‘The New Electric Ballroom’ – A haunting play, sometimes poetic, sometimes shockingly banal

I went last night to see ‘The New Electric Ballroom’, a play by Enda Walsh, in the studio space at the Queen Mother Theatre, Hitchin, Hertfordshire, England.

It’s about three sisters in a small Irish port, doomed to relive and pass on their emotional and sexual regrets forever.

Some very dense and challenging text, beautifully performed, sometimes left my brain racing unsuccessfully to keep up with the cocktail of longing, pain and unrealisable dreams.

The production was billed as a comedy, but frankly it is far from being a feelgood play, despite some irresistible laughs here and there.

It is, however, a tale which reminds one of how lucky one is not to have lived out the decades we are allowed on this planet in such stultifyingly confined surroundings as these, imposed by what was, at the time of the sisters’ youthful memories, a strictly Roman Catholic and over-moralising society.

Empathetic and convincing performances by Vivien Kerr, Barbara Gardiner, Samantha Powell and James Moore drew us inexorably into the sisters’ memories and pain, the visiting fishmonger’s male vulnerability, and ultimately into the futility of dreaming that their circle of frustration could be broken.

Charles Compton’s sensitive, economical direction gave the actors the space they needed to develop and express difficult characters, framed in a set with just enough furniture and props to locate us in time and place, without cluttering our minds with unnecessary detail.

It can hardly go unnoticed that this is another play about ‘Three Sisters’ – but whereas Chekhov’s lasses look forward in vain to returning to Moscow, these sadder, older maids can only gaze backwards at what might have been.

This morning I sensed that I might find myself thinking back through this haunting, sometimes poetic, sometimes shockingly and deliberately banal story, for some time to come.

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‘The New Electric Ballroom’ – A haunting play, sometimes poetic, sometimes shockingly banal

Kids have it much better than we did … or do they? I have happy memories of post-war Britain

I never cease to be amazed by the range of flavours in which you can now buy potato crisps. This really does seem to me to fall squarely into the category of Who-Needs-It?

When I was a kid there was only one flavour of crisps (potato) and you got a little ball of salt in a twisted piece of blue paper inside the packet to sprinkle over them. This sprinkling was a ritualistic pleasure in itself, a prelude to the actual salty, crispy joy of eating them.

But the packaging machines at the factory were obviously fallible, because sometimes you got a packet with no salt, and other times you got a packet with two or more salts.

This uncertainty, however, was not entirely negative, in that it spiced up the crisp-eating with unpredictability, thus making the moment of opening the packet and peering inside to find the salt more exciting; which proves that doubt is a vital ingredient to ultimate enjoyment.

If you KNOW that you’re going to get exactly what you wanted and expected every time, the actual experience, when it arrives, is diminished.

In addition, the only drink available from the pub that your parents were inside, that clinking cavern of semi-darkness whose adult mysteries you were not allowed to penetrate, was lemonade; which was lovely. No other options were sought or even dreamed about.

Sitting outside the pub in the fresh air on a summer’s evening with your friends, enjoying crisps, salted or not, and lemonade, while all the grown-ups were inside destroying themselves in a dense fug of cigarette smoke, doing whatever grown-ups did — presumably playing darts, spilling drinks and moaning about the government (pretty much the same as now) was wonderful.

Which goes to show that things don’t necessarily get better for children just because they’ve got more choice, can have whatever they like, and go wherever they want. Come back, 1955, all is forgiven!

Click here to buy my crime novel ‘Murder at the Theatre Royal’ as Kindle or paperback

Kids have it much better than we did … or do they? I have happy memories of post-war Britain

The New TV Version of ‘An Inspector Calls’ is a Fine Adaptation of J. B. Priestley’s Stage Play

I was concerned that tonight’s BBC1 adaptation of ‘An Inspector Calls’ might turn out to be a travesty of the stage play, given the irritating pollution of so much recent TV drama by self-indulgent directorial over-production.

I need not have worried. Full marks on all counts: acting, casting, filming, editing, even the sumptuous location were all just right.

To begin with I didn’t think I was going to like the insertion of flashbacks; but they were used sparingly, in a way which helped to deepen the story and characterisation, rather than as the usual cheap reminders for viewers with limited concentration.

The only thing I could have done without was the addition of the actual suicide scene just before the end. It subtracted from the impact of Priestley’s masterstroke, the shock of that last phone-call; because now we already knew what it was going to say.

By placing the action in a sumptuous stately home environment, the production made the cruelly exploitative callousness of the Britain’s Edwardian upper class feel powerfully relevant to the hypocrisy of our present-day wealthy masters.

Overall a model for such adaptations. Bravo!

Click here to buy my crime novel ‘Murder at the Theatre Royal’ as Kindle or paperback

The New TV Version of ‘An Inspector Calls’ is a Fine Adaptation of J. B. Priestley’s Stage Play

Dognapping is organised crime, often by violent people. Here are some tips on how to combat it.

Dognapping is on the rise in the UK. A leading dog theft charity, DogLost, says reported cases soared by nearly a fifth in 2013 to around 11,000. For the pets’ owners it’s a tragedy. For the heartless criminals involved, it’s a lucrative trade in misery.

Dog theft is not trivial; it is the work of organised gangs. Stolen dogs can fetch more than £2,000. Part of the reason for the illegal trade in pedigree dogs is that the price of buying some breeds from traditional breeders has have risen so high.

The thefts take place in various ways. Dogs can be stolen from kennels and outhouses, taken as they are being walked by their owners, sometimes with violence, and are grabbed from inside houses in burglaries. Some of the animals are stolen to order and others are sold over the internet to buyers in other parts of Britain.

There is no regulation of who can sell a dog over the internet. Criminals create numerous accounts through which they attempt to sell stolen dogs. Some of these accounts are also used to sell other items, so that on the face of it the seller appears to have a long history and a good online reputation.

There Is Still Joy Among The Sadness

The most popular targets for the gangs are trained working dogs, such as labradors, although other popular types such as chihuahuas and pugs also figure highly. Recently, the biggest rise has been in thefts of cocker spaniels, following an increase in their popularity after the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge adopted a puppy.

When selling a dog, one of the techniques of criminals is to give a sob story as a reasonfor selling their so-called beloved family pet. They also attempt to deceive the buyer into thinking they will only sell the dog to a loving and caring person. You then spend all your time proving you are that type of buyer as opposed to establishing that they are that type of seller.

If you insist on buying a dog over the internet, here are some tips on how to avoid buying a stolen dog. Visit the dog at the seller’s home and see how the dog relates to the seller. Ask to see photographs of the dog with the owner or family.

Enquire about the dog’s history with the family, and ask to see paperwork relating to the dog itself, such as vet’s bills, insurance, microchipping, and kennel club certificates. Ask whether it is neutered (spayed or castrated) and cross-check this with the vet’s bills.

Get the seller to agree to the sale subject to a vet’s examination, to include a microchip scan. A thief will not want you to take a photograph of them in possession of a stolen dog. So ask to take a photograph of them with the dog you are buying. If they refuse – walk out.

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Dognapping is organised crime, often by violent people. Here are some tips on how to combat it.