Sunday, March 27, 2011

ABSOLUTELY NO SPOILERS: Forbrydelsen (The Killing) concludes


Forbrydelsen - THe Killing. Heck: it's been a great 10 weeks. No spoilers people, just wanted to say that was REALLY gripping TV. And Spiral S3 replaces it next week! AND they'll be showing Forbrydelsen Series 2 later in the year. Lovely.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Farewells: World of Music (World Service) and Radio 7 (soon to be BBC4 Extra)

World of Music on the World Service

I have quite often caught at least pat of the World Service's programme 'World of Music', a show that over the years has been hosted by Mark Coles (currently) and - of course - the late Charlie Gillett.

Sadly, in these cut-cut-cut days, the World Service is ditching much of its arts programming, and 'World of Music' is one of the casualties. Nice work BBC: a great memorial to the work of Gillett et al (sic).

The last show will be next week (March 26 2011).

The World Service cuts have been among some of the most problematic made around the BBC: language services disappearing, availability on services other than the internet cut, and general diminishment of the provision. *sigh*

Radio 7 - to be 'rebranded' Radio 4 Extra

Trying to close 6Music didn't work. They even had to give up on getting rid of the Asian Network, both relatively cheap stations to run. Now, Radio 7 is about to be imminently rebranded as Radio 4 Extra. Urgh - that even SOUNDS ugly.

Radio 7 was station that had turned into the last home of children's broadcasting on radio, and which gave audiences the chance to hear programmes from the past - sometimes the distant past, another age of radio entirely - including the excellent 7th Dimension strand of regular sci-fi and fantasy broadcasting. Doctor Who found a home here, in all sorts of forms.

So why the expensive rebranding? It seems to be a way of cutting off the last opportunity for audiences to hear radio broadcasts from before the last year or so, and in this age of the web, do we really need a DIGITAL station to add more Archers stuff to the ether?

I hope that, despite the way things look at present, the new schedule for Radio 4 Extra will retain at least some of the best qualities of Radio 7.

It seems unlikely though.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Frankenstein: NT Live! @ Nottingham Broadway Cinema - Thursday 17 March 2011

Frankenstein at the National Theatre sold out VERY quickly: a hardly surprising fact taking into account the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller (both 'hot' tickets in many ways) and the direction of Danny Boyle (fresh from success in the movies, though he began in theatre).

Despite such an illustrious cast though, it feels an awkward production as a whole to critique.

The performances of the two leads are clearly incredible: VERY physical, utterly demanding, and emotionally exhausting to watch. Victor Frankenstein is given less to do - particularly in the opening 45 minutes - but when he is more present, it clearly takes a lot out of him (plus, JLM's wig probably doesn't help). For me, BC is brilliant as the creature - it's excruciating to watch him deal with bursting into life and being incapable of getting his body to move to his will. The Creature's coming into language is just as painful, but ultimately demonstrates his grace and intellect even as he suffers and inflicts suffering for the way society and his creator rejects him. Helen described her feeling today as a 'drama hangover' and she isn't wrong. It's both intoxicating and also probably not good for you: you can understand why the play runs for 2 hours straight with no interval, even as it takes all your energy to keep watching (especially in those dialogue-less first 15 minutes or so where the Creature painfully struggles into co-ordination).

The staging too is imaginative and economical at the same time: space and place blur and stretch --- a single strip of 'grass' nevertheless conveys open fields; a train visually demonstrates the thrust of industrial progress*. The Olivier stage, with its revolving drum feature being well used, moves the drama from sets such as Victor Frankenstein's Scottish retreat where he makes, and then destroys, a possible female companion for the Creature, right through to the Frankenstein family home. And Bruno Poet's lighting is beautiful: the carpet of lights that shoots down from the ceiling, surges of electricity and white light heat, is a magnificent sight and one of my few regrets for not being in the space itself.

Yet whilst there is much to praise in the production, there is something lacking. The best bits of the script are those that convey the intellectualism, the fierce social criticism, and the literary awareness of Mary Shelley's original text. The more extensive use of Milton's Paradise Lost is utterly apt, and there is definitive eloquence to Cumberbatch's Creature for sure (his voice, though stuttering, gains in stature and reflection throughout the play).

But the rest of the play text...? Oh dear Dear. Some of the lines, though amusing, perhaps stir more laughter than they should (the hapless Elizabeth, Victor's fiance and later wife, is given some particularly clunky dialogue). A memorable offender is the line "We'll have none of that" when the Creature touches her breast. Urgh. Still: the Creature's exchange with Elizabeth on her wedding night, and especially his acquisition of that quality unique to humanity, is stunning - albeit possibly helped by Cumberbatch's elegant delivery.

Overall, the production as a whole is at its best when the two leads share the stage: they clearly relate well to each other, probably reinforced by their sharing of the lead roles. The first encounter on the mountain is spectacular, though I'd also praise the ending. Paul Taylor's review for the Independent describes it best -
"He lives for my destruction. I live to lead him on," declares the Creature of his frost-bitten, exhausted maker who, even now, as he is fed raw fish to sustain him in his futile quest, recoils from the proffered hand of his abhorred progeny. This existential stalemate, brilliantly realised in script and production, projects an indelible multi-layered emblem – of a scientist who can only accept responsibility for what he has engendered by impotently seeking to un-invent it and of a rejected son who understands that this last-ditch mutual dependence is a bitter travesty of the human reciprocity he had desired.
Of course, I'd have loved to have seen the reverse casting: Cumberbatch as Victor Frankenstein and Johnny Lee Miller as the Creature, if only for completion (and not at all for any shallow reasons of BC in a frock coat). But scheduling doesn't allow, and nor do the ticket sales (as in-demand as the London tickets). *sigh*

Ah well: I will await Helen's reaction to a naked Johnny Lee Miller (Cumberbatch's performance wusses out on offering full nakedness) and to a Sherlock-esque Victor Frankenstein from Cumberbatch. Am sure she will enjoy.

A digital programme for Frankenstein (£3) is available from the NT Live website.

*Why the train is necessary is another matter: it's visually spectacular but feels a bit very redundant!

Wearing Red for Red Nose Day - Comic Relief indeed!

Sorry no stripes Joe, but a feast of RED! All I needed was the Red Nose.

Neil and his new pinny - sorry: chef's apron!

Lisa went to Bedford last weekend, and Neil got a new pinny chef's apron.

And very good it looks too!

Monday, March 14, 2011

New glasses for Rullsenberg

New specs for Rullsenberg arrived at the weekend. Apologies for me looking like I'm about to nod off, but at least the pic shows what they look like!

Have to say they make a real difference --- especially if I remember to put them on! (I don't need glasses for distance - yet - so it isn't helpful to have them on for general walking, looking at people etc)

What d'ya think?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

"Eyes Look Your Last": Romeo and Juliet - RSC Stratford Saturday matinee 5 March 2011

We'd had to wait a long while before we were able to schedule seeing this play, despite it originally being staged last spring/summer season (2010). But at last we got to see Rupert Goold's acclaimed direction of Romeo and Juliet.

I am rather fond of Goold: he directed the majestic 'Last Days of Judas Iscariot' and I'm particularly looking forward to his interpretation of The Merchant of Venice next month in Stratford.

It's a very striking staging, and the cast are excellent: Sam Troughton and Mariah Gale are wonderful as the young lovers, with Gale especially delightful in capturing the gauche angst of teenage passion. There is a fierceness to her reactions, her pleas, her impatience that captures youthful emotions very well. The dance sequence where Romeo first sees Juliet is especially well-handled as they move towards passion: pilgrimage indeed. And though in such ensemble works it always seems unfair to pick on particular actors, I'd like to especially praise Noma Dumezweni - again giving a storming performance as the Nurse to follow on from her intelligent work in other productions by the ensemble, especially in The Winter's Tale. I was sad to miss Forbes Masson as Friar Laurence, but Peter Peverley handled it wonderfully well in his absence as the foil to the Nurse.

And I have to make mention of this Mercutio, who offers bawd with extra bawdiness! Jonjo O'Neill, blond haired for extra Puckish frisson, revels in his extra-textual gestures and noises which have the audience wincing and giggling in suitably puerile blushes. Romeo clearly adores his friend, but like many friends in youth, his bawdy humour is at the edge of tolerable behaviour ---- and still we laugh and love Mercutio for it. One can well imagine there would have been much delight in a Shakespearean theatre at such a portrayal!

As ever, what can often be missed in compliments - costume, lighting etc - is much deserving of praise. The fights and dances are beautifully choreographed and the end of the pre-interval sequence, where the lighting lends a glow to the embracing lovers is truly magical. The juxtaposition of modern(ish) clothing for the outcast lovers, and 'period' dress for the other members of the cast is well done and is emphasised in the last sequence where the families, like all families, are bought to realisation of the deaths their feuding has led to. Indeed, this is a neat book-ending: at the start the transition from the prologue, seamlessly moves from a warning to turn off phones, to handing tourist 'Romeo' an audio guide which plays aloud the opening well-known lines. And at the end, a similar move is made as Balthasar looks over the devastation that one mislaid letter causes in the midst of a family feud. It's a nice directorial use of the costuming.

Beautiful. Worth seeing if you have not had chance already: and on until 2 April 2011.

Oh, and if you sit in the front row, beware: you may get your picture taken and be the subject of discussion in the play. Just warning you.

Guardian (spring 2010 version)
Guardian (winter at the Roundhouse)

International Women's Day 2011

This woman is bloody knackered.

Sorry. Rubbish update.

Friday, March 04, 2011

In Praise of .... May Day (and other Public Holidays)

May Day has a long historical significance as a festival; pagan celebration and marker of workers' rights are just two.

The Government is proposing to 'move' May Day - or rather REmove May Day - so that, ostensibly, the tourist season is extended.

There are a number of arguments to be had around this: others, far more articulate than I, will make a case about protecting the one rare day that acknowledges the struggle of workers to unionise and protect workers' rights against exploitation.

I'd like to take a slightly different approach and look at how the Public Holidays work in the UK - and especially England - at the moment.

Why has May Day come under attack again? Simplistically, May Day isn't popular amongst Tories, but it's more to do with the accident of how Easter has fallen this year that has highlighted the perceived problem.

Easter is 'late' this year: this, combined with TBRW* holiday, means that there are FOUR public holidays within 11 days (effectively FOUR within 7 working days). Given the long gap between New Year and Easter, one can understand that this isn't really a very even spread of Public Holidays. Equally, it is a LONG time between the August Public Holiday and Christmas.

But is it really fair to lay the blame at the door of May Day?

How come NO-ONE wants to bite the bullet of fixing Easter? It can wander around anywhere between the third week in March and the start of the final week in April.

In that context, how the hell would offering St George's Day (23rd April) in England possibly help alleviate that mad glutch of Public Holidays in the spring? In that respect, offering a date in October for a Public Holiday is far more sensible (though I feel a little iffy about Trafalgar Day).

To my mind, the issue is more one about Public Holidays per se than 'moving' one (or 'fixing' Easter). The UK has a bad rep for having so few Public Holidays - why not ADD an October date to the calendar?! (I mean, next year 2012 we get a Public Holiday for the Queenie's Diamond Jubilee --- not an extra one, but just shufting the Spring Bank Holiday aka poor old Whitsun).

I'm not especially thrilled with the reasons why certain days are deemed Public Holidays for sure: I'm not religious, I'm not a Royalist, and I'm pretty ambivalent about celebrating 'victory' over other countries in wars. That's probably why preserving May Day, Worker's Day, Labour Day, DOES mean a lot to me.

But we need Public Holidays: I'd like there to be a campaign to fix Easter for Holiday purposes, and by all means bang in national holidays (I'd be celebrating Shakespeare personally, rather than St George, but that's me), but let's instead think about the logic of what Public Holidays can do for worker energy and moral by ADDING in one for later in the year.

I'll be controversial and suggest Halloween :)

*aka The Bloody Royal Wedding