Monday, November 26, 2007

Not that I would ever suggest that we don't take internal democracy seriously in the lib dems...

.... but I was slightly surprised to learn that the returning officer for our local party elections didn't think it necessary to bring ballot papers to the AGM the other day. Cue much scrambling when it turned out that there were some contested elections.

Not that the elections were supposed to be a stitch up, of course not, we are democrats you know. Next you will be suggesting that the front runner for leader of the party would run on the sole platform of "Vote for me or Paddy Ashdown will kill you with his bare hands".

[PS please don't read this as a pop at those stalwarts who volunteer to be returning officers, a key job filled by people who undoubtedly don't get the recognition they deserve.]

Some jokes don't travel (The Arsonists - Royal Court)

Retaining a line like 'some jokes don't travel' in a new translation of a foreign comedy is perhaps tempting fate. But Alistair Beaton has decided to take that risk in his new translation of Max Frisch's The Arsonists currently playing at the Royal Court; and generally he gets away with it. Following a strong opening gag this is rarely a laugh out loud production, but it does produce a steady stream of chuckles is interesting enough to get away with that.

It is held together by a couple of strong performances from Will Keen as the slimy salesman whose middle class guilt and wish not to offend blinds him to the fact that he is harbouring the very arsonists who are in the process of burning the town down around him; and Benedict Cumberbatch as the icy arsonist who finds it is much easier to hide behind truth than lies.

All in all quite a slight play, but still not a waste of an evening.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Now that's what I call Shakespeare (Sweet William - Arcola Theatre)

Michael Pennington is a bit of an obsessive about Shakespeare. At age 11 he was inspired to become an actor by a production of Macbeth, has spent, at his own estimation 20,000 hours performing the Bard, and even went as far as forming the English Shakespeare Company in the 1980s when he felt that the theatrical establishment weren't addressing the politics in Shakespeare's writing.

He has channelled this obsession into his one man show Sweet William, which I caught at the Arcola earlier in the week. It is ostensibly a survey of Shakespeare's life, but given how little we actually know about Will the man its really an excuse for Pennington to recite some of his favourite speeches and lay bare some of his pet theories. This may sound like a dry exercise in self absorption but Pennington is such a genial host that it us actually an engaging ramble around the hinterland of a figure who is some ways a key part of our national sense of self but is also quite unknowable. Pennigton is obviously a scholar of no little skill; but he wears this lightly. Deftly mixing his musings on Shakespeare's life and motivations with a range of speeches, often drawn from the less performed parts of the cannon (I didn't even know there was a Henry VI part 3).

All in all a delightful night out, and well worth catching for Shakespeare buffs and virgins alike.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Masque of the Red Death - Battersea Arts Centre

The Masque of the Red Death is one of the hottest tickets in London theatre, with its complete run now sold out (although there are rumours of an extension). Following the spectacular success of Faust (which I unfortunately never got round to seeing) this is not surprising, but does it live up to the hype? Well its certainly not a show for those wedded to conventional theatre, nor claustrophobics, the unadventurous or people scared of the dark. But if you aren't scared by the idea of wandering around semi dark corridors, trying to pick up fragments of overlapping stories as they flit by you are in for treat.

Masked and left to wander alone and silently around the four floors of a BAC transformed into a dystopian vision of forests, opium dens, crypts and bedrooms (lots of bedrooms) you stumble across scenes from four of Edgar Allen Poe's dark short stories. It becomes almost game of hide and seek as you follow the actors as they move (sometimes run) from room to room, eavesdropping on whispered conversations, spying on fights and wedding nights. It’s a deeply physical show, often more ballet than the theatre that is more my comfort zone. But even a dancephobe like me can't help but feel their pulse quicken by the sight of such beautiful movement only inches from your mask. For those with more conventional tastes, or in need of a breather, head to palais royal, where one can take off your mask, relax with a drink and enjoy a string of music hall acts.

Never having read any Poe, and not being able to follow any one story from beginning to end I must admit to not knowing what the hell was going on for most of the time, but I didn't care a jot. One of the joys of this show is falling out into the night discussing with friends all that you have seen, and realising that it was only a fraction of the whole.

We are planning to go back when more tickets are announced to try and track down more of what we missed, come and join us.

PS for those already planning to go the West End Whingers provide an invaluable guide to getting the most out of the night.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

For god's sake let it drop

For most of us Jerry Springer the Opera faded from view a couple of years ago. Fun at the time, but not really something of lasting value apart from its ability to annoy the more excitable elements of Christian right.

Well it appears that some people have longer memories than me. Christian Voice are still trying to prosecute the BBC for blasphemy, and are going to the High Court to try and get permission. You would have thought that they might have better things to do than chasing the artistic establishment through the courts. I don't know charity or good works or something.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The fighting dirty doesn't bother me...

... its the fact that it looks like Chris has lost control of his campaign.

To be honest I couldn't give a toss that Chris' campaign is putting out negative briefings, after all they are both big boys and quite frankly a nice positive campaign on the issues is just a little bit too dull for my tastes. I know that makes me a bad person, but I've been involved in too many campaigns against Labour to be shocked by a little name calling.

What does worry me is that I believed Chris' denials on the Politics Show (of course I may not be giving his acting skills sufficient credit). It can't be good news that somebody who is increasingly looking like having a good shot at leading the party doesn't even know what is going on in his campaign. If he can't keep on top of a small organisation in what is a pretty low intensity campaign, how is he going to cope with a General Election.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

10 words (or why Chris lost the QT debate)

The balance of opinion amongst the Lib Dem blogs appears to be that Chris Huhne shaded the Question Time debate on Thursday evening. I think they are wrong. Not because of anything Chris said really, in fact on the few substantive policy debates I think he had the edge (even if I do tend to lean more towards Nick's views on them).

But, TV debates and more importantly being a modern political leader is much more than being the smartest guy in the room. In fact its often best not to be (or at leasts seeming not to be), after all who likes the smart Alec? And this is where Chris falls down in my opinion. He can't help but show off how good he is. He makes good point, after good point, after good point, after good point... *changes the channel*. Instructive was the question on experience. Chris spent what felt like an age listing his CV, Nick spent what was probably far longer (but felt shorter) taking about what drove him. One had my pulse quickening, the other offering Chris the job as my local bank manager.

So I'm sorry all you Huhney Monsters out there. But unless your man pulls something out of the bag at the London Hustings, unless he shows that he at least has a ten word answer somewhere in his repertoire, I'm probably voting Nick.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Free the Dando One!

Ways to get yourself beaten up in a country pub number 57: call your quiz team 'free the Dando one' the week after Barry George was convicted (other effective ways include standing up for the Brass Eye paedophile special, and outing yourself and the bloke sat next you 10 minutes before closing).

Anyway you may have guessed that I was never convinced that Barry George would have convicted had he not had the misfortune of being linked with the death of a blond popular TV presenter with a long and glorious pair of legs career.

Hopefully, now, he will get something approximating a fair trial.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A family argument (Statement of Regret - National Theatre)

It is always uncomfortable seeing another's family argue amongst themselves, especially when you don't understand the background. Statement of Regret Kwame Kwei-Armah's new play at the National gave me that feeling. In effect an extended argument about what 'black' means in British politics today, as the kind of white bleeding heart liberal that the play at times mocks I feel ill-placed to make a judgement on its politics, I just wished it hadn't got in the way of the drama so much.

Anyway the key question is does it work as entertainment? Well I saw a preview so one has to bear that in mind, but to be frank not really. The first act takes far too long to set up the story of the Black think-tank head who is slowly coming apart at the seams and his staff who want to move beyond his focus on reparations for slavery to examine the issues affecting the black community today. What isn't the spikiest script in the world isn't helped by some really clunky directing and acting (Angel Coulby) . It was clear that several people were making an early exit at the interval, and we were severely tempted to join them. The second act picks up markedly with some real passion and humour being injected as everything starts to fall apart, but really this production never lifts off.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

It was much better than it sounds (Cloud Nine - Almeida Theatre)

Trying to explain the plot of Caryl Churchill's Cloud Nine to my philistine work mates was a thankless task. I mean how hard can it be to grasp a plot where the first act is set in 19th Century colonial Africa and the second in Clapham in 1979; but only 25 years have passed for the characters. Oh and all of the actors swap roles (and in many cases genders) at the interval. I mean compared to the latest series of Spooks its positively naturalistic.

Anyway, I wouldn't recommend going to the Almeida's excellent revival for the plot, nor for that matter the politics. Although the firsts acts comic book portrayal of colonialism still hits the mark, I think the second has to some extent aged badly. The idea of lesbian single mums, transgender step-dads, and masturbating Grandmas hardly seem shocking these days (at least from where I sit). But this is a production stuffed full with excellent performances and viciously funny vignettes. Nicola Walker's description of an old lady rediscovering the joys of self pleasure is worth the ticket price alone.

Worth catching before it closes next month.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Lib Dems make decent video shock!!

Okay maybe a little harsh, but after being critical of the party's videos in the past I think its fair to give credit where credits due and say I actual think this evening's response to the Queen's speech is pretty good.

I also think that it proves that Vince was right to stay out of the leadership race. Respected intellectual who commands attention to what he is saying, and an underrated communicator? yes. Charismatic leader able to sell a vision, rather than a set of policies, to the country? probably not.

Friday, November 02, 2007

How to do Video campaigning #4

I've got a bit bored by US politics lately but I couldn't let this brilliant attack video from the John Edwards campaign pass un-noted. Its dirty and maybe unfair, and obviously I personally deplore negative campaigning and want to see a positive campaign fought on the issues. But you can't deny that its a thing of beauty.

Maybe this race isn't quite dead yet.

The perfect date movie? (Once)

Is Once the perfect date movie? Well given my disastrous dating history (pre:2006 obviously dear) I'm probably the last person to ask. But anyway I think it might be:

1) At heart its a classic story of mutual unrequited love . As with Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise (one of my favourite films of all time) it throws together two young people in a brief unconsummated love affair that ends almost before it has begun by the intrusion of the real world. It is beautifully bittersweet, warm hearted and painfully romantic without ever being clichéd. Put it this way three quarters of the way through I was subconsciously going to cuddle up to the person next to me and that can't be a bad thing on a date (luckily I remembered who they were in time).

2) It has enough depth (brushing on the immigrant experience in modern Ireland) to avoid you looking shallow, without wearing its politics on its sleeve in such a way that might cause arguments later.

3) There are a couple of moments of heart wrenching beauty, the scene in the piano shop rightly praised in all the reviews (the song from which falling slowly is surely a dark horse for an Oscar) a beach party shot as the sun comes up across Dublin Bay. Beautiful (and it includes a frisbee, always a bonus), and the girl wandering along the street in the middle of the night singing to herself in dressing gown and slippers.

4) Its a musical, but one that actually fits the music into the fabric of the film so it doesn't feel forced or fake. Probably helps having one of the leads as a busker and the plot driven by a drunken weekend in a recording studio.

5) Its a really great small indie film that you will have to go to the local arthouse cinema to watch, and nobody else will have taken their other halves to see. Got to be better than dragging the missus down the multiplex to see Resident Evil 4 (a friend really did that, amazingly they are still together).

6) Best of all its under 90 minutes long, so if its all going horribly wrong you can bail after the film and still be home in time for Spooks.

So is this a perfect film? No.

Although in many places it hides it well this is a very cheap film. Its budget was allegedly something close to $100,000. They couldn't even afford names for the two main characters, making do with the bloke and the girl. I'm afraid for all its qualities hand held dv doesn't do justice to big sweeping landscape shots.

Although there are a couple of really good songs in here, there are a couple of fillers too.

The acting is at times wooden, although the fact that one of the main characters is a bit of a loner and the other is an immigrant who struggles with English means that it is endearing rather than annoying.

But this is nitpicking, if you haven't guessed already I loved this film. Go, search it out, and take the other half with you, this is the kind of film you should be supporting.

Come on Nick show us some leg

I still can't decide who to vote for.

On the one hand I am completely turned off by Chris Huhne's sly manoeuvring on Trident. Blowing a huge dog whistle to the idealistic pacifist wing of the party with big headlines of scrapping Trident, whilst trying to placate those of us who live in the real world with quiet promises that actually he wants to keep a nuclear deterrent after all, really doesn't do it for me.

On the other Nick Clegg doesn't seem to have done anything except roll out half the parliamentary party to support him, I got suckered by that approach last time. So come on Nick, my vote's for taking. Just prove to me that you are more than just a pretty face.