Monday, 12 December 2011

Theatrical Interlude 21


Collaborators, National Theatre Live (encore), Cinema City, Norwich. December 2011


Tickets to see this in London appear to be like gold dust and to add insult to injury when I tried to book tickets to see this Live it had also sold out. Luckily my local Picture House cinema put on an 'encore' performance and so I did manage to get tickets.

It still feels quite odd to go to the cinema to see a play but once I managed to get my head around the concept I was sucked in.

This is a very odd play and not one I can sum up easily. Like many tales about Stalinist Russia it is not always a comfortable watch. Sticking to your principles and ideals under such circumstances must have been very hard and seeing how a passionate man became corrupted was shown very convincingly.

The actors were very good, although at the very start Simon Russell Beale did seem to be playing Ricky Gervais rather than Josef Stalin. Alex Jennings was very good as Bulgakov and the rest of the cast supported brilliantly.

Collaborators is currently being performed in the Cottesloe Theatre at the National, and this small, versatile space worked well for the staging. This was very much theatre in the round and a limited space for the stage really did mean the set was used in a truly innovative way - I do wonder how the transfer to the Olivier Theatre will work.

I think that at times the metaphors were over egged a little, and I felt very uncomfortable during much of the play as I was feeling sympathy for Stalin - happily the end did manage to recreate the more traditional view of the dictator.

On the whole this was a really enjoyable play, one that I am very glad that I have seen but not one that I will be sad that I only saw at the cinema and not actually at the theatre live.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Theatrical Interlude 20

Roald Dahl's Matilda, Cambridge Theatre London, December 2011

This is another performance that I'd been looking forward to for a while, and indeed I'd booked tickets shortly after the box office opened way back in the summer.

Now nearly a week after seeing Matilda I am still not entirely sure what I thought of it. There was lots to enjoy.

The acting was amazing, the child actors were very good especially the girl playing Matilda. Miss Trunchbull (played by Bertie Carvel) was outstanding and it was very hard to believe that it was a man playing the role.

I quite liked the set, it was clever and eye catching but at times it was distracting, all too often I found myself trying to spot words formed by the letters. The way the props appeared from being set into the stage was very clever and I did like the way that you saw how the staging was working.

However, for me, there was lots that made this an outing that was merely 'meh' rather than 'wow':
  • there were no catchy tunes that I came out humming, in fact each act seemed to only have one song that was reworded...
  • the plot had been changed. Matilda the novel isn't an overly complex book and in changing the story I felt that you really lost just how exceptional the child Matilda was.
  • The book is all about championing books and stories and I felt this was lost totally, especially in the scenes just after the interval where audience members were mocked for reading (and for taking part in the audience participation!)
  • at times I really couldn't hear when the adults were singing
  • what was the point of the extra story lines when Dahl had created a perfect book in the first place?!
  • I couldn't take Mr Wormwood seriously as he just reminded me of David Tenant's Doctor Who and I was expecting to hear the TimeLord every time the character appeared on the stage.
Oh dear, this is becoming a totally damning write up and I don't think that it was truly that bad there were just so many niggles (and that is before I even think about the behaviour of the audience).

I suppose that in a way it is my own fault, this was after all an adaptation of a favourite book and we all know how much I squirm through films made from favourite books!

On the whole I had a good time, just from the reviews I expected to be blown away and I wasn't. For me I felt that Matilda didn't know if it was a play, a musical or a pantomime, if it had only been just one of these things it would have been so much better.

I think that Matilda will go on to win lots of theatre prizes and I think that those awarded to the actors are fully deserving I am just not sure of those awarded to the piece as a whole.

I'm off to re-read the book now...

Friday, 2 December 2011

Author events

In my current job at the library (and when I worked for Waterstone's) planning events with authors is a routine part of my job and over the past 10+ years I've been lucky enough to meet many authors.

However as the person organising the events I haven't always been able to enjoy them thoroughly. I'm on edge during them, making sure that the building stays relatively quiet, that the author doesn't need anything etc etc.

This week I went to see Alan Hollinghurst at UEA where he was speaking as part of the Autumn Literary Festival and once I remembered that I could just sit back and relax I really enjoyed the talk.

I've admired Mr Hollinghurst for a few years now and while a lot of the talk was about the newest novel (The Stranger's Child) there was also a lot about the other novels and the influences on Hollinghurst's work. I didn't find the new book to be my favourite novel but hearing about it from the horse's mouth (so to speak) did make me look at it in a different way and I now understand a little more of why it is structured as it is.

Mr Hollinghurst had a fantastic voice, as well as being very interesting speaker, and it was a delight to be able to sit for the whole hour and just listen without having to be on duty.

I am pleased that I get the chance to meet so many fantastic authors, and I'm already well under way planing events for next spring, but I must try to go to more talks where I can concentrate on the speaker!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Theatrical Interlude 19



Driving Miss Daisy, Wyndhams Theatre London, November 2011

This trip came about almost by accident. My normal theatre going companions and I saw a poster for this on one of our other trips to London and all of us instantly said "I love that film". To think is to act and we quickly booked tickets to the first matinee that all three of us could make.

Using Lastminute.com our seats were allocated on arrival and while we were quite high up in the theatre we had centre seats and a fabulous view - well once the vertigo had vanished the view was good!

This is a cleverly staged play. As we took our seats the stage was dominated by a large staircase in the middle with assorted items of furniture dotted about, and as the play continues this remains the only staging. However all of these items are on runners and move in and out of the centre stage as the scenes change. Small props are used and it is up to the actors to move them on and off set as needed - it is a very stark play in this way.

The 'car' is a park bench and two dining chairs all set on a revolving part of the stage and as movement is needed for the plot the stage moves and a projection plays in the background. Writing it down makes it sound a little tacky but in fact it worked splendidly as a visual effect - even from the height we were sitting.
The use of projection throughout the play also highlighted the passage of time and managed to give the impression that there was a larger cast.

There are only three actors in the whole play - Vanessa Redgrave, James Earl Jones and Boyd Gaines and all three were superb the day we saw them. It took just a little while for me to get my ear attuned to the deep south accent but very quickly I was swept away and found myself totally immersed into the story, and by the end totally moved.

The play is set in the deep south of America from the late 1940s through until the 1970s and at times the racism and the language used made me uncomfortable but obviously was totally in keeping with the setting. I don't remember it being quite so overt in the film but it has been well over a decade since I last saw the film so this may just be a false memory.

It was a lovely day out and I am very pleased that I got to see this play during the limited London run. It won many awards in New York and I hope that it wins something at the London theatre awards.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Theatrical Interlude 18

War Horse, New London Theatre, November 2011

This is a play that has been on my 'to see' list for a long time but as the booking period stretched through until 2013 it wasn't one I wanted to see urgently. However once the film version was announced I knew that I wanted to see the stage show before the film.

I've long been a fan of Michael Morpurgo and I've read the novel War Horse several times but I was still a little nervous about seeing the show - after all I'm renowned for sitting there going "it didn't happen like that in the book!"

I needn't have worried from the first instant that actors appeared on the stage I was captivated, everyone raves about the model horses but it is true - after a couple of seconds you really do forget that they are puppets, it really is just like live horses are on the stage. I'm not a great horse lover - the ones I've know have either tried to bite me or have trodden on me but Joey and Topthorn could easily win me over to being a fan. It was the goose that repeatedly stole the show however...

The story has been altered from the book but for me it worked totally and to include everything from the book would have given the play an impossibly long run time. Like Black Beauty the original book is told from the horse's view point and to try and do this on stage would have diminished the power of the play.

I can't put in to words how I feel about this play because it was so totally absorbing and moving. It is incredible that the brutality and horror of war can be so comprehensively portrayed without any violence or fake blood being used. I wonder if playing on the very British love of animals to depict the war is one way to bring the horror home?

I laughed and cried throughout the play and if it had been possible I think I would have stayed in my seat and watched it again straight away.

I'm looking forward to the film but I will be going to see this play again - as soon as I can manage.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Pioneering


The Harvey Girls - Lesley Poling-Kempes


One of the first books I remember buying for myself was The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder - all about the story of an American pioneer family moving West towards the end of the 1800s as America itself spread west.
I devoured the whole series of these books and later as an adult read biographies and critical responses to the books and despite now being able to see their faults, racist attitudes and hidden messages, I still love them and the whole idea of the growth of the Wild West.

As I may have mentioned (!) we've just come back from the west of America and one of the things that still surprises me is how new the area is in terms of being a place where westerner live. We went to towns that were younger than my grandparents and even the state of Arizona is 100 until next year.

In a lot of the gift and book shops we visited this book kept catching my eye, and on getting home I did treat myself to a copy and it was a lovely, if a bit disjointed, social history of the working women who helped open the west of America for white migrants.

Harvey was strongly connected to the railroads and as they expanded west he made sure that he built hotels and restaurants along the lines so that where ever the trains stopped people could get consistently good food and lodging. As well as employing local people he took advantage of the growing freedom of women, and economic need, and employed women from all over the country. As well as their wages they got full bed and board and often became some of the best wage earners in their families.

The Harvey hotels are mostly gone now but the legacy lives on as his family still run some of the gift shops at some of the west's National Parks - only fitting as it was Harvey that opened the areas up to the public but building hotels and extending railway lines to encompass them!

This book is a mixture of Harvey's history, the railroad history and the personal history of the Harvey Girls and is a fascinating read if, like me, these things interest you. It is pretty niche to be honest but still fascinating and a reminder that in some places history is far more recent than in the UK!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Sequally Surprised


House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

I've mentioned before how I keep getting my hopes up when reading sequels to much loved books, and how they keep getting dashed. That notwithstanding I still keep doing it on the grounds that at least once it will have to be a success.

The House of Silk is for me that success story - hurrah.

I approached the book cautiously, for me, took my time reading it and I wasn't disappointed. I couldn't find any anachronisms and the writing style felt natural, unforced and not at all like a pastiche. Conan Doyle probably wouldn't have written about such a topic but the way Horowitz did was sensitive, discreet and just how it could have been written at the turn of the last century.

I thought I was going to have historical fact issues with the book when Horowitz mentioned Arizona in the 1880s/1890s. Having just come back from there and finding that Arizona only became a state in 1912 I thought he'd made a mistake, however he did just say 'Arizona' not the 'State of Arizona' and the name was in use before 1912. Once I realised that I felt more comfortable and nothing else jumped out.

I think the book is being received positively, the reviewers mostly seem to have enjoyed the book and I certainly felt that it slotted in well with the originals - however I am a latecomer to Sherlock Holmes, if I'd been a fan for years (like I have been with some of the other sequels/prequels) I do wonder if I'd feel the same.

It doesn't matter I enjoyed the book, I will re-read it and I am quite happy to shelve it alongside the originals and not give it straight to charity in disappointment!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Busy Week


Double Celebrations


This week was one of the best I've had at work for a while. The Forum (pictured, and where the library is situated) turned 10 this week.

In 1994 a catastrophic fire destroyed Norwich City Library, lots of books and historical documents. The BBC has a great piece here about the fire.


Out of the ashes came the wonderful building we now have, this opened to the public in November 2001 and was officially opened in June 2002 by the Queen. I can't believe that it has been ten years time does fly.

We've had lots of activities planned to celebrate the birthday - story time sessions with Maisy Mouse making a guest appearance, a quiz, author event, a huge 'create the birthday bunting' competition and of course a birthday party complete with cake:


What made the day even more special was the release of this story by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy stating that for the 5th year running the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library is the busiest in the country.

Wow - for half of the library's current incarnation we have been the busiest in the country.

In fact the statistics get better for not only is the city the busiest library but Norfolk is also the busiest Shire County when it comes to Library use.

We are very proud - there are lots of jokes about Norfolk, few of them flattering, but we are obviously doing something right in this time where there only seems to be bad press for libraries.

Now comes the hard work - keeping the standards this high for the next 10 years!

Monday, 24 October 2011

World Book Night 2012


The 25 books that have been picked at the 2012 World Book Night titles were announced today and I am trying to decide if I will attempt to read all 25 by the time 23rd April rolls round.


The list this year reads:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The Player of Games by Iain M Banks
Sleepyhead by Mark Billingham
Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The Take by Martina Cole
Harlequin by Bernard Cornwell
Someone Like You by Roald Dahl
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Room by Emma Donoghue
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Misery by Stephen King
The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
Small Island by Andrea Levy
Let the Right One In by John Ajvde Lindqvist
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell
The Damned Utd by David Peace
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
Touching the Void by Joe Simpson
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak
Reading them all by April would be easier - there is a lot more time for the challenge this year, and I've already read 10 of the titles...

but...

the list doesn't excite me at all this year. Perhaps making myself read them would be good but if I read these will I miss better, newer books?

I think I'll sleep on it for a while, after all there 6 months until WBN 2012...

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Incredibly Cross


I think that regular readers to this blog know that I work in a library.

In fact I work in (currently) the busiest library in the country - in the last year that we have figures for 1,502 449 people came through our doors.
Every morning there are people waiting outside the doors to come in.

These are people from all walks of life, some come in for advice, others for books, some to use the computers and others for the regular training or story sessions that we run. The one thing I know is that we are busy from the moment we open at 9am until the minute we shut the doors at 8pm.

I'm lucky, I work for a council that sees the value of libraries - unlike many areas around the country.

Just this week the author Nicholas Rankin gave a talk here in Norwich, he started it by saying that he'd spent nights this week camping outside his local library to stop it being shut. There is currently a legal challenge in progress trying to save his library - Kensal Rise - which was ironically closed 111 years to the day since it was opened by Mark Twain.
It isn't just authors and celebrities that are trying to save local libraries whole families are standing vigil trying to save these precious resources.

Just today figures were released showing just how many children joined the Summer Reading Challenge in 2011. This is an annual game that is run through libraries during the summer holidays. Children are encouraged to read six books during the holiday and are rewarded throughout and then on completing the challenge come to special ceremonies where they receive a certificate and medal. This challenge has been proven to help participants with their school work in many ways.

Libraries are important for so many reasons - personal and national - which is why articles like this one in the Telegraph make me so angry. Happily it seems that most people agree with me and not the author and the Twitter and Blogosphere are full of examples showing just how wrong this article is.

However our libraries are under threat so please if you are reading this and you don't usually visit a library please find your local branch and borrow a book or two. They might be there at the moment but once they are closed I can't see that they will be reopened and we need libraries.

For more information about campaigns to save libraries please have a look at Voices for the Library or The Bookseller's Campaign. For up-to-date information on library closures Public Library News is place to look.

Currently 428 libraries are under threat of closure in the UK - sign the petition to save libraries.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Reality Reading


Ranger Confidential by Andrea Lankford

While we were in America we actually only went into a couple of bookshops, and they were second-hand specialists not 'new' bookshops. However many of the National Parks we visited had dedicated bookshops within the gift shops and I saw a great many books that I wanted to read.

Luggage allowances didn't let me buy too many at all, but free wifi in hotels and a Kindle did mean that I could download this one on the road.

I've admitted to liking biographies and exposes in the past and this is another in that style.

Lankford was a Park Ranger in several of America's parks and in this book she talks about the ups and downs of the job. Like in all jobs there seem to be a lot more 'downs' than you'd originally think.

The park rangers that we met were unfailingly smart, informative and polite but after reading this book I am not at all sure how they manage it. In our time in the 5 parks we visited we saw no trouble at all, and only one idiot blatantly ignoring the signs saying to keep behind the railings however it would seem that we were lucky and that usually there are plenty of rule breakers in the National Parks, and that is before Mother Nature decides to intervene.

I realise that Lankford is going to pick the 'good' stories to tell but my hat goes off to all the park rangers out there. Like other emergency service workers you do a great job and do not deserve some of the things that happen to you.

This wasn't a comfortable read, and I am glad that I read it after we'd visited the Parks but it was informative and moving.

photo

Grand Canyon from Mather Point - taken Sept 2011.

Monday, 10 October 2011

All a bit quiet


No reviews of either plays or books at the moment as I've just spent the last few weeks in the USA on an epic road trip with my parents and Mr Norfolkbookworm.

I managed to read 2 books in just over 2 weeks - both good and worthy of a review, but didn't convince anyone to come to the theatre in Las Vegas!

The trip was amazing and all of the books about photography that I read before going seem to have been beneficial as on first glance I seem to have taken some pretty nice pictures. However I took over 2000 thus all of my free time for the foreseeable future will be spent editing them!

I'll be posting them to Flickr as they become ready and the first batch are up here already.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Travel guide with a difference


London's Theatres by Mike Kilburn

It can't have escaped readers' attention that I have been to the theatre quite a lot during 2011. It has been wonderful and I have more trips already planned for before Christmas.

I think that my colleagues think I am slightly insane for spending so much time traveling to and from London but one was very quick to point out the arrival of a new book to the library, and even went and found it on the library shelves for me.

The book is wonderful, it is a guide to the 52 central London theatres, it has lovely pictures, tells you of their history and all manner of quirky facts about them. Even though I've been to the theatre so much lately I've still only seen shows in 10 of them - bank balance look out there are another 45 to visit!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Mathematics


The Genius in my Basement by Alexander Masters


Back when I was reading all of the World Book Night books I discovered, and was blown away by, Stuart: A Life Backwards by Masters. A couple of months ago, when reading through publisher catalogues I saw that he had a new book coming, it instantly went on reserve in the library.

The book arrived and I duly put aside everything else I was already reading to start this one. It wasn't the joyous read I was expecting.

Again Masters has written a biography about a person who isn't a typical subject for a book. Simon Norton was Masters' landlord and a friendship grew up between them:
One of the greatest mathematical prodigies of the twentieth century stomps around the basement in semi-darkness, dodging between stalagmites of bus timetables and engorged plastic bags. He eats tinned kippers stirred into packets of Bombay Mix. Simon is exploring a theoretical puzzle so complex and critical to our understanding of the universe that it is known as the Monster. It looks like a sudoku table - except a sudoku table has nine columns of numbers.

The Monster has 8080174242794512875886459904961710757005754368000000000.


I am not sure if it is because I don't understand the maths (confession after the 3rd chapter dedicated to the Monster I skipped those bits), if is because the subject isn't actually that interesting or if it is because the book seems to be too much about Masters rather than Norton, but I found the book a slog.

I'm not totally put off reading Masters' next book - if he writes one - but I won't be looking forward to it with such excitement. That makes me sad because I really did find Stuart a gem.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Theatrical Interlude 17


The Tempest, Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London. September 2011


This is the third of four plays that Sir Trevor Nunn is staging at the Haymarket Theatre in 2011 and due to the star one of the hottest ticket around. Thanks to the eagle eyes of a friend we've had seats booked at this for months.

In the end we found it a very mixed performance.

Ralph Fiennes, as Prospero, is amazing. He has such stage presence that even when he is just standing behind a pillar watching the scene unfold I found my eyes drawn to him.

Nicholas Lyndhurst and Clive Wood were also outstanding as Trinculo and Stephano. These are the two comedy roles and they play the roles wonderfully and have a real chemistry together, which continues with the addition of Caliban. It isn't their fault that perhaps Shakespeare wrote one too many slapstick scene.

The other part of the production that really stood out for me was the portrayal of Ariel and the other supernatural creatures. They flew, danced, sand and moved in such a smooth, beautiful way that I really could see them as ethereal creatures rather than actors.

However the rest of the play didn't captivate me in such a way, it felt too episodic. The stories didn't quite make me believe in them and in the final scene where everyone is reunited and wrongs are put right no one on the stage seemed shocked or bothered - there, for me, was no emotion in this bit.

All in all a mixed bag, it certainly wasn't a bad play, I thoroughly enjoyed watching it but I think I prefer my Shakespeare at The Globe where there is more interplay between the stage and the audience (like it would have been when the plays were first performed), and where the actors seem to inhabit the roles rather than declaiming the lines to a dark theatre.

Ariel


Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Theatrical Interlude 16


Doctor Faustus, Globe Theatre, September 2011.


After having such a good time on two previous occasions I had a look on the website to see if there was anything playing on days that Mr Bookworm and I were both free.

It was with great delight that I found a performance of Doctor Faustus that we could both attend. Mr Bookworm read it earlier in the year and proclaimed it 'more readable' than Shakespeare and I've always been fascinated by the idea of actually being able to sell your soul to the devil.

The day didn't start well, there was torrential rain falling in Norwich as we left, but by the time we reached Bankside the weather had more or less cleared. It being a Sunday we decided to treat ourselves and had brunch at The Swan at the Globe. Our table was possibly the best in the house being tucked into a corner window overlooking the Thames and St Paul's Cathedral. The food and drink were lovely too.

The weather appeared to change as we sauntered across to the theatre and it started to rain, our seats were right up at the top of the theatre but the view was wonderful and it was lovely to people watch as the theatre filled up. The rain stopped just as the actors appeared on stage and by the end the weather was gloriously sunny.

As ever it took me a little while to adjust to watching a play in full daylight but I was quickly immersed in the story and totally drawn in to the story of a man who literally will do anything to learn the secrets of the world and then once he has the power squanders it.

The acting and the staging were wonderful, I've only just started watching Doctor Who* and to be honest Arthur Darvill's character hasn't really made and impression on me - however he was great in Doctor Faustus. I loved the ensemble cast all taking more than one role (excepting the two leads) and the costumes made you think that there were 3 times as many actors than there actually were. I thought it was a great touch having the angel and the demon played by sword wielding females. And as for the dragons...

All in all another great play in a lovely theatre. I'm not going to get to see anything else there this season but already I can't wait for next year's to be announced.



*This is where I confess that despite what I said here I have become a convert to Doctor Who. Damn, 30+ years of resisting down the drain.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Reading in advance


As if I didn't already have enough to read, I've discovered a new source of reading material.

There was a small article in The Bookseller a couple of weeks ago announcing that Faber books were going to use a company called Net Galley to distribute their proofs. This is a service that provides the proofs in electronic form to those in the book trade, libraries and bloggers.

After having a look at the site I signed up and already I have two books to read - better still some of the books can be delivered straight to my Kindle. I'm reading a (so far) intelligent chicklit book for young adults and a graphic novel set in the 2nd World War.

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Theatrical Interlude 15

Journey's End, Duke of York's Theatre, September 2011.

Literature about the First and Second World Wars has long been a favourite genre of mine. When I heard that the R C Sherriff's play was returning to London this summer I spent days planning how I was going to find the time to go and see the play.

I managed it on the last day of the run thanks to LastMinute.com and some rota juggling. I am so glad that I did, and if the tour was coming anywhere near Norwich I think I'd be there every night of the run.

I was a little worried when I got to the theatre as I was seated in Row AA - right in front of the stage. In fact as I am so short the stage was above my head. It didn't matter as the whole play actually takes place in a WW1 dugout and is supposed to be underground.

The staging and the lighting were minimal, the stage appeared to be lit totally by candle light and it was a static set with all of the acting taking place around a wooden table. The play takes place over just a few days just before the last major German offensive of the war.

The play was written by R C Sherriff in 1929, a man who had served in the trenches. It conveys the tedium, the fear and the excitement experienced by soldiers and at times is incredibly funny, however by the interval I knew I was going to need tissues.

I wasn't wrong.

By the end I was in floods of tears, as was the majority of the audience. I don't think I've had a more intense experience at the cinema or theatre before. The play ends with the attack. The stage goes black and the theatre is just full of the sound of guns. That fades and then the Last Post rings out.

I'm welling up just thinking about it.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

First Love

Call Me By Your Name - Andre Aciman

This was recommended to me by a friend who has very similar tastes to me when it comes to fiction. I read it first last year and then when I saw it on the shelf in the library I knew I had to read it again.

It is a love story set during a few crazy weeks in the Italian summer. It doesn't matter that this is an unconventional love story, between a teenager and a slightly older man, nor that the teenager is also male. It is simply a book about the madness and obsession that is first love.

The writing is so good that as you read the book you feel you are in a hot Italian summer. I read it on a typical English August day (cold and wet!) but I was transported to Italy, I could feel the Mediterranean heat soak into me as I was reading, I could have been sitting on a beach or beside a pool and not on a crowded train.

A little like most first love the passionate affair does come to an end, but in a realistic way that is hopeful and not depressing. The pair always know that there is an end date to their summer and that things will change when Oliver returns to his American life.

This isn't really what could be called a gentle book, at times it is pretty explicit, but to me it felt just right - a true romantic novel.

Aciman has written another novel and I will probably read it soon, but this book was just so perfect that I wonder if another book will be as good.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Theatrical Interlude 14 (reprise)


Much Ado About Nothing, Globe Theatre, August 2011
.

I saw this earlier in the year with Mr Norfolkbookworm but seeing it again with friends was no hardship at all.

It turned out to be quite a different experience due to the wonderful English weather. The forecast wasn't great but we had hoped that the weather was going to hold off until after the performance.

We were very lucky, we had great seats, Row A in the Lower Gallery and as there was no wind we did stay dry, unlike the poor groundlings and actors.

The play was as funny on second viewing as it was earlier in the year and this time had the added bonus of the actors ad libbing weather related lines into the script - Benedick whistling 'Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head' whilst standing at the edge of the stage was wonderfully amusing, probably down to his facial expressions.

I did feel sorry for the actors however, as any sitting or laying moments of the play must have been very uncomfortable with rain pouring down as well as being on the wet ground. I can't imagine that the Tudor costumes are that comfortable when dry let alone when drenched by an August downpour.

The one dampener (!) on the day was indirectly caused by the weather - at times it was hard to hear the actors due to the noise the rain was making as it hit the waterproof coats worn by the groundlings.

On the whole the weather didn't matter too much, and the Globe is fast becoming one of my favourite venues (especially since I found out about the back rests!)




A sneak picture taken just before the start of the play, if you look top let you can see the rain.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

When is a theatre trip not a theatre trip?


Behind the scenes tour, National Theatre, London


Since my first trip to see a performance at the National Theatre earlier this year I've been keeping a regular eye on their website, whether it is looking at future productions, the shop or photos from past productions. One thing kept catching my eye - the behind the scenes tour.

I finally got to go on this last week with a good friend. The day turned into a bit of a disaster but our visit to the National was out of this world, and a bargain.

After meeting in the foyer our knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide took us on a tour of the three stages (Oliver, Cottesloe and Lyttleton) as well as behind the stages, through the workshops and past the dressing rooms.

The tour struck just the right amount of theatre knowledge, promotion of the venue itself and technical knowledge. Our guide was very careful to keep all talk of productions very general so that anyone seeing a show didn't have anything 'spoiled' but still managed to explain how each of the current productions was staged and produced.

The National Theatre felt recognisable to me from the first moment I stepped through the door and I discovered that the architect of the building - Denys Lasdun - was also the architect of my former university (UEA), no wonder the shapes and interiors felt familiar!

As well as the general staging we were also shown how as much as possible it created in house at the National and got up close and personal with some of the props from former plays - I don't think I'll ever forget the explanation of how they made a tortoise explode on stage...

If you have a passing interest in seeing behind the scenes of a working, modern theatre then I really recommend this tour. I know that I will want to go again when other plays are in rep so that I can see the stages in different configurations and with other sets to view.


UEA, Norwich also designed by Lasdun

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Getting Political


I think that I've made it very clear that I am a huge supporter of libraries, and not just because I am employed by one.

I am fortunate to work for a council that sees libraries as a high priority but this isn't the case nationwide.

Libraries are important for many reasons and I urge every one to make their voice heard and let the government know that even in these times of economic hardship it is stupid to close libraries:

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/1269

Thank you.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

In which I fall for the hype...


How to Leave Twitter by Grace Dent

A few weeks ago everywhere you looked on social media sites this book was being talked about and recommended. I decided I wanted t read the book to see what the fuss was all about but I couldn't be bothered to buy the book so I reserved it from the library. It was obviously popular as I only got a copy to read at the very end of last week.

I don't often do this but I can't find anything positive to say about the book. I thought that it was going to be a silly read but I didn't expect it to be quite so nasty.

Dent tweets a lot, worries that she spends too much time on Twitter and gets cross with how other people use Twitter. That's it.

My feeling is that you Tweet or you don't (I do occasionally both for pleasure and for work).
If you do read Twitter then you can choose what you read.
If you don't like what you read you stop reading, you reply with your view or you don't read tweets from that person any more.

And that is it.

To write a book mocking people who don't agree with you is pointless, there are a few good netiquette points in the book but it was a total waste of my time and the paper it is printed on. I'm guessing that all the people talking about it on Twitter are either Dent's friends or her publisher. At least she didn't break her own rule and re-tweet all of their gushing reviews.

Never have I been so pleased that I borrowed a book for free from a library.

if anyone is interested in the little I have to say on Twitter I am (imaginatively @Norfolkbookworm and when I am tweeting for work it is @NorfolkLibs)

Monday, 8 August 2011

Theatrical Interlude 13


Opportunity Knox, Blakeney Village Hall, August 2011.

This is a very, very different theatrical experience to the ones I've been having recently but one that I wouldn't miss for the world.

The Blakeney Players are an amateur dramatics group on the Norfolk Coast who put on 2 shows a year. Shows that they write themselves and that are full of songs and dances that play to the Players' strengths. Every show is side-splittingly funny (sometimes not intentionally), witty and always a pleasure to watch. As the director of this show put it - it is possible that the actors enjoy the shows more than the audiences!

This summer's play 'Opportunity Knox' sees a group of bank robbers travelling around Europe pretending to be competitors in the 'Europe's Got Talent' competition.
Their acts...
..that would be an ABBA Tribute act and a couple pretending to be a ventriloquist and his dummy (she's lost her passport so they pretend she's a mannequin to get through immigration at Dover - obviously)
Police in several countries are baffled and so who better to catch the criminals than Lady Penelope, Parker and the boys from International Rescue!
It was as surreal as it sounds (and gets worse by the end) but every detail was perfect, the acting very amusing and the 'special effects' incredible.

There were only 4 performances of this show and all of them were sold out. It deserved to be.

You can't compare something like this to the productions I am seeing in London but I look forward to each and every show that the Players put on as much as I do my trips to London - just in a slightly different way.


This is where I confess that I know one of the Players and perhaps this review isn't quite as impartial as perhaps some of my others are.
That not withstanding I urge anyone in Norfolk to keep and eye out for the dates of Players' winter show and to grab a ticket as soon as they go on sale!


Saturday, 30 July 2011

Don't hold your breath...


...even the books I'm reading are about the theatre.


Who could resist a book with a title that is such a dreadful pun Something Written in the State of Denmark?

This is a blog to book tome that I treated myself to when I was at the National Theatre. It is the account of one season at the RSC by a member of the cast and cover the 10 months that forms 'The Season'. To make it more exciting this is the 2008 season which saw David Tennant and Patrick Stewart playing opposite each other in Hamlet.

Osborn doesn't dwell on the stars, they are in fact mentioned only in passing and you really get the feeling that in the RSC names don't matter to the company - it is only the audience that cares about who is in the play. The play really is the thing!

I had no idea before reading this about just how hard being an RSC actor is. The actors have to know 3 plays inside out and perform them in rotation throughout the year. In addition to their main parts they also have several understudy roles and effectively have to know at least 5 or 6 parts fully for a season. I thought that I had a good memory but this just blew me away and when you read just how hard everyone works, tech crew as well it is easier to see why the ticket costs are quite high. Everyone deserves every penny!

I loved this book, and already have the other RSC blog-to-book on order (Exit Pursued by a Badger) the only problem - now I desperately want to go to Stratford-upon-Avon and see a complete season!

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Theatrical Interlude 12

Emperor and Galilean, Olivier Stage, National Theatre, July 2011.

I am really beginning to think that I should rename this blog. I assure you that I am reading but as I am working my way through the work of one particular playwright at the moment it would be quite boring to blog/read about that.

Theatre on a Sunday is quite unusual but I for one am very glad that the National Theatre had some Sunday performances as it meant that I did get the chance to see this before the run ends.

When the play opened there were a few radio items about it, and all the press I saw was favourable so I was looking forwards to this event although it is a very obscure and long Ibsen play. So obscure in fact that this is the first time it has actually been performed in English.

I wasn't disappointed. It was a little long, especially in the first half, I did find my concentration wavering a little but the acting throughout was sublime - how the lead (Andrew Scott) managed to learn all of the lines I have no idea, there is barely a scene in the 3 1/2 hours that he isn't in.

The story itself is set in around 300AD when the Roman Empire converted from the pagan religions to being broadly Christian. Julian, nephew of the emperor, has religious doubts and when he becomes emperor he decides that he will renounce this decree and that all forms of worship will be allowed. This quickly falls apart and Christians are soon being persecuted and killed. There are more themes (friendship, madness, war) but this is the general story arc.

While the acting and story were great I found the staging and costumes to be a little much. There were so many costume changes and bits of moving scenery that this did keep drawing me out of the play and back into reality. Perhaps just because you can doesn't mean you should! However this was the first time I've seen just how incredible the Oliver Stage is - Frankenstein earlier in the year really didn't use it very much at all in comparison!

Ibsen (a Norwegian) clearly wrote over a 130 years ago a play that shows how easily belief can slide into fanaticism and violence. It feels heavily prescient especially in the light of the attacks in Oslo which occurred only 48 hours before I saw this performance.

I can't say that I would rush to see more Ibsen, but having seen 2 incredible plays at the National I will certainly be trying to see more there, whether live or when they broadcast to cinemas around the country.


Andrew Scott as Emperor Julian (photo Catherine Ashmore)

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Theatrical Interlude 11


Being Shakespeare, Trafalgar Studios, July 2011

This one man show nearly passed me by, if it hadn't been for a friend blogging about it (here) and then a programme on Radio 4 I would have missed a real treat.

Thanks to working part time and Lastminute.com I didn't miss out and instead had a day on my own in London seeing a piece of amazing theatre.

While I didn't have quite the same experience as my friend I was still blown away by Callow's performance. The play is just under 2 hours long and in it Callow takes the seven ages of man as listed in the play As You Like It and tells us of Shakespeare's life using quotes from his plays and poems.



ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.


I have to confess that I don't know many Shakespeare plays well. Romeo and Juliet was the only play I studied at school and since then I've not seen an awful lot. This didn't matter, and I will now be seriously searching out, reading and watching many more.

My abiding memories of this performance will be Callow playing both Romeo and Juliet during the balcony scene and when he played all the parts of the Pyramus and Thisbe scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream. It takes real talent for one man to act many parts at the same time well and making each one distinct.

I would urge you all to see this show but it closes on July 23rd so you'll have to be quick. I will now be looking for revivals of Callow's shows about Wilde and Dickens.

Another thing I learned from this trip is that it is okay to go to the theatre alone, not quite so pleasant as with friends as you have no one to chat to after the show, but still fine. Now to scour the listings for other things not to miss...

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Nepotism


Sometimes I just don't understand the book world
.

I've just read a brilliant book and under normal circumstances I'd now be linking exactly where you could find a copy and be urging you to read it too. However I can't.

The novel in question is called Looking for Buttons and it was written by a friend of mine, sadly the book can't find a publisher, she's been told by an agent that it is unlikely to be published but I'm hoping that they just mean in the current climate.

Looking for Buttons is an unashamed woman's read, I hesitate to call it chick-lit but it really reminded me of authors like Kate Long and Freya North. The characters live from page one, the story tells itself and there didn't seem to be any awkward chunks of description. It all just flowed.
I was kept guessing throughout and then ending is realistic rather than fairy tale.

Now it isn't without fault and as I was asked to give honest feedback I have done so - hopefully in a way that my friend is still talking to me - but there is nothing in there that a good editor wouldn't be able to fix.

As I was reading it I was thinking about how, if I still worked in book retail, I would 'sell' the book. There would be the obvious "if you like...you'll love" approach but I'd also have no problems hand selling the book with total honesty. The book is suitable for all ages of reader, it is modern enough that a twenty something would enjoy it but not so shocking that I'd have problems sharing it with my mum or my nan.

Now since I finished the book I've been trying to work out why it isn't being snapped up...

I've come to a few conclusions:

Chicklit is tending to be either more shocking or aimed at upper teens - Looking for Buttons doesn't hit this. It is just a realistic story with characters who are in their late twenties and early thirties living slightly larger than life lives.

There is a celebrity in the book and he is written in a way that breaks through the current cult of the s'leb - something that perhaps publishers are wary of in a society that seems obsessed by the famous.

The main reason I think it hasn't been snapped up though is snobbery:

The main character is a PhD graduate and all of her friends are also university graduates at varying levels. I wonder if there is the perception that this makes the book seem too high brow for general readers whilst at the same time there is the idea that people with degrees or higher can't be interested in chick lit.

I'm hoping that my friend doesn't give up on the book, I'd love to see it published and in the meantime I'm hoping that she makes it available via Amazon as an eBook. If she does I'll be pushing it like crazy.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Theatrical Interlude 10


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London. June 2011


This was a spur of the moment theatre trip in many ways. A friend said shall we? and without knowing anything about the play I said 'sure' and so it came to pass.

It isn't a decision I regret at all. As I knew nothing about the play I did read it beforehand just so I knew what was going on and once I'd done this I really couldn't wait to see it.

When we got to the theatre we had a surprise, we actually had tickets for the Upper Circle but had been upgraded to the Royal Circle. I don't know if it is because of the industrial action on the day, or if weekday matinees are just less popular but even with the Upper Circle shut and people relocated the Royal Circle was still more than half empty.
I was a bit worried what this would do to the atmosphere but I needn't have worried. Perhaps because there were no school parties in the theatre was lovely and quiet and everyone seemed to 'get' all of the jokes and the performance felt very friendly.

From the very first scene I fell in love with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, they are such bewildered characters, yet so wise. It helps that the two actors had fantastic chemistry together I think - when I read my programme in the interval I saw that they had both been in Alan Bennett's History Boys which would explain the familiarity and ease. They are on stage during pretty much every scene of the play and even then I could happily have watched more of them!

The players, who for me acted both as the comic relief and the narrator, were funny and completely over the top (in the best way). Having recently been to the Globe they felt very 'right' for travelling actors in Shakespearean times.

The weakest parts of the play for me were when the scenes from Hamlet were acted. I realised that the transition from modern speech to pure Shakespeare would be sudden but personally I felt that the actors acting Hamlet were melodramatic and out of step with the rest of the play somehow. Even so they were still good, just not as good as the others!

Throughout I was trying to recall what the play was reminding me of and then in a light bulb moment it came to me - the sparse setting and the questioning themes all made me think of Waiting for Godot. It was only afterwards when I read more about Stoppard and this play that I found out others had made this connection.

For a spur of the moment decision to see a play I wasn't disappointed. It was another resounding success.

Monday, 4 July 2011

High hopes


Caddy's World by Hilary McKay


I picked this one of the shelf with some trepidation, I love Hilary McKay's books, and have done for years. Even before the delightful Casson family books there was the Exiles series - what reader wouldn't sympathise with the Conroy sisters when they are sent to stay with Big Grandma and forbidden to read?

Then there was the sequel to A Little Princess, which I blogged about here.
I wasn't a fan and so on learning that Caddy's World was going to be a prequel to the Casson family saga I was nervous.

In the main I shouldn't have been, the book did fit in with the other stories quite well and it is obvious that McKay is happier writing about younger teenagers, Caddy and her friends feel much more realistic than Caddy does later on as an almost adult. The review I found here sums up 95% of my feelings about the book.

However...

There was just one thing that threw me out of the book. The book is supposed to be set in 1996, in the epilogue Rose finds a picture from the time of the book and it is dated 1996 so this is an author stated fact and not a fan doing sums, but in the book Indigo has already been called "the next Harry Potter" in a newspaper article.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone wasn't published until 1997 and the hype and general media interest in the books didn't begin for at least 18 months after that.

I am sure that I am being hyper critical with this but after having gone to so much trouble to make all of the chronology fit, and to set a book that did really feel as if it was the first in the series and not a later fill-in this fact that could so easily have been checked spoiled the read for me.

I did enjoy the book, it has (mostly) restored my faith in an author I've loved for years and I am sure that nobody else will be upset by the too early reference to Potter.

I just have a bit of a 'thing' for accuracy in books - whether it is getting the date wrong in a children's historical book (one I read put the Dunkirk evacuations in 1941) or using old / wrongly labelled photos in a space reference book (the external tank was only white for 2 missions the other 133 flights have had orange tanks so why did a book published 4 years ago have the wrong picture...)

Rant over. It is a good book, a great story and the characters all really came alive. Now I've got to hunt out all of the Exile books and the rest of the Casson books and have a serious re-read...I might be some time!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Bedtime Stories


The Reading Promise , 3218 nights of reading with my father by Alice Ozma


I've had this book on reserve in the library for a couple of months, in fact as soon as I read the pre-publication blurb I knew that I wanted to read this book.

The jacket reads
"When Alice was nine years old, she and her father - a beloved school librarian - made a promise to read aloud together for 100 consecutive nights. upon reaching that goal, they decided to to continue what became known as The Streak for as long as they possibly could."

I've mentioned before the memories I have of being read to (Dad, why did we never read The Horse and his Boy when reading the Narnia books?) and so this book was always going to appeal. And when it finally arrived I read it in one day.

I think I thought it would be more about the books the pair shared, why they chose them and what they thought of them. It wasn't really like that.

This was the story of Alice's childhood and teenage years with her single parent dad with some mention of the time they spent reading together, there was very little about the books themselves.

It was an enjoyable read, but it wasn't what I was expecting and to be honest without the 'hook' of the 3218 nights I'm not sure that the book would have ever crossed the Atlantic to the UK. On the plus side it was lovely to read a book that was so positive about reading and about the father-daughter relationship, but it was a bit too 'touchy-feely' for me as a rule.

I think that as an avid reader the one thing that disappointed me the most was this closing paragraph:
"My father and I had no idea what The Streak would become and therefore never made a list of the books we read. Many have been forgotten"
they do go on to list some that they remember but as someone who has kept a reading diary for the last decade I wanted to know what they read and what they thought of the books.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Theatrical Interlude 9


Lady in the Van, Theatre Royal Norwich, June 2011.


I first came across Alan Bennett when I was studying for my GCSEs. A unit of my English course was all about monologues and I recall it being a real joy to watch all of the 1988 Talking Heads series. At that age I'm not sure I was really aware who the author was, I don't think I'd come heard of Beyond The Fringe at that point.

Up until the end of last year Bennett was someone I was aware of, I read The Uncommon Reader the day it was published, but until World Book Night reintroduced us I think that most of my Bennett awareness came from the pretty cruel sketches on the radio version of Dead Ringers.

When I found out that Lady in the Van was coming to Norwich it didn't take an awful lot of persuasion by a friend to get me to see it. I knew the rough out line of the story - Miss Shepherd parks her van in Bennett's front garden and remains there for the next 15 years - but nothing about the play.

I found it very good. The idea of the two Alan's confused me for the first few minutes but then I was swept away into the story and had no problem at all working out what was supposed to be happening at the time as opposed to what Bennett was thinking when he wrote the play.

The actors had me convinced from line one, and Nichola McAuliffe was incredible as Miss Shepherd. The play deals with some pretty deep and traumatic themes but there is enough humour throughout to stop it feeling depressing. In fact some because some scenes were funny despite the poignancy I found myself feeling guilty for laughing. Then I remembered that that is the British way of coping in times of stress and emotion - it was okay to laugh, so long as you feel a bit uncomfortable.

One thing jarred in the play for me, and that is probably because of my own perceptions, and that was the use of some of the swear words. I see Bennett as a mild mannered, polite, shy person - a veritable National Treasure - and to hear the F-word coming from 'him' was a shock. When I'm watching a play I lose track of the real world around me and the swearing did actually jolt me out of that state and back into the present. I don't doubt that Bennett does use that language (both in real life and in the situation depicted in the play) but it did to me feel anachronistic.

Each play I've seen this year has been fantastic and this one was no exception. The one thing I am particularly glad of is that the stage director didn't scent the production - my imagination was quite enough!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Being controversial


The library can be bad for (my) reading health.

There I've said it and now before you all scream at me let me explain...

Part of my job lets me look through the supplier catalogue each month to highlight some of the new non-fiction published. You might not agree with my choices but you can find them here. Now when I am reading the catalogue I find lots and lots of books that I want to read.

So I reserve them.

And then they all come in together.

This is where my problem starts, one week I can be going mad because I can't find anything to read and then all of a sudden I have a pile about 12 deep of new books that I can't wait to read. Thus I become a book butterfly, flitting from book to book in an effort to read them before their return date. Or worse I drop what I've been reading for a while because something new and exciting has arrived and then I forget to go back to the original book.

It got worse today as Mr Bookworm has also come home from work with a book from the Uni Library that I've been wanting to read for months, and that is only on loan to me for a week.

I shall have to start prioritising harder, either that or sleeping less so I have time to get through them all.

So the library is wonderful. I have access to dozens of books that I couldn't afford to buy in such quantity. BUT it has been about 2 weeks since I last finished a book, despite having a pile on the go!

It doesn't help at the moment that I've just got a new camera and lens so a lot of reading time has become photography time...