Alan Turing

February 28, 2015 at 11:42 pm | Posted in Event Review, Film Review | Leave a comment
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I went to see The Imitation Game the other night and had a mixed reaction.

Benedict Cumberbatch, as Alan Turing, turns in a convincing performance; as does Alex Lawther, as the young Turing at boarding school.

On reflection I see the clever way the writers and directors managed to convey the crucial part the breaking of the German enigma machine generated ciphers played in shortening the war. The film simplifies events and uses a small handful of characters to convey a very broad set of issues; this avoids the need for a commentary track, or subtext, or more characters. The film is very tight, it all focuses on a handful of people in Hut 8.

Turing is vested just about every key decision and break through. So it is Turing who single handedly designed, costed, and built the machine that automated the repeated trials needed to find the key(s). It is Turing who decides to not use the intelligence freely, to avoid letting the German know that their confidential communications had been compromised. It is Turing who decides to recruit mathematicians and people good at crosswords. Turing who writes to Churchill asking for money to build a single electronic machine.

Unfortunately, it is not true. In fact there were close to 10,000 people working at (and around) Bletchley Park. Turing played a vital role; but there were others, but they get little screen time. Most unfortunately, Commander Denniston, who ran Bletchley Park, (played by Charles Dance channeling Tywin Lannister) comes across as a tyrant who actively worked against Turing and did not want Turing at all. This is so far from the truth as to insult the legacy of both men.

Cumberbatch’s puts in a great portrayal Turing; but I suspect it was of a different Turing – a fictional Turing, carefully crafted to tell a story based on the events at Bletchley Park, not the history of Bletchley Park. An terrible choice is to introduce the idea that Turing aided Russian spies (during the War) and was suspected of being a Russian spy (after the war). This is a terrible slight, with no basis in fact.

I went to see the film because I was going to Professor Rod Downey‘s talk on Turing and in the promotional material for the talk, it mentioned Bletchley Park.

Turing wrote one of the single most important papers of the 20th century on computers – providing a workable conceptual basis for them. Turing used what came to be known as ‘Turing machines‘ as part of a proof that it is not possible to proof the truth or falseness of any first-order predicate logic statement. During World War II, the direct application of this conceptual basis was to build specialised electrical machines to find the daily key for the code generated from German engima machines. Today, all programmable computers – general purpose computers – owe their origins to the description of a Turing machine.

Surely Alan Turing is one of the most unrecognised people of the 20th century.

Timon of Athens – Summer Shakespeare 2015

February 15, 2015 at 8:19 am | Posted in Play Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I went to this play the other night – put on by the (Wellington) Summer Shakespeare Trust.

Timon, played by Hayden Frost of The Almighty Johnsons fame, is a wealthy citizen of Athens who is generous to his friends and philanthropic to the needy. His friends turnout to be greedy and corrupt. Despite the efforts of Flavia, his steward, played by Emma-Yvonne Simons, his generousness and good works consumes his wealth and eventually he is penniless.

There is a series of scenes towards the end of Act I, where Timon’s friends show their true colours. To repay them, Timon stages one last feast, and serves up water and bones!

Act I ends with general Alcibiades declaring his disgust at the Athenian Senate for not showing clemency to a decorated Athenian soldier, and former subordinate of Alcibiades. I am sure that the scene is suppose to reinforce the disloyal nature of the senators (who are also Timon’s ‘friends’); but for me this does not work. Historically, the citizen soldiers of Athens fought to defend their city as a physical location and as a philosophical ideal. There can be no clemency; for that would mean no rule-of-law. But nevertheless the scene is set for disaffection to be harvested later.

Act II opens with Timon practically naked living in the open under a blanket. We see him railing against the city and it wealthy inhabitants. He finds buried treasure and is chanced upon by Alcibiades, leading his soldiers, towards Athens. Instead of trying to dissuade his friend from his course of action, he gives gold to the army, to encourage them to greater deeds. Similarly, Timon supports a trio of thieves, whom he sets upon Athens. The only Athenian Timon truly rewards is Flavia; Flavia restores Timon’s faith in Man, by giving Timon the last of his money, without knowing the Gods have played one last joke on Tiomon (through the buried treasure). But, according to Wikipedia, it is not enough, for Timon to stop undermining Athens (whom he previously loved so much). Timon cannot change his mind, because he dies (of presumably a broken heart) and is therefore unavailable to be persuaded by his former friends to save them from Alcibiades.

This is one of the Bard’s lesser known works; and has not been performed in New Zealand for a century and a half. I welcomed the Trust’s choice, but I wish the production gave more ‘handrails’ to an audience unfamiliar with the dialogue.

Still worth a go.

‘My’ performance was held indoors. I, along with a number of other people, got caught out with the venue change. So check the facebook page and the web site (warning it is not mobile friendly). There is no signage at the Dell. If you arrive and find it deserted and the loudspeakers still wrapped in black plastic, then head to Wellington High School :-)

The Naked Time – Star Trek in the Park

February 12, 2015 at 9:27 am | Posted in Play Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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Star Trek must be moving mainstream – after all people are putting it on live and outdoors.

So, I went to the opening night of Summer Star Trek – in Aro Park, in Aro Valley. This year it is “The Naked Time“; next year it will be “Mirror Mirror“. I know because part of the pre-show entertainment is the audience voting for next year’s production :-).

Also part of the pre-show entertainment was the “Space Babes” who sang a number of space themed David Bowie numbers. But the best number was “Star Trekking” – with the audience singing along.

The ‘episode’ kicked off with Bethany Millar (one of the “Space Babes”) singing the introductory sound track – she did the whole ‘wooo’ sequence, without the musicians using an electric keyboard. In fact the live music was a flute, cello (played by the versatile Miller), violin (played by Joel Miller who also sang with the Space Babes), and an accordion.

The plot is as I remember it. Though some of the characters have had their sex swapped – presumably to cater for the cast: McCoy; Zulu; Riley and Joe Tormolen all get switched. Captain Kirk is played by James Bayliss. He and whoever played Spock – there is no cast list – provide the back bone of the story – as they did in the original TV episode.

There is only one set, and there is some very clever prop switches. So that one back drop serves as the bridge, the sickbay, a corridor, a science base, an engine room; brilliantly done. The amazing sliding doors were re-created with pitch perfect sound effects – in a very clever way.

The episode itself is noteworthy because it introduces homeopathy – through the concept of water behaving as alcohol.

Worth going to: bring a thick picnic blanket; a donation; a picnic dinner; and prepare to boldly go where you have not been before.

Twelfth Night IN re.SPACE

February 12, 2015 at 8:12 am | Posted in Play Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I went to see Bright Orange Walls’ production of Shakespeare’ Twelfth Night in re.Space (on Victoria Street). It was very much theatre in-the-round, as there were two sets of almost parallel seats in between which the action took place. The venue looked a bit like an art gallery – and it certainly functioned as one in parts. Some of the cat did double and triple duty getting the minor characters into the action.

Major Characters:

  • Duke Orsino – Jonathan Price;
  • Viola – Ella Hope-Higginson;
  • Sebastian – Patrick Carroll
  • Countess Olivia – Brynley Stent;
  • Maria (Olivia’ maid) – Johanna Cosgrove.

Since the play is staged in an art gallery, the Duke is often working on a painting. There is a Dorian Grey quality to it all: the canvas is blank at the beginning and gets painted over as the play progresses; at times the canvas paints itself. There is a performance art within performance art quality to it, as each night a new painting emerges.

Staying with the art gallery scene much of the fights are paint fights.

Worth a go; and worth seeing the most static art on display in the rest of re.Space.

The Tragedy of King Richard III

January 26, 2015 at 8:32 am | Posted in Play Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I went to opening night of the Bacchanals‘ production of Shakespeare’s Richard III at Bat’s Theatre.

Very accessible well put together, well acted production. It had a helpful introduction: introducing all of the protagonists. Another nice innovation was to use the family tree to keep track of the body count – as Richard removed them one-by-one. The production was very much like in Shakespeare’s time, in that the cast played many characters – even actors who played major characters, donned a jerkin and became spear carriers from time to time. After a little while, you did not notice the older dialect of English.

Richard III was played by David Lawrence; and Elizabeth Wydville was played by Kirsty Bruce.

Definitely, worth going to; and you get to see the revamped, earthquake strengthened building – the play was pretty much ‘in the round’ in the new Dome room.

Your Body is a Battleground (2014)

December 14, 2014 at 7:44 am | Posted in Dance Review, Play Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I went to John Butterfield’s Your Body is a Battleground and it was challenging. A mixture of dance and drama putting ‘the question’ to audience: though showing a series of physical encounters – couples, men, women, and singles.

This is not a pure contemporary dance work, and it is not a play (there is a dialog), but a mixture of both. Most of the performers were mainly dancers:

  • Amelia McCarthy,
  • Eliza Sanders,
  • Felix Sampson,
  • Mark Semple,
  • Jacob Edmonds,
  • Laura Beanland-Stephens,
  • Roymata Holmes, and
  • Susie Berry.

This work, works well, partly because the anti-room where the audience waited had posters, and a projection wall, creating the context for the work. This made contemporary dance very accessible.
I wish them every luck in making the Fringe Festival.

Dead Tragic (2014)

December 14, 2014 at 7:08 am | Posted in Musical Review, Show Review | 1 Comment
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Last weekend, it was Michael Nicholas Williams’s Mama Mia, this weekend it was his Dead Tragic – which I saw at Bats Theatre 20 years ago.

The original cast:

  • Emma Kinane,
  • Jo Pheloung,
  • Lyndee-Jane Rutherford,
  • Michael Nicholas Williams, and
  • Darren Young.

updated some of the material, cast off the years and wow-ed the audience.

Mysteriously, the Bee Gees number was cancelled – copyright (?), after all, with a name like Dead Tragic, surely Tragedy, when the feelings gone, … would have been perfect. Still the updated choreography, included ‘selfies’ in hilarious rendition of “I did what I did for Maria” – very generation X.

It was really funny – “putting the fun back into funeral” – and very entertaining – even the Circa Theatre ushers were bopping to the music during the interval :-). The tradition version of how Billy[the] Hero [despite orders from his fiance] is challenged! Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town gets an update – what does happen if Ruby’s dis-abled husband doesn’t die, but lives for 20 years; well she waxes! The Leader of the pack was actually as lady biker!

Go see this, you laugh and be transported back to a simpler music period.

Mama Mia! (Wellington 2014)

December 6, 2014 at 10:56 pm | Posted in Concert Review, Dance Review, Event Review, Show Review | 1 Comment
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After I saw the Mama Mia movie in 2008, I resolved to see the stage show. Well last night, I finally made it: Wellington Musical Theatre put on a production.

I won’t go into the story of Mama Mia – because some much is available on the web about it.

It was fun; it was fantastic; much more satisfying that the movie (which was pretty entertaining). The movie had great locations and a cinematic sharpness; but, the stage show (any stage show) has actual presence – the performers are there with you and when they do a great job you get carried away in a way that is different to a movie.

So, instead of

  • Amanda SiegFried, we had Ellie-Jane Neal;
  • Meryl Streep: Julie O’Brien;
  • Julie Walters: Jody McCartney;
  • Christine Baranski: Frances Leota;
  • Pierce Brosnan: Russell Dixon
  • Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd: Mark Shepherd; and
  • Colin Firth: David Cox.

There was a nice juxtaposition of Sophie and her three two friends (Ali – Brogan Wilkinson, Lisa – Flora Lloyd) and beside Donna, Rosie, and Tanya. Jody McCartney absolutely nailed the “Take a Chance on Me” number.

The Scripted encore – with Donna, Rosie, and Tanya in 80’s lycria was fantastic: like being at a mini ABBA concert. The cast had most of the audience at the St James Theatre on their feet and dancing.

The on-stage and off-stage cast members (who are too numerous to list here) did a fantastic job.The dancing was technically good and very enthusiastic (Whitireia Performance Centre and New Zealand School of Dance are turning out great dancers); the singing was wonderful; and the invisible band did a great job.

I would tell you to go ad see this production, but I went to closing night – full marks to the cast for delivering right to the end.

“Framed”

November 30, 2014 at 8:59 am | Posted in Dance Review | Leave a comment
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Last weekend I went to see the NZSD’s Graduation Season; this week I went to Whitireia Performance Centre’s Commercial Dance Graduation Show.

This year’s show was very good, the dancers improve from year-to-year, and this year the show was very cohesive. Every piece was based on a painting or set of related paintings. This gave each piece a bit of context, which made each piece more accessible. The choreography, technique, and the performance did the rest.

Seven of the dancers did an amazing cancan. Their high kicks were ear snapping. The choreography threw in high kicks, with clever little hitch kicks, some comedy, forward and backward walkovers, and the jump and drop into a side split!

The show gave the dancers an opportunity to show their group and individual talents. there was ballet, lyrical jazz, jazz, tap, hip hop and contemporary. I found the contemporary piece choreographed for Edward Munch’s The Scream quite unsettling. There was even a little bit of flamenco – Fabian Perez’s Dancer in Red. The tap piece showed off lighten fast footwork. I even found myself enjoying the hip hop. The duets were great: Zachary Warmouth being the only male dancer did much of the partnering, and lifting. Many of the dancers also had some cool gymnastics moves.

I hope the show contributes to the dancers’ audition videos, because they would have some very good footage.

NZSD: Graduation Season 2014

November 23, 2014 at 9:21 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Dance Review | 1 Comment
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I went to the New Zealand School of Dance‘s 2014 Graduation Season last night.

The programme was dominated by contemporary and neo-classical pieces. The third (mini-) Act was one long neo-classic series of pieces labelled: Purcell Pieces.

The first mini-Act consisted of George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco – all very tidy and precise, with some clever choreography to move dancers around each other; and The Speech (by Charlie Chaplin). The latter seemed more polished than when I saw it at – well done Jeremy Beck.

Another piece to catch my eye, was Val Caniparoli’s Double Stop – Samantha Vottari and Tynan Wood did a very good job.

Finally, exercpts from Douglas Wright’s Rapt was performed. This piece is – according to the programme, loosely base on the Lord’s Prayer in sign language. It begs the question: if it is not alright for dancers to speak or sing, why should they sign? Or, maybe this mix of dance and signing, will open up a new form of dance expression.

This year’s graduates look good.

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