Howard’s End.


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Our extremely good friends, Will and Ann, have lived in Howard Place for many years and last Saturday they had a leaving do that got a little bit, well, refreshed.

Anyway, as I left I kissed goodbye to Howard Place.

GGTTH.

 

Edinburgh Festival and Fringe 2018: my top picks


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I’ve done a lot of research into the Fringe and Festival this year and have booked a lot of tickets – for 25 shows so far. All are based on strong recommendations from either myself, The Stage, What’s on Stage, The Independent or The Guardian. So to save you some research time you might want to look at what I’ve booked as a starter.
Top tip. Look at 1/2/3 August for cheap previews and 6/7 August as it’s 2 for 1 days. The restricted view seats at the Kings are not restricted and are a bargain too.
Festival
Five Telegrams – The free opening show featuring music of Anna Meredith
La Maladie De la Mort – theatre
Home – theatre
European Young Musicians 2018 Semi Final
Autobiography – dance
Love Chapter 2 – dance
Xenos – dance
Fringe
Goblin perform Suspiria (film and live music accompaniment – Sold out I think) – Summerhall
Sister Act – FCT
Guru Dudu’s Silent Disco Walking Tour
Ulster American – Traverse
Janis Joplin: Full Tilt – with Hannah Scott on 7/14/21 August
8 Songs
My Left/Right Foot – The Musical (NTS)
Vertical Influences – a canadian Ice skating show – participative
All We Ever Wanted Was Everything
Island Town – Summerhall
De Fuut – Big in Belgium at Summerhall
No Kids
Lights over Tesco Car Park
Carmen Funebre – outdoor spectacle
Killy Muck
Underground Railroad Game – Traverse
What Girls are Made of – Traverse
The Greatest Play in the History of the World – Traverse – with her from Corrie
Also on my list but not yet booked:
Jessie Cave
Our Country
Nele Needs a holiday – The musical
Insert slogan here
Giselle
The Moira Monologues

Creditors, at The Lyceum.


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This is one intellectual heft of a piece of theatre and for that reason it most definitely is not for everyone. If you are even considering a coin toss between this and Wicked, showing down the road at The Playhouse, I’d probably recommend you opt for the green faced fun.

Because fun is not an adjective I’d reach for in describing David Greig’s adaptation of August Strindberg’s 1888 Swedish tragicomedy.  (For Celtic fans I am sorry to advice that there are no references to Hibernian FC setting up their B team in Glasgow at that time).

There are laughs in act one, don’t get me wrong, but not fun laughs.  Sharp intakes of breath precede most of them as we observe, almost voyeuristically, an encounter between two men nearing the end of a six hour conversation (or is it a therapy session) that may have started out as, or may be concluding with, a detailed autopsy on the young Adolph’s infatuated love for his wife Tekla.  The older man has much advice for his sappy companion, all of which undermines him and his relationship with his wife.

It’s a complex, extremely dense psychological drama that has a neat technological twist in Act Three that breathes a great deal of life into what would otherwise be a marathon two hour sitting.

Indeed the Act 3 device is both innovative and exciting and makes the last act crack along to its dramatic conclusion.

Director Stewart Laing has introduced an intermissionary theme that uses a UK Garage track to underscore a group of Girl Guides robotically trekking through the surrounding Swedish countryside.  It’s funny, fresh and ultimately plays a role in the play’\s denouement.  I liked it a lot.  Although entirely (and deliberately) out of place its very presence emphasises the tension that is developing in the main body of the play.

On returning to the dialogue, each time, it accentuates the cold, serious tone that reflects the period, location and nature of the play with its deliberately mannered acting.

And so that brings me to the performances.  Edward Franklin, Stuart McQuarrie and Adura Onashile present a master class between them.  It’s difficult to present material this dense whilst maintaining the audience’s deep concentration and to make what could easily turn into a dirge a vibrant enthralling psychological drama.

Really this a supremely confident and grown up production that would be packing them in on a London stage.  Let’s hope there are enough wise old souls in Edinburgh wiling to take a chance on a play that rewards throughout and leaves a deeply satisfying aftertaste to savour long after.

Why I don’t think War Horse (the play) is that great: Theatre Review.


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War Horse is a major crowd pleaser.  It’s an adaptation from a children’s book by Michael Morpurgo which, written from a horse’s point of view, tracks his story from birth through to the end of World War One and the relationship he has with his young owner; a teenager called Albert.

But in the stage play the first of the big changes is that the story switches to a third person POV, in which we observe the story from our own perspective, rather than the horse’s.  I suspect that immediately weakens the emotional sensitivity of what many consider a classic children’s novel.

I first saw the NT live screening of the National Theatre production a few years ago and put down my disappointment to the fact that I wasn’t witnessing the show in the flesh.  So last night was my chance to recalibrate my opinion with good seats in the Dress Circle.

The fact is the story is relatively far fetched, not impossibly so, but I found it difficult to engage with anyone in the play, male or equine alike, and so found the story slightly fantastical.

The next problem to overcome is the acting. In this touring production, showing at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre, it is, at best, passable.  And the script, at points, is just plain silly – with too many ‘All ‘Allo type dialogue moments. (For those of us old enough to know or care it’s an appallingly mediocre BBC sitcom set amongst the French resistance in occupied Germany written in Franglais and faux German.)

I found my attention wandering constantly after the early impact and occasional highlights, of the excellent puppetry by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, wore off.  For sure, the horses are wonderful (but the Goose is even better).

The staging can be highly dramatic and some of the (extremely loud) battlefield scenes, as the titular Joey becomes a ‘War Horse” and endures the travails of the front line, are quite spectacular and genuinely original.  But it can also be a bit limp.  The device of the torn paper on which rather uninspiring animations are projected has the effect of compressing the stage and forcing your shoulders down to peer into an almost letterbox-like action area.

The fact is, special effects do not make a great entertainment experience on their own.  A spectacle, yes.  But the structure and framework (script mainly) is so weak that it becomes a constant anticlimax with little in the way of emotional engagement.

I wouldn’t recommend this.

 

Rhinoceros: Royal Lyceum Theatre


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To give you a deep insight into Rhinoceros, here’s a cat.  And three fledgling fascists.

If Theatre of the Absurd kicked off with Becket’s Godot it may have reached its zenith in Ionesco’s work; most famously in Rhinoceros.

It’s not a big stretch of the imagination for the audience to understand the concept that’s being ridiculed in this 1959 play about the pre WWII rise in fascism.

The way in which it overwhelmed an intelligent, educated and huge populace of Germany (in Nazism), but many other European countries too,  does seem, on reflection, absurd but terrifyingly so.

And you’re left in no doubt that this is an absurdist comedy in Zinnie Harris’ epic production, because the word is liberally sprinkled throughout the script.

And you’re also left in no doubt that what was a mid 20th century phenomenon is prescient in these pre-Brexit days where the threat of religious war hangs heavily over us all, tainted as it is with accusations of brainwashing, fundamentalism and all sorts of ‘-ification’.

Ionesco saw 1930’s fascist ideological conformity as abhorrent (and like us he had the benefit of hindsight).  His response was an absurd construct that portrays the emerging nazi’fication’ of Europe as a metaphor.  Ordinary people’s metamorphosis from essentially liberal political belief-sets and world views to the fundamental acceptance of extremes of right wing doctrine was, in his play, like turning from humans into rhinocerii.

Absurd.

And yet it happened.  And, like a plague, the more it became ideologically acceptable the more it became the accepted norm.

Few felt able to challenge and rail against it. And the more the pendulum swung the more

One of the few, in Ionesco’s world, is a simple village drunk called Berenger (played enthusiastically and engagingly by Robert Jack) who simply doesn’t understand what the world is rhinocerising.

His friends (led by the ever brilliant Steve McNicholl) gradually desert him as he becomes a lone voice of not even reason, just questioning.

It’s in parts hysterical, in parts just a bit too full-on to assimilate and in parts beautiful.

The live score by Oguz Kaplangi is mesmerising. (I will go again to see this simply to decode his incredible soundscaping of the piece with music, sound effects and rhythmic underscoring – it’s a gem of a thing).

What it’s not, is logical.  This is theatre you need to engage your brain to enjoy.  I liked that.  And yet it has a simple charm that makes it palatable.  For the most part you can simply enjoy the obvious metaphor and the fun that Zinnie Harris’ ensemble cast bring to the stage.

It’s laugh out loud many times.

And it’s fresh as a daisy.  Albeit one that’s grown through a cow pat.

 

 

Pressure. Theatre Review. Kings Theatre Edinburgh and Touring.


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Amazingly it’s nearly four years since this play premiered at The Lyceum before transferring to Chichester Festival Theatre.  Written by and starring David Haig it’s a modern day classic.

It tells the story of Dalkeith meteorologist James Stagg and his role as the allies’ choice as chief meteorologist advising on the D-Day operations (overlord) to General Dwight Eisenhower.

What most people do not know is that the weather in the lead up to the operation was flat calm and glorious English summer conditions, convincing his American oppo (Colonel Irving Krick – a bit of a weather celebrity of the day; certainly compared to dour Scotsman, Stagg) that historical precedent suggested almost certain ideal conditions on the day of the attack.

Stagg begs to differ and cites the vagaries of the British summer (four seasons in a day) as reason not to be confident of anything.

What follows is a tussle of intellect, nerve and belief (or otherwise) in the emerging science connected to the then relatively unknown ‘Jet Stream’.

Underscoring the drama is the imminent arrival of Stagg’s second child to his wife, some three hours drive away from the military base in which he has set up his temporary weather station.  His wife is suffering from high blood pressure (see what he did there?) and the experience of their first child’s birth weighs heavily on Stagg’s seemingly inscrutable (some would say curmudgeonly) personality.  Frankly, it’s the last thing he needs in these high stakes times.

And the stakes are indeed high.  Bad weather could kill 50,000 allied troops and calling it wrong would be their death sentence.

The play features 12 actors who represent the allied forces in various shapes and forms, but rotates around what is effectively a three-hander between Stagg, Eisenhower and Eisenhower’s English female driver and assistant (not to mention lover) Colonel Sommersby (the excellent Laura Rodgers).

It runs through the emotions and becomes an incredibly tense thriller with its share of laughs.

But at its heart is a superb performance by David Hare that makes you will the unlikely hero on with all of your heart.

The story contains a few twists that I’ll not share here. It’s on in Edinburgh till Saturday and then on tour before opening in London in late March.

February 1-10, Cambridge Arts Theatre
February 13-17, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
February 20-24, Theatre Royal,Newcastle
February 27-March 3, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
March 6-10, Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
March 12-17, Theatre Royal, Bath
March 20-24, Richmond Theatre
March 28-April 28, Park Theatre, London
.

Here’s the original Lyceum trailer.

Fire and Fury, Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff: Book review.


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Not a political reader?  Read this.

Think Donald Trump is a dangerous idiot?  Read this.

Feeling the February blues?  Read this.

Whilst the focus, in reviews of this epic book, has been firmly on Trump’s shenanigans the reality is that it features a large cast that could probably be described as Dumb and Dumber, and Dumber still, and even more Dumber and so Dumb it doesn’t compute, and those vying for the Dumbest of the Dumb.

Chief amongst them, and clearly living the aphorism that in the land of the blind the one eyed man is king, is Stephen K Bannon.  A serial schmuck who, at best, scrambled through a career of wannabe jobs before stumbling upon Bob and Rebekah Mercer, father and daughter multi-billionaires who spent vast sums to build a “radical free-market,small-government,home=schooling, anti liberal, gold-standard, pro-death-penalty, anti-Muslim, pro-Christian, monetarist, anti-civil-rights political movement.”

The Mercers installed Bannon as CEO of the tiny ultra-right-wing TV network, Brietbart, that overtook Murdoch’s Fox network as the voice-piece of the far right (and the Tea Party) and gave Bannon his way into Trump Towers.

The hold (albeit precarious) that Bannon had over Trump is remarkable.  He became his svengali and, against all the odds, overcame the Clinton Juggernaut to instate Trump in a totally unexpected presidential role.  The chapter on the victory has you howling with laughter.

The book charts the relationships Trump (and Bannon) then forge in the nascent government.  (It was meant to cover the first 100 days but Wolff was having so much fun, and so much unchecked access, that it actually takes us, via a postscript, to October 2017.)

Wolff claims he had dozens of, unscrutinised, interviews with aides and central characters in the book.  He had ‘a seat in the White House’, and was never challenged.

It’s like a fervent 5 set, Grand Slam Final, tennis match of deceit and counter deceit, leaks, backstabbing, plotting, firings, hirings, regret about hirings and various other daily occurrences amongst a team of advisors and departmental heads that had no more experience of US politics than I have.

It starts off laugh out loud funny, and I mean gut wrenchingly so, before settling into a torrid succession of horrendous back stories and tales of who was next for the firing line.

Central to the story are Bannon, of course, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (idiot), and the hilarious construct that is Jarvanka (Jared Kushner, son of a criminal, and his wife Ivanka Trump; Daddy’s Girl).

Jarvanka come in for relentless ridicule; mainly from the mouth of Bannon but there can be no doubt Wolff sees them as a laughable pair of complete morons.

Of course, Sean Spicer gets it in the neck (although we see him as a sympathetic character here, completely overwhelmed by Trump’s madness.)

What the serial womaniser sees in the gorgeous, and startlingly unqualified, Hope Hicks – his closest advisor, is anyone’s guess, but her position is as solid as anyone’s could ever be in this tram smash of a court.

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No idea what Trump sees in the beautiful Hope Hicks.

Startlingly missing are both Melania and Vice President, Pence (who is castigated as even more of an idiot than Trump).

It’s a completely and utterly biased malicious character assassination of a man you wouldn’t put in charge of running a bath.  It exposes, time and again, Trump’s complete incompetence and reliance (100%) on gut feel.

That this man is an idiot of monumental  proportions is no great revelation – we all know that.  It’s the day to day incompetence that makes for the meat and potatoes of a political read like no other.

It’s a must read.

Go on, read it, before Kim Jong-un blows us all up.