Week 30

A quiet week in cultural terms. I was out quite a lot, but only in shopping centres. My opera, like my reading, took place on the sofa.

Opera/TV

BBC Proms

Beethoven: Fidelio

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This is Beethoven’s only opera, and I had high hopes. It was obviously concertised rather than staged, and had some good characterisation by the ingenue couple, Marzelline and Jaquino (Louise Adler and Benjamin Hulet). Stuart Skelton as Florestan was excellent, but the whole thing was let down by the supposed main character Leonore/Fidelio (Ricarda Merbeth), who screeched her way through the performance. James Cresswell did well as Rocco, particularly as he was a last-minute stand-in and was “on the book”. Sadly, I felt the ending was a bit limp, and I would have liked more chorus work.

SUMMER reading challenge

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Marra is the first of my two “M” authors. This book was not my usual fare, but I enjoyed it very much. The characters all go through nightmares of one sort or another, and I felt that these were real people undergoing real trials. We don’t get a happy ending all round, but in life, who does? I recommend this heartily.

Week 29

The cough is beginning to abate, St Swithin’s day was wet (always good news for me) and there have been some cooler days. Almost back to normal!

Theatre

Southwark Playhouse

Oliver Cotton: Dessert

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This play was sadly not as tasty as its poster promised it would be. It was a “rich man gets his comeuppance” drama that fell flat for me. The first act was ok, but I found the ending a little bit silly and very unsatisfying. I expected more from a play directed by Trevor Nunn.

Pop Culture

IMG_0289The new Dr Who has been unveiled as Jodie Whittaker. I am pleased that the show runners have finally chosen a woman to play this iconic role, but I do wish they’d gone a bit further out on their limb. I suppose a young, classically pretty, blonde white woman is a first baby step…

Books

SUMMER reading challenge

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This week’s author is Ugrešić, who has written an odd little three-section story. I chose this to try to widen my range of reading to (a) include more female writers, (2) read works from a wider range of cultures (in this case, Croatia), and (iii) include more “non-genre” titles.

Section one is a first-person narration of an uncomfortable mother/daughter relationship, from the point of view of the daughter. The second section seems completely unrelated – a sort of “road trip” undertaken by three women, none of whom seem to have any connection to anyone from the first section. The final section seems to be a long note from a translator/researcher to a publisher, detailing many aspects of the Baba Yaga stories in an almost-Wikipedia style, and relating them quite tenuously to sections one and two. Only at the end do we find out that the academic who has written this note is called Aba Bagay…

Other reading:

IMG_0291Bluets is a strange little thing. I bought it because it claimed to be about the author’s love of the colour blue, and because I have recently discovered a liking for the colour for myself after suffering many years of school-uniform induced blue-phobia.

I found the paragraph-numbering odd and not very consistent, and the continuous references to a lost lover irritating. Nelson refers to turquoise as a shade of blue (several times) , which is annoying because clearly, turquoise is an entirely separate colour.  I assumed the title was a made-up word; a term coined to describe “bits of blue”, and was actually quite disappointed to discover it is the name of a flower. I know other people like this a lot. It didn’t really do much for me, but don’t let that stop you reading it for yourself. You might love it.

Week 28

The cough persists, but is slowly receding, and fortunately leaving me enough time between bouts to be able to enjoy stuff without annoying my neighbours too much.

Theatre

Union Theatre

Tim Rice/Stephen Oliver: Blondel

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It seems that I am gradually coming round to an enjoyment of musicals. (Not all of them, though!)

Blondel is a very early Tim Rice offering, and was good fun, if a bit panto-ish. There were some outstanding moments, great voices, and some excellent characterisations, including the best Prince John since Alan Rickman.

The Union is a theatre best experienced in winter, I think. The summer heat inside this little railway arch was oppressive, and the seats are packed in with very little legroom. I was seated near a portable air-conditioner, which was noisy and didn’t do much to cool the air. On the plus side, the cafe is good, with lots of outside space.

Opera

ROH/ Big Screen

Puccini:Turandot

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These “big screenings” are an event with their own style. Picnic suppers, live-tweeting and singing lessons in the intervals.

I wasn’t able to get to the local Big Screen this time, and so missed my traditional Wimpy takeaway picnic,  but because it was a live stream, I was able to join in via my iPad, with a home-delivery KFC picnic on the sofa. (Sadly, Wimpy have not joined the home delivery market yet.)

Turandot is spectacularly problematic. One of the best arias ever in Nessun Dorma, but as bad in its treatment of women as you could find pretty much anywhere.

i live in hope that one day I will see a performance of this opera that does not use yellow-face. It must surely be possible to find Asian singers; or if not, to change the setting so it is not so obviously Chinese.

Ballet

ROH/BBC4

Wayne McGregor: Woolf Works

IMG_0515I confess to not being a ballet lover. I like some dance, but generally speaking, big ballets leave me fairly cold.  Having said that, occasionally one will catch me out. This week the BBC broadcast a live-ish production of Woolf Works from the Royal Opera House, and I was captivated. The music was modern, costumes were beautiful, design was excellent and the dancers were wonderful. i particularly liked the middle Orlando section,  and this has spurred me to download a copy of the book to add to my to-read list.

 

Theatre/Cinema

Donmar/Picturehouse

Shakespeare: Julius Caesar

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Okay, so not live, but this film of Julius Caesar from the Donmar was one of the highlights of my cultural year so far. Outstanding performances by Harriet Walter as Brutus and Martina Laird as Cassius; some inspired design/props elements (particularly the red rubber gloves); and a bit of hard rock music, too. The use of a prison setting, and its incorporation into the play was clever, and the all-female, multi-ethnic casting was well-justified. I loved this, and recommend it to anyone, Shakespeare lover or not.

Books

SUMMER reading challenge

I decided to just read these one a week in the order they come, so, first up for this week was St Aubyn.

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There is a lot of hype about this author, and the book is certainly readable. It is also mercifully short, because the subject matter is shocking. I couldn’t understand why so much praise had been heaped on it, until I did a bit of research and discovered that it was autobiographical. That put a very different complexion on the story, and pushed me into buying the other four books in the series.

 

The rest of the Patrick Melrose series kept me occupied while I suffered with the lingering cough that stopped me sleeping this week.  I found this whole series bleak and populated with really unlikeable people. Thankfully, there is redemption at the very end of the last book.

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Week 27

This week was designated as “Hamlet Week“. Three possible performances – two of which I actually had tickets for. Then fate intervened, of course.

IMG_0260First up was Changeling Theatre and their outdoor offering. Great reviews, but, on the day I had booked, coinciding with the beginnings of a head cold, and, worse than that, FLYING ANT DAY. Sitting with a headache in a field of flying ants is probably one of my worst nightmares. I stayed home and re-read Ian McEwen’s “Nutshell”.

Next up was the new opera at Glyndebourne. Obviously too far away, but being broadcast live to cinemas. Irritatingly, I had already booked broadcast night to see another version of Hamlet, so couldn’t take advantage of the air-conditioning and cheap comfy seats in my local Picturehouse. I hope there will be an “Encore” screening at some point in the future.

The Hamlet I was most looking forward to was the Andrew Scott portrayal at the Harold Pinter theatre. Sadly, my head cold had developed by then into a full-on coughing and spluttering chest-based spectacular. I sadly returned my ticket.

 

I ended up on my sofa on Friday evening watching the most over-the-top filmed version anyone IMG_0262could possibly imagine. There are many reviews of this in the world, so I’m not going to add to them, except to say that I am certain that casting Derek Jacobi as Claudius must have been a Kenneth Branagh joke. (Actually, this Claudius was one of the best I have ever seen, and made the film much better than it might have been.) I could have done without Robin Williams, but Charlton Heston was wonderful.

Books

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First up, the afore-mentioned Nutshell, one of the Hogarth re-imaginings of Shakespeare. No prizes for guessing what this one is.

 

Other reading this week included two with “strange” female protagonists. Both are unreliable as narrators for various reasons which don’t become clear until the ends of their stories. Both well worth a read.

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Finally, I have set myself a challenge for the rest of the summer, which, for me, ends on August Bank Holiday. Here are my six SUMMER books, chosen by author surname initial.

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The aim is to read all these between now and August Bank Holiday (which marks the end of summer for me).

S: Never Mind (Edward St Aubyn)
U: Baba Yaga Laid an Egg (Dubravka Ugrešić)
M: Sashenka (Simon Sebag Montefiore)
M: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Anthony Marra)
E: The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco)
R: Sidney Chambers and the Forgiveness of Sins (James Runcie)

 

Week 26

Halfway through the year, and I have kept my resolution of doing something “cultural” every week.  So far…

Theatre/Cinema

National Theatre Live

Yaël Farber: Salome

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I must admit to booking this under the impression that I was booking to see the RSC gender-bending version of Oscar Wilde’s play. (It was cinema-live, an easy mistake to make).

This version was touted as a feminist play, from a female viewpoint, but I’m not sure that anything with two on-stage rapes of the main character quite works in that way. The staging was imaginative, using the Olivier’s revolving stage very effectively. Costumes were good, acting was very stylised. The script switched between English and Arabic, with occasional subtitles helping the audience along. This was lovely to look at, but a bit short on substance. The best part was the beautiful throat singing of the two serving women.

Music

ENO at the Royal Festival Hall

Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius

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This was billed as a semi-staging, but it really wasn’t. There was an interesting lighting rig, and a lot of haze, but otherwise it was a straight concert performance, of the type that the Festival Hall was made for. The ENO chorus were breathtaking, and the 90 minutes sped past. The soloists were good (Gerontius himself being the weakest of the three); Simone Young kept the orchestra under firm control, and the performance received a well deserved extended ovation.

 

Books

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I haven’t actually finished any books this week, but I did come across a nasty little dystopian short story by Shirley Jackson. This was written in 1948, and there is a 1950s radio version you can listen to here.