Posted in books

July 22: Calendar Reading

This month’s calendar reading is The Boy From Lam Kien by Miranda July.

I had heard great things about this author, and the synopsis of the story sounded interesting, so I set out on a quest…

The story is available as a paperback

Yes. I’m not paying that sort of price for a short story. On googling, I discovered that there had been a BBC radio series read by the author:

Of course, it was unavailable.

So I bought a kindle version of the collection of short stories it was in, for a LOT less than I would have had to spend on a standalone paperback.

I started reading at the beginning, and stopped when I finished the story I’d bought the book for, about halfway in. And it was hard work getting that far. I should have just read the one story I’d wanted – it was the least objectionable of the ones I did read. I don’t often abandon a book unfinished, but occasionally it happens.

These stories are not for me, I’m afraid. There is too much very dysfunctional sex. There are dysfunctional sex workers, dysfunctional care workers, dysfunctional everything. A woman cheerfully admitting to having a fourteen year old boyfriend was the last straw for me.

I couldn’t make myself go any further.

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Posted in Television

June 11: Patrick Melrose

Last summer, I read Edward St Aubyn’s first Patrick Melrose novel, Never Mind, as the first of my SUMMER reading challenge books. It gripped me and horrified me enough to make me buy and read the other four books in the series.

Almost exactly a year later, Benedict Cumberbatch takes on the role of Patrick in an eponymously titled TV miniseries, and plays it masterfully.

The series doesn’t flinch from the abuse suffered by the child Patrick, but thankfully doesn’t feel he need to portray it graphically. A closing door is evidence enough of what is happening.

Events in the books are rejuggled. The series starts with the death of Patrick’s father, and ends with the death of his mother. The optimistic end of the last novel is omitted completely, as is the new-age Irishman’s comeuppance.

There is wit and humour, and darkness.

This series deserves to win awards. I will be terribly disappointed if it doesn’t.

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 7: H(A)PPY

I really wanted to like this book.

I bought a hardback because I’d been warned that not all the graphic stuff would show up in an e-book version, and now it is taking up precious space in my actual physical environment.

It is clever. It won the Goldsmiths prize last year (which “celebrates qualities of creative daring…and rewards fiction that breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel”). Perhaps it’s too clever for me?

I didn’t like the protagonist. I didn’t understand the Paraguay references. I wasn’t overly impressed with the pseudo-mathematical artwork, and I have to say the changing colour of the font got on my nerves. I did understand that. I just think it was overdone.

The book blurb sold it as post-apocalyptic dystopia, but it seemed to me to be set mostly in the protagonist’s head. A bit of backstory would have been useful.

I give this three stars for the concept, but less than that for the execution.

I know a lot of people like this book, so make your own judgement.

Posted in books

9th January: Reading

I have had a soft spot for science fiction crime novels ever since I discovered Isaac Asimov’s Elijah Baley and R Daneel Olivaw, a long long loooong time ago. Going through the lists of new books coming out in 2018, the blurb for John Scalzi’s Head On caught my eye. It’s not out until April, but I noticed that there was an earlier book with the same characters…

I liked the idea that technology can be used to allow people with severe disabilities to live an active life. One such person is the protagonist, who is “locked in” , but has his mind downloaded into a “threep“- a robot body.

The crime element of the book is interesting, and the plot is fast-paced and believable (given the sci-fi context). I liked the diversity of the characters, mostly, but I wish the protagonists’s female cop partner didn’t have to resort to the old booze and random sex tropes to deal with her demons.

I enjoyed this book very much, and will definitely be buying the new one when it comes out.

Posted in books, Opera, Theatre, video

Week 42

Opera

Glyndebourne: Hamlet

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Finally, I got to see  one of the Hamlets I should have seen back in week 27, as the wonderful BBC broadcast the Glyndebournd production. I have to say that I don’t quite get the thrill from modern opera music as I do from “classic” arias and choruses. I find it literally impossible to distinguish the music in one modern opera from another. Having said that, I do notice the voices, and what was interesting in this production was the two countertenors playing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Ophelia was a bit over-the-top in her madness, and I’m not sure it was necessary to put her in a scanty bikini. I liked Alan Clayton’s Hamlet very much. The set was grey. The costumes were grey. It worked. The splashes of blood were shocking against all that grey. I did like this production, even if there weren’t any standout songs.

Theatre

Young Vic: Wings

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This was brilliant. A short, no-interval play charting an older woman’s experience of and recovery from s stroke. The direction was inspired, and Juliet Stevenson was overwhelmingly good. How she managed to act while suspended on a wire for 90 minutes is beyond me. See this if you get a chance to.

Reading challenge

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One book this week, and not a brilliant one. I found the three-section three-narrators structure irritating, and the plot was clunky. I didn’t like the characters, and I was left dissatisfied, despite the no-loose-ends conclusion. Read it if you like lost-manuscript stories.

Posted in Art, dance, Theatre, video

Week 36

The Arts can often be an antidote to the grim reality of life. At other times they can be cathartic, allowing release.   This week’s outings were all produced by women, and all addressed the hard parts of life.

Theatre

Dorfman Theatre

Lucy Kirkwood: Mosquitoes

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This play has been the season’s hot ticket. A complete sellout from the beginning of the booking season, only two tickets allowed per customer, and only very occasionally appearing in the “Friday Rush”. I managed to bag the single ticket on offer for the performance I saw, and it was well worth the effort I had gone to in order to get that seat.  Olivia Colman was absolutely wonderful as the most damaged (and damaging) relative anyone could ever have. Scientific themes threaded through this excellent play, but it was accessible to the non-nerd.  I loved it.

Art

White Cube: Dreamers Awake

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A very comprehensive feminist surrealist exhibition, curated by Susanna Greeves and featuring work by (amongst others) Tracy Emin, Mona Hatoum, Sarah Lucas and Louise Bourgeois. There were some beautiful works, some very peculiar works, some that were hard to look at. None of it left me unmoved.

Dance/Video

Rosie Kay Dance Company: 5 Soldiers

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This piece was staged during a local festival back at the beginning of the summer. I wasn’t able to get to it then, and so was really pleased to see it being live streamed from an actual army base this week.

The dance shows the progress of five soldiers through their training and deployment. The interaction between the recruits and their officer, and between themselves were very well portrayed, with some difficult moments between the sole female soldier and her male colleagues played out effectively. One of the soldiers suffers a life-changing injury during deployment, and this is addressed well.

The female perspective made all of my “culture”  difficult to look at this week. There seemed to be a specific harshness about life itself in these pieces.

Posted in Art, audio, books, exhibitions, festivals, Museums, Musical theatre, pop culture, Theatre

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.

ThePower 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. Winner of the Believer Book Award.

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 MobyDick, AllQuietOnTheWesternFront, and TheOdyssey. 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.

Posted in books, Theatre

Week 22

Sadly, this week’s post starts in a similar way to last week’s. Another terror attack, this time in London, and for the first time, south of the river. I was safely indoors when it happened, but just a few hours earlier, I had been at a theatre not too far from London Bridge, having a wonderful time. It is hard to just carry on as normal, but of course, we will.

Theatre

National Theatre (Lyttleton)

Lindsey Ferrentino: Ugly Lies The Bone

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This was a grim play with odd moments of comedy. Kate Fleetwood played the returned war hero very well, onstage for almost the whole play, wearing prosthetics and bandages throughout. This was a 90 minute, no interval play, and it was long enough. The set was interesting, largely empty, with elements on rails to ease changes of scene. The “virtual reality” lighting and projection was impressive. I had hoped that Kris Marshall would get a chance to show a bit more of his acting range, but sadly, he was given the role of yet another affable buffoon. Three stars for this. But the Lyttleton is looking in need of a little tlc.

Jermyn Street Theatre

Stephen Unwin: All Our Children

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Another grim offering, based on recent history. The idea that disabled children are dispensable, a drain on society is chilling. The acting was good, and I give five stars to Frau Pabst (Lucy Speed). Jermyn Street is tiny and the audience are practically onstage. I like this little theatre very much, and not only because they sell wonderful stem-ginger ice cream. This was another no-interval play, as seems to be fashionable nowadays. Four stars for this one.

Young Vic

Bertold Brecht: Life of Galileo

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This was wonderful. It had everything. Excellent acting, especially Brendan Cowell (Galileo), who was stellar. There was music (brilliantly composed by the Chemical Brothers), planetarium-style projection, subsonics that rattled my bones, puppetry, dancing…  And some serious science. I’m glad I hadn’t opted for stage seating, which took the form of sponge cushions on the floor. The bench seating was fine – only becoming slightly uncomfortable towards the end of the three hour play. Interestingly, I had a ticket for seat D31, but row D went from seat 30 to 32 with no sign of an actual seat 31. I sat in 32, and luckily, no one came to claim it. Five stars for the Young Vic for this one.

Books

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Two crime fiction offerings this week. Why Did You Lie is a proper Scandi-noir story. Multiple viewpoints, three seemingly-separate plot strands, angsty cop-with-a-problem. It was a good read, but it left a number of threads unresolved. I wonder if there will be a sequel?

I picked up the first in the Grantchester chronicles because it was (a) cheap and (b) a familiar story from a TV series. It was very reminiscent of Chesterton’s Father Brown  stories, rather more gentle than the TV programmes, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series, wherein Sidney promises to move up through the ranks of the clergy.

Posted in Ballet, books, video

Week 20

This week, I was trapped at home by disappearing bus stops. The two stops I use were out of service because of road workings. Only temporarily, but annoyingly, including  a day that I had intended to go to the theatre. This week was consequently quiet, and my culture was of the armchair variety.

Video/ Online

English National Ballet: Curing Albrecht

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This was a lovely little thing. Short and sweet, and a lot of fun. I loved the old Victorian baths it was filmed in. All those tiles, all that cast iron. And water! And stripey swimwear! Do take a few minutes to watch. It will cool you down on a hot day.

Books

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I occasionally buy a play script if I am not going to be able to see a play (and if it is not available on video). I had intended to see All Our Children this week, but wasn’t able to get there. I bought an e-copy of the script before I had a message from the theatre that they could offer me a transfer to another day (hooray!), so now I will be familiar with the play before I see it staged. I wouldn’t say it was enjoyable, but it was thought-provoking. I’ll say more when I have seen the play.

I’m working toward my reading challenge goal of 100 books by the end of the year. As part of the challenge, I make myself read books I should have read years ago. This week, I suffered through two. Pippi Longstocking must be the most irritating child ever imagined. I loathed her, and I can’t imagine that I would have liked her any better if I had encountered her as a child. The Bell Jar was disappointing. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but whatever it was, I didn’t get it. The book was readable, and contained some truly shocking moments, but I wanted “great” literature, and for me, this fell short. My final book this week was written by a Nobel prize winner. A shortish novel, heavily allegorical and with an anthropomorphic personification. An interesting read, not too heavy, with a predictable ending. I’d be interested in reading more by Saramago.