Monthly Archives: June 2013

Review: Leonard Cohen (O2)

It’s been five years since ‘Field Commander Cohen’ has appeared at the O2, and although the man often referred to as ‘laughing Len’ hasn’t lightened up one bit, his poetic musings on love, sexuality, politics and religion still provide a potent mixture of melody and charisma.

One commentator on Cohen’s work said ‘no one can sing a Leonard Cohen song as he can’t’ and, now the trademark baritone has developed into a smoky growl, often talking rather than singing through songs, you can see what they mean. He delivers his songs with the emotional engagement of one who has lived them. Many people have covered his titles, particularly ‘Hallelujah’, but the originals remain the best.

Backed by the vocal harmonies of his long-time collaborator Sharon Robinson, and the Webb Sisters, and a set of peerless musicians on bass, violin, keyboards, etc., the old numbers (the opener ‘Dance Me To The End of Love’, ‘Everybody Knows’, ‘Bird on a Wire’, ‘Sisters of Mercy’, ‘The Future’, ‘Anthem’ (which closed the first half of the show), ‘So Long Marianne’, ‘The Partisan’, ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’, ‘Tower of Song’ (with the famous and tongue in cheek solo), ‘I’m Your Man’ and of course, ‘Hallelujah’) and newer cuts (‘Anyhow’, ‘Darkness’) continue to shine.

During the recitation of the poem ‘A Thousand Kisses Deep’ it was purely the poet (or as he puts it himself, ‘a lazy bastard living in a suit’) who was on show. The melodies are just window dressing (albeit excellent window dressing) to the powerful and curious lyrics which have become a trademark of Cohen’s career. In a suit and fedora, often singing on his knees, or with head bowed and eyes closed, this frail old troubadour still displays the skill of making a large arena feel like an intimate lounge bar, and in his 79th year has lost none of his ability to please his fans with a slick three-hour set.

Cohen may be slowing down, just a little, and we ‘may not meet again’, but this was a quality show, in support of his latest album ‘Old Ideas’ (the first in eight years – in a career approaching fifty years, he has only made twelve studio albums). He returns to the O2 for a further date in September.

Theatre review: Othello (National Theatre)

Over to the National last week for Nicholas Hytner’s modern version of ‘Othello’, set in the present-day army but keeping the majority of the text as Shakespeare intended.

Adrian Lester, a fine stage performer who has played Hamlet for Peter Brook and Bobby in the musical Company for Sam Mendes, is probably best known now for the TV series ‘Hustle’. His Othello doesn’t have the majesty of an Olivier or a Willard White (both classic stage-screen Othellos), but his modern general appears bored with the casual racism of his regiment and enamoured of his new young wife, the ‘gentle Desdemona’.

Rory Kinnear, whose career has ranged so far from screen appearances in ‘Women in Love’ and ‘Black Mirror’ to a National Hamlet, is a mean and devious Iago, with a lower middle-class swagger, crude and bitter. How his peers can view him as an honest man remains a mystery, and although he is good, I would have liked to have seen a bit more definition between his actions when with those he deceived, and his confidences with the audience when in soliloquy, but all in all, his is a good portrayal of this complex character.

There are gems in the supporting performances. Olivia Vinali as Desdemona and Lyndsey Marshal as Emilia (an enlisted squaddie in uniform) are memorable, and Jonathan Bailey is a strong Cassio. Less successful is Tom Robertson as Roderigo, too much the fool to be believable, but even he has his moments, as do the smaller roles like Brabantio (William Chubb).

My main issue with the modern setting of this production is that the main plot point of Desdemona making a grievous error in marrying outside of her race doesn’t have an impact other than making the insults (‘thick-lips’, ‘black ram’) sound inspired by racism. Neither would a modern soldier be permitted to take his wife into an area of combat. But these are small points.

A good production, and still powerful when a silent and unrepentant Iago stares at the bed loaded with death that he has caused in the play’s closing moments.

Book review: Send in the Clowns – The Yo-Yo Life of Ian Hendry

Gabriel Hershman’s book, published through as an e-book or print on demand, is called ‘Send in the Clowns – the Yo Yo Life of Ian Hendry‘. The title can be explained thus – Ian started as a clown and a mentee of the great Coco, while his unfinished attempt at writing his own life story was called ‘The Yo Yo Life’. It seems an appropriate, and affectionate, description of a complex character.

It has been over twenty-nine years since the British actor Ian Hendry died at the age of 53 on Christmas Eve, 1984. During the intervening years there has been considerable critical analysis of the work of his peers – Albert Finney, Richard Harris, Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, Michael Caine – but Hendry has been something of the ‘forgotten man’, with much of his work lost (‘The Avengers’ series 1, in which he was the lead character, Dr Keel) or unavailable (the film ‘Live Now, Pay Later’).

Ian Hendry was born with many advantages and gifts – his family was fairly well-heeled, he went to a good school, and he was blessed with both good looks and talent. Movie stardom seemed a given – and following ‘The Avengers’ he was featured in a number of memorable pieces including four films and an Armchair Theatre play ‘Afternoon of a Nymph’.

Hershman focuses on each performance in turn, offering his own critical opinion for pieces he has seen, and sharing contemporary analysis for material which is lost or unavailable for viewing. His views on whether Hendry’s talent was squandered or simply subject to a sequence of bad luck are interesting – and his frank discussion of the impact of the decision to leave his first wife Jo for fellow alcoholic Janet Munro perfectly catches the destructive love-hate nature of their relationship.

In his introduction, Hershman notes that he has worked closely with Ian and Janet’s younger daughter, Corrie, in writing the book, but has not enjoyed the cooperation of Ian’s third wife, Sandy. This is a shame and unbalances the book just a bit (I would have liked to have heard more from Sandy’s point of view of Ian’s last decade); however, the text never becomes a depressing spiral into self-destruction, and treads a fine line when it comes to issues such as alcohol dependency, bankruptcy, and the void in Hendry’s life after the death of Janet Munro. If I had just one criticism I would say that the description of Hendry’s final moments is perhaps a little too frankly written, but others may disagree.

If Ian Hendry had been granted the leading role in ‘Get Carter’ (which was written for him in mind) we would have had a truly great performance in a British classic film. Whether this slight pushed Hendry into a downward spiral he could not reverse, or whether he simply grieved too much for his second wife, remains unclear, although Hershman quite rightly gives this hypothesis some thought. Despite his dependency on alcohol rarely showing on screen (and even less rarely on stage) it appears even in the late 1950s Hendry was ruled by the bottle.

Hershman does hint at the imbalance between Ian Hendry’s professional reputation and that of some of his fellow hard drinking peers like O’Toole, Burton and Harris. All these three were given chances to ‘reform’ in leading roles despite concerns about their ‘hell-raising’. All three were equally as accomplished and attractive as Hendry at the start of their careers – and yet only he has fallen by the wayside. But look at ‘The Internecine Project’ and ‘The Hill’, to name but two of the roles where this actor truly shines and yes, he was as great as anyone. It is time to give this man’s work some serious re-evaluation.

Due to the sterling work of the DVD label Network in particular, we can now view and appreciate a range of Ian’s performances from early appearances in ‘The Invisible Man’ through to comedy support roles in ‘The Sandwich Man’ and classic TV such as ‘Jemima Shore Investigates’, ‘Smuggler’ and ‘Village Hall’.

‘Send in the Clowns’ boasts a number of rare images and has recently been supplemented by an official website created by Ian Hendry’s nephew, Neil. For those familiar with Hendry’s work, it is a must buy. For those who are vaguely aware of him, this will tell you all you need to know, and hopefully will point you towards the work which is commercially available.


Amy Steele on music, books and other (mostly alternative) entertainment

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