Raymond Soltysek's Blog

The incest tragedy? “King Lear”, Citizens’ Theatre, 27/4/12

Posted in Theatre review by raymondsoltysek on April 29, 2012
Link to citizens' theatre

David Hayman, “King Lear”

My second King Lear in just over a year, after 2011′s fantastic Derek Jacobi version.  That was a very traditional take, all pagan standing stones and a venerable king thrown on the mercy of Dark Age gods.  This is something else.

It’s a sign of Hayman’s ambition as an actor that he felt ready to tackle a part most others shy away from until they are in their 70s.  Hayman is 64, ten years younger than Jacobi, and was therefore never going to be able to play Lear as the  petulant old man on the verge of dodderiness.  In keeping with Hayman’s oeuvre, this is a much more dangerous beast.  And that, I think, is the problem I have with this.

It’s a memorable production, a way of doing the play I’ve never seen before.  That’s the thing about Shakespeare: with stage directions that consist of “a heath” or “a tempest”, you can do much anything you want with it.  That has validated some absolute shite over the years that usually entails a company digging around in its military uniform box to come up with a mish-mash of all sorts of periods; the Citz’  “Macbeth” of a couple of decades ago which was set in a post-apocalyptic world complete with enormous wind machines blowing actors across the stage and a Lady Macbeth who ate Duncan’s heart springs to mind.  I’ve never seen Lear tackled this way, though, so off the straight and narrow.  Generally, it works, largely because of Hayman, and, though I’m not quite sure I loved it, I certainly applaud its verve and intelligence.

The problem is that Lear scares me.  This is a king who is a Glasgow gangster, a hard-drinking, fur-wearing, sexually abusive  ned who has been elevated to the crown because he is the badass of the country.  His treatment of Goneril (a voluptuous Kathryn Howden) is actually completely  repellent, and the revelation of his hundred knights as the drunkenly obnoxious, arrogant squad of utter yobs that would make you walk out of any pub they happened to be in (a decision, I feel, is a directorial error), means that, quite frankly, I actually have no sympathy for this guy.  His rantings against his daughters that, in any other production, are the tetchy ravings of a foolish old man 0n the verge of senility are here the explicit, chilly threats of a psychopath.  As such, I don’t care if he’s murdered by exposure on the heath or shot up the arse in a car outside an east end pub.  And what that does is it legitimises Regan’s and Goneril’s complaints against him and makes you wonder just what sexual abuse he has delivered on Cordelia that makes her so in thrall of him and what dark contracts he has made with Kent to earn his loyalty.

But there are big plusses.  Hayman is always fantastic and does what he does impeccably.  There are some great moments, and he is capable of making himself appear so much less than he is as madness descends; I have to say, though, I find his fractured, nasal delivery of many of those lines of madness curiously old-fashioned.  Paul Higgins as Kent is solid and generally convincing (though, again, his onstage suicide at the end is, I think, a mistake, pulling attention away from the death of Lear).  I liked Ewan Donald as Edgar (a great part for any actor) and Kieran Hill, while unconvincing as Edmund, is terrific as Poor Tom.

Shauna Macdonald as Regan is red hot sexy in a way that becomes outrageously vampish, the inappropriate fondlings of a child who has experienced crossed boundaries that befits the rampant sexuality of the whole production, and her death performance is something else.  As well as oodles of sex, there’s also buckets of blood, arterial spray soaking the stage; the blinding scene is torture porn aesthetic, Regan taking out Gloucester’s second eye with the heel of her stiletto shoe.  Lastly, the final image of Lear piled on top of all his dead daughters and wheeled out on a hospital bed is inspired: just what has this total bastard done to these girls to bring the whole family to this?  I’d never noticed before, but there is no mention of a mother in King Lear.  Where is his Queen?  And how did those girls replace her in this chilling man’s life?

I don’t quite warm to Lynn Kennedy as Cordelia, feeling she lacks the necessary gravitas to stand up to her father and sisters, but it was a stroke of genius to have her pregnant in the final act.  It occurred to me a full day after seeing the play.   Lear demands that he spend one month with Reagan and Goneril each.  The crisis comes before even a month has passed, since he has not had time to visit Reagan for the first time.  Given that France accepts Cordelia after Burgundy rejects her, and has therefore had only a few weeks with her, how then does she appear heavily pregnant?  Who is the father?  If it can’t be France (who we do not see again) – then who?

I’ve never read the play like this before.  Is it a sexual abuser’s tale?  Is this a take on Shakespeare in the mould of Tim Roth’s “The War Zone”?

This version of the play has disquieted me, and dammit that’s a good thing.  I’m not sure, though, if I can forgive it for not letting me weep at the awakening scene, or when Lear carries his hanged daughter onstage (here, he drags her like some piece of meat).  I’m not sure I want to notice just how self-centred all Lear’s madness is, how possessive he is of what he is to and has had with his daughters.  But, hell, do you know, maybe Hayman and artistic director Dominic Hill are just showing me what’s in the text.

And that is undoubtedly a good thing.  Shakespeare would surely have wanted that:  I’m just not sure I do.

ps  By the way, I have to say thanks to my lovely PGDE English class, who took me along on their night out.  In twelve years of working with student teachers, this is the first time that’s happened; sweeties every one, especially fetchingly floppy-haired Scott  who organised it all.  Thanks, guys, I had a lovely time.

“New Writing Scotland 30″

Posted in Behaviour Management, fiction, Publications by raymondsoltysek on April 25, 2012

Just had the good news today that my short story, “Spree Killer”, has been accepted for the forthcoming edition of “New Writing Scotland”, published every year by the Association for Scottish Literary Studies.  In the past, I never seemed to have anything suitable at the time of submission, and if I did it was always rejected.  I was unsure about this one – I had doubts about a blue collar / redneck Texan tale fitting a Scottish anthology –  so I’m really pleased at this being my first time in the annual anthology of all that is great and good about Scottish writing.  My thanks go to Carl McDougall and Zoe Strachan who are editing the book.

All in all, it’s proving to be a busy  year in writing terms for me without me really trying.  With lots of management work on the PGDE course along with teaching, I haven’t really approached it in any strategic way – and yet, I have ended up with so much to do.  Quite apart from my not-so-ongoing novel (I’m tempted to ditch it for now), I’ve had stories in NWS, 1000 Cranes (the Scottish Writers for Japan anthology) and Front & Centre, and have high hopes for a story I’ve sent to a LGBT anthology.  I’m quite proud of the stories I have been writing lately: few and far between, they have been goodies.  Perhaps short story writing is my true love…

On top of that, I’ve just finished my chapter on ethos and behaviour in Scottish secondary schools for the latest edition of the seminal work on Scottish Education, which I was truly honoured to be invited to join.  Then I’ve just finished my part – ruthless editing – of a research article written by a lovely team of colleagues which is just being resubmitted to a notable academic journal.

Biggest of all, though, is the behaviour management book I’m writing for a major academic publisher.  It’s due for delivery next Spring, and although it’s already quite bit behind, I’m confident that I’ll get it all done in time.  That’s very exciting, and it was a huge surprise to be asked to submit a proposal.  It’s nice when people put their faith in you, even if it is a lot of hard work to ensure you don’t let them down.

Berlioz: “Te Deum” & Symanowski: “Stabat Mater” / Paisley Abbey, 21/4/12

Posted in Music review by raymondsoltysek on April 22, 2012
link to Paisley Abbey

Paisley Abbey

Despite being a  raving atheist – occasionally, literally – I have a great fondness for Paisley Abbey.  At about five, I was taken to see the Queen plant a tree in its grounds, then  grew up going to music lessons in Paisley on a Saturday morning, went out on the town with my pals as a teenager and then finally  worked and moved there in the early 90′s.  Paisley has changed enormously in that time.  I have vague recollections of the magnificent old prison that stood on the site of a now almost redundant shopping mall; I saw the monstrous, brutalist council offices go up, one of the blocks now demolished for yuppy homes and the other softened with 21st century ash floors and atriums; I’ve seen the centre pedestrianised and de-pedestrianised and pedestrianised again.  None of the changes, it seems to me, have done anything to improve Paisley, a town blighted by unemployment and social disadvantage that can’t sustain a good bookshop or top class restaurant but has empty civic aspirations to be a “city”; and yet it has some beautiful architecture, including churches like The Coates Memorial that would grace any nation’s capital.  Throughout all those changes, the Abbey seemed as permanent as a geological structure, even as the area around it was tinkered with granite paving and the ancient graveyard was made respectable.

I also have good memories of playing there, in my younger days as a flute player and then as a teacher and woodwind instructor for Renfrewshire Schools Orchestras (I was neither a very good player nor teacher, to be honest).  It’s the scene, too, of my one and only Christmas midnight Mass, when my ex-partner and I took her children along for us all to try to get some sense of what it was really all about, and I confess that in some darker moments over the last thirty years, I’ve slipped in there, not for the religion but for the peace and quiet to think.

But tonight is a pal’s nicht oot to see the City of Glasgow Chorus (including our friend Michael Inglis) and the Orchestra of Scottish Opera do their thing with a couple of heavyweight religious compositions.

The Szymanowski, despite being “modern”, works well; there’s a muscularity about it, especially Quis et homo which thunders out from the nave.  It’s sung in Latin rather than the original Polish, which is probably a good idea, and the soloists are all fine singers.  It may be the long, narrow acoustics (the back of the chorus must be a good fifty or sixty feet away from the conductor) or my less-than-ideal seating position, but the mezzo-soprano, Úna McMahon, and the baritone, Benjamin Weaver, tend to get a little overpowered at times, while the soprano, Maria Kozlova, has the register to counteract that effect.  In addition, the sound seems to come at the audience in great, dramatic lumps.  It is, however, totally accessible and, in some places, infused with an austere Eastern European beauty.

The Berlioz is typically romantic, with reflective, occasionally gloomy prayers counterpointed with sparkling hymns.  When it’s huge, it’s very, very huge, particularly in the celebratory glory of Christe Rex gloriae.  The soloist, fine tenor Jonathan Cooke, does his one moment in the spotlight, Te ergo quaesumus, appropriate justice.  The final hymn, Judex crederis, is typical Berlioz, with a big finish immediately followed by a “let’s do it all again” moment.

I’m not a classical aficionado by any means – I lost my ear for it many years ago – but this is a very pleasant evening of excellent musicians playing lovely music in a beautiful setting.   I hear an audience member say, “The tedium will last about an hour, I take it?”; thankfully, it was nothing like that at all.

Amanda Shires, Woodend BLTC, 18/4/12

Posted in Gig review by raymondsoltysek on April 19, 2012
link to Amanda Shires

Amanda Shires

Amanda Shires is a pretty, tiny  Texas gal who writes and sings some lovely songs.  It’s a little odd to see her in the rather posh surroundings of the Woodend Bowling and Lawn Tennis Club – I expected her to get a gig at Oran Mor at least – but, hey, who cares?  It’s an intimate little venue and the bar area is packed to the rafters; in fact, it’s so intimate and so packed, my nephew and I are practically toe to toe with Shires, which is probably the nearest we’ll ever get to joining a band.

She is a very, very good fiddle player and has a voice that is, at one and the same time, delicate and powerful, with an affecting catch in her voice that never feels like an affectation.  Her melodies are often complex, but she always delivers her notes right on the button.  I have to say, though, she is a rotten whistler – but that just makes it all the more charming on a song like “Swimmer“, with the gorgeous lines

“April was the last time I think I saw you
You were carrying lightning
The way you walked into the room, if I was a flower
I’d have opened up and bloomed”
 

Her songs of bible thumping and liquor and family scandals and broken hearts have a truth about them.  She is capable of real sultriness, such as “Shake the Walls“, a sweaty howl for lust that she echoes later with a cover of Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire”; you wonder what they think about in Texas all day long in that heat.  She’s also no stranger to the manipulation that can go on between lovers, with women equally as guilty as men, such as “Rings and Chains”.   She does a terrific cover of Cohen’s “I’m Your Man” that drips obsessive devotion, and “Angels and Acrobats” has all the playful double entendre of an episode of Up Pompeii.   But what I like most is the heartbreak of many of her songs, and there’s none better than “Put Me To Bed” from her first album, “West Cross Timbers”.  It’s a really fabulous song about a drunken rejected lover trying desperately not to plead too much with the man she loves but failing miserably as the world turns upside down around her and her pride fails her.  It has all the tang of reality that the best country songs have: I really love it, actually, and always repeat it three or four times whenever I’m playing the album.  The sheer simplicity of the lines

“I wish you’d carry me home
Put me back in your bed
I’ve had quite enough, I want to sleep with you again
Rest in your arms again…”
 

never fails to touch me, perhaps because that quaver in her voice is at its most endearingly effective.

She’s supported by the excellent Rod Picott (who is, I believe, her partner, and who is the spitting image of House, which is a good thing because House is one of the coolest guys on the planet) who performs a couple of his own great, politically tinged songs, and Todd Pertl doing catchy things on the banjo and beautiful things on the slide guitar.  So close to the audience, their charm and talent are obvious, and Alan Hendry, the club’s gig organiser, deserves big brownie points for snapping up a star turn.

Lovely people playing lovely music: can’t ask for more.

“Headhunters”

Posted in film review by raymondsoltysek on April 13, 2012
Headhunters imdb

Synnøve Macody Lund and Aksel Hennie, "Headhunters"

That’s more like it.

Totally dissatisfied with my last visit to the cinema, I had to go to something better.  This adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s novel continues the Scandinavian takeover of all that is cool in the fictional crime world at the moment, and it’s really good fun.

The plot centres around a recruitment agency headhunter and part-time not so petty art thief Roger (Aksel Hennie), who raids the homes of the wealthy to keep his stunningly beautiful and statuesque artist wife Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund) in the lifestyle he thinks she demands.  Manipulated by a handsome and sleazy technology executive Clas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), he finds himself pursued across Norway and fighting for his life before, inevitably, turning the tables on his tormentor.

Hennie is great, a control freak who,  as soon as he becomes controlled by others, quickly goes to pieces.  Disaster after disaster piles up, forcing him into ever more surreal and absurdist scenarios in his reckless flight from certain death.  The breathless pace is relentless for the first hour and a bit as Roger finds himself up over his head in shit (literally), driving like a madman down a country road in a tractor with a huge mastiff dog impaled on the forklift at the front, or crawling out of a car mangled by an articulated lorry having been saved by two of the fattest policeman you have ever seen acting as a meat-filled airbag sandwich.  Just when you think things can’t get any worse, they damned well do, and the dismantling of the prissy, pert Roger into a bloody, battered, shaven-headed, hollow-eyed wreck is exceptionally well done.  Visceral it most certainly is: I found myself laughing at the bizareness of it all one minute and cringing and cowering in my seat at the horror of it the next – there’s one knife attack, in particular, that’ll have you crying mammy daddy.

Performances are very good but they are all largely supporting: Hennie is the movie’s core.  Macody Lund is outrageously gorgeous, and while I was concerned that her character was the stereotypical ice queen, the shame and the love she eventually exhibits were wholly convincing.  Coster-Waldau is seductively masculine, though he isn’t developed enough as a character to hold the villainy all on his own.  Most of the rest are a collection of misfits, some of whom are reminiscent of the weirdos of Deliverance.

It’s not perfect, though.  While the battering Roger takes is much more realistic than that dished out in the shite movie I saw earlier in the week, Roger’s survival of the car crash still stretches credibility.  In addition, the corporate conspiracy which is supposedly at the centre of all these shenanigans isn’t clearly explicated.  Finally, the tying up of loose ends Guy Ritchie-style is just too pat.

However, all in all, it’s another Viking crime success, and, especially in that first roller coaster eighty minutes or so, damned fine entertainment.  There is talk of a Hollywood remake: while there’s no reason why that should be a bad thing, you just know it will be…

“The Cold Light of Day”

Posted in film review by raymondsoltysek on April 12, 2012
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1366365/

Bruce and Sigourney discuss exacting revenge on their agents for involving them in this pile of keech...

Sometimes, when you have nothing to do and you decide to do something, you end up wishing you hadn’t bothered. This is 90 minutes of my life I’ll never get back, along with the six quid entry fee that I would rather have given to the Big Issue seller outside the cinema.

Bruce Willis looks bored and grumpy for forty minutes (probably a result of dyspepsia at having been talked into appearing in such a clunker) before he’s killed off – don’t mind the spoiler because, believe me, you’ll be glad you didn’t go. Sigourney Weaver is classy, but looks as if she has a bad smell under her nose all the time. She does. It’s called the script. New pretty boy on the block Henry Cavill falls from a sixty foot tall building, is frequently beaten senseless, drives a car without wearing a seat belt which then flips over several times at 70mph, and is shot: yet he sustains nothing more than a cut across the bridge of his nose, a slightly discoloured eye socket and a limp that is designed to make him seem even more fetching, an indestructibility that no doubt made him perfect for his upcoming role as Superman (yawn… not again…). Putative Spanish love interest Verónica Echegui turns out to be the lead’s sister, which makes the preceding sexual tension a little queasy, and Madrid, which I’m visiting in a few weeks’ time and I wanted to gawp at, is lost amongst pointless car chases.

And I reckon we should all be mightily suspicious of the moral compass of any film in which the good guys turn out to be a Mossad assassination squad.

Quite frankly, Utter Pish: that, actually, would have been a better title, since “The Cold Light of Day” is just a catchy idiom plucked out of thin air which bears no relation at all to a film that takes place mostly murkily at night. That’s the last time I go to see any movie just because it’s the one that’s on at the most convenient time.  Hell mend me, I say.

Tinariwen, Oran Mor, 5/4/12

Posted in Gig review, World music by raymondsoltysek on April 6, 2012
Link to Tinariwen site

Tinariwen

Tinariwen are a desert blues band with a rebel Tuareg sensibility that is confrontational, challenging and ultra-hip.  There are lots of myths about them fighting across the southern Sahara, AK47 in one hand, electric guitar in the other.  Much of that may be apocryphal, but I still like to think I’ve never been in a room with more dangerous men.

They are the very antithesis of a Western band, a million miles away from bare-chested swaggering pomp rockers who are all about the ego.  Swathed in their Tuareg robes, their heads and faces largely covered, they are definitely a collective, regularly rotating to share lead guitar and vocal duties.

They are masters of that fractured guitar riff that characterises the desert blues sound.  Communication with the audience is minimal – someone shouts out thanks in French to them, speaking for the whole audience – but the music is more than enough.  Someone once said John Travolta dances as if his nuts were on wheels: this is the kind of groove that makes you feel that way.

Lots of the numbers are excellent, but I’m really here just for one:  “Tenhert” is a fantastic, hypnotic, ice-cold sliver of Arab rap that is just irresistible.  One of the coolest songs on the planet, it’s worth the entrance money alone.  It sets my wheels in motion, and I don’t stop for the rest of the night.  Great stuff.

The girl next door sings like an angel: Gemma Hayes, King Tut’s, 31/3/12

Posted in Gig review by raymondsoltysek on April 1, 2012
Link to Gemma Hayes site

Gemma Hayes

Jings, 2012 is turning into a fantastic, vintage year for gigs.  I’m loving it.

Gemma Hayes burst onto the scene in 2002 with a great album, “Night on My Side”, and a Mercury nomination.  Unfortunately, I think, Ms Dynamite won that year and Hayes seemed to slip out of the mainstream limelight a little, while still maintaining a large, core audience.  After the show, she says she’s surprised anyone came at all, given that she hasn’t been to Glasgow since 2008; I have to admit, it was an odd audience, with lots of couples and old hairy men like me, and fewer than I expected of the cool 20-something girls her music should speak to.

Imagine the prettiest girl next door you could ever fall for, double the prettiness and then add a voice like an angel, and you’ll get some idea of what Hayes is like. She is a really good guitarist (this is an acoustic tour) and an even better singer; her voice is pure and intimate, perfect for the confessional nature of much of her material. I shouldn’t like her songwriting -  I can’t stand the hand-wringing that masquerades as “feeling” in a lot of recordings these days – but I do, very much. There’s a quiet reserve and dignity about her that speaks of authenticity, that she can be trusted  because she draws on her own experiences in a way that looks for insight rather than angst.  Her songs are remarkably intelligent, none more so than “Oliver“.  She tells the story of its origins in a childhood bully who was actually in love with her; after kicking the shit out of him in a red mist – quite deservedly, I would say – she pines for his attention and hints that, later in life, he broke her heart.

The song is lovely, and if anyone can find a more visceral summary of what it’s like to have your soul shredded than

“You ripped the smile off my face
And fed it to the Winter birds
What a wicked boy”

then I’ll eat my hat.  It’s a woolly hat.  Wool doesn’t taste nice.

Her new album, “Let It Break”, has some cracking songs about the heart on it, like “Ruin” or, my favourite, the anthemic “Shock to My System“, which is just downright catchy while being effortlessly touching.  A tale of a life “half alive” because of pain and disappointment and sheer bloody habit being set on fire by the arrival of a love who then simply fucks off, I find myself really touched and wondering about my own life, my own often chequered history.  The best songs do that to you, I suppose.

My only relative complaint is about the album.  It’s great, and deserves to be huge because she deserves to be huge, but it’s done with a band and multi-tracking and over dubbing, which is just what you’d expect from a  studio album.  Her show, stripped down so that we can hear that gorgeous voice at its best, delivers those same songs – along with her early hits, great songs like “Back of my Hand” and “Ran for Miles”, and a wonderful cover of Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting” – straight to the bloodstream, almost intravenously.

It’s a short set, but one that is quite, quite beautiful.

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