Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

I am unworthy of a Miele washing machine

June 14, 2017

So.

I wanted a washing machine delivered on a Wednesday, when I am at home.

I rang up Miele on Saturday 3 June an arranged for one to be delivered on 14 June.

They sent me many texts saying it would be delivered between 1130 and 1330 on 14 June.

They sent me an email saying it would be delivered between 1130 and 1330 on 14 June.

On 14 June they rang me to arrange delivery. I said they were due to deliver between 1130 and 1330. They said they had not been able to find one or had entered two orders or something. Maybe I could have one by special courier if I waited in a couple of days.

I said it would have been better to let me know beforehand.  I cancelled the order.

Their washing machines may be perfectly adequate. It looks like I will never know now!

Voices from Chernobyl, Brockley Jack 2 May

May 3, 2017

****

chernobyl

Picture from Tenere Arte Facebook page

This adaptation of the book by Svetlana Alexievich lasted 60 minutes straight through without an interval and contained a great deal of material in that time. It was presented in the devised theatre style (think Belarus Free Theatre) in both English and Russian–the Russian was normally translated by an other actor or back-projected, but the normal Russian chaos was just repeated.

It benefited from a very strong cast of both English- and Russian-speaking actors, and a previous outing at the Cockpit meant that everyone knew their lines (well, I can think of one minor exception).  The final scene delivered by Kim Christie as the newlywed wife of a firefighter dying from the effects of radiation was extremely affecting and marked by a wonderful sense of restraint…

..but…

the thing about the lies she had to think up to see her husband (two children already, certainly not pregnant) really went by very quickly if you didn’t know the source text and it’s important because it reflects the relation of the individual and the State which found its final expression in Chernobyl.  I think the devised theatre kind of thing tends to to become a documentary rather than a drama, and we could have done with seeing more of fewer characters.  I think that the points that Alexievich was trying to make about the uniqueness of the Soviet experiment, Chernobyl as a rent in the fabric of reality and even as an attack on Belarus rather went missing.

What could you do with them in 60 minutes?  Well start off with what you want to say and shape your narratives to achieve that, which I think is what Alexievich did.

Certainly well worth seeing and thinking about!

In Brief March 2017

March 1, 2017

The Tale of Januarie  GSMD 27 February

I was interested by the libretto in Middle English and it did not disappoint, being rather similar to Northumbrian dialect.  I bought a programme at the interval and so found out that we were supposed to regard the characters distantly, before that I had been quite sympathetic to may.  I thought the music in the ensemble passages worked best, there was nothing particularly striking in the individual declamations and I had the feeling that composer Julian Philips was trying to find a safe place between Machaut on one side and Benjamin Britten on the other.  Set, costumes and performance were all first class.  I don’t think the audience actually laughed at any point…

Cost:  £ 25  Rating: ****

The Importance of Being Earnest  Bridewell Theatre 28 February

It was interesting to see this finally, and there was more than sporadic laughter from the audience as the action progressed, interspersed with two intervals.  It all seemed to be played fairly straight, and Jack Worthing emerged as more human than I expected.  But what I enjoyed was Cicely producing to biscuit-tin of the letters to herself she had been forced to write on behalf of Algernon and showing him the diary entries reflecting the course of their engagement.  That was quite mad and also the kind of thing a young woman living in the country with her governess and strict guardian might well do.  This one must have more famous quotes per scene than anything else outside Shakespeare…

Cost:  £ 12   Rating:  ***

 

Crime and Punishment, Brockley Jack 8 February

February 8, 2017

****

At the end of this second preview, which played to a full house, the actor playing Raskolnikov (Christopher Tester) asked audience members to say something nice about the show on social media, or indeed in real life.

We are happy to oblige.  As a text, this was an excellent adaptation, which embodied the bright idea of getting to the basics of the characters and their story and the author’s intentions and reconstructing that from the ground up as a play.

I thought that both Christopher Tester and Stephen MacNeice (who played Pofiry Petrovich, Marmeladov, and a couple of other characters) were excellent.  We had a harried, ratty, unEnglish Raskolnikov and a Porfiry Petrovich who for once did not bore me to death.  His Marmeladov was impressive in letting you find the degradation, not drowning you with it.  I also thought that Christina Bastion was just too posh as Sonya-we are given to understand that she can read only with some difficulty and she looks up to Raskolnikov as an educated man–and as the pawnbroker Alyona, who also turned out to be Scottish.

But the production moved forward vigorously with clearly-delineated characterisations and a few well-chosen props.  And the well-worn scene where Sonya and Raskilnikov read the Bible together really got to me…

There is a video trailer here, but I’d say the show is better than it suggests.

 

 

 

 

 

Prometheus Bound, Greenwood Theatre 1430 8 February

February 8, 2017

**

prometheus

At the end:  chorus–Prometheus–Io

Prometheus Bound certainly made an interesting choice for this year’s KCL Greek Play in Greek.  One question is whether it actually is a play or merely a scene-setting for following parts of a trilogy.  Nothing much happens apart from various characters coming to sympathise with or talk sense into Prometheus and him referring to the injustices he has suffered and the dark secret he knows.

I remember a production at the Soho Theatre where the clientele were expected to be satisfied by a combination of the manly heaving of the hero’s bare breast and chains.  Lots of chains.  But here it wasn’t quite like that.  We had a female Prometheus, and Oceanus, and whichever it is of Force and Violence that doesn’t actually say anything.

More generally, I’m afraid that there was no sign of a solution to the severe problems posed by staging this piece.  It started off with projections of various modern figures, especially Donald Trump, and you could see how Prometheus might be a kind of Nelson Mandela in captivity, but his captors needed him more than he needed them.  Or Trotsky perhaps, who thought he had the earth-shaking prophecy and was a prisoner to his own well-founded fears. But nothing came of this possible line of thought.

Rather than being chained to a cliff with a wedge through her chest, our Prometheus had to top of a table to call her own.  For some reason sound effects and lianas suggested that this was in the jungle somewhere.  Loud sound effects meant you couldn’t hear what was being said, though the Greek verse sounded to be spoken competently enough.  At the end, Prometheus’s final defiance got lost in underwhelming stroboscopic effects..

On the positive side, the entrance of the chorus was effective, as were some of their choreographed moves.  Likewise for Io’s entry and exit, though I’m afraid she did rather remind me of the domovoy from Morphine.  And indeed there were similar surtitling issues, with lots of text appearing some time after the event.

If you ask what I would have done–well, have a much larger chorus and have them sing and dance.  In fact, have them on stage the whole time and have them  hold up the surtitles on placards, to give the idea of a debate of some importance not people  coming on stage and exchanging words about mouldy mythology…But making something out of Prometheus Bound would be difficult with the best performers and technical resources in the world…

 

 

 

 

 

Morphine, Etcetera Theatre 7 February

February 8, 2017

**

morphine

Picture from Anna Denshina’s Twitter feed

So let’s think–what problems might there be with staging Bulgakov’s ‘Morphine’, about a country doctor who falls victim to…err…morphine? Well, putting a non-dramatic work on the stage is always problematic–if the author had wanted to write a play he’d have done things differently. And especially in a case like the present, where the original text is in the first person and reflects the hero’s diseased apprehension of reality more than actual happenings between people. The latter is where you need to have things in a play. Here we also have some more objective narration from ‘Notes of a young doctor’ brought in to set the scene as well.

That said, the show combined the Russian tradition of having music in lots of places where you don’t want it with the English one of having characters shuffle on, deliver their lines through a mask of embarrassment, and then shuffle of again. The cast members showed various levels of comfort with appearing on stage and the Russian language…that said, I thought that Anna Danshina put in a good and affecting performance as the love interest called Anna.

There were also sutitling issues–the surtitles contained a lot of text at one go and tended to catch up after the event.  But I suspect the proportion of the audience who neither knew Russian nor the storyline of ‘Morphine’ was rather small…

I, Daniel Blake, Greenwich Picturehouse 29 October

October 29, 2016

***

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Grey Street in the rain

This film is about a 59-year-old carpenter who suffers a heart attack and so is no longer able to work.  He is judged not sufficiently incapacitated to receive Disability Allowance, so has to go through the demeaning pretence of looking f0r non-existent jobs.  He makes friends with a young single mother who has been sent a long way from London because it is cheaper than housing her family there and who has her benefits sanctioned because she got on the wrong bus in a strange town and arrived late for an interview.

I have to admit that I did cry during the film, though not as much as the two women sitting next to me, and it wasn’t all because of the I want to go home feeling.  They got the Newcastle accent right, and also the way people speak to each other, which is a different thing.  When the dialogue and actions were allowed to proceed from the characters and their actions it was actually very moving.  There were some shots of Newcastle in the rain, YESS!!

The essay that Loach was determined to write was probably quite correct at a factual level, but it didn’t really mesh with these characters.  In particular, what Daniel needed was clearly some advocacy from the CAB, a Welfare Rights group, or even Age UK.  Now he might not have known that, but after spending two years in a homeless hostel in London Katie certainly would have.  I approve of making ordinary people the central figures of films and plays, but depriving them of agency isn’t the way to do it.  And I was irritated that St Daniel had to be burdened with demonstrating appropriate attitudes to black people, gays and people with mental illness.  Then I start asking myself what kind of a joiner he had been.  If he was employed, he should have been eligible for sick pay.  If he was self-employed, it’s hard to see how he could have managed to remain totally incapable in the face of modern technology.

Did he call the gay black training-shoe entrepreneur the ‘tycoon of Byker’ or similar?  That didn’t look like Byker to me…But the Evening Chronicle has helpfully published a map of the locations.

It is to the credit of director Ken Loach and scriptwriter Paul Laverty that havingstupidly decided to include a scene of archetypal Dostoevskian degradation they clearly had no idea what they were talking about–there are some things you just have to be a bad man to get right.

Antigone/Lysistrata, Cambridge Arts Theatre 13 October

October 14, 2016

**/****

antigone

Set for Antigone (picture acquired from Twitter)

So this year’s Cambridge Greek Play (in Ancient Greek, with surtitles) was a double-bill of Antigone and LysistrataAntigone is these days as close to being unsinkable as a Greek play can be, while productions very often make a mess of Lysistrata by taking it literally–seriously, even.

Things turned out rather differently this time round.  Antigone displayed a fine collection  of the clichés that even the London stage has finally managed to just about rid itself of:  fences, barbed wire, battledress, battery-powered torches, submachine guns, men in suits…I closed my eyes and endured.  To be fair, it got better as the thing went on and they performers relied more on their native wits.  And there was a standout performance from counter-tenor Jack Hawkins as Teiresias with very beautiful counter-tenorial music too.  But why (for instance) did Antigone dart anxiously upstage and downstage when she was supposed to be processing towards her bridal tomb?

I would have given up and gone home at half-time but I didn’t want to disturb the couple of old dears who had me wedged in.  The young woman of East Asian heritage sitting on the other side of me asked whether this was it–I replied that there was another play to come, a comedy indeed.

Then we had Lysistrata done as a musical comedy, and very funny it was too.  This time, we had the standout performer (Natasha Cutler-a real musical comedy princess) in the title role, and that helped a lot of course.

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ἀφεκτέα τοίνυν ἐστὶν ἡμῖν τοῦ πέους. (=it is necessary then for us to give up cock).

The audience also got to sing along with οὐδεὶς οὔτε μοιχὸς οὔτ᾽ ἀνήρ (line 212=no-one, neither lover nor husband), while the surtitles promised a Cambridge Scholarship in Classics for an explanation of the lion-on-a-cheesegrater position. (Line  231 οὐ στήσομαι λέαιν᾽ ἐπὶ τυροκνήστιδος = I won’t crouch down like the lioness on a cheesegrater. You’d better ask Simon Goldhill about that gender reassignment.)

lion

No.  Not like that.  Not at all like that.  (Picture from Twitter.)

The pedant could of course cavil–once Boris Johnson and Donald Trump had appeared on stage they should have been properly savaged, especially in respect of diminutive and deformed genitalia, while a headless pig looking for David Cameron would have been a good Aristophanic joke. The famously…well, tedious…ball-of-wool metaphor was interpreted via interpretive dance, when one thing it certainly recommends is favourable treatment of useful foreigners–surely an opportunity for further kicking of the Brexit-Trump gang. You can also ask whether a production largely attended by pupils of fee-paying schools could ever permit itself proper Aristophanic obscenity…

Hamlet, Bread and Roses 29 September

September 30, 2016

****

 

hamlets

Hamlets, father and son

 

I enjoyed my trip to Clapham to see a sensibly slimmed-down version of Hamlet that also included a song from Cymbeline interpolated.  In true Shakespearean style we had an all-male company entering and exiting by the door of an upstairs bar to play on a stage erected at one end of the room; a strategically-placed curtain led me to expect Polonius to be stabbed through it, but that was not to be.

I thought that Benjamin Way’s mercurial and mood-shifting (but not mad) Hamlet was very good, and I also enjoyed the Queen Gertrude of Lee Peck.  The production kept the action moving and was as promised crystal-clear. At times I thought we might be going in a different direction with Hamlet just Hamlet and his rages and reveries and the rest orbiting distantly around him; but that was not to be either.

During the interval Claudius was anxiously checking his smartphone and behind me the young people were keen to see who had got whom on Tinder and Plenty of Fish; but maybe these were not connected.

When I was a young, I was tormented by the characters’ names clearly not being Danish–apart from Gertrude. Last night, that was still worrying me-the back of the Signet edition says that the story comes from one Saxo Grammaticus who had Feng instead of Claudius, Gerutha for Gertrude and no names for the rest.   It also occurred to me for the first time that if you took away the poetry [laughs bitterly], the story with its rain, death, cold, death, infidelity, death, treachery, poison, death, muddy graves, regrettable gravedigger jokes, rats, cold wet death and so on could be typically Danish.   But the willow grows aslant a brook is surely nowhere else but Warwickshire…

See here for a video clip from a performance in Norway.

Tsvetochniy krest/The cross of flowers

September 7, 2016

***

elena_kolyadina__tsvetochnyj_krest

This book by Elena Kolyadina hardly received great support when this blog did a survey of contemporary Russian novels for translation, and it was also being remaindered during my recent trip to Ukraine.

It appears to start in December 1674, when our heroine Feodosia is 15 and ready to be married off and to end in October 1673, when she is 17 and her son born half-way through the book is able to run around and beg for money.

There are many things it might be, but none of them for very long. The shadow of Thomas Mann’s Holy Sinner grows now lighter, now darker, and at times Kolyadina seems to engaged in a yacht race with Vodolzakins’s Laurus.  A yacht race because the leader ixs supposed to imitate the follower’s manoeuvrings.

At times it seems to be one of those books where a modern miss is plonked down with her insatiable curiosity in ancient times and at others it’s one of those books with detailed retro-porn description of life in Old Russia.  Indeed, we get a detailed description of the old-time salt industry, just like in Perm.  The contrast between carefree pagan sexuality and the strictures of the church might have been going somewhere and then wasn’t. Similarly the un-modern way Feodosia related to her family members just disappeared, leaving behind the usual YA heroine.  And then in a reference to Jan Potocki or perhaps Tolkien we have an entire community living under the ground brought into being.

A plot summary with SPOILER ALERT makes it sound as though the traditional saint’s life is being referenced.  It is 1673 in Tot’ma.  Feodosia is the intelligent beautiful etc etc daughter of wealthy salt-manufacturer Izvara due to be married off to another salt-manufacturer Yuda.  The priest Father Loggin feels himself tormented by her youth beauty intelligence needlework etc.

A company of travelling players comes to town under the leadership of one Istoma, who is not much like a salt manufacturer. The climax of their show is a puppetry version of the Crucifixion, except that Feodosia rescues Jesus from the cross, and Father Loggin takes exception.

Istoma and Feodosia enjoy a night of secret love in Feodosia’s bedroom, then Istoma’s troupe gets into a fight with the followers of her brother Putila as he returns from dealings in Moscow.  Revealed to be a confederate of Stenka Razin, Istoma is burned alive.  Feodosia marries the salt-manufacturer and devotes herself to her son by Istoma.

Influenced by Father Loggin, she practises more and more severe self-denial, including clitoridectomy and saying that like Abraham she would give up her son for God.  The son disappears and Feodosia takes up the lifestyle of a yurodivaya, eventually quitting town for the other side of the river.  There she discovers a community of underground pagans who can speak Russian when necessary and tries to convert them to Orthodoxy, planting a cross of flowers for this purpose.  She also entertains Death in a scene that owes much to Monty Python.

Father Loggin crosses the river to inspect this miraculous and has her burned as a witch so as to further his ambitions for preferment.

But Death does not have Feodosia on her list.

Well, well…