Monthly Archives: February 2015

First Encounter: King Lear, 2012 – ★★★½

The Royal Shakespeare Company developed this truncated version of King Lear for young audiences through their education programme, and this version was taped in New York.

Running just seventy-eight minutes and starring Paul Copley as the King, this is set over a week at Christmas, with Lear opening his presents at court on Christmas Day and dividing his kingdom between his cruel daughters while banishing the one most true to him, and reaching the end of the play on New Year’s Eve.

Although the running time is short, the main elements of the play are there, although an audience may struggle to find emotional engagement.

There are some interesting parallels in costume – when we first see Edmund he is dressed as the red-nosed reindeer, the same as the Fool will be later – however, both Kent and the Fool have their parts much reduced, and although the blinding of Gloucester survives along with Edgar’s masquerade as ‘poor Tom’ (wearing clothes retrieved from the drains), it doesn’t have the same power as it might in a full-length version.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews


Remembering AC/DC’s first frontman

acdc-bon-scott

I have to give Radio 1’s ‘Friday Rock Show’ the credit, in the person of Tommy Vance, who, during the late 1980s, introduced a whole range of rock artists to the airwaves ranging from death metal outfits, 60s folk rock, to early tracks from big names like Quo, Purple, Sabbath and Zeppelin.

It must have been 1985 (shortly after a whole show had been devoted to a live gig by Motley Crue) that Vance played a track which made the twelve-year old me sit up and take notice.  The track was ‘Ride On’, and the band was AC/DC – a band which I had previously only associated with ‘Hells Bells’ and ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’, with a singer whose voice sounded as if he was scraping fingernails against a blackboard, a good rock voice, sure, but not this one that I was listening to on the FRS.

I was of course listening to the band’s previous singer, Ronald Belford Scott (known as ‘Bon’) who had passed away in 1980.  The 35th anniversary of his death has just been and gone, on the 19th February, and although their most enduring singer, Brian Johnson, has now been in the band longer than Bon Scott was alive, he is still one of my favourite frontmen, an attractive and vibrant personality with a huge sense of fun (Vance would play other songs from the era which played on this, from ‘She’s Got Balls’ and ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ to ‘I’m a Rocker’ and ‘Up To My Neck’), but it was ‘Ride On’ which made me place him in that rare group of superb vocalists who stand head and shoulders above everyone else.

I love ‘Ride On’.  It not only has fantastic vocals but also great lyrics and perhaps Angus Young’s best guitar work – until I heard this track I hadn’t really rated him as a musician but here, he was the real deal.  It’s hard to find the song in the usual places – all the YouTube videos which feature it have been muted through copyright claims – but if you look on Dailymotion, you’ll find it.  I don’t want to deprive people of the pleasure so I’m not linking it here.

I will however link a little bit of fun, which was how Bon started off, in the 1960s, in ‘The Valentines’.  He isn’t the lead singer here, and he does look just a little embarrassed, but this is fun.

When Bon Scott died he was at the peak of his success and, so it seems from a Top of the Pops appearance less than two weeks’ before (‘Touch Too Much’), of his fitness too.  There have been all sorts of rumours around the events of that fateful night when he drank a little more than he should and died in a freezing car in the middle of the night that February – but whatever the truth, it still feels a terrible waste of an admittedly difficult but talented individual to pass away at the age of just thirty-three, but perhaps it was inevitable given his alcohol and drug addictions, and at least he did not become a member of the 27-club along with others of his contemporaries.

Anyway, if it hadn’t been for Tommy Vance’s inclusion of these songs in his broadcasts I probably wouldn’t have known about the first few years of AC/DC’s existence, and what might have been.  He’s gone now, too, and although Radio 1 still rocks it isn’t quite the same.  On 6th March it will be ten years since we lost Vance, so I raise a glass to both him and Scott, and say we miss both of you, very much.


Horror of Darkness, 1965 – ★★★½

A visit to the BFI Mediatheque is always well worth it, and this time I had a particular Wednesday Play in mind, ‘Horror of Darkness’.

This play by John Hopkins was filmed in 1964 but held back for a year before its television transmission as one of the ‘Wednesday Plays’, perhaps due to worry from the BBC about its subject matter, which touches on homosexuality at a time when this was still a matter for the criminal courts.

Peter (a dour Alfred Lynch) and Cathy (Glenda Jackson in sparkling form) are a couple, not married, but rubbing along together. He’s an artist, illustrating biology books. She appears to be a homemaker. Into their world comes Robin (Nicol Williamson, playing in his native Scots accent), a fey and unpredictable friend of Peter’s from the past, who brings a sense of unease into the happy home.

Early on, we see Robin’s playful but disruptive side when he ruins Peter’s commissioned drawing, but we don’t know why he is like this. We also don’t know why Peter is so shaken to find Robin in the flat with a woman, listening to stereo instrumentals on the gramophone.

As Robin weaves a web in which he claims to be a successful writer, first of a short story in the magazine ‘Impetus’ and then of a produced play, his hosts seem to remain shaken by his presence.

There’s a great scene where Peter and Cathy are shut out from a party going on in their own house, a party we don’t see, and they share wine on the stairs before arguing, again, about their unpaying guest. “Where can he go?” “I don’t know.” “Sad, isn’t it?”.

Robin singing snatches of ‘Over The Rainbow’ probably gives us a large clue these days as to what’s going on – not sure that fifty years ago this would have been as obvious. But then there’s a lovely moment where Peter offers to light his cigarette, and Robin grasps his wrist and holds it just a fraction too long, and then we know, even as they continue to dance around the subject and goad and needle each other.

Then the moment. “I love you!” And an eyebrow raised, beautifully done by Lynch, rejecting his friend with a carefully phrased retort: “Cathy’s right. You can be something of a liability.” Cathy, for her part, is goading too, with a clumsy kiss filled with contempt and a warning to Robin that she knows he aims to take Peter away from her.

There’s music all the way through this play, whether from the LPs which play filling the room (a glorious scene with a classical chorus), or Robin, alone in his lonely bed, whistling. Everyone seems to be heading for breaking point throughout – this is a darker, more dangerous turn away from the niceties of Coward’s ‘Design for Living’ which balances a similar triangle. Peter even makes boiling a kettle full of menace. Robin is as desperate as coiled springs. Cathy is manically miserable.

I didn’t see the twist coming, and that probably makes it effective even now. Robin’s last line in the play is “I can be nice only so long. You know?”, and after that he proves it with his actions and the way they finally tear the couple apart. There’s also a mysterious visitor, who sheds light on what has gone before.

And Peter? Well, Robin said he was ‘just like him’ but ‘safe as houses’, and we understand that, and so does Cathy. The two ‘nicest people in the world’ have destroyed themselves, and there’s a chilling scene where Peter in an act of verbal and physical violence lets out his feelings on the girl Robin had to visit back in the early part of the play.

The three leads are extremely effective together, and there is a real sense throughout that something is going to explode, but we don’t know what – and it never quite does. The gay angle is handled well, and we completely understand what has been going on, and it is quite pathetic to watch this sad trio approach their own private darkness.

My visit to the Mediatheque was completed by watching the final episode of 1957’s television serial for children, the adaptation of ‘The Silver Sword’ by Ian Serraillier, which had been published the previous year.  A tale of four Polish children around the time of the Second World War (including familar names Melvyn Hayes (aged 21) and Frazer Hines (aged 12)) this does look as if it would be well worth watching were the whole series to become available.


Royal Opera Live: Der fliegende Holländer, 2015 – ★★★★½

Without having the ready money to spend on seeing a live production at the Royal Opera House, I decided instead to do the next-best thing, and watch the relay to cinemas for the final performance of Wagner’s popular opera of ‘The Flying Dutchman’.

Tim Albery’s production is now on its third revival, and the role of the Dutchman was played by Wales’ finest bass-baritone, the marvellous Bryn Terfel, who has really grown into this part over the years: one might say it is one of his signature roles.

Here his dour and dark captain, doomed to sail his ghostly ship through inhospitable waters for eternity, was complemented by Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka. She is in her fifties, but managed to convey through her acting and singing a portrait of Senta, a young girl in obsessive love with a legend, with her toy ship and the stories she tells her co-workers about the pale seafarer and his need for redemption.

Some of Albery’s choices might be suspect to Wagnerian purists – the ending has lost the sense of the dramatic (instead of Senta plunging into the icy waves she instead collapses holding her ship while her friends look on), and there is a lot of water (using what resembles a shower curtain to throw water against before curtain up to convey the storm, and having various characters paddling in the stream where the toy ship is anchored).

No sound problems at the Westfield London’s Vue, though, although some were reported at other screenings. The staging and presentation was quite cinematic – I like to see close-ups and be in the thick of the action. Interestingly, the most melodic and memorable pieces of the score are not those sung by the Dutchman, but rather those by Senta, and by the Steersman and the crew.

The crew’s party was jarringly modern, with a feel of Newcastle on a Saturday night with short-skirted ladies and hard drinking men, but the appearance of the ghostly crew of the Dutchman’s ship was effective. I also liked the line of sewing machines at which Senta and her friends dreamed and sang.

Peter Rose as Daland might have been a little below par (we were warned before the start that he had a heavy cold) but the pro came out in decent voice and did well to make it through to the end. No harm done there.

Great production, and I’d heartily recommend these live relays for anyone not sure about opera, as well as those, like me, who have seen these pieces before and just go along to enjoy them in a different setting.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews


My Network DVD collection

TV Comedy

  • The Complete Adrian Mole.  Capsule review: An excellent comedy-drama adaptation of Sue Townsend’s first two books about Adrian Mole.
  • Agony: The Complete Series.  Capsule review: Maureen Lipman is a scatty agony aunt with romantic problems.  Tries too hard to cover ‘issues’.
  • An Audience with Jasper Carrott.  Capsule review: Carrott’s breakthrough series before an audience; still very funny.
  • Beadle’s About series 1.  Capsule review: Very much of its time, this raises the occasional smile but hasn’t worn well.
  • Catweazle: Series 1 and Series 2.  Capsule review: A classic children’s series with a strong central performance and clever storylines.
  • Cilla’s Comedy Six: The Complete Series.  Capsule review: Hit and miss sketches which prove Cilla Black was not a strong comedienne.
  • Classic ITV Christmas Comedy.  Capsule review: A good sampler of half-forgotten comedy programme festive specials, many from the 1980s.
  • Dawson’s Weekly.  Capsule review: Les Dawson in a set of comedy characterisations which are very entertaining.
  • Doctor on the Box.  Capsule review: every Doctor series which ran on the BBC, good for dipping in and out, but the earlier series are the sharpest.
  • End of Part One: The Complete Series.  Capsule review: a quirky and obscure delight in Pythonesque mode.
  • Frost on Sunday.  Capsule review: Frost goes variety in his lightest of the three weekend 60s series.
  • The Galton and Simpson Playhouse.  Capsule review: a set of amusing comedy plays.
  • The Goodies … At Last, A Second Helping.  Capsule review: time hasn’t been kind to this silly sketch series.
  • If There Weren’t Any Blacks You’d Have To Invent Them.  Capsule review: two versions of the same black comedy play, both very effective.
  • The Morecambe and Wise Show: The Thames Years.  Capsule review: not as good as their BBC series, but this duo were always good fun.
  • Mrs Merton and Malcolm.  Capsule review: not entirely successful, but now and again this is as much comedy gold as the Royle Family.
  • The New Incomplete Complete and Utter History of Britain.  Capsule review: a lovingly compiled package of a variable comedy series.
  • Outside Edge: The Complete Series.  Capsule review: the pilot play and the whole series, a joy from start to finish.
  • Paul Merton in Galton and Simpson’s … series 1.  Capsule review: disappointing, especially the Hancock reboots.
  • Pipkins: Volumes 1-4.  Capsule review: legendary children’s series, with subversive puppets.
  • The Rag Trade: The Complete First LWT Series.  Capsule review: laugh out loud on occasion, but the original BBC series is stronger.
  • Rik Mayall Presents.  Capsule review: a series of comedy plays, cleverly written.
  • Ripping Yarns: The Complete Series.  Capsule review: superior comedy plays in the old yarn style and with a Python twist, with the Secrets play as a dark and funny extra.
  • Romany Jones: Complete Series 1 and 2.  Capsule review: James Beck’s only starring role following his success in Dad’s Army – but it is creaky fare!
  • Sadie, It’s Cold Outside: The Complete Series.  Capsule review: worthwhile character led comedy.
  • Shillingbury Tales: The Complete Series.  Capsule review: excellent writing, good performances.
  • Six Dates With Barker.  Capsule review: a set of comedy plays with Ronnie Barker in the lead, very nicely done.
  • Spitting Image: The Complete Series 1-7, Series 8.  Capsule review: of its time, and very dated, but now and again very sharp indeed.
  • The Strange World of Gurney Slade: The Complete Series.  Capsule review: a hidden gem with strange and surreal twists and turns.
  • Sunday Night at the London Palladium: Volumes 1 and 2.  Capsule review: variety and music show from the 50s and 60s.
  • Tingha and Tucker.  Capsule review: odd jumble of remaining items from a forgotten children’s series.
  • Two’s Company: Complete Series.  Capsule review: a well-remembered two header with flair and fun.
  • Victoria Wood: Screenplays.  Capsule review: early series of comedy plays which stand on their believable characters and situations.

TV Drama

  • The Adventures of Black Beauty: Best of.  Capsule review: children’s drama inspired by Anna Sewell’s novel, great theme tune and good production values.
  • Adventures of Robin Hood: Complete.  Capsule review: high adventure and many early appearances from familiar faces make this series a winner.
  • Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel: Complete.  Capsule review: affectionate piece of whimsy with a great central performance and enjoyable storylines.
  • Alan Plater at ITV.  Capsule review: a good overview of one of television’s best playwrights.  Includes some taster episodes of series like Flambards.
  • Anglo Saxon Attitudes: Complete
  • The Arcata Promise
  • Armchair Cinema: The Collection.  Capsule review: a solid set of standalone dramas from Euston Films with strong characterisations.  Some films miss the mark but all are worth watching.
  • Armchair Theatre: Volumes 1-4.  Capsule review: a range of episodes from the long-running series of standalone plays.  The older titles are more innovative but as a whole they are interesting to compare with the BBC’s ‘Play for Today’.
  • Armchair Thriller: Complete.  Capsule review: lengthy tales of chills and terror, hit and miss as a series.
  • Band of Gold/Gold: Complete.  Capsule review: hard-hitting series about a group of prostitutes in Bradford; the follow-up series isn’t a patch on the original.
  • The Bass Player and the Blonde
  • Beasts: The Complete Series.  Capsule review: a range of horror tales which linger in the memory; two outstanding and the rest very good indeed.
  • The Beiderbecke Trilogy/Get Lost: Complete
  • Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire
  • The Blackheath Poisonings: Complete
  • Bloody Kids
  • Brass
  • The Brontes of Haworth: Complete
  • The Buccaneers: The Complete Series
  • The Caesars: Complete
  • Casting the Runes
  • Cause Celebre
  • Children’s Ward: Complete Series 1
  • Chiller: Complete Series
  • A Choice of Coward: Complete
  • Clayhanger: Complete
  • Codename Kyril
  • Coronation Street: 1972
  • Crown Court: Volumes 1-8
  • Danger UXB: Complete Series Special Edition
  • The Dark Angel: Complete
  • Dennis Potter at LWT: Volumes 1 and 2
  • Dick Turpin: Series 1
  • Disraeli: Complete
  • Dramarama: Spooky
  • Dramarama: Volume 1
  • Edward and Mrs Simpson: Complete
  • Enemy at the Door: Complete
  • Espionage: Michael Powell
  • Fireball XL5: Complete
  • Flickers: The Complete Series
  • Floodtide: The Complete Series
  • The Four Just Men: The Complete Series
  • Framed
  • Fraud Squad series 1
  • The Frighteners
  • The Gold Robbers: Complete
  • The Good Companions: Complete
  • The Hanged Man: Complete
  • Interpol Calling: Complete
  • The Invisible Man: Complete
  • ITC 50
  • It’s Dark Outside: the Complete Series
  • Jack Rosenthal at ITV
  • Jamaica Inn: Complete
  • Jemima Shore Investigates: Complete
  • Jennie, Lady Randolph Churchill: Complete
  • Justice: Complete Series 1-3
  • A Kind of Loving: Complete
  • The Knock: Complete Series 1
  • Ladies in Charge: Complete
  • Lady Killers: Complete Series 1-2
  • The Last Place on Earth: Complete
  • Laurence Olivier Presents
  • The Life and Times of David Lloyd George
  • Lillie: The Complete Series
  • Look-Back on 70s Telly: Issues 1-4
  • The Main Chance: Complete Series 1-4
  • The Male of the Species: Three Plays by Alun Owen
  • Mr Axelford’s Angel
  • Mr Palfrey of Westminster: Complete
  • Mystery and Imagination
  • Napoleon and Love: Complete
  • The Nation’s Health
  • Nightingale’s Boys: Complete
  • New Scotland Yard: series 1
  • The Organisation
  • Philby, Burgess and Maclean
  • Piece of Cake: Complete
  • The Plane Makers: Volumes 1-3
  • Plays for Britain: Complete
  • The Power Game: The Complete Series
  • The Protectors: Complete Series
  • Red Letter Day: The Complete Series
  • Redcap: Series 1
  • The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes: Complete Series 1-2
  • Robin of Sherwood: Complete
  • The Sandbaggers: Complete
  • Scoop
  • Scorpion Tales: Complete
  • Sergeant Cork: Complete Series 1-6
  • Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance
  • Shadows of Fear: Complete
  • Six Days of Justice: Complete Series 1-2
  • Smuggler: The Complete Series
  • Soap Box: Volume 1
  • South Riding: The Complete Series
  • Storyboard: The Complete Series
  • Strangers: The Complete Series
  • Tales of the Unexpected: Complete
  • Tales Out of School: Four Films by David Leland
  • Thomas and Sarah: Complete
  • Thriller: The Complete Series
  • Travelling Man: Complete
  • Twelfth Night
  • The Tyrant King: Complete
  • Upstairs Downstairs: Complete
  • Van Der Valk: Complete
  • A Very Peculiar Practice: Complete
  • Village Hall: Complete Series 1 and 2
  • Warrior Queen: Complete
  • The Widowmaker
  • Will Shakespeare: Complete
  • William Tell: Complete
  • Wish Me Luck: Complete
  • The XYY Man: Complete
  • Yesterday’s Dreams: Complete
  • The Zoo Gang: Complete

TV Other

  • 56 Up
  • Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow
  • Charley Says: Limited Edition
  • Coronation Street: 1972
  • Emmerdale Farm: Volume One
  • Frost on Coward
  • Frost on Friday
  • Frost on Saturday
  • ITV 60
  • Six Centuries of Verse: Complete
  • The Story of Film: An Odyssey
  • Tempo: Volume 1
  • Unknown Chaplin
  • World in Action: Volumes 1-3

Films:

  • British Musicals of the 1930s Volume 1-3
  • The Ealing Rarities Volumes 1-14

Berlin Philharmonic/Rattle (Royal Festival Hall)

A London visit from the Berlin Philharmonic is always an occasion, and this Valentine’s Day visit from them, with their conductor Sir Simon Rattle on the podium, did not disappoint, especially as they were playing their signature piece, Mahler’s Symphony No 2, the Resurrection, in an emotional and absorbing rendition assisted by the London Symphony Chorus, the CBSO Chorus, soprano Kate Royal, and mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozená.

The orchestra could very well play this piece in their sleep, but the strings, the woodwind, and the percussion all gave it life and energy, and the solo arias from Royal and Kozená were beautiful.  But it is the chorus, that chorus, that soar of voices which makes this piece so special, and which brings tears now and then from audiences.  The human voice is probably one of the greatest of all instruments – and even if this choir performs much of their singing seated in Rattle’s voice of the piece, it remains an effective piece of ‘theatre’.

Before the Mahler, we were treated to Helmut Lachenmann’s Tableau for orchestra, which is a very modern and sparse piece, enjoyable and very different to the melodies of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  A good companion piece, then, to the mighty Resurrection.


History Is Now – exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre

Any exhibition which aims to present a history of British culture from 1945 to the present day has to be wide-ranging and risk-taking, and the Hayward Gallery’s new exhibition manages to be both.

Seven curators have presented six exhibitions within this space and generic umbrella of ‘History is Now’, and although there are no obvious links between the different shows, together they present an immersive snapshot of the country as it was, and where it is going.

Richard Wentworth’s section, on the top floor of the gallery, goes back the furthest, presenting photographs, sketches and texts around the immediate aftermath of the war, along with books about the period arranged above head height, covers facing downwards, on glass shelves.  His vision also includes a surface to air missile which sits outside in the Southbank Centre’s space, aimed towards the financial heart of modern London.

Hannah Starkey’s set of images includes collages of advertising from the 1970s, hugely sexist and geared towards a culture which has all but disappeared, where shoes, household appliances, and politics could be presented in ways that – if you remove the sexual politics and objectivity from the equation – remain startling and innovative.  Her section also includes real life photographs of destitution and degradation which are at odds with the glossy images depicted in the advertising.

John Akromfrah presents seventeen films which look at Britain’s artistic past and future – in themselves they represent hours of footage on which we only quickly glanced on our visit – but there is material from Hepworth, Bacon, and others, which could repay repeat visits.

The Wilson twins Jane and Louise focus much of their attention on Northern Ireland and the Troubles, in a thought-provoking set of images, paintings and texts which focus on both sides of the issue.  The most powerful piece in their section though might be the cage of gloves, each representing a person unemployed with hands idle at the height of the employment crisis of the 1980s.

Roger Hiorns presents a whole room devoted to BSE and the hysteria around mad cow disease – hard to remember now how this was headline news for so long, but newspaper covers, articles, reports, photographs and other artifacts remind us of the fact – a peripheral side effect of this is seeing what else was news at the time, which caused some nostalgia when viewing this particular exhibit.

Finally, and the first section you will see on entering the Hayward, Simon Fujiwara shows us David Beckham sleeping, Meryl Streep’s costume for ‘The Iron Lady’, some plastic cutlery, a couple of bin bags, and Damien Hirst’s dot painting (his cattle heads in formaldehyde are in Hiorns’ section).  This is the most ephemeral and the least engaging part of the exhibition, but the one which is the most flash – even including a section of balcony from a Canary Wharf apartment.

A mixed exhibition, and one which does require some attention to be paid to its messages and juxtapositions – we took nearly two hours to circulate on its preview night and could have stayed longer, had we engaged with every film on show.  I particularly liked the photographs from Erin Pizzey’s Chiswick Women’s Refuge, the items from Greenham Common peace camp, and the sense of history once you move away from the throwaway nature of Fujiwara’s vision into something with just that bit more depth.


Twisting the Dial (BBC Concert Orchestra, Queen Elizabeth Hall)

This second concert in the series by the BBC Concert Orchestra was of rather more pedestrian fare than the one presented last week as part of Friday Night is Music Night.   Grant Llewellyn was the conductor, the singer was Anna Jane Casey, the solo flautist was Ileana Ruhemann, the MC was Ian Skelly, and the concert was transmitted live to BBC Radio 3.

Although there was a mix of music from television, the radio, and the cinema from the years 1959-1979 included in this concert, it didn’t really give a sense of the changing times, although there was some discussion between Skelly and a historian who specialised in the period (I didn’t catch his name).

So the songs – the theme to the Bond film ‘You Only Live Twice’ (John Barry/Leslie Bricusse), ‘Alfie’ (Burt Bacharach/Hal David), ‘Yesterday’ (Lennon/McCartney), and ‘As Long As He Needs Me’ (Lionel Bart’s song from the musical ‘Oliver!’) – were well enough delivered, although the sound mix sounded a bit off in the hall itself.  The musical pieces varied from the buoyancy of the ‘Thunderbirds’ theme by Barry Gray, the ‘Carry On Doctor & Carry On Again Doctor’ suite by Eric Rogers, and excerpts from the opera ‘Our Man In Havana’ by Malcolm Williamson to a truly dull ‘Suite on English Folk Tunes’ by Britten and a well-performed but forgettable ‘Flute Concerto No 2′ by Malcolm Arnold, and nostalgic pieces like Johnny Douglas’ theme to the film ‘The Railway Children’ and Walton’s prelude for Granadaland.

Hard to say why this concert didn’t quite succeed – perhaps the programming was slightly on the heavy side, perhaps the sound balance was a factor (we couldn’t hear Skelly’s introductions as I am assuming he was miked up only for radio), perhaps we needed an MC and a conductor with a bit more energy.  Whatever the reason, the applause tonight was polite rather than enthusiastic.


The Hard Problem (National Theatre)

hardproblem

Tom Stoppard’s new play for nearly a decade is also Nicholas Hytner’s last directing job before he stands down as Artistic Director at the National Theatre, so here we are at the new Dorfman Theatre (Cottesloe as was) to see it.

The picture above shows the set design by Bob Crowley which includes a very clever metal and light structure which buzzes with music (Bach) and fizzes with fireworks in order to distract from scene changes or enhance one key dinner party set piece.

The Hard Problem’s focus is on the mind, the brain, psychology, and coincidence, and it centres around a fairly large and unlikely coincidence between Olivia Vinall’s totally unconvincing professor (she looks too much like Elsa from Frozen) and Anthony Calf’s well-acted Jerry Krohl (a spiky billionaire who is a bully in the office and a benign domestic at home).  This weakens the play somewhat, as does the pre- and post-coital interplay between Vinall’s Hilary and her tedious lover-tutor Spike (Damien Molony).

This play has a lot to say about academia and publishing (fairly accurate, as it happens), office politics and rivalries, family, life choices, and systems of belief – Hilary is a believer in God who kneels to pray by her bed each night.  But it is mired in cliche – the over-achieving Indian scholar (Parth Thakerar), the brilliant female Chinese mathematician (Vera Chok), the sunny lesbian pair of academic and Pilates instructor (Lucy Robinson and Rosie Hilal).  There’s also the sexist academic who interviews candidates in the men’s room (Jonathan Coy) and the fiercely intelligent privileged child (I think this was Eloise Webb of the three Cathys cast).

Broad characterizations aside, this does try to do something interesting, and to see a more cerebral play than most fill its 100 minute running time is not without interest.  Not vintage Stoppard, or vintage Hytner, but worth a visit.


Friday Night is Music Night (Queen Elizabeth Hall)

A finely nostalgic night about The Light Programme, titled ‘On the Wireless and Off the Box’, on stage at the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall and live on Radio 2, with the ghosts of Hancock and Semprini, Jimmy Edwards, Flanders and Swann, Gus Elen, Max Miller, and others jostling for space with songs from My Fair Lady (‘Show Me’) and Carousel (‘If I Loved You’), as well as Noel Coward’s sparkling Nina.

Bringing these to life for us, under the watchful eye of Master of Ceremonies Ken Bruce and conductor Gavin Sutherland, were the BBC Concert Orchestra, Kitty Whately, Simon Butterkiss, Roy Hudd, and Tim FitzHigham/Duncan Walsh.  It’s quite a feat the move from the fun of ‘In Party Mood’ to the pomp of ‘Orb and Sceptre’, to the music hall high jinks of ‘It’s A Great Big Shame’ and ‘Lucky Jim’ to the crowd-pleasing singalong of ‘Mud, Glorious Mud’ and the patter song ‘My Name is John Wellington Wells’ (from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Sorcerer).  The most touching thing was to see Roy Hudd, a man who appears more elderly when he isn’t in full flight, deliver ‘While London’s Fast Asleep’, by Harry Dacre, which could indeed “have been written yesterday”.

Funny, too, to see an audience delight in banter between Tony Hancock and Kenneth Williams, relayed over the years, and snicker at Dick Barton.


Loud Alien Noize

Revealing the True Origins of Silence

Pfeiffer Pfilms and Meg Movies

Blog titling at its best

Emily Baycroft

Currently a final year English student at the University of Cambridge. Producing Intern for Fuel Theatre July-October 2016. Aspiring Arts Administrator/Theatre Producer, blogging about my projects (mostly).

MTAS

West End Reviews | West End Challenges | Exclusive West End News

A Red Lip And A Nude Shoe

Dior Dreams On A Kmart Budget

is there room for me to sew?

Quilting, Reading and the Movies

The Case for Jeanette and Nelson

"Whaddya gonna do? I love her. I think she loves me." -Nelson Eddy on the Jack Parr Show, 1960

STARDUST AND SHADOWS

Opinions on Classic Hollywood , B Movies, Grindhouse, SF film , Classic Horror, Film Noir, Books, and related subjects by Canadian film guy TERRY SHERWOOD. (This site is not affiliated with author Charles Foster and his book Stardust and Shadows.)

The Wonderful World of Cinema

This blog is all about cinema, movies and stars of every decades. It's wonderful!

Movie classics

Thoughts on older movies, especially those from the 1930s to 1950s.

Hiss and Tell

Featuring Gryff, the angry diabetic cat, and the humans who serve him

TESSA BARRIE'S LOST BLOGS

LIFE'S TOO SHORT TO BE NICHE ...

[insert title here]

just one of many things i'm still trying to figure out

buchanblog

A trip down Memorex lane

The Phantom Frame

Information about the creative works of Gareth Preston

West End Blog

Bringing you independent, honest, experienced reviews of current theatre shows. We believe theatre is something truly magical and can be enjoyed by everyone.

Archive Television Musings

"To waste one second of one's life is a betrayal of one's self! I wonder what's on television?"

The Actor's Advocate

In defence of acting

Loud Alien Noize

Revealing the True Origins of Silence

Pfeiffer Pfilms and Meg Movies

Blog titling at its best

Emily Baycroft

Currently a final year English student at the University of Cambridge. Producing Intern for Fuel Theatre July-October 2016. Aspiring Arts Administrator/Theatre Producer, blogging about my projects (mostly).

MTAS

West End Reviews | West End Challenges | Exclusive West End News

A Red Lip And A Nude Shoe

Dior Dreams On A Kmart Budget

is there room for me to sew?

Quilting, Reading and the Movies

The Case for Jeanette and Nelson

"Whaddya gonna do? I love her. I think she loves me." -Nelson Eddy on the Jack Parr Show, 1960

STARDUST AND SHADOWS

Opinions on Classic Hollywood , B Movies, Grindhouse, SF film , Classic Horror, Film Noir, Books, and related subjects by Canadian film guy TERRY SHERWOOD. (This site is not affiliated with author Charles Foster and his book Stardust and Shadows.)

The Wonderful World of Cinema

This blog is all about cinema, movies and stars of every decades. It's wonderful!

Movie classics

Thoughts on older movies, especially those from the 1930s to 1950s.

Hiss and Tell

Featuring Gryff, the angry diabetic cat, and the humans who serve him

TESSA BARRIE'S LOST BLOGS

LIFE'S TOO SHORT TO BE NICHE ...

[insert title here]

just one of many things i'm still trying to figure out

buchanblog

A trip down Memorex lane

The Phantom Frame

Information about the creative works of Gareth Preston

West End Blog

Bringing you independent, honest, experienced reviews of current theatre shows. We believe theatre is something truly magical and can be enjoyed by everyone.

Archive Television Musings

"To waste one second of one's life is a betrayal of one's self! I wonder what's on television?"

The Actor's Advocate

In defence of acting

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