Saturday, 19 November 2016

No Man's Land - a review

No Man’s Land, showing at London's Wyndham's Theatre, is not a straightforward play but then no one expects straightforward from Harold Pinter. Having said that, it was the most enjoyable and satisfying play I have seen in years. I’m still thinking about it.

SPOILER ALERT: If you’re planning to go and see this production then you may not want to read any further just yet:

The two main characters were Hirst played by Patrick Stewart and Spooner by Ian McKellan. Both are brilliant actors, amazingly brilliant actors, but Ian McKellan was especially amazing. We were close enough to the stage to be able to see each facial expression and mannerism executed with perfect timing to enhance humour, pathos and, at times, creepy discomfiture.

The story could be read in two ways. Maybe it was merely an evening where Hirst had picked up Spooner in a pub near Hampstead Heath and taken him home for drinks. The more they drank the more outlandish their conversations became. All this was punctuated by the arrival of two younger men, both apparently living in the house, one young pretty boy who we were led to think was a toyboy/house keeper and the other a rough character who could have been a minder.

The more sinister interpretation is first alluded to early on in the play when Hirst mentions the phrase ‘no man’s land’. There is a quiet ‘waft’ of eerie music on stage. As the second half progresses it becomes obvious that all is not what it at first appears to be. Hirst is disturbed by images of a drowning man. Spooner is trying to encourage him to return to his writing, become more involved with poetry. He could be trying to pull him back from some state of purgatory, whereas the two younger men could be holding him there, plying whisky and words of hopelessness. I interpreted this to mean that the three actors surrounding Hirst were his alter egos first pulling him into purgatory, then trying to save him from it.

I wondered if there would be a satisfactory explanation at the end but the final lines of the play went as follows:

Spooner: You are in no man’s land. Which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, but which remains forever, icy and silent.

Hirst: I’ll drink to that.

The advantage of this ending was that we were able to spend a long and enjoyable supper in a Covent Garden restaurant discussing our varying interpretations of what Pinter actually meant by it all.

If you’ve seen the play I’d love to hear your interpretation.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Those Trains Again

Yesterday was a special event, an extremely belated birthday present for Daughter. She chose the Harold Pinter play ‘No Man’s Land’ starring the amazing Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart. Her birthday was back in March but this play was worth waiting for. What's more, we had front row seats in the Royal Circle of the Wyndham Theatre - a real treat. There’s something magical about those small, highly decorated Edwardian London theatres and Pinter certainly gave us lots to think about afterwards. We continued to discuss the play throughout supper and during our return journey to St Pancras Station, but I’ll talk about our analysis of the play another day, with a ‘spoiler alert’ in case you’re about to go and see it. Today I have a need to discuss the journey. 

I don’t often travel by train although I have recently decided that I can no longer do long-distance driving and so am, unfortunately, going to have to increasingly rely on train travel. I say ‘unfortunately’ because, although I rarely use the train, in the last few years I’ve experienced long delays on three occasions due to someone committing suicide on the line. This happened last night. It created chaos at St Pancras. All trains were stopped and although they kept explaining the reason over the tannoy, it was cold, wet and late. I realise that somewhere, out there in the dark, a family’s life had just been devastated but I wanted to sit down, to get home. I was only thinking of myself.

The last time I experienced this kind of train delay I was travelling to visit Sister down South. I blogged about it in May of last year but the point needs to be reiterated. On that occasion I got talking to a member of staff who was escorting us on a detour back to London and she said that it happens at least two or three times a week. Two or three times a week. That is one of the saddest indictments of a civilised society that I can think of. Our way of life is sorely lacking if so many people want to kill themselves. Was it always this way? Or were people happier living in an extended family situation, with fewer material goods on offer, with less complicated job structures and less demanding work requirements? In which direction have we, as a society, let people down?

Once more, I shall clamber down off my orange box and get on with my day, but the experience has left a cold, 'no man's land' of a feeling inside me. Tomorrow I'll blog about Pinter and the play.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

How Klezmer music introduced me to Pinterest

There’s something about Klezmer music that makes me feel nostalgic. Its style is heavily influenced by music played long ago in the Eastern European Jewish Shtetls. It is said to be influenced by an even older tradition, that of the High Priests thousands of years ago in the Jewish Temples. But why would that music make me feel nostalgic? I’ve never been to a Shtetl - they no longer exist - and I certainly didn't frequent the ancient Temples. I can only assume that it is possible to inherit emotions and cultural ties. This was the music that my Grandma and her family grew up with. This was the soundtrack of their Shtetl, especially in the happy times, maybe even in the bad times too.

I started listening to samples on YouTube. As the music played, with songs often sung in Yiddish, the language that my family spoke when I was a child, I watched with a growing sense of excitement. The familiar semi-wailing tones faded from my brain as I focused on the grainy photographs that were flashing onto the screen, one after the other, and, excuse me if I use a Yiddish exclamation here, 
“Oy Vey!” 

I was looking at pictures of people, real people, in the Shtetls of Eastern Europe in the early 1900s! That was when Grandma was there, a young girl struggling, starving. I’d never seen such photographs. The hairs on my neck were tingling. I could be looking at the very Shtetl where she grew up. I clicked on picture after picture.

This is the part where Pinterest intervened. I was not allowed to look at the best photographs (or so it seemed) until I joined their Site. I’m not a technophobe but if I tell you that I asked Daughter if she knew about Pee Interest, you’ll realise that I knew nothing. Once she had corrected my pronunciation (it’s Pin-terest for those who are as ignorant as myself) she then groaned,

“Why do you want to waste your time there?!”

“No!” I protested. “It’s not to view photos of food and fashion!” and once I’d told her about the Shtetl photographs, she understood.

Three hours later, and with a bit of chatting and advice from people on Twitter, I finally managed to set up an account and now have two Pinterest Boards. At the moment they are private because I’ve not finished sorting them, but as soon as they're better populated I’ll be posting up the link. I’ve splattered this post with a few samples to give you an idea.