29 November 2006

Sir David Rules!

I just clicked on to the First Night Reviews page of The Times and under the heading A Week Of Reviews, as if in some Ghost of Reviews Past kind of way, there were write-ups of The Permanent Way, Stuff Happens, Via Dolorosa, My Zinc Bed and The Blue Room. Que pasa??
I went to the matinee of Therese Raquin yesterday at the NT's Lyttleton and suffered the claustrophobia and anxiety and paranoia of that story all over again - I read it just a few months ago. What Nicholas Wright brings to this horrible, forensic depiction of human appetites and miseries is a grim sense of humour. It's there in the Zola I think, perhaps partly lost in translation?, you Francophones out there might know.
Julian Barnes has written an absorbing piece about Therese, and he says that in his own adaptation of the book Zola introduced "a lightening humour". He also makes the very good point that while surgical dissections of character are Zola the novelist's stock in trade, his instincts as a dramatist were good enough to know that when you put a truthful character out on stage, in the flesh, it's practically impossible to stop an audience from feeling sympathy for them. Their suffering is contagious, even if deserved. In this new version for sure, the story gains a great deal from the careful attention to and mockery of the secondary characters. Nicholas Wright scripts them as monsters of monotony and mundanity, completely insensible to the horror surrounding them, with the effect of making the murderers seem heroic, and their self-destruction tragic. Zola the novelist piles disdain on Laurent's appetites for food, sex and sleep, and tears them from him one by one. The play looks on him more kindly . In Ben Daniel's fantastic performance he is a Lawrentian bull, crashing around in search of he knows not what. Charlotte Emmerson's Therese is enough to drive any man mad - smouldering petulance, magnetic in her misery. Susannah Clapp in the Observer writes very well about Marianne Elliott's direction (cracking) and Hildegard Bechtler's design (ditto).

Then it was home to my happy family, thank goodness! Before bouncing out again to the Arcola to see my pal Annie in Keith Dewhurst's play King Arthur. She was cool, as ever. Playing a peasant in ancient Britain whom Arthur recognises from forty years ago - in another life she was 'my Lady Julia', a highborn Roman in Britain, later captured by a tribe, enslaved but unbowed. The play is engagingly batty - Annie had a couple of other tiny roles, including a galloping signpost.

Then on the 106 on the way home, a woman gets on - bottle blonde, puffa jacket, white jeans - carrying a life-size cut-out of Wonder Woman. Does she get on free?, she laughs.

Then getting off the bus at the junction my eyes meet those of a prostitute hovering opposite the pub in that unmistakeable way. There's a copy of Unprotected in my pocket, I'd been reading it on the journey.

26 November 2006

Drunk Enough To Say I Love You?

Here's another question for you. What's the female equivalent of masterclass?

Caryl Churchill's play (can't we make her a Dame without going through the cretinous royals?) is a stunning, steely, biting piece. The tension between who she is and who they are, Jack and Sam, her creations. The fearless imagination. I don't know what else to say for now because it's still sinking in. Need to read it now.

But as a work of theatre, a thing to listen to and look at, it's sublime. Mesmeric. Very good work by James Macdonald in realising the text, letting it speak for itself, framing it, elucidating.

Some great rehearsal photos here, featuring Herself.

Bumped into one of my Friends In The North at the play, visiting family down South - fancy that! (Actually it's not much of a staggerer, she's a 'theatre worker'.)

24 November 2006


I bought a digital radio for this?
Tonk a Pom indeed. Who do they think they are, the best team in the world? Oh yes that's right I forgot they are.

Caaalm. And actually it was terrifically thrilling cranking up the machine for the first time at midnight, just in time for Aggers' description of possibly the worst ever first ball in the long history of the sport, and the ensuing volcanic roar of laughter from the Aussie hordes at the Gabba. Gotta love this too, courtesy of Test Match Special.

Englishmen arriving at the Brisbane Cricket Ground to support the endeavours of their valiant compatriots.

22 November 2006


Not really.
Things are always intensely interesting if they're happening to oneself, naturellement, but's folly to assume our fellow travellers will give a hoot.

Let the follies begin.

Actually this one's a request! From my friends in the north who wanted gruesome detail. It's hardly Marathon Man but here goes. I had another tooth out yesterday. All through the rotten business of having the next door one cleaned out in prep for a filling, I dreaded the worse to come. But when my very gentle and bushy-tailed dentist Ms Patel set to work on the extraction, me half-dead with anticipation of torture (last time was feckin' awful), she sort of knocked it, and it fell out. She even actually said - "Oops! Oh. I think that's it." In a (very) curious way I felt I'd let her down. She'd lost la chasse.

So yesterday was my lucky day. Sort of. I escaped with very little pain and when I reached the library I found a pound coin in my locker. I'd sort of given up on this ever happening again. I found three on one fine day years ago, since when nix. But of course yesterday I went and ruined it all by putting £3 on there being 4 goals in the Celtic-Manchester United match in the evening. There was only the one, in the end - but such a goal.

Today, disaster. I'm packing for the library. Got everything, can't be arsed to make a sandwich, picking up my winter coat from the dry cleaners so no need to put one on... Yes, got my Dickens (work-related speed-reading). Now where's my Robinson Crusoe...
Can't find it. It's only the Penguin, but it's got the superior cover (the one before the present one, painting of a shorescape) - and it's got loads of my notes in.
I'm an idiot if I've lost it.

And then, having just put the washing out, I get to the bus stop and it starts bloody raining.

Never mind. I've cheered myself by sending out invites to a Miniaturists Works Outing - we're kicking off again at the Arcola in January and we thought it'd be nice to have a get-together.

Still with me?
Hope you're having an excellent day...

20 November 2006

It's my great pleasure to welcome to my blogroll Dr Christopher Bunch, the consultant who treated me for Hodgkin's Disease (see Great Portland St, below). Actually I'm not sure of his exact title these days, or indeed field - haematology or oncology? But I do remember a junior doctor was prodding me during diagnosis and he asked, Who's your consultant? I told him it was Dr. B and a look of respect came over his features. He nodded slowly. "You're in good hands. He is Mr Lymphoma."

Mr Lymphoma admits his entries to Jambalaya are sporadic, but as he spends his days curing or alleviating terrible diseases, I think he can be forgiven a certain slackness in his blogging.

19 November 2006

I've read two amazingly good plays this past week. The first was Gerhardt Hauptmann's Hannele, a poetic drama written in 1893 about a young girl suffering from abuse and neglect, which sees her welcome Death himself in the midst of angelic visions.
David Harrower's 2001 play Presence is a spare, riveting piece about young men playing in a band in Hamburg. Contains the outstanding line, "We're not British. We're from Liverpool." There's a pre-production interview with DH here.

Strange to think that Hauptmann, by then a very old man, survived the 1942 firestorms inflicted on Germany by the RAF, events which vibrate throughout Harrower's play. Have a look at these pictures of the aftermath, first published in 2003. To see the more graphic ones, click on the OPEN button. If you're not of too nervous a disposition.

17 November 2006

Great Portland Street

Today I was in town for a meeting with my agent Micheline. Walking down Great Portland Street to her office I was suddenly struck by long faded or perhaps suppressed memories of wandering around these imposing, busy streets with their towering mansion flats at around the same time of year in 1989. I was in my last year at Oxford at the time, studying hard after a year out with depression, enjoying life again, living in a lovely college flat normally occupied by a graduate, but as I was in fact in my fifth year I sort of qualified. Then I was hit with a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Disease. I was hoping the weight loss and the lump in my neck were down to glandular fever or something, but no such luck. The consultant oncologist at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Dr.Bunch, told me it 'wasn’t the end of the world', but when he was out the room I snuck a look at a letter on his desk and saw the sentence – appropriate word, perhaps – 'Stephen’s in a bit of trouble'. Or something very like. The disease was getting on with its job, so radiation therapy was out, Dr.B told me I was in for six months’ chemotherapy. We’re going to hit this hard, he said, it’ll be rough but we’ll get rid of it, we’ll get you through. The treatment’s likely to make you infertile, he said. You’d best organise some sperm banking, so you might at least have a chance of children down the line. Can’t remember his exact formulation but that was the gist. I was 22 at the time, a very young 22 at that. My girlfriend was in Moscow for six months studying Russian and was virtually uncontactable – there was still an iron curtain back then, albeit a rusty one. My parents in Liverpool were working all hours and not able to jump on a train, though they wanted to of course. So I was all at sea really. The hospital put me in touch with a clinic in Harley Street that would open an account for me, as it were. The NHS wasn’t paying. We’re only talking two or three hundred pounds, I forget exactly how much, but we had to ask my Nan, who gave it us out of her savings. So then I made a weekly trip to make a deposit. Oxford to Paddington, tube to Great Portland Street. We’ll draw a veil over the next bit. Then I’d hand the notional offspring, the chance, my potential side of the bargain, over to the ‘technician’. I remember there were dozens, hundreds of baby photos stuck up on the wall behind the receptionist.
The following summer, after the advertised rough time - dozens of toxic injections, hair loss, much vomiting and a strange loop away from my already tenuous sense of a normal ‘me’ – I was pronounced well. A few weeks on, I was tested and I had apparently dodged the bullet – or I wasn’t firing blanks – any other gun metaphors? I wasn’t infertile. When I got the call from Dr MacDonald I fell weeping into the arms of my good friend. Who subsequently nicked my (new) girlfriend off me the year after. But we don’t mind that so much, looking back – not because it didn’t hurt like hell but because it was LIFE.

Not long after the call from Dr Mac, I got a letter from Harley Street. We’ve had an accident, electrical problem, awfully sorry, lost most of your deposit.

Zip forward to today, Micheline kindly bought me a yummy Japanese lunch just round the corner from Harley Street, we had a good old natter, and later I bought my boy Spike a Wallace and Gromit book (Welcome To West Wallaby Street). Great Portland Street looked exactly the same as it ever did, as it did in '89. And yes, all’s well innit.

14 November 2006

Bring Her In, It's Cold Out There

There's a campaign to bring Ruth Evershed back to the Grid. Where do I sign up? No really, where - the link in the article to the fansite that's bombarding the Spooks producers with clever Ruth-related items, well it ain't working, annoyingly. Hope they succeed so Series 7 can end with her and Harry walking up the aisle of some impossibly beautiful Norman church tucked away behind Thames House. But given the writers' penchant for squishing their favourite characters they'll probably be strapped to a nuclear device together whispering I love you's as the time ticks down to the world's end. So maybe she's best off teaching English in Venezuela or wherever the hell she is.

13 November 2006

Stumbled across Beryl Bainbridge's collection of theatre reviews for that incorrigible old bugger of a magazine The Oldie. It's called Front Row and is a great read if you've got any kind of interest in the theatrical. The actor Roger Lloyd Pack writes about Dame Beryl's 'unorthodox' approach to criticism here. Among the many wonderful things about it is her heroic enthusiasm for the art, mixed in with trenchant observations about the actual experience of going to a show and her quite unguarded feelings about it. Check this out, for instance...

Diana Rigg has a magical theatrical presence and tremendous vocal ability. I think her voice, in its range and power, is superior to any other classical actress. Some critics found her performance as Medea brilliant, yet unmoving. I suspect this is because they wanted her to reduce them to tears at the contemplation of her wickedness.
The point is, Medea would have had to feel she was bad in order to make the rest of us more comfortable in our minds. And she didn't. Right to the end she never let up. Jason was the guilty one, Jason was at fault.
I'm basically on her side, though I think I may have pretended to have killed the children rather than have actually done it. But then, I'm a post-Freudian woman and the dubious product of a Christian upbringing.

Elsewhere she writes very wittily about the Liverpool Playhouse version of An Awfully Big Adventure, the novel by - Beryl Bainbridge, in an adaptation by - you've guessed it, Beryl Bainbridge. Her modesty about the whole thing is all the more affecting since the Playhouse is where she worked as a very young woman, first as a stage manager before being drafted in to tread the boards.

And finally...dragged by a friend to see Ray Cooney's farce It Runs In The Family she says she has at the beginning 'a fixed smile on my face and a sliver of ice in my heart'. She signs off the review thus: ' I felt weak afterwards and could have done with an injection of glucose. As for my friend, she laughed so much she announced she'd had a little accident.'

06 November 2006

The Sharkeys have decamped to Bristol for a few days' change of scene, staying at the in-laws' pad here, right behind the Old Vic theatre school. Cue much traipsing about enjoying not being in London, sleeping in funny beds and marvelling at the plethora of places to drink coffee and loll about. I say we're enjoying the not-Londonness, but we're actually all confirmed Londoners - me by adoption, the others by birth - and will miss the Smoke before too long no doubt. As B likes to joke, this is her parents' idea of a rural retreat, Dr and Mrs S were also both born in the capital.
We're very much in student-land here, the university's all around, and the foggy autumnal weather adds to the general air of unreality and lassitude. We spent the afternoon in the city museum, where we gawped at dinosaur bones and fossils of sea creatures called ammonites, who lived in these parts many millions of years ago.

Here till Thursday when I take a train to Liverpool, there to take in Chloe Moss's play at the Everyman and have a meeting about The May Queen Friday morning. Then it's back to this place to hook up with the team for some more Bristolian r'n'r.

04 November 2006

Serves Me Right

Half asleep all day, end-of-term-itis struck after delivering the play on Monday - of which more anon, inevitably - and running around most of the week. Anyway I surfaced from a profound nap about half six and was excused putting-boys-to-bed duties to go and clear my head. Pitched up at Angel and despite repeated tellings-off from B for feeding the corporate monster I browsed in Borders, as is my habit. Picked out what appears to be the definitive biography of PG Wodehouse, engrossing from what I've seen so far, very good writer that Robert McCrum.
Anyhoo at the till the bookseller asks me - Would you like some free chocolate with that.


After a momentary jar my brain processed this and said - Yes please.
But I wouldn't let it lie, would I.
What's this in aid of? I ask, pleasantly as you like.
I don't know, actually, is her no doubt fair enough but solidly disinterested response. It's only her day job, after all, and the corporate monster may well have been on her case that day, who knows.
But I'm finding this all a bit disconcerting - the deadpan gifting of sweets with yr literary biographical. So I say -
What a decadent society, ey.
And I get the glassy-eye switch-off, got another nutter here, say nothing, just Would You Like A Bag?, think about supper and what's on telly later, only two hours to go...

03 November 2006

The Boosh Is Loose

I'm afraid I've fallen for these chaps in a big way.

A lightbulb moment as Vince's dream is explained and he helps to defeat the Killeroo. Triumphant, Howard celebrates in traditional style - by taking his vest off in front of Mrs Gideon. Big mistake...


Okay, this pic doesn't perhaps flatter the boys, Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding, aka The Mighty Boosh. But when you've just gone 12 rounds with a killer kangaroo, personal grooming's the last thing on your mind.

Me and the missus have great tv compatibility, but this is one thing I'm having to watch on my own. I mean, she quite likes them. But she finds the silliness a tad too much.
Especially when they break off into their song and dance routines.
From the episode 'Tundra':

I’m little Johnny Frostbite moving around
Freezin’ you up freezing you down
Like an icicle
Comin’ in your tent like a cold night scissor bite
Arctic death
Infinite night

They call me tundra boy because
I move like an arctic lizzard
When the Blizzard strikes
I disappear like a pipedream
All that’s left is the gleam
Of a tent peg

So what's so silly about that?