nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Default)
I would have paid a chauffeur to drive me the hundred miles to Chichester to see Fiddler on the Roof yesterday*. As I'm not, I had to do it myself. Fortunately the strong reviews of the production didn't let me down and it was excellent. Omid Djalili was terrific as Tevye, Tracy-Ann Oberman moved Golde beyond cliché, and the younger generation could all sing, act, and dance, the first of which is regrettably not always guaranteed in musicals. The production/direction did an excellent job of conveying not only entertaining song and dance, but a story of some weight, and I ended up finding it very moving. I have seen it before, but about 25 years ago so I couldn't say which I thought was better. But I remember scenes from that West Yorkshire Playhouse that struck me then, and I'm sure I'll continue to remember this. I'm tempted to read the original stories it's based on for a comparison.

Have the trailer:



*I am aware that there are countries, indeed parts of the UK, where I'd be lucky to drive only 100 miles to the theatre, but this involved the M3 on a summer school holiday Saturday.
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
Few things strike terror and fury into my theatre-going heart like the words "In a new version by [...]" on the website/review/flyer of a a play not originally written in English. New translations, great! Don't use the one from 1905. But new versions? I want to see Ibsen, not someone else's supposedly more exiting text.* I suppose on the plus side, that's one less trip to London that I have to make or feel bad about not making.** Maybe next time someone decides to be exciting and original with Ibsen they could just put it on in Norwegian with subtitles.

* Though I would definitely have gone to that Swedish version of Hamlet in which he's a murderer, I speak as a person who has had ample opportunity to see Hamlet.

** If it were cheap and local, I might try it out anyway. But when it involves the train, extra cost, and a late night, nope.
nineveh_uk: Photo of Rondvassbu in winter (rondvassbu)
The member of the audience leaping to the action to save the show is familiar from real life as well as 42nd Street. Singers do, after all, get coughs. The occasional actor will break a leg. If you're lucky, it happens in time for the management to get Thomas Allen fresh off the plane. If you're really lucky you're the student in the audience who happens to know the role, as happened to Patrick McCarthy years earlier when Thomas Allen was taken ill.* Of course, understudies exist, and most of the time the 'emergency' performer is well-rehearsed. It happens in sport, too, though again usually the person stepping up is someone who was going to do it anyway at some point.

And sometimes they are Lars Høgnes, a 36 year old waxing technician who works for the Norwegian World Cup team and found himself taking the third leg in the relay for the second team after one of the skiers got food poisoning. Høgnes is actually a good club skier with a couple of team relay medals from national championships as a young man, but he never reached the top level. In true Scandinavian style he was sent off with the comment from the team spokesperson that "He's probably not very good". They did come last (minus Kazakhstan, who were lapped), but at least they were there.

Meanwhile, today's example of something I don't need in my life, a woollen sports bra.

*I learned today that Thomas Allen's middle name is Boaz. That's north-eastern mining communities for you.
nineveh_uk: picture of holly in snow (holly)
I am back from a long weekend in Harrogate with my sisters in celebration of the fact that I have a significant birthday approaching.* I am feeling surprisingly less tired than I might have expected, probably helped by the fact that despite the time of year the trains were civilised so the journeys weren't tiring, even if last minute ticket purchase when I decided that driving wasn't a good idea made them expensive. There is something to be said for enforced sitting down and reading. Middle Sister had donated her work-flights-earned Air Miles to the cause so we had a very nice hotel and I had a bath this morning just because it was there. There was some delicious food, entertaining theatre, and large amounts of nostalgia.

Yesterday involved a walk to Harlow Carr, which we didn't actually go into because this is not really the time of year for a rather expensive garden, but spent much time in its excellent bookshop. My sisters bought various Christmas presents, I bought some lavender-flavoured white chocolate. We took it in terms to comment on the qualities of various cornus in the absence of our mother. Alas, we didn't eat at Betty's because it isn't the time of year you can do that without booking or lots of time, but I had a sausage roll and curd tart, and purchased biscuits of gratitude for a couple of colleagues who have been particularly helpful with big stressful project.**

The main event of the weekend was West Yorkshire Playhouse's production of Strictly Ballroom, which had opened on Wednesday and was enormous fun. Bring on the sequins! On the way back to the station we observed that the long-awaited John Lewis has finally arrived. Honestly, we'd been promised the bloody thing for decades, and then it turns up after my parents leave. The building is genuinely impressive, though; we even admired the car park. It looks like origami done in stone, and yet is strangely in keeping with the buildings around it. Also noted on the way to and from the theatre was the extraordinary extent to which the people of Leeds have embraced the Christmas jumper.

*According to my student self by this point in life I am supposed to have re-read Ulysses and have published a novel. I have decided that the former was a whim, not an obligation, and the second delayed by circumstances beyond my control.

**Technically they were just doing their jobs, but with an unfailing good humour and helpfulness that meant that at least I didn't also have to stress about the photocopying because I could fling it in someone's direction with ten minutes to spare. Material acknowledgement feels warranted.
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
I am in Berlin. It is very hot. It is so hot that today I am joining the ranks of people who wear shorts in a city. Since this appears to be 50% of people I've been seeing, I shouldn't feel too conspicuous in my sartorial crime, and it is a small price to pay for hot weather.

Berlin is great. I can't remember much, and absolutely nothing has looked as I remember, which isn't surprising on any front since I was last here in 1993. There is far more history that is reasonable for one place, I knew I was only going to scratch the surface, but now I feel I won't even so much scratch as gently tickle, but there are worse fates than to have to come back. My feet hate me.

Tanz der Vampire was amazing. My decision to base a holiday around seeing a cheesy musical is one million percent vindicated. I'm going again tonight. I even stage-doored The shame! The shame!, which is probably the most nerdish thing I have ever done in my entire life. I have also found several prospective entrants to the Galactic Cape-Twirling Championships. So far the hot favourite is the dancer who twirled his cape while simultaneously twirling a woman above his head, but there were also strong entries in the dramatic and moody categories.

Naturally the fic I bought to write remains entirely unwritten, as indeed does my diary. Never mind, no doubt I will catch up during tomorrow's 8 1/2 hour train journey.
nineveh_uk: photo of lava (volcano)
There is a crucial difference between Brexit and the plot of Götterdämmerung: though both have the leaders involved throwing their hands in the air and sitting doing nothing but wait until the house burns down around them, while elsewhere a bunch of people make some staggeringly stupid decisions despite the consequences surely being obvious from the start, the characters in the latter were actually gods, as opposed to just being bitter about membership of a school club. Also, a great redemption is definitely not spreading throughout this particular world as a result of their downfall. However George Osborne was present at both.*

Despite 6 hours** of Wagner feeling like a dubious decision 24 hours in advance, it turned out to be brilliant on the day. Indeed as the end approached I felt that 6 hours was far too short and it needed at least an additional hour. Nor was I alone in thinking so, judging by the comments from audience members near me at the end, and the general riveted silence.

It was a concert performance, being the only way Opera North can afford to do something like the Ring, but it felt as if nothing was lost thereby. Big screens at the back provided surtitles (good ones, thank goodness, no faux archaism. Whatever is lost in not distinguishing between du and Sie is more than gained in not sounding stupid when read in English in performance) and a degree of setting, of riverbank or water, wooden walls of a Dark Ages hall, fiery rock etc, with the aid of some coloured lighting. It doesn't sound much, but it really worked. No singer actually vaulting onto horseback and riding into the flames*** could have been more dramatic than a woman in evening dress standing in front of the orchestra in yellowing light, voice soaring seemingly effortlessly above it. And what an orchestra! I didn't manage an on-stage count, but as an estimate combined with a conservative reading of the programme**** I'd go for about a hundred (and I've just found confirmation - 101!). The orchestra of Opera North is always one of its strengths and this occasion was no exception, they were in magnificent form.

Wagner has a reputation of being hard-core opera. On the train in I was regretting that I hadn't had time to go carefully over leitmotifs etc in order to educate myself sufficiently to appreciate it. Reader, this is rubbish. Bad Wagner is probably incomprehensible torture on grounds of length alone, but good Wagner isn't hard at all. It's wonderful music that while I'm sure it greatly rewards study is very accessible without it and the leitmotifs leap up waving and shouting notice me! Alternatively, possibly I am simply well-trained in the School of Opera North, which has long interwoven Box Office certainties with more inventive repertoire. After all, Wozzeck is not only challenging and allows you to distinguish yourself as a company, it's pretty cheap to do. Back to Götterdämmerung. The plot is perhaps not one of its strength. Wotan doesn't turn up, and we get the new family to move into Eastenders (as the preliminary talk put it, very accurately). Hagen's***** Evil Plot depends entirely on his victims all being complete idiots. Fortunately for him, this is opera, and indeed mythology. It doesn't have to make sense in order to work. Hagen was sung by Mats Almgren looking like an evil thug in a Scandinavian detective drama - the more things change, the more things stay the same - and my favourite along with Kelly Cae Hogan as Brünnhilde.

A wonderful presentation of a wonderful work. I am converted, as you can tell! I wish I might have seen it all, I'm immensely glad I saw this.

Have some music:



*This would explain why each act started 5 mins late, if he was being ushered to his seat in the dark. Perhaps he might have borrowed the rather lovely guide dog I spotted stretched out on the carpet in the bar in the second interval. It's fair to say that Goldie, alone of all the beings I saw there, did not look wholly appreciative and wore a definite air of 'how long, oh lord, how long?'

**To be precise, 4 hours 40 mins of music, the rest intervals. That makes the first act equal in length to Tosca (2 hours), and the whole thing half as long again as an uncut Figaro.

***Now I need to check if that's every been done with (i) actual soprano, (ii) actual horse, (iii) actual flames. Checked! Though the examples mentioned don't specify flames...

****No need for ten anvil-players in this one, but I've never seen so many French horns (apparently some of them are 'Wagner tubas', which he invented because he needed an extra instrument...)

***** I first came across Hagen in my German GCSE textbook, which had a really good cartoon sequence of the Nibelunglied. We didn't read that bit, which tells you everything you need to know about the approach my high school took to engaging pupils in foreign languages.
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
It’s the end of term, which means great busyness at work, plus a hectic weekend as my father came to visit. On the downside, I’m tired, though that is partly my fault as I keep not going to bed early enough. On the upside I’ve done some very enjoyable things, and I’m a lot less shattered than I have been at the end of every term for the past umpteen years, on account of my new tablets. Alas their miracle effects don’t include keeping the rain off, but you can’t have everything. It took 48 hours for my shoes to dry after a walk on Saturday in wet grass.

Some things I have seen this week:

Show Boat. Dad came down on Friday night and we went to the Sheffield Crucible production, which has transferred to the New London Theatre. It was utterly fantastic, and it’s a great shame that a production that has been so well-reviewed, of a piece that is not done that often, is closing in August rather than January due to lack of ticket sales. Clearly London audiences are just unadventurous… I admit that I watched the whole thing through a haze of nostalgia for the Opera North/RSC production of the late 80s/early 90s and subsequent family listening to a recording in the car, but everyone else seemed to be having a good time, too. A good solid case saw stand-out performances from Ravenal (a young American singer), Julie and Joe – the latter two understudies, it would be hard to imagine the leads being better. In short, if you’re in London and can see it, do. Here's the trailer, and here's Willard White in concert.

When Marnie Was There To describe something as ‘charming’ often seems a double-edged compliment, with an implication that it may also be rather slight. WMWT is utterly charming on every front, but it is also a serious and thoughtful film. I’d not seen a Studio Ghibli film before and I’m regretting that now, as it looked absolutely gorgeous and was completely worth seeing at the cinema. It’s based on a British children’s story that I’d never read, and which follows a fairly standard ‘lonely girl goes to stay with people in the countryside and meets a mysterious child who lives in an old house’ trajectory, but the depiction of the children’s friendship and their lives is done with a wonderful sensitivity. We saw the subtitled version, trailer here.

Eddie Izzard: Force Majeure It’s not that I’m not accustomed to attending performances in a foreign language – I like opera, after all. It’s just that they often have surtitles, and even then you don’t need to know more than the plot. Whereas this was in German, on account of the titles for the English hour of the three-hour show being sold out.

It turns out that with a little preparation to drag ye olde GCSE more to the forefront of the mind, Eddie Izzard is surprisingly easy to understand in German. For a start, he’s British, so he speaks with the “British person talking foreign” accent that I’m used to. But also the nature of his comedy works well even if you don’t get every world. The conceit of taking a concept and drawing it out to ever-absurder lengths means that as long as you can grasp the concept you can go with it. I got completely lost only at one point when I had absolutely no idea what sort of frantically-digging animal he was on about. The options my brain tried included werewolves, my neighbour guessed crabs – if only I’d stopped trying to think “what does that word sound a bit like?” and gone instead with “which animals famously dig in the way he’s doing an impression of?”, since the answer was moles.

There clearly were more sophisticated jokes and references that the native-speaker portion of the audience was getting and people like me weren’t, but overall I was quite chuffed with my ability to follow what was going on. All I have to do now is spend the weekend reminding myself of such technical details pronoun declensions, verb conjugations, and where you put the second sodding verb before my course next week...
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
Apparently I thought that it was a good think to watch yesterday afternoon, and indeed was a decent if not inspired film*, and Ralph Fiennes was very good, and Vanessa Redgrave was magnificent, and Gerard Butler showed that he deserves to get better roles**, but ultimately Coriolanus is the tragedy of an arrogant tosser for whom it is exceedingly difficult to feel any sympathy whatsoever. I can sympathise (just about) with Roman patrician who doesn't want to be a politician because it involves not telling the common people they are scum all the time, but mate, if you don't want to be a politician, don't apply for the bloody job!

Possibly I could feel greater engagement with Coriolanus if I had ever seen him played by someone other than Ralph Fiennes, whom I have now seen on both film and live. The sole thing I remember about the theatre version is that a member of the audience had to be discreetly evacuated from the theatre having been taken very ill.

Right, it is sunny and bright outside, and I am going to attempt to go for a gentle walk and talk to myself about plot, and then this afternoon I am going to write.

*Though they cut too much of the text, I think.

**Still not forgiving him for Phantom of the Opera, though.

Mixed media

Feb. 8th, 2016 08:59 pm
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Donmar Warehouse production) This was the highlight of a horrendous week at work, when having a ticket to the cinema broadcast meant that I had no choice short of plague but to go, despite feeling dreadful due to a combination of fighting off a bug and writer's block on a paper I was trying to do. The great thing about the cinema, and I must remember this and go more often, is that once you are there you not only don't have to do anything, you aren't allowed to do anything. You just sit there and absorb what is in front of you, and there is positive virtue in it.

Like everyone else who is too young for the original Les Liaisons Dangereuses, or lived too far away, or could have gone but didn't think of it until too late, I know the play principally through the film version with Glenn Close and John Malkovich, a film version that is very, very good even though it ought to have starred Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan. The play was terrific. Janet McTeer as Merteuil was magnificent, and Dominic West entirely convincing as Valmont. He had received slightly mixed reviews, and on watching the play I thought this both unfair and understandable. He acted the part very well, but the fact is that Dominic West is a tall and broad-chested man who looks like he ought to be wearing a rugby shirt, and though you can put him in a flowered frock-coat he is no-one's mental image of a decadent French aristocrat*. So he has to work past that in every scene, and has an easier job once he takes the coat off for the duel. But his height does work well with McTeer, with the two of them bestriding the stage like colossuses (not a good plural, that one), literally above the puppets they move about. With a strong supporting cast and good direction, I'm only sorry not to have seen it in the theatre.

The Young Montalbano. Perfect Saturday night in January/February fare. I could not love thee dear so much, loved I not Sicily more; and so Livia departs for Genoa and Salvo doesn't, and all they need to do now is break up properly and not torture themselves with an impossible relationship for the next twenty years. Except we know that doesn't happen.

Did the writers mean to write Mimì as in love with Salvo? Because that's what they've ended up doing, certainly with the way it was acted. 'Salvo, why don't you stay? I'd be much happier.' Poor Augello, forever running from his own feelings/Montalbano's rejection into the arms of beautiful women.

Next week we start Icelandic drama Trapped. I anticipate significantly fewer beautiful people, and even less beautiful weather and food.

War and Peace Spoilers )

Ski Sunday A slightly dispiriting broadcast from Jeongsang, where the 2018 Winter Olympics venues are being constructed. I want to think positively of the forthcoming games - which is more than I do for for China in 2022 - but it isn't altogether easy. Largely artificial snow, an underwhelming downhill course, I suppose we must wait and see.

*He could be a very good Avon in a TV/film adaptation of These Old Shades, though, since Avon despite his French trappings is English.
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
It has been one of those weekends on which I had a lot to do, haven’t done enough of it, and have realised too late that the only way to have done some of it was if I picked one of the things at the start and committed to that, as opposed to committing to nothing. Oh well, better next time.
One of the ways that I wasted time was looked for Measure for Measure videos on YouTube. It turns out that there aren’t that many, though I learnt that Cheek by Jowl are doing European tour of a Russian version, which I could be tempted by.

There is however, a version of Act IV scene II in which Angelo propositions Isabella including a rather young David Tennant (with his own accent) and Catherine Cusack. The lighting is dreadful and the ‘improvised’ camera-work accurately described by someone in the comments as ‘up-the-nose’, but it’s an interesting reading of the scene.



And now I am going to go and finish writing my holiday diary if it kills me. It is an irony of diary-writing that when you’re in the middle of doing lots of exciting things that you want to record for posterity, you have no time in which to do it.
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
The Tour de France starts on Saturday, and I am looking forward to a long weekend and watching the race – or the five seconds or so as the peloton whizzes past. I am not particularly interested in cycling, but it will be An Event. I am recording the two Yorkshire days so as to enjoy the scenery at my leisure.* I could really do with a long weekend. Work has been very intensive this term, with a couple of very challenging things going on. I feel I’ve performed well in them, and have had strong feedback, but it has had its moments and I am in need of a break. Though probably not as much as the person who yesterday backed a scaffolding lorry into the stone gatepost to the drive outside my office building.

I finally managed to catch up with the broadcast of the Globe’s The Duchess of Malfi on BBC iPlayer the other night, and am inevitably kicking myself for not managing to see it live, because it was terrific. The Cardinal wasn’t my favourite – the actor’s facial features reminded me rather unfortunately of Tim Roth as Cardinal Richelieu,** which distracted me from a strong performance – but both the Duchess and Bosola were very engaging, and Ferdinand... Basically, David Dawson as Ferdinand was my platonic ideal of Ferdinand, with febrile eyes, pinched and haunted face, and general air of twitchy and pitiful psychopathy. Nor was the incest underplayed.*** Have some extracts here.

*Must make sure there is space on the DVR.
**Doubly unfair as I have never seen Roth as Richelieu, I just know he was in that recent, dire film.
*** The ‘strong-thigh’d bargeman’ line gets a mention in not a few reviews.

Ghosts

Mar. 22nd, 2014 07:22 pm
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
I greatly enjoyed Ghosts yesterday evening at the Trafalgar Studios, with Lesley Manville as Mrs Alving. Having seen Manville as Lona Hassel in Pillars of the Community at the National, in which she was brilliant, this was a major draw. The production lived up to its promise, and was excellent; the decision to do it straight through without an interval has rightly been praised in the reviews and really worked. I couldn’t see where you could possible have an interval make sense, though it probably helps that the theatre has lots of leg room. It was “adapted and directed by Richard Eyre” (I don’t know what his C19 Danish is like, perhaps the programme that I didn’t buy mentions a translator), but it seemed to be adaptation as a freer translation rather than “Don’t worry darling! I invested your dissolute father’s money in exciting new medical developments. Some penicillin will sort you out and we shall move forward into a new life together.”*

Anyway, it was a good play text, good design, terrific direction and acting. You can absolutely see why it was a tremendous shocker when it came out; Ibsen’s always keen on skewing social hypocrisies, not least those guided by “what will people say” rather than human reason and decency, the characterisation of Pastor Manders is scathing, and a central message of “self-abnegation by a woman will not magically transform the character of a complete shit and maybe divorce is in fact sometimes a better idea” was perhaps not going to win over the critics who had their position by virtue of being signed up to it.

Speaking of dubious hereditary traits, I read Brat Farrar on the train. I enjoyed it, but would have done so more had it been less ragingly snobbish**. I can see why Ginty Marlow liked it.

*Though it is handy for the modern viewer that since congenital syphilis is not transmitted from the father skipping the mother, Ibsen gives a second possible route for transmission from Dad. Besides it being symbolic, that is.

**And a bit of the ending REALLY annoyed me. No, that is NOT the best solution for all concerned because after all it's in the past.
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
I had a great evening yesterday at The Knight of the Burning Pestle at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse AKA the Globe in winter. I have steered clear of Beaumont (and Fletcher), and so had never actually read it before acquiring the ticket (OK, the friend I went with acquired it and then persuaded me to go), and then refrained from reading it for maximum effect.

Which was good, because it was brilliant. Enormously silly – well, a play effectively titled “The Knight with the Painfully Diseased Dick” is pretty much guaranteed to be that* - engaging and entertaining from start to finish, which is impressive when it’s 3 hours on not entirely comfy seats with limited leg-room and a bit of a draught to ensure the candles keep burning upwards. I was in the tier level with the stage, but just along from it, which meant I got a good bit of actorly eye-contact without the requirement for noticeable participation, which was for the best.

Not-too-long version of the plot: A bunch of actors are putting on a bog-standard romance/city comedy about a rich merchant who wants his daughter to marry the wrong man, while she is in love with the young hero. This is interrupted by a grocer and his wife in the audience who are fed up of seeing plays that take the piss out of them, and want one with a “grocer errant” and shove their apprentice up on stage to act the part of an English Don Quixote. The play proceeds to take the piss out of ye generic play, ye middle classes, ye authorities, and chivalric romance.

It wasn’t at all updated, and didn’t need to be (funny as a mobile phone joke might have been), but I felt it could very easily be and still work. The class aspect would need to be pitched quite carefully; from the present POV, the players themselves are uptight nerds, but the original audience would have been more elitist – the present-day audience might have paid for tickets in a 300 seat house, but contemporary popcorn-rustling knows no boundaries of class - but could be managed, and the random romance references, complete with extract from Palmerin of England**, cry out to be replaced with Star Wars. Imagine, in short, some sort of Galaxy Quest/Big Bang Theory*** studio-shot TV programme in which a computer programmer in the audience leaps to his feet complaining that he is hacked off with the depiction of computer nerds on TV and that he is damn well going to see a programme in which they get their due! And here is the intern who is going to be made the star of the next episode, right? And he then proceeds to read Luke-centric Star Wars fanfic. According to Wikipedia it was indeed broadcast on TV in 1938. The mind boggles.

But at the end I am mostly struck with two thoughts:

(1) “Jolly red nose”**** is a terrible earworm.
(2) The grocers get the play that they want.

*Though I feel that the knob jokes****** might have been played up more than they were. Friend was disappointed at the cutting of syphilis references. (******And genitalia jokes in general. "Discharge" might not have been much recognised, but " To sleep without a snatch would mickle grieve me" definitely was.)

**If Don Quixote was the Dracula of its day, Palmerin of England was the Twilight.

***I can’t be bothered with italics any more.

**** From about 36 sec.
nineveh_uk: picture of holly in snow (holly)
Back home, after the end of the Christmas holidays. It’s been a slightly strange fortnight, with a very disjointed second week as one by one the household succumbed to plague*. I had a very enjoyable Christmas, receiving some excellent presents, and we managed to do quite a bit, but there were various things that didn’t get done and I am not returning to work feeling particularly physically refreshed, though it is fair to say that I certainly haven’t thought about much since the 20th, which is good. I will be catching up on Yuletide in due course.

Anyway, other people’s plagues are almost invariably boring**, so here are other people’s (person’s) seasonal reviews instead.

[Unknown site tag]Frozen

A Christmas Eve matinee at Cottage Road cinema has become a bit of a tradition these days, and this year it was Disney’s turn, with a take on The Snow Queen that happily had moved far enough away from the original that they couldn’t justify the title and I was able to enjoy it for what it was rather than fuming about it not being the proper TSQ. It wasn’t exactly deep, but it kept a slightly dopey me entertained for 90 minutes, with decent songs and strong visuals, particularly beautifully realised scenery***, though the too-large eyes for the female leads - multiple, which was nice - are a bit weird. I was amused that becoming a snow queen also involves a lower neckline and skirt with slit to the thigh. I’m being sarcastic, but actually it was a nice film, if not on the level of Beauty and the Beast, which is an excellent film.

Incidentally, does the concept of “true love’s kiss” thus expressed show up before it was spoofed in Enchanted? It was in Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty as well.

[Unknown site tag] The Hobbit II AKA The Desolation of Smaug

Also at Cottage Road. It’s the fairground ride version of the book, but as I’m not that fussed about the book, I didn’t mind (and indeed it has finally inspired me to re-read it, which took some doing). As in the first film, I loved the visuals of the Kingdom under the Mountain, could have lived with it being half an hour shorter, and managed not to ask myself such question as “have the dwarves left the gas on for fifty years” during the film itself****. I could also have lived without the love triangle, though I quite enjoyed Tauriel as an addition otherwise – an infinitely preferable insert to the Laketown stuff. I was very impressed with the animation of Smaug, which achieved both weight and fluidity and made me believe in him as a dragon rather than a man in a rubber suit. I am glad that he will get to be in the third film.
In short, I enjoy the Hobbit films as what they are – I quite appreciate why other people cannot.

[Unknown site tag] Cinderella, Northern Ballet Theatre

The family theatre trip for the season, and great stuff (not least because we gave up on parking in the centre of town and split the taxi fare both ways). I don’t know a lot about ballet, but I like music (original, not Prokofiev), plot, and to come out wanting to leap about the sitting room. A delightful new version from a company who don’t get anything like the subsidy they deserve and consistently provide exciting and excellent classical dance combined with entertaining storytelling, we all came back dancing.

On the ballet front, I also enjoyed the television broadcast of Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty. I am inclined to agree with the critics who suggested that if you’re going to introduce vampires to the story you might as well go the whole hog, but it was gorgeous nonetheless. I would have liked a bit more formal dancing and pointe work rather than bare feet (one day I will damn well buy myself a pair of pointe shoes to have a go in something better than slippers), which I felt would have added variety, but informality was definitely preferable to the original version’s final act of show dances by random fairytale characters.

[Unknown site tag] Boxing day races, Wetherby

We lost. Well, we also won, but less than we lost. It was fun, and very cold.

*Life skills tip: if you find yourself feeling a bit queasy during a 3D film and there is the slightest possibility that this isn’t simply motion sickness, but motion sickness and a gastric bug, leave. Middle Sister did not follow this advice, and ended up in A&E. On the plus side, she managed to do this at a cinema with its own sickroom (OK, the sickroom belonging to the National Media Museum – lots of school trips, and IMAX).

**The exception being actual plague. Thanks to The Bridge I have learnt that the Swedish for pneumonic plague is lungepest.

***The reindeer was basically an excuse to show how well they can do fur now.

****Though not to stop myself coming up with a Benedict Cumberbatch crossover idea, and I’m not even a Cumberstan.
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
The bright side of the queues for the women’s toilets at the theatre is the opportunity to hear what fellow members of the audience think of the performance. Following Julius Caesar, I bring you the Loo Report on two recent productions.

Othello

Let me begin by saying that given the time it took to clear the circle at the intervals and the end of the performance, I never want to be in the Circle in the National’s Olivier theatre in the event of a fire. Having finally made it to the toilets I met the inevitable queue, this time including a group of 4/5 American college students:

A: That Iago! What an asshole!
B: I know! I just wanted to shout “Fucker!”

They certainly spoke for me! Delayed review is delayed, indicating only my invariable dislike of writing reviews of plays. I never feel I can really convey why/how something worked for me – of course, I don’t actually have to, but there you go. Anyway, this was Adrian Lester as Othello and Rory Kinnear as Iago, and it was fantastic. It was modern dress and military and it was striking how much this laid the emphasis on Iago. I came away thinking, ‘No-one ever describes it as a play about class,’ which of course it is. Or rather, its treatment of race, for which it is best known, cannot be divorced from its treatment of class and also sex. I spent most of the train journey home shaking my head at my having never opened a Marxist reading of the thing**. Anyway, Lester was strong, but Kinnear was terrific. I also gained a new appreciation for Emilia, the importance of her character for the plot, and the depth of characterization she’s given; helped, I think, by being played by a younger actress than she often is, and having her as a female soldier, so getting away from the Generic Shakespearean Nurse.

Tosca

This was Welsh National Opera at the New Theatre in Oxford, which isn’t new and has the usual problem of theatres its age: terrible water pressure at the top of the building. On this occasion I disagreed with the queue critics, or at least the one (woman in her 60s) who thought that Act I Scarpia wasn’t evil enough. She wasn’t alone in that – the Guardian reviewer thought the same – but personally, though I enjoy a black trenchcoat as much as the next opera fan, I like a little variety in my Scarpias***. The production had picked up on a lot of the political plot, and if you’re going to emphasize Cavaradossi as revolutionary, I think it helps to consider his enemy as an explicitly political opponent and not simply Satan incarnate. Besides, it turns out the sheer amount of sleaze you can achieve by putting a smoking jacket on the floor and considering whether to add a cushion is pretty impressive.

It was a fairly classic production (hurray for C18 clothing as a change from Edwardian fascist), but had some good bits of business and fresh – to me - ideas. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen the fact that Cavaradossi has been painting the Marchesa Attavanti (and thus advertising to all and sundry that she’s been there a lot lately) presented as political crisis. There he is, assuming that she’s a young woman with a juicy secret and taking advantage of it to paint her, and then he’s told the truth and has an awful moment of realising that ‘It was a sister’s love! And oh hell, I’ve just told everyone what’s going on and given away the revolution!’ I also liked the bit in Act II when the Napoleonic victory is announced and Cavaradossi celebrates, and the production has to decide what everyone else is doing while the tenor gets to digress with some high notes and why don’t the baddies just shut him up? In this case, the announcement’s made, Cav jubilates, and Scarpia and henchmen get out a map and start considering what this actually means, which actually puts everyone’s actions into context. Credit also goes to the translator/dramatist of the surtitles, which were not merely non-embarrassing (quite an effort for Tosca), but really good.

So well-sung, decently acted (Scarpia was best, he usually is) some good ideas, and a good band, which is what I want from Tosca, seeing as it has, in the central hour, some of what, as far as I am concerned, is the best music and drama in opera. If Figaro is up there alone on an aethereal pinnacle, the Te Deum**** to the end of Act II is definitely on the first earthly plane.

*A few moments later, another woman in the group, discussing Desdemona:

C: But she makes it, right?
D: No! She [lost in sound of flushing]

** I cannot reconcile myself to Cassio. Also, sod ‘motiveless malignancy’.

*** Up to a point. The Opera North version with Scarpia as an Inspector Frost-like character in a grubby mac and eating pizza was a fantastic one-off, but let’s face it, audiences usually expect a certain amount of sex appeal in their Scarpias.

****The piece I would most like to sing were I an opera singer, and the reason baritones are better than tenors. It’s also the one good bit of Quantum of Solace.
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
I am not blind, despite seeing three meteors from outside the front door (the back garden would have been better, but it is dark and full of plants, and I was already standing outside the front door), with a bonus young fox running across the grass.

Strange Interlude is definitely strange, and quite a long interlude, but enjoyable. I was reassured on setting out that the Guardian review said it was surprisingly funny, and so it proved. I don’t know how far O’Neill intended it to be so, but line after line of melodrama (and Freud) that would be unwatchable played straight can be made moving by acknowledging that the whole thing is simultaneously preposterous and serious*. Somehow it works. I suspect a large dollop of that somehow is down to the strong acting. The central character of Nina (Anne-Marie Duff), driven mad by grief because she didn’t sleep with her fiancée the night before he went off to WWI, hangs together on acting alone, convincing in the moment. Charles Edwards plays repressed suitor Charles as a cross between Niles Crane and Henry James.

It would be interesting to see it done with a gothic aesthetic, which I can also imagine turning the melodrama to something that works, but in a very different way. It struck me on the way home that it is a work that is massively ‘of its time’ not simply because of the Freudianism, or the WWI legacy, but because at the end Nina’s son is of the age to go off and get killed in WWII, but of course he doesn’t because it is written in 1923 and so the text is deprived of that final irony.

*Possibly this is intended to be the message in a “just like life” sort of way.
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
Finally writing up theatre reviews from Jan/Feb (and 31 December).

My Fair Lady, Sheffield Crucible (trailer here)Read more... )

Julius Caesar, Donmar WarehouseRead more... )

Privates on Parade, Noel Coward TheatreRead more... )

Rutherford and Son, Oxford PlayhouseRead more... )
nineveh_uk: Cover illustration for "Strong Poison" in pulp fiction style with vampish Harriet. (Strong Poison)
It seems that Les Miserables isn’t the only musical/musical play that Roger Allam has sung in. In 2001 he played Acting Captain Terri Dennis in the Donmar Warehouse production of Privates on Parade. I learnt this after seeing the play on Saturday afternoon with Simon Russell Beale (long overdue theatre round-up to follow). Inevitably, it put me in mind of a certain line from Yverdon-les-bains...

Just be grateful I’ve never seen La Cage aux Folles in which, you guessed it, Roger Allam has also starred.

You’re on a stopover in Bangkok and your captain meets you in the hotel bar wearing a red cocktail dress. What do you say? Read more... )

Ouch!

Jan. 25th, 2013 12:51 pm
nineveh_uk: Illustration that looks like Harriet Vane (Harriet)
Have just noticed that tonight's Julius Caesar at the Donmar Warehouse (train, please run on time) is 2 hours 5 minutes and no interval! The seats had better be comfortable.
nineveh_uk: Picture of fabric with a peacock feather print. (peacock)
I learnt this week that in the original London cast of Les Miserables, Javert was played by Roger Allam. "Really?" I thought, "that means that he must be on the tape I've got."

I dug out the tape, which I haven't listened to in years. I listened. It is indeed Roger Allam, and he is several orders of magnitude better than Russell Crowe at singing Stars. Crowe is a fine actor, but you can't act when you're struggling to sing two right notes in a row, which is why the concept that "raw" singing is somehow "truer" than the singing of someone who can hold a tune is rubbish.

But I digress. Roger Allam played Javert. You can listen to him doing so on youtube here. But before you do so, I must give fair warning. You may, like me, find yourself listening to Stars as sung by First Officer Douglas Richardson showing off...

Oh God, I bet there's Cabin Pressure songfic about it.

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