Travel News

Confusion over flight plans caused chaos in both Saudi Arabia and France this morning, with protestors currently surrounding Mecca Airport.  The angry Muslim clerics arrived en-masse after being tipped off that there were a group of middle-aged Irish Catholics in the terminal.  Due to an unfortunate air-traffic error, the pilgrims had been forced to land at the Arab airport instead of in France, as originally intended.  The inconvenience was compounded by a large percentage of the group being wheelchair users.  The group, mostly women, have been confined to a cafeteria in the airport for their own protection, after several instances of being hit on the leg with sticks; told to cover up; and called unclean.  “Why should I cover my hair?” asked Susan Farrell from Ardrath, County Kerry.  “Haven’t I just been to the hairdressers for a wash and set?”  In another corner of the café, Fr Michael Flatley had set a large statue of the Virgin Mary on a table and was proposing to lead 15 decades of the rosary to enthusiastic agreement.  The stoic band seem happy enough to continue waiting while the mix-up is sorted out, planning a few renditions of Faith of our Fathers when the rosary is completed, but catering manager Abdul Al Faid confessed that he had almost run out of tea, “and then the shit will really hit the fan,” he prophesised to our reporter.

Pilgrim Air, the airline responsible for the mix-up, have apologised profusely for the inconvenience and promised to pay full compensation.  “We don’t know how it happened, but we intend to carry out a full investigation, after which several of our cleaning staff will be sacked,” a representative told us.

Meanwhile, in France, Police had to be called to the shrine at Lourdes to calm the furious group of followers of Mohammed, who had been causing disruption at the holy site by spitting at the devoted.  “They are praying to a woman.  It’s obscene.,” declared a recently-arrested bearded man who refused to be named.  “Stoning’s too good for them.”

It is hoped that both flights can be rescheduled later today so that the intrepid travellers may continue on their respective pilgrimages unhindered.

In related news, Ryan Air announced plans to start charging for seats today.  The low-cost airline intends to install a sort of cattle pen at the back of the plane for those too poor, or too cheap, to pay extra.

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Just When You Thought it Was Safe to Go Back to Victorian London

The Legend of Springheel’d Jack – Series II of The Springheel Saga

Once again, Wireless Theatre Company has produced an energising, bewitching, atmospheric piece of radio.  Opening seven years after the end of the last series, we are immediately dropped into the thick of the action and the pace does not let up throughout the three episodes.  The Doctor Who references this time seem to me more subtle, and at the same time wider-reaching.  The sound landscape played a large part in this (I’m sure I heard a tardis at a couple of points!), especially the incidental music provided by Cameron K McEwan.  Without giving too much away, much of the story revolves around a mysterious box, whose origins, it turns out, involve transwarp drive.  The box’s final destination is reminiscent of another cult classic – Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The storytelling remains first-class  Writing for radio holds its own special challenges, as the conversations have to tell most of the story, without being too obvious or lessening the impact of the characters as individuals, and this was managed seemingly effortlessly by Gareth Parker and Robert Valentine.  However, in this series, they have added the device of a narrator, who is also a character in the story (James M. Rymer, wonderfully played by John Holden White) and this proved to be very effective.  As before, the dialogue is outstanding throughout; with priceless lines such as “the tears that rolled down his cheeks behind the large false beard.”

The acting was superb.  Christopher Finney reprised his role of Jonas Smith with aplomb, John Holden White, as James M Rymer, was an excellent addition to the cast, and Nicholas Parson was wonderful as Cuthbert Leach.  However, my personal favourite this time was Josephine Timmons, as Lizzie Coombe.  She was believable on so many different levels (it was a complicated character); totally sympathetic and a pleasure to listen to throughout.  Casting was by Jack Bowman, who also had a small but effective cameo, but whose major contribution is in the production and the superb writing (under his pseudonym of Gareth Parker).  The excellent direction was by co-writer Robert Valentine, who was also part of the production team, along with Mariele Runacre-Temple.

The Legend of Springheel’d Jack is in three episodes: The Terror of London; The Carnival of Horrors and The Engine of Doom.  Each of these can be downloaded from http://www.wirelesstheatrecompany.co.uk.  Series III – The Secret of Springheel’d Jack – is planned for an August/September release.  I’ll be listening!

Previously published in Blogtor Who.

Romantic Fun for Valentine’s Day

She Loves Me at the Landor Theatre

I didn’t notice that Saturday was Valentine’s day when I arranged to go and review She Loves Me on that day. Once I realised, I wondered if I would look a bit strange going to a romantic musical on my own on the day for celebrating the pairing instinct! I needn’t have worried. There were a lot of couples (and quite a bit of hand-holding), but there were also people who had come because they had friends in the cast, so I didn’t stick out like a spare thumb.

Seated at the end of the front row I had a good chance to look at the set (courtesy of designer David Shields and Lighting Designer Richard Lambert) before the performance began. It was wonderful! She Loves Me is based on a play called Parfumerie (by Hungarian author Miklos Laszlo) and most of the action is set in a cosmetics shop. The set was well-designed: bright, cheerful and colourful; as well as being easily adaptable to the requirements of different scenes.

I did have one major gripe about this show, which nagged at me right up until partway through the second half, when I suppose I got used to it. The play is set in Budapest and is being performed in a London theatre. So why is everyone speaking in an American accent? Yes, I know the musical was first produced on Broadway, but that seems insufficient reason to me. And although the accents were, on the whole, excellent, they did slip on the vocal numbers in some cases. Looking at the cast list, I can see that one cast member is from the US and another from Canada. Let them speak in their native accents, and let the rest of the predominantly British cast speak in their own accents. Were an accent change indicated, the only logically choice would be Hungarian, and I don’t believe that would be either practicable or effective.

Accents aside, I really liked She Loves Me. The fourteen-strong cast gave flawless performances with high energy throughout. The songs were exuberant and infectious, and the choreography was of a very high standard – essential when you have such a large cast in such a small space. Credit is due to director Robert McWhir, musical director Iain Vince-Gatt, and choreographer Robbie O’Reilly. The cast were ably support by a trio of musicians whom I can’t seem to find listed in the program and Nina Morley’s costume design and Cecily Rabey’s stage management contributed to the excellent overall look and feel of the piece.

With such a large cast, all of such a high standard, it is hard to pick anyone out for special mention. Lead actors Charlotte Jaconelli and John Sandberg were wonderful, both vocally and in terms of creating believable sympathetic characters. The same could be said Emily Lynne, David Herzog and Matthew Wellman – although without the sympathetic part in his case, as he was playing the villain! I was particularly drawn to Joshua LeClar as the bicycle messenger Arpad and Ian Dring as Mr Maraczek, the elderly shop owner. All of the singing in the show was brilliant, and I particularly enjoyed the chorus numbers (George Mulryan, Rosie Ladkin, Tom Whalley, Olivia Holland Rose, Luke Kelly, Anne Horn and Suzie Chaytow). At 2 ½ hours the show is good value for money, and I can guarantee you will leave with a smile on your face.

She Loves me is at the Landor Theatre until 7 March 2015, Tuesday – Saturday nightly at 7.30pm, with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 3pm. For more information, visit www.landortheatre.co.uk.

Nobody Does It Better

The Diary of a Nobody at the King’s Head Theatre, 20 January 2015 – 14 February 2014

The Diary of a Nobody, the story of Charles Pooter, was published as a series of articles and illustration in Punch during the late 19th Century, and was written by brothers George and Weedon Grossmith.  There have been numerous stage, screen and radio adaptations over the intervening years, often differing wildly in interpretation, for instance Keith Waterhouse’s play, featuring Judy Dench and Michael Williams, told the story from the point of view of Pooter’s wife Carrie.

As would be expected, Rough Haired Pointer have their own take on the story.  This starts with the design (Karina Nakaninsky and Christopher Hone): both set and costumes are constructed to resemble the black and white drawings in the original work.  Secondly, the adaptation and direction (Mary Franklin) splits the action between four characters in an interesting way (the narration, as Pooter, is shared by all four, for instance), and thirdly the sheer madcap mayhem and silliness of the production was extremely refreshing.

The cast consisted of four male actors, which did add slightly to the Pythonesque atmosphere of the piece, although I’m sure it could work equally well with women also.  Jake Curran played Charles Pooter throughout, which lent a much needed anchor to the play, amidst the constantly changing characters around him.  He did an excellent job of conveying both poignancy and humour.  Jordan Mallory-Skinner played Carrie throughout, although he did morph briefly into three other characters.  Again, he gave a sympathetic and amusing portrayal of the character, and, although not dragged up in any way other than the costume and a pair of earrings, at times I found myself forgetting he was not really a woman!

All the remaining characters were played by Geordie Wright and George Fouracres.  Wright did have a main character of sort, in Sarah, the maid, but he played many others also, and Fouracres was continually changing parts, although perhaps his role as Lupin, the Pooters’ son, is the one that most sticks in my mind.  These two actors contributed a lot of the over-the-top hilarity which was a characteristic of the production, and both displayed great comic flair, as indeed did Curran and Mallory-Skinner.  The chaotic fun was enhanced by the staging: little touches such as having the cast pour glasses of rice from a wine bottle and try to drink it, and the postman carrying a letter box with him as well as a letter to put through it.  There was also some audience participation involved.  In addition, there was quite a bit of corpsing, which strangely just made the play even funnier.

The Diary of a Nobody is closing at the King’s Head tonight, so do pop down and see it if you can, or look out for future productions (the current one is a transfer from the White Bear).  For more information, visit www.kingsheadtheatrepub.co.uk  or www.roughhairedpointer.com.

Photographs courtesy of Rocco Redondo

The Diary of a Nobody