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.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Blowing a friend's trumpet

I am behind on theatre reviews, I do actually have a few books to blog about and I am trying to load my Kindle with books before going away but all of that pales into insignificance.

11 months ago I blogged about a friend's book, and how sad I was that it hadn't found a mainstream publisher.

Since then she's been working very hard on editing it and yesterday took the plunge and decided to start selling it via Amazon.

Now I know that many people think that Amazon are closely related to the devil but please, if you like a good escapist read and if you like a little bit of romance mixed with those realistic cringe worthy moments PLEASE download the sample of this book - then fall in love with the characters and buy the whole thing.

The author is talented and this book deserves to do well. And no I'm not on commission, just passionate about books I like. As I said in my original review I was honest with feedback and if I hadn't genuinely enjoyed the book I wouldn't be championing it a year on.

PS - even if you don't have a Kindle you can read this book via the Amazon widget on your laptop/netbook/phone/iPad...

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Courting controversy

Forgotten gems?

One of the things I love about my job is the variety of events that I can plan and hold. Recently we've held two connected talks about books rather than given by specific authors.

The first, at the start of May, was held in conjunction with UEA and Persephone Books. It was all about forgotten authors and forgotten books and how a book that was a bestseller in it's day can so quickly be forgotten. And then how it can be rediscovered and republished thanks to the multitude of specialist publishers, especially Persephone,  that now exist.

There was lots of talk and discussion around this topic from the audience and, not least in the semantics of calling a book forgotten. Most of the books picked by Persephone are 'gentle' in tone and whilst I love the books I can sometimes see that without a 'champion' they might never be rediscovered, and possibly may deserve to stay in obscurity.

The second event was held at the start of June, again in conjunction with UEA, and this one was the total antithesis to the first event. We spent the evening discussing Norman Mailer and Henry Miller, trying to decide if it was just their subject matter that kept them in the public eye and that without the shock factor would they too have become obscure authors rather than much studied, modern classics.

No area of these authors books or lives was shied away from and the discussion was full, frank and fascinating.  Personally I came away with the feeling that without the shock factor these authors would perhaps not have become so feted and also that I'd have hated to have been trapped in a lift with either of them!

We are hoping to continue this idea of talks about less well known areas of literature and also hope to start a 'forgotten gems' book group in the autumn.  Usually the words 'classic' and 'must read' send me running for the hills but now I'm not so sure...

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Theatrical Interlude 8 (2012)

Henry V, Globe Theatre June 2012

This was the second play that Mr Norfolkbookworm and I saw during our weekend in London.  We'd packed fearing the worst - the forecast for Sunday was dire however it was a pleasant surprise to find it warm and  almost sunny as we strolled alongside the River Thames to get to the Globe.

There has recently been a season of Shakespeare plays from the Globe shown on Sky Arts and we did mean to watch the almost prequels to this one (Henry IV pts 1 and 2) but time got away from us and we didn't manage it.  Being Shakespeare this didn't matter.

Sunday was the first day of the 2012 "The Plays the Thing" season at the Globe - for the past few weeks it has been the "Globe to Globe" season where all 37 plays by Shakespeare have been performed but with each one in a different language. I didn't see any of them but I know that if I'd lived in London I would have done - the reviews have been excellent.

Henry V was the Globe Theatre's entry to G2G and so while we saw the first performance of the summer season it wasn't the first time is had been performed.

It was wonderful from the instant the musicians appeared on the stage to the dance at the end it was a masterpiece. I've seen the film version from 1944 with  Laurence Olivier and while that was good it felt very earnest, this version was human - there were emotions and so much humour, from the Bishops on their 'throne' to the scenes with Pistol yet none of it felt over blown or out of place.  As for the famous 'once more unto the breach dear friends' scene - I was ready to draw my sword and join in.

Having been to Agincourt a couple of years ago I could really see the scene of the battle - which is wonderful as the 'Chorus' does ask you to imagine the scene as it would be too hard to realise in the theatre - and thought that the way the fight is depicted using just a few of the cast was fantastic.

I am very glad that I am seeing the other 3 plays in the London season over the next few months and very pleased that I will see this play again.  It has quickly moved to the top of my (imaginary) list of Best Plays 2012.

Agincourt archers in Agincourt, France

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Theatrical Interlude 7 (Reprise)

War Horse, New London Theatre, June 2012

Since seeing this last year, and since being a little disappointed in the recent film version, I've been trying to convince Mr Norfolkbookworm that he should see this play.

It didn't take a lot of work and so this past weekend we went down to the 'Big Smoke' in order to see some theatre together.

It was a lovely weekend and despite the dreadful forecast we had lovely weather and a great time.

It was nice to also see and evening performance of a play, I don't think that there is any particular difference in a matinee but if certainly felt more of a treat to be seeing a play in London at night!  It certainly didn't make any difference in the behaviour of the audience - how can so many people be so incapable of sitting through an act of a play?  I can understand the children needing to leave but the adults?

Anyhow none of the audience fidgets spoilt the play for me, and neither did it matter that this was a repeat viewing.  From start to finish I was captivated and immersed in the story. I think that this time it took even less time for me to see the horses on stage as real animals rather than puppets if I am honest!

War is a brutal thing and this play shows this, but it also brings out the best (and worst) in people and again that is shown fully.  An adaptation of a book written for children played on stage with puppets shouldn't be that emotional but all credit to everyone it really is. I was sniffling by the end that is for sure.

Last time I saw the play I was sitting in what they class as restricted view seats as you lose a little of the view at the edge of the stage, this time we were pretty much dead centre of the stalls, I discovered that we hadn't lost much of the action last time. I also discovered that these seats right at the front but at the side did in fact make the play a little more immediate - when the horses gallop across the stage it is impressive from the centre but at the side you do think the horse is going to run you down!

This was certainly a play that stood up to repeat viewing, but unlike one person that I overheard I don't think I'll be going to see it 11 times!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Theatrical Interlude 6 (2012)

The Duchess of Malfi, The Old Vic, May 2012

My theatre going friend and I ventured south of the river this time to the incredible Old Vic Theatre.

Before I even talk about the production I need a moment or two to rave about the venue - I found the Old Vic to be a wonderful example of how you can bring a traditional building up to date but at the same time lose nothing of the original character.  Unlike the Vaudeville Theatre from a few weeks ago this building is light and airy, comfortable and most important has plenty of ladies loos!  In addition to this while the auditorium still feels like a traditional Victorian theatre it isn't at all thread bare or dated, plus - and this was a bonus on an surprisingly sticky May day - it has wonderfully efficient air conditioning.  Much of this is I am sure due to the input from Kevin Spacey who was appointed artistic director in 2003.

Now the play...

This was another one that I knew nothing about before the performance except that it was written after Shakespeare but before the Civil War.  John Webster appears as a young boy in the film Shakespeare in Love but there my knowledge stopped!

I was sucked in from curtain up, the speech was easier to follow than that of Shakespeare but I still needed a few moments to fully get my ear in tune but then the plot and the acting carried me though and I felt I was living the drama not watching a play.

The basic plot is that the Duchess of Malfi has been left a rich widow and her unscrupulous (and increasingly unhinged) brothers don't want her to marry again as they will then not see any of this money.  The Duchess however has a mind of her own and does remarry for love, but shock horror he is from a much lower class than her.  Their happy life comes to an end when her brothers find out about the marriage and subsequent children.

I think we counted 9 murders, 2 fake corpses and a severed hand so this play is not for the faint hearted!

I saw the actress playing the Duchess last summer at The Globe and thought she stole the show there and the same can be said of her performance here, but again she was supported by a strong cast and they convinced me that they really were feeling every emotion.

The setting was quite dark, very much like the theatres of Webster's time I suppose. While modern lights were used on stage actors carried candles a great deal of the time and it was all very atmospheric, including one scene which took place in pitch blackness - even the emergency exit lights were covered for it.

Reviews online seem mixed for this play - critics liked it but bloggers haven't been so keen.  I'm on the side of the critics. I thought it was fabulous and I will be looking at the listings for The Old Vic a lot more often now as well as following Eve Best's career closely.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Shiver my Timbers

Pirates! An Adventure Gideon Defoe

Many years ago I read a daft little book called Pirates! An Adventure with Scientists. I remember it being funny but nothing more.  Thinking back on the book I am sure it is because I didn't know enough about the things Defoe was poking fun at.

Fast forward about a decade and the wonderful Aardman Animation studios release The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists which was brilliant.  From the opening to the end of the credits I think it was one of the best films I've seen in ages and for me it was better than the last couple of Pixar movies - heresy I know!

Since then I've use the library to borrow the book where the Pirates meet Moby Dick and have the one about the Communists on reserve. When I saw that the brand new book The Pirates! An Adventure with the Romantics available on Net Galley I knew that I had to request it.

This past weekend I developed a horrible summer cold and The Pirates! were just what the doctor would have ordered I am sure.

The Pirate Captain and his band of inept pirates are sailing on Lake Geneva once more in financial straights.  Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Godwin are in the vicinity and bored.  Cue the start of the adventure.

I don't think that there was a chapter that didn't raise a snigger and I think that Mr Norfolkbookworm was ready to throw me to the sharks as I kept reading snippets out to him. Any book that rates the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford over the Ashmolean is always going to be a favourite with me.

As with the other Pirates! books some knowledge of the bit of history/literature that Defoe is lampooning makes the books far more enjoyable but I hope there are more books and more films!

Please note that this is a small review of a book that won't be published until August 30th, the other books in the series are available already and the film is still on release in UK cinemas and the DVD will be released in September 2012.