Concert Review – Different Trains

Lichfield Festival Concert Review

Different Trains –

Mr McFall’s Chamber with Luxmuralis

Two leading practitioners of widely divergent artistic practices collaborated on a new project as part of Lichfield Festival, when the leading String ensemble Mr McFall’s Chamber and local multi-disciplinary arts organisation Luxmuralis presented Different Trains.

Playing music by two leading American composers from the Minimalist tradition, Steve Reich, and John Adams, it was Samuel Barber’s String Quartet opus 11 in B Minor which opened the recital. The ensemble, which featured violinists Robert McFall and Cyril Garac and Su-a Lee (cello) were impressive throughout, but the pathos was particularly during the slow second movement, which has featured in any number of films, and will be familiar to many through cultural osmosis, rather than a particular experience.

Three pieces from John Adam’s suite Alleged Dances featured, with the almost pop sensibility of She’s So Fine, Toot Nipple, and Habenera being particularly fine examples. Habenera, which opened the second half of the concert, featured a visual backdrop provided by Luxmuralis, it’s almost kaleidoscopic style adding an extra depth to the piece, which was fully realised during the concert’s final piece, Steve Reich’s Different Trains. Inspired by Reich’s childhood trips between his parents in 1930’s America, it also looked at the trains that operated throughout Europe at the same time, using a soundtrack of interviews, recorded train and rail sounds, as well as interviews, and different voices interpolated around and inside the music. Although musically Different Trains is not the most difficult piece, it is the added poignancy of the interviews, and sounds, and the stories that inspired the piece that make it so powerful.

A piece by Ennio Morricone, Deborah’s Theme, from Once Upon a Time In America served as a finely chosen encore.

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Theatre Review – David Garrick 300 Playwriting Competition

Theatre Review

David Garrick 300 Playwriting Competition

For one of the final shows in this year’s Lichfield Festival, the spotlight was turned on the talents of three writers, whose work was featured during an evening of script-in-hand performances.

With four talented actors playing all roles, a quick ninety minutes rehearsal period for each of the two plays, and minimal set design, this was not theatre of the highest production value, but it helped to show the strength and individual voices of Kierston Leslie, Ellie Galvin and Rory Payne.

The first play was Moving Pictures by Kiersten Leslie. Set in the tail end of the 1920’s, with a backdrop of financial collapse from Wall Street, and old certainties giving way to new possibilities,  this was a look at a fractured family, coming to terms with post-war Britain. A young son is looking to make a name for himself in the new fangled world of TV and advertising, whilst his father wishes that he stay and look after the Greengrocer’s that he has put his life into building up. Sub-plots within the story involved a lost child, and the fracturing of the family unit when big dreams fail to materialise in the way that they should have. This was play full of pathos, and a well drawn nuclear family unit, and some humour.

The second play, Paradise by Rory Payne and Ellie Galvin was a different beast entirely. Set in a dystopian future, where people can be made to disappear if their existence upsets some-one else. It looked at a post-brexit, post Trump, post truth world,  the most disturbing element of dystopia where bought to life. Frank Milton, a television celebrity has a child, but for the sake of his televisual career, the child is made to disappear. Milton finds himself in Paradise, where he finds his son, but he is not the man he would have been. He repeats the mantra of Paradise, of how nobody escapes, and as it occurs to Milton that he too is trapped, the lights fade. Although this play takes things to a logical extreme, there is still much humour within the play.

Although the running time for each play was limited to forty five minutes, there were strands within each piece that could be developed and built upon, and it would be interesting to see how these two strong plays are developed in the future.

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Book Review – Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin

Book Review

Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin

Orion Books

7 out of 10

Knots and Crosses is the book that introduced Inspector John Rebus to the world. His world weary cynicism, and unhealthy habits forming, but still not fully developed, but right away we are introduced to Rebus’s environment of Edinburgh, its crimes, criminals, and a way of interfering in his personal life.

Two young girls have been kidnapped, murdered, and a third is missing, perhaps heading towards the same fate. Rebus’s personal life has collapsed, his marriage is over, and his daughter is down south, with her mother, and then it starts to get more and more personal.

The post arrives, knotted strings and matchstick crosses, and no indication of where they came from. Rebus delves into his own past in the army to for the answers, and doesn’t like what he finds there. As he gets closer and closer to the truth, rubbing the powerful of Edinburgh the wrong way with his blunt charm, we learn more about Rebus’s, and how his time in the army affected him, and the identity of the murderer comes as a complete shock to both Rebus, and the reader.

Knots and Crosses is where it all started for Rebus, and although originally it was only meant to be a one of, Ian Ranking soon discovered that there was a lot more to Rebus than he thought. It has the same characters we all know, but in a less formed state, this is an embryonic Rebus, but all fans of crime fiction, and Scottish fiction will find something to love within these pages.

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Francis Bacon’s Head

francis-bacons-headThe Great Artist,

rendered expensively in Gold.

Maybe the mould was broken,

Or maybe the artist was going through

his Picasso stage,

where faces don’t look like faces,

and if he tells us that it is Francis Bacon’s head

rendered in enough gold to run a hospital

or a school for a year,

then we believe him.


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Book Review – A Monstrous Commotion – The Mysteries of Loch Ness by Gareth Williams

Book Review – A Monstrous Commotion – The Mysteries of Loch Ness by Gareth Williams

Nessie has had a long and storied life. Whether or not it simply is a tourist attraction, a sea monster that does not take a good picture, there is plenty to think about in this book. Gareth Williams is your guide, and  his intelligent and considered writing style lets people, and examines all of the evidence in a nearly forensic fashion. As could be expected, there are plenty of foot-notes and other sources of evidence that are all examined. Using modern technology, he debunks some of the most well known pictures, but some of the pictures defy explanation. Sometimes they are obviously faked, but used the best technology at the time to create pictures. If you are believer in the Loch Ness Monster, or just have a fleeting interest in the subject, this well-researched factual book could well be the book to make you think differently about the Loch Ness Monster.

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Book Review – Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin

Book Review – Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin

Even Dogs in the Wild finds Ian Rankin’s most famous creation, Detective InspectorJohn Rebus doing what he does best, clashing with colleagues and criminals, drinking too much, and coming up against the darkest nature of human existence.

He is now officially retired, but is keeping his hand in, helping colleague Siobahn Clarke and Malcolm Fox, but even there, there are changes, with cut-backs seriously reducing the amount of money that the force has to spend, and Fox, already feeling doubts about his position has to travel from Edinburgh to Dundee to cover shifts, and when an upstanding lawyer is found dead, with a threatening note, it is all he needs, so he calls in Rebus to lend his expertise.

Around the outskirts of his life, Rebus is changing. Once a policeman, always a policeman, it gets in the blood, give officers a sense of belonging, of going the extra mile. But as the investigation into the Judges’s death continues, it appears that he was the victim of a criminal turf war, and when Ger Cafferty, once one of Rebus’s sworn enemies returns to his life, they are no longer on opposite side of the law. There is a deep respect between both man, each recognising something of themselves in the other.

This is a fine addition to Rebus’s ever evolving story, and shows how, now as an older man, he is no longer fit for active duty, but still has a lot to offer to his former paymasters.

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Book review – School of Velocity by Eric Beck Rubin

School of Velocity is a novel about music, about self-doubt, about mental health, and about friendship. Jan is a virtuoso pianist, always practising, the book starts with him accompanying a cellist in a foreign country, but the concert doesn’t go as planned. He can barely remember the music, misses a few cues, and leaves in disgrace.

As he comes to terms with this disaster, and the implications that it may have on his future career, he remembers Dirk, and old school friend, with a magnetic personality, and popularity to burn, and as Dirk’s personality and popularity rubs of on Jan, he finds his life changed by being allowed into certain circles within the school clique system. But the friendship is dangerous, and toxic with Dirk daring Jan to take on more and more dangerous risks, and after they leave school, the friendship falters.

They meet up again in later life, but things have changed between them. Jan is the successful one, making good on the promise he showed in his youth, but they are both also aware that their friendship was a normal friendship. It was more than that, bordering on love, or on obsession, and as Jan takes one last risk to try to impress Dirk, we know that neither of them will find the full resolution that they need.

This is a fine novel, from a debut novelist, with plenty to say. The friendship between the two protagonists is well drawn, and while neither of them is particularly sympathetic, it is a believable relationship, and the story moves along at quite a smart pace, whilst secondary characters are well drawn, including the girls that Jan repeatedly loses to Dirk, or their family members. Eric Beck Rubin has also done his research into the piano repertoire, and describing the life of musicians in the highest standards of the classical music world.

Ben Macnair

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