Renovating Britain’s theatres for the 21st century

(K. Brent Tomer),

GOING to the theatre can feel like an exercise in discomfort. From half-broken seats and bad sightlines to cramped foyers, many of Britain’s historic venues are in urgent need of an upgrade. But how do you renovate a theatre to accommodate changing tastes and requirements while retaining the building’s soul and identity? In an age of commercial pressures—36 theatres were on the brink of closure in 2016 according to the Theatres Trust, a preservation group—do theatres need to become more flexible and lean in order to survive? 

Steve Tompkins, co-founder of Haworth Tompkins, an architecture firm, has been grappling with these questions for more than 20 years. He considers Edwardian and Victorian theatre buildings to be important institutions, but argues that “you can’t be sentimental about them. If you extrapolate and work with their strengths you can make them exciting, vivid and current again.” 

The firm used this approach when remodelling the Royal Court in London, a Victorian playhouse dating back to 1888. They stripped and reseated the main auditorium to create better sightlines, rebuilt the studio theatre to give it more headroom and…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Renovating Britain’s theatres for the 21st century


The 89th Academy Awards offered drama of its own

(K. Brent Tomer),

IT IS a pity that the 89th Academy Awards will be forever remembered for that last-minute bungle. Presenting the Oscar for best picture, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were given the wrong envelope, with Ms Dunaway announcing that “La La Land” was the winner. It was only after the producers of the hit musical had launched into their acceptance speeches that they heard that there had been an unprecedented, scarcely believable mix-up, and that the best-picture recipient was actually “Moonlight”. Oscar history was made. But it is important to remember that history would have been made, anyway, even without that excruciatingly embarrassing blunder.

Most of the major categories had gone the way that the press and bookmakers thought they would. Viola Davis, who starred in “Fences” with Denzel Washington, was named best supporting actress. “Manchester by the Sea” took the prizes for Original Screenplay (by Kenneth Lonergan, also the film’s director) and Lead Actor (Casey Affleck). “Moonlight” won for Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali) and Adapted Screenplay (the film’s director, Barry Jenkins, based his script on…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC The 89th Academy Awards offered drama of its own

Italy have shown a new way to play rugby

(K. Brent Tomer),

WITH TEN minutes to go, it seemed that Italy might just pull off the greatest upset in the history of Europe’s signature rugby tournament. Pre-match forecasts gave the continent’s perennial minnows barely a 1% chance of toppling mighty England before their meeting in the Six Nations on February 26th, and with good reason. The Azzurri had won just one match in the tournament since 2013, and had given up a massive 96 points in the opening two rounds of this year’s edition. Conversely, England had won their previous 16 fixtures in all competitions, and arrived on Sunday at Twickenham Stadium, their concrete fortress of a home stadium, fully expecting to continue that streak. Victory would leave them one match away from equalling a record of 18 consecutive wins, set last year by the greatest New Zealand team of all time.

In the end, the home side did prevail, scoring 19 unanswered points in the final ten minutes to triumph by 36 to 15. But they had been given quite a scare by the unfancied Italians—and in a way that they would never have expected. Throughout the match the Azzurri exposed a loophole in the laws of rugby that bamboozled the…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Italy have shown a new way to play rugby

Making rugged subcultures “respectable” with orchestras

(K. Brent Tomer),

GOLDIE’s “Timeless” (1995) album was a watershed moment for London’s then-maturing jungle scene. Influenced by the formative house and techno music being made in Chicago and Detroit, it balanced rapid-fire rhythms—built from sampling and manipulating 60s funk and soul drum breaks—with a radio-friendly musicality. Technologically and musically innovative, the album brought forward-thinking music to a widespread audience. 

On the 24th and 25th of February, Ronnie Scott’s, a jazz club in London, will host live orchestral renditions of Goldie’s music. A group that describes itself as “[messing] with other people’s music, and [keeping] orchestral tradition in the cellar”, the Heritage Orchestra—a 30-60 piece ensemble arranged and conducted by Jules Buckley—will offer their own take on Goldie’s anthemic jungle staples (not for the first time, either; they combined in 2015 for an anniversary performance of “Timeless”). Holding around 300 attendees for each of the show’s four performances, the venue’s candle-lit, seated comfort is some way removed from the dark, sweat-soaked basements which hosted the original material. Goldie himself says that…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Making rugged subcultures “respectable” with orchestras

Graphic novels and the refugee crisis

(K. Brent Tomer),

ART SPIEGELMAN, the renowned graphic novelist behind “Maus” (1986, 1991), proved that comics can be expansive and nuanced enough to capture the stories of movements, peoples and nations. “Maus” depicted the experiences of his parents at the hands of the Nazis, including their imprisonment at Auschwitz. “In the Shadow of No Towers” (2004) recounted the events of the 9/11 attacks. Both works initially struggled to find a publisher—comics seemed too risky a medium to document such horrific events—yet they are now considered canonical graphic novels, works that cemented the genre’s gravity. 

Faced with documenting another 21st-century horror—the migrant crisis—a new generation of graphic novelists has taken up Mr Spiegelman’s torch, depicting the deadly journey across the Mediterranean. “A Perilous Journey”, a comic series by Benjamin Dix and Lindsay Pollock, follows three men who fled their homes in Syria for Europe (the last frame takes the unexpected form of a photograph, showing one of the characters reunited with his family after being granted asylum in Norway). In 2016, Marvel produced “Madaya Mom”, inspired by the experiences of a young…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Graphic novels and the refugee crisis

Are Twenty20 specialists taking over the Indian Premier League?

(K. Brent Tomer),

IF YOU are searching for evidence that cricket is gradually fragmenting into two different sports, the 2017 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) might be a good place to start. The competition pits eight star-studded teams against each other in the Twenty20 format, an abridged and heavy-hitting version of the sport launched in 2003. The most eye-catching acquisition in Monday’s pre-tournament auction was the purchase by Royal Challengers Bangalore of Tymal Mills: a 22-year-old English fast bowler who has never played an international match in the more prestigious five-day Test-cricket format (a congenital back condition makes playing such lengthy games impossible). Yet Mr Mills landed a contract worth $1.75m for this year’s IPL, making him the second most valuable overseas player in its 10-year history. 

He is not the only big-money signing to have limited experience in Test cricket. Also looking forward to hefty salaries this year are Chris Morris, Glenn Maxwell, Mohit Sharma, Kieron Pollard, James Faulkner and David Miller—all of whom will earn at least $800,000 during the six-week bonanza. Those contracts represent significant investments, since each…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Are Twenty20 specialists taking over the Indian Premier League?

Why it is so difficult to hold kleptocrats accountable

(K. Brent Tomer),

The Despot’s Guide to Wealth Management: On the International Campaign against Grand Corruption. By J.C. Sharman. Cornell University Press; 261 pages; $29.95 and £20.95.

CORRUPTION is never far from the front page. In recent weeks, thousands of Romanians protested against plans to decriminalise low-level graft, and Rolls-Royce was hit with a £671m ($835m) penalty for alleged bribery. Meanwhile, long-running corruption scandals continue to roil political and corporate leaders in Brazil and Malaysia. The growing attention has spurred governments to pledge action, as dozens did at a global anti-corruption summit in London last year.

Jason Sharman, professor of international relations at Cambridge University, is particularly interested in “grand corruption”: the theft of national wealth by kleptocratic leaders and their cronies, often in poor (albeit resource-rich) countries. It is a subject he knows well, having spent over a decade studying the offshore centres and vehicles—shell companies, for example—that are used to hide ill-gotten gains. 

The list of light-fingered leaders who feature in “The…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Why it is so difficult to hold kleptocrats accountable

How Victor Hugo came to write “Les Misérables”, his magnum opus

(K. Brent Tomer),

Nothing miserable about it

The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables. By David Bellos. Particular Books; 307 pages; £20. To be published in America by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in March; $27.

“AS LONG as there are ignorance and poverty on Earth,” wrote Victor Hugo in his preface to “Les Misérables”, “books such as this one may not be useless.” Over the 155 years since it was first published in France and then elsewhere, the novel has never lost its relevance—or its popularity.

Around 65 film versions (the first in 1909) make “Les Misérables” the most frequently adapted novel of all time. The first stage musical opened in Philadelphia in January 1863. Since 1980 Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s operatic melodrama has been performed more than 53,000 times in 44 countries and 349 cities. Yet, from the outset, adapters and translators cherry-picked elements from their supersized source. British admirers had to wait until 2008 for a complete English text of the novel in the order in which the author had planned it to be read….Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC How Victor Hugo came to write “Les Misérables”, his magnum opus

The Russian future that never came to pass

(K. Brent Tomer),

Heroes don’t die

A SMALL girl sits on her father’s shoulders, spelling out words on a poster: Pro-pa-gan-da u-bi-va-et (“Propaganda kills”). Thousands of people tramp through mud, bearing Russian flags and portraits of Boris Nemtsov, a bright and honest liberal politician, who had been shot dead two days earlier on a bridge by Red Square. It is March 1st 2015, but it feels like the start of a long winter.

“Why did he take the bridge?” asks the little girl. “He was crossing the bridge on the way home, walking a bit in the evening. The view is nice from here,” her father explains. “But he did good things,” the little girl replies. “He did good things. We should not have let him get killed. We should have guarded him.” Doing the right thing in Russia can often get you killed.

A balloon with a black ribbon flies up into the low, grey wintry sky. The camera cuts to Nemtsov at a railway station, flirting with Zosya Rodkevich, a 22-year-old anarchist and documentary-maker. She would film him for three years, not knowing that “My Friend Boris Nemtsov” would be his epitaph….Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC The Russian future that never came to pass

An expert biographer looks back at his craft

(K. Brent Tomer),

This Long Pursuit: Reflections of a Romantic Biographer. By Richard Holmes. William Collins; 360 pages; £25. To be published in America by Pantheon in March; $30.

RICHARD HOLMES is one of Britain’s best-known biographers. Ever since 1974, when his first work of non-fiction, about Percy Bysshe Shelley, won the Somerset Maugham prize, he has delighted readers with his lives of the great figures of the Romantic era.

The serious biographer, he says, has to “step back, step down, step inside the story” to discover “the biographer’s most valuable but perilous weapon: empathy.” Mr Holmes is driven by a “strange, unappeased sense of some continuous, intense and inescapable pursuit.” Biography, he says, is “a simple act of complex friendship”, “a handshake across time, but also across cultures, across beliefs, across disciplines, across genders and across ways of life.” The idea of a quest, which seeks both knowledge and understanding, is central to his work.

In “This Long Pursuit”, which came out in Britain last autumn and is about to be published in America, the…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC An expert biographer looks back at his craft