Monday 25 February 2008

A twirl and a half in Covent Garden

14st 7lb; 4.0 units of alcohol; 1,439; Judaea.

I had a rather disturbed night, thanks to some early evening channel-hopping that led me to watching a chunk of the BBC’s 80th birthday tribute to Bruce Forsyth. Brucie himself is remarkably well-preserved, though perhaps best avoided in close-up. However, a glimpse of his former Generation Game colleague and ex-wife Anthea “Give us a Twirl” Redfern was enough to make anyone shudder. The effect was made worse by watching a subsequent drama, in which it became clear that the make-up artists had not had to work too hard to transform an actress I once much fancied into a haggard old crone. I woke up in a cold sweat as the objects of desire who normally inhabit my dreams transformed themselves into hideous memento mori.

Today I returned to London by National Express and my attempt to build up a dossier of serious moans received a catastrophic setback. Not only did I enjoy an excellent lunch in the restaurant car, but the cheerful lady steward even insisted on extending the restaurant by bringing a tablecloth, cutlery and glasses so that I didn’t need to move from my seat.

This evening I took a delightful lady barrister and viola player (which is one woman rather than two) to see David McVicar’s new production of Salome at the Royal Opera House. It contained many of the things I like most in life: the gorgeous music of Strauss (R) superbly played by a vast orchestra, world class singing and a generous dollop of depravity, with special emphasis on gratuitous nudity. There was an attractive young actress standing around in the buff from the minute the curtain went up, presumably to provide a subtle clue that this Herod bloke might be considered a bit of a sleazebag. The set was the kitchen of his palace, with the Tetrarch’s candle-lit dinner party going on above. There was a carcase hanging in the pantry in the background, and it looked pretty much like a pig to me. Making a subtle point, no doubt. I am still wondering what it was.

There was a near incident when Jokaanen emerged from his cistern and someone sitting in the row behind us boomed ““How can a bloke that fat possibly climb out of that hole?” He was loudly shushed and physical violence narrowly averted. The costume designer might indeed have paid attention to the fact that their star would end up paying as much attention to trying to hold his stomach in as to his actual singing.

What disappeared in the Dance of the Seven Veils was not the soprano’s clothes, as recent convention dictates, but the set. Instead it became a Dance of the Seven Rooms, involving as much dressing up as stripping off. There was a lot of lunatic flailing around rather than dancing in any recognized sense of the word, which is pretty much how people used to describe my own technique in the days when I went to May Balls. The climax involved Nadja Michael in the title role splashing herself with water from a Belfast sink (a common feature of King Herod’s Judaea, apparently), producing much the same outcome as a Miss Wet T-Shirt contest. Her subsequent shenanigans with John the Baptist’s severed head were as depraved as anything I have ever seen, and I feared that I should have more nightmares. And I did, though they all turned out to feature the distinctly non-Biblical figure of Anthea Redfern and the severed head of Bruce Forsyth.


Ross Eldridge said...

Hi Keith:

I can only imagine that your "delightful lady barrister and voila [sic] player" actually plays the viola. Though a good game of "Voila!" might be fun for some.

I'm a writer, I understand: It's cold up here right now, and at 22.42 hours who can promise no typos?

I am reminded of one of the quips that the late, great Dane, Victor Borge, would offer at some of his performances: "What is the difference between a violin and a viola?" We all thought hard. Borge explained: "A viola burns longer..."

As for "Salome" ... In the 1960s (when we was fab) I read Wilde's play, and John Lennon's line about "The dance of some several veils" and rather wanted to stage it using Beardsley's illustrations as costume and backdrop designs. As if.

That took me to the record shop, and I bought two rather large boxed sets of recordings of the Richard Strauss ... two because the "Dance" on each was played differently, and in both cases rather nicely.

And I've rather wanted to see/hear the Strauss on stage since then. Oh, I saw a film of a performance. It was most unappealing, seemed to be set on a fairly large upturned boat, with no attractive anybodies in the buff.

Your experience at the ROH sounds both tempting, and, perhaps, more tempting. The flailing, and later wet clothing, sounds as inviting as the old kissing the bloody lips.

Perhaps it could have been worse: The severed head could have been used in a game of "bowling for Baptists".

And your lady friend would have to say: "Well, voila!"

Keith Hann said...

Thank you for your thoughtful observations, and particularly for drawing that egregious error to my attention. I'm enough of a perfectionist to have corrected it, not simply to make any subsequent readers wonder what the hell you were on about.

Funnily enough, someone e-mailed me the other day to say that the only thing they disliked about my blog was that I clearly spent far too much time worrying about choosing the right words, and spelling and punctuating them correctly. What I needed to do was to relax and be more spontaneous.

Maybe not, then.

Incidentally, I'm a bit of a novice in these things, but isn't it a bit of a breach of etiquette to make the comment longer and funnier than the original posting?

Ross Eldridge said...

Hi Keith:

I failed grammar school English, had to retake my GCE "O" Level and scraped a pass, though I was editor of the official school newspaper and secret co-editor of the unofficial school newspaper.

Somehow, after blundering into engineering, I found great books. About that time I commenced working for the American International Group as a trainee reinsurance and consolidation accountant. The very first day I was handed a raft of papers and told to proof read them!

"Er. I failed English."

"Well, that's okay. They have to be in American anyway..."

And that is the reason, I suppose, for the bad manners when responding to the blog. For my pittance I had to create "American". And, a rapid writer and fair typist, I made quick work of it, so I always typed some more. And some more.

There was a wonderful quotation in a newspaper recently, not the Journal or Chronicle that I recall, I think it was a broadsheet. A sports presenter pointed out that the only good English was written by the Irish.

WB Yeats certainly didn't relax, or be spontaneous, did he? And Wilde put the comma in during the morning hours, and took it out in the afternoon.

So, Keith, don't relax too much, don't start blurting. The only thing an Englishman should (and inevitably does) blurt out is: "Sorry!"

Don't Americanise! A fat lot of good it's doing Iraq!



Keith Hann said...

I never write American. If you are referring to my preference for the -ize ending, may I refer you to the following from Hart's Rules (Oxford University Press, 2005)?

"For most verbs ending with -ize or -ise, either termination is acceptable in British English. The ending -ize has been in use in English since the 16th century and is not an Americanism, although it is the usual form in American English today ... Oxford University Press has traditionally used -ize spellings ... They were favoured on both phonetic and etymological grounds: -ize corresponds more closely to the Greek root of most -ize verbs, -izo."

It is fair to concede that OUP is just about the last British institution holding out against the -ise tide, The Times having thrown in the towel a few years ago as part of the same process of dumbing down that turned it into a tabloid.

But I'm not going to stop doing something that is right and proper just because Americans also happen to favour it (see also non-metric measurements and democracy, to pick a couple of examples at random). Indeed, even though I am not an Oxford man myself, anything that is old-fashioned, technically correct and likely to irritate the half educated gets my vote. Which is why I shall also continue to write "Scotchman" instead of "Scotsman", and "Peking" rather than whatever the Chinese decide to call their capital this week.