Thursday, 14 May 2015

NTLive "Man and Superman"

By doing a Twitter search on #NTLive it is clear that in some parts of North America this was a very good performance indeed. Sadly at the Scotiabank Theatre in Vancouver tonight we did not get to see much of it. A few minutes of the first scene and then about twenty minutes of the last act, and the curtain calls. Then we sat in the pitch dark, until finally someone got up and went to find a member of staff. The lights came on, but no-one from the theatre said anything. Two members of the audience said that we could get refunds at the box office. The line up actually blocked the escalators: fortunately people behind us saw what was happening and formed the queue on the stairs.

Eventually we were given replacement tickets for the Encore performance, which is actually a Saturday matinee next month. We could have had the equivalent value in vouchers for regular film shows if we had preferred.

As I said the last time I reviewed an NT Live show, we were warned not to expect perfection. The cinema staff were clearly overwhelmed, and not in control of the broadcast. Hopefully NT Live will pull their socks up and try to actually run the complete show they advertise in all time zones. I wonder how long they will keep the audience coming back if they get this kind of treatment again.

Monday, 11 May 2015

What is wrong with flickr?

The last time flickr updated its User Interface many complained. Flickr did not listen, and quite a few of my contacts abandoned the site. Some of us moved to other sites like Ipernity that looked the same - but it is not the technical issues that make a site, it is the sense of community. And somehow Ipernity fails to do that for me, and I notice some of my contacts try to keep a presence in both camps.

Having just returned from a trip to New Orleans, I have over 300 pictures. Not all of them need to be uploaded - and anyway there is a lot to be done as each one goes on to the site. The image may need some tweaking: I do not make a great deal of use of enhancements but straight from the camera is frequently not optimal. Sharing means posting to groups: adding tags, geolocation among them. Not just the file number in the title but something meaningful and preferably some commentary below it.

So there is a process of selection and curation involved, not just uploading. flickr is also touting its new uploader app for Mac. But what does is scour my hard drive for every single image which is then put into the cloud as my "camera roll". That is so time consuming that I still have no real idea if I have the ability to restrict what it uploads after that "collection" process starts. What I have found is that there are already many images - which show up when in "date posted" mode - that I had never intended to be on flickr. They also get in the way when trying to find images to upload when using flickr's other uploaders - there are at least two distinct ways to do that on their webpage. At one time there was a good deal of integration between Apple's iPhotos and flickr: that seems to have been lost. Perhaps not such a bad thing as it had more than once caused me to lose images completely. Once deleted from flickr they were also gone from both my hard drive and the back up - no idea how that happened but flickr blamed my use of "too many apps using the API".

This morning - as yesterday - attempts to upload from Apple Photo app timed out. No matter how much or how little I tried to upload. In case the fault lay in my wifi connection I even tried it over a wire, with no change. I have also tried both flickr's current uploadr and the earlier one both still active through their web portal. No joy there either. The site itself is still functional in other respects, not just for the MacBook but also the tablets and the phone. Just the uploads are screwy.

When things went wrong with Shaw, Telus, Air Canada and United I was able to get some help by simply tweeting. That doesn't work with flickr either.

Review "In The Heights"

At the Arts Club Stanley Theatre until June 7, 2015

I am happy to recommend this show to my readers. It was, of course very successful on Broadway in 2008, playing over 1,000 performance and picking up a Tony. I did not see it there - quite possibly because they did not have tickets at the half price place on Times Square.

It is a musical and combines a variety of styles - including rap, which I must admit in general for me is a bit of a turn off - with plenty of latino rhythms and the rather predictable Big Broadway Solos - and excellent dance numbers. The 14 strong cast - all local - and all chosen by audition - are not just good actors but good singers and dancers too.

The book is by Quiera Alegria Hughes who has mixed Puerto Rican and Jewish descent and strong parallels with the experience with the lead female character Nina. The setting is the top of Manhattan Island, which is not the sort of area where tourists go, although the only warnings I have been aware of referred to the black 'hoods rather than the barrio. This is also not the same view of Manhattan we got from West Side Story.

It is all about how immigrants deal with a new foreign place and how they cling to familiar things from their own cultures. It's not a convenience store, it's a bodega. The taxi drivers speak Spanish, but even then there are significant differences between the cultures of the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Cuba. The guy who wants to be a dispatcher is an African American: is his status as an honorary latino enough for his girl friend's father who is also his boss? Money, or rather the lack of it, is a common theme of the interweaving story lines. As the needs of the residents of the barrio to move on, to assimilate and to escape from the inevitable gentrification that is coming. The story lines may be based in the Big Apple, but they have a distinct resonance for Vancouver.

So I was won over by the show and the showmanship and I think you will be too, unless you are hard hearted or prejudiced. The songs were not familiar to me, but then I do not listen to that kind of radio. So far as I know none of them became big hits. But they all work well. And the story does have its sentimental moments, and I did tear up - and more than once too. I am not going to pick out any one performance since it is very much an ensemble piece and there is no weak member of the cast in any sense. One or two real surprises to, so do not be tempted to read too far into "Bill's Notes" plot synopsis before the show starts.

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Hard Problem

We went last night to the ScotiaBank Theatre to see the broadcast through NTLive of Tom Stoppard's new play "The Hard Problem". There is to be an encore of the broadcast on May 16. If you are in Vancouver then I strongly recommend you go see it.

Stoppard is an extraordinary playwright. Just listening to his dialogue makes me feel more intelligent than I am. His newest play is a continuation of a fine body of work which I have greatly enjoyed over the years - including "Shakespeare in Love" one of those DVDs we not only own but watch again with great pleasure.

"The Hard Problem" is all about consciousness. Can machines think? We are getting ever more information about how our brains work, but we still do not have any explanations for altruism. Our understanding of society - and especially how markets work - is based on the philosophical premise that investors are both intelligent and self interested and that their decisions make for arrangements that are somehow optimal. But markets are fundamentally irrational. My investment advisor often talks about "market sentiment". It is not all about rates of return on capital employed.

Now that computers have become so fast and cheap, we can do calculations of the utmost complexity very rapidly. But we have not become very much better at understanding human behaviour, and are still really bad at risk assessment and forecasting. We really have a hard time coping with coincidence and how that is not the same thing as causation: we still think in terms of fate and fortune.

"The Hard Problem" is clever and witty as an intricate as a Swiss watch. It is a delightful experience.

I wish I could say the same thing about watching NTLive. We have done this now, several times, at both the ScotiaBank theatre and Riverport in Richmond. First, know that you need to get there early. There are a lot of people of my generation who like these things and who like to save the best seats for their friends. If you want seats in the middle of the back, Good Luck!

Secondly the show starts with a warning about the somewhat less than perfect technology in use. I wonder about this. The show is not actually "live". 7pm here is 3am there! It is "captured live" but still broadcast. Every time we have seen a performance, it has broken up and usually in the middle of the third act at some critical moment. The picture breaks into blocks and sound stutters or is lost entirely, and when after a brief pause things go back to normal the action has moved on. There is no rewind! That perhaps matters less in Hamlet than a new play but both are annoying. Maybe this happens to frustrate surreptitious illegal copying?

Thirdly, the people who work at theatres are usually very young and inexperienced. Last night they left the overly bright lights on that they use when cleaning the auditorium. This could well have been so that the aged patrons could find their seats and read the programmes. But these lights were dazzling me well into the beginning of the play itself. The house lights did not come on at the end, and people were stumbling in the dark to get out. This play is 1 hour 40 minutes without an interval, and many were acting under some urgency.

On one occasion, the theatre staff at Richmond appeared to have forgotten to switch on the broadcast until the play was well underway, and at that performance we were given complimentary passes for a future show. That did not happen last night, nor need it have. But it would be nice to know that someone is actually paying attention which I understand is not always easy in a multiplex.  

We did pick up a flyer for Front Row Centre Events which includes a a Van Gogh exhibit from Amsterdam and live broadcasts from the Met. So I think it is probable that we will continue to patronise these less than perfect experiences.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

The Backstage Lounge, Granville Island

Generally speaking I do not post bad reviews. There are times however when a warning is necessary.

Another axiom I live by is that once is chance, twice is coincidence but three times is ... insert favorite phrase here. Incompetence probably covers it this time: though the original is "enemy action".

I would like to be able to support The Arts Club. We are long time season ticket holders. We go to the theatres as often as as there is something we feel maybe worth seeing, and are not often disappointed.  In the same spirit we have been patronising the Back Stage Lounge which is the bar behind the Granville Island mainstage. There is a lot of competition for eating places nearby - and not one but two breweries.

I saddens me to report that on the last three occasions we have eaten here, we have regretted the choice. They did have a real problem with a kitchen fire that severely restricted their abilities. It took a while for that to be rectified, and we made allowances. But sadly even though the kitchen equipment is now working well, there is not a basic skill level to produce good food reliably. Of course, if you choose the raw veggies and humus, there is not a lot that can go wrong. Though the lettuce at the centre of the plate - presumably for decoration - was distinctly limp. But the Oklahoma Flatbread was almost uneatable. It seemed to be based on a frozen pizza crust - the texture being closer to a biscuit than bread. It is also very hard to understand how pulled pork can be tough - but somehow they managed that too. There was also melted cheese and too much barbecue sauce - straight from the bottle. It was a mess both to look at and to try and eat. It was very nearly cold when served. The menu claimed that there were caramelised onions - which seemed to have been deep fried.

The server did ask me what I thought, and I told her frankly that I was disappointed and why. A 50% discount was applied to that item on the bill. I left half of it uneaten, after all. I am afraid that also had the effect of reducing her tip, based on 15% of the total.

There was a long list of draft beers, but the one I wanted was not available. I was at least offered a taste of the proffered alternate, which was a bitter rather than an IPA. I did find something else.  However now that I look at the bill again I see that I was charged for the beer that was not available: so we paid for three beers but only consumed two.

We also established that the size of a "sleeve" could vary between 14 and 16 fl oz depending on the beer and the glass provided by the brewery. Some brewers take much greater care about how their beer is served than others. I doubt this bartender had actually paid a lot of attention, judging by how he served Stella Artois - not a beer I am prepared to pay that much for, but plenty of others were.

The next time you are at Granville Island and want a beer and a simple meal, I suggest you go to one of the other places - definitely not the Backstage Lounge.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Review: One Man, Two Guvnors

at the Arts Club, Stanley Theatre on Granville until February 22 

When we were in Venice last year, this sculpture immediately appealed to me. And I was surprised that I knew immediately who it was. Carlo Goldoni was one of Italy's most popular playwrights, during his life in the 18th century and for long after. One of his most popular plays, The Servant of Two Masters has been translated and adapted continuously ever since, most recently for the National Theatre in London in 2011, transferring to the West End and Broadway in 2012.

It has now reached Vancouver. If you are a regular patron of theatre in this city many of the cast will be familiar to you.  There are only a few live theatre companies here - one less since the Playhouse closed - but we still manage to find employment for some very talented people. For this show which draws heavily on the traditions of the commedia del arte, they have to be musicians and something like acrobats for  all the physical comedy business.  The show has been updated and moved to Brighton in 1963.  There's not just songs and sketches there's improv too. Which actually gets funnier when things go in unexpected directions. 

Last night the show played to a packed house, which hugely enjoyed the show and was reluctant to leave afterwards as the musicians played people out. In fact it is worth taking your seat early as they entertain before curtain up too. It was a really good team performance but special acknowledgement has to made for Andrew McNee who makes the most of the title role created for James Corden. All the music was created for the show but faithfully represents skiffle in the first half and the Mersey beat in the second. 

You should not miss the chance to see this show while there are still seats available.