Monday, 22 May 2017

Suddenly I See

I have been to see KT Tunstall, and it was, well, it was OK; which is to say that I was a bit disappointed that I didn't enjoy it more. I hope that makes sense. She has an engaging stage presence, plays a mean guitar and was wearing a pair of shiny trousers that looked as if they had been sprayed on, but somehow it all fell a bit flat. She has abandoned playing with a band, instead using a loop pedal arrangement to accompany herself taking what she does away from folk/blues into folktronica or techno-folk or something similarly made up. Other than one or two highlights - notably 'Black Horse and the Cherry Tree' - it didn't really float my boat.

Less hi-tech and all the better for it were Coope, Boyes and Simpson. A male acapella trio they are definitely within the folk tradition despite writing much of their own material, often political in nature. They have become associated in the lst few years with songs about the Great War and did a selection of such material, including a couple of self-penned numbers about Major Valentine Fleming of the Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars. Fleming was in many ways the epitome of the sort of person they - and your bloggist - dislike on principle (Eton and Oxford, Conservative MP etc), but there is no denying his bravery, which ultimately was to cost him his life. Apparently he and his fellow officers tried hard to ensure that those one hundred years on would have strongly mixed feelings about them despite their heroism, by transporting their horses and hounds to northern France and spending their time when not in the trenches by hunting; there is no record of whether or not they hunted for monkeys. Fleming, whose son was of course the creator of James Bond, was born on the banks of the Tay and another of the songs the threesome sang, written by Michael Marra, was about an imagined trip by Frida Kahlo to Dundee. Other, perhaps more likely, subjects varied from the refugee crisis to the return of fascists to political power (a song which reminded me, and probably only me, musically of 'Yours Is No Disgrace') via a lament for Kurt Cobain. A mention must also be made of a song about the environment, which concluded with the refrain 'one million plastic bottles' sung to the tune of 'ten green bottles', but which thankfully they didn't sing to a conclusion.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Time gets harder to outrun

And so to the theatre. The main question that people have been asking me recently - besides whether I have any more photos of the Young Farmers Ladies Tug-of-War at the Otley Show - is why it's been so long since I last went to see Romeo and Juliet; it must be a couple of months at least. Well, you can all stop worrying, because I have been to see the production that Watermill Theatre are putting on as part of the York International Shakespeare Festival. The show was preceded by a very interesting talk from Dr Helen Smith, Director of the Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies at York University, who my subsequent research tells me is, amongst other things, an expert on the link between reading and digestion. I hope and trust that your perusal of this blog will swiftly result in a productive visit to the place of easement.

The programme promised a show that highlighted the youthfulness of the characters, but let's be honest, they all do. Barring Sir Ken Branagh's decision to have a much older Mercutio they all make a fuss about how young the actors are without actually going the whole hog and casting a thirteen year old to play Juliet; probably because they'd get arrested if they did. For the record the cross gender roles on this occasion were Benvolio, Friar Laurence and the Prince. The first two happen so often that I'd be more surprised now if they weren't played by women.

I have seen the play so many times that it's all becoming a bit blurred between what is the original text, what is necessary because of limitations of cast numbers, and what is directors putting their personal stamp on it; Dr Smith in one sense made things worse for me by drawing attention to the fact that there were differences between the various versions published in and shortly after the author's lifetime. I will therefore restrict myself to commenting on two things that I am pretty sure were new to me. The second and third scenes in Act 3 (the Nurse telling Juliet of Tybalt's death and Romeo lamenting to the Friar his banishment from Verona) were played simultaneously, cutting between the two in the way that one could imagine happening in a film, and I thought it worked rather well. Less happily, Mercutio played the whole of Act 2, Scene 4 in a wetsuit and flippers: it was by no means clear why. One possibility is that it has something to do with the song 'Wetsuit' - which the cast may have sung before the action started; I'm not entirely au fait with the Vaccines' oeuvre so I can't positively swear to that - but it just made me think of Kermit the Frog.  Anyway, it looked as ridiculous as you would imagine, especially while he was engaging in his 'saucy merchant' banter with the Nurse.

Despite that, I enjoyed it. The cast were not only young they were energetic, enthusiastic and musical. There is of course a lot more fighting and killing than wooing and loving in the play - for the benefit of the apprentices in the audience according to Dr Smith - and the cast seemed more comfortable with that aspect, throwing themselves about with vigour. However, the reality is that convincing chemistry between the eponymous leads is rather rare; these two were no worse than many I've seen.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

The 208th Otley Show

The Otley Show has been on and for the first time in some years I managed to arrive home carrying as many cameras as I started out with. It was a day of two halves: lovely weather in the morning and at one o'clock precisely it chucked it down. So, better than usual. Anyway, having still got my camera I shall include more photos than the occasion really deserves.

There were lots of sheep:

A display of synchronised sheep bothering

And cows:

And horses:

 But an outbreak of the plague meant no chickens:

So they sent their children instead:

I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned this before, but they have ladies tug of war, which is OK if you like that sort of thing:

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Roide Sally, Roide

And so to the theatre. I have written recently about sopranos being not quite as young as the parts they were singing. It is only fair that I start my review of Reform Theatre's 'Hopeless Romantics' by observing that if whoever cast Kivan Dene thinks that he can pass for twenty seven then he should have gone to a well known chain of high street opticians. Despite that it's an entertaining and amusing piece. It takes the format of romcom films and manages to both subvert and reinforce it at the same time. Dene's character is a socially awkward loser, a flop with women who is regarded as a failure by his high-achieving family. So it can be no surprise when half way through the first act he is outed as a wargamer. He actually favours Warhammer, but I'm sure that readers will recognise that trying to explain the difference to women is not a terribly successful chat up line either. Does the orc botherer get the girl? Well, it is fantasy after all.

I've also been to see The Commitments, which was another enjoyable evening. The young cast gave an energetic performance and the audience was enthusiastic. I've never read the book, but didn't think the stage show was as good as the film, which I found much more emotionally engaging. The translation to stage necessitated  more focus on the singing and dancing, and whilst the story covered the same narrative arc it jumped forward in uneasily large steps. The music was good, but frankly if you spend time watching local bands in pubs - as of course your bloggist does - you'll see a higher standard performed for a somewhat lower entrance fee. Anyone in the West Yorkshire area for example, should check out The Solicitors, for the same songs played better.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Stand a little less...

I gave the impression yesterday that I might struggle for subjects to write about. But, of course, I am British and so there is always the weather. And as it happens the weather is absolutely glorious.

I took the opportunity to head off into Upper Wharfedale, a place that, as far as I am aware, has no wargaming epicentre, but does have a suspension bridge.

And here, after a long gap, is a new entry in our series of the bridges of the dales; this one is over Linton Beck.

"All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking" - Nietzsche

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Some you win...

It's looking as if there might not be any wargaming for the rest of the month. "What on earth," I hear you ask "will you write about?", which is a question both pertinent and fair; this blog does not willingly stray from its narrow remit of toy soldier related doings. But I am a bloggist, and a bloggist blogs, so I will just have to scratch around to see what else I can find to entertain you with.

Let's start, perhaps controversially, with some wargaming. We had a Crusades game last week, which I have to say probably won't live long in the memory. It did produce an entertaining enough evening's play, despite turning out to be somewhat one-sided. As I've said before the Piquet family of games are chaotic (in the mathematical sense) and ensure widely differing games from the same starting point because of the way the cards and the initiative interact. On this occasion the Franks didn't move very quickly but the Saracens did, and that made all the difference; the Frankish knights didn't manage to charge home, but the horse archers easily got into shooting range. The narrative - as so often - made perfect sense: a small group of crusaders sets off in great heart across the desert, but the going proves slower than they expected, they are overwhelmed by swarms of tribal cavalry who can never quite be brought to hand to hand combat, they are forced to stop moving and make a stand as they are surrounded, and - their morale gone - they accept their inevitable fate.

Unusually, but consistent with the above, the game ended in a clear victory despite the fact that all units were still on the table, none from either side having been destroyed or routed off.