TV/Film/Theatre

Theatre Review: CHESS at the Union Theatre

1 Mar 2013 at 22:47

Well that was quite an evening. I’m on the train home from seeing CHESS at the very small Union Theatre in Southwark. Because of my working hours I very rarely get to go out in the evening, so it was really nice to do something a bit different. I bought the tickets ages ago and thought I had only bought two, but when I retrieved the paperwork yesterday, it turned out I had bought 4. I didn’t think I could flog the spare two so I rang the box office to ask if it would be possible to return them on the night if they had demand for them. Yes, came the response. In the meantime my LBC colleague Anthony Davis said he’d like to come with a friend, so we met up at All Bar One in Leicester Square, with Joe Pike, another colleague from LBC, where we had a drink or two with another LBC colleague, Raj Pattni, who was holding his leaving do there. Raj is a very great man and we are all very sorry to see him go. Safe to say by the time we left at 615, he was somewhat rat arsed.

We got to the venue and were told that two of my tickets had subsequently been resold so Anthony and his guest couldn’t come in. I am afraid I rather exploded. “But you said you were returning them,” they said. “No,” I said. I asked if it was possible to. It all got a little heated until it turned out that Anthony’s guest had acted at the theatre before and started ‘mwahing’ the rather aggressive theatre manager who I had been rowing with. “You can sit on the director’s chair,” she told her.

It really is a very small theatre, with a maximum capacity of 50 punters. Very intimate. The cast are almost on top of you, blaring out tunes about two feet from your face. It was quite unnerving at times. The set was minimalist in the extreme, with not even a chessboard floor, which has always been present in the other productions I have seen. But it worked and the lack of sophistication and scenery seemed not to matter after a while.

One of the main complaints about CHESS is that its storyline is very complicated. Perhaps one of the best aspects of this production is that it tells the story in a way that anyone who’s never seen it before can easily follow. Despite the cast being necessarily quite small, the characters were allowed to breathe, and even the minor characters resonated well.

For those not familiar with CHESS it tells the story of the cold war through the game of chess, and the battles between Russian and American chess champions. There’s a defection, two love stories and the spying game is integral to the plot. The two songs that non-CHESS afficionados will all recognise are I KNOW HIS SO WELL and ONE NIGHT IN BANGKOK.

There were several highlights. Svetlana’s SOMEONE ELSE’S STORY was one and NOBODY’S SIDE another. The rendition of I KNOW HIM SO WELL provoked me to say to Joe “we can go now”. I think he was a tad embarrassed as my voice is clearly louder than I think it is, and several people turned round, smiled and nodded assent.

My only quibble with the show was the quality of some of the singing. I thought Freddie Trumper and the Arbiter had rather weak, weedy voices which didn’t resonate like most of the others. For me the undoubted star of the production is Nadim Naaman who lays Russian chess champion Anatoly Sergievsky. His acting and singing were a joy and in some ways he carried the whole thing at times.

The lowlight of the evening came a few minutes before the interval where a young lady in the front row threw up all over the edge of the stage area while the cast were in full song. But the show must go on, and it did!

Anyway, CHESS is playing until 16 March and has sold out every night,although there are usually a few returns if you turn up on spec. Well worth it. A great night out.

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UK Politics

The Challenge for UKIP Comes in May

1 Mar 2013 at 13:17

No one should deny that the really big winners last night were UKIP. Few people had seen it coming much before Polling Day itself, John Rentoul being an honourable exception. To come second, only 1,711 behind the Liberal Democrats was an incredible achievement, and much of the credit must go to the excellent UKIP candidate Diana James. People liked her. You never know, people may have liked Maria Hutchings had they been given the chance to.

But as the afterglow of near victory fades and Nigel Farage departs Eastleigh, he will be ruminating on the challenges facing his party. Farage is not one to rest on his laurels, but knows now he and his colleagues will come under renewed scrutiny by a media gasping for controversy. He knows that his party’s policy platform will be examined in minute detail. He knows that his promise to make UKIP a truly national party will be questioned. But he has a simple way of dealing with that. He can promise now, and unequivocally to stand UIP candidates in every County Council seat in May. Yes, all 2,000 of them. Up to now, UKIP hasn’t really taken local elections very seriously. That must change. They only have a handful of councillors throughout the country at the moment. Any successful national party needs a local government base.

Secondly – and Nigel Farage acknowledged this earlier – they need to ensure that the people they pick as Euro candidates for the Euro elections next year are not the normal list of weirdos and crackpots, several of whom then don’t last the course, defect or get put in jail. Diane James was a perfect candidate – she looked good, sounded good and was, well, normal. Very unusual for a UKIP candidate, and I mean that in a caring way, as Dame Edna would say.

I also think the media need to buck up their game with regard to UKIP. They have far more MEPs than the Liberal Democrats and in the runup to the Euro elections they certainly deserve at least equal airtime with the LibDems. I have already agreed with my production team at LBC that we must increase the representation given to UKIP, especially on my evening Parliament Hour each Wednesday. But the challenge for UKIP is to ensure that they can put up credible people to speak on their behalf. UKIP must be more than just about Nigel Farage. Making Diane James his official deputy would be a good start.

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Quote of the Day

Quote of the day: Professor Tim Bale

1 Mar 2013 at 13:14

Rather than shooting Nigel Farage’s fox, all Cameron has done is feed it.Professor Tim Bale, 1 Mar 2013

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TV/Film/Theatre

Chess: I Know It So Well

1 Mar 2013 at 11:04

Tonight I am going to see the musical CHESS again. It’s the tenth time I will have been to see it since it first opened in the West End in the 1980s. It’s a cold war story, with music by the men from Abba and lyrics by Tim Rice. To be honest I am not a great fan of musicals, but CHESS is different to the rest. I know virtually every song off by heart, but will do my best not to sing along.

It’s being performed in a theatre (the Union Theatre in Southwark) which only has a capacity of 50 people, so that will make it very different. I once saw it at a dinner theatre in Boulder, Colorado, where the cast serve a meal before the performance. It was a very strange experience in some ways, but extremely enjoyable. This new production has had rave reviews, so I am looking forward to it very much,

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UK Politics

Fifteen Things We Learned From Eastleigh

1 Mar 2013 at 09:27

I’ll write a more considered piece on Eastleigh later, but here’s something to think about… Fifteen things we learned from Eastleigh.

1. Voters will sometimes forgive a political party anything.
2. Once the LibDems get in, it’s almost impossible to get them out
3. Grant Shapps is a man of many talents, but running by-elections is not one of them
4. David Cameron’s Euro Speech was a waste of his breath.
5. Voters don’t like candidates who revel in Margaret Thatcher’s possible death
6. If you pick a joke candidate, the electorate treat you as a joke
7. Ed Miliband’s strategy of winning in the south of England is going really well
8. Nigel Farage is spending the day self-flagellating
9. People no longer feel embarrassed about voting UKIP
10. If you gag a candidate, you get what you deserve
11. You can’t out-UKIP UKIP
12. The Tories should use Lynton Crosby to run this sort of by-election in future
13. Don’t flood a constituency with MPs. It puts off voters
14. To win ensure the outgoing MP has perverted the course of justice. Just saying…
15. The Tories need to take a collective neurofen pill.

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Rant

The Idea That This Government Believes in Deregulation Is a Joke

28 Feb 2013 at 13:30

Yesterday I got an email from our accountants telling us this…

From April this year, HMRC are changing the way in which employers have to report payroll information. Previously, employers had to file a return at the end of each tax year with details of all employees, their pay and the associated PAYE and National Insurance. Now, all this information – and more – has to be submitted electronically to HMRC every month. HMRC call this system ‘Real Time Information’, or RTI. This will make sure that HMRC know exactly how much in PAYE, NI and student loan deductions are due to be paid to them for every pay period. The software we use for your payroll has been updated to be compliant with HMRC requirements. However, it is essential that all information submitted is correct. This means that we need you to confirm now that all the details we hold for your employees are correct and up to date. We enclose copies of the records currently held on the payroll system for each of your employees. Please check these carefully, and make any amendments necessary. There is also some additional information that HMRC now require. This includes the number of hours each employee normally works. We have summarised on the attached spreadsheet the information we have [if any]. Please could you fill in the blanks here. The new HMRC requirements will add additional processes to the payroll that we run for you, with a consequential increase in the time needed each month, though we will of course work to minimise any impact on costs.

So great. More time to spend on needless bureaucracy. And more cost. Something we had to once a year now has to be done every month, no doubt on pain of death. And naturally no Treasury Minister has bothered to question HMRC on why they are doing this and what extra costs it is imposing on businesses which are already struggling under the burden of red tape. It’s this sort of thing that puts people off starting new businesses, let alone expanding existing ones.

Perhaps that nice Mr Cable might like to intervene!

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Radio

It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter: No 4 - Reacting to a Guest Faux Pas

27 Feb 2013 at 22:45

This afternoon I recorded an interview with best selling author Barbara Taylor-Bradford, which we’ll be putting out on next Thursday’s LBC Book Club programme. So as a well trained radio presenter, I thought I would trail it at the end of my programme tonight. With me in the studio were three MPs, including the Conservative MP Mark Field. We had all been in quite a jolly mood. Anyway, this is how the programme ended…

ME: And next Thursday on the LBC Book Club I’ll be talking to Barbara Taylor-Bradford…
MARK FIELD: … I thought she was dead…
[slight pause]
ME: No she most certainly isn’t! She’s alive and well, thank you Mark. Coming up next, the much better mannered Anthony Davis!

There’s not much you can say when someone does that, especially when there is only 3 seconds left on the programme!

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Books

Telling Gary McKinnon's Story

27 Feb 2013 at 13:25

We made an exciting announcement today. Biteback Publishing has bought world rights to a book from Janis Sharp, the mother of hacker Gary McKinnon. The book, Saving Gary McKinnon: A Mother’s Story, will be published in September.

I am thrilled to be publishing Janis Sharp’s book, which tells of the difficult and courageous campaign that she waged for ten years to save her son, Gary, from being deported to the US. She is a truly remarkable woman. I’ve interviewed her on my LBC show and the passion she has shown in various interviews over the last few years is on full display in the text of the book. It is a very personal account of a ten-year struggle to save Gary McKinnon and free him from a decade of fear of extradition.

McKinnon, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, was accused by the USA of hacking into military computers. McKinnon claimed he was looking for evidence of UFO cover-ups, and after ten years of legal action, Theresa May took the decision in October 2012 not to extradite him.

The book will be published in September, accompanied by an extensive marketing and PR campaign.

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The Implications of Eastleigh - Crunchtime for Cameron and Clegg as Miliband Escapes Scrutiny

27 Feb 2013 at 10:23

I can’t remember a by-election which was so hard fought and was more difficult to call than this one, apart, possibly from Crewe & Nantwich. However, in that one there was no national overhang on a particular party, and there was a definite feeling of Tory momentum. There isn’t in Eastleigh, despite the constituency being flooded with Tory activists and MPs. With the background of the Chris Huhne/Vicky Pryce court case and the media scrum over Lord Rennard, and only a 4,000 majority to overcome. the Tories should be walking this by-election. But they’re not. Question marks over the candidate and the rise of UKIP have both influenced a stalling of the Tory campaign, with the latter proving particularly significant. It would be ironic indeed if UKIP were to be largely responsible for the election of a europhile Liberal Democrat. If that happens, the consequences for David Cameron could be seismic. The media would interpret it as further proof that Cameron can’t win an overall majority in 2015. What will be the reaction of Tory backbenchers and the wider Tory Party? They will be like a dog with a Peter Bone…

For the Liberal Democrats the result is no less important. If they win they will be encouraged to think they can avoid the wipeout most of thing they will suffer in 2015. It will indeed have been a triumph to win in these circumstances, although they would have UKIP to thank, rather than their own very mediocre candidate. But they have fought a good ground war and may yet reap the reward. If they don’t win, the vultures could well start circling around Nick Clegg. Party activists are already horrified by his handling of the Rennard affair. A loss in Eastleigh could provoke open calls for Clegg to go – and not just from Lembit Opik.

Labour has escaped the spotlight in the by-election, which is very odd. They used to have a solid vote in Eastleigh and the demographics indicate that they could have done a lot better here. When John O’Farrell was selected, I wondered if it had been a masterstroke, but in reality he has been a bit of a disaster. Playing the fool does not win votes. The LibDems have squeezed the Labour vote since 1992 to a point where it is only 10%, and it is unlikely they will improve on that tomorrow. Labour need to do much better to break through in the south of England to win in 2015. They will never win a seat like this, but their vote ought to be going up by quite a lot. Miliband will probably escape much scrutiny whatever happens on Thursday, but unfairly.

UKIP will be kicking themselves. John Rentoul thinks they will come second, which is a very brave prediction. If they do, they will wonder what if. What would have happened if Nigel Farage had stood himself? He might as well have done as he seems to be permanently in the constituency. It seems certain they will poll well over 20%, which almost certainly will cost the Tories a much needed win.

So far as I can see, very few people have made a prediction about the result tomorrow, so let me break ranks and call it for the LibDems on the basis that UKIP’s performance has made a Tory victory all the more difficult. A portent of things to come, maybe, with massive possible consequences for David Cameron’s leadership of the Conservative Party.

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Dogs

Grooming a Schnauzer

26 Feb 2013 at 22:30

Every six weeks or so our Miniature Schnauzer, Bubba, has to go to a dog groomer in Heathfield to have his hair cut. It’s a bit of a trauma for the poor little lad. For one thing he always throws up on the journey, although never on the return He’s otherwise very well behaved, but he doesn’t like travelling very much. I don’t know what lotions they put on him while they are grooming him, but whatever it is acts as canine viagra to Dude, our Jack Russell. He usually spends the rest of the day trying to shag Bubba senseless. It’s quite comical to watch, as Bubba isn’t having any of it. He clearly takes after his father…

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