June 9th, 2003

end of a decade

7DW Saturday : Strange

It was Tivo's view that Jabberwocky trumped Strange (and I agreed) so I watched it live (perhaps giving it an advantage?) in cheery support of occult fiction in prime-time spots. Oh dear, oh dear. The premise is nice enough -- the vicar who got too close to the truth, defrocked and holed up with his weird psychic chums in a crumbling vicarage, but kept on a retainer for the things the church can't quite bring itself to deal with -- like Lone Gunmen for the Church of England. The plotting's OK, too, in a Jonathon Creek-ish way, and it's easier to forgive its implausabilities as the supernatural exists -- if you've got demons, why not tattooing without bruises? And I really can't fault the supporting cast, a tasty english tangle of stroppy vicars, sadistic choirboys, formidable ladies and stanic tattooists. But Richard Coyle and Samantha Janus blankly stumbling through post-Buffy witticisms kind of curls the toes, and not in a good way. They can't quip; in fact, they're barely able to emote, and yet the script has passed them a wit-first dialogue so far beyond them they just don't bother. I kept on expecting one or other of them to say, "I'm sorry, what were you saying? Tuned out for a moment there." Actually, it might have made it better if they had. Do you really want to be wading in a sea of quip and fighting off demons? OK, Buffy does, but they really didn't. Oh, and from what they were saying (there was no way you could tell from how they were acting) there was supposed to be some sexual tension, which raises the less-than-appetising prospect of these two people getting it on at a latter point in the series (insert smutty remark about vicars and nurses here). Just maybe their mutual blankness was supposed to communicate how damaged they were, and how dark and terrible the world was, but all it made me do was wonder aloud about the effect of Botox on the modern acting community and yell react! at the television when Samantha Janus had yet another reaction shot where she her face didn't change at all. Not that implying that Samantha Janus uses Botox, oh good heavens no. Just that the widespread use of Botox is beginning to make it unfashionable to move your face. Which is (almost) fine if you're stunningly gorgeous and ooze charisma ... oh, no, it's my fault, isn't it? This whole series is just not going to work for me because I don't fancy Samantha Janus. I'd better go buy a copy of Loaded and re-educate myself pronto. Or not. BBC1 has never really relied upon acting for its great successes, and it is debatable whether the bastard child of Buffy, The X-Files and Jonathon Creek actually needs much in the way of acting, but ouch. It was like watching an inclusivity piece for actors without charisma.

Jabberwocky was great, though. Green monster!
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end of a decade

7DW Sunday - The West Wing/Five Angels/Yard Ticket

When I have dreams they often happen in big old houses stuffed with strange stuff. Which was one of the reasons we paid Mr Saatchi's gougy prices (honestly, doesn't the man have enough money already?). The other was that I wanted to see a big fish tank full of carps and computers, two very nice things which should spend more time together. Good news; there's a bunch of odd things on display for free in the hallway, including a pregnant sofa, some pretty pictures and a sputnik made out of dead rats. Entrance is commercially appropriate, through the shop, where the ticket-ripper compliments my t-shirt and sends us off to put our bags into safe storage (maybe worried we'll run off with a bit of souvenir vermin?) and then into a gloriously traditional room, all wood panels and plaster mouldings and a little angel staring down sadly at various dead things in tanks, including the supposedly living piece, which seems to have scored 100% fly mortality while oozing on the floor. Yummy. All along the corridoors there are more dead things, made of resin and paper, wax and bronze, paint and print and a disquieting chemical smell which peaks as we pass the half-melted gaze of the blood head into the big round hall; and there are the fish, carp nibbling contentedly at the computer keyboard while a leopard-spotted Mr Sucky chews disconsolately at painted steel; that very big anatomical model; Myra Hindley, triumphantly unscathed by her acid attack; and the mask of a scary man. We wander round looking at that, other stuff, people (fluffy blond mother and child and touchy-feely gay boys staring down at diminutive Dead Dad) and eventually carry on, past small panelled rooms and larger spaces mostly full of things by Damian Hurst, and expensive Mums doing a bad job of explaining Damian Hurst to their precocious buddings. Almost every room has a clock bult into the wall; some have two. Every clock is set to a different time. Damian says the architect should have been credited, installation at County Hall by Ralph Knott/various, and then we find a white room which is so pop star it only needs Damon from Blur saying something pretentious to make it into a performance piece. The fidgeting big-booted gallery attentant does her best, but we leave her for a room full of cartoons about sheep in tanks. Hurrah! Kate Charlesworth is in the Saatchi gallery! We go round the good stuff twice, sit down for a bit opposite some collaged towerblocks, and spend more time than we should looking at the bottoms of the Demoiselles D'Avignon before joining the queue. We don't know what we're queuing for, till we see the sign and remember, right away. Of course; the room half-full of black oil, with its waist-high walkway cutting into the panelled walls and impossibly deep windows of the oil mirror, a metal intrusion into the fabric of illusion, walking out into it is enough to make you doubt the reality of your own legs; I turn back to watch Damian perform the miracle, the slice of his pale top intersecting with the line of the oil as he tries to see what was behind the half-open door on the far side of the room, that final touch of mystery. I wasn't provoked by that, I've read Edward Gorey's The West Wing; what transfixed me was the chandelier under my feet.

( Marsyas has gone from the Tate Modern; they've replaced him with a dozen massive Henry Moores which still look lost in that concrete football pitch; but all the way upstairs (in body) there's a huge dark room showing Five Angels for the Millennium, massive projected videos of glittering colour-lit bodies falling through water with hypnotic slowness; we stayed until the attendant turned off the videos; she was booed. )

It's nice that you can still go to the theatre for fiver, though I tend to fetch up spending the money I saved on dried fruit and cups of wine. I'm not a history play fan, but the first night of Richard 2 from the Company of Men sounded fun. It was traditional dress, brocades and bonnets and big ornate ruffs on the women, who managed creditable dignity under the sceptical gaze of American and German tourists. The title role went to a bouncy, familiar face; the speeches (as ever) wandered through the titles of BBC history series and mystery novels. Yes, indeed, let's speak of graves and tombs and epitaphs! The plot was a bewildering muddle of betrayals and strong-arming and extended metaphors about gardening, but I'm here for the being and the seeing more than the story. It's just great to stand here and watch them shout and fight and pose and dance their way through a story so worn it's made its own groove in the language. There's always the danger you'll fetch up stood next to a noisy-coated jock boy who keeps swinging his bollocks and scratching his head, but that's just the chance you take. Did you see Henry's stocking fall down? asks Damian after. I didn't. I'm not tall enough. But we both spend some time talking about just how awesome Mrs De York was when she was begging for her treacherous pink-jerkined Son's life, and talking about the pointlessness of honour watching the black sillouettes of a great many people walk back across the bridge against the green-lit buildings, and the pink sky.
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