Thursday, May 31, 2007

Hit and Miss (A Matter of Life and Death - National Theatre)

I'm not sure whether this makes me a dead white male but I must admit that last nights trip to see Kneehigh's A Matter of Life and Death at the National didn't particularly make the earth (or the heavens) move for me.

Adapted from the classic 1946 Powell and Pressburger film of the same name it tells the story of bomber pilot Peter Carter who falls in love with the voice of radio operator June in the moments before he forced to bail out of his burning Lancaster without a parachute. In confusion of a English pea souper his conductor to the other world misses him and despite jumping to his death Peter wakes up alive on the beach near June's lodgings, finds her, falls madly in love and is forced to appeal to the court of universal law to allow him to stay on Earth.

This is a spectacular production, full of energy and playful inventiveness, a never ending whorl of shapes and colours as the large cast sing, dance and perform acrobatics around a constantly moving set of beds bikes and staircases. In technical terms its a masterpiece.

However in the end all this energy cannot obscure the fact that there is little emotional depth. Tristan Sturrock and Lyndsey Marshall don't convince as lovers, and without that central attachment its hard to care whether Peter lives or dies. Much of the attempted comedy falls embarrassingly flat, and Douglass Hodge who was outstanding in the Globe's Titus Andronicus is so busy running around he hardly has the breath to get his lines out at times.

So enjoyable if patchy fluff then, maybe one to take the kids to.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Ultimate in Protest Convenience

Ok so there must be an angle to this but on the face of it Mark Thomas (of comedy product and general pissing the DTI off fame) and friends are offering to take the strain out of protesting, by doing it for you. For a small consideration they will display your banner of choice wherever you want within the SCOPA zone in Central London and throw in a photograph of them doing it (protest songs are extra).

Now you could have some fun with this. Mark Thomas calling for a knighthood for George Bush anyone?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Teletubby Porn

Continuing today's theme of Eastern Europe's fight against sexual depravity comes news from Poland that the Teletubbies are to be investigated to determine whether they promote homosexuality. Apparently the Polish equivalent of the Children's Commissioner was taken aback by the sight of Tinky Winky holding a handbag. A few thoughts occur:

1) How do you a sex a Teletubby? Do we know that Tinky Winky is a he?
2) Isn't attacking the Teletubbies for promoting sodomy so last century?

Any way always being willing to help assist our European friends in protecting themselves against the evil sodomites, can I please offer the following in evidence as to the Teletubbies obvious sexual deviancy.

Another reason to not visit Russia

The Girl has expended a significant amount of effort trying to persuade me to take her to St Petersburg in Russia. I've resisted, partly because I'm not sure there is even a word for vegetarian in Russian, but mainly because I baulk at supporting (even indirectly) a regime that seems to be sliding towards authoritarianism.

I can now add to my list of reasons the fact that it seems to be perfectly ok to attack people in broad daylight, as long as they are LGB. The Russian tourist board must be tearing their hair out at the sight of Moscow's police standing by as gay rights activists were attacked by neo-nazi thugs in the full view of the world's media. It suggests that anti-gay bigotry may be endemic in Russian society if the police were unwilling to step in even for appearances sake.

PS Google news turns up this press release from the Moscow authorities "applauding" the work of the police.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Who the hell is Mike Brown?

With the announcement of the England to team to play (or should be to loose to) South Africa on Saturday, I'm glad to say its time for the third in the series of who the hell is.. posts on Harlequins who have got catapulted into the big time.

Unlike Dave Strettle and Nick Easter, Mike Brown has risen the ranks in the more accepted way, being the product of Harlequin's Academy and a veteran of England age group rugby. However, like Stretts and Easter he also got his break in ND1, becoming a fixture in Quin's 1st XV during our brief stay in the lower leagues last season. I first remember seeing him at a very rainy Coventry, being yellow carded for an uncompromising tackle on a Coventry player significantly larger than himself. Although coaches and pundits may purr about his open field running (most defenders beaten during the premiership season) his ability to pick the right support lines (8 tries in the premiership this year) and the howitzer he has for a left boot (he has been known to find touch in opposition 22 from his own) its the nuggety and abrasive way he plays that has endeared him to Quins fans. My only concern is that he can occasionally get a bit nervous on the big occasion, he had a self-confessed mare at the double header in September for instance.

Still he deserves his shot and at 21 even if things don't go well in South Africa it won't be too long before we see him pulling on an England jersey again.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

That will be us relegated then

With Clermont Auvergne beating Bath in the European Challenge Cup final this afternoon, it will mean that Harlequins will be contesting the Heineken Cup next year. Which is nice. Except for the fact that the last three teams relegated from the Premiership (Quins, Leeds and Northampton) all played in the Heineken the year that they went down. Oh dear not a good omen.

Personally although the extra money will be good for the club I would much prefer playing in a competition we have a chance of winning, rather than travelling to France or Ireland to get thumped. Oh well I will still be there.

On a unrelated note well done to Will Skinner and Jim Evans who made their debuts for England A last night against the USA, in Jim's case a try scoring one.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Whose right? The markets or the pollsters?

Rudy Giuliani has been leading the race for the Republican presidential nomination for several months now with a clear lead in all the national polls. The RCP rolling average has him leading McCain by 5.8% , well outside the margin of error.

But the markets don't agree. The latest prices from the Iowa Exchange (below) has him falling behind John McCain into third place, they both still trail the markets equivalent of RON.

So who is right? Well I would always tend to trust the people who are willing to risk their money. But more importantly what has caused this change in sentiment?

For Giuliani the news that he gave money to Planned Parenthood an abortion provider (its one thing to be pro-life in a Republican primary but to have given money to abortionists is potentially the kiss of death) and a less than stellar performance at the first Republican debate goes some way to explaining why the gloss has come off his price.

But what is behind the sudden surge to McCain who was dead last only two weeks ago? I have no real explanation. True his media coverage has improved following a rough opening three months to the year (culminating in his poor showing in 1st quarter fund raising) but mainly because the pack have switched their focus to the new front runner rather than McCain himself making waves. Something may be moving under the surface, either in terms of the professionals seeing signs of McCain's camp getting their act together or of a storm brewing for Giuliani . Who knows. It will be interesting to watch how this race develops.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Who said the Cold War was over...

Perusing my free paper on the tube home this evening my eye alighted on an advert for MI5. It appears that they are short of linguists. The list of languages they are looking for includes all the ones you would expect, Arabic, Urdu, Somali, Pushto and Russian. Russian? I thought the Cold War was over.

Or then again maybe not.

Is Tony Blair popular in Ireland?

I only ask because Fianna Fáil have plastered him all over their latest PEB for the Irish General Election.

I can't see Gordon Brown's Labour party giving him such a prominent slot in 2009 can you?

(Hat Tip: Guido)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Lets not forget to blame Charlie Kennedy

There have been many pixels spilt (and some amount of hair pulling) since the local elections about the shortcomings or otherwise of our Glorious Leader and the position the party finds itself in. Amongst all the finger pointing and name calling I haven't seen mention of the name of the person who must carry a share of the responsibility, Charles Kennedy.

One of Ming's main problems, from where I sit at least, is that he has never managed to get ahead of the curve in terms of defining media's narrative on the Lib Dems in the post Kennedy era. This has been partially his fault, a couple of bad performances at PMQs early on mixed in with a couple of conference gaffes have allowed the Media ample chance to poke fun and question his credibility. But, and this is a big but, a major part of the problem is that the party spent a lot of its political capital prising Charlie's cold dead hands from the leadership. From that point onwards whoever won the subsequent leadership election was always going to be swimming against the media tide.

It appeared to me (and I'm sure I wasn't alone) that the Kennedy era was starting to run out of steam before the 2005 election; something his lacklustre performance during the campaign only served to confirm. If he had walked away then, (6 years in the job, time for a change, new baby equals new priorities) he would have been hailed as one of the few politicians who walked away leaving the crowd wanting more and the new leader would have had a clean slate to work from. Even if he had walked away in November when the putsch started, and it quickly became clear that he was a dead man walking, the damage would have been slight. However, he held on and held on, forcing people whose only crime up to that point had been excessive loyalty to a failing leader to be publicly disloyal, and poisoning the well for whoever followed him.

Enough revisionist history. We are where we are. So where next? Well only those with the most rose-tinted view of the world would deny Ming has a problem. The media seems to have decided he is not up to the job, and unless he can turn that perception around soon he risks suffering the same death by a thousand cuts that IDS did. Given that as a party we live and die by our leader even more than the other two , as the inhabitant of one of our most at risk seats that worries me immensely.

This does not mean that we need to push the panic button yet. I voted for Ming, having switched from being a Huhne supporter, and still believe I made the right choice. If he can start building up a small head of steam, and a winnable by-election would help, the story could quickly become Ming's momentum rather than Lib Dems stalling.

However, he and his advisers need to take a good hard look at themselves and ask whether they can turn things around. If they don't believe they 100% can, Ming must go. A dignified, unforced, exit in the summer (steadied the ship, put in place the foundations for future success, but now its time for a younger (wo)man to take the party forward) may release a lot of the latent hostility in press from January last year, and we will owe him a great debt. If he takes the Kennedy route, clings on and has to be removed later in a blood bath the party may not recover for quite some while.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Vernon God Little - Young Vic

In the wake of the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech there was some muted rumblings that perhaps it was the wrong time for the Young Vic to be staging an adaptation of DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little. Set as it is in the wake of a Columbine type school shooting. In fact there is no better time. There is no better time for this biting satire of how the media exploits such tragedies (or as James has pointed out those like the abduction of Madeleine McGann).

This is a vibrant, violent and at times vicious play, that is by turns darkly comic and just plain dark. Tanya Ronders adaptation uses a mixture of fast paced dialogue and songs allied to Rufus Norris' pacy and physical production conveys the confused nightmare that Vernon finds himself in after he is wrongly accused of helping his best friend murder 17 of his classmates. A nightmare where reality TV ratings are more important than any sense of truth or justice.

There isn't a weak performance amongst the 9 strong cast, who between them play a cacophony of ever more grotesque characters. Special mention must go to Mark Lockyer who chews up the scenery as Lally the slimy TV reporter and Colin Morgan who despite this being his professional debut has the stage presence to be able to hold the whole production together as Vernon.

This production hardly hits a bum note throughout its two and a bit hours (give or take the odd dodgy Mexican accent) and is both very funny and shocking. Go and see it.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Could the GOP split in 2008?

If the Lib Dems have a hard time breaking the two party mould spare a thought for third parties in the US. There are only 2 independents out of the 500 and odd members of Congress and as far as I am aware there isn't a single third party Governor in any of the 50 states.

Therefore I wouldn't hold out much for Chuck Hagel the anti-war Republican Senator if as he keeps hinting he does make an independent bid for the Whitehouse. Even with the backing of billionaire New York mayor Michael Bloomberg as a running mate its unlikely he could get enough traction to be able to carry enough states to win. However, a split Republican party would make life a lot easier for whoever ends up winning the Democratic nomination.

North is North (Rafta Rafta - National Theatre)

I'm Lancashire born and bred (and bloody proud of it, might I add) and caught the play going habit thanks to trips to Bolton's Octagon Theatre with the parents. It was with pleasure therefore that I spent Friday evening listening to Lancashire accents on the stage of that bastion of southern metropolitanism, the National Theatre.

Rafta Rafta is Abdul Khan-Din's updating of Bill Naughton's 1963 play 'All in Good Time', with the action switched to the home of an Indian family. Naughton's basic conceit of newlyweds forced to share a terrace with their in-laws and unable to consumate their marriage because of it is retained. But although Atul and Vina's struggles in the bedroom provide the driving force behind the play's narrative and much of the comedy, this play is much more than a simple bedroom farce. The depth comes from the relationship between Atul's parents the overbearing but good hearted Eeshewar and his long-suffering wife Lopa. What at first sight is just the good hearted bickering of any couple who have been together 30 years may actually hide a darker secret, which Khan-Din is brave enough to leave unresolved.

But first and foremost Rafta Rafta is a comedy, and although at no point did I feel at risk of wetting myself the laughs do keep coming thick and fast. Throw in a beautifully judged performance from Meera Syal as Lopa, and a very clever two storey design from Tim Hatley, and you will be hard pressed not to fall in love with this clever warm hearted play.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Not bad for a first try (That Face - Royal Court Upstairs)

There must be a lot of people in the play writing community who hate Polly Stenham right now. Not only has she had her first play staged by the Royal Court at the age of only 20, but its has had some critics drooling and you now can't get tickets for love nor money.

All well deserved in my book. Analysing it on the tube on the way home I realised you pick all sorts of holes in the plotting and characterisation, but in the theatre this production holds you in such an emotional grip that you don't have time to analyse.

Much has been made about That Face's upper middle class setting, a world of boarding schools and flats in the docklands. A stark contrast to the world of kitchen sinks that is Courts traditional stock in trade. But upper or lower class, fucked up families are still fucked up, even if in the case of Mia and Henry their mother's drugs of choice are expensive red wine and valium rather than smack.

Whilst Mia has escaped to boarding school Henry has dropped out to try and nurse his abandoned Mother back to something approaching health. So when Mia arrives home having been suspending for torturing one of the younger girls, with her Izzy her seductive partner in crime in tow an emotional time bomb explodes.

Although at times raw and heartbreaking Stenham's script is shot through with dark humour, and she has a beautiful ear for dialogue. She is helped enormously by strong performances by the cast, in particular Matt Smith (last seen in the woeful Party Animals) as Henry, who always manage to stay just on the right side of hysteria.

Hopefully this will tour or transfer as it deserves to be seen by many more people than the handful who are able to squeeze into the Jerwood Upstairs.

How to do Video Campaigning #3

To break up the theatre here is Bill Richadson's (current Governor of New Mexico and wannabe Democratic Presidential nommine) first TV adds in the primary race.

I like these because not only do they neatly encapsulate his USP in the democratic race, that he has actually has some real life experience of running things, but also effectively casts him as a regular kind of guy. These are both nice contrasts against the rockstar but (in CV terms at least) lightweight Obama, the slick and aloof Clinton, and the $400 haircuts of Edwards.

Still my pick for VP assuming Obama doesn't win the nomination.

What no Bonnie Tyler ? (Total Eclipse - Menier Chocolate Factory)

Christopher Hampton hasn't had a very good time of it recently (leaving aside his adaptation of the Seagull at the Royal Court. The high profile revival of Treats (staring Billie Piper) in West End was greeted with lukewarm reviews and has allegedly struggled to shift tickets. The revival of Total Eclipse the Girl and I went to see at the Menier last night had equally bad critical notices, and given that there were only about 20 people in the audience one suspects has lost a considerable amount of money.
Which is a shame. The performance we saw last night wasn't as bad as the critics would have had us believe, containing some strong performance built around a text that while flabby in places has its moments. Total Eclipse charts the intense sometimes violent love-affair of the French poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, as they bounce around Europe in a haze of absinthe trying to escape their families and their past.
Daniel Evan's is, as ever, excellent as Verlaine, the married civil servant who is ruled by lust and drink. Bringing to the early scenes just the right hint of the maddness that will unfold. Jamie Doyle bursts onto the stage as the cocksure 16 year-old Rimbaud who seduces Verlaine as just another way to rebel against the bourgoise society he finds himself in. Doyle is beliveable as the rebelious adolecent but fails to really portray the journey the increasingly cynical and depressed and Rimbaud goes on during the 5 years or so the heart of the play covers.
The traverse stageing is a nice touch instantly putting one in mind of a fencing piste, aposite given that most of the action surrounds the verbal jousts between Verlaine and Rimbaud.
All in all not that bad. On a side note their meal deals are certainly worth investigating, the food we had last night was delicious.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Mostly irrelevant (Called to Account - Tricycle Theatre)

With the Girl being a wannabe international lawyer it was only a matter of time before we pitched up at the Tricycle to see Called to Account. This is the latest in the line of the Tricycle's tribunal plays, which have seen the edited transcripts of the Saville (Bloody Sunday) MacPherson (Stephen Lawrence) and Scott (arms to Iraq) inquiries cast as stage plays. The twist here being that given Tony Blair has resolutely denied his detractors a real inquiry into the Iraq war, the Tricycle have had to create their own. So off two distinguished international lawyers went to interview a ragbag of witness, including Richard Pearle and Clare Short (I'm not sure who deserves the pantomime Boo Hiss more).

Lets get the praise out of the way first. The acting is first rate, and the design is simple and works well. For once the programme was almost worth the money, with a nice selection of background documents and explanatory text.

However, overall I found the experience rather frustrating, and by the end quite dull. I had half hoped that the creators would have been brave enough to allow the defence to put forward a strident case for Blair's actions, they weren't. Instead the treatment of the evidence is horribly slanted towards proving that Blair isn't a very nice chap. Potentially true, but hardly a particularly challenging thing to say in this day and age. Even worse in taking this line the play subverts its point. In terms of the law Blair's character is beside the point, but the prosecution takes such glee in trashing it that they fail to take the time to prove their specific charge.

Even worse Called to Account fails as a piece of theatre. There is no journey for you to follow, no characters that you can become attached to, no dramatic tension to hold you on the edge f your seat. Just a series of witnesses sitting in a conference room having a perfectly amicable discussion with a couple of lawyers.

One might forgive it its dullness if it was saying something new or was bringing the issues to a wider audience. But it isn't. All these issues have been played out across our TV screens and newspapers for the last four years. All the arguments about the legality or otherwise of the war made a thousand times before. All in all Called to Account adds nothing to our understanding of the Iraq War, and takes two hours to do it.

Well the sky hasn't fallen yet...

One of the things I missed whilst out campaigning last week was the coming into force of the Sexual Orientation regulations (which out law discrimination in the provision of goods and services on the grounds).

I was shocked. I had been reliably informed by the Christian right (and their fellow travellers) that the regulations coming to pass would herald the ending of western civilisation. I haven't seen a single locust yet, let alone a whole plague, and I was so looking forward to the rivers of blood too.

Monday, May 07, 2007

A short post about Rugby

I haven't written much about Rugby recently, partially because I've been tied up in trying to win other people's elections and mocking the Tories, but also because the administration of the English game seemed to be in such a tailspin that it didn't seem worth writing about something that wouldn't exist in a few years.

However brighter news this weekend. It seems like the IRB have brokered a compromise in the dispute over next years European Cup. Therefore if Bath lose their challenge cup final ( Rugby's equivalent to the UEFA cup) in a couple of weeks I can look forward to seeing Quins in the Heineken next season. Given that I have tickets for the England - South Africa game in Paris in September it looks like I may well be spending a large amount of next autumn travelling to France to see my teams get hammered. Remind me why I do this again.

In other news Quins had a delightful stroll in the sun to end the season, hammering an understrength Sale 49-0 (with Andrew Merhtens sticking two fingers up at those who say he is too old for the Premiership by putting on his best display in two years playing for Quins, he will be missed).

Mike Brown, Quins 21 year old full back got his just reward for an outstanding season, his first in the premiership, with a seat on the plane to South Africa alongside David Strettle and Nick Easter. More to come on Mr Brown if and when he gets picked in the team, but suffice to say although he isn't the finished article, this kid could be special.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Will you people stop sending me dross!!

I know I'm not the only person this election who has been out delivering and found someone running after me down the pavement screaming abuse because I dared put a leaflet through their door. I've always had limited sympathy for such morons. It takes very little wit to put your recycling box under your letter box if come election time you don't want your world sullied by the horrors of democracy.

However, having come home from my week by the sea in Eastbourne I find my inbox has been clogged by spam from the teeming multitudes running to get on the Lib Dem list for the GLA elections. I must admit I felt a hint of empathy for the woman who chased me halfway across the Langley estate. What annoys me most is not the fact that it took me ages to wade through it all but how bad most of them were (with a couple of honourable exceptions). I had limited inclination to stay in London next year rather than going somewhere where my help could assist the party in actually winning something as it was.

So please GLA candidates, if you don't have anything to say, please don't fill up my inbox saying it.

Friday, May 04, 2007

So much for youtube (gloating from Eastbourne)

You may have seen last week that Iain Dale and Con Home were getting rather excited about this video put together by the Eastbourne Conservatives for this years local elections.

It was the future of campaigning, 'simple and effective' and showed how 'in touch' the grassroots of the Tory party in Eastbourne were with their local community. So in touch that they got massacred. Reduced to a rump of 7 councillors, with their leader Ian Lucas (whose blog has incidentally suddenly disappeared) amongst the casualties. Maybe they should have spent less time messing about with their video cameras and more time doing some proper campaigning.