My literary week (17), musicals, movies and more

Spring is springing

It’s been over two years since my last literary week, which is weird given I enjoy writing these posts that explore the literary content or implications of other parts of my life. I am writing this one, for a number of reasons, prime of which is that I’ve not written a review this week and need to write something! I have been reading, just not enough to write about – yet. There’s been too much going on.

Now, an admission … this literary week is more like literary season, which I hope you agree is fair enough. Who says bloggers can’t invoke artistic licence, after all? By season, I mean winter, which ends this week, here downunder. Thank goodness.


Mr Gums and I enjoy musicals and have seen two this month, one this week in fact. The first, which we saw earlier this month, was Hamilton. We must be among the last musical enthusiasts in Australia to see it, but we finally got there. I loved it. Besides its colour-blind casting, I loved its Shakespearean quality. It has the hallmarks of great Shakespearean tragedy, from the great man brought down by his own flaws to the fool (in this case King George III) who provides comic relief while also saying some wise things. And, the political machinations have such relevance to today. I loved, for example, the reference to transparency, or lack thereof: “I want to be in the room where it happens”. A real treat – though we were briefly thrown when, after Interval, the actor playing George Washington changed from an average-build white man to a thinner, younger looking black man. There had been an announcement but in the rustle of everyone returning to seats, we’d missed the crucial piece of information about who was “now being played by”? We worked it out soon enough.

The other musical, the one we saw this week, also has strong literary content, The Girl from the North Country, which, as many of you will probably know, features Bob Dylan’s songs and tells a Depression era story. Given Dylan – albeit controversially – won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, it’s hard to deny the “literary week” credentials of this one. I didn’t engage with it as quickly as I did with Hamilton, mainly because the story and characters were not familiar, but by the end, the characters had won me over with their stories and the actors with their performance.


I’m just going to mention one of the movies I’ve seen in recent times, Where the crawdads sing. Yes, a popular movie, though I have been to some more arthouse and classic fare too (like John Farrow’s gorgeous-to-look-at The Big Clock just last night). But I want to mention a conversation (by letter) with my American friend Carolyn, on Crawdads. Both of us enjoyed the movie. It’s beautiful to look at, well-cast overall, and the adaptation felt true to the book. Any problems it has, we agreed, are due more to the book – the stretching of credulity and generally stereotyped characterisation – than with the film itself. (My review of the book explains why I felt I could accept some of these challenges in the book.)

Now is the winter of our discontent…

This section is the saddest part of this post, because here I want to pay brief tribute to some special people who died this season and who also happen to have some literary or arts relationship with me.

The first occurred at the beginning of winter and was, in some ways, the most shocking – because it came with no warning, and because she was the youngest of the people I’m talking about. It was my reading group’s fabulous member Janet Millar who died, suddenly, of a heart attack in early June. She had moved to Sydney but, once a reading group member aways a reading group member and we had stayed in contact over the years. A journalist by training, Janet was warm, intelligent, funny, subversive and could be relied on to enliven any group. So sad, so missed.

Then there were two people who were not as close to me personally, but who were meaningful acquaintances, Liz Lynch who was in Mr Gums’ Advance German Conversation class and with whom I’d discussed reading group experiences, and Geoffrey Brennan, who was on our local Musica Viva committee and hosted, with his wife, many lovely musical afternoons in their home. These afternoons were equally about socialising as about music, because Geoff, like Liz, was a people person. They will be so missed too.

And finally, there was ex-work colleague and friend, Richard Keys. The oldest of the four here, Richard was in his 80s. He was a loyal, warm-hearted and fun colleague and friend, whom I met him through work at the National Film and Sound Archive. We quickly connected over literature as well as film, because both were dear to Richard. After he retired, we stayed in contact, and frequently ran into each other at film events, literary events and folk festivals. I would also occasionally find a letter from him in my mailbox – containing some newspaper clipping or other about Jane Austen! Richard could also quote Shakespeare at the drop of a hat, and may or may not have approved of my heading for this section! I’m going to close here, though, not with Shakespeare, but with a quote Richard had over his desk at work. It was from The sentimental bloke which is both an Australian film and literary classic. I used it in my last message to him:

Sittin’ at ev’nin’ in this sunset-land,
Wiv ‘Er in all the World to ‘old me ‘and,
⁠A son, to bear me name when I am gone.…
⁠Livin’ an’ lovin’—so life mooches on.

“so life mooches on” … on that note, I’ll mooch off and try to finish the unfinished books next to my bed, so I can bring you some reviews next week. Meanwhile, vale Janet, Liz, Geoff and Richard. You will all be remembered.

57 thoughts on “My literary week (17), musicals, movies and more

  1. Nope, you’re not the last musical theatre enthusiast in the country to see “Hamilton.” I’ll get to it eventually.
    Much as I admire Dylan the Younger, and can recognise the long lasting artistic and cultural impact he’s had (though he never planned it, and doesn’t give a damn anyway), I think I can also recognise his limitations. I was given a copy of his autobiography/memoir (actually, what IS it?) “Chronicles” not long after it came out. I only found out many years later that I was by no means the only reader who found it “tedious in extremis.” So yes, the Nobel for Literature…things that make you go, “hmmm”…
    The attrition over time of those we care about is an unavoidable hazard of living, isn’t it? Here’s to some son of York making the forthcoming summer glorious for you.
    And finally, I nearly dipped me lid to someone in a Facebook comment the other day. But then I thought they probably wouldn’t understand the reference.

    • I meant that as an entirely metaphorical son of York, by the way…anything positive in any possible guise, human or otherwise. Recompense for the winter’s passings and absences…

    • Thanks Glen … I must say I was tempted but not driven to read Chronicles, and did hear mixed responses as you say.

      Haha, re son of York! Richard would be proud of you. As for Dipping your lid, you just never know, but you wouldn’t want it to fall flat would you!

  2. Sorry for your losses, Sue. Beautiful tributes.

    Ms. 16 and I saw Hamilton recently; we ended up getting free tickets through a friend and really enjoyed it. I thoroughly recommend Six: The Musical, too, if it comes your way — a wonderful high energy take on the six wives of Henry VIII.

    Haven’t been game to see Where the Crawdads Sing because I liked the book so much. You’ve given it a better wrap than most people I know! For me, the pick of curent films is Emma Thompson’s new one, Good Luck To You, Leo Grande. Outstanding!

    • A couple of months ago, I was at an open mic cabaret night and someone got up and sang one of Anne Boleyn’s songs from Six. I don’t know if it’s the only song she has in the show, but it’s the one where she’s outlining her rise and fall in highly ironic, contemporary social media parlance. The whole show sounds like it’s a hoot.

    • Thanks Angela. I haven’t really heard anyone say they didn’t like it. We should have seen Six when it was here in Canberra. Not quite sure whey we didn’t except that perhaps we had made enough bookings for shows and concerts. Can you even make enough bookings?

      Crawdads! It’s a problematical book I know, and I could see the problems as I read them but somehow they didn’t bother me. In my review I tried to say why. The film does miss a lot. It’s a good adaptation in capturing the essentials, but of course it can’t get the details, like, for example, all those discussions between the two policemen. Or a thorough explanation of how the crime was done but I’ll say no more because we don’t want to spoil it for the few who haven’t read it do we?

  3. I’m sorry you’ve lost friends, WG. Mine, few as they are, keep hanging on. It’s a good thing I don’t blog about going out, because I don’t, well I don’t seem to any more. I think I’ve been to one movie, zero concerts, zero exhibitions and two or three (family) parties since the beginning of Covid.

    But to continue the CJD theme, here’s some opening lines for your next literary week post:
    Mr Gums an’ me, we bin to see a show –
    The swell two dollar touch. Bong tong, yeh know.
    A chair apiece with velvit on the seat;
    A slap-up treat.

  4. I’m sorry for your losses, Sue. The Spouse had a similar sort of year last year, losing people I didn’t know well but I could see the impact of the cumulative losses on him. It’s one of the awful things about growing older…

    • Thanks Lisa … it sure is, particularly when it happens in a bunch like this. I remember when my parents, particularly my Dad, started to lose people. It’s tough if you are the last of your breed.

        • The strange thing re my MIL is that when she died at 97, her oldest friend, who lived in Melbourne and was the same age, had died that same week, just a few days before. There was something lovely about that – and about the fact that just two years previously we had taken my MIL on a sentimental journey to Melbourne and they’d caught up. (I think that was the same trip that you and I met at the NGV – one afternoon when my MIL was having a nap).

  5. It is so sad to lose one’s you care about. I lost two close friends last year. I sympathise with you. I have yet to see Hamilton having been stuck in Tassie so long. I will see it eventually no doubt. All the best with your reading.

  6. So sorry to hear of the deaths of people dear to you, Sue.

    But thank you for this post – I always enjoy the snapshot of other bits of life, aside from books and/or book related. Although I’m not a committed musicals person, I do get along to see quite a few. Hamilton didn’t woo me in the way it has others but there were aspects that I did enjoy (and the role of the King was brilliant).

    • Thanks Kate… and yes, I like these sorts of posts too, like yours, so will try to do them a bit more frequently!

      Mr Gums wasn’t as enamoured of Hamilton as I was, mainly because it wasn’t “musical” enough. He’s a traditionalist when it comes to music and he wants melody, melody, melody!

  7. Enjoy reading this post. That’s exactly what I think about the adaptation of Crawdads by only watching the trailer. I said to myself, this is better than the book which, as you mention, has some inherent issues with credulity. But of course you’ve overcome that. Anyway, I’ll be watching it with the stance of appreciating it as a movie in its own right.

    On another note, as I read this post, I keep saying in my mind, you must listen to this audiobook , combining the poetic with the musical: Miracle and Wonder, Conversations with Paul Simon by Malcolm Gladwell. Or maybe you have already. Anyway my 4 Ripple review just up. I’ve a feeling you will much enjoy this audiobook. 😉

    • Thanks Arti. That’s the way you should watch all adaptations isn’t it?

      And thanks for that recommendation. I will read your review. Paul Simon, Malcolm Gladwell – sounds a goer!

  8. There is a lot written about losing spouses and children and parents Sue, but less about losing friends – I am sorry. I recently lost a friend of over 30 years, and it leaves such a gap. It’s lovely that you remember and name them all here.

    I was taken by surprise at how much the death of Judith Durham moved me – I think because I’m of the generation that grew up with the music of The Seekers – we used to sing their songs in primary school, along with The Beatles!

    I have a friend in Sydney who is 96 and just lost her husband at age 98 after 71 years of marriage – she is amazing, and just got a little rescue dog to keep her company yesterday – she and her late husband survived the Holocaust to then live in Australia – they are a might strong generation. Their lived experience of all that goes with them sadly. Her husband wrote his memoirs just for his own family members – so his great-grandchildren have those to keep now, a wonderful idea.

    • Yes, good point Sue. Though there are some … like Charlotte Wood’s The Weekend. I’m sorry that you have lost a long-standing friend too.

      I met Judith Durham in the late 90s to early 2000s through my work. She was so lovely. No airs about her at all. A shame that her death was a bit overtaken by Olivia’s really. I remember singing their songs in my youth too … so memorable. And her voice!

      Oh, good on your Sydney friend. How amazing. My grandmother died just after their 70th anniversary. I thought that was impressive!

  9. Did the theatre explain why they made that switch of actors? Was it an artistic decision or result of illness??

    I’m hesitant about watching Crawdads. I enjoyed the atmosphere of the book though some of the plot elements did stretch credulity

    • They didn’t Karen, and the interest thing has that the show started 20 minutes late. We are guessing that this role might have been behind that. Maybe the actor was unwell and in the end agreed to do the first half. Had he tested positive for COVID? Was the first half actor filling in?

      As for Crawdads, it depends a bit on how much the credulity issue bothered you.

  10. If musicals would be so kind to have a projector screen with closed captioning on it, I MIGHT just go once in a while. I did so enjoy Phantom of the Opera when I was growing up, but I’ve been known to have a weepy, dramatic heart for tragic romance. Perhaps this is why Anne Shirley and I get along so well when I read her novels.

    Sorry about your friends. In our Christmas card last year we share the deaths of our friends, and though I worried maybe people didn’t want to read sad things, I realized friends are too special not to acknowledge, and yours sounded delightful.

    • I think you did the right thing about your Christmas cards, Melanie. I think it is important to remember people.

      Our theatre did one show of Girl from the North Country with Live Captioning & Audio Description. I think they also have radio assisted services for hearing impaired people too. I think that’s via hearing aids? But I’m afraid that I haven’t really investigated any of this in detail as neither of us need it yet.

  11. So sorry to read about the number of losses you’ve experienced recently. I do find it odd how these things so often run together for a while.

    Hamilton was a wonderful experience wasn’t it? I’d love to see it again. We haven’t been to many shows or theatre lately, but we did take B22 too Elvis recently and found that all three of us thoroughly enjoyed it. B22 enjoyed the modern interpretations of the songs by singers he knew and we all enjoyed the Baz Lurhmann spectacle.

    • Thanks Brona … it is a bit weird, and disconcerting, about how these things do come in bunches, I agree.

      I’d love to see Hamilton again too. I know I’d get so much more out of it a second time.

      And I enjoyed Elvis too …. Very Luhrmann but I like Luhrmann. He’s so BIG and in your face. Elvis’ music can carry pretty much anything anyhow I reckon!

  12. I’m sorry for your losses, what lovely tributes to your friends. I like musicals but only old ones, so I’m the one person left in the world who hasn’t seen Hamilton. I do appreciate its excellence, though.

    • Thanks very much Liz.

      I love the old musicals too – but here’s my question, when does “old” end and “new” start? Is it a period or style marker and if so what is the marker?

      • I go up to the 1950s I think. Classics like Oklahoma, Carousel … My paternal grandfather was a light operatic tenor who sang semi-professionally including in musicals, and I have a few of his scores.

        • Oh, that really is “old” Liz. I never did see Carousel so it’s not one I know but of the oldies, Oklahoma has always been a favourite. Not really sure why but so many of the songs are such fun – despite that dark Jud element. I also love Fiddler on the Roof. But like you, I think most from that era are great. What a lovely thing to have from your grandpa!

  13. Thank you Sue for your lovely words about Richard Coeur de Lion., so warm and comforting.
    We missed out on Hamilton but Richard was keen to see Moulin Rouge (probably because of Nicole). We went when he was very frail and only lasted till half time, just as I was getting into the swing of it.
    Read Where the Crawdads Sing and didn’t want to spoil the book but you have convinced me to go see the movie.

    • Oh I’m so glad Ruth that you like my little tribute (and I’m very glad you have commented.) Richard Couer de Lion will not be forgotten while those of us who knew him live.

      We saw Moulin Rouge in Melbourne last year. Two days after we saw it they closed it down mid show due to cast members testing positive for COVID. So glad that didn’t happen to us. I’m glad Richard saw some of it anyhow. You will have to go again.

      I don’t think the film of Crawdads will spoil the book.

  14. I am belatedly catching up on your blog posts, Sue. Sorry to hear of the passing of several friends in quick succession. I knew Richard Keys as he was a friend of my parents. They shared a passion for film (through a local film group, film weekends and the Sydney film festival) and over the top dinner parties (with him and Ruth).

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