Posted in books

2019 Week 2

Another stay-at-home week. Did a lot of reading:

A baby step towards increasing my non-fiction reading. I am a fan of Beatles music, and wish they had made more. This book is very light on text and heavy on what look like not-quite-good-enough-to-print-in-the-paper pictures from press photographers. It’s a collector’s item for avid Beatles fans, but it doesn’t “spark enough joy” to stay on my shelf.

This is the January recommendation of the Short Story Club. It had its funny moments, but the denouement was a little unpleasant. Pure Becket, of course, and both Dante and the lobster make appearances.

I have had this book on pre-order for a long time. It is as much a memoir as a cook book, and gives a readable description of a young woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown, and her sort-of recovery through food. I thought it might make a good gift for someone I know, but the ingredients Ella uses are on the expensive side, so it probably won’t. There are one or two very good chicken recipes that I will try.

Absinthe is an interesting exercise in not judging a book by its cover. It is not terribly thrilling. There is far too much talking and not enough action, although when there is action it is efficiently executed. The main character has the same name as the author. (In the notes, the author refers to a story about why he used his own name, but doesn’t actually tell us the story as that is “reserved for his live audiences” when he is on tour. Hmm.) In this book we have an older “maverick” detective (sigh) who has to work under a younger female supervisor he doesn’t respect (sigh). There is very little mention of absinthe.

I loved American Hippo. It is an AU western, that might have just happened if a real-life political plan had come to fruition. I loved the characterisation: the wonderful French conwoman who can’t squeeze into an armchair and yet manages to “pass” absolutely when the group need a white man to take a plot point forward. Hero, the protagonist’s true love whose gender is never referred to and who uses “they” as their personal pronoun, and no one ever questions it. The heavily pregnant lesbian assassin. The hippos! This will be a book I read again and again. Brilliant.

Posted in books

October 31: Reading roundup

I read twelve books this month. A little up on my average, mainly due to the Man Booker shortlist, which I have already written about, so I won’t be reviewing any of those in this post. In order of reading:

The second on the Man Booker shortlist, and the eventual winner of the prize. I didn’t think this one would win, but I am glad it did, as it turned out to be my favourite of the six.

Number three on the Man Booker shortlist.

Number four, and the most difficult to read.

Number five…

And the last one. I actually finished reading this on the day of the announcement, with a couple of hours to spare.

Reading all six, back to back, was a challenge to my brain and my pocket, and I might not do it again next year. Or I might borrow them from the library rather than buy them.

Any way, moving on…

A new addition to my small but perfectly formed collection of graphic novels. It is actually a set of linked short stories, originally published as a series of standalone comics. What you see is what you get. If you like manga and ghost stories you’ll like this. Not suitable for children.

My Calendar book for this month. Sir Fred Hoyle was a noted astrophysicist and coined the term “Big Bang“, although he didn’t subscribe to the theory, and believed solidly in the “Steady-State” universe. This book is firmly in the Science Fiction genre, but luckily for me there are no aliens or space battles, just a strange chronological quirk, and humans dealing with it. It has a very Victorian feel to it— a bit H G Wells-ish. It was ok, but the end was a bit limp, I felt.

I like Indridason’s detectives. They are always a bit “off”, and never annoyingly tropey. Flovent and Thorson are becoming favourites, particularly Thorson, who struggles with his suppressed sexuality (this is set in the forties) as well as his mixed heritage. This is only the second in this series, and it is shaping up well.

I am slowly re-working my way through Pratchetts “Watch” books, and this one seemed appropriate for the Halloween season, being set in Uberwald, where the aristocracy are vampires and werewolves. I like the Discworld novels, and have read all of them several times. I love finding new things in them—Pratchett was the master of “Easter eggs”. This time round I spotted a wonderful little Chekhov vignette, consisting of three sisters, a cherry orchard and Uncle Vanya’s trousers. Sublime.

My first foray into a new genre. LabLit.

On the surface, this book should have had everything. A female lead scientist. A mysterious feline disease epidemic that crosses into the human population. A couple of reclusive mathematicians. A government conspiracy. Bio-terrorism, etc, etc. What we get isn’t quite what was billed. Yes, there is a female lead scientist, but sadly, she is emotionally unstable and over dependent on her hunky male post-doc. The mathematicians are stereotyped as an elderly autistic professor (also usefully developing a dementia that seems to cancel out his autism somehow) and his slightly psychopathic assistant. There is only one cat. I wanted to love this book, but although it was readable, it didn’t really grab me.

This novella is one of Bassani’s Ferrara Cycle, set in northern Italy, and showing the country’s gradual slide into Fascism through the gold-rimmed lens of Dr Fadigati, whose transition from pillar of society to tragic outcast has a sense of inexorability about it. An uncomfortable read, but worthwhile.

I was a little apprehensive about this book, as I do not generally have a constitution that can cope with horror. I needn’t have worried. This was a piece of pure silliness that I highly recommend to any Sherlock fan.

Posted in Ballet

September 15: The Trocks

I wanted something amusing and not too heavy, and although ballet isn’t my favourite among the arts, this ballet was unlike any other.

The dancing was great. There was a bit of slapstick and a lot of skilful pointe work. Seeing men in tutus was strange for about five minutes, but by the end of the show it was clear it didn’t matter who wore what.

I loved it. And it had the best Dying Swan ever.

As an addition, I’m adding Richard Wilson’s sculpture Square the Block to my collection of street art.

Posted in Theatre

September 12: Allelujah!

Off to the Bridge again for Alan Bennett’s newest play.

This play portrays old people fairly unsympathetically. I found some of it upsetting, as I always do when dementia rears its ugly head on stage, and it was really heartbreaking when the work-experience oik inadvertently precipitated the death of the civil servant’s father.

The play was dark in that it dealt with an “angel of death” in an NHS geriatric ward, and yet light in its treatment of the geriatrics. The humour was old-fashioned, and one or two of the characters were caricatures.

The set was very clever. Sliding walls produced exact facsimiles of hospital rooms and corridors, and everything was painted that awful cream/green combination that screams NHS.

I wouldn’t say this was a good Bennett play, but it definitely was unmistakable as a Bennett play.

Posted in Opera

September 8: Paul Bunyan

What a busy week!

I like Wilton’s. I just wish it had better public transport connections. Still, it’s usually worth the walk.

As I took my seat, I was a little concerned to see it was almost in the percussion section of the orchestra (the rest of the orchestra were on stage, behind the proscenium arch). In fact, the percussionist pretended to hand a drumstick to my companion, gesturing to the biggest drum and quipping “When I nod, you hit it”.

Happily, the percussion wasn’t overpowering, and in fact, was understated compared to the legendary ENO chorus, who were in excellent voice.

The story draws heavily on American folklore, with some modern jokes (Babe the blue ox being played by a succession of refrigerators, gradually increasing in size being one of the best; the two cooks hiding in the dustbin like Bill and Ben the flowerpot men being another). There was a “Greek chorus” (three women, interestingly, the second time this week), who sang well, and the very large number of soloists were all strong.

The central character never appeared onstage, and was voiced (not sung) by Simon Russell Beale.

The story wasn’t great literature, but the music was wonderful, the singing excellent, and the quirkiness of the performance made for a treat of an opera.

Posted in Musical theatre

September 6: Little Shop of Horrors

I took myself to the open-air theatre in Regent’s Park as a treat. I hadn’t been there before, so didn’t know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised. The seats were reasonably comfortable, the sight lines were good, there were plenty of options for food and drink, and luckily, there was enough cloud to lessen the impact of the sun. I imagine that a few weeks ago it would have been unbearable to sit in the auditorium for the duration of a show. I chose the right week!

I have seen “Little Shop…” live twice before – once in a tent, with a professional cast and the expected big puppet Audrey 2, and once as a student production, with all main parts doubled up, (ie two people singing at the same time for each role- a very interesting and quite memorable production, particularly as one of the Audrey 1 parts was taken by a young man and played very well).

I’ve seen the film as well, of course, and am very familiar with the songs. Sadly, the audience I was in were a little lacking in the dancing in the aisles department.

This production was excellently kitschy, with a terrific twist on the plant provided by Vicky Vox. The “Greek chorus” (Crystal, Ronette and Chiffon) were very strong, even if nowadays the name joke goes over much of the audiences’ heads.

I particularly liked Marc Antolin’s Seymour, and was sorry to miss Jemima Rooper as Audrey, although her understudy was very good.

I didn’t get to see the full spectacle of the green lighting, as it didn’t get dark enough, but there was a lot of compensatory green smoke and a lot of green glitter and streamers.

I had a lot of fun, and managed to catch a streamer.

Posted in Cinema

July 6: Swimming With Men

We are in the middle of a heatwave, and the lure of cool water is seductive. I have ordered a swimsuit, and a Hammam towel, but neither has arrived as yet, so no swimming for me. Instead, I took myself to the cinema for the new Rob Brydon film, “Swimming with Men”. (The film incidentally co-stars Rupert Graves, who I like to look at even when fully clothed).

It was a gentle sort of film, very British in its humour. It paid enough attention to the technicalities of synchronised swimming, and enough attention to Eric’s life to make us want him to come through in style.

I enjoyed this film. I liked that the Swedish synchro team the story was loosely based on got to be in the film, playing themselves. I liked that it wasn’t a display of “bodies beautiful”. I liked the fact that the team consisted of older and younger men; men of different social and economic classes; I liked that the gay character wasn’t a stereotype. I’m glad the result of the world championship was what it was (no spoilers).

It was a piece of fluff, but good fluff for a summer afternoon when you have time on your hands and need the cool of an air-conditioned cinema.

Posted in Musical theatre

May 23: The Book Of Mormon

I wasn’t sure that I would like this. Taking the mickey out of a religion, albeit a strange religion, isn’t something that sits well with me. The thing that swung my decision to go was the writers. As the writers of South Park, they are irreverent, but they take on the hard things.

They do that in this musical, too. They address racism, sexism, religious bigotry. The show has a subplot about AIDS and it’s various nasty so-called remedies. There is another subplot about FGM. There is a subplot about “tribal” warlords. Another about homosexuality, another about the loss of religious belief. All meaty stuff, and all delivered through the main plot of missionary Mormons bringing God to “ignorant African villagers”.

I found the depiction of the villagers unpleasant. I didn’t like the main male character’s habit of getting the main female character’s name wrong. (African names are clearly too hard to remember). Having said that. I laughed as hard as anyone else when he called her “Nigel Farage”. And that was what made the whole show problematic. It was very funny, although I found myself hoping no one I knew could see me laughing. The music was good. The dancing was excellent. The voices were good, even if the songs were intentionally terrible.

In the end, I was glad to get out into the open air. My skin felt a bit crawly.

Posted in Gigs, music

May 19: Tiger Lillies – The Devil’s Fairground

Yes, there was a wedding going on, and yes, I watched it on TV, like most other people. But in the evening, instead of going to a party, I went to Wilton’s Music Hall to see the Tiger Lillies performing songs from their new album.

Wilton’s is a perfect venue for the Tiger Lillies. It is crumbling and decayed, a bit like the characters Martyn Jacques sings about. And the band were brilliant as always. But I felt as if there should have been more…spectacle. I wanted more lighting effects, maybe some scenery or projections. A bit more smoke and mirrors. This was a gig rather than a show. There was no real theme, despite the opening number and the words on the poster.

I did enjoy the evening, but I wanted to enjoy it more.

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.