Friday, 23 May 2008

The Birthday Party

On Wednesday (and kindly sponsored by my mother) John and I went to see Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party at the Lyric Hammersmith. Some of you may remember that this was the site of the play’s first London performance and subsequent damnation by the press - it closed after 8 performances - despite Harold Hobson’s belated review, which described Pinter as possessing “the most original, disturbing and arresting talent in theatrical London”.

Sitting in our (superb) seats waiting for the curtain to rise, I noticed two things: firstly the inordinate amount of over sixties who had turned up (this was, after all, a matinee) and secondly, that the stage, visible behind the dropped curtain, had been carpeted with pebbles. This excited me; an obvious clue that the set design could be a little peculiar, a little subversive – like the vast majority of Pinter’s works, after all.

I wasn’t disappointed. The curtain finally rose to reveal what was ostensibly an average suburban bed and breakfast-y front room complete with a back kitchen and some of those little doors that you can post food through. On closer inspection, however, the scrubby walls, which were a bizarre shade of what can only be called ‘salmony taupe’, were peeling at the edges; unadorned except for a ubiquitous set of flying ducks (lonely looking), a dirty mirror, sooty fireplace and fading, saggy armchair.

For me, this ties in with Meg’s nonsensical, inane pride: in the cornflakes (“are they nice?”); the solitary piece of fried bread (“it’s a surprise,”) and the house itself (“we’re on the list!”). Meg appears to live, childlike, in a bubble-fantasy in which she has a strange, mother-crush relationship with Stanley. She clings to facts that she considers certainties, like Stanley’s piano playing, but fails to grasp others, as we see in her garbled retelling of Stanley’s concert. I thought Sheila Hancock did a brilliant job of Meg, really acing the scenes with Petey and showing the character’s vulnerabilities as Goldberg’s ‘persuasive’ nature charms her into submission.

Alan Williams as Petey, however, was a bit of a disappointment. I always considered Meg and Petey’s relationship to be slightly more complex than that of a weary-husband-harping-wife scenario – for example, one wonders the reasons behind Petey’s staying with Meg in the first place, and putting up with her obvious infatuation with Stanley – and at the end of the play, when Petey decides not to tell Meg about Stanley’s leaving, it is suggested that this is due to a sense of protectiveness or duty. Likewise, Meg’s comment about Petey always complaining that Stan spends too much time in bed implies that his character plays a relatively important observational role in the mock family; an implication that was opposed by Williams’ monotonous, shouting delivery. In fact, I thought Williams was acting more like a robot on Xanax than anything. This really got to me, because it lead to Williams’ rendering of the all-important line “Stan, don’t let them tell you what to do!” almost completely pointless.

Justin Salinger did a great job of Stanley, portraying him not as a bedraggled artist type (as some productions do) but instead really emphasising the bitterness of the character’s poisonous personality and simultaneously managing to convey the inherent desperation that comes with it. It is this weakness in Stanley’s personality that's later exploited by the sinister Goldberg and McCann (Nicholas Woodeson and Lloyd Hutchinson respectively).

I have to say at this point that Lloyd Hutchinson really stole the show. His timing and delivery were so spot on, bringing much-needed comedic relief to the role and to the play itself. Despite coming across at first as merely the beef to Goldberg’s brains, McCann turns out to be the foil against which Woodeson’s Goldberg is able to appear wicked. And yet Hutchinson’s comedic lines themselves provide an excellent foil for his dark side: as Goldberg remarks, though McCann might dither about before doing something, when it comes to the crunch he acts the part. The menacing side of McCann’s personality seemed exacerbated by the literal dark created by switching off the lights – symbolically, an action he’s ordered to do by Goldberg – and there was a thrilled collective gasp from the audience when he savagely snapped Stan’s glasses in half. And yet in contrast, in the last scene of the play, he balefully tells Goldberg with visible discomfort that Stanley, in his now near-catatonic state, is trying to fit the lenses back onto his face.

In comparison, Woodeson’s Goldberg seemed more of a doddery dodgy dealer than dastardly prosecutor. His weird mockey-Ameri-Jew accent grated the wrong way, and his attempts at comedy came off as pantomimic. Goldberg’s repeated, but dubious, recollections of childhood family time were almost stripped of their significance when spoken by Woodeson.

However much I’ve moaned about Goldberg and Petey, though, I think the actors who played McCann, Meg and Stanley really excelled in this production, and this, teamed with a great set and seamless stage direction makes it a must-see. I’m definitely glad I went. And to Pinter, father of the pregnant pause, cheers for persisting with it, eh.

Image from Flickr

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Telephone conversation with a robot

"What is the issue number of your credit or debit card?"
"Please state the issue number of your credit or debit card now."
"I'm sorry, I didn't catch that. Please state the issue number of your credit or debit card now."
"I'm sorry, there appears to be a problem. Please state the issue number of your credit or debit card now."
"If you are having problems, you can choose Option One to speak to one of our advisers, Option Two to end the call, or Option Three to resume. Please say one, two or three."
"What is the issue number of your credit or debit card?"
"You said 'four'. To confirm, please say 'yes' or 'no'."
"I'm sorry, I didn't catch that. Please say 'yes' or 'no'."


Image from Flickr

Lucky Charms

I think I would seriously consider going to America just for the Lucky Charms. General Mills, I bow to thee, creator of such oaty kibble deliciousness and powdered sugar indulgence. Actually, to be honest, I'm not such a big fan of the oaty kibble - I eat that part first and save the charms 'til last - but I suppose that other people who don't possess such a die-hard sugar addiction need it for palatability reasons.

When I was younger I used to have quite a long running daydream where I had access to vast amounts of money, with which I could do as I pleased (like most people I think). Since 'forward planning' in my young and nubile mind stretched probably as far as Saturday (30p sweetie money and the Beano), it probably isn't surprising that my biggest dream was to either a) fill up an Olympic sized swimming pool with the confectionary of my choice, or b) go for the multi-choice option of filling various wooden barrels with said confectionary.

I should point out that back then, I wasn't really interested in the consumption of the sweets, or whatever it was, but more in the physical feeling of a) swimming in something other than water or b) plunging my whole arm into a barrel full of something. Mainly my swimming fantasies revolved around jelly beans, because I thought they would be relatively streamlined, and I think at one point I was intrigued by the idea of jumping into Hula Hoops because they had gaps in which might or might not enable me to breathe 'underwater' as it were.

Jelly was another swimming pool possibility. Bit sticky though. Anyway, what this brings me back to is that if I could get hold of barrels of things in the near future (let's face it, if I get rich and want to indulge myself, the barrels are a lot more accessible) there would definitely be a barrel of Charms on the list. Obviously I'd pay someone to pick all the oaty kibble out.

Image from Flickr

Ode Part Two


I get angry at John because

He has a shower and then

Folds up the towel and leaves it where it doesn't get dry but stays


Also he makes the step