Friday, 23 May 2014

I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Clue

As if a weekend which included time with a friend, AND Neil Gaiman, AND Tori Amos, AND Vikings, wasn't enough, this past weekend also included a trip into Bristol to see a performance on the live tour of 'I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Clue'  ISIHAC is one of my favourite radio shows, and I went to live recording several years ago (Long enough ago that it was presented by Humphrey Lyttleton, although I think it may have been his last series) 

When I booked my ticket for the matinee on Saturday, I didn't know about Neil's British Library event, but worked out that I'd have time to get back..which it turned out I did :-)

The show is part of a live tour, not recorded for the radio, which is fun, as it meant there were no re-takes or sound checks.

The show is hosted by Jack Dee, and the team members were Barry Cryer, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Jeremy Hardy, with Colin Sell on the piano. The Lovely Samantha, alas, was delayed and unable to attend :) 

Coming into the auditorium, the first thing which I noticed was the kazoo on each seat... (and shortly afterwards, it became clear that the initial response of people offered a free kazoo (or at least, of Radio 4 listeners offered a free kazoo) is to try to use it to play 'Colonel Bogey'!

Once the show started, it ran through all of the  different games we know and love from the radio - Uxbridge Dictionary, Just a Minim, Sound Charades, One Song to the tune of Another (during which we were scolded for laughing at Jeremy 'Music is his Life' Hardy) and, of course, Mornington Crescent. (with some particularly fine plays, I must say!)

It was lots of fun.

And now I have a 'Mornington Crescent' mug. 

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Neil and Tori and Dave (Oh My)

Foyer, British Library
Back in March, I saw that the British Library was going to be having an Exhibition, Comics Unmasked, about (the clue is in the title!) comics. And, even more exciting, from my perspective, that one of the events associated with the exhibition was this one, Neil Gaiman and Tori Amos, in conversation. Followed by Amanda Palmer and guests.

How could I resist? 


I was lucky enough to get tickets - I think I must have got in just before the rush started! So Friday morning saw me on a train heading towards London, and a truly excellent day! I t was, of course, disappointing to learn that Amanda wasn't able to be there, but the news that Neil, and Dave McKean, would both be part of the music event was excellent compensation!

After visiting the Vikings exhibition, I met up with my friend A, and we had a very civilised meal in Russell Square Gardens, before heading on the the British Library where we were issued with wrist bands for the evening event, and then we went into the conference centre.

The auditorium was starting to fill up so staff were directing people to specific seats, and we ended up in the second row, right at one end, which turned out to be pretty good seats! (and, although we didn't realise it until she went up to the stage, it turned out that the red-headed lady sitting immediately in front of us for the introductions was Tori Amos herself!)

Neil and Tori
The room seats about 250 people, which feels pretty small and intimate, and the event involved 2 of the exhibition's curators, John Harris Dunning and Paul Gravett, (Paul Gravett has known Neil for years, having been involved in getting Violent Cases published)

It felt less like an interview, and more like a conversation between friends which just happened to be taking place in front of 250 guests!

Neil had just returned from his trip to Jordan for the UNHCR , and looked rather worn out from it, and when he spoke a little about it, later in the evening, it was obvious that those experiences were still very raw. 

However, much of the conversation was much more lighthearted and free-ranging moving from how Neil and Tori met, the fact that despite having know one another for years there only seems to be one photo of them together (after Friday night, that will have changed!). They also talked about the reason Blueberry Girl was written, (with a shout out to Tash, who was in the audience)  and the reason it was finally published (Neil claimed he got fed up with photocopying it for people who asked for it at readings) .

Neil and Tori were both asked what they would try to teach, if they had an apprentice for a day, and both confirmed that they wouldn't try to teach someone to write, but to think about the creative process (Neil said he would probably take them for a walk, and try to explain what goes on in his head when he goes for a walk. I should love to take that walk!)

There was talk of how Tori and Neil  inspired one another, and Neil mentioned that one of the things he liked about Tori's songs when he heard them was the whole "Me and Neil'll be hanging out with the Dream King" - seeing him as separate from his creation, and also admitted that; "...some of Delirium's best lines were stolen from Tori".

Dave McKean
The conversation was over all too soon, and we all moved from the conference centre into the main entrance hall of the Library, for the second part of the evening: 'Late at the Library', which featured lots of music, and a reading from Neil. We started with some music from Dave McKean, some of which was accompanied by his own animations. I should like to hear, and see more (and luckily, he is appearing again at the Library on 6th and 7th June, so I should get the chance!)
Neil, reading

His performance was followed by a reading by Neil, who read 2 of the stories from 'A Calendar of Tales' (October and July), and 'The Day the Saucers Came'

There was more music from Marc Almond (Whose work,  I must confess, I was not previously familiar with) and the 'Comics Unmasked' exhibition was open throughout the evening.

I had been to look round earlier in the day, but we did go back in, and I have to say the exhibition, which is full of sinister mannequins wearing 'V for Vendetta' masks, as well as the comics), particularly  the 'sex tent' (the section of the exhibit containing the more graphic exhibits, unsuitable for the overly sensitive) works well late at night, with Rock music and the smell of beer and popcorn  in the background!

We didn't stay right to the end, leaving around 10, having thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, met various friends and acquaintances, and generally had a stonking good evening.

And there is something utterly wonderful about filling the British Library, of all places, with comics, rock, and partying people!

(more photos here)

(PS - I believe that the conversation, at least, was recorded, so will presumably be available online in due course)

EDITED TO ADD: the event is now on YouTube:

Saturday, 17 May 2014


Once I had the tickets for the BL event for Friday evening, I also booked for the Vikings exhibition at the British Museum, so spent some time there before meeting up with my friend, to head on to the Library. 
Roskilde 6

I was a little disappointed at the exhibition. Firstly,  the exhibition has timed tickets and limited availability, but they seem to have seriously misjudged how many people can realistically see the exhibits at any one time, with the result that it was massively overcrowded. Given that the majority of exhibits are small and intricate, this is a particular disadvantage! 

The stand-out exhibit, and the exception to this, of course, is 'Roskilde 6' the remains of a 37m long Viking ship.The ship has been dated to around 1025 AD (around 20% of the display is the original timbers) It is dramatic and awe inspiring, but the rest of the exhibition does not entirely live up to it!

That said, there are interesting exhibits - some beautifully ornamented metal work and stone carving, and lots of fascinating nuggets of information : images and grave-goods associated with sorceresses included their staffs, which in turn had decorative heads reminiscent of spindles/distaffs; the information accompanying them suggested that there were close associations between woman, magic and spinning (So it is not only the Norns who combine magic and spinning!)  There was also a fascinating map of the British Isles, showing the distribution both of placenames of Viking origin, but also of Viking DNA.

I'm glad I saw the exhibit, but do feel that the curators missed opportunities to make it more human - it seemed, for the most part, a little dry and academic, and, as I mentioned, very, very overcrowded. 

And of course, after leaving, I still had the most exciting part of the day still to come!

Thursday, 15 May 2014

King Lear

Several months back, before I knew when I would be moving, I arranged with a couple of friends that we would meet up to see 'King Lear' at the National Theatre.

I don't think I would have planned to have a day trip to London 10 days after moving house, but in fact, it worked pretty well.

I got the train into London (I shall have to get used to not having a railway station within walking distance, anymore. It means you have to pay for parking) and met up with J and J on the South Bank, after an uneventful journey (unless you count meeting a Bride and Groom, in full wedding gear, getting off the tube at Waterloo, as an event!)

We enjoyed a glass of bubbly (to celebrate J and J's recent wedding, and my recent house move) and then a relaxed and enjoyable lunch, before making our way into the theatre.

We had seats up in the circle, but with an excellent view of the stage. 

King Lear is not a play that I have seen very often, although I did see a fantastic production, with Derek Jacobi in the title role, a couple of years ago, and it's perhaps inevitable that I should compare the two.

I thought that this version had some excellent moments, but I did not find it as moving as  the Jacobi production. I think partly because there was more going on - big sets, lots of extras, which detracted from the central tragedy.

Lear starts out as a Stalin-like, dictatorial figure, surrounded by soldiers, (one thing which was lost in the broadcast, which I saw with  a different friend, a little later) compared to the live performance was that  the number of  'knights' reduced during the course of the play, slipping away unobtrusively as the King crossed the stage. (There were about 25 of them to start with) 

Edmund (Sam Troughton) is suitably villainous, deeply creepy - I should be interested to see him play Iago, in future! Poor Edgar (Tom Brooke) suitably mad (and noticeably a little less naked, in the broadcast, than the live performance!) and Simon Russell Beale is excellent - an unsympathetic, but ultimately pitiable figure.

When we saw there play, there was a slight hiccough as there was a problem with the scenery, which led to an unplanned hiatus while it was fixed. It came just after Edgar fled from the unjust allegations made against him, which seemed like a natural break point, so it did not detract from the play at all!

I enjoyed seeing the play a second time as a broadcast - it allowed me to consider some of the nuances, and interestingly, the habit of the film directors to zoom in in major scenes made it, to mind, more intense - there was some loss, in the lack of background characters, but it focussed the lay more closely on the main characters, adding to the intensity. Very interesting. I'm glad I saw it in both formats!

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Richard II (Again)

Some of you may remember that back in November, I went to Stratford Upon Avon with some friends, to see the RSC's production of Richard II. I enjoyed it a lot, and decided that I'd like to see it again, when it was broadcast to cinemas as part of the NTLive programme. I actually booked it on two separate dates, and failed to see it due to illness and house-selling issues, but I finally made it on Wednesday evening (fitting, perhaps, as Wednesday was Shakespeare's 450th Birthday!)

I went to Wells, where the cinema is very small, and lives in what used to be a scout hut, but it is very nice for all that, being independently run, with very friendly staff.

I enjoyed the production - seeing the screening meant being able to see more of the staging and scenery (mainly created by projections onto 'curtains' of very fine metal chain) 

As with other NTLive productions I've seen, I did have moments of wishing that the damn camera operators would just stay still, look at the stage , and stop zooming in and out. 

It's still an excellent production, and I still loved Nigel Lindsay's blunt, pragmatic Henry Bolingbroke, a man pushed to his limited and usurping the king almost out of sheer frustration!

I've booked to see this year's RSC broadcasts of Henry IV (parts I and II) there, too, which I'm looking forward to. 

Have I mentioned before what a splendid idea I think the NT Live broadcasts are?

Incidentally, for anyone who hasn't seen it, or who fancies seeing it again, Richard II is now available on DVD from the RSC shop.(and yes, I have ordered mine!)