Posted in books, Theatre

2019: Week 25

Summer has stalled and it’s turned gloomy again, so a bit of Gothic theatre is in order. Creation Theatre produce excellent site-specific versions of classic texts, and their Dorian Gray at Jermyn Street was full of references to the St James area. The set was minimal, and they used an impression of a painting rather than s real one, and it somehow worked. I wasn’t sure how the gender-swapping would play, and I must admit that changing pronouns while keeping the names as canon confused me a bit, but only for a few minutes. A clever version, with thankfully, no haze to make me cough.


Quite a bit this week. The Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction was won by Robin Robertson’s The Long Take, which I read last year, when it was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize. It also won the Goldsmiths prize last year. I liked it, but not enough to read it again.

My summer reading challenge continues. U is for Urban, and an interesting alternate-reality crime story. I was glad that the crime did get solved, even if no one gets their comeuppance.

Judith Kerr died recently, and I have fond memories of reading Mog stories every night until I knew them by heart. I had never read When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, her autobiographical novel, and so I took advantage of the local library and downloaded and devoured the whole trilogy in one day. Well worth the time.

Finally, it is Bloomsday, and yes, I have read Ulysses, and no, I am not going to punish myself by reading it again. Instead, I chose to read the Republic of Consciousness co-award-winning Lucia by Alex Pheby and wish I hadn’t.

It is a well-written book, documenting, fictionally, the life of Lucia Joyce. The book has an interesting format, scenes from an archaeological dig juxtaposed with scenes from Egyptian burial from the point of view of both an observer and the deceased. All of this is cleverly set alongside biography-style chapters from Lucia’s life and eventual death. I found some of it quite harrowing, and the sexual torture scenes particularly overdone, and nasty. The parallels between the Egyptian burial and the (real) silencing of Lucia before and after her death were interesting, and the accounts of the cruelty perpetrated on asylum inmates were upsetting and sadly, probably historically accurate. This one will stay with me, I think.

Posted in books, Theatre

2019: Week 24


It isn’t midsummer yet, but it’s not far off. Anyway, at least the season is correct for A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bridge.

What a wonderful production. A bit of gender switching, which enabled a lot of comedy; aerialist fairies; hip hop music; and some absolutely sterling work by the crew. I laughed so much during the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe that I literally cried. One of the best Shakespeares that I have seen in a while.


S is for Stoker, starting my summer reading challenge off. This has been on my pile since Christmas, so it was about time it got read. It was an interesting take on the Dracula story, but I take its claims of being a true account of what happened to Bram Stoker with a very large pinch of salt.

Both the RI Fiction Lab book (Vox, Christina Dalcher) and the Guardian readers group (The Rings of Saturn, WG Sebald) for June are books I have read quite recently, so I’m giving both groups a miss this month.

Posted in Art, books, Theatre

2019: Week 23

Summer has officially started. June 1st is the beginning of meteorological summer, and so my summer reading challenge begins. The outdoor entertainment season also begins in earnest, and I’m going to try to dip into it with more gusto than last year.

I started by booking a last-minute trip to Greenwich Park for The Wind in the Willows.

The Royal Observatory Gardens is a lovely venue, but remember to bring something to sit on! Quantum Theatre put on a very ambitious production, with three cast members playing not only the four (!) main characters, but also three weasels, a fox, two rabbits, two hedgehogs, several humans, several small mice and a very engaging duck. They also acted as their own stage crew, changing scenery frenetically throughout this full length play. There were several musical numbers (perhaps too many) and while the performance was entertaining, it felt rather old-fashioned. I would have liked to see it brought up to date a bit. The set was a bit fussy, but the costumes (mainly head pieces) were very clever.

Next up was Tate Modern for the soon-to-end Dorothea Tanning exhibition.

I have to say, I wasn’t overly impressed. I found the soft sculptures dull and the paintings quite dreary. There was a film, narrated by the artist, where she explains how the family dog became a central motif in almost every piece of her work, but what could have been interesting documentary turned into self-indulgent mock gothic horror (wafting white dress, winding stone staircase etc). But of course, it was her film, and she could put in whatever she wanted.

I sought refuge from the crowds in the artist rooms, and found the cool blue of neon by Jenny Holzer, which reset my mood into something calmer.

Finally, the weekend and June 1st arrived. Time to begin my summer reading challenge. I have six books lined up, and aim to read one every week or so until August Bank Holiday brings summer to an end. Here they are:

Posted in books, Theatre

2019: Week 21

A long time ago, I went to the theatre to see what I thought was going to be Oscar Wilde’s version of Salomé. It turned out to be something quite different. This week, I managed to get to see the right one.

I was a little disconcerted to find myself bounced out of my originally-booked seat in favour of a gold helium balloon, but I don’t think I was alone. There were a lot of balloons, and I never really “got” what they were for.

I enjoyed the play. Lazarus are always a bit edgy, and this was no different. I was surprised how well a male Salomé worked, but I shouldn’t have been, really.

Notable reading this week:

The best pure science fiction book I have read for a while. This book is filled with terrific, unsettling art, and a post-apocalyptic road story. I loved it.

The Royal Institution Fiction Lab book for May was a wonderful surprise. The mingling of urban wildlife monitoring with the psychology of PTSD made much more sense than it ought to, and I really liked both protagonists. I recommend this book highly.

I tried really hard to read American Tabloid, but in the end I was beaten a few chapters in. Not by the style that apparently makes Ellroy difficult to read for some people, but by the casual misogyny and racism that permeates the book. I know it is “of its time”, but I just couldn’t get past the language to the story. I notice that the comments on the group posts are largely from men. I don’t think I have seen any praise for this book from women…

Posted in books, Theatre

2019: Week 12


A Hundred Words For Snow

A single-handed play stands on its actor. Gemma Barnett played a perfectly believable fifteen-year-old Rory (short for Aurora). There were some plot holes (e.g. a fifteen year old girl managing to book flights as far as Svalbard on her mother’s stolen credit card without attracting any notice), but as a rite-of-passage play, this was wonderful.


At this time in the month I would usually be writing about the Guardian Readers’ Club book of the month, but this month it is Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, which I read just before Xmas last year, and can’t bring myself to read again. I know it is supposed to be great literature, but ugh, aliens. So it goes.

I liked this book, and I liked Hannah’s grandfather, despite his having made a pact with the devil. The book was a little reminiscent of Good Omens, but that doesn’t hurt it, and the basic premise is different. An enjoyable read.

I was disappointed in Square Eyes. I like cyberpunk, and I like graphic novels, so this should have worked for me, but sadly, the story was just too incoherent. The drawing is lovely, but a graphic novel needs a tight story, and this just didn’t work.

Posted in books, Theatre

2019: Week 11



A disturbing play. I found some of this hard to sit through, but it was well acted, particularly by the actor portraying the horse, without the aid of mask or costume.

This is not a play for the faint hearted, but is interesting from a psychological point of view.


A strange dystopian tale told from the point of view of a worker bee. Very odd, and I didn’t really care for the anthromorphism.

This was a contemporary Irish story of one man’s attempt to cope with a child’s suicide. I didn’t expect to dislike the “supporting cast” as much as I did, but I did empathise with all the viewpoints. Don’t read this if you are depressed. It won’t help.

The 28th in the Brunetti series is tighter than some of the earlier ones, and has a definite conclusion, which isn’t always the case. I liked this, a lot. I’m just annoyed that the physical book is a tiny bit larger than all the others I own, and so doesn’t fit comfortably on my shelf.

The Short Story Club Book for March is a slightly creepy account of a romance between a girl and a much older man. I was bothered by this. I’m not sure I’ll continue with this particular club.

I admit to no prior knowledge of this story. I haven’t seen the film, and I didn’t have any expectations. I have been putting off reading it because of the author’s problematic stance on race, but it came up on the list of books available from the library as e-books, so I decided to see what the fuss was about. I liked the epistolary style, and I was quite a long way through the book before I felt that something about the letter-writing wasn’t quite right. The story is definitely a modern horror, and I found the mother to be a completely unsympathetic character, but I have to say, this is a very good book.

Posted in Art, books, Opera, Theatre

2019: Week 9

A good week for culture.


Berberian Sound Studio

My first trip to the Donmar, and I was surprised at how small it is for such an influential theatre. I made the mistake of booking a front row stalls seat, which I will never do again, as the experience of sitting with my knees practically on the stage wasn’t brilliant. Also, quite a bit of the action of this play takes place inside a sound booth at the rear of the stage. From my seat I couldn’t see much of what was happening in the booth. The play itself was excellent. Tom Brooke’s portrayal of Gilderoy, the nature-documentary geek somehow drawn into the world of “Giallo” film was very natural, and there were one or two instances of truly visceral horror as Gilderoy tries to recreate the sounds of torture. There were also comedy sequences featuring a couple of foley artists slapsticking about, which took the edge off the horror just enough. I enjoyed the play, and it was good to try a new venue.


The Monstrous Child

Another new (ish) venue; the revamped Linbury theatre at the Royal Opera House. And a brand new opera. This was very interesting, with some excellent technical theatre arts employed. I particularly liked the use of ice, and projection, and there was some innovative puppetry, particularly that portraying the births of Loki’s children. There was a lot of teenage angst, and a lot of humour, and it was a shame that there weren’t more young people in the theatre on the night I went, as this is definitely aimed at the YA demographic.


A Fortnight of Tears

I like Tracey Emin’s work more and more as I get older. This exhibition at the White Cube encompasses drawing, painting, sculpture (some wonderful large bronzes), video, photography and one of her excellent neon poems. The overarching theme was loss, manifesting in depression and insomnia, and it was incredibly moving. I really recommend seeing this


My calendar reading for March is a standalone short story. I suppose I should have waited for the 15th to read it, but never mind. It is a silly tale about an attempt to cheat fate, which of course, as in all such tales, fails. Not great writing. I probably won’t go looking for anything else by Bill Bernico.

I decided to read Francesca Simon’s book in advance of seeing the opera she adapted from it. It was worth doing, as I wasn’t as familiar with Hel’s story as I was with some of the other Norse Gods’ tales. This was a YA story, told in first-person by Hel, and employing teen humour and modern vernacular well. Not my usual genre, but as an extra to the opera, useful.

Posted in books, Musical theatre, Opera

2019: Week 7

Two very different theatrical experiences this week.


This was sublime. Visually, it was absolutely stunning, and the music and voices were wonderful. There wasn’t a great deal of plot, and no “songs”, obviously, this being Philip Glass, but that didn’t matter. It was a brilliant, brilliant performance.

Fiddler on the Roof

Another brilliant performance, on a much smaller scale. This was my first visit to the Menier Chocolate Factory, and I will definitely go again. “Fiddler” is full of songs, of course, and the voices were powerful. I cried at a couple of moments. This production is moving to the west end, which is great for the company, but I think the audience will lose out on the intimacy of a small space. I recommend the Chocolate Factory. Go for a meal deal. The food is themed, and great.


I am enjoying these short stories. This month’s tale is a creepy little horror about a dolls’ house. I don’t normally go for horror, but I enjoyed the shiver I got from this.

I’d had the newest Rivers of London book on pre-order for ages, but as an e-book, so I’m not sure exactly when it dropped into my kindle library. Anyway, as soon as I noticed it, I had to read it, even though I have a huge pile of physical and electronic books already. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed Peter Grant’s adventures, and the quirks of Ben Aaronovitch’s writing. This time we learned the origins of Mr Punch, who has been around since the beginning of the saga. Another good one.

Posted in books, Opera, Theatre

2019: Week 6

A “normal” sort of week. A bit of reading, a bit of culture…

Anthropocene at the Hackney Empire

The title of Stuart McRae and librettist Louise Welsh‘s new opera refers to a ship, rather than to the geological era, although there are references to global warming and icecaps melting here and there. This was a “modern” opera, with modern music (so no songs). The first act worked for me. There was tension and some power plays, and a sense of threat from the “thing” in the ice. (some quite deliberate referencing of “The Thing” here). The second act fell apart a bit for me, in terms of story, although the voices stayed strong and the visual presentation was powerful. I didn’t like the idea of human sacrifice that too easily explained the central mystery. The end of the opera was depressing. Given the chance to save the world from icecap melt, our band of explorers chose the “self-interest” option, and let the world go hang.

I enjoyed the performance, and it was good to see/hear something new. But it wasn’t great opera, for me.

Dracula at the London Library

Creation Theatre put on a terrific two-handed performance of Bram Stoker’s story.

The library’s reading room was an excellent setting, and the story was told using a variety of media, including some very clever projection work. I enjoyed this very much, and the ending made me smile at its unexpectedness. Full marks for creativity.


Dead Pig Collector is a short story about a murder that goes wrong. It is clever and it left me unsure of who the baddie really was. I read it because someone recommended it, and I wasn’t disappointed.

I picked The Thing Itself as a result of seeing Anthropocene. Like the opera, the book starts and ends with horror during scientific exploration at the poles. Unlike the opera, the book veers away from the ice and into a range of historical settings, seemingly randomly at first, and introducing two main themes; Kant’s philosophy and artificial intelligence. In fact, it wasn’t until the end of the novel that I realised the significance of some of the lurches into time. I like Adam Roberts’s work, but this was not among my favourites of his novels.

Posted in circus

December 19: Circus 1903

I used to enjoy the circus, apart from the clowns, but haven’t been for a long time. This production at the Royal Festival Hall promised to take us back to the “golden age”.

The performers were excellent (even the contortionist, and I don’t like contortionism as a rule).

The concept was interesting. The whole of the first act was “tech rehearsal”, so we saw the tumblers and the aerialist etc out of costume, and against a background of the show being set up. The second act was “the show”, so the compere became the Ringmaster, and the high wire act and human trapeze artist were in costume. Sadly, although we saw the costumes of the earlier performers in the curtain call, we never saw them performing in them. For example, we saw a performer out of costume on a bicycle, and he was very clever, but he took the curtain call in costume on a unicycle. I would have liked to see that performance.

There were no clowns. I was surprised by this, and oddly disappointed.

The compere/ringmaster was dreadful. And there was too much patronising “filler” with children from the audience.

The elephant puppets were fabulous, but the appearance of the big elephant was fleeting. I wanted much more of this.

The children in the audience seemed to love it all. It was certainly a good replacement for most modern pantomimes.