January 18: The Man Who Laughs

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Having seen the musical play “The Grinning Man”, I decided to read the book it was based on. Victor Hugo’s works are available for free from iBooks, so I downloaded a copy and settled in for what turned out to be a very bleak ride.

Like many “period” authors (Melville, Dickens and the like), Hugo indulges himself in lengthy descriptive passages, and whole chapters of what seem to be lists of the peerage. I found the book to be a difficult read because of this, and caught myself skipping sections in order to get on with the story.

There is a (thankfully not too detailed) description of the surgical procedures used on Gwynplaine, and a quite horrible account of his reception by his peers towards the end of the book. The actual ending shocked me, and was quite different from the ending of the play.

 

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Week 52

Last entry for 2017. No cultural outings this week – a quiet Christmas, followed by a sick in-between week wherein I am fairly sure I poisoned myself and various family members.

I finished my Reading Challenge!

img_0478Some highlights from the list: Yellow Blue Tibia – probably the best pun in a title ever; King Dido -a historical crime novel I would recommend to anyone; The Night Sessions, excellent SciFiCri.

I won some audio books, all Maigret stories, and listened to some of them; I read a few graphic novels, and some children’s books, including The Dark Is Rising, which I wasn’t supposed to finish until the new year, but I couldn’t resist.

I finally got to grips with Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, and made a dent in the Dickens backlog. There were six cookbooks, and three books I bought because I didn’t think I would get to see the plays based on them, and then actually did get to see them all . There was a new Donna Leon, a new Dave Hutchinson, a new Christopher Fowler, a new Jo Nesbo and a new Ragnar Jonasson (do you detect that I like a crime story?)

Finally, there were two new Hogarth Shakespeares, based on Othello and King Lear.

It was a real challenge to read 100 books this year, as well as keep up my weekly culture outing. Next year’s challenges will be simpler, I think.

 

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 40

A very sad week.

A couple of theatre trips had been booked a while ago, and I decided not to cancel, as I needed to think about something other than sorrow and regrets.

Greenwich Theatre

Blackeyed Theatre: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

DCB12581-CC2F-4D66-8BB5-A5C6BFD68E7DThe first “Goth” offering in this Halloween season was a well-designed, well acted, old fashioned melodrama. The small cast played multiple roles very well, and the set design was a delightful reworking of a pile of junk shop furniture. Red lighting was used cleverly, suggesting threat and blood. I enjoyed this, and was glad I had decided not to cancel.

The London Theatre

Harry Denford: Joy Division
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This venue has a very grand name for a theatre no bigger than my living room in a New Cross basement.  Unsurprisingly, there was no scenery- the wooden floor and a door were the whole set, and at times, the actors  were uncomfortably up close and personal with the audience. This short play was a powerful depiction of the horror of the “Joy Division” – the women used as whores for the Nazi officers.  It was grim, and thought-provoking. I can’t say I enjoyed it, exactly, but it did not leave me unmoved.

 

Week 25

Theatre

Brockley Jack Studio

Edgar Allan Poe double bill

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It is so rare to get “goth” theatre.     I tried very hard to like this, but sadly, I didn’t. The first half was the Masque of the Red Death, a famously scary story that didn’t really work for me in this setting. Perhaps it was a bad night, but I’m afraid I didn’t wait around for the Fall of the House of Usher, scheduled for the hour after the interval.

 

Peacock Theatre

Taj Express

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This was a lot of fun. The Merchant family seem to be Bollywood legends; Vaibhavi and Shruti choreographed the production, with Salim and Sulaiman writing the music that linked the Bollywood standards. The dancing was good to my untutored eye, the costumes were spectacular, and the largely Indian family audience seemed to love it, despite (or perhaps because of) its adherence to Bollywood tropes. This was my first Asian dance  experience, and I would certainly go again.

Books

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Only one this week, but a good one. This is the second book about Yashim the eunuch. An interesting case story, with a brilliant sense of place. Reading this, you can hear and smell Istanbul, and almost taste the food Yashim loves to cook while he is pondering his cases.

This brings my reading challenge total up to 54. Still on target, but only just…

Week 6

Culture

Royal Shakespeare Company:The Tempest

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I really wanted to see this particular production, but couldn’t get to it in Stratford on Avon (too far) or on its London transfer (the Barbican, terrifyingly easy to get lost). Luckily, with the wonders of modern technology, I was able to see an encore “as live” performance at the cinema. I loved this. The use of motion-capture for Ariel was inspired, and Simon Russell Beale’s Prospero was perfect casting.

Blackeyed Theatre: Frankenstein

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This was a fairly faithful-to-the-book production, which I enjoyed immensely, despite the theatre being an absolute ice-box. It was probably the coldest day of the year, and there seemed to be no heating at all- fitting for the opening scenes of the play, in the arctic ice, I suppose.

The cast was small (5 actor-musicians), who produced very good weather effects with a range of percussion instruments. The creature was played by a wonderful puppet, animated and voiced by two, sometimes three of the cast working together . This play is likely to go on tour, and I thoroughly recommend it.

Opera North: Das Rheingold

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I love the Ring, and this was a chance to see a new and acclaimed performance of the first opera in the cycle. I had hoped for a more “staged” performance, but I ended up enjoying it very much. I particularly liked the Loki (Loge) in this production, which was broadcast on radio, TV and via various web sites. I chose TV and the comfort of my own sofa. The three “main” works in the cycle are only available online, and I shall watch them at my leisure in the coming days.


The “I don’t know how to categorise this” section

Goldsmiths forensic psychology department: The Accused

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This was an “immersive theatre” event, where the audience played the part of jurors in a murder trial. There was, obviously, a psychology aspect to the event, and it transpired that on the evening I attended, the audience were primed and manipulated to give a “guilty” verdict, which we duly did. The event was a bit of a pick and mix- there was a band, and dancing (with prizes); there was a film, and some good acting (and some not so good, but they were students, so this was to be expected). There were some problems with accoustics, and some confused instructions, which could have skewed the data that was collected. Overall, this was a very interesting evening, and knowing that I can be so easily influenced to give a particular opinion is food for thought.
Books

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Only one book this week ( I’ve been busy), but I am still well on track to meet my target of 100 books by the end of the year.

The Janissary Tree is the first in a series of period novels (set in nineteenth-century Istanbul) about Yashim, a eunuch detective who likes to cook. It was a good story, and I like the protagonist and his sidekick Preen, a transgender dancer of a certain age. I have a particular liking for “cooking” detectives, especially when there is enough description for me to be able to recreate the recipes. I shall read more of the Yashim books, I am sure.