MONTH END PROCESSING FOR NOVEMBER 2021
Books: Those of you who’ve been on the edge of your seats since last month, wondering which of our shortlist of five audiobooks we ultimately chose: you can relax now. At first glance (or whatever the sonic equivalent of glance is), I’d assumed that Stanley Tucci’s Taste would be a similar mashup of memoir and food writing to Grace Dent’s Hungry (which we enjoyed earlier this year), but with more of an actorly bent. That’s not quite what it is, though. Dent is using memories of meals as a literary device to connect her past with her current role as a restaurant critic. With Tucci, though, you feel like food is an inseparable component of his existence: every major event in his life is associated with something he ate or drank at the time. Frequently, we get recipes - which, to be honest, is where the audiobook format loses out over the printed page. The compensation for this is Tucci’s warm and wry reading of the text, even if he is a little too pleased with his own jokes sometimes. Still, one of those jokes looks like it’s going to be joining the lexicon at Château Belated-Monkey: his insistence that meatless meatballs should be referred to simply as ‘balls’.
Music: A new Covid variant's doing the rounds, and at the time of writing people still can't quite agree on whether we're just as doomed as before or even more doomed. The perfect time for us to see three crowded gigs in the space of a fortnight, then. Jarvis Cocker started us off at the Albert Hall in Manchester, for reasons to be clarified later this month. Technically it was a long delayed promotional show for last year’s Jarv Is... album, but he covered all the other bases of his career too: some Pulp deep cuts, a few solo favourites (people do enjoy singing along to Running The World for some reason), and even a couple of French classics from his current oddity Chansons d’Ennui Tip-Top. The following week saw a similarly delayed show finally happen after two postponements and a change of venue – Mary Coughlan at Islington Assembly Hall, also mixing up her new-at-the-time-the-gig-was-originally-scheduled record with plenty of older material, including a hefty chunk of her 35-year-old debut. Finally, the gig where we took the biggest chance was a show at the London Jazz Festival featuring percussionist Sarathy Korwar, who we only went to see because one of his many collaborators on the night was cellist Abel Selaocoe, star of our favourite/only Prom this year. Korwar turned out to be a terrific bandleader, as well as our gateway into a few of his other bandmates, such as poet Zia Ahmed and Melt Yourself Down vocalist Kushal Gaya, who brought the house down at the end by coming on stage carrying his sleeping toddler, compete with massive ear protectors.
Theatre: Mind you, that delay of over a year to see Mary C pales against the two years plus we’ve been waiting for The Shark Is Broken. First mentioned on these pages in August 2019, it was one of the hits of that year’s Edinburgh Fringe, and as such had pretty much sold out by the time we got there. A London transfer was always on the cards, but that pesky pandemic has delayed it until now. It’s set in 1974, as three actors – Robert Shaw (Ian Shaw), Roy Scheider (Demetri Goritsas) and Richard Dreyfuss (Liam Murray Scott) – sit in a boat while the film they’re working on together hits yet another delay, because Bruce the mechanical shark has malfunctioned again. Guy Masterson's production has acquired a few production curlicues since its run in Edinburgh - I'm pretty sure Nina Dunn's astonishing video backdrop wouldn't fit into Assembly George Square Studio 3 - but it's still basically a showcase for a study of three personalities clashing under pressure, all of them blurring the line between the stars themselves and the roles they played in Jaws. You could argue that the play's a little too keen to shoehorn in old movie set anecdotes (a flaw it shares with the novelisation of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood), and some of its ironic foreshadowing is aggressively on the nose. But it's all carried off by the wit of the script, co-written by Joseph Nixon and Ian Shaw, with the added gawp value of the latter playing his dad on stage. On the night we saw it, though, Shaw was replaced by his understudy Will Harrison-Wallace, who did a spectacular job in the circumstances: particularly when it gradually dawns on you what the final scene's going to be, and how difficult it must be to perform even with Shaw's genetic advantage, never mind without it.
In the meantime, your Simian Substitute Site for December 2021 is A Monkey Christmas, or at least a video trailer for the children's book of the same name. It's written by Australian author Michael Rohr, who has form in this area: his previous works include Cowboy Monkey Talks Fluff, which appears to involve a lot of farting. Hard to tell from the synopsis if this follow-up is similarly gas-propelled, though: "The novel’s brave young hero, Monkey, wakes up on an ordinary Christmas morning to find a less-than-impressive present tally under the tree. However, his initial disappointment turns to excitement as he is pulled into a journey that teaches him the true meaning of Christmas." It's out now in paperback and hardback, and available from all good bookshops, as well as crappy ones like Amazon. (Yeah, I've pretty much given up on trying to make money out of their affiliate programme.)
Regular readers, however, will already know what the true meaning of Christmas is - it means it's nearly time for my annual Pick Of The Year music compilation. And if you've been counting, the one that's about to drop is number 40 in the series. A full track listing and all the other stuff should be with you this month, as well as an explanation of why we went to Manchester to see Jarvis Cocker. And that lot should just about see us through to the end of 2021. Feel free to grumble about how the year was for you in the comments box below.