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.

Loveless (Nelyubov): Movie review


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I’m not familiar with the work of Andrey Zvyagintsev, although his previous movie, Leviathan, got a BAFTA nomination (as this has) for Best Film not in the English Language.

However, I’m reliably informed he has a ‘style’ consistent with that on display in Loveless that could most accurately be described as; bleak.

Shot in naturalistic (i.e. low) light in the depths of Russian winter it makes little or no concession to cinematic gloss.  Although the extremely sparingly applied soundtrack by Evgeny and Sasha Galperin is strangely brilliant.

Loveless is the story of a 12 year old boy in Moscow who disappears after hearing a vicious argument between his, very much, not in love parents, neither of whom want the responsibility of bringing him up once their impending divorce is settled.

It’s a slow burn after that as we follow the search for the young boy who has left no clues as to how, why or where he is.

It portrays Moscow in as bleak a light as any you’ll have seen since those gritty 60’s/70’s German/Polish dirges and yet it’s kind of compelling.  It’s actually quite engrossing, even as you reel at the circumstances that have led to his parents’ estrangement and weirdly unemotional connection with the situation they find themselves in.

Loveless is the perfect title for a movie that deals with intimacy, relationship and familial bonds without even a shred of real love being displayed.

Frankly, it’s horrible, but don’t let that put you off.  It’s a fine piece of art if not a multiplex filler.

 

Talking to My Daughter About the Economy (A Brief History of Capitalism) by Yanis Varoufakis: Book Review


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Yanis Varoufakis is the economist that shot to fame as the poster boy of Greek economic fuckwittery.  His job was to unfuck the institutionalised fuckwittery, caused by a seemingly ingrained national sport of ‘not paying tax’, that left the Greek economy as the basket-case of the Euro, in the wake of the economic crisis in 2008/2009.

Varoufakis became Greek Finance Minister in January 2015 and lasted till July of that year.  Not exactly jaw-dropping credentials for being the Oracle on succesful economic strategy.

But he was an academic, so he knew the answers, right?

Frankly, he seems to have been spending his time writing books about his experience rather than actually unfucking up Greece.  And maybe that’s why he only lasted 7 months doing the job.

This is one of the books.

Its construct is as a letter to his, now, 14 year old daughter, Xenia, who lives with her mother in Australia.  One assumes Yanis and Mrs Varoufakis had some sort of marital difference of opinion.

And I’m speculating that Yanis’ wife said to Xenia.  “Darling, let’s get out of this country that your dad is supposed to be unfucking up.  As far as I can see he’s too busy writing books about how the economy got fucked up in the first place to actually unfuck it.  But I’ve heard the Australians understand the economy and we can swap a diet of olives and Retsina for steak and Shiraz.”

Several months later Xenia woke her mum to say.

“Mum, fuck sake, Dad’s written me this fucking 200 page letter about the fucking economy that’s all fucking fucked, instead of fucking unfucking it.”

I mean, if you were 13 years old (then), and on another continent, and missing your Dad would you be high-fiving the entire population of Sydney High School shouting.  “Whoa guys, my Dad just wrote me a 200 page book about Capitalism, what did your Dad do?  Take you to the Melbourne Cup?  Go surfing all weekend?  Barbie like it’s 1999?  Fucking losers!”

So, the reader is treated like a 13 year old girl (who probably doesn’t give a flying fuck about anything other than getting to second base with Bruce) as Yanis explains the principles of Capitalism, and consequently how the economy works.  Why he believes he is qualified to do this, when his only practical experience is of not succeeding in reducing the world’s oldest and most enduring culture to a pile of rotting fishbones, I know not.

Perhaps it’s his academic credentials.

Anyway, he succeeds in explaining what inequality, money, labour, tax, trade debt, profit, and banking are before reaching out to his local pharmacist to ingest a cocktail of hallucinogenic drugs (roughly half way through).

Thereafter, he explores the Oedipal Complex, the Flight of Icarus, The Matrix, ( revisited no fewer than seven times – I mean, nobody on Planet Earth understand The Matrix, so why use it seven times to ‘simplify’ a concept as obtuse as capitalism and the economy),  V for Vendetta, The Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales, The Terminator, The Sorceror’s Apprentice, Faust and Doctor Faustus (seven times),  Frankenstein (six times), Harry Potter, Blade Runner, and Star Trek (five times) in an attempt to make the cerebral concept of Capitalism (and the economy) a bit more down with the kids.

The second half of the book would have made excellent arse-wiping material for Salvador Dali.

But the ‘best’ bit of all is his conclusion. (To his then 13 year old daughter, remember.)

In it he postures…

“OK, you will say, you reject the markets-everywhere solution and propose instead the democracy-everywhere alternative (really? is that what she’s grafiti-ing on the walls of Sydney High?). But how on Earth will your democracy save the planet, put the robots to work for us and make money function sensibly and smoothly?  What a great question! (If I say so myself.) While it would take a whole other book to answer it properly, let me offer a hint that may help you write that sequel yourself one day.”

“Aye. That. Will. Be. Right. Dad.  (Says Xenia.) Like I’m gonna write a fucking sequal to Talking to My Daughter About the Economy (A brief History of Capitalism) ‘cos you don’t know the fucking answers yourself (and made silly Brits fork out £12 to not give them any fucking answers – well, at least I got to read the crazy pish for free).”

In his epilogue, like we needed more reading after the previous 80 pages of intellectual wank, he writes this.

“How can Dad have confused me with someone who gives a damn?”.  That is a very, very, very good question and probably the best in the book.

But he ploughs on regardless, sharing with us this earth-shattering hypothesis to conclude.

HALPEVAM.

HALPEVAM is a ‘magnificent’ computer created by a mad scientist (any guess who that might be readers?)

HALPEVAM: Heuristic ALgorithmic, Pleasure & Experiential VAlue Maximiser. (Oh, come on, the acronym isn’t even a fucking acronym, it’s a fucking fag packet doodle.  Let me help you Yanis.  How about: Heuristic Algorithmic Leisue,nValue-Add,  Experiential Pleasure Maximiser?  There: that nearly spells fucking HALVEPAM!

Or how about Bloody Unbelievable Leisure-Life Sensitivity Heuristic Improving Transactional Organ Made Easy To Effect Relaxation?

He explains: “HALPEVAM is the opposite of the horrible, misanthropic machines in The Matrix – it’s the ultimate pleasure machine”.

(You still with us, 13 year old Xenia?  Or are you in a Psychologist’s practice in Sydney asking for information on psychosis ‘for a friend’?)

Poor Xenia.

But, Xenia’s not our problem, Yanis is raking it in and Mrs Varoufakis is presumably on a pretty big financial settlement (if only Greece reported its taxes).

Try it, it’s fun.

 

Three. Is the magic number. Calling all you Intelligent Finance [sic] customers out there.


Is Intelligent Finance the dumbest bank in the world?
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0845 xxx xxxx. Intelligent Finance’s Home Page and Security Page contact number.

This morning I thought “It’s champagne time – Intelligent Finance [sic] have, after 3 years of constantly asking them, updated their customer phone number”.
But no, only on 2 of their 3 customer facing pages.
The one when you are actually looking at your account is STILL WRONG.
They’re still Dullard Finance.
Incompetence beyond comprehension frankly.
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0345 xxx xxxx.  Intelligent Finance’s Accounts Page, where you can see your balance etc and might decide you need to call them to query something – by now you are through security and, of course, failed to write down the correct phone number while you were there on the assumption that the number would be correct throughout the site.  But, you know when happens when you assume.  Yes,  U make and ASS out of ME

 So, as I entitled this elegant thought-piece, Three. Is the magic number.  As I will leave De la Soul to prove.

Phantom Thread by Paul Thomas Anderson: Movie Review.


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I lay in bed for some time this morning tossing about in my mind how best to convey the impact of Phantom Thread.  I’ve only got one shot at this and I don’t want to tarnish my impression by getting all luvvie about it, or resorting to my overused canon of superlatives.  I will try therefore to create a picture that captures my sense of wonder as I sat in Edinburgh’s Cameo cinema last night watching the masters at work; those masters being Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis.

If, as is rumoured, we are never to see Day-Lewis on our screens again this should be cause for mourning because the man has no peer – he has won three of his leading actor Oscars (from 5 nominations) and this is his sixth.  There’s a reason for that.

In Phantom Thread, Day-Lewis is caressed by PTA’s quite stunning camerawork (not only did he write and direct the movie, he is its cinematographer to boot) in a way that is usually reserved for leading ladies. (Darren Aranofsky was accused of overdoing so in his fine Mother! with his muse and real life partner Jennifer Lawrence last year.)  But that’s because it’s as if PTA is trying to squeeze every ounce of juice out of Day-Lewis’s colossal performance.  It’s hardly surprising because Day-Lewis takes craggy, older man, handsomeness to a new scale (he was 60 during filming).

He plays a 1950’s London based couturier with a client list of Royalty and society movers and shakers.  Clinically obsessed with quality this makes him mildly sociopathic and he is certainly ‘on the scale’.  He’s kept in check by an icy protector – his sister Cyril: an aloof Lesley Manville, in a career-defining-performance in which she constantly reminded me of Anna Massey’s Mrs Danvers in Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca – the TV adaptation from 1979.

Day-Lewis’s personal tics, foibles, routine, sense of decorum and inner sociopathic tendencies simmer just below, occasional breaching, the surface for the entire two and a bit hours of this masterful performance and represent a case study in containment. For my money this is by far and away a superior acting achievement than Gary Oldman’s, show-stealing, Winston Churchill impersonation in the downright boring and turgid Darkest Hour.

His confirmed bachelorhood, devotion (or certainly commitment) to his sister and a necessary effeteness, in keeping with his status as a master dressmaker, suggest initially that Day Lewis’s character, Reynolds Woodcock, is assuredly homosexual.  But this is quickly dispelled upon a weekend trip to ‘the country’ in a humorously ‘overcranked’ road trip to Whitby in a gorgeous burgundy Bristol 405.

In his lodgings Woodcock meets, and immediately invites to dinner, the breakfast waitress who quickly becomes his lover and muse, thereby dispelling any homosexuality theories.   Alma, a European girl, of indistinct national origin (although actress Vicky Krieps is from Luxembourg) is sweet, defiantly ‘un beautiful’ in the classic flimstar definition, with breasts that are ‘too small’ and a face that has a rugged outdoors sensitivity.  She soon matches Day-Lewis for lingering camera sweeps as the movie settles into a slow thesis on what becomes a complex power struggle of a relationship; in which Cyril makes three.

Krieps is surprisingly missing from most awards shortlists which amazes me because she is no third best in this tremendous acting menage.  Her performance is spare and engrossing and she trades punches all the way with both Day-Lewis and Manville.

Silk, organza and lace also feature lovingly in a pean to the craftsmanship of dressmaking. Indeed, such was PTA and DDL’s attention to detail that PTA hired seamstresses rather than actors to play the boutique roles, and DDL learned to sew,  making his wife a dress, in his classic method practice.

Sitting high in the credits, and rightly so, is Production Designer Mark Tildesley, because he creates a sense of place that marks this is a classic period drama.  This is aided and abetted by the extraordinary film grain that PTA elects to use, to further enhance Tildesley’s sense of place (if not time – not time because movies of that era would be either super saturated colour or black and white, the film grain he employs is redolent, instead, of amateur photography of the period).

And lastly, I have to make mention of the extraordinary score by Jonny Greenwood.  Nothing could be further from his Radiohead work.  It is classically styled with nods to Chopin in particular and underscores the movie almost throughout.  This adds a sense of wonder so some of the slower, more crafted, scenes where action is at a premium.

All in all this has reinstated Paul Thomas Anderson as my favourite director after his one career slip with the abysmal Inherent Vice.  It sits alongside Punch Drunk Love, Magnolia, There will be Blood and The Master as film making of craft and distinction.

I sat with mouth agape, grinning like a 50’s child watching a box set of Disney, for much of the film, in sheer wonderment at the genius that is Paul Thomas Anderson.

It is not to be missed, although, be warned, it moves along at a pace that could best be described as languid.

 

Not quite Dear Green(est) Place.


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The literal translation of Glasgow’s name is ‘Dear Green Place’ and the City has traded on this for many years now.

However, an analysis by mapping firm Esri UK ,analysing Landsat 8 satellite images from spring 2016 for the 10 cities with the largest populations in the UK, has found that in fact Edinburgh is far greener and is actually the greenest medium to large sized city in the UK as the image above (from today’s Guardian) reveals.

The top ten was as follows:

10. Liverpool 16.4% green

9. Bradford 18.4% green

8. Manchester 20.4% green

7. Leeds 21.7% green

6. Sheffield 22.1% green

5. Greater London 23% green (good old Royal Parks)

4. Birmingham 24.6% green

3. Bristol 29% green

2. Glasgow 32% green

1. Edinburgh (a whopping) 49.2% green

Sorry Glasgow, but Edinburgh is half again greener than you are.

It’s notable that much of the green in Glasgow is in the East end.

You can read all about it here.

 

Manchester by The Sea: Movie Review


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About one third of the way through this, quite long (137 minutes) movie the swelling strings and organ of Tomaso Albinoni’s Adagio for Strings and Organ in G Minor start to stir and build through 8 minutes and 35 seconds.

Unlike traditional screenplay music the classical piece, performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, does not subtly grace the background, it grabs you by the throat and dominates the proceedings to the point, almost, of discomfort.

(Some reviewers feel it is heavy-handed, I felt it was well judged.)

The fact that it is in a minor key and is achingly melancholic bursting with sadness, despair and grief absolutely encapsulates the mood of Lonergan’s creation.

I found these lyrics written for the Adagio and they could in fact be the inspiration for Kenneth Lonergan’s Screenplay although I very much doubt he has seen them…

So turn away!
Turn away, turn away

I am alone, I am alone!
I am alone
I am alone
I am alone

Go turn away, go turn away
Turn away, turn away
Turn away,
Turn me away

Alone!
Damned!
Go home!
Gone in darkness
Light, surpasses

All ….
All, is one now!
All, is gone now!
All, is gone
Truthfully
Truthfully
Truthfully
I am gone.

I don’t recall a Hollywood movie so built around grief and that grief is etched into every pore of Casey Affleck’s face. Surely he is a shoe in for best actor at this year’s Oscars.

Lucas Hedges, as his orphaned nephew who Casey Affleck, as Leo – a dead end Janitor – suddenly becomes guardian to after the death of his brother, plays a nuanced role as the troubled teen who can at least find solace in school, sex and band practice; even if his band is dire.

(Actually, there are also a lot of laugh out loud, mainly awkward, moments in it which were entirely unexpected to me.)

It’s  essentially a two header between them although Michelle Williams plays a strong support role, albeit brief in screen time.

To be honest, even calling it a two-header is to downplay the importance of Casey Affleck in this movie.  In truth it is really a study of him alone with supporting characters used ostensibly as dramatic devices and props.

The trailers do not reveal the depth of the storyline, which is devastatingly sad, and for some almost too much to bear.  My wife sobbed almost uncontrollably throughout the third act.

But despite all this, personally, it didn’t quite capture my heart.

Maybe I was in the wrong frame of mind.  It’s a great, albeit slightly one dimensional, movie with a brilliant central performance and a strong screenplay with a good ensemble supporting cast, but that’s not enough to make it the movie of the year.

That said, I would strongly recommend it.