August 31st, 2011

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The Twelve Best of the Holmes Stories, selected by Conan Doyle

Portrait of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by Jean Upton, unveiled on 22 May 1994. Jean Upton is Roger Johnson's wife. The Portrait hangs in the Sherlock Holmes Pub.

Photographer: Rakshita Patel

The Twelve Best of the Holmes Stories

Arthur Conan Doyle's list of the best short stories, arranged in his order of preference:

1) The Speckled Band
2) The Red-headed League
3) The Dancing Men
4) The Final Problem
5) A Scandal in Bohemia
6) The Empty House
7) The Five Orange Pips
8) The Second Stain
9) The Devil's Foot
10) The Priory School
11) The Musgrave Ritual
12) The Reigate Squires

Source: Sherlock Holmes: His Greatest Cases by Arthur Conan Doyle, with an introduction by John le Carre, published by White's Books.

So does YOUR favourite make it into Conan Doyle's top 12?

Mine don't! My favourites are The Blue Carbuncle and Wisteria Lodge.
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Gangs: What is a "gang"?

There is no agreed national definition of a “gang”, although definitions largely agree that gangs involve three or more people, involve criminality and violence, and have a distinct sense of identity often related to a particular territory.

The Centre for Social Justice’s report Dying to Belong defines a gang as:

“A relatively durable, predominantly street-based group of young people who:
1) see themselves (and are seen by others) as a discernible group;
2) engage in a range of criminal activity and violence;
3) identify with or lay claim over territory;
4) have some form of identifying structural feature; and
5) are in conflict with other, similar, gangs.”

I am running with this definition!
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The Kitchen, National Theatre, opens today (31 August)

Cut and pasted from an email from the National:

1950s London. In the kitchen of an enormous West End restaurant, the orders are piling up. Thrown together by their work, chefs, waitresses and porters from across Europe – English, Irish, German, Jewish – argue and flirt as they race to keep up. Peter, a high-spirited young cook, seems to thrive on the pressure. In between preparing dishes, he manages to strike up an affair with married waitress Monique, the whole time dreaming of a better life. But in the all-consuming clamour of the kitchen, nothing is far from the brink of collapse.

A cast of over 30 bring the clamour of a working kitchen to life in this extraordinary play by Arnold Wesker. The play premiered at the Royal Court in 1959 and has since been performed in over 30 countries.

The Kitchen puts the workplace centre stage in a blackly funny and furious examination of life lived at breakneck speed, when work threatens to define who we are.

£12 Travelex tickets.

For more information and to book tickets follow the link:

There will be an NT Live of The Kitchen on 6 October across the UK (varying dates internationally) for those of you who can't get to London.

There has been a lot of buzz building about this production for some time at the National. Good luck to the National for the first preview today! I am seeing this in October - can't wait!
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The Merchant of Venice: The National (2001) vs RSC (2011)

This will always be a very special play to me because it was the first Shakespeare play that my English teacher, Mr Birks, taught me. Up until then, I didn't "get" Shakespeare. I couldn't understand the language. Then Mr Birks taught us The Merchant of Venice. It was a revelation.

Mr Birks showed me that all you had to do was invest a bit of time "tuning in" to the language. Then it was really easy to follow. And the language ... oh my God! So beautiful and powerful and moving. And then there were the plots and the characters. The whole of human existence and the human condition was in Shakespeare. It just opened up a whole new world to me. I have never looked back.

Yesterday I saw the RSC's production of The Merchant of Venice, starring Patrick Stewart as Shylock. I wanted to see it because The Merchant of Venice is one of my favourite plays and I thought Patrick Stewart would be excellent as Shylock. In preparation, I saw the NT's production, starring Henry Goodman as Shylock the night before.

To cut a long story short, I hated the RSC production. It was a travesty. It was truly awful.

So what was wrong with it?

They had set it in modern-day Las Vegas. Let me say upfront that I have no problem with modern-day versions of classic plays and books if they are done well - I adore Sherlock after all; and One Man, Two Guvnors; and Nick Hytner's Man of Mode; and I am sure Ralph Fiennes's modern-day version of Coriolanus will be outstanding. The National's version of The Merchant of Venice which I think is brilliant is itself set in the 1930s. However, the RSC version did not work at all.

Portia, who should be an intelligent and independent young woman, was a blonde bimbo - worse than a Southern Belle. If the actress had played her as Scartlett O'Hara, with intelligence, independence, fire and spirit, that would have been something. She played her as a fool. Even when she plays the doctor, she plays her as someone who has no clue what she is doing, and as though she is completely out of her depth - she does not know who Antonio is or who Shylock is. So Portia emerges in this production as stupid - in Shakespeare's original she is very far from that.

The Prince of Morocco was played as a brainless boxer. Yes Morocco is arrogant but he is supposed to be a Prince. He should have some level of dignity and he should be regal. To play him as a brainless boxer was, quite simply, the most offensive portrayal of Morocco I have ever seen. It played to all the worst stereotypes about Black men. I found it insulting and offensive.

They had Elvis as Launcelot Gobbo which did not work for me at all. This made the whole production a complete farce - which it is not supposed to be at all. It contains some serious themes and these need to be treated with respect, not as a joke. This play is too serious to be turned into a musical.

I felt really sorry for Richard Riddell, playing Bassanio. He was excellent but was stuck in this nightmare production.

So did I like anything about the play? I liked Antonio dressed in an orange Guantanamo Bay jumpsuit and his clear and painful fear as Shylock approched him with his knife and in the moment before the cutting.

The National's version, by contrast, was outstanding. I saw it live, but it was great to revisit it, to refresh my memory. Henry Goodman as Shylock is mind-blowingly good. He nails the part. He is 100% authentically Jewish but also 100% sympathetic. Your heart really goes out to him, as an outsider and an alien, trying to make his way in Christian society. He kills off the accusations once and for all that this play is anti-Semitic. It is not, if Shylock is played in the right way, as Henry Goodman does. Patrick Stewart does not get anywhere near Henry's performance.

Why do I like The Merchant of Venice so much?
It talks about being an alien and an outsider - in this case, a Jew in Christian society. Shylock, although he does not have that much stage time, is definitely the star of the show and has all the best lines. His key speeches show his humanity. He is a living, breathing human being, with feelings and emotions just like everyone else. He is a human, not a cur. Played the right way, as Henry does, the play shows why Shylock ended up filled with hatred and revenge - because of the way he was treated by Christian society. Shylock can be a sympathetic character, who you empathise with and feel for. Eventually, Shylock is consumed with hate at his unfair treatment and tries to exact revenge. His attempt ultimately fails but you feel for him. With these important themes at play, it is criminal to turn this play into a musical, a farce or a joke. It needs to be treated seriously and with respect.

So the winner of the best version is (drum roll please!) ... The National.
No competition. It is like comparing the sun (NT) to pitch black (RSC).

Buy the National Theatre version, with Henry Goodman as Shylock, here (ironically at the RSC shop!):
or here (there are cheap new version available from sellers other than Amazon):

My overall view of the RSC is that they have a state of the art theatre and a brilliant shop but the quality of the productions that they put on there just aren't up to scratch. Sorry RSC!
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David Bennett: Patient's death 'reveals festering NHS racism'

This is an old story (from February 2004) that I am running in preparation for an article I will be posting over the weekend for you all to read whilst I am away with the Sherlock Holmes Society of London in Oxford.

Photo: David Bennett

Cut and pasted from The Telegraph online:

Institutional racism is rife throughout the mental health service of the NHS according to an independent inquiry into the "unnecessary and tragic" death of a black man restrained at a secure clinic in Norwich.

The inquiry said that institutional racism was "a festering abscess, a blot on the good name of the NHS". Black patients are wrongly perceived as being "aggressive to start with", and frequently put on higher doses of anti-psychotic drugs than Caucasians, the inquiry team said.

The situation is so serious that ethnic minority communities often "fear the NHS" rather than admire it.

Sir John Blofeld, a retired High Court judge, published his inquiry's report in February 2004.

Jamaican-born David "Rocky" Bennett, 38, of Peterborough, Cambs, was described as "full of life, with big dreams" before he became mentally ill at 20. He achieved five GSCEs, but left his job and developed emotional and behavioural problems which one doctor attributed to cannabis.

Family concerns about Mr Bennett's care were generally ignored and relatives said they were seen as "over emotional" or a nuisance. Mr Bennett died when he was restrained face down on the ground by at least three nurses at the clinic after attacking another patient who had racially abused him, and punching a female nurse.

Relatives believe Mr Bennett was on so much unauthorised medication when he died that the level of drugs in his system could have caused his heart to stop when he was restrained.

The inquiry team's conclusions echo the 1999 Macpherson Report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, which identified "institutional racism" in the police.

"Black and minority ethnic communities have a fear of the NHS: that if they engage with the mental health services they will be 'locked up for a very long time, if not for life, and treated with medication which may eventually kill them'," the team said.

Sir John acknowledged that the term "institutional racism" was controversial but said it had been accepted by a number of bodies including government departments and was "helpful to adopt in this case". It did not mean deliberate racism but unwitting prejudice and racist stereotyping.

For the full story, follow the link: