Archive for January, 2010

The Magic Toyshop Oxford Playhouse 30 January

January 30, 2010


Picture from Magic Toyshop group on Facebook

Oh dear.  The moment this began with Melanie (Bella Hammad) praying downstage centre I knew it was all a mistake and I wanted to leave and go home.

I  think the main problem was that this was a student production where the director’s wealth of extravagant ideas was not curbed by the normal lack of resources.

And the adaptation seemed not to have managed to get the essence of the thing out, so that what was implicit in the novel (and should perhaps have emerged from the interactions between the characters in a stage adaptation) was made painfully explicit–as in Melanie’s opening prayer, voicing her unspoken and unrealised desires.  But I suppose if you start off by remarking It may seem odd that a group of modern students should want to take on and perform a fairly obscure 1960s feminist text, then this doesn’t bode very well for what happens.

There were some decisions I just didn’t understand:  in the novel, for instance, Melanie is struck by how dirty Finn is at their first meeting (dirt…adult male flesh…sex), but here he was perfectly well-presented and only appeared dirty in a later scene so that Uncle Philip could berate him.  And how can Uncle Philip’s small shop of hand-made toys have a cellar full of large tea-chests with say Philip Flower/ Legs stencilled on them, as though it was a mass-production outfit?

As to the performances:  all the actors were obviously the same age, which you can’t help in a student production.  Will Spray’s Uncle Philip was handsome and upright, not squalid and confined as the part demanded, while  Bella Hammad as Melanie did not really seem to internalise her exile from Eden.  Ollo Clark and Chris Morgan had good Irish accents as Finn and Francie.  Madeleine Dodd’s accent as Mrs Rundle was less convincing, but did remind me that Angela Carter was surely removed from South London to Yorkshire at a tender age.

I enjoyed the string quartet.  Dismiss me.  Enough.

Getting my Toshiba A60 Equium to work

January 27, 2010

So, my laptop (which has been pretty useful since I installed a large amount of extra RAM) had been shutting itself off with increasing frequency.  I decided this had to be down to crud getting in the ‘heat dispersal system’.  The crisis came when I couldn’t even leave it to run a virus scan without it turning itself off.

A quick search on Google yielded a useful thread here, and in particular this (edited) advice from joshmo:

I have a solution that is simple, and worked for me….You are dealing with really fine lint, which is blocking the heat sink.

Acquire a can of compressed air. Acquire a standard household vacuum cleaner. Put in a fresh bag – to ensure the strongest possible vacuum.

Look at the back of the laptop. There should be a vented area; inside, a radiator – looks like a piece of folded aluminum foil; about 1/2″ high, runs the width of the vented area. This is the heat sink, sits on top of the processor.

(1)  Vacuum off the air intake at the back of the Toshiba – probably want to use the flat vacuum pipe, will help to focus the vacuum – try to block as much air around the hose as you can, so that the air flow is forced across the heat sink. 3 -5 minutes of vacuuming here. Work the entire vented area.

(2) Now, here’s where you need an additional hand. Have someone hold the vacuum on a fan; spray compressed air thru the heat sink, go very slowly, because you want to give every vent a heavy blast of air; the vacuum should catch the crud that you are blowing free. Use the long plastic stem provided with the can of compressed air to put air directly into each fold in the heat sink. Work then all.

Your machine should be good for another 6-12 months.

And here am I putting this advice into effect:

(1) Vacuuming through the grille over the fan

(2) Squirting the heatsink with compressed air at the same time as vacuuming through the grille

And it all seems to work perfectly now!

Buying books on classics

January 23, 2010

This posting is about my experience of buying books on classics-type subjects (Ancient Greek language and literature; Indo-European; the Hebrew Bible–Latinists had better look away now), in the hope that they will prove useful to other people.

As ever, there are two ways of buying these books:  on the Internet and in person.


This is really pretty easy, since a great deal can be found through BookFinder.  This covers all kinds of things:  Internet retailers of new books, Internet second-hand dealers, the Internet arms of conventional booksellers–and many different countries besides.

It’s worth noting that it may be cheaper to order books from the American or German versions of Amazon than from the English one.

As to sources that are not on BookFinder, the Hellenic Bookservice have their own catalogue (they do Latin as well, but their online catalogue only covers 35% of their stock).  And Oxbow Books only seem to have data from the American website listed on BookFinder, so it’s as well to visit their own site as well.  In the past, I’ve also bought some of the Bryn Mawr commentary series directly from Hackett Publishing in the US.

Apart from those mentioned above, sources I’ve found useful include Marijana Dworski (languages) and Pendleburys (theology).

Anyway, a reasonable strategy is:

1.  look on BookFinder;

2.  if that doesn’t work, see if the publishers have a website that  you can order the book from;

3.  if that doesn’t work, put the ISBN or title/author into Google together with some word such as price (prix, Preis…) to avoid being submerged in library catalogues;

4.  if you can’t find it anywhere, you can always leave a want on sites like abebooks and they’ll email you when it turns up.

Y0u also get some interesting classical books appearing in Italian from time to time–see here for an example.

In person (starting from London, England)

In London, Waterstone’s Gower Street have a reasonable selection, as do Foyle’s. The Blackwells in Charing Cross Road doesn’t have much, but their shops in Oxford and Cambridge do. You can generally use the website to find out which branch of Blackwells has a particular book in stock. As well as Blackwell’s, there’s also the Classics Bookshop to be found in Oxford–well, somewhere in the Oxfordshire countryside nowadays, to be precise.

Otherwise in London, Waterstones in Piccadilly has a wall of Loebs and not much else. Moving into the second-hand/remainder area, the Gower Street Waterstone’s has a reasonable amount of highly-priced used stock, while Skoob have a (often quite substantial) selection of Loebs and some other stuff, and the same goes for Judd Books.  We may also add Unsworth’s in their new home in St Martin’s Court.  Then again,   Henry Pordes Books quite often have something interesting (but very few cheap Loebs).

And there’s always the Hellenic Bookservice!

A word about Bibles

The definitive editions of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), Septuagint (Greek translation of the Tanakh), Vulgate (Latin version of the Bible) and Greek New Testament are those published by the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft.  It’s worth having a look on their website, since these editions may be more available or cheaper there than on Amazon/via the normal channels.  You’ll need to use the Latin versions of the titles: Biblia Hebraica, Septuaginta, Vulgata, Novum Testamentum Graece.

That reminds me of the large amount of time I spent in Moscow bookshops unsuccessfully searching for a Church Slavonic bible, and also of some amusing stories about Kurt Aland…

Note:  as from December 2010, any updates will be here.

RPO/Dutoit/Repin RFH 20 January

January 23, 2010


Picture of Vadim Repin from

1.  STRAVINSKY Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1920)
2. TCHAIKOVSKY Violin Concerto
3. RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Scheherazade

According to the programme notes, the Symphonies of Wind Instruments was not meant to ‘please an audience’, nor to arouse its passions.  It succeeded in these ambitions, and the lack of interest did spread to some of the players on occasion, though the brass did a good job of making a loud noise when given the chance.

But the audience was pleased–and its passions were aroused–by the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.  Vadim Repin played with complete mastery and a great variety of tone colour, while Charlges Dutoit pulled the tempi around in a satisfyingly idiomatic fashion.  There was spontaneous and really quite prolonged applause after the second movement.

And after the interval, we had Scheherazade, with the violin part winningly played by leader Clio Gould and many other parts of the orchestra getting a chance to show what they could do.  This is another piece where you need a nice brightly-coloured cartoon film or a ballet to keep your mind from wandering, but at least the little girl sitting along from me had enough ice cream to keep her occupied.

St Paul’s Sinfonia (St Paul’s Deptford) 15 January

January 21, 2010


1.  Gorecki – Three Pieces in Olden Style
2.  John Woolrich – Ulysses Awakes
3.  Stravinsky – Apollon Musagete
4.  Tchaikovsky – Serenade for Strings

Well, that was a jolly nice concert for string orchestra, and the programming showed commendable variety–I’d not heard either of the first two pieces before.  As ever, conductor Andrew Morley enthused the orchestra, soloist (Victoria Rawlins playing the viola in Ulysses Awakes), audience and probably the occupants of the graves outside as well.

I especially enjoyed the first two pieces, and  Ulysses Awakes reminded me of my ambition to see Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria sometime–the viola part here derives from Dormo ancora there.  I did occasionally regret the lack of any ballet to watch during Apollon Musagete. And my theory that it’s best to sit at the back to get properly-blended sound was confirmed…

The Resurrectionist (Jack O’Connell): A Bad Book Is A Big Evil

January 20, 2010



Our hero is one Sweeney a pharmacist whose son Danny is in a coma following an accident.  So Sweeney gets a job at the mysterious Peck Clinic where they are good at rousing coma patients.  Danny was keen on a comic book called Limbo and there is a parallel narrative of a group of circus freaks there.

The basis of the main story is that the eponymous Dr Peck wants to recall to Danny to our world as someone else by injecting him with foetal stem cells while a biker gang (headed by one Nadia, who is working as a nurse at the hospital) who travel the country injecting themselves with cerebrospinal fluid from coma patients to join them in their world provide the opposition.

The problem with this story is that there are far too many characters, all of whom are unbelievable and undercharacterised.  And the city of Quinsigamond is a nightmare place where everything tends to go wrong, so there’s no reality as an anchoring-place to give the comic-book story a context.

The comic-book story is actually less inept–the main problem is that there are too many of the circus freaks and since you can’t see them as in a comic book or film it’s very hard to tell which is which.

The narratives aren’t anything like interesting enough to justify the absent characterisation, though the author has obviously exerted himself introducing laborious  correspondences between them.  And if you don’t have proper characters, you expect a decently-articulated plot; here, at the end, the two worlds bleed together into one and nothing much is resolved.


How do I find a reading group/book club, especially in SE4, SE23 and environs?

January 18, 2010

Information here has now been moved to this page

A Yorkshire Tragedy White Bear 14 January

January 14, 2010


Picture from

At the beginning, someone (from the photos on the programme it was Tobias Deacon) appeared to say we should turn our mobile phones off, this was a short play of 10 scenes originally ascribed (on the title page of the first publication) to Shakespeare, and that familicide was defined as killing one’s partner and children and 96% of cases in the UK had a male perpetrator.

So the story is simple enough: the Husband is in debt due to carousing, gambling etc and when pressed for payment attempts to murder his loving and dutiful wife and innocent sons (in fact he only manages to despatch two of the three sons–his wife recovers and he never gets to the third son), while at the end the wife is reconciled–the husband says he is now free from demonic possession–the wife unsuccessfully pleads for mercy on him.

The two basic problems here were that the parts were underwritten–the reconciliation scene might have come off with some real poetry–and the part of the Husband was seriously underplayed by Lachlan Nieboer.  Instead of demonic possession or alcoholic psychosis he suggested controlled irritation, whereas Charlotte Powell as The Wife did a very good job within the limits of the lines she was given.

Picture from

At the end, there were voice-overs suggesting parallels with some distressing recent cases, but again this was insufficiently prepared: the psychological basis of these cases seems to be the perversion of a loving father’s desire to protect his family, rather than a grudge against the world and bad temper.

The Japanese-style forest-influenced set featured pieces of bark on the floor, stylised branches on the rear wall, Brecht-style titles for the various locales and some grey steel boxes; and that was all quite interesting and could probably be recycled for a better play.

There’s an interesting Wikipedia article with some useful further links here.

На полях “A Shropshire Lad” (Тimur Kibirov)

January 13, 2010


A E Housman

Well, this book (На полях <<A Shropshire Lad>>, Тимур Кибиров, Поэтическая библиотека, М. 2007) is rather fine!  It contains the 63 poems from Housman’s ‘A Shropshire Lad’ each accompanied by a…response…from Kibirov.  Usually this comprises a poem in Russian where the theme of Housman’s original is applied to Kibirov’s own life and world-view, but sometimes we have an adaptation or response in English, a literal translation or a collection of summaries from different points of view.  In general, Kibirov’s responses keep to about the same length and the same level of regularity in metre and rhyme as the originals, which is of course less surprising in Rusian than it would be in English.

In No. 22, in response to Housman’s The street sounds to the soldiers’ tread, Kibirov reflects on his strange meeting with Housman:

Ну почему не Честертон,
Не Донн, не Вальтер Скотт?!
С какого перепугу он
К себе меня влечет?

На кой мне этот пессимизм,
И плоский стоицизм,
И извращенный эротизм,
И жалкий атеизм?

Зачем же про себя и вслух
Я эти песни пел?..
О, где бы ты ни был, бедный дух,
Professor, I wish you well.

Timur Kibirov

So, in response to Housman’s pessimism, banal stoicism, perverted eroticism and wretched atheism, Kibirov proposes humour, heterosexual love, Christianity and a kind of hard-won optimism.  He also rather passes by the detailed nature descriptions in Housman in favour of the background provided by his own life and tends to substitute British patriotism by references to the glories of Russian literature.

So, in number 40 Into my heart an air that kills, we have as a response

Издалека пахнуло тем,
Что гибелью грозит:
Где ж эти вешние холмы,
Где ж та листва шумит?

Ах, это край, где вечно май,
Где вечно мы, дружок,
Сидим на склоне, расстелив
В длину мой пиджачок.

So in place of Housman’s detailed description of the landscape and bitterness at what has been lost, we have a pleasant reminiscence from Kibirov of sitting outside and enjoying romance in the open air.  Or similarly, in response to the elemental resignation of No. 32,  From far, from eve and morning

Kibirov feels that, with love, something remains and something can yet be achieved:

Конечно, не так, как прежде,
Но все же вынослив я,
Сношу-выношу нагрузки
И тяготы бытия.

Но как же, Господи, тяжко!
Как злато и как свинец…
А все-таки смерть перевесит
Тяжелую жизнь под конец.

Вот так же невыносима
Любовь. Но тебя, дружок,
(Пусть не на руках – на закорках)
Еще б я понес чуток…

Conveniently enough, you can find the complete texts here.

Literal translations of Kibirov’s versions

No. 22

Well, why not Chesterton,
Not Donne, not Walter Scott?
In what fright does he
Attract me to himself?

Why do I need this pessimism,
And banal stoicism,
And perverted eroticism,
And wretched atheism?

Why is it, to myself and aloud,
I have sung these songs?
Oh, wherever you are, poor spirit,
Professor, I wish you well.

No. 22

From far off it smells of that
Which threatens ruin:
Where then are these eternal hills
Where then does that foliage rustle?

Ah, that land, where it is always May,
Where we  are always, my friend,
Sitting on the slope, having spread out
My jacket lengthwise.

No. 32

Of course, not the same as previously,
But all the same I’m sturdy,
I carry and I bear the loads
And the burdens of existence.

But Lord how difficult it is!
Like gold and like lead…
And all the same death outweighs
A hard life at the end.

There’s love, in the same way
Unbearable.  But you, my friend
If not in my arms, on my back,
I would carry a little further…

Northern Medea In Oxford

January 7, 2010

The Oxford Playhouse have emailed as follows:

Northern Broadsides in association with The Onassis Programme present


By Euripides – a new version by Tom Paulin

Tuesday 2 to Saturday 6 February


This Medea is a contemporary take of classic Greek tragedy. Its monumental storyline features one of theatre’s most spectacularly vengeful women. Abandoned by her husband, Medea wreaks revenge through unspeakable acts of violence, unleashing a hurricane of destruction in a world where everything has gone horribly wrong.

The North

The North

Tom Paulin’s gritty modern language version brings real punch and immediacy to the drama. Powered by the muscularity of Northern Broadsides’ northern voice and vigour of its actors, Medea will be a theatrical event where poetry and live music ignite on stage, giving real clout to this timeless drama.  Northern Broadsides is one of the UK’s most celebrated exponents of classic drama, consistently creating world-class theatre with a voice style firmly rooted in the north of England. Renowned for its down to earth and high-energy approach, Broadsides’ have an inimitable style, which is fresh, authentic and unique.


Medea plays at Oxford Playhouse from Tuesday 2 to Saturday 6 February. For information and to book, contact the Ticket Office on 01865 305305 or visit our website at: