*SPOILERS* Harry Potter and the Cursed Child *SPOILERS*

DO NOT READ THIS BLOG ENTRY IF YOU WANT TO AVOID SPOILERS FOR THE HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD PLAY, BOTH THE SCRIPT AND STAGE PRODUCTION. I fully respect the #KeepTheSecrets movement and that is why I am attempting to hide my thoughts under a bunch of disclaimer-type layers. The reason I am even putting my thoughts on the internet is because a lot of people back in Australia have asked for specific spoiler-y feedback, and obviously they won’t be seeing the show anytime soon, so this is my attempt to provide that. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED. DON’T READ ON IF YOU WANT SECRETS KEPT. Continue reading

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child! And other things…

 

So quite a bit has happened since my last foray into blogging, the main event being that my beloved friend Michelle came to stay! She came to Europe for about three weeks and arrived in Edinburgh to visit us first. It was the best thing in the world to see her (and an excuse to revisit Edinburgh and Craigmillar Castles, as well as eat lots of cake and take a very jet-lagged guest to the final night of Harry Potter trivia)

She traipsed off to Austria and Slovenia to go paragliding(!) and other fun things and Sean and I got our tourist on again and went to several events that were fundamentally Scottish:

Neu! Reekie! Celts! – Neu! Reekie! Is a monthly showcase of music and poetry and film (all very avant-garde and interesting) and this one took place in the National Museum of Scotland to mark the end of the Celts exhibition. Highlights included Liz-freaking-Lochhead, fast becoming my favourite poet of all time; Charlotte Church – yes, that Charlotte Church – and her 10-piece electro-pop orchestra; free whisky tastings; and free entry into the exhibition, which we’ve seen before but did again because it’s amazing.

Doors Open Day – similar to Open Doors Day in Melbourne – we went to the Canongate Kirk and the John Knox House. I’d been to the John Knox House before but Sean had not, and it was interesting to see it again because I had the audio guide this time that told me a bit more. We had been to the Canongate Kirkyard before – it holds several people of note, including the poet Robert Fergusson and what is rumoured to be the body of Mary, Queen of Scots’ murdered secretary, David Rizzio. But the actual church I had not seen inside, and it is, surprisingly, strikingly modern inside. It actually felt a bit nautical with the colour scheme and the various insignia adorning the interior.

McGonagall nite – a night of bad poetry, music, and speeches celebrating the life of William McGonagall, fondly remembered as Scotland’s worst poet. It began in Greyfriars Kirkyard where he is buried (interestingly, it is his gravestone that J K Rowling was supposedly inspired by to name Hogwarts’ Transfiguration Professor and general all-round badass, Minerva McGonagall). The bagpipes played a lament, and then we followed the piper through the streets to the Captain’s Bar, a FANTASTIC little pub that sits below the flat he died in. There, we were treated to more bagpipes, many poetry readings of severely awful poetry, and speeches about his life. We were instructed to stand and toast everytime his name was mentioned, reciting the phrase ‘Sir William Topaz McGonagall, poet and tragedian, Knight of the White Elephant of Burma’ – the way he styled himself. What an unapologetic sweetheart. Loved every moment!

The Palace of Holyroodhouse – I finally went to see this palace with my friend Sophie. We wanted to catch the end of an exhibition of the Queen’s outfits, currently being shown around the UK to celebrate her 90th birthday. It was a smaller exhibition than I expected (the bulk of the collection being in Buckingham Palace), but the garments on display were incredible. They were accompanied with photos of Her Majesty wearing them, as well as information about the design and designers. The Holyrood Palace segment of the exhibition obviously included all the royal tartans and the robes she wears as head of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle – Scotland’s order of chivalry. But of course, we got to see the rest of the Palace itself. It is the Queen’s official residence in Scotland, so still a working palace, but you can go through the historic State Apartments when they are not in use and even see the apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots (including the rooms where her secretary was attacked and murdered in front of a heavily pregnant Mary). Intense and amazing experience. I have a yearly ticket now, so will go back another time and do it again. There was so much to take in at once, so, like Edinburgh Castle, if you can manage a second visit or multiple visits, it is worth it. There are also the ruins of Holyrood Abbey to see and the beautiful Palace grounds, overlooking Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags.

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Other things I have done that warrant a mention:

  • Bridget Jones’s Baby! Loved it! Was worried it would not live up to the first two, but I was happily reassured. Renee Zellweger is luminous. I laughed loudly. A perfect success!
  • Went to a launch of a literary journal, edited by a friend of mine. The theme of this edition was poetry in translation, so the launch included some beautiful performances of multi-lingual music and spoken word.
  • Went to Stockbridge with a friend and visited Golden Hare Books, potentially my new favourite bookstore in Edinburgh. A beautiful oasis of calm and quiet. Dangerous for the bank account.
  • Had a corporate induction at work! Not particularly exciting, but important nonetheless.

However, the main purpose of this blog was to tell you about London. I’ve had this trip booked for months, but only found out when Michelle arrived a couple of weeks ago that she would be here too! So I’ve spent the last couple of days with Michelle again! We have continued our tourism-and-cake escapades, doing a walking tour of the Old City of London and finding the most charming little bakery (Primrose Bakery) to treat ourselves to some delicious cake-ventures. The walking tour included all kinds of historic information about the actual City of London (as opposed to Greater London) that boggle the mind, and finished by part of the Roman Wall. Definitely a solid recommendation from me! I also nerded out and went to get my one-year Reader Pass from the British Library – now I have no excuse! I have to return for study. I stayed at a hostel near to Kings Cross – six-bed dorm, free and simple breakfast, and GOOD SHOWERS for about 20 pounds a night. If you’re not afraid of roughing it in a hostel, I would recommend it (ask for a bottom bunk as the top bunks can’t reach the power points to charge your phone…)

But. But. The reason for my visit. A Facebook contact in Melbourne had mentioned months ago that she had a ticket to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child going begging. I had written off this experience, convinced when the tickets went on sale that I didn’t have the money or even the knowledge I would be in the UK when the play was on. I knew we were going to Edinburgh, but I didn’t know if it was going to work out, if I’d be in a position to get to London over six months after we had arranged to leave Australia. What if we had to come home and my money was wasted? But now, settled in Edinburgh, knowing this was happening for the long haul, I was able to seize the opportunity. I went to the launch of the play script earlier this year, got my copy, and DIDN’T TOUCH IT. I wanted the proper experience, seeing it onstage without knowing anything about the story and allowing myself to be surprised by the spectacle. I know this sounds smug – I’m sorry, I don’t mean to – and it frustrates me that this is such an exclusive experience. It’s a financial and geographical privilege that I don’t think should be associated with a story this popular. I appreciate that the script was released worldwide to allow readers everywhere to know what happens, but scripts are not written to be read, they are written to be performed. And that means that unless you have the means to get to London and pay for a ticket, you are excluded from seeing this story the way it was conceived to be seen. There are stage directions in the script that are just that – stage directions. They can’t possibly compare with the awesome and intense experience that actors, music, sets, costume, special effects, and the feeling of being part of an enraptured audience brings to the table. And enraptured we were. Spontaneous applause, laughter, audible gasping and (in some cases) swearing were all heard throughout the show from the spectators, and there was a standing ovation at the end.

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show like it. It is in two parts – you are supposed to see Part One as a matinee and Part Two in the evening, OR Part One and Part Two on consecutive evenings. Both parts are just over two and a half hours long including a twenty minute interval in each, which leaves us with a show more-or-less four and a half hours long. The actors must be absolutely knackered at the end of every day. I don’t want to spoil anything, so this review won’t, but I am more than happy to discuss in private with people that have read or seen it, or people that don’t mind being spoiled. All I will say is this: the storyline was 100% not what I expected. I don’t exactly know what I expected, but it wasn’t that. I am so glad I stayed away from the script! But it was 100% more wonderful than anything I expected as well. The magic onstage was an interesting mix – half of it seemed to be more stylized – you could see how the magic had been created and carried off, but it worked as part of the show. The other half was just baffling. We were sitting five rows from the front in the stalls with a perfect view, and I was completely stumped by how some of it was done and I was looking very carefully. The casting – utterly perfect. Ron, Harry, Hermione, Ginny, Draco and all the other characters we know were up there on stage and I might have even shed a tear or two watching them deal with the crazy shit J. K. Rowling and the two dudes she wrote the show with put them through. It probably took me about ten or fifteen minutes to get used to seeing the actors as the characters – they are all very different from the portrayals we are used to for obvious reasons – they’ve aged. But the characterisation was nearly perfect. I suppose if I had one criticism it would be that Ginny was too similar to movie-Ginny rather than book-Ginny…but it is a small criticism indeed.

The ‘new’ characters (ie the ones we didn’t meet properly in the book or film series) were wonderful, the sets were a masterpiece, and the music by Imogen Heap put it on another level entirely. Most of all, it was entertaining. It’s without a doubt the longest show I have seen and I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want this journey to be finished again.

I know some people have been disappointed with parts of it and that is understandable – this series and this world means so much to so many people. It is impossible to please everyone and to take the story in a direction that all the billions of fans would agree with. I feel very lucky that I was one of the ones who loved it, who will treasure the memory of seeing it onstage forever. I’m sure it will tour, and I’m sure it will end up on screen in some sort of format at some stage. I hope everyone who wants to see it gets the chance. I would thoroughly, heartily recommend it.

So yeah, I didn’t really sleep after seeing it. Was too excited, with it all running through my head. I should also mention that the two girls I saw the show with were lovely. They were obviously friends of the girl back in Melbourne that I had bought the ticket from, so I didn’t meet them in person until I was at the theatre. But they were great, and took me to see the House of Minalima between shows, which is the shop set up by the graphic designers of the film series. It’s like a kooky little museum of all the different designs used in the Potter franchise, from the textbook covers, to the letters, the ‘Wanted’ posters, and the Marauders Map. It is insanely expensive so I didn’t buy anything, but you are permitted to take photos! We went for Spanish for dinner, briefly saw Michelle who brought me hazelnut and carrot cake because she is brilliant, and I stopped on my walk back home to help two tourists whose phones weren’t working and apartment wasn’t open. I should have slept really well! But I was too busy thinking of Harry.

I checked out after breakfast the next morning and met Michelle at Kings Cross where we stored our luggage and browsed the Harry Potter shop (of course). Then we had a cup of tea and visited the Treasures of the Collection exhibition at the British Library. This exhibition is one of the best in London (says me, a librarian, of course) and includes original books and documents that pretty much shaped society as we know it. I think the earliest item I saw was an 8th century Qu’ran, but there may have been something(s) older. Obviously the main attractions for myself were Jane Austen’s writing desk, a draft of Persuasion, letters from Mary, Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth I, and the Brontë material, which include a mini-exhibition on Jean Rhys and Wide Sargasso Sea.

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There is so much else in there though – the Magna Carta! Gutenberg’s Bible! Handwritten documents from The Beatles! Beowulf! DaVinci’s notebooks! I would definitely see it if you have an interest in history. And it’s free! After we left the library, there was time for one final cake date at Kings Cross before I had to say goodbye to Michelle. I will miss her so much! But seeing her and spending the time with her that I did was good for my soul.

The train ride home went fairly quickly – I was devouring the Cursed Child script, finally, with the memories of the night before playing through my head as I read. Back to reality now, but a pleasant reality it is. I really doubt my next blog is going to be this exciting….

Reviews

Back in the day, I did some writing for SYN media. The old artsmitten website is defunct now, but I wanted to make a record of the reviews I’d done for them. The first was for the collection Transactions by Ali Alizadeh. The second was for the poetry collection Free Logic by Rachael Briggs.

Transactions – Review by Emily Prince

The latest book from prolific author Ali Alizadeh, Transactions, will not disappoint enthusiasts of Alizadeh’s previous work. No stranger to controversial responses, Alizadeh has been both celebrated and criticised for his unconventional use of multiple forms and the strong political commentary that pervades his work. With Transactions, the reader is presented with a set of linked short fictions exploring themes ranging from the conflict in the Middle East to the culture of victim blaming and the accommodation of the male gaze.

Alizadeh weaves threads of connection through his prose, bringing it full circle by the end of the novel, tying off loose ends in certain cases, and leaving others achingly unfinished. It is the power of insinuation that works best in Alizadeh’s work – what is not quite described, but sits in shadows, just off the page. Those storylines that remain uncompleted will sit in the reader’s mind long after they have finished the book, and it is perhaps in these stories most of all that the political commentary speaks louder than the narrative.

Transactions spans the political divide – the characters are drawn at all ends of the socio-economic scale representing various ages, genders, ethnicities, political persuasions and experiences. Certain characters and locations Alizadeh revisits more than others, and nearly all are mentioned in stories other than their own. Among Alizadeh’s strongest characters are a Ukrainian prostitute whose father’s involvement with the Chernobyl disaster plagues her new life in Amsterdam, a mysterious online extremist who goes by the moniker ‘The Alchemist’, and a nameless assassin who winds through the stories, reappearing when the reader least expects it. Paths cross and fates intertwine but despite the carefully crafted connections, each story stands strong on it’s own – how they relate to each other is not their most important achievement.

Some of the more repulsive characterisations include people who take sexual advantage of individuals displaced by war, and there is also a strong critique of an international aid organization, guilty of patronising it’s charges and ‘putting religion before humanism’ (p. 134). Transactions is filled with timely commentaries of the current state of humanity and the globe, and the depiction of refugees in these stories echoes, with uncomfortable clarity, the predicament of asylum seekers in Australia.

The benefit of fiction gives us the figure of the nameless assassin, who becomes a sort of avenging soldier, disposing of those who have taken advantage of already-distressed victims of war. While an exciting link between the stories, not to mention a desirable prism of karmic significance, this character does not hold up as very realistic next to the organic and gritty portrayals of normal people struggling under extreme circumstances.

Alizadeh uses third-person narration regularly but not exclusively, injecting one chapter with graphic, confrontational poetry that is beautiful in its composition and inherently ugly in it’s content. Alizadeh also experiments with unbroken first-person narration that borders on stream-of-consciousness in some cases. Toward the end of the book is a purely epistolary chapter and a chapter comprised completely of one poem broken into small, precise stanzas. While these are good examples of Alizadeh’s talent with different forms, the inclusion of more variety in form throughout the book would have made their placement less jarring to the reader’s experience.

Amongst the sexual, social and political commentary of Transactions are the sometimes humorous, sometimes brutal, always thought-provoking little interactions between characters. It is these moments when Alizadeh’s prose shines the brightest and when the divide between reader and story merges most seamlessly.

Free Logic – Review by Emily Prince

Free Logic, the latest offering from philosopher and poet Rachael Briggs, 2012 winner of the Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize, is another triumph for the UQP Poetry Series. Briggs has crafted an impressive collection of almost 80 poems, widely diverse in content and arranged in topical suites.

Her strength in linking poems through suites is apparent, and some of the strongest verse occurs once the linked poems have established a pattern, be it a first line copied word-for-word from the final line of the previous poem (the ‘Tough Luck’ suite, which provides some interesting play with punctuation) or a less rigid connection that links only a few key words in the same way (‘Toothfish’ suite). The human condition is dissected and analysed throughout Briggs’ work; this is done particularly well in the ‘Deadly Sevenlings’ suite, which comprises 7 poems each focused on a different cardinal sin. The suite titled ‘This Poem Is Not About You’ cleverly ties each poem back to the author herself in the final stanza, referencing her by name, or a variation thereof.

Briggs’ American roots shine through in poems such as ‘Halloween’, and her ‘Cryptid Riddles’ suite focuses on Australia – its geography, folklore, history and culture – and is an enlightening and often amusing read, particularly when coupled with the knowledge that the author is originally from overseas. Briggs is a master of exploration, delicately teasing out certain themes and weaving them throughout her prose with patience and insight. Such themes include love, gender identity, sexual maturity, adolescence and philosophical discussion. Poems like ‘The Care and Feeding of Prehistoric Reptiles’ and ‘Swampy’ leap out at the reader, their construction eliciting a tangibility that is rare to find and even rarer to pull off. Briggs wields her talent masterfully, balancing shorter, punchier poems with more languid works, and the contrast complements the collection well.

Contrast of content also highlights her versatility – while some poems investigate the mundane domesticity of the everyday:

Me in sweatpants, you in midmorning whiskers,

planning out the last of our winter weekend.

Yesterday: bad sci fi and Islay whisky.

Now: I need coffee.

Others border on mythology and horror:

There’s a black glaze monster

gazing from the shattered clay

with one red eye. Far off, the sea

cries out. Her heartbeat roars an answer.

The sometimes-repeated metaphor of animals in place of children and pregnancy manages to exist without becoming overdone, and similes appear sporadically and beautifully in lines such as:

…the snow shows no sign of calming.

Every flake is bright as a tiny comet. 

Her expertise and passion for philosophy is obvious, and is further expanded upon in the ‘Notes’ section at the conclusion of the book. This section defines various terms for the curious reader who may not be familiar with them due to academic and/or cultural background, as well as acknowledging and referencing song lyrics used. This is an interesting resource (and no doubt a legal requirement), but some readers will prefer to skip this, and enjoy Briggs’ skill with words without revealing the nuts and bolts behind it.

I FOUND IT

I came across this website ages ago, and promptly forgot how I got there, and couldn’t remember the title. After spending forever Googling things like ‘tiny gardens’ and ‘miniature gardens’ and ‘tiny outdoor settings’, I had long since given up finding it. Then I was in Readings Carlton, and saw THIS:

Naw!

Such an adorable little book, available for purchase here.

But it made me finally remember the original website I had searched for (the same website that has now made this book). Everyone check it out when you need a little bit of a boost. It’s guaranteed to make your day.

http://thepotholegardener.com/

Destroying the Joint: Why Women Have to Change the World [Jane Caro] – review

This is a literature review I wrote for SYN Media. It’s for the collection of writings, edited by Jane Caro, written and compiled in response to Alan Jones’s comments on women supposedly ‘destroying the joint’. It’s available for purchase here.

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Destroying the Joint: Why Women Have to Change the World

When controversial shock-jock Alan Jones woke up on the morning of Friday the 31st of August 2012, I doubt even a man of his inflated self-importance could imagine the storm provoked by a seemingly offhand comment he would make on-air that day. After complaining about money put aside to increase women’s access to leadership and decision-making roles along with financial services and markets, and to help with violence prevention to ensure more women’s safety, Jones huffed and puffed and proclaimed: ‘Women are destroying the joint’.
Within hours, the Twittersphere was alight, and the now familiar #destroythejoint hashtag had been created. This hashtag and the prompt response of outraged men and women is credited with reclaiming what was intended to be a misogynistic insult, and using it as a weapon in the fight against sexism and discrimination in modern Australia. Now Jane Caro, a feminist of many different hats including writer, speaker and broadcaster, has edited a new collection, Destroying the Joint: Why Women Have to Change the World, which includes contributions from 26 women along with the Destroy the Joint Administrators of the Facebook group.
Alan Jones uses words to attack and discriminate, and women are using words to fight back. The definition of feminism has been widely debated for decades, and some definitions have been less than flattering. The negative (and incorrect) connotations associated with the word feminism have helped create a disturbing trend where women are afraid to identify as feminist. The phrase ‘I’m not a feminist but…’ is inevitably followed by expressions of desire for equality between the sexes and it is this precise definition that forms the basis of modern feminism. Privileged, sexist men in positions of power and with a radio station willing to air their misogyny (like Alan Jones) have encouraged women to feel shame at the thought of speaking out (read: complaining) for their rights. This patriarchal structure ensures women fear aligning themselves with a political movement created to strengthen the position of women, lest they be thought of as man-hating, shrill, and – God forbid – less attractive to the male gaze and sensibilities.
This book uses clear cut facts and statistics, along with humour, polemic, memoir, analysis, satire, fiction and even tweets to deconstruct the idea of feminism and what it means in 2013, as well as providing irrefutable proof of discrimination against women in politics, the workplace, the media, the home and in schools. Even the penultimate phrase that started it all has been redefined – as contributor Jennifer Mills puts it, ‘women are destroying the joint, insofar as that joint is patriarchy, and it was our intention all along.’ (p. 109).
This is a love letter to women everywhere, without placing women on a pedestal simply for possessing vaginas. Prime Minister Julia Gillard is, of course, discussed both fairly and critically and contributors explain their allegiance or lack thereof to particular government policies with clear and concise detail. Senator Christine Milne’s contribution is a timely commentary on sexism in Australian politics. Alan Jones would be quivering behind his microphone and sense of entitlement to read these fiercely intelligent writers as they systematically strip his credibility to shreds.
Length does not allow for this review to cover every contribution, but examples include the hilarious Corinne Grant – or possibly her male evil twin? – in ‘A Letter to Feminists from a Man who Knows Better’, and Steph Bowe and Lily Edelstein inspire with their present-day experiences of being teenage feminists. Also focusing on the next generation of feminists is Dannielle Miller, tearing down the negative stereotypes attributed to teenage girls and Monica Dux, describing the effect misogynistic comments can have on girls as young as two years old. Stella Young reminds feminists of the sense of equality they strive for, to ensure it is inclusive of feminists with disabilities and the ways to achieve this.
Emily Maguire takes us global, with simultaneously horrifying and bolstering reports of discriminatory laws and the women brave enough to challenge them, often at great cost to their personal safety. Chapters like this make the Destroy the Joint Administrators comments ring true – ‘it’s not about the individual. It’s about the collective.’ (p. 104). This can be applied to the sense of sisterhood in support networks for feminists across the globe, but is also representative of the wider message behind feminism. It isn’t about male and female and the differences between them. It’s about the collective, humanity as a whole. Breaking down the barriers to reach equality between the sexes is just one of a hundred little revolutions that need to take place in order to abolish all forms of discrimination, whether they are based on sex, gender, race, politics, religion, abilities or beliefs. This book is one mighty, thought-provoking leap in the right direction.