Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Journey's End

Runnymede Drama Group performed R. C. Sherriff's classic First World War drama at the Rhoda McGaw Theatre last week. I attended Friday's show with some fellow Ottershaw thesps and we all thought it was a fantastic production; easily matching, if not exceeding RDG's usual exemplary standards.

The play concerns the lives of a group of British officers on the front line and opens in the trenches in France. Raleigh, fresh out of English public school, joins the besieged company of his friend and cricketing hero, Stanhope, and finds him dramatically changed.

John Godliman's superb set (brilliantly dressed), along with the excellent sound effects, immediately invoked the atmosphere of the trenches, ably supported by the very sympathetic lighting. Unfortunately there were some 'idiosyncrasies' with the lighting plot, though we understand that there appears to have been an electrical problem which caused sudden changes in the brightness of the lights. The special effects really brought the 2nd half to life – the falling dust and sawdust, synchronized with the sound of the shells, made one think that one could feel the bombs dropping!

Each actor was totally believable and invested their parts with great emotion, though I should say that, for me anyway, David Webb (Osborne), Jamie Frier (Raleigh) and Mark Humble were outstanding, Nick Lund was excellent and Keith Bollands totally realistic in his portrayal of grim humour in the face of awful circumstances.

It's a testament to Judith Dolley's consummate skill as a director that we were totally engrossed in this very long and wordy play and that each act flew past twice as quickly as the clock indicated. No mean feat in such a cramped space with so little scope for movement.

Finally, a word about the curtain-call: The sepia-tinged tableau was a great idea and the decision to bring in the Last Post while the audience were already applauding the performance, (which then, of course, stopped us all in our tracks), was a real coup de theatre - moving and thrilling – it even managed to silence the annoying, texting, giggling gaggle of Essex 6th-formers who occupied the 3 rows in front of us!

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Keep Up

It's been a bit quiet here of late. Unfortunately I've slipped out of the habit of blogging every day. Sometimes it's just very tough to actually come up with a topic to write about - and I never had a backlog of posts in reserve, as I think some people have.

I've also had a vague feeling of depression recently. Nothing big or dramatic, just enough to prevent me having any good ideas. I reckon it's probably caused by my dissatisfaction with work (nothing new there then!) and November, which always feels like the darkest, dingiest and most depressing month of the year to me.

On the other hand I have managed to do some positive things. Along with doing some design for next year's play, I've started work on a design for a new website for the Ottershaw Players.

This is the old one. And this is the new one.

Obviously it doesn't have much content yet. And if people (i.e. the group's members) like it, I'll install WordPress on our server which means I will be able to get the look and feel just right. The free WordPress site is very good and pretty close, but the navigation needs fixing up.

But some feedback on the design would be good.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Fun With Virtual Ink

While Ottershaw Players are getting ready to launch off to Treasure Island (click on the postcard in the sidebar for more details) I've been taking 6 months off from drama - well, in theory anyway.

Rehearsing a play takes a lot of time and effort. Two or three rehearsals a week, plus extra-curricular time learning lines, painting scenery and making props. Or, if you're the director, more meetings, planning, worrying, scheming and liaising with all the other people involved in the production.

Up to the middle of this year, I'd spent over 5 years with Ottershaw Players and had been involved, to some extent or another, with all but one of the shows that they had produced. It was very time consuming. So, back in June, after Whose Life Is It Anyway? had finished, I decided to take 6 months off so that I could spend more time at home with MLYW and we could get some decorating done.

Of course, it's never that simple, is it? We have nearly finished painting the living room. We just need to finish off the skirting, door frame and fireplace. The windows really need tarting-up too, but as they also need totally renovating and replacing, I think we're better off saving up the money to get that done in one go.

But my plans for time-off from drama were initially scuppered by the fact that I had been persuaded to be Publicity Officer for the Woking Drama Association. So - committee meetings to attend and a whole two weeks of the Woking Drama Festival to enjoy.

Then Treasure Island came along. My resolution held strong, despite the fantastic script, and I am still a little jealous that I am not involved fully with the show. Though I did my usual attempt at designing the posters and flyers for the show and I have just finished putting together the programme and getting it off to the printer.

Now, in an attempt to get ahead of the game next year, I have put together designs for Lord Arthur Savile's Crime, which I am directing for
Ottershaw Players. Directing the play will be time-consuming enough, so it's good that I can get this sort of stuff done way ahead of time.

Here are the postcard and flyer designs which I have put together. Any feedback or comments on the designs gratefully received...

Lord Arthur Savile's Crime - Postcard

Lord Arthur Savile's Crime - Poster

Wednesday, 14 November 2007


Here's a story about a man who was "caught having sex with his bicycle".

Now, the obvious questions are WHAT? and WHY?

But I want to put those aside for one moment as I'm not exactly sure why the poor guy has been convicted of a crime.

I'm no lawyer, but I'm pretty sure that it's not an offence, per se, to have sex with a bicycle. OK, the bike is unable to give its consent, but then, as it's not a sentient being, who cares? And I would imagine that age of consent doesn't come into the equation.

No. He was actually convicted of "a sexually aggravated breach of the peace by conducting himself in a disorderly manner and simulating sex". Hmmm...

Now, I'm not usually one to moan about erosion of our personal freedom, but this really takes the biscuit for me. It would appear that if you do something in the privacy of your own locked room, that isn't in any way illegal, but someone walks into that room and takes offence, then you've committed a crime.

It seems to me that it's only the fact that the poor bastard was sad and desperate (and drunk) enough to be getting it on with his velocipede that was an issue. A "breach of the peace". Errr, no. He was doing what he was doing in private, without anyone's knowledge. Presumably, if he'd been entertaining a lady-friend (or Madam Palm and Her Five Daughters) the two cleaners who walked in would have just apologised and walked out without causing a fuss.

Glasgow, it seems, is intolerant of sexual kinks. It's not enough that the man has to bear the shame and ignominy of knowing that wherever he goes people will call him "saddle-shagger" behind his back.

Of course not. The Sheriff of Glasgow has ordered him to be put on the sexual offenders register. How utterly ridiculous! What purpose does this serve? Nobody needs protecting from this man. He's harmless to people. And there's no evidence that he goes around defiling the cycles of all and sundry, hanging around the bike-racks at the central railway station, is there?

What a silly, heavy-handed waste of time and money. I feel sorry for the poor sod.

Right - I'm off to fiddle with my pump and polish my helmet...

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Dixie Chick

Went to the Donmar Warehouse on Saturday evening, with MLYW and our friend Vanessa to see the musical Parade.

In brief, it's the story of Leo Frank, a Jewish New Yorker who made his home in Atlanta, Georgia (he married a local girl), as manager of a pencil factory. A young factory worker, Mary Phagan, was brutally raped and murdered and suspicion fell upon him as the last one to see her alive. While the case against him was only circumstantial, politicians and "yellow" newspapers declared him guilty and he was sentenced to death.

A vigorous campaign by New York groups, coordinated by Leo's wife, Lucille, convinced the governor of Georgia that there was sufficient doubt to commute his sentence. But while the case was being reviewed, and before a re-trial could be ordered, Leo was kidnapped from his cell and lynched.

This is a case which is little-known outside the US, though I understand it is still felt keenly in some circles (MaryB, is that right?).

I don't usually go for musicals, but I had read about the story earlier this year and I found it intriguing - and I wondered how it was possible to make an evening's entertainment from such a tragic story.

The Warehhouse is quite a small space, with a thrust stage surrounded on 3 sides by compact seating which would make any performance there an intimate one. The challenge of setting a 2.5 hour musical there were formidable, but the staging is a huge success. A balcony, and a 'porch' beneath it, upstage of the main stage allow up to 3 areas to be utilised simultaneously, while the only furnishings used were a couple of chairs, a table or two and various light fittings, flown in from above. Thus the actors brought their 'scenery' on with them and kept the piece moving along at a good pace.

The play starts 50 years prior to the main action, with a prologue showing one of the sons of Georgia going off to fight in the civil war, taking his leave from his sweetheart, Lila. I'm not sure if this scene really works, even with Lila periodically returning to watch over the later proceedings like a ghost. I guess this device is meant to point out that the events surrounding Leo Franks are both caused by and coloured by the South's defeat in the war, but it did seem like we were rather spoonfed this imagery. The lynching of a man (innocent or guilty) outside the due process of law is a savage and shameful act, no matter what the provocation, nor what political motive lay behind it.

After the prologue, the story is laid out in a fairly straightforward manner, though the author's opinion as to whether Leo is guilty or innocent is cleverly hidden and not revealed until the very end of the piece, long after he has been hanged.

The cast, for the most part, were excellent. Of special note were Bertie Carvel as Leo Frank (fantastic characterisation, though at times a little quiet from up in the "circle"), Lara Pulver as Lucille (excellent all round) and Mark Bonnar as Hugh Dorsey (totally believable and even strangely sympathetic as the high-flying DA, determinded to make Leo 'swing').

Outstanding for me was Shaun Escoffery who played 3 main parts, but was so versatile that we were convinced they were actually played by 2 different actors. His 'blues' in Act 2 was also a highlight.

While I can't profess to be able to whistle any of the tunes (maybe that's why the original production closed quickly on Broadway despite winning a Tony) they were all of the highest quality. Some of the numbers sung by the more dubious politicians and journalists, and the chorus numbers sung by the townsfolk, bent on revenge, were of a deliberately jaunty and perky tone. These rags and minstrel tunes contrasted jarringly with their subject matter and really made you wonder if you should be tapping your feet along to a song calling for the death of a Jew.

The end of the show brought a standing ovation for this marvellously staged and energetically performed musical. While I'm still not converted to musicals, per se, as a genre, there is now a 3rd one which I have enjoyed to add to my list.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

PhotoHunt: Flexible

Desperation this week. All I could find was this picture of two very flexible (and very large) eels, taken in Shanghai Aquarium.

Friday, 9 November 2007


A collegue showed me this robot which she is going to get to play with this weekend (her husband works with miniature cameras and the like. I guess he must be a secret agent!).

You can control it from an Internet connection anywhere in the world, look through its 'eyes' and send it remote commands, including getting it to play MP3 sound files.

Which is all well and good, but I wonder what the main use will be... It's certainly no guard-dog. If you do happen to log-on at the exact moment that a burglar is ransacking your house he's unlikely to be scared by the RoboCop sample that you play at him from your beach hut in Goa. He's more likely to just stomp on it, or steal it.

It's built and marketed by Meccano and it extensible, so it's possible to build it a remote-controlled gun, but that's just asking for trouble.

If I had one, knowing my luck, I'd come back from my holiday to find that my robot had changed the locks and invited all his robot chums round, kicking me and MLYW out on the street. Robot bastards!

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Treasure Island

Treasure Island_0428
"Pieces of Eight"

A bit of a plug for the Ottershaw Players' forthcoming show, Treasure Island, which will be on at the Rhoda McGaw Theatre, Woking, from 28th November to 1st December, 2007, at 7.45pm.

There's a matinee on Saturday 1st December at 2.30pm, but tickets are getting scarce for that show already.

This is the first show in about 5 years that I've not performed in or taken a role backstage - though I've still designed the publicity materials and I'm taking the production photos - but I popped into rehearsals on Sunday night (where I took a bunch of photos) and it looks like it's going to be a rollicking good show.

I also spent a short time helping with scene painting and admiring the wonderful set model. We always do good sets (thanks to the superb designs and tireless effort of Alan Wakefield), but this one is something special - I really can't wait to see it finished. Personally, I'd buy a ticket just to see the set on its own.

Ottershaw Players have won two major NODA awards for their winter shows in recent years (A Christmas Carol in 2004 and The Wind In The Willows in 2006) and it looks like this year's presentation will continue that quality.

I'll see you at the theatre on the last night!

Saturday, 3 November 2007

PhotoHunt: Classic


My Dad (nearest the camera) and his friends on their classic Triumph bikes in the early 1950s. Of course, they weren't "classics" then, they were cutting edge, if a few years old!

His bike is a maroon 1945 or 1946 500cc Triumph Speed Twin. It's been modified with a dual seat and a windshield.

Friday, 2 November 2007

A Rare Bit

Heston Blumenthal. What a name! It makes him sound less like a chef and more like a kosher deli service station on the M4.

Inspired by the slap-head gastro-boffin, I've decided to share one of my favourite recipes.

I hope you enjoy it!

1. Make some bread. It's no good buying it, as a modern supermarket with over 210,000 sq acres of bakery will not stock what we need. We're looking for a coarse-ground multi-grain flour loaf, using free-range yeast. I like to add some cranberries and then remove them again just before we bake to give a subtle, fruity sharpness to the bread.

2. While the bread's baking, scour your locality for some wood. I find that old pallets are best, but if not, you could make do with ordinary garden waste. Build it up into a large bonfire - but be careful to build a small fence around it, to prevent hedgehogs from taking refuge.

3. Get onto Google. Find your nearest dairy farmer that stocks Jersey cattle. Pop over there and milk some of his cows. You'll need about 5 pints, but get 6 in case of spillage. If the farmer catches you, throw the spare pint in his face and run for it while he's scrabbling around, blinded.

4. When you get home, you need to start making the milk into cheese. This stage can take up to a year for a good quality, mature hard cheese, which is what we're after. Thinking about it - maybe this bit (and the previous one) should have been first... Sorry!

5. When your bread and cheese are ready, light your bonfire. Don't forget to be considerate and ensure that none of your neighbours have their washing out! If you own most of the town, like Heston does, you can probably do it whenever you like.

6. While the fire is burning away, pop out to the supermarket and buy some Marmite. If you don't like Marmite, you won't like this recipe, so if you've got this far already... Well, tough!

7. Slice your bread. Each slice should be between 12 and 18mm thick. Less than that and it will disintegrate. more than that and it just looks common.

8. Go back to the supermarket again. We need butter. You could have made it out of the spare milk, but you threw that over the farmer, you clumsy oaf!

9. When you get back home (don't forget your keys) the fire should now just be down to glowing embers. Using a toasting fork (available from all good antique shops) toast the bread over the fire. I usually do 3 slices. You might want to do 2, or maybe 4.

10. Butter the bread. On one side only.

11. On the buttered side of the bread, spread some Marmite. You could spread it thickly or thinly, depending upon your taste. If you do it too thick, you might retch a bit, so be careful.

12. Slice some cheese and lay it on the bread, on the same side as the butter/Marmite combination. The cheese should exactly cover the bread and should be between 2 and 5 mm thick.

13. Seasoning. My preference is Aromat. Some people like pepper and/or Worcestershire sauce. They are wrong.

14. Now slide the slices of toasted, Marmitey, cheesey bread under a hot grill. You can't use the bonfire as the cheese will slide off, so make sure you extinguish the embers with a bucket (or two) of water.

15. Quickly rush back to the kitchen so your snack doesn't burn! Phew. That was close. When the cheese is bubbling and just about to turn brown, it's ready.

16. Season with Heinz Salad Cream and serve, on a tray, in front of the TV. This meal goes best with detective dramas (Columbo, Monk, Murder She Wrote) or The Antiques Roadshow.

And that's my special, cheesey, Marmitey, toasty treat!