Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Theatrical Interlude 24

Sunday Double Bill, Lyttleton Theatre at the National Theatre, London. December 2012

I think that the general feeling was that Rebecca and I were slightly insane in planning a theatre trip to London less than 10 days before Christmas but we're afraid that the lure of two new Alan Bennett plays was too strong.

After some freezing cold and dreadful weather we were very lucky and spent the morning wandering along the South Bank's Christmas market in glorious (and for December)warm sunshine.  An indulgent lunch followed before we settled in to the circle at the Lyttleton for the first of our two playlets.


This is  a collection of memories and micro essays from Alan Bennett set to live music.  The set is very sparse, just an armchair and side table plus 4 seats for the string quartet. The musician appear first and were very talented then Alex Jennings, looking and sounding very much like Alan Bennett, walks on and starts talking.
The snippets were humorous, moving and educational and the music sublime although just occasionally I lost some of the words due to the volume of the music.

This is a very short piece, just 30 minutes and then we left the theatre for the 45 minute interval - the idea is that you indulge in a nice Sunday tea but we were too full form lunch so browsed the bookshop and then looked at the Landscape Photographer of the Year Exhibition.

Cocktail Sticks

The second of the two plays is longer, and more traditional although there are still musicians on the stage.  This time the play starts with Alan Bennett clearing his parent's house and coming across a packet of cocktail sticks in the kitchen cupboard.  From here it becomes a narrative tale with Bennett's memories and thoughts about his life being told and at times re-enacted by his parents and various other people.
A cast of 5 (Alan, Mam, Dad and 2 people playing everyone else) tell over 40 years of family history in just over an hour and in that time the audience is taken on a really emotional roller coaster journey - such as only Alan Bennett can.

The stories weren't new to me as I have read Bennett's books of autobiography/memoir but this didn't matter at all - hearing them in Alan Bennett's voice and acted out made the stories live even in a way that Bennett's writing hadn't.

These are two very odd pieces of theatre that were both sublime.  They were odd because unlike so much theatre I think that you really do need to be older to understand and appreciate them.  If you have no experience of his themes you won't understand either the humour or the sadness.

The best bit? Bennett's take on the line "they f*** you up, your mum and dad"

This isn't my last theatre trip of 2012 but was the last with Rebecca and very soon I shall have to work out my top 10 shows of the year.

I'm loathe to do this yet for as I started to do this with my books of the year but then in the past 3 days have read 2 books that have been fantastic and who knows what I'll think of the last play!

Monday, 10 December 2012

Time to celebrate

6 Years in a row!

Whilst the headline in this news article is very depressing the fifth paragraph has made me and a lot of other people happy today.

For the sixth year in succession the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library has retained the status of busiest library in the country.

In fact we have retained the double crown - we issue the most books of any library in the country and we have the most visitors through our doors.

We know we can't rest on our laurels - there are lots of other fantastic libraries out there all of whom would love to take our crown but thanks to the support of our customers, a County Council that sees the benefits of a world class library and all of the guests we've hosted we can add this celebration to Christmas 2012.

I am well underway with event planning for 2013, January looks exciting and then in February we are working with the British Library and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to bring their Writing Britain exhibition to the city.  The British Library are loaning us some items and we have a full week of events planned to celebrate this.  More details will be coming early in the New Year but it you are on Twitter please do follow the project to keep fully up-to-date with our plans.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Theatrical Interlude 23

One Man, Two Guvnors, Norwich Theatre Royal. December 2012.

Norwich is getting some great London shows at the moment (and next year's brochure looks just as exciting) and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to see this without a trip to London.

I missed the initial buzz around this play when it opened in London, and to be honest the original lead wasn't someone that I particularly liked but after winning so many awards I realised that I'd be daft not to see One Man, Two Guvnors when the chance arose.

I knew that it was a comedy based on a style of theatre from years ago but nothing more than that, and again the not knowing worked very well. The show started with a very good quartet playing guitars, double bass and washboard. The theatre was noisy with people arriving and I couldn't tell if the songs were original or music from the era (late 1950s/ early 1960s). They were very good and it made a nice start to the evening.

To explain the play and plot is nigh on impossible - it is farce, pantomime, melodrama and totally ridiculous...but very funny. As the audience you can see everything that is going to happen it doesn't matter, in fact as the cast address the audience directly throughout it is hard to remember sometimes if you are seeing a stand up comedy show or a play.

The first half was brilliant, I was giggling like a loon throughout and even the audience participation worked a treat - never has the phrase "normal for Norfolk" been more apt. I'm not a great one for slapstick comedy violence but the restaurant scene was just perfect.
The second half didn't quite hit my funny bone in the same way, the humour became a little cruder and the script felt like it had run out of steam. 
The actors gave it their all throughout even if events and interjections caused them to corpse more than once - who knew Swaffham could cause such hilarity?!

It was still a fun evening and for once seeing a comedy alone didn't matter - the play was funny enough to overcome the need to share the emotion - but Noises Off* remains the funniest thing I have ever seen in a theatre.

*luckily for me (and Mr Norfolkbookworm) the Old Vic are touring Noises Off next year and Norwich is one of the cities it is coming to. Time to book some tickets I feel!

Friday, 23 November 2012

This is a post to shock my dad...

Strange Meetings by Harry Ricketts

... well this is a book review post to shock my dad (and many others that know me)

I think I've read a book that could be my book of the year, and it is about poetry and poets.

Now while I'm not a poetry fan normally I've always liked much of the poetry that came out of the First World War, for once studying a topic didn't put me off totally.

This book isn't about the poetry primarily but more about how the lives of the famous war poets were linked - either intimately, casually or via the six degrees of Kevin Bacon.

All of the characters came back to life on the page, they were neither demonised nor lionised and the excerpts of poetry complement the biographies perfectly. 

I can honestly say that I almost missed my train stop on Saturday as I was reading this, it really was an undignified scramble to get off the train in time! I've been recommending the book left, right and centre since finishing it and that makes only the 3rd book this year that I can say that about.  

It won't be to everyone's taste but I was blown away by the book.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Exhibition time

Staging the World, The British Museum, London. November 2012

Before our recent trip to the ancient Rome at the theatre Rebecca and I mixed our eras by finally getting to the Shakespeare exhibition at the British Museum.  

We cut it a bit fine for this as the exhibition closes on November 25th and has been open since mid July.  It was worth the wait (and the very early start) as from the very start the exhibition was fascinating.

The exhibition is split into 9 areas that you wander through and is crammed full of artifacts, books, history and films of actors reading famous speeches.  The first bit, Shakespeare's London, was busy and a lot of the items on view were items I'd seen before but once through there I was spellbound. 

I think that The Forest of Arden, The Medieval Past and The Classical World areas were my favourite parts, possibly because these areas reflected the plays I've seen or studied most recently. At present, and for many reasons, I feel that Henry V is my favourite play and there were lots of displays bringing this to life.

We spent well over an hour wandering around the exhibition and I certainly feel that I now understand the world of Shakespeare a lot better.

I think for me the best item was the very early theatre review - who knows perhaps in 400 years some of my theatre reviews will be used in an exhibition like this one...

Monday, 19 November 2012

Theatrical Interlude 22

Berenice, Donmar Warehouse, London. November 2012

Now the nights are longer and the days colder the early starts and late finishes that a day in London necessitates are becoming less appealing but I know that once I get over that the trips are going to be fun.

I have in fact made four trips to London in just 10 days. Once to see a comedy tryout, once to go to the London Aquarium with my sister and nephew, once for a Sherlock themed fund raiser and then lastly to go to the Donmar Warehouse with my usual theatre going partner in crime.*

Not knowing anything in particular about the story we chose this play solely because this adaptation has been written by Alan Hollinghurst who is one of our favourite authors.

The Donmar Warehouse is fast becoming one of may favourite venues in London. I can't say I'd necessarily like to see a very long play there as the seats are padded benches but the space is so intimate and cosy that I feel at home as soon as I enter the auditorium.

Berenice is set in Rome just after the death of the Emperor Vespasian. His successor Titus is in love with Queen Berenice, a non Roman.  Vespasian disapproved of the match but now that Titus is in charge Berenice is just waiting for his proposal. Life is never that simple and when another suitor appears and all of Rome disapproves of the match then you know things aren't going to go well...

The play is formed of long speeches rather than snappy dialogue and has a very sparse set - the only props are two chairs, a staircase and a dagger. None of this matters, the actors make it a very intense and captivating play, odd in the extreme but compelling. The ending is also a surprise in many ways and that was really pleasing to me.

I still am unsure why a play set in the Golden Palace, in the heart of Rome, was full of sand, even falling from the roof of the theatre but I loved it and I am now going to have to search out a fuller (translated) version of Racine's original play.

The Berenice set from our seats in the circle, sand and all!

*My theatre-going-partner-in-crime is now fine with me revealing her identity (as she told me in no uncertain terms on Saturday) and so to find out more about my talented friend Rebecca please do check out her website!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

A long time ago

Heffers Classic Festival, Cambridge, November 2012.

While theatre and Shakespeare appear to be my new favourite things my love of Greece and Italy and of the stories from antiquity are still high on my agenda

Retellings of Greek and Roman myths and legends are books that I am always drawn to. Just this year it became clear that I wasn't the only one as Madeline Miller won the Orange Prize for Fiction with her retelling of the story of Achilles, Patroculus and the Iliad. I've blogged before about my love of the Roman Mysteries by Caroline Lawrence too.

It isn't just the stories that I like, the histories and architecture also captivate.  Seeing that there was going to be a dedicated to the classics nearby I booked tickets as soon as they were available.

The day was well organised and scheduled, with several sessions though out the day all featuring 3 or 4 speakers. Limiting the talks to 15-25 minutes was good in many ways - if the topic didn't appeal you knew it was only short, and also you got to hear loads of ideas. BUT every so often I really wanted to listen to all the ideas the speaker had!

What I liked most about the day (apart from the chance to chat to one of my favourite authors!) was that the talks were pitched perfectly - they were neither too simple and thus patronising nor were they so academic that I was lost at any point.

My book list has grown incredibly, and I now want to travel extensively through the Greek and Roman world. I don't think I'll try to learn Latin though!

Roll on the 2013 festival.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Theatre at the Pictures

Timon of Athens, National Theatre Live, Cinema City, Norwich. November 2012

Thank heavens for whoever had the wonderful idea of broadcasting London productions into cinemas around the country (and indeed around the world).

This is the only play from season of National Theatre Live that I've seen at the cinema - one play I'd seen at the National and the other I missed due to having the lurgy.  I'm glad that I went out on a cold, wet Thursday night for this production, which was in fact was the very last performance of the play's run.

I've established over the last year that I prefer my Shakespeare performed as at the Globe so I was a little concerned about this version as it was totally up-to-date and had a definite setting of 2011/2012, however the draw for me was Simon Russell Beale. Everything I've seen him in has been great!

The play is all about money and how fickle people are - when Timon appears rich and lavishes gifts on his friends and entertains extravagantly everyone loves him, as soon as they realise he is bankrupt they all desert him.  The second half is all about Timon's life as a destitute person, and what I saw as his descent into controlled madness.

This is very much a play of two halves, and I preferred the first, but the acting was incredible and all credit to the National Theatre and the actors for making me see that Shakespeare can work in an updated form in a traditional theatre.

This is one of the plays that Shakespeare wrote with another author and Nicholas Hytner, the director, did say in the interval film that they had to alter/add to some scenes just t make the play make sense. Not having read the original I think that they did a good job, from start to finish I could follow the story and no lines stood out as being 'modern' despite the updating. Several people in the audience were unsure of making some roles female (the steward for example) but for me that was the only way that the play could have stayed realistic with the modern setting. 

Seeing this at the cinema was ideal, the expense of a trip to London for this would have been okay but the convenience of trying something I was unsure of close to home was just right.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Theatrical Interlude 21

Fantasia: Live in Concert, Royal Albert Hall, London. October 2012

I think I am a bad influence on my family as this was an outing to the theatre with yet another member of the clan.

Joking aside I was very lucky to be invited on this trip and it was in fact my sister's birthday present from her husband.  Both of us have been Disney fans since we were little and I think that when Fantasia was released on video for the first time way back in the mists of time it was in fact the first pre-recorded film our parents gave us.

The luxury of the Royal Albert Hall was just what we needed on a damp, dreary October Sunday. We were sat up in the circle with a lovely clear view of the screen and the Royal Philharmonic and as soon as the lights dimmed and the music started we were swept away.

There were a lot of children, unsurprisingly, in the audience and one of the most magical things about the afternoon was their gasps of wonder/amusement as the film played. I'd forgotten some of the music/animation but what an experience for those lucky enough to be seeing bits of the films for the first time in such a setting.

My favourite scenes from Fantasia 2000 were both performed live - Gershwin's Raphsody in Blue and Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance (with Donald Duck) but sadly the Dance of the Hours performed by the hippos wasn't included.

The whole afternoon left me with a big smile on my face and I'm sure you can guess which films haven't been out of my DVD player since I got home...must put the Blu-Rays on my Christmas list!

A huge thank you to my sister and brother-in-law for making this trip possible - the 6 hours on the train were totally worth it!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Wide range reading

My reading is more eclectic than usual at present and I am loving the experience.

In addition to the challenges being presented by the two reading groups I belong to (International Fiction and Forgotten Gems) and my own choices of books for fun, I am also reading through an exceptionally long longlist of books that are being considered for inclusion in a promotion next spring and summer.

This list is so long and varied and contains so many books that I'd never (probably) have chosen for myself that I have asked other people to just hand me books to try.

So far I've read through 5 new books and all have certainly caught my attention in one way or another.  It is an odd feeling letting someone else choose what you read - not bad, just odd.  It isn't like studying or book group where you 'have' to read the book. It isn't like a recommendation from a friend. But it is like both of these things - with the advantage that if you don't like the book you can stop AND you can be honest and say you didn't like it with out fear of offending the person who gave it to you.

I'm liking the experience and I'm thinking that maybe when the final books are chosen I might ask random people to just hand me a book every so often.  My reading is generally very varied, but I do have a preferred type and preferred places I go to for recommendations so this randomness may expand my horizons in many new ways....

Monday, 22 October 2012

Theatrical Interlude 20

Julius Caesar, Theatre Royal, Norwich. October 2012.

Trips to the theatre continue apace at present but for once this one didn't need a long trip to and from London.

Mr Norfolkbookworm and I had a night out in Norwich for this play, our first Shakespeare play from the RSC.

It was an innovative performance, rather than being in either Roman garb or Tudor/Stuart garb the play had been transported to vaguely contemporary Africa.  The language hadn't been updated at all but the dress and set could have been anywhere in Africa. Also in addition to tuning the ear to Shakespeare's language the audience had to also tune to an African-speaking-English accent too.

I enjoyed the play, but if I am honest nowhere near as much as I've enjoyed those I've seen at The Globe.  I have a feeling that I am a bit of a traditionalist with my Shakespeare and that for me seeing it performed in a setting and manner as it was written adds something to each play

The actors were very good and in a way the play did transfer very well to the new setting, I liked the way the musicians were integral to staging. The costumes were very effective in showing who was who and what side they were on - something that can become confusing in a political intrigue play. However at times I found myself almost giggling as the staging and music just kept making me remember the 1970s film version of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Another thing I learnt at this evening was that attending a serious and long play like this after a full and intense day at work was incredibly draining. Comedy and musicals are one thing but almost 3 hours of Shakespeare was a challenge.

I can't say that I won't seek out other RSC performances, but I know that for now my priority will be for those being staged at or by The Globe.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Theatrical Interlude 19

Twelfth Night, The Globe, October 2012

I'm a little behind (again) with reviews but this time I have two excuses - I came home from seeing this play and immediately developed nasty cold and then since feeling better Blogspot seems to have caught the same bug and hasn't really been playing ball as I've tried to post!

Twelfth Night was my fifth trip to The Globe this season and was the fourth and final 'new' play in the 2012 "The Play's the Thing' season. It was again an all male cast being led by Mark Rylance.

Like all of the plays I've seen at The Globe it was very,very good. The characters were brilliant and the whole piece worked well as an ensemble. I had been concerned that because Stephen Fry was in the cast that it would become a celebrity love fest for ten audience or that, because of his inexperience, the play would be dumbed down in some way.

I needn't have worried. Fry played up to the standard of the rest of the cast and like in all good plays I managed to forget who the actor was and just see the character. I'm not so sure that this was the case with all of the audience but I believed him as Malvolio.

This was another play that I was only vaguely aware of the story line in advance but this time I did find it harder to lose myself in the experience. This is no criticism of the actors/set/location just my personal reaction I feel - perhaps because of the germs that had yet to manifest themselves visibly?

As with Richard III this play is transferring to a traditional West End theatre in a few weeks and (perhaps) because of this the performance did seem more static than I'm used to at The Globe. This meant that due to the theatre shape and location it was hard to hear some of the lines when the actors weren't facing you, a problem that will be solved indoors with traditional seating.

I thought the confusion (as written by Shakespeare) of men playing women playing men was very well done (although some of the cast were more convincing that others!) as was the tender confusion of falling in love with what seem like the inappropriate choices. In these scenes this was by far the most romantic Shakespeare play I've seen.

This sounds like a negative review and my experience on the day was far from this, but I wasn't quite as buzzed leaving the 3hr+ play as I have been from the others this season. It was probably my least favourite Globe play this year but still in my top 10 of plays seen...and while I won't be rushing to see if I can get tickets for the West End transfer I wouldn't dismiss the idea of seeing it again. Who knows how much the cold I didn't know I had influenced my viewing!

Monday, 8 October 2012

Theatrical Interlude 18

Love and Information, Royal Court Theatre, September 2012

I'm currently dipping my toe back into the world of study with a distance learning course on theatre, it is interesting and one of the things recommended is to see a play by all of the playwrights on the syllabus - and if possible the actual play being looked at. Obviously the latter isn't easy but when the Royal Court announced they were premiering a new Caryl Churchill play I had to be pretty quick off the mark to make sure I got a ticket.

I'm not sure what I was expecting (I haven't got to the Churchill module yet!) but this really drew me out of my comfort zone.

I'd purposely not read reviews of the play but I had seen the star ratings go by and these covered a lot of numbers, but I knew that the Royal Court had a good reputation so I wasn't too worried. On the day I wasn't sure I wanted to go but that was more because of the glorious weather and spending what could well have been the last nice warm day of the year in a dark theatre just sounded daft.

I think I should have followed my gut instinct. This wasn't a play - it was 50+ scenes that weren't really related in any way, shape or form. It felt like a whole bunch of random sketches that were being tested to see which would work in a sit com or stand up comedy routine (in my opinion less than half of them).

There was no interval - and if there had been I'm not sure how many people wold have come back - it was just scene after scene in a blank white box with shockingly bright lights around it.

Some of the sketches were very funny, even when retold to family later, some were very moving and the actors without exception were very talented. For me though the simple lack of anything linking the scenes, or any knowledge of even why they were in the order they were, meant I couldn't relax into the afternoon at all. Perhaps I should have copied a lot of the audience and taken a large stiff drink into the auditorium with me!

It was an interesting afternoon in an interesting venue but for me the highlight was the couple sitting behind me arguing as they tried to remember which of them wanted to see the play "and for the love of God, why did they want to see this...thing!"

Friday, 28 September 2012

Marmite or Marmalade?

Paddington Races Ahead by Michael Bond

I had a hand made Paddington Bear toy as a child - he had removable boots, hat and duffle coat and in my memory was the same size as me - I'm still pretty sure he was larger than a normal teddy bear though as he did wear my out-grown red boots.  I had a lovely compilation book of Paddington stories too.

My first real memory of the visitor from Darkest Peru was when Selfridges made their Christmas Grotto all about the bear - from searching the Internet I see that this was in 1983 and in honour of his 25th birthday!
There was a special book published to coincide with this and I remember loving the bit  where Paddington inflates a giant boat whilst in the shop.
It was only this year that I saw the statue at Paddington Station for the first time and got a bit overexcited!

I got excited when I saw there was a new book due. Unlike many of the recent updates to old favourites the original author is still in charge so I wasn't worried I'd be disappointed.

Sadly, as ever, reading a childhood favourite as an adult wasn't quite the same.

It wasn't that I minded Paddington getting into a muddle over Oysters or even having his fish nibble his feet, Paddington has always lived in a timeless place. It was Jonathan and Judy that hit the discordant note, and the talk of them wearing jeans that jarred for me, along with them being drawn much younger than the text implied they were. I think it would have worked better for me if they had grown up while Paddington stayed the same and the children were now their children...

In my opinion the best chapter was when Paddington accidently drops into Hamlet being performed at the Open Air Theatre in London, but anyone who regularly reads this blog will be unsurprised by this!

Once I put thoughts of old favourites out of my head and lost myself in the new book it was fine but all in all I prefer the originals and the original pictures.  I can't wait until my nephew is old enough to sit and share Paddington's adventures with, complete with a plate of marmalade sandwiches of course... I think I'll start hunting for a copy of the original TV series on DVD now!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Theatrical Interlude 17

Cabaret, Theatre Royal Norwich, September 2012

I've started to infect my whole family with the theatre bug - this outing saw me accompanied by Mr Norfolkbookworm and my dad, although this time I only had to walk to the theatre and dad had to make the long journey.

I think he found it worthwhile.

I knew the vague plot outline of the musical, but from reading Christopher Isherwood's books and autobiographies rather than the famous film adaptation which I haven't seen.

I was a little concerned about the leads in this version - in casting pop/TV stars I was a bit worried hat the production was all about making money through sell out audiences rather than quality.

Happily I was wrong.  This is a musical that starts in a light hearted, comedic way with all the excesses of Berlin in the late 1920s and early 1930s clear to see.  As the story unfolds it gets darker and darker to the truly shocking ending.

Even as the story spirals into the horrors of the Nazi era there are moments of humour and  found the balance of humour and horror was very well done in this production.  I have read a lot of comments on discussion boards at people being horrified by audience members laughing at parts of the show, but if like me they didn't know where, for instance the song The Future Belongs to Me, ends up then the start is funny. And yes I did feel guilty for laughing by the end of the song.

Although it has a start studded cast I found that this was forgotten quickly and all of them were very good, I did find it hard to hear all of the words when Will Young was singing sometimes but I do think that might have been more to do with the sound at the theatre than his voice.  The costumes (and lack of them) were very good and the clever use of scenery made it easy to follow the many changes of location during the performance.  I think that the Swing really deserve separate praise as the moves and dances they performed were truly jaw dropping, especially on moving scenery.

It has been a week since I saw the show and I am still humming the songs, but after watching clips on Youtube I'm not sure I will hurry to watch the film, it seems very much of its time rather than of Berlin in 1931.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Swept up by the Summer of Sport

The Paralympic Games, 31st August 2012

After missing out on tickets repeatedly for the main Games I'd become a little disillusioned with the whole idea of the Games.  The disruption caused by the Olympic Torch Relay didn't improve my mood, then we had the Opening Ceremony and I was hooked.

Thanks to a tip off from a friend and an awful lot of website refreshing and shift negotiation with colleagues Mr Norfolkbookworm and I ended up with tickets to the Aquatic Centre and the Orbit Tower for the last day of August.

An early start from central London in glorious sunshine set the tone of the day - it was brilliant from start to finish.  We got off the Tube at West Ham and walked along the Greenway into the park and as the stadium got closer my excitement grew.  Security checks were fast and efficient and once we were in the Park we had time to grab coffee, juice and breakfast before going into the Aquatic Centre.

Our seats were right in the centre just under half way up and we could see everything.  Amazingly the pool area wasn't too hot and didn't smell of chlorine some really enjoyed seeing elite athletes give their all in the heats. We aren't ardent sports fans and so didn't recognise any of the swimmers at the time - after the past 11 days I now know many more! This didn't matter at all as we were just spellbound and cheering for everyone, especially when Paralympic records were broken.

After our session in the Aquatic Centre we wandered around the park, revelling in the space and beauty of the area and then we had our trip to the top of the Orbit sculpture...

...this was a bit of an extravagance but it gave us the chance to see over the whole Park, into the Stadium and across in to London.  I also found the structure beautiful and the red of the metal against a blue summer sky very eye catching. While we were at the top the athletics finished and we saw just how busy the park gets when 80 000 people start wandering around!

Lunch beckoned after this and we had a lovely Mexican meal in World Square before visiting the London 2012 Megastore. After this we were beginning to flag and so decided to leave before the evening rush hour but even then strolling towards the exit along the canal bank we found more to see - including Gloriana, the Queen's specially built Jubilee barge.  It was a fantastic day and we are both so pleased we got tickets and could take part in this fabulous event.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Theatrical Interlude 16

Taming of the Shrew, The Globe Theatre, August 2012

This was again a play I was a little nervous in seeing, not because I had any doubts about the performance itself but because it was a long awaited treat for my mum, and her first visit to the Globe.

Our seats were in the Upper Tier but dead centre and so we could see almost all of the action, barring a tiny amount that took place on the catwalk-esque thrust part. The first thing I noticed about the staging was how much scenery there appeared to be compared to the sparseness of the last two plays I'd seen there.

The start of the play was a little bit of a shock and was very unexpected (The play runs until October 13th so I won't 'spoil' this) but very quickly became a familiar Globe production. I didn't know the story behind this play at all before seeing it, I'd just been told that it was a problem play that I might find hard to swallow.  I didn't and I loved it from start to finish.

For me this version was funny, poignant, bawdy and brilliant. While Petruchio does try to tame Katherina I found this version wasn't about the subjugation of women but more about a couple having to both compromise for a marriage to work.  The relationship between Katherina and Bianca also had moments that felt very familiar, nice to know Shakespeare got the female sibling rivalry spot on as well as other family's feuds!

The costumes (or lack of them!) were fantastic as were the songs, musicians and the jig at the end. While there were lots of laughs throughout I do think that the kicking of the bucket scene stealing was my favourite!
As mum and I said to each other, if every school child saw a Shakespeare play like this, or even just at the Globe, he'd never be classed as hard work or dull again.

Like my dad earlier in the month I think mum had a great time on her first visit to the Globe and she now has her fingers crossed that her other favourite plays will be in the next season's run!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Book reviewing at a funny time

It is a funny time to be reviewing books at present. A pretty big scandal broke in the book world over the past few days. Authors have been creating false names and accounts on Amazon (at the very least) to positively review their own books and to do the same but negatively to their rivals.

I don't review on Amazon - the closest I come is leaving feedback on 2nd hand items! From the outset I think I've been honest if a book was won, a proof or by a friend. My views are all my own and there is even a picture of me on the blog.

Enough disclaimers. I actually started this post to review a book I won in a Twitter competition:

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr.

This is where I start with a confession to the publisher - I wasn't paying too much attention when I entered the competition. I saw the publisher and the title and thought it would be a simple, non fiction first aid book that would be great to pass on to a family member who is a Cub Scout once I'd read it!

When a teen novel appeared on the mat I was a bit nonplussed, but then I opened the book. 4 hours later, with a great deal of sniffling I closed the most fantastic teen novel I've read in years.

At the start I thought I knew where the book was going but it continued to surprise throughout and while the ending was happy it was totally appropriate for the story.
I don't want to say any more about the novel as I'd like for others to come to it as unprepared as I was. Not because a spoiler will ruin it, but because the plot may seem trite and something that has been done many times before - it isn't and it hasn't!

If I still worked in retail this is the book I'd be hand selling to everyone buying for a teenage girl this autumn/winter however I will be raving about it to all and sundry in the library service and hoping to get at least one book group (not necessarily a teen one!) to try it.

This was a real surprise gem and again thanks to Usborne for sending me a copy.

Theatrical Interlude 15

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, The Cottesloe Theatre at the National Theatre, August 2012

I've managed to get a little behind on reviewing after another busy fortnight, I 'owe' two theatre reviews, at least two book reviews and my thoughts on the Paralympics. In addition to this I am also trying to get my head around a new piece of technology that isn't intuitive when it comes to Blogging software. Bear with me and any dodgy formatting for a while please!

My crazy theatre going August continued with a trip to see the adaptation of Mark Haddon's novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. This is a book I've read more than once and one that I read during my 2011 World Book Night Challenge  with that review in mind I am surprised I was so keen to see this play.

The play may just have dispelled all of my misgivings about the book, the staging and acting made it live in a way that the words on the page just hadn't for me.  The Cottesloe Theatre is a small theatre with seating in the round, and our seats were looking down on the stage. As the play started the theatre went totally dark, and with all black seating and walls I mean totally dark, then as the lights came up in the middle of the stage was a dead dog.

The play continued in such an innovative way all the way through with lots of moving of props by the actors - who were almost always on stage, just seated around the edge - to create new scenarios. Some of the scenes were created in almost a modern dance format as Christopher was bodily moved around the stage by the others to simulate, for instance, his wish to be an astronaut. The stage itself was a giant light board that at one point transformed into a realistic Underground platform, just stunning.

I am totally in awe of Luke Treadaway who portrays Christopher. This is almost a one man show and he carries it wonderfully, showing the wonderful mix of intelligence but also lack of understanding that is Christopher.  Paul Ritter, who plays the father, also deserves every accolade as he manages to create a very real dad, someone who cares deeply for his disabled child but also someone who is human and who snaps and can't cope at times.

I don't think I can find a thing wrong with this play, other reviews have said it was over long but that isn't something I found at all. It was possibly the most intense piece of theatre I have seen and as it is sold out at The National do try to catch it at one of the National Theatre Live events.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Theatrical Interlude 14

Richard III, The Globe Theatre, August 2012

I was a little concerned going into this play - it was the third play in just over 24 hours after all. Could this, the second play in as many days, really be as good as Henry V?

I must learn not to doubt - it was truly wonderful, but a departure from the preceding plays I've seen in this location as it was played with an all male cast.

I'd seen a few cast photos from this play before we went and I did wonder if I'd be able to believe that the female characters were female.  It was a little be of a shock at first but as with any good play this quickly became irrelevant and it was the lines that were important.

In my mind I'd always seen Richard III as a dark sinister character who was an archetypal villain but in this version Mark Rylance expressed his ruthlessness and madness through humour. Admittedly dark and often inappropriate humour but it was an intriguing way to play the role.

I also wonder if this play came closest to showing off The Globe as it would have been in Shakespeare's time as Richard III, and other actors, are constantly turning to the audience and encouraging participation.  It could have turned into a Shakespearean pantomime but the quality of the acting prevented this and I just felt I'd travelled in time.

The one thing I noticed with this performance was how relatively static it was - the actors didn't leave the stage and use the groundling area at all. This play is transferring to a traditional theatre in the West End later in the year and I do wonder if this has altered the staging at all.

All in all another wonderful production at The Globe, and I think a great introduction to the venue for my dad who accompanied us on this visit. I can't wait to introduce my mum to the venue when we see Taming of the Shrew in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Theatrical Interlude 13

The Doctor's Dilemma, Lyttleton Theatre at the National Theatre, August 2012

After leaving the stirring production of Henry V at The Globe my theatre going friend and I strolled along the South Bank until we got to the National Theatre.  We did intend to only visit the shop but the lure of the theatre was too strong and on discovering that there were reduced price tickets to a play that evening we were too weak to resist.

The joy of this play was apart from the playwright, George Bernard Shaw, we know nothing at all about it.  It has been quite a time since I've gone so 'blind' in to a performance.

The play itself was very good and very thought provoking, a lot of valid ethical questions were raised and yet at the same time the play was very funny for much of the time. I wasn't quite sure about the ending but I suppose that was the point Shaw was making - doing the right thing, even for the wrong reason, doesn't always get you what you want.

The real star of this play for me was the staging, the sets were beautiful and moved so cleverly that I at least felt I was walking between locations rather than the scenery changing!  This year has been the year of incredible scenery at the theatre, and the use of light through windows especially often makes me forget I am in a dark theatre and not actually in the house/garret.

All in all a surprise evening of theatre that was very enjoyable and proof that if a play is good then it doesn't matter if you don't know the story (or the actors) in advance.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Theatrical Interlude 12 - reprise (2012)

Henry V, The Globe Theatre, August 2012

A day out at The Globe Theatre is always a treat and as I've discovered seeing a play twice here is no hardship either so I was very excited to be seeing Henry V again.

It was just as good the second time around, and in a way even better as currently there is such a swell of pride in being British that when Henry calls "Cry 'God for Harry, England and St George'" the whole theatre seemed to become one.

Seeing this a second time allowed me to see the wonderful way the battle scenes were choreographed and just how clever the staging is in that you can imagine a full battle when there are less than 20 actors involved.

The play finishes in a week and I am sad that I won't see it a third time - I will however have everything crossed that the Globe release this on DVD sooner rather than later so I can enjoy it again.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Theatrical Interlude 11 (2012)

Hector Goes to Hollywood by The Blakeney Players, Blakeney Village Hall, August 2012.

I can never give an unbiased review of this show - even if it had been the most dreadful thing I'd ever seen (and it wasn't by any means) - as I've known one of the actors since she was born!

As ever the play was a fun romp with a daft story line which can easily be forgiven due to the passion that the whole cast throw into the performance.

The Players write, direct, choreograph their biannual shows as well as creating their own costumes and scenery.

If you haven't seen one of their shows before, or you aren't from Norfolk/Blakeney then you will be a bit lost at first but sit back and enjoy the ride, I guarantee that you'll laugh lots and find your toe tapping.

Overlook the imperfections, the corpsing and the missed lines and rush to book your tickets for the Christmas show as soon as they go on sale.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Theatrical Interlude 10 (2012)

Hamlet (Globe on Tour), Bungay Castle, August 2012

After a break of two months I was more than ready to go to the theatre again and so I'd been looking forward to seeing this production a lot.

The chance to see a play from the Globe that I'd missed in London was a real bonus and the setting for this was lovely - in the grounds of Bungay Castle.  Picnics with wine were positively encouraged and all that was needed was some nice weather...
...the drive from Norwich was not looking hopeful with torrential downpours. Stopping to pick up a friend and the picnic gave the weather a chance to improve and by the time we got to the venue the sun was out - hurrah!

I think that it has become clear that I am very fond of Shakespeare as performed by the Globe and this was no exception. The whole production really had the feeling of coming from Shakespeare's time - all of the props, costumes and staging could have fitted on to a couple of waggons and travelled around the country. The actors were also all talented musicians and I could imagine them earning their bread and board in Tudor England.

I'd not seen any version of Hamlet before this and I liked the staging and 'take' a lot.  While not in conspicuously period costume it seemed to me (and my theatre companions) that the clothes did have a definite 1940s feel and whilst not stating anything overtly this version was drawing parallels with wartime events in Scandinavia .

The cast was tiny and most of the cast played two roles at the very least, there was no time for costume changes and sometimes the two roles were even appearing in the same scene but thanks to clever use of body language and accessories you could always tell who was being portrayed.

The take on Hamlet was interesting and a lot of the time he came across as a very spoiled, petulant teenager, but as the play developed this worked wonderfully in his descent into confusion/madness. I recognised a lot of the famous lines in the play but in my ignorance hadn't realised that they came from Hamlet - the line 'Alas poor Yorrick' was a real treat to hear in context.

This was a really lovely evening - even with the torrential rain in the interval - and I am so pleased that the first play I saw after a break was so good.  One worry before the start was how would we hear the actors, they had no amplification and the stage was a distance away in open country. With only a couple of exceptions there were no issues at all - hats off to the actors who projected so well, even when competing with a flock of geese and an attention seeking pigeon.

My only (small) regret is that I saw Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead before Hamlet, I think I would have got so much more out of the former having seen the original first.

I already can't wait to see if The Globe brings a play to Bungay next year!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Book Review

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

This was a last minute addition to my eReader before we went away. There had been a lot of interest on Twitter about the book and after several people who's opinion I trust praised it I thought I'd give it a go.

I am so pleased that I did. The premise is simple: after receiving some sad news in a letter the recently retired Harold Fry writes a reply and sets off to the post box to post it. However he finds that he can't post it and starts to walk from Devon to Berwick on Tweed.

It sounds a preposterous premise for a full length novel but this gentle novel worms its way under your skin very quickly, why are Harold and his wife so unhappy, why is there son estranged, what was the relationship between Harold and letter writer Queenie...? So many questions that are gently answered as the story goes on.

I was sniffling a lot by the end, but in a good way. I have recommended the book to a lot of people since we've been back and I am so happy that it has been included on the 2012 Booker Prize Longlist.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Greatest Show on Earth

The Olympic Games

I think that it is fair to say that I was not really looking forward to the 2012 games.  I'd failed to get tickets in 2 rounds of the ballots and then there were no affordable seats left for the sports I wanted to see.

Even though the Opening Ceremony was being directed by Danny Boyle and scored by Underworld I wasn't that bothered. Like so many of us the whole ticketing fiasco had made me lose any interest.

On Friday 27th July Mr Norfolkbookworm and I decided that as it was such a historic moment we would at least watch the first few minutes of the opening.  We flicked it on about an hour before the start and to be honest it didn't look great, we crossed our fingers that it would get better.

In our opinion it did. We were both captivated at the spectacle, it was wonderful on so many levels. The artistry of the the countryside becoming an industrial nightmare, the celebration of children's books (and the NHS), the humour and cameo appearances and most surprisingly of all the wonder of the modern dance sequence.

I'll admit the arrival of the athletes did get a little dull - but hey they are what it is all about after all!

The arrival of the torch and the lighting of the cauldron was a masterpiece and from talking to other people I know that I am not the only one who had goosebumps at this point.

The only downside was letting Paul McCartney finish the evening...he might be a talented songwriter and musican but after this I have my doubts, and I don't think he can sing!

All in all my cynicism has vanished, I'm hunting through the website looking for tickets to the Paralympics and hope to get to at least one event. I knew holding on to that day of annual leave was important.

The thing that made Mr Norfolkbookworm and I laugh the most (apart from Mr Bean) was the recognition of the influence last year's Frankenstein play had on the spectacle - we're both still waiting for the train to appear...

Monday, 30 July 2012

Book Review

Abdication by Juliet Nicolson

I think that it is clear from the (rare!) book reviews I write that I like historical fiction, and especially those set in the first half of the twentieth century.

I was very much looking forward to reading this one as it ticked all of my boxes - family saga, intense historical setting and written by an expert.

In the main I wasn't disappointed, the story-lines of the fictional characters wove pretty seamlessly with the 'real' characters and the descriptions of people and places made the book really live in my imagination.

Whilst the book is called Abdication in many ways that is a minor, and almost dull, strand in the narrative. The portrayal of David and Wallis was verging on the unsympathetic a lot of the time and Nicolson makes it very clear that had he become King history would have taken a very different line.

The strand of the story that I liked the most was the portrayal of the Jewish East End, Mosley and the Black Shirts are often glossed over in fiction (and history) books but here the fear and contempt comes shining through, as well as the reminder that ordinary people did support the British Union of Fascists.

I had worked out that there was a twist to May's own story but cleverly Nicolson still managed to surprise me with the full story.

My only vague criticism with the book is that it felt almost too visual at times it felt like a screen play complete with stage directions.  It would make a great television but for me it felt a little too written with that in mind.  This is a very minor complaint however and this is a book I can whole heartedly recommend.

The copy I read was an advance reading copy thanks to Net Galley.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Book review

Double Cross - by Ben MacIntyre

This was one of the books I'd been saving up for my holiday. I've been a fan of Ben MacIntyre's books ever since I read Operation Mincemeat a few years ago. Agent Zigzag was a real treat last year on the World Book Night 2011 list and I was really looking forward to this one.

I didn't get to read it as quickly as I'd have liked as Mr Norfolkbookworm wanted to read it first and he is not the fastest of readers.

The wait was worth it, as ever the narrative was engaging and accessible. There is just the right amount of technical and historical detail to fully round out the story but this never swamps the human stories that are the key to the tale.

I have two criticisms of the book - one of my own and one from Mr Norfolkbookworm.

I found the constant use of cricketing terms really got on my nerves after a while. I can see why they are used - old boys' network, typically British etc. etc. but even though I am a cricketing fan they stuck out like a sore thumb to me as they were used so much. I do worry that if you aren't familiar with the terms then you might think this was another secret code being smuggled into a books about spies.

It was an anachronism that stuck out for Mr. N - one of the spies is given a transistor radio at one point. From the outset Mr. N said that this was too early for such a device and to prove this hunted out an Internet hotspot to look this up and according to Wikipedia he was right.  The version of the book I read was a proof thanks to the Netgalley website so this may have been corrected in the final draft but once I knew that there was an error like this in the book I was constantly wondering if there were many other errors in the book.

In general this was an excellent book, I found that the twists and turns of the double/triple/quadruple agents clear and exciting and while we do now know the outcome of WW2 at the time it was far more uncertain and this book really explores another side of the battles we fought.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

A little light reading

It has been all a bit quiet here for the last few weeks as Mr Norfolkbookworm and I went away for 2 weeks in the sun.  After the weather here in the UK we were really looking forward to the break and we weren't disappointed  in the slightest.

We didn't see a cloud for two weeks and for most of the time the sea temperature was warmer than the actual temperature back home.  All in all it was a perfect break for doing lots of relaxing and lots of reading...which is what I did!

In the two weeks we were away I read 21 books and as ever they were from a broad sweep of genres.

  • Underground, Overground - Andrew Martin
  • The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
  • Coronation - Paul Gallico
  • Exotic Marigold Hotel - Deborah Moggach
  • The Honorable Schoolboy - John le Carre
  • 50 Shades of Grey - E L James
  • Abdication - Juliet Nicholson
  • 50 Shades Darker - E L James
  • 50 Shades Freed - E L James
  • Double Cross - Ben MacIntyre
  • Dead Men - Richard Pierce
  • I Still Dream About You - Fannie Flagg
  • Chocky - John Wyndham
  • Mani - Patrick Leigh Fermor
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - Rachel Joyce
  • All These Things I've Done - Gabrielle Zevin
  • Whatever it Takes - Adele Parks
  • London Belongs to Me - Norman Collins
  • What Katy Did - Susan Coolidge
  • What Katy Did Next - Susan Coolidge
  • The Cat's Table - Michael Ondaatje

There were some real surprises among these books - some I'd been saving for months and was disappointed by, some I didn't expect to enjoy but couldn't put down and others that I loathed but at the same time was compelled to finish...

The main thing that was different this year was that I didn't actually read a physical book in the time we were away - all 21were ebooks. In the past I've always read a mixture but this time I had a paperback in my back for those minutes on the plane where they don't let you read from a electronic device but as I had a window seat I found I was looking out of that rather than reading.

I have thoughts buzzing round my head about some of these books and will endeavour to share them soon but in the meantime one more photo to make you jealous!

Monday, 25 June 2012

Theatrical Interlude 9 (2012)

Noises Off, Novello Theatre, June 2012

I am beginning to think that my theatre outings really are doomed - I promise I've never called the Scottish Play by its real name in a theatre!

This long arranged trip had the potential to become a logistical nightmare. A family bereavement meant I needed to be in Swindon at funeral on the morning of this trip, then the train was late and to cap it all the Circle Line suddenly stopped being a circle and was more of a horse-shoe missing out the area I needed to be.

I'd been so busy before this trip that I had absolutely no idea what Noises Off was about other than a play rehearsal. When I got to the theatre and saw it was by Michael Frayn my heart sank a little further - despite many good intentions (and enticing book blurbs) I've never yet managed to finish anything that the man has written.

On top of all this was the worry that after such a day, was a farce really what I needed?

The old adage that laughter is the best medicine could not have been truer.

From pretty much the second the curtain rose I was giggling, and by the time Act 1 had finished and Act 1 had started I was laughing out right. By Act 1 I really thought I would cry with laughter.  The play actually started before the curtain rose but that only became apparent as the story unfolded but I know that my companion and I were a little bemused by the pre-show announcements for a while.

The basic premise of the play is that Act 1 shows a play in the final dress rehearsal but that it isn't really ready to be performed. Act 1 then shows the same play but from behind the scenes, the final Act 1 is the same play but on the closing night when the cast have fallen out entirely and the show can barely go on.

Watching the same play three times in two and a bit hours shouldn't work but the energy of the script and the actors makes it a wonderful theatrical experience. The act that takes place behind the scenes is comedy genius and how the actors perform the stunts time after time without hurting themselves amazes me. I shall never look at cactus in quite the same way again!

I've never taken part in any theatrical show (apart from a school play when I was 14) but having read a few biographies and novels set in the world of theatre I think that although taken to the extreme there is more than a grain of truth in this play.

I am so glad that I did see it despite so many events conspiring against me, and I find it hard to see how anything I see at the theatre for a considerable time can be as funny.