Friday, 4 December 2009

Saying it again

As promised, I did manage to get back to see Speaking in Tongues again... twice as it happens. I won some tickets, so took my sons, then went again with a friend.

Seeing plays more than once is always fascinating, watching the performances grow and develop, and how a different audience can change the whole evening. Then, of course, there is my own changing responses, finding that some things still work for me, whilst others lose their shine.

On the second viewing, the co-ordination of the actors had certainly developed much more, and the flow of the speech had reached that comfortable, lyrical stage so I had a great night again.

On the third night though, it was as if they had all gone off the boil a bit. John Simm had altered his playing of the role, as if he was putting less of himself into it, particularly in the second half... and I really missed the notebook that he battled to get out of his pocket on both previous occasions - this time he simply didn't bother. I have read since about Ian Hart's little grumbles about audiences and apparent temper tantrum and I wonder if some of that was contributing to the strange atmosphere?

The audience seemed to still be having a good time though, so maybe it was just me, and three viewings is one too many.

Monday, 2 November 2009

I bet they still haven't found what they're looking for

After a little trip to my Blogger account to see if my visitor count has reached double figures, I've spent some time speculating on what exactly would lead you to type the words 'Stalin dancing' into a search engine. And then just what that visitor would feel when they ended up here.

Sorry anyway, whoever you are.

Update: Just done the sensible thing and googled it for myself and found this and this

I love the internet.

Sunday, 1 November 2009


I’ve always put off going to see Endgame on the basis that, as with the heavy end of literature or swimming the channel, you need to work up to it, and I’ve never really felt that I am out of the shallow end of my theatre going. But when I found out that Mark Rylance was appearing as Hamm in the Complicite production at the Duchess Theatre I decided it was worth getting rid of my armbands and going for it.

Actually, I don’t know what I was worried about really. I’m not saying I understood it all, but it appears to me that was part of the point. The cast seemed to me to bring this very stagey piece to life very well, so that, although I was often mystified, it somehow seemed as if we were all in together. I loved the tenderness between Miriam Margolyes and Tom Hickey as Nell and Nagg, and once I had got past Simon McBurney’s clowning (is it supposed to be that cheesy?) I thought he managed the role of Clov very well, trapped in his relationship with Hamm, partly by being the only character with the power of movement.

Mark Rylance was, of course, as absorbing to watch as always, and the absolute centre of the play in all senses. An exceptionally physical actor anyway, it was intriguing how he managed to convey a kind of balletic quality to every movement he made, regardless of the fact that he remained fixed to his wheelchair throughout. He coaxed the humour and pathos out of every possible line and, despite the theatricality of the whole play, managed to avoid it ever feeling forced.

Hamm asks ‘We're not beginning to ... ... mean something?’ Well yes, I think they did, even if only when seen out of the corner of my eye.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Speaking my Language

All I knew about Speaking in Tongues when I booked our seats was that it had the amazing John Simm to complete a classy cast of Kerry Fox, Ian Hart and Lucy Cohu playing all nine characters.

A fascinating bit of writing, the play circles around the characters and events, playing with language and scenes and using simultaneous and overlapping speech to highlight links and gaps between people. It especially uses rhythm, with pauses and accents to an extent that this could almost have been performance poetry. Reviewers and the programme notes highlight the themes of trust and betrayal, but the main thing that struck me was the swirling circular nature of that rhythm, bringing us back round to the same scenes and words from a slightly different perspective.

The first half looks at two couples teetering on the edge of adultery, and then in the second half focuses on the events seen and mentioned earlier from the viewpoint of the other characters involved, resulting in a sort of complicated six degrees of separation thing, with the only repeated character being John Simm’s Leon. The plotting is so complex I was still sorting it out in my head on the way home, but despite that, there is no neat conclusion, which left a strangely unsettled feeling – something I love! Much better than an ending neatly tied up in a bow.

All of the actors managed their multiple roles very nicely. I saw Ian Hart just a few weeks ago in Three More Sleepless Nights at the Lyttleton; he was excellent in that as well, and this felt like a natural progression. Of course, John Simm is a huge draw and deservedly so. He had the two most diverse characters, and was just as mesmerising but different in both. Despite spending most of his career on screen, his stage energy is just amazing, doing that clever actorly thing of seeming to become the character, rather than ‘acting’.

Despite being a polished and gripping production and one of the most interesting plays I have seen this year, I think it still has scope for more, and I am keen to come back at the end to see how it has developed. I’ve already mentioned the importance of the rhythm and because of that, any tiny false steps and missed or delayed cues are glaringly obvious. I have a feeling that at the end of the run, the actors might have internalised the lines as if they are lyrics, so that they could speak along with it whilst cooking the tea and feeding the cat without missing a beat. If that happens, this will move up into another realm. And I really wouldn’t want to miss that.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

A Painful Pleasure

I wasn’t sure I would enjoy A New World at the Globe, as it sounded a bit worthy, and I was a bit tempted to spend my afternoon browsing around the Thames Festival and overpriced craft stalls, rather than watch a history play over three hours long.

But, I was glad I did keep the appointment, and not just for the sake of my bank balance. Using Benjamin Franklin as a narrator who doesn’t let the little matter of his death stop him talking, the play takes us through Thomas Paine’s involvement in the American War of Independence in the first half, then the French Revolution in the second. The play and performances had a lovely light touch and every time there was any danger of being sunk by words, a suitable song or bit of diversion was thrown in to keep things moving along very nicely. There were a few grumblings in the interval about some merging of characters and events, which passed over my head completely I’m afraid, so I can’t tell you what was missing, but as the programme notes point out that the play was cut down from an original mini-series size, I expect the grumblers were right.

For a matinee, it was a pretty full house and, somehow, a real warmth was generated by the end in that mysterious chemical reaction that sometimes happens at the Globe. As a result, the cast were taken aback by a well deserved third ovation, and reappeared looking slightly dishevelled but chuffed.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

The Pitmen Painters

I finally got to see this last week with my sons.

The first half is a brilliant explanation of what art is about, and could have saved me about a term of lectures on my degree course. I loved the linking of the action to the paintings being projected on the screen. We gulped down our ice-creams in the interval, eager to get back to the second half, where we found our optimism being gently, but carefully and thoroughly, deflated.

The second half is really the history of the gradual decline in impetus of the group, and the failure to move into the mainstream, using the Ashington group and their adventures as metaphors for socialism and class division. Choosing to end the play at the nationalisation of the coal mines made a double underscoring of the point, which was probably unnecessary, but allowed them to end on a stirring song.

On the way out I overheard someone grumbling that the play lost its way in the second half. On the contrary, I think the pitmen painters might have lost their way, but the play didn't.

Troilus and Cressida

I've had a bit of a run of plays with a Greek theme lately. I don't know whether there are more about at the moment, or whether I have been subconsciously following a theme.

The Globe production was fine with some brilliant moments, but somehow it didn't really coalesce into anything much overall, leaving me with just a pile of unconnected thoughts including:
  • Trystan Gravelle reminded me of David Essex in Stardust. This is a good thing, as he was playing Achilles as a kind of jaded rock star which worked brilliantly

  • Troilus (Paul Stocker) looked like a lad I knew at school who was well known for being an irritating berk. I wonder if that's why I didn't like him?

  • Yay, Patroclus is in this (ok, ok, this was the namesake, rather than the blogging heroine).

  • Brilliant drumming from the whole company at the end - it made a change from the usual jig

As you can probably tell, I found my mind wandering a bit, not a good sign, although I don't know whether the fault was with the production or me. I actually found myself more interested in the luvvie behind me, trying to talk up his friendship with Matthew Kelly (Pandarus) and then having to hurriedly backtrack when someone asked to be introduced to him.

Friday, 28 August 2009


A gorgeous set is the first thing that struck me when the curtain rose on Phèdre at the Lyttelton. All golds and blues, I so wanted to step onto the cold stone, find my way to the sandy beach and dabble my toes in the sea that appeared to be just out of view.

Describing the plot in work the next day as a lustful queen attempting to seduce an unwilling stepson, a colleague commented ‘Ah, posh Eastenders then’. And yes, that was exactly what it was.

In places things got slightly over-wrought and a touch overburdened by a couple of long, declamatory speeches. I get a bit impatient with those ‘messenger’ type speeches where all the excitement happens just offstage, and rather than just tell us, the messenger has to act it all out, usually rather badly. This was no exception.

Helen Mirren and Dominic Cooper stood out though in giving performances which, if not exactly naturalistic, worked well within the confines of the play. Helen Mirren’s desperate lust reminded me of so many middle aged women, and Dominic Cooper’s gorgeous disdainfulness was Darcy-like in its straight-backed aloofness. Colin Firth’s Darcy did come to mind on a few occasions as Cooper made use of the tap at the side of the stage. At some points I wondered whether there was a wet t-shirt competition being held just out of sight around the corner on the beach. As a device for reminding us of the character’s need to a) wash himself clean, b) cool himself down, it was very effective. Of course, each time he doused himself there was a palpable rise in female temperature in the room, giving us a little taste of Phèdre's feelings, so maybe that was the real point.

Certainly, the play overall was a feast for the eyes and an intense, if slightly overheated, and just a teensy bit sudsy, enjoyable night out.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Dr Who and his Mum

I decided it was a sign of my triviality that my thoughts on the casting of Helen at the Globe kept heading back to Dr Who with Paul McGann (the eighth Doctor)as Menelaus and Penny Downie as Helen (last seen by me as Gertrude to David Tennant’s Hamlet). Penny Downie owned the stage from the moment she dashed in, and if there was a lot of unnecessary rushing from one side of the stage to the other, a sign I always think that the director doesn’t have faith in his actors ability to hold the attention of the audience, it didn’t matter because clearly Downie and McGann knew exactly what they were about, and I think I would have been as impressed if they had been rooted to a single spot throughout.

Unlike Alls Well that Ends Well, this really was a fairytale, with a reimagining of the story of Helen of Troy, on the basis that the Helen that ended up in Troy was just a trick of the gods, and that the real Helen instead spent the Trojan Wars in Egypt pining for her husband, making the Trojan Wars a complete waste of time. I particularly liked the way that although the parallel with recent British military adventures was hanging in the air, they left it there, for the audience to take or leave as they chose.

Penny Downie was light, passionate and her Helen felt real, as did McGann's Menelaus. It was a shame that the baddie was straight out of panto, but suprisingly it didn't make that much difference overall. This was a joyous riot, a real treat with a lovely fairytale ending that I was glad to suspend my disbelief for.

The joys of leaping out of your skin

I went to see Woman in Black as a little midsummer family get-together. I know the story pretty well, as does anyone who has been exposed to the GCSE English syllabus over the last few years, and so I thought I would find the play itself quite dull. In fact, I had an absolute blast with this, finding that familiarity didn’t stop me jumping out of my skin at the appropriate moments, regardless of my clever-clever disdain for the pretty basic plot. It was good to be reminded that good old-fashioned spooky stories are still effective, and I laughed so much my face ached.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

A Grimm Fairytale

All’s Well That Ends Well could sum up the whole day really. We had intended a sunny picnic on the green by the London Eye, but ended up sheltering from torrential rain in the National Theatre café and Pizza Express before heading back to the Olivier for Marianne Elliott’s latest take on Shakespeare.

Fairytale is the big theme and tag line for this production and, although not subtle, the references are clever and well placed, from the heavy red cloak that our heroine puts on when she goes out into the big bad world to the silhouetted fairytale tableaux that introduced the scenes, which reminded me for some reason of French storybooks. The first problem with this play is that the first half is all scene setting, and I did get a bit fed up waiting for the main event, however beautifully the set-up was done. The second half was packed with incident though, all well acted and cleverly staged with not a dull moment. Brilliant stuff. But then came the ending. Of course we did get the fairytale, in that the hard to capture prince was finally captured. The trouble was that by the end of the story marrying off this clever and resourceful woman to such a twit who had failed to recognise her merits seemed more like a tragedy. Suddenly the title felt less like a statement and more like a question. So my applause was for the beautifully spun fairytale with a perfect happy ending, but also for the way in which the nasty realities of life were all so subtly exposed and the fantasy bubble was pricked.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Friends like these

From the advertising blurb it sounded very God of Carnage – y, so I was keen to take a look, but our visit to Amongst Friends at the Hampstead Theatre was a bit doomed from the start. Firstly the Jubilee line was closed so we had to take a circuitous tube journey, wading through a tide of homeward bound football fans. Then, when we arrived at our seats we found a trio of pensioners complete with walking sticks and hearing aids already installed. Upon investigation, yes, Hampstead Theatre had managed to sell the seats first to me, then again to the interlopers. As they had possession, there were only two seats remaining in the whole theatre, and to wrestle them out of the place altogether would be a bit undignified, we decided to accept the compensatory half time G&Ts and back row of the stalls as a bit of a result overall.. Until the play started that is, when it became apparent that the main theme here was going to be good actors brought to their knees by a dodgy script. We silently willed them to make the best of it, but by the second half it was clear there was nothing that could be done.

So, what was the problem? Well, the biggest issue was the script stuffed with every storyline that could be squeezed in. There was an interesting basic plot of two marriages under strain, and added to this were affairs, death of a (possibly fictional) child, an MP and Iraq scandal, hastily added lines about expenses, violence and crime, nervous breakdowns, drug addiction, blackmail, the angst of the real-wood-flooring classes, the scariness and pathos of the lower classes, ethics of publicity and privacy, agoraphobia, grief, suicide. The really sad thing is that there was an interesting play struggling to get out, but dying for lack of a good editor.

The actors all did a fair job actually… Helen Baxendale was wearing her brittle persona, which was fine for her character, and James Dreyfuss was impressive, with a real stage presence. Vicki Pepperdine did her best but her character was just not believable, irritating rather than catalytic, simplistic and just patronising.

My main feeling at the end was that this was a waste of a great cast, theatre and set. But overall, not a waste of our time, as our fantasy redrafting and editing kept us occupied all the way home.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

The Frontline

The Frontline at the Globe is sold as an edgy piece of theatre, suitable for the young, hip and happening*.

The Globe wasn’t full when I visited, and that always affects the dynamics in this theatre, making it harder to get everyone warmed up . The play is set outside a tube station, and we quickly meet some regular characters, including a hot dog salesman who performs the function of narrator and interpreter at key points. The ‘turn off your phones’ message is delivered as a rap, and the opening scene includes a happy clappy gospel number which, combined with the leaflets being handed out to the groundlings, makes the exhortation to come and be ‘saved’ feel suitably appealing and uncomfortable at the same time. There are some pretty stock characters, the tart with a heart, the young wild lad heading for trouble (actually there are a few of them!) and an aspiring actor using a phone box to make increasingly desperate attempts to get someone to attend his performances. The simultaneous storylines and overlapping speech do a good job of simulating the experience of standing in a busy street corner, catching odd sentences as they come into earshot. This certainly means you have to concentrate but made it more interesting and rewarding when you did actually catch what was being said on the other side of the stage. It reminded me a bit of Market Boy at the National theatre, but the use of the Globe performance space did take things to a new level. This is definitely a play that would be killed dead by a proscenium arch.

The programme includes a mini introduction about British imperialism and it tried hard to discuss the plight of people pitched up in the middle of London as flotsam and jetsom far from families and familiar cultures. Despite the obviousness of the some of the agenda, overall it worked, and the effect was to get me interested and involved so that I did care about the characters and what happened to them.

So, an enjoyable and interesting night out. What also struck me though is that although this play was discussing many themes similar to England People Very Nice, it largely reinforced my own views. This made it quite comfortable and reassuring, and much as that is very nice, it didn’t really challenge me in the same way. Overall, I think that is a bit of a shame.

Another thing that made me really sad was that when about half a dozen young black lads in hoodies wandered in to join the groundlings I immediately thought that they must be part of the cast. Even worse, I was right. Wouldn’t it have been great if I was wrong, and all I had to confront was my own assumptions?

*these choices of phrase may highlight how near (or possibly how far) my own finger is from the pulse of contemporary culture.

Monday, 4 May 2009

England Person Still Bemused

Well, I've been mulling it over for a few weeks now, and I'm still no closer to a conclusion on England People Very Nice. So, I've decided just to put my thoughts down anyway.

The play we see is ostensibly written and acted by some immigration detainees awaiting letters to tell them whether they can stay in Britain, and this device is given a little shake every now and then to remind us that this is just a play and an interpretation of events.

The first half consists of a series of short episodes showing waves of immigrants to Bethnal Green being persecuted, falling in love and integrating, with the same actors playing similar characters in each scenario. Racist language and viewpoints are given plenty of airing, as are pretty much any racial or cultural stereotyping you can think of, and this is both unsettling and very funny.

The second half settles down to tell the story of immigration during and after the second world war, using similar devices as during the first half, with another series of cross cultural romances. However, this time the integration is portrayed as stuttering along, and I didn't quite know what to make of that.

Another thing I couldn't quite decide about was the drama workshop feel about some of the scenes, as if the characters and situations had been given to a group of 6th formers in Surrey to see what they could make of it. As the play is ostensibly workshopped by the immigration centre detainees, at one level this could be quite clever. That didn't stop it feeling a bit clunky though.

Does the play use unacceptable stereotypes? Yes. Does it intend to be racist? No. Is it unintentionally racist? I still don't know.

The intention seems to be to show the wider sweep of immigration and how the same pattern of the shock of the new, followed by intermingling, followed by integration and new waves heading out to Redbridge and the suburbs is followed by each succeeding group. I can see that we were supposed to put the various stereotypes in context, and the fact that this often felt very uncomfortable is probably quite important. It felt uncomfortable because many of these stereotypes are still live, but at another level it could equally be misinterpreted as revealing some kind of (quite banal) truth. And therein lies my difficulty. I can quite see how this could be taken as an attack on immigration or on various cultures.

On balance though, although (or perhaps because) the play has plenty of flaws, this was something well worth seeing. It has made me think through my cosy lefty views, and although I have ended up where I started, I have been on an interesting journey.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Three Days of Rain

I actually went to see England People Very Nice last night, but I'm still digesting it, so in the meantime I thought I'd tell you about Three Days of Rain instead.

This was another play seen on a bit of a whim, and another result for bargain theatre-going, with a balcony ticket bought a day earlier, converted into a circle ticket on the night.

The play is sold as jigsaw puzzle theatre, the audience being required to provide the thought (and presumably the nice padded tray) to put the pieces together. The question then becomes whether this is going to be an impossible 5,000 piecer or one designed for toddlers and clumsy fingers. Actually, although it wasn't anywhere near as tricksy as it thought it was, it was just about complicated enough to feel a mild sense of achievement at working it out.

The play starts with James McAvoy's first character addressing the audience directly in a broad american accent that threw me a bit at the start, but was soon assimilated into everything else going on. The basic structure is that the first half shows three people dealing with the aftermath of their parents' lives, and their attempts to interpret them, whilst the second half shows what actually happened. The dual roles where each actor played both the parent and child was very effective. The main revelation of the second half was easily guessed at, but there were plenty of other little lightbulb moments to keep me interested, and a very satisfying 'Ahhh... so that's it..' moment at the end which caused a little murmered ripple through the audience.

I loved the staging, particularly the curtains of rain, although I kept getting distracted by the puddles, and I thoroughly enjoyed the unpredictibility of some of the props - does the fruit roll about every night I wonder?

A family drama with enough unresolved points to keep me mulling them over for a day or so, and worth seeing for all sorts of reasons despite the critics, but James McAvoy's stammer is worth the price of the ticket by itself.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Not Shock, Just Awe

I found myself at the O2 with a couple of hours to kill, and on impulse I decided to be brave and head for the Body World Mirrors of Time exhibition. I have only seen occasional glimpses of Dr Gunther von Hagens’ work on tv and in the press, so although I knew roughly what I was going to see, it was with a fair bit of caution that I walked into the first gallery.

The first sight of the ‘exhibits’ certainly freaked me a little bit. I was interested, but couldn’t bring myself to get too close, so I sort of circled round it for a while in silence (I didn’t bother with the ubiquitous commentary headphones), then decided to move on. The exhibition is designed to take you through every stage of life from conception to decrepitude and death, so the very next room had foetuses of various stages of development. Alongside the flayed and preserved exhibits that provide the instantly recognisable imagery of the exhibition were display cabinets containing various dissected bits and pieces of the human body with explanations about development, growth, health and disease.

I was acclimatised by now, so was able to look much more closely at the main exhibits as I walked around the silent, almost deserted galleries. The corpses are so brightly coloured they could almost be plastic models, apart from the roughness of texture that can be seen on tendons or the ragged edge of a finger or toenail as a reminder that these are real people. The shapes of ears were particularly individual and striking. There was also humour, which rather than feeling grotesque somehow added humanity and warmth, so that far from being a freak show, it became a celebration of the wonders of the body and of being human.

I came out from the exhibition moved and exhilarated, and I am sure that if you are a believer in intelligent design it would have confirmed your views. For me, the experience meant ninety minutes of meditation on the amazing complexities that keep us alive and functioning, and left me with a sense of awe that still hasn’t quite faded.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Dirty Laugh?

Is this only funny if you have seen the movie?*

* Thanks to Anna for pointing this out..

Sunday, 1 March 2009

On Stalin, Dancing and Ice-cream.

I had one of my favourite seats at a preview of Burnt by the Sun at the National Theatre yesterday. The play is set in Russia in 1936 during the Stalinist purges, and Ciaràn Hinds and Rory Kinnear play the two main protagonists, one as a gruff revolutionary soldier, the other as a golden prodigal boy. I have to tell you that there were no surprises in the casting, so I expect you can guess who played which character.

So, back to telling you about my favourite seats. This was a day booking, taking a chance by ringing the box office after the queue at the box office had subsided, but for a tenner I got a seat in the slips. Although the view is slightly restricted I get a individual seat, with tons of space and a balcony to lean over, sharing this little haven with only two other people. It means that I can wriggle, lay my head on my arms, even spread out a tiny picnic if I want to without disturbing a soul. The sense of being in a little haven also means that the others are always happy to chat, which is great for a single theatre goer like myself, and means I get to be nosy about other people’s lives, another of my favourite pastimes. This time it was two friends getting together for a catch-up day, but quite often it is people visiting London from any number of places around the world, telling me about their impressions of the play, London, politics or any number of other things that you just don’t get in conversation on the train or queue at Tescos.

Watching the play, I was slightly distracted as I had heard that there was some concern about the revolving set, due to its weight, and that meant I couldn’t help but watch the sometimes slow scene revolutions with a sense of anticipation that wasn’t quite intended. Also, they need to lose the music at the final blackout – it killed the impact of the final scene and it went on so long it had the whole audience wondering whether there was more to come. So the cast returned on stage to a slightly awkward pause before the applause.

As for the play itself, it was very good, a great evocation of a sort of golden summer before the Great Terror really got going, mixed with a bit of a political thriller and a classic triangle of sexual jealousy.

From the evening overall I can report that that Ciaran Hinds can dance, Rory Kinnear can play the piano, and that Kitkat fingers dipped into vanilla ice-cream are delicious.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

England People (not) Very Nice?

There is a bit of a fuss developing over England People Very Nice, currently playing at the National Theatre.

I haven't seen it yet, so I don't know whether the objections are valid or not, but one of the protesters is quoted as saying “It [the play] creates new stereotypes about Bangladeshis that I have never heard, that we marry our cousins which is complete rubbish. That is the Pakistanis.”

Is it just me or has he has shot himself in the foot a bit there?

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Alternative Realities

I started watching Moses Jones purely because of Shaun Parkes who was one of my choices for the next Dr Who. As Matt Smith plays the assistant/sidekick role it is giving me constant reminders of what could have been. Moses Jones is written by Joe Penhall of Landscape with Weapon and Blue/Orange fame so it ought to be good, and on many levels it is. I’m enjoying the plot and the nods to 70’s blaxploitation movies, and there is brilliant acting all round, but I have to say the dialogue is more than a bit flaky, and on more than one occasion it has only been the wonderfulness of the acting that has prevented me from throwing something at the screen. I saw Shaun Parkes as Aaron the Moor at the Globe a couple of years ago, and he was swashbucklingly, joyously evil so that I still chuckle to myself every time I think of it. More of this gorgeous and talented actor please……..

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Well, He Did.

There seems curiously little to say about the long awaited ceremony yesterday, although for me the best bit was when President Obama fluffed his lines. No feeling of over-rehearsal there.

The event was big, slightly cheesy and very American. But now that feels like a good thing, and because of that the world seems just a tiny bit better this morning.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Do you know who I am?

I’m beginning to take it personally. The amount of times I have had to produce not just 'ID', but 'Photo ID' where only a passport or driving licence will do is making me wonder if there is something particularly suspicious about me.

A fair chunk of my work comes through employment agencies, and in the past year I have had to sign forms on numerous occasions to state that I am who I say I am, that I’m entitled to work in the UK, and supply any number of original and photocopy official documents with my photo on them just to pick up a few (quite frankly, nowhere near enough) pounds. Yesterday, regardless of the number of times that I have shown various people in the company my passport, one employment agency sent someone on an 80 mile round trip just so that they could sign yet another form to say that they had seen my original passport themselves… I find myself turning into a Daily Mail cliché, muttering about bureaucracy gone mad.

What do they do about people without passports or driving licences I wonder, now that utility bills are no longer acceptable? Are they excluded from jobs, taking exams, opening bank accounts?

Horror of horrors, I found myself thinking that at least the planned identity card scheme will save all this fuss. Is this part of some master plan to make carrying such a card seem the easy option?

It seems that not only is the road to Hell paved with good intentions, I bet it has tiny irritating steps that make getting there seem a blessed relief.

UPDATE: I still seem to be seething about this, so an article in The Observer came with perfect timing. Much as I prefer grumbling from the sidelines ('Not a joiner' was a constant refrain on my school reports), I might yet be persuaded.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Minus 5 is a Good Thing....

....when it makes the roads around Basingstoke look like this.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Hamlet v Hamlet

I had already booked to see David Tennant’s Hamlet as a Christmas holiday treat with my sons when my sister asked me to go with her in January. At the time I thought I was being a bit extravagant, but clearly I was just thinking ahead.

The first performance I saw on 30th December had understudy Edward Bennett as Hamlet. The staging was beautifully done. Although my sons have explained to me numerous times how the mirror trick was done in the bedroom scene I still think it was a very impressive effect which glowered over the rest of the play. Patrick Stewart was a sinister but thoughtful Claudius and although I have never really got the hang of Ophelia, Mariah Gale did a great job. Edward Bennett was also a very good Hamlet – there was no sense that he was mouthing the lines or that he wasn’t really in the moment, but there were occasionally glimpses of stage business that were pure examples of Tennant’s style and they highlighted the unspoken gap on the stage. The biggest problem for me though, was how much Edward Bennett resembles Stephen Mangan, physically and vocally, which meant that I kept expecting more laughs than we actually got.

My favourite version of Hamlet has been Mark Rylance’s, played at the Globe for every ounce of black humour and frantic farce that could be dragged out of it, all done without sacrificing a single drop of the tragedy. This version was much more of an ensemble piece and I think the play, and understanding of the other characters, was clearer as a result. I wasn’t sure though if this was just because of the absence of the ‘star’.

I got my chance to check this theory out earlier this week, when I went again with my sister. Tennant undoubtedly shone, from the moment he walked on stage, and I really enjoyed his sharply intelligent approach. It was fascinating to see how a different lead changed the dynamics of the production. It felt faster, probably because Tennant talks quickly, but I was surprised to find that it actually ran 10 minutes longer than the earlier version I had seen (although I suppose they could have had a longer interval … I wasn’t counting, as I was stuck in the usual queue for the ladies). I liked the slightly posh voice he used, which avoided the pitfalls of Dr Who-dom. Another clear difference was in Claudius’ relationship with Hamlet. Bennett’s Hamlet always seemed slightly overwhelmed by Claudius, whereas Tennant’s lightfootedness somehow diminished the power of his stepfather. I’m not sure if either is better, but it certainly made me think more carefully about the power relationships in the play.

Of course, the back injury was on our minds, and it certainly made me wince a bit as he did a one handed press up over Ophelia’s grave, but he seemed pretty much as loose limbed and agile as ever. Until the ovations that is, when we noticed, at the last call, how he was bending his knees when he took his bow…. And was that a bit of a wince when he straightened up? ….. Difficult to tell, but I don’t think I was the only one who noticed, based on the way that the applause stopped quite quickly after that.

Another personal bit of entertainment for me was spotting Andrew Marr telling all passers by that he was waiting for his wife to come out from the ladies and my sister turning to me to say that she thought she knew him from somewhere. It made me feel so much better about the time that I casually said hello to him at the Globe, on the basis that I probably knew him from somewhere and didn’t want to be rude....