Posts Tagged ‘Twelfth Night’

2017 foursomes

December 31, 2017

In which I celebrate another year of having successfully cheated death by looking back at my cultural highlights of the past twelve months.

Top 4 theatre
My two best shows of the year, towering above the rest, were Angels in America and Follies, both at the National Theatre, sublime and superlative achievements, thrillingly staged and acted. I’d like to list the entire casts of both, really, but the performances that have stayed most in my memory are those of Andrew Garfield, Denise Gough, Aidan McArdle and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett from Angels, and Tracie Bennett, Di Botcher, and the central quartet from Follies, perhaps especially Imelda Staunton, desperately vulnerable as Sally. I saw excellent productions of Julius Caesar and Titus Andronicus at Stratford, but my Shakespeare highlight of the year was Twelfth Night, again at the National, with Tamsin Greig imperious as Malvolia, Tim McMullan swaggering all over the place as Belch, Daniel Rigby as good a communicator of Aguecheek’s damagedness as I’ve seen (the man bun clearly a cry for help), and Tamara Lawrance a touching Viola. (Also, anything with Oliver Chris in it ticks my box.) And She Loves Me at the Menier Chocolate Factory, which I saw in January as a post-Christmas treat, a twinkly production of the most chocolate-boxy of musicals. I’d gone expressly to see Mark Umbers as Georg, but in the event his understudy Peter Dukes proved excellent. The decision to use British accents worked a treat, with ‘A Trip to the Library’ in Katherine Kingsley’s broad Cockney the high point.

Top 4 student theatre
It’s been a very good year at the ADC in Cambridge, starting with my first García Lorca, The House of Bernarda Alba, done by an extraordinarily strong cast of future stars (the performances of Xanthe Burdett, Daisy Jones and Emma Corrin among the standouts) in Jo Clifford’s translation. Alecky Blythe’s London Road received probably the finest student production I’ve seen of anything ever, an exacting musical done brilliant justice by a cast and band who clearly knew it inside out (Footlight Orlando Gibbs, playing one of the press photographers, even managed some improvised business when the lens fell off his camera). Its composer Adam Cork saw the production, and I can only imagine he was thrilled. Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce is a bit dated now, but still very amusing, and was fortunate to have some of the funniest people in Cambridge in its cast, most notably Colin Rothwell, having a ball as the perpetually whinging Nick, and John Tothill, who must surely be recognised before too long as one of the great character comedians of his generation. And recently, Gypsy, a show I begin to see the point of. Ashleigh Weir (Rose) is one to watch, but everyone in Cambridge knows that by now.

Top 4 Edinburgh
Although I didn’t have the energy to blog about it here at the time, I had a good few days at the Fringe this August, the highlights being as follows: Colin Hoult as Anna Mann (‘Oh, fuck off!’) in How We Stop the Fascists, fabulously warm and witty, the funniest part for me being the point at which Mann asked the audience what we thought a fascist looked like, then slyly produced a mirror for us to look at and pass around, concluding with ‘Anyway, you get the point – fascists look like mirrors!’ (Maybe you had to be there.) Joseph Morpurgo’s Hammerhead, the discussion following his nine-hour one-man performance of Frankenstein, was a tour de force. Then there was Ivo Graham’s fun and exciting Educated Guess, a stand-up show with a difference, the difference being a quiz in which Graham’s encyclopaedic knowledge of MPs and their constituencies was put to the test. The night I saw it he fell down tragically on Jeremy Wright (Con, Kenilworth and Southam), but the video at the end helped to soothe the pain. And lastly but mostly, Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette, the worthiest winner of the Edinburgh Comedy Award, though as she says it’s not really comedy, it’s very dark and very important. She made me feel worthless, and somehow in a good way.

Top 4 live music
I’m surprised at how few concerts I’ve attended in 2017. Theatre seems to be usurping music in that respect. But it was special to see Joshua Bell and Dénes Várjon in Edinburgh playing, among other things, the Brahms G major violin sonata, which almost moved me to tears, an effect music almost never has on me. Brahms has not shifted from his place at the top of my personal pantheon, and seeing the Endellion Quartet and Barry Douglas play the G minor piano quartet in October was exciting, especially that furious Hungarian finale. I saw Mitsuko Uchida twice, playing two different Schubert programmes, the better of which was the one at Peterhouse in Cambridge, where the ‘Con moto’ movement of the D.850 sonata was particularly divine. And it was great to see Max Raabe and Christoph Israel at the Wigmore Hall, where Raabe sang a lot of unfamiliar songs by the likes of Walter Jurmann. Especially lovely was Jurmann’s ‘Tomorrow is Another Day’, complete with whistling duet.

Top 4 albums
Of this year’s releases, up with which I have very much not kept, Nelson Freire’s Brahms recital has been on repeat – I hadn’t known the third piano sonata, but it’s beautiful; the shorter pieces are exquisite, and exquisitely performed. My great discovery early in the year was the fourth symphony of Franz Schmidt, in the recording by the London Philharmonic and Franz Welser-Möst, a masterpiece whose organicism excites and entrances. I’m pacing myself, but want to get to know the other three (and got the Bychkov recording of the second for Christmas). The NT production sent me back to the 2011 Broadway recording of Follies, admirably exhaustive and addictive. And lastly, loads more Prefab Sprout. Why has it taken until my thirties for me to become properly obsessed with this band I have known from my teens? Maybe they’re too good for the young. I’ve listened to their 1985 album Steve McQueen constantly, as literate and elusive and romantic a collection of songs as anyone could wish to hear.

Top 4 old films
Don’t judge me, but I’d never seen Ninotchka before. Actually I’m not sure I’d ever seen a Greta Garbo film before. But I love Ernst Lubitsch, and it has his usual gemütlich charm and cosiness in spades, while at the same time, like his To Be or Not to Be, commenting smartly on the politics of its time. Garbo is fabulous, especially in her stone-faced incarnation, and Melvyn Douglas is a pleasing foil, but Felix Bressart steals every scene as usual. Is there any film actor pre-1950 I love more? Sidney Lumet’s bleak masterpiece Fail-Safe, a sort of Dr. Strangelove without jokes, left me deeply discomfited, a chilling film to watch at a time when the threat of nuclear war seems greater than ever before during my life. And two Japanese films: Juzo Itami’s ‘ramen western’ Tampopo, playful, erotic and hilarious from start to finish; and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Our Little Sister, a straightforward drama of human relationships made with such delicacy and acuity that it’s exhilarating to watch. Kore-eda has an amazing hit rate in recent years, and this film is up there with I Wish and Still Walking. It’s been a very good year. Films that narrowly failed to make the cut: Ikiru, Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Nobody Knows (more Kore-eda), Girlhood, Love is Strange, Holy Motors, In the House.

Top 4 new films
It’s been a great year at the cinema too. Most of all, Luca Guadagnino’s sumptuous Call Me by Your Name, one of those films I felt might have been made just for me. Given the novel is a favourite book of mine, the film had a lot to live up to, but it succeeded in almost every particular, a sensual, slowly intoxicating adaptation, sensitively scored, gorgeously performed, delicately devastating. Earlier in the year, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight had a similar effect on me, brutal and tender, poetic and pulsating. (I know, I’m overdosing on adjectives again.) Toni Erdmann was an unexpected delight, a film about an eccentric man’s dysfunctional relationship with his daughter. Sandra Hüller is tremendous as the daughter Ines, but my favourite moments were those where I suddenly became aware of Peter Simonischek’s Toni in the background, half Clouseau hunchback, half Les Patterson, simply being funny. It has its melancholic side too, but there’s a lot to be said for fun and funniness. And of course, Paddington 2, supremely entertaining. Not only are Paddington and the Browns lovable (hardly a given, considering how few film families one would wish to spend time with), the supporting cast is stunning. Tom Conti and his various physical indignities, randy Simon Farnaby, forgetful Sanjeev Bhaskar, and Hugh Grant giving the performance of his career (and even starring in a ‘Prisoners-of-Love’-style rendition of a number from Follies that was the cherry on the cake). Irresistible. Honourable mentions for The Big Sick, The Florida Project, and My Life as a Courgette.

Top 4 books
In a pretty good reading year there are a handful of books that stand out above the rest, among them Andrew Hankinson’s gripping You Could Do Something Amazing With Your Life [You Are Raoul Moat], Maggie Nelson’s audacious The Argonauts, Peter De Vries’s heartbreaking The Blood of the Lamb, and Muriel Spark’s wicked Symposium. But if I had to pick four, I’d choose three of my Grand Tour reads – Erich Kästner’s The Flying Classroom, the perfect book to read this Christmas (though you may have left it a little late); Margarita Karapanou’s darkly beautiful Kassandra and the Wolf; and of course Tony Parker’s housing estate compendium The People of Providence – and for a fourth, probably Ragtime, E.L. Doctorow’s mesmeric tapestry of early 20th-century America. I also loved his The Book of Daniel.

More of this stuff in a year, if we all make it.


2012 threesomes

January 5, 2013

Before we settle too cosily into 2013 I am going to recycle the format I stole from Becca’s Blog last year and look back at my cultural year.

Top 3 books
My greatest joy has been in reading P.G. Wodehouse, with three Jeeves and Wooster books late in the year reminding me what an unutterably funny writer he is. Sadly I only have about 90 of his books left to read. But if I’m going to choose individual titles, I shall go for Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, the wit and imagination of which was an unexpected delight, Winifred Watson’s Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, a sparkling and cheeky variation on the Cinderella story, and Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens. Completed in 1848, it’s not Dickens’ greatest novel, but it shows the stirrings of a greater ambition that would be realised in the masterpieces he wrote in the following twenty years, and in the likes of Captain Cuttle, Solomon Gills, Walter Gay, Toots and Florence Dombey it contains some of his sweetest and most lovable characters.

Top 3 CDs (classical)
Late in 2011 I heard this Radio 4 documentary which contained some beautiful guitar arrangements of French piano music. I contacted the producer, who kindly informed me that the CD used was Rêverie by the Groningen Guitar Duo. I have enjoyed getting acquainted with it this year. An article in Gramophone alerted me to a 1999 disc of French Airs de Cour performed by Catherine King, Charles Daniels and Jacob Heringman, which is superb and contains much unfamiliar and charming repertoire. I haven’t bought a great many CDs released this year, but the disc of choral music by Howells sung by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge under Stephen Layton is one that stands out. The programme is inspired, beginning with the Hymn for St Cecilia and ending with ‘All my hope on God is founded’. The recent discs of Howells from Hereford and St John’s, Cambridge have missed a trick in not including any of Howells’ hymn tunes. I could have done with one or two more on the Trinity CD.

Airs de Cour

Top 3 CDs (other)
I have been recommending Todd Rundgren’s 1972 double album Something/Anything? to all and sundry this year, and have given it to people as presents. It’s enormously sugary and 90% of it is seventh chords, but I love it. I have also been spending a lot of time with Para One’s soundtrack to Céline Sciamma’s film Naissance des Pieuvres. I saw the film two or three years ago. It’s a coming-of-age drama centred around a swimming pool, a fine piece of work, but I think the music stands on its own. It’s sumptuously atmospheric, and very watery. And I was lucky to find a cheap copy of this William Sheller anthology. It’s been lovely discovering songs of his I didn’t know before.

Top 3 films
I’ve already written about my favourite new films of last year, but what of those I came across on the TV? I watched quite a lot of them. Omitting those I’d seen before (though I would like to give an honourable mention to Basil Dearden’s Victim, which came across as a bold minor masterpiece that I hadn’t acknowledged before), I have narrowed the list down to three, two of which are very recent films anyway. Firstly The Arbor, Clio Barnard’s audacious drama-documentary about the life of Andrea Dunbar, which marries documentary footage with new interviews lip-synched by actors. At times it takes the breath away. Then Hirokazu Koreeda’s Still Walking (Aruitemo Aruitemo), a gentle, illuminating drama about a family convening to mark the anniversary of a son’s death. It has been compared by some to the films of Ozu, which is not unwarranted praise. And thirdly, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s remarkable religious melodrama Ordet, which packs an astonishing emotional punch at its climax.


Top 3 live music
I love instrumental and chamber music, but my favourite concerts in 2012 were on a larger scale. I don’t always like the Royal Albert Hall as a venue, but I find it’s better if a) there are a lot of performers to fill the space; and b) you’re not too far away from them. I was lucky to be in the side stalls for two excellent Proms – Les Troyens in July, and Bernstein’s Mass in August. Both were thrilling. Smaller but no less exhilarating was English Touring Opera’s production of Britten’s Albert Herring at West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge. I hadn’t realised how fun and how funny it is; I’d certainly never laughed at an opera before. I hope to see plenty more Britten on stage in his centenary year.

Top 3 theatre
I’m including musicals again. One of my choices last year was the Chichester production of Sweeney Todd, then about to transfer to London. I went to see it three more times after the transfer, and I’m choosing it again. I suppose this is about as close as I get to being a fanboy. I marvel at Sondheim’s genius, and vow to get to know more of his work this year. Company is on at the ADC in a month, so that can be the first step. Then, the revival of Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork’s London Road at the National Theatre, a haunting and upsetting musical based on verbatim transcripts of interviews with the residents of London Road in Ipswich, in the aftermath of the 2006 prostitute murders. It sounds unpleasantly sensationalist; in fact it’s just sensational, and grows in stature with the passage of time. And lastly, the all-male Shakespeare’s Globe production of Twelfth Night, which I went to twice, firstly at the Globe and then at the Apollo Theatre. The play’s a masterpiece, of course, but this production is a dream. The grace and sweep and composure of Mark Rylance’s performance as Olivia defy description. He is the finest actor I have ever had the privilege to watch, and I am going to see his Richard III soon. You still have time to catch them before they close next month.

London Road

On the subject of theatre, I feel bound also to credit Gatz, the unabridged theatrical adaptation of The Great Gatsby staged by Elevator Repair Service at the Noel Coward Theatre, Helen Edmundson and Neil Hannon’s captivating musical of Swallows and Amazons that I caught at Cambridge’s Arts Theatre, and a number of comedy gigs (Sheeps, Jonny Sweet, Tom Basden, Tim Key, the excellent Staple/face). There is one more event I would like to mention that doesn’t quite fit into any of the categories above: Alex Preston’s discussion with Richard Holloway at the Cambridge Union as part of Cambridge Wordfest in April. It felt a great privilege to see Holloway in person, a wry, humane, sympathetic and wise man. I’m sure I will read his acclaimed memoir, Leaving Alexandria, this year. Let’s all of us have a good one!