The Duke - September 24, 2014

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Apart from occasional invitations to meet and marry desirable single eastern European ladies or offers to drastically improve my sex life, I don’t receive many e-mails from foreign climes.

So imagine my delight when, having just been blown away by Maxine Peake’s magnificent take on Hamlet at Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre, I received a missive from Jannis Patsis in Greece.

It’s OK, I didn’t know who he was either but he opened with: “Dear Sir Robin Duke I wish you good day from Athens!” so, like anyone else who calls me “Sir” rather than “guy” he’d grabbed my attention from the start.

He continued: “I am aware of your theatre’s interest in staging foreign contemporary drama. So, why not Greek?”

Why not indeed? Except that while Jannis has somehow picked up that I’m on the Blackpool Grand Theatre’s Board of Trustees, he hasn’t quite cottoned on that programming is nothing to do with my brief.

Nevertheless he’d rather optimistically attached his play Achilles II – all in Greek with a link to a German translation. So far so bad.

Over to Jannis for a synopsis: “Mythology meets my country’s current reality in a vitally relevant existential 
dimension.

“The similarities in the life of today’s Achilles from the Athenian suburb of Thissio and that of Homer’s, is the play’s leitmotif. Thus is given the opportunity to erect a 2,500-year-old ethnic theatrical persona that is revealing of today’s socio-economic crises, in Greece.

“May I add also, that the mother (Thetis) in the play denotes every male’s Achilles’ heel!

“Achilles II is an opportunity for our peoples’ better acquaintance! For them to move closer, at least by cultural-theatrical means! With these thoughts in mind, please consider the prospect of putting on this play in your theatre.

“I look forward to hearing from you. My heartfelt 
greetings.”

Apart from losing me somewhere between “existential dimension” and “leitmotif” he sadly stands about as much chance of a successful Blackpool run as I do of headlining a stand-up comedy tour of Greece.

Thankfully, the latter is one of the few things The Manager hasn’t suggested as a suitable way of filling in my retirement years.

She’s got 101 ideas for occupying my time. And it’s all for my own good. Or is it?

Not according to social scientists Dr Marco Bertoni and Dr Giorgio Brunello from the University of Padova.

They analysed interviews with 840 Japanese women and found many to be suffering from “retired husband syndrome” once their spouse gave up work.

Nearly 50 per cent complained of increasing levels of stress, depression and sleeplessness after their other half retired.

And to make matters worse the researchers also found that with every extra year the husband spent in retirement, the wife’s condition became worse.

It’s not even just housewives – things can be even worse for women who are still working whilst their partner stays at home.

That’s because (it’s claimed) while blokes are lazy enough around the house while they’ve got a job, they’re even lazier when they’re not employed. And not even as financially well off to cushion the blow of more presence, fewer presents.

Can things get any worse? You betcha.

Retirement is like all your Christmases and New Years rolled into one. The festive period is traditionally when separations and divorce rates spike as couples are suddenly forced to spend more time 
together.

Goodness knows how any of us get through 24/7 with each other for 365 days each year.

So why was Japan chosen rather than, say, Grange Park or Bispham?

It’s because Japan is thought to have traditional gender roles –but the researchers admit their results could apply almost anywhere, especially in countries where both partners have worked full time.

Bertoni and Brunello say: “After a life apart and progressive estrangement many couples are forced to start spending time together when the husband retires. This can be a very stressful experience for wives, who suddenly have to face the continuous presence of a stranger in the house and the additional burden of his requests.”

Personally – a bit like a Greek drama synopsis – I find it all a bit difficult to understand. Maybe Japanese blokes are like that but surely we Brits just carry on as normal – watching football, drinking beer, searching for the remote control, not doing the washing and ironing? What’s so annoying about that?

Threat of losing our theatres forever

Predictably I was upset to read that two of Blackpool’s oldest theatres are allegedly at risk of falling into disrepair and being “lost forever.”

If you missed the original story it was that the North Pier Theatre and Winter Gardens Pavilion are among the additions to a list of 33 venues deemed by the Theatres Trust to be at risk of demolition, redevelopment or closure.

But I could not resist a wry smile at Blackpool Council leader Coun 
Simon Blackburn’s reassurance that the Pavilion is “not under threat, in fact quite opposite.”

Great news. Except that, of course, the “opposite” would be that it’s future as a theatre was assured. And it’s not.

It’s part of the “Blackpool Museum Project” which may well safeguard “the infrastructure” of the venue but it will be no more a theatre than churches are still churches when their shells are left and their interiors become pubs – or pubs are still pubs when their exteriors are left but their innards become apartments or supermarkets.

I remember when South Pier Theatre’s demolition was confirmed and the boss of the PR company handling the announcement took me to one side and said: “You never know, it might be rebuilt at some time in the future.”

My offer of sponsoring the flotilla of flying pigs to celebrate that occasion was never taken up and I’m still waiting for the New South Pier Theatre to emerge from the ashes.

More realistic – and a good deal less grant aided – was North Pier Theatre owner Peter Sedgwick who admitted of his venue: “My concern isn’t its condition, it’s how we are going to make it pay.”