Quote Of The Day

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

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures (also known as iHO)...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures at the Hamsptead Theatre in London's unglitzy Swiss Cottage.

"Have you seen the play?” “No, but I’ve read the title.” Ha, ha.

Synopsis: David Calder plays a communist longshoreman with a death wish and Tamsin Greig is his witty, passionate daughter in Michael Boyd’s terrific production.

Tony Kushner’s prodigious three-and-a-half-hour play The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures (also known as iHO) reveals a lot in its full title: this is a work about sex, politics and religion. While it bulges at the seams, it is bracing, in an age of mini-dramas, to find a play that throws in everything from Marx to modern materialism.

In contrast to the spiralling fantasy of Angels in America, Kushner has written a piece that relies on the tradition of American family drama. The setting is New York in 2007 and Gus, a retired Brooklyn longshoreman and devout communist, has called his clan together to announce his plan to sell his house and then kill himself. This causes varying degrees of shock to his three offspring. Empty (short for Maria Teresa) is a labour lawyer with a pregnant lesbian partner. Pill (otherwise Pier Luigi) is a gay teacher torn between his long-term academic lover and a young Yale-educated rent-boy. V (short for Vito) is a hetero building-contractor and much the angriest. Watching over proceedings with eerie calm is Gus’s sister, Clio, a one-time nun and Maoist.

And if you think that all sounds a bit like Amazon's Prime's Transparent you'd be right. It's that good.

It is easy to itemise the flaws in Kushner’s concept. At one point, he resorts to a plot device straight out of The Cherry Orchard. The religious element, in that the partners of both Empty and Pill study faith without practising it, often seems tacked on. And you wonder how many lovers discuss commodity fetishism in the heat of passion. But the play, which makes constant use of overlapping dialogue to convey family tensions, has a furious energy and deals with the disillusion in an Italian-American community, and by implication a whole society, whose dreams have not been realised.

Kushner is at his best when he deals directly with politics in a series of father-child exchanges. The most powerful comes when Gus is confronted by Empty over his planned suicide. He may have Alzheimer’s but it is clear that his death wish is driven by despair over revolutionary failure: as a union man, he fought for a guaranteed annual income for longshoremen only to find it never achieved the radical change he longed for. Meanwhile Empty is an ardent revisionist who cites the numerous incremental benefits brought about by political action. It is a classic battle between the revolutionary and the reformer and has echoes of the father-daughter conflicts in Shaw’s Major Barbara.

Kushner’s play, which is both vivid and untidy, is given a terrific production by Michael Boyd. David Calder’s Gus has the right mix of gravitas and rumbling embitterment. Tamsin Greig as Empty is sharp, witty and passionate in her gradualism and there are equally strong performances from Richard Clothier as the chronically indecisive Pill and Lex Shrapnel as the recklessly impulsive V. But the performance that draws the eye in this tumultuous family battle is that of Sara Kestelman as the ironically watchful Clio. There are many better-organised plays around, but Kushner’s has the rare capacity to make ideas fizz.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Shopping and Fucking...

Last night Stuart and I went to the Lyric Theatre in London's glitzy Hammersmith to see Sean Holmes's production of Mark Ravenhill's debut play Shopping and Fucking - or Shopping and Fucking Dreadful as we called it by the end.

OK, that's a bit unfair. The play - when I saw it back in 1996 - was a scathing, semi-abstract satire on the transformation of human relationships from the emotional to the transactional. Ravenhill was making the point that in this world of consumerism our emotions have been replaced by transaction: you pay for sex, you pay for companionship, you pay for drugs, and you pay to feel. And nowhere was this happening more than in the gay world of the 1990s. So that's what he wrote about. The world he knew at that time; sex, drugs and clubbing and how it was all about the money.

Only this production sadly drowns any of this socio-economic commentary in a sea of brightly coloured, flashy, empty noise. The three main characters no longer live in a bed-sit and spend their night going out clubbing but inhabit a TV studio piled high with cheap products which they try and sell. And in a masterful misstep by Holmes the cast are forced to break character (and the fourth wall) to try and sell this tat directly to the audience. This audience interaction is weak, unnecessary and brings any suspension of disbelief crashing to the plastic floor. Yeah, we know about consumerism. We paid to get in!

There is real drama to be had in the play as the rent boy who is being abused tries to find love. But this message gets somewhat lost when the actor playing him turns to the woman in Row A dressed in only his pants and tries to sell her a Chicken Curry Pot Noodle.

Sadly the production values are simply rubbish too - the set looks like a tip and the lighting is crude and (ironically) unilluminating. There were audible groans towards the end as each fresh stage gimmick was trotted out. 'Slow dance with an audience member' had people avoiding eye contact with the cast unless they got chosen. A few people left. If we weren’t mid-row we might have followed them.

I can't put it better than one critic pointing out it's like "an acid-drenched collision of ‘The Word’ and the QVC shopping channel."

In the end the thing that sealed the terrible evening for me was the constant karaoke interludes. Randomly the cast were called upon to sing a pop classic at the audience - Labi Siffre's Something Inside So Strong, East 17's Stay Another Day - you get the idea. But to suggestion that music is as hollow as shopping and fucking is certainly not a point Ravenhill ever tried to make in this piece. Why torture us with it? So at that point - I was out.

This play deserves better. Much better.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Réunion: Au Revoir...

Goodbye fair Réunion, it's been fab. With your tropical beaches, your high mountains, your crashing waves, your blue sea, your lush green forests, and your amazing people. Till the next time.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Réunion: The Volcano...

Réunion Island's most iconic landmark is Piton de la Fournaise, a climbable active volcano standing 2,632m (8,635 ft.). 

Have you ever climbed a volcano? No, us neither. Well, we have now and I'm not sure I can wholeheartedly recommended it.

Imagine walking over marbles for 5 and a half hours. Ok, not just marbles. Marbles and needles. Marbles, needles, thorns and ice. Only these are all make of rock. And at a 30 degree angle. With gaps in between. Big gaps. And lava. Did I mention the lava? And to get to the rocky marbles and needles and thorns and ice and lava you need to first drive for two hours up a windy road so high you are above the clouds, then walk down (and afterwards up again) a rocky staircase over 500m high. And all this in the heat of the beating sun. And when you have walked, stumbled and clawed your way up what my FitBit tells me is 20km of distance and up 622 stories high you see the most amazing sight ever. The crator of the most active volcano in recent history. Well, that.

But what a view! What a sense of achievement! But what sore feet!

I hear people only do it once. I can see why.

Réunion: It's France!...

Réunion Island is a French department in the Indian Ocean. Which makes it France. Proper France. It really does. And don't you ever let me hear you say differently. Or I'll have to send the garçons round.

Réunion is lovely. It's part of the EU of course (you do remember it is France, right?) and as such is way more developed than either its sister island Mauritius or impoverished Madagascar. 

Stuart and I came here to see Stu's old college chum Nikki who along with her lovely family have been hosting us. Nikki is so sweet and has been checking our itinerary to make sure we see all the sights in her adopted island. And what sights there are!

We've been up a dead volcano, up a live volcano (more on that later), on a beach, narrowly avoiding some sharks, and touring round the island generally making a nuisance of ourselves. 

It's a great holiday destination with much to do! So I'd better get back to sipping cocktails by the pool. French cocktails of course. Because. It's. France.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Madagascar: Stuart, Jonathan (and other animals)...

Ok, so Madagascar isn't just about the lemurs. Turns out the place is packed with other unique animal species too. Chameleons, owls, iguanas, spiders, preying mantes, giraffe beetles, snakes, geckos, hedgehogs, you name it.

Madagascar: Lemurs...

Our last few days in Madagascar have been spent down the east coast. The east coast is lush, full of forests and jungle, and the perfect place to spot (and on occasion interact with) the amazing Malagasy wildlife. As you may know nearly 90% of the animals and plants are unique to this island. But the main draw (and indeed for some the only reason they come here at all) is the lemurs. 59 species of these fluffy primates currently live wild in Madagascar. And they are simply gorgeous. They don't smell, they don't have claws, they are herbivores, and they are very gentle.
Lemurs share a common ancestor with their distant cousins the monkeys but have evolved completely independently over the past 40 million years in divine isolation. Sadly many lemurs are now on the vulnerable species or endangered animal list due to excessive hunting and habitat destruction. A few species are actually expected to become extinct within the next few years.
In my opinion they make a better WWF mascot than giant pandas as unlike pandas there are few breeding programmes and frankly they could do with the exposure.
We saw quite a few lemurs in the wild and even more when we visited a rescue sanctuary where they climbed all over us. Bless.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Madagascar: The Avenue of the Baobabs...

Ok, I have to confess the main reason we came to Madagascar was to see The Avenue of the Baobabs at sunset. Yeah, the lemurs are great and yes, the fact that 90% of the flora and fauna being unique is pretty cool but I really came to see a vivid sunset with weird trees in the background. Call me shallow. But wow they didn't disappoint. I took zillions of photos but don't worry here are just few. I added a filter to some - just to guild the lily! Amazing trees, amazing sunset.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Madagascar: Morondava to Antananarivo...

"Sex touristic capital of Madagascar" warned the sign. Yes, folks we spent our final night on the west coast of Madagascar in the once infamous port of Morondava. I say once because we were to be reassured that the place had cleaned up its act in recent years. The odd sign that said 'happy massage' and 'young masseuse' perhaps told a different story however.
So why were we there? Well, near Morondava is the big, big attraction of Madagascar - The Avenue of the Baobabs - but more of that later.
Up at the crack of dawn we took a propeller plane back to the capital Antananarivo. Very Indiana Jones. 
Having done a quick city tour we settled into our outstanding boutique hotel perched on top of the main hill in the city.
Tomorrow we are back into the jungle again - travelling down the east coast.