National anthem

My new life as a theatre goer is proceeding apace – of which perhaps more in a later post (if the idea ever manages to jump across the band-gap from draft to post) – but I do seem to have fallen in love with the National Theatre.  I’m even starting to develop a fondness for its neo-brutalist exterior architecture – but that may only be a consequence of association or familiarity.

Anyway, once past the concrete exterior the interior is a joy.  Both the Olivier and the Lyttleton (named for some relation of Humph’s I believe) are excellent places to watch a play: comfy seats with plenty of legroom which all have an excellent view of the stage.  I’ll be able to comment on the Cottesloe on the basis of first-hand (and leg) experience in June.

Each time I have been, there has been free, live music on offer to entertain those that arrive early – and there always seems to be a free seat in the extensive foyer space to sit down and take the weight off my ageing limbs (why do my limbs always feel older in London than in South Cambs?).  They always seem to have an exhibition of interesting photographs as well – so stimulation for both the eyes and ears while waiting for the main show to start.

Regular readers will be unsurprised that my first ever visit to the National, in the dying days of 2011, was not to see the followers of Thespis but to eat.  The complex has a decent restaurant and the tapas-style cafe is rather nice too – with views out across the Thames.  Even more importantly, as I have subsequently learned, it has quite the finest interval offerings of any performance space I have yet attended.  Wonderful interval cakes and blackberry frozen yoghurt – and with their efficient service, you can manage to fit the consumption of both into the break in the dramatic action (well, you may struggle but I can do it comfortably).

However, it would seem that food can act as a gateway drug to the theatre – a fact, other arts institutions might like to consider (assuming that I am typical of the potential theatre going public, which might be a challenging assumption to justify in the face of even mild cross-examination).  In 2012, I have been to four NT productions (so far) – 3 at the NT, and one at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket in London’s glittering west end (may not contain actual glitter).  This has taught me that if you do visit the West End, you may enjoy more classical and roccoco architecture but they do charge you extra for the privilege (or possibly, the maintenance) and the aircon is nothing like as effective.

So far my theatre has been rather skewed towards comedy – albeit classics from yesterday and today: The Comedy of Errors (by one W Shakespeare), She Stoops to Conquer (by Oliver Goldsmith – and nothing to do with the fruit of the horse chestnut) and One Man Two Guvnors (originally by Goldoni, but really the work of Richard Bean as I’m fairly sure Signor Goldoni never visited Brighton in the 1960s), all of which have been a joy and actually funny (not something you can take for granted) – but this is not to last.  To support my OU coursework (well, that’s the excuse I’m using), I will be seeing Antigone by Sophocles in June and my limited classical education suggests that if Sophocles was once famed for his light-hearted comedies then posterity has not preserved them for me to enjoy (but you never know what Tony Robinson may dig up – it can’t all be arrow heads and pottery sherds).  A BBC4 documentary I saw earlier in the week also suggested that Timon of Athens may not have an entirely happy ending – though might be quite topical.

However, last night I saw a new play entitled Travelling Light penned (or, more likely, word processed) by Nicholas Wright.  As with some of my recent cinematic viewing, this covered the early days of movies – but for my money (and it was my money, no-one is yet paying me to visit either the cinema or the theatre, more’s the pity) it was worth ten of the much lauded film, The Artist.  The play was lovely, warm, funny, moving at times and leads you to care about the protagonists.  Better yet, I couldn’t predict the ending (and most of the plot after the first reel (scene?).  In fact, I found myself caring rather too much about the “hero”, and spent much of last night fretting about Motl – a rather pointless (and tiring) exercise as he is a fictional character and even if real would now be more than 130 years old (so unlikely to gain any benefit from my concern).

Mr Collins does suggest that an anthem should be sung, and I do realise that this paean to the NT has been written in prose.  However, readers should not view this as a barrier when the phrase to “sing the ‘phone book” has made it into the language: a feat apparently performed by Celine Dion back in 2002 (and to greater critical acclaim than her work on the Titanic).  I feel this post makes for much more promising material for the sopranos and tenors among you than any of BT’s printed output, so feel free to let rip!

Critic’s Corner

As any regular reader will be all too aware, my previous outings as a critic of the arts have been desultory efforts at best.  Should my witterings ever be exposed to the critical gaze of some form of meta-critic (one who criticises the critics) I’d be lucky to garner a single star.

Despite these inauspicious portents, I feel I should provide some sort of feedback from my gig-going in Edinburgh.  So far, I have been to twelve comedy gigs and two chamber music concerts – however, there seems little point in reviewing the latter as they were one-off events and, frankly, you’ve missed them.  (In case you enjoy regret, I should tell you that you’ve missed out on a treat – and I’m not just referring to the interval ice cream or the generous legroom provided when sitting in the main stalls).

The comedy, by contrast, is repeated nightly for another week (and some may be touring to a town or city near you), so a few readers may be in a position to act on any recommendations I care to make – though please be aware that I offer no warranty, express or implied.  I tend to select the story-telling style of comedian, enjoying a range of styles and approaches within this genre.  Over the years, I have found that whilst one-liners are great over a five minute slot, they tend to be rather wearing for a whole hour.   Sketch comedy, which was a mainstay of my radio listening for many years, is known for its hit-and-miss nature which is much harder to handle when the performers are there in the room with you (rather than hiding behind the anonymity of Marconi’s invention).  We can only hope that with this concentrated dose of professional comedy, some of the skills will rub off on me leading to a modest rise in the quality of my own musings (though, I wouldn’t hold your breath – unless you enjoy that kind of thing).

So, without further ado (I’m running low on ado – and it’s a bit of a hike to the shops to get some more) here are my top recommendations (in no particular order):

James Sherwood: funny and intelligent as ever.  Do not be put off by the name of the venue – they do re-use pretty much any space in Edinburgh as a venue, but the Wee Room is not a re-purposed urinal.

Tom Rosenthal: much shorter than anticipated (I think television adds about 6 inches to your height), but anyone who provides a tutorial on basic logic as part of his set gets my vote.

Alun Cochrane: more observational than my other picks.  Includes some great life tips.

Stuart Goldsmith: as beautifully constructed as last year’s set.  He (like me) is an Uncle Stuart and did make me feel that I may be neglecting my avuncular duties (though, he does have some rather useful uncling – yes, I can create new verbs – skills that I lack).

Matt Crosby: a little obsessed by Nando’s, but has usefully tagged some more of my typical behaviours as nerd-like (so I may have to keep an eye on these in future if I wish to maintain the, non-existent, illusion that I am one of the cool dudes).

Lloyd Langford: the least story or strongly thematically based, just very funny – and the only venue (so far) to boast a chandelier.

The Comedy Zone: you get three new(ish) acts for your money (and a potty-mouthed CBBC presenter as compère).  The two acts with historic links to Asia were particularly good and the third act was quite strange, but not without a certain charm.

I’d also give honorable mentions to Jon Richardson, Elis James, Rich Hall, Gareth Richards and Pete Firman – all of whom will handsomely reward the purchaser of a ticket to their shows.

I will also heartily recommend Bonsai to satisfy the victualling needs of any Fringe-goers. It is perfectly sited near the Pleasance, and as Japanese food is quick to prepare and consume you can grab a quick bite between shows.  It is also quite a healthy option for Scotland – though I am knocking back quite a lot of vegetable and banana tempura, so am still getting my fair share of deep-fried goodness.  I have been known to visit five times in a single day in years gone by – but this year, I tried to leave rather longer meal-breaks between shows (in an abortive attempt to produce a slightly less frantic festival experience).

…and relax

The last few weeks have been an exhausting whirl with festivals of comedy and music parting me from my usual life of abnegation.  So many nights out past my usual bedtime; so many nights out, period (or, in this case, exclamation mark)!

With the festival season over in Cambridge, my annual pilgrimage to Edinburgh looms, like a giant weaving machine, on the horizon.  Even more comedy and music crammed into even fewer days.  Will I survive the cultural onslaught?

The signs are not entirely positive – a couple of weeks ago I kept acquiring minor finger-based injuries, and this week my shins are acquiring stray wounds.  It is often said that where sense is absent, there is an associated lack of feeling.  This may well be true as whilst I could recall a few of the incidents that led to damage to my phalanges, I have no memory at all of any of those that led to the tibial damage.

So, in this intra-festive lacuna I have decided that I need a rest (and not just to make a tricky snooker shot) before descending once more into the fray.  I also have a stack of BBC4 documentaries to catch up on: the pseudo-intellectual trappings of this blog have to come from somewhere, you know.  As a result, I have tried to spend this week taking it easy – but have discovered (once again) that I’m really not very good at it.  My best attempts at loafing have resulted in a loaf (of bread) and the sharing of my loaf-based secrets with the world (or at least the readers of GofaDM).

I comforted myself with the knowledge that my failure to rest had at least meant that a number of long-outstanding errands had been completed.  However, reference to Mr Collins (the publisher of my dictionary rather than the heir to Longbourn) suggests that an errand requires a trip (in the sense of journey rather than a fall – though I suppose that would also be a journey) of some form – so it seems that I have merely “done some stuff”. When I come to think about the main “stuff” done, viz re-arranging my bookcase to increase the accessibility of my extensive library (including the sorting of the fiction alphabetically by author) and tidying up the wires behind the TV, it does seem worryingly to represent classic displacement activity.  Since relaxation is what I was supposed to be doing, it would seem that at some subconscious level I have some objection to chillin’ (as I believe the kids of a decade or two ago would have said) and am desperately seeking alternatives to avoid it.  I rather fear therapy beckons: with all too much material into which the followers of Freud or Jung could sink their metaphorical teeth (in my, entirely untrained, opinion and, in a nod to Clement’s grandfather, I blame my mother).

Then again, who needs a man with a mittel-European accent and a couch? I have a blog! What more therapy can any man need?  Or, indeed, how much more displacement activity?  If any readers should care to proffer a diagnosis (I will require you to show your working) or text-based therapy, they should feel entirely free to do so – whilst recognising that I shall feel equally free to ignore it!