Wearing our cultural hearts on our sleeves

A Torch Song to yesteryear
There are many plays and musicals by Jewish playwrights or that have Jewish characters at their heart this autumn in London: Torch Song, open at the new Turbine Theatre; Fiddler on the Roof; Falsettos; and Amsterdam. And we have the giddy promise to come of Leopoldstat from Tom Stoppard, premiering in 2020 (but heavily advertised all over my social channels now).

I love all the kitsch and kvetching as much as the next person ~ and Harvey Fierstein’s script still impresses ~ but Torch Song is a tiring play to watch . Perhaps it’s even best described as a Period Piece? Some may argue normalcy in gay relationships remains the holy grail, but to me, this felt very much of its time, pre-1980s and when gay men and women had very far to go to win full rights and inclusion.

Nine Elms to Battersea, the walk alongside the Thames to reach Village West next to Battersea Power Station, is quite a sight these days. The Turbine theatre is a cosy, cute little outpost in an otherwise odd but intriguing complex of cranes and high-rises. There’s so much construction , but it begs the question, for whom and at what cost? I respect and admire even how London’s planners and developers always look to find new ways to reinvent the city and re-landscape it too. But I am not sure the results are always what Londoners themselves are looking for? What cultural identity are we creating or even exploring by building this city so high into the sky?

Almodovar retrospective ends
This must have been the third, perhaps even the fourth, time I watched ‘Bad Education’, another classic film from The Master (Almódovar). With a bit of historic help from 2004 reviews from the Guardian’s Philip French [how I miss him] and reviewer Peter Bradshaw, I now feel a little clearer on the many layers of the film and more appreciative of the quilt it sews. It is one of the films of his you have to work hardest to watch, but it is a delight to work hard in this instance. A paean to post-modernism. Gael García Bernal isn’t brilliant, but is superbly well-cast as a hustling, amoral, younger brother of a heroin-addicted transexual. Yes, perfect Almódovar, with all its proud, gender-bending play on cultural norms.

Farewell to the summer
The Farewell by Lulu Wang was a bittersweet note to end the summer on, on September 21st. Like Billi, the main character, I struggled to hold all the emotion in. The actors give such selfless, emotionally generous performances. The direction by Wang is so knowing, but so graceful too. This was a vivid insight into the cross-cultural conflicts, and compound losses, plus the occasional joy too, of being unclear on one’s own identity & where “home” is. I was swept away by If Beale Street Could Talk by Barry Jenkins, but I was fully invested and immersed in this beautiful tale of the grief before loss, and the necessary confrontation of losing our loved ones. It now ranks (just) as my favourite film ~ to date ~ of 2019. It paints the most realistic and touching picture of what it means to be caught up by grief as it slowly unfolds, but the sunshine that pierces through too. A triumph.

The nights are well-and-truly drawing in now. And London’s cultural scene is giving us plenty to smile, cry and laugh about.

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