Archive for March, 2011

House of Atreus: I manage one third (GSMD, 30 March)

March 30, 2011


I did say:  I think I’m most enthused by the Guildhall offering–not only is it cheap, but they’re basically a music school with drama tacked on, so I think they’re likely to approach it from the right or at least a different angle.

But in the event I left after the first act (Iphigenia in Aulis).  It wasn’t that bad–I would have been quite interested to see what they would do with Agamemnon once they’d started from Iphigenia’s miraculous deliverance–but I was much more interested in going home and having my tea.

Many of the usual problems of staging Greek drama went unsolved–everyone was obviously the same age, which may not be so bad where different generations are supposed to be friends and equals, but is sheer madness for the Greek view of the world.  When I was a lad, hair-dye and walking-sticks were allowed, not because they would convince everybody, but as a symbol.

My hopes of some useful musical contribution remained unfulfilled–at one stage Clytaemnestra ordered the female chorus to raise a mourning hymn for Iphigenia and they didn’t (probably they couldn’t!)  The unintentional humour of Agamemnon’s son being announced as Erastes (obviously a precocious lad) was appreciated by a good quarter of the audience.  Maybe not on the same level as ‘the weasel of the sea’, but nevertheless.

As for the actors–You know, we may not meet each other again, so just let me give you a word of advice on parting: “Don’t wave your arms about! Get rid of that habit of waving them about”. The young man playing Menelaus waved his arms about far too much, and also tended to swallow his words.  I can do that!  And the other actors suffered from the same problems, not entirely helped by a production that very often had them facing each other rather than the audience.  But Olivia Ross as Clytaemnestra was really quite impressive, and I thought Laurent de Montalembert made a good fist of the problematic Euripidean Achilles.

Russian Reading Group Pushkin House 4 April

March 29, 2011

Pushkin House posted an announcement of this meeting on Friday.  Since ten days is not a great amount of time to acquire and read four books, I thought I’d try to be helpful by pointing out that you can find the texts posted at various places on the Internet.  For example:

Алексей Слаповский «Первое второе пришествие»  here

Олег Павлов. Степная книга  here

Елена Чижова  КРОШКИ ЦАХЕС  here

Олег Зайончовский  «Счастье возможно»  here .

Only trying to be helpful–good luck!

Elizabeth Llewellyn (and Simon Lepper) SJSS 13 April

March 29, 2011

Following my earlier posting, Aurélie Jamard from Albion Media has written asking me to mention Elizabeth Llewellyn’s appearance at St John’s Smith Square on Wednesday 13 April in the Rosenblatt Recital series.

Elizabeth Llewellyn

Simon Lepper








Here’s the programme:

Elizabeth Llewellyn soprano
Simon Lepper piano

Handel Ma quando tornerai Alcina;
Se’il mio duol Rodelinda
Mozart E Susanna non vien!… Dove sono
Le nozze di figaro

Walton A Song for the Lord Mayor’s Table
Strauss Ständchen; All mein’ Gedanken; Du meines Herzens Krönelein; Nachtgang; Allerseelen
Puccini Mi chiamano Mimì La Bohème
Verdi Come in quest’ora bruna Simon Boccanegra
Gounod Ah! je ris de me voir Faust

Intermezzo calls this ‘an essential night out’

Animal Kingdom Peckham Multiplex 27 March

March 28, 2011


T0 be fair, it wasn’t that bad–I only looked at my watch once.  It felt as though at least an hour and a half had passed, and it was only forty minutes.

The idea is that after his mother dies of an overdose in Melbourne, Australia young Joshua goes to live with his grandma and her family of criminals, who she tends lovingly.  And disastrous consequences ensue, especially after they start killing cops.

I had difficulty in either believing it or being especially interested.  The parts seemed underwritten to me, or perhaps the silences weren’t measured skilfully enough.  Joshua excelled in meaningful inarticulacy.  Living up to Melbourne’s genteel image, the crime family used rather less bad language than an impeccably middle-class South London reading group.  Everyone’s houses seemed to be much nicer than mine, which tends to be the way with films.


As for the plot, I had severe difficulties.  according to the defence case, Joshua has it in for Uncles Darren and Pope because they administered an overdose to his girlfriend (not previously a heroin user).  But given the extensive criminal records of Uncles D and P and the police rightly suspecting them of offing their mates, some combination of drugs offences and failing to report a death would surely have put them in prison for some time.

And what’s the corrupt drugs squad officer supposed to do when he tracks Joshua down to his safe house?  Accidentally shoot him?  Somehow disappear him and his three police guards?  I don’t think the cops would react kindly to that one…


Wedding (Gogol’) in Russian at QMUL 24/25 March

March 24, 2011

We have received an email this morning to say that QMUL will be doing ‘The Wedding’ this evening and tomorrow evening.  Details are as on the poster above: 7pm, 24 & 25 March, The Arts Lecture Theatre, Arts Building, QMUL, Mile End Road E1.  Talk about just in time!

Karamazovi Greenwich Picturehouse 23 March

March 24, 2011


This is a Czech film (Petr Zelenka, 2008) about a theatre company from Prague rehearsing a performance of an adaptation of The Brothers Karamazov in Nowa Huta, a semi-operational Polish steelworks.  Apart from some exchanges at the beginning about a descendant of Dostoevsky coming to an international conference in the hope of getting a Merc out of it, that’s about it.

Except that as happens in these cases, the action bleeds out from the playing area into the actors and the spectators, in particular one of the maintenance man who is undergoing a severe personal trauma and is also drawn into the world of the play.  Kasia, the Polish representative whose idea all of this is, says that the idea is to bring people together and that turns out to be true all too true.

It all works very well (helped by the strength of the underlying material):  the play itself, the answering desolate grimness of the steelworks, the actors’ competitive egotism and their differing responses to signals from the real world.

Well done to the Greenwich Picturehouse for putting on something both different and worthwhile!

Nazi Literature in the Americas (Roberto Bolano)

March 21, 2011


This book comprises short biographies of 31 imaginary writers of extreme right-wing views, mostly from Latin America but a few from the United States as well.  A couple of the gringo productions remind me of Cormac McCarthy in fact.

The enterprise sounds quite Borgesian then, though I think there is a difference–the aim here is surely to criticise the world from a particular viewpoint, not just defamiliarise it.  I gained the following insights from the book:

i)  the sadness of wasted lives–people who cut themselves off from ordinary life by being mad and/or evil and end ignobly serving in bars;

ii)  the utter pointless loathesomeness of poetry and inadequacy of poets (Milan Kundera makes the same point in Life is Elsewhere);

iii)  the deathly airlessness of literary cliques and indeed whole literary worlds;

iv)  you can see the existence and multiplication of these unappetising specimens as the florid manifestations of a world of death-squads and official denials.

The book also has many very funny moments, as in the short notice at the end of the entirely imaginary Romanian general Eugenio Entrescu:

Eugenio Entrescu.  Bacau, Rumania, 1905–Kishinev, Ukraine, 1944.  Rumanian General.  During the Second World War he distinguished himself in the capture of Odessa, the Siege of Sebastopol and the Battle of Stalingrad.  Erect, his member was exactly twelve inches long, half an inch longer than that of Dan Carmine.  He commanded the 20th Division, the 14th Division, and the 3rd Infantry Corps.  His soldiers crucified him in a village near Kishinev.

One real, indeed foreign, writer who gets a mention is Georges Perec, and one of his themes was a fracturing of reality occasioned by the Nazis…

Or you could take it quite seriously!

Yuri Kolker Pushkin House 15 March

March 19, 2011

Прочитав несколько своих произведений перед немногочисленной публикой, Юрий Колкер заметил что сейчас все закончено и с русской литературой и с русским языком.  Язык полностью заражен английской болезнью–по части и словаря и синтаксиса и даже интонации.

Когда сам был молодым человеком в Ленинграде, хотя существовали и цензура и (в какой-то мер)е лагери, продолжалась полуподполная литературная жизнь, даже вопреки всем стараниям властей поставить крест на русскую литературу.  Вдобавок, был референтный слой окололитературных деятелей–редакторов, критиков, издателей и т п–которые сохраняли настоящие и вечные ценности русской литературы, хотя не имели возможности осуществить их.

Юрий Колкер назвал Иосифа Бродского самым крупным поэтом времени Бродского.  Вторым после Пушкина русским поэтом он назвал Баратынского, творчество которого еще недоценивают.

Докладчик признался в том, что придерживается силного консерватизма и в литературе, и во всех других областях человеческой жизни.

Southbank Sinfonia, St John’s Waterloo 17 March

March 19, 2011

This concert was not as crowded as I had expected, given that Intermezzo had been so complimentary about Elizabeth Llewellyn.  She certainly gave her all in the service of putting the numbers over to the audience, and it may have been quite an overwhelming experience for those sitting at the front.  So might sitting right under the bell of the trumpet for the Scarlatti numbers. The orchestra members who weren’t performing this evening showed great energy as claqueurs from the back of the church.

Simon Over the conductor said there were also opportunities to hear Southbank Sinfonia in Bury Court Barn, Bentley, Surrey and also in Italy.  You could email Stuart Angel if you wanted to know about Italy.

At the end we had Handel’s Eternal Source Of Light Divine from the Birthday Ode For Queen Anne and it seemed very appropriate for a church…

Norwegian Wood Greenwich Picturehouse 13 March

March 17, 2011


Toru and Naoko

It looks like what you thought of this film depended on whether you’d seen the book by Hiruki Murakami and on how you liked that.  I had read the book but was by no means a total believer.  And when the film started with Kizuki gassing himself rather than with the song I wondered whether this was an effort to save money on royalties.  I felt bored.

A lot of the things I remembered best had been left out–Reiko’s story (and wrinkles), Hatsumi and Toru playing billiards, Midori explaining how she had taught herself to cook, Toru feeding her father in hospital, Toru describing how he had to wind himself up at the beginning of each day…

Midori (wearing green!) and Toru

A lot of the psychological development and examination of relationships was substituted by footage of storm-tossed landscapes thrashing soulfully.  That was reminiscent of Tarkovsky, as was Toru’s unheeding wandering among crowds of protesters.

The actress playing Midori ( Mizuhara–apparently a model rather than an actress) was painfully, radiantly beautiful when I thought the plot depended on her being the girl next door and Naoko being the beautiful one.  Everyoner was beautifully dressed as well.  In terms of acting, this Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi) didn’t appear schizophrenic to me–more a case of the pretty mental illness that you get in books and films and that doesn’t correspond to any recognised diagnosis.

The film did grow on me as time went on.  I was pleased with the recognition that sex sometimes just won’t work even for keen healthy young people.  There was a truly Chekhovian moment in GPH when Reiko came to visit Toru in the apartment he had rented:

–So you were planning to live here with Naoko?

–I need to do the washing-up.

(Raw coughing from the row behind.)

I did at least seriously consider crying at one stage, and we did get to hear the Beatles song at the end.