Last week I shared my top reads of the year, and mentioned how (relatively) few books I’ve read in 2018. Part of the reason for that is that I’ve been far too busy going out and having fun! I saw 29 plays and other live productions (like lectures, or recordings of TV shows), went to the cinema a few times, attended (and helped run) conferences, and did lots of other very fun things.
So here are the highlights of other things I have watched, heard or done – catch as many as you can.
Some of these you won’t be able to catch now, though the really good ones seem to cycle round, and may be on tour near you, but these are the highlights of my year.
Hamilton – I got to see this hip-hop musical, about the life of one of America’s Founding Fathers, fairly early in January. It was outstanding. Such incredible writing, music, staging, lighting, costumes, dancing…everything. I loved it so much that I saw it again in October. Get tickets if you possibly can.
A Monster Calls – Really powerful, moving, inventive adaptation of the book I read last year. Stunning.
The Unbelievable Truth – I’ve been to recordings of this radio show before, and listen to it regularly, but the recording of it that I heard this autumn was the funniest I’ve ever heard. Fantastic! Listen out on Radio 4 at the beginning of 2019. And check out this post on my other blog (of which more later) to find out how to get tickets for other radio and TV shows.
Twelfth Night – The Young Vic’s musical version. Fantastic, joyous, hilarious! I loved it.
Pinter plays – In March, I saw The Birthday Party, which was brilliant. Stephen Mangan was superb as the menacing villain. Then in September and November I saw a couple of events in a season called ‘Pinter at the Pinter‘ – all of Harold Pinter’s one-act plays performed in the theatre named after him. There are 20 plays, arranged into seven productions. I’ve seen two already and have tickets for two more. They are really good. They’ve got a star-studded cast in each production, and the staging and curation are brilliant. You’ve got until 23 Feb to catch the last productions in the season. Highly recommended.
I haven’t seen anywhere near as many films as plays, but two that stood out were:
The Post – a very good story about investigative journalism in the tradition of All the President’s Men and Spotlight. It’s not exactly fast-paced, but it’s very good. (And there are some wonderful shots of old printing presses at work that are well worth the price of the DVD!)
Darkest Hour – a powerful, moving story of Churchill’s leadership of the UK in May 1940. I had no idea how close we had come to losing the war in those days. This film – despite a few very unrealistic moments – made me appreciate in a new way just what an incredible task he performed. I wrote more about it at the time. Excellent.
The Good Place: The Podcast – if you haven’t seen the TV show on which this is based, you really should give it a try (it’s on Netflix and Channel 4 in the UK). It’s quirky and original, and helps you think through some of the big ideas of philosophy while simultaneously making you laugh. I wrote a bit more about it here. The podcast is hosted by one of the actors and goes through episode by episode discussing the themes, the making of the episode, and other fun ideas with members of the cast, crew and creative team. It’s warm and positive and, unlike an awful lot of what you find online these days, focuses on what’s good in the world.
Prayer seminars at newday – one of the girls at church went to the youth conference newday for the first time this year. When I asked her how it was, she said the highlight had been the prayer seminars. She had intended to dip into a few different seminar streams over the week and hear a range of topics, but she found the first prayer one so helpful she decided to stay. “I didn’t know there was so much you could learn about how to pray,” she told me. “No-one ever told me that it was something you could learn before.” On her recommendation I checked them out and found them really helpful. I hope you will too.
The party is saved by the poor – This was the afternoon keynote speech at the Jubilee+ (churches and social action) conference this year. It was outstanding. A really powerful, prophetic message reminding the Church that we should not neglect the vast numbers of people on our estates who are crying out for the hope that only Jesus can offer. Find it at the link above (audio or video) and the seminars and the morning keynote (which was also excellent) on the Jubilee+ website.
Design Matters, with Tommy Kail – Tommy is one of the core team who created Hamilton. They are a fantastic team – really talented people who love each other deeply and are so secure in their work and ability that they are able to take critique from each other (and others). Their passion is to make the best thing possible out of all the available ideas, not to see their own idea realised. There are lots of interviews with different members of the team – Lin Manuel Miranda, Alex Lacamoire, Andy Blankenbuehler and Thomas Kail – that you can find with a quick search (this is an excellent video interview with the whole team), but this Design Matters interview with Tommy is probably my favourite. It is deep and detailed and really gives a sense of what these guys are like.
As you know, I adore London, partly for its history, beauty and architecture, but also for the incredible variety of things there are to do all the time – many of them free. People are always asking how I find these things, and my answer is usually ‘Twitter, and specifically Londonist on Twitter‘. But for those who don’t want to have to keep a beady eye on Londonist to find out what there is to do, I’ve started blogging about my favourite ‘jolly jaunts‘. Since mid-January I have posted almost every week, giving one idea a week for quirky things you might never have come across. I don’t feature the main museums, sights and attractions, because you know about them already. I feature smaller museums, brilliant buildings, and all sorts of other things to do while you’re out and about.
I try to avoid one-off things there, because I want it to be useful for visitors to London any time, so one thing you won’t have seen covered was the most hilarious and random thing I did all year: Chubby Cloud.
For London Fashion Week the designer Anya Hindmarch created the world’s largest beanbag, installed it in Banquetting House (almost filling the huge room), and organised a series of public events. I was very torn between hearing Claudia Winkelmann read bedtime stories, and hearing Zeb Soanes read The Shipping Forecast, but in the end plumped for the Shipping Forecast as being marginally more odd and British! It was hilarious, but also very relaxing! We all had to wear white overalls, to protect the bean bag, and it was all lots of fun. Once we climbed on and found our spot, though, everyone naturally settled down and became really quiet and reflective. The room has an amazing ceiling, painted by Rubens, so lying back on the ‘cloud’ was a great way to appreciate it.
Zeb stood up in front of the big red throne that you can see in the picture, and read that day’s shipping forecast. He’s one of the regular readers on Radio 4, and has a wonderful deep, soothing, resonant voice. It was definitely one of the oddest things I’ve ever done (though my best friend pointed out that visiting Jeremy Bentham, and his head, were strong contenders). I thin this was a total one-off, but if I hear of anything like it again, I’ll feature it on Jolly Jaunts.
So that’s my fun, quirky, varied year! How has yours been? What’s the most random and fun thing you did this year? What moved you or inspired you? And what are you looking forward to in 2019? I hope you have a brilliant year, whatever it holds.