Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Edward Upward

Today's edition of The Guardian notes that Marxist writer Edward Upward is 105.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

This Wide Night

Last Thursday, courtesy of The Morning Star, I was given press tickets for This Wide Night at the Soho Theatre. It’s a play by Chloe Moss and comes out of workshops with women in prison and was produced by Clean Break who - in the words of the programme – “use theatre for personal and political change, working with women whose lives have been affected by the criminal justice system”.

Now, I like the Soho Theatre. It concentrates on new writing and seems to provide an annual platform for my favourite family friendly live band, The Tiger Lillies. The seating has a decent rake and the bar/restaurant next door is spacious. Just before a show starts, though, you can go to the terrace bar just outside the theatre entrance. It has a narrow balcony high above Dean Street and it’s quite exhilarating to stand on it sipping wine.

My review of This Wide Night can been seen here

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

The West Pier (More Patrick Hamilton)

My Patrick Hamilton marathon continues. I’ve now finished reading The West Pier – the first novel of the Gorse Trilogy.

It seems to be a novel that can be read in a number of ways. It starts with a bit of malicious schoolboy behaviour – although the schoolboys concerned are the privileged sort who go to pre-first world war prep schools. One (Gorse) fakes a theft and tries to cause dissent between two others (Bell and Ryan).

Years later the three meet again in Brighton – during summer. While strolling round the West Pier they meet two working class girls and become involved with them. A putative relationship starts between Ryan and the prettiest of the girls Esther. Gorse destroys this embryonic relationship – for no other reason than he can – and robs Esther of her life savings. On the surface it’s a simple satire on human foibles and youthful naivety.

However, the thing that struck me most about the novel is that it provides a perfect metaphor for capitalism. Gorse is capitalism personified, exploiting all around him – both financially and emotionally.

His imperative is to acquire wealth and power. So he takes advantage of people who might be his friends - Ryan and Bell – by withholding information or simply lying to them. He also robs Esther of her savings by means of a series of scams that are designed first gain her reluctant trust and end with her being abandoned and penniless.

In the end it’s not Gorse’s ‘charm’ that is the driving force of the narrative twists– it’s his manipulative deceit. Hamilton makes it abundantly clear to the reader how and why Gorse does the things he does. He also demonstrates their harmful effects (Esther loses her savings, Ryan loses a potential lover).

So for me The West Pier operates on at least two levels. Firstly as a straightforward story of young people ‘courting’ and coming to adulthood – a sort of rites of passage novel - but also as a practical illustration of capitalism at work. For these reasons, Hamilton’s novel continues to have a resonance and meaning.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

The Royal Court Theatre Inside Out

I’ve just finished reading The Royal Court Theatre Inside Out by Ruth Little and Emily McLaughlin, which was first published last year.

The book is divided up into chapters dealing with each or the artistic director’s tenures, starting with George Devine and finishing with Ian Rickson. It draws on other books that have been written about the theatre, but also contains interviews with many of those who have worked there over the years. These interviews are never less than informative and interesting. Among many anecdotes and assessments, a couple of stories told by Kenneth Cranham particularly stood out for me and I wondered why he hasn’t yet written a memoir of some sort.

The Royal Court Theatre Inside Out is a fascinating book to dip in to for many reasons. It was interesting to be reminded of works such as Alan Brown’s Wheelchair Willie and Barrie Keefe’s Sus. I was a bit disappointed, though, that some things I’d seen weren’t covered at all - C.P. Lee’s Sleak a ‘snuff rock musical’ performed by Alberto Y Los Trios Paranoias for instance. Although if everything that had ever played at the Royal Court had been included, this would have soon become a multi-volume work.

There is also a very useful appendix containing a chronological list all the Theatre’s productions from 1955’s The Mulberry Bush to 2007’s The Seagull. A pedant might complain that it would have been nice to have dates, cast lists and whether the play was performed Upstairs or in the main house – but that would probably be a little ungenerous. Altogether this is a book to be enjoyed by anyone interested in the theatre of the past fifty years and the central part played in this history by the Royal Court.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Patrick Hamilton and Hangover Square

I’d been reading and re-reading a lot of Patrick Hamilton recently. A novelist and playwright, he died in 1962 of cirrhosis of the liver and kidney failure. I’d first read Hangover Square and The Slaves of Solitude in the 1970s when they were on offer via The New Fiction Society - a sort of book club, funded by the Arts Council, if I remember rightly.

While a great success in the 30s and 40s, Hamilton is a writer who has subsequently drifted in an out of fashion. Currently he appears to be experiencing something of a revival. Hangover Square is a Penguin Modern Classic, while Black Spring Press are publishing a new edition of Nigel Jones's biography Through a Glass Darkly, as well as the 1926 novel Craven House. Most of his other major works are also in print.

So, last Friday evening I set off for Earls Court and the Finborough Theatre, where I was to review a new production Fidelis Morgan’s adaptation of Hangover Square for the Morning Star.

It was my first commissioned theatre review for some six months and my first visit to this particular theatre. A short walk from the Warwick Road exit of Earls Court station – but feeling longer because of the rain - The Finborough pub is long and thin and elegantly refurbished. Most of the people already there seemed to be theatre critics. Among them I recognised Lyn Gardner (Guardian) and Ian Shuttleworth (FT) from other press nights I’ve been to.

The play itself was engrossing and I thought the production and acting were excellent - especially well suited to the intimacy of this small space. If you follow this link it will take you to my review published in today’s Morning Star.

I’ve just had a look online to see what other people are saying, and the production seems to have gone down well with most critics. I was interested to note, though, that Lyn Gardner n The Guardian detects strong misogynist tendencies in the work.

I’m not sure I agree with this. I think Hamilton could more accurately be described as a misanthrope rather than a misogynist. For example, in Slaves of Solitude his main protagonist, Miss Roach, is portrayed with sympathy and understanding. Indeed it is the men who fare less well in this novel.

Again in The Plains of Cement, the final part of the Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky trilogy, Ella the barmaid is also treated with understanding and sympathy, yet placed squarely within her class context. The closing sentence of the novel is:

But at about half-past ten that night, John, the new waiter at “The Midnight Bell,” coming up tired to bed after a hard day’s work in the job he had taken on, listened, and heard the barmaid weeping.

It seems simple and prosaic enough but, in light of what has come before, it is unexpectedly and deeply affecting. It also underlines how far the reader has come in understanding and caring about the character and is a tribute to the subtlety of Hamilton’s writing.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Reactivating the site

After many months of apparent inactivity, now seems like a good time to reactivate this site. It’s not that I haven’t been going to the theatre – I have – but I haven’t been recording my thoughts about what I’ve seen in a particularly coherent fashion.

Now I’m going to try again and, this time as well as Theatre, include my responses to what I read, as well as what I watch and listen to.

And so the name of the blog has changed from the rather prosaic Theatre Reviews to the almost equally prosaic WRL Review. It’s quite possible the name may change again in the future.