31 March 2011

Overthinking Terminator

I recently saw Terminator Salvation for the first time. I think the main upside is that I feel much better about Terminator 3 now, despite it's failings Rise of the Machines did make sense as part of the franchise.

 Terminator Salvation
This film does not make sense!
If you watch it don't think about it. I have already done that for you. The more I think about it the less sense it makes, this film disintegrates under the harsh glare of thinking.

Whilst watching my main thought was that it didn't feel right. I wasn't necessarily expecting roads paved with human bones, because frankly that's a bad material for road building. I was, however, expecting a desperate human resistance, living in crowded, squalid bunkers, clinging to existence and fighting back as best they could. I did not expect humans to have helicopters, submarines, a canyon, handheld Sony hacking tech, or a radio system that can broadcast over large areas.
Really the whole thing made me seriously doubt the effectiveness of Skynet. I would have expected more from an apocalypse-causing, all-powerful AI. I mean radio jamming tech has been around since WWII, and surely with access to all communications and weapons systems it could shoot anything unauthorised right out of the sky.
Also you'd think it would want to kill all humans (to borrow Bender's catchphrase). Instead it seems to kill some humans, trick other humans and collect yet more humans to take, alive, back to its base for no readily apparent reason. Seriously there were mass transport and containment systems for live humans, with no explanation! I felt like I was watching a Matrix prequel (maybe I was, who knows, Hollywood's daft enough to do that).

Christian Bale was not a convincing or likable John Connor, I actually found myself chuckling when machines jumped him. He said "I'll be back" and I felt like I should have smiled, but I didn't have it in me.
I think the best thing he did was start playing 'You Could be Mine' by Guns and Roses, which was the theme to Terminator 2 as well as being a good song.

There were some good bits. Anton Yelchin and Sam Worthington were good. Yelchin makes a very convincing Kyle Reese, and actually looks the part (unlike Bale). The scenes they share are really the emotional heart of the film, if it hadn't been for them I probably would have been cheering for the machines.
Even better Kyle Reese got to say the line, correctly!
"Come with me if you want to live." The bungling of that line was one of the main disappointments of Rise of the Machines.

All that aside, there is a gigantic crater at the centre of the plot, and I didn't notice until after I'd watched the film. Seriously no one involved with this film wants you to think about it. They wanted an action blockbuster in a sci-fi setting, and what they created was the idiot-child of the franchise.

John Connor is No. 2 on Skynet's hit list. No.1 is Kyle Reese.
As far as the Resistance is concerned Kyle Reese is just a teenage civilian in LA with aspirations to join the Resistance, why does Skynet want to kill him?

Well, due to time travel, he is John Connor's father.

Except the Resistance don't know that. Surely only John Connor and Katherine Brewster should know that.*
So how does Skynet know? I mean it didn't know anything about Sarah Connor except her name and city.

Um...? Uh...?

Also -as my husband pointed out- if Skynet does know that its enemy owes his existence to time travel then surely the only sensible thing to do is not to invent time travel in the first place. Right?

Except that it's possible that sending the Terminator back is the reason human technology advances to a point where they can invent Skynet.

And then things start to get timey-wimey and frankly whether it's a loop or an alternative timeline (I favour the former myself) there is still no reason why Skynet should know who Kyle Reese even is, let alone what he looks like.

If you are going to watch this film just don't think about it.
There's no time travel here and so the filmmakers seemed to decide that meant they could ignore it. Not a good idea when the franchise relies upon time travel.

* I'm assuming  that pregnant girl who John Connor hangs out with is supposed to be his wife and partner Katherine Brewster. I mean towards the end of the film he does refer to her as Kate. But really there's little to suggest she's anyone special, which is a shame as she was a major part of the third film and looked to be shaping up to being a promising character. But hey, I guess now she's his wife and soon to be mother of his children she doesn't get to be her own person anymore, right?

27 March 2011


A few nights ago me and a friend went to see the National Theatre's version of Frankenstein. What was unusual was that instead of going down to London to see it on the stage, we saw it at a local cinema.
This broadcasting of plays in cinemas is a clever move on the part of the National Theatre. It makes plays accessible for a wider audience, including those who cannot easily travel and those who might not normally go to the theatre. I believe it is also being done with opera, which makes me think I might actually go and watch an opera, something I've never felt much urge to do before.

It was an interesting experience, sort of a hybrid of going to the theatre and the cinema, which is to be expected I suppose.
We were only just on time so ended up sitting right to the side, but that was fine because it was being projected onto a big 2D screen, so perspective and sight lines weren't the issue they can be at the theatre. Watching a filmed version allowed for things like close ups and overhead shots, but it also took away the audience's ability to notice things for themselves as your view was constantly led. It hadn't really occurred to me before, but this is a major difference between filmed and live performances.
The film included shots of the theatre audience taking their seats before the performance, which was nice as it recreated that thing where you look around at other people in the audience (well I do that in the theatre anyway, don't know about anyone else). You also heard the noise of the theatre audience, which merged with the sound of us in the cinema. At the end people clapped, which made sense in one way as that's what the theatre people were doing, but it was also a bit strange because there wasn't actually anyone there to clap for.

Directed by Danny Boyle, starring Johnny Lee Miller (from Eli Stone) and Benedict Cumberbatch (from BBC's Sherlock). In this performance Miller played the creature and Cumberbatch played Victor Frankenstein, but  the interesting thing about this play is that the two lead actors swap roles throughout the run.

The performance was very good. It is told from the creature's point of view and he is in almost every scene during the first part of the play. Escaping from some kind of artifical womb (no slabs here) we watch him learn to drag himself along, then crawl, then walk, all the while making unintelligible noises. It's eerily like watching a toddler in a grown man's body. The makeup made Miller look like he was covered in scars and stitches, especially some particularly bad scarring across his head. The first appearance of Frankenstein shows the scientist horrified by his creation and running away in terror, not a good start. Then the creature goes out into the world where he learns that he is feared before he learns to speak and read.
The actions switches to Victor Frankenstein only after his creation has tracked him down. The lonely monster makes a deal with his troubled creator, he asks only for a wife like him. The scientist, a reclusive character, once more leaves home and family to create life, however he is troubled by what he's dong and at the last reneges on his promise. Then the creature pursues Frankenstein to have his revenge.

I haven't read Shelley's original novel - although I expect I will do. From what I know of it the play is closer to the book than many of the film versions. In the films the monster often can't speak, but in the play he is allowed to be very articulate.

There were several things I liked about the production:
  • The blind man befriended and taught the monster, even after feeling his head to 'see' him. In a film version I saw a lonely blind man befriends the monster and says how bad it is to be alone and how they should be friends, but then rejects him after 'seeing' him. That seemed unfair.
  • The creature is the only one in the play to use a flaming torch, and he does it to burn down a human home. This seemed a nice reversal from the well-known film imagery.
  • Victor Frankenstein's social skills seem almost as bad as that of his creation, he is reclusive and doesn't seem to react to things as other people would. There is definitely something odd about the guy, even ignoring the whole creating monsters thing.
  • Frankenstein is initially as enamored with the idea of 'the bride' as the creature is. He seems to relish the idea of a second chance to make something flawless. I don't know whether he sees it as an intellectual challenge or something more. There's one bit where he pretty much measures up his fiancee, which is kinda creepy.
  • The scienstist's idea of creating life involves reanimating corpses with lightning. He doesn't seem to have given any thought to the normal way of doing it, as his wife points out. When he fears his creations will breed, it doesn't occur to him to simply make sure they can't. I suspect there are some pyschological, sexual issues at work.
  • Frankenstein projects his own worries and complexes about people onto the monster. The monster ignores them having his own very definite ideas about how people are.
  • By the end the creator and monster are pretty much the same. Both chasing each other, neither being able to stop or do anything else, both in a sense living for the other whilst also desiring their destruction.
  • The lighting rig. Suspended above stage and audience was a massive rig comprised of hundreds, if not thousands of bulbs. In the first scene these symbolise the lightning or electricity that brings the creature to life. They are also used to symbolise the stars. I though this was cool as I first heard about this production from the blog of author and lighting technician Kate Griffin.
I felt very sorry for the bride when creator and monster discussed her potential creation. The poor thing, had her destiny mapped out for her when she was nothing more than an idea, a wish and a fantasy. She would be made only to be a companion for the one that went before her. As I realised this I saw how very 'Eve made from Adam's side' it all is. She was the focus of two very flawed males and never got to achieve life at all. In the play she was paraded around to be looked at and admired but was then destroyed prior to her animation.
It also occurred to me that her identity is even less defined than that of the creature. She is commonly referred to as the Bride of Frankenstein, but that's erroneous, she's actually the Bride of Frankenstein's Monster. Her identity is entirely defined by her association to a creature who is also unnamed. She is two steps away from a name (as opposed to the Monster's single step) and the name is that of her creator and destroyer.

I see why people suspect Shelley was exploring feminist issues.

26 March 2011

Diana Wynne Jones

I was going to write about Frankenstein or Terminator tonight, but I've been saddened by some bad news.

Diana Wynne Jones - a woman I've described as my favourite author for about 10 years- died during the night.

She was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009 and in summer 2010 ago announced that she had decided to stop treatment, so in some respects I knew this day was coming, that doesn't make it less sad.
I don't think I've felt like this about the death of someone I've never met before. 

Neil Gaiman's sentiments on Twitter are lovely. They had been friends for years and it always kind of amazed me that two such brilliant and talented people were friends. I think that was the first time I realised that writers and creators had a whole community. Forget people who sleep with sportsmen and performers who fill themselves with booze and drugs, it's the writers I have always been interested in.
It turns out she somehow attracted these writery links. At university she was lectured by Tolkien and Lewis, and as a child she encounter both Arthur Ransome and Beatrix Potter. The former shouted about her being noisy and the latter smacked her for swinging on her garden gate. On her fan website I read an account she had written about going to 10 Downing Street and ending up having a conversation with Terry Pratchett, this is the sort of thing that sounds too good to be part of reality, yet somehow is!

I first read Charmed Lives, it was a paperback copy I bought second hand from Hay-on-Wye. I think I found it interesting, but it wasn't an immediate favourite. Then I read Castle in the Air which I got from the library, not realising it was a sequel. I really enjoyed that and soon Diana Wynne Jones books turned up on all my Christmas and Birthday lists.

What I loved was the other worlds ideas in Chrestomanci. As a child who loved to read and make up stories, and who tended towards the fantastic even before I understood the idea of genres, the other worlds idea was very powerful. I remember being a child and vaguely thinking you had to set stories in the past or, if you wanted something impossible but not necessary magical, the future. The idea of other worlds where one could have magic and technology and stuff that was entirely different (not alternate, or mirrored, or what-if, as you got on TV) was amazing.

I think that my growing interest in the work of Diana Wynne Jones was very important in my developing ideas about what I liked to read. I soon realised I was a fantasy fan - even if I didn't have the words, the concepts or the company to indulge my geeky side for a few years after that.
The imagination that can be displayed in fantasy is what I have always loved about the genre, and Diana Wynne Jones is a brilliant example of imagination. She didn't stick to a well-known or well-used formula as many in the genre do (although she does have her own patterns, but what writer doesn't?).

Reading Darklord of Derkholm was my introduction to traditional quest-based fantasy, and as the book so wonderfully and sensibly satirises it this may explain why I've never been that patient with sword and sorcery and Tolkienesque works.

Her books were not always easy, which impressive considering she wrote mostly for children and young adults. Characters wouldn't always be likable (but people aren't), things weren't what they seemed (which they sometimes aren't), and identity could be very fluid, if not downright baffling (which isn't unrealistic).
I remember finding Hexwood baffling the first time I read it, but my interest must have been piqued as I read it again and loved it. I remember not getting on with Witch Week that much, although that may have been partly caused by carsickness, but I never put it down and thinking back it was probably my introduction to the idea of alternative histories.

 Diana Wynne Jones 1934 - 2011

She will be sorely missed.

25 March 2011

Anarchy and early Plantagenets

Returning to David Starkey's book Crown and Country and my history mug.
The first post on this topic can be found here.

Henry I's son was drowned in the sinking of the White Ship (not to be confused with the magical Arthurian Green Ship, which probably didn't exist) leaving the succession unclear. This is never a good thing.

A dysfunctional family
The events of King Stephen's rule are dramatised in Pillars of the Earth, which I suspect may not be 100% historically accurate.
Stephen succeeded his uncle and spent most of his reign fighting his cousin Empress Matilda, who said she was her father's true heir. This civil war was known as the Anarchy, and England was split with different regions recognising different rulers. Matilda was almost crowned after a victory, which led to Stephen being held captive. However she upset the people of London by suggesting they should pay taxes and the like, so she had to go.* Stephen kept England but had to accept Matilda's son Henry as his heir.
The mug makes it look like they didn't get on.

Henry II
As his mother wished Henry inherited England from Stephen. He also inherited various parts of France from both of his parents, so once he'd expanded his territories he was an incredibly powerful ruler. His main flaw (besides having a truly terrible relationship with his sons) was angry rages. Courtiers knew not to pay any attention to him during these episodes when he was liable to say almost anything - well they normally didn't pay any attention. It seems that 'turbulent priest' business was simply an unfortunate oversight.
I don't know why he's vaulting a table on the mug, leapfrog was not mentioned by Starkey.
As Kate Beaton shows Thomas Becket and Henry II were actually great mates before the archbishopric came between them. So sad.
She's also drawn this excellent Plantagenet Family Portrait.

Richard I
Richard and two of his brothers -egged on by their mother- fought against their father. Henry II tried to split the empire between his 4 sons, which just led them to fight amongst themselves. Two died, leaving Richard as King. Richard spent about six months in England and the rest of his reign crusading, fighting over his other territories in France, and being held hostage. He is fondly remembered, probably because everyone hated his brother so much.

Historians say John was good at record keeping, which is nice for them but isn't necessarily a good quality in a king. In fact John appears to have been weak, paranoid, and widely disliked, especially among his barons. After the Robin Hood stuff he's most famous for signing the Magna Carta -on the mug he's looking at it in dismay. It's an important historical document that was signed by a ruler who didn't have the political capital to do otherwise.
I have seen his final resting place several times as he's buried in my hometown.

* Matilda was never actually crowned Queen but she was preparing for her coronation before she made herself truly unpopular by suggesting a tax hike. She was in charge for a few months (and technically ruled parts of the country for years), far longer than Lady Jane Grey, making her effectively the first female ruler of England. So how come she isn't on the mug (or most king lists), when Jane is? Possibly it's because she had her opponent locked in a castle, that's considered cheating.

16 March 2011

Genre: Content vs. Tone

A large part of my job (especially in the last couple of months) is processing new books.
Now non-fiction is easy enough to categorise. The Dewey Decimal system is largely sensible (even if there are odd bits I don't quite agree with) and the books come with numbers already decided.
Fiction however can be more of a minefield. Where I work we put all our fiction in alphabetical order by author's surname, this is nicely simple and lacking in controversy. However some libraries (and I think almost all bookshops) organise by genre as well, and here is where things get tricky.

I reviewed The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi last month. I think I made it pretty clear that it was Science Fiction. I also recommended it be bought for work as there was a waiting list on it. When the book arrived I noticed that the genre label provided by the distributor was Thriller, not Science Fiction. This got me thinking, as I have many times before, about how genre is decided.

I think one way of looking at the question is by examining content and tone.
Let us take a well-known example:
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger is a mainstream bestseller, but it isn't completely grounded in the possible. It's about a relationship between two people, one of whom has a genetic disorder that causes him to jump around in time.
Time travel = SF, surely?
Well yes, time travel is currently impossible thus putting it into the realm of SF. However there's no time machine, wormhole or time dilation, nothing scientific or technological. The book is about the relationship between the characters and the lives they lead given the unusual circumstances, in this respect it's a very grounded, realistic book.

It's important to note that huge numbers of people who read and enjoyed this book are not SF fans, and would probably say they do not like SF and would not read an SF book. Fair enough, people like what they like, but if they enjoyed The Time Traveler's Wife then surely they can't be against everything science fictional.
In these cases I think that the tone is the key. It doesn't feel like SF. It's written in a more mainstream/literary/romantic way, so people can read it without identifying it as SF, despite the major time travel element.

Going back to The Windup Girl.
If a book is an action-packed and absorbing political thriller set in an imagined future, is it Science Fiction or Thriller? It won a Locus, Hugo and Nebula, which would suggest SF, but I'm not aware that there are many awards for Thrillers.
In fact the Thriller label seems to be applied to a wide variety of books, so I'm not entirely sure how to easily describe it. I mean 'thrilling' is the obvious descriptor, but you have excitement and action in other genres, so that doesn't quite seem right. Besides what a person finds thrilling is very subjective. However I think it's safe to say that danger, excitement, a race-against-time, and plenty of peril are an important part of any Thriller, and The Windup Girl contains all those things.

So perhaps the next question is what is more likely to get taken off the shelf?
I suspect that the answer is a book labelled as a Thriller.

As I've just pointed out Thriller is actually quite a general genre, whereas sci-fi is not. So if you've a book that could be two genres you might as well put it under the less niche one.
I think this is why The Time Traveler's Wife is usually in general fiction, rather than SF. It'll find an audience in both, but there likely to be more people looking in the former.
This is also why I've left the Thriller label on The Windup Girl at work. Either way it's going to be filed under B for Bacigalupi -because that's what we do. Perhaps a few more people will pick it up if it has a little gun on the spine, rather than a little Saturn-like planet, but then again plenty of people won't look at either.
Besides, if someone picks it up expecting a modern, realistic thriller they'll probably notice the zeppelin and the mammoth (technically a megodont) on the front cover.

8 March 2011

6 female characters who are not 'The Girl'.

We've all seen The Girl.
She turns up in TV and film, is generally useless and makes you wonder why on earth she's there. Why didn't the other characters just leave her somewhere, their lives would surely be easier if they had.

The answer is that she is the token female character. She is there to provide romance (assuming male-only romance isn't an 'issue' plotline) and probably some sex appeal or something.
I also suspect that she's there to encourage women to watch traditionally male genres like action and sci-fi. Apparently women are more likely to watch explosions, aliens, chase scenes and robots if they are able to identify with a character - even if she is the most useless character.

Luckily there are plenty of capable female characters on screen and I'm going to look at some of those.
In no particular order...

1. Ellen Ripley - Alien films
Ripley is simply brilliant, she's who we all (male or female) hope we'd be if confronted by a terrifying alien lifeform. She survives and survives and never stops trying to do what's necessary, what's right, regardless of the cost to herself. In the third film she actually dies to save mankind, that's pretty serious stuff.
Even before the alien turns up Ripley was working on a spaceship (which is pretty cool) and proves her worth by being the only crew-member who understands what a quarantine is for. Like anyone else Ripley has a softer, more vulnerable side, but she doesn't let it define her. And when you're fighting for your life you simply can't think about stuff like that.
Part of her brilliance may come from the fact that she was originally imagined as a he. With few alterations Ridley Scott took a male character called Ripley and created an iconic female character.
So should really awesome female characters be written in male terms? Well no, not necessarily, that's very problematic for a whole variety of reasons. I think the point is to focus on the character (who they are, what they do, why they do it, etc.) rather than on their gender. After all gender roles and expectations are changeable, or they should be.

2. Susan Ivanova - Babylon 5
Ivanova is career military and has risen to second-in-command on the galaxy's most important space station. She could not have gotten to that position without being very good at what she does. She is comfortable with her male counterparts and is trusted and respected in her position of authority. Throughout the run of the program she proves herself in combat, in command and in diplomacy. Her strength of will is highlighted by the difficulties that form her backstory.
A nice thing about the portrayal of Ivanova is that she is not objectified or made to appear sexy/glamorous just because she's a woman. The costume designers on Babylon 5 realised that making a military uniform for the female form does not require tight fabric, missing buttons or short zips. This sensible, practical style makes sense for someone in her position, she's busy doing an important job, looking good is not a high priority. It also means that the scenes where Ivanova is shown in a feminine way are more meaningful.
Her personal life is very understated, the male characters have far more prominent romantic relationships. It is strongly suggested that she is in a relationship with a woman for a while, but the details are left private-no girl-on-girl titillation here. Her later lack of interest in a male admirer might be a sign of her sexuality, or could just show that Ivanova is not motivated by romance, she has other things to think about.

3. Ariadne - Inception
After Leonardo DiCaprio's character, Ellen Page's Ariadne has the most personality in Inception. In the first third she plays an important role as the voice of the audience, intelligently asking the questions for us. She is also Cobb's confidante, even if she forces her concerned involvement on him to an extent.
We know fairly little about Ariadne, but what we do know is that she was brought onto the crew not because she's dating someone on the team, not because she's pretty or sexy (although I'm sure she's both when she wants to be), and not because she needed rescue. Ariadne was recommended and recruited purely for her skills, she is there for (literally) cerebral reasons. She is no last minute addition, her role as Architect is integral to the plan and at no point does she mess it up. She proves to be smart, creative and as capable as any of the male characters. The fact she's female doesn't affect how the others treat her -except for Arthur's stolen kiss (presumably)- and no allowances or limitations are placed on her due to gender.
I also quite like the fact that she's named after a character from Greek myth. Unlike her mythical counterpart this Ariadne doesn't just know the secret of the Labyrinth, she created it.

4. Samantha Carter - Stargate
Astrophysicist, engineer, pilot and the world's leading Stargate expert: Samantha Carter has a pretty impressive CV. Carter's role as part of the SG-1 team requires combat skills and intellect. It also requires her to tread the line between military thinking (as favoured by her commanding officer) and a more scientific, academic approach (as used by her civilian teammate).
A lot of what I want to say about Carter I've already said about Ivanova. They have similar roles: military, intelligent, main woman in a male-dominated workplace. Carter is more of an academic and expeditionary, plus she's modern rather than futuristic. Again I like that Carter isn't made to be glamorous, it's not what she's there for.
Her list of skills is extensive, but Carter is also an excellent character. She is possibly the most important -and certainly the least stereotypical- member of the SG-1 team. Her personality and the way she interacts with people make her a likable character. Despite her many skills and achievements she never feels unrealistic as a person or unrelatable to the audience. Unassuming yet utterly capable Carter is not about to let anyone treat her differently because she's a woman. As shown in this excellent quote: "just because my reproductive organs are on the inside instead of the outside doesn’t mean I can’t handle whatever you can handle."
This makes me grin, because reproductive organs are relevant in so few situations and people need to realise that more.

5. Sydney Bristow - Alias <O>
Sydney Bristow is probably the best spy in the world (unless you're a Fables fan in which case Cindy still wins).
As the lead character in an intelligent spy thriller series we see many aspects of Sydney. She is almost a little too impressive, there isn't a discipline, skill or language she can't master. Luckily she isn't a super-awesome Mary-Sue figure, Sydney is flawed in various ways and it's these flaws that make us like her. When she's upset she cries, when she's cut she bleeds, but when someone threatens to torture her she escapes and foils their evil plans.
Admittedly she does use her sexuality a fair bit. In one respect being underestimated because you're a pretty and apparently flirty girl is a very useful advantage, as well as teaching all those guards a lesson in focusing on the job at hand. Also it's a sign that the intelligence community needs to hire more women -or gay men. The infamous lingerie scenes are what they are (I chose to watch those ironically) although at least there is humorous acknowledgment that looking sexy is not in fact a natural state of womanhood, it does require effort.
Alias was at its most interesting when there was a complex plot arc and Sydney was being pushed mentally, physically and emotionally. Luckily the bulk of the run was like that and Sydney was always an excellent lead character.

6. Sarah Connor (as played by Linda Hamilton) - Terminator films
Sarah Connor was a normal woman who worked as a waitress until a cyborg came from the future to kill her.
In this respect she's a little like Ripley, someone who is tested by a terrible ordeal and comes out the other side tougher and with a purpose. Admittedly in the first film she is mostly rescued by Kyle Reese, but she handles herself pretty well considering the circumstances. Her initial instincts are sensible and practical and unsurprisingly normal, but she's compassionate enough to worry about Reese even when she doubts his sanity. When she realises the truth she's quick to put her trust in the one person who can help her.
Between films (I haven't seen the TV series, so Lena Headey not entering into my thought process here) she goes from an everywoman in a terrifying situation to a powerful, determined and frankly rather scary warrior/protector figure.
One of the great things about Sarah Connor is that she starts out ordinary - she doesn't work on a spaceship, she isn't in the military, and she's not a spy. She didn't choose any of the crap she was landed with. She had a bad job that she wasn't very good at, she lived in a flat with a mate, her main interesting feature was that had a pet lizard. With no training, no contacts and while pregnant/with a small child in tow, she managed to forge a new life on the fringes of society, constantly moving, constantly vigilant and never far away from a massive weapons cache. She is woman who must never give up, no matter how hard it seems, because the future of humanity is at stake (again a little like Ripley).

Happy 100th International Women's Day!

6 March 2011

Notes to a Future Self

It was World Book Night last night, I went to the theatre.
It wasn't intentional, it just happened to be a good night to go out. I give (well, lend and sometimes sell) people books all the time, so though I think World Book Night is a good idea I didn't feel like getting involved personally.

Notes to a Future Self was written by Lucy Caldwell, who is also a novelist.
The play tells the story of Sophie, a 13 year old with terminal bone cancer. Sophie (full name Philosophy Rainbow) and her sister Calliope have been brought up in communes all over the world by their new-age mother Judy. When Sophie became ill Judy took her daughters back to Birmingham to stay with Daphne, her traditional, Christian mother.

It was a short performance only about an hour and twenty minutes. It was one that had the audience switching between laughter and sadness. There were funny moments and bits that made me want to cry throughout the performance. The play felt naturalistic and was very emotional, with both profanity and profundity.

The play is narrated by Sophie, who is like a ghost in her own life. The audience never sees the sick child in bed, because Sophie doesn't want us to see that. Instead we see a girl who enthusiastically describes her current life, her past experiences and who walks undetected into the private moments of her family as they come to terms with their new situation and the upcoming loss.
The 4 actresses are all on stage almost the entire time, each inhabiting their own part of the simple, minimalist set. A pattern is established, focusing on dinner at five. A ticking clock indicates the passage of time and the monotony of an existence which is made up of waiting. Repetitive dialogue establishes a refrain which is later broken down as Sophie deteriorates and the others must think of what is to come next.

Further info can be found here.