Rendering a person in language is not an easy task, even less so in the controversial case of Margaret Thatcher. The ex-prime minister and late Baroness divorced public opinion to the furthest ends of the spectrum. Is it possible to reconcile these polar perceptions into one compact, comprehensive figure? Faced with this unenviable job, in his eulogy for Thatcher the Bishop of London opted to confront her controversy directly. ‘It’s almost as perplexing,’ he declared, ‘to identify the real me in life as it is in death. The atoms that make up our bodies are changing all the time through wear and tear, eating and drinking; we are atomically distinct from what we were when we were young. What unites Margaret Roberts of Grantham with Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven? What constitutes her identity?’ The Bishop’s musings extend beyond Thatcher, as he considers the absurdity of fixing an individual and their myriad, fluid forms, to one identity, to one centre of being. Can one ever truly describe a person?
Countless theories proliferate in response to David Lynch’s films.
A sublime production of Harold Pinter’s Old Times is entering into its last week at the Harold Pinter Theatre. The play – consisting of only three characters, played by Rufus Sewell, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Lia Williams – is difficult to follow. Actually, that is an understatement.
It runs for an hour and a half – without interval – and demands the constant, unremitting attention of the audience. As the narrative veers between the past and present, the relationships between the characters become ever more convolute. The past pushes up through the seam of the present; linear time is abandoned and replaced with chronological muddle. The mysteries of the present are, it would seem, only explicable by the events of the past, and as the characters recall and retell their memories from their youth, the audience trusts that all will become clear, all revealed. That is the usual form a mystery takes. But not so here. The director’s (Ian Rickson) decision to cast the two female leads as both female characters, alternating which role they play according to the night, is surely emphatic of the dynamics of convergence and divergence that characterise the relationships in this play. Critics have heartily recommended that the keen audience member books tickets for two performances to experience this role reversal. It is unlikely, however, that a second viewing will clear up any of the residual ambiguities and unanswered questions hanging over from the first. This play is tenaciously enigmatic.
Martin Amis’s writing room. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe
A couple of years ago, The Guardian ran a series that explored writers’ rooms. A photograph of the room was accompanied by three-hundred words or so from the featured author, describing their writing habits and habitat. The series proved enormously popular, and ran for quite some time. These visual and verbal snapshots are seductive in their apparent revelation of the private. They tantalise with their microcosmic divulgences. One feels that they know something intimate about the author, as we are, as if by personal invitation, permitted to gaze at the art on their walls, the books on their shelves, the discarded scrumpled pages in the bin under their hallowed desks.
‘Paul Emsley’s Duchess of Cambridge portrait is catastrophic,’ said Michael Glover in the Independent. The cheeks are ‘hamsterish,’ the face, ‘saggy’ and ‘a touch dropsical.’ Glover blames Emsley’s photoreal method of painting. It seems to him as though the painter is envious of the ‘truth-telling powers of photography,’ so has resolved to attempt the same effect in the hope that the achievement of the skilled ‘hand’ proves the more impressive than that of mere ‘machine.’ Unfortunately the clamour of critics pronouncing Emsley’s likeness to be not like-enough has virtually drowned out any positive response, including that of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge themselves.
Portrait of Captain Sir Richard F. Burton
Last week we were remembering the life of an eccentric, academic, knight of the realm: Sir Patrick Moore. As I was wading through the gloriously wide-ranging paeans – celebrating everything from his contribution to astronomy to his xylophone playing and, who could neglect to mention, his monocle – I was reminded of another eccentric pioneer of the unknown, Sir Richard Francis Burton. Though separated by a couple of hundred years, the public interest in these two knights is contingent upon the same dual foundation: their academic prestige, and their extraordinary self fashioning.