Wednesday 30 September 2009

The broad church of academia

... with the ever-dwindling congregation.

Unfavourable conditions

[Spiked by the director]

Stormy Weather
Punchi Theatre, Borella, Colombo
10th-13th September

To die in one’s sleep may be considered a misfortune. To do so with fifteen stab wounds to the chest looks – more than somewhat – like murder.

– Smyth, after Wilde
The morning after a bitter argument with his wife, ‘man about town’ Noel Richards wakes up dead.

Of course, as only befits our Fifties noir setting, the investigating inspector soon discovers that all of the women in Noel’s life had reason to be involved in its grisly termination – his sister and lover (two separate people, I hasten to add) are also in the frame.

Written and directed (twice over) by Jehan Aloysius, and presented by CentreStage Productions, Stormy Weather is a neatly ironic homage to the celluloid murder mysteries of yesterdecade, augmenting stage action with film flashbacks, and all underlaid by an exuberantly over-atmospheric score (also composed by the writer-director).

Playing off the clench-jawed and unpleasantly masculine Noel (Amesh De Silva), the three potentially fatales femmes were, in turn, suitably vampish, agonised, and just plain bitchy. Shanuki De Alwis strutted as Charmaine, Noel’s drunken and volatile sister, with boisterous aplomb; Michelle Herft steered Therese, his spurned wife, through grief and rage in consecutive moments; and Dilrukshi Fonseka no less than embodied the feline spitefulness of Noel’s lover, Avanti (thank heavens she’s fictional, eh?).

Individually, each of these women seemed like a handful; together, they actually made one feel sorry for Noel. Freud, I am sure, would have had something interesting to say about a scene in which a naked man is repeatedly knifed, in his bed, by three (three!) women, at least two of whom could be considered relatives. (And as for the fact that the playwright’s mother positively ordered your reviewer to give the show a good write-up – well…)

It is no surprise if, in productions of this type, style threatens somewhat to overshadow content (pardon the pun): in such noir projects, style is almost a character in its own right.

Stormy Weather’s stage action – itself rendered exclusively in black & white – had the posing at an appropriately statuesque pitch, with the requisite number of hands-on-foreheads, slightly too-sexy couture, and everyone smoking furiously (perhaps a little joke within a joke: latter-day public school productions infamously followed this pattern, replete with the growing of totally gratuitous facial hair and the addition of ‘romantic’ scenes at every opportunity).

The film element deftly introduced – and thereby sidestepped – the inevitable melodrama of the noir genre before the play proper had even begun. It also helped to dodge the accusations of hammy-ness that stage gore invariably attracts. And the unabashed projection (as it were) of the genre from the outset permitted a few of the more clichéd lines – “Oh, how I wished her dead!”, etc. – to go underided.

Some sassy one-liners also helped leaven the morbidity, as did a few knowing remarks concerning Hollywood’s love of stereotype. Every man has his sticking point, and personally I found the blatant reference to “Agatha Christie mysteries” a step (and a clumsy rhyme) too far. But for the most part I enjoyed the cheeky post-post-(post-?)modern “where were you, inspector?” moments, and the astutely self-serving comments about “playing roles”. And was that a conscious nod to The Usual Suspects – the greatest ‘twist’ movie of all time – or did I imagine the capital letters?

Through no fault of his own, Mario de Soyza’s beleaguered sleuth was the least well-developed of the (admittedly, purposefully two-dimensional) characters. He also never worked out whodunit.

In the end, though – or, rather, substantially before the end – who did it was relatively obvious. In a small cast, process of elimination (it wasn’t suicide; X, Y and Z are just too obvious; dramatic rules don’t permit “an outsider”…) didn’t leave many options. Moreover, the play being commendably short, there was little time for that other vital facet of any murder mystery, the second-guessing of one’s initial hunches.

But if, in this hyper-stylistic exercise, the identity of the killer was of comparatively little consequence to the unfolding of the story, the denouement was none the less chilling for that. It is an amusing reflection on the Colombo cultural circuit that the programme implored attendees to “keep the murderer a secret for future audiences to enjoy the show”. Still, now that the curtain has fallen for the last time…

One particular oddity. “Noëlle”, which I originally took to be a sarcastic inflection (and feminisation) of the anti-hero’s name, turned out to be simply a consistent mispronunciation. Over the seventy minutes of the play, the cumulative effect of this minor slip managed to convey the impression that, fancy names notwithstanding, the whole tumultuous business had been firmly rooted in Cinnamon Gardens.

Now there’s a thought!

Logical curveball

"Sir, are we allowed to ask questions?"

Tuesday 29 September 2009

Five Dials 8

off the presses and into the ether.

My favourite* Colombo street address

Horton Place

Now, I'm no mathematician; but isn't that just No. 18?

* There is also a '00B' on Barnes Place, just one road behind - though, in fairness, someone has evidently stolen the '1'.

Philosophy doesn't repeat itself...

We live in an era of uncertainty, they say.

How can they be sure?

Sunday 27 September 2009

On fiction

The only problem with 'make believe' is that it so rarely does.

Sunday 20 September 2009

Cussed are the peace-makers

Letter from the Colombo's first Art Biennale [sic.].

Saturday 19 September 2009

Lock up your children: 2


Lock up your children: 1

Examining the portrayal of African social customs, religious philosophies, and political structures in fiction for young people, Maddy and MacCann reveal the Western biases that often infuse stories by well-known Western authors.
- from the blurb for Neo-Imperialism in Children's Literature About Africa


"I write for two reasons: partly to make money and partly to win the respect of people whom I respect."
- EM Forster, interviewed by the BBC on his 80th birthday

Friday 18 September 2009

Happily remarried

For the twenty-second time.

Why read The Onion?!

Coetzee on Emants on Turgenev

In 1880 [Marcellus] Emants published an essay on Turgenev which describes his own philosophy rather better than it does Turgenev's.
- JM Coetzee, Stranger Shores: essays 1986-1999

Ain't that always the way?

Thursday 17 September 2009

Thought for the day

"On a good day, writing about my life is the most sublime, cathartic, godly, and honest thing I could ever imagine doing ... On a bad day, however, it’s narcissistic and unimaginative. My pathetic life plays back like some annoying Top 40s jingle that lodges in the head and won’t leave."
- Jamie Brisick, in the latest issue of Five Dials.

For our American readers

Irony has to contain an element of suffering in it, (Otherwise it is the attitude of a know-it-all.)
- Robert Musil, Diaries

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Criteria for entry into the writing 'profession'

highly complex
in some respects of unsound mind
in other respects perverse...
-Marcellus Emants, A Posthumous Confession

Tuesday 15 September 2009

InDefinition - 9

impostropher, n. One who puts apostrophe's where they do not belong.

On essay-writing*

There is something undeniably boring about ordering thoughts long familiar to reasonably clever people for the sake of some external purpose.
- Robert Musil, 'The Obscene and Pathological in Art' (1911), Precision and Soul

* Equally, 'On journalism'...

The great thinkers: part 1

"Tea tempers the spirit and harmonises the mind, dispels lassitude and relieves fatigue, awakens thought and prevents drowsiness, lightens or refreshes the body, and clears the perceptive faculties."
- Confucius, 8am Monday

Friday 11 September 2009

Jane Austen couldn't spell

It's true.

I found a reference to 'Jane Austen's Love and Freindship' in With Chatwin by Susannah Clapp and - my apologies to Ms Clapp - looked it up.

True dat(a)

"In any field, find the strangest thing and then explore it."
- John Archibald Wheeler

Wednesday 9 September 2009

At the (international) school gate

"As a writer you are considered one up from the dole."
- Robert Twigger

[NB He meant 'as a successful writer', obviously.]

ID vs ego

From the Sri Lankan Department of Immigration and Emigration Residence Visa form:

12. Any identification Marks of Peculiarities? [sic.]
Until otherwise instructed, I'm going to assume I don't need to attach a picture of my Prince Albert...

Tuesday 8 September 2009

Strange rhetoric

I've read and reread this paragraph several times, and I still can't work out what it means:
When asked whether he had forgiven and forgotten the public lampooning of his derisory decision to carry an umbrella on the touchline, he means to reply with a rhetorical question but in a Freudian slip said: "I won't forgive or forget."
From here.

Monday 7 September 2009

Plough-shares into swords

Q Who was it who said God lives between the inhale and the exhale?

A A sniper?

But how did they know?!

78% 0FF on Pfizer!
From: © VIAGRA ® Official Site
Sent: 05 September 2009 23:15:24

Saturday 5 September 2009

Word of the day

Might be a common thing in Oz, but I was pleased to hear the use of the word 'shemozzle' in the Wallabies-Springboks game just now.

"It all ended up in a shemozzle," the Aussie commentator said after an errant pass knuckled into touch. It doesn't take much, I know, but this has kind of made my morning.

Friday 4 September 2009

Thought for the day

"There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."
- W. Somerset Maugham

(Thanks to Frank)

"Elephant stolen in Witney"

One of the more unlikely (noe to say 'disingenuous') headlines from this week's Oxford Mail.

Thursday 3 September 2009

Dr Ragab, I presume?

Interview with Robert Twigger, polymath and novelist.

After Wilde

Cursing is the work of the drinking classes.

Spam du jour

The Annual Report of the National Pharmaceutical Association... 4Q7W‏
From: Suzanne Dunn (
Sent: 03 September 2009 00:15:56

Wednesday 2 September 2009

Stationary business

The man in charge of the stationery can never find his pen.

Hand job

Lack of blogging activity of late due to half-arsed efforts on the part of one amnesiac to find gainful employment of some kind.

Like I keep telling all the agencies, I am good with my hands:

(Thanks to RN)