Saturday, 29 September 2007

mrs miniver

We watched Mrs Miniver in two bits last week. It's the kind of film that today people brush off as hammy wartime propaganda, but we enjoyed it, and you have to be aware that when people were watching it in the cinema it must have all been very close to home, with loved ones going off to war and civilians being bombed at home and the ever-present possibility of death.

IMDB and Wikipedia gave good information on the film (here and here) and Greer Garson (here and here); Wikipedia also has an interesting entry on the original written version, a newspaper column for the Times (President Roosevelt credited the book with hastening America's involvement in the war).

Greer reminded me of Myrna Loy and therefore, as per frevious post, Lucille Ball and Willandgracelady. I was keen to see the film, not least because of its Oscars. Greer gave the longest acceptance speech ever, which perhaps led to the time limit which was subsequently imposed. Greer's birthplace is variously given as London and Ireland, but a few sites confirm that it was London - Manor Park, in fact - but that it was publicised as being Ireland. A year or two later Greer married Richard Ney, the man who plays her son in the film (11 years younger than her, according to IMDB). Greer was a contraction of MacGregor, her mother's maiden name.

Nice quote from Dame May Whitty, the fearsome mother-in-law, in her Wikipedia entry: 'I have everything Betty Grable has - I've just had it longer.'

From Teresa Wright's Wikipedia entry, a para from her Hollywood contract (she wanted to be taken seriously): 'The aforementioned Teresa Wright shall not be required to pose for photographs in a bathing suit unless she is in the water. Neither may she be photographed running on the beach with her hair flying in the wind. Nor may she pose in any of the following situations: In shorts, playing with a cocker spaniel; digging in a garden; whipping up a meal; attired in firecrackers and holding skyrockets for the Fourth of July; looking insinuatingly at a turkey for Thanksgiving; wearing a bunny cap with long ears for Easter; twinkling on prop snow in a skiing outfit while a fan blows her scarf; assuming an athletic stance while pretending to hit something with a bow and arrow.'

Which all reminds me of reading David Niven's Hollywood autobiographies and similar stuff; I used to know lots of stuff about the golden days of Hollywood. I used to know lots of stuff about lots of stuff, really.

stornoway opera house

And while I'm thinking of memories of old Stornoway, here's a peculiar one. There are, believe me, many alleys, stairwells and corners of London that smell of wee, but only one place that gives me an exact smell memory of the old gents public toilets in Percival Square (known by some I think as the opera house, and not a very salubrious place, and demolished while I was still in school), and that's the stairways up from Farringdon Road to Holborn Viaduct; quite extraordinary. It must have at least something to do with the particular building materials.

last bus home

It had been a long time since I got the last bus home from Stornoway (as mentioned in previous post). It left town a little later than it used to (20 to 11 in my youth), but it was a very different experience. It was a much smaller bus, and I think there were five people on the bus altogether (and of course no smoking). The last bus home always used to be very busy with people coming home from the pubs. Longer opening hours mean people stay later and get taxis now, apparently.

a gig in lewis

When we were up in Lewis in the summer, for ten days, there was only one live performance on at the Lanntair, which wasn't very impressive; I'd have thought there'd be a lot more events on now that they've got their new building.

The Woodlands Centre seems to be having as many events. I went to a gig there - on the night of the Lanntair concert, coincidentally - one of two preliminary gigs to a subsequent Sounds in the Grounds concert - Your Distant Cousin, Memphis Louie and the Rocking Firebird of Death and Crash My Model Car played. I got there unfashionably early - soundchecking was still going on when I went in - but the place was well packed by the time I left.

The most interesting thing about YDC was that of the three who sang, the one who did the least sounded to be the best. Group dynamics are always interesting. ML were easily the most entertaining; it made me think of an interview with or article about someone who was saying that they spent so long learning and playing songs of other people like the Beatles that when they came to write their own songs they knew how to put a song together properly. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that YDC and CMMC had never learned anyone else's songs before they started writing their own unremarkable ones. ML's songs were well-played and well put together; they were the only group which properly used the fact that they had more than one person who could sing. And good to hear some of If I Needed Someone in Gaelic. CMMC were interesting in that they performed in the tiny space as if they were playing a large stage at an outdoor festival. Success is often, I think, down to self-belief and determination, and behaving as if you are successful - a trick of confidence. I could have stayed to the end and got picked up, but I was happy enough to leave early and get the bus home.

I slightly regret not going to the second gig the following night now, but I didn't at the time. I did enjoy it (what I've written probably comes across as overharsh on YDC and CMMC), but it - and listening to songs on Myspace, which is a good way to hear bands you've only heard of, famous or not - did help to put into perspective the enthusiastic reports I used to read in the Gazette of the music scene at home. I don't want to be too critical, because I did enjoy it, but it was disappointing.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

sad day we left the croft

A post by Alex prompts me on one of the many things that I haven't got round to noting down yet, referring to the reissue on CD of Sad Day We Left The Croft. The Wikipedia page says the documentary is on this Thursday; I got a copy of the album from Chris when I saw him in Glasgow earlier in the year after he'd been working on the programme, so I thought it had gone out by now.

It probably wasn't surprising that the album wasn't as good as I'd remembered/imagined. What was more surprising was the extent to which some of the bands really don't sound very punk now - most notably the one with the guitarist doing a perfect Mark Knopfler (although of course Dire Straits weren't as derided then as they would become later).

I think I was still in Bayble the only time I saw any of these bands - possibly once in Bayble school, definitely once in Aird. I have a clear mental picture of me outside the door at Aird school, just leaving, early, telling some grown up that it was too loud. It was; I physically couldn't stay in the hall. I'm fairly sure I haven't had to leave a gig early because of the volume since.

I was just too young for that generation of bands, and my Nicolson years were fallow really, bandwise, apart from Meantime.

cranford and memory

In a comment on a booky meme on SB's blog I wrote 'I quite enjoyed Cranford (from which I remember the tipsily-told story of the cat and the handkerchief)'. It turned out that two out of three of my memories of that story were wrong. I hadn't been sure it was a handkerchief, and SB's reply confirmed it wasn't.

To check my memory I found the story on this site, which has the full text I think (this is from Chapter 8, 'Your Ladyship'):

'As a proof of how thoroughly we had forgotten that we were in the presence of one who might have sat down to tea with a coronet, instead of a cap, on her head, Mrs Forrester related a curious little fact to Lady Glenmire - an anecdote known to the circle of her intimate friends, but of which even Mrs Jamieson was not aware. It related to some fine old lace, the sole relic of better days, which Lady Glenmire was admiring on Mrs Forrester's collar.

'"Yes," said that lady, "such lace cannot be got now for either love or money; made by the nuns abroad, they tell me. They say that they can't make it now even there. But perhaps they can, now they've passed the Catholic Emancipation Bill. I should not wonder. But, in the meantime, I treasure up my lace very much. I daren't even trust the washing of it to my maid" (the little charity school-girl I have named before, but who sounded well as "my maid"). "I always wash it myself. And once it had a narrow escape. Of course, your ladyship knows that such lace must never be starched or ironed. Some people wash it in sugar and water, and some in coffee, to make it the right yellow colour; but I myself have a very good receipt for washing it in milk, which stiffens it enough, and gives it a very good creamy colour. Well, ma'am, I had tacked it together (and the beauty of this fine lace is that, when it is wet, it goes into a very little space), and put it to soak in milk, when, unfortunately, I left the room; on my return, I found pussy on the table, looking very like a thief, but gulping very uncomfortably, as if she was half-chocked with something she wanted to swallow and could not. And, would you believe it? At first I pitied her, and said 'Poor pussy! poor pussy!' till, all at once, I looked and saw the cup of milk empty - cleaned out! 'You naughty cat!' said I, and I believe I was provoked enough to give her a slap, which did no good, but only helped the lace down - just as one slaps a choking child on the back. I could have cried, I was so vexed; but I determined I would not give the lace up without a struggle for it. I hoped the lace might disagree with her, at any rate; but it would have been too much for Job, if he had seen, as I did, that cat come in, quite placid and purring, not a quarter of an hour after, and almost expecting to be stroked. 'No, pussy!' said I, 'if you have any conscience you ought not to expect that!' And then a thought struck me; and I rang the bell for my maid, and sent her to Mr Hoggins, with my compliments, and would he be kind enough to lend me one of his top-boots for an hour? I did not think there was anything odd in the message; but Jenny said the young men in the surgery laughed as if they would be ill at my wanting a top-boot. When it came, Jenny and I put pussy in, with her forefeet straight down, so that they were fastened, and could not scratch, and we gave her a teaspoonful of current-jelly in which (your ladyship must excuse me) I had mixed some tartar emetic. I shall never forget how anxious I was for the next half-hour. I took pussy to my own room, and spread a clean towel on the floor. I could have kissed her when she returned the lace to sight, very much as it had gone down. Jenny had boiling water ready, and we soaked it and soaked it, and spread it on a lavender-bush in the sun before I could touch it again, even to put it in milk. But now your ladyship would never guess that it had been in pussy's inside." '

- So the fact of it having been an over-relaxed indiscretion evolved in memory into tipsiness. I remember being most amazed then, as still now, that such a story had been tucked away in a genteel 19th-century novel. Imagine how grossly the story would be told today.

the unpleasantness at the bellona club

I read my first Dorothy L Sayers recently, The Unpleasantness At The Bellona Club. It was probably better written than Agatha Christie, but it was disappointing as I'd expected better. Interestingly, like Agatha Christie, it made reference in the text to crime novels, but actually referred to authors, which included some contemporaries. The most interesting thing about the story was the unexpected insight it gave into post-WWI shell-shock sufferers and attitudes towards them (the older club members viewed them with a mixture of disgust and embarrassment).

I got out of the library at the same time Dracula, which I renewed as I haven't made much headway. But the start was very good, and certainly it seems to be a different class from the awful Frankenstein.

Monday, 24 September 2007

inklings

Interesting review in the TLS of a book about The Inklings (whose meeting place I didn't make a pilgrimage to during our Oxford visit on Saturday), and how, among other things, it changed the way The Lord Of The Rings ended.

deliberately-missed penalties

Two items from The Guardian's Knowledge on deliberately-missed penalties: here and here.

oxford

We had a day trip to Oxford on Saturday by train, meeting up with the Rollses. It was good to be together, but I've found that I don't really enjoy being in Oxford or Cambridge, with their lovely old buildings; all my class war instincts against class and wealth and privilege kick in. Silly old fool. (London seems to manage to have the wealth, power, history, architecture, academia, while still feeling a lot more democratic, egalitarian.)

still too long

In detailing the 10 worst comedy songs ever, Uncut of April 2007 lists Proper Chrimbo, by Bo Selecta: 'A bafflingly popular stalwart of C4's post-pub Friday night schedules, the rubber-masked Leigh Francis condensed his six-week series into a three-minute song. Still too long.'

Saturday, 22 September 2007

shakespeare what's on

This website is going to come in handy: current and forthcoming Shakespeare productions in the UK. An impressive undertaking; they've got the one-man Hamlet I saw this week.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

one-man hamlet

Saw my first one-man Hamlet tonight at the Camden People's Theatre. It was almost exactly an hour, which makes me think it might have been on at the Fringe. It was an El Mono Theatre production, and the actor was James Rowland, recently graduated from The Drama Centre, London. There were six or seven of us in the audience - it's quite a small theatre, so it didn't look too bad, and I had been fearful that I wouldn't outnumber the cast at all - including a group of four of whom were obviously friends of James.

I didn't have high hopes; I couldn't work out how it would be done. It wasn't too bad. The start was the best thing, just a couple of minutes of crying while a taped voice of Claudius gave a couple of the 'pull yourself together' speeches from the first court scene. Not many productions convey the idea that he is still grieving and upset at the start, rather than just gloomy or moody or contrary or depressed (although, to be fair, it would be hard to incorporate so much sobbing in a full cast performance). The premise, then, seems to be that he is in a room, probably an attic, being driven mad by grief, that he sees, hears and imagines things, and that he does indeed kill himself in the end, stabbing through a picture of Claudius (he'd drawn some pictures to do the Murder of Gonzago); this ending worked okay, although in fact it was only really then that you were fairly certain that he was imagining these conversations and acting them out by himself rather than, say, telling a story. It's got typical stage-attic accoutrements of old suitcases and junk which can be used as props. R&G were two teddy bears (who didn't speak); he did the ghost himself, and Gertrude in the bedroom, otherwise no other characters. If you didn't know the play it wouldn't really have made much sense. Sometimes it seemed like a disjointed selection of greatest hits from Hamlet's speeches, but only sometimes. It worked best at the times he was being conversational, but seemed a bit over the top when he was over the top. He looked like a younger, more sensible Milton Jones on first appearance. The CPT blurb referred to elements of Noh theatre and Japanese martial arts, but I don't know what they would have been. The programme/info sheet included Riding Lights in its list of thanks. The music - sparse piano, occasionally used - was good. I'll keep an eye out for other reviews, but I guess it'll get even fewer than the White Bear one. I wouldn't be surprised if I hear of Sian Roberts-Grace, the White Bear Hamlet, again as an actor; James Rowland, on this showing, I'm not so sure.

Monday, 17 September 2007

prayer joke

He also reminded me of a joke I like: chap is desperate to find a parking space, so he prays to God, promising that he will give up drink, smoking and sex if he can get one. At that very moment a space appears. He calls up to God: "It's all right, I've found one."
- from Simon Hoggart's column, Sat 8 September.

sharp's

Went to Sharp's Folk Club last Tuesday, first time in a while, another singers night. Folk club audiences must be among the kindest there are - no matter the quality (and this time I did hear the worst person I've ever heard there), people are at the least received with warmth and kindness. But in fact most of the performers are pretty good (and there are obviously cases where someone's voice is greatly appreciated by others while I don't like it; there's little more subjective than appreciation of someone's singing). The policy of one song per singer per half is also a good one, so you know you're not stuck with someone. Often there are enough performers that not everyone gets to perform twice. The highlights this time included: an old gentleman, smartly turned out, singing Blackwaterside; one of the regulars doing a splendid tune on his concertina; an Irishman from Australia doing a couple of recitations very well (the simple line 'this cup's not very big' was the high-point); and Tom Paley, who usually does fiddle tunes, playing his guitar and singing a couple of songs, I suspect unusually.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

open house

It was Open House. We did five in Southwark in the morning, had lunch with Daphne and Margaret, then did two in Bloomsbury.

First stop, not far from home, the Manor Place Baths, now a Buddhist centre. They had some interesting info panels on the history of the place, but we only saw a couple of quite uninteresting rooms, nothing indicating its origins as a late Victorian bath house.

Then another local one, the London College of Communications, formerly the London College of Printing, on the E&C roundabout. Just us on a guided tour, looking at work done by Allies and Morrison to fill in the gaps between the old blocks and also put in a new media centre. Interesting, and some good views. Some work was still ongoing, and some places where we thought it might be ongoing was finished, but in quite a bare concrete way (confirmed when we visited A&M's offices later). One of the interesting things we learned was that the tower of the Old Lambeth Workhouse (one of many dwelling places of Charlie Chaplin's childhood), which we could see well from there (it's the kind of tower that's distinctive when you're walking around but can be hard to work out where exactly it is - it's in the health authority site off Renfrew Road)), now contains a Cinema Museum, a personal venture I think, not open to the public.

Then bus down to The Cut, and St Andrew's Church, Short Street, which seems to be a sub-church of St John's Waterloo. I think we were in the church hall there for part of the Young Vic's modern-British-Asian production of Hobson's Choice a few years ago; they've since knocked the old property down and built a new block which is mostly private flats and a church space within it, presumably a condition of the agreement between church and developer. 'Church space' is probably the best term for it, as it seems to consist of two double-height halls, one above the other, with quite a small floor area and which are essentially empty rooms. Very flexible, and their potential as a venue is emphasised, but there is nothing to make you 'feel' like it's a church rather than any empty hall. Not sure what I think about this. Is it a Protestant worship space in its purest form, with no accoutrements, distraction, religiosity? Or is it just an empty space, devoid of meaning or content? Hmm.

Then to the Kirkaldy Testing Museum on Southwark Street. A quick wander around, marvelling again at Victorian scientific creativity and ingenuity. David Kirkaldy was, of course, Scottish.

Then down Southwark Street to Allies and Morrison architects offices. The visits to the architects offices are always interesting, if guided, even if you don't get trapped in a lift as we did last time, because they're so keen to talk about the architecture, and the work they do. Most interesting thing was to learn that despite computer-aided design, they still employ a large team of model-makers, and that models are still important in pitching and planning; and also, oddly enough, the techniques used to create the model can then influence the design of the model and thus ultimately the design of the actual building. Also, some of their modelmakers worked on the Tim Burton Willy Wonka, which spent something like 7 out of the 8 million dollar budget for special effects on a scale model of the village and factory, size of a couple of football pitches, dozens of model makers working for several months, for an establishing crane shot; the model appeared on screen for about a minute and a half.

After lunch, we all got the tube up to Euston and went to Mary Ward House, a late Victorian 'settlement' in Arts and Crafts style. Got there just before they closed the doors for the last tour. Tour interesting on the philanthropic ideals of the 'settlement' movement, the building itself fairly unremarkable inside (although it has a quaint, attractive frontage). Unused properly for a while, now promoting itself as a conference/exhibition venue, and is also used as a film location (period rooms well preserved, I guess) - were filming Ballet Shoes there last week, apparently, and Robert De Niro filmed some of The Good Shepherd there but none of the scenes were in the finished film (will be on the DVD, I guess).

Finally went to Queen Square and the Art Workers Guild, an unexpected Arts and Crafts hall tucked away. A guide might have made it more interesting; once the surprise was over, there wasn't much to hold the attention.

beatles walking tour

Did a Beatles walking tour by London Walks on Thursday morning. London Walks are always pretty reliable. This was okay; he was more of an expert than a guide. It was the most focussed walk I'd ever been on; nothing non-Beatles was mentioned. I didn't expect to learn anything new, which was fine, but I did learn where the Indica Gallery and the Scotch of St James used to be. We ducked out before the trip to Abbey Road, as time was pushing on for lunch.

Friday, 14 September 2007

any sassenach would have been crippled

The full text of a BBC report:

Man United boss hurt in 'attack'
Sir Alex Ferguson has suffered minor injuries after an alleged attack at a London railway station. It is understood the Manchester United manager was on his way to a function when he was allegedly attacked by a man at Euston station on Monday afternoon. A British Transport Police spokesman confirmed that 65-year-old Sir Alex suffered leg injuries. A 40-year-old man has been charged with actual bodily harm, assault and a public order offence. He is due to appear at at Westminster Magistrates' Court, central London, on Wednesday. Sir Alex, who was born in Glasgow, is not believed to have been badly hurt and attended the planned function in the city.

- 'who was born in Glasgow' made me laugh out loud.

fly concorde to the moon? no problem

"There's more chance of me flying Concorde to the moon blindfolded than there is of you taking Wales to the World Cup."
What Robbie Savage reportedly told Wales manager John Toshack.
- from the BBC's Funny Old Game quotes round-up. What makes it great is 'blindfolded'.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

jamaican bacon

Danny Baker repeated out on his podcast an old observation that an English person saying beercan sounds like a Jamaican person saying bacon. It kind of worked when they said it, not at all when I say it, possibly because to me beer is a two-syllable word.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

the hamlet weblog

I found The Hamlet Weblog yesterday, which is interesting. Someone recording his viewing of performances of Hamlet, at the moment mostly on video. Living in Liverpool, as he seems to, makes it more of a challenge to see live versions than in London.

This post explains what inspired it. And also has a cautionary tale about what collecting Hamlets can reduce you to: 'I was watching a documentary the other night called 'Playing The Dane'. It was from the early nineties and featured the talking heads of a diverse series of actors from Stacey Keach to Kevin Kline to Christopher Walken talking about the time they appeared in a production. There was an excellent moment when Sir Ian McKellan talked about the man who bounded in his dressing room at the Cambridge Theatre and said 'Congratulations, you're my sixty-eighth Hamlet, and I remember something about every one of them. When Maurice Evans played it, he had a little hole in his tights here.' McKellan ponders what he remembered about his.'

Some of the Hamlets I've seen I'd be hard-pressed to remember much about, without at least rereading the programme or finding some reviews. Our blogger wants to pass that target of 68 Hamlets. It's the kind of thing some people could puff up into a book, but reading about theatrical productions is usually frustrating, because they're ephemeral, and having missed them you'll never see them except in the rare cases where a film version was made - I still find it odd that theatres don't routinely film their performances. To turn it into a book you'd probably also need to either have an autobiographical element or talk to other audience members or theatre professionals.

The blog has got a Hamlet newsfeed also. The top item at the moment is an article from The Independent, inspired by the fact that Jude Law and David Tennant are both planning to play Hamlet in the next couple of years, and lists what the writer Paul Taylor considers to be the six best Hamlets ever. As it happens, I saw the 1989 Mark Rylance RSC one, which is my favourite; but that's a performance not captured on film; a couple of the others are, but not Simon Russell-Beale, who I'd like to have seen. I can see Laurence Olivier, and I think John Gielgud, on film, but not, I don't think, David Warner or Stephen Dillane.

A link also indicates that Feeling Listless is another blog by the same man, and that he's just successfully completed his endeavour to listen to every one of The Proms this summer, as a classical music education project. Not so list-less, then; a man after my own heart.

Meanwhile, having seen my all-woman Hamlet last week, I notice that there's a one-man Hamlet starting on Saturday at the Camden People's Theatre...

Sunday, 9 September 2007

diy hero

Yesterday afternoon I put up a bathroom cabinet. Bethan says I'm quite good at putting things up, the benchmark being the fact that nothing I've put up has ever actually fallen down, which I'll settle for (the bathroom mirror is slightly squint, but still counts as a pass). It is worth noting however that we bought that cabinet after quite a lot of searching for just the right one, in the year or two after we moved into this house in 1998. Putting it up was inspired by Bethan sorting out the airing cupboard, in which it has been stored for all this time. We had several moments of fear when we couldn't find the screws and door handle which came with the cabinet, but I eventually found them in a little tub marked 'assorted'. We also wondered briefly whether we should put it up at all, since it wasn't lockable - an issue now, as it hadn't been when we bought it - but we thought it would be fine. I hung it fairly high. I also - my goodness notwithstanding - hung it such that if it fell off the wall it would fall on the radiator rather than smashing the sink.

two mars bars

Wee Calum had a bigger sister, Sheena, and he saw his Granny coming to the van, so he came along in the full knowledge that he would get something. His Granny bought two Mars bars, gave them to him, and said, 'There you are now Calum, one for each of you, but do not eat your own till after your tea.' Calum duly departed, and his Granny on completing her business, left to find Calum eating the chocolate at the back of the van. 'I thought I told you not to eat your Mars until after your tea,' said his Granny. 'Oh! it's OK, Granny,' piped up Calum, 'This is Sheena's one I'm eating now.'
- a supposedly true story from this month's Ruadhach from an item on the end of the Bayble mobile shop

Saturday, 8 September 2007

hamlet - a retelling

I strolled along to the RFH this afternoon but I found that Regina Spektor was sold out. Still in the mood for an evening out, I had a look in Time Out online but none of the music grabbed me (I felt like something I knew I liked, rather than being adventurous). I took a look at the theatre listings, not really expecting anything, but saw Hamlet - A Retelling was on at The White Bear. Read the item back of seven, twenty minutes later I was there, ready for an all-female version set in a harem. About fifteen of us in the audience, outnumbering the nine-strong cast.

Reviews from The Stage and The British Theatre Guide, which aren't too bad; I guess there may be more to come, as it only opened on Tuesday. Someone there might have been reviewing it, with a little blue screen, or he might have been reading texts or emails.

The theatre company was Metta Theatre, formed last year by folk who'd worked together while studying at Oxford. Hamlet was played by Sian Roberts-Grace, who is still at Oxford (studying politics and economics or something like that; one gets the impression that Oxford and Cambridge are full of people who aren't interested in their subjects but only in in the networks and opportunities those places afford for their careers in arts, media, politics and so on). Other cast members: Liana Weafer, Shelley Islam, Orna Salinger, Jennifer Oliver, Elizabeth Rowden, Cassie Raine, Vanessa Mildenberg. None of the names were familiar - some faces seemed to be, but just generic I think - although from the biogs I guess I've seen at least Liana Weafer at the Globe. The puppetry consultant, coincidentally, was Toby Olie, the guy who did the Jungle Book puppets at the Scoop, which we saw last week.

It was a fairly respectable production. 2.5 hours, and some of the speeches were delivered at high speed as if to get as much in as possible - not gabbled, quite clear, but not conveying much emotion. As always, some of the lines struck me as ones I've never heard being performed before; I probably have, but they didn't get the emphasis. Hamlet was pretty good. Polonius was nicely done as an Indian subcontinent parent, loving but traditional and hierarchical. Hamlet's ruthlessness in doing away with R&G, and denying responsibility for P's death, came out quite well. A good stab at conveying Claudius's power and charisma - usually he comes off somewhere between, cold, unlikeable and clearly a bad lot. Some nice sound features, including stick on a metal pot for drone, and ankle/wrist bells used for the fencing. Not much set, just a bit of sand, or costume. There was business with handing over stones which didn't really seem to make sense at the start, appearing to be to do with who could speak, but reappeared at the end as representing deaths.

The programme went on a bit about the importance of aspiring towards 'gender blindness' in casting in the theatre, which seemed a bit of nonsense, but you didn't have to buy into that to appreciate a same-sex cast performance. The harem setting didn't seem to be of any particular significance apart from being a setting in which a group of women might conceivably perform a play for one another. (The programme says 'nine women re-tell Shakespeare's masterpiece of betrayal and corruption within their own private world - a mythologized harem in which the act of telling stories is their primary means of communication.', but you wouldn't know that without reading the programme.) Any number of other groupings could have been equally or more suitable - a sixth-form or university women's common room or drama workshop came to mind, before knowing the group's origins. The programme, again, talks about the gender-neutral quality of the production, but I just thought of those playing men's parts (the majority of them, that is) as pretending to be men, which seemed perfectly reasonable to me. Not being one of the romance/comedies, it didn't by and large have the gay/straight frisson which now seems to be compulsory in all the 'women disguised as men' plots like Twelfth Night in particular (I'd guess that at the time of original performance, those scenes are about humour rather than eroticism and confused sexuality), although Hamlet did seem to make a rejected pass at Horatio at one point, which I'll have to read again.

(Here are the 'directors notes' from the Metta website. Almost none of what this says is evident from watching the actual performance:
'A man crosses an almost bare stage, empty but for a giant bed. Behind him walks his wife. As he leaves he drops a book, as it lands the bed seems to move, and from its depths the Sheikh's many wives appear to greet and judge this new arrival...

'The book is Hamlet - an unfamiliar story to the wives of this mythologised Harem but a story nonetheless that they treat as one of their own narratives. They start reading aloud, but soon, as always within their private female world, the story begins to take on a life of its own and gradually they become the characters they have been reading. The latest wife, the outsider, reads the part of Hamlet while the others play multiple roles - perhaps swapping parts as the piece progresses and they settle into their natural roles, mirroring those of the Harem. And as the magic and beauty of Shakespeare?s words draws them further into the story their very style of performance evolves to do justice to it.

'They find themselves transcending the story-telling traditions of their culture by creating a magical world in which the story is released not merely orally but through puppetry, dance and live music, re-creating the play amongst themselves. Now the theatrical landscape is one of bold, beautiful, fluid images with a soundscape of live music supporting the story - it is as though the women must grasp every opportunity or potential method to communicate this story, their story, a story which has to be told. This for me is the essence of theatre - the struggle to communicate, to realise those stories that burn within us, stories we have to tell - even if that means inventing new languages to tell them.')

Home at ten, in time for The IT Crowd and My Name Is Earl. Only mishap was that I didn't wind the video tape on to the end of the Shakespeare episode of Dr Who, so taped Not Going Out over it without having seen it. How ironic.

PS A glowing reader's review on the Evening Standard website has subsequently appeared - the ES itself didn't review it.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

well-travelled books

I've just finished Carson McCullers' The Member Of The Wedding, which was pretty good. I got my copy in Tlon (for a mighty 10p), and the stamps in it indicate that before that it was in the Vista High School Library in Vista, California.

Another book I'm reading just now is CS Lewis's Miracles. I'm pretty sure I got that in Aberdeen second-hand, and the stamp in that (and a couple of other CS Lewises I got at the same time) indicates that before that it was in the Evangel Book Centre, Kuala Lumpur. The bookmark I'm using is a receipt which was in the book from the Rumah Tumpangan Kerajaan rest house in Kuala Trengganu (if I'm understanding it right), dated 29/7/67, for a beer, a ginger beer and possibly a sandwich.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

happy stewball (war is over)

Was reminded listening to one of my American folk compilations on Sunday that the tune of Happy Xmas (War Is Over) is very similar to the old American folksong Stewball.

the only educated member of the band

Just reading two interesting articles in the March issue of Mojo, one on Sgt Pepper in 1967 (which has a picture of the original Mr Kite poster, which I don't remember having seen before), the other on the Sex Pistols in 1977.

Nice quote from Fred Vermorel in the latter on Glen Matlock's departure: 'It was actually Malcolm and Jamie [Reid] who wanted to get rid of Glen, because he was the only educated member of the band. He was asking educated questions like, "Where's the money?"'

learned something new today

Jose Feliciano is blind.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

falling school rolls

Brian Wilson quotes some class sizes in this week's WHFP: 'Last session, the seven primary schools on the west side of Lewis feeding Lionel and Shawbost two-year secondaries could muster among them just 22 P1 pupils, less than half the number in P7. In Point there were 13 kids in P1, in Lochs nine and in the Back catchment area, 30. The seven schools classified as feeders for the Nicolson Institute had 86 pupils in P1 compared to 126 in P7. Thirty-six of these were in Stornoway and 26 in Laxdale, down from 62 and 41 respectively. In the whole of Harris, there were nine P1 pupils compared to 27 in P7. The Uist figures are not much better while Barra had just 10 P1 pupils compared to 21 in P7.'

1 john 2:12-14

David pointed out tonight that the order - children, fathers, young men - might seem odd, neither ascending or descending in age, and that this was further evidence that 'children' referred to all the believers, as it does elsewhere in John's letters.

It struck me also that the person who made the verse divisions (a Frenchman on horseback comes to mind, for some reason) also thought there was something funny with the order, since he puts the first 'children' on its own in v12, then a 'properly ordered' set of fathers, young men and children in v13, then finally fathers and young men in v14.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

peregrine falcon

We've been past the Tate Modern a few times when the RSPB have had their stall set up with telescopes for looking at the peregrine falcons which sit high up on the old chimney, but yesterday was the first time one was actually there to look at. Sadly it had turned its back on us, so it might as well have been a pigeon (or a tortoise, which is how it struck me, oddly enough. They nest in Marylebone and hunt from Tate Modern; commuters, then. BBC News item.

members' interests

This week's Free Press has a little article on declarations of members interests by councillors in the Highlands and Western Isles Councils - three masons and three Free Church elders in WI, none of either in the Highlands. I've just had a look on the members interests register on the WI site, and there are all kinds of things listed there; I'd have thought the (declared and undeclared) tangles of quangos and business interests and political affiliations of independents would have been just as interesting, though perhaps more gossipy.

respective values of pets and children

Orphaned - for the night
There is no easier way to make money in modern Britain today than by babysitting. Sitting on the sofa watching TV, helping yourself to the fridge's contents ... all while the children sleep upstairs. Long-suffering parents are now so desperate to escape their offspring for a night that they end up paying more to their babysitter, than for their meal out. The rates charged by teenage girls now typically start at £5 a hour - and £8 an hour is not unusual for adult babysitters. Rates sometimes rise even further if the couple have the energy to stay out after midnight. Does it get any better than this? No. MB

Petsitting
This involves staying in someone else's home to look after animals (and often plants) for anything from three days to three months. New Forest-based Safe Hands (safehandssitters.co.uk or 0845 2600 488) pays from £153 a week for caring for a dog and a cat plus travel costs. You need experience with pets, to be prepared to live somewhere else and stay in most of the time, to provide references and submit to a criminal records check. The National Association of Registered Petsitters (dogsit.com or 0870 3500 543) is useful. TL

- interesting juxtaposition in a Guardian (Sat 11 August) A-Z of ways to earn extra cash. Reminds me of the fact that the RSPCA was founded before the NSPCC (and is Royal rather than National).

the inquisition's definition of 'relaxed'

In 1506 a miraculous light was seen on one of the crucifixes in a Dominican monastery in Portugal. Crowds gathered to marvel at it, but when one man suggested it looked a bit as if a candle had been placed behind the image of Christ he was dragged into the street by his hair, beaten, kicked and burnt by an angry mob. He was a converso, a descendant of Jews who had converted to Christianity, and as Toby Green explains in this powerful study of intolerance, the conversos were the first group to be scapegoated by the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions.

The Inquisition was about power, not religion, says Green. The papacy was actually a moderating influence on the Iberian monarchs, who needed to create a fictitious enemy within to channel the forces of popular unrest away from the throne. After the conversos their attention turned to the moriscos, descendants of Muslims who were forced to convert to Christianity.
Just as Arthur Miller used the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692 to comment on McCarthyite America, so in this book Green appears to be using the Inquisition to comment obliquely on the "war on terror". He makes no explicit comparison, leaving the parallels to speak for themselves. "There was little dialogue any longer," he writes, observing the growing separation of the Christian and morisco communities in 16th-century Spain. "Propaganda was winning ... Thus soon even reasonable Christians believed in the archetype of the seditious crypto-Muslim and came to believe that these fanatics had to be stopped before they could succeed in their plan of destroying the nation and its way of life."

Fear is the key to the Inquisition. It was all about creating a climate of collective terror. "Successfully embedded," writes Green, "this fear can always be invoked, in the name of the war of good against evil, against targets that pose an economic or political challenge." The inquisitorial authorities co-opted the theatre of religion precisely in order to cultivate fear. The auto-da-fé or "trial of faith" was designed to terrorise the audience as much as the heretics who were "relaxed" (burnt at the stake) during the ceremony.

Green argues persuasively that the Inquisition's vast bureaucratic reach into the private lives of its citizens makes it a forerunner of the modern totalitarian state, while its obsession with limpieza de sangre or "purity of blood" is an awful forewarning of fascism. He doesn't shy away from the fact that the masses themselves were complicit in supporting persecution. It was a masterstroke of the Inquisition to legitimise gossip as a religious duty, creating an entire network of informants and a "society of vigilance". A recurrent theme in the book is the betrayal of family: unscrupulous citizens denouncing their irritating in-laws and prisoners under torture denouncing spouses, parents, siblings, friends and lovers. Here is the survival instinct in its basest form, as Orwell understood.

- a review of Toby Green's book on the Inquisition in The Guardian of Saturday 25 August

'the way it is going to be played'

Dallek captures moments that are worth the entry ticket, as when Kissinger holds secret talks with the North Vietnamese in a suburban house in Paris given to the French Communist party by Cubist painter Fernand Léger. Or in the following double-speak exchange, immediately after Augusto Pinochet's coup in Chile:

Nixon: "Our hand doesn't show on this one though." Kissinger: "We didn't do it . . . " Nixon: "That is right. And that is the way it is going to be played . . . "

Dallek doesn't quite nail the role of Nixon and Kissinger in toppling Salvador Allende, an event that made a mockery of their pious assertion that America respected the sovereign rights of other nations. They couldn't abide Allende's democratic mandate, and spent three years trying to overturn it, lying about it the whole time and, in Kissinger's case, for much longer. They lied also about extending the Vietnam conflict to neutral Cambodia, in a secret operation code-named "Menu". It started in March 1969 with an attack dubbed Breakfast, progressing on to Lunch, Snack, Dinner, Dessert and Supper. Kissinger later said the code-name was "as meaningless as it was tasteless", though (and Dallek fails to mention this), he had quite an appetite for it at the time, even fiddling with the mission patterns and bombing runs.

- From an interesting review in The Guardian of Saturday 25 August of a book on Nixon and Kissinger.