Friday 27 January 2012

Theatre Review: Shallow Slumber (Soho Theatre)

The slumber may be shallow but the drama cuts deep. Based upon his own experiences as a practising carer in an inner London borough, and also informed in part by the Baby P case, Chris Lee’s pungent new play is a taut two-hander that explores the relationship between a young mother, Dawn, and her social worker, Moira, teasing out issues of dependency, trust and the challenges of intervention through the women’s interactions over a number of years.

The premise sounds worthy: “topical” in the worst way. But what’s admirable about Shallow Slumber is its eschewing of an obvious, journalistic approach. Distilled and apparently modest, the play manages to subtly gesture outward to a range of wider social and philosophical concerns, constructing in Moira and Dawn’s encounters a scenario that feels archetypal (the play is set simply in “one of our cities”) and yet specific enough.

And playing out in the claustrophobic confines of the Soho Theatre Upstairs, Mary Nighy’s sparsely-staged production takes on a genuine intensity and cumulative power. The structure of the piece borrows from Pinter’s Betrayal, with the action unfolding backwards. The play opens with Moira and Dawn’s re-encounter after some evidently traumatic experience and climaxes years earlier, on that day of revelation. The staccato style of the women’s opening exchanges feels excessively Pinteresque, too, but gradually both play and production establish their own mood and rhythm, as they work backwards - inexorably and inevitably - to a moment of horror that elicited groans of dismay from some audience members.

Lee is content to leave certain details of the women’s histories ambiguous. This, coupled with the year-spanning, reverse-chronology structure, means that elements of the play feel sketchy. But the upside of his approach is that the viewer is allowed plenty of interpretive space. Dedicated to “all social workers everywhere,” the play actually extends a clear-eyed, not-uncritical sympathy to both parties, offering a perceptive portrait of the two women’s predicaments and the shifts in power between them.

Ultimately, though, the success of such an intensely concentrated piece as Shallow Slumber rests in large part upon the quality of the performances and it’s hard to see how these could be bettered. Responsible for two of last year’s most memorable supporting turns as the outwardly cheerful mummy-in-meltdown in the Royal Court’s The Village Bike and as a passionate Emilia in the Sheffield Crucible Othello, Alexandra Gilbreath delivers once again here as Moira, offering a superbly astute characterisation. She starts (or rather ends) crumpled, hunched and wary, as a woman whose survival has taken a palpable toll; this gives particular poignancy to the final scene in which she arrives at Dawn’s flat for a visit, all professional eagerness and affability (with an occasional undertone of threat).

Gilbreath’s detailed and affecting work is matched by Amy Cudden’s startling performance as Dawn, which combines vulnerability and volatility, neediness and defensiveness, shrewdness and self-loathing, to devastating effect. The force of Cudden’s interpretation carries us through occasional moments in which Dawn is endowed with an awareness that seems somewhat unlikely, and the actress is especially impressive in her delivery of a long central monologue in which Dawn recalls her encounter with a couple so absorbed in their own quarrel that they left their baby on a train.

It’s fair to say that Shallow Slumber won’t be the jolliest night that you spend in a theatre in 2012. But, offering no pat solutions, this unsettling, insightful and haunting play certainly deserves to be seen.

Running until 18th February. Further information at the Soho Theatre website.

Reviewed for British Theatre Guide.

CD Review: Hello Cruel World (Gretchen Peters, 2012)

2010 was by all accounts a challenging and dramatic year for Gretchen Peters, one in which, as she puts it, “the universe threw its best and its worst at me.” As its wry title suggests, Peters’s new album Hello Cruel World takes its inspiration from some of those upheavals. But it does so in a manner that’s suggestive and oblique rather than obvious, cloaking its revelations in carefully drawn character sketches that, for the most part, transcend standard-issue soul-baring. The result is an accomplished album that ranks as one of Peters’s most satisfying releases to date.

Drawing together a classy group of collaborators including guitarists Doug Lancio and Will Kimborough, bassist Viktor Krauss, trumpeter Vinnie Ciesielski and keyboardist (and new Mr. Peters) Barry Walsh, Hello Cruel World sounds assured and confident from the off. Blurring genres - folk, country, jazz and rock - with consummate ease, the record flows smoothly but not blandly, its textured arrangements sometimes incorporating unexpected touches. Themes of survival in adversity are established on the assertive and surprisingly sultry opening title track, which cruises in on a background of sturdily thwacked drums, twangy guitar, tinkling piano and dramatic strings, all complementing Peters’s seductive vocal. The first of several songs addressing spiritual matters, “St. Francis” is an elegant Tom Russell co-write featuring McGarrigle-worthy harmonies from Kim Richey, while the superb “The Matador” is a shrewd musing on love and art that would’ve sounded right at home on One to the Heart, One to the Head, the excellent collaboration album with Tom Russell that Peters released in 2009.

More up-tempo moments such as the ineffably catchy Rodney Crowell duet “Dark Angel” and the ringing “Woman on the Wheel” are also enjoyable. But ultimately it’s the quieter, lower-keyed character sketches that really hit home, showcasing the empathy and humanity of Peters’s song-writing at its very best. “Five Minutes” (itself a neat five minutes in length) finds its waitress-heroine carving out a brief space for reflection on her cigarette break, recalling a lost love, musing on her current routine and ruefully spotting her own youthful waywardness in the actions of her teenage daughter. Woozy trumpet and spare, jazzy piano add late-night ambience to “Camille,” co-written with Peters’s frequent collaborators Suzy Bogguss and Matraca Berg, in which the misery of the protagonist’s downward spiral is mitigated, perhaps, by her apparent inability to completely numb herself.

And the stunning, atmospheric “Idlewild” brilliantly charts a loss of personal and national innocence, broadening out from a childhood memory of a tense car journey to collect an ailing grandparent into a fairly devastating assessment of American arrogance and loss of direction. The chiming closer “Little World,” meanwhile, extols the comforts of home - however humble - as a retreat from a threatening “big and lonely world.” It could be a sickly, isolationist vision, but the heartfelt warmth of Peters’s delivery and the adroitness of her lyrical imagery means that the song rings touchingly true.

Peters is one of those singer-songwriters who, despite a loyal following - plus acclaim as a writer for others -, has never quite broken through to the wider recognition that she deserves. Whether or not Hello Cruel World will be the album to change that remains to be seen, but, if not, it won’t be due in any measure to the quality of the material that it contains. Rooted in concrete, lived details and specific histories, the best songs here constantly gesture outwards into wider, more universal terrain, making of the “little world” an everywhere.

Reviewed for Wears the Trousers.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Film Review: Coriolanus (Fiennes, 2011)

Ralph Fiennes’s Coriolanus gets its UK release this coming weekend. I had the pleasure of seeing the film at the London Film Festival last year, and it made my Top 10 Films of 2011 list, just. Here’s what I wrote about it after the LFF screening.

Seldom regarded as one of Shakespeare’s most profound or popular tragedies, Coriolanus is a work that has, nonetheless, frequently been raided for contemporary parallels by directors and adaptors across the centuries. The play’s slippery dissection of democracy - its concern with “people power,” the challenges of leadership and what constitutes “good” rule - has left it open to multiple, often contradictory interpretations. Nahum Tate’s 1682 adaptation was set against Whig-Tory rivalry, while later adaptations referred to the 1715 and 1745 Jacobite Rebellions. In the 20th Century, the Nazis extolled the heroism of the protagonist and drew favourable comparisons with Hitler, while Brecht’s 1953 version surprised no-one by portraying the masses as heroes.

Ralph Fiennes’s big, brawny new film adaptation strives - sometimes astutely and sometimes ham-fistedly - to chime with the times. The tale of the warrior-hero who, when conspired against, turns his back on Rome to join forces with his arch-enemy, the Volscian general Aufidius, is the tragedy of a man who, though a notable success on the battle-field, is entirely unable to flatter or charm the populace. Tipping its hat to the title of John Osborne’s 1973 adaptation, Fiennes’s film locates the action in “a place calling itself Rome” - a Balkan war-zone - and the early scenes in which the citizens besiege the Senate and are beaten back by riot-police certainly gain an extra frisson in the light of recent uprisings and anti-capitalist demos.

Making his directorial debut here, Fiennes has done a mostly commendable job of work. And returning to a role that he first played on stage in 2000, he also delivers a compelling central performance that has genuine gravitas. But his approach sometimes betrays a certain amount of insecurity in relation to the material. The film strives so hard to be cinematic - jittery camera-work? check; ear-splitting sound? check - that it’s occasionally a little embarrassing. The opening scenes suggest a particularly hyperbolic advert for a Panorama Special, and the decision to present the conflict between the Romans and the Volscians through the language of TV news media (yawn) feels all too predictable. (How fresh this device seemed when it book-ended Baz Lurhrmann’s 1996 Romeo + Juliet; how totally shop-worn now. The nadir here is a Jon Snow cameo.) As director, Fiennes also seems to have taken instruction from some of his previous collaborators: the over-wrought action scenes find him doing his best Kathryn Bigelow impersonation (Barry Ackroyd, who shot The Hurt Locker [2008], is the movie’s cinematographer), while the presentation of the Citizens as a very motley crew recalls the 2005 Deborah Warner production of Julius Caesar in which Fiennes played Mark Antony.

This tendency towards over-emphasis does result in admirably lucid story-telling, though. The film is thoughtfully paced and structured, with Coriolanus’s rejection of Rome taking place almost exactly at the movie’s mid-point. Hollywood’s favourite screenwriter-for-hire John Logan has done a skilful job of paring back (and simplifying) the text, although some elements and supporting roles do suffer the consequences of his tinkering. While Brian Cox is able to come through with a finely modulated performance as Menenius, the work of Paul Jesson and James Nesbitt as the conspiring Tribunes ends up seeming obvious at times. And, more problematically, the association between Coriolanus and Aufidius (Gerard Butler, adequate) never quite strikes the sparks that it initially promises to. The homoerotic implications of the relationship which have been highlighted by some directors aren’t stressed here, although the movie does boast a slightly bizarre night-time sequence in which the Volscian camp seems momentarily to have morphed into a gay club.

The most genuinely exciting moments are those in which Fiennes stops proclaiming “Look! I’m making a MOVIE!” and opts for more sparsely staged scenes that allow Shakespeare’s language to do the work. Coriolanus then offers some memorably taut encounters, and some eloquent and expressive images, too. Fiennes’s scenes with Vanessa Redgrave’s strong, seductive Volumnia are especially fine; Redgrave (who gave even her hokey dialogue in Letters to Juliet [2010] the weight she might give to a spot of prime Shakespearean verse) delivers her best screen performance in years as the ambitious, manipulative matriarch. And she and Fiennes look wonderful together - a pair of Roman statues in the making, indeed - their intense close-ups offering the thrill that the theatre can’t provide. Volumnia’s final supplication scene is brilliantly sustained - the movie’s highlight - and its impact mitigates some of the more questionable, obvious ideas that mar the film’s opening sections. This Coriolanus isn’t, overall, everything that it could have been. But at its best it’s a vivid and gripping account of this now seldom-staged play.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Theatre Review: The Art of Concealment (Jermyn Street Theatre)

Last year, as part of its season to celebrate Terence Rattigan’s centenary, Chichester Festival Theatre staged Nicholas Wright’s Rattigan’s Nijinsky, a new play that combined scenes from a never-produced Rattigan screenplay with a biodrama focusing on the playwright’s later life. The result was a somewhat awkward hybrid that flitted unsatisfactorily between the two narrative strands, precluding full involvement in either.

Rattigan-as-protagonist now returns in Giles Cole's The Art of Concealment, a play that was originally commissioned for last summer’s Brighton Festival Fringe and which now takes up residence at the Jermyn Street Theatre. Drawing upon the two major Rattigan biographies by Geoffrey Wansell and Michael Darlow, Cole’s play is a more satisfying and insightful piece of work than was Wright’s, fashioning what is in essence a memory play from the details of Rattigan’s life. The action begins on the eve of the opening of Cause Célèbre in 1977 and finds the ailing, elderly Rattigan reflecting upon the direction of his life, his relationships with his parents and his lovers, and his painful fall from critical and commercial favour.

Although the flashback structure, and the device of having Rattigan act as a commentator on his own experiences, results in some clumsy moments of excessive editorialising, the material feels more elegantly worked than in Wright’s play, and Knight Mantell’s tightly-controlled production holds the interest. As its title indicates, the play zeroes in on the notion of “concealment” as it applies both to Rattigan’s personal and professional life. “Concealment” is indeed a word that forms a refrain in the Darlow text, the biographer summarising Rattigan, finally, as “a man whose life had been devoted to forms of concealment and role-playing.” Given Rattigan’s reticence there is at times an uncomfortable suggestion of invaded privacy about the enterprise, as well as the feeling that the play may to some extent perpetuate a sentimentalised image of the playwright as a victim - of English sexual intolerance on the one hand and of the Royal Court revolution on the other.

The spelling-it-out obviousness of some moments here also suggests that the play has less to offer those already familiar with the facts of Rattigan’s life. But what the production does offer that the biographies don’t is the pleasure of performance. Dominic Tighe brings his customary grace and matinee-idol appeal to the younger Rattigan (what a great Freddie Page in The Deep Blue Sea he’d make!), skillfully presenting the protagonist as a man of both kindness and coldness. Even at his liveliest - when entertaining his chums with a Gielgud impersonation, say - Tighe keeps a tantalising aura of guardedness about him, that of a man who learnt early on to compartmentalise his life because “one has to be so careful about the things one reveals.” As the older Rattigan, Alistair Findlay is stuck with the play’s clunkier dialogue (“A Taste of Honey! To me it was a slap in the face!”). But the performance deepens in the later stages when he becomes a participant rather than a commentator on the drama.

Graham Pountney does amusing work as Rattigan’s philandering, philistine father Frank and in the (invented) role of Freddie Gilmour, a queeny director with a neat line in put-downs, while Judy Buxton is touching and vivid as Rattigan’s mother Vera who’s more generously portrayed here than she was in Rattigan’s Nijinsky. Buxton also gets a good late scene as “Aunt Edna” - the archetypal theatregoer evoked by Rattigan in his Prefaces - who here appears to confront the playwright about the ways in which he may have underestimated his audience. And there’s well-judged support from Daniel Bayle as Kenneth Morgan, and from Charlie Holloway as Michael Franklin, the volatile young man dismissed by Rattigan’s friends as a chancer but who ended up staying with Rattigan until the end of the latter’s life.

What Cole’s play doesn’t quite do justice to, perhaps, is the function that Rattigan’s emphasis on discretion - his mastery of the art of concealment, as it were - served for him as a dramatist. The abiding fascination with falsity and its revelation is part of the extraordinary tension that Rattigan’s best work can still generate in a theatre, an emotional charge that Cole’s play, for all its engaging moments, doesn’t manage to match.

The production runs for 2 hours 15 minutes and is booking until 28th January.

Reviewed for The Public Reviews.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Film Review: The Artist (Hazanavicius, 2011)

Watching Guy Maddin’s great silent-influenced fantasias I’ve sometimes wondered to myself why more directors aren’t returning to the language of early cinema, in all its vital expressiveness, as Maddin does so dynamically in his work. Well, with The Artist (2011), the French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius has done just that, producing a heartfelt homage to silent cinema that is (slightly gallingly) receiving much more widespread kudos and acclaim than Maddin’s work has done to date. Indeed, word-of-mouth on The Artist has been strong ever since its premiere at Cannes last year, and, helped along by a never-to-be-underestimated Weinstein marketing push, the movie seems to be winning friends and admirers all over the place. It’s not hard to see why, for Hazanavicius’s movie - less quirky and obsession-packed and more obviously audience-friendly than Maddin’s offerings - is a most delightful thing: clever, funny, touching and as irresistible as its leading man and lady’s (oft-displayed) winning smiles.

Opening in Hollywoodland 1927, The Artist focuses on the contrasting fortunes of two performers: George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) and Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo). When we meet them George is an adored silent film actor, basking in the glow of success, while Peppy is an aspiring actress who, bumping into George at a premiere, is helped by him into minor screen roles. But, with the coming of sound, the pair’s fortunes are reversed, with Peppy’s star going into the ascendant while George, unable and unwilling to adapt to the new technology, fades.

Best known for his spy spoofs, Hazanavicius opts for a fonder approach here, and, as such, the movie that The Artist most recalls in some ways is Todd Haynes’s Far From Heaven (2003): it’s a throwback that favours affection and respect for its sources over po-mo knowingness and one that wins its way through to a surprising amount of emotion as it progresses. It helps that, as in Haynes’s movie, the cast seem exactly right for the archetypes they’re incarnating. Dujardin and Bejo couldn’t be bettered, and there’s well-judged support from John Goodman’s studio boss to James Cromwell’s butler, while in Uggie the movie boasts the most scene-stealing pooch to grace the screen in many a year. Offering the considerable pleasures of spot-the-reference, the movie flows beautifully, providing a myriad of pleasures sequence-by-sequence: George's "sound" nightmare and a delicious coat-rack love scene win out as my two favourite moments.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, The Artist’s popularity has resulted in a backlash mounting in some quarters. I’ve seen the film dismissed as “a whiff of a movie”; a work that lacks substance and bite and  that doesn’t play fair with the histories of the stars it evokes, while issue has been taken with elements from the cutesy canine to the crowd-pleasing feel-good finale. Such complaints seem a tad  churlish, the reaction of cineastes irritated that the picture is engaging a mass audience. The Artist is a confection and crowd-pleaser, to be sure (indeed it’s about the pleasures of being crowd-pleasing), but it’s to Hazanavicius’s credit that the movie doesn’t feel calculated. It may disappoint those who, to borrow Margaret Atwood’s analogy, persist in considering “excellent pastry [to be] a facile creation when compared with raw meat on skewers.” But the rest of us will find it hard not to succumb to the charm and delight on offer in this cinephile’s wet dream.

Monday 9 January 2012

DVD/CD Review: Joan Baez - How Sweet the Sound

Given Joan Baez’s centrality to American cultural and political life over the past five decades, the greatest surprise about this documentary is that it wasn’t made much sooner. While Bob Dylan’s career has been the subject of a multitude of docs and bios, essays and retrospectives, Baez’s work - both as artist and activist - has received comparably little scrutiny or contextualisation. While her classic Vanguard albums have been carefully and conscientiously re-issued and re-mastered (and supplemented by comprehensive liner notes by Arthur Levy), it’s still been over 20 years since the publication of Baez’s autobiography, And A Voice To Sing With (1987), and that book is not widely available now. This lack of attention means that Baez - despite her continued vibrancy as a live performer, her ongoing campaigning work and the overall excellence of her recent recorded output - has arguably risked being fixed in the popular imagination as a worthy but dull crusader. A 60s icon, to be sure, but also, to some extent, a footnote in Dylan’s life-story, an emblem of the “protest” stage that he had to transcend before going on to create his most dynamic and experimental music.

In a pleasingly low-key and unassuming way Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound puts this situation to rights. Produced by Mark Spector and Mary Wharton, and directed by Wharton, this American Masters documentary premiered on PBS on in 2009 and is available in an excellent CD/DVD package which supplements the film with bonus content and a soundtrack disc of performances. Stylistically, the documentary is conventional: a linear journey through Baez’s life and times, comprised of archive footage, concert outtakes (from Baez’s earliest and most recent live shows), and present-day interviews, with Baez and a selection of talking-heads, among them David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Jesse Jackson and Dylan himself. (The bonus content adds conversations with Steve Earle, Dar Williams and Vaclav Havel, though the latter’s contribution is disappointingly brief.)

For those hoping for a more idiosyncratic I’m Not There -ish take on Baez, How Sweet the Sound is not the place to come. But it’s a clear, well-made and thoroughly enjoyable documentary, respectful in tone, but rarely hagiographic. Baez’s characteristic wry humour and sly self-mockery deflect such a response. Musing with wit and candor on the shock of her early fame, her musical heritage, and her politics, Baez is great company - not to mention a living, breathing witness to some of the most important events in 20th century culture and politics. The archive footage that Spector and Wharton have amassed to illustrate her recollections is superb, and encompasses family home movies and footage of wider political significance, showing Baez in the thick of Civil Rights and draft-resistance protest, and capturing her visit to North Vietnam, where she is seen praying with the residents of Hanoi during the heaviest bombardment of the war.

Perhaps the most affecting anecdote, because somewhat lesser known, is the story of the concert Baez performed at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa in 1964, at which she succeeded in creating a peacefully integrated show in a bitterly segregated town. Baez’s conversation with her co-conspirators at this event, Professor Bill Fegan and Bishop Ernest Palmer (presented in full as one of the bonus interviews), adds further context and insight. (As well as humor. When Fegan presents Baez with a scarf that she left behind at a party in ’64 Baez deadpans: “I’ve been looking for that!”)

Baez states frankly that her political activities sometimes took precedence over her music and her personal life; her conversation with her ex-husband David Harris - two 60s warriors surveying their “tumultuous times” as “Mr. and Mrs. Peace In America” with perspective and good humour - addresses some of these issues in a particularly engrossing way. Dylan’s contribution is similarly affectionate; he speaks with palpable warmth about his early collaborations with “Joanie”, and offers his take on the 1965 British tour - described by Baez here as a “hideous” experience. Superb footage of the pair gleefully duetting on "I Pity The Poor Immigrant" (from the Rolling Thunder Review tour in the mid-70s) captures the dynamism of their renewed rapport.

In a life-story as rich as Baez’s, some elements, inevitably, get merely sketched in here. Baez’s family background could have been examined in more depth, while the coverage of her campaigning activities in the 1980s and 90s becomes a whistle-stop tour of war zones. Condensing her wide-ranging work onto one CD must have been similarly challenging, but the 15 songs selected (mostly live or rare performances) do a pretty good job of showcasing Baez’s genius for inhabiting songs both ancient and contemporary, and also highlighting some of her rare forays into original composition. It’s also moving to hear Baez’s voice deepen and develop from its early stark power to its now richer, womanly present-day tone.

As CD and film, what Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound conveys, finally, is the interrelatedness of Baez’s activism and her artistry, and her inspiring commitment to music as a bridge to others, a means to integration and understanding. As the song advises: “Carry it on.”

Tuesday 3 January 2012

2012 Arts Anticipated, and New Year Blogging Activity

With the review of 2011 taken care of, and the new year upon us, now seems a good moment to take a look forward, and to list just a few of the theatre productions, films and albums that I’m especially excited for in 2012.


Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Apollo)

O'Neill's masterpiece, perhaps the greatest of all American “family” plays, was last seen in London in 2000, in an intense and beautiful production by Robin Phillips that starred Jessica Lange, Charles Dance and Pauls Rudd and Nichols as the tormented Tyrones. Anthony Page's production may have to go some to top that one. But with the quartet headed by David Suchet and Laurie Metcalf (making a much-anticipated return to these shores following her performance in the 2001 NT All My Sons) this time around, the prospect of seeing what Richard Eyre calls “the saddest play ever written” once again makes me very, very happy indeed.

The Winter’s Tale (Propeller)

“A sad tale’s best for winter”… Not too long to wait now for the opening of Propeller’s production of the Bard’s most gorgeously confounding late romance, the second part of the company’s 2011/12 double-bill.

Sweeney Todd (Adelphi)

Having missed the production in Chichester I very much look forward to seeing the goriest musical in creation when it settles into the West End in March. Trailer below.

(The Musical Formerly Known as) The Light Princess (National Theatre)

After a few delays - mostly occasioned, perhaps, by the tendency of one of its collaborators to dash off on lengthy world tours - here’s hoping that Tori Amos and Samuel Adamson’s adaptation of George Macdonald’s wonderful fairytale makes it to the stage this Christmas - and that the magnificent “Winter’s Carol” is to be heard “ringing out” at the National Theatre at long last. My interview with Samuel Adamson is here.

Also: Constellations (Royal Court), The Duchess of Malfi (Old Vic), The Changeling (Young Vic), The Lady from the Sea (Rose Kingston), Hay Fever (Noel Coward Theatre).


The vagaries of film distribution being what they are these days, it’s doubtful that all of these movies will appear on British screens this year. (Or, in some cases, ever.) But these are some of the things I’m most excited to see, if possible.

The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius), Keyhole (Guy Maddin), The Kid With A Bike (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne), Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan), The Beloved (Christophe Honoré), The Great Gatsby (Baz Luhrmann), The Sleeping Beauty (Catherine Breillat).


With the disgraceful amount of 2011 releases I still have to catch up on, it’s actually fine by me if no new music gets released this year. But since the great Leonard Cohen’s Old Ideas is already done and dusted, it would be churlish not to check it out. And should Iris DeMent feel like getting around to recording something new anytime soon, I can be trusted to find some time to listen to that too.

Now is also a good time to flag up that posting on this blog may take a dip in frequency over the next few months, due to my need to make serious headway on a second book project this year. I’ll aim to check in a few times a month, at least, and to write on occasion for other sites as well. But, in the interests of keeping up a semblance of what passes for “quality control” (ahem) here, posting may be a little less frequent for a while. For those of us who work in academia - where laboured-over articles and reviews can sometimes take months and even years to see the light of day after submission - the “quick fix” of blogging is incredibly seductive (not to say addictive), and is something that I’d never turn my back on entirely. In the meantime, thanks as always to everyone* who’s stopped by this blog in the past year to cast an eye over these musings on topics cinematic, theatrical and musical. Your readership and comments are very much appreciated indeed.

*Even Neil LaBute.

A Little Light Linkage (IV)

A few favourite recent dispatches from the blogosphere.

At Fandor, via Last Seat on the Right, the ever-estimable Michał Oleszczyk’s Top 10 films of 2011, plus his fantastic piece on Brian Kellow’s Pauline Kael biography.

Mike Lippert ponders two years of blogging at You Talking to Me?

Mr. Popsublime recalls the 2007 Broadway production of Spring Awakening.

Tom Clift's Top 10 films of 2011.

Surrender to the Void weighs in on my favourite Mike Leigh film, Topsy- Turvy.

And you thought you knew everything there is to know about Going Gently’s John Gray by now, right? Well, think again.