Friday, January 26, 2018

The Blockheads

26 January 2018

Last Friday we were back at the MK11 venue in Kiln Farm, Milton Keynes, to see The Blockheads. Regular readers who are keeping count will know this is the sixth time we have seen the band since our first encounter in July 2007, the last time also being at MK11 (reviewed here in December 2016). But this time the usual set-list of Ian Dury-era favourites was interspersed with songs from The Blockheads’ new album, ‘Beyond the Call of Dury’. At first listen the new songs sounded instantly and unmistakably Blockheads with catchy tunes, funky beats and those clever, dry, witty lyrics – but with occasional contemporary references to mobile phones etc. The Blockheads were on fine form – blending cheekiness, silliness and fun with incredibly slick musicianship. They always put on a great show and it’s always a pleasure to see them still going strong.

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Monday, January 15, 2018

'A Passage to India' by E.M. Forster, adapted by Simon Dormandy

15 January 2018

On Saturday we were at the Royal Theatre in Northampton to see a new adaptation, by Simon Dormandy, of E.M. Forster’s ‘A Passage to India’ in a joint production by the Royal & Derngate and simple8, directed by Sebastian Armesto and Simon Dormandy. I have fond memories of a very good stage version of ‘A Passage to India’ by Shared Experience at Milton Keynes Theatre in 2002 and this new version was similarly impressive. With a minimal set, the focus was very much on the actors and this was a strong ensemble piece, with a large cast collectively becoming a carriage, a train, an elephant and the Marabar Caves. Original music by Kuljit Bhamra was performed live on the stage, with the combination of ‘cello and tabla emphasising the Anglo/Indian confrontations in the story. The cast were all very strong with particularly impressive performances by Asif Khan as Dr Aziz, Liz Crowther as Mrs Moore and Richard Goulding (who we last saw as Prince Harry in Mike Bartlett’s 'King Charles III', reviewed here in January 2015) as Fielding.

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Friday, January 12, 2018

‘Angstrom: The Man Who Wasn't Dead’ by Joel Morris and Jason Hazeley

12 January 2018

This week I stumbled across the first episode of an excellent new radio comedy series. ‘Angstrom: The Man Who Wasn't Dead’ (on BBC Radio 4 at 6.30 pm on Wednesdays) is a very silly parody of Scandi-crime TV series, written by Joel Morris and Jason Hazeley. Matthew Holness plays Knut Ångström – a brooding, alcoholic, maverick Swedish detective from the tough streets of Oslo. The absence of a body, or any evidence that anyone has been killed, doesn’t stop Angstrom treating every incident he encounters as a potential murder. It’s a loving pastiche of ‘The Killing’ (reviewed here in December 2011), ‘The Bridge’ (reviewed here in January 2014), ‘Wallander’ etc. Wonderfully childish and very funny – I’m really looking forward to Episode 2. You can listen to ‘Angstrom’ at:

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Friday, January 05, 2018

'Reservoir 13' by Jon McGregor

5 January 2018

One of my favourite episodes of ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’ is ‘The Missing Page’ (written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson in 1960). Tony Hancock is reading a salacious murder mystery (‘Lady, Don't Fall Backwards’ by Darcy Sarto) but when he gets to the end the last page has been torn out, depriving him of the identity of the killer. Desperate to know whodunnit, Hancock sets out on a quest to find the missing page. The idea of a crime novel without a solution feels inherently frustrating but Jon McGregor’s wonderful new novel ‘Reservoir 13’ very effectively subverts the genre. ‘Reservoir 13’ (which I have just finished reading as an unabridged audio book, narrated by Matt Bates) starts with the disappearance of a 13 year-old girl, Rebecca Shaw, who has been staying with her parents in a holiday cottage in a small Derbyshire village over the New Year. “When last seen she’d been wearing a white hooded top with a navy-blue body warmer, black jeans and canvas shoes. She was five feet tall, with straight, dark-blond, shoulder-length hair.” This description of the missing girl is one of several phrases that are repeated so often through the novel they become poetic mantras. As the villagers join forces to search the moors and the police investigation begins to probe into all aspects of village life, Jon McGregor plays with our expectations, suggesting all the familiar tropes of a crime novel. But soon it becomes clear that the disappearance of “Rebecca or Becky or Bex” is really just a hook for a beautifully drawn portrait of life in a small rural community. The seasons pass, and then the years, and we get to know many of the villagers, following the interlocking network of their personal stories in an elegant and completely believable soap opera. McGregor writes in short, simple sentences which have a poetic quality that reminded me of that other literary picture of a village and its inhabitants, Dylan Thomas’s ‘Under Milk Wood’. McGregor’s omniscient third-person narrative makes no judgements, merely reporting events as they happen in a flat, matter-of-fact tone which seems to make them strangely more poignant. Events are also presented with the assumption that we already know the protagonists: there is no backstory and time moves relentlessly forward throughout the novel. I don’t think it is too much of a spoiler to reveal that we never find out what happened to Becky Shaw (though there are plenty of hints about a range of possible explanations). But this doesn’t make ‘Reservoir 13’ a frustrating read: it is an unusual and compelling novel and I didn’t want to finish it. It was very exciting, therefore, to discover the companion podcast series ‘The Reservoir Tapes’, being broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and available to download as free podcasts. In the 15 episodes of ‘The Reservoir Tapes’ Jon McGregor has written individual perspectives (‘Charlotte’s Story’, ‘Vicky’s Story’, ‘Deepak’s Story’ etc) which cast light on events before and after Becky Shaw’s disappearance. The podcasts introduce some new characters that don’t appear in the novel and many of them relate to a period before the start of the novel. But they completely integrate with what we know from the novel, forming an elaborate jigsaw puzzle in which everything starts to become clear – apart from the one thing we really want to know: what happened to Becky Shaw? See: or search for ‘The Reservoir Tapes’ in your podcast app.

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