Monday, 23 November 2015

comic con

We had an enjoyable family day out to Comic Con in Birmingham yesterday (Saturday 21st - actually two days ago, it will appear, since I've posted this after midnight on Sunday night) - a convention relating to screen/print/game science fiction and fantasy in print, a particular feature of which is many people dressed up as sf/f characters (cosplay).

It is, I think, partly and successfully designed to be a safe and friendly environment in which people can feel free to be themselves: it's fascinating to see so many people being themselves by being someone else.

I was pleased to see so many women behind the comic artist stalls in particular (and in general the male/female ratio of attendees was unstereotypically even), but female cosplay, 'empowering' or not, is still heavily 'Hi, I'm Skimpy and these are my friends Cleavage and Skintight.'

(These things strike me because, like Polonius, I have a daughter.)

My favourite costume of the day was just a girl in student black wearing a sign saying 'free shrugs'. The steampunk - basically modified Victorian - looked good as a retro fashion people might actually wear in real life with a little moderation.

We had no idea who most of the people dressed up were meant to be, but that didn't matter a lot.

Probably our favourite bit of the day was playing a game in the games area, which was a very good idea for an area - about eight tables with games set up on them and a team of demonstrators, so you could go and learn (or just play) one of the games by playing it with someone. We played Colt Express with Clara, and enjoyed it, sufficiently that I bought a copy later from one of the stalls. The games area was provided by a company which sold/distributed games: they didn't have a selling stand, which was impressively altruistic, but nor did they even have flyers or business cards, so I can't even remember what they were called, which seems to be taking it a bit too far. (Perhaps they only sell to trade; or perhaps all proper gamers know who they are.)

In the afternoon we separated as the others wanted to get a good place in the theatre to watch the cosplay masquerade and I wanted to go round the stalls more thoroughly. We were all happy with our choice.

I'd think you'd need to have an ego of steel to be anything below an A-list person on the autograph tables, because most of them seemed very quiet most of the time. Even Miriam Margolyes, I reckon the biggest name while we were there, I saw with no queue, though she'd had a large one when we arrived first. But if you're someone who played a very minor part in something like Star Wars, an appearance fee and £15 an autograph, and general friendly appreciation from anyone who does come to you, must be a reasonable way to spend an occasional Saturday.

We enjoyed it, but I'm not sure we'd go again; having seen it once, we're not in the world enough to get any more out of it a second time, I think, unless one of us gets into it more; or unless we go to a slightly different version - if, say, there's an equivalent convention focussed on 'board' games (though many of them don't have boards), since the game-playing was the best thing. But then, there are probably cheaper and nearer ways to do that.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

hamlet: ethan hawke

Last week I watched (recorded off FilmFour a couple of years ago) the 2000 film version of Hamlet starring Ethan Hawke (and many other familiar faces).

It was a modern version, relocated to a modern-day US business empire. It was a reasonable production, in general, though nothing special.

Assorted notes.
- Ethan Hawke seemed quite characterless, perhaps deliberately impenetrable, but it came across as a bit bland.

- I thought Liev Schrieber as Laertes was easily the best performance. I thought silence was used well in his encounters with Hamlet after the funeral, making a virtue of the fact that of course a lot of those lines were cut (though that presumably is a director's decision).

- Sometimes I got the feeling that some people were delivering lines like they'd learned them phonetically but didn't know what they meant.

- In the equivalent of the corridor scene, with Hamlet and Ophelia (Julia Stiles) being 'overheard' by Claudius and Polonius, I thought it worked well that Ophelia was 'wearing a wire' rather than being spied on (the use of surveillance, communication and media technology was a key element of the modernisation, though interestingly of course this made it very dated, not least with the presence of a fax machine, large floppy disks and a video rental store). The fact that it was uncovered while it was being made apparent that they did love each other emphasised the sense of betrayal that Hamlet felt, and the guilt which Ophelia felt in having done so and being found out. I don't remember having seen that drawn out so well, and made sense as a precipitating factor towards breakdown/madness.

- Having the post-reveal insults in the corridor scene become answerphone messages left by angry/bitter Hamlet after the event worked well.

- Polonius was shot through a mirrored wardrobe door, pretty sure as also in the David Tennant production.

- I'm pretty sure there's a shot of Hamlet getting out of a car with the Lion King theatre in the background, a little in-joke.

- Laertes holds the mad Ophelia tenderly, as a loving brother would in real life, and so rarely happens in Hamlet.

- Something else that rarely happens in Hamlet, interestingly enough, is any sense that Hamlet is changed by his first murder, of Polonius. There was definitely a sense in which this Hamlet felt guilt, or if not guilt then certainly trauma, about having murdered someone, and particularly the wrong person. So perhaps not as characterless as I said above.

- When Claudius (Kyle MacLachlan) is telling Laertes to seize the moment and take his revenge on Hamlet, I did have the thought perhaps for the first time (perhaps coincidentally, perhaps something in the performance) that this is how he had persuaded himself to seize his own moment, before the play, for murder and marriage (because he was quite a mild-mannered Claudius). Probably Kyle MacLachlan's best moment as Claudius.

- While Sam Shepard (as the Ghost) wasn't quite the same, there was a slight echo, though not so extreme, of Patrick Stewart's playing the Ghostly Hamlet as not a loving father but a bully, contrasting with his brother Claudius's more surface-gentle, man of diplomacy rather than war.

- Bill Murray as Polonius did run along the usual lines, but he had two good moments. One was his advice to the departing Laertes, given as if by a loving father rather than (as usually delivered) a tedious lecture. The other was that he spoke the line to Claudius, in relation to uncovering the source of Hamlet's madness, about finding things out even if they go to the top, in a way which made me think of my view that you could plausibly play it that the wise/shrewd/insightful Polonius knew or at least suspected that Claudius had murdered his brother. I'm not sure if that was deliberate in the delivery, or just me reading into it, and I'm not sure there's any other clue in this production that that was what was behind it.

- Relatedly, one also wonders why Claudius is so keen to find out what's behind Hamlet's madness, and sets R&G to spy on him in particular. As Gertrude says, the obvious explanation is his father's death and mother's remarriage, with Polonius's suggestion of mad for spurned love a reasonable second suggestion. I think an obvious explanation for Claudius's keenness is that what he actually wants to find out is whether Hamlet knows or suspects that Claudius murdered his father. I'm not sure I've ever seen that possibility drawn out - though, to be fair, it would be quite hard to convey (Claudius eying Hamlet suspiciously/guiltily all the time?).

- In the final scene Gertrude deliberately drinks the wine, knowing that there's poison in it. It's only the second time I remember seeing this, and it's an interesting and performable idea.

Reviews (some links from the Wikipedia article, then from the first couple of Google results pages - finding reviews proved to be easier than I'd anticipated). New York Times. Washington Post. LA Times. New York magazine. Observer (which describes the set up and some of the characterisation, particularly that of Hamlet, very well). Guardian ('One of the wittiest scenes sees Hamlet, morose and almost torpid with introspection, drifting through a branch of Blockbuster in which every movie genre is "Action".' - a couple of the reviews mention this 'Action' detail (in the scene in which 'to be or not to be' appears) which passed me by; 'Ethan Hawke plays Hamlet perfectly satisfactorily, though he turns him into a bit of an indie-band lead singer'). Rolling Stone. Pop Matters. CineScene (some kind of amateur site, with a review which sounds like it was written by an overearnest and overenthusiastic student). ReelFilm (another film review blog). Fleeting Joy (a site devoted to the works of the director, Michael Almereyda). Ruthless Reviews (actually quite an interesting review, making a good general case for what I have always thought would be a perfectly reasonable reading of the play, that Hamlet is a completely selfish and unsympathetic toff who treats everyone around him badly). Boston Review (a long essay article of a review). Exclaim.

On the whole the reviews were more positive than negative, I think, giving more praise to most people than I would have, with in particular a surprising amount of praise for Horatio, who I thought gave a thoroughly unremarkable portrayal. A couple of the reviews also took Laertes' brotherly love for Ophelia as hinting-at-incestuous, which is a tedious interpretation but was perhaps fashionable at the time. I think the only production I've seen in which Laertes' love was explicitly more than it should be was the first production of Hamlet I saw, in the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh in the mid-80s, where Laertes planted a most unbrotherly farewell kiss on Ophelia at his first-half departure (and which, as I remember, seemed very out of the blue). The only other thing I remember about that production was that Simon Russell Beale was Osric - he was obviously sufficiently memorable in the production that I remembered him when I started seeing him in other things. And another Hamlet blogpost ends with a mention of Mr Russell Beale.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

religion: origins and ideas

On Sunday 25 October I finished reading Religion: Origins and Ideas, by Robert Brow, an old Tyndale paperback (1972 2nd ed, first published 1966) which I'd had on my shelf for a very long time. It was a straightforward and relatively interesting, though far from gripping or intensely readable, run through the origins and development of religion, and various key theme options (meaning/meaningless, theism/monism, trinity/unity, life after death, ethics & goodness, religious experience).

It was a helpful run-through, but not earth-shattering. The most helpful point made, for me at the time of reading it, was this reminder towards the end (p93):
'Having set out the logic of these religious alternatives, we can see some options to live by. If this world has a purpose for man to discover, that purpose must be discovered by some kind of oneness with our world (Monism) or that purpose is found by knowing the mind of the Creator (Theism). If there is a theistic Creator the main alternatives seem to be the Unitarian and Trinitarian views of God. On the other hand if this world has no inherent purpose, and we begin with meaninglessness, there are again certain options such as atheistic Existentialism and Nihilism. Thus comparative religion can set out alternative systems. Which religion or world-view a man chooses is his freedom.
'This mutual confrontation of religious alternatives, and by our definition all world-views and ideologies are religious, leaves us no place for neutrality. If we live as humans at all we are religious in some sense. The question is whether there is any way to discover which is the way we ought to adopt. At that point I do not think logic can help us. Logic and argumentation can help us see the inner constituency of a particular world-view; it cannot prove that it should be adopted. That is why Paul stated categorically that faith cannot be produced by argument (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). If faith was the result of logical reasoning we would expect all the most intelligent people to be converted to one religion or ideology. It seems that God in his wisdom has insisted on freedom of religion, and this freedom cannot be forced by human reason or logic.'

Friday, 6 November 2015

legally blonde

Yesterday afternoon, both feeling coldy, the younger generation and I watched Legally Blonde on DVD; I'd seen it before, possibly in the cinema, and it was good, better than I remembered (I suspect I may have been mixing it up in my memory with Sweet Home Alabama).

I bailed out of the follow-up in the matinee double bill, Johnny English, as we have seen it many times and it's rubbish.

a private eye cartoon

A cartoon from the 30 October issue of Private Eye, thoughtful rather than funny:
a little girl and her mum stand outside a shop window, in which there is a sign saying 'Halloween Fancy Dress' and costumes labelled 'Sexy Witch', 'Sexy Fairy', 'Sexy Frankenstein' and 'Sexy Ghost'. The girl is saying to her mum, 'Mummy, do I *have* to be sexy?'

hamlet: benedict cumberbatch

On Tuesday 27 October I went with Laura (who'd got the tickets) to the Barbican cinema 3 to see a broadcast of the NT Hamlet, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, which is currently running in the Barbican (it wasn't a live broadcast, but a reshowing of the live broadcast of a couple of weeks ago). It was pretty good, both the production and the experience.

I'd certainly do a cinema broadcast of a theatre production again. This was the first time I'd done one, and I'd thought they might be odd and without atmosphere; I wasn't sure how they were filmed either, and I guess I thought it might be the rudimentary style (on the rare occasions I've seen examples of it before this modern approach really got under way) of just a couple of locked-off cameras and dodgy acoustics. In fact the sound was very good - all miked up, just a couple of moments where the mics rustled or dropped out - and there was quite a variety of closer shots; not closeups of the speaker, which would have been tedious, but of the smaller group, with occasional shots of the whole stage scene. Occasionally I missed having a wider shot to see how everyone - or someone particular out of shot - was reacting, but the balance was good on the whole. The shots must have been very carefully planned, and I guess camera technology is such that it is possible to move and zoom less obtrusively because of changes in camera size and quality of zoom resolution from further away. (Also, as a number of the reviews mention, some of the action, particularly on the balcony corridor stage right, was out of sight of some of the seats, people complaining they were in effect restricted view seats though not advertised as such.)

A number of disordered notes follow.

- The programme cost £8.50! A4, but not a great deal of content. I've never paid so much for a theatre programme; it's priced at the West End musical souvenir programme level. Sonia Friedman Productions making the most of their property. Have to say, however, it has lots of good production photos, which you rarely get in programmes.

- In one of the articles in the programme (which, in general, as on this occasion, I avoid reading before seeing the play if they're about the play itself) James Shapiro talks about the contrast between the 1604 and 1623 versions, with the particular example of the cut of the soliloquy after his encounter with Fortinbras's forces as he's being taken to England, which James says this 'chance encounter is the turning point of the 1604 version, crystallising for Hamlet the futility of heroic action'. Yet that seems the exact opposite of the soliloquy's conclusion, apparently inspired by this great action over triviality, 'from this time forth my thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth' - at a time when he's being forcibly led away from where he is supposed to be acting. The performance of the Mousetrap is a much more obvious candidate for the key turning point.

- Another article in the programme refers to the fact that the choice of what to cut is a key and necessary directorial decision, and quotes Simon Russell Beale: 'The role of Hamlet is very hospitable. It will take anything you throw at it.' The third article seems bizarrely irrelevant. I read someone once saying that articles about the play in the programme rarely relate to the interpretation of that particular production (sometimes even contradicting it), and I have often found that to be true.

- I thought the military theme well done; a nation with conflict and potential war looming over it, plans, preparations and negotiations under way; sometimes the Fortinbras/international plot is background, sometimes omitted altogether, but it was very much present here; it also informed the expression which Hamlet's feigned madness took, quite well done.

- Laertes (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) didn't hug the mad Ophelia, as usual (this will become one of the points I look out for consistently now, having had it pointed up by one of the few particularly notable features of the production I saw earlier this year), but did I think go with her to the piano to play together as they had done earlier (and which was obviously something they had often done).

- It was the usual Polonius portrayal (Jim Norton); insensitive and non-wise windbag, not particularly loving.

- Ophelia's instability was signalled early, which is unusual; I wasn't sure about it at first, but turned into my favourite performance of the evening (Sian Brooke). Ophelia in the earlier scenes, especially with Laertes, is usually portrayed as very confident and self-possessed, which makes the later sudden descent into real madness (so clearly contrasting with Hamlet's feigned madness) so unexpected and hard to understand. The descent was gradual and very well done.

- Against the modern tide, no implication that Ophelia is pregnant. (Conversely, it's been so long that I've seen a production in which there was any doubt that Hamlet is not mad, that I wonder if I've ever seen one, and I wonder why 'Is Hamlet mad?' has ever been a real question.)

- I'm very much at ease with colourblind casting, but it was a bit odd having Laertes and Ophelia of different colours.

- Horatio felt a bit characterless; usually one of my favourite characters, or at least one I identify with most, he didn't seem to be given much definition to work with.

- similarly, I like to see Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, but they felt quite cut down, and again with little to work with (and two actors I've seen before who I know could have been given more, Matthew Steer and especially Rudi Dharmalingam). But that's Hamlet, full of tough decisions about what to cut. I still find it very odd that the play is so long, a length that could surely never have been performed in full.

- It struck me later, on the play in general, that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern can't have known what was in the letter that they carried with them to England. When they were parted from their friend Hamlet at sea they must have been worried about him, and clearly did not think their commission was now redundant, so they dutifully completed it and were put to death unexpectedly and wholly gratuitously because of Hamlet's rewriting. The last thing we see Hamlet say before the sea journey, however is henceforth my thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth, which at one level is preposterous since he's being escorted out of the country, but perhaps his rewriting of the letter, and effectively murdering his old school friends, is him putting this into practice.

- Something someone said seemed to imply that Hamlet was, in this journey, going 'back' to England; I'll need to check that.

- As often with productions of Hamlet, there are some surprising things not cut, or lines I feel like I've never heard before. Sometimes it's not obvious why they survived the edit in that particular production. This one had the rarely seen 'sailors delivering letters to Horatio' scene.

- There were some bits out of order, which isn't unusual, although less usual to have shorter bits, a line or two say, appearing in a different scene. Ophelia did quite a bit of quoting in her madness, which did make sense. I remember that in one of the reviews published from a preview night - about which there was such a fuss - it said that the play had opened with 'to be or not to be', a choice which did not survive beyond the previews I think.

- I thought Claudius (Ciaran Hinds) was a bit too blank and shouty (right from the start, from being bossy and aggressive, rather than reasoning, when telling Hamlet to stop grieving). When Claudius is unpleasant, as he often is, it's hard to see what Gertrude has seen in him, unless you're portraying her as in traumatic rebound.

(- I wonder who makes the decisions about how you play your character? Is it all down to the director? There must be some kind of back and forth. I guess the director must have an overall vision of how the characters fit together, so you can't just play it the way you think it should be played. But then having to do it someone else's way must take a lot of the fun out of of it.)

- I thought Gertrude was well done; nicely vulnerable. (Anastasia Hille - it was bugging me what I'd seen her in very recently, and I soon remembered it had been Not Safe For Work on telly.)

- The set was good, and didn't change: large interior of the palace, but with depth, and then at the end of the first half a striking moment when dirt blew into cover the stage, providing the exteriors for the second half at the same time as, I guess, reflecting the corruption which Claudius, the only person on stage at the time (having just resolved to send Hamlet to his death in England), has brought.

- The opening scene of Hamlet, sitting grievingly in a room/attic (at the front of a stage, with a backdrop which moves to reveal the full palace set behind) made me think of something similar in Rory Kinnear's. He's listening to old records which reminded him presumably of his dad; also clear implication that the black coat he takes out of trunk, smells and puts on is his dad's, which is a nice touch. Reminded me of the Michael Sheen Hamlet, where if I remember rightly Polonius give Laertes his jacket, or a jumper, when he leaves at the start, and he comes back wearing it.

(- It's kind of ridiculous that that's the kind of comparisons that come to my mind about different Hamlets.)

- Benedict Cumberbatch, the main attraction, was pretty good as Hamlet, but not spectactular. It was a good production all round, but I don't know why Benedict Cumberbatch has become such an international celebrity phenomenon - on the back primarily of a handful of episodes of Sherlock, it seems (he was in The Hobbit too, of course).

- Interesting the way the soliloquys are done with everyone else going into slow motion in the background, which I think I've seen before (that, or just freezing).

- Hamlet himself took the role of the murderer in the play, which was an interesting touch.

- Some of the reviews below remind me that Ophelia's departure to kill herself is well done visually, with Gertrude realising that's what she's going to do; she realises because she looks in a trunk and finds Ophelia's photos - she spends a lot of the early part of the play wandering around taking photos (which rings a bell from another production, though that might have been Hamlet himself) - and in particular her smashed camera.

There shouldn't be any difficulty finding reviews of this production; I'll be impressed by any bloggers that find their way onto the first couple of pages of Google results... Observer (Liked it. 'He is never in the least bit mad. This control is a marvel, and a limitation. Cumberbatch is arresting but not disturbing.' Loves the set). Guardian (didn't like it: ragbag, half-baked; hates the design; 'For a couple supposedly bound together by reckless sensuality, CiarĂ¡n Hinds and Anastasia Hille show a remarkable lack of interest in each other and suggest nothing so much as a frigidly elegant pair used to giving cocktail parties in the Surrey hinterland', which I'd agree with but would say is often the case; surprisingly, he liked Horatio; 'it says much about the evening that its single most memorable moment is a purely visual one: Ophelia’s scrambling final exit over a hill of refuse, watched by an apprehensive Gertrude'; thinks it's a potentially good central Hamlet performance let down by its surroundings and badly edited text, though I didn't think it worse edited in particular than others). Telegraph (likes it, up to a point: 'a blazing, five-star Hamlet trapped in a middling, three-star show'; I've seen other productions, of Hamlet and other things, which were very much a good central performance and nothing else around them, as if they'd put all their effort into paying for the star and getting that performance right; but as I say, I didn't think BC's was the best performance in this production. Hacked text and love/hate design becoming theme: 'The evening’s energies are dissipated not intensified by the confining Elsinore dreamed up by designer Es Devlin, and director Lyndsey Turner’s tendency to hack the text'). The Telegraph review has a link to their review of the first preview (if I remember rightly it was said the Barbican was less exercised about the early DT review since it was a good one and there was a sense that there was a publicity relationship going on there; all the same it's not a great review). Variety (thought the gravedigger was the best for years; doubled, as often, with the Ghost, I found neither anything special (gravedigger was fine, Ghost rarely makes a good impression with me, to be fair, though I thought the Ghost's accent wandered about rather oddly); 'Cumberbatch’s pivotal epiphany comes on the battlefield, surrounded by Fortinbras’ soldiers in their grey greatcoats ... All this changes Hamlet’s return to Elsinore entirely: Such is the threat of Fortinbras’s forces that the play’s politics dwarf any domestic drama.'). Standard. Daily Mail (another 'good BC, bad everything else' review). Financial Times ('In my view, critics should, in the main, respect the preview process and theatres should respect audiences by charging less for preview tickets' - a point made by many re the review controversy. 'The changed opening is one of several textual interventions, and, though it loses something - the first mention of the ghost, the suggestion of a general sense of unease - it emphasises something too: Hamlet’s isolation, suspicion and fear and the significance of identity throughout Shakespeare’s play.'; the Ghost's appearance is indeed quite late, and a different tone is set). Independent. Deadline Hollywood (a first appearance in my review links, I believe; 'This production knows Cumberbatch’s star is going to draw people unfamiliar with Shakespeare, so the staging is broad and unsubtle; it doesn’t bring anything drastically new or profound to the material'; 'When Hamlet soliloquises, the lights drop and decay is projected onto the walls of the set — something literally rotten in the state of Denmark' - didn't notice this, possible couldn't see it in the screened version). What's On Stage ('Norton's Polonius is too nebulous, and reading his "few precepts" from a notebook doesn't look good; he'd know them, and he's not funny' - it did seem odd). The Stage. New York Times ('There wasn’t even entrance applause for Mr. Cumberbatch' - apparently common in the US, the philistines; 'And why is Ophelia always photographing objects in close-up with a boxy camera? Is this meant to be a literal interpretation of her stunned lines about having to “see what I have seen”? Oh, I don’t know. But when a director throws out such tantalizing gimmicks, she had better be prepared to follow through on them. Here they just seem like avant-garde window dressing.' - fair point). Digital Spy (another first-time appearance here, I think, with a review in the form of a list, which is the only language the young people understand, apparently). Huffington Post ('whisper it quietly, this Hamlet is fine, it's ok. But it's not great'; 'Benedict's Hamlet is sarcastic, mean, aloof to his girlfriend and vicious to his mother. He also hams up the supposed mental illness for all its worth' - interesting if concerns about depiction of mental illness are starting to become an issue; an odd review in that it gives the impression that the reviewer hasn't seen a Hamlet in which he's putting the madness on - hamming it up, if you will - rather than being driven to madness by situation and thoughts and finds this dramatically untenable). Cumberbatchweb (well done, fan site, for getting onto p2 of the results; maybe it's a big site in the Cumberbatch world - ah, 1.5million hits a month, not so shabby; she and I are in the minority in not being keen on the portrayal of Horatio, though she's much keener on the Claudius than I am; also points up the lighting design, which makes the single set work so well in its multiple uses). BritishTheatre (vociferously hated it; much about the butchering of the text, meaningless gimmicks, badly acted; review based on a 'preview night', of which they say: 'The night in question has been termed a preview by the Producers, despite the fact that no literature about the production suggested that there were previews, the box office at the time of booking could not say when the press night was, the tickets themselves do not mention anything about previews, and the ticket price for the night in question was exactly the same as tickets for two months into the run. Only Producer greed accounts for this. If you charge full price for a production, it is not a preview.'). Vickster51Corner blog (well done, blogger, p2 of Google results; this a review of her third visit, post-press-night, having seen the first performance and another 'preview'; here are her thoughts on the first performance - careful to make clear it's not a review; it's very interesting to read the comparison and what's changed or developed; nice touch, which I'd forgotten, of Gertrude's clothes being wet when she returned with news of Ophelia's drowning; she liked Ophelia interpretation; we shared a number of opinions (though like a lot of the other reviewers she found Claudius too weak, where I thought the opposite); also mentions the puzzling moment, which I'd forgotten, of Ophelia frantically writing something in the corridor scene with Hamlet, which I expected to be a warning note that they were being overheard, but which passed without mention, she didn't show it and Hamlet didn't look, but Hamlet did subsequently appear to realise/suspect they were being observed for no apparent reason; I quite liked her reviews, and her blog is a new one to me; and I see from her Twitter that she went to the last performance as well!). 

Several reviews mention Simon Russell Beale's performance (among others, most of which I have seen); I do hope one day to see the video recording of his performance which I think the V&A have in their video archive.