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Doctor Dee

August 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Last month, I was lucky enough to catch “Doctor Dee, an English Opera”, as part of the Manchester International Festival. And I have to say, I had a jolly good time. I may as well review it, as it will also be of next year’s Olympic celebrations.

It was a good night out. The production was superb. The set and costumes where as marvellous as you’d expect from a piece set in the Elizabethan era (you’ll believe that the Gloriana can fly), and the music was of the quality you’d expect from Albarn. The actors played their roles with conviction and grace, and everyone who sang had remarkable talent. Many of the key scenes are remarkable and wonderful. (Especially a particularly occult scene which would make any production of The Tempest green with envy) However, it still fell flat in a number of places, simply because, the story of John Dee, as presented, was more tragic than it was compelling.

Dee is a fascinating historical figure, who, though many know the name, few know much about. His biography is a fascinating one, full of conspiracy, scandal, bravery, genius and the occult. So why does John Dee The Opera fail to be exciting?

(c)Norris and Albarn

An amazing production, let down by a story more tragic than it is compelling

Well, partially, it’s because the story the Opera is telling isn’t about Dee, but about the spirituality of England. The production takes pains to take us back in time, to explain to us the way things are in Elizabethan England, and then fails to explore the setting fully. Rather, it asks us to consider how spiritual England is. And frankly, it does this in a pretty half-assed way. One moment it’s asking us why all the churches are empty, the next it’s asking us to witness the fall of a once brilliant man, brought low by hubris.

Apparently, when the opera was in development, they asked Alan Moore to contribute. Moore suggested that they base the opera around Dee, and began work on the project. Predictably, however, Moore threw his toys out the pram during the early stages of the production. Genius he may be, but also infamously difficult to work with. (The full story can be found  here.)  Moore’s influence can be barely felt on the work, but just a touch seems to be enough here. Too much, and I suspect it would have been inaccessible to the majority of the audience, and as it was, many where scratching their heads.

Is it any good? Yes, it is. The songs are great, the production excellent and Albarn and crew are on top form. But if you’re expecting it to be about one of England finest occult minds, you’ll be disappointed.

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Categories: Opera, Reviews

The streets of New York look a lot like the streets of Manchester…

August 17, 2011 2 comments

Went to see Captain America (The First Avenger) recently, and enjoyed it a fair bit. Of course, I went to see it in 2D1.

It’s a pretty simple tale; Set in World War Two, it follows Steve Rogers, a weedy nerd type who, through the magic of science, becomes superhuman and beats up Nazis.

Such a movie should be pretty hard to mess-up, and luckily, they get the mix just right. The villians are appropiately villianous2, the heroes lantern jawed and heroic. This isn’t a movie where the concepts of ‘heroism’ and ‘good’ are dissected through a complex narrative, this is an action movie about a super-hero who is also a soldier.

One of the core concepts of the Captain America comic book is that the title character is the spirit of the nation; he stands for an idealised form of heroism and hard work, a version of the American Dream that kick your arse if needs be. The movie pulls this off without being too nationalistic or repulsive. This is not “Team America: World Police”, this is the story of a Nazi-bashing, rights-defending dream of America, set in a bygone age.3

If you liked The Rocketeer, you’ll love this. (It’s also by the same director). If you’re a ‘Make Mine Marvel’ type, you’ll make little happy sounds at some of the little references. (There’s a brief glimpse of the 50’s version of the Human Torch, for example. And of course, a SHIELD style flying car.) Go see, if super heroes or fantasy-laden war movies are your thing.

(c) Marvel Pictures

The plot is lean and muscular.


1) 3D is for movies that have no story. Transformers 3 and Avatar, for example, are movies that are more about the spectacle than they are about anything else. You go to watch the explosions. Personally, I avoid that sort of thing as if I wanted to see things go bang, I’d go to a proper fireworks display. The plot tends to be better.
2) It’s nice to see Hugo Weaving and Toby Jones get a chance to chew scenery. Of coure, Jones will always be ‘The Dream Lord’ to me and Weaving will always be Mr Smith, but this just adds to the fun.
3) One of the movie’s flaws is that this theme jars slightly with the movie’s framing mechanism. But not terribly so.

Categories: Comic Books, Movies, Reviews

New Blog, Same old nonsense

August 14, 2011 Leave a comment

After years of blogging on Livejournal, I’ve finally made the leap to WordPress. Partially because LJ has become unreliable, mostly because I want this blog to focus on fresh things, so I may as well start a new blog as I change my lifestyle.

I’ll still be posting links to this blog via LJ, and I may mine the old journal for some stand out articles.

So welcome to my new blog. Expect the usual reviews, commentary, bat-shit ideas and the odd bit of fiction. And I mean odd.

Categories: Writing