Saturday, November 25, 2006

Car crash rock 'n' roll

To Leeds on Thursday for my birthday present from A - a ticket to the Brian Jonestown Massacre at Leeds Met student union. If you've seen Dig, you have a rough idea of what to expect. If you haven't seen Dig, you really should. The supporting band were Morning After Girls, who were good although I'd like to hear their songs a little less loud and without distortion. We started off in the middle of the hall but then moved to the side, ending up in front of Anton, and got right on the barrier for half of the BJM set. They were fab, when they were playing songs - This Is Why You Love Me, Servo, Nevertheless, Swallowtail, When Jokers Attack, If Love is the Drug (I didn't get a set list and didn't write anything down so that's from memory) - but then Anton let rip into to the bloke who was stringing his guitar, then later had a go at one of the other guitarists, and later still Joel walked off after a row; there is an element in seeing BJM where you can't tear your eyes away from the wreckage piling up - you want the tunes but Anton on a roll is a fearsome sight. That anyone can believe in something so passionately, the way he clearly does about his music, is awe inspiring in a way. He may well be barking, but he's also a brilliant musician. Unfortunately some people come to provoke him, and they got what they wanted. Anton had a "heated exchange" with some people in the crowd, played one last song, put his coat on and walked off. End of gig. It was a sad anti-climax to end what had been a really good night.

Prior to that, on Wednesday, was also in Leeds for the launch of The Book of Leeds, a collection of short stories by West Yorkshire writers - readings from Sue Everett, Tom Palmer and M Y Alam, followed by a very short Q+A followed by adjournment to the pub.

And last night, Nina and I went to see Casino Royale. My verdict? I enjoyed it, but ...

The action scenes went on just a little too long, as did the love scenes; my problem with the film was that I just don't believe a Bond in love. I know this was supposed to be an insight into how he got to be the cold heartless misogynist he is, but I'm afraid I can't quite accept a soft-hearted loving Bond. Not that any of this was Daniel Craig's fault - he was fabulous, especially when emerging from the sea in his little blue trunks, a moment that provoked Nina to sigh out loud (I may well have done too, I was just concentrating on not giggling at Nina!). My other "failure to suspend disbelief" moment is that this is supposed to be about how he becomes a double O, yet they're talking about post 9-11 and using mobile phones - either it's history, or it's not, can't have it both ways.

So, it was a good way to spend a Friday night; and yes, I'd bid in an auction to pat Daniel Craig's tummy, even if I had to rub my head at the same time.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Can't think of a smart all-encompassing title

We nipped over to Sheffield this afternoon (yes, I know, I should move back there, it would reduce my carbon footprint enormously - believe me, it is on the list of possibilities for October '07) to see my bro-in-law Duncan's show at the Site Gallery. A collection of photographs, paintings and videos from his trips to Russia, it is utterly engaging and totally lovely. Unfortunately, today was the last day - I really wanted to spend more time with the videos, and also looking at the masses of tiny pictures, which are both narrative and narrative-less; they are not arranged to tell a story in the conventional sense, i.e. read from left to right to make sense of the images as a story develops, but the human mind is both trained for and longs for a way to make sense of what it sees, so tries to impose a narrative, which at times can work and at other times just doesn't fit. Some blocks of pictures seem to tell a story, others are just tiny yet luscious slices of colour. I have my favourite, then a moment later I have a different favourite, then another ... at least this is an early stage of the project so hopefully I'll get to see the pictures again soon.

I've just been star-gazing out of the loft window - the light pollution isn't too bad here, and it's a nice clear night so I was hoping for a meteor or two, but not a single one in sight. This weekend is Leonid time, and the peak is apparently due at 4am or so on Monday morning although there should be some action a few days either side of the peak. If I haven't seen some by bedtime tomorrow, I may well have to set my alarm for Monday morning.

Is anyone else doing nano? My word count this year is totally embarrassing, and I am ultra-shamed by the news that Susan-Lori Parks has a project called "365" which will come to fruition in 2007. She set herself the task of writing a play a day for a year, hence 365 new plays, and she did it - and these plays will be performed over the next year by all sorts of theatre groups, mainly in the USA but in other places all over the world as well. I'd love to see some. If for no other reason than to kick my backside into "writing every day" gear. I thought of a challenge too - write a short a day, every day, in 2007. It can be a short anything - short film, short story, short play - micro-fiction would count, as would things like "Gone in Sixty Seconds" - anyone want to play?

Friday, November 17, 2006



Somehow forgot to do a reviews update.

Went to see "A Good Year" with Nina - it was one of those, "yeah, nice enough, would you get the DVD, nah" films. Much like one of those bargainous bottles of wine you get from Tesco on the way home from work on a Tuesday - pleasant enough to make a few moments pass by, but not special enough for a Friday. And Russell Crowe really shouldn't do comedy - you can see his comic-timometer working in places, and flailing; a few more sessions with the dialogue coach might've been a good idea too.

Finally saw "The Caretaker" in Sheffield in full - fabulous. Pinter's skill is in making claustrophobia so interesting; here are three men, each trapped, and each equally deranged even if it might not seem so at the beginning. I can still see Con O'Neill shuffling about the stage (I had a major crush on him many years ago), still hear Nigel Harman saying "like a papoose," which was both very funny and his pause for breath in a long, complicated and very well delivered speech; and apparently Mr P himself said that David Bradley was one of the best Davies ever. High praise indeed. I loved it, but it took two goes to get there.

Last Friday saw the Propeller Theatre Company do "Taming of the Shrew" in Stratford as part of the RSC's "everything in a year" programme. I've seen Propeller before - their Midsummer Night's Dream was one of the funniest plays I've ever seen, and Rose Rage was simply breathtaking. They're a fantastically imaginative all male company led by Ed Hall, son of Sir Peter. But, back to last Friday. We saw the play in the new Courtyard theatre, and it's lovely. The foyer is what used to be the Other Place, so for once at the RSC you have a decent foyer space, where you can get a drink and enjoy it, buy a programme and read it, visit the shop and not be elbowed in the ribs by other customers. The theatre itself is a lovely space - the same shape as the Swan, but ever so slightly more spacious, so there is leg room and elbow room, but still excellent views, and a real feeling of involvement because its a thrust stage. If they kept this and knocked down the main building, I wouldn't complain.

What was interesting about the play is that the all male aspect seemed to bring out the nastiness of it. I'm sure Petruchio behaved in a much harsher way to Kate than I've ever seen before. The performances were fantastic, in particular the physicality and versatility of the whole company; I can't fault the acting. But I really didn't like the play. At the end, Kate seemed beaten, not tamed; I much preferred Greg Doran's production, the Jasper Britton/Alexandra Gilbreath one, where the impression was very much that here are two people so damaged that the only way they can find love is with another damaged person; or the BBC updated version with Shirley Henderson and Rufus Sewell where it seems that these two are so nuts that only another nutcase could love them. In the Propeller version, Petruchio was just mean and brutish, and the line at the end "this was only a dream" was simply insufficient as an excuse. So, we came out saying "good players, not so sure about the play".

And in other news, A has just read Tom Stoppard's "Travesties" and would like to see it; if you know of a production which we might be able to get to, please let me know.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Shaking hands with greatness

Went over to Sheffield last night to see "Family Voices", part of the Sheffield Theatres "Pinter Celebration"; the first part of the evening featured Pru Scales, Sam West and Tim West doing a script in hand reading of Pinter's short play "Family Voices", the first time the three of them have acted on stage together, which gave the play added power given that it was about an estranged family who are trying desperately to communicate with each other (although Liz and I did have a debate about it later - I thought they were all dead; she didn't think so). Beautifully acted, as you would expect, especially as the author himself was in the audience. And at the interval I got to meet Harold Pinter, and shake hands with him, which was rather awe-inspiring. He was very gracious, and seemed happy to speak to the stream of people who came up to where he was sitting. He walks with a stick but wasn't as frail as I'd expected, given that he has been so ill recently, especially around the time he was awarded the Nobel Prize. I'm still a bit awe struck, actually - thanks, Liz, for being my brave pal and stopping me chickening out of doing things I really want to do!

The second part of the evening was Sam interviewing his parents about their lives and careers, which was very entertaining. Some very funny anecdotes about life as an actor, and about growing up with theatrical parents. The audience had been invited to submit questions during the interval, and Sam picked out some to ask, including mine, which was "as actors, what makes you pick up a script and say 'yes I want to do this'?" Tim's answer - the play as a whole, not necessarily the part; that the play has something to say or has a world view that he feels something for; the quality of the writing, which should shine through in the dialogue. Pru's answer was essentially the same - the quality of the play not the size of the part. Tim also said playing bad guys is much more fun than the good guy, because the parts tend to be much more interesting and as an actor you can do more with the material.

Top class evening, then - entertaining and educational! I'll be back on Thursday to have another attempt at seeing "The Caretaker" - got to the interval on Saturday, and A didn't feel well so we had to leave. Hopefully will get all the way to the end this time.

Go here and click on the top link to watch a BBC news clip from yesterday about the performance; the play (not the interview, as far as I know) will be broadcast on Rony Robinson's show on BBC Radio Sheffield on Thursday. Unfortunately that means you have to put up with a BBC local radio phone-in programme, but it will be worth it in the end.