31 July 2013

DC Comics Digital Sneak Peeks: 31 July 2013

Somebody at DC has the same view of Batman that I have and that is the darker the better. Batman lives in the night, in alleyways, in places that normal people are scared of.

I have absolutelty no idea who or what Collider is but I love the cover of his/its comic.

Wake has been in before and I suspect that it is going to be again. I also suspect that I'll be buying the book when it comes out in a collected edition. It looks cool inside too.

Astonishing X-Men is still a good read

Once Upon A Time the World was a much simpler place, there was one Fantastic Four comic, one Avengers comic and one X-Men comic. Then Marvel decided that there was more money to be mined from their top brands and the number of titles proliferated and new titles featuring their main characters come and go all the time.

Astonishing X-Men was created in 2004 to allow Joss Whedon to play with the X-Men without causing too much damage to the main canon. His stories stood slightly to the side of the main Marvel Universe and were the more interesting for it.

Jos played for two good years and then Warren Ellis took over and took the X-Men in to even more unusual places for about a year.

Astonish X-Men could have been cancelled after Joss' run or after Warren's but it kept going and is now, thanks to reboots elsewhere, the longest running X-Men title, though it remains at arms length from the main titles.

The current writer is Marjorie Liu who majors as a writer or paranormal romance and urban fantasy novels (so Wikipedia tells me). The stories remain quirky and off-centre.

The headline grabbing story was the same-sex marriage of Northstar which went past the sensation and explored the feelings of his partner as he came to terms with being with a famous superhero.

The current story arc elevates another of the lesser characters in the X-Men rota, Iceman.

For reasons we have not yet learnt his powers have escalated and he has caused a world-wide freeze.

It is the different approach and the grand scale of the story that I like. When I was younger I was happy to read stories about two costumed people having fist-fights which resulted in the villain going to prison only to escape a year or so later. And so on.

Now I need something more challenging and while that excludes a large number of superhero comics there are still titles like Astonishing X-Men out there that deliver what I am looking for.

Sadly not for much longer though. The X-Men titles are being stirred again (I am also reading Uncanny X-Men and X-Men, both of which are in single-digit issue numbers) and Astonishing X-Men is due to finish with issue #68. I'll miss it.

26 July 2013

Le nozze di Figaro at Glyndebourne (2013)

My fourth and final visit to the Glyndebourne Festival 2013 was to see Le nozze di Figaro and, thanks to the vagaries of the booking system came just two days after my previous visit.

I also saw this production in 2012 and was not desperate to see it again. My mind was changed when one of my friends chose to see it, and I'm glad he did.

This friend was more interested in the Glyndebourne experience than the actual opera so we opted for the cheapest seats and for £45 we were on the curve of the Upper Circle in Restricted View seats. Mine proved to be better than the one I had paid £150 for a couple of days earlier as I was able to see easily through the safety rail. The view was better than indicated in the photo below as that was taken surreptitiously at chest height and at eye height the lower bar did not come in to play.

Taking a friend to Glyndebourne meant doing the full tour of the garden beforehand, and I had no complaints about doing that on another fine Summer's day. The garden that looked bare at the start of the year looked a lot better with the flowers having grown to fill most of the gaps between them.

Le nozze di Figaro is the definitive opera of its type, just as Swan Lake is the definitive ballet, and there is so much to enjoy in the familiar music and the complex story. This Glyndebourne production was excellent with simple yet evocative sets, lots of deft little touches and superb acting throughout, especially from Susanna. I remarked on the acting last time but it made an even stronger impression this time.

Being in the cheapest seats made not one of jot of difference to my enjoyment either and I'll give them a another go another time.

25 July 2013

LIKE 48: A spellbinding walk through The Thin Veil of London

This year's LIKE Summer Social was another walk and because last year's walk was so successful we again called upon Robert Kingham to guide us and this time he brought some friends along with him, including co-conspirator Rich Cochrane who I also know from the Big Ideas philosophy group that I dabble in and they run.

Last year we explored the Grey Soul of London, also known as Finsbury, and this year we tackled the Thin Veil of London lying somewhere in Holborn.

This is a part of London that I know quite well as I spent my first two years in London working on a project for BT in Red Lion Square and then, as now, I took every opportunity to explore the area in regular lunchtime walks.

So it was something of a surprise to spend more of the evening in unfamiliar territory than in places that I knew.

We started in the familiar Queens Larder on Queen's Square but after that it was mostly a mystery filled with dark stories.

We were told to expect a little more this year and that's what we got. As well as Robert we got a frequently passing actor (Will Barratt), Rich as a hermit asking questions on philosophy and signs along our route.

There were stories about Machen and doctors and poets and philosophers all conjured from the streets we passed.

As with the Grey Soul there was a lot to take in. Probably even more this time as there is less walking and more talking.

The other big difference this time round is the scheduling. There is some.

One the three times I went on the Grey Soul walk we overran by about 50% on average. The last time that meant that a 3 hour walk took 4.5 hours!

The schedule on Thin Veil is dictated by the other participants, especially the passing actor who we passed several times. We also had just the one beer break which gave us even more time for walking and talking.

The walk took us down many alleyways exposing the old industrial and commercial heart of Holborn that has generally escaped gentrification. The mix of buildings is incredible with trendy gastro pubs next to large blocks of social housing, a collection of current and former hospitals, including Great Ormond Street, and even a waste depot.

The beer break was taken at The Enterprise just off Red Lion Square which was one of my locals when I worked there. To be fair, all the pubs within five minutes walk were locals and got visited regularly. In those days a rather different view was taken of lunchtime drinking, it was almost mandatory, and we had the recent delight of afternoon opening to exploit.

This time the pub was a chance to rest, refresh and refuel. We ordered tapas to fortify the team and they went down very well. That was the part of the evening organised by LIKE, everything else was vanilla Thin Veil that anybody can go on.

We crossed and recrossed paths but that was only partially helpful in working out where we were (how did people survive before smartphones?). Occasionally we passed places I recognised, pubs mostly, but that was rare and I had a lot of fun discovering new places and new buildings.

The stories and the storytellers came thick and fast for two hours and it was a spellbinding evening. I went on the Grey Soul walk three times and I can see myself doing the Thin Veil again too. It was rather special.

24 July 2013

Don Pasquale at Glyndebourne

I really am going to have to rethink my seating policy at Glyndebourne for next season as my attempts to try different parts of the house did not work out well this year. For Don Pasquale I paid £150 for a seat in the Circle with iron bars in the centre of my vision. I do not mind "Restricted Vision" seats as a rule but I do object to paying that sort of price for that sort or restriction.

The weather was kinder and was perfect for a picnic and I was well enough organised on the day to leave home on time which meant arriving at Glyndebourne just before 3pm when the gardens officially open. Other people were equally well organised and there were a couple of dozen cars there before me. That still gave me plenty of options for where to sit in the garden and I was able to claim a couple of benches conveniently close to the Lawn Bar.

The story of Don Pasquale is a familiar one for this season and is essentially the same as Falstaff and Le nozze di Figaro, i.e. a lecherous man has tricks played on him to teach him a lesson.

Don Pasquale is an elderly man, he is in his seventies, who wants a young bride. His doctor offers his sister but instead of the quiet one in the convent that he was expecting he finds himself married to a little minx who immediately starts to boss him around.

It is a simple plot and a short story so there was not a great deal of drama for me to get engaged with. Luckily there was far more to the production than just the story.

The quality of the singing is always one of Glyndebourne's strengths and it was here. Nowadays the singers are expected to be good actors too, which they were, especially Norina, played by Danielle de Niese, who was every inch the minx she was meant to be.

The music was typical Donizetti with lots of pretty tunes that got my toes tapping, ever so quietly of course.

Add the gardens, the picnic and the company of friends and Glyndebourne once again delivered an excellent afternoon and evening that even the continuing roadworks on the A23 could do nothing to spoil.

DC Comics Digital Sneak Peeks: 24 July 2013

It is quite some years since I read The Flash regularly and then the attraction was the Carmine Infantino artwork; he worked on issues #296 to #350 from 1981 to 85. This cover recaptures some of the simplicity of The Flash that I loved. The two colours in his costume dominate the cover and his symbol, the lightening blot that gave him his powers, gives action to the picture.

One day I'll stop selecting dark moody pictures of Batman and Catwoman, but not just yet.

21 July 2013

Willoughby Pub Quiz (July 2013)

I am still doing fairly regular stints as Question Master of the Willoughby Pub Quiz on a Sunday night even though it usually finishes sometime after midnight and I have to get up at 6am the next day to travel to Cardiff.

I try to include a picture round in my quizzes, despite the significant extra work that this makes, though I can only do this when I have ready access to a printer at work (printers, like fax machines, belong in distant history).

Stamps are a regular source for my picture rounds, thanks to CollectGBStamps, and this month that gave me an opportunity to return to the butterflies of the infamously low-scoring round from a few years ago.

The answers to these pictures are:

  • 78p, 88p, £1.88
  • European Eel, Crucian Carp, Cadis-fly Larva, Arctic Char,
  • Fairy Shrimp, Lesser Silver Water Beetle, Three-spined Stickleback, Smooth Newt,
  • Emperor Dragonfly, Common Toad, Glutinous Snail, Perch,
  • Comma, Orange Tip, Marbled White, Red Admiral, Marsh Fritillary, Brimstone, Swallowtail, Small Copper, Chalkhill Blue, Purple Emperor,
I am a generous Quiz Master and gave a 1/2 mark for anything close, e.g. "beetle" instead of "water beetle".

This was not a very high scoring round either!

19 July 2013

Nirbhaya at Riverside Studios (mixed)

I chose to see Nirbhaya just because it was on at the Riverside on a Friday night and that is a nice routine to get in to. And it was hot enough to justify an ice cream on the terrace beforehand.

This was the first performance of Nirbhaya as part of a short pre-Edinburgh run where the official premier  will be given.

Obviously I knew that it was about the violent sexual assault on a bus in Delhi last year and so was not going to be a light evening. What I had no idea of was what form it would take, and having seen it, I am still not sure.

The main thread of the play was the story of the young woman who became known as Nirbhaya. This was told as a direct narrative with the actors speaking directly to the audience. I felt that this was mostly unnecessary as either we knew the story or it was played out before us.

Supplementing the main story we heard the tales of several other Indian women who had suffered abuse in some way and got no sympathy for doing so, usually the opposite. Again it was not clear why this was necessary or why we had to hear quite so many stories, two or three would have been sufficient to make the point.

We also saw something of the society that spawned the incident, e.g. the constant groping on Delhi buses, and of the aftermath of the incident when it became a national and then an international story.

There was anger in the play but I felt that it was unfocused and a little obvious. It may be that this unfocused rage was deliberate and was an attempt to describe the impact of the incident but the result was that we got the expected outrage but no insight.

I also felt that it fell into the common trap of focusing on the women as victims. A recent TED Talk explained that transitioning from "Jack beats Mary" to "Mary is beaten by Jack" to "Mary is beaten" to "Mary is a battered woman" takes Jack out of the picture and that is where the problem lies.

The final flaw in the play came at the end, or rather the succession of false endings that made the closing section of The Return of the King seem hurried.

Nirbhaya has lots of good points and it was an enthralling hour and a half that while it would be hard to call it entertaining in the usual sense because of the subject matter, it was certainly captivating. Among the ninety minutes there is a reasonable sixty minute play waiting to get out.

17 July 2013

DC Comics Digital Sneak Peeks: 17 July 2013

A return visit to Brother Lono (100 Bullets) drawn by Eduardo Risso for much the same reason that I chose it last time, the layout of the page, the clarity and simplicity of the drawing and the cute use of black. It is very pretty.

There is a red theme this week, and it starts here with Animal Man in a strong pose made all the more dramatic by the use of grey for the characters and the lack of any background.

The half-human half-machine thing has been done many times before but I have never seen it done as effectively as this.

Wonder Women got selected because of the Constructivism inspired design, including the rays of sunlight in the background and the reversed "R"s in the caption. I love Constructivism.

I like black too and it is used magnificently here to capture the essence of two creatures of the night.

13 July 2013

Cry Wolf at the Fox and Duck

It had been a very hot sunny day and I dared not venture out until the sun had started to set and then I risked going out for a walk. I took the scenic route across Ham Common and then along some of the Ham Avenues (i.e. the paths called Great South Avenue, Melancholy Walk and Petersham Avenue) which brought me out in to Petersham and, obviously, the Fox and Duck.

There was a plan in this as I knew that rock covers band Cry Wolf were due on around 9:30 so there would be something good to listen to while I downed a pint or two of Young's Ordinary.

Cry Wolf duly obliged with a string of (mostly) recognisable songs like Start me Up, Paranoid, Hush, No Matter What and Get Back.

It was OK but it failed to click with me. Perhaps it was the selection of the songs, perhaps it was too loud, perhaps it was too hot or perhaps the covers were too close to the originals to be interesting.

They played for about forty minutes and then took a break. I had a decision to make then, have another pint and stay for the rest of the evening or walk home. I checked the TV listings and saw that Aliens (best. film. ever.) was due to start in twenty minutes and that was suddenly an easy decision to make.

It was a little disappointing but nothing like bad enough to deter me from trying another band there soon.

12 July 2013

The Shelter at the Riverside (fine drama)

I love the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith for its range of performances, its convenience and for the food and drink options. It is on my way home when working Up North so taking in a show on a Friday evening is generally a good idea. It certainly was this week.

The Shelter was staged by LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) and was technically free though I gladly donated the usual ticket price in the collection at the end.

Sadly I cannot find any production photos of it anywhere, certainly not on the LAMDA or Riverside websites or Facebook pages, so all I have is this shot of the stage taken from my customary seat in the front row before the performance.

The Shelter is set during the Blitz and the shelter in question is at the Savoy Hotel and is for the exclusive use of the rich patrons while their working class neighbours have to chance it in much flimsier shelters.

At that time the Underground was not open to the public as the Ruling Class (led by Churchill) feared what would happen if the working class were allowed to group there.

A small group of protesters storm the Savoy to use their shelter, and that's the story of the play.

We learn a lot about class attitudes at that time and pivotal in this is the hotel porter who though working class is strongly aligned to the hotel and what it represents. Around him we have his daughter, who is one of the protesters, the firebrand rebel leader, a younger member of staff who is not so wedded to the ways of the rich, a hotel manager who wants to protect the values of Luxury, Comfort and Service, an elderly resident of the hotel, and an officer from the Home Office who wants to ensure that the revolt does not grow.

This was an aspect of the war that I knew nothing about and I found the tale gripping and well told.

The production was accomplished with a small army of LAMDA students acting as hotel staff and moving the pieces of the set around to create the many different scenes.

The Shelter was a fine play and typical of the good things on offer at the Riverside. That's why I keep going there.

10 July 2013

DC Comics Digital Sneak Peeks: 10 July 2013

I like this busy splash page from Astro City #2 by Brent Anderson because of its vertical construction and its business.The heroes, underlings and Volcanus form three vertical stripes and there is something happening in every section of the page so my eye keeps wandering over it finding new things.

Composition and colour make this cover sparkle. There is nothing obviously clever about the art, and that's why it is clever.

I chose the cover of Batman last month for the same reason that I have chosen it this, the iconography. The bat symbol tells you who the hero is and the forging of the symbol in a furnace tells you something about the power of that hero. Amazing work to say so much without Batman being there.

Batman is in this one and it is the mysterious and Gothic Batman that I know and like the most. Batman lives in dark quarters and performs dark deeds and this is exactly what that looks like.

8 July 2013

Team photo at Cottam

I normally avoid having my photograph taken as assiduously as I avoid taking pictures of other people but sometimes there is no escape and sometimes the results are fine.

This is me (far right in a suit!) with the rest of the project team that I was working with at Cottam Power Station. In the background you can see the bases of some of the cooling towers and the conveyor belt that takes the coal into the station.

They were a good team to work with and an interesting one too. Most of them were based at the station permanently, and some had been there for a while, and so they had a completely different, and vital, perspective of the way that things should and could work.

6 July 2013

The Taming of the Shrew at Hampstead Theatre

I could have gone to the Rose in Kingston to see Propeller, where I first encountered them last year in the excellent The Winter's Tale, but Hampstead Theatre told me that they were touring first and I had already booked to see them there before the Rose let me know that they were going there too.

The big big attraction of Propeller is that they present Shakespeare sympathetically to the original performances with an all male cast, bawdy humour and direct interaction with the audience.

The attraction of Hampstead Theatre is that it is well designed, cosy and has good facilities. The design means that all the seats have good views, the cosiness means being close to the stage and immersed in the action, and the good services mean a decent coffee and a slice of cake beforehand.

This was only my second visit to this theatre so the seating arrangements still needed some figuring out and as the front row of the circle was taken I went for the mezzanine level behind the stalls and had an excellent view.

The Taming of the Shrew is an out-and-out comedy, provided you ignore the heavily outdated attitude to women that it portrays, i.e. women are submissive to their husbands to the extent to being subservient.

The large part of The Taming of the Shrew is a play within a play where a drunken rascal is convinced by his friends that he is really a lord who play this trick on him in revenge for his behaviour. This is a familiar Shakespeare ploy as are the disguises with the master and servant swapping roles.

Propeller really understand Shakespeare and they bring the story to life in a way that studying the play at school never did. It is rich, playful and a great deal of fun. The laughs come thick and strong with the humour pulled from the script with excellent acting, with top marks to the man playing Katherina the shrew, and brilliant staging that made full use of the whole cast and a few simple props.

The Taming of the Shrew was a truly wondrous performance. This is how Shakespeare should be done.

Sweet Bird of Youth at the Old Vic (gripping)

I went to see Sweet Bird of Youth because it is by Tennessee Williams though the promotional material emphasised the inclusion of Kim Cattrall, who apparently is famous for being in something called sex in the City.

In the end we were both right, the play was well crafted and Kim Cattrall acted wonderfully. As did the other main star, Seth Numrich, the other main star.

She played a fading Hollywood star and him a young gigolo that she picked up on her travels. He dreams of a career on the big screen and sees her as the way to achieve this. She just seems him as somebody to have a little fun with for a while.

Buoyed by the ambitions prospect of better things he takes her back to his home town of St Cloud, Florida to claim the girl that he left behind and to take that girl with him to Hollywood.

Of course it is nothing like as simple as that and we soon learn more about his past, why he left the town and the consequences of his return.

The girl left behind, we discover, is the daughter of a local plantation owner who has political ambitions and who sees the young man as an unsuitable match for his daughter.

We also discover more of what went wrong between them, which turns out to be even worse than we first suspected, and explains why her father drove the young man out of town and why various people are unhappy that he is back.

This is Southern USA so race plays a part too and the prospective political comes out in support of drastic measures to protect innocent white women from marauding white men. The point is well made that the only marauder we see is white.

The play is all about the main character's hopes for the future and the way that they wax and wane.It was very intense watching this drama of characters, events and their implications unfold over a gripping two and a half hours.

There were several ends with some characters achieving what they wanted and some failing drastically. The overall balance was negative but a lot of that was due to the time and place of the story which meant that the black and the poor were unlikely to win very much and that the justice dispensed could be very rough indeed.

There was an awful lot to take in at the end and that, plus the strong delivery, made for an afternoon of superb theatre.

5 July 2013

Unrivalled Landscape at the Orange Tree (interesting)

My one nagging doubt I have about the Orange Tree Theatre is that it tends to be fairly conservative (not too surprising given that it is in Richmond) so I welcome the regular end of season shows where they give opportunities to new directors and writers.

This year's show was a little different. Instead of one of two separate plays there were six interrelated stories that shared five characters and one location.

Andy is a pub circuit comedian who has just come out of jail, Kizzy is a Community Support Officer from Jamacia who has lost her husband and children, Faris is a prince from Bahrain who is troubled by the political situation there, Gary is a park warden and Kate works for the local newspaper but wants to move on to weightier stories.

To tell these stories the Orange Tree used its customary simple sets. This time is was just a box or two that got moved around to different positions to take on different roles.

This picture was taken before the start of the performance (they always are) with just one box on show. Sadly there were not that many people either. It did fill up quite a bit more but that only got it to around half full I'd guess. I have been in less busy theatres many times but it is unusual for the Orange Tree to be that quiet.

The six scenes, or chapters, came across as one play and it took the programme to convince me that they were written by different people. One of these, Archie Maddocks, wrote last year's end of season play, the rather excellent Mottled Lines.

In truth these stories were not as good as that one, nor did I expect them to be as this was a collective work rather than a single vision, but there was enough in each of them and in their connections to sustain my considerable interest.

The dominant moods were frustration and despair peppered with a just a little joy and humour. The characters and their concerns sucked me in and I was keen to learn what happened to them and why.

The stories also gave several perspectives on life today, the way we live, the things that happen to us and how we respond. There was a lot to take in and try to make some sense of.

End of season events like Unrivalled Landscape are never going to be as polished as established plays, and that is some of their charm. This was a good evening at the theatre and I am very glad that the Orange Tree is prepared to experiment like this.

3 July 2013

DC Comics Digital Sneak Peeks: 3 July 2013

This cover ticks several of my boxes; it has a touch of horror, a simple design, uses just one colour and is at an eye-grabbing angle.

 I like the simple panel flow in this page from Green Arrow drawn by Andrea Sorrentino and the colour accents use to highlight objects against the grey background. And most of all I live the fictional name of the country, Vlatava, as this was clearly inspired by Vltava which is the river that runs through Prague.

Colour accents make this cover too. Everything else about the cover is also right from the determined stances of the heroes to the barbed wire above them.

What's not to like about an enraged Batman with gadgets? This is Batman born out of murder and playing with his dark side. This is what makes him Batman.

2 July 2013

Relatively Speaking at Wyndham's Theatre (very funny)

I love the theatre but generally find West End prices not justified by the performances so I am grateful to be able to go to some of the shows that appeal through work's social club where I can get discounted tickets.

And so I found myself in one of the front rows of the stalls for a revival of Alan Ayckbourn's Relatively Speaking, which in 1967 was his first hit.

The play's premise is simple but quickly opens up the way to much confusion and complexity.

The young woman is the only person who knows what is going on. Her current boy friend wants to marry her but first she has to clear an older married man out of her life. She heads to his house in the commuter belt telling her boyfriend that she is off to see her parents. He follows, manages to get there first and the confusion begins.

Along the way this includes the husband thinking that the young man is his wife's lover and the young man thinking that the wife has disowned his girlfriend because she was illegitimate.

It gets much more complicated than that and every line either twists the situation unexpectedly or produces a laugh-out-loud punchline.

The acting was wonderful and all four characters were utterly delightful. A lot of the comedy rode on the young man's innocence of the situation and he carried his naivety brilliantly.The young woman was reassured and in control while the older man was confused and on the verge of loosing it. The one known star, Felicity Kendall, was calm among the chaos and did not let all the supposed and suspected relationships get in the way of her orderly Sunday in the garden.

Alan Ayckbourn's plays entertain through humour and this one was an undoubted success with the audience, myself included, laughing uncontrollably throughout. This is a good solid farce that is well crafted and well delivered.

1 July 2013

Kingston upon Thames Society Committee: July 2013

We had fewer people than usual for our Committee Meeting in July, even volunteers take holidays, and that may be why we had no big debates, just lots of little ones.

Penny School, we were still chasing to find somebody whom we could apply for a local listing to. We were concerned that they might demolish the school soon.

Vicarage Road development with two tall blocks was expected to go Committee for decision soon, probably in September.

Market Place, the traders issue was resolving with traders making individual decisions but we still had general queries over the relationship between RBK and KingstonFirst over the strategic management of this key feature of Kingston Town.

Some of these questions may be answered when the Project Manager for the Market Place speaks at the Kingston Society Monthly Meeting on 17 July.

Managing the Society, a lot of work goes on behind the scenes to keep the Society going and in July we discussed, amongst other things, catering at the AGM and I think I've volunteered to produce some forms.

Heritage Open Days finally got some funding from RBK via the Kingston Town Neighbourhood.

Kingston Futures has been established to do shape making building on the earlier K+20 work. A number of opportunity sites have been identified but almost all owned privately so there is a limit to what the Council can achieve.

Place and Sustainability Committee was discovered by accident (by me using my iPhone during the meeting). This looks to cover a lot of the topics that we are interested in, judging by the agenda for the meeting on 9 July. We shadow several RBK committees but not this one. Perhaps we should.

Gala Bingo Hall, we liked the plans drawn up by the developers CNM Estates because they retained and restored many of the Art Deco features; sadly some had been permanently lost.