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.

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Week 28

The cough persists, but is slowly receding, and fortunately leaving me enough time between bouts to be able to enjoy stuff without annoying my neighbours too much.

Theatre

Union Theatre

Tim Rice/Stephen Oliver: Blondel

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It seems that I am gradually coming round to an enjoyment of musicals. (Not all of them, though!)

Blondel is a very early Tim Rice offering, and was good fun, if a bit panto-ish. There were some outstanding moments, great voices, and some excellent characterisations, including the best Prince John since Alan Rickman.

The Union is a theatre best experienced in winter, I think. The summer heat inside this little railway arch was oppressive, and the seats are packed in with very little legroom. I was seated near a portable air-conditioner, which was noisy and didn’t do much to cool the air. On the plus side, the cafe is good, with lots of outside space.

Opera

ROH/ Big Screen

Puccini:Turandot

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These “big screenings” are an event with their own style. Picnic suppers, live-tweeting and singing lessons in the intervals.

I wasn’t able to get to the local Big Screen this time, and so missed my traditional Wimpy takeaway picnic,  but because it was a live stream, I was able to join in via my iPad, with a home-delivery KFC picnic on the sofa. (Sadly, Wimpy have not joined the home delivery market yet.)

Turandot is spectacularly problematic. One of the best arias ever in Nessun Dorma, but as bad in its treatment of women as you could find pretty much anywhere.

i live in hope that one day I will see a performance of this opera that does not use yellow-face. It must surely be possible to find Asian singers; or if not, to change the setting so it is not so obviously Chinese.

Ballet

ROH/BBC4

Wayne McGregor: Woolf Works

IMG_0515I confess to not being a ballet lover. I like some dance, but generally speaking, big ballets leave me fairly cold.  Having said that, occasionally one will catch me out. This week the BBC broadcast a live-ish production of Woolf Works from the Royal Opera House, and I was captivated. The music was modern, costumes were beautiful, design was excellent and the dancers were wonderful. i particularly liked the middle Orlando section,  and this has spurred me to download a copy of the book to add to my to-read list.

 

Theatre/Cinema

Donmar/Picturehouse

Shakespeare: Julius Caesar

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Okay, so not live, but this film of Julius Caesar from the Donmar was one of the highlights of my cultural year so far. Outstanding performances by Harriet Walter as Brutus and Martina Laird as Cassius; some inspired design/props elements (particularly the red rubber gloves); and a bit of hard rock music, too. The use of a prison setting, and its incorporation into the play was clever, and the all-female, multi-ethnic casting was well-justified. I loved this, and recommend it to anyone, Shakespeare lover or not.

Books

SUMMER reading challenge

I decided to just read these one a week in the order they come, so, first up for this week was St Aubyn.

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There is a lot of hype about this author, and the book is certainly readable. It is also mercifully short, because the subject matter is shocking. I couldn’t understand why so much praise had been heaped on it, until I did a bit of research and discovered that it was autobiographical. That put a very different complexion on the story, and pushed me into buying the other four books in the series.

 

The rest of the Patrick Melrose series kept me occupied while I suffered with the lingering cough that stopped me sleeping this week.  I found this whole series bleak and populated with really unlikeable people. Thankfully, there is redemption at the very end of the last book.

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Week 27

This week was designated as “Hamlet Week“. Three possible performances – two of which I actually had tickets for. Then fate intervened, of course.

IMG_0260First up was Changeling Theatre and their outdoor offering. Great reviews, but, on the day I had booked, coinciding with the beginnings of a head cold, and, worse than that, FLYING ANT DAY. Sitting with a headache in a field of flying ants is probably one of my worst nightmares. I stayed home and re-read Ian McEwen’s “Nutshell”.

Next up was the new opera at Glyndebourne. Obviously too far away, but being broadcast live to cinemas. Irritatingly, I had already booked broadcast night to see another version of Hamlet, so couldn’t take advantage of the air-conditioning and cheap comfy seats in my local Picturehouse. I hope there will be an “Encore” screening at some point in the future.

The Hamlet I was most looking forward to was the Andrew Scott portrayal at the Harold Pinter theatre. Sadly, my head cold had developed by then into a full-on coughing and spluttering chest-based spectacular. I sadly returned my ticket.

 

I ended up on my sofa on Friday evening watching the most over-the-top filmed version anyone IMG_0262could possibly imagine. There are many reviews of this in the world, so I’m not going to add to them, except to say that I am certain that casting Derek Jacobi as Claudius must have been a Kenneth Branagh joke. (Actually, this Claudius was one of the best I have ever seen, and made the film much better than it might have been.) I could have done without Robin Williams, but Charlton Heston was wonderful.

Books

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First up, the afore-mentioned Nutshell, one of the Hogarth re-imaginings of Shakespeare. No prizes for guessing what this one is.

 

Other reading this week included two with “strange” female protagonists. Both are unreliable as narrators for various reasons which don’t become clear until the ends of their stories. Both well worth a read.

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Finally, I have set myself a challenge for the rest of the summer, which, for me, ends on August Bank Holiday. Here are my six SUMMER books, chosen by author surname initial.

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The aim is to read all these between now and August Bank Holiday (which marks the end of summer for me).

S: Never Mind (Edward St Aubyn)
U: Baba Yaga Laid an Egg (Dubravka Ugrešić)
M: Sashenka (Simon Sebag Montefiore)
M: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Anthony Marra)
E: The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco)
R: Sidney Chambers and the Forgiveness of Sins (James Runcie)

 

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.

Week 7

A quiet week.

Culture

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Watched the the three remaining parts of the Ring. Really enjoyed Die Walkure. Siegfried was as annoying as usual, and Gotterdammerung felt slightly low-key. Even so, this was one of the best-voiced Rings I have seen/heard.

I caight up with the Portrait Artist of the Year in a one-afternoon binge-watch. I hadn’t realised this was on, and am glad to have found it before the heats end. My money is on the guy who painted Ben Okri on a concreted-over cupboard door.

Street Art

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I came across this truly awful thing in Woolwich. It was apparently presented to the town by the Mayor of Reinickendorf, Berlin.

Woolwich is, interestingly, divided by a wall. Inside, nearest the river, is the “cultural quarter”. Posh new flats, expensive bars and cafes, the farmers market….

Outside, the rougher, more common, old Woolwich, with a giant Wetherspoons pub and a big screen in the town centre showing perpetual sport (snooker on the afternoon I took this photo). It is interesting that a nice statue of the goddess Nike, presented to the borough, is inside the wall. The ghastly bear is firmly on the outside.

Books

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A bit disappointed in this. A murder mystery within a murder mystery. It had all the tropes, and I wonder if Horowitz was playing the same game as his fictional author. I’d give this 5 out of 10.

 

Week 6

Culture

Royal Shakespeare Company:The Tempest

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I really wanted to see this particular production, but couldn’t get to it in Stratford on Avon (too far) or on its London transfer (the Barbican, terrifyingly easy to get lost). Luckily, with the wonders of modern technology, I was able to see an encore “as live” performance at the cinema. I loved this. The use of motion-capture for Ariel was inspired, and Simon Russell Beale’s Prospero was perfect casting.

Blackeyed Theatre: Frankenstein

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This was a fairly faithful-to-the-book production, which I enjoyed immensely, despite the theatre being an absolute ice-box. It was probably the coldest day of the year, and there seemed to be no heating at all- fitting for the opening scenes of the play, in the arctic ice, I suppose.

The cast was small (5 actor-musicians), who produced very good weather effects with a range of percussion instruments. The creature was played by a wonderful puppet, animated and voiced by two, sometimes three of the cast working together . This play is likely to go on tour, and I thoroughly recommend it.

Opera North: Das Rheingold

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I love the Ring, and this was a chance to see a new and acclaimed performance of the first opera in the cycle. I had hoped for a more “staged” performance, but I ended up enjoying it very much. I particularly liked the Loki (Loge) in this production, which was broadcast on radio, TV and via various web sites. I chose TV and the comfort of my own sofa. The three “main” works in the cycle are only available online, and I shall watch them at my leisure in the coming days.


The “I don’t know how to categorise this” section

Goldsmiths forensic psychology department: The Accused

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This was an “immersive theatre” event, where the audience played the part of jurors in a murder trial. There was, obviously, a psychology aspect to the event, and it transpired that on the evening I attended, the audience were primed and manipulated to give a “guilty” verdict, which we duly did. The event was a bit of a pick and mix- there was a band, and dancing (with prizes); there was a film, and some good acting (and some not so good, but they were students, so this was to be expected). There were some problems with accoustics, and some confused instructions, which could have skewed the data that was collected. Overall, this was a very interesting evening, and knowing that I can be so easily influenced to give a particular opinion is food for thought.
Books

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Only one book this week ( I’ve been busy), but I am still well on track to meet my target of 100 books by the end of the year.

The Janissary Tree is the first in a series of period novels (set in nineteenth-century Istanbul) about Yashim, a eunuch detective who likes to cook. It was a good story, and I like the protagonist and his sidekick Preen, a transgender dancer of a certain age. I have a particular liking for “cooking” detectives, especially when there is enough description for me to be able to recreate the recipes. I shall read more of the Yashim books, I am sure.

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 2

Culture

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This week’s culture is of the armchair variety. I came across an interesting item (probably via twitter, although I can’t swear to it). Apparently, the only Soviet animation that was banned was the “Glass Harmonica”, which was itself sort-of about censorship. I watched the video, and some others, via the Open Culture website. Catch it yourself here:

http://www.openculture.com/2016/09/watch-the-surrealist-glass-harmonica-the-only-animated-film-ever-banned-by-soviet-censors-1968.html

Pop Culture

I succumbed to the sales, and bought myself a pair of cherry-red Doc Martins (an iconic colour and an iconic brand). I was also drawn (heh) to a Crayola collaboration with a cosmetic brand – set of chubby lip crayons that would sit happily in any geek girl’s satchel.

To round off the week, I watched what I think is likely to be the last ever episode of BBC “Sherlock”, a programme that has spawned such a huge and varied fandom that it deserves to be on my list of pop culture icons.

Books

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I did a fair bit of reading this week, but most of it was mediocre stuff. One stand-out was “Yellow Blue Tibia”, a strange Sci-Fi tale with a lot of humour, a clever play on pronunciation, but sadly, some aliens. It was particularly interesting for its take on Chernobyl, which was itself featured in a documentary on TV this week. I always like coincidences.

Food

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This overlaps with books this week. I finally finished reading the Venice cookbook, and was happily reminded how much I like Guido Brunetti. And I found the best paella recipe in the “Pig” book. And yes, it has chorizo in it.