Just Nathan

A musical offering, in parts
June 08, 2003

We met up with Fabien and Erik for supper at Quo Vadis in Soho and then walked over to the Donmar Warehouse to see Caligula with Michael Sheen in the title role of David Grieg's new translation of Camus' play. The Donmar is one of my favourite London spaces and the challenge of Camus on a Saturday evening was one I had eagerly anticipated.

Caligula is mad, sadistic and bent on negation of Rome, his acolytes and himself. He descends from a pathetic sorrow, wandering in the woods after his sister's death, to a spiralling orgy of destruction and killing that leads inexorably to his own assassination. Caligula's fate, his self-abnegation, his despair is orchestrated knowingly, each step in exercising absolute power is a new experiment pushing the bounds of humiliation of his courtiers.

Sheen gave a thrilling, visceral performance which dominated the stage, the theatre and, unfortunately, the other actors, who were forced to stand by, mouthing in awe and flinching before the foaming tyrant.

According to the translator's note, Camus wrote the play against the background of the invasion of France in 1940 and his own life's agonies. Caligula reflects those times of clashing ideologies, violence and deep personal despair... he writes that, as we live in comparable times in 2003.. "Camus' Caligula speaks directly to us - forcing us to face the question of how best we live, in the face of what we know".

The "absurd" is a theatre wallowing in meaninglessness, a random universe with no purpose, our lives end only in death - Caligula says "we die and we are unhappy" - so he seeks to exact happiness in the exercise of his tyranny.

On the train from King's Cross, I listened to the chatter of the people around me. Meaningless, futile and random.

Posted by nathan at 05:41 AM | Comments (0)


April 24, 2003
An unexpected extra day in New York - part 2

When Alfred woke, we set out to find an Internet cafe and then had brunch at Katz's deli. This is the famous deli on East Houston in which "Where Harry met Sally" was filmed. The service was amazingly rude, but the food well worth while.

We walked from Washington Square through the maze of streets that make up Greenwich Village and SoHo before retuning to the hotel. We bought handmade nigiri and California rolls from Dean & Deluca for our pretheatre snack before heading up to theatreland to see a strangely neutered revival of Nine with Antonio Banderas and Chita Rivera. An odd and bitty musical - Banderas (not my type) sang creditably but not naturally and Rivera was looking and sounding a bit tired - but a diva anyway.

The real problem was the plot - it just didn't work. There wasn't a story to follow, or meaning in the lyrics. The musical is based upon Fellini's 8 1/2 and revolves around Guido Contini (Banderas), a film director whose successes are all in the past. His last three films have been commercial flops, and he has been commissioned to write and direct a new film but is suffering from writer's block. He suffers from delusions as his present and past amours drift into his real life and dreams. The nine year old Guido informs his forty year old present as he slides towards a nervous breakdown. Oh well - as a bit of fun it was fine.

Antonio Banderas and Chita Rivera take a bow

The highlight was Jane Krakowski (from Ally McBeal) in the number "A call from the Vatican" hanging from the ceiling and having (hmm) an intimate telephone conversation with Banderas while his wife looks on. Unforgettable.

Posted by nathan at 11:58 PM | Comments (0)


An unexpected extra day in New York

From this morning's New York Times:

Detainees from the Afghan war remain in a legal limbo in Cuba.

US Naval Air Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba - Fifteen months after the first hooded and shackled detainees arrived at a primitive tent facility known as Camp X-Ray, some 664 prisoners seized after the Afghan war remain here in a legal, political and geographical limbo... Sir Adam Roberts, an Oxford University professor who is a leading authority on the law of war, said that the United States might not be obliged to treat them as prisoners of war but that officials should recognise that they had some international legal rights - "the US has paid a high price in international opinion. In Britain, people see Guantanamo Bay as a symbol of American defiance of international norms". Forty nations are represented in the camp, the majority being Saudis, Yemenis and Pakistanis. But Canadians, Britons, Algerians and a Swede are also detained.

In the same issue, I read of American plans to punish France for its opposition to the war, prosecutors trying to limit defendants' powers to cross-examine witnesses in terrorist trials, allegations that DARPA research funding was withdrawn from a University of Pennsylvania project after anti-war comments by a computer scientist and a remarkable admission by the FBI that they had seized unclassified documents in a FedEx parcel sent by Associated Press. "The FBI does not have the right to seize material without a warrant, without even notifying anyone, and just making it vanish. That, in our minds, is completely illegal" said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press. The FBI has opened an internal enquiry. I wonder what that will find?

I look out of my hotel window onto a cold, blustery but dry New York. The basketball lot is empty (it's 6:30 am) and the cars and trucks rumble, clatter and hoot their way across the triangular intersection of West Broadway, Canal Street and the Avenue of the Americas on their way to or from the Holland Tunnel to New Jersey. Lights change from red to green without pausing at amber. Signs flash with a red hand or white man. Through a sightline along Laight Street, a boat chugs along the Hudson River. SoHo awakens.

Posted by nathan at 06:37 AM | Comments (0)


April 23, 2003
A handful of dust

The mystery of the horde outside the bank was explained in today's New York Times. The manager of the Abacus Federal Savings Bank was dismissed, suspected of embezzling over $1m. The depositors, mostly Chinese, read of this in a local newspaper and descended on the Mott Street branch in a scene reminiscent of newsreels from the Great Depression, a mob, fearful of the bank's collapse, demanding to withdraw their savings.

We travelled by subway the dozen blocks or so to the site of the World Trade Center. A place of sombre reminiscence, made more poignant by my memory of being at the top of one of the towers in early November 2000. On that day, we saw the shadows cast by the twin towers across the tickertape parade as it passed below, celebrating the victory of the Yankees in the World Series. The skyscrapers seemed so bold, so purposeful, so American.

World Trade Centre site

And here was a twenty acre lot, with workers busily excavating the new subway lines to replace those destroyed. Tourists took photographs - some respectful, some tasteless - as they read the placards and graffiti on the fence erected around the site. Hawkers pestered us with offers of rubble and dust.

World Trade Center site

An inscription on one of the placards exhorted America not to succumb to the hatred that led the terrorists to perpetrate such an evil act. But how their government has failed in that purpose! Thrashing about, trying to apportion blame and retribution, they have positioned America as the world's greatest rogue state, massacring civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq, still detaining over six hundred prisoners without trial or legal rights in Guantanamo Bay and bullying its own citizens and other nations through progressive reductions in civil liberties and the policy of "if you're not with us, you're against us". All in the name of the freedom, justice and "inalienable rights" that were the cornerstone of this nation's bid for greatness.

Whilst we were at the WTC site, I received a call from the office saying that tomorrow's Concorde flight has been cancelled "for technical reasons". Hmm, sounds like loading to me. They offered us a downgrade to First Class, but after checking with colleagues about Friday's meeting in London; we decided to stick with the dream of flying back to the UK by Concorde and rebooked our tickets for Friday. A surprise extra day in Manhattan!

After that excitement, we met with Sara at her apartment in Christopher Street, in the heart of the village. Sara was glowing, a changed person from her life in Bushey. A year at film school in New York has given her a new self-confidence and a radiance that glows through her skin. Her next step will be difficult, as finding a job in television must be ever so hard. But with her new-found independence, I'm certain she'll make it. We ate and chatted for several hours before realising that we had to move on.

Sara glows when she talks about cars, movies and a certain cameraman

We squeezed in a little shopping on the way back to the hotel. No luck finding presents at Dean & Deluca on Broadway. Then back uptown for supper with Sylvie and Sondheim's Gypsy with Arwin, Sylvie and John (her pleasant work colleague).


Gypsy was an excellent show, with a strong ensemble cast and an outstanding lead. Unlike many of Sondheim's musicals, I wasn't familiar with the story or the music, so I came to the performance with an open mind. The story of Gypsy Rose Lee was well told and the strobed transformation sequence from child to adult actors was most effective. Our evening out concluded with frozen cocktails in TGIF at Times Square.

Alfred and Arwin at TGIF

Alfred sucks

Repeat after me. 'I am not photogenic, but must smile for Alfred'.

Posted by nathan at 01:53 AM | Comments (1)


April 21, 2003
Pacino clowns as Herod

We ate at Osteria del Circo, a trendy Italian restaurant (the chocolate soufflé was heavenly) before moving to the SoHo Grand today. Downtown Manhattan feels so much more ‘happening’ than the Theater District.

SoHo Grand.  Hip.  And they know it

We had time for some shopping but Canal Jeans has given way to Bloomingdale's - we managed to find jeans and shirts in OMG, another nearby store on Broadway.

Back uptown to see Al Pacino in a semi-staged production of Oscar Wilde's Salome. A riveting experience, let down, curiously, by Pacino's clown-like antics as Herod. Marisa Tomei in the title role was especially memorable. She had a seductive, bewitching quality that emphasised the hollowness of Pacino's interpretation.

Pacino is quoted as saying "We made the decision to mount Salome in this way because we felt it would better serve Wilde's text. A staged reading yields a significant style unlike any other - it allows an audience the freedom to imagine and connect to the play in a different way". Without him, preferably.

To round the evening off, we went to the XL bar in Chelsea, where we caught a live performance by Shoshanna Bean (surprisingly good - ex "Hairspray"). How pleasant to be in a bar with no cigarette smoke and not too much attitude! The waterfall and walls that changed colour made this a pleasant space.

Posted by nathan at 01:48 AM | Comments (0)


April 20, 2003
Life is a cabaret

This morning we joined the hordes on 5th Avenue for the Easter Parade. The sun streamed through the skyscrapers and fashion boutiques and danced on the hats of the small-town beauties who had travelled into Gotham to display themselves.

smalltown beauty

Lines of smartly dressed churchgoers awaited entry to the gothic temples and television cameras recorded the melee.

We had brunch at a diner (chicken soup with matzo balls and noodles on Passover - oy vey). The hot pastrami with Swiss cheese on rye bread was filling and tasty. Then back to museum mile - this time to the twentieth century collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We had time to see old friends (Bonnard and Pissaro), curious relatives (Jackson Pollack) and blotchy neighbours (Clifford Still).

The highlight of the day was Cabaret at Studio 54 on 54th Street. The production was directed by Sam Mendes and based upon his Donmar Warehouse production of the early nineties. The nightclub setting (we sat at small tables with lamps and drank cocktails) and titillating cast made for a satisfyingly sleazy rendition of Berlin in the 1930's. It was only a few months ago that I saw the film for the first time and I was even more shocked this time as the audience was suckered by the racist "tomorrow belongs to me" and applauded wildly at "if you could see her". An effective performance, which reminded me (if reminder were needed) of how insidious the rise of National Socialism must have been.

After the theatre, we were hungry, but not enough for a large meal. So I suggested cocktails and oysters at the hotel bar. This made for a pleasant end to the evening. I sat at the bar next to the actor Roscoe somebody-or-other who seemed to be well-known. Several people walked up to him and said "don't I recognise you from somewhere"? All he would divulge was that, yes, he is an actor on screen and stage and that he played the part of the narrator in the film "Babe". Whilst this strange conversation was proceeding, Alfred decided to have his tarot cards read by "Tyler", who'd been hustling for work since we arrived. Now I'm quite worried by kabbalistic stuff - with good reason from my own past. Alfred discussed career choices. I decided on the basis of several cocktails and oysters to overcome my inhibition and try it myself.

Tyler is a nice Jewish guy from New York with kind eyes. He travels around making money from his tarot readings. It wasn't clear whether he was sincere or not. The experience was disconcerting. After several cuts of the cards, he told me that somebody called Bobby would become significant in my life. When he asked me if I knew a Bobby, I could only remember the Bobby from Company.

He moved on to draw several cards. I was represented by the Pope, Alfred was Death and between us was the Empress. He said that meant that Alfred was going through major changes in his life, but that there is a strong love between us. The sun card was next - meaning that I should be calm and happy, no matter what was to come. The next two cards made a very bad omen. The eight of cups and the two of swords meant that our relationship wouldn't survive the changes in Alfred's life.

A spooky experience.

The actor turned out to be Roscoe Lee Browne.

Thanks for the chat and cocktails, Roscoe

Posted by nathan at 01:45 AM | Comments (1)


March 15, 2003

I don't enjoy shopping. We spent the day traipsing around Harrods, Harvey Nicks and other shops in search of life's essentials.

We had a pre-theatre supper with Philip at Mezzonine, where marinaded chicken with hoi-sin sauce is called "sweet and sour". We then hobbled along to the Piccadilly Theatre to see "Ragtime". It was a slick and superb production, with singers who could act, the strong cast was led by Maria Friedman. The story is very PC - the lives of three families are intertwined in the America of the early twentieth century. The WASPs, East European Jews, and "people of colour" warbled for three hours to the inevitable triumph of right over wrong.

I may be supercillious, but it was an excellent evening. Faultless... well, in execution anyway.

This time, we returned to the Rockwell bar for late night cocktails.

Posted by nathan at 11:28 PM | Comments (2)


March 14, 2003
Our House

I was in London, running a conference today, so met with Alfred at Fawlty Towers (aka the Trafalgar Hilton). We had one of the worst steaks I've ever been served - the chef must have changed, as we had a pleasant meal last time we were there. We then walked up to the Cambridge Theatre to see the musical "Our House". It was an exuberant production, with the amateurish and inexperienced cast making up for their lack of acting, singing and stagecraft skills with a surfeit of energy. The storyline was thin, but Madness' music endures. Incidentally, the Guardian quote attributed to the production is apparently a worse fake than usual.

We had a bit of a late-evening spat, so I went to bed at around midnight.

Posted by nathan at 10:12 PM | Comments (0)


February 21, 2003
One Helluva Bore

We saw Tom Conti's calculated gagfest on the provincial dais this evening.

Posted by nathan at 11:21 PM | Comments (0)


January 03, 2003
Don't eat at Chez Gerard

Really snotty service this evening at Chez Gerard opera terrace in Covent Garden. That's the "service" industry in Britain. If Tom and Sam hadn't been with us, I would have asked to see the manager.

Our room at the Sanderson was excellent. A warm and freindly welcome, cool lift (go there) and outrageously expensive cocktails in the Purple Bar.

It was so good to meet up with Tom and Sam. They are great friends and it was a pleasure to spend the evening with them. Dunno about The Vortex at the Donmar Warehouse. Maybe the theme of the play doesn't fit the present era, maybe the casting choices were just too indulgent (well dumb). Still a pleasant evening.

Posted by nathan at 11:05 PM | Comments (0)


December 13, 2002
Stones in his pockets

As I can't abide Christmas, I arranged our company do (for the second time) to be a "December Theatre Evening". I think it worked well - everybody seemed to enjoy themselves. We stayed at the Grange Hotel in Holborn (5 star in a 3 star sort of way) and had supper at Zilli Fish Too - food not as good as last time, but that's the penalty of taking a party of twelve.

We then went on to the Duke of York's Theatre to see Stones in his Pockets, an excellent two-hander of a play which managed to be funny whilst combining a serious (if well-trodden) message about extras, exploitation and fifteen minutes of fame.

Back to the hotel for a cocktail and then off to a deep sleep.

Posted by nathan at 11:59 PM | Comments (0)


November 23, 2002
Out on the town

What a strange lunch! We went to a restaurant in Hackney for the birthday party / book launch of a friend of Alfred's. A most peculiar event.

We had cocktails (an Old Fashioned for me) and a pre-theatre supper with Erik at the Trafalgar Square hotel (well worthwhile, but don't stay in the hotel). The evening continued with a performance of "What the night is for" at the Comedy Theatre. The play was well performed - improving through the evening as Gillian Anderson (some televsion actress) discovered a rhythmn to her delivery. The topic, marital infidelity, was close to the knuckle and one could hear uncomfortable coughs and people shifiting in their seats throughout the performance. My main criticism was that, as so often in plays and films, the impact would have been greater had the play been cut by twenty minutes.

Erik and Alfred went off for a drink whilst I returned to Fawlty Towers to nurse my cold.

Posted by nathan at 11:21 PM | Comments (0)


October 26, 2002
Three stuffed fried vegetables

We had a memorable meal at Joy King Lau restaurant just off Leicester Square yesterday evening. Three stuffed fried vegetables witha black bean and red chilli sauce, with coriander. Delicious tofu, green peppers and aubergine, stuffed with shrimps and fried. We also had crispy duck in yam paste and a green leafy vegetable with garlic. Very filling, excellent food.

Breath of Life was, unfortunately, just as the reviewers had led me to believe. Dull, dull, dull. Soliloquy upon dreary soliloquy. What a waste of such outstanding actresses.

At least Ralph Fiennes was sitting in front of us so I can name drop.

We had a drink at the Yard and then returned on a late train to Cambridge. I've had a quieter day today, although (guess what) I seem to have worked for most of the day. The weather is moody and storms are predicted, so put me off my stroll around Cambridge.

Posted by nathan at 05:59 PM | Comments (0)


October 25, 2002
There’s nothing like a dame

We’ve paid £40 each for tickets to see Breath of Life at the Haymarket Theatre Royal this evening. The Haymarket is one of my favourite theatres in London, and has been ever since I saw Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia there. But how can one look forward, other than with trepidation, to seeing Maggie Smith and Judi Dench on stage together after such caustic reviews?

The prospect of two great actresses – Maggie Smith and Judi Dench – raising each other’s game in the same play was one to drool over. How disappointing for them that David Hare provides them with so little to work with… As Dench has little to do as Frances but look glum, it’s sometimes hard to tell who is more unhappy, the actress or her character.
Jane Edwardes, Time Out no.1679 23.10.02

And that wasn’t the only one. Front Row on Radio 4 was dismissive of the change in style and quality of David Hare’s latest effort.

I know one shouldn’t take too much notice of reviews, but it’s hard to face the evening with equanimity when I’d been looking forward to it for so long.

Posted by nathan at 08:42 AM | Comments (0)


October 13, 2002

A varied day after far too early a start.

We went down to London in the rain, which topped up my reservoir of bile. I managed to sleep a bit on the train, so felt in better humour by the time we arrived. Coffee with Paul, who is off on a fantasy singing holiday next week.

I then spent over four hours with a group of people who are looking to set up a new business. Lots of discussion about the potential for their business, and it sounds really interesting - it's a pity that I don't know the market well enough to be really helpful, but I hope they manage to find the right people to complete their team.

I then trapesed over to Covent Garden and met up with Alfred and Erik (who I hadn't met before). We had supper at Guili Gulu, but I wasn't that hungry (I've not had much of an appetite for the last couple of days). Over to Sloane Square to see A Number by Caryl Churchill at the Royal Court Theatre. A short, dense play with Daniel Craig and Michael Gambon, who I last saw in Pinter's The Caretaker a year or so ago.

It took us hours to return to Cambridge, as the bastards had decided to replace the train with a bus service for a night-time tour of rural Hertfordshire. I wish I was living in London. I hate the railways with a passion - but doesn't everybody in this miserable country?

Alfred keeps reading my blog. I guess that's to be expected, but it's very unnerving. I'll just have to be more revealing in future.

Posted by nathan at 07:27 AM | Comments (0)