Week 49

It’s snowing!

Theatre

Jermyn Street Theatre

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson: The Hound of the Baskervilles

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This was a comedy romp. Three actors playing all the parts, no set, but lots of foggy haze. It was a fun afternoon, but oh, such a cold day. I found myself almost onstage, having to wrap my scarf around my face to help with the enormous amount of haze, and to keep my neck warm in what seemed to be an unheated auditorium. I enjoyed the play, but would have preferred proper melodrama to farce.

Ballet

ROH Live: The Nutcracker

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It isn’t Christmas without a Nutcracker, and this was a lovely production. Seeing it up close via a live broadcast made a great difference to the experience. You can see facial expressions and costume and set details that might be missed in the theatre.

Popular culture

London Christmas Lights

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The Regent Street lights are beautiful, without the tacky commercialism of recent years. A pity it was so cold, or I would have walked to Trafalgar Square to see the tree. I did take a picture from the bus, which shows the lights.I wish that the style of lighting was better. This years tree looks rather like a giant cactus.

Reading Challenge

Three books this week, bringing my total to 87.

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Archangel is the latest offering from one of my very favourite authors. An alternate-reality dystopia with a bit of time travel thrown in. It is a graphic novel, which is a new direction for Gibson, and works very well.

The other two are seasonal titles, and they would fit very well on my winter shelf. The Advent Killer isn’t really an Advent killer at all, and was so full of tropes and false reveals that I stopped taking it seriously halfway through. And I guessed the killer.

The new Nigel Slater is wonderful. He keeps to his style of writing around the recipes, and sets the scene for the season very nicely.

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Week 47

Ooh, it’s getting cold…

Opera

Metropolitan Opera live in cinema

Thomas Adès: The Exterminating Angel

This is an opera I couldn’t afford to see at the ROH. Luckily, the Met performance was the same production, conducted by the composer, which was a bonus. The opera was another of those modern ones with no memorable “tunes”, but a lot of very difficult, very very high soprano singing, and some wonderful musical moments (a room full of drummers; a string section of miniature violins; a lot of bells). The story is odd, a surrealist nightmare, and I enjoyed it very much.

Theatre

The Puppet Theatre Barge

Wendy Cope: The River Girl

I really enjoy puppetry, and this production was lovely – some beautiful underwater scenes, and a literally breathtaking opening when a huge wave of haze rolled out over the audience. I found some of the puppetry a little clunky (the puppeteer working John Didde didn’t seem to have mastered the art of making a marionette kneel, for instance), but the use of narrative poetry was clever, and I came away from the boat very happy.

Reading Challenge

This is moving ahead slowly. I like Ragnar Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series, and this book brings me up to date with that. I find it odd reading books that have been translated out of order, and I am still very irritated with Ari Thor Arason, but that is part of the experience. No spoilers here – I recommend these books.

Week 45

A cold week. A visit to the cinema for an actual film (not a live-broadcast), and a brand new theatre to enjoy.

Theatre

The Bridge

Clive Coleman and Richard Bean: Young Marx

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IMG_1115I like this new theatre very much. Very stylish.  Fizzy water (free) on tap, is a nice touch, and warm madeleines in the interval were a joy on the cold day. The play was good, if not the “riotous comedy” promised by the advertising.  Rory Kinnear was good, of course,and the rest of the cast were strong. There was a running “Engels and Marx” musical joke which made me smile.

Cinema

Armando Iannucci: The Deathof Stalin

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I absolutely loved this film. Brilliant performances by everyone, especially Simon Russell Beale as Lavrentiy Beria ( who for some reason isn’t on the poster). There was a nice little surprise of a cameo by Tom Brooke, one of my favourite actors, in the opening and closing sequences, and the comedy was dark and very funny.  I need to get the video of this and watch it again  I’m sure I missed some of the jokes.

Reading Challenge

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Continuing the Russian theme, I downloaded the second in Simon Sebag Montefiore’s “Moscow Trilogy”. One Night in Winter is a better read than Sashenka was, and the connection between the books  is rather vague until Benya Golden appears. I ended up rather looking to the third in the series, which is on my wish list.

Week 43

A busy week this week.

Ballet

Royal Opera House Live/ Odeon Cinema: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

 

FullSizeRenderI love that the big companies live-stream events. The cost of good seats at the Opera House is prohibitive, and I wouldn’t be able to see nearly as many ballets, operas etc as I do. This production of Alice is contemporary, bright, and features a brilliantly comedic Red Queen, a clever puppet Cheshire Cat and a lively tap-dancing Mad Hatter. Brilliant fun, and local, too.

Gigs

The O2 Arena: Metallica

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I looooove a big rock gig, and they don’t come much bigger than Metallica.
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The support act were impressive. A Norwegian band called Kvelertak, whose singer appeared on stage with an owl on his head.

IMG_1046Metallica were amazing, as always, and I thoroughly enjoyed both the old and the new songs. I got the chance to wear a pop culture icon – the leather biker jacket, and to sing ( or shout) along with some of my old favourites.

 

The British Library: Tiger Lillies

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This little gig was a jewel.  I really like this band, and this was a chance to hear their album Cold Night In Soho played live for the last time ever. The British Library was a strange venue for a gig – more on that later.

Other events

The British Library: Harry Potter – A History of Magic

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This was the British Library’s late night event celebrating J K Rowling’s creation and the history of “magic” in general. The exhibition was well laid out, and the Harry Potter theme certainly drew in a crowd. My focus was the Tiger Lillies gig, which formed part of the evening’s entertainment, but I did come away with a Slytherin scarf.

 

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.

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 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.

 

 

 

 

 

Week 9

Theatre

Hijinx at the Little Angel Theatre: Meet Fred

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I vaguely remember going to this little puppet theatre as a child, and the chance to see an “adult” puppet show took me back there again.  The production was very good. The bunraku style of puppeteering gave convincing life to the title character – a hard ask when the character is a naked, featureless cloth doll. The play itself took a hard look at the hard knocks of life, and brought a tear to my eye more than once. I highly recommend this show – it is still touring for a few more weeks, in various venues.

Opera

Live screen from the Metropolitan Opera: Rusalka by Dvorak

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A fun fairytale, loosely based on the Little Mermaid. Brilliant costumes, some excellent voices, good set design, and a chance to see what happens when things don’t go quite right backstage during the interval. This would be a good introduction to opera for newbies and youngsters.

Art

Eduardo Paulozzi ( Whitechapel Gallery)

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Three rooms of wide-ranging offerings from the artist who designed the famous Tottenham Court Road station mosaics. My favourites are the bronze sculptures, but there were also lots of prints, including on textiles, and a projection of Paolozzi’s film, “Bunk”.

Books

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One crime book this week, and one cook book. Dare Me was pretty dire. It featured a lot of cheerleader jargon, which slowed the action down for anyone unfamiliar with cheerleading, like me. The angst of trying to maintain place in a group of “popular” girls came across well, but this was a first-person narration, and that never really appeals to me, even when I like the narrator, which I didn’t in this book.

The Dali cookbook is a huge, lavishly illustrated golden tome, and it has taken me two months or more to do its weird and wonderful recipes full justice. I probably won’t be cooking many of them, but just reading them was oddly satisfying.

Street Art

Boe & Irony: Chihuahua

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A new addition to my collection of pictures of truly awful street art. This giant chocolate-box dog takes up the whole of the end wall of a block of flats in Poplar. I took the picture from a moving bus, hence the odd angle.