Wendy and Peter Pan (theatre review)

No longer are kids content with amateur panto (“he’s behind you”), in a musty old village hall. Kids’ theatre is big business, as testified by RSCs production of Wendy and Peter Pan. Ella Hickson’s feminist retelling of JM Barrie’s tale comes from Wendy’s viewpoint, and uses all adult actors.

There are sad twists. A fourth sibling (a son) dies, and Peter Pan appears like a spirit from the underworld. The children’s trip to Neverland is partly to find the lost sibling, and reconcile their fractured family. The mother and father flit, ghostlike in grief, through the children/pirate fight scenes. However, the adult subplot is a small feature.

The main events are joyful and funny. Tinkerbell is a voluptuous, raucous, loud-mouthed, cockney. Hook is a sexy lanky villain, and Smee (his bosun), is in love with him. Flying characters make the whole room the stage. Beds take to the air, the floor lifts up to reveal the lost boys’ den, and a huge pirate ship rolls on stage with cannons firing. The scenery is a character.

The doctor who attends the sibling’s death also plays the crocodile that haunts Hook – the personification and bringer of mortality. My son loved the way he crawled – wordless, sinuous, malevolent – across the stage, doing the splits, his patterned gold cloak dragging behind him. As the best authors know, the dark stuff is what the kids love – bring on the adult themes.

The RSC plans to put on all of Shakespeare’s plays in the next six years, with many filmed and broadcast on its website. They will make abridged versions for younger audiences. The RSC is reinventing Shakespeare, and theatre, for new audiences.

www.rsc.org.uk

I didn’t want a girl. I didn’t want an aspie.

I was remembering tonight that, when pregnant, I’d said I didn’t want a girl. I’d been relieved at the scan, when we saw definitively that he was a he. Now don’t get me wrong. Girls are great. I should know, I am one. But I’m not a girly girl. Sure, when I was little I played with dolls, tottered in my mum’s high heels, smeared on her lipstick. But, more often than not, I was with my brother climbing trees, jumping off walls, building dens and sending Action Man down a death slide. I once tried to shave my face, emulating my dad (RIP) using his razor blades. Cut my face to ribbons, but it still seemed cooler than any female accoutrements. Blame three older brothers for my tomboyishness.

So it was not misogyny (I don’t think) that worried me about having a girl. It was the inability to relate to girls and women. Girls and women seemed difficult, duplicitous, and untrustworthy. They cared what boys thought of them, they were coquettish, and I was the plain-Jane book-reading geek. Mystified by socialising – how to make and keep friends – I was bullied by the ‘mean girls’ clique. So, as a girl/woman, I knew the difficulties a girl could face. I didn’t want that for my daughter.

Fast forward several years. We find out that my boy’s dad has Asperger’s Syndrome (or is on the autistic spectrum, whichever terminology you prefer). We realise that darling son is likely an aspie too. His extreme quirks, fears, obsessions, oddities, extraordinary vocabulary, and extremely high IQ all make sense. No longer do I feel bewildered by his ‘tics’, ‘stims’ and OCD habits. The one where he had to lick his fingers in a particular order a thousand times a day. The one where he would grimace, flap his arms like a chicken, then jump (all in the space of a few seconds). Many more have come and gone. At the moment, his tics are mostly vocal (a lovely humming, where he goes up then down the scale again). Rather musical and rather lovely. But then, I suppose, I am biased.

I didn’t want a girl. But, I didn’t want an aspie either. I didn’t want a child who was teased by the teaching assistant, when he was overwhelmed with stimulation and would clamp his hands over his ears. I didn’t want a child who cried at birthday parties and clung to me, but would still refuse to leave. I didn’t want a child who didn’t want to go out, go to new places, eat new foods, acknowledge people or look them in the eye. One who couldn’t follow simple instructions, or would cry when being taught new things. One who already dominated me intellectually. I didn’t want a child that was bullied.

I got the child who mastered sarcasm, aged two. The child who reads better than most adults. Whose understanding of complex social situations, people’s intentions and true natures, is akin to psychic. The child who notices every little detail, tells me I am beautiful, and gives me a pep talk about how to cope when things get really bad. He is seven years old. He is as old as the hills.

We don’t always get what we want. And aren’t we lucky.

Declining educational standards

In the name of everything holy – what are we teaching our children?

A few nights ago I had a writer/editor tantrum at the following line from my son’s schoolbook: “he had a tail like a monkey, a head like a camel” and so on. Can anyone in the class tell me what is wrong with that?

That is a rhetorical question, I hear you all cry. Oh yes, it was, I cry back at you. The answer is that the sentence implies that the tail would resemble the WHOLE monkey, rather than just the monkey’s tail. That would make said animal truly freakish. If the author had written, “he had a tail like a monkey’s” that would have been correct. I assume that is what the author intended. But if he or she had written it correctly, I would have no one to be angry at today. No bile for my blog. And you would have all been so impoverished by that, no?

My Aspie son looked initially aghast when I stopped him reading, to rant about grammar, logic and declining editorial standards in publishing. But then he joined in the fun, as a fellow pedant and chip-off-the-old-block.

Declining standards. Grumble grumble. Maybe Michael Gove has a point. Grumble grumble. Bring back Latin, cold baths and the birch. Oh merciful heavens, I am morphing into middle-England’s ‘Disgusted, from Tunbridge Wells’. Twinset and pearls. Telegraph crossword.

The moral of the story, is beware what you compare.

Appalled, from East London

Scenes from a marriage (theatre review)

Nothing better than Swedish marriage angst on a rainy October night, I thought, as I left work to see Bergman’s Scenes From A Marriage at the St. James Theatre, Victoria. My new favourite theatre has 312 seats in only 14 rows. The back row is not a hardship. The first thing I saw there was Our Country’s Good, by Timberlake Wertenbaker. (Third row seats. You could smell the actor’s sweat, which is an added bonus for your money.) And an awesomely good play about theatre, race, class, punishment, education and a squillion other things. The Swedish angst was edge-of-seat stuff too. Olivia Williams and Mark Bazeley loved, grew apart, fell for other people, spat bitter words, screamed, cried, threw fists, kicked seven bells out of each other, and emerged bloody and limping. [Spoiler alert.] In the final scene they reconcile, both married to other people, for a familiar rendez vous. They have too much history to walk away from. No one will understand them as they understand each other. The theatre listings, so far, shun mediocrity. Let’s hope it continues. For forthcoming productions see: http://www.stjamestheatre.co.uk.

Why blog? Why write?

Why blog? Why write? I’m writing because people told me not to. More specifically, men told me not to – that it’s a waste of time; that no one reads blogs. Mumsnet blogfest 2013 encouraged me to start my blog. Women make me want to write. My work mentor encouraged me. But blogfest made me stop questioning whether I had the right to. I realised I could because I damn well want to. Because I love writing. Because I have things I want to say. Such as:

The line-up at Blogfest 2013 included women who have blogged, written, or been heard in other ways: Jo Brand, Justine Roberts, Stella Creasy, Tanya Byron, Sue Black, Helen Lewis, Tanya Barrow, Tania Tirraoro, Laura Bates (#EverydaySexism), Charlotte Raven, AL Kennedy, Lionel Shriver – to name just a few. Many of these women have stood up for injustice and free speech, or dared to intrude on a male world.

Jo Brand spoke about a corporate gig she’d done. The CEO of this unnamed multinational walked onto the stage then hissed misogynistic abuse in her ear (including calling her a C U Next Tuesday) before accepting an award. Jo turned to the mic and repeated what he’d said, verbatim. Stella Creasy spoke about receiving online rape threats and other abuse for speaking out about feminist issues. Do we need any more evidence that women still need to work hard, to make their voices heard?

Thanks to Mumsnet and all involved. I’m inspired, fuelled, and motivated.