Friday, May 29, 2009

Championship Play-Off Final

29 May 2009

On Monday we made our first visit to the new Wembley Stadium to watch Jeannie's team, Burnley, in the Championship Play-Off Final playing Sheffield United for a place in the Premiership. Wembley is magnificent: despite being very high up and towards the back we had a wonderful view and it was very exciting to be part of a crowd of 80,000. And even better to witness Wade Elliott's brilliant goal which took Burnley back to the top division for the first time in 33 years. Burnley is the smallest town to be represented in English football's top tier since the advent of the Premier League: there are more people inside Old Trafford for each Manchester United home game than the entire population of Burnley! It may prove to be a brief flirtation with elite status but we're looking forward to next season. 


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

'Just Between Ourselves' by Alan Ayckbourn

26 May 2009

The Royal Theatre, Northampton, is celebrating its 125th anniversary and the 70th birthday of Alan Ayckbourn by presenting three classic Ayckbourn plays featuring the same company of actors. On Saturday we saw 'Just Between Ourselves' - a typically bleak comedy from 1976. Ayckbourn has written 72 plays but I seem to keep choosing to watch those that I have already seen. As soon as I saw the car on stage I remembered that we had seen 'Just Between Ourselves' before - in August 2002 at the Theatre Royal in Bath. Then, the irrepressibly cheerful Dennis was played by Les Dennis while in Northampton the part was taken by Kim Wall. But I was amazed to discover that we had seen Matthew Cottle play Neil in both productions and that Dorothy Atkinson who was playing Dennis's wife Vera on Saturday had been Neil's wife Pam seven years ago in Bath. Ayckbourn cleverly manipulates your emotions with great set-piece scenes (particularly I think where he shows characters sharing a meal) that manage to be both hilarious and painfully sad. 

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Mark Steel

18 May 2009

On Sunday evening we were at The Stables in Wavendon to see the comedian Mark Steel. Last time he visited The Stables he was touring his 'Vive La Revolution' show examining the comic potential of the French Revolution (reviewed here in June 2006). This time we were treated to more straightforward stand-up encompassing the 2012 Olympics, the tyranny of supermarkets and (inevitably) MP's expenses. But there's always slightly more to Mark Steel than meets the eye as, for example, a series of funny but seemingly unconnected rants about the absence of humanity in call centres and shops turned out to have been a carefully constructed illustration of Karl Marx's theory of alienation. Steel is clever, likeable and extremely funny and, unlike many other contemporary comedians, his cultural references don't pass me by (when he launched into a parody of Radio 4's 'thought for the day' I knew we were on the same wavelength!). And you always get good value for money when you see him live - a lengthy and varied set.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Imam Baildi

15 May 2009

Imam Baildi are two Greek brothers, Orestis and Lysandros Falireas, whose wonderful eponymous CD takes old Greek tunes from the 40's, 50's and 60's (from their father's collection of 78s) and adds modern instruments and beats to create music which is cool, mysterious and incredibly catchy. Sounding not quite like anything else I’ve heard, the music of Imam Baildi has really stuck in my head this week – particularly the track ‘O Pasatebos’ which I’ve been playing over and over. Listen to them for free on Spotify.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

'Waiting for Godot' by Samuel Beckett

5 May 2009

When it comes to Samuel Beckett's 'Waiting for Godot', I've been spoiled. I first encountered the play as a teenager - when the hidden meaning in its absurdity comes most easily. And that first encounter was with the seminal 1980 Manchester Royal Exchange production starring Max Wall and Trevor Peacock. My second experience of Godot was a 1991 West End production with Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson. Mayall and Edmondson were extremely good but hampered by an audience that had come expecting a different kind of comedy. While I was working for the Royal National Institute for the Blind in the early 1990s I helped with a recording of 'Waiting for Godot' which gave me a chance to examine the text of the play in detail. And this week I've been at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, to see Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart as Estragon and Vladimir with Simon Callow and Ronald Pickup as Pozzo and Lucky. As you would expect, the acting was wonderful: I particularly enjoyed the movement - McKellen and Stewart both demonstrating a range of subtle gesture and the occasional dance step to suggest an earlier existence for their characters as a music hall double act. I enjoyed the clear positioning of Vladimir and Estragon on a path between Laurel and Hardy and 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead'. But coming to the play again a little older, and with such fond memories of previous performances, I found it less inspiring than I remembered. (It was interesting to see so many young faces in the packed, enthusiastic audience.) There were still some lovely moments and great lines and it was wonderful to see such a stellar cast in a serious play. There was a satisfying sense of completeness when I discovered from the programme that Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart also appeared together in the 1977 Royal Festival Hall premiere of Tom Stoppard's 'Every Good Boy Deserves Favour' - a play which we also recorded at RNIB and which I saw at the National Theatre only a couple of months ago (reviewed here in February 2009).

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