Culture Editor Olivia Boyce discusses her culture favourites in our new regular feature, ‘Culture Corner’
Patricia Highsmith – Carol
I came to the novel of Carol only after I had seen the film of the same name, released in 2015. I saw it at the Electric Cinema, a perfect venue for such a timeless film that deservedly stands as a modern classic, and I adored every aspect of it. The novel, written in the 1950’s by Highsmith under pseudonym Claire Morgan, is a beautiful and groundbreaking moment in LGBTQ+ literature, regarded widely as one of the first instances in which the ending for its female lovers is hopeful rather than tragic.
Therese Belivet, a young aspiring theatre designer (a photographer in the film), is working at a department store in the pre-Christmas rush, when she sells a gift to an intriguing woman, Carol Aird. Having been given her address in order to deliver the gifts, Therese sends Carol a Christmas card, and Carol, going through a messy divorce with husband Harge, reaches out in return. What follows is a story of tentative love, discovery, loss and forgiveness, told through some of Highsmith’s most beautiful prose.
Highsmith wrote under a pseudonym as a result of a fear she would be called a lesbian pulp fiction writer, and yet she eventually agreed to a republication under her own name in 1990, citing hundreds of letters of thanks she had received for writing the novel and ending it in a way that provided hope for the many readers whose own stories and feelings resembled those of Carol or Therese. As an English student, I’ve always been interested in the people and contexts behind a text, and Carol certainly has a profound importance for both its author and its readers.
Though the novel in its entirety is brilliant in its artistry, the closing lines remain a personal favourite – ‘It would be Carol, in a thousand cities, a thousand houses, in foreign lands where they would go together, in heaven and in hell.’ I could read this beautiful, uplifting romance time and time again.
Falsettos – 2016 Broadway revival
Though the 2016 revival played only in New York, through the power of streaming service BroadwayHD I was finally able to watch this production. Falsettos, written by William Finn, was originally several smaller one act shows with recurrent characters, but was combined to create Falsettos in the early 90’s.
It centres on Marvin, his ex-wife Trina, their son Jason, and Marvin’s new lover Whizzer, as they navigate their changing relationships during the dawn of the AIDS crisis in the early 1980’s. Marvin’s psychiatrist Mendel, who gladly becomes the object of Trina’s affections, and their neighbours Cordelia and Dr. Charlotte, make up the ‘teeny, tiny band’ of ‘unlikely lovers’ and ‘nervous wrecks’. Its two acts are a beautiful mix of lighter moments and heartbreak, uplifting and devastating moments in equal measure. ‘I’m Breaking Down’, sung in the 2016 revival by Stephanie J Block (who received one of the show’s many Tony Award nominations for her performance as Trina), is likely to be my most listened-to song of the year, and is an absolute masterclass in performance.
Falsettos also has some of the most empowering, emotional and lyrically striking songs of any musical, and its original run in the 80’s and 90’s was a powerful artistic voice at a time when the AIDS crisis was seemingly at its most devastating. The 2016 revival captures much of that emotion, remaining a deeply important show for many, and in particular those in the theatre or LGBTQ+ communities who lost friends or family to AIDS.
Tennessee Williams – A Streetcar Named Desire
My history with this iconic play is a long one. I first found the 1951 film, with performances from Vivian Leigh and Marlon Brando, and loved the unforgiving, tragic tale of desire, destruction and spiralling madness it portrayed. Blanche Dubois, a fading southern belle, arrives at her sister Stella’s New Orleans apartment in a fragile state. There she meets Stella’s husband, Stanley Kowalski, and her flirtatious nature and his volatility soon lead to heartbreaking destruction. I read the play soon after, and resigned it to a pile of plays I hope I might have the chance to experience in person one day.
In 2014, the Young Vic in London staged their production, one which would go on to play in New York’s St Anne’s Warehouse, and be screened as part of the National Theatre Live scheme. Staged in the round, it was a three hour, unrelenting and deeply powerful performance, with incredible casting, staging and technical design.
The songs it featured, with everything from Patsy Cline to Cat Power, Ella Fitzgerald to PJ Harvey, still remind me of their corresponding scenes, and I now read the iconic speeches of Blanche, such as ‘I have always relied on the kindness of strangers’, in the voice of Gillian Anderson, who played her to perfection. It was one of the first times I felt like a work of theatre had the power to fundamentally change my perception of the world, and one of the instrumental moments in my decision to get as involved in the arts as I could. The whole production is still seared onto my brain, and given the chance (or a time machine), I’d love to revisit it once more.