Richard III

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I’ve been doing quite a bit of arts reviewing lately – poetry, film, theatre – and while I love being an arts consumer, being a critic can be more time consuming than you’d think.  If I’m reviewing something that is based on a literary work (a novel, play, poetry collection – whatever) then there’s no question that reading the book is an essential part of being an informed critic. Even reviewing a film requires serious research. I want to be well-informed and relatively knowledgeable about the director’s back catalogue and other films in the genre. Context, people! Nothing is created in a vacuum. (Physicists please don’t take me to task – I’m just being flippant.)

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All this has meant that my creative work has been on the back-burner while the Adelaide Festival and Fringe are in town. It’s not called Mad March for nothing (and the madness actually starts in February but now I just sound pedantic.) Anyway, I submitted my last film review a week ago and breathed a sigh of relief. The only shows on my horizon were for pleasure rather than business.

Then my editor emailed me to say her reviewer for Richard III couldn’t do it – did I want the gig? Did I want this gig? Ha! This is Richard III performed by Schaubühne Berlin under the artistic direction of Thomas Ostermeier – one of the most famous theatre companies in the world.

richard3-1So out came my old copy of the play and I settled myself down to reread it.  There is so much to love about Shakespeare. Aside from revelling in the gorgeous language and his insight into human nature, I just love the feeling it arouses in me – the acute pleasure of holding an old copy in my hands and reading not just Shakespeare’s lines but all the previous owners’ underlinings and marginalia.

So last night Andrew and I wandered around Adelaide’s Victoria Square Night Market before taking our seats in Her Majesty’s Theatre for Schaubühne Berlin’s production of Richard III. If you want to read my review for InDaily you can find it here. If you can’t be arsed, suffice it to say that the show was brilliant. Even Andrew, who’s not a die-hard Shakespeare fan and had not read the play, was transfixed. Lars Eidinger’s portrayal of Shakespeare’s most malevolent hero was unsettlingly captivating. While the original text was streamlined for this production, the cuts were artfully done and none of the power or meaning was lost.

This is one aspect of why arts reviewing is such a wonderful occupation – being given the opportunity to witness and appreciate the world’s finest artists interpret and reinvigorate the classics is a gift. And thank you to whichever deity is responsible for books and libraries that I already owned a copy of Richard III. No fudging or frantic book-search required. The Year of No New Books continues with another classic text dusted off for one more day in the sun.

(If you are in Adelaide, this production of Richard III is playing until March 9 and I highly recommend you get your tickets now!)

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Rereading Irvine Welsh: Trainspotting, Porno & their film and stage adaptations

t2-1One of the objectives behind the Year of No New Books was to encourage me to reread books that I’ve loved (or at least highly respected) in the past. I’d recently become quite an advocate for the rereading of books after discovering that a second reading, particularly if it happened soon after the initial one, deeply enhanced my appreciation and understanding of the text.

Back when I worked as a bookseller, I’d been one of the organisers of my local bookshop’s bookclub. Customers would pay a small fee and come along to the monthly gathering where we would nestle in comfy armchairs in front of the open fire at our local pub and, with a glass of wine in hand, we’d discuss the book. To ensure a lively debate, I’d always make sure I was well prepared and would thoroughly research the book in question – reading reviews and author interviews, taking extensive notes on themes, character development, historical context – you know the drill.

A significant part of my process was reading the book twice. Until I made this an intrinsic part of my preparation I had no idea how plot-focused I was as a reader.  On my first reading I’d usually be so obsessed with what was happening and trying to second-guess what was about to happen that appreciation of all the other aspects of the book would fade into the background. It wasn’t until I reread a book that I’d be freed from my preoccupation with plot and could really concentrate on all the other aspects of the author’s skill. Although I’d appreciate these underlying features on some level during the initial reading, I’d not be analysing them with the attention or depth I’d give them on my second pass at the book.

Anyway, that was a long-winded way of explaining my consideration of rereading as an act of profound engagement with a book.

t1-1My first reread of a much-loved novel for the year was Trainspotting. It wouldn’t have been my first choice but I was asked to review Trainspotting Live, a stage production showing at the Adelaide Fringe, so I thought I’d better reread the novel then re-watch the film in preparation for reviewing the performance. I’d forgotten how much I loved the language. Reading phonetic Scots is like a reading foreign language in which I’m only semi-literate. It’s such slow going! It truly feels like an act of translation. But I loved what it did to my reading. I lingered over sentences until I heard the flow of their speech in my mind. This is the way I should read all the time – giving every line close attention, treating the sentences like valued individuals. It was a revelation.

I’d also forgotten how much the novel differed from the film in structure and point of view. The novel comprises short powerful stories all told from the perspective of various characters. The main four (Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie) all have multiple stories but minor characters are also given a voice. The stores told by the female and HIV positive characters I found to be especially powerful.

The film was a jolt of nostalgia. It’s a classic and I’ll never forget the shock of seeing it on the big screen back in the mid-nineties. The music! For me, it was one of the defining pieces of cinema of my youth.

trainspotting-live-adelaide-fringe-1200x675So, I saw the stage production and submitted my review (if you want to read my piece, here it is). Then, because I was clearly all over Irvine Welsh’s early work, my editor offered me the chance to review the film sequel T2 – Trainspotting. The problem was I’d lost my copy of Porno (the book on which the sequel is based) and of course, being the Year of No New Books, I couldn’t just pop out and buy a new copy.

I tried the local library. Their copy was lost in transit somewhere between Quorn and Stirling. I put out a call on facebook. No joy. I tried the University Library, the State Library – my friend even put a hold on a copy down in Port Adelaide. It seemed every publically available copy was currently being read by a member of said public. In desperation I tried second-hand bookshops whose profits go to charity. Oxfam, Lions Club, The Hutt. No dice. Eventually, with two days left before the film opened I sent my poor husband into Dymock’s to buy a copy so I could claim that I didn’t purchase it. It would be “a gift”. Despite my ridiculous and dodgy navigation of my self-imposed rule there was no other way to look at it. I had failed. Andrew claimed that I could lodge an appeal on the grounds of employment – as part of my work I needed to read a copy and thus could justify it since all other efforts to acquire a copy had proved unsuccessful.

All I can say in my defense is that my review (click here) was more thorough for the indirect breaking of my vow.  And while neither Porno (now republished as T2 Trainspotting) nor its film adaptation are the equal of their brilliant originals, the sequels are both worth your time (once, but perhaps not a rereading).

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