Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Matilda the Musical

Event: Matilda the Musical
Cambridge Theatre, London

By popular demand, I've decided to write another post related to Roald Dahl. In the last three years since Ways to Read began, the most popular post has been (and still is, surprisingly) the one about Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake

So anyway: the musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's novel Matilda is very funny. Even my friend, who doesn't enjoy musicals usually, really liked this one. Cambridge Theatre is not a bad venue, though some of the higher (aka cheap) seats are quite steep and not for the faint of heart.

The story is about a smart little girl who's not appreciated by her family. She attends a school that has a lovely teacher but a horrid and evil headmistress. The music is great and the lyrics are sharp and humourous, all thanks to Tim Minchin. I don't always like his style of quirky/black comedy but in Matilda, there's a good combination of dark humour and a childlike sense of hope. This is important since this musical is primarily aimed at children. 

We went to a Sunday matinee, and about 80% of the audience are children. That can get slightly annoying when they start whining, kicking the seat in front, or singing along off tune ... but it adds an extra layer of irony because the musical starts off with spoiled schoolchildren on stage singing about how great (and spoiled) they are ... and the children in the audience sing along. Ha. 

The songs are quite catchy. I'd say the style is rather like the Wicked musical - very jarring at times but it works in this context. My favourite numbers are 'Miracle', 'When I Grow Up' (see top clip), and 'School Song' (above), which cleverly incorporates the ABCs into the song. The stage setup is also very creative and I particularly liked the scene changes and use of space.

Is it well-adapted? Yes! The storyline changes slightly to accommodate the parallel backstory of another character other than Matilda, but in order to keep the suspence, Tim Minchin creatively made Matilda imagine a fairytale that eventually turned out to be true. I can't say anymore because I don't want to spoil the story in case you haven't read the book (or seen the film). 

The tickets are constantly sold out well in advance, so I'd advise booking at least two months ahead. 

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Yoko Ono - To the Light

Event: Yoko Ono - To the Light
Location: Serpentine Gallery, Hyde Park

Yoko Ono is an interesting figure: people either love her or hate her. I think that if you only consider her in light of John Lennon, then of course you might not see her favourably, but as an individual performance artist and as someone that influences others artistically, she is quite phenomenal. 

I saw a huge Yoko Ono retrospective about a decade ago at the AGO, and really fell in love with her quirky, minimalist style. A lot of her artworks are so pared down that you don't really see anything. All you see is a piece of paper with words written on it, but what the words get the viewer to do is infinite. 

According to legend, Lennon saw Ono's Ceiling Painting (right), climbed up the ladder to see the painting that said 'YES!' and fell in love with her. I find that idea very beautiful.

Anyway, Ono makes the viewer work for their pleasure. For example, she uses a lot of words to accompany her art: in The Pointedness (below), there's a glass ball on display and the words 'This sphere will be a sharp point when it gets to the far corners of the room in your mind.'

Is this bullshit? Or is something really interesting going on? It's for you to decide, but for me, I really like the fact that she uses the viewer's power of imagination to complete the artwork, even if, in real life, you can't really make the statement come true. A sphere will never have a point simply by definition of being a sphere. 

The exhibition is free, and Serpentine Gallery is a lovely gallery.  Now that Olympic is over, it'll be easier to find the exhibition (the crowd control routes during the Games made the walk really frustrating). 

PS: next door is the annual temporary Serpentine Pavilion, and this year, the designer/architect is Ai Weiwei. Quite an interesting structure, but I think I preferred previous versions more. 

Friday, 10 August 2012

All is Song & The Still Point

Title: All is Song
Author: Samantha Harvey

For Book #11, I'm going to talk about something classier and more literary. The first time I heard of Samantha Harvey was on the Culture Show in 2011. Five judges (or so) sat there debating about the best debut novelists of the year, and Harvey was one of them.

Her first book was The Wilderness, and it was a stunning novel about someone losing their life to Alzheimer's. Actually, this is shocking, but in my memory I mixed up The Wilderness with The Still Point, which is yet another beautiful novel. I also highly recommend that one! In fact, that will be Book #12). So ... it turns out I forgot what Harvey's first book was about. Oops. Anyway, I still remember her as a fantastic writer, and the book was a bittersweet story that felt entirely too real.

Now All is Song is not dissimilar: it is about Leonard and William, two middle-aged brothers, both still grappling with the meaning of life in different ways, but one of them is very much like a modern-day Socrates. William is a frustrating character to like simply because he questions everything around him to the point where you lose sense of the original question. The book is deeply philosophical, and it brings to memory all the things I used to read and learn in philosophy classes. Or in the Matrix: if you can see that the world is lying to you, would you rather live in the lie, or see the real truth? The red pill or the blue pill? Ok, so the book is totally not sci-fi, but it deals with the same issues about how complacent most human beings are with the world, how we just accept statements as facts just because it's what the majority of people thinks, and not because it's the absolute truth. 

All is Song is beautifully written. The narrative moves very slowly, but this is not an action-driven story, it's a thought-driven one. 

I thought that overall, The Wilderness was better (simply because I like the ending more), but this book is a good second novel. I can't wait to see what else is up Harvey's sleeves.


Author: Amy Sackville

I probably mixed up Harvey with Sackville because they were both first-time novelists. But my review is a bit different for this one ...
Read this book. Yes, read it! The Still Point is an inter-generational story about an arctic explorer who disappears on an exploration and leaves his young wife behind, and a modern-day tale about a slowly-disintegrating marriage. This is not a synopsis that would usually interest me, but it's so achingly and beautifully told that you definitely must read it if you like literary fiction. 
I read it one summer for a book club (I think), and in the heat of the summer, I felt the freezing cold depths of winter as described by Amy Sackville when she writes about the explorer stuck in the icy Arctic with no resources and almost no hope. That, I think, is a major sign that the book is amazing, as it gave me feelings and thoughts that I otherwise would not be able to have. 

The modern-day story is also equally well-written. You can feel the winter of the two character's marriage too, and the two stories meld together intelligently. Read it to understand what I'm trying to say!

PS: both the books have beautiful covers, don't you agree? 

PPS: Blogger's really annoying. I don't understand how 'normal' Arial can sometimes be one font size, and sometimes another. I've tried my best to stick to one font size for all posts, but it seems like it's not always up to me to decide font size! Sorry.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

The Trout & The Red Lion (sister pubs)

Where to eat at a patio: The Trout 
Oxford, OX2 8PN

[Took photos of all the food but haven't had time to upload yet ... will upload soon]

I'm going to start with The Trout first, because it has to be the best patio experience I've had (that I can recall) in the UK. Ok, so it rains half the time over here, which isn't conducive to positive outdoor dining experiences, but we lucked out. We originally wanted to drive out to another award-winning pub in the 'heart' of the Cotswolds, but firstly, it was a bit far, and also, their lunch menu wasn't exciting our tastebuds. 

I then remembered The Trout. We've already accidentally been to The Perch, which is another pub by Port Meadows (see my review here), and the ambience was lovely on a hot spring afternoon. The Trout, in comparison, stood out even more so. The quaint little pub (well, it's not so little when you saunter in, but it seems a bit small from the outside) sits right next to the river, with a beautiful bridge, plenty of outdoor seats, and a mini waterfall. 

The Trout is absolutely beautiful to visit. We originally had a last minute reservation inside the pub, which is nice and cozy enough, but seeing that the sun was out, we decided to risk sitting outside. 

Now that I've raved enough about the atmosphere, let's talk about the food. In one word, I'd sum it up by saying: stunning! They're known for their seafood, and I had the most delectable pan-fried scallops of the day as appetizer (with a beautiful roast tomato tapenade & balsamic vinegar), followed by a very very delightful main of linguini with prawns, chorizo, sweet chilli, crab. I frequently order this dish because my friend doesn't like seafood, so I don't get to cook it much, and this is one of the best renditions of the chorizo/prawns/linguini combo I've had ever! (I am in fact going to compare it to The Trout's sister pub version of the same dish later...) 

My friend had a perfectly cooked chargrilled asparagus with poached egg (I wasn't allowed to share so you'll have to trust him), and a really lovely spaghetti carbonara. It was extremely rich and creamy, but it wasn't too much so that you can't finish the meal and feel good. 

We ended the meal by sharing a white chocolate creme brulee - perfect! The meal was a bit pricy, about 50 quids including alcohol, but we stayed there for a good two and a half hours or more, and wandered around the Wolvercote area a bit (very picturesque!) so it was worth it. 

Highly recommended, especially if the weather is sunny, or else, it would probably make for a lovely cozy pub to go to in the deepest of winters. 


Where to grab a bite: The Red Lion
Location: Central Oxford
Unfortunately, The Red Lion pales in comparison to The Trout. I generally enjoy The Red Lion, having been there a few times for drinks, and for an odd meal here and there. The pub is nicely decorated, very nicely lit and with interesting wall decors. The food is quite good, but very shortly after eating at The Trout, I then discovered that they are actually sister pubs, and then eating there ... well, it made it too easy to compare the two. 
I didn't consciously order the same dish, but it turns out I really do like ordering tiger prawns linguini with a bit of spice to it. At The Red Lion, it was decent, but I really loved the Trout's, so this one wasn't as good. It wasn't as sweet, didn't have as good an aftertaste ... 

Everyone else liked their dishes though. One bad thing was the service - we had a really talkative waiter who forgot some of our orders. That's fine, but one of us had to leave quite early and we didn't exactly want to dawdle. 

The redeemable factor here was their desserts. In fact, just the dessert I ordered. Their chocolate brownie was divine. I really mean this (and this means a lot, given that I have quite a sweet tooth). It was rich and melts in your mouth, drizzled with a lovely dark chocolate sauce and vanilla bean ice cream. Perfect. 

So I'd still go to the Red Lion, especially as it's smack in the centre of town so it's easy to get to ... but if you can make a bit of an effort, do go to The Trout instead!