Archive for September, 2010

The Fall of the Imam (Nawal El Saadawi)

September 26, 2010


Another book club book, and one that caused some puzzlement.  It comprises a number of short chapters relating incidents from the life of Bint Allah (= Daughter of God), an illegitimate child who is raised in an orphanage and then killed while trying to escape what we take to be the forces of order, together with other stories about the Imam, formerly an impoverished and inarticulate schoolboy who now represents God’s will on earth; the Great Writer, who imbibed talent with his mother’s milk and then lost it under the influence of his philandering father; the Chief of Security, the Body Guard, who may or may not stop a bullet meant for the Imam and certainly wears a rubber face to resemble him; and some others.  There were certainly plenty of metaphors, such as eyes = stars (repeated many times) and some facts about the position of women in Islamic countries (a buffalo is more valuable than a wife).

People were generally confused as to why the author hadn’t just said what she meant.  I made some remarks along the following lines in an attempt to be helpful:

i)  since the Islamic credo includes the statement that Allah is neither begotten nor begetting, the name Bint Allah would indeed be shocking;

ii)  the Hizb Allah (Party of God) and Hizb Al Shaitan (Party of Satan) would normally be taken to be the saved and the damned, so it was strange to see them as the names of the two official parties;

iii)  you could see bits of particular Islamic states, with the inarticulate and assassinated Imam resembling Sadat and the mention of buffaloes (Egypt); the Imam being an Imam (Iran); Katie resembling Queen Noor (Jordan); and no doubt many others;

iv)  perhaps the repetition of the same incidents (in particular, the death of Bint Allah, which happened very many times) showed that as a woman in such a society you never got anywhere and kept on falling into the same impasse;

v)  or it could be a rejection of linear male narrative (but the women making up the rest of the members present said they wanted linear male narrative–perhaps they were suffering from a colonised consciousness);

vi)  or it could be an opposition of continual pagan birth-death-rebirth to the linear end-directed history of Abrahamic religions;

vii)  or perhaps a comment on the 1001 Nights, which of course depends on unresolved narratives–there was a lot of explicit parody of the 1001 Nights in the book as well.

Anyway, I was rather interested by many of these themes, and would happily have read a separate work on Arab-Islamic onomastics; the uses of the Qur’an and other traditional texts in contemporary Arab literature; the life and opinions of Nawal El Saadawi and so on; but I didn’t really feel they were combined into something that worked here.

There are some interesting articles/chapters online here, here, here, and here.

A Disappearing Number Novello Theatre 20 September

September 22, 2010


Projection of Ramanujan

This Complicite show took about three minutes to lose me completely, which must be something of a record.

At the beginning,  Saskia Reeves as maths lecturer Ruth Minnen was establishing the well-known mathematical joke 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + …. = -1/12.  You do this by some plausible but incorrect manipulations of the Riemann zeta function ζ(s).  Unfortunately, here Ruth Minnen wrote (many, many times) ξ (xi) for ζ (zeta) and unfortunately ξ(s) is a different function (in fact, it’s related to ζ(s)), so this is not something a maths lecturer would have done.  That threw me completely!

There was a similar episode at the end–though this time you really had to be looking for a fight to take it amiss–where after she had died Ruth quoted the following beautiful passage to console Al:

What reconciles me to my own death more than anything else is the image of a place: a place where your bones and mine are buried, thrown, uncovered, together. They are strewn there pell-mell. One of your ribs leans against my skull. A metacarpal of my left hand lies inside your pelvis. (Against my broken ribs your breast like a flower.) The hundred bones of our feet are scattered like gravel. It is strange that this image of our proximity, concerning as it does mere phosphate of calcium, should bestow a sense of peace. Yet it does. With you I can imagine a place where to be phosphate of calcium is enough.

What’s wrong with that (apart from showing up the rest of the text)?  Well, would an overworked maths lecturer really have known a passage from an obscure work by John Berger (And our faces, my heart, brief as photos)?

Then again, there was the irritation of a series of jokes all of which I felt I already knew too well, from ‘What’s the difference between a pregnant woman and a terrorist?’  to 1729 = 13 + 123 = 103 + 93 , and even something about conformal symmetry in string theory.

Apart from annoying me, the show seemed to be about the romance between American (Indian-descended) businessman Al Cooper and English maths lecturer Ruth Minnen in apposition to the collaboration between Cambridge mathematician G. H. Hardy and untaught Indian genius Srinivasa Ramanujan, and made a series of points like:

–India is an important country these days

–call centres are outsourced to India

–Uxbridge is near Heathrow

–lots of people originally of Indian descent live near there

–academics are often overworked

–India can be overwhelming for foreign visitors.

Must have been aimed at the tourist market then, since none of this could be new for a London audience!

There’s more about the maths–and a positive view of the show, not to mention the source of the picture above–here.

Ovid’s Metamorphoses Warehouse Theatre Croydon 19 September

September 19, 2010


Theseus trapped in the labyrinth of his own mind: picture from


This show comprised a run-through in WWII era dress of Ovid’s Metamorphoses done in cabaret or devised show style.  So after some preliminary intoning and back-projection about primeval chaos and the creation of gods, men, the earth etc from it there followed the stories of Tiresias, Daphne, Io, Echo and perhaps others I don’t remember.  There was certainly a lot of theatrical ingenuity on display amongst the moving screens, as shown by this puppet Cupid, who was very popular with the audience: 

Climbing Cupid (from Pants on Fire FB site)


After the interval, things became rather more connected and so (in my view) better.  The story of Narcissus was very nicely done with him looking at himself in a back-projection in place of a mirror or a pool, and ended with a very nice picture of a narcissus. 

Pretty narcissus (from PoF FB site)


Then the episode of Theseus (of Minotaur fame) as an officer in a coma drooled over echolalaically by a chorus of nurses was the best and most sustained of the show, and at the end Ariadne got to sing ‘Am I blue?’–a real song.  The gasmasked and horned Minotaur made good use of the WWII setting, as did the gasmasked Io-turned-into-a-cow earlier on.  Actually the original song that Io got to sing was pretty good too… 

And at the end Tiresias prophesied war–war between man and nature–the metamorphosis of everything into chaos. 

As for the performers, they were all very good!  Perhaps Jo Dockery (who got to spend a lot of the time in playing the same character–Juno) and Eloise Secker (who got to sing a ‘proper’ song as Ariadne) made the most impression. 

It’s worthwhile having a look at the photos on the Pants on Fire Facebook site, which give an idea of the fantastic amount of invention that must have gone into this show–unfortunately it was slightly wasted on me because the stories as presented here weren’t very dramatic and I was discouraged by the drabness of the WWII-style setting.  (See that I’m not mentioning the drabness of the Warehouse Theatre or the smell of drains.) 

Given that the show itself is pretty short (90 minutes including a 15-minute interval) and so are the separate episodes, I think it would make an excellent outing for anyone with a fee-paying/independent/public/private school not too far from Croydon.

An exchange of correspondence about Ancient Macedonia

September 9, 2010

Dear Sirs,

I refer to the booking shown below.  My recollection is that I rang up especially to confirm that single occupancy was possible and then booked on that basis, so I was surprised to find on arrival in Sofia that I was sharing a room.  From reviewing the correspondence in hindsight, it seems that from your point of view it was always on a room-sharing basis.  Could you review your records and let me know what seems to have happened here?  I should say that I didn’t suffer any detriment from sharing a room and that our tour leader was very helpful–I’d just like to find out what happened.

It might in any case be a good idea to state the occupancy basis explicitly in the correspondence you send out.

I have a further point about the itinerary.  I was surprised to find how much of a tour entitled ‘Ancient Macedonia’ was taken up with monasteries and icons, and I didn’t really see the point of the time we spent in Bulgaria.  I think it would make more sense to start from Thessaloniki and with a visit to the Archaeological and Byzantine Museums, which would give as good a picture of the relationship between the Classical and Byzantine eras and sites (or sights) as one is going to get without a lecture on the subject.  Then the monasteries and icons would make more sense.

In any case, I will look forward to receiving a response to my first query above.

Thank you for your correspondence regarding the above Explore holiday.

We are sorry that your booking for a single room on this trip was not processed. It was due to human error at this end – the member of staff looking after our web bookings on that occasion failed to deal with the request, and so it was neither booked nor charged for. We would like to apologise for this, and can assure you that this has been dealt with in this office as a training issue. We are relieved to know that this was not in the event a problem on tour, and it is kind of you to say so.

Your comments on the itinerary have been passed on to the Operations and Product Managers responsible for planning and running this trip, and they have told us they are currently in discussion with our local agent over possible changes to the 2011 itinerary based on the 2010 feedback. Thank you for taking the time to let us have your comments on this – our customers’ feedback is always our best means of improving our tours.

We trust you have come home with some positive memories of your trip, and we hope to have the opportunity to welcome you on to a 3rd Explore holiday at some point.

Yours sincerely

Apart from slight overuse of passive constructions, a model letter for these circumstances:  apologise, say what happened,  say what you’re going to do about it, apologise again…

Euridice (Peri/Oliver) BYO Peacock Theatre 08 September

September 9, 2010


Not only bleached but also pushed to the side of her own picture: Ellie Laugharne as Euridice

At the beginning of this performance I remarked to my companion that it was not only semi-staged but also semi-audienced.  That was quite a pity, since we ended up by rather enjoying it.

This opera was an arrangement by Stephen Oliver of Euridice (music by Jacopo Peri, words by Ottavio Rinuccini) given on 6th October 1600 as part of the wedding celebrations of Henri IV and Maria de’ Medici.  It sounded to me as though the vocal lines were retained from the original, while the accompaniment had been thoroughly recomposed (and that’s what the programme says too).

As a gentleman sitting behind me astutely observed, the playing here (by seven members of the Southbank Sinfonia, most of them playing several instruments, and under the direction of Christopher Moulds) was very good.  The story was your Euridice-with-a-happy-ending, and the semi-staging (differently lighted backdrop,  largely modern costumes) promoted it from something I would have switched off on the radio to something rather enjoyable.  A lot of the action, even where it involved Orpheus who wasn’t at all dead, was narrated in messenger-speech style.  Given the largely static nature of the thing and the large number of character who it was difficult to tell apart, I think an application of costumy costumes and glamorous objects (lyre, crown, whatever) would have made the production more effective–money could have been saved by doing away with Mimi’s flying bedstead in La Boheme.

I thought the most effective scenes were those in the underworld, where Proserpina (Catia Moreso) had a very nice number imploring Pluto (Matthew Wright) to show mercy, and the chorus got to surround and touch him as well.  And he got some music to change his mind to as well, unlike in Enfuhrung.  Apart from these two singers, I especially enjoyed the contributions of Paul Curievici as a strongly-sung Orpheus and Ben Williamson as Tragedy.

And once you had got used to the scale of the thing and what it was you had a rewarding evening.

Khodasevich at the Poetry Cafe 29 September

September 7, 2010

Poetry Cafe

We have received a notification from Peter Daniels as follows:

I’ll be presenting my translations of Vladislav Khodasevich (1886-1939) at the Poetry Café, 22 Betterton St, London WC2H 9BX, on Wednesday 29 September 7.30 (£5 / £3 conc). This is part of the series organised by Sebastian Hayes, who will be presenting his translations of Catherine Pozzi.


Khodasevich left Russia in 1922 at the time when he was developing his mature style, and died in Paris just before the start of World War II. In his later years he wrote less poetry and had a dwindling audience of émigré Russian-speakers, but Nabokov considered him the finest Russian poet of the 20th century, and he now has a considerable following in Russia.

Sounds interesting to me!

La Boheme BYO Peacock Theatre 04 September

September 7, 2010



Illustrates the production concept--I was too demoralised to take a photo


Why was I so bored and irritated by this? I hate Puccini of course, but La Boheme isn’t so bad in principle and according to my battered red notebook I thoroughly enjoyed the BYO production in 1998.  We were sitting at the very front, in case certain members of our party wished to faint, and that will have done no favours to the balance.  However, even from short range, it was often difficult to hear Rodolfo (John Pierce) and Mimi (Susana Gaspar).  The same went, though less seriously, for the Musetta of Anna Patalong.

Now that I think about it, the production was rather strange.  Rodolfo and Mimi searched for her key in what seemed to be full daylight, and various pieces of furniture made their way to the ceiling–most notably Mimi’s deathbed, but also the table upon which Musetta sat as she delivered her Waltz Song–she looked distinctly nervous as she rose into the air, and who can blame her?  I found it difficult to work out which was the inside and which was the outside at the beginning of Act 3, probably because there was snow falling both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’.

I liked the Marcello of Koji Terada–he had certainly more than mastered the vocal demands of his part and slouched around like a true Parisian artist.  Colline  (Benjamin Cahn)   and Schaunard (Matthew Sprange) were affectingly–and effectively–youthful.

Why then was I so bored and irritated by this?  I think it’s because this world of penniless would-be artists and thinkers was for a time my milieu as a young man, and this production resolutely refused to capture any particle of it.

Later: the things rising to the ceiling still worry me.  Perhaps we should have a comment from Don Paterson:

I saw that time is love, and time requires
of everything its full expenditure
that love might be conserved; and then I saw
that love is not what we mean by the word.
So the whole world blooms continually
within its true and hidden element,
as sea, a beautiful and lucid sea
through which it pilots, rising without end.

Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail (Situation Opera/London Irish Centre) 01 September

September 2, 2010

Probably the Irish Centre's dancefloor in real life

My first visit to the London Irish Centre proved rewarding in more ways than one.  The staff at the centre were very hospitable, and I enjoyed Situation Opera’s production of Entfuhrung, especially in the ensembles and the more cheerful passages.  I wondered whether we had discovered fringe/pub opera by analogy with fringe/pub theatre, where the nearness of the performers is an important part of the experience.

Karen Richmond was a strongly-characterised Blonde and Iris Korfker and affecting Konstanze, while Graham Neal’s nonchalant upper-class Belmonte was certainly striking.  We had dialogue in English and songs in German, which worked pretty well.  The ‘house lights’ were on during the performance so it might be a good idea to bring a synopsis or libretto with you (there’s no synopsis in the programme).

I would certainly recommend a visit–it’s on Thursday 2nd and Friday 3rd September.  This was certainly a lot more engaging than the production I saw at Covent Garden a decade or so ago–the interest is still in the music and characterisation rather than the drama, but since the thing that happens (a radical change of heart) happens to Pasha Selim (a speaking part), we need to blame Mozart for that, not the performers.  Another of those decisions I’m not clever enough to understand.


Details of how to book may be found here, or I’m sure you can pay at the door.  Wish I’d got a photo of Miss Korfker’s dress–that was seriously lovely…

Can You Live Without Lysistrata?

September 1, 2010

The Cochrane Theatre announce:


London 2020.  Smart, Sophisticated and Glamorous.  The women are on a mission to end the violence and bloodshed between the two rival gangs.  After Jasmine has been shot at her own wedding by a rival gang member, the women promote a new campaign; No Peace – No Sex!

Jasmine’s close friend, Lacy, convinces the woman to deny their lovers of sex as a means to force their men to negotiate peace. The sex strike provokes a battle between the sexes. Relationships are put to the test and new bonds are formed.

With the men itching for their guns, can the women resolve this enmity between the gangs and initiate peace?

This dramatic show invites you to discover the power of intimacy. Laced with sharp wit, live music and explosive dance that brings vibrancy and edge. Heavily influenced by Hip Hop, Jazz and Motown, this show introduces fresh talent, The Street 2 Stage cast, who bring life to these extraordinary characters.

Street 2 Stage is a collaboration between the Cochrane Theatre and DreamArts which brings together young people who create, produce and perform a new Urban musical.

Wednesday 8th September @ 7:30 pm
Thursday 9th September @ 2:30 pm & 7:30 pm
Friday 10th September @ 7:30 pm
Saturday 11th September @ 2:30 pm & 7:30 pm

But is it Lysistrata?

The point in Aristophanes is that not only are the consequences of the sex strike comical, but the idea itself is absurd–like Cloudcuckooland or a separate peace for Dikaiopolis–think slaves, boys and brothels, not to mention Phaedo in his booth.  They look to be taking it more seriously here.  But then Jazz and Motown are ancient history to modern urban youth–not to mention me–so it may not be so simple.

Better give it a try and find out…