Sunday, 25 October 2009

Savoy Opera Company's Iolanthe

I'm delighted that it was tonight that we'd planned to come, as we got to see Bec playing Leila, which she's only doing for two of the performances. (Hey, may as well be honest - I come to these shows for the people in them, so the more people I know in the show, the better!) And we weren't disappointed; it was a fun show, as Iolanthe needs to be.

The overture was played well (I love the triangle, Sullivan put it to good use). Pity that several audience members were still finding their places, though. From the waving of the curtain, it seems some of the cast were, too, although that's something that always seems to happen. The curtain went up on a group of sleeping fairies, who were progressively roused by wand-jabs until all were awake in time to sing their opening number. The set was extensive, especially right at the beginning; there was so much that there was no room for choreography, although that didn't matter much, as there wasn't much choreography to need room for. Later some of that was flown out (and a couple of large mushrooms removed by an unfortunately-visible stagehand), but for the opening, it was fairly crowded. Not too crowded, though, for a lovely bit part for the tiny fairy who brought the Queen a cuppa and newspaper - delightful! The set was mostly canvas, and I think there was not a part of it that didn't get bumped at some point, which was a pity. But it looked good, and Iolanthe was able to make her entrance from behind it, rather than the boring option of just walking on from the wings.

Lighting was subtle, never drawing attention to itself. There were a few places where things seemed a little dark, but mostly things worked. One or two followspots would have improved things significantly, as there were several points where people weren't in their specials, but one can't have everything, and for the most part, everyone could be seen.

Musical direction was respectful, and sounded good. There were a number of places where the singers and orchestra got out of sync, but they always got back together eventually. One interesting change was made: "If we're weak enough to tarry" was put in the first act, and "None shall part us" into the second. This placed the songs where they were originally written to be, but they were shifted very early on and are more usually performed the other way around. I'm not sure whether they work better this way around or the other, but it certainly worked just fine tonight.

Problems happen in every show, and I'm very impressed with the way one was handled tonight - although the people in charge of properties (Geoff Fisher and Annette Cott, according to the programme) will have a bit of a repair job. One of the fairy wands broke, but a swift foot-jab and the broken end scuttled under a flat and into the wings. Good job!

Well, if it's the people I see the show for, I should talk about them - some. The choruses were large, and for the most part singing well, although vocal balance was a bit lacking (what operatic society *isn't* desperate for good tenors??). Without too much actual choreography to do, all still maintained a level of interest in what was going on, and kept focussed on the action. One of the hardest things to do is to demonstrate lethargy, but in the opening number, that's precisely what the fairies did... and then snapped out of it on "No, we haven't any notion". The three fairies Celia, Leila, and Fleta (played by two different people each across the season - tonight, Rhiannon Stevens, Bec Muratore, and Shona Armstrong respectively) fitted in and led the chorus. You will not think me biased, I am sure, for singling out Leila - of course I wasn't looking at her especially, just because I know her! She definitely was good, though; and there is something incredibly comic about such a short fairy staring down those immensely tall earls! Fleta has only a few lines, but plenty of character; and Celia definitely led the entire company in the second act. These fairies have enough magical power behind them to push the entire House of Lords around; and the men can't leave until the fairies resign themselves to the fact that they're going (upon which they can happily leave, right through the mass of fairies). The two Earls Mountararat (Matthew Cookson) and Tolloller (Glenn Murray) handled their respective parts with the nobility that they demand; these stately Lords of England, so simple-minded yet so grand, long may they stand and flourish - types of our English land! The second act, with them and the Lord Chancellor, was full of pork pie - funny pork pie, but still just pork pie. They feed off each other well, and worked effectively with the incredibly comic Andy Payne as Lord Chancellor. Spry (as was his train bearer, Laura Bourke) and hilarious, Andy also quietened down for his scene with his unrecognized wife, that beautiful moment when she pleads with him to no avail. And plead she did... Iolanthe (Rebecca Domorev) brought out the emotional range from inconsolable grief to ebullient joy, comforting Strephon in his loss, and accepting fate when her queen is about to revoke her pardon. Once the Fairy Queen (Jenny Wakefield) made her decision, that decision was made - she may be all friendly and happy when she welcomes Iolanthe back and gives her a tiara and wand, but there is no appeal from her decisions, which she delivers with such utter deliberation. The same deliberation is in evidence when she selects a husband, too; there's no indecision, no contemplation - she makes the alteration to the law, and then in perfect calmness summons her a man to her side: Private Willis (Nicolas Sharman). He steps out of his sentry-kennel (err, I mean, sentry-box) and obeys her call, for he's a British soldier, and will happily ill-convenience himself to save the female in this dress. He's accustomed to having the ladies' attention - he had Phyllis's, while the two earls were discussing her fate (and by the way, that was one of the best renditions I've seen of that scene), and he later says all the generals admire him. But he takes the Fairy Queen, who apparently isn't too concerned about what her laws are, as long as they're followed. And Strephon (Stephen White), shepherd-turned-parliamentarian, isn't much concerned about laws either, as long as he can marry Phyllis; we don't see many of his acts of P-A-arliament implemented - which is a good thing, seeing that the Fairy Queen was suggesting such things as politicians getting no superannuation, in a fun little modification of her description of the peers' "doom appalling". All Strephon wants is his flagolet, his sheep, and his girlfriend, and when one of them is removed from him, he's pretty brokenhearted. That emotion may have been a little overacted, but he certainly did some fairly convincing hugs and kisses when he was with Phyllis (Rachel Sztanski). Lord Chancellors aside, they really would have been made happy forever by getting married (and they delivered that dialogue excellently - Phyllis knows exactly what Strephon means, but is so nervous about the whole matter...). Phyllis's marble count was clearly dropping during the finale (and the poor girl had nobody to turn to, so she just had to stand there sobbing on her own), although by the second act she'd found back enough to be more stern with Strephon than distressed. (Although she seems to have lost her eyesight somewhere along the way. How long has she been harassed by - err, I mean, engaged to - these two earls, and yet she doesn't recognize them when they come to kiss her hand?) By the end of the show, she'd found them all back again, I think, and happily went off to fairyland along with everyone else (leaving the House of Commons to rule the country).

There were a couple of people in the audience who laughed at just about everything, and the applause was maintained throughout, so I think everyone else shared my opinion - that the show was a lot of fun. Well done!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Transubstantiation

Has anyone ever put forward the theory that Jesus was actually made of bread, and had wine running through his veins? It's just as Scriptural, just as plausible, and just as comprehensible as any other form of transubstantiation.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Magic: The Gathering Grand Prix, Melbourne 2009

Today I attended my first ever big Magic event, first event at Competitive REL, and first event with, get this, 416 players. Playing in prereleases was a great lead-in; the structure is almost identical, and the only really significant difference is that this event uses decklists. (What this means, which I didn't record in the timestamped log, is that instead of cracking boosters and building a deck from them, you crack boosters, sort by color and affabeckly, record every card on a sheet, and then pass deck and decklist on to someone else, receiving in turn a pool that someone else cracked. It's this second pool that you build your deck from, and which you keep afterwards.) So! On with the first impressions.

Got here 7:30 (dropped by Mum) and wandered around to find the place. Got inside before 8:00 and began mooching. Chatted with fellow players - one from Brisbane, one from country Vic. Lots of unfamiliar faces, of course, but also several people I know from Good Games Melb (Edmund has a stall selling GG staples, so I picked up a pack of sleeves; not my favorite blue ones as they're out of stock, so I got red instead). Quite a few Chrises around - when there were only 10-20 people in the place, there were already four!

8:48. Registrations officially closed at 8:45 so this should be everyone. Apparently the last GP Melb was only 200 people, and GP Sydney was 290 or something; this event has already broken that mark, and there's hope that there'll be 400 here, which would make a nice milestone. They have done their duty - I shall do mine. Gae, get here and do yours!

Speaking of which, yesterday's Ladies Invitational had just eight people in it. It nearly didn't run. Everyone in it had good fun, and I reckon Gae would have held her own. For $10, you get a draft and potential prizes... that's doing fairly well! (I was speaking to the lady who came second; she won three boosters.)

8:51. The announcement has gone out that registration is definitely closed (as always, the official cutoff time is set well before you actually want to cut off, and lateness is an expected phenomenon). Event will start at 9AM. There's a few wireless networks around, but all secured; it's odd - some places can give free wifi, but this apparently can't. Anyhow, I doubt I have enough battery to do much internetting.

I have a foil Chrome Mox now, and also an official GP tee (in XXL size - apparently this is deemed "one size fits all", so I hope it's not TOO huge... Magic players vary a lot in size, but most seem to be reasonably trim). The Mox should be worth something, no matter how badly I perform. (Although I don't know that I'd sell. It's a fun card to play with - {0} to drop, exile another card, tap to add mana of any of that card's colors, so it's an easy and powerful mana accelerant. And Gae's not going to run it. If she wanted one, she should have come today! So there!! :) )

The main event is Swiss format, so I don't know how long it's going to take. One of the guys I spoke to had won three byes, so he reckoned he'd not be playing till 1PM - which would work out to one hour per round, plus an hour at the beginning for deckbuilding, but he would have to deckbuild the same as everyone else. Wonder how many there'll be in the event... if there's of the order of 300-400 people here, that's doing fairly well, and we will most likely get a lot of rounds. We'll see. Table assignments seem to be going up, so (especially as it's 8:59) I think it's time to suspend and go see where I am!

11:25. My first pairing was against one of the handful of ladies in the hall, Tammy. She had some absolute BOMBS in her deck, including Ob Nix, which she managed to drop in each of the first two games. (And then in the third game, the possibility of her dropping it led to an agonizing decision of whether or not to Journey a 2/1 Intimidate.) Three games, all close. I won the first (in part because she Rite of Rep'd her Ob Nix), she won the second, and then the third could have gone either way. I think my Allies are the best thing in my deck, because dropping them first game was followed by a win (Ondu Cleric gave me quite a bit of life, and they kept getting first strike from Highland Berserker), failing to draw/drop them in the second was followed by a loss, and having a few in the third game resulted in a close run. I won that final game by attrition, finally dropping a Conquerer's Pledge (six Kor Soldiers).

11:32, and time has already been called for the first match. We're scheduled to start the second match at 11:35... ah, pairings have just been posted. Off I go!

12:08. Lost my second match 2-0. Manascrewed in the first game, these things do happen. Second game, my opponent swung with everything and I was staring death in the face... pulled Tuktuk Grunts off the top, and dropped it. Equipped my machete to it. Had a 5/4 hasty, and my opponent was on 5 life. I glanced over the board and said "Over to you", thinking he had a blocker....... but no, it was just Adventuring Gear! Argh! (Mind you, chances are the third round would have gone badly for me anyway. But it's awful to think I could have won that game, and didn't because I called "Over to you" prematurely. Blah!)

12:20. Hot pie and sauce. Not bad lunch. Everything's overpriced of course, but meh.

2:26. Round 3 went to time, so no chance to blog. We were 1-0 and on the second game when time was called; it's possible I might have won that game, but not in five turns, so I conceded. So that's another 2-0 loss. Round 4, though, a bit better. Game 1, my opponent was manascrewed badly... game 2, I was drawing poorly, but hung on for a while before succumbing. Game 3, we bashed away for a bit; my opponent had almost no guys, and they all fell to my early removal - he drew no more until the very end, and I overwhelmed him with fliers. Not the most satisfying of wins, as we never really had a fair and honest game, but it's a win all the same. I don't know what prize payouts are like, but now I have two wins out of four; if I can maintain this ratio, four wins in eight (there'll be eight rounds, it was announced at the beginning) would be a fairly reasonable showing. There's now ten minutes left in the round (round finishes 2:40), and lots of people are done; but all it takes is one match that goes to time and we all wait.

2:40. BZZZZZZZZZZ! That's time. Pairings will be up shortly.

4:44. Just finished round 6. Doing very badly. There's no prizes riding on this, fortunately (other than the cash prizes for top 64, not likely I'll be getting one of those!), so I think I'll drop at 6:00 and go join the Planechase event. That gives me time for one more round, hopefully, meaning I'm only out of the one last round - not bad.

5:40. And I lose round 7. You need a maximum of two losses to proceed to day 2, if that gives any indication of how badly I've done. However, it's worth noting that in that last round, we were tabled RIGHT at the end - meaning that everyone with less than two wins had already dropped from the tournament. Well, time to sign up for Planechase. For that, we'll be randomly assigned precon decks (randomly because when they gave people the choice, everyone picked the same ones), so we run from those. Considering that I have (a) never played Planechase, and (b) never played multiplayer Magic, this ought to be rather interesting. Since we all use precon decks, it should be perfectly fair. The official who (I think) is going to be running the Planechase subevent is a multiplayer expert, so I might natter with him a bit about it first.

6:17. Played a casual game against Steven, who'll also be playing Planechase; he has an interesting gold deck, which he pits against my sealed deck. He's running five colors with half a million bombs; I'm running a burn+lifegain deck. He could have beaten me, but I was just a smidge faster. He has a way cool deck! But five color costs tempo.

6:24. Planechase starts.

8:45. Planechase is over. Whoo this was fun! Steven (wonder if I can get his surname from DCI records of my matches?) helped me master both multiplaying and planechase, and helped me pilot a good deck to a decent win. At the end, when prizes were given out, a couple of boosters were awarded to the person who was most fun to play with, or most sportsmanlike, or somesuch, and I'm glad to say he was unanimously voted for that award. There were a few other awards too, including one that I won for an amazing chaos play (the current plane had Chaos: Turn up the next three planes and perform their chaos actions, and the next planes included one that gave me a 5/5 flier - which Steven, the only remaining opponent, couldn't block - and also one that gave me another turn after my current one - so, game win right there), and others for pure randomness. Very fitting to the casual nature of the game!

What we actually did was thus: Each of us is randomly assigned to one of two four-man pods, and in each pod (at least, in the pod I was in; presumably the other did the same), four different decks were randomly assigned to the players. I got a red-white deck, with an absolute bomb of an 8-drop - take control of all creatures for one turn, untap them, they gain haste. That wiped out two players right off, and meant that Steven was actually dangerously low on life, instead of being comfortably above twenty. A few turns later, the play described above gave me a pure-luck win. Steven and I then took our decks into the second game, as did the top two players from the other pod; the bottom two players in each pod also played each other, in a corresponding second game. In match two, I got soundly defeated, and then Steven and one other player duked it out for final victory. All in all, a pretty fun format, although I'm not sure how well it'll play at home, since I have only ten (eleven if you include the Zendikar prerelease one) plane cards; officially, you need ten per player, but maybe we could manage on less at home.

9:00. Reached RMD and will be hopping the 9:10 GWY to home.

9:36. MWY station and home. Day is over.