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The early 1950’s saw a revolution in theatre, well in Paris at least, with the arrival of Beckett and Ionesco (one Irish and one Romanian), challenging the realism that the art form was locked in. This play, and Becket’s Waiting for Godot, were first produced there in 1952. It reached the UK five years later where it ignited a debate amongst theatre folk, triggered by critic Kenneth Tynan and involving the playwright and theatrical luminaries like Orson Wells. Around the same time our own angry young men heralded a new age of realism with their kitchen sink dramas, led by John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger.

This was an important part of the post-war history of theatre. Surprising then that this appears to be only the second major London revival. I saw the first, a 1997 co-production between the Royal Court and Complicite directed by Simon McBurney with the late Richard Briers and Geraldine McEwan. This proved to be the most unlikely transfer to Broadway, garnering five Tony nominations. Twenty four years on….

The ‘old man’ and ‘old woman’ live on an island. They are preparing to welcome an (invisible) audience to hear the old man’s big speech, though it will be given by the speaker. We learn that London is no more, so we are in some sort of dystopian future. They assemble chairs for the visitors and when they arrive welcome them, making introductions between them. It’s all building up to the big moment, the speech.

Omar Elerian’s translation / adaptation / direction takes a lot of liberties, either with the permission of Ionesco’s estate (Beckett’s would never let him get away with it) or maybe the protected period has lapsed. There’s a backstage audio prologue, the speaker turns up regularly for bits of business and interaction and the speech is replaced by an elongated epilogue, which was the only variation I felt pushed it too far. Otherwise, an obtuse period piece was brought alive for a new audience.

It’s hard to imagine better interpreters than husband and wife team Marcello Magni & Kathryn Hunter whose extraordinary physical theatre and mime skills, as well as the chemistry between them, are used to great effect. Toby Sedgwick provides excellent support in the expanded role of the speaker. Even Cecile Tremolieres & Naomi Kuyok-Cohen’s clever design gets to perform.

It was great to see the play again after a quarter century of theatre-going. The production may travel a long way from Ionesco’s intentions, but it seemed to me to provide a fresh interpretation for an audience seventy years later. London’s longest running play is The Mousetrap, 70 years now. Paris’ longest runner is Ionesco’s earlier absurdist play The Bald Primadonna, 65 years. That somehow defines the differing theatre cultures of the two cities.

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Sometimes when the consensus of reviews is negative, it demotivates you from going to / booking for a play. I tend not to be deterred from going to something already booked, though I am disinclined to book something I haven’t yet. Which makes me happy I had booked for this because I thought it was a lot better than the reviews led me to believe. It has its flaws, but I was very glad I went.

The term ‘kitchen sink drama’ was coined for those quintessentially British gritty working class plays like Look Back in Anger (at this very theatre). I will reappropriate it for this, in the sense that Al Smith throws in everything including the kitchen sink. Geo-political issues, climate change green washing & the environment, colonialism & neo-colonialism, corruption, corporate governance and ethics – business, medical, research, political, educational. Even the NHS and Brexit are here. In truth it is somewhat overloaded with issues.

The play revolves around a battle for rare mineral resources between an American tycoon (a thinly veiled Elon Musk character) and a British medical researcher in the salt flats of Bolivia. They both want lithium and this is apparently the world’s biggest source, seemingly controlled by one indigenous man. When the politicians get to hear of the battle, they become the fourth party, their interest moving from protecting their country and their people to getting elected. As the story unfolds, they all prove to be masters of manipulation, even the solitary indigenous man. No-one comes out of this well, which is part of its point.

It’s full of implausibility, exaggeration, inaccuracies and some dubious science, and at just over three hours it is too long, but it’s a vehicle for an interesting debate about ethics in many different situations and it engaged and stimulated me such that I didn’t feel its length. There are some very clever lines and touches, like a female politician’s hairstyle changing to the plaits favoured by indigenous women as she embarks on her campaign for election, and some very funny moments, mostly involving tycoon Henry Finn, many from the mistranslation of English into Spanish and vice versa.

There’s no weak link in the excellent cast of nine, four of whom double up to give us thirteen well drawn characters. Director Hamish Pirie needed to reign in things a bit, but I enjoyed the evening nonetheless. Don’t be a sheep, decide for yourself.

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John Godber’s plays for his then company Hull Truck Theatre were a staple diet of the Edinburgh Fringe for some time from the late 80’s, sometimes two or three a year. For me, it started with Bouncers, the first in a series of four-handlers that were effectively interwoven monologues, continuing with Teechers and Shakers, plus plays that blended comedy with social comment, plays about real people, a slice of humanity on stage. I’ve seen around a dozen of them.

A weekend in Scarborough provide the opportunity to see his new work for The John Godber Company, resident at Theatre Royal Wakefield, and to go to Stephen Joseph Theatre, on my list of regional theatrical powerhouses to be visited – appropriate considering Godber is the UK’s third most performed playwright and the the Stephen Joseph Theatre has premiered all of the plays of the second, Alan Acykbourn (Will remains No.1, of course). This is very much a family affair, with Godber’s wife Jane Thornton and his daughter Martha the other two actors and Elizabeth Godber the stage manager. Godber writes, directs and acts.

It’s set in a Yorkshire seaside town, Sunny Side, where Barney, his wife Tina and daughter Cath run a small hotel. At a quiet time, booking wise, Tina invites her brother Graham and his wife to stay as hotel guests. Graham has long moved on from Sunny Side and the play centres around how some of us leave home and lose sight of, and connection to, where we come from. The contrast between the run down hometown and its upwardly mobile former resident forms the crux of both the comedy and the social message. It’s a multi-layered piece which is both entertaining and thought provoking, and it clearly resonated with the local audience of a real seaside town, and with me, a Welsh miner’s son who left home at eighteen.

The three actors play both those who stayed and those who’ve moved on, as well as other characters like hotel guests. It unfolds in a series of short scenes between the two couples separately, which could have been a bit ‘staccato’ but flowed well, with a soundtrack to die for of well known pop songs of Barney / Graham’s youth. It has great feel-good warmth and I thoroughly enjoyed being reacquainted with this prolific, very talented and populist theatre-maker.

Catch it on tour in Halifax, Oldham, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Hull.

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I promise I won’t say ‘unprecedented’.

100 days without my major diversions – travel, theatre, concerts, exhibitions, opera, dance – is simply unprecedented. OK, I lied. Six cancelled trips, four international, and 63 lost cultural events. So far. I got myself set up with extra streaming services early on, but nothing really replaces live anything. As much as I’ve appreciated the lengths arts organisations have gone to sharing recordings of their work, or creating socially distanced new work, little of it has really engaged me. Lack of concentration appears to be a common complaint and it certainly marred my reading, listening and viewing.

An early positive was exploring the neighbourhood. I’ve lived here for over 21 years, but I’d hardly ventured onto the 220 acre common and even nearer woods 100m from my front door. My daily walks (I only missed one day), latterly twice daily, through the change of seasons from the tail end of winter through spring to early summer were a revelation of nature. When I started the thirty-something trees on the small green I overlook were bare. An entire season revealed itself before my eyes as they came fully into leaf, with blossom coming and going. After the purchase of some new earphones, music accompanied my walks enabling me to mine my vast music collection and reconnect with some classic albums.

Soon, though, the fine weather meant people started invading these spaces in big numbers and it became increasingly difficult to maintain social distance with others two three or more abreast, dogs off leads, pram pushers on kamikaze missions, inconsiderate cyclists on pedestrian only paths……I became a grumpy old man. OK, an even grumpier old man. As is often the case, we see both the best and worst in people in a crisis, so this was balanced by kindness and consideration.

At first impressed by the government’s handling of it all, particularly the economic aspects, despite the slowness of the initial response, it didn’t take long before the lack of clarity, indecision, hypocrisy and incompetence meant I climbed the grumpy old man scale even further. Only the US seemed to be making more of a hash of it.

I shall campaign for Sir Tim Berners-Lee to be elevated to a peerage, as the internet proved to be my saviour, by enabling me to continue my part-time work online, advising clients and running training sessions, and by bringing people into my living room, individually and in groups, on video calls. Some included diversions like quiz’s and other ‘games’. I’ve only spoken to a handful of people face-to-face, socially distanced of course, so this proved crucial. I was expecting the internet or broadband to break, but it didn’t. If only I’d sold my BA shares and bought Zoom shares.

The garage rang asking if I wanted to reschedule the cancelled service, the hairdresser rang to offer me the first appointment on their first day back and the chiropodist reopened to take care of my feet after all that walking. All we need now is the dentist to repair the broken tooth and the green shoots will be complete. There won’t be any live culture for a while yet, but I should get to travel, if only in the UK.

It’s been a tough 100 days, but I stayed sane, didn’t put on weight and strengthened many friendships. I didn’t get very far down the ‘to do’ list, though, and I consumed 23 box sets and too much wine. As I write I’m planning local picnics, visits to friends in other parts of the UK and to hire a cottage or two with others for a change of scenery and some good company. This is what the next 100 days are beginning to look like. Better than the first 100 but a long way from a normal 100.

End of Pandemic Part One.

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I managed to catch an opera during a visit to Brno in the Czech Republic, a rarely performed Dvorak work called The Devil & Kate. They consider it a children’s show there, so it was an early start and was full of (well behaved) kids. I liked the music, but the story was a bit weak and the performers didn’t seem to have their heart in it. Still, £11 for the best seat in the house!

The Royal Academy of Music’s production of Massenet’s Cherubin was terrific, with sky high musical standards – some stunning soloists and a great chorus and orchestra. Any opera house would be proud to have a production this good in their repertoire, yet here it was at a conservatoire!.

Classical Music

The LSO invited American conductor Andre Thomas and his pianist, soprano & baritone to lead a Gospel evening which included a Mass he composed, with traditional spirituals on either side. With 450 singers, 90% of them in community choirs, overflowing into the front third of the Barbican Hall stalls, it was rousing, but it had its gentle moments too, notably a beautiful unaccompanied soprano solo of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. Great to see one of the world’s top orchestras extending itself in this way.

Another lunchtime concert at RAM, this time their Chamber Orchestra conducted by Trevor Pinnock in a lovely combination of Ravel and Mozart. I so love these little gems.

Trying to rescue an afternoon after a cancelled theatre matinee, we decided on a wander along the south bank of the Thames, starting by popping in to Southwark Cathedral where we caught the last half of a delightful concert by Wake Forest University Concert Choir. Our half seemed to be the more interesting selection, five secular works. Lovely.

The LSO were on fine form at the Barbican yet again, with a pairing of Britten’s Violin Concerto, superbly played by Norwegian Vilde Frang, which I was hearing for the first time, and Vaughan Williams uncharacteristically dark 6th Symphony, which I have heard before but it felt like the first time. The curtain-raiser of VW’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis completed a superb programme brilliantly played. Antonio Pappano thanked us for coming to support them, acknowledging the many seats clearly vacant due to Coronavirus fears. This had somehow added an air of foreboding and melancholy. It turned out to be my last dose of culture, excluding art, before lockdown.


We’ve been inundated with juke box musicals, but the dancical, which followed at the beginning of this century with Contact and Moving Out, never really took off. Well, Message in a Bottle, hip hop dance to the music of Sting at the Peacock Theatre certainly did. The twenty-six songs, many re-recorded by him with the help of Hamilton’s Alex Lacamoire, sounded great. The refugee narrative worked well, thanks to playwright Lolita Chakrabarti’s dramaturgy. Kate Prince’s choreography was thrilling, often taking your breath away. Now to see the man again in six months’ time…..hopefully.


I enjoyed Military Wives, even though I blubbed through a lot of it! I was however puzzled and a bit upset by the fact they wiped Gareth Malone and The Choir documentary series out of the story altogether. It felt like changing history to me.

I like and admire films that expose injustice and Dark Water was a fine one, though embarrassingly close to home for someone who once worked in the chemical industry. A lack of law suits against the film suggest its story is true, so shame on you DuPont.


Masculinities: liberation through photography at the Barbican Art Gallery had some interesting photos, but I’m not sure what the point of it was. It was vast and varied, but it was one of those exhibitions you go to because it’s free for members; if you’d paid, you’d be even less satisfied.

At Borough Market, I popped in to see Picturing Britain, an exhibition of photographs about the poor and those working with them. It was a bit small and the space didn’t really do them justice, I’m afraid.

On a visit to Oxford I went to the Ashmolean Museum to see Young Rembrandt, which focused mostly on pictures from his late teens / early twenties, much of it drawings. It was a stunning body of work and a way more satisfying exhibition than the recent Rembrandt’s Light at Dulwich Picture Gallery.

On the day before the lockdown, I decided to do an art binge of exhibitions I didn’t want to miss, starting with Aubrey Beardsley at Tate Britain which was brilliant, and an astonishing body of work by a man who only lived until he was 25. It was easier to get social distance in the gallery than any shop, workplace or school so I continued by travelling on the Tate to Tate boat (at one point the only passenger) to see Andy Warhol at Tate Modern. I’ve seen a lot of his work, including visiting his museum in Pittsburgh, but there were still things new to me. Next stop was the Royal Academy of Arts to be introduced to a new artist once again, Belgian Leon Spilliaert, whose exhibition was particularly diverse and well worth catching. The final stop was a double-dip at the NPG, staring with David Hockney’s Portraits. Again, I’m glad I caught them, but there were only really three or four subjects in addition to a lot of self-portraits which made it a touch monotonous, though his diverse styles were indeed fascinating. Finally, a retro treat in Cecil Beaton’s photographs, most from the golden age of the mid-20th century, mostly black and white. I was exhausted but satisfied. It’ll be a long time before I see a fraction of what I saw on that day.

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Antiques Roadshow


Dr Who (Eccleston/Piper)

Tony Robinson’s WWI

Pie in the Sky

New Tricks



Homes Under the Hammer

Bargain Hunt

Inspector Morse

….and something with David Attenborough. Obviously.

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You have 2 cows. You give one to your neighbour

You have 2 cows. The State takes both and gives you some milk

You have 2 cows. The State takes both and sells you some milk

You have 2 cows. The State takes both and shoots you

You have 2 cows. The State takes both, shoots one, milks the other, and then throws the milk away

You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull. Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows. You sell them and retire on the income

You have two cows. You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows. The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Islands company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company. The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more. You sell one cow to buy a new president of the United States, leaving you with nine cows. No balance sheet provided with the release. The public then buys your bull

You have two giraffes. The government requires you to take harmonica lessons

You have two cows. You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows. Later, you hire a consultant to analyse why the cow has dropped dead

You have two cows. You borrow lots of euros to build barns, milking sheds, hay stores, feed sheds, dairies, cold stores, abattoir, cheese unit and packing sheds. You still only have two cows

You have two cows. You have some vodka. You count your cows and discover you really have five cows! You have more vodka. You count them again and discover you have 42 cows! You stop counting cows and have some more vodka. The Russian Mafia arrives and takes over all your cows. You have more vodka

You have two cows. You go on strike, organise a riot, and block the roads, because you want three cows

You have two cows. You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk. You then create a clever cow cartoon image called a Cowkimona and market it worldwide

You have two cows, but you don’t know where they are. You decide to have lunch

You have 5000 cows. None of them belong to you. You charge the owners for storing them

You have two cows. You have 300 people milking them. You claim that you have full employment and high bovine productivity. You arrest the newsman who reported the real situation

You have two cows. You worship them

You have two cows. Both are mad

Everyone thinks you have lots of cows. You tell them that you have none. No-one believes you, so they bomb the **** out of you and invade your country. You still have no cows, but at least you are now a democracy

You have two cows. Business seems pretty good. You close the office and go for a few beers to celebrate

You have two cows; the one on the right looks kind of cute

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National Theatre Wales’ contribution to the Dylan Thomas centenary wasn’t at all what I was expecting, but it proved to be a lovely afternoon and I was glad I made the trip from London. A wander around Laugharne to see installations, watch VT’s and listen to ‘broadcasts’, bookended by scenes behind the Tin Shed, in a bus garage and outside the Town Hall, with a funeral procession through the main street following a fish & chip hut with neon signage!

There are only two characters, Mike Voyce (Russell Gomer) – a spin on Thomas’ first voice / narrator – and Roy Ebsworth-Williams (Charles Dale), our ‘tour guide’, but we also get all sixteen Lauharne Players, who’ve been putting on Under Milk Wood annually since 1958, including the town mayor, who proves to be a proper raconteur in true Dylan Thomas fashion. The ‘broadcasts’, superbly written by Jon Treganna (who runs Browns Hotel!), emanate from loud speakers at four points during your wander, with ‘handouts’ for you to relish the Dylanesque narrative. The installations created by Marc Rees are all over the town, and in a series of huts (Corrugation Street!) on the edge of the estuary you’re shown footage from the (then) forthcoming BBC Wales (Welsh) star-studded TV production of Under Milk Wood. You peer into Dylan’s writing shed, walk through his home The Boathouse and make a pilgrimage to his grave in St Martin’s Church yard.

We struggled to visit all of the locations in the 90 minutes allowed between the two opening scenes and the finale, but caught up with those we missed later. It had a homespun feel, a real community project, and when we’d completed it all and read the broadcasts it all fell into place, leaving a very satisfying feeling. A sunny afternoon probably helped. I so admire the ambition and imagination of NTW and have loved all four of the shows I’ve managed to catch and now can’t wait for my First World War adventure in a field in Usk next month!


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This year I’ve doubled the Christmas card budget and found a better home for the money, so I hope you won’t mind this simple message.

In previous year’s we’ve bought yaks, cows, pigs & goats and theatre tickets for kids. This year, we’re funding the university education of an African orphan.

Have a great time.


Christmas 2012

Order number: 100003020

More info at www.goodgifts.org

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Do you have feelings of inadequacy? Do you suffer from shyness? Do you sometimes wish you were more assertive?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, ask your doctor or pharmacist  about Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the safe, natural way to feel better and more confident about yourself and your actions. It can help ease you out of your shyness and  let you tell the world that you’re ready and willing to do just about anything.
You will notice the benefits of Cabernet Sauvignon almost immediately and, with a regimen of regular doses, you can overcome any obstacles that prevent you from living the life you want to live.
Shyness and awkwardness will be a thing of the past and you will discover many talents you never knew you had.
Stop hiding and start living.
Cabernet Sauvignon may not be right for everyone. Women who are pregnant or nursing should not use it. However, women who wouldn’t mind nursing or becoming pregnant are encouraged to try it.
Side effects may include: dizziness, nausea, vomiting, incarceration, loss of motor control, loss of clothing, loss of money, loss of virginity, delusions of grandeur, table dancing, headache, dehydration, dry mouth, and a desire to sing Karaoke and play all-night rounds of Strip Poker, Truth Or Dare, and Naked Twister.
* The consumption of Cabernet Sauvignon may make you think you are whispering when you are not.
* The consumption of Cabernet Sauvignon may cause you to tell your friends over and over again that you love them.
* The consumption of Cabernet Sauvignon may cause you to think you can sing.
* The consumption of Cabernet Sauvignon may create the illusion that you are tougher, smarter, faster and better looking than most people.
Please feel free to share this important information with as many as you feel may benefit!
Now just imagine what you could achieve with a good Shiraz.

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