Friday, July 18, 2014

No sales tax

As an Auckland resident (which I'm not) I'm told that if I make any purchases from I won't have to pay sales tax. Although that apparently excludes any shipments to Florida that I may make. I'm not sure if Florida has recently transplanted itself to Auckland, New Zealand, but I guess it's kind of possible. They have similar climates at certain times of the year, and lately Auckland has been getting more and more tropical weather of the typhoon/tornado kind. Aucklanders, who continually tell those who live in the rest of the country how badly off they are, have been losing their roofs, windows, trampolines and more in a series of hectic winds. We've never lost our trampoline, though it did shift place a little once. Nor have we ever had the roof blown away. Thankfully. However, glass from the glasshouse is prone to fly off and smash in a high wind, and that has happened to us. We can't be protected from all things down here in the South. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Promise

Over the last few days we've watched the four episodes of Peter Kosminsky's TV film: The Promise. Like much of Kosminsky's TV work, it's quite provocative, and your sympathies change as the story unfolds.

Two stories interweave: one is set in Palestine just after the Second World War. A young sergeant is caught up in the historic events of the time, when the British were keeping the peace - as far as possible - between the new Jewish settlers who'd returned to their homeland after the horrors of the concentration camps, and the Palestinians who had lived in the area for centuries and were suddenly finding themselves kicked out of their country by a people who apparently forgot, very quickly, what it was like to be treated badly because of who you were.

The second story is set in the present day: the Sergeant is now an old man dying in a hospital. His unsympathetic daughter and his granddaughter (who's barely known the supposedly grumpy old man) set about clearing out his house. The daughter, Erin, finds the old man's diary, with photos and newspaper clippings. Against her mother's orders, she keeps the diary, and takes it with her to Israel where she's going with a friend whose Israeli background means she has to go into the Army for two years. Erin is a typical know-all teenager who begins to find out a great deal more about the Israel-Palestine conflict than she would ever have learned in her native country, and also matures quickly as a result of trying to repair something that had gone wrong back when her grandfather was a young man.

The two stories gradually cohere. There are perhaps too many coincidences in the plotting, and the filmmakers slide over some questions about motivations that probably should have been asked, but for all that the film carries you along as you increasingly struggle - like Erin - to make sense of a country where a people who were hated almost universally for centuries (the Jews) and then were slaughtered in their millions, show almost no care or concern for a people who by accident live in the country the Jews claim as their homeland.

Kosminsky doesn't offer us easy answers: we begin by thinking that the Israelis are a pretty reasonable bunch of people, but gradually discover - as both the grandfather and the granddaughter do - that they have almost no sympathy for the Palestinians, and show little concern about killing them or destroying their property if the need, or mood, arises. Try as you might, by the end of the movie, it's likely your opinion of the Israeli people may be much less sympathetic than at first. Whether this is a more one-sided view on Kosminsky's part than is fair is left to our judgement.

Claire Foy plays the initially sulky teenager with ease - there are times when you want to wipe that sulky look off her face, even late in the film. Nevertheless, she makes the journey from sulkiness to a degree of wisdom effectively. Christian Cooke, as the Sergeant, has a face that often makes it look as though he's going to burst into tears, yet he convinces us that he's a man who can make wise decisions, is loyal, is strong in a crisis, and much more. He's particularly strong in his last scenes when everything he's tried to do for a Palestinian family goes wrong, and he's treated as a deserter and thrown into prison.

The rest of the enormous cast are superb, and with the film shot entirely in Israel (with places standing in for Hebron, Gaza, and the West Bank. Even the Ben Gurion airport stands in for Heathrow. The series in general received high praise when first shown, though there were a number of voices claiming that it was anti-semitic in tone, something which can be justified, if that's what you're looking for.

Since writing this review I've become more aware of the concerns that were raised over Kosminsky's series. This article goes into detail about these and provides some balance to the way in which Kosminsky nudges his viewers more and more into an anti-Israeli bias.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The Other Son

The Other Son is an intense, emotional film set in Israel and Palestine (there's a great deal of coming and going across the border between the two areas, and many views of the wall), and it's quite a tear-jerker, though in best sense.

It has a slightly improbable story, perhaps (although the starting point of the story is as old as the hills): two babies are literally swapped at birth because of fears of a Scud attack.One baby is Jewish but is given back to the Palestinian mother, and the other baby, of course, is Palestinian, and given back to the Jewish mother.This only comes to light when the 'Jewish' boy is about to turn eighteen and a blood test reveals that he couldn't possibly be the son of his parents. The other parents are informed, and there's a great deal of struggling to come to grips with the issue, both on the part of the two young men, but even more so on the part of the fathers. The mothers manage to begin to work through the problem much quicker than their husbands, of course, but even for them it's a major upheaval.

There are four languages spoken in the film: Hebrew, Arabic, English and French - the Jewish father is French by birth, and it appears that the family has spent some time there, but the 'Arab' boy has also been studying there.

The director is Lorraine Lévy, who also co-wrote the screenplay. She makes a fine job of bringing out the emotional aspects of the story (there's little 'action' in it), and is supported by a wonderful cast, all of whom are unknown to me, though plainly very experienced. When you see foreign movies you realise again and again what a vast world of actors, directors, writers there is out there whom we barely know about. We're so inundated with Hollywood and British movies and TV that we remain quite insular. 

This is a great story, and well worth catching up with. There's an interesting interview with the director here.

Writing and reading

Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.

Anne Lamott

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Payu2blog gone?

Over the years I've done a lot of posts here for a site called It seems that they've run right down, however. I've had no assignments for a few months, and they're not answering any emails (not that they were ever very good at that). They've begun to use Twitter as an alternative to blog posts, but the Twitter approach doesn't seem to be working. I never got paid for the one assignment they offered that I've tweeted, and the latest assignment along these lines is so confusingly laid out, I've had read trouble trying to figure out what they're talking about.

It's a pity, because Payu2blog was a reasonable source of small income over several years; my PayPal account was kept topped up by it. Ah well, that seems to be the way of the Net. Some things have their day and then suddenly they're gone, when the crowd moves on...

Monday, June 30, 2014

Brass comps

I'm playing for the National Brass Band Competitions next week, in Invercargill. At the moment there are two contestants playing one of my favourite brass pieces. Variations on a Welsh Theme by Peter Kneale. I've written about this piece before on this blog, and possibly I've written about it at some other time as well!  The great satisfaction about this piece is that the piano part is as interesting as the soloist's. That's not entirely unusual in brass band solos, but this one in particular is a delight to play.

Another contestant is playing Mace by Philip Sparke, a conductor and prolific composer whose music is played everywhere brass players play. Mace has a lovely slow melody opening the piece, but then it goes crazy. As far as I can make out it was originally written for soloist and piano, rather than soloist and band. The soloist has a hectic part in the fast section, with hardly room to breathe, and a massive cadenza.The pianist doesn't really have anything like as much to do, except make sure he or she keeps up: there's a constant shifting between 2/4 and 3/4 and counting beats (for me, anyway) is a major task. There are only a couple of awkward spots, one with impossible to play thirds. The rest of the time it's a matter of making sure you and the soloist stay together. It'll be interesting.

Another player is doing a piece called Concerto No 1 for Tuba and orchestra (although the soloist here is a bass trombonist). It's by Alexej Lebedjew, another prolific composer, especially for the tuba. This accompaniment, interestingly enough, even though it was composed for orchestra, sits under the pianist's hands very well. There are some nasty moments but in general it's more pianistic in style than orchestral. Perhaps the composer rewrote it himself for piano, rather than someone just transcribing it from the orchestral score. It's a big play and I'll probably leave the soloist behind while I'm enjoying myself...

There are some other pieces which are more traditional in style: the old thing of the pianist just having to keep hammering away while the soloist does all the fiddly bits. They have their place, but it's good that modern composers have moved well away from this style.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Bletchley Circle

Things have been a bit quiet on the blog scene in general of late because I've been focusing on writing the first draft of the sequel to Grimhilda! This has been completed (insofar as you can ever say that a first draft is 'completed') and I've now scribbled all over the printed-out version of it, making notes galore, amending, re-writing, fiddling, reconsidering, and generally hacking it to pieces. As you should with a first draft. The beginning and the ending both need thorough rewriting and expanding (now that I have a better idea of how things fit together) but there are some sections between them that are pretty satisfactory. Two lines in the entire draft actually made me laugh out loud when I came back to reading them again. Two lines! That's promising.

So the next job is to get on and do the rewrite. Should be fun.

We watched all three episodes of the series The Bletchley Circle last night because I had to stay up till one am to ring the US about something that couldn't be done any earlier. A very-well crafted series, with meticulous attention to detail of costume and design, and excellent photography.

Anna Maxwell Martin plays the main character, one of four women who'd worked at Bletchley during the war and were now effectively twiddling their thumbs nine years later, not using the gifts that had made them so valuable a decade earlier. I don't find Martin my favourite actress, perhaps because when I saw her in Bleak House as Esther Summerson, she seemed not to have got hold of the character: too lacking in the almost irritating modesty that Esther exhibits, and too little warmth.

Here she's given strong support by Rachael Stirling, Sophie Rundle and Julie Graham. The four re-unite, after a bit of dubiousness, in order to solve a series of murders that have obviously been done by the same man.The police are at a loss, but Martin's character sees links in the locations of the murders, and believes she can predict where the next abduction, murder and rape will take place - at least as near as anyone can - and will hopefully prevent another death.The police pooh-pooh her rather, and her husband thinks she's acting oddly. Certainly she's suddenly out and about a lot more than she's been in a long time.

The plot has a few holes - you want to know who's suddenly looking after the kids when Martin is gallivanting around, and also why she goes hiving off on her own, at night, to a place that's obviously closed down and inhabited by one person. Who she realises is the murderer she's looking for. That peculiarity apart (although it's common enough in suspense stories for the woman to do that daft thing of putting herself in considerable danger in a dark house with a stranger) this was well-worth watching. The other three women are great, and though the men mostly come off looking a bit like twats, the story is absorbing enough to keep us involved throughout.

The series was originally a one-off piece, but there's been a sequel. This was done a couple of years later, and should be worth looking out for. Hopefully it lives up to the standards of the first series.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Assassin of the Tsar

We recently got a package DVD which includes ten movies - mostly from the 90s, I think - and have only watched a couple so far. Last night it was the turn of a strange movie called Assassin of the Tsar. Made in Russia by a Russian director and with a Russian cast and crew, it stars Malcolm McDowell who plays a psychiatric patient, Timofeyev, with his usual intense on-the-edge approach, and also plays a real-life person, Yurovsky, the man who, along with a number of 'comrades', murdered the Tsar and his family. The other main actor, Oleg Yankovskiya well-known actor in his native country, plays the new doctor at the asylum where McDowell has been hospitalised for many years, as well as the Tsar. Confused? You should be. 

Even for people who know the story of the assassination, and the botched assassination of the Tsar's father (which is also in the movie), I suspect this film would appear confusing. Timofeyev believes he is Yurovsky, and on a certain date each year (July 16th, if I remember rightly) a wound appears around his neck, a circle like that of a hangman's rope. On another date in August, he also shows extremes symptoms of a stomach problem. Both of these are somehow related to the assassinations. In due course the doctor takes on the role of the Tsar in order to try and treat Timofeyev, but in the process comes to see himself actually as the Tsar, and dies - though not by assassination. Why he comes to take on the Tsar's persona isn't adequately explained, except with a bit of psycho-babble. 

The scenes set in the past where the Bolsheviks are planning to kill the imperial family are full of tension. The scenes in the asylum seem random and unrelated to the rest of the movie, and the whole nonsense of the doctor dying makes no sense. Then there's the woman who's lost her child and who's waiting outside the residence where the Tsar and his family are confined. We have no idea what she has to do with the story. Some reviewers see the film as a kind of releasing of guilt of the Russians in modern USSR. I have no idea, and couldn't see the connection.

The film is in English, presumably with the Russian cast dubbed. Curiously, while they all have accents, McDowell for the most part doesn't. By all accounts there's a version in Russian in which McDowell is dubbed. The soundtrack is also odd: there's music playing a good deal of the time, the usual sort of music that accompanies any film, but it seems to be coming from another room, and is often quite faint.

How this film came to be made and how McDowell got involved in it isn't obvious. McDowell gives it his all, as you'd expect, and is worth watching. But beyond that the film makes too little sense to really engage an audience. 

Monday, June 02, 2014

A couple of movies from 1993

The Warehouse had a sale of DVDs on the weekend, so we picked up a few to replace a bunch that were surplus to requirements, movies we'll never watch again (wouldn't want to watch again) and some that we had double-ups of for whatever reason.
On Saturday night we watched a DVD of The Remains of the Day, which we'd seen at the cinema when it first came out. Neither of us could remember much about it; in fact there was very little of that visual recognition you usually have when you're seeing a movie again. Perhaps we're losing our visual recognition as we get older, which is a bit scary!
Anyway, this movie, with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson both at their best, is a story about a butler in a large aristocratic home, Darlington Hall, owned by Lord Darlington. The Lord, though he is an honourable man, is an amateur in his political dealings; he foolishly sides with the Nazis during the war, and probably should have been charged with treason. Hopkins, the consummate butler, always there, always perfect in behaviour, claims he never hears what goes on around him: he's too busy doing his job. But in fact he's closed off to human relationships for the most part. When he employs his own father as an under-butler, he calls him Mr Stevens rather than father. It's only as his father is dying that he manages to speak as though there is some relationship there. Even when his father is lying dead upstairs he believes his duty is still to serve his Lordship first.
Thompson plays the housekeeper who gives as good as she gets from Hopkins, but also falls in love with him. In spite of himself, he's in love with her, but his nature is such that he can't admit to it, and so both their lives go awry as a result.
There's a top-notch cast including Hugh Grant, Christopher Reeves and Ben Chaplin among the more familiar faces. The direction by James Ivory is quiet and assured, and the script by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala gives the performers ample room for subtlety and subtext. A great film, with much in it to be admired. 
In the same year, Michael Keaton and Nicole Kidman starred in a much less well-known movie, My Life, which, if it had been done as a TV movie with a TV actor would have ended up requiring a box of tissues. It narrowly avoids this because of Keaton's solid performance in which he has ample room to both clown and play to his serious side. 
Keaton plays a man who has only a few months to live because of cancer, and like many in that position he doesn't want to die, especially as his wife is expecting their first child. He manages to stay alive long enough to see his son grow through his first months before succumbing to the continually invasive cancer. As in too many movies about illness, the cancer gets put on the back-burner too often: it has a brief dramatic appearance at the beginning (sorted out by some magic pill that works instantly) and hardly turns up again until the end. In the meantime, unlike most cancer patients, Keaton, on the surface at least, appears to be as healthy as the next man.
Before he dies he makes a series of home movies that he wants his future child to be able to view, but in the process he comes face to the face with the fact that he's never forgiven his own parents: he particularly felt that his father was never there for him because he worked so hard at his business. But he has to face the fact that he's actually no different: he's a workaholic too. 
For the most part it's Keaton who makes the movie work (Kidman has a bit of a wishy-washy role that doesn't give her room for much depth unfortunately) in spite of its forays into occasional silliness. The rest of the cast, including Bradley Whitford (from West Wing, and sporting the worst false moustache you've ever seen - it looks as though belongs in the 70s rather than the 90s), Michael Considine and Queen Latifah don't really get much chance to get to grips with their roles because they're basically underwritten. Latifah doesn't appear till almost the end, comes in with a whiz and a bang and is then given nothing to do. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Hue and Cry II

I was about to write a blog post saying that in spite of the fact that I'd had the DVD of the movie, Hue and Cry, on my shelves for some time, I'd never watched it. To my surprise, when I checked back, I did watch it in 2007, and wrote about it then. Both my wife and I said last night, I don't remember ever seeing this before. Which is puzzling, because I usually have a reasonable visual memory for movies, and so does she, and at least some aspects of the first viewing will be remembered in the second.

So I don't need to say any more about the film, except to say that it was just as enjoyable on a second viewing as I'd obviously found it on the first. However, what I don't seem to have noted at the time is the detail. Right from the opening credits, which are white-washed onto a real wall, with boys playing, running, fighting in front of them, and with a bit of humour thrown in (Wot? no producer? says one, and Stick no Bills in another, with a tatty Ealing Studios poster fluttering alongside) there's an attitude of 'Let's see if you pick this up, audience.' Added to this is Auric's opening music which fits beautifully to all the zipping around and punching that's going on.

Every time the main group of boys appear - and there are around a dozen of them, and one girl (Joan Dowling, who later married Harry Fowler, the main 'boy' in the film, and who sadly committed suicide at the age of 26) - not only do we get a sense of their individuality, but all manner of other 'business' is going on. In one scene one boy is holding a bag of chips; the arm of another reaches over several times to pinch a chip while the others are talking. One boy is being buried in bricks from the bombed-out building site in another scene, and is left to fight his own way out when the others all rush off. One boy has a pet mouse (which has a couple of important scenes later) and it's casually walking up around his collar when we first see him. There's a scene where the first 'The Trump' - a boy's adventure weekly that plays a vital role in the film - is snatched back and forth between three or four of the boys, including its owner. Nobody ever stands around in this movie: the boys' characters and movements are distinct and well-worked out. Charles Crichton, the director, obviously had a good eye for how boys of that generation behaved, and the movie is full of things to keep the eye attentive.

And there's plenty of comedy: in one notable scene that takes place in a department store at night the boys are waiting for the crims to arrive: the owner of the mouse is hiding under a mannequin's skirt. The mouse escapes, and heads over to a speak-your-weight machine. The boy dives for the mouse and the machine speaks his weight. The shop's caretaker arrives and tries to get the boy and the machine speaks their combined weight, and then other boys come and then the police and the machine, with its pompous voice, can hardly keep up.

Alistair Sim has only a few scenes, and plays a character who can hardly sit still. Crichton has him up and down around his cluttered flat, talking nineteen to the dozen, and performing as only Sim could do, and doing so many bits of business that brain must have been whirling. He gets star billing in spite of appearing for about ten minutes all up, but as Sim always did, he makes those ten minutes unforgettable.

I mentioned in the previous post that a great deal of the film was shot on location, outside in the bombed-out streets of London. In the background of several shots you can see workers rebuilding, and further away still, the barges and boats on the Thames. The film manages to be a documentary of a particular time in the city's history as well as an entertaining story.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

More on creativity

As I  mentioned in the last post we went and saw the play Souvenir last night: resilience was the major character aspect for Florence Foster Jenkins, along with a remarkable inability to hear what others heard. Artists need resilience. Up to a point I have it, though I can get quite down about things not going well, perhaps less than I once did. My wife's had to say more than once that either you do the work because you love it and want to do it and don’t care about the immediate results, or you get all depressed about it if it doesn't take off as you expect. There’s an obvious choice about which one is going to be more effective, but of course it isn’t always easy just to pick up yourself after a knockback. 

Foster Jenkins’ was right to be resilient, though she was wrong in not being able to hear criticism. However, the thing that her pianist discovered ˗ at least in the play ˗ was that she could hear the right music in her head; she just couldn’t reproduce it. I think in a way that’s what a lot of artists ˗ including writers ˗ struggle with: the story, the music, the performance they have in their head isn’t matched by what they achieve in reality. I've often had a piece of music in my head that's really excited me, but trying to get it down on paper turns out to be impossible. Sometimes it turns into something altogether different which has a life of its own. Sometimes it just goes down the tubes. And then there are the piano performances I've given in my dreams...

I’ve never forgotten the story about Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, told by the woman who was page-turning for his accompanist one night. She was rapt by his performance ˗ as she should have been; he was a consummate performer and deserved all the kudos he got. But as they came off stage she heard him berating his performance as mediocre and well below his best. She was astonished because she couldn’t equate his view of it with what she’d heard. (Foster Jenkins had the opposite problem, of course.) What it did for her was disappoint her; it didn’t make her feel that striving for the best was important; criticism of your performance was important. And yes, of course it is. But that should be something you deal with yourself. Let your audience take out of the performance what it can and will. Don’t be so overwhelmed with your own performance that you become boastful; equally don’t let minor slips be a major issue; correct them if you can in the next performance. 

The adjudicator at the Junior Singing Competitions this month said to the kids performing: everyone makes mistakes in performance (the actress playing Foster Jenkins made at least three slips in her lines last night that I noticed) ˗ in fact, she said, professional orchestras make an average of seven mistakes per minute in a concert. This doesn’t take away from the overall performance, which for most of the audience will be enthralling or delightful or exhilarating. Always improve, and always strive to improve. But don't pull yourself down because you haven't achieved what you hoped for. 

Quite apart from anything else, even the most astute audiences fail to notice most things that go wrong in performances. 


Last night, courtesy of the surprise gift of a friend, we went to see Souvenir, a play being performed at Dunedin's Fortune Theatre. Souvenir was written by Stephen Temperley, a musician, actor and playwright. It began life as a full-scale play (presumably with a large cast), was abandoned, was tried as a one-woman show, and finally morphed around 2003 into the two-hander that was performed last night. This is the first time the play has been produced in New Zealand, so good on you, Fortune, for doing it. Sadly the house was only half-full, which is a pity, because not only is the play good and worth seeing, it's immensely funny and is performed with huge energy by Angela Johnson and Michael Lee Porter.

Johnson plays the incredible widow, Mrs Florence Foster Jenkins, who is convinced that the perfect music she hears inside her head is what she produces for her audiences. She's sadly disillusioned about this, and yet audiences flocked to hear her in her later years when she began putting on charity concerts, first at the Ritz Hotel, and finally at Carnegie Hall. She even made some recordings. Johnson, who in real life looks nothing like the dumpy Mrs J, gives a performance of such warmth and delight that you realise how people were willing to suspend judgement on the woman's singing. In spite of the fact that we know that she sings absolutely awfully - Johnson gives us dozens of samples of this awful singing - she had such resilience and enthusiasm that it was hard to turn her down on her ideas. Johnson adopts something of the chortly tones of the famous TV character Mrs Bucket (pronounced Bouquet) in order to bring her character to life, and gives great emphasis to certain words and lines.

Porter plays the role of pianist Cosmé McMoon. (Yup, that was his name.) He also narrates the story to us, and is onstage the entire play. (Johnson gets brief patches offstage, but for most of those she's whipping out of one costume and into another.) Porter not only has to tell us the story in speech, but sometimes in song (accompanying himself on the grand piano that takes up a good deal of the space) and then has to become Cosmé as he was twenty or so years earlier. Porter is an accomplished pianist, has a pretty reasonable voice, and performs the complex and constantly switching role of appalled pianist, counsellor, comforter, and possibly even substitute son with aplomb. His role is more difficult, because he's the audience's confidante as well, and sometimes is expected to give us the nod and wink while being in the middle of a scene with Foster Jenkins.

It's possible that people with some musical background might enjoy the piece more than those who don't have one, but it's certainly not necessary to know anything much about opera to appreciate the play. (There are a number of popular songs in the play too, mostly played and sung by McMoon.) The actors give every line great value, and milk every bit of comedy out of the script. It would be interesting to see a production of the play which wasn't played quite so much for laughs; I suspect it's possible to do it in an entirely different way. Here, of course, the laughs make the unfunny scenes all the more poignant: there are two strong scenes towards the end of each act in which Mrs Foster Jenkins has brief moments of insecurity about what she's doing. In the first McMoon loses his temper at her inability to see how she comes across to others, and is hurtful. Such is the way in which the script is written and performed that it's Foster Jenkins who we side with; McMoon is absolutely right in what he says, yet somehow we believe in the woman.

The play speaks to all artists, most of whom have an ongoing insecurity about what they're creating in the world. Is it of any real value, or will be forgotten as quickly as yesterday's news? Is the judgement of friends and family true, or does only the judgement of a wider audience count? And are we reading that judgement correctly, or are we interpreting it in the light of our own belief about what we're creating? Many great artists have been ignored in their lifetime and have only come into their own after they're dead. Many artists who seem to hold the stage at present will soon be forgotten forever. Actors in stage plays present something nightly for a week, or a month, or even years, and then nothing of it remains, except memories. Performance is perhaps one of the most ephemeral of the arts: a concert here, a play there, and next day it's as if it had never been. If an audience misses seeing or hearing it, there is no memory of it. And curiously, the videoing of live performances can often be disappointing: they're not big enough, they lack that buzz that the audience contributes.Things that the actors thought they were conveying seem to be flat and banal. Or they may seem so over-the-top that you wonder what the live audience actually thought.

There's no doubt that Foster Jenkins somehow missed hearing what was heard by others. Her recordings testify to this, and she has been hugely mocked and laughed at. But at the end of the play, when McMoon tells us that she died not long after her Carnegie Hall concert (not of a broken heart, as many claimed, but of natural causes), he speaks of the fact that inside her head she could hear the perfect music. And Johnson comes out on stage again at that point, in a dress that is lovely and not foolish (as many of her stage costumes were), and sings Ave Maria so beautifully that it makes your own heart break. Perhaps in heaven Mrs Foster Jenkins sings still, and now performs truthfully what she couldn't achieve in this life.