the need to be thematically consistent

Life It was my third year at undergraduate university. Although in my second year I'd lived with the four horsewomen of the apocalypse, I was sharing a house in my final year with some good people – two trainee teachers, a post-grad doing something complicated about feminism with many words in its course title and another girl working on her languages. Although I suppose only some of us were really friends, the rest of us were at least civil towards one another and there were few arguments that I remember.

Of all of them, I felt closest to Anita, the girl on the language course. She had been an early substitution, our original housemate deciding (probably correctly) that working in her parents’ bakery was a better prospect than spending any more time at university. Anita was half English and half Tai, but could speak French, German and was studying Spanish to polish that off as well.

She also knew a smattering of Serb because her boyfriend was fighting a particular war that was happening at that particular time. She was the queen of the long phone call and often they would be conducted in at least three different languages and, depending on which household she was speaking to, they'd be mixed back and forth like she was some vocal DJ. Anita was fluent in them all which was either deeply impressive or depressing depending upon your mood.

Which makes Anita sound very heavy and potentially aloof. But she was massively down to earth (because of her mother I think). I was impressed when I first met her because she'd spent the previous year studying in Berlin and had been a tourist guide for Christo's wrapping of the German Reitstag. I sat for ten minutes as she described everything in great detail and somehow managed to make me the feel a sense of history being formed.

As the weeks and months passed she was just a great person to be around, so even as the group inevitably dissolved as people found friendships and relationships outside the household, she was the one person I really wanted to make time for and was disappointed when she couldn't make time for me. Some nights we'd play games together.

Board games – the kind you get at Christmas but can't be bothered playing because the instructions are too complicated. We'd go for walks just to talk things through when anything big had happened in the house which I hadn't been around for. As always I was within and without the situation that way – not close enough to the situation to be involved.

Some afternoons when we were supposed to be studying we'd sit in her bedroom, she'd have her guitar (she could do that as well) and she'd sing and I'd listen. I haven't had many perfect moments in my life. Top of the Eiffel Tower. Touchline at the Commonwealth Games. Finding out I'd got into University. Christmas.

But when I was sitting on the end of that bed, watching her sing – time seemed to stop. I was probably in love with her, although I didn't notice it that the time. Infatuated I might have thought, but only in that silly way when men get infatuated with women who pay them any attention. She was far too good for my low self esteem to handle anyway.

Then we sang together and for some reason my grump managed to chime with her soprano and didn't sound all that bad. And she had me sing. I don't remember what I sang (actually I do but I'd be embarrassed to say what, other than Alanis Morissette used to be the Canadian version of her, so yes, Debbie Gibson) but somehow it seemed to work. And we laughed and talked and she showed me poetry she'd written about her Serbian boyfriend, underlining for me the meaning of the word platonic. It was nothing really, a couple of hours and it was forgotten by us both within days. The year ended three months later and I never saw her again.

Three years later and I'm pining for University. In the intervening years I hadn't managed find a full time job and had somehow managed to end up working in the art gallery, libraries and universities researching art and art history. I was also working my way through a series of night classes, because somewhere in my being I felt the need to continuing learning.

After a few semesters studying creative writing I decided that the next step would be acting (which doesn't really follow I know but I think I'd been watching 'In The Bleak Midwinder' and decided that the actor's life was in fact for me). The first week had mostly been improvisations. I remember a plane crash and a beach being involved. At the start of the following week's session, the twenty of us who were left marvelled as the tutor told stories of who else had shuffled through the course, including one Melanie C of The Spice Girls.

That week was to be about storytelling. The tutor asked for volunteers to describe their perfect day. When none were forthcoming he chose people. He selected Lisa the attractive paralegal who was sitting directly opposite. She was from across the Mersey and I think everyone had noticed her before. Her story was about how she had asked her abrasive husband for a divorce in the exact spot, near a duckpond in a park, where he had proposed to her a few years before. There was a majesty to it; she still loved him but it was just too much.

And then the finger pointed to me. In a position like that you feel the need to be thematically consistent. As the trainee actors looked at me, my mind began to race searching for something which if not actually as good as the story I'd just heard at least had a similar passion. There were choices. Ways to go. But they all felt wrong somehow, like I couldn't do them justice. Then Anita popped into my head. I talked about the house, about the friendships around her. Then I talked about that afternoon, on her bed, and that perfect moment for me as I'd watched her sing.

I looked around the room as I described what had happened, this little moment which seemed so long ago, and I realised they were listening. Not just being polite but actually listening. This hadn't happened before. Not in front of a group this big. It felt weird and strange and good. As the story drew to its anti-climax they started to ask questions. Primarily they wanted to know what had happened between Anita and me. They all wanted us to get together somehow and that she had been the love of my life.

Inadvertently, in the way I'd described it, how I'd embellished the emotion, they'd decided that something else must have happened. How could it not? How could it not? In telling the story I'd somehow come to terms with what hadn't happened and because I'd interested all these people I hardly knew in something which had been relatively fleeting and didn't mean all that much, except for me, in there somewhere my self-esteem took a few steps upward. Then I wondered if anything could have happened in the few weeks between her breaking up with the Serbian and falling for the Frenchman. If I hadn't thought of her as been unattainable because I wasn't possibly as good as she was, if I'd thought better of myself … could we have?

Two years later and I was sitting on the News Tribune, in the main stand, watching the Netball at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. After two years of build up, training courses and interviews and plenty of travelling I'd been given a position in the Press Room at the Manchester Evening News Arena. The journalism night school course had finally paid off. I was with a group of people of varying backgrounds from even farther afield than I commuted each day and they just loved being there.

More than that in the few brief days we'd been together we'd banded together as a group really well. All of the unspoken things both work related or otherwise, the shorthand which usually takes years to build up in a 'normal' situation seemed to develop mimetically. And I felt part of the group, actually within it, not on the outside which had happened so many times as far back as that third year house at university. I was making the effort and it was working.

Everyone liked being on The Tribune (over the actual press room or the photography bench on the touch line). It allowed you to watch the games, meet the media as you passed the results out (ooh look it's Diane Oxbury from NorthWest Tonight!) and more importantly it was only place you could sit and talk without really being interrupted (mostly). It was in these moments we would giddily say that this was the best group of people we'd worked with and how we wished we could take each other to our next job. It was difficult not to gush. As with all groups there were some people you would get on better with than others and has always been the case throughout my life I was hanging about with the girls more. It just felt more comfortable.

This particular afternoon I was sitting with Maggie. To be honest I can't tell you much about Maggie other than she lived in the Manchester area and she was just trying to find a job after leaving college and she had a boyfriend. It was an artificial closeness within the group, I suppose now. We didn't learn all that much 'back story' about one another. The one thing I do remember is how much Maggie reminded me of Anita. Like Anita, Maggie somehow understood my sarcasm and misunderstanding for comic effect.

Apropos of nothing, as always happened in these bitty conversations between quarters she mentioned that she thought I was quite a confident person and how relaxed I'd been. I told her it hadn't always been the case. That I'd always had a reasonably low self esteem. But that one night, when I was doing an acting class at University I'd been asked to tell a story about my perfect day and … suddenly the telling of one story had become another story about something else, and in telling it this time I had seen how far I'd come.

I wanted to mention that as well, but the third quarter of the match between Canada and Sri Lanka broke the bubble in the middle of a sentence I would never get back to because statistics got in the way. Just like Anita I never saw Maggie again, but that's what these temporary friendships are like – they're there when you need them and over before they get boring. The trouble is that you can go through life knowing a lot of people not very well.

Over five years ago, in 2004, my friend Suw asked me to submit a guest blog for Chocolate and Vodka her online home. She said I could write about anything and I ended up talking about Anita, about the acting class and about Maggie, these moments when this story has perpetuated itself and how each time it has given me pause for thought. It seemed like the only thing I could write about, that it should be about storytelling, and that's what you've just been reading. A guest blog repatriated.

As I said then, for some reason even the smallest stories about nothing in particular can have a way of perpetuating themselves and becoming something else because of the way they're told and who they're being told to. For some people they're a way of comparing who they were then to where they are now. I suggested that in writing this, I learnt all kinds of things about myself and I'd no doubt talk about those when I inevitably ended up mentioning to someone about the time I did some guestblogging for a friend. Once I'd explained to them what a blog was, and why I would be writing someone else’s.

Now (almost) everybody knows what a blog is. I met Suw not long afterwards and she was the first fellow blogger I sat opposite in a meal eating capacity. During that day we spent in Birmingham it felt like we the only two speakers of some foreign language. It's not like that any more. I know many of the people who are reading this, because they've told me, because I've made eye and verbal contact with them, at work and elsewhere. For some of us lifers, that has been difficult to come to terms with. But surprisingly, at least for me, it hasn't.

In 2004, when I originally wrote about Anita, about the acting class and about Maggie it seemed like no one was reading (even though Suw and her massive audience did) because with exception of email contact, online friendships, they weren't people I know. Now many people I've actually met could potentially be glancing through this and that's transformed these stories again, though oddly, not in the telling but the reading. That should be scary, but it isn't. As I discovered in that acting class, it's always better to know that you're telling your story to someone who's listening, than to no one at all.

John Simm wants to play Hamlet.

A lot: "I've asked him about the play he's rehearsing, of course, and he's told me, of course, that it's "a hell of a challenge", and that he was "intrigued" by the script, and the fact that it's "like a split-screen on stage", and that he's playing two characters, a detective (again) and a violent, alcoholic neighbour. And then he announces, casually, that he "wasn't particularly looking to get back on stage again", but was wanting to do Hamlet. Whoa! And he hasn't done any Shakespeare before? "No." And wouldn't it feel a bit like following in the footsteps of David Tennant? "I didn't really think about that." And he's only ever seen one Hamlet? "Yes, at drama school." And doesn't it, um, imply quite a lot of confidence?"

this small collection

The Oratory

Museums This week’s Heritage Open Days afforded me the opportunity to visit one of Liverpool’s little secrets and another of the venues listed in Edward Morris’s Public Art Collections in the North West and as far as I can tell the smallest. One of Liverpool’s little secrets, it's a place that hundreds of visitors must pass on their way to the Anglican Cathedral and a short straw poll of a few people suggests that few people have heard of it. For years it seemed like the spookiest of places and something to ponder on visits to the cathedral for school Founders Day and I’ve written about all of that before. These days most people think of it as the structure which sits behind Tracey Emin's Bird on a Pole (when it's in residence).

It’s The Oratory, the neo-classical building near the front gate opposite the cathedral’s security office and as if you hadn’t noticed, it’s pictured above. Originally the chapel of St James’s Cemetary, The Oratory pre-dated the cathedral by over fifty years having been completed in 1829. Designed by the architect John Foster, the chapel functioned as additional space for funeral services in a city which due its growth was requiring an increased number of burials and it was simply more convenient to have them at the cemetery rather than a church. It was still a working building through to 1936, then the council took responsibility in 1980 which is when it first became a tourist attract and then in 1986 it became the property of the organisation which is now called National Museums Liverpool.

The design was inspired by Foster’s experience as an archaeologist at the sites of ancient Greek temples, a style which didn’t just result in this mini-masterpiece but a grand scheme in Liverpool where, as leading architect, he oversaw “the city’s market, customs house, station frontage and seven churches, as well as providing for Liverpool a network of wide regular streets” [Morris, 2001: p109]. All gone now, which leaves the Oratory the only example of what was once a rich architectural heritage. Liverpool’s like that. The city protects dozens of single buildings here and there offering clues as to how the place once was, Terrance Davies’s film Of Time and the City in architectural form.

Two statues dominate the small interior. Opposite the front door, manifested as an angel by Pietro Tnerani sits Agnes Jones, who under the direction of Florence Nightingale, helped to introduce trained nurses in the workhouses of Liverpool, a practice which was then repeated throughout the rest of the country. One of the unsung pioneers of the NHS, she sadly contracted Typhus and dies at 36, but she’s commemorated movingly by Nightingale in one of the inscriptions: “She died at her post among the poor and sick, while yet in the flower of her age. And thus she lived the life and died the death of the children of God who are the children of the Resurrection.”

Watching over her and seemingly, in pose, about to offer some advice is William Ewart, who was a Scottish merchant who took up residence in Liverpool and was friends with prime minister William Gladstone’s father. Joseph Gott’s statue sets aside the usual tendency towards robes and instead presents Ewart in contemporaneous dress, a move which would be repeated when similar figures were designed for the interior of St George’s Hall. I would say Ewart one of the reasons to visit the Oratory; as realistic a piece of sculpting I’ve seen, it’s as though Medusa mustered into being in whichever was his favourite drink establishment and fixed him in the eye, but rather than fear, offered curiosity perhaps wondering what the mythic being’s favourite tipple might be.

The rest of this tiny collection consists of monuments (detailed here), one of which contains a story of unrequited love ripe for dramatisation. John Gibson was from a lower-middle class Welsh family and moved to Liverpool to apprentice with a family of stone masons, where he became a sculptor after falling in with the local crowd which included William Roscoe and Solomon d’Aguilar, whose daughter, the very married Mrs Emily Robinson became his teacher, as Edward notes, Gibson was “deeply attracted by her character and beauty [and] he evidently thought that she was in love with him. She died in 1829. He erected the monument which sits in The Oratory depicting her in her prime, in quiet moment book in hand, looking longingly I think at a lamp which might contain a genie ready to grant her any wish.

About The OratoryPlease Mind The Steps And Uneven FloorsAgnes Jones and others.William EwartWilliam EwartThe Oratory.  Interior.  Day.William EarleWilliam HammertonMrs Emily Robinson

"Only seventy-four more things to smash..."

just a couple of monkeys

Science Colour blindness cured (albeit in just a couple of monkeys so far):
"We've added red sensitivity to cone cells in animals that are born with a condition that is exactly like human color blindness," said William W. Hauswirth, Ph.D., a professor of ophthalmic molecular genetics at the UF College of Medicine and a member of the UF Genetics Institute and the Powell Gene Therapy Center. "Although color blindness is only moderately life-altering, we've shown we can cure a cone disease in a primate, and that it can be done very safely. That's extremely encouraging for the development of therapies for human cone diseases that really are blinding."
When I was at school, a chemistry teacher said that I knew he wasn't a genius when someone had to tell him he was colour blind -- he thought that a genius would be able to work it out for themselves.

adding a miniblog

About I've messed about with the sidebars on the blog (again) adding a miniblog, which is really just some of the content I'm spewing out on Twitter, but filtered for conversation, for people who hate Twitter. Even though they're wrong (!). Additionally, I'm experimenting with a radical take on the blogroll which simply includes post titles and links ala the Liverpool Blogs twitter feed, no blog names. Don't worry, if it doesn't work, I'll try something else.*

* Updated: Yes, um, that doesn't seem to be working. I'll be trying something else.

usually murder

Film There’s a wonderful moment in the lifelong interview between Truffaut and Hitchcock in which the young director points out to his hero that he always tells the same story. And it’s true – nearly every Hitchcock film is about mistaken identity of one form or another most often with someone being accused of a crime they did not commit, usually murder and often the hero is aided and abetted by a blonde foil. And here it is again in North by Northwest. But what makes Hitch the great director is that with all of the fireworks, the performance and funny dialogue, we simply don’t notice, helped by the fact that each time he increases the complexity in some areas whilst simplifying others. Eva Marie Saint is effectively the same figure played by Priscilla Lane in Saboteur, Madeleine Carroll in The 39 Steps and Nova Pilbeam in Young & Innocent; but this being late Hitchcock, the ‘companion’ is apparently working for the opposition and none of her actions can be taken at face value. Yet the mcguffin, the reason for the adventure, why Cary Grant is on the run, amounts to little more than ‘some plans’ or whatever, underscoring just how uninterested the director was in such things by this stage.

Psycho is wrong, just wrong. The reasons are well documented already but it’s worth listing them again. Spoilers ahead. Janet Leigh’s character is presented as being the main character then Hitch has her murdered by Anthony Perkins’s Oedipal hotel owner Norman Bates, knocking the chair out from under the audience’s expectations and the language of cinema. When she is killed, we’re given the impression of a stabbing even though the blade never punctures her skin in a scene which took days upon days to film, risking Leigh’s mental health. Whilst the rest of the cast still betray the signs of the very formal acting style we expect from old Hollywood cinema, Perkins’s performance is shockingly naturalistic and about ten years ahead of the curve, precalling a young Jack Nicholson. Shot on a budget of fourth-fifths of a million dollars, miniscule in comparison to the director’s other work, it has a spare, deliberate style in which every shot has meaning, and you’re constantly aware that you’re being fed expositional red herrings in which items and dialogue which in other films would be vitally important are purposefully ignored to show what happens when a life ends. And Perkins’s final look into the character, which with its superimposed skull gives the impression that he’ll be wanting to have a chat with us next.

You see this kind of thing from time to time.

TV Will you people leave the BBC alone? Phil Redmond this time at the Huw Wheldon Memorial Lecture:
"Redmond said his plan, outlined during his Huw Wheldon Memorial Lecture at the Royal Television Society's Cambridge Convention today, would see the BBC retain editorial control of BBC1, BBC2, BBC Parliament, and children's output, while Channel 4 would take over BBC3 and BBC4."
Say, indeed, what?:
"Channel 4 would take over BBC3 and BBC4"
I like Phil Redmond but I can't imagine why he'd say something so, well, bizarre. You see this kind of thing from time to time. Such and such says that Radios One & Two should be commercialised. BBC Online is state run journalism. Whatever. And always it becomes apparent that the person making the rash statement doesn't have much of a clue about the thing they're making a pronouncement on. My guess is that Redmond seems to think that E4 is analogous to BBC Three, BBC Four much the same as More4. But they're really not. For one thing BBC Four doesn't show fifteen episodes of Come Dine With Me or Grand Designs on a Saturday and doesn't treat such things as classical music as a novelty.

Either that or in his mind the two channels could become a version of what Channel 4 was when it first began broadcast, even though that's sort of what they are already. Though without Naked Yoga, Kabadi and Paula Yates threatening to say the fuck word every five minutes. To be fair the linked article isn't very clear on that point, doesn't shine a light into Redmond's head. Neither is it clear how merging Channel 4 and the BBC saves kids tv considering that Channel 4 doesn't make much kids television these days. Schools television perhaps, but the old slots are taken up by imports and racing.

All Channel 4 needs is a sense of direction, a proper idea of what it's supposed to be, across all of its channels. A stream of managers across the past decade have left it looking like a billboard were someone has torn sections of the adverts away. You can see elements of what used to be there peaking out, and although the resulting pattern is pretty, it's no substitute for a sense of unity, even if it's an advert for Argos. It needs for someone with a singular creative vision to decide what made the channel great and make some tough choices and risk alienating parts of its audience in an attempt to salvage its identity. Like Leo in that episode of The West Wing where he sits an office for days staring at a flip-chart and just thinking.

With the Big Brother house closing after next year the space is available to experiment, try new things. But please, please, leave the BBC alone. It isn't perfect, it's a rough diamond, but it is still a jewel but unlike the Koh-i-Noor, the more you take from it, the weaker it will become. The corporation isn't strong because it's paid for by the state. It's strong because it's good, because people like what it does, even if it's just one section of it. But if you start to strip those sections away, parcelling off to other organisation which are dying it won't reinvigorate them. They'll simply become infected too, like an organ being transplanted into a body with some other undiagnosed ailment and the public will be left grieving about what they have lost.

Sliders with the protagonist staying put

TV Cracked offers what it thinks are the 5 Most Maddeningly Unresolved TV Plotlines though in truth it's more like two and half, but it does mention the Heroes dead-end in which Peter Petrelli left his instant girlfriend in the future then didn't seem to care too much about it, a victim of the writer's strike and creator Tim Kring's inability structure a narrative longer than an episode and understand what inspired characterisation looks like. If Ali Larter wasn't returning for season four I wouldn't be bothering.

A better show, or in other words one written by Joss Whedon when the studio aren't holding a contract to his head, would have used that loophole to create a special episode in which we saw the future shifting about the girlfriend showing the effects the meddling in the past would have on the future. I expect it would have looked a bit like ST:TNG's Parallels, or Sliders with the protagonist staying put, with the Peter from the past turning up just as the timeline and she had settled down with her deciding not to return to the past in case it changes her perfect future again, the final, painful, climax showing the timeline change again, with the audience left wondering how it happened.

I work late on a Thursday night etc.

TV have what they think is the scheduling for the third series of The Sarah Jane Adventures.

Main headline -- it's going twice weekly on a Thursday and Friday from October 15th. It'll be like watching Black Orchid for six weeks though hopefully without Luke standing next to a table getting grubbed up and Sarah Jane becoming lost behind a concealed corridor.

This does rather explain the late start for the series.

so will you show me?

Journalism Alison Gow offers five phrases to ban in the news room:
"Saying 'I don't know how to use/make that' is pefectly ok - so long as you follow it up with 'so will you show me?' No one is born knowing how to run an rss feed into a widget, but plenty of people in your newsroom have learned how it works and will help you out if you ask."
Yes, yes, yes! But more than that, people who don't experiment, or won't take the time to find out how something works, as in journalists who join Twitter, write three tweets then write an article saying how rubbish Twitter is. Oh, do sod off.

shaking up the order

Firefox The Greasemonkey script Randomize gReader has been a god (or at least coder) send, shaking up the order feeds and folders are presented in making the web just slightly more interesting again.

a 1982 technology programme

Games The website for BBC Four's Electric Dreams season has launched. My favourite video is this clip from a 1982 technology programme, incredible because there's isn't much the tank-topped presenter says which isn't still true (to some extent):

I win!

Film I haven't seen The Wizard of Oz all of the way through at least not since the early 80s. I don't own a DVD. I kept holding off buying it, and holding and holding as each new edition appeared, double, triple, quadruple dips, convinced that someday a definitive restored version would be released so that I could watch it with vivid colours and clear sound: I win!

the Friday afternoon film programme with Dr. Mark Kermode will continue on Five Live

Radio And lo, we can all breath safely in our beds. Simon Mayo may be moving to Radio 2, but the Friday afternoon film programme with Dr. Mark Kermode will continue on Five Live with a dedicated two hour show, hopefully still live but with less news interruptions and a greater chance that all of the films of the week will be reviewed, perhaps also with some archive chat akin to the Screening Room slot from The Culture Show. Much of that is just speculation obviously. Here is video of the announcement.

steals the show

Elsewhere Late night back last night after visiting Manchester to seeing Macbeth: A Shakespeare 4 Kidz Musical Adaptation which I've written about here. On The Hamlet Weblog. As I say in the review, it's a broad church. But really, Emma Odell who plays Lady Macbeth, steals the show. She'll be one to watch. In fact, expect this to be true in a few years:

Who's in it from Doctor Who?

Emma Odell who plays Lady Macbeth

Was The Rani in the season nine episode The Three Ranis with Kate O'Mara and Zoe Lucker.

Macbeth: A Shakespeare 4 Kidz Musical Adaptation

Macbeth played by Jason Lee Scott
Directed by Julian Chenery

Yes, indeed. The Hamlet Weblog is a broad church and with Shakespeare 4 Kidz’s 3D film in production, they were good enough to invite me along to see their theatrical version of Macbeth perhaps to give some idea of what to expect from a visit to Elsinore. So last night I was installed in the stalls of the ornate Palace Theatre in Manchester amid school groups and families watching a child friendly rendition of one of the bloodiest of tragedies. Adapting the Scottish play for a young audience is certainly provocative even at time when arguably kids are being exposed to violence far more than in the past. How would they manage to keep all of the black magic and death without watering down the play's moral message of cause and effect?

The answer is to simplify and modernise sections of the text and add some song and dance numbers and turn the play into a musical. It’s initially quite disappointing that so much of Shakespeare’s verse couldn't been retained and arguably the most powerful moments are when the undiluted text makes an appearance (“Life is but a walking shadow…”). But cunningly, though the iambic pentameter is often jettisoned for clarity's sake, by seemingly taking its influence from Japanese Kabuki theatre in which the characters wear their hearts on their sleeve, the actions are plainly presented, the results generally unsubtle, the performers addressing the audience more than themselves, the overall sentiment is retained.

As is the plot. Done badly, once Macbeth has the Scottish crown, the play can easily descend into a soup of skirmishes and witchery, but adaptors Julian Chenery and Matt Gimblett's script and songs very cleanly set out the consequences of the thane’s actions and how his arrogance will ultimately lead to his downfall. The plot may be simplified but they don’t shirk from showing the more gruesome scenes, including the murder of MacDuff’s household and how that leads to the battle which spans act five. I’m sure I heard a gasp when it became apparent that Macbeth had misinterpreted the witches warning about the circumstances of his death.

In this production, witchcraft is pervasive, the heavily hooded weird sisters (close cousins of the Wraiths from the Lord of the Rings films) never far from and sometimes directing the action. In places they’re genuinely scary simply because of the wrongness of their movements, their speech patterns and the deathly howls which sometimes emanate from their mouths (the voices of the all actors are augmented and projected by speakers on either side of the stage) and it's their incantations that bring the curtains down, suggesting that at any moment their dark forces could break through into the auditorium.

When you add to this the musical element, if you’re an adult and with more than a passing knowledge of the play, Chenery's Macbeth becomes a camp extravaganza, a great big entertaining panto. For much of the duration I grinned from ear to ear even as Thane of Cordor considers the death of first Duncan then his co-captain with songs like “How Do You Murder A King?” and “Banquo Must Go”, not entirely sure how knowing the declamatory acting style is supposed to be but loving each glorious second of it, as the dialogue drift from straight Shakespeare to the modern idiom into the mix of the two which inhabits The Tudors tv series (incidentally the photographs you can see here were taken at Hever Castle, childhood home of Anne Boleyn).

At the epicentre of all this is Emma Odell’s incandescent sitcom take on Lady Macbeth, who’s reaction on hearing that her husband might have murdered his king but forgot to pin the murder on the guards, is as delicious as one of Sybil’s verbal disembowelments of her husband Basil in Fawlty Towers. It’s not hard to feel sorry for Jason Lee Scott’s chiselled but dominated Macbeth. The deterioration of their relationship is like watching an alternate reality where Prince Charming has married one of Cinderella’s sisters instead and is now suffering the consequences. Odell arguably gets the best song too, “Out, Damned, Spot!” a scat like descent into madness.

But the moment which brings the best response from the children in the audience and when they clearly become locked into the show is Noel Andrew Harron’s Porter. The one deliberately light moment in the play, written by Shakespeare (like the Gravedigger in Macbeth) to give the clown in the company something to do, the Porter can be an opportunity for the show to relax for a moment after the murder of King Duncan. I’ve previously seen his speech replaced by a thematically relevant routine by George Carlin and S4K offers a child friendly version of that as Harron offers the audience some slapstick, knock knock jokes (“Knock knock” “Who’s there?” “Toby…” etc) and a short lesson on duplicity.

The children were wrapt, and that’s the point. At the interval I glanced about the theatre and I think every young face in the place was smiling, eyes glowing. At the end of the show, the deafening applause and cheers as each actor took a bow demonstrates that Chenery, who also directs, has pitched the production perfectly. If kids hate something, you’ll know instantly, through their chatter and toilet visits during the production and general indifference, but that’s not what I saw. If they were talking, it's because they were asking the adults questions, their eyes constantly fixed on the stage and Jaimie Todd’s set design which implies the kind of ruins you might find in a similarly addictive storybook. If any of those children grow up remembering Macbeth as an exciting, approachable spectacle, then Shakespeare 4 Kids’s is to be commended.

Macbeth: A Shakespeare 4 Kidz Musical Adaptation is touring. Click here for venue details.

back soon

About You might have noticed that the blogroll has dropped from the sidebar. I'm giving a re-think (because it was too bloody long) It'll be back soon.

in process

Liverpool Life The Smirnoff Ice people have been good enough to send along some photographs of the clock tower sculpture in process and completed. I like what they did with the Liver Bird.

unguarded moments

Photography The James Hyman Gallery in London currently has an exhibition collecting paparazzi depictions of Bridget Bardot. Many feature the actress in unguarded moments on film sets, including this funny shot from during her work on Viva Maria in which she appears as Chaplin
Her colleagues - fellow artistes, production staff, camera crew, stage handlers - were wildly enthusiastic about her splendid impersonation of Charlie Chaplin. Emerging from her trailer complete with little moustache, bowler hat, cane and outsize boots, she shuffled and swivelled on her heels and looked endearingly pathetic. Considering Brigitte did not remember seeing a Chaplin film, the act came off remarkably well.
In our world, so saturated by digital photography, some of these images seem very precious indeed.


Games Someone has translated the Vogon-language the order for the destruction of Arthur Dent's house which was included with the original release of the Infocom Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy PC game:
"Be it known that on this day the 4th of October in the year of our Lord 1982 that by decree of the Domicile Demolition Department of Randomshire County, the residence of Arthur Dent of 122 Country Lane in The Town of Randomswich shall herewith be demolished ..."
(It was presumably on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'). [via]

The Taking of Chelsea 426.

Books The blurbs on the rear of these books are getting better. Time was that the synopsis to these short novels would give away much of the first half causing much of the interest to be in the finale which we know from the bitter experience of being fans of Doctor Who isn’t often where the interest lies. For The Taking of Chelsea 426, the reader isn’t offered much more than is obvious from the cover illustration, that some futuristic colony has been rerendered to resemble Chelsea, right down to constructing an annual flower show, something fishy is going on and the Sontarans are involved. The problem with this new book, from new nu-Who author David Llewellyn (previously of a bunch of Torchwood fiction) is that his story doesn’t have much more than that.

Oh, as revealed in last month’s Doctor Who Magazine, the Sontarans aren’t the only old foes to appear and congratulations to the author for a relatively nice bit of bluff in relation to their reveal, and this whopping great story element I’ve decided not to spoil might interest some long term fans, but it lacks tension and the portrayal is simply offers an excuse re-emergence of one of nu-Who’s hoary old tropes and like the worst of nu-Who’s hoary old tropes you’ll know it when you see it, or in this case read about it. You might even, like me, say “Really? Really? Really?!?” out loud and with some dread as you realise that there’s another hundred pages to go.

Which isn’t to say The Tenth Doctor isn’t nicely portrayed with his catchphrases and some of Tennant’s mannerism in place. It makes a nice change for the Doctor to become mixed up with a family for a change with proper kids filling in as companions for this solo adventure (bringing to mind TV Comics’s John and Gillian). The small man syndrome of the Sontarans and how they relate to the other species is nicely rendered, and it's nice that we finally meet a battalion who bred for destruction but will seek a more intelligent solution if required. The nicest scene is perhaps a rather poignant death where once again we feel the weight of the Doctor’s age on his seemingly young shoulders.

It’s nice, nice, nice. But it’s not spectacular. The flower show is simply the setting for a Lazarus-style technological reveal, its acres of verdant potential otherwise unharvested. There is some discussion as to how the invasion of middle England (or at least this version) by outsiders can lead to the breakdown of traditional order (cf, Hot Fuzz) but because none of the characterisation of the locals reaches beyond more than one dimension it peters out far before the end. Llewellyn does introduced some useful satire with a cryogenically thawed human who’s become a media personality, presumably Alan Titchmarsh with a sweatpea loose, but this precious seed of an idea isn’t given enough TLC to germinate.

The Taking of Chelsea 426 is not offensively bad and some kids might gain some enjoyment from it, especially when their avatars within the story get to outsmart the adults, all very The Sarah Jane Adventures, their participation in the climax suggesting that being a bit nerdy does have its uses. But after The Eyeless and Prisoner of the Daleks (which in retrospect I enjoyed more than my review suggests), books that stretched the possibilities of what this version of the franchise's fiction is capable of, Llewellyn’s novel takes a retrograde step backwards to the likes of Wetworld, rather like one of those Battles In Time comic strips; all of the furniture is in place, it is Doctor Who, but it’s of a sort that is desperate not to deviate from formula and is mostly about showing off the monsters.

film theory god

Film Against the odds, film theory god David Bordwell finds something nice to say about Transformers 2 in a wide ranging article about the summer in (US) film:
"For non-Transformers shots Michael Bay at least puts his camera on a tripod, which these days counts as a plus with me. And a minibot humps the heroine’s leg. And John Turturro is in it. Would he grace a movie that signals the fall of Western Civilization?"
What about all of those Adam Sandler films?

the answers to the Liverpool Twestival Quiz

Quiz! And so, as promised the answers to the Liverpool Twestival Quiz:

1. Whose poem adorns the fountain in Williamson Square?

Roger McGough

2. In which century was Liverpool founded?

1200s or thirteenth century

3. What was The Beatles’ first single?

Love Me Do (reached 17 in the charts)

4. What was ironic about the choice of Giles Gilbert Scott, the architect of the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral?

He was a catholic.

5. How did Norway feed Liverpool?

Scouse originated in Norway and was brought over my sailors.

6. Who lived at 59 Rodney Street?

E Chambre Hardman, the photographer.

7. Who were W. E. Barclay and John McKenna?

The first managers of Liverpool and Everton

8. What was the mascot of the International Garden Festival in 1984?

A liver bird.

9. Who directed the film “Of Time and the City”, about his childhood living in Liverpool?

Terrance Davies

10. Where at this moment in Liverpool city centre will you find Major-General William Earle?

A statue on St George's Hall Plateau

a twitter account for Liverpool Blogs

Elsewhere I've also set up a twitter account for Liverpool Blogs, which will largely spend its time posting a link whenever a local blog is updated but I'll also use to post links to new additions and other Liverpool related news. It's at

a bit bored

Elsewhere In which I'm a bit bored with a new Doctor Who novel. Sometimes, the BBC Books can produce stories which are better than anything which is possible on screen. Sometimes they follow what's on screen so completely, they're a bit irrelevant.

Liverpool Food Festival 2009

Liverpool Life The Liverpool Food Festival is fully swinging, and boiling, broiling, stewing, roasting, baking, frying, sautéing, braising, and fricasseeing, smells and smoke bellowing out of wooden huts ringed about the edges of the field, with restaurants and foody shops from around the city offering samples. There's nothing quite like leaving your front door, crossing the road and enjoying a free breakfast of croissant, muffins, chicken noodles, some creamy foam with a strawberry flavour, cheese, bread and dip, a crunchy crab thing, honeyed pork and chillie and chocolate sausage, the natural order of when food should be consumed, savoury then sweet, going straight out of the window. No wonder people were queuing from about ten o'clock on this Sunday morning ...

Queuing for Liverpool Food Festival