February 21: Walkaway

Reading this book reminded me of how much I love good science fiction. Cory Doctorow is a favourite author, and this book is a mixture of cyberpunk, post-apocalypse and politics. I like Hubert Etcetera, and wish there was more of him in the story. There is an interesting mix of gender and racial characteristic examination. The rich guy is pretty much always the bad guy, but actually, not quite. A lot of years pass between sections of the book, and there are some disconnects that I would have like reconnected. I enjoyed this book, a lot.

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February 18: Reading Challenge

Just a catch -up. Categories are difficult, as I seem to read quite a lot of crossovers of genre. My best attempt is here. I’m almost halfway to my goal and it’s only February.

So far this year, I have only read one real stinker of a book, and it is by Wilbur Smith, who ought to have been ashamed of himself for writing such trash.

I revisited some old favourites. Notably, Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness (an interesting take on gender which sadly sidesteps the issue of male power in relationships); and the first three of Terry Pratchett’s City Watch books (the rest are on my to-read list), which feature the wonderfully human Sam Vimes.

I have mentioned my growing enjoyment of graphic novels in other posts, so I won’t go into them here, apart from mentioning that six of my 21 books so far are in that format. Quite a big proportion, hugely outweighing the proportion that are classics.

The biggest proportion is crime, and if I include all the crossovers, half of all my reading so far this year is crime. I always thought of myself as a sci-fi buff, but maybe I need to rethink that.

Crime fiction

4

Thriller

1

Science Fiction

1

Fantasy crime

3

Classic novel

1

Historical novel

1

SciFi Crime

2

AU crime graphic novel

5

Historical graphic novel

1

Poetry SciFi novel

1

Psychological thriller

1

February 16: Satyagraha

So it was off to the Coliseum for English National Opera and Philip Glass’s Opera about Ghandi. I thought myself lucky, having bagged a front tow circle seat in the secret seats lottery. A £68 seat for £20! Unfortunately it was front row in the slips. The view of the orchestra and conductor was excellent. The action was visible, although half the projected text wasn’t, being on a very curved set, and as I hadn’t shelled out for a programme, I was at a bit of a disadvantage. I liked the music, a lot. The soloists were good, the chorus were good. There was some excellent puppetry and stilt walking. But it was very hot in the theatre, and I was bundled up in boots and jumper ( February!). My coat was under the seat in a bundle. My admittedly oversized handbag was wedged between my waist and the circle rail ( remember to take a smaller bag next time). My knees were pressed hard up against the safety barrier ( and I am not tall), and when I later took my boots off, I found bruises from where I had had to twist my feet to fit them into the available space. By the end of act 1 I was in such discomfort that I had to leave.

I did really like the first act of Satyagraha. I wish I could have seen the whole opera. Sadly, this may never happen, as if doesn’t seem to be available on DVD. I suppose I’ll have to hope it isn’t too long before it gets put on again. And I’ll book a better seat.

February 4: The Death of Stalin

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This is the book that inspired the recent and quite brilliant film. It is a worthy addition to my graphic novels shelf, being clever, believable and well drawn. I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this story, and chuckled quietly to myself. It is very slightly subtler than the film, and didn’t give me so many laugh-out-loud moments, but it did make me appreciate the characters more.

February 1: Tools of Endearment

Today saw the “opening” of an installation by Kalliopi Lemos. It was supposed to be starting at 6, but when I arrived a bit before that time, it looked as if it was all over. The pieces were lit up in low-key purple (presumably a nod to the suffragettes); the artist was having her photograph taken; it was starting to rain icy needles. A tourist jumped into the big shoe to have her photo taken, and was shouted at by a member of the NOW Gallery staff. There wasn’t much of a crowd, but it was pretty cold outside the O2. I think maybe a party was going to happen inside the Gallery, but I didn’t have an invitation.

The collection (which is apparently going to grow) is based on the idea of forcing conversation about the role of femininity in society and more particularly in the field of public art work. It is an interesting idea. I just wish the pieces themselves were more exciting.

February 1: Julius Caesar

A visit to the Bridge theatre is something I am coming to look forward to very much. This time, the stalls had been stripped out to form a pit for an immersive version of the play. (In my cowardly way, I booked a seat, but in the front row, and by good fortune at the right end of the theatre for all the action). And there was action!

The use of hydraulically raised and lowered stage blocks was clever. The crowd management was well done and incorporated into the action. The opening rally and rock concert was as “Trump” as it could be, with banners and red caps a-plenty (including on my own head), and maybe one of the best versions of Seven Nation Army I have heard.

Michelle Fairley, David Morrissey and Ben Wishaw were all brilliant. Wishaw’s Brutus was introspective and almost a philosopher, in contrast to Fairley’s Cassius, who was strong and soldierly. Morissey’s Mark Anthony was the star for me.

There was no interval to break up the momentum of the play, and I think this was a good decision, even if it did deprive me of madeleines.

An excellent production, and worth the price of a front row seat.

As a diversion, the combination of Shakespeare and Seven Nation Army reminded me of the character Dogberry from Much Ado…. (The connection is via a band called the Dogberries – tenuous, I know). A few weeks ago, I was wracking my brains for the name of the figure of speech similar to, but not quite, a malapropism. Dogberry uses it a lot, and on looking him up, I was able to recall that this figure of speech is called an eggcorn. Which interestingly, is an eggcorn of acorn. We have a family eggcorn – we accuse each other of “casting nasturtiums” (when we mean aspersions, if you couldn’t work it out).

Here endeth the lesson.

January 25: Writing update

I started a story a few weeks ago, responding to a prompt by an artist. I really meant to write that story, but after three chapters, I found it very difficult to incorporate the prompt, and I lost the urge. I might write the story one day, but for now, I have let it go.

January 25: Edward II

This was only my second Marlowe play, and it was as humourless as the first one I saw. It seems Marlowe doesn’t play to the masses, as his contemporary, Shakespeare, does. There are no comedy gravediggers or rude mechanicals here.

This play should be an epic tragedy, but it doesn’t quite manage it.

Each lord of duke had his own actor (unusual these days in small venues, where multi-tasking seems to be the order of the day), although eight young white men in business attire and bare feet were hard to tell apart, even when they were all onstage together). Alicia Charles (Queen Isabella) got a nice frock, and Timothy Blore, as King Edward, had a nice glittery crown, but failed to be “kingly” in my opinion. His lover, Gaveston (played by Oseloka Obi, the only black actor in the cast, who also, depressingly, played the part of the executioner) was as petulant as the King, and the whole thing felt very shallow.

Lazarus used all their usual tricks; harsh lighting, drums, air horns, etc. There was a pre-show warning for haze, language, nudity, but to be honest, they might as well have not bothered about that, there was very little of anything offensive.

The gay theme was overt, but not really sexual. The violence was stylised. The execution scenes were strange and oddly shallow.

My overall impression was of a company trying to offend but not knowing how to, really. They knew their lines and delivered them competently. They did what the director told them to. The fight scenes were well-choreographed, but the whole thing felt superficial and vaguely unsatisfying.

I have seen Lazarus before, and liked them. Hopefully, this was just an “off” performance.

January 18: The Man Who Laughs

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Having seen the musical play “The Grinning Man”, I decided to read the book it was based on. Victor Hugo’s works are available for free from iBooks, so I downloaded a copy and settled in for what turned out to be a very bleak ride.

Like many “period” authors (Melville, Dickens and the like), Hugo indulges himself in lengthy descriptive passages, and whole chapters of what seem to be lists of the peerage. I found the book to be a difficult read because of this, and caught myself skipping sections in order to get on with the story.

There is a (thankfully not too detailed) description of the surgical procedures used on Gwynplaine, and a quite horrible account of his reception by his peers towards the end of the book. The actual ending shocked me, and was quite different from the ending of the play.

 

January 12: The Grinning Man

Yesterday, I saw what was possibly the best musical I have ever seen. It had everything: excellent live music (at one point I had a cellist disconcertingly close to my right ear); fabulous set and costumes; excellent singing and acting from a wonderfully diverse cast, and the best multi-layered puppetry I have seen. I loved this show. It brought me to tears in places, and provoked laughter in others. It was gory, and gothy, and quite wonderful.