Saturday, December 27, 2008

Twilight is a teen flick so obviously I went to see it for research purposes only, not for the charismatic allure of Robert Pattinson as a vegetarian vampire with super-hero skills and a passion for running up the tall pines of misty Washington forests with his girlfriend clinging on like a besotted backpack. Bella is the ultimate bored teen, so being sucked into a state of immortal sleeplessness is an irresistible lure, though that could be because the vampire gang are kindof the in-crowd at school, and Edward is especially good at biology although his mood swings kindof give her whiplash.
The blending of filmic conventions is actually quite well done, or maybe I have an adolescent longing for supernatural schizophrenia too. Edward initially attempts to explain his sudden superhuman strength as “an adrenalin rush – you can Google it.” Instead she googles vampires, and he comes clean.
“I’m the world’s most dangerous predator. Everything about me invites you in. And I’m designed to kill.”
“I trust you.”
But this is a love story, so of course she can... though not the other vampires, who turn a stormy baseball game into a showdown from The Warriors and then there's a car chase and a massive fight in a hall of mirrors... I hope I'm not spoiling the story for you. Go see it, there's too much rushing through misty forests and very little sex but an unexpectedly good end.

And after the best seasonal celebrations I've enjoyed for years, the news that Harold Pinter died on Christmas day. "The most original, stylish and enigmatic writer in the post-war revival of British theatre" mourns The Telegraph. "The most influential, provocative and poetic dramatist of his generation" says The Guardian. The Dumb Waiter , which I first saw in a student production in Northern Ireland, was my rite of passage into the power of contemporary drama. I admired his uncompromising opposition, undeterred by critical disdain, to the Iraq war - I had the chance to read his poem Where was the dead body found? at a PEN event organised by Victoria Glendinning last year, and was dead proud when Antonia Fraser told me Harold would have liked it and she would tell him about it.

Adrian Mitchell, too, chose the deep mid-winter to depart - as I discovered from Facebook status tributes. Only love can unlock locked-up love he wrote, unfashionably, when the trend to demonise inept parenting was just beginning in the 80s. I so agree.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Finborough Theatre has a reputation for staging great drama so I made the trip to Earls Court this week to see a revival of William Saroyan's Politzer-winning play The Time of Your Life. Somewhere between Altman's Short Cuts and an early episode of Cheers, it's billed as a comedy but the shadow of Second World War looms across Nick's downtown San Francisco joint where drunks, gamblers, whores, delusionists all wander in to show us their hopes and their loneliness. Twenty-seven of them, on a stage that spills across the auditorium so audience and actors share tables and pretzels. Nick runs his bar like a sleazy soup-kitchen, benign to all except the Vice Squad snoop: "How do you know the difference between a lady and a street walker? You're out to change the world from something bad to something worse."
With an ensemble piece like this, a fine cast is more important than a single star (though intriguingingly the wannabe entertainer who can't dance was played in 1939 by Gene Kelly) and Icarus Theatre had that. For me the only unsatisfying aspect was the ending, a flurried death off-stage, leaving it unclear whether or not there would be repercussions for this "profusion of wistful dreamers, lonely hearts, and beer-hall-philosophers".

But a dramatic ending is hard to write, as I'm finding. It's got to come from the characters, and they can be perversely secretive. I nicked this Harold Pinter quote from John Baker's blog. "I don't know what kind of characters my plays will have until they indicate to me what they are. Once I've got the clues I follow them. That's my job, really, to follow the clues."

And now it's nearly the longest night so in the words of poet Inua Ellams, I wish you all a Happy....
Solstice - Samhain - Yule - Saturnalia - Winterval - Hogmanay - St. Nicholas - Kwanzaa- Bodhi - Yalda - Hanukkah - Christmas.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

In Frome, ChristmasTreegate is hotting up. Letters in the local paper are fulminating about our traffic-distraction-free replacement as a "monstrous illuminated rotary washing line". "It looks like a broken umbrella," said one lady, who had brought visitors to view - "how embarrassing".
"A bit sparse but very nice" another correspondent called Carol comments, more kindly.
Excitement at Emily's writers' circle too, as Debby Holt's new novel Love Affairs for Grownups is poised for launch next month. Debbie's previous novel in Italian translation was hailed as Strepitoso!.

The Merlin theatre pantomime has been a sell-out again this year.
The Wizard of Oz is probably their most polished so far, with strong central performances from Dorothy and her wandering companions, though predictably Kylie the dog stole every scene she was in.
Star of the show for me though was Howard Vause, the most unforestwise lion ever, nearly as vain as Red Dwarf's cat and much more cuddly.
(Thanks, Mike, for the picture)

Another theatre show, a long way from the Land of Oz, Carthage Must be Destroyed, at the Ustinov in Bath: a brilliant play provocatively well performed.
"It's not a play about Iraq" says writer Alan Wilkins, "It's about the Third Punic War. But then... all wars are different - all wars are the same." It's about the culpability of passivity and the absurdity of violence, and the damage of love too. From the spa waters of Rome to the fires of Carthage, the first casualty of warmongering is integrity.
Performances till 20th December - go see if you can.

And finally....Angus Deaton who hosted the British Comedy Awards earlier this week is usually one of my TV heroes - most of whom can be prefixed by the word 'disgraced'. He introduced the Writers Guild Award with the comment that he was 'delighted at the number of good writers coming forward, which is hardly any at all.' Gavin & Stacey won Best TV Comedy, so James Cordon may find that funny even if the rest of us don't.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

A new month and a new moon - the Moon of the Long Night. My adoptive home of Frome traditionally greets the solstice season with street festivities and a mass countdown to the ceremonial illumination-switching-on moment. The Extravaganza, as this was magnificently titled, centred around the big tree beside the market cross, with shops staying open late and plying mincepies mulled wine and chocolates as well as their trades. We had carols, bellringers, bands... ah, the good times rolled. Last year, presumably responding to a directive from Brussells, the tree was surrounded by an iron fence Michael Eavis might envied, and local youths naturally rallied to the challenge. So this year there is no tree in the market place. Instead we had a Sunday market in the Cheese & Grain and sporadic santa-related activity in the precinct with sound effects from a radio van and a merry-go-round. Not quite what Strictly judge Len would call a smorgsbord of gorgeousness, but with quaint charm, especially the Christmas fairies dispensing snow from Siberia.
"Christmas decorations are a kind of defiance" Rose Flint suggested in her poetry workshop at the library, "Awareness of the night sky is deep in the human psyche. We're bringing the stars inside, and helping the light to return." We wrote about snow, and glitter, and stars, shaping constellations like gods. Winter glitz for wintry glums.

The Poetry Cafe was crowded for "Difficult Journeys" and we had to clear the window sills when we ran out of room for chairs. The theme's tenuous connection with The Wizard of Oz, the pantomime at the Merlin, was largely ignored by guest poets Rose Flint and Malinda Kennedy and 19 open-mic contributors who opted for more personal interpretations.
It always inspires a sense of privilege when writers share intimate feelings, and there were some glittering gems.
Dianne Penny's beautifully-performed poem was a favourite for me: I never knew I had the right to speak... listen, listen, listen... Paula as theatre director picked out many for special praise and donated prizes, with Linda Perry and Rosie Jackson agreed as worthy winners of the theatre tickets.