To the Theatre Royal, Bath, yestereve to see Gerald Sibleyras's play Heroes. This is the second play in succession by Sibleyras which has come to the TRB, the first being An Hour and a Half Late, discussed here on 18 September. And between the two of them, these plays present us with something of a mystery.
An Hour and a Half Late had a running-time, not surprisingly, of 90 minutes. Heroes was even shorter: 80 minutes. Now value for money in the theatre is not, of course, measured in terms of the time spent in one's seat. However, an 80 minute play, at £22 a seat, had better be pretty damn good -- scoring 8 or 9 out of 10 -- and Heroes does not achieve do that. It was worth about 4 out of 10.
Heroes is translated from the French by Tom Stoppard. Well that's nice work if you can get it, because he doubtless shares in the royalties, and I don't think he had much to do. We are faced with one set and three actors. The year is 1959 and the setting is a home for old soldiers. The three heroes of the title are World War I veterans (French, of course).
All three men have been severely damaged by the war. One has a tin leg; one still has shrapnel in his head, which causes him to black out at increasingly frequent intervals; and one, who at first appears the strongest, is in fact too terrified to go outside the gates of the home.
The old men sit and talk about this and that. One goes for a walk and meets a beautiful girl, to the envy of the others. They plan an expedition, to a line of poplars on a hill in the distance. But they never go, of course. And, er, that's about it.
There were a few modest laughs, and a few touches of pathos. But not much else.
And yet this play has met with huge praise from the London critics. 'A masterclass in wonderful acting [it was a different cast in London]... hilarious and moving... achingly funny and piercingly sad' -- Daily Telegraph. (Some other reviews are a bit more qualified.) It has also been nominated for various prizes in Paris.
So the mystery that one is presented with is this -- and it's the same mystery that one is faced with in the case of many a much-hyped novel -- how did these two rather thin and not very impressive plays ever get put on in the first place?
Any theatre's slush pile must contain a dozen or more similarly slight pieces. If the authors of such plays are very, very lucky, they might get put on in the upstairs room of a pub somewhere, and be watched by nineteen people including the man who works the lights. But in Sibleyras's case he gets full-blooded West End productions with stars.
In other word, Sibleyras is a man who has got what it takes. It may be that he knows, or is sleeping with, the right people. It may be that he has enough private capital to finance these things himself. What it is, precisely, that he has, I know not. I only know that I haven't got it. And neither, I suspect, dear Reader, do you.
Every time I visit Madame A, my mouth drops open at something or other. She covers an enormously wide showbiz field, including books, and even if some of it isn't new (e.g. Spencer Tracy was gay), some of it is (e.g. the exclusive on the McCartney breakup -- if you care).
Madame's latest missive (as of typing this) is an account of a new kind of fan fiction: a novel by Russ Tamblyn, entitled The King of Hollywood, and based (allegedly) at least partly on the life of Kevin Spacey -- so much so that the author splits the royalties with Mr Spacey; or tries to. (If that's actionable, officer, I'm only quoting Madame. OK?)
Details of the book (not that you'd want to read a novel about a gay movie star, naturally, but just in case you want, you know, to have a look) are found on the author's own web site.
Life in South Korea
Should you wish to know what life is like in Seoul and South Korea generally (and I cannot imagine why you should), then my son Jon is doing a pretty good job in his blog I'm a Seoul Man.
When to do research
Galleycat had a story last week about John Le Carre deciding to do a little fact-checking and background research after, rather than before, he wrote his novel. And before you start to snigger and feel smug about such an eccentric approach, just remember the advice of John Creasey.
Whether or not Creasey really was the most prolific novelist of all time is a matter that I happily leave to those who think records are important, but he certainly wrote several hundred. Creasey's view was, you should always do your research after writing the book.
His theory went like this. OK, so you're writing a novel about a coup in Africa, let's say. Well you know that such a revolution would involve tanks and men with guns, so you write about that. Then, later, to add a bit of verisimilitude, you do some research and discover that the tanks would most likely be Russian T54s (or whatever), and the guns would be Kalashnikovs.
The beauty of this method is that you know, before you start researching, exactly what information you need. So you don't waste time in reading up a lot of stuff that you never use.
Incidentally, Le Carre comes up with a peach of a quote from Hermann Goring at Nuremberg (1945):
Naturally, the common people don't want war... but after all it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along.... All you have to do is tell them they're being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism.... It works the same in every country.Yes, it does. Ask George Bush and Tony Blair.
The latest teenage sensation
The Literary Saloon reports a story about an 11-year-old girl, Nancy YiFan, who got herself a world book deal (allegedly) simply by emailing her manuscript to the CEO of HarperCollins, Jane Friedman, in New York.
The Saloon has some doubts about the veracity of this story. I know, I know, I was shocked too. I had to take two asprins. But hey, this kid got it all wrong anyway. She should have emailed Aultbea.
The O'Beirne row rumbles on
Last week, in common with a lot of other bloggers and virtually every UK and Irish newspaper, I mentioned Kathy O'Beirne and her controversial memoir, which may or may not be 100% accurate.
Bookslut now leads me to quite a lengthy and thoughtful article in the Observer. There is now such a level of concern in the Irish Republic that there are calls for an independent inquiry. Given the complexities and bitterness of Irish politics and religion, I find it not at all surprising that, as I noted on Monday, some people are trying their best to stay out of this one. There will be blood on the streets before long.
The Book Bricks
Leon Jenner provides further proof that a writer can use the internet to do anything he damn well pleases. Leon has written what I take to be a novel, or long story, called Bricks, and he has made it available in the form of an audio book. You can find the links here.
A word of warning. On my computer, the Windows Media Stream wouldn't work, so I downloaded the whole file. This was not a problem for me, because I went off and had lunch while that was happening, but at 51 MB you might find that it chokes your system.
As for the book itself... Well, intriguing. I have no idea what it's about, but bricks are clearly involved.