Review: Girl from the North Country

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Image via London Theatre Guide

I’ll be honest: I really really wanted to see Mosquitoes. I queued twice to try to get tickets. But I was denied the two Olivias (sob!). So I went to the Tkts booth intending to maybe see Hamlet but there being only obstructed view, I decided to go with Girl from the North Country. Advertising worked: I had seen that poster everywhere. Besides, the trip had picked up a musical theme somehow so it fit.

What a cast! Shirley Henderson, Ciarán Hinds, Bronagh Gallagher, Ron Cook, Jim Norton, Sheila Atim, Arinzé Kene. Of course, the underlying strength of Dylan’s songs had to count for a lot too: and then there was the script and direction by Conor McPherson.

For me, it just didn’t work. There was so much that seemed like it would be right: the Great Depression setting, the diverse cast of singers, the potential for drama inherent in the songs. The performances were a knockout: the songs were wonderful to hear in a completely different way. Thoughtful interpretations of old favourites — though I could have done without the bros next to me singing along with Jokerman. Hearing Dylan’s songs in a new way that was more bluesy than the usual Broadway show tunes style made them a new experience. The cast, especially Atim, brought the tunes to life. All of them were wonderful in the songs and the arrangements were innovative and interesting without feeling like they were going for deliberate novelty. The band was tight!

The script on the other hand — ugh! When you start out the play with a character introducing and setting up the scene, then saying ‘but I don’t come along until later’ — well, you’ve started out on the wrong foot. Theatre should throw you into a world, make it live. I’m hoping this is a work in progress because it definitely feels like one. The ideas are there but I didn’t believe even one of the characters. They felt like plot points. It’s to the credit of the stellar cast that they poured themselves into these characters. I felt for the actors but I never much felt for the characters.

Everything about it felt anachronistic. There’s so much here with potential: the economic hardship, the precarious difficulty of being a carer — Henderson’s character seemed to be as ‘crazy’ as the plot required at the moment though she wrung a good bit of sympathy out of this difficult woman, while the characterisation of the apparently autistic boy felt too much like a plot idea that never came to life — and the racial tensions which are brought up and then kind of sidestepped. I realise in a musical people might want to avoid getting too dark but seriously, it’s the Great Depression. You’re going to have to embrace the dark.

But I seem to be in a minority here, so see it for yourself and tell me what you think.

Huis Clos: 17 July 2017

My first night in London after the conference I went to a much anticipated show where I finally got to meet Richard Sanderson of Linear Obsessional Recordings and hear him play. It was great! We had fun chatting before and after the performance (Mr B’s ears must have been ringing burning 😉 heh). The performance was utterly absorbing and the space, Iklectik, was really terrific and completely unexpected–goats in central London! Also, there were unexpected Blake mosaics. I was chatting with a friend of Richard’s after and it struck me why I find this kind of music so appealing at present: it requires all your attention without words. Anything that quiets my overbusy brain is good. More pix on FB of course.

Huis Clos: an evening exploring the subtleties of larger group improvisation (first as a whole, then as two ensembles)

Ed Lucas: trombone
Antonio Acunzo: piano
Joe Wright: saxophone
Jordan Muscatello: double bass
Richard Sanderson: Melodeon
Dan Powell: electronics
James O’Sullivan: electric guitar
Chris Prosser: violin

 

 

Ken Russell: Perspectives, Reception & Legacy

I was fortunate to attend this ground-breaking conference and experience all its delights. Here are a few pictures (the rest on Facebook). Host Matt Melia is looking into publishing the proceedings, so I’ll certainly let you know when that happens. There was a really high ratio of excellence, as might be expected with many people waiting years to have a opportunity like this: really a terrific bunch of folks. I finally got to meet the lovely Lisi face to face and we were all graced with Murray Melvin‘s stellar presence. Yes, I got to hold Ken’s Peruvian madonna.

Mom

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Marjorie Virginia Laity, née Weber 1937-2017

Rather unexpectedly my mom died Saturday night. We’re all reeling a bit, especially my dad. She had hip surgery earlier this summer but had recovered so quickly that she was walking down the block without assistance already. In keeping with her desires there will be no funeral; if you would like to honour her memory, you can send a donation to the Friends of the Thomas Branigan Library, PO Box 213, Las Cruces, NM 88004. If you’d like to be part of a general donation we’re gathering in her name [click here for the PayPal link].

Robert wrote up a very nice obituary that will be appearing soon in The Lansing State Journal, The Johnson City Record Courier and The Las Cruces Sun-News.

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If you knew my mom, you knew how energetic she was, never still for long. In recent years she really loved feeding the roadrunners from the back yard of their home in Las Cruces. They got a new Lab puppy at Christmas and Maggie is already a robust 70 lbs.

Mom was a superb seamstress: she always said that computers were beyond her, but somehow she had no trouble programming the computer-run sewing machine that seemed to do everything but knit (it scared me!). She loved ice skating so much, even when she fell backstage at the ice show on Mother’s Day and broke her ankle in four places. Of course she had her first knee surgery after a spill hill climbing on motorcycles back when we were kids. She was mostly fearless.

Here’s something that never failed to make her laugh. It became a long-running joke on family trips along with the guy who looked at the beauties of Monument Valley and muttered, “I see no significance in that.”

In high school she started working as a telephone operator, a job she loved. She always told the story of helping the woman who wanted to talk to Elvis (she was a big fan herself) and they got as far as Colonel Tom Parker. My dad and us kids would always make her call for pizza because “You have such a nice telephone voice” (which she did). We always had music on in the house. My mom loved to dance too, especially a lively Polish polka.

Thanks for everything, mom. Feel free to share your memories.

 

World Listening Day 2018

Pauline Oliveros Listening all the timeYou hear all the time: how much do you listen? What do you listen to? What do you hear when you don’t think you’re listening?

Celebrate the memory of Pauline Oliveros with World Listening Day.

Take a walk. Walk so silently that the bottoms of your feet become ears.

Share what you’re listening to.

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Southbound

kingston kenI am bound for London — well, actually Kingston-on-Thames first for the conference. Never been to this campus before but it looks lovely. I’ll be near Hampton Court so I might finally go there. The Royal Horticulture Society had a big show there: the gardens are bound to be lovely.

Of course the conference ought to be a blast. I really get to enjoy it because I am the first speaker after the welcome! Heh, that makes a difference from going in the last panel of the last day. Far more relaxing. All the papers look interesting — after all, it’s Ken Russell!

I’ll be flying down which is a change. Rail tickets have gone up so much it was actually cheaper (not to mention quicker). Going by way of Surbiton which always puts me in mind of Monty Python.

I will have adventures to share, of course: at least a couple of concerts in London afterward, too. I will doubtless share my opinions here. In the meantime I’m just glad to have my paper finished well before time!

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Representing the skulk always!

MAMO in Photos

MAMO, Madchester, magpies and more. Photo album on the ‘Book, but here’s a few to give you a snapshot of the journey. Now to finish the next paper before I am London-bound. The next MAMO is scheduled for Rome in 2018, so start planning…