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.

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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 51

It’s Christmas!

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In the week up to Christmas Eve, there was enough seasonal entertainment to exhaust the most hardened pleasure seeker…

Theatre

Wilton’s Music Hall

Piers Torday: The Box Of Delights

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This was a vastly chopped-about version of the story, and was rather difficult for younger children to understand. Some elements were slapstick, some were very frightening indeed, and all were over-acted. The set was clever, and there was some imaginative use of puppets and projection, but overall, the whole thing was grey and misty, and not just from the over-use of haze. I had hoped to be entranced, but it didn’t quite happen.

Gigs that don’t quite fit into categories

Conway Hall

Robin Ince: Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People

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This was a fast-moving but strangely over-running variety show, full of science, comedy , music and a man cooking eggs with a wallpaper steamer. Oddly, this show was the most Christmassy thing I saw this week.  I laughed a lot.

O2 Arena

Disney on Ice:Passport to Adventure

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What it says on the tin. Disney characters on skates. Some of it was good, some a bit long-winded. The Peter Pan section could have been chopped in half without losing anything, and there was room for a bit more Frozen.  It was fun. Children in the audience loved it. I had a problem with the expensive and ridiculous merchandising, but I suppose that’s what it was really all about.

Books

Reading Challenge 

Two more this week, bringing my total up to 96

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I am reading a lot of children’s books lately. (Deciding what to buy young relatives for Christmas is difficult!) I had heard good things about the Velveteen Rabbit, but I was a little disappointed in it. I wanted to learn more about the Skin Horse. I wanted the rabbit to have more trials to overcome. I suppose I wanted a book for the 10 year old me…

Mr Penumbra irritated me intensely. It is ostensibly about a bookshop, but is actually about a Dungeons and Dragons style quest without the dragons, and with added computer nerdery. Not a classic.

#thedarkisreading

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I have never read the Dark is Rising, so this year I joined a Twitter reading group to do it properly. The book begins on Midwinter’s eve, which happened to fall this week. This book won’t be part of my 100-books Challenge, because I don’t plan to finish it before New Year. So far, I am enjoying being part of a pretty large community of readers. Other people’s perspectives are really interesting.

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.

Week 31

This week’s cultural outings took me to the Isle of Dogs and Blackfriars, both parts of London better known for commerce than art. Both were fringe performances, both tiny venues and tiny casts, both biographical accounts.

Theatre

The Space

New Diorama Theatre: 12 Million Volts

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This was an interesting account of the life of Nikola Tesla, performed with a lot of fast-paced physicality by the cast of three men and one woman, who interestingly, did most of the heavy lifting in the show. There was some very clever use of lighting, including backlighting and projection on a bubble-wrap screen – something I hadn’t seen before. I enjoyed the play, but was disappointed that there was no sign of a Tesla coil.

Opera

Bridewell Theatre: Opera in the City Festival

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My first “festival gig” was the second biography this week:

Andrew Bain: Lanza

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This was less an opera than a monologue with arias. It was sung very well by Andrew Bain, who is clearly a Mario Lanza fan. I like a good tenor voice, and this was very enjoyable, despite a very distracting shirt-buttoning mishap in the first act.

 

SUMMER book challenge

My second “M” is Montefiore.

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I like a tale of Russian intrigue, so I was looking forward to reading this.

It was okay. An easy read, a fairly obvious ending, but I didn’t warm to Sashenka at all, and I didn’t really like the neat way it was all tied up at the end. A bit disappointing, as the author is so lauded.

 

 

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.

 

Week 19

Another “exhibitions” week.

The Wellcome Collection

Electricity: The Spark of Life

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This was surprisingly comprehensive for a free exhibition. The exhibits spanned the whole of human history, from lightning to modern power generation, and included art as well as artefacts. “Pure” science was well-represented, and Galvani loomed large. The film of a frog in zero gravity was oddly sad, but it was an interesting inclusion. The exhibition itself was well laid out, following a timeline from ancient to modern. Well worth seeing, even if you are not science-minded.

The British Library

Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths

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This is the second Russian-revolution-themed exhibition I have visited in this centenary year, and despite it having no Kandinskys for me to drool over, it was by far the better experience. Obviously, as a library exhibition, the main focus was on text and illustration, but there was enough archive footage, flags and realia to make this really interesting and worth the admission fee. The layout was exemplary. It was not possible to miss anything, there was ample seating for those who, like me, need a rest now and then, and the exhibits were very well chosen. My only gripe is  the prohibitive cost of even the paperback version of the catalogue.

Public art

Eduardo Paolozzi: Newton

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This is one of my favourite pieces of public art. I do like a big bronze, and this one has a sense of gravity (heh). It sits on a huge plinth outside the British Library, and I couldn’t walk past it without taking a snap.

J C F Rossi: The New St Pancras Church Caryatids

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Another favourite of mine. I was surprised to discover that they are made of terracotta, around a steel core. They look very much like ancient stone. The church faces on to the Euston Road, and is grade 1 listed, so these ladies will be around for a while.

Books

Only one book this week, and it was a disappointment.

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I like Inspector Montalbano a great deal, in both his TV incarnations, and I expected to like this. Sadly, the book does not read well. It feels like a caricature of the TV programme, rather than a “proper” crime novel in its own right. I know the books came first, so I imagine this must be a poor translation.  Catarella comes off particularly badly, and that is a shame. Even the food descriptions are poor. I don’t recommend this.

Week 17

Slowly getting back to normal.

Theatre

National Theatre at the Gielgud

Mark Haddon, Simon Stephens: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

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This is a play I have been wanting to see for a long time. I would have dearly loved to see it in its first incarnation at the Olivier, but this was a good second-best. The only problem I had was the back-projection of “Christopher’s” drawings, which was faint and difficult to read sometimes from my seat halfway back in the stalls. I had read the book, a long time ago, and I knew that Marcus du Sautoy had been involved with the realisation of the right-angle-triangle problem in the encore ( a masterful stroke, and a pity that only half the audience stayed for it). The script stayed very true to the book, and as a bit of a geek, I enjoyed the hints of maths and science that were injected here and there.  I’m not sure that the portrayal of an autistic teenager is true to life, but it is good to see difference portrayed sympathetically.

Books

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Book 41 towards my target 100 for this year is The One, a sort-of dystopia, sort-of crime novel that doesn’t really work on either level. I didn’t feel any real empathy for any of the multiple protagonists, and all the storylines ended up being too neatly resolved. The DNA-match idea behind this book is clever, and could have been made much more of. 2 stars.