Archive for January, 2010

I was not sure that I was going to like this film about John Lennon’s early life, but in fact it was surprisingly enjoyable.    It followed John Lennon from his last year or so at school to just before he went off to Hamburg.

Nowhere Boy

John lived with his Aunt Mimi since he was small, but it took him until the end of school to discover that his mother lived only a short walk away.   The film followed the intense relationship that John rebuilt with his mother, and how his Aunt reacted.     John, excluded from school, learned banjo from his mother, decided to form a skiffle group, met Paul McArtney and the rest is, as they say, history.

What made this film special was newcomer Aaron Johnson’s absolutely haunting performance as the young Lennon.     He handled the excitements and disappointments and anguish which life threw at him in spades.     But Kristin Scott Thomas who played his aunt Mimi, and Anne Marie Duff playing Julia, Lennon’s mother also gave great performances.

The screenplay came from a memoir by John’s sister, Julia, so this rollercoaster of a story must be pretty authentic.       Great soundtrack too.   I learnt a lot from this film which went a long way to explaining what came afterwards.    Recommended.

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I enjoy Arthur Miller plays, but had never seen The Price, so a visit to The Lyceum’s new production was a must.   Especially as director John Dove had done such a good job of Death of a Salesman and more particularly, All My Sons.

The play is set in the attic of a New York apartment, stuffed full of ‘good’ furniture piled high, well realised by designer Michael Taylor, who once again teamed up with John Dove.

We have two brothers:   Victor, a New York cop nearing retirement, who might have had a brilliant career had he not devoted time to looking after his aged (now dead) father, and Walter who chose to leave and is now a well-respected surgeon with a hospital named after him.    Well, it is actually never as simple as that of course, and as the play develops, we discover a complicated story, and the reasons why the brothers have not spoken for many years.

What brings them together is the forced sale of the furniture, as the building it sits in is due for demolition.    The furniture belongs jointly to the two brothers.  And as the aged furniture dealer Gregory Solomon says, his services are usually required at divorces and deaths:   there is always a story.    Victor’s wife Esther thinks that Victor deserves the lot, but Victor is not so sure.

Cast of The Price

The Price is the price for the goods on sale, but the play is about the price of friendships, sacrifices made, and ultimately, the price of family relationships.    You choose your friends, but have to live with your family.

All performances were strong and measured.   Greg Powrie and Aden Gillett play the two brothers, and Sally Edwards as Victor’s wife, Esther.   James Hayes plays the old, wizzen and wise furniture dealer, spinning yarns and telling us about his history, and his philosophy on sales of furniture.      He is so old, there is always the question hanging throughout that he might die as the family squabble, with no deal done.

Miller’s tale is well told.   We saw this on preview night, and felt momentum was lost a little in the complicated second half, where there is a lot of story to get across, but this is bound to improve as the production beds in.   It is a good start to 2010 playgoing year, and is recommeded.

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The Grand Match - Lake of Menteith 1979

The Grand Match - Lake of Menteith 1979

The Grand Match is a massive outdoor curling competition, which takes place in Scotland only when there is enough ice to play on.   The ice needs to be around 9 inches thick to be safe, as there can be up to 2000 curlers with their stones taking part.   North vs. South.     It rarely ever happens, because we hardly ever get enough ice, and there have only been two Grand Matches since the 2nd World War.      

Every AGM at a Curling Club, one of the annual duties is to elect those who will represent the club at a Grand Match, should one take place.    It is usually the most senior members.   We do this every year at our club, and we have a set of outdoor stones always ready to go.    

This year, after a 30 year wait, there is finally enough ice to hold the match at the Lake of Menteith.     The Royal Caledonian Curling Club are keen to hold the event, but the authorities have  ruled playing on ice outside inherently unsafe.    Because no-one is prepared to say that the event is 100% safe, then the event cannot get insurance, and cannot happen.

We now have a whole country full of bewildered and increasingly angry curlers, who simply cannot understand why this rare and iconically Scottish event cannot take place.    We managed in 1979 – what has changed?

Hopefully, some heads can be knocked together in the next few days, but I expect that someone will find a good reason for this not going ahead.

Interestingly, there were some 2000 curlers on the Lake of Menteith  today – not playing a Grand Match, but having lots of fun.

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With the current weather to cope with,  our local Council in Perth and Kinross have been struggling to empty the bins of the more rural folk like us.   Like many Councils, they now empty bins fortnightly, and we have two wheelybins at the end of our road – one for general waste, and the other for recycling, emptied week about.

The general waste one was last emptied on the 3rd December, and the recycling one on the 13th December.     Both were full yesterday.

And today was a recycling bin emptying day.   The Council managed to get up the road ………..  and emptied both bins into the one lorry.    Perhaps the best solution under the circumstances, as this cold spell could last a while.

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With the press and media so preoccupied with snow stories, and whether Gordon Brown will be ousted from No 10 ahead of a general election, the small stories struggle for space.

But today there is a small story which really matters:    The Festival of British Youth Orchestras which has taken place in Edinburgh and Glasgow for the last 30 summers does not have funding to continue.     Every August, some 2000 musicians from across the UK flock to Scotland with their groups to perform grown-up concerts in front of critical audiences.      Many professional musicians started here, perhaps playing their first concerto.

It will be a very very sad day for schools music if this is allowed to go under.    Surely we need to nurture our young talent, not limit opportunities?      It is a paradox when funders are falling over themselves to support the several el sistema initiatives which are being run in the UK, including the wonderful Big Noise in Stirling, that our Youth Orchestras are being left high and dry.

Perth Youth Orchestra has performed every year since the festival started, and the Glasgow and Edinburgh concerts are a big highlight of the year for our local young musicians.      There will be a big hole and a lot of disappointment this summer.

Perth Youth Orchestra

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A Cold Snap

It has been really pretty cold, even for round here.    And we are told to expect 2 more weeks of the same at least.    It has not really been above freezing much since well before Christmas, and often well below freezing.

In the country, we are pretty used to coping with adverse conditions, but our local Council has not exactly been pulling out all stops to make roads and pavements safe.    We had 12 inches of snow on Boxing Day night, and not a lot more since then, although most of that snow is still here!     Our road to the farm from our village is really not great, and our bin has not been emptied since December 6th.

But I actually like cold clear weather.    On Hogmanay, there was a spectacular sunset in the West, just as a big fat full moon rose above the horizon in the East.    Stunningly beautiful.


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It has been a rich year in the arts in Scotland, although the  exceptional has remained elusive.

23 plays seen.    In Perth, the year kicked off with an excellent adaptation of Tam O Shanter, and took in the tour of Be Near Me.    With a good cast, Silver Darlings promised much but never quite produced a sum of its parts, which was a disappointment.       In Glasgow, at the Citizens, we enjoyed Ghosts, and a pre-Edinburgh festival production of a Rona Munro’s new play The Last Witch.   At the Tron, we liked That Face, and White Tea.    In Edinburgh, Gregory Burke’s latest play Hoors was not a patch on Black Watch, or Gagarin Way, but we liked The Dark Things a lot.     National Theatre of Scotland’s big autumn production of House of Bernara Alba was interesting, but just did not quite work.   For consistently good theatre in Scotland, Dundee Rep is punching way above its weight exemplified by a really excellent Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? which gets my best of the year vote.     There was also a very good production of The Elephant Man, directed by Jemima Levick  – the incoming assistant director, who also directed a touring production of Baby Baby (seen at Macrobert), which was enjoyable, but had rather weak material.   Dundee also put on a really special version of  A Christmas Carol.   Nationally, we enjoyed Ken Stott in a View from the Bridge when it came to Glasgow, Theatre de Complicite’s Shun Kin at the Barbican in London, and Inherit the Wind at the Old Vic.       We missed Sub Rosa, at the Citizens which was a pity.   

9 Operas.    RSAMD opera school continued to entertain with The Love of Three Oranges and the Tales of Hoffman.   Scottish Opera produced another set of five fifteen minute operas at Oran Mor, and will have a third set in May 2010.    Main house, Scottish Opera has had a good season with solid productions of Cosi, Manon, the Elixir of Love, and the Italian Girl in Algiers.    Concert performances of operas don’t do it for me usually, but there was a one performance only of I Puritani at Glasgow City Hall, which was outstanding.    We enjoyed the new opera Letters of a Love Betrayed which had one performance at The Traverse.

We have been to quite a few Youth Orchestra Concerts this year, which we have enjoyed.   The Scottish Ensemble continue to tour with well thought out programmes and general excellence.   In Perth, we heard Theatre of Voices with Bang on a Can playing Steve Reich pieces and David Lang’s co-comissioned (Perth Concert Hall with Carnegie Hall in New York) Little Match Girl Passion.     But outstanding performance of 2009  was actually caught on holiday in Krakow where the Wroclaw Symphony Orchestra played a stunning Mahler 9.

We did not get to much by way of dance this year, but enjoyed Michael Marra and Frank McConnell’s Wee Home from Home – first performed 20 years ago , and revived by original director Gerry Mulgrew with new designs by Karen Tennant.

2009 was a memorable year for film, and we liked the genuinely unusual Slumdog Millionaire, the quirky 35 Shots of Rum, Katalin Varga’s smouldering revenge, Jane Campion’s Bright Star, Cannes winner White Ribbon, Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, and even Opera on the big screenCosi fan Tutti (Salzberg festival production).      I was less sure about Moon, the sci-fi film from Duncan Jones (David Bowie’s son).   An Education and Let The Right One In were special highlights.

We visted the Anish Kapoor exhibition in London – great dods of bright red wax being fired out of a cannon every 20 minutes  into a corner of a room – lots of other stuff too.   Highly entertaining.

2010 has some interesting things ‘coming soon’, and the New Year’s resolution is to write about them here in more detail.

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