Category Archives: plays

All our Daughters? Desperately Seeking Meaning in Manchester

Like many of us I woke this morning to the news that another terror attack has happened in Manchester.  I guess this one was a little closer to home, in that our daughter goes to Manchester a lot, and theoretically could have been involved.  Imagining a loved one caught up in such an event brings it close to your heart in a way that no statistics can.  I got the news via Facebook messenger from our daughter (she’s in Leicester right now, so I wouldn’t have worried) and then went to other news sites for details.  I now know as much as anyone about what happened.  Presumably details will emerge of the who and the how; presumably as usual the why will remain a mystery.

So I go on Facebook briefly – and immediately I am assaulted by a scattering of comments about Muslims, not from friends (who would be immediately unfriended) but by members of groups I belong to.  I won’t repeat what the comments said, since they were fairly predictable; but it goes to the heart of my problems about Facebook.  I go there every day because I want to communicate with friends, to share life events, to find out what my children are up to, and to catch up with the latest news in, for example, the Labour Party (no campaigning today as a mark of respect.)  Yet every day I am assaulted – and that is not too strong a word – by hatred, vitriol, insults and prejudice.  When I post even the mildest of comments I am unsure whether it might, out of nowhere, receive an aggressive response from someone who has read into it a meaning which I never intended.

I’ve tried various responses to this: preventive, ie trying to make my meaning as clear as possible; asking questions, eg when someone posts an aggressive comment, asking why they think as they do, and most effective of all, hiding, unfollowing and in extreme cases, blocking.  I am careful to mind my mental health when on Facebook, and when posts have a detrimental effect on me, I hide them or unfollow the conversation.

All this seems as nothing in the face of an event like last night’s: and yet it is somehow relevant.  How do we deal with atrocities like this?  I am aware that, as mere bystanders, we don’t have to deal with very much, and yet there are our own feelings and responses, and those of others with whom we interact.  So how do we deal with the inevitable upsurge in hatred and prejudice?  Here are some ideas:

Hiding and unfollowing: don’t read the tabloids or follow the trolls.  The tabloids have vested interests and are not open to argument, and the trolls just want the attention.

Asking questions: when in contact with far-right groups, ask mild, polite questions.  Why do you think that?  What makes you say that?  Which particular aspects of sharia law do you disagree with?  Their beliefs are usually unfocussed and emotional – specific questions can cut into that.

Stand alongside the persecuted: when witnessing a verbal attack on someone, stand alongside them.  Ask if they are OK, or strike up a conversation.  (Naturally a physical attack needs to trigger a call to the police.)

Difficult though it is, avoid rage and vitriol: these achieve nothing beyond raising your own blood pressure.  As the Buddha says, trying to hurt someone with anger is like throwing a spear made of fire.  You burn your own hand first.  If situations and people enrage you, come back when you’re calmer and ask questions.  Above all, don’t get into arguments; debate peacefully.

The scenario in Manchester reminded me of Arthur Miller’s play, ‘All My Sons.’  A corrupt aircraft manufacturer allows faulty parts to be fitted into planes, resulting in the death of young pilots, one of whom turns out to be his son.  The title of the play comes from his final recognition that there is no difference between his son and the others: that they were ‘all his sons.’

And there’s the rub.  My daughter, thank god, was not in Manchester last night.  But other daughters were.  All our daughters were.

Kirk out

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Charles III and Another Windsor

Camilla (Margot Leicester), King Charles III (Tim Pigott-Smith), Kate Middleton (Charlotte Riley), Prince William (Oliver Chris), Prince Harry (Richard Goulding) in King Charles III

Image result for open source images barbara windsor

(no copyright infringement intended: images will be removed on request)

Notwithstanding Ken Loach’s recent comments about historical drama on the BBC, with which I substantially associate myself:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-37679158

the Beeb does produce some stonking drama; and two gems I’ve seen lately tend towards the biographical; one retrospectively and one futuristically.  They are also royally linked; the subject of the first, ‘Babs’ being about a self-styled Windsor and the second, ‘Charles III’, featuring an actual member of that family.

I have never been a fan of Barbara Windsor.  You could argue that the construction of the dumb bombshell with the humungous bazoongas was a creation of male writers and directors, but it was one in which she was complicit.  Her ‘Carry-On’ persona so completely eclipsed her earlier acting talent that I was completely gobsmacked to find that she’d worked with Joan Littlewood.  You would think that Littlewood, a Communist in early years, would be anathema to the conventional and staunchly royalist Windsor; but work together they did.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02t02pl

Littlewood warns Windsor in this production that if she’s not careful she’ll play the dumb blonde for the rest of her life, a prophecy which came true – at least until Babs moved to EastEnders.

I liked this programme, in spite of it’s following the ‘Lady in the Van’ convention of having two narrators: it showed a side of Windsor I would never have imagined.  But it was as nothing to the stupendousness of last night’s ‘Charles III,’ an imagining of the first months of Charles’ reign following the death of the Queen.

Tim Piggott-Smith plays Charles (Smith was shortly afterwards to die) in a tour de force.  But though the acting is superb, the success of this begins with the script.  With the great soliloquys written in iambic pentameter, it brings to mind every Shakespeare play that ever featured a monarch, and takes us back to the power-plays of Richard II and Henrys IV and V.

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen this yet I strongly advise you to watch before reading on.

Charles is known nowadays to be proactive behind the scenes; this play sees him make some disastrous decisions in his first days by refusing to sign a bill which comes before him, thus precipitating an answer to the age-old question of where royal power resides.  The paradox has been sustained for generations; the Queen signing bills with which she almost certainly disagrees, being fully aware that not to do so would precipitate a constitutional crisis.  You have to pick your battles, and Charles’ tragic flaw in this is that instead of waiting and discussing, he charges straight in like a bull at a gate, prompting the Prime Minister to call his bluff and enact the bill into law with or without royal assent.  The Machiavellian Leader of the Opposition advises the King to follow the example of William IV and dissolve Parliament: this he does, and the ensuing crisis is Charles’ downfall.

What was most interesting was the role of Kate in this.  Bored by her portrayal as a smiling and supportive wife, she urges the indecisive William to take control and intervene.  Kate is the typical Shakespearian female malcontent, albeit with more possibilities open to her than a Tudor princess: and from the moment she persuades her husband to act, the writing is on the wall for Charles.  He becomes Lear; pathetic, outcast, bemoaning the treachery of his children and only giving way when they threaten to leave the palace and take his grandchildren with them.

Also interesting was a sub-plot centring on Harry’s desire to be a commoner: he returns to the fold just in time for the coronation.

And this is how the play ends: with William being crowned in his father’s stead, and stability being returned.  At the last minute Charles snatches the crown from the Archbishop, seeming to be about to put it on his own head.  Instead, in a touching gesture, he places it on William, murmuring ‘my son.’

And there’s even a Shakespearian ghost: Diana returns to speak to both widower and son, telling them both that they will be the greatest king ever: in a nice twist, it seems Charles will achieve this by abdicating.

I can’t sing the praises of this enough: I’m going to watch it again in a few days.  I’ve only scratched the surface here.  I urge you to see it while you can:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p04z0n7s/king-charles-iii

Kirk out

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When You Have Nothing to Say…

…say nothing.  That’s advice I’ve been following for the last couple of weeks, but a blog can only stay silent for so long before people Begin to Wonder.  It’s like radio silence – if it goes on too long people begin to question whether the station is there at all.

Speaking of radio silence, the other day this was stretched to the limit during the broadcast of Pinter’s play ‘Betrayal.’  It’s a good title, since the play itself is a betrayal, heaping insult onto injury by making public Pinter’s affair with Joan Bakewell.  She wrote her own play in retaliation (also broadcast) but no such redress was available to Vivien Merchant, the wronged wife, who not only had to suffer the pain of her husband’s affair but then the indignity of having it plastered all over the stage.  I can’t begin to imagine how I’d feel if it was me.

But the Beeb were flirting with danger in other ways too.  As anyone familiar with Pinter knows, his plays are pregnant with pauses, so much so that the phenomenon is known as the ‘Pinter pause’:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Characteristics_of_Harold_Pinter%27s_work#The_.22Pinter_pause.22

A Pinter character can barely say half a dozen words without lapsing into a brooding silence.  Which is not to say that the pauses are contrived or meaningless; far from it – a pause, a silence, can convey far more than any number of words when used in the right way.  Pinter could almost have been a Quaker (except that it is not very Quakerly to have an affair and then write a play about it!)  Anyway, this is me breaking my radio silence and telling you all that I am Still Here.  I’ve mostly been in the garden, digging up stubborn brambles with roots the size (although not the shape) of my head, and ivy that has convoluted and thickened everywhere.  Ivy horrifies me, the way it embraces and kills every other living thing: it’s very cathartic to rip it apart and chuck it in the garden bin.  We have just signed up to this scheme, which gets you a brown bin that’s emptied fortnightly.

I promise from now on to blog more often than the garden bin is emptied.  Hope you all had a good Easter.  Anyway, here’s the play, featuring Andrew Scott who was so brilliant as Moriarty in Sherlock:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01kr71s

and here’s Joan Bakewell’s riposte:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08n4qq5

Kirk out

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Best. Shakespeare. Ever.

I was initially a tad dubious about these beamed-in theatre productions where theatres film their output and transmit it simultaneously to cinemas all over the world.  Whilst I could see that it enabled thousands more people to see a play which they might not otherwise get to attend, it seemed a rather dislocated experience.  It must also be hard for the actors, knowing that they are performing for a dual audience and that as well as having to project to the gods at the National (or wherever) they will have cameras on them doing a close-up.

But I am now a total convert, having seen not only Hedda Gabler from the National but also, on Saturday, the completely amazing NT production of Twelfth Night, starring in a gender-bent role, Tamsin Greig as Malvolia.

I always respected Tamsin Greig as an actor.  Her ultra-distinctive voice is rarely heard on The Archers nowadays, as Debbie is permanently in Hungary, but I loved her in Black Books and various other things on the good box.  But I basically thought of her as a soap/sitcom actress and had No Idea of what heights of comic invention she could ascend on the stage.  Her Malvolia was the funniest, most striking, most pathetic, most hilarious and outrageous I have ever seen.  And though she was the best thing in it, the cast as a whole was far from dusty.  Setefane claimed that Phoebe Fox was the finest member of the cast, playing another gender-bent role, Olivia (a woman pretending to be her own brother).  And ’tis true, she was indeed brilliant, but I couldn’t take my eyes off Tamsin Greig.  Best.  Twelfth Night.  Ever.  In fact, possibly the best Shakespeare ever – in my experience at least.

Gender-bending is common in Shakespeare when not only did boys play women, but characters often pretended to be of the other sex.  But recently in more feminist style, roles have been swapped; so recently Helen Mirren has played Prospera in The Tempest and Maxine Peake, Hamlet:

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/gallery/2014/sep/26/female-hamlets-sarah-bernhardt-maxine-peake-in-pictures

If you get a chance to see this production, go.  Sell your house and all its contents, but go.  It’s terrific.

https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/twelfth-night

Kirk out

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Harry Potter and the Jumped Shark

You might think that after a success like Harry Potter, an author would be completely burnt out.  I’m sure I would be – for a while at least.  But having scooped up her awards, JK Rowling barely had time for a good night’s sleep before she was deep into a novel for adults, ‘A Casual Vacancy’.  Two more followed, this time under a pseudonym (that secret was never going to be kept) and now we have the latest in the Potter saga, ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.’

*********SPOILER ALERT **********

Its hard to judge this from merely reading the script: I’ve heard that the staging and special effects are terrific and I’m sure it’s a tremendous spectacle.  But on the page it’s very much a curate’s egg with not many good parts.

The story carries on from the exact moment the series left off.  As you will recall, Harry and Ginny are seeing their youngest, Albus, off to Hogwarts.  Albus is a nervous, sensitive boy whose main fear is that he will be put into Slytherin House by the Sorting Hat.  The main focus of the action is on Albus: as he gets on the train he sits with Scorpius, the son of Draco Malfoy.  Both are in some sense pariahs – and because of the history between their parents no-one wants them to be friends – and yet, much as Ron and Harry took to each other right from the word go, so Scorpius and Albus become fast friends.  This for me was the best bit of the story: the friendship between them is touching and feels real; the language is authentic for a younger generation (‘Al owled me’) and the relationship feels genuine.

Not so the rest of the story, which regrettably I found to be a re-hashing of the novels.  You may recall that all the time-turners in the Ministry had been destroyed.  Oh, but wait – one has survived the purge.  Albus and Scorpius find it and try to go back in time to prevent – hang on, what was it? to prevent Cedric Diggory from dying because – well I really can’t remember why, and that’s the thing.  Once you start going back in time to change plots you’re on a very sticky wicket: in fact it’s a sure sign of jumping the shark.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jumping_the_shark

The adult characters (Harry, Ron, Hermione and others) are flat now that they’re grown up: it’s vaguely interesting finding out that Hermione is Minister for Magic but I ended up skipping whole wodges of the action as it just didn’t grab me.

Like I say, what with special effects and trickery it’s probably stunning on stage – but on the page?

Nah.

Jumping the shark?  Give me hunting the snark any day…

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hunting_of_the_Snark

Kirk out

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Orton Ornot?

Regular readers of Lizardyoga’s blog will be only too familiar with this particular rant of mine, but bear with me because there is a new twist.  It has been mooted that the old Haymarket theatre, which has been hanging around with nothing to do, should be resurrected in some form.

http://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/2-2-million-plan-reopen-Leicester-s-disused/story-29348599-detail/story.html

I could never quite understand why they found it necessary to close it in the first place and replace it with some steel-and-glass monstrosity which looks far more like a conference centre than (oo! the words ‘conference centre’ have triggered another rant, but more of that later) than a theatre, and instead of calling it after Leicester’s most famous playwright, Joe Orton, to call it by the spectacularly unimaginative name of The Curve.  By that token the new bus station would be called The Swerve, the Highcross Centre The Sprawl and Town Hall Square, Town Hall – oh wait.  But you get the drift.  There was a perfectly good Leicester-born and -bred playwright screaming for a theatre to be named after him, and instead they opted to name it after its shape.  Shame on them.

So I think I’m going to launch a campaign, if they do resurrect the Haymarket, for it to be named the Orton Theatre.  He deserves no less.

http://www.joeorton.org/

Oh, and the other rant is concerning a certain local religious centre which seems increasingly more concerned with hosting conferences than it does with supporting the homeless.  Nuff said…

Kirk out

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I Guess That’s Why They Call Them The Blues

The whole world has gone blue today.  The streets are blue, the cafes are blue, the papers are blue and social media are blue.  This blog is blue – but then it always has been.  And the reason for this cerulean craziness, this azure animation, this marine madness?  Why the navy lark?  Why the sky-blue antics?

Need you ask?  As the whole world knows (or at least the whole of England and Wales) Leicester City are an ace away from winning the premier league.

But none of this is as surprising as the fact that I, who have reached the age of 58 without evincing any enthusiasm for football, should give a toss.  I, who have no interest in the game others see as beautiful but which to me looks like a bunch of men spitting and sliding about in mud: I, who have never been able to see any point in these Saturday-afternoon terraces of shouting men (even though they are now joined by women and children), these gaggles of excited commentators, these interminable pool-results – why should I, who would a million times rather watch Shakespeare at the Globe, care about Leicester City at Old Trafford?

Well, I don’t know.  I guess I’ve just been caught up in it – and to be honest, anything that causes the city to celebrate is good.  It’s been an excellent year or two for Leicester, what with finding Richard and now this – and I’m happy to be happy for those to whom it all means something.

The History Boys

On the subject of Shakespeare, it surely cannot have escaped even the most soccer-mad amongst you that last week was the 400th anniversary of the old boy’s death.  By tradition, since he was born at around the same time but the exact date is unknown, his birthday is celebrated on the same day, 23rd April.  And you can’t move on the Beeb for celebrations of his work. There was a spectacle from the RSC on interpretations of Shakespeare which I found interesting but a bit – well, spectacular, especially the bit where a gaggle of actors disputed how to read ‘To be or not to be’ and were joined on stage by Prince Charles.  It was fun but – I dunno, kinda cheesy:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0791mqd/shakespeare-live-from-the-rsc

Plus, I’ve been catching up with ‘The Hollow Crown,’ a sequence of history plays from Richard II to Henry V featuring Jeremy Irons, Rory Kinnear and Tom Hiddleston.  I don’t know the history plays too well, so it’s been an education for me and has sent me scurrying to find my Complete Works and read along with the series.  Simon Russell Beale is terrific as Falstaff, as is Tom Hiddleston – who is of course the man of the moment after his triumph in ‘The Night Manager.’

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/search?q=The%20Hollow%20Crown

That’s all for today.  Let’s hope Leicester City’s crown will not be hollow…

Kirk out

PS This just in – the latest compound verb – to question-ask

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