What I regret about 2010

Thinking about the year that is almost gone, I realise that I have changed my mind about a few things. The first - but foremost - is Christopher Hitchens. I've seen a couple of interviews he's done since having treatment for his nasty cancer, and I've read, with great pleasure, his memoir Hitch 22. I knew him very slightly in the late 60s-early 70s, and was not a great fan. I was probably made nervous by his self-assurance - something I often felt around the golden boys and girls who hung out at the King's Arms pub in Oxford.

I made a huge gaffe once, by saying to someone who was probably an old girlfriend of his that I had assumed he was gay. One of the small felicities of his autobiography is the straightforward way that he confirms my first impression: my blushes could have been spared if I'd known then any of this boyfriends who were later to be members of Mrs Thatcher's cabinet.

My prejudice against him, which grew over his stand on the Iraq war, was wrong. Hitch is a hero. He has cheerfully faced down adversity, shown quiet courage (the best kind), and blown a cerebral raspberry to the god-bothering brigade who anticipate a death-fearing conversion to their childish theism. I wish him well, and I wish I'd always done so, as his example teaches me more about living a worthwhile life than (to quote Lytton Strachey) Mr Jehovah, Mr Jesus or any of their prophets or disciples.

         What else have I been wrong about? Well not about Lord Lloyd Webber's Love Never Dies (or, as we still think of it, despite his rewrite, Paint Never Dries). It was too feeble to go to Broadway, and though I haven't seen it again (and don't plan to, thanks) I'd be very surprised if it crosses the Atlantic even wearing its new clothes. Is it the worst thing I've seen all year? Probably.

A Dog's Heart Dog's Heart

         One of the best, though unreviewed by me in the day job, was English National Opera's A Dog's Heart by the Russian composer Rastakov - though the real point of it was the raucously imaginative expressionist staging by Complicité, complete with puppets and multiple voices playing the title role. My Russianist goddaughter tells me that Mazzonis' libretto is fairly true to the original tale by Bulgakov. Director Simon McBurney's production had the good or ill fortune to be reviewed by a lot of non-specialists who were rude about the music. Unfairly, I thought, as the score was full of quotations that added greatly to the fun, and was not as difficult to listen to as one or two of my theatre-critic colleagues insisted. You have to wonder whether a production as expensive as this, with its big band, huge cast and elaborate sets can be revived. You have to hope so. Was this the ENO's best effort in 2010? Yes, probably, though I enjoyed the new Pearlfishers a good deal more than most of my colleagues, and was one of the few critics who really liked Rufus Norris' Don Giovanni. I note that Jonathan Miller's production of The Mikado will celebrate its 25th anniversary at ENO on February 26. As I have an anniversary of my own that day, I probably won't be there to applaud Sir Jonathan; but don't you think it might have been appropriate to mark this milestone by commissioning the great man to direct another production? After all, this, and his La bohème and Rigoletto have kept the house solvent through many a year.

December 23, 2010 5:57 PM | | Comments (5)

5 Comments

Hi Paul! Like you I loved A Dog's Heart. The original novella can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_of_a_Dog - I enjoyed reading it in advance of seeing the show, but I'm sure it's just as good read after the event.

If it helps you to pray to and love an imaginary friend, why not? But don't ask any of the rational rest of us to indulge in the same whimsy

I share your admiration for Hitchens. I also do not expect a deathbed conversion, yet I do believe that he will go to heaven, with all of us, and I have written him an open letter stating it: http://bit.ly/fVWa7C

I agree with you -- as I said, I disliked (and still do) his stance on the Iraq war. I apologise if I didn't make this clear -- and thank you for taking the trouble to comment.

One of your comments is confusing. It is understandable that Hitchens stood against Islamic fundamentalism, but the Iraq War was not fought for that reason. Iraq was one of the most secular countries in the entire Islamic world. The regime change created by the US invasion actually greatly increased the political power of the fundamentalists.

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This page contains a single entry by Plain English published on December 23, 2010 5:57 PM.

Cutting Edge Reading was the previous entry in this blog.

The Critics' Critic: A Tribute to John Gross is the next entry in this blog.

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