February 1: Julius Caesar

A visit to the Bridge theatre is something I am coming to look forward to very much. This time, the stalls had been stripped out to form a pit for an immersive version of the play. (In my cowardly way, I booked a seat, but in the front row, and by good fortune at the right end of the theatre for all the action). And there was action!

The use of hydraulically raised and lowered stage blocks was clever. The crowd management was well done and incorporated into the action. The opening rally and rock concert was as “Trump” as it could be, with banners and red caps a-plenty (including on my own head), and maybe one of the best versions of Seven Nation Army I have heard.

Michelle Fairley, David Morrissey and Ben Wishaw were all brilliant. Wishaw’s Brutus was introspective and almost a philosopher, in contrast to Fairley’s Cassius, who was strong and soldierly. Morissey’s Mark Anthony was the star for me.

There was no interval to break up the momentum of the play, and I think this was a good decision, even if it did deprive me of madeleines.

An excellent production, and worth the price of a front row seat.

As a diversion, the combination of Shakespeare and Seven Nation Army reminded me of the character Dogberry from Much Ado…. (The connection is via a band called the Dogberries – tenuous, I know). A few weeks ago, I was wracking my brains for the name of the figure of speech similar to, but not quite, a malapropism. Dogberry uses it a lot, and on looking him up, I was able to recall that this figure of speech is called an eggcorn. Which interestingly, is an eggcorn of acorn. We have a family eggcorn – we accuse each other of “casting nasturtiums” (when we mean aspersions, if you couldn’t work it out).

Here endeth the lesson.

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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.

January 12: The Grinning Man

Yesterday, I saw what was possibly the best musical I have ever seen. It had everything: excellent live music (at one point I had a cellist disconcertingly close to my right ear); fabulous set and costumes; excellent singing and acting from a wonderfully diverse cast, and the best multi-layered puppetry I have seen. I loved this show. It brought me to tears in places, and provoked laughter in others. It was gory, and gothy, and quite wonderful.

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 49

It’s snowing!

Theatre

Jermyn Street Theatre

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson: The Hound of the Baskervilles

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This was a comedy romp. Three actors playing all the parts, no set, but lots of foggy haze. It was a fun afternoon, but oh, such a cold day. I found myself almost onstage, having to wrap my scarf around my face to help with the enormous amount of haze, and to keep my neck warm in what seemed to be an unheated auditorium. I enjoyed the play, but would have preferred proper melodrama to farce.

Ballet

ROH Live: The Nutcracker

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It isn’t Christmas without a Nutcracker, and this was a lovely production. Seeing it up close via a live broadcast made a great difference to the experience. You can see facial expressions and costume and set details that might be missed in the theatre.

Popular culture

London Christmas Lights

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The Regent Street lights are beautiful, without the tacky commercialism of recent years. A pity it was so cold, or I would have walked to Trafalgar Square to see the tree. I did take a picture from the bus, which shows the lights.I wish that the style of lighting was better. This years tree looks rather like a giant cactus.

Reading Challenge

Three books this week, bringing my total to 87.

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Archangel is the latest offering from one of my very favourite authors. An alternate-reality dystopia with a bit of time travel thrown in. It is a graphic novel, which is a new direction for Gibson, and works very well.

The other two are seasonal titles, and they would fit very well on my winter shelf. The Advent Killer isn’t really an Advent killer at all, and was so full of tropes and false reveals that I stopped taking it seriously halfway through. And I guessed the killer.

The new Nigel Slater is wonderful. He keeps to his style of writing around the recipes, and sets the scene for the season very nicely.

Week 48

Advent begins, the decorations go up, I dig out my playlists of Christmas tunes, and start my yearly quest to see as many versions of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol as I can.

Theatre

The Old Vic

Charles Dickens, adapted by Jack Thorne: A Christmas Carol

This was a beautiful, wonderful production, with some excellent moments, from the mince pies and oranges given away at the start of the show by Victorian street sellers, through the brilliantly over-the-top weight of Marley’s chains to the beautiful snowfalls during the second act. There was some mucking about with the text, but nothing that harmed the story. Go if you get the chance.

Books

Time to dust off my winter shelf.

Reading challenge

Two books this week, bringing my total to 84.

99 Red Balloons was a little confusing. I felt there were to many PsOV, and it was difficult to remember what was happening when. The villain was a surprise, I must admit, but I think more could have been made of the song the book was named for.

The second book was another of my prize audiobooks. This was one I had seen as an adaptation for TV, so I was listening out for differences between the two versions. I have discovered a liking for audiobooks, which surprises me.

Week 46

Had a cold, and a nasty lingering cough. I should have gone to a couple of galleries (Dulwich for Tove Jansen and the Tate for Rachel Whiteread), but didn’t really feel up to the effort. Was feeling a bit better by the end of the week, so did manage a trip to the theatre.

The Young Vic

Aeschylus: The Suppliant Women

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I enjoyed this very much, and was pleased to see the Greek theatre traditions in play, including the libation to Bacchus at the beginning of the play. There was a lot of haze, and a lot of actual smoke from lamps and flaming torches, which didn’t help my poor lungs, but did add enormously to the atmosphere of what seemed a very contemporary play.

 

Reading challenge

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Sjón is lauded for his strange novels. The Blue Fox was very short (I read the whole thing during one insomniac night), but very clever, with a magical edge to what could have been a very bleak tale. I shall read more of his work, I think.

My total of books read this year now stands at 82. Will I get to 100? I have 6 weeks…

 

Week 45

A cold week. A visit to the cinema for an actual film (not a live-broadcast), and a brand new theatre to enjoy.

Theatre

The Bridge

Clive Coleman and Richard Bean: Young Marx

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IMG_1115I like this new theatre very much. Very stylish.  Fizzy water (free) on tap, is a nice touch, and warm madeleines in the interval were a joy on the cold day. The play was good, if not the “riotous comedy” promised by the advertising.  Rory Kinnear was good, of course,and the rest of the cast were strong. There was a running “Engels and Marx” musical joke which made me smile.

Cinema

Armando Iannucci: The Deathof Stalin

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I absolutely loved this film. Brilliant performances by everyone, especially Simon Russell Beale as Lavrentiy Beria ( who for some reason isn’t on the poster). There was a nice little surprise of a cameo by Tom Brooke, one of my favourite actors, in the opening and closing sequences, and the comedy was dark and very funny.  I need to get the video of this and watch it again  I’m sure I missed some of the jokes.

Reading Challenge

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Continuing the Russian theme, I downloaded the second in Simon Sebag Montefiore’s “Moscow Trilogy”. One Night in Winter is a better read than Sashenka was, and the connection between the books  is rather vague until Benya Golden appears. I ended up rather looking to the third in the series, which is on my wish list.

Week 44

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This week contained Guy Fawkes Night (aka Fireworks night, or for the more traditionally minded, Bonfire Night), when we in the UK celebrate the fact that the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 failed.  There are some huge public displays of fireworks in London, and one of the biggest is quite local to me. But I didn’t go to watch fireworks, as I was busy doing other things.

Theatre

National Theatre

Rory Mullarkey: Saint George and the Dragon

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This was a straightforward allegory (if there can be such a thing) of Brexit, ending with the cast and audience uncertain of what should happen next. There were some fun moments – the flaming dragon heads crashing down in fabulous pyrotechnic display; the clever origin of the St George’s cross on a flag. The set was very original, and made good use of the Olivier’s revolving stage. I think the time-jumping aspect of the story could have been managed better, but overall, I enjoyed this play.

Garrick Theatre

Mel Brooks: Young Frankenstein

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This was, as expected, full of “knobs and knockers” jokes, but having said that, it was very funny, even if I did find myself thinking “oh dear, I shouldn’t be laughing at this” more than once. The performances were strong, and there were some very clever scenic elements. The cart-horses were particularly inspired, and whoever thought that idea up should get a medal.

Reading challenge

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A trip into science fiction territory this week. I enjoy Adam Roberts’s quirky takes on the future, and this married my old love of SF with my new love of the crime thriller, by providing me with a locked door mystery that I didn’t solve, but could have, if I had though laterally. Clever stuff, but I would have liked more character  back story. My total of books read this year now stands at 80. Can I make it to 100? Watch this space…

 

 

 

 

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.