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The Big Bang Theory

..is, after Prosecco and Pizza perhaps the third best way to focus on the good things in life.

The TV comedy series I mean.

‘Third’ is just random, by the way, as in coming next in the list but not in order of importance, otherwise that would put ‘snuggling up with my man who just got back from Mexico’ fourth and thereby AFTER Prosecco, Pizza and The Big Bang, and  ‘reading The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of A Window and Disappeared would be relegated to fifth. I’d rather not put a value on these things. That will only cause all kinds of trouble.

I’m beginning to sound rather like Sheldon, aren’t I?

(I wish.)

Maybe I should reduce the viewings…

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I didn’t know much about Bangladesh before I read this novel. There were scattered images in my head of children running from flooding, poverty, mud, cloth serving as clothing… deposited but not processed in memory from television news programmes I presume I watched all those years ago. When Bangladesh was finally granted independence in 1971, I was six. And in 1970, Bangladesh (which was then East Pakistan) had suffered severe flooding. I certainly had no idea Bangladesh was previously divided into two parts, the ‘horns of India’, West Pakistan on the the top left hand side, and East Bangladesh on the right, with a thousand miles and no common border between them.  

Why were they ever conceived of as one country? 

Tahmima Anam’s A Golden Age doesn’t spell these thing out for you: it is not a history book. But it does fill you with the curiosity to know and understand the non-fictions behind the fiction. Now, looking back, I find the historical indicators that I skimmed over on a first reading, so eager was I to find out more about the characters and their stories:

Ever since ’48, the Pakistani authorities had ruled the eastern wing of the country like a colony. First they tried to force everyone to speak Urdu instead of Bengali. They took the jute money from Bengal and spent it on factories in Karachi and Islamabad. One general after another made promises they had no intention of keeping. (p.33) 

Of course, this is the story of independence told from a Bengali perspective – Anam was born  just 3 years after independence, in the city of Dhaka (the centre of events in the novel: the largest city of the east wing that should by rights have been the capital of Pakistan, since the majority of the population lived there)  and has inherited the story from her parents who, she tells us in the acknowledgments (a place I always look to for insights) told her ‘so many stories about the war that I couldn’t help but become a writer’. 

She chooses though to tell the story from the point-of-view of a character normally sidelined from such stories, Rehana, a mother of two whose husband dies suddenly, leaving her with nothing except a large patch of swampy land. Her two young children (whose fate reflects the national struggle rather like Saleem Sinai’s in Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children) are literally annexed by her rich brother-in-law and his wife, and taken to live in the west horn (West Pakistan) where, they argue at  a court hearing, the children would be safer. Their mother can not cope they say, and Rehana can not find the strength to disagree. After a year’s hard graft she builds a large house on her land and rents it out to a Hindu family: it is with this money she convinces the judge to give her children back. And it is the house she built (‘there to remind her of what she had lost, and what she had won. And how much the victory had cost. That is why she had named it Shona, gold) that becomes the centre of her family’s struggle for independence – at first, it simply houses the Hindi refugees, escaping from an infamous night of massacre, then later,  when her son joins the rebels, he returns to bury the resistance weapons in the garden. It is where Rehana will later agree to nurse back to health the wounded major who will save her son’s life a second time…

Rehana’s passions come unbidden and unexpected.  ‘She had married a man she had not expected to love; loved a man she had not expected to lose; lived a life of moderation, a life of few surprises.’ (p.7)  Her love for her country is reluctant and confused. Listening to Nina Simone singing, ‘she had a melting feeling in her mouth, as though she had bitten down on a pink, overripe guava’ (144) and ‘In the midst of all the madness I found the world seemed right for the first time in a very long time’ (274).

But more than this, A Golden Age is an open, unprejudiced  story about the wonders of unconditional love: the lengths we will go to to protect our children; the life we will sacrifice for our lover; the torture we will endure for our country. In this, it is a tale of extreme but universal passion and one that continues to resonate with me days after reading.

This is a complex, honest novel and I wish you would read it.

 

 

 

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I’m writing this after a glass or two of Prosecco, sitting on the balcony, looking at the sun set behind the Faro. Yep, me and the girls arrived in Trieste yesterday for the Easter holidays.

We went to see the Rocky Horror Show this afternoon! I tell you, The Rocky Horror Show on a Sunday afternoon in Trieste is something else. The audience was to die for. If they’d have been English, they’d be called The Blue Rinse Brigade – but here it’s more like The Silver Highlights troupe. I don’t know what they were thinking, but they certainly didn’t get the innuendos. Exactly, there weren’t any. Still, they were probably also pondering what my six year old could have made of the graphic exhibitions of fellatio (in varying gender configurations) albeit shadow versions behind a screen. In fact she was mostly distracted by the amazing ceiling of the fabulous Teatro Rosetti – more like the planetarium in Rebel Without A Cause – midnight blue with clouds and sparkling lights:

rebel without a cause planetarium scene

So you know the story – or at least the gist – of The Rocky Horror Show. Staid American couple Janet and Brad (or ‘Branet’ as my six year old insists: “it rhymes with Janet and planet, dammit”) get caught in a storm on their way to visit a professor friend. And they have a flat tyre. They go for help at the nearest castle (as you would) even when the door is opened by the freakiest looking butler you ever saw, and the lightning flashes, and thunder crashes (lots of references to midnight movies). They have happened upon a Transylvanian transsexual convention (or somesuch) headed up (in all ways) by Dr Frank ‘n’ Furter’. This Furter (Rob Morton Fowler apparently: a fowl and furtive Frankenstein) is in every physical way perfect – a God; sooo tall, broad, muscular..and he looks great in high heels – his voice is pretty spot on too – but he is just lacking the downright drooling menace alongside overwhelming magnetism that Tim Curry must have brought to the role. And also, he just wasn’t camp enough for me. Give me Eddie Izzard or Julian Clarey any day – that knowing glance at the audience you get from a good stand-up.  

Anyway, after some flirting, strutting and chemical concocting (and lots of great visual and audio effects), Furter produces his own version of the monster – a buddy for himself ; the eponymous Rocky – whose pecs, ladies or gents, were pretty spectacular (and highlighted with eyebrow pencil from what I could tell). Furter managed to seduce both Brad and Janet (though not at the same time) and the corrupted pair are left pondering the state of their relationship, the universe and everything. Which they need to, because it turns out Magenta and her brother Riff Raff are aliens from planet Transylvania (p-lease) – and so is Frank! Except Raff wants to do a runner without his master so shoots him dead with a laser – and takes out Rocky and another minion along the way (have you lost it yet?). The show ends with Brad and Janet singing to the castle as it takes off into the distance…

My favourites of this production were Brad (whose struggle to resist the inevitable slide from all-American clean nobody to experimenting, avant-gard some body was perfectly portrayed). His voice in the ballad solos was especially moving and pure. Magenta, too,  was gorgeous. Fab body, fab costumes, great voice, great part. Janet was good enough – though I wish she hadn’t had to spend 2/3 of the show in that unflattering combination of Madonna’s bra and Bridget Jones’s knickers. Much better in the Alexander McQueen style leather corset. 

The audience hated the Italian narrator (here played by Erik Arno, intriguingly described by the Italian press as ‘a local actor who has become famous in German-speaking countries’). One woman shouted out ‘Stai a casa!’ – (you should have stayed at home!) – which may well have been in the Rocky Horror spirit of audience banter (although it was notably the only intervention in the entire show)- but I at least agreed. He just seemed out of place. As though it were insulting to have these pitiful threads of Italian when we’d managed to sit through all the songs in English. His manner, we felt, was condescending. He seemed to be trying too hard to get in on the act. I can’t see Christopher Biggins giving that impression, or Michael bloody Aspel for that matter. 

So this show certainly wouldn’t have lived up to its first incarnation in the 63-seater Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court in 1973. Or, after its immediate critical and commercial success, its second outing on the King’s Road before transferring to the West End. It wasn’t as good as the film version, or very probably the Broadway version, and any others that followed. But it was still a great way to spend a rainy afternoon in Trieste. And made me feel happy and relieved to be here. I like these kind of productions after all. Slightly displaced, like this city, but leaving you with room to breathe.

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Took the kids to see Billy Elliot on Tuesday – cheap block tickets so we were sat at the Victoria Palace among five rows of uncharacteristically quiet Japanese students, most likely stunned into silence by the thick Geordie accents on stage – and the noise going on in the row behind us: a line up of 50+ women who looked and sounded as though they’d been drinking for hours (if not years). Celebrating a divorce perhaps? They chatted all the way through the show, as though they were waiting for a bus! I turned around and glared (in a middle class sort of way) and the woman looked straight at me and replied (in a working class sort of way)  ‘Don’t you fucking tell me to shut up. I’ve got as much right to talk as anyone. You fucking shut up!’ All this going on through one of the most poignant scenes. Shortly afterwards she stood up, fell over and banged her head on the wall. Security came running, this bouncer type literally dripping with sweat, desperate to see if she was okay. She was drunk. Very.

The drama off stage was not dissimilar to the drama on stage. Policemen against miners, miners against scabs, boxers against ballerinas, northern blue collar workers against southern poofters, boys in dresses against the world.  It was all there. Dreams versus reality. Escape versus imprisonment. Rags and riches. I love that about a good musical. Politics and social commentary alongside singing and dancing. Real tears (the heartfelt sobbing can’t-stop-them kind when Billy presents the ballet teacher with a letter from his dead mother and she reads it out to him in a haunting duet) followed by howls of laughter ( ‘William Elliot is queer?’ asks Billy, squinting at the envelope addressed to him from the Royal Ballet School ‘It says William Elliot esquire you idiot!’ replies his dad).

The show, in short,  is fantastic. And it’s a thrill to see kids taking centre stage in a grown-up production. Since the gruelling schedule takes its toll there are four Billies who do the show on different nights, as well as three Michaels (Billy’s best friend) and three Debbies ( the ballet teacher’s daughter) alongside a sundry mix of would-be ballerinas and boxers. The Billy we saw was Tom Holland. I have no other Billies to compare him to (except Jamie Bell of course) but he brought warmth, depth and humour to the role – and his dancing was okay too. Sometimes his accent felt a bit forced (unlike the other Billies, he’s from London) but the Geordie accent is one of the hardest to imitate (though Cheryl Cole has given lots of us reasons to try) and sometimes, even when it’s right it sounds wrong (I should know, I was born there though we left when I was one – I’ve been trying to say ‘I’m a Geordie’ right ever since).

Some of the best scenes are with Billy and his mate Michael (George Maycock when we went). Michael is the true tragedian of the piece, a boy who likes to wear his mam’s dresses and lipsticks and who falls in love with Billy, but is stuck in this derelict town with its smouldering gender and sexual prejudice, despite the feelgood community scenes. Michael remains on stage sitting on his bike at the end of the show, Billy’s farewell kiss fresh on his cheek, the miners clunking down the shaft behind him.

It’s in these scenes with Billy and Michael perhaps that the differences between film and musical are most marked. The musical relishes the costume side – parading dancing dresses in a ravishing display  of slapstick-lipstick humour. Eleven-year old Maycock/ Michael is a truly gifted comedian – his timing is impeccable. But in the film there was so much more poignancy about their relationship.  I cried in the film when Michael runs up to Billy as he’s leaving (and again when he comes to watch him perform in the Royal Ballet years later) . In the musical it felt underplayed.

One more place where I thought the film was more intense, more effective: Billy’s dance of anger – when first his foot, then his leg, then his whole body twitch into an overwhelming spasm of contorted dancing shapes and acrobatics. Maybe Jamie Bell had more say over the moves – maybe he chose them himself and so it really was his dance. Or maybe he just knew how to inhabit that anger. In the film Jamie/Billie runs down the claustrophobic alleyways of the back-to-back terraced houses, bricks shining in the rain, kicking off the sides, running along walls, through back gardens, his face contorted, his arms exploding. In the show, Tom Holland was limited by the stage. It was just him and the dance. And though it got the biggest clap of the night, I didn’t feel he really owned it (or the flying scene). This Billy would have danced differently if he was expressing himself – anger is personal.

Apparently the kids from the show all live in a house just down the road from me in Ealing – and they have to do 3 hours schoolwork every day as well as rehearsals and performances. Though the show doesn’t go on forever – when their voices start to break the boys have to move on. Billie is supposed to be eleven (though Jamie Bell was sixteen when he played him).  For the first set of Billies (who won a joint Olivier best actor award in 2006) the come-down to a normal life and routine was tough. But what an opportunity – to do ballet but to do cool ballet!

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Shouldn’t have watched it. Still recovering. Feel as though I’ve been hit over the head with a truncheon, or had my fingernails removed, or my bollocks tweaked. Thought it was brilliant (I like feeling shit).

Red Riding is a tale of bent coppers in West Yorkshire, set in 1974. The premise: 3 school girls go missing or are found dead in the same area over a period of a few years.  A rookie journalist, Eddie Dunford (played superbly by Andrew Garfield), just returned from a failed news-gathering trip down south, wants to make his name on the Yorkshire Post.  He goes from cocksure boy chasing the headlines to a severely damaged yet redeemed young man, surprised to discover the lengths he will go to protect innocent girls and expose corruption.

The corruption, indeed, is so deep-seated and pervasive it goes all the way to the top (including a property magnate; the head of the police force; and the editor of the newspaper)  and all the way to the bottom (the sadistic duo of coppers paid to torture Dunford in Abu Graib style) and back again – and round a few bends on the way. No one is immune.

It is too much for Dunford, and anyway he has fallen in love. He  gives up the chase and decides to start a new life with the beautiful Paula Garland (played by Rebecca Hall). He hands over his plastic bag full of evidence to a lowly bobby he has decided is “one of the good guys”. Later, we see the same bobby hand over the bag to his superior, and this same bag is filmed going up stairs, over a road, across a bridge, and the contents tipped out onto a charcoal burner, the incriminating photos, receipts and letters curling up as they blacken while the head of police looks on.

Paula’s role in all this is the most troubling. Her ten year old daughter went missing a couple of years earlier. Dunford interviews her in connection with the latest abduction but from the beginning they can’t keep their hands off each other. Each time Dunford meets her he gets beaten up by the sadistic coppers. He puts two and two together. “Who are you telling about me?” Turns out Paula is in thrall to property magnate John Dawson (convincingly played by Sean Bean who combines a kind of John Wayne bravado with a vicious sloppiness). And even when Dunford turns up with black eyes or broken arms (or both) she still ends up wandering over the hill at the back of her house to his iconic Corbusier-style flatpack mansion lit up in the early morning mists of the Yorkshire Moors. When Dunford asks about her relationship with him she says, “He has always been good to us, very good.” And she has always, presumably, fucked him. She has known him “All my life”. We are left wondering and wondering about this. Could he be her father? How old was she when he first started fucking her? And, when it becomes clear that it is indeed Dawson who has abducted and killed the children (your child, you want to scream at her, your child!) her glossy red lipstick takes on an eerie kind of smudge. A victim so abused and bemused herself that she has become the unwitting perpetrator of her own daughter’s abduction and enabled the cover-up to continue ad infinitum – and into the next two films.

This was in fact the first part in a trilogy of two-hour films commissioned by Channel 4 focusing on the police force in West Yorkshire in the 70s and 80s (next week’s covers the Ripper apparently). From the trailer that they annoyingly pasted onto the end of last night’s film, it looks like many of the usual suspects are back for more corruption. But Dunford? Surely he didn’t survive? Shades of the Terminator..

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