There are currently ten books on my bedside table. It’s a pile made up of historical fiction and stories written centuries ago, literary classics and contemporary YA, a novel in translation and a self-help book aimed at millennial working women (the kind that sits on the Waterstones counter next to the pocket-sized Orwell essays and cartoon collections tailor-made for the downstairs loo). These books are different sizes, different weights, different genres; and yet they have something specific in common: I am yet to finish a single one of them.
My behaviour with this micro-library has formed a pattern: I buy or borrow a new book and eagerly read a few chapters, before running out of steam and placing it bedside my bed in the hope that, one day, I will rediscover my powers of concentration. It’s a gesture that’s become familiar, a habit that’s inadvertently turned my bedside table into a shrine to my own inadequacy. I’ve lost a treasured bookmark to page 53 of ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’, feeling that removing it would be tantamount to admitting my failure as a reader. It is both depressing and perversely optimistic. It is the last thing I glimpse at night before I switch off the light.
Despite doing an English degree and so having spent many hours of my life immersed in the Bard’s iambic pentameter, I had, until last week, never seen Julius Caesar on stage. In fact, my encounters with the play had never got beyond a grainy Marlon Brando proclaiming in a toga. Luckily, Nicholas Hytner’s superb new production at the Bridge Theatre was worth waiting for.
The current political climate has led, inevitably, to a spate of modern stagings of Shakespeare’s text, the most infamous being the 2017 production at the Public Theater in New York, which portrayed Caesar as a swaggering politician in an unmistakable blonde wig. This production, too, is set in the 21st Century but by combining bold staging with nuanced, clearly delineated performances, it retains a subtlety and emotional punch that sets it apart from recent reincarnations.
It was the theatrical event of the summer – but almost nobody actually got to see it.
By bringing together the irresistibly British pairing of luvvie icon, Kenneth Branagh, and heartthrob du jour (if a little more divisive post-that Taylor Swift vest), Tom Hiddleston, RADA ensured that their Hamlet joined the ranks of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Hamilton as a production designed to generate the same levels of hysteria as a One Direction concert crossed with a really, really cute puppy.
This Hamlet was produced to raise money for the world-class drama school, with profits going towards projects such as a major refurbishment of the estate and access schemes for budding actors. Running in RADA’s Jerwood Vanbrugh Theatre, which only has 160 seats, tickets were allocated through an online ballot and were enormously over-subscribed. Those of us who had managed to beat the odds congregated in the foyer well in advance of the 7.30pm start time, clutching our paper tickets with a mixture of unbridled glee and terror that we’d somehow be refused entry at the last minute.
‘It’ faces an inherent dilemma: it is in danger of becoming a parody of itself. Set in a small town in Maine in the 1980s, where awkward adolescents cycle down wide streets, facing off against unknown evils, ‘It’ is immediately reminiscent of another recent drama: Netflix’s Stranger Things. Yet, while that series was an unabashed Spielberg homage filled with deliberately overt references to the era’s iconic pop culture, ‘It’ is both the originator of said tropes and taking advantage of their resurgence, seducing modern audiences by tapping into our collective nostalgia.
Based on Stephen King’s 1986 novel, the story of ‘It’ is better known by many from the 1990 TV adaptation. Now, 27 years after its last incarnation (in a nod to the lifecycle of Pennywise himself), ‘It’ is back.
This morning, as most mornings, I was pulled from the depths of sleep by the relentlessly chipper jingle coming from my bedside table. Face pressed into the pillow, my hand reached out, blindly groping for the source of the noise. I gripped my phone, rolled over and swiped, peeling my eyes open to type in the passcode. Unthinkingly, instinctively, I tapped into Instagram and began to scroll.
It’s a problem, I know.
Before I’ve sat up, or even wiped the sleep from my eyes, I’m inviting the world into my bedroom, bombarding my brain with an endless gallery of other people’s lives through a hazy Amaro filter.
What do you think of when I say ‘old age’?
A doddering figure with a stick, papery thin skin falling in folds, a frail voice speaking words of old-school bigotry and pro-Brexit rhetoric?
Would you recognise yourself in that description?
Along with a group of writers participating in the DMA’s Future Writers Labs, I have launched the #NewAge Campaign, a movement to change the conversation around growing older and rebrand old age as something desirable, useful and valuable.
In January of this year I wrote a blog post laying out my intentions for the year. Or, more accurately, my intention, singular: to start looking outward.
One of the small steps to which I committed (in writing) was to volunteer at TEDxEastEnd. Well, dear readers, I’m here to tell you that I kept my word. I rocked up at Hackney Empire at 9am on 25th February and threw myself headfirst into the chaos. And it was fabulous.
There’s a particular prestige that accompanies the TED brand. In the build up to the event, whenever I mentioned my volunteering plans, the mere mention of ‘TEDx’ was followed by widening eyes, a respectful nod and, more often than not, an awed ‘Oh wow!’. To those who are less familiar with the hundreds of viral fifteen minute talks that bounce around social media, TED is a non-profit organisation committed to ‘ideas worth spreading’. While TEDx sits under the TED umbrella, TEDx events are organised entirely by independently from the main TED organisation. The idea is to create local events, with local speakers, run by local volunteers.
Tapas has somewhat lost its meaning in London dining of late, popping up in a vast range of cuisines to indicate everything from starters to street food. If this liberal use of language has got you longing for the proper stuff, you won’t get much better than La Fábrica in Stroud Green…
Read my full review for North Four magazine
La Fabric, 45 Stroud Green Road, London, N4 3EF