Wednesday, April 25, 2007

More Law & Order! A tall order...

Law & Order, my favourite tv show (Sex and the City is so post-Millennium), has its bloody, brilliant head on the virtual chopping block: we need to start a campaign.

Herewith, a campaign.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The art underground

If you think, the London Underground is a stinking, crowded, superheated transport matrix without a single redeeming feature, well you'd be almost correct (certainly on the first three).

It does have, however, quite a lot of Art for you to enjoy, cogitate on and be distracted by.

Hencewith, a Guardian post.

Any dream doesn't

We have had enough of being Andrew Lloyd Webber’s proxies, his all-too-real casting couch. If he wants to find stars for his new production of Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat, let him do it himself and not disturb our Saturday nights.

I’ll admit it: I fell for his last star-spotting contest, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, with its cast of plucky wannabes and tone-deaf chanteuses. Fell hard. Fell so hard that I would walk around all week singing ‘Maria, I just met a girl named Maria’. (Yes, I know this is from West Side Story, but it’s much catchier.)

But now my heart has hardened. Gone are the joyful melodies of the Austrian mountains and the innocence of raindrops, sleigh bells and strudel. In their place we have Lord Lloyd Webber’s very first musical baby, which started off as an entertainment for schoolchildren and should have remained that way.

The pain here is twin. First, the thought of providing a leading man for Joseph: I would much rather the role went uncast and the production unsung. Just as the West End is escaping from the twenty-five year tyranny of Andrew Lloyd Webber, we are going to be dragged back in again – and we’re the ones choosing the executioner!

Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph, Starlight Express, Sunset Boulevard, Bombay Dreams, the Woman in White – it’s more like a charge sheet than a résumé.

But let us not condemn Joseph as just another Lloyd Webber show – it has faults all of its own, which include the simplistic emotions of the songs (sad 'Close Every Door to Me', or happy 'Go, Go, Go Joseph' being egregious examples); the presence of the prepubescent choir, singing their high-pitched hearts out; and the unfailingly uninteresting leading men who have been Joseph before (Darren Day, anyone?). Is this last likely to be corrected by a nationwide search? I doubt it.

What irritates me more is that we are the audience as guinea-pig. (I know this is a fault shared by all of Pop Idol’s indolent offspring, who conduct their market research via text-message.) Instead of a casting director choosing someone for their talent, the audience must pick their own star (however questionably able), must feel ‘invested’ in the production. It’s fool-proof casting – you have a ready-made pool of people ready to go see it – but whether you get the best man for the role is debatable.

I could forgive most of this in How Do You Solve… There the quality of the music, the fascinating rags-to-nun’s habit stories and the general nobility of the venture (returning the Sound of Music to the London stage) all worked for the programme. I will even admit it too could be irredeemable. But to beg our indulgence while we choose a leading man for a hideous show we gratefully sent on rep years ago? No, no, no Joseph.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The pen is mightier

Jay McInerney, chronicler of New Yorkers and their ‘Bolivian marching powder’ addictions in such 80s-tastic tomes as Bright Lights, Big City, has helpfully cleared something up: he did not wake up in bed with a dead woman.

The confusion stemmed from an interview he gave to Vogue Hommes International, where the journalist misunderstood the phrase ‘passing out’, says a wrong-footed McInerney: “It sounds like I killed somebody. My wife wasn't too pleased when we were sitting in the lobby of the Hearst building and she picked that up and read it.”

But it made me wonder, which authors could kill (not that McInerney did)? So, here’s a top ten of homicidal wordsmiths.

1. Ernest Hemingway (left): if you had come face-to-face with Papa Hemingway during one of his rum-fuelled binges, no doubt he would have reached for a handy shotgun, or an empty Captain Morgan bottle to throw.

2. Charles Dickens: the man could kill from a hundred yards with a single sentence. The interminable dullness of his prose is enough to put even a puffed-up prig like Martin Chuzzlewit’s Pecksniff out of his misery.

3. Dorothy Parker: is suicide contagious? If so, you have to stay away from the Algonquin’s greatest wit and a poet of great note: Dottie was a master of the half-arsed suicide attempt.

4. Henry James (left): he could suffocate you with one of his sub-clauses. You end up struggling against it, flailing and gasping for breath before you give in and sink slowly to the bottom of the sentence. Now it all just washes over you.

5. Patricia Cornwell: not that she would have any desire to kill you in strange and horrific ways, but if anyone knew how to, it would be Cornwell. Her Kay Scarpetta books have featured every gruesome exit you can imagine and are a CSI fan’s wet dream.

6. Charles Dickens (again): have you ever tried to get through Bleak House? Some sentences go on for weeks. And being paid by the word only promoted verbosity, prolixity and over-loquaciousness.

7. Homer (left): yes, ‘Homer’ is not a single person but the name given to an oral tradition of poets, but any tradition which can produce moments like when a warrior is hit in the head so hard that his bloody eyes fall out into the dust should definitely be avoided down a dark alley in Athens after it’s had a few drinks.

8. Alexander Pushkin: everyone knows that Pushkin, author of Eugene Onegin, died in a duel. But don’t forget, he could easily have been the killer instead, and was the challenger too. Clearly not someone who’s honour you want to impugn.

9. Michel Houellebecq: no-one has ever forecast the downfall of civilisation so often and with such astringency. If you live in Houellebecq’s world, nothing good can come of it: it’s nihilism with a twenty-first century twist.

10. Charles Dickens (once more) (left): he should have lived in the twentieth century, since TV is the perfect medium for him: you get all his great characters and intricate plots without any of his terrible writing.


Paradise most definitely lost

Here's a link to my latest Guardian blog, on the terrors of amateur dramatics.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Bored of the Flies

I have recently taught William Golding's schoolboy classic Lord of the Flies and, on considering it, it quickly struck me why it's so popular at GCSE (exams for 16-year olds, for my non-British visitors):

1) It has slightly rude words in it. Which schoolchild doesn't get a thrill from asking their teacher to explain 'orgasm'? Ho ho ho.

2) Boys love to read about boys - far easier to identify with Piggy or Ralph (the ultimate aspiration) than with Lizzy Bennett or Dickens' Estella.

3) It's so bloody simply written that it requires absolutely no thought to examine. Is symbolism still symbolism if the author tells you what it all means? The conch, Piggy's glasses, the fire, the beast, the Lord of the Flies, the weather - Golding baldly lays out what each of them represents.

Simon the Christ-figure struck me as completely removable, either a successful attempt to show the redundancy of one particular religion or an unsuccessful one to create a moving, holy figure. The result is in fact a badly-inserted figure whose role could easily have been doled out to other characters. His sacrifice does not tell us anything about Christianity or anything that we haven't yet realised about the tribes.

His dystopian (or perhaps realistic, atavistic) world-view is brilliantly horrifying, and there is enough tension to go around, but as a text for discussion, its merits are about as few as its symbols are plenty.

Or am I just rebelling against the tyranny of text-deconstruction?

Welcome back

I had a thought: I'm young(ish), as full of energy as I'm ever going to be and as full of opinions as ever, so why not keep up Hope Springs as well as my Guardian posts?

So I won't be repeating myself, but I will be combining the two and linking to the Guardian from here, as well as putting up some original stuff here.

Here's my first Guardian post, on Citizens and Kings, and my second, on a fantastic Ghanaian exhibition at the British Museum.

Come back soon, y'all.