Quote Of The Day

"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Comedy of Errors...

Last Friday night Stu and I went to see Dominic Cooke's take on the Bard's The Comedy of Errors at the Olivier Theatre on London glitzy South Bank.

'Starring' Lenny Henry we weren't quite sure what to expect, but trusting the National to put on a good show we weren't too worried. And what worries we had had proved unfounded. It was a great show.

The setting was modern day (ish) which worked surprisingly well. The action took place in a slightly jarred reality - at times were we in Florida? A European port? Maybe a posh London street? Anyway, the set design was great for all that - towering, twisting, sliding and thrusting - it transported us from a storm on-board ship to a town square effortlessly.

The basic plot idea of two pairs of long lost twins starts with the maelstrom at sea but goes on to create one of increasing confusion amongst their nearest and dearest. The chaos as perfectly executed. Within the same scene the director took the action effortlessly from an intimate tête-a-tête of wordplay between two players to a full blown knockabout farce involving the wider cast. And what a great cast they were. Played with such gusto it was hard to fault a single player.

Genius idea was having the the wife Adriana and her sister Luciana played as WAGS. This choice fitted the bill perfectly - their lines came alive when seen from that perspective.

Another nice touch was the four-piece band playing latino versions of recent hits during scenery changes.

And now let's come to Lenny Henry. What to say about him? Can he act? Was he any good? Well, that's an easy one to answer. He was great. Brilliant in fact. Just the right amount of verbal dexterity. just the right amount of physicality, just the right amount of mugging at the audience. Pitch perfect in fact. The boy can act!

So my conclusion? The production is a riot. Funny, well-acted and a must-see.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Queen of Spades...

The Queen of Spades (opera)
Image via Wikipedia
Yesterday Paul treated me to a night at the opera. We went to the Barbican to see Neil Bartlett's new production of The Queen of Spades for Opera North.

Tchaikovsky's opera tells a tale of a Russian officer falling for the wrong girl in the late 1700s St. Petersburg was never going to end well. Princes, soldiers, countesses, nursemaids, governesses, wet-nurses, strollers, children and gamblers all take us on this journey of love, loss, obsession and a fatal belief in Fate.

It's an unfussy staging that Bartlett has gone for: a simple set, costumes that are delightfully period and the lighting, whilst being low-angled, is never too harsh.

The orchestra was tip top - suitably dramatic without being over-bearing. The chorus too shone with a crispness and clarity that was refreshing.

The solo performances were fine although - as Paul pointed out - it's often hard to be convinced that such ample star-crossed lovers Herman and Lisa find the time to eat so well.

Stand-out performance was by Josephine Barstow playing the her grandmother / Countess: a vamp, a harridan, and a scene-chewing performance.

Stand-out song for me was the innuendo ladened "If pretty girls could fly like birds".
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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Register and Intel Live 2011...

Yesterday I went to an all-dayer of The Register and Intel Live 2011 at Millbank Tower. Fascinating stuff. The great and good were all presenting to us: Intel, McAfee, Cancer Reseach UK, CERN and BT. Guest star was the the rather lovely Professor Brian Cox. Slide show of pix here.
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Monday, November 21, 2011


On Saturday night Stuart, Ian and I went to the Barbican in London to watch a live broadcast of Satyagraha performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. It was as fanatastic and moving as it was when Paul and I saw it eighteen months ago. So I can add nothing more than repost my review of the show back then:-

Last night Paul treated me to Satyagraha at the ENO. It was brilliantly hypnotic. Jaw-droppingly wonderful. In has to be in the top ten best things I've seen on stage. Ever.

The opera is in three acts for orchestra, chorus and soloists. It was composed by Philip Glass, with a libretto by Glass and Constance de Jong. It's loosely based on the life of Mohandas Gandhi. The term satyagraha is the philosophy and practice of nonviolent resistance developed by Gandhi himself.

Act I. Tolstoy
On the Kuru Field of Justice
Tolstoy Farm (1910)
The Vow (1906)

Act II. Tagore
Confrontation and Rescue (1896)
Indian Opinion (1906)
Protest (1908)

Act III. King
New Castle March (1913)

Philip Glass's music is simply glorious: those repetitive patternings shifting and shining with ingenious rhythmic and melodic ideas, interlocking, overlapping, yet ever calm. But it was the staging that made the night so wonderful. So enchanting.

The director of the piece was Phelim McDermott (Shockheaded Peter) and Julian Crouch is the assistant director and set designer. Boy, they did an amazing job.

All three acts take place within an arc-like wall of curving corrugated iron. Within the slow waves of music and human movement, an ensemble of acrobats and puppeteers conjure miracle after miracle. Newsprint looms large: there is a ubiquitous whispering of newspaper as sheets are shifted, read (the founding of Indian Opinion was central to Gandhi’s work) — and then, almost imperceptibly, formed into gigantic papier-mâché puppet-figures of gods, beasts and politicians.

High in the iron wall, windows disclose the three iconic figures who watch over the three acts: Tolstoy, Tagore and Martin Luther King.

The beauty of the sung Sanskrit is bewitching: sober sepia projections of key passages replace supertitles; but verbal comprehension isn’t really the point. Although it would be inappropriate to single out individual performances in a work that has so little to do with conventional operatic glory, Alan Oke’s central performance as Gandhi is a masterpiece of compelling clarity and absorption.

As the last act unfolds, the great wall buckles and disintegrates, leaving a miming silhouette of the preaching King high on his plinth, and the diminutive figure of Gandhi below, singing a simple rising scale — no fewer than thirty times.

Stand out moments of the night for me were:
- the amazing floating coat hangers and the equally amazing floating lights lifted up high
- the weaving and crumpling up of a huge web of sellotape to produce at first a barrier, then a giant puppet man then an image of Gandhi himself
- the long newspaper streams across the stage that became first a barrier, then wings for Gandhi and then again sky high banners for projecting words all in one fluid motion.

Image after image is etched indelibly on the memory, in its masterly fusion of the aural and the visual. If you ever get a chance - go see.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Yes, Prime Minister...

Last night I treated Dad and Myrtle to a night at the theatre for Dad's birthday. We went to see Yes, Prime Minister at the Gielgud Theatre in London glitzy West End.

OK, so it's not actually Dad's birthday until Boxing Day, another six weeks away, but the show is closing at the end of this week so we had to get in fast.

We had three front row dress circle seats which gave us a good view. The show itself was nice enough - perhaps not quite the laugh a minute we'd come to expect from the television version though.

The plot revolved around a night at Chequers and the farce of supplying an under-age girl to a foreign dignatory in order to such through a financial deal.

The show starred Simon Williams as Sir Humphrey Appleby and Richard McCabe as James "Jim" Hacker. Good though both were they weren't a patch on Nigel Hawthorne or Paul Eddington.

We enjoyed ourselves though and Dad was kind enough to say he loved it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Last Friday night Stu, Oliver, Steve and I (plus new friends Ian and Nicole) were chased around Soho by huntsmen and a pack of dogs.

Slingshot's latest urban game was called Hounded and it started from Soho Square. There were about one hundred of us in teams of six dressed as foxes - OK we just had large orange tails on - but we were to be chased by real, live dogs though.

Before the start we had peppermint sprayed on the bottoms of our shoes so the hounds could track us and from there on in we were pretty much on our own. As foxes we had two minutes head start and our task was a) to not get caught by the hounds otherwise we would lose our tails (and twenty points), and b) to try and discover and follow various scent trails that lead all over Soho.

To follow these scent trails there were 5" square pads attached to dozens of lampposts, street signs and bollards and we had to get up close and personal, sniff them and detect a particular smell and follow it. Following say the 'mint' smell would lead us to a secret word at the end of the trail which we then had to text back to base. Collecting these end of trail words gained us points. The longer (and often smellier) the trail the higher the points. 'Swamp' was particularly horrid. Needelss to say many of the trails over-lapped so we had ur foxy work cut out for us.

On the plus side if we did lose our fox tails to the hounds we could then become hounds ourselves and chase other teams' foxes to grab their tails and get bonus points for each one we caught.

In the end the team with the most correct 'smell words', had the fewest fox tails missing and had managed to snatch the most competitor's tails won the game.

It was great fun. The adrenalene was certainly pumping as we dashed down various streets, back alleys and passageways criss-crossing through Soho. The area was full of Friday night drinkers and we sure got some weird looks as we sniffed the street furniture - but we didn't care. We were being chased and had the scent in our nostrils.

In the end we came second. Which wasn't too bad out of sixteen teams. Our team name was Megan and The Basils (geddit?!)

Great fun. Tally-ho!

(There are bigger version of the photos below here)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Corridors in science-fiction movies...

There's a moment in every geek's life when one goes for the 'communal hug' on a pet-subject and finds oneself unexpectedly out in the cold. The piano player stops playing. The landlord shakes his head as his eyes head heavenward, and he slinks away to rearrange the crisps. The lonely sound of a misdirected dart is all that haunts the otherwise silent pub. And it's definitely time to get your anorak. "You like what...?"

Corridors in science-fiction movies.
 This guy loves them.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Put a Goose in the Room...

Loving Him & Her on BBC3. The new series is just brilliant. And the lovely Russell Tovey is excellent in it.

Best line of last night's episode was from Becky's sister Laura, "If someone snoring you need to put a goose in the room."

Monday, November 07, 2011


So how's your grammar and punctuation? Do you know where to put your apostrophes, your commas and your colons? This is a fantastic site that explains it all and has some tests too - the University of Bristol Faculty of Arts Improve Your Writing. Well worth a special look is the apostrophe test.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Why Does A Rabbit Run Faster Than A Fox?..

The 1976 book The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawk...Image via Wikipedia Why does a rabbit run faster than a fox? Because while the fox is running for his dinner, the rabbit is running for his life.

I'm currently rereading Richard Dawkins's book The Selfish Gene. I don't think I'm exaggerating to say it redefined how we think about culture and business by thinking deeply about things like rabbits, foxes and cuckoo birds. (It was in this book that he coined the term, meme).

In simple terms, rabbits that are born slow are more likely to get eaten, enlarging the proportion of fast rabbits in the gene pool. Foxes who are fast enough to catch the slowest rabbits survive and continue to propagate, but only need to be fast enough to stay well fed. If foxes became too efficient or rabbits became to slow, neither would survive. All of rabbits would get eaten and the foxes would either starve or have to seriously change their business model.

The book it packed with mindful, illuminating examples and explores and explodes much woolly thinking. A landmark book and well worth the read.

One of my favourite quotes is this: there are so many insects in the world that to a good approximation all species are insects.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Swine 'Flu...

I wrote this back in 2009. It's as true then as it is now.

If the media is to be believed recently then we're in for Black Death v2.0. 

I have just one thing to say to that. Y2KLet's shoot the messenger!

Sky News, BBC News, CNN, ITN, Fox News (especially Fox News!) let's line them all up and shoot them all!

I think there's plenty of guilt to go around. Perhaps BBC Three's 60 Second News team could be spared - to be used later as our Let's Shoot The Messenger Ministry of Information.

I'm too much of a realist to by an optimist and too much of a cynic to be a realist. Life is shit and then you die. On the plus side however death will be slightly more pleasurable than listening to another scare story about swine 'flu!

Charlie Brooker's got the right idea. All news is bad news. Let's shoot the messenger.