Sunday, October 29, 2017

The trees in Princes Street Gardens were resplendent in Autumn colours as I passed through on my way to see The Death of Stalin

The film is a brilliant bit of comedy forged from the not at all funny jockeying for power amongst Khrushchev, Malenkov et al after uncle Joe kicked the bucket.

I was a bit disappointed with the National Theatre's much vaunted production of Hedda Gabler.  I'm not too sure why.  The Festival Theatre was not full and the mostly empty set stretched over the entire width of its very large stage.  Both factors I thought worked against the creation of the sort of atmosphere that the drama needs.  They might also have given some thought to the sightlines.  Not seeing the action on one side of the stage was annoying.

Our Fathers at the Traverse had a good theme to examine.  How to relate to those you love when you don't share their beliefs.  Two atheist sons of clerics in this case.  Alas I found their examination somewhat boring.

Thank God then for The Real Thing which gave me a thoroughly enjoyable evening in the theatre.  Stoppard writes with wit and energy whirling the English language around like an F1 driver.  A man who cares as much as I do for the proper treatment of the gerund and would never say less when fewer is required gets my vote every time.  But the play is not all shiny verbal surface. There is content.  His portrayal of the struggle to handle emotions and relationships and come out bruised but unbeaten moves even more than it entertains.   

I was moved too by Losing Vincent.  The publicity for this film was all about the vast team of artists who had worked on the painting of every frame.  So I went out of curiosity to see that, and indeed the form of the film is impressive giving us Van Gogh's glorious brush strokes throughout.  But the story of Armand's search for the truth about Van Gogh's death (whether that search really took place or not) was fascinating and painted a moving portrait of a lonely man who like other artists never saw his genius recognised.

I was down by Silverknowes golf course the other day, not to play though I must renew acquaintance with it sometime, but drawn out by the fine Autumn weather for a stroll along to Cramond.  It was windy enough to persuade me to put my cap in my pocket for fear of losing it but the sun shone, the views were magnificent and I felt jolly healthy at the end of it.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Elgin cathedral is a ruin but it has lots of fascinating bits and pieces on display.  My favourite was the stone figure of an archbishop from the top of his tomb.  The label on its case explains that it would have been highly coloured when first created but of course the paint has not survived the centuries.  However at the press of a button and by lighting magic the colour is restored.

Colour was pertinent to the touring production of A Streetcar Named Desire that was on at the Kings last week.  The play is set New Orleans and its main protagonist, Blanche, is a lonely alcoholic remnant of plantation society who looks back with regret on the days that there was a coloured girl to cope with drudgery.  She has been forced to throw herself on the mercy of her sister in a white working class area of the city. There is talk of niggers in the text.  We are clearly in a racially divided society.  It seems perverse then to practice colour blind casting in that context.  But they did.

I had other slight reservations about the show but the fact that the first half ran for an hour and fifty minutes and didn't seem a jot too long testifies to it's being a pretty good production.

The Traverse runs its Play, Pie and a Pint series of short lunchtime plays twice a year.  I took a raincheck on the Spring series but I've seen the first two of their Autumn offering and they've both been excellent.

Pleading presents a young couple in an Asian jail, heroin having been found in their luggage as they arrived from the Australian leg of their backpacking holiday.  Too bad it's one of those places where they execute drug smugglers.  A local lawyer is trying to help them.  They plead ignorance. They tell one story.  They tell another.  Aspects of their relationship are revealed.  Through the lawyer the prosecution offer a deal.  Plead innocent and die or plead guilty and spend life in the distinctly unappetising jail. They have differing views.  The truth comes out. Serious stuff.

Death figured also, not surprisingly given its title, in Love and Death in Govan and Hyndland but here with much comic effect.  It's a one man show in which the actor, Stephen Clyde, brilliantly takes us through his mother's terminal diagnosis and death with love and humour.  He moves skilfully from character to character; mother, doctor, senior consultant, auntie, brother and himself never putting a foot wrong.  It's very funny and ultimately life affirming.

Cockpit is a brave revival by The Lyceum of a brave play that hasn't been seen since its first airing in 1948.  There's a sympathetic and sensitive review here

I've had the great pleasure of listening to The Rite of Spring not once but twice within the last week.  The RSNO played it at the Usher Hall and then the orchesta of Scottish Ballet at the Festival Theatre.  They of course were playing to accompany dancers in what I thought was a superb bringing into flesh of the music even though I couldn't see the logic that led Christopher Hampson from the first part of his interpretation to the second.  Claire didn't share my enthusiasm and has written amusingly about it.

In other ways I've been busy:  a talk about tartan, a talk about a Scottish contribution to the tea industry in Sri Lanka, the museum's Jacobite exhibition, the City Art Centre's Edinburgh Alphabet exhibition, a couple of Spanish films (one good one not), a French film (enjoyable but about which I can recall more or less nothing), a round of golf, an afternoon of sax ensemble, a U3A Italian group (good fun), the start of an adult education Gaelic course (which promises to be entertaining but challenging).  These plus my regular band and sax lesson have kept me from being bored.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

A picture is said to be worth a thousand words so I'm going to save myself some typing by posting a few pictures of my recent trip to Northern parts.  But first I'll break my golden silence by rabbiting on about the other excitements that have got me out of the house in recent weeks.

The Lyceum opened its season with What Shadows, a play from Birmingham Rep about Enoch Powell.  Ian McDiarmid's performance as Powell was terrific but the play was somewhat diffuse and went round in circles that were not always very interesting.  A tighter focus would have been welcome but I couldn't have been more gripped by the famous rivers of blood speech.

The Attic Collective's third and last show of the year was the eagerly awaited (by me) The Threepenny Opera.  So eagerly awaited was it that I sacrificed the first evening of a saxophone weekend to see it.  Alas I was a wee bit disappointed.  Some of the performances were exceptionally good.  McHeath, Polly Peachum and Mr Peachum in particular, and the on-stage band were great and I have to admit that the presentation's use of the full stage, the boxes and bits of the stalls was ingenious.  But.  Maybe it was just me.

The following morning I rose at dawn and headed for The Burn in Edzell to take part in the rest of the saxophone weekend.  I'd guessed that breakfast would be around 8 and arrived in time for that but I was in fact an hour early.  No matter, I rested.  The weekend went very well.  The Burn is lovely and proved much more comfortable in a bright September than it was in my previous visit in a cold and dismal February.  After the Sunday afternoon session instead of coming home I headed North of which more later.

I came home a week later in time for a super concert by the SNJO.  They were celebrating the music of Django Reinhart so they'd cut down on brass and added guitars, violin and accordion to the line-up.  A friend who was there felt that the two musical forces didn't combine well and came over as two separate units but I couldn't disagree more.  One feature of particular interest to me was that the accordion was played by Karen Street.  She's a lady whose arrangements for saxophone groups I've played quite often, mostly down south.

That concert was packed (helped partly by the SNJO's policy of free seats for school groups) unlike another fascinating concert by the RSNO.  This was of modern Chinese music by a chap called Xiaogang Ye who was there in person.  Although one piece made extensive use of a dozen or more Chinese percussion instruments his work is very much in tune with Western styles.  Indeed comparing his music with Benjamin Britten's Sea Interludes which was the only non Chinese piece on the programme I felt they could have come from the same pen.

It was a very enjoyable concert but the most sparsely attended I've ever seen in the Usher Hall.  The stalls could not have been much more than a quarter full and from where I was I could see about one third of the dress circle in which sat one solitary punter.  It was a real shame but there were quite a few Chinese in the audience, including the wife of a chap I met at the Napier jazz summer school, so at least the local Chinese community supported it.

My destination when I left The Burn was Banff.  I wanted to take an indirect touristy route but had forgotten to bring a map.  So I fiddled about with Google maps on my phone to decide on intermediate points and then connected up my GPS gadget.  That led me round and round the mulberry bush before I eventually found myself on a recognisable route to Aboyne.  It was pretty bleak and hilly and at one point my clutch was emitting burning smells and the engine was revving like fury while I crept up a hill.  I didn't relish being stuck for the night out here (no phone signal!) but fortunately after a recovery period at the top of a hill progress was resumed without incident and I rolled into my hotel just in time to eat before the kitchen closed. (They don't dine late in these parts.)

Banff Beach
Protecting Banff Town Hall
Duff House
Typical Landscape on Buchan Coast
Despite appearances a working trawler
Fraseburgh Beach

Friday, September 08, 2017

The town has been pretty quiet since the Festival ended and I've been slowly recovering from hyper-activity by practising sloth. 

Normal service is slowly being resumed.  The band has started up again as have my sax lessons.  I've put the clarinet back in its box so my Wednesday evenings are free for other things.  I've booked up various dance, music and theatre shows for the Autumn and I'm off for a saxophone weekend and a wee staycation shortly.

Some of my chums from the Spanish class I went to for years are now meeting monthly for coffee and chat and that's a rhythm I think I can keep up.  I've hardly spoken a word of Spanish for three years and when I've tried there's been a degree of Italian interference so a monthly douche will do me good. To blur my language landscape further I've signed up for a Gaelic course. 

It's also been a good time to catch up on exhibitions that have been running all summer. I caught the end of one at the Museum on the fascinating subject of an Egyptian tomb and what was found in it.  It made me feel that mummification might be a nice alternative to cremation when the time comes.  I also saw the exhibition Beyond Caravaggio.  I was struck by the modern feel of many of the figures in the paintings and the gorgeous capture of light by so many of those who learned from and/or copied the man himself.

I'm also trying to reduce the height of my books waiting to be read stack.  I've got through half a dozen ranging in subject matter from the history of computer programming (an enthralling read) to a spy story set in Paris ( not enthralling at all).

Like the rest of the family and all his friends I was relieved that the Houston floods in the wake of hurricane Harvey had left Ewan pretty well unscathed and that the subsequent hurricanes are heading elsewhere.  By the way I assume the hurricane namers have never heard of Irma La Douce.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

I've seen several shows as a result of having a flyer thrust at me in the street.  It's as a good a method of random selection as any and none turned out to be turkeys.

My last was one of these, a musical with a simple story efficiently told and staged.  A young couple meet, discover they are both murderers, team up and dispatch a bunch of hitchhikers, find themselves falling in love, consider going straight, too late the law is close on their tail.  They commit suicide. The end.

Sounds a load of cobblers which I suppose it is but it was an entertaining hour and quite sweet.  It met with a rapturous reception from a full house of around 150 punters at this their last of 26 performances so they must have been doing something right.  It was called Buried by the way.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Adam is the exact opposite of Eve.  The gender change is female to male, the timescale is years not decades, the theatrical presentation is large and open not small and intimate, the acting is noisy and vigorous not quiet and reflective.  But the impact is the same.  You feel for them deeply and rejoice in their eventual liberation whilst quietly echoing Archie Rice's punchline "thank God I'm normal".  It's superb.  Too late now to see it in the Fringe but both Adam and Eve will be reprised at The Citizens in September.  Go west young man.

It's probably pointless talking about music and the hopes I had of learning much from the talk given by Sally Beamish and Evelyn Glennie at the Book Festival were unfulfilled, not to say dashed.

Another disappointment was Rain.  This was an object lesson, masterclass even in how many ways you can run about a stage for over an hour to very loud music without saying anything.  I couldn't even work out by the end why it was called Rain.

A much more jolly and rewarding hour was spent in the company of Nicolas Hytner former director of the National Theatre.  He's written a book about his twelve year tenure, some of which I'd heard read on Radio 4 so not all his anecdotes were new to me but even second time round they were fun.

Seagulls was also great fun but raised a question in my mind.  Was the intention to illuminate Chekhov's play The Seagull?  I hope not because it didn't.  But I suspect the play was just a hook to hang their anarchic and surreal vision on and in that it triumphantly succeeded.

The actress Harriet Walter has made something of a thing about performing male roles in Shakespeare's plays in recent years and shared her thoughts about that and other theatrical matters while promoting her book Brutus and other Heroines.  It was an interesting session though I can't say that I shared her enthusiasm for the all female Julius Caesar set in a female prison.

The Fringe is notorious nowadays for the number of stand-up comedy shows on offer, 144 pages in the programme against 106 for theatre.  I saw only one and even that was only half a comedy show.  The classicist, novelist and former comedian Natalie Haynes was at Blackwell's bookshop to publicise her rewriting of Oedipus the King as a novel and from Jocasta's point of view.  It was a mildly humorous presentation and I enjoyed her thesis equating Greek tragedy with soap opera.  I'd like to read Children of Jocasta but it will have to wait.

George Street's temporary installations were being torn down as I left Charlotte Square yesterday afternoon and scaffolding was being loaded onto trucks from a Bridges venue as I left Blackwell's in the evening.  That sad moment has arrived when it's all over till next year.  But not before I've seen my last show this afternoon.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

There's a Turkish rug in my hall, a souvenir of my one and only visit to Istanbul nearly thirty years ago.  The fascination of that city came flooding back listening to Bethany Hughes race through several centuries of its history with a nod here and there to its present state.  She spoke solidly and enthusiastically for an hour without a note.

She's written a book which I'm sure I will read with interest and pleasure sometime but I have more than half a dozen to consume first so I didn't buy Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities.

Gruffdog Theatre gave an impressive performance of Peer Gynt.  It's not a tale nor a play that particularly attracts me.  It was seeing the company on the Royal Mile that persuaded me to give it a go and I was well rewarded.

This is very much an ensemble piece.  All cast members are in a basic costume of white top, grey knickerbockers and black pumps.  That uniformity extends even to eye make-up. They add odd bits and pieces as required to change character and a cap passed from one actor to another passes on the role of Peer.  Four actors in all play him.   They work on a bare stage with precise and atmospheric lighting.  Three triangular slabs on castors each bearing three eight foot high pieces of timber are manipulated to identify places now and then, for example a room in a house, a ship and a shipwreck.  Even simpler devices instantly set a scene.

There is music: guitar, violin, drum and voice.    They form and unform groups.  They dash or slide or crawl or jump.  They manipulate a giant troll king puppet à la warhorse and a smaller one for the result of Peer's dalliance with the troll king's daughter.

The acting is great.  What more can I say?  It's a masterly piece of work.

I soon identified the voice, indistinct and muffled as it was, as that of Cassius Clay (or Muhammad Ali as he later became) as I took my seat in front of a square platform on which stood a young woman.  I was at One Step Before the Fall, classified in the Fringe programme as dance/physical theatre.

It was very, very physical.  She expended tremendous energy bobbing and weaving her way around what became with the addition of ropes a boxing ring.  She propelled herself from the ropes on one side to the other with such force that one rope broke and the fixtures went whizzing off.  Fortunately they hit no-one.  This was more hunting like a tiger than floating like a butterfly but it was great stuff, a truly impressive show and I musn't forget the atmospheric and highly charged singing and playing of her off-stage partner nor the tubular bell clanging out the rounds.

The actress in The Last Queen of Scotland gave a less physical but equally intense emotional performance.  She was powerful, passionate and above all truthful.  Were it not that she was in her twenties and the events she was concerned with happened over forty years ago you could believe it was her personal story.

The expulsion of the Asians from Uganda by Idi Amin brought the subject of the story to a housing scheme in Dundee where she grew up and nursed an obsession with her past that a journey back to Jinja helped her become free from.

Having watched those events in the seventies from next door in Kenya and having shared digs at university ten years earlier with an Asian from Jinja (we often wondered what became of him) I felt almost part of the story.

Christine Bovill brought the golden age of French chanson to George Street with an hour long programme of songs by Ferre, Becaud, Trenet, Barbara, Aznavour, Brel and Piaf.  All my favourites were there plus a couple I didn't know.  She sang them like a native, despite being a Glaswegian, revealed considerable knowledge of the genre and entertained us with personal anecdotes in between numbers.