2012 in things I saw and did

1 Jan
A typically busy week in my diary

A typically busy week in my diary

It’s nearly the end of the year and time to flick back through the diary and reflect on the best and less-than-best of the things I saw and heard and read and did in 2012. I do often moan about living in London and how I miss Essex but of course I get so much from the capital’s culture via the all the wonderful of theatres, cinemas, concert halls and libraries. It’s the cinemas I make most use of, though more for old films than new.

Clara Bow. Brightening up the year since 1922

Clara Bow. Brightening up the year since 1922

Right back at the start of the year I saw my favourite Woody Allen film in the cinema, as well as the so-called Best Picture of 2011, the maddeningly over-rated, hugely disappointing The Artist. I love silent films and saw quite a few screened this year. As well as seeing Chaplin and Keaton and Lillian Gish I saw one of my favourite actresses, the wonderful Clara Bow on the big screen for the first time, at the London Film Festival in the recently restored Wings, which was the first (and only other silent) Best Picture winner. As I type this I’m looking forward to seeing Clara on the small screen (a sadly rare occurence) as she’s made the Christmas TV schedules (hurrah!) in Arena profile Hollywood’s Lost Screen Goddess.

Another cinema highlight this year was seeing one of the best films of all time, Ken Russell’s The Devils, screened in its rarely-seen Director’s Cut (perhaps not superior after all), followed by a Q&A with some of the cast and crew. I saw Bollywood classic Awaara and watched this clip from it endlessly on YouTube. I saw, among many others, Calamity Jane, Michael Snow’s great experimental film Wavelength, David Lynch’s wild INLAND EMPIRE, and a screening of Pink Flamingos, uncutfor the first time in the UK.

The Devils (1971)

The Devils (1971)

I watched Titanic again. The first time I’d seen it was on a portable telly in the corner of my then-girlfriend’s bedroom. It had little impact on me and I’ve been snooty about it ever since, so no one was more surprised than me when I found myself loving the IMAX 3D rerelease. I went to the premiere of Peter Doherty’s acting debut in Confessions Of A Child Of The Century, panned by the critics but actually very interesting (with Peter, who avoided the premiere, having nothing to worry about). I also went to a preview of William Friedkin’s Killer Joe, at the eye-popping end of which, when ‘Directed by William Friedkin’ hit the screen, I burst out laughing in the cinema in what I can only suppose was actual catharsis at the grand guignol finally hitting its peak. Friedkin was there and afterward, as I stood in line to meet him, the chap in front of me handed Friedkin a copy of Peter Biskind’s classic book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, open for autographing at a relevent page. Friedkin looked at the cover and ejaculated “This is shit!” He then autographed the page with ‘This book is shite. William Friedkin.’

Oh yeah: saw my first Bond film since Goldeneye and was so pleased that Skyfall was as good as everyone said. I loved it. If there’s any justice it will at least be on the card for Best Picture. I hope it is.

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Javier Bardem in Skyfall

There was a lot of Joe Orton in my life this year, following on from all the Kenneth Williams I soaked up in 2011. Orton’s diaries were one of the best things I read this year and I saw a performance of Loot a pub theatre too. Between these I went to an exhibition of the original library books artistically defaced by Orton and his partner Kenneth Halliwell, prior to a ‘retrial,’ conducted by real solicitors and a real judge, asking if, in this day and age, Orton would still be found guilty of criminal damage for his library book alterations. Interestingly, he was.

Mark Rylance as Johnny 'Rooster' Byron in Jerusalem

Mark Rylance in Jerusalem

I’d entered 2012 with the intention of seeing more theatre. One of the great highlights of the year happened back in January when, at about 1am, I joined the back of a queue at London’s Apollo Theatre hoping for day tickets to the final performance of Jez Butterworth’s play Jerusalem, finally collecting one fourteen hours later. I’d already seen the play and had queued for 3 or so hours that time. The play, with its unforgettable leading performance by Mark Rylance, blew me away and in the final weeks, when chances to see it again diminished by the day, I knew I had to before it was gone, so I joined the last night queue, at the the front of which was a man who’d been there for three days. Fourteen hours in a queue breeds camararderie. Those reaching the front of the line, when all the tickets were gone and, one by one, returns became available, became the ‘leader’ of the line, and by the early afternoon this role fell to me. I conducted the crowd from an inherited list of people next in line for tickets to, first, the matinee and then for the final performance. Wine appeared. When does this happen? This wasn’t a red carpet appearance, a film premiere, not even a new musical. It was a straight play, in its third London run. I got myself a ticket, gave it to someone else, holding out, even at this late stage, for a better seat at this last performance. I don’t remember what I paid in the end but I was sat in the centre of the circle, the best seats in the house as the curtain rose and this great, great production began for the final time (to date).

Aimee-Ffion Edwards as Phaedra Cox in Jerusalem

Aimee-Ffion Edwards in Jerusalem

At the final curtain Rylance, who, like Fonzie, got a cheer at his first entrance, handed the cloak he ends the play huddled in, to someone in the centre of the front row. It was the man who’d queued for three days. I saw this individual in the foyer. He was in a daze and spoke of maybe getting a tattoo like Rylance’s Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron sported on his arm and spoke of not knowing what to do tomorrow, not being able to see the show again. I saw pretty much the whole cast (including Rylance, resplendent in white silk scarf and smooth speaking voice unlike his character’s hazy delivery) at the stage door, where Aimee-Ffion Edwards, magical as the play’s catalyst Phaedra Cox, noticed that in my rush to join the queue I’d put odd shoes on, and concluded a surreal, unforgettable 24 hours by accosting some bloke who’d fled a resteraunt without paying and frogmarching him back to the waitresses.

Wabriya King and Anna Lukis in Serious Money

Wabriya King and Anna Lukis in Serious Money

Surprisingly to me, I’d never attended either the Old Vic or the Donmar Warehouse and did both this year, as well as returning to the Royal Court for the first time in over a decade to see a production of Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money by the graduates of the Oxford School Of Drama. I’m glad I did, as the cast was superb. Many of them regrouped in an anthology show later in the year called Bitter Pleasures For A Sour Generation. This was more variable but the last piece featured a turn by Alice Fernandez that was one of the best things I saw anywhere this year. Fernandez, Jessica Burgess, Nell Hudson, Kate Dylan and Alexandra Dowling among others are all names to look out for.

Naomi Delamore as Laurey Williams in Oklahoma!

Naomi Delamore in Oklahoma!

It took two goes for me to see Mark Rylance’s return, as Richard III, at Shakespeare’s Globe. The first brought a torrential downpour even Lear would have sheltered from; I ended up seeing it the next time in a box shared with Nana from The Royle Family. There was more Shakespeare in the Globe’s Henry V and the Donmar’s all-female prison-set Julius Caesar, an unusual addition to Christmas week. I took my two annual trips to see Enfield Light Opera and Dramatics, this year performing 42nd Street and, with my own girlfriend wonderful in the lead, a great Oklahoma!

My first produced play

My first produced play

For me there was one other major theatrical event of the year and that was having my first play produced. South London Theatre put on my one-act play Close Up The Walls as one half of a double bill and did a brilliant job of it. I wrote it on the night shift at work last year. Director Jack King took the play, a monologue, finessed the ending and cast Eileen Coan, who delivered a chilling, faultless performance. On the final night of the run I almost didn’t get in, as it had sold out and even with added seats there was no room at the inn for me. I sat in a nearby churchyard drinking a beer while my friends and family were all in the theatre.

Theatre and cinema seem to have taken over, then, where once it was London’s gig venues that had me through the doors most weeks. I did see some shows this year, though. Of course, I saw Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band at their unmissable Hyde Park show, in which Jon Fogerty, Tom Morello and Paul McCartney all took part before the plug was finally pulled when they just wouldn’t stop playing. I saw the magnificent Dirty Three for the sixth time and at the risk of sounding like a pensioner, Warren Ellis’ violin was so f**cking loud I gave myself a hearing problem I still have. Saw a new band, too: my mate Rob Marenghi’s Cats On The Beach. Give ’em a listen here.

David Tennant as Will in The Minor Character

David Tennant in The Minor Character

The best thing on TV this year was without a doubt Storyville’s moving, inspiring film From The Sea To The Land Beyond: Britain’s Coast On Film. A collage of footage from the BFI archive scored by British Sea Power, this film deserves a cinema release. As well as still loving Sherlock and Downton Abbey I also tuned in with eagerness to Sky’s Playhouse Presents, which I’d hoped would be a revival of the weekly single play tradition once common on our screens. It didn’t turn out to be that good, all told, but the opening play, The Minor Character, starring David Tennant, was perhaps the best piece of writing for television this year, scripted by the inimitable Will Self. I hope The Bletchley Circle gets recomissioned and given a chance to breathe as I thought its far-fetched premise of female Enigma codebreakers as late 1940s sleuths was a lot of fun. Arena‘s documentary on The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour, followed by a rare screening of the film was another TV highlight of the year. I know I’m forgetting other good telly. It was mainly the Olympics and the Jubilee. We all enjoyed them, right?

2012

2012

I braved the deluge during the River Pageant to catch but a glimpse of Her Majesty and a glimpse of her majesty is about what I saw, squashed into St Katherine’s Dock with other glimpse-cravers. I watched the back of a waving man stood on the deck of a brage for a bit. I’m pretty sure it was the Duke Of Edinburgh. When Jess Ennis and Mo and the ginger long-jumper did their thing I was proudly watching, at work, on the night shift again. I was in a Croatian hotel room when the dancing horses event took place, and like everyone made tea in our kitchen when every nationality in the world trooped past grinning and waving their flag during the opening and closing ceremonies (I loved the Olympics btw. And the Jubilee. 2012 belonged to the UK).

Alice Oswald

Alice Oswald

In the early Nineties I missed the chance to see Seamus Heaney read his poetry and caught up with that finally this year, seeing the great man give a surprisingly jovial reading on the South Bank while my girlfriend sat beside me and fell asleep. Another of the best things I saw all year was a poetry reading; one of the finest poets in the country reading from her best book. When Alice Oswald began reading from Memorial I was impressed that she seemed to be doing so without the book (always a good trick). And then she just kept on going, and going, and, despite the woman sitting next to me craning around to see if there was an autocue screen at the back of the room, succeeded in delivering the entire text from memory.

I dined in Fortnum & Mason. Fabulous luxury. Loved it. Sandwich, cake and tea as it was meant to be.

I stood in the V&A and stared at the actual costumes De Niro wore in Taxi Driver and The King Of Comedy.

Someone I loved my whole life died.

Oh yeah, and Bears played together again!

Impromptu Bears reunion in Camden

Impromptu Bears reunion in Camden

I won’t bore you all by going through the photo album of what I did in my personal life this year; suffice to say that I moved up a notch at work and went from South London to North London, completed an NVQ, met up again with my old schoolmates at Merc & Laura’s wedding, went on two amazing holidays (in one year- unheard of!) with my gorgeous girlfriend, to Dubrovnik and a magical stay at Disneyland.

Three famous people I met in 2012:

  • Chas Hodges from Chas & Dave
  • Pluto
  • Father Christmas (it was definitely him)

Three good things I bought in 2012:

  • A photo of Clara Bow from a woman on Ebay
  • A pair of theatre seats from a junk shop in Whitstable
  • A beautiful kitten from a bloke in Dagenham

Three good books I read in 2012:

  • Bessie by Chris Albertson
  • The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth
  • Eleven Kinds Of Loneliness by Richard Yates

Two not so good things I watched in 2012:

  • Ragtime at Regents park Open Air Theatre. It was set on junkpile or something. No.
  • BBC2’s The Dark Charisma Of Adolf Hitler. Rubbish. Even Channel 5’s Was Hitler Gay? was less pointless.

Two people from Downton Abbey who crossed my path in 2012:

  • Daisy (Stage door of the Apollo Theatre)
  • Carson (Sat in front of me at a screening of Steamboat Bill, Jr.)

It probably took you most of the new year to period to read that. If you were interested enough to do so, we must be friends. Do please send me your recommendations for things to do and see in 2013. Happy New Year!

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