Wednesday, 27 March 2013

hamlet - jonathan broadbent, bankside rose

On Tuesday 12 February I went to the Rose Theatre site in Bankside to see a short, four-hander production of Hamlet. I only heard about it the day before, and it was sold out for the run according to the website, but I thought I'd go along and see if there were returns. The man wasn't encouraging to start with, but when he heard it was just one I was after he said I could put my name down and come back five minutes before it started, so I went to the Starbucks across from the Globe in the meantime and read my book. When I got back I got in; I'm not sure if anyone else had tried for returns, and there was obviously a fairly large group of students, and as there were a number of empty seats I guess several of them hadn't made it.

I enjoyed it. The doubling worked well, and the omissions were worked around well. Everyone doubled except Hamlet, of course. This was only confusing at some Claudius/Polonius moments, since there were scenes which they would both normally be in and the same actor was playing them. Only one woman, so Gertrude and Ophelia never seen together.

Things I remember. Hamlet was good; very much the young student (reminiscent, especially with the glasses, of Leonard in Big Bang Theory). No ghost (and no battlements): instead, his voice coming through the static on the radio, which worked quite well, could be ghostly or Hamlet hearing things. There was only one of Ros & Guild, the other didn't exist on stage but Hamlet kept interjecting as the other one - 'and Guildenstern' - again as if Hamlet imagining him (in his madness) or referencing a remembered friend. In lieu of the fencing, some kind of gambling game with cards in which the loser of each hand drank a shot of spirits as a forfeit, some of which of course were poisoned - this worked surprisingly well. Very little set, of course; Henry VIII had none I can remember, but this had chairs, with the occasional other thing, including table and radio.

We sat in three sides (Hamlet sat in the audience to start with and a couple of other times), with empty side the one backing onto the Rose underwater cement remains; they had a curtain drawn across so you couldn't see them, which wasn't how it had been when I saw Henry VIII there. But during the course of the action - I think in the second half (though there was no interval), after the play (where Hamlet used the other characters to play the players)- the curtain was drawn back, and they used the dry cement shore around the pool for some of the action: Ophelia's mad scenes, the gravedigger and funeral, which worked well. Apart from Hamlet, the characterisation I remember was Ophelia as a pretty fragile, withdrawn character at the outset, ripe for unbalancing.

Plenty reviews for such a small production, though few from the usual major suspects; these just from the first couple of pages of results, mostly. The Rose Theatre page for the production. Londonist (some good photos). Michael Gray blog (new to me; interestingly, only kicked up when I out of interest used the terms for an image search rather than web search). Telegraph. Plays to see (also new to me). Ink Pellet (ditto, for teachers - it says Simon Russell Beale is the Ghost's voice, haven't seen that anywhere else, though may dig out and scrutinise the programme). What's Peen Seen (another new one to me). The Public Reviews. The Stage. One Stop Arts. Reviews Gate. British Theatre Guide. Litro. The reviews are all good, to a greater or lesser extent (except that last one, as it happens), and deservedly so.

Monday, 25 March 2013

planet 51

In February we watched Planet 51 off the digibox, recorded some time ago. I was disappointed with it after the promising set-up in the trailer (human astronaut is the alien on an alien world) was not followed through in so many of the ways it might have been, and lost interest in it as it just developed into a chase movie. My fellow viewers still enjoyed it, though.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

old times

I saw Old Times by Harold Pinter at the Harold Pinter Theatre (formerly Comedy Theatre) on Saturday 2nd February, while the others were at Whipsnade. (A matinee; I queued for day seats but didn't get one; I got a restricted view in the rear stalls two or three rows behind a thin pillar I'd sat directly behind for Spamalot, which wasn't too bad at all on either occasion.)

I like Pinter a lot and have seen a lot of them, but I'm losing patience with them a bit (don't know if it's me changing, or them). When I was younger the menace was emphasised, then it was more about the humour, and it's always been about the pauses, the broken dialogue and the ambiguity. But I just found the contradictory memories, lack of clarity about what had gone on and what was going on, lack of clarity in the nature of the relationships, and lack of resolution frustrating, and the way some of the things people said or did were not reacted to in any normal way at all was frustrating in a different way, going against the very naturalistic style of the dialogue. You don't mind no resolution, or some ambiguity, but - as per a recent post about books - there was a sense that it didn't convince, there wasn't an underlying truth of events and relationships that could be made to hang together in a way that accommodated everything presented to you, even allowing for perception and ambiguity.

It was well acted - three big names, Rufus Sewell, Kristin Scott Thomas and Lia Williams, with Kristin and Lia swopping roles from performance to performance (the night I saw it Kristin played Kate and Lia played Anna - if I've got that right; that is, Kristin was the wife and Lia the visitor - but I find it hard to believe it made much difference to the viewing experience, only that it kept the actors interested) - and plenty laughs, but at the end not just the question what was that all about, but also the question what was the point of all that. What have I learned, or been made to think about, other than the commonplace that people's memories and views of their relationships differ? Nothing, really.

Interesting quote from the programme (which I'm just reading just now, I deliberately didn't read it before the play, sometimes it shapes your interpretation too much when it would be better to come to it fresh), extract from Antonia Fraser's book 'Must You Go? My Life With Harold Pinter':
'He also felt strongly that his characters took on a life of their own which had to be respected. I was reminded of this years later when I read an anecdote about Pushkin during the writing of Eugene Onegin: "Imagine what happened to my Tatiana!" he told a certain princess at dinner. "She upped and rejected Onegin...I never expected it of her."'
- and another, from when he had taken over the male role from Michael Gambon for a US transfer:
'But where the text is concerned, Harold always stumbles in the same places as Mike Gambon did, according to the ladies. When I tell this to Claire Bloom, she wrinkles her lovely face just slightly - except it has no wrinkles - and says: "Perhaps that's where the author didn't get it quite right." Harold loves this.'

Some reviews (just from the first page of results). Telegraph (summary: great, but no idea what's going on; maybe in some or all people's minds).  Observer (similar. Interesting line: 'Visconti much offended Pinter by staging it as a play about a lesbian relationship', as there was certainly an undercurrent of that here, but if this is true then Pinter certainly didn't want that interpretation). Guardian. Independent. Time Out. Huffington Post. Evening Standard. Londonist blog. Islington Gazette

Sunday, 17 March 2013

'denied by the post'; 'scoreless'

Alex blogged about an annoying football commentator phrase, 'just about', which made me think of a couple of mine. I commented:
One of the ones I hate is ‘denied by the post’. No he wasn’t: it hit the post. The post didn’t stop it going in. Unless you’re suggesting the post moved.
Also, ‘the game is currently scoreless’. No it’s not: it’s goalless; it has a current score, and that is 0-0.

Monday, 11 March 2013

song of the thin man

Last month watched The Song of the Thin Man, the last film in the Thin Man box set Bethan bought for me a few years ago. They've lasted us well, and they were mostly pretty good. Well acted, especially William Powell and Myrna Loy, and lots of wisecracking dialogue. Like a lot of these old films, fun for all the modern family even if in their day they would not have been intended - or certificated - for children. Just the accompanying documentary dvd to watch from the boxset now. (Also interesting seeing Dean Stockwell as a child actor, which he also was in the accompanying short; I think each film came with a cartoon and a short, to give you the full old moviegoing experience, which I thought was a great idea.)

(Scrolling through the results of a Google images search on Myrna Loy, as I have just done, is a very soothing experience which leaves you very impressed with the artistry and styles of Hollywood photographers.)

the shadow of the torturer

Finished this book by Gene Wolfe in January, the first in a series. They're familiar from Douglas's shelves, and has been on my mental list for a while, but I picked it up secondhand recently. It was enjoyable enough that I'd seek out the next one. It was one of those post-apocalyptic mediaeval set-ups, though you could miss that if you weren't paying attention, as it's not overplayed. At one point I feared he was going to introduce too many things and ideas which didn't follow or weren't explained or didn't make sense or tie up, or just seemed to have been abandoned, but there were enough out of those things which were resolved/explained in the end that I didn't lose faith with the writer that he was just throwing things together. Not everything has to be explained, but you have to be confident that it could be explained and does make sense, and that either it will be or you can work it out or it doesn't matter but just creates the world and the atmosphere. (When We Were Orphans was the recent one which comes to mind where I didn't think the details hung together properly.) And I do have to feel that it is all going to lead somewhere. I have a low tolerance of dreams and visions, though, and there was too much of that.

The idea of torturers having a guild and apprenticeship system was well put-together, without being either gratuitous or melodramatic. The setting of much of the book put me in mind of the castle in Gormenghast, ancient and labyrinthine. (But I didn't make it past the first volume of that trilogy, which I found dull, tiresome and drawn-out.)

Saturday, 9 March 2013

tales and traditions of the lews

In January I finished Tales and Traditions of the Lews by Donald Macdonald. It had some interesting bits and pieces, but frustrating in its lack of sources and structure and background info. You couldn't always tell when things were or how reliable they were. It's one of those books that was out of print for a long time and had a great reputation, but a bit disappointing when it came to it. I'm not sure I learned anything that useful or interesting from it, and it didn't have an index to speak of.

npg photo portrait of the year exhibition; shard view

On Saturday 26th January, with Bethan's dad, we visited a photo portrait of the year exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in the morning and went up the Shard in the afternoon.

The portrait exhibition was interesting in that it was hard to work out what constituted, in the competition's terms, a good portrait. Sometimes you thought the photo was unremarkable but of a striking subject. Actually a lot of the photos felt unremarkable, and seemed to have paid little or no attention to the framing or distracting or extraneous details. Sometimes the photos were unremarkable in both composition or content, but given their meaning or strikingness by the information in the caption, which seemed to be a bit of a cheat; it's not the photo in itself, it's your background knowledge of the photos.

We had got free tickets to go up The Shard, preview tickets for Southwark residents from the library, before the selling tickets opening dates. We both queued up and got four tickets, so we gave the morning ones to friends at work. In some ways I'd have been happy to go twice, as both times had drawbacks. It was I think less hazy in the morning and less cloudy, with some actual sunshine, but on the other hand in the afternoon we were able to see it get darker, which was frustrating at first since you lost the light for photos, but then as it got darker the lights of London started to come on and you got a whole diferent view, though not really one you could take photos of with my camera at least. The tickets aren't time limted, so you can stay as long as you like, and it would be lovely to stay up there all day (with your sandwiches), but I don't think there are toilets up there, probably for that very reason.

The view was really like seeing London from an aeroplane, without going in a plane. It was slightly disappointing at the start, because I was very focussed on getting photos and thinking I wasn't getting very good photos, because of the haze and the windows not being as clean as you might expect (in the morning they had the kick of seeing the window cleaners up at their level, but that did mean that the windows were damp and streaky). In fact I started to enjoy it a lot more when I got to the end of taking photos and then just started looking at the view and the patterns and teh shape of London. The first viewing level was probably marginally better for taking photos; the upper level had the novelty of being open to the sky, so you were out in the cold air. I don't expect we'll ever go up again, unless we get free tickets again. The price is almost thirty pounds pre-booked and a hundred pounds on the door.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

oliver twist

We finished watching the David Lean Oliver Twist today. It's supposed to be a classic, but I thought it was terribly hammy and melodramatic - though lit and shot very artily - and Alec Guinness's huge fake nose was ridiculous.

a man lay dead

Recently finished A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh. Her first crime novel. It wasn't great; if I'd read it first of hers I'm not sure I'd have pursued it. Not much wit to it, and a preposterous manner of murder.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

lochaber no more

Visited the Fleming Collection on Berkeley Street, just off Piccadilly. A small, free gallery of Scottish art - one room of art from the permanent collection, one room of changing exhibition. It started as the art holdings of the Scottish merchant bank, Flemings, and became a standalone trust when Flemings was sold to Chase Manhattan.

I'd heard about it a few years ago, but only got around to going to it on Friday morning. It was interesting, and I'm sure I'll go back. A number of paintings I recognised and artists I'd heard of, but the two best known to me were to Victorian depictions of Highland emigration, The Last of the Clan (by Thomas Faed - he did several versions of this, and a larger one is in the Kelvingrove Museum) and Lochaber No More (by John Watson Nicol).

They're both quite sentimental, but the idea is something worth being sentimental about, and I like them both.

I wasn't entirely clear to me what the story in The Last of the Clan was, but the item on it in the BBC's Your Pictures website (which aims to catalogue all publicly-held art, I think) has some useful info, especially the first quote:

'When the steamer had slowly backed out, and John MacAlpine had thrown off the hawser [rope], we began to feel that our once powerful clan was now represented by a feeble old man and his granddaughter, who, together with some outlying kith-and-kin, myself among the number, owned not a single blade of grass in the glen that was once all our own.' Exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1865, this painting was accompanied in the catalogue by this paragraph which was probably written by the artist himself. Such emigrant scenes were common occurrences in mid 19th-century Scotland when, partly as a result of the Highland Clearances, the land could no longer support the people.
Emigration, often forced, to places such as America and Canada, was the only hope of survival. Though sometimes, as depicted here, the very young, women and the old were not allowed to go, and only able-bodied men sailed to the colonies in the first instance. A masterpiece of genre painting on a relatively large scale, Faed combines an eye for detail with a fluent painterly manner. The high quality of the still life painting of objects strewn on the quayside – a ginger jar, a pheasant, pots and packing cases – and the costumes worn by the figures, are typical of Faed at his best and reveal a Pre-Raphaelite influence. These elements are set amidst a fine landscape with a breezy sky and distant choppy sea. All in all, Faed brings an epic quality to a subject which is charged with tragic emotion and powerful immediacy.

From other reading it looks like Faed painted this in London, and died in St John's Wood (and Nicol painted his in London too, it looks like). This article on Intermezzo (connected with Kelvingrove) also relates ('This painting has come to symbolise the Highland Clearances which was a time when many Scots were forced to emigrate, driven from their land by poverty, or evicted by greedy estate owners.  Although by then the worst of the Clearances were over, the story told by the picture still aroused strong feelings and inspired him to create the most enduring image of this tragic period of Scottish history. ... When this painting was exhibited, the Royal Academy had to have barriers erected to control the crowd!').

The title of Lochaber No More of course had me singing Letter From America to myself.  One of the things I liked about Letter From America was that it used the name of Lewis in a serious way.

The Your Paintings page is here. Its text says:
In 'Lochaber No More' Nicol depicts this atrocity with a high level of emotional intensity, with the stark figures looking wilfully back at their lost home. Their meagre belongings surround them, most notably their frail dog, poignantly evoke their desperate position.
The title stems from both a traditional lament favoured by departing emigrants and a song by Scottish poet Allan Ramsay which tells of an enlisted Highlander’s nostalgia for his home country.

Interesting that the title was pre-existing. Interesting also that it sounds like this is the original; I don't know if it's one of which there are a number of versions by the artist.

There's a long and interesting article here, from 19th Century Art Worldwide journal, called 'Lochaber No More—Landscape, Emigration and the Scottish Artist 1849–1895', by Robin Nicholson', which has a long section on both these paintings (and the artists).