“My pulse quickens. It is not a fair fight, but it quickens.”
She’s a hot-rod F16 fighter pilot. She’s pregnant. Her career in the sky is over.
Now, she sits in an air-conditioned trailer in Las Vegas flying remote-controlled drones over the Middle East. She struggles through surreal 12-hour shifts far from the battlefield, hunting terrorists by day and being a wife and mother by night.
A gripping, compulsive new play that flies from the heights of lyricism to the shallows of workaday existence, and targets our assumptions about war, family, and what it is to be a woman.
The Gate Theatre is celebrating it’s 35th birthday. For the first time ever, it is touring one of its productions and I’m delighted that it chose Grounded – a Fringe First Award winner – to represent it’s work outside of London.
George Brant has written an eloquent and forceful one-person (one-woman) show about a fighter pilot turned drone operator. The set is minimalist and potent – by turns a stage, a cocoon, a barrier and more – deliberately ambiguous.
Lucy Ellinson delivers a powerful and intense turn as the nameless pilot turned operator focused on balancing shift work with family life. From the moment that she began to speak, I was gripped. Her delivery is staggering; she occupies the tiny set with an unexpected physicality that further solidifies the character before us. Despite the often times difficult subject matter, the play has moments of unexpected humour and tenderness and several times there were guffaws of laughter from the audience!
While the play is ostensibly about drones and the emotional cost that they can have on an operator; it covers far more ground than that. For each of us that watched it, the politics of the play are at once obvious and personal (as beautifully expressed by Beckie Darlington). We take from it the message that we chose.
At it’s most fundamental; it is a play about military personnel. That the pilot is a woman who had a child is by no means incidental, however, to my mind, it is first and foremost a chillingly accurate portrayal of the ambiguous moral and political sphere we increasingly find ourselves living in.
It is rare that I find myself recommending a play unreservedly. I think that everyone should try and see this over the next few days.
After the production I had the rare privilege of meeting the star (so utterly different off stage) and had a great chat with Will Lewis (Technical Touring Manager), Beckie Darlington (Tour Producer) and Katy Munrow Farlie (Deputy Stage Manager).
Their passion for the production goes some way in explaining the astounding 148 shows so far – from London to Washington (where it was particularly well received) to Wales, now Leeds. And Manchester next I believe. When I asked about the intensity and commitment necessary for such a long run, Katy joked that there had definitely been the odd period of madness requiring the occasional conscious decision to create a bit of distance. Regardless, each person clearly had tremendous pride in the play and their interpretation of it.
There are a number of different productions currently in place across the globe. Lucy is apparently in touch with many of the other ‘pilots’. As a pure monologue, there are no stage directions and each has found it’s own way to best reflect their unique visions. It’s hard to imagine another show as abstract or absorbing as the Gate one.
Grounded at the West Yorkshire Playhouse
Buy tickets HERE
Visit the Gate Theatre website HERE
I’m so excited about this next choice, I love Neil Gaiman’s work and it’s a good choice to end 2014. I apologise for all the rearranging and thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the puffins who have regularly attended this year.
I have loved the variety we have had and the discussions, moans about animal stories, reflecting on how we loved the stories when young and old and how we do now.
I started reading kids books after reading Harry Potter to my cousins while sat in their bedroom doorways at bedtime, after my Uncle asked me to. Since then I fell in love with HP and then a few years later took to reading kids/young adult books again as it was the best way to clear my mind, and enjoy reading as I felt bogged down with adult fiction.
People used to mock me for what I chose to read and still do but I don’t care I just love reading. Read this article sent to me by Stefanie a regular puffin -read what you want
So put this date in your diary and for our next meeting we will be picking choices for January and February 2015, yes this year has quickly vanished. I wonder what choices we’ll have and hope its even bigger and better!!!!
The Graveyard Book – by Neil Gaiman
Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family . . .
Beloved master storyteller Neil Gaiman returns with a luminous new novel for the audience that embraced his New York Times bestselling modern classic Coraline. Magical, terrifying, and filled with breathtaking adventures, The Graveyard Book is sure to enthrall readers of all ages.
Meet at the
THE TRAGEDY OF JULIUS CAESAR
The Main Cast of Characters
JULIUS CAESAR, Roman statesman and general
OCTAVIUS, Triumvir after Caesar’s death, later Augustus Caesar, first emperor of Rome
MARK ANTONY, general and friend of Caesar, a Triumvir after his death
LEPIDUS, third member of the Triumvirate
MARCUS BRUTUS, leader of the conspiracy against Caesar
CASSIUS, instigator of the conspiracy
CASCA, conspirator against Caesar
TREBONIUS, conspirator against Caesar
CAIUS LIGARIUS, conspirator against Caesar
DECIUS BRUTUS, conspirator against Caesar
METELLUS CIMBER, conspirator against Caesar
CINNA, conspirator against Caesar
CALPURNIA, wife of Caesar
PORTIA, wife of Brutus
POPILIUS LENA, senator
CATO, supportor of Brutus
LUCILIUS, supportor of Brutus
TITINIUS, supportor of Brutus
MESSALA, supportor of Brutus
VOLUMNIUS, supportor of Brutus
ARTEMIDORUS, a teacher of rhetoric
CINNA, a poet
WC – 13th of Oct 2014 – ACT 01
Scene 01 – Rome
Scene 02 – A Public Place
Scene 03 – A Street
Available FREE – Project Gutenberg
Available FREE – iTunes
Available FREE – Kindle
The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan
Taking its title from one of the most famous books in Japanese literature, written by the great haiku poet Basho, Flanagan’s novel has as its heart one of the most infamous episodes of Japanese history, the construction of the Thailand-Burma Death Railway in World War II.
In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Death Railway, surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his love affair with his uncle’s young wife two years earlier. Struggling to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from beatings, he receives a letter that will change his life forever.
Book five of six from this year’s Booker challenge – and with only a few days to go until the winner is announced, it looks like, once again, I’ll fail to meet my goal of reading the lot before the announcement. Ah well.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a somewhat rambling tale, moving back and forward in time between Dorrigo’s passionate love affair with his uncle’s wife in the weeks and months before shipping out to war, to his horrific experiences in a Japanese POW camp, to the present day where he is a celebrated war hero with a failing marriage and destructive habits of womanising and drinking. The fragmented nature of the storytelling made it slightly difficult to get into for the first few chapters, but once it settled down I got very drawn into the story.
The strongest sections for me were those set in the POW camp. Dorrigo is an officer, an army surgeon, so as an officer he is not expected by his Japanese guards to take part in the back-breaking work the rest of the men are. He is however responsible for the health of his men – an impossible task, as they are worked far past the point of exhaustion, starved, beaten, and made to live in filthy camps where cholera spreads like wildfire. Dorrigo assumes command when his superior officer dies in the camp, and is left with the thankless job of trying to keep as many of them alive long enough to be worked to death by their captors.
And sometimes people did not die. He refused to stop trying to help them live. He was not a good surgeon, he was not a good doctor; he was not, he believed in his heart, a good man. But he refused to stop trying.
Flanagan does a tremendous job of not only detailing the horror of the camps – which could very easily have turned into a kind of suffering-porn, a trap Flanagan skilfully avoids – but also showing how the men’s humanity survives. The prisoners joke and laugh, set up a black-market trade in stolen food and tools, even sing and put on plays early on in their imprisonment (before they become too ill and exhausted for even that). Flanagan also shows the human side Japanese guards – although perceived as monsters by the Australian prisoners, Flanagan portrays them as victims of the brutal military machine, being driven to complete impossible tasks for the sake of national pride.
The Siam-Burma railway is for a military purpose – but that’s not the larger point. It is that this railway is the great epoch-making construction of our century. Without European machinery, within a time considered extraordinary, we will build what the Europeans said was not possible to build over many years. This railway is the moment when we and our outlook become the new drivers of world progress.
Later on in the book, there are segments detailing the fates of several of the camp guards and officers. Here Flanagan shows understanding, if not forgiveness, of what drove these men to commit the horrors they did – and underscores the fact that most of ultimately executed for war crimes were low-ranking soldiers and officers, scapegoats, while the higher-ranking officers who actually gave the orders largely escaped punishment.
I found particularly poignant a segment detailing the fate of Choi Sang-min, a camp guard who, as a Korean, was considered the lowest of the low in the hierarchy of the Japanese army. Considered a monster by the Australian captives, responsible for discipline and dealing out savage beatings for any infringements, leading to the deaths of several men, this section near the end provides a little understanding of his character. Brutalised by the Japanese army, which he joined only for the small pay which he could use to support his family, he doesn’t understand why he is sentenced to die for just beating prisoners, when such beatings were the normal way of things in the Japanese army, and those who ordered the beatings and the deaths are walking free.
I actually found the love story element the least compelling part of the novel. Although I think without it, this book would have been a bit too close to war-porn for my liking, ultimately I found this aspect of the story a little weak. I think possibly that’s because I found the character of Amy, Dorrigo’s great love, so incredibly unlikeable. I think her character was under-written, so she struck me as very shallow and vapid, and as a result I couldn’t really get invested in her story. I also found the ending (which I won’t give away here) a little too neat-and-tidy for my liking.
Overall I did enjoy this, but I think it’s let down by the under-development of the few female characters. It is a strong novel though, and well-deserving of its place on the shortlist, but I don’t think it should win.
How to be both, by Ali Smith
How to be both is a novel all about art’s versatility. Borrowing from painting’s fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, it’s a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions. There’s a renaissance artist of the 1460s. There’s the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real – and all life’s givens get given a second chance.
How to be both is one of the books I was most looking forward to from the shortlist. I’m a big fan of Ali Smith – although I know just as many people who can’t stand her books as love them. Much like many of her books, I suspect this one is Marmite – you’ll love it or hate it.
It’s experimental in format. The book contains two narratives: the story of George, a modern-day teenager in Cambridge whose mother has just died; and the story of Francesco del Cossa, an Italian renaissance fresco painter. Half the copies of this book were printed with George’s story first, and the other half start with Francesco’s, so it’s a 50/50 chance which you will pick up. The copy I read had George’s story first, which I suspect made it easier to read – although I did find Francesco’s story equally gripping, it was much harder to get into.
Because if things really did happen simultaneously it’d be like reading a book but one in which all of the lines of text have been overprinted, like each page is actually two pages but with one superimposed on the other to make it unreadable.
Although presented in two separate sections, the two narratives intertwine. One of George’s last trips with her mother was to see Francesco’s paintings in Italy, and Francesco has visions of George in the future. I saw plenty of echoes of George’s story in Francesco’s, and suspect there were just as many the other way around – I think if I’d read the book with Francesco’s story first I’d probably have noticed more echoes in George’s.
The stories reflect each other thematically as well. Gender and sexuality is a key theme: When Francesco first sees George she assumes she is a boy. When George and her mother go to see Francesco’s paintings, they disagree over whether a key figure is meant to be male or female. George is beginning to explore her sexuality, and understand how gender identity affects her place in the world. Francesco was born a girl, but disguises herself as a boy and later a man so she can be trained and work as a painter.
You could be like your brothers, he said.
I eyed him through the lace-up of the neck and the chest : I spoke through the holes of the dress. You know I am not like my brothers, I said.
Yes, but listen, he said. Cause maybe. Maybe. If you were to stop wearing these too-big clothes and were to wear, let’s say, these boys’ clothes instead. And maybe if we allow ourselves a bit of imagining.
As well as the two stories intertwining and echoing each other, the same structure applies internally to each story. This was particularly noticeable in George’s story: George, coming to terms with her mother’s death, struggles to separate out the time before and the time after she died. She speaks about the same things happening simultaneously: her mother is dancing, inexplicably, in their living room, at the same time George sits there alone, waiting for her father to come home from drowning his sorrows.
I absolutely loved this book. I can see it not appealing to everyone, and I suspect it is a much more challenging read if you get a copy that starts with Francesco’s story rather than George’s, but it’s well worth the effort either way. Although I found Francesco’s story harder to get into, I ended up enjoying it just as much.
It is George’s section that’s really stayed with me though. The segments where she’s talking about her grief over her mother really struck a chord with me – it’s the perfect description of what that kind of loss does to you, and does to a family.
How are you feeling? Mrs Rock said.
I’m okay, George said. I think it’s because I don’t think I am.
You’re okay because you don’t think you’re okay? Mrs Rock said.
Feeling, George said. I think I’m okay because I don’t think I’m feeling.
I’m hugely impressed by How to be both. It’s a very strong shortlist this year, so I’m having trouble picking a favourite, never mind a likely winner, but I think this is a very strong contender. Intelligent, challenging, witty and compassionate, this would be a very deserving winner.
As White Swan returns to its monthly meetings and new books were selected It I thought I’d share what wasn’t picked as a reading list for anyone looking for their next read but would love to see them as a future boook club choice as there’s so such a variety here. Enjoy.
- American Gods -Neil Gaiman
- Twelve years a slave – Solomon Northup
- The Man in the high castle – Philip K. Dick
- The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
- Bridget Jones Diary Mad about the boy -Helen Fieldin
- Mistborn: The Final Empire – Brandon Sanderson
- Lexicon – Max Barry
- The Goldfinch -Donna Tartt
- Little friend -Donna Tartt
- The Princess Bride – Wiliam Goldman
- Art of fielding- Chad Harbach
- Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood
- Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
- The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
- Notes from a big country – Bill Bryson
- The care of wooden floors – Will Wiles
- Tinker Tailor soldier Spy – John le Carré
- The Gunslinger – Stephen King
- The Shining Girls -Lauren Beukes
- White Teeth – Zadie Smith
- Babayaga – Toby Barlow
- Palo Alto – James Franco
- Gone with the wind – Magaret Mitchell
Originally posted on Leeds Reads:
We’ve handpicked the following crime novels from recommendations by Leeds Readers. Money back if you don’t enjoy them :)
Ian Rankin – Saints of the Shadow Bible Rebus is back on the force, albeit with a demotion and a chip on his shoulder. A 30-year-old case is being reopened, and Rebus’s team from back then is suspected of foul play. With Malcolm Fox as the investigating officer, are the past and present about to collide in a shocking and murderous fashion? And does Rebus have anything to hide? His old colleagues called themselves ‘the Saints’, and swore a bond on something called ‘the Shadow Bible’. Times have changed and the crimes of the past may not stay hidden much longer, especially with a referendum on Scottish independence just around the corner. Who are the saints and who are the sinners? And can the one ever become the other?
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THE TRAGEDY OF JULIUS CAESAR
Every couple of years, the LBC-ers come together virtually to read a book over the Christmas period. This year – after a wonderful discussion of Augustus by John Williams – the LBC White Swan crew allowed me to persuade them that it was time for us to tackle some of the Bard – a little known writer from the 16th century.
It was a toss up between Julius Caesar and Anthony and Cleopatra…and in the end, Julius emerged victorious. Well, we felt he was due a victory!
Written in 1599 by William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar has been used as a torture instrument in schools for centuries and will no doubt provide a festive thrill to us all!Available FREE – Project Gutenberg Available FREE – iTunes Available FREE – Kindle
There are 5 acts in this play. We’re going to tackle them each fortnight in the build up to Christmas!
WC – 13th of Oct 2014 – ACT 01
WC – 27th of Oct 2014 – ACT 02
WC – 10th of Nov 2014 – ACT 03
WC – 24th of Nov 2014 – ACT 04
WC – 08th of Dec 2014 – ACT 05
The Tragedy of Julius Caesar