Week 14

I was battling a bad cold this week, and nearly didn’t make the effort to get out of the house, but in the end, I’m glad I did.

Theatre

Yellow Earth Theatre at the Arcola

Christopher Marlowe: Tamburlaine 

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This was a very pared-back production. No set, apart from a white backdrop used to project text, and at one point a bizarre inclusion of negative film of a saxophonist accompanying Billie Holliday singing “My Baby”. I didn’t “get” that, and I haven’t seen any other reviews that have explained it at all. The cast were very good, swapping in and out of roles seamlessly, and the costuming and very few props were well-chosen. The lead female actor played a male tyrant believably and with great strength.  The play was accompanied throughout by excellent Taiko drumming, and I would have happily sat through this separately as a gig.

Exhibitions

Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 (Royal Academy)

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I won’t deny that my main reason for going to this was to see Kandinsky’s Blue Crest. 

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I was  surprised at how small it was – I had somehow expected it to be an epic piece. But never mind, it was still a highlight of the exhibition for me.

I found the rest of the extensive exhibition somewhat less than inspiring, although I did like the ceramics. This was another expensive gig where no photography was allowed, and only a very limited set of postcards were available. The catalogue was weighty, but too pricey for me. I bought a copy of the Soviet cook book, which will doubtless be reviewed here in the near future.

The life drawing room, Royal Academy Schools

Cathie Pilkington: Anatomy of a Doll

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This was a delightful bonus addition to my visit to the RA. I found out about it, by chance, five minutes before the tour started, and was able to join the group on a trek through the back alleys of the RA site where the public is only rarely allowed. The artwork was very interesting – Pilkington’s installation filled the entire life drawing studio, and incorporated a number of the RA’s own casts (a giant head of Homer and a flayed crucifix being the most “obvious”).  Crucifixes keep popping up on my travels just lately. Maybe it’s the proximity to Easter that is making me aware of them…

The installation is transferring to Brighton soon, but the RA casts and shelving will not travel with it, so it would be interesting to see how different it looks there. One obvious difference will be the student benches (as old as the Academy itself), which will be reproduced in pink plastic foam.

Public Art

St James’s Market Pavilion

The Paper Aviary

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This was quite lovely- a tiny installation of paper birds hidden away behind the Haymarket. I heard it before I saw it- the sound of birdsong isn’t often heard among the treeless streets in this part of London.

Picadilly Circus Underground Station

The Frank Pick memorial

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I really like this. The simplicity and appropriateness of it appeals to me. Pick first commissioned the London Transport “roundel”, and it is fitting that he is commemorated with one.

Dalson Junction

The Peace Mural

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This was painted in the 1980s, and has become quite important, apparently. I must admit that I wouldn’t want it painted on the side of my house, but it is better than a lot of other murals that I have seen. If you look carefully towards the top of the painting, you will see the words “Nuclear Free Zone”. I find that faintly amusing, if meaningless. Does it mean “no nuclear reactors in Dalston”? I can’t imagine where anyone would fit one in, anyway. Perhaps it means that if a nuclear war started, Dalson would be a magically safe place…

Books

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Two crime novels this week.

Wild Chamber is number 15 in the Bryant and May series, and it is as good as ever. I love Fowler’s London, love the Peculiar Crimes Unit and I am very fond of the creaky old Arthur Bryant.

Cockroaches is the second of Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole novels, set in Thailand, and as convoluted as ever. I like this flawed detective, even if he is a trope. Once again, the love interest doesn’t last out the book. I wonder if this will continue as a theme?

Week 5

Culture

The Lower Depths:Maxim Gorky

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I loved this play. A wonderful cast, a good design, well-matched to the performance space, good direction. I like the Arcola, and this play fitted well, resonating with current events almost scarily at times. This was my first Gorky, but I hope it won’t be my last.

Written on Skin: George Benjamin (music), Martin Crimp (text)

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I really wish I could have seen this opera live at the Royal Opera House, but the only ticket available this final week was way out of my price range. The video does allow for close-ups of the cast and set, and gives some different viewpoints ( e.g. the pages of the book from directly above) which wouldn’t be available to a live audience, but I love the atmosphere of a live opera, and it didn’t feel as good sitting on my own sofa. I wish, I wish I could have seen this live. I loved it.

Books

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Two different types of crime books this week.

King Dido doesn’t have a central case, and having the criminal as the protagonist made a change. I thoroughly disliked the main detective, but thoroughly enjoyed the book.

Six Four takes us to Japan, and the press relations section of a local police force. I like to find out about different cultures and different ways of policing, and this is as different as you can get. The emphasis on “face” and group loyalty is very interesting, and the case plays out nicely if slowly. I’m interested to see how the central character develops.

Week 4

A little late in posting this. Still reeling from the events in the States. Not thought about much else, really.

Culture

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I had pre-booked to see the Picasso portraits exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, not cheap, (and a disgrace that the guide was not illustrated and there was no photography allowed, so as to force visitors to buy the catalogue, also not cheap), so I forced myself out on a day of high air pollution to go and see it.

It was quite a small exhibition, and sadly, it was quite uninspiring, with only a very few paintings that gave me the gut feeling I get when I see art I like.

I did buy this print for my living room:

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And I bought a navy blue “Picasso” beret because I needed a blue hat and why not?

Books

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Just crime this week. I didn’t really enjoy “Extraordinary People”. It was a bit too Da Vinci Code-ish, and there were too many protagonists. It felt a bit like a Scooby-Doo adventure. Not recommended.

The “Ruby Elephants”  was a straightforward Sherlock Holmes romp that could have been written by Doyle himself. It was fine, but felt old-fashioned, which was a little disappointing. I’d hoped for something a little closer to Robert-Downey Junior Holmes, but got Jeremy Brett Holmes (not my favourite).

“The Hanging” was Scandi Noir at its Noirest. Very bleak, very convoluted, and right up my street. There was the usual flawed cop trope, and the subject matter was as unpleasant as it can be (no spoilers here). I will read more by the Hammers.