A decent production of a play from the pen of Michael Frayn is always worth seeing, and Alarms and excursions: more plays than one at the theatre last week didn’t disappoint. ‘Alarums and excursions’ was a stage direction used by Shakespeare and his contemporaries to indicate furious battlefield business; the field of combat here has little to do with the military. 8 playlets, 24 characters for 4 actors to play fastly and furiously when required, pulling off some classic farce timing. It’s all constructed around twin themes: the failure of technological gadgetry to actually help – there’s a lovely playlet within a playlet about a new-fangled wine bottle opener – with its inherent likelihood to confound, and good old-fashioned failures of communication. But, ah the perils of putting new technologies into literature; Alarms and excursions was written in 1998. The climax of the performance is a brilliant hectic mixture of the two themes built around phone answering machine messages, now – with the advent of mobile phones – rendered as something of a period piece, but very funny nevertheless. And I’ve not seen a better sketch of on-board pre-flight safety announcements anywhere.
The venue for the July Scribal Gathering was double-booked with the Rotary Club but being outside in the Cock’s courtyard didn’t dampen the good vibes even as the British summer chill set in. Featured poet was A.F.Harrold (that’s his promo pictured on the left) and he certainly gave good verbiage. As you can see, there’s an element of Viv Stanshall in the make-up. Performance poetry has opened up fascinating new ground, setting up unconscious, or indeed conscious, crossover territories. With A.F. we are close to the realm of surreal stand-up, and his short children’s pieces approached zen. A lively time was had. Justin Thyme, visiting from Northampton to promote the Bardic Picnic for the election of their bard, gave a bravura motormouth – in the best possible sense of the word – performance too. On a personal note, these toes, resting at the extremities of my legs, were dipped in the open mic sessions; interesting, after a bit more than 4 decades since I last did anything like it.
The evening had commenced with a witty and robust verse riposte to the notorious – now even at national level – Stony Stratford outdoor smoking ban proposal. This is basically the mission of one man, loner town councillor Bartlett and his attempt to put the SS into, well, SS. Stephen Hobbs’s rhyming rejoinder did the job more effectively than all the po-faced libertarian clichés in speeches from the likes of Nigel Farage & Co at the demo organised by splendid blogger Dick Puddlecote on Saturday, which, admittedly, I’ve only seen on YouTube clips because it was pissing down with rain. Not that I’m a smoker, I hasten to add. What this episode proves is that the local media and radio talk shows are desperate for anything to fill their pages, programmes or talk-time with, and it mushrooms from there.
Nice surprise at MK Gallery’s new show, New Art MK: eight artists from Milton Keynes. Pictures actually hung on all the walls of the long gallery, no less, and some of them I even liked, in particular Emma Wilde‘s quiet drawings of nature softening the new city’s dwelling areas – how effective the one watercolour among her charcoal and pencil drawings. Great charm in Jamie Chalmers‘ small spare traditional cross-stitch embroidery recreations of throwaway phrases taken from spam emails – “Care about your manliness”, “THX BRO”, “Ever do much thinking about Utopia?” – transformations well worth a grin. I’ll leave it at that, I think, save to regret some of the usual blah-blah art-speak in the handout, because I want to accentuate the positive. Interesting redecoration of the exterior too.
Kinks night on BBC4 was worth the license fee alone. OK, that’s a bit over the top, but Julien Temple‘s two films on the Davies brothers were a delight, Dave’s good fun, wistful and effective (for all that was glossed over), Ray’s a repeat of the previously shown masterful contribution to Alan Yentob’s Imagine series; hey, Imaginary man in the Imagine series – I’ve only just realised. Surprised to discover that one can take for granted how good they could (and in Ray’s case still can) be. After that dynamic and dramatic early Got love if you want it – alarms and excursions indeed – you can’t forget they started as a blues band; and is it stretching it too far to say that the 6-man brass section for Village Green Preservation Society (when everyone else was looking to the Memphis Horns) pre-figured Bellowhead? Probably. Pete M’s hypnotic guitar in the middle of the later work, To the bone, stood out too – great song (“And now I’m just a prisoner / In that stereo Hi-Fi jail / The needle pierced just like a nail.“) There’s a nice quote from Ray Davies about his songwriting in his introduction to the interesting new song Sane, a performance of which, where he’s accompanied by the Leisure Society, sounding good with the flute, can still be found on the Guardian website: “The bridge … which I call the ‘because‘ section.” Nice line in the song, too: “With 24 hour news that leaves you … drained”, those dots signifying a pause of a bar in the vocal.
Haven’t touched on crosswords lately, so first, a small collection of words you’re more likely to see in crosswords than anywhere else: to keen (in the sense of crying); a saw (a saying); seraglio; eglantine; and our old friend reredos.
And now, courtesy of the Guardian and the Observer, some reasonably easy clues (zen groans ahoy) that have tickled our fancy of late, all bad puns and neat wordplay (repeated with answers at the bottom, after Alison Graham’s rants):
Everyman: Reluctant to provide a rhyme (6)
Everyman: Picture lawyer at meeting (5,9)
Paul: Heavy rain, perfect bowling conditions (4,7,3,5)
Brendan: Unusually kind performance in Hamlet (6,2,7)
Rufus: Scoundrel best avoided by soldiers (3,3)
Gordius: Co-driver has to try self-control (8)
Araucaria: Applause for bowler at place to race (8)
Everyman: One could be blue! (4,6,4)
Paul: Ylper? (6,4)
Arachne: One of two, level with each other (7)
Araucaria: Prize sheep get going (5,2)
Paul: Muslim’s inconceivable renouncement, with which a child’s constructive (7)
Rufus: Wildcat strikes may put one out of work (4-5)
Crucible: Not as much activity in class? (6)
Orlando: Doctor not getting on with sudden increase (5)
Paul: Trout was his – insert fish (8)
Araucaria: Fragrant medley of Roman Catholicism, say? (9)
Alison Graham has been on fire in RT, the Radio Times, just lately. Thus:
My family Fri 17 Jun 11: The deeply resistable Harper household squirm, mug and double-take their way through an opening episode that sees brat-daughter Janey the subject of three marriage proposals from comedy half-wit men. As the gags fall like dead birds in a nuclear winter, stridently stupid paterfamilias Ben Harper (Robert Lindsay) and his wife Susan (Zoe Wanamaker), each choose their perfect suitor for Janey. It is a very long half hour.
Sirens Mon 27 Jun: I have no idea who Sirens, which follows three young male paramedics, is aimed at. Definitely not teens. They don’t have the patience. Young me? Maybe; there are gags about erections and masturbation […] But then maybe it’s aimed at old men. Or tree frogs. Or Pekingese dogs. Who knows? But it should be better. It should be funnier. It should be sharper. Unforgivable.
Luther Tue 5 Jul: I found it hard to make out Luther‘s final scenes, mainly because the sound of my laughter was drowning the dialogue. If, like me, you are a connoisseur of the ridiculous, you’re going to love this, as Luther slips beyond the realms of the merely barmy to touch the face of the truly insane.
Everyman: Reluctant to provide a rhyme (6) A-verse
Everyman: Picture lawyer at meeting (5,9) Brief encounter
Paul: Heavy rain, perfect bowling conditions (4,7,3,5) Perfect weather for ducks
Brendan: Unusually kind performance in Hamlet (6,2,7) Prince of Denmark (a prince of an anagram)
Rufus: Scoundrel best avoided by soldiers (3,3) Bad egg (soldiers – toast fingers)
Gordius: Co-driver has to try self-control (8) Auto-mate
Araucaria: Applause for bowler at place to race (8) Good-wood
Everyman: One could be blue! (4,6,4) Four letter word
Paul: Ylper? (6,4) Answer back (reply spelt backwards)
Arachne: One of two, level with each other (7) A-breast
Araucaria: Prize sheep get going (5,2) Start up (star-tup)
Paul: Muslim’s inconceivable renouncement, with which a child’s constructive (7) Mecca-no
Rufus: Wildcat strikes may put one out of work (4-5) Lion tamer
Crucible: Not as much activity in class? (6) Less-on
as opposed to Orlando’s: Doctor not getting on with sudden increase (5) Surge (surgeon without the on)
probably the cleverest clue here, Paul’s: Trout was his – insert fish (8) S(chub)ert (literally put that fish in sert)
and last but certainly not least, from Araucaria: Fragrant medley of Roman Catholicism, say? (9) Pot pourri (Popery!)