29 December 2005

In No Particular Reverse Order, Some Favourites of 2005

If Destroyed True
Douglas Maxwell, Paines Plough at the Chocolate Factory, directed by John Tiffany



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Henry IV
William Shakespeare, NT, Nicholas Hytner





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The Lemon Princess
Rachael McGill, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Ruth Carney



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Tristan and Yseult
Kneehigh, NT




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Uncle Vanya
Anton Chekhov, Barbican, Lev Dodin and Maly Theatre of St.Petersburg



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Harvest
Richard Bean, Royal Court, Wilson Milam



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Two Thousand Years
Mike Leigh, NT



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Over Gardens Out
Peter Gill, Southwark Playhouse, Andrew Steggall




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Mercury Fur
Philip Ridley, Paines Plough/Chocolate Factory, John Tiffany



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Mary Stuart
Friedrich Schiller (new version by Peter Oswald), Donmar Warehouse, Phyllida Lloyd




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Here's to an equally engrossing and enlivening lot of shows next year (fingers crossed)

26 December 2005

How Was It For You?

Laughed myself stupid at an episode of Curb ("The 5 Wood").
Ate roasted duck till it was coming out of my ears.
With plum jam and home-made gravy.
Declined invite to lunch with family whose boy bit me at Xmas lunch last year.
Saw no family - my lot all up North, her lot in Tallinn, Oxford and Nottingham (for Limmud, Jewish conference).
Bought myself 3 tracks on iTunes even though I haven't got an iPod:
Wake Up - Arcade Fire
Killing Moon - Echo and the Bunnymen
Ugly - Bubba Sparxx.
Had lunch today with Spike in Starburger, Chapel Market, Islington. I really know how to spoil my boy at Christmas. But then I took him to Hamleys and bought him his heart's desire - yet more Thomas the Tank Engine friends. Harvey, Bulgy and Fergus.
Sat in rubbish local pub watching my rubbish team lose 0-4 to even rubbisher team (no, I can't explain it, you have to trust me, they actually are worse).
Late Xmas present from B - Untold Stories, Alan Bennett. Which means she's broken our unwritten 'no prezzies' rule and I'll have to wrack my brains to come up with something for her.

Christmassy theatre note - me and pal Lucy went to Moliere's The Hypochondriac on Christmas Eve Eve at the Almeida, and had an absolute ball. It's hilarious, thanks to Richard Bean's very funny version and some tip-top comic acting from the likes of Henry Goodman, Kris Marshall, Ronnie Ancona, Stephen Boxer etc etc. They were all on their game, the direction's very witty and the whole thing makes a fab Christmas show without a hint of a dame. Lots of kids in the audience too - good for them.

24 December 2005

The Boys of the NYPD Choir...

...were singing Galway Bay

Happy Birthday, Jesus of Nazareth. A fine mythology you've got yourself there.

Have a restful day, friends.


virgin-child

23 December 2005

Writers

I dreamed I was in Arthur Miller's flat. He was being terribly amiable and I was frightened of saying the wrong thing as he was clearly non compos mentis and having trouble orienting himself. He spilled some orange juice on the floor, and tried to sweep it up into a dustpan. When most of it was in the pan he threw it over his shoulder, with a laugh.

I saw that Nick Hornby in the playground at Highbury Fields. He was with two women and assorted children. The adults were making an awful racket at the swings, making WOOO noises at the offspring. Spike was nonplussed but I had to give up reading my paper.

At pm's blog, I left a commiseratory comment about his not getting a particular job. I said 'welcome back to the ranks of the freelancing/idling/despairing'. Meaning well, of course, in a throwaway stylee. Meaning, you'll shrug it off, rejection's a bitch, etcetera. Now, after a comment from esteemed playwright Gary Owen I look like one of those schadenfreudian types, or something. Someone who's glad to have company in his failures. He says to pm, I think you're 'anything but idling or desperate'. But I didn't mean to say he or I or anyone else was desperate. Despairing at the shortsightedness of others, yes. Despairing at the fickleness of some, the lassitude of others, and the general not-fairness of the way things sometimes fall out.
Now I'm sounding shrill. I'll stop. Except to say, I loved Gary Owen's play Shadow Of A Boy, and was very glad to have the lead actor from that, Rob Storr, in my recent reading.

Mike Leigh's play Two Thousand Years was our anniversary treat on Wednesday. I'd booked the tickets in the summer, before ML had told anyone publicly what the play was about. Well, since I'm married in to the North London Jewish Mob the play was very apposite (an invitation to a cousin's boy's barmitzvah was among the Christmas cards that morning). And I'm well enough acquainted with that Guardian-reading, secularised, conflicted-about-Israel slice of Jewish London to recognise ML's achievement in bringing it to such vivid life on stage. But more than that, I thought the play was incredibly moving, its sensitivity and melancholy humour very pleasing. The dialogue was so beautifully judged, so musically true, it was a jolt when the very occasional lapse made you remember you were watching a play, not eavesdropping.

21 December 2005

Little did B and I know when we tied the knot in 2000 that we'd come to share our wedding anniversary with Elton John and David Furnish. Bless them. Love and more love to all the lovers.


18 December 2005

Lesson learned - don't give your 3 year old oodles of orange juice with his late supper, then put him to bed with the wrong kind of nappy. For this will surely lead to your having to get up in the middle of the night to extract son from wringing wet pyjamas, nappy having burst its banks. Luckily, son is unusually hardy, and murmured not much in the way of discontent as I sorted him out. Except when in my befuddlement I asked him to lie down while I fetched something - in the wet patch. "No, I need to stand up!" he said, exasperated.

Some items of note. Went to the Diorama near Great Portland Street on Friday, for a staged reading of m'colleague Glyn Cannon's Coffee. Saw a shorter version of this at the Latchmere years ago - when it was the Latchmere still. It's bigger, bolder and better now. Reminded me of The Designated Mourner, while making me - and the other eighty or so people - laugh a lot. It's a three-hander, with advertising people brainstorming before meeting their new coffee industry clients. That's the jumping off point anyway, for a comedy about crassness, integrity, coffee and pastries. There seemed to be a good turn-out of interested parties, so with a fair wind we'll be seeing it at a theatre near us in the not too distant.

Did the bar for the Christmas show at Southwark Playhouse yesterday, The Canterville Ghost. It's a jolly, shiny, knowing sort of show, with a star turn as the Ghost by the writer, John Kane. We're all in on the joke as the Otises, a cartoonish take on a well-to-do American family, fetch up at Canterville Chase for a spot of good old English ghostbusting. The kids in the theatre loved it - one girl in particular, who was twelve if she was a day, was breathless with excitement and had to hang on to her Dad in the suspenseful bits.
After the show I hooked up with B and S, who'd been to the Frost Fair outside Tate Modern - there were lots of seasonal stalls selling mulled wine and whatnot, a stage with live music, and an ice slide for the adventurous. The other two peeled off to go home out the cold, while I went to the Rousseau exhibition at the Tate.

Unbelievably, I was again irritated to the point of complaint by museum attendants having an inane conversation about, you could have guessed, sore throats and how they wouldn't go away. Again, like last time, another theme was how bored they were and how much they were looking forward to the end of their shift. Believe me, I tried to give them the benefit, twice walking away to another room before returning to find they were still in their stride. I then had this exchange with the louder of the two.

Me: Could you take your conversation to another room.

Him: Well... You could say please.

pause.

Me: It's not like you're doing me a favour, is it.

Him: Right, okay, I see what you're saying.

He sidled off, leaving me aghast at his cheek. I sought out a supervisor and told her in detail what happened - she was aghast with embarrassment. She wanted me to point out the individual but I declined. I just wanted her to know the attendants need to be aware of the public as thinking, seeing, hearing visitors, not an everchanging backdrop to their ennui.

The exhibition is beautiful, dramatic, strange. I'm going to go back, as I only got half way through. Aside from the stunning sculpture in the first room ("A Gorilla Abducting A Woman") there are extraordinary and uncanny pieces like this




and this



the foliage constructed like Gothic architecture, the faces of the animals all japonaises (or maybe chinoises).

Then there are these Parisian landscapes and portraits, with modern inventions draped across them like badges declaring Rousseau's membership of Artists For Progress.



He worked as a customs officer, and Picasso was his biggest fan. Here's the old goat himself in 1965, with Rousseau's portraits of himself and his wife (both pictures are in the Tate show, side by side).

16 December 2005

A Thing Of The Past

Maxie at her webloge is pondering theatrical highs and lows of the year. A brief ponder of my own and I came up with, as a high, Philip Ridley's Mercury Fur at the Chocolate Factory all the way back in Feb, and for a low, Complicite's self-regarding Vanishing Points, in April.
I also well remember loving Over Gardens Out, Peter Gill's enigmatic piece, at Southwark in the same month. Fun looking through me archive to check what I said about these things.

More nostalgia in the next couple of weeks, no doubt.

14 December 2005

blips

The reading on Sunday afternoon was perfect for the purpose. I got ten class actors to read The May Queen superbly well, after just one day's rehearsal (or none, in Cordelia Raynor's case, bless her cotton socks). There were to have been some sound effects - explosions mostly - but Peter the sound guy couldn't make it because of that explosion, in Hertfordshire. Anyhoo, the thirteen scenes came across clear as a bell, so that I could easily see the flaws in each. Only one needs proper rethinking, I thought, and there was a consensus to that effect among the writer and director pals who heard it.

All this was made possible by the generous - perhaps overly so - loan of the space to me and Ellen by Southwark, under the umbrella of their Sunday Sessions programme. The same slot was filled by the Miniaturists a month ago, you may recall, except we moved that one to the evening to allow rehearsal time in the theatre during the day. So it's with a sigh I must report the suspension of the SS's, effective in the New Year. The Playhouse is entering uncertain territory, as its lease nears expiry. The theatre is still open for business until the summer at least, but the post of artistic director will remain vacant after Gareth Machin leaves at the end of the year. And with a reduced staff, the Sundays are suddenly too much. It's a bind for me - I really wanted to have the Miniaturists on regularly at the SP. But it's so much more of a bugger for Tom and Juliet and everyone, to have the place under this cloud. With luck, it'll all be sorted out soon, and the ship can sail on unencumbered.

Meantime, the Minis were such a success, so enjoyable, and so valuable an exercise, I can't let them lapse. So I'm beginning the search for a new venue for them, at least until the SP can have us back. Suggestions and ideas (and offers!) very welcome.

Other blips. I'm becoming suspicious that my email account is well dodgy. I'm with graffiti.net, after years of hotmailing. But I've heard from friends that the odd message they've sent has bounced back, or that they've sent things I haven't received, and vice versa. Who's the most reliable of the free mail people, people?

This isn't a blip - apart from the disc getting stuck once too often - we watched Sideways last night. Such a hoot. And beautifully played, and shot. We had to google Virginia Madsen because we knew we knew her really well from somewhere. Turns out she'd played Frasier's girlfriend Cassandra.

Belated big up to Nell, by the way - while I was in Trieste she won that Evening Standard Award she was up for. Hurrah! Couldn't have happened to a nicer lady.

12 December 2005

I never used to be that sure about actors. They were always too smart-arsed, too loud, too preening. They were usually good-looking too, which irritated me in the male of the species. Of course I went out with a couple of the other denomination, because you just couldn't help, if you were a young male apprentice playwright, falling for the smart-arse preening actresses. They were just so damn good-looking.

Now I'm a somewhat older apprentice, I've had to revise my opinion.

Actors are great.

They do a very strange job, and many of the ones I've worked with are so good at it, so dedicated and amiable and thoughtful, it makes me stand in amazement. Because most of the time, to borrow an American construction, they're working two or three jobs to support themselves between plays or bits of telly or film. And then when you ring them up (via their agent if you've not worked with them before), or accost them at a show, and say,
"I thought you were really good in that thing and I was wondering if you'd take a part in a reading I've got coming up", and they say tell me more, and you do, and then you say, feeling bad about it, "We can only pay expenses", they'll answer, more often than not, "Thanks for asking - I'll be there."

And you know and they know it's not the pinnacle, but they have this optimism in them, a willingness to come to the aid of the party. They like to work, and they like to see what you're up to.

So thanks to the actors Andrew Fallaize, Fiona Victory, Samantha Robinson, Rob Storr, Tim Morand, Tony Turner, Melissa Collier, Michael Brophy, Hayley Jane Standing, and to Cordelia, who was such a late recruit I didn't get to know her surname. Thanks to them, The May Queen came roaring to life on Sunday afternoon at Southwark. The play is up and running, I can see clearly what work needs doing, and that it's most of it in good shape.

There was a good turn-out too, which I know helped the cast, so thank you if you came.

09 December 2005

As it is my birthday, I would be absolutely delighted if you would de-lurk, dear readers, to place a greeting in my comment box. It needn't be of a congratulatory nature - some of you hardly know me from Adam, after all - a simple hello would be marvellous.
You're too kind.

More birthday thoughts later...

ps might amuse you to know that my first birthday greeting came just after midnight by way of an email from the Gillian Anderson Fans Forum - I'd signed up a few weeks ago in my search for pics of GA as Lady Dedlock...

06 December 2005

Joyceans

Trieste was where James Joyce wrote A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, Giacomo Joyce, and significant portions of Ulysses. A little museum - Museo Joyceano - holding an archive and offering info on Joyce's Triestine years, can be found in the city. But only if you look very hard. It's located within the Museo Sveviano - dedicated to Trieste's finest indigenous author and JJ's friend and mentor, Italo Svevo.
We watched the little dvd film about the Joyces' peregrinations within the city, their constant poverty and struggle, and the flowering of JJ's career. We bought a couple of postcards. Then as we were leaving we literally bumped into Erik Schneider, the museum's director, and a Joycean scholar. Except he was at pains to point out, he's not one of those Joyceans. And no, he's not an academic either, he wanted us to be clear about that. I think he wanted, not unreasonably, to distinguish himself from those Joyceans who dress up in Edwardian stuff and descend on Dublin every June 16th. Or even more worryingly, the Joyceans who recreate Paddy Dignam's funeral and wake.
His not being an academic is harder for him to get away with, since he told us he travelled to Oklahoma City just to read the Trieste journal of Stanislaus Joyce, JJ's long-suffering brother. And he's published several articles on JJ. But no matter. We forgive him. Especially as he gave me not one but two v large posters as souvenirs, that were printed for the opening of the museum, Bloomsday last year, the Ulysses centenary. Erik is one of life's true gentlemen. Which made his trenchant views on the restrictive policies of the Joyce Estate all the more startling. Longstanding readers may recall I was all set to adapt A Portrait for BBC Radio earlier this year, until a firm 'No' came back from Stephen Joyce et al to the Beeb's request for rights.

Here's me in the Museo Joyceano.



And with the man himself



And here's B and Spike with Svevo outside.

italy 060

We passed by Svevo every day, and Spike liked to address him, in a silly voice, thus:

How Do You Do, Sir?

Those people in the background were from the Italian coastguard, which keeps a serious presence in the port. I think they were having a parade nearby.

05 December 2005

"There is travel and there are babies. Everything else is drudgery and death."

So goes an aphorism from a character in You Shall Know Our Velocity, the book I read while I was away, by Dave Eggers. Well, there are all kinds of problems with that generalisation, Raymond, but sitting in bed in an apartment in the Italian port of Trieste, with an impressively pregnant B sleeping next to me, and the little boy S between us, it read like a truism.

There's an awful lot to do this week, all of it good. School tomorrow with the ten year olds acting out playlets based on the experiences of the HMS Belfast veterans. Going through the script of The May Queen in prep for the day's work on it with the cast on Saturday, followed by the reading at Southwark on Sunday. And it's my birthday (39) on Friday. Do you think it's too late for me to send out party invites? Haven't had a party in years.

Lots more on Trieste later, but for now here's a picture of B in Venice - we went on a day trip on Thursday.