Friday, October 26, 2007

Cultural top-up, part 1

Am in London, partly for work and partly for fun, and this is just a quick update because I've got limited internet time.

Last night saw "The Country Wife" at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket; a restoration comedy, it's very well done, with Toby Stephens and David Haig in particular being fabulous. The role of Master Horner, famous wit and seducer of women, suited Toby Stephens perfectly (not that I'm suggesting he's a serial seducer) - he's always struck me as quite an old-fashioned swashbuckling sort of actor, too big and flamboyant for some roles (e.g. I didn't like his Hamlet very much at all). But in "The Country Wife", he's cheeky, funny, has great comic timing and the role just fits him so well. David Haig has the rather thankless and dislikeable role of Pinchwife, but does it well. Jo Stone-Fewings also stood out as being very funny, and also completely different to the things I've seen him in before. So, well worth seeing, especially as the half price ticket booth in Leicester Square is doing good stalls seats for half price.

Today, saw "Grace is Gone" starring John Cusack, a very moving film about the effect of America's involvement in Iraq on one family. It manages to tread the political path very evenly, and as John Cusack said in the Q&A afterwards, the aim wasn't to be one-sidedly political, it was to show something that the American public aren't allowed to see - images of fallen soldiers being brought back home. The two little girls were fabulous, and John Cusack was great as the father struggling to cope with the news he has to tell his children - they were utterly believable as a little family.

And tonight, Liz and I saw "The Hothouse" at the National, an early Pinter which left us both rather confused. The first half was much more coherent than the second, and although it's clear what's essentially going on, the nuances passed me by a bit, I feel.

More theatre and music to come - hoorah!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Need Theatre, urgently

Well, that was obviously what was going on in the subconscious yesterday. Had been thinking, on and off for several weeks, that I must ring Amanda about going to Henry V at the Exchange. Had a quick check yesterday morning to see how long it runs for - eep! ends now! Luckily, Amanda was free to meet up for my impromptu transpennine dash to get a Shakespeare fix.

So, last night found us at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, which is one of my favourite spaces ever, for a modern dress production of Henry V, directed by Jonathan Munby, with Elliot Cowan as Henry. The set was a bare metallic grid, raised a foot or so from the floor (good decision not to go for banquette seats), with two main entrances facing each other across the space, which is totally in the round. I really like bare staging and plain dress for Shakespeare, because it means the focus is on the words, not the surrounding fripperies. But what I loved about last night's production is the way they used a plain metal grid to be everything from a royal court to a battleground - it rose at one end to make a ramp for "Once more unto the breach" and the seige of Harfleur, was pulled up fully to make a rain-sodden camp, and had a fire in the centre for the "little touch of Harry in the night" scenes. Brilliant design by Mike Britton, who made something so simple add enormously to the production. Elliot Cowan was excellent as Henry V, a King who grows into his role as the play progresses despite his initial doubts; he does the stirring stuff fantastically well, the St Crispin's Day speech in particular, but also is sweetly funny and endearing in the wooing scene, where soldier Harry attempts to convince French princess Katherine that he is worthy of her love.

There are really only two big roles in Henry V, Henry himself and Chorus; the rest are a bit of a muddle of Lords, Dukes, peasants and French royalty, so it stands or falls on those two. I didn't particularly like Chorus last night, he didn't have much subtlety, but Elliot Cowan more than made up for him. It really was a fabulous performance - hopefully the MEN awards will recognise him in due course. Well worth the dash for a Shakespeare fix.

And the next twelve months is shaping up to be wonderfully Shakespearean - I have tickets for Othello at the Donmar with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ewan McGregor, directed by Michael Grandage (if you want to go (and if not, why not?) you'll have to queue for day tickets, its sold out), plus tickets for Dr Who vs Star Trek, oops, I mean the David Tennant/Patrick Stewart Hamlet at the RSC, plus Mr Tennant in Love's Labours Lost; plus tickets for the Glorious Moment - 8 history plays in the right order, over 4 days (A's view - "it may be heaven for you, but for most people that would be torture" - I confess, I'm a little unusual, 8 plays in 4 days is heaven for me). Am also looking forward to a "Donmar in the West End" Hamlet with Jude Law as Hamlet directed by Kenneth Branagh. 2008 is going to be a spectacularly Shakespearean year. Hoorah!
And in totally different mode, Nina and I saw "Ratatouille" this week, and both loved it (ooh hang on while the earth does a small wobble). The story is daft but is so lovely that really you don't care. The animation is up to Pixar's best, and the characters transcend the nonsense of the story. It's charming, and endearing, and funny. And best of all, it says that we should care about food, about how it tastes, how it's cooked, that loving food is a good thing, and that junk food is called junk food for a reason - because it's garbage. If you're going to eat, eat something good, and savour it, with good company. Go Pixar, and go Ratatouille (even with the idiot's guide to pronunciation)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sucked into the abyss

I have given in to temptation, and invitation, and joined Facebook.

Oh dear. There goes all my spare time.

I have resisted Facebook and Myspace so far, partly because A uses them, and I feel that its an intrusion if I'm in the same social spaces as her - there should be a generation gap, and we each need our private lives, and besides, if we want to communicate we can do it over the dinner table; and partly because real life, email and a blog is quite enough as it is. But anyway. If you wonder where I am, I've been sucked into the black hole that is Facebook. I blame Lianne. And Stacie for sending me fish.

Back in real life, the panel at Hull Short Film Fest went well; I made contact with a couple of directors, because at that point I was looking for a director who might be interested in "A Tree for Emily" for "Caught Short" - now it looks like I might be going in as director, if I have a producer on board; and at the same time, I'm applying with another team as their producer. Hmm. Chances of all round success are slender, but life could be about to get very interesting.

And as far as the novel is concerned, it's taking up a lot of headspace at the moment and I'm wondering if Nanowrimo is the right way to deal with it - at least that way I'd get it all out of my head and onto the page.

Ah, what's life without a challenge or five.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Ups and Downs

A mixed couple of days - first of all, got rejected by an agent, in the very nicest way. He's someone I know, and gave me a page of comments along with the "no thanks". Still, a bit disheartening no matter how nicely the letter is written.

Then Laurence from Hull Short Film Festival rang to invite me to the opening night reception and screenings tomorrow, and also asked whether I'd be on a panel on Sunday - I'd been planning on going, to hear about film funding, and now I'm actually going to be one of the speakers. So, that brightened things up a bit, whilst also being a somewhat alarming prospect. Also on the panel will be Tony Dixon from Screen Yorkshire, well known film-maker Simon Ellis, and Clare Perry, writer of "King Ponce", so if you want to know about funding short films, come to Hull Screen on Sunday afternoon.

This afternoon, I went to the AGM of Yorkshire Art Circus, who are doing fabulous work as a grass roots community arts organisation, working with local communities around Castleford and Wakefield, as well as supporting writers and literary work of all kinds across the whole of Yorkshire. And they do all this despite having had their Arts Council grant taken away, and their funding being reduced by 50% in the last year. Which is utterly, utterly stupid. An organisation set up to regenerate an area decimated by the virtual ending of the coal industry, they are successful in every respect - their writers (including me) are being published, performing poetry, working in schools, teaching, making films; art work produced by their groups can be found as way-marking posts in local woods and on the walls of local hospitals; people from coalfield communities have been engaged in oral history projects and have produced stories, poems and art work. And yet their grants are taken away from them.

Meanwhile, Lee Hall's latest play, "The Pitman Painters", about a group of north-east miners in the 1930s who decided to take art appreciation lessons and began painting themselves, is getting rave reviews. So, we can enjoy a story about the value of art in working communities in the past, while watching it wither away in the present.

Coincidentally, I (and many others) got a response from the government this week to the petition to stop Lottery money being stolen from arts, heritage, community and voluntary projects to support the increasingly bloated Olympics 2012 development. Pretty inadequate, IMO. I'm not anti-sport - I am anti money being taken away from community development to promote something that will benefit a tiny proportion of the population and also probably end up in no small way boosting the bank balances of people who are quite rich enough already.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Never sit behind a digging chicken

A momentous weekend - Saturday was our first three-egg day, which is great because it means all three chickens have settled down and are growing up. Yesterday I introduced them to the veggie patch, and they had a fine time. Sybil immediately excavated herself a little hollow and began a most energetic "dust" bath. Milly soon joined in, and dug her own hollow. Here she is looking a little grimy after her mudbath.

Meanwhile, Dilly stood as close as she could to the trowel while I weeded, and as soon as anything interesting appeared, she grabbed it.

This is a typical Dilly position - head down, looking for stuff she's just dug up. She is a champion digger - one flick of the foot, and soil flies everywhere at high velocity, which means if I'm weeding, I need to keep an eye on her so I'm not directly in the line of fire.
And here's Sybil, on the march, also looking a bit grubby. She's very inquisitive, and follows me closely wherever I go. She hasn't mastered the hop up the step into the kitchen yet, but I have a feeling it won't be long.
I made pasta yesterday with some of the eggs (hard on the wrists, but yummy to eat), and today I traded some of the spares for sloes - so, we should have a nice drop of sloe gin to look forward to at Christmas.