Posted in books, Theatre

2019: Week 25

Summer has stalled and it’s turned gloomy again, so a bit of Gothic theatre is in order. Creation Theatre produce excellent site-specific versions of classic texts, and their Dorian Gray at Jermyn Street was full of references to the St James area. The set was minimal, and they used an impression of a painting rather than s real one, and it somehow worked. I wasn’t sure how the gender-swapping would play, and I must admit that changing pronouns while keeping the names as canon confused me a bit, but only for a few minutes. A clever version, with thankfully, no haze to make me cough.

Reading

Quite a bit this week. The Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction was won by Robin Robertson’s The Long Take, which I read last year, when it was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize. It also won the Goldsmiths prize last year. I liked it, but not enough to read it again.

My summer reading challenge continues. U is for Urban, and an interesting alternate-reality crime story. I was glad that the crime did get solved, even if no one gets their comeuppance.

Judith Kerr died recently, and I have fond memories of reading Mog stories every night until I knew them by heart. I had never read When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, her autobiographical novel, and so I took advantage of the local library and downloaded and devoured the whole trilogy in one day. Well worth the time.

Finally, it is Bloomsday, and yes, I have read Ulysses, and no, I am not going to punish myself by reading it again. Instead, I chose to read the Republic of Consciousness co-award-winning Lucia by Alex Pheby and wish I hadn’t.

It is a well-written book, documenting, fictionally, the life of Lucia Joyce. The book has an interesting format, scenes from an archaeological dig juxtaposed with scenes from Egyptian burial from the point of view of both an observer and the deceased. All of this is cleverly set alongside biography-style chapters from Lucia’s life and eventual death. I found some of it quite harrowing, and the sexual torture scenes particularly overdone, and nasty. The parallels between the Egyptian burial and the (real) silencing of Lucia before and after her death were interesting, and the accounts of the cruelty perpetrated on asylum inmates were upsetting and sadly, probably historically accurate. This one will stay with me, I think.

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Posted in Art, books, Theatre

2019: Week 23

Summer has officially started. June 1st is the beginning of meteorological summer, and so my summer reading challenge begins. The outdoor entertainment season also begins in earnest, and I’m going to try to dip into it with more gusto than last year.

I started by booking a last-minute trip to Greenwich Park for The Wind in the Willows.

The Royal Observatory Gardens is a lovely venue, but remember to bring something to sit on! Quantum Theatre put on a very ambitious production, with three cast members playing not only the four (!) main characters, but also three weasels, a fox, two rabbits, two hedgehogs, several humans, several small mice and a very engaging duck. They also acted as their own stage crew, changing scenery frenetically throughout this full length play. There were several musical numbers (perhaps too many) and while the performance was entertaining, it felt rather old-fashioned. I would have liked to see it brought up to date a bit. The set was a bit fussy, but the costumes (mainly head pieces) were very clever.

Next up was Tate Modern for the soon-to-end Dorothea Tanning exhibition.

I have to say, I wasn’t overly impressed. I found the soft sculptures dull and the paintings quite dreary. There was a film, narrated by the artist, where she explains how the family dog became a central motif in almost every piece of her work, but what could have been interesting documentary turned into self-indulgent mock gothic horror (wafting white dress, winding stone staircase etc). But of course, it was her film, and she could put in whatever she wanted.

I sought refuge from the crowds in the artist rooms, and found the cool blue of neon by Jenny Holzer, which reset my mood into something calmer.

Finally, the weekend and June 1st arrived. Time to begin my summer reading challenge. I have six books lined up, and aim to read one every week or so until August Bank Holiday brings summer to an end. Here they are:

Posted in Art, books, Opera, Theatre

2019: Week 9

A good week for culture.

Theatre

Berberian Sound Studio

My first trip to the Donmar, and I was surprised at how small it is for such an influential theatre. I made the mistake of booking a front row stalls seat, which I will never do again, as the experience of sitting with my knees practically on the stage wasn’t brilliant. Also, quite a bit of the action of this play takes place inside a sound booth at the rear of the stage. From my seat I couldn’t see much of what was happening in the booth. The play itself was excellent. Tom Brooke’s portrayal of Gilderoy, the nature-documentary geek somehow drawn into the world of “Giallo” film was very natural, and there were one or two instances of truly visceral horror as Gilderoy tries to recreate the sounds of torture. There were also comedy sequences featuring a couple of foley artists slapsticking about, which took the edge off the horror just enough. I enjoyed the play, and it was good to try a new venue.

Opera

The Monstrous Child

Another new (ish) venue; the revamped Linbury theatre at the Royal Opera House. And a brand new opera. This was very interesting, with some excellent technical theatre arts employed. I particularly liked the use of ice, and projection, and there was some innovative puppetry, particularly that portraying the births of Loki’s children. There was a lot of teenage angst, and a lot of humour, and it was a shame that there weren’t more young people in the theatre on the night I went, as this is definitely aimed at the YA demographic.

Art

A Fortnight of Tears

I like Tracey Emin’s work more and more as I get older. This exhibition at the White Cube encompasses drawing, painting, sculpture (some wonderful large bronzes), video, photography and one of her excellent neon poems. The overarching theme was loss, manifesting in depression and insomnia, and it was incredibly moving. I really recommend seeing this

Books

My calendar reading for March is a standalone short story. I suppose I should have waited for the 15th to read it, but never mind. It is a silly tale about an attempt to cheat fate, which of course, as in all such tales, fails. Not great writing. I probably won’t go looking for anything else by Bill Bernico.

I decided to read Francesca Simon’s book in advance of seeing the opera she adapted from it. It was worth doing, as I wasn’t as familiar with Hel’s story as I was with some of the other Norse Gods’ tales. This was a YA story, told in first-person by Hel, and employing teen humour and modern vernacular well. Not my usual genre, but as an extra to the opera, useful.

Posted in books, Opera, Theatre

2019: Week 6

A “normal” sort of week. A bit of reading, a bit of culture…

Anthropocene at the Hackney Empire

The title of Stuart McRae and librettist Louise Welsh‘s new opera refers to a ship, rather than to the geological era, although there are references to global warming and icecaps melting here and there. This was a “modern” opera, with modern music (so no songs). The first act worked for me. There was tension and some power plays, and a sense of threat from the “thing” in the ice. (some quite deliberate referencing of “The Thing” here). The second act fell apart a bit for me, in terms of story, although the voices stayed strong and the visual presentation was powerful. I didn’t like the idea of human sacrifice that too easily explained the central mystery. The end of the opera was depressing. Given the chance to save the world from icecap melt, our band of explorers chose the “self-interest” option, and let the world go hang.

I enjoyed the performance, and it was good to see/hear something new. But it wasn’t great opera, for me.

Dracula at the London Library

Creation Theatre put on a terrific two-handed performance of Bram Stoker’s story.

The library’s reading room was an excellent setting, and the story was told using a variety of media, including some very clever projection work. I enjoyed this very much, and the ending made me smile at its unexpectedness. Full marks for creativity.

Reading

Dead Pig Collector is a short story about a murder that goes wrong. It is clever and it left me unsure of who the baddie really was. I read it because someone recommended it, and I wasn’t disappointed.

I picked The Thing Itself as a result of seeing Anthropocene. Like the opera, the book starts and ends with horror during scientific exploration at the poles. Unlike the opera, the book veers away from the ice and into a range of historical settings, seemingly randomly at first, and introducing two main themes; Kant’s philosophy and artificial intelligence. In fact, it wasn’t until the end of the novel that I realised the significance of some of the lurches into time. I like Adam Roberts’s work, but this was not among my favourites of his novels.

Posted in Ballet

October 14: Dracula:Welcome to D’s

D’s. A sort of steampunk cabaret where boy vampires wear white trousers and girl vampires wear white corsets laced in red. The starring act is Mr D, violin virtuoso, clad in red velvet.

The costumes worn by the non-vampire women were interesting. A range of Victorian style skirts, all brown taffeta and tulle, folded and draped in a variety of styles. The male dancers’ costumes were bland, in the main. There were two very odd characters; a butterfly-man and a very definitely female, striped-tights steampunk character who I believe to have been Van Helsing.

The story was Dracula meets Cabaret. Jonathan Harker is in there, as is Lucy, who gets turned into a vampire (so far so expected). But then Mina doesn’t get turned, Van Helsing doesn’t win the fight and Dracula doesn’t get staked.

There was no set to speak of,and only a few props. Symbolism is always obvious in ballet, but there was some very heavy-handed stuff here, particularly in the way D’s violin bow was used.

I felt the story was a little confused, and would have benefited from being either a “straight” Dracula or an original vampire-chronicles-type story.

Posted in Musical theatre

August 4: Fun Home

Fun Home is modern musical theatre at its best.

The musical won 5 Tony awards, and deserved them.

On the day I saw it, the three versions of Alison Bechdel were played wonderfully by three terrifically-voiced actors.

Brooke Haynes was excellent as the young Alison. Her loathing of her barrette and party shoes foreshadowed her college coming-out awkwardness cleverly, and her performance of “Ring of Keys” was outstanding. Eleanor Kane was a brilliantly clumsy teenage Alison, and the always-onstage adult Alison was played with wonderful nuance by Kaisa Hammarlund.

The other actors were all excellent, but the three Alison’s were the standout performers for me.

The second central story of Alison’s father wasn’t glossed over, but I feel that perhaps her mother deserved a little more sympathy. Her brothers also disappeared after the school-age phase (but an hour and forty minutes isn’t long enough for all the detail I wanted).

I was moved to tears by the end of the show, and glancing around the sell-out auditorium, I could see I wasn’t alone in that.

I absolutely loved this show.

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 Theatre

April 27: The War Of The Worlds

I didn’t know what to expect from this production, but what I got was a fantastic performance from a tiny cast of just four, with no set, minimal costumes and props almost entirely made up of kitchenware. There was live music, some clever lighting and sound effects and a lot of jokes. At times I was breathless trying to keep up with the run of sci fi jokes, which culminated in a brilliant representation of the cycling scene from ET the Extraterrestrial, played out whilst dealing with audience participatory heckling. All the jokes and audience participation didn’t move the show away from the original story to any great degree, but instead provided a fantastic night of comedy, music and drama. The highlight for me was the Martian fighting machine which looked to be made out of an umbrella and several pairs of stuffed tights. Brilliant.

Posted in Theatre

April 21: Great Apes

This was an interesting production – a very sparse set, some excellent music and choreographed group actions. An excellent performance of Dr Zack Buster ( the alpha male) by Ruth Lass was the highlight of the play for me. I liked the costumes – the brown harem pants and polo sweaters, the sock-gloves, the short crutches all came together to suggest “chimpunity” cleverly. The female oestrus, depicted by an obscenely pleated pink bumbag affair was ghastly but effective, and overall, the acting skills of the cast suggested ape behaviours very well.

There were differences from the book, as there always are, and I was glad that some of the more extreme behaviours weren’t included.

Overall, I enjoyed the play, and feel it made the story more accessible than Will Self’s very convoluted language in the book.

Posted in Television

April 15: The City and The City part 2

I love China Mieville’s book. It is one of my favourites and one I re-read regularly, and I was very excited to hear that the BBC were adapting it for TV. I wondered how they would show the two cities, and I think they’ve done a pretty good job. I really really like David Morrissey as Borlú. Next time I read the book I know I’ll be imagining him. I downloaded and binge-watched it all, of course, although the series hasn’t finished running on the BBC yet, so no spoilers from me here, but I do have to say that I wish the BBC hadn’t gone for the missing wife angle. The book is so much more interesting without that trope as a main theme.