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 23

Theatre

Duke of York’s Theatre

Lee Hall: Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour

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I’m not an enormous lover of musicals, but this was new, and with the promise of music by ELO, could have been very exciting. Sadly, the dialogue was so profanity-heavy that I couldn’t really engage with it fully. The acting was good, the all-female cast and band did their job well, but it was sad to see all the characters were stereotypical “convent slags”. I’m afraid I couldn’t like this show.

Museums

The British Museum

Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave

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The Hokusai exhibition was lovely. Many iterations of Fuji-San, of course, but so much more. There were a large number of Hokusai’s notebooks, and it was interesting to see the background work. I particularly liked the two large panels which were apparently the interior ceilings of carriages, one of which was reproduced on the mandatory silk scarf (which I duly bought). Once again, I was surprised that the main draw for me was so small. The famous Great Wave was tiny – hardly bigger than A4, but very beautiful.

Events

Senate House, UCL: 1984 Live

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This was a one-off all-day immersive event. A whole host of celebrity readers taking a chapter (ish) each. There was a bit of acting, some clever use of projection and lighting, and the slightly disturbing presence of “party” members dotted around. The star was the Senate House building itself – Orwell’s inspiration for the Ministry of Truth. I think my photograph has captured its air of menace very well.

Books

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This week’s reading was varied – a “light crime”, a psychological study of a possible criminal, and a prize-winning dystopia.

The Power is an interesting take on the differences/similarities between men and women. This might have disturbed me more if I had been a male reader, I think. It won the Baileys Prize, and while I am not sure it is great literature, it was an enjoyable read.

McGlue was a more difficult read, more “literary”, and less satisfying in its lack of firm conclusion. I don’t usually like first-person narration, but I liked this short novel very much, and will seek out more by this author.

The second Grantchester book was more interesting than the first. It moved away from the known (via TV episodes), seeing Sidney arrested in East Berlin, and finally resolving his long-term love interest (no spoilers for the TV show here).

Audio

Bob Dylan: Nobel Lecture

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Bob Dylan finally got round to making his Nobel-winner’s speech. You can listen to it here , but be prepared for long descriptions of Moby Dick, All Quiet On The Western Front, and The Odyssey. I’m not sure he is taking the prize seriously.

Public Art

Maggi Hambling: A Conversation With Oscar Wilde

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I’m not sure how I feel about this piece. The idea is clever – a bench whereon a conversation could take place, but it is a little too coffin-like for my taste, and Oscar’s bust is ugly, ugly, ugly. I have never seen anyone actually sitting on this, and I am afraid I didn’t sit down either.

Pop Culture

 (And a bit of Maths)

Dandelion’s retirement

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Crayola, the crayon manufacturer, has a new blue crayon coming online. It is a new pigment and needs a new name (the suggestion box has closed, and I really hope we don’t get Bluey McBlueface). Because of the new crayon, one of the old colours has to be retired, in order to keep the number of active colours at 120. Why 120? Well, the boxes hold multiples of 8 crayons…

Anyway, the crayon to be retired is Dandelion, a rather nice shade of yellow. I checked my own box of 24, and there it is. We used to call dandelions “wet-the-beds” when I was a child, and I am delighted that the French obviously still do.

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 12

A shocking week. Everyone will remember it for the act of terrorism outside Parliament. I wasn’t in central London on the day it happened, but I shudder to remember that I was in the exact spot just the day before. The day after, I made the same decision as most other Londoners, and carried on as normal (or as near as possible, given bus diversions and other necessary disruptions.)

 

Theatre

Jermyn Street Theatre

Stephen Sondheim: The Frogs (adapted by Nathan Lane)

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Jermyn Street is such a tiny theatre that you wouldn’t think they could fit in a cast of more than two or three, but for this quite wonderful production, they managed a four piece band, a chorus of six really good singers, and three principals. The set was minimal- looked like the inside of a copper tank, with visible rivets and pipe work, and minimalist lighting supplied by those fancy light bulbs with the coppery glowing filaments. Costumes were all-black “found items” with copper highlights (copper spectacle frames for one character, copper belt for another etc). The chorus were given a Greek half-mask effect with metallic copper face paint. The change from human chorus to frog chorus was effected by putting them all in tailcoats. Altogether, this was a very clever production, with wonderful music and voices,  and I am really glad I made the decision to go on the day after terrorist action a few streets away. I wasn’t alone. The theatre was sold out, and deserved to be.

 

Exhibition

Westminster Cathedral 

Cross the World- Building Bridges with Wood

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An exhibition of wooden crosses and crucifixes from around the world, exhibited here in advance of their eventual permanent installation in the Museum of the Cross in Lorraine, France. Highlights for me were mother-of-pearl inlaid crosses from China, and a cross made from  the wreckage of a boat washed up at Lampedusa. This was a small exhibition, hidden away in a side chapel (note: this was the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral, not the nearby Westminster Abbey), and was poorly signposted. Coincidentally, while I was there, children were rehearsing their version of the passion play at the main Cathedral altar-told with the POV of various trees (e.g. a tree in the garden of Gethsemane), and it was quite lovely to listen in.

 

Pop culture icons

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(RED) is a charity set up to help combat AIDS. A variety of manufacturing companies produce “special” red variants of their popular items and donate part of the sales price to the charity. Apple is one of the participating companies.I upgraded my iPhone ( itself now a cultural icon) and got the red one, which I love.

Books

Kazuo Ishiguro: Never Let Me Go

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A bleak, dystopian novel set in a pretty near future England. Another first-person POV, which I don’t really like, although I do understand why it is written that way, as it allows the author to bypass a lot of explanation of the world they have imagined. This is a science-based future, rather than an ideology-based one, which makes it slightly less scary just now.

 

Week 10

A quiet week, to make up for last week’s frenzy.

 

Theatre

The Old Vic

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead: Tom Stoppard

 

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This was the first live play I saw at aged quite young. I can’t remember the exact circumstances, but it was definitely while I was at school. It must have been a school trip (my parents were not theatre-goers), but as I wasn’t a literature student, I can only think there must have been a spare ticket going for some reason. Anyway, I loved it then and I love it still. I’d booked tickets in the stalls (pricey but worth it), and we had a great view of the stage. The set was quite lovely- cloud paintings and silk curtains, and the costumes were perfect- just “off” enough from period.  I love seeing good actors performing a good play, and this was good all through. A brilliant end to my week. Oh, and before I forget, there is maths in this play. Don’t let that put you off though, it’s just a little bit of probability at the beginning.

Books

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The Iron Heel is a dystopian novel, a genre I usually enjoy. Sadly, this one doesn’t live up to its promise. I struggled with the copious footnotes, and the whole thing left me unsatisfied. To reward myself for my noble effort in reading to the end of it, I turned to another favourite genre, only to be left unsatisfied again. I didn’t like the detective in The Extra Cadaver Murder at all, and the other characters were tropey stereotypes. It felt like a bad detective fanfic. A two-star rating was generous, I think.

 

 

Week 8

Theatre

Arcola Theatre: The Cherry Orchard – Anton Chekhov 

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I was really looking forward to this. I like the Arcola, and I had seen this cast recently in another Russian revolution play (The Lower Depths).

Sadly, the event didn’t live up to the expectation. The comedy elements suffered from bad timing ( if you’re going to do slapstick, you have to do it well), and the cast seemed as if they couldn’t be bothered to give it their all. The set was good, but the play wasn’t, sadly. I did something I almost never do- in fact I can’t remember the last time I did it- and left at the interval.

Books

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The Man in the High Castle has been recently revived for TV, so I thought it was about time I read it. Of course, I’d forgotten how bleak Philip K Dick’s worlds are, and how unsympathetic I always find his characters.  I ploughed through it without a great deal of enjoyment.

In contrast,  Night Sessions was wonderful. A cyberpunk crime novel with religion as motive, set in an alternate near-future. All my favourite sub-genres rolled into one brilliant package. This goes onto my “read again” pile.

Finally, Alice. I wish I hadn’t bought this book. It was a great disappointment. I will say no more.