Soup Safari #29: Minestrone at Madison's Cafe.







Lunch. £1.95 (with bread roll costing 40p). Madison's Cafe, Sherrington Building, Ashton Street, Liverpool, Merseyside L69 3BX. Telephone: 0151 794 2000. Website.

Soup Safari #28: Tomato and Red Pepper at Bistro Franc.

[Exterior shot to be inserted here.] [Yes, I forgot.  Will go back.] [You'll notice I messed up the spoon rule too.]





Lunch. £3.25. Bistro Franc Restaurant. 1 Hanover Street, City Centre, Liverpool L1 3DW. Telephone: 0151 708 9993. Website.

Soup Safari #27: Broccoli and Stilton at City Wine Bar & Kitchen.







Lunch. £4.10. City Wine Bar + Kitchen, City Buildings, 21-23 Old Hall Street, Liverpool, Merseyside L3 9BS. Telephone: 0151 227 5533. Website.

With Charley and C'rzz: The Divergent Universe.

Audio  About half way through listening to this portion of Big Finish Eighth Doctor audio stories, I asked the social media what the general consensus of opinion of it and the social media answered that it's general thought of as a misstep, but Scherzo and The Natural History of Death are classics.  Having listened the whole thing again, that assessment seems fair.  As you'll see from the ensuing paragraphs written at the end of each adventure, the whole process became a bit of a trial.  I'll list a few of the flaws which I didn't fit in below in a moment, but it's worth noting that despite those, there isn't really that much difference between the strike rate in this run of episodes and the average season of most Who.  With a few notable exceptions, most average seasons of Who since the 60s have had a couple of classics, a few good but flawed stories and some total misfires.  It's even true of the imperious first couple of Eighth Doctor Big Finish seasons and certainly true of every series since the show returned.

As with pretty much every era of Doctor Who, if they're not careful writers can find themselves banging up against a premise which has some fatal flaws.  In this case, it's that in order to justify the new universe the writers must have been asked to tell the kinds of stories they simply couldn't or wouldn't attempt under other circumstances, be experimental and in some cases this means pulling a Scherzo, The Natural History of Death or Caerdroia, which are so ludicrously different they tip over into brilliance, but in everything else there is a sense of trying to force weirdness into an otherwise trad bit of Who.  But mainly it's just that in some cases they're unpleasant to listen to with ugly sound design, some really quite boring or cliched characters talking and talking and talking in scenes which go on forever, unfunny satire and a sense of trying to follow a premise or structure which is not unlike The Keys of Marinus across too many episodes.

The social media also signalled a dislike of C'rzz who as is so often the case when the franchise shifts out of the Doctor and his single companion structure creates a distancing effect between Eighth and Charley because they have to find something for him to do and also means there's less of a requirement for depthful secondary characters.  He's also not an especially appealing figure, oscillating between providing a Data like misunderstanding of humanity and moping around like a tragic Adric.  Plus, having been given the ability to change his colour to match his surroundings, at least in this run of stories, they don't do much with it other than helping the other characters to describe their surroundings, "C'rzz, you're as blue as these walls..." that sort of thing.  None of which should be seen as a criticism of Conrad Westmaas, whose performance is the only way the character is even half appealing.

But mainly it's a lack of form.  During what must have been the planning stages for the season, the new television series was announced which meant that the Eighth Doctor audio, like the novels and comics went from being the ongoing adventures of the incumbent incarnation to filling in a gap but unlike the novels and comics, the audios could and had to continue and so Big Finish were somewhat forced by commercial requirements to drag Eighth back into the normal universe before the whole notion of the Divergent Universe itself had enough time to settle in.  Apparently, I've just read now, some of the odder post-Divergent stories are light rewrites of another set of stories which should have appeared within here which explains a lot.  Either way like the Doctor and his companions I'm happy to be out of this now and pleased that unlike back then I haven't got to wait eight months to discover what happens next.

Zagreus

Eighteen months on from the Neverland cliffhanger and we were given this. With its massive cast, extended running time across three cds and massive cast it seemed like it was going to the best Doctor Who story ever. Then we heard it. Despite being quite the fan of both Gary Russell and Alan Barnes, I still find parts of it almost unlistenable. It's one of those glorious messes which sometimes crop up in Who, where the writers have the best of intentions, in this case attempting to do something a bit different with the anniversary story by having everyone back but playing different characters and creating a direct continuation of an ongoing narrative arc.  Except the show only really snaps back into place when the past Doctors are effectively playing themselves, we return to Gallifrey for the back door pilot for that spin-off series but in no way is it a satisfactory conclusion to that cliffhanger (perhaps because Scherzo is next).

Scherzo

When I originally reviewed Rob Shearman's script it was through the prism of knowing that the series was about to return to television and agog at what a potential new audience might make something which has all of the elements of Doctor Who without actually being anything like Doctor Who.  Now it seems even more alien even though to an extent you can see the DNA of the Capaldi model in the Zagreus infected Eighth.  Having one of the franchise's legendary scenes ("I love you") twisted back in on itself with this Doctor and Charley turned inside out as characters is almost as scary as the actual body horror that runs through the piece.  There's no denying the bravery here.  After returning McGann to the fold, creating an utterly adorable incarnation, Big Finish now turn around and just as happened in the novels and a lesser extent the comics take him away from us.

The Creed of the Kromon

Hello C'rzz.  Hello Kro'ka.  Sharing plenty of ideas and themes with writer Philip Martin's earlier Vengeance on Varos and Mindwipe, we're already seeing signs of how although the Divergent Universe arc is supposed to be an exploration of potentially experiment, alien territory, the traditional elements of Doctor Who will always assert themselves.  The spark of the narrative is the Doctor trying to get the TARDIS back.  They stumble into a very bad political situation and ultimately end up toppling a regime after empowering the natives, a by-product of a need to rescue a companion who's been damseled and in this case in the most horrific of ways which I have serious issues with even if its resolved at the end and could easily have been somewhat smoothed over if the writer had considered a way of keep Charley's senses intact and have her taking advantage of her situation.  Horrible to listen to as a piece of audio too due to the abundance of ring modulator like vocal treatment.

The Natural History of Death

A cocktail of Orwell, The Macra Terror and UKIP's election manifesto which actually works as well even once you've been apprised of the twist. Like the Doctorless stories of the new era, it's very much describing the viral effect the Doctor's ethos and morality can have on a society or even just a single person. If I've a criticism, its the repetition and duration. As with a lot of the stories in this era, the episodes are of uneven length so as to fill the whole of the cd which in this case does lead to a lot of scenes which say much the same thing in different ways. But that's the price you pay for experimentation and Jim Mortimore is pushing the format to breaking point in a similar way to Shearman in Scherzo.  As I said in the introduction, there's a real effort not to simply try and tell the same kinds of stories which might as well have occurred in the Whoniverse and that's certainly the case here.

The Twilight Kingdom

This is the moment the Divergent Universe arc began to confuse me on first listen.  The impression we have from the first couple of stories is that Zagreus still sits inside the Doctor's head and he's manically trying to suppress it.  Yet for all the material about mind control and what not in Will Schindler's script, Eighth is pretty much back to normal and he and Charley are reaffirming their friendship (for all that he's not telling her the real reason for his mission).  Perhaps that's as a result of the original schedule, which saw this stories folded into the monthly releases and mixed in with the other Doctors rather than as a straight run through season so there was a drive towards making them even more internally consistent rather than necessarily with each other.  The story itself is generally an inferior redo of The Chimes at Midnight with a less rigid structure.

Faith Stealer

Faith Stealer is the single Big Finish author credit of Graham Duff, prolific actor and the writer of Dr. Terrible's House of Horrible, Ideal and Hebburn (he also played the waiter in Doctor Who's Deep Breath).  He's a real fan too, wrote this assessment of The Horns of Nimon for a DWM special concurrently with this release in 2004.  But as with all these stories, this script is a matter of taste.  The idea is sound, a kind of buyers market for religion and spirituality, but for me at least it never quite seems to get going.  There are some good Pythonesque lines, not least in how the Doctor, Charley and C'rzz become part of the world but I can't help feeling that it would have worked better in the "real" world with "real" religions, though of course that would have run the risk of offending someone but it might have added some bite.  Plus the whole Kro'ka business is really starting to chaff.

The Last

If only.  Gary Hopkins, whose I, Davros was a classic example of just how to do epic audio prequels for important and popular characters (seriously, it's amazing and is available for just £20 on audio at Big Finish) misfires here.  Whilst there's nothing necessarily wrong with a slice of Bergmanesque nihilistic melancholia, I'm not entirely convinced that this is the right Doctor or companions or season of stories that it should be containing.  Opening in the after effect of a holocaust in what seems to be intended as a satirical discussion paper on what might have happened if that Thatcher had gone nuclear, all the likeable characters die, the regulars mostly argue with each other and the Doctor loses all of his hope before the whole thing ends by breaking one of the great rules that Doctor Who really shouldn't have anything to do with.  I think this is becoming my least favourite run of stories that don't star Colin Baker or Peter Capaldi.

Caerdroia

Good old Lloyd Rose. Rose wrote the astonishingly good two EDAs, The City of the Dead and Camera Obscura and here she is wading into the difficult penultimate story slot in the Divergent arc, The Long Game of The Pandorica Opens of this series, and sets about explaining what the interzone is, what happened to the TARDIS, who the Divergence are and exactly what the Kro'ka's supposed to have been up to. Bloody marvellous in every respect in the end and a highlight of the series, largely due to the second half where the Doctor's randomly split in three and McGann's forced to play his various versions as they search for the TARDIS and a way home, from grumpy through to tiggerish against one another, a difficult task in audio and keep them distinct. but she does and he does.  Is the title a nod to Doctor Who's new home?  This was released in November 2004, when the new series was well into production.

The Next Life

Releasing this in 2004, it was quite brave of writers Alan Barnes and Gary Russell to have a joke about the Doctor having memorised of all the Liverpool F.C. strikers and goals from 1964-1965 to 2013-2014, describing the latter as "a terrible season."  Apparently, it wasn't that bad.  They just missed out on the Premiere League coming second and positioned 3rd and 5th in the league and FA Cups.  Though I suppose the Doctor might argue that actually failing to win anything is "terrible".  The Next Life isn't terrible in large part because it's two of the Eighth Doctor's best writers giving everyone some witty dialogue, has the return of Daphne Ashbrook and Paul Darrow to the franchise on suitably bonkers form and manages to wrap up most of the loose ends from the Divergent Universe arc in a pretty logical way, dragging our heroes back into the Whoniverse with a cliffhanger which is both inevitable and necessary.  Good show.

Soup Safari #26: Cauliflower and Sweetcorn at Shirley Valentine's Sandwich Company.







Lunch. £2.00 (80p for the roll). Shirley Valentine's Sandwich Company, 109 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool, Merseyside L3 5TF. Phone: 0151 707 8093. Website.

Macbeth (Arden Shakespeare. Third Series). Edited by Sandra Clark and Pamela Mason.

Theatre  After a couple of years away from the core series whilst they pay attention to other Early Modern Dramas, Arden returns to Shakespeare with their third edition of Macbeth. Glancing through the list which appears in this year’s Arden catalogue there aren’t that many plays still waiting for the edition uplift from the second and a glance through Amazon indicates that by September 2016 everything but A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be available. Not that it will end here; editors for the fourth series have already been announced with those editions due in the 2020 (which just demonstrates the lead time that some of these books require). How these will differ to the A3s, time will tell.

Anyway back at Macbeth and this edition edited by Sandra Clark, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of English Studies in the University of London and Pamela Mason currently a lecturer in English at the University of Birmingham. The former provides the introduction and discussion of textual legitimacy in the appendices, the latter is the editor of the text and provides the textual notes including editing justifications also in the appendices. There’s some heroism in this division of labour because while Clark’s work will implicitly be read by the book’s whole audience, Mason’s notes sit within an interstitial consultation space, only referred to if needed which is a shame because they contain a fascinating quantity of trivia.

The introduction freewheels around Macbeth ignoring anything like a traditional structure or reiteration of the usual themes, this being the sort of play for which there isn’t really a shortage of that sort of thing already. So we have a short discussion of Macbeth as an example of tragedy. A close textual analysis of the use of time in the play. It’s setting and realisation of Scotland as a geographical and historical event. A discussion of its sources but note, its adaptation from Holinshed rather than how that chronicler developed his version. Plus a theatrical “history” which chooses themes a key elements of the play, the extent of Macbeth’s culpability, the pre-eminence of the witches, the setting and how various actors and directors have treated the ending.

Much of this underscores that like most of Shakespeare's plays, Macbeth is set in "Scotland" rather than a real place, the the featured "history" is nothing of the sort and that when productions do affect accents and have the cast sweeping around in kilts they're deluding themselves with an approach which has about as much legitimacy as Hamlet wearing clogs and a fez whilst affecting a Scandinavian pronunciation.  Which isn't to say Scottish actors haven't made great Macbeths and there haven't been useful productions set in Scotland, it's just that the underlying elements of the play don't support it, not least because in other plays Shakespeare made the Scottishness of characters a key component.

As is also so often the case with these Ardens, my eye is caught in the appendices which is where the textual discussion resides. For decades, critical mass has focused on the notion that the version of Macbeth we have now is not as originally written by Shakespeare, that its single textual version as it appears in F1 has been interfered with or adapted by another hand, usually attributed to Thomas Middleton, largely because of the similarity with his own play The Witches, notably in relation to some songs. This led to Gary Taylor including the play in his Oxford Complete Works of Middleton’s plays and it’s this analysis that I’ve seen cited as an example of Shakespeare the collaborator.

Clark reiterates of all of these arguments at length with sources before, like so many A3 editors before her, stripping away the hearsay and presumption to reveal that we actually don’t know anything, that the evidence is circumstantial at best.  She cites an electronic analysis by Marcus Dahl, Marina Tarlinskaya, and Brian Vickers (which is available to read online here) which compares the supposed added passages with Middleton's work and doesn't find a match (though she does note that others have argued against their work because the Middleton database they used it incomplete.  But the general message is that just because the play is short and is interestingly structured in places doesn't mean any of it is missing.

Macbeth (Arden Shakespeare. Third Series). Edited by Sandra Clark and Pamela Mason. 2015. RRP: £8.99. ISBN: 9781904271413. Review copy supplied.

Film Handling.

Film .tiff's Reel Heritage event investigated the process of preserving the physical aspects of film and its two primary lectures with media archivist Christina Stewart are online. Firstly, here she is with a primer of all the different types of film available and their various aspects which will answer many, many of the questions which have been prompted by technical commentaries on dvd across time:



Next, here's Stewart leading a workshop on handling the actual film which is almost a piece of slow cinema in and of itself:

MARVEL Climaxes.

Film MARVEL have posted a press release about how the Avengers: Infinity Gauntlet films will be shot completely in IMAX or at least a joint customized digital version of ARRI’s new large format Alexa 65, with the directing Russos testing the technology on what's looking increasingly like the direct prequel, Captain America: Civil War.

First thing to notice is the mention of "IMAX's exclusive aspect ratio" which as anyone who's been following the tussle between actual IMAX and FauMAX will know is a bit of a moveable feast. Since its digital presumably this means the 16:9 like affair which usually turns up in the likes of The Hunger Games and Guardians of the Galaxy rather than the square frame that everyone expected when such things were shot on "film".

But buried in the text is this quote:
"The intent with the Infinity War films is to bring 10 years of accumulative storytelling to an incredible climax. We felt that the best way to exploit the scale and scope required to close out the final chapter of these three phases, was to be the first films shot entirely on the IMAX/Arri Digital camera."
Here we are then, actual notice that Infinity War is acting as a kind of season finale for the MARVEL Cinematic Universe.  Presumably it won't be the end of the end, unless the whole thing fails in the next year or so which seems unlikely given the box office cash Avengers 2: Ultron Boogaloo has made.  Plus there's bound to be a Guardians 3 not to mention 2s for any of the characters handed their own films in Phase 3.

But it will be the end of the Thanos's glove storyline and has the tantalising prospect of what will come afterwards.  Will it be something as intricate as the jewels business, and will it have tentpole features like the Avengers (assuming the Avengers films don't simply continue)?  My guess is still something along the lines of Secret Wars, or even Secret Wars, but I'll probably be in my fifties by the time that comes around ...

Updated later:

MARVEL have also published a press release about the start of production of Civil War. First of all, we have a "synopsis":
“Captain America: Civil War” picks up where “Avengers: Age of Ultron” left off, as Steve Rogers leads the new team of Avengers in their continued efforts to safeguard humanity. After another international incident involving the Avengers results in collateral damage, political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability and a governing body to determine when to enlist the services of the team. The new status quo fractures the Avengers while they try to protect the world from a new and nefarious villain."
Which pretty much explains exactly how the adaptation is going to work and also how it puts Steve Rogers front and centre in the narrative and also a cast list, which is filled with the annoying "other films they've been in nonsense which I'll strip away to leave just a cast ... list:

Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America
Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man
Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow
Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier
Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon
Paul Bettany as The Vision
Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye
Don Cheadle as Jim Rhodes/War Machine
Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch

I'm not sure that we understandably knew about Bettany before but there they are The "New" Avengers. But hold on, there's another paragraph ...

Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man

Blimey. Oh hold on, there's some more:

Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther
Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter/Agent 13
Daniel Brühl
Frank Grillo as Brock Rumlow/Crossbones
William Hurt as General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross
Martin Freeman

Which makes this an even more stuffed movie than Avengers: Ages of Ultraman but can justifiably allow for some cameos. Black Panther's being introduced before his own film is out.

 But the real surprise here is General Ross as played by William Hurt as he was in the stand alone Hulk film with Edward Norton and what's interesting about that is that Mark Ruffalo suggested MARVEL didn't have the standalone rights to a Hulk film, those still being at Universal. Have those now reverted back to MARVEL in the time it's taken to produce Avengers or is Ross on loan somehow? What will his role be? On top of that, what do Daniel Brühl and Martin Freeman have to do with it? [Updated again: io9 has a potential explanation for why he's there]

Also in a vaguely related topic, Scarlett Witch has been retconned in the comic not to be Magnetos daughter and not a mutant presumably in an attempt to stop FOX retaining the rights. Perhaps at a certain point they'll decide there was no such thing as mutants and The X-Men have been Inhumans all these years ...

And on an unrelated topic, isn't it strange that MARVEL haven't schedule a film for November 2019? In 2017 and 2018 there are films out in May, July and November but there's a gap there. Hmm ....

Theatre on Television. Updates.

TV Having pleaded and implored for there to be more theatre on television, I was entirely remiss in highlighting the broadcast of Juliette Binoche appearance in Antigone at the Barbican on BBC Four the other week, directed by Tim Van Someren and now available on the iPlayer.

The presentation, from BBC Arts notice, not BBC Drama, was a near perfect demonstration of how theatre can work in the home, visually interesting and with performances that do translate, though it's also true that the heightened, deliberately theatrical requirements of the piece is a factor.

Also available to watch for the next week is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: From Page to Stage, a Learning Zone collaboration with the National about the making of the production featuring Nicola Walker from Spooks and Doctor Who.  That's also available as clips if you're reading this after that.

Election Day.



That Day Here we go then ... Norah Jones wrote the following on the eve of the 2004 US election but the lyrics feel just as valid in this moment too.

'Twas Halloween and the ghosts were out,
And everywhere they'd go, they shout,
And though I covered my eyes I knew,
They'd go away.

But fear's the only thing I saw,
And three days later 'twas clear to all,
That nothing is as scary as election day.

But the day after is darker,
And darker and darker it goes,
Who knows, maybe the plans will change,
Who knows, maybe he's not deranged.

The news men know what they know, but they,
Know even less than what they say,
And I don't know who I can trust,
For they come what may.

'cause we believed in our candidate,
But even more it's the one we hate,
I needed someone I could shake,
On election day.

But the day after is darker,
And deeper and deeper we go,
Who knows, maybe it's all a dream,
Who knows if I'll wake up and scream.

I love the things that you've given me,
I cherish you my dear country,
But sometimes I don't understand,
The way we play.

I love the things that you've given me,
And most of all that I am free,
To have a song that I can sing,
On election day.

Soup Safari #25: Potato and Leek at Left Bank Brasserie.







Lunch. £4.50. Left Bank Brasserie, 1a, The Beacon, Halsall Lane, Formby, Liverpool L37 3NW. Phone:01704 832342. Website.

My Favourite Film of 1997.



Film There have been some years in which it's been almost impossible to choose a single film. It's the plague of the cineaste. Some of us can say what their favourite film ever is (you'll see) but outside of that when faced with a limitation, a genre or year, we've seen so many worthwhile, good and potentially meaningful pieces of work that it's then impossible to tie things down.

Which is essentially me saying that although I've chosen The Fifth Element, it could equally have been Contact, Chasing Amy, Scream 2, LA Confidential, Men in Black, the various Star Wars rereleases, Titanic or The Peacemaker or a dozen other films that year which weren't made in Hollywood. Wilde. Smilla's Feeling For Snow. In The Company of Men. Shooting Fish.  1997 was some year.

I've chosen Luc Besson's The Fifth Element not just because I think it's a peerless example of production design, of fun and of how single characters like Milla's Leeloo can be so intriguing that they have the ability to eclipse the less impressive, well, elements like Chris Tucker's whatever Chris Tucker is doing and not just because  Eric Serra's soundtrack is also still one of my favourite records, alien and familiar, futuristic and contemporary.

But I also wanted to acknowledge the circumstances of when I saw it, at the second National Cinema Day.

National Cinema Day first happened on June 2nd 1996 on the hundredth anniversary of commercial cinema when I was just at the tail end of my final year of university and I spent the day at the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds watching amongst other things, Wayne Wang's Smoke, a preview of the David O Russell comedy Flirting With Disaster and (I think) the rerelease of Withnail & I amid trailers for other upcoming attractions.

Here's a promotional film which was created for it that has one of the best pieces of unexpected swearing you'll ever see.



In 1997 I was back in Liverpool town where I was born and on Sunday 15th June was at a packed Odeon on London Road for the second go around.  As ever there was the usual mix of new releases, rereleases and preview screenings and as I write this remember the order.  The Fifth Element in the cavernous screen one then Scream (for the second time around) followed by One Fine Day, the underrated Pfeiffer/Clooney comedy.

Here's what I remember about seeing The Fifth Element.  Sitting in about five different seats.  With entry reduced to £1, packed auditoriums led to multiple code of conduct violations.  Even without mobile phones then people just didn't seem interested in bothering to watch the film presumably because it had only cost them a pound to get in.  So I moved around a lot trying to find a seat where I could actually concentrate on the film.

This wasn't helped either by two kids who kept throwing popcorn at the back of my head.  They followed me twice.  I'd settle down then there they'd be again and I'd feel something getting caught on my hair or bouncing off my shoulder.  Eventually they were chased out by ushers because someone else complained.  Which sounds like me passing the buck but really I've always found it easier to move than anything else.

National Cinema Day returned the following year but on that occasion tickets were "only" half price so my understanding is that attendances were much lower so it wasn't repeated which is a shame because it was a great way to promote cinema and increase audience numbers.  It'll be interesting to see the effect the end of Orange Wednesdays, its distant discount cousin will have on same.

Of course having written all of this, I've realised that the premise of this project has to change by a year. I was going back as far as 1897, but I'd not realised that the Lumiere Bros began commercial cinema in Paris in 1896 so I'll have to add an extra year on at the other end. Not that I'm sure what my favourite film of 1896 will prove to be but there's a high probability that the list of potentials will be shorter than from the mid-90s.

Talks Collection:
UK Parliament.



Politics Something a bit different this week, in this election week, which will shortly be over, thank goodness. In the midst of all the backbiting and shouting about who will form the next government, not much has been said about the institution of the parliament itself, which as anyone who saw Michael Cockerell's superb Inside the Commons series will know is just as much about a building as the people who work there.

The UK Parliament.  

Launched about six years ago, this YouTube channel collectively features short documentaries from the BBC and elsewhere about the chamber and how it works (many of which has seen service recently as filler between campaign events on the BBC Parliament channel) as well as snatches of the official tour, lectures from events inside and outside the building and key parliamentary sessions.

House of Lords.

The upper chamber has its own channel for some reason with plenty of much shorter interview snatches covering anecdotes about the place as well as explanations of their business.

TEDx Houses of Parliament

For the past three years, the House has hosted its own event with speakers including MPs, journalists and academics.  My initial plan for this post was to recreate the 2014 event here, but all of the events have been recreated on various pages linked here.  Last year began with an address from Aung San Suu Kyi.

Hansard Society.

"The Hansard Society believes that the health of representative democracy rests on the foundation of a strong Parliament and an informed and engaged citizenry. A charity, founded in 1944 and working in the UK and around the world, we are an independent, non-partisan political research and education Society devoted to promoting democracy and strengthening parliaments."

Historic Royal Palaces

For ceremonial purposes, Westminster retains a status as a "royal palace" and features on the fringes of their channel, though I also think that if we're talking about the history of UK government, you can't really overlook the importance of its predecessors, especially Hampton Court.

"One of the hardest companions to categorize is Compassion."

News Usually when the "mainstream" media covers Doctor Who, it's still with an eye to anything on television. Well then here's a fabulously off-piste list from the Houston Press, which currently has a shot of Kamelion on its front page and also goes here:
Compassion
One of the hardest companions to categorize is Compassion. She was originally a human from a distant colony that through a series of bizarre accidents became a living, sentient Tardis in human form. At the time the Eight Doctor had lost his own Tardis and the Time Lords were looking to capture Compassion to breed their own fleet of sentient ships. This led The Doctor, Fitz and Compassion to go on the run using her as a portal through space and time. Eventually she returned The Doctor to his own ship and left to explore the universe. Like the rest of the Eighth Doctor novels this likely happened in an alternative timeline.
I'm assuming the image of Tenth talking to Frobisher is from one of the IDW comics by the Tiptons I didn't get around to reading.

Big Torchwood Finish.



Audio Not too long ago there were rumours of things going astray, and a great confusion as to where things really are, and nobody will really know where lieth in relation to new radio Torchwood. Here's Gen of Deek reporting John Barrowman mentioning them during an Arrow press conference. Everyone and but probably not his mother assumed that it would be in the form of another Radio 4 thing.

No. Actually in a moment which probably took everyone surprise which I missed because I was watching the astonishingly rubbish horror, Grace: The Possessed, Big Finish have announced they've secured the license from BBC Worldwide and are producing a series of six audio dramas starring Barrowman initially (and in the first one John Sessions, Sarah Ovens and Dan Bottomley).

Good grief.  I'm actually very pleased about this.  Other than Children of Earth, some of Torchwood's best hours were on audio both in the Radio 4 series and the linked audiobooks produced by AudioGo.  David Llewellyn wrote the very good PC Andy focused installment of those, Fallout, and he's the author/writer of the first release The Conspiracy (directed by Scott Handcock).  Here's the synopsis:
"Captain Jack [REDACTED] has always had his suspicions about [REDACTED]. And now [REDACTED] is also [REDACTED] about [REDACTED]. Apparently the world really is under the control of [REDACTED]. That's what [REDACTED] says. [REDACTED] have died, disasters have been [REDACTED], the [REDACTED] have disappeared.  It's outrageous. Only [REDACTED] knows that [REDACTED] is right. [REDACTED] has arrived."
Along with the UNIT news (and dare they cross them over?) this is Big Finish making strides into new Doctor Who. How long will it be now before we have announcement of new material for the 10th or 11th Doctor (with 9th about twenty years in the future when Eccleston mellows)?  We feel closer and closer to the tipping point.  McGann was five years on from his TV appearance when he began.  It's five years since Tennant left...

Black Widow Trailer.



Film Funnily enough I've been "campaigning" for years for MARVEL to make a rom com set in the MCU. Just not this. Obviously. The meta-irony in this is overwhelming.

Jury Final.

Music The BBC's press release for this year's Eurovision has something I hadn't noted before and I haven't heard mentioned much at all:
The Jury Final – Friday 22 May

All qualified countries, including those automatically through to the grand final will perform and each national jury will award their scores based on this performance. The Jury Final is not televised.
Aficionados will already know about this presumably but I'd always assumed the juries judged on the Saturday night along with the braying masses. How long has this been going on? The Wikipedia says it's the second dress rehearsal and the Eurovision's own website suggests tickets are available. Presumably it's this that Graham Norton et al watch so that they can comment ahead on the night. But does this mean that someone has a fair idea of whose won even before the show goes out?

Making Slow Television.

TV BBC Four has a slow television season in the coming week, documentaries without narration and very long shots of things happening which is just the sort thing they used to do a lot back in the day before everything became repeats of Timewatch and Michael Portillo on trains (although then they would have given it wall to wall coverage and included a parallel film season with Le Quattro Volte and some late Tarkovsky).

In any case, here Ian Denyer, the director of one of the strands, Handmade, to talk about the process:
"The brief was brief: no words, no music, long, very long held shots. I added my own restrictions to this – no shot less than ten seconds, and no movement. On the first recces I investigated the possibilities of single shots lasting five minutes. Having grown up being constantly asked to move the camera more and cut faster, this was a joy. All the action would come to the frame. This was a chance to celebrate craft on both sides of the camera."
The season kicks off with Frederick Wiseman's National Gallery.

Carey Mulligan on Suffragette.



Film In one of their experiments, the Kermode & Mayo show filmed this week's interview with Carey and uploaded it to the celestial cinema. Although the bulk is about Far From The Madding Crowd (and from the clip the photography looks ravishingly painterly) towards the end there are a few minutes dedicated to Suffragette.

Victoria Coren Mitchell on Bohemians.



TV She's back. Or rather she's back making documentaries. Only Connect is fine, but since the end of Balderdash and Piffle, I've really missed watching VCM walking between things. Well, she's presenter-leading again on BBC Four:
For a word used to describe a wide range of eccentric individuals, not many people know how to precisely define what it means to be bohemian and whether it's a label to aspire to.

Victoria Coren Mitchell is attempting to find out with a three-part series on the history of bohemians for BBC Four, made by Wingspan Productions.

'Bohemians confuse me tremendously,' the presenter and journalist says. 'I don't know whether to find them exciting and inspiring, or annoying and threatening. Possibly all four at once.

'From these mixed feelings, I know I must be a bourgeois. But I've never been fully immersed in bohemian circles before. I'll be interested to find out whether I end up running into their open-minded embrace, or running screaming away.'
Let's hope it's as good as her documentary about The History of Corners (featured above).

Soup Safari #24: Harrira Moroccan at Kasbah Cafe & Bazaar.







Lunch. £3.95. Kasbah Cafe & Bazaar, 72 Bold Street, Liverpool, Merseyside L1 4HR. Phone: 0151 707 7744. Website.

Public Art Collections in North West England:
The Contents Page.



Art On Tuesday I posted the final visit report for this project and since it has gone on for a very, very long time I thought you might find the following useful. It's a list of all the venues as they appear on the contents page of the book along with links to the blog posts.

Accrington - Haworth Art Gallery
Altrincham - Dunham Massey
Birkenhead - Williamson Art Gallery and Museum
Blackburn - Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery
Blackpool - Grundy Art Gallery
Bolton - Bolton Museum, Art Gallery and Aquarium
Burnley - Towneley Hall Art Gallery and Museums
Bury - Bury Art Gallery and Museum
Carlisle - Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery
Chester - Grosvenor Museum
Coniston - Brantwood and Ruskin Museum
Grasmere - Wordsworth and Grasmere Museum
Kendal - Abbot Hall Art Gallery
Knutsford - Tabley House and Tatton Park
Lancaster - Lancaster City Museum and Ruskin Library, Lancaster University
Liverpool - Walker Art Gallery, Sudley House, Tate Liverpool, University of Liverpool Art Gallery and The Oratory
Macclesfield - West Park Museum
Manchester - Manchester City Art Gallery and Whitworth Art Gallery
Oldham - Oldham Art Gallery and Museum
Port Sunlight - Lady Lever Art Gallery
Preston - Harris Museum and Art Gallery
Rawtenstall - Rossendale Museum
Rochdale - Rochdale Art Gallery
Runcorn - Norton Priory Museum
Salford - Salford Museum and Art Gallery and The Lowry
Southport - Atkinson Art Gallery
Stalybridge - Astley Cheetham Art Gallery
Stockport - Stockport War Memorial and Art Gallery
Warrington - Warrington Museum and Art Gallery
Wigan - The History Shop

My Favourite Film of 1998.



Film After having waited eagerly to see Shakespeare in Love since seeing a preview in Empire Magazine (welcome to the 90s), I inadvertently managed to see a snippet of its concluding moments having blundered into the wrong screen at a multiplex. In the late 90s, I’d often travel out to the newly opened Showcase Cinema on the East Lancs Road and spend an afternoon seeing two or three films and on this day at the beginning of February 1999 (which also included A Bug’s Life) my excitement got the better of me and I managed to not bother to look at whichever screen was listed on the ticket and blundered into the wrong one. I saw Will and Viola kissing and which as everything shook out didn’t turn out to be too much of a spoiler.

Although I can trace my love of Doctor Who to a single moment in an audio episode, there isn’t really one single incident which led me to offer myself up as a fan of Shakespeare. There was studying Othello and Measure for Measure at school of course and I was pretty impressed after seeing the BBC adaptation of the latter but I think that probably had more to do with a crush on Kate Nelligan as Isabella, which is ironic considering what the play is about. But it was enough of a spark for me to want to see more of his plays especially in adaptation, especially if directed by Ken Branagh. Plus I remember watching a lot of the BBC’s Bard on the Box season in 1994 and still have the VHS of the Playing the Dane documentary from then.

Shakespeare In Love must certainly have also helped. Although I understood the whole thing to be an artifice and a fiction, the screenplay, which aided by Tom Stoppard’s rewrite has enough in-jokes and truths which coupled with my own shaky memory of background reading at school to convince me that it might as well be mostly true. Not the love story or the process of writing Romeo and Juliet. But the recreation of the theatres, of London, of customs, of costumes and the way people presented themselves. The cleverness of Stoppard utilising many of Shakespeare’s own narrative devices, a model utilised again later by the makers of Becoming Jane, which deliberately has the style of a film adaptation of an Austin novel.

There have been other versions of Shakespeare’s life, the BBC’s A Waste of Shame, ITV’s Will Shakespeare, Anony … (cough) and taken together they offer different facets of the man and his time. But none of them quite capture the romance of what it must have been like to be a playgoer in that period, version that attendees at the Globe in London must have in their heads. From the opening pan across the rafters of the Rose and the opening bars of Stephen Warbeck’s music, I ache and it’s an ache that continues throughout. Few films have given me that sort of emotional reaction before anything related to story or character have kicked in, even Saving Private Ryan which I know everyone now thinks should have won the Oscar that year.

The release came and went and then six months later I won a VHS copy of the film from Empire, which I must have watched a dozen times. Then when I bought my first dvd player from Tesco, the venerable Wharfedale, one of the first films I hired from the Central Library in town (along with Ghostbusters) was Shakespeare in Love so I could enjoy the settings in the correct aspect ratio again marvelling at the detail and watching all the audio commentaries. Like so many of the films on this list, I can trace them through the various formats I’ve owned them in. Not that I have the blu-ray of it, which is something I must to rectify. But I do have Stephen Warbeck’s score on cd, which was the soundtrack to my visit to Stratford-Upon-Avon.

To complete this narrative thread, the other project which really crystallised my love of Shakespeare and made much of that visit to Stratford so familiar was Michael Wood’s series In Search of Shakespeare broadcast in July 2003 (and even which I oddly failed to mention on this blog). Here was the pageant of the writer’s life spread across four hours and a real explanation of why his words were important and mattered but with just enough mystery for someone like me to want to go off and read more and to see more. Which I did, purchasing the complete collection of BBC adaptations not long afterwards and that was pretty much my fate sealed and that’s how Shakespeare In Love helped me fall in love with Shakespeare.

Public Art Collections in North West England:
The Walker Art Gallery.



Art  The final end. Back in 2007 when I began this project, to visit all the venues listed in Edward Morris’s book Public Art Collections in North-West England, I hadn’t actually planned to visit all the venues listed in Edward Morris’s book Public Art Collections in North-West England. As I said in that original post, for the Atkinson Gallery in Southport, I originally planned to “take some trips to a few of these local smaller galleries and report back on what I find”. The blog doesn’t then have a later post where I actually say I’m going to “catch them all”, but there was definitely a moment some time in about 2007 or 2008 when I decided that I might as well.

It’s probably about then I determined that it would be best to leave The Walker until last because having worked there, being so familiar with the collection, it seemed more valuable to head out and visit the places where I’d never worked and was unfamiliar with the collection. Then, I was only seven years out from that employment. Now it’s fifteen years. Of course, I’ve been to the Walker in between, many times, for temporary exhibitions, but on each and every occasion I’ve avoided looking too closely at the permanent collection because I knew at some point I’d be approaching it as part of this project. The quest is the quest. Or rather was. Now.

Do I need to talk about my time at the Walker? Perhaps I do. This was at the end of the 90s, when I was contracted for one or two days a week and my business was collating together various volunteer projects in which items in the collection were added to a computer database together and completing the job by giving every object in the collection a thorough computer record based on internal archival documents. Ultimately I was cataloguing the collection and readying the data so it could be uploaded to the newer systems coming on streaming. As I wandered around, I wondered if the information on the walls was the same as I typed in back then.

In truth, I visited the Walker twice for this project in the end. My first attempt was last October with the idea that I’d complete the project before my fortieth birthday. But the gallery having so much art and an eye infection (yes, really) meant I only managed the first three rooms that day. So I returned yesterday to complete the survey noting that some of the paintings I’d seen in those first three rooms were no longer on the walls.  I could have spent even longer but at a certain point I have to put a stop to all this and if the gallery wasn’t as geographically convenient I wouldn’t have had a choice anyway. I had to wise up.

As you might expect given that he was a curator at the gallery until his retirement in 1999, two years before the publication of the book, Edward dedicates fourteen pages to the Walker including four for illustrations. I’ll provide the usual synopsis in a moment, but it’s important to stress that unlike most of the other galleries in the book, the Walker as with Sudley House and the Lady Lever is a national institution with the same status as the London galleries. As of 1986 it stepped outside of local authority control, gaining its funding from central rather than local government.

Yet despite that, it still retains an element of obscurity. Perhaps I should whisper this, but there are still people I’ve met visiting Liverpool for the first time from the south, who I still have to recommend the Walker to or have stumbled into it and told me afterwards how surprised they were not just that it exists but also the quality of its collection. Even now. Even in 2015. When I began this blogging project, it was with the aim of promoting these local venues, to demonstrate the quality of the work on display and that’s still vitally important, reminding people that as they glance towards London with envious eyes, there’s some fabulous art on their own doorstep.

The Walker’s collection began with a bankruptcy. In 1816, William Roscoe found himself at the sharp end of an economic downturn and his art collection, much of it from 1300 to 1550, was liquidated. Luckily for us it was sold to a group of his philanthropic friends, Liverpool merchants with nonconformist attitudes who then presented them to the Liverpool Royal Institution, a cultural club founded by even wealthier merchants and this then became the first public art collection in the country (albeit on technically own privately and with a visitor charge) and the model for many of the future examples in the book.

But despite the publication of a number of thorough catalogues and the purpose building of a venue to house them between 1840 and 1843, Edward says, the collection did not prove popular and in the early 1850s, Liverpool Town Council attempting to take over the institution and its collections as the basis for a municipal art collection as per other local authorities. But the institution’s members resisted, negotiations collapsed and by 1893 they were deposited on-load to the Walker Art Gallery then finally presented to them in 1948. At which point, I think you will have noticed, the narrative becomes slightly more complicated.

The Town Council, with the support of Roscoe had already been holding exhibitions of contemporary at various intervals between the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, which began with the support of the Liverpool Institution but continued under the control of a group of local artists calling themselves the Liverpool Academy. These ongoing exhibitions, from which the town council was also purchasing items for its permanent collection, were originally presented in the old Liverpool Museum until in 1873 the local brewer, Andrew Barclay Walker gave the council £25,000 to build a new dedicated art gallery which opened in 1877 for them.

So the initial foundations of the collection were built from the Royal Institution and the local council’s purchases from the Liverpool Academy’s Autumn exhibitions and years before the Tate and other major provincial cities. But the process of increasing the collection doesn’t differ markedly, a mixture of purchases and bequests though with the eye of a national gallery, with concerted efforts to bolster various aspects of the collection to reflect various art eras and movements. In 1961, for example, a £70,000 appeal specifically directed at industry and commerce in Liverpool was for the purchase of impressionist paintings.

Which explains why the collection has such range and depth and punching above its weight as a “local” museum, why it seems so surprising to visitors who might not otherwise know of its existence. As well as the medieval collection, which is as good in some aspects as the National Gallery in London and the pre-Raphaelites which rivals Tate Britain, we have Murillo, Rubens, Hogarth, Poussin, Seurat, Degas, Monet, Cezanne, Matisse, Freud, a few Gainsboroughs, some Stubbs, a Rembrandt and a Hockney (thanks to the John Moores Painting prize arguably the successor to the Autumn exhibition and also the source of many purchases).

As you can see from the room guide, the gallery arranges its collection in chronological order beginning with the Medieval and Renaissance period through to “1950-now” the final room offering a series of changing displays. There’s also a semi-permanent display of John Moores Painting Prize winners, a sculpture gallery and a relatively new Craft and Design gallery installed in the space where my office used to be. There’s an overall atmosphere is of grandeur and unlike some other regionals, after navigating the massive entrance hall there is a display area to match, large rooms filled with massive art works.

All of which means it is impossible to really approach the “what I saw and what liked” section of these posts in usual way since as with Manchester Art Gallery, it is collection of range and depth. The BBC’s Your Paintings lists 2,254 oils and clicking on any of the search pages reveals a platter of works that would be the entire display of some of the places I’ve visited in the past decade. So I’ve decided to utilise the same arbitrarily chosen theme and concentrate on the works either directly or somewhat related to Shakespeare, concentrating on those items which are actually on display (sorry, Robert Fowler’s Ariel).

In the first set of rooms we find next to each other a portrait of Henry VIII attributed to the Workshop of Hans Holbein and of his daughter Elizabeth I attributed to Nicholas Hilliard.  The former is the classic, iconic image of the king as appears on dozens of different portraits all with the same grand pose if different costume.  The Walker version is especially similar to the portrait at Petworth House.  The National Portrait Gallery website has a lengthy article analysing the "Hilliard" portrait along with its twin from their collection after they met for the Making Art in Tudor Britain research project though it won't categorically agree on who they were painted by.

For all Shakespeare's parody in the final act of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Ovid's story of Pyramus and Thisbe was a popular subject in the 16th and 17th century, especially amongst painters and in room three we find Gaspard Dughet's version, Landscape with Pyramus and Thisbe.  It's the moment when Thisbe discovers the dead body of her lover Pyramus sealing their mutual suicide, just the moment when the best productions of Shakespeare's versions allow the actors playing Flute and Bottom, Thisbe and Pyramus to drop the comedy and play the emotion for real, confronting the audience with the reality, sticking the metaphoric knife into us, as well as each other on the stage within a stage.

Arguably the most important or at least famous Shakespeare painting in the collection, Hogarth's portrait of David Garrick as Richard III (in room five) dispenses with the audience altogether.  Rather than depicting the actor on stage, the artist chooses to place him within a war torn landscape as though he's part of history.  Nathaniel Dance-Holland would utilise a similar approach later and although in his version Garrick brandishes his sword aloft, Hogarth has the moment of greater drama as Richard awakens from his nightmares of being visited by the ghosts of his victims which must have been en electric moment on stage.  Note this is the sort of painting which has its own wikipedia page.

Into room six and the thick of the pre-Raphaelites and their successors.  Emma Sandys's Viola by contrast to the Hogarth doesn't faithfully depict a moment from Twelfth Night.  The frame has the moment when the Duke Orsino question's Viola about Olivia, ("And what's her history?" "A blank, my lord. She never told her love") with its double meaning as Viola talks about the concealment of feelings in which she's really talking about herself and Sandys chooses to portray this as the character showing her true feminine self rather than the boys clothes she would otherwise be wearing during that scene as directed in the text.

Finally, Arthur Hughes's As You Like It is a painting I'm already very familiar with.  Having seen it during a visit during my school days, it's the version of the characters that flashed through my mind when I first listened to the play from a vinyl copy of the British Council productions released by Argo borrowed from the Central Library and I now have the postcard on the wall above my desk.  It's a tableau, various scenes from the play against one another and although I now prefer the more realistic landscape in John Everett Millais's Rosalind in the Forest displayed nearby (its an age thing), there's no denying the romance of the Hughes painting and I can see why my young heart leapt.

Usually in these posts I mention some anecdote about the visit, something else which happened.  Well, the lock on the cubicle in the men's toilet doesn't work so I did have someone pay me an embarrassed visit ("Ooh oh, I'm sorry, um ...") which I mentioned to an attendant and there was an "out of order" sign when I returned.  Oh and the air conditioning machines which have appeared in some of the rooms are amazingly loud though I listened to music all the way round (Priesner as usual) so that was pretty fine.  But like this is really just me wanting to continue writing so that the project doesn't end.  When really it's about time for the project to end.  Here.  For now.

Soup Safari #23: Sweet Potato and Chilli at The Walker Art Gallery Cafe.







Lunch. £3.50. The Walker Art Gallery Cafe, William Brown Street, Liverpool L3 8EL. Phone: 0151 478 4199. Website.