Wednesday, April 26, 2017

I've just finished listening to a podcast, aided by a train journey to and from London. It's called S-Town. It's very good.

I was alerted to it by a couple of the girls I work with who have just guzzled it up. It's produced by the people who make This American Life. You may have heard of a previous podcast they produced called Serial. This was its successor, not from a story point of view but from a conceptual point of view.

I can't really tell you anything about the story without spoiling it for you but the story begins with a murder. And then the journalist, Brian Reed, and his producers I guess, try and unravel what's gone on. Which leads to all sorts of dark extraordinariness. 

It must last something like five and a half hours in total. Seven episodes that vary in length from 45 minute to just over an hour. Half the length of a self-respecting box set. So it's comparatively bite-sized.

A lot has been written about it online which I've deliberately avoided. The only thing that makes me vaguely uneasy about it is the ethics. If it's true - and I believe it's true - is it really right that This American Life are using people's lives in this way, effectively for entertainment? In lots of ways, the story is anything but. S-Town is one of the main featured 'character's' pet name for the town he lives in - Shit Town, he calls it. Which kind of sets the tone for the rest of the story. 

And to be fair, this aforementioned man, John B McLemore, got in touch with the radio station asking them to come and cover this story. So he offered himself and his town up as lab rats. You could argue that he offered up the town on their behalf - they didn't get any choice - but then they didn't have to speak to the journalist man. They could have said no. And they do seem to have mostly said yes.

Then I thought that if it had been a podcast about the final days of Tsar Nicolas II in Ekaterinburg, I wouldn't have doubted the ethics. Or if it had been a podcast about Watergate, say, I wouldn't have doubted the ethics. So I guess the question hinges on whether people that don't voluntarily put themselves in the public eye should reasonably be used as a source of a news story. But I have no truck (and indeed, delightedly admire) The Guardian's new feature on knife crime which is using real people's stories, real people living here and now in this very country, to kind of sell papers. So what is different about this?

I think my internal jury is still out. But I do know that it's an incredibly elegant piece of incredibly compelling story-telling. It made me cry - repeatedly. Always my benchmark for great 'art'. So maybe that makes me a terrible person for 'supporting' such storytelling. I suspect I'll be damned for worse on judgement day.

Labels: , ,

Friday, April 21, 2017

Tee hee.

We're live.
How can it be that I get to the age of 41, liking all that I like, and I haven't (hadn't) seen Tom Stoppard's classic Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead? I'm ashamed to say that what finally lured me in was not a feted production or a remarkable retelling - but instead, Daniel Radcliffe. (And Ross who saw it for real in London and spoke highly of it.)

But I'm so very glad I did. The Old Vic's retelling of it struck this newcomer as pitch perfect. It looked gorgeous - interestingly seamless which makes sense when you clock that the clever Anna Fleischle designed both set and costumes. 

The acting was exquisite. I loved the languid Hamlet and the histrionic but beautifully dressed Ophelia. The players were picturesque and dissolute and delivered a finely laconic jazz that, despite costuming, wasn't remotely Elizabethan. The Player was wondrous. David Haig had a wonderful pathos and bathos as the sinister, soft-hearted but iron-willed puppet master. (The final tableau was just exquisitely wickedly lovely.) 

Joshua McGuire was a labrador puppy of Guildensterns. And I lost my heart to real-life Daniel Radcliffe in Equus in London some years ago (TEN years ago to my total and utter horror) but he continues to prove that he's as fine a feeling actor as a technical actor in this film of a real-life play. Based on my brief brush with it, it strikes me that it would be easy to play Rosencrantz as oafish but he wasn't. He was just a little confused but so was I - so that was ok.

Gorgeous, accomplished, aplomb-ish  production aside, the script is oh my life how have I gone all my days not knowing this script and having seen this script, what on earth am I thinking when I think that I should ever bother picking up a metaphorical pen in the first place-ish. What a script. I wonder whether he had the idea first and then chose Hamlet or chose Hamlet and then constructed the idea. I can scarcely piece together what I think all the fragments and witticisms and insights and intelligences might mean. (We're just puppets. That's not quite right. We're just a bit pointless is maybe closer to it.) But I don't know that I care because it will lurk in the corners of my head for days to come now and isn't that just exactly what you want a piece of theatre to do?

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

I don't know the story of Casanova. Which seems incredible to me. How can a person reach the fine old age of 41 and not know the tale of the world's greatest lover? But I have and I don't so Northern Ballet's Casanova was new territory for me.
I'm very glad I read the plot summary beforehand which had come about by accident really as I had time to kill on the bus on the way to the theatre. Thank goodness I did. B S had wisely printed off the synopsis and brought it to the theatre with him. Which came in handy for young friends there encountered who were far too young to do anything so dully practical as to read the story before the show started. 
It's am elaborate twisty turny plot that was surely rendered more challenging by being conveyed in the medium of dance. But they pulled it off with aplomb. To the point where I could almost see that Casanova and his rich sponsor / lover were discussing geometric cubism. (They made lots of little squares with their hands as they danced about.)
What was incredible about the ballet though was that it was created from scratch. Well, not the story obviously but the music, choreography, set, costumes, all all all didn't exist before this. What a feat. Matthew Bourne aside, I feel (probably ignorantly) that there isn't so much of this that happens these days. Hats off to them for investing so much love and money and effort and imagination into making it happen.
And the show was a marvellous spectacle. I can't say anything technical about the choreography but it seemed like a happy blend of traditional ballet with some more modern (racier!) movements. The storytelling was wonderful. The set was sleek and slidey and artful. And the costumes were proper sumptuous. 
If I'm being critical, it's not a very emotionally engaging story as I didn't really care whether the lascivious Casanova reunited with his love or got his fleshy pleasures down on paper. But this was perhaps music to the ears of the one who's just turned out a play where you don't really care about the protagonist. (I'm working on it.) But the story is as the story was and they did as empathetic a job as could possibly be done with such debauched escapades.
For escapism and finery and spectacle and excellent music and some really wonderful dancing, seek it out. As Jim Broadbent cries partway through Baz Luhrman's wonderful Moulin Rouge, "spectacular spectacular!"
The next morning, my iPod fittingly served me the Pet Shop Boy's wonderful song, Casanova in Hell. Rufus Wainwright sings it in a particularlymarvellously dissolute way but you'll have to make do with Mr Tennant himself. None to shabby a substitute.