Week 22

Sadly, this week’s post starts in a similar way to last week’s. Another terror attack, this time in London, and for the first time, south of the river. I was safely indoors when it happened, but just a few hours earlier, I had been at a theatre not too far from London Bridge, having a wonderful time. It is hard to just carry on as normal, but of course, we will.

Theatre

National Theatre (Lyttleton)

Lindsey Ferrentino: Ugly Lies The Bone

 

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This was a grim play with odd moments of comedy. Kate Fleetwood played the returned war hero very well, onstage for almost the whole play, wearing prosthetics and bandages throughout. This was a 90 minute, no interval play, and it was long enough. The set was interesting, largely empty, with elements on rails to ease changes of scene. The “virtual reality” lighting and projection was impressive. I had hoped that Kris Marshall would get a chance to show a bit more of his acting range, but sadly, he was given the role of yet another affable buffoon. Three stars for this. But the Lyttleton is looking in need of a little tlc.

Jermyn Street Theatre

Stephen Unwin: All Our Children

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Another grim offering, based on recent history. The idea that disabled children are dispensable, a drain on society is chilling. The acting was good, and I give five stars to Frau Pabst (Lucy Speed). Jermyn Street is tiny and the audience are practically onstage. I like this little theatre very much, and not only because they sell wonderful stem-ginger ice cream. This was another no-interval play, as seems to be fashionable nowadays. Four stars for this one.

Young Vic

Bertold Brecht: Life of Galileo

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This was wonderful. It had everything. Excellent acting, especially Brendan Cowell (Galileo), who was stellar. There was music (brilliantly composed by the Chemical Brothers), planetarium-style projection, subsonics that rattled my bones, puppetry, dancing…  And some serious science. I’m glad I hadn’t opted for stage seating, which took the form of sponge cushions on the floor. The bench seating was fine – only becoming slightly uncomfortable towards the end of the three hour play. Interestingly, I had a ticket for seat D31, but row D went from seat 30 to 32 with no sign of an actual seat 31. I sat in 32, and luckily, no one came to claim it. Five stars for the Young Vic for this one.

Books

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Two crime fiction offerings this week. Why Did You Lie is a proper Scandi-noir story. Multiple viewpoints, three seemingly-separate plot strands, angsty cop-with-a-problem. It was a good read, but it left a number of threads unresolved. I wonder if there will be a sequel?

I picked up the first in the Grantchester chronicles because it was (a) cheap and (b) a familiar story from a TV series. It was very reminiscent of Chesterton’s Father Brown  stories, rather more gentle than the TV programmes, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series, wherein Sidney promises to move up through the ranks of the clergy.

 

Week 21

This week started badly, with the horror of the Manchester bombing. I had tickets for a big gig just a few days later, and it was with not a little trepidation that I took a deep breath, donned my biker jacket and headed out…

Gigs

O2 Arena: Iron Maiden (Book of Souls Tour)

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When rock legends are playing in your home town, you just have to go. These guys really are legends, and the show was terrific. A mix of old and new songs, a fantastic stage set, pyrotechnics that nearly took my eyebrows off. They finished with the now-obligatory selfie of themselves and the audience. If you look closely, you might be able to see me – I’m the one waving…

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Security was of course very tight; my first encounter with armed police was more than a little unnerving, and the ticketless entry system led to long queues in addition to the already long queues for the electronic-arch-and-patdown security stations. Once inside, we headed for the food and drink franchises (shocking prices), and my companions found a small merchandise stall, where they were able to bypass the enormous crowd of people trying to buy t-shirts at the main merch stand outside the arena proper. All in all, it was a great night. The joy of screaming the lyrics of an old favourite song, along with thousands of other people of all ages, nationalities, genders, colours was a much-needed catharsis at the end of a tense week.

 

Books

I didn’t manage to finish anything this week, so I spent a little time putting together a “bingo grid” for my reading challenge.  Last year’s was pinched from the internet, and worked okay. I’ll stash it here and come back to it at the end of the year. Please feel free to use it if you want.

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Week 20

This week, I was trapped at home by disappearing bus stops. The two stops I use were out of service because of road workings. Only temporarily, but annoyingly, including  a day that I had intended to go to the theatre. This week was consequently quiet, and my culture was of the armchair variety.

Video/ Online

English National Ballet: Curing Albrecht

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This was a lovely little thing. Short and sweet, and a lot of fun. I loved the old Victorian baths it was filmed in. All those tiles, all that cast iron. And water! And stripey swimwear! Do take a few minutes to watch. It will cool you down on a hot day.

Books

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I occasionally buy a play script if I am not going to be able to see a play (and if it is not available on video). I had intended to see All Our Children this week, but wasn’t able to get there. I bought an e-copy of the script before I had a message from the theatre that they could offer me a transfer to another day (hooray!), so now I will be familiar with the play before I see it staged. I wouldn’t say it was enjoyable, but it was thought-provoking. I’ll say more when I have seen the play.

I’m working toward my reading challenge goal of 100 books by the end of the year. As part of the challenge, I make myself read books I should have read years ago. This week, I suffered through two. Pippi Longstocking must be the most irritating child ever imagined. I loathed her, and I can’t imagine that I would have liked her any better if I had encountered her as a child. The Bell Jar was disappointing. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but whatever it was, I didn’t get it. The book was readable, and contained some truly shocking moments, but I wanted “great” literature, and for me, this fell short. My final book this week was written by a Nobel prize winner. A shortish novel, heavily allegorical and with an anthropomorphic personification. An interesting read, not too heavy, with a predictable ending. I’d be interested in reading more by Saramago.

Week 19

Another “exhibitions” week.

The Wellcome Collection

Electricity: The Spark of Life

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This was surprisingly comprehensive for a free exhibition. The exhibits spanned the whole of human history, from lightning to modern power generation, and included art as well as artefacts. “Pure” science was well-represented, and Galvani loomed large. The film of a frog in zero gravity was oddly sad, but it was an interesting inclusion. The exhibition itself was well laid out, following a timeline from ancient to modern. Well worth seeing, even if you are not science-minded.

The British Library

Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths

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This is the second Russian-revolution-themed exhibition I have visited in this centenary year, and despite it having no Kandinskys for me to drool over, it was by far the better experience. Obviously, as a library exhibition, the main focus was on text and illustration, but there was enough archive footage, flags and realia to make this really interesting and worth the admission fee. The layout was exemplary. It was not possible to miss anything, there was ample seating for those who, like me, need a rest now and then, and the exhibits were very well chosen. My only gripe is  the prohibitive cost of even the paperback version of the catalogue.

Public art

Eduardo Paolozzi: Newton

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This is one of my favourite pieces of public art. I do like a big bronze, and this one has a sense of gravity (heh). It sits on a huge plinth outside the British Library, and I couldn’t walk past it without taking a snap.

J C F Rossi: The New St Pancras Church Caryatids

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Another favourite of mine. I was surprised to discover that they are made of terracotta, around a steel core. They look very much like ancient stone. The church faces on to the Euston Road, and is grade 1 listed, so these ladies will be around for a while.

Books

Only one book this week, and it was a disappointment.

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I like Inspector Montalbano a great deal, in both his TV incarnations, and I expected to like this. Sadly, the book does not read well. It feels like a caricature of the TV programme, rather than a “proper” crime novel in its own right. I know the books came first, so I imagine this must be a poor translation.  Catarella comes off particularly badly, and that is a shame. Even the food descriptions are poor. I don’t recommend this.

Week 18

An arty week this time. And some books, but no theatre.

Galleries

NOW Gallery: The Iris – Rebecca Louise Law

Menier Gallery: The UK Coloured Pencil Society – Annual open exhibition 2017

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The Iris was lovely. Obviously, by this (the last) week of the installation, the flowers had dried and yellowed, but somehow, I think this improved the work, making it into more than a floral arrangement. This is a fairly new gallery, and I shall be keeping my eye on what happens here.

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The pictures in the UK Coloured Pencil Society’s show were all very well executed, and clearly the prize-winners deserved their medals, but I prefer my art a little more abstract than any of the pictures on offer here. It was an interesting half-hour though, as there were several artists actually creating work while I was there.

Public Art

Today I spotted three works dotted around the Greenwich Peninsula.

Alex Chinneck: A Bullet from a Shooting Star

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The top picture shows this as it actually is today, taken from as close as I could get to the same position as the bottom one, when it was originally installed. I like it. Even though it is just an upside-down pylon.

Morag Myerscough: Colourblock Cranes

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You can just about make out the colours in my picture (top). I hadn’t realised that this was an art installation, as these are all actual working cranes, being used in the building of their surroundings. A clever idea.

Also in the top picture, you can see a granite “tramline”, which is supposed to be a longitude line. There are a number of these, separated by one-tenth of a second of longitude, interspersed with plaques showing various time-related facts. The picture below is one of my favourites.

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Yes, those are my boots. I have not been able to find out whose idea these lines and plaques were, but the granite tiling in the square was installed by Cundall (civil engineers).

Pop culture icons

The Alessi “Juicy Salif” juicer. A triumph of form over function. It spills juice everywhere, and you can’t use detergent on it or it turns itself, and every lemon thereafter, black.

But it is so beeyootiful!

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Books

Three this week, including the CCCP Cook Book that I mentioned a few weeks ago, and from which I plan to never cook anything. It does give an interesting picture of the bleak and awful kitchen landscape of The Soviet Union.

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The other two books are crime novels (well, one is a novella).

Legion is a clever concept. A schizophrenic whose hallucinations have hallucinations. I really enjoyed this, and I want more. Cold Storage, Alaska is a gentle story that reminded me a little of an old TV series called Northern Exposure. I enjoyed reading it, and again, would read more if it became a series.

Week 17

Slowly getting back to normal.

Theatre

National Theatre at the Gielgud

Mark Haddon, Simon Stephens: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

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This is a play I have been wanting to see for a long time. I would have dearly loved to see it in its first incarnation at the Olivier, but this was a good second-best. The only problem I had was the back-projection of “Christopher’s” drawings, which was faint and difficult to read sometimes from my seat halfway back in the stalls. I had read the book, a long time ago, and I knew that Marcus du Sautoy had been involved with the realisation of the right-angle-triangle problem in the encore ( a masterful stroke, and a pity that only half the audience stayed for it). The script stayed very true to the book, and as a bit of a geek, I enjoyed the hints of maths and science that were injected here and there.  I’m not sure that the portrayal of an autistic teenager is true to life, but it is good to see difference portrayed sympathetically.

Books

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Book 41 towards my target 100 for this year is The One, a sort-of dystopia, sort-of crime novel that doesn’t really work on either level. I didn’t feel any real empathy for any of the multiple protagonists, and all the storylines ended up being too neatly resolved. The DNA-match idea behind this book is clever, and could have been made much more of. 2 stars.

Week 16

I had plans this week. I was going to the Planetarium in Greenwich Park for a show about the Solar System (Meet The Neighbours). i didn’t make it. I was going to a radio show recording at the BBC (With Great Pleasure: Liz Carr). I didn’t make that either.

I did make use of our wonderful National Health Service, when I was taken suddenly and frighteningly ill at the beginning of the week. Everyone was wonderful. The paramedic, the ambulance crew, two lovely nurses and a doctor who saw me immediately and got me on to a drip within what felt like minutes, despite it being a bank holiday evening.

Its a week on from that day, and I have spent the days slowly recovering. I haven’t even had the mental energy to read anything beyond my Twitter timeline.

So, sorry for the interruption. Normal service should resume in week 17.

Week 15

Theatre

Live broadcast from the National Theatre 

William Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

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For the first time, I really appreciated that this was one of the Bard’s comedies. I laughed out loud at some scenes, and this is rare for me. The cast were excellent, of course. Viola and Orsino were the best I have ever seen, but the outstanding performance was Tamsin Grieg’s Malvolia, who left me in tears at her eventual fate. The set design was outstanding, making full use of the Olivier’s revolving stage, and I really wish I could have seen this in the actual theatre, rather than as a broadcast.

Festivals

The Tall Ships

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This was, in the main, an unpleasant experience. There were two venues, a long way apart. And the good stuff must have been at the other one on the day I went. There were crowds. (I know, it’s a festival, there are supposed to be crowds). Advance publicity had indicated that there would be music all day, on a number of stages. I chose the Woolwich Arsenal venue, on the grounds that it was likely to be less crowded than Maritime Greenwich. I could only find one small stage, where four sad old men sang sea shanties for ten minutes or so. The rest of the festival was basically a very long avenue of food and drink concessions, a few fairly average children’s entertainers, and an immense queue for the actual ships, which were hidden from general view by said immense queue. I decided that the best way to see any ships at all would be from the water, so I got on a Clipper boat and went the two stops to Greenwich. This was arguably the best part of the day. A seat on a catamaran, a good view of the ships on the river, a chance to take some photographs, and did I say a seat? Greenwich was awful, of course. Much more crowded, still no sign of the music, and I couldn’t wait to get on a bus to get far away.  I’m sure a lot of people really enjoyed the festival, but I wasn’t one of them.

Public art

Peter Burke: Assembly

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One good thing about going to the Tall Ships was the opportunity to see this installation of sixteen iron figures, at Woolwich Pier. They seem vaguely Gormley-ish, vaguely Paulozzi-ish, and I like them very much.

Books

Donna Leon: Earthly Remains

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I’m always happy when a new Donna Leon comes out, and especially happy when it’s a Brunetti book. I buy very few actual books now, I do most of my reading on a “device”, but this is a lovely exception, and sits well on the bookcase. No spoilers, as this is brand new, but it is Brunetti, it is set in the Laguna, and the case is resolved at the end. I enjoyed it.

Week 14

I was battling a bad cold this week, and nearly didn’t make the effort to get out of the house, but in the end, I’m glad I did.

Theatre

Yellow Earth Theatre at the Arcola

Christopher Marlowe: Tamburlaine 

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This was a very pared-back production. No set, apart from a white backdrop used to project text, and at one point a bizarre inclusion of negative film of a saxophonist accompanying Billie Holliday singing “My Baby”. I didn’t “get” that, and I haven’t seen any other reviews that have explained it at all. The cast were very good, swapping in and out of roles seamlessly, and the costuming and very few props were well-chosen. The lead female actor played a male tyrant believably and with great strength.  The play was accompanied throughout by excellent Taiko drumming, and I would have happily sat through this separately as a gig.

Exhibitions

Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 (Royal Academy)

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I won’t deny that my main reason for going to this was to see Kandinsky’s Blue Crest. 

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I was  surprised at how small it was – I had somehow expected it to be an epic piece. But never mind, it was still a highlight of the exhibition for me.

I found the rest of the extensive exhibition somewhat less than inspiring, although I did like the ceramics. This was another expensive gig where no photography was allowed, and only a very limited set of postcards were available. The catalogue was weighty, but too pricey for me. I bought a copy of the Soviet cook book, which will doubtless be reviewed here in the near future.

The life drawing room, Royal Academy Schools

Cathie Pilkington: Anatomy of a Doll

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This was a delightful bonus addition to my visit to the RA. I found out about it, by chance, five minutes before the tour started, and was able to join the group on a trek through the back alleys of the RA site where the public is only rarely allowed. The artwork was very interesting – Pilkington’s installation filled the entire life drawing studio, and incorporated a number of the RA’s own casts (a giant head of Homer and a flayed crucifix being the most “obvious”).  Crucifixes keep popping up on my travels just lately. Maybe it’s the proximity to Easter that is making me aware of them…

The installation is transferring to Brighton soon, but the RA casts and shelving will not travel with it, so it would be interesting to see how different it looks there. One obvious difference will be the student benches (as old as the Academy itself), which will be reproduced in pink plastic foam.

Public Art

St James’s Market Pavilion

The Paper Aviary

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This was quite lovely- a tiny installation of paper birds hidden away behind the Haymarket. I heard it before I saw it- the sound of birdsong isn’t often heard among the treeless streets in this part of London.

Picadilly Circus Underground Station

The Frank Pick memorial

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I really like this. The simplicity and appropriateness of it appeals to me. Pick first commissioned the London Transport “roundel”, and it is fitting that he is commemorated with one.

Dalson Junction

The Peace Mural

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This was painted in the 1980s, and has become quite important, apparently. I must admit that I wouldn’t want it painted on the side of my house, but it is better than a lot of other murals that I have seen. If you look carefully towards the top of the painting, you will see the words “Nuclear Free Zone”. I find that faintly amusing, if meaningless. Does it mean “no nuclear reactors in Dalston”? I can’t imagine where anyone would fit one in, anyway. Perhaps it means that if a nuclear war started, Dalson would be a magically safe place…

Books

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Two crime novels this week.

Wild Chamber is number 15 in the Bryant and May series, and it is as good as ever. I love Fowler’s London, love the Peculiar Crimes Unit and I am very fond of the creaky old Arthur Bryant.

Cockroaches is the second of Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole novels, set in Thailand, and as convoluted as ever. I like this flawed detective, even if he is a trope. Once again, the love interest doesn’t last out the book. I wonder if this will continue as a theme?

Week 13

Theatre

Lazarus Theatre Company

Bertold Brecht: The Caucasian Chalk Circle

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I had never seen this play before, and on reflection, I think I would probably have preferred a more traditional rendering. Lazarus are a company that try to involve and encourage new, young, multi-ethnic theatregoers, and there was a lot of noise and flashing lights to accompany Arkadi’s singing. The set and props looked almost exactly like the interior of a school hall or gym, and the production tried hard to be a bit hip-hop. There were clear parallels drawn between political events in the play and in the world, but sadly, despite the company’s efforts, I think it failed to really engage the coachloads of school pupils that filled the auditorium, and it alienated the half-dozen or so stalwart matinee-goers who were dotted here and there at the ends of rows. There was quite a lot of swearing, and a gratuitous nude scene. I had to look up a synopsis later to make sure that this was actually Brecht’s play.

Opera

Live screening from the Royal Opera House

Puccini: Madama Butterfly

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Butterfly is a deeply problematic story. Pinkerton’s seduction and abandonment of a fifteen year old child made me angry, and I cried with her as she waited for him. I had actually forgotten about the humming chorus, and found it very moving. Ermonela Jaho’s voice was glorious, and she acted the part convincingly. I liked the set, and the costumes had a pleasant authenticity. If this were anything but opera, I feel there would be outcry over the designer’s decision to go for full Japanese-style make-up and hair; however, here the voices are the thing. I imagine it might be difficult to find a cast of Japanese opera singers.

Exhibition

Francis Bacon: Crucifixions

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The very old church of St Stephen Walbrook, in the City of London might seem a strange place for an exhibition of very modern art, but it worked quite well. The paintings were all much smaller than I expected, and framed with glass. This meant that odd reflections from the church clerestory interfered with the view from anything more than five or six feet away, which was a pity. While I was there, I was treated to a recital of Bach fugues on the organ. A lovely way to spend a lunchtime.