Monday, July 30, 2012

Death and Deadline: The Doctor's Dilemma by GB Shaw at The Lyttleton Theatre

Coincidences dog my footsteps, usually in a good way. Yesterday, the remaining entry  required to complete  a crossword was the name of a Michigan University town. I had some letters filled in:  A--  / A--o-. Two hours later, Roy read an article about finals of a  bridge tournament which took  place in Ann Arbour.

My favourite coincidence occurred in northern Spain, where I did a stint as a volunteer teacher a couple of years ago.  I bought book about the ancient city where I was living: a collection of part -literary part-historical essays . As I made for the door, the shopkeeper called 'El Maestro! El Maestro!' She introduced me to the author, an eminent local journalist and poet who just happened to be passing . He came back to the shop and  signed my copy. * The following week his daughter happened to be in a  class I ran for local Spanish teachers.  Carmen and I became friends.

I wish all  coincidences were so  pleasant, unlike the latest one that happened to me. GBS wrote The Doctor's Dilemma to prove that he could write a play about death. On the day I sat down to review it, my son reminded me that I was to attend the funeral of a family friend.

There was no way I could make the  mid-day deadline because I had to leave at 11am and didn't get back until 4pm.

The resulting review was rushed.  Never mind - here it is on  The Public Reviews website.

* There's an  account of this incident in the entry for Saturday October 24th 2009 in this blog


Monday, July 23, 2012

Psychadelic Whimsy: Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' in Coram Fields

I must admit I do like to be entertained when I go to see a show, which is why I awarded five stars  to this freely adapted version of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', seen at Coram's Fields last Saturday. A Beatles score and lots of slapstick may not be to everyone's taste, but it is to mine.
One reason I chose to review this show was the venue - I always fancy open-air Shakespeare in the summer, but there's a lot wrong with Regents Park as a venue.  It gets cold, mainly because the seats are so high up and you can feel as if you need a telescope as well as a sleeping bag, and the park gate allowing access to Baker Street tube is closes around nine. You end up walking what seems like miles to get to any public transport. This venue was a short walk from Russell Square or bus stops on Southampton Row.

One of the problems I faced with the Coram Fields  venue was getting any information about the seating arrangements. So we carried fold-up camping chairs on train and bus, which turned out to be unnecessary.

It was all very informal - a number of park benches were ranged in fronto of those gazebo-style tents with optional wall flaps that you buy in Argos or Wilkinsons. We had a bench to ourselves and wished we'd brought a picnic hamper instead of the folding chairs. The action of the play was punctuated with the popping of fizzy wine corks.

Coram Fields is named after a man called Sir Thomas Coram, who established a Foundlings Hospital on the site in 1739, which only closed in 1958, by which it had moved to Surrey. Most of the original building was demolished in 1928 and now it's a childrens playground,  so adults have to take a child with them   to gain access in the day time.  There's a Foundling Museum in nearby Brunswick Square. I'll be making a visit as soon as I can.

My review appears on The Public Reviews website. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Get Ahead of the Games says Mr Johnson

Regular readers of this blog will know how much I love public transport in London. I think of it as a free show on the way to a show. This is  especially true since the invention of the mobile phone. I can't understand why people complain. In the past I'd sometimes listen in to dialogue conducted in a language I was studying. Nowadays I'm often treated to a stream of  novelty language, as a young woman scolds an errant boyfriend, or I overhear an exchange of confidential business details between suited gents.

.Just recently, like everyone else, I've had to listen to announcements by  Boris.  He tells us in an insistant voice that as we are about to welcome one million extra visitors a day to our city, we need to plan our journeys and 'get ahead of the games'. I'd have thought people already planned their the optimum route to work. I know I thought long and hard about alternatives when I commuted two hours there and back Lewisham to Twickenham on weekdays. I had to allow for delays and cancellations. Last Saturday it took me three hours to get from Chessington to London Bridge, because of a signal failure in Surbiton. It required some detours by bus and much waiting on cold damp platforms. It seems silly when I  can go from Euston to Preston, 200 miles, in just over two hours. And whatever happened to waiting rooms?

We've been pestered, too, by a series of cartoon images on posters and tube barriers. As if being  even more squashed will be fun, akin to  being an extra in a Disney film.

Thank goodness the only journeys I'll make will be outside  rush hours.  'Plan your journey'  must take the euphemism prize for 'Get up at the crack of dawn to have any chance of getting to work by lunch-time!'

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Musical Interlude: Summer Concert at St Stephen's, Gloucester Road

 A lot of people I know belong to church choirs so I've had it up to here with requiems. When my next-door neighbour, slipped a leaflet through the door, I wasn't overjoyed.  But we're keen to support her and we've enjoyed previous concerts by the group she belongs to, the Hanover Choir. The church is a short walk from Gloucester Road tube and  there's a homely welcome from the Welsh conductor plus  wine and mince pies or other refreshments in the interval. I like the added drama of the church setting.

I tend to daydream during classical concerts, preferring  operas and musicals.There was  a strong tradition of singing in pubs in my home town in Lancashire, one reason why I relate so easily to Terence Davies' films. Alternatively,  I'd like to have lived in the days when people gathered for genteel evenings that included card games, when people took turns to entertain the company by singing.One of my favourite scenes in Pride and Prejudice is where the over-eager Mary has to be reined in by Mr Bennett.

I do like Mozart, so I was pleased that the programme included a Mozart Vespers. He wrote it, according to the programme notes,to commemorate the  death of his pet starling. I liked the parallel Latin/English text, too. The  soprano soloist was slightly built but had a  suprisingly  sonorous voice, ideally suited to the church. The tenor soloist, a rather gaunt young man with glasses,  had a whole Schubert love song to himself.

The secular theme continued in the second half, which  included a  series of Aesop's fables set to music by a British composer called Ben Chilcott. I remembered reading some of them in school: The Hare and the Tortoise, The Fox and the Grapes, and the one where the sun and the wind who have a competition to see who can make a traveller take his coat off.

I hope this trend away from requiems continues.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Alarmed at The City Lit

I knew what to do when the fire alarm sounded at the City Lit last night: scarper. I've been in plenty of evacuations in 30 years of teaching, much of it during the IRA years in London. The worst place  for 'prank' alarms was Richmond College in Twickenham, a vast site with a couple of thousand students.  The most memorable include Debenhams in Oxford Street, Crystal Palace Swimming Pool and a hotel on the Costa del Sol in December down a smoke-filled stairwell. Nothing to do with the IRA, that one.

Quite apart from the delay while fellow students disentangled themselves from chairs with trays that swing over your knees, I was halted when the lecturer calling me back. The slowness of the progress down the stairs would have put the Spanish pensioners to shame. However, we were all out and back in again in fifteen minutes, so at least we didn't lose much tuition time.

On the bright side, I collected next year's amazing prospectus. The prices must be the cheapest in London.

Sadly, the scope of the one-off Film and Censorship session was far too wide for the time available - three hours - but I enjoyed the film clips, ranging from back and white Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1931) through Dirk Bogarde playing a gay barrister in Victim (1960) to a rape scene in Clockwork Orange (1973)

The final clip was a very graphic and unpleasant episode from Polanski's Salo, only released uncensored in 2008. The lecturer, John Wisby, gave fair notice that the film content was pretty shocking and said students might want to wait in the corridor. So I was surprised when  two of them complained at the end. What did they expect?' Maybe it was delayed shock from the earlier evacuation.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Time for a Snooze: Michael Frayn's Democracy at The Old Vic

There are times when I'm glad  to take  notes  - it helps to keep me awake when a play, film or talk is dull or when the venue is  overheated. No such excuse with this one, and no note-taking required as I'd been offered cheap tickets at the last minute.

I've cut back on reviewing since a return to  to writing fiction.

 I didn't have high expectations, it's true, because political plays are my least favourite genre, but at The Old Vic last Saturday I slept through much of a very boring play.

Any doubts I'd had were softened by a positive view of the author's previous form. I know his comedy 'Noises Off' is highly praised for its current run in the West End, and I want to see it;  last year I was entertained on a long drive to Wales by an audio tape of Frayn's comic crime novel, Headlong,  about the theft of a painting. I remember reading his  funny column in  The Observer newspaper a while back.

This work seemed to defy all the obvious rules about theatre -except   Greek drama's rule that the action must take place off-stage.

Frayn  sets his play in Bonn, where twelve middle-aged men in suits, stand or sit in an office which occasionally converts to a first class train carriage. They talk and occasionally declaim.  One of the main characters is Willi Brandt, (Patrick  Drury)  Chancellor of West Germany, paving the way for the fall of the Berlin Wall. The other is a Stasi spy reporting back to his controller in East Germany . The controller is onstage, which serves two purposes. He's much younger and has a sixties  hair-cut, so that's some visual variety, and it allows the mole, Gunter Guillaume, (Ed Hughes) a mildly comic figure, to  give him a live  commentary on the action. The others have names like Horst and  Herbert and Helmut but it's hard to know which is which.

I learned a lot about German politics 1969-1974  from the programme, which is like a small text-book, with illustrations and a time-line. It wouldn't be fair to write more,  as I was asleep. The air-conditioning in the Old Vic was working fine; nothing to do with that.

Democracy by Michael Fryan continues at The Old Vic until July 28th