Wednesday, 31 October 2007


I'm sorry but I don't buy into all this Halloween thing. When I was a kid we never went trick-or-treating; it was just something we saw on American TV shows. MLYW thinks that she used to do it on 31st October as a child. But I think that was probably just her Dad's excuse to dress up and scare people!

Actually, her Irish heritage probably has something to do with it too. Trick or Treat started out hundreds of years ago as 'souling'. The poor of the parish would go around the day before All Souls Day, begging for food in return for which they would pray for the souls of the dead. This ancient tradition, once commonplace all over Europe seems to have been supplanted by Guy Fawkes celebrations in England. Why ask for sweets when you could get a "penny for the Guy" and buy fireworks, to be stuffed up a cat's bottom to amusing effect?

The 'souling' tradition seems to have stayed current in Ireland though, half-term holidays coincide with Halloween, so the kids get a week off school to play pranks and cause mischief. The celebration took root in America after the huge wave of Irish immigration in the 19th century, eventually becoming the now familiar and annoying tradition of extortion with menaces in the 1930s which started turning up in England again since the 1980s.

I'm preparing for the evening by putting up the blackout curtains and turning down the volume on the TV. Shhh... If we all keep quiet, they'll soon go away...

Monday, 29 October 2007


Honestly. I can't believe how stupid the British public are. We have a national vote, of real importance, and people collectively reject the sensible options, opting instead for the low-quality, short-term alternatives.

I am, of course, writing about Strictly Come Dancing, (the UK original version of Dancing With The Stars, if you're in the US), of course!

Given the choice of throwing out boring John Barnes, lumbering behemoth Kenny Logan or the frankly abysmal Kate Garroway (two-left feet and neither of them at the end of her legs), what do the "great" British public do? Vote to keep them all in, leaving Gabby Logan and Penny Lancaster-Stewart in the dance-off.

It's ridiculous! Either of those girls could have ended up winning the competition. Yet now the rest of us have to put up with watching low-quality crap dancing from one of the Munsters for yet another week.

I know that the not-so-good celebs will have friends and family who are, quite rightly, supporting them, but these votes are settled by tens of thousands of other people who seem to be voting for someone not because they think they are good at dancing, but because they "like" them, or because they think they should be "given another chance"!

At the risk of sounding like Arleen Philips, no! Sorry, it's just not on. It's not helped by the fact that Bruce and that lanky blonde woman (her name escapes me - the one with the bad dresses) keep telling us to "vote for your favourites". NO! Don't vote for your favourite. Vote for the person that you think danced the best, you muppet.

Of course, it's not helped by the BBC opening the phone lines each week just after the Sunday night result show. The gormless masses have 5 days of voting before we even see next week's dances. It's madness.

Either this is a show celebrating the skills and perseverance of the celebrities, or its not. If it's just a popularity contest, get rid of the Judges and have the celebs do a little dance each week, but let's not pretend it's about skill; just let the viewers vote for the person with the nicest hair.

On the other hand, if it is about skill and suchlike, get rid of the phone voting all together and kick-out whoever has the lowest score at the end of the Saturday night show.

Of course, that would never happen. How would the BBC cope without all that phone voting money?!


PS: You know what's more amazing? The fact that this even bothers me and that I was actually quite upset about the outcome of the show yesterday!

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Classic Albums: Hats by The Blue Nile

An unavoidable hiatus since we looked at the late, great Harry Nilsson. Sorry about that, I've been rather busy! Today we go back to the mid-1980s...

In May 1984,
The Blue Nile released their First album, A Walk Across The Rooftops.
It was originally created as a commission for top-end hi-fi firm Linn. They wanted a demonstration record containing a good range of dynamics and with clear and shimmering production. The band produced an L.P. which was so good that Linn formed a record label and paid for the album to be released. Rooftops was not a big seller, but was very well reviewed and quickly gained fans of the stature of Peter Gabriel, Rickie-Lee Jones and Annie Lennox. Today it stands up as a classic album in its own right.

I was unaware of this album until Hats was released in 1989. This, their second album was a fair seller, though not a hit by any means, but it got even better reviews than the debut. As soon as I read the five-star reviews of Hats, I bought it, and the earlier work. I've never regretted that decision.

All the songs on this album need to be experienced on a good pair of headphones to really appreciate them.

A Walk Across the Rooftops

The opening track fades in slowly from nowhere with ethereal drones and synthesized machine noises. Drums, stabbing strings and a throbbing bass riff introduce a delightful song. From the point-of-view of a love-struck man prowling around a city's roofs in the middle of the night. Just before dawn is the feeling that you get from the track. Soon the world will wake up to the new day.

Tinseltown in the Rain

scratchy, funky bass and guitar rhythm backed with a distant piano introduce a pacy song which the writer's tribute to (I'm guessing here) nights spent out with friends and lovers in Glasgow. Whooping synthesized horn sounds punctuate the story and lush strings erupt at the choruses. The scratchy guitar breaks out into a frenetic rhythm solo in the middle-eight. When singing "do I love you? Yes, I love you", Paul Buchanan's voice erupts with passion and joy.

From Rags to Riches

A percussive opening; like a gamelan orchestra. Soon deep bass and soothing synth pads take their place among a complex weaving arrangement which includes simple, reverb-laden drums. The song seems to describe the journey of a young man leaving home for the first time to make his way in the world, wondering whether his life will be a success. The breathless sounds and urgent parping horns seem to say that life will present challenges but that the journey is worthwhile.


One of my favourite Blue Nile songs. A sequenced synthesizer riff over metronomic drums drives the song quickly onward, but what could seem mechanical is undercut by beautiful piano and guitar work bringing a humanity to the piece. As with most Blue Nile songs you hear more layers to the production each time you listen.

Easter Parade

Taking its title from the old film, this is a gorgeous, elegaic song featuring mainly piano, but with occasional, subtle stabs of punctuating synth sounds. Beats me what the lyrics are about. The final verse ("
In hallways and railway stations. Radio across the morning air. A crowd of people everywhere") gives me the impression that this is about a big news event. The death of Kennedy or John Lennon? But neither of those were at Easter. Well, it's a mystery to me, but a fantastically, beautiful song nonetheless. The Blue Nile revisited this song in a track on their 1990 single Headlights on the Parade. That new version of Easter Parade featured Rickie Lee Jones singing alongside Paul Buchanan. It's even better than this version!


More synthesized mechanical noises here, though at times they sound like the sounds of the countryside: shepherds whistle, woodsmen cut wood, farm machinery. More gamelan-type percussion undercuts a serene, laid-back evocation of a summer scene. A simple acoustic guitar figure picks out a counter-melody during the chorus. Again, this is deceptively simple, but packed-full of details all the way through (for the first time in 20 years I've just picked out a harp panning its way through the track!).

Automobile Noise

A big bass drum introduces this track. But the percussion soon becomes complex. Various metallic noises (one suspects from car parts) punctuate the whole of this track, along with barely discernible tyre sounds, rain and thunderstorms, providing the backing for the chiming music and lyrics which talk of the constant movement of traffic. The noise calms towards the end of the track though and you get the impression of the traffic lessening, perhaps as night draws on, bringing us full circle back to the start of the album.

All songs written by Paul Buchanan.

Robert Bell - Bass, Synthesizer.
Paul Buchanan - Vocals, Guitar, Synthesizer.
Paul Joseph Moore - Keyboards, Synthesizer.
Calum Malcolm - Keyboards, Vocals.
Nigel Thomas - Drums.

Produced by The Blue Nile.
Engineer: Calum Malcolm.

Recorded at Castlesound Studio, East Lothian, 1982-1984.

Friday, 26 October 2007

PhotoHunt: Pink

Shanghai Neon 1

This photo was taken from a tourist boat on the Pudong river in Shanghai. I was playing about with abstract long exposures of the neon signs along the Bund. This one really works well for some reason with its bright pink central swirl.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Beryl Lime Oily!

While playing around with the Internet Anagram Server, I discovered that an anagram of my full name is Emperor Rectal Hose.

I'll leave you to figure out what my top-secret middle name is from that!

The trouble is that the web site claims that "All the life's wisdom can be found in anagrams. Anagrams never lie."

Huh? Anagrams never lie? I don't know whether to be flattered or insulted. On the one hand my anagram tells me that I am an Emperor. Good start. Nothing wrong with that. But then it goes on to reveal what I am Emperor of. Not the British Empire, or Rome, or Ethiopia. Not even somewhere small like Heligoland or Lundy.

No, I would appear to be Emperor Rectal Hose. I am, effectively (and effusively) Lord of Colonics. The Earl of Irrigation.

Nice. Or rather, not.

I guess there must be an upside to this. Surely as an Emperor I should get invited to future Royal weddings and other plush events. And I should definitely get 20% off my bus fare.

Monday, 22 October 2007


It's been a busy weekend. MLYW and I went off to Petworth at the weekend, staying in a Pullman carriage at an old railway station. A mixed experience; we were treated very well, and breakfast on both mornings was lovely, but the carriage we were in was a little cramped and cold for our liking, and especially for the price that the establishment charges.

Then again, it's a very popular place to stay and the owner was very receptive to our complaints and he promised to make it worth our while if we tried staying with them again. Which was nice.

One of the reasons for our discomfort wasn't the fault of the establishment - it was the couple in the next room (the other half of the coach) whose vigorous nighttime bonking maneouvres managed to make the entire carriage rock on its wheels and wake me up and even made me feel sea-sick. This happened on at least 4 occasions in one, so someone got even less sleep than us. The other guests were all eyed suspiciously as they arrived in the breakfast room; I was looking for signs of exhaustion, friction-burns and soppy grins, but in vain.

Saturday afternoon and evening saw us gathering with some friends at the wedding of our good chums Claire and David. It was a lovely, relaxed and informal occasion with some great personal touches which made it an excellent and very memorable occasion, so good luck to the happy couple as they embark on their married life together.

Friday, 19 October 2007

PhotoHunt: Practical

Zhouzhuang 13

This practical man was showing MLYW how to write Chinese characters using ink and brushes in Zhouzhuang near Shanghai.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

It's Not My Fault I'm Fat... Blame Society!

Now look - this report is absolutely ridiculous. People are now being told that it's not their own fault if they put on weight. Apparently the whole infrastructure of society is to blame for more people becoming obese.

What a load of crap! And I speak as someone who is overweight and could do with slimming down by a couple of stone, but I have no illusion that the reason I'm a bit lardy is all down to ME and me alone.

Now, it may be true that cheap and convenient food is more and more calorific. Yes, there are more labour-saving devices around. There are lots of ways that our lives are made more convenient. But all that does is give us excuses for bad lifestyles. None of the things mentioned in the report force us down that road!

I (and 99% of the population) have a choice:
Buy awful ready-meals/pizzas/burgers/kebabs OR buy lean meat/fish and fresh veg to steam at home (where the act of actually standing up and cooking will increase one's calorific output)?
Sit in front of the telly OR go out for a walk or a bike ride?
Drive to work OR walk to the train station?

Releasing stories to the press which appear to take the responsibility for peoples' health out of their own hands will have the effect of making the awkward and lazy hordes (of which I am one) even less likely to do anything about their lifestyles themselves. These Foresight people really have scored an own-goal.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Face Up To It

OK - I've done it. After all the months of saying I wouldn't, I've caved-in.

Yes, I joined Facebook. I feel a little bit ashamed and dirty, but also happy to be included in such a big club. And I've got 12 friends already! Is that good? Who knows. Does it matter? No, not really.

I think I'm regretting it already. One more place to update with interests and activities... Though if it leads me to making the one contact I need to find myself a new, worthwhile career, it will be worth it!

Monday, 15 October 2007

Now What?

So the 2007 Woking Drama Festival has finished. Which is good as I've spent most of the past two weeks out of the house and away from My Lovely Young Wife, which is annoying as I ahd promised to spend the 2nd half of this year away from time-consuming drama-related activities to give us more time together and to allow us to do some decorating. Though, irritatingly, I was committed to the Festival before I made that promise.

Anywaysup. That's it for the Festival until, oh, spring 2008 when we start gearing-up for the 50th Woking Drama Festival, which will be bigger, better, stronger, faster than ever. So I guess I'll be busier than I was this year...

But, for now, I've got some free time again. Time to do those mundane things like shaving and showering which get forgotten when you're busy.

And we can have another bash at finishing the painting in the front room so we can make a start on the hallway and work our way up to the bedroom.

There are also the two spare rooms to organise and shelves to fit in our bedroom... But for the moment I just want a day or two of relaxing at home. Doing nothing. Eating healthily.

OK. So. What's around the corner to spoil this plan...?

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Woking Drama Festival - Day 9

My reviews of the last competitive day at this year’s WDA Festival of One-Act Plays. And see below for the list of the awards (along with my, not entirely inaccurate, predictions...)

Addlestone Community Theatre presented The Edge by Steve Carley

Here's a play which I saw ACT perform at Addlestone community centre back in the Summer. Which makes it diffcult to review objectively as I keep comparing it to what I'd already seen!

A very effective split set, the two areas separated by a section of wall. Each area was lit very well - the colder light for the doctor's office and the warmer one for the place of work.

All three actors were very confident playing the naturalistic aspects of this play. Bill Jackson as Stuart was convincing as the puzzled colleague. Both Bill and Graham Botterill (Marcus) were far more relaxed and assured in their acting than I have seen them previously. Lynsey Poole as the Doctor was also good.

I thought that the scenes in the Doctor's surgery needed to be played with more pace, urgency and (in Marcus's case) more committment to a rising sense of panic.

The ending was very well staged with both actors handling difficult, snappy dialogue very well - though I think that the pace could be pushed even further.

Overall, a definite improvement over what I thought was a good production in the first place. Well done ACT and especially to Andrew Bradley on his directorial debut.

Byfleet Players presented May We...? Ouis, Mais... by Wilf Hashimi

The Best New Play award at the festival is awarded to the piece of writing which shows most promise on paper. For me, this was most deserving of the award, of all five of the new plays we've seen, despite some obvious hiccups which occurred in performance!

This was a surreal play, set in an anonymous space and featuring a male/female couple who acted out scenes from a doomed relationship. Theatre of the Absurd is making a bit of a comeback at the moment and this piece was reminiscent of Beckett and N.F. Simpson.

Bob Wells, as Walter, was excellent as the bewildered man who never quite knew what was around the corner in his relationship with the spiky and fragile Dolly (Kate Brazier). His acting style was very natural, which served to highlight the strangeness of the situation we were viewing and he did a very good job at keeping the play moving forward and making sense when the action diverted wildly from the script!

I don't think I can say much more. The piece that was performed was so different from what was written (so I'm told) that it was almost a different play! So I'll leave it by saying that this was an incredibly funny, enjoyable and thought-provoking piece of drama, based upon a play with the potential to be an excellent piece of work.

Rule of Three presented Trouble In The Works; Precisely; New World Order; Victoria Station by Harold Pinter

These are four short plays, sketches really, by Pinter from across his career. All of them deal , as do many of his works, with communication, miscommunication, authority and control.

Lit with excellent, imaginitive stark lights from unexpected angles and backed by a superb set of sound cues which brought to mind (for me anyway) the twisted world of David Lynch, this piece was a technical tour de force.

The acting in each individual sketch was very well executed, but often played too much for comic effect and not enough for the very real menace that is present, especially in the last 2 sketches.

The fact that Rule of Three decided to play these 4 pieces together meant that there wasn't an overarching theme or story for us to follow, so while I found this a riveting and taut piece of theatre, I think it fell outside the realm of the "One-Act Play".


The adjudicator announced that the following plays were to be recalled for the final night's performance prior to the awards ceremony:

The Island by Send ADS

Warrior Square by Wessex Youth Theatre

The Donahue Sisters by Horsell ADS


Here are my predictions for the awards which will be given out tonight. I might be totally wrong, but it will be fun to see which ones I got right! My predictions in italics and actual results in bold.

THE BRUZARD CHALLENGE CUP for the Festival Winning Play:
The Art Of Remembering by Runnymede Drama Group
The Island by Send ADS

The Island by Send ADS
The Art Of Remembering by Runnymede Drama Group

THE EDNA NASH CUP for the Third-place Play:
Paper of Pins by Another Theatre Company
The Donahue Sisters by Horsell ADS

THE YOUTH AWARD for the Best Play by a cast Under 21 years of age:
Warrior Square by Wessex Youth Theatre
Warrior Square by Wessex Youth Theatre

Faith Powell for The Art Of Remembering by Runnymede Drama Group
Trevor Leek for The Donahue Sisters by Horsell ADS

THE IAIN HOME ROSE BOWL for the Best Performance by an Actor:
Peter Heath as John in The Island by Send ADS
Peter Heath and Matt Kitsell as John and Winston in The Island by Send ADS

THE RICHARDS-SMITH CUP for the Best Performance by an Actress:
Nancy Usher as Reba in The Art Of Remembering by Runnymede Drama Group
Stella Rogers as Winnie in Paper of Pins by Another Theatre Co.

THE HANDLEY-JONES CUP for the Best Supporting Actor:
Tony Bowman as Grumio in The Taming of the Shrew by Farnham Shakespeare Co.
Matt Vowles as Boy in After Midnight Before Down by Guildburys

THE IRENE HUTCHENCE CUP for the Best Supporting Actress:
Alison Brennan as Carole in Paper of Pins
Zoe Lyall as Jan in Laughter in the Shadow of the Trees by Thurrock Court Players

THE DESMOND HOLT MEMORIAL CUP for the Best Performance by a Junior Player:
Katie Dancey as Mother in Warrior Square
Matt Lapinskas as Barry in The Opposite of People by Brooklands Theatre Co.

THE GUILDBURY SHIELD for Technical Excellence:
Trouble In The Works, etc, by Rule Of Three
The Art of Remembering by Runnymede Drama Group

THE SPOTLIGHT AWARD for the Best Use of Lighting:
The Art Of Remembering by Runnymede Drama Group
Paper of Pins by Another Theatre Co.

THE MADELINE BODEN ROSE BOWL for the Best Original Play:
May We... Oui Mais by Wilf Hashimi (Byfleet Players)
May We... Oui Mais by Wilf Hashimi (Byfleet Players)

THE GRAHAM BROCKIS AWARD presented for the Best Use of Sound:
Trouble In The Works, etc, by Rule Of Three
Trouble In The Works, etc, by Rule Of Three

THE PAULINE BROWN AWARD for BEst Backstage Management:
Runnymede Drama Group

THE BARBARA HUNTLEY CUP (Adjudicator's Award):
Rita Warren as Kitty in A Pity About Kitty.

I must stress that I am not a professionally qualified reviewer or adjudicator. My opinions are wholly subjective.

PhotoHunt: Smelly

"Smelly"? I spent ages wondering what photos I had which represented a bad smell... Then I realised that the type of smell wasn't specified, so I've posted these lovely smelling (and quite pretty) red tulips taken at the Eden Project back at Easter.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Woking Drama Festival - Day 8

Continuing my reviews of this year’s WDA Festival of One-Act Plays.

Runnymede Drama Group presented The Art Of Remembering by Adina L. Ruskin

Fabulous! This poetic play is made up of fragments of stories and memories based on the lives of the author and her family, across Europe and the Americas, taking in events as diverse as the Jewish diaspora and holocaust and the Spanish Civil War.

A simple set - 3 blue banners imprinted with mnemonic symbols, 3 trunks - were complemented by a simple-looking, but ever-changing lighting plot. Add the blue costumes for the 3 characters and the result was a visual treat.

All 3 actresses were confident, assured, in total control of the pacing of the play and totally convincing in the many roles they portrayed. Nancy Usher, as Reba, stood out for me though. Her 'business' in the background was amusing, convincing, but never distracting and her portrayal of Anna, the 120-year old immigrant woman was sublime.

The direction was fluid and imaginative whilst being totally unobtrusive. Every scene flowed into the next without a pause at a perfect pace.

The whole play was underscored by an extremely effective and very tightly edited music track. I did find it slightly distracting at a few points though and I think it could have done with being 20% quieter on occasion.

For me, so far, this was the best production of the Festival. Only 3 more groups to go tonight and they'll have to pull out all the stops to better this one.

Shinfield Players' Theatre Youth Group presented Cupid by Gordon Bird

Hmmm... This was a strange one. The "play", such as it was, would have been more at home in an end-of-year school revue. Woefully short and with a couple of nice ideas which should have been expanded upon and developed more fully.

The story was a nice idea for playing to adolescents. A look at how young love should work.

The 3 young actors did their best with the material, but they appeared to be quite under-rehearsed and in need of more forceful direction. Emily Bevan as the Narrator stood out as being very confident and able to ride over the rough patches with ease.

This is a difficult review to write; I can't really say whether the production was any good, or not! There was a lot wrong with the script and the acting was rough-and-ready, yet I, and the rest of the audience certainly enjoyed the short performance thanks to the energy and obvious enjoyment which was portrayed by the cast.

Farnham Shakespeare Company presented The Taming Of The Shrew (excerpts) by William Shakespeare

Presented on a bright green sward of grass with black wooden garden furniture, this was a good attempt to give us a potted version of the story of Kate and Petruchio in 5 key scenes. This structure meant that some of the scenes suffered a bit from a lack of cohesion and some time compression which was off-putting.

Overall, the acting was very good. Standing out for me were Douglas Brown as Baptista, Nigel Dams as Hortensio and especially Tony Bowman as Grumio. The latter's physical clowning and asides were excellent.

I found Petruchio's dialogue to be a little too fast to follow his meaning. While the speed showed a formidable grasp of the words, in my opinion it just came off as a little too 'pat' - especially in the fight scene with Kate when they are throwing insults to and fro with nary a pause for breath. For me, as someone unfamiliar with the play, I was unable to keep up with the various puns, barbs and jokes, so I just stopped trying to listen and let them wash over me. A slower pacing, without sacrificing any of the 'bite' of the scene, would have been far more effective.

I'm afraid that I also found the direction to be a little staid in places. When there were a lot of characters present, they tended to be lined-up straight across the stage. That the director knows his stuff was apparent when we got into the more intimate scenes - then the actors were placed in much more interesting situations using the full range of the positions available to them on the set.

Overall, I did enjoy this production. I'd be willing to go along to see the full version (playing in Farnham later this month) if I knew that the complex speeches were going to be spoken at a rate more suited to the modern ear.

Come back on Saturday for reviews of the last 3 plays.

I must stress that I am not a professionally qualified reviewer or adjudicator. My opinions are wholly subjective.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Woking Drama Festival - Day 7

Continuing my reviews of this year’s WDA Festival of One-Act Plays.

Six Foot Sally Theatre presented 31 Days by Craig James Morgan

A stark and scary two-hander concerning warped ideas about love. Fay (Esther Harrison) has drugged and imprisoned Jason (Craig James Morgan) for the past 31 days because she believes that he will come to love her.

While the play itself does have some issues of character development, being a snapshot in the life of a seriously deranged woman, I found the playing and direction of the piece totally gripping. We really wanted to know what was going to happen to this man and woman.

Miss Harrison's depiction of a woman with many mental issues was totally convincing and was. for me, one of the highlights of the festival.

Mr Morgan, co-starring in his own play, was ever-so slightly less convincing. I did wonder whether someone in his position would be totally cowed and begging to be released, rather than angry - that emotion would have drained away earlier, I feel.

The lighting was starkly effective and well done - especially the UV light used to illuminate the blackboard with its scrawled messages of love; however, some technical glitches near the end (with both badly-positioned light cues and issues with two or three sound cues) brought the production to a juddering halt, such that the build-up of tension was lost and the end, when it came, seemed unsure.

Nevertheless, a great attempt at a psychological thriller which I enjoyed hugely and would love to see again with the glitches ironed out.

Horsell ADS presented The Donahue Sisters by Geraldine Aron

Opening on a nicely presented attic set, complete with cobwebs and clutter, this is a play for three women who play Irish sisters meeting up for a rare catch-up and to reminisce about a cataclysmic event from their childhood.

The accents of Dunya (Caroline Christie) and Rosie (Sara Winthrop-Robbie) were very good, but that of Annie (Cath Cheney) was unconvincing, which was a slight problem for me throughout the play - especially as she was the one who had never left her native land.

However, the interaction of the three women was spot on, both in the 'present day' and during the flashback sequence when they regressed to being young girls, playing int he attic. All six characterisations were spot on and I had no trouble believing that they were really sisters - accents notwithstanding.

As the story wore on and became more oppressive and sinister we witnessed one of the best coups de theatre seen during the Festival, as a porcelain doll was viciously smashed over a wooden chair. I won't spoil the story by telling you why this happened, but it made for a great effect.

Only a couple of small niggles for me. I did wonder whether some of the sisters' complaints (especially Rosie's stories of being bullied by her children) were played for laughs too much. The 'trapdoor' down from the loft was also cheated slightly which was distracting in some parts of the auditorium - maybe it would be better if the team built a standalone piece of set to achieve the effect in a more believable way.

Overall though, this was an excellent production, with twists that were genuinely shocking for someone who didn't know the play.

[One sideline question though. I've now seen excellent Festival plays from Horsell ADS and Pyrford Little Theatre, yet their recent full-length offerings at this theatre have been, well, disappointing, to be frank. Why is this? These groups need to take the lessons learned at the festival and apply them to their money-making productions!]

Sawbridgeworth Players presented A Different Way To Die by Lynn Brittney

This is a story set in Israel, in around 1950, concerning a Holocaust survivor, Anna Gruber, who is applying for residency in the new state. Officious Dr Feldman has to ensure that she is who she says she is.

Our adjudicator found a lot to like in this play, though I'm afraid the production left me behind very early on. There were hints that Anna had something to hide, but I found her constant movement and portrayal of nervousness very wearing and distracting. If someone really had something to hide, they would surely do the utmost to hide their nervousness to avoid raising suspicions? This worry is something that needed to be brought out slowly and more subtly, I think.

That said, actress Corinna Cranch came into her own in the 2nd half of the piece when revealing her secret. While the whole performance was somewhat single-paced at a high pitch, that pace suited the closing stages of the play.

Clive Broom as Dr Feldman was, unfortunately, just too laid back and slow in pace, even in contrast to Anna. For me, his couple of stumbles on words put me on edge for more occurrences throughout the play.

The set was cleverly designed with fabric walls to allow for them to be backlit for some critical revelations near the end of the piece. However, the surreal lighting at that time was at odds with the naturalistic style up to that point and was rather jarring and confusing. I was also most distracted by the walls wobbling and waving whenever anyone used the door!

The final appearance by Anna's husband (Richard Fountain) was spoiled - his words were completely drowned by the swelling music which was building for the finale, so I've got no idea what he said to his newly re-discovered wife.

I'm sure this is a good play but it needs to be handled with a variation of pace and more control and conviction from the two leads. A good attempt.

More reviews for you on Friday.

I must stress that I am not a professionally qualified reviewer or adjudicator. My opinions are wholly subjective.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Woking Drama Festival - Day 6

Continuing my reviews of this year’s WDA Festival of One-Act Plays.

Pyrford Little Theatre presented Pity About Kitty by Jimmie Chinn

A play which tells of a naive nurse being stripped of her job by a twisted tribunal. The imposing table, populated by both real people and wooden dummies, hinted to us what Kitty, the innocent victim, barely suspected.

Rita Warren as Nurse Kitty Curtis was excellent. Her open-faced, wide-eyed innocence meant that we were with her all the way, knowing that she was genuine in thinking that her old 'friend', Sister Strong, was in danger of losing her own job, rather than being the instrument of Kitty's downfall. An incredibly well-judged performance.

Sheila Stewart as SNO Cross was also very good, as were Mina Crowe as Sister Strong and Brian Beamish as Sir Cuthbert, though these last two actors did stretch their performances slightly too far from realism and occasionally crept into the realms of stereotype. Luckily though, not too far and not too often to spoil the overall effect.

A couple of missed lighting cues were unfortunate and served to distract slightly and I also thought that the staging was a little too flat the chairs at either end of the long table could have been set a tad more downstage to improve the picture.

Overall though, this was an excellent production and, having seen a few efforts from Pyrford Little Theatre in recent years, this was certainly the best of the lot.

Herald Players presented Mountain Language by Harold Pinter

Late period Pinter plays are tricky fellows. Intensely political and layered with meaning, yet with sparse dialogue which takes expert directors and actors to interpret meaningfully.

Even after mulling it over for a while, I'm not sure if Herald Players' production succeeded completely. Set on a bare stage with simple plastic chairs, a table and telephone, creating the required effect of a cold, impersonal institution. The use of lights to differentiate locations was sporadically successful, though there were occasions when actors found themselves unlit at points when they shouldn't have been (there is one deliberate instance of a voice calling from the darkness).

I think the main problem for me was the performances and costumes of the soldiers. The characterisations veered towards stereotypes, especially for the Sergeant and, less so, for the Officer. The costumes seemed half-hearted as if we were being asked to accept that a khaki jersey was sufficient to turn a man into an inhuman being. A fully realised uniform for each of the soldiers would have helped us to suspend our disbelief as well as helping the actors to get into the parts.

On the other hand, the performances of the Young Woman (Amy Yorston), the Prisoner (Simon Hurst) and the Elderly Woman (Elaine Brace) were excellent. In their hands, long pauses, designed to give us huge amounts of information, which were handled clumsily in the early scenes of the play by the soldiers, really sprung to life.

A brave attempt at a difficult play and one that, with more work, could be very good indeed, but I certainly enjoyed what I saw.

Brooklands Theatre Company presented The Opposite of People by Andrew Smith

This play concerns a fraudulent talent agency, out to take credulous wannabe actors of their money. Played by actors of around 17 or 18, for the most part we were able to believe that the two men (Matt Lapinskas as Mark and Harry Feltham as Barry) were suave con-men in their late-twenties or early-thirties.

The other major part (Jo, played by Charlotte McCormack) of the waitress talked into handing over her life savings for a shot at stardom was very well realised.

The male actors did have an unfortunate tendency to gabble and swallow their words when speaking fast. If they can control this habit, but keep up the breakneck speed and style of acting they will be very good indeed, as shown in the scene where Mark talks gently to Jo. Fine teamwork and excellent communication between the actors.

I found the setting of the chair downstage from the main desk to be problematic. Often actors where turned upstage to face their partner. Not a problem with volume as their voices were all strong and well projected, but I missed being able to see their faces!

Overall, an exellent production which the whole audience thoroughly enjoyed.

It was good to see that the evening's show was the most consistent in terms of quality. There was nothing to let the side down!

More reviews for you on Thursday.

I must stress that I am not a professionally qualified reviewer or adjudicator. My opinions are wholly subjective.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Dead Arrows?

Why do so many people take everything they read on the internet at face value?

You can write ANYTHING on a blog, refer to it in an email, post the contents of that email in another blog and then suddenly you have an entirely false "history" which will be endlessly quoted and forwarded by credulous fools and the easily-outraged.

Take this recent viral thing about "The Red Arrows are BANNED from performing at the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony".

There's a petition against this online at 10 Downing Street (please don't waste your time signing it!). There are literally hundreds of blogs pontificating about this non-issue. Arguing what it says about our government and our national identity.

The answer, of course, is that it means nothing as it's all a load of bollocks!

Please, before forwarding on one of these "shock-horror" emails or petitions, spend just 5 minutes finding out whether it is true or not...

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Woking Drama Festival - Day 5

Continuing my reviews of this year’s WDA Festival of One-Act Plays.

Thurrock Court Players presented Laughter in the Shadow of the Trees by James Prideaux

Only two plays on this, the middle Saturday of the Festival and, unfortunately, the first of them wasn't very good.

The omens were good for this play as the set was very nicely done. A garden scene with a bench, realistically painted fir trees and effective papier-mache tree stumps, which all looked nice from the auditorium.

Unfortunately, this group was under-rehearsed. Two of the three actors took lots of prompts and were very unsure of their lines. Maybe John Scowen as Martin could be forgiven as his character was supposed to have Alzheimers? But his sudden changes of temper and outbursts of anger were well done.

Jayne Jones as Felicia was very restless, hardly staying still for more than a few seconds, and tended to speak out to the audience, instead of to the character she was addressing. Faults like this should really have been addressed by the director.

When both parents did get into a section where they knew their lines, they often came out by rote, too fast and with little meaning behind them.

Only Zoe Lyall as Jan gave a really assured performance and her scene alone with her father, and the final monologue which ended the play were very well executed.

So, a real shame that a play which looked promising was executed poorly.

Wessex Youth Theatre presented Warrior Square by Nick Wood

After saying yesterday that youth productions could be less than satisfactory, along comes another group to prove me wrong!

This was a three-hander with two of the actors - Katie Dancey and James May (not the famous one!) - playing at least 5 parts between them. This is the story of an eastern European family, driven from their home by an unspecified conflict and being forced to deal with the hopes, fears, opportunities and dangers of starting a new life in England.

A few simple fabric-covered blocks and some simple props on a black stage were all that was required for this team to bring the story to life.

Mehreen Shah played the daughter of the family incredibly well, with her lively, open face easily portraying a young frightened Muslim girl growing up to be a confident newly-English teenager.

James May played the son, his father, his uncle and a fellow refugee. As well as maintaining his accent well, he also differentiated the characters very successfully, with just a change of hat or jacket as support.

Outstanding for me was Katie Dancey as the stoic and loving Mother. her transformation from grief-stricken at the loss of her husband to finally accepting her situation and deciding to start living for her children again was put over very well indeed. She also portrayed a football-loving schoolmate of the children very effectively.

If I have a criticism of the production, I would have to question whether the various scene changes could have been made even more slick and fluid. There were occasions when the actors left the stage only to return immediately under cover of a blackout, when a simple change of lighting state and an alteration of position would have worked even more effectively.

This us just a minor quibble though, as this whole play was definitely one of the highlights of the week.

Monday is a day-off at the festival. More reviews for you on Wednesday morning...

I must stress that I am not a professionally qualified reviewer or adjudicator. My opinions are wholly subjective.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Woking Drama Festival - Day 4

Continuing my reviews of this year’s WDA Festival of One-Act Plays.

Thorpe Players presented excerpts from Closer by Patrick Marber

I approached this play with extreme prejudice, having seen the film and not cared for it at all. So, I was surprised that this production held my interest the whole way through.

This is a challenging contemporary piece with very adult content and very strong language all the way through and it demands that the actors play very naturalistically and with strong emotions throughout. I thought that the team of 4 actors managed this feat very well indeed.

I thought that Thorpe Players could have chosen to make the scene changes more slick and flowing - maybe using the whole stage to move from location to location, rather than performing scene changes in front of the black tabs. There was also some very noisy activity behind the scenes while the action was continuing in front.

But while I had reservations about the setting and the pace of the production overall, I found that the strength of the acting more than carried the drama forward and I found myself enjoying the play far more than I thought I would.

I have to pick out the two girls, Melissa Murphy as Alice and Angie Bews as Anna for particular praise in making their roles almost wholly believable; though I mist say that I though that Angie was a little younger than Anna should have been (as indeed was Wesley Wooden as Larry).

Chatting to people in the audience, this was a production which split the audience, and I think I was in the minority in thoroughly enjoying it.

Another Theatre Company presented Paper of Pins by Stella Rogers

Another new play for us to enjoy this week, and like Specialty a couple of days ago, this one also starred its writer.

The story of an old woman suffering from dementia and her interactions with her visiting daughter and a carer who has become a firm friend, this play explored questions about how memory works as we get old and how one might feel knowing that all this will soon be taken from us.

From beginning to end this was a highly moving and gripping production. If I had to quibble, I found the initial sound effects of the 'television' soundtrack a bit too loud (or maybe Stella Rogers as Winnie was a bit too quiet?) but that apart it dropped us into their world most convincingly.

All 3 actresses (Zoe Rogers and Alison Brennan were the others) gave immaculate performances which were totally believeable in every way.

So far the best production in the Festival. A fantastic show which I look forward to seeing again at the recall night if all goes well.

Queens Park Centre presented Crossing The Line by Pete Benson

Plays with kids don't usually do brilliantly at the festival. Well, plays with "youths" are OK, but when the kids are 13 or 14 history tends to remember them as being rather boisterous and well-meaning, but ultimately poor efforts.

I'm glad to say that none of the above was true for Crossing The Line. All the young actors on view here played exceptionally well and kept their characterisations unwavering through the whole piece.

This was a story about a group of kids who stumble across an injured bank robber, leading them to have to make a decision which could change their lives forever.

Despite a few moments when they were quieter than they should have been, they were all most convincing all the way through. And the story was very well constructed. Simple, with a nice twist, but keeping our interest unfailingly.

Finally the curse of the "poor 3rd play" has been broken this year.

What an enjoyable evening of theatre this was.

Come back tomorrow for a review of day 5.

I must stress that I am not a professionally qualified reviewer or adjudicator. My opinions are wholly subjective.

PhotoHunt: Curvy

Portland Bill Lighthouse Lens 5

The lens and window at Portland Bill Lighthouse in Dorset, UK.

Posted a little early for the Photohunt as I'm really busy at the moment...

Friday, 5 October 2007

Woking Drama Festival - Day 3

Continuing my reviews of this year’s WDA Festival of One-Act Plays.

Guildburys presented After Midnight, Before Dawn by David Campton

Arriving at the auditorium we were greeted with a moodily lit, tight square of wet straw, 3 or 4 yards square, representing a seventeenth-century prison cell, occupied by 6 prisoners, condemned to hang for witchcraft. The smell of the straw pervaded the theatre which really helped to draw the audience into the action.

The play deals with the tensions between each of the characters as they try to understand why they are in this situation. The main antagonist is a calm woman who claims to truly have knowledge of the devil and attempts to goad the others into swapping their religious beliefs for an expectation of freedom.

Having 6 people in such a small space was a challenge for the director which he handled very well. He and the cast worked hard at all times to create interesting pictures and shapes. He was helped to some extent by a very atmospheric lighting (I was reminded of Rembrandt paintings at one point so kudos to the costume designer too), though we needed more light on the actors faces, which made it hard for us to follow their words and intentions.

The cast were very confident with their words, though at times some of them could have slowed down their delivery for the sake of clarity; there were moments when I wasnt sure what was being said.

This was a powerful and gripping drama, which could have been electric if the climactic moments had been handled with a more controlled pacing, rather than at break-neck speed, but still it was a very good opener for the evenings entertainment.

Park Players presented Specialty by Sue Viney

This new, previously unperformed play (the first such of the fortnight) was something of a mixed-bag. The plays author played the main character, Ella, an elderly woman holed-up in her old house, seemingly awaiting the three burglars who turn-up to turn-over her residence, only to be thwarted by ghostly goings-on.

Miss Viney was excellent, as one would hope she would be, speaking her own words with confidence and style. The opening section and the ending were both nicely staged and artfully handled by the lead character.

Once more the staging was let down by a lack of light in places this seems to be a theme in the festival this year!

The burglars were all played well, though I did often have problems hearing one of them more volume please! Their characters were written as being by turns comic and genuinely menacing and I found that the players tended to point up the comedic aspects to the detriment of the piece. Play them as genuinely nasty characters and the comedy will come about naturally (c.f. The Ladykillers, as noted by the adjudicator in his summing-up).

Overall a very promising piece that, with more rehearsals and some script-tweaking, could be a really funny and genuinely spooky play.

Desborough Players presented Inheritance by Jill Woods

Could the third play of the evening be a disappointment for the third day in a row? Sadly, Im sorry to say, it was.

Ive seen this play before and its not a strong piece. Three sisters meet in the bedroom of their dying mother, hoping that it wont be long before they receive a monetary windfall which will enable them to turn their lives around. And thats about it, no real twists or surprises to talk of, just a fairly mundane story.

The set was uninspiring and looked like a charity shop furniture warehouse rather than a lived-in bedroom, and the layout of the space made it impossible for the actors to do little other than stand in lines talking to each other.

Jane Cairns, playing Margaret, was the most believable of the 3 main actresses and I had no trouble believing that she had been looking after her bed-ridden mother for a long time. Georgia Warner (Fay) was, unfortunately, very quiet indeed. There were times when I could barely hear her words, which was a shame as she seemed to have a pleasing and natural delivery. Jean, played by Jacqui Keenes, slightly overdid the upper-middle class pretension which her character had to show, though I enjoyed her spirited rendition of The Deadwood Stage.

The lighting was adequate (at last!) though the final black-out could have been handled more sharply.

Back to the drawing board with this one. Re-design the staging and get the actors to play it more naturalistically to stand the best chance of making the play more interesting.

Tune in tomorrow for Day Four

I must stress that I am not a professionally qualified reviewer or adjudicator. My opinions are wholly subjective.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Woking Drama Festival - Day 2

Continuing my reviews of this year’s WDA Festival of One-Act Plays.

Send Amateur Dramatic Society presented The Island by Athol Fugard

After thinking that Athol Fugard was a French surrealist, I looked him up on Wikipedia yesterday to discover that he is a South African political dramatist. Thank heaven I decided to do a little bit of research, or this play would have been very confusing!

A stark opening revealed the stage right area taken up by a barred prison cell and stage left empty, with a projected image of a prison island. Two exhausted, sweat-stained prisoners worked, pointlessly digging sand, until forced roughly back to their cell by unseen hands.

Most of what followed took place in the confines of that cell, barely 8 feet square.

At first the speed of the dialogue, along with the rough South African accent made me think we were in for a tough time when it came to comprehending the dialogue. But I shouldn't have worried. The deliberately frenetic and chaotic opening soon settled down into a thoroughly absorbing and moving piece of theatre.

The story of two ANC activists, jailed for their belief in freedom and equality was originally performed by black actors in the townships of South Africa, but there was absolutely no problem casting two white actors in the roles. The play, the acting and the direction were all "colour-blind", just as they should be.

As the pair prepare to perform Antigone at a prison camp entertainment they point up, with delicious irony, the parallels between the ancient story and their own predicament. And when John finds out that he is to be released within months, his friend Winston veers from joy at his partner's upcoming freedom to anger and jealousy that he will be left behind to rot.

Both actors were very fine indeed, though I have to say that Peter Heath as John was a touch more impressive than his acting partner, Matt Kitsell, playing Winston. I think that the tricky accent sometimes defeated Mr Kitsell and led to a tendency to bite off his sentences at times, though I'm being a bit picky because the characterisations and emotions of both men were superlative.

While in critical mode, it's also a shame that the duo had to take a prompt near the end of the piece as they had been flawless with their dialogue up to that point. Having said that, I got the impression that if they had been left to their own devices for a second or two more they would have found their own way out of the problem.

Overall though this was a very well directed and grippingly acted hour of drama. Just what the festival was made to showcase. If something else comes along to better this production we will be spoiled indeed.

Junk Elephant presented Switch by Chris Masters

A complete contrast to the first play of the evening, this was a very short play. Too short in fact. At 16 minutes it fell below the minimum duration specified by the competition rules and will forfeit at least 8 points because of that. Shame.

More of a revue sketch than a play, this was the story of two spies who are not what they seem meeting on a park bench, exchanging documents and discussing their profession.

The opening was fantastic. Superbly mysterious violin and synthesiser spy music, combined with precise snappy lighting and sharp stylised movements by the Russian spy gave us an instant impression of the location and style of the production.

The acting from the two players (Dan Herrington as the Russian and John Ryan the Englishman) was also fine, though the script was too brief and insufficiently deep and textured to provide any scope for real character development.

Like the adjudicator, Im at a loss to say exactly what the play was about, if it was about anything, which is another reason why this seemed like a sketch, just a nice excuse for some nice gags and jokes (and they were very nice this was definitely the funniest of the 6 plays we have seen so far).

And thats about all I can say about this production. It was very enjoyable and there was nothing that they did wrong (excepting the short run-time), but one was just left with the feeling that with the talent of the actors and director aimed at a longer and more meaningful piece of writing (maybe the same piece extended?) we would have seen a much more satisfying piece of work.

Playmakers presented The Last Post by Jean McConnell

Like the last play yesterday there were some fundamental problems with this play.

This was the story of Felicity, a rich woman whose husband, a Colonel, had died. She receives a letter in the post informing her that he had sired a young boy child who now needed an operation. The childs mother, Mary, appears on the scene and the widow pays her money for the operation on the understanding that she will never come back. But the whole thing is a con-trick. There is no child Mary just scans obituary columns for likely looking death notices and then writes on spec to the now-deceased putative lothario

Now, there were two BIG problems with all this.

First, the play: the reason that we know its a con-trick is that Mary leaves behind her newspaper with an obituary marked. Felicity cleverly figures out the significance (how?!?) and then happily (happily!!!) writes off the money and assumes Mary will be living it up in the tropics (as she indeed is). But if Mary is in the tropics, then she isnt following up her new victim. And if I were Felicity, Id be going to the police, telling them what happened and handing over details of the clue, leading to the capture of the con-woman and the return of my money.

So, the whole ending really made no sense. But more annoying was the turgid dialogue, which was obviously aimed at the elderly matinee crowd who need telling 3 times what has happened. After we suspect that Mary is a con-woman, we have a scene in which she sets up the next con (confirming our suspicions) followed by another scene in which Felicity explains the whole thing AGAIN to her daughter on the phone. Totally superfluous. Especially as she should be phoning the police instead!

Anyway. Those are the big problems with the play. Now the big problems with this production.

Mary ORiley, the con-woman. Now, Im sorry about this, but she must have been 50 years old if she was a day. Pushing 55 if I were to be honest. Which is a terrible piece of casting if this woman is supposed to have a young son! It totally undermined the shaky premise of the whole play.

The production wasnt helped by some rogue seagulls in the sound effects booth which kept squawking when the phone should have been ringing. And squawking and squawking and squawking all through the outdoor scenes Argh!

Add to that some uncertain early lighting queues, an unconvincing Irish accent and a lack of pace in the direction and playing and, well, sorry Playmakers but Im afraid I didnt find much to enjoy in your production.

Oh I tell a lie. Those of us sat in the left-hand side of the auditorium did enjoy playing spot the prompter. Please tell him or her in future that if she can see the audience then they can see her!

More reviews tomorrow of Day Three

I must stress that I am not a professionally qualified reviewer or adjudicator. My opinions are wholly subjective.