Finally got to see Henry V at the Globe. I saw some earlier installments of the franchise, Henry IV Parts One and Two, there a while ago with the same actors in the same roles.
The play works fine as a standalone, but I think it does add something to see it in series: things like Henry's suppressed grief at Bardolph's execution, and the prayer referring to his father's sin (overthrowing Richard II), only really make sense with that context. Also the play brings the whole cycle of sin, struggle and redemption to a kind of cathartic close. Though you could see the whole cycle starting again with Henry VI and Richard III.
The production doesn't strain to try to give the play an anti-war message. Jamie Parker as Henry gives a great, grandstanding performance, especially when extorting the groundlings in "Once more unto the breach, dear friends..." Also solid support from the others, especially Sam Cox as Pistol.
Overall, a good, solid production, with a confident team eschewing any gimmicks in favour of a straightforward adaptation. Well worth seeing.
Saw the new production of "Democracy" at the Old Vic, about West German leader Willy Brandt and the spy scandal that brought him down.
I saw the play before, back in 2004. The play then seemed like a commentary on Tony Blair, with the theme of a newly elected left-of-centre leader elected on a wave of optimism, being tarnished, by events. Found the play sticking in my mind, to the extent that I bought the script, something I rarely do.
This 2012 production has an older, more tired-seeming Willy Brandt (played by Patrick Drury ) and a creepier, greasier spy Guillaume (played by Aidan McArdle ). Girl B reckoned that Guialliame still wasn't sleazy enough to be like the man himself. Don't think she was that impressed, she thought the characters don't work without regional accents, and that at least one line just wouldn't be said by a German.
This time round I found the coalition politics more interesting, and perhaps more stressed. "Coalitions come and go. A coalition has no roots and no conscience" says one character. The play doesn't seem to have the same resonance with current British politics though: now that we have right-of-centre leader elected on a ripple of cynicism instead.
Overall though, it's still a good play. Decent performances, and cleverly constructed with rapid switches of dialogue between the character and absent observers. Might be a bit dry for some though: most of the row in front of us disappeared during the interval.
What I'm Reading
The Arab Spring: The End of Postcolonialism by Hamid Dabashi, who is "Iranian-American Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York City."
I often ignore subtitles (which constantly change between editions and markets anyway) but this one is important. By "Postcolonialism" he doesn't mean the end of colonialism or what came after it. In Dabashi's view, most of the condition of the Arab world is still down to the influence of colonialism, although now more down to a subtle cultural hegemony as well as behind-the-scenes state action: this is what he means by Postcolonialism
It's a very abstract, theoretical book which is mostly a semi-postmodern reworking of language, with relatively little attention paid to mere facts and events. Very heavy on the jargon:
These uprisings are neither "specific" nor "based on immediate regional concerns". They are precisely a "globally expanding chain of revolt" and not mini- or aborted revolutions, signs of a postmodernity that has run away with itself. These are signs of an entirely different system - yet to emerge into a semiotics. If the ideological grid within which "Muslims" as citizens began contemplating in defiant terms is defined as colonial, and thus the proposition of post-ideology is ipso facto the overcoming of postcoloniality, then narratively we hark back to the proposition that that modernity as a European project in and of itself was a colonial enterprise, which duly renders the post-ideological realm postmodern in the abiding sense that the colonial person has never inhabited the domain of Reason and Progress, being instead at the receiving end of what passes as reasonable and progressive in the colonized world. But "postmodernity" in this proposition means approximation to aesthetic reason as opposed to public reason, whereby the working of semiotic intransigence supplants the mimetic absolutism that in the false consciousness of the colonial condition has defined the ideological matrix of a globalized mode of knowledge production.The point of the book is his theory that basically the Arab dictatorships were really the fault of Capitalism, the Western nations and Israel. That state of things is ending however due to the "Arab Spring", which is not so much a resistance to particular oppressive regimes, or an insistence on democracy. Rather it is a resistance to a cultural hegemony of western dominance. The regime that the signs say they want an end to is not the regime of Mubarak, but rather the psychological-linguistic regime of western cultural narrative. The true awakening of the Arab Spring is not some crude desire for Western-style democracy, but rather like the awakening of an enthusiastic freshman in a Cultural Studies class, to the knowledge that the apparently solid concepts like "The West" are merely constructs designed to promote neoliberal/capitalist cultural hegemony and privilege.
He also thinks that the Arab Spring is a serious threat to Israel (he's not a big fan of Israel) which is apparently terrified of the prospect of genuine Arab democracy.
It's hard to evaluate the truth of any of Dabashi's claims, because he usually just asserts them, without citing much actual evidence beyond a few cherry-picked examples of commentators worrying about the Arab Spring sliding into extremism. It's also sometimes hard to penetrate the jargon and terrible writing, and when you do you generally find out he's "calling for a new" understanding or mode of discourse, rather than actually expressing anything himself.
On the whole, I'm inclined to think that the Arab spring was more about overthrowing specific regimes rather than a grand semiotic project.
Overall, I thought this was an absolutely terrible book: uninformative, badly written and unconvincing. However it might be that it's just of specific interest to academics in this kind of field.
What I'm Reading 2
Madame Mephisto by A. M. Bakalar. Novel in which Magda, a Polish immigrant to London tells her life story, involving becoming a cannabis dealer and several office "cover jobs".
Has some interesting aspects. The protagonist is a good antihero, equally acerbic about the corporate hypocrisy of her cover jobs, and the conformist Catholic conservatism of her Polish family. Also has some good depictions of immigrant life, including a memorably horrible Polish wedding. The drug dealing has some convincing detail to the small aspects of cannabis growing, but the big picture is a bit hard to believe.
There are some weaknesses though. There aren't many surprises, with the outcome of the book fairly predictable. There are some hints of an unreliable narrator, but it never becomes clear if the implausible success at drug dealing is supposed to be true or not. It seems possible that Magda has fantasized about an conveniently invisible success to cope with her family's constant pressure for her to marry and stick with a steady job, but we never find out.
Overall, fairly interesting, but not unmissable.
What I'm Watching
Saw Iron Sky on DVD. SF comedy about Nazis returning from the moon to encounter a Sarah Palin like US president. Made by much of the same team as fan film "Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning", this one feels a lot more professional
Pretty decent comedy with a few laughs. Effects are decent enough, not up to top action movie standards but certainly up to TV standards like the remade Battlestar Galactica.
It actually seems so professional it's not that distinguishable from a low-budget mainstream movie. The lack of quirkiness works against it in a way, it just feels like an average movie. It feels more Hollywood than low-budget movies like "Troll" or "Dead Snow".
Overall, not bad, but not that brilliant.
Got the keys to the new house, will be moving in gradually over the next few weeks as it's unfurnished. Was pretty depressing: it was pouring with rain, there was a horrible dank smell, dirt all over the carpets from the last tenants move out. Outside looks pretty shabby compared with all the bright-painted places on the rest of the street. Hopefully we'll get used to it.
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