———————————————— Diphtong: A complex vowel sound that begins with the sound of one vowel and ends with the sound of another vowel, in the same syllable; Joined vowels, pronounced as one, such as a and e in æ, or o and e in œ.
———————————————— What follows is not the actual diphthong RT round-up, but a version edited into a script for the Salon Artwois. Hear a recording on the Salon at http://www.salonartwois.com/2010/10/podcast-11-diphthong-by-supercargo.html.
This is an exclusive podcast from John Nixon, TheSupercargo, for players of the Twitter-based Word of the Day game Artwiculate, and for habitués of the Salon Artwois refuge for tweetworn Artwiculati.
On Monday 18th October the Word of the Day on Artwiculate was Diphthong.
Greetings, honourable listeners. Here I am again, TheSupercargo and his diphthong, offering another RT round-up.
In respect of today’s word, As @mazpowles observes …
Dear Artwiculate, Diphthong is going to be much more fun as a podcast.
I feel challenged and will be selecting tweets I think I have a hope of pronouncing successfully too.
Before we plunge into the vocal undergrowth, however, there are a few opinionated tweets to share. For example this from @tylercrea
There should be a diphthong in the word ‘diphthong.’
I agree! And I agree also with Hilary @helacious when she writes.
Tonight we honor paradoxical “diphthong,” who uses a mouthful of consonants to denote a mouthful of vowels.
Can we first agree with Silia @SJHatzi that, from one aspect at least, we’re looking at a grammatical function?
“Dialectal distribution of compensatory diphthongization is dependent on the velar/palatal dorsal plosive.” Grammar is SO sexy!
Yes, well, we’ll be back to visit the sex a bit later. But sticking to the grammar here’s a haiku from @cyberbonn
The Grammarian / alone with his diphthong / having a private moment.
Of course, I suppose you could argue that pronunciation is less a matter of grammar, more a matter of the mouth. Don’t you agree @drchavi?
The right use of the tongue, the jaws and the lips are all you and I need to make a diphthong click
Yes – um – there’s that sex thing again.
Some people narrowed in on the second element of the word. @I2Haiku for example …
Diphthong: a guy who wears a thong bathing suit because he thinks he looks good in it.
And @LucasWarwillow seems to have very strange taste in – er – food.
Definition of diphthong: Thong you dip in chocolate sauce when you get tipsy and can’t p-ph-phronounce anymore.
But of course, tipsy, who knows what one might find oneself doing. Not that I think @eilonwya10‘s lady is drunk necessarily
I’m just a beeyotch going for a swiiiium, she squealed when men admired her diphthong.
Well, we’re on the beach, so how about some geology? This is @TiddK‘s tweet:
Deep within the vowels of the earth is a diphthong.
And @pranavmukul‘s tweet has a geological touch too:
Diphthong : He came, he saw, he burst..he’s Eyjafjallajökull.
Also – now I think about it – a touch of sexual innuendo there too. No. no, not yet!
Geology to geography. Here’s @Eridanus:
A mere diphthong? The USA tried harder and founded the first and only Four-Letter Pentaphthong State: A-EE-O-OO-A — ah, Iowa!
As the train rolled into Diphthong, there was a loud twang and a screeching aaaaaaeeeeeee as it came to an abrupt halt!
Phew, no harm done. But where are we? @ten_ten_ten?
In ‘ertford, ‘ereford and ‘ampshire, dip’thongs ‘ardly ‘appen @lagadu123
(In parenthesis, the ref to Jane @lagadu123 was a nod of thanks to her reminding certain players of the correct spelling – two hs. Let me take the opportunity to slip in Jane’s own tweet referring to her daughter who’d hijacked Jane’s account the day before
My daughter describes herself as an artwiculorphan. See how she put the “l” in to avoid an awkward diphthong? #maternalpride
Back to the script – ‘ertford, ‘ereford and ‘ampshire – )
Ah! Somewhere in England? Let’s check into @osmarjardim‘s hotel.
Diphthong Hotael . Vacancy.
Not that the receptionist sounds terribly British. Must be an immigrant. Accent combined with diphthongs can be a give-away as @rashasman observes:
The Diphthong is to Strine what a drawl is to the deep South, as mandatory as a warm evening breeze
I really doubt whether I can imitate either, though I fear I shall have to try at least once with Australian. Are you ready? Please forgive me Tracy @Squawkingalah
I’ve got a diphthong slap bang in the middle of my name (Tracy).
Whenever I try to imitate Strine, I tend to drift into Cockney. Anyway, here’s something even more difficult – the nasalised tilde
No, I’m sorry, @marcosarroyos I’m not going to attempt to combine Texan AND psuedo-Portuguese
Portuguese has a nasalized diphthong: Hõ nõ brõ cõ.
There are some more difficult to pronounce tweets coming up, but let me just share @19ish‘s short and sweet:
Meow! Diphthong! ‘Nuff said.
@gourenina had a nice definition.
Diphthong. Talking without any contact twixt upper and lower lip. “E-o! O a ou?”
@trtzbass approached languages I know something about in this one
Seaside tombstone: he was looking for the diphthong in maelstrom, but the ocean knows no mercy or phonetics.
(And by the by, some of these monickers don’t obviously seem invented to be spoken aloud! trtzbass)
@runheidi gave some advice for the actors’ studio
When modernizing tragedy, the diphthong is such fuss. Don’t call the old man Oedipus; just call him Eddy Puss.
And @BurningHawk1969 shared a moment from his kitchen.
But there’s no getting away from it, an awful lot of today’s tweets had to do with sex. And Love, to be sure.
Here’s @kado56 being very subtle
Diphthong vowels lie side by side/ but dipthong vowels can oft elide/ quite distinct they combin-ate/ daemons to pronounci-ate
And @Wifsie, not by any means outdone.
For the ring of it all ~ two sounds converge ~ marriage by diphthong ~ breath taking fusion ~ a word is born.
@lyncon5 goes more to the point
My love and I are like a diphthong – back to back, together, not easy, but inseparable.
While @MaxRaunchiness is, well, Max.
Let’s try putting my diphthong together with your consonant cluster and see what sounds we can make.
@ariandalen takes us to meet
Ah, Mistress Diphthong: she’ll tell you the difference between “ae,” “ei,” and “ie.”
But the crowning tweet in this bunch must be the following from @Ysabeluna
\his soft silky sighs \in diphthong -s \ oy, oi, oui, oui, oui ! \ at peak ecstasy \sweet music to me, cheri\
There you have it, friends – @faelora screams …
Aiiiiiii, a diphthong! RUN FOR YOUR LIEEEEVES!
Erm. Now. There you have it! A breathless round-up.
There were SO MANY good tweets today. Several especially from @helacious, @harrarp and @19ish
Greetings to @tylercrea who doesn’t yet have a profile page, to @trtzbass @faelora & @lyncon5 all new players.
Greetings also to @gourenina @rashasman & @LucasWarwillow who’ve all been playing on and off for a while but only now debut in the round-up.
And, finally just for @osmarjardim – “Beowulf”
Thank you for listening. And thanks to everyone whose words I borrowed. That was an exclusive podcast from John Nixon, TheSupercargo, for players of the Twitter-based words game Artwiculate, and for habitués of the Salon Artwois refuge for tweetworn Artwiculati.
You are about to hear a voice recording in the series Letters from Northern Lands. The text and recording are by me, John Nixon, The Supercargo of www.thesupercargo.com, and are made available under the creative commons license specified at the end of the recording.
This second â€œLetter from Northern Lands: A Letter from Swedenâ€ is dated 21st June 2010.
In my previous letter I deliberately mispronounced the name of musician and record producer Kleerup as Clearup. I thought I was being funny, but some people near and dear to me disagree. I also called him Thomas which was a mistake pure and simple. So: his name is Andreas Kleerup and nothing else. And Iâ€™m glad weâ€™ve cleared that up!
Midsummer is the quintessential Swedish celebration, with folk dress and dances, maypoles and music, food and drink and an on-going gamble on the weather. (Will the rain hold off so we can lay a table outside under the sky? Or will it pour so we have to sit indoors and reminisce about how it always used to be fine weather and whatâ€™s the world coming to?)
I am composing this on the 21st June, the Midsummer solstice. Tonight will be the shortest night of the year, but that doesnâ€™t mean Sweden will be celebrating Midsummer today. Oh, dear me, no. Weâ€™re not even going to be celebrating it as our fellow Nordic types will on the 23rd or 24th June (on the Eve of St John, or on St Johnâ€™s Day, that is).
Once upon a time, I suppose, when this was a Christian country, Swedes, like Norwegians, would have made merry on Sankthansaften. But Swedish bureaucracy (which is, of course, the best in the world), in accord with a Lutheran work ethic that puts other Lutheran work ethics to shame, has resulted in Midsummer being tidied to the end of the working week. This year we shall celebrate Midsummerâ€™s Day on Saturday 26th. However, because even Swedes nurse rebellion in a little corner of their hearts, we will actually celebrate on the evening of Friday 25th and many of us will spend Saturday nursing our annual Midsummer hangovers.
This year, though, some people have managed to stretch their Midsummer celebrations over a whole three weeks. Having warmed up with the Swedish National Day on 6th June, they continued with school graduation ceremonies in the week following, and were then able to fill the gap before Midsummer by following the fortunes of Swedish football coaches at the soccer World Cup on TV, switching to the Royal Wedding over the weekend.
The Royal Wedding, ah, yes.
If over the last couple of weeks, you had read only Swedish papers and magazines, watched only Swedish TV or listened only to Swedish radio, you would know that the only world event worth reporting took place in Stockholm on Saturday 19th June. Weâ€™ve been suffering a surfeit of pomp and circumstance, stage-romance and media hysteria the like of which I personally have not seen since Prince Charles married Lady Diana in London in 1979.
Itâ€™s not that other news has been ignored exactly, but it seems always to have been reported by reference to The Wedding. For example, Carl-Henrik Svanberg, the miserable Swedish head of British Petroleum, was invited to The Wedding, but had to turn down his invitation in order not to appear any more indifferent to the consequences of the Mexican Gulf oil spill than he already does.
We have learned many things in the last few days. For example, Swedish Television was extremely impressed by the number of German journalists who turned out for The Wedding. So impressed they ran at least one â€œin depthâ€ report in which a Swedish news team shadowed a German news team around the streets of Stockholm. The Germans were interviewed (in English).
â€œWhat is the attraction?â€ They were asked.
â€œItâ€™s all so romantic,â€ came the reply. â€œWe donâ€™t have any German Royalty.â€ (This in the face of the ten or so Prinz und Prinzessen on the Royal Wedding invitation list.)
According to the (socialist) evening tabloid Aftonbladet, Princess Victoria is otroligt fÃ¶rtjust i barn (â€œhas an incredible love for childrenâ€) which is why she chose to have brudnÃ¤bbar istÃ¤llet fÃ¶r brudtÃ¤rnor (children instead of girlfriends as bridesmaids). The same report suggested that the groom, Herr Daniel Westling, has perhaps only a credible love for children. Iâ€™m not sure the reporter thought that was so commendable.
Several newspapers chose to describe it as Ett SagobrÃ¶llop (a fairy-tale wedding).
The hype and hysteria seemed to have penetrated to the very centre of the brouhaha when, in her balcony speech, Princess Victoria personally thanked the Swedish people for giving her her prince.
[Princess Victoria's voice, recorded from the TV.]
If weâ€™re going to make fairy tale comparisons then Daniel Westling has more in common with the swineherd who wins the Princess and half the kingdom. Itâ€™s his marriage to Victoria that has raised him to the ranks of the aristocracy (as a Prince of the Realm and Hertig â€“ Duke â€“ of VÃ¤stergÃ¶tland), and that was in the gift of Victoria herself.
On second thoughts, if the government had had a strong reservation about Daniel as Prince Consort then the wedding might not have taken place. The government represents the people, so I suppose there is a sense in which the Swedish people have given Victoria her Prince, but Victoriaâ€™s thanks still seems more than a bit OTT.
What I personally found quite beyond credibility was the sincerity of the reporting. There is a rhythm to Swedish media reports about individuals which sees them first built up, in order to then be dragged down again. It is most noticeable, I think, with people who are not native-born Swedes, but everyone can be targeted.
Because it happened my first year in Sweden, I remember particularly the case of Raafyat El-Said, promoted as â€œSwede of the Yearâ€ in 1985 then toppled from his pedestal and dragged off to prison a year later, hounded by the same media that had just been singing his praises.
I hope Prince Daniel has someone watching his back.
With all the hype, youâ€™d be forgiven for thinking that the Swedish monarchy has some significance. It doesnâ€™t, of course. Perhaps thatâ€™s why the media feel they can lavish so much attention on it. The monarchy is exactly like this wedding, a spun-sugar cloud of pink and white decorated with gilded beads and described in meaningless phrases.
There hasnâ€™t been a coronation in Sweden since 1873. That was for Oscar II, the last Swedish King to also rule Norway. Swedenâ€™s three subsequent monarchs, Gustaf V, Gustaf VI Adolf and the present king and father of the bride, Carl XVI Gustaf, were none of them crowned.
Thereâ€™s a story that Sweden actually became a republic in 1974, but that nobody has yet had the heart to tell the king.
Under the revised constitution of 1974, though he remains Head of State, the king of Sweden has no formal political power of any sort. His agreement is not necessary for the creation of new laws. He is not responsible for calling or suspending the Riksdag, the Swedish Parliament, and it is the Talman or Speaker of the Riksdag who, after an election, calls on the leader of the largest political party to form a government.
The king does ceremonially open the Riksdag, once a year, and is formally the Chair of the Committee for Foreign Affairs, but thatâ€™s as far as his political involvement goes.
He is also forbidden to say anything that might be construed as a political statement, which means of course, that when the Swedish media is having an off day, they can pick up pretty much anything he does say and turn it into a political scandal. Just at present, though, the Royal Family are riding on a wave of media approval.
Interestingly, their credit with the Swedish people is not nearly as high. A recent statistical survey from the SOM institute at the University of Gothenburg showed an approval rate for the monarchy of just 56%, a drop of 12% since 2003. And during the last year, since plans for The Wedding were announced, the Swedish Republican Association has seen its membership increase from 3,000 to 6,000.
That may simply be a blip. Iâ€™m not the only person fed up to the back teeth by The Wedding. Perhaps people will come around. Victoria is a hard person to dislike, and seems sincere and determined to continue doing her job as Crown Princess. And, who knows, when her time comes to take over as Queen, perhaps the state will consider it worth spending the money to give her a coronation.
On the other hand, maybe the number of people who feel uncomfortable about keeping a Royal Family like a troupe of very expensive performing animals will grow and we can finally come out of the closet about Swedenâ€™s true republican status.
Thanks for listening. That was a â€œLetter from Northern Landsâ€ dated 21st June 2010.
——————————————————————— This recording, and the accompanying transcript, are licensed under the Creative Commons attribution / non-commercial / share-alike license by me, John Nixon, The Supercargo of www.thesupercargo.com. You may download this recording for your private use. You may also freely redistribute all or part of this recording for non-commercial purposes, provided you acknowledge me John Nixon, The Supercargo and include a link to my homepage at www.thesupercargo.com.
I’ve been planning to start with a “real” podcast for some time. Despite what I write below, this isn’t it!
A real podcast needs to be hosted on a server designed for the purpose and to have a specially written RSS feed link which can be read by podcast aggregators like iTunes and Juice. I’ve not (yet) been able to make that happen. In the meantime, dear reader, please treat the following as another essay towards a regular podcast.
———————————————————————————————- You are about to hear a voice recording in the series Letters from Northern Lands. The text and recording are by me, John Nixon, The Supercargo of www.thesupercargo.com, and are made available under the creative commons license specified at the end of the recording.
——————————————————————— This first â€œLetter from Northern Landsâ€ is dated 9th June 2010.
For months now, Iâ€™ve been looking for a theme for a series of recordings that might become podcasts. This week, this weekend just gone in fact, it struck me that Iâ€™ve been staring at a good theme without seeing it the whole time.
Iâ€™m an Englishman, I live in Sweden: why not make that the theme?
Actually, there are reasons why not.
For example, Iâ€™ve lived here so many years now, Iâ€™m not sure I can any longer certainly see what is unique or peculiar about the place. Of course, Iâ€™m full of arcane facts about Sweden. Did you know, for instance that suede, the soft almost peach-fuzzy leather, gets itâ€™s name from the French pronunciation of Sweden? SuÃ¨de. Originally, the leather was used for gloves, which were called gants du SuÃ¨de â€“ gloves of Sweden.
On the other hand, having lived here so long, Iâ€™ve enjoyed (if thatâ€™s the right word) an extensive immersion in the Swedish experience, and that should count for something, surely?
Sweden is experiencing international star status at the moment in a way it has not for many years. Popular musicians like Robyn, music video directors like Jonas Ã…kerlund, films like Thomas Alfredssonâ€™s Let the Right One In, and above all, the detective stories of Henning Mankell and Steig Larsson have suddenly raised Swedenâ€™s international profile. Iâ€™m wondering if I can catch this wave and ride it a little.
Did you notice what I did just then? Those five references, they were very carefully chosen to ring your Swedish bells.
Robyn says she will be releasing three albums this year starting this month, and is planning a tour with the American singer Kellis (and I still remember â€“ and hope some of you will too â€“ her appearance on David Lettermanâ€™s show a year or so ago when he couldnâ€™t let go of her hand).
Thomas Alfredssonâ€™s romantic horror vampire movie, Let the Right One In, or LÃ¥t den rÃ¤tta komma in, written by John Ajvide Lindqvist, is currently re-filming (as Let Me In) in an American English version for all the Anglophones who canâ€™t manage to read sub-titles.
And for a similar audience, Steig Larssonâ€™s three novels are also to be re-filmed in English, though we donâ€™t yet know who will play Lisbet Selander. Whoever it is will have the unenviable task of out-acting Noomi Rapace in the Swedish language films.
Unless you are a music video geek then I suppose Jonas Ã…kerlundâ€™s name was the least likely to ring your recognition bells. But in his field he is very well known and has worked in particular with Madonna.
Instead of Ã…kerlund, and because he has worked with Robyn, I did think to mention Thomas Kleerup, but then Iâ€™d have to make a joke about his name and reference another Swede in the news, Carl-Henric Svanberg, Chairman of BP, who certainly needs all the help he can get clearing up the mess his company has caused in the Gulf of Mexico.
But I donâ€™t want to do that. Only positive references to Sweden in this first recording, podcast, letter, what have you!
Well, thatâ€™s not going to happen. Iâ€™m not Alistair Cooke, Iâ€™m not reporting from the USA and nobody is paying me to make these recordings (which may anyway turn out to be a very short series). But Cookeâ€™s â€œLettersâ€ are one of my sources of inspiration, and a part of my title is a nod of acknowledgement to his memory.
In the rest of the title, â€œfrom Northern Landsâ€, Iâ€™m deliberately trying not to be too specific. A few years ago I started a blog, now languishing, called â€œObserving Gothenburgâ€. I live in Gothenburg, which is Swedenâ€™s second city, and I thought it would be a good title. However, I realised after quite a short while, that I didnâ€™t just want to write about Gothenburg and my title felt like a constraint.
This time around, Iâ€™m trying to learn from that experience and think ahead. Of course, as youâ€™ve realised if youâ€™ve listened thus far, my material is going to be mostly about Sweden, but I want to have the option to speak also about other northern lands, about Denmark and Norway, perhaps about Finland and the Baltic States, and possibly even about Iceland. And, of course, there is always the chance that I might find myself talking about that furthest distant archipelago of islands off Scandinaviaâ€™s west coast, the British Isles.
I said at the beginning that the theme for this series of recordings came to me at the weekend.
Sunday the 6th June was Swedenâ€™s national day and we had good weather for it too. Here in Gothenburg my wife and I joined what the media reckoned to be about 25,000 people in the townâ€™s main park, Slottskogen, to hear the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, and a wind ensemble from the visiting Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra. (Itâ€™s some of their music I recorded at the time that you can hear occasionally in the background of this.)
The concert was introduced by the leader of the city council who took the opportunity to welcome people who have newly received Swedish citizenship. There was a compare who joked (I think he was joking) about how Sweden is the norm by which the rest of the world is judged. The GSO played, the young Venezuelans played. We sat with friends and listened, talked, applauded, ate a picnic lunch and had a fine time.
And I thought, this, this is something I could talk about! But, I really donâ€™t want to find myself doing Swedish Tourist Authority spadework (and for free), so there has to be more.
One of my Twitter buddies, Dramagirl Kate, when I asked her what she thought was the attraction of the Wallander and Selander films, said that it was the window they opened on Sweden. â€œThe minutia of everyday life.â€ Iâ€™ve been turning that over in my mind as well. I can do minutia, but how interesting is it if Swedish minutia turns out to be pretty much the same as minutia most everywhere else?
Thatâ€™s a risk Iâ€™ll just have to take.
So now, coming to the end of my first recording. Iâ€™m planning to make one of these podcasts once a month, though hoping to be a little more frequent. Iâ€™m aiming to make them like this one, about 10 minutes in length. Iâ€™ve no idea if they will appeal to many people â€“ or even to anyone â€“ but they are a way for me to include an updated sample of my voice on my home page as a form of advertisement.
If you like my voice and want me to read something for you commercially, or to participate in a pod radio discussion for example, or if you are interested in using these letters in some way, please get in touch. Use the contact form on my homepage. The address is coming right up!
That was a â€œLetter from Northern Landsâ€ dated 9th June 2010.
This recording, and the accompanying transcript, are licensed under the Creative Commons attribution / non-commercial / share-alike license by me, John Nixon, The Supercargo of www.thesupercargo.com. You may download this recording for your pivate use. You may also freely redistribute all or part of this recording for non-commercial purposes, provided you acknowledge me John Nixon, The Supercargo and include a link to my homepage at www.thesupercargo.com.
If you wish to make use of the recording for commercial purposes, please ask. Use the contact form on my homepage.
The text and recording of the review are by John Nixon, The Supercargo of www.thesupercargo.com
You may freely redistribute all or part of this review for non-commercial purposes provided you acknowledge The Supercargo and include a link to The Supercargo homepage.
——————————————————————— The Habit of Art
Itâ€™s been nearly four weeks since I saw Alan Bennettâ€™s The Habit of Art in a live broadcast from Londonâ€™s National Theatre at the Bio Roy here in Gothenburg. I fully intended to write and record a review soon after, but circumstances dictated otherwise. I did manage to scribble down some notes, though, and before the experience quite evaporates from memory I thought I should at least attempt to say something.
This preamble is appropriate in one way. The Habit of Art is about many things, and one of them is age and another is memory.
The premise of the play is that some time in the late 60s, the poet WH Auden and the composer Benjamin Britten meet in Oxford. Meet again I should say since they were creative partners before the Second World War, collaborating on among other things, The Night Train, [actually The Night Mail] one of the early film documentaries. Auden, the elder, was the librettist. Britten, (in this retelling of the story) was in awe of his more famous companion, shy, and felt he had to struggle to keep up his side of the partnership. But it was a productive and creative partnership that resulted in several works.
The last of these was Brittenâ€™s opera John Bunyan, written at Audenâ€™s suggestion specifically for an American audience and first performed in the USA where Auden was living. It flopped. Britten blamed Auden, and Auden accepted the blame, but Britten could never forgive, and broke off all contact with the poet.
Apparently this was something Britten did. Old friends who had let him down in some way, he regarded as dead. For this reason, in later life, the two Britten and Auden never really did meet.
In this play, Alan Bennett supposes otherwise.
In the play, the elderly Auden has returned to England, to Oxford, as a Professor of English. He is respected as an icon, but disliked as a person for his rudimentary personal hygiene, his behaviour (pissing in the sink), the fact that he employs rent boys for sex and his boring repetitative conversation at the college high table. He writes, because he has the habit of art, but produces nothing of interest.
Meanwhile, Britten who is similarly revered as a Grand Old Man, has also passed his prime. Young musicians now are inspired by other, younger, more daring composers. Britten they think is staid, predictable. In reaction to this, because he also has the habit of art, Britten is composing a new opera, based on Thomas Mannâ€™s novella Death in Venice. It is not going well. People he trusts around him do not like the subject, though they go through the motions of helping him. The creative sparks do not fly. Auditioning boys for the role of Tadzio in Oxford, he takes the opportunity, after 25 years of estrangement, to seek out Auden at his lodgings.
The Habit of Art, though is not just a representation of this meeting. Instead it is a play within a play. The play in which Auden and Britten meet is being rehearsed in a rehearsal room at the National Theatre, with some of the actors, the stage manager and her assistant, the writer. This is the first run through. Not all the lines have been decided. The actors speak their lines in character, but also break out of character to argue with the writer and the stage manager, complain about the absent director, criticise and tease one another, discuss Auden, Britten, and Humphrey Carpenter (apparently the narrator of the Auden/Britten play).
This structure allows Bennett to stand back from the play, and to make fun of his characters, of the pretensions of actors and writers, to allow the compass of the play to go beyond poetry and music to include performance and playwriting, and to explore issues such as the creative process, aging, music, poetry, theatre, fame, homosexuality, loneliness.
The actor who carries the biggest role in The Habit of Art, playing both â€œFitzâ€ and â€œFitz as Audenâ€, is Richard Griffiths. He performed brilliantly and showed what a very good actor he is. Switching easily from the mannered enunciation of Auden to the more natural voice of Fitz (though Fitz â€“ as an actor â€“ can ham up his performance with accents too). Fitz (though not Griffiths) is an actor past his prime, whose memory is a bit patchy and who nods off from time to time.
The Habit of Art - Collage
Playing the slightly effeminate â€œHenryâ€, the actor performing the role of prissy Britten, is Alex Jennings. As Britten, he seems to be trying to rediscover the fire of his youthful creativity. Re-building the bridges he has burned with Auden. At the same time proud of his achievements and bitter and more than a little confused to find himself sitting on the establishment benches, sidelined by composers like Michael Tippet. The poisonous delivery of Tippetâ€™s name sticks with me.
In this context, it is interesting to consider how these three well-known British actors are presented to their Swedish audience. The touchstone, Iâ€™m sorry to say, is film and, more particularly, Harry Potter. Richard Griffiths is â€œknown to Swedish audiences as Harry Potterâ€™s unpleasant uncle.â€ Adrian Scarborough is â€œRon Weaslyâ€™s father from the Harry Potter films.â€ Alex Jennings, who doesnâ€™t seem to have a Harry Potter credit (yet) is identified in our Swedish programme leaflet as â€œPrince Charles in The Queen.â€ He was good in that role, true, but he is better in this.
Another performer without a Potter credit and so virtually unknown in Sweden, Frances de la Tour, plays the role of Kay, the much tried stage manager. It is a wonderful performance. Her characterâ€™s efficiency and good nature, as well as the delight she takes in reading in for absent minor characters, are compelling. The scenes where Kay talks about actors and directors she has worked with, Richard Eyre, John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, and about the National Theatre itself, and in which the younger cast members listen with fascination, were so believable. Actors fascinated by the lore and the history of their own craft. Despite Bennettâ€™s joking about actors and acting, there is a deep love for the craft and its performers, which wells up especially in Kayâ€™s role.
At the end, Kay gets to switch off the lights and end the play, too. It was a nice touch, and I donâ€™t know how Frances de la Tour did it, but in the simple action, and the pause just before, as she looks around the now empty stage, there is a wonderful feeling of contentment mixed with a kind of bitter-sweet longing.
Or maybe I was just reading too much into the scene.
Technically, this NT Live broadcast was very satisfactory. There was no sound delay (as in Allâ€™s Well that Ends Well) and the Lyttleton stage felt to be the right size for the performance and for the broadcast. It helped the atmosphere in Gothenburg that the cinema was filled, (though not to overflowing). It was a better turn out than for either Allâ€™s Well or Nation, about on a par with Phedre.
It was good to be able to hear the reactions of the audience in London, as they helped cue reactions in Gothenburg. Iâ€™m sure most of the audience here were fluent users of English and a number will, like me, have been native speakers. But for the Swedes, even though the actors delivered their lines with clarity, itâ€™s still a bit more of an effort. When one is used to subtitles one forgets how much of a crutch they are. I think most people got most of the jokes. The only times I particularly noticed our audience out of phase with London were when Donald defends his character Humphrey Carpenter and stresses how he â€œpractically started Radio 3â€. That got a laugh in London but fell flat in Gothenburg. And then when Auden claims to once have been compared to a Swedish deckhand, that got a much bigger laugh here than in London.
The Habit of Art - Programme and portraits
What didnâ€™t work? Well, once again (as in Allâ€™s Well) there were several characters who were almost never picked up by the camera, apparently because they had little or nothing to say. This did not detract from the enjoyment of the play, but did raise a few eyebrows in the interval or on the way home. The Dresser? Oh yes, he had a line or two. The Chaperone? She sat at the back in the first act.
So, I come to the end and I realise my memory (with the help of my notes) is not so ropy after all. Of course, Iâ€™ve missed mentioning several of the other performers. Iâ€™m sorry, chaps, thatâ€™s the way of the world!
What more to say? The introduction, the little conversation/interview in the open air on a balcony of the National with the Thames and the North Bank in view behind, is so much better now. The camera angles have been worked out and we donâ€™t see interviewer looming over interviewee as in the very first broadcast. The little documentary info film about the real relationship between Auden and Britten was also appropriate, interesting and helpful.
I definitely want to see more, and Iâ€™m looking forward to the next season (and keeping my fingers crossed that Bio Roy will continue to show the broadcasts). Iâ€™m not sure about the extra broadcast, London Assurance, on the 28th June. The date might work for me, but I was very negative to some of the technical aspects of the previous broadcast from the cavernous Olivier stage. Still, it would be nice to see if those problems can be overcome â€“ or if London Assurance is a more appropriate play for the stage. Maybe.
In the meantime, itâ€™s time for me to wind this up with thanks to Alan Bennett, to the performers, to the backstage staff and to the broadcasters for a funny, witty, moving, engaging and very well acted play. Thumbs up!
Thanks for listening!
That was a review of the British National Theatreâ€™s production and direct-feed broadcast of Alan Bennett’s The Habit of Art made on 22nd April 2010.
This text and recording are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-commercial-Share Alike license by John Nixon, The Supercargo of www.thesupercargo.com This work by John Nixon, The Supercargo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.thesupercargo.com/contact/. ———————————————————————- Illustrations
The illustrations are all taken from the Internet site of the National Theatre. In “The Habit of Art – Collage”, the pictures show Top: (l) The stage with actors; (r) Griffiths as “Fitz/Auden”, Scarborough as “Donald/Carpenter”, Jennings as “Henry/Britten”. Bottom: (l) Griffiths; (c) Jennings; (r) de la Tour as “Kay.” These are all copied from the Production Gallery for The Habit of Arthere. Photographs by Johan Persson.
The the “Programme and portraits”, the illustrations show (l) Programme/poster frontpage with Jennings and Griffiths as Britten and Auden; (r top) Alan Bennett; (r bottom) Francis de la Tour. The two black and white portraits were taken from other pages on the NT site. ———————————————————————
You’re about to hear a review of the British National Theatreâ€™s production of Allâ€™s Well that Ends Well, seen live in a cinema in Gothenburg last week on Thursday 1st October. This review was completed on 8th October 2009. The text and recording of this review are by me, John Nixon, The Supercargo of www.thesupercargo.com. You may freely redistribute all or part of this review for non-commercial purposes, provided you acknowledge The Supercargo and include a link to The Supercargo homepage.
Iâ€™m cross with myself for not getting around to this sooner. I managed to review Phedre within 24 hours, but time has not been at a premium lately.
For anyone who just wandered in, the National Theatre in London has joined the â€™live streamingâ€™ movement and started broadcasting high definition, surround-sound films of on-stage performances. These are broadcast by satellite link to specially equipped cinemas and shown simultaneously to audiences around the world. At least thatâ€™s what I thought was happening, but Iâ€™ve just found out that some places are recording the broadcasts in order to show them at more reasonable local times.
Here in Sweden, weâ€™re one hour ahead (when itâ€™s 6 p.m. in London, itâ€™s 7 p.m. here) so we get the live feed.
Phedre was fantastic. My first experience of the technology, but also a very gripping play and a wonderful performance by the cast. Allâ€™s Well That Ends Well was the second of the NTLive broadcasts and I was looking forward to it very much.
Perhaps too much.
It immediately seems unfair to say that. Unfair on the actors, on the people back-stage and on the performance. So I need to draw distinctions between what was going on in front of the audience in London, what was going on in the cinema where I sat, and what may have been going on in the spaces between.
Letâ€™s start by saying that I thought the performance was very, very good. In particular, Michelle Terry made a wonderful Helena. Itâ€™s a big part and holds the whole play together, so it needs to be acted with authority, which is just what she achieved. George Rainsforthâ€™s Bertram was just as good-looking, immature and shallow as he needed to be and Conleth Hill, as the bragging coward Parolles was a fine comic performance.
[FairyTale - l. to r. Bertram reluctantly takes Helena's Hand at the command of the King. Helena as Red Riding Hood and as Alice. Photos from the NTLive Internet page for All's Well.]
All’s Well is a topsy-turvy version of a classic fairytale. The poor hero, who performs an impossible task to win the hand of the princess and live happily ever after, becomes the poor girl (Helena) who cures the king and wins the hand of her count (Bertram) only to be rejected. Sheâ€™s neither pretty nor noble enough for him, and besides, he doesnâ€™t love her. They marry because it is the kingâ€™s will, but Bertram leaves Helena, the marriage unconsummated, and sets out on his own fairytale adventure, to win renown in the wars. She follows him and wins him back by guile, and so the play ends well. So allâ€™s well, isnâ€™t it?
(The uncertainty about the ending was nicely highlighted by the wedding photo sequence at the very end of the performance.)
The National Theatreâ€™s staging made very good use of the fairytale elements in the story as well as the way Shakespeare brings them into conflict with reality. (Ok, stage reality.) Lots of references to fairytales and nursery rhymes in the costumes (Alice in Wonderland, Little Red Riding Hood), in the shadow plays and animations at the back of the stage (in particular, Dulacâ€™s illustrations from Perrault), in the lighting (Gothic in France, golden in Italy).
But plays â€“ and Shakespeareâ€™s plays in particular â€“ can be helped along only so far by good staging. Eventually everything comes back to the words, the sense and the delivery. As Iâ€™ve said, there was nothing wrong in this performance with the delivery. But now Iâ€™ve read it through as well as seen it, I have to say that donâ€™t think Allâ€™s Well is one of the bardâ€™s better efforts. Some parts, especially in the first half are really difficult to follow. Wordy. Obscure.
I still donâ€™t know what the Countess and her Clown were going on about. It didnâ€™t seem to move the action along. I suppose in Shakespeareâ€™s day it might have been side-splitting and helped people over the sticky bits, but if so it hasnâ€™t aged well. Not that Clare Higgins as the Countess and Brendan Oâ€™Hea as the Clown werenâ€™t giving it their all, but I really feel this performance would have been helped by some judicious pruning.
There were a number of puzzled and not a few glassy eyed looks in the foyer during the interval on 1st October as we all trooped out to stretch our legs.
The pace, though, picked up in latter part of the first half, and after the interval it bowled along nicely. Generally, everyone I spoke to after was satisfied and didnâ€™t feel their evening had been wasted.
Technically though, there were aspects of the broadcast that were less than satisfactory.
The thing I was afraid of before seeing Phedre, and which I thought was completely buried by that experience, was that filmed stage performances can be so static. Allâ€™s Well has partly dug that back up. To some extent itâ€™s the play, being so slow and sticky in the first half. But it could also be that the Olivier Stage at the National is just too big for these broadcasts.
Iâ€™ll try and explain. The most delightful things about seeing both Phedre and Allâ€™s Well in these filmed versions are all the close-ups of the actorsâ€™ faces. Much of my experience of live performances in big theatres has been, of necessity, from the cheapest seats at the back of the stalls or up in the gods. In these filmed performances, seeing the actorsâ€™ expressions as well as their body language is just wonderful. But what you gain on the swings you lose on the roundabouts.
The close-ups give an intimate theatrical experience, but at the same time, they take away the audienceâ€™s options to see what else is going on on-stage. In Phedre, that didnâ€™t seem to matter, but in Allâ€™s Well, with a larger cast, I think it did. Now, I could see that the Director for Screen was trying to include middle distance and wide shots as well as tight close-ups, but I donâ€™t think this worked out as well as it might have, perhaps because the stage was so large.
Yes, we did occasionally see people on stage reacting to whatever event was in focus, but only enough to realise that we were probably missing much more. I for one would have liked more, wider shots. But I would not have appreciated more of the fish-eye lens.
Where a wider shot of the Phedre stage was able to capture the whole space without much distortion, the (mercifully few) fish-eye shots of the Allâ€™s Well stage gave me the feeling that I was looking through the wrong end of a pair of opera glasses. Actors and set were swallowed up by the empty boards and the looming back wall. Only the person standing centre front stage was identifiable, though as a rotund and rather squat version of him- or herself.
I think this problem did not help the play in the first half. The long shots isolated the performers in an expanse of distorted space and the tight close-ups, excluding other business on stage; both contributed to making an already slow action seem more stilted.
Hereâ€™s a thought. How about experimenting with a split screen? Show a medium distance shot alongside a close-up. I think it could enhance the theatrical experience by giving the audience the opportunity to look elsewhere than just at the central characters. At the same time eschew the fish-eye lens. Please.
Unless you really want to stress Brechtian alienation.
Another technique to alienate the audience, I should think, is to have the sound out of synch with the actorsâ€™ lips.
Thereâ€™s a noticeable delay over the Internet. Video-conferences quite frequently involve watching someone saying what you have already heard them say in your headphones. It was another thing I was afraid of when I went to see Phedre, but there was no problem of that sort at all, then.
Unfortunately, I was aware of just such a delay throughout all of Allâ€™s Well. To be sure, the pre-performance interviews and documentary were far more seriously out of synch than the performance itself, and over the course of the play I adjusted to the delay, but whenever there was a sharp noise I was reminded of it. Someone slapped table, and then the hand went down. I should say, though, that my companions were divided about this, some insisted they couldnâ€™t detect a delay in the play, so it may be a matter of individual sensitivity.
And what about those interviews? Just as my wife and I were regaling our friends with a description of Jeremy Ironâ€™s terribly awkward interview before Phedre, up on the screen comes an equally awkward performance introducing Allâ€™s Well. I have the impression that the interviewer and interviewee are squashed into a space that is too small for them, that they have neither of them rehearsed what they are doing, and that the interviewer is a terribly shifty looking fellow who towers over his interviewee. The interview indoors with director Marianne Elliott was less awkward, but her body language made it so obvious that she had no wish to be there.
Well, I suppose it contributes to the feeling that everything is â€œliveâ€ and that things might go wrong.
The little pre-performance documentary about the play was nice to see though, and especially to hear a much more relaxed Marianne Elliott confess that she was as ignorant of Allâ€™s Well as I was before she started to direct this production.
The interview on stage during the interval with the designer Rae Smith was interesting too, but Iâ€™d have been happier if it had been incorporated into the pre-performance documentary. Not least because she didnâ€™t seem to know where in the action of the play the interval had come. I thought that was a bit odd.
I could say more, in particular about the freezing draught, poor local advertising and consequent poor turnout at Bio Roy in Gothenburg where I saw the play, but I think that would be to try your patience.
Instead, Iâ€™ll sum up. I enjoyed the play, though I would encourage Mr Shakespeare to re-write the first act! I thought the staging, performance and interpretation were excellent. The choice of camera angles was not always as fortunate as it might, perhaps, have been, though the Olivier stage may be inimical to live filming of this nature. The biggest technical disappointment was the out-of-synch sound.
Iâ€™ve got fewer stars in my eyes about live streaming now, but Iâ€™m still enthusiastic. What I said about Phedre still holds true. I still think its wonderful â€œhere, in Gothenburg, in Sweden, to be able to see a performance direct from a stage of the National Theatre in London. A no-holds-barred performance, not dumbed down for a provincial public, or subtitled, or with actors performing at anything less than their professional peak.â€
And Iâ€™ll certainly be back on the 30th January for the next NTLive broadcast, Terry Pratchetâ€™s Nation.
Thanks for listening. That was a review of the British National Theatre’s production and direct feed broadcast of All’s Well That Ends Well, made on the 8th October 2009. This text and recording are licensed under the Creative Commons attribution / non-commercial / share-alike license by me, John Nixon, The Supercargo of www.thesupercargo.com.
You’re about to hear a review of the National Theatre’s direct-feed broadcast of Phædre made on 25th June 2009.
The text and recording of the review are by John Nixon, The Supercargo of www.thesupercargo.com
You may freely redistribute all or part of this review for non-commercial purposes provided you acknowledge The Supercargo and include a link to The Supercargo homepage.
[Illustration above is from a screenshot of the National Theatre's page for PhÃ¨dre. Link here: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/45269/productions/phegravedre.html]
Iâ€™m still feeling buoyed up by the experience of seeing Phædre yesterday evening. What a fantastic performance! And what a fantastic use of technology! Here, in Gothenburg, in Sweden, to be able to see a performance direct from a stage of the National Theatre in London. A no-holds-barred performance, not dumbed down for a provincial public, or subtitled, or with actors performing at anything less than their professional peak. The images were almost always crisp and clear and the cutting from camera angle to camera angle was choreographed almost to perfection. In the auditorium of the cinema we had a better view of the actorsâ€™ expressions than Iâ€™d guess many people sitting at the back of the theatre in London did. The sound quality was also generally very good, and with surround-sound we could hear and share the reactions of the live audience.
People who have seen the operas that have been broadcast in this way may not have been so bowled over by the PhÃ¨dre experience, but this was my first taste of modern direct-feed technology and I found it captivating.
Of course, it helped that the play was so gripping, the language so powerful and the actors, all of them, so brilliant and working so well together. I came, I admit more than half because of Helen Mirren, and she was magnificent as PhÃ¨dre. The older woman consumed by her incestuous desire for her husbandâ€™s son, confused by her feelings, desperate to resist them but unable to do so, torn and poisoned by them, sometimes the perpetrator sometimes the victim. Mirren gave the character life and depth.
But this was an ensemble piece. If any one of the principals had been performing under par, it would have drawn down the quality of the whole.
Dominic Cooper as Hippolytus, the young prince of fast principles who is the object of PhÃ¨dreâ€™s desire and the focus of her jealousy, was a revelation. (In the Swedish language flier ticket buyers received here he is â€œknown from Mamma Mia! â€¦ as Meryl Streepâ€™s son-in-law-to-beâ€. I didnâ€™t find that helpful.)
Hippolytus represents youth, nobility, restraint and moral probity. The son of the hero Theseus and his first, Amazon wife Hippolyta, but not himself the stuff of legend. Set aside by PhÃ¨dre and displaced from succession by her children, Hippolytus is yet not resentful. He honours his father, even though disapproving of his reputation as a womaniser. It canâ€™t be an easy task to play this role without making the character seem either anonymous or a prig, but Cooper manages to make Hippolytus both believable and likeable. Essential for the play to work, of course, since the tragedy turns on Hippolytusâ€™s reaction to PhÃ¨dreâ€™s advances and then to her false accusations of rape, and to his fatherâ€™s rejection and curses that ultimately lead to his death.
Cooperâ€™s efforts to make Hippolytus likeable are helped, of course, by his love for Aricia and the love she holds for him. Aricia is the last surviving heir of an Athenian family that Theseus has all but wiped out. Although she is innocent of any blame, and so cannot be killed, Theseus still fears her and has left Hippolytus instructions to guard her well.
Aricia, played beautifully by Ruth Negga, is a young woman who, in the course of the play, is taken from a condition of fear and uncertainty through the giddy experience of freedom and sudden love to the very edge of despair.
Hippolytus, keeping his word to Theseus, waits until receiving what he believes is reliable information that his father has died before revealing his love, releasing Aricia and promising to help her take what he believes is her rightful place as Queen of Athens. A modern audience may well find itself wondering why he waits; if he truly believes his father is wrong to hold Aricia, if he truly loves her. Again, this could easily come across as weakness, but Cooperâ€™s performance, helped by Neggaâ€™s, makes all this reflect positively rather than negatively on Hippolytusâ€™s character.
Oenone has more stage time and is more intrinsic to the story, although she is the first character to die. Oenone only wants the best for her girl and cannot see that the actions she encourages PhÃ¨dre to take lead to disaster. She has some good scenes, but her final appearance was gripping, when she realises she has lost PhÃ¨dreâ€™s affection and, perhaps, comes to an understanding of the tragedy she has partly caused.
Oenoneâ€™s departure from the stage is the only criticism I have of the editing choices made by the technicians. At the end of her scene she crossed front stage right and presumably leapt to her death from the balustrades. But the camera allowed her to pass out of shot and we neither saw her jump nor leave the stage. I thought this was a bit clumsy.
Finally there is Stanley Townsendâ€™s Theseus, who returns triumphant from the shores of death to precipitate the tragedy.
Neither PhÃ¨dre nor Theseus can see Hippolytusâ€™s true worth. PhÃ¨dre falsely accuses Hippolytus of rape in the belief that she is pre-empting his own accusations. Theseus, who has seduced so many women in his time, and whose most recent dice with Hades started out as an escapade to help an old friend cuckold another ruler, chooses to believe PhÃ¨dreâ€™s falsehoods rather than accept his own sonâ€™s assurances. Like any modern cynic, he finds it easier to believe in corruption than in innocence. And so the stage is set for the final tragic outcome.
As I say the story, the language and the acting combined made this a play that would have been gripping to see in any theatre. In a way, I wasnâ€™t expecting anything less. But I did enter the cinema with some doubts.
What I was expecting was a filmed play. I was expecting it to be rather static, to be viewed from just a few camera angles front of stage, for the actors to be in the middle distance, for the sound to be muffled at times and for the microphones to pick up and amplify inadvertent sounds (breathing, rustling of clothes, bangs, clicks or footsteps). My expectations went mostly unfulfilled.
Of course, Greek tragedy is rather static, even transmitted via Jean Racine and Ted Hughes. It is difficult to ignore for example the unities of time and place which are so alien to modern drama. Still, because of the camera angles, the close-ups and the way the cameras could follow the actors about, I did not feel the play was at all as static as I had feared. The sound quality was generally very good (though a bit over-loud in places and especially during the first 20 minutes or so). There were changes in sound quality at times, but nothing like as significant as in many filmed plays I have seen. I donâ€™t think there were any words I could not hear, and yet the performance was very natural without anyone over enunciating.
Above all the actors seemed comfortable, not as though they were playing for the cameras.
The cinema Roy on the Avenue, Gothenburgâ€™s main street, started to show direct-feed events about a year ago after closing as a regular cinema. It is part of a chain of digital cinemas across Sweden run by the Peopleâ€™s Houses and Parks movement (Folkets Hus och Parker) offering alternative venues to the commercial cinema. Up to now, their stock shows seem to have been operas â€“ at least those are the shows Iâ€™ve mostly been aware of. Opera has a limited, but often a more dedicated audience and music is a more universal language, so I can understand how it might have more appeal in a country where English is not the mother tongue.
Of course, many Swedes understand English to a high level, but I did have my doubts about this. A dense, complex and relentless stream of language without subtitles. How would the audience react? The first ten minutes or so were difficult for some at least. The woman in the seat in front of me was paging through screens on her mobile phone until I tapped her on the shoulder. (And Iâ€™m not talking about teenagers here. The average age of the audience at Roy was a good generation older than the average age of the audience in London as far as I could see.) But this is where the quality of the acting made itself felt. Even if people did not understand every word or even every sentence, the power of the acting carried the message across and after about ten minutes the audience was captivated.
In the end, as the audience in London applauded, so did we, and at least some of us kept on applauding as each of the actors took their bow. From the response I read on Twitter after the play, mine was not the only cinema audience that reacted with applause. I wish the communication had been two-way so the cast in London could have seen and heard the impact they had around the world.
There are three more direct-feed plays scheduled from the National over the coming year and after this experience, I will do my best to get to see all of them. And spread the word. Roy was not full by any means and I want this exercise to be so successful that more plays will be offered in the future and more theatre companies will be encouraged to invest in the technology to broaden their audience in this way.
Thanks for listening!
That was a review of the British National Theatreâ€™s production and direct-feed broadcast of PhÃ¨dre made on 25th June 2009.
This text and recording are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike by John Nixon, The Supercargo of www.thesupercargo.com