Wednesday 11 February 2015


You learn something new everyday whatever your age I believe.  And I'm delighted that's the case.  There are some things you should know when you're young, but some how they manage to go undetected.  I've learnt two things recently that I should have known years and years ago.  Whilst watching the absolutely superb Sound of Song programme presented by Neil Brand I discovered that Al Jolson was white.  I suppose I should have known, but his is not my sort of music, and he's just only ever been peripherally on my radar...and in the back of my head is a picture of a what I now know is a white man blacked up.  Oh dear.  Equally I thought Harper Lee was a male, not a female until all the news came out this week that she is to publish a text that she put aside to concentrate on To Kill a Mockingbird.  In this case, it was not just straight ignorance but the muddle of memory.  I realise that I'd managed to muddle To Kill a Mockingbird with Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger...and hence confuse the sex of the author.  Is that ignorance, forgetfulness, age or a combination of both.  Either way, I'll not be going on Mastermind!

One of the things we've been to see this year was Treasure Island...have I mentioned this?  We saw it at the National, and I snoozed through most of it because it was pants.  What annoyed me most was that Jim Hawkins was a girl.  No reason for the sex change, and the foolishness of that decision was probably reflected in one line by Cap'n Jack Sparrow (not really it was Captain Flint) who asked whether she was a boy or a girl, and the retort being "Does it matter?"  Well yes, it does matter.  If the original text had said Jane Hawkins, then she would have a girl.  In fact Jim's a boy..always has been, always will be.  I feel the same about some other nonsense that's doing the rounds on the internet at the moment...the idea of making Spiderman black.  Why?  What's the point?  he's always been white (not that his colour ever seemed to matter in any of his adventures), so let's just leave some things as they are.  Change is not necessarily better, often it's worse and change for the sake of change is pointless.

Down in Brighton the other week we went to see Return to the Forbidden Planet...a sort of modern musical version of the Tempest set in space.  Complete and utter nonsense, but equally just absolute fun if you're in pantomime mode...which I was.  It's on tour so I suggest you grab it whilst you can.  As someone in our group said, it's like a school production...that's as maybe, but it doesn't stop it being fun.

Not quite so good was Into The Woods currently showing at the local Roxy.  It's a nice concept written by Stephen Sondheim, but the performances were erratic - James Cordon may well have been way out of his depth surprisingly enough, but it's nicely put together and a good way to spend a couple of hours.  But don't for one minute thinks it's a kids thing...yes it is based on fairy tales, but the whole thing is quite grown up.  And don't go and see it somewhere that you are surrounded by people chomping and chewing, rustling crisps and slurping drinks, checking their Facebook food, or just generally chatting.  Because that would ruin it.

Quite the worst thing I've seen at the cinema for a long while is Oscar nominated American Sniper. It is a typical American 'we won the war', goodies versus baddies (in this case described as savages) and the creation of a hero.  Tragically it missed a great opportunity to examine the morals and ethics of sniping killing, and any reflection of the broader elements of war in the middle east.  I can't believe it's been nominated, and can only imagine that if it wins anything it's because Americans can't resist turning themselves into saviours of the world.

By comparison, The Theory of Everything was a revelation.  I was dragged to the cinema kicking and screaming because I couldn't face the thought of a cinematic glamourisation of the Professor's life.  What I hadn't appreciated was that it was based on a book by his ex-wife.  And a remarkable film it is.  Treading a very delicate line very carefully...neither too glossy, nor too mawkish.  Of course, some of his failing (as a father in particular)  are glossed over, but overall it was a very moving film that sought to tell his story in a reasonable and balanced way.  Rightly BAFTAs have been picked up, and I hope there may be an Oscar too.

We also went to see Imitation Game, which was good, in that lovely British sort of way...of course it's a story of triumph, but ultimately despair.  It was well set, well shot and well acted.

At this time of year there are so many films to watch, so I know we won't get to see them all, thank heavens for HMV.

We went to see the second showing of Grimms Tales - Philip Pullman's take on the fairy tales we all grew up with.  This time it was being held in the Barge House next to the Thames, with a new set of tales, compared to the event in Shoreditch last year. The setting was fabulous with the whole building completely dressed, so the feeling of immersion was total.  The telling of the tales was similar to last time with actors retelling the story whilst acting it out (rather than it being a straight play). It was beautifully done...some of the tales such as the Frog Prince and Hansel and Gretel were known to us, some were not familiar.  Are fairy tales for kids?  I don't think so, there wasn't a single one at the event, and all the grown ups were entranced.

Tom Stoppard has been asking whether people are knowledgeable enough to see his latest play, The Hard Problem.  Evidently we do not have enough general knowledge to get the references in his plays, in contrast to when he wrote Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  It's become such an issue that the BBC has a helpful quiz on its news site so you can check.  As for the play, well it's fine, it's not as clever or interesting as it should be and a plot twist or two can be seen from a mile away.  Perhaps I'm just not clever enough.  The quiz is here

On the DVD front we've watched the very excellent Nebraska...a film we wanted to see last year, but ran out of time.  Genuinely moving, and amusing at the same time.  It will reinforce every prejudice you have against mid-west America.  We also watched Now You See Me...a sort of magic mystery crime caper.  Great for an evening's entertainment, with Michael Caine excelling in his usual acting technique.  Wooden.  I don't hold it against him.  We have a pile of DVD's yet to be watched, so let's hope we may yet get snowed in this year!

I've finally given up on a novel I've been reading for seven months.  I've never done that before, but really Kate Mosse should know better.  A book that's over 700 pages long needs to have a very strong storyline to hold on to its reader, and this one just doesn't.  I may need to read something with a bit more substance.