Wednesday, November 30, 2011

'The Comedy of Errors' at the National

The new National Theatre production of The Comedy of Errors has just opened in London, featuring Lenny Henry as Antipholus of Syracuse. Since we've only just finished our own production, it's particularly interesting to read the reviews which have started coming in, and indeed we hope to see it via National Live on March 1st. Click on the publications' names below to see the full review.
  • Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail calls it 'sublime' and 'wall to wall joy'.
  • Michael Billington in the Guardian found it 'slightly strenuous fun' until the final Act when it achieved 'a magical simplicity that induces a sense of awe and wonder.'
  • Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph wrote that it was a 'savvy fast-moving modern-dress production - set in a recession-ravaged city of crumbling buildings, lippy prostitutes, mad shrinks, sinister heavies and a wandering street band who sing British pop hits in Romanian.'
  • In the Independent, Paul Taylor wrote that Lenny Henry is 'part of a fine ensemble that work hard to animate an over-cluttered concept and eventually drive the proceedings to a pleasing crescendo of comic mayhem.'
  • Sam Marlowe in The Arts Desk, echoing Michael Billington, felt that 'the final scene, with its unravelling and reunions, has real emotional heft. This is comedy with bite, all the better for the touch of the maniacal that tinges its laughter'.
  • Cordelia Lynn in The Harker called the evening 'a breath of fresh air' adding 'when the lights went down on the first act I didn’t want it to end, and that’s not something that happens every Shakespeare.
  • Rachel Cooke on BBC Radio 4's Front Row went with low expectations, but 'Blow me down ... this is the certainly the best-directed performance of this I've ever seen, it's really funny, teeming with life.' The actors 'made the language live'.
  • Susannah Clapp in the Observer felt that "The invention is tremendous but too reliant on gizmos, business and big mechanisms."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Memory Chalet

The historian Tony Judt died last year of motor neurone disorder, aged 62. Author of the great history of post-1945 Europe, Postwar, the last years of his life saw a dramatic flowering of his writing for the general public, including two books now available in paperback - his impassioned polemic defending the role of the state in modern culture, Ill Fares the Land, and the more personal The Memory Chalet, a collection of autobiographical essays.

More personal, but certainly not completely: for Judt, nothing could be entirely personal. An essay like 'The Green Line Bus', which starts as a nostalgic piece on travelling to school as a boy in London, ends, contemplating the new changed bus system: "Like so much else in Britain today, the Green Line buses merely denote, like a crumbling boundary stone, overgrown and neglected, a past whose purposes and shared experiences are all but lost in Heritage Britain." This shares the ferocious anger of Ill Fares the Land, but it comes from an angle not available to us in any other book by Judt. As he states at the start, he did not intend these pieces for publication, instead "writing them for my own satisfaction". We can be thankful he did, because they give us rare access to a mind working under the terrible conditions of his devastating and terminal disease.

He addresses this disorder directly at several points in the book, most powerfully in the essay 'Night', in which he describes ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), and its combination of lack of pain and no loss of sensation, and drily observes: "in contrast to almost every other serious or deadly disease, one is thus left free to contemplate at leisure and in minimal discomfort the catastrophic progress of one's own deterioration."  What he is left to do at night is "to scroll through my life, my thoughts, my fantasies, my memories, mis-memories, and the like until I have chanced upon events, people, or narratives that I can employ to divert my mind from the body in which it is encased." The scrolling takes us through old Citroen cars, 'bedders' at Cambridge, a cross-Channel ferry, kibbutzes and railway systems (the essay on trains, 'Mimetic Desire', is particularly good - not the only essay about travel by someone who could no longer move at all).

The result is, ironically, a pleasure, and far from depressing. A softer book than Ill Fares the Land (especially in his fondness for Switzerland, which provides the title), it is also deeply moving, with no sense of self-pity and much mordant humour. As Judt's body closed down, his mind seemed to become ever more alert and brilliant, and it is a privilege to be allowed to spend time with it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Attendance app

No 14 in a series of reviews of iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad apps useful for English literature and language learning and teaching.

This one is of course useful for all subjects. A basic common need for teaching is taking a roll in class. Attendance is an impressive and reliable one, which works fully on the iPad as well as iPhone. You can import data via CSV, but it really doesn't take very long to enter your classes manually. Once they are set up, it's very easy to take a roll (defaulting everyone as present), and there's good back-up via Dropbox, as well as plenty other functions which some teachers won't need. Recommended.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Edublog Awards 2011

It's Edublog Awards time again, and here are our nominations:-

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Comedy of Errors starts

Last night the preview, tonight the first performance and tomorrow the second: the Shakespeare Society's production of The Comedy of Errors is ready. Set in the 1970s, it features some wonderfully horrendous fashion, classic disco hits, and a Desperate Housewives-style narrator. It's Shakespeare, but not quite as he knew his own play. Above, an Animoto collage from the dress rehearsal.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Act V of 'Hamlet'

For VI formers currently revising Act V of Hamlet for their exams, it's worth listening to an episode from the great American radio programme 'This American Life'. 'Act V' traces, for six months, the inmates of a high-security prison in Missouri as they rehearse and then perform the play.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Comedy of Errors poster

Above, the publicity poster for next week's Shakespeare Society production of The Comedy of Errors. Artist: Henry Roe. (click for a closer view)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Comedy of Errors

This day next week will see the dress rehearsal of The Comedy of Errors, this year's Senior Play, and the first production by the Shakespeare Society since Twelfth Night in 2006 (pictured, Alex Henk, Max Shirley and Max Sanderson as Sir Toby Belch, Feste and Sir Andrew Aguecheek).

Rehearsals continue deep into the evening in the BSR, accompanied to the strains of music from the 1970s. Twelfth Night was set on the French Riviera in the 1920s, but yes - The Comedy of Errors sees us in the musically and sartorially scary era of the Bee Gees and 'Disco Inferno' (below).

The preview is on Thursday 17th, the first performance on Friday 18th, and the final one on Saturday 19th November, all at 7pm in the BSR. Below, the cast -

Solina, ruler of Ephesus : Kezia Wright
Egeon, merchant of Syracuse : Patrick Tice
Antipholus, a merchant of Syracuse : Zach Stephenson                                 
Antipholus, a merchant of Ephesus : Robin Fitzpatrick
Dromio of Syracuse, a servant : William Maire                                       
Dromio of Ephesus, a servant : Hamish Law                                         
Balthasar, a merchant of Ephesus : Eamonn McKee
Angela, a goldsmith : Jasmine Blenkins O’Callaghan
A merchant, friend to Antipholus of Syracuse: Leonhard Dihlmann                            
Another merchant : Seyive Hotonu
Doctor Pinch, a schoolmaster-conjurer : Richard Matuschka
Emilia, an Abbess : Aoise Keogan-Nooshabadi
Adriana, wife of Antipholus of Ephesus : Opeline Kellett                                
Luciana, her sister : Bella Purcell                                 
Luce, a kitchen maid : Katie Cogan
Courtesan :  Rachel Rogers
Officer : Konstantin Behr
Servant : Lingfan Gao
Voiceovers : Catie McGonagle
Keyboard and Compositions: Lingfan Gao 
Lighting: Georg v Blomberg
Clock: Paul Girdham
Egeon's presentation : Humphrey Jones 
iPad drawings: Aoise Keogan-Nooshabadi and Alexis Hardenberg
Poster : Henry Roe 
Stage Assistants: Alexis v Hardberg, Johanna v d Marwitz, Marie v Brauchitsch
Prompters: Niamh Faulkner, Shannen Keogan
Make-up: Kate Smith, Oyinda Onabanjo, Bronwyn Mallon
Dance: Kate Smith
Costumes: Karen Hennessey, Elaine Healy, Patti Byrne
Directors: Ronan Swift and Julian Girdham

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Harker

A shout-out for a fine new venture by Old Columban Sophie Haslett, editor of a stylish new online arts magazine The Harker (and a former contributor to this blog).

In the words of the site:
The Harker is an online arts magazine that promotes and encourages young arts writers – whether they are aspiring journalists or just people who write well and love the arts. Rather than putting all your work up on an individual blog – or fighting tooth and nail to get one small piece submitted on a larger publication – we want to have as many young writers as possible regularly contributing to The Harker so that we can all publicize and support each other. We publish reviews, features and interviews on film, music, theatre, art, books and tv.We want the pieces to be written as entertainingly as possible – above all we want to encourage great writing.

It's certainly a promising start. Here is Sophie's own review of the TV hit Downton Abbey, "a series littered with specks of true heartache in between mounds of clunky dialogue and farcical stereotypes."

Monday, November 07, 2011

TY Book Recommendation 10

Today IV form started on the final phase of their Extended Essay projects, which are due in tomorrow week. Siobhan Brady has read Kathryn Stockett's The Help (now successfully translated into a film, pictured), and recommends it:-

This book has a different angle on racism in 20th century America because it is written through the eyes of negro maids. Most books written about racism at this time in America would be written through the eyes of the white people. This book really captured me because there are many twists and turns in it and it's not a very predictable story. I would highly recommend this book as it is a great read and I really enjoyed it.