Sunday, 8 May 2011


I often worry that the older I get, the less I am able to distinguish between 'good' (i.e. original, engaging, profound) and 'entertaining' (not original, not profound, but engaging). I worry whether my good opinion of a book I've read or a performance I've seen is mistaken. When I am wrong, it's embarrassing: on a second reading or even a proper moment of thought, the value I saw dissolves like wet candyfloss. I hope this happens to other people, too. What, apart from a lazy mind, makes a first reaction so clearly wrong?
Last month I went to the Arcola to see The Piano Removal Company's final performance of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina as retold by Helen Edmundson. None of the reviewers had liked it that much so I had relatively low expectations. But, I ended up being totally enthralled by the exuberant final performance. I laughed, and cried and felt for Anna and Levin. Edmundson's play has each telling their stories to each other, which enhanced both to an intensity I haven't seen in a while. And it was played with such utter and charming commitment that it swept me away completely (I love it when that happens). It didn't bother me that none of the physical theatre devices they used – chairs turning into other things, folk songs and dances, fast changes in dramatic perspective, minimal props and lots of mime – were original. A horse race could be a sex scene, a marriage proposal and a divorce could happen in the same moment because two tables were set up the same way on stage. A crop harvest scene could be superimposed onto a Moscow drawing room. It didn't bother me on the night. But the following morning, like a hangover, it did.
Theatre doesn't last, I suppose, it isn't built to, but I can't help feeling a bit cheated that it's a hazy sadness, the odd set piece and how young and beautiful all the actors were, rather than the play itself, that I remember best. I remember loving the fact that they played a rock and roll version of the Tetris theme tune at the beginning of the second half, and that at one point later a hooded man (death?) dances a bullfight with Levin. Totally engaging at the time, but not enough now to disguise that the second half should have been half as long. I didn't need to see Anna die on stage. I didn't need to see her cry quite so much. The birth and death scenes, so effective in the first half, felt a bit overdone in the second.

But it still made me go out and buy the book

Anime All Nighter

I've been consistently tempted by Sci-Fi London's Anime for a couple of years now, even though I have never, ever, been able to stay up all night and am generally sceptical of anything that locks you in a room with people you don't know for 10 hours, even if they ARE antisocial ones. I took the plunge this year though, and, starting at midnight, finishing at 8.30am, I watched AKIRA in HD, REDLINE, and two feature length films of EDEN OF THE EAST.

I've lost count of the number of times I've seen bits of AKIRA, but it was only on Saturday night, coming up for 2 in the morning, that I realised I'd never actually seen / it / all / the / way / through. The story is much thinner than my Manga-rhapsodised heart remembers, but the scale and beauty of it more than make up for that. I was awestruck. Again. And I stayed awake!

After a cool few hours sleep through EDEN OF THE EAST (not a late night movie, and (sorry) not dark enough for me), REDLINE - perhaps more aptly named red EYE for the state of mine by that time - kept me happily awake between 6.30 and 8.30am. Loud, brash animation and a soundtrack to match, romantic, sexist in the best way possible...what more could I possibly want? Other than some sleep. In a bed, preferably.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

EasterCon and The Desert

I usually like to talk about books before I read them, so I have no idea why the brilliant Lauren Beukes' ZOO CITY (yes I DID buy it before it won), a slightly dubious 'Con tombola' win of book I already forgot the name of, and my five-years belated subscriptions to Interzone and Black Static have languished unwritten about for almost a fortnight.

 Perhaps it's because I got a sneak preview of Hari Kunzru's new Arizona Desert epic GODS WITHOUT MEN the same weekend. I've always loved the desert (the idea and the reality of it) and stories where the setting is a character in itself. I wasn't disappointed here: the menace and otherworldliness of it was evoked so well it gave me the shivers. Perhaps there were one or two too many storylines to follow, but since they all mean something, and all add up to this heartbreaking exploration of loss -the grief, the hallucinations, the fear, the juse can't fault the guy. It's out in August. By which time I hope to have read his other books - something I've been meaning to do for about ten years.

But getting back to ZOO CITY. Hardboiled, accessibly, utterly absorbing, dirty, violent, and fun. It also blows the fantastical lid off Johannesburg, a city I knew nothing about before - a treat and a half. The reviews say everything useful I can think of - particularly taken with 'Raymond Chandler's BIG SLEEP crossed with Jeff Noon's VURT'... perhaps there's a shade of Michael Marshall Smith's early stuff in there too.  I'll be looking out for Lauren Beukes' other books now - MOXYLAND, of course, since its out...but I'll be first in the queue for the next Zinzi novel if there is one. What a great new female 'PI' to add to the acres of hardass men: Beukes gives her a turn of phrase that I'd sell my soul to have myself.

'Bliss' is the wrong word for my Bank Holiday reading, every book was far too dark for that...perhaps the utter dirty addictiveness of it has more in common with the Dark Chocolate Hob Nob.