The development of live broadcasts from the National Theatre is a fantastic initiative which allows tens of thousands around the world to see the very best plays from London. This is my first, and while it doesn’t have the immediate thrill of being at the real performance, in many ways it’s a superior experience, with the use of close-ups and different camera perspectives giving the sense of being in the best seat in the house.
This is a magnificent production of Alan Bennett’s first new play in some years. It’s a typically slinky plot in which Bennett explores the relationship between WH Auden and Benjamin Britten through the device of rehearsals for a play which explores the relationship between WH Auden and Benjamin Britten – follow that?! Richard Griffiths as aging, cynical, forgetful actor Fitz who plays Auden is physically and artistically immense; whether as Auden abusing and teasing those around him or as the impish Fitz ruminating on the very nature of theatre and acting, he demands absolute attention as the heart of the play. The rest of the cast is perfect too, especially Alex Jennings as “Britten” and Frances de la Tour as a put-upon stage manager.
There is, of course, much hilarity, as you’d expect from Bennett; the peaches of these are when Auden’s furniture soliloquise to the audience, an absurdist notion you’d readily attribute to the pompous “playwright”, and a lovely little case of mistaken identity when “Auden” confuses a self-serving BBC interviewer for a rent boy .
The best scenes, though, are those which get to Bennett’s perceptions of Auden and Britten, most especially when Auden harries Britten to admit his unhealthy interest in young boys. The scene reminded me of Todd Solondz’s “Happiness”, in which a child molesting father played superbly by Dylan Baker has to discuss his predilections with his son, one of the most uncomfortable viewing experiences ever. This too has the audience squirming, and is brilliantly realised when “Britten” breaks out of character to howl for some humanity in the scene, desperate to be reassured that Britten was never found to have committed any inappropriate acts with the boys he groomed.
This is a production that deserves all the five-star ratings it’s been getting, and the NT deserves immense credit for such an innovative scheme. As a way of revitalising theatre attendance and introducing new generations to an art form that has been drowned by the sterile and moribund offerings from Hollywood of late, it can’t be praised highly enough.
An indie night, courtesy of my nephew Andrew. Guitar bands have kind of fallen off my radar recently, and aren’t the kind of thing I’d generally go to see, but that’s something I’ll need to change. Four bands are up, complete with flailing guitars, driving drums and lots and lots of testosterone. I’m the oldest bloke in the place – Andrew hears a couple of punters speculating that I might be a scout – but that doesn’t stop me appreciating what’s on offer.
We manage to catch a couple of numbers from Tegan, the first band up, and I’m sorry I didn’t hear more and can’t find them on the web. What is noticeable is the size of the soundscape they create – it’s huge, courtesy of two fine guitarists and a powerhouse of a drummer. Their songs are almost prog-rock in their ambition: pretty impressive.
Two bands from Dunfermline are on the bill, and they’ve brought a busload from home to support them. Best of the two is Coviets, a Libertines-inspired three-piece that are tight and accomplished and capable of belting out some stomping punk. The dynamic – lead-singing drummer, impossibly cool lead guitarist who wears ridiculously low-cut jeans (why bother?) and introspective bassist – works well. A fine wee band I’d happily see again, though they’re more to Andrew’s taste than mine (Guinness-fuelled “Fucking brilliant” is his verdict).
The second Fife band is Modern Faces, who finish the night in the graveyard slot. They’re good musicians – especially the lead guitarist, who is a real talent, despite his unfortunate sideburns – but a Kelly Jones clone of a lead singer, an over-reliance on Kasabian thrash and just a little bit of youthful pomposity means they’re too generic for our tastes (that’s Andrew’s word, not mine). My feeling is that indie has become too reliant on emulation, and that’s the problem with this set.
Sandwiched between the two are headliners Strangeways. The Dunfermline crowd disappear after Coviets to fill up on booze downstairs, returning for Modern Romance, so the audience thins out to a handful. That’s a pity, because they miss what is, for me, the best act of the night. A London six-piece, their songs are witty and intelligent, their musicianship can’t be faulted (great guitar work!) and they’re capable of intense energy thanks to the use of two very different lead singers who each bring something unique to the the dynamic, both stylistically and vocally. I’ve been playing the video of their single, “Violence and Virtue”, on Myspace for a couple of days, and with it’s gloriously wonky riffs and changes of pace and melody, it’s grown on me as a genuinely innovative sound from a band that have a lot to say that should be heard. The most original act of the night, I hope an album is coming soon and that they get the record deal they deserve.
A day for horrific revelations about army behaviour. Hot on the heels of this morning’s post about the murder and cover-up of Afghan civilians comes this frankly unbelievable video of action taken from an Apache helicopter in Baghdad. In the shooting, two Reuters journalists along with several seemingly perfectly peaceful Iraqis are gunned down from the air as pilots utter such noble sentiments as “Look at all them dead bastards” and “nice”. Two segments chill me: one is the copter circling a wounded journalist as he tries to crawl for safety, the pilot praying, “just pick up a weapon” to justify him opening fire on the obviously crippled man; the other is when they discover that they have shot children in a van that has come to rescue the wounded and they say, “it’s their own fault for bringing children to a battle” and, as they line up their weapons on the van and can see the kids, “just let us shoot.”
What is also shocking is the way that they lay the groundwork for their cover up even before the “engagement”, claiming to see up to eight people armed with AK47s and RPGs when what they really see is one rifle and a telephoto lens. I would feel a lot safer if I knew that these killers at least had the decency to have a sleepless night over what they’d done, but I very much doubt they have the requisite humanity.
Watching it made my blood boil.
This from the New York Times on the murder of five Afghans by US Special Forces, and the subsequent cover-up:
Again, we have those sanctioned to use weapons with deadly force making terrible and unconscionable errors, resulting in the death of innocent people, and then covering it up to avoid any sort of accountability. No wonder we are driving Afghanistan into the hands of the Taliban when even senior US generals like Stanley McChrystal make astonishing admissions like this:
“We really ask a lot of our young service people out on the checkpoints because there’s danger, they’re asked to make very rapid decisions in often very unclear situations. However, to my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I’ve been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it. That doesn’t mean I’m criticizing the people who are executing. I’m just giving you perspective. We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force.”
So what the fuck are we meant to be doing there now?