What a year it’s been! My 2013 has been filled with film, theatre, books and travel. In this post I’ll look back on theatre, books and travel; film is a weighty subject all on its own and will be covered in my next post – coming soon! I missed the hottest British summer month since…. the last one – when was it? I was in New Zealand. It was winter. But it was a brilliant trip to see my lovely daughter (now thankfully returned to the UK). We stayed in Auckland and basked in the city’s glittering winter sun, breathed the clean, sharp air.
We drove through the utterly beautiful Coromandel Peninsular, paddled in Hot Water Beach, soaked in a sulphur spring in pungent Rotorua and visited Christchurch, a city that was devastated by three major earthquakes a couple of years ago. It was deeply shocking to witness a major city in darkness at night, to have no landmarks by which to navigate, to see ‘heritage’ buildings close to demolition, to stumble over weeds growing through uneven pavements.
But the stoicism of the residents is tangible; they are determined to rebuild – although there are lively arguments between those in favour of restoration and others who want a clean sweep. The rebuild will take decades. Being there post-quake caused much thought about how ever earthquake-hit places like Haiti have fared – they have no money or services, New Zealand does.
And then there was Hobbiton… One of the highlights of the trip; yes it’s commercial (to a point), yes the new Hobbit film is only ok, but being IN HOBBITON! Amazing. The valley in which the set was built is like stepping back in time, there are no power cables, no modern farm buildings, no housing. It’s a neatly contained grassy dip, full of hobbit holes (front doors only), flourishing allotments and flowerbeds, tiny pathways for furry feet and loaded with atmosphere.
On stage Othello at the National Theatre was easily the most electrifying play I’ve seen since Frankenstein (if you’ll pardon the pun). Rory Kinnear has become an actor who is always worth seeing; he brings such depth and emotion to each role, even nasty bastards like Iago. Othello was a triumph of pace, energy, direction and stage management. Locating the action in a hot, dusty and action-ready army camp made complete sense of the seemingly crazy hair-trigger reactions of the characters. Adrian Lester was a believable, excellent, Othello, and Olivia Vinall’s Desdemona was sweetly affectionate with no idea how to behave in such a testosterone-fuelled situation. Othello’s killing of her made the collective blood of the audience run cold, everyone was deadly silent in reaction to a truly shocking scene. In Nick Hytner’s hands Othello isn’t just (or even at all) a play about race, it’s more about loyalty, greed, masculinity, ambition, naiveté, loss, shame, battle damage. It was magnificent.
On the reading front, I’ve read my usual 14-15 novels, which included some house-brick sized works – Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy and The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell. I didn’t want to leave Seth’s remarkable world and Tressell’s narrative felt horribly relevant to 21st century politics. A dear friend gave me Ismail Kadare’s Siege – about a military siege in medieval Albania – initially it didn’t seem the most entrancing of ideas but boy, what a story! Much to my surprise it was impossible to put down such a complex, gripping and relevant book. I also loved Owen Sheers’ Resistance; he’s a poet and that shines through every page. Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners is a terrific story about Caribbean migrants to post-war London.
2013’s literary legacy to me was discovering two writers I hadn’t read before: Julian Maclaren-Ross and Jim Crace. Maclaren-Ross wasn’t the most prolific novelist so I’ve (sadly) now read most of his fiction, including the unfinished bits, and quite a few of his fabulous film and literary articles. Of Love and Hunger is one of the most atmospheric novels I’ve ever read. In the last few days of 2013 I finished reading Jim Crace’s Arcadia; his mind-blowing writing is top of my ‘to read more’ list for 2014. It’s going to be a treat!
Getting out and about was topped this year by the David Bowie Is…. exhibition at the V&A. I’ve loved Bowie’s music all my life and to see the amazing costumes and artefacts in the context of his work was inspiring. What an great experience to spend three hours+ browsing and musing and understanding more about the culture that shaped Bowie and that he has helped shape. The only slight flaw was the too-small mention in the last ‘room’ of the new album The Next Day, although to be fair to the curators it was sprung upon the world quite close to the exhibition opening, but a little more about it would have made an excellent, joyous end-stop.
So what might 2014 bring? I’m planning to break free and see plays at theatres other than my usual targets the National and The Globe (while still remaining loyal of course); read those Jim Crace books; finally investigate some crime fiction, a genre I know nothing about so please do post your suggestions; I want to keep up the 2013 film-going rate, hopefully at the Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge, which is still under threat of fundamental change thanks to the madness that is the Competition Commission. I’ll continue poking my nose into the hidden corners of Cambridge (link); and although I’ve no definite travel plan in mind yet I fancy lounging about on the beach more often – but not the breezy East Coast thanks very much. I’ll be trying to complete a couple of long-abandoned craft projects too. Oh and blog more regularly, drawing together some interesting connections between film and the wider world. You have been warned.