Posted in Theatre

October 9: The Sweet Science Of Bruising

“Bruising” is a slang term for fighting. But the bruises in this play aren’t all collected in the boxing ring.

I was very moved by this account of four very different women struggling for emancipation. I found the medical/surgical intervention to deal with “hysteria” particularly distressing, even though it was not portrayed in any real detail at all. I hadn’t realised that this type of mutilation was carried out in England, seemingly quite commonly, in the upper classes. The casual violence by men against their wives, mistresses, servants wasn’t overdone dramatically, but was a definite theme.

The violence, and the other punishments for women standing up for themselves were all too close to what is still happening.

The end of the play sees the women standing up for each other, and beginning to gain strength in sisterhood, but it is clear that there is still a long way to go.

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Posted in books

October 5: Everything Under

Third in my Man Booker pile is Everything Under, a strange story roughly revolving around Sarah, who is not the narrator.

There are echoes of Greek tragedy, echoes of English folk tales and a sad look at the scourge of the modern elderly. There’s a bit of fantasy, a little bit of magical realism, a bit of superstition…

There are issues around gender, which I think in one case is laboured and in another not nuanced enough, but kudos to Daisy Johnson for at least getting them out there. I worried about the cling film though.

What I really wanted to know was why Sarah did what she did. That thing that set it all in motion. And I still want to know.

Posted in books

October 1: September’s books

I got through nine books in September. Some of them I enjoyed more than others.

Chronologically:

My library reading group book. The librarian gave us all a long list of available titles and asked us to tick off any that we thought would be good for future reads. I just ticked off all the titles I hadn’t read, on the grounds that I’m using the group to widen my reading (among other reasons for attending). Anyway, she chose this for September, told everyone it was from my list, evoking several heavy sighs and sarcastic “thankyous”. With 800-odd pages of tiny print, it does look a bit daunting – so much so, that the group collectively decided to run this book over two months. Reader, it took me two days. As always, I found some of the characters a bit irritating, but I really enjoyed the book overall. I don’t need to detail the plot here, but there is one trope I dislike, and that I see a lot in “classic” novels, that of older guardian-like man marrying generations-younger woman from poor circumstances. It feels a bit icky, somehow.

An attack on my “to read” pile gave me this, which was readable, quite enjoyable, but with some silliness. It is basically the story of an odd little ménage à trois. Alice meets Jove on a cruise and becomes his lover. Alice is a physicist, Jove is a renowned expert on time travel. So far, so good. I hoped there might be a bit of Sci-Fi, but there isn’t. Eventually, Alice meets Jove’s wife Stella, and becomes her lover too, in a separate arrangement, which then becomes the main relationship, with a very upset Jove neatly sidelined. The silliest thing in the book is Stella’s diamond, swallowed by her pregnant mother and somehow becoming embedded in the base of her foetal spine ( no, I don’t know how, either, and it isn’t explained).

I have read a couple of Winterson’s books- Christmas Days, which I erroneously bought as a cookery book, and The Gap of Time, one of the Hogarth series of reimagined Shakespeares (in this case, the retold story is the Winter’s Tale). I haven’t read her most famous book, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, but it is on my wishlist.

This novella was a very nice “extra” to Lock In, a Sci-Fi-Cri novel that I liked a lot when I read it back in January. It details the background to Haden’s Syndrome, which is central to the novel, and could be read before or after. I’m glad I read the novel first, but that’s because I really like good Science Fiction, and Scalzi writes good stuff.

I would call Yesterday SciFiCri, because of the very clever centrality of memory-diaries to the plot. It is certainly “alternate reality”. Otherwise, it is a fairly straightforward crime novel, told from multiple points of view. I would like to see more of Hans, the detective. There are a lot of holes in the world-building, (some of them are quite exasperating), and the mechanism of transfer between short and long term memories isn’t really explored. Quite readable, quite enjoyable, and with a reasonable twist.

A classic. I bought the Steadman-illlustrated hardback as a gift for someone, but had to re-read it first. This edition contains a couple of nice essays by Orwell, as well as the wonderful illustrations. I almost don’t want to give it away.

This was my September calendar book, and it was a wonderful story of a Jewish family in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution. This is really worth reading, and I am not going to write more in case I spoil it for anyone. I recommend this one.

How long have I had this on pre-order? So long I can’t remember. Anyway, it’s here, and read immediately, of course. I like Strike, and I’m glad that Robin is sorting herself out. I think this is a bit longer than it needs to be, but it will transfer well to TV, as the other Strike novels have. I enjoyed it.

This is another book I have bought as a gift. I found it odd, until I realised that it was written to be turned into dance. Here is the trailer for Raven Girl , the ballet based on the book.

The Man Booker shortlist was announced on September 20th. I bought all six, planning to read them before October 16th, when the winner will be announced. So far, I have managed one. The Long Take calls itself a poem, but I didn’t think it was poetry, really. It was very readable, and a strong story of PTSD and the toll it takes. I am taking an early punt and predicting that this will win the prize.

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 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 books

August 31: Books

This month I read 10 books, some of which I enjoyed more than others.

Chronologically:

I happened to be reading Out of the Ice at the end of July and it carried over into August. It was a mediocre crime novel. Not Scandi, even though it looks as if it ought to be. Set mainly in the Antarctic, and featuring an under-the-ice laboratory. A bit far-fetched for my taste, with a tacked-on child abuse thread that I thought was unnecessary.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was my August calendar challenge book, and it was terrific. Harry is the central character, and we live his lives with him. Speculative fiction, with a very clever central premise. I liked this a lot.

I’m attacking my tsundoku by means of a random letter generator. This time it was a z. Zero K refers to temperature, and the book is about a family using and coming to terms with cryogenic suspension. It was strange, in both plot and setting. I found it a bit “arty”, and a bit unsettling.

Sometimes people I follow on Twitter will mention a book. A Void was brought to my attention by an author I like. I didn’t have a copy, but I did happen to know a friendly University librarian, who let me borrow one. I found it terribly self-indulgent. The notion of writing a whole novel without using the letter e was interesting. The execution was laboured, and I found myself irritated in places where substitute words mattered (for example, in quotations from famous published works). There was a story, but I found it hard to follow, and it wasn’t concluded to my satisfaction. Unlike other reviewers. I decided not to try to write s review without the letter e.

The Bridesmaid was my local public library reading group book of the month. Ruth Rendell isn’t one of my favourite authors, and this book wasn’t one of my favourite books. It was interesting to see the story from the point of view of someone who wasn’t either the victim, the perpetrator or the police. Having said that, I didn’t feel any empathy for the narrator, or any of the other characters, for that matter, and I felt that there was a chapter missing at the end.

Grayson Perry’s book was chosen because it was a very slim paperback that would slide easily into the pocket of my overnight bag. It was interesting, if a little outdated, with some little cartoon illustrations and a bit of humour. The only non-fiction book this month.

Another random letter, this time m. I liked this one a lot. It had crime, wine, food (a lot of food, including actual recipes), and a French setting. No police, but a food magazine writer and her photographer sidekick solving a linked set of three murders. I hope there will be more in this series.

Give me an e

This book has been hyped a lot. I liked it, but it made me depressed. There were things I recognised in Eleanor, and things that didn’t ring true. I wanted to shake her at times, and I didn’t believe that her colleagues would change their opinion of her so drastically. At least there was a happyish ending.

And an f

I’d had this one on my pile for a while. A dystopian novel that doesn’t quite describe a dystopian world. The fixed period is a lifespan, the setting is an independent colony that gets re-annexed, there is a lot of scientific innovation, especially in the fields of music and sport. The narrator is one of those fixed-mindset people who perceive themselves to be hard done by when their views are not shared by everyone. This was apparently Trollope’s only foray into sci fi and he clearly found it hard work.

Smon Smon is a children’s book, but I’m not ashamed of reading it before giving it as a birthday gift to a three year old. It has an old-fashioned Eastern European look to it, and a lovely rhythmic rhyming pattern. It is a little adventure story that really needs to be read aloud.

Posted in Musical theatre

August 4: Fun Home

Fun Home is modern musical theatre at its best.

The musical won 5 Tony awards, and deserved them.

On the day I saw it, the three versions of Alison Bechdel were played wonderfully by three terrifically-voiced actors.

Brooke Haynes was excellent as the young Alison. Her loathing of her barrette and party shoes foreshadowed her college coming-out awkwardness cleverly, and her performance of “Ring of Keys” was outstanding. Eleanor Kane was a brilliantly clumsy teenage Alison, and the always-onstage adult Alison was played with wonderful nuance by Kaisa Hammarlund.

The other actors were all excellent, but the three Alison’s were the standout performers for me.

The second central story of Alison’s father wasn’t glossed over, but I feel that perhaps her mother deserved a little more sympathy. Her brothers also disappeared after the school-age phase (but an hour and forty minutes isn’t long enough for all the detail I wanted).

I was moved to tears by the end of the show, and glancing around the sell-out auditorium, I could see I wasn’t alone in that.

I absolutely loved this show.

Posted in Opera

August 2: Saul

I couldn’t get to Glyndebourne, but, as luck would have it, there was a film of the oratorio Saul on their website, so I was able to watch from the comfort of my sofa.

I have to admit to liking a bit of oratorio, and Handel oratorio is the best for singing ( I did a bit of that in my youth), so I was looking forward to hearing the Glyndebourne Chorus, who are also judged to be pretty good.

What I didn’t expect was the staging. It was over-the-top and fabulous. I particularly liked the second part opening, with so many candles you couldn’t count them. I loved the ridiculousness of a rising and falling revolving organ for the concerto. (I wondered how the organist managed to not be sick).

The soloists were good. The chorus were wonderful. The acting was over-the -top but right for the staging. The gay overtones seemed to fit the text.

I loved it, and wished I’d been able to see it live.

Posted in books

June 29: Summer Reading #4

M is for McDonald (again)

I seem to be getting through these rather more quickly than I expected to.

This is my second Ian McDonald of this challenge, and it is a novella, rather than a novel. It is a romance, of sorts. It is a science-fiction mystery. IT DOESN’T HAVE ALIENS! It does have time travel, and it does have a bit of gay sex. Major events and twists are foreshadowed nicely but not too obviously, and there is enough romantic angst to satisfy anyone who needs that in a story.

The blurb doesn’t quite match the book, but I’ve read enough (particularly in “genre” works) to know that is quite often the case. I chose it because it was a new work by a favourite author, not because of the blurb.

It is a lovely, lovely story.

Posted in Theatre

June 9: Stitchers

I always find it amazing that the tiny Jermyn Street Theatre can put in such “big” shows.

This time it was a wonderful play about prisoner rehabilitation through embroidery. Based on fact, this play by Emma Freud was fierce and moving. It brought back the feeling of helplessness and frustration I felt as a prison teacher when classes were cancelled without notice because of lockdowns, and reminded me that the frustration was far worse for the inmates.

The inmates were not softened at all. There was no “do-goodery” about Lady Anne. Nevertheless, good was done, and hard edges softened.

There was a shocking moment towards the end of the play, but on the whole, it was an uplifting experience.

Sinéad Cusack was wonderful, of course, but the whole cast put on a fine performance. I was pleased that the trans woman character was actually played by a trans woman. I feel that the true horror of being a trans woman in a men’s prison could only really be shown this way.

There was one extra little surprise. The programme was actually the entire text of the play. A real bargain.

Go and see this if you can. You won’t be disappointed.