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 books, Theatre

2019: Week 24

Theatre

It isn’t midsummer yet, but it’s not far off. Anyway, at least the season is correct for A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bridge.

What a wonderful production. A bit of gender switching, which enabled a lot of comedy; aerialist fairies; hip hop music; and some absolutely sterling work by the crew. I laughed so much during the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe that I literally cried. One of the best Shakespeares that I have seen in a while.

Reading

S is for Stoker, starting my summer reading challenge off. This has been on my pile since Christmas, so it was about time it got read. It was an interesting take on the Dracula story, but I take its claims of being a true account of what happened to Bram Stoker with a very large pinch of salt.

Both the RI Fiction Lab book (Vox, Christina Dalcher) and the Guardian readers group (The Rings of Saturn, WG Sebald) for June are books I have read quite recently, so I’m giving both groups a miss this month.

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 books, Theatre

2019: Week 21

A long time ago, I went to the theatre to see what I thought was going to be Oscar Wilde’s version of Salomé. It turned out to be something quite different. This week, I managed to get to see the right one.

I was a little disconcerted to find myself bounced out of my originally-booked seat in favour of a gold helium balloon, but I don’t think I was alone. There were a lot of balloons, and I never really “got” what they were for.

I enjoyed the play. Lazarus are always a bit edgy, and this was no different. I was surprised how well a male Salomé worked, but I shouldn’t have been, really.

Notable reading this week:

The best pure science fiction book I have read for a while. This book is filled with terrific, unsettling art, and a post-apocalyptic road story. I loved it.

The Royal Institution Fiction Lab book for May was a wonderful surprise. The mingling of urban wildlife monitoring with the psychology of PTSD made much more sense than it ought to, and I really liked both protagonists. I recommend this book highly.

I tried really hard to read American Tabloid, but in the end I was beaten a few chapters in. Not by the style that apparently makes Ellroy difficult to read for some people, but by the casual misogyny and racism that permeates the book. I know it is “of its time”, but I just couldn’t get past the language to the story. I notice that the comments on the group posts are largely from men. I don’t think I have seen any praise for this book from women…

Posted in books

2019: Week 20

Just a reading week

First up, the Wellcome prize winner

I expected more science in this. The novel is partly epistolary, partly descriptive sort-of memoir, partly first-person narration from a very troubled mind. I found the mirror sequences difficult to understand in some places, and I feel that the ending was a bit limp, but this was an interesting take on Alan Turing’s story, and worth a read. This also co-won the Republic of Consciousness award.

The other book of note this week was the City Read.

This has been pushed very hard, with film tie-ins, author talks etc, but I found myself very reluctant to read it. I think the billing as “the Muslim Bridget Jones” put me off. I loathed Bridget Jones and I dislike “chick lit”, but oh, dear, I did feel obliged to give this a whirl, especially as the library had made the ebook available for free. Of course, it is nothing like Bridget Jones. I found the glimpse into Muslim women’s lives really interesting, and I liked Sofia a lot. I wish the ending hadn’t been so pat, but that is the only fault I could find. Well worth reading. B

Posted in Art, books, Musical theatre

2019: Week 18

Busier week this week. A musical, some art and quite a bit of reading.

Musical Theatre

Man of La Mancha

I had been looking forward to this for a while, but sadly, it was a bit of a non-event for me. I don’t know why, precisely. The music was great (as the ENO orchestra always are), the acting was okay, the voices were fine. Nicholas Lyndhurst probably wasn’t in his best role, but he was fine. Kelsey Grammer managed to hit the high notes in “Impossible Dream”, but still, it all fell a bit flat. So much so, that I found myself longing for the end of act one. I actually couldn’t bring myself to go back for act two, so I managed to avoid the rape scene that was by all accounts given too much time.

Art

Martyrs

I am so glad I made the effort to see this work by Bill Viola. St Paul’s Cathedral is a wonderful venue and this is a perfect piece of artwork for the space it is in. I felt profoundly moved by it, and by its companion piece, Mary.

The video screens were smaller than I expected, but they fitted the space beautifully.

Reading

My calendar book this month was Frost in May, which I enjoyed immensely. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I downloaded the three continuation novels and read them straight away over a couple of days. I was a little perturbed by the massive changes to character and setting names in the second book, but soon settled down into Clara’s story. What a catalogue of disasters her life contained. I do wish she had been given a happy ending.

Posted in books

2019: Week 17

A really quiet week, recovering from something nasty. I spent most of it watching catchup TV and playing Gummy Drop. I did manage to read one book:

This was a crime story, with a very annoying heroine. I really didn’t like her. I wanted more about the island and less about drugs and drink. I figured out the villain about halfway through, and that person was tropey and came to a ridiculous end, which would have made me throw the book in the waste paper bin if it hadn’t been downloaded on my kindle. Not one to recommend.

Posted in books

2019: Week 16

Just three books this week, as I have been indisposed health wise, with neither access to a lot of reading or inclination to do much.

My calendar book for this month was an ebook from the public library. I usually do my calendar reading early in the month, but I had to wait for someone to return it before I could access it. This was extreme SF, of a type I love. Cyberspace, AI, body mods and definitely NO ALIENS.

Just two other books, both selected for me by someone with not quite the same taste as me. I really liked the Night Circus, surprisingly, as I hadn’t expected to. The David Wong Book was really odd, magic and evil etc. Not really my taste but it filled hospital time.

Posted in books

2019: Week 15

Books

Lots of reading this week, including a surprising pleasure.

This was hyped as a good insight into the lives of the “canon 5” of Jack The Ripper’s victims. Sadly, the men surrounding the victims take over, with whole sections on one or other victim’s father, uncle, husband etc. I didn’t really enjoy the book.

A new take on the famous monster. This one is made up of the parts of innocent terrorism victims, searching for retribution. Interesting.

A sort of psychedelic futuristic saga. I hated this. I really dislike seeing humans shown as insects etc. Nasty.

A faithful representation of the film as a graphic novel. Beautifully drawn and with all the good stuff. Drawing in red and black only gave great impact to the story.

A neat little dystopian tale. My second graphic novel of the week. Quite chilling.

A crime tale chosen by my library reading group. I really didn’t expect to like this, but I found Jimm Juree and her friends/relatives really engaging.

A stand-alone short story I’m Jimm Juree’s world, in which we learn more about her trans sister.

Finally, a well-loved children’s book, ahead of a brand new TV animated series. I have to say, I like the animation better than the book, but I don’t have the requisite Scandinavian childhood, I guess.

Posted in Art, books

2019: Week 14

Art

Harald Sohlberg: Painting Norway

This was my first visit to Dulwich Picture Gallery, and I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to get there using public transport. As expected, there were lots of paintings of trees and lots of paintings of mountains, which were all as atmospherically moody as you would expect. I splashed out for the audio guide and was very glad I had done that when it came to the “hidden extra” at the centre point of the exhibition. I enjoyed looking at Sohlberg’s sketches of the mountains, and it was wonderful to see Norway’s “national painting” but I think the paintings I liked best were the small ones of red houses in Roros.

And Then The World Changed Colour: Breathing Yellow

Halfway through the Sohlberg exhibition, you come to a small circular space, actually a mausoleum which contains the remains of the gallery’s founders. It is a wonderful space, with yellow stained glass windows that give a golden glow to the stone pillars. The mausoleum space currently holds a tank installation by Mariele Neudecker, commissioned to complement the Sohlberg exhibition, and reminiscent of his tree paintings. The audio tour provides a five-minute interview with Neudecker, best listened to while sitting on one of the benches around the outer circle of the mausoleum.

Reading

I have been very disappointed in my reading groups this month. The Royal Institution Fiction Lab book is The Overstorey, which I have ploughed through twice and have no intention of ploughing through again. The Guardian reading group book has just been revealed as Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood, which I read just a few weeks ago, and while I enjoyed it, I don’t want to reread it. My local library reading group book looks so uninspiring that I’m not even going to bother opening it, and for the first time, I will not be the only group member who has actually read the book.

I bought this in hard cover, expecting to be inspired/educated about Siberian food, but I was very disappointed. Even the pictures of the food are dull, and I’m not even going to make space on my kitchen shelf.

Finally, something I could enjoy. I love Bryant and May, and all the Peculiar Crimes Unit regulars. This book was unusual in that we know who dunnit from the beginning, but we don’t know why, and we don’t find out why until the very end. An excellent read that I give 5 stars to.