Looking Back and Forward

New Years is upon us, and it is the season when people are reflecting upon the year which has passed and contemplating the new year yet to come. It is very appropriate, therefore, that January is named in honour of the two-faced god, Janus, who looks both before and behind him. We recall the things we have done and, for many of us, we consider how we can do better in the new year stretching out before us. Maybe we will manage to maintain our gym membership, and maybe this will be year that we finally get those shelves up in the spare room, or… maybe not.

For me, I want to reflect upon the slices of creativity I have enjoyed this past year, from films, to theatre, to books. I also want to take a brief look at what 2019 has to offer in all these realms too, so here goes nothing!

Top Book: The Passion of the New Eve by Angela Carter

I have been sadly slacking with my reading this year, much to my own distress. 2018 has been an incredibly hectic year, having begun with an Italian theatre tour where I was either too exhausted or too busy sight-seeing to get some proper reading done, or I was desperately searching for jobs between periods of manic rehearsals on the other side of the country. It’s been a marvellous year in many ways for just these reasons, but alas, my personal library has been neglected.

However, one novel I did manage to read was Angela Carter’s The Passion of the New Eve. I had received the text on my 25th birthday, being a big fan of Carter’s work already – I had studied The Bloody Chamber in Sixth Form and The Magic Toyshop in my first year at university. What prompted me to start reading this particular work, however, was a book club I had recently joined with friends from my drama school. The Passion of the New Eve was chosen as the book club’s choice of November’s theme, Feminist Science Fiction, though to me, Carter has always dwelt more in the realm of sci-fi’s cousin, fantasy.

I think the best way to describe this 1977 work is a post-apocalyptic, semi-absurdist adventure which tackles the issues of gender and gender politics in Carter’s familiarly visceral, disturbing and darkly comical manner. For me, there are many similarities in the tone of this novel to J.G. Ballard’s dystopian works such as High-Rise and Concrete Island where the post-war industrial world of the mid-20th Century begins to crumble under its own extravagance. Yet, Angela Carter’s magical realism is unique to her. Her strange and bizarre look at the world is so individual to Carter and her premature death from lung cancer at the age of 51 is one of the greatest losses to literature in recent times. The Passion of the New Eve is not an easy read, but then none of Angela Carter’s works are – it will leave you unnerved, uncomfortable and thoughtful, which to me, is the mark of the best kind of science-fiction.

Honorable Mentions:

Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. As You Like It by William Shakespeare.

 

Top Film: Hereditary (Ari Aster)

I do love a good horror film but good horror films can often be hard to come by, particularly ones which strike a chord as becoming perhaps a new icon in the genre. However, when I saw Ari Aster’s Hereditary in the cinema, I knew I was watching something which stood out within the extensive genre that is horror.

I love Toni Collette, being a fan of Murial’s Wedding and Little Miss Sunshine, and I wanted to see her latest venture into what looked like a thoroughly disturbing film. Hereditary’s trailer achieved what many film trailer’s fail to do these days – entice their audience without giving away every facet of the film’s plot. It was just the right amount of frightening whilst giving very little indication as to what the plot’s ‘monster’ actually was, and this element of dreadful mystery is sustained in the film itself.

There is a sense of dread which pervades the film, fostered in part by Colin Stetson’s soundtrack. A mother/grandmother has recently passed away, and there is a moment early on in the film where you think the horror of this film lies in the realms of a haunting. However, the terrors of this film are not quite so simple or predictable. It has been called The Exorcist for a new generation, but Hereditary is a very different kettle of fish. The horror is at times all too real with grief and guilt being a centre piece of the film’s tensions, but the supernatural element delivers a resounding blow in the final act of the film. The last ten minutes of Hereditary are like a horrorfest overload of jump scares, gore and monster reveals. It does seem an awful lot to pack in to the final act, but for me it was a glorious pay off to two hours of building tension. Toni Collette and Alex Wolff give particularly powerful performances as a strained mother and son, and Ann Dowd plays a wonderfully menacing wolf in sheep’s clothing. In all, Hereditary gets right what many horror films get wrong.

Honorable Mentions:

A Star is Born (Bradley Cooper). Annihilation (Alex Garland).

 

Top Theatre Show: Sunrise by Jessie Cave (Soho Theatre)

Like my reading, my theatre viewing has been lacking this year. After returning from my job in Italy, I made the decision to move back home to Somerset from London. While I love my home county, the theatre scene is not as vibrant as that of London or even Manchester which has made me realise more than ever the vast disparity there is between London and the rest of the UK when it comes to theatre and other creative arts.

But I digress – my change in living conditions and financial situation limited what live theatre I was able to see. One show I was determined to see, however, following it’s run in Edinburgh, was Jessie Cave’s Sunrise. I, like many people, know Cave primarily through her performance as Lavender Brown in the last three Harry Potter movies, and this year I started following her Instagram. It was there that I became aware of Sunrise as well as her illustration business – she’s a delightful artist as well as a breath of fresh air in the world of social media where the sun always shines and nothing could go possibly wrong. What I love about Jessie Cave is her honesty; honesty about the messiness of life, honesty to herself and about her own life.

This honesty, for me, is what makes Sunrise such a powerful piece of theatre. This autobiographical one-woman show illustrates the complexities of love, the messiness of grief and the joyous, painful fractiousness of motherhood. Cave is invigorating to watch, having a natural flare for comedy but also an endearingly self-deprecating air. She discusses incredibly personal subjects with such candour and a charming sense of humour. I laughed, I cried and I was enthralled, so it’s honestly no surprise to me that Sunrise made The Guardian’s Top 10 comedy shows of 2018 – a well deserved recognition, in my opinion!

Honorable Mentions:

King Lear by William Shakespeare (Chichester Festival Theatre/Duke of York’s Theatre). When It Happens by Rachel Causer (Maiden Speech/Tristan Bates Theatre).

 

Top TV Series: The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix)

As I have already established, I love the horror genre. I love it for the invigorating adrenaline rush that fear brings, I love it for the mystery and the tension, but I also love it for the way horror can examine the taboos of society through a lens that allows for a more general acknowledgement by the public. Indeed, Mike Flanagan reinvention of Shirley Jackson’s ghost story achieves all of the things I love about horror.

We really are living in the golden age of television, and the binge watching nature of Netflix has created a somewhat different experience of how television is watched and received. I think now audiences are more accepting and accustomed to watching long story arcs in one sitting and, in a sense, I think TV series are beginning to supersede film’s ability to examine broader plot lines because of its longer running time. Film, in my opinion, is restrictive for many book adaptations, and while The Haunting of Hill House is a re-imagining as opposed to a faithful adaptation of the original 1959 novel, it still benefits from being a TV series as opposed to a film. The subject matters and the intricacies of the plot Flanagan creates are far better suited to the format of a TV series, particularly one which can be binge watched.

Hill House uses the lens of horror to explore themes of grief, loss, mental illness, trauma and family. It is an extremely well crafted piece of drama and the cast are brilliant, with particularly heart-breaking and powerful performances from Elizabeth Reaser, Kate Siegel and Victoria Pedretti. I thought the re-imagining of the primary characters of the novel into a family unit was genius, bringing with it some brilliantly executed tropes which reminded me of ghost stories like The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist and The Conjuring. In a sense, the haunting element of the story comes from how a family is marked by a tragic event, supernatural or not, and it is the emotional anchoring of the Crain family which made Hill House so compelling to me. They are our eyes and ears in a world where ghosts are real and houses are alive, and it is their heart which makes this show emotionally impacting.

Honorable Mentions:

American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace (FX). The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu).

 

Looking Forward to 2019

There are many things to look forward to in 2019. The final season of Game of Thrones is on its way while the second part of the latest Avengers film will be hulk-smashing it onto the silver screen. Despite the oncoming tensions of Brexit and the underlying fear of what stupid thing Donald Trump will do next, there are things to be excited about.

Here are the books, films, theatre shows and TV series I’m looking forward to in 2019!

Books

  • The Guilty Feminist by Deborah Frances-White.
  • The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker.
  • Circe by Madeline Miller.

Films

  • The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos).
  • Hellboy (Neil Marshall).
  • It: Chapter Two (Andy Muschietti).

Theatre Shows

  • Betrayal (Harold Pinter Theatre).
  • It’s True, It’s True, It’s True (Breach Theatre/UK Tour).
  • When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other (National Theatre).

TV Series

  • The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Season 2 (Netflix).
  • Stranger Things Season 3 (Netflix).
  • Good Omens (Amazon Prime).