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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Theatre

Friday November 09 2018

Friday used to be my day here for “Cats” and then I expanded it also to “Other creatures”.  I hadn’t thought of anything creaturely to blog about, and hoped that when I went out walking today, I might encounter something appropriate.  I didn’t have to wait long.  Within yards of my home, I encountered these creatures:

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Police horses and their riders are often to be seen in the SW1 part of London, presumably just getting exercise in between riot situations.

Coincidentally, I recently had a discussion with someone on the subject of what work horses still do, following their replacement as transport by trains and cars and the like, and as warriors by such things as tanks.  Well, they still entertain us, by racing against one another, and by acting the parts of real transport horses or real war horses in historical dramas, mostly on the screen, but occasionally live.

But apart from that?  The only thing we could think of was assisting the police by participating in riot control.  I surmise that horses are called upon to do this because they combine being very scary to humans on foot, with their scary hooves with metal shoes on, with also being so very cute.  That way, rioters are dissuaded from trying to hurt such horses.  If rioters do actually hurt any horses, they incur the wrath of the general public in a way that rioters do not when they merely attack human riot police.  Horses combine being very formidable riot opponents with the fact that their presence at riots is very clearly not being their fault.  In a way, they are merely victims of such riots, victimised by the demands placed upon them.  We sympathise with them already, just because they have to attend riots.  If the rioters attack them, we sympathise even more.  Our sympathy may be excessive, but we feel it.  This places rioters in an impossible bind.  They like to think of themselves as heroes.  But heroes don’t torment horses.  Only villains do that.

Are there any other ways that horses make themselves useful to humans?  Perhaps my problem is that I am urban.  Out there in the country, in spots where vehicles still have problems, there must be such uses.  Transport in hilly or mountainous country?  Oh yes, cowboy horses, herding cows!  Silly me.  I can’t think of any more just now, but I bet if I continue to imagine the non-city parts of the world, more horse jobs will pop into my head, the way that cow-herding just did.

Fox hunting doesn’t count.  That used to be a real thing, when there were no other ways to combat foxes.  But now, fox hunting is just country folk having historical-re-enactment fun.

Saturday November 03 2018

Photoed by me, on the same day that I most recently photoed Bartok:

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As I get older, I find myself, every so often, getting crosser.  Not all the time, you understand, just in occasional eruptions.

But I am not cross about this photo.  That is exactly how it came out of the camera.  No cropping or Photoshop(clone)ing.  Just as was.  I love that light, as I have been saying here for about a week now.

I love that effect when the light is very strong and almost exactly in line with the wall but not quite, at a just sufficient angle to light it up, and at the slightest excuse cover it in big shadows. If it didn’t say: “City of Westminster”, you’d think you could be in the South of France or some such sunlit place.

More about the Compton Cross.

Friday October 19 2018

Over the summer, a friend of mine was performing in a show at Warwick Castle about the Wars of the Roses.  And early last August a gang of her friends and family went there to see this, me among them.  It was a great show, albeit wall-to-wall Tudor propaganda, and a great day out.

Warwick Castle is quite a place, being one of Britain’s busiest visitor attractions.  It’s No 9 on this list.

I of course took a ton of photos, and in particular I photoed the horses in this show, the crucial supporting actors, you might say.  The stage was out of doors, of course, and long and thin, the audience on each side being invited to support each side in the wars.  Long and thin meant that the horses had room to do lots of galloping.

None of the photos I took were ideal, but quite a few were okay, if okay means you get an idea of what this show was like:

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The basic problem, I now realise, is that the horse heads were at the same level as the audience on the opposite side to my side.  As Bruce the Real Photographer is fond of saying, when photoing people, you start by getting the background right.  And I guess he’d say the same of horses.  Well, this time, for these horses, I’m afraid I didn’t.

So it was a case of nice legs, shame about the faces.  (That link is to a pop song from my youth, the chorus of which glued itself to my brain for ever.  I particularly like the bit where they sing: “Shame about the boat race”.)

I recommend the show’s own Real Photographer, for better photos, potted biogs of the leading historic characters, and a little bit about the enterprise that did this show.

Tuesday September 25 2018

I was reading this piece by Will Self about the baleful effect upon literature of the internet, screen reading instead of proper reading from paper bound into books, etc.  But then I got interrupted by the thought of writing this, which is about how a big difference between reading from a screen, as I just was, and reading from a printed book, is that if you are reading a book, it is more cumbersome, and sometimes not possible, to switch to attending to something else, like consulting the county cricket scores (Surrey are just now being bollocked by Essex), seeing what the latest is on Instapundit, or tuning into the latest pronouncements of Friends on Facebook or enemies on Twitter, or whatever is your equivalent list of interruptions.

This effect works when I am reading a book in the lavatory, even though, in my lavatory, there are several hundred other books present.  The mere fact of reading a book seems to focus my mind.  Perhaps this is only a habit of mine, just as not concentrating is only a habit when I am looking at a screen, but these onlys are still a big deal.

The effect is greatly enhanced when I go walkabout, and take a book with me.  Then - when being publicly transported or when pausing for coffee or rest or whatever - I cannot switch.  I can only concentrate on the one book, or not.

It’s the same in the theatre or the opera house, which friends occasionally entice me into.  Recently I witnessed Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.  The production was the usual abomination, but the orchestra and chorus were sublime, as were occasional bits of the solo singing.  And I now know Lohengrin a lot better.  Why?  Because, when I was stuck inside the ROH, there was nothing else to do except pay attention.  I could shut my eyes, which I often did.  But, I couldn’t wave a mouse or a stick at it and change it to The Mikado or Carry on Cleo, even though there were longish stretches when, if I could have, I would have.  It was Lohengrin or nothing.

I surmise that quite a few people these days deliberately subject themselves to this sort of forced concentration, knowing that it may be a bit of a struggle, but that it will a struggle they will be glad to have struggled with.  I don’t think it’s just me.

This explains, among other things, why I still resist portable screens.  Getting out and about is a chance to concentrate.

Wednesday September 19 2018

Yesterday I was in Victoria Station, and as I emerged from it into … that mess of activity outside the front entrance, I noticed that the light seemed particularly appealing.  At first what got my attention was the combined effect of the mess in the foreground, in the dark, and the assorted Medium Sized Things in the background, totally missmatched and just jambed down together in the London style, all illuminated.  (See photos 1.1 and 1.2 below.)

But then, I found myself zeroing in, yet again, on Pavlova.  What got me noticing her was that, finally, I seemed to have found the right moment to photo her with that big concrete lump that calls itself “Portland House” behind her.  I have done this a lot, but it has never worked until now.  This time, there was a shadow behind Pavlova, while Pavlova herself, and the dwarfed-by-modernity theatre on the top of which Pavlova dances, were both picked out by the light, a combination of circumstances I have never before encountered, or if I did I didn’t notice.

I took many photos of this effect.  Partly because I can’t decide which one I like best, and partly because I think these photos look good when small, here are 3x3=9 of them:

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Maybe the Wikipedia entry for Portland House does say who originally designed this unlovely edifice, but if it does, I couldn’t find that.  Wikipedia does note, however, that Portland House is a miniature rip-off of the Pan Am Building in New York, now called something else.

Further googling got me to a piece by Mike Higginbottom entitled Pan-Am’s London sibling.  He rather likes it.  Plus, he name checks the now pretty much forgotten architect of said sibling: Howard Fairbairn & Partners.  Modern Movement hulks by big name modernists sometimes have a certain in-your-face impact and memorability about them.  But this hulk has always seemed to me to epitomise Modern Movementism at its dreariest.  It’s not even “brutal”, just big, bland and boring.  I greatly prefer Nova, the red diagonalised Medium Sized Thing nearby, which is also to be seen in photos 1.1 and 1.2 above.

Sunday July 29 2018

Two things got my attention just now on Twitter, both, I think, very funny.  I didn’t actually LOL.  But I did smile.

First up, this quote:

It is always bittersweet when your relatives bid you fond farewell as you leave for Edinburgh, and only you know how much you are about to defame them for comedic gain.

And next up, this cartoon:

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The latter of these two jollities goes way back, and I suspect that the script and the visuals were done by different people.  But the first one is bang up to date, and I am hence able to direct you to who originated it, which I like to do.

This, on the other hand, baffles me:

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I recognise financial commentator and funny man Dominic Frisby, on the left there.  But why do Frisby’s shoes have lightbulbs in them?  Who is that other bloke, and why are the two of them waving their fingers like that?  Why are they sitting in the eyes of a giant skull?  Also, what on earth does this have to do with Brexit?  What is it that Remainers have said about such a scene as this, to the effect that it couldn’t happen, or would happen less?  Are the above two gents, like the provider of the quote above, in Edinburgh, for the Festival?  And have the Remainers said that the Edinburgh Festival this year would be a flop?  Yes, that must be it.

LATER: Just noticed where it says spikedmath.com in the cartoon.  So I guess that’s where that started.

EVEN LATER: This:

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Also:this.

Thursday June 07 2018

This afternoon, I will journey to the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, to see and hear the first night, no less, of Lohengrin.  It will be deep into the darkness of the evening before I journey back home.  It will take, I believe, the best part of four hours.

According to this Summary and Comment:

It is difficult to find a role which is more handsome than Lohengrin. This is the reason why “Lohengrin” gained popularity among opera fans. The entrance scene on stage by a magic swan boat, and the dialogue scene with Elsa are outstanding.

In addition, the music of the scene of Elsa and Lohengrin’s wedding is known as the Wedding March. You can hear this March at many weddings these days.

That’s the conclusion of the comment bit about Lohengrin.

At the beginning of the summary bit, we learn that Lohengrin is set in “the first half of the tenth century”.

But if this ROH graphic (see here) is anything to go by, it will look, this evening, like this:

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But, he’s holding a sword.  And notice that shadow.  With luck, this will be effective rather than clunky, mindful rather than mindless updating of the setting.  I shall see.

And hear.  What I hear will not be updated and made more relevant.  That I can already be sure of.

Wednesday April 25 2018

I like doing podcasts, and have recently resumed doing this.  The difference between these and earlier efforts is that I am not making the mistake of trying to be the interviewer, a role which I have learned, the hard way, that I am utterly unsuited to.

I do not, however, like doing podcasts because I assume that I will reach a huge audience with my brilliant insights and opinions.  Rather is it that I deepen my friendships with the people I share the microphone with.  The first is a mere outside chance.  The second is pretty much guaranteed to happen.

Although neither I nor any of the other people whom I podcast with assumes that we will reach a huge audience, we know that we probably will reach some sort of audience, probably very tiny, of friends and acquaintances and general passers-by, and that means that we had better say things we have thought about and which we mean and which are worth saying.  We need to be at our conversational best, just in case.

Compare that with two or three of us just chatting in a pub or an eatery or in one of our homes, but with no microphone on.  The level of conversational intensity, so to speak, is, in those circumstances, far lower.

Almost all of my renewed podcasting activity has been with Patrick Crozier.  I recall with particular pleasure the first of these recent efforts that we did about World War 1.  Who else has listened in?  I have no idea.  But I listened.  He listened.  I can listen again, and I have, more than once, because so many interesting things, I think, got talked about.

More recently, I took part in a group podcast on the subject of freedom of speech, alongside Jordan Lee, Bruno Nardi and Tamiris Loureiro.  On that occasion I can be sure that others were listening, because there was a room semi-full of people, listening, right there, in the Two Chairmen, where Libertarian Home meetings now all seem to happen.

The microphone that Bruno placed in our midst was distinguished by its size and its striking appearance.  I photoed it:

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That photo, for me, illustrates the bigness of the difference that a microphone makes to a conversation.  Jordan, Bruno and Tamiris are all slightly better friends of mine now than they would have been if we’d not done this.

Why then, do I not switch on a microphone during my Last Friday of the Month meetings?  Maybe I will start doing this.  But for now, I believe that a roomful of people, assembled to hear a particular person speak on a particular subject, achieves that same heightened level of attention and conversational concentration that a microphone achieves for a smaller group of people who are talking amongst themselves.

It is also helpful for speakers to be absolutely sure that their talks won’t go straight to the www, and that means that they can confidently take an early shot at a new subject, with all the errors, hesitations and confusions that might occur.  Ideas need to be nurtured and shaped and polished, and that is far easier to do if such early efforts are not being bugged.

This Friday, I have another of my Last Friday meetings.  Dominic Frisby will be doing an early dry-run version of his Financial Game Show, which will be having a run of performances for real at this year’s Edinburgh Festival.  I’m pretty sure that me threatening to switch on a microphone during this out-of-town preliminary try-out version, so to speak, would have been a deal-breaker.

There’ll be another early version for this show at the King’s Head, Crouch End, on May 22nd.  I attended the very first outing of it at the same venue last Monday, and I can report that I and the rest of the small crowd had a lot of fun.  As Frisby reports at the bottom of this piece in MoneyWeek:

We had fun. My MoneyWeek colleague, Ben Judge, turned out to be the winner, prompting many in the audience to make accusations of an inside job.

Yes.  This was a pity, because actually what came across rather well was how imperfect the knowledge of financial experts often is, and how other people, with direct experience of whatever it is, often know more than them.

Tuesday April 24 2018

I’d never heard of it, until, yesterday, at a bus stop near near Finsbury Park tube station, I observed, and photoed, this:

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This advert didn’t impress me.  I actually laughed.  The Pauline Quirke Academy.  Give over.  You’re ‘avin’ a laugh.  I did anyway.

Later, I saw the same advert in the tube:

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This did impress me.

I think it was that the back of a bus is a tacky advertising spot, used by tacky enterprises that you have never heard of and will never hear of again.  Ergo, the PQA must be tacky and will soon disappear.  The tube is not such a tacky spot to advertise.  Ergo, the PQA is not so tacky after all.

I wish the PQA every success.  PQA website.

Pauline Quirke is best known to me for doing this.  And to most others, if the internet is anything to go by.

Might someone else who saw both adverts have been more impressed by the bus advert than by the tube advert?

Friday January 12 2018

I only just noticed it, but I do like this blog posting title from October 2016, from Archbishop Cranmer:

Brexit, pursued by a Blair

Blair wants another referendum, with an opposite result.  The Archbishop doesn’t.  But then, the Archbishop wants Brexit and Blair doesn’t.

The Archibishop quotes Blair:

The issue is not whether we ignore the will of the people; but whether, as information becomes available, and facts take the place of claims, the ‘will’ of the people shifts.

But what if, after Blair then gets the result he wants, and the matter is then, for him, settled once and for ever, yet more facts become available, replacing Blair’s claims, and that ‘will’ shifts again? Back again to Brexit being the good move?  What if the EU then goes to hell and takes the UK with it, and the voters then want out, again?  Then what?  Then: the matter is settled, time to move on and stop grumbling.  So, why is it not time for Blair to move on and stop grumbling, now?  It comes down to the Divine Right of Blair.  Is that a thing?  I say: not.

Via Dan Hannan.

For those who don’t know their Shakespeare: the original stage direction.  It’s famous.  You should know this.  Now you do.

Thursday January 04 2018

For ages now, I’ve had these two pictures hovering about on my screen waiting to be put next to each other on my blog and then forgotten about, because they look quite like each other:

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But, do they look enough like each other for it to be interesting?  Maybe not.  But there are times when you have to say to yourself: It’s only blogging.

On the left: Shakib-Al-Hasan, noted Bangladesh cricket allrounder.  On the right, what he will turn into when a little bit older, or would if he had whiter skin: noted American actor Gary Sinise.  Photos found here and here.

Wednesday December 20 2017

Personally I thought that the recorded chat that Patrick Crozier and I did about World War 1 was better, because Patrick is an expert on that event and its times, its causes and its consequences.

Here, for whatever it may be worth, is the rather more rambling and disjointed conversation that we had more recently on the subject of television: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, and Part VII.  But, as of now, it’s a lot simpler to crank up the entire site and scroll up and down.

I’m afraid I did well over half of the talking, so cannot be objective about whether all or any of this is worth your attention.  I hope Patrick is right about the worthwhileness of this conversational effort, and that if you do listen, you enjoy.

Thursday November 30 2017

GodDaughter One’s Mum and Dad are members of a theatre-going gang, who take it in turns to organise for them all to go to the theatrical performance, about every month or so.  Tonight it was Antony and Cleopatra by the RSC, at the Barbican.  But GodDaughter One’s Mum was otherwise engaged, helping out with a jewellery show done by GodDaughter One’s Sister, so I went to the Barbican instead.

As so often, when I really pay attention to a Shakespeare play (and if you are seeing it in a theatre there is not a lot else to be doing), I learned a great deal about it.

I did not catch every word.  Much of the support acting, especially by the young men playing various Roman soldiers and messengers, was decidedly school-play-ish, to my old eyes and old ears.  These brand-X guys simply did not fill the auditorium properly.  Since we were at the back, we suffered.  Nor did it help that I for one could not see their faces properly, from that far away.  But Antony and Cleopatra were both pretty good, as was Enobarbus.  But honestly, only the music came over loud and clear.

I will be investigating this play further on the screen.  YouTube offers this, which looks like it could be pretty good.  I quite like north American accents in Shakespeare, given that it probably sounded more like this originally than it sounded like modern Posh English.

As for DVDs, this and this both look promising.  Also: cheap.

Back in the Barbican, Josette Simon as Cleopatra yanked the verse around a lot, but that all added to the impression of her being a force of nature.  Antony, played by Peter Byrne, was a very prosaic figure by comparison.  I especially like the line in this Guardian review about how “Simon is excellent in the closing passages suggesting that Cleopatra is living out a fantasy of an idealised Antony”.  Yes.  So, best of all might well be a DVD of this RSC production.

Sunday November 19 2017

I was once briefly acquainted with a quite close relative of Robert Mugabe, and that person was truly remarkable in being utterly incapable of understanding how anyone could possibly disagree with the truth that he saw so very clearly.  This person also looked exactly - spookily - like Robert Mugabe. (It was asking about this resemblance that got me the information that he was a close relative of Mugabe.) I have never known a more deeply stubborn person, ever.  But it was not a stubbornness made merely of the desire or the determination not to change his mind.  No.  He was simply unable to change his mind.  The idea of him ever having been wrong, about anything, was simply impossible for him to grasp.

If Robert Mugabe is anything like this relative of his, and everything I know about Robert Mugabe tells me that Mugabe is, in this respect, exactly like him, Mugabe may find himself sacked, imprisoned, or even executed, but he will never resign, or ever change his mind about the wisdom of anything he ever said or did.  That he has not yet resigned has, according to the Guardian headline linked to there, has “stunned” Zimbabwe.  I was not stunned.

They’ll have to force him out, like King Richard II was forced out by King Henry IV.  But if Mugabe is forced out, there will be no scenes like the closing scenes of Shakespeare’s version of Richard II, where the deposed Richard comes to see the world and its ways differently, and to understand things more deeply.  Simply, Mugabe is right, has always been right and will always be right, and if everyone else disagrees with him, it can only be that everyone else is, was, and will be, hopelesslyl wrong.  Mugabe is literally incapable of understanding matters in any other way.

Mugabe is indeed now a rather confused old man.  But his confusion concerns only how it is possible for so many people to be so completely mistaken.

Sunday November 12 2017

A few weeks ago, I watched and recorded a Shakespeare documentary series, in one episode of which Jeremy Irons talked about, and talked with others about, the two Henry IV plays.  And that got me watching two recorded DVDs that I had already made of these plays, the BBC “Hollow Crown” versions, with Irons as King Henry and Tom Hiddleston as the King’s son, Prince Hal.  While watching these, I realised how little I really knew these wonderful plays, and how much I was enjoying correcting that a little.

More recently, partly spurred on by what Trevor Nunn in that same documentary series had to say about it, I have been doing the same with The Tempest, this time making use of a DVD that I long ago purchased for next to nothing in a charity shop but had failed ever to watch.

By accident, when this DVD of The Tempest began, there were subtitles to be seen, and I realised that these written lines, far from getting in the way, only added to my enjoyment, so I left them on.  And, if subtitles were helping, why not the entire text?  Maybe I possess a copy of The Tempest, but if so I could not find it, so instead, I tried the internet, which quickly obliged.  My eyesight not being the best, I beefed up the magnification of the text until it was nearly as big as those subtitles.  So, I watched, I read subtitles, and I was able to see who was saying what, and what they were about to say.  And very gratifying it all was:

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On the telly, on the left, David Dixon as Ariel and, on the right, Michael Hordern as Prospero, both very impressive.

And here, should you be curious, is the text they were enacting at that particular moment, as shown on the right of the above photo, but now blown up and photoshop-cloned into greater legibility:

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I think the reason I found this redundancy-packed way of watching The Tempest so very satisfying is that with Shakespeare, the mere matter of what is going on is secondary to the far more significant matter of exactly what is being said, this latter often consisting of phrases and sentences which have bounced about in our culture for several centuries.  As ever more people have felt the need to recycle these snatches or chunks of verbiage, for their own sake, and because they illuminate so much else that has happened and is happening in the world, so these words have gathered ever more force and charismatic power.  As the apocryphal old lady said when leaving a performance of Hamlet: “Lovely.  So full of quotations.”

The thing is, Shakespeare’s characters don’t just do the things that they do, and say only what needs to be said to keep the plot rolling along.  They seek to find the universal meaning of their experiences, and being theatrical characters, they are able, having found the right words to describe these experiences, to pass on this knowledge to their audiences.  This is especially true of Hamlet, because central to Hamlet’s character is that he is constantly trying to pin down the meaning of life, in a series of what we would now call tweets, and consequently to be remembered after his death.

Prospero in The Tempest is not quite so desperate to be remembered, any more, we are told, than Shakespeare himself was.  In Prospero, as Trevor Nunn explained in his documentary about The Tempest, many hear Shakespeare saying goodbye to his career as a theatrical magician and returning to his provincial life of Middle English normality. But Shakespeare was Shakespeare.  He couldn’t help creating these supremely eloquent central characters.  Even when all they are doing is ordering room service, or in the case of Prospero doing something like passing on his latest instructions to Ariel, they all end up speaking Shakespeare, with words and phrases that beg to be remembered for ever.  These famous Shakespeare bits are rather like those favourite bits that we classical music fans all hear in the great works of the Western musical cannon.

So, a way of watching these plays that enables these great word-clusters to hang around for a while is just what you want.  (Especially if, like Prospero, you are getting old, and your short-term memory is not what it was.) It also helps being able to press the pause button from time to time, to enable you to savour these moments, to absorb their context, better than you could if just watching the one unpausable performance in front of you.  Although I agree, having a pause symbol on the furrowed brow of Prospero, as in my telly-photo above, is not ideal.

I am now browsing through my Shakespeare DVD collection, wondering which one to wallow in next.