28 June 2007

For goodness sake, it's Miniaturists 8

These are the days, my friend, these are the days.

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Nibbles with attitude. A new ruler. A day in A&E with a scratched cornea (I'm bearing up, thanks, but it does smart). And my boy Spike taught me a new song which seemed entirely apt:

Little Nat sat on the wall
Feeling very jolly
Till he had a little fall
Now he's melancholy.


There's nothing like an intimation of mortality to set cats among the flying rats. Scrooge said to Marley, You may be an undigested bit of beef, but in my case the night terrors and acute headaches were the work of a never-seen bit of grit in my right eye. By lunchtime today I was wracked and wrecked with it. Thank Christ for the NHS. Moorfields Eye Hospital, an oasis of professionalism practised with good humour, calmness and civility. Sure I had to wait a bit but hey.

So yours truly, though sporting a half-closed right peeper, is picking up and getting all tingly about the imminent show. I've not had a piece on at Arcola before, yet another reason to be cheerful. And I'm very glad to be working with some of the May Queen company - Mark, Suzanne, Leanne (pictured in rehearsal below). All in all it should be a good'un. So roll up to the Arcola on Sunday for the following:


EMBODIED
by Glyn Cannon
with Charlotte Aspery

KIND OF DARK
by Lance Woodman
directed by Suzanne Bell
with Mark Arends, Raquel Cassidy

FROM BOMBAY TO SANTA FE
by Myself
dir. Lucy Skilbeck
with Leanne Best, Dominic Carter, Stephen Rahman Hughes

REASONS TO SETTLE FOR LESS
by Nancy Harris
dir. Elgiva Field
with Laura-Kate Frances, Charlotte Gittins, Sarah Ogley

MATCH PLAY
by Frederic Blanchette
translated by Christopher Campbell
dir. Lucy Skilbeck
with Gareth John Bale, Benedict Sandiford, Robin Weaver.


leanne

ARCOLA Studio 1, 5pm and 8pm July 1st.

Book tickets (£9 / £7 concessions) at arcolatheatre.com or on 0207 503 1646.

24 June 2007

Hot Chip

I am completely head over heels with this lot, after catching their set on the John Peel stage at Glastonbury.

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No I wasn't there, more's the pity. Watching at home on the idiot's lantern. Anyway I just loved it, their brand of soulfully poetic electro-pop was just the ticket after wrestling all day with words, words, words. And their anthemic track Over And Over is quite simply one of the best things I've ever heard.

You can watch their set, for the next few days at least, by going here and clicking on the name of the band.

18 June 2007

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Depressed and depressing, violent and blighted. Last week's Newsnight film in its series Broken Society, recorded almost entirely in the vicinity of the bus stop I use to get home from Manor House tube station, dealt with the so-called 'postcode wars' in NE London, the alarming rise of the gang mentality whereby youths in Tottenham will challenge and attack Hackney counterparts who dare to stray into "their" territory. And of course vice versa. The familiar, gallingly so, cycle of poor education leading to drift leading to crime leading to prison leading to more crime.

Emerging from the tube at Manor House tonight, however, you could be forgiven for thinking it was all a bad dream, or a joke in poor taste played on the Newsnight viewer, or a ruse to crash the property prices in the area. Sure, there were one or two crazy people about, there always are, it's a metropolis. But there was no moral panic in the air, no one skulking or stalking. None of the shops have installed the cage-like fittings you see in other inner cities (Liverpool, for instance). At the bus stop, a young woman was reading a book. Another asked directions from a guy who responded with a cheerful smile and a half-decent attempt at a chat-up, but she took off with a laugh and a wave when she knew the way to go. Meanwhile I looked up at the summer sky to see Venus and the Moon in twilit conjunction, a pinky quilt of cloud sailing north on the southerly breeze, and a swallow, jinking its way over the kebab shop.

moon and venus

17 June 2007

I'm A Jealous Husband

motorhead

B was at the NT last night with her friend Vesna and afterward they were checking out the Festival Hall refurb, and dammit if Motorhead weren't blazing away, part of Jarvis's Meltdown Fest, aren't they. So it was near the end of their set and B and V were able to wander in and witness the full glory of ACE OF SPADES...

Pushing up the ante
I know you've got to see me
Read 'em and weep
The Dead Man's Hand again

16 June 2007

Chicken Himmler

Oh dear, I used to think of myself as an okay cook, able to improvise in the kitchen, half-decent at putting together simple tasty fare. But I served up for myself and my loved one a dish that put us both, after we laboured to ingest the stuff in increasingly alarmed silence, no not in hospital thank god, but in mind of Woody Allen's priceless:
"Well I was sure it was heartburn, y'know? I was married at the time, and my wife's cooking, with her Nazi recipes..."

13 June 2007

MOLORA

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Tish Francis, artistic director of Oxford Playhouse, and The Onassis Programme, under the directorship of Helen Eastman and Professor Oliver Taplin, have joined forces with acclaimed writer-director Yael Farber to bring over from South Africa Farber's production called Molora, which is a retelling of the Oresteia, with elements from other versions of the legend of Orestes including the Sophocles Electra and Jean-Paul Sartre's The Flies (which I don't know, to my shame, but there you go, nothing new). But I'm telling you. It's astonishing. Molora (it means 'ash') will come to the Barbican next year and tour the UK, all being well. I saw it last night, I'd had a rotten journey to the Oxford Playhouse, arrived at the theatre in a foul mood. Two minutes in my jaw dropped, my eyes widened, and I shifted to the edge of my seat, where I stayed for the hundred minutes' duration.

Some notes and production details from the recent run in Johannesburg here.

In imagining the agon, or formal argument, between Clytemnestra and her daughter Electra as given before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, seated behind plain wooden tables, leaning in so the mike can pick up their words, Yael Farber's version acquires at once a significant resonance for the culture it sprang from, while at the same time underscoring the mutability of the myth, the staggering ability of these mythical characters to transcend their origins and translate themselves across centuries, cultures, languages.
I'll never forget Dorothy Ann Gould's performance as Clytemnestra. It was terrifying, as she used the crudest tortures to force Electra to tell her what happened to the infant Orestes. It was heartbreaking, as she pleaded for her life before the raised axe. Farber gives her speeches that ring with poetry, a muscular eloquence born of her terrible suffering. I don't have a text before me but I can hear in my memory Clytemnestra's evocation of the corpse of her husband after she struck him down: "a masterpiece of justice".
I was honoured to meet Gould after the play, and told her as best I could how very impressed and affected I was. Of course she must hear it all the time - at least I should hope so. In any case she accepted these compliments from geekily enthusiastic me with warmth and grace.
Nor could I help bending the ear of the actor Jabulile Tshabalala, whose performance as Electra was also moving and thrilling, taking in the explosive and the pathetic.
I told Jabulile about the line used to mock Theresa in The May Queen - "That's right, you're immortal aren't yer." And that actually I would sometimes say to myself Yes she is, because Leanne Best's stunning portrayal of the avenging Daddy's girl in Liverpool, and Jabulile's in Oxford and Johannesburg - these are just yet more manifestations of Electra, the girl-woman who will live forever, or at least as long as there are people to tell stories.

09 June 2007

Magic and Appetite

So if you take, then put back good
If you steal, be Robin Hood
If your eyes are wanting all you see
Then I think I'll name you after me
I think I'll call you Appetite


Ah, Prefab Sprout. I heard the song the other day on 6Music in my little flat in Liverpool, and it stuck. And so by the magic of wifi, I pull it from the ether while sitting in my (booked ahead therefore cheap) 1st class seat, Newcastle to London. I was up to watch and hear Ruby Moon, Matt Cameron's work in a production by Erica Whyman at Northern Stage. Erica directed his play Tear From A Glass Eye at the Gate a few years back, and I have to say it was one of my seminal nights in the theatre. I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing - a contemporary play that had the force of fable, the poetry of Beckett, a proper experience that put you through the mangle. I'd been feeling a bit jealous of Cameron as Erica had seemingly only ever worked with two writers, Shakespeare and me. Of course it wasn't true but it felt like it. And I didn't mind so much her going off sitting in a tree with Billy Bard. But after seeing Tear I was quite awestruck and smitten, and did that thing of going up to MC - he was over from Australia - and mumbling thanks and praise. Ruby Moon felt by comparison quite hard , in the sense of restrained in its treatment of big emotions, that was my first impression of it. But of course the paradox is that those emotions are generated by Cameron's story, so... Like Tear the play deals with loss and recovery, but it feels like the writer knows his own powers better now and is somewhat shrewder in their use, there's a control and an authorial distance there. But still the kind of stage poetry and intensity I loved in Tear, allied to perhaps a greater confidence, on reflection, in himself as a storyteller.
Erica and her associate Soutra Gilmour have wrought, as ever, a production to die for. Soutra has radically rethought Stage Two of the theatre so that once you pass the usher you're passing a kitchen window in suburban Australia, as you do so falling under the mournful gaze of Ruby's mother, whose agonies we are about to witness. Then you find yourself walking into her living room and taking a seat, never able for the next two hours to forget that she and the missing Ruby's father are living a hell.

Lyn Gardner's review pays proper tribute to the play, production, and the performances of Tilly Gaunt and Nick Haverson.

And for the record here is Mr de Jongh's review of Tear From A Glass Eye, which resulted in the play's nomination for an Evening Standard award, though he can't resist a barb or two, natch.

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A couple more things.
The Miniaturists played the Everyman on Wednesday last, did'n dee. About twice as many people showed up as I was expecting, bloody good house, including the artistic and executive directors of Liverpool Theatres, assorted commissioned writers, Mike Bradwell and David Eldridge. No pressure, then.
But we pulled it off, I reckon. There was our trademark variety, largely speaking, for Liverpool to see. And if actually the first half was by turns tragic, heartbroken and enraged, Glyn brought the house down after the interval with his comic bookshop story. I brought up the rear, Dominic and Leanne playing dad and daughter under Lucy's (fine and felt, as usual) direction. Unusually for the Minis, there was just the one performance, so no second bite at the cherry for the bits that went pear-shaped (one of our actors, naming no names, inverted a line and so appeared to be claiming the Sun goes round the Earth, an old-fashioned view to be sure...). But safe to say each of the plays will pop up again on another bill in the not too distant.

Some rehearsal pics of Miniaturists on tour on the website (go to 'previous shows, click on Minis 7).

03 June 2007

Somewhat improbably I am back in Liverpool, in mourning for The May Queen but gearing up for The Miniaturists show here on Wednesday night, which the Everyman is hosting as part of its magnificent Everyword Festival.

It's quite a special thing to be bringing The Miniaturists to Liverpool, our seventh show but our first outside London and the first to benefit from material assistance from a theatre like the Ev.

Here's the bill:

Wicked Women
by Lizzie Nunnery
directed by Serdar Bilis
with Annabelle Dowler, Julia Rounthwaite

Unfinished
by Samantha Ellis
dir. Joe Austin
with Steven Cartait, Laura-Kate Frances

Sunburn
by Rachael McGill
dir. Serdar B
with Steven Pinder, Michael Ryan

Death Of The Small Independent Retailer
by Glyn Cannon
dir. Joe A
with Steven Cartait, Laura-Kate Frances, Alan Stocks

From Bombay To Santa Fe
by Me
dir. Lucy Skilbeck
with Leanne Best, Dominic Carter.


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It's not there now. The powerfully evocative design Colin Richmond did us for The May Queen. I went into the auditorium today and there's not a trace. Which is as it should be. But here below, a shot of the set just after the play came down one night in the last week. And below that, a detail.


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02 June 2007

Silver Birch House

silver birch

Leyla Nazli's first play is running at the Arcola till next Saturday and it's an absolute beauty. I'm not going to ape the ladies and gentlemen of the critical persuasion and write about plot and character and all that, I'm not going to use the perennial 'promising' word. And if anyone's tempted to think, oh he's only saying it cos he's mates with the theatre, well stuff 'em. I absolutely loved Silver Birch House, it's got more heart and passion and wisdom than a hundred other first plays put together*.
LN's play is about family, and roots, and the ties that bind unravelling, and the forces that can rip a man's life apart in a day and how he can spend the rest of his life trying to repair the join, and how sometimes he might even nearly succeed. It's about so much. And it has a poetic energy that's rare and vital and to be celebrated. And almost by the by, the playwright wrote it in her second language.

*(Including mine, 1992, it was called Mahler's Unfinished, a sort of sad comedy about the composer in a weird sort of afterlife, did very well in Oxford then had two nights at the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone for its London showcase, and was described by no less a personage than Christopher Reid, then head of Faber poetry - his wife was in the play - as 'slight'. My own wife was in the Cockpit audience, though I wasn't to meet her for another five months. When I discovered, as we courted, that she'd seen the piece I was naturally eager to hear what she made of it. 'Was alright, I suppose', or somesuch, was her review.)