It’s easy to seriously muck up a production of one of Shakespeare’s great plays, but exceptionally hard to pull off a good production of a relatively weak play like Two Gentlemen of Verona. I enjoy seeing one of the lesser plays produced, as it’s fascinating to see what a really good director and cast can do with unpromising source material.
One thing you can do is have lots of music and spectacle and there are a few musical interludes in this new production. The extended opening is a joy; the ensemble cast re-creates a busy restaurant in Verona, with live music and without dialogue but with lots of audience interaction. It’s great fun. It’s contrasted with the sophistication of the Milanese court later, in a fabulous interlude involving a cabaret singer/ exotic dancer and bizarre Tudorbethan disco dancing.
The production doesn’t try to overwhelm with spectacle, however. In fact, occasionally it lacks pace. This may because I watched it on the third night of its run, so the actors need to get into their stride. But it may be the quality of the text. One of the reasons that the play is weak is that Shakespeare was still learning his craft (many scholars believe this to be his first play) so there are long speeches that are undramatic wordplay. Perhaps they were funny in the sixteenth century but they aren’t now, so I found myself thinking that if I’d directed the play, I’d have been ruthless with my red pencil and removed some of those speeches. (It’s an advantage of one of the minor plays that you can excise stuff without offending too many purists.)
Something else that doesn’t work so well these days are the plays dodgy sex and racial politics. When Proteus falls in love with Sylvia and out of love with Julia he says “And Silvia — witness Heaven, that made her fair!— / Shows Julia but a swarthy Ethiope. / I will forget that Julia is alive”. However, it’s foolish to expect a sixteenth century play to conform to modern standards.
I thoroughly enjoyed the production, especially the performances by Pearl Chanda (Julia), Nicholas Gerard-Martin (Thurio), whose serenade scene was very funny, and Michael Marcus (Valentine). Honourable mentions, too, for Sarah MacRae (Silvia) and Martin Bassindale (Speed). The outlaws were also amusing. It’s also beautifully staged, with enough physicality and dark moments to carry the preposterousness of the plot – no twins or shipwrecks, but we do get a woman dressed as a man and instantaneous reversals of character.
An excellent RSC directorial debut from Simon Godwin. One small niggle: the first half was very long – almost two hours by my watch.
I mused about this on stage at Fronteers 2013, and was reminded of it when reading Stephanie Reiger’s excellent slidedeck The future of media queries?, specifically slide 42 which I reproduce with Stephanie’s permission.
Stephanie suggests a mechanism of telling a user agent to render a navigation list as a native component, so it looks native across a range of devices, because it is native. (We could bikeshed about the markup and whether it should be in the CSS, but that doesn’t matter.)
I get that developers want their sites to appear native on the host device. Presumably users like native feel, too; there’s a reason why users show a huge preference for native apps over web apps, and one of those reasons is that native apps
allow the user to use device-specific hand gestures. Android and iOS are gradually developing different conventions for interaction, and a native app responds the way its user expects. User Experience Stack Exchange
So Stephanie’s idea makes perfect sense to me.
But what puzzles me is the fact that for ages designers and developers have also desperately tried to style away native controls. For example, recently Nicholas Zakas said
Full video game engine with 3D rendering and real-world physics in a browser? Yes. Ability to style <select> dropdowns in a browser? No.
and was retweeted hundreds of times. Nicholas isn’t wrong to want this, and this wish isn’t new; when Safari first came out, designers were close to burning their moleskines because they couldn’t make buttons in corporate orange and heliotrope. When I first started showing HTML5 form controls at conferences, without fail I’d be asked how they can be styled. There are endless articles and scripts that painstakingly take real selects, hide them more or less accessibly, then recreate them so they don’t look native on any device.
But why this urge to re-style page elements that end-users are familiar with? You’ll be shocked to learn that I’m not actually trained as a designer – so what am I failing to understand? Or is it that we love native look and feel, except when we don’t?
Grid Style Sheets – “GSS reimagines CSS layout & replaces the browser’s layout engine with one that harnesses the Cassowary Constraint Solver — the same algorithm Apple uses to compute native layout”. Imagine if this were not a polyfill, but baked into the browser, with normal CSS as a fallback.
Native Versus Web: A Moment In Time – “the web represents independence from platform owners. It offers incredible freedom to build what you to want build, and to ship when you are ready to ship, without any gatekeepers.”
Pinboard Turns Five – “I enjoy the looking-glass aspect of our industry, where running a mildly profitable small business makes me a crazy maverick not afraid to break all the rules.”
Bad Voltage podcast – “an amusing take on technology, Open Source, politics, music, and anything else we think is interesting”
(I was sent a free ebook of this title. That hasn’t influenced my review. This ebook is published by Smashing Magazine and costs €10.95. There’s a sample chapter available. I have no financial connection with the publisher or author.)
When I read about this book I was excited to read it. I don’t need Yet Another Accessibility Book (I co-wrote one a long time ago) but wanted something that delves deeply into WAI-ARIA and how it interacts with HTML5 and assistive technologies. As this book’s blurb says “the underlying theme of this book is about making the interactivity of web applications include keyboard and screen reader users”, it seemed like the book for me. It’s also tech-reviewed by Steve Faulkner who’s my go-to Bogan for practical accessibility information, so I was pretty sure I could trust it.
WAI-ARIA is one of the vital specifications for making the web accessible. There are three problems with using it, though: firstly, the spec is hard to read and understand, even in the context of specs’ inherent indigestibility; secondly, it’s hard to understand how its concepts intertwine with other specs like HTML and, thirdly, most developers don’t use assistive technologies so are unable to understand or test the output of their ARIA pages.
Therefore, I greatly appreciated that author Heydon Pickering is a developer, so keeps the book practical. ARIA is used, in conjunction with markup and script in situations that you’d really encounter. The problem to be solved is elucidated, and the output is clearly explained. It goes deep, too; I learned a great deal and plan to re-read it soon.
It’s a short book (but quite dense) and Heydon’s prose style is clear and occasionally humorous. But don’t let that fool you; this is an important book because it’s the only one that thoroughly explains the technical merits and use of ARIA (and doesn’t browbeat the reader about accessibility).
Without hyperbole: every developer should read this book, and put its techniques into practice. Now.
I/O Thoughts – write-up of Google I/O conference from an iOS developer.
Beautifully illustrated children’s books which break social norms – a kickstarter to raise £6000 by author and computer book publisher Amie Lockwood. “when was the last time you read a children’s story where the mother ran her own business; the father was the primary caregiver; there were children in wheelchairs; there were multi-racial households; there were same-sex parents or single parents”
As the proud owner of a teenage girl who’s turning into a fine young woman, I’ve reflected on the various stages of parenthood:
spending 49% of salary on baby food, and 49% on nappies
grazed knees and reassurance
helping with homework
realising you’re unable to help with homework
pretending not being sad when they say they hate you
making them work for relatively trivial amounts of money so they understand that money is valuable
being polite to spotty herberts with ludicrous hair and unstable voices (Teenage Boys)
“this is a house not a hotel”
The daughter is pretty well-equipped for adulthood. She already excels in many aspects of the curriculum at Bruce’s Finishing School for Modern Young Ladies® – she can fart outrageously, think deeply, belch loudly, accept differences, kickbox and knock down arse-gropers, play guitar, say “no”, say “fuck off”, spin out a really good joke to entertain both friends and eavesdroppers on a bus, get a paedophile deported, support her friends, swear inventively and hold her vodka down.
So I’m beginning a programme of watching classic movies with her. Not worthy art films, just those that have a different view of life, are surprising, or beautiful, or don’t portray women as idiots or trophies to be won, or simply those you’ll feel embarrassed saying “I haven’t seen that” at a student party.
Here’s a list so far:
Some Like It Hot
The usual suspects
Evil Dead 2013
The Big Lebowski
Un chien Andalou
Triumph of the Will
Kind Hearts and Coronets
Your recommendations (with a line about why) would be highly useful.
My university friend Richard was doing some paperwork at his house and found a magazine published in the late 80s with three of my poems in it, each of which I’d written to capture one single moment or emotion. For no other reasons than it’s fun for me to rediscover my younger self, and because right now it actually is a hot evening in July, and also because I want to pretend to be all sensitive’n’shit, here’s one of those poems:
It is a hot evening in July. You and I
lie, naked, on the bed. My cigarette smoke
dances in the sun’s fading rays, and hangs in the air
like angels, waiting. Are you awake?
Yes, it seems that you are.
You run your fingers through your raven-black hair,
slowly. Your eyes are half-closed. Your eyelashes are long.
Your skin is pale, glazed with sweat. Your lips are wet.
Stubble in your armpits. Nipples dark, erect.
One of your legs gently massages the other, so slowly.
I lie back, exhaling slowly, and kiss you.
But you do not kiss me.
I have often noticed this: you will reciprocate,
but not initiate. A clock ticks somewhere.
You retain fragments of a fractured innocence:
You remind me of a fallen angel. There are no words.
A smile comes to your lips and I say, What’s funny?
You do not reply.
It is a hot evening in July.
It is a hot evening in July:
humid; quiet. You sigh.
We breathe heavily, in unison.
The sound of next door’s radio
floats languidly through our window to the world.
You hum along, inaudibly. I light another cigarette as
you shift to your side to face me. I stare at the ceiling
and send a smoke ring drifting
which hangs over your head and dissipates.
Your hand rests on my stomach, your head on my chest.
My free arm around your shoulders.
I can hear your heart beat.
I can feel your heart beat.
Somewhere a clock is ticking.
You look up and smile to me; our eyes are solemn.
And then you kiss me and I could cry.
It is a hot evening in July.
Being a compendium of links that I’ve read, or tweeted, gathered together for those who don’t hang around on twitter all day. Inclusion here doesn’t imply endorsement, just that I found it useful or interesting.
Standards ‘n’ Stuff
Here’s the <picture> element, all grown up and looking so slinky in a mint-green WHATWG spec and matching tiara
html5-h custom element by Steve Faulkner is a web component to replace <h1>-<h6> and implement the proper HTML5 document outline. Interesting stuff; web components as a way to smooth around broken implementations.
Fuzzy anchoring – another proposal for a method to link to arbitrary places in a document you don’t control. See also Using CSS Selectors as Fragment Identifiers by Simon St Laurent and Eric Meyer (disclosure: I reviewed an early draft of this proposal). I want something like this, but there’s little interest in the standards groups, I think.
Dear Marc Andreessen – “If our industry stops painting anyone who questions our business models as Luddites and finds creative ways to build products and services that sustainably address real needs, maybe we can hold on to the receding myth of triumphal disruption.”
It looks like Manifest for web application is gonna be, like, literally, a thing. It’s already in Firefox OS, Opera likes it, and Alex Russell – sounding like an enthusiastic estate agent with his breathless talk of “window decorating” & “exit extents” – gave it a yay from the Chrome team.