Friday, 20 June 2003

Focussing on the text

Back to the Belgrade Theatre for the opening show in their short but sweet new writing season. Conor McPherson's This Lime Tree Bower is the first offering of the season, a gently brutal piece that is a triple tours des forces by the three actors (Peter Quinn, Dermot Kerrigan and Nick Danan). The theatre space has been transformed from the traditional proscenium stage and stalls to a studio theatre by extending the stage apron-style half way across the auditorium, with additional seating arranged on either side of the stage itself. With minimal staging, and all but no physical or verbal interaction between the actors, there was nowhere for the performers or the text to hide. Separately, they wound us into the substance of their individual and collective lives: the adolescent worship for an undeserving but attractive new school mate; the world weary self-loathing of a lecturer of philosophy; the desperation created by the love and loyalty of a son for his desperate father. As each new character is revealed it becomes clear that the three are closely connected - fifteen year old Joe is brother to twenty year old Frank, and lecturer Ray goes out with their sister Carmel. For Joe and Ray, their thoughts about women are their most defining feature. Joe's sexual yearnings move from the safe abstract to the combined pain and pleasure from catching his schoolmate rape a drunk girl met at the local nightclub; that neither he nor the audience are clear that it is rape until much later adds to Joe's confusion. The memories of his dead mother drift in and out of his consciousness; his admirable sister makes minimal impression. As for Ray, if his cynical mysogynism had been revealed in dialogue, I suspect he would have become a hateful caricature. As it is, the monologue reveals instead a painful self-awareness and disgust, for all his surface cockiness.
Frank has no time for women; either frightened off by a female brush of the hand as a boy, or too encumbered by his fixation on the man who he perceives to have undone his father, the most apparently sensible of the three pursues the most reckless course with the result that he finds that money can indeed bring happiness, or at least freedom from desperation and subservience.
McPherson has built a platform that demands actors of significant substance - this production delivers the full package.

Friday, 13 June 2003

A Mr McGregor moment

"Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail and Peter..... 'Now my dears' said Mrs Rabbit, 'you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don't go into Mr McGregor's garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs McGregor'". So you 're out there early morning in your nightie and wellies to feed the menagerie, and notice a frantic wriggling in the netting covering the cauliflowers in the vegetable patch. You immediately think "RAT!!!" and feel the involuntary shivers leap up your spine to the top of your head when you realise that there is no tail to speak of and that you have Peter Rabbit entrapped. A very junior Peter Rabbit, all of eight inches long and completely entangled. Do you bop him on the head and make him into a sausage roll - not even enough meat there for a pastie - or do you say, ahh, poor little mite eating my vegetables, cut him carefully from his bindings and let him free? It was fish for supper.

Tuesday, 10 June 2003

Fox poo

Dog walking, meandering, rambling, striding, mooching - whatever you call it and whatever the pace to suit the mood, a daily activity in my life. Her name (obviously) is Mopsa. A big and most beautiful representation of six stones (I can only work weights in imperial), with every ounce making its presence felt. Today was a fox poo day. You are in your own sweet world, admiring the foxgloves, watching the squirrels do their tarzan impressions, catching your arms on a nettle, tussling with a five bar gate, when your canine chum announces her pungent presence with more than mere traces of fox shit adhering to her ears. Why do they do this? The rest of the walk has you shooing her away to keep the air around you breathable, and the first thing once home is retrieving the Marigolds and giving her the hosepipe or bucket treatment, which she detests. She then does the doggy shake thing, which has you leaping out of range before any trace lands on your own clothes. Vile, vile, vile.

Saturday, 7 June 2003

Foods to relish and regret

Why has it taken a (smallish) handful of decades to understand my stomach's true happiness? I'm not talking guilt here - the chocolate cake that tastes amazing but has equivalent energy for a full day's intake, if delicious in every way and has you curled up with a contented smirk is fine by me and my insides. But what about those instantly lipsmackingly gratifying things that mean regret in two hours time or are still lingeringly present the next morning in the form of lethargy, less than happy breath and the sense that today, you will be leading not with your head but with your stomach? Consciously knowing that your stomach is there (no matter how sizeable it may be) is a bit like sensing your feet all day - you only do that when they hurt. So what is in my relish column and what should be relegated to the regret side of the balance sheet?

Relish - lovely stuff

  • raspberries, lychees, mangos, bananas, lemons, limes, pears...... apple crumble, fruit tarts. Plus dollops of extra thick cream
  • fine plain chocolate
  • home-baked bread, croissants, real bagels
  • unsalted butter
  • lobster, langoustine, scallops, mega prawns, salmon (smoked, raw, grilled), tuna, squid, octopus, haddock (why is it so difficult to get this stuff where I live?)
  • Free range poultry
  • lettuces: butterhead, lambs tongue, salad bowl, romaine, webbs chinese leaves, iceberg
  • brussels sprouts - I can't be alone in this! Cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus,french beans, peas, mange touts, swiss chard, red cabbage. And roasted: parsnips, red peppers, beetroot, carrots
  • baked beans
  • duck eggs
  • lamb, pork, beef, - home reared or know the owner!
  • anything you could proudly call cheese from the cow, goat, ewe or buffalo
  • pasta - fresh, dried or spaghetti hoops
  • apricot jam
  • cashews, almonds, pine nuts, walnuts, pistachios
Regret (some I hate, some I just regret)
  • grapefruit, oranges, sharon fruit. Eccles cakes, mince pies and garibaldi biscuits. Single cream - what's the point?
  • Cadbury's Bourneville
  • do you remember Dinkum white sliced? Was it just a childhood nightmare? Was it really called Dinkum? And where have all the great bagels gone?
  • that Anchor stuff
  • fish and chips - in fact, most (all?) takeaways, kippers, herrings, roll mops
  • the other stuff (battery hens....)
  • spinach, curly kale, winter greens, green peppers, excess onions (wonderful french onion soup is now in the regret list), garlic
  • bakewell tart
  • goose eggs
  • too much lamb, pork or beef, whatever the source
  • fruit sauce topped cheese-cake
  • Heinz macaroni cheese
  • marmalade, mincemeat
  • dry roasted anything

Tuesday, 3 June 2003

The teeming aviary that is Talking Birds

One of the most extraordinary and invigorating multi-media performance companies to be found anywhere, the three artists who make up Talking Birds (Nick Walker, Derek Nisbet and Janet Vaughan) (see also Nick) never fail to surprise or create an itch to be scratched. Try calling their Telephone Exchange +44 (0)845 2255918 and get a different one-minute story for each day of the week; log onto Web Demographic to re-determine the definition of mundane; fall from a great height into the novel Blackbox; jiggle about impatiently in the hope that they come to a venue somewhere near you sometime soon. Next public piece from a Tbird will be the Coventry Mystery Plays (5-23 August 2003), held in the every-time-you-see-it-jaw-droppingly-awe-inspiring Coventry Cathedral ruins for which Derek composed the music.

Monday, 2 June 2003

Two black piggies

It was seriously hot here on Friday, so we took a break from work to clear heads and loosen muscles. Now that I am all grown-up and don't need to ask teacher, we were working in the garden. As we had managed to down six litres of water between four of us in two hours, I took the opportunity to check that the menagerie inmates were finding adequate shade and water. First prize went to the pigs, who at twelve weeks old had just about managed to climb into their water trough, squished together side by side, snouts and ears emerging like a pair of mini-hippos. By the time they reach maturity they will be lucky if both their heads fit in at the same time. Exponential growth seems to be the piggy order of things, even though they have permanent run of a large grassed area which they use as a formula one race track, and are not fed over generously. I should point out that we will in due course be doing the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall thing and hugely enjoying the produce.........