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.

Posted in books

May 31: Summer Reading Challenge

I did this last year, and it made me read some books I might otherwise not have chosen.

The way I planned to do it was to choose six books by author surname, corresponding to the six letters of the word SUMMER. I would first draw from my “books I own but haven’t read yet” pile; then from my wishlist of books that: I like the look of; I feel I ought to read; have been recommended etc. Finally, if necessary, I would search the internet for “author whose surname begins with U” (it’s always going to be U that’s a problem, let’s face it).

Last year I had to go searching out in the wide world for a “U”, and it gave me the odd but likeable “Baba Yaga Laid an Egg” by Dubravka Ugrešić. This year, I only had to go as far as my wish list.

So, this year’s challenge:

Between June 1st (start of meteorological summer) and August 27th (August Bank Holiday, which I consider to be the end of summer) I will attempt to read the following six books, in order.

S: George Saunders. Lincoln in the Bardo. I chose this because it won the Man Booker prize, and when I have read Booker winners before (Midnight’s Children, Life of Pi) they have stayed with me longer than I expected them to. I don’t think of myself as a “literature” reader. I gravitate towards crime and SF. But I make myself step out of my comfort zone every so often. I think it does me good.

U: Tor Udall. A Thousand Paper Birds. This is also literary fiction, with, I am promised, a bit of magical realism. There is a threat of romance (not my genre), but what sold me on this was the lure of origami. This was the only U author on my wishlist, and so I didn’t have many other choices(!). We’ll see how it goes.

M: Ian McDonald. Chaga. I have read a number of McDonald’s books (River of Gods, Brasyl, The Dervish House, spring to mind) and I like the idea of setting SF in a slightly “off” familiar location. I decided to go back to an early work for this first “M”

M: Ian McDonald. Time Was. The same “M”(not necessary, but I thought it would be fun), but bang up to date with this one. Time travel. Hmm…

E: George Eliot. Middlemarch. Every so often, I make myself read something I should have read when I was at school. This is it for this summer.

R: Philip Roth. Nemesis. Reading this in tribute.

The challenge starts tomorrow. Wish me luck!

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 books

February 21: Walkaway

Reading this book reminded me of how much I love good science fiction. Cory Doctorow is a favourite author, and this book is a mixture of cyberpunk, post-apocalypse and politics. I like Hubert Etcetera, and wish there was more of him in the story. There is an interesting mix of gender and racial characteristic examination. The rich guy is pretty much always the bad guy, but actually, not quite. A lot of years pass between sections of the book, and there are some disconnects that I would have like reconnected. I enjoyed this book, a lot.

Posted in Theatre

January 25: Edward II

This was only my second Marlowe play, and it was as humourless as the first one I saw. It seems Marlowe doesn’t play to the masses, as his contemporary, Shakespeare, does. There are no comedy gravediggers or rude mechanicals here.

This play should be an epic tragedy, but it doesn’t quite manage it.

Each lord of duke had his own actor (unusual these days in small venues, where multi-tasking seems to be the order of the day), although eight young white men in business attire and bare feet were hard to tell apart, even when they were all onstage together). Alicia Charles (Queen Isabella) got a nice frock, and Timothy Blore, as King Edward, had a nice glittery crown, but failed to be “kingly” in my opinion. His lover, Gaveston (played by Oseloka Obi, the only black actor in the cast, who also, depressingly, played the part of the executioner) was as petulant as the King, and the whole thing felt very shallow.

Lazarus used all their usual tricks; harsh lighting, drums, air horns, etc. There was a pre-show warning for haze, language, nudity, but to be honest, they might as well have not bothered about that, there was very little of anything offensive.

The gay theme was overt, but not really sexual. The violence was stylised. The execution scenes were strange and oddly shallow.

My overall impression was of a company trying to offend but not knowing how to, really. They knew their lines and delivered them competently. They did what the director told them to. The fight scenes were well-choreographed, but the whole thing felt superficial and vaguely unsatisfying.

I have seen Lazarus before, and liked them. Hopefully, this was just an “off” performance.