Quote Of The Day

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

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Glastonbury : Getting Into It...

So we are really getting into the Glasto vibe now. Not just seeing the big bands, but exploring the nooks and crannies, the smaller acts, the great finds. Spoken word, art, stand up comedy, oh, and people watching. Lots of lots of people watching. 

That said, of the well-known bands yesterday, The Proclaimers were great, Janet Jackson amazing, The Killers (and friends) ok, and The Chemical Brothers spectacular.

We still found time to relax though. Despite walking what seemed like 500 miles, we stuck to the old adage, it's stamina counts in the end. All great fun. 

Glastonbury : Hot, Hot, Hot...

Our second day at Glasto was really cool. And by 'cool' I mean hot, hot, hot. Bjorn Again was singalong-amazing, Lauryn Hill less so, Horse Meat Disco brilliant, Fat Boy Slim excellent. But the day went to Stormzy. He was a sensation. A revelation. Funny, humble, angry, political, spectacular. Ballet dancers, a gospel choir, BMX bikers, rappers, special effects, Chris Martin, fireworks... I think I also clocked a kitchin sink stage left. 😂
We walked (a lot), drank (a fair bit), ate (barely enough), danced (too much), sang (ourselves hoarse) and laughed (almost non-stop).
What an amazing place. If you have energy!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Glastonbury : First Night...

Our first Glasto night was a fairly quiet affair. If you call 'quiet' 175,000 people whooping, partying, dancing, laughing, drinking, eating, in 900 acres of farmland. And a massive cheer went up as the sun went down.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Wife @KilnTheatre "Nora as a queer icon, and lashings of regret, love, flamboyance, laughter and tears."

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see Samuel Adamson's queer drama Wife at the Kiln Theatre in London's glitzy Kilburn.

The play is a comedy - but like all comedies, has a strong line in tragedy running straight through it.

Set in three periods - 1959, 1988, and 2019 - the story mirrors, and in some ways follows on from, that of Ibsen's Nora leaving her husband at the end of The Doll's House. A sound of a door closing that was heard around the world.

In 1959, we meet Daisy who is at a crossroads. Married to Robert but in love with Suzannah, we first see her back-stage just after she and Robert have finished watching Suzannah play Nora on stage. Will Daisy leave her husband for the woman she loves?

Fast forward to 1988 and two gay men are in the pub having just watched another production of The Doll's House. Their relationship is also on the skids. How does Daisy fit in? That would be telling. But, it's funny - Kevin Elyot funny.

Finally, in 2019 the whole story comes together. This time we see a gender-swapping Doll's House, the fallout from the previous brief encounters, Nora as a queer icon, and lashings of regret, love, flamboyance, laughter and tears.

We loved it.

Wife is great play. It is thought provoking, moving, wonderfully theatrical, and funny. Very, very funny.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Family Gathering...

Back in 2007, my cousin Jane organised our first big family gathering at Chipperfield Parish Hall (where my parents had got married 62 years previously). Then in 2016, my sister Jo and I organised the second one - same venue, same wonderful family.

Then last Saturday afternoon Jo and I did it all over again. And the third time was an absolute charm. It was a wonderful day. The sun was shining, everyone was smiling and laughing, and you could definitely feel all the love in the room.

There were about 58 of us this time - all sharing the food duties, the cooking duties, and our own family stories. There were mothers and fathers (both great and grand), sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, cousins, first cousins, second cousins (once and twice removed) - you name it!

It was so fantastic to see everyone.

As the afternoon progressed my cousin Peter gave a wonderfully moving speech about family, we took a few group photographs, and we had a raffle for Macmillan Cancer Support raising £260 on the day (increasing to £585 once it has been doubled up and gift aid on the bonus donation has been taken into account.)

Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves so much we left promising to do it all again in a few years’ time.

Here’s to the fourth one!

Friday, June 21, 2019

The Damned (Les Damnés) "Murder, blood, paedophilia, incest... rape... Hitler's SS... burying people alive, and nudity - lots and lots of nudity."

Murder, blood, paedophilia, incest, betrayal, rape, Brownshirts, Hitler's SS, drinking, dancing, singing, tar, feathers, burying people alive, and nudity - lots and lots of nudity. Yes, it was a show to remember.

Last night Stuart and I went to see Third Reich thriller The Damned (Les Damnes) at the Barbican Theatre in London's glitzy Barbican Centre.

International theatre's most in-demand auteur is directing the legendary Comédie-Française company in his adaptation of Luchino Visconti's 1969 film The Damned. Yes, Ivo van Hove, perhaps the world’s most in-demand theatre director, who has only just launched his production of All About Eve in the West End, is back at the Barbican.

With a company of 30 actors and technicians, prominent use of live and recorded film, it was another epically ambitious and technically impressive production on the Barbican stage, performed in French with English surtitles.

Van Hove is, by now, as well known for his penchant for reworking classic films by the likes of Ingmar Bergman, John Cassavetes, Billy Wilder and, indeed Visconti, having previously adapted 1949's Obsession, which played at the Barbican with Jude Law in 2017.

The story, harrowing and contemporarily relevant, concerns a prominent German industrialist family, the Essenbecks, who reluctantly become complicit Nazi colluders as the regime gradually gains power. It deals with the disintegration of society, morality, and the grand questions familiar to Greek and Shakespearian tragedy, in a way that van Hove clearly believes speaks to our time.

Each death in the dynasty is accompanied by a loud blast on an industrial whistle and a burial of the body in an onstage coffin. A video of the dead is then projected on to a screen at the back of the stage giving us an unnerving view of the corpse dying all over again.

A powerful play (film?) that shows a family inexorably destroyed by its complicity with a an evil tyranny.

The show only runs for five nights. Which doesn't surprise me. At 2 hours 10 mins with no interval the actors must be knackered.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Stanley Underhill: Coming out of the Black Country @Islingtonlibs @IslingtonMuseum

Last night Stuart and I went to a book reading, presentation, and Q&A by ninety-two-year-old Stanley Underhill, one of 41 Brothers at The Charterhouse Islington, held at Finsbury Library in London's glitzy St John Street.

Underhill's book, an autobiography, Coming out of the Black Country, is as fascinating and disturbing as it is inspiring.

Underhill describes the struggles that he went through to try to come to terms with being homosexual and details the disastrous consequences driven by his ambition to become a straight man. It also shows the cruelty and ineffectiveness of attempts at conversion therapy.

Stanley Underhill was born in 1927, in the Black Country. When he was only a toddler, his family was plunged into poverty. Living through the great depression, he was subjected to bullying and rejection by his father for his feminine ways. On leaving school on his fourteenth birthday, he became a compositor at a printing works in Birmingham.

In 1945, he was called up and served in the Royal Navy as a Naval nurse - briefly finding love at sea. After demobilisation in 1948, he studied and qualified as an accountant. But his love-life led to betrayal and then to depression and incarceration. He underwent psychotherapy, conversion therapy, testosterone injections, with no success, and attempted suicide.

Even as an accountant his partners were homophobic bullies who hounded him out into practising by himself. And then in 1976, he joined the Anglican Society of St. Francis. After five years with the Society he was ordained and served in the dioceses of Southwark, Lichfield and Canterbury and finally as a Chaplain in the Diocese of Europe. In 2003, he became a Brother at the London Charterhouse where, in his mid-eighties, he began writing his autobiography.

Towards the end of his tale, he quotes the advice that Polonius offers to his son, Laertes, in Shakespeare s Hamlet: "above all, to thine own self be true." He could hardly have anticipated that this advice would precipitate in himself a lifetime of self-examination and searching and serve as a crucial leitmotif that would recur throughout both his adolescence and entire adult life as he grappled to reconcile his faith and sexuality.

Coming Out of the Black Country is a story of survival, forgiveness, and a testament to the power of personal faith and love.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Cendrillon @ Glyndebourne "It's panto and vulgar panto at that. We loved it!" ...

Yesterday afternoon Stuart, Jo, Myrtle and I went to see French opera Cendrillon performed at Glyndebourne just outside glitzy Lewes in East Sussex.

Glyndebourne is a posh English country house, the site of an opera house that, since 1934, has been the venue for the annual Glyndebourne Festival Opera. Initially, operas were presented within the house but there is now a freestanding opera house in its grounds. The house itself is thought to be about six hundred years old and listed at grade II.

The weather had been a bit iffy on the drive down but cleared just as we arrived so we picnicked in the beautiful gardens - nestled amongst the flowers. Jo and Myrtle had laid on a super spread and we quaffed a bottle of fizz as we people watched, waiting for the opera to start.

Cendrillon a.k.a. Cinderella is described as a fairy tale in four acts by Jules Massenet to a French libretto by Henri Caïn based on Perrault's 1698 version of the Cinderella fairy tale.

This production - Fiona Shaw’s - was making its Festival debut, re-directed by Fiona Dunn and conducted by John Wilson, with a cast led by Glyndebourne favourites Danielle de Niese as Cendrillon and Kate Lindsey as her Prince.

The familiar story sees sweet-natured Cendrillon (Cinders) living life as a servant with her cruel stepmother, stepsisters, and downtrodden father. Only here, we see a very modern updating - as mentioned, both love-interests are played by women.

Transformed for just one night, Cendrillon captures the female Prince’s heart at the royal ball. Will she find a way to escape domestic drudgery and reclaim her beloved? With a little help from her Fairy Godmother, she just might.

And this enchanting love story is further updated by an huge injection of broad, burlesque comedy. The stepsisters are hilarious dames taking selfies, throwing up after nights on the tiles, and sporting gaudy colourful outfits. It's panto and vulgar panto at that. We loved it!

De Niese is always a powerful stage presence but vocally she is outshone by the precision coloratura of Nina Minasyan’s Fairy Godmother. In the pit, John Wilson, best known for his work in musicals, brings a degree of brashness to the sumptuous score but there is also fine-grained delicacy.

And guess what? We laughed. A lot. It turns out that panto and Massenet go well together.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Orpheus Descending...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Orpheus Descending at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London's glitzy London Bridge Quarter.

Tennessee Williams wrote something like 100 plays, of which maybe five are actually properly famous. This is not one of them.

Orpheus Descending is probably in the second or third tier of his works (there are a lot of tiers), but if you’ve not heard of it you’re always on pretty familiar turf with Williams. Set in the Deep South? Check. Sexy drifter with secrets comes to town? Check. Noble-but-troubled matriarch, grotesque patriarch? Check check. Booze, pills, illicit sex? Triple check.

Very (very!) loosely based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, Orpheus Descending – revived here by Tamara Harvey – follows Valentine Xavier (Seth Numrich), a handsome itinerant guitarist. Just turned 30, he is determined to leave his disreputable old life behind him, as he drifts into a small Southern town and falls into the employ of Hattie Morahan’s tough, unhappily married dry goods store owner Lady Torrance.

The first half has its moments. The opening description of the Edenic lakeside drinking garden Lady’s Italian father owned before it, him and her happiness were incinerated by a racist mob is profoundly haunting. And US actor Numrich – in his third Williams play in the UK – is mesmerising as he spins Lady a strange yarn about a tiny blue bird with no legs, which never lands.

But as a whole it’s hard to warm to: Williams chucks in far too many characters, and gives Lady too little to do. Morahan, a phenomenal actor, simply has nothing to sink her teeth into. Even a good role for the brilliant comedy actor Jemima Rooper – as town hellraiser Carol Cutrere – isn’t enough to really lift things.

But then the second half cranks up the melodrama and it all kind of clicks into place, albeit schlockily. It finally focuses on Lady and Valentine: two lost souls, out of place and out of time in a prejudiced, backwards South whose denizens have made it a kind of hell. Numrich is good as a man torn between his noble aspirations and the crushing nature of reality. And Morahan is finally allowed to let rip as Lady’s terse, no-nonsense facade crumbles into despair, loneliness and finally an explosive desire for vengeance.

I’d say Orpheus Descending winds up as entertaining rather than brilliant. But there are considerably worse Tennessee Williams plays that a cast as good as this could pull off – although just imagine what they might have done with one of the really great ones.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Bitter Wheat...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see Bitter Wheat at the Garrick Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

This new play starring John Malkovich in his return to the stage after 33 years is written and directed by David Mamet (in a good mood.) Because getting he mood right is important. It is a play about sexual abuse. And it is indeed a controversial play. But Mamet knows what he is doing and it tip-toes the line between humour and tragedy rather skilfully.

You laugh at, never with, the villain.

Blatantly about disgraced, depraved Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, we are to take it as read that everything in Hollywood is for sale except the awards, which are for rent. Bitter Wheat spares us nothing.

It rips the pashmina off the suppurating wound, which is show business, with the idea it will leave us better human beings, and fitter to once more confront the horror of life.

Our hero, Barney Fein, is a bloated monster – a studio head, who like his predecessor, the minotaur, devours the young he has lured into his cave. His fall from power to shame is a mythic journey which has been compared to The Odyssey by people who claim to have read that book.

Scarves, mothers, scripts, films, hotel rooms, racism, and sushi all have their roles to play - but at it's heart it is a play about a pantomime sex-pest villain who ruins the career of all he come across.

Only the cynical could not take any comfort from our hero's fall.

Funnier than The Iceman Cometh – more chaos than Richard III, and without all the stupid, so called ‘poetry’. Money, sex, power, you only need one of them to see Bitter Wheat.

Great acting, funny script, appallingly true to life.

Malkovich best role in years. 33 years to be exact.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson...

 Last Saturday night Stuart and I went to see Jonathan Maitland’s topical satire The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson at the Park Theatre in London's glitzy Finsbury Park.

The play is in two parts. The first half takes place at a dinner party chez Johnson (played by Will Barton) in February 2016 when the host was pressed into making a decision, not least by Michael Gove, about his attitude to Europe. The jokes are luke-warm but amusing.

The play picks up in the second half though, which takes place in 2029. It would be a pity to spoil all the surprises but the hero, now presenting The Apprentice on television, is invited to stand for the fourth time as prime minister and secure Britain’s re-entry into Europe (or “Brentry” as it becomes known).

I particularly liked the joke about Dominic Raab. Johnson refers to him as, "Dominic Raab... Two As and a B." Ouch!

Churchill, Blair and Thatcher drop in on our indecisive hero, but these visitors appear as mere caricatures - albeit funny ones - rather than historic muses. And the allegory of the last supper and Christ doesn’t really come off.

I guess the the problem with creating a play about Boris Johnson is that it rather reinforces the man's inflated sense of his own importance. And I think that is one sense he does not lack.

Fun night out though.

Monday, June 10, 2019

25th Anniversary Lunch #GayFriendlyCompany ...

I have worked at my company for 25 years and today to celebrate they invited me (and the lovely Stuart) out for luncheon.

A bit of a piss-up - great food, nice wines, and a funny speech by my boss.


Friday, June 07, 2019

Short Measures...

It really boils my piss when you go to a pub (The Round Table in Leicester Square) and the beer they serve you doesn't come to the top of the glass. We bought a "full glass" not a "pint" so full glass is what we expected - and when challenged the person behind the bar wouldn't top it up. Grrr.

Below are the photos when served and when we let it settle without drinking.