On Luck

Gill and elephantsThis is me just a month ago on my 32nd birthday, gazing out across the impressive Dzanga Bai at some 30 odd elephants splashing about contentedly in the mud. At the time I’d been waiting a week for my insurance company to arrange my repatriation home from the tiny town of Bayanga in the middle of the Central African rainforest, during which period I agonised constantly over whether the decision to abandon my work and return home had been the right one. I was worried I was being a hypochondriac, that I wasn’t exercising the kind of toughness necessary for my anthropological fieldwork, that I was giving up my last opportunity to get any really significant research done. As it turned out, I got out in just the nick of time – if I’d delayed even a few more days it could have been disastrous. In this, I consider myself to have been incredibly lucky.

It’s an odd thing, to stare both good and bad luck in the face at the same time and to wonder very seriously which of the two is on your side. Over the past few years I’ve proved to be a bit of a medical enigma – I’m a short, non-smoking woman whose lungs sometimes mysteriously collapse; I’m a 32-year-old who’s just been diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer, a disease that doesn’t normally affect people under 50. With regards to both these conditions, the only explanation doctors have been able to give me for why I’ve ended up with them is “just bad luck”. And yet, at the same time I feel like I’ve been extraordinarily lucky – I seem to have an uncanny sense for when I need to get the hell out of whatever remote part of the world I’m in and on a plane home. Which means I’m still here, and I’m still fighting on. I’ve seen some extraordinary things and had some incredible adventures over the last 32 years I’ve been drifting about the planet, and on the way I appear to have made the most amazing friends in all the cosmos.

I’m now reaching the end of my first chemo cycle. It was, thankfully, nowhere near as bad as I was expecting, but equally it’s just the beginning of a very long journey and I have no illusions that it isn’t going to be a tough slog whose ultimate outcome is also going to come down, at the end of the day, to a whole lot of luck. But whichsoever way that luck falls, in the meantime I intend to try and focus on whatever good fortune I find in the day-to-day as hard as I can. Sometimes, I know, that’ll be difficult to do. Sometimes I’ll feel abandoned by fortune and then in another breath I’ll feel like I’m wrapped in its arms. Because really, luck is just a narrative device that humans use to tell their stories, and I have a feeling I’ve got a whole load of stories in me yet.

Orpheus – the most haunting love story ever told

Orpheus - Photo by James AllenModern re-imaginings of Greek myths are a popular storytelling trope – my favourite of recent years being Anais Mitchell’s excellent folk opera Hadestown, which sets the story of Orpheus and Eurydice in a post-apocalyptic depression-era mining town. Riffing on the same myth, in which the poet Orpheus makes a doomed attempt to rescue his love Eurydice from Hades’ Underworld, and similarly promising a “musical re-telling”, my expectations were set pretty high for Little Bulb Theatre’s Orpheus, which was running at Battersea Arts Centre until May 17th. Luckily they were easily met, and then some, in a show-within-show format that playfully recreated a quirky, over-the-top, 1920s Parisian music hall performance of this “most haunting love story ever told”, including a live score of hot club jazz, opera and French chanson.


There was an awful lot that was awesome about this show – particularly that the part of Orpheus (in the 1920s music hall frame) was being played by legendary French guitarist Django Reinhardt, complete with enigmatic smile and suave, far-too-serious flourishes. However, the aspect I enjoyed the most was that by setting the story of Orpheus as a silent movie-style performance carried out by the aforementioned Django, along with the club’s charismatic Edith Piaff-a-like chanteuse as Eurydice and a chorus of very-multi-talented-but-not-quite-professional musicians, a lot of the humour of the show came from it’s beautifully (and tightly) choreographed shambolicness. It was like disaster theatre gone subtle – the performers within the frame were earnest, but ever so slightly incompetent in their dramatic, over-the-top movements, and there were some lovely moments where chorus members comically mistimed a dance step, or found themselves accidentally still on stage moving set when something important was supposed to be happening. It all displayed a great sense of the absurdity of amateur theatre taken a bit too seriously – with an attention to detail that really spoke to me as a veteran of countless Edinburgh Fringe shows… However, despite the tongue-in-cheek styling of the performances, the climax of the story – where Orpheus must ascend to the surface without looking back to ensure Eurydice is still following – was genuinely moving, accompanied as it was by a pounding soundtrack led by Orpheus/Django on his sparkly gold guitar. All in all, a fab show and some interesting lessons to take away as myself and my partner in writing crime prepare to update our four-man show-within-show sci-fi extravaganza for our first convention this Autumn.


Photo by James Allen.