Archive for March, 2011

Me: “How is it that you seem to get away with so much more than everyone else, Eldest Son?”

Eldest Son: “Because you told me that if I work hard at something, and because I am clever, I will manage to do it brilliantly, and I have worked really hard at getting away with more, Daddy.” (This said with the earnest air of one doing his best to answer a genuine concern.)

I remember that children, as a rule, don’t “get” irony (at least, not when it suits them not to) and let it go…

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My first emotion was exhilaration.

Virtual Friend and Theatre Twin alerted me to the fact that Fiona Shaw was going to be appearing alongside Lindsay Duncan and Alan Rickman in Ibsen’s “John Gabriel Borkman”. She is something of a theatre insider and so this knowledge was shared way before it became public knowledge – so my excitement was very real, tempered only by the desire to get on and book some tickets. “Where would it play?”, I wondered. A cast like that has got Almeida, West End or National Theatre possibilities – but which? Could it be that the brilliant Nick Hytner was going to use this production to follow the flawless Paul Schofield, Eileen Atkins and Vanessa Redgrave “Borkman” of some years previous (a production I can still remember, almost minute by minute – can you even imagine how brilliant it was: well CAN YOU?)? WHERE?


And then New York.


This was going to be difficult: I had to get to see it. It was Fiona Shaw in Ibsen (and her “Hedda Gabler” is still the greatest thing I have ever seen in a theatre) – and the rest of the cast weren’t exactly slouches either. It was designed by Tom Pye, whose brilliant work on “Medea” and “Happy Days” had been so impressive, Finally, Virtual Friend and Theatre Twin got herself off to Ireland and gorged on it. Ireland would have been cheaper and easier – so I went to New York to see it.

Now, I am a Fiona Shaw enthusiast – but I am not a blind disciple. I, for example, found her performance in “Black Dahlia” (loved by many) to be so embarrassing that I could scarcely keep my eyes open – so I am capable of seeing where she has strayed from brave to ludicrous. That said, this performance was miraculous. It was up there with Hedda and Medea, largely because her danger zone (letting rip in quivering tones and going the FUCK FOR IT) was so well reined in that the audience could feel the pressure in her. And when she finally did let rip, it was like a glacier exploding: it was absolutely spellbinding, and most crucial of all, it felt like the result of years lived in torment and quiet fury, not like the outburst born of a couple of hours of theatrical adrenaline.

Lindsay Duncan was also magnificent. A much warmer presence than Shaw, and with a voluptuous quality that has served her throughout her career and is as much a mark of her interpretation as it is of her physical presence, they were magnificently paired. It’s always good to see two actors absolutely matched, but with contrasting qualities and styles (think of Brando and Leigh in “A Streetcar Named Desire”) and with this script it was very heaven.

I have to confess that the disappointment for me was Rickman. Maybe it’s because I saw Schofield in the role (and I truly can’t imagine it being done better), but I also think that Rickman was too slight a character to scale the part and to crash down into its depths: it felt as though he was picking round the edges of the part a little, rather than immersing himself in it. It is a mountain of a part and perhaps it was simply too much but (on the night that I saw it, at least) he was subdued, rather than destroyed; miffed, rather than devastated – though I should add that plenty of people disagree with me as violently as it’s possible to do without falling over.

It was a trip worth taking in every way – and I cannot but hope (though Virtual Friend and Theatre Twin thinks it highly unlikely) that there may be a London transfer at some point this year. I would gladly go again, and again, and again.

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It was Best Friend’s birthday last week, and so she and her husband, Talented Art Director with Monkey Arms, invented me and Unfeasibly Attractive Girlfriend over to lunch.

Their house gets more fantastic (in every sense) every time I visit. The pair of them are very creative, but Talented Art Director with Monkey Arms combines this with a fascination with production technique – so they can execute the most incredible flights of fancy all over their home: and so they have. At the heart of this beautiful home is the even more beautiful God Daughter.

She has inherited Best Friend’s fearless grip of fashion (we were met at the door by her in a pair of Bumblebee Wellington boots, a dress printed with Japanese-inspired dinosaurs, and assorted insect clips in her hair. She’s every bit as pretty as her mother, and – it turns out – is a bona fide GENIUS. At first, this seemed to be manifesting itself through the prism of fashion again: Best Friend was caught between shock and pride to be corrected on pointing to a picture and saying “Look! Yellow!” to have the reply come back (presumably in appropriately Wintourish tones) “That’s not yellow, Mummy: that’s Lemon Yellow” – but it seems to be going beyond that now to short Beckett-like reflections on humanity (and Beckett-like reflections on humanity delivered by a dazzling two-year old in a dinosaur dress and Bumblebee boots is worth catching, as you can imagine).

She teams this dazzling intelligence with a profound humanity, which she demonstrates by going off for a two-hour nap, without a word of complaint, rising quietly later, while the adults sit downstairs and eat a fantastic lunch (this one cooked by Best Friend, rather than her husband – who along with his OTHER creative talents is infuriatingly gifted in the kitchen too). What a girl.

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I have been deaf in some of the most beautiful places in the world.

I have been deaf in Siena, Thailand, Luxor and Scotland – and now I am deaf in London. It’s always brought on by swimming (because clearly there is no deafness so profound as could sanction either ear plugs or swimming withe one’s head above the water in the manner of a 1960s Duchess with a recent demi-wave) and it’s always fairly enduring. It’s one of my (weirdly) abiding memories of the nice side of Ex-Wife: she would go off to find a pharmacy (not seeing distance or language as a barrier and do a mime there), returning with something to ease my discomfort – and presumably, to put an end to my bellowing “What?” to anything that she said at a normal volume.

It’s incredibly annoying, being cut off from what is going on and I find myself rather more sympathetic to the plight of those who suffer this on a permanent, rather than temporary, basis. The pain is receding now, and I can hear properly in one ear (it’s a matter of time and antibiotics, and managing to resist the urge to jam stuff in my ear to render it fully operational), but the thing that really annoys me is the idea that it’s a matter of time – the next time in a swimming pool, quite simply – before it all starts up again.

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I think it fair to say that I have embraced being forty.

Not only is there Unfeasibly Attractive Girlfriend, some ten years my junior (who is not accompanied by a sports car/motorbike or tattoo – as that would feel like a crisis, not an embrace), and a further strengthened commitment to “proper clothes”; but there has arisen, of late that dewy-eyed adoration of the middle-aged who see in BBC Radio 4 what they once saw in The Smiths, Che Guevara and the novels of Umberto Eco.

This is manifesting itself with the digital version of the Desert Island Discs podcast: an absolute corker of an idea (the programme itself) and a joy to listen to. The best, from my perspective is the interview with the mighty Lawrence Dallaglio (with whom I was at school, and who joined me in a number of unlikely sounding musical commitments in our unbroken voice days), and it was fresh from hearing this inspiring and humane man talk that I scrolled to the next interview.

The name alone – Gyles Brandreth – should have been enough to alert me. It is one of those names (along with Simon Callow, Katie Price and Rory McGrath) that always sets the alarm bells ringing, but I was prepared to allow that the programme might palliate the guest. I should have trusted to my instinct: barely had the fist song choice (Noel Coward, which should have been a further red flag) finished and Brandreth resumed talking than I was muttering “Fuck off, Fuck Off, FUCK OFF GYLES BRANDRETH” without due consideration that I was on the train and no-one around me could understand the justifiable rage in my heart, eyes and voice.

Salvation arrived with the (surprisingly likeable) Sir Tom Jones, who didn’t choose one of his own songs (by way of brilliant contrast with the soprano Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, who famously chose nothing but her own songs for all eight choices) and was warm, funny and revealing – but it was a close run thing and it was terrible to see the curse of Brandreth so nearly ruining the greatness of BBC Radio 4.

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Currently, my agency is desperately trying to prove its digital credentials. To itself.

The means by which we are doing this is to subject everyone to a relentless stream of messages, trending topics, hash tags, data onto a number of television screens that have been wall-mounted around the place.

Am I being cynical, or am I missing the point in thinking that there is something of an irony in displaying your digital credentials on a television screen?

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I was driving the children to school on Monday morning, and Eldest Son was advising me of his perspective on the current Royal house.

He has been (as all English children seem to – certainly I did, back in the mists of time), learning about Henry VIII and the Tudors. This has given me the opportunity to drag all of the children off to Hampton Court Palace and The National Portrait Gallery, in order to “bring it to life”.

Hampton Court was a triumph. We were very lucky in that (on the day we went) they were staging a re-enactment of Henry and his Council. Fully costumed actors (no doubt sourly reflecting that they didn’t spend three years at RADA, and give a definitive Edward II in Sheffield, to spend their lives shouting in silly hats in front of baffled Chinese tourists) played a convincing (and properly engrossing) session, at which we, the visitors were also sitting amongst the Council and thus able to ask questions of the King. This, Eldest Son duly did: his face and voice alive with urgency, he raised his hand and put the question that the whole room was REALLY waiting to have answered on the issue of the impending war with France: “Will there be beheadings?” I must give “The King” his due: he handled it brilliantly (and suitably bloodily), making the whole trip a huge success.

We followed that up with a trip to The National Portrait Gallery, to see the portraits and see if that added another dimension. The dimension it appeared to add was a keen urgency to get into the gift shop and buy notebooks (his latest craze), while Youngest Son expressed his desire for five postcards of Samuel Beckett “who looks like a parrot” (which you can’t really argue with)…

Anyway, it seems to have done some good, as in the car, Eldest Son was asking me if our current Queen was a Tudor. I tried to explain the principles of hereditary monarchy and primogeniture, and was making a bit of a hash of it, but was saved by Eldest Son’s own trenchant analysis of the situation:

“Daddy. What I think is that if Edward VI had done his duty and made his Daddy proud by getting married and having a son – WHICH IS WHAT HIS DADDY REALLY WANTED – we would still have Tudors and that would be great. But sadly, he couldn’t be bothered to make his Daddy proud.”

Needless to say, the tears that started to run down my face sprang as much from the comedy as they did from feeling very moved by the way he saw and described the Father/Son bond. I felt like a king: he is certainly a prince.

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