Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Derby G&S Company: Ruddigore

I've seen a few Ruddigores over the years... and this one, I have to say, is not normal; it really is quite a different beast. Performed by a company following in the best traditions of Thespis (take it easy and try experiments!), we saw tonight a transformed and transported Ruddigore. As Cheshire reminded Alice on her approach to the Hatter's domain, change denotes neither good nor bad, but merely "not the same". Derby's concept of Ruddigore involves a cast of animals and birds, of a variety of races and classes, and a small number of changed words.

Concept productions can be made to work brilliantly, or can flop terribly and leave the audience face-palming the whole evening. This did neither. I can't truly say that it was executed spectacularly, but it did have its moments. The script already mentions a few animals, and a few lines were tweaked slightly to take advantage of the tails-and-ears theme, but there were a number of missed opportunities and odd incongruities between the original and the concept. Most of them were not particularly serious, like wondering what a fox would be doing owning a dairy farm and corn and oil and such, while a few are downright curious - Mad Margaret, in the second act, appears to be wearing a cross between a layer-cake and a little mermaid's ball gown. What a squirrel wants with such a fancy costume I don't know, but it did look good on her when she twirled, which she made sure she did frequently. (Margaret and Despard also managed to squeeze in a highly topical reference to Harrogate, which drew considerable audience reaction, including applause.)

Everything was fairly unsurprising until the second act, with Robin/Ruthven (who was a fox, by the way; making him a robin would presumably have been too obvious) addressing an empty glade that represents his picture gallery. His ancestors stepped in from the wings during a black-out, and then remained in near-total darkness with ultraviolet footlights. Part way into the ghost scene, the chorus reveal one-sided blacklight-sensitive figures they're carrying, giving a pleasing effect of animal shapes that can appear and disappear at will (the choristers simply rotate the image to face it upstage, and we the audience see it vanish). Not everyone will appreciate the change, no doubt, but personally, I found it technologically cool, and that's surely worth something! (We'll ignore for the moment the way the effect was briefly spoiled by an accident by someone. These things do happen, and to spare someone (who's already feeling mortified enough, I'm sure), I'll refrain from detail.)

Not all concepts work. But not all concepts "bomb" either. I can't honestly say that this was a major improvement over the original, but it held itself together moderately well, and disbelief wasn't stretched beyond all reason.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Oxbridge: Yeomen of the Guard

As this is the show Savoynet will be doing, in which I shall have a starring role, I took this opportunity to practise my lines, singing along enthusiastically with all the headsman's assistants' solo lines.

I shan't be reviewing the Savoynet show, having as mentioned a certain involvement in it, so I'm hoping someone else can take that on. Actually, I'd like someone to post comparison reviews of both, if only for curiosity value :) This show has been excellent, and I would like to think that Savoynet's can challenge it in quality while giving some different directorial and characterization choices. We'll see!

The principal cast is of high standard, with no noteworthily poor members (even the one who mangled a few lines tonight wasn't terrible, and the "dynamically altered" lines weren't particularly far wrong). Starting with the patter man, Jack Point (Jordan Bell): energetic, enthusiastic, vocally strong, and always alert to what's happening. Also a very sympathetic character; the chorus really wanted to know what would be the answer to his final "song to sing O", though I suspect that may have been more about Elsie (Prudence Sanders), given the derision they offered to Point. Elsie definitely earned their, and our, admiration; and the chorus didn't get to hear her beautiful "Tis done". I've no idea what taught Col Fairfax (Pablo Strong) to love her, nor her him (other than his money); perhaps he couldn't have had his pick of higher-class ladies, given what an absolute cad he is. I detest this Fairfax, and admire Pablo. In some Yeomens I've seen, Fairfax is fairly sympathetic, and we want him to end up with the girl. This time, I just wanted to see him perish ignominiously on the spot, or at very least get ducked in the horsetrough (yes, there's a good-sized horsetrough on the stage, and it gets used, eg Elsie washing her hands in it). Certainly he won't get much support from Phoebe (Katie Slater), who woke up a bit on realizing she was losing him and became a rather less spineless and flat maiden. Through most of the first act, she lacked fire (which seems a little odd, given the profuse words of love she says at times), but with the switching across of Fairfax's attentions, she became quite interestingly angry. Of course, she's only angry at the fake Leonard dolt, not the real Leonard dolt (Thomas Drew), who is hardly on stage long enough to earn anyone's antagonism. His father Sgt Meryll (David Milner-Pearce) calls him over, gives him money, sings a trio with him, and then sends him off... and promptly starts a capital plot (that is, one that involves capital crimes) with Phoebe, who does a rather effective trick of wielding Wilfred Shadbolt (Ben Lewis) as skilfully as she wielded the spinning wheel earlier. Whenever she sits down, he takes it as a hint to go over there... once the keys are on the dais, she sits half a mile off (like this), calling him over. And he was not sorry to follow her. He's a brute, perhaps, but not so brutish that we want to see him fail. Maybe he doesn't deserve Phoebe, but he does deserve someone. Of course, that's assuming he isn't executed on the spot by the Lieutenant of the Tower (Thomas West) for his negligence in letting a condemned man get away. The Lieut's mastery of the tower was considerable - whenever he was on stage, he owned the place. Fairfax would not dream of addressing his old friend without explicit permission. (That scene was actually the best I remember seeing it performed, ever. It usually ends up having some clumsiness in the interests of stagecraft. This rendition arranged good stagecraft around the obvious requirements of the characters.) Finally, without any sort of plausible link to the previous entry, Dame Carruthers (Clara Kanter) had me wanting to see her an elderly spinster, never married but a highly respected Tower of London historian. She'd do well at it, she has all the knowledge and experience she could want.

The technical aspects of the show were a mixed bag ranging from superb to slightly sub-par. The arquebus sound effect was HIGHLY effective (it beat by several orders of magnitude the arquebus from the first Yeomen I was involved with - done with a fist on a metal cabinet), the set was excellent (except for the fact that, as was also noted by the Festival Adjudicator, movement behind the US door could be visible and distracting), but the lighting did seem to lack something in a few places; most notably, the show would have been greatly improved by the use of a couple of follow spots, which is where I prove to you that I'm not exactly unbiased, and stop writing.

I said about Grand Duke that rewriting Gilbert's words requires a similar level of skill to his. This Yeomen had one small example of a rewrite that can work quite well. When Point enters in the second act with the Merrie Jestes of Hugh Ambrose", the wording is slightly changed to incorporate a pun involving a saw, a sage, and a sausage (pronounced "saw-sage"). If someone took note of the exact words used and to what extent the tale was altered, I'd appreciate it being posted in a comment - thanks!

As David Turner, the adjudicator, noted, this was a splendid evening.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Over 60's Savoyards: Mikado

From one extreme to the other. Stephen Turnbull, taking the role of adjudicator for this show, commented that this afternoon's Grand Duke had a cast entirely younger than his children, while tonight's Mikado had a cast entirely older than he himself. And obviously there will be certain differences; the frenetic dancing that the young and limber can show off with is replaced by a staid and dignified walk, and the application of makeup is to remove years more than to establish character. But a show is a show, and the advanced age of the participants tonight was no obstacle to our (and their!) enjoyment of a century-and-a-quarter old opera. Some things are timeless.

But reviewing tonight's show should really be done by someone who knows more of the people involved. It would hardly be right for me to critique in specifics without knowledge, so I'll refrain in all cases. There are a few things I'd like to say, though. You might think that a show like this is purely an SCAs' show, a bit of fun for the Inner Brotherhood, and the slightly reduced ticket sales would appear to support that (lots of room in the gallery, and a few stripes of empty seats in the upper circle too) - but the laughter at Gilbert's classic jokes suggests that it's still fun even for people who haven't seen The Mikado before. It was, however, a great vehicle for a rewritten Little List, and for some fun line tweaks like the years of indiscretion ("until they are at LEAST fifty... sixty... seventy!" - applause). These are all highly experienced performers, every one of them probably as familiar with the stage as the Stig is with a steering wheel, so minor issues of synchronization can be dealt with.

One last time. Or maybe two last times. Or three, at the most. Is that not enough? We'll see... the stage has a way of dragging people back...

MUGSS: Grand Duke

UniFest opens with a show that is, canon-wise, almost the complete opposite to last night's. The problem with Pirates is that it's easy to make something that's indistinguishable from the millions of other Pirateses and thus unexciting. The Grand Duke, on the other hand, being much more rarely performed, almost guarantees by itself that the show will be unique.

And this guarantee is reflected in ticket sales. There are a few empty seats around, but not that many. I'm sure there'll be quite a variety of opinions expressed about the show - opinions seem to follow normal distribution - but this one happens to be mine. Views expressed herein are not the views of my employer, budgerigar, or pet rock.

I didn't get a programme and therefore can't run through the cast by name at this point, but perhaps I'll edit this post later and add names. One name I do know, though, and that's the Baroness, played by Krisztina Rakoczy (who is Hungarian, yet the lines in the show about a Hungarian are aimed at Julia); when the programme went to print, it was believed that she would be unable to perform, and her understudy's name went in instead.

So instead of my usual paragraph of all the principal players, I'll run through a series of scenes instead. With a cast of this size, that's probably more appropriate anyway. Before the overture was some dialogue which felt a bit clumsy and contrived, until it resolved itself into a reminder to dispose of horribly anachronistic mobile phones. The Sausage Roll song was excellent, with a goodly number of the disgusting pastries being passed around... and probably most of them left completely uneaten, though a few did get a bite taken out of them before being thrust strongly back (I guess the secret sign isn't concerned how MUCH of the roll gets 'et'). Every scene involving chaotic noise from the chorus was absolutely believable - students are experts at mucking up in class, right? And the several scenes involving the clockface - the first one was ill-lit, but after that the elevated performers were more visible. Come Bumpers was hugely fun, with the scene absolutely stolen by one somewhat inebriated member of the company and her continued inebriatory efforts. Similarly fun, the reception ceremony - jugglers, dancers, busy busy busy. But noteworthy above all of the above is the "die is cast" scene... everyone freezes but Lisa, the lights fade to just a spot on her, and time stops until the chorus response. Beautiful, so beautiful.

I have to say, though, I didn't like the insertion of With Wily Brain into the second act. The dialogue to lead into it felt forced and artificial, and while you may complain that Gilbert wasn't at his best in Grand Duke, it's still very unusual to find rewriters who can best him. Even just trimming a few lines here and there requires a very careful and expert hand, and writing new dialogue to fit the show really demands a near-equivalent wordsmith. The same with the inserted/edited dialogue at the end of the show; nice idea, to provide a little justification for what's happening, but I'd rather see a show that leaves us wondering "So how did X and Y happen?" half an hour later than one that has you facepalming in the show itself.

But to put that in proper perspective, I did enjoy the show. The Grand Duke is not so rarely performed that even a poor production is enjoyable (as would be true of, say, The Beauty Stone); there is definitely a bar above which are "good productions worth seeing" and below which are "trash that would be better forgotten". There is no doubt (in my mind... see above, this is not my pet rock's or red-faced baboon's opinion, nor that of the Boy Scouts Association of Antarctica) that this show is clearly above that bar, and distinctly above; these performers enjoy what they're doing, and that enjoyment, coupled with skill and a great collection of voices, translates into an afternoon that I'm glad to have been at.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

G&S Opera Co: Pirates of Penzance

All the last few posts and all our adventures in Wonderland have only been the cover and the title page; now at last we are beginning Chapter One of the Great Festival which no one outside of Buxton has seen; which goes on forever, or at least three weeks; in which every chapter is better than the one before, until we find the best show of all, and then it's all downhill from there.

And we're opening with a bang. A pro Pirates seems promising; at its worst, Pirates is unmemorable, and a crack team of expert performers with a good few rehearsal hours can hardly produce an unmemorable show. As indeed proved to be the case; I've been accused in these reviews of being too bland, of having no room for enthusiasm of the excellent, but perhaps I can show that this does not have to be true.

Two general notes that were true of many points in the show. Firstly, two follow spots were used. Since that's my most usual position in G&S back home, I naturally took some note of them. Aside from the obvious insolubles of spotting (like dealing with Fred, Pirate King, and Ruth, with only two spots; or similarly, the Major General, Fred, and Mabel, in the opening of the second act - not sure why she was spotted though), their work was superb all through. The lights came down for the songs and the spots came up; at the end of the song, the spots go out and the lights come up. Not everything has to be "imaginative" or "unique" to be effective. My second note could have been written over a dozen times... Precision! It's in the head movements, the fan movements (spelling out "DEATH", "GLORY", "GRAVE", and so on - I'll let you guess which scene), the dance steps of the police... everyone is synchronized. That takes a LOT of drilling and practice, a lot of work; and it shows. This is how to lift a frequently-performed show from "yeah okay it was a decent Pirates" to "This is a show you need to see, and fortunately there's a matinee tomorrow". Which there is. So if you're reading this promptly after I write it and you just happen to be in Buxton with nothing to do, swing by and see if there are any tickets left.

It's good to be back in Buxton, and see people I've not seen in a while. Amy Spruce, playing Isabel, is someone I've had the pleasure of working with back in Australia - and here as well, as it happens - and am never sorry to renew the acquaintance of. Pity Edith (Amy Payne) and Kate (Nichola Jolley) were picking on her for her mermaid comments; I don't know if I can in good conscience compliment them for being so cruel, but they did do a good job of it. :) Edith seemed to feel forever in the shadow of her sister Mabel (Alexandra Hutton), with a highly competitive "chook bit" in the second act finale. All of them great at the comedy; Mabel also gives us a beautiful rendition of "Ah leave me not to pine", sharing a dark stage and two spots with her beloved Fred (Nicholas Sharratt), in a lovely scene that provides a proper contrast to the bouncy cheeriness of the rest of the opera. Of course, it's that very cheeriness that makes the show so much fun, right from the opening where Fred's release-from-servitude party is being celebrated with well-loaded tables (which, as we discover later, can be collapsed just like modern tables). Ham acting is of course the order of the day, as clearly demonstrated by te whole opening scenes - Freddie, Samuel (Louis Dall'Ava), and of course the Pirate King (John Savournin), who I believe had to direct himself very strongly to ham it up more. And of course, when it comes to hamming and making a good job of it, the G&S patter roles are great vehicles; the Major General (Richard Gauntlett) knows how to handle himself. There were a few odd in-jokes and fourth-wall-breakings, but his song still made perfect sense even if you don't know G&S, as evidenced by the gentleman sitting near us who apparently wasn't familiar with the operas, and was laughing a'plenty. And if anyone can eclipse the Major-General, it would be the Sergeant of Police (Bruce Graham) and his band of merrie men, who gave such a song-and-dance that everyone was laughing, even the self-confessedly jaded G&S veteran who's seen Pirateses for half a century. And Ruth, your own Ruth (Sylvia Clarke), whom you love so well, and who keeps catching herself on realising she's just put her foot in her mouth again... what is to become of her? Quite simple: She disappears off stage and gets hold of a copy of Debrett's Peerage, in which it's clearly demonstrable that the Pirate King is... well, we don't get to see that part, but it justifies her statement that they're noblemen.

These excellent principals are backed by a similarly excellent chorus or three, which - as mentioned above - were well synchronized - and in great voice. And the technical aspects of the show maintained a similarly high standard. The follow spots followed the right spots, the lighting lit the stage and set the mood, and the sound effect was aptly placed. Oh, I didn't mention that? Just as the Major-General gets his wonderful idea about pretending to be an orphan, the audience is alerted to its arrival by an audible 'DING'!

Myriad little bits and pieces added up make an awesome show, and as good a start as the Festival could hope for. If half the upcoming shows maintain this standard, this will be the best Festival in two decades.

Curry!! Fiiiiiiiishhhhh...

Prior to tonight's show, Midga and I dined in a way that seemed oddly familiar. He had a chicken curry, I had something more aquatic in origin. This is the third time we've done this since leaving Melbourne - both of our lunches on board the Emirates flights offered a choice of a chicken curry and a fish dish, though the exact natures of the two options did differ. When we browsed the menu, Midga saw the options first and showed me, saying "Curry!!" - and I pointed to the other option and said, with equal glee, "Fiiiiiiish...". It was pure coincidence that he happened to pick himself up a canned curry at the same time as I grabbed some frozen fish meals, but of course we agreed that we had to recreate that dichotomy. A good dinner and the expectation of a good show afterward.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Alice's Shop - Oxford

Normally I don't leave Buxton between arriving and departing. This year, I'm making an exception and making my way to Oxford to visit Alice's Shop, the real shop that was the template for Tenniel's drawing of the looking-glass shop (so it's really The Sheep's Shop, but that's not as marketable a name). We'll be taking a walking tour of the surrounding area, with a guide who is an expert on all matters Alice - should be fun!

Of course, I'm not here alone. As well as the Midga, I'm accompanied by Alice herself - or to be more precise, my Madness Returns action figure. In these peaceful and sunny climes, she can happily abandon her toys, but I have several times wished she had her parasol with her.

Travel from Manchester Picadilly to Oxford is on a train with power points and wifi. A trophy IP address would cost me a minimum of two pounds (for an hour's connectivity), though, so I'm sticking with the 3G. I can charge batteries, anyhow.

The tour itself is no disappointment. Our guide, Mark Davies, is something of an expert on the waterways and how they influenced Oxford, the Liddells, and Dodgson. There's a huge amount of history visible in these paths (and bridges - the Midga expresses an impressive thrill at the architecture), and Mark has researched it more than most. At the end of the tour, he sold a couple of us (myself included) copies of his book, which should make a satisfying read for the train journey back.

[Aside: I am currently sitting on Oxford Station, listening to an automated announcement of an approaching train. The listing of station names feels ponderously slow compared to what I'm used to in Melbourne; possibly this indicates a certain lack of confidence in the clarity of the local place names.]

We seem to have gotten ourselves onto a non-powered vehicle... at least, it might have powered wheels, but no powered laptop charge points. Lacking battery I have had to suspend and read the book, which has lived up to expectations. After querying with the connie, we learn that the next carriage down has power, so we shift... yay, power!

Our plans for getting home flip-flopped between catching the very last train (or in some versions of the plan, bus) home, and getting ourselves stuck at Manchester Picadilly until the first train on a Saturday, at 6:49am. We ended up on the latter. Lacking decent places to sleep OR work, we basically wasted seven solid hours, which is something of a pity. Oh well. En route home now, and the tour was worth it.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Rebooting: Speeds up Windows, slows down Linux

Regular readers will know that I am reiplophobic, enjoying (not suffering from!) a pathological dislike of rebooting computers. This morning, I rebooted Traal, and I'm seeing a significant improvement in performance; the CPU is running quieter, switching applications is faster, etc, etc. Traal runs Windows XP. The opposite is true of my Linux computers; immediately after a reboot, they tend to run a little slower than immediately before. Why?

I don't have hard data on it, but I suspect that the problem mainly comes from memory management, especially the swap file. Traal has only 2GB of physical memory, so he'll invariably be using the swapper; all it takes is one good video and stuff will be pushed into the page file. As time goes on, it seems that Windows has problems with memory fragmentation, with consequent performance degradation - until it took so long to page Firefox back in that Windows asked if it should end the process. Linux seems to suffer much less from this; on a system with the same amount of physical memory (no fair comparing against Sikorsky's 16GB), the page file will be used, but with far less slow-down.

Also, Linux has some rather impressive caching facilities. So long as you have the RAM available, it'll use it to improve performance; and if an application pushes other things into the page file and they don't get called back, their RAM becomes available for caching again. Searching your entire disk for a file with a particular name may take a long time... the first time. Do it again immediately, and it's way faster, because the directory entries are all cached. Rebooting blows all that away, plus it forces applications to be reinitialized (which is slower than recalling them from the page file).

Giving either OS more memory will improve performance. And with the price of a gig of memory as low as it currently is, there's not a lot of reason to skimp. But the difference between Linux and Windows becomes stark when physical RAM is exhausted and the swap file is used. Microsoft would do well to get out of the OS/kernel business and just make a UI for a Unix-like OS (which they would still call "Windows").

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Digression: IPv4 depletion

In order to secure our three fundamentals of air, food/drink, and internet connectivity, Midga and I dropped in on Carphone Warehouse in Spring Gardens. The service is excellent, the prices reasonable (we're paying a total of 45 GBP or roughly 75 AUD for a month to dwell in a telephone cell), and the people friendly. I recommend them if you need a month's service without a contract. (Unlike Australian telephony, this doesn't require five trips back home for more ID. All they needed was some basic details. Of course, this was a prepaid service, and the contract or post-paid ones do require rather more info; but in Australia, just getting a SIM card seems to require ridiculous anti-terrorism checks. The terrorists have already won, when ordinary actions require this much effort.) So we now have a UK SIM card in Midga's phone, and a USB 3G device for Traal.

Which brings me to my point, or my digression, or somesuch. A traceroute from Traal over the 3G connection shows that I have a 192.168/16 address, connecting to a 10/8 address, and - apparently - I do not get an actual internet-addressible device. This is large-scale NAT, one of the popular "solutions" to IPv4 depletion. Now, there's a huge difference between a 3G connection and something you'd want to run servers off, so it's possible that most people will not even notice, much less care, that they're behind NAT; but this is still a problem. NAT has its costs (eg when two devices try to use the same source port number and one of them has to be remapped - or, worse, what happens when there are simply more than 64512 (that's 65536 minus the first 1024 reserved) simultaneous connections), and they're going to become more of a problem as time goes on.

Once IPv4 becomes the subordinate and IPv6 the primary, it won't be a big problem to offer "dual stack IPv6 and NATted IPv4" services, because most work will be done with the v6 address and the v4 will be needed only for connecting to v4-only services (so there won't be too much traffic there, hopefully). But until then, we really need to lean on our telephony providers to roll out IPv6 support. One day it'll be a saleable feature (and then after that it'll become essential and assumed, and IPv4 will be the saleable feature), but for now it's more a matter of not getting left behind. Start sooner rather than later, be part of the future rather than the past, be part of the solution not the precipitate (err I mean problem), and all those cliches. It's far more important than many people give credit for.

Travelog, part 3: EK019 DXB->MAN->Buxton

Less chronological, more just random thoughts stuck together because none is worthy of a post on its own. And they're all based on this leg of the flight.

Only nine languages spoken on this trip, down from twelve on the others. We departed a bit late (pushback eight minutes behind, then stuck in the queue for a while) and had a headwind for at least part of the way, but still managed to touch down ahead of schedule by five or twn minutes. Trains have their paths and if you miss your path you're stuck, but planes can't really schedule landings that easily - presumably they're queued only once they reach controlled airspace or thereabouts.

We met two very lovely young ladies in Dubai Airport. They inquired of us some vital details of boarding EK019 to Manchester, and then proceeded to converse at length from then until we literally were on the plane (and such interesting conversation, too, that we were the last of the main group of people to board - fortunately not delaying the plane, but if we'd been another couple of minutes we might have been paged).

Once again, the plane's not exactly full. Midga and I are invited to take a stripe of four seats in the middle, giving us the full set of screens to see the cameras and stuff on.

The aircraft toilets have notices all over them reminding you not to smoke... yet they have an ashtray built into the door. Does that seem right to you?

Boarding the Buxton bus and buying two return tickets costs us pretty much our entire supply of coinage, but we manage it without hunting down an ATM. (It's like borging on Threshold, you see - you "go hunting" and come back with more money than you started with. ATMs drop large-denomination coinage, but like the Othello ship, can cost you money out of your bank account too.) It would have been nice to be able to know in advance what the ticket price would be, but Googling for '199 bus fare' didn't show up anything useful. By the time advice started coming in from Thresh, the bus had turned up and we just asked the driver.

Ahh, the way people do things... Lady with child boards bus. "Can I get a one-ninety and a one-fifty-five, please?" - turns out the "one-ninety" now costs two pounds. Kinda like our one-tens and two-twennies in KEPL, I guess.

And here it is, 7:09AM in Melbourne, 10:09PM here, 2109 UTC, and we're in Buxton and online. Yay!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Travelog, part 2: EK409 KUL->DXB

My left watch is now set to Dubai time, UTC+4; my right watch is still on UTC where it will remain for (hopefully!) the rest of my or its life. Now blogging on UTC, which I should have done for the last post too.

01:31. Back on board the same plane, same flight number, same seat, for the second leg. 40% battery left and I'm back on seat power. This is well. This is calculated to provoke remark.

01:48. Full list of crew names and nationalities (all unique), but not languages.

01:55. Pushback. It's now clear that there are actually lots of empty seats still; for instance, there's nobody in the window seat next to us.

01:56. The safety video and ICE introduction are played twice, of course; Arabic first, then English. The Arabic one becomes a lot more interesting when we provide our own subtitles in the best anime tradition, explaining the on-screen action as a cautionary tale of the dangers of unguarded information (it can wind itself around your feet and form a tripping hazard, for instance).

02:11. Takeoff. Seven minutes later we're two miles up and thirty-six across... Once again, twelve languages spoken on board. Midga and I resume our exploration of light_bringer777's Learn To Fly games. That penguin will never cruise at 500mph and 20,000ft.

03:11. We've been cruising for a while at 36,000ft and 560mph. Another plane passed beneath us, going the opposite direction; must have been on the downward camera for a whole six frames, I think.

04:08. Lunch is over and we've finished story mode on both Learn To Fly and LTF2. So naturally we discuss random things, like the French butter that was served with our bread rolls. (Emirates use multiple suppliers for such basic comestibles. No idea whether it's deliberate (because they want *this* butter with lunch but *that* butter with dinner), or arbitrary (use multiple vendors to minimize risk of supply problems), or accidental (buy from whoever's best/cheapest in the country where they stocked this flight); it really doesn't matter.) I note that the French butter, as served, is white and approximately rectangular.

04:13. The conversation turns to human brains and how they work. (Naturally. It's the obvious next topic after French butter.) Certain fish and birds have been noted as being able to, for instance, pot-shot an insect with artillery, then calculate exactly where it'll fall (ballistic trajectory) in a very short amount of time. We humans are also capable of same, with practice; when an object begins falling, a hand can be dispatched to catch it, taking into account the time it takes for the hand to move. Some humans are capable of more complicated and/or difficult calculations than others, and it's fairly clear that this is all handled by the brain, not the soul (or if you prefer, by the subconscious and not the conscious mind), as there's no time for 250-750ms lag here. So how do we teach ourselves to do this? Good question. As far as we (oh such experts we are) can figure out in discussion, the human brain stores information by having neurons fire to other neurons, which reduces the electrical resistance between those pairs of neurons, which in turn makes it easier for them to fire. In essence, our brains JIT-compile to EPROM, blowing pathways where pathways are needed. I don't know how accurate that theory is, but it sure sounds cool!

04:24. According to in-flight status info, the plane's heading has changed significantly - presumably in response to varying strengths of cross-wind - and at one point we were apparently pointing due west while travelling northwest. Now we're back to pointing where we're going... and now we're pointing the nose north of our course. It's also been so turbulent that the cabin crew were multiple times sent to their seats, and at one point an apology was made for the interruption to service. Coffee was served in half portions for safety. Midga was doing-doing-doinging and it's not entirely clear whether that was due to the coffee or the air beneath us.

04:28. Cabin crew, please take your seats, cabin crew, please take your seats. Announcement sounds somewhat hasty, as if we're already in the turbulence and should have been warned 30 seconds ago. Midga reckons we get the worst of it every time we cross a coastline and the air changes from land-affected to sea-affected or vice versa, but it's hard to say. We're flying over a lot of small islands, so that doesn't really mean much.

04:40. Midga and I have been happily blogging away, courtesy of Clippy and Traal and text editors (though Midga forgot to install SciTE, so he's stuck with Notepad until we get out a USB stick and transfer Traal's installed base). We've been reading over each other's shoulders for a bit, and now we're both done typing for the moment, we exchange laptops and start reading. And in honour of Jim Hacker, rubbishing the French. We continue making jests along the same lines as the deliberately-vague comment from 04:08.

06:40. Anno 1602 multiplayer is working, for once. I'll disappear again for a while. We've made good use of the vacant seat in the set - and here's the first lesson from this trip: The etherjoiner goes in carry-on, and/or cables longer than half a meter. But we managed.

08:09. Descent into Dubai (not madness, we hope) - will be landing half an hour ahead of schedule. Nice! Time to put Traal into the pocket again.

08:24. We must have had a cross-wind on landing, as the plane was rocking about somewhat on approach; it wasn't a perfect landing, but it was pretty smooth all the same. Approach was very much clouded by haze or mist; the forward camera seemed to have extreme myopia, and I wanted so much to press Ctrl-L to push it further out! Our "distance to destination" had been steadily dropping (20 miles three minutes out, 7 miles two minutes out, etc), but after touchdown, went up to 37 miles. I know the airport is big, but... that big?!

8:31. The slowest part of air travel... waiting for First & Business to depart before we plebs are allowed to move.

9:22. Parked happily in Dubai International Copy And Pastepastepaste Airport and on wifi. Plenty of battery life, thanks to seat power, so we can chat with the folks at home. Yay!

Travelog, part 1: EK409 MEL->KUL

Blogging on Melbourne time (UTC+11) until further notice.

02:40. Pushback, right on time. Takeoff 0249 after a notably velocitous tour of the airport. Guess there's no congestion today. According to the announcement, twelve languages are covered by the cabin crew. The plane is nearly empty - like our first trip! - and I offer to seatbelt Traal for takeoff, but he is instead directed to the pocket in front (his most usual place when we travel with Intelligent Airlines).

08:30. Hmm, oddly enough I can't get hold of our wifi from here. Oh well, got a sunrise to look at... and a full moon out the opposite window. That's an astronomical impossibility, except that we're at 38,000 feet above the surface of the earth :) Midga was going to wait till breakfast got cleared away before getting out the camera, but consented to set breakfast aside to snap that.

09:32. I notice on the map that we've just crossed the equator, and remark same to Midga. He inquires if I was referring to the turbulence...

09:40. Weather report from the flight deck regarding KL. We're estimated to land early, which is not unappreciated. Winds light and variable.

10:18. A beautiful three-point landing. Emirates pilots are extremely competent.

10:37. Stuck outside the security checkpoint at KUL; it seems they're not yet ready for EK409 people. Ah well. I have wifi, albeit severely limited (no MUDding even via TMC, alas), so I can post.

Melbourne Airport security

I'm not entirely sure, but I think we've departed from Auckland instead of Melbourne. All the security staff are friendly and fun to an extent we've not seen outside of Kiwiland. Particularly appreciable was the customs guy who had a sheet of paper with dates and tally marks... with no explanation as to what. He asks the standard question about carrying $10,000 or equivalent (large amounts of cash have to be declared), and I gave the typical response "I wish", knowing it's something a lot of people will say. Turns out that that's exactly what he was counting up... though he didn't say so until I asked him about the tally counts a bit later in the conversation! Everyone has their method of remaining sane, and this is his. I have to say: Full marks!

Monday, 22 July 2013

Buxton once again!

Hello 2013, it's time for the biennial gasbagging by the Midga and myself! This may be our last visit to Buxton, though, as the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival will move to Harrogate as of next year.

Lessons learned from previous trips:

* 2007: Stay for the whole festival. There's no point taking time off work, going to the other side of the world, and then staying only just long enough to rehearse and perform.
* 2009: America's all very well, but it's a lot less stressful to just visit England. Maybe we'll drop in on Canada some time, but not this year.
* 2011: Be sure your whole party really wants to go. Having someone along who isn't enjoying G&S doesn't improve the experience, and it's silly to go all round the world to not even enjoy the trip.
* 2013: What will this year's lesson be?

With a quarter-hour before the bus leaves, there's nothing left to do but blog. Ergo, I blog. I am expert at taking a large number of words to say very little. Subscribe to my blog to hear me use even more words to say less!

Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Phantom Menace

It's not common for me to see the same show twice in one year in Melbourne, but here I am reviewing Phantom a second time in as many blog posts. At this rate, I'll be forced to cite http://xkcd.com/605/ before the year is out...

I promised myself that I would not make comparisons between the two productions (CLOC's and Windmill's), but there's one parallel I will draw. In my review of CLOC's show, one of the follow spot operators was specifically cited for doing a spectacular job. In one of those twists of fate that prove that nothing's a coincidence, the follow spotting in this Phantom was of similarly high standard, with the programme naming Patsi Boddison as head follow spot operator. (Also, peculiarly, CLOC's show had four named spot operators and only three spots operating on any given night, while Windmill's had three operators named in the programme and four spots in use - one late addition to the crew.) And that is the end of all mention of CLOC's Phantom in this post.

Phantom is a huge show, demanding extensive sets and costumes, and a good-sized cast of competent performers. I don't know whether it demands lighting like it got tonight, but it sure got the benefit! The aforementioned four spots were part of a suite of LX that included deckles (if that's the right spelling) on moving lamps, lights that shone across the audience during the opening, and all the usual facilities of a well-designed lighting rig. (I do take issue, though, with some of the moving lamps. They moved at constant speed and then stopped abruptly, which at times was extremely distracting - such as when Raoul and Christine are on the rooftop, everything's dim and quiet, and nothing's moving rapidly. Having two patterned lights swing up and lock into their new positions felt somewhat jarring. But everything else was excellent.)

I unfortunately neglected to bring a notebook with me, so my notes from the first act had to be scribbled all over my left hand, and as someone who knows the back of his hand like, well, the back of my hand, I know there's not a lot of room there. So all I can report is the things that were really amazingly awesomely impressive. And of the notes I have, two stand out. Firstly, the "Think of Me" transition (where Christine goes from being a nervous chorus girl to being the star of the show) was magnificently backed by Kate's beautiful smile - right at the very moment of transition, bright and cheerful. And second, just a little further on, the mirror in Christine's room (the one she looks at her face in to see the phantom) was truly reflective and then truly transparent for Erik's reveal. Must have been a bit of a headache for the lighting design, making sure nothing could dazzle the audience off it, but it looked great.

Oh, and I hope nobody will slaughter me for being just a little irreverent here, but I did get the feeling that the Phantom's "Sing! Sing! Sing!" commands were rather like saying "Speak!" to a dog... and if Christine sang much higher, she'd probably get into dog-hearing-only range. Okay, I'll get back to making useful comments now... promise!

Convention in my reviews is to have one massive paragraph in which I ramble from one character to another, loosely or tightly linking across them, with real-life names for the benefit of web searches. After all, people who do a good job at something should be rewarded with the opportunity to do it again - amateur theatre follows the pinball reward system. The title role being a good place to start, I will do so. Erik (Richard Thomas) disgusts me as a character and impresses me as a performance. Really, if he'd been drawn and quartered, he would still have been getting off lightly. His treatment of Christine starts out controlling, then gets worse from there. Everyone else is just fodder - do his will or die as an example to the others. He hangs Joseph Buquet (Paul Holmes) just for knowing too much (the guy made a fine flyman, his only fault was talking too loudly about the phantom), and then murders Piangi (Robert Barbaro) the same way, for no reason other than to take his place. Both of them competent at their jobs, both of them played by competent performers. Both cut down in their composites (I can hardly say that a man of Piangi's age is "in his prime") by a madman who ultimately just wants to force a young girl into marriage with him. And yet after all that, Christine (Kate Amos), still has enough compassion in her heart to want to show him that he's not alone. She will make a most tender and loving wife to one whom she really loves. There is a wealth of love within that little heart, stored up for - I wonder whom? Actually it's not much of a spoiler, it's all for Raoul (Chris Buchanan) and they have some very tender, very yearning, very precious moments together. They have what is commonly called "chemistry", but I never was able to find "great actor" and "great actress" on the periodic table, so I'm somewhat at a loss there. Must be a human thing I guess. Raoul takes command and solves problems. He'll make a great husband for a low-marble Christine; it's thanks to him that she didn't have a classic operatic mad scene after the second-act office encounter. Though in Raoul's absence, it's likely that Meg Giry (Madeleine Magetti) would have stepped up to that task; though the two aren't together all that much, the time they do spend together is befitting of close friends. I would just hope that a totally off-her-nut Christine wouldn't meet Carlotta (Cassandra Beckitt, with whom I've had the pleasure of working a couple of times in G&S Opera Victoria shows), or the nearest prop would quickly become evidence in a murder investigation... the utter contempt and scorn shown is nothing short of impressive. And to round off this brief (ha!) skim through the cast, Mme Giry (Maureen Andrew) was right: this company should rightly take great pride in the quality of its ballet. Ensemble precision was notable at several points, such as the Masquerade scene and the opening Hannibal number (not in that order). Excellent work.

I'd like to close with one remark which is a bit of a spoiler, so go watch the show if you haven't. Stop reading now, come back when it's okay for spoilers. Ready? Good. Toward the end of the show, Raoul is caught by the Phantom's noose (which would have demanded a fly line to go a long way out - I'm guessing pretty much as far as it possibly could), and then when Christine expresses sympathy for the Phantom's fate, he pulls out his gun and shoots the rope above Raoul's head, severing it and releasing his rival tenor. It is the culmination of a technically excellent show, with an unremarkable rope cleverly concealing a breakpoint. An excellent show, enjoyably performed.