Opera Anti-Review: Scottish Opera’s “The Trial”

Towards the end of last month, my father and I went to see Scottish Opera’s production of The Trial – a Philip Glass opera based on the Franz Kafka novel of the same name. I meant to write a review of the magnificent performance, but time passed and instead I decided to draw the following comic about my lack of review writing and inability to understand the precise meaning of the word “Kafkaesque”.

the-trial-comic-strip-with-text

The Curious Incident of the Lens in the Nighttime

I want to tell you about my experience of using Nocturnal contact lenses. Although not the most fascinating subject in the world, I’m super infatuated with these new lenses, which (hopefully) will ensure that I will never have to wear glasses or daytime contact lenses for nearsightedness ever again.

The lenses are worn overnight, and during this time they flatten the front of the wearer’s eye, correcting the vision so that it’s basically 20/20. In the morning, the lenses are removed and the wearer can see perfectly without needing any corrective accessories during the day. (It sounds like witchcraft – awesome, convenient, slightly icky witchcraft.)

I find this lack of daytime vision-correction particularly fantastic because glasses are utterly infuriating. They steam up in sudden changes of temperature, and collect water droplets in the rain, both of which annoyingly obscure vision. Glasses are also really frustrating because they get pushed to a wonky angle when trying to lie down on your side to watch TV, use a laptop, or read. And don’t even get me started on trying to do exercise while wearing glasses – they get in the way, they’re uncomfortable, they can get knocked off, they are unreasonably irritating!

Regular contact lenses are considerably better than glasses, but I always found I was running out of lenses, and for me, they had a tendency to leave my eyes red, dry and sore after having worn them for a few days, which meant I was back to the irritation of glasses (mentioned, in excessive detail, above).

These Nocturnal lenses, however, are better still because in the interim between wearing them overnight, your eyes get an entire day to be out in the open, which means they don’t dry up as easily. You don’t have to worry about accidentally knocking out a lens if you rub your eye, and you never have to substitute a lens for glasses if they become uncomfortable during the day – because you’re not wearing anything (on your eyes)!

The Nocturnal lenses are also safer than laser eye surgery. Even if we discount the fact that any form of surgery comes with risks, the Nocturnal lenses also have the advantage that, unlike laser eye surgery, the process is completely reversible. So if, for some reason, the wearer decides they want to go back to using glasses to correct their vision, they merely need to stop using the Nocturnal lenses and their vision will deteriorate back to where it was when they started the process. (Why anyone would WANT to start using glasses again is utterly beyond me, but it’s nice to have the option, I guess?)

There are a few negative aspects to the Nocturnal lenses, as well. Firstly, the price. Although cheaper than laser eye surgery, in total the Nocturnal lens process costs £200 – that is, £50 for the fitting process and all subsequent aftercare appointments, and £150 for the lenses themselves. This is obviously a major expense, but from my perspective, if it can be afforded, it’s definitely worth the investment.

The only other aspect that is a potential turn off is that the Nocturnal lenses are “hard” lenses, which are considerably less comfortable than regular “soft” lenses that most people wear during the day. This means you CAN feel the lens when wearing them, however, within a few days I got used to the feeling, and the lenses are not uncomfortable when your eyes are closed – and, given they’re worn right when going to bed, closed eyes are kind of the natural state. They still allow you to see when your eyes are open; in fact, my optician, who has two young children, likes these lenses because they allow him to attend to the kids if they wake in the middle of the night without having to fumble for glasses.

On a personal note, being forced to maintain a regimented bedtime routine (with the lenses being inserted last thing before lying down to sleep) has actually really helped my sleeping patterns. Each night, I set up an audiobook to listen to on Audible and find it more comfortable to keep my eyes closed while listening. This means I get to sleep much faster than I would if I was more able to be distracted. It’s an unexpected additional bonus!

All in all, I am very happy with these Nocturnal lenses, and recommend them unreservedly (especially to those who loathe wearing glasses as much as I do). I hope this short description of my experiences is helpful to some people.

eye-spy

Eye Spy

Theatre Review: Frank Wildhorn’s “Wonderland”

Last Wednesday (25th January), my best friend and I went to see a performance of Frank Wildhorn’s Wonderland at the Edinburgh Playhouse. Loosely based on the two Lewis Carroll books about Alice (in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass), the performance had all the odds stacked in its favour for being absolutely terrific: Wonderland aesthetic with Frank Wildhorn (composer of Jekyll and Hyde) music – what’s not to love?!

wonderland-dormouse

Adorable Dormouse costume

With appearances from the Caterpillar, Queen of Hearts and Cheshire Cat from ‘Alice in Wonderland’, and the Tweedle twins and Humpty Dumpty from ‘Through the Looking Glass’, the aesthetic of Wonderland was certainly present, and at times very enjoyable. I thought the Dormouse, who carried a pillow with her at all times like a satchel, was adorable. The set-design was fantastic, with oppressive grey apartment buildings in the real world and clever uses of perspective to make the Mad Tea Table, in Wonderland, seem to extend backwards forever. Even the romantic sub-plot between the March Hare and the Mad Hatter, although not necessarily a required addition, was sweetly acted and became somewhat plot-relevant by the end.

 

The overall ambiance, however, was unfortunately marred by audio problems – in particular the number where Alice, her neighbour Jack, and her daughter Ellie, first appear in Wonderland. What ought to have been an immersive introduction to Wonderland’s craziness, was drowned out by the drumkit, so the audience was kept guessing what the end of each line of singing contained:

“Welcome to Wonder-CRASH
My God, it’s half-past-CRASH
Who cares if you came CRASH
We don’t care where CRASH CRASH
You’re gonna fit right CRASH
A little fun de-CRASH
A little crazy CRASH
Don’t get all in CRASH CRASH!”

I’d listened to the soundtrack several times beforehand, and I still struggled to work out what the missing words were. I imagine it would have been even more difficult for a first-time listener. It’s a real shame because some of Frank Wildhorn’s music is very clever and many of the lyrics are amusing. For example, there is a recurring motif for the songs sung by Wonderland characters where the music tumbles chromatically downwards, invoking the fall down the rabbit hole and descent into madness. However, this can only be appreciated if you aren’t distracted trying to block out the instrumental accompaniments in order to pick up the lyrics being sung. It’s such a pity, because ordinarily the music would definitely be the best aspect of this musical.

The plot itself is somewhat formulaic, all about accepting who you are and finding yourself. Once in Wonderland, Alice, Jack and Ellie come across a magic Looking Glass that, when entered, flips a person’s personality traits, revealing the “you that you have been suppressing”. Alice’s daughter, Ellie, who has had to grow up too fast, enters the mirror and emerges as a petulant teenager; while the shy neighbour, Jack, transforms into a confident Elvis-style swinger, acquires a set of backup singers from somewhere, and finally admits to Alice that he has a crush on her.

The delightfully sarcastic Looking Glass, naturally, has a habit of reflecting the characters’ dialogue back at them, making for some of the funniest moments in the entire production:

Alice: Do you think this is a good idea?
Looking Glass: Do you think this is a good idea?
Alice: I don’t know!
Looking Glass: Then I don’t know either.

That said, the inclusion of the Looking Glass did cheapen any development the characters underwent as a result of passing through it. This wasn’t a particular problem for the examples mentioned above, which were mostly played for comedy, but the entire conflict of the first act centred around Alice’s inability to move on from her abusive ex-husband. Because in actuality this can be a serious problem that’s very difficult to overcome, the sequence where Alice enters a mirror and is suddenly miraculously cured of her trauma felt unearned and a little disrespectful.

Also, given that the character-altering Looking Glass exists in this setting, it was strange that the evil Queen of Hearts was neither forced nor convinced to enter the Looking Glass at any point and actually remained a tyrannical dictator after Alice, Jack and Ellie had returned to the real world. This seemed oddly inconsistent with the overarching theme of overthrowing tyranny.

Weirdly, given the inclusion of a past-abuse subplot and a series of dance numbers set in the Mad Hatter’s sweatshop-style hat factory, I feel the production somewhat struggled to portray the darker version of Wonderland that it seemed to be trying to create. Part of this could have been improved by making the resolutions to the problems less simplistic than going through a magic Looking Glass, but I also felt the Mad Hatter was too endearing in her altered evil form. The main villain number ‘I Will Prevail’ is a menacing threat that simply doesn’t fit with the incompetent, bossy madam that the Hatter becomes after her transformation.

Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the sweatshop number, where tap shoes were used to symbolise the grueling labour that the Wonderland folk were being forced to endure. The fact that the Hatter actually lampshaded this, demanding her workers wear quieter shoes, was a very nice touch. I liked the Dormouse here who, of course, kept falling asleep on the job, lying on her pillow and tap dancing from the floor as the others lined up around her. When the March Hare, trying to convince the Hatter that the workers needed a break, admits that he thinks the Dormouse might be dying, I was disappointingly underwhelmed. Part of this could be put down to confusion – it had earlier been established that Wonderland folk can’t die – but I was also painfully aware that in a darker production with higher stakes this could have been a genuinely poignant moment.

Still, I agreed with the Hatter when she exclaimed, “I love that cute little Dormouse!” The Dormouse was definitely the sweetest character (and, of course, doesn’t die in the end!).

Overall, I’m conflicted about this production of Wonderland. The sections that were good were extremely enjoyable, but there were several major problems that, sadly, prevented it from being a truly satisfying experience.