Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

The War Has Not Yet Started, Southwark Playhouse 18 January

January 20, 2018
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Picture from British Theatre Guide

This £12 preview had a large and enthusiastic audience–perhaps the actors were famous or something?  They were certainly very very good, and there was at most one early-run fluff that I noted.

Someone in the audience had pointed out that the programme didn’t tell you what the play was about, though there was some suggestion it was connected with war as a metaphor for human relationships.  Then the set was specifically enough a late-Soviet flat though the action of the twelve separate scenes, all with different characters and situations, seemed to be taking more or less in the present.   References to presentations and clients seemed to fix the period, while a character in the first scene drinking vodka and then beer to get calm determined the locale closely enough.

And you could see that war was somehow present in most of the scenes, although the couple copping off at the party and then him saying she was his first and only one might be difficult to fit into that.  And also the robot with an absurdity implant waiting to see the doctor.  The scenes at the beginning did recall actors doing improvisation exercises, which was all very clever but did they need an audience?  Interest did however grow as the evening went on.

A critic on the 172 bus afterwards said she liked the way the women played men and the man played women.  I think that wherever possible Sarah Hadland played a man and Mark Quartley played a woman, while Hannah Britland was not so typecast.  But it did seem to me her T-shirt was artfully billowed to disguise pregnancy–of the woman not of a character–, and so I was frankly terrified during a scene that threatened domestic abuse.

Now then, in his local media  playwright Mikhail Durnenkov gave a very straightforward interpretation of the play–it was meant to fix the period of its writing, when preparations for war were apparent and Russians were subjected to ceaseless propaganda.  That gave rise to incomprehension, hatred and violence in ordinary life.  The play was written with love for humanity and in the hope that Russia would not fall into the waiting abyss. To me that all makes sense:  the inbreaking of war, and rumours of war, result in dislocations–violent dislocations–of everyday life.

And also of sex roles, which might well be more of a shock in Russia than here.  The original text says that the thing is meant for three actors who can play the different characters without regard to age and sex.  Personally I would have gone for masks and probably a chorus as well.  With regard to that text, the translation was more in the line of an adaptation–the original robot just had an absurdity module, while from Thursday I remember an implant, between the second and third vertebrae.  A lot of the dialogue had also been normalised from the demotic and individual to general speech of educated people as well.

Certainly a lot to think about!

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Make Elephants Fly

December 13, 2017

*****

elephants

I thought this book was very good!

It stems from the author’s experience in  the world of Silicon Valley start-ups, where venture capitalists will invest in promising enterprises and also take a seat on the board, with the idea of making lots of money at a successful IPO.  So they can involve themselves in at most 10 ventures and one of them has to win big.  Mere survival is hardly sufficient.

The book makes many interesting points, one important one being that technology is not enough, you have to meet a real customer need.  And meet it not too early and not too late–timing is the key here, so it helps to have a diverse team to catch the latest trends.  The success of Silicon Valley can be attributed to having a mixture of technical, artistic and business types in the same place.

It is best to use an off-the-shelf product and adapt it to what you want to do.  As a corollary, a very good place to start is the targeted prototype, where the customer sees a front end but the actual work can be done by hand if necessary.  Similarly, If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late. The important thing is to figure out the one thing that customers want, and this is linked with the question What important truth do very few people agree with you on?

If you don’t want to innovate, try to get it right first time.  The important thing is to get to failure as quickly as possible, so that you can change direction and try something else.  Facebook has the principles 1. Move fast and break things  2. What would you do if you weren’t afraid?  3. Put people at the centre of things.

Details:  Make Elephants Fly: The Process of Radical Innovation by Steven Hoffman ISBN-13: 9780349418834.

Antigone, Greenwich Theatre 30 October

October 30, 2017

**

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From AoD trailer

This was the first Actors of Dionysus production I had seen.

It was noisy.

For a large amount of the time, I sat huddled-up with my eyes closed wishing it would do away.  There was no poetry and no heroism and very little chorus, just people running and shouting and 1980s radiophonic effects.

Antigone did what she did with no inner conflict or anguish and she and Ismene shouted at each other.  Then Creon’s world fell on him and it was over.

I think the generality of the audience may have understood what the obeah woman Tiresias was saying but I didn’t.

On the positive side, well, drones, it was the first time I had seen a drone and know I know what they look like.  Three lines of actual Sophocles at the end suggested what might have been, in another world perhaps.  The description of Emily Davison’s death might also have become something if given a chance.

Dismiss me.  Enough.

The Death of Stalin, Curzon Goldsmiths 29 October

October 29, 2017

**

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So going to see this at the Curzon Goldsmiths meant that I paid £ 8-50 rather than £ 5-99 at the Peckhamplex, but my cold and I had an easier cycle ride and the New Cross Gate Sainsbury’s was a bit better than the Morrison’s in Peckham. I suppose it was worth £ 2-51 (the kind of sum which does not grow on trees) to avoid the fascist bag search…

The film is…err…not very good. It seeks to satirise the members of the Soviet leadership panicking and plotting after Stalin’s death, but unfortunately it does this by making them student politicians from Oxford University from the early 1980s. In particular, Andrea Riseborough as Svetlana Stalin not only looks terrifyingly English but seems to be starring in Bad Day at Somerville College with Rupert Friend not so much her brother but more the louche boyfriend from Worcester say.  Simon Russell Beale as Beria–and I can remember him being very, very evil as Iago–too often seemed to be a rather kindly old gent who had somehow got mixed up with allegations of mass murder and raping underage girls.

It’s the ingrained English politeness and gentility that is the problem–there’s no point in trying to replicate the manners of another time and culture, but you need to ask yourself if people do and say such things, what are they like and so how do they do and say them.  Here, they need to be both terrifying and grotesque, not naughty ex-public-schoolboys having their day of fun and destroying their country in the process.

Contrariwise, Olga Kurylenko as Mariya Yudina clearly had the right reactions but her character was undercut for the sake of a cheap joke.  There were some signs that either she (had she not been so undercut) or Svetlana Stalin (had she ever got out of Somerville College bar) might have become some kind of positive pole, but that was clearly not what was required.

There’s nothing wrong in principle with the idea of reducing these monsters in scale to bring out just how grotesque they are, but cockroaches would have been more the level than student politicians.

The jokes got a few laughs a few times.

Even leaving aside contributions from Mozart, Chopin and Tchaikovsky, the cod-Shostakovich of the score was a great deal better than the cod-history shown on screen.

A History of Wales (John Davies)

October 24, 2017

*****

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Reduced *and* patriotically rained-upon

I thought that this book was excellent, and enjoyed spending 765 pages in the company of somebody in such complete command of his material.  As well as relieving my complete ignorance of Welsh history, reading the book gave me some interest in and understanding of English medieval history, seeing it through the prism of how it affected Wales.  I was especially interested in the idea of the English national consciousness as being founded on recovering lands from the Danes, and hence inherently imperialist.

It was interesting to see how the idea of Wales as a nation came in and out of focus at different periods, and it would have been interesting to get Davies’s idea of what Wales as a nation actually was.  He quite rightly says that there is no genetic difference between the Welsh and the English and treats Herderian ideas of nationhood with some reserve at one point, but also seems quite attached to them.

Remembering A Winter in the Hills I might get worried about the lack of agency ascribed to Welsh people here–they rarely get to initiate action as opposed to having things happen to them or reacting to events.  But it could be a fault of history and geography, not John Davies.

The question that really interested me was how it came about that Welsh survived as a widely-spoken language when Irish did not, given that Wales was far more interpenetrated with Anglophone Britain.  The answer given here is that the development of the coal and steel industries meant that people could see hope for a future where Welsh might be relevant while in Ireland they could just see starvation.

Any of our readers interested in Russian literature will wish to know that it was probably on a rail bearing the letters GL (Guest Lewis, the trade mark of Dowlais) that poor Anna Karenina met her end.

Bacchae in Oxford, 21 October

October 23, 2017
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Picture from OGP20217 FB page

It cannot be said that my trip to Oxford for the Greek Play was a great success.  I discovered that the classical section of Blackwell’s had been moved up a floor to make way for the coffee shop )and the second-hand section had been reduced as well).  I felt mildly interested by a Collected Papers of Milman Parry but not enough to buy it.  I also visited the Oxfam Bookshop, as one does.

At the Oxford Playhouse, people had been moved forwards, sometimes into seats already occupied by others, and the masses of private school pupils were silent like a field of turnips.

Gosh, it was just so boring!  It seemed to have been reimagined as a ballet from the 1930s with music by Sir Arthur Bliss and an Art Deco cube for the set, but the chorus hardly moved, never mind getting off the ground.  The idea of having three Dionysuses meant there was never even an illusion of Pentheus confining them or him, and though Pentheus delivered his lines effectively that would not hold my interest on its own.

Then the thing had ground along so slowly there was an INTERVAL, so I rushed off to the station and quite by chance came across the rather lovely Chiltern Railway train to Marylebone, which also had decent free WiFi.  And there was a trilingual announcement in English, Arabic and Chinese at Bicester Village Retail Outlet.

Gosh, that was so exciting!  And not so long after I was back in South London!

Insignificance, Arcola Theatre 19 October

October 21, 2017

***

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Photo from Arcola Twitter

I arrived here just in time-the young woman at the ticket desk spoke to someone to hold the door a further minute for me.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

So, The Professor (who we know is Einstein) is sitting in his hotel room and The Senator (wwki Joe McCarthy) comes in to demand he testify the following day.  Then The Actress (wwki Marilyn Monroe) wants to demonstrate the Special Theory of Relativity with some toy trains, but she calls it the Specific Theory.  It is all rather unengaging because Einstein as a character (with a character) is just not there.  Then The Ballplayer (wwki Joe DiMaggio, who was married to wwki Marilyn Monroe) enters and the scenes with him and Monroe are much more dramatic, standard kind of Arthur Miller stuff.

OK, so we came to the interval.  Perhaps the play was on because we now had Trunp as a kind of McCarthy, or just a celebrity.  Then our group missed the signal (if there was one) to go back inside so we had to be led in to sit at the back but the house was pretty empty anyway when

McCarthy is threatening to take away the papers with Einstein’s calculations, but everyone calls them calculus not calculations then Monroe offers him herself or her money not to do that.  Then Einstein and Monroe get to discussing the quantum theory of the 1930s as though it still meant something when she was getting her skirt blown up around her legs all day for numerous retakes.

Monroe suffers a miscarriage and Einstein feels guilty about the bomb.  The world maybe comes to an end outside, or maybe he is just remembering.

At the end, I did not understand why the sexiest woman in the world would need to batter men with words in an unrelievedly rushed delivery and bored my companions by saying it was supposed to be physics not maths Einstein was doing and once you had got the ideas straight you could get the research student to do the calculations.

It made you think, if only about the mistakes…

 

A Challenging Experience at the Blue Keys Hotel, Southampton

October 20, 2017

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So I arrived at this place and tried to check in, but occupying a room I had already paid for turned out not to be so easy. I was met with a demand for identification–either passport or driving licence-and told this requirement was in the confirmation email. It wasn’t. A work pass was kind-of accepted with ill grace. Then there was a question about whether I had driven–somehow, without a licence-that was just a question the computer asked.  Silly me.  It was my job to answer questions, not think.

I went to the room and was informed I had to go downstairs again to get the code to use the WiFi. Which didn’t work. There was a lot of stuff in the room in a refrigerated drinks cabinet that gurgled loudly. To prevent you sleeping. But no sign of what any of it cost. Like the passport and the code for the non-working WiFi, you were supposed to know in advance.

 

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The keys were not blue

When I returned at 11 o’clock that evening the front door was locked.  I had two keys.  Neither of them would go in the lock.  A search revealed no sign of any other door or of for instance an emergency phone number.

All seemed lost, but then a kind person came and shone her phone light on the lock and I managed to operate the lock.

Apart from being told off for pouring coffee from the full jug I got off fairly lightly in the morning.

One of those places which is probably perfectly OK if you have the telepathic power to accommodate yourself to the proprietors’ mindset (and in advance).

From The House Of The Dead, WMC Cardiff 08 October

October 9, 2017

****

wnohod

This was certainly very impressive as music, but didn’t really make a personal impact on me, which I think was the point. This was really a matter of the production I think, though more of a lyrical-romantic inflection in the playing (which I think is possible) would have been welcome.

Perhaps the prisoners should have been more individualised and less spread out, while the pantomime of Don Giovanni and Kedril just seemed pointless here–with neither a point of its own nor in reactions from the prisoners. At the end we did not have an eagle flying to freedom but rather a projection of a shadow, which didn’t really cut it.

And surely Shishkov’s narration as the final one of the prisoners’ stories ought to both be affecting and to sum up or exemplify what has gone before–the senseless random murderous cruelty and the spark of God within each one also. Unless that was just meant to stay with Dostoevsky…

Khovanshchina, Cardiff WMC 07 October

October 8, 2017

***

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Photograph from WNO site

The choral singing here was wonderful, and on a different plane from what I had heard in some 350 previous evenings at the opera. On the other hand, the attempt to universalise the action by setting it in the early Soviet period while adding in Samurai warriors and a gas chamber did little to clarify the action, centring as it did on the attempts of various groups to appose the accession of Tsar Peter I (or Peter the Great).

Musorgsky suffered from various difficulties with the scenario, such as being dead drunk much of the time, not being able to finish it, and not being able to portray any members of the Romanov dynasty on stage. Still, one should attempt to make things more rather than less clear. The scenario does at least give a coherent and probably accurate picture of Old (Pre-Petrine!) Russia as violent, lascivious and God-haunted, which doesn’t really fit with the early Bolshevik period.

Apart from the choruses, it was Shaklovitsky’s patriotic peroration that made an impact, but we were left with no clear idea whether he was meant to be Edmund or the Duke of Kent. So why did Khovansky take a bath in his (albeit bloodied) trousers while the Persian Slave ended up naked? (Probably because she constituted an allusion to Hella from The Master and Margarita.)

Probably Dosifei came off rather too sympathetically in the absence of any real competition, while it was far from clear what his Old Believer followers were up to in the end, in terms of burning themselves to death or indeed anything else…

Perhaps the main interest was in comparing the Welsh surtitles with the English ones and with what was being sung in something (occasionally) like Russian. I was gratified to find that А ты in Russian was ‘A ti’ in Welsh, and interested by all of the Latin words in Welsh–a legacy of the lost Romano-British culture or (more probably) of deliberate language planning in more recent times.