The Kiss and Other Stories


, , , , ,

The Kiss and Other Stories

By Anton Chekhov

Translated by Hugh Aplin

Alma Classics, 2016

ISBN: 9781847494191

The Kiss and Other Stories

These classic stories have been cast in wonderfully fresh translations by Hugh Aplin.

To start with, let me say that it is an attractive package overall: seven stories, an account of Chekhov’s life and his works (the plays as well as the books), a fair few photographs of Chekhov and family, and a select secondary bibliography (to which should be added Rosamund Bartlett’s outstanding biographical work Chekhov: Scenes from a Life).

They are extraordinary these stories, not least because of their endings: Chekhov’s people (his characters are flesh and blood) are never free from harm; we fear for their safety as we take our leave of them. Take, for example, the title story, ‘The Kiss’, where an army officer is haunted by an unexpected kiss from a peasant serving girl. He had never received such an intense expression of passion in his life before; but he comes to realise that the kiss was not meant for him. It was a case of mistaken identity. A door opened briefly on someone else’s life, a life whose joys he will never known, and his own life seems all of a sudden unbearable. As we leave him, he is stricken.

Undoubtedly the best known story here is ‘The Lady with the Little Dog’ and it is certainly one of Chekhov’s best. Gurev and Anna meet in Yalta, each game for a holiday romance or a small affair, something sweet and simple. But in time their liaison grows into something that shatters both their carefully constructed lives. Apropos Aplin’s translation, I very much like this unassuming sentence: ‘They talked about how close it was after the hot day.’ (Here Gurev and Anna are walking along the coast after having dined at adjacent tables in a garden restaurant.) Naturally ‘close’ carries the modern meaning of ‘humid’ – however, it is especially apt in that it conveys also their growing intimacy and an accompanying sense of unease: a flush of empathy, a swoon of loss of control. And at the end, once again, neither Gurev nor Anna is safe. Both will face upheaval in the years to come.

The pronounced sense of unease as you take your leave arises, I think, because these people are as precarious in their humanity as you or I, never mind the myriad uncertainties of the world around them. About Gurev, for example, we know that he is a banker who owns two houses and that he once held youthful dreams, which he had abandoned. There is a pull of romance and reality in his life (as in ours), for he must sometimes think of his lost dreams (as we do), and we don’t know which will ultimately triumph. Will he come to abandon Anna too in the end?

Two stories, ‘Ward Six’ and ‘The Black Monk’, explore the theme of mental illness, Chekhov (who was a practising doctor, of course) making the point that mental illness, uninvited, can befall anyone. Another story, ‘Peasants’, works as an ethnographic study almost, one worthy of Geertz, and especially enjoyable here is Fyokla’s delight in malice. For her, life will be hard, always. Her peasant malice finds an echo in the respectable Lida, who sets out to scupper her sister Zhenya’s romance with a young artist in the story ‘The House with a Mezzanine’. Lida despises the young man for not being as socially committed as she.

It was a delight to revisit Chekhov through these crisp, newly minted translations. For a newcomer to his work, this book will serve as an ideal introduction to a classic writer and a wholly admirable man.

The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.

Julia Biel



Julia Biel

RNCM Theatre, 15 October 2016

Julia Biel

This amounted to a concert of more than ordinary gaiety.

Julia Biel played piano and guitar, performing songs from her previous and a forthcoming album. Her band made a favourable impression, due in particular to the forceful and discerning playing of the drummer. He was very definitely with it.

The songs had a jazz, blues, soulful flavour though Biel’s passion was all her own. In truth, she could have done with a fuller or a less saturnine audience. But, even so, Biel showed enough gallant heart to make you hanker to hear her new songs.

Diverso Quartet with Katarzyna Wasiak on piano


, , , , , , , , ,

Diverso Quartet with Katarzyna Wasiak on piano

The Weinberg Project

Carole Nash Recital Room, RNCM

11 October 2016

Diverso Quartet with Katarzyna Wasiak on piano

The concert had a title, The Weinberg Project, and the first work to be performed was that composer’s Piano Quintet in F minor.

A contemporary and close friend of Shostakovich, Mieczysław Weinberg suffered much during World War Two, as did many of those close to him. Vast tumuli of emotion powered the piano quintet.

There came a short work, Karol Rathaus’s Rapsodia Notturno for cello and piano, wherein lambent waves of phantom fire gently stoking the heart. Then the final performance, the Piano Quintet on Popular Polish Themes by Szymon Laks, this one a lively and even a giddy ride: indeed, in some places pretty close to klezmer.

It was a very well balanced programme overall – there were happy themes as well as sad – and it is heartening to see young talented musicians explore music as rich and complex as this.

64 Squares @ HOME


, , , , , ,

64 Squares

By Christopher Harrison

Rhum and Clay

HOME, 10 October 2016

64 Squares

64 Squares by Rhum and Clay. Photo credit: Richard Davenport.

Life imitates chess.

When Dr B. is arrested by the Gestapo and held in solitary confinement he reaches out for any kind of distraction, any kind of intellectual sustenance. He finds it in a curious book, a collection of great chess games pilfered from a guard. Chess saves his soul, or at any rate transforms it.

64 Squares is an intense, electrifying adaptation of Stefan Zweig’s Die Schachnovelle. It uses all the munificent resources of theatre – acting that is both brilliantly paced and precisely synchronised, precarious dance of the kind to be found in Cafe Muller, shadow-play, rhythm and music – to convey the fragmentation of Dr B’s personality. You are not simply told Dr B’s story, you experience it.

Those familiar with Zweig’s work will walk away satisfied, while the play is accessible enough to appeal to non-chessplayers. Though that’s not to say that certain smart aleck chessplayers won’t find added significance in the play, and may even feel inclined to point out that the supposed Capablanca- Czentovic game is based upon Anderssen-Paulsen, Vienna 1873. But somebody else got there first.

My only real gripe is that the invasion of Austria by Germany is described as an annexation, a term which perpetuates the myth that Austria was the so-called first victim of Nazi aggression. In fact, the Nazis were cheered as they entered Zweig’s home country. And those hundreds of thousands of ordinary Austrians massed in the Heldenplatz, giving the Nazi salute as Hitler announced the Anschluss, they were hardly there under duress.

This is a rich and rewarding play – and you realise at the end that it is, in a sense, a survivor’s narrative. It is especially poignant, therefore, to recall that Zweig himself did not survive: Schachnovelle was published shortly before his death.

64 Squares is showing as part of the Orbit Festival (24 September-15 October) and  is at HOME until 12 October, details here.

An Interview with Julian Spooner


, , , , , ,

64 Squares

64 Squares by Rhum and Clay. Photo credit: Richard Davenport.

Here is a short interview with Julian Spooner, co-artistic director of Rhum and Clay, about their production of 64 Squares currently showing at HOME.

When audiences go to see 64 Squares at HOME what can they expect to see?

We make theatre that is playful, visual and physical. Most of our work begins with physical improvisation and ensemble work, and at the heart of all our productions is a childlike sense of play and wonder. In 64 Squares audiences can expect a thrilling story told in a dynamic and innovative way. It’s funny and melancholic in equal measure.

Why did you choose to adapt Stefan Zweig’s Die Schachnovelle? Was your interest in chess or Nazi ideology or Zweig himself?

Our interest began with a desire to make a show based around a life lived through a chess game. We thought it would be interesting for a protagonist to see the different decisions they have made in life through the lens of decisions made in a chess game. After all, the possibilities and decisions in both chess and life are near infinite. Then we discovered in Zweig’s novella a wonderful exploration of the relationship between trauma and talent, and the repeating affects of memories. We became increasingly interested in Zweig himself after reading his autobiography “The World of Yesterday”. There is clearly so much of Zweig in his protagonist Dr B, a troubled soul fleeing fascism, that we felt the more we learnt of the man then the more we could construct our character.

When did you first read Die Schachnovelle?

I first read it about two years ago and it had a profound impact. It’s wonderfully stripped back and minimal in it’s writing style, and allows the reader to extrapolate and investigate for themselves. We had to work hard to make it into a dramatic text and so have taken big liberties with altering the structure of the story, whilst maintaining it’s distinctive atmosphere.

Could you comment on the challenges of adapting a literary text for the stage?

We’ve adapted a couple of novels and the biggest challenge is to make them gripping and thrilling. Most novels and written stories are slow burners as readers won’t finish them in one sitting, unlike a theatre show in which the story needs to be condensed and grab the attention of the audience from the opening moment. This means that we may have to jettison detail which one can only allow in a novel, but we also make sure that we maintain the true essence of the story. It teaches you to become an efficient storyteller.

Has the production given rise to any thoughts as to where you would place chess within human culture? Should chess be taught in schools?

With the rise of technology and computing I think chess has lost an element of its romance. At one point it was seen as a display of human intellect at its peak, but I’m not sure if it holds the same social or political resonance now. Even as a kid I remember watching Kasparov play on television, I’m not sure if even Magnus Carlsen (the current world champion) could find himself a prime time TV slot. Maybe it was IBM’s Deep Blue beating Kasparov that signalled the end of chess being seen as the pinnacle of the human mind and ingenuity.

Teaching chess in schools is probably a good idea, as it definitely enriches the mind as well as teaching kids about decision making and consequence. There will always be kids who find it out for themselves, and train alone for hours on end. Those will be the grand-masters of the future but you can’t make someone do it. They have to be obsessed.

Can you play chess? Do you have a favourite player?

I can play chess, but not to a very high standard. I’ve always enjoyed a casual game but it never obsessed me to the point where I would learn hundreds of openings or middle game combinations. Chess proficiency is a bottomless well, hours and hours of dedication are required to get anywhere close to being decent at it. That requires a unique kind of obsession that I reserve for creating and performing theatre rather than playing chess.

As I’m a child of the nineties I have to say my favourite player is Garry Kasparov. He was like the Michael Jordan of chess! Until a computer beat him.

64 Squares is showing at HOME until 12 October, details here.

Here are a couple of related posts at Jildy Sauce:

A review of Die Schachnovelle is here.

A review of the exhibition Stefan Zweig – Abschied von Europa, shown at the Theater Museum in Vienna about two years ago is here.







The Fencer


, ,

The Fencer

Directed by Klaus Haro

Estonia, 2015

HOME, 9 October 2016

The Fencer

An intriguing film, based apparently on a factual set of events, set in Estonia in the early ‘50s.

It concerns Endel Nelis, a man who takes up a job as a teacher in a village school. As part of his duties he runs a sports club and it is there that he decides to teach the children how to fence; it is useful in life to know something of the art of thrust and parry. They are told that the key to fencing well is an awareness of distance between yourself and the opponent: get in too close and you become a target, stay too far apart and you cannot launch an attack. This motif recurs throughout the film.

Endel becomes committed to the children’s welfare (he gets too close) and takes them to a fencing tournament in Leningrad. His main motivation being to show them that he believes in them. In doing so, he violates his own principle: Stalin’s NKVD (or had they by this time morphed into the KGB?) are hunting him and he is now an easy target.

It is a touching film with an authentic sense of place – look at how many of the children are without fathers, note the poverty in which they live – though the back-history (both Endel’s and that of the village) is touched upon lightly, disingenuously even. Is it really true that Endel took no  part in the war at all? And where are the Jews in this village? They seem strangely absent… Estonia lay in the heart of the Bloodlands (to use Snyder’s epithet), as we know.

A fine film nonetheless.



, , ,


Directed by Mat Whitecross

UK, 2016

HOME, 8 October 2016


We begin and end with the concert at Knebworth in 1996, Oasis’s crowning moment.

In between then this documentary looks at the band’s career from its very early beginnings on a Manchester council estate, and it is a perilous journey. The band’s fraught dynamic arose out of the troubled relationship between Noel and Liam, and that in turn had its roots in the brothers’ rejection of their violent father. ‘He beat the talent into me,’ Noel says at one point: a strange remark, almost as though he is giving credit to his father or expressing gratitude for the beatings he took. Noel took the blows but witnessing the beatings seems to have affected Liam more deeply. There is a tragedy here, a family story that has not yet been fully told.

You come away from the film with a renewed respect for Noel, both because of his focus and discipline and because he was the creative force behind the band. If Oasis’s songs endure – and they likely will – it will have been his achievement above all. It is a surprising portrait of Noel in another respect as well. We (or I, at any rate) often think of him as a cocky Manc always ready with a glib jibe, which is how he comes across in public, but he’s not always like that. Here he is a bit of a loner, writing songs on a guitar while the rest of the band are down the pub. (Lennon had McCartney to write with, Noel was on his own.) In early footage from when he was with Inspiral Carpets he is a skinny young guy, slightly nerdy looking, with shoulder length hair. A self-taught guitarist who is serious about his music, and how could he not be?

This is a fine film, though it raises as many questions as it answers.

A tender word in David Cameron’s shell-like


, ,

I have been reading Macaulay with pleasure over the past weeks.

Here is a sentence taken from his essay on Sir William Temple. You could call it a tender word towards David Cameron, if he is somewhere looking on at the goings-on at the Conservative party conference:

He has little reason, in our opinion, to envy any of those who are still engaged in a pursuit from which, at most, they can only expect that, by relinquishing liberal studies and social pleasures, by passing nights without sleep and summers without one glimpse of the beauty of nature, they may attain that laborious, that invidious, that closely watched slavery which is mocked by the name of power.

And as for a life of liberal studies and social pleasures: really, what could be better?



, , , , ,


By James Sallis

No Exit Press, 2016

ISBN: 9781843446699


‘About suffering they were never wrong, the old Masters…’

In James Sallis’s latest, the protagonist is Lamar Hale, a doctor in a small town called Willnot. At the close (page 191) there is a passage where the sheriffs in Jim Thompson’s novels are discussed and it struck me that you can view Lamar as Sallis’s updated version of the doctors to be found in the novels of Thompson’s fellow Black Box Thrillers (remember them?) author William Riley Burnett. Only in one of Burnett’s small towns Lamar would be called ol’ Doc Hale.

Anyway, here Lamar lives with his partner Richard, a teacher, and he is at the centre of things: he knows the townspeople, some of them as patients, and the sheriff confers with him regularly. He also has a curious affliction in that he experiences ‘visitations’ or ‘habituations’ – at certain moments, other people invade his consciousness. Sallis has rarely written conventional crime novels and here (as with the earlier The Killer Is Dying) he introduces a paranormal element to the proceedings. So much so that you wonder at certain points – reading this writer is a salutary pleasure, always – what are the rules of this game, this hybrid genre? For the most part, mind, you enjoy the people and their stories and you get an inkling of how queer and strange it is to be human.

This is a novel that ranges over others’ lives, none of whose travails – not even Lamar’s, bless him – is foregrounded for long. It is a pageant, kind of. It is like looking at a painting by Brueghel, your eye drawn to one person or crowd of people then another, alighting perhaps on a boy falling from the sky or a man carrying a cross. But certainly not resting there for long.

Willnot is a masterpiece from an old (yet still youthful-looking, as can be seen from the photo on the inside back cover) Master. The publisher’s description of the book can be seen here.


Akram Khan’s Giselle


, , , , , , , ,

Akram Khan’s Giselle

Music by Vincenzo Lamagna after Adolphe Adam

English National Ballet

Palace Theatre, Manchester

27 September 2016

Akram Khan’s Giselle

Although the choreographer gets the possessive credit, just as the director owns a film, this production was a perfect storm of talents.

Alina Cojocaru in the eponymous role was the ornament of the stage, Isaac Hernandez as her lover Albrecht was the model of chivalry. There was a dark fairy-tale ambience to Tim Yip’s costumes; they moulded sinister personages who you could come across only on a hell-infested night. In the clinky-clanky synchronicity of Vincenzo Lamagna’s score you saw the mechanical monstrosity of the factory floor and heard the taut chains of slave labourers.

As for Akram Khan’s choreography, you immediately notice that he likes a busy stage – English National Ballet have an illustrious corps, so why not make use of them? – for Giselle and Albrecht are never together alone (remember that old Paul Weller line about two lovers missing the tranquility of solitude?). Colour and clutter is a constant. Khan is best at processional visions where ranks of dancers plaid into one another. These scenes are like watching an abstract painting in motion, something by Malevich, say.

This is a munificent production whose great virtues and qualities do full justice to the ballet that is the dark jewel in the crown of the classical repertoire. If you have an evening when you can get off from collating Polybius with Livy, I’d say go see it, give it a whirl.

Giselle is at the Palace Theatre in Manchester until 1 October then it tours the UK, ending up at Sadler’s Wells in London on 19 November. Details here.