Photography This is currently my favourite photograph. Click to go large ...

"Gosh, is that the time?"


Liverpool Life Stephanie de Leng from Liverpool Confidential has an exhibition of photographs, curated by National Museums Liverpool, of Smithdown Road, which is at the end of our street:
"DAFNA'S cheesecake factory, the Brook House pub, Toxteth cemetery and a host of ethnic food places, junk shops, hippy chick and an 86 bus smashing through muddy puddles every 30 seconds. "
It will be on display at the wonderfully named Oomoo Café until the end of September.

utterly, utterly brilliant

Liverpool Life I rather undersold this last night, at least on this blog. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at the Novas Liverpool is utterly, utterly brilliant. To repeat what I said at the opening of this review, I want to urge you, if you’re in the Liverpool area and you have an interest in theatre, however vague, to seek out this production before it goes forever on the 13th September. It deserves a large audience.

Catherine Jones has said some nice things about it in the Liverpool Echo. It’s at the Novas Contemporary Urban Centre which you may not have heard of (the taxi driver who took me certainly didn’t), but if you can get to Caines Brewery, it’s opposite (ish) there. Here’s a map and and ticket details. If you manage to visit on 5th, 12th or 13th you will be able to see this show and their Hamlet (also previously reviewed) back to back.

look at the cameras

Music Whitney Houston recently gave a free comeback concert in Central Park. I know there are other issues under discussion, but ...

... look at the cameras. Whatever happened to just turning up at a concert and listening to the music? Was it like this last weekend in Liverpool at the Matthew Street Festival?

Some Hamlet reviews ...

Elsewhere Some Hamlet reviews: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at Novas Liverpool and a colouring book. And yes, I know I've been playing away a lot.

Lodestar Theatre Company's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (2009)

Richard Kelly as Rosencrantz.
Simon Hedger as Guildenstern.
Directed by Max Rubin.

Utterly, utterly brilliant.

Before heading off into too detailed an explanation as to why the Lodestar Theatre Company’s production is so utterly, utterly brilliant, it’s important to urge you, if you’re in the Liverpool area and you have an interest in theatre, however vague, to seek out this production before it goes forever on the 13th September. It’s at the Novas Contemporary Urban Centre which you may not have heard of (the taxi driver who took me certainly didn’t), but if you can get to Caines Brewery, it’s opposite (ish) there. Here’s a map and and ticket details. If you manage to visit on 5th, 12th or 13th you will be able to see this show and their Hamlet (previously reviewed) back to back.

Now onward.

Nominally, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is about what happens to these minor characters from Hamlet whilst the rest of the revenge tragedy is playing out, from their summons to untimely death. But rather than simply pouring in more plot, Stoppard wraps these journeymen around a structure heavily influenced by Samuel Beckett’s absurdest Waiting for Godot, unpacking the themes and structure of Shakespeare’s story to discuss the nature of chance, destiny and death and with the aid of the players throw in a meditation on the nature of acting and duality.

The writer isn’t interested in somehow giving G & R inner lives, but instead he creates two figures who find themselves in an impossible situation in which they’re dragged along until ultimately they die, trying to understand precisely what they did and what they could have done to change to outcome. It’s an existential puzzle, which to a degree mirrors reality more closely than a John Osbourne kitchen-sinker since we’re all drowning in a sea of questions which, depending upon your philosophical point of view, are given few answers.

And it’s a comedy. And I laughed like a drainpipe all night, big theatrical belly laughs. It’s to the credit of the actors that they weren’t distracted by my shaking about, head back, gob open, sitting on the front row, right in the middle. But I wasn’t the only one. The whole audience, guffawed and gaped, and oddly at different things. A line that went dead one side of the room became comic gold at the other, but often it was simply because you couldn’t laugh at everything. I’ve had a cold this week and it perked my right up, made me feel like myself again.

Sometimes, it was straight wit of the lines, sometimes the truisms, sometimes the commentary on the acting profession, sometimes the heroic criticism of Shakespeare’s poetry, particularly during Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s first meeting with Hamlet, who as Stoppard points out offers a pack of lies and double talk which doesn’t get them anywhere and leaves them even worse off because the prince knows more about their state of mind than they do of his, proving the old theory from the studenty quiz show Blockbusters that sometimes one head is better than two.

In this production it was also the delivery. In my review of Lodestar’s Hamlet, I gave Richard Kelly and Simon Hedger special mention and thankfully, brilliantly, given the duration of a whole play to work with and these lines, they combine to create a classic double act, with razor sharp timing, and a genuine sense of two people who’s friendship has spanned a lifetime, the Kelly’s empiric Rosencrantz forever undercut by the realism of Hedger’s Guildenstern. There are moments, as they hammer out the dialogue that the words aren’t just simply learnt lines hanging from their lips, but something they genuinely believe.

Kelly and Hedger are one of the best theatrical double acts I’ve seen, at least as tight as Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson were in their classic production of Godot, if not more so since Kelly and Hedger (seemed at least) to lack the fear of doing something approximating classical theatre for the first time, the fear of getting it wrong. Stoppard’s dialogue isn’t easy. This isn’t idle hyperbole. There are sections, such as the linguistic tennis game, which must require supreme concentration, but these two make it look easy. The few occasions I wasn’t laughing, it was simply because I was enjoying the spectacle of two young actors at the top of their game.

The rest of cast aren’t anything to be sniffed at either. The other minor characters to be given feature status in Stoppard’s play are the players led in this production by Liam Tobin. A travelling troupe of tragedians, the irony is of course that the process of them parsing their craft is hilarious. Tobin’s player is a ringmaster, marshalling events, a disruptive influence whenever R & G give the impression of finally marking out an equilibrium in their chaotic world. In fact, all of the players have lashings of pathos; under Max Rubin’s direction their mockable very public under-appreciation slowly gains a poignancy as we eventually understand that if an actor is unable to successfully ply their craft, they are nothing. It’s a kind of death.

When the rest of the cast from the other production do sweep through it’s like greeting old friends. As I suspected, in this space, more intimate than the Concert Room at St George’s Hall, the actors an increased vitality, though in the transfer, the performances are more clipped, slightly caricatured, perhaps as a way of melding them into these slightly different circumstances. The effect of having already seen them in that earlier production is to have the other story, in the other setting, playing at the back of your mind, almost imagining as Claudius and Gertrude disappear from this stage, that they’re reappearing over there, before a different audience.

It must be rather strange for them to get into those same costumes, prepare themselves and then have to wait for a cue to present just a splinter of their previous performance, albeit reconfigured slightly in this new venue. Does Tom Latham, who plays Horatio, wait around all night, or just turn up half an hour before the end to give a reprise of his final big speech? Stephen Fletcher has the most difficult job, because at times he's an on-stage presence, maintaining Hamlet's epic intensity while his fellow cast members clown about, sometimes mocking that thing which defines his character in the other production.

The Wake Theatre at the Novas is a bit of an unlikely space; like the rest of the centre it’s built into an old warehouse, but resembles a cinema screen from the period before multiplexes brought in stadium seating. It’s what you’d expect a dedicated university theatre to be like, large enough to hold a student body greedy to see their classmates acting up, but small enough to hold classes. The props from the previous production reappeared here, a rich on-stage visual reminder of previous events, some, like Shakespeare’s characters, reduced to silhouettes by the atmospheric lighting and dry ice effects. Just another demonstration of how well conceived these productions have been and I look forward to seeing what Lodestar do next.

Any chance of a Measure for Measure?

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is at at the Novas Contemporary Urban Centre until the 13th September 2009. Click here to buy tickets.


Film Heaven hath no fury than a film fan handed a poor transfer on Blu-ray:
"Gladiator is plagued almost from beginning to end by a lack of definition. The image appears blurred and smudged, with facial textures taking on the consistency of wax and the sets and locations faring no better. [..] Worse still, presumably in an attempt to compensate for the low detail the image has, the BD been subjected to an inordinate amount of edge enhancement, resulting in some of the worst haloing I have ever seen on an HD release. Soldiers now appear to be protected by force fields rather than regular armour, spears and trees literally glow, and, during Commodus’ triumphant return to Rome, literally every single poppy fluttering through the air has a defined white outline several pixels wide."
More screen caps here. This kind of issue plagued dvd at the beginning, with Warner Brothers in particular issuing what looked like transfers from the same master they used for the VHS. My original copy of All The President's Men is horrible. Still holding off on investing in BD for now then ...


Nature Stephen Fry takes on the challenge of taking another last chance to see. Something I didn't know:
"I wanted to find a place in Islington, but also felt that I needed time to look around and wait for the perfect property. Perhaps I should rent first? I offloaded my tedious residential worries on Douglas one afternoon as we sat in his study staring at a Mac and wondering, for the thousandth time, if we could stop it going "boing" and closing down whenever we tried to do something unusual with it. "Why don't you stay here for a year?" he suggested. "You can house-sit for me. I've decided to go round the world for 12 months seeking out rare animals."
The original radio series is available at the website for the new documentary.

a kooky place

Film The Trouble With Harry is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s late experiments. If you’re looking for modern films with which it shares some kinship, it’s Fargo or Mumford or on television Northern Exposure or Eureka, comedy dramas which portray small town America as a kooky place filled to the brim with eccentrics enjoying a slightly relax somewhat askew approach to life. The difference in Hitchock’s film, is that there’s no Joel Fleishman, no one to offer the outsider's perspective on the story.

A disparate set of townspeople all think that they’ve killed titular corpse, found at the opening of the film, and spend most of the duration playing the blame game. Droll rather than laugh out loud funny, as is often the case with Hitch, the best scenes are surprisingly those having nothing to do with the main plot, in particular between potential couple, solid John Forsythe and a luminous Shirley MacLaine making her screen debut, as they negotiate the terms of their relationship.

Hitch told Trauffaut (during their lifelong interview) that he thought the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much was his favourite – the earlier version the work of a talented amateur (so modest), the latter of a professional. I think he's being unusually harsh on his younger self; the earlier film is thick with a musty atmosphere lost in the technicolor of the later model, but the remake's longer duration allows for more complex storytelling.

The latter also offers the surprising appearance of Doris Day in one of her few early dramatic roles. I love Doris Day. Always adorable, and watchable even in the most middling of films, a bit like a 1950s Zooey Deschanel or if we're being honest Julia Roberts. Trust Hitch to not only have her sing (well why would you cast someone like her and not give her at least one song) but make that integral to the climax.

As I also said in my comments about the original film, none of the antagonists have quite the same charisma as Peter Lorre though to a degree their bland normality probably increases their menace. Of all the films in Hitch’s canon, it’s quite surprising that this hasn’t been served with a remake – it would seem the perfect vehicle for Tom Hanks – though I suppose that’s true of all Jimmy Stewart’s films as we found out with You’ve Got Mail. On second thoughts …

'Great Scenes from Shakespeare's Plays' illustrated by John Green and edited by Paul Negri.

The task of bringing Shakespeare to children (or children to Shakespeare) has become something of a theme on the blog lately and Dover Publications have been good enough to send me examples from their Shakespeare lines directed a youngsters. Founded in 1941, Dover were one of the companies to spearhead the growth of the paperback book, republishing works which have fallen into the public domain, and one of their great successes was Albert Einstein’s The Principle of Relativity. Inevitably the wikipedia has a good biography of the company.

First up, Great Scenes from Shakespeare’s Plays, part of the pictorial archive series, a colouring book with drawings by prolific illustrator John Green who looks to have provided an infinite number of similar images on a range of topics, in science, the natural world, well, everywhere. Looking back, I even think he drew the A-Team colouring book I was given on holiday when I was a pre-teen. The format of the book, edited by Paul Negri, marries Green’s illustrations of various scenes from Shakespeare’s plays on the right hand side of a spread with a short synopsis and extract on the left.

For Hamlet, right at the front of the book, that means the gravedigger scene and the duel, the former perhaps because it’s the moment and speech which have become folklore because of the skull, the latter for its dynamism and there’s certainly something of the Errol Flynn about the way the two rivals grimace at each other mid swash. Green seems to have been influenced by a range of sources in creating his images; his Hamlet and Henry V both look like they've stepped out of Lawrence Olivier's films, Rossetti’s Proserpine portrays Lady Macbeth, and his King Lear looks just like a still from The Ten Commandments.

That’s not a criticism. I love the idea of child working tirelessly to fill in these drawings and at the same time building a acquaintance with the images and then later in life revisiting them in their original forms with an pre-built familiarity. And the scenes chosen reflect the sheer variety of different types of incident in Shakespeare’s plays and doesn’t shy away from the darker images, of Othello suffocating Desdemona, of Leontes denying his child, of Caesar’s assassination. Indeed, both of the Hamlet images are about death, and this is underscored by the inclusion of the prince’s final speech.

Hatches, matches and dispatches. They’re all here.

'Great Scenes from Shakespeare's Plays' illustrated by John Green and edited by Paul Negri. Dover Publications. ISBN: 978-0486409603.

in bed

Commerce I'm in bed for a couple of days with a tsunami of a cold and an earth splitting headache and while I'm there Disney buys Marvel Comics? Pass me the asprin.


Politics Glum Councillors: "This blog will doggedly collate images of councillors looking glum whilst pointing at holes in the road, wearing hard hats or presenting oversized cheques. Lets celebrate the work of our local elected representatives!" [ironically via]