Bizarre Love Triangle

Naomi and I went to see Treats at Malvern last week. I’d wanted to see this production ever since I found out that Little Billie Pipsqueak was in it and that I’d get to be in relatively close proximity to her. Sigh. Didn’t really know very much about it but was interested to see what Ms Piper would be like on stage and as she was to be joined by Kris Marshall and Laurence Fox I was keen to see the three of them lock horns. The trio worked very well together and the dynamic was good over throughout the duration. The story concerns Ann who has used Dave’s (Marshall) recent trip to abroad to get out of what, for her, must have been an oppressive and chronically demeaning relationship and she has kicked him out of her apartment and installed well-meaning and amiable but wholly-inadequate Patrick (a fantastic Laurence Fox). Now, Dave is an absolute bastard. Adopting the divide-and-conquer approach he proceeds to be aggressively nasty to Ann and genial to Patrick (after having announced his return by punching him squarely in the face and apologised by bringing him flowers).  It’s clear that Dave knows he must win Ann back or face some sort of oblivion and the recurring theme was not so much his behaviour but that he knew it was an essential strategy he must employ. The continuing issue of Ann only responding to varying amounts of emotional blackmail, slander, verbal abuse and physical violence was the most disturbing (and compelling) aspect. Ann has the choice of Patrick’s sensible, if indecisive, and optimistic behaviour vs Dave’s self-loathing, sociopathic and spiteful tactics. Both men clearly do love Ann but it is clear that Dave needs her in a way that Patrick is not capable of. Certainly Ann tries to go it alone after she realises that she is only with Patrick on the rebound yet she still allows herself to be bullied back into the relationship and although it was depressingly predictable, you can’t help wishing she could find another way. The title referred at one point to break-up sex but also to the actual process of negotiating getting back together. I hadn’t realised, because I’ve never actually read it, but Christopher Hampton wrote ‘Treats’ while working on translating Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House’ (which I finally picked up a copy of recently). It seems Hampton felt that the issue of women (maybe men too?) trapping themselves in oppressive and hopeless (not to mention abusive) relationships was just as relevant in the 1970’s as it had been a hundred years previous and that maybe Ibsen’s play was too subtle and not shocking enough. Except that the wife leaves the marriage in Ibsen’s play which is arguably what was so exciting about it. This made me think of Joe Penhall’s play ‘Love and Understanding’ (again two guys and a gal) where despite the happiness of the couple at the outset (perhaps ‘contentment’ is a better word) and the obviously self-destructive personality of the third party the girlfriend is drawn to sleep with the newcomer as much by his manipulations as by the inability or unwillingness of the boyfriend to react in the desired way. Or was she? We all crave excitement and if things have gotten stale (read ‘stable’ or ‘predictable’) then you might well start looking around or, at any rate, become susceptible to being lead astray. In ‘When Harry Met Sally’ Harry is discussing his recently failed marriage with a friend. His friend nods sagely and says “Marriages don’t break up on a count of infidelity.  It’s just a symptom that something else is wrong.” Harry replies, “Oh really?  Well that symptom is fucking my wife.”

Thank You For Smoking (For A Little Longer…)

Saw today that the government have finally announced the dates for the nationwide smoking bans for next year. Was a bit surprised when I read it was going to be July as initial reports suggested March. As much I’ll be sad to see the end of smoking in pubs and the inevitable change in pub culture that will come about, I recognise that it’s a good thing for public health and am planning to use the opportunity to help me quit properly, as I’m sure a lot of people will (perhaps a lot of publicans will use it as an opportunity to redecorate). I tend to be a social smoker and I find that a snout goes really well with a pint but have to acknowledge that it’s more of a prop and that I just need to work on feeling more relaxed in public which isn’t always easy for me. I have very little will power and the inverse relationship between alcohol consumed and my determination to avoid smoking doesn’t help. I suppose I’ll just have to be that bit more determined not to smoke for the four extra months (one if I lived in Wales or N. Ireland – why is their ban introduced in April anyway? What gives?)

Hurry! Only 25 Shopping Days Left!

Shopping at this time of year takes on a surreal quality even if you’re just out for groceries. I usually try to plan my Xmas shopping so that I know exactly what I’m going to buy for each person on my list and it’s a slick operation that allows me to pick up the items and get clear of the madness and back into the pub with my friends as quickly as possible. I was in town the other day and was confronted with the traditional bazaar of Stuff you can buy if you’re not sure what to get someone. Was particular puzzled this year by a few things (maybe someone can shed some light on the following);

Why is it that bands (e.g. Oasis) now feel obliged to use their Best Of to make their career appear better than it actually was?

Why has Jeremy Clarkson entitled his new book “And Another Thing: The World According to Clarkson Volume 2” when no one was in the least bit interested in the first thing?

(Most annoyingly) Why do I only remember that I need a copy of “It’s A Wonderful Life” on DVD at this time of year when it gets re-priced at double its normal value?

Come And Have A Go If You Think You’re Aard Enough

Tragically, despite the fact that my interview had gone well and I thought I was in with a chance, Aardman finally got in touch to say that I had been unsuccessful and they’d gone for someone else. Since I had heard nothing for two weeks I had come to realise that they were not eager to engage my skills. The mistake I had made was in e-mailing the HR department to have this clarified once and for all. I had an apologetic e-mail back saying sorry and that the powers that be were “…still reviewing applicants.” This naturally raised my hopes again before someone got in touch the next day and informed me that I had definitely been unsuccessful. I got the impression that any decisions had been made quite some time ago as the person apologised again, claiming that the production office had thought that HR were doing rejection calls and HR thought that the production office were the ones to do this.

The interview had been for a production secretary gig on a children’s flash animation series called Planet Sketch which was a co-production with Canada and involved a lot of co-ordinating of departments and arranging artists voice-overs. The actual job sounded fun and the Aardman studios would have been an awesome place to work (the signs on the walls had super helpful things written on them like “This Way” and one memo informed staff that Friday was “Wrong Trousers Day” – an annual occasion designed to raise cash for charity by partaking in a pub crawl suitably attired in trousers that were just not right). The fact that it was based in Bristol was another thing that I had been Über keen on (you know my feelings on that place). But it was not to be and I just wished that they had let me down sooner rather than the two torturous weeks I spent thinking that I could get my life back.

I hate this year.

Remember When You Used To Listen To Albums?

I employ the past tense “used to” because you may not anymore. You may instead listen to kickin’ tunes; the greatest hits; anthems; floor fillers; singles etc. Since Rob was kind enough to ask what was up for debate next, this was a topic that came up over the weekend.

Now that there’s no compulsion to listen to those album tracks that aren’t as seductive as the singles, why bother with them? The digital revolution has underlined the power of The Song. The album as a concept seem a bit redundant. And why should an album deserve to sell well when it’s relying on three or four solid tunes (that may well have been recorded separately under the guidance of a superior producer) and merely supplemented with a host of second-rate fillers that are little better than b-sides, or instrumentals or at worst, ambient nothingness?

But then isn’t this the price you pay for discovering a couple of gems? A few songs that really should have been singles or a slow-burn epic that is structured so that it builds or even explodes into a euphoric wonder (it might sound all the sweeter for you having invested that bit of extra time). There might even be a few songs that didn’t appeal or washed over you the first or second or even third time you heard them that have over time become your favourite tracks that you might never have heard if you had only downloaded the singles. Maybe you’ve now listened to those same singles so many times that you’ve reached saturation and let’s face it, you’ve gone off them now. And let’s not forget those concept albums that are structured so that each track developes on the last or is mixed into the next track or the album as a whole tells a story where removing a track would be like editing out a chapter of a novel.

Maybe your playlists are made up exclusively of party favourites or head bangers and you only bought singles before or had to use that track skip button too much before but maybe you miss developing an appreciation of the whole album and those pieces that allow the oft overlooked keyboardist/bass guitarist (who is a virtuoso with a musical saw) of the band to display their genius?

We got to talking about which was best overall. I’d be interested to know your opinions and also whether the digital music revolution has forced or made people naturally lean towards one way or the other.