Saturday, July 08, 2017

racing demon at the theatre royal bath…

Moira and I went along to the Theatre Royal Bath last night to see a revival of David Hare’s play “Racing Demon”, first performed at the National Theatre in 1990.
We’d previously been to see a production at the Theatre Royal, but there’d been a BIT of gap between yesterday evening and the last time we were there… just a FORTY-FOUR YEAR gap!!
On the face of it, the idea of going to see a play about the Church of England (the establishment church?), society, politics, morality and such like might not seem like the best way to enjoy a Friday evening… but that was far from the case. David Hare was a playwright who emerged from the left-wing theatre movement of the 1960s and 70s… someone who was clearly angered by the injustices, as he saw it, of the capitalist system and wanting to see a ‘fairer society’.  
Yes, whilst the play was inevitably ‘dated’ on some matters (eg. regarding the ordination of female bishops and references to the poll tax), it felt very much a play of ‘our time’ – touching on such secular matters as (in addition to the spiritual): austerity; the ‘haves and have-nots’ of society; justice; morality; domestic violence; listening to and supporting people who feel they have no voice… and at a time when many still question the relevance of the Church in today’s world.
When he wrote the play, in the late 1980s, Hare felt that the Anglican Church provided subject matter that was archetypically English and, at worst, represented an old-fashioned institution, stuck in its dogmatic ways and struggling to adapt to ‘modern life’. From the programme notes, it appears that Hare respected many of the clergy he met in his researches, but was conscious of the best of them being “up against a bureaucratic system that worked in opposition to their talents”… with the Church appearing to have become increasingly irrelevant, “debating arcane matters of doctrine instead of looking outwards to fulfil the community’s spiritual needs”.
The play proved to be provocative, challenging, thought-provoking and, as far as we were concerned, still highly relevant today.

One of the prime reasons for going last night was to watch our lovely actor friend Sam Alexander perform…. and he didn’t disappoint (in his role playing Revd Donald ‘Streaky’ Bacon!).
Indeed, the whole cast were excellent… with David Haig quite brilliant as Revd Lionel Espy and Paapa Essiedu very impressive as the curate, Revd Tony Ferris.
A really excellent evening.
Photo: Paapa Essiedu as Revd Tony Ferris.

Friday, July 07, 2017

a man called ove…

I went to the Watershed yesterday afternoon to see Hannes Holm’s “A Man Called Ove” – based on Fredrick Backman’s novel about a grumpy old Swedish man named Ove (played in the film by Rolf Lassgard/Filip Berg as older/younger versions). The character is a widower (his lovely wife Sonja, played by Ida Engvoll, was the light of his life) and he’s recently been made redundant, aged 59, by the company he’s worked for for 43 years.
He has given up on life (literally).
He lives in a small estate upon which he has endeavoured to impose strict rules (introduced when he was chairperson of the local residents’ group)… he records incidents in his notebook about bad parking or about bikes being left unattended; he lists items people have borrowed from him (and demands their return); he criticises other people’s driving abilities… the list goes on, and on.
Actually, I could easily have played Ove in his grumpy mode without even having to act (and for half the money) (I think even look a bit like him?)! But, in fact, the Ove character really reminded me of my father (even more than me – which is saying something!) – organised, practical, community-helper… and, at times, something of a pig-headed, busy-body!
But, as well as the grumpy bits (indeed, often arising out Ove’s very grumpiness), there were some lovely, funny incidents – like him stopping talking to his best friend for ten years because he dared to buy a Volvo instead of a Saab!
Ove’s sad, lonely regime is shaken by the arrival of a pregnant Parvanah (an Iranian immigrant, excellently played by Bahar Pars) and her family, who move in next door… and a beautiful friendship develops.
I haven’t yet read the novel (but I definitely will, in due course).
Strangely, although I really enjoyed the film, I came away feeling just a little disappointed. Perhaps my expectations (after seeing the trailer) had been unreasonably high? I THOUGHT I would absolutely LOVE the film… but, in the event, it fell just a little short of my hopes and expectations.
Nevertheless (as the Watershed’s programme blurb puts it), “what emerges is a heartwarming, funny, and deeply moving tale of unreliable first impressions and a gentle reminder that life is sweeter when it’s shared”.

Friday, June 30, 2017

june 2017 books…

The Lake District Murder (John Bude): Yet another enjoyable, escapist, murder-mystery from the British Library Crime Classics. I think this is the fourth Bude novel I’ve read in this series (first published in 1935) and, true to form, the author seems to go out of his way to demonstrate the cleverness of his plots and the intricate thoroughness of his detective hero, Inspector Meredith, in this golden age of detective fiction. As usual with these books, they highlight the enormous changes that have taken place in our daily lives over the past 80 years or so: petrol at 1s 3d a gallon; a world of motor bikes and sidecars (and an absence of traffic); a time when Police Inspectors used to salute Superintendents and Chief Constables (perhaps they still do?); when murderers were hanged; when women were frequently portrayed in a somewhat feeble guise (eg. “she, feminine-like, threw a faint”!); when smoking was commonplace (especially pipes with certain gentlemen!); a time when you needed to check Encyclopedia Britannica for facts (no internet or google); when everyone (in this novel, at least) seemed to be constantly checking their watches or the church clock (so they could give the police accurate accounts of their movements etc); when people resorted to using proper (Bartholomew) maps, not sat navs; no television; no photocopiers; no emails/fax machines; no mobile phones; no digital photography; no DNA technology… and WW2 still hadn’t happened. You get the general picture!  
Prisoners Of Geography (Tim Marshall): A fascinating, brilliantly-researched book (published in 2015). The cover gives the following additional description of what it’s about: “Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You need To Know About Global Politics”… and that just about sums it up. It might not quite explain ‘everything’, but it does provide a coherent, geographical background to the issues facing world leaders today. The book is full of well-judged insights into such matters as Russia’s action in Ukraine; China’s struggle for maritime power; the USA’s highly favourable geographical circumstances and natural resource endowment; deeply embedded divisions and emotions across North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia; and (somewhat ironically given the Brexit vote) Europe’s reactions to the uncertainties and conflicts nearby – after more than 70 years’ peace and prosperity.
The Shape Of Water (Andrea Camilleri): This is my second Inspector Montalbano Mystery and I really like this character! As before, the action takes place in Sicily (amid delicious meals, corruption and the like)… the body of an engineer is discovered on a trash-shrewn site brimming with drug dealers and prostitutes. The coroner reckons he died of natural causes, but Inspector Montalbano isn’t prepared to close the case (much to annoyance of the local police chief, judge and bishop!). I really enjoyed it… and also found it brilliantly funny at times too. I’ll definitely look for more of these in the £3 bookshop!
The Ornatrix (Kate Howard): Set in 16th century Italy, this novel is essentially about issues of belonging, female identity and the perception of beauty. The main character, Flavia (who herself was born with a birthmark covering her face), becomes the ornatrix – hairdresser and personal maid – to Ghostanza (courtesan-turned-widow), whose white-lead painted face entrances Flavia and “whose beauty and cruelty are unmatched”. It’s a well-written, clever and frequently raw story about (as the book’s flysheet describes it) “desire, obsession and deceit”. Not exactly a “boys’ book” perhaps but, nevertheless, I quite enjoyed it.
In Case Of Emergency (Georges Simenon): First published in 1956, this is a self-portrait of a French defence counsel in his late forties. His successful career (frequently based on a series of dubious cases) has given him a life removing in a world of politicians, ambassadors, businessmen and fashionable women. It’s a world of opulence, privilege, power, control, obsession… and mistresses. His marriage isn’t what it was and he establishes a serious relationship with one of these mistresses (an ex-prostitute whose defence he had rigged). He knows it’s foolish… and, as he moves towards what he sees as a crisis in his life, he feels impelled to embark on as a secret diary – effectively, a dossier on himself. Strangely compelling.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

slack bay (ma loute)…

Yes, I know, choosing to go to the cinema on one of the hottest days of the year isn’t everyone’s idea of fun… but that’s what I did this afternoon! I wanted a break from all the sad frustrations and horror of the real world and felt that Bruno Dumont’s film (with a wealth of amazing French stars including Juliette Binoche - say, no more! - Fabrice Luchini and Valerie Bruni Tedeschi) now showing at the Watershed would be just the thing.
I was aware of the film’s background/story and was perfectly content to enjoy the bizarre, over-the-top, ridiculous romp that this film would undoubtedly be…
I wasn’t even put off by the postcard reviews on the entrance staircase that the Watershed encourages from its audience. These are just four of them: “Strange… very odd, macabre and funny”; “I hated it”; “One of the worst films I’ve ever seen” and “Funny, bizarre and clever”!  
I’ll try to outline the plot… albeit very briefly! Postcard-perfect seaside village in northern France in 1910… there’s a working class family (the Bruforts) – a lowly clan of fishermen (who also double as ferrymen to either row or CARRY people across the low waters that surround the dunes; there are the upper-class Van Peteghems, vacating for the summer; and there are two detectives investigating unsolved and mysterious disappearances. These detectives are played (literally) in the guise of Laurel and Hardy characters – one huge and one very slight individual, dressed in black suits and bowler hats.

I’m really not a great lover of slap-stick humour, but I REALLY enjoyed this film (and so, it seemed, did the rest of the audience)… wonderful timing, ludicrous incidents, complete and utter over-acting by all the adult members of the Van Peteghem family (I thought Fabrice Luchini was superb) and an absolutely ridiculous, exaggerated plot – which included good old-fashioned cannibalism plus a measure of gender-bending identity crises!! Don’t ask!
If I had one minor criticism, it would be its length (122 minutes)… I think it could have been 20 minutes shorter and still just as funny/crisp.
The film is theatrically extravagant and, at times, almost Pythonesque… and I know it won’t be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’, but I loved it (and laughed out loud on several occasions – sorry!).

Thursday, June 15, 2017

bristol pilgrimage 2017…

If you’re ever on the beautiful island of Iona, the weekly pilgrimage walk around the island is an experience not to be missed.
During the course of my 8-week stay there as a volunteer with the Iona Community in 2012, I bought Jane Bentley+Neil Paynter’s really excellent book “Around A Thin Place” (an Iona pilgrimage guide) and, as well as using it when I was on Iona, I have used it as a resource for my own Bristol pilgrimage version on three previous occasions (undertaken in September 2012, March 2014 and June 2015).
Yesterday, I decided to undertake a fourth ‘pilgrimage’ journey around Bristol (strangely, I thought I’d done more than this… but the blog never lies!).

This time, I broke up my route into eight sections or stops… pausing for reflections taken from the book, together with my own deliberations. Each time I’ve done this, I’ve used a completely different set of locations and, as on my previous walks, the weather was perfect.
As before, I related my stopping points with pilgrimage stops on Iona:
St Martin’s Cross/setting out on the road was Gaol Ferry Bridge; The Crossroads was the Cumberland Piazza (essentially land under the flyovers by Cumberland Basin); Dun I/High Point was the Clifton Suspension Bridge; The Hermit’s Cell was, perhaps a little incongruously, Clifton Cathedral (the Roman Catholic cathedral); St Columba’s Bay was the Harbour/Harbourside; The Machair was Queen Square; The Jetty was Temple Meads station;
and St Oran’s Chapel/Reilig Odhrain was God’s Garden (a grassed area beside the Cut).


I’ve been chatting to quite a few of Bristol’s homeless people over recent months and I found my final stop at God’s Garden particularly poignant. On Iona, St Oran’s Chapel was the place that the bodies of numerous kings were sent for burial – the end of the journey (literally)… the homecoming, as it were. God’s Garden was my final stop before arriving back at home, just up the road. But, for many of the homeless, God’s Garden IS home. Small, rough tents, belonging to these otherwise homeless people, have appeared over recent months. As you might imagine, it’s far from ideal but it does represent the nearest thing to home for many of them. It’s a very tough existence – made all the worse because of the frequent thefts of their ‘belongings’ or people causing deliberate damage to their tents… or even the risk of flooding (from the adjacent tidal Cut). Life is tough… everyone needs their dignity.
Within two minutes of leaving God’s Garden, I passed a roadsign declaring “Home Zone ENDS” (Home Zones are small local residential areas where traffic and pedestrians are mixed together – no pavements). In the circumstances, it seemed a particularly ironic, sad statement.
The day proved to be another challenging and thought-provoking time… and something that I will no doubt repeat in Bristol over the coming years.
This Celtic blessing, from the book, seemed to sum up my day rather nicely:
May God’s goodness be yours,
and well, and seven times well, may you spend your lives:
may you be an isle in the sea,
may you be a hill on the shore,
may you be a star in the darkness,
may you be a staff to the weak;
and may the power of the Spirit
pour on you, richly and generously,
today, and in the days to come.
Photos: just a few photographs from my day.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

my life as a courgette…

Taking a somewhat pessimistic view of the outcome of today’s general election (but, hey, maybe I’ll be proved wrong?!), I decided to cheer myself up yesterday by going to see Claude Barras’s “My Life As A Courgette”.
You might not have come across the film before, but I’m just telling you:
PLEASE, PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU SEE IT!
When I tell you that it’s an animation film – only 66 minutes long – featuring characters with enormous heads and that the leading individual is a nine year-old boy who calls himself “Courgette” (well, his mother used to call him that name), then you’d be excused for thinking that my enthusiasm was just a little over-the-top…
Courgette finds himself in a local orphanage after his alcoholic mother’s sudden death. There he meets a misfit group of children, each with their own emotional baggage and traumas to bear. But, with the help of the brilliantly supportive orphanage staff, the children find ways of getting on with their lives - and in relative harmony. Courgette’s world becomes even brighter with the arrival of young Camille…
It’s a PG film made for both children and adults (but, with all the tragic family backgrounds, my gut feeling is perhaps 10 years plus?).
The film deals with very difficult issues… but it still manages to be funny, tender, sensitive, uplifting and very beautiful. The music (by Sophie Hunger) is rather lovely too.
I didn’t (quite) cry, but critic Mark Kermode certainly did… and gave it a five star review.
I absolutely LOVED this film (and so will you)!
PS: When I originally saw the trailer, it came with sub-titles (and, with the pretty rapid dialogue, it probably meant that you’d be concentrating on the sub-titles rather than the animation?)… but the version I saw yesterday had been dubbed in English – which probably made it easier (for me) to digest/appreciate the film fully.

 

Saturday, June 03, 2017

golem…

Moira and I went along to the Bristol Old Vic last night to see Theatre Company 1927’s “Golem”… and we emerged feeling incredibly fortunate to have witnessed such a wonderful piece of extraordinary, inventive theatre.
Our good fortune was at Hannah+Felix’s expense (literally)… they had passed on their tickets to us after another engagement had cropped up (doubly sad, because I know they would both have enjoyed the performance enormously).
The 1927 Theatre production embraces technology, art, design, original film and animation projections (by Paul Barritt) with stunning, slick precision to tell director/writer Suzanne Andrade’s story about mass-technology and its effects on our lives - initially through the ‘character’ of a clay figure called Golem, who comes to life and begins to take on basis tasks that help simplify the life of its ‘owner’… and this Golem, in turn, is replaced by Golem 2… and then Golem 3 (a bit like iPhone 7?).
Technology gradually taking over.
It’s a brilliant blend of acting, music, projections and lighting… breathtakingly clever, witty and stunningly stylish. The acting (and the immaculate timing) is excellent.
The mingling of of live performance with animation and film is quite, quite magical.
As we approach another General Election, it’s perhaps a gentle reminder of some of the shortcomings and losers in this brave new world of ours! You know, the one where corporations and shareholders seem to be the only winners?!
Essentially, it’s a message about anti-consumerism and anti-technology/dreams becoming nightmares… and, obviously, as someone who a) still uses a pen or pencil to write notes, b) doesn’t own an iPad, c) has recently exchanged his BlackBerry for a very basic answer/call/text mobile phone and d) no longer owns a car, I can be excused for feeling somewhat superior and smug! Yeh, right!
It really was an extraordinary, colourful, intoxicating, unique evening of theatre – 90 non-stop minutes full of wonderful imagery and invention… and a modern fable.
PS: The 1927 Theatre Company is on tour with ‘Golem’ until 24 June. Today (3 June) is the last night at the Old Vic, but it’ll be showing at Ipswich, Oxford and Harrogate over the coming weeks. If you get a chance, PLEASE see this production… you DEFINITELY won’t regret it!