Tuesday, December 31, 2013

That end of Christmas TV review (2013)

Let's take these in order of broadcast even though they weren't necessarily watched in order.

Raised by Wolves
Caitlin Moran is awesome and always has been.  Her book 'How to be a Woman' is by turns hilarious, painful and angry.  If you can cope with the language (typically Moran-esque) then do read it.  It sits on the shelf alongside the equally wonderful Hadley Freeman's 'Be Awesome', which is another book that is hilarious, painful and angry.  Both should be recommended reading for any young woman who can cope with the swearing.

Anyway, all that is by extension a way in to discussing the pilot episode of a fictionalised drama by the Moran sisters Caitlin and Caroline about growing up in Wolverhampton - updated to the present day.  If anything that settng is actually its only downfall, as it makes it too much like Shameless for people who hated Shameless (me and he), when it could have been the equivalent of 'Everybody Hates Chris'.  But then again, Moran is nothing if not against faux-nostalgia, so why not update things? The two leads - the equivalent of Caitlin and her elder sister - are brilliant, the other kids in the large family are suitably adorable/kooky, and mum (played by versatile Rebekah Staton) uses 'David Cameron' as a swear-word.  Brilliant.  Okay, it was WEIRD seeing Inspector Japp from Poirot turn up as weed-smoking Grampy, but hey...

Worth a commission, but more Wolverhampton please. (Actresses Helen Monks and Alexa Davies are far left and right, with the Moran sisters in the centre of the image)


Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor
As we were out on Christmas Day(and what a wonderful day it was!), there was a frantic drive to make it back in time for this and we made it by the skin of our skin.  The second that the TV went on and came to life, that was the second that the voice-over and episode started.  Cutting a bit fine.  Rather like the episode.

It would be hard to top the excess of emotions that came with the 50th anniversary episode (The Day of the Doctor), or even the season finale earlier in the summer (The Name of the Doctor), so this episode - carrying the weight as it did of being both Christmas episode and Matt Smith's farewell to the role AND being lumbered with a 'how-will-they-resolve-the-regeneration-problem?' - was always destined to be weighed down with more expectations than could reasonably be managed.  Tennant got two hours of farewell and got to leave on New Year's Day so he didn't have to have his departure carry the same weight as a 'jolly' Christmas episode.

As it was, the episode still managed to be lovely and charming and thrilling, just not in the proportions it probably should have been.  The Christmas bits were charming - even the madness of recognisable actors in blink and miss roles - and the Town called Christmas looked beautiful.  Moffat tied up a good number of the threads marked 'Later' - Silents, cracks, the Question - and Smith got a stunning farewell speech and a moment with Amy. Stuart quoted it:
His final speech is sheer poetry, good enough to put in an upmarket Christmas cracker. Here it is in full. “It’s started. I can’t stop it now, this is just the reset. A whole new regeneration cycle. Taking a bit longer. Just breaking it in. It all just disappears doesn’t it, everything you are gone in a moment like breath on a mirror? Any moment now, he’s a comin’ … The Doctor …. And I always will be. But times change and so must I. Amelia! The first face this face saw. We all change when you think about it. We are all different people all through our lives and that’s ok, you gotta keep moving so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this. Not one day. I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.” Then his actual final line. “Hey.” Sob again.

There were funny moments in 'The Time of the Doctor' (yes, damn me, I did chuckle at the naked/clothes bit, but not half as much as the line about Ten being vain) but the episode was undeniably unbalanced in trying to juggle Christmas with the end of the Doctor.  It just felt.. rushed, pushed, cramped... it needed space to breathe.  It needed BUDGET not just in terms of money - though what was spent, looked well-spent - but also time within the schedule.  (I've forgotten where I read it, but someone repeatedly kept reminding us, 'budget, budget, budget'.)

What saved it?  Re-watching helps enormously.  Like several broadcasts that could charm enough first time around but benefit from the extra thoughtfulness of re-watching, this is a grower.  The love and mixed emotions of first time around glow brighter with each re-watch. But there was already so much there to love and cherish. Well, Matt Smith was pretty damn awesome, and not just when he was pretending that Caitlin Blackwood hadn't inevitably grown up a damn lot since being Amelia four years ago and he was having to fantasise about another young actress with red hair being the 'first face he ever saw'.  Nice touch to have grown-up Amy back though for one last goodnight for the Raggedy Man. Smith also aged well, bringing a Hartnell-esque presence to the final days of the Doctor protecting Christmas.

Jenna Coleman had to do a lot with little - and a turkey, and being reminded again that "the Doctor always lies" - and had to cope with having a rather wonderful gran and a difficult pairing of (not)dad and step-mother. But she did it well and I really want her to stay around a while with the new incomer (if only in the hope that Idris/TARDIS doesn't throw a complete hissy at not having anyone who knows how to fly her around). Orla Brady - beautiful, delectable Natasha Tem (an alt River Song - see Allyn Gibson's comment after Stuart's review) for the end of Eleven/Twelve/Thirteen's days) - brought her usual grace, elegance and mischief to the proceedings and proves again why she is gorgeous in everything (the angel housekeeper Mrs Sheringham in Eternal Law, a lovely guilt pleasure from last year, and especially as Peter Bishop's mother Elizabeth in Fringe). And that's before we get to weeping angels in the snow, a wooden cyberman, Handles the talking cabbage, Daleks being taken down in a flame of semi-controlled regenerative energy, and children's drawings.  Phew.... and breathe...


So, there was a lot to take in, at the end of this Doctor's time, and a lot of emotion to be caught and distilled.  In the end, it was what we probably needed to expect with some glorious extras to sweeten the pill.  Raggedy Man, Goodnight.

Downton Abbey - Christmas Special
What can I say?  Mother-in-law had coped with me harassing us home in time (just) for Doctor Who, so we let her watch Downton.  We have never watched Downton before.  We almost certainly won't again.  But 1923 is a VERY good year for frocks and hats and the narrative was sufficiently self-contained (with some 'you-couldn't-avoid-knowing-that' stuff) to be watchable for a pair of novices like Neil and I.

Did I mention I like the clothes?



Death Comes to Pemberley
I think that in some ways Pride and Prejudice and Zombies did greater justice to Austenesque writing, but this was an enjoyable period romp/murder mystery with a suitably utterly irksome Lydia (Jenna Coleman, paired again with Matthew Goode from Dancing on the Edge, one of the year's broadcasting highlights).  Of course, one key reason for me and Neil watching was to as ever worship at the feet of adorable Anna Maxwell Martin.  She made a wonderful older Lizzie Bennet, and Matthew Rhys a dark Darcy (he also made a fine John Jasper in the Edwin Drood adaptation of early 2012). Pemberley divided opinions apparently.  A shame, I think, as I rather agree with the Telegraph reviewer Sarah Crompton:
They weren’t Austen’s creations, they weren’t the characters conjured up by PD James – and they certainly weren’t Ehle and Firth. But they stayed in my mind as the credits rolled, as honourable incarnations of a great literary couple.


The Thirteenth Tale
Hokum.  But superior hokum in the style of Virginia Andrews.  Great cast - the thankfully ubiquitous Olivia Coleman (may she keep being everywhere when she's this good) and the once again flame-haired Vanessa Redgrave.  Lucy Mangan does a good non-spoilery review which captures the insane twisty tale which waved flags at its explanation from relatively early on.  Who cares?  It was very watchable.


I suspect that all of these will turn up on Masterpiece (which seems to be co-credited on just about everything these days!) if it hasn't already been broadcast - Doctor Who breaks records now in the USA, even if it is just on BBC America.

Enjoy and happy new year!

Doctor Who | Goodbye Raggedy Man | Matt Smith 2010 - 2013

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Nearly, nearly Neily Christmas: some seasonal songs


Ah Bellowhead at Christmas! Christmas Bells for Number one!


When the Thames Froze by Smith and Burrows - still one of my favourite recent Christmas songs


Just like Christmas by Low - their Christmas EP still tingles


Snow angel by Ron Sexsmith - rather fond of this songster


Christmas TV by Slow Club - rather charming


New York City by They Might be Giants - "Three days from New York City and I'm three days from you"

Season's Greetings people!

Friday, December 13, 2013

I blinked and it was nearly Christmas...

Apologies: I have tried - honest. But work has been demented (as FB readers will know, Neil especially has been working stupid hours) and things just ran away from me.

Over the last few weeks since I last posted:

  • 26 November - late drop-in session at Uni library, plus final choir rehearsal session for Nottingham
  • 29 November - up at the crack of dawn pre-dawn for a day trip to London. Brilliant but exhausting!
  • 30 November - travel up to Sheffield for final (and compulsory) rehearsal for our end of season concert at Elsecar Heritage Centre, followed by fish and chips at Whitbys (the restaurant, not the town)
  • 1 December - hair appointment at my hairdresser's house (couldn't fit me in at the salon due to me and Helen attending the final Stratford Upon Avon Richard II performance, followed by Doctor Who 50 weekend - although it also has to be said my lovely hairdresser was away 23-29 inclusive!) and I needed to be done before...
  • 3 December - end of season Nottingham BeVox concert
  • 7 December - The Circle of Life, the big BeVox concert for the season, where I only performed in the matinee and thus missed...

Tim proposing to Toni

It's been busy.

Tonight is the works Christmas party.  Woot (not).  Neil has his at lunchtime (hope not too drunk).

No I still have not really started let alone finished my Christmas shopping or card writing... still, i am wearing some fetching tinsel....


Sunday, November 24, 2013

And breathe.... overload in the realm of Doctor Who - anniversary weekend madness

I'm still feeling a bit giddy actually, like I've had the biggest sugar rush ever invented: a total overdose of Doctor Who-ness.  Good for me?  No idea.  Probably not.  Don't care.

I kept my promise (mostly): no spoilers pre-episode.  I've been scarcely reading DWM for months (skipping with eyes closed over the news pages and even avoiding the covers on occasion).  I gave in over the mini-episode 'The Night of the Doctor' because the star of it created such a stir that I couldn't avoid or resist it.


But apart from the 50th trailer - bringing together the Doctors so far, I was good.


I stuck my fingers in my ears and la-la-la-ed my way through several weeks of speculation, building to a positive avalanching crescendo as the day approached.  Radio, television, everything.  Heck, even the BBC World Service joined in! It's a good job I frequently subvert the fact that I totally need glasses to read now and all-too often try to access social media on my phone: this helped in la-la-la-ing there as well.  If I can hardly see and I only post, well I couldn't get spoilered.

I wasn't alone in this venture: one of my students (bless her) was doing the same, and so was one of the staff at Nottingham's Broadway cinema, where we went to watch an encore screening today.  Like me, they too had succumbed to the pre-episode, but beyond that we had been 'good people'.  No I don't know how (or why) we did it: it just felt right.

Part of me wanted to be with the 'we' watching the live simulcast in cinemas, but I knew I needed to soak it at home first, in private.  What if it was truly awful?  Wouldn't it be horrible to be with others and feel nothing but total disappointment, confusion, despair? What if THEIR reactions rubbed off - negatively - on me? (And yes, I'm aware of those who truly felt that way about the episode: I respect them, and can see their points which are no doubt founded on sincere belief and interpretation, and yet with all my heart, I don't care and cannot go that way).

So for the first viewing I watched it at home, with my 'semi-we', the not-quite-anoraked but long-time part-converted Neil. (Despite occasional protestations about my obsessive interest in Doctor Who, we've worked out that his partial conversion phase has been going a LONG time. We calculated, pace the emergency TV purchase moment on Wednesday, that when we had bought a portable TV in haste many years ago when our first TV blew up - smokey cathode ray and all - that the timing of that rushed purchased, carryied portable TV across Wolverhampton, was for... yup, the Paul McGann TV movie of Doctor Who.  How nothing changes....)

At first we set up with just an upright standard lamp on: "too bright" said my semi-we, so into darkness we went with just the glow of the TV.  Save the day?  This was definitely The Day of the Doctor.  A dark room, a winter's night, and all of time and space ahead of us.

Oh my.  Was it what I wanted?  I honestly do not know.  Was it what I needed?  Yes.  Ten took a lot of hearts into him when he appeared and when Tennant regenerated it broke a lot of those hearts and it felt right and reflective that his parting words were "I don't want to go".  We didn't want him to.  Plenty have still not come to terms with Eleven (and as both an established and yet also Ten fan, I nevertheless have thought Eleven very good indeed, though not always well served by the scripts/direction). 

Anyway, this time around there was a smile to Ten re-uttering the departing words (not least because they had been deployed so magnificently by David Bradley as William Hartnell just two days earlier in the frankly BREATHTAKING 'An Adventure in Space and Time'*).  Ten's traits were both mocked and lauded, noted and admired... out there somewhere, the Tenth is still running and that will always be happening in our hearts.  Having him back, the same suit, the same smile, the same screwdriver... it felt like coming home, and yet also a coming home that was growing up.  Like going away to University. I'd have him back for good in heartbeat (or two), but as he'll always be there - part of whatever Doctor there is - and yet I also know I can't expect that it can be forever.  Change...?

I'm rambling: I've hardly slept in days - excitement and exhaustion in equal measure.  In between everything I went to see Bellowhead and had a great time, but ended up looking like I'd stepped from a shower of sweat.  It's kinda been a bit much really.

What I loved (too many things to list):
  • Ten was back - romantic, getting it wrong, being cocky and confused with bunny-infused energy.  God, I've missed him.  He was also, as Tennant can also do, sad, weary, aware and regretful.  Loved it.
  • Eleven and 'the Curator' in front of painting - brilliant.  And I was totally not expecting that thanks to avoiding spoilers.
  • Zygons!  Love a bit of doppelganger shape-shifting.
  • Kate Lethbridge-Stewart asking about "Codename Cromer", whose files were from "the 1970s or 1980s depending on the dating protocol".  Ah, U.N.I.T dating....
  • The 3-D paintings - beautiful
  • Shakespeare links - Jonjo O'Neill and Peter de Jersey.  *sigh*
  • The grown-up mocking the boys: Oh, John Hurt, you are a star.
  • Compensating sonic screwdrivers and water pistols...
  • Cameos from the doctors, saving the day - with a near-miss from Eccleston 
  • The relief that Rose Tyler WASN'T Rose Tyler, and that Ten wasn't half-Ten from the parallel universe (ably phrased at 8.20pm by the original not-we, the Wife in Space, Sue Perryman in the Guardian live blog - my response to this exchange between Neil and Sue got a thumbs up from them, which may qualify as my personal squee moment):
    • I think it's safe to say that this is the real tenth Doctor and not the sex toy version given to Rose
    • Sue: Every version of the tenth Doctor is a sex toy version, Neil.
  • Peter Capaldi!  Looking forward already!
What didn't work as well:
  • Eccleston doing Malekith in Thor instead of DW50: seriously dude, you were missed
  • The not-we probably had a hard time keeping up, but was this really for them?
  • The reboot of Gallifrey and the Time War - I'm ambivalent about this, rather than anti because I guess it depends on where we go next.
  • Some of the 3-D effects felt gratuitous whilst other moments barely felt 3-D at all.  But that reflects my problem with 3-D and not this episode.

And after this, I watched 'The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot', which qualifies as the best way that the current production team could sanction including the old Doctors without having them in the episode itself.  All hail Five, Peter Davison, as magician for this witty and warm subversion of the anniversary.

As I said, today we did it all again in public (some couldn't quite manage to do this properly: 3-D jokes made by Tennant about things pointing out the screen.... oh dear).  This made the adventure alive all over again, with extra 3-Dness.  A pleasure to behold.  Overdone in parts, underdone in others.  But overall a pleasure: I wouldn't say Moffat did us proud (as the OTT after-show claimed) but it was what I needed.  A baffling celebration of something wonderful, confusing, and amazing.



I want to see the 100th anniversary episode, and not just because it will be in 12-D.



* 'An Adventure in Space and Time' was Mark Gatiss doing a hymnal to Doctor Who and to BBC Television Centre.  Beautiful, poignant, bittersweet and perfectly rendered on every level, this will for some be *THE* 50th Anniversary treat, perhaps more so than the anniversary episode itself.  They have different beauties to my mind, but Bradley deserves every award going for his portrayal of the First Doctor.



Thursday, November 21, 2013

A week is a long time in culture: Thor - The Dark World; Richard II - Stratford final performance; the loveliness of David Tennant; and upcoming Doctor Who business

This time last week I was getting myself mentally prepared for some Avengers nonsense - Thor: The Dark World was hardly going to set cinematic history alight, but it was entertaining and worth the price of admission for the response to Loki in manacles (Tom Hiddleston).


But in some respects, that was merely a prelude to the bigger event: by Thursday we had (finally!) got confirmation that our friend was (a) definitely going to be able to meet us in Stratford on Avon on the Saturday, and (b) would be at the final evening performance at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre for us seeing yet again Richard II.

Phew.  Palpable relief, especially as SHE had the tickets and I had been unsuccessfully trying to pay her back for these since February!

Meeting up after such a long time to have dinner together was lovely - lots of theatre talk, lots of Shakespeare talk.  Walking to the theatre, dressed in my finery was even better.


Getting INTO the theatre and finding that Row B seats 48 and 49 in the stalls is *really flipping close to the STAGE!!!!* was quite frankly almost more than our brains could cope with without proper preparation.

Yes, you really are VERY close.  You can see things at that distance that are less clear when further away. It remains a stunning production of this play.

And at the end: someone from the side of the stage threw on a bouquet of flowers and it landed perfectly in the centre; when it was picked up by David Tennant, he immediately turned, went down on one knee and presented them to the astonishingly wonderful Jane Lapotaire. I did not think I would be fortunate enough to see her on stage after her illness - her performances and that moment was sublime to enjoy.  I hope they raised a lot of money from the collections for the Philippines after both the matinee and final performance: I think they will have done.  I cannot imagine anyone not digging into their purse following a request from David.

It took a bottle of wine sat outside at the Dirty Duck til midnight, and then mucho hysterical conversation til about 3am, to even get CLOSE to calming sufficiently to sleep.  This week has therefore been punctuated by my mostly being a zombified teenager. Heck even my boss said on Monday "you look tired": I had to admit it was entirely self-inflicted.

Tuesday was choir day - penultimate rehearsal week for our local BeVox gig, with one more to come ahead of the big concert day 'A Circle of Life' on 7th December at Elsecar Heritage Centre.

But Tuesday was dominated by something else: a thanks-be to the graciousness of Mr Tennant.  Although initially confused by her text messages reporting tearful snottiness, that I "would know why", and that she couldn't talk, with a bit of untangling - mostly me getting the penny to drop - I finally worked out that this was a GOOD NEWS text.  I nervously asked "he did it?"

Oh yes.



Bless you, sir: you are a prince, nay a KING amongst men and I thank you profusely.

It has taken a while to come down from that high of making a friend so very happy, but last night was pretty much a reminder that without planning things can go very wrong indeed.

Now some of you may have spotted that something celebrates 50 years of wonderfulness this weekend and there has been a fair amount of coverage.  (I also do not think it a coincidence that the final shows of Richard II were scheduled to finish LAST weekend, leaving this one nice and free for certain fans to sit and watch the celebrations).

So it was not a happy Lisa who found her TV remote/sensor not functioning last night on her (admittedly) VERY old CRT television just three days ahead of the big event.  We have been talking about replacing the hefty box one for many years and I have kept putting things off.  Finally it seemed that my procrastination had caught up with me and at just the wrong time!

Cue a frantic run out of the house at 8.30pm to buy a universal remote, batteries (proper bunny ones), and a new if small TV - with a wide screen so we don't miss the edges (as we do now).

Phew.

I can breathe in time for the 23rd November.

Friday, November 15, 2013

"I do acupuncture": theatre review of The Duck House @ Nottingham Theatre Royal Monday 11 November 2013


Farce is one of those beasts that potentially doesn't translate very well; what it has in its universal favour are of course the slapstick and visual elements.  Mixing farce and politics might therefore seem to be limiting the success of the translatable elements for jokes specific to audience knowledge and understanding - and in the case of The Duck House, recall of political history.

Thankfully, in picking as their focal point the MPs expenses scandal that occurred in 2009, a year before the last general election, authors Dan Patterson and Colin Swash (veterans of Mock the Week and Have I got news for you respectively) have identified a topic and political period that

a) most will have heard about (it was everywhere on the UK news right through til the election, and continues to be an issue)

b) lets audiences spot where political beliefs and stances have changed / not changed in the meantime (I expect Nottingham is not the audience who will be WAY ahead of a line about the integrity of the Liberal Democrats and Nick Clegg).

The choice of the MPs expenses scandal therefore still relies on drawing an audience inclined to care about politics, but in practice 'interested in current affairs/events' probably suffices.  The play is certainly 'apolitical' in its attacks on politicians, with no party coming out of the events clean (as was the case in the expenses scandal itself).  Satire would be too generous a term to describe the bones of the play, and so farce is what it is.

With lead Ben Miller - an active Twitter user - able to charm an audience from the moment he walks on stage (though even he looked a little taken aback at the Nottingham welcome he got for turning up), this is a very frothy production, but having Nancy Carroll as the MP's wife certainly brings some good acting chops to the production.  (Though she is given the dim housewife role, she conveys with aplomb a particular stereotype of politician's wife).

I'm loath to go into too much detail on the 'plot', or rather events, but it may help to say that there are all the desired elements one would want and expect from a farce and more:

  • people running in and out of doors avoiding each other and missing each other (check - and up and down stairs as well)
  • lost trousers and torn clothes (check)
  • coincidences of where people are and should be (check)
  • errant props adding the expected unexpected to certain scenes (check - see how the hanging baskets fare if you go to watch the play)
  • sexual innuendo (check, along with plenty of barely double entendres, more like single ones: no surprises that acupuncture covers more than needles)
  • stereotypes of all types (check, check, check as above with the wife, and so again with the Russian cleaner...)
The key thing is, "is it funny?" well, yes of COURSE it is.  Is it a scathing scabrous assault on politics?  Not in the slightest. Are the female characters underwritten?  As is often typical of farce, unfortunately yes - though as Ludmilla the Russian cleaner, Debbie Chazen* is superb, wring every ounce of ire from a character who has learnt all about British culture from the Daily Mail. 

You probably won't want to meet Simon Shepherd face to face in the immediate aftermath of seeing the play (his character comes off worst for inevitable humiliation) but you'd have to either not get the political context and/or not find farce funny (which I accept is not a form of theatre everyone likes).  The production is lighter than air - and if taken on those terms possibly the most fun you can have whilst watching a panda suit and a nappy on stage.

*approaching midnight on Monday when I suddenly clicked that I'd seen her in Doctor Who Voyage of the Damned.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Another Richard of a darker hue: "I am determined to prove a villain" - comedy and tragedy in Richard III, Nottingham Playhouse Saturday matinee 9th November 2013

The rivalry between Nottingham and its local cousins is pretty formidable (ah, we're back to cousins again, following my previous Richard and Shakespeare review).  We hate Derby - and they hate us; there are long-standing rows about ownership of Robin Hood with Doncaster; and the tension with Leicester is hardly much better in the wake of them finding Richard III in a car park (witness the nose-to-thumb laughter of Leicester prominently sponsoring posters for the University of Leicester right outside the University of Nottingham campuses: "What will YOU discover? indeed...).

Thankfully, Nottingham Playhouse in its 50th year knows how to lay claim and does so with a taught and wickedly funny production of Richard III, with a fine Arturo Ui a couple of years back - storming the audience's affections for the deformed hedgehog of Shakespeare's Plantagenet-maligning drama.



This is only my third Richard III on stage (the first being Sir Ian McKellan way back when, and the second Jonjo O'Neill in 2012), and this one makes for an interesting combination of the previous two I've seen.*

The staging is wonderfully done and all credit to the staff who have put together this production.  Projection is especially well used, not least for the haunting ghost sequence near the end of King Richard's victims.  But the staging also makes inspired use of the auditorium, including locating Act 3 scene 7 (the pre-interval part of the play) with elegant intrusion into the space.  Our scheming Duke of Gloucester, Richard, is being promoted by his spin-doctor Buckingham,  piously lit on the circle balcony reading a bible (upside-down at first) whilst around and amidst the audience, the 'crowd' clamours for Richard's kingship, encouraged by Buckingham's promotion.  I love how the Playhouse often do this, making the most of the limited thrust of the stage by integrating actors comings, goings, contributions and performances into the wider space amongst the audience.  By the end of said scene (Act 3 scene 7), the projection shows us soon-to-be-King Richard hooting with laughter at how he has successfully conned everyone to his cause.

Of course, the production has limitations, not least those imposed by costs - one feels for a cast that has to keep going on crutches, which Charles Daish does in the role of Clarence (a truly above and beyond call of duty performance induced by an on-stage accident early in the run, and demonstrating how lucky the RSC is at having understudies).  But it is partly because of such limitations, that this is a clever and innovative production.  Moreover, such inspired hard work and exploitation of stage resources highlights the incomprehensibility of Notts County Council (I long to remove a strategic 'o' from that name) proposing to cut 100% of their (limited but crucial) contribution to the Playhouse budget.

Bartholomew is a fine lead for the cast, who all do justice to this potentially over-familiar play (and certainly an over-familiar character and characterisation).  He is schemingly funny and wry, and just laugh-out-loud hilarious in some of his manipulation.  And in a play that has limited power for women, the female members of the cast make good their contributions: Lady Anne (Natalie Burt), Edward's Queen Elizabeth (Siobhan McCarthy) and the Duchess of York, mother to the "proud, subdued, bloody, treacherous" Richard (Act 4 scene 4), as she so acutely describes him.  I was personally very impressed as well with Nyasha Hatendi, who - especially as Richmond - was superb.  A real tingle accompanied those speeches in Act 5 scenes 3 and 5.


A little news item including a clip of Bartholomew as Richard III

The Bardathon - Dr. Peter Kirwan (whose reviews are always worthwhile, and indeed at one point I lost a whole day reading the archive)

Nottingham Evening Post Review

*Though unsurprisingly I have a keen fondness for the radio version done with Douglas Henshall as Richard, even though it wasn't to everyone's tastes: Radio Drama Review provides a nice overview of its charms.

Monday, October 28, 2013

"Here, cousin": of divine kings destroyed and traitors risen higher than their worth - Richard II @RSC Stratford, matinee performance 26 October 2013

I wrote a less spoilery review from my first visit (on the first night) so I thought I would take the time to give a more revealing commentary here having seen the show a second time, from a physically different angle.

For the first visit, we were in the stalls; for this, as we were taking the sibling part of the Roberts' family (Mark, Sarah, Grace and James), we were on the Upper Circle, but this turned out to be no bad thing for getting a different perspective on things on many levels.

So, in terms of this production, if you are planning to see it - whether onstage, or on screen, or on the planned later DVD release - and if you don't want to know the quirks of this version.....

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It is a fine ensemble production, and there are plenty of pleasures in every performance from Elliot Barnes-Worrell as the groom through to Edmund Wiseman as Harry Percy (wonder what will become of THAT character... rhetorical question folks).  Everyone in between, from the most experienced to the young upcomers, give everything and make not only every line count - it is exceptionally well-spoken and clear, perhaps some of the clearest deliveries I've heard for a long while - but every look and gesture counts as well.

On which note, how I love the long piercing glare that Richard throws at Mowbray, a kind of 'don't even think about it' look, when Mowbray is directly asked by Bolingbroke "Confess thy treasons ere thou fly this realm"... ouch. There is such an extended pause when Mowbray considers his options before replying "No", that one wonders if Richard may lose his pacing cool stance in exhalation of relief at Mowbray keeping his silence. But the King barely flutters an eyelash.  At this stage, he still feels himself to be divinely approved, comfortable in his effete luxury, (over)confident in his actions.

As a whole, the production seems no less tight than it did on the first night, though they have tweaked a couple of things. They've probably shortened a few hems (no trips or snags this time around), and no-one got smacked by a snapping stick (they've moved the action with the gardeners in Act 3 scene 4 - which opens the post-interval acts - to face the centre of the stage rather than the hapless audience). Some very minor changes in staging have been made - a couple of sequences seem to be located further up the thrust stage, but nothing that especially makes a returning visitor gasp or bemoan a change in emphasis.  The RSC at its best knows how to get it right from the start.

The 'halves' of the show remain intact, with the interval coming after a potentially numbing 1 hour 40 mins (before a brisk second 'half' of around an hour).  There are a lot of events and persons to get your head around if coming raw to this play, and I wish I had better prepared the family for their trip.  Never mind: the second half has more humour and certainly it makes sense to knock Richard down before the interval and then chronicle his further decline and end after the break.  I'm sure there are multiple ways of staging this, but it is difficult to judge where the timing of the break could come - before Act 3 kicks off at all?  That would make for a strangely flat culmination of the first section, with Salisbury and the Welsh captain at odds for Richard's failure to show his presence - and therefore to confirm he still lives - to the warring soldiers amidst the ailing Irish battles Richard was so keen to source funds to fight.  Scheduling the interval after Act 3 scene 2 would break the transition of power as Richard realises how lost he is and would bring the audience back in the midst of that demise, so I can absolutely see the logic of breaking ahead of the gardener's scene. The unevenness is within the play itself it seems.

Back to the staging (and high credits to designer Stephen Brimson Lewis and lighting director Tim Mitchell):

Being down below, it is harder to appreciate some of the lighting and projections onto the stage floor; from above these are glorious - branches, streaks of dark fragmented bark, shadows and shapes.  For the final prison scene, where Richard is chained in a lonely dungeon, the beautiful use of mirrors allows those in the stalls to appreciate the below stage scene.  When located high above the action, it is possible to see and appreciate both the mirroring and the actors.

From stalls level, you see the great height of the staging - the magnificent projections of cathedral spaces; but from above they look just as spectacular.  It is also good to have a different viewpoint on the bridge on which the throne sits - it drops into place, sometimes to stage level, but more often at the Circle level and as Richard is brought low by the traitors who surround him, the fragility of this balcony becomes apparent: he unsurprisingly returns at the end, angelic white robes, to cast a gloomy eye down on Bolingbroke's attempts to refute that he had in any way wanted Richard's death

It is also a great treat to be on the same level as the incredible musicians and singers: the excellent trio of sopranos singing Paul Englishby's music are especially wonderful to see in closer proximity.  I'm looking forward to listening to the CD: it all sounded beautiful.

Back to the play itself.

There is much grief in this play, and not least because of the enormously popular Ben Whishaw/Rupert Goold adaptation for The Hollow Crown series of Shakespeare adaptations for television, which attacked the tearducts with customary heartfelt passion from both parties.  This is more of a heartbreaking sting than full-blown tears; the inevitability of downfall tempers the Christ-like allusions (which are no less absent here, just differently conveyed).  This is indeed a sad story of the death of a king.

The grief is there from the start, with the luminous Jane Lapotaire's silky grey hair cascaded down her black widow's garb for the demise of Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester.



Her fretful, stumbling desperation to address the death of her husband pulls at our sensibilities of how grief should be expressed.  It is contained and uncontained, urging action and yet paralysed to achieve.  There is the grief of Gaunt, his son banished on a half-whim by Richard who is even at this stage a compromised figure, and whose illness in response is brushed off as lightly as Richard takes his flatterers seriously (til he realises just how they pandered to his ego and power).  There is a clear dismissiveness in Richard's "So much for that" after Gaunt's death is announced and perfunctory regret is expressed.



It has to be said that Pennington as Gaunt is toweringly good, bring life (and death) to the potentially-all-too-familiar "This sceptr'd isle" speech.  That he makes it fresh is wonderful to watch and hear: fiery passion and fading breath at its best.

It is after Gaunt's death that the fatal compromise that York undertakes to not go against the challenge of Bolingbroke and his supporters, to ultimately not just accept but facilitate it, come to the fore.  Oliver Ford Davies does weary so well, and he is well cast here as the flawed York who given governance of England in Richard's absence can do little to protect it, and makes pragmatism a resignedly sad decision to survive.

Several have commented on how this production still manages to "find the funny"; sometimes this maybe goes beyond expectations of more traditional viewers for the play, but actually this largely works.  It is a particular despairing first 'half' as Richard falls from careless power, cronies and fey recklessness to his eventual (second half) handing of the crown to Bolingbroke, so bringing in a level of farce to proceedings adds some much needed levity.

There is certainly a tragi-comedic undertone in the lengthy pause after "For heaven's sake let us sit upon the ground..." before the continuation of "and tell sad stories of the death of kings".  The break in the pattern allows us to see Richard in a transitory position - he remains King, despite the wreckage of his power falling to Bolingbroke's populist might, and as such can petulantly demand the grown men around him seat themselves upon the ground like children in a ring for games... but when the game is being pulled away from him and smile stings. There are little details like the step back and forth of the Queen and her ladies-in-waiting as she playfully tries to get them guessing what move she will make that they must follow.

In the second 'half', the humour is more broad, though again varies between intonation, context, pacing, and stage direction.  Several have commented on the "here, cousin" as Richard calls Bolingbroke to collect the crown - like the calling of a pet dog to fetch a treat.  



The tone is biting, and yet in it there is Richard's last vestige of power as he is able to undercut Bolingbroke's thievery of this potent and well-like symbol.  Adding an edge of ludicrousness to the multiple 'throwing of the gages' (a kind of "I challenge you Sir" - "NO, I challenge YOU sir!") in Act 4 scene 1, somehow seems right, not least because it suggests that Bolingbroke's power might easily crumple before it is fully won between these bickering lords.  Similarly, there is excellent use of Oliver Ford Davies's comic timing, especially alongside Marty Cruickshank as York's wife.  Even from the start of that scene (Act 5 scene 2) there is an inevitable playfulness in the delivery of the lines so apt to a Tennant-adoring audience as this is (and as it was for Hamlet too, which OFD also shared):

"As in a theatre, the eyes of men,
After a well-graced actor leaves the stage,
Are idly bent on him that enters next,
Thinking his prattle to be tedious...."

And yet, this is such an ensemble piece that the audiences are entranced even without the star-turn on stage (though he is on stage a lot).  When the Yorks discover their son Aumerle's part in a plot against Bolingbroke as king, we know each character is feeling for their part in Richard's downfall (and York especially has much to feel responsible about). Each pleading with Bolingbroke is made with heartfelt anguish but deep comic bones, and it was a wonderful final flash of exhalation for the audience before the inevitable final downfall of the former King.

And of that fall...? Aumerle is the key, and we've been set up for this throughout the play.  When others act as flatterers - Baggot, Bushy and Green are just the most visible of these - Aumerle quietly adores and fears in equal measure what it means to be in the presence of his King, his Richard.



Oliver Rix brings Aumerle to fruition elegantly, sparely.  It's isn't an especially large role, but you feel his sharing of the pain that Richard has to swallow as this King realises that all the divine appointment in the world cannot stop rebellion (and Richard has more than a little of himself to blame for how he got to the crown and that 'divine appointment' in the first place).  The balcony scene when Richard effectively surrenders to Bolingbroke's request - you can see how Aumerle flinches at having to deliver the lines - is a real heartbreaker.

So it is all the more heartbreaking by the end when Richard is killed and in being killed he pulls back the hood of the one who wields the dagger: to survive, to prove worth after being implicated in a plot to kill Bolingbroke the usurper King, Aumerle takes on the worst task in the world.  The omission of the tentative Act 5 scene 4 now makes sense, and is all the more painful for it. To quote Wilde:

"Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!"

Presented with the body of his erstwhile enemy, the deposed King, Bolingbroke understandably flinches, and there's an even clearer sense of his 'supporters' backing off despite the refuting that the death was anything he wanted.  As Richard had predicted earlier, the duplicitous Northumberland (an excellent Sean Chapman) - the vilest of those who had thrown in with Bolingbroke - will "knowst the way to plant unrightful kings [and] wilt know again".  When he backs off, you expect that there will be trouble ahead for Bolingbroke's peace of mind.

And so a final visiting angel comes to glower over this departure: a throne was squandered and yet also stolen.  No one comes out good, those who live nor those who die (one cannot envisage that Aumerle's soul will be rested or reunited after his actions).  Bleak?  Yes.  But utterly magnificent.  Everyone - even if I have missed off a few names - contributes everything they have to this production.  It is a triumph.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Veggie cottage pie a la Rullsenberg and Roberts

Why it took us so long to cook this up is beyond me.

We love thick tomato based sauces and I especially love mashed potatoes.

So this is our recipe for veggie cottage pie.

Olive oil
Paprika
Garlic - crushed or lazy
One lemon juiced
Grated cheese (for topping)
Butter for mashing potatoes
Milk (or a splash of creme fraiche) to add to potatoes
Potatoes / sweet potatoes
Carrot
Onion
Pepper (capsicum)
Mushrooms
Chickpeas (tin)
Chopped tomatoes (tin)
Mushroom sauce / Worcester sauce (depending on veggie or non-veggie-ness)


Chop 2 moderate sized potatoes and chop and peel a good sized sweet potato.  We leave the skins on the standard potatoes. Boil water and add to pan to boil. Meanwhile...

In a large pan add some olive oil, paprika and garlic - start heating this up.  Fry up diced onions and carrot in the pan and once you have the initial frying done, sweat them by turning down and adding the lid.

Chop additional veg - we added mushrooms and a pepper and cooked these up, stirring to mix the pan contents. Add lemon juice as and when (1/2 a lemon). Add a tin of chickpeas (or alternative pulses) and a tin of chopped tomatoes.  Add rest of lemon juice and some mushroom sauce (or if non veggie,  Worcester Sauce).

Whilst this cooks on a moderate temperature to thicken slightly, your potatoes should be getting done.

Put oven on a high heat.

Drain potatoes when done and mash with butter initially adding creme fraiche /milk near the end.

Pour tomato and veg into large deep pot for the oven and even out in the base.  Add potatoes on top and smooth off before forking the surface to create ridges - add cheese.

Cook in a hot oven for approx 15 mins before placing under a grill to crust off the cheesy top.

Enough to serve two greedy people, with at one day of left overs, or a family of four-six depending on appetite and side dishes (goes nice with green veg).

Friday, October 25, 2013

In Praise of .... Educating Yorkshire

At first I felt a little less of the emotional recognition that had accompanied the episodes of Educating Essex that I had watched two years ago.  This time around, although Educating Yorkshire was clearly on the Thursday agenda, it didn't initially connect with me as much as had the earlier series.

All that changed as the series progressed, and the final three episodes were just breathtaking....

The redoubtable Mr Steer and the impossible girls: one man's body almost at breaking point as he battles to get a group of girls through Maths....not least of all Sheridan, who - like her friends - clearly loves doing her hair...




Jack's passion for history, despite his obvious academic struggles and his difficulties with settling in a school (finding out he had moved on was heartbreaking and you just hope things work out long term)


And ultimately the brilliant Musharaf Asghar overcoming his stammer with some support from Mr Burton* .... I'm a bit overwhelmed after last night's finale.




I was pretty much in tears from the get-go last night, and reading Musharaf today in the Guardian, you just want to cheer for what he ---- and the school --- achieved.

Brilliant.

* and yes I was screaming at the TV "make some reasonable adjustments!" ----it was ultimately putting into practice (belatedly) advice from Speech and Language Therapists (and The King's Speech) that turned things around.

Didn't stop me joining in with the sobbing Year 11's as Mushy gave his end of year speech.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Birthday delight from first night, first impressions: Richard II @ RST Stratford-upon-Avon 10 October 2013

Here be VERY limited commentary on the first preview night.  You'll get a fuller review when I've been to see the play once they're properly launched. They're still ironing out little kinks, but they're pretty much spot-on for my money.  Looking forward to the future visits....

Because, yeah, not my final trip.  Multiple visits, moi?!

So this is avoiding spoilers as much as possible, mostly reporting on the experience.  Minor spoilers possible if you haven't heard of David Tennant, Richard II storyline, or capabilities of the RSC to do damn fine shows.

Got it?

So there is the event ---- and then the aftermath

Event - the play



When I saw that the first preview night for Richard II at the Royal Shakespeare Company was scheduled for my birthday, it seemed like fate.  Who could turn  down such a treat? Yes, we all know why I was booking so early (clue: the link will explain why hanging on to book wasn't going to be an option - blink and the fans have nabbed all the tickets).  But I love the RSC and I love going to the theatre.  And I really wanted to see this production.

We arrived in Stratford way early, but this gave ample opportunity to raid the shop (books, jigsaws, postcards - programme, obviously) and to also have a lovely cuppa and cake with a dear friend.  Once in the theatre itself, I was already excited by the stunning set. Majestic about covers it.  And it was especially nice to scour around the space and then frantically draw over more lovely friends to get hugs and kisses before the play began.  Saw a woman waving in the stalls?  That was me getting their attention.  Yay for friends!

There is a nicely minimally spoilering comment piece here. Don't read it if you don't want to know.

The music is astonishingly good, the costumes magnificent (tho a few hems may need taking up to avoid trips and stumbles), and the acting was cracking. Nigel Lindsay was a revelation as Bolingbroke, and seeing Jane Lapotaire back on stage was a pleasure I did not think I would see in my lifetime, but *everyone* delivered on their performances.  Tennant was, suitably, Tennant-esque in his capacity to unpick a part and make it his own. Richard II as per the play ....

(SPOILERS - if you haven't read Richard II or know the story)

SP
OI
LE
RS
.... is vain, and brought low; he is capricious, and he is brought to realise his folly; he is in charge, and he surrenders power; he is a King in an age of the Divine Right of Kings, and he is raised an angel, flawed and beautiful.

Say what you like about the sort of audience this performance with this leading actor would draw, but until the curtain call, everyone pretty much holds their breath.  There are NO inappropriate squeals - as Tennant rightly noted in the recent Front Row interview, fans are smarter than that and KNOW what to do/not do.

(SPOILERS - if you've never seen Tennant performing on stage e.g. Hamlet)

SP
OI
LE
RS
There are laughs - director Greg Doran and his cast, including Tennant, are nothing if not adept at finding the right moment to flick a head, emphasise a swift "well...." or mine the possibility of line in broader context. They know how to find it and where (for me) it works.  Wonderful stuff.
And yeah... Richard II dies.
Big spoiler that.

SPOILER FREE-ISH ZONE TO FOLLOW!

The aftermath

And afterwards...

I'll be honest, with my dodgy foot there was never going to be a swift exit.  We positively AMBLED out of the theatre.  And I expected to see the barriers at Stage Door 4 deep.

Instead... one line's worth.  Erm...

Neil and I exchange glances: well, that's almost unbelievable.

"I expected it to be busier than that..." I say

"Go on then" Neil replies, being his usual disreputable self in my downfall.

So I went.  And got a mid-place, second row spot.  And a few minutes later - after pointedly challenging the mutterings of some that they didn't care for anyone else coming out by me firmly saying "thank you" to everyone exiting the building - the intake of breathe came, and Tennant emerged....

SP
OI
LE
RS
... with plaited hair
He takes his time, at least at first, and several of those lucky enough to be on front row, get photos with him. Oh that I were organised and co-ordinated enough to do that!

As it is I content myself with the scribble signature (neater than the one I got post-Love's Labour's Lost) and as I say "thank you for making this such a great birthday for me" to which he replied in joyful tone "awh, it's your birthday today? Very happy birthday to you!" which pretty much topped off the day just right.* and **

Video proof I have a terrible memory is posted separately.

I could - and perhaps should - have stayed in place, got some photos; hell, even tried to get one for myself.... but ever considerate and aware of the 3-deep behind me, I pulled back saying to those around me "I'm done, let someone else through" which at least one (shorter) woman behind audibly acknowledged.

So, from a day that started with two women presenting the Today programme on Radio 4, through to seeing friends, through to the play itself (Neil loved it btw - good job: he's back in two weeks), and THEN the aftermath.... AND rescued episodes of Doctor Who.... (am sure David will have appreciated that as a nice omen) .... *SQUEE!!!!*

Well, who cares that I had to go to work?  Giddy just about describes the emotions, and my hands were shaking (the cold I tell you) as I tried to text update my gang of friends.

And here's the proof btw!



*A friend asked me about the birthday greeting exchange, thinking me/someone else had told Tennant in advance it was my birthday and the remark from him had been spontaneous.  If it had been, I think I may just have passed out there and then!

**What can I say - my brain was in freefall at getting a happy  birthday. Edited for video proof accuracy as oopposed to my giddy "what happened there?!" Brainfail.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

A Cultural Day Saturday 5 October 2013: RSC Candide (Swan Theatre) and Derby Folk Festival (Derby Assembly Rooms)

Candide

Neil and I both studied Voltaire's Candide on our A204 Enlightenment course with the Open University.  So with Mark Ravenhill at the helm, we were rather intrigued by the prospect of an RSC production revisiting Voltaire's satire on optimism (an apt topic in this jaded period of optimism within austerity, as UK chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne would have it).

The RSC do a fine job with Ravenhill's take on Candide - which uses plays within plays, 'real' characters revisiting their past selves, and modern re-engagements with the moral and philosophical debates Candide first explored.

As the RSC site says "This performance includes strong language, violence and reckless optimism." Well, kinda.  There is certainly a lot of humour - both bawdy (as one might expect, nay, require from a Ravenhill project) and cerebral (as he ably proved before in his new translation of Brecht's Life of Galileo and which had a Rullsenberg review in March 2013). Optimism is in contrast harshly slain and interrogated, and rightly so.




Like the novel, it is both disturbing and provocative.  The violence in it (especially in the 'Sophie's party' sequence which brings the problems of optimism into the present day) is archly beautiful, with streamers of red ribbons exploding in slo-mo strobe-lit style like so much blood and guts.  It is black, and red with political destruction.

Am struggling to embed the video but try this RSC Cast interview for Candide.



We both loved it and found it a stimulating (and brilliantly short) play - it rounds off well inside 1 hour and 45-50 mins (Matinee kicked off at just after 1:15pm and we were out by 3pm),

Heartily recommended and runs until 26 October 2013 at the Swan theatre, Stratford on Avon.

Derby Folk Festival

The Folk Festival at Derby has been around for ages, but we've only dabbled in its glories.  It was a big ask to drag my poorly foot to Derby yesterday, but despite the pain it was worth while.  I'd have liked to have fitted in Leyla McCalla for today (Sunday) but I don't think I'll be able to walk the rest of the week if I drag myself out and about for another day before work,

Sniff.

Anyway: last night had glories enough to suffice.

1) April Verch band
My word, this woman is talented.  With Cody Walters and Hayes Griffin to accompany her, the band create a glorious bluegrass sound, and so much more.  Her singing is one thing, but her feet and fiddle-playing are quite out of the world,  She twirls and taps, and she can even play the fiddle at the same time as a real highlight.  A live act treat, but a sound worth pursuing.



2) Melrose Quartet
(Or the Marmosets as I kept calling them in my head - no, I don't why)

Apparently of serious folk royal blood stock, from the UK and Australia, these offered four part harmonies of breathtaking quality and musicianship of the highest order.  I felt giddy by the end of their set - especially as the band will be taking a break now for at least 6 months whilst one of their number gives birth (with just 4 weeks to go when they performed last night, there were the obligatory warning for the tables nearest the stage to practice 'catch').



3) Dervish
The headline act didn't come until about 10.30pm at which point if we had wanted to catch a bus home, we'd have already have had to leave.  Never mind - a taxi ride was worth the wait.  An Irish band of great talent with a crackingly characterful lead singer in the form of Cathy Jordan, whose tales and between-song banter was delightfully entertaining.

With April Verch happy to come up in front of the stage to demonstrate again her deliciously fleet-footed tapping skills, the evening ended with happiness clapped around the venue.  I'd have danced if it wasn't for the fact I can barely walk...

 

Thursday, October 03, 2013

On planning ahead

It has to be said that at the moment the issue of 'planning ahead' is feeling rather raw. We're in October and it seems like no time since February when the frantic ticket booking for Richard II. Now that's patently 'planning ahead' on a somewhat ludicrous basis.

At the other extreme, a new policy (semi-predicted in advance but not 'formalised' or notified beyond direct circle) was decided on the Thursday 19th before implementation on the Monday 23rd (and which has since already been 'clarified' - aka changed - twice).

Now these are clearly extremes, but my instinct leans to the former for clarity over the latter. I would sooner know stupid time in advance than at the last minute. I'm not anti-spontaneity,  but time and place and sensible predictions people are likely to smooth my responses.

So I do get rather irritable at the tendency of others (I hasten, not anyone I know online but rather IRL friends and contacts) who will persist in last-minute invitations.  You know what, we usually have a good time if we can go at short notice,  but by lordy it gives me the cranky to know you clearly knew about and/or had been planning for an event for weeks and only thought to invite us the day before.

I can get myself in the mood, gear myself up for social interaction,  if I know about it in advance. I can manage my workload ahead of the event so I'm not trashed before going. But if I'm just landed on with an invitation my instinct is going to go into hyper-crank mode ranting about the lack of notice.  There's transport to sort and crucially FOOD. And a cranky HUNGRY Lisa is not a socially pleasant Lisa to have around you.

I'm just saying.

Monday, September 30, 2013

On running

My sister-in-law is a serious runner ---- she has won the New Zealand 800m National Women's Masters competition, and on Sunday 29th September 2013 came 3rd in an extraordinarily hilly and demanding 10k run in Kinver for Action Heart.  She runs pretty much all the time and is incredibly fit.

This is the amazing Sarah doing the 800m Dunedin Masters games in 2012.


Anyway, today she and brother-in-law completed the VERY HARD Kinver 10k.  Just to give you a sense of the route, there's a MapMyRun view. It's a pretty challenging set of hills that the race includes, and I really won't be doing it anytime soon.

It's pretty amazing that she came in at a time of just over 45 mins, with Mark coming in at just over 60 mins.  That rather puts into a cocked hat mine and Neil's achievements at doing a 2k 'family fun run' (alongside 3-8 year olds, with various parents and few pre-teens) and covering the distance in a mostly-run, and a little bit walked 13-14 mins.  Pah.

Still - Mark and Sarah did great.


Neil and Lisa post-race (note my "UN-healthy U" t-shirt from Nottingham Uni!)


Mark and Sarah post-race


Sarah and Mark pre-race

Next spring I seem to have signed myself up for doing Race for Life - that's 5k (I keep telling myself 3k just to not scare myself witless).  I'll be part of the Art History team from Nottingham Uni (honorary associate member) and I'll be running alongside awesome Gaby Neher who promises we will have Haribo as rewards during training and certainly post-race.

Believe me, Haribo crocs are a REAL incentive, especially when they're the make of Haribo crocs generally only sold in France which are FAR superior to versions sold in the UK!




Friday, September 27, 2013

In praise of Thursday night telly

Peaky Blinders

Educating Yorkshire (though it ain't a patch on Educating Essex, the original and the best)

The Sound of Cinema: the Music that made the Movies


It's almost like they WANT to make it clear this is the digital catch-up age: three excellent programmes all scheduled for 9pm on a Thursday (we missed the potential of The Guilty starring lovely Tamsin Greig, but it seems it wasn't worth the effort - that TOO was on Thursday 9pm).

BBC1 Peaky Blinders
Peaky Blinders is ludicrously stylised and heavily anachronistic in parts (although we're especially enjoying the soundtrack: you can't hate a programme that uses Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' "Red Right hand" as its intro music).



The storyline is barking, the politics no doubt flawed and yet....

It is pretty irresistible   Murphy first came to my attention as The Scarecrow in the Batman Begins movie, and he's since cut quite a role for himself as mesmeric anti-hero types.


His character in Peaky Blinders, Thomas Shelby, will naturally head for a fall one feels (you want it to work, just as you want Aunt Pol, Helen McCrory, to keep slapping these useless blokes about the head), but you can't help rooting for him.  A real gem, slo-mo included.



Channel 4: Educating Yorkshire
Well, it's not the glory that was Educating Essex - possibly the best advert for comprehensive UK education imaginable.  In contrast, the teachers, whilst well-meaning, seem less in control and take a very different approach to interacting with students (please don't claim it's a 'northern thing' though; that's just insulting to everyone).  I'd prefer ties that were properly tied, no shoes on the desks, and no swearing - even faux swearing - at students (it makes the infamous "clear off scumbags" in EE seem positively lightweight).

But the teachers and staff clearly ARE well-meaning, and managing teenagers is no mean feat for anyone to attempt.

Last night, was for me a key episode though, highlighting my personal weak points in these sort of programmes: the relationships between teenage girls.  I've been there, been on the receiving end of rumours, 'friends' setting people against each other, the stress and hurt and anger that goes with it.  I felt for both smart   articulate Hadiqa and the academically struggling but bubbly Safiyyah - both to a certain extent victims of the malice that can be 'the other girls in the group'.



This was the first time in EY that I felt that sense of identification with the situation; something that felt much more live, more of a consistent undercurrent in EE even where events were outside my personal experience.  Young people with Aspergers? I understand that one.  Teenage pregnancy?  Nottingham has (had) an awful reputation in that regard. Frustrated smart teenage girls? Oh yeah. Family circumstances for teenagers that would break any stone heart? Seen it around me. Boys who can't control their anger?  Social media bullying?  Desperately trying to teach the attentive and inattentive simultaneously? Feeling overwhelmed at what you cannot control (among both staff and students)? Pass me the hankies. It's the same production team, so does the difference, that lack of my feeling empathy for both students and teachers in EY, to do with the show or me? I felt it in every episode of EE - recognising the situations, the dramas, the reactions on both sides of the desk.  With the Yorkshire show, it's like the desk is blurred and everything is more uncontained, less well-managed. It's really just to do with a different style of teaching and management, but somehow the flaws at Essex felt like things they were learning from and doing better each time they dealt with similar things. Essex set the standard with Mr Drew and Mr Goddard.  I don't think Mr Mitchell or any of the year heads have yet quite measured up as yet (though Miss Uren has come close, as has Mrs Crowther).

BBC4: the Sound of Cinema series
The Sound of Cinema: The Music that made the Movies has been presented by Neil Brand who is just the right combination of nerdy and knowledgeable, passionate about film and able to communicate it to audiences.  I am fascinated by the use of music in film so this series has been delightful and yet I have learnt things as well.  Wonderful treat.


Makes me want to listen to film scores all over again, whether orchestral scores or popular music soundtracks (did I mention I once wrote about soundtracks for 'Chick Flicks'?)