in which the writer is exposed as a basic.
I love making lists, honest. I track every book I read, obsess over what plays I want to see next, meticulously plan every cinema trip… and yet part of me resists this sort of thing. Maybe it’s the ranking. I don’t really know. I love reading them. I stress horrendously over writing them.
Anyway. Here’s some thoughts I have acquired over 2017.
These are the theatre things that stuck with me this year. I’ve written about most of them in greater depth so I’ve linked to me being slightly less sentimental elsewhere.
Road. It’s not a perfect piece of theatre, but that last scene devastates me in its brutal truthfulness. That song, and those four actors with their eminently watchable faces and it broke my heart. Twice. Somehow a somehow etc. It’s also really forced me to address my own politics, what I want to see and what I want to do with my own circumstances. It made me change my bloody dissertation topic for God’s sake.
Common because fuck you that’s why.
Labour of Love put words in the mouths of people that rarely get words to say and I loved it for doing that. And for being warm and gorgeous and witty when it had every right to be mean are bitter and coarse. And because I would see Tamsin Greig in anything and that’s the truth.
Nuclear War was wonderfully impenetrable until it suddenly wasn’t. Those words in that space made me properly fall in love with the Royal Court. I found it challenging and galvanising and it threw a lot of stuff into relief for me.
Bent knocked me sideways on a sunny Sunday afternoon and I’ve still not forgiven George MacKay for breaking my heart like that. I’m hoping the alleged in-the-works production surfaces and punches as hard as those actors with script-stands managed to. It’s a fucking brilliant play and it terrified and moved me.
The last 10 minutes of Hedda Gabler remain the most profoundly upsetting minutes I have ever spent in a theatre. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before (that happened a lot this year) and I emerged from the theatre shaking and smelling of tomato juice. I’ve still not got it off the bag and have a habit of showing practically everyone I meet.
Follies proved that musicals are fucking great and deserve to be done properly. That music and that company and it was just heaven on earth. And then Hamilton! Christ what a thing it is. They have a density to them that I love.
Anatomy of a Suicide just pissed me off with its brilliance. It had an unparalleled virtuosity and technical brilliance and that language in that space and ugh. Every element was just unforgettable.
If Anatomy was a beautiful cut diamond, then Beginning was a chunk of raw lapis lazuli. Both gorgeous, both structurally flawless, but one demanded to be watched, and the other demanded to be held. If there’s any play I want to watch every night until forever it’s probably Beginning. I want to see it another 12 times.
Hamlet managed to cohere what I had always thought to be a glorious mess. It was moving(?!?!?!?!) and funny and just so absolutely sure of itself. The way that first big sequence moved; the way the first act just seemed to glide across the Almeida stage. And it was so beautifully acted, though I think I probably consider it Juliet Stevenson’s Hamlet more than anyone else’s.
Roman Tragedies thrust me into a completely different world, in so many ways. It destroyed so many ideas I had as to what theatre could and should be, it raised so many of my standards; what theatre can do, what can be achieved by actors working in the space with you – and how entertaining that is to watch. It’s not a manifesto by any means, but it does throw down the gauntlet. There’s no excuse to not be as bold.
I wasn’t convinced I had a heart or a soul until I read Angels in America as a 17 year old. Seeing it brought to life by a company of actors I came to love so much, and seeing it as such a spectacle brought me so much joy. I’m so glad it happened, and I’m so glad I got to spend so much time with it. I loved it for resisting the very nature of perfection and for daring to do everything it dares to do.
I haven’t even mentioned the horrifying torrent of rhythm that was This is How We Die, or Audra McDonald’s Strange Fruit which still gives me chills to think about, or the Gentleman Caller scene in the Glass Menagerie. Or Olivia Colman in Mosquitoes. Or or or…
I saw 4 performances in scouse accents on London stages this year:
Victoria Moseley in My Brilliant Friend.
Mike Noble in Road.
Victoria Moseley in Saint George and the Dragon.
Mike Noble in Bad Roads.
Make of that what you will.
This year I read 71 books, which is exactly the same as last year, but I read about 3000 more pages, mainly because I read more novels. These were some of my favourites.
Elmet by Fiona Mozley: this one came out of nowhere for me, it appears to be a coming-of-age story but it has a creeping horror to it, and a violence to the language and the psychology and beautiful characters.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: I’d never read it before. Loved it. It looms so large on a bookshelf but it’s genuinely wonderful. It made me appreciate the films all over again and made me get really angry at how Jackson subsequently treated The Hobbit (which I also read this year for the first time and adored.)
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen: The Boss wrote a book! And it’s a really good book! When’s someone going to write the Springsteen musical! Favourite anecdote: where he writes about attempting to dodge the Vietnam draft. Then he gets actually excluded on medical grounds. Classic. Or maybe my favourite bit’s just whenever he writes about Stevie Van Zandt.
The World That Was Ours by Hilda Bernstein: to my shame I knew/know very little about apartheid era South Africa, and this was the first book I’ve read that deals with the subject. Hilda Bernstein was a white woman (yeah, I know, I promise I’ll read apartheid books by PoC next year,) the wife of ‘Rusty’ Bernstein who was tried alongside Nelson Mandela in the Rivonia trial in 1964. He was acquitted where Mandela was not, and they were forced to flee to Botswana to avoid further persecution. She writes beautifully, without self-pity or sentiment, and always with an enviable determination. I don’t tend to read ‘inspirational’ books but this was certainly one of them. (It’s also published by Persephone Books which are a great indie publisher that print largely women authors from the 20th c. that have gone out of print. Their website’s always worth a look.)
The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante: They’re wonderful. People have written about them with more depth and intelligence that I ever could. A true modern classic, and they are so worth your time.
Winter by Ali Smith: Smith’s experiment in writing in ‘real-time’ is turning into the single most exciting thing happening right now in my head. She’s my favourite living writer. I got to meet her this year, at a book signing, and because I was last in the queue she drew THIS in my book.
And she was lovely to me and she talked to me about SHAKESPEARE and ugh it’s a gorgeous book even on its own terms and if you’ve never read any Ali Smith you bloody well should.
Game of Thrones was pretty great this year, as long as you don’t think about it too deeply. Line of Duty was quality, but I think I’m still watching one of those interrogation scenes. Feud was just BRILLIANT and campy and unexpectedly sad.
Fun fact I saw Manchester by the Sea the same day as Hamlet so yeah that was a big day of sad men and Michelle Williams damn near walks off with the film.
Dunkirk is a masterpiece, so there’s that.
No film challenged me quite as much as Manifesto, half of which I don’t understand but am determined to. I want to read about the Dadaists and the Surrealists and ART and also Cate Blanchett can do ANYTHING. She also probably should do ANYTHING. And also do EVERYTHING.
I’m so into Paloma Faith’s new album. It starts with a spoken word piece by Samuel L. Jackson, for fuck’s sake. Also seriously into Sam Fender. Obsessed with this song:
This is my first full year of having a blog so thanks for reading it/being nice about it. If I may be as self-indulgent as to mention a few things I’m particularly proud of writing this year:
Being emotional about People, Places and Things on the internet (as opposed to in real life)
Allowing myself to be angry about Road, even if it came across quite differently.
All the Angels in America stuff.
And Common. Because fuck you that’s why.
And then there’s everything I loved from other people, some of whom I’ve been lucky enough to get to know this year:
Eve on Nuclear War: https://walkingwithheadphones.wordpress.com/2017/05/04/strangeness-and-love/
Florence on Simon Stephens’ Working Diary: https://bellflorence.wordpress.com/2017/05/29/a-condensed-version-of-simon-stephens-a-working-diary/ and also on Hamlet: https://bellflorence.wordpress.com/2017/03/12/12-hamlet-almeida-theatre/
Ava on Anatomy of a Suicide: https://avatalksabouttheatre.wordpress.com/2017/08/02/voices-and-echoes-in-anatomy-of-a-suicide/
James on Guys and Dolls: http://www.jamesvarney.uk/revew-michael-buffong-guys-dolls/
(there are many, many others, I’m not trying to be shady. these are just the ones that sprung to mind.)
What exactly am I hyped for in the new year?
I am hyped for Girl From the North Country, that’s for sure. I missed it at The Old Vic (have the board resigned yet? No?) so I’m looking forward to seeing it in the West End.
I am hyped for Girls and Boys at the Royal Court for reasons of a Carey Mulligan nature.
I am hyped for The King and I because Kelli O’Hara, okay.
I am hyped for The Inheritance at the Young Vic because two part plays about AIDS are my thing, apparently.
I am hyped for Company because we all know why I am hyped for Company.
I am hyped for John at the Nash because I missed The Flick and then I read the collection of Baker plays and I am SO MAD AT MYSELF for not seeing it. So yeah, John.
I am also hyped to keep writing about things I want to write about.
ta-ra till then.
Photo by Johan Persson.