Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

Arg!! Was going to do a proper post with film reviews, and news of Caught Shorter (not exciting, I'm afraid) and other stuff, but I'm supposed to be setting off for a party in an hour and I haven't had a bath or ironed my posh frock yet (so it goes without saying that I haven't started packing either - not that I need much). Anyway everyone's probably doing much more exciting things than reading blogs ... but just in case, you're not,


Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to everyone who drops in to read this stuff; hope you have a good one, and that at least one wish of yours comes true in 2008.

Thanks for reading, thanks even more for commenting, and wherever you are in the world, peace and hugs.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

An ambition never to be realised

Although some people hated him, and despite the fact that in the later years his guests became less starry and more "am I supposed to have heard of them?" Parkinson on a Saturday night was one of those fixtures that though I might not watch it, I'd at least check to see who was on. In ye olden days, Parkinson was part of the Saturday night routine - make a pot of tea, have tea and biscuits while watching Parky interview some Hollywood superstar (and this was in the days before Hello, Trash, Crap, and all those other intrusive magazines for stupid people). In this way, I got to have a tiny glimpse of my early heros such as James Stewart and David Niven (yes, I really am that old). When Parky did the famous interview in 1971 with Muhammad Ali, it was a time when our village didn't get telly very well, but my sister's friend's house had reception - so we all went round there to watch the show.

Anyway it used to be a sign that "I've made it" - the thought of being on the Parkinson show was something to aim for. And now he's retired, so I'll never get to walk down those stairs to a theme tune chosen just for me, and have a flirty interview with a cricket and film obsessed Yorkshireman. Tonight's programme was a reminder of the spectacular guests he used to get on the show, and I so wanted to be one of them.

Oh well. Need to think of a new ambition.

Something old, something new

Got distracted and forgot to post up reviews from my last London weekend - God In Ruins at Soho Theatre followed by Othello at the Donmar Warehouse.

God in Ruins, by Anthony Neilson, was commissioned by the RSC and is described as an alternative Christmas play, asking us to have sympathy for the single man alone on Christmas Eve. Although the play is very very funny, and really well put together, it's not so much sympathy that it produces but rather a feeling that men are really quite pathetic, but it's all either their father's fault, or women's fault. The play opens with Bob Cratchit and Scrooge, only it's Scrooge a couple of years later, and he's so jolly that he's quite a pain in the bum. Then we scoot forward to spend the rest of the play with Brian, played wonderfully by Brian Doherty, an over-working divorcee trying to make contact with his daughter. He flip flops from being quite a sympathetic character to being quite repellent in some of his actions, but ultimately despite his rudeness and selfishness, the denouement of the play is satisfying. It's very witty, laugh out loud funny, rude and thought provoking - well worth seeing.

Interesting Guardian blog here about the hazards of mainstream companies like the RSC commissioning work from innovative people like Anthony Neilson.

Then to Othello at the Donmar, sold out within half an hour of public booking opening, and tickets apparently going for silly prices on ebay, so I was half expecting to be bopped over the head by huddled folk in big overcoats lurking down dark alleyways, but in fact there was a very short and sedate queue for returns and no lurkers or boppers in sight. Phew. Overheard from the box office - there are usually six to eight returns a show, so if you don't want to queue first thing for day tickets, getting there early in the evening (before 6:45) might mean you get lucky.

Anyway, in we (me and L) go, and we're on the front row. Fabulous. The set was bare, with dark dripping walls and a stream at the back, becoming shot with beams of light when the action moves from Venice to Cyprus, Christopher Oram's design quite reminiscent of his Don Carlos at the Crucible. And the play itself was splendid, Michael Grandage at his absolute best. Much has been written about the power of Chiwetel Ejiofor's performance, and it's all true. He is wonderful, mesmerising, a truly great stage actor. Ewan McGregor was a very cold, calculating Iago, a perfectly measured performance that captured the sheer nastiness of the character. Desdemona, sometimes a bit of a drippy part, was played very sweetly by Kelly Reilly, and Tom Hiddleston and Michelle Fairley were also really good as Cassio and Emilia, especially Emilia's last scene where she becomes aware of Iago's treachery and argues about Desdemona's loyalty.

Perhaps because the Donmar is small and intimate, and we were on the front row, I found this Othello to be utterly engrossing and completely emotionally draining. I confess to a tear sliding down my cheek at the end, and I also confess to giving only the second ever standing ovation I've ever done. It really was that powerful. Chiwetel Ejiorfor alone is worth queuing in the dark before dawn to see.

Othello reviews round up here.

Recent film reviews to follow shortly.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Really bad decision

Taken from Andrew's blog:

"The Arts Council Yorkshire yesterday announced its intention to completely withdraw funding from the National Student Drama Festival. This is a catastrophically short-sighted, wrong-headed blunder."


Check out the link to Andrew's blog above for more information, but basically this is an act of crazy vandalism. There's a Guardian blog about the impact NSDF can have here, and there's a petition to sign here if you think that the Harold Pinters, Simon Russell Beales, Stephen Frys, Meera Syals, Tim Wests, Roger Michels, Pete Postlethwaites and many, many more actors, directors, writers, and the crucial, usually invisible technical and design people of the future deserve some support. And if you couldn't give a stuff about theatre but are only interested in money and the whole "why should we support these people" type of arguments, a report commissioned by the Arts Council in 2004 found that theatre contributed at least £2.6billion to the UK economy every year (and the report itself says that's a conservative figure). And how is theatre going to carry on contributing billions if the up and coming generations aren't supported?

What's going on at the moment? Regional theatre seems to be disappearing at the rate of knots, and now student thetare is being attacked too. How are we supposed to have a thriving theatrical culture in the future if the roots and branches are pulverised now?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The end of an era

I couldn't resist - I went to Sheffield on Thursday. Not for Amadeus, in particular, but because I knew that if I didn't go to say goodbye to the Crucible, I'd regret it later. As it happened, I had one of the best nights I've had there, seeing the play, stopping for one last drink in the Long Bar and ending up chatting to actors til almost midnight. The play itself as directed by Nikolai Foster was really entertaining, a tour de force performance from Gerard Murphy as Salieri complimented by a sweet and funny performance by Bryan Dick as Mozart. The set was beautifully lit, bringing to mind some of the great designs by Christopher Oram that I've seen there. The sad thing was that the theatre was less than half full, but talking to the actors after the play, it seems that they'd had poor houses all the way through, partly because everyone thought the theatre had already shut. There has been so much talk of refurbishment that no-one realised that the show still goes on - or did, until last night.

And that's now it for theatre in the Crucible until autumn 2009. It'll open again for the snooker - after all, that's what's really important, bringing the money in for a couple of weeks. Meanwhile theatre shrivels in Sheffield. Sure, the Lyceum will keep going, bringing in touring shows, and some stuff might be happening in the Studio. But although Angela Galvin says “By the time the building work is complete, the people of Sheffield will have something to be really proud of”, I fear that by the time the building work is complete, the people of Sheffield will have found other things to do and other places to go. Since Sam West's departure, there is no Artistic Director because there is no art to direct. I know some people will think I'm biased because Sam's a friend, but I don't know why his ideas were rejected and why Sheffield Theatres are not out there in the community taking theatre to new and interesting spaces and building up an audience that will pour back into the main building when it finally reopens. Sheffield has a rich and vibrant history which should be captured, stories could and should be told in all sorts of settings, communities can and should be engaged in theatre. Why aren't they doing something like the Young Vic's Walkabout season? Why aren't they out there? I'm not the only one who thinks that the Board were crazy to let Sam go and shut down production, not the only one who thinks that a swathe of the population are in danger of missing the opportunity to catch the theatre habit.

Why does it matter? Because this is the place that turned theatre on for me. And why I wanted to go back for one last time, to see the posters and huge pictures of previous productions ("you've seen pretty much all of these, haven't you?" "yeah, pretty much"); to see the hallucinogenic carpet (which apparently is going to be auctioned off); to sit in the Long Bar and reminisce about shaking hands with Harold Pinter, meeting Kenneth Branagh, discussing favourite theatre spaces with Tim West, asking Daniel Evans where he got his shoes - where else could you do that? Rarely in London if ever is theatre so democratic and the personnel so approachable.

I first went there with school, so long ago that some of Thursday's cast weren't yet born. I saw Romeo and Juliet, I saw them flood the stage for Twelfth Night and was stunned that you could do that in a theatre, I saw Plough and the Stars, I saw Amid the Standing Corn and realised that you could do theatre about people who lived in your street, I lost my house keys in Caucasian Chalk Circle and had to sleep on a friend's floor, I saw my first ever musical, Carmen Jones, I took A to the theatre for the first time there when she was 3, I saw my neice appear on the main stage as a Red Ant in the Children's Festival. That place matters to me. They better not muck this refurbishment up.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Work in progress

Somehow, when changing my profile picture to be the WGA strike banner, I managed to lose all my carefully gathered bloglinks. Oops. I'm in the middle of the rather slow process of rebuilding the list.

Meanwhile, here's something nice to distract from the messy page:

We had a splendid baking day yesterday, and A is rather proud of her chocolate biscuits and almond macaroons, and rightly so because they're delicious. I made our Christmas cake (bit late, but it will be fed with brandy and it'll still mature nicely) and half a dozen little fruit cakes. These will be marzipanned in a week or so, then iced a week later - if I remember, I'll do "before and after" pictures.
Quick trip to London last week for a conference at Lord's cricket ground; the bonus of staying all day and not skipping off at the tea break was a tour of the ground to the first 20 people to sign up. My strategy of sitting near the back of the room paid off! We went in the media centre, and then round the museum, where the original Ashes trophy is kept; then into the Pavilion, through the Long Room, and into the England dressing room, and took turns to stand on the balcony - very cool bonus indeed. We weren't allowed to take pictures though. Our tour guide was very entertaining and very knowledgeable - well worth going on the full tour if you like cricket.
The night before, I saw "Some Kind of Bliss" by Samuel Adamson at the Trafalgar Studios, a solo performance of a piece written especially for her by Lucy Briers. It's very funny in places, and shocking in others, although at times the play feels a bit too forced, as if the writer is trying to cram in as many odd events and coincidences into 80 or so minutes as he can. However, it's worth seeing for Lucy Briers, who has great comic timing, and manages to be both hopelesly naive and smartly insightful as her character Rachel and the other characters in her world - husband, ex boyfriend, Dad, uncle, and Lulu. And the bonus was that afterwards I got to speak to Claire Price, a very fine actress I've admired many times at the Crucible.
This week's dilemma is whether to zip over to Sheffield for one last night at the Crucible before it closes for the main stage to be redeveloped. It'll have to be Thursday - and I'm off to London on Friday again. The joys of a job which requires travel - interview with top Department of Health bloke in the afternoon, "God in Ruins" at Soho Theatre in the evening, Donmar on Saturday, and someone else is paying for my fare.
And now back to fixing broken links.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Some good news

The good news is that Glebe Mines have withdrawn their application for planning permission.

The bad news is that they will probably reapply, in which case the whole process begins again, and anyone who objects to the development has to object again - objections aren't carried forward.

So, please keep in touch, either by email or via the blog, if you objected this time or meant to but didn't quite get round to it - if they reapply, I'll be posting about it. And thanks to everyone who submitted an objection this time.