Actress Glenda Jackson in Shakespeare’s King Lear


This video from England says about itself:

27 October 2016

Glenda Jackson and Antony Sher both play Shakespeare‘s King Lear this winter in London. The only question is which one you’ll see first!

By Gillian Piggott in Britain:

Thursday 17th November 2016

GILLIAN PIGGOTT sees Glenda Jackson give one of the great tragic performances in a flawed production of King Lear

King Lear
Old Vic, London SE1
3/5

IN THIS King Lear, Glenda Jackson makes a storming return to the theatre after more than two decades in British politics and her monumental performance shows just how much politics’ gain has been the stage’s loss.

Lear is the perfect choice for the wiry Jackson, whose elderly body, beautiful and androgynous, fascinates. The question of a female playing a fading old man does not even arise. She completely inhabits the role.

Jackson’s greatest asset always was, and still is, her mellifluous voice and meticulous articulation. That vocal range, moving effortlessly from gentle lower register to harsh higher notes paints Lear’s journey in bright colours and affords us the chance to relish the poetry.

But while Jackson’s performance will go down as one of the great Lears, director Deborah Warner’s uneven interpretation of the play as a domestic tragedy about the indignities and injustices of old age downplays the epic dimension and political context and fails to support Jackson’s marvellous work.

Surprisingly, Warner appears not to trust the material, seeking instead to import contemporary references at every turn.

While Jackson’s androgyny reflects the current interest in gender fluidity, clunky gimmicks such as setting the play in a rehearsal room or actors simulating masturbation and copulation are distractions.

And it’s difficult to take in the wonderful “stand up for bastards” speech by Edmund (Simon Manyonda) if it is delivered while he is working out.

Celia Imrie and Jane Horrocks are good as Goneril and Regan and the sado-masochistic relationship between the latter and Cornwall (Danny Webb) works as a reading.

But no effort is made to make a case for the sisters’ cruelty and their “filial ingratitude,” lessening the dramatic texture of the characters and the play. Rhys Ifans, genuinely funny, is a fine fool.

But some of the younger cast members, far less convincing, are “severely o’erparted,” an instance being Morfydd Clark. Her excessively emotional interpretation of Cordelia renders her delivery inaudible.

Runs until December 3, box office: oldvictheatre.com.

Mozart in London theatre, historically correct?


This video says about itself:

Long-Lost Mozart Score Performed For First Time By Czech Musician

16 February 2016

After a musicologist discovered the piece in the reserve collection of the Czech national music museum, a long-lost composition by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri was performed for the first time on Tuesday.

The piece also appears to show the rivalry between the two was not especially fierce. It provides more evidence that Salieri played no role in Mozart’s death in 1791 at the age of 35. The play and Oscar-winning film “Amadeus” detailed such a murderous rivalry.

The collaborative score was written in 1785. That was during one of the most fruitful periods of Mozart’s career. He composed some of his best-known pieces then, including the operas “Don Giovanni” and “The Magic Flute.”

Ulrich Leisinger, director of research at the Mozarteum Foundation Salzburg, said, “Salieri did not poison Mozart, but they both worked in Vienna and were competitors.”

Museum officials said, the piece, titled “Per la Ricuperata Salute di Ofelia” (“For the recovered health of Ophelia”), was written to celebrate the recovery of an English singer who had performed pieces by Mozart and Salieri. They said it is unclear whether it was ever performed in public before today.

See also here.

By Yvonne Lysandrou in Britain:

Discordant notes in Mozart portrait

Tuesday 8th November 2016

Amadeus
National Theatre
3/5

IT SEEMS as if the popularity of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, which returns to the National Theatre after its triumphant premiere in 1979, has not waned. It’s already sold out until next year, although there will be live cinema screenings in February.

Over the decades, audiences have been drawn to Shaffer’s reimagining of the fractious relationship between Antonio Salieri, successful Italian composer of the Austrian court, and the wunderkind Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

His recent arrival in Vienna invokes Salieri’s tortured awareness of his own mediocrity and, apart from falterings in the play’s long opening, the verbal dexterity of Lucian Msamati as the Italian composer is impressive throughout, providing a balanced and often poignant interpretation of the conflicted musician.

The most striking feature of the production is the presence onstage of the 20-piece Southbank Sinfonia and they deliver an evocative and heightened theatrical moment, playing the various pages of Mozart’s music as they fall from the hands of the astonished and anguished Salieri.

Yet Shaffer’s portrait of Mozart (Adam Gillen) in Michael Longhurst’s production seems entirely based on the scatological letters he often wrote to his friends and family. Certainly that stark contrast between a lively, vulgar young man and the sublimity of his music intrigues but here his genius comes across as completely inexplicable.

Gillen, with simian gait, tells fart jokes accompanied by hyena laughs throughout and he’d do well to heed the advice of the original production’s director Peter Hall. “You have to make me believe you wrote that music,” he asked of Simon Callow, who played Mozart. No such caution is evident from Longhurst.

While we don’t necessarily expect historical veracity from playwrights, the fact that Salieri was a respected musician, Mozart was hardworking and his wife Constanze was not the strumpet portrayed by Karla Crome but a trained musician, does not in itself make for a great story.

But a more subtle interpretation of the relationship between Salieri and Mozart would add a great deal more interest and complexity to the overly polarised characterisations on show here.

Runs until February 1, box office: nationaltheatre.org.uk.

New novel on 1981 British Handsworth riots


This reggae music video says about itself:

Steel PulseHandsworth Revolution

Steel Pulse – Live At The Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland 1979, “Montreux Casino

David Hinds – Vocals, Guitar
Basil Glendon Gabbidon – Guitar
Ronald, Ronnie “Stepper” McQueen – Bass Guitar
Selwyn D.”Bumbo” Brown – Keyboards, Vocals
Alphonso “Phonso” Martin – Percussion, Vocals
Steve Nisbett, Stevie “Grizzly” Nesbitt – Drums

By Farhana Shaikh in Britain:

‘I’m interested in exploring how the personal becomes political’

Saturday 15th October 2016

SHARON DUGGAL tells Farhana Shaikh what impelled her to write her first novel, set during the 1981 Handsworth riots

The Handsworth Times is your first novel. How did you go about writing it?

I’d like to say I have a routine and a set process for writing but it would be a big fib.

I am quite unorganised and a bit sporadic as a writer but I do always carry a notebook, jot down ideas as they arise and revisit them later. I have taught myself to write quickly through necessity and I can bang out a shoddy first draft at speed.

This is because I know my time is short due to other commitments, so I have to get whatever is in my head down on paper before it is too late. From there I revise and redraft a lot and I suppose that has organically become my process.

You’ve set your novel in Handsworth in Birmingham but your story has at its heart a Punjabi family. What personal experiences did you draw on?

I grew up in the 1970s and ’80s in a British-Asian family in Handsworth, surrounded by the joint values of traditional Indian culture, family loyalty and an emphasis on hard work as a way of progressing through life and becoming upwardly socially mobile.

However, I was also surrounded by people of diverse cultural backgrounds living in reduced circumstances, struggling to make ends meet, and it soon became apparent that actually, for the working-class communities that I was in the midst of, opportunities for social mobility and aspiration were severely restricted whatever we did.

Having said that, Handsworth was also an extremely lively and exciting place to grow up with the street, doubling as a playground, central to community life.

I come from a big family with lots of siblings and cousins so there was a rich pool of material to draw on for ideas and characters. Like most extended families, stories about legacy and family history get passed down and become fragmented over time but some things, even though you don’t quite know whether they actually happened or not, do stick in the mind and resurface when writing.

The novel’s set in 1981 and, while it’s fiction, it feels as though we’re very much grounded in reality.

How much research did you do about the period and were you surprised by what you uncovered?

The novel started as part of a research degree so I was well placed to do research as part of the process but, rather than heavy academic research, I found what I had to do was a lot of googling to check things like TV listings and pop charts from the time. I do remember certain things about the period but it was a long time ago so I did have to do my homework, especially on the cultural and news references.

What made you want to write about the riots of 1981?

Birmingham in general is under-represented in mainstream literary output. Not enough stories about the city get published and I don’t know why.

But it is hugely interesting, both for its industrial past and how that has shaped its present, including its demography. It must be among the most multicultural places in the world yet, for some reason, publishers are not choosing stories based there.

This, coupled with the political landscape of the 1980s, of which the riots were a consequence, continues to be of interest, not least because our politicians and governments don’t seem to have learnt anything from what happened then.

Unfortunately, as ordinary people get squeezed tighter with welfare cuts, archaic education policies and lack of investment in communities and as racism and xenophobia rise, stoked as political tools by certain politicians and by their media mouthpieces — or vice versa? — manifestations of social unrest like rioting have and could so easily happen again at any point.

We see the struggle within the household juxtaposed against the one happening in the community. What were you interested in exploring by setting the story firmly within the space of domesticity?

I suppose I was interested in exploring how the personal becomes political, especially for the younger female characters, and how the domestic world and the social external world are inextricably linked.

The world beyond the house very much influences how characters develop and this, in turn, begins to transform how they exist alongside each other in the domestic sphere. They each go on a journey of some kind that helps equip them for the challenges of the world beyond the domestic sphere or, in the case of the father Mukesh, a journey that actually contributes to his demise.

I also wanted to convey something of the claustrophobia of living in a large family in a small house and how this can mirror the claustrophobia of living a seemingly fish-bowl like existence in a community like Handsworth.

Plenty of writers have written about the immigration experience but British stories set outside of London still seem few and far between. What were your hopes for the story you wanted to tell?

Like most people, I get frustrated by the stereotypes that continue to get churned out in books, sitcoms, film etc. It seems that there is an acceptable face of multiculturalism that mainstream publishers and other cultural gatekeepers want to perpetuate for some reason — I suspect it is because it is what they perceive as marketable.

The novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a great talk a few years ago where she warned against the danger of a single story as it leads to misunderstanding and stereotypes which are almost always untrue. I couldn’t agree with her more.

We have a long way to go to change the lack of diversity in literary output despite some really good recent interventions.

The saddest thing is that this is at the expense of some very talented writers that don’t fit the mould and at the expense of the reading public who, I am sure, are thirsty for different kinds of stories and voices.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about writing about the past?

Bring the past alive as part of the research by exploring personal accounts, diaries, social histories, film archives and oral testimony.

Luckily, with more recent history, we have a lot more access to this kind of primary source material online, including digital archives housed on library and community sites.

I found old photographs, music videos and news footage particularly helpful to informing some of the more descriptive passages of the book. Visual stimuli really are useful.

The Handsworth Times by Sharon Duggal is published by Bluemoose Books, price £8.99. A longer version of this interview was first published in The Asian Writer, theasianwriter.co.uk.

Threatened toads and English literature


This video from Italy says about itself:

Rospo comune / Common toad (Bufo bufo) * ENGLISH SUBS *

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Alert as the common toad appears to be on its last legs

Friday 7th October 2016

The toad’s bright eyes led to the belief that inside its head was a valuable jewel hence their slaughter – today’s threats are more complex but equally calamitous, says PETER FROST

I love toads. I shared a garden once with one — he lived for years in an upturned flowerpot in a damp and shady corner and helped in my constant battle against slugs and other garden pests.

I always called him Mr Toad. He was much better pest control than a whole shed full of chemicals.

George Orwell shared my love of the common toad (Bufo bufo). In the year I was born — 1946 — Orwell wrote an essay for the socialist paper Tribune in praise of the humble creature.

Orwell loved nature and occasionally wrote nature notes instead of the hard left-wing politics his Tribune readers expected. Some wrote to complain and suggest he got back to writing about serious politics and world affairs.

John Betjeman on the other hand wrote to say: “I have always thought you were one of the best living writers of prose,” and telling Orwell he had “enjoyed and echoed every sentiment” of his thoughts on the common toad.

Orwell pointed out that the pleasures of simple natural things are available to everybody and cost nothing and he argued that retaining a childhood love of nature makes a peaceful and decent future more likely.

He finished his toad essay thus: “How many times have I stood watching the toads mating, or a pair of hares having a boxing match in the young corn, and thought of all the important persons who would stop me enjoying this if they could.

But luckily they can’t…

The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.”

Sadly, today my and Orwell’s toad is making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Britain’s toad population has plummeted by nearly 70 per cent over the past 30 years and is now in such peril that the once common species is close to qualifying as endangered.

A combination of new intensive profit-driven farming techniques, which have entailed the loss of ponds and the death of prey from pesticides, as well as increasing urbanisation has reduced toad populations by thousands.

Tidy, hard-surfaced domestic gardens are another peril as is the massive increase in road traffic. This is despite widespread schemes to help toads safely migrate to their breeding ponds by carrying them across busy roads. You have probably seen the many quaint roadsigns indicating toad crossings.

Climate change is another cause of the population decline because of the disruption this causes to hibernation cycles by milder winters.

South-east England has suffered the worst decline in toad numbers recently but populations are falling all over the country.

Toads are extremely adaptable and can live in many places ranging from farmland and woodland to suburban gardens, where they play an important role as pest controllers, eating slugs, snails and insects and are food themselves for many of our most likeable mammals such as otters.

Toads and frogs are easily distinguished by the fact that frogs have smooth, moist skin while toads have drier, “warty” skin. Frogs have longer legs so that they can jump whereas toads have shorter legs which they use to crawl.

You are more likely to see them on mild nights as they hide during the day. In the winter, they hibernate in hollows or at the bases of hedgerows.

They like ponds with fish. This is because their tadpoles are poisonous to fish which gives them a greater chance of out-competing frog tadpoles.

They continue to be able to secrete toxins as adults and therefore have few predators. However, they will be taken by herons, members of the crow family and grass snakes.

You may notice the noxious secretions they have if you pick them up.

They usually hibernate between October and March and then breed from March onwards when tiny toadlets emerge from ponds during August.

There is no doubt that although popular and friendly toads are ugly, squat and warty. Their remarkable large bright eyes led to the belief that inside a toad’s head was a valuable jewel which led to the destruction of many toads by ignorant people until relatively recently.

They occupy a fond place in the British imagination. Mr Toad in Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 novel The Wind in the Willows, is a selfish and reckless character but is nevertheless well loved.

Perhaps that is why every year thousands of volunteers take part in Toads on Roads patrols to help carry nearly a million of the amphibians in safety to their breeding waters.

Britain has another even rarer and more threatened species of toad. This is the natterjack toad — Bufo calamita.

It can be distinguished from common toads by a yellow line down the middle of the back and shorter legs that gives them a distinctive walking gait.

Natterjacks have a very loud and distinctive mating call so their name literally means the chattering toad — the jack (or toad) that natters. In the sand dunes around Liverpool they call them the Formby nightingale.

In England, the natterjack lives in very few locations mostly among coastal sand dunes along the Mersey estuary. But never, sadly, anywhere near Wigan Pier.