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Michael Coveney: Hooray for Halifax and Carrie's ENO debut

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Yesterday's Bafta television awards signalled success for several firm favourites at Whatsonstage.com: Ben Whishaw was named best actor for his superb Richard II, Sheridan Smith best actress for her truly remarkable performance as the Great Train Robber's wife, Mrs Biggs, and Simon Russell Beale supporting actor for his frisky Falstaff. 

But no applause was warmer than that for the Bafta best television drama series, Last Tango in Halifax, in which Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid played two widowed pensioners finding true love after years of not finding each other. The point, slightly condescending, was that something so extraordinary and beautiful should happen in the region of West Yorkshire more noted for broad comedy - as in Last of the Summer Wine - than for heartfelt passion.

Try telling that to anyone who actually lives there, especially this morning, after FC Halifax Town marched triumphantly back into the Conference League (that's just one level below the Football League proper) five years after being liquidated. The club has reformed and secured four promotions in five years and yesterday overcame the odds by beating the year's surprise team in the Blue Square Bet North league, Brackley Town, in  the promotion final. 

This may sound small beer to you, especially on a weekend when football headlines were dominated by Wigan's fairytale victory over Manchester City in the FA Cup Final at Wembley, and an emotional farewell at Old Trafford to the retiring manager of Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson.

But for about a thousand of us in the middle of the Northamptonshire countryside, stood on broken terracing in the sleeting rain for 90 minutes, yesterday afternoon was our Nirvana as skipper Danny Lowe lifted the cup after striker Lee Gregory had slid home the only goal of the game fifteen minutes from the end.

Getting a ticket had not been easy, as the allocation to Halifax fans was restricted to just a thousand (the Brackley ground accommodates just three thousand, and they were hosting the final on account of finishing higher in the league than had the Shaymen). And Town could have happily taken three of four times that number.

But - and here's the thing - the club chairman, David Bosomworth, had earmaked a couple of dozen tickets for the hardcore Shaymen Down South fans, and these were duly purchased by one of his directors, who made an appointmnet at noon  yesterday lunchtime in the attractive market town of Brackley with our SDS chairman, Simon Denton. There was a fateful exchange of hard cash and brown envelopes as we prepared for the nerve-shredding saga with a fine Sunday roast lunch in the Greyhound Inn.

How I got there at all was exciting, too. I took the Stratford-upon-Avon train from Marylebone - something I do anyway several times a year - but this time alighted at Kings Sutton, six and half miles from Brackley. No buses from there on  a Sunday.

A friendly lady in her garden told me of the local cab firm. I rang it, and my driver said he would be round the front of his house in ten minutes after he'd finished feeding the horse in a nearby field. I thought at first I was going to have ride side-saddle into Brackley, but he whisked me over there in a pretty comfortable four-wheel drive. 

All in all, the outing made an agreeable contrast to some equally intense theatrical experiences I managed to cram in over the weekend. The first of these was Helena Kaut-Howson's electrifying version of Chekhov's Platonov, Sons Without Fathers, at the Arcola in Dalston.

This was followed by a Saturday matinee of the Finborough's fascinating revival of John Van Druten's London Wall at the St James. And then the overwhelming experience of Alban Berg's Wozzeck at the ENO.

Carrie Cracknell, directing, made her ENO debut in the wake of Rupert Goold withdrawing from the gig some months ago due to tangled film commitments. She's done a fantastic job, relocating Wozzeck's tragedy in a British post-traumatic-stress situation after service abroad in the Iraq war.

Yes, it sounds a bit of a cliche now, but the setting works very well, even though I miss the outdoors aspect of the  final scenes of murder and transfiguration by the lake. Heads plopped down on a kitchen table isn't quite the same thing, and I wasn't much taken with the running streams of blood and water down the kitchen cupboards.

Unsurprisingly for a director of A Doll's House (her award-winning Young Vic production), Carrie Cracknell has commissioned, well, a doll's house of a set from Tom Scutt, who won a Whatsonstage.com Award for his design of Nick Payne's Constellations.

At least this one doesn't revolve endlessly as did her Young Vic design, which gave me a headache. A headache of a much more acceptable kind was provided by the astounding, overwhelming noise of Berg's music, rising from the pit under Ed Gardner's conducting like a primeval swamp.

I hadn't listened to this score for a long time, and it destroyed me all over again. And the singing of Leigh Melrose as the shattered soldier hero and Sara Jakubiak (an Amercian soprano making a wonderful ENO debut) as his lover Marie rose to every challenge and then went beyond. Magnificent. Matched only by our chanting on the Brackley Town terraces as FC Halifax Town took another giant step towards their rightfully restored glory.


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