Nobody Sings Dylan Like Dylan

What: The Girl from the North Country

When: February 2020

Musical by Conor McPherson, Songs by Bob Dylan (used by permission, Dylan has no formal involvement)

This is not “We Will Rock You” or “Mamma Mia”. The Queen and Abba musicals are essentially vehicles to promote the greatest hits in the back catalogue of two acts that are no longer recording. The songs are made to measure into storylines of varying ridiculousness and unbelievability.

It is also not “Jersey Boys”. There the story of Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio’s musical partnership is told (albeit in a truncated form) and the songs are inserted to illustrate the development of the 4 Seasons’ career. This indeed was a level higher and a completely different approach to your average “jukebox musical” as the first category has often been labelled.

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Salesman in Stratford

vWhat: Death of A Salesman by Arthur Miller

Where: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

When: 24th April 2015

There are more stage directions at the beginning of Arthur Miller’s “Death of A Salesman” then there are in an entire play by William Shakespeare. And that is before you get to the first spoken line in the script. The stage directions continue throughout the play – in not such an elongated way – but still extremely detailed. Even the way the actors are to deliver their lines are specified by the playwright. It is clear that there has been a theatrical revolution since Shakespeare’s day and by Miller’s early period. The question is how that revolution is applied now to theatre nearly 70 years after “…Salesman”‘s debut

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All It Could Be


All My Sons, written by Arthur Miller
Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London
18th August 2010

Arthur Miller was regarded with something approaching awe in the post-Second World War period. Seemingly critical of American capitalism, investigated by McCarthy’s Un-American  activities committee, married to Marilyn Monroe and the author of four hugely popular plays, he garnered a lot of media attention. Those plays – Death of a Salesman, A View From the Bridge, The Crucible and All My Sons – are still frequently seen  on the worldwide stage.

As the years went by Miller’s notoriety, critical acclaim and success receded very substantially even though the later years of his career saw him write many plays which were the equal of his earlier successes. If anything his later plays were subtler in their approach and had less of a tendency to attempt to sum up the moral issues of the day (and the play) in the death of a lead character in the final scenes  of the script.

Given all of this, it is no surprise that the play currently being seen by sold-out audiences in the West End of London is one of the four huge commercial and critical successes mentioned above which were written at the height of public awareness of his career. There is also no surprise that a review from the Telegraph observing the link between the story of the play – about a man who allows faulty aeroplane parts to be shipped to the air force for use overseas – and the current controversy about badly supplied UK soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq is printed large on the outside of the building. The play may have been written in 1947 but we are assured that it is still relevant for today.

Both that review and the conclusion of the play may be a little simplistic for my tastes but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that this is a very good production indeed. One of the reasons why it is hard to identify the best performance in this play is because the whole cast are producing work of a very high standard.

On the face of it there is nothing revolutionary about this production. Director Howard Davies previously worked on the play some ten years ago and the stage set here is very similar to others I have seen used for the play over the last thirty years. But it is the acting of the company which means that this version of the play is a huge success. David Suchet and Zoe Wanamaker are well known to the audience from their TV work and are on outstanding form as Joe and Kate Keller. Ms Wanamaker displays the necessary mix of distraction, fatalism and strength which are part of the character of Mrs Keller while Suchet catches just the right blend of headstrongness and ebullience which are found in Mr Keller. The would-be-married couple of Chris Keller and Anne Deever, supported by Joe but stridently opposed by Kate, are captured excellently by the twin talents of Stephen Campbell Moore and Jemima Rooper.

This is a production where there are no real flaws. The play has its limitations and has dated but it is well worth its revival as would be virtually all of Miller’s work. On one hand it would have been nice to see some risks taken with the direction but with acting on display of this strength there is very little need to change a winning formula.

Words, words, words

Hamlet, I think, Act 2 Scene 2.

Amongst my many other failings, I read too much. Way too much.

To indulge myself and for anyone who might actually read this, I thought I’d make a list of some of my favourite authors (in no particular order):

GK Chesterton…. Love his philosophical and thoughtful stuff. I recently read “The Man who was Thursday” which is kind of a supernatural adventure story or something indefinable. His 1911 book the Napoleon of Notting Hill makes much mention of Ravenscourt Park. I look out on Ravenscourt Park every morning.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn….. Someone who rose in prominence primarly because of his opposition to Soviet Russia and who has faded just as dramatically since that is no longer a issue. I began reading him back in the day with A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. His later work is largely ignored since he is no longer politically significant. The later version of August 1914, The Red Wheel Knot 1 (published in the 1980s, not the earlier incomplete version from the 1970s) may just be his masterpiece.

William Shakespeare….  Not well known but a good playwright with potential. He just needs the right breaks. Joking aside I love to go and see his plays performed in Stratford-Upon-Avon which is one of my favourite places on the whole planet right now and chock full of good memories. King Lear, MacBeth, Merchant of Venice, The Winters Tale are my favourites probably in that order

Arthur Miller…… I love All My Sons, View From a Bridge, Death of a Salesman but also his later stuff which curiously is not often performed. At one point a few years ago, he decided to open many of his new dramas in London’s West End which suited me down to the ground. Great debuts ensued for plays like the Ride Down Mount Morgan and Broken Glass (which I think he revised before his death). I also enjoyed his short story, Plain Girl

Malcolm Muggeridge…… The most important journalist of the 20th century. I own all of his books bar one. If anyone has a spare copy of “Next Years News” (written with Hugh Kingsmill in 1937, I think) please send it to me. I will pay you generously. Great books, very important and woefully neglected. Three Flats, Picture Palace, Winter in Moscow, Conversion, In a Valley of this Restless Mind, Affairs of the Heart, London a la Mode, I could go on and on and probably will at some juncture.

Charles Williams… A cohort of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien but less well known. And a better writer for my money. Particularly like his novels which include Descent into Hell and Place of the Lion.

Philip K. Dick…..  A believable futuristic science fiction from a man who lost his mind. Claustrophobic stories from a future world which are so intoxicating.

Shusaku Endo….  Japanese author. I’ve read most everything of his that has been translated into English. Amongst his best are The Girl I Left Behind, Wonderful Fool and Silence
Charles Dickens….  when he’s good, he is very good. Could go far with the right backing. Joking aside, I enjoy Great Expectations, The Christmas Carol and a number of his others (but not all)
Current reading – Peter Cook “Tragically, I was an only twin”, Geza Vermes “The Nativity”, Philip K. Dick “Flow my tears, the Policeman said”.