Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Remembrance

I don't know which regiment my grandfather was in, or in what battles he fought, only that he was "in the trenches", and a few stray connected facts. That it was a menace that could be used to make children clean their plates. "You'd be glad of that if you'd been in the trenches". That they used candles to clean the lice out of the pleats of their kilts. That Churchill had visited them, and "he had a tin hat but we had no tin hats". That my grandfather had escorted a group of Gurkhas to raid the German trenches at night, fallen asleep while waiting for them, and been woken by one of them dangling a string of severed ears in his face. (Or so went the story.) That he had lied about his age to enlist, found the regiment not to his liking (dirty fellows), feigned deafness to be discharged, then re-enlisted in another regiment. That he finished the war as batman to Sir Thomas Dalling, a veterinarian, in Paris, where he was studying equine diseases, and my grandfather would balance trays of horse eyeballs as if he were a waiter. (Sir Thomas indeed existed, as he is in the Dictionary of National Biography, but there is no point in looking in the records for a Jimmy Campbell from Glasgow.)

And this must come from the Great War:
There's work to be done,
And it's not much fun.
Which I always dreaded to hear from my father early in the morning as I lay in my bed.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Remarks on Emilia Galotti

THE chief defect in this Tragedy is that it is written in an explanatory, colloquial, and prosaic style ; but this is what may be almost called the mortal sin of German literature ; it has never yet attained that laconic indication of the passions, which is best calculated to express their rapid, confused, and desperate course.

In other respects, Emilia Galotti is a masterpiece: the progress of the plot is truly dramatic, the contrast of the characters is finely imagined, and the feelings excited are among the noblest within the province of the tragic Muse. This piece only requires a master hand to lop away its superfluities, preserve its beauties, and link them in a quick and poetical succession, to render it perhaps the finest modern tragedy known to the stage.

Thomas Holcroft
quoted in The Mirror of Taste and Dramatic Censor, 1810

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Emilia Galotti

Just back from Stratford where we saw Lessing's Emilia Galotti performed by Deutsches Theater Berlin, in German, with surtitles. It was thrilling! The director, Michael Thalheimer, works (Google tells me) by taking classic texts and stripping them down to essentials, getting rid of secondary characters, and replacing text with movement wherever possible. The set is abstract, costumes are modern dress, music is integral, and some interesting lighting and effects are used. Acting style could be called expressionist, lots of grotesque movement, exaggerated speech, people screaming in each other's faces, and then abnormally long silences. I am a little stunned.

It is only here for four days. I don't know how many tickets are left, but if you do go, try to sit more toward the middle of the theatre (the Avon), as the set is quite deep, and if you're at the edge, you might miss just a bit of the action. Also, you will have to look up to read the surtitles, so the balcony might be the best place to sit. Of course, if you speak German, you're laughing. (Many in the audience seemed to be German which would explain the lack of a standing O even though they applauded lustily. Civilized people, they stood up when it was time to leave, and not before.)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Spoiler Alert

Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman's Scratched (at Factory) has a review in the Globe and in the Star. The reviews differ in their assessment by half a star, which is apparently enough to make the difference between kind and unkind, but never mind. What bothers me is that Richard Ouzounian in the Star reveals the dramatic "climax" of the play.

J. Kelly Nestruck in the Globe manages to review the play without revealing too much. But in a earlier piece on the Guardian theatre blog, he reveals precisely how Christopher Plummer manages to leap to the Pharos Lighthouse in Caesar and Cleopatra at the Stratford Festival. (Spoiler: he doesn't. It's a trick.)

Which takes me back to a review in The Record of Alan Ayckbourn's Intimate Exchanges, at the former Theatre & Company, where the reviewer helpfully explained how body doubles were used to manage some tricky transitions.

The same reviewer earlier (and now we're hitting pay-dirt) reviewed my Yes or No! and revealed that one cast member hidden in the audience intervened in the middle of the play.

It was supposed to be a surprise.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Trend

If the election campaign went on another two months, the NDP would form the government, and the Greens would be the official opposition! (See the chart on The Star election page.)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

How to vote

You can vote any way you want to.

You can vote for the party that best reflects your personal views. You can vote for the party with the coolest logo. You can vote for the party best able to beat the party you detest.

You can vote for the person! You can vote for the person who is best qualified (whatever that means). You can vote for your friend, just because she's your friend!

You can flip a coin. You can choose the alphabetically first candidate. You can draw a happy face in all the circles. You can spoil your ballot. You can even refuse it! (Go up to the poll clerk, take your ballot, then say "I refuse it!". They will count it as refused.)

It's up to you. Don't let anyone tell you there's a right way to vote. You don't have to vote your heart. You don't have to be practical and choose the lesser of two evils.

Still, the act of voting has consequences. Happily, these are small for any one voter. (Nobody is going to blame me personally for Bob Rae. Or, maybe they'll blame me, but they won't sue me.)

Still, let's consider. Suppose on the ballot are three names: Margaret Thatcher, Elizabeth May, and Adolf Hitler. You definitely prefer Elizabeth May to Margaret Thatcher, and this Hitler guy just freaks you out -- who would vote for that idiot? But to your surprise and horror, he has been endorsed by major newspapers, and a couple of polls have come out putting him in the lead! The sensible people prefer Margaret Thatcher, and you find Elizabeth May standing all by herself on a street corner handing out pamphlets which nobody will take.

Under these conditions, which, except for the anachronism, are not at all fanciful, it would be irrational and indeed immoral not to vote strategically -- that is, to vote for Margaret Thatcher when you prefer Elizabeth May. There is simply no question. (There are practical problems of judging who in fact would best be able to beat Hitler, but no moral ones.)

Let's consider the opposite case, again three names: Elizabeth May, and two brothers, Tweedledum, and Tweedledee (of the Tweedledumlicans and Tweedledeemocrats, as they were known in my youth). Tweedledum and Tweedledee are identical but insist they are different. They are both boring, unimaginative, and not especially competent. But people love them.

Then, by all means, vote for Elizabeth May. Hope that enough people are encouraged by your example to join you and maybe there will be a surprise. Even if she loses, it may give a salutary scare to the brothers. One of them may start listening. He may steal your ideas, but that's okay. And there's always next time.

Now I am sorry I brought Hitler into this! It rather overweights the argument. Let it stand. But let's try substituting George Bush for Hitler. Bush is an idiot. Thatcher was at least competent. Thatcher might be preferable to Bush, but could I bring myself to vote for her? I don't know that I could, even though I want to prove it is the rational, the prudential thing to do. I might prefer to watch the shambles unfold, and feel smugly that I was right: Elizabeth could not have been worse. This is complicated.

Anyway. This is a roundabout way of imploring any voters who might read this (and who detest Harper) to please, please, please, DON'T let him have a majority. If the votes shifted in sufficient numbers we might see a parliament of almost the same composition as the last. And that would vex Mr. Harper no end -- we might see the proverbial heads exploding. That would be something worth voting for!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How embarassing ...

I got a ride home from fellow board members of the MTSpace. I said: that's my house, ahead, with the light on. He drove right past and stopped at the next house that had a criminal-deterring, energy-inefficient, very bright light on, and a bright blue Conservative sign. I was too embarrassed to say anything. I got out and walked back to my house. I hope people don't start talking about me.

I am reminded of years ago, when I worked at an insurance company, and I accepted a ride home from the fat, cigar-chewing, caricature of a capitalist Vice-President of Data Processing, and with mounting apprehension realized I would have to direct him to the house with the bright orange N.D.P. sign. (It never occurred to me to get him to drop me off in front of a house without a sign, or with that of a more respectable political party.) I thanked him cheerfully for the ride, but if there'd been a pentacle on the door, he would not have looked more stricken. People did talk about me, I'm convinced.