A hoot. Irish rogue Dion Boucicault’s farce of manners is a laugh out loud production. The attraction for me was seeing for the first time Simon Russell Beale, often described as the greatest stage actor of his generation, and Fiona Shaw. They are both magnificent, positively chewing the scenery with delight at their respective roles of Sir Harcourt Courtly and the wonderfully named Lady Gay Spanker.
Beale revels in the physicality of Sir Harcourt, posing and preening his way through the action, the perfect embodiment of a 57 year old desperately trying to convince himself most of all that he is 39. His joy at making a witty remark is glorious, as he silently mouths his self-appreciation and squirms and skips with pride, and his shock when his son Charles reveals his double identity as Augustus Hamilton by, á la Clark Kent, simply removing his spectacles is fall-off-your-seat priceless. Shaw, meanwhile, is the perfect foil. The horsiness of her glee at the prospect of spicing up her marriage with the venerable Richard Briers by leading Sir Harcourt’s lust for her by the nose while helping her young friend Grace avoid an arranged marriage with Sir Harcourt so that she can marry Charles is beautifully done.
Of course the rest of the cast are absolutely top-notch. What is refreshing is how stupid, self-centred and shallow the men are and how powerful, inventive, mischievous and grounded the women are: Michelle Terry’s Grace is particularly charming in her refusal to let the first love she feels lead her woefully astray.
Typically labyrinthine in plot of mistaken identity and competing love, the play of course borrows – steals – heavily from the Restoration comedy of Congreve and Wycherly, but looks forward too in its foreshadowing of Wilde and Shaw and, in the relationship between Sir Harcourt and his trussed up valet Cool, “Yes Minister”. Boucicault may have been a plagiarist, a chancer, a speculator and a womaniser, but by gum could he write a crowd pleaser. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.
So the Paras behaved badly on Bloody Sunday: tell us something we didn’t know 40 years ago. As ever, men with guns and what they believed was a licence to kill went on the rampage and shot innocent civilians. The fact that it has taken so long to decide that – and still no prosecutions – has merely encouraged armies around the world to continue their policy of doing whatever the fuck they like.
The “bad apple” argument doesn’t wash anymore, not when revelations about military brutality against civilians are an almost daily occurrence. Forget the glossy recruiting adverts showing soldiers helping civilians in disaster areas: just one example of troops overstepping the mark into illegal violence is enough to tarnish that image irreparably.
- Wikileaks (heroes for the release of the video of the shooting of Reuters journalists by Apache helicopters in Iraq) promise to leak video of the infamous Garani air strike, in which the Afghans say 140 civilians were killed. Of course, the US military dispute that: they seem comfortable with their figure of 30 civilian dead. This coming at a time when the Pentagon are reported to be searching for Australian Wikilieaks founder Julian Assange, to do to him God knows what. It is chilling how many US forums call for his incarceration in Gitmo or his execution.
- Five US soldiers charged with premeditated murder of civilians in Afghanistan.
- The owner of officially-sanctioned mercenaries Blackwater, Erik Prince, seems set to flee the US to take refuge in the United Arab Emirates, where he will be free from extradition proceedings, to avoid a slew of gun-running and conspiracy charges.
And, of course, in the last few weeks, we’ve had Mossad agents arrested in Poland for their illegal use of passports in the Dubai assassination plot and Israeli commandos killing Turkish peace activists while raiding a ship in international waters.
The demands of our politicians and media for unqualified support for “our boys” mean nothing unless soldiers can be held to the highest standards. Those who do their jobs, who are wounded in battle, who face horrendous situations and still maintain their dignity and professionalism – these soldiers deserve the best equipment, the best health care, the best wages, the most respect. But while the system delays and obfuscates, while it covers up corruption and murder, while it tries to maintain the fiction that anyone wearing the right uniform is automatically some sort of warrior-poet-saint, I can’t help but look at it all with suspicion and cynicism.
An article on work I’m doing with my colleagues Hugh Gallagher and Allan Blake on initial teacher education partnerships is published in today’s Times Educational Supplement Scotland. Read it at http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6047408 .
Words Per Minute is a new monthly showcase of writing, film, music and anything else the organisers and charming hosts, Anneliese Mackintosh and Kirstin Innes, can get their hands on. This afternoon’s line-up includes Craig Lamont, a new young writer, Rodge Glass and Adrian Searle on their graphic novel project Dougie’s War: A Soldier’s Story, poet Emily Ballou reading from The Darwin Poems and a bizarrely compulsive sound performance from Iain Campbell.
The second half of the afternoon works really well. Sophie Cooke’s reading is as darkly elegant as her writing, and the short film The Shutdown, beautifully written and magnificently voiced by Alan Bissett and directed by Adam Stafford, is fantastic, and thoroughly deserves the Best Short Documentary prize it has just won at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Ending the day, Stafford performs from his current album, and the way in which he builds his vocal sound scape is mesmerizing.
This is a brilliant idea to offer a regular performance venue to new and established talent. Reading work to audiences has always been a joy for me, and I know how vital it is as an editing tool; you just don’t now what a piece is really like until you hear it and see an audience’s reaction. Anneliese Mackintosh and Kirstin Innes deserve huge praise for getting this up and running.
A month of a total lack of culture thanks to heaps of marking ends with a visit to see a version of the Pullitzer-prize winning play by John Patrick Shanley. Recently made into a Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman film, the story of a power struggle and possible sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is obviously hugely topical, even though it is set in 1964. Father Flynn is accused of “interfering” with the first black boy at an exclusive private school by the overbearing Sister Aloysius, in the process ending the innocence of young Sister James.
It’s a cracker of a story, sure, but it doesn’t quite work for me. The vindictiveness of the elder nun seems to lack context, and the priest, faced with such a flimsy case against him, buckles too easily, accepting a promotion to move him away from the impending turmoil. As a result, the play finishes good half hour too early and with too many unanswered questions – which is perhaps why it’s called “Doubt”…
The set is gorgeous, utilising the Tron’s original stained glass windows to create the hushed interior of a church. The cast is adequate. Alison Peebles is suitably malicious as the school principal, looking like a malevolent Michelle Pfeiffer, but she stumbles with lines occasionally (one paragraph becomes unintelligible as she fights to make sense and make the cue), while Keith Fleming is a little too unctuous as the priest and Phyllis Livingston is given little to do despite having the potentially juicy part of the dilemma-ridden mother. Best of all is Sally Reid as the naive Sister James. She has the right face and manner of the ingenue teacher and nun, scared stiff by authority and willing to say anything to please either Sister Aloysius or Father Flynn. Her development into her own thinking entity as she realises the injustice that has been done is the most believable aspect of the play.
However, overall it’s a bit of a disappointment. Whether editing decisions have been made or whether the script really is that pat is beside the point: I left feeling short changed by a potentially rivetting story about potentially rivetting characters.