Category: 2017

Film: Hamlet (BBC adaptation with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart)

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This is the first time that I’ve seen or read Hamlet and I only had the faintest idea of the plot. This film is a good way to experience it. I definitely find it easier watching Shakespeare than trying to read it and having now seen a few of his plays I am less intimidated by the language and can focus on the story more.

It is a great cast but I was surprised how much the role of Hamlet was played for what came across to me to a large degree as comic effect – well suited to David Tennant – when I was expecting a lot more tragedy. I suppose that is why Shakespeare’s plays can be interpreted in many different ways and I expect that I would need to study the play more to see what aspects of the character I’ve not picked up on.

My only other comment would be that this comes across very much as a filmed version of a play rather than a fully fledged film in it’s own right.

• Spare Cycles: Much Ado About Nothing (The Globe Theatre, London)

• Spare Cycles: King Lear: Live cinema broadcast from the Globe Theatre, London

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Four great new jazz albums (October 2017)

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I’m not a big jazz fan, so this has come as a nice surprise.

A couple of nights ago I was flicking through the jazz section of Apple Music and I discovered the new album by Kamasi Washington, who I was lucky enough to see play live last year at the Royal Albert Hall in London as part of the Late Night Proms series.

Venturing further I came across Cécile McLorin Salvan’s new live album. She has a wonderful voice, total control and a delicious sense of humour.

That’s typically as far as my interest in jazz has taken me for a long time.

Then I took a punt on a couple of cool-looking albums – by Keyon Harrold and the Blue Note All Stars – and loved them both.

I’ve still got a lot of listening to do to appreciate them all fully but I highly recommend you check them out:

Kamasi Washington – Harmony of Difference
Cécile McLorin Salvant – Dreams and Daggers
Keyon Harrold – The Mugician
Blue Note All Stars – Our Point of View

King Lear: Live cinema broadcast from the Globe Theatre, London

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I have been to the Globe twice this summer (to see Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing) and enjoyed both times immensely. I’d never read either of the plays (just looked up the plots on Wikipedia) but I loved the experience of seeing them live.

So when this opportunity arose I jumped at it. My local cinema was broadcasting a live performance of King Lear – the first time the Globe Theatre has done so.

I was impressed – the cameras always gave you a clear view and you got a good indication of what it is like to see a production live. Obviously not as good as the real thing but the equivalent of standing in the crowd near to the front of the stage. Picture and sound quality were very good and you got to sit down in a comfy seat for three hours in the warm. There’s a lot to be said in favour of that on a chilly September evening.

All the actors were very good in their roles, with the main character of Lear being portrayed brilliantly. The play, despite being a tragedy, did have a number of barbed lines by the King that raised a laugh, mainly at the expense of his wayward kin. Maybe it’s the fact that I have daughters myself that made things ring true. Hopefully my vanity and conceit are not great enough to kick off events such as these.

When I booked my ticket it was around £18, which is only a bit cheaper for me than going to a performance if I bought a standing ticket and paid my travel costs. Still, that’s only because getting to the Globe is a possibility for me. By the end of the event I thought it was a fair price to pay, especially given the small number of people at the showing, the price of tickets to the event in general and the opportunity you are given to attend a show that you most likely would not be able to get to see otherwise.

I would definitely go to one of these cinema broadcasts again for other events and I would like the Globe to do this again for other productions.

Much Ado About Nothing (The Globe Theatre, London)

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I’ve never had a particular interest in Shakespeare but earlier this year we did a family tour of the Globe Theatre, situated on London’s Southbank. We had an engaging guide and this led to taking my daughter to see a rather unconventional version of Romeo and Juliet. I had a rough idea of the plot, but in that moment the play came alive.

The one problem we had was that – despite paying for pretty expensive seats – we had an obscured view. A wooden pillar a couple of rows in front meant that I spent most of the time leaning to the right a bit to make sure I had a good view of the stage.  The person next to me was very obliging.

Still, in the afterglow of the performance I booked to see Much Ado About Nothing.  This time I wanted to be in the midst of things, in with the crowd, exposed to the elements, up close.  This meant a couple of things:

  • I got a ticket for £5 (!)
  • I went on my own as my daughter refused to stand for 3 hours

Anyway, I got my clear viewpoint:

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Being that close is a fantastic experience, a visceral connection.  You get a face full of smoke.  The gunshots ring in your ears.  At times I had to shuffle forward as the cast passed through behind me to get to another stage in the crowd.

The performance was stunning, vibrant, poignant, funny.  The play is set in Mexico, 1914, and was performed with such energy I completely forgot that it was in Shakespearean English and just enjoyed the spectacle:

At the end you feel elated and with the sense that you must have just seen the best show in London.

At the time of writing (mid September 2017) there is still time to see the production.  If you can get tickets, I urge you to go even if you think that Shakespeare isn’t your thing.  After seeing this, it will be.

Next year I will be back, regardless of what is showing.

Mini review: “Dodgers” by Bill Beverly

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I came across this by chance and just could not resist given the reviews and the awards it won last year.

It is the story of a group of young black guys from a rough part of Los Angeles who are sent on a road trip across America to kill a judge when their narcotics operation is busted by the police.

Its pared-back tone belies the book’s emotional impact. This is more than a journey in a van for the main character – it is a rite of passage. I read through the second half of the book in one sitting one evening and found myself thinking about it all the next morning.

Somehow I managed to miss the fact that there was an audiobook version (it sounds good too…), so I went with the paper version.

Given that the book clocks in at only 300 pages there is a lot of story and character development built in.  A number of twists happen out of the blue and without fanfare that mess with the boys’ mission.

I wondered about the plausibility of such young characters being able to do what the plot asks of them but it becomes clear as the story progresses that it wouldn’t be difficult for people to disappear through the cracks of society and never be found. If anybody actually cares enough to look for them in the first place.

Take care if you are sensitive to sometimes harsh language. These are young guys gassing amongst themselves in a confined space. Reflect on this and decide accordingly.

I’m very pleased that I chose to hitch a ride on this particular literary adventure and would highly recommend it.

Wouldn’t fancy doing it for real though.

Spare Cycles turns ten…

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This lovingly crafted blog is celebrating its tenth birthday. A beer (or ten) is cooling in the fridge to toast the reaching of a milestone. Happy birthday!

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns nine…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns eight…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns seven…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns six…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns five…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns four…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns three…

Film review: Dunkirk (IMAX 2D)

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This film packs a powerful emotional punch.  Actually, it gets you in the gut.

If you get the chance you should see this in IMAX.  The big screen and massive sound give you the feeling that you are right up close to the action.  Each bullet sounds deadly and the aircraft engines vibrate you in your seat.  The story deserves to be told on this scale.

• The Guardian: Dunkirk review – Christopher Nolan’s apocalyptic war epic is his best film so far