Friday, December 10, 2010

Part 2 of the Big Week(end-ish): Hamlet NT Live! @ Broadway Cinema Thursday 9 December 2010

From bitterweet tunes, to a smoking prince.

Hamlet - NT Live! Broadway cinema, Nottingham Thursday 9 December 2010

Second Hamlet this year, and you can easily see how the Sheffield production suffers for running alongside the National Theatre's majestic version. Proximity of versions can be a hinderance, because it can highlight limitations that are no where near as glaring as they appear under the spotlight of a more successful version. Sheffield's production had some wonderful moments, not least those offered by a less-than-aware audience of the nuances of the plot, so that reactions were all the more acute and revelatory.

Here, the revelations come particularly from the direction and staging: this is a very 'police state' version of Elsinore, spies everywhere and nearly every role inflected by that decision --- though there are laughs, this is not a mecurial and funny Hamlet (either in terms of the play or the character). There is a weariness, a bitterness here befitting of the surveillance everyone exists under/operates on others. No wonder Hamlet describes this earth as a "sterile promentory". No wonder too that Calder's Polonius seems more distracted by what should be said, can be said in front of the ever-present spies, than by any humourous diminishing of his faculties. This Polonius may prattle, but it is in the context of a watchful state, where protecting one's position is all.

I'm trying to not give too much away about the direction/staging, because the production tours next year and I'd like it to be as fresh as possible for those audiences. For example, there are a number of elements regarding Ophelia which make what happens to her through the play narrative (her opening conversation with her brother and father; the nunnery scene; her death) possibly the most fascinating construction of the character I have seen. But I don't want to tell those here. Still, these choices are important to mention as they probably compensates for a performance that didn't quite come together for me: then again, Ophelia is really tough role to inhabit.

Clare Higgins is as wonderful as ever: she is such an incredible actress. Her Gertrude is one who sees/understands more than she lets on, who understands her own vulnerabilities far earlier in the play than is usual. She is incredibly expressive in her interactions with Hamlet, not least in the closet scene. One does wonder though what she sees in Claudius (as this production moves away from the trend of having a single actor play both King Hamlet's ghost and his brother Claudius). Malahide brings his usual and prefectly balanced portrayal of oiliness and ambition to the stage, but it is hard to see what any widow would love in him (except perhaps protection of her role as Queen).

Kinnear nevertheless manages to make a real impact as Hamlet; his delivery really comes into its own after the players arive and develops from there. He isn't princely, but rather an everyman who just happens to be the position of prince (an accident of birth that can be as easily usurped as sanity may be challenged).

One choice of the staging/direction that DOES rankle though is to make Hamlet a smoker: whilst this gives ample opportunity for certain breaths and pauses to be emphasised, it comes across more as an excuse to allow the actor TO smoke on stage. (The smoking so irritated Cloud that he was near cheering for Laertes to win the duel at the end, and this performance didn't deserve such empathy as it only really sparked when Laertes returns and attempts to overthrow the palace/Claudius after Polonius's death).

Others have praised Kinnear far better and more eloquently than I could manage: it IS a wonderful performance and much deserving of his reward from the Evening Standard Theatre awards 2010. A definite triumph and worth seeing.

Big Week(end-ish) 2 (part 1): The Wedding Present @ Rock City Wednesday 8 December 2010

From thrashy guitars and the most bittersweet lyrics, to a bittersweet prince of Denmark: it's been that sort of week.

Wedding Present play Bizarro: Rock City, Nottingham Wednesday 8 December 2010

I heart The Wedding Present anyway - I still tingle at the glorious couplet from their song "I'm from further north than you" (from 'Take Fountain') --- "And I admit we had some memorable days / But just not very many". Awh.

But Bizarro has to be one of the most perfect and bittersweet albums ever made.

And you’re so right, they don’t miss a thing round here
And how do you think I feel?
Oh, you can try but you’re not getting out that way
You’re just as much to blame

And if it didn’t mean a thing
And you’ve told him to go
And if you’re as sorry as you say
Why didn’t you just say no?
It's album full of such pain and heartbreak (a point well made in the sleeve notes for the re-release a few years ago). What makes it so breathtaking is that all this anguish could easily get lost in amongst the breakneck speed and exhuberance of 'Brassneck' and 'Kennedy' --- let alone the distinctively more upbeat 'Take Me!' (a song whose 9 minutes NEVER drag and still thrill: "warm hands and the things you say, you get lovelier every day"). The observations of Gedge are always acheingly poignant, but there is something especially great about this particular album, where lyrics capture the hurt and the bite of relationships so acutely:

Oh no, I don’t know her name and no, it’s not just the same
I just thought she looked quite pretty
What do you want me to do, smile at nobody but you?
Well, if you’re going to be that petty
I’m not being unfair
OK, I am, but who cares?
Well, now at least we’re talking
And what about all of those friends and all those letters they send?
They can’t all be that boring

Why can't I ever say what I mean?
Ouch: that's a relationship on the brink right there, played out in brutally honest lyrics.

Another live video: and here's one of my other favourite heartbreakers from Bizarro: the sublime "Bewitched" (and whose heart can fail to be moved by the integration of the sample from the Tin Pan Alley ballad in the original album version).

You don’t know me but I’m still here and, God, the last time I saw you, you were, oh, this near
And there’s a thousand things I wish I’d said and done but the moment’s gone
Sublime. We had all of Bizarro, preceded by selected other tracks from their vast catalogue (and new party favourite a version of the theme from Cheers), plus the most brilliant John Peel / Wedding Present tribute you could ever hear: a loop of Peel's introductions to the Pressies. the songs have never all sounded the same (whatever my new t-shirt says) but they are as delightful as ever.

And to top it all, you can rent David Gedge's Santa Monica apartment (when he's away on tour etc). Very tempting since we love SM so much!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Shoe envy: Irregular Choice

Irregular Choice make the most amazing shoes!

Sadly, heels are tough on my feet (too much running about!) so they are very impractical - but I do love 'em!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Scientists as pandas: just WEIRD!

If the pandas can see what's going on in pic 4 they'll be more traumatised than if they'd seen humans to start with...

Sunday, December 05, 2010

My birthday - belated photo of Rullsenberg (in summer stripe legs)

In this weather the stripes are difficult to have on show (legs covered to keep warm!) so I thought I'd demonstrate it isn't THAT long since I had summer candy stripes on show!

Our neighbours built a snow bear!

You have to admit that building a snow bear as the snow disappears is awful cute?!

Fashion and not fashion: Rullsenberg and Cloud

Guess which one probably meets 'fashionable' better?!

Snow moments - Pictures from December 2010

Snow can look lovely can't it?

And at night it can be especially enticing!

So lovely that when tipsy I am tempted to head out into it!

And the light makes it look very spooky!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Live Music Review: Thursday 2 December 2010 - Bill Bragg, Rock City Nottingham

Swiss Toni got in ahead of me with a great review of Billy Bragg from last night (hello! sorry I was not confident enough to say hi!)

Good job that I read ST's first, or I would have been spitting even more feathers for reading the miserable f***ing review from This is Nottingham. Thanks for nothing Mr Belbin.

I mean, come on: we walk in as Billy Bragg takes the stage and he does 'The World Turned Upside Down' (a song which always brings a tear to my eye) and he ends on the mass Rock City choral version of 'A New England' (the guy never has to sing the words to that ever again: it is truly a modern standard, sung with passion and verve by every Bragg audience I have ever been in).

Because to criticise Bragg for talking is to miss the point: he's a political and social raconteur as much as a musician/songwriter. Those who go expecting 'only the songs' have probably largely missed the point OF those songs. Bragg teased us for being "softies", for responding so fondly to his more romantic balladeering (and he is indeed a fine balladeer), but Bragg is what he is in all his guises because of his politics, his opinions, his talking --- and that means that his love songs reflect the anguish of trying to reconcile social realities with ideals.

Of course, there are always people who go to any gig expecting to simply hear albums/songs - bizarrely, there are also people who seem to want to talk all the time, AND complain about Bragg talking.* I'm a bit baffled by such people: why are they at a gig? Why not play your selected tracks/preferences at home? Talking is part of the Bragg package: love it or loath it, he ain't going to do it differently. He's notorious for it, and as he noted last night, he can't help himself - especially when he's enjoying a gig so much. And frankly, you do have to wonder about people attending who are not only anti-Bragg talking, but especially about WHAT he talks about: how have they missed noticing/appreciating Bragg's political standpoint. Again, as noted, they're integral to him as a performer. But it is important to note that any complainants appeared to be a very small number last night.

And Bragg can stir a crowd so effectively: on topics as connected as the Nottingham University sit-in to campaign against student fee rises, to the problems of cynicism on challenging social problems (and on that note: all hail the dense pedantry of Belbin for sticking to the ancient Greek - and now scarcely comprehended - definition of Cynicism rather than the widely accepted and understood modern definition. We get you can wiki google the original concept: very impressive. Not.)

Members of the audience may have worried about getting buses home due to the weather, and may have urged Bragg to "talk less, sing more!" but I never got the sense that this was delivered with anger: Bragg instead acknowledged it was a reasonable request in light of the context (after all, he started at 8.20pm - and not just because there was a disco immediately afterwards) and then Bragg moved on. There was still talking from the Braggmeister, but I didn't get the sense of a rising tide of anger at him still talking. He was taken to task for his own errors - to which he freely admitted ("I supported Tony Blair in 1997 and voted Lib-Dem in the last election to keep the Conservatives out: if anyone has a right to be cynical..."). But this was an audience that sang with gusto to 'There is a Power in a Union' - for surely in the current climate it has never been more vital to support collective action and challenges to rampant Conservative cuts. It wasn't just about the love songs and wearied reactions to Bragg's polemic exhortations: 'To have and have not' was equally rapturously received.

Anyway, it was as ever a delightful and uplifting gig and I was personally delighted that Bragg performed several of the songs from Pressure Drop, the performance event that ran in London (but which we unfortunately missed). I'm looking forward to playing that CD soon.

It's always worth seeing Bragg: and given how much he likes Nottingham, he's sure to be back soon. We need him more than ever.

* I did my bit to challenge the 'coming to gigs to talk' mentality and kindly asked a couple of guys who had failed to read all our intensive disapproving glaring to please be quiet so we could hear what Bragg was singing/talking about. They at least didn't get worse or throw beer at me... A small triumph.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Supposedly today is 'Light Snow' - The sky is only JUST breaking

Well, it looks lovely:

But the sky here at the uni has only JUST started to break to show pale blue (as opposed to pure white, and falling snow-flakes)

It is Not Siberia (I do appreciate this) but even so: it's been a bit 'fun'! At least we know Billy Bragg has made it to Nottingham!