Quote Of The Day

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

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Human Nature...

To understand human nature, look how worn out the lift's "close the door" button is compared to the "keep the door open" button.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Limehouse...

So another election is upon us? (sigh)

Last Thursday Stuart and I went to see timely drama Limehouse at the Donmar Warehouse in London's glitzy West End.

The story is set in a house in Limehouse in 1981 where the so-called 'Gang of Four' – Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams - meet to plot their future, the future of the Labour Party, and indeed the future of British politics.

At the time of the Limehouse meeting Britain had an adamantine female prime minister with a strong right-wing majority and a Labour Party divided over how to respond, arguing over Trident and in disarray over Europe. Sound familiar?

After Margaret Thatcher's big win in 1979, the Labour Party took a big jump to the Left. And the moderates/right-wingers of the Labour Party like our Gang of Four weren't too happy. So they met in secret to talk it through – do they stay and fight or break away and form a new party?

By the end of the day they had set aside their rivalries, anger, guilt, squabbling, in-fighting, jealousies and bitter recriminations and come up with The Limehouse Declaration. A statement that signalled their intent all to leave the Labour Party and form a Council for Social Democracy.

The Social Democrats were wildly successful for a while polling at 25% but then after Thatcher's Falklands War election win in 1983 they waned until merging with the Liberals to form the Liberal Democrats. And look where *they* are now.

In some ways, the Social Democrats were the New Labour of their day. And if May gets a huge majority in 8 weeks’ time... who knows?... maybe their time will come again.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Queer British Art 1861-1967 @ Tate Britain...

Last Friday Stuart, my brother Simon, my sister Joanna, my niece Charlotte, Paul, Simon and I went to see Queer British Art 1861-1967 at Tate Britain in London's glitzy Pimlico.

Two pieces of legislation set the timespan for this exhibition. One is the abolition of the death penalty for sodomy in 1861; the other is the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967. And it’s the shadow of illegality and widespread prejudice that’s cast over everything on display in this rich and fascinating survey of queer art.

Weaving between history and gossip, private lives and public declarations, repression and celebration, the exhibition recounts a complicated story of sexuality and desire through work that is as often as coded and veiled as it is candid and outspoken.

Although wide-ranging, I'd like to highlight three pieces from the exhibition that spoke to me.

The first is the calling card left by the Marquess of Queensberry for Oscar Wilde (with the words “for Oscar Wilde, posing Somdomite” [sic]) left at Wilde’s club. The card hangs near a full-length portrait of Wilde, as an elegant man about town and the door to his cell in Reading jail.

The second is Duncan Grant’s 1930 portrait of PC Harry Daley which commemorates the Hammersmith policeman who was, for a time, EM Forster’s lover, and who went on to write a book recounting his experiences on both sides of the law.

Thirdly the heart-breaking pieces by precocious Jewish pre-Raphaelite painter Simeon Solomon who was arrested for cottaging, first in London, later in Paris, and spent the last 20 years of his life in St Giles workhouse, alcoholic and abandoned by many of his friends.

The show is strange, sexy, and oft heart wrenching. From Man Ray’s portrait of Virginia Woolf to Orton’s library book collages and Noël Coward’s dressing gown, this vital survey is bursting with fascinating stories.

Go see.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Ebola vs. Tulisa...

Q: What's the difference between Ebola and Tulisa?
A: Ebola will finish you off.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Boom, Boom!...

My grandad said, "It's going to be hot this weekend."
I said, "Tell me something I don't know!"
Grandad replied, "Your Nana's arse can take my whole fist."


Talking of my Nana. Last Sunday she invited Stuart and I round for a roast.
Kinky bitch!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

42nd Street...

Last Saturday night Stuart and I went to see showbiz musical 42nd Street at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London's glitzy West End.

Synopsis: Paper thin plot but wow what a show!

There are few more famous openings in musical theatre: the curtain rises a few inches, just enough to reveal a line of tap shoes thundering away. 42nd Street, the ultimate backstage musical, is a blunt force trauma of a show. It roars where others purr. Mark Bramble, who co-wrote the book for original 1980 Broadway show, in turn based on the 1933 MGM smash film, continues his long association with the musical as director here.

And it’s an extraordinary thing, crammed with songs by Al Dubin and Harry Warren, full of the sound and fury of tapping feet, illuminated by dazzling colour. So much so, in fact, that it’s easy to ignore the fact that by interval time nothing has really happened.

Famed director Julian Marsh is putting on a huge show, Pretty Lady, in the middle of the Great Depression. “This is April 3rd 1933 and we start work on a new show”, he says helpfully, embodying the show’s characteristic avoidance of subtlety. Erstwhile star Dorothy Brock has been reluctantly cast as the lead so that the producers can get a wedge of investment money from her rich beau.

A young woman from small town Pennsylvania, Peggy Sawyer, rolls up late looking for a job in the chorus line. She's an instant hit with the show's leading man, not so much anyone else. Eventually – and not before a lot of songs and dances – Brock breaks her ankle, Sawyer steps up and the dream comes alive for everyone.

It’s a show with a strange history: its original director, Gower Champion, died on opening night in 1980. Catherine Zeta-Jones was propelled from chorus girl to star in the 1984 West End production in this same theatre. Bramble has been there all the way, and he clearly knows this piece inside out, and that’s apparent from the occasional flashes of real complexity in the production.

Layer upon layer of artifice is built up, completely blurring the line between what’s real life and what’s happening on stage. Sets represent sets, costumes double as costumes, actors play actors

The production recognises the rust that’s bloomed on many of these MGM-era tropes and it paints them with silliness, rather than seriousness. The hackneyed lines – “Sawyer, you're going out a youngster but you've got to come back a star!” – are played for laughs and the zero-to-hero ridiculousness of the story and its setting is amplified.

Every number, from familiar songs like Keep Young and Beautiful and Shuffle Off to Buffalo to lesser known numbers like Boulevard of Broken Dreams (added to the production especially to showcase Sheena Easton’s voice) swells to a huge climax and although there are a few forgettable performances, perhaps inevitable in a cast of 48, the good ones are great.

Tom Lister doesn't make Julian Marsh the dictator he's often played as. Instead there's more of a 'firm but fair' vibe. It means that, until Lister can show off his powerful baritone voice late in the show, the character is somewhat diminished, especially in the midst of three extraordinary women.

Clare Halse as Peggy is, without doubt, a phenomenal dancer. She moves so fast and with such precision that in some moments her legs are a blur. She’s got the acting skill too, an endearing brew of optimism and bewilderment, with a sharp comic sense – “eyes shining like a kid at Christmas” as one of the characters describes her. But she’s a whisper of a threat away from the triple, with a voice that doesn’t knock one’s socks off in the way her dancing does.

Jasna Ivir is hilarious as Pretty Lady’s composer Maggie Jones and, in her West End debut, Sheena Easton’s sneers and snarls as Dorothy Brock almost push her diva routine into panto villain territory, but it sets the tone for whole show – one of embracing the silliness, revelling in the recognisability of all the old Golden Age cliches.

Everything conjures the America of the 1930s – except the accents, most of which got lost somewhere across the Atlantic. Douglas W Schmidt’s set and Roger Kirk’s costumes – every colour dialled up a hue – show just how appealing the theatre would have been in the Great Depression, a world full of smiles and sequins.

One scene sees four urchins find a dime in a gutter, and within seconds colossal coins are rolled onto the stage and set down like circular stages, danced upon by chorines wearing all the spangles and glitter in the world. Opulence and escapism meet Depression-era America head on, a reminder that the 1933 film’s colossal success was due in no small part to the feel-good and consequence-free lavishness it offered in contrast to the poverty of its audience’s lives.

In a brilliant hat-tip to the iconic film, during one chorus scene a giant art deco mirror hangs above the stage and we see the dancers blossom and grow into abstract geometric shapes. Busby Berkeley’s groundbreaking film choreography is resurrected in glorious Technicolor onstage.

The musical has always been about immensity: subtlety begone, nothing by halves. It’s a show that can say all it needs to through numbers alone: 48 cast members, 432 costumes, 2,000 lights; it holds, and has shattered, Broadway records. Sometimes that magnitude, that earth-quaking rumble of dancing feet is enough to sustain it. It can survive through sheer size.

But, here and now, it’s combined with a nascent West End nostalgia kick and seems to be tapping (sorry) into an audience that is desperate for the classics. An American in Paris opened a couple of weeks ago, borrowing from the Gershwins’ songbook, there was La La Land of course, Sunset Boulevard – in fact the producers of the recent Glenn Close production, Michael Grade and Michael Linnit, also produced this show.

We may not be in the middle of a major economic depression, but things aren’t looking that rosy at the moment either. A show that’s all about pretence is well timed. 42nd Street is where the underground meets the elite, and that’s what theatre is too: a girl from small town Pennsylvania has to pretend to be a star; chorines crammed 10 to a dressing room backstage have to conjure incredible worlds on stage.

When that army of dancers gets going, when the rows of lights start twinkling and tap shoes hit the bleachers extending towards the audience from the back of the stage, it’s simply, overwhelmingly, stunning.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead...


Last night Stuart and I went to see Tom Stoppard's absurdist, existentialist tragicomedy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead at The Old Vic in London's glitzy Waterloo.


Against the backdrop of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, this mind-bending situation comedy sees two hapless minor characters, Rosencrantz (Daniel Radcliffe) and Guildenstern (Joshua McGuire), take centre stage with David Haig as The Player. Increasingly out of their depth, the young double act stumble their way in and out of the action of this iconic drama. In a literary hall of mirrors, Stoppard’s brilliantly funny, existential labyrinth sees us witness the ultimate identity crisis.

Both Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire are excellent; the first two acts producing some full-on belly laughs – none more so that when they play Questions. The production perhaps loses its way a little in the final third act though as the events of Hamlet play a more prominent part of the action.

The play is delightfully absurd and as the characters constantly ask themselves what is going on - we the audience know only too well – they demonstrate theie conflict between art and reality.

Metatheatre is a central structural element of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Scenes that are staged as plays, dumb shows, or commentaries on dramatic theory and practice, are prominent in both Stoppard's play and Shakespeare's original tragedy Hamlet. In Hamlet, metatheatrical elements include the Player's speech, Hamlet's advice to the Players, and the meta-play "The Mousetrap". Since Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are characters from Hamlet itself, Stoppard's entire play can be considered a piece of metatheatre.

Luckily all this self-referentialism is not only clever but funny. Very, very funny.

Recommended: If you like Hamlet. And Stoppard. And metatheatre!

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Arsenal 3 - 0 West Ham...

We didn't hold out much hope last night at the Emirates due to our pretty poor run of form of late but despite a boring first half we really pulled to together in the second. 

Yay for our team!

 

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Should He Stay Or Should He Go?...

I have fond memories of Arsene Wenger. Whether he stays for a bit longer or goes at the end of this season I hope those memories don't get tarnished by a slow, awkward and disruptive departure.

AW deserves repect for what he has achieved to get Arsenal FC where they are now but that respect could soon turned sour if he is seen to putting himself before the club. It may be hard for him to take but he may not be the best thing for Arsenal's future.

Where I work we have succession planning meetings. We make arrangements for what will happen when (not if) someone leaves the company. I chair the group and I usually start each meetings with the same phrase, "The graveyard is littered with indispensable people. If we don't plan for the future we are betraying those who will follow us and they will curse us for our lack of foresight."

No one likes change but it is nearly always for the best in the long run. Afterwards people often wonder why they never did it earlier.

I just hope Arsene does the right thing by the club - even if the right thing is he not staying on and so making way for the fresh ideas the club so obviously needs. It would be such a shame to see him hounded out and my memories become those of his ungracious exit and not of his glory years.

If you prune an aging rose bush well you can watch it sprout new wood and bloom a wondrous red rose once again.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Hamlet...

Last Saturday night Stuart and I went to see Andrew Scott take on the Bard's mightiest role as he played Hamlet at the Almeida Theatre in London's glitzy Islington.

Synopsis: So "Hamlet" then Moriarty... 221B or not 221B? He did not disappoint. Wonderful. Long but wonderful.

David Tennant has had a go. Benedict Cumberbatch has taken a stab at it. And now fellow star of BBC Steven Moffat dramas Andrew Scott – Moriarty in Sherlock – is giving us his apparently compulsory Hamlet. When will it be Martin Freeman's turn, I wonder? Or Billie Piper's? Actually, there's a thought!

But be reassured dear reader, Mr Scott's sweet prince was top notch. His was a moving and human Hamlet, full of charm, self-mockery, and ability to speak directly to the audience. He found new paths through Hamlet's soliloquies, dwelling on certain words as if caressing their edges. Cleverly each seemed like an act of intimacy with the audience.

As we've come to expect from director Robert Icke the production is clever too. Bob Dylan songs regularly float across the auditorium, the ghost of Hamlet's father is first seen on CCTV, and Polonius wears a wire.

It's transferring to the West End soon so if fancy 4 hours of good quality Shakespeare - this is the show for you.

In the foyer we spotted Benedict Cumberbatch with Sophie Hunter. He was obviously there to support his friend - and check out if he had done any better than his own fairly lacklustre production at the Barbican a couple of years back. And when Mr Scott uttered the immortal line "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him.." I'm sure we heard Cumberbatch mutter under his breath "I knew him better!"

Monday, April 03, 2017

Pet Shop Boys...

Last night Stuart and I went to see the Pet Shop Boys alongside Johnny Marr and the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra perform in aid on The Teenage Cancer Trust at the Royal Albert Hall in London's well-heeled Kensington.

Good egg Roger Daltrey was on hand too to help get the message across about the good work The Teenage Cancer Trust does.

Neil was in fine voice and on good form. Chris didn't move from his chair(!)

"We have often combined electronics with orchestrations on our records and now we’re going to do this in concert. Johnny has played on many of our albums and it will be a real thrill to have him on stage with us."

The orchestral arrangements were great filling the auditorium with beautiful concert music coupled with the PSB's inimitable wit and sound - "Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat."

It was a great night that brought tears to my eyes. The cause was a good one and the performance was sensational.

The set-list was:-

Act 1
Left To My Own Devices
Tonight Is Forever
This Must Be The Place I've Waited Years To Leave
Rent
Later Tonight
New York City Boy
Miracles
The Survivors
Leaving
Jealousy

Interval

Act 2
Hold On
It Couldn't Happen Here
All Of Us
Can You Forgive Her?
Breathing Space
He Dreamed of Machines
Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin
Indefinite Leave To Remain
West End Girls
It's Alright
It's A Sin