Monday, December 09, 2019

Regendering engenders panic at the disco

The RSC having refused to give me my money back when I asked for it on the grounds that the play ‘King John’ should feature a man in the title role, I forced myself to go and see it for myself.
It stars Rosie Sheehy in the title role but, having sat through the whole thing unlike five people around me, I could find no answer to the overwhelming question: What was the point
casting a woman as the king?
Short, fat little Rosie has a good voice and played the part well. But it was frequently confusing. Was this a woman pretending to be a man? Or a woman pretending to be a man who wanted to be a woman? Or a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman in order to pretend to be a man?
Was s/he flirting with the King of France or was that just pretend? Was none of it ambiguous and should the audience simply take it at face value that King John was simply a man played by a woman as if it made no difference?
The confusion was not confined to the King. The Cardinal is played by a woman as well. A woman with a handbag.
To make matters worse, it is all set in the 1960s and involves a certain amount of bizarre dancing which must be hideously embarrassing to perform. I felt very sorry for the poor cast.
We must conclude the director, Eleanor Rhode, has so little faith in William Shakespeare the only way she could bring herself to stage the play at all was by ripping it up and starting again.
In fairness, most Shakespeare plays are so well-known it is the director’s interpretation, or the actors’ skill, which reveal something new. But a play as obscure and rarely-performed as ‘King John’ has no need of gimmicks and trickery. There is, or should be, pleasure and interest merely in seeing it reasonably faithfully performed.
That hope was dashed the moment Rhode decided to give the lead role to a woman.
If we pretend this has nothing at all to do with Shakespeare then the production is reasonably entertaining aside from the cringe-making dance-moves which would have been embarrassing in any setting.
Without the £15 million of taxpayers’ money the RSC gets every year, they wouldn’t be able to deliver productions like this.
And the reaction of audiences can be seen by the fact that even on a Friday night close to Christmas, there were still plenty of empty seats (the three people beside us left at the interval, two more stumbled out mid-way through the second half).
The poet John Dryden adopted the Thatcherite view of the theatre: ‘The drama’s laws the drama’s patrons give, for we that live to please must please to live.’
In the RSC’s politically-correct socialist utopia, it’s more a question of: ‘The drama’s laws the drama’s luvvies give, for we do what we please thanks to fat subsidies.’

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Regendering in luvvie-land

If you read my previous blog on the topic, you will know I complained to the Royal Shakespeare Company that their production of ‘King John’ featured a woman in the title role and I asked for my money back.
As far as I’m concerned, I was mis-sold my tickets because I expected, when I booked, that a man would play the King.
I reckoned without the widespread theatre policy of politically-correct casting (called, among other things, ‘regendering’). The RSC’s ‘Director for Audiences and Marketing’, Chris Hill, refused a refund though he did offer to swap the tickets for some other (doubtless equally-PC production) as ‘a gesture of good will’. An offer I ignored.

He told me: ‘I’m afraid we will have to agree to disagree on your opinions about Eleanor Rhode’s approach to King John who, in her view, cast the right person for the role irrelevant of gender and the production recently opened to some great reviews following its Press Night.’
He then regaled me with what the RSC’s luvvie-in-chief Greg Doran had to say at their last AGM: The first thing to say about Regendering is that it is nothing new. Exactly 120 years ago, this year here in Stratford, on a matinee performance in June 1899, the famous French actress, the divine Sarah Bernhardt played Hamlet.  It’s nearly 25 years since Fiona Shaw played Richard II; Glenda Jackson has just played King Lear on Broadway. And it’s a process of discovery we have been on at Stratford for quite some time, including Neil Bartlett’s Twelfth Night in 2007, in which Toby Belch, Andrew Aguecheek, Fabian and even Viola were all gender flipped. For me, regendering is also an opportunity: opening parts to exceptional actresses, for whom the traditional assignment of roles in the canon leaves little left for them to play.  Sometimes it’s a provocation, sometimes a revelation, but most of the time, you simply don’t notice, or quickly forget, as gender is not necessarily the primary motor of these characters. But it’s an exploration not a policy.’

This is all very well but I would contend most theatregoers don’t want to see our heavily subsidised national theatre companies distorting the world so flagrantly.
I wanted to pursue my complaint through the small claims court but the domestic goddess vetoed the idea. It seems, from a cursory look at theatre reviews, that ‘regendering’ is de rigueur in luvvieland so I am biting the bullet and going to see the damned thing. A review will follow after we have endured it to the bitter end.

Incidentally the production got 4 stars from the ‘Grauniad’ (no surprise there), the ‘Stratford Herald’ liked it but found it confusing, ‘The Times’ awarded 3 stars as did ‘The Telegraph’ which called it ‘jaunty but lightweight’. ‘The Morning Star’, Jezza Corbyn’s top read, might have been expected to be supportive but it concludes: This is essentially directors’ theatre, full of disparate ideas and images which never fully cohere into significant meaning. Poor old Shakespeare.’

Oh and check this out...


Monday, December 02, 2019

Christmas in Kabul, 1841

Well the good news is that I have bought into some new promotional thing which is supposed to make sure my book, 'The Trials of Eldred Pottinger', is widely promoted on tinernet.

The bad news is I'm not sure it's any good. Have a look and see for yourself. You're supposed to be able to read some of the pages, listen to a bit of audio (me, reading about Christmas in Kabul) and watch the promotional video.

Oh and feel free to pass it on to friends, relatives and anyone else who might be interested:

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Impeachment of Horace Thompson

I've just written a new short story about Brexit: Appalled by the way our politicians have handled Brexit, Walsall plumber Dave Britten is literally dumbstruck. He is so angry he can no longer speak.

The last straw was the arrest and impeachment of the Prime Minister, Horace Thompson, on a charge of treason.

As the liberal remainer establishment goes to any lengths to thwart the will of the people, setting up a Government of National Unity under new Prime Minister Joe Berk, Dave Britten is completely lost for words.

This short story is one of those extremely rare works of fiction written from the point of view of the people who actually want the United Kingdom to leave the European Union.

Download a PDF for free here.

Alternatively, you can buy it on Amazon for a mere 99p.

It’s amusing, which is more than can be said for the Brexit process.

I thought this story would only be viable for about three days and would be taken down last Saturday but the shenanigans in Parliament mean it is still valid as of October 21.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Enemies of the people

The Supreme Court enemies of the people claim in their judgment:
This prolonged suspension of Parliamentary democracy took place in quite exceptional circumstances: the fundamental change which was due to take place in the Constitution of the United Kingdom on 31st October. Parliament, and in particular the House of Commons as the elected representatives of the people, has a right to a voice in how that change comes about. The effect upon the fundamentals of our democracy was extreme.

Yeah but… no but… I was under the impression our elected representatives had spent the last three years exercising their voice in how that change comes about - or, to be more accurate, trying to ensure that change never takes place.
This court case is just another feeble ploy in the long campaign to prevent the United Kingdom from ever leaving the European Union.
But when these whingeing remainers moan about sovereignty and democracy, please, please, please remember: Parliament handed sovereignty over this issue to the people in a democratic referendum. It is now trying to frustrate their decision and undermine the sovereignty Parliament itself handed over when it voted overwhelmingly for a referendum.
The fact that a majority of MPs don’t like our decision is irrelevant. They must not be allowed to impose a Parliamentary dictatorship on the people.
If they won’t do anything else then they must permit Boris Johnson to hold a General Election so we can clear out all those trying to frustrate the democracy of the people and replace them with delegates who will do as the people have told them to do.

Monday, September 23, 2019

RSC's 'King John' - ridiculous excess

A producer at the RSC has finally responded to my complaint that I don’t want to see a production of King John where the title role is played by a woman. Claire Birch says:

Dear Nigel Hastilow

Thank you for your email and for taking the time to get in touch.

The Royal Shakespeare Company is a national company and is in receipt of significant public funding.  It is our mission to ensure Shakespeare is for everyone and therefore it is our responsibility to reflect the nation in our work from the perspective of diversity, gender, regionality and disability. Everyone feels more connected to the stories we tell if they can see or hear themselves.  

We create a huge range of work here and we accept that not all audiences will like all the choices that we make - be they design, directorial or performance

As we know Shakespeare had boys playing women, we feel certain he would have no problem with women playing roles seen as traditionally male.  The director's approach to King John was not about gender. The play is about politics, wars and family feuds, gender feels irrelevant within this context. Queen Elinor herself says to the Bastard: Bequeath they land to him and follow me? I am a solider and now bound to France.

I would urge you to give the show a chance. We have had fantastically positive responses from audiences so far. 

With best wishes 
Claire Birch

 I’ve replied:

Dear Claire
Thank you for your belated reply.

You say it is your mission to make sure Shakespeare is for everyone and it is therefore ‘our responsibility to reflect the nation in our work from the perspective of diversity, gender, regionality and disability. Everyone feels more connected to the stories we tell if they can see or hear themselves'.
I really do not accept that, in trying to attract as wide an audience as possible, it automatically follows that your work should reflect all the categories you set out in your email. Shakespeare already holds a mirror up to nature without the need for the RSC to cabin, crib and confine him in your organisation’s tedious, politically-correct straightjacket.
How you can possibly ‘feel certain’ Shakespeare would have no problem with women in men’s roles defeats me. You have no way of justifying that assertion beyond pointing out the obvious fact that his female characters were played by boys and young men. 
If the director’s approach to King John is not about gender, why cast a woman as a King when it immediately distracts from whatever her approach is actually about? The quote you supply does not seem to be any sort of justification. The RSC’s tedious policy of gender-blind casting is ‘wasteful and ridiculous excess’.

And claiming you have so far received ‘fantastically positive responses from audiences’ is completely disingenuous given that the play’s first public performance, in advance of its official first night, took place in the evening of the day you sent your email. 
When I booked tickets for King John, I had hoped to see a reasonably straightforward production of a rarely-performed play. I do not believe casting a woman in the title role will add to my understanding and appreciation of the play.
I am well aware that, as one of the many theatregoers who the RSC accommodates under sufferance (that is to say, white, male, elderly, middle-class etc), I realise my opinion is of no significance.
However, had I known the role of the King would be played by a woman, irrespective of how well-received the production might be among the cognoscenti, I would not have wasted £93 on two tickets to see it.

I accept that one should really see a play for oneself before criticising it but there are times, and this is one of them, when I would not have bothered to pay any attention to your production and merely wrung my hands in quiet despair (as I did on discovering the role-reversals in The Taming of the Shrew, for instance). I therefore repeat my request for my money back because, as far as I am concerned, the RSC sold the tickets under false pretences.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Playing the woman's part

On July 25 I sent this message to the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford on Avon and, despite a pledge on their website to respond within three weeks, they have so far failed to reply:

As a regular visitor to your highly-subsidised playhouse, I am utterly sick of the way you abdicate responsibility for putting on vaguely reasonable productions (eg Coriolanus, King of Britain, being a woman; The Shrew being a man etc) but assumed King John would be a man. I bought tickets on that basis but discover you have cast a woman in the role and I have no wish to see this politically-correct nonsense. Please refund my money and explain the thinking behind these unreasonable distortions; whether you think you have any responsibility towards theatregoers to present anything remotely resembling an authentic account of Shakespeare's original intentions; how many more of these travesties you propose to stage; and how you justify the massive taxpayer subsidies which allow you to subject your audience to these pathetic whims.

 On September 20, I sent a further email:

I emailed you several weeks ago asking for my money back, having bought tickets for King John in the naïve belief that the title role would be played by a man. So far you have not responded at all. Your website promises replies. When can I expect one?

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Brexit: we're doomed

Nightmare scenario: Brexit postponed again. Boris gets his election. He does not win as the Brexit vote is split by Nigel Farage’s Brexit party.

Corbyn gets the keys to Number 10 with the support of the SNP and pledges two referendums - on Brexit and Scottish independence.

All over by Christmas.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Oright orchid?

With murder and mayhem on the streets of the West Midlands, what do the law-abiding do? We stay at home and watch what one of its own stars calls the ‘disgustingly violent’ Peaky Blinders.
With gangland stabbings and shootings turning parts of the West Midlands into no-go areas and the police incapable of getting to grips with it, we would appear to be in the midst of a new crime-wave.
That’s why Boris Johnson’s temporary Government is promising more money for the police, more money for prisons and a crackdown on foreign criminals evading deportation.
Yet we are deluged with programmes like the much-hyped and widely-praised Peaky Blinders which can best be described as televised ‘crime-porn’. It makes the whole evil world of crooks and gangsters look glamorous and attractive even as it is pretending to moralise about how debilitating it all is.
There's a new series of Peaky Blinders, switched to BBC1 to get a bigger audience, with all the usual stylised violence and cruelty.
The series is so well put together - great music, atmospheric lighting, Black Country museum backgrounds and all - it invites us to look back on what supposedly happened 80 years ago with sepia-tinged nostalgia.
Next month there’s to be ‘The Legitimate Peaky Blinders Festival’ in Birmingham, so-called, it must be assumed, because someone has already tried to make an illegitimate, knock-off version, which seems strangely apt really.
Helen McRory, who plays Aunt Polly in the series, admits it is so ‘disgustingly violent’ she can’t watch it.
She goes on to defend this on the grounds that it would otherwise ‘normalise’ violence and that, in the series, these terrible crimes damage the criminals as well as their victims.
She says: ‘
It should be horrifying and you should have the people who are responsible for the violence either unable to self-medicate or having mental health problems, or all the things that do happen to people, if you kill other people – because it is not a natural state of affairs.
‘And anybody who looks at the violence of Peaky Blinders and some sort of gun slashing scheme and thinks, “That exactly is what I want to do”…I mean, sick.’
She’s right to say anyone who wanted to copy the show’s violence might well be sick but the malign influence of television can’t be under-estimated. And our couch-potato willingness to embrace these shows must play a part in adding to the sickness.
It's not as if Peaky Blinders were a one-off. The majority of shows on mainstream television seem to involve criminals, usually murderers. And it is rare indeed to find any straightforward division between the goodies and the baddies.
Take Killing Eve, another widely-praised crime-porn series, where the impossibly glamourous hired assassin, who may be called Villanelle, ends up in some perverse relationship with Eve, the woman who is supposedly bringing her to justice.
Not an episode passes without Villanelle bumping off someone, often with a wry smile to camera as her victim is done-in thanks to some innovative or off-beat method of our anti-heroine’s devising.
This is all made seductively entertaining, to the point where we are far from horrified by these deaths and merely thrilled or excited by the audacity of the outrageously attractive villain.
Crime on television is seen to pay. There is no ‘moral compass’ pointing out what is right and what is not. There is a great deal of crime and hardly any punishment.
The moral ambiguity is everywhere, even in relatively straightforward, bland shows like Midsomer Murders or Endeavour.
Wherever you look on TV, the goodies always turn out to be baddies, the police are invariably corrupt while ‘the system’ is rigged in favour of the rich.
The rich themselves, as well as figures of power or authority such as politicians (especially if they are men) are always crooked.
Successful businesses are even worse - they have to be polluting, uncaring, malign money-making machines run by unpleasant, greedy selfish people.
That means even if the business itself isn’t breaking the law - polluting rivers, covering up blunders or something similar - it’s entirely understandable if criminals feel the need to rip them off.
All of this is part of the fun. These shows need to keep the viewers guessing. They have to mislead us as, in many cases, the intrigue is all about ‘whodunnit’ so there must be several plausible killers with good reasons to want one or more of the victims dead.
Out on the mean streets of the Midlands, it’s doubtful if many of the drugs gang members who go around knifing one another sit down quietly on a Sunday evening for a nice episode of Vera.
Yet the constant displays of violence and dead bodies, often in grisly detail, on our TV screens night after night must surely help to create a world in which such behaviour is increasingly seen as normal.
At the very least, like violent video games, crime-porn makes the unacceptable look attractive and without real-life consequences.
It's all very well for Helen McRory to write people off as ‘sick’ if they copy the violence of Peaky Blinders. We would all agree. But this is what we give ourselves as entertainment. Doesn’t that make us all just a bit ‘sick’ as well?
I’m not advocating censorship. There’s no point, these days, when things like the obscenity laws no longer apply. But must we be quite so fulsome in our praise for these crime-porn TV shows? Could the TV companies not tone down the violence a little? Do they bear no responsibility at all for the terrible real-life crimes on our streets?
In the end, I suppose, we get the television we deserve. But if they must keep broadcasting Peaky Blinders, couldn’t they at least employ a couple of actors capable of delivering a genuine Brummie accent?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Lying, cheating, money-grubbing bastards #8 British Airways

British Airways are a failing airline. Every time we travel with them, there’s a problem (plus the food is repulsive) but our recent experience is the worst so far.

Having recently been obliged to re-book an outward flight to Peru following a death in the family, I was shocked to learn from Cox & Kings, the travel agency, that BA insisted on cancelling both the outward and return flights and obliged me to book two new return tickets, even though we were proposing to come back on the same day as the original booking. 

Cox & Kings would not disclose the precise amount we were obliged to pay to BA in addition to our original booking for reasons of ‘commercial confidentiality’, apparently, but the total extra cost of £2,202 per person (£4,404) comprised of three elements: a pair of one-way internal flights in Peru; one night in an airport hotel; and a pair of world traveller plus return tickets from Gatwick to Lima with BA. It is reasonable to assume these BA tickets must have cost at the very least £1,500 per person and probably even more. 

I explained this to BA and asked: Can you please explain why it was necessary to buy two return tickets, rather than simply changing the date of the outward flights and retaining the original return bookings, and how this can be justified?

Their reply was incomprehensible so I asked them to explain themselves more clearly. I got no further answer. This is the original response:

Thanks for contacting our Press Office about your experience when you travelled to Lima last month.  I'm sorry you are unhappy with the cost you incurred to change your booking.  I know this must be disappointing, especially as you were looking to change this due to a bereavement.  Please accept my condolences for your loss.   

I've checked your booking and I can see you were initially booked in the lowest booking class in our World Traveller Plus cabin.  Your travel agent called us on 07 May to ask how much it would be to make a change to the booking.  Your agent was advised the booking was a trade deal and as such they would need to go by the deal fare rules.  Our Trade Support team had no further contact with your agent.

On 09 May your agent has changed the dates of the booking.  They have also changed the booking class to more flexible tickets in World Traveller Plus.  To make a change there would have been a change fee along with any difference in fares.  We can't see how much you were charged for your booking or the change however, it appears there may not have been any lower fares available.  This may explain why there was a greater cost than you expected to pay to make the changes.  Your agent should have made you aware of the rules of your ticket.  I'm sorry this doesn't appear to have been the case.  

Thanks once again for getting in touch and for giving me the chance to explain our position.  I do hope despite this experience we can welcome you on board in the future.  Please let me know if you need any further assistance. 

Best regards

Lyndsey Gaff
British Airways Customer Relations

Tuesday, March 05, 2019