Tag Archives: entertainment

Hello Again!

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It’s been a little while – hope everyone’s been well. I hadn’t had much time or inclination for blogging, as I was dealing with insomnia and anxiety in October and November. I get spells on and off and they last for a couple of months at a time. Maybe sometime I’ll write a longer post on it, but for now, I’ll leave it at the fact that I feel better and I’ve been getting more sleep.

We’re now in Gregorian calendar year 2016 – 2015 whizzed by, eh? Sadly, most of the news seemed to be dominated by terrorism, xenophobia, killing and war. I’m hoping that underneath it all, evolution is happening on this boondocks planet. I always try to remain optimistic, but it’s really, really tough sometimes.

Anyway, before I get off on a massive rant about stupidity – I did have some good times in 2015. My holidays in Lyme Regis and Great Malvern were pretty good (though the cottage in Great Malvern left a lot to be desired). The weather in the first half of the summer was lovely – lots of sunshine and low humidity. I didn’t see that many films – in fact, I don’t think I saw any in the cinema. The newest “Mad Max” film looked pretty good and there were a few others, but largely I wasn’t impressed enough by Hollywood’s output. Not much change there, then. There’s a new “Star Wars” film out now. From what I can gather, the plot’s a retread of the original 1977 film, so I’m not too bothered to catch it in the cinema. Maybe I’ll rent the DVD when it’s available – I left my “Star Wars” nerd-dom behind a long while ago. I did watch “Slackers” on DVD, for the first time in years and I still enjoyed it. It’s dated a bit, but I’ll take the 90s hipsters over the ‘millennial’ version – perhaps I’m just getting old. “Toast Of London” and “Horrible Histories” (all five series) were also a mainstay in our house – we’ve had to stop watching both for a while, ‘cos we’d seen them so many times.

Sadly, I didn’t get to many concerts last year – my gig attendance has been pretty shocking. In my slight defense, there wasn’t much on in Oxford that I really had to see. I did see Gryphon at the Union Chapel in London in May, which was a treat and a great show. They’ve since been named as part of the line-up for the 2016 Cropredy Festival, so I may get to see them again – if we decide to go. I wanted to see Matt Berry & The Maypoles in December, but the closest they got was London and I didn’t have the cash. Hopefully, they’ll do an Oxford show sometime. Some ginkus gave their show a negative review, in The Guardian – apparently, they thought they’d be attending a musical comedy gig. Tsk tsk.

Pixie and I also saw the Patrick Marber adaptation of Ivan Turgenev‘s A Month In The Country, titled Three Days In The Country, at the National Theatre in September. The cast featured John Simm, Mark Gatiss and Amanda Drew. I enjoyed it and Mark Gatiss in particular was excellent – a great comic role for him. We lucked out and had a nice, sunny September day in London. There were loads of people out on the South Bank enjoying the weather and the coach ride back to Oxford was fairly relaxing.

There were a load of new albums I meant to buy, but didn’t get round to – here’s some of them:

Unknown Mortal OrchestraMulti-Love

Flying LotusYou’re Dead

Sunn-O))) & Scott WalkerSoused

Fuck Buttons –  Slow Focus (released in 2014)

EarthPrimitive And Deadly

Six Organs Of AdmittanceHexadic

Field MusicMusic For Drifters

The Chemical BrothersBorn In The Echoes

The OrbMoonbuilding 2703 A.D.

There were a load of reissues, too – the four Yes reissues with bonus tracks and surround-sound disc, the deluxe reissue of Jethro Tull‘s “Minstrel In The Gallery”, the deluxe Procol Harum reissues are just a few I’d like to add to the collection. I also bought quite a few LPs, but I won’t list them all here.

I don’t have too much planned for this year – but I may get the Kaleidophonic Stroboscope podcast up and running again, even if just to post the old shows in a new site. We’re having the house re-decorated and getting a new boiler, which is going to soak up most of the cash, so I’ll have to see what I’ve got time for. Stay tuned, kids – I’ll keep you in on the skinny.

Stewart Lee – “A Room With A Stew” – Oxford Playhouse – March 31st, 2015

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Stewart Lee appeared in Oxford again, with his new “work-in-progress” shows, titled (by the awesome Alan Moore, apparently) “A Room With A Stew“. The last time I saw him was at the New Theatre on the “Carpet Remnant World” tour, a few years ago. I wish I could remember a lot of it, but all I can recall are the YouTube comments bit, the budget Scooby-Doo episode (after the Tories ransacked the show’s budget) and his reference to Dr Strangely Strange‘s “Heavy Petting” LP. I do recall enjoying the gig a lot and was excited when the missus found out he was going to be at The Playhouse.

The missus had to pass on the show, due to a really bad chest cough, so I went with her brother, his wife and an old work-mate. We had decent seats, in the stalls, about seven rows from the stage. John Coltrane‘s version of “My Favorite Things” was piped through the in-house speakers as the crowd settled into its seats. Eventually, the lights dimmed a bit, a stage announcement was made and the man walked out to applause.

He explained that the two sets of the show would be broken into segments, as he was working on material for the newest series of his Comedy Vehicle programme, which was picked up for more episodes. The first bit consisted of Lee poking fun at the right-wing media pundits, who ask why no left-wing comedians ridicule ‘the Muslims’. He dove-tailed that with a shot at popular comics who use tired “observational comedy” (he did a funny bit where he pretended to run around the stage – in a Lee Mack or Michael McIntyre way) as the main part of their humour. In the end, Lee just said “How ’bout those Muslims you see these days?” There was a (possibly fictional – sometimes you can’t tell with Stew) story about a Muslim woman, who sat on a copy of the Jehovah’s Witness magazine, “The Watchtower”, on a bus. He diverted into other topics during the telling of the story, like Twitter-spying and Nigel Fart-age, before finishing the entire bit with a really funny and lengthy punchline (which I can’t recall completely at the moment).

The ‘second half’ of the first set started with a story about himself being urinated on by a group of bullies at his school. This led him, he suggested (in a Freudian way), to want to entertain people. He reasoned that on some level, as the bullies were laughing at him, he was ‘entertaining’ them. More off-shoots of the central premise followed, including a urine-based aphorism that his family used and a story about his grandfather, a World War II veteran, attempting to wee on flies in a Maltese gents room – pretending they were German aircraft. He said, with a lot of gravitas, “For some of those guys, the war never ended”. When the crowd failed to laugh at that line – Lee went into a (jokey) tirade about how comedians are under-appreciated and shouting “it’s crowds like you that tied the noose around Robin Williams‘s neck!” The hilarious faux-crowd-berating continued for another few minutes and then Lee bounded off-stage for the intermission.

The second half of the show involved surplus England flags, various bodily fluids and hanging England flags outside his home to dry and the impression it made on his neighbours. I won’t spell it out graphically – but I think you can piece the bit together from that. The funniest bits were him calling his cat “Paul Nuttall From UKIP” and referring to lustful feelings as “Nigel Farage is on the campaign trail”. There was also a part where he told how one of his friends looked very “Venezualan” (earlier in the show, he asked for a name of a country that would seem benign to the crowd) – a funny riff on how xenophobes view ‘foreigners’. He described how his friend would wear strange clothes (he came up with some fantastical outfits), listen to weird Venezualan music on Radio Three (he launched into an improvised record-scratching, high-pitched vocal and animal noise sound for about 5 minutes) and how, in the end, everyone but Lee’s friend knew he was ‘Venezualan’.

Lee finished with a short section that he referred to as an ‘encore’, but he did say at the beginning of the show that he wouldn’t leave the stage and walk back on. It was a short fragment of a bit about clients of sex workers leaving used condoms around the street and sometimes in Lee’s garden. I can’t recall the final punch-line, but it had to do with Lee’s wife and feminism, but in a praising way, not an obnoxious one.

I found the second half wasn’t quite as tight as the first – but to be fair, even these later shows on the tour are still opportunities for Lee to hone the material. In any case, I had a great time and it’s always good to see Stew – even when he’s mock-berating me for showing up to watch him.

Gregorian calendar year 2014: R.W.C. stylee

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You’ve probably got used to me typing this, but jesu crisco, did this year zoom by! It’s been a bit of a weird one, to be honest – not particularly for me, but world events-wise. I’m not sure what anyone’s got against various Malaysian airline companies, but they’ve lost not just one plane, but two, in the space of 8 months – not counting another which was shot down over Ukranian air-space (which was either the fault of pro-Russian rebels, or the Ukranian government military, depending on who you talk to). The only thing I can be certain of is that the insurance affiliates of those airlines are going to busy with claims for the next five years.

Things kicked off again in the Middle East: the Syrian civil war is still raging, with thousands of refugees fleeing to Turkey and Jordan. Meanwhile, in northern Iraq, which has been left as a power vacuum, after the botched invasion and occupation by U.S. and UK forces, a curious army of hard-line Islamic militants managed to defeat the ‘trained’ Iraqi military, seize a lot of their equipment and rampage through most of the towns and villages in their wake. Calling themselves the ‘Islamic State’, they threatened the Turkish border and moved into parts of Syria. Once again (as in Libya) – a Western coalition was formed to “bomb the crap out of them” (in layman’s terms). Has that been effective? Time will tell. Meanwhile, Pres. Obama authorised 1500 more U.S. troops to head back to Iraq in the fight against I.S. – hmmm, I suspect it’ll be “Iraq Invasion – Part III” in 2015. Happy Happy Joy Joy. Israel also had its own conflict in the summertime, as it’s government decided to launch another attack on Hamas. As always, hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed, along with some Israeli soldiers. Most of the human rights abuses appear to be on the Israeli government’s hands, as shown by an Amnesty International report. There seems to be a cease-fire on at the moment – how long it will last is anybody’s guess.

Back in Blighty, things looked pretty grim as well – the coalition gubberment continued its austerity bullshit. Scotland had a vote to determine whether the people wanted to remain in the UK. Both sides campaigned fiercely – even “Dave Scameron” had to make a grovelling speech, sounding like a jilted lover. In the end, the Scots said they’d stay…for now. That bunch of clowns UKIP gobbled up air-time and web-space for winning a parliamentary seat in a by-election. It almost became impossible to look at anything without seeing Nigel Fart-age’s rictus grin plastered on it. The fact that some critters are entertaining an ex-banker’s notions as their own (as ‘one of the regular folks’) just shows how much that ‘this shit just got real’. I just hope people get some sense for the general election in May. We shall see…

I don’t want to be a total downer, so here’s a list of things I enjoyed this past year:

I had a brill holiday in Amsterdam in April – my first trip to mainland Europe. The missus and I stayed with a friend, which saved loads of cash, so we were able to check out the Reijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Hash Marihuna and Hemp Museum and a few more. I walked by the famed Paradiso (didn’t get to go inside, however) and I saw the Concertgebouw, too. We checked out the Cat Houseboat, which was a highlight (well, if you’re a cat person, it is) and did a boating tour of the canals and the harbour outside the city. I met up with my MLA pal Steve Fly at the 420 Cafe and we had a laugh. I was even allowed to do a bit of record-shopping and I picked up a few goodies. We covered so much in a week that it was actually quite exhausting. I loved it, though, and I want to go back sometime soon.

TV: I didn’t watch many series this year – I haven’t seen any Breaking Bad or Game Of Thrones or Boardwalk Empire. Other than a few BBC Four history docus, the only show I watched regularly was the excellent Toast Of London, with comedian/musician Matt Berry in the title role. The second series was shown in November and December and it’s even more surreal than the first series. Nice to see Berry’s Garth Marenghi cast-mate Matthew Holness in a bit part in one of the episodes. I also watched the Black Mirror X-Mas special. I didn’t catch the second series (still want to watch it sometime), but when I saw an ad for “Black Mirror: White Christmas“, it looked intriguing enough to me to see it. It seemed quite clever to me, with the three stories intersecting each other, though that wasn’t fully revealed until the very end.

Music: There were loads of albums released this year which I haven’t checked out yet. Hell, there’s still albums from 2013 I haven’t added to the collection. Flying Lotus released “You’re Dead” and Sunn-O))) teamed up with Scott Walker and released “Soused“. Mike Oldfield returned with “Man On The Rocks” and Beck‘s “Morning Phase” was rumoured to be pretty good. Karl Hyde (out of Underworld) and Brian Eno released two collaboration albums, but again, I haven’t heard anything from them. Pink Floyd (or ‘Pink Three’, really) released “The Endless River“, culled from sessions in 1993 and ’94 – it’s the final recorded appearance of Rick Wright and, according to David Gilmour, the last P.F. album ever. Peter Hammill (of Van der Graaf Generator and a long and varied solo career) and Gary Lucas (mostly known for being a member of Captain Beefheart‘s Magic Band and Jeff Buckley collaborator), got together and produced “Otherworld“. Those are just some of the albums I meant to buy. I did buy the newest Mastodon record (on disc – I don’t have the space to buy everything on LP), “Once More ‘Round The Sun“. I’ve only listened to it once and the verdict so far is pretty good, but I need to give it a few more spins. There were also the usual hundreds of reissues, but the ones that got the most attention were the release of the complete “Basement Tapes“, by Bob Dylan and The Band and the massive Led Zeppelin box set reissues, for each Zep album (the first five have been released so far). Luckily, the albums are also available in 2-disc sets, so you don’t have to shell out for the super-deluxe boxes, to get the extra tracks. The Quietus website published an excellent article on what they consider to be the epitome of psychedelia at the moment, which led me to check out The Cosmic Dead, Demdike Stare and UK stoner/doom merchants Electric Wizard. There’s a great D.S. DJ set from the Boiler Room in 2012 that you can watch here. I’m going to listen to more from those bands in the new year. Concert-wise…well, I saw Kate Bush in September – ’nuff said there. I also saw The Orb in November, which was a treat as I hadn’t seen them since 2001. I hope to see more shows in the coming year, provided I can afford tickets.

Film: The only film I watched in the cinema was Wes Anderson‘s latest, “The Grand Budapest Hotel“, which I enjoyed, possibly even a bit more than “Moonrise Kingdom” and definitely more than “The Darjeeling Limited“. I’m not usually a big fan of Ralph Fiennes, but I thought he was excellent as ‘Gustave H’. The supporting cast were great as well, including Jeff Goldblum and a very sinister Willem Dafoe. I meant to watch “Gravity” in the cinema, but I waited too long and the run finished. “Interstellar” looked interesting as well – a decent sci-fi flick amongst the usual Hollywood dross. One cool thing I discovered is that The Filthy Critic is back in business. I used to read his reviews all the time in the early 00s – but a few years ago, he seemed to give it all up. I happened to check his site a couple of months ago and found he’s back at the movies – seeing a lot of shitty Hollywood films, so I don’t have to (though he and I disagree about “The Grand Budapest Hotel”). Good times!

Theatre: I only watched a few plays this past year. I saw “Strangers On A Train” at the Gielgud Theatre in London in February. It was pretty good, though Hitchcock‘s film still seems the definitive version. This stage adaptation covered more of the psycho-sexual aspects of the story and characters. Jack Hutson was especially good as ‘Bruno’. I also saw “Dial M For Murder” at the Oxford Playhouse in March (yet another Hitchcock connection). The staging was quite clever and the cast were competent and didn’t try to be slavish to the film. The Oxford Shakespeare Company put on another of their brill outdoor productions this year at Wadham College. It was “As You Like It” this time and we watched it in early September, on the final night of the run. I also caught “Electra” at the Old Vic in November, featuring Kristin Scott Thomas in the title role. She did pretty well, though the cadence of some of her line-reading seemed a bit strange. The rest of the cast were quite good, too (though I would have rather seen Amanda Drew as ‘Chrysothemis’, but Liz White was O.K.), aside from Tyrone Huggins (as ‘Aegisthus’), who seemed to want to be a bit too “actorly” in his part.

Books: I started the massive published version of Philip K Dick‘s “Exegesis” (whittled down to 1,000 pages from a much, much larger archive) – but the sheer volume of ideas and concepts in it caused me to put it down a few times, to let my brain process what I had read. In between, I read a crime thriller (“The Bat” by Jo Nesbo), an atheist call-to-arms (“The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins) and several weirdo/speculation books (Charles Fort‘s “The Book Of The Damned” and John Michell‘s “The Flying Saucer Vision“, among them). I actually finished more books than I thought I would this year, which I’m happy about – squeezing reading time in between work, making mixes and internet time. I even read a couple of online ‘books’ on my phone on the work commute: Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” and David Keenan‘s “England’s Hidden Reverse” (which, like the Quietus article, turned me onto a few artists I hadn’t heard of and re-introduced me to Nurse With Wound). I’m looking forward to starting on David Mitchell‘s “The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet” and “The Bone Clocks“, Nick Awde’s Mellotron” and my friend Matt Bartlett‘s “Gateways To Abomination“. If you want to see all the books I read last year – check the Goodreads widget in the margin of the blog.

Well, kids – that was my 2014 – as a last note, I’d like to shout out to my pal, Singing Bear, who’s also a co-author of this blog. He had a pretty rough year. I won’t go into detail, but he had a shocker. I wish him the best for 2015 and I’ll try and cajole him to maybe post once or twice here in the next twelve months. In the meantime, check out his own blog, Grown Up Backwards.

Onward and outward, friends!

One Of *Those* Posts – Things I Enjoyed

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I usually avoid doing those “year end” kinda things – ‘cos really, it’s only the year-end in the Gregorian calendar, not in loads of other calendars. Anyway, here’s a list of some things I liked this past spin around the sun. In no particular order or category:

The Summer: Even though I left my job at the beginning of June, I had quite a good summer this year. I visited my family back in the U.S.A. for two weeks – I hadn’t seen them in nine years, so it was a treat to see all the nieces and nephews and my cousins and their little’uns. I also met a friend and did a bit of record shopping, too. Back in the UK, it proved to be a decent time, as the weather (mostly) brought sunshine and warmth. Compared to last year, this year was a model season.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II: I first heard this band through Marc Riley‘s 6Music show a couple of years ago. I kinda liked their strange, psychedelic R&B-influenced sound, but not enough to pick up the first record. Riley started playing the first single off of the new album, “Swim And Sleep (Like A Shark)” and it became a near-instant earworm. The album was released in February of this year and I bought it shortly after. I find there’s not a bum track on it – though for those with short attention spans, “Monki” can probably overdo it a bit.

A Field In England/Kill List: Pixie and I watched “Sightseers” early in the year and I really enjoyed it, particularly for the performances of Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, as the main protagonists. “Sightseers” was released in 2012, but we missed it in the cinema. Director Ben Wheatley was finishing up “A Field In England” even as were sending the rental DVD of “Sightseers” back. I was back in the UK in time to watch A.F.I.E. on BBC Four in early July and it blew my mind. Set in Civil War-era England, it involves some deserters who are tricked into helping a necromancer into searching for a ‘treasure’ hidden in a deserted field. There’s madness, psychedelic mushrooms and magick thrown into the mix. I thought it was brilliant and I’m definitely buying the DVD. I watched “Kill List” shortly after and while it wasn’t quite as visually arresting as A.F.I.E., the story, in places, seems far more intense. A soldier-turned-hitman gets lured back into the business by his friend and ‘associate’. At first, it seems like a routine mission, but things get progressively weirder as the film goes on. The ending scene is a shocker and it’s wonderfully played and is a genuine “Holy shit!” moment when you realise what has happened. Superb.

Fuck Buttons: I’d heard about them a couple of years ago, but I wasn’t quite sure I’d like their music. I checked out a couple of clips on You Tube, but I filed them in the “kinda interesting, maybe check them out later” dept. This year, they released their third full-length album, Slow Focus. I listened to a few of the new tracks and really liked them – so I bought up the back catalogue (not tough, as it’s only two records so far). At the moment, “Tarot Sport” is my fave, though “Street Horrrsing” has it’s ace tracks, too. I also found out that Blanck Mass is Benjamin John Powers‘s (of F.B.) ambient side project. Blanck Mass’s track Chernobyl was used to excellent effect in “A Field In England”.

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time (the stage version at the Apollo Theatre, London): You can read my longer review in the last post. Excellent staging and cast – highly recommended. You won’t be able to see it until the beginning of January, as part of the ceiling in the theatre collapsed during a performance – luckily there were no fatalities.

Leonard Shlain – The Alphabet Vs. The Goddess: I didn’t get to read quite as many books this year as I wanted to – but “The Alphabet…” was quite entertaining and enlightening. I read it while on holiday in the States. Shlain’s theory posits that while worldwide literacy has been very beneficial on the whole, it has also brought subjugation of women in almost every culture in which it’s been introduced. You may not agree with it, and find his research lacking – but I find it quite compelling and very possible. Copies are still available – I bought mine quite cheap off of eBay.

Horrible Histories/The Wrong Mans: H.H. finally finished this year, after it’s fifth series and it’s a shame, because it got better and better as it went along. The song/band parodies were ace and their send-up of “Masterchef”, ‘Historical Masterchef‘, was seriously funnier than most adult sketch shows, to me, anyway. “The Wrong Mans” is a series on BBC Two, that was shown in the early autumn. It stars Matthew Baynton, who was part of the H.H. cast and James Corden. I’m not really a fan of Corden’s, so I thought it could go either way. Luckily, Baynton held his own and Corden’s usual antics were limited to just a few scenes. I thought it was good, for a modern Hitchcock pastiche. There’s not much wiggle-room for a second series – but then, teevee writers can come up with some convoluted shit in order to keep a franchise going. We’ll see…

The World’s End: The final film of Edgar Wright‘s “Cornetto Trilogy” (featuring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) was released this past year. To me, it didn’t have quite the gut-bust laugh quotient of “Shaun Of The Dead” or “Hot Fuzz“, but it’s still a quality flick. Part 90s nostalgia, part sci-fi and part “you can never go home again” story – it makes a fitting end to the trilogy. I won’t go into plot specifics, in case you’ve not seen it, but I will say that “Fuck off back to Legoland, cunts!” is one of my fave film lines of the last ten years.

Matt Berry – Witchazel: I’d been meaning to pick this up for a loooong while and was given the CD as an X-Mas gift this year. It’s as good as I’d anticipated and for anyone who digs early 1970s psychedelic/progressive folk and English whimsy, this is a must-have. Berry is a comedic actor who’s appeared in some of the funniest shows of the past five-to-ten years: The Mighty Boosh, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace…and (the somewhat patchy) The IT Crowd. The guy’s also a solid musician and I’ve got his second album “Opium” as well (his first album, “Jackpot“, is waaaaaay out-of-print and you most certainly won’t find it on the interwebtubes or eBay – trust me, I’ve looked). Berry’s newest series, “Toast Of London” was broadcast in the autumn and it looks like a second series has been commissioned. “T.O.L.” uses “Take My Hand“, from ‘Witchazel” as it’s theme tune.

There’s loads more music, some teevee and books I enjoyed – but then this post would be mammoth and would stretch your reading patience to it’s limit. Hope your year was near what you wanted it to be and roll on Gregorian calendar year 2014!

Theatre & TeeVee Round-Up #86

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Good morning, campers! I know – I’ve been neglecting the blog. I couldn’t really find anything exciting to post about. Sure, there’s politics and world events – but there’s thousands of other blogs covering all of that stuff and probably better, too.

A couple of post-worthy subjects cropped up recently, so I’ll natter on about those for a bit.

Pixie and I travelled to The Big Smoke to see the stage adaptation of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. It’s at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. Quite a nice theatre it is, too. I won’t provide a lot of spoilers, in case you’re going to see it (and I recommend you do) – but the story revolves around a 15-year-old boy, called Christopher Boone. Christopher seems to have a form of Asperger Syndrome. He attends school and lives with his father. His father has told him that his mother died during a medical operation. One night, he finds his neighbour’s dog dead in her back garden – he is found at the scene by a policeman and taken to the station for questioning.

After he is released, he is determined to find the dog’s killer and starts investigating the incident. What he finds out ends up being far more complicated and he learns more about his life and his abilities than he thought he ever would.

I really enjoyed the adaptation – the cast is excellent, particularly Mike Noble as “Christopher”. He seems to get the mannerisms correct, to me. I’m not an expert on Asperger syndrome, or autism – but like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, it’s a believable performance. Trevor Fox, as “Ed Boone”, Christopher’s father, shows the right amount of compassion and frustration in his role. I do need to give a shout-out to the always amazing Amanda Drew, as Christopher’s mother “Judy” – she gives a heartfelt performance that never drifts into mawkish cloying.

The stage is set up as a huge piece of graph paper, which connects with the theme of Christopher’s interest in mathematics. There’s a lot of physical action in the play – the whole cast act as furniture, or will lift one of the actors to simulate zero gravity, or ocean waves. I thought it was quite clever. There’s also great use of lighting and sound – the ‘cube’ stage is wired for LED lighting and the speakers around the theatre will be set for ‘stun’ during the parts where Christopher is overwhelmed. As I said – I’d highly recommend going to see this show – it’s well-acted and the story really grips you. The current cast will be performing until March 2014.

Perhaps you dig the Scandinavian teevee offerings of late, like I do. If you’re a fan of The Killing, or Wallander, or The Bridge – I suspect you also dig Borgen. The series, about a female Danish politician who becomes the Prime Minister and the effect that has on her family life and friendships, stars the lovely Sidse Babett Knudsen. It is an ensemble cast, so she gets great support from “The Killing” actor Soren Malling, Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, Johan Philip Asbaek and Lars Knutzon.

The new (and final series, we’re told) sees “Birgitte Nyborg” (Knudsen’s character) working as a consultant for a few different corporations, after her term as Prime Minister ended. She’s also got a boyfriend, an English architect (Nyborg split from her husband in the second series). When she returns to Denmark, she catches the politics bug again and tries to re-join her old party. The new leader doesn’t really want her around – so she challenges him for the party leadership. In a plot development that you could kinda see coming, she loses the bid for the leadership and instead forms her own new party, which ends up being dubbed “The New Democrats”.

Nyborg recruits Parliament outsiders, as well as “Katrine Fonsmark” (Sorensen’s character), a journalist who used to give Nyborg a bit of trouble when she was Prime Minister. Fonsmark has had a child with her lover, Nyborg’s former spin doctor, “Kaspar Juul” (played by Asbaek), but now they are separated and have joint custody of the child. She is attempting to juggle being a mother and her role in the New Democrats, with all of the problems that implies.

So far, the new series seems up to the standard of the other two. I suspect Nyborg will attempt another bid for P.M., but I also suspect she won’t be elected a second time. Still, it’ll be interesting to see the dynamics in the new party unfold and see if her relationship with the architect brings her lasting happiness. Sorry for the spoilers, but I suppose if you’ve been watching it, it doesn’t matter.

“Love And Information” – The Royal Court Theatre – October 4, 2012

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Pixie and I made a trip to The Big Smoke last week to see Caryl Churchill‘s newest play, “Love And Information“. It’s being put on at the Royal Court Theatre, until 13th October.

We checked out the Museum Of Natural History for a couple of hours, grabbed some dinner at Pizza Express on King’s Road, then got to the Royal Court with enough time to get our seats…

…except I booked our tickets for the afternoon matinee show, not the evening one. Yep – shoulda checked my confirmation e-mail, but I was sure I booked for the evening show. Panic ensued – but luckily, enough people didn’t turn up for us to grab a couple of spares. We had to pay for the spares, as the show was sold out, but the seat I got was in the front row – so that was a sweet upgrade!

I’d never seen a Churchill play before this and this one’s a bit of a non-traditional work. The play doesn’t have a narrative structure as such. It’s set up into seven ‘blocks’ of scenes, or vignettes. Each block does seem to have a theme, about either love or information, or sometimes both. I didn’t get a program for the show – so there are possible names for the scenes. Some reviews I’ve read have attributed names, but I’m not sure if that’s the reviewer’s suggested titles.

The set resembles a white-tiled box and all of the action takes place inside of it. The vignette lengths vary, from under a minute to about five minutes. Some are set outdoors, some in offices or homes. The 16-strong cast all play various roles and none of the characters have names or recur in the work. A vignette will finish, the stage goes dark, some sound effects or music plays, and then new characters appear in the space. It’s almost like channel-surfing, or watching YouTube clips on a tablet. You don’t get any background on any of the scenes and it leaves you to try and work out a possible back-story. A few of the them don’t require it, as it is plain what the circumstances are.

Amanda Drew and Rhashan Stone in one of the scenes from Caryl Churchill’s “Love And Information” at the Royal Court Theatre

There’s a lot of humour throughout the play–in one scene, an old woman is told the number of words for “table” in various languages and concludes with “Well, it still feels like a table.” In another, a man and a woman are in a gym and he is expounding on another woman he knows. His female friend in the gym grows more exasperated as the conversation continues. It turns out the man is talking about either a computer, or a virtual ‘girlfriend’ he has online. One vignette has people playing a word game with a phrase in a book, utilising the words “door”, “mountain” and “girl” – the concluding phrase one of the characters says is “The girl couldn’t get through the door because she’s as big as a mountain.”

There’s also confusion, depression, madness and fear. Another vignette, which I thought was about a politician, has a man and his wife holed up inside a house. The press are outside and are badgering him for a quote. He finally relents and says some nonsense, but doesn’t feel any better for saying what he did. A family watch a wedding video but discover they can’t actually remember anything about the actual day – only what is on the tape/CD. In both a sad and somewhat funny scene, a woman stops taking her medication and tells her boyfriend that the traffic lights at the end of their road are giving her signals that he is evil. A man and a woman are playing a memory game and she suddenly has a memory, perhaps long suppressed, of her late father.

Laura Elphinstone and Justin Salinger in another scene from Caryl Churchill’s “Love And Information” at the Royal Court Theatre

Each ‘block’ is assigned a number, except for the very last scene, called simply “+”. The entire cast are assembled in what looks like either a waiting room, or departure lounge of an airport or bus station (I thought it was the latter). A man is testing a woman on trivia, and slips in a question about her loving him. At first, she pretends she didn’t hear it, but a few minutes later responds in the affirmative. While it’s not the smoothest summing up of the play, it’s a lovely moment and lets you go out on a high, after the heaviness of some of the scenes.

The cast are all excellent, given that they’ve got to create believable characters, sometimes with only a few lines to work with. I especially liked Rhashan Stone, Susan Woodward, John Heffernan, Linda Bassett, Amit Shah and Amanda Drew (natch!). I thought the scene transitions were clever and the co-ordination involved in swapping props and actors in “the cube” seemed impressive to me.

If you’re into unconventional theatre, you will probably enjoy “Love And Information” – if you’re looking for straight-forward narrative, probably best to look elsewhere.

When Comedians Attack!

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A friend of mine shared a blog post from a stand-up comedy site called “Cook’d and Bomb’d” on Facebook yesterday. I was intrigued by the title of the article: “Comedians using their fans for co-ordinated safety-in-numbers bullying” – so I read the post.

If you’re not familiar with Twitter – it’s a ‘social networking’ site that lets you post statements of 160 characters. It’s become a phenomenon in the past few years, mainly due to celebrity endorsers, like Stephen Fry. Unlike Facebook, which has you send a friend request to celebrities, leaving them to decide whether they want you to be able to see their profile page or not — Twitter lets you “follow” them, without any restrictions.

As such, ‘slebs’ get large numbers of followers..Fry has more than a million. That in itself is no problem – though some get very desperate to curry favour with their fave actor, or musician, or comedian, in this case. The blog post is about what happens when a ‘regular person’ has a disagreement with a celebrity on Twitter – or the celebrity spots a bad review online and ‘tweets’ about it. Sometimes, the celebrity will mobilise their Twitter followers into an internet mob, to excoriate the ‘offender’. They followers either attack the person, if they are on Twitter – or go to the online review and deluge the comments section with positive comments about the sleb and negative ones about the review and reviewer.

Ricky Gervais, according to the blog post, seems to be the biggest culprit for this type of Twitter behaviour. This doesn’t shock me that much – as Gervais has always seemed to have a bit of the “dish-it-out-but-can’t-take-it” persona. I love “The Office” and I even like some of his stand-up stuff, even though, to me, his schtick wears a bit thin over repeated viewings. The reviewer in question, wrote a disparaging comment about the second series of “An Idiot Abroad”, which Gervais took exception to. A link was added to Twitter was added to his page and away it went.

More surprising was Noel Fielding, of The Mighty Boosh, using the tactic against an art critic who objected to Fielding being chosen to interview Damien Hirst. Just recently, his followers attacked a woman on Twitter because she took offense at Fielding using the word ‘retard’. Now, there’s two sides to the story and perhaps the woman was being unjustly harsh with him – but that’s no reason for his followers to jump in and castigate her for daring to speak to him like that. After a long confrontation with Fielding’s followers, she left Twitter and reportedly tried to kill herself. I love The Boosh, though t.b.h., I’m not so hot on Fielding’s solo efforts–his “Luxury Comedy” seemed to be just weird for the sake of being weird. Still, I didn’t think he would behave in such a way – given his image as a lovable, spacey fashionista. He’s since left Twitter himself.

There was also an incident with Simon Pegg, who became incensed with a follower’s comment and asked the rest of his followers to ‘flame’ the person. After the post was pointed out to him – he did apologise and reminded everyone not to attack someone on his whim. So, all in all, Pegg comes out of it as a gentleman and thoughtful.

I remember an incident with a guy called Jon Spira, who got into an argument with “Twitter-sleb” Emma Kennedy over whether up-and-coming writers should sometimes work for free, to get their name known. The argument escalated a bit and suddenly, Kennedy was claiming that Spira was ‘stalking’ her and she was calling him a misogynist, etc. Her followers got whipped into a frenzy and the same sort of thing happened. You can read about it here. I fell foul of her temper as well – when disagreeing with her about the Diane Abbott tweet shit-storm. I’ve since un-followed Kennedy – I may have blocked her as well. I can’t recall.

I suppose it’s just one more symptom of celebrity culture – people who are so desperate to be noticed by their idols will become mindless thugs if they perceive their idol “is” being attacked and instead of letting the person handle criticism themselves. At the very least, if they feel the need to jump into a conversation – they could at least try to discuss it in a rational manner.

You can read the “Cook’d and Bomb’d” post here. Warning: for a post about comedy, it’s not particularly funny – but then, it’s not meant to be.