Friday, 4 March 2011

Season's Greetings

I’m on a tube train, winging my way through Central London towards Highgate. I’ve just been to watch Season’s Greetings by Alan Ayckbourn at the National Theatre. It strikes me that I don’t go to the theatre often enough these days. I suppose I’ve always felt that the art-form rather rejected me about ten years ago. The work simply dried up. I went from being Resident Director on Taboo, to being turned down for theatre in education jobs. It was a bit like being jilted by a lover who I’d sworn to spend the rest of my life with, and out of sheer sour grapes I suppose I managed to convince myself that I’d never really enjoyed the time we spent together. And theatre can be really ghastly; particularly when it’s Shakespeare and it’s being barked by a group of actors who seem to be in on a joke that they don’t want to share with the “uneducated” members of the audience... I'm horribly low brow, aren't I?

Perhaps for this very reason, I thought that tonight’s show was a real treat. The Olivier Theatre is brilliant both acoustically and in terms of sight lines, and the acting in the show, particularly Mark Gatiss, Katherine Parkinson and Catherine Tate, was second to none.

It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I watched the show with 7 others, including Matt Lucas, Barbara Windsor and her wonderful husband, Scott. (Imagine the looks we were getting all evening!) I think many felt the whole “slow-bubbling farce” thing was the stuff of yesteryear. I, however, was genuinely amused, and I don’t say that very often. I've always had a soft spot for Ayckbourn for two reasons. Firstly, because he wrote an incredibly encouraging letter to me when I’d only just started my career in the theatre and secondly, because his plays were the staple diet of the Royal Theatre in Northampton when I was growing up. More often than not, I’d watch his plays sitting on an uncomfortable wooden bench in the Gods with a big box of Malteesers on my lap, which I’d suck until the honeycomb made my tongue hurt. I remember opening a box once, and all the contents spewing all over the cheap seats and down onto the slightly more expensive seats below. Fortunately, everyone in the theatre seemed to find the episode amusing – and I remember watching one man as he ate the chocolate that had landed on his lap. Those were the days...

So, we finished editing the Metro film today. The last day of the edit is always a bit of a trial, because it has to be about the technical side of things. Everything has to be rendered, and then run through a bewildering number of tests to make sure that the film is legal and fit for broadcast. My favourite test is the Harding test. I say it’s my favourite test, but it’s actually the one that freaks me out most of all. Harding is there to stop people from having epileptic fits due to images flashing on screen. It tends not to like the following things:

1. Cars
2. Fires
3. Trains
4. Anything red

For some reason, these four things seem to feature rather prominently in my films, and predictably we failed the first test due to a flashing yellow and red Metro train rushing into a station at one stage. It’s easily enough fixed and we passed the second time with flying colours. My A1 film, by contrast, failed on about 93 counts. Every time a red car flashed through a shot, we went down, and it took forever to fix!

Monday 4th March 1661, and Sandwich left London for his country estate, where he was having some major alterations done. Before leaving, he gave Pepys some jewellery to look after; which Pepys later learnt had come from the King of Sweden. He was obviously thrilled to be put in charge of such important and valuable things, particularly as they were handed over to him with “the greatest expressions of love and confidence that I could imagine or hope for.” Bless...

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