Sunday, 13 November 2011


Aldeburgh on a Friday in November. Mist. A chill breeze. Waves crashing on to shingle.

Trudge north away from the town, past the fresh fish cabin ('anything fresher is still swimming') and on to the endless pebble beach...

And that's the site of Maggie Hambling's 'Scallop', the town's memorial to its most celebrated resident Benjamin Britten.

Strange, haunting and very definitely 'on the edge'...

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Village Trumpeter

Tragically, the local trumpeter is, as they say in Botswana, late.
Consequently, when the need for announcement arises, it's now a matter of  'toot it yourself'.

Blowing his own trumpet with the best of them, therefore, is Rory Keegan - editor, writer and all-purpose project manager.

Thanks to advice from a savvy 'career coach', he's determined to raise awareness of his imminent availability on the job market.

Intrigued? Pop across to the Rory is Available blog, the source of Rory-related stories and soundbites.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Written on the Heart

As 2011 fades away, the RSC delivers its contribution to the celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the publication of the Authorised (King James) Version of the Bible.

Frankly, the first twenty minutes (or so) of Written on the Heart are a bit of a challenge: we seem to have landed in the midst of umpteen Rowan Williams lookalikes, all getting hot under the ruff on seemingly piffling points of translation: 'church' or 'congregation'; 'confess' or 'acknowledge'; 'heal' or 'save'? Oh please.

Clever move. With 'Why does any of this matter?' hovering, Edgar begins to forge a chain of profoundly human stories spanning more than 80 years of turbulent history - and completely justifies his perfect choice of title.

(And there are shelf-loads of history to get across: one shudders at the clunky nightmare that might have come from a less gifted dramatist. Top marks for artful exposition.)

Contrasting translators bookend the story: Jacobean prelate Lancelot Andrewes, whose devotion to the King's project may raise him to an Archbishopric - and, back in the 1530s, William Tyndale, exiled, imprisoned and facing death for daring to translate the scriptures so that both ploughboy and priest might have equal access to the word of God.

So far so worthy documentary? Far from it.

Edgar's swift and subtle storytelling draws us in to the passions implicit in the story: immense self-sacrifice, courage and vision - and also compromise, self-interest and betrayal.

And along the way he delivers a fizzingly engaging two-hander central scene, incorporating profound theology, political controversy - and (emphatically) many laughs as well as moments of tear-prickling emotion.

Director Gregory Doran has, as he so often does, gathered a Rolls Royce cast: special mention to the magisterial Oliver Ford Davies as Andrewes and Stephen Boxer whose William Tyndale had me heading home to read up this great man's story.

Written on the Heart runs at the Swan Theatre, S-u-A, until March. Don't miss it.

Saturday, 29 October 2011


Next year is looking good: a golden jubilee, a Titanic anniversary, a Dickens of a bicentenary - and a wee sporting event in London.

And, toot the trumpet, Rory Keegan (Mr Gnome's under writer) is available for employment from 1 January.

Hating to be a bore, Keegan nonetheless boldly invites random readers of Mr Gnome's blog to peek at his new Rory is available blog.

And (why not?) pass it on to a potential employer - or contact Rory for a chat.

Thursday, 20 October 2011


Tsk! Tickets for this remarkable entertainment should be overprinted with a health warning: 'Severe danger of hyperventilation'.

Resistance is futile as James Corden and fellow cast members serve up their sensational seaside soufflé (we're in Brighton 1963). 

Very, very funny - and, for me, far more engaging than the mechanical mayhem of 'traditional' farce. The stunning sight gags and multiple mis-identifications are shot through with real human emotion. 

Corden is a revelation - outrageous, audacious and, despite his ample build, possessed of a physical finesse that many a ballet dancer might envy. 

Winter blues looming? Ditch the Prozac - see this show.

Monday, 17 October 2011


Mr Gnome and I have emerged from tonight's performance of the RSC's new production of Peter Weiss's Marat/Sade

Does this classic example of the 1960s 'theatre of cruelty' still have the power to shock?

You bet.

But it wasn't the profusion of prosthetic willies or the character with compulsive masturbation issues (I know, SO last century) that left one speechless.

It was the Act 1 stunt when cast member Lisa Hammond tried to solicit a sub from an unsuspecting audience member: 'Oh dear, I'm so tired after the performance that I haven't the energy to cook for myself - could you stand me the price of some chips?'

The kindly chump offered her a tenner. Which, naturally, she spurned, berating him for patronising her (she uses a wheelchair). A fellow cast member chipped in, calling the nice man the (in most circs) still unspeakable word. How rude!

So come on, RSC, in what rarefied world is £10 not enough for a single fish supper? Oh please.

Lisa should have asked central character the Marquis de Sade - he'd organise a whip-round before you could say 'Batter my cod piece'.

That said, cast and crew dish up a rollicking revolutionary romp, peppered with a dash of political provocation. And it's all over by 10pm. Hurrah!

Inspired by Monsieur Marat, I whizzed home for an early bath.

And, by the way, Rory is available.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011


Saturday afternoon in the heart of the city. Turn aside from a thronged shopping street - and suddenly all is silence and stillness.

I'm grateful to my friend Jeremy Duncan for opening my eyes to experiences such as this.

Thursday, 30 June 2011


Top-notch coffee, agreeable ambience - and pertinent reading matter. What better way of beginning to ponder one's 'next step'?

Along with a zillion others, I find myself facing the reality of redundancy - and the challenge of the question 'What next?'

Mentored by the ever-optimistic Mr Gnome, I'm determined to view current circumstances as opportunity rather than a source of melancholy.

My 'employment wish-list' lengthens daily. At the moment, every incoming notion gets written down - regardless of its link with realism. Time enough for winnowing by the brisk breeze of truths connected to age, qualifications and abilities.

The future looks exciting. Onwards!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Stormin' and Norman

What could be more architecturally arresting than the soaring solidity of Durham Cathedral at the heart of this extraordinary northern city?

But while Mr Gnome treads the tourist trail, I am immured in the cloistered confines of a college for a week-long course on 'new media': Facebook, Twitter, blogging, podcasting...

All rather challenging.

Thanks to the brilliance and kindness of fellow-course members, I am slowly feeling less of a vegetable than I did at the outset.

More about the course here.


Monday, 9 May 2011

Maine events

Inveterate traveller Mr Gnome is in the north-eastern corner of the United States visiting the (comfortably small) community of Camden, Maine.

He's rapidly falling under the spell of this ultra-charming small town, vividly coming to life with the arrival of a very late (to Mr G) spring.

Camden, a former mill town, is now a summer resort: yachty and boaty. But with plenty of pottering pleasures for landlubbers.

Mr G is particularly impressed by the splendour of the Camden Public Library (top right), a vibrant witness to our American cousins' passion for 'open access' to high-quality educational opportunities for all. The top-floor reading room is as sumptuously appointed as a London club. And why not?

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Unhappy couple

'Well, it rattles along, doesn't it?' remarks an elderly audience member at intermission. 

And it does: Michael Boyd's extraordinary, compelling and iconoclastic new production of Macbeth (Shakespeare's shortest play) opens the renewed Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

But if this is an express train, Bill the Bard has us bound headlong for Hell, as Boyd and his cast take us on a harrowing journey into the darkest regions of the human heart.

Boyd's boldest stroke is to re-imagine the 'supernatural solicitings' that so famously awaken Macbeth's dormant yearnings for ever greater status and power. To do so he (shockingly?) cuts some of the most famous scenes in the play, presenting the three 'witches' as (I'm guessing) they have never been seen before. Purists may have palpitations.

Not that the original production in the early 1600s was without its dangers: a play about the murder of a Scottish king, performed before King James I, newly arrived from Scotland to succeed the childless Elizabeth I. 

And whether you're a monarch or the man or woman on the bus, 'succession' is crucial to the well-being of everyone in the kingdom - our hopes often resting on the vulnerable shoulders of a child. And Shakespeare's on-stage children rarely see a happy ending: most die. As did his only son, Hamnet, aged 11 in 1596.

This play has more children and babies (seen and unseen) than in any of the other tragedies, their experience casting a grisly light on the consequences of the Macbeths' terrible betrayals. And it's Boyd's development of this theme that makes this show so disturbing, amply fulfilling the spirit of the text - if not the letter. 

Fine work from Jonathan Slinger and Aislin Mcguckin as the Macbeths, disintegrating before our eyes. Massive hurrahs for lighting designer Jean Kalman and composer Tom Armstrong. Designer Tom Piper sets the action in a vast space reminiscent of a crumbling, desecrated cathedral. (The new auditorium triumphantly fulfils the promise of being able to combine epic with intimate.)

The vast back wall holds a silent clue to Boyd's vision for the play: between the shattered stained glass and statuary the eye picks out a shallow space that once held the sacred building's focal point: but the cross has been removed.

Here's Charles Spencer's review for the Daily Telegraph.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Will goes to Spain...

A strange and rather wonderful experience awaits Bard buffs at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon: a Shakespeare play where you've no idea how it's going to end.

OK , for Shakespeare read 'Shakespeare'. This is an intriguing 're-imagining' of the celebrated 'lost play' Cardenio, its existence a matter of historical fact, but which never made it in to 1623 First Folio edition of the 'complete works', seemingly lost for ever.

Fast forward to 1727 and the premiere of The Double Falsehood, a crowd-pleaser from long-forgotten playwright Lewis Theobald, who (savvy marketer) claimed his work was based on original manuscripts of Cardenio (in his possession), a collaboration between Jacobean giants John Fletcher and William Shakespeare.

Oh and - add another name - the plot is drawn from Cervantes' Don Quixote, which Shakespeare could have read in Thomas Shelton's 1612 translation.

Scholars seem to agree that Theobald's text has stylistic echoes of both Shakespeare and Fletcher.

Still with me? I know, you'd be forgiven for guessing that the show on offer in Stratford must be a dryer-than-dust experiment in academic re-construction.


Wisely acknowledging the impossibility of recreating the 'play behind the play', director Greg Doran has approached Theobald's text with a light touch and with an imagination drenched in years of Bard-related empathy as both an actor and a director.

The result is a play that stands robustly on its own feet, providing a richly entertaining evening.

Doran and his production team clearly relish the opportunities of the Spanish setting, wreathing the action in luscious chiaroscuro and wafting it along on clouds of incense, intercut with languorous guitar music.

Good news, too, for Bardphobics: the plot is an easy-to-follow tale of love and friendship betrayed. The villain of the piece being the outrageously dreadful Don Fernando, all posturing, posing and perfect pectorals. The eponymous hero is one of his three victims.

What with nuns, a fiesta, a spunky cross-dressing heroine, the old abduction-via-coffin ruse, full-on flamenco (plus a wee bit of auto-flagellation), this is a show with something for everyone, performed with panache by a Rolls Royce cast.

For me, the ending raised some worrying questions - as to the forgiveness granted to the truly appalling Fernando.

That said, a must-see and a terrific opening to the RSC's 50th anniversary season.

And here's what the DT's Charles Spencer had to say.

Friday, 1 April 2011


Ever ready to acknowledge a kindred spirit, Mr Gnome relished a brief but uplifting encounter with Chris Samuel at the recent Community Choirs Festival.

Check Chris's website for a glimpse of his mission to awaken people to the life-enhancing joys and benefits of singing in groups - just for the fun of it.

A brisk glance through his CV reveals the aspect of Chris that most intrigues Mr Gnome.

Chris is a Spooky Man.

That's to say he is a booster, enthusiast, evangelist and, indeed, part-time member of The Spooky Men's Chorale, the incomparable Australian a capella musical phenomenon.

Sparing with his use of the word 'unique',  Mr Gnome has no hesitation in applying it to this quirky, gifted, subversive and massively entertaining ensemble.

Be warned, the Spooky Men will be performing around the UK in summer 2011. More details on their website.

Meanwhile, immerse yourself in spookiness via the men's Youtube compilation.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

On song

Eager as always to endorse all that that's low-cost, life-enhancing and spirit-lifting, Mr Gnome has relished a full-on day of sensational singing at the annual midlands Community Choirs Festival held in Stratford-upon-Avon today.

Choir festival? Doesn't that mean cut-throat competition, purse-lipped adjudicators, plucky losers and ecstatic victors?

Er, no. Community choirs are based on the conviction that if you can walk you can dance, and if you can talk you can sing. Simple as that. Consequently, the experience of being a member of such a group is non-competitive, totally inclusive, unthreatening, weirdly joyful and surprisingly addictive.

Today's bash brought together some 500 singers from near (Warwick) and far ('Hello Abergavenny!') 

Coached by a glamorous quartet of vocal virtuosos (lower half of picture), we bopped through a Carol King classic, made contact with our inner primitives via some gutsy Australian stomping - and soared skywards with a South African freedom song.

The day closed with each of the 22 choirs performing a pre-prepared song to the assembled company.

Impartial to a fault, Mr Gnome relished every note - but confesses to a particular enthusiasm for Songlines (pictured), the Warwick/Leamingtion-based ensemble led with incomparable panache by Bruce Knight (extreme right).

The wild-west get-ups were chosen to enhance their party piece: Johnny Mercer's 1930s classic 'Old Cowhand from the Rio Grande.'  

Mr G's suggestion for an encore? How about 'Gnome on the Range'?

Friday, 25 March 2011

Seeded player

Millions of sunflower seeds. But they're not sunflower seeds. Each is made of porcelain, and is hand-painted. No two, claims the artist, are identical. 

At first glance, a vision of overwhelming uniformity. Closer acquaintance reveals diversity. Hmm. No wonder Mr Gnome was eager to experience the latest 'installation' sited in the vast Turbine Hall of London's Tate Modern art gallery.

Creator Ai Weiwei's original intention was that visitors should walk about on the 'seeds'. However, the clouds of porcelain dust released by such activity was deemed a health hazard and, days after opening,  the installation was roped off from the public.

No such worries, of course, for Mr Gnome who, as always, relished the opportunity to 'get stuck in'.

By the way, there was absolutely nothing surreptitious about this gnome/art interface. Details on request.

Loads more info at the Tate Modern website.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Not Bard at all

Mr Gnome's kind friends and associates have been urging him to catch the new animated film Gnomeo and Juliet. Bard plus gnomes - surely a shoo-in for Mr G's approval?

Last night he succumbed to pressure and attended a screening.

His verdict?

Mt Gnome confidently asserts that this is the finest example of its, er, genre that he has ever seen.

The genre in question being: 'Shakespeare "adaptation" featuring a cast of computer-animated garden ornaments'.

A veteran of 'special category' Shakespeare-related movies, Mr Gnome is pondering quite where to place this chirpy effort in his pantheon of semi-Shakespearean silliness.

Probably a long way below the glorious pinnacle of the never-to-be-bettered loopy sublimity of this 1964 version of Antony and Cleopatra.

Friday, 4 February 2011

From the albums

Recent delving into an ancient cache of Kodak slides (if you're under 40, ask an old) has produced reminders of one's distant self.

From left to right, the images originate from 1965, 1967 and 1970.

Help! Looking about twelve, I'm in fact fifteen. If only the 'preppy geek' look had been on trend that summer. It wasn't. Hence the sock-and-sandal look, teamed with tweed jacket (pen in top pocket, naturellement, simply produces an impression of, er, a preppy geek. The air of juvenile melancholy may be connected to my knowledge of the dismal set of 'O' Level results heading my way in about two weeks' time.
Sergeant Pepper The tweedy caterpillar has pupated into the fashionista butterfly posing centre right. Note Cuban-heeled boots and pale yellow (Dylon) jeans, inexpertly 'narrowed' on the family Singer. The brown M&S sweater doesn't contribute much to the ensemble, ditto choice of school scarf on bright spring day. On left is MB, schoolfriend, fashion guru and role model. I'm gazing with undisguised envy at the 'modded-up' scooter and the uber-cool retro-chic military jacket. Standing centre is my older brother, the only one not trying too hard with his 'look' - and, consequently, 45 years on, the one who doesn't look ridiculous.
Let it Be At the end of my second year at the University of Essex, I'm attempting (without noticeable success) to base my look on that of John Lennon. A close-up would reveal the circular specs. Major loss of fashion points for the M&S purple pullover, being worn that year by 75% of the male population. The mane of hair was, I recall, 'high-maintenance' in the extreme: a distraction from which one has been free for many years. The air of angst-ridden melancholy may be connected to my knowledge of the dismal set of Part 1 results heading my way in about two weeks' time.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Northern sojourn

Shocked by his mid-winter lassitude, Mr Gnome posts snaps to indicate that recent weeks have not been exclusively devoted to muffins and hibernation.

A splendid train journey took him (via the curving splendour of York Station) to the chilly grandeur of Edinburgh, where he relished breakfast with The Scotsman at Valvona and Crolla, and a breezy re-acquaintance with the Rev Robert Walker at the National Galleries of Scotland.