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Image result for space creative commons

IMAGE CREDIT: My Space Sim Seat by Gabriel L. Marginean. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

 

The last few years I have crowdsourced my fiction reading and have found people in my network to be an excellent aggregated recommendation service. Somehow Marieke Guy managed to read a book a week during 2016. How?! I am in awe. And some of my friends online get through a huge number of non-fiction books. I’m very jealous of that, I just can’t concentrate enough. But I do always have a book on the go and I recently blogged about rediscovering feminism, much of which was books and films.

My creeping obsession of 2016 has been space-based sci-fi.

Escapism is much needed given the state of the world. Brexit and Trump were not things I imagined or welcomed. But there’s more to it than that. I have been drawn to grand plans, to huge ambitions, to sketches of life in the far-future. I’m not one for space battles and intergalactic war. If I’m honest, Star Wars leaves me a bit cold. The books and films I’ve enjoyed nearly all include some daily life: the living arrangements, the food, the hobbies, the space ships and planet-ports and the science that becomes everyday tools and technology. So many things I haven’t seen and read yet, this is only a partial snapshot of the genre, but everything I’m about to mention has nourished me this year.

So to usher in 2017, I present to you some highlighted Films (F) and Books (B) imagining the future, in space …

Interstellar (F). Liked this, especially the end, the vision of how people might live. (Not to be confused with Gravity, which I confused this with in an earlier post!)

The Martian (F). Loved the science, and the potatoes-with-ketchup, the extent of the ambition.

Mars (TV), National Geographic. Am a bit behind on this, so no spoilers, but enjoying it very much. Again, the ambition and the science.

A recommendation led me to The Book of Strange New Things (B) by Michel Faber. I didn’t expect it to be science fiction so it felt like a genre-surprise. (Recommendation from Morag Eyrie or Jackie Carter??)

My biggest discovery was Anne Leckie, the Imperial Radch Trilogy (B). I think I found that myself. Wow, wow, wow! Far future, exploring life in space, huge vistas of history, artificial intelligence, culture and politics.

That led me back to Anne McCaffrey, the Ship Who Sang (B): older but really good, and clearly a big influence on Leckie. Speculative fiction about AI, small stories in a huge world. I have read some Ursula Le Guin but owe her a revisit I think.

Then I accidentally found The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (B) by Becky Chambers. Powerful, closely painted world, feels a bit McCaffrey, a bit Leckie. Just about to start her second book “A Closed and Common Orbit”. She self-published the first one and if you like the idea of a spaceworld a bit Dark Star, a bit Red Dwarf, space ships with the wires showing and people just jobbing it, try it.

My final mention goes to Seveneves (B) by Neal Stephenson (Recommended by Paul Walk or Mark Power or Ian Dolphin?). The hugeness of it, and the engineering, the science, and the effect of space on human culture. I hear there is a film being made, and I will be crossing my fingers they do a good job of it.

Many of these books gave me great dreams, but Seveneves and the Imperial Radch Triology painted the most enduring pictures in my mind.

Let’s Boldly Go into 2017. Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the last year I have been exploring the new wave of feminism, through light entertainment, novels and manifestos. It’s happened by accident really, just jumping one book or website to the next.

The obvious recent books that I haven’t read (yet?): Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, BossyPants by Tina Fey. There are some themes I haven’t really explored yet. This is a very anglocentric, white, middle class, hetero, able-bodied, born-female list. I know it’s only a tiny corner of women’s experience. See the end of this post for what this slice of feminism means to me.

Enough disclaimers. Let me tell you what I have been reading/ skimming/ admiring. Consider this a scrapbook of my recent aventures in feminism.

Amy Poehler. I read “Yes Please“. Somehow her feminism shines through. She’s body-positive, she likes men, she’s worked incredibly hard at being good at what she does, collaborated a lot, and she’s funny. I then found her Smart Girls initiative. Fantastic stuff here.

Other impressive campaign-based approaches are Pink Stinks, and of course Everyday Sexism.

On a more serious note, the Counting Dead Women project is important testimony to the unspoken facts about the overwhelming pattern of violence in our society.

The Natural Way of Things” is a novel by Charlotte Wood, also exploring female vulnerability and sexual violence. In a funny kind of way it reminded me of a very different novel, “The Vegetarian” by Han Kang. Difficult to explain why, but they shared a dreamy yet visceral quality. Also see the less recent Charlotte Roche’s “Wetlands“, with its uncomfortably frank physicality.

Dietland” by Sarai Walker is a great fiction read, an imaginative tour of contemporary western feminism. Flavours of Fight Club. I recommend it.

I’d still like to find more fiction about being in a woman’s body: boobs, pubic hair, periods, sex, childbirth, breastfeeding. But with humour and self-acceptance. Recommendations very welcome.

Amy Schumer is my other American comedian crush, alongside Poehler. She’s so … sassy. And if you haven’t seen her sketch The Last F*ckable Day, watch it. It’s about Hollywood double standards but she’s really rocking that theme. I love that these glamorous women are standing together to resist the stupid questions that wouldn’t be asked of men. Along the same lines, a quick mention for Lena Dunham who I wish I could get into but perhaps she’s a generation a bit younger than me. Glad she does her thing though!

I enjoyed My Mad Fat Diary on Channel 4. Based in my era, gosh I wish I’d been able to watch that when I was that age. But my real spokesperson, my experience growing up as a mouthy feminist socialist in the Midlands, is Caitlin Moran. Her “How to be a Woman” is a wonderful wonderful book.

Now: Rebecca Solnit’s “Men Explain Things To Me” is clearly important. I haven’t read the whole of it but the concept of mansplaining has been a significant one for me.

That led me to my latest discovery, “Feminist Fight Club” by Jessica Bennett. Just finished this, it’s a tactics playbook for dealing with the more subtle dynamics of the workplace. Mansplaining, and bropriation. See this great infographic for an idea of what the book explores.

A final mention for the very wonderful Man who has it all.

manwho

More where that comes from: @manwhohasitall .

My refreshed feminism

As I acknowledged above, I absolutely do not claim that this is the way to frame feminism for other women. But I’ve found my recent explorations to be strangely fortifying. I’m married to a wonderful man who breaks most stereotypes: he cooks, cleans and nurtures our two boys. I chose well ;-). I work full time in a well-paid job, and I work with many powerful women and some fantastic feminist men. I live a life of privilege. I’m not claiming victim status. But I want to inhabit my female body, my woman’s life, as fully as I can, and in a very personal way, that’s my feminism right now.

 

 

 

 

 

I live in Warwick and I have my sister and nephews coming to stay for a few days, and recently someone else asked for suggestions of what to do with kids for 48 hours in Warwick.

So here’s my suggestions …

Warwick Castle, obviously. It’s expensive but it’s well presented and there’s lots to do. Don’t miss the peacocks.

But also consider …

A walk into town. The museum is under renovation at the moment (July 2016) but there are still reasons to have a wander around. We have a good ice cream parlour, Scoopz. And of course there are independent tearooms and various antique shops.

Another easily walkable route out from the town centre takes you to Hill Close Gardens which is still on my to do list.

St Nicholas Park, known to locals as St Nicks, is a great place to go with kids 2 to 12. There’s a cafe, a park and a mini funfair. When it’s hot the splash pool is open. There’s a boat club with pedalos and rowboats to hire. Bring a picnic: there’s a sainsburys local in easy walking distance.

Just close to St Nicks is St Johns House Museum which focuses on childhood: toys and schooldays. Its free and well worth a look, especially good for cross-generational reminiscing.

Another cut through from St Nicks and you can find a Portuguese cafe that serves very lovely pastries.

Another route out from the town centre takes you to Hill Close Gardens which is still on my to do list.

If you’ve got a car …

Hatton World . Increasingly expensive but younger kids love the animals, plenty of outdoors activities. There is a soft play with age zones, even teenagers will enjoy the drop slides.

Charlecote Park is surprisingly close, it has stags and the usual National Trust ingredients.

Further afield …

Stratford Upon Avon one way, Leamington Spa the other: buses or trains to both. Coventry a bit further but the Transport Museum and Herbert Gallery are both great.

So!

Enough to keep anyone busy for days. We’ve lived here for 8 years and still haven’t done everything.

Warwick friends, what have I missed? Share your top tips in the comments!

 

 

This is my third post in a series of “TWEETS I Never Sent”: I did my first from Jersey, two years ago I did one from near Glasgow and this year we went near Edinburgh. To be honest it’s nothing to do with twitter any more, except that I stayed mostly offline. We had a hilariously bad camping trip last year but I feel guilty I never alerted environmental health to that site so I remained silent.

So, here’s what happened on our family holiday this week.

How to go from warwick to york to just-east-of-edinburgh with two young kids and still have fun (tweetsins #3)

Tried not to faff about what things I forgot to pack. Top tip: definitely don’t keep asking your husband if “we” remembered to pack the books/inhaler/gin. Either “we” did or we didn’t, and if we didn’t, apparently there are shops and even chemists up north. Next tip: keep checking the paper map and correlating with google maps on your mobile, unless you’re coming to an important junction in your journey, in which case ensure you are deep in thought about work stuff that you promised yourself you wouldn’t think about. Pretend you lost your signal at the crucial moment and make a mental note to zone into the holiday. This is quality time with your family.

Note to self: Two hours into your journey you will remember that quality time with your family entails listening to your sons arguing about the powers, parentage and real names of superheroes. It’s fine until they get really angry with each other and you make the mistake of suggesting that it’s not really that important whether antman’s dad was an archaeologist. At which point they turn their anger on you, and harmony is restored between them.

York was mainly hairdressers and tapas, which was nice. We didn’t go to the Jorvik Viking centre because the boys are currently scared of “models”, i.e lifesize people statues, and they’d have lasted 3 minutes.

The next day we went to Alnwick Castle. In the knights quest area, upon interrogation by the wandmaker on where they were from, elder son announced “We have come from Travelodge”. There was a hagrid and a harry potter talking. Youngest managed the requisite three minutes before screaming towards me and sobbing “I don’t like it, mum, its freaking me out”. Also at the castle were ridiculously ornate ceilings in the state rooms which put me and Tim into a mild mannered class war, but we sedated ourselves with icecream and the smugness of having chosen a good place to stop off on route to scotland.

During this journey we learnt that our youngest is quite an expert on vampires, ghosts and superheroes. He absorbs stories like a sponge. On mastermind his specialist subject would be “things that don’t actually exist”. We are very proud.

By Saturday evening we’re settled into our wooden lodge in a holiday park by the sea. We’re right next to a burn* and a little wooden footbridge. There is a resident duck. *Apparently “burn” is the correct scots word for a river/stream thing. Happy Days 🙂

Despite having a lovely time, over a week I manage to indulge in my habitual addiction: fretting. So far the list includes:

  • work stuff I promised myself I wouldn’t think about
  • my hairy chin (this anxiety sometimes rises to the extent of ruining a happy half hour)
  • my black tooth
  • whether I had set up a direct debit payment to my credit card (it turns out “we” had)
  • my hairy knees that I should have shaved (this was at the forefront of my mind for an hour on the way to the zoo)
  • the possibility that my choir performance will clash with tim’s aikido meal. in december.
  • something terrible happening to the children (there are many versions of this anxiety, illness, accident and abduction have all featured this week)
  • a particular specialism this week:anxiety about people falling into water (please see below for details)

We stay local on sunday and do a lovely nature walk, without any nettle stings, falling into streams or getting attacked by wasps. We do a lot of imagining about the ferns and the dinosaurs, and a little reassurance is required that it was all very long ago.

Monday is a family park, and it’s actually fun. There are a wide variety of ways for a child to injure themselves. My children avoid all of them, others are not so lucky. One poor kid gets his face scraped by a hay bale but his mum doesn’t seem too bothered. So that’s alright then.

On Tuesday near a dangerously tall harbour wall in North Berwick we eat lobster, crab and fish and chips. And there is a very cool steampunk cafe where we sit on unusual furniture and have good coffee and unusual cake.

On Wednesday, Edinburgh is busy with festival season and full of people with too much confidence. Good for them. We ate fudge on the way home.

Edinburgh Zoo on Thursday is busy with irresponsible parents letting their children climb in dangerous places. Luckily there are some good animals to watch so I do my best to zone out of catastrophic thinking and watch penguins. Here’s a question: that anxious bladder-tensing feel that we get when we’re high up or watching someone high up: do other apes get that? Tim suggests they probably do have that in situations that are dangerous to them. Do they get that watching another ape in a dangerous situation?

Friday: Berwick upon Tweed which has a strange faded elegance to it: it felt like a place of ghosts, and then a brief stop in St Abbs which was full of divers and a gang of teenagers running too close to the harbours edge.

Spent today driving back down through the north east sampling the bland delights of multiple service stations along the way. And home. Indian takeaway. And press publish!

New year, new project. I decided to start a new blog where I can talk about playing the piano. Quite straightforward objective: somewhere to write about why I play, how I play, and hopefully to give me a focus for my playing. So here it is:

https://amberpiano.wordpress.com/

and we’ll see how it goes.

piano keyboad

Well hello there.

On my amberatwarwick blog I’ve just announced our team’s new website.

I am itching to get blogging again, but struggling to find time. Lots of worky things on my mind: lecture capture is turning out to be very interesting, I’d love to learn how to work with linked data but I probably don’t have the foundations, I’ve been pondering the nature of learning technologists, prompted by Sheila McNeill’s post, and thinking about what it means to manage a team of learning technologists. Also I need to start christmas shopping. And do some ironing. So I don’t think I’ll be blogging again quite yet or it will all come out in a big unstructured thoughtvomit.

In the meantime, I’ll share some of my favourite online things in case you might like them too:

I notice that google+ circles seems to be picking up again, in my networks at least. I’m tweeting less than I used to, but still love twitter. I’d like to get into reddit but I suspect I would become obsessive about it. I’ve been experimenting with a pinterest board while I daydream about redecorating the lounge.

If only decorating was as easy as in the Sims. Should I tell you my husband made a copy of our house in the sims? Oh yes he did.

20131013_224246

How terrifying is that!?

 

I wasn’t watching Jamie Oliver talking about poor people’s food habits last night, but I spotted some annoyance so I went to find out, and am 100% with Alex Andreou’s piece in the Guardian. I can testify that “poor people’s bread does not go stale, it goes mouldy”. In pursuit of the perfect bread-and-gruyere-topped onion soup, I made several attempts to catch my sliced wrapped loaf at the optimum staleness. I  eventually once bought a bread stick specifically to slice, leave out for the day. This for an allegedly peasant dish.

The point Andreou raises, though, is a serious one. It is all too easy to judge people and find them wanting.

Since becoming a mum I have felt pressure more than ever before to conform to other people’s views of how I should run my life. It adds up to a pretty lengthy list of things about which I feel guilty, inadequate and even neglectful.

The List of Things I am Supposed to Feel Guilty About

 

The Baby Years

  • I didn’t stick to a feeding/sleeping routine. Sorry, Gina Ford.
  • I dared to look my babies in the eye when I fed them at night. Sorry again, Gina.
  • I used disposable nappies. Because my house at the time didn’t have much radiator/airing space for cloth nappies, and because I worried about keeping up with the washing. And because £80 for a starter kit felt a lot more that the hundreds I eventually drip fed the supermarkets.
  • I didn’t make all my own baby foods. Sorry, Annabel Karmel.
  • I didn’t carry around a tupperware box full of blueberries. Or quartered grapes. Or mango slices. If they were hungry I bought them something. From a shop. A banana if the shop had one.
  • I bought rich tea biscuits instead of the cutesy packaged baby biscuits. Because they were cheaper. And actually healthier, since you raised your eyebrows.
  • I didn’t take them to tumbletots.
  • I didn’t do babysigning.
  • Some days the telly was on for hours. Some days we watched the same episode of Mr Maker twice.
  • I went out with sick on my jumper. Knowingly.
  • I parked in a layby while they slept in the back, and I slept too.
  • I drank coffee and tea during the phase I was breastfeeding.
  • I drank wine.
  • I drank guinness.
  • I breastfed with a glass of wine in my hand.
  • I went back to work at 10 months, for my sanity and my bank balance. Sure, I had choices, but they tipped heavily towards working, particularly because I’m fairly well paid.

Despite all the bad, bad, terrible things listed above, there are things I am proud of. I did breastfeed them both until they were 10 months, I weaned them to be adventurous eaters. I kept them safe, I got complimented on both of my happy, well behaved little boys. Apart from apparently poisoning them with toxins and neglecting their psychological development, I’ve done ok.

 

Chapter Two: The School Years

I had thought the worst was over, but I see now that it is just beginning. My eldest is 6 and my list is already growing fast.

  • Not dropping him off at school door, because he goes to before-and-after school club and does a 8:30-5:30 day
  • Not having insightful comments to write on his school report.
  • Not baking for the PTA cake sales. I did a tiffin once but suspect the cost:profit ratio only benefited tescos.
  • Not managing to go to the cake sales. I love cake. But I love using my annual leave up for quality time too.
  • Not going to PTA meetings because they clash with other commitments that my husband and I don’t want to sacrifice.
  • Not being able to have my son’s friends back for tea.
  • Not teaching him mindful meditation.
  • Not doing kumon maths.
  • Letting both my boys eat happy meals sometimes.
  • Letting my eldest drink cola sometimes.
  • Letting my eldest play computer games.

You see, not having delicious wholesome family meals around the dining table is the least of my problems. I feel guilty about everything. Everything.
Right now I’m writing this at the boys bedtime and should be doing that. Instead I can hear star wars on the PS2 in the kitchen and my youngest is jumping around, naked apart from socks. It is 7:40pm.

There’s always something I should be doing instead of what I want to do. If I did everything on my to do list, I would not sleep. I could not physically combine full time work and perfect parenting. By that I mean it’s against the laws of space and time.

All the time I am making these day to day terrible decisions, there is a whole barrage of lifestyle experts looking down their noses at me. And I’m middle class: I work, I pay taxes, I’m married, I have two children, two rabbits and two cars. (I’m not sure where the rabbits fit in that description, apart from a 2.4ishness). I live in a nice house on a nice estate, with nice neighbours. My life is good. And yet I am riddled with anxiety that my life is not good enough. Not healthy enough, not cultural enough, not social enough. To top it all, I am overweight. Health, food, size and guilt: don’t get me started. That’s a whole other yet-to-be-written-blogpost about the “how to be a woman” section of the List of Guilt.

And so we are back to the sins of eating chips in front of the tv. How dare they. Whats wrong with carrots and hummus sticks? And why aren’t they watching Film4?

There are too many ways to be judged and found wanting. What’s wrong with just good enough?

My son wrote a message for me this morning. Genuinely, this is not staged.

I heart mum

I heart mum

“I heart mum”. Written in dust. He obviously thinks I’m doing ok.

I had a little spurt of blogging on sunday night,  followed by what I can only describe as a migraine on Monday. Rather odd. I suspect they are linked.

Anyhow, here’s what I wrote in case you subscribe to me here and missed it there:

MOOLDs: MOOCs and Learning Designs

The Academic Politics of Data Visualisation

Academics: bring your own identity

Hopefully I’ll be blogging a bit more again now, minus migraines.

 

 

 

 

At some point last week my husband Tim downloaded a new game to his phone: Plague.Inc from Ndemic. He loved it, said I might I like it. I liked it. I’ll tell you about it  …

You choose how you’d like to wipe out humanity. At first it’s just bacteria, but as you gain DNA points you get more options.

screengrab

select plague type

You name your chosen killer disease, pick the part of the world to infect first, and off you go.

screengrab

infect a country

Gradually you can choose different transmission types – fancy a bird flu? insects? or just airborne? I’ve got the most experience on bacteria so I’ll focus on that. You optimise it for different climates. The trick is to keep the symptoms low key so that the health authorities don’t notice. Then as you infect the world, and they start to notice, you spend your DNA points on building antibiotic resistance and other cunning tactics to avoid them curing you. When you’re ready, you let the symptoms build up into horrible nasty medical conditions and ultimately death. It’s you against humanity. And it is BRILLIANT! And every type of disease needs different tactics and game arcs, so it builds and builds.

The intriguing thing to me is the story behind it. Apparently the creator, James Vaughan, had never made a game before. But he had the idea, got himself £5,000 in cash, an old mac and a couple of programmers working with him (for free, I think), and off they went. He was inspired by pandemic, which I haven’t played. 3 days after launch it was a top download on IoS. The game is now a massive hit on IoS and android markets. He didn’t even spend money on marketing, it spread by recommendation. A viral viral game.

There’s a long interview with him on the Ed Tech Crew website but that was before he’d even released to android. I’d been thinking he must be an epidemiologist or virologist, but I know now he’s a management consultant. And he’s not himself a programmer, he designed the game structure, then he found the people to make it happen: programming (Mario), graphics, sound. In his job “I didn’t really make solid things, I gave advice to other people”: here’s a story of an advisor becoming a maker. It took a long time to find the right people, they worked remotely, without ever having met face to face. As he put it himself, its a “story about globalisation and the power of technology to connect people together“. He used MS Excel to programme it, to tweak the algorithms.

To feed the game’s variables, to give depth to the world’s geography he used an open dataset from the UN from 2011, what a fantastic illustration of the power of open data for a simulation tool. I’ve always loved SimCity, it increased my understanding of town planning and urban regeneration. Imagine SimCity powered by open data, with simulation models by sociologists, criminologists, environmentalists. I’ve heard of serious games and I know about simulations used in education, but Plague.Inc really brings the potential to life, and it is a properly fun, engaging, rewarding, challenging game. Imagine what else could be done. Curiosity plus rich data plus talented people can make amazing things happen, I hope this a sign of more to come.

Only a few weeks ago I was lamenting on this very blog that culturally-speaking, I don’t get out much. Soon after, I spotted something intriguing. The Royal Shakespeare Company was running a special event for bloggers, at the Swan Theatre in Stratford upon Avon (which as I had blogged, is only 20 minutes drive away, yet I rarely go to the theatre). The offer was to watch the play, for free, then meet some of the cast and crew, and blog about it. Clearly, this was fate calling. I shall go to the ball theatre.

And so it came to pass that on Tuesday 8th January I found myself a guest of the press office, treated to a performance of a Pushkin play, Boris Godunov. I deliberately didn’t do any research beforehand so I found my seat, skimmed the programme for the plot précis, looked at the bios of the actors, and settled back for the lights to go down.

First surprise: the lights didn’t go down. The music came on, performed live in the gallery of the theatre, and the suddenly the stage was filled with drunken 16th century revellers shouting, kissing, drinking, rolling out across the stage and on the walkways through the stalls. Having expected a serious-strokey-beard-russian-play, I had assumed dark, brooding, with occasional bombastic shouting. Clearly I was wrong. It was so bright I had a chance to examine the faces of the audience, who, unlike me, were playing it very cool. The lights later dimmed and the play then settled into a more conventional set up and I relaxed again.

The costumes were lavish, all heavily embroidered cloaks and trousers tucked into boots. The stage design was fairly minimal, though with a careful use of height, depth and distance. The storyline started to lay itself out: the rise and rise of a middle ranking Godunov, played by Lloyd Hutchinson the jealousy of royal nobles, the carefully PR-managed acceptance of the throne of Tsar, and the emerging rumours of Godunov’s backstory as a murderer of the previous Tsar’s brother many years before. In parallel we meet the pretender to the throne, a niave but increasingly confident runaway monk, Grigory, played by Gethin Anthony. The play returned again and again to the crowd scenes, which were unexpectedly funny, often irreverant, chaotic … a key collective character, and in fact the only character that had any real power.

RSC production information includes a Trailer which gives a good flavour of it. You can also read Pushin’s text online for free here thanks to Project Gutenberg. Boris Godunov was written in the mid 1800s but set in 1605, and that is part of the reason for including it in this season: Shakespeare often used historical analogies to make politically sensitive points. As the trailer hints, there are shadows of Stalinist Russia, and towards the end of the play I even spotted a mobile phone in a crowd scene, bringing us bang up to date. My first realisation that there was some playfulness with time was an early scene with the elderly monk in the 1600s writing by the glow of an electric light suspended on a cable. Throughout the performance there were time shifts forward, sometimes in subtle cues sometimes in great leaps.

It was this time travelling that I most wanted to ask the cast and crew about in the post show discussion. The 8 or so bloggers got to meet the 4 main characters and the assistant director to ask questions …

I mentioned my light bulb moment in the monk scene and got a reply from the monk himself, Gethin Anthony.

Some serious fashion bloggers were asking about costume, and I was pleased to hear I wasn’t the only one rather entranced by the boots. Lloyd Hutchinson said that the costumes definitely make a difference to how he acts. There is a point where they put on contemporary suits and shirts, and he said he felt his body language change. Certainly all the actors nodded at the importance of the clothing. I hadn’t known that the company is also running two other productions in parallel, so the difference between the costume, the set, the spoken style must be very important to them being able to switch hats, quite literally, from show to show.

There were some serious questions too, about Russian history, the apparent preference for autocracy over democracy. There was a particularly famous monk wrapped up in the Tsar’s family that escaped reference in this production. I think you know who I’m talking about. Come on RSC, maybe after the final bow? ;-p

But it’s when we talked about ideas of the Russian character that it got most interesting for me. The production had been advised by experts on Russian culture about what characters like Godunov would or wouldn’t do. Lloyd had questioned that all Russian men can’t surely be so smiliar, that there must be regional and personality differences. If the strong controlled style is so primary, “how come Putin cried his eyes out in public?”. I said something that probably came out wrong, that when one high brow theatre elite talks to another, they are exchanging information on the theatrical conventions. Surely, I agree with Lloyd, the real spectrum of personalities is as broad in every culture: the cultural stereotypes are about the most common characteristics or the most highly regarded, they are not, by definition, the totality of self-expression.

Image

So. Did I enjoy Boris Godunov? Very much. Did I like meeting the stars of the show? Very much. What key messages would I take away with me?

  • Costumes matter
  • Timetravelling can be subtly subversive
  • You don’t have to discuss theatre in hushed tones with long words (See how I have resisted showing my knowledge of new historicism in relation to the staging of this play? I’m not a philistine I just try to wear my learning lightly. ahem.)
  • Acting sounds like hard work
  • It is true that actors go to the dirty duck after shows (I was tempted to follow them there and eavesdrop but that would probably have been sinister)
  • Boots tucked into trousers is a good look and you should try it.

Thank you to the RSC for the chance to do this! An evening very well spent, enjoyable and thought-provoking too.

Boris Godunov runs in the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon until 30 March 2013.  More information: www.rsc.org.uk/boris.