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This was one of those early 60’s US TV comedy shows, along with The Munsters the first foray into gothic-comedy-horror, that became a regular feature of the TV viewing of my youth, though I was surprised to find that they only made 64 episodes over 2-3 years (mind you, thats five times as many as Fawlty Towers!). A brief movie franchise came along in the early 90’s. What I hadn’t realised was that it all started with cartoons in The New Yorker in the 30’s. This musical adaptation originated in 2010. I saw an amateur production at the Edinburgh Fringe two years ago, but it’s taken until now to get a professional production in the UK. I caught it at the WMC in Cardiff.

It’s very faithful to the TV series, with family members Gonez, Morticia, Wednesday, Pugsley, Uncle Fester, Grandma and butler Lurch all featuring. The story revolves around Wednesday’s attraction to, and possible engagement with, the rather more normal Lucas Beineke, son of Mal and Alice. A group of dead ancestors – Viking, Roman, Tudor, Warrior, Matador, Geisha, Madam, Ballerina, Jester and Ringmaster – complete the cast of characters. It’s fairly predictable oddballs-meet-normals stuff, though the book by Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice (responsible for the rather different Jersey Boys) is often funny. Andrew Lippa’s music and lyrics are OK but not particularly memorable.

Diego Pitarch’s designs precisely recreate the family home, and family, most know very well. Matthew White’s staging was functional, but didn’t sparkle. The star of the show for me was Cameron Blakely’s Gomez, with great comic timing, lithe movement and a glint in his eye. Carrie Hope Fletcher is excellent as Wednesday, though her vocals become a bit X-Factor at times. Dickon Gough plays Lurch perfectly straight until his delicious exit at the curatin call.

It’s a big gig for the ever enterprising producers Aria Entertainment, it was good to catch it, but I doubt the tour will make it back to London.

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In just three years, playwright Barney Norris has established himself as a distinctive new voice. His three plays share a warmth and empathy that’s a refreshing contrast to the cynicism and anger of much new writing. He’s the master of ordinariness, and that’s a compliment. His characters are people you know or have met. From dementia to changes in rural life and now to loneliness, he documents the lives of real people in real situations. This couldn’t be more different from the previous night’s play, the uber-cool and uber-cold The Treatment.

Carol lives alone. Her husband is gone and her daughter has gone away. She works in the Electoral Registration Office. She finds Eddie, someone from the past, sleeping rough and offers him a home. She can’t hide her delight in having someone in the house. They reminisce and we learn Eddie has been abroad for eighteen years, before which they were friends, though the full nature of the relationship is unclear. Eddie is a bit of a drifter, a lost soul, with all of his worldly belongings in a few plastic carrier bags. Despite the fact she has a daughter, home and job, Carol is a lost soul too. The arrangement suits them both, but it doesn’t last.

Norris’ writing has a gentle humour, his characters are well drawn and Alice Hamilton brings the same sensitive direction as she did with his previous two plays. Tessa Peace-Jones and Andrew French perform delicately, like they are dancing around one another, with the unsaid communicating almost as much as their speech. I didn’t think it had the depth of the other two plays, partly because it’s only 70 minutes long and partly because it’s a two-hander, but it’s still well worth catching. His plays work particularly well on a small scale in intimate spaces, and it has already been announced that he will have a play in the opening season of Nick Hytner’s new Bridge Theatre – it will be interesting to see something on a much bigger scale.

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I don’t normally blog classical music, except in my monthly round-ups, but I feel compelled to abandon this policy to tell as many people as possible about this extraordinary event. I only found out about it c.10 days before; despite being a Barbican member, it had somehow passed me by. 60 performances, from 15 to 105 minutes long, by 450 performers in seven venues, plus foyers and lakeside, over two days. You exchanged your day or weekend ticket for a wristband and created your own event by seeing whatever took your fancy. 

Saturday started brilliantly with the BBC Symphony Orchestra giving an excellent Firebird Suite, in front of a specially commissioned film synchronised live on stage by the director. This is one of my favourite pieces of music, so I was on a high as I walked over to the lovely St Giles Cripplegate for a recital by favourite countertenor Iestyn Davies and Lutenist Thomas Dunford, but by the time this beautiful concert, mostly Dowland, was over I was in heaven. Next stop was the Conservatory where you picked up earphones and waited for the four character mini-Carmen to begin their short promenade performance, ending with a strangulation under the greenery, almost at my feet. In The Curve the BBC Singers gave a lovely selection of unaccompanied choral pieces in atmospheric lighting. Moving half-way through was a pointless distraction, though. Back in the Hall, I fell in love with the voice and personality of the beautifully named American soprano Angel Joy Blue whose eclectic set was, well, a joy. In the foyer and at the lakeside I encountered Street Orchestra London, a cross between buskers, pop-up and flash-mob. They were a delight and their sense of fun was infectious. Then there was a short walk up the road to the lovely LSO St Luke’s where the Guildhall School post-graduate wind students thrilled with Richard Strauss rarely heard symphony for winds. I has planned to return home at this point. The final Britten Sinfonia concert featured someone called Chilly Gonzales, whose talents apparently included rap, something I’m not fond of, to put it mildly. I had second thoughts as there was by now a buzz about it, so I thought I’d give it a go, sitting on the end of a row in case I decided not to see out the ninety minutes. 1h 45m later I was leading the standing ovation! He deconstructed the Oasis’ song Champagne Supernova as Britten had a Purcell theme and gave us The Young-ish Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. I have never laughed so much in a concert, though it was as musically brilliant as it was funny. From Chilly virgin to Chilly fan in an evening, going home on another high.

Sunday started just as well, with the LSO playing a selection of the John Williams film music they originally recorded. It sounded thrilling with almost 100 players on stage and the video interview clips with Williams between pieces, putting them in context, was a great idea. I discovered the second LSO Williams concert was not a repeat (as the BBC SO’s had been the day before), so I was tempted to return, but decided to stay with my plan to support a new work by Sven Helbig with the BBC Singers, Helbig’s electronics and an atmospheric accompanying film. I liked it, though it was dark in the hall and the sound soporific, so I struggled to remain conscious! In between these two events there was a quirky visit to The Curve Gallery where the music came from helium filled balloons as they exhaled and descended. ‘Horn Hangout’, an entertaining Q&A with the LSO horn section was followed by a horn flash-mob at the lakeside as they were joined by members of the Coldstream Guards and amateur players. Great fun. Back in The Curve, you walked through a sound installation in darkness whilst people in black made further sounds and illumination waving what seemed to be pliant light sabres! On to the Hall, where The Academy of Ancient Music played a selection from Handel’s Water Music preceded by a lovely trio of Handel arias from countertenor Tim Mead. Up to the Conservatory again, this time for a percussion sextet playing a one-hour piece called Timber on planks of wood. I didn’t think I’d see it through, but it hypnotised me – like Glass, but wood! The final concert in the Hall was another inspired idea, featuring brass and winds with pieces by Bernstein, Miles Davies after Rodrigo (featuring trumpet player Alison Balsom) and Gershwin. A big, brash, loud statement to close the weekend.

It’s intention was to be accessible, informal and friendly and it certainly achieved that. The performers dressed casually, there was illuminating commentary from the stage, live video for close-ups, free seating and sessions in the foyers and at the lakeside. There was quality music from premiere league orchestras, choirs and soloists, plus GSMD students and I particularly liked the fact it featured works for winds, brass and percussion that get less airtime. The quirky additions were great fun. My personal selection was 14 events in 6 venues and another 4 in the foyers / outside. I enjoyed every single one of them.  Something like ten hours of music; an absolute feast. I can’t wait for the next one, when I intend to take a gang with me.

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Simon Stephens must be the most prolific playwright in the UK, or anywhere come to that. He’s had thirty-two plays produced, including five adaptations / translations, in just twenty years and I’ve seen about two-thirds of them. I haven’t always liked them, but I admire the ambition, diversity and creativity of his work, so I always come back for more. Given the stand-off in the North China Sea, the title suggests timeliness, though what the content has to do with the title is less clear.

It’s a collaboration with director Imogen Knight, better known as a choreographer / movement director. We sit on an assortment of chairs in two rows surrounding the actors, who themselves sit on a beige carpet (recycled from Cyprus Avenue, I suspect!). There are a few props – cupboards etc. – which get moved into and out of the space. The five actors have no character names. Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of ‘movement’, but there’s also a lot of recorded dialogue and an atmospheric soundscape by Peter Rice. It appears to be a nightmare day for one woman, excellently played by Maureen Beattie, at home, on public transport, in a coffee shop etc., but beyond that I don’t really have a clue what’s it about or it’s connection to the title!

It has apparently been ‘created with a highly visual and physical language’ ‘with the intention that the words be interpreted and re-imagined through a highly theatrical and choreographic lens’. Well, I guess it does, and it kept my attention for it’s rather short 45-min running time It was intriguing and well executed, but it was only a fragment, I’m afraid, and an obtuse one at that.

 

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Contemporary Music

There was a lot to love about Weimar Cabaret at Cadogan Hall.  The period and the place produced an extraordinarily eclectic collection of original music which gathered together has an eccentric, manic quality. The Australian Chamber Orchestra played brilliantly, in dark suits and trilbies, and Barry Humphries provided insightful and funny commentaries, and sang a song or two with cabaret star Meow Meow, who sang a lot on her own and with a lady violinist from the orchestra. I will never forget her Serenata Erotica! A unique evening.

John Wilson has a large, loyal and attentive following and last year’s brilliant Bernstein Prom propelled us to book for this year’s Gershwin Prom. I was expecting some, if not all of it, to be from Broadway, but it was all Hollywood, and a third of the songs were Ira Gershwin’s lyrics without the then late George Gershwin’s music. The first half disappointed; with little light and shade it was relentlessly showbiz and the sound mix wasn’t great, with strings buried beneath brass. It picked up significantly in the second half though, with better sound, some slower numbers and the ballet from An American in Paris as a closer. Overall, though, a bit too Friday Night is Music Night for me, and a rather expensive one too.

Opera

I’ve never seen anything in the Arcola‘s annual Grimeborn opera festival before but after their brilliant Tosca, very powerful at close quarters, I won’t make that mistake again. In fact, I’ve already booked for another two! The singing was superb and the whole score heroically played on one grand piano, and all for the price of a cinema ticket. Eat your heart out, ENO & RO.

My journey to and from the Arcola Theatre for my second Grimeborn production was more than twice as long as Rimsky-Korsakov’s rarely staged 40-minute opera Mozart and Salieri. Composed eighty years before Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus on the same subject, also derived from Pushkin’s play. It was a bit slight for me, though it was well staged and performed. I’ve only seen a few of his fifteen operas and this was more of a collector’s item than anything else.

Grimeborn reached its pinnacle with Opera Alegria’s Mozart Double – an opera he wrote when he was twelve, Bastien & Bastienne (not his first!), which may or may not have been performed at the time, and one from his late career when he was thirty, a satire on opera itself The Impresario. You can hear clearly how he matured, though both operas are good. As they both have dialogue they are technically operettas or singspiel and the settings in this production are contemporary, the libretto updated. The performances were brilliant and it was the most fun I’ve had in 35 years of opera-going.

Cape Town Opera‘s Mandela Trilogy at the Royal Festival Hall was a hit-and-miss affair. It told Madeba’s story in three parts – youth to University, the politicised years centred in Sophiatown and his trial & imprisonment through to his freedom speech on release. I liked the prologue and Parts 1 & 3 by Peter Louis van Dijjk, but though I liked the idea of the Part 2 jazz musical by Mike Campbell, I wasn’t convinced by the contrast its inclusion created. It was semi-staged but from our top price front stalls seats we couldn’t see the singers, which rather marred the experience.

Classical Music

The off-site Prom at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse was an absolute treat and a triumph. Eleven piece ensemble Arcangelo led by Jonathan Cohen played Shakespeare-inspired music from the late 17th century by candlelight with three brilliant soloists, Katherine Watson, Samuel Bowden & Callum Thorpe, who animated the arias by interacting and moving around the space. Wonderful.

A gorgeous lunchtime Prom at Cadogan Hall paired viol ensemble Fretwork with vocal ensemble Stile Antico for a programme of 17th century Shakespeare settings (plus a few others) with two brilliant contemporary ones by Huw Watkins and Nico Muhly. A real tonic.

The third Shakespeare themed Prom showcased music for stage and screen, with the first half music by Walton, Finzi, Sullivan and Joby Talbot written for screen and ballet versions of Richard III, Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Tempest, As You Like It and The Winter’s Tale and the second half music for the stage – Bernstein’s West Side Story based on Romeo and Juliet, Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate based on The Taming of the Shrew and The Boys from Syracuse, a version of The Comedy of Errors by Rogers, Hart and Abbott. I really liked it, more than the Gershwin Prom (with better sound), and conductor Keith Lockhart engaged with the audience unlike most conductors.

European cities usually have a cultural black hole in August, but I managed to find a performance of the rare Cherubini Requiem in C Minor at the Liege Opera House during a short overnight visit. Though I’d never heard it before, it seemed a bit lacklustre – WNO on an off night (we don’t know how lucky we are) – but it was good to hear it, and the theatre was lovely.

Film

Matt Damon didn’t have many lines to learn for Jason Bourne which was all action, exhaustingly so, with an extraordinary car chase at the end that I honestly don’t know how they pulled off. Great fun.

I eventually caught up with the female Ghostbusters remake, which was good fun and technically accomplished, though hardly ground-breaking.

Art

The Liverpool Biennial Festival of Contemporary Art was absolute shite. It was devoid of any beauty, lacking in ingenuity and it all seemed derivative and dated. Fortunately, Tate Liverpool had three good exhibitions – Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms, Maria Lassnig & Ella Kruglyanskya, the latter two artists completely new to me. These, together with the permanent collections at Tate and the Walker and the Peter Blake designed Mersey Ferry, Everybody Razzle Dazzle, redeemed the weekend. I won’t get fooled again!

Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson‘s ‘exhibition’ at the Barbican was about as off-the-wall as it gets. The only live part was ten troubadours lounging, strumming and singing – for the whole 8 opening hours! There were records of previous projects, mostly on video, including a 9-screen installation recording a 1-hour concert where each player was in a different room of a house (including the bath!), brass players cruising whilst they played in Venice for six hours every day for six months, a crooner singing the same three words for 30 minutes, band The National singing their song A Lot of Sorrow continuously for six hours, 144 paintings of the same subject in the same place where they both spent six months and four 5-yearly videos of his mother spitting in his face. I rather liked it all!

I managed to catch the exhibition of Francis Townes‘ late 18th century watercolours of Italy on its last day at the British Museum. They were beautiful, though a touch faded and mostly behind glass. He was apparently never accepted by the art establishment, despite his undoubted talent.

The Travel Photographer of the Year exhibition has moved south-east and indoors to Greenwich University and, despite the journey, is better for it. It was the usual high standard but it made me feel less inadequate as, since last year, I’ve done a short photography course, had some coaching and went on some photographic safaris, so next year I think I might enter!

The Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition at Tate Modern exceeded its expectations bigtime. A hugely comprehensive retrospective which also allowed you to learn about her life through photographs and room descriptions. I’ve always loved her work, now I’m virtually obsessed. I’ll be back!

The exhibition I went to the Photographers’ Gallery to see, as instructed by Time Out (!) – Made You Look: Dandyism and Black Masculinity – disappointed, but upstairs there were two floors of Terence Donovan’s wonderful, iconic, mostly black and white 60’s and 70’s photographs in Speed of Light. An unexpected treat.

Colour & Vision at the Natural History Museum sought to explain the evolution of vision in the animal world. It started well, with fascinating fossils in particular, but then threw in the kitchen sink and became overpowering and confusing. Shame.

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Antiques Roadshow

Spooks

Dr Who (Eccleston/Piper)

Tony Robinson’s WWI

Pie in the Sky

New Tricks

Luther

QI

Homes Under the Hammer

Bargain Hunt

Inspector Morse

….and something with David Attenborough. Obviously.

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SOCIALISM
You have 2 cows. You give one to your neighbour

COMMUNISM
You have 2 cows. The State takes both and gives you some milk

FASCISM
You have 2 cows. The State takes both and sells you some milk

NAZISM
You have 2 cows. The State takes both and shoots you

BUREAUCRACY
You have 2 cows. The State takes both, shoots one, milks the other, and then throws the milk away

CAPITALISM
You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull. Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows. You sell them and retire on the income

ROYAL BANK OF SCOTLAND CAPITALISM
You have two cows. You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows. The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Islands company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company. The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more. You sell one cow to buy a new president of the United States, leaving you with nine cows. No balance sheet provided with the release. The public then buys your bull

SURREALISM
You have two giraffes. The government requires you to take harmonica lessons

AN AMERICAN CORPORATION
You have two cows. You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows. Later, you hire a consultant to analyse why the cow has dropped dead

A GREEK CORPORATION
You have two cows. You borrow lots of euros to build barns, milking sheds, hay stores, feed sheds, dairies, cold stores, abattoir, cheese unit and packing sheds. You still only have two cows

A RUSSIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows. You have some vodka. You count your cows and discover you really have five cows! You have more vodka. You count them again and discover you have 42 cows! You stop counting cows and have some more vodka. The Russian Mafia arrives and takes over all your cows. You have more vodka

A FRENCH CORPORATION
You have two cows. You go on strike, organise a riot, and block the roads, because you want three cows

A JAPANESE CORPORATION
You have two cows. You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk. You then create a clever cow cartoon image called a Cowkimona and market it worldwide

AN ITALIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows, but you don’t know where they are. You decide to have lunch

A SWISS CORPORATION
You have 5000 cows. None of them belong to you. You charge the owners for storing them

A CHINESE CORPORATION
You have two cows. You have 300 people milking them. You claim that you have full employment and high bovine productivity. You arrest the newsman who reported the real situation

AN INDIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows. You worship them

A BRITISH CORPORATION
You have two cows. Both are mad

AN IRAQI CORPORATION
Everyone thinks you have lots of cows. You tell them that you have none. No-one believes you, so they bomb the **** out of you and invade your country. You still have no cows, but at least you are now a democracy

AN AUSTRALIAN CORPORATION
You have two cows. Business seems pretty good. You close the office and go for a few beers to celebrate

A NEW ZEALAND CORPORATION
You have two cows; the one on the right looks kind of cute

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