Issue 125:2017 10 19:Beginning a play (Adam McCormack)

19 October 2017

Beginning –-a play by David Eldridge

The Dorfman Theatre

 reviewed by Adam McCormack

Star rating ****

Every relationship has to start somewhere – the more important issue is: how long will it last?  In Crouch End, the heart of the “pesto triangle”, two people are alone at the end of a flat warming party in the early hours of the morning.  One is the hostess, Laura (Justine Mitchell), a stylish, successful woman in her late thirties. The other, Danny (Sam Troughton), a man in his early forties, has just met Laura, coming as guest of a man that she has little time for.  The situation seems obvious; Danny is loitering because he feels he has a chance of spending the night with Laura, whose behaviour suggests that his hopes are well placed – even to Danny, who confesses that he has no “Radar”.  So far, so standard.  A situation that could happen at the end of any party featuring single adults. However, there is a nagging discomfort; why would Laura, polished and sophisticated, with seemingly everything going for her, be taken with a somewhat dishevelled “Essex-boy” who lives with his mother and “nan”?

As the dialogue develops we initially feel that the motivations are just animal lust – but we soon learn that Laura and Danny are, in different ways, damaged.  Danny is divorced with a young child that he never sees and has not slept with a woman for four years.  It seems that while professing his keenness to sleep with Laura, he will do almost anything – drink more, tidy up, dance, make a meal – to avoid intimacy.  This, we feel is going to be a tough seduction for Laura.  However, she is not about to give up, for her motives go beyond just wanting sex and someone to spend a Sunday with.  Laura wants a child.

What develops is a gently comedic, but at times heart wrenchingly touching portrayal of two people struggling to come to terms with being single and (effectively) childless, at a time when they yearn for companionship and fulfilment.  David Eldridge’s wittily pithy dialogue succeeds to keeping us enthralled for almost two hours, helped by two perfectly observed performances that have us willing the couple into a situation that could make them both happy, against all probability.  The staging in the Dorfman, together with Polly Findlay’s direction, works well for such an intimate play, helping us to empathise with Laura and Danny rather than feeling uncomfortable voyeurs.  This is a play that will have great resonance for a wide audience.

 

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Issue 124:2017 10 12:Knives in Hens (Adam McCormack)

12 October 2017

Knives in Hens – a play by David Harrower

Donmar Warehouse

reviewed by Adam McCormack

On the surface this play is extremely simple.  Just 3 characters and a spare set that has little more on it than a huge mill stone.  The simplicity is reminiscent of those basic economic models where there are just two products.  Here the products are just hens and grain but that is all that is needed to tell a story that at times feels primeval, and certainly earthy – with under currents that are lustful and murderous.  Yet it is ultimately much deeper, covering issues of how the development of language and understanding feed the discovery of identity and dissatisfaction.

Eat, work, and procreate.  At the outset there is nothing more in the life of the two peasants, a ploughman, Pony William, and his wife.  However, the villagers face the necessary evil of having to visit the local miller so that the harvest can be processed.  The miller is a hated figure – but why? Is it because he owns the means to production, and the village loathes being beholden to him? The miller’s power becomes too compelling for the ploughman’s wife, but as she is seduced she also experiences an awakening.  This prompts a gruesome collaboration against the ploughman by his wife and the miller – but who is in control?

A play’s message does not have to be instantly accessible, and this is undoubtedly a production  one would get more from on a further viewing.  There are so many ideas surrounding the emergence from a subsistence lifestyle, with enlightenment provided by language and complications generated by lust and envy.  The question is, are these themes well enough conveyed to justify further reflection?  The answer to that is, yes – just.  The concepts are compelling enough, but the real force of this production comes from the powerful performances, particularly from Judith Roddy.  Thrown about the stage as she is alternately ravished and abused, but we still get a very strong sense of her discovering her own identity, rather than being just the chattel of the ploughman.

The spare set, uncertainty as to when or where the action is taking place (it is clearly pre-industrial) gives a strong sense of this being a parable.  However, while one can see why director Yael Farber wanted to revive David Harrower’s 20 year old play, the subdued lighting and intensity of the action, dialogue and performances make for a grueling spectacle, and leave one having to work a little too hard to grasp the parable’s message.

 

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Issue 124: 2017 10 12:The Anatomy of a Moment (J.R.Thomas)

12 October 2017

The Anatomy of a Moment

by Javier Cercas.

 reviewed by J.R.Thomas

Much has been written in the last ten days about the attempted or proposed or successful illegal secession or independence or left wing coup in Catalonia (do take your pick of pejoratives).  Whilst a fine old political mess, with Catalonia’s new leader swiftly wrong- footing Snr Rajoy and his government in Madrid (and now seemingly getting wrongfooted back) it is far from the gravest crisis of modern Spanish democracy.  Indeed, you might argue, it is democracy that is causing the current trouble.

In February 1981, with democracy not yet six years old and untried systems and politicians pulling levers and pushing switches with little idea of the outcome, that new Spanish democracy came remarkably close to foundering, and reverting to what almost certainly would have been a military government and worse.

Javier Cercas’s book “The Anatomy of a Moment” begins with the extraordinary events of early evening, 23rd February 1981, 23F as it is known in Spain, when a unit of the Spanish army marched into a session of the Cortes, the Spanish parliament, and ordered all those present down on the floor.  Three of the politicians defied them; leading to a dramatic night filmed and transmitted, for a while (until the soldiers realised that they were making television history) on Spanish TV, the first attempted coup d’état to be broadcast live.

Spain has an incredibly painful twentieth century political history; chaos and confusion ending in an appallingly bloody three year civil war and then a thirty six year dictatorship; itself ending with the return of democracy and the monarchy, almost as things had been in 1931.  So much happened, so many bad things were done, so many people were confused about what they or their parents did, so much guilt and confusion, that the events of the 1930’s were generally not discussed but by tacit agreement were forgotten, never referred to, not dug up, figuratively or literally.  In the same way, remarkably little has been published on the events of 23rd February and there was again quiet agreement that the less said, the better.  Until 2009 when the journalist and novelist Javier Cercas gave up on a novel about those hours, and decided to publish his researches instead.  Cercas’s work often reads like a novel; he frequently asks himself whether what unfolded was indeed true, whether the protagonists were real or characters invented for the story, for the events.   It was translated into English in 2009, in a magnificent piece of work by Anne MacLean capturing Cercas’s bewildered passion for the events he describes, and his gradual growth of sympathy for Adolfo Suarez, at that moment a ruined and broken Prime Minister, but next day a national hero.  Now out in paperback, and whilst this is a book of such insight and passion that it deserves hardback binding, if the purse won’t stretch, do get it in paperback.

But for readers whose memories are shorter, a little background may assist.  Francisco Franco became dictator of Spain after a vicious military campaign ending in 1939, keeping her out of the Second World War.  His harsh rule gradually softened in the 1950’s and he became regarded as a conservative Catholic authoritarian, a bulwark of anti-Communism in Europe at a time of great threats and fear.  Franco had an immensely romantic concept of a traditional monarchist Catholic Spain and nominated that he be succeeded by the then heir to the vacant Spanish throne, Prince Juan Carlos, son of the Count of Barcelona of whose political leanings Franco had severe suspicions.  What he did not realise was that Juan Carlos had similar sympathies to his father, and keeping his intentions quiet, formed friendships with a number of politicians of similarly liberal views.  The leader of those was Adolfo Suarez, a Francoist junior minister of humble background who Juan Carlos, on his accession in 1975, appointed as Prime Minister.  Suarez, who knew the old regime intimately from the inside, immediately began to dismantle the dictatorship and prepare for democracy, so quickly and successfully that in 1977 he was able to call a general election – which he won overwhelmingly.

Suarez was a remarkable man, the more so for his long service within the old regime.  After his election in 1977 he pushed through a whole series of changes and reforms, including and very controversially, legalising the Communist Party.  Perhaps inevitably he paid the price of every reformer in a hurry – by 1981 he was regarded by the right as a traitor, by the military as a security risk, by the left as of suspicious motives, by business as too pro-labour, by labour as too pro-business; he had alienated every significant group in the country.  In late 1980 even the King began to think that Suarez could no longer govern effectively and in February 1981 he agreed to step down.  So on 23rd February voting began in the Cortes to elect Suarez’s successor.

Cercas explores two things in his great work.  Firstly, who was really behind the attempted coup when the army arrived that evening?  And secondly, what on earth did Suarez, his deputy Prime Minister Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado (a former senior Francoist general) and Santiago Carillo, leader of the Communist Party and a civil war veteran, think they were doing, literally standing up unarmed to two hundred soldiers?  The answer, says Cercas, is that they believed so passionately in the concept of free democratic Spain that they were all prepared to die for their cause; Suarez in particular, having achieved his ambitions and seeing his own career ruined in the process, almost welcomed the chance of an honourable and dramatic death.  That was not to be granted; although shots were fired nobody was hurt and the King, also realising the power of television, at midnight put on his army uniform and ordered all troops back to barracks.  After a few tense hours they obeyed and Spanish democracy survived, growing ever stronger today.

But who was behind the coup; who planned it, who knew of it?  Well, says Cercas, almost everybody knew of it by the day of 23F.  Perhaps not of the detail, but that something was planned.  There was a general feeling that democracy was not working, that pluralism was too weak for a fledging political society and a moribund economy.  What was needed was, in a phrase widely used in Madrid society,  a “touch on the tiller”, perhaps a government of national unity led by a senior general.  Most of the army thought that way, Suarez’s own party did; so, astonishingly, did much of the Left, and possibly even the King.  But the mechanics of touching the tiller got subverted by a group of army hotheads, most notably the leader of the soldiers who burst into the Cortes, Lt-Colonel Tejero, who had already been imprisoned briefly for a pathetic attempt at a coup in 1978, but then returned to the army.

Of course, with Suarez restored to his place as a national hero (but not to office) and the King also a hero and symbol of a new Spain, everybody denied almost everything.  Tejoro and a couple of Generals went to jail; major reforms of the army were introduced.  Even Cercas has been unable to find out exactly what went on.  But what he demonstrates is that something went on, that the conspiracy was much wider than those who were locked up for it, that Spain very nearly slipped back to its Francoist ways.  And most of all, that three brave men standing up to armed troops was a truly remarkable act.

 

The Anatomy of a Moment, by Javier Cercas, published in translation by Bloomsbury, should be available in any good bookshop

 

 

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Issue 123:2017 10 05:Victoria and Abdul (J.R.Thomas)

5 October 2017

Victoria and Abdul

A film by Stephen Frears

reviewed by J.R. Thomas

The Shaw Sheet is never one to rush to judgement in its critical considerations; our film reviews tend to appear when the film under fire is about to leave the circuit, just clinging on to matinees in the Curzon Chelsea and in its last two days in the few remaining Odeons in the  suburbs of northern Leeds.  But at least we can give you some guidance as to whether you should be paying £5.95 on Netflix and the cost of a Deliveroo Indian for two before settling down to battle with the remote and the mango chutney.  An Indian supper would indeed be entirely appropriate for this week’s offering which is Victoria and Ahmed, directed by Stephen Frears.  Actually, a plateful of old ham might be an equally appropriate gastronomic accompaniment to this movie, but we will come to that.

The film has had very extensive advertising which seems to have paid off; it has had a good run for what was never likely to be a film appealing to the younger segment of modern audiences.  This observation is not just a random thought by your correspondent; a careful survey of the eager viewers in a half-filled smaller screens at a well-known chain (no more free advertising for you, Curzon) suggested that the audience was 7.5% male, and that of the 92.5% which was female, or at least dressed to appear to be of that gender, 75% appeared to be aged over fifty.  And, to be very ungallant, well fed, like the great Queen Empress herself.

This is the tale of Abdul Karim, sent to England to present an Indian coin to Victoria.  Here we must pause and take a step back.  The film begins with a warning that the events about to be shown are a true story. “Mostly”, the sub title adds. “Partly in part” or “Based on, roughly” might have been equally funny and a more accurate description.  The adjustment of boring historical facts begins early; it was Victoria’s idea that she should have a couple of Indian servants so that she could learn more about the land of which Disraeli, in a stunningly skilled piece of PR, had had her recently promoted to Empress. They served her first at a private breakfast, not at a state banquet at which the Queen speaks to no one and goes to sleep over the fish course.  And so we might go on, but we are not here to carp, much, and certainly the general tale is true enough.

Abdul was tall and good looking and the Queen, not unaverse to handsome men, made him into her “Munshi”, a personal attendant who would be a member of her inner household.  Her Indians were thought to be Hindu but in some indictment of the understanding of colonial civil servants turned out to be Moslem.  The Munshi taught the Queen Islamic versions of the history and the fables of India, and later Urdu; as with her Scottish ghillie, John Brown, she became exceptionally close to him, though in reality he did make several prolonged trips back to India.  There was much tittle-tattle about Brown and the Munshi both, but one suspects, and the film suggests, the Queen enjoyed having somebody outside political and court circles that she could talk freely to.  Judi Dench magnificently plays once again Queen Victoria, repeating her John Brown piece of twenty years ago; most of the population of the UK must by now think Dame Judi is Queen Victoria.  Tim Pigott-Smith in his last role played Sir Henry Ponsonby, the Queen’s private secretary, Ali Fazal plays the Munshi, Michael Gambon is the Marquess of Salisbury, her last Tory Prime Minister, and even Simon Callow makes a cameo appearance as Puccini.  The film is beautifully shot, the locations magnificent (Osbourne House playing itself), the atmosphere is generally lush and Victoriana runs frothingly and frillilly riot at all times.

The film begins as a comedy, sort of, as the playful note at the beginning suggests. But it never seems quite sure if it is or not.  It has been much criticised in those newspapers which are not great fans of the British Empire for white-washing the Empire (the Independent’s film critic used that phrase apparently without conscious irony) and for making Her Majesty out to be a misleading cross between Gandhi and Nehru, a bizarre suggestion which insults Dench’s subtle and fine portrayal (it should be, she is Queen Victoria after all).

What does deserve some lambasting (here comes the carping again, but we have to) is the playing of some of the supporting cast.  We forgive Callow for light sliced ham in his comic opera version of an Italian composer, but what is unforgivable is the really serious whole back leg of bacon of Eddie Izzard as the Prince of Wales, Bertie, Edward VII in waiting, who if this portrayal is to be believed was the father of all pantomime villains, a Sir Jasper to end all Sir Jaspers.  The Prince had many faults but the boorish rudeness shown here was not him.  And Izzard is too damned thin – the Prince’s nickname was Tum-tum, after all.  Was the part scripted this way or was Izzard allowed his own interpretation?

Which really is where the whole movie falls over.  This is Victorian history set up for the twenty first century.  Racialist stupid courtiers radiating evil against a sweet old lady of impeccably politically correct beliefs and behaviour and her innocent kindly humble Indian manservant.  What an appalling lot the Victorians were, we are meant to say.  Apart from Queen Judi of course.  Frears is one of our most distinguished and thoughtful film makers, but here he has had history cut and pruned and planed and filed to make a good story line that will not perplex modern audiences and will politely bow to, if not completely walk backwards in front of, modern prejudices.

Abdul was Munshi for fifteen years, from 1887 to Victoria’s death in 1901.  Not in this film which appears to telescope the action into, at most, a year or so.  Salisbury is Prime Minister the whole time, nobody except HM ages (going into a rapid decline in the last ten minutes), just one English winter seems to pass (and one pantomime wild Scottish autumn.)  In reality the Munshi was initially the object of much curiosity and of conscious and unconscious racialist behaviour.  Once he knew his place was secure in the Queen’s affections he became increasingly arrogant and indolent, piling on weight, being a great acquirer of titles and rewards, becoming grumpy and pushy.  Just like all the other courtiers in fact.  Bertie allowed him to be the last person to see Victoria on her death bed and then ordered all the papers in Abdul’s possession to be burnt.  Both those events are shown in the film; the death-bed moments seeming a strange aberration in the tale woven here, a kindly act toward the Queens’s closest retainer; and the burning of private papers normal on the death of any member of the core royal household to protect reputations.

After all this, it has to be said that this is well made and entertaining film (except for the Izzard hamming) and certainly worth a couple of hours.  But a history of Victoria and Abdul Karim it is not; and that is annoying when a more interesting and thoughtful production could have been made from the true story of a complex relationship between two very unlikely people brought close in an age very different to our own. As it is, for that you will need, as so often, a good history book.

 

 

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Issue 123:2017 10 05:What Shadows(Adam McCormack)

05 October 2017

What Shadows

The Park Theatre

by Adam McCormack

Star rating: ****

Are we all racists?  Or are prejudices born out of an identity that comes from our culture and background?  These are just two of the difficult issues that Chris Hannan’s brilliant new play raises.  What Shadows is set simultaneously in 1967 at the time of Enoch Powell’s infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech, and in 1992 as the seriously ill Powell (Ian McDiarmid) attempts a reconciliation with a close journalist friend Clem (Nicholas Le Prevost), who had been alienated by the speech, as well as responding to probing questioning from a black historian.  The play offers some insight into what drove Powell to make the speech and shows how he defended his views to his death.

What Shadows escapes from slipping into a heavy, and potentially dull, debate by telling some very human stories to convey the differing views.  Black historian Rose seeks out ostracised former academic Sofia (she was seen to have sympathy with Powell) to produce a joint work on racism.  At the same time she is trying to slay some of the demons, or shadows, from her own past.  Why does her Barbadian mother regard Rose as inferior, for being too black?  Did Rose really taunt and spit at the only white woman left in her road in Wolverhampton in the 1960’s?  In essence, she is trying to find out whether both she and her mother, who for so long have felt victims of racism, are really racists themselves.

Ian McDiarmid’s Powell is an uncanny recreation. Not only does he look the part, but the speech and mannerisms have been mastered to perfection. This performance goes beyond mere mimicry to show Powell’s ambition, intellect and passion.  We see the Machiavellian approach to the timing and delivery of the key speech, but also why he felt he had to make it.  In the later scenes, he shows Powell’s struggle with Parkinson’s disease in a way that stops short of making him pathetic as he strives for reconciliation with his old friend. Similarly, Paula Wilcox is a revelation.  She has the twin role of the quaker wife of Clem, a woman who had idolised Powell but cannot forgive him, and that of Mrs Hughes – the last white woman in the street in Wolverhampton.  The wooing of the war widow Mrs Hughes, by the anglophile Indian, Saeed, (played by Waleed Akhtar) adds some very moving touches to the production.

A play like this inevitably takes some risks.  There is a risk of offending by portraying racists as sympathetic characters, and a risk of being seen as preaching.  These risks are navigated successfully by What Shadows.  The launch of this production is timely in that a survey last week showed that one in four people admit to being racist.  Walking out of this play you might be inclined to view that proportion as being a lot higher.

 

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Issue 123: 2017 10 05: Soul Of A Nation (William Morton)

05 October 2017

Soul Of A Nation

Tate Modern, 12 July – 22 October

Reviewed by William Morton

Icon for My Man Superman (Superman Never Saved Any Black People – Bobby Seale) Copyright – Estate of Barkley L. Hendricks

This exhibition showcases work produced by Black artists in the two decades commencing in 1963 when the Civil Rights Movement was as at its height.  The political activity naturally stimulated Black artists to produce work reflecting it or in support of it.  It is hard to realise that at that date Black artists found it difficult in the US to have their work displayed in established galleries.  One response to this was to paint large murals and billboards with scenes of Black life.  Photographs of some of these form a part of the Exhibition. Recordings of the voices of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and other activists establish the mood.

Did The Bear Sit Under A Tree Copyright – Estate of Benny Andrews

The exhibition starts with some strong pictures relating to the Movement such as America the Beautiful (a sardonic reference to a famous patriotic song) by Norman Lewis, in which small Ku Klux Klan hoods and burning crosses in white are shown against a totally black background.  There is Bobby Seale tied to a chair and gagged during his trial; there are paintings of Black leaders in bright colours which look like Byzantine mosaics of saints.  One exhibit, Fred Hampton’s Door 2 by Dana Chandler, is a door riddled with bullet holes reflecting the shooting by the Chicago police of a Black Panther leader in his apartment. There are powerful graphics by Emory Douglas, the Black Panther’s Minister of Culture, which appeared in their magazine attacking the ‘pigs’ and showing children with guns.

Some of the most striking paintings are by Bradley L Hendricks, who died earlier this year. His Icon For My Man Superman (Superman Never Saved Any Black People – Bobby Seale), used to advertise the Exhibition, is a wonderful depiction of a cool young Black man with attitude and naked from the waist down with a surround suggestive of the American flag.  A self-portrait in the nude is similarly forceful and references an art critic who had described him as well- endowed (artistically).  Then there is What’s Going On in which four Black men in smart white suits and hats and a naked girl stare into the distance.  The title refers to a Marvin Gaye album considered a masterpiece of protest music.  The Exhibition quotes Hendricks as saying that he did not consider himself to be speaking for Black people.  His pictures seem to rather contradict that in that they give astrong sense of Black identity and pride.  In the same room there is a simple but colourful and effective Warhol portrait of Muhammad Ali (? The only work by a White artist shown).

Although it perhaps tails off a bit towards the end with curiously shaped canvases and sculptures made of nylon stockings, overall it is an intriguing Exhibition.  The depressing thought is that, if recent police shootings are anything to go by, the relationship between Black and Whites in the US remains fraught.

 

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Issue 122: 2017 09 28: Contents

28 September 2017: Issue 122

The week’s news –

your chance to catch up:

Image of elliptical decal with £$€ and Financial News caption

Comment

Kicking The Can Down The Street by John Watson

What are the two years for?

Anti-Semitism And ‘Hate Speak’: Labour’s Toxic Underbelly by R D Shackleton

 Extremists overshadow Corbyn’s conference triumph.

Kurdish Independence by Neil Tidmarsh

Celebration and anxiety.

Silly Season Diary Of A Corbynista by Don Urquhart

All roads lead to Brighton.

Crisis? What Crisis? by Frank O’Nomics

Heavyweight commentators offer portents of gloom.

Features

Freshers’ Week by Chin Chin

Horticulture can breed distress.

It’s Still September, For Heaven’s Sake! by Lynda Goetz

Christmas is three months away.

Hypothetically by J R Thomas

A suggestion to Mr Hammond.

Puzzles, Cartoons and Calendar

Cartoons by AGGro.

Crossword by Boffles: “Up In The Air”.

Solution to the last crossword “Mellow Fruitfulness”.

What’s on in October 2017 by AGGro.

Earlier EditionsLarge 600x271 stamp prompting the reader to join the subscription list

Issue 117: 10 August 2017

Issue 118: 17 August 2017

Issue 119: 07 September 2017

Issue 120: 14 September 2017

Issue 121: 21 September 2017

 

Issue 120:2017 09 14:Oslo (Adam McCormack)

14 September 2017

Oslo

The National Theatre

reviewed by Adam McCormack

Oslo, a new play by J T Rogers, takes two big risks. The first is whether the subject matter, clandestine meetings to try to achieve peace in the Middle East, is one that can hold the attention of theatre audiences – for many the situation is seemingly insoluble and impossible to understand.  The second is to navigate a topic that is highly sensitive and, although set almost 25 years ago, is still painfully real.  It is then a brilliant achievement to produce a play that, for 3 hours, keeps everyone on the edge of their seats and manages, as far as I can tell, to strike a balance in delivering the views of both sides without letting us off the hook in thinking that a long-term solution has been found.

Terje Rod-Larsen (played to perfection by Toby Stephens) is a businessman and founder of a think tank who, despite being highly egotistical and something of a dilettante, has strong views on how to negotiate peace in the Middle East.  He believes that the high level talks in Geneva are approaching the process in the wrong way by having all of the issues out in the open at the outset – making any progress impossible.  He advocates a gradualism, where agreement is reached point by point, with both sides making minor concessions along the way, until something workable is achieved.  To this end, behind the back of the Norwegian Foreign Minister, he orchestrates clandestine meetings between Palestinian Liberation Organisation  officials and two Israeli economists in Oslo (it is illegal in Israel for any politician to meet the PLO).  The process is painstaking, but ultimately gets to a stage where the Israeli government does engage and, after a farcical evening where Terje acts as intermediary using two phones at the same time, Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres agree the peace process which results in a handshake in front of the White House.

Oslo is perfectly paced.  Whenever there is a risk of getting bogged down in angry exchanges that appear to be going nowhere there is an injection of humour, with regular joke telling (and ridicule of Terje) by the delegates, or drama as the anger threatens to become physical.  Lydia Leonard as Mona, Terje’s wife, is perfect in her role as pacifier and the voice of reason – delivering timely, witty and helpful asides to the audience.  Peter Polycarpu as the Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurie, and Philip Arditti as Uri Savir for the Israelis, convey passion, anger and friendship in equal measure and to great effect.  The sets are effective, with a Scandinavian efficiency, and our understanding and empathy is helped by the occasional use of a film footage backdrop.

Oslo manages to be both funny and moving, while leaving us feeling that we have a better understanding of the issues.  The success of the process generates a somewhat pyrrhic elation – and the post-scripts leave us in no doubt that the meetings in Oslo were either nothing more than the first steps on a long journey or, in failing to include opposing factions in Palestine and Israel by being so clandestine, never likely to produce a lasting peace.  Nevertheless, the overriding feeling is that progress in a dispute is never possible unless both sides are able to sit down and talk – a sentiment that has a great resonance for so many issues beyond that of the Middle East.

 

 

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Issue 119:2017 09 07:Follies(Adam McCormack)

07 September 2017

Follies

The National Theatre

Reviewed by Adam McCormack

Star rating: *****

Delivered by a cast that exudes talent, Follies should leave theatre-goers in no doubt that Stephen Sondheim is the finest musical lyricist of his, or perhaps any generation.  His ability to deliver pathos and plot, yet still including humour and satire to rival Tom Lehrer is unparalleled.  Put into the hands of a cast that includes the likes of Imelda Staunton and Janie Dee at the top of their game, and directed imaginatively by Dominic Cooke, Follies is sure-fire huge hit for the National.

There are so many things to celebrate about this production, with one of the most notable being that it provides a great vehicle for a large number of middle-aged women – and boy, do they deliver.  Set in 1971 at a reunion party of between-the-wars showgirls, Follies tells the story of 2 couples who have struggled to come to terms with lost love, and what might have been. Ben (Philip Quast) is a successful businessman and politician trapped in an apparently loveless marriage to Phyllis (Janie Dee), while Sally (Imelda Staunton) his lover of 30 years earlier seems desperate to rekindle their relationship, although her husband, Buddy (Forbes) professes to be besotted with her despite having a mistress.  The four interact almost as they did in the 1940’s, which is exquisitely represented by having the counterpoint of their younger selves singing and dancing with them.

The numbers delivered by the main protagonists are tremendous, most notably Dee’s “The Story of Lucy and Jessie” and Staunton’s haunting “Losing my mind”.  But the other former showgirls also perform songs that go way beyond just vignettes. “Who’s that girl?’ for example, involves the whole female cast and works on so many levels.  The girls reassemble for an impromptu performance of their showstopper from 30 years earlier.  Ostensibly this is a song about discovering identity and potential, but performed in retrospect it becomes much more about what they were and could have become, and has an almost painful poignancy.  As beautifully controlled tap by the middle-aged women is overtaken by their younger selves we get the addition of a supreme example of musical spectacle. Similarly, Tracey Bennett’s performance of “I’m still here” could be the basis of a musical on its own, Di Botcher’s Ethel Merman-like rendition of “Broadway Baby” leaves us wanting to hear much more from her, and Dame Josephine Barstow (53 years an opera singer) is spellbinding in a duet with her younger self played by Anouska Eaton.

Follies is perhaps the biggest production the National has attempted, at least in terms of orchestra and cast, and the investment is more than justified. As ever with Sondheim, you may not come out of the theatre humming the tunes, but you will struggle to find a better evening’s entertainment.

 

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Issue 118: 2017 08 17: Contents

17 August 2017: Issue 118

The Shaw Sheet will be taking a two week holiday after this edition, so there will be no issues on 24 and 31 August. The next issue will appear on 07 September.

The week’s news –

your chance to catch up:

Image of elliptical decal with £$€ and Financial News caption

Comment

Tyranny by John Watson

The reason to hang on.

What A Gas! by J R Thomas

A little light on the price rises.

The Korean Crisis by Neil Tidmarsh

A world-changer, even without a nuclear apocalypse.

Better The Devil You Know? by Frank O’Nomics

Libor may be a dead man walking – but the pace will be very slow.

Features

Lazy Bastards by Chin Chin

A working man’s revenge.

Craft Villages; Plant Villages: Flower, Vegetable And Produce Shows by Lynda Goetz

Country life in the 21st century.

A Beefy Game by J R Thomas

The battle over shooting.

Puzzles, Cartoons and Calendar

Cartoons by AGGro.

Crossword by Boffles: “Down On The Farm”.

Solution to the last crossword “Au Bord De La Mer”.

What’s on in August 2017 by AGGro.

Earlier EditionsLarge 600x271 stamp prompting the reader to join the subscription list

Issue 113: 13 July 2017

Issue 114: 20 July 2017

Issue 115: 27 July 2017

Issue 116: 03 August 2017

Issue 117: 10 August 2017

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