Friday, 23 March 2012

I want my own revenge! And I want it in the Old Vic!

I went to see Eve Best
in The Duchess of Malfi the other evening. Don’t.

Or, at least, if you do, laugh. It is truly terrible. She’s as good as you’d expect, given her CV. But everything else was bad, bad, bad.

As my wife said, you knew it was really bad as soon as the actors came onstage in a kind of choreographed procession. She’s a dancer and movement teacher so she’s knows about these things. But even I . . .

In fact, I should have been tipped the wink even earlier, by the set  — which must have cost a lot but which didn’t really leave much room on the stage for the actors. So they spent all their time in the middle of the stage.

They shouted a lot, too. I know that shouting is one of the prime rules for actors in Shakespearean and Jacobean drama and I wish they’d simply stop it. But this was really shouty. No rhythm to the speeches either — Eve Best aside.

So far, so quite completely awful. My wife left at half-time but I stayed on, as I’d never seen a staged version of the play before, only read it.

I’m glad I did. Not because it improved. It didn’t. It went the other way. But . . .

It gave me a Springtime For Hitler moment. Well, a potential one, anyway. If only I’d had the guts to start laughing out loud and honking the way the first-night audience do in Mel Brooks’ great comedy, The Producers.

What happened was Eve Best died, with extreme slowness. Or rather the Duchess of Malfi did. (Why? I can’t be bothered to remember.) It took minutes of groaning and moaning. Then she revived and did it all again — though making it a little shorter for this second going.

It was like something out of, say, a Morecambe and Wise version of Shakespeare. Ludicrously protracted death played for laughs.

I remember wishing I had laughed and being a little surprised there weren’t more sniggers around me. Particularly when there were several more deaths along the same lines.

It was only today, though, after a suitable break from it that I realised that I’d probably misunderstood. I think Eve Best knew what she was doing — but we the audience had let her down.

She had realised that she was in a real stinker. With her Nurse Jackie experience of how to handle mordant comedy, she’d decided the production’s only possible salvation was to play it for laughs — make it a Jacobean revenge tragedy rival to Brooks’ Nazi musical comedy.

But we the audience just didn’t get it. So, what can I say? Eve, I’m sorry, really sorry, I failed you. Next time, I promise, I’ll laugh and laugh and laugh at your Duchess of Malfi.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Who put the bermp?

An old article of mine, entitled Who Put The Bomp?, has just been published in French. Hence the silly approximation of a Clouseau accent in the heading above.

It’s in a Parisian magazine, Feuilleton — a quarterly, I think, and something like McSweeney’s. This issue, Spring 2012, also includes, among many other things, a piece by Murakami Huraki, with illustrations by Robert Crumb.

It’s one of the best-looking wordy magazines I’ve ever seen. The design for my article/essay, which stretches over eighteen pages, is just gorgeous. The piece appeared twice before in English (The Observer and Mojo magazine) but it’s never looked this good.

Nor has it previously been graced by footnotes — eg explaining that a Geordie is ‘Surnom donnĂ© aux habitants de Newcastle’. Nor, dipping into false modesty, have I ever been flattered by a biographical note describing me as a ‘figure parmi les grands noms du journalisme rock anglais’.

So what is the piece about? It’s an attempt to answer the question in the title — which was posed in a minor 1960s pop hit written and sung by Barry Mann. He was the husband half of the Mann-Greenwich partnership — writers of You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling etc etc etc etc etc (plus a few more et ceteras).

My answer runs to about seven thousand words and takes in not just Geordies but Manchester City fans, Baltimore, the building at the junction of Gloucester Avenue and Regent’s Park Rd, Elvis Presley and the early 16th version of spaghetti al burro e formaggio.

How did I make these links? You’ll have to read the piece. You’ll find the magazine here. It’s 15 euros.

Don’t read French and want to read it? Well, you could find an old copy of Mojo/The Observer. Or you could wait till I finish the book I’m working on (hard) and read a new version of it there.

How did I come to think of such a mad topic and write such a mad-sounding piece? Ah, you’ll have to wait for the book to find that out, too

Next My Springtime for Hitler moment.