Monday, September 25, 2017

THEATRE REVIEW - Yerma - Encore Broadcast - 21st September

I had read wildly ecstatic reviews of the Young Vic's production of Yerma before I went to its broadcast at the Sheringham Little Theatre. All mention the much garlanded performance of Billie Piper' in particular. This can make one wary that your perceptions are being pre-primed by heightened superlatives being dished out like exotic hors d'oeuvres. However, this time I must say it was all deserved, to every last full stop and exclamation mark.

This production, written and directed by the Australian Director Simon Stone, has extensively adapted and transposed the original Lorca play, moving the setting from rural Spain to contemporary London.  Not being fully familiar with the original text I'm not aware to what extent he has remained loyal to the narrative. Though having seen other Lorca and read his poetry I can tell that, even though the dialogue is at variance, it is faithful to the tone and feeling of barely restrained, if not unfettered, passion that is distinctive of Lorca's dramatic style, as he slowly cranks up the emotionally tense atmosphere.

The stage set is a large glass plated, carpeted room,  It looked like one of those confining boxy interiors you see a distorted grotesque figure splurging out of in a Francis Bacon painting. In some respects Lorca and Bacon are similar; in that their output on the stage and on canvas is visceral. As though a bucket of butchers offal has been tipped over the floor. The glass box gives visual representation here to things both transparent and caged, those pent up feelings lie just under that bland beige carpet. Those unsaid things are now to be exposed via a torturous dramatic process. Yerma, is in the tradition of a Greek tragedy, placed in an ordinary domestic setting, similar in many respects to any play by Arthur Miller. You know from the outset that this idyllic situation you are first presented with will not last, that it will not turn out well for anyone, someone will by the end die, either at their own or another's hand.

The pivotal character is Eva, a woman in her mid thirties who realises her biological clock is ticking.  The time within which to have a child is running out. She ambushes her partner John with her desire to have a child by him. He goes along with it, afraid he'll lose her otherwise. Eva is a successful journalist and blogger, who uses her own life and difficulties as frank source material. So everything that happens in her life gets broadcast to the world outside.  The years pass with still no baby, her desperation, ,jealousy of her sister and mistrust for how little time John is giving to the baby project, all these feelings end up disastrously exposed for public consumption. Relationships fracture.

Yerma means barren, someone here is infertile, is it Eva or is it John? But Eva is surrounded by people who are emotionally barren, a mother who is unable to express love or affection, a sister unable to walk away from an empty abusive relationship, a husband so evasively out of touch with himself he's unable to be openly truthful with her.

Billie Piper's performance as Eva sets Lorca's heightened melodrama alight, in a flare of combustible despair, frustration and anger. Though she begins by showing her as playful and self assertive, over the length of the play she gradually sours as her wish to have a child becomes a maddening, overriding obsession. One that eventually removes the support of those around her and the stability of her own self. At times this is a raw raging performance, emotionally uncomfortable yet compelling, it is startling to watch.  Yerma is that unfortunately rare thing, a completely female centred narrative. This inevitably makes other characters less rounded, as they come in and out of Eva's whirlwind. Nonetheless, they are well played, particularly Brendan Cowell as John and John MacMillan as the hapless ex lover Victor.

The updated contemporary language, is often apt and frequently base, coarsely filled with profanities. Stone's version, like Lorca's rarely dresses matters up in polite acceptable language, the language, though often poetically heightened, always rings true. One couple in our audience walked out within the first ten minutes, shortly after the dialogue about why John prefers 'bum sex' with her! But that 'bum sex' dialogue is a major pointer towards how John really feels, in his heart of hearts he doesn't want them to have children. This deception is what corrodes their love for each other.

The original play had a chorus who led you from one scene to another, as it has an episodic structure covering many months and years. In this production its marked by projected chapter numbers, titles and headlines that delineate the downward spiral. The chorus here is a choral one, that sings increasingly dissonant verses, often abruptly truncated like badly edited TV intermissions. This gives the play a similar feeling to one of those 'found footage' films, with awkward jump cuts, out of focus, wobbly camera angles encasing a fractured narrative. As filmed, Yerma is one of the most disturbing and compulsive pieces of theatre I've seen in a very long time. Goodness knows what it was like for those seeing it live in the theatre itself.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

PHOTO ~ Shabby Sheringham ~ Door Knocker

The door knocker on the empty old shop I found last week. I love the way the cobwebs envelope it and that white wisp of a bird feather caught in its threads.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

SHERINGHAM DIARY No 6 ~ Let's Not Do The Time Warp Again!

We are in the middle of mid September wind and rain. Sheringham has exited its high summer season, and entered the time warped silliness that is the 1940's Weekend. Its a regular event here not previously experienced by us, as we've studiously avoided it. The whole concept of everyone dressing themselves, the shops and streets as if it were still wartime, seems weird, as though the whole place has become infected by a rather virulent disease involving camouflage netting. A disease that's spread to other close towns in North Norfolk. Hubby says its like entering the world of Stepford Wives, where you're left wondering what is going on here and where the real people went?

You can, however, understand the financial rationale, because its very lucrative to have upwards of 20,000 people bumbling around your town for two days. All the pubs and B & B's being fully booked. The weekend was started by the North Norfolk Railway over twenty years ago, and every year it gets ever larger numbers attending. Its now one of the most successful such weekends in the country, marking the last hurrah before places lay off their summer staff, and shorten their opening hours.

Why the 1940's? Well, I guess its a symptom of our nation's narcissistic nostalgia, looking into the mirror of a long passed era for a sense of identity. A time when Britain had the appearance of a more cohesive society, and was defending democracy. This yearning to matter, to have an Empire, to be a great economic powerhouse, still affects the way we see ourselves in the world today. In our unrealistic expectations that others will do our bidding, simply because we say so, or throw our supposed weight around, because we are British, after all.  A delusive arrogance now presenting itself in all its vainglorious swagger in the Brexit negotiations.

Why Sheringham? Well, the first bombs that ever fell on English soil, fell during World War 1, and fell upon Sheringham. No one died, but the spot now marked with a blue plaque, proudly declares this footnote in history and the sizable dent made to someone's backyard. There is no other discernible reason, historical or otherwise, for this event. Apart from the fact it goes with the North Norfolk Railway's old fashioned steam trains, and is evocative of the wartime stoical romanticism of Brief Encounter. The huge numbers of people who died as a consequence of the war, is turned away from. The focus is on the period style, the way we survived at home, rather than the substance of the conflict. Because it has been so successful other seaside towns along the coast have decided to compete by manufacturing their own themed dressing up weekend, Cromer has its 1960's weekend, Wells next the Sea has its Pirate Festival, each bearing their own rather tenuous commercial logic.

The build up to 1940's weekend starts weeks before, as window displays are adjusted, charity shops start touting their period vintage gear, and someone in town does a roaring trade in masking tape, as every bit of window glazing gets crossed with the stuff. There are homemade fins of German planes sticking out of walls, unexploded bombs on roofs, and a small tank made out of painted hardboard. Plus the sand bags, the digging for victory posters, the period cars, the American jeeps. The dress code is simple, the women are either land girls in dungarees with bright headscarves tied in a knot above the forehead or wear flower print dresses with furs and a fascinator. The men are mostly dressed in military uniforms, tweedie civvies or dapper spivs in double breasted suits. The detail that its gone into is quite impressive.

Like most things in Sheringham its done with a certain amateurish and enthusiastic gusto, that is endearing. It has to be said, that it brings people together in a shared experience, those who turn up, obviously love it, so this provides its own justification, I suppose. No one bothers to question why a 1940's weekend anymore, if they ever did. Its something the town just does, because ,bizarrely, it does work. Though we can't be the only ones who've avoided town for those two days. However, if we do end up opening a cafe here, I guess we'll just have to create our own way to join in with this.

By Monday morning the forties paraphernalia will start being packed up and consigned to someone's loft or garden shed again, Then Sheringham will return to normal, and move rapidly forward in time to somewhere after the oil crisis of 1973.

Friday, September 15, 2017

PHOTO ~ Shabby Sheringham - Empty Shop

This is the condition of the window in an empty shop in Wyndham St, Sheringham, that once upon a time used to mend watches and cut keys etc.

Monday, September 11, 2017

PHOTO ~ Shabby Sheringham ~ The Burlington Hotel

Though it only recently closed its doors, The Burlington Hotel has been a sad shadow of its former  grand self for years. Its window sills and bricks are seriously eroded and the pointing between them is so fast disappearing, that its a bit of a structural concern.

It has planning permission to be converted into flats, though the amount of making sound of the exterior structure might be off putting to investors. But then the only other options will be further deterioration until its condemned. I'm all for preserving buildings whenever possible, but I can't see what they are planning ever happening. I'd love to be proved wrong.


Saturday, September 09, 2017

ARTICLE ~ Heaven in the Lyrics of Ron Mael..

Part Two ~ Gabriel plays it, God how he plays it.

In Part One we looked at Ron Mael's quirky views on the sexual dynamic between men and women.
I thought I'd take a closer look at the theme of God and Heaven. with the release of Hippopotamus we have a new song to add to the growing lexicon of Ron Mael songs that poke gentle fun at the divinity or highlight the more prosaic aspects of having to live in heaven. The history of Sparks songs featuring the godly realms has a broken, but quite distinguished, lineage.

On Kimono My House from 1974, is the track Here in Heaven. Its sung from the point of view of a 'romeo' who has deliberately killed himself, whilst his lover Juliet, who hasn't gone through with their joint suicide pact, is still alive and not here in heaven with him. An odd subject for a song you might think but it contains one of Ron Maels's most smart and wittiest lyrics.

Here, there are lots of things to do
And a panoramic view
Of the universe completely surrounding you

And here you cannot buy souvenirs
You're never going back, never, never
Basically, I guess it could be worse
Yes, I do suppose it could be worse

Here, there are many, many sheep
And the people only sleep
And awake to tell how gory and gruesome was their end
And I don't have many friends
And it's really very clean and I'm thinking
Juliet, you broke our little pact
Juliet, I'm never coming back

Up here in Heaven without you
I'm here in Heaven without you
Up here in Heaven without you
It is Hell knowing that your health will keep you out of here
For many many years

Dear, do you often think of me
As you overlook the sea
Do I qualify as dearly departed or am I
That sucker in the sky
The fall guy for the first and the last time
Juliet, I thought we had agreed
Now I know why you let me take the lead


Second thoughts, is that what you had?
Second thoughts, first I broke my back
Second thoughts, as I hit the sea
Second thoughts, for eternity, for eternity, for eternity

Indiscreet, from 1976, is full of a very eclectic mix of songs that shows their growing confidence in the range of styles they could successfully master. However, the wider public didn't quite get it, and it marked the end of the first phase of their popularity, only for them to emerge re-energised and electro three years later. It did none the less contain two hits, Looks Looks Looks, a parody of fashionistas, that paradoxically got readily adopted as catwalk music, and Get In The Swing, whose tune thumps along accompanied by what sounds like an American football brass band. Towards the end there is a brief interlude where the divinity completely breaks the entire flow of the song to raise a complaint. There is no rhyme or reason for it at all, its just an excuse to lampoon, its completely unnecessary but a delightful intervention.

Hello down there
This is your creator with a questionnaire
Hello up there
I don't have the time to fill out questionnaires

No 1 Song In Heaven, produced by Giorgio Moroder in 1979 and here we have probably their best known heavenly themed song. Always looking for that slightly askew angle, Ron Mael imagines that heaven is as prone to an addictive pop tune that everyone hums as we are on earth, except that in heaven all the very best tunes are written by god. The full song has two parts, first, a slow ballad with a wistful elegiac air, which then breaks into a fast paced romp, that proceeds at such a pace its almost too brisk to be danced too.

This is the number one song in heaven
Written, of course, by the mightiest hand
All of the angels are sheep in the fold of their master
They always follow the Master and his plan

This is the number one song in heaven
Why are you hearing it now, you ask
Maybe you're closer to here than you imagine
Maybe you're closer to here than you care to be
It's number one, all over heaven
It's number one, all over heaven
It's number one, all over heaven
The number one song all over heaven

If you should die before you wake
If you should die while crossing the street
The song that you'll hear, I guarantee

It's number one, all over heaven
It's number one, all over heaven
It's number one, all over heaven
The number one song all over heaven

The one that's the rage up here in the clouds
Loud as a crowd or soft as a doubt
Lyrically weak, but the music's the thing

Gabriel plays it, God how he plays it
Gabriel plays it, God how he plays it
Gabriel plays it, God how he plays it
Gabriel plays it, let's hear him play it

The song filters down, down through the clouds
It reaches the earth and winds all around
And then it breaks up in millions of ways
It goes la, la, la......
In cars it becomes a hit
In your homes it becomes advertisements
And in the streets it becomes the children singing.

The album Balls from 2000, is their 18th album, and it fell to earth in what was creatively a somewhat flat and directionless bardo between the wacky coherence, and commercial success, of the concept like album Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins and the equally bizarre. yet groundbreaking album Lil Beethoven that was to reinvent them, yet again, in 2002. Nonetheless, its an album I'm still quite fond of, if only for the balls of the title track Balls and speed of Bullet Train. But it also had this sweet little love song called The Angels, where the titular angels are both overwhelmed and green with envy at how stunning this man's girlfriend looks.

I heard the angels call your name
They feel ashamed. They feel ashamed

Because you look so fucking good
I saw the angels glaring down
I saw the angels glaring down
They feel inane,They feel in pain
Because you're oh so fucking cool

Me, I take it in stride
Me, I know I'm on the right side this time
I see the angels disappear, I see the angels disappear

They feel confused, They feel bemused
They are a pale picture of you

Me, I take it in stride
Me, I know I'm on the right side this time

They've felt the heat, And felt defeat
Because you look so fucking good

They've felt the heat, And felt defeat
Because you look so fucking good

So we come to their most recent heaven themed song What The Hell Is It This Time? from the Hippopotamus album. It's like a more extensive rap on that short coda from Get In The Swing. God is getting so pissed off with the number, type and frequency of the requests for helpful intervention he's receiving. 

Historically, Historically we make and appeal
To something greater then we are when we need to heal
But don't concern Him with your little bad day affair
His temper will flare, he'll rise from His chair
What the hell is it this time

My god is great, my god is good, he loves every man
But show consideration when you pray in demands
His plate is filled with famine and clean wholesome air
If Arsenal wins he really don't care
What the hell is it this time

You've asked Him for attention twenty times in the past
But twenty times is granted you and again you have asked
But twenty is the limit and he's now getting peeved
And when he gets peeved It's not to be believed
What the hell is it this time

My god is great, my god is good, he loves every man
He loves every man, he loves every man
My god is great, my god is good
But show some restraint if you're feeling faint
Appeal to a saint
What the hell is it this time

It's you again it's you again, you get on my nerves
What the hell is it this time
I've millions to serve, you get on my nerves
What the hell is it this time

My girl has left, my dog has left, I've cracked up my car
The only one who listens to me stands in the bar
He turns his back and walks away
And I say for you I ain't hardly through
He says "Yeah you're through"

Our god is great,our god is good, he loves every man
But there's a limit to what even He can withstand
So be selective in what you slip under His door
It it isn't war, It may be ignored
What the hell is it this time

My god is great, my god is good, but don't waste his time
He's dealing with crime, so don't waste his time
Historically historically he has carte blanche
He don't take carte blanche
He don't take carte blanche
What the hell is it this time

* all lyrics are by Ron Mael.