This story of a playwright/poet nun in 17th Century Mexico comes across as curiously stilted, with the author (presumably deliberately) adopting the sThis story of a playwright/poet nun in 17th Century Mexico comes across as curiously stilted, with the author (presumably deliberately) adopting the style of lengthy explanatory speeches and grand-standing soliloquies. Not a bad thing in itself, but one is left with curiously shallow characters. We accept their worldview because we know people really did behave that way, but don't really understand them at a human level (as with Edmundson's Coram Boy). In particular, Santa Cruz's transformation from hero to villain is abrupt and unsatisfying.
But it's still a good play, with short scenes keeping the action clipping along, which will work as long as you've got a good set designer for the quick scene changes. And even if the archbishop's constipated morality is only examined through the speculations of others, he's still a powerful presence. There are also strong female characters, not just the heroine Juana....more
Michael Blakemore's account of his five years at the National Theatre is funny, gripping, brilliantly written, superbly structured and just possibly tMichael Blakemore's account of his five years at the National Theatre is funny, gripping, brilliantly written, superbly structured and just possibly true. Of course, everybody's truth is different and Peter Hall gives a quite different account, but Blakemore is highly skilled in making his own version seem plausible. His account is also valuable for its insights into the skill of directing, into theatre management and the tumultuous reign of Hall's predecessor, Laurence Olivier.
For all his caprice and unpredictability, Olivier is clearly the hero, with Hall as the nemesis who squandered Olivier's heritage and turned the National into a vehicle for his own lust for power and money. Blakemore is keen to stress Hall's strengths and talents, which only helps disarm the reader and makes the barbs more biting. He attacks Hall's reputation as the 'founder' of the Royal Shakespeare Company, claiming he renamed and developed an existing institution (while giving credit to Hall for what he did) and that the achievements of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre and its luminaries such as Anthony Quayle "disappeared down Hall's gullet".
Of course it should all be taken with a pinch of salt, but so much of Britain's theatrical history has been cast in the version told by Hall (Wikipedia says he founded the RSC; the RSC itself does not) that some balance doesn't go amiss, even if Blakemore is hardly more objective than Hall.
One criticism is the pictures: all the photos are from play rehearsals, which doesn't reflect the book at all. Photos of the main characters in the book would have been useful, but none of them are there except Blakemore and Olivier (in rehearsals, naturally). What about Dexter and Tynan? Surely Peter Hall was worth depicting? And even the rehearsal photos aren't varied enough. Blakemore goes into great depth describing the complicated set of The Front Page, but the photos are too close-up to give any impression of what is being described, which is hard to picture just from the description. ...more
Indiscretion, probably consciously, has an air of The Great Gatsby about it as an ingenue, Claire, finds herself captivated by a golden couple, HarryIndiscretion, probably consciously, has an air of The Great Gatsby about it as an ingenue, Claire, finds herself captivated by a golden couple, Harry and Maddy, living a life of etiolated prosperity in the Hamptons near New York with their young son. The captivation is reciprocated and Claire's emotional dependence grows into an obsession with Harry that sets them all on the road to tragedy. The story is told by the seemingly impassive family friend Walter, whose love for Maddy has been unrequited for decades.
In terms of narrative structure and writing style, the book is a delight. Dubow writes with a light, literary touch that raises Indiscretion well above pulp romance. It's a serious novel that is easy and enjoyable to read. Sometimes the fascination is with working out the apparently neutral Walter, whose reliability as a narrator becomes more doubtful as the book progresses. Five stars is justified, even if there are undoubted flaws.
The most serious flaw, and for me the only serious flaw, is that there isn't quite enough depth of character. Claire's, Harry's and Maddy's emotions are real enough, but their psyches aren't well enough developed to provide a bedrock for their emotions, which can leave readers wondering why they should care about them. That wasn't enough to spoil it for me, but I can understand why others disagree. ...more
This debut collection is essentially comedy of the banal. It's not bad, but it does seem to have been written by someone who's taken a writing class aThis debut collection is essentially comedy of the banal. It's not bad, but it does seem to have been written by someone who's taken a writing class and has learned that stories don't need a structure or an ending. That's true, but in their absence something else needs to fill the gap. Also, the title and some of the publicity imply that this is a work of erotica, which it most certainly isn't.
There's a clue in the title "and other people", not "and other stories". These are vignettes: moments from people's lives. That would work better if the characterisation was deeper: if nothing is going to happen in terms of story, then something needs to happen in terms of character. Mostly it doesn't, or, when it does, the characters aren't deep enough for the reader to care.
In Desert Hearts, one of the more entertaining pieces, a law graduate gets a job in a sex shop (the reference to Jane Rule tells you it's a lesbian sex shop). All the gay clichés are there as this straight woman tries to pass off as gay, while her over-working boyfriend becomes increasingly distant. The story is moving inexorably towards a conclusion and Holmes knows it, so, to adhere to the diktat of Great Literature that 'nothing must happen', she simply kills the story, bluntly and implausibly.
The story that starts least promisingly is probably the best: My Humans, in which a couple's relationship is told through the eyes of their rescue dog. The simplicity of the dog's understanding allows the pathos of humans' feelings to come through; pathos that is absent from the characters in the other stories because Holmes doesn't dare show deep emotion. By focusing on the dog, she allows the humanity to shine through.
As an aside, these stories are strangely anachronistic for a collection published in 2015. Almost all the references, cultural and technological, seem to be from the 1990s: VHS, audio tape, Backstreet Boys.
On this evidence, Holmes is a writer of potential but perhaps she needs to emerge from the shadow of her tutors, who are numerously and profusely thanked in the acknowledgements (which appear prominently at the front of the book, not the back). At the moment, her work reads a little too much like exercises for a creative writing class. ...more
Seen at Bromley Little Theatre: definitely a play that achieves its full potential on the stage. Plenty of slapstick and fast-paced, physical humour,Seen at Bromley Little Theatre: definitely a play that achieves its full potential on the stage. Plenty of slapstick and fast-paced, physical humour, with audience participation wired in. All the elements of high farce are here, with mistaken identity and messages (and money, and food) going astray; quite similar to Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors (which I saw the previous week)....more
Deutschland is a short book, detailing a few days in summer for one family. Richard, Suzannah's American second husband, is wrestling with an unspecifDeutschland is a short book, detailing a few days in summer for one family. Richard, Suzannah's American second husband, is wrestling with an unspecified guilt. Kate, Suzannah's daughter, is on holiday in Germany with her new lover, Steve, where she challenges him to do something that will test their relationship. Kate's nephews and niece, Tony, Jeff and Sam, spend their days concocting elaborate and dangerous dares. The common theme of pushing the boundaries of what is right holds the narratives together.
The strands of the three stories only really come together at the end, before which the motives of the players are nebulous. Regrettably, the writing and characterisation aren't compelling enough to hold the reader's attention while we wait for the point of the novel to be revealed. The reveal at the end isn't forceful enough to make the exercise worthwhile. ...more
During the interval, my companion said, "I don't really understand Pinter." Two others said, "I don't think you're supposed to," with one adding, "JusDuring the interval, my companion said, "I don't really understand Pinter." Two others said, "I don't think you're supposed to," with one adding, "Just let it wash over you." We concluded that if you think you've understood it, you almost certainly haven't.
Pinter was in the vanguard of the sixties drive away from linear narrative, and in Old Times the conversation is used not to drive any plot as such but to delve into the nature of Deeley and Kate's relationship. The obvious interpretation is that Kate and Anna had been more than friends, which would have been far more shocking in 1971 than now, but that seems too simplistic. More plausible is the interpretation that Anna isn't actually there: the memory of her is what intrudes into the couple's relationship rather than her physical presence.
But even that might be too literal. The younger Kate comes across as almost autistically shy, and would have been a curious best friend for the outrageously gregarious Anna. There's a clue in their sharing of underwear and in Deeley's assertion that he had known Anna too. Perhaps Anna is actually also Kate: the extrovert part of her personality that was suppressed when she married Deeley.
Despite its impenetrability, obscure dialogue and occasional pretentiousness, Old Times is also funny and poetic and has real dramatic energy. ...more