Archive for June, 2011

Exciting news: UAG and I double dipped, culturally speaking – theatre AND opera in a high art overload.

The theatre was The Cherry Orchard at The National, with Zoe Wanamaker, Conleth Hill, James Laurenson and Kenneth Cranham, directed by Howard Davies. Now: I’m more of an Ibsen fan than a Chekhov fan (as the blog title attests), not that it has to be a binary choice, and so maybe I am just not temperamentally suited to it, but I don’t really “get” “The Cherry Orchard”: the other “big three” I am all over, and find myself almost unable to stand up at the end of a half decent “Three Sisters” or “Uncle Vanya” (most especially in Louis Malle’s magnificent film version). That said, this is one of the best I’ve seen: Zoe Wanamaker finds a manic denial in Ranyevskaya that made her more tragic – and less fucking irritating – than I’ve seen previously, and Conleth Hill is far and away the best Lopakhin I’ve seen – a veritable Malvolio, with fury and vengeance bubbling all the way through his performance, until the final explosion of anger and venal triumph at his purchase of the house and land. I have NEVER understood why Firs’ final entrance gets a laugh, but it always seems to – and sure enough, even the redoubtable Kenneth Cranham (who has a face that hangs with tragedy, even before a single word is spoken) was greeted by a burst of laughter as he emerged to find himself locked into the empty house, to die there. Yes, I know it’s billed as “A Comedy” – but what IS that response? Is it nervousness? Fear? Irony? Or is there a proportion of every audience who truly thinks that it’s funny that the old man is going to starve to death inside that freezing, bolted house?

But three days later, and we were off again: this time to the Opera – a rare treat indeed and not of my doing. This was “Tosca” at Covent Garden, and it was magnificent.

Before we went, I was wondering if I would miss the scarlet sumptuousness of Zeffirelli’s staging, with its “Why have one priest, when you can have twelve of them, twenty nuns, fourteen altar servers, an entire congregation and ANIMALS” approach. I didn’t.

Jonathan Kent is the Director, and while some of his choices (especially in blocking) were a little weird (the thunderous “Te Deum” takes place in a side chapel, partially obscured from view, so the counterpoint with Scarpia’s “Tre sbirri, una carozza…” aria is a little compromised; and much of Act II happened so far upstage right that I would hazard that at least a third of the audience were craning round to view it), but he kept a tight rein on the melodrama – something that no-one could say of Signor Zeffirelli – and drew much finer acting from the singers (Terfel, Gheorghiu and Giordani – so no slouches there) than I would expect. The drama became human – and yet not dwarved either by the momentous settings (a Church, the private office of the State Security minister, and a prison’s battlements are pretty much “going for it” in terms of “location as drama”, aren’t they?), the music or the grand gestures necessary to tell the story.

There has been a little bit of snipey criticism of Giordani’s “under-powered” Cavaradossi: I thought him perfect. Lyrical, a wonderful complement to his Tosca, and able to deliver the greatest rendition of “E Lucevan Le Stelle” I have heard since Domingo (the best ever).

Next up: “Kung Fu Panda II” – a film I feel (it can now be written) that dwarves “Citizen Kane” by comparison.

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We went to Taste of Britain yesterday: Regent’s Park was abuzz with food providers, producers and pretenders, all excited about their own fare (or, if you’re reading this in an Authentic English Pub) “fayre”, and all of them charging fairly ungodly prices for it.

That said, we did manage to spend a ludicrous amount of money on things that we have struggled by without for the most part of our adult lives, but have suddenly decided as one that we need it. This may well have been a direct influence of the amount of alcohol we got through, which started with quite sensible free samples of Hendricks Gin (quite my favourite, I have now decided), and then progressed to less sensible gin cocktails (made with a gin the name of which completely escapes me, but is made with Pomegranates, giving it a pleasing ruby colour) and (at some point) taking in Pear Cider from somewhere unlikely in Central Eastern Europe (I am aware that this does not narrow the field much) and then a couple of rounds of Mojitos, the last of which included Champagne. It is perhaps inevitable that from this vantage point one rises to one’s feet and proclaims that “I need that white truffle oil with foie gras they were selling back there” (arms windmilling furiously to indicate “back there”) and “the children would love that stuff we saw – WHERE WAS THAT STUFF WE SAW?” that ones friends don’t reply with a healthy “Sit down, you tit.” but encourage you off, while they stack up on fresh Galangal and Pathara as though it were the last chance to buy it this decade, in spite of the very clear “Now Available at Waitrose” signage all over the stands.

But this wasn’t (as an old supermarket advertising campaign) used to have it “Just a  bunch of pissed friends on a Saturday. This is a bunch of pissed, English friends on a Summer’s Saturday in June.” – and so it followed that we managed to do the above whilst co-ordinating umbrellas against the lashing rain, and handfuls of samples and purchases. No wonder the British used to run the world: such skills are essential to a life well lived and to a sense of true leadership.


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Having just returned from there, I can confirm that The Standard Hotel in New York is the coolest place in the world.

Not only were Lady Gaga (like all celebrities: “smaller than you’d think”), Jennifer Lopez and David Lynch there, but (as dedicated readers will know): my presence there ensured that it was the epicentre of cool for the whole week – which must have been nice for them.

The whole thing went very well: my talk on “Specific Creativity” (soon to be a smash-hit mini-series, starring Nicole Scherzinger and Jim Davidson) was well-liked (to the extent that I’ve been asked to do it again for a session in – disappointingly – London), and the other speakers (mainly from the worlds of TV and film-making) were fascinating.

The interview also went well. It was a first for me to be interviewed by Americans (not one of whom, to be fair either said “I love your accent” or started talking like Dick van Dyke in “Mary Poppins” when I first spoke to them), but it was brilliant: like being stroked by warmed ostrich feathers. Every thing that I had done, every thing that I had said, every piece of work I showed them elicited an (unironic, I am fairly sure) “Awesome”. I began to get a little embarrassed and started my trusted tactic of undermining myself and suggesting that, actually, with a following wind, a ham sandwich and a laptop, a trained badger could have done as much, if not better – but this back-fired with renewed invitations to look at the awe-inspiring quality of what I had done, had been saying, and had been producing. It’s now all got terrifyingly real, and I am starting to get calls from someone who proclaims herself to be that agency’s “Head of Talent Management” (the one bum note in the whole thing), which means that I’ll have to make a decision of the bowel evacuation/lavatory desertion kind shortly. Stay tuned.



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Some years ago now, my children were all having a bath together – and having a great time.

I had just gone to get their pyjamas, when I heard an appalling scream from Daughter: “Noooooooooooo!” – so I raced back in, seeing the boys’ giggling faces and Daughter’s face scrunched up in pain.

“What’s wrong?” I demanded.

Daughter’s tear-stained face tilted up at me and she wailed in agonised tones: “They’re saying I don’t have a willy!”

Freud would have been delighted that the absence of a penis was causing this much angst, but that wasn’t my concern. And so it was that “The Billy” was born: equal, but different and used to describe what Daughter had instead of the much-missed willy.

Much more recently (this week, in fact) I was with Nephew and Niece as they both bounced on the trampoline, and (with it being a hot day), they were both wearing their swimming costumes. At least, they WERE wearing their swimming costumes, but they were very soon removed, as children seem to have an almost pathological hatred of wearing swimming costumes, and so it was that my two year-old niece announced, just to clear things up:-

“I haven’t got a willy.”

My mother and I agreed with her that she hadn’t.

“Brother has got a willy. Daddy has got a willy. I haven’t got a willy. Mummy hasn’t got a willy.”

Again, it was confirmed by the adults present that this was the case.

She considered the situation and then proclaimed:-

“I want a willy.”

She also wants another Banana Muffin, a Baby Annabelle feeding chair, a dress with dogs on and a Paddington Bear – so I think this is just one more in a litany of things she has seen and (thus) believes that she has a claim on.

She’ll soon work out that a willy is much more the sort of thing that has you, rather than vice versa: then she’ll be happy that she’s a non-owner…

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