Friday, December 22, 2006

Happy Christmas!

To Manchester on Wednesday to see "Cyrano de Bergerac" at the Royal Exchange, one of my favourite theatrical spaces in the country; in the round, with the two circles pretty much vertically above the stalls, the audience is close to (and in Wednesday's case, part of) the action in a thrilling way, especially when the director really makes use of the space, as Lucy Bailey did a couple of years ago with her fantastic production of "Twelfth Night". "Cyrano de Bergerac", (by Edmond Rostand, adapted by Antony Burgess and directed by Greg Hersov), whilst having a much sparser set, was just as magical thanks in no small part to Ben Keaton as Cyrano, who was just fantastic. Flamboyant, funny, sad, he is a real presence on stage. The rest of the cast get to swash, buckle and charm their way through a lovely romp of a production, which had a near capacity audience laughing most of the night. Yet despite the humour, the underlying pathos and sadness of the character of Cyrano is never far from the surface, but Ben Keaton played it in such a way that we admire him for his resilience rather than thinking him pathetic. Really great theatre - go and see it if you're anywhere near Manchester.

Cast and crew have their own blog about the production which is worth a read - wish they'd update it though! It would be interesting to read their thoughts about how it's going.

Surprising theatrical news this week that Sam West has resigned as Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres only a couple of months into his second season in charge. No doubt the fact that the main building, comprising the Crucible and The Studio, will close for 14months for refurbishment leaving only the Lyceum open was a contributing factor, although in his speech at the Gala dinner in October he seemed to have some pretty exciting ideas for alternatives during that period - perhaps it wasn't possible to pull them off. I hope this doesn't mean that Sheffield falls into the doldrums theatrically - under Michael Grandage, and with the great casts he brought in, the place went from strength to strength, and Sam seemed to be stepping nicely into what were pretty big boots to fill. The Crucible is one of my other favourite spaces, and many of my early theatrical memories began there - Stephen Pimlott's "Twelfth Night" is one of the earliest plays I remember seeing, along with school trips to see "Romeo and Juliet" and "The Plough and The Stars", going as a student to see "Caucasian Chalk Circle" - The Crucible and my theatre-going life go hand in hand so I hope we're not now facing a shaky future.

Anyway, this will probably be my last post before Christmas - I might get out to the pictures, but given that my sinuses, ears and throat are in the grip of a fairly comprehensive URTI, I doubt it. So, Happy Christmas to everyone who reads this blog, in the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Russian Federation, Serbia & Montenegro, Brazil, Singapore and Japan. Don't you just love the internet?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Yay, phew

Finished the rewrite of the sci-fi thriller thing, and got it off to my producer - hoorah, phew, etc.

Got an idea brewing nicely that will be a novel, rather than a script - maybe I'll shift medium for a while. This idea has legs, I'm sure.

Tired, tired, tired

Coffee, tea, me?

You Are an Espresso

At your best, you are: straight shooting, ambitious, and energetic

At your worst, you are: anxious and high strung

You drink coffee when: anytime you're not sleeping

Your caffeine addiction level: high

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Books, plays, music - heaven

Did I do Nanowrimo, asks Optimistic Reader? Yes I did. Did I approach it in a calm, rational manner, neatly completing my 1663 words per day, every day, in order to calmly reach the target of 50,000 words in a month? Or did I flounder about, thinking my carefully planned out story actually stank to high heaven, managing to get to day 18 with 6,258 words and a finely honed sense of desperation, before finally kicking my bum into gear and pulling 43,920 words out in 12 days?

The answer is, I produced just over 50,000 words during the month of November, hitting the target with about 3 hours remaining; most of those words are tosh, but then, 90% of the first draft of anything is junk, and at least this way, I have more words at the end of November than I did at the beginning. Some of the story is worth keeping, mainly the bit where a brand new character turned up at a party unexpectedly and began to seduce the lead female - she fell for him, too, the fool, but thank goodness she did because that's when the story finally came to life.

Also thanks to Optimistic Reader (she's too good at leading me astray!) I had a play around at Gender Genie - on the whole, I write fiction like a woman (surprise, surprise) - most of the fictional passages I tested came out as having been written by a female. But I tested a short story too, one which I'd deliberately written trying to be ambiguous, and that produced a "written by a male" result. Interesting.

Since finishing Nano, I've gone on a reading binge and am totally besotted with Ian McEwan. I read Atonement when it first came out and loved it, but in the last 10 days I've read Saturday, Enduring Love, and Amsterdam, and this afternoon bought The Innocent. I'm deliberately avoiding Child In Time at the moment, although I think I will have to read it eventually. I remember reading First Love, Last Rites when it first came out, and finding it too disturbing, so avoided his stuff after that, yet now cannot get enough of it, that combination of dread and compulsion, knowing that awful things are around the corner but sucked into page turning and turning and turning, late into the night. I wonder what this says about me as a reader; whether tastes darken with age, or you become more willing to read about dark experiences when you've had a few of those brushes with life yourself. Whatever it is, I find him an utterly compelling writer.

Meanwhile, out in the real world, I went to London yesterday for another New Producers Alliance "9 point producer training" workshop, this time all about the market - where do you want your film to be seen and how do you get it there? A very entertaining and informative panel of sales agents and publicists went through their roles and gave out lots of good advice. A really good session.

Then went to see "Frost/Nixon" at the Gielgud Theatre with Liz - transferred from the Donmar, directed by Michael Grandage and written by Peter Morgan, this is the story of David Frost (played by Michael Sheen) resurrecting his career with his post-Watergate interviews with Richard Nixon (played by Frank Langella). It's a fabulous play that really captures that time, and both Sheen and Langella are great. Michael Sheen in particular has an uncanny ability with his voice to become someone else entirely - we chatted to him afterwards, and his natural Welsh accent comes as quite a surprise after hearing him catch every cadence of Frost's delivery, never mind pulling off a perfect Blair in "The Queen". Not only is he an amazingly talented actor, he's very sweet and very cute.

So, that means I've seen all 3 of the plays nominated for the Evening Standard Award for Best Play - Frost/Nixon, Seafarer, and Rock n Roll - Rock n Roll won, with Rufus Sewell beating Michael Sheen and Kevin Spacey to the Best Actor award as well. I would have hated to have to make that decision, because although I agree with the Best Play being Rock n Roll, I'd be hard pressed to choose between one of those three actors; however, if forced, much as I love Rufus Sewell and his splendidly dirty laugh, Kevin Spacey would have the edge for his breath-taking performance in Moon for the Misbegotten. Marianne Elliot deservedly won Best Director for Pillars of the Community, which I saw at The National Theatre last year and loved, especially the set design, which had the set being peeled away as Bernick's deceptions were themselves revealed.

This afternoon, zipped over to Sheffield to see a Music in the Round presentation, Ensemble 360 and Sam West performing Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale. It was part of a "Music in the Community" day at the Crucible Theatre, lots of activities going on and hoardes of children around. The concert itself began with Sam doing an amusing and informative introduction to the piece, no doubt endearing himself to the many kids in the audience by explaining he was miked because he had a cold, and saying "it's not that I don't want to talk to you, its just that I'm full of snot". I'm always amused by the way certain words are guaranteed to make children giggle - snot, bum, willy - I'm sure there are many more. As for the actual concert - Stravinsky is a bit too modern for me, although the musicians were fab; it's not an easy piece, and not an obvious one to choose for a family concert. However, Sam did a fantastic job of conveying the various characters in the story - Joseph the soldier, the devil, the king, the princess, the narrator - with a simple gesture he conjures up people and objects, with a change of voice he switches from one character to another to make a conversation come alive. A virtuoso performance.

And now I have to get my McEwan fix for the day.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Rules of life...

...if you live in a romantic comedy:
1. It always snows prettily in England at Christmas;
2. Everyone in England lives in a gorgeous big house, apart from people who live in gorgeous little country cottages;
3. Running is faster than going in a car, if you're in love;
4. All English people are very posh;
5. England and the UK are the same thing/the English flag is the Union Jack (these rules are interchangable);
6. Women never take their bra off when they have sex;
7. All sad single women play air guitar in their pyjamas;
8. The mobile will ring just when (a) you don't need it to, but (b) the story desperately needs it to;
9. Dogs know everything;
10. So do small girls with big brown eyes.

I just got back from seeing "The Holiday", written and directed by Nancy Meyers, and have rarely felt more manipulated by a film. "OK, let's tweak that emotional button up just a little bit, tug that heartstring, yep, that should have a few eyes watering." Could any more cliches have been jammed in there? I doubt it. The film is saved by the fact that the leads are good, Kate Winslett especially making her character utterly believable - and hats off to Jude Law for managing to keep a straight face whilst saying the line "I admit my package, in the clear light of day, might not look that good". Presumably the UK/US "countries divided by a common language" team were absent from script meetings. No doubt it will do very good business, it's a romcom and it's Christmas, and it has good box office names in it - although Ms Meyer makes it very clear by mentioning it twice in the script that the concentration on opening weekend box office figures is a very bad thing. Yes it probably is, but does anyone outside the industry care? It's by no means the worst romcom I've ever seen, but still, it left me wondering if maybe I'm just too cynical now (and probably left Nina wondering whether she wants to carry on going to the flicks with me).

I went back for another look at "Casino Royale" and Daniel Craig's exceptionally fabulous abs, oops, I mean, rather fine acting, and like POTC2 enjoyed it much more the second time around. I really have to switch my head round so that I do the "sit back and enjoy" thing the first time, and the analytic thing the second time I see a film.

I also saw my film for the first time. We have a cut of "Echoes", not quite finished as we need to do some stuff with the music, but it looks good. All that time setting up lighting and fiddling about with lenses paid off - Joe's cinematography is beautiful. The odd thing is that I watch it in two ways at the same time - the story still draws me in, but part of my brain is recalling the actual filming, and knowing what went into what ends up on screen. I need to see it with someone who wasn't there.