Labours of love

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This is hopefully not a soppy story (though there were some real tears at the end ;-))! But because it really feels like a dream, almost as if it happened to somebody else, I feel the need to capture it for my own memory in years to come.

So, before I get to what people may actually be interested in reading, impressions of the play, acting, etc, I’ve decided to share with you the journey that took me there last weekend.

The Crucible experience was such an unusual and emotional ‘entry’ point into a new fandom I always doubted if anything could live up to it. While any material is interesting I think we probably all have our natural preferences towards one medium or another, TV, stage work, audiobooks, etc. (But we all need the lot to actually complete the picture!) For me it is probably live theatre and audiobooks before other things. The why’s are probably better left to another times, but it’s probably due to emotional immediacy, impact.

So I was really glad the wait for more stage work ended sooner than I expected. What I didn’t think about of course is that, unlike TV or film projects where we have a lot of advance warning, theatre projects are almost on the hoof. Well, for me, not him! It’s not like I haven’t contemplated trips across the pond ever before… I have done it again and again, for Jonas Kaufmann’s Siegmund, for his Werther, not for his Tosca but certainly for his Parsifal (which in hindsight I should have thought about harder and definitely done!).  Contemplated, calculated and always discarded and that is for things I had considerable more notice about than just 6 months. There always have been the priorities of visiting home twice a year at least, commitments here, tickets to travel and see things elsewhere. Nothing until now was so tempting I literally couldn’t resist planning for real or at least trying for it.

But while I was balancing at the edge looking down I didn’t consider friendly shoves which really got the ball rolling (jholland ;-)). Friends enveloped me in their generous ticketing plans even though I couldn’t even commit to being able to come! I had initially thought that I’ll figure out if I can even afford a flight at all before I would start buying tickets J But of course that’s not how ticket sales work. Regardless of anything else I knew my only chance was to push the potential date as far out as I could to give myself a chance to gather the budget for it.

Thus began a journey of more than anything else wishful thinking and dreaming and taking small steps towards a goal that to me seemed as impossible as going to the moon…

Some priorities cannot be ignored and I had to sort out this year’s Christmas trip first before I began any planning for a trip across the Atlantic.

And then in the midst of trying to plot my milestones on the path to possibilities… Brexit happened!

And it would turn out to be more than just a complication. One of the many requirements for my trip was obtaining a visa. This meant not just extensive paperwork, but also in person interviews at authorities. Which would require me to have a passport to go along to these things and get a visa on…

But, I’d suddenly become a EU citizen in a country wanting to leave the EU. Where nothing was guaranteed anymore, where my status, work contracts, my very daily life would depend on likely changes in law and the whims of governments who suddenly didn’t care how long you had been a tax paying and working person here.

So once again any plans for fun had to take a significant back seat to real life. And instead of thinking visas and trips I had to think legal status, residency, permanency or looking at potentially packing my bags. Since after initial panic and doubts packing bags was not the option for me I had to knuckle down to the serious business of exploring law, legal avenues of residency, steps it requires, paperwork, fees etc. My life is here now and it sort of becomes clearest when most in question I guess. You end up looking at your life and making decisions you didn’t think you’d have to make. I’ve always before thought in terms of opportunities, things I would like to do, thinks I can do, thinks certain work would allow me to do, steps forward if you will. Suddenly it all became literally about survival, securing the roof over my head and most importantly my job, which had only 2 months before been totally unsure. It has been the most unsettling of years to have to deal with likely redundancy and when that was barely resolved to how your whole life thrown in the air.

I therefore can’t put down not taking any holidays to a master-plan around a trip.  Truth is there is just not enough time or budget around trips home for holidays worth they name. The trip to Scotland 2 years ago being my small 10 day rebellion against this trend J But with all this anxiety going on, holiday dreams were parked away. ‘THE’ trip wouldn’t count as one as even when I first looked at it I knew the maximum I would be able to do if at all would be a very short weekend.

So summer passed wading through the murky waters of bureaucracy while being constantly freaked out by the news which only promised more uncertainty. The increased workload at work since the job reshuffle also meant I complained much less about the ‘save for THE trip’ measures  😉 I usually work all summer with no breaks – fits in well with the holidays of my colleagues with kids – and spend evenings going to the Proms concerts at the Royal Albert Hall or the occasional weekend day get away trip to opera at Glyndebourne outside Lewes.

This summer there was only 1 concert with Rossini’s Semiramide at the very end of the Proms because I really desperately craved good music. And nothing else, no eating out escapades either which are also easier to cut if you don’t go out to performances in the first place.

Work trips away from London also helped keep me from temptations J

But, at the end of August there was finally the most important step in making ‘THE trip’ possible. I booked a flight! Except, excited as I was, I booked two flights since the agency website had a major hick up and didn’t give me the confirmation the first time round. It took them 2 weeks to refund me for the error and they charged a shameless fee for doing it! GR!! That could have been ticket money. Or funds for any of the other pots screaming to be filled J

Not only that, but while doing research on all the options and prices I watched preferred routes/times disappear beyond the limits of affordability and was forced to hurry booking and choose options which would only bring me in time for performance if there was absolutely no flight delay, no snow, no fog, no excessive traffic even. And that not only on the way there, but also on the way back where I would have to leg it from theatre to airport, quite literally. All that at a time when the duration of the play was not yet confirmed and I was praying to all theatre God the performance would come in at under 3h. Yes, I agree with all of you that smells of crazy! I have actually done stuff like that before: from airport to theatre and then sometimes even back to airport/train station and even at a running pace… BUT not across the ocean. I was treating L-NY like L-Wien or worse L-Paris, conscious that it would very likely be nothing like that. Worst case scenario – I would miss out on performances either on the way in or on the way out, or OMG both L (And guess what the single point and purpose of a crazy weekend trip across miles of water was after all?! The dream about a week in Ny to explore its attractions had long since been canned).

By September I had finally gotten my residency paperwork together, filled out, nicely organised and sent it off. At which point it dawned me that I had a major problem. My passport, needed for the Visa, needed for ‘THE trip’ was also needed at the Home Office for residency procedures… Ooops.

Then  a few weeks later HO advised they had received the stuff and it would take… 6 months. OOOOPS!! Ok, understandable – mountains to process from all those like me, feeling the same anxiety and not wanting to move away 😉 Fair enough. But in terms of ‘THE trip’ maaaaajor OOOOPPPSSS!!!

I knew I had to get down to scheduling the in person interview because slots go fast and you need to get yours in their diary at least 1 month in advance before the date it will happen. So in October I filled in that lot of paperwork, which turned out to be 80% as extensive as the one I had just done and sent it online and with the confirmation uploaded required photos and finally scheduled an interview early in November.

The calendar became my ticking clock!

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Wishes are very important! 🙂

But hang on… all there was for ‘THE trip’ was a flight!!!! So, erring on the side of optimism in a climate of generalised anxiety I extended grubby hands to hold on to the tickets so generously offered to me!! And finally put the money where my mouth was wagging 😉 Preciouusssssss…miiiiiinnneeeee.  And also eagerly accepted the even more generous offer of hotel room sharing! I call you lovely person – my enabler J :-*** You made me both crazier and provided the life line and the silver lining to the year that was all but nice.

September – for those who don’t live their year like some of my tickets&shows –obsessed friends and me by the ‘booking’ rounds rather than the 4 seasons – is the time when all venues (operas, concert venues especially but also theatres) go into booking for the next 4-6 months and sometimes beyond. It was Winter bookings at ROH, Spring bookings at the Wigmore and so on. My yearly ROH membership also expired. And nothing got renewed, nothing new got booked. For the first time in literally years my always at 20+ upcoming performances in my ROH (includes ballet) scheduled started dwindling. And make no mistake they do remind you and call you (like on the telephone) when you don’t book. Same happened in the December booking round and I am now down to 2 remaining tickets until May 2017. Well, the tickets end in Jan 2017… the bookings covered all the way to May 2017. And in the case of the Wigmore, all the rest of the season to summer 2017.

This may sounds like a lot but I had to be. I book very early because I book the cheapest tickets. Years of practice 😉 and trying out have optimised where I sit in the houses so I can go more often and pay as little as possible. We’re talking 6-18 for ballet and opera J Or 10-25 or such for theatre.

Thanks to local theatres still running day-ticket schemes we were still able to go along and see Kenneth Branagh in the Entertainer for £15 in front row, Platanov at the National for £15 in day tickets and the Red Barn with Mark Strong at the National for £10 J A very satisfying result of much more careful and more seldom eating out. Work overload also encouraged some returning of existing opera tickets (from bookings in spring).

So I decided to go crazy and buy those additional theatre tickets for ‘THE trip’. The ones I would likely not make or have to leave early. So I thought: let’s hope there are still some left and let’s get cheap one given the risk. Right. Cheap ones? 1 price for all. Ok…. Oh, what the hell since it is all in or nothing, let’s be crazy…-er. So, now I had filled every waking moment with a ticket: arrival later afternoon +play, get up jet lagged likely and play ..x2, sleep v little, get up pack+play – run to airport. Makes perfect sense.

Except excitement hit again (and no, I have never ever in my entire life booked a flight twice before and also not ever in years of bookings and hundreds of tickets purchased made this mistake before): instead of Friday and Sunday since Saturday was sorted I booked Friday+Saturday… and took 2 weeks to realise my mistake! Non-refundable tickets- great! Email, explain, look like a numpty – ask politely for change? Told to call, figure out international call, pay yet more booking fees but finally able to exchange wrong Saturday for correct Sunday ticket. Phew, all done.

WAIT. Not quite… minor detail. Upcoming interview for visa at embassy. And no passport. Yes, NO PASSPORT! Home Office had not been heard of again and neither had they responded to my begging letter attached to the paperwork to please return my passport as soon as possible.

(There was also the slowly approaching Christmas trip to my parents whose only child I am and who would not be please to not see me if I wasn’t able to fly due to lack of passport).

My lovely enabler also surprisingly helped with my impeding panic attack by asking the question which had not even occurred to me: can you ask documents back formally? I just assumed I couldn’t as the proceedings were of significance and should take precedence over other fun plans. Turns out we found a way (un-helpfully not described or linked where you make your application, hmpf!).

But the visa interview was nevertheless approaching so, before I processed the request of document return, I decided to push it out a bit while I still could to give the passport an extra chance to make it back to me. So I figured – flight on the 2nd, interview on the 29th (which was the only later date available) should be ok, 2 days in between. Good thinking you say. Well…. You’ll see.

Document return request sent off and lo and behold Home Office kindly delivers like clockwork! 2 Days before my initial interview date passport arrives! We are talking 20 November now, ‘THE trip’ is in 10 days. Imagine me looking at the calendar each day before passport came… growing white by the second!

Since it is here I finally announce to all my friends at a delayed birthday dinner I am going! And also try to pull back said interview to it’s original date.  But while one can delay pulling forward seems to not be an option.

I also managed to catch the ‘office cold’ in the last few days and was trying to manage that as best as I could and it seemed to be mostly in control, thankfully.

It’s now the morning of the 29th of November. And I am still keeping the suspense going for my lovely enabler because in theory without a visa everything can go to pots. I assume – wrongly – this is a 1 on 1 interview and I’ll be out of there waltzing away with a visa in 30 min. Not so much.

4 Hours later world end happens. After all proceedings and 2 interviews at the end of the interview when I am told my visa is granted I innocently ask if I can pick up my passport the morning after? An the very polite officer says that would be impossible! They have to proceed to further standard security checks which take and average of 7 days. 7 days. 7 DAYS!!!!! But.. my flight is this Friday morning… in 2 days!!!  She looks at the details but shakes her head and said : it’s impossible. I’ll try to put a note on the file but it needs to go through the process. She asked me if I still wanted the visa and I said yes although at this stage I was in a trance.

I am really lucky I didn’t get run over by a bus or a car on my way back to the office that day. It felt as if it was happening to somebody else. Thankfully by a lucky coincidence our own Guylty was in town with work that night so I got to unload some of the frustration on poor Guylty! And we had some relaxing fun J And found a way to solve my main worry: that the tickets would be unused and those seats would be empty in the theatre! I really didn’t want that and I wished for people to be able to use them and enjoy them. And thus 3 more enablers joined the party (lovely Daphne, nycpat and armitagebesotted)! Over the next day the 6 of us figured out together the best way to distribute the tickets among those who would definitely be there so that at least some fun would come out of the whole mess.

To make things even funnier the next day I had a long meeting in the office with one Mr.. Armitage! (I could not make this up!) And my email was full of reminders from the Roundabout about upcoming performances and the RA also send me emails that day! (Royal Academy but it’s RA on the emails).

Thursday luchtime (2 days later), in a quick breather from the monthly reporting I wished everyone fun over the weekend and confirmed that it was a no go as I had had no new at all and as suspected checks had taken as long as they said they would.

Thursday 3pm – I get an email notification from the embassy saying the passport had been released to the delivery firm!!!! The pick up office is on the other side of London from my work and they close at 5pm! And I had not finished the monthly reporting! In fact, we had an unusual number of errors and problems with the files so we were much delayed! I did my utmost to not think about the f***g passport and work, work, work and 4.10pm I managed to email the file and 4.15pm I was running out of the office to the tube leaving word that I might be back in work tomorrow morning but a very grumpy me or I might not be in at all as per my holiday request long approved.

Thursday 4.55pm I run out of breath into the delivery office and the nice man looks at my pick up number and says: oh, it is not on our system yet, we don’t have it. Sometimes they send the notifications early. I have to be honest and say I hadn’t actually raised my hopes at this point because I just didn’t believe it could happen anymore. I explained to him I had gotten the email and the flight was tomorrow but I guess I just had bad luck. An then he says: oh, when is your flight tomorrow??? Me: 11am. He: oh well, it is still possible! Me: what? No, just forget it I understand it is not going to happen now. He: well, people are in the office from 7,30am so you could come in early and see if it is in the morning delivery and figure out if you can make it to airport. You could try , he says, I recon you have a good chance.

I just got back on tube and came across London and got home and just sat here on the sofa for about 1h not knowing what the hell to do. All advice says for US flights be there 3h in advance.. Just so that I don’t say I haven’t looked I check TFL to find out what public transport takes.. 50 min with like 3 tubes and 1 train. Hm.. I end up calling a taxi company I use and ask them how long it would take from the City all the way to Heathrow. They say usually less than 1h but 1 h if traffic bad (you think? 8am in London through town center…).

I’m unpacked, un-prepared, exhausted and just numb. It’s around 8pm. What to do? I lean on the people whom I’ve dragged into this misery, my enables. I email the gang and relate the happenings and my dilemma. Everyone jumps up and tells me to throw my knickers in a suitcase and get my backside to the delivery office first thing in the morning! And they say what I couldn’t even think of anymore: that I would always wonder if it could have been but I wasn’t there to pick the darn passport up! So I finally get into gear and start running round the place like a mad women, finding the print outs of tickets, checking in for the flight, throwing clothes in a suitcase, finding my travel sickness tablets, looking for the passport to put in handbag.. oh wait, right, I don’t have THAT Continue packing, get showered and finally 1am decide to figure out how I would get myself from JFK to hotel should I happen to fly! Oh and book a taxi from that delivery office before 8am to take me to airport. And then go to bed.

7,30 next morning after some sleep and standing on one leg in packed tube to City. Walk into the delivery office only to be told they haven’t scanned the passports in yet, need to wait for them to be done, likely 8am. 15 min later my taxi arrives and I have to explain to the driver he has to wait because I don’t actually know where I am going that morning.

7.55am 2nd December 2016 – Man says: here it is! It was the first one! I grab it and start running to the further way parked taxi saying: Heathrow T3, we’re going! Now!!!

Needless to say I spent the 1h trip to airport constantly putting passport in handbag and taking ot back out and gaping at the visa and repeating that in between texting everyone and emailing everyone like mad (though none could read it in the middle of the night in US!!!). Telling my London friends that after all and last minute I was running towards a flight and my US lovely room mate that she would be sharing after all!

Made it leisurely through airport and security, on flight and arrived some 8 h later at JFK… sick as  a dog!!!!!

But that’s the next chapter of ‘THE trip’ J

Much love to all you 6 people who kept me sane and had a high contribution in actually dragging me across the pond when I had effectively given up! And also thanks to both Home Office and US embassy who were both nearly the death of me but also saved the day when it mattered!

I don’t regret a thing and although maybe I would change things I stand by every decision I made and which brought me here, well, there J It was all possible out of love J Love of theatre which moved me to a point where I wanted to go, love from friends who helped make it possible and lent so much support, love that’s been going strong for 2 years and which made me think the impossible could be possible and which made me wish for something wonderful in an absolutely shitty year until recently. Love which inspires dreams and wishes and which reminds me that we need these in our lives where we deal with reality. We need the little bit of crazy and love to reminds us of the things that make us very happy.

Berlin Station

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There is a definite level of excitement in the air due to a certain play starting its previews soon, but, since there will be time to talk about it once we know more, it’s time for me to try and get back into the writing saddle.

It’s been a long and difficult year and though i have seen many good things, reality has taken precedence over enjoyment of art. I hope to catch up on some of these, especially the few which have made lasting impact. This weekend however has marked the end of the 2016 Proms’ season as well as the start of both the Wigmore and the ROH seasons. And it was the first time in a really long stretch that a few good performances accumulated in a short period of time. I had come to fear that reality had numbed me completely to the joys of music since it had been nearly a year since i could say i really enjoyed something i saw or heard.

The late iIndiansummer and a few days of full on sunshine together with a great season start seem to have done the trick and i finally feel a little bit like myself again. Hopefully the impact will be lasting.

So, on the ‘vitamin’ boost provided by a splendid Norma at the Royal Opera House, a hilarious Barbiere at the same ROH (enjoy the lovely Javier Camarena singing Almaviva for BBC 3’d In Tune here )and an excellent Platonov at the National (all in the space of just 2 days) i feel i recognise again what ‘good’ feels like 🙂

Do watch Javier sing! You’ll definitely feel like 200 year old Rossini is fit for the charts today 🙂

Oh, and have a look around the Platonov page, there is a hilarious quiz video online from Chekhov on it 🙂 And by the way, my friend and i lay claim to having discovered the wonderful James McArdle (who plays the lead in Platonov)!  We thought he was great in the James plays two years ago and he is really good here too, hilarious and tragic at the same time, wise beyond his years, definitely one to watch. The whole cast is superb and Jonathan Kent’s productions are a joy of atmosphere and clever design. Go see if you can (just remember on McArdle, we were there first – Not really, he’s already been recognised with some awards ;-)).

And a few days before that there was the Last Night of the Proms, with these 2 memorable and uniquely funny moments from Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez (whom we all affectionately call Juandi :-)):

The perfect entertainer, wouldn’t you agree? And turning up looking like that, as the last king of the Inca LOL – unbeatable 🙂 Love him.

Sorry for the long digression/introduction but i thought i’d share some joy with you in case you prefer not to go on reading.As the above was also very helpful in compensating for a feeling of disappointment after watching the first 2 episodes of Berlin Station. Not all bad but certainly not what i was hoping for after a long drought of content. I went back and forth about writing something that was not as enthusiastic as people might expect but decided to go with it. Not everything we see is good and everything can’t always be excellent and that’s ok. So please feel free to stop here if you’d rather not read my doubts. 

Berlin Station – the good bits

  • The trailers and promos are all tight, interesting, intriguing and fast paced; the heighten suspense and make you want to watch;
  • the opening credits as well as all the graphics are fab, punchy, modern, journalistic- i really really like them;
  • the cinematography – very ‘noir’ with a lot of steel greys, dark skies, low lights etc It looks good on screen, there is no doubt about it and they had a brilliant camera crew;
  • I like the camera angles, close ups which make you feel like the person right next to the one on screen; The shots from above are also beautiful; the extra angles we have won due to drones 🙂 There was same crane filming around Claudia’s house as we saw i a BTS photo but there are shots from much higher up which can only be done by drones. It’s certainly the new kind of perspective which adds a lot visually (although i wonder what the rules are in Berlin, hereabouts drone filming over populated areas is prohibited);
  • I like some of the soundtrack, Bowie is a topical though good choice. BUT, the almost incessant thumping  and beat in 90% of the scenes was way too much.
  • The Germans – i like them all, even Zeitungs-Ingrid – although she is forced into a lot of OTT acting; the rest however are very natural, normal and understated in some cases. They certainly come off much better and more credible on screen than any of the ‘American’ lot; There are some problems, in as one can tell which of the cast are from the German side although not representing Germans in the series; Except for Ingrid they certainly get the better share of the dialogue, maybe just by the simple fact that there is much less of it.
  • I particularly liked Hans reaction to his former employee’s crude comment  – pretty much the most satisfying scene in the entire 2eps;
  • Claudia’a character was somebody we could warm to and i object to them getting rid of her so soon;
  • Kelly Frost – i really enjoyed her too; comfortably wifey without overdoing it, again a multidimensional character with a lot of wordless acting and also some good lines. I liked the fact that she came across as quite strong, much better defined in fact in spite of fewer scenes than many of the male characters.
  • Hector/RI – probably the best thing that happened to the series; greatly aided imho by the fact that he too has far fewer lines and Rhys Ifans gets to do a lot of wordless acting which is is excellent at. His American accent is minimal and natural and i had a laugh listening to one of his interviews; i never realised how strong his Welsh accent still is 🙂 The difference is truly startling. I don’t quite believe a real chemistry with Faisal, but then again it is not clear that he returns his feelings. What is clear however is that Hector cares, about great many things, in many different ways. I also like that his body language is limber and together with the Germans he displays none of the stiffness and almost confusion of movement/posture that comes across in most of the others. Having killed off Claudia thus swiftly he really is the only one i cared about/for and was interested in at the end of the first 2 episodes.
  • Kirsch – to some degree, his brand of patriotism/professionalism? feels a bit old fashioned and anachronistic but he does manage to make it almost realistic for the character; It’s one dimensional so far, but it comes across as credible, swearing and all.
  • love the old Berlin cafe where Frost and Hans meet – the kind of place i love to go to 🙂 And a relief from the overload of graffiti-walls (which i am pretty sure are somewhat less omnipresent in Berlin than the eps seems to indicate);
  • i like the old shoe-maker and his crew- maybe a bit old fashioned spy-stuff but it is effective as a  ‘make the viewer smile’ device and interesting use of non-electronic communication;
  • quite like the last roof scene with Hector and Daniel, or rather the idea of it;

So, there are quite a few positives, cinematography and characters being important parts of what i think would make a series successful. But it’s not a good summary if the most credible characters are all secondary and only 1 of the supposed main characters is engaging and intriguing. And if the intrigue comes mostly when they stop talking… Which leads me to my reasons for being disappointed as a viewer:

Berlin Station – the things that didn’t convince me

  • There are a few, but i guess one could say most are minor details (although the devil is in the detail in terms of credibility on screen) except for the one major one – the dialogue. The lines are bad, really bad. I can’t say i had a flowing viewing experience in any of the scenes involving dialogue. As soon as people opened their mouths the exchanges mostly stopped me in my tracks with their awkwardness. Worse, the characters looked awkward saying these things, with pauses filled with uncomfortable viewing. They didn’t look as if they thought what they were saying and it showed. It really doesn’t help engage me if instead of focusing on the action i keep rolling my eyes at what comes out of their mouths. Take a spy/analysit like Daniel saying ‘wow’ to being deployed to Berlin… really? Wow? Instead of a more interesting facial expression? The whole argument presented by the guy he replaces re the leak and Shaw sounded fake and only a device to let Daniel drill in again the consequences.The exchange between Ingrid and Claudia started off well but then went into implausible conversation in a public space; the whole making history as an almost one liner and bam, she is convinced again, really? Never mind the utter crudeness of Ingrid’s comment to her about getting laid (it was much worse in German). The whole exchange sounded like an unlucky translated version from English rather than a genuine conversation. Then there are all the astoundingly glib dialogues between Frost and his secretary/mistress. He’s supposed to be both clever (since chief) and moral but that’s the kind of stuff he says? Shaking head. It does things to my brain to see such an intelligent actor portray somebody who comes across as simple to say the least. Ingrid’ rant on the balcony although maybe justified by grief/anger also comes across as not quite right – ‘may you die in a drone strike?’ from an experienced journalist to somebody working in Berlin?
  • some story lines are unoriginal and others unnecessary- they use the disgruntled/overlooked employee 3x in 2 eps! Daniel to his boss in Panama, Valery 2x and also the German information/spy to Hans (overlooked for promotion) – are there no other reasons/backgrounds/actions to be found? Are all bosses meant to be stupid and their employees better? (Well, certainly not valid for Hans, but you get the idea). Then there is Gerald who gets shipped back to the US. Why invest in a character on his way out? Unless he isn’t on his way out but his family dropping him just like a hot potato was another cliche moment/rolling my eyes. Which by the way was signaled way too hard and too much in advance;
  • too much advance signaling (give us  some credit!)- Ingrid tells Claudia to get laid and lo and behold she gets picked up in the bar next (duh!); Gerald goes on and on and on about his wife and Budapest and of course he gets dumped as soon as things go south. We hear about Daniel’s past in Berlin again and again and again in the most improbably of circumstances, EVEYRONE talks about it, the unknown woman i  Panama, Valery at first sight and in their very first meeting, etc etc And apparently somebody who is CIA feels comfortable reacting to it and engaging in his past in Berlin with everyone. I do get it is relevant, but it would have been more effective, especially in terms of indicating it’s scarred him in some way if less was said. The secretary tells Frost he should get his wife to be his secretary so they could talk , cue wife wants to know more about his work, or the other way around but still – rolling eyes. Faisal fears he will get found out, Faisal gets found out. And don’t even start me about the ‘weird guy’ who is used as courier between Shaw and Claudia. We get a really good look of him being made to look really weird so you now he will do something! The only one not expecting it is analyst Daniel , who unlike the viewer does not get the clue.Weird guy ends up being a killer… duh. (As if normal people would not get involved in the Shaw thing , had to be somebody ‘weird’).
  • talking about obvious – poor Claudia, being careful and acting as secret courier but not noticing the big hunkering guy always 2 meters behind her and around her and always wearing the same things and cloaked and in cap and hoodie. If i had somebody lumbering round me like that i tell you i’d be completely freaked out. It just isn’t believable that somebody acting this strange and looking this suspicious wouldn’t attract attention.
  • the additional storylines around Faisal, Ioseva and so on, there is a quite a lot of it and it gets really confusing, how important is it, what is the main story line, what are we supposed to pay attention to? There is so much thrown in, especially in ep 1 one cannot possibly be expected to come out of it with a clear idea of what to follow. It is way too much, between trying to introduce all characters, several story lines, Panama, Shaw, Ioseva, family stuff. By the time the ep ends one is exhausted with too much information and can’t possibly remember what is what and what is important. I for one had completely forgotten at some point Daniel is supposed to get shot as it didn’t seem relevant at all anymore. The only clear thing in my head tbh was Hector and that he is somewhat involved in everything. Less is definitely more in story telling; ease people into it gently, you don’t need to tell them so much in 1ep, as you have 9 more to go. The scope of ep 1 is not to tell everything , not even to set the scene to everything, but to get people interested, hook them with something/someone. The more things and people = the more confused they become. And they will forget most of what you told them and few will bother to go back.
  • why are the safehouses such dumps? I expect a cockroach to crawl out every corner any minute. Spartan i get but are we to believe light and activity in a derelict building is really not going to attract attention?
  • the meeting with the woman from the German BfV – very James Bond but not quite – dialogue cryptic but not really funny; again all we get is that spies ‘know stuff’ (we never get much in the way of how do they know); But we get a sense i think that Daniel likes to handle the women.
  • why does Daniel find a cat in Claudia’s flat 2 days after she supposedly threw herself out of the window? Does German police not investigate suicides? Or in 2 days it was all case closed and done with, no signs of them searching the apartment, putting tape to prevent entrance. My, are they efficient… or wait, they are completely useless, they searched and investigated but failed to find the cat in the flat. It all makes perfect sense… since we need a cat to signal Daniel is partly human and cares, he certainly can’t be asked to show us that with his face/body language. Cat is better idea (NOT!);
  • Also it is absolutely relevant to show him dressing wet after a shower and then toweling himself off, then walking to a window, not a trace of damp from the recent shower on his skin, to what? Show us he cares/thinks about Berlin/remembers something? nope, just to show us a Berlin skyline and the fact that he still hasn’t unpacked his suitcase – that certainly explains while he keeps wearing the same clothes, if nothing else. I’d rather see something on his face than see his briefs, thanks very much, slightly more relevant to the story.
  • the impersonated picker-upper for Claudia is the only human face of Daniel we get apart from the interaction with his nephew. But his human face is a d*ck. I would certainly not have a drink with a fella who says about his potential blind date ‘i hope it’s not her’. But then again, as Ingrid bluntly told us, Claudia needed to get laid so doesn’t matter he’s an ….
  • Panama – a bloke walks around in the jungle with no tools, bags, anything and finds a box in the forest; he looks good but it’s a bit out of context to say the least;
  • the mum- story – again maybe a bit too much, not only was she cheating, she was cheating with a spy and then she died going off in her cheating ways with the spy; why do they have to lay it on quite as thickly? Just like it’s not enough Faisal give some secrets away because he believes he can help, he also has to be gay and in love with Hector. I do get the point about complexity and nothing is quite like it seems but i wonder if less again wouldn’t have been more, making it a bit more believable;
  • Daniel keeps going to the roof to talk (just so we can get the eye-graffiti imagine – which would have been more effective had we seen a bit less graffiti everywhere) until he decides not to go to the roof anymore and makes the call from his desk about the photo he is about to send.
  • USB sticks – this really bugged me; in an age where already 10 years ago we couldn’t use USB sticks at work with our laptops we are to be believe somebody grabbed CIA data on them? Because not only Claudia seems to get them from Shaw, they were also in the box in Panama. It’s a very crude device for modern age spying, very out of date since picking up and using a USB stick is a big no-no from a security pov these days.And they seem to be all over the place in BSt.
  • language points – these are relevant for me, but i don’t think relevant generally for audiences; at present it seems unlikely this will air in Germany and in any case it probably wouldn’t air in original anyway. But the variety of pronunciations of cities such as Budapest and Berlin drive me nuts. Particularly because they are neither here nor there, neither the English version of the name nor the original but something in between. Also different characters pronounce it differently. I guess this is possible, but i find it very irritating. The German is… generally bad. I could ignore it were it not for the few scenes where the characters interact with the locals in ways which seem to indicate they dominate the language convincingly. It does things to my brain watching those as i can hardly make out what they want to say, but the locals seem to understand perfectly and answer i German of course, which is utterly surreal. Kirsch makes an understandable stab at it and Hector does in  his limited lines but it’s the less bad of the bunch, not really good . Especially when Faisal (who is supposed to be another foreigner) and Ioseva (same) open their mouths and out comes utterly fluent, barely accented German. But, as said, relevant to German speakers and thankfully easily ignored by everyone else. I expected more however, or rather less lines but better articulated. Certain American accents are also much less convincing to me than others, see notes on Hector above. But that might be just my ears.
  • I don’t find Kirsch’s swearing too much, he manages to just build it into his lines like breath 🙂 But why is everyone else swearing so much as well? Lots of crude language but prudishness in other areas. Why the kiss between Claudia and Daniel? Given how the pick up went isn’t it more credible they would actually end up in bed together? A one night stand would have seemed more logical to me almost rather than the sudden tenderness? And body parts seem to be ok in a weird bar but not in houses/hotels where underwear is quickly donned or sheets cover up everything.
  • And then there is the whole disappointing fact that Daniel is neither a sympathetic character, nor one with an apparent complex inner life. Just an analyst/spy who we are told is clever. We see files and photos, weird magazines and such, but we don’t see thoughts on his face and most of all we see only feelings which are set up in backgrounds suggesting they are fake. We do see the extremely effective turning on and off of personality in some quick phone conversations or with Hector but it’s mostly because i looked for it specifically. We’re told this is the main story line, Daniel&Thomas Shaw but we don’t get to see it through an emotionally engaging lens. I frankly couldn’t care less if he catches Shaw or not at this point and i certainly wasn’t made to care about Daniel at all. Neither with Frost or the big boss has she shown any conviction about the cause, just an almost robotic determination to do the job. The why remains un-shown, untold, unexplored.

I really like spy series and thrillers and mysteries in film. But i need intrigue, emotion, sympathy or empathy of some kind to engage or at least some political or other moral/ethical conviction. At this point they killed off Claudia, who seemed nice and have only given us a bit of Hector in exchange. The plot has already been taken almost too far and too much information has already been revealed for complete mystery or intrigue and not enough about the characters. I don’t care about anyone beyond Hector nor have i been given anything/anyone to root for. While i think the idea is very interesting with all the moral conflict it involves, the story telling is not up to scratch. It is marred by cliches, awkward dialogue, too convoluted backgrounds/motives. For a spy series this feels disappointingly lacking in subtlety, attention to detail and cleverness. And i feel a lot of acting talent gets wasted as a consequence (Richard Jenkins as Frost for one, to give just an example, but valid imho for RA as Daniel as well). It just doesn’t make for exciting viewing. If i didn’t have a side interest i don’t think i would have made it based on the storytelling alone past ep 1 😦

So, the only thing left to do for me is to put my hopes into the play. #Lovelovelove is not what i would call favourite stage material for me, but it certainly has potential and could make for a more exciting viewing experience until something else comes along.. It’s certainly well written and has well fleshed out characters 🙂 .

The Crucible, 2 years and 11 times later

10/03 – Lunch-break edit. Sorry, dear readers. I am using this post a bit as my own notepad on things that i think about. I found an article citing Robert Delamere from back in 2010 when it was very early days for filming theater and it is interesting to see how he thought of his work and where it evolved to.

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From left to right: host Louise Jury, Zara White (Mercy Lewis), Anna Madley (Elizabeth Proctor), Marama Corlett (Betty Parris), Robert Delamere (filmed performance director) -Click for bigger version

Apologies in advance for the slightly disjointed re-telling of the discussion which lasted about 35-40 minutes. Due to increased security measures I had to leave my backpack at the cloakroom and I didn’t think of taking a notebook from the backpack, just my valuables and a bottle of water. I tried to keep my eyes and ears peeled and although I think I captured the meaning of what was said it won’t be the exact wording.

I don’t know how much of this will be new to you, but it was interesting, especially since we haven’t had a chance before to hear Robert Delamere talk more extensively about his experience with the Crucible. His answers and comments were peppered throughout the discussion, but for some reason I found it easier to recall them separately; His were the closing words before the screening began 🙂

They were all excited about there being another screening of the Crucible, some saw it for the first time on screen on this occasion. It was a good discussion;  It was also bit emotional to see such familiar faces again and it obviously brought back some very fond memories for them too. It was great to have the opportunity to see the play again and the talk at the beginning added something special to it, I’m thankful to them for making the time 🙂

Without further ado:

Screen talk with Marama Corlett (Betty Parris), Anna Madley (Elizabeth Proctor), Zara White (Mercy Lewis), Robert Delamere (filmed performance director) – hosted by Louise Jury

  • Louise Jury commented that at the time of the premiere she was still a member of the press and she was the one who at the end of such an emotional evening ‘got to ask the question about how it felt to be back on stage after 12 years?’
  • AM, MC and ZW all mentioned how happy they were the performance had been captured especially for all those who at the time could not see it in personal, particularly internationally (they all seemed to remember with fondness how many people were interested in the show); all 3 mentioned that people did indeed come to see the show from all corners of the world and that it was exciting that so many people wanted to see it;

Roles & Rehearsing:

  • Anna Madley –Elizabeth Proctor – it is such a great part and so interesting because women in the play – wives -only have power in their society through the men and yet, as the play progresses, the balance changes; She was fascinated also by trying to show a ‘good’ woman as it is hard to play ‘good’.
  • Anna Madley – in rehearsals they created this safe space where they could experiment and understand/live their character. Yael spent a lot of time defining the society in which these people lived, their beliefs, constraints, rules and interactions so that they were able to find the place of ‘their’ character in this society. But it was equally a play of personal detail, of showing the couple trying to rebuild their broken relationship, trying to work through the adultery.
  • All 4 commented about the background of the play and the historical approach saying that although the political messages Miller included was very much present they were also interested in the historical story depicted and its inspiration. The way this particular society works was an important part of the production, who the people are, what their roles are within this community. How a community can come to tear itself apart and ‘accuse their neighbour’. Jury mentioned for the audience present that it was a very dark interpretation of the play. (They tried to keep the discussion general as, after inquiry, there were quite a few in the audience who didn’t know the play so they didn’t want to spoil too much of the story)
  • Marama Corlett mentioned that her ballet training came in very handy when creating the ‘possessed movements’ but they were very lucky in having a great choreographer with whom they worked in great detail. Her naturally petite frame helped in portraying a young girl;
  • Zara White commented on the extended collaborative work they did within the group of girls; they spent long periods of time of time together and really felt as a unit; Louise Jury commented about how frightening they were as a group and how fascinating it was to watch the power these girls came to hold over the people in town. Anna Madley jokingly commented that she felt left out of the ‘girl group’.
  • The word intense came back again and again about rehearsals and when asked how was the run after all the rehearsals all 3 said smilingly ‘intense’; Robert Delamere and Louise Jury also confirmed that ‘intense’ also defined their experience of seeing the show live.

Performing :

  • They remember the sounds and smells; apparently some plants may have been imported to produce the specific smell that wafted through the hall at the beginning;
  • Yael wished that they could have captured the sensory experience as well as the visual one 🙂
  • They initially had a live chicken in the show and it housed on the rooftop of the Old Vic for several months but unfortunately would not comply with the hygiene requirements on stage and finally got its P45 before the previews 🙂
  • It was 5 very intense months and at the end of the evening some found relief in drinks 😉 Anna Madley said she went back home to breastfeed her baby and sadly had to miss out on all the drinks during the entire run, for which she was envious;
  • They said they couldn’t really sleep during those 5 months;
  • They were thrilled that it was filmed but Anna Madley mentioned that they had to concentrate to not try and deliver the best for the camera but forget that the cameras were there and work as if it is a normal theatre performance where you try to better your last one and continue exploring the character each day; She also mentioned that in a way you continue doing that until the end of the run when you wish you had another run to continue experimenting and improving. In the end they found they forgot about the cameras and treated them in their locations as if they were just another member of the audience sitting there.

Audience/performing in the round:

  • Slight jokes from Zara White and Anna Madley in response to a questions from LJ about the ‘passionate fans’; They mentioned that Richard Armitage ‘bless him, went out every single night after the performance to sign and take pictures with the fans’. Zara said ‘there were hundreds of them! … well, maybe I am exaggerating ;-), but there were many!’ and that they had quite some characters in the performances. Marama Corlett added that actually they felt the support from the audience and the warmth and that she felt as if people were ‘giving them a hug’ in emotional support;
  • Performing in the round was both exciting and challenging as it can be potentially distracting to have the audience so close. Anna Madley mentioned that she was thrilled about working in the round as all your expressions and all of you is exposed as you can be seen from all angles. And that although you act for the people immediately next to you, at the same time you have to make sure you reach the person in the last corner and that the Old Vic is quite high.
  • Marama Corlett remembered standing by the side stairs looking at the audience and ‘seeing them getting tired’ (she didn’t mean because of long sitting, but rather as a consequence of tension and intensity, even though as an audience you are sitting and watching) and also getting emotionally involved and wanting to engage with what was happening very directly.
  • All 3 mentioned that it was special to build that connection to the audience each night and feel at the end of each night a sort of unity, shared experience. (it seemed to me that the connection to the audience was something that they remembered fondly from the experience).

Robert Delamere:

  • The Crucible has been a very successful recording, over 3 million students have seen it through their special education programme; since they first included it in their catalogue it has been the top seller to this day;
  • He’s always been fascinated with the play, had directed the Sheffield Crucible a few years earlier and had been keen to see the Old Vic version on stage;
  • He saw it in the previews and was convinced it needed to be captured 🙂 He told his team after the performance ‘We are doing The Crucible!’
  • The Miller estate were very supportive of the project and are very happy with the result and also its international reach; they have kept coming back for several copies since and there was a special screening for the family in the US;
  • He loved working with Yael and he wanted to capture the feeling of it as accurately as possible; he approached her and she said she would take as much time as necessary to talk about the play and direction – they ended up spending 9 hours together thinking and planning with Delamere story-boarding each scene (ohhh, so there were his boards! J fascinating!)
  • It was captured on 3 consecutive nights and took about 10 weeks to edit; they had about 9 cameras filming the performance. In edits he went back to the emotional core of each scene – they discussed what were the 3 emotional points that needed to be focused on in each scene, rather than just the lines themselves – and this is how they decided which angles to show.
  • He expressed a hope that they had managed to capture for the screen that intensity which characterised the experience in the theatre and that the audience in the cinema would feel the connection to it by the end of the play.
  • He thought the last scene was especially beautiful and touching with these 2 people letting go of all barriers and walls they had built up and baring their souls to each other the way they hadn’t done in years. It was his favourite moment from the play (he expressed it very beautifully; wish I could have remembered his exact words).
  • They were excited about the twitter support and had fun watching the bits of news being followed by so many people
  • The project is special to him also on a personal note because he was lucky to meet Miller himself when he was 25 and Miller was 83 and he asked Miller what he would like audiences to take away from the play. Miller said: ‘life is about courage’. He believes this Crucible certainly captures that message.

 

PS. This is all for tonight, it is 2am, I am wide awake and full of thoughts about the play.

Right back where I was sometime in July 2014. Tonight it does not feel at all like it was nearly 2 years ago.

And unsurprisingly I’ll have some more thoughts to share about seeing the play again so I’ll be editing this over the next few days.

10/03 – Delamere back in 2010, when theater filming was at its beginnings. The subject fascinates me as i like drama on TV and on stage and i find sometimes they get closer and closer together. He managed to put the finger on why i always felt the filmed Crucible was quite different from other plays i saw broadcast in the cinema, why it felt so far away from a static capture.

http://www.theartsdesk.com/theatre/digital-theatre-page-stage-screen

and an interview 5 years later:

The Crucible Interview: Director Robert Delamere

 

#richievalentineswap

Edit – click on the images to enlarge, i’ve figured out how to do it!

Some days turn out just perfect! I got home about an hour ago and a delicious present awaited at my doorstep 🙂

The lovely crafty plushie-princess Nancy () has made me the most adorable Valentine present! And i can’t even tell you how exciting it is to get post from across the globe, from beautiful places you have never been to. Here’s a bit of un-wrapping action summarised:

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Stopping to snap was difficult as you can imagine! It’s impossible not to want to touch the treasure 🙂

It contained some lovely pencils,  beautiful cards… i can stare into Thorin’s eyes for hours! … and 2! soft, pink, sparkly garlands.

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The garlands enclose in their hearts some of the best loved incarnations of Richie: we have John Thornton, including his lovely hand tied cravat, short-haired Francis and his glittery eyes (i didn’t dare pinch his cheeks!), forever-my-weakness-Guy (with his wild hair and irresistible eyes) and sweet Proctor 🙂

And.. wait for a it… a handwritten message from Richie himself, penned on a card with his very own image on it and with an additional soft heart to keep close to you!

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Nancy really has the softest heart and the most wonderful crafty fingers! There are delicate sparkles in the garlands and i love all my Richies dearly!!!

I hope she will like my quick set up 🙂 Pop Thorin is feeling a bit smothered in pink love but i think he likes the company. I better watch out for what these boys will be up to at night!

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Here’s my little fantasy corner of mantelpiece which now is even more loved than before 🙂

I may move my squishy beautiful richie hearts around though because i want to look at them more 😉 but for now thank you so so so much to Nancy and all the other crafting fairies who had the wonderful idea of the #richievalentineswap!

Thanks for my amazing present Nancy! it really does #spreadthelove and will remind me of all the lovely people i’ve come to know through #richie 🙂 and their big hearts and amazing talents!

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PS. Nancy, i am so coming after that eyeliner Guy! 😀 His lovely head is just the beginning .. hihihihi

 

 

 

‘Urban & shed crew’ – the film

I was lucky enough to be able to see the film twice over the last weekend and I can honestly say I could watch it again, several times and enjoy it just as much. It is just that kind of story and that kind of film – the kind whereby you gain more and more understanding by going back, where you don’t feel the story has been told and it’s the end. You feel compelled to go back for a reminder about the realities it captures but also for the impulse to action it provides. Just as the book it manages not to close the chapter but rather to start a journey.

Films and stories like these are rare in our world of quick fixes and adrenaline trips.

Bernard Hare’s book which underpins the film is not only a very emotional experience; it is an extremely well written book. The pace of his story telling, the balance of moods and tensions, the way he captures the characters, the note of dark but also light humour in the book is so well judged that you can hardly put it down. It’s easy to see why film makers would want to tell the story again but let’s not underestimate the challenge it represents. It’s not just about getting the realities across, it’s getting the tone right to engage people and not alienate them. The combination of the themes around drugs, prostitution, destitution, poverty and the fact that most of its protagonists are children make it almost a ‘catch 22’ in terms of filming. It is incredibly hard for films to go where a news report or a documentary could. Because there are laws in place that protect child actors when they work, some things are just impossible to represent with actors of the ages the characters are in the book. (Which makes it even more frightening, sad and frustrating that you literally can’t act on screen what some kids live through in their daily lives… but such is our reality and our society).

But I can also fully understand why Candida Brady chose to do a feature film instead of a documentary – because these are human stories. It’s not a story about facts and figures or things, although these make a tragic difference in the lives of the people depicted. It’s a story of friendship, caring, understanding and human emotion.

I literally finished reading the book a couple of hours before the first screening so one could say ‘I was heavily under the influence’ 😉 Which is why I am glad I got to see it again the next day with a bit more distance, enough to be able to appreciate the film more for itself rather than in comparison to the book.

My first impression was that the film felt much more upbeat than the book, its message of hope was much stronger. But I am sure my first impression were coloured by the proximity of the book in my mind and the emotions it throws you in. There is a lot of mental ‘wall-punching’ involved during the read so I almost wanted the film to tear into the audience and grip them by their throats 🙂 The need to shake people up and make them see is almost overwhelming.

I am certain after the second watching that the film does that, just not in such emotionally violent ways I felt after reading the book. Which is a good thing! While making people angry and upset may trigger them into action, touching their heart is probably more likely to achieve longer term commitment 🙂

While one can argue about how dark one could make the film, both book and film agree in saying one important thing: one person who cares can change things. And while the environment is certainly violent and volatile on so many levels that is not how help is found or given. Chop doesn’t manage to save some of the kids by violent means or by displaying violent behaviour, quite the contrary! It’s his quiet care and finally his constant determination and emotional connection that  provide a solution.

Listening to Bernard Hare talk in the recent interviews made me really understand this almost as much as reading his book. He’s incredibly warm and soft spoken, but very articulate and clear in what he says and what he means and more importantly for the kids ultimately relentless in his action.

So, the intention of the film to provide a stronger message of hope is ultimately just reinforcing the message of the book. It is as much by design as it is the result of necessary condensation of the written material. You have a few less characters and you sometimes get only hints of vicious cycles which in the book we actually experience repeated over and over. But visual hints work in providing similar context and experience.

Speaking of which the hinting rather than showing may also help in making it accessible to a younger/wider audience. An experienced/older viewer will infer much more than is shown but this way I think it stays within a lower age rating (unless you are offended by swearing… but I should think people should be offended much more by the fact that 30% of children in the UK live in poverty, as Candida Brady pointed out).

I’m less sure about the soundtrack for the film. I like the music but I did feel at times it was too upbeat for the feeling of a particular scene. I preferred the scenes played in silence which let things sink in more and for the visuals and words to impact without giving your mind additional, slightly confusing signals. In some instances however the clash between upbeat music and frightful happenings works well to bring out the contrast. I just feel that this effect should have been used more sparingly. (Cause I just wanted to tap along a few times ;-))

I was happy to see that some slight editing hick-ups I noticed in the screening Saturday seemed to have been ironed out in the version screened Sunday (most of my friends hadn’t noticed these however, I’m just too techy that way maybe ;-)). I liked that they mixed up the shooting techniques a bit and we got staggered images, slow-mo, etc It makes it visually interesting (and it is where Brady’s experience with documentaries nicely shows 🙂 ) . Sometimes like in the trip to Scotland section this creates an almost peaceful, intimate feel by allowing time to pass and other times it is used to comic effect. I really enjoyed the twist on what is an essentially violent moment in a brawl which made us all giggle (nice to see the Armitage teeth all still in place after that 😉 ).

Other times visuals of the same places at different moments in time can be whimsical or profoundly sad and depressing, just like the shed is at the same time sanctuary for the kids but also expression of the lack of a true home. That arch of the 2 scenes was one of my favourite moments in the film.

There are other clever visual solutions in the film too: how do you do a car chase when you can’t afford never ending stretches of road blocked off and you’re not on a highway? Original and funny when it happens in parallel roads 😉

Generally the cinematography is great. All that smoke of all kinds does wonders for the atmosphere. The city, its blocks of flats, graffiti covered walls, derelict churches and rubbish littered green patches create a character all on its own. It is grey and sad but has loads of personality, great locations (especially considering they used a lot of the original ones). The colourful and mismatched clothes of all characters, especially Chop and Greta up the colour factor a lot! (I’m just going to mention a yellow t shirt and a mustard&violet jumper). I really liked what the costume department did, it looked realistic and not too over the top.

Chop’s and Greta’s flats respectively say a lot about the characters without a word being uttered and they make a startling contrast to each other. The wall paper and carpet at the club where Chop plays chess is wonderfully horrible (nice touch having Hare’s chess playing cameo in the background ;-)) and his small flat though cluttered and messy spells home and comfort in big warm letters. You can just see why the kids are drawn to it and feel protected and safe there. The rows and rows of used books that say as much about Chop as his many endless stories are great. As is the big mirror in Greta’s flat which reflects back all the misery around and within :-(.

There is a 90’s feel about the visuals but discreetly so, it’s mostly the cars and the cassette player (remember those?). It does not feel like a story from the 90’s at all and I am glad that is the case, as it is as contemporary today as it was then, sadly.

The dialogue is very close to the book most of the time which is when it works best. There was only one instance I was unsure about, when Chop asks Urban directly if he’s ever been told about dyslexia. While I understand the difficulties of getting that particular problem across in film I think it’s rather unlikely given when Urban has been that he would have ever been told this may be one of the reasons he couldn’t read. I would have preferred that conversation to be had with another adult. But it’s a small niggle and I rather liked the way Chop spots that the boy is probably dyslexic, it’s a discreetly tender moment that happens almost out of the blue and it really clutched at my heart.

There’s strong acting throughout with Anna Friel pulling off a frighteningly convincing portrayal of an emotionally unstable drug addict. She’s the self-destructive force that brings Chop and Urban together. From then onwards the film revolves mainly around the tug and pull between Chop and the kids. He gets pulled in, shelters the kids and tries to give them a safe haven until his own life is almost invaded and falls apart; he feels nearly unable to cope and then rallies again to support Urban. The kids are great and Fraser Kelly is a brave little actor 🙂 His vulnerability pulls at your strings but one of my favourite moments is the one where he threatens Chop to take action himself if he doesn’t do something about his brother’s  heroin addiction. For somebody so young to get across so much restrained violent intent is quite something, well done!

Richard Armitage had quite a hard task in front of him. Hare’s book is rich in detail about the people that surround him, about his beliefs and disappointments, his actions but naturally restrained in revealing Chop’s emotions. You guess a lot by reading and his actions speak louder than his words, still the book is outwards looking towards the people that surround him most of the time. For the film it was Richard Armitage’s job to show us how Chop feels, what his emotional reactions are not just his actions. The book goes more into Chops disillusionment with the system and its failures; this is still present in the film, though maybe not expressed as often. There is one moment that brings it across very strongly however and I liked that line very much when Chop admits to himself that ‘nobody listens’.

There is quite a lot of action in the film and I’m happy to say it happens mostly with the same kind of bitter and dark irony and humour as it does in the book. We laughed quite a lot as life but mainly the kids kept throwing unexpected events at Chop 🙂 Their clever inventiveness and retorts keep things moving.

The heart of the film beats strongest in the long conversations Chop has with the kids and especially Urban. And they are conversations, not just Chop talking at them (although he does do some of that too ;-)). There are moments when he represents a fatherly figure, but that is mostly in providing basic care, putting food on the table and providing a place to sleep.  Most of the time we see friendships emerging and Chop learns as much from Urban and the kids as he tries to teach them.

There’s lovely story telling which is how Chop disguises his attempts at teaching them and there are equally touching moments when the kids’ practical and needs driven common sense brings Chop back to reality and makes him act rather than just talk about things. With Chop they can be kids again and they make him more of a doer than just a thinker 🙂

It’s thanks to these scenes that we get some of the poetry written by the shed crew for the book (and some of my favourites are in there) and Chop’s long winded but wonderful account of his favourite legend: King Arthur. (I can’t say how touched I was when I read in the book that of all the stories he’d read this was his favourite, Chop the idealist 🙂 )

This does slow things down in the film a bit compared to the action packed beginning but I’m hoping for those who haven’t read the book this will be a nice opportunity to listen to an extract of the book retold (the kids do a perfect acting job of looking riveted throughout ;-)).

What I enjoyed was seeing Chop’s reactions reflected in his eyes and face and gestures all the while his words, especially with the kids tried to remain almost neutral, casual thus keeping the dialogue open 🙂 But it is this emotional connection which matters, how much Chop cares in his deceivingly relaxed, understated way. A lot of this emotional exchange with Urban seems to happen at Chop’s doorstep which is a nice little symbol for his heart which he can’t seem to close to the kid, in spite of temporary frustrated attempts to do so.

While the film leaves us with hints that all is not well with the world (babies born with addictions, other kids succumbing to heroin, etc) it does end with a big smile, reflecting I think the compassion and hope the creators themselves have put it in rather than reality itself.

It was easy to see why this message is important on Sunday, when members of the real shed crew reunited to watch the screening . The family like connection that bonds them (including Hare) was instantly obvious 🙂 And it is because this one man cared enough that they were able to be there almost 20 years later.

Oh, and they enjoyed the film a lot! I could hear the heartfelt laughter all throughout and there was enthusiastic applause at the end from all. I got the distinctive impression that they approved of the way their story had been told 🙂

The shed crew enjoyed the film :-)

The shed crew enjoyed the film 🙂

PS I’ve tried to keep this mostly spoiler free, but if anyone who has read the book  or otherwise wants to know more say so.