Thoughts On: Translations, National Theatre

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I knew next-to-nothing about Translations, outside of the fact that it was set in Ireland, years ago. My friend was buying a lot of tickets for the new season of the National, and I decided to take the opportunity to see a play by Brian Friel.

The play is set in a small rural village in Ireland in the 1800s; when the play opens the drama is focused on the opening of a new national school in the area which would close the small village school run by the alcoholic schoolmaster Hugh (Ciaran Hinds) but sustained by his son Manus (Seamus O’Hara). The plot really begins when Owen (Colin Morgan), Hugh’s other son returns to the village after years away along with the English army, in his role as translator for a new map of the area. What follows is a play that explores in microcosm the relationship between England and Ireland, and people and their languages.

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I found Friel’s thoughts on language as shown in this play to be really interesting. Naively, and probably a consequence of living in a country that exports its language, I’d never really reflected on the power that is intrinsic to language. How a sense of belonging is crafted from it, and how easy it is to take power away from people through language. When the English re-name the areas of Ireland, they are also removing the history that they have not participated in; Owen and Manus argue over the need to preserve this history, whether it is ridiculous to maintain a legend remembered by so few people, or whether it is key to retaining the land’s sense of self.

Friel also plays with the possibilities of whether it is ever possible to belong to an area that you have taken by force. Young, idealistic Lt Yolland (Adetomiwa Edun) falls for the rural area, Gaelic (despite being unable to speak it properly) and local woman Maire (Judith Roddy), despite the two being unable to really communicate, and Maire long being expected to marry Manus. However, it is made clear that Yolland could never truly belong to the community he wants to; and the arc of history and future hardships are hinted both in the text; with characters fretting about blight on the potato crop, considering emigrating to America and Ian Rickson’s staging of the final moments reminding the audience that England and Ireland’s fraught relationship is hardly a thing of the distant past.

Rae Smith’s design is mostly focused on a small part of the Olivier’s sprawling stage, but is effective at creating the poor, rural neighbourhood. Her work is complimented by Neil Austin’s lighting which can move between somber and romantic effectively.

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The ensemble cast are all very strong. Colin Morgan and Seamus O’Hara are both very good as opposite sides of a similar coin; especially as the former begins to realise the darker implications of his work. Judith Roddy is thoughtful in her portrayal of Maire, and Adetomiwa Edun as her counterpart is warm and engaging. I also found Dermot Crowley’s performance as Jimmy Jack, a local vagrant who can recite Ancient Greek and Latin, surprisingly moving.

I’d really recommend seeing this, it’s definitely a play that has left me with much to think about.

Amy
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Thoughts On: Chess at ENO & Policing Audiences

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Chess is one of my absolute favourite musicals. The Tim Rice/Benny Andersson/Bjorn Ulvaeus (yes the guys from ABBA) show combines great music with the historic background of the Cold War, which is a period of history that I am definitely a nerd about. So when ENO announced that its summer musical would be this show (following on from Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard and Emma Thompson in Sweeney Todd) I jumped at the chance to get tickets.

Whilst I am a huge fan of the show, I am very aware of its flaws. The book is probably where a lot of its problems lie. The show follows Russian Anatoly Sergievsky (Michael Ball), who is challenging American celebrity chess champ Freddie Trumper (Tim Howar) for the world championship. During the tournament he begins to question his loyalty to his country as he falls for Florence Vassy (Cassidy Janson), despite already being married. The focus squarely on Anatoly is a bit of a shift in this production, which whilst helping the story make sense, I did miss Florence playing a more central role (from when I saw the Craig Revel-Horwood production of show a few years ago, and from the Royal Albert Hall production). It also takes a long-time to get going; with the first 30 minutes being an awful lot of scene-setting which did seem to be testing the patience of those around me.

However, ENO’s production does place the music front and centre. The huge orchestra is on a platform at the back of the stage, and they elevate the score wonderfully. This is complimented by the strong cast. I was a bit disappointed when the cast was first announced, as I’d had pretty high hopes and Michael Ball struck me as far too old for the part. This is still the case, at least when he’s playing opposite Cassidy Janson and Alexandra Burke as his wife; but he is in great voice and ‘Anthem’ really bought the Coliseum down. I’d never seen Janson in anything but she did a great job with Florence’s tricky songs, and even made ‘Heaven Help My Heart’, usually a skip-able song, moving. Burke, who seems to attract a bizarre amount of criticism, was strong in a role that is pretty underwritten, and made ‘Someone Else’s Story’ actually quite moving (though I’m not sure what her and Janson did to the costume designer to deserve their outfits). I also enjoyed Phillip Browne as Molokov, who with the male ensemble, does a fab job of ‘The Soviet Machine’.

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So on the one hand, I really enjoyed Chess. However, English National Opera itself did a pretty tricky job of making me feel welcome. To start, the tickets where ludicrously expensive, considering it is not a show that I think is massively well known outside of theatre audiences. This was exacerbated by the fact that the affordable tickets where mostly in the balcony (where I sat), and the staging (by Laurence Connor) was such that we frequently were unable to see key pieces of theatre action; including the actual chess matches and…Michael Ball singing in both Anthem and some of Endgame. It is incredibly frustrating when directors direct for just one part of the audience; and this was exacerbated by the choice to have limited other stage business and a reliance on nifty but get-old-quickly video screens.

Yet this wasn’t the most irritating thing that ENO did; that came in their musical audience only ban on bringing drinks (including water) and food into the theatre that hadn’t been purchased there. Whilst I appreciate and understand a desire to prevent people bringing picnics with them, banning water during a heatwave seemed kind of mad. This is all made even worse by the fact that this rule was targeted purely at audiences for Chess. The inherent snobbishness in the idea that musical audiences are in some way more likely to be rowdy than their ‘normal’ opera and ballet visitors is pretty terrible. Since the news of the policy broke, and people on Twitter got angry, ENO have now expanded this policy to cover opera audiences as well, but for me the damage has been done. The arts, and especially traditional venues, still have much to do to make them more accessible to new audiences, and considering opera is something that still has a reputation of elitism, you would think ENO would welcome an opportunity to try and get return visits from new audiences by making their experience one they would want to repeat. But alas.

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What I’ve Bookmarked | 10

This is a bit of a bumper edition, as although I’ve been away from this blog, I’ve still been reading and watching blogs, newsletters and my social media feeds with my usual furore. So grab a coffee, and have a chill Sunday reading and watching some things that I’ve loved over the past month(s).

Am I stinking vermin or am I running the world? The racists think it’s both.

Young women are convinced motherhood is going to suck, and they’re right

This accurately sums up a painful amount of my dating experiences: Lex on being needy

Literally every single unnecessary purchase I’ve made so far this year

Katie Hopkins is dishing out advice for Londoners, live from her living room in Devon

This story about a bridal shower will make you want to never get married

Good Skin vs Bad Skin: The Cultural Ramifications of ‘Bad Skin’

Why University Challenge is deliberately asking more questions about women

Did drinking give me breast cancer?

Cardi B on her unstoppable rise, repping gang life and the peril of butt injections

My favourite moment of our wedding

Do I need to start thinking about having kids?

Ready Player One is the roadmap to digital dystopia 

Mandy Patinkin & Katherine Grody on being madly in love for 40 years

Rose on how to be confident

Here’s to strong women: the end of the damsel in financial distress

From crystals to horoscopes: the rise of spirituality in a sceptical world

This is exactly how I asked for my first raise, and got it

I made this for brunch today and it was amazing

Everything Rachel Green wore that we would wear now

Leandra and Pandora discuss early motherhood 

20 quick dinners for people who hate cooking

Michelle’s Money Diary as a freelancer on a variable income

loved this piece: On loving Starbucks and losing a safe space

I’m tempted to make these for a Royal Wedding picnic next week: strawberry pie bars

Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

 

What Did I Miss?

So, its been a minute or ten.

I mentioned a few posts back that I was offered and accepted a new job, and this first month has been a whirlwind that I’m still trying to process. Everyone I’ve met so far has been lovely, but I’ve been working with a client from Day 2 and it feels like I haven’t really had much chance to catch my breath!

March was a complete whirlwind. I turned 25, and celebrated at Hawksmoor with my family, Duck & Waffle with my housemates and in Shoreditch with all of my friends. I was thoroughly spoilt and had a lovely time at all these places. Turning 25 was something that didn’t feel that much of a big deal at the time, but reflecting on it, I think this being my 25th year has definitely been a bit of a driver in me sorting out my fitness and my financial position.

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I spent a lot of my final weeks in my old job recruiting for the next cohort of graduates for the scheme that I was on, which was the National Graduate Development Programme. This took me to both the LGA and to Preston to assess candidates which was a really valuable experience, and I’m hopeful that there are some really good people about to start their journeys in local government.

I also went to see Sondheim on Sondheim at the Southbank Centre which was a concert of Stephen Sondheim, featuring some of my favourite musical theatre singers including Tyrone Huntley and Julian Ovenden. I also saw Macbeth and 42nd Street, and you can find my thoughts on those by click through the links. I spent Easter at home with my family, and enjoyed a good break before starting my new job.

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April felt like it was over in the blink of an eye. Getting to grips with a new job, longer hours and more travelling was a lot to deal with. I also saw my very first opera with my housemate via ENO’s Opera Undressed programme. Whilst I’m not sure opera is completely my thing, I do always appreciate the arts having programmes that make them more accessible.

One of my favourite bands, Arcade Fire, also toured during April and I headed to Birmingham to see them with my family. Whilst this did mean I get to wake up 5.15am to make it to work again from home, they were so worth it. Their live shows are worth every penny and the atmosphere is always electric. I’d highly recommend seeing them if you get the opportunity. Whistle-stop visits also continued when I headed to Bristol for a few hours to catch up with my work friends from Birmingham, who it was just lovely to see.

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May also feels like it’s storming past, but I promise I won’t be quite so absent!

Amy
Twitter | Instagram

Thoughts On: Black Panther

I am super late to the party on this, but as Black Panther is still dominating the Box Office on both sides of the Atlantic, I figured I would share some quick thoughts here.

Much like my experience with Wonder Woman, I’m not that interested in the wider Marvel universe and I think with the exception of a random 20 or 30 minutes here and there I haven’t seen any of the current run of films (I have watched previous Spider Man incarnations though). However, Black Panther gained my interest because Lupita Nyong’o is one of my favourites, and I’m always keen to prove certain portions of the internet wrong when they claim that no one will watch a minority-dominated film.

If you also had no idea about Black Panther, the general story is as follows. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) becomes king of Wakanda after the death of his father. To the outside world, Wakanda is believed to be an incredibly deprived sub-Saharan African country. However, in reality, it is an extremely modern high-tech society and T’Challa faces concerns immediately from Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) who believes they should do more to help the outside world. This becomes all the more pressing when an outside returns to Wakanda, posing a threat to everything that T’Challa is trying to maintain.

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One of the first things to say about the film that it just looks stunning. From the futuristic Wakanda, to the land of the ancestors, the scenery, designed by Jay Hart, is just stunning. This is enhanced by excellent costume design from Ruth Carter, which combine traditional dress with futuristic elements suitable for a film placed in the Marvel universe.

However, obviously what has made Black Panther such a smash is its story. Ryan Coogler is the film’s writer and director, and he has created a story that in some ways stays very true to superhero tropes and in some ways moves far away from this. Coogler directs action sequences that are brilliant; from uncomfortably close contact 1-on-1 fights for the position of King, to a sprawling final battle sequence featuring the varied tribes, you feel incredibly close to the action (my non-action film watching housemate was very shaken by it).

In other ways, though, Coogler really moves away from typical hero films. Women are really placed front and centre in his screenplay. Nakia is T’Challa’s love interest, but she’s also a committed humanitarian. The country’s lead troops are all female, and are led by the brilliant Okoye (Danai Gurira) who is just a bad-ass,  and represents the complicated place of the army behind the throne even when the throne no longer represents what you believe in. Shuri (Letitia Wright) is T’Challa’s younger sister and also casually the smartest person in the country, whose work is behind the transport systems, healthcare systems, defence systems. It was such a breath of fresh air to see women kicking butt and being smart; especially being women of colour.

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Coogler also excellently challenges what a villain is in a superhero film. Usually, villains have had some kind of experience with the protagonist that makes them hate them and therefore all of humanity (e.g. estranged brothers, thwarted lover, overlooked friend). In this case, Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) does have an experience as a child which turns him against the ruling family of Wakanda. However, he sees Wakanda’s protectionist, internal focus as letting down black people across the world, and believes that they should play a role in overthrowing oppressors. This complexity of a villain is really interesting, and makes the ending actually pretty sad (I cried).

The interesting script dynamics are really helped by the solid performances from the entire cast. As T’Challa, Chadwick Boseman is a really quietly strong presence at the centre of the film. His physical contrast with Jordan really emphasises the difference between T’Challa and Killmonger’s beliefs, and Boseman felt very royal. I also loved Letitia Wright as Shuri, she was funny and smart and just a really warm presence in the film. Other good performances came from Andy Serkis who appeared to be loving chewing the scenery as South African arms-dealer and real bad guy Klaue; and Winston Duke as M’Baku, the leader of a tribe in Wakanda who reject the ruling Wakandans who starts as a bit of a scary presence and turns out to be some great comic relief.

Black Panther is a great, fun watch as well as being a great, different and diverse addition to the superhero film cannon. I’d recommend checking it out if it’s still in the cinema near you.

Amy
Twitter | Instagram

What I’ve Bookmarked | 9

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It’s a bumper Easter edition! Hope you have some spare Easter eggs and tea with you this rainy Bank Holiday Monday.

There’s too much advice on the internet

The start of Easter weekend with the ridiculously photogenic Davies family

Lena Waithe is changing the game

I’m not photogenic and it’s really starting to backfire

I’ve really been enjoying these sneak peaks of Ella’s house

4 new dating lessons

Is Instagram killing blogs? (Not as far as this reader is concerned)

Class Anxiety: When you live a different life to your parents

This is how I stayed at an unsatisfying job until I had a new offer in hand 

What happens when millennials grow up? Will we be the snowflakes who finally settle?

I tried using personality tests to save my relationship

Browned butter carrot cake loaf (!!!)

What kind of friend are you, according to Myers Briggs

How Parkland teens are leading the conversation around gun control conversation

The 20 minute tomato & quinoa soup

Secret world: The women in the UK who cannot report sexual abuse

Liv’s blog is just excellent lately, her latest post is here

When Dad died, the thing I missed most was arguing about Brexit, and everything else

Amy
Twitter | Instagram

Photo by Jasmine Waheed on Unsplash

A Month in Books: February

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So…better late than never right?

Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard (2017, Profile Books)
Women & Power is a small book that raises lots of big ideas. This takes the form of two essays; one exploring women’s voices in the public space and the other looking more specifically about women in power. I really liked how Beard uses examples from classical thought and our contemporary world to examine the position of women in Western society. In particular, the exploration of how Greek & Roman perceptions of oration and who gets to speak can still be seen driving what we think of when we think about charismatic speakers, and who we listen to. It was also refreshing to read someone argue for a reorganisation of structures, rather than insisting women adapt to fit broken systems which so many argue.

Hamilton: The Revolution by Jeremy McCarter & Lin-Manuel Miranda (2016, Grand Central)
It may seem slightly excessive to write a book declaring your own musical to be a revolution, but the Hamiltome (as it’s known to fans) is an excellent look at the creation of a musical which has become a phenomenon.

Jeremy McCarter writes a variety of essays which explore both the creation of the show, the casting and its longer term impacts, whilst Miranda offers annotations to his lyrics explaining how he came to write them, and which are his favourites. A particular stand-out to me was the essay that came prior to ‘It’s Quiet Uptown’ which is incredibly moving.

The book is also a beautiful item, the paper is heavy which deckled edges and features photos of the original Broadway cast both on and off-stage. If you’re a fan of the show this is a great thing to own, or to gift to someone you know is a bit obsessed.

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The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (2013, Bloomsbury)
I didn’t really know what to expect going into The Lowland, having purchased it on my Kindle some time ago, and I was really pleasantly surprised.

It follows the story of two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, who during their childhood in Calcutta are inseparable. As they grow older, however, they drift apart, and Udayan becomes increasingly involved in a left-wing political movement and sets in motion a chain of events that will have lasting consequences for Subhash, his parents and his wife, Gauri.

The sense of place in this novel is excellent, and I really liked learning about a period of history that I knew literally nothing about. Lahiri also explores the experience of migrants in America, and their relationship with the people who stay behind, and the changing role of women in modern India.

Amy
Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads