Play For Today

My parents weren’t theatre goers. They had neither time nor money, though my father attended music concerts in his youth, and as a pupil midwife my mother enjoyed London’s West End theatres courtesy of free tickets left at the nurses’ home. I got the bug for watching plays via the BBC. There used to a programme called Play For Today. Every week, on Thursday night, I think, there was a new play written for television by writers that included Dennis Potter among others. It was magic. My sister loved the Regents Park open air theatre and introduced me to that, and I became a supporter of my local theatre in Guildford, where five minutes before curtain up for 50p I could get a seat in the house.

Unsurprisingly, in London theatre has been a constant since I moved here.

My friend Tony and I went to see Twelfth Night last night at the Globe. Last year we were blown away by Emma Rice’s Bollywood Midsummer Night’s Dream, and as this is to be her final season at the Globe, we wanted to see Twelfth Night as she has directed it too. I bought tickets as soon as they became available and have been really looking forward to this production.

Most of the audience were enraptured. We less so. After Malovolio had blown his whistle for the sixth time, I wanted to leap on the stage and take it away from her (a female actor is playing the part of the male steward, whereas up river at the National, a female actor is playing Malvolia, the steward’s gender having been changed).

It was a less than subtle production. Emma Rice seemed to have decided to throw everything at this one, and for me it was a case of less would have been more. There were bits I loved; the shipwreck, Antonio rowing through the groundlings in his boat Bewitched, some of the music. There was a lot of music. At one point in Act I, we wondered if the play had been turned into a musical. Twelfth Night is a light, frothy sort of play, to my mind it didn’t need, or deserve, to be whipped up further and half a ton of cherries put on the top.

It’s part of the Globe’s 2017 Summer of Love season. Ironic in more ways than one, but with the upcoming general election on my mind, it’s the disunity on painful display across my country, the distinct lack of love among our separate parts that seems most obvious this summer. The talk is all of a Tory landslide, Labour wiped out, Theresa May measuring up for new curtains at Number 10 and settling in for a long stay. Some of her admirers speak of her as the new Margaret Thatcher, a divisive politician to the power of n, and although Mrs May says she is no Margaret Thatcher, her constant harping on about unity while spelling out policies that obviously divide, punish the metropolitan communities who so stubbornly don’t vote Tory, and reward the Home Counties and shires who do, reminds me of Thatcher’s little speech when she quoted St Francis.

But for those of us who remember the days of Thatcher as leader, and I do with a shudder, we know that unity was the last thing she achieved. My country was riven. There were riots across the country. Greed and ostentatious wealth were praised, poverty was obviously the fault of not believing in Mrs T strongly enough, of being feckless enough to think the weak and the vulnerable were deserving of respect and dignity, of working in the public sector. Continue reading

Square Eyes

After a day spent staring at a screen as I start on my tax return, an unispiring experience where I am shocked at how little I earn, this evening I have turned to the slighter larger screen in the corner of the sitting room. It’s been mainly Channel 4; the news, the Paralympics, The Last Leg, shortly the Paralympics again and I’ll be watching until Ellie Simmonds races just after 11.30. But I had a bit of a break on ITV remembering how much I loved Cold Feet all those years ago, and finding that this return series is again reeling me in.

I didn’t watch the first episode last week. Call me a coward, but I didn’t want all those wonderful memories spoiled by a crass revival. However the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, so tonight I decided to give it a whirl. It is rather wonderful to find that your memories are not rose-tinted, that the writing is tight and the performances warm and convincing. Hermione Wotsit (not her real name, but I can’t think of it at the minute) is great as the buttoned up Karen, now estranged from her husband David, played by Robert Bathhurst as an overgrown prep schoolboy who functions well in high finance but badly everywhere else. Born into a different class he’d could have been Arthur Daley. Widowed Adam has a new much younger wife, who despite the misgivings of his old friends turns out to be a good sort. Pete is crumbling into depression, struggling to make a living and working as a cabby and a carer. His client is a crabby James Bolam, obviously enjoying himself in his role. At the rate I am acquiring TV programmes I want to watch, going to Australia is going to be a bit of a wrench. Continue reading

In Praise of Good Telly

Downton Abbey? You can keep it; Eastenders in posh frocks. Coronation Street? Never watched it, though Ena Sharples was a well known name in my primary school playground. Holby City? Phuh.

I am not the greatest television watcher, mostly because I have a very small television that makes it less of a relaxing pastime and more of one where you have to stand up and close to the screen so as to see what is going on. And I write as someone who only has myopia in one eye.

But every now and then I am gripped by a series. Wolf Hall earlier this year hardly counts as it was a transcendental adaptation of two transcendental novels. Anyway, I saw most of it on Celia and Charlie’s proper sized television. For a series, other than things like Paul O’Grady’s For the Love of Dogs to which I am completely addicted, to get my full attention it has to be pretty good. Or the Olympics.

Short silence while I relive the joy of standing a foot (31cm to my metric readers) from the television screen while Mo Farah, Jess Ennis, Hannah Cockroft and David Weir did their stuff while I shouted encouragement to their unhearing ears.

Back in 1996, quite by chance I caught the first episode of This Life. I was gripped. Immediately. I spoke about it to everyone I knew. No, no one else had seen it. Zero interest. So it was with a degree of cynicism some weeks later when This Life had become an unmissable televisual event in the circles in which I swim that I listened to those same people swearing that they had been into the programme from the word Go!

Today, out and about in London, where mid-afternoon I got drenched in the unforecast heavy rain shower, I noted several unmarked police cars flashing those distinctive blue lights, and racing along the streets. I don’t know what they were doing, and tonight’s Channel 4 News didn’t help. Somehow I think it’s probably connected to our understandable nervousness following events in Paris both on Friday and today. Continue reading

A New Fan for Bake Off

I have come rather late to fandom of Great British Bake Off. I had seen a few minutes of it before, but it hadn’t grabbed me. I really couldn’t give two hoots about the texture of someone’s cake icing. I don’t even like the stuff. So I would hear bits of conversation from the show’s afficionnados eagerly discussing the previous evening’s programme and mentally tune out.

For reasons I don’t recall, I watched almost the whole of the first programme in the current series. I missed the first few minutes, but sat amused and engaged to the end.

Is it always this entertaining? And do the presenters compete for who can serve up the most innuendos with a straight face? Mel and Sue just have fun being naughty; two adult women refusing to act like grown ups.

My favourite competitor is Nadiya. If she gets sent home, I am not sure if my interest will be sustained. It’s All in the Eyes with Nadiya. She’s Bake Off’s twenty-first century equivalent of the silent movie stars. Seldom have I seen a more expressive face. And she’s funny and cheeky, though I am not sure I can forgive her for putting gelatine in her icing to make it super glossy.
Continue reading

An Audio Confession

This is a confession. I’m not proud of what I am about to tell you. But I am relieved it’s over.
It started a few weeks back with The Musketeers. I don’t watch a lot of television, but that nine in the evening slot on a Sunday tends to be a good one. I am one of millions who loves Sherlock. The clip from the Musketeers looked pretty good I thought. But I found the voice overs explaining the action a real turn off. I didn’t bother with the second episode.
Then I watched something else, and there were the voice overs again. It must be a trend, I thought. I hope it doesn’t last long. Apart from that, I haven’t watched much apart from QI and Channel 4 news. It didn’t happen then. Come to think of it, it didn’t happen with Inside The Animal Mind or Outnumbered either. That’s a bit of a mystery.

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First Morning

I woke up at six and was disoriented by the dark. London never gets completely dark, but I am in the country for a few days and the moon is a slim crescent just now. A second or so passed before I remembered. I turned over and went back to sleep then woke again an hour or so later. The heating had come on. I rarely have the heating on in my bedroom at home. I realise now it is an effective way of waking me up. I got up and went into the kitchen to make some breakfast, an activity that had to be delayed while Westie Boy greeted me enthusiastically. One thing led to another, and after he had been out for an inspection of the garden, we had a bit of a lovefest and a game. The Big Cat came in and I lifted her over the gate away from her canine tormentor. She headed for the bathroom and her cosy basket nook behind the hot press.
It’s a grey morning but dry, in fact the forecast looks very hopeful. I don’t know what plans there are today. When I come here I love the chilling out I get to do, the abdicating of decision making. Cousin is an undemanding hostess. I can make my own meals, bake if the mood takes me, play with the dog and cats, curl up in a chair and read. We watched television last night, Channel 4 News, The Last Leg, a detective series whose title I’ve forgotten that I’ve not seen before but shall watch again, Graham Norton. Continue reading