Tag Archives: rapscallion magazine

RAPSCALLION MAGAZINE Book Review: no sex scenes in Donna Tartt’s coming of age novel about a boy’s lies, deceit and art world crimes – but plenty on his teenage drug taking

A still from the 2019 movie version of the book directed by John Crowley with Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
Can a woman write a fictional biography about a teenage boy? Well, yes and no. Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch hits some of the right notes such as youthful dishonesty, amoral behaviour, deceitfulness and lies plus a fondness for alcohol and drugs in Theodore Decker’s retrospective narration.
Strangely she skirts around teenage boys and their obsession with sex and all things smutty, but is explicit about getting high on drugs and vodka and being difficult as testosterone levels climax in this coming of age novel.
At more than 800 pages the story goes into huge amounts of detail on the antiques trade with some insightful sections on life in New York and Las Vegas. And not the life you might expect. Excellent on fractious relationships and dysfunctional American families along with forensic introspections from Theo on his other’s failings.
But like Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens to whom her plots have been likened there are plot holes which leave you doubting the story including the initial theft of the painting The Goldfinch by Theo. It’s in places a page turner but is so long you wonder if Theo (or Potter as his friend Boris calls him) will move on to the next section of his life. Critics dubbed in children’s novel which it is not. Stripped to the basic plot it’s a slow burn thriller born in a broken family and set in the art world with a confused protagonist narrator who seeks redemption from a childhood tragedy.
So much to admire in a convoluted and extended plot which satisfies eventually – but it’s a long journey to get there.
Harry Mottram
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt was published in 2013. It won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and is available in paperback from Cheddar library and all good bookshops.
• A movie was released of the book in 2019 directed by John Crowley with Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman.

RAPSCALLION MAGAZINE Theatre Review: The Odyssey gets the Living Spit treatment – and this time it’s Odysseus’ wife Penelope who takes centre stage in a brilliant musical comic re-imagining of the Ancient Greek saga

Living Spit’s promotional image for The Odyssey

Review: The Odyssey. Salisbury Arts Centre

Knob jokes,  comedy props and sensational singing make Living Spit’s version of Odysseus’ chronically badly navigated return from Troy a joy to experience.

Homer’s Odyssey composed some 3,000 years ago of more than 12,000 lines of poetry is enjoyably reduced down to earthy Anglo Saxon phrases in this send up of the Ancient Greek saga.

The reimagining of the ten year voyage of Odysseus (played by Howard Coggins) returning  from the Trojan War to Ithaca and his wife Penelope (an on form Kate Dimbleby) is turned on its head by the director Craig Edwards who with a deft touch begins the story sort of at the end with Odysseus’ unimpressed wife Penelope.

She dismisses the blokey bragging of her husband making it a battle of the sexes as she score points off Odysseus by ridiculing his excuses for being late home. While the drama comes from Odysseus recounting his unlikely adventures with slapstick, song and comedy props.

A still from the promotional video of Kate

Kate Dimbleby is fabulous as she first demolishes the preposterous tales but then joins in them bringing the female characters to life and rebalancing The Odyssey for the 21st century. Howard Coggins does don a recognizable Grecian costume complete with leather breast plate and skirt while Sam Mills and Stu McLoughlin use items from a fancy dress shop to suggest their various characters. We get the Cyclops in the cave, the sirens and the evil Circe who turns men into pigs but there’s no archery contest on Odysseus’ return but rather some haunting and poignant singing. There’s much humour in the meeting with his retainer Eumaeus back in Ithaca and set pieces such as the bag of the four winds given to Odysseus by Aeolus involve the audience.

Living Spit in rehearsals for the show

The double act of Coggins and McLoughlin that worked so well in their original two hander in The Six Wives of Henry VIII fuels the play’s comic chemistry while the added ingredient of contrastingly beautiful music only adds to the drama. All four sing so well with Sam Mills on keyboards and various instruments adding depth to what could be a slightly thin piece of theatre if it wasn’t for the musical content. Certainly Kate Dimbleby’s soulful voice gives class and emotion in this highly entertaining production as does the use of mics for sound effects and the voices of the Gods.

Lighting by Sarah Bath crucially punctuates the drama and Katie Sykes’ circular set is not only practical but suggests the cyclical nature of Odysseus’ voyage home in which he appears to have gone round in circles. As Penelope says on his return: “You’ll have to do better than that.” And with her help, he does.

Harry Mottram

Reviewed on October 25th, 2019.

The show is on tour:

SALISBURY ARTS CENTRE Fri 25 & Sat 26 October/ 7.30PM www.wiltshirecreative.co.uk  01722 320 333

EXETER NORTHCOTT THEATRE Mon 4 & Tues 5 November / 7.30pm www.exeternorthcott.co.uk  01392 726 363

THE EXCHANGE, STURMINSTER NEWTON 9 November / 7.30pm www.stur-exchange.co.uk  01258 475137

TOBACCO FACTORY THEATRES, BRISTOL Mon 11 – Sat 16 November / 7.30PM Sat 16 November / 2.30PM www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com 0117 902 0344

SWINDON ARTS CENTRE Mon 18 & Tues 19 November / 7.30PM www.swindontheatres.co.uk 01793 524 481

BLAKEHAY THEATRE, WESTON-SUPER-MARE Wed 20 – Sat 23 November / 7.30PM www.blakehaytheatre.co.uk 01934 645 493

For details of Living Spit visit https://www.livingspit.co.uk/

For more reviews, news and views on theatre and much else visit www.harrymottram.co.uk

Follow Harry on Facebook, Twitter as @harrythespiv, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn

Rapscallion Magazine BOOK REVIEW: despite the decades Peter Brook’s The Empty Space contains many thought provoking ideas – although much of the text seems lost in the distant haze of the 1960s

The Empty Space by Peter Brook

In 150 odd pages Peter Brook spells out his thoughts on four types of theatre: the deadly, the holy, the rough and the immediate. He could easily have done it in 50 pages such is the density of his thought process. His essential theme is that theatre should be thought provoking, challenging and creative. A play is a play Brook concludes and more importantly explains that theatre is in the present, in the now. Cinema is experiencing something filmed and acted often years ago. Art works and installations have been created in the past while TV drama nowadays is almost always recorded. On the stage each performance is live and if you watch the same play twice you’ll notice changes of pace and tone.

For years The Empty Space has been required reading for every student of theatre and those with an interest in drama. Brook’s thoughts and views come thick and fast providing considerable material for discussion and yet at times he appears to labour a point and cloud his ideas with too much philosophy. “As you read this book it is already moving out of date,” he writes. The hippy ‘happenings’ of the 1960s no longer take place and a single theatre critic can no longer kill a play dead with a killer review thanks to the internet and its plethora of views on any given subject.

There’s a section close to my heart on the deadly critic who fails to understand the process of drama and has no vision of what theatre should be. Brooks suggests that critics need to embrace the theatrical process to get a better understanding rather than standing at the side lines and firing off volleys of barbs. In the deadly theatre creativity has given way to convention where entertainment triumphs over innovation. The holy theatre is that of reverence to the cannon and tradition while the rough theatre – that of Brecht for instance – brings a fresh and strikingly new force to the art form. And in many ways Brook’s division of theatre into the four sectors can be applied to many art forms. In his concluding chapter on the immediate theatre it is the role of the audience and how an actor reacts to the immediacy of a performance that he discusses. Clocks never go back he writes, and with plays you wipe the slate clean for each performance.

Harry Mottram

For more reviews visit www.harrymottram.co.uk

Follow Harry on twitter as @harrythespiv also on FaceBook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, Flickr, Google+ and on Instagram and God knows what else

Peter Brooks is best known by many in the theatre for his production of A Mid Summer Night’s Dream in 1970. There’s a short documentary about it at https://youtu.be/1CkN9k6S3Js although the recording quality is a bit poor.

RAPSCALLION MAGAZINE – FEATURE: The art of the conman – in Rome amongst the tourists and in a hamlet in Somerset

The Chase - charcoal

The conman – one step ahead of the law

You’d think a village in Somerset would be the last place Italian con men would operate in – but the other day Harry Mottram almost fell for a scam that is more common to the streets of Rome than Cross near Axbridge.

I was crossing the road to the New Inn at Cross to deliver magazines when a white sporty looking new car pulled up. Inside were two prosperous looking well fed Italian men (they introduced themselves as Italians). They asked for directions to Gatwick saying they were lost – I showed them the route on their map and in thanks they immediately handed me what appeared to be a Rolex watch. They insisted I have it as a thank you – but I tried to hand it back. They then thrust a second watch into my hands saying it was for my wife. Again I tried to give the watch back – and then they said as they had given me a watch could I lend them cash for petrol as their card wouldn’t work at a cash machine. I smelt a rat and threw the watches back through the window of their white sports car.

The car sped off at high speed leaving me somewhat bemused. According to the police these chaps have been operating in the area – although whether they managed to con anyone is a mystery. A quick scan of a tourist guide to Italy and travel websites revealed how common these scams are. This is from bq125 Belfast writing on Tripadvisor: “There is also a mature Italian man stopping unsuspecting tourists and asking directions. He thanks you and then offers some cheap clothing samples and then he says that he is out of petrol and could you lend him some money. As he has given you something for nothing you almost feel obliged to help. A refusal will see him grab the clothes back and make of at great speed.”

And this is from Brenda Reed at the website Virtual Tourist: “We were walking to the Colosseum area when a small oldish car pulled up to us and the driver asked if we spoke English. He proceeded to tell us how he was running late and needed directions to the train station (which was right around the corner). In the process he told us that he was from Milan and worked for a famous designer – even showed us a well-worn notebook of pictures. We used his map to explain how to get there and he wanted to thank us with a gift. He ‘just happened’ to have a really nice leather jacket in Hubby’s size and a designer handbag for me, and he was sure to point out how much they cost. When we refused, he said we offended him and he tried to talk us into keeping them. As we stood there holding the stuff trying to get out of this conversation politely, he then showed us his broken credit card and asked for gas money. Hubby quickly threw the “gifts” in the car and we walked away.”

Brenda said that normally the gift bearer demands more than a token for gas (after all, he gave you such nice things) and once the duped tourists walk away with their jacket and handbag, a motorcyclist quickly rides up and grabs the stuff so it can be reused on the next victim.

On the Fodors website Europe Forums Tom had this story again in Rome: “I have been approached by three scam artists in the last 24 hours. The first was yesterday as I was headed to Castl st Angelo. It was the ‘found ring’ scam. I must admit, the lady was pretty smooth. But as soon as I saw her bend over and come up with a gold ring, I just kept walking. The other two happened today about 30 minutes apart. The first one was the ‘Versace Salesman Gift’ I was near Ponte Palantino, when he pulls over and asked for directions to the French Embassy near the Vatican. After I showed him how to get there he offered me a ‘gift’ which at this point I kept walking. “The third one happened less than 30 minutes later as I was walking be Circus Maximus. It was the ‘Phoney Cop – Let’s See Your Money’. It was instigated by a man acting as a tourist stopping me and asking for directions. As I was showing him on the map, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a slight wave of his hand. Within 30 seconds, another man showed up in ‘uniform’ with a badge and an ID that saying “police”. He then goes into this spiel about fake money and asks us both to see our passports and wallets to see if we had fake money. His partner whips out both. But for some reason, his partner only has $100 bills US. I tell him that I have no money or wallet and just show him the photocopy of my passport. Then I just turn and left. Off to my left I see their third partner, a lady that I had seen earlier up the street reading the newspaper.”

Ironically I played the spiv in the Axbridge Pageant in 2010 – and performed a comedy show entitled Harry The Spiv at the Roxy in the town based on an incompetent dodgy black marketeer. Judging from these stories – incompetent spivs are not as unusual as you might think. All I can say is thank goodness I didn’t fall for the scam in Cross – I might never have been able to live it down.

More stories at www.harrymottram.co.uk

RAPSCALLION MAGAZINE THEATRE – PREVIEW: Agatha Christie spoof with New Old Friends at Bath’s Ustinov Theatre


Crimes-Under-the-Sun-No-Title-A5 crop

A secluded island hotel just off the English coast becomes a crime scene, as a scandal-inducing femme-fatale is felled. All the guests on the island are suspects, but are they alone and is this the first crime this idyllic island has witnessed?

The Bath based theatre company New Old Friends returns with this comedy thriller directed by James Farrell (The 39 Steps, West End) with four actors playing multiple outrageous characters, and a plot that romps along in the company’s trademark inventive style.

Inspired by Agatha Christie, Hitchcock and film noir, the drama is a hilarious but murderous trip to a classic English Riviera retreat.

The Ustinov in Bath is staging the production which runs for the 13th to the 24th February before going on tour around the country until the end of May. For a full list of dates and venues visit http://www.newoldfriends.co.uk/crimes-under-the-sun

For details of tickets in Bath visit  www.theatreroyal.org.uk or call 01225 448844.

Rapscallion Magazine Book Review: drugs, crime and prostitution (how travelling with his amoral aunt changed dahlia loving Henry forever)



Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene

Henry’s travels with his Aunt Augusta begin at his mother’s funeral and end at his Aunt’s house warming party. Between the two – the one in a municipal Crematorium in Surrey and the other in Asunción in Paraguay. In between Henry and his aunt visit Brighton, Istanbul, Paris and South America meeting a string of eccentric characters and only just escaping the law due to his amoral aunt’s liking or risky business deals that involve smuggling.

Written in the first person by Henry Pulling a retired bank manager whose main interest in tending his dahlias Greene sets up some brilliantly funny scenes as Henry describes in his understated way some extraordinary events and even more extraordinary people.

In conversation with the Chief of Police at a party in Asuncion Henry comments on the old fashioned dances. The Chief of Police replies: “The Polka and the Gallop. They are out national dances.”

“The names sound very Victorian,” I said. I had meant it as a compliment but he moved away abruptly.

One reoccurring Greene theme is that of the Catholic faith.

“Are you a Roman Catholic?” I asked my aunt with interest. She replied promptly and seriously, “Yes, my dear, only I just don’ believe in all the things they believe in.”

And Greene’s descriptions are beautiful if unlikely in the words of Henry. ‘As Chapter 13 opens: When a train pulls into a great city I am reminded of the closing moments of an overture.’ And perhaps more convincingly for Henry in chapter 16: ‘I was back home, in the late afternoon, as the long shadows were falling: a boy whistled a Beatle tune and motor cycle revved far away un Norman Lane.’

Rather like the travels themselves the story meanders from one incident to another eventually bringing together the quartet of characters who dominate the travels: Wordsworth (who is a sort of unconvincing doomed caricature), the dodgy Mr Visconti and her lover Aunt Augusta who reconciles her colourful past with Henry who eventually finds himself in the intoxicatingly exotic and illegal world of his aunt in South America.

Harry Mottram

* Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene was first published by Bodley Head in 1969.

* A film version was made in 1972 with Maggie Smith as Aunt Augusta and Alec McCowen as Henry (see below)


Rapscallion Magazine Book Review: it’s Dellarobia against the world in a story of butterflies, scientists and sheep farmers


Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver
One part environmental lecture and one part rural domestic drama, Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour gets stuck in the mud of Cub’s Appalachian sheep farm. In the opening pages the main protagonist Dellarobia appears to be about to start an affair as she runs away from her life as a mother and farmer’s wife. However the arrival of millions of Monarch butterflies In the woods above her home changes all that and she finds herself first as a sort of Butterfly saint in her local church and then as a proto scientist.
The story seeks to expose the fragility of the planet with global warming as part of the backdrop. It also centres on a series of set piece bust ups and confrontations which although entertaining in their own chapter don’t always take the story on.
It’s Dellarobia versus Cub; Dellarobia versus her mother in law Hester; Dellarobia versus Pete the scientist. In fact it’s Dellarobia versus the world as she rages at her life, for getting married so young, of not having any qualifications or a career, or simply living such a low down and humble life.
Apart from her good looks the one thing she has got is a sense of humour which she uses in a series of lively, witty and sparky conversations as she bats against a long list of humourless characters. And that’s where the novel is at its best. It’s no contest against dullard hubby Cub as he declares, “Weather is the Lord’s business.” In reply Dellarobia fires back: “People used to say the same thing whenever some disease came along and killed all the children. ‘It’s part of God’s plan.’ Now we give them vaccinations. Is that defying God?” Cub made no reply.
She may be poor but she is grounded which helps her in her exchanges with the scientist Ovid, Pete and the rich kid students who descend on the farm to study the mystery of the migrating Monarch butterflies who give the novel its title.
Focalising through Dellarobia we see the world through her eyes and her sense of humour which makes it a conversational and entertaining read if excessively long and at times repetitive. If only she could have had that affair at the beginning of the story we might have been spared the lengthy church scenes, the Christmas shopping trip and the painfully educational conversations with well-heeled scientists.
Harry Mottram
Flight Behaviour was shortlisted for Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2013 and published in 2012.

RAPSCALLION MAGAZINE – FEATURE: Loose leaves or tea bag, milk or lemon? And was George Orwell right? The arguments over the making of the perfect cup of tea

Time for Tea: it's always time for a cuppa. Illustration: Harry Mottram

Time for Tea: it’s always time for a cuppa. Illustration: Harry Mottram

Is George Orwell right about making tea or does the University of Nottingham have the know how? Aunt Agatha has a brew up in search of the perfect cuppa.

It has led to family arguments, marital bust-ups and even war. How to make a perfect cuppa has exercised the minds of the great, the good and countless maiden aunts since the leaf-based beverage was first sipped in England in the 17th century. George Orwell identified the reason in his essay on the subject in 1942. The author of 1984 said there were 11 rules – but only two were universally agreed and a further four were highly controversial.

Having read his article I suggest none of his 11 points are widely accepted – and some could lead to legal action in the kitchen such are the passions raised. And that’s the point – nobody appears to agree on any of the main steps in making a perfect cup of cha, char, te, tai, herbata or tea. Ask anyone you know and they all have their own idiosyncracies and often family traditions. I’ve known people to throw away a cup of tea in front of the person who has made it and then declare they’ll make it themselves. It’s one of the most insulting things you can do – and yet who can honestly say they’ve never tipped away a cuppa made by someone and quietly made it again – their way.


Generic cuppa

To start with there’s a variety of tea. My late husband (who would declare several times a day that he was dying for a cup of Greyer’s as he called it) would only drink Earl Grey – and sadly it was the reason for his untimely exit from life’s fragile existence. He was run over crossing the road to a café in London where he knew they served Earl Grey. Personally I only drink Builder’s – as I call it. Strong, Assam, with milk, from a tea bag and with four sugars. I know George Orwell wouldn’t have approved of that. He said tea should never be sweetened – something my occasional friend Mrs Pople would agree with. Builder’s of Earl Grey? A simple choice – but of course there are numerous others including black, oolong, green, yellow, white and pu-erh.

Next is tea bag or loose leaf? I never use tea bags – although the quality has improved and I admit you can get a decent cuppa from teabags – as long as the tea is good quality. Almost all cafes and tea rooms serve tea in tea bags – dropped into a small pot and provide you with all the necessities such as milk and sugar allowing you to serve yourself. Even some public houses serve tea these days – something which I think is a great improvement. By and large the standard of tea served in the tearooms of England these days is good to excellent – except for one exception and that are motorway service stations where a sort of luke warm stewed tannin is the order of the day sold at £2 a cup – the same price incidentally for they pass off as tea at Bristol City’s football ground.

So, having established the tea you want, you must decide on the temperature of the hot water. Boiling or 80C? Call me old fashioned but boiling soft water is best – and the tea pot should be warmed first – very important. Pour in the boiling water straight into the pot and allow it to stand for two minutes and fifty five seconds.

The University of Northumbria spent considerable time on researching the amount of time you should allow tea to brew. They reckoned on 17 minutes and 30 seconds. However after more research the boffins concluded that the best method was to add boiling water to a tea bag in a mug and leave for two minutes. You should they said then remove the bag and add the milk and leave for six minutes until it reaches optimal temperature of 60C. Leave too long and it drops below 45C and the flavours destroying the “all round sensory experience” – said the white coated ones.

Quick cuppa: the photo is of Miss Hibbott, a Lyons Tea Room waitress back in 1939. If only tea could be served like that again

Quick cuppa: the photo is of Miss Hibbott, a Lyons Tea Room waitress back in 1939. If only tea could be served like that again

Apparently the average time we allow it to brew is 40 seconds. A scandal – that allows for no real taste to emerge from the leaves. Two minutes and 12 seconds is my recommended time for brewing for a tea bag but for leaves, two minutes and 37 seconds is best.

If you use leaves then one rounded teaspoon per person and a half for the pot for every other person. It guarantees a second cup – as is testified by Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland:

“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
“I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone, “so I can’t take more.”
“You mean you can’t take less,” said the Hatter: “it’s very easy to take more than nothing.”

If there’s not a drought then always boil fresh water (even George Orwell agrees with that one) Dr Andrew Stapley of Loughborough University said: “Use freshly drawn water that has not previously been boiled. Previously boiled water will have lost some of its dissolved oxygen which is important to bring out the tea flavour.” So there.


Strong brew: George Orwell had more than a few things to say about what makes a decent cuppa

Strong brew: George Orwell had more than a few things to say about what makes a decent cuppa

One rule given by George Orwell which must be challenged is: “After making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.” Shake a tea pot? Give it a wiggle maybe – but don’t stir – leave nature to take its course.

I never pour in the tea first – always the milk. And yes, porcelain is best – but for years I use an old battered enamel mug for my so-called gardening cups – served in the shrubbery – and it tasted just as good. Although the author of Animal Farm begs to differ. He said: “One should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one’s tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.”

So just to recap: instructions for the perfect cup of tea for two

1 Warm the pot

2 Put in two teaspoons of tea and one for the pot

3 Allow to brew for two minutes and 12 seconds

4 Add tea and milk to taste to your cup

5 Pour in the tea

6 Stir the tea and drink

Far East: tea originated in China but has become a global drink with the English in particular clasping it to their tea pots

Far East: tea originated in China but has become a global drink with the English in particular clasping it to their tea pots

(As told to Harry Mottram)

RAPSCALLION MAGAZINE – FEATURE: It was like a scene from one of those toilet dreams where you want to go but you are sitting on a toilet – but it’s in the middle of Wimbledon’s Centre Court – and you can’t go


I was once last in the marathon. It was held in Taunton in Somerset and to the sounds of the theme music to The Chariots of Fire we set off in a mass start outside the local technical college. I quickly found myself near the back as most competitors were very keen and apart from a man dressed as a parrot I appeared to be the only person in fancy dress. Dressed as Tarzan I had covered myself in brown make-up, slicked back my hair and sported a makeshift loincloth. Unfortunately I couldn’t do much to pump up my biceps, rustle up a vine, recruit a troop of apes or speed date a Jane in time for the race.
It was a hot day and soon my make-up began to run down my legs turning my socks and trainers a dark brown colour. I jogged along watching the other runners disappear into the distance although I was still ahead of the parrot. After a few miles I was bursting to go to the loo. With no toilets in sight desperate action was required. I stopped by a house where a family were cheering the runners on from the garden gate.
“Excuse me but could I use your toilet,” I said to a middle-aged man who I judged to be the owner.
“Of course,” he replied, “follow me.”
Along with the rest of the family I followed him up the garden path to his 1930s semi, and in through the front door. He stopped with me close behind him in the hallway and the various family members forming a semi-circle behind me. Brown make-up was oozing down my legs, through my socks and down my trainers onto the carpet.
“Now this isn’t ours,” he said gesturing at the wallpaper in the hall. “We’ve started on the upstairs – you can see if you look up the stairs, but we’ve only been here a few weeks and the wood chip will go.”
“Oh,” I said, now feeling that agony that happens when you really are bursting.
“We’ve done the downstairs loo,” he continued, seemingly oblivious to my I’m-about-to-piss-myself expression, “so you can see that. White and green, very calming.”
“We’ve still got the skirting boards to do,” chipped in one of the children behind me, “Dad, you’ve still not finished the…”
He was cut off. “Yes, yes,” said Dad, “but just look at the downstairs loo.” And to illustrate, he opened the door.
“Lovely,” I gasped and entered.

The family stood and watched me as though expecting me to drop my loincloth and have a pee in front of them whilst continuing to admire the décor. It was like a scene from one of those toilet dreams where you want to go but you are sitting on a toilet – but it’s in the middle of Wimbledon’s Centre Court – and you can’t go.

My mind became blocked. The marathon, the Tarzan costume, the brown make-up, the family and proud DIY dad. The door closed, and I looked at the newly decorated loo. Outside I could hear the family seemingly waiting in triumph to hear the sound of pee splashing into the toilet bowl. But, they didn’t. I couldn’t go. I flushed the toilet, made my excuses and sprinted down the garden to join the rest of the runners in a steady squishing of brown make-up in my trainers. Except they’d all gone. I ran on for several hundred yards but there was no one in sight – even the parrot had disappeared. I slowed and realised I was still bursting to go for a pee but saw in the distance a group of friends outside the World’s End pub. Phew. A visit to the gents and relief. Then a double whisky and onto the finish and… last place with a time of five hours and fifty five seconds. I can account for the five hours. But the fifty five seconds must have been the excruciating time spent in the newly decorated toilet.

1983 Taunton Marathon Harry Tarzan 001
There’s more at http://www.harrymottram.co.uk/?page_id=20 – follow Harry Mottram and Harry the Spiv on Twitter and Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and God knows where else.

RAPSCALLION MAGAZINE – THEATRE REVIEW: Back to the future in the soiree from hell with the new middle classes of England in 1977

Love to hate you baby: Beverly and Laurence in Abigail's Party

Love to hate you baby: Beverly and Laurence in Abigail’s Party

Abigail’s Party. Alma Theatre, Bristol

Set in the 1970s Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party is still a play about us. Fashions transform and house prices rise, but people don’t change that much. It is the reason why the tragic comedy about the soiree from hell that gripped the nation in 1977 continues to make us feel uncomfortable with its unpicking of social norms in its uncompromising exposure of how we behave.

Socially things haven’t changed much since Beverly threw open her front door to her neighbours for an evening of nibbles and talk of property prices. Set in aspic are lower middle class Tony and Angela, middle class Sue and aspiring middle class Beverly and Laurence.

The hero of the social occasion featuring non-stop G&T top ups and cheese and pineapple on sticks is Angela played with perfect awkwardness by Jennifer Jope complete with a cringingly submissive compliance to her bullying husband Tony. For NHS nurse Angela takes charge first when Sue is sick and then when host Laurence (Adam Elms) takes ill, banishing social norms and asserting her authority in the drunken emergency. Her ex-professional footballer Tony was played with moody masculinity by Ryan Gilks who had an alarmingly convincing sexual chemistry with Beverly (Anna Friend) but sees his authority reduced as the crisis grows. Diane Lukins as the excruciatingly polite Sue was at once bullied, manipulated and insulted by Beverly, but in reality was breaking all of Beverly’s unwritten social rules. She was a single divorced mum who allows her rebellious teenage daughter Abigail to have an unsupervised party and even more shockingly: to have a pink streak in her hair. Well it was 1977.

Anna Friend as Beverly in Abigail's Party

Anna Friend as Beverly in Abigail’s Party

So much of what we discuss today is there in this period piece of four decades ago: the power relationships between men and women, what is life really about, materialism and consumerism, the social status and salaries associated with different jobs, and the social does and don’ts of You and Non You. The role of women has changed to some extent since the play was first staged. Now Sue wouldn’t be thought of as so unusual as a divorced mother and Angela would most likely have demanded to be allowed to learn to drive. And quite possibly Beverly would have had a job – and vaped rather than smoked – but Laurence’s social pretentions would likely to be unchanged. It is certainly a play that leads to considerable discussion afterwards because as I have mentioned – it’s about us.

The Schoolhouse production at Bristol’s Alma Tavern Theatre was directed by Anna Friend and co-directed by Holly Newton who clearly had enjoyed taking the cast back to the flock wall paper and shag pile carpet era when it was OK to smoke indoors. It is a highly enjoyable and faithful production as Friend has allowed each character to have a new lease of life. Leigh’s dialogue flows so naturally that he must have attended quite a few soirees in order to take notes while the play’s construction with is shocking black humour of a climax still surprises – but is also so appropriate in bringing the evening to a perfect close.

Harry Mottram

The cast and crew of the show

The cast and crew of the show

It is interesting to note the drama began through improvisation before it was staged with great success at the Hampstead Theatre is April 1977. Then a version was made for television for BBC Scotland in the series A Play For Today and was broadcast in November of that year. It featured Alison Steadman as Beverly, Tim Stern as Laurence, Janine Duvitski as Angela, John Salthouse as Tony and Thelma Whiteley as Sue. Thelma Whiteley’s role was played by Harriet Reynolds when it was screened on TV.

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