Tuesday 31 August 2010

The end of Scotland Street?

For me, certainly. It's the Big Brother misadventure all over again. In that instance, I got hooked early on, told all the disbelievers how much it could reveal about human nature in the long term, how much more kindness was dispensed than vile behaviour, etc. Then decadence quickly set in and I stopped watching, except for the 'celeb' edition with Shilpa Shetty. And all those disbelievers said, 'told you so'.

Thus it is now with the latest of Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street novels, serialised in The Scotsman (better point out straightway that's not Scotland Street up top but Northumberland Street, close enough in Edinburgh New Town terms). It was bound to resonate: Edinburgh as I'd known and loved it, with recognisable types, not least in the shape of two characters who wore out the quickest, anthropologist Domenica and washed-up artist Angus Lordie. We all fell for perennial five- or six-year old Bertie, and the high watermark for me was his trip to Paris in Espresso Tales where he falls in with a group of existentialist students and makes his profound pronouncement on Melanie Klein, force-fed him by his mother Irene: 'she's rubbish!'

Downhill thereafter, I fear. The homilies get preachier; the characters have stood still, good only for cheap pot-shots (what's the point of baby Ulysses throwing up over mummy Irene because he, like the rest of us, can't stand her?) Bertie still touches the heart, but there's not enough of him this time. A colleague of AMcCS implied he's got a bit grand: the chauffeur and the limo sit outside the coffee shop on Dundas Street while he conducts interviews. And he thinks he's writing for ladies from Colorado. Hence the odious myth of a perfect Italy which is the damp-rag climax of the latest and most disappointing in the sequence, The Importance of Being Seven.

Anyway, the novels may stand still but Edinburgh has just enough dynamism to change a bit and yet stay itself. We only had a day and a half there - staying just a block up from my happy home of nearly three years in Dundas Street - after visiting the godson and family in the Borders, but I think I chose well for the three events I saw on the Friday.

Much the best was Pants on Fire's stunning 1940s revue-style treatment of Ovid's Metamorphoses, which I duly five-starred for The Arts Desk. I doubt if I'll see a more bracing or consistently inventive piece of theatre this year. The review, like the successful theatrical attempt at Gesamtkunstwerk, got a bit buried under all the comedy, which strikes me as marking out another kind of decadence for the Festival Fringe, but each to his own. After a late lunch out in Gilmerton with darlin' Ruthie, who's been putting some of her work to good use on her terrace

we headed back for a low-key but consummately done hour with Diaghilev in the shape of veteran Tony Tanner's one-man show Charlatan (reviewed under the Ovid in the Arts Desk wadge). And on to a curate's egg of a Scottish Chamber Orchestra concert, rounded off by haggis and chips from the Alba d'Oro ('established 1975', it proudly proclaims, as if that were history, five years before I went to Edinburgh). Wasn't because of that, I don't think, that I was sick four times on the train to London - all contained, you'll be glad to know; just part and parcel (and plastic bag, on the one occasion I couldn't make the loo) of an especially hideous cold, which may be the result of veering between heatwave Zurich and freezing late night Rosslyn.

At least I got to welcome all the pleasures sans the impediment that struck on the way back. And managed to give my second Rake's Progress talk at Glyndebourne on the Sunday without losing my voice completely - even if I sounded, as I apologised at the start, more like a cracked Nick Shadow than a clarion Tom Rakewell.


jondrytay said...

I was very sad to miss Metamorphoses- our assistant director, stage manager and LD are all students of Rose Bruford, from where Pants on Fire hail, so it came highly recommended.

I almost certainly walked past you as you queued to go in, by the way- our show was also at the Dome and I tended to arrive at about noon...

David said...

So near, and yet so far - I saw that I could have found out your show had I read your last blog entry properly...hope it transfers.

Can't regret even blowing out a friend who was in an opera, The Screams of Kitty Genovese, because it ran over into Ovid time, so hungry was I to see that adaptation.

Anyway, I blush to report that I blithely walked us to the Pleasance proper, and had to run to the Dome, aka our grungy old Potterow student centre tarted up - just made it, but had to stand for the entire show (no hardship).

In the meantime, PoF's Ovid show comes to Croydon from, I think, 7 September. Maybe we should all go?

Minnie said...

Greetings from your friend in Nice, green with envy, esp over the Metamorphoses staging - sounds wonderful: strong stories + good cast/direction = pure theatre!
Love your friend's work; would like to see more.
BB? Watched part of second episode, thanks to buzz; gave up as couldn't bear any more embarrassment on participants' behalf! But am v ancient, of course.
AMcS? 'Preachy': yes. I'd add 'smug'. Curiously depressing, his form of 'chintzy chintzy cheeriness, half dead and half alive' (bet he'd loathe the petit-bourgeois comparison!).

David said...

Is the 'chintzy chintzy' etc a quotation I should recognise? I like it. Though, of course, I feel a fool to have been so sucked in - or maybe it WAS better, once?

Willym said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly on Alexander McCall Smith - I was addicted to his earlier Scotland St and Number 1 Ladies but now find them tedious. Particularly with the later I find he is writing down - to both his characters and his audience. Mind you I've gone off Donna Leon too - didn't even finish the last one I bought. I really didn't care in the end who did it or why.

The Metamorphoses sounds wonderful - I recall a Mary Zimmerman production (before she thought she'd tackle opera) of some of the stories in Chicago. It was pure magic. Isn't it remarkable that these stories still fascinate after 2000 years?

Like Minnie I am green with envy - though sadly it appears you were green from other sources. Hope things are looking up?

David said...

Thanks for your solicitude, Will. Yes, I'm better, ta, though I do hope I can stifle the coughs at the Prom Hansel und Gretel tonight...

Re the durability of the Metamorphoses, I think Pants on Fire really have hit on something re man's one-time union with nature and the way it's gone awry. The lovely thing about this show is that it can satirise some of the tales but treat others with all the magic, wonder and sadness they deserve.

Minnie said...

'Come friendly bombs and rain on ...'
Love the last para of your last comment (re the PoF production): sums up just why it clearly has so much appeal. Wish I'd been there!
So many series start off brilliantly then deteriorate. It must be inordinately difficult to sustain storylines for so long, esp when each one has to be a new departure.
Good health ...

Minnie said...

Bah! Am moron: should have read '... fall on ...'! Apologies.

David said...

'Rain' will do as a gloss, Minnie. As for my constant waxings on PoF's OM, the most miraculous thing of all was the musical/symphonic sense of pace, of light and shade. But I must shut up about it until I go and see it again in Croydon.

Philip Warner said...

from Phil Warner, LSE
You asked me in a previous blog about Belohlavek/BBSO recordings which I had mentioned. A vicious divorce/grasping ex-wife/incompetent divorce lawyer(my own) managed to deprive me of much of my early CD collection(if my own eye-wateringly expensive solicitor had been working for my ex-wife, things couldn't have turned out worse). However, one I do still have is Duke Bluebeard's Castle, on WarnerClassics(a record company now defunct, apart from issuing ancient re-treads).
Have you seen the photo of Riccardo Muti on the front of this month's BBC Music Mag? Surely he has undergone a "facelift", and a very unsuccessful one at that, his noble features wrecked by this surgical intervention.
Phil Warner
ps I read the chief exec of HMV in the Observer saying that CD market and production is disappearing at 9% a year. In ten years time, in that case, there will be no more CDs and everyone will be downloading onto a massive hard disc in their hifi. I don't like the thought of that at all.

David said...

Agreed, Muti and Barenboim don't look like they've aged gracefully - but goodness knows how much airbrushing goes on in their publicity pics. Abbado, on the other hand, beams humanity from his only outwardly ravaged features. And as my partner pointed out in Lucerne, you'd think he was in his twenties seeing him conduct from the parterre.

JVaughan said...


This is off topic again, but, since you seem to tolerate, and often welcome, such things, do you like _La_ _Gioconda_ if I have not asked already? If you do, do you perchance know of any resource, online or otherwise apart from the obvious reference books, where I can read details re the differences in versions between that which was performed at the opera's premiere in 1876 and when the final revision was staged in 1880?

Hoping that this finds you well, and with many renewed thanks and best wishes,

J. V.

p.s. I forget whether or not we have discussed the Gardiner recording of _The_ _Rake's_ _Progress_, which I like. And it is good to hear that Maestro Abbado is now prospering again after that near-fatal illness.

David said...

No, JV, I don't much like Gioconda except for the Dance of the Hours and Callas doing 'Suicidio!'. When I saw it live, it seemed all promising starts which fizzled out and didn't deliver what they promised. Mind you, it wasn't an especially impressive performance - Jane Eaglen in decline.

And I'm afraid I don't know where all those details might be found, though William Weaver might have written about them. Probably in some scholarly article in Opera Quarterly or the like.

The Gardiner Rake? It has one big problem - Bostridge. So, no, after the Barbican performance, I avoided like the plague.