Saturday, June 24, 2017

I couldn't resist this beautiful bow tie at less than half its original price in the Scottish National Gallery shop a couple of months ago.  As is often the case I had gone in looking for a present for someone else and came out full of self indulgent guilt.

Guilt turned to frustration as its delicate soft silkiness defied my efforts to tie it.  Proud as I am of my tie tying prowess, demonstrated to the world in 1992 when unaided by mirrors I tied a bow tie on stage in the course of a performance this little beauty refused to be tamed.

But last week I managed it in response to an invitation to a party where dressing up was encouraged.  Disappointingly, apart from the hosts the only people making a sartorial effort were the theatrically connected.  The rest of you - pathetic.

Now pathetic is an adjective you might well apply to Willie Loman, hero of Miller's Death of a Salesman but that would be cruel.  The American dream hasn't worked out for Willie or for his sons and the story is gut wrenchingly told in a very fine production from the Royal and Derngate theatre currently touring the country.  I'd forgotten just how harrowing it is and reflecting on Arthur Miller's other plays, or at least those I know, I marvel at his capacity to enable us to experience catharsis through the tragedy of his protagonists.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Music is Torture was an entertaining idea that rather lost its way.  The story is of a guy who runs a little recording studio where he's been trying unenthusiastically to produce an album with the same band for years and is just scraping a living.  In the past he'd had pretentions as a musician himself and produced a record but didn't make the big time, or even the not too small time.  Now he works and sleeps in his studio and is on the verge of being evicted.

A letter comes from a lawyer who tells him that his long ago recorded number is being used by the CIA in their enhanced interrogation sessions and offering him the chance to sign a contract to recover royalties.  His scruples don't take too long to be overcome given his dire need for a new pair of sneakers.

So far so amusing but subsequently we have a narrative that dribbles along fairly aimlessly.  The band behind the glass appear in orange jumpsuits as eventually does our hero but this denouement if that's what it was didn't make much sense to me.  But the show on the whole was fun.

The RSNO's penultimate concert of the season was not torture.  Indeed it was very good and I especially enjoyed Jennifer Johnston singing Mahler's Rückert-Lieder.  That was a pleasant surprise because I wouldn't say it's my thing.  Thomas Søndergård, who conducted, was announced as the successor to Peter Oundjian as music director.  He'll take over at the end of next season and judging by the applause from both audience and orchestra is a popular choice.

Scotland's most written about monarch is surely Mary Queen of Scots.  Just have a glance at this Wikipedia article to see how much there is.  It's a torrent that shows no sign of abating; one of the latest is Linda McLean's play, Glory on Earth, which deals with her relationship with John Knox.

Encounters between the vivacious young catholic queen and the priggish protestant reformer would seem fertile soil for cutting dialogue and lively drama but for me this production fell flat.  It looked lovely though and having Mary's four Marys (of whom there were actually six) playing various Scottish lords was an interesting idea.  Having said that a friend suggested the female voices didn't help provide the contrasts that the show sorely lacked. 

Edinburgh enjoyed more than its average June rainfall all in one 36 hour period last week.  Here's Princes St Gardens the morning after.

The rain stopped handily in time for QMU's open air As You Like It.  The play was presented in a delightful garden in Dunbar's Close off the Canongate.  They gave us a suitably nasty usurper, a cheerful usurpee, an engaging fool, a kind and honest hero and a jolly smart Rosalind who is of course the real hero of the piece.

It was very well done but the tiny plastic stools that we were given to sit on were very uncomfortable and come the interval I couldn't bear the thought of  further posterior punishment so I left.

That made it the first of  three shows that I have failed to see through to the end this month.  That's three more than in the last decade or so.  I was tired when I went to La Bohème and didn't much like it or the glass of  plonk I couldn't finish, so I left.  Milonga on the other hand was good but I felt that the second hour of a tango show was not going to be radically different from the first and that perhaps my fill had been had.  After all it's only five years since I spent a tango watching evening in Buenos Aires.

Far from the Pampas is this lovely farmhouse where I spent a weekend with several chums and various teens belonging to them.
Here's the view of the Cumbrian countryside from the garden.  The little castellated tower is, or rather was in the day, an outside toilet.
It was an eating and drinking weekend but we managed a walk or two and an excursion on a local heritage railway.  I was back in a different part of Cumbria the following weekend for a saxophone course that also involved eating and drinking but no walking.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The closing words of Jo Clifford's play War in America were "Be kind!"  Now one knows that one has to be cruel to be kind but perhaps not to the extent of the nastiness, cruelty and sado-masochism culminating in death and invasion by terrorist gunmen that had gone before.

We'd gone to see the show to support the excellent scheme for young actors that is The Attic Collective and to get a peek into the Old Royal High School which is threatened with conversion into an unlovely hotel, though it may be be saved from the forces of mammon to become the new home of St Mary's Music School.

Let me share that peek with you.  First the space in which the performance took place.

Then two views of the same room as it was at two earlier points in time. 

And finally how it might look if the hotel development goes ahead

Now back to the show.  It was in many ways an excellent production.  The debating chamber was absolutely ideal for a play about political machinations and the company used it brilliantly and imaginatively.  The cast attacked their roles with vigour but there was a missing element.

The actors delivered the words well and there could be no complaint about their committment but I never had the impression that this was a possible world populated by real people.  There was a distinct lack of tension in scenes where we should have been gripped and, for me, a distinct lack of being engaged by the argument.  Did it seem just too far-fetched or did the writing fail to flesh out the characters sufficiently?  Or, as some of our party felt, did it really need age appropriate actors with a deal more life experience than these young people?

It was nonetheless worthwhile seeing a neglected play (reckoned too offensive by The Lyceum who commissioned it twenty years ago) and I look forward to the Collective's third outing which is The Threepenny Opera in September.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Dissection Room at Summerhall is not as classy a space as the Sculpture Court but the costumes that swept through it last night proved that QMU has students as inventive and skilful as any in the city.  One of the most interesting aspects of the show was seeing how different students had visualised the same character.  They showed a couple of Mrs Peachums and at least three Lucy Lockits from The Beggars Opera.  One of those (alas no picture) was a decadent looking Lucius Lockit.

No picture of Lucius because as at the Art College snapping was a bit of a distraction from simply enjoying the show.  But I did take some and here are one or two that I particularly liked.
Lavinia from Titus Andronicus.  A trio of lads in Regency costumes rushed out after her to wipe up the blood that dripped from her mouth and dress onto the floor.  They performed a similar service for those who cast off some of their garments as they paraded, like the Marquise de Mertueil from Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
Of the forty three students whose work was featured only two were male, an imbalance that maybe needs to be addressed just as efforts are made to encourage girls into STEM subjects. Maybe.

Anyway here's one boy's dance outfit.
Suitable for all forms of dance he reckons.  As long as you don't need to see where you're going.

At the show I picked up a flyer for an open air production of As You Like It by QMU Performing Arts students and staff, including I imagine the costume students.  It's in early June.  For my comfort if not safety from being rained on I've chosen a seat rather than a spot on the grass.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Inspired by Claire's enthusiasm over Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are Dead I cast about to find an encore screening that I could get to.  Too full a diary to get there without foregoing a Friends of the Queen's Hall freebie concert but it was well worth it.  Tom Stoppard's play is a feast of wordsmithery and ingenious invention around the Hamlet story, and the Old Vic's production on an essentially bare stage abounded in fine acting and clever stagecraft.

The Grads had a greater staging challenge in presenting The Ladykillers in Assembly Roxy but rose to it.  Their excellent tumbledown house on stage spilling forwards into the centre and sides of the hall most effectively.  Each member of the criminal band led magnificently by Lawrence Waring was a piece of spot-on characterisation.  We had a slightly bewildered but morally firm and thoroughly believable old lady plus a host of delightful cameos.  Costumes and props (those musical instruments!) deserve a medal of their own.  A very good production slightly spoilt for anyone not in the front row by the lack of raked seating.

The Art College Performance Costume Show teemed with medal deserving outfits.  It opened with a bang as third year students poured into the sculpture court in richly coloured costumes inspired by the Hindu festival of Diwali. Diwali is a festival of lights and when the main lighting was dimmed lights incorporated in the costumes gleamed and shimmered as the students danced.

It was a spectacular start not equalled in the course of the hour but the imagination of design and skill of construction shone brightly from every piece that appeared.  I snatched a few blurry pics with my phone but mostly sat in awe at the talent on display.  Here's one of my better snaps, an example of costumes and puppets for James and the Magic Peach.
Will the Queen Margaret University students do as well?  A visit to Summerhall will be made to resolve that question.

Charlie Sonata at The Lyceum, Breakin' Convention and The Red Shoes at the Festival Theatre are shows I've enjoyed recently.  Fortunately I don't have to wrack my brains to describe them because Claire was of the company on each occasion and has written far more accurately, perspicaciously and entertainingly than I would so follow the links to learn more.

In the concert hall the SCO gave an excellent Missa Solemnis by Beethoven which I almost missed because I went to their usual home, The Queen's Hall, instead of the Usher Hall.  Fortunately I was a bit early and even more fortunately a combination of buses ran in my favour and I entered the auditorium simultaneously with the conductor.  I almost did the same for the next concert, getting on the wrong bus to start with.  That was Beethoven again, a superb and exuberant 7th Symphony.

The Usher Hall is the RSNO's Edinburgh home so I'm not likely to get on the wrong bus for their concerts and I enjoyed a Russian evening of Scriabin, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky from them a couple of weeks ago.

The SNJO was also in action in the Usher Hall on the eve of International Jazz Day. They played Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain and his version of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess.  On the day itself there was a big shindig in Havana and thanks to Youtube here it is.

The critics have generally been more enthusiastic than me about the films I've seen in recent weeks but I was pleased to see The Telegraph limit itself to two stars for The Handmaiden.  Melodramatic, verging on the ham, codswallop beautifully costumed and filmed that told me far more than I needed to know about lesbian sexual gymnastics. It had a well merited happy ending though.

The Sense of an Ending on the other hand rather petered out but on the way through told a not entirely unintereresting story about a letter unwisely written in his youth catching up on its author in later life.  I did sympathise with the protagonist or perhaps pitied him, even to the extent of not deploring his stalking like behaviour.

Even though he cuts a somewhat ridiculous figure it would be hard not to sympathise with the middle-aged doctor bewitched by a beautiful young tourist on the Greek island where he has washed up after what has clearly been an unsuccessful and unhappy life.  But that's an old man's perspective.  Younger cinemagoers might be revolted.  Suntan was I thought worth the four stars it got from The Guardian.

I couldn't be bothered with The Student though.  Not that there was anything wrong with the film I suppose but my antipathy to the bible beating scripture spouting character at the centre of it made it hard to enjoy.

Definitely the film I've enjoyed most is Lady Macbeth and here the critics are at one with me.  In a dankly oppressive country house somewhere in the north of England comes a young bride, purchased we are told by her father-in-law for a son who we quickly learn is unable or unwilling to consummate the marriage.  Father and son require her to do nothing more than wait indoors day and night to do their bidding.

It's no surprise that she breaks out of this prison in the absence of the two men to take deep breaths of fresh air in the open moorland.  No surprise either that she lusts after a healthy young groom nor that she gives way to that lust.

So we are set up for nasty happenings when first father-in-law then husband return.  And we get them.

The film's genesis is a Russian novella of 1865,  Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District that gave rise to the better known opera of the same name by Shostakovich.  I'm told the film has a different ending but I've neither read the novella nor seen the opera and I love this ending.

The film, as the Spectator said is "plain terrific".

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

This is Gartmore House near Aberfoyle where I spent the Easter weekend with a score of sax players.  We did a lot of playing and filled in the rest of the hours of the day with agreeable socialising.

The house has some lovely large rooms each decorated in individual style.  I particularly liked the one with a cornice formed of a pattern of ships in relief, arising no doubt from its period under the ownership of a shipping family.  It's also associated with Robert Cunninghame-Graham who delighted in the name of Don Roberto when he enjoyed the gaucho life in Argentina prior to riding into Scottish political life weaving through Liberal and Labour till ending up as first president of the Scottish National Party.

The following weekend I spent in Elie with old schoolfriends.  The sun shone all weekend though it was fairly cold much of the time.  We walked about the beach and admired the views across the Forth to the Lothians.

My chums are into fine dining so we did some of that. The food was delicious but I'd have enjoyed larger portions and smaller bills.  That's my brutish and uncultured side showing through. We also wandered about the various East Neuk villages and enjoyed a show at the Byre in St. Andrews in which Liz Lochead entertained us with her poetry underscored here and there by a chap on a tenor sax.

In Crail, which is possibly the loveliest of the villages, we came across this warning sign and a tankful of the beasties. Undeterred a dead portion was purchased for taking down south for Monday's tea by one of the party.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A bonus from staying in a hotel in the South Tyrol is that you are given a free public transport pass for the duration of your stay.  If you are there for a week's skiing and are on the slopes all day it's of limited use unless you fancy spending your evenings on a bus.  Or if like me you don't mind taking some time off.

I hopped on a couple of buses to visit the nearby town of Brunico/Bruneck one morning.  Like every place in the region it has two names, Italian and German, as does every street in the town.  Those are not the only languages spoken as you can hear from this episode of From Our Own Correspondent that Siobhan alerted me to.  It's the last item and starts about 18 minutes into the programme.

Brunico is a pretty little town in a river valley amidst mountains.  It's on the far side of the mountain I was skiing on and from the hill on which sits its mildly impressive schloss you can see the Kronplatz plateau and a run that would have brought me down to somewhere not very far away but it was a bit black for my taste.

The region's linguistic complexity is due in part to it having been cut out of Austo-Hungary and given to Italy after the First World War.  There was subsequently a degree of forced Italianisation much resented by the local population.  In the thirties Mussolini and his chums got into the act.  A monument was erected in Brunico to commemorate the Italian Alpine Troops who died in the Ethiopian campaign but over the years it has been something of a focus for discontent with the Italian state and having been six metres high originally it's been blown up a number of times and replaced.  Now only a bust remains on the pedestal.
There's an article which doesn't deal specifically about this monument but which has a lot of interesting analysis of the history of South Tyrol under Italian control.  See  Fascist Legacies: The Controversy over Mussolini’s Monuments in South Tyrol

A monument I didn't see and which there probably should be is one to Nanni Moretti, the film maker, who was born in the town.