Monday, February 26, 2007

I hate Hamlet

The first play for 2007 from the Hobart Repertory Society is Paul Rudnick’s 1991 comedy I Hate Hamlet. The central character is Andy, a television star whose series has just been cancelled and has landed a job playing the lead in the Shakespeare-in-Central-Park festival.

To his discomfort, not only does he find himself living in John Barrymore's apartment, but he is visited by the ghost of the great actor who informs him he is there to tutor him on how to play Hamlet!

So far so so-so. The concept is uncomfortably reminiscent of a sitcom put together by writers who've seen Blithe Spirit once too often.

But as we get into the second act, there are some interesting observations about the stage, the acting profession and life in the spotlight.

Trevor Gallagher is Andy, with James Casey delightful as Barrymorre

The supporting characters all have their good moments too -- Jennifer Gardner as the Noo Yawk realtor, Karen Kluss as the off-with-the-fairies girlfriend, Gillian Hunt as the agent, and especially Stuart Pearce as the crasser-than-crass Hollywood producer.

The evening ends with an amusing demonstration of how to give your final bow. The thunderous applause at the final curtain gave all the cast a chance to try it out for themselves.

As the summer comes to its end, the hot weather is finally becoming less common. This summer was so hot that even the cat lost interest in his food (he's started to show more appetite this week) and I had a lot of trouble sleeping.

Of course it doesn't help that the people next door have been taking a lot of family holidays, leaving their dogs to run amuck outside my window. And interruptions like early-morning deliveries or the friend who telephoned at 7:30 a.m. (who rings to discuss dinner parties at that hour?)

When Kenneth Horne passed away aged 61, he was described as 'the last of the truly great radio comics'. In a broadcasting career which spanned nearly 30 years, he had starred in three of the most popular radio series of all time. I remember listening to Beyond Our Ken in the 1950s and Round the Horne in the 1960s when I was at school though I was too young to remember the 1940s' Much Binding In The Marsh.

This month is Kenneth Horne's centenary and the BBC are featuring several special programmes about him. It's good to see that in today's digital age even the stars of radio (once the most ephemeral and easily-forgotten of the arts) can be celebrated in years to come.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Flash! Bang!

Wow, three or four hours of thunder and lightning. I can't remember a storm that lasted all evening like the one we had Friday night.

In fact the whole weekend was unprecedented. We had three days in a row over 30ยบ and Sunday was a stifling 35° (which is about 95 degrees in the old Fahrenheit scale). Sunday night it was too hot for me to sleep; I kept waking up every hour or so.

You can imagine how relieved I was to wake up on Monday morning and find it was cool and cloudy outside. We just aren't used to this weather.

I dug out some information about broadband pricing for the office. The board is considering whether we need to upgrade to broadband but I'm not holding my breath.

One factor is that some members of the board not only don't have Internet access, they have never used a computer. There might be a certain amount of resistance to paying the $39 a month.

Meanwhile as usual I've been listening to a lot of radio programmes over the World Wide Web. The weekend shows featuring the Coodabeen Champions, for example, were only available on the net this month because there was cricket on the radio stations that usually carry their shows.

I was sorry to see that Brian Kay's Light Programme ended its five-year run on BBC Radio 3 on 8th February 2007 .

Host Brian Kay is still in demand as a conductor, especially of choral music. Brian is well remembered as the bass in the Kings Singers, with whom he made countless recordings, and concert appearances all over the world.

The axing of his amiably laid-back show about light music is apparently to enable Radio 3 to concentrate more on long broadcasts of classical music in the afternoons. A shame -- there are many shows about classical music but few about the "light music" genre.

Still going strong (and taped in front of live audiences around the USA) Says You! is the NPR radio show that claims to appeal to "crossword puzzlers, trivia fans, and the just plain intellectually curious". Two teams bluff, guess, and expound their way through brain teasers, literary challenges, and other stumpers.

Host Richard Sher introduces panelists including public radio personality Tony Kahn; television host Barry Nolan; television producer/writer Arnie Reisman; author, journalist, and executive coach Paula Lyons; arts and culture activist Francine Achbar; and columnist/critic Carolyn Faye Fox.

I wish I could be in London to see the new stage adaptation of The 39 Steps at the Criterion Theatre in Picadilly Circus -- I've seen every adaptation of John Buchan's classic novel but this sounds like a lot of fun:
"This nifty, comically bare-bones fringe adaptation of John Buchan's famous novel, best known as Hitchcock's 1935 movie thriller, slipped quietly into the West End and initially looked a little over-stretched. But with four actors playing about 150 roles in Maria Aitken's production, the pleasures of quick-change artistry and po-faced defiance in the face of impossible odds are considerable. Charles Edwards is Richard Hannay, the innocent 'murderer' on the run, and you really have to be there to believe you are seeing the escape on the Forth Rail Bridge (with a couple of chairs) and a magical death-defying finale in the Palladium."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

in memory still green

This week was trying at times. I still have trouble getting enough sleep. The table above is supposed to show my natural rhythms, but I certainly don't get to sleep at the times it shows.

It didn't help that the people who live next door went away for the weekend and left their dogs at large in their yard. Their driveway is right outside my bedroom window, so whenever the dogs spotted someone passing in the street, they would run down the driveway barking -- sometimes at 3 a.m.

This often left me lying awake in bed, brooding over the approach of Valentine's Day. That had nothing to do with romance; my mother has been dead for a couple of years and I have come to terms with occasions like Christmas and New Year without her. But her birthday falls on February 14th and that's hard not to think about.

The last 36 hours, all the emotions I thought were safely consigned to the archives shelf have started welling up again. The grief, the regret, all that stuff. Every sale or commercial advertising Valentine's Day just rubs salt into the wound.

I remember John Bangsund saying that he found Easter difficult because his father had died on Good Friday. I can appreciate how he felt now.

But I try to concentrate on what my mother would have said if she could have commented on the situation. Don't be so silly, she would have said, get on with things instead of moping around dwelling on the past.

Maybe that's what I should try and do.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

a memory of fire

My back gradually came right with rest and pain-killers. I was in such a rush to get out and about on Sunday morning I forgot to take any pills at all, so I decided I must be nearly OK.

I was in a hurry because we were helping a fellow parishioner drive a Sudanese family in to the morning church service. There are a lot of Sudanese refugees who've settled in Hobart and we have quite a few in our congregation.

Musing on their future, I was struck by how quickly the children have picked up perfect English. In a few years they will be fully acclimatised to the Australian lifestyle, and the struggle to survive of their parents' generation will be a dimly-understood story.

One woman we know slightly has given birth to twins since arriving in Australia; growing up here,they will never be able to fully comprehend what their mother went through. I can't help wondering about the divide that must occur between the two generations... but I suppose that has happened in any group of people that have had to uproot themselves and flee to another country.

Monday morning my breakfast was interrupted by one of Julie's chickens escaping from its cage and running into the kitchen. I managed to corner it by the refrigerator but while I was returning it to its cage a second chicken got out through the open door and I had to chase her around the room.

My sister was oblivious to this (though I informed her of it promptly!); she was sitting up in bed reading Charlie Chan Carries On. She has always loved pre-war whodunits but this is the first Charlie Chan novel she's encountered. It's just as well she doesn't know how to find the other novels in the series in my attic or she'd go through them all in about a week.

They should be in the low bookshelves on the right hand side of the attic. Yes, that would be right. Margery Allingham is in the first bookcase near the window and Leslie Charteris is in the third one, so Earl Derr Biggers should be in the second one. I'll dig them out and ration them out to her -- one every couple of weeks perhaps.

Monday afternoon Julie had visitors at her place -- our neighbour, science fiction writer Steve Lazarowitz and his partner Dana. Steve was interested in seeing her chickens with a view to raising some in his own back yard.

Like many people, they were amazed to find so many different animals living right on the edge of suburbia. Steve was especially taken with Julie's horse Shadow, who came cantering over to see if we had brought anything to eat.

"I've been around horses sometimes, but I never had much to do with them as a boy," he said. "You can't keep a horse in Brooklyn."

"That would be a good title for your autobiography," I told him, but he was patting the horse and I don't think he was listening.

In the evening, it was out to the monthly pub quiz at the New Sydney Hotel. The line-up on our team varies from month to month -- this time it was me, my sister Julie, Caroline (who's just back from France) and Leon (who I think was once a member of the Royal Society). Between us we had quite a wide range of knowledge and we did better than our disastrous outing in January; I think we came in at equal third.

Of course there are always questions where you come unstuck. When they asked who was the actor from Bridget Jones' Diary who was nominated for an Oscar, I thought it must be Peter Firth. No, they meant Renee Zellwigger. Being an older guy, I took the term "actor" to mean a male.

Tuesday was a lot busier than I expected. The afternoon at the church office was the most hectic I've had in months. Sometimes I was talking to people at my desk, answering the phone with one hand and pushing buttons on the computer with the other. I had some sandwiches with me for lunch, but I didn't get a chance to eat them until 4:30 in the afternoon.

When I left work, I gave Kay a lift to the supermarket on my way home. After I'd taken the groceries inside for her, I installed a VCL media player on her computer for her; she has some television programmes on CD discs but has nothing to play them with. This seemed like a good freeware solution.

The main problem with her computer is that she is one of those people who are reluctant to delete anything unless absolutely unavoidable. I'm in no condition to throw stones, but it could do with a good spring cleaning.

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Wednesday morning was a sobering time. After breakfast I listened to Tim Cox's show on local radio; they spent an hour reminiscing about the 1967 Tasmanian bush-fires, forty years ago today.

It was gripping stuff, if a little unsettling. I remember that day clearly. I was a teenager, living with my parents in their centre-city hotel. That afternoon the sky turned a dark blood red and ash blew in on a hot choking wind.

Even though we lived in the heart of the city, my father went out and got an extra-long hose in case we needed to hose down any embers that landed on the roof and threatened to start fires. This wasn't the countryside -- we had never before imagined we could ever be in danger from wildfire.

My sister was out with friends that afternoon and we weren't sure where she was. (No cellphones in those days!) When she returned home safely my mother broke down and wept with relief. She had spent an hour during the afternoon driving around looking for her, witnessing people trying to beat back flames with wet sacks and garden rakes.

Many small towns around the state were simply obliterated by the fires; the primitive fire-fighting equipment of 1967 just couldn't halt the conflagration.

62 people died.

1,400 homes were destroyed.

Forty years ago today.

A radio documentary on the subject can be downloaded from the Radio National "Hindsight" website.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

turn off that bloody television

There's more violence on television than ever before, and it's more graphic. That's what a new report from America says.

The number of violent scenes during prime-time programs has risen on all six US networks since 1998, found a study conducted by American organisation Parents Television Council and released last month. And an increasing number of violent scenes include a sexual element.

The report highlighted the 2005 television season as one of the most violent, with 49 per cent of all episodes in the study containing at least one instance of violence.

"Not only was there more on-screen violence than ever before," the study said, "but the discussions of violent crimes were more explicit and the violence depicted was far more graphic than anything TV viewers had ever seen before."

The report, Dying to Entertain, details more than 30 scenes from various episodes to support its finding of a growing number of "graphic autopsy scenes, scenes depicting medical procedures and extensive torture sequences".

"Violence has shifted from being incidental to the storytelling to being an integral part of the program," it said.

Similar thoughts had been going through my mind after watching the first couple of episodes of the new season of 24 (subtitled "A New Beginning" for some reason). Even for a show about terrorism, the amount of killing and torture in the first couple of hours was confronting.

Recently prime-time shows such as Bones and NCIS seem to spend half their time in the morgue cutting people up. Somehow it seemed in better taste when Sam Ryan did similar things in Silent Witness. Now I tend to go out into the kitchen and make coffee during the opening scenes of Bones and my sister tells me when it's safe to return.

Nowadays the heroes in television programmes do things that we would have once found shocking if it was the villains doing them.

In my childhood, the Australian television censors were scrupulous in removing any scenes involving knives or stabbing. Their reasoning, I suspect, was that no Australian had a handgun so cowboys and cops could blaze away with no impact on our psychology, but nearly everyone carried a pocket-knife of some kind. (That led to some strange looking stories where people would suddenly be inexplicably dead in between scenes - even Star Trek and Phil Silvers didn't escape the censor's scissors.)

Sometimes I pine for the days of Naked City, when the only things stripped bare were the emotions of the protagonists.

Years ago, whenever there were problems with television reception between Tasmania and the other states of Australia, the technicians would mutter about "bearer problems" caused by Bass Strait.

Recently someone on the BBC message board queried why a certain radio programme kept skipping. The answer was as follows : "These glitches are caused from time to time by atmospheric conditions interfering with the satellite feed to our listen again service encoders. We are working longer term to provide a more stable feed."
The more things change, the more they stay the same!

Of course there is so much more to listen to on the BBC.
Another contributor added up all the drama and readings aired in a week on BBC Radio 4:
Drama & Readings per week (in mins)
Afternoon play 225
Classic serial 60
Friday play 60
Saturday play 60
Book of the week75
Book at bedtime 75
Women's hour drama75
Sub total 630

Repeat classic serial 60
Repeat book of the week 75
Repeat Women's hour drama75
Sub Total 210

Total air play of Drama & Readings per week
including Repeats 14 hours (840 mins)


And that's on just one of the BBC radio stations!