evseymour

Word on the Wire

Month: January, 2015

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

On Monday night, we went to the opening of Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ at the Everyman in Cheltenham. Having paid filthy lucre for the tickets, I didn’t review it for the Cheltenham Standard, but it’s hard to take the critical gene out of the culture vulture’s DNA so here goes.

For those not familiar with the play, ten strangers are lured to a remote island off the coast of Devon (and, coincidentally, my old stamping ground.) Stranded, one by one the guests are ‘picked off’ in fairly imaginative ways. It soon becomes clear that this is not the work of a deranged outsider. One of the party is a killer.

The play is very much a product of the time in which it was written and by today’s standard it might seem dated, and yet this is entirely the point and part of its allure. I loved the old style set with wood panelling that slid aside to reveal a view of the coastal skyline, the fact that the whisky decanter got a thorough working out, that words like ‘beastly’ were banded about by reckless young men who drive at the speed of Toad of Toad Hall. The play is peppered with terrifically distinct characters including a general, judge, soldier and, of course, the ‘must have’ sanctimonious old biddy. There’s glamour too in the shape of Verity Rushworth, fresh from Emmerdale. Full of melodrama, the play is a gift to actors with comic timing. And we weren’t disappointed.

Seasoned players Paul Nicholas, Susan Penhaligon and Frazer Hines, acted their socks off, as did every other member of the star-studded cast. Professionalism ran through the entire performance like a stick of Salcombe rock. In spite of the loss of volume control from the sound system – sitting in the circle, I thought my ears might disintegrate – the play was a joy to watch on a cold Monday evening. It runs until January 31st. Judging by the full house on Monday, tickets might be in short supply. Catch it if you can…

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CONTRAST AND COMPARE

I’m jealous of Sally Wainwright. There. You have it in print. Not of the person, you understand, but her extraordinary creative talent.

Like many, I’ve been looking forward to the return of ‘Last Tango in Halifax’, an absorbing and often hilarious family drama when two septuagenarians meet for a second time and fall in love. Their grown-up children’s less than ecstatic initial response is a neat reversal of parents disapproving of their children’s boyfriends/girlfriends/partners. Wainwright’s strength lies in her characterisation, which is, frankly, superb. She really gets people, how they behave and especially how they react when caught in a trap.

In the first series, the emphasis was on the comic, the second on the tragic. What a dark turn of events in episodes one and two of the new series. In a less experienced writer’s hands, this could have been (no pun intended) the kiss of death, taking the narrative down a strange path, but Wainwright’s utterly human characters save the day. It would have been so easy, for example, to have John, Caroline’s ex-husband, sign up hook, line and sinker for baby-minding duties. At a stroke, one plot problem would have been overcome, but John is a flaky individual who doesn’t have ‘commitment’ in his vocabulary even if he does spout Rudyard Kipling. So, true to himself, he squiggles out and leaves Caroline with a monumental problem. In the same vein, Gary, played by Rupert Graves, is grappling with the fact that he is Alan’s illegitimate son. His confusion and slightly disturbed response strikes an authentic note. No trite OMG reaction and then on with the show.

Now, in contrast, what the heck is going on in ‘Broadchurch’? It’s suddenly moved from thumping good detective-led drama to courtroom drama. Don’t get me wrong, the cast are acting their socks off, and I love the addition of flinty Charlotte Rampling as a barrister for the prosecution, but the odds really do seem impossibly stacked against poor old Olivia Colman as the unfortunate wife of the murder suspect. Would David Tennant in his role as lead detective honestly put someone into ‘unofficial’ witness protection? Is there such a thing? This week, he backtracked, but I thought the whole idea flaky from the start. And the credibility of court proceedings? No doubt, some of my legal mates who are also writers might be able to throw light on the veracity or otherwise on the course of the trial. I understand that barristers can be merciless in fighting their corners, but it all seems overblown even if the writer’s aim is to extract the maximum amount of dramatic tension.

Hmmm. Jury’s out.

FROM DOWNTON TO DIEHARD

As soon as I caught a trailer for ‘The Guest’ and witnessed Dan Stevens’ remarkable transformation from foppish pretty boy Matthew Crawley in ‘Downton Abbey’ to lean, mean charismatic former soldier, David, I knew I had to watch the film.

Last Saturday, I did just that. The story starts with the Peterson family who are grieving over the loss of their soldier son. A scene later, David arrives, claiming to have been with the Peterson’s son when he died. If that doesn’t tug at the heartstrings, David tops off his sudden unannounced arrival by delivering personal messages of love from the son to the family. Vulnerable mom invites David in and he soon makes himself at home. He proves to be a godsend, sorting out the Peterson’s young, nerdy son’s bullies in a thrilling act of retribution, and offering a sympathetic ear to Dad who is having a hard time at work. Only the Peterson’s daughter, Anna, sniffs trouble and, naturally, she’s not believed. However it’s largely down to her that David’s cover is blown and his true intentions revealed.

Right up to the three-quarter mark, the plot really works. You’re never quite sure about Stevens although my foe detector was alerted on a couple of occasions, (largely because of Stevens’ steely-eyed gaze.) Notwithstanding this, Stevens’ performance is electric and a mile away from ‘Downton’. He looks deeply at home with either a gun or a snooker cue in his hand (all the better to smash you over the head with). But what the heck happens in the rushed last part of the movie? It’s almost as though someone else wrote the script or was given a deadline to wrap it up as quickly as possible. The result is guns blazing, bodies dropping, one violent act topped by another in a meaningless frenzy. Even if I bought into it, the behaviour of the two survivors is jaw-droppingly unrealistic. After the mayhem, a paramedic asks young son, Luke, how he is. ‘Fine,’ he replies. Really? From what planet does he come?

As for the twist at the very end, words fail me. Watch it for yourself and you’ll see what I mean…

HAPPY 2015!

Like most people, I started back to work on Monday. Having skirted coughs, colds and other nasty little bugs during Christmas, I’m afraid that, happily for some, I began the New Year without a bang and without a voice. Undeterred, (I don’t feel particularly unwell) I took the opportunity to look ahead and sort out my book reading schedule for the Cheltenham Standard. I’ve mentioned this before but I seem awash with novels in all genres from lovely female authors, but very few from male writers. In the interests of balance for Cheltenham readers, I’d genuinely welcome newly released novels from the male of the species. I’m quite easy to contact through my website. http://www.evseymour.co.uk Gloriously, my first two reviews for the New Year will feature Colette McBeth’s sublime psychological thriller ‘The Life I Left Behind’ and Anne Zouroudi’s ‘The Feast of Artemis’, gastro-porn meets murder mystery. Both novels really made my Christmas reading a joy.
On the writerly front, I’m working on revisions for ‘Beautiful Losers’ for US publisher Midnight Ink. I’ve never worked directly for a US publisher before and what’s most striking is the ‘can do’ and upbeat approach. Within weeks of being signed, I received a handy dossier answering all the questions I might have thought of and a lot I hadn’t. Basically, I was given a step-by-step outline of what happens and when in the months leading up to publication. Editing is an elevating process whomever the publisher but I’ve discovered some intriguing differences between British and Americans. For example, Americans use double quotation marks in reverse for dialogue – imagine sorting that lot out over 400 pages – and some of my more English phrases are clearly bewildering to the average US reader. Nonetheless, working with a hawk-eyed editor is very satisfying. 2016 (the year of publication) seems a long way off, but I’m pretty certain it will shoot by. In fact, 2015 is looking pretty cool all round. I hope it’s the same for you too. To all my blog followers, readers and friends, here’s to you having a lovely, lovely, happy and healthy New Year!