Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

A 2014 Critical Christmas Cracker

Quotations of the Year: Dennis Kelly, Julian Barnes & Others

Critical oddities, novelties and quirks of fact and language jump out regularly. These are a few that came my way this year.


JO NESBO in “Phantom” coins a novel metaphor for a new housing development.

“Oslo was not only having a facelift in Bjorvika, it was also having a silicone tit of a new district stuck out into the fjord where once it had been flat-chested and boring.”


ANJELICA HUSTON in her memoir boldly reprints a review from her first starring role.

"There is a perfectly blank, supremely inept performance by Huston's daughter Anjelica, who has the face of an exhausted gnu, the voice of an unstrung tennis racket, and a figure of no discernible shape."


Julian Barnes is in an hour-long conversation on a BBC4 documentary. Of his lurching start in life “I didn't fit in the world and it took me a while to find out where I did.” On his gatherings with the youthful Hitchens and Amis “there was a lot of dashing wordsmithery going on.”


Playwright Dennis Kelly is in Cardiff. It is hard not to warm to an author whose self-assessment on a public platform is “I think I’m a bit of a dick.”

A Sunday paper runs the first story headed “Gory” Gatsby is too violent for US students.” Articles on “trigger warnings” now run into the thousands.


At Hay Horatio Clare is eloquent on his new book that has been received with universal praise. As we shuffle to the exit my neighbour comments "I've never seen the sea the colour "purple" the way he says it is."

Me: "Done some sailing in your time, have you?"

Man: "Yes, I'm an Admiral."


Sam Marlowe of the Times makes a visit to the Arcola Theatre. The play is “a ham-fisted muddle of crude politics, lousy dialogue and bad jokes. Smothered among the jumble of lazy assumptions and poor stagecraft are some engaging ideas… a woolly, wonky play

The travel section of a Sunday newspaper reports a new tourism treat. “The American Queen Steamboat Company is offering a visit to the Louisiana State Penitentiary on its Mississippi trip. The jail- which featured in the film “Dead Man Walking”- is a part of a vast working farm, and the tour includes areas of the farm and prisoners housing.”

An obituary of CHESTER NEZ, the ninety-three year old last Navajo code-talker describes his own tongue as a “language family so complicated that linguistics needs special terms to describe it. Verbs do most of the work, agglutinated with suffixes and prefixes, in seven modes (including the usitative, iterative and optative), 12 aspects, such as the semelfactive (a half-completed action), and ten sub-aspects, including the completive and the semeliterative (a single repetition). It has four combinations of tones, plus glottal and aspirated stops. A shift in any of them can change a word’s meaning completely.”

A weekend book review cites John Wilmot Earl of Rochester heading for a place of “cross-dressing, lewdness, and sodomy.” That apparently is Oxford.


LUCY MANGAN is not pleased with a programme on bagpipes.

“badly – badly, badly, badly – let down by a section purporting to test whether the pipes could indeed make soldiers perform better by making a group of army cadets run on treadmills and perform strength tests after hearing it. I presume that this moronic, irreverent break in mood, so pointlessly taking up time that could have been much better spent telling us more about the tradition from which the pipers sprang, was some kind of mindless lunge towards a younger audience. As if they are not capable of appreciating the ineffable. As if they cannot see that increasing respiration rates are not the same as putting heart into a man. As if the men went over the top because their blood was full of oxygen instead of courage, fear and pride. If I see anything more crass and contemptuous this centenary, I shall pipe myself straight to the BBC director general Tony Hall's office and smash it to bits.”


TERRY CASTLE in “The Professor and Other Writings” sees hazard where no hazard exists. In the simple act of making a payment “the little machine regurgitates my Visa card with a malevolent whir.”

GEOFFREY PARKER in “Global Crisis” introduces a new term in “peccatogenic.” It means the attribution of natural calamity to human misconduct


A couple of times in “the Rainmaker” JOHN GRISHAM does away with a spell-checker. At one point the villains are searching for the hero on flight manifests. The narrator-author writes in a single paragraph “Shoulda called Greyhound.”

When the chief enemy lawyer and his firm get their comeuppance “But his shoulders slowly sink. The air quietly rushes from his lungs. Buncha lying schmucks!”

DAVID IGNATIUS is a good author but he and his editor wobble when it come to Britain. In “the Director” the Head of British Intelligence is sighted with walking stick, brown oxfords and a chesterfield coat with velvet collar. The location is a “jolly nice spot”, other agencies are “foreign chums” and recent events “That was quite a show and you’re right it was tickety-boo.”


A splenetic commentator lets off on the web’s liberation of self-made artistry.

“If you've seen even the best of the turgid dross that amateur authors, "film"-makers and artists churn out, in the hope of fame or recognition, you'd run, screaming from your computer and vow never to go near the ON button ever again. When you probe beneath the top 0.01% of self-published garbage into the miasma of self-indulgent, badly spelled, poorly punctuated, disorganised, shakily recorded, utter crap - then you realise that hardly anyone has any talent. Of the few who do have talent, almost none can publish, package or promote it. And the few who do have something of worth are hidden in the random noise from the time-wasting billion who don't.”


The tributes to P D JAMES include an episode of a book-signing.

“To Emma Chizzit” she once smilingly wrote when signing a book for one of her Australian fans before realising what she had misheard as a name was actually an enquiry about the book’s price.”

author:Adam Somerset

original source:
08 December 2014


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