Apologies for a brief absence from here. It certainly wasn’t due to celebrating anything festive, as those who know me or have read this blog will well know. I was laid up with a nasty viral illness throughout the tail end of December and am only just emerging from a dreadful drop in mood and skyrocketing of anxiety which followed the bug.
I’m not usually one for sentimental reflections but 2012 was a fantastic year for me. Apparently some old lady celebrated a barbarically long career by standing in the rain on a boat for eight hours then having to watch tired old pop acts like Elton John croon like drunken pub singers. I couldn’t have given a shit about that one.
Also, apparently, a few people also got a bit giddy because there was a competition to see who could throw spears the farthest or run fastest and other such irrelevant things in this age when we have guns and cars and at a time when we certainly couldn’t afford to invest money in such crap. I certainly could have given less than a flying fuck about that one.
For me, the past twelve months were great in terms of the opportunities I had to see theatre, dance, comedy and film and the massive amount of books I read. Thanks to Christmas coming early on TV (October) and a tedious saturation of Olympic coverage, I watched even less TV than ever before and even stashed my set in a cupboard for a few months: hence, more reading.
I’m not sure if anyone cares what my views are but you’re getting them anyway.
I was lucky enough to get to see around 40 plays last year. Getting the odd free gig for reviewing for the internet is a bonus and living in such a well placed spot for travelling to and from London and round the Midlands and North is another bonus too. My top choices are as follows:
1) Best Musical: without a doubt it has to be the production of “My Fair Lady” at the ever brilliant Crucible in Sheffield. Nifty cockneys, lavish sets, ‘rain in Spain’ and the ruggedly handsome Dominic West made this a perfect show. Naturally Sheffield’s amazing team were a major force behind it.
2) Best Drama: Definitely has to be the double bill of “The Browning Version” and “South Downs” at The Pinter Theatre. Anna Challenor was astonishing and the combination of a revival of Rattigan and a new piece by Hare was pure genius.
3) Best Comedy: The critics were harsh but I loved “All New People” written by Zach Braff. It was a worthy follow up to his film “Garden State” and this dark comedy about an averted suicide captured my imagination and amused me greatly.
4) Best Overall: “Tender Napalm” at the Curve Leicester: This play seemed to leave the audience bewildered and bothered after witnessing a weird tennis match of two deeply damaged lovers alternately shouting, caressing and sharing magical fantasies which alluded to the source of their pain. I couldn’t have loved it more and was thinking about it for weeks afterwards.
5) Turgid Bore of the Year: Thankfully there are few to choose from on this list and the clear winner was “Wonderful Town”. A turgid revival of a dreary, dated and unfunny musical with the winner of a TV talent show and a cast whose grins were so inane they looked lobotomised? I had to leave at the interval in fear of my own sanity.
It’s a close fight between Bourne’s “Play without Words” and “Scattered” by Motionhouse but Motionhouse win the day due to sheer originality and pure talent.
Film: My tastes in film are often discordant with others. I have a leaning towards grisliness and long silences, love painful viewing, hate excessive action, found “Skyfall” intolerably dull and like people to talk as much as I do and over-analyse with the same intensity. For what its worth (there may be a similar person out there) these are my picks.
1) Carnage: I like wordy. I like plays. This was a wordy play masquerading as a film. It was bound to get top billing from me.
2) Killer Joe: The best kind of film for me is an unexpected treasure. Poor white trash, violence and a lead actor who usually irritates the hell out of me doesn’t promise much but I loved this film.
3) Tiny Furniture: This gets on the list partly for the most excruciatingly embarrassing sex scene I’ve seen in some time.
4) Shame: I loved Michael Fassbender as a troubled sex addict. I found this film both disturbing and really moving which was achieved with great subtlety and a lack of resorting to grand gestures.
5) The Master: Creepy, painful to watch and long. What’s not to love?
This is the hard choice as I’ve read over 100 novels this year but here goes. I’ve limited my 5 to ones published in 2012 (either in paperback or hardback):
1) “Age of Miracles” by Karen Thomson Walker I love a dystopian future book, especially those which seem plausible and are not so far removed from the present day. This subtle and endearing tale details a seemingly unimportant environmental change which gradually affects the way the world operates and how society behaves. More importantly, it’s a fable of how we operate as people told with great wisdom.
2) “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” by Jeanette Winterson: I’m not keen on memoirs but this one is outstanding. Winterson details her horrific childhood with deadpan Northern wit and not a hint of self pity. It’s a revelation in how to write.
3) “Life, Death and Vanilla Slices” by Jenny Eclair: Witty, twisted, funny and bleak all in one. This isn’t the Jenny Eclair who’s all spiky on daytime TV but a far superior version with a genuine talent to entertain and cast illumination on the human condition.
4) “State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett: A book about fertility rituals in the Amazon was never going to feel too appealing for my tastes but this was a page turning treat which flew by caused me immense pleasure to read. If I could write characters half as skilfully as her I’d be a happy man.
5) “My Policeman” by Bethan Roberts: I was always going to love a book set in Brighton, in the 1950s, featuring an upper middle class gay, a bisexual hunk of a copper and a pragmatic schoolteacher. I can’t recommend this book enough. Roberts is a new talent to observe.