Saw This House at the National Theatre. Political play about the Labour and Conservative whips offices between 1974 and 1979, when Labour had either a minority or a wafer-thin majority government, and both sides had to marshal every vote to try to survive or bring down the government.
The play remains resolutely focussed on the "engine room." There's almost no discussion of political policy , only how each vote can be lost or won; and the ministers remain completely off-stage.
Even so, it's a great setup, with plenty of tension and conflict. There are some feverishly intense performances, including Philip Glenister (TV's Gene Hunt) as a Labour whip.
The set mimics the House of Commons floor, with the audience divided between Government and Opposition benches. Not sure it's actually that helpful, as most of the action takes place in back rooms, but it does bring you close to the action. (It's in the Cottesloe, the smallest space at the National).
As a politics junkie, I loved this play. I think it has wider appeal though: it doesn't get too bogged down in minutae and it does give a good view of how Parliament used to work.
Well worth seeing if you have any interest in British politics.
Saw the Opera Up Close performance of Tosca at the Kings Head Theatre. Have seen a few of these now: they do modernised operas with a handful of performers. This one had a relatively lavish three-piece orchestra: pianist, clarinet and cellist; others have made do with a piano and violin.
As usual, the singing seemed great to me. Girl B thought the singers were good too, but complained about a lack of "dynamics", everything's sung loudly without quiet bits, perhaps because the play's so cut down.
This one updates the action to East Germany just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Seemed OK, but I've never seen Tosca before so have no idea how well it works compared to the original.
Overall, the usual high standard, worth seeing if you like the mini-opera concept.
What I'm Reading
Discordia by Laurie Penny and Molly Crabapple is an interesting concept: medium-form gonzo journalism aimed at the e-book market: you pay a couple of quid (£1.89 on Amazon) and get about a hundred pages worth.
Heavily inspired by Hunter S. Thompson and Ralph Steadman, the dynamic duo head off to Athens and talk to the youth and others affected by the financial crisis.
Somehow fittingly for the 21st century, rather than breaking down after taking drugs, Penny starts to disintegrate after her meds are stolen in a bar.
I liked it. Penny's text is well-written and informative, though deliberately partisan. Molly Crabapple's illustrations are good, but not nearly as intense as Steadman's;
I do like the concept, which is actually using the nature of ebooks to good effect. You can pay an intermediate price for intermediate length, which wouldn't really be possible on paper, and electronic publishing is much faster than paper. I'd like to see a lot more of this kind of journalism.
What I'm Reading 2
Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway. Imaginative adventure novel about the son of a celebrated London gangster trying to live a quiet life repairing clockwork antiques, but who gets caught up in a world of secret societies and agencies over a mysterious artefact.
I liked it, but not quite as much as his previous novel the Gone-Away World. Don't think it was worse, but wasn't quite in the mood.
Overall though, a good novel. Deftly plays with traditional clichéd plot elements but does so with enough brio to keep things interesting.
Not sure how autobiographical the son overshadowed by his father theme is: Harkaway's father is John le Carré.
What I'm Reading 3
Finished the free sampler selection from Superheroes: The Best of Philosophy and Pop Culture Has the usual stuff, e.g. uses Peter Parker as an example of whether virtue or pleasure makes for a good life.
Some moderately interesting philosophy, though the "The $SERIOUS_SUBJECT of $POPULAR_FRANCHISE" formula doesn't add that much.
Went to the open day at the Acton depot of the London transport museum (it's only open some weekends.) Well worth going if you're interested in transport or nostalgic for a London childhood: loads of buses, trams and Tube trains from the last century and a half. Fascinating to actually see one of the old horse-drawn double-decker omnibuses.
What I'm Watching
Saw J. Edgar on disc. Decent biopic of J. Edgar Hoover. Seemed pretty balanced between his genuine achievements in developing the FBI and promoting modern criminology; and his batshit insanity in terms of politics.
Takes the usual interpretation of his personal life, depicts him as a repressed homosexual, but having an intense emotional relationship with Clyde Tolson.
Overall though, a bit slow-moving. Moderately interesting but not unmissable.
What I'm Watching 2
Saw Nineties art movie The Double Life Of Veronique on disc. Slow-moving love story, found it very dull. Good points: lots of fancy cinemetography with shots framed through glass, a few bits of nice gratuitous nudity, but they don't really make it worth watching.
Socioeconomics. UK alcohol consumption, crime, gender pay gap continue to fall. Apple and Google patent budgets exceed R&D. Job creation still odd. Keynesianism left and right. IMF and austerity. Decriminalise drugs. No resource curse or blessing? Economics made fun?
Politics. How did Conservatives win in 1951, 1970, and 1979? Respect resignations. Ken Clarke legacy abandoned. US. Rasmussen: "Polls Reflect Voter Reality, Not Pundits' Preoccupations". First names and US political donations. Putting the Palestinians on a diet. Shares for employment rights. Upcoming conflict over Leveson report. Norway: nowhere to hide from the EU. Did cuts contribute to rail fiasco, translation outsourcing fiascos?
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