Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard: Adapted by Gary Owen

Pembrokeshire, 1982. Things are going to change.

Written shortly before the Russian Revolution, The Cherry Orchard is one of the greatest of all plays. Chekhov’s comedy captures a world on the brink of social upheaval. It is a witty, compassionate study of humanity’s flaws and our refusal to face what is right in front of us. Experience this masterpiece radically reimagined by one of the most powerful partnerships working in theatre today – Gary Owen and Rachel O’Riordan. This new version places the action in another time on the cusp of huge social change – early 80s Britain at the outset of Margaret Thatcher’s regime.

‘Chekhov is one of the great playwrights. His ability to articulate human interaction, with all its flaws and misunderstandings, makes him a natural writer for Gary Owen to adapt.’ Rachel O’Riordan

 

DSC_0028 leaflet

I saw a performance of this adaption, at Sherman Theatre in Cardiff, on 25 November 2017 and will discuss a number of the changes made from the original and my rough analysis of how these changes affect the narrative.

Staging:

There is a white floor, a floral patterned sofa at the front, to the right a short ornate bookcase, to the rear a Welsh dresser, a pine table and chairs in the centre and to the left a doormat indicating the entrance to the house. There is also a rear exit which due to the otherwise minimalist staging is a ceiling high white catwalk like exit with the background otherwise being black so you focus on the staged events.

the cherry orchard stage layout.png

 

Here is a basic idea of the staging:

Grey: Outside parts of the stage

Brown: Welsh Dresser, bookcase, pine table and chairs.

Sofa and the toy train which hides under it

Access to the stage off stage left and to the rear.

Staff:

By Anton Chekhov

A re-imagining by Gary Owen

Director: Rachel O’Riordan

Designer: Kenny Miller

Lighting Designer: Kevin Treacy

Composer and Sound Designer: Simon Slater

Assistant Director: Paul Jenkins (a JMK Trust position supported by The Carne Trust)

Casting Director: Kay Magson CDG

DSC_0258 leaflet clockwise rainey, anya, ceri, dottie, lewis, valerie and george aaaa
Clockwise: Rainey, Anya, Ceri, Dottie, Lewis, Valerie and George

Cast:

George: Simon Armstrong

Rainey: Denise Black

Lewis: Matthew Bulgo

Anya: Morfydd Clark

Valerie: Hedydd Dylan

Ceri: Richard Mylan

Dottie: Alexandria Riley

The following breakdown of events and character might be a little rough but hopefully makes sense as otherwise I would have to write an essay on it all. The adaption combines certain characters to reduce the number of characters involved in proceedings and makes sense when you consider this is a family which has lost a lot of money and likely would have let most if not all essential staff go except Dottie who has grown up with them and therefore is somewhat like family in a sense.

Dramatis Personae:

Rainey: Matriarch of the family. She has been living in London until her return at the start of the play. Has a husband who died in a car crash due to being drunk and a dead son who she didn’t save as she fell asleep drunk on the beach.

[In the original: Madame Lyubov Andreievna Ranevskaya]

Gabriel: Brother to Rainey, uncle to Valerie and Anya. A well off ‘gentleman of leisure’ who seems to just exist on the estate doing nothing much with his time.

[In the original: Leonid Andreieveitch Gayev]

Lewis: Former worker from a line of family who’ve served Rainey’s family on the farm for generations but is now a man of means in a financially better position than them.

[In the original: He is an amalgamation of characters. Yermolai Alexeievitch Lopakhin primarily but he also incorporates the business venture ideas of Boris Borisovich Simeonov-Pishchik in a more proactive manner. He is the one with money and offering business suggestions regarding the property and in the end buys it to make the land into a hotel resort. Rainey believes he is doing all this as vengeance for when they knocked down his grandfather’s cottage to plant the orchard but he denies it when confronted.]

Valerie: Elder (adopted) daughter of Rainey, running the farm and engaged to Lewis.

[In the original: Varya]

Anya: Young student and the younger daughter of Rainey who has just returned to the estate.

[In the original: Anya unsurprisingly. She implies that while at university she has had a female lover, to Ceri’s surprise and views him only as a summer fling at the end of the play though they go off together so it could be implied either she is being bluntly honest or that she is yet again teasing him though it leans more to the former. Ceri was her tutor not the dead son’s.]

Dottie: Housekeeper and maid. Her mother worked for the family before her and died of cancer.

[In the original: Dunyasha but no doubt with lines from the other servants included to the point it needs to be lampshaded she speaks with an inappropriate familiarity which in the original the older servants and their positions in the household might have allowed them. Lewis and Ceri mention she makes more than good money at the estate and faults it on nights out so that aspect of Dunyasha is retained but never shown on stage.]

Ceri: A politically minded, punk music loving, local 30 something who is a former tutor to Anya. His left-wing views are presented as empty counter-culture gesturing when challenged by Anya [in the original: Peter Trofimov with elements of Yasha.]

Rainey’s deceased son: He is spoken about at certain points in the play but only represented by a small wooden train moving unaided from beneath the sofa. He does appear on stage at the very end calling out ‘mummy’ a few times and it seemed pointless to be honest. He drowned when Rainey fell asleep drunk at the beach one day years ago and she often recalls how he was ‘drowning not waving’. In the original he is Grisha.

Charlotta Ivanovna, Yepikhodov, Firs, ‘A Stranger/Vagrant’, The Stationmaster, The Postmaster along with any other servants, guests and such are all absent or their lines integrated into the dialogue of the surviving reduced cast of characters.

4800

Differences I recall off the top of my head ( I studied the original years ago so might have a few inaccuracies when comparing them):

  • All acts and scenes take place inside the livingroom/dining area barring events at the doorway and when Ceri and Anya dance to some music sat in the orchard which Rainey interrupts drunkenly later on.

  • Instead of a cherry orchard it’s an apple orchard.

  • It is set in Pembrokeshire, South Wales beginning in later March 1982, as the 1st of April (All Fool’s Day) is mentioned in one of the later acts leading everyone to believe George is joking about getting a job though he’s always been ‘a gentleman of leisure’.

  • The play opens on Lewis lying asleep across the sofa with his muddy boots dirtying the floor, Dottie as a joke puts lipstick on his lips and part of the opening, after Valerie helps him take his boots off, is spent with people commenting on it as he worries Dottie kissed him and secretly has affection towards him.

  • Dottie seems far more cynical and bitter than the servants of the original. ‘Welsh humour’ they’ll claim but I could see another production using this script making her far less likeable as it’s such a fine line to tread.

  • Rainey doesn’t have a young lover but has remained living in a hotel in London since her son’s drowning (though I don’t think it’s stated explicitly).

  • Valerie is still adopted and in this version it is never really discussed fully save that Valerie was happy with the family she had been initially put with and resented being taken away by Rainey initially.

  • Rainey and Anya, who has been studying in London, return at the same time independent of each other.

  • Valerie and Lewis are engaged to be married and worry about telling Rainey about it (thus the assumptions of the original are made explicit). Therefore at no point does she say that if she had money she would move as far away from him as possible in the original as far as I recall but it’s said here for drama.

  • Instead of holiday cottages it is their household which will become a hotel with Valerie as the hotel manager, Lewis the owner and Dottie retained (though she refuses as she wants to do something else with her life).

  • Ceri was Anya’s tutor not the unnamed (Grisha) son’s tutor. He doesn’t insist on seeing Rainey and in fact it’s by coincidence of timing they meet when he was visiting. In fact their reunion is a someone pleasant one with her flirting with him and no mention of her son’s death.

  • Anya and Valerie don’t have a conversation about their mother’s debts as it is already apparent even before her arrival. What does perhaps change is Rainey says she had money but only realised after staying in a hotel how much the cost was over time.

  • Much of Act II’s beginning is excised as the servant character’s have been reduced to Dottie who seems quite satisfied with her working class manner.

  • Ceri’s decloration of his political beliefs is usually only to Anya and even then trivialized by her.

  • At no point does George allude to billiards.

  • There is no passing vagrant for Rainey to give all her money to so Valerie’s frustrations are regarding her excessive drinking and the bills she ran up in London with no concept of how hard it has been to keep the estate running in her absence. Rainey giving Dottie her wedding ring may replace this but is placed far later in the play.

  • Generally Lewis, though initially a figure of mockery, is presented as the only antagonistic figure in the play as he combines the aspects of contrasting characters.

  • Anya doesn’t vow to leave her old life behind and in fact seems determined to retain it. But she does inform Ceri she had a girlfriend at university and it’s left vague if they remain a couple at the end.

  • The most distinct difference is there is no party but rather Rainey getting more and more drunk before the contract signing deadline prior to the auction instead. Everyone takes this as her either having her fun while she still can torment them or that she is doing it so, should she sign, it won’t be legally binding.

  • As Rainey has no lover in Paris/London that aspect never comes up so she has no need to leave though she wishes to as there is nothing left for her here. Instead she tells of how her husband died in a car crash while drunk and she was drunk on the beach and didn’t save her son who drowned.

  • Ceri doesn’t fall down any stairs but he does discuss music with Anya as they dance around a record player outside in the orchard and she informs him she isn’t in love with him and what they have at the moment is just a summer fling which hurts him before she puts on a song to mock his feelings and try to break him out of his sorrow from being rejected.

  • Lewis and Valerie (or is it Ceri and Anya?) go out to chop down a tree.

  • Most of the second part involves trying to get Rainey (barefoot, scantily clad in a silk nighty and robe usually carrying a wine glass looking to replenish it, to sign the contract before, in frustration Lewis rips it up as it’s worthless if she is drunk and able to deny responsibility. However a second copy is acquired and she signs it so the auction occurs and Lewis comes and lauds it over everyone declaring his intentions to make the estate a hotel and everyone work there if they wish to with Valerie as the hotel manager. She doesn’t like the idea and instead intends to set up a flavoured yoghurt company for herself which surprises him.

  • Apart from George who had already declared happily he had got himself a job in stocks trading thus isn’t reticent like Gayev in the original. Everyone thought it was an April Fool’s joke but in fact he was telling the truth. He offers Dottie a job as his housekeeper it seems but in fact it’s more. He wants her to be his lover but she is repulsed and refuses having decided to do something other than housework.

  • Rainey, sad that Dottie is like a daughter to her having been with the family so long, gives her the wedding ring she had worn on a chain around her neck since her husband’s death. Dottie recounts how her mother, dying of cancer, went to work and took her along hence how Dottie began working for the family herself. Dottie refuses the ring but Rainey insists. Later George returns it to Rainey having been given it by Dottie who has now left the family’s service.

  • Thus Rainey and Anya are returning to London. Ceri is back where he was. Lewis has a hotel to build while his future wife, Valerie, establishes a yoghurt company. Dottie has gone off to another job. George is now on a stocks trader. Ceri… presumably is exactly where he was to begin with as his political views mean nothing and Anya considered him no more than a play thing.

  • In the adaption the play ends with the ghost of Rainey’s son [Grisha] having been left behind with the end of the family home to enter the consumerist lifestyles of the 1980s. This occurs instead of the old servant Firs being left behind and apparently dying on stage as a symbol of the end of the Imperial age.

DSC_0026 leaflet

Analysis/Review:

The changes can at times seem subtle and appropriate updates but some seem needless. ‘Oh Anya had a lesbian relationship – how thoroughly modern!’ In fact that is the most notable one, in terms of its intrinsic message, really and seems a subtle dig at the perception of Russia’s official view of teaching homosexuality to children which ha been blown out of proportion. We actually had a similar law in the 80s so her relationship at that time would have been highly controversial (but not illegal as it was in preceding decades) especially due to the Aids epidemic at the time which makes her mention of it so casually highly unrealistic for the setting even for a libertine. Aids was called ‘the gay plague’ and homosexuality really was demonised in the conservative media at the time so the scriptwriter’s inclusion of it is either in order to be politically correct for a modern audience’s sensibilities or he has somehow forgotten that era of history he himself lived through here.

There are 1980s songs played at the end of scenes and when they cut in it’s incredibly loud! Imagine if a speaker is suddenly switched on right next to your head half way into a chorus. It was hard for anyone to not suddenly jump each time.

The costumes are of course variants of the 1980s style but have allusions to period collars or patterns people would associate with the Russia of Chekov’s era. It’s most obvious towards the end of the play when the floral embroidered patterns appear prominently on people’s clothing but felt a nice inclusion in order to distance the production yet still pay it’s dues to the original’s setting.

They changed the ending so instead of the old servant Firs lying down lamenting everyone has left him behind we get the ghost of Rainey’s dead son running on stage calling out to her at the end. The presence of everyone’s memory of him in the household is alluded to by a toy train rolling out from beneath the sofa and so they might as well have repeated that image rather than have a boy, unseen and unheard throughout the rest of the play, run out on stage. It seemed arbitrary and no doubt cost the production unnecessarily. If this production was revised I think the toy train moving again is more than enough. Who was the boy actor? He is mentioned nowhere and almost feels like a little cameo for someone to cast their own child in a nepotistic move. Then again you have that tradition of not naming the actors of ghost characters in other productions like The Lady In Black so it’s not a massive issue really but just feels extraneous.

Lewis and Valerie are explicitly connected almost immediately from the start rather than, in the original Chekov play, everyone assuming they will get together but it’s never confirmed. If they’re not then it may suggest that they too have moved on from each other into a new future as everyone else has. The adaption subverts Chekov’s version in that sense as their equivalent in the original were perhaps the most representative of the new age so now instead they’re the most traditional figures in the play. Albeit with Valerie’s desire to start her own business aside from the hotel it’s not a happy union even before their marriage. Intentional or not that seems the case as everyone else, barring maybe Ceri, subverts the traditional expectations or even those of people familiar with the original where Anya and Trofimov are still in a relationship by the end (if I recall correctly).

Instead of a cherry orchard it’s an apple orchard. Cherry trees are often seen as symbols of sadness or regret at the passing away of a certain situation or of the times in general especially in Japan where they’re often associated with the passing from youth to a more mature world or the loss of innocence. In a general sense you could say the apple carries the same imagery as it’s often depicted as the fruit of wisdom in the garden of Eden which Eve ate thus leading to a loss of innocence and fall from grace. However apples throughout Welsh mythology carry a different association. For example ‘the isle of apples’ better known as Avalon where King Arthur slumbers until Britain needs him again in its darkest hour. Therefore suddenly it’s not a loss but an anticipation for a return that is implied by the setting – except it is the end of an era so taking that symbolism it’s an extra layer of bitterness added on top of all the other alterations already made to create darker tones within the play.

Arguably the retention of the original title and yet change of the orchard’s produce makes no difference symbolically, if you somehow accept it’s set in Wales but ignore Welsh symbolism, but it is something that can be seen under analysis which adds to the further ‘grim dark’ alterations already made. Thus a predominantly comedic play turns into a more austere drama with moments of levity provided by dry humourous comments. The play comes across more emotionally detached than the original despite it being a modernised adaption.

It’s not the first adaption of a Chekov play to relocate events to Wales. Anthony Hopkins adapted ‘Autumn’ from ‘Uncle Vanya’. I did see Hopkins’ adaption at the New Theatre when it was performed but of course that was decades ago so and I don’t remember the film adaption that was also made. The Cherry Orchard I feel takes more risks with the themes but I can’t say it does much positive with them. For example with the exchange regarding Thatcher Ceri has far fewer lines than Lewis who seems to spend at least two acts recounting how his views are the correct perception with little challenge. The worst challenge he receives is Valerie wanting to establish her yoghurt company instead of working in the hotel and that only further drives the ‘capitalism is great’ narrative.

If anything Ceri’s challenges are portrayed as nonsense though of course in the original they were eventually deemed as a forerunner to Bolshevik/revolutionary views and censored during the later Tsarist years. Now in this version it’s almost as if the playwright is confirming the bias of the middle class, well off, student audience who have drifted towards conservative views in recent years while the left-wing is made more and more a caricature of screeching reactionaries in the mass media as often typified as SJWs or latterday Communists waving the communist flags without understanding real world poticial history associated with it. Of course that isn’t portrayed in the play. Instead we get Anya toying with his affections, him being the butt of many jokes as he follows her like a love sick puppy out of scenes and spouting off political rhetoric of little substance beyond his surface level, leather jacket wearing, aesthetic.

The play endorses the 1980s perception of the film Wall Street’s ‘greed is good’ mantra espoused by its villain protagonist Gordon Gecko, which people misinterpreted as a literal validation of capitalism and not a satirical condemnation of such views. Everyone wants something. Objects are the focus of many scenes, especially the ornate bookcase made by a craftsman and the lament it’s going to be replaced by flat pack furniture from now on, on top of conversations about finances and societal positions but where the working class characters seem far more cruel and judgemental than the elites. It almost makes them the victims if not for how things seem to turn out by the end.

The play is more concerned with aesthetics than earnest beliefs. The facade of love, the facade of respectability, the facade of intelligence and integrity. No one in this adaptation truly believes in anything which seems a warped interpretation of the original’s message swapping accepting societal change in the original for the adaption’s ineffectual use of facades where things have appeared to change but they don’t really. The character’s circumstances have changed but they themselves are still the same as they were at the start of the play.

If this was made in the 1980s that would be fine as that was the mass consumerist mindset of the era but having been made now, over quarter of a century later, we see no real reflection on the era and how it has now lead to any number of social issues as a result of what happened then. Anya’s flippant joking of her sexuality certainly would have been a much more serious matter at the time and not something you could just express in a passing line of dialogue to portray her as a free spirit. However it could also serve to show how disconnected from the reality of the rest of society that she treats the matter so lightly when it was a source of much social debate at the time in the media.

Where in the original it was a comedy with dramatic elements about societal change this production in the end is more a screed to how little things change. The well off, like George, will remain well off even if they don’t get everything they want, while those who are servants will always remain so. Lewis may be a hotel owner in future but he will still be serving the guests of the hotel and never truly a master in his own right as even Valerie will be doing her own thing starting a business of her own which will no doubt lead her to spend little time with him. The family home is gone but the family no longer exists anyway and everyone is better off going their own way. If that is the intended message it’s an incredibly cruel and bitter one…

No matter how much money and status Lewis had he will always be socially lower tier than the now poorer, yet still of the socially elite, family. Even if they don’t have the estate they still have their class which will ensure doors are open to them and hypergamy is always an option.

There are various modernisations but the core narrative and themes lose nothing in the translation at a surface level but it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. I can see purists and those who reflect on the adaption taking issue though it’s an adaption experimenting with the original and is not just in name only thankfully.

If I’m honest the ‘better spoken’ members of the cast, especially Anya, sounded like they had stepped off the set of the first three Harry Potter films as the received pronunciation English used was so sharp and therefore artificial sounding. To me that exact accent is as profoundly unrealistic as the artificially acquired trans/mid-Atlantic accent American actors had in 1930-50s Hollywood films. Meanwhile of course the Welsh accents too are played up leaving only Rainey and George sounding natural. I don’t know if that was intentional or not really. Of course as a comedy, or more so drama due to the alterations here, the caricaturisation is somewhat embellished anyway.

The sudden turns to drama, usually revolving around Rainey’s recalling the deaths of her husband and son but also Valerie’s resentment at being torn from an adopted family she loved to be Rainey’s daughter and Dottie talking about how she hates being in service and being introduced to it when her mother was dying as if being trained as her replacement all feel a little too forced if melodramatically dissonant. In a play that seems so focused on themes of societal change, moving on and accepting this adaption dwells on past suffering to a maudlin extent.

As it’s set in 1980s Wales of course Margaret Thatcher is mentioned. For Ceri she is an evil figure but for Lewis she is a saint as he repeatedly mentions the ‘Right to Buy’ law she passed allowing people to buy their council house homes at a discount of its actual value. Right to Buy is coming to an end as it’s led to people doing exactly what Lewis suggested by buying house after house and letting them out for insane profit.

He is challenged on this and how it will tarnish the family estate’s reputation though he tells them it won’t be their’s anymore. They compare it to making it like a council estate which of course Dottie takes an exception to suggesting she, from a council estate herself, is lesser than them though they’re the ones in debt selling their land off.

So our perspective as an audience is at once challenged without there being a clear right and wrong. It will return the orchard land to residential property land as it was in the time of Lewis’ grandfather but it is the end of an era and lifestyle for Rainey’s family. To Rainey it’s the loss of her father’s work to establish the orchard. To Anya the orchard, for her lifetime at least, has always been an orchard. For Valerie it’s the end of the estate she kept running and will ultimately give up on once Lewis turns it into a hotel.

Therefore the themes of change seem to be changed in fact to one of loss only the more reinforced by our final moments with it being the dead son’s return to try to find a mother who has left him behind. The tone therefore is in fact far darker ultimately than the original play. That shouldn’t come as a surprise as it’s a re-imagining by Gary Owen and anyone familiar with his previous work will be aware of his previous works’ tones.

I liked it when I saw it and it was an excellent production. However the script does seem needlessly dour the more you reflect on the changes. I know initially Chekov apparently wanted to write serious plays but people were finding humour in them and then sometimes people would view comedies as tragedies or vice versa… I think this adaption definitely wants to be on the more dark side of things but the natural humour of the original still found a way to seep into it. It’s good. I would see it again. I just find the scriptwriter Gary Owen tries a bit too hard at times to discuss the darker side of humanity in his works to the point it could easily become a farce in some people’s hands.

Should Gary Owen’s adaption of the play ever get another run in future it is essential viewing for both those familiar and unfamiliar with the original. Highly recommended!

Advertisements

4Move Active Magnesium + Vitamins drink

A Pasteurized, carbonated, blueberry flavoured drink with addition of magnesium and vitamins (vitamin C, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12) from Poland with recommendations by former football players Adam Nawałka and Jerzy Dudek.

Price: £0.50 from Tesco for a 250ml can.

Along the top of the can it has the national flags of Russia, Turkey, Germany, Switzerland, France, Poland, Hungary, Sweden, Spain (the simpler civil ensign for civil use version), Italy, Czech Republic, Portugal, Switzerland (again), Germany (again), Austria, Romania and the Slovak Republic. I assume this is were this product has been sold previously… it’s a good way to sell to nationalists I guess…

Packaging information (copied exactly as it is on the packaging)

The Original Premium Vitamin Drink

Pasteurized carbonated blueberry flavoured drink with addition of magnesium and vitamins (vitamin C, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12)

Magnesium + vitamins : Vitamin C, niacin, Vit. B6, B12

Magnesium contributes to normal muscle function, contributes to normal psychological function.

100% of daily requirement for vitamins: C, niacin, B6, B12 in 250ml of the product.

Swiss Vitamin formula – developed by the Swiss laboratory

Sport Champions recommend: Jerzy Dudek

The best trainers recommend: Adam Nawałka

Ingredients: water, sugar, acidity regulator: citric acid; carbon dioxide, magnesium citrate, concentrate from carrot, guarana extract (0,01%) (containing caffeine), aroma, vitamins: vitamin C, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12.

Best before: for the date and batch number see the bottom.

Keep in a dry and cool place. Do not free.

The package contains one suggested portion of the product. Remember to preserve balanced diet and healthy life style. Manufactured in the EU.

[The can also has this information in Polish.]

Nutritional value in 100ml // 250ml (portion)

Energy: 207kJ / 49 kcal // 518kJ / 123 kcal (6%)

Fat 0g // 0g (0%)

of which saturates 0g // 0g (0%)

Carbohydrate 12g // 30g (12%)

of which sugars 12g // 30g (33%)

Protein 0g // 0g (0%)

Salt 0g //0g (0%)

[( ) = Reference intake of an average adult 8400kJ / 2000kcal]

Vitamin C 32mg (40%) // 80mg (100%)

Niacin 6,4mg (40%) // 16mg (100%)

Vitamin B6 0,56mg (40%) // 1,4mg (100%)

Vitamin B12 1,0mg (40%) // 2,5mg (100%)

Magnesium 75mg (20%) // 187,5mg (50%)

[( ) = Nutrient reference values]

Recycling: The can is aluminium and can be recycled.

DSC_0152

Review

Pink in colour… If you drank it straight from the can you probably wouldn’t realise. It taste like an energy drink… because that’s what it is. I forget the exact brand it tastes like but Monster wouldn’t be too far off the mark. Not unpleasant. It tastes ‘pink’… that flavour of ‘pink’ sweets and artificially flavoured drinks have. A laboratory created half way between raspberry and strawberry. It taste ike candy floss. Apparently, according to the can, it’s blueberry. Yes okay let’s go with that… but quite an artifical taste of blueberry no doubt composed of scents A453, R692 and E7330 in specific quantities in the laboratory to emulate the flavour of blueberrys…

Texture wise you only notice the carbonisation immediately after swallowing it.

So… yeah… if you want to try it then go for it… you already know if you’ll be disappointed on not when you buy it. Or better yet just get a soft drink, with the same amount of sugar, or a coffee and improve your diet so you get all the nutrients from better sources.

The claims they make are ridiculous… ‘contributes to normal muscle function, contributes to normal psychological function’… those are such ridiculous, yet vague, claim they might as well rename it Panacea and say it is a cure for all known ailments. A modern day snake oil. It’s a caffinated, sugar filled, drink which in past generations would have been sold as a study aid and is now instead rebranded as a sports or energy drink. It’s sugar… as much sugar as a normal soft drink but with added vitamins.

The recommendations are from Adam Nawałka who is currently the manager of the Polish football team (who is his player career had played for Liverpool and Real Madrid) and Jerzy Dudek a former Polish football team goalkeeper.

The English is grammatically a little incorrect in some parts of the translation but I suppose no one cares as it’s not as if anyone actually reads the information but they still need to cover themselves legally.

DSC_0154

Хованщина (Khovanshchina) by Mussorgsky

a.k.a. The Khovansky Affair

Performance seen at Wales Millennium Centre (WMC) on 30/09/2017.

Performed by the Welsh National Opera (WNO) company.

An opera, subtitled a ‘national music drama’, in five acts by Modest Mussorgsky. The work was written between 1872 and 1880 in St.Petersburg, Russia. The composer wrote the libretto based on historical sources however the opera was unfinished and unperformed when the composer died in 1881.

Khovanshchina deals with an episode in Russian history concerning the rebellion of Prince Ivan Khovansky, the Old Believers, and the Muscovite Streltsy (Russian guardsmen from the 16th to the early 18th centuries, armed with firearms) against the regent Sofia Alekseyevna and the two young Czars Peter the Great (Peter I) and Ivan V, who were attempting to institute Westernising reforms in Russia. Khovansky had helped to foment the Moscow Uprising of 1682, which resulted in Sofia becoming regent on behalf of her younger brother Ivan and half-brother Peter, who were crowned joint Czars. In the fall of 1682 Prince Ivan Khovansky turned against Sofia. Supported by the Old Believers and the Streltsy, Khovansky, who supposedly wanted to install himself as the new regent, demanded the reversal of Patriarch Nikon’s reforms. Sofia and her court were forced to flee Moscow. Eventually, Sofia managed to suppress the so-called Khovanshchina (Khovansky affair) with the help of the diplomat Fyodor Shaklovity, who succeeded Khovansky as leader of the Muscovite Streltsy. Finally with the rebellion crushed, the Old Believers committed mass suicide (in the opera, at least).

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov completed, revised, and scored Khovanshchina in 1881–1882. Because of his extensive cuts and recomposition, Dmitri Shostakovich revised the opera in 1959 based on Mussorgsky’s vocal score, and it is the Shostakovich version that is usually performed.

Although the background of the opera comprises the Moscow Uprising of 1682 and the Khovansky affair a few months later, its main themes are the struggle between progressive and reactionary political factions during the minority of Czar Peter the Great and the passing of old Muscovy before Peter’s westernising reforms. It received its first performance in the Rimsky-Korsakov edition in 1886.

khovanshchina-wnochorus0655-creditclivebarda.jpg

Shostakovich Orchestration:

Strings: violins I, violins II, violas, cellos, double basses

Woodwinds: 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd doubling English horn), 3 clarinets (3rd doubling bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (3rd doubling contrabassoon)

Brass: 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba

Percussion: timpani, bass drum, snare drum, triangle, tambourine, cymbals, tam-tam, bells, glockenspiel

Other: piano, harp, celesta

On/Offstage: unspecified numbers of horns, trumpets, trombones

Principal arias and numbers

Scene 1 — Red Square

Introduction: “Dawn on the Moscow River”, Вступление: «Рассвет на Москве-реке» (Orchestra)
Chorus: “Make a wide path for the White Swan”, «Белому лебедю путь просторен» (Streltsï, People)
Chorus: “Glory to the White Swan”, «Слава лебедю» (People)

Scene 2 — Golitsïn’s Study

Aria: Marfa’s Divination “Mysterious powers”, Гадания Марфы «Силы потайные» (Marfa, Golitsïn)

Scene 3 — Streltsï Quarter

Song: “A maiden wandered”, «Исходила младёшенька» (Marfa)
Aria: “The Streltsy nest sleeps”, «Спит стрелецкое гнездо» (Shaklovitïy)

Scene 4 — Khovansky’s Palace

Ballet: “Dance of the Persian Slaves”, «Пляски персидок» (Orchestra)
Chorus: “A young swan swims”, «Плывет, плывет лебедушка» (Maidens, Shaklovitïy, Ivan Khovansky)

Scene 5 — Red Square

Introduction “The Departure of Golitsïn”, Вступление «Поезд Голицына» (Orchestra, Chorus)
Chorus: “Show them no mercy”, «Не дай пощады» (Streltsï Wives, Streltsï, Andrey Khovansky, Marfa)
March: “March of the Preobrazhensky Regiment”, «Марш преображенцев» (Orchestra)

Scene 6 — Hermitage

Aria: “Here, in this holy place”, «Здесь, на этом месте» (Dosifey)
khovanshchina-0040_the_chorus_of_welsh_national_opera_-_credit_clive_barda.png
Historical basis of the plot

The death of the young Czar Fyodor III has left Russia with a crisis of succession. Supported by Prince Ivan Khovansky, Fyodor’s sickly brother Ivan, who is 16, and his half-brother Peter, who is only 10, have been installed as joint rulers, with their older sister Sofia acting as regent. Sofia has allied herself with Prince Vasily Golitsin, a powerful courtier and liberal politician, who is also her alleged lover. Peter, if you haven’t guessed, is the future Peter I a.k.a. Peter the Great who established the westernised city of St Petersburg as the new capital of Russia, instead of Moscow, and led a cultural revolution that replaced some of the traditionalist and medieval social and political systems with ones that were modern, scientific, westernised, and based on The Enlightenment. Peter’s reforms made a lasting impact on Russia and many institutions of Russian government trace their origins to his reign. So what is being explored in this opera are the last days of ‘old’ Russia and what might arguably be called the prelude to it’s golden era.

Due to regulations applicable at the time of the composition of the opera in Imperial Russia, it was forbidden to portray members of the Romanov dynasty on stage, so Mussorgsky had recourse to a series of symbols and indirect mention of main characters in the plot. Sofia, Ivan and Peter never actually appear on stage.

The principal theme of Khovanshchina is stated outright in the choral number “Akh, ty Rodnaya, Matushka Rus'” in Act I (“Woe to thee native, Mother Russia”), which laments that Russia is bleeding and dying not because of a foreign enemy, but because of fragmentation within.

Something like a three-way civil war is in progress, which basically compresses twelve years of Russian history into one telling. The Czarist court is modernizing, and two powerful forces are resisting these changes: the Streltsy and the Old Believers.

The Streltsy are decommissioned elite soldiers/guards (“Streltsy” literally means “shooters”, just like “musketeers”), past their prime and on indefinite furlough. They are fanatically loyal to Prince Ivan Khovansky.

The Old Believers are Russian Orthodox Christians who have left the state-sponsored church because they disagree with the Patriarch Nikon’s reforms; they also challenge the line of succession to the throne and have refused to recognize the Russian Patriarch. Their leader is Dosifey.

Fortunately for Czar Peter, these two factions despise each other, as the Streltsy are rowdy degenerates and the Old Believers are pious ascetics.

Each of the three principal basses in the opera believes himself to represent the “true” Russia against her internal enemies: Prince Ivan Khovansky claims legitimacy by noble birth and military prowess, Dosifey by religion, and Shaklovity by supporting Czar Peter.

Costume

As seems a trend with WNO productions, such as The Magic Flute, they colour code the different factions.

Red: Khovanshsky and his private army the Streltsy. Khovansky himself, to stand out, wears a great coat with a large red fur collar to distinguish him from others and denote his status.

White: Old Believers members

Grey: Citizens of Moscow, Emma, the Persian dancer (i.e. the victim’s of the other factions actions)

Gold: Liberal aristocracy i.e. Golitsin

Green military uniform with brown great coat: Shaklovity and the Czar’s soldiers

Black: denotes a servant role it seems thus are worn by people with influence existing somewhere between the common person and moral factions if not with divided loyalties.

What I find awkward about this colour coding choice in the production is that even a passing knowledge of Russian history tells you these colours carry significant relevance.

The red of the revolutionary force seems at first glance an obvious choice: Khovansky opposes the monarchy and the Bolshevik’s too did in the twentieth century. So far so good. Shaklovity in military colours again makes him distinct from others as someone morally ambiguous. Golitsin in gold as a liberal aristocrat is fitting.

Grey is used for the chorus in the first few acts, Emma (a maiden from the German quarter) and the Persian slaves of Prince Ivan Khovanky who are victims of the events around them and suffer for it. A neutral body neither white nor black morally they’re swept along in events with no ability to choose their destiny nor protect themselves from the consequence of the actions of the others. Of course the chorus changes throughout the performance to which ever scene requires them to represent Streltsy, Schismatics (Old Believers), Persian slaves or otherwise.

Black is used for functionaries and those who fall somewhere between the morality of the factions. Varsonofyev, Golitsin’s retainer, wears this colour but with gold piping to show his servitude, Marfa who torn between her love for Andrei Khovansky and as a schismatic (acting at times as a diviner to Golitsin) and the scrivener who seems swept up in events around him.

The issue then is the white used for Dosifey and the Old Believers. White is the colour of those who support the monarchy or at least are of nobility, for example the term white emigrefor those who left or were exiled during the revolution and the white army, and yet in this production it is used for the old believers who oppose the actions of their monarchs.

But what other choice is there? Well the robes of Russian Orthodox priests are black so they could have easily just used that colour (despite the Old Believers breaking away from the state endorsed church) and had the ‘servant’ roles be another colour. Certainly if anything Shaklovity, as a loyal follower of the monarchy, should have. out of everyone, be dressed in white if the production is determined to have the setting updated to the early twentieth century quasi-civil war setting. Perhaps it seems I am nitpicking. Certainly Marfa being one of the schismatics (old believers) isn’t clear until much later in the performance as the colour coding leads uninformed audience members astray.

khovanshchina-wnochorus1037-creditclivebarda

Cast:

Prince Ivan Khovansky: Robert Hayward

Prince Andrey Khovansky: Adrian Dwyer

Prince Vasily Golitsyn: Mark Le Brocq

Shaklovity: Simon Bailey

Dosifei: Miklos Sebestyen

Marfa: Sara Fulgoni

Susanna: Monika Sawa

Scribe: Adrian Thompson

Emma: Claire Wild

Varsonofev: Alastair Moore

Kuz’ka: Simon Crosby Buttle

Streshnev: Gareth Dafydd Morris

1st Strelets: Julian Boyce

2nd Strelets: Laurence Cole

Servant: Dimo Georgiev

Persian Slave: Elena Thomas

Production staff:

Conductor: Tomas Hanus

Director: David Pountney

Designer: Johan Engels

Costume Designer: Marie-Jeanne Lecca

Lighting Designer: Fabrice Kebour

Choreographer: Beate Vollack

Assistant Conductor: James Southall

Assistant Director: Benjamin Davis

Production manager: Robert Pagett

Musical Preparation: Segey Rybin

Staff Directors: Deborah Cohen, Polly Graham

Lighting Realised on Tour: Ian Jones

Language Coach: John Asquith

Stage Manager: Katie Heath-Jones

Deputy Stage Manager: Suzie Erith

Stage Design

Overall the permanent stage decoration is of a decimated city reflective of Stalingrad or the general western depiction of Soviet Russia where everything somehow looks like a post industrial wasteland from 1935 until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Apparently the country lay in ruin for over half a century. I found that a disappointing stereotype to adhere to.

Ironically, during the 1990s, a number of areas did end up in a very run down state when the economy took a massive downturn until the millennium when it was revitalised again. Indeed a few areas are still in that state but they are the exception not the rule usually being sites that exist somewhere in the countryside left derelict. The only time a city such as the setting of the opera Moscow would be in this state was during war time. ‘But they’ve taken artistic license’ people will say to justify it. Yes and in the musical Billy Elliot they trivialise a very emotionally turbulent period of within living memory history for working class people in Britain for the amusement of the middle classes which trivialises the brutal conflicts between striking picket lines and police with irreverent song and dance number. Sometimes art offends intentionally to begin a dialogue and other times it does it through ignorance. The setting is not the Soviet union, as most audience members will assume, nor is it ‘mystic Russia’ as the launch event described it. It’s a caricature underplaying the brutal historical reality like pirates, cowboys and soldiers in children’s productions.

The designers obviously wanted an iconic image of early revolutionary Bolshevik led Soviet Russia and watched a lot of western produced films set in Russia during the Soviet era but mostly filmed elsewhere (Gorky Park, Child 44, Gulag, Silk Stockings, Ninotchka, etc) which all share the same grim grey and brown colour pallet to depict it as a post industrial hell – which in areas around factories and closed cities would be true as it is anywhere, but the impression in all these films is the entire country was like that – which means even over a quarter of a century after it’s end we still live with the propagandist image of the Soviet Union which is perpetuated by visual designers who type in Soviet Russia to a search engine, see Stalin era depictions in Western propaganda films and say ‘good enough’ and copy it. Unlike North Korea Russia doesn’t have an eternal leader and if they did it would definitely not be Stalin and, it should come as no surprise, the country did actually develop after Stalin’s death and not stagnant in the aesthetic of the Stalin era (although of course the Soviet Union had plenty of periods of stagnation in later decades but that’s a story for another time).

I just find it very awkward they depicted the setting like this when they seem to have chosen a quasi-civil war setting which inevitably reminds the audience of the real life conflict which occurred between the revolutionary Red Army against the monarchist White Army yet assigns the colours inappropriately. During the civil war the white army supported the Czar while in this production white represents those who oppose the Czar. The production covers a time period of about 12 years and apparently Moscow lay in ruins throughout that time. ‘Artistic license’ no doubt applies.

Below is a rough layout of the stage design.

khovanshchina WNO stage

  • In the layout graphic you see the grey steps upon which performers sit or lay.
  • The green pieces are the scribe desks which each have a small desk lamp to illuminate them.
  • The green diamond is the pillar with a light on top of it which the scribe is forced to climb, by Streltsy soldiers, to read what is written on it. A pile of books/papers spill out of it when the illiterate Streltsy are informed of what is written there.
  • The purple barrier is on an overpass above one of the access points to the stage.
  • The yellow chair and painting are used when Khovansky confronts the Golitsin about Sofia.
  • The red hexagon is the bath where Khovansky is killed.
  • The red circle represents the ball on which the Persian dancer performs nude (actually she has body paint/skin toned clothing I think but I was sat in the gods so it was hard to tell when she discarded her silk dress).
  • The white ramp is lowered in later scenes when Dosifey comes to speak to the other Old Believers and when Khovansky, now an old man, tells the Streltsy to go home and await their fate instead of fight when the Czar’s forced descend upon Moscow to eliminate them.
  • On the left side is a wall with empty windows in a waffle like shape. At the start of the play light is shone through the gaps to show the dawning of the opera’s events and at the end, to bookend the opera, as the building in which the Old Believer’s commit mass suicide. At this point a smoke machine is lowered from above and the followers bring heavy stage lamps onto the steps which illuminate in the final moment depicting them tableau like in death.

khov_v1_1140x532

Things of particular note, both good and bad, during the Welsh National Opera (WNO) performance I saw.

The tower of leaflets in the first act which is opened and spills paper out across the floor is very effective in portraying the proliferation of knowledge the scribe causes by reading out the proclamation in Act I, scene iv.

The scribe, in act I, scene IV, and Emma in Act I, scene VI, are both bound with red chords to represent the social binding they both undergo through force by others. Sadly I don’t recall this being used again later so these come out as somewhat of an anomaly and I have to question why the idea wasn’t followed up with for later scenes.

When Golitsin is sent into exile he is carried lying on top of the painting used as the background of act ii. In his hand is a book he is reading while the actor, for dear life, hangs onto the side of the painting as he is angled towards the audience while pretending like he is relaxing. If you imagine some of the more naïve medieval depictions of saints which ignored realism you can image what this looked like. It was at one turn effective and yet oddly hilarious and I don’t think in this opera that was intentional.

In the mass suicide scene one person wouldn’t stop moving towards the back of the group. The smoke machine let out a little puff and that was it. It was on stage, hanging from the fly tower, for about 20 minutes only to do that. Or it may have meant to represent the thurible/censur used by Orthodox Christians but if so it still stands it produced only a slight puff of smoke and the staging of the scene makes you think they all just laid down rather than committed suicide via immolation.

I’m pretty sure the Russian pronunciation by some of the performers was off. The only one most would note is when someone, Shaklovity I believe, pronounces emphatically at the end of one line ‘Спасибо as ‘spa-see-boh’ when the naturalised way so say it is ‘spa-see-bah’. I don’t know if it was the performer or the director who went with that. Either way it really took me out of it a few times. At the launch event it was noted ‘for time’ that The House of the Dead would be performed in English while Eugene Onegin and Khovanshchina would be performed in Russia. Part of me wishes they had done this in English as I suspect they performers are not all experienced in performing in Russian if they’ve mostly been called to do works in French, German or Italian as there are inevitably differences in the languages. It’s a little sad but not completely unexpected. The actual performances themselves were of a high standard desptie all my criticisms.

In the WNO production, during the Dance of the Persian Slaves they have a single dancer in a silk dress perform over Khovansky while he lays in his bathtub. She performs a number of gymnastic postures and such then removes her dress. She has body paint across her chest and, I assume, flesh tone knickers on (I was sat in the upper circle so for intent and purposes she seemed naked but there’s no indication she would be otherwise WMC put warnings about it anywhere on the production’s literature) then climbs on top of a ball and rolls around the stage accompanied by bare chested men stabilising it. She takes Khovansky’s coat and drapes it over herself… then, after performing her piece, sits there on the ball for about ten minutes in shadow watching Khovansky be assassinated in his bath and all the other Persian slaves walk past and spit on his corpse. The dance was composed by Rimsky-Korsakov by agreement with Mussorgsky and I would be lying if I said it is noticeable that it stands out compared to many of the other pieces instrumentally. Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov have very distinctly difference composition styles needless to say.

The assassination is well done as there is a shower head on the bath and thus when his throat is slit the tap is turned on and a shower of red blood rains down upon him before it’s turned off by the last passing slave and a sheet is drawn over the bath tub until Andrey is made to confront his father’s corpse.

There is a backlit walkway with folds down from right stage when Dosifey and later Khovansky address their followers. It really helps to emphasise the status they are held in by their followers when they appear from stage right on it. Dosifey strides out and is in as much, if more, strength as he was at the start of the play. His determination and disposition have only grown with time. This is contrasted when Khovanshy initially seems to emulate this when the Strelsty call for him. However instead of the barrel chested, physically imposing, leader of earlier acts we see a frail old man hobble out and beg his followers to lay down their arms and prepare for the Czar’s judgement to be passed on them.

It can’t go without mention that you have quite archaic depictions of women. Marfa is lovesick for Andrey and every action she takes is to be reunited with him despite his rejection of her, Emma despite being named is only someone for Andrey to lust after with no further contribution after her first scene, the Persian Slave(s) are there to be Ivan’s playthings, Sofia is never seen on stage but is represented by Shaklovity… the only woman of any note is Susanna (one of the older members of the Old Believers) who ultimately only serves to shrewishly condemn Marfa for her love of the younger Khovansky instead of dedicating herself to the cause absolute.

Khovanshchina WNO

Review conclusion

Clumsy. I think that’s the word I would want to use regretfully, if not lazy for cetain aspects, regarding this production. It’s a revival of the 2007 production and it seems like they haven’t built on what they learned back then. ‘A decade has passed, no one will remember what we did last time. We hardly do ourselves!’

At the launch event it was joked they dusted off one of the older works and apparently that’s all they did thinking. The photo used for the promotional material, even at a glance, is clearly the old costumes as you see a man dressed in traditional black robes and not this productions choice to have the Old Believers wear white. This isn’t a revival by a retread with a new coat of paint sadly. In Hollywood films we see remakes of older films that don’t add anything to the original, don’t find a successful new interpretation nor make their own version but just seem to retread the exact same steps as their predecessor and often makes the same, if not more, mistakes. Apparently that can happen in opera too from what I saw here. If anything it’s gotten sloppy trying to experiment on some aspects that they didn’t fully consider.

The performers do their best, proving their status in the world of opera and I find little fault with them beyond some pronunciation which can be expected if they’re not often called on to perform in Russian often (let alone the suggestion of there being little time to prepare which was suggested at the season lauch event) but I think it was a lot of the staging and other choices which really took away from, rather than supported, the production.

The Persian dancer certainly was out of tone with the rest of the production. You have to ask if it was mandated by someone with influence making what is meant to be evidence that Khovansky has abandoned any noble ambition and given into decadent hedonism watching ballet instead was turned into a burlesque show for the audience. It takes you out of it completely it’s such a contrast to every thing else even compared to other productions of the opera by other companies. A brave choice but one that should have been reflected earlier with the actions of Ivan’s son Andrey towards Emma to show that despite all Khovansky’s noble words we see the apple didn’t fall far from the tree in the end.

It seems like I am nitpicking at artistic choices or minor points but it all accumulates. WNO always put a lot of effort into their set designs and staging. You would be hard pressed to say they do anything less than excel in it otherwise but for this production the choices just don’t work. There are some great ideas but the way they get implemented seems half hearted or misinformed at times. Khovanshchina is one of the rarer operas to be performed so they really had a chance to establish themselves further as one of the great opera companies but instead seem to have ‘given it a go’ with a mindset that failure is highly likely. This season they were also simultaneously doing Eugene Onegin and The House of the Dead alongside this piece and I am not sure how those will have come across as they are in many ways much safer options compared to Khovanshchina which perhaps asks a lot of an audience in comparison.

On the whole you might think three and a half hours would be dreadfully long but I found it moved along quite quickly. The only times I noticed the time were are the start, which seemed to take an eternity to establish events, and at the end where it just seemed like, after the pardoning of the Streltsy, everyone left remaining now needed to each perform a piece individually before the finale. People joke about the ending of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy taking forever but really this opera was not well served by reinstating the parts edited out previously.

It is often asked if you need to read up about an opera before seeing it and it’s up to you. WNO on their own webpage introducing people to opera even say this. You might get more enjoyment knowing the story before hand so you can enjoy the performance or you might enjoy seeing the twists in the narratives played out before you without warning. Khovanshchina is definitely one opera you must read up about before or else you will get lost. The colour coding is a good effort to counter this but you will still get lost if you don’t follow it carefully or have prior knowledge of the proceedings.

Khovanshchina: The operatic example of what ‘too many chefs spoils the broth’ looks like.

Originally an opera (subtitled a ‘national music drama’) in five acts by Modest Mussorgsky.

After Mussorgsky died leaving it unfinished Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov completed, revised, and scored Khovanshchina in 1881–1882.

Because of his extensive cuts and “recomposition”, Dmitri Shostakovich revised the opera in 1959 based on Mussorgsky’s vocal score, and it is the Shostakovich version that is usually performed.

Of course then each staging might choose to make alterations themselves. In 1913 Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel made their own arrangement at Sergei Diaghilev’s request. When Feodor Chaliapin refused to sing the part of Dosifei in any other orchestration than Rimsky-Korsakov’s, Diaghilev’s company employed a mixture of orchestrations which did not prove successful. The Stravinsky-Ravel orchestration was forgotten, except for Stravinsky’s finale, which is still sometimes used.

Even with only a passing knowledge of Russian classical music you can see that some of the biggest names of the twentieth century tackled the piece and with each alteration came tension on what was the best option. Rimsky-Korsakov streamlined the opera and made it accessible. Shostakovich, true to his own style, included the more experimental sections which perhaps to me make the piece feel excessive in length or, as can be expected of things added back in after a ‘finalised’ version has been created, the pacing is negatively affected so some parts move along at a pace and others seem to come to a screaming stop and drag. Rimsky-Korsakov, if you look up the alteration history, made a lot of shortened sections. It’s a topic far too long for a review as it deserves it’s own focused consideration.

I assume it’s the Shostakovich version performed as it’s not immediately obvious in the brochure which version they went with but no doubt made some adjustments to suit themselves.

It’s a good opera to go see once but I can’t say after this experience I will want to see it again and certainly having seen a few Welsh National Opera productions (Madame Butterfly, Carmen, Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute, etc) this is by far one of, if not their, weakest productions by far. The staging which is one of the company’s strong points falls flat here and at a few points borders being comical or sensationalist for the sake of it.

This review is only about this one production and not the company as a whole. WNO are serious contenders in the world of opera but in this case they underserved Mussorgsky’s opera and, in hindsight, hid it between Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Leos Janacek’s From The House Of The Dead. They sold this seasons operas’ brochures all together in a single volume at the cost of £6 on the assumption if you are seeing one then you’ll obviously be seeing the others too all as part of the R17 event. I’m sure those are both far superior but sadly my experience with Khovanshchina has made me lose faith in them this season. For all I know it was one bad night but it just so happened to be the one bad night I went to see their production of the opera.

During the season Khovanshchina and Eugene Onegin are performed in Russian but The House of the Dead, for timing, is performed in English. Part of me wishes they did Khovanshchina in English too if only to have a bit more control over some of the finer details. The opera has some good arias, the chorus work at every point is astounding but there are certainly some parts which I think will test even moderately patient audiences. It’s definitely not a piece to introduce someone to the world of opera with.

The brochure is nice though and very informative about the different operas so that at least is a nice note I can end on. Buy that as an introduction to the different operas, discussion of their background and have some high quality matt prints of Russian paintings.

BBC Adaption Review – Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling

Overall the tone is awkward. It’s not dark enough to take seriously and so you start seeing all the narrative conveniences. The original book was apparently filled with dark humour and swearing but it seems both have been toned down for a general audience for fear children might see this due to Harry Potter. People, as a contrivance to push the narrative forward with little challenge, just seem to give Strike information with little if any justification – many breaching the confidentiality of information act time and time again. The characters in this challenge of deductive reasoning be they red herrings, antagonistic persons or actual criminals are all but given pantomime level depictions in terms of their overt antagonism.

Our leading man is an Oxford drop out ex-military police investigation branch member which is as Marty Stu a characterisation as you can do short of saying he’s a blood relative of Sherlock Holmes for a detective story. But he has a prosthesis. That’s his one permanent flaw. Everything else can be changed. He is the wish fulfilment figure for women who wish to ‘fix’ the men they’re involved with. Robin finds him down and out but through her presence he gradually becomes a better man if not detective.

Robin is… bland? I want to say bland but it’s more true to say she is a character who has no real issues (although I know how her major traumatic ‘character development’ revealled later in the series which… suffice to say it was hinted at but it’s still the most blatant ‘if you don’t sympathise with this character and fogive all her sins instantly after knowing this you’re a monster’ tactic possible). She is there as an audience surrogate but doesn’t seem to have much development beyond some quite generic ‘recognises the value in this gruff but talented man’ aspects and an innate ability to gossip and lie using a bad Liverpool accents on the phone. Her fiancé is portrayed as a bit of an arse in order to make Strike seem better by comparison and attept to force us to sympathise with her if nothing else. She has a job offered by Strike yet applies for another job and is offered it (arguably Strike’s job was temporary and she needed something more secure but the series never gives this point it’s due), gets given a dressas a ‘bonus’ for her help (which is a bit sexist ironically considering how far Rowling goes out of her way to declare herself a feminist) but overall she just seems to be another narrative device with little charm.

Their names are a little on the nose too.

Comoran, while being the name of an Irish folklore giant, is also one letter off cormorant (hilariously closely connected to a bird known as a shag in what has to be some of the most juvenile ‘pretending to be mature’ naming possible by an author I’ve ever seen) are described by the RSPB as

“A large and conspicuous waterbird, the cormorant has an almost primitive appearance with its long neck making it appear almost reptilian. It is often seen standing with its wings held out to dry. Regarded by some as black, sinister and greedy, cormorants are supreme fishers which can bring them into conflict with anglers and they have been persecuted in the past.”

… so basically the film noir detective of the bird world.

While cute little robins are described as:

“sing[ing] nearly all year round and despite their cute appearance, they are aggressively territorial and are quick to drive away intruders. They will sing at night next to street lights.

… Robin. Batman. Sidekick. Also small but ready for a fight. Even Rowling had Strike acknowledge it in the book.

So our leading man is old school, a little pompous seeming and previously persecuted (and also he strikes!) while his sidekick is small but pluckyour grizzled male lead and his plucky, red head, young side kick and probable future love interest.

Show Premise

Cormoran Strike, a war veteran turned private detective operating out of a tiny office in London’s Denmark Street, is wounded both physically and psychologically. His unique insight and his background as a Special Investigation Branch Investigator prove crucial in solving three complex cases, which have eluded the police.

… Or, as with a lot of pulp fiction writing, ‘the police solved the case with the evidence at hand BUT THEY WERE WRONG watch as our intrepid, Ayn Randian wet dream of a protagonist,hero through brute force, social connections, illegal methods and sheer ‘right place at the right time’ luck achieves the impossible and reveals the truth! Women want him, men want to be him.

As mentioned everyone seems to have, even if only for a moment before dropping out, attended Oxford or Cambridge. The dual purpose being that Rowling is writing to reflect her audience because, it seems to her, only the most educated people apparently read books (apart from, of course, everyone who bought her books who didn’t attend one or the other of those institutions thus making her a worldwide best selling author rather than a literary curio) or these sort of things only occur to ‘the beautiful people’ and social elite whose lives are just so much more interesting than we common folk.

Often you would see that happen with Agatha Christie too but in fairness she was churning so many books out she needed to have as many instantly recognised short hands, e.g. people who go to Oxford or Cambridge are highly intelligent, wordly, knowledgeable and therefore would deduce with some evidence the facts of a crime, as many different locations as possible for variety to appeal (don’t like country estates? How about a village? The seaside? How about aboard moving trains?) and thus it was a bit of a ‘cheat’ since such culturally elite people were financially capable and prone to exotic foreign travel which still wasn’t anywhere near as commonplace as it is nowadays so addeed to the writing’s appeal. It aso reflected the end of the Imperial era’s mindset of venturing into the world and conquering the local troubles – which in this genre’s case is usually a murder or theft. However Rowling is writing that era’s detective story in the modern age and it is an awkward fit resulting in, ironically, a far narrower world in direct contrast to the same figures about a century ago.

In case you’re wondering the second book involves the murder of an author so she fell into that classic ‘write what you know’ author specific trap that early in the series! Stephen King would be proud.

Not one risky step whatsoever is taken in telling the story. If asked ‘please give me the most stereotypical detective story possible’ no longer will we turn to Agatha Christie, who more or less defined the genre single-handedly so originated what others would copy until it became a cliche, but we will turn to Rowling… oh I mean ‘Galbraith’ though we all know it’s her. If you are from Britain and remember when the news covered that it had been revealed she had been writing under a pseudonym then it was this particular book that was being referred to. I guess, as far as the publishers were concerned, it wasn’t selling well enough for such a high value author so they needed to ‘leak’ her name to boost sales.

You can have cliché characters, I mean 90% of literary detectives from the past few decades could fit into the depiction of Strike, apart from his leg, and you wouldn’t notice. Grizzled, likes a drink, ‘seen things’ in combat/police work and generally dislikes humanity except when women throw themselves at them for a quickie. One day someone will write a cross over where one detective replaces the other and no one notices until they actually see their face.

I think my main issue with this adaption, on the assumption the book covers these things, is we get small, but sequence destroying, skips in events. For example does Strike ever lock his office’s entrance? It must be on a latch as every walks in and out of it freely and occasionally people are sat in there waiting though both Strike and Robin hadn’t been in since yesterday. It’s a narrative device we often unconsciously witness. As an example: if you see a character pick up a key the audience acknowledge this and therfore you can skip to them opening the door and without  literally depicting them put the key in the lock – but here we don’t even have the ‘key’ mentioned in passing let alone seen sometimes before seeing the results. In the context of this series it seems everyone immediately gives Strike their life story and not barrier stops him except for tension (e.g. the safe opening). Nor, if I’m honest, do there seem to be any repercussions to certain actions. Does no one wonder where Lula’s will came from when Strike hands it over? Do we really think it would be as easy as Strike pretending to be taking a phone call to walk right into the studio of Guy Some? The police detective seems to just give Strike case information freely without quit pro quo. Strike pays off a criminal to steal the Satnav from the car and it’s never mentioned otherwise.

Everything slots too easily into to place to the point there is no risk nor resistance to Strike uncovering the truth – he even gives chase through a crowded market with little issue though he has an apparently ill fitting prosthesis! It all just comes too easily. If solving the mystery, as with Agatha Christie, isn’t the focus then give us more nuanced character development not just characters who are deemed highly intelligent because you name drop Oxford and Cambridge, are not morally good or physically capable just because they served in the army (was the criminal suggested to be ex-military? If so the depiction of ex-service men as either hero or villain is damning and isn’t a positive considering how many in real life find themselves incapable of re-adapting to civilian life thus falling between the cracks if they’ve no support) and not strangely flawless just because they’re female.

Apart from Rochelle, who seems more a figure of pity, all the women seem successful intelligent and only have faults because of the men they’re involved with. It’s a strangely anti-feminist (e.g. ‘here’s a dress as a bonus’, engagement issues being the main issue for Robin and Strike’s ex seems to instantly not just get re-engaged but marrying someone else in what seems to be a very brief time period), yet simultaneously misandranistic, tone posing as feminist as Rowling has with women where they’re both depicted as perfect, highly intelligent, beings surpassing their male counterparts with ease in every way but at the same time completely reliant upon them though every man has so critical flaw making them anything but sympathetic save for Strike as the leading man whose only permanent ‘flaw’ is a physical one. Most of the male characters are depicted as unrepentant in their antisocial behaviour and yet our leading man Strike, to a limited degree since this is the first book in an assured series (which other authors cannot reply on happening so their characters will evolve over a book), has some small progression from a misanthrope drunkard to a man slowly overcoming his limitations and finding worth in his life. Which is implied to be thanks to our heroine and her plucky attitude entering his life and not his own personal development having closure on what seemed a mutually destructive relationship with his ex. He just hadn’t met the right woman yet to make him a better man. The closest we got to a negative depiction of a woman was Strike’s ex who, after apparently having a very troubled relationship with him which they repeatedly tried to repair, quickly moved on though it’s presented as hypergamy. Oh and the ‘blow job for a fiver’ woman who just seemed, in the context of the series, to be a repugnant caricature of working class people or those on benefits – which Rowling famously once was before the first Harry Potter book got published and found it’s audience. It’s the sort of depiction of the less well off you only see in works of the pre-Victorian literature unless it’s by someone like Charles Dickens, Irvine Welsh, Niall Griffiths or Dorota Masłowska and others where it’s used for social commentary to discuss why these people ended up like this and with their often jaded worldviews.

You don’t get that with Rowling. Bad guys are bad guys. Men are flawed and most can’t be redeemed. Women are perfect except when they rely on men. Men need a woman’s intervention to change. Working class people are very likely criminal scum unless they’re too stupid to be. Basically J K Rowling would like to be the 21st century Agatha Christie but hasn’t accounted, realistically, for shifts in both literature and society.

Marvel Missions – Trading Card Game

Over 270 cards to collect.

8 per packet.

 

Cards in the pack I bought:

22: CHARACTER: Howard Stark [Captain America: The First Avenger]: Power Value: 38

25: CHARACTER: Nick Fury [Captain America: The Winter Soldier]: Power Value: 69

90: ALLY: Captain America and Scarlet Witch [Avengers: Age of Ultron] Power Value: 69

117: ALLY: Thor and Jane Foster [Thor the Dark World]: Power Value: 53

151: WEAPON: Hydra Chitauri Blaster [Avengers: Age of Ultron]: Power Value: 66

184: VILLAIN: Heinz Kruger [Captain America: The First Avenger]: Power Value: 45

234: CHARACTER: Natasha Romanoff [The Avengers]: Power Value: 73 [mirror foil card]

248: CHARACTER: Black Panther [Captain America: Civil War] Power Value: 83 [holo foil card]

DSC_0050.JPG

HOW TO PLAY

Step 1: Know your cards!

Marvel Missions is a game for 2 players. To win, you must complete game missions by defeating opponent!

Step 2: Assemble your team!

Take 20 cards from your deck and shuffle them. Then hold them face-up in your hands.

There are 2 great ways to play Marvel Missions!

BEGINNERS: Play until all cards have been used. Whoever has completed the most Red, Blue and Black Missions wins! Choose your Mission before you begin. Both players must play the same mission.

ADVANCED: Take on Avengers-level Missions where the first person to complete an Iron, Steel or Gold Mission wins! Choose your Mission before you begin. Both players must play the same Mission.

Step 3: Commence your Mission!

Both players take the first card from their hand and compare the Power Values.

Step 4: Complete your Mission!

The Player with the winning card puts it in their chosen Mission pile and the losing card returns to the bottom of the deck. Keep playing until you’ve got a winner!

TOP TIP: Make sure you have cards from a mixture of categories, as different categories will be needed to complete particular missions!

USE EVERY CARD TO WIN!

As well as Characters and Villains there are Weapons, Allies, Vehicles and Locations. All must be used to gain victory and complete Missions!

In the event of a tie, draw the next cards.

Step 5: MISSIONS COMPLETED

Mission Index

Red Missions [Beginner]

1: 1 Character / 1 Vehicle / 1 Villain

2: 2 Characters / 1 Vehicle / 1 Villain

3: 3 Characters / 1 Vehicle / 1 Villain

Blue Missions [Beginner]

1: 1 Character / 1 Ally / Weapon

2: 2 Characters / 1 Ally / Weapon

3: 3 Characters / 1 Ally / Weapon

Black Missions [Beginner]

1: 3 Characters / 2 Weapons / 2 Villains

2: 3 Characters / 2 Allies / 2 Vehicles

3: 3 Characters / 2 Weapons / 1 Location

Iron Mission [Advanced]

4 Characters / 3 Allies / 1 Vehicle / 2 Villains

Steel Mission [Advanced]

4 Characters / 3 Allies / 1 Weapon / 1 Location

Gold Mission [Advanced]

5 Characters / 2 Allies / 1 Weapon / 1 Villain / 1 Location

DSC_0055

REVIEW

I paid £1 for a packet of 8 cards which I supose is better value than some other series I’ve reviewed. It promotes that there are ‘Guardians of the galaxy vol. 2 cards inside lucky packets’ so to me that means they’re advertising you’ll get cards associated with the most recent, as of writing this, Marvel film but in reality they’re the ‘chase cards’ – or in plain English the cards they have printed very few of so you buy more packets in order to get them. I didn’t notice until noting the information down but the ‘mirror’ and ‘holographic’ foil cards are hardly distinct at first glance. It hardly seems worth their effort to have had both versions. I can only imagine the ‘super holographic’ foil cards have that diamond patterning that other cards series refer to as their holographic ones.

This series has high quality cards in terms of materials and the quality of the still frames from the films or the promotional photos used for the cards but otherwise feel incredibly bland. In truth you could argue that has been Marvel’s marketing strategy across the board when you consider how their use of digital correction in the films leads to there being no ‘true’ black to shadows leading to a washed out look and the indistinct music used in the films [go on, test yourself right now and see if you can hum the following: Batman’s theme, Superman’s theme, Spiderman’s Theme (the cartoon version more than the films admittedly is the one we all know)…. now how about Captain America’s? Thors? How about Iron Man’s? Leif motifs aside, which you can argue are the themes we remember, can you recall any music in the Marvel films? And no any of the tracks from Quill’s tapes in Guardians of the Galaxy do not count. It’s that generic a sound Marvel have opted for].

I don’t feel the game is going to be that enjoyable if you did get enough cards to play it to be honest. How many packs would you need to play it too? I would imagine, accounting for randomisation, about 5 if you’re lucky so that’s a £5 investment for 40 cards minimum. It plays similar to Top Trumps but with a few more restrictions. It’s a little too fiddly for first time card game players, which will likely be young children who have the Marvel bug and want to play it, but then I can’t see the strategic possibilities that could attract the more seasoned table top card gamer to embrace it. It sits in that awkward middle ground between the two markets and might be forgotten sooner than even a standard ‘picture on the front, standard blurb on the back’ collectable card series would be.

To their credit they’ve tried something new but it doesn’t look like it will work out as they’ve tried to be something for everyone and the only way this project will recoup costs is if it became an international fad. Then again with how much recycling has been done with stock photo assets here it’s probably been incredibly cheap, for a well established multinational organisation, to produce in order to gain a little of a market they have rarely been involved in. I know that there are the Heroclix available in specialist shops but these sorts of games don’t tend to last long in the mainstream and are the passion of a niche community which Marvel, regarding their cinematic universe, don’t invest in preferring to get a few dollars from many people across the globe than have the investment of a smaller community who will spend high amounts should the game appeal to them and a community exist (the latter being the most important variable and one they have very little control over).

But I suppose that’s the point. It’s just testing the waters and will be deemed an acceptable loss in the long run. After all did any of us really think the Pokemon card game would still be going strong over a decade after it began? No doubt they thought with Marvel’s appeal they could replicate the success but they forgot that it’s the underlying game which has kept the Pokemon version going all these years and it’s evolution in terms of rules and other elements not just because it’s part of the Pokemon franchise.

Ultimately it’s not worth buying these cards. If you want an easy to access version of this game you can play at any age and you get a full card set to be played with right out the packet go buy the Marvel themed Top Trumps set. I haven’t gone to see what it’s called but I have no doubt there is a Marvel themed set considering all the franchises they’ve done sets for by now. In fact for all I know there are sets for each individual film. Even if you spend £5 to buy the Top Trumps set it’s still more cards and potential game play than spending the same amount of money on these collectable cards. These might appeal to Marvel fans or collectors speculating they’ll be rare in the future, due to no one buying them, but that’s a gamble I don’t feel will pay off as all the ‘modern rarity’ speculation requires you buy everything and people just don’t have the money or patience for it. The imagery on the cards is all available at a quick internet image search or freeze frame of the films so… that just leaves the game and that feels incredibly weak and not worth the effort of investing in as there’s little if any strategy even for children to enjoy. If you get a special foil card of your favourite character you might like it but… no.

DSC_0056

Look out for special cards in packets including Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Cards:

Mirror foil cards 1:1

Holographic foil cards 1:2

Super holographic foil cards 1:3

 

Published by Topps Europe Limited,

18 Vincent Avenue, Crownhill,

Milton Keynes, MK8 0AW, UK

Produced by Topps.

DSC_0061

(GB) Warning! Not suitable for children under 36 months. Small parts – choking hazard.

(DK) Advarseli! Ikke egnet til born under 36 maneder. Sma dele – kvaelningsfare.

Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a 1962 play by Edward Albee. It examines the breakdown of the marriage of a middle-aged couple, Martha and George. Late one evening, after a university faculty party, they receive an unwitting younger couple, Nick and Honey, as guests, and draw them into their bitter and frustrated relationship.

The play is in three acts, normally taking a little less than three hours to perform, with two 10-minute intermissions. The title is a pun on the song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” from Walt Disney’s Three Little Pigs (1933), substituting the name of the celebrated English author Virginia Woolf. Martha and George repeatedly sing this version of the song throughout the play.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? won both the 1963 Tony Award for Best Play and the 1962–63 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play. It is frequently revived on the modern stage.

Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill star in a new production of the play, directed by James MacDonald, at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London currently (early 2017). This is the production I shall be discussing in this post from this point on though I do discuss the play in a broader aspect too while doing this.

Stage Layout

whose afraid of virginia woolf staging

 

Beige: stage floor

Light grey: Raised areas

Dark Grey: The entrance and the stairs leading up to the bedrooms.

Green: Access off stage. The lefthand door goes to the kitchen, the middle is the entrance to the house and living room and the one on the right leads to the toilet.

Purple: Offstage. I guess those sat on the right would have had some limited view but most events occur towards the front of stage.

Orange: The drinks trolley and the record player.

Red: the seating.

Brown: On the left the fireplace, centrally the table and the cabinet on which the piece of art sits.

Yellow: The triangle is the art piece they comment onn in the first act, the circles the bells that get hit at one point and the diamond a free standing light.

Thick black: Walls.

This image is an estimation of how everything was placed on stage. Kirsty Walk, during the brief break between acts 2 and 3 told us about the staging. The couch and lower level is set out like a boxing ring into which the characters enter to confront each other with the fireplace, doorway and reading areas act as the ringside where they take respite from the frisson of events as observers.

Plot summary

Act One: “Fun and Games”

George and Martha engage in dangerous emotional games. George is an associate professor of history and Martha is the daughter of the president of the college. After they return home, Martha reveals she has invited a young married couple, whom she met at the party, for a drink. The guests arrive – Nick, a biology professor (who Martha thinks teaches maths), and his wife, Honey. As the four drink, Martha and George engage in scathing verbal abuse of each other in front of Nick and Honey. The younger couple is first embarrassed and later enmeshed. They stay.

Martha taunts George aggressively, and he retaliates with his usual passive aggression. Martha tells an embarrassing story about how she humiliated him with a sucker-punch in front of her father. During the telling, George appears with a gun and fires at Martha, but an umbrella pops out. After this scare, Martha’s taunts continue, and George reacts violently by breaking a bottle. Nick and Honey become increasingly unsettled and, at the end of the act, Honey runs to the bathroom to vomit, because she had too much to drink.

Act Two: “Walpurgisnacht”

Traditionally, “Walpurgisnacht” is the name of an annual witches’ meeting (satiric in the context of the play). Nick and George are sitting outside. As they talk about their wives, Nick says that his wife had a “hysterical pregnancy”. George tells Nick about a time that he went to a gin-mill with some boarding school classmates, one of whom had accidentally killed his mother by shooting her. This friend was laughed at for ordering “bergin”. The following summer, the friend accidentally killed his father while driving, was committed to an asylum, and never spoke again. George and Nick discuss the possibility of having children and eventually argue and insult each other. After they rejoin the women in the house, Martha and Nick dance suggestively. Martha also reveals the truth about George’s creative writing escapades: he had tried to publish a novel about a boy who accidentally killed both of his parents (with the implication that the deaths were actually murder), but Martha’s father would not let it be published. George responds by attacking Martha, but Nick separates them.

George suggests a new game called “Get the Guests”. George insults and mocks Honey with an extemporaneous tale of “the Mousie” who “tooted brandy immodestly and spent half her time in the up-chuck”. Honey realizes that the story is about her and her “hysterical pregnancy”. The implication is that she trapped Nick into marrying her because of a false pregnancy. She feels sick and runs to the bathroom again.

At the end of this scene, Martha starts to act seductively towards Nick in George’s presence. George pretends to react calmly, reading a book. As Martha and Nick walk upstairs, George throws his book against the door. In all productions until 2005, Honey returns, wondering who rang the doorbell (Martha and Nick had knocked into some bells). George comes up with a plan to tell Martha that their son has died, and the act ends with George eagerly preparing to tell her. In what is labelled the “Definitive Edition” of the script, however, the second act ends before Honey arrives.

Act Three: “The Exorcism”

Martha appears alone in the living room, shouting at the others to come out from hiding. Nick joins her. The doorbell rings: it is George, with a bunch of snapdragons in his hand, calling out, “Flores para los muertos” (flowers for the dead), a reference to the play and movie A Streetcar Named Desire, also about a marriage and outside influences. Martha and George argue about whether the moon is up or down: George insists it is up, while Martha says she saw no moon from the bedroom. This leads to a discussion in which Martha and George insult Nick in tandem, an argument revealing that Nick was too drunk to have sex with Martha upstairs.

George asks Nick to bring Honey back for the final game – “Bringing Up Baby”. George and Martha have a son, about whom George has repeatedly told Martha to keep quiet. George talks about Martha’s overbearing attitude toward their son. He then prompts her for her “recitation”, in which they describe, in a bizarre duet, their son’s upbringing. Martha describes their son’s beauty and talents and then accuses George of ruining his life. As this segment progresses, George recites sections of the Libera me (part of the Requiem Mass, the Latin mass for the dead).

At the end of the play, George informs Martha that a messenger from Western Union arrived at the door earlier with a telegram saying their son was “killed late in the afternoon…on a country road, with his learner’s permit in his pocket” and that he “swerved, to avoid a porcupine”. The description matches that of the boy in the gin-mill story told earlier. Martha screams, “You can’t do that!” and collapses.

It becomes clear to the guests that George and Martha’s son is a mutually agreed-upon fiction. The fictional son is a final “game” the two have been playing since discovering early in their marriage that they are infertile. George has decided to “kill” him because Martha broke the game’s single rule: never mention their son to others. Overcome with horror and pity, Nick and Honey leave. Martha suggests they could invent a new imaginary child, but George forbids the idea, saying it was time for the game to end. The play ends with George singing, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” to Martha, whereupon she replies, “I am, George…I am.”

Review

When people debate the greatest plays ever written this one is regularly in top 10s and rightly so, when acted well it is one of the most devastating evenings of theatre you can encounter.

However the live broadcast of the current production I saw of it was not…

In a sentence I found that subtlety was thrown out for overt caricature which led the dark dry humour of the play to be performed as if it was an American sitcom.

There are only four roles in the play.

Martha – (Imelda Staunton) A screeching loud New Englander

the daughter of the president of the college

George – (Conleth Hill) an associate professor of history

A put upon ‘family man’ with a whiny nasal tonality

Nick – (Luke Treadaway) A stereotypical all American corn fed jock

a biology professor (who Martha thinks teaches maths)

Honey – (Imogen Poots) A squeaky voiced, ditzy, North West all American girl

Nick’s childhood sweetheart and wife

I think what set it off on the wrong foot was the preceding short documentary we were presented with about the play’s history with talking head after talking head telling us of how Albee has humorous dialogue. This led to certain members of the audience laughing at every few lines as if a laugh track was playing in their head telling them when, where and to what degree to laugh.

Do you ever feel like you’re the young child in the children’s story ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’? That is how I feel about this particular production. It has received glowing reviews but the bitterness of the characters and their predicament is lost in people doing the broadest impressions of Americans they can manage. For the time period and location the play is set it’s not inaccurate but I kept getting the feeling more effort was put into that side of the production than working on the nuances of each exchange between the characters. Maybe I just feel Imelda Staunton is too old to play the role. Yes controversial. How dare I say such a thing of a living legend. But it reminds me of when, in opera, you have people with visible grey hair performing the role of teenagers because they’re the ones with the ability to do so. The performance is good but when you have a very short woman in her 60s. Playing a woman in her 50s, pawing at a tall 32 year old (playing a 28 year old) it comes across as false he would have, at least in this production, an all but implied sexual liaison while his wife lies drunk in the toilet.

The whole production is oddly paced and plays out in the style of a 1960s sitcom in tone. I think what suits it better is to play it far more straight, to allow the black humour of the passive aggression play out without flourishes. Perhaps what I instinctively felt was there was no energy between the performers. Of course it’s about dysfunctional relationships but even that has an energy to it which I found lacking here and instead replaced with energy you expect of a comedy which doesn’t fit the tone I was expecting.

Imelda Staunton all but yells her lines. Each. And. Every. Time. This is a great acting by a living theatre legend? Her performance is praised but there is no nuance. Either she’s shouting, thrusting herself at Nick or rattling off stories intending to shame her husband… until the final scene which is performed well but is too little too late. Nuance be damned. It’s far too over the top. I saw her, in person, performing the role of Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother Rose in the 2015 production of Gypsy and can’t help but feel she has brought over some of that behaviour when reprising the American accent which was a mistake. She is a good actor but something in the direction has led her and the others astray. Less shouting and I probably would have enjoyed it more. There’s a way to be loud without coming across as if every line should be shouted and she is more than skilled enough to do so.

Conleth Hill… I don’t know what to say. He plays the role of a put upon family man from a 1950s American sitcom. Burton played the role as a mild mannered yet passively aggressive man of letters while Hill plays the role as… Varys from Game of Thrones (who he plays) so I am a bit concerned he lacks range as I’ve not had the chance to see him in other productions. If you know Nathan Lane and how he performs comedy roles just imagine him in the role and you’re more or less where I was watching this. What are meant to be bitter barbs of a frustrated man come across like catty comments more fitting of a stereotyped gay character. Maybe that’s something they were implying in this production though I feel I’m giving them more credit that they deserve.

Luke Treadaway plays his role overly safe if not quite bland. Imagine a jock from a comedy film or all American young hero from a war film. There you go you know how he came across both aurally and physically. Admittedly the character lends himself to being played that way but it’s too blunt. The liaison between Nick and Martha comes across as so sudden and forced due to how things have been staged that it’s as if you put two cats on heat in a box and watched them writhing into each other. Partially intentional of course but a bit too forced here when the others are in the room still.

Imogen Poots also plays her role somewhat safe if not overly straight with little if any nuance. Someone apparently watched Grease and decided to replicate a Pink Ladies. The role is a foil for the others and is meant to offer some levity to the deeply embittered proceedings but here, where everything is on the verge of spilling into slapstick, it’s hard to make the role have any weight sadly. She is a good actress and makes the most of what she can thus stealing a few scenes but usually gets left in the sidelines. Often quite literally by being offstage for most of acts two and three.

There is, as the preceding documentary insisted, humour in the dialogue but by drawing attention to it with slapstick like delivery undermines the underlying tragedy of the narrative involving a marital breakdown and how the characters feel trapped by social conventions.

Each person is ignoring reality and perpetuating a socially acceptable facade. They do so to appear as successful members of society when in reality each of them is, in their own way, severely damaged. In their overwrought efforts to fit social norms they only exacerbates their problems until confronted with their reality which ultimately breaks them. Be it Martha marrying George because she wanted to remain a part of her feckless father’s world in which she herself could never impress him. George never becoming head of the History department. Nick who married his childhood sweetheart because that’s what everyone expected of him (especially after the phantom pregnancy) or Honey who you could argue remains a cypher to us beyond her existence as Nick’s wife.

The costumes were what you would expect so there is no fault there and the stage design gives an over burdened, claustrophobic, atmosphere helping emphasis the intensity of the character’s interactions with it’s excessive furniture tightly packed into a small area. Some liberties were taken in order to make it more of a chamber drama than other productions might but on the whole you don’t miss anything substantial.

The play is good. This production is not.

If you have never seen a production of this play before then go watch the film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. I never suggest watching the film as, of course, it’s a completely different experience – however in this case I think the real life relationship of Burton and Taylor lent the dialogue exchanges a depth that is hard to replicate though, by their own admission, it took a toll on their relationship and Taylor felt she was playing Martha too much in real life afterwards. I feel the play is better played understated and straight while this version has overplayed the humorous aspects.

Personally I feel the delicate balance required for this play is lost and makes me wonder if, in trying to play up to the humour inherent in Albee’s dialogue, James MacDonald unintentionally played up the humour to differentiate this production from others and in doing so completely undermined the drama of the piece. It discredits the themes of reality versus illusion, as all comedy requires some level by trivialising or satirising of reality in order for us to cope with it’s harshness, and the social expectations both we and society expect of each other which few, if any can live up to.

Playing it for laughs too much means the impact of the reality is muted and because Martha is played over the top we see her more as a caricature not as a tragic figure who feels the need to exaggerate her actions in order to garner a reaction – first from a father who all but ignores her when she doesn’t serve his purpose and then a husband she feels is inattentive to her needs.

Nick is the overachiever being both an athlete and a prodigy who got his masters at 19 years old. He has to get things right at all times because that is what is expected of him. Even in the bed room he is expected to be a stud but ultimately, like all the men in Martha’s life, failing her as a ‘flop’. Honey gets pregnant (albeit it’s proven to be a phantom pregnancy soon after) so of course he will marry her as any good guy would. Failure is not an option.

Contrasting to him is George to whom failure is the only option and like any underachiever he plays the role of satirist playing out fictional narratives over and over to trivialise the dramas of reality. He fails Martha by not having children and by not being able to stand up to nor replace her father as a potent, in both senses, male figure in her life.

Honey… is a cypher. Is Honey even her real name or just a moniker everyone calls her by just like Lady Bird Johnson in real life because that’s the only name anyone around her uses? Do we hear of anything she does exclusive of Nick? Thus she is in the role of the trophy wife, as George was the trophy husband expected to have achieved but ultimately failing too for Martha.

Honey and George mirror each other as ‘failures’ – he as an academic and husband and she as a traditional housewife meant to serve her husband and cause him no trouble. Both fail to bear children in comparison to their alpha partners who, over the nights proceedings, are drawn to each other and have a tryst which ultimately leads them to realise that it’s not an equal they need but a partner who compliments and supports them. Honey, despite drinking, plays the doting wife to her husband obeying him when leaving while George, as Martha mocks at one point, makes her laugh and as the play ends he tries, but fails, to comfort her as she admits she is deeply scared now her bravado has been stripped away and she accepts reality now George has stopped humouring her about their son and no doubt any number of unspoken illusions they have maintained with one another until this point.


This review might be a bit patchy but I keep writing things and not posting them so expect, in the following few weeks, reviews of things that are a bit out of date…

Eurovision 2017

Grand Final: Saturday, 13 May, 2017

Location: International Exhibition Centre, Kyiv, Ukraine

Host broadcaster: NTU

Presented by Oleksandr Skichko, Volodymyr Ostapchuk & Timur Miroshnychenko

EBU Supervisor: Jon Ola Sand

The theme this year was ‘Celebrate Diversity’.

How best to represent that? Three conventionally attractive white, male model looking, presenters groomed to within an inch of their lives. The real theme seemed to be to cause as much epilepsy across Europe as possible considering how many rapidly flashing lights were used constantly throughout the night this year. I myself ended up with a headache. Also they seemed really petty about people saying ‘Kee-ehV’, like the food, instead of the correct pronunciation ‘Keh-eff’ to the point they used the alternate transliteration to enforce it. I doubt it made any difference in the end.

Also, since it was such a big story, it has to be mentioned that the Russian entry, Julia Samoylova performing Flame is Burning, was refused entry into the country. The Eurovision organisers, in fairness, tried to ensure Russia could compete by suggesting another entrant be submitted at short notice. Russia refused on principle. So the offer that Julia could perform via satellite was made but this too was refused. It’s either their entrant can perform on the same stage as everyone else or nothing at all. In the end it was nothing at all.

‘Eurovision isn’t about politics’ I often hear said. It’s hard to make that claim when there is still block voting for neighbouring countries by their judging panels and things like this occur.

Hearing the song again after the final event it’s better than some that did get to compete but wouldn’t have won. At least it would have stood out. I just find it hilarious that in a competition with the theme of celebrating diversity the judges are all industry manufactured male models and a wheelchair bound competitor is refused access. It can be argued Russia was trying to embarrass Ukraine since her application was a last minute thing but still. Dark comedy gold…

The presenters came across as very obnoxious on the whole. In fairness Timur, the bearded one, was likeable but I guess his English wasn’t deemed good enough though he doesn’t sound artificial and insincere like the other two. He got relegated to doing the waiting room bits. Maybe the Eurovision staff don’t like facial hair who knows? They liked Conchita Wurst.

Oleksandr and Volodymyr reminded me of the sort of presenters, at least here in the UK, who were male models first and then selected for training in media presenting as they ‘look the part’ thus don’t naturally develop a unique style which causes an artifice and arrogance, intentional or not, to be present in their mannerisms so they never seem sincere.

At one point when Katrina, of Britain’s winning entry in 1997, was giving the the British points one of the them commented that the year she won was the year the other judge had been born. That’s a great display of manners, let alone presenting skills, to remind people of their age and that they won, quite literally, ‘a lifetime ago’ as far as you’re concerned… It also didn’t help they flirted outrageously with other point announcers as if they were in a bar and felt like hooking up with anyone who appealed to them.

One of them did the prisyadka (knee bending) a.k.a. ‘the Cossack squat dance’ part of the Kazatsky (Ukrainian hopak stage dance) because they need to send the message ‘hey guys we’re just some fun loving dudes who happen to be presenting an international song contest but we know how to chill out like everybody else’… but the whole thing is so forced and intended for him to show off it comes off as self promotion when he does it with ease while others,who’ve never learned the correct technique can’t… plus he has plenty of space to kick forward while they’re packed in behind him. Yeah… I just found them needlessly irritating throughout the whole thing. Usually it’s joked that the presenters of the Eurovision each year are cheesy and artifical but these guys had it down to a fine art.

There also seemed an odd monochromatic colour scheme amongst the contestants this year. They were all wearing all white, all black or a combination of both. Some contestants, rebels that they are, wore grey! It was surprising to see any contestants wearing muted, let alone bright, colours. If you watch this event in black and white you wouldn’t be missing much.

So let’s carry on to the, hopefully, humorous comments about each entry this year.

1 Israel : IMRI : I Feel Alive

An off key boy band. What a way to start the events! However the pyrotechnics were good. Not much to add otherwise… an incredibly weak song to start the evening with. A real ‘we want to be part of the competition but definitely not win’ effort. Awkward. Even off key singers should get to perform #CelebrateDiveristy…

#CelebrateDiversity by singing off key!

2 Poland : Kasia Moś : Flashlight

As seems Poland’s ‘go to’ option every few year you get maximum cleavage exposure to gain the ‘dad vote’ e.g. 2015’s Donatan & Cleo performing My Słowianie. The dress seemed to be Leelo’s bandages outfit from The Fifth Element but with a semi-opaque skirt attached. The song itself reminded me of someone trying to emulate a James Bond film’s theme song. I am guessing there’ll be high points awarded from Britain due to the number of Polish nationals who have moved here for work in the past decade. (I was right – We gave this entry 10 points).

On a side note last year their entry, Monika Kuszyńska – In The Name Of Love, was in a wheelchair and that was a gambit Russia was going to play had their entrant been allowed into the country this year you might speculate.

#CelebrateDiversity … by being a statuesque blonde in skimpy clothing.

3 Belarus : Naviband : Story of My Life

A cute couple to garner lovesick fools’ votes. It reminded me of La Seine from the animated film Un monstre à Paris (A Monster In Paris) because of how it was staged. It was very enjoyable and uplifting. Very ‘Eurovision’ but in a good way. I wouldn’t mind hearing more from them so this is a good platform to introduce themselves to an international market who might not know them already. They should have been the first song to perform this evening just to enthuse the audience watching.

#CelebrateDiversity through Heteronormative relationships.

4 Austria : Nathan Trent : Running On Air

A sappy love song. The sort of thing people will buy once it’s been played to death on the radio at least once an hour, every hour of every waking day over a month, to the point they’ve been all but brainwashed into buying it. Then years later will wonder what the hell they were thinking at the time. At easy listening song. Inoffensive. A feel good pop song you will forget seconds after the video ends. I have and I’ve heard it a few times now while editing this post.

#CelebrateDiversity by being incredibly generic and forgettable.

5 Armenia : Artsvik : Fly With Me

Lady Gaga, during one of her more sombre moments, copies Madonna’s style in the late 1990s while doing an imitation of a Shakira song. The dancers are very impressive in a ‘this is a parody of interpretive dance’ way… they wouldn’t look out of place in a 1980s music video to be honest. Nonetheless they will definitely be getting a lot of work offers after this. A good song paying respect to Armenian music in an updated style. Very good but the dancers are very distracting.

#CelebrateDiversity by creating a performance mixing your cultural heritage and modern techniques – and then undermine it by having two white dancers in alabaster make up to make them even paler… but they’re a blonde and a brunette which is diverse.. if you go by the dictionary definition.

6 The Netherlands : OG3NE : Lights and Shadows

A set of twins and their sister. The sister is, as Graham Norton put it, ‘the tall blonde one’. Their song reminds me of a country music song from America. The words flashing up… when it said ‘Not Give Up’ I just found it to be poorly implimented English. Their outfits are a 1980s sequins hell. Yes this is definitely a 1980s country music performance. Also I can’t look at their group name without it making me think it’s the name of a gynaecology organisation…

Do you see how they represent this year’s theme? That’s right – they are not all thin and they dress like very, very old women going on a night out in town. #CelebrateDiveristy!

7 Moldova : Sunstroke Project : Hey Mamma

They think they’re cooler than they are. People usually refer to something like this when joking about how dads embarrass their teenage children by trying to be cool but, in reality, being incredibly out of touch with current fashions. The fake saxophone playing is in that awkward position of ‘too real to be done as a joke’ but ‘not enough that it’s funny’. Also the fact that their dance moves equate to ‘shaking your leg after wetting yourself whilst drunk’ doesn’t help. The backing female singers costume change as soon as they walk towards the front of stage was pointless though singing into their bouquets (hiding their microphones) was novel. It all came across as an awkward ‘dad fantasising he’s still cool at a wedding reception’ moment. It’s enjoyable enough on it’s own but got drowned out during the competition.

#CelebrateDiversity by dad dancing and celebrating Heteronormative marriage (again).

8 Hungary : Joci Pápai : Origo

They are Romani so at least this entry does celebrate diversity unlike many of the other more standard Eurovision entries. He uses a mini milk churn as an instrument. The violinist wiggles her hips. The traditional swirling Romani, barefoot, dancer distracts you from thinking how potato shaped his head is and if he has a jawline beneath the beard. And is there some rapping too? Well, I liked it but we all know people traditionally dislike the Romani so…

Across the board this is the sort of entry Eurovision should have where it’s celebrating a country’s culture by mixing traditional and modern techniques to create unique music. Instead we usually get bland ballads, pop songs, techno dance or soft rock. So this is my moral victor of the evening. They’re my moral victors of the night. It’s one of the few that actually does #CelebrateDiversity by mixing traditional and modern musical techniques.

9 Italy : Francesco Gabbani : Occidentali’s Karma

Is he intentionally trying to come across as a stereotype of a sleazy guy? The moustache is one thing but then that raspy voice too is pure caricature… Then suddenly the gorilla appears. I’m sure there’s a good reason and it’s not just there as a hook to make people remember the song when the tele-voting section comes around. Apparently it’s a highly respected choreographer playing the gorilla role too. The backing singers look like they escaped from a ‘united colours of Benetton’ advert. #CelebrateDiversity (via mindfulness and consumerism). Meditation = celebrating another’s culture = celebrating diversity so that’s good but… it’s awkward when presented by ‘that creepy waiter you hope doesn’t serve your table again tonight’. The songs good but how they staged the performance is… odd.

#CelebrateDiversity by acting like a creepy waiter trying to have a one night stand with a tourist known to be into mindfulness and mediations… and dancing gorillas (furries).

10 Denmark : Anja : Where I Am

It’s actually an Australian performing. She moved there a suspiciously short time before the event. If you ever wanted the most generic Eurovision entry ever this is it. It’s intensely generic. It defies you to find anything unique about it. As if someone from the Disney channel was commissioned to create the most wide appeal, inoffensive, entry possible. It’s the sort of song you hear over the closing credits of one of their films. It’s good but highly forgettable.

#CelebrateDiversity by having a blonde white Australian sing for you representing a Scandinavian country…

11 Portugal : Salvador Sobral : Amar Pelos Dois

Graham Norton said it was a ‘marmite’ song which you’ll either love or hate. I found it to be the best song of the night. (It ended up winning in the end by quite some votes). It reminded me of a tear-jerking song from a Studio Ghibli film. How could this not be universally adored? The only downside is he hunches his shoulders, gesticulates a bit too much and apparently has really bad health due to his heart. His sister, who composed the song, had to perform it a few times during the preliminaries apparently… so he might be dead by next year. Be an inspirational figure overcoming your poor health to win the European Song Contest only to be dead by next year because of the strain it put on you. Dark comedy gold. I hope he will be okay though.

He actually made my night when he said it was a victory for real music over disposable music… saying that at the Eurovision song contest of all places. Balls… Of… Steel. You can’t help but admire him. And for the reprise at the end he did it as a duet with his sister so no questions a well deserved win. The sort of thing that would make the Grinch’s heart grow three times larger (ironically).

#CelebrateDiversity by having someone with chronic health issues, involving their heart, perform at a highly stressful, internationally live broadcasted, event…

12 Azerbaijan : Dihaj : Skeletons

A very 1980s formal wear inspired look. They brought their own chalk board wall covered in inoffensive graffiti including such words as BADBOY, SENSATION, READY, THORN, FANTASY, NOW I AM INTO DAYDREAMS, MY HEART, GRAVITY… It’s as if they’ve never gone into a real public toilet or the rough part of town in their life.

At the start she’s like a cat about to spit up a hairball. Wait – where are her hands? Is she… is she…. no she can’t be pretending to do that could she? There’s a guy on top of a ladder wearing a horse mask because… reasons. It’s all about sexual repression I guess. Then the walls come down and she takes her coat off. Yeah! She’s not going to be bound by societies norms! She’s going to stand up for her rights! If she wants to touch herself in a public toilet, while a guy wearing a horse mask stood on top of a ladder watches, she’s not going to let them stop her! #CelebrateDiversity!

It comes across like a performance art piece done by an amateur dramatics group. Skeletons – yeah, because… we all have one so we’re all the same under the skin… right? I actually quite liked it overall. It had it’s own distinct identity and should have done better. Also woof woof. Definitely blonde hair with black lipstick seems the theme this year for many female performers.

#CelebrateDiversity being kinky isn’t wrong… even when it involves a guy, in a horse mask, on top of a ladder watching you.

13 Croatia : Jacques Houdek : My Friend

He should have done this, as Graham Norton said afterwards though I was thinking the same thing, in a ‘half man/half woman’ costume split vertically. The long tails formal leather jacket is odd but not as much as him wearing bright white trainers with it. A classic ‘only in Eurovision’ entry. It’s novel… I enjoyed it… I just don’t feel it’s something I could enjoy outside of it being a one off novelty. He has those ‘over the thumb’ sleeves I see Bulgaria’s entry wearing later. So that’s this years fashion for the men then besides ‘the close shaved on the side of the hear with a big bouffant of hair on top hairstyle’ which is fashionable now anyway independent of the competition. Also as he’s very fat they’re really showing they #CelebrateDiversity.

#CelebrateDiversity by going so far as doing both parts of the song thus ensuring only a white man gets paid for singing… and being so barrel shaped to the point you wonder if he might die before the guy with the chronic health issues.

14 Australia : Isaiah : Don’t Come Easy

Looks like a pretentious prick. Just does. Get a haircut. He looks possibly ‘gender fluid’ (without being – similar to comedians who act like they’re gay but aren’t) thus can claim to #CelebrateDiversity. He also walks like he just lost control of his bowels. A very bland song and a punchable smug face (and sadly not the only one tonight either). Also put some socks on!

#CelebrateDiversity by looking like a woman in the autumn of life dressing casual smart for work or a special occasion.

15 Greece : Demy : This is Love

Half naked male ballet dancers in a shallow pool of water. Poland went for the dad vote, Greece is going for the mum vote so it’s very much #CelebrateEquality more than #CelebrateDiversity. Another ‘the dancers are far to distracting’ performance. They’re very good though they do at times pose like they’re dancing ducks. The songs enjoyable but I think it should have been staged differently as the dancers take away too much attention. Are they implying at the end the dancers are gay lovers? Well that definitely does #CelebrateDiversity.

#CelebrateDiversity by dancing like a duck.

16 Spain : Manel Navarro : Do It For Your Lover

Hawaiian shirts. A karaoke style song very reminiscent of 1950s surfer rock. The ‘do it for your lover’ chorus – Are you telling people to be more open about their affection or telling them to let their lover ‘experiment’ when they really don’t want to? It has that vibe due to the repetition. Just do it. Just do it. Just do it for your lover. If you really loved them you’d let them put _____ in your _____ while they _____ and _____ your _____! JUST DO IT! DO IT FOR YOUR LOVER! IF YOU REALLY LOVED THEM YOU WOULD DO IT! They need to hook up with the Azerbaijan guys – they’d teach them a thing or two about doing it for your lover…

#CelebrateDiversity by coming across like the sort of people teenagers are warned to avoid when given sex-ed in school.

17 Norway : JOWST : Grab The Moment

A wannabe Daft Punk look. Oddly the guy shows his face in the pre-performance VT so the mask during the performance is a little redundant. It’s easy listening reggae which suddenly kicks into talking about how he’ll ‘kill that voice in my head’. It’s different but the sort of thing Eurovision judges react poorly to – especially as it includes the word ‘kill’ in it. It’s got a good hook but the voice sampled modulation doesn’t really add much.

#CelebrateDiversity by coming across as if your mocking the mentally ill afflicted by ‘voices in their head’ they wish they could get rid of and hiring a guy who performs in an LED mask like many other DJs right now e.g. Deadmau5.

Half Time Break:

Look it’s Vitali Klitschko – the one Ukrainian sportsman everyone definitely knows even if they don’t follow sports. The VT skit is a self appraising piece of time filling to allow the behind the scenes team can catch up if somethings started going wrong.

The trio of male models learn from last year’s presenter who is also a male model in looks and now gets to live out his power fantasies via the VT. It’s a hard life being beautiful. All the jokes, and I mean all of them, fall flat. Any more mutual self appraising during this skit and it would be the preamble to the sort of scene on a DVD sold only in ‘private shops’ and be unsuitable for broadcast at this time of day.

#CelebrateDiversity through power fantasies.

On a side note I find there is this odd English diction I only ever hear used by Eurovision presenters… I mean I hear people speaking English as their second language, at all levels of ability, a lot and it’s only here they have this distinctly odd enunciation. Is it just me? Because the ‘accent’ is always the same no matter what country the contest is held in the presenters have that exact style of diction.

#CelebrateDiversity by having all presenters use the exact same diction no matter what country they’re from.

Anyway this little skit was appalling. They should have had them just strip and do body building poses while each stood on an individual small rotating platform for women (and some men) to ogle at for a minute or two while the rest of us went to get a drink. The sad thing is I think they would have happily done it. Timur would have just to not be left backstage while the others get all the glory.

Being this beautiful isn’t a crime and means anything you say, intending to be funny, should be deemed comedy gold and passed on through the generations because people ‘want’ you. Women (and gay men and anyone in between) want you, men (and f2m transexuals) want to be you.

#CelebrateDiversity

18 United Kingdom : Lucie Jones : Never Give Up On You

She is Welsh so I am biased. It’s better than many other performances if a little safe.

#CelebrateDiversity by playing it safe as you don’t want your country coming near the bottom of the ranking like previous years. (we were top of the bottom half – That’s an achievement!)

So instead of commenting on her I’ll mention I noticed a few of the female performers have had writing on their inner right arm so when they spread their arms I feel like they could have something really inappropriate written there in script and no one would notice until it was too late though it’s probably just lyrics from a song or poem they found to be inspirational. It seems some performers had to cover their tattoos while others can show them off.

#CelebrateDiversity by covering your tattoos because you’re not a salty sea dog laying drunk on the dockside.

19 Cyprus : Hovig : Gravity

A modern pop song performed by, presumably, middle aged men. A good effort but not enough to stand out. Embarrassing dance moves too at certain points – the sort of thing I saw in nightclubs years ago performed by drunk ‘lads’ out on the pull. Another dad dancing act.

#CelebrateDiversity by acting far younger than you are (or you look far older than you are) and doing ‘cool’ drunk dad dance moves

20 Romania : Ilinca ft. Alex Florea : Yodel It!

Ilinca woof woof. A dress that’s impossibly short and …she yodels. Instant marriage material no question! A woman with that specialised a talent is the sort who isn’t going to get embarrassed easily by anything so you can have fun and do what you like with someone casting a critical eye. Then there’s yodelling and rapping all in one act! The songs fun and what with the cannons and all might just be crazy enough to do well or even win (They didn’t but it was one of the highlights of the evening).

#CelebrateDiversity through yodelling and rapping in the same song. Then think about what you’re doing with your life and what led to this.

21 Germany : Levina : Perfect Life

She has a middle aged woman’s hair cut like the BBC sports correspondent Clare Balding. The front of the dress is incredibly conservative then you see its held on by arm straps leaving the back bare and she has bare feet. Grey, grey, grey – did she base her style on Angela Merkel? The song… I’m sat here listening to it and already forgetting it. Bland. It’s perfectly bland.

#CelebrateDiversity by dressing as if you’re 40 years older than you actually are.

22 Ukraine : O.Torvald : Time

A soft rock song. They’re wearing padded, pillow case shaped, tabards as if they’ve just come off their shift in the care home or prison canteen. It reminds me of the sort of bland inoffensive rock song you have over the credits of a live action Japanese film based on a manga. Then again I think Finland’s Lordi was more than the contest could take really regarding rock acts despite winning in 2006.

There needs to be a heavy metal version of Eurovision. Ghost BC representing Sweden, Lordi for Finland, a lad of Scandinavian death metal bands… it would be glorious.

I think that the host countries should just put in novelty acts or be allowed to only do the ‘while the tele-votes are being cast’ segments since they never put in potentially winning acts for fear they’ll have to host again next year and blew their budget doing it this year.

#CelebrateDiversity by dressing how you want to dress… even if it involves wearing padded grey tabards no one would look good in.

23 Belgium : Blanche : City Lights

A good song performed by a 17 year old in a ball gown suffering from stage fright. The intro reminds me of a song from a while ago. She has a very Adele like tone to her voice. It’s far too subdued and the gesticulating feels forced in order to have her move a little. She has potential for the future but it feels like people will vote for her because they liked the song when it was played on the radio or out of pity for how clearly she is out of her depth here performing live to an international, if not global, audience.

#CelebrateDiversity by watching a talented teenage performer with possible stage fright taking her first steps into performing for a stadium level audience.

24 Sweden : Robin Bengtsson : I Can’t Go On

The guy has a dead eyed look to him and acts up for the camera at the start walking onto the stage rather than start on the stage like everyone else. He reminds me of Robin Thicke… he just has that aura about him. Like he touched up someone back stage just before the performance with that same blank expression while admiring himself in a mirror judging his own mid-coitus performance. The song has a 1980s beat… there are lots of retro music aspects to this year’s contestants. It just comes across as insincere. Also he has trousers which are an inch or two too short which is fashionable. The use of treadmills for the dancing is a good idea though OK GO did it 8 years ago in their music video for Here It Goes Again.

#CelebrateDiversity by having a ‘male model level’ handsome group of backing dancers and having a ‘there’s something wrong about this guy but I can’t put my finger on it’ aura.

25 Bulgaria : Kristian Kostov : Beautiful Mess

Another 17 year old. He has a punchable face as he seems arrogant. It doesn’t help he has low clung trousers, the ‘thumb through the sleeve’ under shirt and the jacket design looks like he put it on back to front as if he can’t dress himself. Looks like he loves himself. Good song and performance – and he knows it. Good potential for the future as long as his ego doesn’t get too big.

#CelebrateDiversity by accepting that they’ve given a platform to an annoyingly smug yet talented teenager with a fashion style that will be outdated by next year so you know he’ll just look all the more ridiculous by then if the trappings of fame don’t get him first.

26 France : Alma : Requiem

Woof! France never fails. Another impossibly short dress. It probably would have done better if it wasn’t the final song when everyone’s got listening fatigue. A very enjoyable song with impressive graphics to compliment it. It’s the sort of song that would do better outside the contest probably.

#CelebrateDiversity by wearing a dress that defies logic it’s so short.

Thus we got to the ‘while you go and vote’ part where they put on some performers from the host nation.

First we have Ruslana performing It’s Magical.

A chain mail dress. That has to hurt when it gets caught on her skin. It’s one of those rare occassions where the backing dancers are wearing far more than the star. I mean they look like they escaped from the set of a film adaption based on a ‘young adult’ urban fantasy novel but still…

It’s a good song though. I wonder if competition entrants have a budget limit for their staging as you would imagine they would all be to this scale if they could in order to win votes via sheer spectacle.

#CelebrateDiversity by looking like an amateur dramatic society musical adaption of a young adult novel.

Then we got ONUKA and NAONI Orchestra doing a ‘megamix’ of songs.

Electro folk music… oh dear they’ve discovered my musical niche. It’s awesome. I can’t view it objectively… I mean the ‘low budget Star Wars storm-trooper’ costumes look terrible but that’s besides the point. If you were not focusing you would swear the dancers from the Armenian entry had escaped and decided to do their own thing.

#CelebrateDiversity through Ukranian folk music instruments and electronica. Awesome.

The Votes – Judge Panels and Popular vote

Then we got all the votes. The French announcer at about 11:30 is only wearing half a jacket. To be honest they all look a little odd in different ways whether it be way too poised, too delayed in reacting, under dressed, over dressed or any number of things. The hosts insulted the UK announcer at about 32:35 saying ‘1997, the year you were born’ and though the other guy tries to recover from it playing it off saying ‘I didn’t visit that Eurovision song contest’ the insult was already delivered. Flirt with the attractive younger announcers and insult the older ones. Nice.

Then they introduced the Georgian winner of the Junior Eurovision song contest who was very preconscious, in fact annoyingly so, implying she has a ‘tiger mom’ or is from a very privileged background. The sort of child you see in American productions (especially Disney Channel’s live shows) and years later have suffered from the pitfalls of the industry (drugs, alcohol, etc). She spoke clearer English that the presenters which was hilarious however.

Followed by last years winner Jamala:

Personally her song last year was overtly political and should have been changed… but you know… There is no official video of her performance it seems as someone walked casually up onto the small stage and bared their bottom to the camera. I was looking away when it happened and thought it was just someone in the crowd… but apparently it was front and centre! It’s good she remained professional however she does look like a mum of three whose been at the wine all day and suddenly fanced a song and dance when a song comes on the radio.

Then the tele-vote tallies were shown:

Suffice to say there were a few massive upsets because of it. We, here in the UK, were one place off being in the top half. I don’t care but it seemed like a do or die situation in the coverage at the time.

Also during the event Verka Serduchka (from Eurovision 2007) appeared a few times including a ‘Verka workout’ between the judge votes and the tele-votes announcements.

We have had Lily Savage and Dame Edna Everage so I’m not bothered by drag queen acts and the humour in these skits was good physical comedy. #CelebrateDiversity with drag acts.

But in the end of course Salvador and Luísa Sobral from Portugal won.

1:50 – 2:12 “We live in a world of disposable music, fast food music without any content…. this could be a victory for music… with people who make music that actual means something…”

Balls.

Of.

Steel.

To say that at the Eurovision of all places. The man is already a legend. Then he goes and duets with his sister later. I thought it was really nice he wanted his sister to perform it with him since she had written it and performed it when he hadn’t been available due to his poor health.

The presenters ushered him off embarrassed and then at 3:10 – 3:22 they boasted of how they love Ukraine, their motherland, then tell us how tolerant, modern and open a country they are.

Attach ‘… unlike Russia’ to each of those statements.

That was the intended subtext and you know it was despite them not mentioning Russia at all during the evening.

It was enjoyable. Not many standout performances nor many ‘zany’ novelty ones either in a similar vein to Verka as there was some crack down a few years ago on not allowing them or something which is a shame. It’s become a more po-faced annual affair because they’ve suddenly decided to take themselves far too seriously.

#CelebrateDiversity and make it an enjoyable event like it used to be rather than have a crackdown on what can or can’t be allowed, denying politics plays it’s role and just go with the flow allowing it to be the good humoured event it used to be without trying to sanitise everything to the point it’s bland. To be honest here in the UK we didn’t used to see any of it until the grand final so it was all the more special but in this day and age they show it and it makes it slightly less unique each year. Nonetheless it’s a good platform to introduce people to world music which they might not be made aware of otherwise so ultimately it’s a good thing.