Short shrift

Michael Billington in The Guardian ponders the shortening running times of new plays and if this is having a detremental effect on quality simply because there is so much of a subject to fit into so little space that there isn't enough time to develop some ideas. As always he's generally right, although I am of the generation with a lower attention span. Interestingly he invokes a quote about Hamlet as a way of demonstrating how times have changed:
You can't, of course, simply re-create old forms: as Alain Robbe-Grillet shrewdly pointed out, Hamlet would not be a masterpiece if it were written today since we do not live in the age of the five-act tragedy. But the new, slavish obeisance to the 90-minute rule stems, I suspect, from a mixture of fashion and ignorance; in particular, a shocking unawareness of even the recent past when drama moved beyond a single situation or point of crisis to examine causes as well as effects.
That is a feature which I've seen drift away in modern theatre -- multiple settings. Some of the award winning recent plays, for example, Joe Egg have thrived in a single setting. But this has the effect of creating the feeling of sitcom. One of the reasons Hamlet feels epic is because of the sheer number and variety of scene changes.


TV Surpirising no one, but yet still desperately excitingly, David Tennant has been announced as the new Doctor. Which is just fabulous news frankly. From the BBC press office:
"David Tennant says: "I am delighted, excited and honoured to be the tenth Doctor! I grew up loving Doctor Who and it has been a lifelong dream to get my very own TARDIS. Russell T Davies is one of the best writers television has ever had, and I'm chuffed to bits to get the opportunity to work with him again. I'm also really looking forward to working with Billie Piper who is so great as Rose. Taking over from Chris is a daunting prospect; he has done a fantastic job of reinventing the Doctor for a new generation and is a very tough act to follow."
For the unitiated, Tennant has already been in loads of Doctor Who related stuff. From Outpost Gallifrey's biography:
"Tennant's connections with the Doctor Who genre are extensive. A fan of the program, he hosted "Doctor Who: A New Dimension," the special preview documentary aired prior to the first episode of the new series on BBC1. He also played the role of the Caretaker in BBC Online's animated serial "The Scream of the Shalka" and has appeared in a variety of audio programs for Big Finish Productions, including as Colonel Brimmicombe-Wood in "Sympathy for the Devil," as Galanar in the "Dalek Empire III" series, as Daft Jamie in "Medicinal Purposes" as well as in "Colditz" and "Exile". Tennant also portrays the title role in Big Finish's audio adaptation of Bryan Talbot's "Luther Arkwright" series."

Reading that, it just seemed like a matter of time really.


Film Star Wars III will be a PG-13 which usually translates lately as a 12a over here. [Thanks Chris!"]

Slow Down

Life Every now and then I reach overload. There are so many films to see, so many books to read, so much musicto enjoy and there isn't enough time in the day and I just end up missing something. For over a month now I haven't seen any of the films which are in the cinema top ten. I haven't read a book published for the first time this year. I'm looking at how many websites I need to catch up on and it's just depressing. That I did buy the number one album this week is a blip. Trust one of the web's killer aps, Ask Metafilter, to offer some ideas. There is one obvious suggestion now that I think about it:
"It also helps to have no internet. The reason the internet is bad is because most of it is meta-information, though obviously there are exceptions. One of my professors in graduate school told me once that the only way to learn anything was by "sustained attention to primary sources." This is an academic way of saying that, instead of spending thirty minutes reading all of the movie reviews on Metacritic, it's better to go see the movie. In my current job I have a book bias--but it's just true, from my perspective, that the Great Books will always beat out the Mediocre Blogs."
It's very true. Readers will know that I tend to only rely on a couple of critics. I actually have a twenty-five minute rule when it comes to films. If it entirely fails to engage me in those 1,500 seconds it's probably not worth wasting the hour and a half. I also do the same thing with books although it's somewhat less structured. Now if I can work out a version for the internet ...

Log execs: Visas crucial

I had to post this. It's an amazing way of introducing a pretty dry news story by invoking The Dane. What does the following have to do with paper pulping? "Had the fictional character of Hamlet been a Maine logging company executive rather than a Danish prince, his famous question may have been phrased a little differently: H2B or not H2B? Though it has had an effect on Maine's logging industry, the increasing scarcity in Maine of seasonal foreign workers available through the federal H2B visa program has not resulted in a situation as dire as that faced by Shakespeare's tragic figure."

Counting Down The Days

History Long term readers with good memories might remember that I posted a story some time ago about the pain which a bunch of scientists were going through to convert the BBC's Doomsday Project into a usable format. Well they succeeded and good lord, there's a web version. Even if the map seems to think that Liverpool is in southern England. [via]

I Won't Be Lost

Google Or rather Shmoogle the new approach to search engines in that it neutralises page ranking so that you might find what you're looking for, but not necessarily in the order you want. Perfect for finding oddities. [via]

It's not all about the coffee

Geography Leah has some great tips for visiting Seattle. In particular:
Here's a good navigation tip for downtown Seattle:

Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest
You'll have to click through to find out what that means.


Film The adage 'everyone is entitled to their opinion' is being stretched to the very limit by the web's reaction to M J Simpson's review of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy film from genuine misunderstands and misreadings to outright slander, people are staggering about trying to come to terms with why anyone would need to be so negative about a franchise they obviously hold so dear (although someone should ask me about Doctor Who's Four To Doomsday some time). What's particularly disturbing is that often the people attacking him, haven't actually seen the film themselves, but are assuming it must be good, so he must be wrong. Off hand I'm more likely to believe someone who's been very close to a subject for a number of years over a passing tourist, and anyone who knows the story of this film's arduous progress to the screen should probably prepare for the worst. That said, I'm still going with an open mind and hoping for the best, simply because I've never seen anything lately which has created such a wide spectrum of critical opinion. Simpson for his part has gone on the offensive on the Magrathea news site blowing holes in the libel where he can.


Shakespeare I've just published the about page to The Hamlet Weblog (about time too). I think this paragraph explains what I'll be doing there:
"Being up to a challenge, I've decided to find out. I'm going to see as many productions of Hamlet as I can before I shuffle of this mortal coil. I'll be seeing and hearing him in the theatre, on film, on tv and radio, on cd and even vinyl or cassette. Since that man's sixty-eight is the highest number I've ever heard of, I'm going to use that as a guide, a milestone. From there to a hundred and then who knows? There won't be any time limits though, sanity being a premium and money being an object. The only rule being that a performance will only count if I've seen or heard it from start to finish through a whole production. If the actor's going from ghost to jest to death, I'll be there with them."
I told you I'd eventually be posting more than news stories.

Rugby Pope

The Welsh Rugby Team only seem to win the Grand Slam in a year the Pope dies. They won it this year the same year Pope John Paul II dies, and the last time they did was in 1978 , the same year as the death of Pope John Paul I. [Thanks Fred!]

Starting Today

Music Well I didn't think I'd ever end up buying the number one album in the country in the first week of release. Not anymore, not even for charity. I thought Natalie Imbruglia's Counting Down The Days might puncture the top ten, but the first single debuted at about number six. Which goes some way to demonstrating the disparity between the album and single charts.

It isn't the revelatory experience which was White Lilies Island. That had the ability to catch you unawares and puncture your heart. This is much more to do with the nuts and bolts of putting together song which slowly gets under the skin, familiarity through repeated play being the key. The first single Shiver is no That Day and to a degree is slightly retrograde -- there is the odd guitar chord which sounds like Torn and a fairly standard radio fade out.

Other tracks are much more satisying, a bit of Beatles here, a bit of Carole King there. It has the intimacy of a gig at some club were you don't really know the singer but you love the songs. Despite the mass writing credits (some tracks were crafted by four hands) it very much sounds like the work of a woman in love. There aren't too many melancholy moments, just subdued like the girl's just waking up or going to bed. In many songs the lyrics are parred down to a minimum.

Overall it doesn't sound all that commercial. It's not Fiona Apple's Extraordinary Machine, but although most of the songs average out at about three and half minutes there aren't that many singles. You can't dance to them. Which is why it's funny the public would line up for it. The best time to listen to this is probably at midnight coming home from a trip out letting it wash over you.


TV I had to post this before going to bed. The clue why is in the quote: "According to The Washington Post on Tuesday, gamblers can back Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi of Italy at odds of 11 to 4. "Or they can take their chances on Father Dougal Maguire of Craggy Island, Ireland, a long shot at 1,000 to 1." [via]

The Road To Beijing

The Road To Beijing The 2005 Salford Triathlon ITU World Cup has been launched although there's no word yet of whether last year's gold medal winner Michelle Dillon will be competing. [about]

It's like y'know...

Life The need to collect. I suppose there is a gene in some of us which leads us to keep wanting variations on something. My Mum knows someone who collects owls. She has many of them, wooden, porcelain, on plates. No real ones of course. Think of the feathers on the carpet. As you'd expect, I'm a collector too, but I'm not really one for decorative arts so like Joe Williams I tend to pick something to be experienced, and go with that. So I'm collecting all of Woody Allen's films on dvd. This isn't all that easy, because some like Stardust Memories isn't out on region two dvd -- how odd is that? But it'll be exciting at some point in the future to sit down and watch the span of a man's life's work on film, be able to note when things went wrong, and when everything went right. I wonder if, when he's got all thousand Joe will listen to his collection in order. I'd like to know what he finds out about us. [via Sore Eyes]


TV For anyone who hasn't noticed, I reviewed Saturday night's episode of Doctor Who for Off The Telly. With that and Hamlet I've had a busy writing weekend.

The Unquiet Dead.

I'm playing away this week, so my review of The Unquiet Dead can be found posted at Off The Telly.

Excellent well.

Shakespeare I spent the afternoon listening to an audio production of Hamlet with Simon Russell Beale. I've posted a review at The Hamlet Weblog.

02 Simon Russell Beale

Hamlet played by Simon Russell Beale
Directed by Clive Brill

There are generally three approaches to Shakespeare (and theatre for that matter) on audio -- recording the sound of a theatre production, creating a film without pictures, or producing a textual adaptation, in which the performances take a back seat to the performances. There is obviously some blurring of these approaches, but Clive Brill's production falls completely in the latter camp. It's the full text presented in a way which can be both heard and understood. Even if it renders it a bit slow in places.

It was worth hearing though, because for the first time I actually understood the sections of the play regarding Fortinbras. When cutting the play for production for performance the Norwegian is often the first to go, because the main domestic plot can happily play out without him. Which means on the odd occasion he and his invading army appear, I've often had trouble working out what they're doing there. I now know that Fortinbras Sr challenged Hamlet Sr in battle and was slain. Now Fortinbras Jr is throwing together a band of men to invade Denmark, partly out of vengeance but also to grab back lands which have been taken. I think.

The highlight is inevitably Simon Russell Beale's Hamlet. Something of an unsung actor (who some might remember as Widmerpool in Channel 4's adaption of Anothony Powell's A Dance To The Music of Time), he does stamp his ideas on the part and you get the feeling he's been wanting to express these ideas for years. It's a very regal version and you get the feeling that he would much rather go to Wittenberg than hang around the palace and the inevitable madness which will follow. But when he has to take the lead his dives straight in, convivial and excited. The venom with which he aproaches his enemies, especially, wierdly Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (who he has hardly any time for, fishing them out straight away) is excellent. You can see why he got the chance to repeat the role on stage at the Royal National Theatre in 2000 and a bit of a step up from second gravedigger which is the part he played in Ken Branagh's film version.

To be honest there are some pretty disappointing performances in here though. You would expect the late Bob Peck to inject some venom into Claudius, but instead he comes across as fairly pronderous, even generic, something that happens across the board. Perhaps the rule during this production was not to put too much of an interpretation on anything which might be fine if its to be used in study but does rather wring the passion out of it. Of the main cast, only Imogen Stubbs' Ophelia rises to the occasion, especially during her fall into madness.

The setting is simple, with subtle sound effects of wind or birds of echos depending on where the characters are. The specially composed music of Dominique Le Gendre is used to play in and out of scene and act breaks and although it's quite lovely, its deployment at times seems a bit random -- something booming before an intimate scene for example. Nothing earth shattering.

Which is unfortunately a good description of the production as a whole.

Listened to from a cassette on the 10th April 2005.