Friday, 12 December 2008

Sweeping out the tumbleweed

Well, that was a scarily busy few weeks. In the space of one week I moved from the possibility of no work to having more jobs than I know what to do with. When I said yes to all of them, I forgot to calculate in the need to sleep.

I have managed to get to the theatre a few times regardless of all the chaos though...

I saw a couple of the Norman Conquests at the Old Vic, with a wonderful cast bringing what could have been a fairly dated piece right up to date. Stephen Mangan sported a scary beard straight out of Roald Dahl's The Twits for the first half of the run, but returned with a shorn and therefore more expressive face for the rest. I realise that Tom Courtenay sported a beard in his original version of the role, but I didn't get why that mattered in this case - Stephen Mangan was more than capable of blasting any previous actor out of the role, however much of a national treasure they might be. Jessica Hynes, as the put upon sister Annie, balanced comedy and tragedy perfectly - I want to see her on stage more often.

Gethsemane was another great night out, this time at the National. It had a slightly predictable (and perhaps a bit old fashioned) plot, with some caricatures, but Tamsin Greig and Jessica Raine* were worth the price of the ticket twice over as the warring mother and daughter caught up in a battle of principles and politics.

I also finally got around to see War Horse, and I can see why it was such a sell-out. I only managed to get my ticket a day or two before, even though my sons had got theirs on some preferential deal for students months beforehand. A perfect christmas treat, which got a standing ovation - I've never seen that before at a matinee performance, but it felt right.

I've also converted the rest of my household to the genius of Tim Minchin, when we saw him in Southampton in his Ready for This show. I was less impressed with Dylan Moran in Basingstoke though - he kept looking at his watch, and I must admit I felt much the same....

Well, I think I have blown out the cobwebs a bit, even if all I have done is tell you what I did in my (non) holidays.... I haven't even started to dust off my grumbles about telly over the last few weeks, but that will have to wait.

*I'm feeling smug here as it looks like I won't have to buy a hat or eat it.

Monday, 3 November 2008

The Society of Harmonious Fists

Well I haven't tried one of these meme things before, but a combination of idle blog-browsing, and the desire for a quick and easy post led me to steal this stolen meme from Billy.

‘Grab the nearest book. Open the book to page 56. Find the fifth sentence. Post the text of the next two to five sentences in your journal/blog along with these instructions. Don’t dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST.'

My very nearest book, on the shelf just to the right was The Penguin Dictionary of Modern History.

‘With the connivance of the Government and the active support of the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi (q.v.), young Chinese enrolled in a secret organisation whose name was translated as ‘The Society of Harmonious Fists’, popularly named the ‘Boxers’. Attacks on converts to Christianity, on missionaries, and on workers on foreign-controlled railways made the European Powers decide to take measures to safeguard their nationals. When reinforcements under Admiral Seymour tried to reach the capital, Peking, they were fired on by the forts at Taku. A Boxer outbreak at once occurred in Peking itself'

I found this strangely satisfying.

Monday, 27 October 2008

The Importance of Being a Spy

Well I read Anna’s review of Spyski, and decided it was just the thing for half term with teenagers. Leaving no stone unturned in the search for comedic possibilities, we had genetically modified babies, murdered spies, Russians, British double agents, Chinese baddies, inventive uses for hospital beds and filing cabinets and a wild selection of ludicrous accents, as well as some lovely light little homages to various spy stories. In the tradition of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, or the National Theatre of Brent, it could have been just painfully bad, but instead it turned out to be gloriously silly. At the Lyric Hammersmith until 1st November, I hope it gets a quick revival.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Electric Dreams

Great news this week that Red Dwarf is to return with the majority of the cast intact, including Kryten, the robot who broke his programming. This was cause for celebration in the Chatterbox household, as our dvds are very well worn, and some new material will be seized upon with much delight. Once we had shared our worries that they will get rid of the wonderful grunginess of the original series we moved onto one of our favourite topics of the moment, which is whether a robot will ever be able to tell a joke that it has created all by itself.

In science fiction, robots are constantly breaking out of their programming to develop independent thought and sometimes a sense of humour, but even in fiction there are very few examples of robots designed with the consciousness and creativity to make a real joke. I certainly can’t think of any evidence of this in the real world, even with the fancy chess-playing computers. Somehow I have difficulty with the idea that Deep Blue, or even one of his cleverer descendents could get the giggles. Maybe that’s my lack of imagination though….

The jury is still out in our house, mainly because we run out of processing power before reaching a conclusion.

While you are thinking about it here’s a bit from an early series of Red Dwarf.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Absolutely bloody fabulous

Yes, I'm resorting to the lazy blogger's lifeline, a youtube clip, and a chat about what's on the telly.

Life is very hectic at the moment, so a tv programme has to be very special for me to make the effort. Even more so, when you consider that I usually share my viewing with my teenage sons. Beautiful People has really hit the spot though. Based on the book by Simon Doonan and with the wonderful Olivia Coleman as the mum, Debbie, it is about a gay teenager growing up in Reading during the 90's, with the usual comedy complement of idiosyncratic family and friends. What makes the difference though is the amount of really sharp lines which have made us all laugh out loud, mixed with a seriously over-the-top campness. More Malcolm in the Middle than The Wonder Years, we're now half way through the series, but you should still watch it if you can. Here's a clip from episode 2.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Heath Robinson Heaven

For anyone who likes machines, James May's Big Ideas is a bit of a must see, even if you do have a bit of a problem with some of Mr May's dodgy friends. It gave my geeky heart a huge thrill when this week we saw steel being melted with nothing more than solar power. I don't really care about all the problems with turning this into something that is practical. The mere fact that there are (let's be honest) slightly strange men in deserts doing these sorts of things makes me very happy.
I think James May might find himself thrown out of the petrol head gang if he keeps this up though.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

The Odd Shoe Shuffle

The last time I went out with odd shoes on was 17 years ago, and I had plenty of justification.
  1. I was pregnant with twins so couldn't see my feet

  2. It was dark when I put my shoes on

  3. The shoes were the same style, just different colours

I have just got back from Tesco, where I looked down at my feet beyond the trolley to see this:

On the left, my smart-ish Tesco-suitable boots. On the right, my muddy, baggy and quite frankly a bit leaky gardening boots. I am not pregnant, it wasn't dark, and one is a whole inch higher in the heel than the other. I would be glad of any explanation that doesn't include senility.

On the plus side, I did finish my shopping pretty quickly.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Those Lazy, Hazy Days of ...... Autumn

I spent yesterday in the garden and it was glorious. Exactly what summer should be. Blue skies, still air, birds, butterflies and bees wandering about their business and the quietness of a sunny afternoon, occasionally broken by a child playing a few houses away, or a training plane puttering across the sky from nearby Blackbushe airport.

The cats seemed as delighted as I was, and spent the whole afternoon drifting around investigating plants and insects, interspersed with lying on their backs gazing dreamily at the vapour trails in the sky.

We have been waiting for days like this all summer, but somehow when one did arrive yesterday it felt so precious that the months of rain and cloud didn't seem to matter.

Three cheers for Indian summers.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

A Surfeit of Shakespeare

Life has been a bit hectic lately, although I have still managed to see three Shakespeare productions in the last few weeks.

The first was the RSC production of The Taming of the Shrew at Stratford, with a surprising and absorbing performance by Michelle Gomez as Katerina. The external play has a modern setting and Christopher Sly is retrieved from a wheelie bin to be treated as a lord and watch the central play which uses seriously over the top elizabethan dress and outrageously hammy acting. He joins in, taking the role of Petruchio after just a few minutes then behaves abominably towards Kate for the rest of the play. Any humour or flirtatiousness is kept well away from the interactions between Kate and Petruchio, all of which are unremittingly grim; although laughter does continue during the first half of the production when I think we aren’t quite sure that he means it… There were a lot of laughs to be had elsewhere throughout, particularly in the first half, and the outrageous accents, and the ever more inventive sexual exploits of Bianca and her beau particularly come to mind.

I was a bit bemused by the change of dress after the interval as the costume gradually became more and more modern, until Bianca’s wedding scene where everyone looked as if they were attending a wedding in 2008. Thinking about it afterwards though, I think it was one of the ways in which the crushing of Kate began to feel so real. The hammy acting gradually diminished through the final acts as well, tightening the pressure, so that by the end, when Lucentio vows that Bianca will obey in just the same way as Kate, it sounds totally believable and not in the least flirtatious or amusing. The reintroduction of the framing plot came as a blessed relief,as the Lady steps in to remove Petruchio from Kate, strip him of his remaining finery and return him to the gutter, whilst Kate picks herself up and leaves with the players

It is the ending though, and the ‘play within a play’ bit which is giving me so much trouble. I have often muttered about the ‘it’s only a play after all’ type of ending, and this is a case in point. The ending makes a lot of sense, establishing the whole misogynistic strand as the fantasy of Christopher Sly. But it also seemed to say is ‘it’s ok, this is just a play and this guy is a creep’. Was this letting us off the hook and making light of Katerina’s subjugation? I still don’t know the answer, but it still has me thinking about it, which is surely the sign of a great piece of theatre.

Whilst I was still mulling this over, I headed over the Globe for a double bill of Timon of Athens, followed by The Merry Wives of Windsor. I hadn’t seen Timon before, and I wonder why this isn’t produced more often. Although it is a bit wordy, this play is right on the button for contemporary issues, as a satire on greed, wealth and what happens when you run out of cash and places to borrow from. I thought of this play a number of times this week as the Lehman Brothers and HBOS debacles unfolded, and I wonder whether the Globe had forseen the extent of the credit crunch when planning their programme for this year. The costume was generally traditional, but with a wonderful twist - all of the company except for Timon and his faithful Steward were wearing capes that looked pretty unremarkable at first, but turned into crow-like wings as soon as an arm was lifted.. A rope mesh had been strung across the heads of the groundlings at roof level, allowing various members of the company to spend time lazily, menacingly, loitering above our heads, watching for an opportunity to swoop and make a killing as weaknesses became apparent.

Simple, but savage and absolutely brilliant. It is playing until 3rd October - See it if you can.

I saw the Merry Wives of Windsor after Timon, and we planned it to be a bit of light relief. It certainly was that, although perhaps the contrast was too great on one day. I found myself groaning a bit at the old jokes before I realised how ridiculous my complaint was. Often described as the first sitcom, it was played with such lightness and a modern sensibility that could easily have fitted into My Family.

Just three plays, but what a range – I reckon this Shakespeare bloke might just have something.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Finally... Elbowed into fashion

I was chuffed to see that the Mercury Music Prize was won by Elbow, accidentally making me on-trend, as this was the only band on the list that I actually actively like or have seen live. As is the usual way with these things, someone will quickly realise their mistake and Elbow will now plummet rapidly from favour to make way for a band that someone like me couldn't possibly have heard of or liked.

Still, I'm enjoying my moment while it lasts, and I hope they are too.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Afterlife: also featuring acrobats, the Queen, Radiohead and rhyming couplets

The rainclouds have been presiding over something of a theatrical drought for me this summer, with real life constantly getting in the way.

So, when I had a free evening yesterday I decided to go along to whatever was available at the National Theatre. I ended up with a front row seat at Afterlife . Praise be to Travelex and last minute tickets.

Beforehand, I had a wander around the Press Photographers Year exhibition, which I highly recommend if you can get there by Saturday. Some particular images that stood out for me included the Queen standing glumly under a 1970s style clear plastic umbrella which was clearly specifically chosen to match the royal frock; a photo of Radiohead taking their own photo; a surprisingly hairy Daniel Radcliffe without any clothes; a startling image of a car in the summer floods; and Gordon Brown looking stressed on his way to breakfast.

Afterlife is a biography of Max Reinhardt told through the Everyman plays he instigated at the Salzburg Festival before the Nazis arrived. Nicely staged and well acted, I didn't particularly object to the rhyming couplets that the critics hated so much. Roger Allam did a sterling job as usual, and I thoroughly enjoyed David Schofield's performance as Muller/Death. Poor old Selina Griffiths though, typecast again as Gusti Adler, Reinhardt's PA. She played a similar character in The Smoking Room, and reminds me of Joyce Grenfell as Miss Gossage. But maybe that's just me.

Being in the front row has its advantages, but also brings its own problems: squeaky floorboards on the stage; being able to see the fire exit sign below stage as Reinhardt descends after death; and having to guess what the Nazis were doing when they all pulled a very strange face in unison. I guess that there was a lighting effect to produce scary death heads or something, but it was completely lost on me...

The set was well done, with grand marble steps leading right down to our feet in the front row. It illustrated the grandeur of Reinhardt's productions and lifestyle, and his attempts to break through the fourth wall very well. Whether intentionally or not though, the attempts to reach across the void were all a bit awkward. Comments to the audience, such as 'Madam, your wig is crooked' were greeted with embarrassed laughter and a tiny hint of a groan. This could all be taken as a comment on Reinhardt's style and ultimate failures, but I personally think not. The highlight though was Reinhardt's direction of servants and eventually the whole cast in a perfectly choreographed mime of a dinner being served. Wonderful.

Overall, the play didn't add up to as much as it thought it did, but it was still a perfectly enjoyable night out and I don't really think the critical venom was justified. So, it's worth a look if you can get a discounted seat, as I notice top price seats have now gone up to £41 .... Ouch!

Oh, and on the way in to the theatre I stopped to watch a great dance/acrobatic display in the outdoor performance space. I love the South Bank.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Edewkation, eddication, educashun

I have been meaning to write something about the TV programme Can’t Read, Can’t Write, which finished a few weeks ago but I can’t seem to get my thoughts down in less than 3.000 words, so I thought it would probably be better not to put you through that particular ordeal.

However, my sons get their GCSE results tomorrow, so I thought I would have my say about exams before I know how they have done.

There are bound to be the usual comments about exams getting easier, but the questions looked pretty similar, and occasionally harder than mine, even if they were put into slightly more accessible language. Teaching is now focused on the test and there is no pussy-footing around with anything much that doesn’t help with exams; so it seems to me that grades are bound to improve on that basis.

Whether it means our children are getting a better education is a completely different question though. I went to a pretty poor comprehensive, a feeder school for the Ford factory down the road. Although I loved my time there, learnt a lot, and did pass my exams, I certainly didn’t get the shiny grades that are expected nowadays. But then exams weren’t necessarily the point in those dim and distant days. I also didn’t get the breadth of knowledge that I wanted – I couldn’t learn Latin or the classics, for example (although my lifespan in the school grounds would probably have been very limited if I had). What is interesting though, is that one of my sons said last week that even with its problems my education had been much broader than his. Overall, I agree with him. That is a bit of a worry really, if a pretty dodgy comprehensive in London in the 1970s produced a more rounded education than that of a highly rated comprehensive in the leafy and wealthy home counties in the 2000s.

My kids will have better grades, and a better knowledge in the narrow range of areas they have studied than I did, but who got a better education is still a difficult question to answer, and a much more interesting one than whether exams are getting easier.

Friday, 8 August 2008

My Day Out

So, the plan was, head into London by lunchtime, pick up a boat at Westminster pier to take us through and around the Thames Barrier on the water, then on to the Thames Barrier pier, so we could spend an afternoon at the visitor centre learning about a huge great machine that looks like a series of buildings and also have a cup of tea and blueberry muffin in the café. I checked the boat timetable online, and all looked good. After I printed it out I noticed a tiny note at the bottom which said ‘These boats cruise to/from the Thames Barrier, but only stop at Barrier Gardens Pier for pre-booked groups’. Hmmm, surely not? So I rang them, and yes, it is true. If you want to visit the Thames Barrier you cannot visit by boat unless there are 15 of you wanting to do the same thing at the same time. You have to go by car, or have a fiddly and time consuming journey by bus or train. The time involved means that you can’t get up close to the barrier on the water, and visit the visitor centre in the same afternoon (or at least not without scrapping the cup of tea and piece of cake). When I rang the Thames Barrier Visitor Centre they didn’t seem remotely perturbed by this.

We went to the Imperial War Museum instead. Lovely tea and cake.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot

I have said before that we don't see enough of David Calder so I was pleased to find him in Burn Up, even though it turned out to be enjoyable twaddle with a preposterous but suitably swishy plot.

What really set me wondering though is the thought that, however well intentioned, this sort of show might mean that the evidence for global warming (the disaster the heroes are trying to prevent) might also be dismissed as enjoyable twaddle. This came to the fore during the scenes set in a photogenic cold and endangered artic type place. The reason I didn't note where this cold place was supposed to be was that I was distracted with a wide range of simultaneous thoughts including:
  • Can we get the obligatory sex scene out of the way now so that we can get back to the preposterous plot?

  • Am I a bad person to laugh at the phrase 'An inconvenient poop' or just lacking in any taste or discrimination?

  • I wonder if the gas given off by the melting ice really does burn like that?

  • Jeremy Clarkson will be heading off to this place with his lighter as soon as he hears about this.

What I really want to know though, is whether the facts are soundly based on science or if they have been 'sexed-up' by a little bit or a lot. Clearly these are worst case scenarios as these make the best story, but I would have liked some more information. Perhaps we could have a rolling feed at the bottom of the screen to say things like '...Clearly this is a highly implausible plot device, but the ice really will do that honest!.....' and '....This bit is based on real research and you can find it here...' or that sort of thing anyway.

So, does this sort of enjoyable hokum help the case for doing something about global warming, or hinder it?

I might, of course, be taking it all too seriously. In so many ways anything featuring Rupert Penry-Jones, Bradley Whitford, and Marc Warren has got to be worth watching anyway, so I have series linked it on my skybox regardless.

UPDATE: Well I watched the final episode, and it was still enjoyable hokum. The main result for me is the re-ignition of my love for Bradley Whitford and another bout of mourning for The West Wing.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Uxbridge Odyssey

Harper Regan is on its final few weeks at the Cottesloe, and I popped in to see it yesterday. Directed by Marianne Elliot (Much Ado in 2006, and Saint Joan last year) and with Lesley Sharp in the lead, I really didn’t want to miss it.

However, when it started I began to get a sinking feeling in my stomach that this was going to be a stagey piece that would never get me involved. The first half, a series of vignettes, beautifully acted but full of oblique language and loaded pauses never really took off as a whole, although it got me thinking very hard, trying to piece together what on earth was going on. Was there a coherent story here at all, was there a family secret lurking, or was it all just a load of nothing? Clearly, I wasn’t the only one, as the foyer in the interval was full of people debating these very points, interspersed with those who had already read reviews and programme notes, and so were ready to drag their more imaginative friends back to what the point was most likely to be.

I returned for the second half thinking that this was going to be thought-provoking but perhaps just a touch worthy. But I was wrong. In the second half the play suddenly took off. I’m not quite sure how they did it, as it gripped me so well that I stopped watching the smoke and mirrors and just settled down to enjoy the ride. The main turning point came, I think, with the two scenes of mothers and daughters which were raw, exhausting and exhilarating to watch. How do actors manage to shout and cry every night without just getting too tired to be bothered?

The final scene was perfectly played, just avoiding sentimentality, and I heard that almost silent sigh from the audience at the final black out which I think means that I wasn’t the only one who was impressed.

Lesley Sharp was just as brilliant as I would have expected, Nick Sidi was a bit of a revelation, but I was blown away by Jessica Raine who hasn’t even left Rada yet, but left me hanging on her every word, move and breath. If she isn’t very, very famous indeed in a few years time I will buy a hat just so I can eat it.

Monday, 7 July 2008

'Skinny Boys in Suits'

Well, what a rollercoaster ride it has been for those final Dr Who episodes…

I watched them back to back when I returned from holiday, pausing just for a short catching of breath and the tiniest of ‘woo-hoos’ before continuing on to the grand finale of Journey’s End.

Cheesy? Yes. Did it matter? Not one tiny bit.

I was always keen on Catherine Tate as a companion, but I have to say she surpassed all my expectations. It was great to see a really sound buddy relationship on the TARDIS. Another fascinating thing was how similar Tate’s fast talking persona is to Tennant’s – it took this episode for me to really see it though. I wonder if the casting or the plot came first? Woteva, it worked for me.

So, I was really sad to see Donna go home – more so than Rose, who seemed a bit out of place this series, perhaps intentionally…. I got really confused about whether she got her happy ending. On the whole, I think not, although she got a very pretty substitute to play with. Gives the option for lots more complicated reunions in the future though, so all in all quite a smart move I think.

Clever RTD though – just what we needed to clear the decks ready for the start of a new regime. And didn’t he have fun – putting in all the bits you would expect, and having lots of little games, like the Daleks interrupting the brilliantly clichéd Rose and Doctor reunion. Very, very silly, but I liked very much.

I have loved every incarnation of Dr Who that I have ever seen, although I do have a bit of a gap between Peter Davidson and Paul McGann*. So I don’t have much truck with the competition between different incarnations, and tend to lap it up uncritically, whatever I am given, but here is my wish list for the next series anyway.

• Keep with the teatime family drama and up the sci-fi content a bit
• Lets have the Doctor back to his snappy, energetic, fast-talking self, rather than moping about with tears in his eyes.
• Lovely though it all was, I think the Doctor’s heart has been broken enough now – surely a Time Lord will need to hang around with mates for at least an aeon before he will have recovered.
• Bernard Cribbins was great – I’d like to see Wilf as a companion for one of the specials at least
• More running about and pulling levers on complicated Heath Robinson type machinery please.
• Bring back the Master and let us have a little rest from the Daleks

So that I’ve got all my Doctor Who thoughts dealt with in one go, here are my wishes for the next Doctor:
Black : Shaun Parkes**,
Female: Catherine Tate**, Tamsin Greig ** or Ann Marie Duff
Pretty and Talented: Julian Rhind-Tutt, James McAvoy, or John Simm**
Just because he’d be brilliant: Philip Glenister

*Colin what?.... Sylvester who?....lalalala
** Who cares if they have been in the series before?

Wednesday, 25 June 2008


I'm off on holiday at the weekend to here, 179.52 miles away....

While I am there, I aim to visit this place, 33.55 miles away.....

.....and maybe here, 65.28 miles away......

.....and possibly get my industrial history fix 74.5 miles away.

Whatever did we do before online maps and route planners?

Sunday, 22 June 2008

The Sherbet Pips Did Break the Spell a Bit

Siobhan Redmond is currently playing Titania/Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Globe.

The production had some lovely touches. The seemingly obligatory doubling of the roles of Oberon/Theseus and Titania/Hippolyta gave us changes in accent - English vowels as the wedding couple, and Scottish as fairy royalty. As the actors are really Scottish, to me at least, it made the fairy characters seem more genuine than their English accented counterparts.

The staging was nicely done, with a deep blue gauze as a backdrop for the scenes in the forest. As we left the magical forest the fairies removed the backdrop by drawing it across the heads of the groundlings. This was a masterful stroke, literally removing a veil from their eyes. I'm not sure the groundlings were as happy as I was though, as they grabbed at vanishing glasses and caps gone astray, and started straightening mussed up hair.

Redmond was striking on stage, with fantastic hair (good enough for its own credits), crackling with energy* and being suitably regal. Of course she is great at doing regal anyway, using it to great comic effect in The Smoking Room. It's impressive what can be done with a suitably raised eyebrow.

I am also pleased to report that the crinkly packets of sweets are gone and the tubs are back, so no irritating crackles at quiet bits. Yay! Although I did manage to drop my whole tub of sherbet pips on the floor to startling effect. Oops. There may still be scope for more redesign on the whole sweetie packaging concept.

*Redmond, not the hair

Monday, 16 June 2008

You say Bevan, I say Beveridge

GCSE time has been taking its toll in our house.

We had a heated 'debate' this evening over who was really responsible for the introduction of the Welfare State, which actually involved someone stomping off upstairs. Teenagers today eh?

Later, we argued about who had the tv remote, so the smugness didn't last for too long.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Remembrance of Teenage Embarrassment Past

I've been watching The Inbetweeners which ended last week. I missed the first episode, but quickly got addicted to this little trip down memory lane. It follows the adventures of four nerdy, wannabe cool, sixth form boys as they negotiate growing up and losing their virginity. Part of the charm is that this is not Skins, which I got bored with quite quickly. Yes, the plots were a bit obvious, and the reliance on jokes about teenage boys' main sexual activity were a bit tiring, but it really hit the spot for me in evoking those awkward teenage years.

I watched it with my teenage sons which added a whole new dimension, giving me the opportunity to relive that cold sweat of embarrassment from watching Bouquet of Barbed Wire, or anything referring to sex really, with my parents in the room.

Did I mention it is also funny? The horror of holidays with parents, the awkwardness of first sexual encounters and the humiliations available at Thorpe Park were toe-curlingly explored. Also, a special medal should go to Oriane Messina for her tiny but effective role as a predatory Driving Examiner.

An acquired taste probably, but I liked it.... Best watched with parents or children for the full experience.

Saturday, 31 May 2008

As far as carbon goes, I have huge feet

We have been discussing as a family what we should do to cut our fuel costs (or, should I say, I have been nagging the kids about turning lights and computers off...). This led us to discuss what we should cut back. I find that I have two treasured luxuries that I am prepared to bankrupt myself to maintain - my tumbledrier, and deep hot bubbly baths.

Even worse, I am still, very guiltily, using free plastic bags from Tesco, mainly because otherwise I would have to buy bags to wrap my rubbish in to throw away. This gives me an excuse to show you this Tim Minchin video......

It appears I am an environmental monster.

What do you think I should make my priority to give up?

Monday, 19 May 2008

I grow old, I grow old...

I went to see David Calder in King Lear at the Globe a few weeks back. It was very good and have been mulling over the experience since. Here are the edited highlights from my mullings….

1. We haven’t seen enough of David Calder since he played Bramwell’s Dad.

2. I couldn’t hear David Calder’s words very clearly at all, but I don’t know whether that is down to his enunciation, the position I was in, or just boring, creeping middle-aged-ness.It didn’t matter that I couldn’t hear the words clearly, David Calder was like a force of nature and even though I hadn’t seen the play before, I think I still got the point

3. I’ve finally stopped thinking of Green Wing every time I see Sally Bretton, although I’d have liked to see Goneril played with the wicked sexiness she had as Kim.

4. The eye-gouging is splendidly gory with groans and eurwrgh sounds from the audience. Brilliant.

5. My first visit of the season reminded me how much I love this theatre for its mix of informality, silliness, and sudden intensity. My favourite place is in the middle gallery on the side, where you can watch the groundlings, usually composed of teenagers, tourists and the small band of determined die-hard regulars, with an occasional razor sharp fashionista refugee from the Donmar. They start off milling about, jostling for the best spots near the stage or finding a wall to lean against, standing with arms crossed, fidgeting, chatting and smirking. Gradually though, they stop fussing over their sweets and cans of lager and by the end there is nothing but intense concentration and quiet.

6. Thinking about quiet, the Globe should go back to selling sweeties in little tubs, rather than the crinkly bags they are using these days.

The main conclusion I draw from all this is that if sweetie packets are starting to make me cross, it’s time to call out my inner teenager by playing a bit of suitably bolshy music really loudly.

Although not so loudly as to upset the neighbours.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Mostly Bollocks, Though Interesting

I was subjected to a Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) analysis at a training day last week.

My first problem was with the questionnaire which is an either/or tick boxy thing. In most cases I could have chosen either box, depending on my mood at the moment, and the situation I was imagining myself in. For example, did I prefer (a) thinking or (b) feeling? Well BOTH actually.

The result of this dodgy questionnaire is that I was categorised into one of 16 personality types. This brings me to my second problem with the whole thing – the descriptors of the different types read like horoscopes, and actually, I could identify with bits from most of them.

I asked the ‘experts’ what they thought about this and here is a brief summary of our discussion….

Me: Can you explain why the either/or questions are used, rather than trying to elicit more graduated responses?

Expert: Oh, your type are always the ones that query the questionnaire process. I expect you also object to being put into a category when you feel that everyone is unique?’.

Me: Erm…….yes.....

Spot on actually. I thought it best to sit quietly for the rest of the day

Sunday, 4 May 2008

The Truth Will Out?

I’ve just finished reading Bill Bryson’s take on Shakespeare. It is a fairly slim book in the field of Shakespeare scholarship, and this is because he sticks to the FACTS. This is so refreshing I forgave the sloppiness which allowed the same facts to be repeatedly repeated just a few pages apart. Clearly, if he hadn’t done this he wouldn’t have had a book but an article.

I particularly enjoyed his quietly efficient demolition of the 'Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare' theories, although it reminded me that Mark Rylance (one of my acting heroes and ex-artistic director of the Globe), based his Chichester Festival play on this very point last year. Although I keep hoping Rylance is being ironic I can’t find any evidence to suggest it – how depressing.

Coincidentally, I also read The Shakespeare Secret, a junky thriller of the Da Vinci Code school this week*. It used a fair number of the authorship theories and added some more of its own for good measure. Although the author had the decency to point out that the theories are speculative nonsense, you had to read the note at the back to find that out, so I’ll bet there are a few more people out there believing there can’t be smoke without fire.

I’m clearly lacking the believer’s gene. This may be because I have also been a civil servant and the experience quickly confirmed my view that any real conspiracy will come to light one way or another, usually through cock-up or someone just not able to resist sharing how clever they have been.

Or am I just missing something really important?

UPDATE: Mark Rylance obviously felt that I needed clarification on his views. Bacon? Bacon?

*I know, I know, and it was just as awful as it sounds. In my defence I didn’t have anything else in the house I hadn’t read, apart from GCSE revision guides on To Kill a Mocking Bird.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Oh Noes

I was going to add a witty caption but I feel too fed up. Anyone else care to have a try?

UPDATE: No takers then? Well I have to say that the lolcats caption idea seemed appropriate at the time, but given that the 'lol factor' seems to have been one of the reasons for voting for him (See here and here and here) somehow it doesn't seem funny any more.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

A Salute to 'Humph'

I felt the need to record the death of Humphrey Lyttelton yesterday. It probably seems a bit strange but our whole family feels slightly bereft...

My Dad used to go to his Jazz club in London in the 1950s, and continued to follow his career with a remote but affectionate interest.

When I needed a project for my cultural history dissertation, I chose the Beaulieu Jazz Festivals in the late 1950s, and early 1960s (fascinating time with so many cultural influences, but I’ll save that till another time). Humph was at the festivals and the ‘Beaulieu riots’ where a trumpet was stolen, but later returned, and people threw paper plates at the stage*. I read lots of his writings and reminiscences of the time, and grew very fond of this intensely private, wry and astute man, a lovely counterbalance to the ebullience of George Melly, another great character and chronicler of the period.

My 15 year old kids are also a bit sad. They knew him as the quizmaster on I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, and are wondering if anyone could possibly step into his shoes. I suspect not really … so another inevitable case of the world moving on to the next thing.

So, here is a three minute celebration of Humphrey Lyttelton before the world moves on.

* this was a British festival after all...

Friday, 18 April 2008

The Rise of the Machines

You may have wondered why the Blue Ball Machine is one of my favoured links over there on the side of this blog.

The reason is that I love machines. Not swishy ipod-y, hi-techy machines which hide all their secrets behind black or silver blank faces, but the machines which really show you that they’re working.

For this reason, I love steam engines, old cars, typewriters, telephones and computers.

I was at Bletchley Park last year, when the Colossus was in full action, and it was a wonderous thing to behold. The kids and I stood for ages, blocking the aisle for less enamoured visitors, asking all sorts of questions, and were finally rewarded with a souvenir piece of tape. Actually the souvenir was irrelevant – all those dials, switches and wheels whizzing about was mesmerising. We also went to see the Bombe which was fully reconstructed at the time but not operating. Again, we interrogated the poor curator until to get rid of us he gave us a broken valve from the machine, and we skipped away happily with our spoils.

I went to the Royal Observatory yesterday, and there it was the wonderful clocks that held me in thrall, industriously clicking their lives away (and mine – sadly!). I have similar trouble when I head to Amberley Working Museum, which is full of obsolete machinery such as telexes and old telephone exchanges, many of which are still working, and if you ask politely you can get to play! And, one of the highlights of our holiday in Northern France last year was visiting the huge glass factory.....

The Blue Ball Machine is about as close as I can get to watching a machine in action when I am sitting at my computer. And as such, it makes me very happy. Does this mean that I am a geek?

Thursday, 17 April 2008

God, the Carnage, but is it Art?

I wasn’t going to write another theatre related post for a while, but I can’t resist telling you about God of Carnage. I had a pretty rotten seat, up in the gods (hah!), but the play was fantastic. The plot is slight in the extreme, but that wasn't really the point. Instead we had a character assassination of recognisable middle class characters, which worked because of the fantastic cast who all acted their socks off, and the great dialogue, cleverly translated (or possibly recrafted?).

Tamsin Greig was wonderful as the repressed wife, but really, singling anyone out would be an injustice to the rest. I have read in some reviews that the playwright (Yasmina Reza) gets upset at the laughter from British audiences, but I don’t know why, the laughter and gasps were because of the savagery.

There aren’t many discounts sadly, so quite an expensive one to do, but if you are, have been , or intend to be, married, middle-class or have children, this is definitely worth a look.

Not one to go to with school gate mums though - might be a bit uncomfortable on the way home....

Friday, 11 April 2008

Never So Good?

I saw Never So Good at the National this week. With Jeremy Irons and Robert Glenister in leading roles, and written by Howard Brenton, I was expecting something a little fiery. What we got was a perfectly decent biography and history play, taking us through the main formative events of Harold Macmillan’s life. Apart from some flaky American accents the acting was great. I was particularly impressed by the way that there weren’t any corny impressions, instead just sketches of the characters, and that worked very well.

I was less impressed by the clunky ending, where Macmillan directly addresses the audience, reminding them of his autobiography, and (I paraphrase) ‘still available on AbeBooks or search on Google’. Brenton did exactly the same thing with In Extremis (a retelling of Heloise and Abelard) at the Globe in 2006, with another squirmy ending to a very competent play, where Heloise shows a copy of the book, ‘which is still being read today’. This ‘it’s only a play’ stuff is the theatrical equivalent of ‘and then I woke up and it was all a dream’, and it made me quite cross*.

What really bothered me though, was wondering what had happened to the Howard Brenton of The Romans in Britain which got Mary Whitehouse all hot and bothered in the 80s. As a younger writer he had apparently been happy to court controversy, but nowadays, although referencing current hot topics (Iraq in Never So Good, Religious fanaticism in In Extremis) it all seemed very middle of the road stuff.

I was also a bit bemused by the young Macmillan who dogs his older version throughout the play, carping and criticising his prevarications and compromises, egging him on to be braver.. But why was the character there? To fill in Macmillan’s motivations? Move the narrative along? Well it did both, but I still didn’t really get the point. But yesterday it all suddenly fell into place as a result of reading this post. As well as suggesting that Macmillan was haunted by his younger ideals, it made me wonder if the young Macmillan was also a hint to how Brenton feels today after his early notoriety, producing successful but certainly less edgy work, constantly dogged by his youth. And with his younger self still looking over his shoulder, making snidey comments.

If so, I know how he feels. I love my life now, but I still have that stroppy teenager whispering in my ear.

* I'm probably being unfair as Shakespeare did it all the time!

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Sing if you're glad you were there

30 years ago this month was the much celebrated Rock against Racism/Anti-Nazi League march through London, ending in the gig at Victoria Park in Hackney. There has been a bit of reminiscing about this and what amazes me the most is how much people remember. My own memories are hazy in the extreme.

I was a very politically conscious 15 year old at the time, into punk and left wing protest, although my involvement mainly consisted of intense, self-righteous debates with National Front sympathisers at school and in the kitchen at parties; raging at my fairly conservative, bemused, but also broadly sympathetic and tolerant parents; wearing badges and reading the right weekly papers.

I had seen Tom Robinson at the Gants Hill Odeon, but I hadn’t been able to go to any gigs in London until then. So, when the opportunity to do a bit of protesting and get to see some bands arose... well, I would have been mad to say no wouldn’t I? Some of the teachers from school were going, so I persuaded a couple of friends to come with me for the rally and gig in the park. I really can’t remember what I said to my parents, but I don’t remember any arguing about going. Maybe I just said I was going into London for the day with friends and some teachers - who knows? Whatever stratagems I used, I managed to arrange it and eventually we pitched up in plenty of time to meet up as a group beforehand. We had a lovely wander through London, bumping into other friends and various right-on teachers, did a bit of chanting and fist waving, particularly when we went past the ‘tools of oppression’ in Fleet Street, got a bit scared when we had to go past a rival NF march corralled back by the police, but generally had a great day out.

Victoria Park was huge and packed, so we settled ourselves down on the grass at the back, and lazed about. I should point out that I was too vain to wear my glasses when I was 15 and I could hardly even see where the stage was, so distinguishing anyone on it (even when it was Jimmy Pursey and The Clash) was far beyond me. In addition, the sound system was clearly inadequate to the task, so we made an effort to listen when we could (when the wind was blowing in the right direction), but none of this seemed to matter. We were young and in the right. And that was the point really.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Much Ado About.... some brilliant stuff actually.

Last week I went to see one of the last performances of Much Ado about Nothing at the National, with Zoe Wanamaker and Simon Russell Beale, directed by Nicholas Hyntner. What a beautiful production. I hadn’t ever seen Zoe Wanamaker live before, but she was subtle, light and her performance was note perfect. Simon Russell Beale was just as always, with his slightly idiosyncratic delivery which always makes his performances stand out.

The last Beatrice I saw was Tamsin Greig in the Marianne Elliot production for the RSC in 2006. That had set an incredibly high bar to reach, wiping the floor with the Thomson/Branagh film. Tamsin won an Olivier Award for her performance, leading to one of the best acceptance speeches I have ever seen…

Anyway, to try to compare the two productions is a bit difficult, largely because they were sooooo different.

The RSC production was lush, joyous, vibrant and musical with an absolute riot of optimism, despite the ominous undertones that came from setting it in pre-revolutionary Cuba. Beatrice and Benedick were clearly disappointed in love, but still had hope and energy enough for flirting. The eavesdropping scenes were just magical, using all the comic potential of the bushes to the full. Joseph Millsom was a fresh faced Benedick, pretending to be a curmudgeon.

The production at the National was spare by comparison – It felt to me like a perfect recreation of Tuscan light, with a simple quartered wooden set which moved around for scene changes, and just for the fun of it sometimes. The difference was really in Beatrice and Benedick though. This time they were older and weren’t just disappointed in love. They were also sad, verging on bitter, and had largely given up hope. There was a sweetness and poignancy which undercut the playfulness of the lines. Both leads played their parts to perfection, and I loved the swimming pool eavesdropping. Simon RB splashed in at just the right moment, peeping over the edge and dripping to full comic effect, whilst Zoe Wanamaker worked wonders with her broom and hat props before delivering an exactly timed comic dive into the pool.

I came out dancing from the RSC production and sighing from the NT version. I think I am going to refuse to choose between them.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Bourne to Boogie**

I watched Billy Elliot on Sky this week, mainly because my channel-hopping finger was too tired to move. It led me to wonder why ballet routinely fails to show its ‘muscularity’, instead appearing as some airy-fairy undertaking with slips of girls prancing around in net curtains*. I suspect this is partly because it is a bit of a minority interest to see it live, and as a rule it doesn’t translate at all well to tv.

We’re back to my obsession with this live performance thing aren’t we? Although I haven’t seen a huge amount of traditional ballet, those productions I have seen have always been a seriously physical experience, none of which comes across unless you are actually there. The one exception that I can think of is the Matthew Bourne Swan Lake, where you can actually see all those muscles working, even on the telly, and I love, love, love it for the combination of muscles and music.

Of course, this is what is chosen for Billy Elliot. Much as I enjoyed it, I found myself wondering whether it would have been braver to show Billy in a different production, or whether that particular ballet is the only one which doesn’t have a shorthand implication of campness? Of course, this is a nonsense, as the Matthew Bourne version abandons the traditional story for that of a doomed gay love affair. I then got myself tangled up in what this meant for Billy Elliot (are we supposed to take the meaning that ballet is or isn’t just for girls and gays?) and I disappeared in a puff of gender confusion...... Actually, I just went to bed.

*As a small girl, one of my fantasies was to be a ballerina in miles of tulle, despite the fact that I had the co-ordination of a fairy elephant. Nowadays my fantasies would probably involve the male dancers and less prancing.

** I hope that the puns will stop when I 'mature' as a blogger. Until then, sorry!

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Glamorous Indie Rock and Roll*

I was channel-hopping last weekend and caught a bit of Pop’s 50 Most Annoying Moments. I had my own annoying moment when they stated that politicians claiming to be fans of rock bands is ‘annoying’.

Whilst I wouldn't argue with the basic premise, the reason this was annoying was apparently that David Cameron, Gordon Brown or indeed anyone over 40 wouldn’t like, or even have heard of, the Killers or Arctic Monkeys. I was so incensed I spat out my cocoa and my nightcap fell off.

Clearly the majority of oldies such as myself won’t know about the up and coming bands and trends, or understand the minutiae of what’s in or out for each youth tribe, but the popular end of indie-ish rock, which tends to be the politicians choice, uses the same language of guitar rock and R&B that anyone born after 1940 recognises. When a band makes it big, even those without their finger on the pulse are going to respond. I remember catching the Arctic Monkeys when they played Top of the Pops for the first time. I was cooking, and it was on in the background, but I stopped everything and stood saucepan in hand in the middle of the kitchen, blown away by their energy and freshness – I bought the album (the old fashioned way on CD) the next day. Similarly the Kaiser Chiefs and The Killers are currently my music of choice for dancing to in the kitchen. They are lumbered with the uncool fans of my demographic (which will kill their credibility) simply because they have made it big**. I defy anyone who loved guitar based rock and pop music, whether it be The Clash, The Who or Bruce Springsteen in their youth NOT to enjoy these bands at some level, even if it is just picking out influences and instances of theft.

Spin-doctoring makes any of these ‘my favourite tracks’ exercises suspect, in that no politician in their right mind would produce a list of personal favourites about anything without running it past their PR Advisors, and that IS annoying. I do have a problem with Gordon Brown loving the Arctic Monkeys – I would have thought Snow Patrol would be more his cup of cocoa, but who knows what he, or anyone else listens to in their private moments. Personally, I have an inappropriate secret weakness for Eminem.

Even more annoying is the idea that politicians have to bother with these types of publicity exercise at all. Who cares what they listen to or watch? I don’t care if they share my interests as long as they do their job well enough to ensure that all art forms are encouraged and everyone can follow their own preferences.

* I did think about giving this piece the title ‘It’s All Rock and Roll to Me’, but I thought quoting Billy Joel would probably date me sooooo badly that no-one, including myself, would be able to bring themselves to read it.

** Of course, the fact that I like these bands virtually guarantees that the over-40's will be their *only* fan base

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Why oh why?

I started this blog because… erm, actually I don’t know why. It seemed that virtually everyone I know in the online world has had a go, some burning bright for a short while, then vanishing in a puff of smoke, others managing to be consistently thought provoking, enjoyable or just plain funny over the long term, and some of these have become an integral part of my day. I didn’t aim to emulate those, as I *do* have some grasp of reality after all, but I thought if I didn’t jump on the bandwagon soon, I never would.

I didn’t have any strategy or policy, and decided I would write about anything that took my fancy. As it turns out, as yet I have felt uncomfortable blogging about anything personal, even though I don’t think anyone I know is reading this. I also haven’t blogged about the political things that make me shout at the telly, or the strange and funny things that happen in my day. Instead, I seem to be using this as an online diary to dump the things I haven’t had an opportunity to say in person or online elsewhere.

So, I suppose it turns out that the aim of this blog is to witter on about things I can’t persuade anyone else to listen to…. Not terribly encouraging, but I suppose according to much of the printed press, that is all blogging is anyway. Although I don’t agree with the criticism that blogging routinely receives, thinking about it, many (although not all) of my favourite blogs are by people who are also professional or published writers of various kinds in their 'real' lives, which suggests that I am making a quality judgement based on a similar criteria. That no one gets paid for the blogs I read also highlights that money doesn't necessarily make an engaging writer, but I think we knew that anyway.

So, it turns out that my blog is the egocentric type, but at least it’s the type that journalists hate, so it’s not all bad.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Boys will be girls will be boys ...

Whats on Stage awards were announced last week, and amongst the awards was Propeller's performance of Twelfth Night at The Old Vic. Guardian review here . I had forgotten about this in my review of the year, but I don't know how.

I went to see it with Ms Skeadugenga, and it was a very impressive production indeed. All male, which I think is the best way for this particular play to be cast*, it had some fantastic performances, notably Feste, played by Tony Bell, and Viola, played by Tam Williams.

Tony Bell managed to neatly sidestep all the problems of being a Shakespearian clown, and particularly endeared himself by rebuking the audience with 'keep up' when we were being particularly slow. Apparently he also played a blinding set in the foyer during the interval, although I missed it, being busy with the icecreams.

I remembered Tam Williams as the doomed recruit in The Trench, but here he played a wonderfully well defined girl, managing the whole clever-cleverness of boy plays girl pretending to be boy, without too many coy asides to the audience.

Great stuff, and the award is well deserved.

* thinking about it some more, I would love to see an all female version though. The Globe did some experiments with all female casting a few years ago, and although some reviewers did comment on an air of jolly-hockey-sticks, it was still a good idea - pity I missed it.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Being Human

Just a quick rant.

I watched Being Human last night by accident and loved it. Dark, and with the perfect mix of domesticity and monsters and a large dash of slacker comedy sensibility. It felt like a pilot, and I was looking forward to the next episode.

But, I read today that it was a 'one-off drama', and that the pretty mediocre Phoo Action (aiming at the yoof market) from last week is the one from this batch that got the commission.

If this is correct, there is no justice......

Ah.... right...... as you were then.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Report from the front line

I went to see Women of Troy last night, and it was an interesting experience for lots of reasons.

1. I got a cheap last minute seat in the front row - Yay -the third time that has happened, so I think disorganisation is a virtue when National Theatre tickets are involved.

2. Being in the front row I got hit by the big blast at the end of the play, and covered in dust/ash. Once I finished spitting out the bits, I thought that was a bit of a result for the notion of theatre as an involving experience.

3. I could see Hecuba's snot get stuck to the stage and pull away in a great big string - certainly an authentic experience.

4. I remained uninvolved, despite the great acting, good view, great set, and a great play with enormous, tragic themes.

The last point has been worrying me all day. Apart from the fabulous slow-mo dancing sequences, which I found tremendously moving, my main feeling was of wonderment that I didn't feel anything despite the god-awful things that were being acted out.

Is it because I know that this all ends very badly and didn't want the emotional investment I wondered, but in that case why do I still get suckered into Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet etc? It isn't that the play was a dud either - I have been thinking about the play for the rest of today as well, usually the sign of a good-un, and I know that it was excellent and I enjoyed it, but at an intellectual level, rather than an emotional one.

I *like* emotional engagement though, and I want it back, even though I'm sure it means my hidden depths are shallow.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Is there Life in Gene?

Ashes to Ashes started last week, and I couldn't decide whether to look forward to it or not.

Gene Hunt was clearly a great invention, and it was inevitable and highly desirable that he would be brought back. The risk was that without John Simm the intensity would vanish from the experience, and instead we would be left with lightweight clowning and nostalgia.

I have to say that I enjoyed it much more than I expected to. Bringing a woman in for the eighties was absolutely spot on, giving an opportunity to highlight gender politics, but she did seem a bit shrill and frenetic against the relaxed joshing of the established gang in that first episode. Maybe that was the point though.

I joined the Met Police as a manager of civilian staff in the eighties, and I would say that casual sexism was still a very big issue, right up to when I left in the early nineties. In terms of authenticity though, what were they doing giving a DI short skirts and off the shoulder numbers showing her bra strap without her causing a riot? Of course we were all wearing sexy clothes outside of work, but in the eighties women were still fighting to be taken seriously in senior roles and were having to dress and behave like men. Even as a newcomer, she would have found her job impossible with those clothes. A2A is set in 1981, but in 1986 when I joined, suits were the order of the day for any woman hoping to be taken seriously, and I was given a ticking off during my first few weeks for wearing a (very smart) trouser suit; 'Women in trousers are not acceptable in a serious work environment as they are too revealing', so I think they missed a trick there.

It has already been interesting in highlighting how far we haven't moved, particularly in being unwilling to give a woman the benefit of the doubt. In the chat forums I have popped into it has been instructive to see how many woman have been grumbling about Keeley Hawes who plays the new female DI. I don't buy the argument that we are so far post-feminist that sisterly support is outdated. When women are being criticised by other women in terms that they wouldn't dream of using for men, I get really depressed.

Apart from that though, I think that there are some very interesting points to be made, so I hope they don't spend too long faffing about in an empty nostalgia fest, or gazing adoringly at Gene Hunt.

Having said all that, who can remain po-faced about gender politics for too long when Gene Hunt appears round the corner in his Audi Quattro? Certainly not me - I was hanging on every one of the Guvner's nuggets of wisdom within minutes this week despite all my misgivings. And there is the problem in a nutshell.

Ah well, I will just have to try harder next week.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Hello Motto

I hear that Britain is to have a motto to bring us together, pull as a team etc, something to symbolise what we have in common.* Seriously naff idea somehow, and surely the whole point of Britishness is that we are curmudgeonly old buggers who seriously resent doing anything so decidedly corporate. Judging by the sniggers from the Radio 4 news this evening, I'm not the only one with that view.

If we have to have a motto, my best suggestion so far is 'Never knowingly over-keen', but I am sure the better class of blog and tomorrow's papers will have much better ideas.

Update: My son's attempt is 'Britain: America's bitch'. I'm not sure what that says about the youth (or Britain) of today.

* Although I suspect that it has more to do with selling Britishness abroad.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

You had to be there....

Went to see Cyrano de Bergerac this week in rep at The Haymarket, Basingstoke, and thoroughly enjoyed it as usual, even though the theatre was really only half full. What is it about theatre that makes it such an intensely enjoyable experience? To see the same thing on screen, large or small might be nice, but not the same.

Stand up is similar, in that you can always double the effect on the audience actually present, so that what is quite enjoyable on the dvd, becomes gut-wrenchingly funny live. Why is that?

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Suds on the Beach

I met up with some old school friends at the Tate Modern this weekend. Great to see them, scary to see how little they have changed, even though I have known one of them for 40 years, and the other for over 30. What is it that makes lasting friends?

Annnnyyyywwwaayyy, had a good afternoon, walking the length of 'the crack', and reminiscing about people even though we couldn't remember their names. I still haven't got to grips with the rehang at Bankside, and miss some of favourites I used to visit - if anyone ever reads this and can tell me what the picture with the moving hairs was called, and who it was by, I will be very grateful, to the extent that I may even buy you a virtual drink.

I've also been watching some of the new season telly, and I'm hugely enjoying Moving Wallpaper, though I'm struggling a bit with the partner programme, Echo Beach, probably for all the same reasons that I don't usually watch any of the soaps. However, being the post-modern girl that I am, I'm a real sucker for the in-joke, and both parts of Moving Beach (or whatever!) are stacked with them, so I'm coming back for more so far.

I have far less excuse to love 'The Palace', but I do, with a passion. With huge suds and splashing about by those stock 'characters', by rights this should be awful, but it isn't. Engaging well acted leads, a plot that swishes you along too quickly to notice the threadbare bits, and lots of glossy corridor movement........*

* I've just realised this is West Wing syndrome, and once addicted, any old substitute will do. Well, I don't care, I'm going to make the most of it for now.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Reliability may be an issue

Well I started with all good intentions, but it has taken me two weeks to come back for another look. You, dear reader, are probably beginning to get the measure of me.... promises not a lot, and that's probably what I will deliver. Still, at least we all know where we are now.

First of all, an addition to my previous post. I somehow forgot to mention the play Alex, with Robert Bathurst, which was a surprise pleasure. Having left the cartoon strip on which it is based behind when I left the eighties, and finding his characters in Cold Feet and My Dad is Prime Minister a bit nondescript, I didn't quite know what to expect, but Robert Bathurst blew me away. It was a one man show with all other characters remaining in their cartoon form, but interacting with the human Mr Bathurst. I have seen this sort of thing done before but never so proficiently and lacking in clunkiness. The show was extremely funny, and I came away very impressed. I see Robert Bathurst has been nominated for an award for this and very well deserved it is too.

Since my last post I have also been to see The Country Wife at The Haymarket. I went mainly as a social event, but was very pleasantly surprised. Toby Stephens was a triumph, and I was impressed with the production overall, which used largely 'traditional' dress, but with touches of modernity, like a knitted shrug over a ballgown, or jeans with a flouncy shirt and ostentatious coat. Maybe it was a bit too obvious in pointing out the modern themes in this restoration comedy, but it was still very effective. The set was very complicated, and a hitch led to a 20 minute impromptu interval whilst they resolved the situation, during which time I could feel the energy draining out of the auditorium, and left me time to wonder whether they really needed such complexity. My conclusion was that given the show off tendencies of restoration theatre, the flashy set probably added to our authentic experience.

Highlights included a posse of sex starved matrons led by Patricia Hodge eating grapes from Toby Steven's crotch, and everything about David Haig's performance as the cuckold, combining desperation, inadequacy, and a huge amount of physical effort, with a sweetness which undercut the dischordant notes where violence was threatened to his young,silly and libidinous wife. I read later that this was the first production for a new company formed for the theatre, and I will look with interest at their future work. (Well, that is what I say, but bearing in mind the title of this post, who knows.....)