Theatre review – Mummy

Well, that was different….

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Just back from seeing our first Guildford Fringe performance – Mummy – in the Back Room of Guildford’s Star Inn.

We had no idea what to expect. Other than a pint and a pasty. And probably a different experience than going to the Yvonne Arnaud theatre, just down the road.

Written and performed by the very talented Amy Gwilliam, this one-woman show packs more thought-provoking theatre into 60 minutes than most West End dramas do in twice the time, and for at least three times the price.

Dr. Elizabeth Niccoll, a Cambridge graduate and Egyptologist with a specialist knowledge of death rituals, returns to her old school to give a presentation on her newly launched book: Mummy – The Art of Saying Goodbye.

Initially in total control of herself and the teenage audience, it all unravels when memories of her own dead mother froth to the surface.

Expect some interaction, a bit of mummification and some rather black humour. And a pasty.

Directed by old Guildford friend Sophie Larsmon, I hope we get to see more collaborations from this exciting team in the future.

 

Book review – The Thread

The Thread is the first book I’ve read by Victoria Hislop, the best-selling author of The Island and The Return.

She is not a writer I would normally pick off the shelves, but our good friend Alex Overington passed The Thread our way after acquiring it during their recent trip to South Africa, and knowing that we are soon heading to Thessaloniki ourselves.

Gill and I are both Greek virgins, and are really excited about visiting Greece’s second city, in the north of the ancient country, and some of its surrounding landscapes, on a writing trip for those lovely people at Silver Travel Advisor.

My anticipation has only been heightened by reading this book, which offers up a fascinating insight into Thessaloniki’s multi-layered history and turbulent time throughout the 20th century. It also provides some stark parallels with the refugee crisis engulfing Europe today.

Occupying a strategically important location 520 km north of Athens, the port city is the capital of Greek Macedonia and played a central role in Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires.

After the Prologue, set in 2007 – where we meet ageing Dimitri and Katerina Komninos and their grandson – the story takes us back to 1917, and a very different Thessaloniki. Christians, Jews and Muslims happily co-exist in the ancient, labyrinthine streets. But a devastating fire rips through the city and changes its fabric – physical, religious and cultural – forever.

As part of the rebuilding process, Muslims are repatriated to Turkey and Asia Minor, from where more Christians replace them in Greece. Ringing any bells?

5 years later, rampaging Turkish soldiers attack Christians and force them from Asia Minor. A young Katerina Sarafoglou is separated from her mother, but rescued by Dimitri’s brother. A terrible refugee crisis ensues, with Katerina ending up in Thessaloniki with her new family, while her own mother and sister start a hard life near Athens.

Katerina is luckier. Her loving adoptive mother and sisters live in a poor but happy neighbourhood, next to the Jewish Moreno family. When she is old enough, Katerina works for them as a star seamstress and embroiderer.

But the Germans occupy the city in 1942, slowly stripping Thessaloniki of its supplies, pride…and ultimately, its remaining 50,000 Jewish population. After forcing the Morenos out of their business and home, they are transported to the death camps in Poland for the Final Solution.

The end of the war does not bring peace to Greece or to the city. Greek nationalists despise perceived collaborators, and Dimitri – an idealist – gets caught up with the Communists fighting the right wing government and army. He hides in the mountains of northern Greece, near the Albanian border, as his hated, opportunistic and greedy father Konstantinos becomes ever wealthier back in the city.

A vicious civil war follows, and then a devastating earthquake destroys more of the hard-pressed city.

The threads of the story, and its surviving characters, are pulled together in 2007, a time of relative peace and false affluence. But we know that the city and country are about to be engulfed in yet another crisis, following the global financial melt-down and the ensuing dilemma of bankrupt Greece’s place in the EU.

The Thread is a fascinating insight into Thessaloniki’s rich history and culture, and will undoubtedly enhance our own exploration of its streets, both ancient and modern.

But as a novel, I’m afraid I found the writing and the characterisations one-dimensional. Everyone is either a saint, a hero or a demon, and the plot plods from one historic event to the next, with little subtlety or shading.

As 1943 began, the city descended further into a state of famine. This took over as the main preoccupation of all those who lived in Thessaloniki.

The Moreno workshop was managing to retain all of its remaining employees (as well as Jacob, three others had died in the labour camp) but there was now little work. The Germans no longer came in for their suits and even the wealthier people of the city – “who must all be collaborators”, Kyria Moreno concluded – could not get the fabric for their new clothes. Konstantinos Komninos had put up the prices so much that only the very rich could afford to pay.

The star of the book is undoubtedly Thessaloniki, and I can’t wait to walk through its history.

The toilet roll test

I’ve often wondered why anyone has their toilet paper hanging under, rather than over.

I mean….why would you?

If it’s hanging over, it’s so much more easily accessible. Not just for those certain moments of toiletary panic, but as a metaphor for life. Why make extracting every piece  more challenging than it needs to be, when it’s so much easier reversing the flow?

You wouldn’t hide your shoes right at the back of the cupboard, when there’s loads of space at the front, would you?

Or put your Oyster card in the zipped pouch of your rucksack, rather than the back pocket of your jeans?

It bugs me so much that – yes, I admit it – I’ve been known to reverse the toilet roll directional flow. More in commercial premises than peoples’ homes. I respect everyone’s right to do something contrary and inefficient, after all.

Well, it turns out this says a lot about me. And you. I’m dominant. Apparently. And under-hangers are submissive. Really.

Unsurprisingly, this psycho-babble bunkum is being rolled out from the US.

Relationship expert and performance coach Dr. Gilda Carle – based on a random sample of 2,000 men and women – says the toilet roll test ascertains key aspects of your personality. And even says it’s important when assessing your life-partner.

“What first began as a fun exercise actually turned into an accurate assessment tool. 

“While it adds humour to the conversation, it also provides oh-so-much insight about your future compatibility with that person!”

Null

There, that feels better. Let’s get married.

Theatre review – The Father

Nothing is quite what it seems in The Father.

Did 80 year-old André used to be an engineer….or was he a tap-dancer, as he demonstrates to yet another potential carer?

Does his daughter Anne still live in Paris with her husband Antoine….or has she moved to London with the new love of her life, Pierre?

Is André living in his own apartment….or has he moved in with Anne and Antoine?

Is his other daughter, Élise – whom he constantly tells Anne he loves more than her – dead or alive?

Did his carer really steal his beloved watch….or is his fading memory playing yet another trick?

Has Anne really strangled André as he slept….or just she does wish she had the courage to put them both out of their misery?

Each scene – more confusing than the next – is delineated by immediate blackness and what sounds like the scratchy, jumping intermittence of a dodgy vinyl record. And with the stark awakening of each new scene, a piece of furniture has disappeared from the stage.

This is the brilliant physical evocation of an intelligent man’s gradual descent into dementia, brought vividly to life by the French playwright Florian Zeller, translated by Christopher Hampton and acted out by Kenneth Cranham, as ageing, confused André, and by Amanda Drew as the despairing Anne.

It’s an unsettling 90 minutes or so of theatre, but you really feel immersed in the disintegrating mind of poor André and others caught up in his downward spiral.

It’s no surprise it has won France’s highest theatrical honour, the 2014 Molière Award for Best Play, and has played to packed houses in Bath, the West End and now around the UK. But don’t go if you’re hoping for a comedy, or if you have parents of a certain age, whose memory is beginning to fade….