Wednesday, September 26, 2012

'Lost in Yonkers' by Neil Simon

26 September 2012

On Saturday we were at the Watford Palace Theatre to see ‘Lost in Yonkers’ by Neil Simon. This Pulitzer Prize-winning play from 1991 is clearly a mature work which marries Simon’s trademark comic quips and wry observations with an achingly poignant tale of family relationships and dependency set against a backdrop of war in 1940s New York. We see events through the eyes of two Jewish teenage boys who have to move in with their fearsome German grandmother while their father is away on business, but it is the boys’ Aunt who emerges as the heart of the story. Her imperfect memory and ditzy absent-mindedness initially make her seem a peripheral, comic character, but she gradually moves centre-stage and her yearning to leave her over-bearing mother and start her own family is terribly moving. The Watford Palace production was excellent with strong performances throughout the cast, particularly Laura Howard as Aunt Bella – looking and sounding uncannily like Kristen Schaal’s goofy New Yoik stalker-fan Mel in ‘Flight of the Conchords’.

Labels: ,

‘The Slap’ by Christos Tsiolkas

26 September 2012

I’ve just finished reading Christos Tsiolkas’s novel ‘The Slap’ (as an unabridged audio book narrated by Alex Dimitriades). ‘The Slap’ seemed to attract equal amounts of praise and condemnation on its publication in 2009 – its readers taking sides in much the same way as the central plot divides the novel’s characters. The book starts with a family barbecue in Melbourne at which an adult loses patience with an unruly child and strikes the toddler. The rest of the book deals with the reactions of those present, dividing friends and families as to whether this was a justified ‘slap’ or an unpardonable act of violence by an adult on a child. The novel is structured as a series of eight interlinked short stories, each showing the point of view of one of the people present at the barbecue. This allows Christos Tsiolkas to fill in the backstory of each of the families and friends and provides an interesting exploration of varying ethnic and cultural backgrounds and different generations. I liked the way the reader is kept guessing which character is really at the centre of the story. And there is an intriguing inevitability to the way another ‘slap’ occurs towards the end of the story – thought not quite in the way you expect. But I’m not sure I really enjoyed ‘The Slap’: almost all of the characters seem fairly unlikeable – violent, misogynist, deceiving, swearing, drug-taking and cruel. ‘The Slap’ is a very clever novel but I found it a bit cold.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

'Bully Boy' by Sandi Toksvig

19 September 2012

Last Saturday we were at the Royal Theatre in Northampton to see ‘Bully Boy’, a new play by Sandi Toksvig which explores the mental health problems suffered by soldiers who have seen active service. The play is a two-hander in which a Major (with his own physical injuries as a result of serving in the Falklands) investigates a young Private who was involved in an incident in Afghanistan in which a young civilian boy was killed. This disturbing subject matter is dealt with cleverly, believably and movingly: there are some nice touches of humour but this is a serious work. In 100 minutes of uninterrupted drama the audience’s attention is held with a measured mixture of pace, plot and movement. Anthony Andrews gives a subtle and thoughtful performance as the Major and Joshua Miles brings an incredible twitchy physicality to the troubled young soldier (and demonstrates a near-perfect Burnley accent!). Simon Higlett’s set makes creative use of projection to conjure up a wide variety of environments. ‘Bully Boy’ is an excellent piece of theatre – entertaining, disturbing and thought-provoking.

Labels: ,

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bandstand Marathon 2012

14 September 2012

At 1 pm last Sunday afternoon simultaneous performances started at 300 locations across the UK as part of Bandstand Marathon 2012. We were at the amphitheatre in Campbell Park, Milton Keynes, to see the BradwellSilver Band. It was a lovely sunny afternoon, though the wind presented some challenges with gusts occasionally carrying away sheet music and even a music stand! The Bradwell Silver Band treated us to a mixed programme that included classical music, big band jazz and pop and many pieces with an Olympic connection. It was great fun: watching a band on a bandstand on a sunny Sunday afternoon felt charmingly old-fashioned yet clearly appealed to an audience of all ages. Best of all there were some very young children dancing enthusiastically in front of the bandstand. One boy was using his grandfather’s walking stick like Fred Astaire dancing with a cane. When the music stopped he held the walking stick against his leg, upside down so that the curved handle was on the floor, and bent his leg upwards so that he was standing on one leg, proudly declaring “I’m Jonnie Peacock”. The kids proceeded to enact a series of Paralympic races, emulating their disabled heroes. It was a London 2012 moment!

Labels: ,

Friday, September 07, 2012

London 2012 Paralympic Games

7 September 2012

We spent most of last weekend at the Olympic Park in Stratford, East London, watching the Paralympics athletics and track-cycling. It was a fantastic experience. The Olympic Park is wonderful and the organisation, the venues, the wildflowers, the weather and, of course, the Games Maker volunteers were all excellent. You can see a selection of my photos at:

The atmosphere in the velodrome was electric, though the temperature was like a sauna! We really enjoyed watching the sprints with their hesitant ‘cat and mouse’ manoeuvring followed by a sudden dive for position and a desperate race for the line – much more thrilling when the two bikes involved are tandems, and particularly enjoyable as there was an all British final to the men’s individual B sprint with Anthony Kappes and Craig MacLean securing the gold medals and Neil Fachie and Barney Storey the silver. It was great to see the medal ceremony in a packed crowd all singing ‘God Save the Queen’.

We were also very lucky to be in the Olympic Stadium for two evening sessions of athletics. Saturday was definitely Irish Night in the stadium as we watched Jason Smyth win the T13 100m and Michael McKillop triumph in the T37 1500 m. On Sunday saw Oscar Pistorius dramatically beaten by Alan Oliveira of Brazil in the T44 200m – though Oliveira’s incredible acceleration in the last few metres didn’t come as too much of a surprise, having been there to see him do something similar in his semi-final the previous day. We got to sing the national anthem in the stadium too, as we saw the Duchess of Cambridge present the gold medal to the F42 discus champion Aled Davies. And we finished our Paralympic experience on the high of seeing David Weir win the T54 5000m, late on Sunday evening. The entire crowd was on its feet for the whole of the last lap and it was truly thrilling.

As someone who has been eagerly looking forward to London 2012 for the past 7 years, I am delighted to be able to report that the experience exceeded my expectations: it was brilliant!