21 August 2010

Charlton 1 Oldham 1

I suppose everybody has things they'd change about football, to make it a better experience. One thing I'd change is I'd let free kicks for offside be direct. Offside kicks are always going to be in your own half of the pitch so if you're able to score from one you definitely deserve it. It would just stop refs having to run around with their hand in the air for a bit. I believe in being nice to referees, you see. Even the clowns in the third division.

Here's another thing I'd change. When highlights are shown on television, you should be given some idea of how much time has elapsed, how much is remaining. You really can't understand what's going on otherwise. If a team is resolutely defensive and wasting all the time they can, is it because there's only five minutes for them to hang on, or is because they're Oldham? (I know that's not fair - Oldham today were much more adventurous than last year's team, and it wouldn't have been surprising if they'd won.) But this struck me today because on the way to the match my phone decided it was exhausted. I don't have a watch, and the big screen's no longer working. So I didn't always know how much time was passing. Today's game, then, if not classic, was at least timeless.

The game wasn't great, but it wasn't bad. In the second half it became very open. Charlton were less organised than usual in defence, with Semedo and Dailly both suspended, but Miguel Llera put in a good performance. I'd have been happier if Solly had been playing.

One thing I wouldn't change, I think, is how offsides are decided. These days, it's almost entirely the lino's decision. He not only decides if the player is in an offside position, but also whether he's interfering with play. So this means he won't raise his flag until the offside player has done something that might take advantage of the position. So many of the crowd around me don't understand this, and have a go at the lino for being "slow". I think they still expect the lino to flag the offside position and the ref to decide if the player's actively involved. And that doesn't happen anymore.

The new season has brought a few new faces to the seats around me. The very old guy who used to sit next to me has gone somewhere else, and there's now a fairly young family group there. In front of me there's an amusingly angry man (who doesn't understand how offside decisions are made, for example). I hope I'll continue to find him amusing as the season progresses.

Having no phone meant I couldn't follow or make any tweets. Two years ago, that sentence wouldn't have made much sense. Now, twitter is a central part of my #cafc life. And I missed it more than the scoreboard!

15 August 2010

Danton's Death

It took only six minutes for me to know I wouldn't like this play. And four of those minutes came at the end.

The first two minutes set the tone. A bare stage, suddenly inhabited by a gang of French revolutionaries, who happily brought their own furniture with them, who then began debating the course the revolution should take. In Ken Loach's film Land and Freedom, there's a bit where the action stops, and all the characters discuss the merits of collective farming vs private ownership. It led some wags to coin the phrase Homage to Catatonia. The first two minutes was like that and I knew I wouldn't enjoy it. Danton made some political points, and his mates started cheering and waving their fists like extras in a bad play. Oh. That's not a good sign, is it?

What's wrong with this play? It's so wordy, for a start. It's of its time, I suppose, but you can't put on a production of a play like this without acknowledging the wordiness of the text. Some brecthianism would have been a relief. For example, we need to feel the strangeness of the didacticism, to have that isolated from the (possibly moving) personal romance. I understand Howard Brenton signficantly cut the length of the play in preparing his "version". I hate to think what he cut out. Either it was even more of the political and moral discussion (god help us), or maybe it was some action that would have embodied the debates. In what was left, there was very little dramatisation of the debate. We rely on what the characters tell us, not what they do.

There's a personal story too. This is about the contrast between the sensuous, venal Danton, and the buttoned-up, severe Robespierre. This is embodied a little in the characterisations, but again we mainly know about their respective characters because they and others tell us about them. Elliott Levey's portrayal of Robespierre has gained some praise for its psychological insight, but actually I found it tricksy, based in the legs, not the head.

And the last four minutes. Danton, not to spoil this any more than a basic knowledge of history or a basic reading of the name of the play would reveal, dies. He's guillotined. The illusion of the guillotine is very impressive. How did they do that? How? But if your abiding memory of a play is a special effect, what does that tell you? What?

 What do the critics say? According to the National Theatre's website, they've been effusive.

Once again, I turn to Charles Spencer, in the Telegraph. He gave it four stars, and his review is worth reading for the background it gives to the play's writing. But here's the final paragraph of his review:
Young and radical though he was, Buchner had clearly realised that the road to hell is often paved with idealistic intentions.
I'm spotting a theme here. Spencer likes to end his reviews with a vacuous cliché.

Michael Billington suggests that Brenton's version has cut out a lot of the human. He summarises the production as "perfectly respectable" (three stars), but he's not really enthusiastic. The comments on his review gradually get worse.

In the Independent, Paul Taylor gives 4 stars, and calls it "absorbing", while Kate Bassett, in the Independent on Sunday, rightly describes it as "unengaging".

So, it's true, most critics liked it. What's wrong with them? These are people who see loads of plays, and know what it's like to be engaged and moved by an unfolding drama. This was nothing like that. The performance lasted just under two hours, with no interval. If there had been an interval, I'd have left during it, and I never do that.

It's the only really bad production I've seen at the National - even debatable ones like Women Beware Women had more basic life and interest in them than this - so I suppose everyone's allowed to get it wrong now and again. I do feel let down by the critics, though,

09 August 2010

Back in Andover

Another list from Andrew, who comments:

It appears to be into groups - by store area? -- but why have the apricots escaped?
The curious entry is 'Phone library'. Curious because it appears on a shopping list and also because the Andover library is 30 meters from Waitrose so why could the shopper not pop in. If the library was closed then why note down having to phone the library (the book needs renewing) but then leave the list behind? Another library perhaps - but why mention it on the shopping list.
Local knowledge can sometimes only add to the mystery.

Incidentally, I've found another blog that collects and displays shopping lists. I think it must be run by Gillian McKeith, the well-known non-doctor, since it speculates in a quite vulgar way on the effects of the shopping on the buyer's eliminatory output. I left a message of welcome, but she hasn't replied, so I'm not linking to the pinched-face charlatan.

08 August 2010

Charlton 1 Bournemouth 0

First game of the season brought a satisfactory win on a warm but quite rainy afternoon against a limited-looking Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic*.

There have been so many squad changes over the summer, it was hard to recognise the team, and the squad, as shown in the programme, is now the smallest I've ever seen at Charlton. The handbook part of the programme enables you to calculate that the total cost of the squad, at the time of printing, was £35,000, plus Therry Racon, whose price I would give if I could find the euro on this keyboard. The rest is free transfers plus an impressive line-up of youth products.

You could go, oh woe! what's become of us?, but in many ways I prefer this. Some of the big expensive names we've had in recent years have been big expensive chancers, with egos and, in one case**, a backside, to match. (I should also say that some signings have been made since the programme was printed.)

And although it was a scrappy game, I did at least think the players all seemed to know each other and get on. This would be important in defence, particularly in the second half after Semedo had got a straight red. I didn't see what happened, and haven't yet seen it on telly, but the ref did enough to convince me he was probably wrong. He usually was.

One of the youth products, Chris Solly, was probably man of the match. One thing that stood out was his ability to outjump taller players - reminiscent of Chris Perry, I thought. On the first half performance, I'd have thought Kyel Reid would be the star, but with more concentration on defence in the second half, he wasn't so prominent. His contribution to the goal, though, suggested that if he gets really settled he'll be tearing third division defences apart***.

The crowd was a very healthy 16,000 ish, although that no doubt included some holidaying season ticket holders, and the feeling remained positive throughout. Maybe expectations are lower this season. Maybe, let's hope so, there'll be more patience. I ended the day feeling good about the coming season.

* You shouldn't be allowed to call your team AFC anything unless you're in the Premier League. Or Spanish.
** Discretion forbids me from naming the fat-arsed fool. I'm sure you know who I mean.
*** Yes, I know I said this about Lloyd Sam last year.

06 August 2010

Welcome to Thebes (2)

I went to see Welcome to Thebes for the second time last night. I enjoyed it even more, but in an interestingly different way. All through the first half I found I had tears in my eyes as I fought back the knowledge of what was going to happen in the second half. And of course there were things I saw that I had not quite seen the first time around like, ironically, and as if to prove I'm an idiot, the importance of blindness as a motif.

Before this visit I'd read a few reviews. They generally aren't very good (ie well argued and written) even when they're very good (ie favourable).

The worst I saw was Charles Spencer in the TelegraphHere's the worst paragraph:

There are some wearying “comic” touches, in which an armed militia threaten the audience with automatic weapons to persuade us to turn off our mobile phones, and a manifest determination to give most of the male characters a good kick in the groin, the hallmark of so many feminist writers. Ignoring the evidence of say, Medea and Winnie Mandela, Buffini gives the impression that she believes both ancient Greece and modern Africa would be heaven on earth if only the pesky chaps hadn’t ruined it all.

The simplistic level of that understanding says more about his insecurities than the play, which isn't at all straightforward in its sexual politics. Or its political politics either.

No, actually, this is the worst paragraph, the last one:

One leaves the theatre reflecting that ancient myths still have much to tell us about our own troubled times. 

To which the only reply is "Yes - and?"

Michael Billington, in the Guardian, regrets that "much as I love the scope and ambition of Buffini's play, there runs through it an unresolved contradiction between free will and fate." This thought pervades his review. It's reminiscent of Graham Taylor's football punditry: he has one idea and everything else will demonstrate the relevance, the keystone importance, of this idea. There's a lot more going on than this, and besides, what's wrong with unresolved contradictions?

OK, both men had space limits, but both fail to convey the real complexity of the play.

But the question I'm asking myself is, should a play reveal itself completely in one viewing? It's a more difficult question than I thought, and I'll probably come back to it in the literature blog, which is looking a bit neglected lately. Of course my answer is likely to be that you shouldn't need  to see a play more than once, but you should want to.

04 August 2010

Suzannah Dunn

Can one careless word put you off a book? Looks like it.

One of the books I got at the Blackheath Book Fair was Suzannah Dunn's latest, The Confession of Katherine Howard. And today I started reading it.

I met Suzannah Dunn at the launch of Louise Doughty's first novel; they had been students together on the creative writing course at UEA. She was pretty, modest, quite shy, but chatty, and - inevitably, for she is a creative writer - I fell a bit in love with her. I've never met her since, which is fortunate because I suppose I'd have to say what I thought about her books, and the honest response would be that I pretty much hated them, although I kept on buying them. She writes beautifully, but all the early books seemed overloaded by an unresolved hostility towards mothers. Of course, I've no idea if that stemmed from anything in her life, or if it was just a theme she found too-fascinating, but every book seemed to revert to an examination of the way a mother restricted and dominated a daughter.

Also, in a more technical sense, although the writing, the sentences, were finely crafted, there was a short-breathedness about the writing on a bigger scale - too many double line-breaks, which annoyingly broke the flow of the narrative.

So, I was hoping that those two tendencies might have disappeared by now. Suzannah is writing historical fiction these days, and the change of subject may have changed the techniques. But, on the second page of the new book we get this:

Life was never so much for the young as on the day that was soon to dawn and we in the queen's retinue were so much younger than everyone else at the palace, which the king and his company had acknowledged, leaving us to our dancing.
By around eleven o'clock we were reeling. Only a handful of us remained with the queen, having retreated to at her invitation to her gorgeous private chamber, where we reclined on cushions around her vast, gold-canopied chair.

Can you see my problem? It's not that first line, with its awkward run of monosyllables. I can take that as a kind of emblem of naivety in the narrator. It's that word "reeling", and the ambiguity of it: does it mean that they were still dancing (reels) or staggering tiredly? The context shows it means the latter, so it looks as if this might be a joke (at 8 we were dancing; by 11 we were reeling) but I don't think it is. I think it's just careless, and a competent editor should have sorted it out.

I'm probably being too picky, I know, and I should overlook this and read on, but I'm proper discouraged.