2013 top ten, 6: Louise Machin

2nd January 2014

At the end of every year each of us at Illuminations and at our sister company Illuminations Films contributes a top ten of cultural highlights of the year. We run these through this holiday period, with the penultimate contribution today from our head of business development Louise Machin. 

1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Apollo Theatre

I saw this in March and immediately loved the innovative, hi-tech staging, incredible lighting, and sound design (above) which indicated the grid-like, sensory over-laden world that artistic genius, Christopher (Luke Treadway), perceives around him: overwhelming, busy and noisy. Mark Haddon’s cult novel highlights Christopher’s struggles with the difficulties of everyday life whilst those close to him buckle under the emotional pressures they face.

Adapted for stage by Simon Stephens, this production gives us the world through Christopher’s eyes, which is why it works so well. Starting with a great doggy corpse stuck with a garden fork, Christopher begins his detection trail, virtually disregarding those around him except his teacher, Siobhan (Niamh Cusack) who seems to be the only character able to comfort him when all else appears to stop functioning as he goes into emotional crisis. A must-see, once the Apollo has its roof back on.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird, Regents’ Park Open Air Theatre 

This adaptation by Christopher Sergel of Harper Lee’s great novel brought tears to my eyes. The emphasis is on story-telling itself and all the actors read from the novel at different stages throughout the play. Robert Sean Leonard (Dead Poet’s Society) plays Atticus to perfection. During the second half, which vividly describes the trail of Tom Robinson, a black man charged with raping a white woman, the courtroom scenes work powerfully as the children watch their father trying to defend Tom in an atmosphere that becomes increasingly heated and scary as the vile Bob Ewell (played brilliantly by Simon Gregor) faces the terrified prisoner (Richie Campbell).

3. Othello, National Theatre

A fabulous production directed by Nicholas Hytner starring Adrian Lester as Othello playing opposite Rory Kinnear’s Iago. The set is stark and brutal and I found it a gripping and almost claustrophobic interpretation of Shakespeare’s tragedy set during the military operation to defend Cyprus from the Turks. We see Cassio accused by Iago of an affair with Othello’s wife Desdemona resulting in her murder by her husband before the truth is discovered. Rory Kinnear is superb and Adrian Lester is equally marvellous; it plays out as a modern-day psychological thriller and it’s easy to forget it’s being spoken in Elizabethan verse.

4. Blue Jasmine, directed by Woody Allen

Starring Alec Baldwin and Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine is a really touching film and Blanchett’s performance is heart-wrenching as elegant New York socialite whose life begins to fall apart when she falls into difficult times, moving from her privileged married life to one of relative squalor in the home of her adoptive sister above a Mexican cafe in San Francisco. She is flat broke, as a result of her ex-husband’s (Baldwin) shady business dealings, but this doesn’t stop her constructing a fantasy life involving first class flights and Louis Vuitton luggage. Her neuroses gradually take over and before long she is spinning down an emotional vortex that can only end badly. Woody Allen does a brilliant job of carefully putting you through a witty, elegant kind of wringer and despite the sadness of it all, I found Blanchett’s character enchanting, detailed and rich.

5. Crystal Palace International Film Festival,  November 2013

Yep, you’ve guessed it, I live in Crystal Palace! I attended the last night of this two-week long event, which promotes high quality independent film and provides a fantastic opportunity for filmmakers to have their work shown to a passionate audience, including film buffs such as myself, but also journalists and film professionals. This impressive festival rotates around a range of fabulous local venues, including St John the Evangelist, a huge (and quite spooky) Grade II listed red brick Gothic Revival church built in 1878 which set a perfect scene for many of the screenings.

Crystal Palace International Film Festival 2013 poster

The Comedy Shorts and CPIFF Awards Night was hosted by TV comedian Mark Steel (a local of CP) and was accompanied by gourmet canapés and champagne. Highlights of the night for me include David’s Fine, directed by Matt Holt, Division Azul, directed by Sergi Marti, and The Hapless Love Life of Jesus Grey, directed by Simon Connolly. A nice bit of trivia: the two television transmitters stand out clearly on the London skyline, hence the festival’s logo (image shown). In 1938 John Logie Baird, the inventor of television, made the world’s first ever colour broadcast from the actual Crystal Palace site after it burned down in 1936, and the BBC still broadcast from here to this day.

6. Richard II Live, Clapham Picture House

Unlike my other colleagues, I didn’t get to see the stage performance of Greg Doran’s wonderful production, but I did bear witness to the first RSC Live offering, broadcast into cinemas in the UK and overseas in November. Produced for the screen by John Wyver, Richard II, starring David Tenant in the titular role, was simply superb and I felt that in many ways I had an even richer experience of the play than I might have had sat in the stalls at the RSC. The opening shot moving us down to the coffin below is extremely powerful, very moving, and throughout the play we are treated to wonderful close-ups of actors and key scenes that we wouldn’t normally experience. The short film offering insight into the thoughts behind the set design was absolutely fascinating to me.

7. Moore Rodin, Henry Moore Perry Green

The venue for our Illuminations summer day out was Moore’s beautiful former home at Perry Green in Hertfordshire and here we enjoyed – on one of the hottest days of the year in September – a wonderful time eating a delicious lunch at the Hoops Inn before embarking on our tour of his space. It was the first time such a significant group of Rodin works had been presented in the British landscape and also the first time that the artist has been shown alongside Henry Moore in the grounds and indoor spaces of his former home.

Arch by Henry Moore

In addition to the exhibition, the permanent collection of Moore’s sculptures were there to be enjoyed, including the Large Reclining Figure on top of the hill with sheep fields below, and The Arch which I found especially striking (pictured here), set on its own in the midst of a clearing that you happen upon having walked through a wooded area. A fabulous day out that gave us the chance to look at some art and just all be together.

8. Wave: A Memoir of Life after the Tsunami by Sonali Deraniyagala

I’ve only recently read this book about a woman who lost her husband, parents and two sons in the 2004 tsunami. Unexpectedly, I found her stunning memoir to be beautiful, unsentimental and heart-stopping. It is, essentially, a memoir of grief but what pulls you up short if that hers is a freak story, a statistical monstrosity, because none of us will ever experience what she has.

Originally from Sri Lanka, Deraniyagala was living in London with her family before making a trip back there to celebrate Christmas with her parents. Short on description of the actual events, the book deals with the fact that her family simply vanished forever in a split second, and charts her tortured years facing this impossible truth. Besides evoking her journey through denial of her memories to relishing them close to her, the battle she faces in her relationship with her mother country is powerful: a country she loves and aches for, but whose seas stole away her soul.

9. Festivals 2013

It was a summer of festivals for my family this year and we enjoyed the big (Latitude, 20 July), the small (Folk East, 23-24 August), through to very local with our very own neighbourhood 2-day event, the Overland Festival in Crystal Palace, 28-29 June. Headlining Latitude were Kraftwerk, which despite what you think about the music, was a fabulous light and sound spectacle on a grand scale. Other headlining acts were Texas and Bobby Womack, but of course Latitude is more than music and we also saw Germaine Greer and Eddie Izzard as well as plenty of the carefully thought-through kids’ zone. It wasn’t a vintage year, but we had a fun time with our friends.

Folk East is a new festival held in the grounds of Glemham Hall in East Anglia and is essentially a celebration of the best in folk, roots and acoustic music, none of whom I had heard of but that’s not the point. It was a glorious sunny day and we spent a lazy time listening to music, doing pottery and I enjoyed witnessing my three boys learning to knit – an invaluable skill for later life no doubt! A highlight for me there was the Archive Alive Mobile Cinema (pictured), which is a 22 seater digital cinema in a vintage bus that tours around East Anglia showing archive footage.

Mobile cinema

Lastly, the Crystal Palace Overland Festival has been nominated for best grass roots festival and best small festival; let’s see if it gets anywhere, but nevertheless this small but perfectly formed event, held over two days in Westow Park and in and around the heart of the Crystal Palace ‘Triangle’, is a cultural feast for music, film and spoken word enthusiasts in addition to performing arts events, kids’ entertainment, vintage clothes and incredible food from around the world. Something for everyone and really just an excuse for a party with all your friends and neighbours without trashing your house.

10. Paul Klee, Tate Modern

This exhibition has received mixed reactions, but for me, having not seen such a range of Klee’s work together like this, I found it an exciting opportunity. The show is a journey through Klee’s life and the story begins with his early professional life as an orchestral violinist, moving through his various frustrations with the artistic and political world around him, all reflected in his complex work as it evolves over the next 40 years. Klee was a meticulous cataloguer of his art and this has meant a large and cohesive collection could be pulled together for the Tate show. What struck me was how individual and inventive his work is, reflecting how deeply cultured he was. Also, that despite the economic and political turmoil of the 20s and 30s, he was able to continue to paint and exhibit so resiliently.

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