Or ‘ that time I saw Magneto and Cap’t Picard on stage together’
No Man’s Land blurb
Following their hit run on Broadway, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart return to the UK stage in Sean Mathias’ acclaimed production of No Man’s Land, one of the most brilliantly entertaining plays by Nobel Prize laureateHarold Pinter.
One summer’s evening, two ageing writers, Hirst and Spooner, meet in a Hampstead pub and continue their drinking into the night at Hirst’s stately house nearby. As the pair become increasingly inebriated, and their stories increasingly unbelievable, the lively conversation soon turns into a revealing power game, further complicated by the return home of two sinister younger men.
What a strange, intense, odd play. I’m not sure that I ‘got it’ necessarily, but I was enthralled throughout!
Harold Pinter wrote this absurdist play in 1974 and it has either delighted or confused all who have watched it ever since. Hirst – portrayed by Patrick Stewart – is a wealthy, aristocrat, patron and poet. His former Oxford friend Spooner – brought to life by Ian McKellen – is also a poet, but one who has fallen on much harder times. In the initial stages, Hirst is cold and almost rude to his guest, sometimes appears confused as to where he is and who he is with; while Spooner is a long winded, obsequious leach. However, as the show progresses, Hirst has a second wind and the two alternate between reminiscing and baiting one another.
RANDOM FACT – Each character is named after an English cricketer.
The stage setting managed to be both lavish and minimal. It is obviously a very grand room, high ceilings, a well stocked bar discretely placed at the back. However, there is only one comfortable chair – at all times reminding us of Hirst’s status and only two less comfortable chairs scattered throughout the room. I found the negotiation for the chairs – when all four character all onstage, one is conspicuously left standing – to be particularly interesting.
It feels almost unnecessary to speak to the quality of the players. From the second that the (somewhat creepy) moving forest backdrop lifts and Sirs Ian and Pat presented, I was locked into place, utterly focused on the stage. Due to their characters ancient competition and utter inebriation, Spooner and Hirst attempt to one up one another, with increasingly ridiculous assertions and anecdotes. The sheer verbosity of the characters – let alone their ability to articulate some really peculiar lines – and that they remain compelling throughout – well, I personally did feel like I was watching two grand masters of the stage at work. Even though I’m not sure I was following the Pinter side of things at all; it was a privilege to watch.
Owen Teale and Damien Molony in their supporting roles of Briggs and Foster were equally impressive. Their motives – heck, even their relationship with Hirst – is never really clearly delineated and each appears to regard Spooner as a nuisance and a threat. Their presence alone ups the tension levels, as well as introducing a physicality previously lacking. For the first time, there is an undercurrent of violence – it directly ties into Hirst and Spooner’s history, but is separate from it. Really odd, but quite powerful. That the actors managed to apply such nuance to their characters (a few of us speculated about their characters backstories, friendship, protectiveness and so on for some time after the curtains closed!) in such a short span speaks to their respective skills. Irritatingly, I was well into the second half before I recognised Molony from Being Human and Ripper Street – he is transformed in this.
The show ends ambiguously. At least, I think it does. We certainly had lots of questions as we headed out. A new friend, who happens to be a nurse, and I speculated as to whether Hirst had dementia? Was Foster really his son – and he had forgotten it? Would that explain why he knew Spooner one moment, and not the next? How had Foster and Briggs met – from Foster’s point of view? Was Spooner actually the most genuinely masculine, owning his cringing self, while the others puffed out their chests in a show of Alpha status…Did any of this actually have anything to do with anything?
It’s my favourite feeling walking out of a theatre.
Personally, I would recommend this showing and this cast to anyone. However, I would normally be a lot more circumspect in pushing Pinter onto others as I do find his work to be really dense and locked into a particular time frame and context.
Embarrassing aside – there’s a moment where Hirst (Patrick Stewart) face plants onto the floor. For one second, I honestly thought that my Captain had just collapsed on stage, before cottoning onto the fact that Ian McKellen was still in character. I wasn’t the only one either – there was a proper gasp and an ‘oh shit no’ from others in the audience too.
Massive thanks to @HalfPintBlonde for inviting me to join in on this lovely day out. My first ‘live’ Pinter (boy, does his stuff make marginally more sense on a stage as opposed to on the page), my first theatre trip in FAR too long and my first proper visit to Sheffield ever!
By Harold Pinter
Directed by Sean Mathias
Ian McKellen – Spooner
Patrick Stewart – Hirst
Owen Teale – Briggs
Damien Molony – Foster
It would be terribly neglectful not to acknowledge the beautiful setting for this production. The Lyceum opened its doors in 1897, though there has been a theatre on the site since at least 1879. It dates from the Edwardian era – in fact it is the only surviving theatre build outside of London by esteemed architect W.G.R. Prague (ain’t wikipedia grand!) and has Grade II listed status.
Capable of housing an audience of 1000; it doesn’t feel like a grand space. There is an intimacy and friendly atmosphere that permeated throughout – most notably in the stalls which were a bit on the squeezy side, but I always think that encourages chatter with your neighbours, so for me a solid positive! (Oh and when you exit, there is this weird TARDIS like staircase where you seemed to go down far more stairs than you ever went up. Kinda cool.)
Buy Tickets HERE
Sheffield Theatres is the largest theatre complex outside London. Across our three auditoria: the Crucible, the Lyceum and the Crucible Studio, we offer a huge variety of home-grown and touring productions, as well as a thriving programme of participatory events and activities.
Recently I received an email from Open Letters – letting us know about their upcoming event. We both attended MINIcine at few months back for Never Let Me Go, so they immediately thought of book club when laundching their own literary based event!
Looks like it could be a giggle – do report back if you attend!
Date: 13th of July 2016
Time: 7:30 pm
Venue: Hyde Park Book Club
Contact: openlettersleeds @ gmail.com
AN EVENING OF LETTERS, READ ALOUD.
Fiction & Nonfiction.
Open Mic: bring a letter to a person, place, or thing. read it aloud.
We will also write letters.
Paper & envelopes will be provided.
As many of you know, Leeds Book Club just wouldn’t work without the effervescent Helen – she runs LBC Puffins, co-hosts LBC White Swan and is up for each and every reading challenge (that orientates around books for younger people). Frankly I don’t know how she does it – she’s a tireless wonder and source of inspiration and joy.
So it comes as no surprise to find that she has taken on a new challenge and will be completing a 10km run next month to raise money for a great cause.
If you can, have a read below and send any and all support to Helen (from virtual hugs to actual pennies).
There is still 4 weeks to go before the big run! All encouragement is greatly appreciated.
LBC White Swan
Venue: White Swan Leeds
Date: Sunday 10th of April 2016
Address: Swan Street, Leeds
A powerful, tender story of race and identity by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun.
Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.
About the author:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie grew up in Nigeria. Her work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared in various publications, including The New Yorker, Granta, The O. Henry Prize Stories, the Financial Times, and Zoetrope. She is the author of the novelsPurple Hibiscus, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and Half of a Yellow Sun, which won the Orange Prize and was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, a New York Times Notable Book, and a People and Black Issues Book Review Best Book of the Year; and the story collection The Thing Around Your Neck. Her latest novel Americanah, was published around the world in 2013, and has received numerous accolades, including winning the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and The Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction; and being named one of The New York Times Ten Best Books of the Year.
A recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, she divides her time between the United States and Nigeria.
As a group, most of us had really enjoyed this book – some of us more than we’d expected to, as from the blurb the plot looked very slight.
The real strength of this book is in the characters. All were very relatable, well-drawn and sympathetic. There was particular affection for Ifemelu’s Aunty Uju. For a book with such a large cast of characters, it would have been easy for some to have felt like stereotypes, but this never felt the case. Even characters that only appeared briefly were well-rounded and believable. There weren’t really any dislikeable characters, with the possible exception of Blaine’s sister Shan, but we felt this was because the characters didn’t like her either!
Some of us felt the plot was almost incidental – that this was more a novel of ideas than plot – but that this wasn’t a negative thing. Someone had quoted the author as saying she was more interested in substance than structure, and this felt very true of this book. Having said that, we also thought that it was structurally very clever, and well-crafted. The word “unputdownable” was used! Apparently the author spent 5 years writing this book, and the craft and care taken are apparent.
The narrative is interspersed throughout with excerpts from Ifem’s blog, these are thematic rather than chronological. Although this can sometimes be a slightly irritating device in books, here we all thought it worked really well. We all really enjoyed the style of Ifem’s blog – if it were a real blog, we would have followed it!
Our only small criticism of the book’s structure was that it would have been nice to see more of Obinze – although some in the group would have preferred to do without his sections at all and just focus on Ifemelu! We all agreed though that the divide between the two characters was rather uneven. For example, Obinze’s journey from being deported from the UK and returning, broke, to Nigeria, to becoming a wealthy but corrupt businessman, was glossed over. Some of us would have liked to see more of how he had made this journey, but we thought it was probably glossed over as it reflects Ifem’s view of him, as she would also have perceived this change as jarring.
There was lots in this book that made for slightly uncomfortable reading, in particular the portrayal of Ifem’s white, liberal friends in the US, and their varying discomfort and cluelessness around race. It also raised a lot of issues that some of us hadn’t been familiar with (although some had come across them before), for example the politicisation of black women’s hair. We thought it was notable that Ifem’s starts wearing her hair naturally around the same time she stops faking an American accent – we saw this as her realisation that being accepted as American isn’t what she needs or wants.
Most of the story is fairly timeless, with limited details that fix it to a particular time period. The exception to this is of course the sections detailing Barack Obama’s election as US President, which we had mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it was felt that this took us out of the story somewhat, grounding it in a specific time and place, which was a little jarring. On the other hand, in a book about an African woman living in the US and blogging about race, such a significant event in US racial history could hardly have been ignored! We also wondered if, without the context of Obama’s election placing the narrative in a specific time period, it would have been easier for readers to have dismissed the racism Ifem experiences as a thing of the past.
We had mixed feelings about the ending. Some of us felt it was unrealistic for Ifem and Obinze to have ended up together, with them having grown apart so much. We wondered if perhaps Ifem was clinging on to her memories of the Obinze she had known and been in love with in the past. The ending was the only real let down for some of us, the romantic “happy ending” felt a bit shoehorned in.
Other than that minor note, we all rated this book very highly, and would definitely read more of this author’s work.
A Visit from the Goon Squad
by Jennifer Egan
A Far Cry from Kensington
by Muriel Spark
LBC White Swan
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Charlie is a freshman. And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But Charlie can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.
“We accept the love we think we deserve.”
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up. -Goodreads
About the Author
He is the recipient of the Abraham Polonsky Screenwriting Award for his screenplay Everything Divided as well as a participant in the Sundance Institute’s filmmakers’ lab for his current project, Fingernails and Smooth Skin. Chbosky lives in New York. -Goodreads
* * * * S P O I L E R S * * * * *
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In this case it is Charlie, who tells his story through a series of letters to a stranger. We learn all about his family and his school years. The book is a one person narrative and we never hear from any other characters point of view, just Charlie’s.
The book however does go into some interesting areas and looks at teenage relationships, drugs, sexuality, sexual abuse and mental health. The book did get banned in America in some schools due to the subjects it covered.
The gay prejudices portrayed in the book were really well done and use of characters, creating trigger points into the story, leading to revelations such as Patrick and his relationship with Brad, and then onto Charlie and his relationship with his Aunt Helen. The group felt that Charlie and his constant crying was a bit irritating yet Patrick and his troubles, was very well depicted and Sam, the lead female seemed to be a ‘pretty’ character who showed up when needed.
Going back to the story, throughout the book its all about how Charlie sees the world, and how it lead to him discovering or rediscovering that he was abused by his Aunt Helen when he was much younger like she was by a family friend and how this leads him to be found in a catatonic state and taken to a mental hospital.
The book touches on the subject of repressed memories and feelings and trigger points, on family members and secrets, on how we want to be perceived in the world and how we treat each other. Some of the group felt the book was actually read as a mental illness and if you re-read it you could see the cracks appearing throughout the story.
“Even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there”
Overall the group agreed teenagers are exhausting, complicated and lack emotion and although the book appeared not to be well written, it did have a lot of purpose in its story, the way it was laid out in letter form, represented human thought, and lead onto an interesting way to introduce the subjects it covered, saying that a few believed if the had read it as a teenager they may have got into it more.
Thank you for reading.
*Tangents: Big debate on drugs and drug use Music: Niamh made Fleetwood Mac get together. Don’t argue with Niamh. Niamh is Irish, had a fight and lost a tooth???. Niamh can quote Shakespeare.
For further details, please email me at email@example.com or tweet me @LeedsBookClub!
Next Months books are……
drum roll please….
LBCWhiteswan 10th April – Americanah by Chimamanda – Ngozi Adiche.
LBCMedusa13th April – Dark Eden by Chris Beckett
LBC3Reads16th April – All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
LBCPuffins 20th April – Watership Down by Richard Adams -(we will be picking next two books at this meeting)
All the dates all the venues here https://leedsbookclub.com/2016-calendar/
The next three books for LBCWhiteswan are:
- 10th April – Americanah by Chimamanda – Ngozi Adiche
- 8th May – The Bees by Laline Paull
- 12th June -All the Light We Cannot See -Anthony Doerr
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
The leaves were cold and slightly clammy. There was no mistaking them. She had seen their likeness painstakingly sketched in her father’s journal. This was his greatest secret, his treasure and his undoing. The Tree of Lies. Now it was hers, and the journey he had never finished stretched out before her.When Faith’s father is found dead under mysterious circumstances, she is determined to untangle the truth from the lies. Searching through his belongings for clues she discovers a strange tree. A tree that feeds off whispered lies and bears fruit that reveals hidden secrets. The bigger the lie, the more people who believe it, the bigger the truth that is uncovered.The girl realizes that she is good at lying and that the tree might hold the key to her father’s murder, so she begins to spread untruths far and wide across her small island community. But as her tales spiral out of control, she discovers that where lies seduce, truths shatter. . . .A beguiling tale of mystery and intrigue.
Frances Hardinge spent her childhood in a huge, isolated old house in a small, strange village, and the two things inspired her to write strange, magical stories from an early age. She studied English at Oxford University and now lives in Oxford, England.
This latest addition to Puffins was recommended by one of the groups friend. Now, for me as soon as I saw the costa sticker, I wasn’t holding out much hope. Then life got in the way and I found myself sat in the pub on the day of the meeting finishing it off and I loved it. For some of the group the book was a slow burner. It appeared to be building up the story, not something I personally was expecting. However the book was highly rated. Although for one it didn’t seem to give as much enjoyment, struggling with the Victorian ideals, and the how late in the story the murder finally taking place and another found the ending rushed. As for the rest of the group had points but still loved it overall.
We begin the story with Faith and her family including her Mother’s brother Miles. heading to a new home, the fictional Island of Vane off the English coast. Her father, an eminent scientist, is to join an archaeological dig there, but the turn of events will come as a shock to them all. Faith who ‘Usually she managed to fade into the background, since nobody had the attention to spare for a fourteen year old girl, with wooden features and a mud-brown plait’ is the hero of this story. Having lost many siblings mostly boys from a young age, some not lasting long after birth and only Howard to be the longest-serving so far, Faith finds herself looking after him and herself most of the time, we find a strong young girl who has probably lived through events she perhaps should not have seen. The story in a sense is about Faith herself, we follow her growing up, learning about her family, the secrets kept, the secrets coming out. Faith discovers after helping her father to hide a plant in a cave that, he had been hiding several secrets. This then leads onto the death of her father and how Faith comes to discover the truth. Her Father is dead and everyone is lead to believe he has committed suicide. Faith, not believing this goes in search of the truth, and with help from the ‘lie tree’ she discovers that little lies changes the course of people’s thinking. This leads to ideas being put in people’s heads and the truth being unveiled that her father had a hidden past she may not of wanted to know.
This book is a complex and rich story, another one where the adults appear to be useless and it is left to the child to outwit/accomplish things, discovering the issues about truth and lies, values – especially Victorian ones – Sundays being days of rest and breaking convention by having a funeral on that day (also I think shopping should be banned but that’s just me, I love my Sunday’s off, gives me a chance to rest. Status being of high importance, where new things were frowned upon or things such as people being left-handed or women/females being unwed and seen out with boys/men. This book also touched on, power of convention and assumptions, revenge, reputation and family values, how we treated the dead, the use of photography and creating lies which brings us to perception and what we want to believe.
As for the characters in the book, we once again find ourselves with a strong girl character leading the way, the female characters we found were working within the restrictions and struggles of the Victorian lifestyle. The adults in the book of course are typical for the young reader, where a few seemed to be weak aka Miles and his sister myrtle who wanted everything and to carry on her status.
Oh, and the snake int the background,one of the side characters, the snake shedding its skin seems to be a symbolic sign with in the story, we always like the side characters.
One question I will leave you with. Do you read the blurb on the back of the book before reading it? A few of us read the blurb and one didn’t and thoroughly enjoyed the book, what if we didn’t read about the murder would that have brought more enjoyment to the book?
So, to read the blurb or not to read the blurb, please let us know what you think.
(with 1 spinal tap moment)
Thank you for reading