Category Archives: drama

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:

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

Kirk out

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But is it Lit-richa?

Like most people I was astonished at the announcement that Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature.  I mean, WTF?  He’s a song-writer!  What were they thinking?

Let’s consider this more judiciously.  Firstly, can song lyrics can be literature?  Well, in one sense, why not?  Then again, in a song the words and music are designed to go together, so that to look at the lyrics in isolation is like viewing a painting through sunglasses.  You’ve only got half the experience that the author intended.  Then again, maybe the lyrics can work as stand-alone poems, in the same way that Shakespeare’s plays can be read as well as seen.

But the crucial question is, are they literature?  Well, what is literature?  What is the difference between literature and fiction (if there is one) or between literature and poetry?Well, I guess it’s the difference between the good and the best.  Literature represents the best of the written output of a culture; that which stands out from the rest and which may in time turn out to be great literature, ie that which transcends time and place and shows itself to be universal.  Fiction speaks to a time and place; literature speaks more widely and great literature resounds through space and time.  Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Austen, Dante, etc are read in every literate culture; and Shakespeare’s stories are told in many illiterate societies too.

The Nobel Prize for Literature reflects this.  And it is is international: by its very nature it picks that which speaks not just to one culture but to many; that which transcends borders and may well stand the test of time.  Can we really say that about Bob Dylan?  Does Dylan speak to Russians and Africans and Chinese as he does to Westerners?

I think we’ve got confused about this.  We’ve got mixed up in the boundaries between cultural elites and literary merit.  Yes, we need to keep expanding the boundaries to include writers from second-and third-world countries as well as considering LGBT writing (considering women goes without saying, I should hope) and putting these on a par with white Western males.  This has been reflected in recent Nobel Laureates: J M Coetzee, V S Naipaul, Alice Monro, Orhan Pamuk and Mario Vargas Llosa have all won the prize in the last ten years and stand alongside the more familiar figures of Harold Pinter and Doris Lessing.  But expanding the boundaries to consider these groups is not the same as awarding prizes, and more often than not nowadays I think we tick the boxes rather than seriously considering merit.  People are so scared of being called elitist that they sometimes choose people who don’t deserve to win rather than genuinely weighing the options.  (I am always slightly uneasy when people complain at the lack of women on particular shortlists as though this were prima facie evidence of discrimination.  It may be: then again unless we can find independent evidence – novels by women which were overlooked in favour of worse novels by men – the argument won’t stand up.)

Mind you, to judge fairly requires an opening of the mind not only to other styles and forms but to different types of merit.  As far as I can see the Nobel committee has done a fairly good job of this recently.  Until this year, when they lost their minds.  Let’s hope they get back on track soon.

Bob Dylan is a great singer/songwriter.  But a Nobel Laureate?  Do me a favour!

If you disagree I’d really like to hear why.  Please post your favourite Dylan lyrics with reasons why you think they count as literature.

Kirk out


Filed under Book reviews, drama

Harry Potter and the Jumped Shark

A few weeks ago I scooted through the hot-off-the-press script of the latest J K Rowling creation: ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’.  I wasn’t sure what to make of there being a sequel: I generally think series of novels are best left ‘finished’ rather than projected into the future, a problem CS Lewis solved by killing off all his characters as well as the setting which spawned them.  I partly wish Rowling had gone the same way: although there is a case for background info like ‘Pottermore’ I think it’s generally unwise to give in to the temptation to write further stories.

On the whole I think this instinct was confirmed by my reading.  The story definitely ‘jumps the shark’ in many ways by going back in time to alter outcomes arising from events in HP 4, specifically the death of Cedric Diggory.  A time-turner has conveniently survived the Ministry purge and falls into the hands of two newcomers to Hogwarts; Albus (second son of Harry and Ginny) and Scorpius, son of Draco Malfoy.  The friendship between these two is the most authentic part of HPCC; sons of enemies who both end up in Slytherin, their relationship is touching and feels genuinely updated.  There’s tons of irony here; the fact that Albus is cursed by his father’s legacy; the fact that he ends up in Slytherin house, and the fact that he becomes best friend of his father’s bete noire.  But whilst the boys are rounded personalities, the same cannot be said of Harry, Ron and Hermione projected into the future; in fact I found all the adult characters flat and uninspiring.  That said, this is a play and not a novel and I can well imagine that with thousands spent on special effects and equipment this is a stunning spectacle.  But as a read?  Nah.

Enough Potter already!

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.

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.

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


Filed under drama, plays, politics

Upstart Crowing

I’m making the most of the iplayer before they start charging for it, in which case we may as well a) give up altogether or b) get a TV licence/Freeview box/whatever other packages they’ve come up with in the ten years or so since we last did This Sort of Thing.  Actually I think it might be more like fifteen years than ten.  Anyway… last night was a stonking night’s viewing: beginning with a classic ‘Over-sexed and over here’ Dad’s Army where they meet, greet and punch the visiting GI’s; and continuing with the utterly compelling comedy-drama ‘Love Nina’.  I wasn’t sure about this at first; but it only took a few minutes to hook me in to this series about a nanny from Leicester (yes, Leicester! – which, as it’s set in the eighties, no-one knows anything about) who goes to work as a live-in nanny for two precocious boys and their single Mum Helena Bonham-Carter.  Equally engaging is the latest Jo Brand series.  Knowing that she worked as a nurse, the series ‘Going Forward’ featuring a hard-pressed care-worker and her chauffeur husband is thoroughly authentic and gripping as well as comic.  I can’t wait to see how both of these pan out:

Sitcoms seem to be like buses: and last week we had the first episode of ‘Mum’, a gentle series about a bereaved woman surrounded by well-meaning idiots:

All three of these are different, intriguing and therefore unpredictable.  And what’s even better is that only one of them is on BBC 4.

As if all this weren’t enough, as part of the current Shakespeare-a-thon comes Ben Elton’s sitcom ‘Upstart Crow.’  I dimly recall that ‘upstart crow’ was one of the insults hurled at the bard by a contemporary; such is our reverence for him now that it’s hard to believe he could be so insulted in his own time.  David Mitchell plays a baffled, bewildered, much rivalled and yet supremely confident Will whose closest friend Kit Marlowe is also his nearest rival.  And here’s the rub: for, though David Mitchell is totally right for the part, I can’t help feeling that it’s otherwise a cast of understudies.  It’s as though Elton wanted his dream-team of Blackadder back again, with Rowan Atkinson as Shakespeare, Rik Mayall as Marlowe, Stephen Fry as Robert Green and Tony Robinson as Bottom the manservant, a Baldrick figure if ever I saw one.  So there’s an odd feeling of actors channelling other actors.  See for yourself whether Mark Heap isn’t channelling Stephen Fry here:

Still, the language is nicely parodied and there is a feminist update as Shakespeare’s friend Kate supplies a lot of his best ideas.  So well worth watching.

A good crop!

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:

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.’

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


Filed under drama, plays, TV reviews

Sound the Retreat

Is there such a thing as a Quaker advance?  Doesn’t sound quite right really as it has military overtones; on the other hand a Quaker retreat strikes exactly the right note.  So: we engaged the Friends at Woodbrooke near Bournville (home of the Cadbury family) and underwent several sessions over a two-day period including a dramatic rendering of the Worst Meeting Ever, at which the following Joke was told:

Actually before I tell you the joke I have to tell you this story: a couple of years ago I was on the BBC Saturday Live programme talking about a poem I’d written about the Bowstring Bridge.  Well, the same people emailed me again about a message I’d sent them concerning my bags made out of videotape.  Hang on, have I actually told you about these?  I’d better check.  Don’t want to be repeating myself.

I can’t find a reference so let’s assume I haven’t mentioned them.  Well: imagine, if you will, a bag knitted from shiny black seaweed and you get the general idea.  You crack open a videotape box, take out the shiny black tape, wind it up into balls and start knitting.  Once I’ve knitted a strip large enough to make a bag, say, 6 in by 8, I cast off.  Then I sew on the lining, plait three strands to make a strap; cover the strap with a fabric sleeve and sew the whole thing together.  Voila!  The resulting ensemble is so striking and beautiful that they are now on sale in ‘All About Daisy’ in Clarendon Park, a shop dedicated to selling goods made from recycled materials:

So: when they had an item about hobbies on Saturday Live, I sent off a quick email.  Didn’t get on the programme but there was a message waiting when I got back, so I called and had a very interesting chat with one of the producers who seemed interested in doing an item with JP Devlin, possibly involving a home visit!!!

Watch this space…

More of Quaker retreat anon.  oh, but before I go I have to tell you the joke.

Three pieces of string walk into a bar.  The first piece of string walks up to the counter and the barman says:

‘Are you a piece of string?’

‘Yes,’ says the piece of string.

‘Well, we don’t serve pieces of string in here,’ says the barman.  ‘Get out.’

The second piece of string walks up to the bar.  ‘Are you a piece of string?’ asks the barman.

‘I am,’ says the second piece.

‘Well I told your mate already, we don’t serve pieces of string in here.  Get out.’

The third piece of string is a little older.  He is ragged top and bottom and thick around the middle.  He waddles up to the bar where the barman eyes him in disbelief.  ‘Are you a piece of string as well?’ he asks.

‘No,’ says the string.  ‘I’m a frayed knot.’

It works better when spoken…

Kirk out


Filed under drama, friends and family, God-bothering