The Titlebar Archive: Eggs, Delicacy & Murdock

About We need to catch up.

Food It was Easter.

Film The film, Delicacy had just been released.

Media The differently spelt Murdoch boys were giving evidence at the Leveson enquiry and I think there's been quite enough said about that elsewhere.

Polonius stumbles.

Mark Lawson describes a famous Hamlet moment in a piece for The Guardian about theatre errors that aren't:
"Similar punishment for subtle acting was suffered by the late Michael Bryant, when he played Polonius in Richard Eyre's Hamlet at the National in 1989. Bryant's playing of the moment when the character loses the thread of his thoughts – "What was about to say? By the mass, I was about to say something …" – included such an authentically panicked chasm in the line that there was an audible gasp from the stalls. During the interval, I heard some people discussing their horror; his only consolation would be the confirmation that truly great acting must look spontaneous."
There are more similarities between theatre and circus than meets the eye. Do we like to think when an acrobat stumbles, it's for the first time, that they're in genuine danger, even though we subliminally know they've probably done it every night of their lives.

The Slow Empire.

Books  Sometimes, for those of us who haven’t read these Eighth Doctor novels before, it’s easy to forget just how post-modern and experimental they became, especially having listened to the far more conventional audio exclusives based on nunuWho, and that’s even having read the Lawrence Miles novels and everything which fell out after them.  Dave Stone’s The Slow Empire has it all, from first person narrative sections by a non-companion printed in Comic Sans, to a virtual reality section in which Fitz's part is written in the style of rock biography to authorial interventions in a footnotes section.  I gather the main narrative was also inspired by an online discussion about quite how Transmats work.

Sometimes such messy inspiration can be really entertaining and sometimes it can feel to the reader as though they’re being subjected to some in-joke they’ll never get.  Which was I?  Weeee’ll, the actual story idea is a inspired.  The TARDIS is chased into materialising by a race of predators that live in the time vortex and find themselves in the middle of a massive, previously unknown empire of worlds which are connected via machines that transmit souls hither and thither, reconstituting new bodies at destinations but which otherwise have little communication and so all think they’re at the centre controlling the others, providing some kind, of as the book synopsis suggests, “malign” control.

Inevitably, having ascertained something has gone wrong, the Doctor starts acting strangely as do his companions and through what appears to be a caravan narrative (cf, The Keys of Marinus), they investigate the empire and try to discover the cause of an underlying ennui which has spread across this portion of space.  Along the way they pick up an inhabitant, Jamon De La Rocas, a transmat traveller of prosaic voice, and source of the first person passages and a Collector, a kind of squid-like kleptomaniac who race previously appeared in one Dave Stone’s earlier novels Heart of the TARDIS (which I’m yet to read).  And so there are adventures, lots of running, arguing, cultural exchanges, the usual Doctor Who business.

I think it’s best to say I didn’t not enjoy it.  Stone has in mind to comment on the nature of Doctor Who as a meta-narrative in a similar way to Miles and Magrs and later Moffat, amongst others and because in the latter stages, the story begins to focus on that via some excellent speeches for Anji, I turned the last few pages with plenty of goodwill.  If the characterisation of the Eighth Doctor feels a bit schematic and unnatural, that might be because of his raggle-taggle amnesiatic condition rather than some authorial shortcoming.  Certainly this is a rare occasion when Anji feels like a three dimensional being so he’s certainly capable of the other thing.

Stone does enjoy world building, offering some of the most epic, if horrific scenes the Doctor's ever visited.  As the TARDIS bounces around the empire, the effect is rather like flicking through the covers of a record collection from an Iron Maiden album to something more prog rock (probably by ELO and no, not Mr Blue Sky), hallways filled with bondage slaves and hippy infested forests.  He also enjoys recreating sections of the TARDIS, with the introduction of a viewing portal so that passengers can meditate on the vortex in a similar way to the crew of the Icarus in Danny Boyle's film Sunshine.

Despite that the problems are two fold.  Firstly, the sections narrated by De La Rocas are written in a, well I’m not sure actually prosaic captures it, over extended Edwardian voice, extending themselves rather too long in a style which is too pleased with itself to be enjoyable so that skimming’s the only real option.  Secondly, as I suggested above, there’s the ever present feeling of having missed something important, that the author’s winking at his audience, an audience which ten years ago would have been absolutely certain what he was doing and now just feels bewildered, some of which is explained in the footnotes but mostly not.

Some authors have a singular voice and if you’re not entirely appreciative of that voice it doesn’t necessarily mean anything.  It’s not bad, certainly not in the way that some of the earlier Dalek novels in this series were bad, or indeed some of the earlier novels in general.  And there’s what must be some obvious foreshadowing for coming attractions which gave me goose pimples.  Who could he be?  What could that mean?  That sort of thing.  It’s just that sometimes, a story benefits from a more orthodox approach and perhaps that could have been the case here.  Now just be pleased I couldn’t work out how to post this in Comic Sans as homage.

Shakespeare’s Globe’s touring production of Henry V as it appeared at the Liverpool Playhouse last night

Theatre Since I don’t want to spoil the experience through the kind of over-analysis that usually smears itself across this 480 pixel width column (or whatever it will be when I redesign the template in the future) here are just five things about the Shakespeare’s Globe’s touring production of Henry V as it appeared at the Liverpool Playhouse last night.

(1)  Globe Theatre on Tour

Liverpool’s privileged to be given the opportunity to see this production before its summer season in the Globe, especially since this is the first of these touring exhibitions to pitch up here. Rather than offer a more conventional staging, designer Jonathan Fensum and the Globe’s artistic director Dominic Dromgoole have attempted as best they can to recreate the unique open air experience of seeing a Globe production within a proscenium arch theatre. They’ve achieved this by recreating, simplified, a section of the Globe’s stage as the set and keeping the house lights up in auditorium for the duration  so that the production becomes more of a communal experience rather than something which is simply being presented to us.

(2)  The Audience

But for much of the show, normal rules applied. At the real Globe the actors often have to fight against the mass of people and the usual environmental noises of the Southbank, interacting with them to keep the interest up just as would have happened in Shakespeare’s day. As in London, part of the action happens within the stalls, the characters running in an out of the audience, playing music. Yet for much of the show unless they were reacting to story or performances, the audience was so quiet and attentive I could actually hear the man sitting next to me breathing. Believe me, this isn’t a complaint. After my rubbish audience experiences (which to some extent included the Globe itself) being able to concentrate on the actors without a couple of rudesters having a chat nearby was an utter pleasure.

(3)  The Prices

The other way the conventional theatre won out is in the ticket prices. The Globe replicates the economies of scale of the 1600s, the Groundlings in the yard, closest to the action paying a fiver, the prices increasing with the comfort of the seating. At the Playhouse, the best seats in the stalls were £17 on a weekday. I paid £15. The cheap seats in the gods were a tenner. Again, this isn’t a complaint. I got my money’s worth.  Sitting in a relatively comfy seats is certainly preferable to standing on concrete for three hours. But I wonder if the company had considered playing a concert venue like the old Royal Court in Liverpool, without seating in the stalls, so that more people could stand at the edge of the stage, justifying a more Jacobean pricing structure.

(4)  The Jig

The audience didn’t seem to know what to do with the jig at the end. At the actual Globe, it’s a moment of gleeful release in which the audience claps in time to this sudden burst of action from the cast, in which the temporary (if artificial) community we’ve developed across the three hours passage of the production offers a final farewell. At the Playhouse, as the jig began the audience just viewed it as part of the production, an esoteric addition. I was desperate to clap along as I even do when watching past productions on blu-ray (yes, indeed), but the group mentality got to me, so I simply tapped along with my foot. But there were smiles, we all seemed to enjoy it as did the actors, so perhaps that’s enough.

(5)  Who’s in it from Doctor Who?

You'll no doubt be as pleased as I am to discover that my unbroken run of seeing plays at the theatre with actors who’ve been in Doctor Who is still unbroken. To the Tardis Index File, go:

Brid Brennan (Chorus / Queen Isabel)

Was the Visionary in DW: The End of Time.

Sam Cox (Pistol)

Was Detective Inspector Bishop in DW: The Idiot's Lantern.

At Big Finish:

James Lailey (Earl of Westmoreland / Captain Macmorris) was Minister Pryce in Excelis Rising and The Stone's Lament.

 Jamie Parker (King Henry V) was Wulfric in Big Finish's Leviathan and Major Richter in BFA: The Architects of History.

 Roger Watkins (Constable of France / Governor of Harfleur) was Garstang in the Gracless spin-off series.

"some prolonged arguments"

TV David Simon has a blog. On the 16th April he suggested something which has raised as many eyebrows as when Stephen Poliakoff said in the Radio Times that his favourite TV show was the first season of Doctor Who in 1963.
"To be clear: I don’t think the Wire has all the right answers. It may not even ask the right questions. It is certainly not some flawless piece of narrative, and as many good arguments about real stuff can be made criticizing the drama as praising it. But yes, the people who made the Wire did so to stir actual shit. We thought some prolonged arguments about what kind of country we’ve built might be a good thing, and if such arguments and discussions ever happen, we will feel more vindicated in purpose than if someone makes an argument for why The Wire is the best show in years. (“Buffy,” by the way, was the correct answer to that particular bracketfest.)"
My emphasis.  Take that The Guardian.  Obviously there's a certain element of finding modesty in this.  It's not really comparing like for like.  But now we all want to know what he really thought of Buffy's disappointing takes on alcohol and drugs (Beer Bad and Doublemeat Palace).  Cue several hundred YouTube mash-ups.

Bebe Neuwirth and Christina Ricci in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Theatre Bebe Neuwirth and Christina Ricci are appearing as Titannia and Hermia in an off-Broadway production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Not everything has been going to plan:
"On the night The (New York) Observer attended, a fire alarm set off by an overactive haze machine served to further drown out Shakespeare’s poetry. Only when the sound of sirens outside stopped the show did the audience stop laughing. Lying on the stage, Taylor Mac, as Puck, asked, “Does anyone know any campfire songs?”

"Returning from a dinner meeting to watch the show’s second half, Mr. Kulick was surprised to see a gaggle of firemen tramping into his lobby. One turned to him and said, “Haze machine, right? We’ve seen this before.”
Tickets available here should you be in the area. In this video, costume Designer Andrea Lauer discusses the design process. "I know, circuses!"

“Haze machine, right?"

Theatre Bebe Neuwirth and Christina Ricci are appearing as Titannia and Hermia in an off-Broadway production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Not everything has been going to plan:
"On the night The (New York) Observer attended, a fire alarm set off by an overactive haze machine served to further drown out Shakespeare’s poetry. Only when the sound of sirens outside stopped the show did the audience stop laughing. Lying on the stage, Taylor Mac, as Puck, asked, “Does anyone know any campfire songs?”

"Returning from a dinner meeting to watch the show’s second half, Mr. Kulick was surprised to see a gaggle of firemen tramping into his lobby. One turned to him and said, “Haze machine, right? We’ve seen this before.”
Tickets available here should you be in the area. In this video, costume Designer Andrea Lauer discusses the design process. "I know, circuses!"

All's Well That Ends Well dual authorship?

All's Well That Ends Well may have been co-authored by Thomas Middleton according to Oxford scholars:
"The research by Prof Maguire and Dr Emma Smith, from Oxford University's English faculty, suggests that the playwright Thomas Middleton, a contemporary of Shakespeare's, appears to be the likely candidate.

"Writers have their own distinctive literary "fingerprints" - a kind of stylistic DNA - and a highly-detailed analysis of the language in the play shows "markers" strongly linked to Middleton.

"The rhyming and rhythms of sections of the play, the phrasing, spelling and even individual words suggest the involvement of Thomas Middleton."
At least it's a co-author. The last thing we'd need is for something to fall from the canon at this late stage. I hope the Arden edition isn't close to completion.

how to make a better cup of instant coffee

Adventure with Instant Coffee

Beverages Still by far the most read or at least visited post on this blog is this review of Lyons's attempt to put fresh coffee in bags with one of the longest comments threads outside of some Doctor Who thing.

Here's something else I've discovered.

Most instant coffee is awful.  The reasons are generally because it is instant coffee, but often it's because the amount of granuals required for a decent cup varies with the brand and since in these hard times we all tend to shift about depending on what's cheapest at the supermarket, we're never entirely sure how heaped a typical spoonful needs to be.

Some manufacturers like Starbucks do put a measured portion in a sachet of what they think is the right amount, even instructing us on how much water is required but even then, under normal circumstances, it always seems wrong, or the coffee's still horrible because it's instant.  The only Starbucks VIA I can stand, and actually really rather like is the Italian Roast.

I have, however, lately been using an excellent way to make all of them taste less objectionable.  In fact, this process not only means they have a kick but sometimes, on rare occasions, even have something of the ground coffee taste about them (without the grind).

There's probably some scientific reason for this to do with atoms interacting or whatnot but as I only have an Art A-Level I'll leave that to people who know what they're talking about.  For a change.

Here's how to make a better cup of instant coffee.

(1)  Boil the kettle.

(2)  Select a cup rather than a mug (you can always have another one).

(3)  Let the kettle finish boiling and then just leave it for a minute.

(4)  Pour the water into the empty cup.

(5)  Spoon instant coffee in.  Or empty the sachet if this is VIA.

(6)  Stir.

Or the synopsis:  stir the coffee into the cup after the hot water.

Now this is where I stop.  I much prefer black coffee because of the caffeine kick so I don't actually know if the following steps help or hinder.  Experiment.

(7)  Add sugar.

(8)  Stir.

(9)  Add milk and cream

(10)  Stir.  Again.

For some reason the coffee tastes nicer.  I've never understood why.  Perhaps because it isn't scorched or something?  Oh well, anyway, that's it.  Try it and let me know how you get on.

Unless everyone does this already.  In which case, carry on.

"a long battle for relevancy"

Obituary Facts has died. The Chicago Tribune offers this tribute:
"To the shock of most sentient beings, Facts died Wednesday, April 18, after a long battle for relevancy with the 24-hour news cycle, blogs and the Internet. Though few expected Facts to pull out of its years-long downward spiral, the official cause of death was from injuries suffered last week when Florida Republican Rep. Allen West steadfastly declared that as many as 81 of his fellow members of theU.S. House of Representatives are communists.

Facts held on for several days after that assault — brought on without a scrap of evidence or reason — before expiring peacefully at its home in a high school physics book. Facts was 2,372."
You will be missed by us all. Hopefully History will be with us a bit longer [via].

"Oh hold on it's ... it's ..."

Music The other morning during my bran flakes I watched a South Bank Show from 2006 about Romeo and Juliet.  As is often the case with old recordings from commercial television, the adverts are just as fascinating as the programmes because of who you might bump into. There's often a moment when you think, "I know that face ..." or "She's somebody ..." and "Oh hold on it's ... it's ..."

It's Paloma Faith in one of those "I can't believe how cheap a Polo is" car adverts giving a rather intense performance entirely unlike the eccentric showpersonship we now enjoy.

Born Paloma Faith Blomfield, just in case you, like me, thought it was her stage name, has actually had a relatively fruitful early acting career.  Not long after this she was an extra in Mayo, the Alistair McGowan detective series before bit parts in the short lived Casualty cop spin-off Holby Blue, the St Trinian's remake and playing the Devil's girlfriend in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

Then this happened:

Yes, it's definitely her isn't it?

Globe to Globe festival's Hamlet.

The Hamlet portion of the Globe to Globe festival at Shakespeare's Globe is from Lithuania. Andrius Mamontovas, one of the country's great rock stars was asked to play Hamlet in 1996 and although he lacked any prior knowledge of the play or its playwright he saw it as an excellent way of smuggling in messages and music which were banned under Soviet control, the play itself having been banned by Stalin before his death.

 He's been playing the part ever since.  In the video embedded with this article, the BBC art correspondent David Sillito meets Mamontovas on his home turf and in an entertaining walk and talk along a local street, Mamontovas describes what the play means to him, the conversation interspersed with moments from the closet scene with his Hamlet attempting to shoo the ghost of his father away with a spade.

But the play is resonant throughout that part of the world, it seems.  As Tom Bird, festival director explains, "the most famous footballer in Armenia is Henrikh Mkhitaryan and his middle name is Hamlet. And no, Hamlet isn't Armenian for Hamish; it's Hamlet, the Dane. It's incredible it's seeped in to everything."

"Child. Bongo, Rory, Twang and Boots"

TV For years before video, before the internet, one of the creepiest, scariest yet mistiest memories from my childhood was of a blue lion with a guitar. As I've subsequently discovered it was from Animal Kwackers, one of those insane series which it transpires everyone of a certain age remembers.

 Now it's out on dvd, and John Williams of Tachyon TV has (presumably) endured all thirty-seven episodes for this review:
"Much of the weirdness of the show is in the retrospective eye of the present-day viewer. If we’re rational about it, I’m sure we all realise that Animal Kwackers is a fairly straightforward implementation of Piaget’s ideas about educating children through their preoperational stage of magical thinking as represented in his book The Moral Judgment of the Child. Bongo, Rory, Twang and Boots are textbook tools of cognitive development, helping to ‘build’ the child’s knowledge and moral ideas through observation of the helpful, altruistic actions of the Kwackers. Unfortunately, in the neo-Piagetian landscape we now inhabit, the Kwackers leave us, technically speaking, fucked up and fearful."
... and in thirty years the children of today will be having similar conversations about ZingZillas.

Steve Lyons’s Day of the Cockroach

Audio Steve Lyons’s Day of the Cockroach returns to first principles with a relatively simple base under siege adventure which begins with the Doctor and friends standing in a tunnel over the mutilated body of a soldier, quickly and inevitably accused of murder by his colleagues and shipped off to captivity and interrogation. Slowly details of the status quo emerge. They’re trapped in a nuclear bunker, amongst some very frightened humans who’ve just heard a four minute warning heralding an atomic war. Except, it’s also 1982 and even the Whoniverse, that didn’t happen.

The marketing synopsis is surprisingly coy on the topic given the play’s title, but on top of the all pervading sense of dread, the complex is also overrun with giant cockroaches (an interesting scheduling choice from AudioGo given last month’s audio exclusive was also about an infestation of mutant creepy crawlies) which gives the story a vibe not unlike The Ark in Space, though the cast waiting to be picked off, apart from the military contingent, are generally from the ruling classes rather than scientists, the local mayor and a city councillor amongst the potential victims, both unlucky to be touring the bunker when the emergency occurred.

Lyons has been one of the more prolific Who spin-off writers across the years, contributing at least a couple of stories to each of the major lines through the wilderness decades and beyond, including one of my all time favourites, The Witch Hunters (First Doctor meets the Salem trials). He’s also presently a contributor to the Doctor Who Adventures strip and it's that strip's clear narrative and characterisation which he brings to Day of the Cockroach, allowing some space for political rumination but mainly providing an entertaining romp.

Arthur Darvill’s been one of the range’s busiest readers and with a few exceptions, there’s always something extra-specially more authentic about having one of the main cast reading these as evidenced by his uncanny rendering of Amy's accent and the Doctor's absent-minded chicanery. But he clearly enjoys voicing all of the characters, giving the mayor some Boris bluster and a slightly satirical twang to the army officers. His shift between them and Rory once again demonstrates that his characterisation of Mr Williams is very much a set of choices, he’s not simply “being himself” as his reputation might have it. He’ll be missed when he’s gone.

Doctor Who: Day of the Cockroach by Steve Lyons is published by AudioGo on the 3rd May 2012.  Review copy supplied.

"conjectural recreations"

Travel  When I wrote about Thames Town in China a few weeks ago, little did I expect to stumble upon something even closer to my interests.  Meet Shakespeare Country Park in Maryruyama, Japan.  As the architects explain:
"Completed in 1997, the Park displays a range of buildings and landscapes characteristic of Elizabethan England. Among them are replicas of the original Mary Arden’s House and Shakespeare's Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon; conjectural recreations of the original Stratford Market Cross and of 'New Place', the house in Stratford to which Shakespeare retired at the end of his working life; and a full size wind-mill. The buildings are grouped round a village green with duck pond, stocks and maypole."
Yes, but are there ducks in the duckpond?  Perhaps the most unusual building is this room shaped like a chapel with a replica of Shakespeare's bust from above his grave at/in the Holy Trinity in Stratford, presumably a memorial of some sort.  Or to celebrate his birthday, given their proximity.  HBWS.

"a new name"

Film It's official. When the Cornerhouse in Manchester re-opens in its new home, housing cinema, art space and theatre, it won't still be called Cornerhouse.
"We're working with a Manchester branding agency on a new name," said Moutrey who refused to divulge who had won the job which was put out to tender in December. "Lots of people won't like it, some people will."
As the linked article notes, the new venue on First Street will still have a corner which makes the change of name a bit pointless, the bizarre destruction of a famous nationally known brand.

"I realised one day that vinyl could be replaced"

Music Due to a mix-up at US customs, Ed Vulliamy's entire vinyl collection, some sixteen hundred albums, a life's work was destroyed. He's now trying rebuild the memories:
"The fightback began when I realised one day that vinyl could be replaced. Over coffee, my friend Paul Gilroy handed me six albums by Neil Young, Sly Stone, the Beatles, Mike Bloomfield's Electric Flag, Stoneground and Poco from his own collection. The restoration had begun. My partner Victoria sought out Polly on the Shore by Trees for a birthday treat. An Italian friend, Allegra Donn, presented me with Traffic's John Barleycorn Must Die, signed for her by Steve Winwood. With people like Paul, Vic and Allegra reacting like this, I already started to feel a richer man than before."
Not quite the same, but I inflicted a similar disaster on myself at the turn of the last decade when I junked a large percentage of my self-recorded VHS collection, years worth of diligently usually setting the video while I was out.

I needed to make room, but on reflection, I really should have been more careful about what I was losing.  When I do find the odd thing, a drama is released on dvd or documentary turns up again on television, I think I probably cherish it more than when it was simply sitting on tape in boxes gathering dust.

This is Sea Odyssey

Liverpool Life Chaos. I’m standing on Lime Street in Liverpool outside an Irish-American pub with the Statue of Liberty on the exterior and all around people are scattering left and right and looking up with a mix of apprehension and fear. But it’s not Liberty that’s causing this chaos, this isn’t Ghostbusters II, but as you can see above the massive shape of a man in an aqualung. This is Sea Odyssey, an arts adventure playing out across the streets of Liverpool this weekend, but because of work and transport, this is the only moment when I manage to catch a glimpse of some of it.

And just a glimpse, because amid, the cameras, the crowds, the volunteers asking for those cameras and crowds to step to one side to let the entourage through, despite its enormous size there isn’t much time to take in its reality as I find myself caught between Uncle’s forward motion and the man behind me angrily pushing me out of the way.  I spend as much of the time looking at the kerb trying not to trip over as looking up and only manage to take a few haphazard photographs myself before Uncle is gone, such as is it with this kind of street puppetry.

But there’s no denying the achievement or the fabulous incongruity of seeing this alien shape within such a familiar urban setting. I know that he’s walking to meet his niece, the Little Girl Giant and her pet dog Xolo, taking them a message from the wreck of Titanic and others have photographs of her progress. It’s the kind of narrative made for the modern era, initiated by the artists, in this case Royale De Luxe, but only properly pieced together after the fact by its witnesses, the public and the media, most of whom won’t be able to see all of it live.

From their photography, you can see the mechanics of the pieces, supported by cranes and animated by members of the theatre group in the exterior structure, the Lilliputians, whose acrobatics provide extra entertainment.  They bring humanity to these otherwise lifeless mannequins, making them speak.  Making them breath.  Allowing them to rest too, reposing when required in a deck chair or Uncle's choice of the red White Star Line container which will be his present and where he was outside St George's Hall just before I just about greeted him.

Then he’s gone, up towards Renshaw Street and the mass is wondering what to do next. Some people decide to follow him, some scatter towards empty bus stops and Lime Street Station is invaded. As I turn to walk up Copperas Hill, I almost bump into a girl who’s rooted to the spot still looking towards the sky. She’s grinning. “Wasn’t that amazing?” she says, obviously because she needs to say something to someone, her voice filled with awe. I smile too, realising her reaction is what all of this pandemonium has been about.