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).


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.