Posts Tagged ‘2 star’

Antigone, Greenwich Theatre 30 October

October 30, 2017



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



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.

Morphine, Etcetera Theatre 7 February

February 8, 2017



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…

Antigone/Lysistrata, Cambridge Arts Theatre 13 October

October 14, 2016



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.


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.)


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…

Three Irish Classics, Pentameters Theatre 23 August

August 26, 2015


'Riders to the Sea' from

‘Riders to the Sea’ from

I was somewhat daunted by my first visit to Hampstead this millennium, with the climb up the hill once I had scrambled off the bus and the shops with their signs in Hampstead-French.  But the young couples on the pavements seemed to be talking German to each other.

But once I had found the pub and climbed up some stairs, I was reassured by the welcome from producer Léonie Scott-Matthews and her charming assistants, not to mention the pleasingly mismatched seating.

Of the three pieces that made up 65 minutes’ running time, Riders to the Sea (J. M. Synge) was the first and best, and Maura’s despair struck home with me:

Michael has a clean burial in the far north, by the grace of the Almighty God.  Bartley will have a fine coffin out of the the white boards surely…What more can we want than that?

The Pot of Broth, by W. B. Yeats, was a peasant farce where the tramp hero had undergone gender reassignment and the plot recycled the good old nail stoop story.  Perhaps the tramp’s imaginings could have been given more space to breathe and the host and hostess changed their minds less easily.

Finally, The Travelling Man by Lady Gregory (in fact, both of these two were more like collaborations between her and Yeats) got a little stuck between being a much shorter Playboy of the Western World and a Biblical parallel. Again, the mother passed a little too matter-of-factly from ejecting the Traveller to despair on realising she had lost the King of the World.

Definitely an experience worth ascending the Golden Mountain of Hampstead for.

Bypass, Peckham Multiplex 15 April

April 15, 2015



There were three diverting moments in this film.  To start off with, the manager declined to recognise it as a film he was showing and had to get out a flyer to check that it was indeed on.  Then, since the film started immediately and with no brightly-lit scenes, all three of us in the audience had a fun time trying to find a place to live in total darkness.  The third one came at the end of the film….

In theory the protagonist Tim went through a hundred minutes of misery (his father had already deserted the family) as his brother was banged up, his mother died of cancer, his attempts to make a living through petty crime fell further and further short, his sister skipped school and fell into bad company, his girlfriend fell pregnant when he didn’t want to be a dad, and he persisted in robbing houses while developing meningitis (bad move that one)…

But I was baffled more than anything because while the action was supposed to be set in Gateshead, the characters acted and sounded like would-be hard men and other inhabitants from a council estate in Oxfordshire (which is the background of director Duane Hopkins I think).  You could tell it actually was filmed in Gateshead because you enjoyed some views from the south bank of the Tyne and learned about the family’s history as steelworkers and would-be footballers.  More convincingly, it had to be Tyneside because all the colour was washed-out, as in I am Nasrine.

Leaving aside the facts that the characters were actor-beautiful and well-spoken, and that their material conditions of life looked rather comfortable, I was disappointed to be deprived of a spiritual return to the North-East.  But nostalgia was satisfied with a fine display of the cliches of 1970s Soviet cinematography, especially the departed beckoning meaningfully from behind net curtains at the edge of the screen or striding off silently into the distance, depending on gender.  In fact, the scene at the end where Tim decided not to die in Intensive Care but instead to witness the birth of his child was rather good, and would have been more effective if we’d been allowed some saturated colour for contrast as at the end of Andrei Rublev.


A Chaste Maid In Cheapside, Rose Bankside 5 March

March 6, 2015


The box office still had a poster up advertising ‘A Trick To Catch The Old One’ from about a year ago, and this production inhabited the same kind of territory with music and costumes suggesting a generic 1950s. Unfortunately, rather too much had been removed from the original text for the remainder to be viable–one kept on waiting for Yellowhammer’s son Tim and the Welsh ‘heiress’ to appear, and large amounts of satire on contemporary mores were omitted, along with the corresponding characters.  Rather than fitting into a range of satirical types, Allwit the professionally complaisant husband was left like a frozen minor planet vainly orbiting a remote and faded star.

It was not clear–at least to me–that Moll Yellowhammer fell ill after being drenched in the Thames; it seemed more like a nervous collapse due to thwarted elopement, and the trick by which the lovers overcame the opposition of their elders went by so rapidly–like a telegraph pole going past a train–that we didn’t realise that the play was ended until the cast stood around sheepishly waiting for applause.

The acting had a lot of ‘get into position–pause–act’ and our Touchwood Senior did wave his hands about a great deal. That could have been an ironic reference to Freud’s remark about male gesticulation being associated with impotence, but I don’t think it was.

The promised 90 minutes’ running time turned out to be 75 minutes, but even so one observed a certain amount of surreptitious consulting of watches in the audience.

Better luck next time!

A Winter In The Hills (John Wain)

July 16, 2014



When Try Books! discussed this, we had a marked difference of opinion between those who came to the meeting and those who emailed their views in.  But first of all let’s see what it’s all about…


The storyline concerns Roger Furnivall, a washed-up 40-year-old academic who has been caring for his brother Geoffrey, mentally incapacitated after being caught in a flying bomb attack in World War II.  After Geoffrey dies, Roger decides to go to North Wales so as to learn Welsh and hence get a job in Uppsala, where there will be many tall, compliant blonde girls.  Roger is (quite naturally as he sees it) desperate for sex, and in the course of the book we learn about his attempts with Beverley (a young American tourist), Rhiannon (the beautiful and well-dressed hotel receptionist who must be a kept woman) and Jenny (married with two young children, but love will find a way).  We also learn about his past with Margot, a red-haired green-eyed insatiable lover.

As well as the above, Roger also becomes involved with Gareth Jones, proprietor of a one-man bus concern who is the last survivor holding out against Dic Sharp, the local Mr Big, and Madog an epic Welsh-language poet (working in an estate agency) together with a number of other colourful local characters.

The narration is carried on in the third person, but it might as well be the first since we never see any scene where Roger is not present.  The book was published in 1970; since Jenny drives a Mini (which was popular from the mid-1960s) and there is some reference to the possible nationalisation of the buses (which presumably refers to the Labour government of 1964-70) we can take the action to be set at the same time.

The view by email

On this basis one could say (and people did, by email):

I love a bit of romance and a happy ending so this ticked my boxes.

I enjoyed it as a ‘life-affirming’ anti-corporate yarn.

Loved the sense of place and climate, though the descriptions were a bit overdone sometimes. Really immersive. Nice trajectory from sex-obsessed rotter to sex-obsessed local hero and family man.

However, those who were present at the meeting took a rather more critical view, under a number of headings.

Roger the philologist

Roger is presented as a specialist in ‘philology’, but this is a nineteenth-century term, and in this century it would be called historical linguistics.  He actually gives Jenny a pretty good explanation of what historical linguistics is, but that still leaves some serious problems.  If you want to be a historical linguist you need to know the earliest attested languages from various families–for Celtic languages, you need to know Old Irish as a starting point.  Modern Welsh is of comparatively little use, being both modern and contaminated by English.

As well as Roger learning Welsh with implausible ease (but that was necessary for the plot), he also fails to notice any of the many features of Welsh that would force themselves upon the attention of a real philologist.

Roger and the women

In the past Roger has had a relationship with red-haired Margot, which foundered due to her rejecting the proper woman’s role of caring for his disabled brother Geoffrey.  During the course of the book, he persuades Beverley, an young blonde American, to take him up into the mountains on her scooter and attempts to have sex with her.  She rebuffs him and abandons him on the cold hill’s side.  (Castration may have been more to the point.)  Afterwards Roger thinks of her unkindly as that slab of processed cheese from California.

He also tries to get it on with Rhiannon the kept woman, who is beautiful and mysterious and knows everything that is going on, as well as helping Roger find a new home in a converted chapel.  And always seems to be wearing a green suede coat, together with a short black leather skirt and a coral-red blouse, all of which seems to be rather too tasteless even for 1970.  We are also expected to believe that while she lives with her family and half of her village works like her in the nearby town, nobody has told her mother or her father the deacon about her international career as a rich man’s plaything.  A girl like Rhiannon must affect the lives of many men in a few short years, before her beauty faded.

Then we have Jenny, the typical Movement heroine under the heading Girls are nicer than us who is modest and dark-haired and from Lancashire (later changed to Cheshire but these places are all the same) and has already produced offspring for Roger to dote on–they are of course quite unconcerned by a change of Daddies–and sexually insatiable when she meets the right man in Roger.  We note that she also manages to be both innocent (Gerald caught me so young, before I’d had a go at managing life by myself) and experienced (Don’t forget a woman gets very good at detecting line-shooting.  We have to listen to so much of it between sixteen and twenty-five) at the same time–that’s the Eternal Feminine for you, in decorous provincial form and wearing a damson-coloured woollen dress.

We should also put in a word for another kept woman, Fräulein Inge, whose residence Roger occupies in her absence.   Roger catches sight of her as a young woman with pouting, almost bee-stung lips.  She might have been the girl-friend of one of the foreign poets.  Clearly, being a female she couldn’t be a poet herself–she can only manage the childish art-play of Fräulein Inge–and neither could Jenny, who finds her subaltern feminine fulfilment as administrative assistant to the Celtic Poets’ Colloquium (as well as in Roger’s bed).

Under these circumstances, it seems best to pass rapidly over the sub-Lawrentian Bad Sex:

It used to make me feel I’d give anything, anything at all, to get right inside her, into her innermost fibres, right in where she lived, to find the central core that was Margot and nothing else but Margot, find it and shoot hot sperm into it.

and also over

Roger was just about to formulate the thought that there was, after all, something to be said for sexual assault as a pastime for a man in early middle age when Gareth’s voice recalled him to actuality.

Roger in Wales

In his preface to the reissue, the author’s son states that the novel’s ‘Caerfenai’ is to be identified with Caernarvon, and the original of the village ‘Llancrwys’ was home to the Welsh language writer Kate Roberts, which would make it Rosgadfan.

There are indeed some effective scenes from Welsh life, as of being caught on the mountain when the weather changes or going to visit Gareth’s blind Mam in her cottage and indeed An Englishman’s Christmas In Wales with the roast hare that Gareth has snared himself and the shop-bought pudding with Roger’s whisky burning on it and Gareth’s Mam smelling the snow as violets in the wind.

The question remains as to whether these Welsh characters have any life of their own as opposed to merely furnishing Roger’s solipsistic fantasies.  Gareth as the hunchbacked indomitable son of mountain and slate-mine seems to be meant as some embodiment of Wales, crippled in body as Geoffrey was crippled in mind.  Then we have the colourful inhabitants of Llamcrwys, all surnamed Jones, the colourful hauliers Ivo and Gito, the colourful fat young poet Madog not at all like fat young Dylan Thomas who brings about Jenny’s escape from durance vile through his Colloquium of Celtic Poets.

All of these seem to be merely there as aids in Roger’s path to self-realisation:

he knew at last that Madog’s poem was Gareth’s yellow bus and that he, Roger Furnivall, had ridden up into the mountains now in one, now in the other, and that they had taken him to where he had found himself.

Without Roger, the Welsh characters seem to be unable to do anything for themselves and in particular to stand up to Dic Sharp.  Dic Sharp is allowed to make some good points in his confrontations with Roger–that Roger has not the slightest idea of how to run a business, that having had his fun he’ll be on his way leaving the locals to sort out the mess, even the Brechtian idea that morals are only for rich folk–and he might indeed have become something independent of Roger if he had been further developed.

Among the many plot holes, the main ones concern Dic Sharp’s attempts to force Gareth out of business.  The thing about loosening the nuts on the wheel of Roger’s hire car is complete nonsense, since it could easily have killed him and brought the police swarming all over the place.  Similarly for the device of the evil twin bus taking away Gareth’s passengers, when all they needed to do was to put Gareth’s bus out of action for a few weeks and he would have gone bust.

There seems to be some attempt at symbolic realism in the bus doppelganger, together with Roger’s progress from the Palace Hotel to Mrs Pylon Jones’s holiday flatlet to the converted chapel and then back to the Palace Hotel, and the parallelism between Geoffrey and Gareth, but none of it worked or if it did I didn’t notice.


As it stands this is all Roger’s solipsistic half-drunken fantasy lying alone in his hotel room.  But in that case it’s like the weak wish-fulfilment story that Roger spins Gareth and his Mam about having recently been at the marriage between Geoffrey and Margot, and maybe here the author is indicating that he understands what kind (and quality) of thing his book is, even if we don’t.

The critic who commented wales and middle aged men don’t feature high on my interests was certainly being very sensible.

Symbolic postscript

I think the symbolic dualism is meant to look something like the table below, but unfortunately it’s just not done well enough.

I also very much fear that since it’s Wales we’re in the realms of Arthurian romance:  Geoffrey/Roger have been symbolically castrated by the flying bomb and it is only by journeying to Chapel Perilous [where the sorceress Hellawes unsuccessfully attempted to seduce Sir Lancelot]  that Roger can be restored to potency and the land can be freed from Dic Sharp’s evil [succu]bus.  (So Rhiannon is a sorceress, which explains why she knows everything and wears striking clothes.)   So we identify Roger with Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, who has to travel in a cart driven by a dwarf in order to rescue Queen Guinevere.

‘Jenny Grayfair’  is a transparent pseudonym for Guinevere–‘Jennifer’ is the same name as ‘Guinevere’ in origin, while ‘Grayfair’ sounds like ‘Guinevere’.   And Margot sounds like Morgan le Fay, while Beverley has adopted the standard operating procedure of female spirits in enticing the hero to a remote spot and abandoning him there.  Apart from Jenny the English characters seem to bear the first names of Arthurian authors:  Geoffrey (of Monmouth); Gerald (of Wales); Roger (Lancelyn Green).






North Wales

 Among other points, Geoffrey is (mentally) crippled in London and Gareth is (economically, socially) liberated in North Wales.



Because Margot puts out and Beverley doesn’t



Because Rhiannon is a kept woman and Jerry is a wife



Roger is imprisoned through not having been able to save Geoffrey and can only become free by rescuing Gareth

Dic Sharp


As well as the sexual connotations of the names, these are the only male characters who have children–at the end, Roger has two middle-class English children to Dic Sharp’s Welsh nogoodnik one, thus demonstrating that once magically restored his potency is superior

Dic Sharp


Thin Welsh businessman v fat Welsh poet—they are the only characters who can make things happen, apart from Roger

Dic Sharp’s impostor bus

Gareth’s real bus



They both interrupt the action—Iorwerth saves Roger from Dic Sharp’s thugs while Dilwen’s model plane breaks the mood when Roger is about to seduce Rhiannon



The hauliers are inherently paired rather than being good v bad



Marriage (Gogol), Brockley Jack 2 July

July 8, 2014


Picture from uktheatrenet

Picture from uktheatrenet

The Brockley Jack have written to announce a special £5 offer for Tuesday 8 July, see here.

That has prompted me to share my views on the performance I saw.  The Brockley Jack are lovely people and the toilets there are quite exceptional, but they do annoy me by putting on plays that they don’t understand (and I do).

This was all far too normal–it might have been a realistic account of a bachelor civil servant trying to find himself a wife, when the whole point of Gogol is that it’s meant to be grotesque, more specifically a diseased self trying to avoid collapse in encountering the outside world and throwing off endless sparkling fantasies in the process.  The picture on the FB page with the offer on shows that somebody may have understood something of this, but it certainly didn’t appear in the production.  There for instance we started off with Podkolyosin reading in the paper the plot of Gogol’s story The Nose, which at least gave me a surprise but destroyed the contrast between his paranoid fantasies that everyone would know he was looking for a wife and the servant Stepan’s no-nonsense resentful gruffness.  Or the matchmaker Fyokla was here played as a kind of health visitor, complete with capacious handbag, when something overdressed and overdone in the manner of a pantomime dame is required.  Or then Podkolyosin himself was far too young, good-looking, and, well, marriageable while the intended bride Agaf’ya was a kind of Jane Austen heroine (and dressed appropriately), quite naturally agitated at having to choose a husband, when she should be both stupid and a threat–Gogol was really, really  frightened of women…

The lovely extended joke about them speaking French on Sicily–because everything outside the self is uniformly and undifferentiatedly a threat to the self–went begging because we never got a sample of the French:

..try and say to him ‘Give me some bread, brother’,–he won’t understand, really he won’t understand; but say in French ‘Dateci del pane’ or ‘portate vino!’–he’ll understand,…

You don’t want to make these things too sensible–Sicily was after all ruled by the French for long enough and they might speak French there.

See here for  what I know about other Russian plays in London.


The Stoker, ICA Cinema 26 May

May 27, 2013



One of those films where the audience were laughing nervously with relief at the end, hardly believing they had managed to survive something so tedious.

This was the last film of Aleksei Balabanov, who marked it by dying a week or two ago, and is set in St Petersburg in the lawless 1990s.  Our protagonist is Major Skryabin, an ethnic Yakut who was concussed in Afghanistan and is now working as a stoker.  He also has a daughter (Sasha) with expensive tastes.

He obliges a corrupt policeman who he got to know in Afghanistan by disposing of inconvenient corpses in his furnaces.  The policeman’s daughter Masha runs a shop selling Yakut furs with Masha, and they share the affections of the policeman’s silencious sidekick.

It’s not going to end happily…

The structure of the film is that characters trudge through the snow to witness or take part in scenes of stylised evil, and so it very much recalls Of Freaks and Men, where the characters steamed along the canals of St Petersburg with the same end in view.

The major is also writing a book, or rather trying to recreate a book he read before he was concussed–it’s about Yakuts being brutalised by a convict billetted on them.  At the end little Vera, who has been visiting the major to look at the fires in the furnaces, reads the unfinished manuscript and we get some pastiche sepia porn, very like an out-take from Of Freaks and Men.

You could also see this as straightforward Putinite propaganda–in the 90s Heroes of the Soviet Union had not where to lay their head, but order has been restored now…