Archive for October, 2011

Ah, the horror, the horror!

How well I remember the feeling from the first house that we bought (sight unseen by me, as it happens, with Ex-Wife and my mother making the decision together – and doing a fine job of it), when the builders have started to knock the living shit out of the structure that you have just paid a fortune for, and you’re left with the sort of environment that one would more readily associate either with heavy shelling or installation art –  the former being only just marginally worse than the latter…

And so it proved again, when I went over to look at my new house on Sunday: much of it has gone (fortunately, the bits that the architect and I had decided SHOULD go) and there was rubble everywhere. The drawing room was home to four lavatories, the dining room was piled high with smashed tiles, and the kitchen appeared to be nothing but concrete slabs. Everywhere, windows had been leaned against walls, in readiness to be re-inserted into the new, extended structure (maybe it’s true what David Hare says in “The Breath of Life” that my generation’s legacy shall be “We came, we saw, we knocked through”…) and I was left with the panicky feeling of “This will never be done” – but then I get that feeling when painting a cupboard, so maybe I don’t need to worry too much.

In fact, if Gigantic Builder (seven feet tall, hands like coal shovels, tattoos on his arms that could contain the entire text of “King Lear”) is to be believed, it will all be done in mid November – which feels incredibly unlikely at the moment, but if they’re as quick as putting stuff in as they are at ripping shit out, then it’s probably feasible. It’s been like having two jobs, doing all this – and I have had a hell of a lot of help from a hell of a lot of people – and I can’t wait until my bit of it is done. The only thing I haven’t done is chosen tiles for the kitchen walls: this was always Ex-Wife’s area, and so I’m slightly nervous of bollocksing it up. UAG put in a bid for duck egg blue, but that’s so ridiculous, that she might get a punch in the tits. My sister has good ideas, but a VERY unrealistic idea of “budget”: so my conversations with her often involve the sourcing of high-end glass and marble compounds from individual suppliers, and then my concern over whether or not they could (instead) be found at Fired Earth.

Ah well, it is a “luxury problem” to have – and if I do fuck it up and end up with a wall full of turquoise tiles that I thought would be very pale grey, I suppose I can always rip them off and start again…

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Oh well… another alternative career tumbles down and crashes around my feet, like the shards of a ten feet sheet of sugar toffee that has been hit with a sledgehammer. It turns out that I am NOT going to be an architect  – and the reason for this is clear: they have far bendier brains than I have.

This is a bitter-sweet realisation for me: with the bitterness of a career path dashed, is the joy of the architect’s plans for my new house – which make it crystal clear that he is going to have me living in a semi-detached PALACE, rather than the house I (sort of) bought by accident. I have spent a number of meetings with him whereat what has come out of my mouth has been along the lines of “Of course… I see… Yes: quite right.” but what has been going through my head has been much more along the lines of “WHAT? WHAT? HOW? HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE? You can’t do THAT! That’s MAGIC! What do you MEAN: “Move a wall”? You can’t move a wall. WHO ARE YOU?” Fortunately, he then gives me plans to look at and (perhaps because of my time spent designing sets) I can translate those very easily into reality – even if I do always subconsciously wonder where the lighting rig is going to fit and how we’ll accommodate the army for Act IV in a downstairs loo.

I am now in a state of wonder and admiration for all architects and those who understand their ways. They are magicians of space and concrete – and that is a good and noble thing to be.

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I had an invitation from Woman With Whom I Share A Godchild to the theatre not so long ago – a date suggested and (very swiftly)locked.

What neither of us had really factored into the plan was that the theatre was in Sheffield.

To be fair to WWWISaG, she had rather more reason to be ignorant of the exact locale, what with her being American. I, on the other hand, have absolutely no excuse at to thinking that it was probably in Zone 6 of the London Underground, or (at most) a thirty minute train journey out of London. This, to be clear, is not the case. Sheffield is a long way away from London: it’s a two-hour train journey, and once you get there – and you might want to sit down if you’re not already doing so – people talk with a differently inflected accent. True.

Anyway: we worked out the facts, and we committed to it. It was going to be a laugh and a carry on anyway (she’s very funny, amongst her many other recommendations) and it was in the service of Shakespeare (for whom I have seen Hamlet in Bulgarian, a Kabuki King Lear and – worst of all – Gary Wilmot as Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in an open air theatre…) – so this seemed like a walk in the park, as it was to go and see Dominic West and Clarke Peters in “Othello”.

It was phenomenal. Dominic West is by far the best Iago I have ever seen: playing the part as a common sense talking, all-round good lad whose blunt logic takes him very credibly from “passed over” to “revenge by murder”. The best I have seen before were Ian McKellen and Simon Russell Beale – shrewd strategists and cold calculators both. West’s was the most credible soldier I have seen in the role. To be reductive (not for the first time), it seemed to me that this man was a soldier, a man of the army first and last. The army is about rules, rank and death – so if you break what are seen to be the rules of rank, then it’s only logical that the price will be death. The army also doesn’t welcome “the feminine” – and so, without a hint of trendy sexual politics or an alien extra-textual gloss, we saw a man who had no time for women: from his own wife, to Othello’s to Bianca. They got in the way, and were best used as pawns in the real matter of men dealing with men, according to the rules that they had chosen to live and die by.  He avoided any hint of bathing in his own wit, smoothness of ability to control and played it straight down the line as good bloke to whom anyone would turn with a problem – and it was more unsettling as a result than any other painted, obvious villain.

He was equally matched by Alexandra Gilbreath as his wife, Desdemona’s confidante, Emilia. Sunny, smirking, taking nothing seriously: this characterisation served her brilliantly for the full guns blazing of the final act when she recognises her complicity in her mistress’s murder, at the hands of her own husband. She was railing at her own stupidity, horrified at how she could have been so naive, just as much as how her husband could have acted as he did.

Desdemona was great too: heart-stoppingly beautiful and credible in a real dog of a part (the only other comparably sized part that is as stinky is surely Miranda in The Tempest), she made goodness alluring, and handled the scenes with her father better than I have ever seen them done.

Clarke Peters didn’t quite do it for me, sad to say. His was the most “in love” Othello I can remember seeing (helped by the staggering beauty of his wife) and so the pathos of the finale really was enormous. But love seemed to be the only emotion that he did suffer an excess of: jealousy did not appear to be a problem for him – certainly not the sort of emotion that Iago needed to warn him of – and when he entered to commit the final terrible murder, he had the air of a man who was about to dial in for an irksome, overlong conference call, rather than one who has convinced himself that there can be no other course for him than to kill his once-loved wife. That said, he was an entirely credible commander of men, that Desdemona should defy her father for him seemed very possible and he seemed to be bowled over with love for her. He also managed the (almost impossible) “falling into a faint” sequence in a way that was neither embarrassing nor half-hearted – and that alone was a first for me, so he should be praised for much.

I can only say that I am very pleased to have discovered Sheffield – and with such an excellent companion – and that if the next show weren’t “Annie”, I would be up there again.

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