Spring Catchup Post

Once again this blog was seemingly abandoned for a while, but I actually have been blogging bookish things at my travel blog Wandering Mee, so here are some links:

When in Spring, Go See Plays: After my last post about “We are Proud to Present..” play, I went to another two. One was particularly bookish.

Reading the World: I am renewing my Reading the World project, in which I attempt to read at least one book from each country from the UN list. In particular, I’d like to concentrate on the countries I have visited, but yet to read, and at the moment they are: Spain, Austria, Turkey, and Morocco. (I also need to fill in Greece and Switzerland, but am finding these two to be difficult. I can only think of Heidi for Swiss author/setting.)

84 Charing Cross Plaque: in which I finally found the plaque, three years after I arrived in London.

Apart from those, I have also “recently” (if your definition of recent could be, say, 2 months ago) went to two bookish events.

The first was Penguin Bloggers Night 2014 in March at Foyles bookshop. Apparently this was the 4th time Penguin held such event, and it was my first time joining (or being invited). I met a couple of bloggy friends (Jackie, Sakura) and we were all treated to a night of reading by authors like: Will Self, Rebecca Hunt, Nina Stibbe. There was a promise of Ali Smith but she was held off by last minute thing.

One of the most exciting thing was how there were two tableful of books for us to take any that we fancied, and they even provided a tote bag. I went a bit berserk and got meeself a proper haul.

Penguin Bloggers Night books


The second one was more properly recent. I went to European Literature Night at British Library on 14 May for the European Graphic Novelists. There was talk, reading (yes, reading from graphic novels, complete with drawings on the projector), and even a bit of drawing. I absolutely loved it. European graphic novels are such a breath of fresh air, everything from the subject matter and the style is completely different to the dark brooding super-heroic American style.

The graphic novelists for that night were Belgian Judith Vanistendael (Dance by the Light of the Moon, When David Lost His Voice), German Line Hoven (Love Looks Away), Spanish Max (Bardin the Superrealist), and Czech Lucie Lomová (The Savages). Some of them have yet to be translated to English, and hope they will be soon. It didn’t miss my observation too that three out of four graphic novelists were women! <3

During Q&A session, all of them agreed that comic is really a labour of love, as it really does not make much money, and most of them, if not all, have to do illustration or design jobs, for the main income I assume. Oh I also need to mention that the host Paul Gravett was absolutely entertaining – which made me want to go look for his books (about comics, graphic novels, and manga).

The ticket included the highly advertised Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK exhibition (a good deal!) so I went straight for it downstairs. It featured works by various artists across different eras (including Neil Gaiman and lots of Alan Moore, but  I thought they weren’t the most interesting parts of the exhibition). Lots of the works were quite old, and some of them could be quite shocking seen from our modern lens (think racism, sexism, and violence). The V (as in V for Vendetta) manequins scattered all around the exihibition added to the creepiness of it all. I found the exhibition to be highly informative and entertaining, and recommend you to go for it (open until 19 August 2014).

I have also been reading, and the blog needs to catch up. Stay tune!


“We Are Proud to Present…” at Bush Theatre

On the weekend I went to see a play with the longest title ever known to plays:

We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884 – 1915

we are proud to present - bush theatre

The title makes little sense before you see the play (excuse my ignorance, but I never heard of “Herero” and I thought it sounded like a misspell of “Hero”), but it would become very clear once it starts. The title literally tells you what the play is about: the story of the Herero tribe in Namibia, at the time when the Germans arrived and started occupying the land, between the year of 1884 – 1915, when Namibia was called Sudwestafrika (in German), and before the British started to take over and rename the area to Southwest Africa.

So colonization story, you think. Yes, colonization, racism, and all that. In a way, it’s “nothing new”. But the way the story is told is nothing short of genius.

The entire play is acted by six people: A Black Woman, A Black Man, Another Black Man, A White Woman, A White Man, and Another White Man. This is told to you from the beginning, in a presentation format: We are going to play These Characters. You’d know straight away, there would be stereotypes, something would go wrong with the stereotyping.

These six characters then discussed about how they should tell the story of the genocide of the Herero in Namibia, because it’s a very important story that is known very little. Unlike the holocaust that has evidence and documentation all over, the only written documents left about the Herero are some letters written by White Men that provide a little glimpse into what happened.

In documentary style, sort of, we followed these characters trying to do improv to depict what happened, so we were seeing a play of a play, if that makes sense, in the similar concept as A Chorus Line (musical). It also reminded me of the recent BAFTA winning documentary The Act of Killing. The play showed friction between the characters and problems “behind the scene” in recreating this period of history. It bravely touched sensitive subjects – racism being always a sensitive subject – and the result was a very vibrant, fresh, and energetic stage play, with accomplishments in stage techniques like sound effects, use of various media, including live use of video camera, and very efficient use of stage and props. The pace was amazing. The characters were bouncing off each other seemingly with ease.

I really enjoyed “We are Proud to Present …” – a very well produced play. It is currently playing at Bush Theatre until 12 April 2014. If you live in London or nearby, hope you get a chance to see it. I’ve been to Bush Theatre before for South Literary Festival (which I did not write about unfortunately, but it was a good event), and I always love the sitting room. It has tables and couches, with shelves of books around the walls, and drinks available to get just in the next room. I just had to have tea after the play and sunk into a couch — a perfect closure after a great play.

bush theatre

Thank you to the team for providing me press tickets to see this wonderful play.

War Horse at New London Theatre

Last Tuesday I was invited to see stage play adaptation of War Horse at New London Theatre. I received the invitation before Christmas and was ecstatic when I read it, as the play has been looming over me for a while!

First, a little back story. As regular readers probably know I work in visual effects industry for movies. My company was working on the visual effects for War Horse the movie (2011) when I just arrived in London. That was the first time I learned about War Horse, from the movie that was adapted from the book by Michael Morpurgo. At the time I did not know what it was about, except that it’s about a horse that’s probably involved in a war (doh!), and that to make the movie they could not possibly use real horse at one of the scenes because they did not want any horse get hurt. (So if you’ve watched or intend to watch it, you can probably guess which scene it is. All effects/3D horse! Can you tell? :)

That way the book has been on my radar, though since I’m not a fan of war stories, any kind of war stories, I never really intend to read the book. The play though, intrigued me. Why would anyone make a stage play about horses?! How big of a challenge is that?! I read and saw posters about the puppets and thought they might work like puppets from Sesame Street of some sort. So I was in for a total shock, when I finally saw the stage play with my own eyes.

First of all, and most importantly, the horses, OMG. The puppetry of the horses is done by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company and it is something that has to be seen to be believed! They were sooo life-like that sometimes I forgot that they were not real horses. There was so much attention to details, like the breathing of the horses, and the little movement of their ears and their tails, even their neighing sound, the horse-y snorts and the blows. You can see the puppeteers holding the horse puppets but at times it felt like the horses were dragging the humans. It was absolutely amazing. At certain points my jaw was literally dropping, literally. I could not believe what I was seeing. It was beyond what I expected.

As an added bonus my companion of the night has read the book, just before the play (he actually started to read the book before I invited him to come with me, thus it was absolutely the right timing), so he was able to tell me the difference between the book and the play (for more of War Horse stage vs page we recommend this piece). As I learned earlier, the book is told from the horse point of view, while it is not the case for the stage play. So they did need to make a few adjustments for that — adding scenes and combining some characters.

As wonderful the first part of the play was, I thought the second part wasn’t as strong. My first problem was that we came upon some characters who speak French and German, which I did not understand one bit! Though it felt quite original as the war brought us to meet British and German soldiers, along with French peasants, the non-English dialogues were lost on me. My companion understands French and he has also read the book, so he liked it more. We both agreed though that the ending wasn’t as dramatic as we expected. I am now curious how the movie has handled that, and will probably watch it soon to find out.

All in all we absolutely enjoyed the stage play of War Horse, and if you get a chance I’d definitely recommend you to go see it. I have seen lots of plays and musicals and I would say that War Horse takes the trophy for the best use of props! Unlike the usual case, there’s no lead actor/actress here as such, because the horses were the main characters. And what wonderful characters they were!

We were not allowed to take photos, so pictures are taken from the War Horse website. Hope they entice you even more to watch it:

War Horse stage play

War Horse stage play

War Horse stage play

You can also see snippets of the movement of the horse in the video:

Author in the Flesh: Terry Pratchett and Audrey Niffenegger

I love living in London. I get to meet heaps of authors that I would never ever get to meet back home (or maybe I could, but only once in a blue moon, and only if that blue moon happens in my lifetime). Here they actually live around the corners and probably travel to the venues on foot. It’s fantastic.

Terry Pratchett

I saw Terry Pratchett in National History Museum night time event just last week, with a selection of panels (mostly British comedians) talking about what things they would like to steal from the museum if people had their own Museum of Natural Curiosity, and why. People chose things like trilobite fossil, space dust, fake stuffed Dodo bird (the original – the only one in the world – was burnt by Prince Albert because it was too big or some stupid reason like that), fake flies in rocks (which was very famous in its time before it was discovered that it was a fake). Sir Terry chose the statue of Darwin – which the panels concluded at the end that the reason must be because they look alike.

pratchett and darwin
which is who, can you guess?

The whole atmosphere of night at the museum thing was fantastic. There’s a huge T-rex skeleton stands imposingly in the middle of the hall, its tail just ends above my head. And I love the whole theme running through the Natural History museum treasures.

I’m not a big fan of Terry Pratchett to be honest. I’ve just read one of his books and didn’t think high of it, but I’m willing to give Discworld series another try. But since he’s getting very old, plus the coming Alzheimer, I just wanted to see him in person, before it’s too late. (And he did look very very old! – appearing in his high hat trademark.)

Audrey Niffenegger

The night with Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler’s Wife) and Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus) was held at Prince Albert Cinema in London Chinatown on Halloween’s night. Unfortunately Erin was stuck in the US because of Sandy, so she attended as a giant cinema screen.

The Time Traveler’s Wife was one of the first English novels I read and I completely loved it, so I was so glad to be able to see Audrey in person. She exudes this gothic-y, gloomy, dark-y feel. Her humor was dry, she didn’t smile a lot (or smiled in that half-smile Mona Lisa way), and looked mysterious in her red hair and red shoes.

audrey and erin
it’s red theme for the night

Erin talked about how she started The Night Circus during Nanowrimo (though really finished it 5 years later) and about how it’s not fair that only all the British children go to Narnia, so she wanted to make her own magical world. Audrey talked about how she used to think that England is like a magical land in story books, continued with her experience of arriving in London the first time (I can totally relate with that). She now shares her time between here and the US. She especially has particular fascination with Highgate Cemetery and that’s where her second book Her Fearful Symmetry stemmed from. To this day she still volunteers her time to be the cemetery guide once in a while! (I have planned to visit Highgate Cemetery sometime soon. How wonderful it’d be if I were to see her as my guide!)

There are more authors, so stay tune for the second part of Author in the Flesh!

Everything Else Happened – Play Based on the Stories by Jonathan Safran Foer

Just within 2 days of The Doctor’s Dilemma, I’ve got a chance to see another play at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith (preview was in London, but they will be playing in Edinburgh Fringe festival). Expecting it to be completely different with the former – as this looked like a much smaller production with shorter duration (1 hour), I went with an open mind, and was nicely surprised to find the play as delightful, in a very different way.

everything else happened

Everything Else Happened is a play based on the short stories of Jonathan Safran Foer – whose books I’ve been meaning to read forever since I fell in love head over heels with his wife Nicole Krauss’s book The History of Love. Claire has told me numerous times that I should try Foer if I loved Krauss, as they have rather similar style of writing.

The stories – Rhoda, Here We Aren’t So Quickly, A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease and If the Aging Magician Should Begin to Believe – first appeared individually in a variety of publications between 2001 and 2010 and have been collated by playwright David Kantounas and his co-director Adam Lenson. (I did not even know Foer has written short stories!)

The play was divided into 4 separate parts, each played by a different actor/actress, solo (starring Patti Love, Simon Scardifield, Harry Ditson, and Adam Lenson). The parts were not connected by narrative, but by theme – of loss, loneliness, and things left unsaid. First was a lonely old woman, seemingly living alone and talking to some people who were not really there. Second was a man having a conversation with the recorded voice of the wife who has left him. Both of them were talking to a machine, never to each other. Third was the aging magician, who has flashback of his former life, just before his death. The last part was the one that tied things together. A Jewish man with presentation slides, describing symbols and their meanings that dominate conversations in his family.

The stage was simple and intimate and we got a chance to sit at the front – absorbing everything in full strength! I loved the transition between the parts. All four characters moved the stuff on stage together, seemingly working together in a synchronized way, but staying in their own little world, like they didn’t see each other. Each stayed in their character.

I would love to read any of the original short stories based on what I saw as a play. There was a lot of hearts and it emitted a lingering sadness that stayed with you for a while. My companion for the night was probably taking it even harder than me, and was a bit shaken by it! (aaww..) Well it has left footprints for the both of us.

Best of luck to the crew and big thank you to A Dream Epic production for inviting me to experience this lovely play!

Who’s Jonathan Safran Foer?

Jonathan Safran Foer

Considered one of the world’s top contemporary novelists, Jonathan Safran Foer won the 2002 Guardian First Book Award for Everything is Illuminated, and his follow-up, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, became an international bestseller and an Oscar-nominated film directed by Stephen Daldry. He has written an opera libretto (Seven Attempted Escapes from Silence), contributed stories to the New Yorker and Paris Review, and his first non-fiction book, Eating Animals, was published in 2009 to widespread acclaim.

Everything Else Happened is playing at Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh 2-27 August 2012.

You can check out the trailer here.


The Doctor’s Dilemma at London National Theatre

I’ve got a privilege to be invited to this fabulous play at National Theatre, Southbank, London. It is titled The Doctor’s Dilemma, first staged in 1906, written by Bernard Shaw.

The Doctor's Dilemma

In this play, our main character Sir Colenso is a doctor who has found experimental treatment of tubercolosis and his resources are restricted to ten selected patients. Come into the scene a beautiful young woman Jennifer Dubedat who begs him to help her husband, a brilliant artist who we (and the doctors) find later on to be a man with questionable morality. Added to the dilemma the fact that Sir Colenso is somewhat in love with Jennifer. There’s now a chance for him to play god and let the husband dies. Shall he, shall he not? The doctor’s dilemma!

The 2 hours and 40 minutes play was divided into just 5 long scenes. Lots of dialogues between the several doctors who each has his own opinion on how to run his medical service and profession. Then lots of dialogues between the doctors and the Dubedat man about morality. Clearly Bernard Shaw had lots of messages to say.

Doctor's Dilemma stage

The setting of the stage itself was wonderful. It could possibly be the best stage set I have ever seen so far for plays! It was large and detailed. The lighting was so amazing, such that you could see the sun rays coming into the windows, during daylight, sunset, and night time on stage, as if it was real. The actors and actresses were great and captivating, especially for the three main actors: Dr Colenso (Aden Gillett), Jennifer (Genevieve O’Reilly) and Louis Dubedat (Tom Burke). My companion of the night was totally smitten by Jennifer – beautiful, vulnerable, and strong at the same time.

So who’s this Bernard Shaw?

George Bernard Shaw 1936

Only after the play I learned that Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright (1856-1950), writing more than 60 plays, most addressing social issues, like education, marriage, religion, health care, government, and class privilege (several are quite prominent in The Doctor’s Dilemma!).

He is the only person to have been awarded both a Nobel Prize in Literature (1925) and an Oscar (1938), for his contributions to literature and for his work on the film Pygmalion (adaptation of his play of the same name), respectively. Pygmalion is later adapted to the musical My Fair Lady, which later is adapted to the film of the same name, starring Audrey Hepburn! (which received multiple Oscars)

Not only did I get to see the fabulous play, I also got to learn about Bernard Shaw – who I did not know before, admittedly. Thank you the crew and PR for inviting me!

The Doctor’s Dilemma is playing at National Theatre 17 July – 12 September 2012.


The Booker, Faber Night, and Michael Frayn

As the 2012 Man Booker Prize longlist was announced a couple of days ago, I was mostly surprised to see Skios by Michael Frayn! Not because I have opinions about the book (since I haven’t read it), but I have actually got a chance to talk to the man himself a few months ago!

This brought me back to the invitation for Fiction night at Faber and Faber in Bloomsbury in April (yes, long overdue). The first of its kind for Faber from what I gathered. I arrived into the room full of people talking, with drinks and fingerfood, glass display on the sides of the first few very successful books published by Faber in the old days – from which I remember most is William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. I also met Jackie and Kim there.

We then got ushered into the next room where the readings would be. The speakers were Michael Frayn, Sarah Hall, Edna O’Brien, Chibundu Onuzu, Alex Preston, and Robert Williams. Each of them got to read snippet from their new book. I hadn’t heard of the others to be honest, apart from Sarah Hall. I heard good things about her Booker nominated How to Paint a Dead Man so it was pretty cool to see her in person.

sarah hall
Sarah Hall reading from her new book

We got free books to bring home (as you do :). They’re hardbacks of The Dream of the Celt by Mario Vargas Llosa (that Nobel prize dude), Skios by Michael Frayn, and Jubilee Lines by Carol Ann Duffy.

faber books
Faber books

I didn’t spend much time there after the readings, feeling tired and a bit out of place (most people seem to be from the publisher houses), so I headed off. And guess who I met downstairs as I left the building?

Michael Frayn!

I wasn’t sure if Skios was my kind of book, but it has a very lovely cover of Greek island that I wish to go to someday. And his reading was pretty good and funny. I haven’t got lots of chances to talk with book authors directly too, so I promptly asked him to sign the book I just got from Faber. What a great coincidence!

We both were heading to Holborn station and taking Piccadilly line, so we got to talk a bit more. I asked for his favorite books. He mentioned David Copperfield by Dickens, a British historical fiction book series (which I can’t recall right now! Why didn’t I write things down?!), and  a French author – whose name I didn’t know, and I could literally see that I lost a few points in his mind by not recognizing this author. To be fair, I probably do, just did not get the pronunciation right! I find French words are terribly hard to pronounce!

He asked me what I do (in other words, why I was there) and I said I’m a blogger. (Still find it really weird to tell people that I’m a blogger…) He was intrigued and asked me what kind of books I review and so on. (Then I felt a bit bad that I hadn’t read or reviewed many contemporary books recently…) He flipped through the evening newspaper saying that he’s looking for a play that he wrote that was supposed to come out that day (but couldn’t find it). Only later I found out that he has actually written tons of stuff! From fiction to non fiction to plays and translations and tv stuff. Wow, I’m impressed!

The evening ended as he got off the tube, telling me “good luck with the blog!”

A nice man. Happy to see his book longlisted for the Booker prize. And for me there’s a little personal connection there that makes the announcement a bit more special :)

I have just got back from super busy 30 days of traveling around Europe and in Britain with my mom and two aunties, plus 3 more days with a friend to South France. Invited to two plays to review once I got back, staying back late at a friend’s house for Olympic opening ceremony. Got sick, continue working, and stay a bit sick until now due to tiredness. So many things to do yikes! But expect a few more posts from me in the next week or so! (two on the plays in London)

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