Posted in books

June 27: Library group

I joined a reading group at the library, and it turned out to be a very interesting first meeting, where we meandered from the book under discussion to other authors to politics and beyond. It was quite difficult to have a proper discussion of the book because the group leader and I were the only two who had actually finished reading it, so I’ll give my thoughts here.

It had a good opening line – probably the best I’ve read.

It was a bit of a family saga, over two generations. There was a mystery – at first only a disappearance, but eventually disclosure of a murder. Or maybe two murders. The probable murderer got his comeuppance. No police were involved.

I laughed out loud at an inappropriate moment (when the protagonist’s atheist father died). Well, he was climbing a church steeple and he got struck by lightning.

I didn’t really like the protagonist much. I didn’t like the girl he fell in love with, either. But I did like Ash, the girl he needed to fall in love with.

The ends were too neatly tied for me. Prentice got a second chance at Uni. He got a legacy and a fancy car. The murderer got what he deserved. The disappeared uncle was found (dead, sadly). The girl Prentice should have fallen for turns out to love him…

Iain Banks is an author worth reading, but not a quick read. This book was okay.

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Posted in Theatre

June 23: Sea Wall

This is on for another week, so no spoilers.

Andrew Scott is becoming one of my favourite actors. This play, or monologue, really, is outstanding. It made the audience gasp and lose their collective breath, and brought them to their feet for a standing ovation.

Scott gave us a very natural husband, father and son-in-law, and there were moments of wit and comedy as well as moments of almost unendurable sadness. (There were some maths references too, which pleased me, but not enough of them to put anyone off).

The play is short, only 30 minutes, but as there is no set there is no problem with sight lines, so the cheapest seats would be as good as the best if you are worried about value for money.

I loved this, and recommend it.

Posted in Opera

June 22: Cave

I spent a less than happy half hour trying to find the venue for “Cave”. The Printworks is an old industrial site in the back woods of Bermondsey, nowadays apparently used as a nightclub. The security staff certainly looked like nightclub bouncers.

Once inside, I was amazed at the immensity of the place. A vast, empty, galleried warehouse, with a floor of what seemed to be wood shavings, and sheets of white plastic hung from the highest ceiling I’ve seen outside of a cathedral. There was no sign of an orchestra or stage, and seating consisted of a few rows of wooden chairs (the posh seats), a back row of high plastic bar stools (the cheap seats), and for some poor souls, a standing spot on a high balcony.

The performance space turned out to be the long wood-shaving carpeted corridor. And it was a long corridor. At times there was action at both ends, which meant a lot of tennis-match style swivelling to see the action, and the orchestra were hidden behind a sheet to begin with, which was odd.

This was modern opera, with modern music. No songs, but an excellent performance by the tenor, Mark Padmore, who was on stage and singing (mostly solo) for the entire performance.

The concept was good. The aftermath of a climate change disaster; a father dreaming of his eco-warrior daughter at various stages of her life. I felt the interlude with the adult daughter fell flat, but the scenes with the child daughter were good.

There were some very interesting moments. At one point the father lit a fire on the floor of the “cave” and I worried that the wood shavings might catch. Later, there was a storm and a downpour of actual rain from the roof, soaking the singer. There was a lot of water, it went on falling for quite a while, and the front row of the audience were in danger of a soaking too. It certainly made sure the fire was out.

I liked this opera very much. I like the way the Royal Opera are getting out into parts of London where any sort of live theatrical performance is rare. And I give them kudos for venturing south of the river.

Posted in books

June 20: Summer Reading #3

M is for McDonald

I haven’t read many good science fiction books recently. I’m not a lover of “space opera” or aliens, so I approached Chaga with a little trepidation.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It had some science and some politics and a setting I was unfamiliar with (Africa). I generally like McDonald’s “big” books (Brasyl etc), and while this wasn’t quite like those, it had some similarities.

It would have been good to have, say, a Nigerian reporter, rather than an African crew backing up a white incomer, and the “spunky girl reporter” trope got on my nerves. I wanted a more believable protagonist. I would have liked to see a lot more of Oksana. The “sexy scientist” boyfriend irritated me as well.

I wanted to know more about the Chaga. I wanted to know why they were making the spaceship habitable for humans. I wanted to know where they came from. I wanted more about the whales.

It puzzles me that I liked the book without liking the characters in it. I’m tempted to add the two follow-up Chaga books to my extra-long wish list (211 books at latest count), to see if it gets clearer.

Posted in Television

June 11: Patrick Melrose

Last summer, I read Edward St Aubyn’s first Patrick Melrose novel, Never Mind, as the first of my SUMMER reading challenge books. It gripped me and horrified me enough to make me buy and read the other four books in the series.

Almost exactly a year later, Benedict Cumberbatch takes on the role of Patrick in an eponymously titled TV miniseries, and plays it masterfully.

The series doesn’t flinch from the abuse suffered by the child Patrick, but thankfully doesn’t feel he need to portray it graphically. A closing door is evidence enough of what is happening.

Events in the books are rejuggled. The series starts with the death of Patrick’s father, and ends with the death of his mother. The optimistic end of the last novel is omitted completely, as is the new-age Irishman’s comeuppance.

There is wit and humour, and darkness.

This series deserves to win awards. I will be terribly disappointed if it doesn’t.

Posted in books

June 11: Summer Reading #2

U is for Udall.

Strangely, I seem to have chosen another ghost story. Of course, I didn’t know it was a ghost story until about halfway through.

This book was okay. Not brilliant, but not bad. I felt sorry for all the characters, but not enough to cry for them, not even little Millie.

I wanted Jonah to get over himself, and I was oddly irritated by the central not-really-a-character, Audrey.

I wanted more of Kew, more of the paper birds.

I wouldn’t put this on my read-again list, but I don’t feel the time spent on it was wasted.

Posted in Theatre

June 9: Stitchers

I always find it amazing that the tiny Jermyn Street Theatre can put in such “big” shows.

This time it was a wonderful play about prisoner rehabilitation through embroidery. Based on fact, this play by Emma Freud was fierce and moving. It brought back the feeling of helplessness and frustration I felt as a prison teacher when classes were cancelled without notice because of lockdowns, and reminded me that the frustration was far worse for the inmates.

The inmates were not softened at all. There was no “do-goodery” about Lady Anne. Nevertheless, good was done, and hard edges softened.

There was a shocking moment towards the end of the play, but on the whole, it was an uplifting experience.

Sinéad Cusack was wonderful, of course, but the whole cast put on a fine performance. I was pleased that the trans woman character was actually played by a trans woman. I feel that the true horror of being a trans woman in a men’s prison could only really be shown this way.

There was one extra little surprise. The programme was actually the entire text of the play. A real bargain.

Go and see this if you can. You won’t be disappointed.

Posted in Theatre

June 6: Romeo and Juliet

I was surprised to discover that there is a fringe festival in Catford. I went along to see BOXLIT theatre hoping for a vibrant experience, but the venue was less than welcoming, and let the company down, I feel. Twenty minutes before the show was due to start, the theatre doors were still locked. Eventually, with ten minutes to spare, I was let in, and when I say “I”, I mean exactly that. I suppose on a Wednesday afternoon in Catford a small audience is to be expected, but it must have been very disappointing for the cast to have an audience of three (including the director and a member of the front-of-house team).

BUT- they acted their socks off.

The two actors took on a major Shakespearean tragedy and made it their own.

The set was stark, minimalist, modern. It was black and white. White fluorescent tubing, white draperies, the two main characters costumed in white. Minor characters in black. The only colour crept in via the excellent use of film.

Chloe Levis was a wonderful Juliet, and also took on the role of Friar Laurence. Seb Christophers made a good job of Romeo and in his gender swap, played the Nurse. Between them, the two actors portrayed Mercutio, Tybalt, Paris et al, with the action including a very clever solo fight scene.

This one-hour show pared the play down to its essentials, but kept the language. Despite the necessary million or so costume changes, there was no feeling of interruption of disconnection, thanks to the very clever use of film, music and audio-visual effects. I give credit for the smoothness of the production to Andrew Livingstone, for some very tight direction.

The company are taking the production to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer. I hope they get the publicity and audiences they deserve, and I am very glad that I got to see them.

Posted in books

June 5: Summer Reading #1

S is for Saunders

The first of my six summer books is coincidentally the fiftieth of my fifty-book challenge.

I wish I could say I liked this book, but to be truthful, I didn’t. The style is clever, but I found it irritating after the first couple of chapters.

I understand the concept of the bardo. And it seems to me that Saunders is using this ghost story as a way of marking Lincoln’s transition into an abolitionist. It feels clunky and patchworky, though.

There was one thing I really didn’t like. The notion that children had to be punished in order to allow adults to make penance did not sit comfortably with me at all.

Altogether, I thought there was too much bardo and not enough Lincoln.

I’m never sure what makes a Booker winner. Some I have loved. Others I have hated. This one doesn’t fall into either category for me, which says something in itself.

Posted in Art

June 3: Alfie’s

On the way to the Cockpit I passed the iconic Alfie’s Antiques, and had to take a photograph of the “Klimts” adorning it’s frontage.