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.

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The Doors of Perception

John Middleton: Painting Works at the Coningsby Gallery, 9 -13 June 2014

Abstract art is, of course, all about perception. Almost always, the viewer sees the work through their own lens, and the resulting mental impression is, in effect, a collaboration between artist and observer. John Middleton’s show definitely gives the spectator a lot to absorb and think about; however there seem to me to be certain underlying themes to do with place, fluidity and possibility.

Doors are exciting, representing as they do the transition from one place to another. On entering the exhibition, the first picture to catch my eye was Doorway. With its central arrow, whose direction varied with your point of view, it seemed to say that our personal doorways can take us to many different places. Temple Doorway is another obvious example of the same theme. In a wonderful touch, the artist has used sand from a beach near the temple at Chichen-Itza to depict the building, yet it is the completely dark open doorway which draws the eye, suggesting the endless possibilities of the other side, and the journey from the physical to the spiritual which is evident throughout Middleton’s work. Nearby paintings complemented this idea. Path to the Temple suggests that either the rugged route or the direct path will lead you to the same destination, and Kimono, with its eye-catching gold square suggested a doorway filled with blindingly bright light.

Hanging side by side, The Pink Bird and The Green Bird were both inspired by Edward Lear. Strangely, although pink is a brighter colour, it was the latter which suggested Caribbean islands to me – perhaps because the bird was in flight, or maybe because green is the hue of vegetation and growth. Green is also a powerful colour in Idiosyncratic Pattern, which has shades of mother-of-pearl and has, to me, a 1970s feel, and asks the question “When is a pattern not a pattern?” This painting is also a good example of John’s fascination with flaws, rather than hiding them he likes to draw attention to them in an “X marks the spot” sort of way. The Last Sighting of Bigfoot deals wonderfully with the problem of making visible the invisible, while Henri’s Fish and Socks deceives the eye and plays with notions of depth and dimension.

Know Your Place seems to me to sum up the sense of myriad possibilities presented by this exhibition. Perhaps the empty space at the centre is for you; or you are one of the surrounding circles or even a small dot of colour right at the edge? The potentialities are endless as, I suspect, are the responses to John Middleton’s work – as varied as the works themselves. I have only touched briefly on the range of watercolours and drawings on display, but I found the whole to be impressive, engaging and stimulating.

For more information visit John’s website www.johnmiddleton.uk.com.
GreenBird

Belfast Girl: A Love Story

As it’s now less than two weeks till opening night, I wanted to let everyone know about Belfast Girl: A Love Story, from London Irish Theatre.

Set in the aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement, Belfast Girl: A Love Story considers the human dimension of the Northern Ireland question, and uncovers the personal costs of political struggle.  Annie is the Belfast Girl of the title: a working class protestant who grew up during the troubles.  Her marriage to Orangeman Billy is on the rocks, and an unexpected visit from English Catholic Dave, her childhood sweetheart who she hasn’t seen since her teens, brings matters to a head in an explosive manner.  The play is written and directed by John Dunne, and features Mary Tynan (me) as Annie and Ian Macnaughton as Dave.

The story of Dave and Annie has been through several incarnations over the years.  The first, titled Belfast, premiered in the 1990s and featured the couple as teenagers, with Tanya Franks as Annie.  I become involved during the second incarnation, Belfast Boy, which was written to be the second play in a double bill with Geraldine Aron’s A Galway Girl, touring in 2009/10.  This was a two hander, with the older Annie and Dave meeting again after many years.  Belfast Girl followed in the summer of 2010, and I played Annie for the second time in a completely new work which also featured Annie’s brother and husband.  This play has recently had a Belfast run, in which the story was expanded to include two further characters.

Belfast Girl: A Love Story returns to the two-handed format, but with a twist.  There may be only two actors, but there are more than two characters!  I’m really looking forward to playing Annie again, and would like to invite readers of Notes From Xanadu to join the audience.  Previous versions Belfast and A Belfast Boy have both received critical acclaim from the press, and Belfast was a Time Out Critic’s Choice.

“John Dunne’s sensitive squint at the Ulster legacy adapts well to the stage.  What’s impressive about the rapid stucco of tense, bite-sized scenes is that they’re eloquently counterpointed by a driving commitment to character development.”  Time Out

“A sharply realistic play still willing to speak for love, however guarded, as the central human value.” City Limits

 “Fantastically gripping.”  What’s On

 “Moving stories in an Irish odyssey.”  Camden New Journal

Belfast Girl: A Love Story is playing on both sides of the Thames this Summer.  It opens on 20August 2013 at the London Theatre, New Cross, running nightly at 8pm until 24 August, with a Sunday matinee on 25 August at 4pm.  It then runs from 27 to 29 August nightly at 7.30pm at the Babble Jar, Stoke Newington and from 30 August to 1 September at the Precinct Theatre, Islington, with all performances there also at 7.30pm.  Tickets can be bought on the door, from the London Theatre Box Office (www.thelondontheatre.com), and from www.irish-theatre.com .

Belfast Girl: A Love Story

 

A Tale of two Cities

Good Vibrations and Spike Island at the London Film Festival

I had great plans for the London film festival, with many press screenings marked out on my diary.  Unfortunately timing was against me, as it turned out to be a very busy period in my other two jobs (acting and teaching), and apart from “A Liar’s Autobiography,” which got cancelled (read the article here), I actually only ended up at two screenings.  But they were good ones.

Good Vibrations

My regular readers (if there are such people) will be aware that I enjoy a bit of music from the 1980s, so I was in a positive frame of mind when I turned up to see Good Vibrations – The Story of Terri Hooley.

For every Richard Branson, there are probably hundreds of Terri Hooleys.  Known as the Godfather of Ulster Punk, Terri was the owner of Good Vibrations record shop and label, was responsible for discovering the Undertones, and encouraged punk and alternative music to flourish during a dark time in Northern Ireland’s history.  I imagine that there were people like him in towns and cities all over the UK and Ireland during the 70s and 80s; running record shops, managing and/or playing in bands, and organising events.  Do these people ever make a profit in the long run or do their charming mix of naivety and idealism work against them in the end?  Good Vibrations never released a top 40 record, and Terri sold the rights to “Teenage Kicks” for £500 and a signed photo of The Shangri Las (which he never got.)  But that isn’t the point, as this film shows: Terri Hooley made a lot of people very happy, which was in itself no mean feat in Belfast at the height of the troubles.

This was a highly enjoyable film from start to finish.  Richard Dormer made an excellent Terri, and I particularly enjoyed Jodie Whittaker’s performance as his wife.  It’s hard to pick out anyone else as cast lists are not given out at press screening, but everyone performed very well.  It would have been nice to have a few more female characters – maybe some girls who hung around the record shop for instance – but apart from that I completely loved it.  One particularly memorable scene is when an RUC officer is hassling a girl in a bar for suspected underage drinking and Terri comes over and tells him he’d like to report a civil war.  Scenes like these show the bravery of the character as well as the naivety and idealism.

Of course, being a film about music, the soundtrack is a major part of the experience.  Set in a fertile time for Northern Irish music, the tracks chosen add to the energy and exuberance of the story, as obviously does the setting with its air of menace just under the surface.

Go and see this if you’re interested in music, Belfast, or just plain enjoy a good film.

Spike Island

Good Vibrations is a true story about a real man, with a real record shop/label, and the punk scene in Belfast, whereas Spike Island, my second choice of film, is a coming of age drama set in Manchester in the 1990s with the music of the Stone Roses providing more of a secondary theme.  As such it worked well, and the soundtrack (a mix of the Roses and the characters own band, Shadow Caster) added greatly to the ambience and power of the film.  The characters did seem to blend into each other a bit at points, and some of what could have been more potent moments could have been better explained (I was never sure why one boy joined the army for instance).  Having more female characters would have added more variety, and this film does not have the excuse of being a true story as a reason for not doing so.  Teenagers since the 1960s or 1970s onwards generally tend to hang around in groups of both sexes (I did) and the whole male bonding theme seemed to me a little old-fashioned.

That said, the music really lifts everything up, and the festival atmosphere of Spike Island and young love is captured perfectly (leaving aside the dubious morality of deserting your father on his deathbed to go to a Stone Roses concert that you don’t even have tickets for!)

Once again, I am hampered by a lack of a cast list, however everyone concerned gave a very competent performance, with Emilia Clarke standing out in particular.

Go and see this film if you enjoy a good coming of age drama with an excellent soundtrack, or want to recapture your youth!

Mary Tynan

The Lime Cafe, Haringey

Being a veteran of Haringey’s famous Cafe Lemon (I was Morcilla’s mysterious dining companion), I decided to boldly go and sample the delights of the next door establishment, which has recently changed its name to The Lime Cafe, from its previous, more Italian-sounding appellation Mambocino. On first glance, it appeared as if the decor had also been completely altered, but no, the sublime fountain was still there, featuring a mermaid accompanied by dolphins and fish in variegated tones of blue and pink, and the magnificent glass dolphin sculpture had merely been moved to the top of the fridge. The nautical theme was continued with anchors and other ship parts hanging from the walls, although alas no sea shanties were to be heard, but only the ubiquitous sound of Turkish pop.

Having just spent two hours in the doctor’s waiting room, I was in the mood to have my taste buds tingled, so I ordered the vegetarian set breakfast number 1, accompanied by a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. The coffee was first to arrive, and was, I am pleased to say, not instant. The orange juice was indeed freshly squeezed, and, whilst the toast was slightly on the dry side, the tomato and mushrooms were done to perfection, and the beans were not touching the (single) egg. The bubble and squeak was a bright green colour (presumably to match the waiting staff’s shirts) due to the inclusion of marrowfat peas in the mix, and rounded off this epicurean delight in a satisfying way.

Pleasantly full, I left a tip and went in search of more citrus-themed restaurants, but have so far been unsuccessful in my search.

Heidi Sausage

(Previously published in both the London Review of Breakfasts and the London Evening Standard)