January 2014

  

8 January 2014 ~ Drawing the Line at Hampstead Theatre

 

A play that combines shocking history relating to a major event with dashes of humour gets my attention. Drawing the Line offers insights into the chaotic way in which territory was allocated to the new countries of India and Pakistan in the last days of the raj.

 

 I am not qualified to comment on the accuracy of the script and in any case the issues were so complex nothing dramatic could do more than provide crude outline sketches.


None of the major characters or parties depicted emerges with their honour intact. In fact, much of the play has a strong sense of tragedy as all too human individuals struggle not to avert a catastrophe but to limit the number of deaths. No one knows how many died in 1947, but a common guess in 500,000.

 
The stage of the main auditorium of the Hampstead Theatre is large compared to the seating area. For this production most of the stage was encased by three tall walls. These, like the ceiling that connected them were made of jali lattice panels that added to the atmosphere created by the lighting and sounds.


A great production of a worthy script.

 

It was my first matinee at this theatre and I had the now unusual experience of being younger than 95% of the audience. It was great to see so many older people out enjoying themselves. At the same time, the concentration of wrinklies - and I include myself - brings home one of the reasons why the NHS is struggling.

 

Just like older cars, older people tend to need more servicing.

 



2 January 2014 ~ God TV & God Bless the BBC

 

While waiting for the news tonight I scrolled through the list of channels on Freeview as new ones are added from time to time.

 

God TV caught my eye. It came with a message: "God TV does not exist; do you want to delete it?"

 

If only getting rid of religion in general was just as easy.

 

We watched Dolphins: Spy in the Pod tonight. It was one of those programmes that makes the licence fee seem like a bargain; fantastic photography, previously unknown behaviours  and animals that compete for top prizes in the cuteness and intelligence categories.

 

Bravo to the makers and the BBC for yet another stunning use of their resources.

 

I watched recorded news for two nights this week to avoid the excessive coverage of a skiing accident. Mention it in passing by all means, but not as the lead story and without the non-news elements.

 

Most of my viewing is now of recorded programmes. This saves at least twenty minutes per hour with commercial channels and about five minutes with the BBC. The latter typically includes a minute of trailers between programmes, three minutes previewing and a minute summarising at the end.

 

And then there are the programmes that have been padded out to double or more the length they deserve. Sometimes I give up on these and other times I zip through the padding and repetition.

 

The Readers Digest made a lot of money for fifty years by taking the padding out of magazine articles. Would someone like to start the TV Digest Channel and present programmes without the bloat?

 



6 January 2014 ~ So Long Polyester by Deborah Ríse McMenamy

I was looking forward to reading more work by Deborah after coming across her Love, Like Stew in Best New Writing 2011, where it collected the Editor's Choice Award. This short story was also shortlisted for the Eric Hoffer Award and nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

So Long Polyester is an anthology of short stories, all of which are by Deborah, an American who has lived in Ireland for several years. The locus for these stories is the USA, which leads me to hope that a collection based on Ireland will soon follow.

The anthology's stories are diverse both in topic and treatment. Love, Like Stew, which is included, is angry, whereas Rock, Paper Scissors, which also deals with a relationship ending, is painfully wistful. And the narratives use not just first and third person, but also, in the case of "Just Like Charlton Heston", the second person. This story also includes some wonderful put downs, one of which I hope to remember if ever given the hard sell at a perfume counter.

If I was pressed to choose a favourite, I would opt for The Cure, a very poignant story about a young girl's attempt to get treatment for her mother when the father, a megalomaniac preacher, insists on his own cure.

The writing is lively and words are not wasted. You will get a sense of Deborah's quirkiness from her blog http://theboreen.com.

12 January 2014 ~ How to Turn an Expressionist Play into a Melodrama
From Morning to Midnight
at the National Theatre

I have written here before about the use of revolving stages at the National Theatre. Let me go further and state that this device is cursed. It has a tendency to become a millstone that helps drown NT productions when overused. In the case of From Morning to Midnight, it was man overboard and flailing from the extended and spinning opening scene.

George Kaiser wrote From Morning to Midnight in 1912, but did not see it produced until 1917 because the work mocked Kaiser Wilhelm. The play follows a clerk who steals a fortune from the bank that employs him. The crime leads to his death after several misadventures. However, this is no morality play in the conventional sense. And if it was, the author failed to take the lesson; George Kaiser was imprisoned in 1920 for embezzlement on a much humbler scale.

Expressionism was a reaction against realism and this licenses a modern production, if a director needs permission, to use imagination. In the case of the NT production by Melly Still, fantasizing  produced a melodrama and proof of the adage that less is more. Many of the scenes are too busy; a dozen or more people doing different things across the wide and deep stage. In addition, a pianist is often visible in back corner and not merely playing but also conducting. Other musicians are also on view. Any competent hypnotist will tell you that the effect of sensory overloading is trance if not sleep. I include in the overloading music playing loud enough to reduce the chances of hearing lines spoken.

I think it significant that one of the most beautiful and moving scenes involved the depiction of a snow-covered cemetery through a billowing sheet that covered not just the stage but also a number of the props on it. Simplicity triumphed.

It was obvious that a number of people did not return for the second act. It wasn’t bad enough to make me want to leave and the inventiveness, though overdone, provided some compensations. For example the depiction of a cycle race. However, it wasn't so brilliant as to make it worth depicting a second time, which is what happened.

None of the cast shone and some had voices that I strained to hear in the circle despite having inserted my hearing aid. One or two also sounded hoarse. Of course, that might be due to illness rather than struggling to project.

 



8 January 2014 ~
Drawing the Line at Hampstead Theatre

 

A play that combines shocking history relating to a major event with dashes of humour gets my attention. Drawing the Line offers insights into the chaotic way in which territory was allocated to the new countries of India and Pakistan in the last days of the raj.

 

 I am not qualified to comment on the accuracy of the script and in any case the issues were so complex nothing dramatic could do more than provide crude outline sketches.


None of the major characters or parties depicted emerges with their honour intact. In fact, much of the play has a strong sense of tragedy as all too human individuals struggle not to avert a catastrophe but to limit the number of deaths. No one knows how many died in 1947, but a common guess in 500,000.

 
The stage of the main auditorium of the Hampstead Theatre is large compared to the seating area. For this production most of the stage was encased by three tall walls. These, like the ceiling that connected them were made of jali lattice panels that added to the atmosphere created by the lighting and sounds.


A great production of a worthy script.

 

It was my first matinee at this theatre and I had the now unusual experience of being younger than 95% of the audience. It was great to see so many older people out enjoying themselves. At the same time, the concentration of wrinklies - and I include myself - brings home one of the reasons why the NHS is struggling.

 

Just like older cars, older people tend to need more servicing.

 



2 January 2014 ~ God TV & God Bless the BBC

 

While waiting for the news tonight I scrolled through the list of channels on Freeview as new ones are added from time to time.

 

God TV caught my eye. It came with a message: "God TV does not exist; do you want to delete it?"

 

If only getting rid of religion in general was just as easy.

 

We watched Dolphins: Spy in the Pod tonight. It was one of those programmes that makes the licence fee seem like a bargain; fantastic photography, previously unknown behaviours  and animals that compete for top prizes in the cuteness and intelligence categories.

 

Bravo to the makers and the BBC for yet another stunning use of their resources.

 

I watched recorded news for two nights this week to avoid the excessive coverage of a skiing accident. Mention it in passing by all means, but not as the lead story and without the non-news elements.

 

Most of my viewing is now of recorded programmes. This saves at least twenty minutes per hour with commercial channels and about five minutes with the BBC. The latter typically includes a minute of trailers between programmes, three minutes previewing and a minute summarising at the end.

 

And then there are the programmes that have been padded out to double or more the length they deserve. Sometimes I give up on these and other times I zip through the padding and repetition.

 

The Readers Digest made a lot of money for fifty years by taking the padding out of magazine articles. Would someone like to start the TV Digest Channel and present programmes without the bloat?