Thursday, 19 January 2017

Keeping the resolutions and talking about books!

Take Courage by Samantha Ellis

By jove, Biggles by Peter Berresford Ellis & Piers Williams (Jennifer Schofield)

Non fiction always makes up a large part of my reading year and this year has started both strongly and interestingly with two very different biographies read for two very different reasons.

I picked up Take Courage by Samantha Ellis mainly because of how much I loved her book How to be a Heroine which I read back in 2014 and which ultimately made my best of the year list.
This book is a biography of the 'forgotten' Bronte - Anne and again I found it to be a book I couldn't put down - despite the only Bronte book I've every read being Jane Eyre!

The lack of knowledge of the books didn't matter as Ellis deftly wove enough of their plots into the biography to inform and pique curiosity but without giving away their entire plots.  I also liked how we learned about the whole family, but from Anne's point of view, in this volume - again a brilliantly rounded picture appeared. For me the winning formula was how Ellis herself kept appearing in the book, it made it feel a wonderfully personal story and I think that before 2017 is out I will read at least Anne's books if not more by Charlotte. I'm afraid that Emily's Wuthering Heights still holds no appeal whatsoever.

The second biography I picked up recently was that of W E Johns, creator of Biggles.  I expected this to be slightly more of a chore to read and indeed it is only because of work that I started it.  The library service's World War One online project this year is going to have a slight aviation theme and I knew that Johns had trained pilots here in Norfolk during WW1.

Despite being an avid reader of series fiction as a child I'd not read any Biggles (or Worrals) before and I know wonder if this was because of the campaign against him for being sexist, imperialistic and racist.

My eyes were opened during this read, Johns' links to Norfolk were deeper than I thought (although I will write about that for work not here) and his biographers make a compelling case that he was far more liberal in outlook than he is given credit for.

I've just started my first Biggles book, set in WW1, and I can see already how much his own war is retold in the stories but I will have to report back later on the case of sexism etc., however as during WW2 he wrote a whole series of books about a female flying officer who did fly I think that perhaps he was more liberal than later critics say.  The problem with the books is that they were updated/edited and republished in the 1960s and 1970s and so I wonder if this is where these ideas come from.  I of course am on the lookout for the three different editions of at least one book so I can draw my own conclusions!

So there we have it not yet the end of January and two books reviewed here and also proof that you can enjoy biographies of authors you've not really encountered before - even if it becomes bad for your to-be-read piles and bank balance!

Monday, 16 January 2017

The irony of my book review blog

I am well aware of the irony of this blog being called Norfolkbookworm when I spend much more time talking about the theatre.

One of my unofficial resolutions for this year was to write more about books and I think that to do this I am going to try and do a monthly round up of what I've read as well as talking about outstanding books as I come across them.

Watch this space as they say....

Friday, 13 January 2017

Theatre 2017: Review Two - The Emperor's New Clothes

The Emperor's New Clothes, The Blakeney Player, Blakeney, Norfolk. January 2017.

What a way to forget the grey, damp, chilly January weather!  As ever the Players have created a wonderful piece of theatre - this time their most faithful pantomime I think I've seen them perform, but of course with that very local twist.

As ever full of jokes on all levels: from the names (Sheik N'Not Stirred) to the lovingly ripped off famous productions (Miss Saigon this time) and the best ones of all coming from the audience ("Hello boys and girls" calls the Prime Minister, "Hello Nanny" replies a small child in the front row...!)

These really are shows where you have to be there to really find them at their funniest and the over enthusiastic smoke machine at the end of Act One (along with a miss behaving prop) really were delights but the whole show was funny from start to finish and it has to be said this is a group of actors unafraid of anything, including very cleverly done stage nudity.

It doesn't matter what sort of mood you are in before settling into the plastic chairs in the village hall as soon as the curtain goes up you are swept away by a tide of goodwill and enthusiasm which sets you up for the rest of the day/week/winter and has you demanding the dates of the next shows as you leave the hall.

(As ever knowing the cast means that I am always going to be incredible biased when reviewing anything the Players put on but I do think that their productions stand up there with the best professional shows,)

Monday, 9 January 2017

Theatre 2017 - Review One: All the Angels

All the Angels, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare's Globe, London. January 2017.

Wow - what a way to start theatre trips in 2017! This play had appealed to me from the instant I saw it in the Globe's brochure a while back, and I was sad that I couldn't get to those first performances. When it was announced that it was coming back for the winter 2016/17 season I knew I had to go.  I'm not sure Rebecca knew what she was agreeing to but she gamely took on board my enthusiasm and we booked seats.

How to explain is the story of Handel writing and staging the first performances of the Messiah but it isn't a performance of the oratorio, nor is it a straight play about the writing process.  It travels from Chester to Dublin and is about redemption and the power of music. It is also a masterclass in singing and composing.  It was also utterly spellbinding and overwhelmingly powerful.

I've loved (the famous bits of) the Messiah for a long time and the power of the music was made clear to me when we heard excerpts performed at the Royal Albert Hall as part of their candlelit Christmas festival a few years ago.  Hearing the evolution of the music in the candlelit Sam Wanamaker was magical. The voices filled the space wonderfully and being both an intimate but still quite large space it was wonderful to feel the music filling the space.

The two subplots, one imagined and one real, did bind the music together and being interested in Shakespeare and performance history I really enjoyed Susannah Cibber's story while the Crow's provided a valve from the heightened emotion of the Messiah.

The use of the singers as almost actors was inspired too - they personified the power of music in a very clever way whilst being consummate professionals. Kudos to them all as they had to perform singing badly too which must have almost been harder than Handel's original.

I think that you can tell I loved this piece of theatre,  I could quite easily have sat through it again that day despite the discomfort of the seats. If this doesn't make my top 10 plays of 2017 then this year is going to be really brilliant in terms of theatre.

Now if someone can recommend a really good recording of the Messiah for me to listen to I'd be most grateful

Monday, 2 January 2017

That was the year I read...

The end of the year round up for me concludes with my lists of best books for 2016.

This was a year that saw me complete (and pass) my MA and find lots of time for reading. This year the grand total was 223 books finished between 1st January and 31st December.  There are quite a few I've started and wandered away from, none of them bad enough to give up totally on - just ones that failed to engage me at the time.  With so many read I haven't broken them down (yet) into fiction/non fiction or male/female etc.

In mid December I was asked to write for the work blog and list my top reads of the year there, that list can be read here along with the choices of my colleagues. After some more reading and reflecting many of my overall choices remain the same but I have made some last minute additions and alterations - books I remembered how much I'd loved them as I added the books from my journal to my spreadsheet.

My overall top fiction book of the year does go to my friend James' The Apprentice Witch.  It was such a happy read and one that I want to share with so many people that how can it not be my top book?  Before reading it I knew nothing about the book apart from the author but I know that as a child I'd have read and reread this one loads - it ticks all of my boxes, and while it is the first of a series it is also a complete story which is wonderful.

In non fiction my top book is actually one I read last year but due to restrictions that came with it I couldn't talk about it then. Philippe Sands East West Street went on to gain lots of praise (and prizes). It isn't an easy read but by heck has it stayed with me. I'm really sad that we were away when Sands came to Norwich as I'd like to have told him in person just what a brilliant book I found this one.

The rest of my lists have been really hard to compile - it seems that I have had a really good reading year after all!

Top Young Adult Reads 

Am I Normal Yet? - Holly Bourne. This was a World Book Night title and I read it down in one sitting. The sequels are good but didn't stay with me in quite the same way.

Chasing The Stars - Malorie Blackman. In the year of Shakespeare this retelling of Othello isn't just for a young audience. Shakespeare in space worked really well.

The One Memory of Flora Banks - Emily Barr. This was one of the last books I read this year, and as it was a Netgalley book it isn't officially published until next week but it was still gripping enough that I stayed up far too late to finish it! If pushed to describe it I'd say Before I Go To Sleep for a slightly younger readership, with added snow.

Nina Is Not OK - Shappi Khorsandi. Another 'issue' book but again one that had me reading from cover to cover avidly.  Coming from a comedienne it has a nice vein of humour running throughout but this never detracts from the serious point.

Top Fiction Reads

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 1/4 Years Old - Hendrik Groen. Reviewed here.

The Infinite Air - Fiona Kidman. A wonderful tale of the first women fliers chasing records in the air.

Cartes Postales - Victoria Hislop. Reviewed here, and Father Christmas did take a hint and there was a copy of this under the tree for me!

Shtum - Jem Lester.  I read this early in the year and had almost forgotten it until I read through my journal, on seeing the title it all came flooding back - a deeply moving story about a mad dealing with a disabled child and a dying father. Put like that it sounds terrible but the writing was beautiful.

Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain- Barney Norris. This made many of the 2016 'best of lists' and it is again a clever novel weaving 5 stories together.

The Summer Before the War - Helen Simonson. I can't praise this one highly enough, it really did make the summer before WW1 come to life for me and show what a shock the brutalilty of the war was for many.

Mrs Tim of the Regiment - D E Stevenson.  This was my discovery of the year, all about the life of the wife of a regiment's CO in the 1920s.  Reminiscent of Diary of a Provincial Lady, I'm now on the hunt for more books featuring the delightful Mrs Tim.

Top Non Fiction Reads (incl. graphic novels and poetry)

The Old King in His Castle - Arno Geiger, tr. Stefan Tobler.  I can't really explain this book, on the surface it is Geiger recounting his father's life and battle with Alzheimer's but it is so much more than this.

Eighty Days - Matthew Goodman. Two New York women set out to see if you really can go around the world in 80 days - one goes east, one goes west.

The House by the Lake - Thomas Harding. The history of Germany since 1900 told via just one house on a lake just outside Berlin.  Since reading this I've read a couple of other books that reference this village which has been a bit weird but added a lot to those books!

A World Gone Mad - Astrid Lindgren tr. Sarah Death.  Better known as the author of the Pippi Longstocking books this was a fascinating insight into life in neutral Sweden during WW2, their ideas of shortages will make you laugh but it is a fascinating take on the war.

Frontier Grit - Marianne Monson.  The West of America is, rightly or wrongly, associated with cowboys, gold rushes and men so this book addresses this by telling the story of some of the women who opened up the West. Fascinating reading but I'm glad I can visit in the 21st century!

Food Fights and Culture Wars - Tom Nealon. A history of the world told via food stuffs as varied as carp and Bovril. Quirky and full of beautiful eillustrations from the British Library collection.

Marzi - Marzana Sowa tr. Sylvain Savoia. A graphic novel about growing up in Poland in the 1980s, before the fall of communism.

Jerusalem - Guy Delisle. I reviewed his books in general here but it is Jerusalem that has stayed with me as Delisle echoed so many of my thoughts about this troubled city.

Sentenced to Life - Clive James. This is the second year running that James has made my best of lists, and this time - to my surprise - it is his poetry book that I loved.  It is again a sad/morbid book but there is so much beauty and hope in these poems. As ever I didn't like them all but the volume as a whole was a delight.

The Print Museum - Heidi Williamson. In 2016 I got to be a shadow judge on the East Anglian Book Awards and this took me way out of my comfort zone with the reading I undertook but again, to my surprise, it was the poetry book The Print Museum that stayed with me - and I'm pleased  to say the main judging panel as it won the poetry section of the prize!

Here's hoping that 2017 will be an equally good year book wise!

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Theatre of the Year 2016 - Good and Bad!

Top and Bottom of the year.

In 2016 I saw 38 plays.  It should have been 41 but for the being poorly scrubbed three off of my calendar.  I'll never know if Rattigan's Ross, First Light or Father Comes Home From the Wars would have made my top ten - from reading the plays I feel that First Light may have done but as this was a new play for 2016 I don't rule out the chance of a revival...

Let's start with the duds of 2016, not too many of these but they really were stinkers.

  •  Breakfast at Tiffany's heads the pack here.  Way to ruin a good film and a good book  in one hit.  The cat however was amazing!
  • Doctor Faustus was the other play I really, really disliked this year, although in its favour it started early and was short!

There were others that I found unmemorable but these were the two that I actually regret spending money on. The outings themselves were nice, and for one of them it was great to catch up with The Upstartwren but the shows themselves were dire.

Now for the nicer part. My top shows of the year, in no particular order:

  • Lawrence After Arabia - not as deep and detailed as Rattigan by any means but a play that left me curious and wanting to find out more about Lawrence and George Bernard Shaw.

  • Ellen Terry with Eileen Atkins - this fitted in so well with my studies and the research I'd undertaken into Terry that it was a delight, and Atkins gave a tour de force performance.

  • Pride and Prejudice - not a book I'd read before seeing the play but the condensed version and retention of so many of the lines made this a delight to watch (and I've since read and loved the book).
  • Two Gentlemen of Verona - so much of this production could have made it unbearable but in the end it was very cleverly handled and some of the terrible misogyny mitigated by the actions of the female characters. I'm not sure I'd like all of my Shakespeare updated like this but for me this was a delight.
  • The Boys in the Band - a perfect comedy in so many ways but also a deeply dark and disturbing play. Not a weak link in the cast and made up for the dreaded words "rail replacement bus."

  • Madama Butterfly - I'm not 100% certain that updating of the opera by 50 years worked or was needed but once I'd got over this it was a sublime evening at the theatre.
  • Jess and Joe - months after seeing this I can still close my eyes and replay much of this short, perfect, two-hander. I really hope that it is rewarded at award time as it was just brilliant.
  • Merchant of Venice - this comes close to being my favourite play of 2016 as well as 2015. A case where rewatching a great peice of theatre was as good the 2nd time.  The ending still broke me.

Plays that nearly made this list were Pericles and The Tempest from the Sam Wanamaker Theatre at the start of the year (but *not* Cymbeline!) and also Boys will Be Boys.

What I find interesting is that in a year where I went to the Globe so little 3 of their productions are still in my top lists with another 2 only just missing out...

It has been harder to pick my best of lists this year, I don't know if I am getting harder to please or if I just didn't see the right shows... apart from the two stinkers I pretty much enjoyed everything, or parts of everything, when I saw it - less just stands out now at the end of the year.  I'm looking forward to seeing what 2017 brings.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Thirty Eight

Les Miserables, Queen's Theatre London. December 2016.

This one really is squeezing in at the the end of my theatre going year and was a post-Christmas treat for Mr Norfolkbookworm, me and my parents. In fact we all gave each other the the tickets as Christmas presents!

Les Miserables is always going to hold a special place in our family as this was the first London show my sister and I were taken to. I still remember Dad coming home with the tickets and the anticipation of our grand day out. I think I was about 13 and my sister 8 or 9... I've seen the show twice more since then, once in London and once on tour in Norwich but not recently.

We had a lovely day, seats in the stalls with a great view (they were listed as restricted view but as we are short only Mr N missed a tiny bit of projected writing and despite knowing the show inside out we were still all swept up in the drama of the piece.

Dad and I agreed that it doesn't matter how many times we've seen it neither of us warm to Cosette and always find her the weakest part. We also all agreed that the show is really about Javert and not Valjean!  Every word of every song could be heard clearly and the staging was effective - many times the scene changes were done to expertly that we were surprised to see that they had taken place!

We jumped at the gun fire and wept at the sad bits and all four of us came out of the theatre feeling astounded at how good something so familiar can be.

This is the 2nd time we've had a family theatre outing at Christmas time and Dad is already asking what we can see next year - a new tradition is born, but the bar has been set very high!

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Movie Going

I don't go to the cinema as much as I go to the theatre but this year I totted up my visits and I've been a respectable 17 trips to the cinema plus one National Theatre Live. This leads me to the first of my 'best of' lists for 2016.

It has to be said that about half of these films were animated and that this year seems to have been an outstanding for this genre.  Favourites here have been varied in topic but I enjoyed them all immensely and it has been hard to narrow it down to my top three - but these are Moana, Zootropolis and Your Name with Kubo and the Two Strings just missing out.

However my top film of the year, and possibly the decade was the incredible Eagle Huntress which I saw on release day. This narrative documentary film follows one family in Mongolia as their 13 year old daughter follows in the family tradition to become an Eagle Hunter. It has a strong feminist message - girls really can do whatever they set their minds to and compete in a men's world and it is also a film about the bond between fathers, grandfathers and daughters.

Aisholpan wants to follow in her father's footsteps, she wants to fly and hunt with Golden Eagles on the steppe in Mongolia, she also wants to be able to compete in the regional competitions showing her skills.  Her traditional (yet progressive) family support her wholeheartedly in this.  We then follow roughly a year in her life as she attains these goals - not without some hardships.

There has been a lot of criticism about this film for being too sentimental and also inaccurate. I don't recall the film saying that she wanted to be the first female huntress, just the first in her family and while any other women huntresses aren't shown at the competition I don't feel that this is against the story - this film is about Aisholpan's dreams. It is of course edited to have a narrative that draws you - that's how all films work.
It is also to be noted that the Mongolian and Kazakh communities do have a long tradition of equality which make Aisholpan's dreams realistic - it is just the Western perception of these different ways of life that need challenging and educating.

As someone who has a strongly supportive family and also a love of flying birds of prey this film really hit a chord with me.  I think that what ever criticism is out there this film should be shown in schools and also in Guide & Scouts units (and other such organisations) as a life affirming film showing that girls can do anything.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Thirty-Seven

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London. December 2016.

My sister and I ended up seeing this by accident, we had planned on seeing Book of Mormon but this week they've moved the matinee of this to Friday rather than the normal Wednesday (after we'd booked the day off work of course) however we hadn't had a day out together, just the two of us, since 2007 and so we looked around for another good offer.*

Roald Dahl has always an author we've both loved reading - in fact I think my sister 'discovered' him first and he certainly turned her in to a reader - so we were aware that this show existed.  However the danger with seeing an adaptation of a favourite is that it can ruin the original.  Matilda is an example of this - for however catchy the songs and talented the cast I really can't forgive them for the liberties taken with an outstanding story.

If I'm honest my heart sank further as we arrived at the theatre to find it over run with large, excited and noisy school parties...

Fortunately the show won me round, I found it captivating, inventive and all in all a pretty good adaptation of the source material. The sets were glorious and the four grandparents stole every scene they were in and making the imaginary world of Dahl come to life without CGI was very clever. My favourites were the "live broadcasts" as the children won their tickets and the gum inventing room complete with robots but all of it stayed close to my own mind-pictures.

However I did have issues with sound and or diction - several times I couldn't here the words both spoken and sung, this was more shocking as the actors were clearly wearing working microphones. I'm also surprised because it was both child actors and Wonka himself that I couldn't here.  We weren't up in the very 'gods' either and I can't blame it on the school parties as they were impeccably behaved throughout the show.

The other negative is that there are no memorable songs, in fact it might have been better had this been more of a 'show' and dropped more of the musical numbers.  The lines added for adults were also a little over the top - did Verruca Salt really mention that she wanted North Korea???
I think that this managed to create an identity of its own away from the two films - I was worried that it would be far too much like the (terrible) Depp version but it kept the darkness of the Gene Wilder version and the book - with the casual Oompa Loompa racism removed!

I'm pleased we saw the show, I'm very pleased with how little we paid for such good seats but I can't express a lot of surprise that it is closing, and although there is talk of a tour it is going to have to be reworked an awful lot to make it work in smaller theatres I think it will also lose all the magic and charm.

*I have since discovered that is just as well we didn't get tickets to see Mormon as my brother in law was ready to disown me and have my sister sleeping on the sofa if we'd seen this without him...!

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Thirty-Six

Madama Butterfly, Glyndebourne on Tour, Theatre Royal, Norwich. November 2016.

I have to thank a friend and colleague for the chance to see this as she very kindly let me take her second ticket to this show.

It has been over four years since I went to the opera last and while I wrote about it favourably at the time I do know that I was nervous about seeing a more conventional production. I had found the confusion caused by so much singing and yet so little translation appearing on the surtitles confusing.  Studying Othello over the pas few years, and seeing the (filmed) opera version of this had explained more to me and so I was much more open to trying again with the format.

I think that it also helped 'knowing' the full story of Madama Butterfly more - after all it does form the basis of Miss Saigon!

Whilst from the first bars of music I was captivated with much of the performance I did find the decision to reset the opera into a post WW2 setting strange - especially seeing as Nagasaki was one of the cities destroyed by the dropping of an atomic bomb, would it really have been a place that welcomed marriages to US sailors or even able to support a thriving Geisha community?

However this soon faded into the background as the story, singing and acting soon made me forget the time period and I was just swept away with Butterfly's story.  Her voice was just out of this world and I really believed that she was a naive 15 year old in love with her American sailor.

Pinkerton was a little more of a problem for me as I didn't really think he came across as quite caddish enough (although as he was boo'd in the curtain call I might be alone in this), he was certainly weak in character - not voice or stage presence - but his persona was for me more of easily lead child than opportunistic and callous opportunist which is what the surtitles seemed to say he was.

The supporting cast were all wonderful both in acting and vocal talent and I admit that at several points I found myself welling up.  The scene where Butterfly and her son were just standing motionless in silhouette at the back of the stage waiting for Pinkerton while off stage the cast performed the Humming Chorus was heartbreaking.

A little bit of me missed the opulence that a Madama Butterfly set in late 1800s early 1900s would have given but I adored this, I've had the score on a constant loop since and I know that I will be trying more opera in the future.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Thirty-Five

Breakfast at Tiffany's, Norwich Theatre Royal, Norwich. November 2016.

Breakfast at Tiffany's is one of my favourite films and when I found out that the play was coming to Norwich it has to be said I was happy.

Then the play opened in London to reviews that weren't great and I got a bit nervous - was this going to be one of those times where the film was better than anything else...

Sadly my fears were right, I don't quite see why the film has been turned into a play. It was very slow with lots of 'telling' not 'showing' and while I can't say I was actually bored during this play I certainly wasn't engaged with it for much of the time.

The cast were mostly likable and I am incredible impressed that they have managed to train a cat to act and I found the set to be very clever but the script was a little dull and all of it to be just "meh" which is very unusual for the things I've picked to see this year. I am pleased that I didn't go to London to see this - a half price ticket to a show I can get home from in 10 minutes made the evening seem a lot better!

The play was a hybrid of the film and Truman Capote's book and I liked some of the additions but overall I just think I'd rather watch the film - and I don't often say that!

Monday, 14 November 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Thirty-Four

The Wipers Times, New Wolsley Theatre, Ipswich. November 2016

Getting to and from Ipswich proved nearly as time consuming and awkward as getting to London but the journey was totally worth it.

This new World War One play from satirists Hislop and Newman could so easily have been over played and the jokes too contemporary, or overly sentimental but the duo managed to pull off the near impossible - a comedy about World War One that was balanced.

The original Wipers Times was a newspaper written and published by soldiers serving in the Trenches and was devised as an antidote to the inaccuracies and propaganda stories published in the mainstream media - and it is this where it would have been so easy to pepper the play with modern references.

The play tells the story of the men behind the paper as well as bringing to life some of the sketches from the paper in a clever way using Vaudeville, projections and a lot of very quick costume changes. Some of the jokes were terrible but on looking at my facsimile copy of the Wipers Times I see that they were all lifted from the original. The few comments about media inaccuracies also came straight from the original!

I enjoyed this greatly but my one criticism was that I found the set / scenery to be too fussy. The scene changes were well done and incorporated more original material from the newspapers but there were just too many of them and too much furniture moved each time for my taste.

What struck me the most was how much Oh! What a Lovely War and Blackadder Goes Forth owed to the papers - the humour in both of these, seen as edgy and challenging, came straight from the Wipers Times. There were moment of poignancy and sadness, and the gas attack was breath taking (pun intended) and I found this a balanced and enjoyable play. It isn't in the same league as Journey's End but I do hope that this gets a transfer or longer run somewhere as I think that the play is much better than the previous television documentary.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Fishermen and Kings Exhibition

Fishermen & Kings: The Photography of Olive Edis, Castle Museum, Norwich. October 2016.

As a photographer I am always interested in discovering new (to me) photographers and this exhibition was sold to me particularly by the fact that Olive Edis was the first official female war photographer.

She was however more of a portrait photographer and this is one area that I really struggle with (unlike my sister who is incredible at taking pictures of people) so I wasn't sure what I'd make of most of the exhibition.

I needn't have worried, Edis had such skill when it came to taking pictures of people - whether they were fishermen or kings - and in every image there is something that catches your eye and means you spend ages looking closely each picture. It really all is in the eyes with Edis, I wonder if she was telling saucy jokes to her sitters to get that twinkle!

The exhibition has been themed cleverly and while I was looking forward to the War section I was most intrigued by Edis' images of influential women involved in the Suffrage movement (and after) I came away with a whole list of people to look up and learn more about.

The section of war photos was as moving as you'd expect, and again her skill as a photographer shines through - you can instantly see which photos were taken before the sitter had seen action at the front and those taken when the men had seen action just from a glance at their faces. I also liked the choice of locations she visited, just a very slightly different perspective than other photos from the era that I've seen before.

Interspersed with the photos are panels explaining Edis' techniques and some of her cameras and inventions for looking at her colour images but one of the nicest touches was the small alcove in which all of Edis' images are projected on to the wall. How wonderful to be able to just sit and see all of the images in a large format. (For those who can't get to the exhibition Norfolk Museums have put the images online for everyone to see).

I went to this exhibition with my dad, the man who taught me how to take photos, and we were both blown away - much to our surprise.  We've both been to other photographic exhibitions by photographers we knew much better and come away a disappointed but this one by an 'unknown' exceeded all our expectations. From the layout, the labels, the images chosen it felt wonderfully curated and I know that I will be going back at least once more before it closes.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Classical thinking in Heffers

Heffers Classics Forum, Cambridge. October 2016.

Last year there was no Classics Forum and I have to say I missed it, the chance to sit and listen to some of the finest Classics scholars talking about either their latest research or their newest book is always stimulating.

This year we were at a more central venue with good tea/coffee on tap and in a room where the acoustics were good and the temperature just right - even with the Zumba class above us at one point!

Like previous years the format was nice and simple, 4 sessions each with three speakers who spoke on their topics for roughly 20 minutes. This set up is ideal because if the topic doesn't interest you then there it will only last a few minutes - I hasten to add that this year all of the topics appealed and I could have listened to most of the speakers for a lot longer than their allotted times.

Highlights for me included the talk from Tim Whitmarsh on atheism in the Ancient World and Gideon Nisbet's Confessions of a Translator.  I also greatly enjoyed Jerry Toner's talk all about how to Release Your Inner Roman - I'm so pleased to see that Marcus Sidonius Falx is still sharing his guide to how to live and prosper in Ancient Rome.

The balloon debate just after lunch was also great - 5 academics presented a case for why they thought that 'their' classical work should be preserved over the others - the idea being that they are all in a balloon that is crashing and all are tossed over board and lost forever to ensure the balloon keeps flying.  Julius Ceasar's Gallic Wars, Sophocles' Antigone, Martial's Epigrams, Aristophanes' Lysistrata and Sophocles' Philoctetes went head to head but this time Edith Hall's persuasive arguments for Antigone won the day. My vote went for Martial - if only one book is going to survive then I want it to be funny!

I've come home with a stack of new books and lots of thoughts running around my head - a great day.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Thirty-Three

My Great Orchestral Adventure, Royal Albert Hall, London. October 2016.

Being an auntie is great, not only do I get to spoil my nephew rotten I also get to try loads of new theatre experiences with him. We've seen traditional children's theatre, Disney musicals and also watched Pixar films accompanied by a live orchestra but this was different again as it was almost just a classical concert.

The idea for this concert was very simple - Tim the conductor has lost his 'magic' baton and so can no longer conduct the orchestra. His brother Tom, with the help of the audience is going to go on a journey to find it and restore order to the instruments.

Well known classical pieces were played as we looked for the baton in the Hall of the Mountain King, in outer space and also on our way to Neverland.  We also fought with Valkyries and Sirens and danced with swans as well as taking a detour to go on a Bear Hunt.

I thought this was a really good event, of course being aimed at a younger crowd the audience was fidgety but the story was clearly told and the music brilliant.  It was also a great exercise in imagination and concentration and once my nephew got the idea that it was all imagination I think he loved it too. Our favourite pieces were the Neverland Suite and We're Going on a Bear Hunt - singing and dancing in the Albert Hall was fun and my nephew sang the whole of the Bear Hunt on the way back to the tube!

I think that we'll wait until he is a bit older before we try another classical music concert but I will look out for other new experiences to try - perhaps an introduction to more traditional ballet (after all we have all loved the Snowman) or even a first trip the Globe...

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Postcards from a happy place in book form

Book review: Cartes Postales from Greece by Victoria Hislop

A couple of years ago I read and reviewed Victoria Hislop's last book The Sunrise and was left a little wanting at the end.  I was therefore looking forward to this one nervously.

A couple of months ago I was lucky enough to get a beautiful sampler to this book and my fears were allayed. This book made me think I was back in Greece throughout.

It has a clever structure that allows Hislop to pull together all of the little stories you hear in a place (but aren't enough for a full plot) along with the stories of two other people - all linked thought postcards.

The ending was a little too predictable and trite for me but it didn't ruin the overall effect and the whole time I was reading this book I felt like I was sitting on a harbour-side taverna in the Greek sunshine.  My copy came from the library and  I loved this so much I've asked for a copy for Christmas.  Greece is my happy place and this book took me there on a day I didn't feel well (and had to miss a trip to London).

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Thirty-Two

Jess and Joe Forever, The Garage, Norwich. October 2016.

A very brief review on line had me wishing I could see this in London and I got very excited when an Internet search said this would be in Norwich for one night only - tickets were hurriedly booked.

Why the interest? Well the reviews saying it was fabulous but nothing more for fear of giving away the plot plus the fact that it was set in Norfolk. How could the Norfolkbookworm resist? In a busy month the 70 minute run time was also a bonus!

Like everyone else I'm not going to review the plot more than to say it follows two young people from the ages of 9 to 16 in a series of snap shots of their childhood and it alternates between hysterically funny and tear-inducingly sad in a heartbeat.

It is performed by just two actors and they have you utterly believing in them whatever age they are being. Jess is a rich kid in Norfolk on holiday and Joe is a local.  The Norfolk accent is notoriously hard to perform and for the most part Joe is credible throughout, I didn't wince and it only occasionally slipped into generic 'yokel.'

I wish I could say more about this play but I don't want to spoil it for anyone else who may catch this on tour and I urge you to find it and go and see it.  I'm pleased to see that it has also earned an award nomination for the playwright, Zoe Cooper.

In a stupidly busy fortnight it would have been all too easy to skip this after a long, stressful day at work but I am so pleased we braved the unreserved really uncomfortable seats to see such a great play.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Thirty-One

The Boys in the Band, Park Theatre, Finsbury, London. October 2016.

Perhaps not enjoying the comedy Greek play had me offending the travel gods as neither of the lines to London were running this weekend and the dreaded rail replacement bus had to be braved.

Happily the play was absolutely worth it, act one was incredibly funny, pushing on farce and then act two sees a party descend into vitriol, anger and sadness.

This isn't a happy play, and none of the characters are particularly nice but as an ensemble piece it is terrific - not a weak link in the cast and so much to love whether in the lines or the acting.

It is a period piece, and some of the lines are eye-wateringly off colour but I feel that some of the nastiest 'jokes' were unacceptable even when the play was new - this is the way that self loathing is deflected out onto other people. Some of the lines are terrible, some of the actions of the characters are terrible but there are also some stonkingly funny lines and scenes as well as some truly tender moments. A great balance.

We also came out wanting to know more about the characters, the story was complete but I wanted to spend a little more time with the characters, to reassure them that things will get better and to know more about their histories. I don't think I'd accept a party invitation from any of them however!

Friday, 21 October 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Thirty

Cambridge Greek Plays 2016, Cambridge Arts Theatre, Cambridge. October 2016.

I can't believe that three years have already gone past since the we had a really mixed experience at the 2013 Greek Play - this time without Rebecca who decided that once was enough!

This time the serious drama was Antigone and not at all a chore to watch.  The cast were uniformly superb as they performed Sophocles's play. This is the third in a trilogy but the story telling was so clear that from the start you knew exactly what was going on, and I found it an emotional watch. Even though this play is nearly 2500 years old the point couldn't be clearer and in today's political uncertain times a play reminding us that dictators who don't listen are dangerous. Is upsetting the accepted status quo the same thing as upsetting the Gods? The setting was also very clever (although one of my companions wasn't so sure), it reminded me of the wonderful Othello at the National Theatre - again something that predisposed me to like this play perhaps.

After the interval we came back in for Aristophanes's Lysistrata - the comedy.  From the outset the audience is under no misapprehension that this is being played for laughs - the surtitles even tell you so! In this play the women of Greece are fed up of the war and so go on a sex strike until peace is declared. Plenty of scope for humour, and this was really piled up during the performance and for me it just went that little bit too far. I had to spend so much time reading the surtitles that I lost a lot of the action on the stage and it was also so contemporary and politically up-to-date that I also lost the original play.  It was great fun, I laughed lots and it was wonderfully risque at times but I have no clear idea of how the original play panned out.

I'm really glad I went, and it was good to see a packed out house for such a niche production but again for me it was a game of two halves, and this time it was the serious play that was the hit.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Not a space oddity

An afternoon with Colonel Chris Hadfield, National Space Centre, Leicester. October 2016.

After the joys of meeting and hearing the Kelly brothers at the weekend we were on the road again to meet another astronaut - this time the Canadian Chris Hadfield.

We got to the National Space Centre in plenty of time and had a little look around before the event - yesterday however it was full of school children (all of whom seemed to be inspired and enjoying themselves) and so we let them explore and retreated to the quieter areas before heading into the Sir Patrick Moore planetarium for what had been advertised as a q&a with Chris Hadfield.

We were however thoroughly spoilt as we got a wonderful talk and slide show from Hadfield. he has a great sense of humour and this came through in the anecdotes he told and the slides he showed - from the space heroes he thought he'd emulate to the little boy sitting in a box pretending to fly! I'm not sure what the Space Centre team thought of his demonstrations of how water behaves however...

After the talk there was time for questions and again these were answered with great thoughtfulness. He made sure that the children in the audience got to speak as well and again deflected some of the more 'interesting' questions with great humour.

After the talk we also had tickets to the signing session and here we were really surprised and impressed.  Chris Hadfield wasn't sat behind a table just signing but was wandering around and really chatting to everyone who was getting a book signed.  Mum got to ask him about boredom - and again he said that you can't be bored in space (before adding that there are only boring people not boring things!) before signing her book, shaking her hand and giving her a hug. I'm not sure she's stopped smiling yet!

My question was something that occurred to me at the Kelly talk when they talked about their medical training as astronauts. I was reminded of this when Chris Hadfield took a break in signing to talk about his medical training - how would you give CPR in space with no gravity to hold the giver in place and apply the pressure.  Apparently there are two ways. Both people are strapped down, the giver by the thighs, so that the compressions can be given. The alternative is to put your feet on the ceiling and push down on to the unwell person.  After this I also got a handshake and hug so like mum I've also got a silly grin on my face.

This was a great afternoon, and it was so nice to find that Colonel Hadfield is as nice in person as he seems on screen and page. I'm now off to re-read his autobiography.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

The Sky Is Not the Limit

Space Lecture's Autumn Event: Mark and Scott Kelly. October 2016.

Another first for the amazing Space Lectures team - not one, but two astronauts to give the talk.  Not only that one of the guests only returned from space on 1st March this year.

As ever the event was wonderful, the Kelly twins make a great double act as they tell their stories with a great deal of humour and self-deprecation. There was also a great deal of light-hearted sibling rivalry on display.

Two people telling their life stories when these people have eight space flights and 500+ days in space between them mean that the talk is always going to be on the superficial side but I felt that I got a good feel for who these men were and how important their military and astronaut careers have been for them.

Both men were refreshingly open - Mark about the terrible events surrounding the assassination attempt on his wife, and Scott regarding the health issues he has (and still is to some extent) experienced following spending almost a year in space.

They took lots of questions - including mine (well mum's) about boredom in space: no they don't get bored on the ISS however long they are up there, many other feelings but not boredom.

The hour and a half event just whizzed by and although this was more of a motivational talk than in-depth biography/history as Tom Stafford treated us to in April but I found it just as interesting and gripping. I'm hoping that both men do write their autobiographies in the next few years.

Tickets are booked to the next event already - another Shuttle commander - and I can't wait.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Twenty-Nine

The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare's Globe, London. October 2016.

I saw this last year and reviewed it very favourably here. In fact by the end of the year it was in my Top 10 plays of 2015, this time I was with Rebecca and my mum - the former missed it through illness last year and after I raved about it so much mum decided she wanted to see it after all!

However as I loved it so much I was a little scared that it was a mistake to see such a great production a second time...

I needn't have worried as from the very start I was straight back in the Venetian world and wrapped up in the story.  Once more my sympathies moved from character to character and the antisemitism is still as shocking, especially the ending.

What I did notice this time around was the less overt antisemitism. Portia might accept Jessica into her house as Lorenzo's wife but she is always treated with disdain, scorn and is never an equal of the others.  The little looks and actions felt, in some ways, worse than the ending to me - far scarier that is for certain, at least the treatment of Shylock is visible and easy to call out...

By the end the three of us were moved to tears, and yet at times we'd been helpless with laughter.  If there had been tickets left I'd have gone to see this again. As it is I treated myself to the DVD from the shop and can't wait to watch it again.

I think that this will once more end up in my top 10 of the year!

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Twenty-Eight

The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare's Globe, London. September 2016.

I'm used to walking into the candlelit Wanamaker Playhouse and being transported back to the early 1600s, thus is was a bit of a shock to walk in and find that there was 1960s pop music playing and the stage was set for an intimate music gig complete with electric lights. I confess my heart sank, after the recent reworking of Dr Faustus a 'concept' play seemed doomed to disappoint me.

From the very first moment however I was captivated. It was a very clever idea to bring an awkward play to life.  We started in repressed Verona with a young cast all in modest, drab clothes - a place that the swinging sixties certainly hadn't reached.  As they leave for Milan colour and life comes into the world and the music becomes far more upbeat. After the interval we've left Milan and are with the outlaws and now the costumes and music show this by being very 'hippy.' The music had my toes tapping throughout and this was before the audience was encouraged to join in.

The plot of Two Gents is somewhat slight. Valentine and his best friend Proteus live in Milan, Valentine leaves for Milan but Proteus stays behind with his true love Julia.  Proteus' father sends him on to Milan as well where he finds his friend has fallen in love with Sylvia.  All so simple, however Proteus falls in love with Sylvia too and goes out of his way to wreck the budding relationship - this all goes far too far as he tries to rape Sylvia before she is rescued by Valentine and Julia (disguised as a boy trying to discover what has become of her lover).

Even more uncomfortable than this is the way the 'boys' just decide the futures of the girls - fair enough that Valentine and Sylvia remain as a couple but the assumption that Julia will want Proteus again after his actions is incredible.
This production handled this nicely as after the boys have said their piece Sylvia and Julia take to the microphones and sing a lament - it is obvious that they are not accepting of the decisions made on their behalf.

The modernising of the play in setting worked for me entirely because Shakespeare's words had been kept (in fact lines from other plays had been added to one scene to huge comic effect!)and because his plots are universal I believed the story worked brilliantly with a sixties setting.

The cast of 9 were all incredibly talented actors and musicians and the comic character was reined in to maximum effect, and the staging of Crab the dog was very funny. A plot so simple could easily have been tinkered with far too much but in keeping everything as the original except the era it felt fresh and different, everything that updating of Dr Faustus failed to be!

I'm finding it hard to express my love for this show, for me it just really resonated, it started as a touring production and I really hope that tours next year so I can catch it again!

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Artistically Inclined

Georgia O'Keefe, Tate Modern, London. September 2016.

I discovered O'Keefe's work through Ansel Adams. They took inspiration from the same locations and he took several portraits of her. I wasn't that familiar with much of her work however, although as soon as I saw some of her pictures, uncredited on posters, I knew they were by her.

From entering the exhibition I was immersed into her world, her colours and her ideas. Each room held images that I was instantly drawn too and even the more abstract works, which I usually skim past, had an impact on me.

I also liked seeing O'Keefe's work put into context with Stieglitz and Adams (amongst others) and I did spend a lot of time looking at them in detail too.

However as this was supposed to be an O'Keefe exhibition I was a little concerned how many of their works, and how much prominence they were given. At the start of the exhibition I did find that Stieglitz's works were overshadowing O'Keefe's, not in size or colour but quantity. This did reduce as the exhibition continued, and I suppose as he 'discovered' her and was her husband this is understandable but as the tagline for the exhibition is her desire to be taken as the best artist and not just the best female artist I am still a little perturbed.

Unsurprisingly the images from the American southwest were among my favourites, as an amateur photographer I love the colours and light in that area, I could feel the desert warmth shining through. I surprised myself however by liking the more abstract images - the desert through windows created by bleached bones in particular.
Pedernal 1945 / image from
Her images of New York just before the Crash of 1929 were also stunning. Although often stylized or impressionistic I found O'Keefe's work to be incredibly photographic in style, and her ability to make things look three dimensional was stunning.

I think that my admiration and love of her work comes from the fact that she painted scenes that I like to photograph and I now really want to go back to the desert.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Twenty-Seven

Pride and Prejudice, Theatre Royal, Norwich. September 2016.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the Norfolkbookworm had not read Pride and Prejudice before seeing this at the theatre. Even the brilliant Longbourn hadn't inspired me to read the original but when a friend asked me to see this with him I wasn't loathe even though I did rush into the theatre straight from work and was a little hassled.

I am so pleased that I went, like all good theatre not knowing the plot didn't matter as the story unfolded clearly and with great pacing. Not knowing the original novel I'm not sure what was cut, I'm guessing some smaller subplots, as what we got was very linear and straightforward - I expected Austen to be more complex.

The staging for me was a little fussy and at times I was a bit distracted by it - a revolve has been built on the stage and the main scenery was a metal staircase/balcony. The cast and the props came in and out through this and the movements were all highly stylised. Quite a lot of the run time did seem to be the stage revolving and furniture being moved.

This sounds like I'm ambivalent about the show, and I'm really not - these are all niggles. I liked the actors and also the use of the orginal text into the script. I also liked the feminist message that came through without it feeling out of time for the play. It has also finally inspired me to read the novel.

This is the second touring production from the Open Air Theatre that I've seen and enjoyed in Norwich - I must make an effort to see one in their original location next summer.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Literary locations

 Exploring the locations of a favourite book.

Last year I read When Marnie Was There by Joan G Robinson on Mr Norfolkbookworm's recommendation.  I don't know how I missed it as a child. I know that I loved Robinson's other creation, Teddy Robinson and that I also loved timeslip stories.  All I can think is that I picked it up at the wrong age. Teddy Robinson is definitely aimed at beginner readers whereas the complex plot of Marnie is more suited to those 10+.

Anyhow, it doesn't matter I've discovered the book now and as well as being a top read from 2015 I think it might enter my top books of all time.

Another great thing about the book is that it is set in Norfolk and we can easily get to the village in which it is set. This past weekend there was an added bonus as the Mill, which plays a pivotal role in the plot, was open to the public for the first time in 40 years.

While I really wanted to get to the very top for the views (heights don't bother me) I was defeated by the ladder access. Mr Norfolkbookworm has no fear of ladders but the height was too much for him so sadly we have no views of North Norfolk from the top, but I consoled myself that the plot doesn't revolve around the top floors and so I did walk where the characters had their adventures...

Looking towards Marnie's house

The main village staithe

The channel to the beach

Burnham Overy Mill

With many thanks to the National Trust for opening the Burnham Overy Mill to the public making it possible to fully imagine the whole of the book.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Twenty-Six

Doctor Faustus, The Barbican, London. September 2016.

I'm easily swayed into going to the theatre and this time it was my friend the Upstart Wren who was keen on seeing this.  I have a love/hate relationship with the RSC but Doctor Faustus is a play I like a lot and so I was quite happy to accompany her.  It all started well, trains were on time, we found the Barbican with no problems and our seats were excellent...

The opening was promising too - the roles of Faustus and Mephistopheles are shared between two actors and at each performance the decision as to who plays which role is decided by striking matches, however as the characters were dressed identically at this point I can't remember whether the owner of the match that went out first played Faustus or Mephistopheles - already not a good sign for the play!

I got more hopeful as the start did show Faustus surrounded by books, but my reading of him is that he feels he has learnt all he can from the books he has but wants more which is why he makes his pact but in this version he starts by throwing books away in disgust and I had the feeling that he was bored by them not that he was a renowned scholar.

It just went downhill from here on. The text had been drastically cut but the time filled with lots of modern dance and whitewashing of the stage. I never felt that the good and bad angels were actually fighting for Faustus, they merely seemed bored and one of them could barely speak the line.
A moment of levity came with the appearance of the deadly sins although even this became smug and self referential as covetousness appeared to look like Antony Sher's Richard III - a role he played for the RSC...
image from
My biggest discomfort from the play came ultimately from the feel of the piece. I found it to be incredibly anti-Semitic in tone.  At times, to stress the evil events, a black and white film is played at the back of the stage - this reminded me utterly of the propaganda films created by Goebbels during the late 1930s and early 1940s, also the words Faustus speaks to conjure throughout the play were certainly not the Latin of the original and had, to my ear, the harshness and cadences of Hebrew. 
I'm not the only one who has been made uncomfortable with this - other have commented that the students/devils have the look of Jewish scholars.

I'm pleased I saw this version of the play for it reminds me how good the Globe's version from 2011 was. I think that cutting out all of the humour from the play (like Shakespeare Marlowe's plays are a good balance of comedy/tragedy) was a mistake, the play felt unbalanced. I've also read the play since seeing it and I don't think I like the additions either. 

Ultimately I never believed in either of the leads - possibly because Mephistopheles looked just like Richard O'Brien when he played RiffRaff in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Book review - Secret Diary of Henrick Groen 83 1/4

Growing Old Disgracefully.

I can't stop talking about this book it is The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole meeting the 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared set in Amsterdam.

Hendrik is in a retirement home and not happy to be growing old and weaker, but at the same time he is also reveling in his age and complaints.  The book made me laugh, gulp and cry but at no point was it ever predictable which is what makes it such a great book for me.

The diary format could be jaded and old hat but the characters and setting make it a step above and the chance to read a Dutch diary other than The Diary of Anne Frank was a real treat.  I'm recommending this book to everyone and anyone!

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Geek counting

Number crunching the books.

A near disaster with a glass of water and 11 years of  reading diaries saw me decide to type up all the books I've listed in various diaries and journals over the past decade.

It has (unsurprisingly) taken me quite a while to get through the various notebooks and diaries, and while I don't have the stereotypical doctor handwriting sometimes deciphering my notes was interesting.  I'm also pretty sure that I've lost a couple of months from 2009 - I can't believe that I only read 8 books in three months even with a trip to Canada and a new job.

The stats from January 2005 to December 2015 are now crunched and even I was quite surprised to discover that in ten years I'd noted 2973 books.

It is very clear that when I still worked in book retail I read a lot more, however I was a children's specialist and for several years part of the team responsible for selecting the 5-8 book of the month meaning that every month I read an awful lot of shorter reads. At some point in my record keeping I decided not to note down what are commonly known as 'picture books' - everything has 48 pages or more.

Since starting work in the library I can see that I read a lot more non fiction and that I take a lot more gambles on my reading, there is no pattern at all to what I read - I really will try anything.

One thing that also came through from my notes is just how often I re-read a few authors, a couple of these are typical mid-twentieth century school/family story authors and the third is a contemporary, feminist, fantasy author.  On average I read many of the books by these authors once a year.
I was a little surprised that books I consider favourites, such as Little Women, don't feature highly on my rereads list but other books by Alcott, such as Eight Cousins, reoccur much more often.

Some books that I felt sure would appear on this list aren't there and I wonder if it is because I read them before 2005 or if I just didn't note them which is possible, until I found the right journal:

This lets me list the author, title, date read and gives me a line for notes about the book and the layout lets me note my reading for two years in each volume.*

What I found interesting reading back through all of the lists was just how many of these books I could actually remember in some detail. A few I hadn't listed the author but as soon as I popped the books in to a search engine it all came flooding back, looking at the dates I read some books also stirred memories, some good and some less good. Looking at some titles I am instantly transported back to where I read them - Greek beaches, slow trains, plane journeys the lot.

Right all of this typing has eaten into my reading time and as today has been designated #readabookday I'd better get on with it.

*On looking for a picture of my preferred reading diary I've discovered it is now out of print so I am off to bulk order the ones left in stock.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Theatre 2016: Review Twenty-Five

The Deep Blue Sea, Lyttleton Theatre, National Theatre, London. August 2016.

This was a play we were lucky to get seats at, and typically the day after I grabbed three together it was announced that there would be a National Theatre Live performance - the very next day to our visit.  However live theatre is preferable and it was nice for Rebecca and I to meet up with the Upstart Wren.

I have a soft spot for Rattigan - I loved Flare Path when Mr Norfolkbookworm and I saw it back in 2011 and I've also enjoyed films penned by Rattigan or adapted from his plays - and so I was happy to go to see this.  I'm not sure what drew my companions to this one - reviews and the cast I think.

In not booking until late we did have seats right at the back of the Lyttleton theatre and for the first half I felt very distant from the action, however by the end this distance worked and it was as if we were watching the play through the deep blue sea.

Like Flare Path this is a play with very little plot as such but is all about emotion - on the surface and repressed and it grew on me very cleverly. At the interval I thought that the recent film was better viewing but I was drawn deeper and deeper in and by the end I was cheering for Hester.

In many ways this is a very modern play, Hester, ultimately, takes a very brave line and goes her own way. She takes neither of the 'easy' ways out that are on offer to her. The men in the play are less stereotypical than you might expect for the late 1940s and early 1950s and there is just a prescient hint of the relaxation of society that started just a few years later.

On reading around the subject, and the wonderfully detailed programme, it becomes clear that this in someways is an incredibly autobiographical play and this might explain why the characters took so long to grow on me - like real people they are more flawed than you'd like and not people you want to identify with. The callous act with the shilling really drove this home.

The set was fantastic, Hester's flat took the main part of the stage but the other other apartments in the building became visible as needed through clever lighting and it made the play both claustrophobic and a great reminder that one couple's drama is very small fry in the scale of the world.

Rebecca and I enjoyed the play more than the Wren but we've spent the past 24 hours discussing the whole thing a great deal which implies that there was more to this play than first thought.  While Rebecca and I became more and more involved as the story went on out third found it becoming more trite... it would be a dull world if we all had the same views and in being challenged in our opinions has meant that we've had to think more about our views which is always good.

All of us however, and the people sitting next to us, were bothered by the slightly anachronistic feel to the props and sound  - the most important piece of music came from at least 5 years after the play was written let alone set...

I'm pleased I saw this live, and with friends so we could discuss it - but I do wonder if we'd have seen a different play if our seats had been closer to the stage...