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Grrrrrrrump

Well it’s hot.  I don’t mind the heat and I love the seasons in this country but when we go from snow to heatwave in what feels like 4 weeks, then I get grumpy.  Actually I am grumpy generally.  I’ve had a number of deaths amongst family and friends in recent months (which is why the blog has been a bit subdued) and I know the generation above me in the family will soon be no longer be around.   Being old is harder than I can imagine, even witnessing it first-hand.  I  understand how people give up on life, when they just feel too exhausted to go on.  The very elderly who manage to sustain an independent life fall between the two stools of the social services and the healthcare system – which don’t seem to work together.  I know people think it’s great when old people live independently, and it is that very independence that keeps them going, but life when you are old is unbelievably hard when you have to struggle to do the simplest of things.  For instance getting out of bed.  Washing.  Going to the toilet.  Cooking is very hard.  It involves heat, and bending down and lifting things.  You can’t impose on people what you think will make life easier.  If they have never had a microwave, they aren’t going to start over with one now.  Getting a cleaner in is an obvious solution, but what if you have never lived with a stranger coming into your home?  So the cleaning is kept to a minimum or not done at all.  If you are managing your failing body (arthritis, a multitude of pills to take etc) and getting by day to day, then the social care system and the health system pretty much ignore you.  There is no holistic duty of care by them anymore.  That is something the generation above me has seen disappear, and they find that very hard.  Care in hospitals can be amazingly good but things aren’t joined up.  Departments don’t talk to each other.  Everyone seems to work in a bubble.  The duty of care by a taxi driver or a supermarket assistant who just go slightly out of their way to help makes so, so much difference to the quality of someone’s life.

If you have a network of family, friends and neighbours to keep an eye on you, that is all goo,  but how people cope who do not have this is beyond me.  There must be so much acute loneliness in this world.

Forgive me.  This was intended to be a review of Caroline Or Change.

Off to work now.

Grumpy.

 

Quote

Our chief want in life is somebody who shall make us do what we can.

Ralph Aldo Emerson

The Way Of the World

It’s long.

Right – got that out of the way.

It has to be to its upmost credit that the production at the Donmar Warehouse held my attention for three hours as I was very, very tired.  I think a lot of that has to do with the intimacy of the venue where you can pretty much touch the actors, or feel as if you can even in the Circle, and a superb cast.  Take the first scene.  I happily watched it but only got hold of a little bit of plot exposition and character relations plus a few witticisms, whilst remaining lost on about 80% of the conversation between the two friends talking in a coffee house.

I better add here that I did not know a thing about the play when I sat down in the theatre.  The  plot is deliberately complicated and boy, is there a lot of talking.  I do understand a director wanting authenticity of text, but there is no need to do any lopping here.  I reckon thirty minutes could be delicately pruned at no expense to the text and to the benefit of the actors; it’s a fast-talking comedy with elements of farce and it has to keep energy and pace or it’s going to lose its audience.  The first three acts pre-interval were beautifully acted.  The fourth act is very funny indeed and the last act (successfully here) walks a fine line resolving itself between comedy and, if not tragedy, certainly an unexpected seriousness when characters revealed depths unseen before.

There is a lot of teamwork for the actors as in all good comedy and that’s why I think they need a shorter production.  No one misses a beat in their performances, but a shorter text would bind the actors even tighter, rather than (what they must be doing) have them concentrating on saying so much the audience isn’t going to care about or understand.

I hate to gripe as this is a crack team of performers and the production is well directed with visual and vocal clarity by the very experienced James MacDonald.  Haydn Gwynne had me laughing uncontrollably at her Lady Wishfort, Fisayo Akinade as Witwoud just had to walk on stage to make me smile; but again his repartee with Simon Manyonda’s Petulant would have sparkled more with some pruning.  Justine Mitchell  fleshed out Millamant in such a way that made me desperate to see her play Beatrice, and her chemistry with Geoffrey Streatfield’s Mirabell was perfect.  I’m loathe to fail to name them all as not one actor struck a false note.

Hats off to all involved and I really mean that.  In a way I’d like to see it nearer the end of its run when it will have bedded down and the actors will be even more comfortable with each other.   Even if it was fire instead of fireworks, just writing about it here has brought back the many pleasures it gave me.

Quote

You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep Spring from coming.

Pablo Neruda

Waterstones Books of the Month

Books For April

My own recommendations:

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Defectors

When Breath Becomes Air

Ashes of London

Autumn

Birth Marks

Birth Marks Book Cover Birth Marks
Hannah Wolfe 1
Sarah Dunant
Simon and Schuster
1992

I've read all but one of Sarah Dunant's novels set in Renaissance Italy, but I knew she had started her published writings with crime.  Three of them feature P.I. Hannah Wolfe. Being written in 1992, it is unnerving to read a book where no one has a mobile phone, and so solving an investigation is so very different from today, a mere 25 years on.  It's in the style of Chandler with a struggling, lonesome private investigator, full of sardonic quips and cynical views of life, but also a single woman aware of her place in society and in the eyes of other people - both men and women. This gives the book a nice edge without it feeling as if it is dealing with "issues".  The plot is speedy but filled with sadness as well as mystery. It's interesting to see a well established author at the beginning of their career, especially as her recent books have such different settings, though they still concern women swimming against the expected tide.  If you want a short, thoughtful crime page-turner this fits the bill, though as it is out of print in UK, I read it as a gift from someone who loves second-hand bookshops.

Quote

There is perhaps no phenomenon which contains so much destructive feeling as moral indignation, which permits envy or hate to be acted out under the guise of virtue.
Erich Fromm

The Chalk Man

The Chalk Man Book Cover The Chalk Man
C J Tudor
Penguin
2018
Hardback

I suspect this book will get a lot of fuss when the paperback comes out later this year, and I will not be surprised if a film comes along at some point later (which personally I would avoid if it does). Having said that, it deserves to have a runaway success.  Without question this is a way-cut-above-the-rest novel.  I was disappointed with the opening: yet another description of a dead girl, and not long after a stupendously grisly depiction of an accident. However what makes this book stand out, is its subversion of expectations that continue to remain credible, pushing on the narrative and delving into the characters' minds.  One narrator is split in two by telling the story as a child and as an adult.  It continually confounded me, but its revelations (maybe too strong a word) are subtle but vice-like gripping.  It is a real web of a book and if the author is the spider in the middle, I got caught and eaten alive at the end.  Brilliantly written.

- I must add here that I listened to the audio book read by the mesmeric Andrew Scott and by Asa Butterfield who also does a fine job.  (And if you do listen to it, you just have to accept the fact that despite the doubling younger/older but same character narrator of the book, in the audio version Butterfield is English and Scott is Irish - it matters not)

The Travelling Cat Chronicles

The Travelling Cat Chronicles Book Cover The Travelling Cat Chronicles
Hiro Arikawa
Penguin
2017

This is a gentle and very moving account of one man's road trip around the friends from his past.  The objective of his journey is to find someone to look after his cat.  Gradually tiny layers are peeled away as we learn about him through these meetings and flashbacks into his past where the friendships began.  Added to this the voice of his cat is mixed into the narrative, and if you are not a cat lover, don't let this put you off.  The device is not cute but another way of quietly revealing what lies beneath the surface of this man's life.  It is utterly beautiful. The author prefers to show rather than tell, allowing the reader to construct the jigsaw puzzle-like nature of the narrative.  It being a road trip, the landscape and places of Japan play  a very important part in the proceedings.  The descriptions are vivid. The book is  sad but life affirming, and often very funny.  It slowly got under my skin and entered my heart.

The York Realist

Despite having a keen interest in this play with its North Yorkshire setting (I grew up not far from York), I have never seen or read it.  My expectations were high as the reviews had been glowing, and I had taken part in one of the Donmar’s Open Workshops on it the morning of the day I had seen it

– and a big plug here for the Workshop which was excellent and a huge thank you to Lynette Linton for running it with such infectious enthusiasm –

but I have to say ultimately I was left slightly disappointed, without quite being able to put my finger on why.  I know that the 2002 Royal Court production of it, directed by  the playwright Peter Gill, was half an hour longer than this, despite no changes to the text.  (At that time it received very mixed reviews.)  It is mostly a realistic play set in the kitchen and main room of a Yorkshire farmhouse, in 1962, and it is peopled with the family and local community.  It is framed by a beautiful timeslip and is not a long play, short enough that I wondered if it could have done without the mid-point interval to keep it burning.

Perhaps it is too subtle; perhaps it needs more than one viewing or reading.  The actors are uniformly excellent, but even so Jonathan Bailey and Ben Batt, the development of whose love for each other the play charts, are powerful players.  The former a Southerner, the latter a man of the land which surrounds the cottage (Batt’s thrice repetition of “I live here” is profoundly moving), the play slightly subverts expectations in the way the men behave with each other. Even saying that, though, there is a flicker of emotion across Batt’s face as George leaves to go upstairs with John which, not visible to a lot of the audience, showed him not being all he seemed to be.  As George is playing a part in the York Mystery plays on which John, up from London, is the Assistant Director  – and indeed John emphasises what a good actor George is in the Plays –  that flicker of emotion is therefore perhaps a telling moment.

It is a play in which much action and passing of time are not experienced directly by the audience. The Mystery Plays, which could be the unwitnessed core of the play, didn’t overshadow it enough for me.  The family are united in their pleasure of seeing the Plays when they return to the cottage, and George quotes a couple of lines from it at the very end (which I didn’t hear clearly).  We know George’s character in the Plays is one who torments Jesus, which seems at odd with his “real” self. For anyone not knowing anything about the Mystery Plays, then the point of them just seems prosaically to get John to meet George.

This is not a play of symbolism as such.  It looks to class, sexuality, conformity, change, fear and questions where we find happiness. It is left up to the audience to fill in gaps.  No character is simplistic or easy to analyse.  Yet, as I write this I keep coming back to the thought that it is too subtle for one viewing.  Ben Batt has found his George from the text and he gives so much, some of which is almost too painful to watch on stage.  He becomes George on stage, having evolved through rehearsal and continuing to do so through public performance. This thought leaves me wondering if the text of the play as a whole, like the love it contains, has been left not fully grown.