Category Archives: Poetry


I must confess to a dastardly crime against the Theatre, or myself, in not staying for the second half of Loves Labours Lost at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Perhaps it was the difficulty of the play, or too much slapstick, the industrial scale milking of comic moments, or some of the more bizarre accents too, that turns John Hodkinson’s Don Amardo into a mixture of Shylock and Manuel from Fawlty Towers. It all got rather exhausting then, as did the constant word games and rhyming couplets, though I think it was wanting to gas with an old friend over a drink that really did it. There was a moment of hesitation too when, right at the end of the first half, Berowne erupts into a speech of true Shakespearian power and poetry, presaging deeper things to come, but the friend and the drink won out, no matter how terrifying the price of a Brandy Alexander has become in Central London.


The regret came seeing the deliciously exuberant and utterly charming production of Much Ado About Nothing the next night, so also getting a clearer picture of why director Christopher Luscombe both twins them and sets the plays pre and post First World war.   A deeper understanding was only aided by sitting next to the actor Andy Wincott, who plays Adam Macy in the Archers, and no less than Tara King from the Avengers, charming Linda Thorson, whose eyes are as beautiful and foxy as ever, the cause of many adolescent labourings of lust, and who was so effusive about Love’s Labours Lost, darling, she could have walked straight into the magical cast. Linda convinced me I had missed a true theatrical moment though when all that unnatural idealism falters, though the passion is not spent but so rudely interrupted, both by the women banishing the men in the play and here by the horror of a World War, beyond the ceaseless war of the sexes. Then American novelist Phillip Roth is convinced that the reason we still respond to myths like the Iliad and Odyssey, is that the fight for Woman really lies at the bottom of all conflict and all Art.  Well, obviously life itself.


As for theatrics, Much Ado About Nothing is very stagy too, yet what indeed is a far richer and more complex play, given added depth of frame by the characters now returning from the Hell of Passchendaele, and the rest, quickly evoked by the stage presence of metal hospital beds and echoes of The Shooting Party, became a tour de force. Here then what was for me far too Norman Wisdom in Nick Haverson’s Costard in Loves Labours, grows into a marvellously rich and wounded Dogsberry, perhaps Shell-Shocked, who had the audience both howling and squirming with genuine human pity. Though not as painful, in the tremendous all singing and dancing sets, as the shaming and apparent death of pretty Hero in the highly dramatic wedding scene. Much Ado is potentially far darker and more cynical than this version, especially in the Iago-esque malevolence of Don John, maybe not so inexplicable in motive considering what had just happened in this time frame, and the venom that lies only just below the Social surface, but that is kept firmly under control and the show fizzes. Steven Pacey is tremendous both as Donnish Holofernes and especially Leonato and though Beatrice and Benedict are very well matched, Edward Bennet’s lovely Benedict steals the laurels, in scenes that must have been a joy to improvise in rehearsal and brought some delightful audience interaction too, punters so love.

The reason for twinning them at all is the echoes the plays share and the theory that Much Ado is in fact the lost Loves Labours Won, so perhaps a sequel, mentioned by Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia, published in 1597, that book that also sounded the murder of Christopher Marlowe. To me the jury is very much out on that, probably still wanting to believe that the lost ‘Won’, like that vanished version of Don Quixote, Cardenio, is still out there somewhere. Yet finding a line through both is convincing and certainly seems to energise the actors in this inspiring ensemble cast.


Meanwhile a very plausible RSC Land has been achieved by the Downtown Abbey style set, reflecting the real and very beautiful Charlcotte Manor in Stratford, the home of the Elizabethan grandee Sir Thomas Lucy. That could lead you wandering off down the fustian halls of Scholarship itself, if to an entirely different play, The Merry Wives of Windsor. Since that manor where legend has it Shakespeare was hounded for poaching deer and had to flee for his life, may find its way into the play’s references to lice, a pun on the ‘Luces’ of the Lucy crest. It is also the scene where Justice Shallow first appeared, and Shakespeare was probably taking a swipe at the London Sherriff and obvious crook, Sir William Gardner, relation of Mary Tudor’s Bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner, who had Shakespeare and others up in late 1596 on charges of Murder and Affray. All more or less convincing speculation in what is still a pretty threadbare biographical patchwork of Shakespeare’s life, swamped by the imaginative astonishment of the plays and his mind. But the firm grounding does no harm at all, though must raise costs over the Elizabethan chimney pots. Then it is an extremely generous production, in the lovely setting of the Theatre Royal (if I still think the RSC needs a London home), much aided by Nigel Hess’s specially commissioned score, that gives it a touch of the Musical, the verve of the cast and, since Donald Trump is about to redecorate The White House in Gold, the post fin de siècle sense that we might all be entering very interesting and ugly times indeed.

The photos show Costard and Don Armado, Beatrice and Benedict and the inspiring ensemble cast in the RSC and Chichester Festival’s twinned productions of Loves Labours Lost and Much Ado About Nothing, currently running in London at The Theatre Royal, Haymarket. Tickets by kind courtesy of the RSC.




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Non-stop fun is the stamp of Loveday Ingram’s exuberant, and very sexy production of Aphra Behn’s The Rover for the RSC, in the perfectly proportioned Swan Theatre, Stratford. Complete with hysterical Flamenco forays, touches of tango, a stilt walker, and excellent on-stage band. With a Conchita Wurst look-alike, the bearded lady boy among a tranch of devil masks, in what is very nearly The Rover – The Musical, I half expected someone to break out into Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.

Except Naples is the setting for the late 17th Century Restoration play, at Carnival, to turn everyone’s Worlds upside down, then restore them to the same old cynical order. A steely 1920’s cast-iron stairwell backs the simple set, to represent both the keys to the Kingdom and the Whorehouse, in a very hard world, and for the arrival of four exiled English Cavaliers led by Belvile and our particular Don Giovanni, Millmore: Very possibly modelled on the notorious Earl of Rochester, he who penned poems about dildos and things and died at 33 of booze, syphilis, and genius. This production is good Karma, with The Libertine about Rochester’s life on at the Theatre Royal in London, and Millmore is played with wonderful gusto and skilled comic timing by Joseph Millson, giving a tour de force performance he revels in.

From the moment the Prologue is given to the charming and excellent Faye Castelow though, playing Millmore’s equal-to-be, Helena, so that we really know this play was written by a woman, indeed the first English female dramatist and also a spy in Antwerp for Charles II, we are in safe directorial hands. A knowing self-awareness breathes through all the strong performances, that liberates everyone to many kinds of play. Since Millmore is trying to play fast and loose with every pretty woman that meets his eye, so the director’s cuts have played loose too and streamlined things well, if you wonder if cries of “Mummy” or “Kinky” are quite 17th Century.

Then they have gone for knockabout comedy, and ad libs too, including some great audience interaction, not least when Millmore is drunk, that always delights a crowd. If turning a line about old men and impotence on a greying member of an audience that seemed predominantly over sixty might have been a bit close to the bone! No pulling of punches here then, in the lusty manhood stakes. The climax, with an explosion of rose petals from the ceiling, nearly had people up and dancing on their feet and crutches.

This Rover certainly underplays the darker side of Behn’s play, based on one by Thomas Killigrew, where even the finest women could hardly avoid being labelled Wife, Nun, or Whore. The shadows grow in the story of the very funny and then nasty Blunt, the stuttering English Gent with his hand on the purse strings, played wonderfully by Leander Deeny, who is gulled by a prostitute, described in the original cast list as a ‘jilting wench’, into believing he has found true love. There is little time in life’s seething energy for his brand of hurt though, his hatred of being laughed at, so he is driven off stage in the first half by the semi-demonic revellers. Only to return demonically himself in the second half on the edge of doing something very nasty indeed, where a comedy edges toward potential tragedy, to remind us what can happen in the real world.

What is revolutionary in Aphra Behn, and so provides the explosive energy of poetry and thought throughout, is her ‘feminism’ is no mere complaint about manly men, hate of them either, but a cry for woman to be equal in all. Or at least her and Millmore, since by the end you do believe the pair on stage have found their true match. Thus it is two sisters and their kinswoman who set the plot in true motion too, as Florinda longs for Belvile and Helena refuses to disappear into a nunnery. So, disguised as gypsies, they hit the town like the Cavaliers and paint it red.

The main plot sees the honourable Belvile trying to find his lady, against the machinations of the nasty foreigners trying to arrange marriages, and along with a joke about drawing the longest sword, a Toledo blade, a pair of splendid guilded boxer shorts appear, belonging to a very good Don Pedro, endless filthy double entendres ensue, and there’s even a burst of Rule Britannia. The secondary plot involves the Courtesan Angellica Bianca, and since Behn lived when the theatre was very close to the brothel, perhaps reflecting her own initials and sentiments too, who falls for lusty Millmore. Alexandra Gilbreath is both moving and funny as the whore who gives her ‘virgin heart’ away, to no avail. Though a special mention for her slinking side-kick in a bowler, Alison Mckenzie’s knowing Moretta, who gives a nod to Joel Gray’s compere in Cabaret. This is a world that in truth seethed with violence, sex and fear, where a true Courtesan might make much of herself, but the whore and the poor always paid the price in the end, although Blunt shows men can be victims too. Though since Behn was a Royalist – the play is also called The Banish’d Cavaliers – it is Millmore’s poverty, along with his wit and courage, that gives him his nobility and wins him the prize; not only Helena, but her lovely fortune.

You can read reviews of King Lear and Cymbeline below.  David Clement-Davies

The photo shows Faye Castelow and Joseph Millson as Helena and Millmore in the RSC’s production of Aphra Behn’s The Rover, in the Swan Theatre Stratford. Copyright Ellie Kurttz.



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Thanks to the RSC, and Gillan Doran’s wonderfully ambitious programme for the 400th anniversary, not least for bringing me to a play I’d never even read, Cymbeline. Despite a sinking heart opening the programme to see a picture of Dave Cameron, and a journalist lecturing on about Brexit and why after being neglected for so long this is a play that has at last “found its time.” Hmmm. Shakespeare is always profoundly politically attuned, though better at exposing the imperatives and mechanisms, the nasty guts, than being didactic or ever lecturing. Was the graffiti on the concrete wall then, along with the programme’s nod to Banksi, or an anguished model of a Refugee boat, to make us suffer a Referendum all over again? I think the real irritation is that for nearly three and a half hours it had me imagining Gillian Bevan’s stout, very capable Cymbeline, part Britannia, part Boudicca, as Theresa May, (with respect, a bit of a look-alike), or is that Theresa-may-not? Not that Bevan is at all Lilly livered, and now I know Cymbeline means Cymbeline and there we are!

As for their Brexits, or their Entrances, in a proudly multi-cultural cast, what also irritated is directors (now trendily called Creatives at the RSC) thinking that a lot of running on and off stage and gabbling difficult lines passes either for theatrical energy or realism. Though when the actors settle into thinking and feeling through the words and poetry, there are some excellent performances. Not least from Bethan Cullinane as Cymbeline’s much tested daughter Innogen, the black actor Markus Griffiths as a very funny Cloten, James Clyde’s excellently malevolent Duke, and the Irish actress Jenny Fenessy throwing off the tyranny of the poor understudy to play Pisania, while a treasure chest of language is thrown open.

Jokes aside, busy director Melly Still it is quite right to suggest Brexit’s relevance, since Shakespeare was born out of the trauma and liberation of a disintegrating Christendom, (a reason today’s violent Religious and Scientific divides  or Terrorism might be even more pertinent), if Europa was a word and concept only just emerging at the time. As still Top Monarch, Queen Bess, who made a lot of cash from Hawkin’s African nastiness, and thugs like Francis Drake, saw the loss of any kind of Empire in France, though viciously trying to plant Ireland. While King James mooted but failed to achieve a Union with Scotland. So how did Britain really thrive and invent herself? By putting money in everyone’s purses, well those at the top, from little London, and ruling the waves elsewhere, away from the internecine battles  erupting in Europe. Oh brave New World.

You can argue then that much of Shakespeare is also inevitably about the very writing of a new English Imperial identity, if only through the most glorious expression of the English language. The world’s centre of Gravity was certainly shifting violently though by 1600, in a moment that probably did define how Globalisation and Capitalism would develop and which has not seen an equivalent sea change until now. It’s not just Brexit, of course, but how the Internet is probably the equivalent of the Printing Press revolution. Perhaps Shakespeare is a bit to blame then, at least for that outburst by Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg limply invoking tigers, to give Cameron a prod. I think Henry V is about the conscious manufacturing of a powerful new political rhetoric, soon adopted by the ‘Establishment’.  Even as a once far more intimate Monarchy separated itself from the lower orders, and banished honest Jacks to the bilges and top sails, it conquered half the World, with planting, privateering trade and slavery, and owned it for a very long time indeed.Is that what modern Breixteers want? Not of course that Bill did all this alone, bless him. The Virginia Company was founded in the year the Globe went up on Bankside, 1599, just opposite that walled fortress of London, still a Global epicentre today in UK PLC, and the little Tudor cannons of the terrifyingly powerful and private East India Company were bristling from a fort in Madras by 1607.

That year Shakespeare’s youngest brother Edmund died at just 27, an actor too, and his daughter Susanna was married in Stratford. While ‘savages’ were attacking the new fort at Jamestown, King James’s town, and a little merchant ship called the Red Dragon, Henry Tudor’s badge, did performances of both Hamlet and Richard II off the coast of Sierra Leone. Britain had truly set to sea, and it was coming back in bucket loads. For hundreds of years the scholarly Establishment claimed that record had to be a forgery though, because the Common Man could not possibly understand their Bard, if still stuffing him down School children’s throats. To improve us all and claim Shakespeare was essentially Conservative and there’s nowhere like an England!

If we think Euromillions is an innovation though, the first free standing lottery was launched in 1612 to help colonise Virginia, soon taken up by all thirteen original Colonies, to give very early origins to that ‘American Dream’. Talking of which, having a snack in Café Rouge before the show I’d opened The Times to read with even more sinking heart that the usually balanced and liberal Matthew Paris had just suggested we toughen up on the asylum rules by suggesting what constitutes danger should now only be the threat of Death! Then that Donald Trump was ahead in the bell-weather State of Ohio, invoking the example of Brexit. If we think our own Liberal sentiments (or not) can sway US Politics though, when people were asked to email Americans to complain, they got some very rude replies indeed, about being stupid, Lilly-livered Brits and worse.

A little credence then to the relevance of the traumatised Brexit line, four centuries on, although the production has faced much criticism. Some slack too in Ms Still peopling a Roman court with Mafiosi Eurotrash in lounge suits, sipping cocktails and speaking in Italian, translated onto big screen sur titres, that then translate Latin too, when the big Romans claim their imperial tributes from the smelly Britains. Who dares to translate the greatest translator and interpreter of them all – Shakespeare? Well, Melly Still! That rather heavy handed moment is about the river of history, peoples and languages that made Britain and which Shakespeare’s astonishing English emerged from too. The first dictionary was only printed in England in 1604 and Shakespeare is profoundly a Renaissance writer. While to set us up for losing our heads, the set is dominated by a tree stump, in a glass box, perhaps to echo the production of King Lear. The rest is as hip, with film, and part concrete and vegetative back revolves, to suggest Nature will always break on through, complete with images of modern Rome’s Empire-littered streets and Dad’s Army Invasion maps to have you suddenly asking – Who D’yer Think Yer Kidding?

Actually I should underline that Cymbeline is a tragi-comedy. So to any grasp I got on the plot, untangling which might win you Brain of Britain. Cymbeline’s daughter Innogen and Posthumus are star crossed lovers, or most crossed by Cymbeline, so Posthumous has to flee abroad. There, boasting of Innogen’s love and fidelity, he is tested by Oliver Johnstone’s excellent Iachimo, who travelling to Blighty, as Rome seeks tribute, emerges from a chest in her bedchamber to discover Innogen asleep, nick her bracelet, and spy a starry mole by her breast, rude fellow. So being able to trick Posthumous into believing he has done the act of darkness and Innogen is false. Like Michael Gove Iachimo pays Manhood’s price later, when the War of Men without Women erupts into horror, or is that Boris Johnson?

There is a tangle of poison that isn’t poison and lots of people trying to bump each other off, like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. As Cymbeline revolts against Rome, Innogen flees to the forest, to encounter an exiled General good-of-heart, Graham Turner’s splendid Belarius, and her kidnapped brother and sister, Arveragus and Guideria, emphasising all the healing Nature virtues, and played very well by James Coonie and Natalie Simpson, especially Simpson as Guideria. Though in the tangle of tree roots or Brain-stem ganglia they first appear swinging from, and the whooping hunting cries, perhaps nicking far too much from Avatar. Mind you, did you see that article in the Sunday Times about tree roots being connected and talking to each other, even nurturing or throttling their young, in this global world of ours? With a very peculiar dream Mask, when Jupiter is invoked, to explain the meaning of names via a prophecy, everyone loses identity in going to war, or finds their manhood, though the Brits win, but still need a Cultural head, so pay tribute to Ancient Rome. So Cymbeline ends with the most astonishingly uncomfortable series of resolutions, more than any in Shakespeare, that had many laughing aloud, including me.

Cymbeline is certainly about a crisis of identity, but it sits not at all in Shakespeare’s overtly Historical or straight political plays. It comes among the later Romances, like Pericles, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest, when politics, life and suffering had probably confounded the Bard a great deal and he turned his hand to achieving effects through acts of artistic magic. Perhaps his brother Edmund’s tragic death was influential in that sea change. Pericles was written in 1607, for instance, all about incest and lost daughters, but with a family crest that shows a withered branch only flowering at the top. It may be more true though that rather than Cymbeline not being popular for centuries because we had an Empire now, imposing its own tributes, it is because it is a very easy plot to lose. Melly Still throwing the baby and the bath water at it hardly simplifies, or leaves us quite knowing how to vote either. Even if Jacob Rees-Mogg should be told that despite the Histories, most of Shakespeare’s plays are set in interesting foreign and Renaissance climes. I thoroughly enjoyed Cymbeline though and it did not drag for a moment, though the bloke playing the School Master at the new Edward VI museum, backed I think by Mr Gove, told me, rightly or wrongly, it originally ran to five hours! Enjoyed it because just when you’re wondering how Cloten, chasing after Innogen, can get away with possibly being Posthumous in his very ill fitting clothes, so to trick Innogen into believing her lover is dead, his beheading by Guideria is almost hysterical. While Innogen’s burial, then waking to mistaken grief, and true horror, is probably one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen in the theatre. Not least too because Shakespeare, inventing everything, even comes up with the phrase “Brain of Britain”!

 The photo is from the RSC’s rather startling and controversial production of Cymbeline, directed by Melly Still, showing a disguised Posthumous going to war with the Romans, as everyone wrestles for their identity and they try to shake us over Brexit.  Photo Copyright Ellie Kurttz. Ticket courtesy of the RSC Stratford on Avon.






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king-lear-production-photos_-2016_2016_photo-by-ellie-kurttz-_c_-rsc_202320Andrew Graham Dixon’s article in the programme made me realise why the RSC’s coldly magnificent King Lear stumbles in trying to make us see, and feel too. As the art critic says, Lear is all about blindness and seeing, the loss and recovery both of perspective and true moral vision. Whether or not England had been ‘blinded’ during the Reformation, with the whitewashing of frescos and Religious paintings, so its dislocation from thousands of years of history and experience, or only through that could discover an entirely new way of defining reality: The hard Modern World.

Sight though, in all its meanings, is epitomised in the myopia of the mighty King, and ultimate father figure, failing to read the cynical language of his ambitious daughters Goneril and Regan, in his unnatural parental search for the unconditional, as Lear abdicates responsibility and divides his Kingdom and himself. With his banishment both of his favourite daughter Cordelia, for refusing to unpack her true heart with words, and the loyal Kent for defending her.

Metaphor becomes physical fact in the vicious blinding of Gloucester, played admirably by David Troughton, and achieved in Niki Turner’s bold designs by placing Gloucester in a huge glass interrogation box, worthy of The Cube, symbolic both of trial and the  separations of blindness and madness, that soon becomes smeared with his and Cornwall’s blood, as an eyeball bounces off the pane. The odd giggle in the audience was either a reflection of deep unease at real horror, or our own desensitization in a world that sees so much in film and the news. Yet for all the agonies of Lear, the blinding is a very specific act indeed, far from the simply bloodcurdling violence of a play like Titus Andronicus. Shakespeare is very rarely pornographic or gratuitous. In fact the real horrors of Lear are about the inner agonies of mind and imagination, when truly exposed to the whole world. Just as Edgar’s disguise as Poor Tom imagines suffering, and the Foul Fiend too, as much as experiencing them, in an act of feigned madness akin to Hamlet’s.  Lear’s is not quite an arbitrary moral Universe either, just a blasted heath, since Lear’s vanity and Gloucester’s fatherly hypocrisy to his bastard son Edmund, not stressed enough by Troughton, directly unleash what always potentially lurks beneath and engenders the attempts at Judgement and search for poetic Justice. Or rather it puts them on trial too, whether more sinned against than sinning. In the vexed paradox too that if the truth of the World really is violence and the abyss, why should you not be as amoral, vicious or corrupt as the next man?  Pre-empting Nietzsche’s remark that if you stare too long into the abyss, you will find it staring back into you.

So to Lear’s journey towards recovering humanity, or death, his travels with his fool and encounter with Gloucester, after Edgar’s leading his father to a faked suicide on the beetling cliffs of Dover. Graham Dixon quotes Frank Kermode calling that “the most beautiful scene in all Shakespeare” and so it may be. It is more than that though, it is part exorcism and precisely what Shakespeare has Edgar call it too, “a Miracle”.  Or an attempted human miracle, in a now Godless Universe. In that Gillan Doran’s sparse, metallic and pointedly pagan production, raising Lear on a great plinth at the start, among a painted Sun and eclipsing Moon, and their inevitable, ceaseless peregrinations, in an age that still profoundly credited astrology, and used it as excuse, prepare for Anthony Sher’s studiedly formal but now ultimately impotent invocations against his daughters, or the World. Lear as King Priest too, though curses in Shakespeare usually turn on those invoking them.

It also might frame the play in terms of how others have described King Lear, as old fashioned Miracle play, banned in the secularisation of the Reformation, springing from a profound tension in Shakespeare’s own rooted ‘Religious’ instincts, although that is not its main purpose here. This Lear certainly approaches the grandeur of the Miracle cycles, yet the miracle Shakespeare tries for, and so must the actors, is now a secular and imagined one, like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner forging its own language of artistic symbolism, reached with only the artistry of mind and language itself, balancing journeys of inner and outer perception and perspective.  Also as Coleridge did, making the distinction between mere fancy and true imagination, which can only be touched with real feeling. Just as Shakespeare’s poetry and vision, the stamp of his imaginative wonder, is always a constant movement between the minute and the universal, a specific act of ‘seeing’ and almost physical entering in, akin to Keat’s “negative capability’. So Edgar leads his father Gloucester through a frustrated act of self-slaughter, in an almost Christian sacrifice to the absent Gods we fear treat us like flies, then provides a minutely precise rebalancing, in describing what did not happen, now from the bottom of the abyss. So reimagining everyone’s place in the Universe, in the recovery if not necessarily of hope, then at least perspective. “Half way down hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade! Methinks he seems no bigger than his head”.  It is an act of profound psychology that could give rise to the very word Shrink.

Of course, as Graham Dixon also compares Shakespeare and Lear to the arrival of an artist like the blood spattered Caravaggio, though still connected to Christian and Catholic iconography, Shakespeare is a painter too, but with words, in what was the Age of the Word, as opposed to ours of the image. It is a given then he was and is the greatest word painter who ever lived. Therein lies the rub though, if one you might expect from a strong director like Gillan Doran, also Artistic Director of the RSC. Doran’s production does not cleave enough to the source power of Shakespeare’s language and poetry, and his players discovering them in the intimate act, always the route in my view, through every character, to his ultimate vision and meaning.

Instead, ala Graham Dixon, Doran presents this Lear as almost a series of set piece paintings; Lear on his un-heavenly dais, Lear on a chariot-funeral bier that presses forwards on the essentially framed Proscenium stage, Lear at dinner with his fractious Knights, or a back-lit static battle scene that evokes the Bayeux Tapestry. The tree at the back seems to be trying to win the Turner Prize. If words always paint pictures, a play is not a painting though, it springs alive from the frame, as living theatre.

The production, which seems to have been a sell out, is startling and innovative, at times, like Lear and his fool raised again into airy nothing, not in the calm eye but the curled tear of a swirling storm. It is also somewhat superfluous, because that is exactly what Shakespeare is explaining, through the Gloucester moment, and Lear lost on the Heath, with the movement of his own language and ‘vision’; the nature and miracle of imagination, and how to see in balance again, or go Mad.

For me Lear’s true miracle then should still be achieved through the unaccommodated intimacies of the round, both the humanisation and de-humansisation of suffering, the humbling encounters with Everyman, framed by the world’s blasted heath, not something so distant and lofty. That is what ultimately rakes the heart and dislocated soul, pierces the hurt mind, and might turn terror to tenderness, to make it a play that really is a miracle of creative humanity. Also how Dr Johnson described King Lear though, and which this production is frustratingly not, namely “unbearable”. Instead it remains for me a rather cold tableaux, admittedly exacerbated by my restricted-view seat up in the ‘Gods’.

Sher is of course a marvellous actor, but only truly recovers Lear’s magnificent humanity in the second half, now a foolish, fond and human old man, but if a fool, one with a new wisdom and beauty. Too late to save him and Cordelia, but such is life, if the play or art cannot humanise or change us, and perhaps anyway. The point too though is that for all Lear’s kingly tyranny, what is at times obscene in his life denying cursing of his own daughters, engendering that terrible Nothing, he must also have the love and greatness of the Father King, to elicit the loyalty of the morally positive characters in the first place. Sher is not allowed to show that nearly enough in the long first half, despite the original and intense clinches with his ‘bad’ daughters, an actor who certainly could. Let the actors burst from the frame.

Perhaps that is why the others seem at times dislocated from one another too, in their own frames, and what are vital and very intimate transformative journeys. Which must be enacted with a commitment and love too that raise them to the spiritual and mystical, not the somewhat throw away joke by Oliver Johnstone’s Edgar, preceding Gloucester’s jump, nor Cordelia’s unsymbolic recitation of a bunch of herbs. Cordelia, played by Natalie Simpson, is at once very flesh and blood and symbol of Shakespearian earth magic, as Kent is of a neo Christian duty. I shed a tear at Lear’s description of her death, yet had not been able to love Cordelia, as you must if the play is also to achieve an insight Shakespeare is obsessed with throughout his work, the danger to the powerful masculine if the positive and honest feminine is ripped away, inside or out. That is often the very route to violence, inflation and madness. Also grounded in the story of a mythical character never really mentioned but profoundly operative in Shakespeare, also a story of sight and blinding, King Oedipus.

For me Graham Turner’s fool has skill but is too belligerent to be lovable either, first by shrugging off the audience, to break the fourth wall, and secondly in not truly discovering that tenderness that constitutes some act of healing of the Self too. What is also lost is the seething power of the sub plot, driven by the primal forces of youth and sexuality, along with those ‘New Men’ in a violently changing Elizabethan world, that can make Lear cry “let copulation thrive”. Paapa Essiedu’s Edmund is not bad, but too coy. Edmund is a life force, if a death force too. You must, in Edmund’s “now God’s stand up for bastards”, somewhere want him to succeed, as if you too would overturn the Monster Custom and an unjust and blind social order, even though the consequences may be too horrible to contemplate. It is Lear’s profound question about what Nature and human nature truly are, for Nature was Shakespeare’s Goddess too, but one that would come to cause him a lot of trouble. Essiedu gives Edmund far too much moral doubt at the start then, perhaps to justify his later attempt to save the King and Cordelia. The agony of the play must achieve that understanding and change by earning it, not pre-empting it. With a magnificently visual King Lear then you still want to come out sobbing, not left intellectualising about a walk through the Tate Modern, for as Lear comments “Life’s better at breaking hearts than art is.”

The picture shows Anthony Sher as King Lear, consoling David Troughton’s blinded Gloucester. Copyright Ellie Kurttz. Lear was on the main stage in Stratford on Avon. Ticket courtesy of the RSC.


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Have you seen the news that Mr Masterchef himself, the ever charming and supremely talented Michel Roux has just fallen out with the increasingly tasteless and cynical BBC over continuing tv culinary delights. He has our sympathy, especially because we can’t afford to eat at his restaurant and would love to, but perhaps he needs some heartening words about the rich biting back.

Michel might like the taste of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Sweeney Todd, in Horrid Heroes and Crazy Crooks below, which contains both him and a feast of TV Masterchefs.

To see the poem just CLICK HERE MICHEL

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In the oddest of these excerpts from HORRID HEROES AND CRAZY CROOKS by David Clement-Davies comes a very rare bird, originally designed for a collection of nonsense poems and stories called Pollipigglepuggar, but now finding her rightful place at the end of a human hall of fame…


Though PolliPigglepuggar is a nonsense kind of WORD
You CAN’T hunt down in any diction-reeeee,
THE Pollipigglepuggar’ is a most exotic bird,
Who sleeps within the Pollipiggle tree.
As brazen as the Jabberwock,
As brutal as the Jub,
She boasts a certain blabber shock
A kind of ‘there’s the rub’,
Defying good AND monstrous villainy!
With something of the sensless too,
In a lofty place to rook,
Who couldn’t make here hero, no,
Nor even worse a crook,
So I hope her form defies a cator-greeee!
She isn’t quite a Parrot
Though her plumage is akin
And her ears are thin and furry, as a bear,
Her tail looks like a carrot,
While she has a sort of chin,
And wears a set of curlers in her hair.
Her beak is made of lemon peel,
Her eyes are black and blue,
Her call is like the bleating of a goat,
Her favourite meal’s spaghetti
It’s weird, but still it’s true,
She loves to string so loosely round her throat.
While, on her Pollipiggle branch,
She perches day and night –
A look that says – there’s nothing else to do.
Though in those scented piggle leaves,
She’s dreaming of the fright
I gave her when I stole out and went – ‘BOO’.
But just before I tell you
What a racket THAT inspired,
There’s something else to show you all, for free,
Not the colour of those feathers
Or the way her feet are wired,
But the nature of the Pollipiggle Tree.
The Pollipig’s a cousin of the Lollipopple plant,
In the genus of the Ligglepipple root,
Its leaves are made of herbal tea,
Although the branches aren’t,
While its flowers sprout out in rubber, like a boot.
It sways there in the piggle breeze,
Just waiting on some fun
Or that Puggar bird to use it for her bed,
And, since this tree can’t walk with ease,
(The thing can’t even run!)
It’s fond of simply growing up instead!
So there it waits to ponder,
As it blossoms once a year,
When the swooping puggar-puggar will appear,
Until from out of yonder
The thing loops through the air
And settles with a whooping, on its ear.
Behold the Pollipiggle Bird,
A fowl that isn’t deep,
A-landing on its side within the shrub
A bird, you see, that’s so absurd,
It promptly falls asleep
And dreams of bathing nightly in a tub.
So there they snooze together,
Like a perfect pair of chums
A-deep within the pollipiggle wood
And there the tree gets bigger
While the Pollipuggar hums
A tune I can’t remember, though I should.
You see, I’ve quite forgotton
That thing I had in mind,
Namely WHAT the creature cried when given fright;
It screeched out something rotten
When I woke it from behind,
Then called out like an ostrich taking flight:
“oh, polli, pig AND puggar,
oh piggle, puggle, pol
oh, rallop, lipig, gopple, gup and gol
oh luggup, paggle, leppug, paaaa
And glipple loppgup too.
Which really meant no more than;
‘Who are you?”
Oh, I love my Pollipiggle bird
A-sleeping in her tree
With her multicoloured feathers on her wings
And her strange, but polli, habits
Which NEVER seem absurd,
Like those ears that grow like rabbit’s,
Or the piggle way she sings,
And the puggar way she knows just how to be,
While she’s snoring up her Pollipiggle Tree.

Horrid Heroes and Crazy Crooks is under copyright to Phoenix Ark Press, 2014, All Rights Strictly Reserved. If you enjoyed this you might like to read about Vladimir Putin, Dick Whittington, Al Capone, Sweeney Todd and Sherlock Holmes in blogs below. The picture is a Wikepedia image of The Jabberwocky from Alice Through The Looking Glass.

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A new addition has turned up in HORRID HEROES AND CRAZY CROOKS by David Clement-Davies, which may feel a little odd, since characters were meant to be either fictional or historical. But needs must…


Now here’s a song, to put the boot in
The dangerous loves of Mr Putin
And if you’ve read that book sublime
A strong-man – Hero of Our Time?
That lyric tale of Russian Caucus
Whose soldier’s proved a trifle raucous
With camps and duels, horses, spies
All unredeemed by Bella’s eyes.
The sort where bad guys pull it off,
You know, the one by Lermantov.
But all’s made up, just like the Bible
You see we have to watch for libel!
So Putin mighty, Putin sure –
Yet put in ranks of the mature!?
Great leader of the Russian Bear
Who rose, with such a chilling flair,
From humble ranks of FSB
To join today’s Celebrity.
An iron Russian Premier who
Loves Judo, hunting and Kung Fu.
No look of crook, nor peasant farmer
No protocol to shame Obama.
No hint of scandal round this chum,
With rumours of Polonium
Injected in that fleeing fella
Who met his end, by stealth umbrella.
Who wouldn’t dream of reckless ire
If Newsnight talked Politkovskya!
But why should Russia drop its fist
To just some murdered journalist?
Since Putin penned a PHD
On how to earn some honest fee
And keep those Robber barons loyal,
All greased by pipelines pumping oil,
Or while the fracking starts a rash,
Fired up with ‘Merkel’ rush of gas.
That blood that lights the vital spark
In every Russian Oligarch,
Until they challenge word official
Or fall by process – just judicial.
Who hates environmental wailing
Just like his soul mate, Sarah Palin.
No worry if some arctic flair
Might soon put pay to polar bear
Or toxic dumping be the spree
Consuming withered Aral sea.
Who’ll tip his hat, so newly felted
When north pole ice has surely melted
And raise a rifle, like a sniper
To hunting seal, or arctic piper.
A man who’s not ashamed to say
Of course he likes it warm or gay
And when we’re sure of basic diet
We’ll never crush a Pussy Riot!
Olympics crown his neighbourhood
To teach the world, Sochi – so good.
(It’s just one thought that still afrights
Some real talk of Human Rights.)
Then West have rubbed gainst Eastern grain
In business dealings in Ukraine
Despite the fact corruption rich
Was right to end Yan-ukovich.
A straining there to even rhyme
In darkening talk of crooks or crime!
While all those bodies in the square
Showed up a pure, defiant stare,
And in the guts of struggling Nation
Revealed the human desperation.
Something owed to fighting few,
That Moscow now miscalls a coup.
But since the old regime has fled
The Russian Bear now lifts its head.
To put-in boys to old Crimea
And share the glitz of Vladimir!
Not Comrades now, too hip by far,
But brothers, like that Russian Czar
Who knew Size matters most of all
From Moscow to Sevastapol.
Like Stalin, cast on Yalta beach,
With certain sense of over-reach
Whose grim world view could only grip
Inevitable dictatorship!
While plans for votes are now unfurled
Like ten bad days that shook the world.
You see, this democratic chap
Long got his whiskers in a flap
As freedom’s loving stepped too far
In fracking up the S.S.R.
(Which needs a U. with clear sight,
To make the social tides Unite)
But then it should be no surprise
That ancient Russian sense of size,
And ever the fight of what defiles
Twixt Westerners or Slavophiles,
Is modern freedom still the goal
Or triumph of some Russian Soul?
So now the World waits on the brink
And deals in diplomatic ink
Obama calls and John Mcain
Tells everyone to raise their game
While Whithall, true to bureaucratic vision,
Prepares to deal in cynicism
As London energy men all smile
At fuel price, long hiked a mile,
Like bankers on a spending spree
Delighted by monopolies.
Enough to spread that thought so mad
That Putin isn’t quite THAT bad,
Or FSB should swap the tanks
For shiny suits in Scottish banks!
Or is it horses running courses
In all the scramble for resources,
That makes Crimea all the rage
As Nations rush for centre stage?
Will Russia still not deviate
Despite boycotts or cracked G8,
Did freedom carve a broken plaque
With ‘Jobs accomplished’ in Iraq?
As honour found a dangerous nexus
With Haliburton, Bush and Texas,
Or justice met her bridge too far
With Assad propped in Syria!
Yet could this capital minded man
Perceive some hidden market plan
So learn his power’s not that great
As price of Rouble starts to shake?
Or will such mathematics see
An even bloodier tragedy?
Yet while the madness rumbles on
There’s one thing still that loves the sun
A graceful polar bear, who stands
On promentories, and icy strands
And watches, with a comic grin,
The human mayhem now begin
No slave to border drawn solutions
That mighty beast of evolutions,
Who in his self refrigeration
Has yet some small determination.
Until he’s wrecked by greed or arson
And emptying shelves – of Mr Larson!
The greatest carnivore by far
Not Rusky, Chechen, Yank nor Tsar
But made of wildest skin and bone
That scion of a dying home
Unstudied in the world reforming
Or all that talk of Global Warming.
You think, dear Putin, you are brave
Enough to wrestle in his cave?!
Or if he clawed your tender skin
The strong man, you could even win,
Except by dint of cold machine
And bullets from a magazine?
But if such beasts are first survival
Their love of cub has human rival
And though we fail, we simply must
Try, time again, to build the just.
A lesson that’s not always best
Told in the compromising West!
While if we should be strong, you’ll find,
The world’s the good we leave behind.
With thoughts of him, or purer frown
Have you the guts to just back down?
And really hold, with love or pain,
The strong arms round a free Ukraine?
Or can’t you see that Iron Fists
Encourage Ultra Nationalists?
So with a sigh, like dying day,
The bear shakes head and turns away
Lifting his paws to swiftly go
With lollop through the melting snow?


Horrid Heroes and Crazy Crooks is under copyright to Phoenix Ark Press, 2014, All Oil Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed the take on Mr Putin and would like to read about Dick Whittington, Al Capone, Sweeney Todd, or Sherlock Holmes then just follow the blogs below. The cartoon shows a Winter Olympics Mr Putin standing of the brave girls of Pussy Riot and is taken from the internet.

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The next instalment of HORRID HEROES AND CRAZY CROOKS by David Clement-Davies is the true tale of Dick Whittington. If you know the wonderful version by Roald Dahl, all David can say is that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!


I think perhaps we ought to skip
The early years of Dirty Dick
Who was (in truth) extremely sad
A crummy little orphaned lad,
The servants treated like a louse
In Hugh Fitzwarren’s London house.
Where, in the kitchens, for his supper
Dick worked and slaved as Washer-Upper
And in the evenings, on the floor,
Slept on a bed of filthy straw
His only friend among the tat
Tiddles, a scrawny Cheshire cat…
So there they’d sit, consuming rum
And toasting better days to come.
Until, one evening, having tea,
Sir Hugh turned to his family
And cried “My dears, it’s time, you know
I let the servants have a go.
I’ll get them to invest their tips
In one of my brand new Merchant ships.”
Fair Griselda (Fitz’s daughter)
Scowled and moaned “You never oughta
Oh blast, oh hell, it isn’t fair”
Then thrust her nostrils in the air.
“My duck,” soothed Hugh “don’t think pa’s sappy
We have to keep the workers happy.
Besides, it really isn’t funny,
But just right now I need the money!”
The household quickly took the hook
The cook whipped out her savings book,
The coachman cried “I’ll try the prank”
The butler smashed his piggy bank.
The only one left out that day
Was Dick, of course, who couldn’t pay.
But then the ruthless little snot
Came up with this disgusting plot.
“I’ll not be exiled from their fiddles
“I know,” he grinned “I’ll give ’em Tiddles.”
So seizing kitty by the scrag
Dick stuffed him in a leather bag
Then sent his only friend to sea
To earn for Dick a monstrous fee.
Which proves that, if you hadn’t guessed,
Dick was a crook, just like the rest.

So now our story changes tack
For no news of the ship came back
Dick waited there, a year and more
For all those riches, held in store,
But got no message from the log
And no news of his travelling mog.
At last the crook began to ditch
This plan to make him Super Rich
And then the dreadful little thief
Purloined Hugh’s spotted handkerchief
And glancing round him, sly and quick
Dick tied it to Hugh’s walking stick.
With all his worldly goods wrapped up:
His toothbrush in a paper cup,
And from the larder, for his tea,
Dick pinched a slab of mouldy Brie.
So Dick set off, at ten to two.
To make his loot, in pastures new.
In several hours, slowing down,
Dick reached the edge of London town
And here it was (as we all know)
That Dicky rested, outside Bow,
Where, after lunch, the lazy chap
Decided that he’d take a nap.
But just as Dick had settled in
The old Church bells began to ring:


Now Richard, who was really thick
Was sure he couldn’t, BLOODY HELL,
Have just been talked to by a Bell!


Well, this bit made the whole thing seem
Just like some awful, cheesy dream.


This clanging made Dick’s fingers itch.
Then gave the dozing snitch a stitch.


At this Dick woke up, with a start,
A mighty thundering in his heart
But rubbed his fingers in his ears


The bells continued with a clang

“WE’VE NOT GOT ALL DAY LONG,” they sang,

As Dick heard what the bells just said
His eyes bulged from his greedy head
Forgetting all about his pack,
To London Town Dick hurried back
Where he discovered, with a grin,
His long lost ship had just come in.
For when (a year before) the liner
Had anchored off the coast of China
Tiddles, that hungriest of cats,
Had gobbled up a plague of rats
And charmed the Nation’s Emperor
(Who’d never seen a cat before)
Then, since his palace was infested
The chinaman had swift invested
So on the spot, right there and then,
Bought Tiddles for a million Yen.
Which was a quite ginormous fee,
In such a dodgy currency!
Yet Dirty Dick could not have cared
A jot how little Tiddles fared.
Instead he hoovered up the dough
And bought a suit from Saville Row
Then, as the richest in the land,
Dick asked Griselda for her hand
Who, though she was absurdly snooty,
Was still delighted by his booty.
So in a carriage, off they go,
To marry in that church in Bow
And now the pair await with glee
The bells enchanting prophecy.
Which proves that if you want to win
Like Richard you must not give in
And also shows, I’m sad to say,
That ruthlessness will often pay.


The last time that we heard of Dick
That horrid boy had turned a trick
And with Griselda, sweet and fair,
Was waiting to become Lord Mayor.
But if, this far, you’ve got the gist
Of Dicky’s story…here’s the twist.
Oh they got married, just near Bow,
Griselda wasn’t happy though
For everyone could plainly see
That Dirty Dick was dastardly.
Since, filthy boy, he held that path
That meant he’d never had a bath
Despised good soap to wash his face,
Yet lorded it around the place,
As poor Grizelda found their lair
Were soon as filthy as her hair.
Almost a tale too foul to tell,
Since no one could abide Dick’s smell,
But also shows why we all bitch –
‘There’s nothing worse than filthy rich!’
Yet as they stewed in noble rot
Now Dick refined his master plot
And bribed the townsmen, one and all,
To make him Mayor of City Hall,
Just as those talking bells had fated,
But as Dick dressed, to be instated
And Grizzy sobbed there, on the floor
There came a knocking at their door.
A furry banging – RAT, TAT, TAT,
And straight in walked a GIANT CAT.
Scrawny Tiddles who, since landing,
On all those rats, had been expanding
And, leaving China, made his fill
In business – working RENT-A-KILL.
The mog was sporting sparkling gnoshers,
Eight inch claws and huge goloshes.
And with a Pot-pourri of Rose,
A giant clothes peg on his nose.
“Meeeeooow” purred Puss, “So Dick, you swine,
You’d sell your Tiddles down the line?”
“Oh no,” cried Dick, “by boiled Salami,
I think I must be going balmy,
It’s bad enough a chatty bell,
But not a talking cat as well!”
Tiddles twitched and licked his paws,
Then opened out those murderous claws
And, with strange glintings in his eye,
He let his vicious razors fly
Across the sofa, round the beds,
Where Dick was swiftly torn to shreds
And smart Grizelda (not a slouch)
Stuffed Dicky’s entrails in the couch,
Then, kissing Tiddles on the nose,
She swooned “Oh Pussy, I propose
That now that Dirty Dicky’s ditched,
You steal his job and we get hitched.”
Which happened, as was only fair,
When Tiddles did become Lord Mayor
And with Grizelda in cahoots
Became that famous PUSS-IN-BOOTS!
And so it was that Griz, the louse,
Installed that couch in Mansion House
Where, on Dick’s stuffing, there they sat
That Lady Mayor and Cheshire Cat,
With lucious tongue to priss and preen,
Since cats are quite superbly clean!
But now I bet you’re wondering why
Those rotten bells had told a lie.
It’s not as strange as you suppose
Since this is how the story goes:
They hadn’t meant LORD MAYOR, as read,
But tried to say HORSE HAIR instead,
(You know, the kind of stuff you get
To fill a couch, or coverlet.)
And since, as all smart children know,
Those chatty bells were made in Bow,
It meant they only ever sang,


Horrid Heroes and Crazy Crooks is under copyright to Phoenix Ark Press, 2014, All Rights Strictly Reserved. The picture is a woodcut from The Famous and Remarkable History of Sir Richard Whittington, Three Times Lord-Mayor of London (1770). If you would like to read about Al Capone, Sweeney Todd and Sherlock Holmes, look at the blogs below.

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St Valentine’s Day has been and gone but never too late for another excerpt from HORRID HEROES AND CRAZY CROOKS by David Clement-Davies. This time to meet the superstar and show maker of them all, Al Capone!!!


Hot off the press this headline runs:
So, kids, I hope you’re not alone,
To hear this tale of Al Capone:
Of all the crooks we’ve met so far,
This killer’s still the SUPERSTAR.
Since Al’s fame, to this dying day,
And when it’s mentioned on TV
Turns BRAVE ENFORCERS off their tea.
In old Chicago, where, it’s said,
Al SHOT his victims STONE COLD DEAD,
A hundred patsies Al gunned down,
That’s just around the edge of town,
With sub-Machine Guns at his chin,
Al PLAYED ’em, like A VIOLIN.
And since the news boys love to shout,
A crook was soon being read about
In Prohibition days, so grim,
Of crooked banks and boot-leg Gin
Enough to leave a drunk impression
And so bring on a Great Depression!:



Until those front page lies were read
By one of Al’s best friends instead:
“Hey, ditch this junk, just hold a mo’,
Dat’s not the Al I used ta know.
Naah, Al was thoughtful, Al was kind,
Yeah, Al Capone was real refined.
The nicest guy I’ve met by far,
He doted on his dear ol’ Ma.
Oh sure, Al robbed a bank or two,
But with those frauds, hey, wouldn’t you?
There ain’t no equal Wall Street mothers
To rival crooks like Lehman Brothers!
Besides, Al had to terrorise a Nation,
To earn himself a reputation.
Yet in his heart of hearts, dis guy
Was sweet, romantic, modest, shy,
And every time he whacked some clown,
The tears, dey nearly made Al drown.
I know the story dat’s ta blame,
For blackening a hero’s name:
Dat day, dey claim, Al went too far,
When rounding up some mugs he hated,
He had the jerks… assassinated.
Yet every kid should know, I guess,
Dem lies were cooked up by da Press,
So listen, to da bitter end,
To Al’S TRUE STORY – (By a friend!)
And wise up to MY bottom line
On Al’s romantic Valentine:

One day, see, there with Snuff, Dutch, Guss and Gene
Al’s diary turned up FEB 14,
The day dat sweethearts, throughs der post,
Sends gifts to thems dey loves da most.
But this made Al Capone upset,
The boss had had no postcards yet,
Nor any broad nor classy dame,
To buy him chocolates or champagne.
‘Hey, Boss, woss up with you?” asked Guss,
‘Aaahhh, nuddin much’ sniffed Al, ‘Don’t fuss,
It’s just….I wish….oh gee, if only
I wasn’t feelin’ so darn lonely.
I knows your boss would feel fine,
If he’d received some… Valentine.’
A sentiment to tempt der fates,
Cos Al was never any good wid dates!
But, wid a most gigantic sigh,
Al wiped one tear drop from his eye.
Then soon a thought ran through that head,
‘I’ll SEND a Valentine, instead,
To all those dirty rats in town
Who’s ever tried ta gun me down.’
‘Dat’s swell,’ cried Snuff, ‘I’ll make em jive”
And Guss pulled out his ’45!
‘It’s noon,’ grinned Al, ‘so not too late,
To get them to agree a date,
Tonight, with us, in some place fancy,
That downtown garage run by LANCEY.’
“Like magic, soon Al’s guest arrived,
The meanest bunch of crooks alive.
Each sporting velvet gangster hats,
In pin striped suites, with patchwork spats,
They slouched, or leant against their cars,
Smoking a box of fat cigars.
With loaded sten guns, inches thick,
With which they’d planned to spring some trick,
On unsupsecting Al, whose heart,
Like meat, they’d serve up in a cart.
The clock ticked by, but still alone,
There was NO SHOW for Al Capone.
Until Fats Diamond turned to say
‘Look, boys, we’ll wait anudder day
To stich up Al, let’s split, you guys’
But then Al cried – ‘SURPRISE, SURPRISE’
And jumped out from behind a Ford,
With thirty mobsters, guns abroad.
‘Jeeees, no,’ blubbed Diamond, with a gulp,
‘I guess that means, us guys, we’s pulp.’
‘Dat’s right’ snarled Al, the Mafia boss,
‘I knows you’ve planned the double-cross,
So says yer prayers and waves goodbye,
Right here, in Lancey’s, time to die!’
The mobsters’ bullets RAT-TAT-TATTERED
Al’s sub machine guns shook and splattered,
Yet, when the smoke cleared in the air,
No single crook was lying there,
Instead, among the smoke and sparks,
A GIANT HEART, in bullet marks,
Was patterned on the garage wall,
Near ten feet wide and five feet tall.
While underneath, the dotted line,
In holes, spelt H..A..P..P..Y……..V..A..L..E..N..T..I..N..E
A nicer fate than being shot
Which sure proves dat Some Like It Hot.
Then, grinning on, cucumber cool,
Capone cried ‘tricked ya, APRIL FOOL!
And from a huge machine gun case,
Capone pulled out a cloth of lace,
A trifle, hampers, knives and forks,
As Gene and me popped Champagne corks,
Then smiling gangsters showered them crooks,
With roses, sweets, romantic books.
As Al, to raise our caper’s tone,
Turned on a wind-up gramaphone,
To which us mobsters, face to face,
Began to Waltz around the place.
Then Dutch, who never played the snitch
Sang Opera arias, perfect pitch,
And tuneful crooks were soon to be
Made men –Sopranos– on TV
As Snuff, a lucky name he had,
Got cast in parts of Breaking Bad
And since Snuff’s skills were never phoney
The mobster even won a Tony!
Which proves what Hollywood always saayes
Der Talent Never Ever Pays.
Yer see, I told ya Al was fine,
He loved his Ma AND Valentine,
Which shows why mobsters, to dis day,
Still wears for AL…A RED BOUQUET.”

HORRID HEROES AND CRAZY CROOKS by DAVID CLEMENT-DAVIES is under Copyright to Phoenix Ark Press, 2014, All Rights strictly reserved. If you enjoyed this read about SWEENEY TODD and SHERLOCK HOLMES in posts below. The image is ‘Little Bonaparte’ among the ‘Friends of Italian Opera’ from Billy Wilder’s classic Some Like It Hot.


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Since everything on TV nowadays is celebrity chefs, here’s another from HORRID HEROES AND CRAZY CROOKS by David Clement-Davies, with cooking, murder and Master Chefs in mind…


I hope wise parents understand
I’d have this story quickly banned
Because the crimes I have in store
Are stewed in blood, guts, gunk and gore,
Hearts, lungs and livers, hands and toes
And human entrails, lined in rows
Then diced up finely where they lie
To bake up in a human pie.
We’d all go blind and surely deaf
To show the likes on Master Chef!
But what’s revolting, in my view,
Is that it isn’t even true:
In Fleet Street, close to London harbour,
Lived Sweeney Todd, a Demon Barber,
Whose shop front told, with cockney pride,
His skill in cuts – Short, Back or Side
But when Todd’s clients took the chair
He’d seize them by a knot of hair
And with his razor, where they sat,
He’s slice their heads off, just like that.
Then throw a lever on the floor
Which tipped them down a neat trap door
To send his victims down the shoot –
Off to the kitchens they would scoot
Where Mrs Lovett, stashed below,
Was greasing tins and rolling dough.
And when she got the bits Todd sent her
She’s stuff them smartly in a blender
Or, short on new electric fangles,
Would grind the hand cogs on her mangles.
Then mince ’em till the dish looked tasty
And cover folk in short crust pastry
So in the oven pop the mix
For fifty minutes – Gas mark six!
It’s vicious, please don’t tell your mother,
But people sometimes EAT each other.
Then when the pies were freshly done
Todd turned up with his marker gun
To stick a label to the side
And off to market he would ride
To sell hot pielets round the town
Todd’s Steak and Kidneys – Half a Crown
While hawking round, for all to hear
Exotic with a pint of beer!”
I try and try, from time to time,
To justify Todd’s ghastly crime,
Regardless of how close I look
There’s nothing to redeem the crook.
Except for this, I’m glad to say,
Which I unmasked the other day.
For not just anyone would do
In Sweeney’s filthy human stew.
Oh no, of this pure fact I’m sure
The barber was a connoisseur,
Indeed the very heart and soul
Of careful Quality Control,
And since real Master Chefs are few
A sort of gruesome Albert Roux.
Who only picked on clients that
Were grossly rich, or hugely fat,
And I’m quite sure Todd left alone
Poor folk, of barely skin or bone,
(Unless, of course, they failed to dip
Deep in their trousers for his tip.)
Todd never harmed a comely lass
Or any girl with cheek or sass
And rarely ever touched the heads
Of pensioners, or newly-weds.
Instead Todd favoured Counts and Earls
And Barons, Viscounts, Dames, or girls
Whose noble parentage he knew.
Todd even diced a Duke or two!
A Master Chef, not of Provence,
But purest London provenance
Who, as he dropped them down his ditch,
Would cry “Take that” and “Eat the Rich!”
Which proves another thing I’d missed
This Sou Chef was a Socialist!
Who wanted all his crimes to be
The finest in Society.
Which also shows why, from that blender,
His Steak N’ Kidneys came out tender.
The other thing in Sweeney’s favour
Lay in the pies’ exquisite flavour
For with her Ramsey recipe book
Todd’s love became an expert cook
To add some spice, or fresh chopped herb,
And make ingredients taste superb
Not least the essence of their stew
With all that tasty blood, so blue,
Indeed the kind of human pottage
To grace the likes of River Cottage!
Yet this, since life can be unfair,
Proved fatal to the Demon Pair
Because the Todds became, I guess,
The victims of their own success.
But not, as all the news hounds lie,
Because of buttons in a pie.
Oh that bit happened, as you’ll see,
When Sherlock Holmes was having tea,
And found a shirt stud in his stew
Jumped up, cried “Watson, here’s a clue”
But then the daft, eccentric twit
Completely missed the point of it,
Concluding that the Ku Klux clan
Were smuggling fasteners to Japan!
No, with their pies they showed such flair
Chez Todd produced a billionaire
And baking finest pies by far
That barber won a Michelin Star!
At which the crook was so elated
He had his business automated.
The Todds installed, in steel and pine,
A Patent Pie Production line,
Which with its new electric switch
Could, single-handed, EAT THE RICH.
So send a hatchet round the shop
To slice and slash, to cut and chop
And dice them, minceur, while below
It rolled ’em up in baking dough
And then, with all the Gas it saved,
It had them swiftly Microwaved.
Then even packed them, on the nail,
To post them off by Royal Mail.
Which surely anyone can see
Was quite a smart utility,
Until they learn the fuel crisis
Brings threats of escalating prices.
Now this last part provides our clue
To what befell the grizzly two.
For once she’d given up her job
Todd’s sweat-heart turned a dreadful snob
A selfish, snotty, bitchy prig
Who bought a coach and powdered wig
Then, dressed in pearls and crinoline,
Would dream of dining, with the Queen!
And asked her love, eventually,
To change their First Class recipe
So use, instead of Earls, alas
The members from the Working Class!
At which Todd’s lower jaw fell ope
And foam, a bit like shaving soap,
Began to bubble out of it:
Todd had an apoplectic fit!
The awful thought made Sweeney shake
And gave him such a stomach ache
That, sitting down to ease his stitch,
He accidentally – threw that switch!
A dreadful slashing now began,
The Todds were turned to Raspberry Jam
And by their Patent Pie Machine
Were posted, in a soup tureen.
But strange to tell, this new position,
As last fulfilled some rare ambition.
For shipped with chocolates, port and champers,
All neatly packed in Christmas Hampers,
Beside a leg of honeyed ham,
TODD’S PIES turned up at Sandringham.
Where, followed by the BBC,
The Queen was tucking into tea.
Among choice guests she’d learned to view,
That mixed the likes of Michelle Roux,
(Who’d if he’d known the state of play
Might certainly have rued the day),
With Rick Stein, Wignall, Delia Smith
And Raymond Blanc, of gallic pith,
Nigella Lawson, Nigel Slater,
Who’d brought his own refrigerator,
And, fresh from Fish Fights that enthral,
That top drawer Fearnely-Whittingstall
Who knows the most destructive plan
Was dreamt up by that animal Man.
Of course, not fond of scuffs nor hikers
No place-mat Pratts, or Hairy Bikers
Nor blokes like Jamie, to appall
Her palate newly Bloomenthal.
But there they sat, with graceful sighs
To tuck into those regal pies
So after years of being bled
The Rich ate Sweeney Todd instead!


If you enjoyed this excerpt from Horrid Heroes and Crazy Crooks by David Clement-Davies and want to read more of the bungling Sherlock Holmes too, look at the post below. The picture is of Jonny Depp in the movie of Sweeney Todd. Horrid Heroes and Crazy Crooks is under copyright to Phoenix Ark Press, 2014, All Rights Strictly Reserved.

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