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Wednesday June 5, 2024

Boys from the Blackstuff

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The TV series was without a doubt a landmark drama whose impact resonated decades after its initial broadcast on BBC2 in 1982. Watching it now as a stage play was a very emotional experience, bringing back vivid memories of my "youth" and the era of the Thatcher government - despite the fact that Bleasdale created the story before Thatcher actually came to power; it generally describes the social impact of the economy throughout the 70s and into the 1980s.
All the cast were excellent but I have to have a low key shout out to Barry Sloane, who was called upon to play Yosser Hughes "one of the most intense and memorable characters in British TV history, whose image and catchphrase were imprinted on British culture". Although it may be the most interesting part to play, it's now pretty difficult, due to the fact that the character is totally synonymous with the actor Bernard Hill, such that even now, if you google either Hill or his character, you will find endless references to the 1980's TV series. Anyway... he clearly enjoyed the role and played it excellently.
It was "Boys from the Blackstuff" the TV series that really brought Alan Bleasdale to the fore in popular culture, subsequently being recognised in as one of the foremost TV dramatists of the age. Apparently he resisted all offers of adapting the play for the stage but has been finally won round by James Graham. [I note that Bleasdale is described as "the foremost TV dramatist" but I really enjoyed his play "Having a Ball" (a comedy) which I saw in 1982 - though from what I read I think Bleasdale regarded it as something of a failure - which it isn't!].

Posted on June 5, 2024 at 8:37 PM. Category: Art and Culture. | Comments (0)

Wednesday April 3, 2024

The 39 Steps

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An excellent show and the good news is it is on tour so you can almost undoubtedly still catch it.

I am very fond of The 39 Steps, whether it be in book form or the films with Robert Donat, Kenneth More, or Robert Powell - and the latest BBC adaptation that I can remember starring Rupert Penry-Jones. Hence I was dead keen not to miss this tongue-in-cheek stage version, even though I spent the afternoon suppressing a persistent cough I've had for over a month (...mask, bottle of water, and boiled sweets...).

...And it did not disappoint (despite the distracting cough and worry over our enforced convenient-but-time-restricted parking right outside the theatre!). The staging was delightful and creative - and extraordinarily challenging, due to the wide ranging scenes covered in the plot: from apartment interiors, music hall theatre, train compartments, acrobatics on the train roof, crofters cottage, political meeting hall, hotel bedroom, and police station, through to the wild chases across the moors (o yes - defying expectations, it was all included) - and all taken on by four actors, playing 139 roles!

Most of the versions of the story mimic the earliest film, as it introduces a female love interest not present in Buchan's 1915 novel, (no women to be found there!), and this production is no exception. Modern tellings of the tale - when not totally rewritten - almost have to be tongue-in-cheek comedy due to the "outdated attitudes, language and cultural depictions which may cause offence today" nature of the overall chauvinistic story - even when the most gross examples of misogyny and xenophobia have been expurgated.

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Posted on April 3, 2024 at 7:43 PM. Category: Art and Culture. | Comments (0)

Sunday March 31, 2024

Books in March

  • A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka [Read by Siân Thomas] BOM-AShortHistoryOfTractorsInUkrainian.jpg
    My sister recommended this to me as a humorous book - and it was very funny. Thinking of it after the experience of reading it (or listening to it), it does indeed leave me with the feeling of having read a comic tale. However, during the process of reading it, I felt it was rather a sad story, covering the experiences of refugees and migrants seeking a "better" life in the UK. It was all told from the point of view of siblings whose foolish and ageing father was apparently being bullied and taken advantage of by a much younger woman; her single ambition was to achieve "right to remain" in the UK through marriage. However, none of the characters were entirely sympathetic - or entirely unsympathetic in the case of scheming Valentina, though you can't help but sigh with relief when she finally leaves.
    Despite many positive reviews from readers (of which I would be one), I was a bit surprised to find that the professional reviewers were not so enamoured, criticising it for lack of character development and over-simplifying its themes. I can't say I disagree with the points they made, but I did not find their issues detracted from the presentation of the story - I'm not sure it was ever meant to be "deep" in that sense.

  • Down Cemetery Road by Mick Herron [Read by Julia Franklin] BOM-DownCemeteryRoad.jpg
    In my reference to Alan Judd's novel last November I quoted him as saying Mick Herron has "....a most original and amusing take on the spy genre, nothing to do with reality, of course - as Mick well knows - but that doesn't matter...". I was a bit oblivious to the clearly unrealistic nature of the Slough House set up, as they are written with such a realistic and dramatic tone, even taking into account the occasional humorous scenes. However, this novel, (first of the Zoë Boehm series apparently), comes over as more light-hearted and generally unrealistic - though nonetheless tense and violent...
    Not wishing to add a total spoiler the novel ends with the words "everything's going to be alright..." - which pleases me, (a fan of the "happy ending"), but I might have liked a bit more unnecessary prose to completely reassure me of that!

  • So Much Blood and Not Dead, Only Resting by Simon Brett [Read by Simon Brett] BOM-SoMuchBlood.jpg
    BOM-NotDeadOnlyResting.jpg
    Because of the fantastically good updated adaptations of the Charles Paris stories for BBC radio by Jeremy Front, it's hard to believe that they started life in the 1970s - So Much Blood was the second book, written in 1976. It covers a week at the Edinburgh Fringe - a very different beast from today's Fringe - where Charles is putting on a lunchtime one-man show which he has written from the poetry of Thomas Hood. He shares the theatre space and lodgings with "DUDS" (Derby University Dramatic Society), when an on-stage tragedy in rehearsal leaves him shocked and not a little suspicious that the accident was no accident at all. The descriptions of the atmosphere in Edinburgh during the Fringe in those earlier times reminded me of my stay there in the 1980s: nowhere to stay, fewer venues, terrible amateur performances - and yet also gems... and when you found one - what joy!
    From 1984, Not Dead, Only Resting, as the title implies, covers a slow period for Charles, where he seeks work with a friend running a decorating business - and arriving with their paints in the "empty" flat they find a corpse...
    Both stories are excellent whodunnit mystery plots, and Brett applies his usual light-hearted humour in poking fun at the acting profession.

  • Dead Man's Folly by Agatha Christie [Read by Roger May]
    BOM-DeadMansFolly-abridged.jpg Not my favourite Christie book so I was not too disappointed to realise it was actually an abridged version of the book (which I try to avoid). I'm not sure why I don't like the story as I think the plot is rather clever, involving an inheritance conspiracy, not unlike "A Murder is Announced". I think I'm not convinced by the initial "intuition" that makes Ariadne Oliver contact Poirot in the first place, and the drunken ferryman with his little traditional rhyme providing a key clue, (don't worry, it won't be any kind of a clue for you, the reader!).
    Definitely worth a read though.

Posted on March 31, 2024 at 9:17 AM. Category: Books of the Month. | Comments (0)

Sunday March 17, 2024

Baby Jesuses

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These little guys have been occupying my attention for a couple of weeks - and the pleasure of restoring them has slightly renewed my interest my seemingly abandoned porcelain doll hobby. They belong to my friend Chris; she does not have two full-blown nativity scenes, just these two figures handed, down through the family and making their appearances at Christmas. However, over the years they had become quite broken and her family were encouraging her to ditch them - but I thought they were quite lovely. Chris had attempted a repair with plaster of Paris (they are plaster figures) but it's not very workable and the result was ... well... awful. So, initially, I had to carefully pick off all the added plaster without further damaging the original or causing more paint to flake off.
I moved on to mending the major breakages on the larger figure with Superfine Milliput - one set of fingers reattached to the hand using wooden pegs. The other fingers, which were completely missing, I moulded using air-drying clay - pegged them in place - and added more milliput. I did try cleaning, but I suspect he has some layer of varnish like an old oil painting and I could not seem to remove it - even using just water - without removing underlying paint layers, so his face and neck have remained a little discoloured.The smaller figure needed work on the (much more intricate) fingers, and the remoulding of a foot.
Then, there was a lot of sanding, painting, and blending using Seeley's body paint - which is great as a smooth covering layer but was hard to match to the original paint. I had to discipline myself to a "less is more" approach, because the figures are relatively roughly made, and in some places I found myself sanding rough areas that were part of the original casting. So - after all that, I touched up other areas using fine surface filler, acrylics, emulsion paint (his gown) and a gold roller ball pen! A true multi-media figure.

[Note that I looked up the plural of Jesus which agreed with what I thought on the matter, but the reference noted that " Jesus is rarely if ever pluralized" - however this would be a case in point...]

Posted on March 17, 2024 at 8:23 AM. Category: Crafts. | Comments (0)

Monday March 4, 2024

Dune 2

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An inevitable outing to see the second part of the drama. Don't ask me about the plot, (almost felt I needed to read the book again - it's only been 50 years or so), but the visuals were amazing.

Posted on March 4, 2024 at 9:12 PM. Category: Art and Culture. | Comments (0)

Thursday February 29, 2024

Books in February

  • Close to Death by Anthony Horowitz BOM-CloseToDeath.jpg
    The fifth in the perfectly splendid DI Hawthorne series. In this book, as promised in an interview I heard in 2022, Horowitz (Anthony) varies the style in his role as "Watson" recording the cases of Hawthorne, the "consulting detective".
    It seems Anthony has a contractual obligation to the publishers for another book, and since, as he explains to Hawthorne, they can't just wait for another case to turn up, Anthony persuades Hawthorne that he will write about an old case which took place in Richmond in Surrey 5 years previously. However, when it comes to it, they've agreed on a case that proves somewhat unsatisfactory in many respects, not least because Hawthorne seems unwilling to reveal all the relevant information to Anthony. Consequently - despite being warned off by a number of people - Anthony goes off on his own, investigating and re-interviewing witnesses...
    Again we are treated to a fictionalised but plausibly real version of Anthony's life with anecdotes and insights into an the art of writing a novel. [Plus an opportunity for him to play with the fiction he has created: "A lot of writers say that their characters talk to them but very few of them mean it literally."].
    A sheer delight.
    Can't wait for more.
    [Again lucky enough to be given a review copy of this novel due to be published in April.]

  • The Night House by Jo Nesbo BOM-TheNightHouse.jpg
    This Jo Nesbo novel was quite a surprise for me (not an unpleasant one). Having only ever read his Harry Hole detective fiction previously, I was expecting a dose of conventional Scandi Noir. I suppose, to be fair it is pretty noir, and given that Jo is Norwegian, it is also Scandi; it is, however, far from conventional.
    I remained unsure for most of the novel if the genre were science fiction/fantasy/horror or if we had a case of the unreliable narrator, but whatever I settled on, I was undoubtedly gripped from the opening chapter, and found it hard to put the book down thereafter. With two (or more...) major twists to the plot, and - all important for me - a most satisfactory ending, this is an excellent book. Recommended if you can cope with weird.

  • The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle [Read by Stephen Fry] BOM-TheCasebookOfSherlockHolmes.jpg
    I have read most of the short story collections but notice, from where I left a bookmark in this last volume, I did not read all of them. So I chose to listen to ones that were new to me, and found - a surprise to me - that Doyle varied the form a little, for example, having Holmes write and narrate a story himself without Watson.
    Once again Stephen Fry is an excellent narrator.
    [Again I downloaded The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes from my local library, as opposed to buying the whole collection from Audible.]

Posted on February 29, 2024 at 9:15 AM. Category: Books of the Month. | Comments (0)

Cluedo 2

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I missed out on Cluedo 1 but I did very much enjoy this Cluedo 2.

It's a splendidly stagey play with delightful tongue-in-cheek costumes, and apparently minimal props and scenery - but really only because of the skill of the scene changes smoothly executed by the cast almost as part of the action. Everything is colour-coded of course - with the introduction of few extra characters and a "Mr Grey".

I do have to mention that it was somewhat lacking in any real plot - but then so is the board game - and with the lovely visual interest and excellent acting, plot becomes very much an "also ran" element.

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Posted on February 29, 2024 at 8:58 AM. Category: Art and Culture. | Comments (0)