cut.


A roller shutter door

Director Mitchell Moreno felt the desire to do some Katie-Mitchell-up-and-over-garage-door stuff, and the door also served as a screen for some video projection.  And the Viceroy of Portugal making his speech to camera and then it’s screened in the manner of news footage–we’ve had this in the National’s Henry V and lots of other places surely…

Then I had the thought that acting was the same as swimming: if you don’t have confidence in the water or play, you thrash your limbs about and get into all kinds of trouble.  Well, the ten-year-old Kitty Oliphant as Revenge did a very good job, keeping her arms by her sides and producing an impressively affectless delivery (maybe she did just a little squint at the end of her nose with the effort of remembering her lines).  Dominic Rowan as Hieronimo was impressive in patches–especially when his arms formed the sides of a triangle, focusing attention on his face–and Keith Bartlett was more than competent as the King of Spain.

Apart from that, rather a lot of floundering.  And definite confusion when (for instance) the speeches in the play-within-a-play were given in Latin, Greek, Italian and French after Hieronymo had provided an explanation for the audience hearing then in English.

Strange that Hieronimo finally decided on revenge after consulting the Penguin Classics edition of Catullus…

A room and a half (LFF, Cine Lumiere 23 October)

October 24, 2009



Or Полторы Комнаты, Или Сентиментальное Путешествие На Родину

Three guys appeared at the front with a smaller number of working microphones.  One of then said that he was an important person connected with the LFF and the film had a UK distributor so we could in fact see it again. The director, a rubicund old guy with white Asterix moustaches, said how happy he was to see all of us.

Then we had the film.  Joseph Brodsky rang his parents’ empty flat from New York, then dreamed of making a flying visit to Leningrad by way of Helsinki, so avoiding the visa regime.  Then he was on a ship with mildly supernatural happenings, and I thought it was all going to be bloody irritating.  Then there followed scenes from Brodsky’s early life, switching between sepia, black-and-white and colour.  As his mother, Alisa Freindlikh did not grow any younger in the earlier scenes but she did age in the later ones.  And after ten minutes or so she stopped giving her invariable performance as Alisa Freindlikh and started taking it seriously, which greatly improved my mood.

It all became rather wonderful.  Young Brodsky daydreamed at school, marched with his father in an army of two and tripped across a frozen Neva.  As his family prepared to relocate far away following the start of the Doctors’ Plot, their piano rose into the air and joined streams of musical instruments flocking together over Petersburg.


There were many passages of animation inserted into the live action.  As Brodsky’s parents spent their time watching ice-skating on a small old TV, cartoon crows skated together and then watched it on their TV, wrapped in a red scarf Mum had knitted for Dad.

And there was lots of music–from Bach to Schnittke and beyond.  Poems were read on the soundtrack, and in the cartoon world Pushkin and a cat shared poetic duties, occasionally adapting each other’s lines.  Brodsky rang his parents from a party in NY and each side thought the other was in a bad way.

The flashbacked formation of Brodsky’s character reached a height of yearning as the teenager took girls to parties–to bed–talked nonsense from the roofs of high buildings–argued with his friends in the Summer Garden.

So then (in his dreams!) Brodsky arrived in SPb and progressed unsteadily through chaotic and alienating scenes of modern Russia, entered his parents’ empty room-and-a-half in a communal apartment, saw nostalgia-soaked absent articles and sat down to dine with his deceased parents, even asking how they had died.  When they asked him how he had passed away, since he could not otherwise be talking with them, he was nonplussed.

And here (near enough the end in all conscience) it began to lose me again.  The billowing net curtains of estranging eternity and inconsequential conversation among the presumably departed did rather resemble an autopilot Tarkovsky, and then the parents appeared in Japanese costumes and dissolved in front of a blank wall…oh well, never mind!

The credits included a disclaimer to say that all characters and events were purely imaginary, which seemed to be there to let somebody off some hook.  As I recall it, in Brodsky’s essay that gives the film its title he describes how shitty his childhood was and you realise against his will that he yearns for it, without losing any of his bitterness towards the Soviet Union, but in the film we more had nostalgia seasoned with picturesque inconveniences in the dreamtime.

At the end we all clapped and many had tears to wipe away.  Khrzhanovsky thanked people for their kind words and explained that the film’s approach was one of polystylism, which he had discussed with Alfred Schnittke.  As for detailed questions about him and the composer, he would be discussing them in the Schnittke Festival in November.  The important guy repeated that the film had a UK distributor so we could see it again.  (And indeed it will be on in November at Pushkin House.)

We clapped some more and left the hall and went downstairs and out into the sunlight.

Flavio (ETO, RCM 21 October)

October 23, 2009
Picture from

Picture from

So  a visit to another world, or rather more than one of them–first of all South Kensington, which is so obviously not a part of London that only foreigners (and a few dinosaurs) live there.  And then to the world of Handel’s operas,

dove ignoto è ancora
Al nostro mondo il mondo

to quote Emilia  (though we actually had the words in a pretty sprightly English translation).

A world indeed still unknown to our world where characters comment on the emotions they might be feeling rather than displaying them; where the music shows commendable economy in reusing the same material many times over without the precision you might expect in something called the Britten Theatre; where it all too often points to generalised settings of ‘lugubrious’ or ‘self-satisfied’ rather than engaging with the action and emotions; where you build your expectations for a heroic  tenor declamation and you get a counter-tenor; where (as my companion observed, since we were sitting in the front row) the strings don’t have proper bows; where the lady sitting next to me told me off for laughing in the interval and spoiling her recital of the complete contents of the programme to her partner; where damned few of the audience are going to see 70 again, never mind 60.

Words came out in the likeness of a wreathed vagina pouring out Handel–

And this was the worse kind: in the other kind there’s some classical or Biblical story to hold on to so at least you’re not entirely carried away to the altro mondo di noia.

Anyway, the thing began and the set consisted of a plain box painted blue while props comprised many red-bound books for characters to obediently consult or tear pages out of in a rage; or in the alternative daggers.  Sometimes daggers were hidden or mislaid in books just for a change.  And the lighting (credited to Kevin Treacy) did wonders in creating interesting and lending variety without much help from, well, the music was the main culprit since I think translation improved the words in this case.

So in the first act I oriented myself in this unfamiliar universe and the process was quite interesting even if the universe wasn’t.  Then I spent the second act mostly sunk in despair that it really was going to be like this and contemplating revenge on my various enemies, rather like a Handelian hero but without the obsessive repetition.

Then having adjusted myself to the Lilliputian scale of things, I found I was quite interested: the music came into focus as Emilia agonised over whether to kill her betrothed Guido after he had despatched her father Lotario, and I even forgave Guido for being a countertenor.

Then the third act passed in really quite sprightly fashion as Emilia (Paula Sides) and Guido (James Laing) agonised,  Flavio (Clint van der Linde) reunited Teodata (Carolyn Dobbin) and Vitige (Angelica Voje) with even five seconds or so of humour; and everything ended happily with more than one person being allowed to sing at the same time as a special treat.

Actually I thought all the singers did very well, especially in not dying of boredom at an early stage of the proceedings–Carolyn Dubbin provided the best acting skills in the soubrette role, while Paula Sides probably had the most demanding part to master and did so very well.

So well done to everyone, and especially me for even managing to enjoy it!

Some readings of ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

October 22, 2009



As the title rather suggests, this book consists of a good part of the text of  ‘Pride and Prejudice’ interspersed with scenes where zombies appear and in general make an ineffective nuisance of themselves before being speedily vanquished, especially by Elizabeth Bennet.

My first reading was of the extract available on Amazon, and I thought the straight-faced collision of such disparate worlds was hilarious.  Then I got the book itself, and inwardly rather daunted by the thought of 300 pages and one joke, I found it no more than mildly amusing.  That was unfair of course–there is a second joke in the form of the “Reader’s Discussion Guide” at the end, which is a very funny parody of the kind of self-regarding bollocks you find at the end of book club editions.

Question 6 asks:  Some critics have suggested that the zombies represent the  authors’ views toward marriage–an endless curse that sucks the life out of you and just won’t die.  Do you agree, or do you have another opinion about the symbolism of the unmentionables?

Well, let’s have a think about whether there is any connection between the zombies and the world of Jane Austen (which is kind of Question 10 of the “Reader’s Guide”).

As they suggest, zombification is represented as Charlotte Lewis becoming a drivelling idiot upon her marriage to Mr Collins, so maybe it does represent the effect of marriage and children upon a woman.

Jane Austen heroines had their own warrior code with its strict rules and cruel punishments as they sought a husband without breaking down and weeping at the unfairness of it all, so when five of them appeared at a ball it would have had something of the effect of a Pentagram of Death.

Pedantic critics have often pointed out that Jane Austen never mentions slavery and the Caribbean sugar plantations upon which the wealth of her characters depended.  A belief in zombies originated among the slaves on these plantations, as representing the horror of being forced to go on working even after death.

My third reading involved comparing PPZ with PP, to see exactly what Seth Grahame-Smith had done.  And after that I was rather more impressed.

The changes seem to me to come down to the following:

i)  changing something that is not about zombies to something that is;

ii)  opening a hole in PPZ  and inserting a zombie passage there;

iii)  adding in violence, Oriental martial arts and vomit similarly to (i) and (ii) above for zombies;

iv)  removing entirely some complicated stuff about perceptions and nuances;

v)    replacing the abstract by the concrete, even when there is no real change in meaning;

vi)   making some very minor changes in the plot (since Mr Collins has hung himself, he can’t write to Mr Bennet, so a Colonel Fitzwilliam needs to be introduced).

And of these, the least is…zombies, since they really don’t feature in the development of the human situations.  As well as the girls’ warrior code as husband-hunters, the conflict between Elizabeth and Lady Catherine de Bourgh becomes combat by the rules of Oriental martial arts, and that’s perfectly reasonable (also funny).  Similarly the violence makes explicit what is hinted at in PP, as when Darcy threatens to cut out Miss Bingley’s tongue with a sabre, or Elizabeth daydreams she has cut off Kitty’s head.

And again the violence is simply funny, as in the brilliant Chapter 51, where Wickham arrives after a punishment beating by Darcy:  Leather straps kept him fastened to his traveling bed, which was redolent of stale piss; and Elizabeth, who had been expecting as much, was nevertheless shocked at the severity of his injuries.

In Chapter 43, both versions make rather a good joke in their different ways:

The picture-gallery, and two or three of the principal bedrooms, were all that remained to be shewn. In the former were many good paintings; but Elizabeth knew nothing of the art; and from such as had been already visible below, she had willingly turned to look at some drawings of Miss Darcy’s in crayons, whose subjects were usually more interesting, and also more intelligible.

as opposed to

The battle-gallery, and two or three of the principal bedrooms, were all that remained to be shown. In the former were many good zombie heads and suits of Samurai armor; but Elizabeth cared little for such trophies, and turned to look at some drawings of Miss Darcy’s, in crayons, whose subjects were almost exclusively the male nude form.

(not only a change in content, but also syntactic simplification and concrete-for-abstract!)

A final thought: if you apply syntactic simplification and concrete-for-abstract to X to produce an English novel, then what is X?  It looks as though Miss Austen was engaged in writing French novels in English, an observation that might have surprised her more than somewhat.

Morphia/Морфий BFI LFF 18 October

October 19, 2009


OK, so this was due to start at 9.15.  At 9.15 there was an announcement that the doors would open at 9.30, so I went and browsed in the book and music shops.  The film finally began at 9.45.  Then, a quarter of an hour in, three Russian girls were ushered in bearing voluminous glasses of wine and after lengthy consultations sat in front of us.  Two went to sleep and one conducted urgent (and, to be fair, silent) business on her mobile.  So this неразбериха definitely put me in the mood…

And the film?  Oh that…well, I had many problems with it.  In the stories by Mikhail Bulgakov, the hero first of all comes to terms with his new surroundings and responsibilities in a small (one-doctor) establishment and then after transfer to a large town succumbs to morphine addiction.  Here he was taking morphine from the beginning and also having an affair with Ingeborga Dapkunaite and some other woman from a totally extraneous storyline about a local nest of the gentry.  So that was irritating.

OK, so what of the film itself?  I still didn’t like it.  I enjoyed the historical pornography [Nabokov has a better term for it somewhere] of the detailed depiction of a bygone Russia.  But I didn’t believe the pornographic pornography and Leonid Bichevin’s portrayal of the hero as a typical Soviet bloke succumbing to sex and drugs.  Bulgakov was trying to make the point in Собачье сердце that educated people pre-Revolution behaved differently.  And the sentimental songs that were stuck in everywhere in the true Soviet fashion annoyed me too.

So we had the clever ending where the hero goes into a cinema and shoots himself and Конец appears on the screen of the cinema in the film.  It was half-past eleven and they weren’t turning the lights on, so I gathered my coat and bag from beneath my seat and headed for the bus.  Then I thought that I’d left my scarf behind, but it was too late and I wanted to go home.

St Paul’s Sinfonia St Paul’s Deptford 16 October

October 16, 2009


I arrived a minute or so past 7.30 since I’d spent some time searching for something secure-looking to lock my bike to.  There were no programmes left and I occupied my normal place at the front.  The orchestra launched into Leonore No. 3 with commendable energy (also one rather wild entry from the French horns).  The man sitting next to me kindly passed me his programme, and I saw that I was down as a Friend–surely that was last year, if not the year before?

Second up was the Sibelius Violin Concerto with a real Finnish soloist in Frida Backman.  And she had provided a programme note on the piece including an interesting piece of Finnish information:  [The first movement] concludes with a lot of ‘sisu’–a type of idiomatic Finnish mental and emotional state in which one takes on any challenge regardless of the odds .

During the interval I went down to the crypt where there was friendly coffee on a pay-what-you-feel-like basis, as well as checking that my bike was still there.

So finally we had Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony, again played with commendable vigour (perhaps the big tune from the cor anglais in the Largo could have been a bit more legato), and I was quite carried away as the end approached…

Definitely worth a try if you’re in the area!  The next concert is on 20 November, details on their website.