Tag Archives: Stalin

Yesterday’s quirky day from The Great Terror to a woman not playing a horse

Nick Awde singing opera in the streets of Edinburgh yesterday

Nick Awde seemingly sings opera in Edinburgh’s streets

In my opinion, this blog may meander around a bit in its subjects, but one uniting factor is a little bit of quirky detail. And yesterday had some quirkiness woven into it.

I had bumped into Nick Awde the day before.

He is a writer and critic for entertainment industry weekly The Stage, has published books under his Desert Hearts imprint by comedy people Phil Kay and Bob Slayer and he himself co-wrote Pete and Dud: Come Again (about Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) and, solo, wrote Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show which (as a title) Ellis & Rose infamously performed at the Edinburgh Fringe – though, it has to be said, mostly without much reference to the original script.

Anyway, Nick Awde invited me to go and see the world premiere aka a rehearsed reading of Midnight at the St James’s Theatre yesterday. He told me it was a very serious Azerbaijani play about the Stalinist Terror.

In the last couple of weeks, I have seen the West End musicals Showstoppers! and Bend It Like Beckham – both bright, jolly, uplifting, toe-tapping feasts of singing and dancing and primary colours – so I cannot honesty say that an Azerbaijani play about the Great Terror seemed wildly appetising. Well, it would not be an attractive proposition at any time but – Hey! – I thought – It might be interesting or eccentric or both.

Midnight - the Great Terror musical

Midnight – Stalin’s Great Terror as a musical

So I went yesterday afternoon and realised I must not have been paying full attention to Nick when he described it to me, because it was a MUSICAL about the Great Terror written by Elchin Ilyas oglu Afandiyev, who has been Deputy Prime Minister of Azerbaijan since 1993.

And it was not eccentric. It was wonderful. It was a serious and very dark musical about The Great Terror which I thought owed a little bit to J.B.Priestley’s An Inspector Calls. Although, I should point out, I have never actually seen An Inspector Calls.

Well, I possibly may have seen it years ago on the London stage but, as is well documented, I have a shit memory – I can’t remember the plot but have a vague memory of a two-storey stage set.

Midnight did not have a two-storey stage set.

Anyway, Nick Awde’s involvement in Midnight is as artistic director of the Aloff Theatre company which staged the play/musical and which is “dedicated to the promotion of new and classic works from East Europe and Central Asia” and which is “currently focusing on the interchange of dramatic resources between Azerbaijan and the UK”.

So Nick Awde, in my eyes, should be described as – and, indeed, is – an Englishman raised in Africa living in France with a Georgian passport involved in an Azerbaijani theatre company who wrote about Jimmy Savile as a Punch & Judy show.

I think that qualifies as quirky.

At St James’s Theatre yesterday (left-right) Hannah Eidinow, Norman Baker, Christopher Richardson and Nick Awde

At St James’s Theatre yesterday (left-right) Hannah Eidinow, Norman Baker, Christopher Richardson and Nick Awde

After the show, Nick told me that one of his relatives had been in the British Army and had been carried onto one of the boats evacuating the troops at Dunkirk in 1940. He had not been wounded. He had been carried on because, like many of the British troops at Dunkirk, he was paralytically drunk.

Retreating through a not-totally-devasted France, they had been taking shelter in abandoned farmhouses, most of which retained their wine cellars. His relative could remember little about the evacuation from Dunkirk except being carried onto a boat.

Inevitably, Nick had invited interesting people along to see the Midnight musical yesterday afternoon.

Notably:

  • former Liberal Democrat MP and Minister of State for Crime Prevention at the Home Office, now author and rock singer, Norman Baker who bizarrely, like me, was born in Scotland, partly brought up in Aberdeen and partly brought up in Essex.
  • and Christopher Richardson, founder of the Pleasance venues in Edinburgh and London who, it turned out, had previously designed theatres and theatre seats – it was suggested my buttocks may have rested on one or more of his creations – and who, in a previous incarnation as a teacher, had taught Stephen Fry.
Jody Kamali - Spectacular!

Jody Kamali – eternally Spectacular! and eccentric

I then had to rush to see Jody Kamali’s excellent Spectacular! show at the Museum of Comedy (I had already seen it at the Edinburgh Fringe in August). Afterwards, he told me about someone he knew who had a dispute with Rowan Atkinson at a press conference at the Fringe in 1971. As a result, his friend’s show was sold out despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that Rowan (very popular on the Fringe at the time) allegedly stood outside the venue every day screaming to the public NOT to go in and see the show.

Anyway, eventually, in the early hours of this morning, I got home to an e-mail from this blog’s South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith (who seems to be spending less and less time on the South Coast).

The email said:


I went to the Camden’s People’s Theatre in London this evening to see Lou aka LoUis CYfer, from the Admiral Duncan pub, Soho.

Louis Cyfer welcomes Sandra with open arms (Photograph by Sandra Smith)

Lou welcomes Sandra into dressing room with open arms (Photograph by Sandra Smith)

She got a Guardian review and is booked for Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Fringe next year. I really enjoyed her one woman show Joan

She wove her late grandmother, Catherine, into the piece, complete with reserved empty chair. It was beautifully done.

I got to play a cannon instead of a horse and gave it my all.

My efforts were clearly not appreciated because the audience all laughed.


As is often the case in this blog, I have no explanation and it seems wiser not to ask.

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I am surrounded by people with newly-born pigs’ arses for faces

At school, my English teacher once talked to our class about the poet W.H. Auden.

“Just look at the lines on his face!” he told us in awe. “All that character! All that experience!”

Sometimes, for a while after that – still in my early teens – I would sit in a tube train on my way home after school and look at my reflection in the window opposite and raise my eyebrows to try to create wrinkles on my forehead… to absolutely no effect at all. I could not insert lasting wrinkles in my forehead.

I was very disappointed.

Of course, back then, I was too young to realise most lines are caused by emotional strain or pain and one single incident of strain or pain doth not a single line cause – it’s pain and strain repeated and repeated in various incidents in your life at different times that cause a single line and multiple lines are the result of… well, you know what I mean.

I was and am a great admirer of the writer Mary Anne Evans aka George Eliot.

That godawful writer Virginia Woolf once said she thought George Eliot’s Middlemarch was “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.”

In my opinion, it’s the greatest novel ever written in the English language.

So at least Virginia Woolf wrote something sensible on that one occasion.

George Eliot had a brilliant mind and somewhere along the way, I think in Middlemarch, she said something to the effect that suffering was never wasted because it led to sympathy for other people’s suffering. That’s not altogether true, as it can also lead to extreme callousness, of course.

Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein and Colonel Gaddafi had lines on their forehead and they were perhaps just a wee bit unsympathetic to others’ suffering. I’m not sure whether to talk of Colonel Gaddafi in the present tense or the past tense. He’s present at the moment but this blog may soon be over-taken by events.

Anyway… we are talking in generalities here and, as always, I may be talking bollocks.

But I have always been wary of women over a certain age – basically over their mid-twenties – with no lines at all on their forehead, because it means they have had little experience of the shittyness that is life and therefore no understanding of or sympathy with other people’s problems. So they are even more dangerous than other women. (Men, as we know, are all shits without exception, so that distinction does not exist in the male of the species.)

A friend of mine has had lines on her forehead for as long as I have known her. I met her when she was 21; she is now 56. Some time, I guess when she was in her thirties, she told me she wished she hadn’t got them. I told her, perfectly truthfully, that I had always found them attractive because they showed she had a genuine, real, likable character; she wasn’t some mindless bimbo with a face like a newly-born pig’s arse.

Perhaps I could have chosen my words better. She didn’t take this compliment well.

But we are still friends.

Now I have lines on my forehead, my face and around my eyes – I even have old man clefts at the sides of my mouth so sometimes I leak spittle out onto the pillow when I sleep. It is not the most endearing of traits. I can’t get rid of the lines nor the old man clefts. But I don’t want to.

Well, maybe oozing spittle is not really ideal. Maybe I wish I didn’t do that.

But it’s an age thing.

When I was younger, the Carry On actor Sid James seemed to have an incredibly lined face. Now when I see his face on TV or in movies, I see personality engraved in his face, not lines.

To me, schoolchildren, who are all character-filled individuals to each other, now look like Invasion of The Body Snatchers type pod clones. They all look the same to me – like babies with newly-born pig’s arse faces.

A friend of mine (not the one previously mentioned) tells me that, in her teens and early twenties, she used to stick strips of Sellotape onto her forehead overnight to stop wrinkles forming.

“Once, I forgot to take them off,” she told me yesterday. “I was opening the front door before i remembered. I don’t know what people would have thought.”

A couple of days ago, a comedian’s wife told me that, in her teens, she used to sleep with a clothes peg on the bridge of her nose because she thought it was too wide. She too told me: “I cared what people thought about the way I looked.”

There’s not a lot I can do about the way I look and, about ten years ago, I gave up caring what people think of me in general. Not that I much cared what people thought about me before then anyway.

It was not and is not a positive character trait and it never proved to be any help in career advancement.

But scum always rises and the people with no lines on their forehead – the shallow bullshit artists – very often triumph.

The comic Martin Soan – admittedly drunk at the time – told me last week that my blogs sometimes show a cynical streak.

Streak? Streak? I would have said it was a six-lane super-highway.

I am surrounded by people with newly-born pigs’ arses for faces!

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