Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A rather fascinating night at the theatre

The evening didn't start well. We were denied, for the second time in a week, our richly deserved pre-show GBK by a voucher wielding crowd, who'd had the disgraceful temerity to steal our idea and implement it shortly before us. Fortunately ever efficient Wagamama saved the day. Another averted DINKY tragedy; I can hear the very bleeding of your hearts from here.

Through, as so often, luck rather than skill, we had front row tickets at Trafalgar Studios for a performance of The Last Cigarette, a new play adapted by Simon Gray and Hugh Whitemore from the series of memoirs by Gray. I, with my usual ignorance, knew nothing about Gray, and had a mild awareness the play had received mixed reviews. So we didn't really have too many expectations. I just thought it would be nice to see Felicity Kendal. Like so my many male children of the 1970s, my parents' love of The Good Life has ensured a lifelong crush.

I really enjoyed it. Not having read the diaries, I can't rate the play as an adaptation. As a play it mostly works, taking incidents and thoughts from throughout his long life and weaving them into the central story of the slow creep of age and mortality. The main conceit is to have Gray played by three actors, allowing Gray's conversational prose to become actual conversations with himself. This was alternately clunky and brilliant. A rapid pace, clever lighting and bravado performances makes you forget you're effectively watching a 2 hour monologue. Felicity, love her though I may, was probably the weakest link, though each of the other actors had less assured moments. Reading other reviews today, I perhaps enjoyed it more than some because I knew nothing about Gray - several reviewers thought it failed to truly capture a man they were all quite familiar with. I just really enjoyed the language and the clearly lovably irascible iconoclast who penned it. So for me, it served simply as a great introduction to Gray - I'm eager to read the diaries at the very least.

So far so good. What made it extraordinary was the Q&A they had with the cast and co-writer afterwards. I'm a veteran of many post-film Q&As, but this was my first after a theatrical production. We weren't quite sure what to expect. Felicity, alas, was stricken with a cold and didn't attend, but the other two 'Simons' came out about 10 minutes after the show concluded, changed and clutching beers. They were joined by co-writer Hugh Whitemore and Mark Lawson of Front Row fame. Sitting in the literal front row watching this was rather like Radio 4 coming to life before your very eyes.

A fascinating discussion followed, often a paean to Gray and his works but also a fascinating insight into the creation of the play. Gray died shortly before it was completed, ironically not to the lung cancer so feared in the memoirs but to a sudden aneurism. Whitemore completed it, but said it was mostly finishing touches. The audience were given a chance to ask questions, which they did with aplomb until at one point an impromptu answer was given from the crowd. Turns out it came from his daughter Lucy who just happened to be there that night! It lent a further poignancy to proceedings, as everyone knew she'd just seen a play that was about the death of her father. Her less 'arty', more subjective, more matter-of-fact commentary about him provided an interesting, sometimes completely contradictory contrast to that of the panel. It's the sort of thing that would have made a great actual Radio 4 program - I'm astonished they weren't recording it.

Walking out, we walked past Lucy talking with one of the actors, and she had two teenagers in tow, which we presumed were her daughters. Heck of a way to learn more about Granddad.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Business and busyness

Both continue. Completed my fourth week at the new job, and while the gradient on the learning curve remains steep, my legs aren't giving out. Off to Sheffield this Thursday to meet one of our larger clients. I've still mostly been *through* The North on the way to Scotland, so I'm looking forward to having a quick look. Necessarily quick as I'll spend most of my time there in a meeting, of course.

Much else continues besides. Hannah & I have taken advantage of the sunshine and strolled - my preferred mode of transport - a few areas of London we're less familiar with. Apart from that we've checked out:
  • Synecdoche, New York. My twittereview will serve here: impenetrable tosh. I love his earlier films, but this is too ambitious, too long and too insufferable. Maybe I'm too stupid to get it, or maybe the emperor has no clothes: either way, I don't really care.
  • His Dark Materials - the brilliant National Theatre adaptation, a new production of which is currently touring regional theatres. I was fortunate enough to see the fabulous original production at the National. This touring production has necessarily stripped down staging, but otherwise preserves all the wonder and skill of the original, including the fantastic puppets used to represent daemons and armoured bears. It sounds awful: six hours of children's fantasy with puppets, a huge cast of characters and complicated metaphysical themes, but it works amazingly well. It necessarily whips through the epic story at pace, but you never feel cheated like so many did by the lame film version. See it if you get the chance.
  • Yesterday we made a short visit to the annual Day Of Dance, where the Westminster Morris Men host Morris teams from around the country for, well, dancing. In the day. There is, I am reliably informed, beer in the evening. I'm afraid I'm generally indifferent and often hostile to folk dancing from any country, but I was impressed with a geordie team who tangle themselves in knots with a kind of sword thing. Good fun. Following that we walked about 30 metres to a candlelit evening of baroque favourites at St-Martin-In-The-Fields. Luvverly.
Now it's sunny and lovely and I'm going to try and fix my bloody iTunes. Again.