This was the first time I’d seen a Cryptic production and it certainly will not be the last. It’s a double header with the first, The Baghdad Monologue, featuring a performance in silhouette behind three semi opaque white perspex screen shrouded in wire cage set to an interesting soundtrack by Alejandro Vinao and performed by Frances M Lynch.
This show was the best lit theatre production I have ever seen. Congratulations go to Nich Smith. Technically stunning! But the performance too was gripping and interesting as it charts the point of view of an Iraqi woman who has lost her son, Kamil. It’s a brilliant satire and critical annihilation of Bush and his “Shock and Awe” strategy that is ultimately as moving as it is visually compelling.
The second is equally clever technically, Terror of Love finds a woman (Lore Lixenberg) trapped among her dreams on a viscious red Chaise Longue. Behind her through back lit mirrors her dreams come to life as Clare Roderick gradually strips naked. It’s entertaining certainly but lacked the resonance of the first.
Nevertheless, the evening as a whole is highly recommended.
In contrast to the aforementioned D-Day, The Maintenance of Headway could be consumed in an afternoon. It’s the sixth novel (it’s a novella actually) by one of my favourite British writers; the bus driver who is Magnus Mills.
And this book is clearly autobiographical as it is something of an essay on the issues that face bus drivers in an unnamed city sporting an Arch and a Bejewelled Highway that must be Oxford Street. It has certain similarities to his earlier masterpiece (the Scheme for full employment – an allegory based, I think on Napoleon’s grand scheme of the same name). Similar, but totally different, and, I think, less allegorical. It has no real beginning, middle and end. It has no plot to mention but it is a delightful and whimsical take on the little things that drive people’s day-to-day existences in whatever line of employment they find themselves.
Spats, cliques, politics all brew up as the depot’s drivers face up the inspectors in a class ridden micro ecosystem.
The mantra that bus drivers should be ‘driven’ by “the maintenance of headway” challenges individuals on a daily basis. The ultimate goal of every driver is to finish his (or her) shift a few minutes early and keep moving throughout their day. The inspectors are driven barmy by early running buses even though the population at large continue to arrive at bus stops early fully expecting their buses to arrive late.
Mills gentle humour is punctuated by the odd outburst of totally unexpected foul language by one of the more aggressive and anti-establishment drivers which makes for laugh out loud moments.
Magnus Mills is a national treasure. Take this book to your heart. A stunning return to form after his weakest outing to date (Explorers of the New Century). Read it as a companion piece to The Scheme for Full employment then delve into his back catalogue. I promise you much joy.
It took longer for me to read this than it took the Allies to take Paris. That’s because it is an intense and extremely detailed account of the D-Day landings, the Normandy battles and the march to Paris. It covers the action from four sides; the British under Monty (portrayed as a fool throughout by Beevor – he clearly has a thing against Monty), the Americans under Patton (The top dog in Beevor’s eyes), the Germans under Hitler and Kluge and the French under De Gaul.
Actually, the D Day section is no more than quarter of the book. The vast majority is dedicated to the battles in Normandy, and focusses heavily on the ultimate victory when the allies trapped the Germans in the Falaise Pocket. His description of the feelings of the Allies landing on the beaches of Normandy are so vivid and visceral that it makes you flinch.
If you don’t like extreme detail this book will not be for you, but if you can deal with the unceasing map reading and referencing, and if understand your east from your west and your left flank from your right you may well love this. The language is real and hugely engaging. But the thing that really grips one in reading this account is the huge degree of human suffering, unneccessary death and the sheer scale of retribution, rape, murder and looting that went on on all sides.
The French play a big part in this book as both heroes (it would not have happened without The French Resistance) and villians (there was an incredible amount of both forced and willing prostitution going on all over France).
For me the single most engrossing aspect of the whole thing is Beevor’s description of The Bocage. Thousands of tiny Normandy fields with huge hedgerow surrounding them that had to be taken on a field by field basis with German booby traps and dug in Panzers everywhere. To say progress was slow and dangerous would be the understatement of the century.
Beevor’s skill is to turn the delivery of historic fact into a form of prose that grips one from start to finish. He truly is a unique talent. Stalingrad is equally compelling and I would not hesitate to recommend either of them.