20 October 2014

Catching up on Original Sin and other Marvels

The long train journey from London to Barcelona, via Paris, was an excellent opportunity for me to dig some inroads into my comics backlog, and that was an opportunity that I took full advantage of.

I had around fifty comics on my iPad, possibly more,and I leapt in to them devouring titles like Trees, Uncanny X-Men, All-New X-Men and Daredevil. These were mostly Marvel comics because they do the buy the paper copy and get the digital one for free deal which, for a reader who also collects, is the ideal combination. The other titles, like Trees, were from Image comics and these I have only digital copies of.

One series that I read in its entirety was Original Sin, an eight part story from Marvel about the murder of The Watcher.

The writer was Jason Aaron who I knew from his involvement in titles like X-Men: Schism and Avengers vs X-Men. It was a functional script if lacking in surprises and it also included a few impossible machines like Nick Fury's flying car that could travel to the Moon in 5 minutes and the Black Panther's vehicle than could both drill to the centre of the Earth and fly in to space. Not even Thunderbirds could do all that in one machine. That silliness apart it was a very readable story.

What raised the standard was Mike Deodato's exceptional artwork.

I had also come across Mike's work before, notably on The New Avengers, but this time is blew me away. Photo-realism is one of his things these days and that shows here, especially in the Moonscape. What this double-page spread also shows is his ability to construct a page in exciting ways.

Original Sin was never going to set the comics world alight but it managed to do far more than a standard superhero comic does and that was enough to keep me gripped through all eight issues.

19 October 2014

Lovely Love Story at the Union Theatre

I certainly had more important things to do on the Sunday afternoon but none better.

With an early start to my holiday the next day, and things to clear before doing so, there was plenty to do at home but I had enjoyed the first part of the Howard Goodall Season at the Union Theatre, the dreaming, so much that I was determined to see the second part and this was the only performance that I could get to. So I went.

The Union Theatre has the advantage for me of being a short brisk walk away from Waterloo and so I could get there and back fairly quickly to minimise the time lost to important chores. I had to make some allowance for the Sunday timetable and possible delays but in the end I got there just after 2pm. I though that was early but I was given ticket number 25 so quite a few people had tried harder then me to get one of the best seats.

I used the spare half hour wisely by supping a Becks.

The Union Theatre loads people in groups of ten so I was in the third group. I was first in of that group and that won me a front row seat in one corner of the stage. That was plenty good enough.

I know that I had not seen the film and am I pretty certain that I did not read the book either but some of the plot had seeped through to my consciousness, something to do with ice hockey,  death and love means never having to say you're sorry. That relative ignorance was bliss and I was able to sit down and let the story take me wherever it wanted to go.

Howard Goodall had taken a fairly standard approach to the music with an opening song for the whole cast that was echoed at the end and with plenty of pretty catchy tunes in the middle some of which were also repeated to help them to stick in the memory.

It worked, as it had at the dreaming, and I caught several people humming tunes at the break and at the end.

The story impressed me less. The man was rather unpleasant toward both his family and his girlfriend/wife. I was hoping that it was him who died so I was even sadder at the ending when it wasn't.

The production was neatly unobtrusive. It used props sparingly and these were sometimes swapped in one corner of the stage while the action happened in another. That helped the story to flow which it needed to do.

This was a simple love story with only two parties so the musical relied a lot on their skills and they were both good. Perhaps it was because I cared for her more but the woman, Victoria Serra, was the heart and soul of the show for me. The couple were supported by a small and very able cast that sang beautifully and acted tenderly.

Love Story was never going to be my sort of story, even less so when the wrong one of them died, but the music and the singing more than made up for the plot and I left very happy and vindicated in my decision to sacrifice a busy afternoon to see it.

18 October 2014

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown sets Leamington Spa on fire

Arthur Brown was on something of a tour but, as the poster above shows, there were no London dates planned so I had to go a little further to catch him. As luck would have it I had a good excuse to be in Warwick/Coventry on 18 October so it was an easy matter to stop at Leamington Spa on the way home.

I was not sure how the day would pan out so I did not buy tickets in advance and I was thankful that my business finished around 5:30pm which gave me time to find the venue and a place to eat before the doors opened at 8pm. The place to eat proved to be the local Weatherspoons, the Jug and Jester.

I got to the Assembly Rooms just as the doors opened and bough my ticket. I was driving later but had had only one small glass of wine all day so I treated myself to a pint of Hobgoblin before the show.

The Assembly Rooms were an attractive building which is just was well as I had plenty of time to kill. I was not expecting a support act, I don't think that I have seen Arthur with one before, but there was one and they did not start until 8pm. They were sufficiently entertaining to help the time pass but really it was all about the wait for the main show that turned out to be at 9pm. By then I was thinking that I could have been home by then.

But that would have been a big mistake because Arthur was brilliant from the start.

The line-up was a surprise. Long-term keyboards player Lucie Rejchrtova had been replaced and while the substitute made a similar sort of sound he lacked the sheer exuberance that Lucie brought to her performances. There may have other changes in the rhythm section but I was not paying enough attention to work that one out.

Nina Gromniak was still there on lead guitar and that was good news. She always was good and seems to be getting better as she add more little tricks to her playing.

Despite the changes in personnel the sound was much as I remembered it from the previous show in March. It was very funky with a taste of the 60's on top, mostly from the prominent keyboards.

Angel Flame was there too to add her dance interpretations to some of the songs. The highlight was this outfit which was used for Fire.

The set was much as I expected, and hoped, though it was not a straight copy of the previous show that I saw. In addition to Fire there were also expected appearances by Kites, Spell on You and The Voice of Love but Devil's Grip was missing.

There was at least one song that was new to me but that was my fault for not buying his latest album, Zim Zam Zim, earlier, a fault that I have now rectified. I'll know the new songs better the next time I see Arthur which should be in early November.

Arthur did what Arthur does which is entertain mightily. He bounced around the stage, talked to the audience, changed his outfit several times (mostly by taking another layer off, it was like watching a Russian Doll strip), interfered with the band and walked in to the audience for one song, despite the significant barrier in the way.

It was a wonderful show (again) and I loved every minute. The sheer joy of it all more than made up for the wit beforehand and the long drive back to London afterwards. That drive meant that I could not stay behind and mingle but I did say hello to Angel because it would have been rude not to.

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown are like Chinese food, as soon as the concert is over you want another one. Hopefully it will not be too long a wait this time.

16 October 2014

Trimmed but neat Three Sisters at the White Bear Theatre

This was my first visit to the White Bear Theatre in Kennington and my third time of seeing Three Sisters in the last two years. So I knew what to expect in some areas and had some surprises in others.

White Bear Theatre was conveniently close to Kennington Station in a part of London that I had bussed through several times but had never visited before. I found it a strange place and the best evidence for that was that the best option that I had for pre-theatre food was a prepacked sandwich from Costcutter (another first for me) which I ate on a dark bench in Kennington Park.

The pub was nice enough but it did not do food. It did do a nice pint of Young's Ordinary at the ridiculously low price of £3.05, I was paying £3.60 in Kingston the night before and thought that was reasonable. I celebrated by having a few through the evening, helped by the theatre's policy of allowing drinks in.

The theatre was "L" shaped with two rows of seats in the "L" and the stage in the rectangle formed by those two side. I was prompt enough to get a seat towards the middle of the front-row of the long side. I did not count the seats but I guess that there were around forty and they all looked to be taken.

At £14 the ticket price was ridiculously low too.

The first things I noticed was that we were in a British territory and not a Russian one and that we were in current times not the 19th century. This was the same transposition that the Southwark Theatre had gone for.

The biggest change took a while to dawn on me, this version was abridged. The story rattled along faster than I was used to and some characters were missing, notably the family maid who linked the two generations in the original story.

That was not a problem, I just tried to forget that this was Chekhov's Three Sisters and just watched the play on its own merits. And it had lots of merits.

Despite the cuts, many of the original themes remained with the three sisters and their brother going through some ups and downs, mostly downs, as they were buffeted by events mostly beyond their control.

The acting was much better than it has any right to be in a venue this small and that was a big factor in making the story engaging and believable. It was quite a large cast too as even cut to the core Three Sisters has nine significant roles. They all did well and the two that most caught my attention most were Annemarie Highmore as Emily/Masha and Nigel Fyfe as her older married lover Alexander.

As with the original, this Three Sisters ended with all three of them confronting significant set-backs (if you can call a death and a departure merely set-backs) and resolving to face the future positively. It's almost a happy ending.

This production of Three Sisters wrung all the emotion from the main themes in the original to make a dramatic and intense drama that thrilled a very happy audience of seasoned theatre goers.

BBC Bias: Saying something important has happened when it hasn't

Pretending the something important has happened is the most obvious and common way that the BBC shows its pro-Tory bias. There were two very good examples of it today.

In the morning a sacked minor minister Owen Paterson called for Climate Change targets to be dropped and, despite being a nobody with no influence, managed to get plenty of time on the BBC to put his point of view. Liam Fox is another ex-Minister (and do not forget why he had to become an ex) who only has to speak to have the doors to the BBC open for him.

But the story that I wanted to give as an example was David Cameron doing nothing about immigration.

All that happened was he said that something needed to be done about immigration, which he had said many times before, but the mere fact the he said it was enough for the BBC to give it top-billing on their News page. This gives the false impression that something is being done and that Cameron is doing it.

The Conservatives would love to be able to buy publicity like this, and perhaps they are.

15 October 2014

Open Mic Night at the Grey Horse (15 October 14)

This was one of those serendipitous evenings when the Open Mic Night at the Grey Horse worked out well for me with no forethought and no planning.

I was in Kingston doing something else and after that something else finished I fancied a pint; that happens. The Canbury Arms was closer but that is a quiet foodie pub these days and so I made the short trek to the Grey Horse instead.

I did not know that the Open Mic Night was on but that did not matter as the Grey Horse is a fine pub at any time and they always do a good pint of Young's Ordinary. The Open Mic Night was a bonus.

I was pleased to see some new acts on the bill, including the young lady at the top. Of course it was good to see some of the regulars too and I always like to catch Catherine Paver's set because it is a little bit unusual and so stands out from what can be more of the same folkies.

Some of the usual people were there to see the performances too and so I did a bit of socialising as well as listening, and that's is always a wining combination.

I had things to do at home so could not stay out long, and probably should not have gone at all if I was being sensible, and I left after just a couple of leisurely pints. I was there under an hour but that was plenty enough to refresh and reinvigorate me after a busy day at work and a thoughtful evening meeting.

Beer is good, beer with live music is better, beer with live music and friends is best.

BBC Bias: It is how you present the story

One of the most obvious ways that the BBC shows its pro-Tory bias is the way that it presents stories and so, effectively, defines what the story is.

There are many example is this, here's one from today.

The real story here is that Tory Minister Lord Freud suggested people with disabilities could be paid less than the minimum wage as they were "not worth the full wage".

That is a damning insight to the private thinking of a prominent Conservative.

But, by presenting the story as his apology the BBC manages to make the villain of the peace something of a hero and hides the crime for which he has had to apologise for.

14 October 2014

BBC Bias: It's the words that they use

The way that the BBC most clearly shows their pro-Tory bias is in their choice of words.

For example, the Bedroom Tax is now the "so-called Bedroom Tax" simply because the Government did not want it called that. Normally it is common usage that defines what words mean and what things are called, and everybody except most (not all) Conservative politicians call the Bedroom Tax the Bedroom Tax.

Often the words that the BBC chooses to use are taken directly from the Tory press release and so immediately reinforce the Tory viewpoint, such as in this case today.

By choosing to echo the Tories' word "freedom" the BBC is already telling us that this is a good thing.

But freedom is not always good. The banks were given too much freedom, also known as "light-touch regulation", and that plunged the world in to a deep recession.

And there are very good reasons why people were not given the "freedom" to take their pensions early before. Put simply, this was to make sure that people had the money to look after themselves in their old age rather than having to call on the State to do so.

It does not matter which side of this argument you are on, the point is by describing it as an issue of "freedom" the BBC has already decided that it is a good thing and so implied that there is no argument here to be had. The simple word "changes" would have been more accurate.