Thursday, November 29, 2012

'Duet for One' by Tom Kempinski

29 November 2012

As the publication of the Leveson report approached, for some reason I have been thinking a lot about Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin’s much-missed Channel 4 sitcom ‘Drop the Dead Donkey’. So it was lovely to have the chance to see on of its stars, Haydn Gwynne, at the Watford Palace Theatre last Saturday in ‘Duet for One’ by Tom Kempinski. The play focuses on a world-renowned violin soloist who has recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In a series of visits to a therapist (played by William Gaunt) she begins to come to terms with the end of her performing career and the major changes to her life. ‘Duet for One’ has clear parallels with the life of the ‘cellist Jacqueline du Pré whose career was cut short by multiple sclerosis. It also says a lot about the nature of psychotherapy and ‘talking cures’ and reminded me of 'Freud's Last Session' by Mark St Germain which we saw in New York last year (reviewed here in April 2011). ‘Duet for One’ is a moving and clever play, and the performances by Hadyn Gwynne and William Gaunt were excellent, but I felt that, dramatically, it needed a little more variety. It consists of a series of conversations between the same two people in the same room and, although there was certainly development of character and a journey of discovery and realisation, I felt it needed something more.

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

'Bleak Expectations' by Mark Evans

22 November 2012

Harrumble! for the return of Mark Evans’ joyously silly Radio 4 comedy ‘Bleak Expectations’ (previously reviewed here in August 2008) which started its fifth series this week (Thursdays, 6.30 pm, BBC Radio 4). It’s come a long way from the initial Dickensian parody and has become so self-reverential that new listeners might find it difficult to appreciate, but for those of us who have been there from the start it’s wonderful stuff. And you've just got to love the unbreakable optimism of Harry Biscuit who is convinced that there is no problem that cannot be solved with swans (and cake!).

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Northampton Symphony Orchestra concert

16 November 2012

Our Northampton Symphony Orchestra concert last Saturday featured one of my favourite pieces of music, the Second Symphony by Jean Sibelius. This was the first full symphony I played on joined the senior Saturday-morning orchestra at Didsbury Music Centre nearly 30 years ago and I have always had a soft spot for it. Even after the rigour of weeks of rehearsal for this concert I haven’t tired of Sibelius 2: it’s a sophisticated, emotional work that manages to be both delicate and powerful with a truly rousing finale. Our performance on Saturday was the best we had played the piece: I hope it was as enjoyable to listen to as it was to be part of. Mozart’s ‘Sinfonia Concertante’ provided an interesting contrast to the Sibelius, requiring a different kind of discipline. The orchestra’s leader, Trevor Dyson, and principal viola, Maria Dehandschutter, were excellent soloists.

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Friday, November 09, 2012

'NW' by Zadie Smith

9 November 2012

Zadie Smith burst onto the literary scene in 2000 with her remarkable debut novel, ‘White Teeth’ – a brilliant comic tale of modern multicultural Britain. Her latest novel, ‘NW’ (which I have just finished reading as an unabridged audio book read by Karen Bryson and Don Gilet), is a more serious affair. It’s a fascinating book which tells of the lives of two thirty-something women who grew up together on an estate in North West London. The first section focuses on Leah Hanwell, her family and friends in the present day – gradually filling in her backstory through flashback and reminiscence. The writing is teasingly impressionistic, giving us all the pieces of Leah’s life but leaving the reader to complete the jigsaw. At first this style felt difficult to follow and I was frustrated by the slow progress of what I had assumed was to be the main plot. But after a while you learn to let the stream of consciousness flow over you and the richness of the beautifully written prose builds a wonderfully rounded picture. The second half of the book gives us the life story of Leah’s childhood friend Keisha Blake, in linear, chronological order through a rapid series of nearly 200 very short chapters. This section felt easier and more enjoyable to read and the inevitable convergence of Leah and Keisha’s stories had a satisfying feel. Buried almost unseen in the middle of the stories of these two women there is a small, sad murder mystery that pulls the various strands of the novel together. ‘NW’ is an epic London novel with a Dickensian feel – a ‘Bleak House’ for the 21st century, perhaps.


Friday, November 02, 2012

'Medea' by Euripides: a new version by Mike Bartlett

2 November 2012

On Saturday we were at the Watford Palace Theatre to see Mike Bartlett’s new contemporary version of ‘Medea’ by Euripides (a Watford Palace, Headlong and Citizens Theatre, Glasgow joint production). After a hectic week at work I wasn't sure I was really in the mood for Greek tragedy but this was a very witty, tragi-comic ‘Medea’ which preserved all the original elements (right through to the inevitable, bloody conclusion) while creating a really enjoyable, and often very funny, piece of theatre. This didn't feel like ancient characters merely transplanted into a modern setting but a very believable 21st century domestic drama. Rachael Stirling was great in the title role – simultaneously distraught, disturbed, angry, clever, witty and self-aware. And a special mention should also go to the wonderful life-size doll’s house set (by Ruari Murchison) with its sliding walls revealing each of the rooms of Medea’s home in turn.

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